Imágenes de página



[ocr errors]

ascend for ages in secret to the God of retribution, and seem to be unheard; but to Him, “one day is as a thousand years,-a thousand years, as one day;" and the downfall of usurpations so unhallowed, is as inevitable, in the nature of things—in that constitution which is appointed to execute his just designs--as is the succession of cause and effect, in the phenomena of the material world.

Having thus exemplified at large a propensity, which, from the extent and diversity of its operations, our author suspects at least of being the depraved principle of human nature,' she proceeds, in the fifth and last essay, ' to inquire whether any ineans, natural or supernatural, has been granted for diminishing its force, and counteracting its influence! In the benevolent affections, she conceives that a suitable remedy, and, if duly administered, an absolute specific are to be found : and for the cultivation of these, provision both of a natural and supernatural kind, appears to have been made; the former, in the domestic relations, which shed a sunbeam upon the heart from the moment in which the infant eye is sensible to a mother's smile; and the latter, in the sublime objects, the boundless perfection, which revelation affords to the eye of the mind.

But here, as in cultivating the intellectual faculties, attention is indispensable ; and in proportion to the degree in which it is exercised upon those qualities that form the proper objects of benevolent feeling, will that feeling, in all its diversities, exist : it will be partial or universal, according to the direction and extent of their exercise.

We have not room to detail so fully as we could wish, or as the importance of the subject might well demand, the judicious observations which occupy this part of the work; and indeed we cannot deny ourselves the hope, that, at least, every mother who is anxious to devote the entire energies of her nature, the resources both of her mind and heart, to the well-being of her child, and into whose hand these volumes may fall, will be careful to peruse them at length. The view they here present --of that kindly provision which has been made by the great Parent, the Father of all the families of the earth, for cultivating the benevolent affections, is equally lovely, salutary, and impressive. In those early sympathies' which the relations of parent and child cannot fail, in some degree, to awaken, and which the judicious parent will make it the object of hourly solicitude, and of self-denying affection, to improve and confirm, are deposited the seeds of virtue and happiness; and according as they are permitted to expand, is the poison of the selfish principle counteracted. Like a grove of spice, they purify a tainted atmosphere, and destroy infection as far as their fragrance breathes. How beautiful is this view of Divine ke

volence , of beneficent appointments running parallel with the course of nature; and which, even under circumstances the least favourable, exert in a greater or less degree a salutary influence. But how fearful, on the contrary, is the responsibility which such a systein attaches to all, whether they are parents or not, who have any thing, how little soever, to do with a child. If the benevolent affections are requisite, indispensably requisite, in order to counterwork the principle of moral evil, and if they operate in exact proportion to the degree of attention which has been exercised upon qualities which form the proper objects of those affections ; how severe a restriction is imposed, and under - how weighty a penalty, upon these evil passions, that present to an infant's eye no object by which benevolent sympathies can be excited, but which, on the contrary, inevitably awaken like malevolent principles, slumbering as yet in its little heart. If all the wars of feeling leave their trace,' (a trace that is fatally intelligible to the infant eye,) with what solicitude will a mother endeavour to subdue the turbulence of her own spirit, to repress the emotions of anger and petulance, of self-indulgence and self-will, lest the involuntary indication, “ the mark of the beast," inscribed on her forehead, should destroy, by unavoidable consequence, the virtue and happiness of one, with regard to whom the Almighty has said to her,-Take this child, and bring it up for me. It cannot be too deeply impressed upon a mother's heart, that every fretful look, or unreasonable word, or deed of passion, infuses a drop of gall into the disposition of hier child, and falls like a mildew upon its opening benevolence : nor is it her own spirit and conduct only that must be thus guarded; but in all who assist her in the task of education, is

good temper, as well as good sense, indispensable. Disposition is, in general, attended to in the appointments of the nursery, though less from regard to the sympathies which a nurse may awaken, than to the bodily comfort which she has it in her power to administer or withhold when apart from the mother's eye; and it is well that, in this instance, the dictates of feeling, though less intelligent, are not less salutary than those of reason: but in choose ing assistants of every class, it is evident that the sa prin ciple should be kept in view; and that a well regulated heart, a temper that can persevere, with mild though firm resolution, against volatility or perverseness ; that can instruct with patience, and reprove with tenderness; whose sympathies are kindly awake both to the joys and the trials of childhood; and whose judicious approval is written in legible smiles; are incalculably more important in forming character, and laying the foundationstone of happiness, than is all the learning of the age com. bined.


[ocr errors]

: If, therefore, the affections are only to be cultivated by attention to such objects as are calculated to;excite and exercise them, it must be considered as an inestimable benelit, to have had the mind in a manner necessarily directed towards such objects in early life; not merely during the period of infancy only, but through the suc cessive periods of childhood and youth.' It is thus alone that the heart can be effectually opened, and rendered capable of co-operating with the understanding; a circumstance of more importance than seems to have been generally imagined. Were its importance clearly understood or duly weighed, we should see parents and teachers as anxious to cultivate in the hearts of children the feelings of love, and gratitude, and tenderness, as to imbue their minds with know ledge; or adorn them with accomplishments. But, unfortunately, as the cultivation of the affections forms, no part of the common ritual of education, it is left dependent on circumstances which do not necessarily occur.' pp. 228, 229.

There is so much sensible and benevolent remark in this part of the work, that we scarcely know where to select, or what to refuse : one passage, however, we feel constrained to mark. After adverting to the fallacy of those hopes which parents entertain respecting the future inflaence of reason upon the minds of their children, controlling passions which early indulgence has suffered to expand, and proving this fallacy from the small inAuence which reason appears to have upon their own, our autbor proceeds,

< But, besides the plea that is founded on a confidence of the allpowerful influence of reason, the plea of feeling will be urged as an ampler apology for that injudicious conduct, which, by giving scope to the operations of the selfish principle in the infant mind, prevents the development and growth of the affections. If, however, these feelings should, on examination, appear only to operate in propertion as we have identified ourselves with the object whose transient uneasiness occasions pain insupportable to our imaginations, the plea must be rejected as founded on selfishness. When parental feelings have this foundation, all ideas of happiness centre in self. The happiness of the child is then out of the question; it is self-indulgence, and self-gratification that prompts the line of conduct invariably pura sued. To give to this the nanie of love is a perversion of terms. It is the colouring of self-deceit, and self-delusion. To sacrifice the real and permanent happiness of the child, to the present gratification of the parent, is not love, but cruelty; and such it will appear to every person who has given to the subject a dué consideration. Were I to speak from my own feelings, I should confess that I have frequently, on seeing the selfish and vindictive passions produced and cherished in the mind of an infant, by a parent's self-indulgence, experienced sensations very similar to those I should have felt, on witnessing the dislocation of a tender limb, or the administration of a dose of poison. pp. 251, 252,

The third chapter of this essay, is explanatory of the causes and consequences of an imperfect cultivation of the affections ; and the inefficacy is shewn of that species of sympathy, which is excited, not by the actual presence and immediate operation of the objects calculated to inspire it, but through the medium of the imagination. It is to be feared, that the ready sensibilities which some display, and the character for benevolence which this display frequently procures, will suffer not a little from these demonstrations; but we think them, notwithstanding, just and excellent. According to Miss Hamilton, the feeling, in one case, is that of active, in the other, of passive benevolence; and this distinction is illustrated by appropriate facts affording, we think, conclusive evidence in its favour.

• The emotions of sympathy produced by an exercise of the imanation, to whatever degree they may, by minds possessed of sensibi. lity, be experienced, as they do not invariably impel to action, are too precarious to be depended on as a certain means of exciting attention to the feelings of that which suffers, so as irresistibly to prompt to its relief. In the organization of the human frame a remedy is provided for this defect. No sooner is the suffering of any sentient being made known to us through our own organs of perceptior, than the painful sensation immediately produced is found to to be compulsory, forcing us to pay that attention to the sufferer, which, in many cases, proves effectual to the preservation of its life, or to the alleviation of its misery. That the sensation in this case differs, not only in degree, but in kind, from the emotion in the former, we may be convinced by referring to our own experience." pp. 281, 282.

• But, according to the wise decree of nature, the sensation is short lived, existing no longer than it is useful. From the moment that attention is directed towards the means of alleviating the the suffering object, it becomes extinct; and thus, by one of those beautiful contrivances of nature, which are no less conspicuous in the structure of the mind than in the organization of the body, we, by those exertions to relieve our fellow creatures, which produce a miti. gation of their sufferings, most effectually relieve ourselves from the pain of the sensations occasioned by witnessing them.' p. 288.

Amiable persons have therefore no right to give themselves credit for benevolence, on account of their extreme susceptibility of benevolent impressions ; for it is not merely in willing, but in promoting the happiness of our fellow-creatures, that genuine benevolence con

, sists. Neither is it according to the vividness and strength of the emotion, but according to the constancy of its operation, that we ought to judge of the benevolence either of ourselves or others.'

pain of

p. 298.

From the fifth chapter, exhibiting the benefits derived from the exercise of judgement as guiding the operation of the affections,' we have not room to make a single extract. The work

concludes after other three chapters, the design of which is to display the necessity of supernatural means, added to those which are merely natural, or compensating for their inevitable failures, in cultivating the benevolent principle to that state of perfection, which holiness and happiness require.

Concerning the degree,' says our author, in which the benevo. lent affections contribute to social and individual happiness, there can be but one opinion. They are a branch of the tree of life, implanted in the human heart; but, alas, planted near to that tree of death, beneath whose fatal shade they, wither and decay. Were it not for this opposing principle which checks their growth, and prevents their early blossoms from arriving at maturity, the affections would produce fruits of happiness that would make a paradise of the world we inhabit. Such, however, is the strength of this opposing principle in the human heart, that, notwithstanding the ample pro. vision that has been made by nature in the frame and constitution of the mind, for the growth of the affections, they must, without means beyond that which nature has provided, be continually exposed to the danger of being perverted or destroyed.' pp. 354, 355.

It is sufficiently obvious that subjected as human nature has been, since the fall of its first parents, to the tyranny of selfish principles, and, springing from these, of malevolent passions, no perfect example of benevolence is ever presented to the infant mind. In characters approaching the most nearly to Christian perfection, some traces of depraved dispositions, some expressions of the selfish principle, still remain ; and, in proportion to their frequency and magnitude, retard the growth of virtuous sympathies : while the great majority, entirely unrestrained by Christian principle,-ignorant, indolent, or selfish,—cumbered with much serving, and rather fighting their way through domestic duties, and inveighing against those which must be encountered, than conscientiously

seeking to discharge them, the prey of feeling, of caprice, of prejudice, of self-indulgence, or of passion,-present to their children little indeed that can excite benevolent emotion. As soon nearly as the earliest and most imperative of the maternal duties are fulfilled,--fulfilled with the tenderness of instinct rather than of virtue, the tie of affection appears gradually to dissolve; parent and child become, as it were, naturally inimical to each other; the one maintaining, by right of possession and self-will, an arbitrary sway over the freedom of the other; and the latter, in return, making perpetual inroads upon the peace of the former. If we

. look at the domestic education of the poor, in large towns especially, we shall find that this representation is not overcharged; and the conduct of many in superior ranks, requires that only a small abatement be made, to render it just also with regard to

« AnteriorContinuar »