It is the same substantially in respect to all those abstract and general ideas on moral or other kindred subjects which constitute the mental furnishing of the adult man, and have so great an influence in the formation of his habits of thought and of his character. They are chiefly formed from combinations of the impressions made in childhood. A person’s idea of justice, for instance, or of goodness, is a generalization of the various instances of justice or goodness which ever came to his knowledge; and of course, among the materials of this generalization those instances that were brought to his mind during the impressible years of childhood must have taken a very prominent part. Every story, therefore, which you relate to a child to exemplify the principles of justice or goodness takes its place, or, rather, the impression which it makes takes its place, as one of the elements out of which the ideas that are to govern his future life are formed.
Vast Importance and Influence of this mental Furnishing,
For the ideas and generalizations thus mainly formed from the images and impressions received in childhood become, in later years, the elements of the machinery, so to speak, by which all his mental operations are performed. Thus they seem to constitute more than the mere furniture of the mind; they form, as it were, almost a part of the structure itself. So true, indeed, is this, and so engrossing a part does what remains in the mind of former impressions play in its subsequent action, that some philosophers have maintained that the whole of the actual consciousness of man consists only in the resultant of all these impressions preserved more or less imperfectly by the memory, and made to mingle together in one infinitely complicated but harmonious whole. Without going to any such extreme as this, we can easily see, on reflection, how vast an influence on the ideas and conceptions, as well as on the principles of action in mature years, must be exerted by the nature and character of the images which the period of infancy and childhood impresses upon the mind. All parents should, therefore, feel that it is not merely the present welfare and happiness of their child that is concerned in their securing to him a tranquil and happy childhood, but that his capacity for enjoyment through life is greatly dependent upon it. They are, in a very important sense, intrusted with the work of building up the structure of his soul for all time, and it is incumbent upon them, with reference to the future as well as to the present, to be very careful what materials they allow to go into the work, as well as in what manner they lay them.
Among the other bearings of this thought, it gives great weight to the importance of employing gentle measures in the management and training of the young, provided that such measures can be made effectual in the accomplishment of the end. The pain produced by an act of hasty and angry violence to which a father subjects his son may soon pass away, but the memory of it does not pass away with the pain. Even the remembrance of it may at length fade from the mind, but there is still an effect which does not pass away with the remembrance. Every strong impression which you make upon his perceptive powers must have a very lasting influence, and even the impression itself may, in some cases, be forever indelible.