Letter III. October 7, 1818
My dear Greaves,
every mother who is aware of the importance of her task, will, I presume, be ready to devote to it all her zeal. She will think it indispensable to attain a clear view of the end for which she is to educate her children.
I have pointed out this end in my last letter. But much remains to be said on the means to be employed in the first stage of education.
A child is a being endowed with all the faculties of human nature, but none of them developed! (a bud not yet opened.) When the bud uncloses, every one of the leaves unfolds, not one remains behind. Such must be the process of education. No faculty in human nature but must be treated with the same attention; for their co-agency alone can ensure their success. But how shall the mother learn to distinguish and to direct each faculty, before it appears in a state of development sufficient to give a token of its own existence?
Not indeed from books, but from actual observation. I would ask every mother, who has observed her child with no other end but merely to watch over its safety, whether she has not remarked, even in the first era of life, the progressive advancement of the faculties?
The first exertions of the child, attended with some pain, have yet enough of pleasure to induce a repetition gradually increasing infrequency and power; and when their first efforts, blind efforts as it were, are once over, the little hand begins to play its more perfect part. From the first movement of this hand, from the first grasp which avails itself of a plaything, how infinite is the series of actions of which it will be the instrument! not only employing itself in every thing connected with the habits and comforts of life, but astonishing the world, perhaps, with some masterpiece of art, or seizing, ere they escape, the fleeting inspirations of genius, and handing them down to the admiration of posterity. The first exertion of this little hand, then, opens an immense field to a faculty which now begins to manifest itself. In the next place, the attention of the child is now visibly excited, and fixed by a great variety of external impressions: the eye and the ear are attracted wherever a lively colour, or a rousing animating sound, may strike them, and they turn, as if to inquire the cause of that sudden impression. Very soon the features of the child, and its redoubled attention, will betray the pleasure with which the senses are affected, by the brilliant colours of a flower, or the pleasing sounds of music. Apparently the first traces are now [in the] making of that mental activity which will hereafter employ itself in the numberless observations, and combinations of events, or in the search of their hidden causes, and which will be accessible to all the pleasing or painful sensations which life, in its various shapes, may excite.
Every mother will recollect the delight of her feelings on the first tokens of her infant's consciousness and rationality; indeed, maternal love knows not a higher joy than that arising from those interesting indications. Trifling to another, to her they are of infinite value. To her they reveal an eventful futurity; they tell her the important story, that a spiritual being, dearer to her than life, is opening, as it were, the eye of intelligence, and saying, in its silent, but tender and expressive language, "I am born for immortality."
But the last and highest joy, the triumph of maternal love, remains yet to be spoken of. It is the look of the child, to the eye of the mother, - that look so full of love, so full of (heart), which speaks most emphatically of its elevation in the scale of being. It is now a subject for the best gift bestowed on human nature. The voice of conscience will speak within its breast; religion will assist its trembling steps, and raise its eye to Heaven. With these convictions the heart of the mother expands with delight and solicitude: she again hails in her offspring, not merely the citizen of earth: "Thou art born," she cries, "for immortality, and an immortality of happiness: such is the promise of thy heaven-derived faculties; such shall be the consummation of thy Heavenly Father's love."
These then are the first traces of human nature unfolding in the infantine state. The philosopher may take them as facts constituting an object of study: he may use them as the basis of a system; but they are originally designed for the mother, - they are a hint from above, intended at once as her blessing and encouragement.
"For all her sorrows, all her cares, An over-payment of delight!" (PSW 26 p. 50-52)