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No period of the life of man offers to our consideration more points of interest and importance than its commencement. We are so much the creatures of habit and circumstance, and our modes of feeling and of taste are formed by degrees so imperceptible, that whilst we attribute some part of their construction to almost every event which may have happened to us, we trace their origin and tendency to those of the earliest and most impressible years of our existence. The evil which is within us was then fomented, or the principles of religion and of moral excellence were then first inculcated and encouraged, either by the example and instruction of those who had the disposal of the days of our infancy, or by the events which the circumstances of our life threw around us. To those who have watched with anxious solicitude the progress of disposition and habit in a family, the truth of these remarks will im
mediately commend itself. They have seen the growth of evil, from the germ through all the gradations of comparative weakness and confirmed strength; or they have witnessed the gradual submission of the heart to the better influence of true religion and morality.
The mind of man, as well as his body, is progressive. The flow of life in one is not more constant than the flow of thought in the other: and whatsoever be their original characters, they both tend to maturity, and both receive daily accessions of strength and of form. The periods of their maturity may differ, but the tendency of mind is always to this state: and the refined and religious man does not become more confirmed in that which is pure and excellent, than the ignorant and unchastised in habits of prejudice and error. The development even of excellent qualities needs control; and against the influence of surrounding evil, the inexperienced mind possesses no sufficient powers of counteraction. ' Education, it will hence follow, in order to produce every good effect which may be expected from it, must have reference to the earliest years of infancy, as well as to the more advanced periods of our life. It must be conducted under the conviction, that it does not require a more judicious care to select the food
of the body, on its entrance into life; to check the disease which threatens it; or to guide its earliest efforts into action, than it does to choose what may afford the best nourishment to the mind, and to watch over and regulate the first energies which it may put forth.
Such considerations seldom present themselves to the mind of the parent of a poor family. The great and almost the sole aim of the mother, to whom the infancy of life is necessarily entrusted, is to keep the child out of the way of bodily injury, and to secure, by every means, immediate submission to her commands. The authority which is thus preserved, is principally that of the passions. It oscillates between anger and indulgence: or, when neither the one nor the other of these may be employed, it leaves the infant uncontrolled, to adopt any mode of feeling or action, which the natural disposition may give life to, or circumstances suggest. When the parent is weary of the trouble which thus devolves upon her, she seeks relief, by sending her infant children to the residence of a dame, who is contented, for a small remuneration, to hold a contest with the passions of the young, and, by whatever means, to reduce their feelings into an obedience to her commands.
Whether the evil which attends this arrangement shall be counterbalanced by the good, must depend on the character of the superintendant, or on the habit of feeling which is prevalent in the little assembly. The system most frequently pursued in such schools is confessedly prejudicial, both to the education of the mind and to the health of the body of the infant. The children receive whatever instruction they may obtain in a mode which is illsuited to encourage a desire for farther knowledge, and they are obliged to pass their day in a small and crowded room, obnoxious to the evil effects of an impure atmosphere, and to every disease which may have fixed itself on the little company around them.
The system of Infants' Schools has taken its rise from convictions similar to those which have thus been stated. This system does not contemplate the intellectual part of man alone : it regards the whole human being as the subject of education. It is designed to correct the moral feeling, the passions, and the heart; as well as to store the memory with that which is excellent and useful, and to give to the judgment the habit of discriminating, with accuracy, between truth and falsehood. The mind itself is in this system the first object. The principal