The Child and Childhood in Folk-Thought
Alexander F. Chamberlain
Part 6 out of 12
older members of the community, in which phases of human life other than
the purely religious or benevolent find opportunity to display
themselves; and between these and the somewhat sterner church-societies
a connecting link is formed by the "Friday Night Clubs" of the Unitarian
Church and the "Young People's Associations" of other liberal
denominations. In the home itself, this society instinct is recognized,
and the list of children's teas, dinners, parties, "receptions,"
"doll-parties," "doll-shows," etc., would be a long one. Among all
peoples, barbarous as well as civilized, since man is by nature a social
animal, the instinct for society develops early in the young, and the
sociology of child-hood offers a most inviting field for research and
investigation both in the Old World and in the New.
THE CHILD AS LINGUIST.
But what am I?
An infant crying in the night:
An infant crying for the light,
And with no language but a cry.--Tennyson.
Yet she carried a doll as she toddled alone,
And she talked to that doll in a tongue her own.--Joaquin Miller.
Among savages, children are, to a great extent, the originators
of idiomatic diversities.--Charles Rau.
It was as impossible for the first child endowed with this faculty not
to speak in the presence of a companion similarly endowed, as it would
be for a nightingale or a thrush not to carol to its mate. The same
faculty creates the same necessity in our days, and its exercise by
young children, when accidentally isolated from the teachings and
influence of grown companions, will readily account for the existence of
all the diversities of speech on our globe.--Horatio Hale.
Some scientists have held that mankind began with the _Homo
Alalus_, speechless, dumb man, an hypothesis now looked npon by the
best authorities as untenable; and the folk have imagined that, were not
certain procedures gone through with upon the new-born child, it would
remain dumb through life, and, if it were allowed to do certain things,
a like result would follow. Ploss informs us that the child, and the
mother, while she is still suckling it, must not, in Bohemia, eat fish,
else, since fish are mute, the child would be so also; in Servia, the
child is not permitted to eat any fowl that has not already crowed, or
it would remain dumb for a very long time; in Germany two little
children, not yet able to speak, must not kiss each other, or both will
Our English phrase, "an unbridled tongue," has an interesting history
and _entourage_ of folk-lore. The subject has been quite recently
discussed by Dr. Chervin, of the Institute for Stammerers at Paris
(205). Citing the lines of Boileau:--
"Tout charme en un enfant dont la langue sans fard,
A peine du filet encore debarrassee
Sait d'un air innocent begayer sa pensee,"
he notes the wide extension of the belief that the cutting of the
_filet,_ or _frein,_ the _frenum,_ or "bridle" of the
tongue of the newborn infant facilitates, or makes possible, articulate
speech. According to M. Sebillot, the cutting of the _sublet,_ as
it is called, is quite general in parts of Brittany (Haute Bretagne),
and M. Moisset states that in the Yonne it is the universal opinion that
neglect to do so would cause the new-born child to remain dumb for life;
M. Desaivre cites the belief in Poitou that, unless the _lignoux_
were cut in the child at birth, it would prevent its sucking, and, later
on, its speaking. The operation is usually performed by nurses and
midwives, with the nail of the little finger, which is allowed to grow
excessively long for the purpose (205. 6). Dr. Chervin discusses the
scientific aspects of the subject, and concludes that the statistics of
stammering and the custom of cutting the _frenum_ of the tongue do
not stand in any sort of correlation with each other, and that this
ancient custom, noted by Celsus, has no real scientific _raison
d'etre_ (205. 9). We say that a child is "tongue-tied," and that one
"makes too free with his tongue"; in French we find: _Il a le filet
bien coupe,_ "he is a great talker," and in the eighteenth century
_Il n'a pas de filet_ was in use; a curious German expression for
"tongue-tied" is _mundfaul,_ "mouth-lazy."
Following up the inquiry of Dr. Chervin in France, M. Hofler of Tolz has
begun a similar investigation for Germany (263). He approves of the
suggestion of Dr. Chervin, that the practice of cutting the
_frenum_ of the tongue has been induced by the inept name
_frenulwm, frein, Bandchen,_ given by anatomists to the object in
question. According to H. Carstens the _frenulum_ is called in Low
German _keekel-reem_ or _kikkel-reem,_ which seems to be
derived from _kakeln,_ "to cry, shriek," and _reem,_ "band,
cord," so that the word really signifies "speech-band." If it is cut in
children who have difficulty in speaking before the first year of life,
or soon after, they will be cured of stuttering and made to speak well.
To a man or woman who does a good deal of talking, who has "the gift of
the gab," the expression _Em (ehr) is de keekelreem gut snaden_ =
"His (her) _frenum_ has been well cut," is applied. In some parts
of Low Germany the operation is performed for quite a different reason,
viz., when the child's tongue cannot take hold of the mother's breast,
but always slips off. Hofler mentions the old custom of placing beneath
the child's tongue a piece of ash-bark (called _Schwindholz_), so
that the organ of speech may not vanish (schwinden); this is done in the
case of children who are hard of speech (263.191, 281).
Ploss states that in Konigsberg (Prussia) tickling the soles of the feet
of a little child is thought to occasion stuttering; in Italy the child
will learn to stutter, unless, after it has been weaned, it is given to
drink for the first time out of a hand-bell (326. II. 286).
Among the numerous practices in vogue to hasten the child's acquisition
of speech, or to make him ready and easy of tongue, are the following:
some one returned from the communion breathes into the child's mouth
(Austrian Silesia); the mother, when, after supper on Good Friday, she
suckles the child for the last time, breathes into its mouth (Bohemia);
the, child is given to drink water out of a cow-bell (Servia); when the
child, on the arm of its mother, pays the first visit to neighbours or
friends, it is presented with three eggs, which are pressed three times
to his mouth, with the words, "as the hens cackle, the child learns to
prattle" (Thuringia, the Erzgebirge, Bavaria, Franconia, and the Harz);
when a child is brought to be baptized, one of the relatives must make a
christening-letter (_Pathenbrief_), and, with the poem or the money
contained in it, draw three crosses through the mouth of the child
(Konigsberg) (326. II. 205).
Ploss has a few words to say about "Volksgebrauchliche Sprach-
Exercitien," or "Zungen-Exercitien," the folk-efforts to teach the child
to overcome the difficulties of speech (326. II. 285, 286), and more
recently Treichel (373) has treated in detail of the various methods
employed in Prussia. In these exercises examples and difficult words are
given in several languages, alliteration, sibilation, and all quips and
turns of consonantal and vocalic expression, word-position, etc., are in
use to test the power of speech alike of child and adult. Treichel
observes that in the schools even, use is made of foreign geographical
names, names of mountains in Asia, New Zealand, and Aztec names in
Mexico; the plain of _Apapurinkasiquinilschiquasaqua_, from
Immermann's _Munchhausen_, is also cited as having been put to the
like use. The title of doctors' dissertations in chemistry are also
recommended (373. 124).
Following are examples of these test sentences and phrases from
(1) Acht und achtzig achteckige Hechtskopfe; (2) Bierbrauer Brauer braut
braun Bier; (3) De donue Diewel drog den dicke Diewel dorch den dicke
Dreek; (4) Esel essen Nosseln gern; (5) In Ulm imd um Ulm und urn Ulm
herum; (6) Wenige wissen, wie viel sie wissen mussen, um zu wissen, wie
wenig sie wissen; (7) Es sassen zwei zischende Schlangen zwischen zwei
spitzigen Steinen und zischten dazwischen; (8) Nage mal de Boll Boll
Boll Boll Boll Boll Boll Boll Boll; (9) Fritz, Fritz, friss frische
Fische, Fritz; (10) Kein klein Kind kann keinen kleinen Kessel Kohl
There are alliterative sentences for all the letters of the alphabet,
and many others more or less alliterative, while the humorous papers
contain many exaggerated examples of this sort of thing. Of the last,
the following on "Hottentottentaten" will serve as an instance:--
"In dem wilden Land der Kaftern,
Wo die Hottentotten trachten
Zu erwerben in den Schlachten,
Wo die Hottentottentaktik
Lasst ertonen fern und nah
Auf dem Hottentottentamtam
Wo die Hottentottentrotteln,
Eh' sie stampfen stark und kuhn.
An sioh selber erst vollzieh'n,
Wo die Hottentotten tuten
Auf dem Horn voll Eleganz
Und nachher mit Grazie tanzen
Dorten bin ich mal gewesen
Und iclh habe schwer gelitten,
Weil ich Hottentotten trotzte,
So 'ne Hottentottentachtel,
Die ist namlich furchterlich
Und ich leid' noch heute
An dem Hottentottentatterich" (373. 222).
In our older English, and American readers and spelling-books we meet
with much of a like nature, and the use of these test-phrases and
sentences has not yet entirely departed from the schools. Familiar are:
"Up the high hill he heaved a huge round stone; around the rugged riven
rock the ragged rascal rapid ran; Peter Piper picked a peck of prickly
pears from the prickly-pear trees on the pleasant prairies," and many
others still in use traditionally among the school-children of to-day,
together with linguistic exercises of nonsense-syllables and the like,
pronouncing words backwards, etc.
In French we have: (1) L'origine ne se desoriginalisera jamais de son
originalite; (2) A la sante de celle, qui tient la sentinelle devant la
citadelle de votre coeur! (3) Car Didon dina, dit-on, Du dos d'un dodu
In Polish: (1) Bydlo bylo, bydlo bedzie (It was cattle, it remains
cattle); (2) Podawala baba babie przez piec malowane grabie (A woman
handed the woman over the stove a painted rake); (3) Chrzaszcz brzmi w
trzinie (The beetle buzzes in the pipe). Latin and Greek are also made
use of for similar purpose. Treichel cites, among other passages, the
following: (1) Quamuis sint sub aqua, sub aqua maledicere tentant (Ovid,
_Metam._ VI. 376); (2) At tuba terribili sonitu taratantara dixit
(Virgil, _Aen._ IX. 503); (3) Quadrupedante putrem sonitu quatit
ungula campum (Virgil, _Aen._ VIII. 596); (4) [Greek: _Aytis
epeita pedonde kylindeto laas anchidaes_] (Homer, Odyss. II. 598);
(5) [Greek: _Trichtha te kai tetrachtha dieschesen is anemoio_]
(Homer, Odyss. IX. 71, II. III. 363); (6) [Greek: _'O makar 'Adreidae
moiraegenes olbiodaimon_] (Homer, _Il._ III. 182). These customs
are not confined, however, to the civilized nations of Europe. Dr.
Pechuel-Loesche tells us that, among the negroes of the Loango coast of
Africa, the mother teaches the child little verses, just as illogical as
the test-sentences often are which are employed in other parts of the
world, and containing intentionally difficult arrangements of words. The
child whose skilful tongue can repeat these without stumbling, is shown
to visitors and is the cause of much admiration and merriment. And this
exhibition of the child's linguistic and mnemonic powers finds vogue
among other races than those of the dark continent (373. 125).
A very curious development of child-linguistics is seen in the so-called
_ABC Rhymes_. H. A. Carstensen reports from Risummoor in Low
Germany the following arrangement and interpretation of the letters of
the alphabet (199. 55):--
A--Aewel B--baeget C(K)--Kaege
A--Abel B--bakes C(K)--cakes.
D--Detlef E--et F--fale.
D--Detlef E--eats F--much.
G--Grutte H--Hans J--jaeget K--Kraege.
G--Great H--Jack J--hunts K--crows.
L--Lotte M--maeget N--noerne.
L--Lutje M--makes N--names.
O--Okke P--plokket Q--Kuerde.
O--Okke P--makes Q--wool-cards.
R--Rikkert S--sait T--tuffle.
R--Richard S--sews T--slippers
U--Uethet V--Volkert W--waeder?
U--Fetches V--Volkert W--water?
From the North Frisian islands of Silt and Fohr the following ABC rhymes
have been recorded, consisting mostly of personal names (199. 192):--
1. From Silt: _A_nna _B_oyken, _C_hristian _D_ojken,
_E_rkel _F_redden, _G_ondel _H_ansen, _J_ens
_K_uk, _L_orenz _M_ommen, _N_iels _O_tten,
_P_eter _Q_uotten, _R_ink _S_wennen, _T_heide
_U_wen, _V_olkert, _W_ilhelm, exerzere.
2. From Fohr: _A_rest _B_uhn, _C_ike _D_uhn,
_E_hlen _F_rodden, _G_irre _H_ayen, _I_ngke
_K_ayen, _L_urenz _M_unje, _N_ahmen _O_tt,
_P_eter _Q_uott, _R_ekkert _s_kar, _T_rintje
_u_m, qui _w_eg, _x, y, z_.
3. From Fohr: _A_ntje _b_rawt; _C_isele _d_rug;
_E_hlen _f_ald; _G_ontje _h_olp; _I_ngke
_k_nad; _L_ena _m_ad; _N_ahmen _O_kken;
_R_ord _R_utjer; _S_ab _S_utjer; _S_onk
_S_tein; _T_hur _O_rdert; _W_ogen _w_uhlet;
From Ditmarschen we have the following (199. 290):--
1. From Suderstapel in Stapelholm: _A-B_eeter, _C-D_eeter,
_E-_E_f_ter, _G-H_ater, _I-K_ater,
_L-_E_m_der, _N-O_ter, _P_eter Ruster sien Swester
harr Buxsen von Manchester, harr'n Kleed vun Kattun, weer Kofft bi Jud'n
(Peter Ruster his sister has breeches from Manchester, has a dress of
cotton, who buys of Jews).
2. From Tonningstedt and Feddringen: _A-B_eeter, _C-D_eeter,
_E-E_fter, _G-H_ater, _J-K_ater, _L-_E_m_der,
_N-O_ter, _P-_K_u_ter, _L-_E_s_ter,
_T-U_ter, _V-W_eeter, _X-Z_eeter.
In Polish we have a rather curious rhyme (199. 260): _A_dam
_B_abkie _C_ukier _D_al, _E_wa _F_igi
_G_ryzla; _H_anko, _J_eko, _K_arol _L_erch
_N_osi _O_rla _P_apa _R_uskigo (Adam to the old
woman sugar gave, Eve figs nibbled; Hanko, Jeko, Karol, and Lerch carry
the eagle of the Ruthenian priest). Another variant runs: _A_dam
_B_abi _C_ucker _d_aje _E_wa _f_igi
_g_rizi _H_ala, _i_dzie _K_upic' _l_ala
_m_ama _n_ie _p_ozwala (199. 150).
At Elberfeld, according to O. Schell, the following rhyme was in use
about the middle of this century (199. 42): _A_braham
_B_ockmann; _C_epter _D_ickmann; _E_ngel
_F_uawenkel; _G_retchen _H_ahn; _I_saak
_K_reier; _L_ottchen _M_eyer; _N_ikolas _O_lk;
_P_itter _Q_uack; _R_udolf _S_imon; _T_ante
_U_hler; _V_ater _W_ettschreck; _X_erxes
From Leipzig, L. Frankel reports the following as given off in a singing
tone with falling rhythm:--
B a ba, b e be, b i bi--babebi; b o bo, b u bu--bobu; ba, be, bi, bo,
bu--babebibobu. C a ca (pron. _za,_ not _ka_), c e ce, c i ci
--caceci; c o co, c u cu--cocu; ca, ce, ci, co, cu-cacecicocu, etc.
From various parts of Ditmarschen come these rhymes:--
A-B ab, | A-B ab,
Mus sitt in't Schapp, | Mouse sits in the cupboard,
Kater darfar, | Cat in frount,
Mak apen de Dar. | Open the door.
These child-rhymes and formulae from North Germany find their cognates
in our own nursery-rhymes and explanatory letter-lists, which take us
back to the very beginnings of alphabetic writing. An example is the
"A was an Archer that shot at a frog,
B was a Butcher that had a big dog," etc., etc.
Here belong also the curious formula known all over the United States
and English-speaking Canada, to which attention has recently been called
by Professor Frederick Starr. When the word _Preface_ is seen,
children repeat the words, "_P_eter _R_ice _E_ats
_F_ish _a_nd _C_atches _E_els," or backwards,
"_E_els _C_atch _A_lligators; _F_ather _E_ats
_R_aw _P_otatoes." Professor Starr says that the second
formula is not quite so common as the first; the writer's experience in
Canada leads him to express just the opposite opinion. Professor Starr
gives also formula for _Contents_ and _Finis_ as follows:
"_F_ive _I_rish _N_iggers _I_n _S_pain,"
backwards "_S_ix _I_rish _N_iggers _I_n
_F_rance"; "_C_hildren _O_ught _N_ot _T_o
_E_at _N_uts _T_ill _S_unday" (355. 55). Formula
like these appear to be widespread among school-children, who extract a
good deal of satisfaction from the magic meaning of these quaint
Another series of formula, not referred to by Professor Starr, is that
concerned with the interpretation of the numerous abbreviations and
initials found in the spelling-book and dictionary. In the manufacture
of these much childish wit and ingenuity are often expended. In the
writer's schoolboy days there was quite a series of such expansions of
the letters which stood for the various secret and benevolent societies
of the country. _I. O. G. T._ (Independent Order of Good Templars),
for example, was made into "I Often Get Tight (_i.e._ drunk),"
which was considered quite a triumph of juvenile interpretative skill.
Another effort was in the way of explaining the college degrees:
_B.A._ = "Big Ape," _M.A._ = "Matured Ape," _B.D._ =
"Bull-Dog," _LL.D._ = "Long-Legged Devil," etc. Still another class
is represented by the interpretations of the German _u. A. w. g._
(our R. S. V. P.), _i.e._ "um Antwort wird gebeten" (an answer is
requested), for which A. Treichel records the following renderings: um
Ausdauer wird gebeten (perseverance requested); und Abends wird getanzt
(and in the evening there is dancing); und Abends wird gegeigt (and in
the evening there is fiddling); und Abends wird gegessen (and in the
evening there is eating); und Andere werden gelastert (and others are
abused) (392. V. 114). This side of the linguistic inventiveness of
childhood, with its _double-entendre_, its puns, its
folk-etymologies, its keen discernment of hidden resemblances and
analogies, deserves more study than it has apparently received.
The formulae and expressions belonging to such games as marbles are
worthy of consideration, for here the child is given an opportunity to
invent new words and phrases or to modify and disfigure old ones.
_Formulae of Defiance, etc._
The formulae of defiance, insult, teasing, etc., rhymed and in prose,
offer much of interest. Peculiarities of physical constitution, mental
traits, social relationships, and the like, give play to childish fancy
and invention. It would be a long list which should include all the
material corresponding to such as the following, well known among
1. Georgie Porgie, Puddin' Pie,
Kissed a girl and made her cry!
2. Blue-eyed beauty,
Do your mother's duty!
3. Black eye, pick a pie,
Turn around and tell a lie!
4. Nigger, nigger, never-die,
Black face and shiny eye!
Interesting is the following scale of challenging, which Professor J. P.
Fruit reports from Kentucky (430. 229):--
"I dare you; I dog dare you; I double dog dare you.
I dare you; I black dog dare you; I double black dog dare you."
The language of the school-yard and street, in respect to challenges,
fights, and contests of all sorts, has an atmosphere of its own, through
which sometimes the most clear-sighted older heads find it difficult to
The American Dialect Society is doing good work in hunting out and
interpreting many of these contributions of childhood to the great
mosaic of human speech, and it is to be hoped that in this effort they
will have the co-operation of all the teachers of the country, for this
branch of childish activity will bear careful and thorough
In the names of some of the plants with which they early come into
contact we meet with examples of the ingenuity of children. In Mrs.
Bergen's (400) list of popular American plant-names are included some
which come from this source, for example: "frog-plant (_Sedum
Telephium_)," from the children's custom of "blowing up a leaf so as
to make the epidermis puff up like a frog"; "drunkards (_Gaulteria
procumbens_)," because "believed by children to intoxicate";
"bread-and-butter (_Smilax rotundifolia_)," because "the young
leaves are eaten by children"; "velvets (_Viola pedata_)," a
corruption of the "velvet violets" of their elders; "splinter-weed
(_Antennaria plantaginifolia_)," from "the appearance of the
heads"; "ducks (_Cypripedium_)," because "when the flower is partly
filled with sand and set afloat on water, it looks like a duck";
"pearl-grass (_Glyceria Canadensis_)," a name given at Waverley,
Massachusetts, "by a few children, some years ago." This list might
easily be extended, but sufficient examples have been given to indicate
the extent to which the child's mind has been at work in this field.
Moreover, many of the names now used by the older members of the
community, may have been coined originally by children and then adopted
by the others, and the same origin must probably be sought out for not a
few of the folk-etymologies and word-distortions which have so puzzled
In an interesting paper on "physonyms,"--_i.e._ "words to which
their signification is imparted by certain physiological processes,
common to the race everywhere, and leading to the creation of the same
signs with the same meaning in totally sundered linguistic
stocks"--occurs the following passage (193. cxxxiii.):--
"One of the best known and simplest examples is that of the widespread
designation of 'mother' by such words as _mama_, _nana_,
_ana_; and of 'father' by such as _papa_, _baba_,
_tata_. Its true explanation has been found to be that, in the
infant's first attempt to utter articulate sounds, the consonants
_m_, _p_, and _t_ decidedly preponderate; and the natural
vowel _a_, associated with these, yields the child's first
syllables. It repeats such sounds as _ma-ma-ma_ or _pa-pa-pa_,
without attaching any meaning to them; the parents apply these sounds to
themselves, and thus impart to them their signification."
Other physonyms are words of direction and indication of which the
radical is _k_ or _g_; the personal pronouns radical in
_n_, _m_ (first person), _k, t, d_ (second person); and
demonstratives and locatives whose radical is _s_. The frequency of
these sounds in the language of children is pointed out also by Tracy in
his monograph on the psychology of childhood. In the formation and
fixation of the onomatopes with which many languages abound some share
must be allotted to the child. A recent praiseworthy study of onomatopes
in the Japanese language has been made by Mr. Aston, who defines an
onomatope as "the artistic representation of an inarticulate sound or
noise by means of an articulate sound" (394. 333). The author is of
opinion that from the analogy of the lower animals the inference is to
be drawn that "mankind occupied themselves for a long time with their
own natural cries before taking the trouble to imitate for purposes of
expression sounds not of their own making" (394. 334). The latter
process was gradual and extended over centuries. For the child or the
"child-man" to imitate the cry of the cock so successfully was an
inspiration; Mr. Aston tells us that "the formation of a word like
_cock-a-doodle-do_, is as much a work of individual genius as
Hamlet or the Laocoon" (394. 335). Of certain modern aspects of
onomatopoia the author observes: "There is a kindred art, viz. that of
the _exact_ imitation of animal cries and other sounds,
successfully practised by some of our undergraduates and other young
people, as well as by tame ravens and parrots. It probably played some
part in the development of language, but I can only mention it here"
The "college yells" of the United States and Canada offer an inviting
field for study in linguistic atavism and barbaric vocal expression. The
_New York World Almanac_ for 1895 contains a list of the "yells" of
some three hundred colleges and universities in the United States. Out
of this great number, in which there is a plenitude of "Rah! rah! rah!"
the following are especially noteworthy:--
_Benzonia:_ Kala, kala, kala! Sst, Boom, Gah! Benzo, Benzon-iah!
_Buchtel:_ Ye-ho! Ye-hesa! Hisa! Wow wow! Buchtel!
_Dartmouth:_ Wah, who, wah! wah who wah! da-da-da, Dartmouth! wah
who wah! T-i-g-e-r!
_Heidelberg:_ Killi-killick! Rah, rah, Zik, zik! Ha! Ha! Yi! Hoo!
Baru! Zoo! Heidelberg!
The "yell" of _Ohio Wesleyan University_, "O-wee-wi-wow!
Ala-ka-zu-ki-zow! Ra-zi-zi-zow! Viva! Viva! O. W. U.!" is enough to make
the good man for whom the institution is named turn uneasily in his
grave. The palm must, however, be awarded to the _University of North
Dakota_, whose remarkable "yell" is this: "Odz-dzo-dzi! Ri-ri-ri!
Hy-ah! Hy-ah! North Dakota! and Sioux War-Cry." Hardly have the
ancestors of Sitting Bull and his people suspected the immortality that
awaited their ancient slogan. It is curious that the only "yell" set to
proper music is that of the girls of _Wellesley College_, who sing
their cheer, "Tra la la la, Tra la la la, Tra la la la la la la,
As is the case with other practices in collegiate life, these "yells"
seem to be making their way down into the high and grammar schools, as
well as into the private secondary schools, the popularity and
excitement of field-sports and games, baseball, foot-ball, etc., giving
occasion enough for their frequent employment.
Here fall also the spontaneous shouts and cries of children at work and
at play, the _Ki-yah!_ and others of a like nature whose number is
Mr. Charles Ledyard Norton, in his _Political Americanisms_ (New
York, 1890), informs us that "the peculiar staccato cheer, 'rah, rah,
rah!'" was probably invented at Harvard in 1864. In the Blaine campaign
of 1884 it was introduced into political meetings and processions
together with "the custom, also borrowed from the colleges, of spelling
some temporarily significant catch-word in unison, as, for instance,
'S-o-a-p!' the separate letters being pronounced in perfect time by
several hundred voices at once." The same authority thinks that the idea
of calling out "Blaine--Blaine--James G. Blaine!" in cadenced measure
after the manner of the drill-sergeants,
"Left--left--left--right--left!" an idea which had many imitations and
elaborations among the members of both the great political parties, can
be traced back to the Columbia College students (p. 120).
_The Child as an Innovator in Language._
But the role of the child in the development of language is concerned
with other things than physonyms and onomatopes. In his work on
Brazilian ethnography and philology, Dr. von Martius writes (522. 43):
"A language is often confined to a few individuals connected by
relationship, forming thus, as it were, _a family institute_, which
isolates those who use it from all neighbouring or distant tribes so
completely that an understanding becomes impossible." This intimate
connection of language with the family, this preservation and growth of
language, as a family institution, has, as Dr. von Martius points out,
an interesting result (522. 44):--
"The Brazilians frequently live in small detachments, being kept apart
by the chase; sometimes only a few families wander together; often it is
one family alone. Within the family the language suffers a constant
remodelling. One of the children will fail to catch precisely the
radical sound of a word; and the weak parents, instead of accustoming it
to pronounce the word correctly, will yield, perhaps, themselves, and
adopt the language of the child. We often were accompanied by persons of
the same band; yet we noticed in each of them slight differences in
accentuation and change of sound. His comrades, however, understood him,
and they were understood by him. As a consequence, their language never
can become stationary, but will constantly break off into new dialects."
Upon these words of von Martius (reported by Dr. Oscar Peschel), Dr.
Charles Rau comments as follows (522. 44): "Thus it would seem that,
among savages, _children_ are to a great extent the originators of
idiomatic diversities. Dr. Peschel places particular stress on this
circumstance, and alludes to the habit of over-indulgent parents among
refined nations of conforming to the humours of their children by
conversing with them in a kind of infantine language, until they are
several years old. Afterward, of course, the rules of civilized life
compel these children to adopt the proper language; but no such
necessity exists among a hunter family in the primeval forests of South
America; here the deviating form of speech remains, and the foundation
of a new dialect is laid."
But little attention has been paid to the study of the language of
children among primitive people. In connection with a brief
investigation of child-words in the aboriginal tongues of America, Mr.
Horatio Hale communicated to the present writer the following
observation of M. l'Abbe Cuoq, of Montreal, the distinguished missionary
and linguist: "As far as the Iroquois in particular are concerned, it is
certain that this language [langage enfantin] is current in every
family, and that the child's relatives, especially the mothers, teach it
to their children, and that the latter consequently merely repeat the
words of which it is composed" (201. 322). That these "child-words" were
invented by children, the Abbe does not seem to hint.
The prominence of the mother-influence in the child's linguistic
development is also accentuated by Professor Mason, who devotes a
chapter of his recent work on woman's part in the origin and growth of
civilization to woman as a linguist. The author points out how "women
have helped to the selection and preservation of language through
onomatopoeia," their vocal apparatus being "singularly adapted to the
imitation of many natural sounds," and their ears "quick to catch the
sounds within the compass of the voice" (113. 188-204). To the female
child, then, we owe a good deal of that which is now embodied in our
modern speech, and the debt of primitive races is still greater. Many a
traveller has found, indeed, a child the best available source of
linguistic information, when the idling warriors in their pride, and the
hard-working women in their shyness, or taboo-caused fear, failed to
respond at all to his requests for talk or song.
Canon Farrar, in his _Chapters on Language_, makes the statement:
"It is a well-known fact that the neglected children, in some of the
Canadian and Indian villages, who are left alone for days, can and do
invent for themselves a sort of _lingua franca_, partially or
wholly unintelligible to all except themselves" (200. 237). Mr. W. W.
Newell speaks of the linguistic inventiveness of children in these terms
"As infancy begins to speak by the free though unconscious combination
of linguistic elements, so childhood retains in language a measure of
freedom. A little attention to the jargons invented by children might
have been serviceable to certain philologists. Their love of originality
finds the tongue of their elders too commonplace; besides, their
fondness for mystery requires secret ways of communication. They,
therefore, often create (so to speak) new languages, which are formed by
changes in the mother-speech, but sometimes have quite complicated laws
of structure and a considerable arbitrary element." The author cites
examples of the "Hog Latin" of New England schoolchildren, in the
elaboration of which much youthful ingenuity is expended. Most
interesting is the brief account of the "cat" language:--
"A group of children near Boston invented the _cat language_, so
called because its object was to admit of free intercourse with cats, to
whom it was mostly talked, and by whom it was presumed to be
comprehended. In this tongue the cat was naturally the chief subject of
nomenclature; all feline positions were observed and named, and the
language was rich in such epithets, as Arabic contains a vast number of
expressions for _lion_. Euphonic changes were very arbitrary and
various, differing for the same termination; but the adverbial ending
_-ly_ was always _-osh; terribly, terriblosh_. A certain
percentage of words were absolutely independent, or at least of obscure
origin. The grammar tended to Chinese or infantine simplicity; _ta_
represented any case of any personal pronoun. A proper name might vary
in sound according to the euphonic requirements of the different
Christian names by which it was preceded. There were two dialects, one,
however, stigmatized as _provincial_. This invention of language
must be very common, since other cases have fallen under our notice in
which children have composed dictionaries of such" (313. 25).
This characterization of child-speech offers not a few points of contact
with primitive languages, and might indeed almost have been written of
one of them.
More recently Colonel Higginson (262) has given some details of "a
language formed for their own amusement by two girls of thirteen or
thereabouts, both the children of eminent scientific men, and both
unusually active-minded and observant." This dialect "is in the most
vivid sense a living language," and the inventors, who keep pruning and
improving it, possess a manuscript dictionary of some two hundred words,
which, it is to be hoped, will some day be published. An example or two
from those given by Colonel Higginson will serve to indicate the general
character of the vocabulary:--
_bojiwassis_, "the feeling you have just before you jump, don't you
know--when you mean to jump and want to do it, and are just a little bit
afraid to do it."
_spygri_, "the way you feel when you have just jumped and are
awfully proud of it."
_pippadolify_, "stiff and starched like the young officers at
Other information respecting this "home-made dialect," with its revising
academy of children and its standard dictionary, must be sought in the
entertaining pages of Colonel Higginson, who justly says of this triumph
of child-invention: "It coins thought into syllables, and one can see
that, if a group of children like these were taken and isolated until
they grew up, they would forget in time which words were their own and
which were in Worcester's Dictionary; and _stowish_ and
_krono_ and _bojiwassis_ would gradually become permanent
forms of speech" (262. 108).
In his valuable essay on _The Origin of Languages_ (249), Mr.
Horatio Hale discusses a number of cases of invention of languages by
children, giving interesting, though (owing to the neglect of the
observers) not very extensive, details of each.
One of the most curious instances of the linguistic inventiveness of
children is the case of the Boston twins (of German descent on the
mother's side) born in 1860, regarding whose language a few details were
given by Miss E. H. Watson, who says: "At the usual age these twins
began to talk, but, strange to say, _not_ their 'mother-tongue.'
They had a language of their own, and no pains could induce them to
speak anything else. It was in vain that a little sister, five years
older than they, tried to make them speak their _native
language_,--as it would have been. They persistently refused to utter
a syllable of English. Not even the usual first words, 'papa,' 'mamma,'
'father,' 'mother,' it is said, did they ever speak; and, said the lady
who gave this information to the writer,--who was an aunt of the
children, and whose home was with them,--they were never known during
this interval to call their mother by that name. They had their own name
for her, but never the English. In fact, though they had the usual
affections, were rejoiced to see their father at his returning home each
night, playing with him, etc., they would seem to have been otherwise
completely taken up, absorbed, with each other.... The children had not
yet been to school; for, not being able to speak their 'own English,' it
seemed impossible to send them from home. They thus passed the days,
playing and talking together in their own speech, with all the
liveliness and volubility of common children. Their accent was
_German_,--as it seemed to the family. They had regular words, a
few of which the family learned sometimes to distinguish; as that, for
example, for carriage [_ni-si-boo-a_], which, on hearing one pass
in the street, they would exclaim out, and run to the window" (249. 11).
We are further informed that, when the children were six or seven years
old, they were sent to school, but for a week remained "perfectly mute";
indeed, "not a sound could be heard from them, but they sat with their
eyes intently fixed upon the children, seeming to be watching their
every motion,--and no doubt, listening to every sound. At the end of
that time they were induced to utter some words, and gradually and
naturally they began, for the first time, to learn their 'native
English.' With this accomplishment, the other began also naturally to
fade away, until the memory with the use of it passed from their mind"
Mr. Horatio Hale, who resumes the case just noticed in his address
before the Anthropological Section of the American Association for the
Advancement of Science (Buffalo, 1886), gives also valuable details of
the language of a little four-year-old girl and her younger brother in
Albany, as reported by Dr. E. R. Hun (249. 13). The chief facts are as
follows: "The mother observed when she was two years old that she was
backward in speaking, and only used the words 'papa' and 'mamma.' After
that she began to use words of her own invention, and though she readily
understood what was said, never employed the words used by others.
Gradually she extended her vocabulary until it reached the extent
described below [at least twenty-one distinct words, many of which were
used in a great variety of meanings]. She has a brother eighteen months
younger than herself, who has learned her language, so that they talk
freely together. He, however, seems to have adopted it only because he
has more intercourse with her than with others; and in some instances he
will use a proper word with his mother, and his sister's word with her.
She, however, persists in using only her own words, though her parents,
who are uneasy about her peculiarity of speech, make great efforts to
induce her to use proper words."
More may be read concerning this language in the account of Dr. Hun
(published in 1868).
Mr. Hale mentions three other cases, information regarding which came to
him. The inventors in the first instance were a boy between four and
five years old, said to have been "unusually backward in his speech,"
and a girl a little younger, the children of a widower and a widow
respectively, who married; and, according to the report of an intimate
friend: "He and the little girl soon became inseparable playmates, and
formed a language of their own, which was unintelligible to their
parents and friends. They had names of their own invention for all the
objects about them, and must have had a corresponding supply of verbs
and other parts of speech, as their talk was fluent and incessant." This
was in Kingston, Ontario, Canada (249. 16).
The second case is that of two young children, twins, a boy and a girl:
"When they were three or four years old they were accustomed, as their
elder sister informs me, to talk together in a language which no one
else understood.... The twins were wont to climb into their father's
carriage in the stable, and 'chatter away,' as my informant says, for
hours in this strange language. Their sister remembers that it sounded
as though the words were quite short. But the single word which survives
in the family recollection is a dissyllable, the word for milk, which
was _cully_. The little girl accompanied her speech with gestures,
but the boy did not. As they grew older, they gradually gave up their
peculiar speech" (249. 17).
The third case cited by Mr. Hale is that of two little boys of Toronto,
Canada,--five or six years of age, one being about a year older than the
other, who attended a school in that city: "These children were left
much to themselves, and had a language of their own, in which they
always conversed. The other children in the school used to listen to
them as they chattered together, and laugh heartily at the strange
speech of which they could not understand a word. The boys spoke English
with difficulty, and very imperfectly, like persons struggling to
express their ideas in a foreign tongue. In speaking it, they had to eke
out their words with many gestures and signs to make themselves
understood; but in talking together in their own language, they used no
gestures and spoke very fluently. She remembers that the words which
they used seemed quite short" (249. 18).
Mr. Hale's studies of these comparatively uninvestigated forms of human
speech led him into the wider field of comparative philology and
linguistic origins. From the consideration of these data, the
distinguished ethnologist came to regard the child as a factor of the
utmost importance in the development of dialects and families of speech,
and to put forward in definite terms a theory of the origin and growth
of linguistic diversity and dialectic profusion, to the idea of which he
was led by his studies of the multitude of languages within the
comparatively restricted area of Oregon and California (249. 9).
Starting with the language-faculty instinct in the child, says Mr. Hale:
"It was as impossible for the first child endowed with this faculty not
to speak in the presence of a companion similarly endowed, as it would
be for a nightingale or a thrush not to carol to its mate. The same
faculty creates the same necessity in our days, and its exercise by
young children, when accidentally isolated from the teachings and
influence of grown companions, will readily account for the existence of
all the diversities of speech on our globe" (249. 47). Approaching, in
another essay, one of the most difficult problems in comparative
philology, he observes: "There is, therefore, nothing improbable in the
supposition that the first Aryan family--the orphan children, perhaps,
of some Semitic or Accadian fugitives from Arabia or Mesopotamia--grew
up and framed their new language on the southeastern seaboard of
Persia." Thus, he thinks, is the Aryo-Semitic problem most
satisfactorily solved (467. 675). In a second paper (250) on _The
Development of Language_, Mr. Hale restates and elaborates his theory
with a wealth of illustration and argument, and it has since won
considerable support from the scientists of both hemispheres.
Professor Romanes devotes not a few pages of his volume on _Mental
Evolution in Man_, to the presentation of Mr. Hale's theory and of
the facts upon which it is based (338. 138-144).
That the use of secret languages and the invention of them by children
is widespread and prevalent at home, at school, in the playground, in
the street, is evident from the exhaustive series of articles in which
Dr. F. S. Krauss (281) of Vienna has treated of "Secret Languages." Out
of some two hundred forms and fashions there cited a very large
proportion indeed belong to the period of childhood and youth and the
scenes of boyish and girlish activity. We have languages for games, for
secret societies, for best friends, for school-fellows, for country and
town, for boys and girls, etc. Dr. Oscar Chrisman (206) has quite
recently undertaken to investigate the nature and extent of use of these
secret languages in America, with gratifying results. A study of the
child at the period in which the language-making instinct is most active
cannot be without interest to pedagogy, and it would not be without
value to inquire what has been the result of the universal neglect of
language-teaching in the primary and lower grade grammar
schools--whether the profusion of secret languages runs parallel with
this diversion of the child-mind from one of its most healthful and
requisite employments, or whether it has not to some extent atrophied
the linguistic sense.
The far-reaching ramifications of "secret languages" are evidenced by
the fact that a language called "Tut" by school-children of Gonzales,
Texas, is almost identical in its alphabet with the "Guitar Language,"
of Bonyhad, in Hungary, the "Bob Language," of Czernowitz, in Austria,
and another language of the same sort from Berg. The travels of the
Texas secret language are stated by Dr. Chrisman to be as follows: "This
young lady ... learned it from her mother's servant, a negro girl; this
girl learned it from a negro girl who got it at a female negro school at
Austin, Texas, where it was brought by a negro girl from Galveston,
Texas, who learned it from a negro girl who had come from Jamaica" (208.
Evidence is accumulating to show that these secret languages of children
exist in all parts of the world, and it would be a useful and
instructive labour were some one to collect all available material and
compose an exhaustive scientific monograph on the subject.
Interesting, for comparative purposes, are the secret languages and
jargons of adults. As Paul Sartori (528) has recently shown, the use of
special or secret languages by various individuals and classes in the
communities is widespread both in myth and reality. We find peculiar
dialects spoken by, or used in addressing, deities and evil spirits;
giants, monsters; dwarfs, elves, fairies; ghosts, spirits; witches,
wizards, "medicine men"; animals, birds, trees, inanimate objects. We
meet also with special dialects of secret societies (both of men and of
women); sacerdotal and priestly tongues; special dialects of princes,
nobles, courts; women's languages, etc.; besides a multitude of jargons,
dialects, languages of trades and professions, of peasants, shepherds,
soldiers, merchants, hunters, and the divers slangs and jargons of the
vagabonds, tramps, thieves, and other outcast or criminal classes.
Far-reaching indeed is the field opened by the consideration of but a
single aspect of child-speech, that doll-language which Joaquin Miller
so aptly notes:--
"Yet she carried a doll, as she toddled alone,
And she talked to that doll in a tongue her own."
Both the golden age of childhood and the golden age of love exercise a
remarkable influence upon language. Mantegazza, discussing "the desire
to merge oneself into another, to abase oneself, to aggrandize the
beloved," etc., observes: "We see it in the use of diminutives which
lovers and sometimes friends use towards each other, and which mothers
use to their children; we lessen ourselves thus in a delicate and
generous manner in order that we may be embraced and absorbed in the
circle of the creature we love. Nothing is more easily possessed than a
small object, and before the one we love we would change ourselves into
a bird, a canary--into any minute thing that we might be held utterly in
the hands, that we might feel ourselves pressed on all sides by the warm
and loving fingers. There is also another secret reason for the use of
diminutives. Little creatures are loved tenderly, and tenderness is the
supreme sign of every great force which is dissolved and consumes
itself. After the wild, passionate, impetuous embrace there is always
the tender note, and then diminutives, whether they belong to expression
or to language, always play a great part" (499. 137). The fondness of
boys for calling each other by the diminutives of their surnames belongs
In some languages, such as the Nipissing dialect of Algonkian in North
America, the Modern Greek or Romaic, Lowland Scotch, and Plattdeutsch,
the very frequent employment of diminutives has come to be a marked
characteristic of the common speech of the people. The love for
diminutives has, in some cases, led to a charm of expression in language
which is most attractive; this is seen perhaps at its best in Castilian,
and some of the Italian dialects (202 and 219). A careful study of the
influence of the child upon the forms of language has yet to be made.
THE CHILD AS ACTOR AND INVENTOR.
The child is a born actor.
The world's a theatre, the earth a stage,
Which God and Nature do with actors fill.--_Heywood_.
Man is an imitative creature, and the foremost leads the flock.
In her article on _Imitation in Children_, Miss Haskell notes the
predilection of children for impersonation and dramatic expression,
giving many interesting examples. S. D. Warren, in a paper read before
the American Association for the Advancement of Science, at the Brooklyn
Meeting, 1894 (_Proc_., Vol. xliii., p. 335), also notes these
activities of children, mentioning, among other instances, "an annual
celebration of the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown," "playing
railroad," playing at pulling hand fire-engines, as the representatives
of two rival villages.
The mention of the celebration of Cornwallis' surrender by children
brings up the question of the child as recorder. As historian and
chronicler, the child appears in the countless games in which he
preserves more or less of the acts, beliefs, and superstitions of our
ancestors. Concerning some of these, Miss Alice Gomme says: "It is
impossible that they have been invented by children by the mere effort
of imagination, and there is ample evidence that they have but carried
on interchangeably a record of events, some of which belong to the
earliest days of the nation" (242.11).
As Miss Gomme points out, many of the games of English children are
simply primitive dramas,--of the life of a woman ("When I was a Young
Girl"), of courtship and marriage ("Here comes Three Dukes a-Riding,"
"Poor Mary sits a-Weeping"), of funerals ("Jenny Jones," "Green
Gravel"), of border warfare ("We are the Rovers"), etc. Mr. W. W. Newell
had previously remarked the importance of the dramatic element in
children's games, citing as historical plays "Miss Jennia Jones"
(funeral), "Down she comes as White as Milk," "Green Gravel," "Uncle
John," "Barbara Allen," and others more or less partaking of this
character, based upon historical ballads, of some of which traces only
are now preserved.
By means of carved or graven images in wood or stone, given to children
as playthings or as targets to practise skill in shooting or striking
with miniature bow-and-arrow or spear, an early acquaintance is formed
with many animals. The imitation of animals, their habits and
peculiarities, often forms no small part of the dances and games of
children of the lower races.
_The Child as Actor_.
Wallaschek, in his study of the primitive drama and pantomime (546.
214-229), notes the presence of children as dancers and performers among
the Andaman Islanders, the Tagals of the Philippines, the Tahitians,
Fijis, Polynesians and other more or less primitive races. Of Tibet and
some portions of China Mr. Rockhill, in his _Diary of a Journey
through Mongolia, and Tibet, in 1891 and 1892_ (Washington, D. C.,
1894), informs us that the lads in every village give theatrical
performances, the companies of young actors being known as _Hsiao
sheng huei_, "young men's amateur theatrical company" (p. 68).
Among the aborigines of the New World we find also children as actors
and participants in the ceremonies and ritual performances of various
tribes. In certain ceremonials of the Sia, as Mrs. Stevenson informs us,
young children take part. A boy of eight was allowed to hear the sacred
songs on one occasion, and to witness the making of the
"medicine-water," but a boy of four was not permitted to be present; the
boy also took part in the dance (538. 79). In the rain ceremonial of the
"Giant Society," a little girl, eight years old, painted the fetiches
quite as dexterously as her elders, and took apparently quite as much
interest in the proceedings. In the rain ceremonial of the "Knife
Society," boys assist, and in the rain ceremonial of the Querranna, a
child (boy) with wand and rattle joins in the celebration of the rites,
"requiring no rousing to sing and bend his tiny body to the time of the
rattle, and joining in the calls upon the cloud-people to gather to
water the earth, with as much enthusiasm as his elders." When children,
boys or girls, are about ten or twelve years of age, and have, as the
Indians say, "a good head," they are initiated, if they so desire, into
some of the mysteries of the dances of the Ka'tsuna, in charge of the
Querranna Society (538. 106-117).
Dr. J. W. Fewkes, in his detailed article on the _Flute Observance_
of the Tusayan Indians of Walpi, an interesting study of primitive
dramatization, notes the part played by children in these ceremonies.
The principal characters are the "Snake Boy," the "Snake Girl," and some
girl carriers of the sacred corn, besides lads as acolytes.
The story of the child as an actor has yet to be written. When the
ancient Greeks crowded the theatres to hear and see the masterpieces of
dramatic and histrionic genius, their "women, slaves, and children" were
for the most part left at home, though we do find that later on in
history, front seats were provided for the chief Athenian priestesses.
No voices of children were heard in chorus, and childhood found no true
interpreter upon the stage. In France, in the middle of the seventeenth
century, women appear as actors; in England it was not until long after
the death of her greatest dramatist that (in 1660) women could fill a
_role_ upon the stage without serious hindrance or molestation; in
Japan, even now, play-acting is not looked upon as a respectable
profession for women. For a long time in England and elsewhere, female
parts were taken by children and youths. Here also we meet with
companies of child-actors, such as the "Boys of the Grammar School at
Westminster," "The Children of Paul's," etc. The influence which
produced these survives and flourishes to-day in the fondness of
high-school pupils and university students for dramatic performances and
recitations, and the number of schools of gesture, elocution, and the
like, testifies to the abiding interest of the young in the mimic art.
This is also evidenced by the number of child actors and actresses in
the theatrical world, and the remarkable precocity of the members of the
profession in all lands. In England, the pantomime offers a special
outlet for this current of expression, and there the child is a most
important factor in stage-life. The precocity of girls in these respects
_The Child as Inventor_.
Borrowing his figure of speech from the environment of child-hood, C.
J. Weber has said: "_Die Gesellschaft ist die Grossmutter der
Menschkeit durch ihre Tochter, die Erfindungen_,--Society is the
grandmother of humanity through her daughters, the inventions," and the
familiar proverb--Necessity is the mother of invention--springs from
the same source. Isaac Disraeli aptly says: "The golden hour of
invention must terminate like other hours; and when the man of genius
returns to the cares, the duties, the vexations, and the amusements of
life, his companions behold him as one of themselves,--the creature of
habits and infirmities," and not a few of the "golden hours of
invention" seem to belong to the golden age of childhood. Even in these
"degenerate" days the child appears as an inventor. A contributor to the
periodical literature of the day remarks: "Children have taken out a
number of patents. The youngest inventor on record is Donald Murray
Murphy, of St. John, Canada, who, at the age of six years, obtained from
the United States exclusive rights in a sounding toy. Mabel Howard, of
Washington, at eleven years, invented an ingenious game for her invalid
brother and got a patent for it. Albert Gr. Smith, of Biehwood,
Illinois, at twelve years invented and patented a rowing apparatus"
(_Current Lit_., K T., xiv. 1893, p. 138).
The works of Newell (313), Bolton (187), Gomme (243), amply reveal the
riot of childish variation and invention in games and plays. Mr. Newell
observes: "It would be strange if children who exhibit so much inventive
talent [in language] did not contrive new games; and we find accordingly
that in many families a great part of the amusements of the children are
of their own devising. The earliest age of which the writer has
authentic record of such ingenuity is two and a half years" (313. 25).
And among the primitive peoples the child is not without like invention;
some, indeed, of the games our children play, were invented by the
savage young ones, whose fathers have been long forgotten in the mist of
prehistoric ages--the sports of their children alone surviving as
memorials of their existence.
Theal tells us that the Kaffir children, when not engaged in active
exercise, "amuse themselves by moulding clay into little images of
cattle, or by making puzzles with strings. Some of them are skilful in
forming knots with thongs and pieces of wood, which it taxes the
ingenuity of the others to undo. The cleverest of them sometimes
practise tricks of deception with grains of maize" (543. 221). The
distinguished naturalist, Mr. A. R. Wallace, while on his visit to the
Malay Archipelago, thought to show the Dyak boys of Borneo something new
in the way of the "cat's cradle," but found that he was the one who
needed to learn, for the little brown aborigines were able to show him
several new tricks (377. 25).
Miklucho-Maclay notes that among the Papuans of north-eastern New
Guinea, while the women showed no tendency to ornament pottery, young
boys "found pleasure in imprinting with their nails and a pointed stick
a sort of ornamental border on some of the pots" (42. 317).
Paola Lombroso, daughter of Professor Cesare Lombroso, the celebrated
criminologist, in her recent study of child psychology, observes: "Games
(and plays) are the most original creation of the child, who has been
able to create them, adapt them to his needs, making of them a sort of
gymnastics which enables him to develop himself without becoming
fatigued, and we, with the aid of memory, can hardly now lay hold of
that feeling of infinite, intense pleasure." Moreover, these popular
traditional plays and games, handed down from one generation to another
of children, "show how instinctive are these forms of muscular activity
and imitative expression, which have their roots in a true physiological
and psychic necessity, being a species of tirocinium for the experience
of childhood" (301. 136).
The _magnum opus_, perhaps, of the child as inventor, is the lyre,
the discovery of which, classical mythology attributes to the infant
Mercury or Hermes. Four hours after his birth the baby god is said to
have found the shell of a tortoise, through the opposite edges of which
he bored holes, and, inserting into these cords of linen, made the first
stringed instrument. The English poet, Aubrey de Vere, singing of an
Athenian girl, thus refers to the quaint myth:--
"She loves to pace the wild sea-shore--
Or drop her wandering fingers o'er
The bosom of some chorded shell:
Her touch will make it speak as well
As infant Hermes made
That tortoise in its own despite
Thenceforth in Heaven a shape star-bright."
THE CHILD AS POET, MUSICIAN, ETC.
Poeta nascitur, non fit.--_Latin Proverb_.
As yet a child, nor yet a fool to fame,
I lisp'd in numbers, for the numbers came.--_Pope_.
_The Child and Music_.
"Music," said quaint old Thomas Puller, "is nothing else but wild sounds
civilized into time and tune," and Wallaschek, in his recent volume on
_Primitive Music_, has shown how every nation under heaven, even
the most savage and barbarous of peoples, have had a share in the work
of civilization. Music has been called "the language of the gods," "the
universal speech of mankind," and, early in the golden age of childhood,
the heaven of infancy, is man made captive by "music's golden tongue."
As Wallaschek has said of the race, Tracy says of the individual, "no
healthy, normal child is entirely lacking in musical 'ear.'" The
children of primitive races enjoy music, as well as their fellows in
civilized communities. The lullaby, that _quod semper ubique et ab
omnibus_ of vocal art, early engages and entrances the infantile ear,
and from the musical demonstrations of his elders, the child is not
always or everywhere excluded. Indeed, the infant is often ushered into
the world amid the din and clamour of music and song which serve to
drown the mother's cries of pain, or to express the joy of the family or
the community at the successful arrival of the little stranger.
Education in music and the dance begins very early with many peoples. At
the school of midwifery at Abu-Zabel in Egypt, according to Clot-Bey, in
cases of difficult childbirth, a child is made to hop and dance about
between the legs of the mother in order to induce the foetus to imitate
it (125. II. 159).
As understudies and assistants to shamans, "medicine-men," and
"doctors," children among many primitive peoples soon become acquainted
with dance and song.
In Ashanti, boy musicians, singers, and dancers figure in the
processions of welcome of the chiefs and kings, and young girls are
engaged in the service of the fetiches (438. 258). At a funeral dance of
the Latuka, an African tribe, "the women remained outside the row of
dancers dancing a slow, stupid step, and screaming a wild and most
inharmonious chant, whilst boys and girls in another row beat time with
their feet." Burchell, while _en route_ for the Kaffir country,
found among certain tribes that "in the evening a whole army of boys
would come to his hut and listen with manifest pleasure to the tones of
his violin, and would repeat the melodies he played with surprising
accuracy" (546. 3, 199). The _meke-meke_, a dance of the Fiji
Islanders, "is performed by boys and girls for whom an old musician
plays"; at Tahiti the children "are early taught the 'ubus,' songs
referring to the legends or achievements of the gods," and "Europeans
have at times found pleasure in the pretty, plaintive songs of the
children as they sit in groups on the sea-shore" (546. 35, 180, 208). In
some of the Polynesian Islands, young girls are "brought up to dance the
timorodea, a most lascivious dance, and to accompany it with obscene
songs" (100. 62). At Tongatabu, according to Labillardiere, a young girl
"sang a song, the simple theme of which she repeated for half-an-hour"
(546. 31). Wallaschek calls attention to the importance of the child in
song in the following words (546. 75):--
"In some places the children, separated from the adults, sing choruses
among themselves, and under certain circumstances they are the chief
support of the practice of singing. On Hawaii, Ellis found boys and
girls singing in chorus, with an accompaniment of seven drums, a song in
honour of a quondam celebrated chief. Even during supper with the
Governor, table-music was performed by a juvenile bard of some twelve or
fourteen summers, who sang a monotonous song to the accompaniment of a
small drum.... In Fiji a man of position deems it beneath him to sing,
and he leaves it to his wife and children, so that women sing with women
only, and children with children."
Speaking of the natives of Australia, with whom he came into contact,
Beckler says "the octaves of the women and children at the performance
he attended were perfectly in tune, as one rarely hears in a modern
opera chorus, they were in exact accord." In the Kuri dance, witnessed
by Angas, a number of boys take part (546. 37, 223).
In New Guinea "the Tongala-up, a stick with a string whirled in the air,
is played by women and children." Among the Tagals of the Philippines,
Volliner found (with perhaps a little Spanish influence) "a chorus was
performed in a truly charming manner by twelve young girls formed in a
circle, one girl standing in the middle to direct." In the Andaman
Islands, where the men only, as a rule, sing, "the boys were far the
best performers" (546.24, 27, 75).
Among the Apache Indians of Arizona and Mexico, "old matrons and small
children dance until no longer able to stand, and stop for very
exhaustion" (546. 46).
_The Child as Poet_.
Victor Hugo, in one of his rhapsodies, exclaims: "The most sublime psalm
that can be heard on this earth is the lisping of a human soul from the
lips of childhood," and the rhythm within whose circle of influence the
infant early finds himself, often leads him precociously into the realm
of song. Emerson has said, "Every word was once a poem," and Andrew
Lang, in his facetious _Ballade of Primitive Man_, credits our
Aryan ancestors with speaking not in prose, but "in a strain that would
scan." In the statement of the philosopher there is a good nugget of
truth, and just a few grains of it in the words of the wit.
The analogy between the place and effect of rhythm, music, and poetry in
the life of the child and in the life of the savage has been frequently
noted. In his recent study of _Rhythm_ (405 a), Dr. Bolton has
touched up some aspects of the subject. With children "the habit of
rhyming is almost instinctive" and universal. Almost every one can
remember some little sing-song or nonsense-verse of his own invention,
some rhyming pun, or rhythmic adaptation. The enormous range of
variation in the wording of counting-out rhymes, game-songs, and
play-verses, is evidence enough of the fertility of invention of
child-poets and child-poetesses. Of the familiar counting-out formula
_Eeny, meeny, miny, mo_, the variants are simply legion.
The well-known lines of Pope:--
"As yet a child, nor yet a fool to fame,
I lisp'd in numbers, for the numbers came,"
receive abundant illustration from the lives of the great geniuses of
Among primitive peoples, if anywhere, _poeta nascitur, non fit_. In
her article on _Indian Songs_, Miss Alice C. Fletcher says:
"Children make songs for themselves, which are occasionally handed down
to other generations. These juvenile efforts sometimes haunt the memory
in maturer years. An exemplary old man once sang to me a composition of
his childhood, wherein he had exalted the pleasures of disobedience; but
he took particular care that his children should not hear this
performance. Young men sing in guessing-games, as they gambol with their
companions, tossing from hand to hand a minute ball of buffalo hair or a
small pebble, moving their arms to the rhythm of the music." This, and
the following statement made of the Omaha Indians, will hold for not a
few other savage and barbarous tribes: "Children compose ditties for
their games, and young men add music to give zest to their sports"
Dr. F. Boas says of the Eskimo of Baffin Land (402. 572): "Children tell
one another fables and sing short songs, especially comic and satirical
ones." The heroes of the Basque legend of Aquelarre are thus described
by Miss Monteiro (505. 22):--
"Izar and Lanoa were two orphan children; the first was seven years of
age, and the latter nine. These poor children, true wandering bards,
frequented the mountains, earning a livelihood by singing ballads and
national airs in sweet, infantile voices, in return for a bed of straw
and a cupful of meal. Throughout the district these children were known
and loved on account of their sad state, as well as for their graceful
forms and winning ways."
Mr. Chatelain, in his recent work on African folk-tales, says of the
natives of Angola: "No Angola child finds difficulty at any time in
producing extemporaneous song."
Dr. Gatschet, in his study of the Klamath Indians, gives examples of
many songs composed and sung by young people, especially girls; and many
other Indian tribes, Algonkian, Iroquois, etc., possess such as well.
When Darwin reached Tahiti, his arrival was "sung by a young girl in
four improvised strophes, which her fellow-maidens accompanied in a
pretty chorus"; and among the song-loving people of the islands of the
South Sea, the poetic talent develops quite early in both sexes. Among
the aborigines of Peake River, in Australia, when a youth--at
puberty--has undergone the ceremony of tattooing, and, his wounds having
healed, is about to return to his fellows, "a young girl selected for
the purpose, sings in her own way a song which she has composed, and,
amid dancing, merriment, and feasting, the youth is welcomed back to his
family and his kin" (326. 11. 241). Throughout the Orient woman is a
dancer and a singer. India has her bayaderes and nautch-girls, whose
dancing and singing talents are world-known.
The Gypsies, too, that wander-folk of the world, are famed for their
love-songs and fortune-telling rhymes, which the youth and girlhood
among them so often know how to make and use. Crawford, who has
translated the Kalevala, the great epic of the Finns, tells us, "The
natural speech of this people is poetry. The young men and maidens, the
old men and matrons, in their interchange of ideas unwittingly fall into
verse" (423. I. xxvi.). Among the young herdsmen and shepherdesses of
the pastoral peoples of Europe and Asia, the same precocity of song
prevails. With songs of youth and maiden, the hills and valleys of
Greece and Italy resound as of old. In his essay on the _Popular Songs
of Tuscany_, Mr. J. A. Symonds observes (540. 600, 602): "Signor
Tigri records by name a little girl called Cherubina, who made
_Rispetti_ by the dozen, as she watched her sheep upon the hills."
When Signor Tigri asked her to dictate to him some of her songs, she
replied: "Oh Signore! ne dico tanti quando li canto! ... ma ora ...
bisognerebbe averli tutti in visione; se no, proprio non vengono,--Oh
Sir! I say so many, when I sing ... but now ... one must have them all
before one's mind ... if not, they do not come properly."
World-applicable as the boy grows out of childhood--with some little
change of season with the varying clime--are the words of Tennyson:--
"In the spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of
and everywhere, if poetry and song be not indeed the very offspring of
love, they are at least twin-born with it.
Lombroso, in his discussion of the man of genius, gives many examples of
precocious poetical and musical talent: Dante (who at nine years of age
wrote sonnets), Tasso (wrote at ten years of age), Wieland (who wrote an
epic at 16), Lope de Vega (who wrote verses at 12), Calderoii (at 13),
Metastasio (who composed at 10), Handel (who wrote a mass at 13, and was
director of opera at 19), Eichhorn, Mozart, and Eibler (all three of
whom gave concerts at 6), Beethoven (who wrote sonatas at 13), Weber
(who wrote his first opera at 14), Cherubini (who wrote a mass at 15),
Among English poets whose precocity was marked, we find the most
noteworthy to be Robert Browning, whose first poetic effusion is
ascribed to his fourth year. It is now known, however, that poetry is
much more common among children than was at first supposed, and early
compositions are not to be expected from geniuses alone, but often from
the scions of the ruder commonalty.
In her interesting study of individual psychology, Dr. Caroline Miles
informs us that out of ninety-seven answers to the question, "Did you
express yourself in any art-form before eighteen years of age?" fourteen
stated that the person replying used verses alone, fourteen used stories
and poetry, three used poetry and drawing or painting, two used poetry
and painting. Dr. Miles notes that "those who replied 'no' seemed to
take pride in the fact that they had been guilty of no such youthful
folly." This is in line with the belief parents sometimes express that
the son or daughter who poetizes early is "loony." Some who were not
ashamed of these child-expressions volunteered information concerning
them, and we learn: "Most interesting was one who wrote a tragedy at
ten, which was acted on a little stage for the benefit of her friends;
from ten to thirteen, an epic; at thirteen, sentimental and religious
poems" (310. 552, 553).
Dr. H. H. Donaldson, in his essay on the _Education of the Nervous
System_, cites the fact that of the musicians whose biographies were
examined by Sully, 95% gave promise before twenty years of age, and 100%
produced some work before reaching thirty; of the poets, 75% showed
promise before twenty, and 92% produced before they were thirty years of
age (216. 118). Precocity and genius seem to go together.
THE CHILD AS TEACHER AND WISEACRE.
The child is father of the man,--_Wordsworth_.
And wiser than the gray recluse
This child of thine.--_Whittier_.
And still to Childhood's sweet appeal
The heart of genius turns,
And more than all the sages teach
From lisping voices learns.--_Whittier_.
_Wisdom of Childhood_.
In his beautiful verses--forming part of one of the best child-poems in
"And still to childhood's sweet appeal
The heart of genius turns,
And more than all the sages teach
From lisping voices learns,"--
Whittier has expressed that instinctive faith in the wisdom of childhood
that seems perennial and pan-ethnic. Browning, in _Pippa's Song_,
has sounded even a deeper note:--
"Overhead the tree-tops meet,
Flowers and grass spring 'neath one's feet;
There was nought above me, nought below,
My childhood had not learned to know:
For, what are the voices of birds
--Aye, and of beasts,--but words, our words,
Only so much more sweet?
The knowledge of that with my life begun.
But I had so near made out the sun,
And counted your stars, the seven and one,
Like the fingers of my hand:
Nay, I could all but understand
Wherefore through heaven the white moon ranges;
And just when out of her soft fifty changes
No unfamiliar face might overlook me--
Suddenly God took me."
The power and wisdom of the child are quaintly and naively brought out
in the legends and folk-lore of the various races of men, not alone of
the present day, but of all eras of the world's history. As an
illustration of the truth contained in the words of a great child-lover,
"A little child shall lead them," and their echo in those of the Quaker
"God hath his small interpreters;
The child must teach the man,"
nothing could be more artless and natural than the following legend of
the Penobscot Indians of Maine, recorded by Mr. Leland, which tells of
the origin of the "crowing of babies" (488. 121):--
When Glooskap, the culture-hero of these Indians, had conquered all his
enemies, giants, sorcerers, magicians, evil spirits and ghosts, witches,
devils, goblins, cannibals, _et id genus omne_, pride rose within
him, and he said to a certain woman, that now his work was done, for he
had conquered all. But she told him that he was mistaken; there yet
remained "one whom no one has ever yet conquered or got the better of in
any way, and who will remain unconquered to the end of time." This was
_Wasis_, "the baby," who was sitting contentedly on the floor of
the wigwam chewing a piece of maple-sugar. The great Glooskap, so the
story runs, "had never married or had a child; he knew nought of the way
of managing children"--yet he thought he knew all about it. So he smiled
graciously at baby, and, "in a voice like that of a summer bird," bade
him come to him. But baby sat still and went on sucking his sugar. Then
Glooskap got angry, and in a terrible voice, ordered baby to crawl to
him at once. But baby merely cried out and yelled, stirring not. Then
Glooskap tried his last resort, magic, "using his most awful spells, and
singing the songs which raise the dead and scare the devils." Still baby
only smiled, and never budged an inch. At last the great Glooskap could
do no more; he gave up the attempt in despair, whereupon "baby, sitting
on the floor in the sunshine, went _'goo! goo!'_ and crowed
lustily." And to this day, the Indians, when they hear "a babe
well-contented going _'goo! goo!'_ and crowing, and no one can tell
why," know that it is because he "remembers the time when he overcame
the great Master, who had conquered all things. For of all beings that
have been since the beginning, baby is alone the invincible one."
Manabozho, the culture-hero of the Chippeways and other Algonkian tribes
of the Great Lakes, and probably identical with his eastern analogue,
Gluskap, was, like the latter, discomfited by a child. This is the
"One day Manabozho appeared upon the earth in an ill-humour. Walking
along, he espied a little child sitting in the sun, curled up with his
toe in his mouth. Somewhat surprised at this, and being of a dauntless
and boastful nature, he set himself down beside the child; and, picking
up his own toe, he essayed to place it in his mouth after the manner of
the child. He could not do it. In spite of all twisting and turning, his
toe could not be brought to reach his mouth. As he was getting up in
great discomfiture to get away, he heard a laugh behind him, and did no
more boasting that day, for he had been outwitted by a little child."
This characteristic attitude of the child has also been noted by the
folk-historians of India; for when, after the death of Brahma, the
waters have covered all the worlds, "Vishnu [the 'Preserver,' in the
Hindoo Trinity] sits, in the shape of a tiny infant, on a leaf of the
pipala (fig-tree), and floats on the sea of milk, sucking the toe of his
right foot" (440. 366), and, as Mrs. Emerson points out, "the feat that
Manabozho sought in vain to perform is accomplished by the more flexible
and lithe Hindoo god, Narayana" (440. 367).
In another Micmac legend, given by Leland, Gluskap appears somewhat more
to advantage. Of the Turtle [Mikchich], the "Uncle" of Gluskap, for whom
the latter had obtained a wife, we read (488. 57):--
"And Turtle lived happily with his wife, and she had a babe. Now it
happened in after-days that Glooskap came to see his uncle, and the
child cried. 'Dost thou know what he says?' exclaimed the Master.
'Truly, not I,' answered Mikchich, 'unless it be the language of the
Mu-se-gisk (spirits of the air), which no man knoweth.' 'Wel,' replied
Glooskap, 'he is talking of eggs, for he says, '_Hoowah! hoowah!_'
which, methinks, is much the same as '_waw-wun, waw-wun_.' And this
in Passamaquoddy means 'egg.' 'But where are there any?' asked Mikchich.
Then Glooskap bade him seek in the sand, and he found many, and admired
and marvelled over them greatly; and in memory of this, and to glorify
the jest of Glooskap, the turtle layeth eggs even to this day."
In Mr. Leland's collection, as in the later volume of Dr. Band, there
are many other delicate touches of childhood that show that these
aborigines have a large measure of that love for children which is
present with all races of mankind.
In the legends of the saints and heroes of the Christian Church we meet
with numberless instances of the wisdom and instruction that came to
them from the mouths of little children.
Among the stories in the life of St. Augustine is the following: "While
St. Augustine was composing his book _On the Trinity_, and was at
Civita Vecchia, he saw a little child making a hole in the seashore, and
asked him what he was doing. The child replied: 'I am making a hole to
contain the water of the sea.' The doctor smiled, telling the child it
would not be possible to do so; but the child made answer: 'Not so,
Augustine. It would be far easier to drain off the waters of the great
deep than for the finite to grasp the Infinite'; and so he vanished.
Augustine then knew that the child was an angel of God, sent to warn
him, and he diligently set to work to revise what he had written" (191.
The best of mankind can still sit at the feet of childhood and learn of
its wisdom. But of many a one must it be said:--
"He hath grown so foolish-wise
He cannot see with childhood's eyes;
He hath forgot that purity
And lowliness which are the key
Of Nature's mysteries."
THE CHILD AS JUDGE.
So, Holy Writ in Babes hath judgment shown,
Where Judges have been babes.--_Shakespeare_.
O wise young judge I--_Shakespeare_.
_The Child as Judge_
Shakespeare in _All's Well that Ends Well_, makes Helen say to the
"He that of greatest works is finisher,
Oft does them by the weakest minister:
So, Holy Writ in babes hath judgment shown,
When judges have been babes."
And in the history of the human race, appeal has often been made to the
innocence and imputed discernment of the child.
As one of the glories of God, David sang in Israel of old: "Out of the
mouths of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength, because of
thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger." And
the disciple Matthew reiterates the thought: "Thou hast hid these things
from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes"; and,
again: "Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hast thou perfected
The stories told of Solomon--the judgments of the wise Hebrew monarch,
when a child, were as remarkable as those which he made after attaining
man's estate--have their counterparts in other lands. One of the most
celebrated decisions was rendered by Solomon when he was but thirteen
years of age. Well gives the story as follows (547.192):--
"The accuser had sold some property to the other, who, in clearing out a
cellar, had found a treasure. He now demanded that the accused should
give up the treasure, since he had bought the property without it; while
the other maintained that the accuser possessed no right to the
treasure, since he had known nothing of it, and had sold the property
with all that it contained. After long meditation, David adjudged that
the treasure should be divided between them. But Solomon inquired of the
accuser whether he had a son, and, when he replied that he had a son, he
inquired of the other if he had a daughter; and he also answering in the
affirmative, Solomon said: 'If you will adjust your strife so as not to
do injustice one to the other, unite your children in marriage, and give
them this treasure as their dowry.'" In many other difficult cases,
David, after the loss of the tube which, according to legend, the angel
Gabriel brought him, was aided in judgment by the wisdom and
far-sightedness of his young son. A decision similar to that of Solomon
is attributed to Buddha, when a child, and to Christ.
Mullenhoff records two cases of child-judgments in his collection of the
folk-lore of Schleswig-Holstein. The first is as follows: "A branch of
the river Widau, near Tondern, is named Eenzau, from the little village
Eenz in the parish of Burkall. Where the banks are pretty high and
steep, a man fell into the water once upon a time, and would have been
drowned had not a certain person, hearing his cries, hastened to the
river, and, holding out a pole, enabled the drowning man to help himself
out. In doing so, however, he put out an eye. The rescued man appeared
at the next thing (court), entered a complaint against the other, and
demanded compensation for his lost eye. The judges, not knowing what to
make of the case, put it off till the next thing, in order to meditate
upon it in the meantime. But the third thing came, and the
district-judge had not made up his mind about it. Out of humour, he
mounted his horse and rode slowly and thoughtfully in the direction of
Tondern, where the thing was then held. He reached Rohrkarrberg, and,
opposite the house which is still standing there, lay a stone heap, upon
which sat three herd-boys, apparently busy with something of importance.
'What are you doing there, children?' asked the judge. 'We are playing
thing' (court), was the answer. 'What is the matter before the court?'
continued the judge. 'We are trying the case of the man who fell into
the Eenzau,' they answered, and the judge held his horse to await the
verdict. The boys did not know him, for he was well hidden in his cloak,
and his presence did not disturb them. The judgment rendered was, that
the man who had been rescued should be thrown into the stream again at
the same spot; if he was able to save himself, then he should receive
compensation for the eye he had lost; if he could not, the decision was
to be in favour of the other. Before the district-judge went away, he
put his hand into his pocket and gave the boys some money; then, merrily
riding to Tondern, he rendered the same judgment as the boys had given.
The fellow was unable to save himself without assistance, and was like
to have been drowned; consequently, his rescuer won the case" (508. 87,
88). The other case, said to have occurred at Rapstede, was this:--
"A tailor and a peasant, both possessing nothing more than a wretched
hut, made a bargain for so and so many bushels of corn at such and such
a price, although the tailor knew that the peasant had no money, and the
peasant knew that the tailor had a needle, but no corn. Soon the price
of corn rose, and the peasant appeared before the court to demand that
the tailor should fulfil his part of the bargain. The judges were at a
loss to decide such a matter. In this case, also, boys rendered
judgment. The decision was, that the agreement was invalid, for both,
being neighbours, had known each other's circumstances, and yet both
were culpable for having entered into such a deceitful bargain" (508.
These decisions belong to the same category as that rendered by Solomon
in the case of the two women, who both claimed the same child,--a
judgment which has gone upon record in the Bible (1 Kings, iii.
16-28),--and a multitude of similar interpretations of justice found all
over the world (191. 290).
Mr. Newell, speaking of children's games in which judicial procedures
are imitated, but from whose decisions no serious results ever come,
observes (313. 123):--
"In the ancient world, however, where the courts were a place of resort,
and law was not a specialized profession, the case was different.
Maximus of Tyre tells us that the children had their laws and tribunals;
condemnation extended to the forfeiture of toys. Cato the younger,
according to Plutarch, had his detestation of tyranny first awakened by
the punishment inflicted on a playmate by such a tribunal. One of the
younger boys had been sentenced to imprisonment; the doom was duly
carried into effect; but Cato, moved by his cries, rescued him."
_Children's Ideas of Right_.
Mr. Brown, of the formal School at Worcester, Massachusetts, has given
us an excellent collection of _Thoughts and Reasonings of Children_
(194), and Signora Paola Lombroso, in her interesting and valuable
_Essays on Child-Psychology_, has also contributed to the same
subject (301. 45-72). A very recent study is that of _Children's
Rights_, by Margaret E. Schallenberger (341), of Leland Stanford, Jr.
University, California. The last author has charted the opinions of a
large number--some three thousand papers were collected--of boys and
girls from six to sixteen years of age, upon the following case, the
story being employed as specially appealing to children (341. 89):--
"Jennie had a beautiful new box of paints; and, in the afternoon, while
her mother was gone, she painted all the chairs in the parlour, so as to
make them look nice for her mother. When her mother came home, Jennie
ran to meet her, and said, 'Oh mamma! come and see how pretty I have
made the new parlour'; but her mamma took her paints away and sent her
to bed. If you had been her mother, what would you have done or said to
From this extensive and most ingenious investigation, the following
results are thought to have been obtained: "Young children are less
merciful than older ones. When they appear cruel and resentful, we know
that they are exercising what they honestly consider the right of
revenge. Boys are less merciful than girls. Young children judge of
actions by their results, older ones look at the motives which prompt
them. If a young child disobeys a command and no bad result follows, he
doesn't see that he has done wrong. Punishments which, have in them the
idea of restitution are common to all ages. Girls consider the why more
than boys; they explain to Jennie oftener than boys do. Threats and
forced promises do not impress children" (341. 96).
_Jurisprudence of Child's Play_.
Pitre, the great Italian folklorist, has made a special study, though a
very brief one, of the judgments rendered by children in games and
plays,--the jurisprudence of child's play (323). His essay, which is
devoted to the island of Sicily, touches upon a field which is likely to
yield a rich harvest all over the world. The rules of the game; who
shall play and who shall not; what is "out," "taw," "in"; when is one
"it," "caught," "out"; what can one "bar," and what "choose,"--all these
are matters which require the decisions of the youthful judiciary, and
call for the frequent exercise of judgment, and the sense of justice and
equity. Of the "Boy Code of Honour" some notice is taken by Gregor (246.
21-24). Mr. Newell thus describes the game of "Judge and Jury," as
played at Cambridge, Massachusetts (312.123): "A child is chosen to be
judge, two others for jurors (or, to speak with our little informant,
_juries_), who sit at his right and left hand. Each child must ask
the permission of the judge before taking any step. A platter is brought
in, and a child, rising, asks the judge, 'May I go into the middle of
the room?' 'May I turn the platter?' 'On which side shall it fall?' If
the platter falls on the wrong side, forfeit must be paid." In Germany
and Switzerland there is a game of the trial of a thief. In the former
country: "There is a king, a judge, an executioner, an accuser, and a
thief. The parts are assigned by drawing lots, but the accuser does not
know the name of the thief, and, if he makes an error, has to undergo
the penalty in his stead. The judge finally addresses the king,
inquiring if his majesty approves of his decision; and the king replies,
'Yes, your sentence entitles you to my favour'; or, 'No, your sentence
entitles you to so many blows.' Thus we see how modern child's play
respects the dignity of the king as the fountain of law." In the Swiss
version, as Mr. Newell remarks, "the memory of the severity of ancient
criminal law is preserved," for "the thief flies, and is chased over
stock and stone until caught, when he is made to kneel down, his cap
pushed over his brows, and his head immediately struck off with the edge
of a board" (313.124).
The most interesting section, perhaps, of Mr. Johnson's _Rudimentary
Society among Boys_, is that devoted to "Judicial Procedure" (272.
35-48). Fighting, arbitration, the ordeal and the wager have all been in
use as modes of settling quarrels at the McDonogh School--such matters
of dispute as arose having been left for the boys to settle among
themselves without the control of the faculty. Indeed, the advice which
Polonius gives to Laertes seems to have been ever present in the earlier
Of entrance to a quarrel; but being in,
Bear't that th' opposed may beware of thee."
Following the appeal to fists came the appeal to chance and luck--the
"odd or even" marbles, the "longest straw," and like devices came into
vogue. The arbitration of a bystander, particularly of "a big boy who
could whip the others," and the "expedient of laying a wager to secure
the postponement of a quarrel," are very common. But the most remarkable
institution at McDonogh is undoubtedly the boy-moot, one of whose
decisions is reported in detail by Mr. Johnson,--an institution in
action "almost daily," and part and parcel of the life of the school.
None but the author's own words can justly portray it (272. 47, 48):--
"The crowd of boys assembled about the contestants, whose verdict
decides the controversy, is, in many respects, the counterpart of a
primitive assembly of the people in the folk-moot. Every boy has the
right to express an opinion, and every boy present exercises his
privilege, though personal prowess and great experience in matters of
law have their full influence on the minds of the judges. The primitive
idea that dispensing justice is a public trust, which the community
itself must fulfil towards its members, is embodied in this usage of the
'McDonogh boys.' The judges are not arbitrators chosen by the
disputants, nor are they public functionaries whose sole business is to
preside over the courts; but the whole body of the population declares
by word of mouth the right and wrong of the matter. This tumultuous body
of school-fellows, giving decisions in quarrels, and determining
questions of custom, reproduces with remarkable fidelity the essential
character of the primitive assembly."
Mr. Johnson was struck with "the peace and good order generally
prevalent in the community," which speaks well for the judicial system
there in vogue.
The editor, in his introductory remarks, observes:--
"Every schoolboy and every college student in his upward way to real
manhood represents the evolution of a primitive savage into a civilized
being. Every school and college reproduces the developmental process of
a human society in some of its most interesting aspects, such as
government and law. There are all stages of social development in the
student class, from actual savagery, which frequently crops out in the
very best schools and colleges, to effeminate forms of modern
civilization. There are all degrees of institutional government, from
total anarchy and patriarchal despotism to Roman imperialism and
constitutional government; although it must be admitted that
self-government among the student class--said to obtain in some American
schools and colleges--is not yet a chartered right. The regulation of
student society by itself, or by all the powers that be, presents all
phases of judicature, from the most savage ordeals to the most humane.
Student customs are full of ancient survivals, and some editions of
'College Laws' are almost as archaic as the Code of Manu. One of these
days we shall perhaps find men investigating college jurisprudence,
college government, and college politics from the comparative point of
view, and writing the natural history of the student class" (272. 3).
In the community of the sand-pile studied by Dr. Hall, "a general habit
of settling disputes, often brought to issue with fists, by means of
meetings and specifications, arose." There is room for a volume on the
jurisprudence of childhood and youth, and every page would be of
intensest interest and of value in the history of the evolution of the
ideas of justice in the human race.
THE CHILD AS ORACLE-KEEPER AND ORACLE-
Enfants et fous sont devins [Children and fools are soothsayers].
Children pick up words as chickens peas,
And utter them again as God shall please.--_English Proverb_.
The fresh face of a child is richer in significance than the
forecasting of the most indubitable seer.--_Novalis_.
"Children and fools speak the truth," says an old and wide-spread
proverb, and another version includes him who is drunken, making a
trinity of truth-tellers. In like manner have the frenzy of wine and the
madness of the gods been associated in every age with oracle and sign,
and into this oracular trinity enters also the child. Said De Quincey:
"God speaks to children also, in dreams and by the oracles that lurk in
darkness," and the poet Stoddard has clothed in exquisite language a
"Nearer the gate of Paradise than we,
Our children breathe its air, its angels see;
And when they pray, God hears their simple prayer,
Yea, even sheathes his sword in judgment bare."
The passage in Joel ii. 28, "Your old men shall dream dreams, your young
men shall see visions," might stand for not a few primitive peoples,
with whom, once in childhood (or youth) and once again in old age, man
communes with the spirits and the gods, and interprets the events of
life to his fellows. The Darien Indians, we are told, "used the seeds of
the _Datura sanguinea_ to bring on in children prophetic delirium
in which they revealed hidden treasures" (545. II. 417).
One of the most curious of the many strange practices which the
conservatism of the Established Church of England has continued down to
the present is one in vogue at the parish church of St. Ives, in
Huntingdonshire. A certain Dr. Eobert Wilde, who died in 1678,
"bequeathed L50, the yearly interest of which was to be expended in the
purchase of six Bibles, not exceeding the price of 7_s_. 6_d_
each, which should be 'cast for by dice' on the communion table every
year by six boys and six girls of the town." The vicar was also to be
paid 10_s_. a year for preaching an appropriate sermon on the Holy
Scriptures. Public opinion has within recent years caused the erection
of a table on the chancel steps, where the dice-throwing now takes
place, instead of on the communion table as of old. Every May 26th the
ceremony is performed, and in 1888 we are told: "The highest throw this
year (three times with three dice) was 37, by a little girl. The vicar
(the Rev. E. Tottenham) preached a sermon from the words, 'From a child
thou hast known the Holy Scriptures'" (390 (1888). 113).
_The Child as Vision-Seer_.
In the history of the Catholic Church one cannot fail to be struck by
the part played by children in the seeing of visions, especially of the
Virgin. To St. Agnes of Monte Pulciano (A.D. 1274-1317), when fourteen
years of age, the Virgin appeared and told her she should build a
monastery before she died (191. 24); Jeanne de Maille (1332-1414) was
but eleven when the Virgin Mary with the infant Jesus came before her in
a vision; Catherine of Racconigi (1486-1547) was visited by the Virgin
when only five years of age (191. 108); in 1075, Hermann of Cologne,
while still a boy, saw in a vision the Virgin, who kissed him, and made
a secret deposit of food on a certain stone for his benefit. In 1858 a
vision of the Immaculate Conception appeared to Bernadetta Soubirous, a
sickly child of fourteen, at Lourdes, in the Hautes Pyrenees. No one
else saw this vision, said to have occurred on Shrove Tuesday (Feb. 11),
four years after Pius IX. had proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate
Conception. The vision lasted for fourteen successive days (191. 484).
On Jan. 17, 1871, the Virgin is alleged to have appeared at Pontmain to
several children, and a detailed account of the vision has been given by
Mgr. Guerin, chamberlain of Pius IX., in his _Vie des Saints_, and
this is digested in Brewer. The children who saw the apparition are
described as follows: "Eugene Barbedette was the second son of a small
farmer living in the village of Pontmain, in the diocese of Laval. He
was twelve years old, and his brother Joseph was ten. The other two
[Francoise Richer, Jeanne Marie Lebosse] were children from neighbouring
cottages, called in to witness the sight. The parents of the children,
the pastor of the village, Sister Vitaline, the abbot Guerin, all
present, could see nothing, nor could any of the neighbours of outlying
villages, who flocked to the place. Only the children mentioned, a sick
child, and a babe in the arms of its grandmother, saw the apparition."
The description of the Virgin, as seen by Eugene Barbedette that
starlight winter night, is quaint and naive in the extreme: "She was
very tall, robed in blue, and her robe studded with stars. Her shoes
were also blue, but had red rosettes. Her face was covered with a black
veil, which floated to her shoulders. A crown of gold was on her head,
but a red line was observed to run round the crown, symbolic of the
blood shed by Christ for the sins of the world. Beneath her feet was a
scroll, on which were written these words: 'Mais priez, mes enfants,
Dieu vous exaucera, en peu de temps mon fils se laisse toucher' (Pray,
my children, God will hear you, before long my son will be moved)." Mgr.
Guerin thus comments upon the miracle: "In order to make herself
manifest to men, the Holy Virgin has chosen rather the simple eyes of
childhood; for, like troubled waters, sinful souls would have but ill
reflected her celestial image" (191. 26).
_Flower- and Animal-Oracles_.
Mr. Newell has a chapter on "Flower-Oracles" (313. 105-114), in which he
gives many illustrations of the practice noted in the lines of that
nature-loving mediaeval German singer, with which he prefaces his
"A spire of grass hath made me gay;
It saith I shall find mercy mild.
I measured in the self-same way
I have seen practised by a child."
"Come look and listen if she really does:
She does, does not, she does, does not, she does.
Each time I try, the end so augureth.
That comforts me,--'tis right that we have faith."
The ox-eye daisy, the common daisy, the marguerite, the corn-flower,
the dandelion, the rose, the pansy, the clover, and a score of other
flowers and plants (to say nothing of bushes and trees) have their
leaves and petals pulled off, their seeds counted, their fruit examined,
their seed-tufts blown away, their markings and other peculiarities
deciphered and interpreted to determine the fortune of little
questioners, the character of the home they are to live in, the clothes
they are to be married in, what they are to ride in, the profession they
are to adopt, whether they are to marry, remain single, become monk or
nun, whether they are to be drowned or hanged, rich or poor, honest or
criminal, whether they are to go to hell, purgatory, or paradise.
The use of drawing straws or blades of grass from the hand to determine
who is "it," or who shall begin the game, the blowing of the dandelion
in seed, the counting of apple-pips, or the leaves on a twig, and a
hundred other expedients belong to the same category. All these are
oracles, whose priest and interpreter is the child; first, in "those
sweet, childish days that were as long as twenty days are now," and then
again when love rules the heart and the appeal to the arbitrament of
nature--for not alone all mankind but all nature loves a lover--is made
in deepest faith and confidence. In the golden age of childhood and in
the springtime of love all nature is akin to man. The dandelion is
especially favoured as an oracle of children, and of those who are but
"children of a larger growth." To quote from Folkard (448. 309):--
"The dandelion is called the rustic oracle; its flowers always open
about 5 A.M. and shut at 8 P.M., serving the shepherd for a clock.
On the swart turf their ray-encircled gold,
With Sol's expanding beam the flowers unclose,
And rising Hesper lights them to repose.'--_Darwin_.
As the flower is the shepherd's clock, so are the feathery seedtufts his
barometer, predicting calm or storm. These downy seedballs, which
children blow off to find out the hour of day, serve for other oracular
purposes. Are you separated from the object of your love? Carefully
pluck one of the feathery heads; charge each of the little feathers
composing it with a tender thought; turn towards the spot where the
loved one dwells; blow, and the seed-ball will convey your message
faithfully. Do you wish to know if that dear one is thinking of you?
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