Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

until a sufficiency for these ends is required, or in due time probably will be acquired (for, in human affairs, probability ought to content us,) frugality and exertions of industry are duties. He is also justified in the declining expensive liberality; for, to take from those who want, in order to give to those who want, adds nothing to the stock of public happines. Thus far, therefore, and no father, the plea of " children," of "large families," "charity begins at home," &c. is an excuse for parsimony, and an answer to those who solicit our bounty. Beyond this point, as the use of riches becomes less, the desire of laying up should abate proportionably. The truth is, our children gain not so much as we imagine, in the chance of this world's happiness, or even of its external prosperity, by setting out in it with large capitals. Of those who have died rich, a great part began with little. And, in respect of enjoyment, there is no comparison between a fortune which a man acquires by well applied industry, or by a series of successes in his business, and one found in his possession, or received from another.

A principal part of a parent's duty is still behind, viz. the using of proper precautions and expedients, in order to form and preserve his children's virtue.

To us, who believe that, in one stage or other of our existence, virtue will conduct to happiness, and vice terminate in misery; and who observe withal, that men's virtues and vices are, to a certain degree, produced or affected by the management of their youth, and the situations in which they are placed; to all who attend to these reasons, the obligation to consult a child's virtue will appear to differ in nothing from that by which the parent is bound to provide for his maintenance or fortune. The child's interest is concerned in the one means of happiness as well as in the other; and both means are equally, and almost exclusively, in the parent's power.

For this purpose, the first point to be endeavoured after, is to impress upon children the idea of accountableness, that is, to accustom them to look forward to the consequences of their actions in another world,

which can only be brought about by the parents visibly acting with a view to these consequences themselves. Parents, to do them justice, are seldom sparing of lessons of virtue and religion; in admonitions which cost little, and which profit less; whilst their example exhibits a continual contradiction of what they teach. A father, for instance, will, with much solemnity and apparent earnestness, warn his son against idleness, excess in drinking, debauchery, and extravagance, who himself loiters about all day without employment; comes home every night drunk; is made infamous in his neighbourhood by some profligate connexion; and wastes the fortune which should support, or remain a provision for his family, in riot, or luxury, or ostentation. Or he will discourse gravely before his children of the obligation and importance of revealed religion, whilst they see the most frivolous and oftentimes feigned excuses detain him from its reasonable and solemn ordinances. Or he will set before them, perhaps, the supreme and tremendous authority of Almighty God; that such a Being ought not to be named, or even thought upon, without sentiments of profound awe and veneration. This may be the lecture he delivers to his family one hour; when the next, if an occasion arise to excite his anger, his mirth, or his surprise, they will hear him treat the name of the Deity with the most irreverent profanation, and sport with the terms and denunciations of the Christian religion, as if they were the language of some ridiculous and long exploded superstition. Now, even a child is not to be imposed upon by such mockery. He sees through the grimace of this counterfeited concern for virtue. He discovers that his parent is acting a part; and receives his admonitions as he would hear the same maxims from the mouth of a player. And when once this opinion has taken possession of the child's mind, it has a fatal effect upon the parent's influence in all subjects; even those, in which he himself may be sincere and convinced. Whereas a silent, but observable regard to the duties of religion, in the parent's own behaviour, will take a sure and gradual hold of the child's disposition, much beyond

formal reproofs and chidings, which, being generally prompted by some present provocation, discover more of anger than of principle, and are always received with a temporary alienation and disgust.

A good parent's first care is to be virtuous himself; his second, to make his virtues as easy and engaging to those about him as their nature will admit. Virtue itself offends, when coupled with forbidding manners. And some virtues may be urged to such excess, or brought forward so unseasonably, as to discourage and repel those who observe and who are acted upon by them, instead of exciting an inclination to imitate and adopt them. Young minds are particularly liable to these unfortunate impressions. For instance, if a father's economy degenerate into a minute and teasing parsimony, it is odds but that the son, who has suffered under it, sets out a sworn enemy to all rules of order and frugality. If a father's piety be morose, rigorous, and tinged with melancholy, perpetually breaking in upon the recreation of his family, and surfeiting them with the language of religion on all occasions, there is danger lest the son carry from home with him a settled prejudice against seriousness and religion, as inconsistent with every plan of a pleasurable life; and turn out, when he mixes with the world, a character of levity or dissoluteness.

Something likewise may be done towards the correcting or improving of those early inclinations which children discover, by disposing them into situations the least dangerous to their particular characters. Thus, I would make choice of a retired life for young persons addicted to licentious pleasures; of private stations for the proud and passionate; of liberal professions, and a town-life, for the mercenary and sottish, and not, according to the general practice of parents, send dissolute youths into the army; penurious tempers to trade; or make a crafty lad an attorney; o flatter a vain and haughty temper with elevated names or situations, or callings, to which the fashion of the world has annexed precedency and distinction, but in which his disposition, without at all promoting his success, will serve both to multiply, and exasperate his

disappointments. In the same way, that is, with a view to the particular frame and tendency of the pupil's character, I would make choice of a public or private education. The reserved, timid, and indolent will have their faculties called forth, and their nerves invigorated by a public education. Youths of strong spirits and passions will be safer in a private education. At our public schools, as far as I have observed, more literature is acquired, and more vice; quick parts are cultivated, slow ones are neglected. Under private tuition, a moderate proficiency in juvenile learning is seldom exceeded, but with more cor tainty attained.

CHAPTER X.

THE RIGHTS OF PARENTS,

THE rights of parents result from their duties. If it be the duty of a parent to educate his children, to form them for a life of usefulness and virtue, to provide for them situations needful for their subsistence and suited to their circumstances, and to prepare them for those situations; he has a right to such authority, and in support of that authority to exercise such discipline as may be necessary for these purposes. The law of nature acknowledges no other foundation of a parent's right over his children, besides his duty towards them (I speak now of such rights as may be enforced by coercion.) This relation confers no property in their persons, or natural dominion over them, as is commonly supposed.

Since it is, in general, necessary to determine the destination of children, before they are capable of judging of their own happiness, parents have a right to elect professions for them.

As the mother herself owes obedience to the father, her authority must submit to his. In a competition, therefore, of commands, the father is to be obeyed. 19 *

VOL I

In case of the death of either, the authority, as well as duty, of both parents, devolves upon the survivor.

These rights, always following the duty, belong likewise to guardians; and so much of them as is delegated by the parents or guardians belongs to tutors, schoolmasters, &c

From this principle, "that the rights of parents result from their duty," it follows that parents have no natural right over the lives of their children, as was absurdly allowed to Roman fathers; nor any to exer. cise unprofitable severities; nor to command the commission of crimes: for these rights can never be wanted for the purpose of a parent's duty.

Nor, for the same reason, have parents any right to sell their children into slavery. Upon which, by the way, we may observe, that the children of slaves are not, by the law of nature, born slaves; for, as the master's right is derived to him through the parent, it can never be greater than the parent's own.

Hence also it appears, that parents not only pervert, but exceed, their just authority, when they cousult their own ambition, interest, or prejudice, at the mani fest expense of their children's happiness. Of which abuse of parental power, the following are instances The shutting up of daughters and younger sons in nun › neries and monasteries, in order to preserve entire the estate and dignity of the family; or the using of any arts, either of kindness or unkindness, to induce them to make choice of this way of life themselves; or, in countries where the clergy are prohibited from marriage, putting sons into the church for the same end, who are never likely either to do or receive any good in it, sufficient to compensate for this sacrifice; the urging of children to marriages from which they are averse, with the view of exalting or enriching the family, or for the sake of connecting estates, parties, or interests; or the opposing of a marriage, in which the child would probably find his happiness, from a motive of pride, or avarice or family hostility, or personal pique.

« AnteriorContinuar »