S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
Of all hardnesses of heart there is none so inexcusable as that of parents towards their children. An obstinate, inflexible, unforgiving temper is odious upon all occasions; but here it is unnatural. The love, tenderness, and compassion, which are apt to arise in us towards those who depend upon us, is that by which the whole world of life is upheld. The Supreme Being, by the transcendent excellency and goodness of his nature, extends his mercy towards all his works; and because his creatures have not such a spontaneous benevolence and compassion towards those who are under their care and protection, he has implanted in them an instinct that supplies the place of this inherent goodness. I have illustrated this kind of instinct in former papers, and have shown how it runs through all the species of brute creatures, as indeed the whole animal creation subsists by it.
Among innumerable arguments which might be brought against such an unreasonable proceeding, I shall only insist on one. We make it the condition of our forgiveness that we forgive others. In our very prayers we desire no more than to be treated by this kind of retaliation. The case therefore before us seems to be what they call a case in point; the relation between the child and father being what comes nearest to that between a creature and its Creator. If the father is inexorable to the child who has offended, let the offence be of never so high a nature, how will he address himself to the Supreme Being, under the tender appellation of a father, and desire of him such a forgiveness as he himself refuses to grant?
They that are the first raisers of their houses are most indulgent towards their children, beholding them as the continuances, not only of their kind, but of their work; and so both children and creatures.
The joys of parents are secret, and so are their griefs and fears; they cannot utter the one, nor they will not utter the other. Children sweeten labours, but they make misfortunes more bitter; increase the cares of life, but they mitigate the remembrance of death.
The illiberality of parents, in allowances towards their children, is a harmful error, and makes them base; acquaints them with shifts; makes them sort with mean company; and makes them surfeit more when they come to plenty; and therefore the proof is best when men keep their authority towards their children, but not their purse.
Let parents choose between the vocations and courses they mean their children should take, for then they are most flexible; and let them not too much apply themselves to the disposition of their children, as thinking they will take best to that which they have most mind to. It is true, that if the affection, or aptness, of the children be extraordinary, then it is good not to cross it; but generally the precept is good, Optimum elige, suave et facile illud faciet consuetudo.
When children have been exposed, or taken away young, and afterwards have approached to their parents presence, the parents, though they have not known them, have had a secret joy, or other alteration, thereupon.
It does not, however, appear that in things so intimately connected with the happiness of life as marriage and the choice of an employment, parents have any right to force the inclinations of their children.
Bring thy children up in learning and obedience, yet without outward austerity. Give them good countenance and convenient maintenance according to thy ability; otherwise thy life will seem their bondage, and what portion thou shalt leave them at thy death, they will thank death for it, and not thee.
I suppose it never occurs to parents that to throw vilely educated young people on the world is, independently of the injury to the young people themselves, a positive crime, and of very great magnitude; as great, for instance, as burning their neighbours house, or poisoning the water in his well. In pointing out to them what is wrong, even if they acknowledge the justness of the statement, one cannot make them feel a sense of guilt, as in other proved charges. That they love their children extenuates to their consciences every parental folly that may at last produce in the children every desperate vice.
We are aptand by we I mean, of course, we people getting into yearsnot to give our young friends half the credit they deserve for being able to manage for themselves. We like to continue to handle the reins and the whip; which is quite right while we are driving our own private carriage, but not right when we want to conduct the omnibus of our posterity. We must interfere and put matters to rights continually; we cannot let the young people alone; they must ask our advice at every step; we must exercise a veto on every movement; nothing can go on properly if they do not consult us. Now, there, I opine, we are greatly mistaken.
The time will be comingis come, perhapswhen your young people must decide on the course and main occupation of their future lives. You will expect to have a voice in the matter. Quite right, if a voice of counsel, of remonstrance, of suggestion, of pointing out unsuspected difficulties, of encouragement by developing the means of success. Such a voice as that from an elder will always be listened to. But perhaps you have already settled in your own mind the calling to be followed, and you mean simply to call on the youngster to accept and register your decree on the opening pages of his autobiography. A questionable proceeding, my dear sir, unless you are perfectly assured of what the young mans own unbiassed choice will be.
There is, however, an unkind measure by which a few persons strive to avoid living by themselves in their old age, which I will merely mention: they selfishly prevent their children (principally their daughters) from marrying, in order to retain them around them at home. Certainly, matches are now and then projected which it is the duty of a parent to oppose; but there is a conscientious and sorrowful opposition, and an egotistical and captious opposition; and men and women, in their self-deception, may sometimes mistake the one for the other. Many your daughters, lest they marry themselves, and run off with the ploughman or the groom, is an axiom of worldly wisdom. Marry your daughters, I say, if you can do so satisfactorily, that they may become happy wives and mothers, fulfilling the destiny allotted to them by their Great Creator. Marry them, if worthy suitors offer, lest they remain single and unprotected after your departure. Marry them, lest they say in their bitter disappointment and loneliness, Our parents thought only of their own comfort and convenience. We now find that our welfare and settlement in life was disregarded! But I am sure, my kind-hearted comrade in years, you are more generous to your own dear girls than to dream of preventing the completion of their little romance, in order to keep them at home in domestic slavery, drudging and pining as your waiting-maids.
Much as we love our youngsters, we must manifest our affection for them moderately and discreetly. I do assure you we shall be greatly to blame, if we utterly yield to them the key, either of the castle or the strong-box. Let us hold our own, my worthy associates; let us remain masters of what we have; let us continue to be the heads of the family, and not its patronized dependants, till the very last moment. Abdication in any form is a sorrowful and a disastrous step, as has been proved from poor King Lears time, downwards. People who have given up all, or a great deal, to their children during their lifetime, have seldom found the measure turn out well.
If parents should be daily calling upon God in a solemn deliberate manner, altering and extending their intercessions as the state and growth of their children required, such devotion would have a mighty influence upon the rest of their lives.
The first thing, therefore, that a Christian will naturally inculcate upon his child, as soon as he is capable of receiving such impressions, is the knowledge of his Maker, and a steady principle of obedience to him; the idea of his living under the constant inspection and government of an invisible being, who will raise him from the dead to an immortal life, and who will reward and punish him hereafter according to his character and actions here.
On these plain principles I hesitate not to assert, as a Christian, that religion is the first rational object of education. Whatever be the fate of my children in this transitory world, about which I hope I am as solicitous as I ought to be, I would, if possible, secure a happy meeting with them in a future and everlasting life. I can well enough bear their reproaches for not enabling them to attain to worldly honours and distinctions; but to have been in any measure accessory by the neglect, to their final perdition, would be the occasion of such reproach and blame as would be absolutely insupportable.
Dr. Joseph Priestley: Observations on Religious Education.
It is the most beautiful object the eyes of man can behold to see a man of worth and his son live in an entire, unreserved correspondence. The mutual kindness and affection between them, give an inexpressible satisfaction to all who know them. It is a sublime pleasure which increases by the participation. It is as sacred as friendship, as pleasurable as love, and as joyful as religion. This state of mind does not only dissipate sorrow which would be extreme without it, but enlarges pleasures which would otherwise be contemptible. The most indifferent thing has its force and beauty when it is spoke by a kind father, and an insignificant trifle has its weight when offered by a dutiful child. I know not how to express it, but I think I may call it a transplanted self-love.
Age is so unwelcome to the generality of mankind, and growth towards manhood so desirable to all, that resignation to decay is too difficult a task in the father; and deference, amidst the impulse of gay desires, appears unreasonable to the son. There are so few who can grow old with a good grace, and yet fewer that can come slow enough into the world, that a father, were he to be actuated by his desires, and a son, were he to consult himself only, could neither of them behave himself as he ought to the other.
Parents must give good example and reverent deportment in the face of their children. And all those instances of charity which usually endear each othersweetness of conversation, affability, frequent admonitionall significations of love and tenderness, care and watchfulness, must be expressed towards children; that they may look upon their parents as their friends and patrons, their defence and sanctuary, their treasure and their guide.
It is observable that a parent who is unselfish, and who is never thinking of personal inconvenience, but always of the childrens advantage, will be likely to make them selfish; for she will let that too plainly appear, so as to fill the child with an idea that everything is to give way to him, and that his concerns are an ultimate end. Nay, the very pains taken with him in strictly controlling him, heightens his idea of his own importance; whereas a parent who is selfish will be sure to accustom the child to sacrifice his own convenience, and to understand that he is of much less importance than the parent. This, by the way, is only one of many cases in which selfishness is caught from those who have least of it.
Richard Whately: Annot. on Bacons Essay, Of Parents and Children.