M , June 10, 1835.
DEAR F-, Having a few leisure hours from business to-day, I have taken my seat, in order to give you a few thoughts upon a subject important and highly interesting to us both, and one that should command our deepest solicitude, —the education and management of the little Julia.-I feel impressed with the importance and responsibility in which you and myself stand in relation to her, and have reflected somewhat at large upon the errors and misconceptions of duty on the part of parents generally, in the education and government of children.—I have resolved in my mind a few desultory thoughts upon the subject, which I have to-day committed to paper, intending to present them to your consideration, with the single request, that you will read them attentively; and if, in your future management of her for whose benefit they are intended, you shall discover any suggestions of importance, I hope the fact of their being communicated thus early, will be no just cause for their being forgotten or disregarded. The remark of Addison, that “there is nothing which we receive with so much reluctance as advice,” however true in its general application, I am confident will not hold good as between you and myself. It is an undeniable fact, that in the prosecution of business, or in the discharge of duty, either to ourselves or to others, nothing is more important, and yet nothing, perhaps, is less generally attended to by the great majority of mankind, than the adoption of a few simple and practical rules for the government of our conduct while in the transaction of such business, or in the discharge of such duty; and I know you will appreciate it rather as an act of kindness than dictation, if I suggest to you a few thoughts for your serious consideration in regard to this important and interesting subject.–From the hasty manner in which they have been drawn up, as well as from my inexperience in such matters, they are undoubtedly not what they should be; but such as they are, I am confident you will give them all the attention and consideration which they deserve.—I have arranged them under the following divisions: I. In the first place then, my dear F , let this solemn and important truth be strongly impressed upon your mind, that the moral destiny of the little JULIA, whether for good or for evil, is principally, if not exclusively placed in your own hands—that it belongs to you, in the high and responsible character of a mother, to train her budding intellect into a ripened and unblemished maturity—to mould her feelings and habits of thinking and acting into a strict conformity with the principles of virtue, and to elevate her moral sense above the frailties and frivolities, which, without intending to be sarcastic or cynical, I must say, characterise but too many of the sex.-Who can say what influence a mother’s teaching may have upon the formation and development of character?—Who is there, who recollects any thing of a mother’s habits and conduct in early life, but feels that he owes much of his ideas and moral perceptions to her influence and example?—I venture to say that no individual who has risen to distinction, whether in the annals of crime or of virtue, but can trace back the cause of such pre-eminence either to the indiscreet indulgence or moral precepts of maternal education.—This high moral responsibility now rests upon you,-one eminently calculated to call out the better feelings of our nature, in the endeavor to promote another’s happiness and welfare.—In that, as yet, innocent and unconscious little creature, you have an exhibition of all the elements which go to constitute all that is vicious or all that is virtuous in human nature.—You have placed before you, in that dear little miniature of humanity that cherub-like epitome of all the passions and all the feelings of our common nature, an object, if not a source, both to itself and to ourselves of much good or much evil, in after life. God grant that she may be so reared and so instructed as to partake alone of the first, without a tincture of the latter. II. There is, perhaps, no part of a mother’s duty less understood, or, at least, less prudently W.”. than that of correcting a child for any ittle misdemeanor that it may be guilty of.
Upon such occasions, the conduct of some mothers resembles that of a fury more than a woman of sense and discretion. After threatening a child for its inattention to her commands, time after time, until it no longer believes her, all at once, upon some new exhibition of disobedience, she flies into an ungovernable passion, seizes the little delinquent, and belabors it most unmercifully with any thing she can lay her hands upon, using, all the while, the most vulgar and indecent language, by way of menace and intimidation. The consequence is, the child does not know what it is whipped for, or thinks it has been extremely abused for doing that which it has been so frequently permitted to do with impunity, and thinking so, it strives most lustily to rival its mother’s violence, by its own vociferous screaming. Then follow, by way of peace-offering and pacification on the part of the mother, the most endearing epithets of condolence, and any quantity of sugar plumbs, sweetmeats, &c. This is a great and grievous fault, and should be guarded against with the most assiduous care. In regard to the little JULIA, always endeavor to keep your temper cool and calm, but your purpose firm and determined, when chastising her for any misdemeanor she may have committed. Never allow yourself, upon such an occasion to get into a violent passion, or show any petulence of feeling. Children, however young in years, have more powers of discrimination, and observe the things around them with a more scrutinizing intelligence, than one half of the parents of the present day are aware of. If a child discovers its parents to be peevish and inconsistent in their conduct, it will either become disgusted and rise superior to the example set before it, or it will imitate and adopt their character and habits— the latter of which is by far the most usual exhibition of the human mind, in its earlier and more ductile manifestations of character. When you threaten her, therefore, do so seriously, and with a full determination of carrying it into execution, if she disobeys you ; and when such chastisement is absolutely necessary, (and it should never be resorted to unless it is so) never let it appear to her that you are gratifying your own passions, rather than correcting her own misconduct; but impress her mind fully with the duty of obedience and the propriety of good behaviour. III. In all your intercourse with her, although you should undoubtedly be affectionate and even playful in your daily treatment of her, never allow your manner to sink into the common badinage of the day,or the namby-pamby manifestations of maternal love, which we see every hour in the modern nursery, but always maintain a proper degree of elevated self-respect (the true dignity of the mother) and you never will be mortified in after life, by any want of respect on her * How often do we see, even in grown up daughters, a degree of contumelious disregard and disrespect to paternal wishes and feelings, which is utterly unworthy of a civilized state of society, and subversive of that kind and considerate attention, that dutiful and affectionate acquiescence, so peculiarly due from a daughter to a mother ‘And yet, if we look into the cause of this state of things, we will find, nine times in ten, that
the fault is exclusively on the side of a mother, in her early indulgence and want of discretion. Far be it from my intention to advance a single idea that would tend to repudiate, or even diminish that state of confidential and unsophisticated interchange of thought and feeling, which should ever exist between the mother and the child; amid all the heartless selfishness and treachery which break the ties of other relations in life, that should be preserved holy and inviolate; but notwithstanding this proposition, I still think it possible for even a mother to be too familiar with her daughter.—Now, do not be startled at this declaration. I do not mean that a mother should be in the least reserved in any thing, however delicate, that has, or may have, the most remote bearing upon the happiness or welfare of her daughter; but I mean that there are many little weaknesses in a mother, (because all who are human have some weak points) which should be most scrupulously concealed from the observation of her child. For instance, how common is it for many mothers to entertain their daughters with the repetition of the lowest species of gossip, the veriest dregs of scandal, that ever emanated from the vile sinks of petty detraction. This is a degree of familiarity which should not exist between any persons of genteel pretensions, much less between a mother and her daughter; between whom, on the one side, there should exist the highest respect, and on the other, the deepest solicitude. From our child’s imbibing this disgraceful habit through your example, dear F-, I have not the least apprehension, but if from her intercourse with her associates in society, she should ever evince a disposition of the kind, crush it in the bud at once; depict to her the disgraceful consequences of so vile a habit, and she will arm herself against its influence, and discountenance it for ever. IV. Upon the subject of a child’s dress, although my notions may appear trifling and frivolous, yet if you will look round among your juvenile associates, perhaps you may discover in their habits some reason in my views in this particular. There is no person more ready than myself to acknowledge the propriety, and even importance, of a proper attention and regard to personal appearance; because that attention is not more in accordance with what is due to a proper spirit of self-respect in ourselves, than it is a decorous manifestation of regard for the good opinion and respect of others; but in our attention to such appearance, we should endeavor to be genteel rather than showy ; plain, rather than extravgant; more anxious to wear a diamond in the heart, than in the ears, or upon the fingers; and more ambitious of intellectual than of personal or mere physical superiority. To be sure, extravagance in female attife, is less reprehensible than in that of the male; because, in the intercourse of fashionable life, much more depends upon their personal appearance; but nothing can justify a foolish and improvident expenditure, such as we frequently see displayed by those who can but ill afford it. The passion for dress and ostentatious parade, I am confident from the little observation I have made, is sown at a very early age in the female mind; through
the indiscreet lavishment of finery, and trinkets, and toys, which too many mothers mistake for an affectionate solicitude for the welfare and happiness of their offspring. A child from the age of three to ten years, should be dressed neatly and with correct taste—it should be early inducted into the habit of personal cleanliness, and incited by a just pride of personal appearance; but it should not be bedizzened out with laces, and feathers, and flounces, and furbelows, more like an infant circus-rider, than a child intended to be educated in a rational and proper manner. Such foolish decorations are indicative of any thing else than good sense in parents; but if it involved nothing more than their folly, it would be a subject of but trifling comparative importance.—Its effects, however, upon the character and disposition of children, cannot be other than pernicious; and being so, the practice should be discountenanced by all sensible and discreet mothers. V. Never foster or encourage selfishness in a child, especially in a daughter.—Nothing is so beautiful an adornment of the female character, as a pure and disinterested benevolence.—It is that, more than all else, which marks the distinctive traits in the character of the two sexes; it is that peculiar and amiable sweetness of temper in the female constitution, which gives to woman’s character all its loveliness and all its influence, and makes her, as she really is, when thus happily constituted, a “ministering angel” upon earth. It should be a mother’s highest happiness to exhibit to society such a specimen of her moral culture; it should be her daily care to check any ebullition of passion, or any evidence of vicious propensity, calculated to mar the beauty of her workmanship. There is a native vanity and selfishness enough in the human heart, without giving aliment to its growth, or encouragement & its development.— The passions will cultivate and take care of themselves; the great object of education should be to give impulse and energy to the moral and intellectual faculties.—Without such artificial incitement, the passions will fructify and expand themselves with fearful power, and ultimately overcome those salutary and conservative checks of the moral constitution, without which man is but a rudderless vessel, completely at the mercy of the winds and waves of a tempestious life.— There is some, I may say, an imperious necessity for selfishness in the other sex, who have to struggle with a world that is full of it; but with a female, there is no such necessity, or at least not to the same extent, because the theatre of her influence and power is circumscribed within the limits of the domestic circle, where all the social and milder virtues should blend in a harmonious interchange of affection, and in a bland exercise of a pure and disinterested benevolence. There is no way better calculated to make a child selfish and overbearing in its disposition, than the manner in which many parents manage their servants in relation to their care of it. They are made to gratify every whim of the child, however capricious; minister to every desire, however improper; and submit to every indignity, however disgusting. Children indulged in this manner, become perfect little tyrants.
Sure of being sustained in their conduct, however exceptionable, by their parents, they exact the most exorbitant services, and manifest an insolence of manner, which so far from displeasing or alarming the parent, is frequently appreciated and commended as the most promising evidence of spirit and talent. Such a course of conduct is extremely improper, and should not be encouraged. VI. Always endeavor to be clear, distinct and uniform, in your discriminations between right and wrong. The just appreciation of right, as distinct in its acquirement from precept, is not so much an intuitive faculty as some writers upon moral philosophy have intimated. The philosophy of Locke, whatever may be its errors in other respects, is certainly sound in regard to the inanition of the human mind in its original condition, unaffected by surrounding circumstances. The formation or creation of primary ideas of right and wrong in the infant minds, depends entirely upon the doctrine of induction. There is no such thing as innate principle in the }. of original intellection: the mind, ike the body, is the creature, if not the result of circumstances; it is moulded according to the influences around it; different combinations of circumstances produce different combinations of mind. If this theory be true, how important is it to act with circuinspection and prudence in the presence of children, who watch our conduct closely, and copy with equal facility, both our virtues and our vices. In your elucidations, therefore, of that which is right, as distinct from and superior to that which is wrong, always observe the strictest consistency of reasoning. Let no temptation, however inviting, seduce you from the most rigid adherence to this rule. Never call that right to-day which you have repudiated as wrong yesterday, and you will thus erect in her young mind a fixed standard of discrimination between right and wrong, that not all the sophistry and ingenuity of false reasoning during her subsequent life, can ever unsettle or disturb. VII. Never practice deception, however innocent in its nature, either with the child herself, or with any one else in her presence. This is a very common, and a very pernicious fault with most of mothers. Nothing could be better calculated to destroy that confidence which every child should feel in its parent, than a deceitful and double-dealing spirit, exhibited in the daily conduct of such parent. The child that has observation enough to discover this trait in the character of its mother, will always doubt her most solemn statements, and be sceptical in its belief, with regard to her professions generally. And o a child, under these circumstances, may possibly be obedient and dutiful, yet it never can feel that respect and veneration which a correct and consistent mother so naturally inspires in the breasts of her children. VIII. “Every man thinks his own geese swans” is a maxim, founded upon the universal principles of the human heart; and if it were changed into “Every mother thinks her own children persect,” it would answer quite as many illustrations in every day practice. This is an inveterate prejudice, but it is far from being a discred
itable one, because it is an evidence of warmth ** w
of affection, though it certainly manifests any thing else than a sound and discriminating judgment. In any difficulties that may occur between your child and those of others, never allow your feelings to become excited before you have a true and impartial statement of all the facts connected with the matter in dispute. This is another great error in the conduct of a great majority of parents. They think their children, like the regal estate in the English government, can do no wrong; and consequently when any of these little infallibles get into a quarrel, or perhaps fight with those of their neighbors, the idea that they may be in the wrong, never once enters their minds; and upon these occasions, instead of each properly correcting their children, they seem to strive who can say the most low and vulgar things of each other ; thus affording a fine example for their respective children to applaud and imitate. These ebullitions of a too common prejudice, which we frequently see taking place between mothers of . even refined and elegant general manners, are not only ridiculous and discreditable in themselves, but they have a very injurious influence upon the dispositions of their children; inasmuch as they naturally induce them to believe that they have an indisputable right to infringe upon the immunities and privileges of others with impunity. A habit of thus sustaining children, whether they are right or wrong, will tend to destroy all ideas of social duty, and instil into their youthful minds a spirit of captious and ill-natured contention, which may follow them through life, and not only make their own situations, unhappy, but all those with whom they may be connected. IX. 1 recollect reading, a few days since, in some of the Magazines, Blackwood’s I think, an admirable essay upon the subject of the style of language which mothers generally use in conversations with young children, and was forcibly struck with the truth and propriety of its criticism. I myself have been frequently astonished at hearing even sensible and well-informed mothers address their children in a style of affected endearment, more becoming a finical old maid’s address to her favorite poodle, than of rational and intelligent creatures. For instance, what must be a child’s idea of correct language, when its ears are eternally greeted with expressions like the following: “Poor baby wants to tum to its muzzy,” “tum Turley, and div muzzy a buff, dat’s a dood tild,” &c. &c. These ridiculous corruptions of the “King’s English,” you may frequently hear mothers using to children who are two or three years old, an age when they should have learned to pronounce words with tolerable correctness and perspicuity. X. There is a great deal of diversity of opinion among parents as to the kind of punishment a child should receive for doing that which is wrong; and there is quite as much diversity, also, in the different degrees of punishment adopted by them in relation to the misbehaviour of their children. Severe whipping is as repugnant to kind and correct feeling, as it is generally ineffectual in working a reformation in the little delinquent itself. Personal chastisement should be resorted to as seldom as possible; and then only from aboslute necessity. When, through some
improper dereliction of duty on the part of the child, the mother thinks it necessary to resort to the rod, it should be used with a full and clear explanation of what it is used for, without the addition of a single epithet, and with no more words than are necessary to the communication of such explanation. The mother, on such an occasion, should not allow herself to be betrayed into any violence of manner, but should preserve a cool and even temper. She should not afterwards, as too many do, use any arts of persuasion to hush up and pacify the child, but should make it take a seat quietly and submissively beside her; and when necessary to speak to it, do so in her ordinary tone of voice, and with her usual kindness of manner. The child will then feel that it has been in the fault, if for no other reason than the apparent justice of the punishment, as evinced and exhibited through the dignified and dispassionate deportment of the mother in administering it; and that child will love and respect its mother in proportion to the consciousness which it feels of having done wrong. XI. The world, my dear F-, is a great mirror, in which we may see ourselves fully and faithfully delineated; so, that to understand the world in all its Protean shapes and aspects, we should also perfectly understand ourselves. In giving a daughter, however, an insight into the character of that world, in which she will have some day to enter and act her part in the great drama of life, too much care cannot be taken in presenting her with a true and faithful picture of all the lights and shadows of human character. That is, the picture should be drawn to life, without exaggeration, as well as without extenuation—“nothing extenuate, nor set down aught in malice.” The natural gloom of the canvass should be relieved by the redeeming light which husnan virtue and human excellence can shed upon it—so, that, while she may not, with a full knowledge of all the world’s corruption and wickedness, sink into the dark and sunless philosophy of the cynie, she may also not become, through her innocent unconsciousness of evil, a credulous enthusiast, in looking only at the sunshine of its existence. This representation she should have, in order that through the same means by which she would be prevented from herself becoming an adept in the wiles and deceit she would also be saved from falling a dupe to the snares and temptations of that world. Much of the diversity of character and conduct which we see exhibited in social life, results from a difference of instruction in regard to this subject —and if the dark and bright sides of the picture of human life were presented in their natural, stript of all their artificial, aspect, at the same time to the youthful mind, that mind would exercise the proper discrimination in their contemplation, and thus blend the two extremes into a correct and rational appreciation of truth, unexposed to the delusions, and unseduced by the temptations, of error. Upon her arriving, therefore, at that age in which children usually begin to take an interest in such matters, in your descriptions of the gaieties, amusements, and pleasures of fashionable life, which you may see fit to offer her as a stimulus to exertion on her part;
in endeavoring to excel in those accomplishments which lend a charm to the intercourse of young society, do not neglect to warn her against the hypocrisy, the selfishnesss, and the treachery, which lurk beneath its sunny waters, in order that she may be armed against its assaults, and come out harmless from the fiery furnace of fashionable rivalry. But in thus giving her an insight into the nature and propensities of the species, you can do so without animadverting upon individual character—a course of conduct that would naturally tend to make her the most despicable of all creatures, a common retailer of gossip and scandal. XII. Upon the subject of religious, as distinct from an abstract moral instruction, it would perhaps, be, as incompetent as it is improper, and certainly out of place, for me to say much. It is a subject, indeed, upon which I have allow. ed myself to think and reflect very little; perhaps too little; but that it is one of great vital importance, philosophically considered, in all its bearings upon human feelings and human conduct; that it has done much to elevate the moral sense, and restrain the vicious propensities of mankind in all ages and under all circumstances, there can be no reasonable doubt. In its effect, however, upon the mind, or rather upon our final destiny, it is a matter of comparative indifference as to our belief, whether professional religion, as expounded through its technical creeds, or the great ultimatum of humanity, death, wili furnish the only infallible revelation of the sublime mysteries of a future existence. Mankind may fight, and theorize, and debate, upon this question for a thousand years to come, as they have already for more than a thousand years that are gone, and they will know as much as they now do, of its profound and unfathomable incomprehensibility. That is a point which human knowledge, however mighty in its grasp; however deep in its researches, can never com. prehend. Whether as a system, religion is founded upon the principles of reason, as some philosophers, eminent for talents and mere abstract intellectual, unaccompanied by high moral power, have contended that it is not, or whether it is a great and inevitable truth, capable of the clearest demonstration, as learned doctors of the church of equal profundity of intellect and knowledge, have labored to prove, it is not now my province or wish to inquire. I acknowledge my insignificance in such acquirement, and my utter incapacity to thread the intricacies of so metaphysical a labyrnth. But whether the philosophy of that religion as now understood and adopted by the Christian world, be based upon the great principles of eternal truth, or owes its existence to the prolific invention of human ingenuity, there can be no doubt in the mind of any individual who understands human nature, that it is the source of all that is virtuous and elevated, in human conduct. To your own wishes, then, dear F , I leave it, whether she shall be instructed in any of the pecu. liar tenets of professional religion; because that is a subject, either in regard to the little JULIA, or to yourself, upon which no interference of mine shall ever obtrude itself. I deem it of the utmost importance, however, that her mind * * *
should be early imbued with the beautiful spirit of rational, unfettered piety, and the excellence of an enlightened moral instruction. If my views would have any weight in the formation of your determination in this particular, I would recommend that you be extremely careful not to warp her mind into bigotted or sectarian notions; that you discard the conflicting and ridiculous dogmas of the various creeds, and bring her up in that catholic spirit of benevolence, and that charitable appreciation of the feelings and motives of others, which is the true characteristic of a mind impressed with a just sense of the impartial and universal love of Deity. I have now, my dear F , presented you with a few hasty and desultory thoughts upon a number, of what I conceive to be, important points in female education. They are affectionately and kindly submitted to you, not in the spirit of command or dictation, but with anxious desire to aid you in the serious discharge of a duty, which but few in your situation seem perfectly to understand, and still fewer consistently and methodically practice. Adopt them as your own, if you think they are worthy of it—but reject them at once, if they do not coincide with your own ideas of what is due to so important a subject. From the limited means of observation which I have enjoyed, in consequence of the isolated condition from domestic affairs, which has marked the greater portion of my life, the opportunities of knowing much of the habits of children has been, of course, denied to me. My knowledge, therefore, of this subject, must necessarily be more theoretical than practical, in consequence of that fact. I do not, then, urge them upon your attention as containing infallible truths; they are presented to you in a spirit of deep and anxious solicitude, for the welfare and happiness of one dear to you and to myself, and I only ask of you to give them that serious consideration which the subject, not the author, so imperiously demands. Affectionately and devotedly yours, D