Chapter 1 The Family

Parents and Children


Chapter 1

The Family

'The family is the unit of the nation.'––F. D. MAURICE.

Rousseau succeeded in awaking Parents––It is probable that no other educational thinker has succeeded in affecting parents so profoundly as did Rousseau. Emile is little read now, but how many current theories of the regimen proper for children have there their unsuspected source? Everybody knows––and his contemporaries knew it better than we––that Jean Jacques Rousseau had not enough sterling character to warrant him to pose as an authority on any subject, least of all on that of education. He sets himself down a poor thing, and we see no cause to reject the evidence of his Confessions. We are not carried away by the charm of his style; his 'forcible feebleness' does not dazzle us. No man can say beyond that which he is, and there is a want of grit in his philosophic theories that removes most of them from the category of available thought.

But Rousseau had the insight to perceive one of those patent truths which, somehow, it takes a genius discover; and, because truth is indeed prized above rubies, the perception of that truth gave him rank as a great teacher. Is Jean Jacques also among the prophets? people asked, and ask still; and that he had thousands of fervent disciples amongst the educated parents of Europe, together with the fact that teaching has filtered into many a secluded home our own day, is answer enough. Indeed, no other educationalist has had a tithe of the influence exerted by Rousseau. Under the spell of his teaching, people in the fashionable world, like that Russian Princess Galitzin, forsook society, and went off with their children to some quiet corner where they could devote every hour of the day, and every power they had, to the fulfilment of the duties which devolve on parents. Courtly mothers retired from the world, sometimes even left their husbands, to work hard at the classics, mathematics, sciences, that they might with their own lips instruct their children. 'What else am I for?' they asked; and the feeling spread that the bringing-up of their children was the one work of primary importance for men and women.

Whatever extravagance he had seen fit to advance, Rousseau would still have found a following, because he had chanced to touch a spring that opened many hearts. He was one of the few educationalists who made his appeal to the parental instincts. He did not say, 'We have no hope of the parents, let us work for the children!' Such are the faint-hearted and pessimistic things we say today. What he said was, in effect, "Fathers and mothers, this is your work, and you only can do it. It rests with you, parents of young children, to be the saviours of society unto a thousand generations. Nothing else matters. The avocations about which people weary themselves are as foolish child's play compared with this one serious business of bringing up our children in advance of ourselves."

People listened, as we have seen; the response to his teaching was such a letting out of the waters of parental enthusiasm as has never been known before nor since. And Rousseau, weak and little worthy, was a preacher of righteousness in this, that he turned the hearts of the fathers to the children, and so far made ready a people prepared for the Lord. But alas! having secured the foundation, he had little better than wood, hay, and stubble to offer to the builders.

Rousseau succeeded, as he deserved to succeed, in awakening many parents to the binding character, the vast range, the profound seriousness of parental obligations. He failed, and deserved to fail, as he offered his own crude conceits by way of an educational code. But his success is very cheering. He perceived that God placed the training of every child in the hands of two, a father and a mother; and the response to his teaching proved that, as the waters answer to the drawing of the moon, so do the hearts of parents rise to the idea of the great work committed to them.

Though it is true, no doubt, that every parent is conscious of unwritten laws, more or less definite and noble according to his own status, yet an attempt, however slight, to codify these laws may be interesting to parents.

The Family a Commune––'The family is the unit of the nation.' This pregnant saying suggests some aspects of the parents' calling. From time to time, in all ages of the world, communistic societies have arisen, sometimes for the sake of co-operation in a great work, social or religious, more recently by way of protest against inequalities of condition; but, in every case, the fundamental rule of such societies is, that the members shall have all things in common. We are apt to think, in our careless way, that such attempts at communistic association are foredoomed to failure. But that is not the case. In the United States, perhaps because hired labour is less easy to obtain than it is with us, they appear to have found a congenial soil, and there many well-regulated communistic bodies flourish. There are failures, too, many and disastrous, and it appears that these may usually be traced to one cause, a government enfeebled by the attempt to combine democratic and communistic principles; that is, to dwell together in a common life, while each does what is right in his own eyes. A communistic body can thrive only under a vigorous and absolute rule.

A favourite dream of socialism is––or was until the idea of collectivism obtained––that each State of Europe should be divided into an infinite number of small self-contained communes. Now, it sometimes happens that the thing we desire is already realised had we eyes to see. The family is, practically, a commune. In the family the undivided property is enjoyed by all the members in common, and in the family there is equality of social condition, with diversity of duties. In lands where patriarchal practices still obtain, the family merges into the tribe, and the head of the family is the chief of the tribe––a very absolute sovereign indeed. In our own country, families are usually small, parents and their immediate with the attendants and belongings which gather to a household, and, let it not be forgotten, form part of the family. The smallness of the family tends to obscure its character, and we see no force in the phrase at the head of this chapter; we do not perceive that, if the unit of the nation is the natural commune, the family; then, is the family pledged to carry on within itself all the functions of the State, with the delicacy, precision, and fulness of detail proper to work done on a small scale.

The Family must be Social––It by no means follows from this communistic view of the family that the domestic policy should be a policy of isolation; the contrary, it is not too much to say a nation is civilised in proportion as it is able to establish close and friendly relations with other nations; and that, not with one or two, but with many and, conversely, that a nation is barbarous in proportion to its isolation; and does not a family decline in intelligence and virtue when from generation to generation it 'keeps itself to itself'?

The Family must serve Neighbours––Again, it is probable that a nation is healthy in proportion as it has its own proper outlets, its colonies and dependencies, which it is ever solicitous to include in the national life. So of the nation in miniature, the family: the struggling families at 'the back,' the orphanage, the mission, the necessitous of our acquaintance, are they not for the sustenance of the family in the higher life?

The Family must serve the Nation––But it is not enough that the family commune maintain neighbourly relations with other such communes, and towards the stranger within the gates. The family is the unit of the nation; and the nation is an organic whole, a living body, built up, like the natural body, of an infinite number of living organisms. It is only as it contributes its quota towards the national life that the life of the family is complete. Public interests must be shared, public work taken up, the public welfare cherished––in a word, its integrity with the nation must be preserved, or the family ceases to be part of a living whole, and becomes positively injurious, as decayed tissue in the animal organism.

The Divine Order for the Family as regards other Nations––Nor are the interests of the family limited to those of the nation. As it is the part of the nation to maintain wider relations, to be in touch with all the world, to be ever in advance in the great march of human progress, so is this the attitude which is incumbent on each unit of the nation, each family, as an integral part of the whole. Here is the simple and natural realisation of the noble dream of Fraternity: each individual attached to a family by ties of love where not of blood; the families united in a federal bond to form the nation; the nations confederate in love and emulous in virtue, and all, nations and their families, playing their several parts as little children about the feet and under the smile of the Almighty Father. Here is the divine order which every family is called upon to fulfil: a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump, and, therefore, it matters infinitely that every family should realise the nature and the obligations of the family bond, for as water cannot rise above its source, neither can we live at a higher level than that of the conception we form of our place and use in life.

The Family should (a) learn Languages; (b) show Courtesy abroad.––Let us ask the question: Has this, of regarding all education and all civil and social relations from the standpoint of the family, any practical outcome? So much so, that perhaps there is hardly a problem of life for which it does not contain the solution. For example: What shall we teach our children? Is there one subject that claims our attention more than another? Yes, there is a subject or class of subjects which has an imperative moral claim upon us. It is the duty of the nation to maintain relations of brotherly kindness with other nations; therefore it is the duty of every family, as an integral part of the nation, to be able to hold brotherly speech with the families of other nations as opportunities arise; therefore to acquire the speech of neighbouring nations is not only to secure an inlet of knowledge and a means of culture, but is a duty of that higher morality (the morality of the family) which aims at universal brotherhood; therefore every family would do well to cultivate two languages besides the mother tongue, even in the nursery.