VIII.—THE CHILD SHOULD BE MADE FAMILIAR WITH NATURAL OBJECTS
An Observant Child should be put in the way of Things worth Observing.—But what is the use of being ‘a very observant child,’ if you are
not put in the way of things worth observing? And here is the difference between the streets of a town and the sights and sounds of the country. There is plenty to be seen in a town, and children accustomed to the ways of the streets become nimble-witted enough. But the scraps of information to be picked up in a town are isolated fragments; they do not hang on to anything else, nor come to anything more; the information may be convenient, but no one is the wiser for knowing on which side of the street is Smith’s, and which turning leads to Thompson’s shop.
Every Natural Object a Member of a Series.—Now take up a natural object, it does not matter what, and you are studying one of a group, a member of a series; whatever knowledge you get about it is so much towards the science which includes all of its kind. Break off an elder twig in the spring; you notice a ring of wood round a centre of pith, and there you have at a glance a distinguishing character of a great division of the vegetable world. You pick up a pebble. Its edges are perfectly smooth and rounded: why? you ask. It is water-worn, weather-worn. And that little pebble brings you face to face with disintegration, the force to which, more than to any other, we owe the aspects of the world which we call picturesque—glen, ravine, valley, hill. It is not necessary that the child should be told anything about disintegration or dicotyledon, only that he should observe the wood and pith in the hazel twig, the pleasant roundness of the pebble; by-and-by he will learn the bearing of the facts with which he is already familiar—a very different thing from learning the reason why of facts which have never come under his notice.
Power will pass, more and more, into the hands of Scientific Men.—It is infinitely well worth the mother’s while to take some pains every day to secure, in the first place, that her children spend hours daily amongst rural and natural objects; and, in the second place, to infuse into them, or rather, to cherish in them, the love of investigation. “I say it deliberately,” says Kingsley, “as a student of society and of history: power will pass more and more into the hands of scientific men. They will rule, and they will act—cautiously, we may hope, and modestly, and charitably—because in learning true knowledge they will have learnt also their own ignorance, and the vastness, the complexity, the mystery of Nature. But they will be able to rule, they will be able to act, because they have taken the trouble to learn the facts and the laws of Nature.”
Intimacy with Nature makes for Personal Well-being.—But to enable them to swim with the stream is the least of the benefits this early training should confer on the children; a love of Nature, implanted so early that it will seem to them hereafter to have been born in them, will enrich their lives with pure interests, absorbing pursuits, health, and good humour. “I have seen,” says the same writer, “the young man of fierce passions and uncontrollable daring expend healthily that energy which threatened daily to plunge him into recklessness, if not into sin, upon hunting out and collecting, through rock and bog, snow and tempest, every bird and egg of the neighbouring forest. . . . I have seen the young London beauty, amid all the excitement and temptation of luxury and flattery, with her heart pure, and her mind occupied in a boudoir full of shells and
fossils, flowers and seaweeds, keeping herself unspotted from the world, by considering the lilies of the field, how they grow.”