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XXIV. breaking and bending.

It is not many years since there prevailed in some parts of this country a method of discipline which would now be generally held barbarous even among the most conscientious parents. It was held to be an essential part of a child's training that as soon as its will was developed up to a certain point, it should be as definitely and distinctly broken as you break a plant upon its stalk. Instead of avoiding or postponing such a necessity, the parent fearlessly met the occasion, and was — for even the most rigorous parents were human-glad when it was over. The child must definitely be taught submission on some specific occasion, for submission's sake; and this without reference to its state of health, to its nervous condition, or to the possibility of obtaining the same result without such a direct contest. In fact, the direct contest was considered an advantage in itself; even if the way was clear to bending the will, that was not desirable — it must be broken.

Many persons now past middle age will recall [122] such contests as this. Generally the ordeal came from the father; often the mother would have chosen milder ways. Sometimes it came, however, from the mother, in which case the process was more formidable still, a stern woman being generally a sterner being than a man who shares that same attribute. What was the result? Often, no doubt, to create a strong and conscientious character, the will not being really broken, but only subordinated. Often it tended only to create the faults of a slave --evasion, insincerity, cowardice — in place of manly self-assertion. Very often it left a barrier of ice between parent and child. A woman of forty, the daughter of an educated lawyer in a country town, once told me that she never knew, until she was nearly twenty years old, how to tell time by the clock; the reason being that her father had undertaken to explain to her the method when she was but a child, and she had failed to comprehend it. She had been afraid to tell him that she did not understand, and equally afraid to ask light from any one else, lest he should hear of it, and blame her; so she said nothing about it for years. Yet that man, so crushing in his domestic authority, had never laid his hand on one of his children in punishment; his word and look were a sufficient rod. It is no wonder that when he died-respected and trusted by the whole community — his daughter [123] wrote to me, “His heart was pure-and terrible; I think there was not another like it on earth.” She was wrong; for there were, in the older and sterner times, a good many like it, though none more heroic, more single-minded, or more tenacious.

The modern theory is-and I confess it seems to Inc the wiser one--that the will itself is a part of the sacredness of our nature, and should no more be broken than the main shaft of a steam — engine. You shudder when your boy cries, “I will!” in the adjoining room, in that defiant tone which is a storm-signal to the parents' car. The fault is not, however, in the words; spoken in the right place and right tone, they represent the highest moral condition of which man is capable, since resignation itself is not a virtue so noble as is a concentrated and heroic purpose. How superbly does Tennyson state. the dignity of those words when he paints the marriage in “The Gardener's daughter!”

Autumn brought an hour
For Eustace, when I heard his deep I will
Breathed, like the covenant of a God, to hold
From thence through all the worlds.

There is one thing that I dread more for my little Maiden than to hear her say “I will,” namely, that she should lose the power of saying it. A broken, impaired, will-less nature — a life filled with memory's [124] gravestones, where noble aspirations have perished unfulfilled for want of vigor of will to embody them in action-this seems to me more disastrous than even an overweening self-assertion.

It is not necessary to say, on the other hand, as some persons hold, that all moral error is but disease, and never needs direct contest, but only soothing medicines. Yet I believe more and more, as I grow older, that a large part of our contests with children are wasted, and that patience and tact would commonly accomplish the same end, without the crossing of bayonets. There is no doubt that much of what seems violence or stubbornness in children is merely a phase of physical development, and will be outgrown as unconsciously as a boy outgrows the habit of treading his boot-heels sideways. I know several grown persons whose temper was a terror in childhood, and who have long since passed, by mere natural development, and without especial struggle, into a self-controlled and perhaps commonplace maturity. The wisest and most successful parents seem to me those who take this into account; who reduce direct contests to a minimum, bend the twig instead of breaking it, divert the course of the torrent instead of trying to dam it up. We recognize this with all domestic animals. While half a dozen men are collected around a balky horse in the street, beating, hauling, swearing, and [125] all in vain, a single expert will sometimes come along and by some very simple device-perhaps a change in the harness, or a chestnut bur inserted under the headstall — will so alter the current of the creature's dim thoughts that he will trot away bewildered, trying to conjecture what has happened. Thus it is that wise mothers do; a little bit of ingenuity, a sudden change of theme, will often clear away all clouds in a minute. This is not indulgence; it is common-sense and tact. It may not always answer, but for that very reason let us use it when we can; avert the direct collisions when possible, instead of welcoming them all the time. Even the most Spartan or Puritanic mother-like one I know, who herself put her little girl's finger to the red-hot stove, that she might learn thenceforth to avoid it — will admit that a sick child must be managed through tact and skill as well as through authority; and it is my experience that much the same is true of the healthiest and the strongest.

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