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LII. the discipline of dolls.

It is a very instructive fact that two of the best mothers I know-and mothers, it must be added, on the largest scale — have had their preliminary training solely through the charge of dolls. I visited lately the nursery of one of these mothers, arranged as the collective play-room of six children under ten--there being also three older offspring who have graduated from this play-room, and are in a manner launched into the world outside. In this room everything is provided by wholesale-whole freight-trains of toy-wagons, wooden horses enough for all to ride at once, and four hundred blocks for purposes of architecture. Here the six play perpetually together while they are in-doors; and when peace is interrupted by discord, and there is a momentary tendency among the younger members to pull each other's hair-hair, it must be said, so curly that it seems almost a waste of the blessings of Providence not to pull it occasionally-the tranquil mother, wisely remembering that most of the ill-temper of children comes from the stomach, [265] sends the little things down-stairs for a glass of Mellin's Food, and they come back beaming and reconciled. Yet this pattern mother, conducting without a nurse this large world of little beings, tells me that she grew up not only without younger brothers and sisters, but without knowledge of young children. Up to the time of her marriage, at twenty-two, she has no recollection of ever having taken any care of a child. What, then, prepared her for this vast sphere of duty, this rearing of nine young immortals upon no severer pains and penalties than Mellin's Food? It was, she assures me, the discipline of dolls.

Up to the age of thirteen her experience with dolls was on the very largest scale. She had seldom less than twenty, each with its own wardrobe, ornaments, and possessions. Every night of her life the twenty dolls were undressed and put to bed before their mistress went; and all their clothes were neatly folded and put away separately. During the day, doubtless, each doll had its own career and position; was fed at table, fitted with new clothes, elevated into grandeur or repressed into humbleness. When their young mistress grew up they were doubtless laid aside, or transferred to other children, or banished to that dusty purgatory of the garret from which no doll is ever translated to paradise. I forget whether Hans Andersen has ever duly chronicled [266] the tragedy that lies at the end of every doll's life; it is worse than that of any other pet. An old horse is often tended, an aged dog is at least shot, but an old doll is left to lie forever on its back in the garret, gazing with one remaining eye on the slowly gathering cobwebs above it. At any rate, the lady I describe was, after an interval of some ten years, reassigned to the duty that had absorbed her in girlhood-only this time the dolls were alive. On the other hand, there were fewer of them-only nine-and they were, and are, even more interesting, as I can testify, than the dolls. Her experience reminded me of that of another mother whose eight children are now practically grown up, and whose early training was much the same. She too had little to do with children in her youth ; but her only sister once said to me, “I always knew thatwould be a good mother. When we had paper dolls, she always knew just where each one was, and what clothes it needed. She manages her children just as she did her paper dolls.”

How curious is this world of dolls!-uncouth and savage in Alaska, quaint in Japan, strong and solidly built in Germany, graceful in Paris. You can tell German dolls from French, it is said, by the greater clumsiness of the extremities; no matter how pretty the face, the feet and ankles are those of a peasant. In both countries, I believe, artificers visit the rural [267] villages to study new faces for their dolls, as in ancient Greece the sculptors travelled about the country looking for beautiful forms. Everywhere the doll is to the child the symbol of humanity — the first object of responsibility, the type of what is lovable, the model on which the dawning parental instinct practises itself. The little girl does not know the faults and virtues of her own temperament until this ideal creature brings them out, being now tended with the sweetest care, now flung vehemently into an undeserved corner. It is all imaginary, no doubt, but much of our sensibility lies in the imagination; the woes we relieve are those we vividly picture to ourselves. Children will sometimes cry when the doll is pricked in sewing on a dress, or is forgotten when she should be placed at the window to see the procession go by. The sorrow is fantastic, but the thoughtful sympathy is real. Whoever listens in the nursery will hear all the problems of ethics rehearsed upon this mimic stage of the doll's house. In the travelling diary of a child of eight, written literally from her own dictation for her absent father, the important events of the pilgrimage were always shared by the doll. “When we got to Nice, I was sick. The next morning the doctor came, and he said I had something that was very much like scarlet-fever. Then I had Annie [a sister] take care of baby [the doll], and keep her away, for I was [268] afraid she would get the fever. She used to cry to come to me, but I knew it wouldn't be good for her.”

To a child thus imaginative and thus faithful this was an absolute rehearsal of motherhood. When Christmas came, it appears from the diary that “baby” hung up her stocking with the rest. She had a slate with a real pencil, a travelling shawl with a strap, and a cap with ruffles. “I found baby with the cap on early in the morning, and she was so pleased that she almost jumped out of my arms.” At the Colosseum, at St. Peter's, baby was of the party. “I used to take her to hear the band, in the carriage, and she went everywhere I did.” This tenderest of parents was, of course, a girl; yet boys take their share of it, in a more robust and intermittent way, and will sometimes carry the doll to bed or to breakfast as eagerly as gills. The love of dolls with both sexes is a variable thing, perhaps delayed unaccountably or interrupted by long intervals of indifference. At any rate, it is the rehearsing of the most momentous part of human life — that which carries on from one generation to another the sacred fire of human affection. Where the doll ends the child begins; or, as an author has said, “In a nursery the youngest child is something more than a doll, and the doll is a little less than a child.”

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