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It may afford some consolation to those whose views are now called visionary, to look back and inquire how many opinions are at present received into the company of undoubted truths, which, thirty years since, were ridiculed as the fine-spun dreams of a sickly sensibility. With what shrugs of contempt would the majority of persons, then reputed wise, have heard of an attempt to bestow on our whole population the forbidden fruit of the alphabet, and all its combinations, ending with the alarming power of actually “ reading a book.” But great as this wonder would have been, “a greater is behind :” the population is to be thus instructed without the assistance of the rod or cane. “ These,” it is now said, “ are reserved for the sons of the nobility and gentry.” Dr. Bell and Joseph Lancaster have discarded them, and rule by the mixed principles of imitation, habit, and that much-calumniated feeling, emulation : a feeling as distinct from envy, as generosity from profuseness, prudence from avarice, or any other virtue from the relative vice to which its excess might possibly lead.
The habit of governing children by the fear of corporal suffering, has fortunately been losing ground for many years, but by very slow degrees. As improvements advance, however, their motion is accelerated ; and the consciousness of this tendency should console us for seeing that they move with an almost imperceptible progression at their commencement. · As soon as a child can comprehend why it is punished by physical pain, it has intelligence enough to be restrained by milder measures. Some are so extremely obstinate, that it is necessary to prevent them, by force, from doing what we forbid; but even this rarely happens under a tolerable system of education, and when it does, our coercion should stop at the point which operates merely as restraint.
Chastisement, whether in the form of whipping, caning, slapping, ear-pulling, hair-dragging, or any other uncouth and barbarous shape, never can produce good in private education ; and many of the wise are doubtful of its having a favourable effect, even in public schools. It has, we believe, been banished from the Charterhouse, and the principle of emulation substituted with the happiest results. In domestic life there are few sights more degrading and disgusting, than that of a person at once judge and executioner, inflicting indefinite pain on a trembling child, whose punishment is often redoubled and prolonged, under pretence of the manner in which he receives it, be that manner what it may: his fortitude being called obstinacy, his timidity peevishness, his patience want of feeling; while sometimes the passionate actor in this odious scene, increasing in violence by the expression of his own anger, after having given the first blow, is much more inclined to give the second: a melancholy proof of that disposition to cruelty, which is the darkest stain on our fallen nature.
If parents find the tutors and governesses they have selected unable to enforce obedience without chastisement, they cannot too soon dismiss them as incompetent; for anything may be made a punishment to a child. Where pocket-money is allowed, a slight fine, or at other times a temporary privation, is often a useful addition to a word or a look of displeasure; but these last alone, well managed, are rarely insufficient. To make use of shame in this way, is a hazardous experiment. Shame is so fine a weapon, it were pity to risk its edge, or even its polish, by tampering with it for our purposes. “ Therein the patient must minister unto himself.”
Above all, a child should see that no punishment, however slight, is intended to be vindictive, but simply an act destined to prevent him from hurting himself or hurting others. This prevents him from feeling any resentment or sense of injustice, or receiving those false impressions, which even now render it, to many persons, so difficult to separate some idea of vengeance from punishment. In the debates of the last session, whenever the reform of our criminal code, or prison discipline, was touched on, we saw proofs of this, even among our legislators.
The sense of injustice being, perhaps, the severest of inflictions, is a pang from which we should most carefully shield the young committed to our care. To an ingenuous nature it is a torment never forgot, and with difficulty forgiven : what must it be when united with personal suffering !
From ill-advised corporal punishments, received in youth and infancy, have sprung pusillanimity and insanity, in some constitutions ; hardness, cruelty, and obstinacy, in others; besides various minor failings, and indescribable aberrations from a healthy tone of mind.
It has been urged that, “ Spare not the rod,” is a maxim of the highest authority. But, if not figurative, we may humbly conceive that, although meant to be acted on under the Jewish dispensation, which deterred from crime chiefly by denunciations of temporal evils, it is superseded by the law of kindness in the New Testament, where we find meekness and gentleness uniformly inculcated in all domestic relations.
Parents are seldom sufficiently anxious to proportion censure to offence. Some are capable of giving a benignant and grave rebuke, when