In ancient days, when Athens was the centre of culture and of learning, the Greek mothers were more prone to regard the significance of pre-natal influences than are the mothers of the present day of putative advancement.
The hereditary tendencies of child-life, with all its complexities of racial and ancestral character and the qualities resulting from the dual source of parentage, were then perhaps better understood, or at least more seriously considered; also the obvious but grossly disregarded fact that the cradled infant of today may be the responsible citizen of the future, was kept more effectively in mind and its significance to the State more fully recognized.
The wisdom of Solomon was never more clearly demonstrated than when he said: “Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” It is a piece of world philosophy which has reigned unquestioned throughout the ages—a policy upon which human discernment, in Church and State, has relied with unfailing effect; “for the thoughts of a child are long, long thoughts”—those well-remembered words, how true; for those “long thoughts”—the mental environment of the formative period of child-life—do inevitably determine the future character of the individual, and the immediate result of neglect in these vitally important stages is painfully and promptly apparent in the aggressive and unchildlike deportment of the turbulent young neophytes of both sexes, so disproportionately in evidence in all directions throughout the community of the present, as to bring into ridicule and utter contempt existing methods of control.
This dire defect in individual restraint may be largely ascribed to both physical and mental degeneracy, of hereditary origin; and when to this is added the attempts of parents to maintain the tranquility of the home by threats, bribery and fatuous promises—undue severity on the one hand and undue licence on the other—serious developments are not far to seek. It has been well said that children who are governed through their appetites in their infancy are usually governed by their appetites in maturity.
Thus it is, by unwise methods of control which appeal wholly to the spirit of greed, emulation and selfishness in the child—the purely animal instincts—with perhaps the occasional degrading influence of corporal punishment, as a later development, that so many young lives are wrecked and the downward path made easy which leads through duplicity to crime. The infantile precosity of the age leaves little scope for the old-time sentimental prudery of parents who fail to discriminate between innocence and ignorance; but it has been stated by a well known American authority on the subject of child-culture, whose experience of child-life and schools is nation-wide, that only about one child in a hundred receives proper instruction early enough to protect it from vice. Then again there supervenes the evil of the competitive school system which, too frequently, forces the education of a child beyond the natural order of growth. Countless numbers of little ones are injured by enforced premature development, thereby diverting the vital forces to the development of the brain which should be devoted to the development of the body.
Encompassed by such a chain of adverse circumstances as the combined result of parental egotism and pedantic, pedagogical ignorance, is it wonderful, I would ask, that the ghastly record of the hideous sacrifice of child-life is what it is, and that the young lives which do by chance escape the horrible holocaust, still reap the prevailing harvest of prolific ills of which the coming explanation will give some adequate conception.
Often the fondly futile questions fall from the anxious lips of maternal foreboding: What has the future in store for me? Will my child live? Will providence grant me this long-sought blessing? A thousand such thoughts continually assail the heart in a mother’s intense solicitude; but not in vain will her hopes be set, if haply, she may reverently follow the course of Mother Nature’s laws and precepts, into which I will endeavor to give you some insight.
Every thinking man must shudder to find it recorded in statistical tables how insane asylums and prisons are overflowing, how suicides and crimes against life and soul are but common incidents. It is not hard for each one of us to see the demon of greed and avarice in the eyes of those we meet, ready and eager to snatch away the very bread from the lips of his fellow man because he, too, is hungry and lacking life’s necessities. The egotism of mankind grows constantly stronger; all are in haste to become rich, that thus they may enjoy life before its little span is spent.
What has become of the youths exuberant in strength, who once were wont to set out, all jubilant with song, in their heyday of freedom, to revel in nature and bathe their lungs in its balsamic atmosphere—to return strengthened to their sleep at early evening, and who really sought to retain their health? They who were the pride of their parents, the joy of their sisters, the blissful hope of a waiting bride. Can we recognize such in the average youth of today,—the citizen of the tomorrow—these effigies of men, degraded by the demons of alcohol and nicotine, by the gambling passion, and by the company of loose women, into dissipated dissolute invalids unwholesome in themselves and a menace to the race?