Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

and the man with much of the coarseness and all the ignorance of the rustic, but without his simplicity, local knowledge, health, sincerity, and cheerfulness.

He has in fact the extravagant notions of the higher ranks, without the knowledge, patriotism, liberality, and refinement, which are generally more or less attached to distinction. Add to all this, that the language of servants has so much of the plausible and specious mixed with it, that children of the families they serve like to converse with them; and in general, being thrown into their company, imperceptibly acquire their false sentiments, incorrect way of speaking, and bad habits; whereas the hardy young peasant, who earns her bread by knitting or spinning, by milking the cows, making cheese, or any other such employment, retains in her mind the notions only of those objects by which she is surrounded. Children of any rank may profit by a conversation with a family of honest, simple peasants. A thousand agreeable and instructive subjects are familiar to them, which, explained, would delight a child. For example: the poultry ; the different breeds; the time for batching the

young, and the manner of their leaving the shell ; the vigilance of the parent birds, &c.; the cows and sheep; their food, and young, &c.; agriculture, gardening, small birds ; vermin; beasts of prey; with the daily observations on the weather, clouds, winds, the hour of the day by the sun, and a thousand more subjects with which they are conversant, are talked of; not in the bad fine style of a modern fine lady servant, but in the language of truth and homeliness : blended perhaps with the peculiarities of county dia

lect, but which are a species of vulgarity not easily communicated. Such is the difference between a servant, who pretends to all the knowledge of her mistress, and has in reality none; and of country male and female peasants, who in their shy unpractised manner declare they know nothing, really thinking so, who are nevertheless equal to give very pleasing information from actual observation and experience, upon the most interesting objects of nature.

CHAPTER XV.

MERCY.

CHILDREN SHALL SEEK TO PLEASE THE POOR." HAVE WE NOT ALL ONE FATHER ? HATH NOT ONE GOD CREATED us?"

GOOD-NATURE to creatures like ourselves, is properly humanity; and gentleness and kindness to all the brute creation is represented in the very principal virtue which is here treated of, mercy. The disposition to do acts of kindness or ill-will to man and beast, gives the character of the heart. And the nature, we say, is good or bad ; such a one is good or ill-natured, accordingly. A child or a man is not called good-natured, if he have temperance, patience, industry, modesty, or truth ; and yet these are all great virtues to be possessed of; but his nature is only termed good, when it prompts him to think of and act kindly towards all men, rich and poor, and to

help and relieve them whenever he can; and by a very natural consequence, when he abhors to injure any brutes for sport or caprice; by his conduct evincing a general tenderness and consideration for all creatures.

Happy the child who has good-nature! Whether that nature were cruelly or kindly disposed at his entrance into the world, for if he do but possess the virtue, we care not at what period of infancy it was given; but this we know, that it was given in the first year of existence, or it would scarcely have been his ; for if the child was not born with a disposition to tenderness, it follows, that he must have been inclined to hard-heartedness; and who knows not, that weeds grow quicker than flowers,

And here I must ask, when the question is of giving the virtues artificially, that is, of driving out bad and natural propensities, and placing in their room excellent but exotic qualities, what is the use and advantage of education, if it be not in so doing? The exercise of art may seem misdirected to infancy, and many will perhaps think that nature, during that tender age, is the best instructor and unfolder of the bodily powers. In some respects she is. But the minds of the best of men have been rendered so by art; evil being natural, goodness must have been the work of art superadded by example and precept, and fixed by habit ; and art (I do not mean artifice) must therefore be exercised with infants and children, to mould their dispositions to the forms we desire. Socrates, in his own noble confession, declared that he was in childhood addicted to every vice. Through the art of education, joined to a strength of mind,

which not one in ten thousand is seen to possess, and by which alone he was enabled to do so much for his own improvement in after years, he rose superior in virtue to all men of his time. The Almighty pronounces that the thought of man's heart is evil continually, from his infancy upward. And who shall say that man is not more easily led into temptation to a bad act, than he is incited to a good one? That it is not easier to sin than to do well ? Even truth, which in a greater or less degree is born with us all, is not unfrequently soon driven out in childhood, through bad example and bad management; and in most, even if it be tolerably preserved to maturity, requires to be fed and supplied by means, or, as fire without fuel, it would presently go out: What these means are, belongs not to this place to mention ; however, we may allow an anxiety to be well thought of by others, and a satisfaction in virtue generally, for the sake of itself, to form a part of them.

Now, can it be thought that Socrates was less respected because nature had formed him a bad subject, and art had made him a good one? We are sure that the very reverse of this was the case. Is an apple taken from a tree grafted by art, less palatable than one which we find wild in the woods as nature left it? We know, too, this is not so. Are the many conveniences we daily profit by less valued, because the nicest and most intricate machinery was employed in their construction ? Just the contrary; for the art employed in forming them renders them more perfect, and, besides, within the reach of every one; consequently, more generally useful. Art, then, is requisite

if we desire excellence; and in proportion as we desire this, so should be our pains. Those who earnestly wish to make sure, strive in time to do so; and the mother who wishes to have worthy representatives in her children, considers that she cannot begin too soon to mould their dispositions to goodness. I grant that a few unpromising and naughty children have turned out, through extraordinary exertions and circumstances in youth or maturity, apparently good men; but the instances are almost as rare as the goodness and wisdom of Socrates are uncommon, or that an excellent plant is seen to grow from bad seed; and I conceive it to be as dangerous to depend upon chance, for the attainment of virtue in adolescence and maturity, as it is desperate, from the success of a very few, to put off our repentance, and the altering of bad courses, to a distant period of time, from the very extraordinary instance of the thief on the cross, who was promised paradise through a repentance which must have been truly sincere, but which was nevertheless deferred to a very late hour.

The exercise of art, then, is necessary to produce qualities which it is desirable we should possess, but which nature has originally denied us, and has seemed moreover to exclude for ever, by having fixed the germs of particular vices in their room. The vices, however, must be plucked out, and the virtues planted; and we can all judge whether a tender age is not the fittest for setting a plant, and for rooting weeds.

Perhaps the question has detained us too long, but its importance is such, that I may be excused for throwing it in a variety of forms. May the argu

« AnteriorContinuar »