Education of Children by Albany Poyntz

Neither the illustrious preceptor of Alexander, nor the amiable preceptor of the Duke of Burgundy, nor all the professors of the universities of England and France, ever effected so much in the way of education, as that unrecognised president of all universities and public schools—Example!—From the hour of their birth, children begin to imitate. Their first words are mimicries of what they hear pronounced before them. Hence the origin of different idioms and enunciations. Montaigne made Latin the mother tongue of his son, by surrounding him with persons who spoke no other language, and even a nurse who spoke Latin.

The intellect of children expands long before they have the power of expressing their ideas. Physicians have affirmed that children have been known to die of jealousy, before they were old enough to express their sensations. Excessive notice of another child, or seeming neglect of themselves, has been found to induce a state of languor, and hasten their end. Young children suffer doubly in illness, from the incapability of expressing their pain.

Their language being formed upon our own, and their conduct framed upon our own, the duty of placing desirable examples before them is sufficiently evident; yet we frequently punish them for faults of which the first lesson was given by ourselves. In many conditions of life, however, parents are forced to delegate to other hands the care of their progeny. The labouring poor, for instance, cannot constantly watch over them. While the rich wantonly confide their infants to the care of menial hands, the poor trust them to any which God is pleased to send to their aid. It is even more essential to avoid giving bad examples to children than to offer them good. Yet how often are family dissensions and recriminations exposed to their observation! A man and wife living ill together, who so far forget themselves as to quarrel before their children, create a preference and partizanship which must diminish the respect equally due to both parents. In humbler life, abusive language often ends with blows; and what must be the effect of such scenes on the tender mind of infancy?

The presence of children on such occasions, when proved before the magistracy, ought to be considered an aggravation of the offence against the law. Fathers and mothers by upbraiding each other in presence of their children, often beget impressions which all their future representations are unable to eradicate; and of what avail to the comfort of parents the brilliant accomplishments and attractive manners of their children, if a son have been taught to disparage his father, or a daughter to think ill of her mother! Often do children so young as to appear deficient in observation, receive vague but indelible impressions, afterwards recalled by a retrospective view; when the past appears clear and free from the vapours which veiled it from our earlier comprehension.

Among the lower orders, if a poor man be laborious, his son is usually the same. But the son of a father who ill-uses the mother, is pretty sure to turn out an idler and a dunce in childhood, and, in riper years, a ruffian.