- Life is a gradual process of unfolding
- Relation of priority and posterity between childhood and manhood
- Childhood as a miniature of manhood
- Capacity and necessary for the successful performance
- Illustrations from world history
- The exception to the general rule
- Factor that account for the exception
- Wordsworthian sense of the line
- Education of the child according to his inborn tastes and capacities
The quotation is taken from Wordsworth, an English romantic poet.
Life is a gradual process of unfolding. The seed is developed into a plant, the bud blooms into a flower, and the child grows to be a man. It is a profound truth, not a mere analogy. The sum total of energy, which is spread over the allotted course of man’s life on the earth, is concentrated in the child. Development is but another name for the slow liberation of this compact energy, The buoyancy of childhood and the lethargy of old age but different phases of this energy; when it is tight and concentrated, we have the vigour of infancy, when it is loose and relaxed; we have the languor of old age. There will be no cause for wonder in a little child’s being the storehouse of life’s energy, which can destroy the world.
Relation of priority and posterity between childhood and manhood
In the first place, there is the same relation between childhood and manhood as there is between priority and posterity, the cause and the effect. An individual before he comes to the state of manhood must necessarily pass through the state of childhood. As the childhood of an individual precedes his manhood, as the latter develops out of the former, the former may be called the father, or parent, or cause of the latter.
Childhood as a miniature of manhood
Moreover, childhood is immature manhood, and manhood a fully developed state of childhood. The powers that are latent in the child are made manifest in the man; the faculties that dimly seen in the form are fully seen in the latter. One is the index of the other. All the qualities, mental, moral and physical, which go to make up the future man, are present in germ of the child. There is no power or faculty in man that is not already present in the child, the difference between them lies only in the degree of manifestation. Great men show signs of their future greatness even in their childhood. As in their manhood, they stand head and shoulders above the ordinary run of mankind, so in their age by a marked superiority over them in some respects or others. In fact when they come into the world, they bring with them the seeds of their greatness. The seeds are not sown here; the invisible hand of God plants them in them. He sends every man and woman to do the parts He allots.
“All the world’s a stage
And all the men and women merely players,
They have there exist, their entrances.”
When God distributes different parts to the children; He also gives them the capacity necessary for the successful performance of those parts; those parts may be of a poet, of a statesman, or a philosopher, or a scientist, or a robber, or a thief. So, what kind of man a child will be, can be known from the tastes and tendencies which he begins to exhibit from his very childhood. As he grows up, his tastes and capacities develop and every circumstance, which surrounds him, favours the growth of these tastes and capacities. When he enters the world, those tastes and capacities help him to act the part assigned to him by unseen powers.”
There is a story, which illustrates well the point in hand. A king had a son born to him just at the moment when the son of a washerman was born. A fairy played a trick. She took away the washerman’s son, and put him in the place of the king’s son; and she carried the king’s son into the washerman’s house. The children began to grow up; but they displayed different tendencies. The washerman’s son, though in a palace, loved to wash clothes, while the king’s sons, though in the house of a washerman, was fond of nothing so much as of books and other things that become the son of a king to learn. These different tendencies of the boys showed what they would be when they grew up into manhood. The king’s son sat on the throne and the washerman’s at his father’s trade.
Illustrations from history
Apart from the above story which is mythical in character, numerous examples can be cited from history to prove that the character of the child’s mind, his tastes and tendencies, his likes and dislikes give a foretaste of the kind of man he is going to be in future. Ruskin has said, “Tell me what you like and I shall tell you what you are.” This statement is as truer of grown up men as of children. Stories are told of great men – poets, statesmen, sculptors, philosophers, scientists and soldiers – who gave indications of their future greatness in their infancy. Alexander Pope said of himself, “ I lisped in numbers, for the numbers came” and his earliest attempts at poetry were made when he had hardly left his nursery. Hardy’s pessimism originated in childhood. As a child he loved to watch the maggots “the little helpless creatures who passed their time in mad carousal” in a mud puddle near his father’s house in Dorsetshire. Often he asked himself what was the meaning of all this. As he grew older, he turned his attention to the larger but equally helpless human maggots that wallowed and multiplied and died in the mudpuddle of the earth. William Blake, the poet of mystical visions, saw as a child of four “God put – his forehead on the window”. Lord Macaulay, even while a child of three could quote the Bible and use high-sounding words. Once when a careless servant had split cup of hot tea on his leg, his hostess asked him, how he felt. He replied in all seriousness,
“Thank you, madam the agony has now abated”.
The great Buddha even when he was a child could be seen sitting apart from his playmates and meditating upon something. He was moved with the spectacle of suffering scattered here, there and every where on this earth, which later on urged him to abandon this world of storm and struggle and devote himself to a life of calm contemplation. Sir Isac Newton had in his childhood the tendency of enquiring into everything that he saw to find out its cause and to have an idea of its details. When quite a young boy, he constructed a toy windmill which worked in every respect like a real windmill. This spirit of inquiry and creative imagination led him to become afterward one of the greatest scientists of the world that he was. Similarly, Stephenson while only a child could be seen making and unmaking clay engines. When his uncle gave Alexander as a child a ball and bat, he said, “I will play with the world as I play with this ball”. As a boy, Napoleon used to build forts of snow and smash or defend them in the parade ground of the military school where he read. Later on, he became the greatest general of France. Hanibal, the great Carthaginian General, at the age of nine, had sworn eternal enmity to Roman Republic.
The above illustrations prove in abundance that the child is the father or parent or cause of the man, not only in the sense that the former precedes the latter, but also in the further sense that the powers and faculties that are made manifest in the latter are already present in the former, though of course in a latent form. As De Quincy puts it: “Whatever is seen in the maturest adult blossoming and bearing fruit, must have pre-existed by way of germ in the infant. All that is now broadly emblazoned in the man once was latent, seen or not seen, as a vernal bud in the child.” In other words, as Milton observed in his ‘Paradise Regained’.
“The childhood shows the man
And morning shows the day.”
Or as Dryden recorded in his famous drama All for Love,
“Men are but children of a larger growth.”
Or as A. Pope wrote in his Essay ‘On Man’
“The boy and man one individual make.”
Exception to the rule
But though it is found that there are indications of the man in the child, it is no less a fact that the inclinations of children at times belie the character he bears afterwards. Stupid children have developed into great scholars; an early promise of courage and honesty has ended in rank cowardice and deceitfulness. Many à boy-patriot has afterward sold his country to his enemy and premonitions of early failure have ended in glorious triumphs. Once a painter wanted paint the face of an angel and he took up for his model a child who had almost in the angelic face. Years after, he liked to paint a parallel picture of arch-wickedness. He went to prison and took up for his model the face of a prisoner who seemed to him to be wickedness incarnate.
Factors that account for the exception
But these exceptions should not be given undue importance. On the other hand, these are the exceptions that prove the rule. Man is after all a creature of circumstances. The environment determines his future character and career. Even an angelic child will be debased if constantly kept in the company of thieves and murderers. Among the chief circumstances through which the life of a child passes, mention may be made first of the home, secondly of his school and thirdly of the outside world. If these are congenial and helpful, a child will indicate the future man as surely as the morning shows the day. But if he is not treated sympathetically by his parents or is left to grow without their proper care and guidance and if the general circumstances of his life prove hostile to the growth of his natural talents his genius is bound to wither and fade into the light of common day’. How many a fair promise of early years is blighted by the sorrows and rebuffs of life, and the blows of adverse destiny! As Gray writes.
“Full many a gem of purest ray serene,
The dark unfathom’d caves of ocean bear;
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen
And waste its fragrance on the desert air.”
Wordsworthian sense of the line
We have studied so far the line of Wordsworth as the topic of our essay independently of its context and discussed it in the general sense, but before we close, it will not be amiss to explain the line in the sense, in which its author desired it to be understood. According to Wordsworth, the child is father of the man, not so much because in the course of nature childhood comes earlier than manhood, not so much because no powers are made manifest in manhood that do not exist in the child, as because the child is a better seer, a better philosopher than that who cannot understand even with his maturer reason. To Wordsworth the child is a:
“Mighty prophet! Seer blest!
On whom these truths rest
Which we are toiling all our lives to find.”
To his mind the child is the best of philosophers’ who yet ‘doth keep his heritage’ ‘the eye among the blind that readeth the eternal deep’. This being so, it is natural for Wordsworth to say that the future should have reverence for the past, that “the man naturally ought to love and reverence the child, as a son does his childhood and youth and thus preventing any breach of continuity in his spirituous development”.
Education of the child according to his inborn tastes and capacities
But whether we take the line in the general sense, or in the special sense in which Wordsworth applied it, it is clear that we can to a great extent; control the future of a child by giving him the right sort of education. Queen Victoria was given best possible education by her mother with the result that she grew up to be one of the ablest rulers of England. Elizabeth’s childhood tells us the same story. No one can deny that childhood is the period for training as the mind in then is a plastic state; great care should be taken as to the nature of the impressions we imprint there. Much time has been wasted and many a life has been wrecked on account of the failure on the part of guardians to take into account these early tendencies. Education is, but the unfolding of our natural faculties, hence, in order to determine what sort of education will suit a boy, it is necessary to find out what his aptitudes and capacities are. It is no use training a born poet like Keats, in the art of surgery it is worse than useless to make a clergyman of a jailor and a schoolmaster of a soldier. We should first try to understand the natural tastes and capacities of the child and then do all we can to foster their unfettered growth. Nothing, alien to the genius of the child, should be thrust upon him.
Need it be reiterated that the period of childhood should be carefully watched, for it is the children of today who will be citizens of tomorrow. Scope should be given to every child to develop noble qualities of head and heart and to blossom in the way best suited to him. If this is done, every child will grow up into a noble and useful member of society, and the world will be a better place to live in. Ignatius Loyola has rightly said, “Give happens to the rest”. If the world is to be saved, care should be taken that children who grow up to be the future men of the world receive a good training appropriate to their natural powers and possibilities.