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THE LITTLE BOY.
So soon as you shall have put away from you the glamour of the tiny girl, the spells of exquisite sorcery with which she enslaves you, the allurement of her coquetry and caprice, then you may face the question frankly, and acknowledge that the warmest corner of your heart is reserved, alike by reason and instinct, for the little boy. The little boy militant, tramping his nursery with drum and flag and scraps of patriotism; the little boy inconsolable over a broken toy, or shedding tears of tardy repentance upon a melted maternal breast. So easily abashed, so quickly elated; his credulity of glorious chances so illimitable, and his sum of human wealth a penny. He walks among bewildering realities and is companioned by rainbow dreams; the world presents to him a series of golden vistas down which he gazes, faintly cognizant of heroic deed and triumphant adventure at the further end. These are the roads into the past and the future; for the present there is all-desirable and all-sufficient play, upon which the daily details of life are mere excrescences. He is himself so sweet, so tender an anomaly. All those femininities, from petticoats to petulance, which the little girl wears by right, are his only for a brief space. There is continual war within him between these gentler attributes and the incipient virility which crops up at unexpected turns. Thus he draws one's affection by a twofold cord, by his loveliness, his shyness, his frailty, no less than those robuster traits of nascent man by which he puts his sisters to open shame as "only girls." He is the crowned king of childhood; his reign begins at two years old, and is over at eight or nine. By that time he
has shaken off the last vestiges of sexless infancy, and is launched upon. a new state of things: boy now, but little boy no longer.
He exists in two main types: theclinging, timorous, quiet child, whoseunimpeachable virtue is of the negative kind-more often the result of feeblehealth than of sound doctrine; and the quicksilver creature, brilliant and restless, scrambling from one mischief into another as fast as his badly bruised legs will carry him. The first. may develop into a prig, the last gravitates toward the enfant terrible: each: in turn is adorable. Paradoxical though it seem, pathos is the keynote. of the little boy and all his works. The little girl is the woman in miniature; her characteristics are not changed but accentuated as years: pass. Her toys are the prototypes of her future concerns (this holds good even among savage nations), and all: her amusements are of a stereotyped, stay-at-home order. The mother, the housewife, the coquette in embryo,. she carries out with more or less verisimilitude the details of these various roles, and is in herself a standing example of the eternal fitness of things.. But the little boy must suffer an explicit change before he can slough his babyhood. In him you shall see Man, the overlord, the dominant partner,. held in all humiliation for the nonce under the thrall of women tutors and governors, and in bondage to the weak and beggarly elements. He is the victim of a present incapacity for those matters salient to his ultimate career. He is so chained about with "Thou shalt nots" on the one hand; and with! petticoat influence and little fears on the other, that the measure of his actual achievement under such harassing:
circumstances touches the marvellous. "Every child is to a certain extent u genius," says Schopenhauer, "and every genius is to a certain extent a child"-not least so in a potency of overcoming obstacles. Those daredevil acts with which the man-child asserts his manhood and alarms his anxious friends are counted and punished as crimes; and that somewhat inane nondescript, "a good boy," is usually, as I have said, he who lacks sufficient vitality for escapades. It is the mother, the aunt, the nurse, the governess, the elder sister-all his female tyrants, greatly misunderstanding, who are so "down" upon the little boy for his heinous transgressions of the nursery code. His own sex are laxer or more lenient; they also have been in Arcadia. You may notice this fact in police reports, in newspaper accounts of those accidents to which the foolhardiness of the little boy renders him, alas! so frequently liable. He is there constantly alluded to, with a veiled tenderness, as "the little fellow," "the poor little fellow," "the unfortunate child." There is no such sympathy hinted when anything befalls a little girl, but rather a grumbling air, as who should say, "Que diable fait-elle dans cette galère?" But one reads, "The little boy" (of six) "cried so bitterly when his dog was brought to the hammer that the auctioneer refused to sell it"; and there was a recent story of Boers raiding a farm and all its live stock, when the little boy of the house, flinging his arms round his beloved pony, defied all and sundry to take it at the peril of their lives. The Boers had been little boys themselves; they laughed, and departed in peace. Even the stonyhearted magistrate relents and Justice nods. "A pretty little boy, eight years old, was charged by his father at West London with being of such a disposition as to be entirely beyond paVOL. LXXVII. 448
rental control. Mr. Plowden, on seeing the little fellow, said he did not intend to relieve a father of the responsibility of controlling a child of eight. The Father: 'I can't control him.” The Magistrate: You must control him.' The father went on to state that he had beaten the child and kept him without food. Mr. Plowden said starving a little boy was the way to send him off. The father said the boy had stolen five shillings from his mother, and spent it riding in omnibuses all day long. Mr. Plowden supposed the money was gone, and said the father should keep it out of his way and give him plenty of pudding. The boy was discharged." This is only a sample of many such cases. Eight years old, by the way, seems to be a significant period in the little boy's history. The other day a child! of eight actually received the Royal Humane Society's medal for having: saved, at various times, three other babes from drowning.
The little girl is certainly mother of the woman, but as to the child being father of the man, that I utterly gainsay. As a rule he is vastly superior to the man, in observation, conscience, sense of beauty, and all those other qualities which fade into the light of common day and leave him but a dull worldling at thirty who was a coruscating brilliance at six. Goethe said that "if children grew up according to early indications, we should have nothing but genuises"; and the inevitable decrescence of this natural ability is one of the losses which men regret most bitterly, though they assign other names to it. Sometimes it is the playfulness of childhood they deplore, sometimes its invincible innocence.. "I cannot reach it," Henry Vaughan writes of that vanished spring:
I cannot reach it, and my straining eye Dazzles at it, as at eternity.
Were now that Chronicle alive, Those white designs which children drive,
And the thoughts of each harmless hour,
With their content, too, in my power, Quickly would I make my path even, And by mere playing go to Heaven.
The little boy in the abstract is called Tommy-always Tommy. He may figure under other aliases, but you know he is Tommy at heart. In a score of Du Maurier's drawings you come across the upper-class Tommy, with his bewitching misdeeds and conversational faux pas. Then there is the middle-class child, who sees more of his parents, and who, if he be brought up in the country, inhabits a perpetual wonderland. The poor little slum gamin, whose end is so often tragic, enjoys his abbreviated Tommyhood as much as any. He knows of no better state-and one can always play. One would hesitate to apply to some of these starveling, crippled little beings Herbert Spencer's theory that superfluous energy is the cause of play; and yet with closer knowledge one discovers them playful on the very verge of extinction. Play is the child's primal necessity of life, his means of development, his all in all. Tommy is usually kindly in his play, and has a special weakness for babies, his protective masculine tendency asserting itself. A little boy in charge of a perambulator, such as may frequently be seen in mean streets, is a hundredfold kinder than a little girl in the same position; less apt to neglect his duty, having more sense of responsibility, and manifesting a peculiar gentleness in handling his infant.
Tommy's chief characteristics, I take it, are three: an insatiable curiosity, an inveterate desire to play, and a strong bias towards eating not wisely but too well. Imagination is not common to every child in the same degree,
and one must confess that playfulness, imitativeness, and various other transient attributes are shared by the young of most animals. But it is this amazing inquisitive propensity which makes our hero such a mine of extensive and peculiar information. Let some work be afoot in the roads or streets-pipe-laying, wire-fixing, whatnot-you shall see every little boy straining to dislocation at the arm of his disgusted nurse. It is absolutely necessary that he should acquaint himself with how and why these men are employed, and in what manner the work is done. The little girl in sublime indifference passes with averted eyes. Exactitude as to word, and accuracy as to raison d'être are also strongly marked in Tommy, and are the correlatives of his curiosity. It is this exactitude which hands down the traditional nursery songs, almost ipsissima verba, from generation to generation. One of the queerest instances of the thirst for irrelevant information is to be found in those little boys, just able to write, who perch with pencil and paper on the suburban railway fences, and laboriously register the name of every engine that passes. Aware of these abstruse researches, one is the less surprised at Peter, ætat. two and a half, on being taken by his mother to Kew Gardens, addressing an astounded under-gardener with "You see those Chionodoxas? Well, we've lots of them at home!"—or at Victor, about four, heard discussing with Robin, a year older, the mysteries of triple-expansion boilers; or at Dicky, aged three, using as a war-cry those blessed words Encyclopædia Britannica. Of course, four-fifths of this miscellaneous lore is only attained by the child transforming himself into a walking note of interrogation. "The little boy who was gored to death by a mad bull for asking questions," held
up as an awful warning to little Paul Dombey, suffered vicariously for all his brethren since the world began. Between Tommy's ideals of right and wrong there runs a thick line of demarcation, too soon to become obliterated in this life of mixed motives. His conscience is divided into two camps, that of guilt and that of conscious rectitude; and whatsoever is not of faith to him most emphatically is sin. The notion that the Age of Faith is past is a fond thing vainly invented. We all have dwelt in it, and our children are now its inheritors. "Nothing can stagger a child's faith; he accepts the clumsiest substitute, and can swallow the most staring incongruities." But at the same time his logic is merciless, and he will push a conclusion or drive an argument to such justly demonstrable issues as to land his embarrassed parent in a culde-sac. To silence his questions is not to put a stopper on his reasoning, and it is often better worth while patiently to thrash out a question with him, as far as his intelligence will allow, than to shut him up with brusque rebuff. "The existence of human childhood, in its long period of plasticity and educability, has made possible human civilization"; and one is at least bound to furnish the little son with some explanation of the ordinary phenomena of life. That is no more than his due. At the same time one should forbear to press him too closely for a definite reason or statement about anything. An excellent example of the child at bay is that little boy of Wordsworth's, who, driven into a corner as to why he preferred Kilve to some other place, replied, "At Kilve there was no weather-cock, and that's the reason why!"
His fears are not the least pathetic part of him; they are as a rule so obvious, so rudimentary, lightly aroused and augmented, and yet in some cases
of so recondite and incomprehensible a nature, that it goes hard to comfort them out of sight, or douche them with cold common-sense. Explain away and whittle down as you will, the wisdom of the ages beats in vain against the child's inviolable certitude. Yet the small impenitence in abbreviated "trousis," who defies authority and despises personal chastisement immediately before and after its application, may be reduced to moral pulp by the apparition of some terror inadvertently evoked. I have known the most scandalous rebel, knowing no awe of parent or policeman (the latter is usually a name to conjure with), quail and grovel before the recollection of the Böas. (The Böas is a fearful wildfowl depicted in Jusserand's "English Novel of the Time of Shakespeare," where it figures in the act of devouring a little astonished boy.) "The devil you know," says the Irish proverb, "is better than the devil you don't know." Besides, in the child's mind, 'bus-horses and Böases are on an equal footing of probability, nor does he vex himself to discriminate between real and possible monsters. The late H. J. Bryon, the dramatist, used to recount with delight a fragmentary dialogue overheard at some railway station. First Little Boy: "Oh, yes, and we had great games, you know. They were all divided into two parties, you know, and one party stayed in the room, and the other party went outside." Second Little Boy: "And what did they do?" First: "Oh, they came in and pretended to be things, you know." Second: "What sort of things?" First: "Oh, well, er-Dwagons, foh instance!"
I have not touched upon the little boy at school; personally I consider that nobody should go to school at all until he be past eight. One can very well acquire a modicum of the three R's by easy stages at home; and for
the rest, why waste the irretrievable hours of the play-years in acquiring a reluctant knowledge of things which are not presently essential? Education is at best a mitigated blessing. The reduction of so many germinal excellences to a dead level of scholastic attainment is one of the unhappiest certainties of the little boy's future; and "I am afraid," to quote Jean Paul Richter, "of every adult hairy hand and fist that paws in among this tender pollen of child-flowers, shaking off here one color, there another, so as to produce the right variegated carnation."
Consider how large the little boy looms in the public eye down all the centuries. Just as the spontaneous loyalty of the nation is now focussed in Prince Edward of Wales, so all English history is punctuated by the stories, the calamities, the tragedies of little boys. Arthur of Brittany, for example, and the Princes in the Tower were actually beyond the age-limit I have specified, but in popular imagination they are quite small “kiddies,” about eight years old. No amount of Higher Criticism has affected the little boys of Biblical narrative; there is still the same undying interest, the same touching intonation about the stories of Samuel and his little coat, and the small Josiah wondering under his heavy crown, and the Shunammite's child, who came back from the harvest field moaning "My head! my head!" And where would the painters of Christendom be, lacking their Gesulino? He is hardly ever represented as a Baby-nearly always as a wellgrown Child of two to three years, instinct with that divine pensiveness and sometimes with that enchanting roguery which are the poles of the little boy's behavior. After all, the large-eyed innocence of the quiescent child, "dragged about by nurses in a pleasing stupor," is less charming
than the April storms and sunshines of the tiny scamp. Cherubs, Cupids, Holy Innocents, what you will, little boys have been the trump cards of the artist down to the ubiquitous "Bubbles." The poets are rather addicted to squander verbiage upon the irresponsive little girl; but the plucky little Buccleuch, in the "Lay of the Last Minstrel," is a glorious boy, and has a few worthy mates, the most lovable among them being that charming unhappy child of Coventry Patmore's, who, sent to bed "with hard words and unkissed, His mother, who was patient, being dead," is found asleep with wet eyelashes beside his treasures:
For, on a table drawn beside his head, He had put, within his reach,
A box of counters and a red-veined stone,
A piece of glass abraded by the beach, And six or seven shells,
A bottle with bluebells, And two French copper coins, ranged there with careful art
To comfort his sad heart.
There are many little boys familiar to us in English fiction, each a joy for ever. Some are Dickens's, several are Mrs. Ewing's; there is Tom in the "Water Babies." One of the best recent ones is "Q's" Taffy in the "Ship of Stars." None of them, however, can hold a candle to Thackeray's. When you recollect Georgy Osborne and little Rawdon, Tommy Newcome (afterwards the Colonel) and Clivey Newcome and Tommykin or "Boy" of the third generation-do you remember how "Codd" Colonel and Clive put Boy to bed and heard his prayers, after the rout of the Campaigner?— you must needs acknowledge that here is the master painter. Not with one casual sketch, but with a hundred intimate details here and there, Thackeray gives you his little boys' hands to hold-those warm, grubby, velvety