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BITS ABOUT HOME MATTERS.

By H. H.,

Author of "Verses" and "Bits of Travel."


1873



Contents.



The Inhumanities of Parents--Corporal Punishment
The Inhumanities of Parents--Needless Denials
The Inhumanities of Parents--Rudeness
Breaking the Will
The Reign of Archelaus
The Awkward Age
A Day with a Courteous Mother
Children in Nova Scotia
The Republic of the Family
The Ready-to-Halts
The Descendants of Nabal
"Boys not allowed"
Half an Hour in a Railway Station
A Genius for Affection
Rainy Days
Friends of the Prisoners
A Companion for the Winter
Choice of Colors
The Apostle of Beauty
English Lodging-Houses
Wet the Clay
The King's Friend
Learning to speak
Private Tyrants
Margin
The Fine Art of Smiling
Death-bed Repentance
The Correlation of Moral Forces
A Simple Bill of Fare for a Christmas Dinner
Children's Parties
After-supper Talk
Hysteria in Literature
Jog Trot
The Joyless American
Spiritual Teething
Glass Houses
The Old-Clothes Monger in Journalism
The Country Landlord's Side
The Good Staff of Pleasure
Wanted--a Home




Bits of Talk.



The Inhumanities of Parents--Corporal Punishment.


Not long ago a Presbyterian minister in Western New York whipped his
three-year-old boy to death, for refusing to say his prayers. The little
fingers were broken; the tender flesh was bruised and actually mangled;
strong men wept when they looked on the body; and the reverend murderer,
after having been set free on bail, was glad to return and take refuge
within the walls of his prison, to escape summary punishment at the hands
of an outraged community. At the bare mention of such cruelty, every heart
grew sick and faint; men and women were dumb with horror: only tears and a
hot demand for instant retaliation availed.

The question whether, after all, that baby martyr were not fortunate among
his fellows, would, no doubt, be met by resentful astonishment. But it is
a question which may well be asked, may well be pondered. Heart-rending as
it is to think for an instant of the agonies which the poor child must
have borne for some hours after his infant brain was too bewildered by
terror and pain to understand what was required of him, it still cannot
fail to occur to deeper reflection that the torture was short and small in
comparison with what the next ten years might have held for him if he had
lived. To earn entrance on the spiritual life by the briefest possible
experience of the physical, is always "greater gain;" but how emphatically
is it so when the conditions of life upon earth are sure to be
unfavorable!

If it were possible in any way to get a statistical summing-up and a
tangible presentation of the amount of physical pain inflicted by parents
on children under twelve years of age, the most callous-hearted would be
surprised and shocked. If it were possible to add to this estimate an
accurate and scientific demonstration of the extent to which such pain, by
weakening the nervous system and exhausting its capacity to resist
disease, diminishes children's chances for life, the world would stand
aghast.

Too little has been said upon this point. The opponents of corporal
punishment usually approach the subject either from the sentimental or the
moral standpoint. The argument on either of these grounds can be made
strong enough, one would suppose, to paralyze every hand lifted to strike
a child. But the question of the direct and lasting physical effect of
blows--even of one blow on the delicate tissues of a child's body, on the
frail and trembling nerves, on the sensitive organization which is trying,
under a thousand unfavoring conditions, to adjust itself to the hard work
of both living and growing--has yet to be properly considered.

Every one knows the sudden sense of insupportable pain, sometimes
producing even dizziness and nausea, which follows the accidental hitting
of the ankle or elbow against a hard substance. It does not need that the
blow be very hard to bring involuntary tears to adult eyes. But what is
such a pain as this, in comparison with the pain of a dozen or more quick
tingling blows from a heavy hand on flesh which is, which must be as much
more sensitive than ours, as are the souls which dwell in it purer than
ours. Add to this physical pain the overwhelming terror which only utter
helplessness can feel, and which is the most recognizable quality in the
cry of a very young child under whipping; add the instinctive sense of
disgrace, of outrage, which often keeps the older child stubborn and still
through-out,--and you have an amount and an intensity of suffering from
which even tried nerves might shrink. Again, who does not know--at least,
what woman does not know--that violent weeping, for even a very short
time, is quite enough to cause a feeling of languor and depression, of
nervous exhaustion for a whole day? Yet it does not seem to occur to
mothers that little children must feel this, in proportion to the length
of time and violence of their crying, far more than grown people. Who has
not often seen a poor child receive, within an hour or two of the first
whipping, a second one, for some small ebullition of nervous
irritability, which was simply inevitable from its spent and worn
condition?

It is safe to say that in families where whipping is regularly recognized
as a punishment, few children under ten years of age, and of average
behavior, have less than one whipping a week. Sometimes they have more,
sometimes the whipping is very severe. Thus you have in one short year
sixty or seventy occasions on which for a greater or less time, say from
one to three hours, the child's nervous system is subjected to a
tremendous strain from the effect of terror and physical pain combined
with long crying. Will any physician tell us that this fact is not an
element in that child's physical condition at the end of that year? Will
any physician dare to say that there may not be, in that child's life,
crises when the issues of life and death will be so equally balanced that
the tenth part of the nervous force lost in such fits of crying, and in
the endurance of such pain, could turn the scale?

Nature's retributions, like her rewards, are cumulative. Because her
sentences against evil works are not executed speedily, therefore the
hearts of the sons of men are fully set in them to do evil. But the
sentence always is executed, sooner or later, and that inexorably. Your
son, O unthinking mother! may fall by the way in the full prime of his
manhood, for lack of that strength which his infancy spent in enduring
your hasty and severe punishments.

It is easy to say,--and universally is said,--by people who cling to the
old and fight against the new, "All this outcry about corporal punishment
is sentimental nonsense. The world is full of men and women, who have
grown up strong and good, in spite of whippings; and as for me, I know I
never had any more whipping than I deserved, or than was good for me."

Are you then so strong and clear and pure in your physical and spiritual
nature and life, that you are sure no different training could have made
either your body or your soul better? Are these men and women, of whom the
world is full, so able-bodied, whole-souled, strong-minded, that you think
it needless to look about for any method of making the next generation
better? Above all, do you believe that it is a part of the legitimate
outworking of God's plan and intent in creating human beings to have more
than one-half of them die in childhood? If we are not to believe that this
fearful mortality is a part of God's plan, is it wise to refuse to
consider all possibilities, even those seemingly most remote, of
diminishing it?

No argument is so hard to meet (simply because it is not an argument) as
the assumption of the good and propriety of "the thing that hath been." It
is one of the devil's best sophistries, by which he keeps good people
undisturbed in doing the things he likes. It has been in all ages the
bulwark behind which evils have made stand, and have slain their
thousands. It is the last enemy which shall be destroyed. It is the only
real support of the cruel evil of corporal punishment.

Suppose that such punishment of children had been unheard of till now.
Suppose that the idea had yesterday been suggested for the first time that
by inflicting physical pain on a child's body you might make him recollect
certain truths; and suppose that instead of whipping, a very moderate and
harmless degree of pricking with pins or cutting with knives or burning
with fire had been suggested. Would not fathers and mothers have cried out
all over the land at the inhumanity of the idea?

Would they not still cry out at the inhumanity of one who, as things are
to-day, should propose the substitution of pricking or cutting or burning
for whipping? But I think it would not be easy to show in what wise small
pricks or cuts are more inhuman than blows; or why lying may not be as
legitimately cured by blisters made with a hot coal as by black and blue
spots made with a ruler. The principle is the same; and if the principle
be right, why not multiply methods?

It seems as if this one suggestion, candidly considered, might be enough
to open all parents' eyes to the enormity of whipping. How many a loving
mother will, without any thought of cruelty, inflict half-a-dozen quick
blows on the little hand of her child, when she could no more take a pin
and make the same number of thrusts into the tender flesh, than she could
bind the baby on a rack. Yet the pin-thrusts would hurt far less, and
would probably make a deeper impression on the child's mind.

Among the more ignorant classes, the frequency and severity of corporal
punishment of children, are appalling. The facts only need to be held up
closely and persistently before the community to be recognized as horrors
of cruelty far greater than some which have been made subjects of
legislation.

It was my misfortune once to be forced to spend several of the hottest
weeks of a hot summer in New York.



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