A little later the importance of the American child is just as evident, though it takes on different forms. The small American seems to consider himself the father of the man in a way never contemplated by the poet. He interrupts the conversation of his elders, he has a voice in every matter, he eats and drinks what seems good to him, he (or at any rate she) wears finger-rings of price, he has no shyness or even modesty. The theory of the equality of man is rampant in the nursery (though I use this word only in its conventional and figurative sense, for American children do not confine themselves to their nurseries). You will actually hear an American mother say of a child of two or three years of age: “I can’t induce him to do this;” “She won’t go to bed when I tell her;” “She will eat that lemon pie, though I know it is bad for her.” Even the public authorities seem to recognise the inherent right of the American child to have his own way, as the following paragraph from the New York Herald of April 8, 1896, will testify:
WASHINGTON, April 7.—The lawn in front of the White House this morning was littered with paper bags, the dyed shells of eggs, and the remains of Easter luncheon baskets. It is said that a large part of the lawn must be resodded. The children, shut out from their usual romp in the grounds at the back of the mansion, made their way into the front when the sun came out in the afternoon, and gambolled about at will, to the great injury of the rain-soaked turf.
The police stationed in the grounds vainly endeavored to persuade the youngsters to go away, and were finally successful only through pretending to be about to close all the gates for the night.
It is, perhaps, superfluous to say that this kind of bringing up hardly tends to make the American child an attractive object to the stranger from without. On the contrary, it is very apt to make the said stranger long strenuously to spank these budding citizens of a free republic, and to send them to bed instanter. So much of what I want to say on this topic has been well said by my brother Findlay Muirhead in an article on “The American Small Boy,” contributed to the St. James’s Gazette, that I venture to quote the bulk of that article below.