Homes The Best Schools
( Originally Published 1884 )
The best Nursery of Character. Influence of Women. Mothers of Great and Good Men. Washington, Cromwell, Wellington, the Napiers.
"The Mill-streams that turn the clappers of the world, arise in solitary places." HELPS.
THE good home is the best of schools, not only in youth but in age. There young and old best learn cheerfulness, patience, self-control, and the spirit of service and of duty. Izaak Walton, speaking of George Herbert's mother, says she governed her family with judicious care, not rigidly nor sourly, " but with such a sweetness and compliance with the recreations and pleasures of youth, as did incline them to spend much of their time in her company, which was to her great content."
The home is the true school of courtesy, of which woman is always the best practical instructor. " With-out woman," says the Provencal proverb, " men were but ill-licked cubs." Philanthropy radiates from the home as from a centre. " To love the little platoon we belong to in society," said Burke, " is the germ of all public affections." The wisest and the best have not been ashamed to own it to be their greatest joy and happiness to sit " behind the heads of children" in the inviolable circle of home. A life of purity and duty there is not the least effectual preparative for a life of public work and duty; and the man who loves his home will not the less fondly love and serve his country.
But while homes, which are the nurseries of character, may be the best of schools, they may also be the worst. Between childhood and manhood how incalculable is the mischief which ignorance in the home has the power to cause! Between the drawing of the first breath and the last, how vast is the moral suffering and disease occasioned by incompetent mothers and •nurses ! Commit a child to the care of a worthless, ignorant woman, and no culture in after life will remedy the evil you have clone. Let the mother be idle, vicious, and a slattern; let her home be pervaded by cavilling, petulance, and discontent, and it. will become a dwelling of misery a place to fly from, rather than to fly to; and the children whose misfortune it is to be brought up there will be morally dwarfed and deformed the cause of misery to themselves as well as to others.
Napoleon Bonaparte was accustomed to say that " the future good or bad conduct of a child depended entirely on the mother." He himself attributed his rise in life in a great measure to the training of his will, his energy, and his self-control, by his mother at home. " Nobody had any command over him," says one of his biographers, " except his mother, who found means, by a mixture of tenderness, severity and justice, to make him love, respect and obey her; from her he learnt the virtue of obedience."
A curious illustration of the dependence of the character of children on that of the mother incidentally occurs in one of Mr. Tufnell's school-reports. The truth, he observes, is so well established that it has even been made subservient to mercantile calculation. " I was in-formed," he says, " in a large factory where many children were employed, that the managers before they en-gaged a boy, always inquired into the mother's character, and if that was satisfactory they were tolerably certain that her children would conduct themselves creditably. No attention was paid to the character of the father."
It has also been observed that in cases where the father has turned out badly become a drunkard and " gone to the dogs "—provided the mother is prudent and sensible, the family will be kept together, and the children probably make their way honorably in life; whereas in cases of the opposite sort, where the mother turns out badly, no matter how well-conducted the father may be, the instances of a after-success in life on the part of the children are comparatively rare.
The greater part of the influence exercised by women on the formation of character necessarily remains unknown. They accomplish their best works in the quiet seclusion of the home and the family, by sustained effort and patient perseverence in the path of duty.
Their greatest triumphs, because private and domestic, are rarely recorded; and it is not often, even in the biographies of distinguished men, that we hear of the share which their mothers have had in the formation of their character, and in giving them a bias towards goodness. Yet are they not on that account without their reward. The influence they have exercised, though unrecorded, lives after them and goes on propagating itself in consequences forever.
We do not often hear of great women as we do of great men. It is of good women that we mostly hear; and it is probable that by determining the character of men and women for good, they are doing even greater work than if they were to paint great pictures, write great books, or compose great operas. " It is quite true," said Joseph de Maistre, " that women have produced no chefs-de-oeuvre. They have written no 'Iliad,' nor 'Jerusalem Delivered,' nor Hamlet,' nor 'Phaedre,' nor 'Paradise Lost,' nor ' Tartuffe;" they have designed no Church of St. Peters, composed no 'Messiah,' carved no 'Apollo Belvedere,' painted no 'Last Judgment;' they have invented neither algebra, nor tele. scopes, nor steam-engines; but they have done some-thing far greater and better than all this, for it is at their knees that upright and virtuous men and women have been trained the most excellent productions in the world."
De Maistre, in his letters and writings, speaks of his own mother with immense love and reverence. Her noble character made all other women venerable in his eyes. He described her as his " sublime mother " " an angel to whom God had lent a body for a brief season." To her he attributed the bent of his character, and all his bias towards good; and when he had grown to mature years, while acting as ambassador at the Court of St. Petersburg, he referred to her noble example and precepts as the ruling influence in his life.
One of the most charming features in the character of Samuel Johnson, notwithstanding his rough and shaggy exterior, was the tenderness with which he in-variably spoke of his mother a woman of strong under-standing, who firmly implanted in his mind, as he him-self acknowledges, his first impressions of religion. He was accustomed even in the time of his greatest difficulties, to contribute largely, out of his slender means, to her comfort; and one of his last acts of filial duty was to write " Rasselas " for the purpose of paying her little debts and defraying her funeral charges.
George Washington was only eleven years of age the eldest of five children when his father died, leaving his mother a widow. She was a woman of rare excellence full of resources, a good woman of business, an excellent manager, and possessed of much strength of character. She had her children to educate and bring up, a large household to govern, and extensive estates to manage, all of which she accomplished with complete success. Her good sense, assiduity, tenderness, industry, and vigilance, enabled her to overcome every obstacle; and, as the richest reward of her solicitude and toil, she had the happiness to see all her children come for-ward with a fair promise into life, filling the spheres al-lotted to them in a manner equally honorable to them-selves, and to the parent who had been the only guide of their principles, conduct, and habits.
The biographer of Cromwell says little about the Protector's father, but dwells upon the character of his mother, whom he describes as a woman of rare vigor and decision of purpose: "A woman," he says, " possessed of the glorious faculty of self-help when other assistance failed her; ready for the demands of fortune in its extremest adverse turn; of spirit and energy equal to her mildness and patience; who, with the labor of her own hands, gave dowries to five daughters sufficient to marry them into families as honorable but more wealthy than their own; whose single pride was honesty, and whose passion was love; who preserved in the gorgeous palace at Whitehall the simple tastes that distinguished her in the old brewery at Huntingdon; and whose only care, amidst all her splendor, was for the safety of her on in his dangerous eminence."
We have spoken of the mother of Napoleon Bona-parte as a woman of great force of character. Not less so was the mother of the Duke of Wellington, whom her son strikingly resembled in features, person and character; while his father was principally distinguished as a musical composer and performer. But strange to say, Wellington's mother mistook him for a dunce; and for some reason or other, he was not such a favorite as her other children, until his great deeds in after life constrained her to be proud of him.
The Napiers were blessed in both parents, but especially in their mother, Lady Sarah Lennox, who early sought to inspire her sons' minds with elevating thoughts, admiration of noble deeds, and a chivalrous spirit, which became embodied in their lives, and continued to sustain them, until death, in the path of duty and of honor.