That the seed inherits equally from the ovule and the pollen grain is a truth that should be impressed in many ways. It is very wonderful that anything so small as a pollen grain, often as small as the tiniest speck of dust, should be able to transmit to the young seed the peculiarities of the plant from which it came. That it does this, the child himself can prove in a most interesting way. He can plant some white petunia seeds in one side of his garden, and some red ones in the other. The seeds should come from a reliable florist's in order to be sure of results. When the petunias ripen their seeds, those from the white flowers should be gathered and carefully labelled, and then those of the red flowers, care being taken not to mix the two colors. The next summer, plant the seeds as before. When the flowers blossom, those in the white bed will no longer be white,—some may be, but others will be red, and still others red and white. The same will be true of the flowers in the red bed. What has happened? The bees going from flower to flower have carried the pollen from one bed to the other, and some of it, rubbing off on the stigmas as the bees searched for honey, fertilized the flowers. Thus some of the ovules of the white flowers received an impression of red from the pollen of the red flowers, and grew into red flowering plants. In others where the impression of red was less strong, the result was the production of red-and-white spotted flowers.
By fertilizing white flowers with pollen from red ones we can almost always get seeds that will develop into plants bearing flowers that are not white. What is true of color is true of other characteristics of the plant, such, for instance, as size and shape of leaves, habit of growth, size, shape, and quality of fruit, etc. Thus by careful cross-fertilization, we are able to produce not only beautiful and new blossoms, but also many delicious new fruits. Most of our cultivated fruits have been produced in this way. For instance, if two species of wild strawberries were found, one, large and beautiful but sour or tasteless, the other, small but delicious, the two could be bred together until finally a perfect berry, large and well-flavored, would result.
When the children are interested in their gardens they can try to make a new flower, using for the first experiments one that comes up from the seed, blossoms, and matures its seeds the same year, and also readily changes its color as a result of cross-fertilization. Such are the petunia and the sweet-pea. The prettiest new flower produced can be marked and its seeds saved for future use, and the flower can have a name of its own. Florists often name their choice new flowers from some beautiful woman, and it would be a pretty tribute on the part of the child to name his favorite new petunia or sweet-pea after his mother. Of course this work will necessarily be very crude and the results uncertain, since the successful production of new plants is a science in itself; but enough can be done to interest the young experimenter thoroughly and enable him to learn many valuable lessons. In these early, childish experiments, an interest in gardening may be awakened, which will last through life, the man, the woman, finding rest, relaxation, exercise, and pleasure in going from the trying daily work to the garden a while every day. Even a plot of ground a few feet square can afford great opportunity for experiment and beauty.
Cross-fertilization among the plants does not, of course, depend upon man as an agent. Since cross-fertilization is so valuable, it is not surprising to find many devices in the plant world for securing it. Honey and color, which attract winged messengers, are among the most universal helps to cross-fertilization. In many cases, the structure of the flower is such that it cannot fertilize itself. In the geranium, the stamen and the pistil in the same flower mature at different times. In some species, as among the lilies, the style is so long that the pollen could not fall upon it without artificial aid. Some flowers are so constructed that they can be fertilized by certain kinds of insects and by no others; among these are the orchids and our clovers and milk-weeds. Again, some flowers have an ovary but no stamens, while a neighbor has stamens but no ovary, making self-fertilization absolutely impossible.
Indeed there is nothing more fascinating in the study of botany than the methods by which the flowers secure cross-fertilization, nearly all of our common garden-flowers affording illustrations. Here too, is a field where the young botanist can do really valuable work, for while much is known and has been written on the subject, much remains unknown. There are many books that give valuable and delightful information about cross-fertilization.
The method of fertilization of the flowers satisfactorily accounts for the great amount of pollen produced. Being blown by the wind or carried by insects, much of it is wasted, consequently there must be ample allowance made for this waste. So the flowers produce thousands of pollen grains which they can never use themselves.
WHAT CAN BE LEARNED FROM THE LIFE OF THE FISH
Whatever is universal is good.
Whatever is universal is true.
Whatever is universal is beautiful.
Nothing disperses, so to speak, the fogs enveloping the thought of sex like the realization of its universality. The air clears when we know that every living thing is bound by the same laws, even the flowers in our gardens.
We have an interesting testimony as to the helpfulness of this thought from one of the great educators of youth, Froebel. Speaking of his own childhood when he became conscious of what his father, who was a minister, was constantly meeting in his parish work, he says:
"Matrimonial and family relations were often the subject of his admonitory and corrective conversation and remonstrances. The way in which my father spoke of this, made me consider the subject as one of the most pressing and difficult for man, and in my youth and innocence, I felt deep grief and pain that man alone among created things should pay the penalty of such a sexual difference that made it hard for him to do right.... Just then my oldest brother, who lived away from home, came back for a time, and when I told him my delight in the purple threads of the hazel buds, he made me notice a similar sexual difference among flowers.
"Now my mind was satisfied. I learned that what had troubled me was a widespread arrangement throughout nature to which even the quiet, beautiful growths of flowers were subject. Henceforth human and natural life, soul and flower existence, were inseparable in my eyes, and my hazel blossoms I see still, like angels that opened to me the great temple of nature.... Henceforth it seemed as if I had the clue of Ariadne, which would lead me through all the wrong and devious ways of life; and a life of more than thirty years with nature, often, it is true, falling back and clouded for great intervals, has taught me to know this, especially the plant and tree world, as a mirror—I might say, an emblem—of man's life in its highest spiritual relations; so that I look upon it as one of the greatest and deepest conceptions of human life and spirit when in holy Scripture the comparison of good and evil is drawn from a tree. Nature, as a whole,—even the realms of crystals and stones,—teaches us to discriminate good from evil; but, for me, not so powerfully, quietly, clearly, and openly as the plant and flower kingdom."
The stronger this feeling of the universality of sex, the more dispersive, as it were, is the thought of the subject. It would be difficult to connect personal and impure thoughts or feelings with a star whose distance in space was realized; and so with all other thoughts, the more they can be elevated into wide, general regions, the less disturbing they will be likely to become.
All the facts of sex-life can be learned in the flower, and the associations thus indelibly impressed cannot fail to leave at least a trace of fragrance and loveliness on even an obtuse nature. No matter what the later experiences or mistakes may be, the whole conception of this side of life cannot sink so low as might be the case if there were not this flower-sweet background. And that is worth something.
It is not difficult to pass at once from the flower life to human life, and there are cases where this may be advisable. When, however, the beginning-work has been done with young children, and when we consider all the stress laid upon nature-work these days in school and out, and all the books written and all the stories told of living creatures of all kinds, it is helpful and easy to linger in the delightful and impersonal realm of the lower life yet longer, with this distinct advantage, that the feeling of universality, which is very different from the thought of it, will be strengthened.
For several reasons, the step from plant life to animal life can well be taken by means of the fish, particularly with little children. There is nothing prettier than living fishes in water. The fascination they have for all conditions and ages is shown by the crowds always seen at exhibitions of live fish in aquaria.
The child can have his little aquarium at home, which may consist of a glass globe plentifully supplied with some pretty water weed and a goldfish or two. Fishes do not like the bright light all around them, and should be provided with some sort of refuge, like the water weed, or if the tank is large enough, with stones piled up to make a cave. For the same reason, the globe should not be set in the window or on the middle of a small table, but should be placed where at least one side of it may be shadowed by something. Pebbles should be put in the bottom of the tank and not too many fishes crowded together. They need room to move freely, and also plenty of fresh water for breathing. At the bird-stores small aquaria can usually be bought and fitted out with the proper amount of water plants to balance the breathing of the fishes. For the impurity breathed out by the fish is the same as that breathed out by all creatures, the carbon dioxide which it discharges into the water being just what the water plant needs to grow on. Also the water plant returns pure oxygen to the water, which is just what the fish needs to breathe. This story of the interdependence of the two, and the possibility of so balancing the plant and animal life in the tank that it is never necessary to change the water, can be made very interesting, and, needless to say, very illuminating. The fish cannot live out of the water, and yet it breathes air. There is always air in the water unless it has been artificially removed as by boiling, and this little bit of air is enough for the fish, which is cold-blooded and does not need so much fuel to keep its vital forces burning. But this little it must have, and it will suffer for the want of it, just as we suffer in a very close, unventilated room; and if the supply should become too small, the fish will die, just as we should die in a room where no fresh air could enter. So the fish must have the water changed unless there is enough plant life in its tank to keep the air pure. When suffering for air, the fish shows signs of distress, which should never be ignored. If it keeps close to the surface of the water with its mouth up and frequently swallows the outside air, that is a sign it needs fresh water. If it does not have it after a while it will die, as it cannot live on air undiluted by water.
Fishes need very little feeding, particularly if there are water plants in the tank; they find food from them. The best way is to follow the directions of the man who sells you the fishes. If too much food is given them it quickly fouls the aquarium, and then the water must be changed and everything cleaned up. In changing the water, care should be taken to have that which is put in about the same temperature as that taken out. A sudden application of too cold water is not good for the fishes. The children should take care of their pets themselves and see that they do not suffer.
The motions of the fish are what make it so attractive. How does it swim? Not with its fins to any extent. The whole back part of the body, including the tail, is moved from side to side as the fish swims. It moves its tail as a paddle is used at the stern of a boat, and so the fish paddles himself along. The fins are used more as balancers. They keep the fish upright in the water. As soon as it stops using them, it turns over on one side.
The fish opens and shuts its mouth constantly; it appears to be swallowing water. And so it is, so far as its mouth is concerned, but the water it takes in does not go down into the stomach. It is not really swallowed, but passes out at the gills, which are also constantly opening and shutting. The gills are red inside and are covered with a fine network of blood vessels. The air in the water moves against these delicate blood vessels, which are able to take what they need—the oxygen—from it. Thus the fish uses gills instead of lungs for breathing.
Sometimes, fishes pick up pebbles in their mouths and drop them again. Some fishes, but not goldfishes, make noises.
The adaptation of the fish to its surroundings is interesting. Not only is its form the very best for moving quickly through the water, but its covering is peculiarly appropriate, many fishes having a hard, protecting coat of shining scales. These scales, besides being beautiful and useful, are interesting in another way, for we know that they are only modified hairs, growing from the skin as hairs grow but having their form and size developed in special ways to serve their purpose. Scales and feathers are only another form of hairs.
Many interesting stories of fishes can be told or read to the children, and among other things they can learn about the swim-bladder, the large, strong air-sac, which can be compressed or distended at pleasure, making the fish lighter or heavier and enabling it to rise to the surface of the water or sink to the bottom. In Nova Scotia, where many codfishes are caught, the swim-bladders are called sounds, and are cooked as a delicacy.
In the spring of the year we eat the roe of fish, which is nothing more nor less than fish eggs. Wherever shad are used, the children will be familiar with the shad roe; and in the South mullet roes are universally used. The people there dry them in the sun, and the children particularly are very fond of them. The Russian caviare is the eggs of a species of fish, and is considered a great delicacy by some people.
Where do these eggs come from? The fish market or the kitchen on fish day will answer the question. The child who is privileged to pass part of the summer at the seashore where fishermen ply their trade will have ample opportunity to know, as will the child who goes fishing in any brook or pond and is allowed (as he always should be) to clean and cook the fish he has caught. Also the smelts, which are cooked whole, only the intestines being removed through a hole near the gills, will answer the question.
The eggs of the fish are contained in a sort of double pouch or sac, shaped something like an old-fashioned silk purse. These sacs open into the intestine near its exit. They are the ovaries of the fish. From the inside of each ovary the tiny eggs, or ova, grow, just as the ovules grow in the plant ovary or seed-pod. At first they are a part of the ovary; later they grow larger and fall loose, until the ovary is filled with them. The ovary is always inside the fish. It is there when the fish is born, and even then there are the tiniest hints of ova in it. But the ova do not grow large until the fish is mature; they wait until the fish has developed its strength, its bone, and muscle. Then in the springtime they grow rapidly. They grow until they are ripe, when they lie free in the ovary; and others grow and are freed in the same way until the ovary, which has also enlarged to accommodate them, is quite full. The female fish is larger than the male, and looks plump and rounded at this season. In course of time the eggs thus developed will be shed—or born—whether they are fertilized or not. But, if they are not fertilized, no further growth will take place in them, and they will soon perish.
The child, knowing about the fertilization of flowers, can easily be led to see that the fish ova, like the flower ovules, cannot develop without pollen. The anthers containing the pollen are found in the male fish, and look like the ovaries, only they are not so large and their contents are not so firm. They seem filled with a formless substance instead of with little globular eggs. Under the microscope this formless substance is seen to be made of a semi-fluid material in which are held millions of pollen grains! Only we no longer call them pollen grains. We may call them fertilizing cells if we please, though there are several names for them. But they are essentially the same as pollen. They grow, in the same way, from the inside of the anther (which may now be called the testicle) and become free when ripe. The pollen grains cannot move of themselves; the fertilizing cells can. Each fertilizing cell is like an ovum, excepting that it is not so spherical and is lengthened into a sort of lash by which it can propel itself through the water. When the ova are laid by one fish, the other swims over them and the fertilizing fluid is expelled into the water just as the eggs were. There is no union whatever between the parents for the purpose of fertilization. As soon as a fertilizing cell comes in contact with an ovum it seeks to enter into its substance, and as soon as this has happened, the two cells thus united begin to develop into a very tiny fish. As soon as the change begins, we have the embryo of the fish, which thus corresponds to the embryo of the seed.
There is one great difference between the ovary of the plant and that of the fish. When the plant ovary is ripe, its seeds are shed, and then the ovary itself falls off. The plant ovary thus bears only one set of seeds. In the fish, the ovary always remains in the fish, and after the eggs are shed, it shrinks up to a very small size, and remains so until it again develops and becomes distended with more eggs the following season. The same is true of the fish's testicles. When the time comes, the fertilizing material is expelled. After this the sac shrinks up to small size until the following season.
When the embryo has grown to its perfect form, the egg-shell is broken and out swims the young fish. When it leaves the shell we say it hatches, just as we say the plant embryo sprouts when it leaves the egg-shell or seed-shell. Like the pollen of the flower, the fertilizing cells of the fish cannot act upon any ova but those of its own species.
The young fish, like the young plant, inherits characteristics from both parents. From its father it may acquire a certain shape, certain markings, a certain disposition. Since the father's part in the creation of his offspring is less obvious and apparently less intimate than that of the mother, the child can be helped to put a certain value on the thought of fatherhood which later will strengthen the bond of union between himself and his own father, deepening his love for his father and his confidence in him. That the boy love his father is as necessary to his welfare as that he love his mother, and the mother should, in all the early years in which the sex instruction may fall most heavily on her, impress upon the young heart the beauty and glory of paternity. The sacrifice of the father who gives all his strength and time, scarce allowing himself a moment of relaxation or absence from business that he may provide for the needs of the family, is as great as the sacrifice of the mother who devotes her time and strength to caring for the home and the children. The tendency in teaching young people is to lay all the stress on motherhood and mother love, which is a manifest injustice to the human father, who deserves not only the natural love of his children, but the deeper, more consecrated love which comes from a pure and perfect knowledge of fatherhood.
Perhaps nothing will help a young man at the most critical age of his life so much as his love and faith in his father. And perhaps nothing will tend to lift the whole subject of paternity in the popular mind to the plane where it belongs, as will this love and knowledge, when it is bred in the child from his early years. Many difficulties in handling this subject that become insuperable might never even exist if the knowledge of fatherhood, if love and respect for it and for the father as the giver of life, were bred into the boy at an early age. Moreover a certain shyness, which often makes it more difficult for fathers to talk to their sons on these matters than for the mothers to do so, would not have existed if they themselves as children and youth had been educated to a complete knowledge of the sex-life by one or both parents. The cause of this shyness is in many cases ignorance of how to present the facts, and a misconception of the difficulties of speaking to a pure-minded child about them. Nothing surprises the parent more than the way difficulties vanish when once the course of instruction to the youth has been entered upon.
In the lower life the father seldom cares for his offspring; and this is true among the fishes, where neither parent as a rule assumes any other responsibility than properly disposing of and fertilizing the eggs. Where, however, any care is taken, it not infrequently devolves upon the father instead of the mother. This is true of the fresh-water black bass and of the stickleback, where the father protects the eggs until they are hatched, and protects and cares for the young fish. In the case of the stickleback, the father even makes a nest to contain the eggs.
Thus far, the process of the renewal of life is, so to speak, impersonal. The eggs are laid by one fish and fertilized by the other, this being necessary to the development of the young. The parents are endowed with an instinct which informs them when the time is at hand; and the male fish guided by this instinct applies the fertilizing material where it is needed,—that is, over the surface of the fresh-laid eggs. The number of eggs laid by fishes should be noticed, as it is a fact which will be useful later. Several millions of eggs have been counted in the ovaries of one fish. The number of fertilizing cells in one testicle would be incalculable. Fish eggs and young fishes are liable to many fatalities; they are destroyed in immense numbers. Consequently, if the race is to survive, there must be an almost inexhaustible supply.
Fishes kept in confinement will not as a rule multiply. Nothing is so sensitive as the reproductive system. Lacking certain stimuli which it finds in its natural surroundings, it will not become active. The goldfish in the globe will, if a female, have the ovary containing undeveloped ova, the male will have the testicles containing the fertilizing cells, but these will not mature. It is as though the whole system of the fish missed the freedom of space, the changes of season, the variety of substances at the bottom of the water,—all that goes to make "home" for it, and so languished in body as well as spirits.
The child who, in connection with a multitude of other interesting facts concerning fish life, learns those concerning its multiplication, will look upon them as perfectly natural and matter-of-fact.
But, some one objects, will not the child at this point guess the whole truth? Suppose he does? Is not that just what we want him to do? Is it not a sign that he has a good reasoning mind? He may arrive at the right general conclusion, but he has a conception that is very general, vague, not at all personal, and entirely lacking in any material for malodorous thoughts and feelings. By constantly turning his thoughts to the wonders and truths of heredity and to the marvel of the development of living things from such insignificant yet momentous beginnings, and by telling him interesting facts of animals and plants along these lines, his thought can be kept general and on a high plane. Where details are demanded, the parent ought to be thankful that these are presented to him for elucidation instead of to some incapable outsider, and he can meet the demand according to circumstances,—all of which will be discussed more fully presently.
If the parent keeps ever in mind the fact that the child must know some time, and ought to gain a high conception of the subject before being exposed to degrading influences, if he asks himself in all honesty, "Unless I answer this, who will? and how?" he will be helped to do what in his own heart he knows to be his duty.
Moreover, there is a great gain to many a child in learning the main facts at an age where they do not appeal powerfully to his imagination nor move his senses. Later, when any reference to the subject may have this effect, and when there is enough to understand and meet without going back to the rudiments, it will be much less difficult to give the needed aid with this background, which causes the child to feel that he has "always known." To have always known a thing robs it of any great special interest. We pay no attention to the sun that shines upon us, but if this were a phenomenon of very rare occurrence we should be thrilled by it and aroused to curiosity and special observation and interest.
The child's knowledge of the sexuality of nature should be as much a matter of fact as any other knowledge, and the mystery of it should be presented to him as a sublime and beautiful mystery, creating an impression he cannot wholly escape from when he finds himself caught in the vortex of his own adulthood.
To the parents who desire to lead the child's mind through a long sequence of thought from the lower to the higher life, the amphibian affords an easy step in this ascending scale. And among amphibians that familiar and picturesque harbinger of spring, the frog, and his cousin the friendly toad, are the best adapted.
Children are always interested in frogs because they jump so well. This suggests a starting-point for making their closer acquaintance. Why do they jump so well? It is because of their long hind legs. A little watching of either frog or toad will show exactly how the legs are used and wherein they differ from, and also resemble, the child's own legs. The little hands of the frog and toad, their way of sitting, leaning on their short arms, their eagerness to snap up a tempting fly, the queer tongue fastened the other way round from ours, and its lightning-like speed which is a result of this same position in the mouth,—a hundred interesting things can be learned about the toads and frogs.
Toads are very easily tamed, and make most amusing as well as useful pets if there is a garden to be protected from marauding insects. They generally have a hole or corner to which they come home regularly at night, and with a little patience can be so tamed that they will take food, of living insect or even of scraps of meat, from the child's hand. Their power to gormandize seems unlimited, and the number of insects they can swallow without protest is almost incredible. They will keep a small garden quite free from slugs and other pests. They have no bad habits, do not bark at night, or chase cats, or bite, or steal, or insist upon coming into the house, or scratch up the flower-beds. Some accuse them of causing warts, but this is not true. When handled, they sometimes give forth an acrid liquid from the skin, which stings the mouths of tormenting dogs and smears meddling fingers. But this, though unpleasant, does no harm. Many people have handled toads freely and never had a wart; many others who have never touched a toad have had many warts.
The toad may be ugly to look at, but that is not his fault. To many, he is more comical than ugly, and no creature has more beautiful eyes than this same homely toad. He is one of the most useful of animals, and should never be killed or ill treated.
The frog is less familiar to us than the toad, living as he does in the water or in wet places. Boys often take delight in killing him, having theories of the terrible influence he exercises in the affairs of man. He is as harmless as the toad and of value in keeping down insect pests, since these are also his food.
In the spring of the year, the frogs and toads will be heard chirping, the frog in particular sometimes filling the night with his din. The earliest of these voices comes from the smaller green frogs, or "peepers," as they are often called because of the peeping noise they make. The deep bass croak comes from the large bull-frog, so named from his size and not from his sex, for there are female bull-frogs. When the frogs begin to peep, the children will enjoy making an excursion in quest of frogs' eggs. These will be found in any pond where the voice of the frog is heard, and can be taken with a long-handled dipper or by wading,—the latter practice to be cautiously indulged in northern latitudes at this time of year, as the water may yet be very cold.
The eggs are gray, spherical, about as large as sweet-pea seeds, and have a black spot on one side. They are found embedded many together in a colorless jelly-like substance. The egg-mass should be handled carefully and put whole into a jar or pail of water and thus carried home. It should not stand with the sun shining directly on it, and when the water is changed, every other day, that which is used should be of about the same temperature as that removed. Water drawn cold from the pipes will sometimes kill the eggs.
If all goes well, in a few days the eggs will hatch. Out of them will hatch, not frogs, but tadpoles, or pollywogs, as they are also called. Everyone likes to watch a tadpole—certainly every child does. As soon as the eggs hatch, the surrounding jelly substance may be thrown away, merely as a matter of convenience. Its use is to protect the eggs and to afford the first food for the tadpole. If left too long in the water, it becomes broken up, discolored and unpleasant. The tadpoles should have fresh water every day or two, care again being exercised not to use it too cold, and they must be fed. They will eat almost anything, crumbs of crackers or bread, and bits of raw meat or fish being very acceptable. If they are well fed on meat or fish, they will grow faster and change earlier into frogs. Indeed, by underfeeding tadpoles a person can keep them a whole year from undergoing the changes they would have normally undergone in a few weeks. The large bull-frog tadpoles naturally take two years to develop, though a very nutritious diet may possibly hasten them.
The tadpole has very small eyes, a very small mouth, and tiny gill openings like a fish. Indeed, so far as its life at this stage is concerned, to all intents and purposes it is a fish. It cannot live out of the water, it breathes by gills, it swims by its tail, but it has no fins. It wiggles about the jar or tank in a very lively way, and ought to have water weeds or stones to hide under, and pebbles or gravel in the bottom of the receptacle.
The ordinary tadpole, if well fed, astonishes and delights his young keepers in a few days by putting forth a pair of tiny hind legs, which generally trail behind him when he swims, though he often kicks with them, perhaps for exercise. He grows larger and his legs longer, and one day a row of fingers may be seen peeping out of his gill slit, as though out of an armhole, and then he will thrust out a forearm, then another from the other gill slit. After this, changes are rapid, and his keepers should put a stone or some firm object in the water, reaching above the surface, so that he can climb up into the air; for now his lungs are rapidly forming, and soon he can no longer breathe by gills. At this stage, his tail begins to disappear. It does not fall off, as some think, but its substance is absorbed into his body until no tail is left. Finally, his head changes its shape, his baby mouth is replaced by a wide frog mouth, his eyes stand out with projecting lids, his ear-plates showing back of them, and we have a full-grown frog.
To the child who understands the origin of the fish eggs a few questions which he can easily answer himself will be enough to call attention to the important differences, and also to deepen the impression of the unity of life as expressed in flower, fish, and frog. The ova of the frog develop in an ovary exactly as do the ova of a fish; they develop in the same way and at the maturity of the animal. The fertilizing cells develop like those of the fish. In both cases, the reproductive elements are laid, shed, or born, when the time comes. Before the eggs of the frogs and toads are laid they have no albuminous covering. The moisture that envelops them swells up into the jelly-like mass upon coming in contact with water.
There are important differences between the frog and the fish. The frog is a more complex animal and, so to speak, more difficult to create, and it lays fewer eggs. Since there are fewer eggs they must be more carefully fertilized; that is, the fertilizing material must be sure to come in contact with all of them. Consequently at the moment when the eggs are finding their way into the water they are fertilized; not within the female body, but just as they are leaving it.
The child accustomed to notice what he sees will observe the paired frogs in the pond. He can be told that they take this position just before the eggs are laid so that every egg will surely be fertilized. In the amphibious animals the relation of the two parents is closer than in the fishes, but yet there is no union between them, that appearing only when it is necessary. The stern law of necessity governing every step of the reproductive function may be made very impressive to the young mind; also the reign of law throughout life.
To explain frankly, simply, and scientifically such phenomena as that of the paired frogs will tend to rob them of dangerous interest. Not to speak of them will not prevent the child's seeing them, and his imagination may foster much less wholesome thoughts.
There are frogs and toads that care for their young, but parental affection in this form of life is rare. The eggs are laid in a favorable spot, and then left. Toads as well as frogs lay their eggs in the water. The instinct of the toad leads it to seek the water at the egg-laying season, as its tadpole, like that of the frog, can live only in the water. At other seasons of the year the toad does not enter the water.
Frogs' eggs are laid in compact masses, while toads' eggs are laid in strings or ropes; and in this way they can be recognized, though after they have once hatched the tadpoles of both are so much alike that they cannot be told apart. Sometimes the children will be disappointed because the tadpole does not change into a frog nor yet into a toad. It gets its four legs but does not lose its tail; it never loses its tail. In short, it is not a frog or a toad, but a salamander or water-lizard, which lays eggs similar to those of the frog, and whose young upon first hatching look very much like young tadpoles.
If eggs are found in a pond where frogs are not heard or seen, they will almost always turn out to be the eggs of a salamander.
From the flower to the bird is a step easily taken if the parent prefers to omit the intermediate steps, or, after the story of the bird has been told, the stories of fish and frog can follow as occasion offers, instead of preceding it. The bird is peculiarly valuable in teaching the origin of life to the child, since in it we have such highly developed home and family instincts, the father bearing his share of the burden, illustrations of which are rare in the lower forms of life. As everywhere else, the best starting-point is with the life and interests of the bird itself, and for this caged birds are far better than the free ones, even though they may be only the sparrows and pigeons of the city streets.
The flight of birds is that which particularly interests children as well as every one else. Birds will soon learn to come to a place where they are fed regularly; and the style of flight, depending upon the size and shape of the wing as well as the shape of the bird's body, is a very interesting study. Many a country child knows the common birds by their flight even when the bird is too far away and moving too fast to be distinctly seen. What he generally does not think of is why the bird has this peculiar flight, and to have his attention called to it may increase his interest in watching the living bird.
Whatever increases the boy's interest in the live bird tends to decrease his desire to make it a dead bird; and the numerous good bird-books, as well as the substitution in so many cases of the camera for the gun, has tended to preserve the lives of the birds and to create a sentiment in favor of their preservation. If the young child is taught to watch the birds and care for them, he will not often, when older, thirst to take their lives.
While the flight of the bird may engage the first interest of the child, its manner of eating and drinking is worth attention, and the nature of its food is of the greatest importance. The shape of the bird's beak will decide, at least in a general way, the kind of food it eats; and a little study of birds will convince any one that all birds are useful to the agriculturist, either as destroyers of noxious insects or of weed seeds. While some birds swallow the seeds whole and pass them again unharmed, thus spreading the plant, others crack the seed coat and eat the contents, which of course destroys the seed. Even where the birds are the means of sowing seeds they do more good than harm; for the seeds thus sown are not often harmful, and those same birds destroy a vast number of noxious insects. Even owls and hawks, by destroying mice in the farmer's fields, do him a service that much more than compensates for the loss of an occasional chicken.
While the birds are of inestimable value to the farmer and to any one who has a garden, their influence on our lives in another direction is also very great, as difficult to estimate perhaps, as that of flowers. Who can doubt that these little brothers of the air are one of the most civilizing and elevating factors in man's daily life? Their song, their flight, their thousand and one charming or entertaining habits, their strong expression of personality, their poetical and mysterious comings and goings, appeal powerfully to the higher imagination.
The migration of birds is alone enough to fill the mind with enchanting dreams. To know that every night in late summer and in autumn there is a stream of birds moving high in the air along the line of the sea-coast and of the great valleys is enough to awaken fancy. This winged procession moving along its aerial highway is made of the small and timid birds that dare not fly by day for fear of hawks and other enemies; they may be as high as three miles above the surface of the earth, their height being estimated by watching them through the telescope as they cross the surface of the moon. Imagine looking through the telescope at the face of the full moon some night and seeing an endless procession of little birds speeding across its shining face!
The amazing power of birds to see and hear, and, most interesting of all, their nest-building habits are calculated to arouse the wonder and admiration of every observer. What child would not watch with intense interest the bringing of the straws or other materials, and the deft weaving of them into the home which is presently to receive the precious eggs? Even the city sparrow may here be a boon to the mother. Sufficiently encouraged, it will accommodatingly build almost anywhere.
The child who knows the story of fish life and frog life will need little telling here, and that is one argument in favor of taking all the gradual steps from flower to bird. By this time the main ideas are firmly lodged, the child will readily draw his own conclusions as to the rest; but there are one or two facts connected with the origin of the bird which are of great value in fixing the idea of necessity which is at the foundation of all reproductive phenomena. Everything is as it is because it is necessary that it should be so. In the frog the higher development made necessary greater economy in the production of the egg and the fertilizing cell, and this economy of material necessitated the more certain fertilization of the egg.
In the bird a great step upwards has been taken. Here we have something much more complex in every way. The frog was cold-blooded, comparatively sluggish, and comparatively simple in structure. The bird is warm-blooded, intensely active, and very much more complex both in bodily structure and in mind development. Here the reproductive activity is yet more economically conducted, and instead of thirty or more eggs, the bird produces often not more than six in a season, and even a smaller number if it is single-brooded, some eagles, for instance, rearing only two young in a season. Naturally these few eggs must be very carefully protected. Since they are not laid in the yielding medium of water, they cannot have so soft a covering as the eggs of the fish or frog, but are enclosed in a hard shell. This shell must of course be formed before the egg is laid, and the egg must be fertilized before the hard shell encloses it and thus makes forever impossible the entrance of the fertilizing cell.
The ovaries of the bird are in the small of the back close to the backbone, and there is a tube called the oviduct or egg-duct, leading from the ovary down to the lower end of the intestine, which it enters. There is no separate opening for the oviduct into the outer world.
There are two ovaries, with their oviducts, in the young bird, but these are so small that it is very difficult indeed to find them. As the bird approaches maturity, one ovary and its oviduct enlarge, and the ova, which develop from the inside of the ovary just as the ovule develops inside the flower ovary, also become large. Although the bird is born with two ovaries, but one, usually, develops, generally the one on the left side.
When the bird comes to maturity, there is born in it a yearning for home and offspring. As the eggs develop, the bird turns to the nest and to the mate who is to share with her all this beautiful life. When the mate has been chosen, both prepare the nest to receive the eggs, which will soon be ready. It is during this period that the fertilizing fluid is placed in the lower end of the egg-duct, whence the fertilizing cells, by their power of motion, quickly make their way to the egg, which has just begun its journey down the oviduct and is as yet without a shell. The shell-less egg is well known to most country children, as hens often lay one; and this will always happen where there is not lime enough in the food of the poultry.
After the egg is fertilized it continues its slow journey down the oviduct, which enlarges to accommodate it. At first the egg consists of the yolk alone. This grows to its full size before it leaves the ovary. The yolk in short is the egg. But there is not enough food material in it for the development of the bird, so as it passes down the egg-duct it becomes coated by the so-called "white" of the egg, which is a substance secreted from the lining of the egg-duct and is not alive, as is a certain part of the yolk. It is merely stored-up food like that in the morning-glory seed, for this egg is the seed of the bird. At the lower end of the egg-duct there is secreted a limy liquid which covers the shell-less egg and hardens, making the shell. So finally the fertilized egg has its shell and is ready to be laid. When this time comes, the bird seeks her nest, and the egg is laid or born, and lies warm and living, like a jewel in the nest.
It is hardly necessary to add that the fertilizing cells in the male bird have an origin similar to that of the ova. The testicles and their ducts are too small to be easily seen in the young bird and in the winter-time, but can be seen during reproductive activity. The male bird can usually be told from the female by differences in color and plumage, but where this is not the case the two sexes cannot be told apart without actually killing and dissecting the birds, so very simple are the generative organs.
The ripening of the reproductive elements in the bird occurs in the spring of the year, and is always with a few exceptions accompanied by the instinct of nest-making. The birds instinctively and joyfully prepare the home for their young at this time, both parents joining to make the pretty structure. With the child the higher emotions which always accompany reproductive activity in the bird life should be kept ever prominent,—the affection between the parents, their care and love for each other, the care and love for the helpless young, their happiness in this duty as shown in their song and bright colors. Unlike the fish and the frog, the bird cannot develop unless the egg is kept warm, and after it hatches the young bird cannot take care of itself for several weeks. It must be carefully nurtured, and finally even taught how to fly and find its food.
The maternal hen can be a treasure to the mother seeking to impress the lesson of love and care; the only defect is the indifference of the father, which is in marked contrast to the interest shown by other birds, though there are many proofs that the cock is not without parental love, as where young chicks have been abandoned he has been known to rear them.
The love of both the birds for their helpless young, and their devotion to each other, can be impressed on the young mind in many a picture of beauty. Many birds pair for life, returning to the same nest year after year. Nor should the instruction fail to impress upon the young mind the advance of love and tenderness on the parent for the offspring as we ascend the scale of life. The flowers, the fishes, the frogs, entrust their offspring to the care of Mother Nature; the birds cannot do this. The mother and the father of the helpless little creatures take deep joy in sacrificing their own freedom and strength and time to this loving duty. A bird will even lose its life for its young, trying to drive off an enemy; and every one knows how dangerous it is to approach the nest of any large bird, eagles and even cranes sometimes killing men and boys who try to rob them of their young.
The plumage of birds is a pretty subject of study. The wonderful way in which feathers are adapted to their use, in keeping the bird warm without greatly increasing its weight or impeding its flight, may be made very interesting; also their beauty both of structure and color, and the fact that at maturity the plumage often undergoes remarkable changes. Young birds are colored like the mother. The brilliant male of the Baltimore oriole gets his bright dress at maturity, but until that time he is as soberly clad as his quiet little mother.
The inheritance of the young bird from its father should be enlarged upon. At the beginning, though the male birds resemble the mother in appearance, at maturity they wake up to the characteristics of their father. Then the brilliant colors begin to play over their feathers—his colors. Then the song trembles from their throats—his song; and the beautiful creatures might sing as their wonderful wings flash through the air, "All this loveliness I owe to my father: it is from him I received this glorious heritage of beauty and song."
The child can learn the terrible consequences to the birds of their feathers being taken as ornaments by human beings. The children can be told that the plumage is most beautiful at the mating and nesting season, and that thousands of birds, both male and female, are slain then, that the eggs and young birds consequently die, and that some species have been almost if not quite exterminated in this cruel way. The Audubon societies are organized for the purpose of instructing young people about the birds and getting their cooperation in opposing this needless slaughter. Some of these organizations are extremely interesting in their field and lecture work on birds; every neighborhood could have its Audubon society, to the great pleasure and profit of the members as well as to the profit of the birds.
Where the mother desires to pass directly from the flower to the bird, this can be well done by comparing the two, so far as their generative processes are concerned, at every step. She can remind the little one of how the flower seed is treasured in the ovary until it is able to go out into the big world, and can then tell him that the wonderful seed of the bird, which we call the egg, is treasured in the same way; this to be followed by the story of the care needed by the bird's egg after it is born,—how it cannot be left to shift for itself, but must be watched over and kept warm by its loving little parents until it is fit to leave the shell, how it then breaks its prison and comes forth so weak and helpless to be yet further loved and cared for and taught by its faithful parents.
The question is often asked, should not the story of motherhood precede that of fatherhood in all this early teaching? Up to a certain point it may be well, and the story of the life and development of the egg can be told to young children, with the father-bird merely an aesthetic factor, so to speak. His care of the young, and protection of the mother-bird can be dilated upon without going any farther. This is a course, however, which it will not be wise to follow too long, particularly with boys, whose interest will be greater when they know that the father too has a vital interest in the life of his offspring. Moreover, there is a certain spiritual value in connecting the equal need and responsibility of both parents in the creation of their offspring. The child then knows that he has the whole truth, and half truths are never quite safe.
If the child knows the story of flower, fish, and frog life, he will draw his own conclusions about the birds, and it will be wiser frankly to tell him this part of the story. If he knows nothing of the earlier work, and the mother begins with the young birds in the nest, according to his age and surroundings he should be told more or less, the mother always remembering that if she defers too long somebody may anticipate her with the kind of information she particularly desires to avoid.
Another question often asked concerning the bird is, "Would the egg be laid if it were not fertilized?" It might be or it might not. In all forms of life the sensitive reproductive system responds with peculiar readiness to its environment. In birds if it does not receive the stimulus that comes from mating, the ova may not develop at all, but remain small and attached to the ovary. Or, a few may be completed and laid, as is often seen in the case of caged female canaries. But these eggs of course could never hatch. They are perfect so far as the ovum is concerned, but lacking fertilization they cannot continue their development.
Another question often asked, and of peculiar meaning, is, "If the reproductive system be not exercised, will it not perish for lack of exercise?" The latest word of science on this subject is that it will not, either in the bird or elsewhere. In a healthy organism it can safely remain inoperative with the certainty of becoming active at a later period if then it receive the normal stimulus.
The lessons to be learned from the birds are many. From them can be answered all questions, for now we have passed that most difficult of all points, the relation of father to child in the animal world, and everything else can be explained through the knowledge already gained. The well-taught child will recognize the justice and necessity for the existing processes of life. He will realize their deep meaning, their far-reaching influence, and their tremendous importance in preserving upon the earth the multitudes of living forms that inhabit it.
The flower and the bird are the two most important helps in imparting the facts concerning the renewal of life throughout nature.
The mother who has conducted the child through the various life forms up to the mammal will not be likely to wish to stop there. Having gone thus far, it will be easy to continue and reveal to the child the wonderful life that yet remains.
The question is often asked, whether country children are not much more likely to learn these truths naturally and without instruction than city children. The answer is that they are more likely to learn the facts, but knowing the facts is by no means understanding the subject; and whether knowledge of the facts is good or bad for the child depends entirely upon the impression it makes upon him. Undoubtedly the country child is in a better position to receive instruction, but whether this instruction tends to refine his feelings and elevate his heart depends altogether upon how it is given. Probably the average country boy has no more spiritual conception of the matter than the average city boy, though he may have a more wholesome and, so to speak, utilitarian thought of it. His interest at least reaches out to results, for the successful multiplication of the stock on the farm may be a matter of vital importance to him.
The extension of knowledge from the bird to the mammal may be made through the medium of the family pets. Fido, puss, the pet rabbits, or squirrels may serve to elucidate the subject. Indeed, at this stage the well-instructed child himself will be ready to give all the essential facts, and will feel free to ask questions concerning the facts he does not understand. If he has traced the continuity of the egg from the flower to the bird it will not be difficult for him to realize that even the higher animal has its origin in the same way. The mother can very reverently explain to him that the cat too has ovaries; that from these develop ova which are few in number and need very special care. They cannot be laid in a nest like the bird's egg. They are very tiny, no larger than the head of a small pin, and they have no hard shell.
It is their destiny to remain in the oviduct and develop. That is, instead of being born like the bird's egg and then being hatched, these eggs first develop and afterwards are born. But if not fertilized they would not continue to develop. The cat has two ovaries, which develop at maturity and ripen the ova, and these pass into the oviducts, which are tubes like the oviducts of the bird. Here the egg remains a certain length of time, and then if it is not fertilized it is passed away; but if it is fertilized a marvellous change takes place in this tiny cell: it remains within the oviduct and is there supplied with nourishment by blood-vessels essentially as the flower seed is supplied with food from the sap. Generally three or five of these ova develop at the same time, some in one oviduct, some in the other. When these tiny eggs have developed into kittens strong enough and perfect enough to make entrance into the world safe, they are born just as the egg is born. Unlike the oviduct of the bird, which opens into the intestine, these ducts unite just before the end, and have separate openings of their own.
As soon as the young are born the mother begins to care for them. For several weeks they depend upon the milk she secretes for their food, and upon her constant care and loving watchfulness for their life. The thought of parental love and care should be much more strongly emphasized at every step than the mere physical facts, though it is necessary that they too be clearly comprehended. The sacrifice of the parent for the child is one of the most universal and unselfish facts of life, and many stories illustrating it can be collected and told. It is not necessary to tell them as obviously pointing a moral, yet they should be told as dramatically and interestingly as possible, that the child may get a strong impression of this great force. Among mammals it is true, (but this need not be dwelt upon with the child,) that many males pay no attention to their offspring; though some, as the cattle, defend the females and young if a herd is attacked by savage animals, by putting them in the centre and themselves forming a circle about them. It is the mother love and care, however, which are here most prominent; but the child who knows the facts concerning paternity should not be allowed to forget the great factor of inheritance, and that the offspring gets its characteristics from the father as well as from the mother.
There is only one more step to be taken in the modus operandi of reproduction, and that is in the higher mammal, where the ovum passes down through a slender oviduct into an enlarged chamber or womb, where it remains a certain length of time, finally if unfertilized, to pass away unnoticed; if fertilized, to develop into a young animal which in time will be born helpless and dependent upon the love and care of the mother. In some of the higher mammals, as the sheep and the goat, there are generally two ova developed in the womb at the same time; that is, twins are born. In the larger ones, as the horse and the cow, but one ovum generally develops, though the development of two is not uncommon.
As a result of these teachings, which are not formal like school work, but given as opportunity offers and in as interesting and outreaching a way as possible, the child learns that all life develops in the same way. That all life, even human, starts as a tiny ovum. That these tiny ova are produced in every female by a special tissue called the ovary, which develops at maturity when the eggs begin to ripen; that if the ova are not fertilized they do not develop; if they are fertilized they develop into an individual like the parent, though having personal peculiarities of its own. The fertilizing cells are produced in every male from a special tissue, which greatly develops at maturity when the fertilizing cells are matured and are capable of uniting with the ovum to produce the new being.
Along with these necessarily material facts the youth is firmly impressed with the high office of this great function, his thoughts concerning it are honest and clear, and he understands in a natural way the necessity for respecting it and guarding it for the good of those who are to follow. The essential facts the child can well learn before his own maturity. They seem to him matter-of-fact, like any other phenomena of life. He does not need to brood over an incomprehensible and veiled mystery, and the whole subject cannot fail to have a broader significance, a deeper, wider meaning, a purer influence than it could have if only the physiological facts relating to his own life came to his knowledge.
But should one wait for all these intermediate steps before telling the facts of human life?
That perhaps depends upon the temperament and circumstances of the parent and the needs of the child. It does not matter much whether the steps are taken consecutively or not, so long as the child gets a clear idea of the main facts and connects them in his mind with similar phenomena in all forms of life. Nor is a great store of knowledge on the part of the parent necessary. Each will tell in his own way such facts as he knows, keeping only in mind that he is to impress the child with the wonder and beauty of reproduction as a means to an end, and as a universal law working essentially alike in every living thing.
There is something deeper than mere knowing, which the parent wishes to kindle, like a sacred fire which can never be extinguished, in the soul of his child. That is, a high reverence for the noble mystery of human life in its inception, and a deep love for his parents and a profound faith in them, such a love and reverence that any impulse to subvert the forces of his own life may be met with successful resistance.
The boy who hears from his mother's lips his first knowledge of his own origin, who learns from her the full meaning of maternity, its sacrifices and suffering and the great love that gladly endures all, suffers all, for the sake of the precious child who is to come to her arms,—for the young life, his life, that she is to guide and cherish,—can never enshrine a debased image of womanhood in his heart of hearts. With some children—and some mothers—this might well be the child's first introduction to the subject. Afterwards he could be shown the flower and its seeds, the fish and its eggs, the egg of the bird, and somewhat later introduced to the pollen of the flower as necessary to the completing of the wonderful transformation.
Nor will it be difficult in these growing years to instil into the boy the best elements of chivalry which shall make him a champion for his mother's sex. He ought to be trained to a certain respect and courtesy toward girls and women as he grows older, by many devices in the home life which will suggest themselves to any mother. A feeling of protection for motherhood can be fostered in the boy through his relations with the lower animals; many a one has had the truth impressed upon him by his mother's admonition not to handle kitty roughly or chase her about too much, as she is carrying under her heart the burden of new life. Keeping and caring for pets may be a great education to the growing boy. It interests him in animal life, gives him occupation at home; and in breeding his pigeons, rabbits, or squirrels his interest in obtaining good specimens may be an open door to instruction of inestimable value far beyond pigeons and rabbits.
Again, the boy's pet may by some mothers be found an easy introduction to the story of the development of the new life, the main stress being laid upon the care of the little mother, who must be treated with special kindness and consideration, and must be well fed. Some mothers encourage the children to save a little of their own milk and cream for pussy at this time, thus conveying the impression that some sacrifice of their own comfort is due to the mother who is bearing this extra burden of life. If the child is curious, the mother can tell him so sacredly the principal physiological facts that he will go from her feeling as little inclination to speak carelessly of what he has heard as he would feel like shouting his prayers aloud in the street.
It will naturally occur to the mother to connect this whole subject closely with the religious thought of the child; and where this is done simply and without theology, but as an expression of the great divine love and foresight that passes like a golden thread through every form of living creature, it may be exceedingly beautiful and exceedingly helpful.
It is now time to answer the question, "What is to be done with the older child who has received little or no preliminary instruction?"
From eleven to fourteen the boy can be told the facts he needs to know with as much preparatory flower and animal studies as can be made interesting to him. Everything will depend upon his temperament and the kind of information he may have already received. He may be interested; the chances are he will not be, or at least will pretend he is not. In such a case he must be made to listen, and some such preliminary as the following will generally attain the required result.
"There are some things that every man must understand rightly. I want to be sure you understand them, so that you may know the true from the false, the right from the wrong, and will not show yourself ignorant before the world."
Generally to be seriously called a man at this age, or invited to enter the domain of the man, will conquer, and he will listen even though he may pretend not to. It often happens that the boy entering the "contrary age" wants above all things to know, and yet is ashamed to listen. It is generally safer to talk to the boy at this time than to rely wholly upon books to be read by him. Give him the books by all means but talk them over with him, supplementing them in any way that seems best. It may be better for the father to talk to the hitherto uninstructed lad at this age, but where this is not possible then the mother should see that the boy has the information he needs, in the most outreaching form she can bestow it, trying to make him realize the universality of the truth, the fact that every living thing is subject to essentially the same sex laws. It is best for him to feel that both parents understand and are interested in this side of his development, and the mother, even though the father gives the instruction, may be able to show her son that she too knows and cares. It will be much less difficult as a rule for the mother to talk to the girl at this age, and of course there will be many children, both boys and girls, with whom no difficulty will be encountered.
With older children, those perhaps from fourteen to eighteen, yet other methods may need to be pursued. Many youths can be approached without difficulty, and what they need to know can be explained directly to them. Whether this is so or not often depends quite as much on the parent as on the child. Where the mother feels that a direct appeal to the youth would be injudicious she can sometimes gain his interest by indirect methods. If there are younger children she can introduce the subject by saying that she is anxious to have the children instructed properly in this subject, and that she relies upon him to assist her in various ways, and particularly by always understanding what she is doing, and adding the weight of his influence as an older brother. She can then consult him as to the best way of going to work, explaining about the botany work and what she hopes to gain by using it, all the time taking for granted that he knows everything. If he is interested, she can explain all to him in this way, opening the door to certain other information she must be sure that he has. Of course she may be able to relegate all this instruction to the child's father, but if for any reason this is not possible, the boy must get his help either directly or indirectly from her; and in any case if it is possible to associate him with her in the task of enlightening and helping his younger brothers it may give a certain definiteness of thought on the subject, and, what is of more importance, a sense of responsibility in regard to it. It will also help him to a realization of the universal nature of the manifestation of this side of life. By occasional appeals to his sympathy and help as time goes on and getting him to read certain books in order to help her to decide whether they would help the others, she may be able to do him an incalculable benefit. Even though he may argue against instruction, that will give an opportunity to put in his way sources of knowledge, and if he does not feel inclined to read the books recommended they can be left in his way where he can read them without being detected, which he will be apt to do. Generally young people are eager for instruction, though where they have been neglected and have formed false ideas and ideals they sometimes become perverse, particularly toward members of their own family. This may often be due to fear in one form or another, and the wise parent will leave no means untried to give the youth somehow the help he needs. Many parents feel it wise to give the youth some good book on the subject suited to his age, a book of his own which he can keep in his room to consult whenever he is puzzled or doubtful about his rule of conduct.
That the facts concerning the normal reproductive life throughout nature can be presented in such a way as to create a worthy image in the mind of the learner there can be no doubt.
The question naturally arises, "Is this enough to insure morality and personal purity in the youth?" Few knowing the tendency of the age would hesitate to say most emphatically that it is not enough.
The end in view being to prepare the young soul for the great battle of life, to put upon it the armor of a knight which shall be borne untarnished, the first instruction concerning the facts of the reproductive life may well be impersonal, poetical, beautiful, filling the mind with sentiment,—not sentimentality,—so that the mental vision of this side of life shall be one worthy of the glorious mind of man. To keep the mind of the child wisely impressed with the beauty, the achievements, of the great reproductive force in nature, which is directly responsible for every living thing on the earth, is to help immeasurably toward branding a high instead of a low ideal on his soul,—an ideal which he cannot lose when he reaches the great climax that transforms him into an adult capable of reproducing his kind, and when whatever most powerfully influences him will become a determining factor in the administration of his whole after life.
Side by side, however, with this illumination of nature's methods should go the most careful training and watchfulness in the care of the child's own person,—not that he need connect the two in the least. Later, of course, he will, and should as time goes on, have the most careful instruction concerning his own body and its functions. There are a few simple observances that every human being should learn from childhood, and learn so thoroughly and so fix as a matter of habit, that he can never break away from them.
At first the parent attends to the child's wants, later the child must care for himself; and while he ought not to be burdened with too much thought of his body, yet there are a few simple rules of hygiene which he should follow as a matter of habit, and there is one subject upon which he should be most carefully instructed,—that is, maintaining the sexual purity of his body. He should be taught from the beginning to think of his body as the sacred temple of his soul, which it is a sin against nature and against God to defile. That the child's body be kept uncontaminated is one of the most priceless gifts his parents can bestow upon him; the value of this was so keenly felt in antiquity that at a certain period of Greek supremacy the laws were most stringent concerning it, a youth sinning against himself being put to death.
There seems to be a growing need of watchfulness over children in this respect; few who have not looked especially into the matter have any idea of the prevalence of harmful habits. Sex abuse has been called "the disease of civilization"; and where it takes firm root, it is exceedingly disastrous to the life of a nation, not only destroying, directly or indirectly, individuals, but so weakening the stock that the whole nation degenerates.
The root of the difficulty perhaps lies in the low ideal of this age on that subject. Where the ideal is low there can be no hope of a high result. That the current theories which control the lives of the many in this direction are false is the conclusion of the best scientific work of the present times. Where these theories, however, have been bred into youth for generations, they may to an extent be true simply as a result of this breeding. Darwin in his "Descent of Man" says: "It is worthy of remark that a belief constantly inculcated during the early years of life, whilst the brain is impressible, appears to acquire almost the nature of an instinct; and the very essence of an instinct is that it is followed independently of reason."
For the parent, then, to inculcate this quasi instinct against sex abuse in any form is to give the child the best armor he could possibly have; and if this could be done for generations, the instinct would not need such careful fostering, as it would be born more or less developed with the child.
Every parent of a purely reared child is putting a stone in the foundation of prosperity for this wonderful new civilization, which will go on evolving, or die of decrepitude, just as its central dynamic force, the sex life of the people, finally decides. Sex immorality is, as every one knows, one of the signs of the approaching death of a nation.
Few young mothers realize the great need of watchfulness against the formation of bad habits in even young children. And many make the mistake of supposing that with children instruction can take the place of watchfulness. During the early years of a child's life careful watching as well as careful teaching, is necessary. Nor does the social grade of the child bring immunity or the reverse. The mother who says to herself, "Oh, my child would not," does not understand the nature of the problem. Anybody's child may innocently fall into this error, and every mother should equip herself with all the information necessary to guard against this most insidious of all foes and to meet it if it appears, realizing that watchfulness is necessary almost from the hour of birth,—even children in the cradle frequently needing attention in this respect. Every young mother should know that among a certain class of people, from whom her nurse will likely be drawn, there are many who have theories most pernicious to the welfare of the child, the nurse herself not infrequently, through ignorance perhaps, being guilty of initiating the babe into a course from which it will be most difficult for him ever to depart. It is not safe to take for granted that any child does not need a certain amount of watchfulness. The most highly organized, most "high strung" sensitive natures are among those most in danger, not only from forming unfortunate habits, but from their results.
Watchfulness during the early years of the child's life, instruction in caring for himself, plenty of outdoor exercise, unstimulating food, sufficient sleep, the cold bath, agreeable occupation, abundant material for wholesome thought and imagination, will in most cases bring the child safely to the first great milestone in his life journey, the period of adolescence.
As the child grows older he should be warned against certain dangers which may beset him from other vicious or ignorant children; and of course the child's temperament, his heredity, the weakness or strength of his desires in the direction of sense pleasures, and the amount of will-power he possesses will guide the parent in the nature and amount of such instruction. Some mothers whose children have strong animal instincts are afraid to instruct them on that account. Such children are in peculiar need of watchfulness and knowledge, and the right kind of instruction does not tend to waken the senses. Of course no child should be sent away to school without an impressive warning against certain habits all too prevalent among boys in boarding schools. Here it may be wise to let him know something of what he will be sure to see or hear, that he may not be taken unawares, puzzled and tempted by things which to him will seem not to have come within the experience of his parents if they said nothing to him about them. The boy warned by his parents of the falsity of the strange doctrines he may hear preached by these unguided youths will not readily be deluded. The pure but ignorant boy going for the first time into the new life of the school, looking up to the older boys with that peculiar veneration the younger boy almost always feels for the older, moved in his senses by what he hears and sees, may speedily forget such home warnings as seem vague and pointless, and he may yield himself to a course most disastrous to his future.
How can it fail to be the duty of every parent to protect the child against the chance of making these fatal mistakes through ignorance? Young people cannot be kept wholly out of reach of temptation, nor would it be best for them if they could be. Far better is it so to strengthen the moral fibre that they can resist.
From time to time there appears in our best publications an appeal from some noted educator for the better instruction of youth at home, and their almost universal plea is that the youth be told by the mother the facts needed to give him a reverence for womanhood.
The most difficult problems of the educator are found in connection with changes which take place in the child at the age of adolescence or puberty. This age has never been so carefully and systematically studied as at the present time, and it is proving an unsuspected key for solving many puzzling problems of racial evolution as well as of individual development. Personally it is a time of tremendous stress,—physical, mental, and moral; the young person who escapes turmoil being the exception, not the rule.
Certain of the physical changes which occur are familiar to all, but the deep meaning of these changes is less generally understood. The parent who has wisely guided the child to this critical period has done much, but it would be a mistake to suppose that all has now been done that can be done.
The habits of self-reliance, self-control, and right thinking formed through the years of childhood will indeed help now. But there awakens for the first time a new force: the child is, in a literal as well as figurative sense, being born anew. At this new birth, which is sometimes very difficult, he enters into a hitherto unknown world of interests and feelings. While the change from child to adult may proceed as a gradual and placid unfolding in some individuals, in the great majority it advances with irregular and disturbing demonstrations. This great change takes place in girls generally at from thirteen to fifteen, and in boys a year or two later, though it is not completed for a period of five or six years. During this time the most profound alterations take place in nearly all parts of the body; the mind undergoes a similar metamorphosis, so that often the child so carefully watched from babyhood seems entirely superseded by a new being.
This is preeminently the age of romance. It is the borderland where is fought the battle of individuality, and it is probable that at this time is decided in a very deep way what is to be the trend of the whole after life. There is at this period such susceptibility to impressions that there may be indelibly stamped mental images that are the exact opposite of those of childhood, the childish memory remaining as a thing apart and by itself,—a curious separation and continuation of two lines of ideas, which every one has perhaps experienced to some extent and on some subject.
It is probable that impressions received now are of more importance in determining conduct than at any other period, or at least in determining it for a long period of years, the period when the individual makes his strongest impression upon the world. Reversion to the faith or the ideals of childhood, which so often occurs in old age, is of slight importance to society as compared to the influence of the individual when at the zenith of his powers. Consequently, it is of the utmost importance that the right thought and the high ideal be firmly implanted at this new birth. Undoubtedly the habits of childhood make impressions in the same direction more easily received, and where self-indulgence and gratification of the senses have been prominent, they will be sure to exert a tremendous power now, and vice versa. Thus a clear understanding of this period is of the utmost importance to whoever undertakes the guidance of youth.
The central point about which everything now revolves is the coming to maturity of the sexual system. It is as absurd as it is harmful to ignore the fact that this is primarily what the change means, and that with the physical power to become a parent there normally appears, either initially or with greatly increased force, the sex appetite. This is normally true of both boys and girls, though the forces that have gone to make our present civilization have, at least in many cases, made the physiological sense cry subordinate in the girl, and occasionally this is also true of the boy.
There is no period in the life of the human being when he so needs help in certain ways as now, and no time when it is so difficult to help him, as every youth now more than ever before affords an individual problem. One of the difficulties attending this period is the tendency to unsymmetrical growth. Oftentimes the body shoots up with amazing rapidity, this quick growth of bone and muscle drawing heavily on the whole system; parents recognize the condition by saying the child has outgrown his strength. He has often outgrown much more than this, for his intellect may not have been able to keep pace, and we not infrequently have the anomaly of an adult body with the mind of a child. No one is more conscious of this incongruity than the subject himself, whose anatomy seems to have run away with him. This rapid growth is generally marked by excessive development of some parts over others, so that the child becomes clumsy and awkward. If the subject is a boy, the sudden change in the size of his vocal chords often causes a distressing "breaking" of the voice which adds materially to the general sense of disharmony.
Those who have not experienced this sudden and unsymmetrical development can have little idea of the trials of the young soul going through it, a suffering so great that suicide is often seriously contemplated as the only solution. And all this turmoil is kept within the heart of the sufferer. To the outsider the boy, the girl, is merely "cranky" or "contrary." If not constantly nagged at and reproved for his awkwardness at home, he is sure to have it ridiculed by his schoolmates, particularly by those of the opposite sex. He cannot help being round-shouldered and loose-jointed, with protruding shoulder-blades and awkward motions; and the pathos of it is, he thinks he must always remain so, an ugly failure and a laughing-stock to the community. The effect this has upon him will depend upon his temperament. Very sensitive and fine natures often instinctively seek to cover the real trouble by exaggerating the defects in every way possible,—making believe they do it all on purpose, and acting the clown and the ruffian, giving way to the irritability natural to the condition with a sort of reckless despair which is sure to be misunderstood and censured by those he loves best. When this stage is reached, it is easy for him to imagine himself a social outcast, a useless encumbrance that nobody loves, a clumsy dolt that nobody likes to have about. Again he may become sullen, morose, resentful, and suspicious toward all about him. Or, a timid nature may become more timid, shrinking, weak of will, and despondent concerning life in general; or the subject may show an exaggerated egotism which seeks by sheer intrusion of self to force everything else aside.