THE Evolution of a Mother, in spite of its half-humorous, half-sacrilegious sound, is a serious study in Biology. Even on its physical side this was the most stupendous task Evolution ever undertook. It began when the first bud burst from the first plant-cell, and was only completed when the last and most elaborately wrought pinnacle of the temple of Nature crowned the animal creation.
What was that pinnacle? There is no more instructive question in science. For the answer brings into relief one of the expression-points of Nature--one of these great teleological notes of which the natural order is so full, and of which this is by far the most impressive. Run the eye for a moment up the scale of animal life. At the bottom are the first animals, the Protozoa. The Coelenterates follow, then in mixed array, the Echinoderms, Worms, and Molluscs. Above these come the Pisces, then the Amphibia, then the Reptilia, then the Aves, then--What? The Mammalia, THE MOTHERS. There the series stops. Nature has never made anything since.
Is it too much to say that the one motive of organic Nature was to make Mothers? It is at least certain that this was the chief thing she did. Ask the Zoologist what, judging from science alone, Nature aspired to from the first, he could but answer Mammalia--Mothers. In as real a sense as a factory is meant to turn out locomotives or clocks, the machinery of Nature is designed in the last resort to turn out Mothers. You will find Mothers in lower Nature at every stage of imperfection; you will see attempts being made to get at better types; you find old ideas abandoned and higher models coming to the front. And when you get to the top you find the last great act was but to present to the world a physiologically perfect type. It is a fact which no human Mother can regard without awe, which no man can realize without a new reverence for woman and a new belief in the higher meaning of Nature, that the goal of the whole plant and animal kingdoms seems to have been the creation of a family, which the very naturalist has had to call Mammalia.
That care for others, from which the Mammalia take their name, though reaching its highest expression there, is introduced into Nature in cruder forms almost from the dawn of life. In the vegetable kingdom, from the motherlessness of the early Cryptogams, we rise to find a first maternity foreshadowed in the flowering tree. It elaborates a seed or nut or fruit with infinite precaution, surrounding the embryo with coat after coat of protective substance, and storing around it the richest foods for its future use. And rudimentary though the manifestation be, when we remember that this is not an incident in the tree's life but its whole blossom and crown, it is impossible but to think of this solicitude and Motherhood together. So exalted in the tree's life is this provision for others that the Botanist, like the Zoologist, places the mothering plants at the top of his department of Nature. His highest division is the Phanerogams--named, literally, in terms of their reproductive specialization.
Crossing into the animal kingdom we observe the same motherless beginning, the same cared-for end. All elementary animals are orphans; they know neither home nor care; the earth is their only mother or the inhospitable sea; they waken to isolation, to apathy, to the attentions only of those who seek their doom. But as we draw nearer the apex of the animal kingdom, the spectacle of a protective Maternity looms into view. At what precise point it begins it is difficult to say. But that it does not begin at once, that there is a long and gradual Evolution of Maternity, is clear. From casual observation, and from popular books, it might be inferred that care of offspring--we cannot yet speak of affection--is characteristic of the whole field of Nature. On the contrary, it is doubtful whether in the Invertebrate half of Nature it exists at all. If it does it is very rare; and in the Vertebrates it is met with only exceptionally till we reach the two highest classes. What does exist, and sometimes in marvellous perfection, is care for eggs; but that is a wholly different thing, both in its physical and psychical aspect, from love of offspring. The truth is, Nature so made animals in the early days that they did not need Mothers. The moment they were born they looked after themselves, and were perfectly able to look after themselves. Mothers in these days would have been a superfluity. All that Nature worked at at that dawning date was Maternity in a physical sense-- Motherhood came as a later and a rarer growth. The children of those days were not really children at all; they were only offspring, springers off, deserters from home. At one bound they were out into life on their own account, and she who begat them knew them no more. That early world, therefore, for millions and millions of years was a bleak and loveless world. It was a world without children and a world without Mothers. It is good to realize how heartless Nature was till these arrived.
In the lower reaches of Nature, things remain still unchanged. The rule is not that the Mother ignores, but that she never sees her child. The land-crabs of the West Indies descend from their homes in the mountains once a year, march in procession to the sea, commit their eggs to the waves, and come away. The burying-beetles deposit their fragile capsules in the dead carcase of a mouse or bird, plant all together in the earth, and leave them to their fate. Myriads of other creatures are born into the world, and ordained so to be born, whose Mothers are dead before they begin to live. The moment of birth with the Ephemeridae is also the moment of death. These are not cases nevertheless where there has been no care. On the contrary, there is a solicitude for the egg of the most extreme kind--for its being placed exactly in the right spot, at the right time, protected from the weather, shielded from enemies, and provided with a first supply of food. The butterfly places the eggs of its young on the very leaf which the coming caterpillar likes the most, and on the under side of the leaf, where they will be least exposed--a case which illustrates in a palpable way the essential difference between Motherhood and Maternity. Maternity here, in the restricted sense of merely adequate physical care, is carried to its utmost perfection. Everything that can be done for the egg is done. Motherhood, on the other hand, is non-existent, is even an anatomical impossibility. If a butterfly could live till its egg was hatched--which does not happen--it would see no butterfly come out of the egg, no airy likeness of itself, but an earth-bound caterpillar. If it recognized this creature as its child, it could never play the Mother to it. The anatomical form is so different that were it starving it could not feed it, were it threatened it could not save it, nor is it possible to see any direction in which it could be of the slightest use to it. It is obvious that Nature never intended to make a Mother here; that all that she desired as yet was to perfect the first maternal instinct. And the tragedy of the situation is that on that day when its training to be a true Mother should begin, the butterfly passes out of the world.
But there is another reason, in addition to the precocity of the offspring, why parental care is a drug in the market in lower Nature. There are such multitudes of these creatures that it is scarcely worth caring for them. The humbler denizens of the world produce offspring, not by units or tens, but by thousands and millions; and with populations so vast, maternal protection is not required to sustain the existence of the species. It was probably on the whole a better arrangement to produce a million and let them take their chance, than to produce one and take special trouble with it. It was easier, moreover, a thousand times easier, for Nature to make a million young than one Mother. But the ethical effect, if one may use such a term here, of this early arrangement was nil. All this saving of Motherly trouble meant for a long space in Nature complete absence of maternal training. With children of this sort Motherhood had no chance. I here was no time to love, no opportunity to love, and no object to love. It was a period of physical installations; and of psychical installations only as establishing the first stages of the maternal instinct--the prenatal care of the egg. This is a necessary beginning, but it is imperfect; it arrests itself at the critical point--where care can react upon the Mother.
Now, before Maternal Love can be evolved out of this first care, before Love can be made a necessity, and carried past the unhatched egg to the living thing which is to come out of it, Nature must alter all her ways. Four great changes at least must be introduced into her programme. In the first place, she must cause fewer young to be produced at a birth. In the second place, she must have these young produced in such outward form that their Mothers will recognize them. In the third place, instead of producing them in such physical perfection that they are able to go out into life the moment they are born, she must make them helpless, so that for a time they must dwell with her if they are to live at all. And fourthly, it is required that she shall be made to dwell with them; that in some way they also should be made necessary--physically necessary-- to her to compel her to attend to them. All these beautiful arrangements we find carried out to the last detail. A mother is made, as it were, in four processes. She requires, like the making of a coloured picture, four separate printings, each adding some new thing to the effect. Let us note the way in which woman--savage woman--became caretaker, and watcher, and nurse, and passed from femaleness to the higher heights of Motherhood.
The first great change that had to be introduced into Nature was the diminishing of the number of young produced at a birth. As we have seen, nearly all the lower animals produce scores, or hundreds, or thousands, or millions, at one time. Now, no mother can love a million. Clearly, if Nature wishes to make care-takers, she must moderate her demands. And so she sets to work to bring down the numbers, reducing them steadily until so few remain that Motherhood becomes a possibility. How great this change is can only be understood when one realizes the almost incalculable fecundity of the first created forms of life. When we examine the progeny of the lowest plants we find ourselves among figures so high that no microscope can count them. The Protococcus Nivalis shows its exuberant reproductive power by reddening the Arctic landscape with its offspring in a single night. When we break or shake the Puff-ball of the well-known fungus, the cloud of progeny darkens the air with a smoke made up of uncountable millions of spores. Hydatina Senta, one of the Rotifera, propagates four times in thirty-four hours, and in twelve days is the parent of sixteen million young. Among fish the number is still very great. The herring and the cod give birth to a million ova, the frog spawns eggs by the thousand, and most of the creatures at and below that level in a like degree. Then comes a gradual change. When we pass on to the Reptiles, the figures fall into hundreds. On reaching the birds the young are to be counted by tens or units. In the highest of Mammals the rule is one. This bringing down of the numbers is a remarkable circumstance. It means the calling in of a diffused care, to focus it upon one, and concentrate it into Love.
The next thing was to make it possible for the parent to recognize its young. If it was difficult to love a million it was impossible to love an embryo. In the lower reaches the young are never in the smallest degree like their parents, and, granting the highest power of recognition to the Mother, it is impossible that she should recognize her own offspring. For generations even Science was imposed upon here, for many forms of life were described and classified as distinct species which have turned out to be simply the young of other species. It may be useless to contrast so striking a case as the ciliated Planula with the adult Aurelia--vagaries of form which for generations deceived the naturalist-- for it is doubtful whether creatures of the Medusoid type have eyes; but in the higher groups where power of recognition is more certain, the unlikeness of progeny to parent is often as decided. The larval forms of the Star-fish or the Sea Urchin, or their kinsman the Holothurian, are disguised past all recognition; and among the Insects the relation between Butterflies and Moths and their respective caterpillars is beyond any possible clue. No doubt there are other modes of recognition in Nature than those which depend on the sense of sight. But looked at on every side, the fact remains that the power to identify their young is all but absent until the higher animals appear.
The next work of Nature, therefore, was to make the young resemble the parent, to make, in short, the children presentable at birth. And the means taken to effect this are worth noting. Nature always makes her changes with a marvellous economy, and generally, as in this case, with a quite startling simplicity. To start making a new kind of embryo, a plan obvious to us, was not thought of. That would have been to have lost all the time spent on them already. If Nature begins a thing and wishes to make a change, she never goes back to the beginning and starts de novo. Her respect for her own work is profound. To begin at the beginning again would not only be lost work, but waste of future time; and Evolution, slow as it may seem, never fails to take the quickest path. She did not then start making new embryos. She did not even touch up the old embryos. All that she did was to keep them hidden till they grew more presentable. She left them exactly as they were, only she drew a veil over them. Instead of saying "Let us re-create these little things," she passed the word "Let us delay them till they are fair to see." And from the day that word was passed, the embryos were hindered in the eggs, and the eggs were hindered in the nest, and the young were hindered in the body, retained in the dark for weeks and months, so that when first they caught the Mother's eye they were "strong and of a good liking."
Though in no case in higher Nature is the young an exact reproduction of its parent, it will be admitted that the likeness is very much greater than among any of the lower animals. The young of many birds are at least a colourable imitation of their parents; Nature's young geese are at least like enough geese not to be mistaken for swans; no dog could be misled into mistaking--even apart from the sense of smell--a kitten for a puppy, nor would a hare ever be taken in by the young of a rabbit. Among domestic animals like the sheep and cow there is a culmination of adaptation in this direction, the lamb and the calf when born being almost facsimiles of their Mothers. But this point need not be dwelt on. It is of insignificant importance, and belongs to the surface. The idea of Nature going out of her way to make better family likenesses will not stand scrutiny as a final end in physiology. These illustrations are simply adduced to confirm the impression that Nature is working not aimlessly, not even mysteriously, but in a specific direction; that somehow the idea of Mothers is in her mind, and that she is trying to draw closer and closer the bonds which are to unite the children of men. It will be enough if we have gathered from this parenthesis that some time in the remote past, parent and child came to be introduced to one another; that the young when born into the world gradually approached the parental form, that they no longer "shocked them by their larval ugliness"; so that "the first human mother on record, seeing her first-born son, exclaimed: `I have gotten a Man from the Lord.'
If this second process in the Evolution of Motherhood is of minor importance, the necessity for the third will not be doubted. What use is there for perfecting the power of recognition between parent and child if the latter act like the run of offspring in lower nature--spring off into independent life the moment they are born? If the Mother is to be taught to know her progeny, surely the progeny also must be taught not to abandon their Mother. And hence Nature had to set about a somewhat novel task--to teach the youth of the world the Fifth Commandment. Glance once more over the Animal series and see how thoroughly she taught them the lesson. It is sometimes said that Nature has no imperatives. In reality it is all imperative. This Commandment was thrust upon the early world under penalties for disobedience the most exacting that could be devised--the threat of death. Pick out a few children and inspect them. Take one from the bottom of Nature, one from the middle, and one from the top, and see if any progress in filial duty is visible as we ascend. The first,--the young of Aurelia will do, or a ciliated Infusorian,--representing countless millions like itself, is the Precocious Child. The moment this embryo is born it leaves the domestic hearth; the chances are it has never seen its parents. If it has, it disowns them on the spot. A better swimmer in many cases--for many of the parents have forgotten how to swim--it cannot be overtaken. It ignores its Mother and despises her. The second is the Good Intentioned Child. This child--a bird, let us say--begins well, stays much at home in the early days, but plays the prodigal towards the close. For some weeks it remains quietly in the egg; for more weeks it remains--not quite so quietly--in the nest; and for more weeks still--but with an obvious itching to be off--in the neighbourhood of the nest. This, nevertheless, is a good subject. It is really a kind of child, and its Mother is truly a Mother. The third is the Model Child--the Mammal. In this child, which is only found in the high places of Nature, infancy reaches its last perfection. Housed, protected, sumptuously fed, the luxurious children keep to their Mother's side for months and years, and only quit the parental roof when their filial education is complete.
On a casual view of the Examiner's Report on these various children of Nature, the physiologist, as distinguished from the educationalist, might object that so far from being the subject of congratulation it is a clear case for censure. If early Nature could turn out ready-made animals in a single hour, is it not a retrograde move to have to take so long about it later on? When one contrasts the free swimming embryo of a Medusa, dashing out into its heroic life the moment it is born, with the helpless kitten or the sightless pup, is it unfair to ask if Nature has not lost the trick of making lusty lives? Is she not trying the new experiment at the risk of blundering the old one, and why cannot she continue the earlier and more brilliant device of making her children knight-errants from the first? Because brilliance is not her object. Her object is ethical as well as physiological; and though when we look below the surface a purely physiological explanation of the riddle will appear, the ethical gain is not less clear. By curbing them she is educating them, taming them, rescuing them from a wild and lawless life. These roving embryos are mere bandits; their nature and habits must be changed; not a sterner race but a gentler race must be born. New words must come into the world--Home, Love, Mother. And these imperceptibly slow drawings together of parent and child are the inevitable preliminaries of the domestication of the Human Race. Regarded from the ethical point of view there are few things more significant than this reining-in of the world's rampant youth, this tightening the bonds of family life, this most gentle introduction of gentleness into a world cold with motherless children and heartless with childless mothers.
The personal tie once formed between parent and offspring could never be undone, and from this moment onwards must grow from more to more. For observe what has happened. A generation has grown up to whom this tie is the necessity of existence. Every Mammalian child born into the world must come to be fed, must, for a given number of hours each day, be in the maternal school, and whether it like it or not, learn its lessons. No young of any Mammal can nourish itself. There is that in it therefore at this stage which compels it to seek its Mother; and there is that in the Mother which compels it even physically--and this is the fourth process, on which it is needless to dwell--to seek her child. On the physiological side, the name of this impelling power is lactation; on the ethical side, it is Love. And there is no escape henceforth from communion between Mother and child, or only one--death. Break this new bond and the Mammalia become extinct. Nature is in earnest here, if anywhere. The training of Humanity is seen to be under a compulsory education act. It is in the severity and dread of her penalties, coupled with the impossibility of evading the least of them, that the will of Nature and the seriousness of her purposes are most declared. For the physiological gains which underlie these ethical relations are all-important. It is largely owing to them that the Mammalia have taken their place in the van of the procession of life. Under the earlier system life had a bad start; each animal had to push its way upward single-handed from the egg. It was planted, so to speak, on the first rung of the ladder, and as the risks of life are immeasurably great in infancy, it had all these risks to take. Under the new system it is launched into the battle already nourished and strong, and passed scatheless through the first vicissitudes of youth. In the higher Mammalia, in virtue of the possession by this group of a placenta in addition to the ordinary Mammalian characteristics, the young have a double chance of a successful start. The development, in fact, of higher forms of life on the earth has depended on the physical perfecting of Mothers, and of the physiological ties which bind them to their young. With the immense structural advance of the Mammalia, an order of being was introduced into Nature whose continuity as an all but immortal series could never be broken. Thus whatever moral relations underlie the extraordinary physical characteristic of this highest class of animals, there is the added guarantee that they can never be destroyed.
With the physical programme carried out to the last detail, the ethical drama opened. An early result, partly of her sex, and partly of her passive strain, is the founding through the instrumentality of the first savage Mother of a new and a beautiful social state--Domesticity. While Man, restless, eager, hungry, is a wanderer on the earth, Woman makes a Home. And though this Home be but a platform of sticks and leaves, such as the gorilla builds on a tree, it becomes the first great schoolroom of the human race. For one day there appears in this roofless room that which is to teach the teachers of the world--a Little Child.
No greater day ever dawned for Evolution than this on which the first human child was born. For there entered then into the world the one thing wanting to complete the Ascent of Man--a tutor for the affections. It may be that a Mother teaches a Child, but in a far deeper sense it is the Child who teaches the Mother. Millions of millions of Mothers had lived in the world before this, but the higher affections were unborn. Tenderness, gentleness, unselfishness, love, care, self-sacrifice--these as yet were not, or were only in the bud. Maternity existed in humble forms, but not yet Motherhood. To create Motherhood and all that enshrines itself in that holy word required a human child. The creation of the Mammalia established two schools in the world--the two oldest and surest and best equipped schools of Ethics that have ever been in it--the one for the Child, who must now at least know its Mother, the other for the Mother, who must as certainly attend to her Child. The only thing that remains now is to secure that they shall both be kept in that school as long as it is possible to detain them. The next effort of Evolution, therefore--the fifth process as one might call it--is to lengthen out these school days, and give affection time to grow.
No animal except Man was permitted to have his education thus prolonged. Many creatures were allowed to stay at school for a few days or weeks, but to one only was given a curriculum complete enough to accomplish its exalted end. Watch two of the highest organisms during their earliest youth, and observe the striking contrast in the time they are made to remain at their Mother's side. The first is a human infant; the second, born, let us suppose, on the same day is a baby monkey. In a few days or weeks the baby monkey is almost able to leave its Mother. Already it can climb, and eat, and chatter like its parents; and in a few weeks more the creature is as independent of them as the winged-seed is of the parent tree. Meantime, and for many months to come, its little twin is unable to feed itself, or clothe itself, or protect itself; it is a mere semi-unconscious chattel, a sprawling ball of helplessness, the world's one type of impotence. The body is there in all its parts, bone for bone and muscle for muscle, like the other. But somehow this body will not do its work. Something as yet hangs fire. The body has eyes but they see not, ears but they hear not, limbs but they walk not. This body is a failure. Why does the human infant lie like a log on the forest-bed while its nimble prototype mocks it from the bough above? Why did that which is not human step out into life so long before that which is?
The question has been answered for us by Mr. John Fiske, and the world here owes to him one of the most beautiful contributions ever made to the Evolution of Man. We know what this delay means ethically--it was necessary for moral training that the human child should have the longest possible time by its Mother's side--but what determines it on the physical side? The thing that constitutes the difference between the baby monkey and the baby man is an extra piece of machinery which the last possesses and the first does not. It is this which is keeping back the baby man. What is that piece of machinery? A brain, a human brain. The child, nevertheless, is not using it. Why? Because it is not quite fitted up. Nature is working hard at it; but owing to its intricacy and delicacy the process requires much time, and till all is ready the babe must remain a thing. And why does the monkey-brain get ready first? Because it is an easier machine to make. And why should it be easier to make? Because it is only required to do the life-work of an Animal; the other has to do the life-work of a Man. Mental Evolution, in fact, here steps in, and makes an unexpected contribution to the ethical development of the world.
An apparatus for controlling one of the lower animals can be turned out from the workshop of Nature sometimes in a day. The wheels are few, the works are simple, the connections require little time for adjustment or correction. Everything that a humble organism will do has been done a million times by its parents, and already the faculties have been carefully instructed by heredity and will automatically repeat the whole life and movement of their race. But when a Man is made, it is not an automaton that is made. This being will do new things, think new thoughts, originate new ways of life. His immediate ancestors have done the same, but done some of them so seldom, and others of them for so short a time, that heredity has failed to notice them. For half the life therefore that lies before the human offspring no storage of habit has been handed down from the past. Each descendant must carve a way through the world for itself, and learn to comport itself through all the varying incidents of life as best it can. Now the equipment for this is very complex. Into the infant's frame must be fitted not only the apparatus for automatic repetition of what its parents have done, but the apparatus for intelligent initiation; not only the machinery for carrying on the involuntary and reflex actions--involuntary and reflex because they have been done so often by its ancestors as to have become automatic--but for the voluntary and self-conscious life which will do new things, choose fresh alternatives, seek higher and more varied ends. The instrument which will attend to breathing even when we forget it; the apparatus which will make the heart beat even though we try to stop it; the self-acting spring which makes the eyelid close the moment it is threatened--these and a hundred others are old and well-tried inventions which, from ceaseless practice generation after generation, work perfectly in each new individual from the start. Nature therefore need waste no time at this late day on their improvement. But the higher brain is comparatively a new thing in the world. It has to undertake a vaster range of duties, often totally new orders of duties; it has to do things which its forerunners had not quite learned to do, or had not quite learned to do unthinkingly, and the inconceivably complex machinery requires time to settle to its work. The older brain-processes have been greatly accelerated even now, and appear in full activity at an early stage in the infant's life, but the newer and the higher are in perfect order only after a considerable interval of adjustment and elaboration.
Now Infancy, physiologically considered, means the fitting up of this extra machinery within the brain; and according to its elaborateness will be the time required to perfect it. A sailing vessel may put to sea the moment the rigging is in; a steamer must wait for the engines. And the compensation to the steamer for the longer time in dock is discovered by and by in its vastly greater usefulness, its power of varying its course at will, and in its superior safety in time of war or storm. For its greater after-usefulness also, its more varied career, its safer life, humanity has to pay tribute to Evolution by a delayed and helpless Infancy, a prolonged and critical constructive process. Childhood in its early stage is a series of installations and trials of the new machinery, a slow experimenting with powers and faculties so fresh that heredity in handing them down has been unable to accompany them with full directions as to their use.
The Brain of Man, to change the figure--if indeed any figure of that marvellous molecular structure can be attempted without seriously misleading--is an elevated table-land of stratified nervous matter, furrowed by deep and sinuous canons, and traversed by a vast net-work of highways along which Thoughts pass to and fro. The old and often-repeated Thoughts, or mental processes, pass along beaten tracks; the newer Thoughts have less marked footpaths; the newer still are compelled to construct fresh Thought-routes for themselves. Gradually these become established thoroughfares; but in the increasing traffic and complexity of life, new paths in endless multitudes have to be added, and bye lanes and loops between the older highways must be thrown into the system. The stations upon these roads from which the travellers set out are cells; the roads are transit fibres; the travellers themselves are in physiological language nervous discharges, in psychological language mental processes. Each new mental process involves a new redistribution of nervous matter among the cells, a new travelling of nervous discharge along one or many of the transit fibres. Now in every new connection of ideas multitudes of cells and even multitudes of groups of cells may be concerned, so that should it happen that a combination of these precise centres had never been made before, it is obvious that no routes could possibly exist between them, and these must then and there be prospected. Each new Thought is therefore a pioneer, a road-maker, or road-chooser, through the brain; and the exhaustless possibilities of continuous development may be judged from the endlessness of the possible combinations. In the oldest and most-used brain there must always remain vast territories still to be explored, and, as it were, civilized; and in all men multitudes of possible connections continue to the last unrealized. When it is remembered, indeed, that the brain itself is very large, the largest mass of nerve-matter in the organic world; when it is further realized that each of the cells of which it is built up measures only one ten-thousandth of an inch in diameter, that the transit fibres which connect them are of altogether unimaginable fineness, the limitlessness of the powers of Thought and the inconceivable complexity of these processes will begin to be understood.
Now it is owing to the necessity for having a certain number of the more useful routes established before the babe can be trusted from its Mother's side, that the delay of Infancy is required. And even after the child has begun to practise the art of living for itself, time has still to be granted for many purposes--for new route-making, for becoming familiar with established thoroughfares, for practising upon obstacles and gradients, for learning to perform the journeys quickly and without fatigue, for allowing acts repeated to accelerate and embody themselves as habits. In the savage state, where the after-life is simple, the adjustments are made with comparative ease and speed; but as we rise in the scale of civilization the necessary period of Infancy lengthens step by step until in the case of the most highly educated man, where adjustments must be made to a wide intellectual environment, the age of tutelage extends for almost a quarter of a century.
The use of all this to morals, the reactions especially upon the Mother, are too obvious to dwell on. Till the brain arrived, everything was too brief, too rapid for ethical achievements; animals were in a hurry to be born, children thirsted to be free. There was no helplessness to pity, no pain to relieve, no quiet hours, no watching; to the Mother no moment of suspense--the most educative moment of all--when the spark of life in her little one burned low. Parents could be no use to their offspring physically, and the offspring could be no use to their parents psychically. The young required no Infancy; the old acquired no Sympathy. Even among the other Mammalia or the Birds the Mother's chance was small. There Infancy extends to a few days or weeks, yet is but an incident in a life preoccupied with sterner tasks. A lioness will bleed for her cub to-day, and in tomorrow's struggle for life contend with it to the death. A sheep knows its lamb only while it is a lamb. The affection in these cases, fierce enough while it lasts, is soon forgotten, and the traces it left in the brain are obliterated before they have furrowed into habit. Among the Carnivora it is instructive to observe that while the brief span of infancy admits of the Mother learning a little Love, the father, for want of even so brief a lesson, remains untouched, so wholly untouched indeed that the Mother has often to hide her offspring from him lest they be devoured. Love then had no chance till the Human Mother came. To her alone was given a curriculum prolonged enough to let her graduate in the school of the affections. Not for days or weeks, but for months, as the cry of her infant's helplessness went forth, she must stand between the flickering flame and death; and for years to come, until the budding intellect could take its own command, this Love dare not grow cold, or pause an hour in its unselfish ministry
Begin at the beginning again and recall the fact of woman's passive strain. A tendency to passivity means, among other things, a capacity to sit still. Be it but for a minute or an hour does not matter; the point is that the faintest possible capacity is there. For this is the embryo of Patience, and if much and long nursed a fully fledged Patience will come out of it. Supply next to this new virtue some definite object on which to practise, let us say a child. When this child is in trouble the Mother will observe the signs of pain. Its cry will awaken associations, and in some dull sense the Mother will feel with it. But "feeling with another" is the literal translation of the name of a second virtue--Sympathy. From feeling with it, the parent will sooner or later be led to do something to help it; then it will do more things to help it; finally it will be always helping it. Now, to care for things is to become Careful; to tend things is to become Tender. Here are four virtues--Patience, Sympathy, Carefulness, Tenderness--already dawning upon mankind.
On occasion Sympathy will be called out in unusual ways. Crises will occur--dangers, famines, sicknesses. At first the Mother will be unable to meet these extreme demands--her fund of Sympathy is too poor. She cannot take any exceptional trouble, or forget herself, or do anything very heroic. The child, unable to breast the danger alone, dies. It is well that this should be so. It is the severity and righteous justice of Nature--the tragedy of Ivan Ivanovitch anticipated by Evolution. A Mother who has failed in helpfulness must leave no successor to perpetuate her unworthiness in posterity. Somewhere else, however, developing along similar lines, there is another fractionally better Mother. When the emergency occurs, she rises to the occasion. For one hour she transcends herself. That day a cubit is added to the moral stature of mankind; the first act of Self-Sacrifice is registered in favour of the human race. It may or may not be that the child will acquire its Mother's virtue. But unselfishness has scored; its child has proved itself fitter to survive than the child of Selfishness. It does not follow that in all circumstances the nobler will be always victorious: but it has a great chance. A few score more of centuries, a few more millions of Mothers, and the germs of Patience, Carefulness, Tenderness, Sympathy, and Self-Sacrifice will have rooted themselves in Humanity.
See then what the Savage Mother and her Babe have brought into the world. When the first Mother awoke to her first tenderness and warmed her loneliness at her infant's love, when for a moment she forgot herself and thought upon its weakness or its pain, when by the most imperceptible act or sign or look of sympathy she expressed the unutterable impulse of her Motherhood, the touch of a new creative hand was felt upon the world. However short the earliest infancies, however feeble the sparks they fanned, however long heredity took to gather fuel enough for a steady flame, it is certain that once this fire began to warm the cold hearth of Nature and give humanity a heart, the most stupendous task of the past was accomplished. A softened pressure of an uncouth hand, a human gleam in an almost animal eye, an endearment in an inarticulate voice--feeble things enough. Yet in these faint awakenings lay the hope of the human race. "From of old we have heard the monition, `Except ye be as babes ye cannot enter the kingdom of Heaven`; the latest science now shows us--though in a very different sense of the words--that unless we had been as babes, the ethical phenomena which give all its significance to the phrase `Kingdom of Heaven` would have been non-existent for us. Without the circumstances of Infancy we might have become formidable among animals through sheer force of sharp-wittedness. But except for these circumstances we should never have comprehended the meaning of such phrases as `self-sacrifice` or `devotion.' The phenomena of social life would have been omitted from the history of the world, and with them the phenomena of ethics and religion.
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