Chapter 3 Parents as Inspirers

Chapter 3

Parents as Inspirers

Children must be born again into the Life of Intelligence

Parents owe a Second Birth to their Children––M. Adolf Monod claims that the child must owe his mother a second birth––the first into the natural, the second into the spiritual life of the intelligence––and moral sense. Had he not been writing of women and for women, no doubt he would have affirmed that the long travail of this second birth must be undergone equally by both parents. Do we ask how he arrives at this rather startling theory? He observes that great men have great mothers; mothers, that is, blest with an infinite capacity of taking pains with their work of bringing up children. He likens this labour to a second bearing which launches the child into a higher life; and as this higher life is a more blessed life, he contends that every child has a right to this birth into completer being at the hands of his parents. Did his conclusions rest solely upon the deductive methods he pursues, we might afford to let them pass, and trouble ourselves little about this second birth, which parents may and ofttimes do, withhold from their natural offspring. We, too, could bring forward our con- trary instances of good parents with bad sons, and indifferent parents with earnest children; and, pat to our lips, would come the Cui bono? which absolves us from endeavour.

Science supports this Contention––Be a good mother to your son because great men have had good mothers, is inspiring, stimulating; but is not to be received as a final word. For an appeal of irresistible urgency, we look to natural science with her inductive methods; though we are still waiting her last word, what she has already said is law and gospel for the believing parent. The parable of Pandora's box is true today; and a woman may in her heedlessness let fly upon her offspring a thousand ills. But is there not also 'a glass of blessings standing by,' into which parents may dip, and bring forth for their children health and vigour, justice and mercy, truth and beauty?

'Surely,' it may be objected, 'every good and perfect gift comes from God above, and the human parent sins presumptuously who thinks to bestow gifts divine.' Now this lingering superstition has no part nor lot with true religion, but, on the contrary, brings upon it the scandal of many an ill-ordered home and ill-regulated family. When we perceive that God uses men and women, parents above all others, as vehicles for the transmission of his gifts, and that it is in the keeping of his law He is honoured––rather than in the attitude of the courtier waiting for exceptional favours––then we shall take the trouble to comprehend the law written not only upon tables of stone and rolls of parchment, but upon the fleshly tablets of the living organisms of the children; and, understanding the law, we shall see with thanksgiving and enlarge- ment of heart in what natural ways God does indeed show mercy unto thousands of them that love Him and keep his commandments.

But his commandment is exceeding broad; becomes broader year by year with every revelation of science; and we had need gird up the loins of our mind to keep pace with this current revelation. We shall be at pains, too, to keep ourselves in that attitude of expectant attention wherein we shall be enabled to perceive the unity and continuity of this revelation with that of the written word of God. For perhaps it is only as we are able to receive the two, and harmonise the two in a willing and obedient heart, that we shall enter on the heritage of glad and holy living which is the will of God for us.

Processes and Methods of this Second Birth––Let us, for example, consider, in the light of current scientific thought, the processes and the methods of this second birth, which the child claims at the hands of his parents. 'Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it,' is not only a pledge, but is a statement of a result arrived at by deductive processes. The writer had great opportunities for collecting data; he had watched many children grow up, and his experience taught him to divide them into two classes––the well-brought-up who turned out well; and the ill-brought-up who turned ill. No doubt, then, as now, there were startling exceptions, and––the exception proves the rule.

But, here as elsewhere, the promises and threatenings of Bible will bear the searching light of inductive methods. We may ask, Why should this be so? and not content ourselves with a general answer, that this is natural and right; we may search until we discover that this result is inevitable, and no other result conceivable (except for alien influences), and our obedience will be in exact proportion to our perception of the inevitableness of the law.

Dr Maudsley on Heredity––The vast sum of what we understand by heredity is not to be taken into account in the consideration of this second birth; by the first natural birth it is, that "his father and mother, his grandfather and grandmother, are latent or declare themselves in the child; and it is on the lines thus laid down in his nature that his development will proceed. It is not by virtue of education so much as by virtue of inheritance that he is brave or timid, generous or selfish, prudent or reckless, boastful or modest, quick or placid in temper; the ground tone of his character is original in him, and it colours all the subsequently formed emotions and their sympathetic ideas. . . The influence of systematic culture upon anyone is no doubt great, but that which determines the limit, and even in some degree the nature, of the effects of culture, that which forms the foundations upon which all the modifications of art must rest, is the inherited nature."

Disposition and Character––If heredity means so much––if; as would seem at the first glance, the child comes into the world with his character ready-made––what remains for the parents to do but to enable him to work out his own salvation without let or hindrance of their making, upon the lines of his individuality? The strong naturalism, shall we call it, of our day, inclines us to take this view of the objects and limitations of education; and without doubt it is a gospel; it is the truth; but it is not the whole truth. The child brings with him into the world, not character, but disposition. He has tendencies which may need only to be strengthened, or, again, to be diverted or even repressed. His character––the efflorescence of the man wherein the fruit of his life is a-preparing––is original disposition, modified, directed, expanded by education; by circumstances; later, by self-control and self-culture; above all, by the supreme agency of the Holy Ghost, even where that agency is little suspected, and as little solicited.

How is this great work of character-making, the single effectual labour possible to human beings, to be carried on? We shall rest our inquiries on a physiological basis; the lowest, doubtless, but therefore the foundation of the rest. The first-floor chambers of the psychologist are pleasant places, but who would begin to build with the first floor? What would he rear it upon? Surely the arbitrary distinction between the grey matter of the brain and the 'mind' which plays upon it––even as the song upon the vocal chords of the singer––is more truly materialistic than is the recognition of the pregnant truth that the brain is the mere organ of the spiritual part; registering and effecting every movement of thought and feeling, whether conscious or unconscious, by appreciable molecular movement; and sustaining the infinite activities of mind by corresponding enormous activity and enormous waste; that it is the organ of mind which, under present conditions, is absolutely inseparable from, and indispensable to, the quickening spirit. Once we recognise that in the thinking of a thought there is as distinct motion set  up in some tract of the brain as there is in the muscles of the hand employed in writing a sentence, we shall see that the behaviour of the grey nerve-substance of the cerebrum should afford the one possible key to certitude and system in our attempts at education, using the word in the most worthy sense––as its concern is the formation of character.

Having heard Dr Maudsley on the subject of heredity, let us hear him again on this other subject, which practically enables us to define the possibilities of education.

Dr Maudsley on the Structural Effects of 'Particular Life Experiences.'––"That which has existed with any completeness in consciousness leaves behind it, after its disappearance therefrom, in the mind or brain, a functional disposition to its reproduction or reappearance in consciousness at some future time. Of no mental act can we say that it is 'writ in water'; something remains from it, whereby its recurrence is facilitated. Every impression of sense upon the brain, every current of molecular activity from one to another part of the brain, every cerebral action which passes into muscular movement, leaves behind it some modification of the nerve elements concerned in its function, some after-effect, or, so to speak, memory of itself in them which renders its reproduction an easier matter, the more easy the more often it has been repeated, and makes it impossible to say that, however trivial, it shall not under some circumstances recur. Let the excitation take place in one of two nerve cells lying side by side, and between which there was not any original specific difference, there will be ever afterwards a difference between them. This physiological process, whatever be its nature, is the physical basis of memory, and it is the foundation of the development of all our mental functions.

"That modification which persists, or is retained, in structure after functions, has been differently described as a residuum, or relic, or trace, or disposition, or vestige; or again as potential, latent, or dormant idea. Not only definite ideas, but all affections of the nervous system, feelings of pleasure and pain, desire, and even its outward reactions, thus leave behind them their structural effects, and lay the foundation of modes of thought, feeling, and action. Particular talents are sometimes formed quite, or almost quite, involuntarily; and complex actions, which were first consciously performed by dint of great application, become automatic by repetition; ideas which were at first consciously associated, ultimately coalesce and call one another up without any consciousness, as we see in the quick perception or intuition of the man of large worldly experience; and feelings, once active, leave behind them their large unconscious residua, thus affecting the generation of the character, so that, apart from the original or inborn nature of the individual, contentment, melancholy, cowardice, bravery, and even moral feeling, are generated as the results of particular life-experiences."

Our Age has acquired a great Educational Charter––Here we have sketched out a magnificent educational charter. It is as well, perhaps, that we do not realise the extent of our liberties; if we did, it may be, such a fervour of educational enthusiasm would seize us that we should behave as did those early Christians who every day expected the coming of the Lord. How should a man have patience to buy and sell and get gain had it been revealed to him that he was able to paint the greatest picture ever painted? And we, with the enthralling vision of what our little child might become under our hands, how should we have patience for common toils? That science should have revealed the rationale of education in our day is possibly the Divine recognition that we have become more fit for the task, because we have come to an increasing sense of moral responsibility. What would it be for an immoral people to discern fully the possibilities of education? But how slow we are! how––

   'Custom lies upon us with a weight,
   Heavy as frost, and deep almost as life!'

A generation has passed away since these words of Dr Maudsley, and many of like force by other physiologists, were published to the world. We have purposely chosen words that have stood the test of time; for today a hundred eminent scientific men, at home and abroad, are proclaiming the same truths. Every scientist believes them! And we? We go on after our use and wont, as if nothing had been said; dropping, hour by hour, out of careless hands, seeds of corn and hemlock, of bramble and rose.

Let us run over the charter of our liberties, as Dr Maudsley has summed them up in the passage quoted above.

Some Articles of this Charter––We may lay the physical basis of memory: while the wide-eyed babe stretches his little person with aimless kickings on his rug, he is receiving unconsciously those first impressions which form his earliest memories; and we can order those memories for him: we can see that the earliest sights he sees are sights of order, neatness, beauty; that the sounds his ear drinks in are musical and soft, tender and joyous; that the baby's nostrils sniff only delicate purity and sweetness. These memories remain through life, engraved on the unthinking brain. As we shall see later, memories have a certain power of accretion––where there are some, others of a like kind gather, and all the life is ordered on the lines of these first pure and tender memories.

We may lay the foundation for the development of all the mental functions. Are there children who do not wonder, or revere, or care for fairy tales, or think wise child-thoughts? Perhaps there are not; but if there are, it is because the fertilising pollen grain has never been conveyed to the ovule waiting for it in the child's soul.

These are some of the things that––according to the citations we have given from Dr Maudsley's Physiology of Mind––his parents may settle for the future man, even in his early childhood:––

His definite ideas upon particular subjects, as, for example, his relations with other people.
His habits, of neatness or disorder, of punctuality, of moderation.
His general modes of thought, as affected by altruism or egoism.
His consequent modes of feeling and action.
His objects of thought––the small affairs of daily life, the natural world, the operations or the productions of the human mind, the ways of God with men. 

His distinguishing talent––music, eloquence, invention.
His disposition or tone of character, as it shows itself in and affects his family and other close relations in life––reserved or frank, morose or genial, melancholy or cheerful, cowardly or brave.