Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
On the Treatment of Children
By George Savile, Marquis of Halifax (16331695)
From The Ladys New-Years-Gift, or, Advice to a Daughter
YOU may love your children without living in the nursery; and you may have a competent and discreet care of them, without letting it break out upon the company, or exposing yourself by turning your discourse that way, which is a kind of laying children to the parish; and it can hardly be done anywhere, that those who bear it will be so forgiving as not to think they are overcharged with them. A womans tenderness to her children, is one of the least deceitful evidences of her virtue; but yet the way of expressing it, must be subject to the rules of good breeding. And though a woman of quality ought not to be less kind to them than mothers of the meanest rank are to theirs, yet she may distinguish herself in the manner, and avoid the coarse methods which in women of a lower size might be more excusable. You must begin early to make them love you, that they may obey you. This mixture is nowhere more necessary than in children. And I must tell you, that you are not to expect returns of kindness from yours, if you have any, without grains of allowance; and yet it is not so much a defect in their good-nature, as a shortness of thought in them. Their first insufficiency maketh them lean so entirely upon their parents for what is necessary, that the habit of it maketh them continue the same expectations for what is unreasonable; and as often as they are denied, so often they think they are injured. And whilst their desires are strong, and their reasons yet in the cradle, their anger looketh no further than the thing they long for and cannot have; and to be displeased for their own good, is a maxim they are very slow to understand. So that you may conclude, the first thoughts of your children will have no small mixture of mutiny; which being so natural, you must not be angry, except you would increase it. You must deny them as seldom as you can; and when there is no avoiding it, you must do it gently; you must flatter away their ill-humour, and take the next opportunity of pleasing them in some other thing, before they either ask or look for it. This will strengthen your authority by making it soft to them; and confirm their obedience by making it their interest. You are to have as strict a guard upon yourself amongst your children, as if you were amongst your enemies. They are apt to make wrong inferences, to take encouragement from half words, and misapply what you may say or do, so as either to lessen their duty, or to extend their liberty further than is convenient. Let them be more in awe of your kindness, than of your power. And above all, take heed of supporting a favourite child in its impertinence, which will give right to the rest of claiming the same privilege. If you have a divided number, leave the boys to the fathers more peculiar care, that you may with greater justice pretend to a more immediate jurisdiction over those of your own sex. You are to live so with them, that they may never choose to avoid you, except when they have offended; and then let them tremble, that they may distinguish. But their penance must not continue so long, as to grow too severe upon their stomachs, that it may not harden instead of correcting them. The kind and severe part must have their several turns seasonably applied; but your indulgence is to have the broader mixture, that love rather than fear may be the root of their obedience.