Зображення сторінки

80 remembered and observed as to indicate a real and felt interest in it by all, then the home in which they are so cherished is proportionally endeared to feeling, and what has magnified them they are ready to magnify.

On the same principle, too, public days and festivals, those of the school, those of the state, and those of religion, are to be looked upon with favor, as times in which they are to be gladdened by the shows, and plays, and simple pleasures appropriate to the occasions; care being only taken to put them in no connection with vice, or any possible excess. Let them see what is to be seen, enjoy what is to be enjoyed, and shun with just so much greater sensibility whatever is loose, or wild, or wicked.

Religious festivals have a peculiar value to children ; such I mean as the festivals of Thanksgiving and Christmas-one a festival of thanks for the benefits of Providence, the other for the benefits of that supernatural providence which has given the world a Saviour and a salvation. Both are religious, and, in that fact, have their value; for nothing will go farther to remove the annoyance of a continual, unsparing, dry restraint upon the soul of childhood, and produce a feeling, as respects religion, of its real genial character, than to have it bring its festive and joyously commemorative days. One of the great difficulties in a properly religious nurture is, that religion has to open its approaches to the soul, and make its beginnings in the shape of law; to say God requires of you this, forbids you in that, makes it your life to be set in all ways of obedience. It takes on thus a guise of constraint, and so far wears a repulsive look; but if it can show how genial it is, how truly it loves even childish enjoyment, by gilding for it days of joy and festive celebrations, then the severities of law and responsible obedience take on themselves a look of benignity, and it begins to be felt that God commands us, not to cripple us, but to keep us safe and lead us into good. Snch days, it is true, may be greatly abused by what is really unchristian; what is sensual and low, and very close to vice itself; and it is much to be regretted that the Christmas festival, otherwise so beautiful and appropriate, taken as a Christian commemoration of the greatest fact of the world's history, has been so commonly associated with traditional looseness and excess. The friends of such a day can not do it any so great honor, as to clear it entirely of the excess and profane jollity by which it was made to commemorate any thing and every thing but Christ, that, setting it in character as a genuine religious festivity, they may give it to all friends of ('ırist as a day of universal observance.

Happily there is now such an abundance of games and plays prepared for the entertainment of children, that there is no need of allowing them in any that stand associated with vice. Those plays are generally to be most favored that are to be had only in the open air, and in forins of exercise that give sprightliness and robustness to the body. At the same time, there needs to be a preparation of devices for the entertainment of children indoors in the evening ; for the prophet did not give it as a picture of the happy days of Jerusalem, that the streets of the city should be full of boys and girls playing there in the evening, or into the night, away from their parents and the supervision of their home. There is any thing signified in that but happiness and public well-being. Christian fathers and mothers will never suffer their children to be out in the public streets in the evening, unless they are themselves too loose and selfindulgent to assume that care of the conduct and the hours of their children, which is imposed upon them by their parental responsibilities. In country places, far removed from all the haunts of vice, and in neighborhoods where there are no vicious children, it might work no injury if boys were allowed to be out, now and then, in their coasting or skating parties in the evening. But the better rule in large towns, the absolute rule, having no exceptions as regards very young children, will be that they are never to be out or away from home in the evening. Meantime, it will be the duty of the parents, and a kind of study especially of the mother, to find methods of making the house no mere prison, but a place of attraction, and of always cheerful and pleasant society. She will provide books that will feed their intelligence and exercise their tastes, pictures, games, diversions, plays; set them to inventing such thenselves, teaching them how to carry on their little society, in the playful turns of good nature and fun, by which they stimulate and quicken each other; drilling them in music, and setling them forward in it by such beginnings that they will shortly be found exercising and training each other; shedding over all the play, infusing into all the glee, a certain sober and thoughtful look of character and principle, so that no overgrown appetite for sport may render violent pleasures necessary, but that small, and gentle, and easy, and almost sober pleasures, may suffice; becoming, at last, even most satisfactory. Here is the field of the mother's greatest art, viz. : in the finding how to make a happy and good evening for her children. Here it is that the lax, faithless, worthless mother most entirely fails; here the good and wise mother wins her best successes.

Meantime some care must be exercised, that the religious life itself be never set in an attitude of repugnance to the plays of childhood. There must be no attempt to raise a conscience against play. Any such religion will certainly go to the wall; any such conscience will be certainly trampled, and things innocent will be done as if they were crimes; done with a guilty feeling; done with as bad effects every way, on the character, as if they were really the worst things. Nothing is more cruel than to throw a child into the attitude of conflict with God and his conscience, by raising a false conscience against that which both God and nature approve. It is nothing less than making a gratuitous loss of religion, required by no terms of reason, justified by no principle, even of Christian sacrifice itself.

Suppose, for example, that a child has begun to show many pleasant evidences of love to God and all good things, but that he is eager still in play, or sometimes gets quite wild in the excitement of it. If, at such a time, it is sprung upon him, as a conclusion, that he does not truly love God, because he is so much taken by the excitements of play, he will thus be discouraged without reason, in all his confidences of piety, and it will be strange, if by-andbye he does not begin to show a settled aversion to religious things. How can he do less, when he is compelled to see it, as in conflict with all the most innocent and most truly natural instincts of his age? Or, to make the case more plain, drawing the question to a closer point, suppose the child, having so many evidences of piety in his dispositions, to be found at some kind of play in the family prayers, or that he rushes out from such prayers, in a manner that indicates eagerness and an emancipated feeling, or that he sometimes shows uneasiness in the hours of public worship on Sunday, or gives manifest tokens, in the morning, of a desire to escape from it, is it then to be set down, in your parental remonstrances with him, that he has, of course, no love to God, or the things of religion ? By no means. How often does the adult Christian feel even a disinclination to such things; how often hurry away from his formal prayer, that he may get into his shop, or his field, or into some negotiation that has haunted his sleep in the night; how often sit through sermons with his mind on the game of politics, on the investment made or to be made; on his journey, or his mortgage, or the rivals he has in his trade? Is it worse for a child to be after his plays, with only the same kind of eagerness ? Doubtless all such engrossments of the soul, whether of one kind or the other, are to be taken as bad signs, and, as far as they go, to be allowed their due weight. But which is worse and more fatal, the child's

undue possession by the spirit of play, or the man's by the spirit of gain—the honest, artless, letting forth of nature by one, or the deliberate, studied, scheming of the other—it is not difficult, I think, to guess. No matter if the latter is more sober and thoughtful in the mood, observing a better show of gravity. For just that reason he is only to be judged the more harshly. If then we can bear with adult Christians, who are much in the world, and, forgetting themselves often, fall into moods of real disinclination to their duty, are we to set it down as some total evidence against the piety of a child, that, by mere exuberance of life, he is occasionally hurried away from sacred things, into matters of play? Nothing is more unjust. Why should we require it of a child to be perfect, when we do not require it of a man? And if we tolerate inconstancy of feeling or impulse in one, why not a much less worldly and deliberate inconstancy in the other?

Thus far we speak for the side of play, showing how far off it is from the purpose of religion to take away, or suppress, the innocent plays of childhood; how ready it is, on the other hand, to foster them and give them sympathy. But it is not the whole of life, even to a child, to be indulged in play. There is such a thing as order, no less than such a thing as liberty; and the process of adjustment between these two contending powers, begins at a very early date. Under the law of the house, of the school, and of God, the mere play impulse begins very soon to be tempered and moderated by duty, and the problem is to make divine order itself, at last, a state of liberty analogous to the state of play, as already suggested. But the law that is to fashion such order will be first felt as a restriction; then, when it becomes the spirit of the life, the order itself will be liberty. There is no such thing, therefore, as a possibility to childhood of unrestricted play. Restriction must be encountered as often as the order of the house demands it, then as often as the school demands it, then as often as the duties of religion demand it. Though such restrictions are never to be looked upon as hostile to the child's play, but only as terms that are really necessary for his training into the organic relations under which he is born, best for his character, and even best for the enjoyments of his play itself. Otherwise he would either become sated by it in a short time, or his appetite for it would become so egregiously overgrown, that no possible devices or means could be invented to keep pace with it. Besides, a child, thus put to nothing but mere play, would very soon grow into such lightness and dissipation of feeling, as to be mentally addled, and would so be wholly incapacitated for any of the more sober and manly offices of life.

Here, then, begins a process of training into moral order, which, without wishing to be any restriction upon play, is yet of necessity snch a restriction. The child is required to conform his conduct, including his plays, to the peace of the house, to the conditions of sick persons in it, to the hours and times and general comfort of other inmates older than himself. Errands are put upon him that require him to forego his pleasures. When he is old enough, he is set to works of industry, it may be, that he may contribute something to the general benefit. By all which restrictions of play, he is only prepared to enjoy his pastimes and plays the more. The restrictions he will doubtless feel, at the time, and may be somewhat restive under them; but when he is thoroughly brought into the order of the house, and is set in the habit of serving it, as an interest of his own, then he will obey, contrive, and work, and even drudge himself to serve it, constrained by no motive but the service itself.

In the same manner it will be laid upon him to be at his place in the school, to be punctual to his times, to miss no lesson, to hold his mind to his studies by close, unfaltering application, even though it cost him a loss of just that liberty in play that he would most like, and take it as the very bliss of his good fortune to have. Restricted thus by the order of the school, he will only enjoy his playtimes the more, and finally will come to the enjoyment of study itself for its own sake.

And so it will be in religion. There must, of course, be in it, what may be called restrictions upon children. All law is felt as restriction at the first, but it will not be that God makes war on their innocent plays; they only need as much, to be established in right conduct, well-doing, and piety, as to have their indulgence in such pleasures. If God will take them away from all misrule and wretchedness, and will bring them into all best conditions of blessedness and peace, and even of liberty itself, he must put them under his commandments, train them into his divine will, and settle them in his own perfect order; and if he is obliged, in such a design, to infringe here and there upon their plays, it is not because he likes the infringement, but only that he seeks the higher bliss of character for them. Thus when a little child is required to say his prayers and retire at the proper time for sleep, there is nothing to complain of in that kind of constraint, even though he wants to continue his play; for the thing required is plainly for his good

« НазадПродовжити »