Now we ought not to forget that in respect to moral conduct as well as to mental attainments children know nothing when they come into the world, but have every thing to learn, either from the instructions or from the example of those around them. We do not propose to enter at all into the consideration of the various theological and metaphysical theories held by different classes of philosophers in respect to the native constitution and original tendencies of the human soul, but to look at the phenomena of mental and moral action in a plain and practical way, as they present themselves to the observation of mothers in the every-day walks of life. And in order the better to avoid any complication with these theories, we will take first an extremely simple case, namely, the fault of making too much noise in opening and shutting the door in going in and out of a room. Georgie and Charlie are two boys, both about five years old, and both prone to the same fault. We will suppose that their mothers take opposite methods to correct them; Georgie’s mother depending upon the influence of commendation and encouragement when he does right, and Charlie’s, upon the efficacy of reproaches and punishments when he does wrong.
Georgie, eager to ask his mother some question, or to obtain some permission in respect to his play, bursts into her room some morning with great noise, opening and shutting the door violently, and making much disturbance. In a certain sense he is not to blame for this, for he is wholly unconscious of the disturbance he makes. The entire cognizant capacity of his mind is occupied with the object of his request. He not only had no intention of doing any harm, but has no idea of his having done any.
His mother takes no notice of the noise he made, but answers his question, and he goes away making almost as much noise in going out as he did in coming in.
The next time he comes in it happens—entirely by accident, we will suppose—that he makes a little less noise than before. This furnishes his mother with her opportunity.
“Georgie,” she says, “I see you are improving.”
“Improving?” repeats Georgie, not knowing to what his mother refers.
“Yes,” said his mother; “you are improving, in coming into the room without making a noise by opening and shutting the door. You did not make nearly as much noise this time as you did before when you came in. Some boys, whenever they come into a room, make so much noise in opening and shutting the door that it is very disagreeable. If you go on improving as you have begun, you will soon come in as still as any gentleman.”
The next time that Georgie comes in, he takes the utmost pains to open and shut the door as silently as possible.
He makes his request. His mother shows herself unusually ready to grant it.
“You opened and shut the door like a gentleman,” she says. “I ought to do every thing for you that I can, when you take so much pains not to disturb or trouble me.”