Letter II. October 3, 1818
My dear Greaves,
I have in my last letter stated it as my firm conviction, that there is in the infant a principle which may, under the divine guidance, enable him not only to stand distinguished among his fellow-men, but also to fulfil the highest command of his Maker, to walk in the light of faith, and to have his heart overflowig with that love which "beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things", - the love which "never faileth."
I have called this principle, even as it is manifested in the earliest stage of human life, a principle of love and faith. I am aware that these terms will meet with contradiction by some, and perhaps with derision by others. I should feel truly obliged to any one who would give me two other terms more appropriate, - more expressive of the idea that I have formed on the subject, after the closest and most earnest observation of many years. In the mean time, may I venture at least to hope, that no one will deny the fact, merely on account of the insufficiency of the terms which I may have had the misfortune to apply to the description of it.
I shall try to explain my idea in a manner which will scarcely leave a doubt on the nature of the fact, to which it is my wish to call the attention of all persons engaged in education. They will be ready to admit, from past experience, that if you treat a child with kindness, there is a greater chance of succeeding, than if you try by any other means.
Now this is all that I would wish to have granted to me; and on this simple and undeniable fact I would ground whatever there is of theory, or of principle, in my views on infant development.
If you succeed, by kindness, more than by any other means, there must, I would say, be a something in the child, that answers as it were to your call of kindness. Kindness must be the most congenial to his nature: kindness must excite a sympathy in his heart. Whence is that something derived? I have no hesitation in saying, from the Giver of all that is good. It is indeed to that same principle in man, that He has always addressed his call, both by the voice of conscience, and whenever he has, by his infinite mercy, spoken to mankind, "at sundry times, and in diverse manners." And, if otherwise, how are we to satisfy ourselves with regard to the meaning of the divine authority, by which it is said, that "of such is the kingdom of God;" and that, "Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, shall in no wise enter therein." We shall have the more reason to think so, if we consider the manner in which that power of kindness acts upon even the infant mind.
If the infant were not actuated by any other impulse but the mere instinct of self-preservation; if his attachment to the mother were grounded merely upon a consciousness of his helplessness, of his animal wants, and the observation that she was the first to relieve, to protect, to gratify them; if thence spring his smile, and all the little tokens of affection so dear to the mother's heart; if the infant be really that selfish, calculating creature, turning to the gratification of his own desires the affection of others; then indeed would I cease for ever to speak of the stamina of love in his heart, or of the antepast, however distant, of faith. Then would I cease forever to address the mother as the principal agent in the cause of humanity. Such a cause then could no longer exist. Then I would no longer exhort her to weigh her duty, and to consider the means by which to accomplish it. Any means would do for what would then be her province, - to nurture in her infant that same cold and unnatural selfishness, which might be lurking in her own bosom, under the deceitful mask of maternal love. But let the mother tell what her heart says to such a doctrine. Let her tell, if she does not believe that God himself has implanted in her that feeling of maternal love. Let her tell, if she does not feel herself nearest to God in those moments in which her love is most intense and active; and if it is not this feeling, which alone enables her to be unremitting in her duties, and to undergo self-denials which have no name, which we may attempt to describe, but which none but a mother can feel, and none but a mother can undergo. Let her tell, whether she is not firmly convinced, by that same feeling, that there is, in the heart of her infant, a gratitude, and a confidence, and an attachment, which is better than selfish, which is implanted, as is her own love, by her Heavenly Father.
I know the cold and heartless doctrine, which does not deny the existence of such a feeling, but which accounts for it by calling it a salutary deception, intended to induce the mother to be careful in the fulfilment of her duty. Have I called this doctrine cold and heartless? Then let me add, that I do not wish to cast an imputation on those who may hold it, from whatever motives it may be: but I cannot bring myself to sympathise with them.
Let others advocate the theory, that evil may be done that good may come of it. Let man try to palliate by this theory his own weakness: but let him not presume to transfer that principle to the works of Him who is all wisdom, all power, and all love.
No: I will never believe that God, to endear to her, by a pleasing delusion, her difficult and often painful duty, - I will never believe, (that the Father of Truth has implanted a lying spirit in the heart of the mother). (PSW 26 p. 61-63)