But I may presume to say, that whatever be the good Mr. Locke proposes by this, it cannot be equal to the mischief children may do themselves in making these playthings! For must they not have implements to work with? and is not a knife, or other edged tool, without which it is impossible they can make or shape a scourge-stick, or any of their playthings, a fine instrument in a child’s hands! This advice is the reverse of the caution warranted from all antiquity, That it is dangerous to meddle with edged tools! and I am afraid, the tutor must often act the surgeon, and follow the indulgence with a styptic and plaister; and the young gentleman’s hands might be so often bound up as to be one way to cure him of his earnest desire to play; but I can hardly imagine any other good that it can do him; for I doubt the excellent consequences proposed by our author from this doctrine, such as to teach the child moderation in his desires, application, industry, thought, contrivance, and good husbandry, qualities that, as he says, will be useful to him when he is a man, are too remote to be ingrafted upon such beginnings; although it must be confessed, that, as Mr. Locke wisely observes, good habits and industry cannot be too early inculcated.
But then, Sir, may I ask, Are not the very plays and sports, to which children accustom themselves, whether they make their own playthings or not, equivalent to the work or labour of grown persons! Yes, Sir, I will venture to say, they are, and more than equivalent to the exercises and labour of many.
Mr. Locke advises, that the child’s playthings should be as few as possible, which I entirely approve: that they should be in his tutor’s power, who is to give him but one at once. But since it is the nature of the human mind to court most what is prohibited, and to set light by what is in its own power; I am half doubtful (only that Mr. Locke says it, and it may not be so very important as other points, in which I have ventured to differ from that gentleman), whether the child’s absolute possession of his own playthings in some little repository, of which he may be permitted to keep the key, especially if he makes no bad use of the privilege, would not make him more indifferent to them: while the contrary conduct might possibly enhance his value of them. And if, when he had done with any plaything, he were obliged to put it into its allotted place, and were accustomed to keep account of the number and places of them severally; this would teach him order, and at the same time instruct him to keep a proper account of them, and to avoid being a squanderer or waster: and if he should omit to put his playthings in their places, or be careless of them, the taking them away for a time, or threatening to give them to others, would make him the more heedful.
Mr. Locke says, that he has known a child so distracted with the number and variety of his playthings, that he tired his maid every day to look them over: and was so accustomed to abundance, that he never thought he had enough, but was always asking, “What more? What new thing shall I have?”—“A good introduction,” adds he, ironically, “to moderate desires, and the ready way to make a contented happy man.”