Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

CHAPTER XI.

THE DUTY OF CHILDREN.

THE Duty of Children may be considered, 1. During childhood.

2. After they have attained to manhood, but con tinue in their father's family.

3. After they have attained to manhood, and have left their father's family.

1. During childhood.

Children must be supposed to have attained to some degree of discretion before they are capable of any duty. There is an interval of eight or nine years between the dawning and the maturity of reason, in which it is necessary to subject the inclination of children to many restraints, and direct their application to many employments, of the tendency and use of which they cannot judge; for which cause, the submission of children during this period must be ready and implicit, with an exception, however, of any manifest crime which may be commanded them.

2. After they have attained to manhood, but continue in their father's family.

If children, when they are grown up, voluntarily continue members of their father's family, they are bound, beside the general duty of gratitude to their parents, to observe such regulations of the family as the father shall appoint; contribute their labour to its support, if required; and confine themselves to such expenses as he shall allow. The obligation would be the same, if they were admitted into any other family, or received support from any other hand.

3. After they have attained to manhood, and have left their father's family.

In this state of the relation, the duty to parents is simply the duty of gratitude; not different in kind, from that which we owe to any other benefator; in degree, just so much exceeding other obligations, by how much a parent has been a greater benefactor than any other friend. The services and attentions, by

which filial gratitude may be testified, can be comprised within no enumeration. It will show itself in compliances with the will of the parents, however contrary to the child's own taste or judgment, provided it be neither criminal, nor totally inconsistent with his happiness: in a constant endeavour to promote their enjoyments, prevent their wishes, and soften their anxieties, in small matters as well as in great; in assisting them in their business; in contributing to their support, ease, or better accommodation, when their circumstances require it; in affording them our company, in perference to more amusing engagements; in waiting upon their sickness or decrepitude; in bearing with the infirmities of their health or temper, with the peevishness and complaints, the unfashionable, negligent, austere manners, and offensive habits, which often attend upon advanced years: for where must old age find indulgence, if it do not meet with it in the piety and partiality of children?

The most serious contentions between parents and their children, are those commonly which relate to marriage, or to the choice of a profession.

A parent has, in no case, à right to destroy his child's happiness. If it be true, therefore, that there exist such personal and exclusive attachments between indviduals of different sexes, that the possession of a particular man or woman in marriage be really neces sary for the child's happiness; or if it be true, that an aversion to a particular profession may be involuntary and unconquerable; then it will follow, that parents, where this is the case, ought not to urge their authority, and that the child is not bound to obey it.

The point is, to discover how far, in any particular instance, this is the case. Whether the fondness of lovers ever continues with such intensity, and so long, that the success of their desires constitutes, or the disappointment affects, any considerable portion of their happiness, compared with that of their whole life, it is difficult to determine: but there can be no difficulty in pronouncing, that not one half of those attachments, which young people conceive with so much haste and passion, are of this sort. I believe it also to be true,

that there are few aversions to a profession, which resolution, perseverance, activity in going about the duty of it, and, above all, despair of changing, will not subdue; yet there are some such. Wherefore, a child who respects his parent's judgment, and is, as he ought to be, tender of their happiness, owes, at least, so much deference to their will, as to try fairly and faithfully, in one case, whether time and absence will not cool an affection which they disapprove; and in the other, whether a longer continuance in the pro fession which they have chosen for him may not reconcile him to it. The whole depends upon the experiment being made on the child's part with sincerity, and not merely with a design of compassing his purpose at last, by means of a simulated and terporary compliance. It is the nature of love and hatred, and of all violent affections, to delude the mind with a persuasion that we shall always continue to feel them as we feel them at present; we cannot con ceive that they will either change or cease. Experience of similar or greater changes in ourselves, or a habit of giving credit to what our parents, or tutors, or books, teach us, may control this persuasion, otherwise it renders youth very untractable: for they see clearly and truly, that it is impossible they should be happy under the circumstances proposed to them, in their present state of mind. After a sincere but ineffectual endeavour, by the child, to accommodate his inclination to his parent's pleasure, he ought not to suffer in his parent's affection, or in his fortunes. The parent, when he has reasonable proof of this, should acquiesce: at all events, the child is then at liberty to provide for his own happiness.

Parents have no right to urge their children upon marriages to which they are averse; nor ought, in any shape, to resent the children's disobedience to such commands. This is a different case from oppos ing a match of inclination, because the child's misery is a much more probable consequence; it being easier to live without a person that we love, than with one whom we hate. Add to this, that compulsion in marriage necessarily leads to prevarication; as the

reluctant party promises an affection, which neitner exists, nor is expected to take place; and parental, like ali human authority, ceases at the point where obedience becomes criminal.

In the abovementioned, and in all contests between parents and children, it is the parent's duty to represent to the child the consequences of his conduct; and it will be found his best policy to represent them with fidelity. It is usual for parents to exaggerate these descriptions beyond probability, and by exaggeration to lose all credit with their children; thus, in a great measure, defeating their own end.

Parents are forbidden to interfere, where a trust is reposed personally in the son; and where, consequently, the son was expected, and by virtue of that expectation is obliged, to pursue his own judgment, and not that of any other: as is, the case with judicial magistrates in the execution of their office; with members of the legislature in their votes; with electors, where preference is to be given to certain prescribed qualifications. The son may assist his own judgment by the advice of his father, or of any one whom he chooses to consult; but his own judgment, whether it proceed upon knowledge or authority, ought finally to determine his conduct.

The duty of children to their parents was thought worthy to be made the subject of one of the Ten Commandments; and, as such, is recognized by Christ, together with the rest of the moral precepts of the Decalogue, in various places of the Gospel.

The same Divine Teacher's sentiments concerning the relief of indigent parents appear sufficiently from that manly and deserved indignation with which he reprehended the wretched casuistry of the Jewish expositors, who, under the name of a tradition, had contrived a method of evading this duty, by converting, or pretending to convert, to the treasury of the temple, so much of their property as their distressed parent might be entitled by their law to demand.

Agreeably to this law of Nature and Christianity, children are, by the law of England, bound to support, as well their immediate parents, as their grand

father and grandmother, or remoter ancestors, who stand in need of support.

Obedience to parents is enjoined by St. Paul to the Ephesians, "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right;" and to the Colossians, "Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing unto the Lord."*

By the Jewish law, disobedience to parents was in some extreme cases capital. Deut. xxi. 18.

* Upon which two phrases, " this is right,' and, "for this is well pleasing unto the Lord," being used by St. Paul in a sense perfectly parallel, we may observe, that moral recti. tude and conformity to the Divine will were, in his appre hension, the same

« AnteriorContinuar »