Sometimes, as we meet people in the street, we catch a sentence from their lips that affords a clue to their history and habits of mind, and puts our own minds on quite a new course.
Yesterday, two female figures drew nigh upon the street, in whom we had only observed their tawdry showy style of dress, when, as they passed, one observed to the other, in the tone of a person who has just made a discovery, “I think there is something very handsome in a fine child.”
Poor woman! that seemed to have been the first time in her life that she had made the observation.—The charms of the human being, in that fresh and flowerlike age which is intended perpetually to refresh us in our riper, renovate us in our declining years, had never touched her heart, nor awakened for her the myriad thoughts and fancies that as naturally attend the sight of childhood as bees swarm to the blossoming bough. Instead of being to her the little angels and fairies, the embodied poesies which may keep green the humblest lot, they had been to her mere “torments” who “could never be kept still, or their faces clean.”
How piteous is the loss of those who do not contemplate childhood in a spirit of holiness. The heavenly influence on their own minds of attention to cultivate each germ of great and good qualities, of avoiding the least act likely to injure, is lost, a loss dreary and piteous! For which no gain can compensate. But how unspeakably deplorable the petrification of those who look upon their little friends without any sympathy even, whose hearts are, by selfishness, worldliness and vanity, seared from all gentle instincts, who can no longer appreciate their spontaneous grace and glee, that eloquence in every look, motion and stammered word, those lively and incessant charms, over which the action of the lower motives, with which the social system is rife, may so soon draw a veil.
We can no longer speak thus of all children. On some, especially in cities, the inheritance of sin and deformity from bad parents fell too heavily, and encased at once the spark of Soul which God still doth not refuse in such instances, in a careful, knowing, sensual mask. Such are never, in fact, children at all. But the rudest little cubs that are free from taint and show the affinities with Nature and the Soul, are still young and flexible, and rich in gleams of the loveliness to be hoped from perfected human nature.
It is sad that all men do not feel these things. It is sad that they willfully renounce so large a part of their heritage and go forth to buy filtered water, while the fountain is gushing freshly beside the door of their own huts. As with the charms of children, so with other things. They do not know that the sunset is worth seeing every night, and the shows of the forest better than those of the theatre, and the work of bees and beetles more instructive, if scanned with care, than the Lyceum lecture. The cheap knowledge, the cheap joys, that are spread before every one, they cast aside, in search of an uncertain and feverish joy. We did, indeed, hear one man say that he could not possibly be deprived of his pleasures, since he could always, even were his abode in the narrowest lane, have a blanket of sky above his head, where he could see the clouds pass and the stars glitter. But men in general remain unaware that
Lie close about our feet.”
For them the light dresses all objects in endless novelty, the rose glows, domestic love smiles, and childhood gives out with sportive freedom its oracles in vain. That woman had seen beauty in [illegible]y shawls, in teacups, in carpets, but only of late and she discovered that “there was something beautiful in a fine child.” Poor human nature! thou must have been changed at nurse by a bad demon at some time, and strangely maltreated to have such blind and rickety intervals as come upon thee every now and then.*
“Discoveries,” New-York Daily Tribune, 1 April 1846, p. 1.