Children’s Independence Day: July 4, 1862, Part 1.

Children have long been neglected throughout the world and the concept of childhood is relatively recent.  In the Middle Ages, children were often depicted as dwarfish, misshapen adults.  Children were considered incomplete, in need of constant correction.  So it should come as no surprise, that one of the first English pieces written for children in the Middle Ages was how to sit at the table.  Other instructional verse followed.  During the Puritan era, many parents thought that the best thing their children could do would be to die and thus be spared a world of unending temptations and troubles.  And many obedient children did just that.  Imagination in the minds of children could only lead them astray.  They had to be reminded of the torments they would suffer if they didn’t behave properly.  The Bible, and Foxe’s Book of Martyrs were obligatory reading and the alphabet was stuffed down children’s throats.  Chapbooks from hawkers provided an escape into the worlds of Robin Hood, The Arabian Nights and other landing places for the imagination.  But such reading was not dignified by parents; it was an underground literature.  Novels for children drew clear distinctions between right and wrong, good and bad children.  They were written to inculcate moral values in children and to glorify and affirm parental authority.  One contemporary scholar called such writers “The Monstrous Regiment.”  The following excerpt from Mary Martha Sherwood’s The History of the Fairchild Family is sufficient:

Lucy:  …  I do not wish to take Miss Augusta’s things from her, or to hurt her.  Emily and I only wish to be like her and to have the same things she has.

Mrs. Fairchild:  What you now feel, my dears, is not exactly envy, though it is very like it.  it is what is called Ambition.  Ambition is the desire to be greater than we are.  Ambition makes people unhappy and discontented with what they are and what they have.  Ambition is in the heart of every man by nature;  but, before we can go to heaven, it must be taken out of our hearts, because it is a temper that God hates–though it is spoken of, by people who do not fear God, as a very good thing.

The novel ends with a “child’s” prayer: ” …  I know that my heart is full of sin and that my body is corrupt and filthy, and that I must soon die and go down into the dust;  and yet I am so foolish and so wicked as to wish to be great in this world…”

And then, on July 4, 1862, a man of thirty with dark wavy hair, sensitive eyes and a soft complexion started speaking and everything changed.

About Robert M. Weiss
From an early age, I've taken great pleasure in reading. Also, I learned to play my 78 player when I was quite young, and enjoyed listening to musicals and classical music. I remember sitting on the floor, and following the text and pictures of record readers, which were popular in the 1940s and 50s. My favorites were the Bozo and Disney albums. I also enjoyed watching the slow spinning of 16s as they spun out tales of adventure. I have always been attracted by rivers, and I love to sit on a boulder with my feet in the water, gazing into the mysteries of swirling currents. I especially like inner tubing on the Rogue River in Southern Oregon. Since my early youth, I've been interested in collecting minerals, which have taught me about the wonderful possibilities in colors and forms. Sometimes I try to imagine what the ancient Greeks must have felt when they began to discover physical laws in nature. I also remember that I had a special passion for numbers, and used to construct them out of stones. After teaching Russian for several years, I became a writer, interviewer, editor, and translator. I continue to delight in form, and am a problem solver at heart.

2 Responses to Children’s Independence Day: July 4, 1862, Part 1.

  1. auntyuta says:

    I am looking forward to read about what this man of thirty had to say on July 4, 1862.
    The prayer I was taught as a child went like this:

    “Ich bin klein,
    mein Herz ist rein,
    soll niemand drin wohnen
    als Jesus allein.”

    Now this meant, that I was little, my heart was pure, only Jesus should dwell in it.

    You say “They had to be reminded of the torments they would suffer if they didn’t behave properly.”

    This reminds of a German book called “Der Struwwelpeter”.

  2. The prayer you were taught reminds me of Hans Christian Andersen’s childhood beliefs. Heinrich Hoffmann’s Der Struwwelpeter is a sadistic look at what happens to naughty children. In the 1970s, its format was used to satirize President Nixon, and was called Tricky Dick and all his Pals.

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