Letter IV. October 18, 1818
My dear Greaves,
when a mother has observed in her child the first traces of development, a new question suggests itself, - (How shall these expanding faculties be directed?) which of them call for the most diligent attention, and which may follow their natural course without requiring any peculiar care bestowed on their growth and regulation? which, too, have the most important bearing on the future welfare of the child?
The last question, I suppose, will be decided unanimously in favour of the heart. I cannot suppose that any mother is so morally and intellectually blind, as consciously to decide on providing for the external and temporal benefit of her child, at the expense of his inward and eternal well-being. But she may nevertheless be puzzled as to the relative importance of the faculties under her charge, and the consequent proportion of attention they separately demand.
The heart has, indeed, a pre-eminent claim on her attention. But is not the child directed and admonished by the voice of conscience within? Is he not able to decide the great question of right and wrong, merely by listening to this voice, without any particular instruction from another? And, will not the time arrive, when he becomes receptive of the truths of religion, to confirm that voice within, and to give him that moral elevation, the very idea of which is at present so far beyond his reach?
It would not be difficult to answer these questions, and to put the whole subject in its true light. But I would not offer to a mother any detailed plan for her guidance, considering it as highly essential that she should feel herself untrammelled by anything like system, the principles of which, not being her own, might only prejudice and confine her opinions and practice, without convincing her of any fitness or adaptation in the given means, to the end proposed. Why should her mind be merely the reflection of another's, whose views, perhaps, she can neither fathom nor appreciate? Is she not a mother? and has her Creator, in furnishing her with the springs of natural life for his children, left her unqualified for administering to that spiritual life which is the very end and essence of all being? Is her relation to humanity of so responsible a character, and shall not her intelligence and energy be concentrated in this one focus? Shall not her whole existence be absorbed in the exalted purpose, the unwearying effort, to accomplish the end of her creation? Nature, benevolence, religion, all demand it! and so unanimously, as to set the question for ever at rest.
I would intreat of every mother to take a general survey of life in all its varieties of aspect; and wherever happiness presents itself, not merely in semblance, but in substance, then to pause, and examine, if possible, how that happiness is constituted, and whence it originates.
It is more than probable, that she will feel rather dissatisfied with the results of her first investigation; she will find it almost impossible, amidst such distracting multiplicity of pursuits, and of characters, to select any specimens on which her eye might repose as it were from the scrutinizing search, and gather light truly illustrative of the subject. She would fain withdraw her contemplation from this scene of confusion, and direct them again into their former channel, to dwell with unmingled delight on that being so dear to her affections.
But the dearer your child is to you, fond mother! the more urgently would I insist on your examining that life into which he will one day be thrown. Do you find it replete with danger? You must encompass him with a shield that shall preserve his innocence. Do you find it a maze of error? You must show him that magic clue which shall lead to the fountain of truth. Do you find it lifeless, and dead, under all its busy superficialities? You must try to nourish in him that spirit of activity which shall keep his powers alive, and impel him forwards to improve, though all around him should be lost in the habitual mechanism of a stationary idleness. Again, therefore, enquire what may be the experience life can afford you? Look for a moment at those who have distinguished themselves from the rest of their species. Surely you would not wish your child to be one of the many, of whom nothing can be said, but that they lived and died, passing through life ingloriously, and uncharacterized by any quality, or any action than can dignify humanity. Your child can be in no class of society where the most honourable distinction is not attainable. The fertile spreading tree, however low may be the valley it grows in, is not the less welcome to the way-worn traveller, who hails its luscious fruits and grateful shades. Even among the inferior stations, you will find many who have really distinguished themselves by the industry and energy displayed in their employment, however little may be its intrinsic dignity; but their skill and perseverance have gained, and secured to them, the attention, and perhaps respect, of their neighbours and superiors.
Others will arrest your observation, placed in the more exalted ranks of society, whose amazing grasp of intelligence will appear to you as almost supernatural. You may occasionally remark it compassing extraordinary ends, with ordinary and even limited means; directing with facility the helm of national power, or over-ruling the decisions of national wisdom, or stemming the currents of national policy; and in these, or any other varieties of its character and action, you will have to admire the triumphs of mind.
These prominent actors on the stage of life are to a great number, whose destiny seems to be in their power, objects of terror: but you will scarcely find anyone disposed to withhold the tribute of admiration due to their lofty endowments. As their persons are regarded with (respect), or possibly with (fear), by others of their kind, so you will meet with many an individual who inspires his observers and acquaintance with no other sentiment than love: his natural goodness of disposition, and his unvarying kindness of intention, will never fail to produce this appropriate effect: being every man's well-wisher, he has gained the secret of access to every man's affections.
Your own acquaintance will furnish you with the original of at least one individual in each of these three classes.
Are they all happy, or any one superlatively so? (PSW 26 p. 52-55)