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This Freedom By A. S. M. Hutchinson Characters: 15758

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


Those children were brought up with every modern advantage. Wisdom is judged by the age in which it flourishes, and everything that the day accounts wise for children those children had. Their father was of considerable and always increasing means; their mother was of great and untrammelled intelligence: anything that money could provide for children, and that intelligent principles of upbringing said ought to be provided for children, those children enjoyed. When they were out of the care of Muffet, who was everything that a nurse ought to be, they passed into the care of a resident governess, Miss Prescott, who was a children's governess, not for the old and fatuous reason that she "loved children," but for the new and intelligent reason that she was attracted by the child-mind as a study and was certificated and diplomaed in the study of children as an exact science,-Child Welfare as she called it. Miss Prescott had complete charge of the children while they were tiny and while they were growing up to eleven and nine and Benji to seven years old. She taught them their lessons (on her own, the new, principles) and on the same principles their habits and the formation of their characters. It might roundly be said that everything troublesome in regard to the children was left to Miss Prescott, and, left to her, came never between the children and their mother. Their mother only enjoyed her children, presented to her fresh, clean and happy for the purpose of her enjoyment; and the children only enjoyed their mother, visiting them smiling, devoted, unworried, for the purpose of their happiness.

It was a perfect, and a mutually beneficial arrangement. As there had been, before the children came, two independent lives behind the gamboge door, so, with the occupation of the nurseries, there were, as it might be, three independent households, mingling, at selected times, only for purposes of happiness.

It was perfect. In the summer a house was taken at Cromer by the sea and there, all through the fine weather, Miss Prescott was installed with her charges. Their mother had three weeks from Field's in the summer and she and their father would spend the whole of it, and often week-ends, at Cromer idling and playing with their darlings. That was jolly. The children associated nothing whatever but happiness with their parents.

In the other months of the year their mother was immensely occupied with her work at Field's, developing beyond expectation; and their father early and late with his work in the Temple, his esteem by solicitors and by litigants almost beyond his time to satisfy. Their father was much paragraphed in the social journals, and their mother also. The paragraphs said their father was making a "princely fortune" at the Bar and never told of him without telling also of his wife. They described her as "of Field's Bank" and always drove the word "unique" hand in hand with every mention of her parts. "Unique personality"; "unique position"; "unique among professional women"; "unique," said one, "in combining notable beauty and rare business acumen; an office which she attends daily and a charming home; a profession, three beautiful children, and a brilliant husband."

The syntax is weak, but the truth is in it and those children were to be envied in their mother.

Miss Prescott, when she came, did not displace the Muffet. She was installed additional to the Muffet; and as touching the modern principles relating to children she very soon told Muffet a thing or two not previously dreamt of in the Muffet philosophy but having, thence forward, occasional place in the Muffet nightmares.

The Muffet, however, was of lymphatic character, with, as her most constant desire, the desire not to be "plagued." She was one of those people who are for ever declaring that they never eat anything, who at meals, indeed, appear to eat very little, but who between meals, are eating all day long. At all hours of the day the Muffet jaws, like the jaws of a ruminant, were steadily munching, munching. When Benji was three Muffet was getting distinctly fat. On a corner of the night nursery mantelpiece she had a photographic group of her parents and of an uncle and aunt who lived with her parents. These four were very fat and one evening the children's father made a remark about this portrait that made their mother laugh delightedly.

Benji was in his cot. Huggo had just come from his bath and was having his toes wiped by his mother because he declared Muffet had not dried them properly. He said Muffet groaned when she stooped.

His mother said, "You know, Harry, Muffet is getting fat. Have you noticed it?"

Their father was bent almost double swinging Doda between his legs, the stomach of Doda reposing on the palms of his joined hands and Doda squealing ecstatically.

Their father said, "I have. Go and look at that photograph, Rosalie, and you'll see why. Look at what her people are. Muffet's broadening down from precedent to precedent."

It made their mother laugh. The children didn't know why it made her laugh, but they laughed with her. They always did, or with their father when he laughed. And there was always lots of jolly laughter when their father and mother came up to the nurseries.

Those children, as they passed through early childhood, never saw their parents but happy and good-spirited. They never saw them worried nor ever saw them sad. That was, as one might say, Rosalie's chief offering to her darlings. It was splendid to Rosalie that her way of life, far from causing her (as prejudice would have prophesied) to neglect her children, enabled her to consider them in their relations with herself as, by their mothers, children in her childhood never were considered. That they should associate nothing-nothing at all-but happiness with her was the basis of it. Children, she held, ought not to see their parents bad-tempered or distressed or in any way out of sorts or out of control. For a child to do so has in two ways a bad effect on the child mind. In the first place, it is harmful for children to come in contact with the unpleasant things of life; in the second, parents should always be to their children models of conduct and of disposition. They should in themselves present ideals to their children. A man should be a hero to his son; a woman an ideal to her daughter. Why is no man a hero to his valet? It is simply because his valet sees him, as do not those whose esteem he desires to win, in his off moments. Children should never see their parents in their off moments.

This principle was not Rosalie's alone. It is the modern principle. The point, to Rosalie, was that, by her way of life, she was able to apply it. Children were too much with their parents. That was the fault; in her childhood the universal fault, even now the fault among the unenlightened. Parents, being human, must have off moments; are not off moments, indeed, in the total of the day, of greater sum than moments of circumspection? It follows that if children are always with their parents, the more unlovely side cannot fail to be perceived, and, arising out of it, must follow injury by example, harm by environment, smirching of idealism, loss of respect. In those homes where the mother (in Rosalie's phrase) is the children's slave, why has the father the children's greater respect? Why is it fine to do what father does? Why jolly and exciting to be with father? It is only because the father commonly is away all day, only seen by them when, shedding other affairs, he comes to see them specially.

Her life-oddly how well for everything and every one her attitude to life fell out!-obtained for her and for them the same wise and happy restriction from too free familiarity. She was able to come to her children only when all her undivided attention an

d whole hearted love could be given to them. They never saw her vexed, they never saw her angry, they never saw her sad. It was not a commonplace to them to see their mother. It was an event. A morning event and an evening event-and unfailingly a completely happy event. She looked back upon her own childhood with her own mother and reflected, fondly but clearly, affectionately but not blinded by affection, how very different was that. She was always with her mother. Her mother was often sad, often worried, often, in distraction of her worries, irritable in speech. Often sad! Why, she could remember time and again when her dear mother, hunted by her cares, was broken down and crying. She would go to her mother then and cry to see her crying, and her mother would put her arms around her and hug her to her breast and declare she was her "little comfort." Was it good for a child to suffer scenes like that? She used to be with her mother all day long, from early morning till last thing at night. With what result? That she saw and suffered with her, or suffered of her, all that her mother suffered; that she was sometimes desolated to feeling that her heart was broken for her mother. Could that be good for a child? Her Huggo, her Doda and her Benji never saw her anything but radiant; and because that was so (as she told herself) she never saw them cry, either on her account or on their own.

Therein-grief in her presence on their own account-another point arose. With as her ideal that only happiness should be associated with her, she found her way of life beneficial to the preservation of that ideal in that it prevented her from being the vessel that should convey the restrictions, the reproofs and the instruction that are troublesome to small minds. All that was left to Miss Prescott. She remembered lessons with her mother; she remembered the irksome learning of a hundred "don'ts" from her mother; and though they were tender and pathetic memories she remembered also the reverse of the picture,-being glad to escape from her mother, resentful against her mother when stood in the corner by her mother, when stopped doing this that and the other by her mother, when made to learn terribly hard lessons by her mother and to go on learning them till she had learnt them. Only childish resentment, of course, swept up and forgotten as by the sun emerging out of clouds the shadow from a landscape. But why should children ever have the tiniest frown against their mother? There must be frowns, there must be tears. Let others bear the passing grudge of those. Let Miss Prescott.

Miss Prescott was willing and able to bear anything like that. She delighted in such. She told Rosalie, when Rosalie engaged her, and after she had seen the children, that her only hesitation in accepting the post was that the children were too normal. "By normal," said Miss Prescott, speaking, as she always spoke, as if she were a passage out of a book given utterance, "By normal, Mrs. Occleve, I do not, of course, mean commonplace. Any one can see how attractive they are, how gifted; any one can know how distinguished, with, if I may say so, such talented parents, their inherited qualities must be. No, when I say normal, I mean showing no disquieting signs, constitutionally tractable, not refractory. In that sense of normality it is much more the abnormal child to whom I would have liked to devote myself. I have specialised in children. The harder the case the more I should be interested in it. That's what I mean. But I never could have hoped to find a household where, though there can be no difficulties, I should have such opportunities of helping children to be perfect men and women; nor a mother to whose children I would more gladly, proudly, devote myself; nor a place with which I should feel myself so entirely in sympathy. If you feel, on reflection, that I should suit you, it will be, I am sure-why should I not say so-an auspicious day for those little ones."

How happy was Rosalie thus by provision to destiny her darlings!

Miss Prescott was thirty when engaged by Rosalie. She had a way of looking at people which, if described, can best describe her appearance. She was once in an omnibus in London and the conductor, standing against her, and about to serve a ticket to a passenger seated next her, had some trouble with his bell-punch. It would not work and he fumbled with it, angry. Everybody in the bus watched him. It is not nice to be watched when baffled and heated in bafflement but the only gaze to which attention was given by the conductor was the gaze of Miss Prescott. He glanced constantly from the obdurate machine to the face of Miss Prescott. Suddenly he said: "'Ere, suppose you do it, then," and pushed the bell-punch at her. Miss Prescott took it, did it, astoundingly and instantaneously, and handed it back with no word. The conductor seemed more angry than before.

It was like that that Miss Prescott looked at people.

There is right way of doing everything. Miss Prescott had an uncanny instinct for finding it; and, applying this faculty to her training of the child-mind, she presented herself as a notable exponent of the system in which, as has been said, she was certificated and diplomaed. She taught children how to play in the right way, how to learn in the right way, and above all how, in every way and at every turn, to reason. By the old, ignorant plan children were instructed, speaking broadly, by love or by fear. It was by pure reason that Miss Prescott instructed them. The child was treated as an earnest physician treats a case. Ill temper or wrong behaviour in a child was neither vexing nor sad. It was profoundly interesting. There was a right and scientific way to treat it and that right and scientific way was thought out and administered. The child was "a case."

It was taught nothing but truths and facts. Its mind was not permitted to be befogged with fairy stories, with superstitions, with Father Christmases and the like, nor yet with religious half-truths and misty fables. These entailed not only befogging at the time, but disillusionment thereafter. Disillusionment was wicked for a child. It further was taught nothing at all (in the matter of lessons) at the grotesquely early age at which children used to be taught. It was taught first to reason.

In general the whole system lay in developing the child's reasoning powers and then, at every turn and particularly at every manifestation of indiscipline, appealing to its reason. "I am here to be happy"-that was the first, and surely the kindest and easiest, knowledge to fix in the child. From that foundation everything was worked. It never was necessary to punish a child. It only was necessary to reason with it. In the old phraseology a child meet to be punished was a naughty child. In the terminology of Miss Prescott such a child was a sick child or an unreasoning child: a case presenting an adverse symptom. But take the older term,-a naughty child. A naughty child was an unhappy child. The treatment went like this, "I am here to be happy. I am not happy. Why am I not happy? Because I have done so and so and so and so...."

Kind, wise, simple, effective, easy. Rosalie in her childish misdemeanours would have been prevailed upon by the unhappiness her conduct caused her mother. All wrong! A faulty process of reasoning; indeed not a process of reasoning at all: a crude appeal to the emotions. Those three children who on the one part never saw their mother sad and were constrained to comfort her, on the other never were bribed to good behaviour by the thought of grieving her. They only associated happiness with her and they enjoyed happiness simply by reasoning away unhappiness.

Kind, wise, simple, effective, easy.

Happy Huggo, happy Doda, happy Benji, happy Rosalie!

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