Letter VIII. November 15, 1818
My dear Greaves,
I would call upon the mother to be thankful to God, that He has so much facilitated her task, by implanting in her infant's heart those germs, which, under His guidance, and with His blessing, it will be her duty to develop, to protect, and to strengthen, until they may be matured into real fruits of faith and love.
For it will be her task, in a world of corruption, to guard infant innocence, and to mature it into principle. In a world of inconstancy, of distrust, of unbelief, it will be incumbent on her to be assiduous, that the serene, the amiable security of that innocence, with which it now reposes in her arms, may one day grow into unshaken confidence in all that is good here below, and in all that is sacred above. And in a world of selfishness, hers will be the care to direct and expand the instinctive attachment of her infant into the spring of active benevolence, which in a good cause will shrink from no self-denials, and think no sacrifice too great.
How could she ever hope to succeed in this, the great end of education, if the Creator had not instructed the child with those faculties which will admit of judicious direction and development? The requisite for education does not only consist in the qualification of those who undertake the task; it consists in the qualification of the child also, in whose nature that must be found, which proclaims louder than anything else the great end of infinite wisdom in the creation of man. First of all, therefore, let the mother rejoice, that whatever may be the weakness of human nature, however great may be the temptations, yet there is in her child a something, the origin of which, as a gift of God, dates prior to temptation, or to corruption. Let her rejoice, that in her child there is that, which "nor gems, nor stores of gold, Nor purple state, nor culture, can bestow: But GOD alone! - when first His active hand Imprints the secret bias of the soul." But will this doctrine be equally acceptable to all as it is to myself, and as I trust that it will be to you? I have heard it said, my dear friend, that there are many in my own country, and in yours, who will reject it altogether, because they will say, that it is not (orthodox). Now I would ask, who the men are, who think they are privileged to say, that their views alone are (orthodox?) that their doctrine alone, to the exclusion of all others, is the right one? I could wish them to come forward, and tell us what are their credentials; credentials, not indeed signed by the hand of men, however wise, for the wisest are liable to error; - however powerful, for the most powerful may be tempted into pride; but testimonials that will fully bear them out in their assumed character as the exclusive owners, as the sole interpreters of (His) truth, who wishes all His children "to take the water of life freely;" and not "hew out cisterns that have no water," nor to be "tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine." If they have any such credentials, it is fit that we should know them, and bow to their authority. If not, it is fit, at least, that they should not pretend at what does not belong to them, any more than it does to us, - exclusive authority, and that they should, in their turn, grant to us, what nobody will think of withholding from them - the right of (freedom of conscience and private judgement).
I do indeed hope, that the time is at length come, when it will no longer be asked, whether a theory does or does not agree with the interest of one class of men, or with the preconceived opinions of another; but, whether it rests on observation, on experience, on a right use of reason, and an unbiassed view of revelation; disdaining the comments of men, and acknowledging, as its only basis, the word of God.
Thus I would meet one class of objections. But I anticipate another class of doubts, of a far different nature, - not arising from a disposition in those who hold them, to over-rate their own judgment, and consequently to slight that of others; but rather from the consideration of the weakness of all human reasoning, and from an unwillingness to part with views, which have been adopted in early youth, and conscientiously preserved as the sacred legacy perhaps of those who are no more; views which have grown upon their esteem, and which are now connected with the best interest of their heart, because they have seen those who held them, set an example which no event shall ever obliterate from their memory, and which no difficulty shall ever discourage them from imitating.
I can easily fancy, that upon similar grounds a mother might be inclined not so much to dispute the correctness of the theory, but rather to question the right of giving way to it in opposition to what she has been in the habit of revering as uncontroverted truth. "Shall she abandon principles held by those who watched with anxiety the first dawn of her own mind, when an infant, and who were unremitting in their exertions to form it, and to direct it to truth? Shall she give up her mind to the examination of theories, and those perhaps the theories of a stranger, rather than follow the wishes of her friends? Is it so necessary to inquire into the existence of facts, instead of being guided by the practice of those whom experience has taught her to respect, and whom her heart prompts her to love? Should it be so difficult to succeed, should not maternal love make up for a deficiency of knowledge? And, if so, God forbid, that her principles of education should in any way be connected with views, which she has been taught to consider as erroneous, perhaps as dangerous, and altogether opposite to divine truth?" To such doubts, and thus brought forward, I should answer: "Mother! I congratulate you on your doubts, although they tend to alienate you from views which I hold, and which thousands have held before me. But your doubts betray that feeling, to which of all others I should wish to see the heart of every mother alive. Do not then turn away, on your arduous path, from the proffered hand of one, who, though he participates not in your reasoning, yet honours your feelings, and would fain assist you, as far as in him lies, in your endeavours! It is probable that I may never know you. My days may be numbered, my glass may be run, long before you may chance to hear, that in a far distant land, in a valley between his native Alps, there lived, and lived to old age, a man, who knew not a cause of higher interest, or of greater importance, than that in which you are now engaged; whose life has been spent in endeavours, weak perhaps, but in which was concentrated all his strength, to assist in their task the mothers, and those who may act in their place, and those on whom may devolve the duty of guiding the mind at a more advanced period of youth; a man, who wishes that others may take up what he has commenced, and succeed where he may have failed; who trusts that his friends will speak, where his voice could not have gained a hearing; and act, where his own efforts would have passed unnoticed; a man, who finally believes, that there is an invisible tie to unite all those whose hearts have embraced the same sacred cause, and who would hail with delight their appearance, to whatever nation they may belong, to whatever opinions they may be addicted; a man, who, in his dreams, (and, if dreams they were, more pleasing dreams there cannot exist) has thought of such as you, whose heart is warm, whose piety is genuine, but who differ from him, and perhaps widely, in opinion.
"And on account of that difference, should there be no communion between us?"
"Do not think that I have a wish to make you a convert to my opinions. No, never swerve for one moment from the principles which you now follow, from motives that reasoning alone may suggest, unless your heart concur in it. Let this be the test by which you examine the notions that you may hear from others; and always act up to the best of your knowledge, as your conscience directs you."
"Let this be the test by which you examine the ideas now before you. Adopt of them as much as your heart will warrant you. As to the rest of them, you may, perhaps, be inclined to believe, that they have proceeded from conviction as sincere, and from intentions no less benevolent."
"But you may consider them erroneous, - some of them, perhaps, even mischievous. You may even lament, that those should have held them, whom you might wish to meet on a ground where you now must secede from them!" "I, for my own part, rejoice that my creed does not countenance any such apprehension in me with regard to you. For it is my hope, in which I rejoice, that those who have been earnest in their wish, and steadfast in their attempts to do good, not indeed relying upon any strength or merit of their own, but acknowledging their own failings, and giving God the glory of their success; it is my hope, that they may, in humbleness of heart, but with the confidence of faith, address themselves, in every situation of their life, and in their expectation for days to come, to Divine Mercy." (PSW 26 p. 63-67)