網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

is re

be acquainted to-day, and my acquaintance with which shall not end perhaps till one of us ceases to exist, how is it possible that the view of its little figure should not lead me to the meditation of its future history, the successive stages of human life, and the various scenes and mutations and vicissitudes and fortunes through which it is destined to pass? The Book of Fate lies open before me. This infant, powerless and almost impassive now, served for many sorrows and many joys, and will one day possess a power, formidable and fearful to afflict those within its reach, or calculated to diffuse blessings, wisdom, virtue, happiness, to all around. I conceive all the various destinations of which man is susceptible; my fancy at least is free to select that which pleases me best; I unfold and pursue it in all its directions, observe the thorns and difficulties with which it is beset, and conjure up to my thoughts all that it can boast of inviting, delightful and honourable.

But if the infant that is near to me lays hold of my imagination and affections at the moment in which he falls under my observation, how much more do I become interested in him, as he advances from year to year! At first, I have the blessing of the gospel upon me, in that, “having not seen, yet I believe.” But, as his powers expand, I understand him better. His little eye begins to sparkle with meaning ; his tongue tells a tale that may be understood; his very tones, and gestures, and attitudes,

all inform me concerning what he shall be. I am like a florist, who has received a strange plant from a distant country. At first he sees only the stalk, and the leaves, and the bud having yet no other colour than that of the leaves. But as he watches his plant from day to day, and from hour to hour, the case which contains the flower divides, and betrays first one colour and then another, till the shell gradually subsides more and more towards the stalk, and the figure of the flower begins now to be seen, and its radiance and its pride to expand itself to the ravished observer.—Every lesson that the child learns, every comment that he makes upon it, every sport that he pursues, every choice that he exerts, the demeanour that he adopts to his playfellows, the modifications and character of his little fits of authority or submission, all make him more and more an individual to me, and open a wider field for my sagacity or my prophecy, as to what he promises to be, and what he may be made.

But what gives, as has already been observed, the point and the finish to all the interest I take respecting him, lies in the vast power I possess to influence and direct his character and his fortune. At first it is abstract power; but, when it has already been exerted (as the writers on politics as a science have observed of property), the sweat of my brow becomes mingled with the apple I have gathered, and my interest is greater. No one understands my views and projects entirely but myself, and the

scheme I have conceived will suffer, if I do not complete it as I began.

And there are men that say, that all this mystery, the most beautiful attitude of human nature, and the crown of its glory, is pure selfishness !

Let us now turn from the view of the parental, to that of the filial affection.

The great mistake that has been made on this subject, arises from the taking it nakedly and as a mere abstraction. It has been sagely remarked, that when my father did that which occasioned me to come into existence, he intended me no benefit, and therefore I owe him no thanks. And the inference which has been made from this wise position is, that the duty of children to parents is a mere imposture, a trick, employed by the old to defraud the young out of their services. I

grant most readily, that the mere material ligament that binds together the father and the child, by itself is worthless, and that he who owes nothing more than this to his father, owes him nothing. The natural, unanimated relationship is like the grain of mustard-seed in the discourses of Jesus Christ, “which indeed is the least of all seeds; but, when it is unfolded and grows up, it becomes a mighty tree, so that the birds of the air may come and lodge in its branches."

The hard and insensible man may know little of the debt he owes to his father ; but he that is capable of calling up the past, and beholding the

things that are not as if they now were, will see the matter in a very different light. Incalculable are the privations (in a great majority of instances), the toils, the pains, the anxieties, that every child imposes on his father from the first hour of his existence. If he could know the ceaseless cares, the tender and ardent feelings, the almost incredible efforts and exertions, that have accompanied him in his father's breast through the whole period of his growth, instead of thinking that he owed his parent nothing, he would stand still and wonder that one human creature could do so much for another. I

grant that all this may be done for a child by a stranger, and that then in one sense the obligation would be greater. It is however barely possible that all this should be done. The stranger wants the first exciting cause, the consideration, “ This creature by the great scheme of nature belongs to me, and is cast upon my care." And, as the tie in the case of the stranger was not complete in the beginning, so neither can it be made so in the sequel. The little straggler is like the duckling hatched in the nest of a hen; there is danger every day, that as the nursling begins to be acquainted with its own qualities, it may plunge itself into another element, and swim away from its benefactor.

Even if we put all these considerations out of the question, still the affection of the child to its parent

of adoption, wants the kernel, and, if I may so speak, the soul, of the connection which has been formed and modelled by the great hand of nature. If the mere circumstance of filiation and descent creates no debt, it however is the principle of a very close connection. One of the most memorable mysteries of nature, is how, out of the slightest of all connections (for such, literally speaking, is that between father and child), so many coincidences should arise. The child resembles his parent in feature, in temperament, in turn of mind, and in class of disposition, while at the same time in many particulars, in these same respects, he is a new and individual creature. In one view therefore the child is merely the father multiplied and repeated. Now one of the indefeasible principles of affection is the partaking of a common nature ; and as man is a species by himself, so to a certain degree is every nation and every family; and this consideration, when added to the moral and spiritual ties already treated of, undoubtedly has a tendency to give them their zest and perfection.

But even this is not the most agreeable point of view in which we may consider the filial affection. I come back to my first position, that where there is no imagination, there can be no passion, and by consequence no love. No parent ever understood his child, and no child ever understood his parent. We have seen that the affectionate parent considers his child like a flower in the bud, as a mine of

« 上一頁繼續 »