Letter XIV. December 17, 1818

My dear Greaves,

From the reasons stated in my last letter I think it right to assume that maternal love is the most powerful agent, and that affection is the primitive motive in early education. In the first exercise of her authority, the mother will therefore do well to be cautious that every step may be justified by her conscience, and by experience; she will do well to think of her responsibility, and of the important consquences of her measures for the future welfare of her child; she will find that the only correct view of the nature of her own authority is to look upon it as a duty rather than as a prerogative, and never to consider it as absolute.

If the infant remains quiet, if it is not impatient or troublesome, it will do so (for the sake of the mother.) I would wish every mother to pay attention to the difference between a course of action adopted in compliance with (the authority), and between a conduct pursued (for the sake of another.) The first proceeds from reasoning, the second flows from affection. The first may be abandoned, when the immediate cause may have ceased to exist; the latter will be permanent, as it does not depend upon circumstances or accidental considerations, but is founded on a moral and constant principle. In the case now before us, if the infant does not disappoint the hope of the mother, it will be a proof, first, of affection, and secondly, of confidence.

Of affection - for the earliest and the most innocent wish to please is that of the infant to please the mother. If it be questioned whether that wish can at all exist in one so little advanced in development, I would again, as I would do upon almost all occasions, appeal to the experience of mothers. It is a proof, also, of confidence. Whenever an infant has been neglected, when the necessary attention has not been paid to its wants, and when, instead of the smile of kindness, it has been treated with the frown of severity, it will be difficult to restore it to that quiet and amiable disposition in which it will wait for the gratification of its desires without impatience, and enjoy it without greediness.

If affection and confidence have once gained ground in the heart, it will be the first duty of the mother to do everything in her power to encourage, to strenghten, and to elevate this principle.

She must encourage it, or the yet tender emotion will subside, 35 and the strings which are no longer attuned to sympathy, will cease to vibrate, and sink into silence. But affection has never yet been encouraged except by affection; and confidence has never been gained except by confidence: the tone of her own mind must raise that of her child.

For she must be intent also upon strengthening that principle. Now there is one means only for strengthening any energy, and that means is practice. The same effort, constantly repeated, will become less and less difficult, and every power, mental or physical, will go through a certain exercise with more assurance and success, the more it grows familiar with it by custom. There cannot, therefore, be a safer course for the mother to pursue than to be careful that her proceedings may, without interruption or dissonance, be calculated to excite the affection, and secure the confidence of her child. She must not give way to ill humour, or tedium, not for one moment; for it is difficult to say how the child may be affected by the most trifling circumstance. It cannot examine the motives, nor can it anticipate the consequences of an action: with little more than a general impression of the past, it is entirely unconscious of the future; and thus the present bears upon the infant mind with the full weight of pain, or soothes it with the undiminished charm of pleasing emotions. If the mother considers this well, she may spare her child the feeling of much pain which, though not remembered as occasioned by special occurrences, may yet leave a cloud, as it were, upon the mind, and gradually weaken that feeling which it is her interest, as well as her duty, to keep awake.

But it is not enough for her to encourage and strengthen, she must also elevate that same feeling.

She must not rest satisfied with the success which the benevolence of her own intentions, and perhaps the disposition and temper of her child, may have facilitated: she must recollect, that education is not a uniform and mechanical process, but a work of gradual and progressive improvement. Her present success must not betray her into security or indolence; and the difficulties which she may chance to meet with must not damp her zeal, or stop her endeavours. She must bear in mind the ultimate ends of education; she must always be ready to take her share in the work which, as a mother, she stands pledged to forward - the elevation of the moral nature of Man. (PSW 26, p. 80-82)