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Of the influence of Early Impressions upon all the
following periods of life.
Mr. Locke, in his invaluable treatise concerning Education, relates the story which here follows :
“ There was in a town in the west, a man of disturbed brain, whom the boys used to teaze, when he came in their way. This fellow one day seeing in the streets one of those lads that used to vex him, stepped into a cutler's shop he was near, and there seizing on a naked sword made after the boy, who, seeing him coming so armed, betook himself to his feet, and ran for his life, and, by good luck, had strength and heels enough to reach his father's house before the madman could get up to him. The door was only latched ; and when be had the latch in his hand, he turned about his head to see how near his pursuer was, who was in the entrance of the porch with his sword up, ready to strike, and he had just time to get in and clap to the door to avoid the blow, which, though his body escaped, his mind did not. This frightening idea made so deep an impression there, that it lasted many years, if not all his life after; for, telling this story when he was a man, he said, that after that time till then, he never went in at that door (that he could remember) at any time, without looking back, whatever business he had in his head, or how little soever before he came thither, he thought of this madman."
This instance, though a most extraordinary one, is rather so in degree than in kind; for thousands have been haunted all their life time with frightening ideas received in childhood,
I will venture to lay it down as a position at least probable, that the children of Adam's race are born into the world very much alike, excepting the rare instances of idiotism. Their faculties and inclinations are nearly the same, and the differences which appear in after-times, are owing, in a great measure, to the instruction they receive, the company they keep, and the manner in which they are managed. This assumption is, I humbly conceive, fully defensible on the broad ground of reason and experience, and too obvious to escape general observation. But it is far less obvious, though equally true, that early impressions contribute very materially to making the difference in human characters-relative to their tastes, their dispositions, and the bent of their faculties.
Whilst the infant is yet cradled in the mother's arms, long ere it can articulate words, it is beginning to receive impressions, which will influence, more or less, the future periods of life. And though we know not in what precise degrees such early impressions operate ; how far their opposites render some irascible, revengeful, or sullen, and others mild, well-tempered, and social; how far they contribute to the firmness of the future character on the one hand, and to a cowardly timidity on the other ;-yet it is beyond all reasonable doubt, that their influence is great and durable.
The Arabs of the Great Desert, have all a sameness of character among themselves, together with striking points of difference from every other class of mankind; and their character has been all along the same, from the time of the patriarch Jacob to the present day. Nor is it altogether unaccountable, though truly wonderful. For they have all, and always, been used to the same visible scenery, and derived their earliest as well as later impressions from the same objects and sources, Now, were it possible to reverse the conditions of two newly-born infants—the one an Arab, and the other of good christian parentage-by placing each in the family of the other; it is full likely that the latter, when come to years, would be altogether an Ishmaelite in feeling and manners, and the former considerably assimilated to the family that adopted him. Nay there would be no great hazard in saying farther-It is full likely that this assimilation would begin to be visible in each, antecedently to any direct and positive education, that the one would take the stamp of the fierce and furiouslooking mother, while at her breast; and that the other, at the same early period, would begin to be oppositely moulded, from impressions occasioned by the mildness and sweetness of maternal care.
A simple metrical verse learnt in infancy, is clearly remembered for scores of years. And much more ; early incidents occasioning horror, terror, distressing shame, or violent indignation, leave such deep and distinct impressions upon the memory as are seldom, or never, effaced entirely. I am told by a respectable, pious woman, advanced very far in age, that, even now, as all along heretofore, she seldom sbuts her eyes for sleep but she is haunted with the horrible spectres as it were, of the savage Indians who murdered her father and mother before her face when she was a little child. How great must have been the whole amount of her sufferings from that circumstance, during the long space of upwards of sixty years !
And neither few nor small, throughout the whole course of their lives, must have been their sufferings, whose infantile minds had been accustomed to the frightening bugbears of superstition. For even though, in riper years, their reason should convince them never so clearly of the absurdity of such fears, yet the impress
upon the imagination is indelible. Times have been, when stories of witchcraft, of spectres in the dark, and especially about the sepulchres of the dead, were commonly reported and fully believed ; when a candle burning blue, was the sign of a spirit in the house; when the tallow rising up against the wick of the candle, was styled -a winding-sheet, and reckoned an omen of death in the family; and when a coal in the shape of a coffin, flying out of the fire toward any particular person,
betokened that the death of that person was near.-With what labour and pains did they weave for themselves, and for their children, the web of misery ! In those ages of gloomy superstition, which even now are but recently past away, the real ills of life were far exceeded by the imaginary ones.
But to return from this digression : children possessed of a more than common susceptibility of shame, may be injured for life by putting that distressful feeling to a too severe trial; and others may be made shameless by shaming them too often ; while a temper naturally stiff and unyielding, may be turned to revengeful, and made desperately malignant, by impressions of injustice and cruelty experienced in the season of childhood.
In families, and in schools, where almost the popish inquisition is practised upon the children ; where they are compelled to confess unproved and unproveable faults, and sometimes made, by the torture of the whip or ferule, to confess faults of which they are not guilty ;-how pernicious are the impressions left upon their minds, which, ever after, will rankle in their memories ! And so again, when children, by bad management at first, are made disgusted with their learning, seldom, and not without great difficulty, can they be brought to love it heartily thereafter.
Of calamitous reverses in respect to worldly circum
" Think how frail
In this free, commercial, speculating and money-loring country, the wheel of fortune is turning up blanks and prizes alternately ; some families decaying and sinking, and others rising to wealth ; the griefs of the former greatly overbalancing the real joys of the latter.
One of the bitterest calamities of life, is the sudden fall from affluence, or competence, to poverty. Not that what we call poverty, is so very distressing of itself. In some countries it implies a privation of the indispensable necessaries of life, or the sufferance of hunger and nakedness : but here, few are so poor but that, with prudent care and assiduous industry, they may provide themselves with wholesome food and comfortable raiment. Multitudes, in this country, of the poorer classes, are neither the least contented, nor the least happy. Unaccustomed to the elegancies and luxuries of life, they feel no hankering after them; and accustomed to earn their bread by their toil, they regard labour as no hardship. It procures them two very essential enjoyments_keen appetite and sound sleep : and with respect to real and heartfelt jovialness, they, very often, have more than an equal share.