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In proportion to the intelligence of the inquirer, the objects of inquiry are near and familiar. To a student of realities, the study of fossils, the history of meteors, the genesis of nebulæ, is less interesting than the system of life into which he was born, this society of beings whose lineaments resemble his own, and the objects which stick close about him. These usual things, which he can never get out of sight of, most pique the curiosity.
Could anybody tell him what the meaning of this is? can any topic take precedence in a reasonable mind of the topic of Domestic Life?
Man was born into a home. The perfection of providence for childhood is easily acknowledged. The same care which covers the seed of the tree under tough husks and stony cases, provides for the human plant the mother's breast and the father's house. Who knows not the beautiful group of babe and mother, sacred in nature, now sacred also in religious associations of half the globe. The size of the nestler is comic, and its tiny beseeching weakness is compensated perfectly by the happy patronizing look of the mother, who is a sort of high reposing Providence toward it. Welcome to the parents the puny struggler, strong in his weakness, his little arms more irresistible than the soldier's, his lips touched with persuasions which Chatham and Pericles in manhood had not. His unaffected lamentations when he lifts up his voice on high, or, more beautiful, the sobbing
child — the face all liquid grief, as he tries to swallow his vexation, — soften all hearts to pity, and to mirthful and clamorous compassion.
The small despot asks so little that all reason and all nature are on his side. His ignorance is more charming than all Knowledge, and his little sins more bewitching than any virtue. His flesh is Angels' flesh, all alive. Infancy,” said Coleridge,“ presents body and spirit in unity: the body is all animated.” All day, between his three or four sleeps, he coos like a pigeon-house, sputters, and spurns, and puts on his face of importance; and when he fasts, the little Pharisee fails not to sound his trumpet before him. By lamplight he delights in shadows on the wall; and by daylight, in yellow and scarlet. Carry him out of doors, — he is overpowered by the light and by the extent of natural objects, and is silent. Then presently begins his use of his fingers, and he studies power, the lesson of his race. First it appears in no great harm, in architectural tastes. Out of blocks, thread-spools, cards and chequers he will build his pyramid with the gravity of Palladio.
With an acoustic apparatus of whistle and rattle he explores the laws of sound. But chiefly, like his senior countrymen, the Young American studies new and speedier modes of transportation. Mistrusting the cunning of his small legs, he wishes to ride on the necks and shoulders of all flesh. The small enchanter nothing can withstand, — no seniority of age, no gravity of character; uncles, aunts, cousins, grandsires, grandames, — all fall an easy prey: he conforms to nobody, all conform to him; all caper and make mouths, and babble, and chirrup to him. On the strongest shoulders he rides, pulls the hair of laurelled heads.
The childhood,” said Milton, “ shows the man, as
morning shows the day.” The child realizes to every man his own earliest remembrance, and our love of it praises the beauty of human nature. So it
So it supplies à defect in our education, or enables us to live over the unconscious history with a sympathy so tender as to be almost personal experience.
Fast, almost too fast for the wistful curiosity of the parents, studious of the witchcraft of curls and dimple and broken words, the little talker grows to be a boy. He walks daily among wonders; fire, light, darkness, the moon, the star, the furniture of the house, the red tin horse, the domestics, who like rude foster-mothers befriend and feed him, the faces that claim his kisses, are all in turn absorbing; yet warm, cheerful and with good appetite the little sovereign subdues them without knowing it, and the new knowledge is taken up into the life of to-day and becomes the means of more. The blowing rose is a new event; the garden full of flowers is Eden over again to the small Adam; the rain, the ice, the frost, make epochs in his life. What holiday is the first snow in which Two-shoes can be trusted abroad!
What art can paint or gild any object in after-life with the glow which Nature gives to the first baubles of childhood! St. Peter's cannot have the magical power over us that the red and gold covers of our first picture-book possessed. How the imagination cleaves to the warm glories of that tinsel even now! what entertainments make everyday bright and short for him! The street is old as Nature; the persons all have their sacredness. His imaginative life dresses all things in their best. His fears adorn the dark parts with poetry. He has heard of wild horses and of bad boys, and with a pleasing terror he watches at his gate for the passing of those varieties of each species. The first ride into the country, the first bath
in running water, the first time the skates are put on, the first game out of doors in moonlight, the books of the nursery, are new chapters of joy. The “ Arabian Nights' Entertainment,” the “ Seven Champions of Christendom,” “Robinson Crusoe,” and the “ Pilgrim's Progress — what mines of thought and emotion, what a wardrobe to dress the whole world withal, is in this encyclopædia of young thinking.
And so by beautiful traits which, without art, yet seem the masterpiece of wisdom, provoking the love that watches and educates him, the little pilgrim prosecutes the journey through nature which he has thus gaily begun. He grows up the ornament and joy of the house, which rings to his glee, to rosy boyhood.
But I will not follow this picture farther. I designed only to suggest the most affecting of our experiences, the matrix of the gem, the soil where virtue grows. I will not insist, with some philosophers, that the child is alone wise, and all our after learning is unlearning or mislearning, but will pass to other facts which concern us all. The household is the home of the man, as well as of the child. The events that occur there are more near and affecting to us than those which are sought in Senates and academies. Domestic events are certainly our affair. What are called public events, may be or may not be ours. And if a man wishes to acquaint himself with the real history of the world, with the spirit of the age, he must not go first to the state-house or the court-room. The subtle spirit of life must be sought in facts nearer. It is what is done and suffered in the house, in the constitution, in the temperament, in the personal history, that has the profoundest interest for us. Fact is better than fiction, if only we could get pure fact. Do you think any rhetoric or any romance would get your ear from the wise gipsey, who could
tell straight on the real fortunes of man; who could reconcile your moral character and your natural history; who could explain your misfortunes, your fevers, your debts, your temperament, your habits of thought, your tastes, and, in every explanation, not sever you from the whole, but unite you to it? Is it not plain, that not in senates, or courts, or chambers of commerce, but in the dwelling-house must the true character and hope of the time be consulted? These facts are, to be sure, harder to read. It is easier to count the census, or to compute the square extent of a territory, to criticise its polity, books, art, than to come to the persons and dwellings of men, and read their character and hope in their way of life. Yet we are always hovering round this better divination. In one form or another, we are always returning to it. The interest that is felt in phrenology and physiognomy betrays our instinctive conviction of the deep significance of the form of man.
The physiognomy and phrenology of to-day are rash and mechanical systems enough, but they rest on everlasting foundations. We are sure that the sacred form of man is not seen under all these whimsical, pitiful and sinister masks (masks which we wear and which we meet), these bloated and shrivelled bodies, these bald heads and bead eyes, these short winds, puny and precarious healths, and early deaths. We live ruins amidst ruins. The great facts are near
The account of the body is to be sought in mind. The history of your fortunes is written first in your life.
Let us come, then, out of the public square, and enter the domestic precinct. Let us go to the sittingroom, the table-talk, and the expenditure of our contemporaries. An increased consciousness of the soul, you say, characterizes the period. Let us see if it has