Wednesday, December 19, 2007
In Defense of Baby-Worship also by GKC
A DEFENCE OF BABY-WORSHIPThe two facts which attract almost every normal person to children are,first, that they are very serious, and, secondly, that they are inconsequence very happy. They are jolly with the completeness which ispossible only in the absence of humour. The most unfathomable schoolsand sages have never attained to the gravity which dwells in the eyes ofa baby of three months old. It is the gravity of astonishment at theuniverse, and astonishment at the universe is not mysticism, but atranscendent common-sense. The fascination of children lies in this:that with each of them all things are remade, and the universe is putagain upon its trial. As we walk the streets and see below us thosedelightful bulbous heads, three times too big for the body, which markthese human mushrooms, we ought always primarily to remember that withinevery one of these heads there is a new universe, as new as it was onthe seventh day of creation. In each of those orbs there is a new systemof stars, new grass, new cities, a new sea.There is always in the healthy mind an obscure prompting that religionteaches us rather to dig than to climb; that if we could once understandthe common clay of earth we should understand everything. Similarly, wehave the sentiment that if we could destroy custom at a blow and see thestars as a child sees them, we should need no other apocalypse. This isthe great truth which has always lain at the back of baby-worship, andwhich will support it to the end. Maturity, with its endless energiesand aspirations, may easily be convinced that it will find new things toappreciate; but it will never be convinced, at bottom, that it hasproperly appreciated what it has got. We may scale the heavens and findnew stars innumerable, but there is still the new star we have notfound--that on which we were born.But the influence of children goes further than its first triflingeffort of remaking heaven and earth. It forces us actually to remodelour conduct in accordance with this revolutionary theory of themarvellousness of all things. We do (even when we are perfectly simpleor ignorant)--we do actually treat talking in children as marvellous,walking in children as marvellous, common intelligence in children asmarvellous. The cynical philosopher fancies he has a victory in thismatter--that he can laugh when he shows that the words or antics of thechild, so much admired by its worshippers, are common enough. The factis that this is precisely where baby-worship is so profoundly right. Anywords and any antics in a lump of clay are wonderful, the child's wordsand antics are wonderful, and it is only fair to say that thephilosopher's words and antics are equally wonderful.The truth is that it is our attitude towards children that is right, andour attitude towards grown-up people that is wrong. Our attitude towardsour equals in age consists in a servile solemnity, overlying aconsiderable degree of indifference or disdain. Our attitude towardschildren consists in a condescending indulgence, overlying anunfathomable respect. We bow to grown people, take off our hats to them,refrain from contradicting them flatly, but we do not appreciate themproperly. We make puppets of children, lecture them, pull their hair,and reverence, love, and fear them. When we reverence anything in themature, it is their virtues or their wisdom, and this is an easymatter. But we reverence the faults and follies of children.We should probably come considerably nearer to the true conception ofthings if we treated all grown-up persons, of all titles and types, withprecisely that dark affection and dazed respect with which we treat theinfantile limitations. A child has a difficulty in achieving the miracleof speech, consequently we find his blunders almost as marvellous as hisaccuracy. If we only adopted the same attitude towards Premiers andChancellors of the Exchequer, if we genially encouraged their stammeringand delightful attempts at human speech, we should be in a far more wiseand tolerant temper. A child has a knack of making experiments in life,generally healthy in motive, but often intolerable in a domesticcommonwealth. If we only treated all commercial buccaneers and bumptioustyrants on the same terms, if we gently chided their brutalities asrather quaint mistakes in the conduct of life, if we simply told themthat they would 'understand when they were older,' we should probably beadopting the best and most crushing attitude towards the weaknesses ofhumanity. In our relations to children we prove that the paradox isentirely true, that it is possible to combine an amnesty that verges oncontempt with a worship that verges upon terror. We forgive childrenwith the same kind of blasphemous gentleness with which Omar Khayyamforgave the Omnipotent.The essential rectitude of our view of children lies in the fact that wefeel them and their ways to be supernatural while, for some mysteriousreason, we do not feel ourselves or our own ways to be supernatural. Thevery smallness of children makes it possible to regard them as marvels;we seem to be dealing with a new race, only to be seen through amicroscope. I doubt if anyone of any tenderness or imagination can seethe hand of a child and not be a little frightened of it. It is awful tothink of the essential human energy moving so tiny a thing; it is likeimagining that human nature could live in the wing of a butterfly or theleaf of a tree. When we look upon lives so human and yet so small, wefeel as if we ourselves were enlarged to an embarrassing bigness ofstature. We feel the same kind of obligation to these creatures that adeity might feel if he had created something that he could notunderstand.But the humorous look of children is perhaps the most endearing of allthe bonds that hold the Cosmos together. Their top-heavy dignity ismore touching than any humility; their solemnity gives us more hope forall things than a thousand carnivals of optimism; their large andlustrous eyes seem to hold all the stars in their astonishment; theirfascinating absence of nose seems to give to us the most perfect hint ofthe humour that awaits us in the kingdom of heaven.