Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

they feared the influence of an evil spirit, and very methodistical had they expected the influence of a good spirit-she would have been much vexed had they grown up with a contempt for the vanities of life to which she reared them, or a distaste for the pomps and splendours she taught them to aspire to. The articles of the Christian faith, as explained by the Church, she would not allow to be so much as named before them, lest it should put odd notions into their heads : and in respect to the keeping of all God's commandments—that might be very well, according to her own interpretation of them, but not according to that of the Church, given in the catechism: for they were by precept and example taught to consider their own advantage first, their neighbour's benefit second, and God's requirements last. They were to obey lawful authorities when it was dangerous or disreputable to do otherwise-but to circumvent the law, to evade it, or furtively to defraud the revenue, were daily practices. They might not tell a lie, so called ; but they were taught to tell as many indirect ones by false representations, false excuses, false politeness, as might suit their purpose: and in respect to slander, evil-speaking, unkind and malevolent feelings, if they were ever checked in these, it was only because children should not be encouraged in them: daily proof was before their eyes, that when they ceased to be children, there would be no harm in these things. The Church has appointed certain times for the celebration of the Lord's Supper, and earnestly exhorts her members to be present there and duly to receive it. Here Lady Betty differed again-she can only attend once a year, or when she happens to have a leisure week that is, a week free from common engagements, to prepare herself for the ceremony. In opinions it were endless to trace out the differences—the Church teaches her perpetually to repeat in publick, that she is a ruined and corrupted creature, needing the interference of divine grace to reconcile her to God, or make her meet for eternity—but she insists on it in private, that she is a good sort of person, and that her acquaintance are very good, and nobody is in need of conversion but papists or pagans, and nobody in need of repentance but drunkards and pickpockets. In short, I could not be long with Lady Betty, without perceiving that she dissents from the Established Church, in opinion, in practice, in every thing: and therefore is not consistent in her fears for it.

“ Mama," said little Julia to her mother, one of my intimate friends, “what is the reason you would not let us play at cards last night, when we wanted to amuse our little party--you let the boys play at marbles—I should like to understand the difference.”

“ The difference," replied my friend, “ is almost too nice for you to perceive yet there is a difference, and perhaps I can make you understand it. Marbles is the game of our childhood, and in no danger of becoming the passion of our later years—it is also a game of skill and not of chance; what we win, therefore, is in some sense earned, and consequently ours; which it is not honestly, when we come into possession by the chances of the game. I should however object to the playing at marbles, or any thing else for money, lest it should induce a love of gambling that would soon transfer itself to other ventures. Cards are generally played for money. They might be a most innocent amusement in childhood, were there no danger of their becoming the taste of the woman, and were there nothing to be wou or lost by the game."

“But what, Mama,” said the little girl, “ is the harm of winning or losing?"

“ If you win, what you gain is not honestly yoursyou neither earned it, nor deserved it, nor received it as a voluntary gift—it is not therefore a lawful possession: the law of man does not consider it so, since the gamester is not obliged to pay his debts-and the law of God, I believe, would still less consider it so. This appears a small matter while the sum is small-but there is no limit to a moral maxim of this sort a little and a little added, and the sum becomes a large one. The yet greater evil is the feeling excited while you play-the eagerness, the anxiety, the temper, the impatience, and the ultimate vexation-it is impossible to see a party of children play at cards for money, and not perceive these effects, even more obviously than among elder people, because they have less controul over their emotions to suppress or conceal them. All these unnatural stimulants to passion, these morbid stirrings of the spirits, are destructive to the simple, calm, and innocent delights of childhood, and creative of a desire for excitation, that the duties and ordinary enjoyments of after life are scarcely likely to supply. I had the same reason for not allowing you to put your money into the raffle I considered that the feeling of pleasure which would attend on your winning, or of pain on your losing, would be equally injurious to the mind it acted on, as arising from no legitimate cause of pain or pleasurebeside that the desire of winning, and if there were no desire to win, there would be no pleasure in playing, must be gratified at the cost of your antagonist: a most dangerous taste to cultivate, is the desire of succeeding at another's cost, and that without any superior merit or exertion of your own."

Here the conversation closed : I thought the mother's remarks were very sensible and just, and indisputably applicable to the years of our childhood, whatever they might be later--but a surprise indeed awaited me. I had been invited by my friend to accompany her the following day to the school at which her elder daughters were educating, to be present at the distribution of prizes. As some of my readers have inferred from my former remarks on the subject, that I disapprove of prizes altogether, I may take this opportunity of assuring them I do not so—reward is the natural fruit of merit, and I would have it ever be its attendant-in a school or elsewhere, I would have each one rewarded

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

according to their merit—but it should be their abstract, not their comparative success—a prize for reaching some given point, not for outstripping without effort a less competent, but as willing competitor. This by the way-for what I went to see is by no means to the point.

When we had passed the stone wall and iron gate by which the corruptions of the world are supposed to be excluded from the mind not yet sufficiently matured to resist them, we were shown into the hall of this mansion of education, already crowded with the young candidates for honour or reward-as yet I knew not which. They wore their gayest dress, and the apartment was decked as for festivity ; but it did not strike me that the countenances, as I examined them successively, wore exactly a festive aspect-there was an expression of painful anxiety in most, and in those that had an air of confident gaiety, it did not seem to sit altogether easy. There was not one among them I could have selected as the picture of conscious merit waiting its reward. I began to apprehend that by some strange mischance, not one among them thought she could make good her claim. The ceremony began, and the names of many were in succession called : as each young lady heard her own, a vivid expression of pleasure passed over her features, but they soon resumed the previous expression of anxiety: while those who did not hear their names, changed their air of doubt to one of sullen despondency. I begged to know the meaning of this proceeding, and was informed that those whose names were not called, had on previous examination been found undeserving to be admitted as competitors for reward. Nothing could be more just than that those who had merited no recompence should expect none, and receive none-though I did not perceive why they should have been kept to this time in ignorance of their exclusion, the harrassment of uncertainty and suspense not being considered particularly good for the susceptible spirits of childhood.

The more deserving competitors were now numbered, and an equal number of ornamented cards were put into a most portentous bag of bright blue satin. Now again I was a little puzzled : there were fifteen ladies of this non-excluded class—they were of different ages and most likely of very different attainments--but to all seeming they must be of exactly equal merit, for the same bag received all the cards, and the cards that went into the bag were all alike. As my old trick of listening could avail me, nothing, where the most profound and suspensive silence prevailed, I was obliged to betake myself to guessing how this could be: my best conjecture was, that to avoid all rivalship, every deserving pupil was to have a prize proportioned to her individual merit, and that though my eye could not perceive it, there must be written on each card the name of a lady and the prize adjudged to her. It is true I did not exactly see how these decrees of justice were to find their way out of the blue satin bag into the fingers of the rightful possessor, unless Merlin, or Katerfelter, or some other of the conjuring tribe, were hidden at the bottom of it, when each in succession thrust in her little hand. What was my surprise when, out of fifteen ladies who had been pronounced deserving of reward for their improvement in musick, the occasion of this first lottery, one only gained the prize--not by merit, or talent, or industry superior to her competitors, but by the accident of putting her fingers on the right card-while all the rest, adjudged deserving of reward, were to suffer the disappointment of excited expectation, and see another enjoy the recompence to which their own claim had been admitted equal, and perhaps was known to be superior. I need not describe the repeated ceremony-one after another the lotteries went on, for each different branch of education. I turned to my friend when the ceremony concluded, and asked her how she could suffer the minds of her children to be thus acted on-their feelings thus senselessly ex

« AnteriorContinuar »