21 AUGUST 1886, Page 12


AN incident in the recent intelligence from France, and still more the name, not very happily chosen we should say, which was applied to it in the English newspapers, assumed prc- bably to more than one reader a certain typical significance as an index to the character of our time. The title of a " Children's Revolt" led one to expect something rather more widespread than what it proved to be, viz., a sort of barring-out of a very truculent character among the pupils of a Provençal pauper school. This outbreak of lawlessness was apparently the result of severity that would have been sufficient, —to take an old- fashioned view of the case,—to call for remonstrance from a third party ; in the opinion not only of the young ruffians themselves, but apparently of the authorities also, it justified rebellion, carried out with an artillery of piled stone% This savage re- jection of authority by a few charity-boys, and still more, the respect with which it appears to have been met by its judges, combine to furnish a striking illustration of the tendencies of oar day ; and we beg leave, quitting all actual reference to the circumstances of the little Mediterranean colony which has reproduced on its minute scale the general tendency of the history of France, to regard the young French gamins as John Doe and Richard Roe, and ask ourselves what is the loss and gain of some hundred years of revolt against the authority which was once thought the natural condition for the majority of the human race, and which it is now felt impossible to force upon those over whom its claim is most unquestionable.

The question takes us backwards as well as forwards ; the rejection of all authority has never been as absolute or con- sistent as it was when first formulated for modern ears. Rous- seau set himself to devise a scheme of education from which obedience should be utterly excluded, with a confidence which his followers could never quite rival. It was not harshness or injustice only that be wished to prevent, but the claim of one being to the submission of another. He sought to make educa- tion an attempt to develop the reason and the will side by side, and to leave no scope for any demand on the last which the first did not justify and explain. He did not, of course, deny that in many respects grown-up people are the best judges of what is best for children (though he believed that this was less true than is generally supposed), but he thought it possible and highly desirable for parents, if they did their duty from the beginning, to make their child pursue his welfare of his own accord. Let Nature, be always urges, he the disciplinarian. Let all punish- ment come from her, let the advantages and disadvantages of all action be seen as she shows it. He did not exclude from the scope of Nature the natural influence of actions on others than the agent; he supposed that coercion should be used occasionally, and he thought that that great advantage of strength which grown-up people have over children might result in making this always as gentle as it was decisive. if a boy persists in doing mischief, he may be shut up till somebody suggests to him the material for a little treaty ; be will break no more windows, and you will unbolt the door,—a proposal which you are to hail with admiration as one of great ingenuity, and to act on with perfect trust. But you are never to show displeasure, you are to punish as Nature punishes, and to resent the child's sins in no other way than by showing him how they will affect the actions of ordinary mankind.

This view—on the one hand, the culminating reaction from medimval asceticism ; on the other hand, the stir of awakening science, conscious of a mighty future, and already preparing, unknown to its prophet, to dethrone theology—was uttered by Rousseau with all the resonance of genius, and we naturally regard it under the form it received from him. But when we come to detail, it seems to us that his want of manliness and simplicity prevented him from doing justice to his own ideal. You would never more doubt his wisdom than when you were trying to carry out his injunctions literally. For instance, according to him all command is to be replaced by a kind of symbolic teaching, in which consequences are artificially exhibited to the child's mind, and the substance of command is conveyed as irresistible advice. Instead of telling your children not to pick fruit in a strange garden, you are to get up a little drama with a market-gardener, who is to rush upon you with well-acted ferocity when you and they are eating his strawberries, and to perform with you a lively duet, in which the progress of society shall be made clear to the wondering little audience, so that the advantages of private property may dawn on their mental vision just as it did on those who first originated it. Any inconvenient question by which the play shall be interrupted or afterwards criticised—any wonder, for instance, how you have come to the vast age of ,paternity without knowing that poor men do not like people to come and eat their fruit without paying for it—must be answered, we presume, with a direct falsehood ; and we should think much cleverness must be expended in devising one or two beforehand. It is odd to make the remark as a criticism on Rousseau, but still it is evident that all this machinery of education shows that he was thinking only of the upper classes. It would take no vast sum, certainly, to fee a market-gardener for his part in the little comedy, but there are many reasons why these devices would be impossible to any but the wealthy. However, it is much the smallest objection against Rousseau's ideal of education that it is incurably aristocratic. To English- men, at all events, of all political views, it is a much greater objection that it is radically fictitious. We are all at times driven into falsehood by gusts of sympathy or selfishness, but no one could willingly embody it in a scheme of life devised for the good of his children. One can hardly pay the "Emile " a higher tribute than by allowing that it contains genius and good sense enough to float all this absurdity. It is possible to arrange life so as to make the claim for obedience a very rare one, without having recourse to a system of elaborate fiction, even with children. They may, without any considerable external disaster, pass from almost entire dependence on those who have the control of them, to a position of almost entire equality. And this, in fact, is much what has happened. Babies are controlled, children are advised, the time when one human being feels that he must carry out the will of another has almost vanished. It is not, as Rousseau meant, that Nature has become the disci- plinarian. Nature is much too stern a disciplinarian for modern gentleness ; we interfere to prevent the rigour of her penalties even more than our fathers did. But we feel it something unanswerable to have any action traced to natural promptings. And as anger and discontent are natural, boys, though they be rescued from the streets and fed on alms, have only to prove that they were ill-fed and severely punished, to have sympathy on their side in case of their resort to violence quite ready to become murder.

Both our gain and our loss in the change are shown forth with striking distinctness in the case of a countryman of our own, whose conscious influence was given wholly to the new ideal, while his life seems to us an eloquent, though not indis- putable, tribute to the old. There is a certain bygone flavour about the teaching of John Stuart Mill ; he seems to the mind of our day more obsolete than Rousseau does. In some degree, this may be a phase through which all fame must pass, a mere result of the established balance between a new impulse and the general mind of the day. We suspect, however, that this is not the whole explanation of the change. John Mill stood just outside of the circle of ideas which most influence the mind of the hour, and we may, while their predominance lasts, under-rate his permanent influence, but when the hour has passed we do not think that he will take the place which seemed likely to be his at one time. However, it remains true that he has for a time been almost the lawgiver of English political and philosophical thought ; and we have often wondered that his review of his early life, which involves so instructive a comment on his own influence, has not more impressed the general mind. Probably no one ever judged his own education more wisely ; he speaks neither as a panegyrist nor as a victim, but as nearly as possible as one man might speak of that training which formed the character of another. It is with a very gentle expression of regret that he refers to the effect on himself of what was evidently a harsh and depressing rule, not really mitigated by his father's theoretic aim at taking the child into partnership in his education. He was evidently aware that this severity had told injuriously on his own nature, and we fancy that much of his political feeling was tinged by the consciousness left in his mind of the de- pressing influences exerted by the fear of a superior. Yet he does not go further than hesitating to pronounce whether the precious thing he lost was greater than the precious thing he gained. He does not exaggerate the bad influence of this stern discipline ; it did not, be tells us, prevent his having a happy childhood. He does not underrate its good influence ; he allows that it gave him an intellectual start in life a quarter of a century ahead of his contemporaries. Perhaps if he had been less filial, he would have seemed more so ; there may have been other reasons why he could not love the father to whom he was "loyally devoted," besides that he brought him up too strictly ; and among many grounds of our admiration of the autobiography, not the least is its affording us the last typical specimen presented to our generation of old-fashioned manly reserve. But for our purpose it is quite enough to know what he tells us. Severity which saved half an average lifetime for work, and which did not prevent childhood from being happy, has not done the character any damage so great as the benefit conferred by it. No substitute would have done the work. The training of an Emile would never have made a John Stuart Mill. A child can never be taught to prefer the discipline that creates habits of application ; the attempt to appreciate it would be, in fact, one person trying to judge for another. At his wisest, he can only judge of that short future during which he will remain a child ; for him to try to anticipate his choice as a man, is idle. We know not whether experience justifies the suspicion that scholarship has become less exact since training became less strict; we should expect, and we are somewhat surprised to find John Mill did also, that this would be the result of a system which never requires a child to persevere in anything that is distasteful to him. The belief that the school. room may be made as agreeable as the playground, can be enter- tained only by those who have never had any permanent relations with either; and it was in the mind of Rousseau not perhaps altogether unconnected with the well-known fate of those who owed to him their existence.

But at the same time, we must accept the whole evidence of our witness. James Mill inspired fear and checked confidence, as well as achieving a marvel of instruction. " He must," says his son, ".have been constantly feeling that fear of him was drying up his children's affiction at its source." It is a grievous summary of the influence of a father. We may hope that gentler men will learn to be as firm as he must have been, and we mast be certain that his work was accomplished by his firm- ness and hindered by his harshness. But imperfect human beings, aiming at firmness, will always be liable to an excess of severity. We shall never have angels to carry out our theories of education, and though we may hope that people are always a little less unlike angels to their own children than to any other persons, it is quite as important a fact that they can give them more pain than they can give other persons. The ill-judged severity of the parents who most unmixedly and disinterestedly desire their child's good, gives more pain than any other mere mistake can do. And if the parents feel severity right, they are in danger of causing this pain in proportion to their goodness, for it is when they are most blameless that it is most painful to themselves. Dean Stanley mentions somewhere a dying man who, when told that be was going where the wicked would cease from troubling, replied that what he wanted was to go where the good would cease from troubling. We cannot too often remind ourselves that on this side of the grave it is far easier to secure the first immunity than the last.

If, then, it is felt an unanswerable objection to the discipline which produces obedience that it gives pain, there is an end of the matter. It will always give some pain, and perhaps not so much less in the hands of the unselfish as more in the hands of the high-minded. No one can always aim at being firm without sometimes being hard also. It is much worse in the long-run for children to feel their parents unkind than hard ; but it hurts less for the moment, and is not, perhaps, likely to happen so often. Domestic tyranny has, there is no doubt, been a cause of very great unhappiness in the past. Whether it has been so great a cause of unhappiness as that domestic discord which is its probable alternative, we very mach doubt. If we compare the obedience rendered to some distasteful order by an average schoolboy and an average servant, we shall see the sort of increased difficulty that has come into intercourse since orders have approximated to advice. A few generations ago, the son would have obeyed as the ser- vant does now (we are speaking of every-day matters), i.e., recog- nising the order as coming from a person who had a right to give it, and criticising it, if he did criticise, after and not before obedience. It may be doubted whether the greater readiness to give orders in those days implies a greater difference than the lesser willingness to do anything disagreeable in these ; and if the doubt be justified, people have as much to do that they dislike doing now as they had then. If we go far enough back, there is plenty of evidence to show that a capacity for enduring pain nhica would excite astonished admiration among us, was confidently reckoned on as the equipment of average humanity ; and while it seetni to us better that men should be incapable both of inflicting and of enduring torture than that they should be capable of both, we regard this preponderance as depending wholly on the degree of what is inflicted and en- dured. However, we are ready to admit that the life of the young may be somewhat p!easanter now than it was in the days of our grandfathers, and to regard that as so far a gain. And, further, to complete our concessions to what we deem vital error, it cannot be denied that many a nursery in which obedience has never been exacted turns oat a blameless set of men and women ;—that the contagion and example of well-meaning people free from strong passions is enough to produce, in similar dispositions, characters like their own. To state this as the limit of concession seems to us enough to justify protest ; but all would not feel it so, ant it certainly has to be weighed by those who would compare the old ideal and the new.

The change which has brought obedience into disrepute is historically the same as that which has made the individual the

starting-point of moral analysis ; the view which regarded obedi- ence as in itself a virtue, was but one side of the belief that man is but a fragment, apart from those relations which bind him to the past and to the future. Such a view associated subordination with all that is dignified, enduring, and historic ; and found in obedience the condition of an organic unity that was as precious as individual life. The sense of this organic unity has faded with the progress of history, as starlight in the dawn of day. The whole tendency of modern life is to ignore the bonds which a man has not chosen. All that cements the family must now make out its case in the face of hostile criticism. Authority has thus become something external; we think of obedience as belonging to the discipline of military or school life, or else some- thing that can be paid for; we naturally contrast it with all that is characteristic of kindred. We see this process at the present hour in the relation of party spirit to patriotism. None surely can doubt at the moment in which we write which is the growing, which the fading light. Patriotism seems to belong to the past. As it is a lost tradition to obey a parent, so it is an artificial arrangement to owe allegiance to a country ; the bond must be something that the man has preferred. To be a Radical or Con- servative is something definite, positive, full of moral influence on every department of life; to be an Englishman is a fact interesting only from a legal and ethnological point of view, and wholly without moral bearing. If ever this process is consummated, it will become the mark of all lofty and aspiring minds to hold themselves aloof from political life. For it is the very condition of healthy party spirit that it should be something consciously incomplete and secondary,—a means, not an end. The true Radical or the true Conservative alike feels that his country needs a truth that his party discerns ; his party, therefore, is a needful means to his country's good. When this subordination of dignity is lost—when the party becomes the ultimate unity, the country a geographical expression—then is fulfilled the, warning of one whom no one will accuse of being a partisan of the past. " Wer von seiner Nation nichts wissen will," says Strauss, " der wird damit nicht Kosmopolit, sondern bleibt Egoist." Bat it is not only, nor even chiefly, the citizen who is impoverished by the loss of this natural grouping ; it is the world within that shows the loss, even more than the world without. What we all need there—Radical or Conservative alike—is the principle of inequality. The man whose every impulse claims an equal hearing is condemned to hopeless obliteration from all the memories of lofty, or even of vigorous achievement. The understanding can but secure the various parts of our nature a distinct and proprotionate expression ;. it can never decide what in the series of need or urgency demands with right the prerogative of a first hearing. What- ever name we may give to the faculty which does so decide, it is evidently the principle of obedience transferred from the- world of persons to the world of ideas. As . it has made the family a unity, so it makes the individual a hierarchy. When it has been perfect in the child, it passes, by the correla- tion of moral forces, into an unseen world, where it appears in other forms. Resolute endurance and manly self-control may manifested, perhaps, in an individual who has never been taught to obey, for individual development reveals at once more and less than the effect of individual training ; but a society which has never associated obedience with honour will know no. endurance, no self-control ; and the loss of what we may term the correlates of obedience will tell upon the whole ideal of life. We have come to associate obedience with wages, or with the necessities of warfare ; it has never been perfumed with the- memories of tenderness, it cannot pass into the inmost soul, and fight there on the side of purity, of courage, of self-restraint. The boy leaves it behind, when he quits the school for the home. The man may reach it, from a rational view of its necessity, from mere weakness of nature, or from faithfulness to an engagement. But that instinctive bent towards loyalty which is implanted by the glad acceptance of control in the pliant nature of childhood, when the craving tendrils met the firm support,—this we have lost, and life is grievously the poorer.