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TRUE AND FALSE SENTIMENT.

205

Sensibility, to be genuine, must be an active, not a passive principle; but in order to render it such, care must be taken to direct the attention of children to the proper objects of their sympathy, and at the same time, by strengthening their reasoning faculties, to fit them for the performance of useful services towards those in whose suffering condition they have become interested. There must be no indulgence allowed of that selfish weakness falsely called sensibility; but to divest them of this, habitual exertion, should opportunity favour it, will be found most effectual.

We have no reason for supposing that the nerves of those noble females, who in the olden time used to dress the ghastly wounds of their warrior relatives, were, by nature, less finely strung than those of the modern fine lady who faints at the sight of a cut finger ; neither do I believe that those pious sisters of the religious orders, who in more recent times, during periods of war or pestilence, have devoted themselves to the service of the sick and wounded, have been enabled to go through their beneficent, but often revolting duties, by reason of lack of sensibility; but, on the contrary, have found in it both their strength and their reward.

Mrs. E. Hamilton, in one of her essays, treating of true and false sentiments, and their effects, observes very beautifully, “No sooner is the suffering of any sentient being made known to us through our own organs of perception, than the painful sensation immediately produced is found 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 the alleviation of its misery. 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 pains of 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 fellowcreatures which produce a mitigation of their sufferings, most effectually relieve ourselves from the pain of the sensations occasioned by witnessing them.”

This is as logically correct as it is lucidly expressed; and most desirable is it to impress this fact on the minds of females in particular, since they are more prone than the other sex to entertain false notions concerning the nature of sensibility, and to permit their attention to be so engrossed by their own sensations as not only unnecessarily to prolong their pains, but to prevent their being of use to others on sudden emergencies, or in circumstances that greatly affect their feelings.

That there is a constitutional sensibility, as well as a constitutional temper, few, I imagine, will dispute; not only in relation to the pains, but to the pleasures of life also. Indeed, the greater susceptibility and higher appreciation of the latter

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seem to have been kindly bestowed as compensation for the former. This sentiment has been elegantly expressed by the most popular songwriter of modern times :

6 The heart that is soonest awake to the flowers

Is always the first to be touched by the thorns."

But when we see, that in almost

every instance in which we know the sympathetic affections to have been early cultivated, they flow in a full and generous tide from the heart, and continue to do so to the latest period of life, we are led to conclude, that although nature may have endowed some individuals with a larger share of sensibility than others, still, in most cases, it may be produced by education.

FAVOURITISM.

I have said that the sensibility of children is liable to be perverted: I might add, that it may be drawn upon too largely; that it may be outraged, and converted into a source of malevolence. Parents do this in a most cruel manner when, with the view of gaining greater ascendancy, or possibly of calling forth a livelier degree of affection towards themselves, they play upon the sensibility of their children. Sometimes this is done by exciting their jealousy-a most fatal error. Under no circumstances whatever can partiality, or an appearance of it, be justified in a parent. If it be assumed, in order, as I observed, to provoke love,

it is a base and unworthy fraud; if real, a flagrant injustice.

“ Children who are accurate observers of the countenance, and who have a superior degree of penetration, discover very early the symptoms of displeasure or of affection in their friends; they also perceive quickly the dangers of rivalship from their companions. If experience teaches them that they must lose in proportion as their companions gain, either in fame or in favour, they will necessarily dislike them as rivals: their hatred will be as vehement as their love of praise and affection is ardent. Thus children who have the most lively sympathy are, unless they be judiciously educated, the most in danger of feeling the malevolent passions of jealousy and envy. It is inhuman, and, in every point of view, unjustifiable in us to excite these painful feelings in children, as we too often do by the careless or partial distribution of affection and applause. Exact justice will best prevent jealousy; each individual submits to justice, because each in turn feels the benefit of its protection.'

It is, I grant, often difficult so to regulate our own feelings as to preserve the balance of this equal justice. It is very difficult to refrain from shewing, still more from entertaining partiality. Some children are so much more amiable in manners and dispositions than others, that they insensibly win from us a larger portion of our regard.

* Edgeworth on Education.

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But surely those who have brought into existence these helpless beings, dependant upon them for tenderness and care, appealing to them for clemency and forbearance, ought to render them at least dispassionate justice, whatever be the imperfections of their nature. If there be one duty more imperative than another, incumbent not only on parents but on all who undertake the office of tuition, it is that of strict impartiality. I have known such misery, such family disunion result from favouritism, that I lay perhaps more stress upon this point than I otherwise might have done; convinced that it is impossible to be too impressive in regard to it.

It is not always that favouritism has the excuse of more amiability of manner and disposition on the object preferred. Sometimes it is called forth by a larger share of personal beauty: sometimes it is the youngest that is the favourite, sometimes the eldest. Sometimes it appears to arise from caprice, or is the result of circumstances in which the qualities of the child have no concern whatever. I have before pointed out that the preference of mothers for their sons most commonly originates in pride, and that species of egotism which, to the exclusion of all other affections, identifies itself with the object most capable of gratifying the ruling propensity.

Nothing can be more deplorable than to hear the father and mother of a family wrangling about

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