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The Precocious Infant Post by :berry456 Category :Essays Author :Lydia H. Sigourney Date :November 2011 Read :1309

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The Precocious Infant

The infant of whom the following traits will be remembered by many, was the son of the Rev. Dr. H. N. Brinsmade, and born in Hartford, Connecticut, February 28th, 1827. At an age when babes are considered little more than attractive objects to the loving eye, or toys to amuse a leisure hour, he was acquiring new ideas, and a subject of discipline; for his parents became convinced, through his example, that the mind in its earliest developments is susceptible of culture.

From the age of four months, he was observed to regard surrounding objects with a fixed attention. During those periods of inspection, the name of the article thus regarded was slowly repeated to him, until he associated it with the sound, and afterwards, would earnestly turn his eyes to any prominent piece of furniture, or particular portions of his own dress, or parts of his body, when designated by their respective names. At ten months he commenced learning the alphabet, from small wooden cubes, on which each letter was separately painted. This process was soon completed: not that he was able to utter the corresponding sounds, but would point out any letter that was inquired for, without mistake; and if he saw one in an inverted position, was never easy until he had restored it to its true attitude.

By the aid of prints pasted on cards, he readily acquired the names of animals and birds, arranged according to a judicious system of Natural History. He was encouraged to become thoroughly familiar with one print ere he was permitted to take another. Thus a basis was laid for habits of application, and the idle curiosity restrained, with which children are wont to wander from picture to picture. His parents in showing him a landscape or historical painting, accustomed him to regard every object, however minute, with an accurate eye, and so retentive was his memory, that what had been thoroughly impressed he seldom forgot. There were few toys from which he derived satisfaction, but seemed to find in pictures and books, with the explanations which they elicited, his principal delight. His careful treatment of books was remarkable, and this was undoubtedly in a measure produced by a little circumstance which occurred when he was quite young. He had torn the paper cover of a small volume. His mother remarked upon it with a serious countenance, and as the members of the family entered, mentioned what had been done, in a tone of sadness.

Presently his lip quivered, and a tear glistened in his eye. The lesson had been sufficiently strong, and it was necessary to comfort him. Afterwards, expensive volumes were fearlessly submitted to him, and the most splendid English annuals sustained no injury from his repeated examinations.

Geography, as exhibited on maps, became a favourite study, and ere he had numbered his second birthday, I saw him with surprise and admiration point out upon an atlas, seas, rivers, lakes, and countries, without hesitation or error.

A short time after, I found that he had made acquaintance with the rudiments of geometry, and was continually increasing his knowledge of printed words, which, with their definitions and combinations in simple phrases, were rapidly initiating him into his native language. It may possibly be imagined that he was made a mere book-worm, or might have been naturally deficient in animal spirits. On the contrary, nothing was taught him by compulsion, and no child could be more full of happiness. His sports, his rambles in the garden, and the demonstrations of infantine pleasure, were sweet to him. His mother was his companion, his playmate, and his instructress. Deeming her child's mind of more value than any other feminine pursuit or enjoyment, she devoted her time to its cultivation; and to her perseverance and the entire concurrence of his father in the intellectual system devised for him, his uncommon attainments may be imputed, more than to any peculiar gift of nature. Still, I am not prepared to say, that there was not something originally extraordinary in his capacity; at least I have never seen his docility, application, and retentive power, equalled in the early stages of existence. Portions of every day, suited in their length to his infancy, were regularly devoted to the business of instruction. But these were often unconsciously extended in their limits, by his eager desire to learn something more; and the winning and repeated entreaty of "Pray, dear mother, teach me," was wont to secure him an additional indulgence of "line upon line, and precept upon precept." His love of knowledge was becoming a passion, still there seemed no undue prominence of one department of intellect to the injury of another. Perception, understanding, and memory, advanced together, and seemed equally healthful.

He was destined for a learned education; a great part of which it was deemed preferable that he should receive under the parental roof; and his mother was preparing herself to become an assistant to his father in teaching him different languages. So indefatigable were her attentions to him, that she never left him to the care of a servant; and thus correct habits and purity of feeling, were preserved from contamination.

Among the pleasing traits of character which revealed themselves in him, his love of home was conspicuous. Though fond of seeing new objects, yet home was the spot most desirable to him. During a journey to New York, after the completion of his second year, where museums, and every alluring curiosity were inspected by him with delighted attention, the prospect of returning to his own flowers, shells, and books, gave him inexpressible joy.

He also manifested great ardour of affection for his parents. He could form no idea of happiness independent of their presence and participation. Though exceedingly fond of seeing collections of animals, which his knowledge of Natural History led him to regard with peculiar interest, he insisted that his father should take him from the first exhibition of the kind which he had ever witnessed, and when he was highly entertained by an elephant, ostrich, and some monkeys, because he discovered that his mother had withdrawn. The attachment usually felt by children for the tender guides of their infant hours, seemed in his case heightened by the consciousness that they were the dispensers of that knowledge with whose love he was smitten. When heaven was represented to him as a delightful abode, and rendered still more alluring by the image of a beloved and departed relative, whom he was taught to consider as among its inhabitants, he would express his unwillingness to be removed there unless "dear father and mother would go too."

A grateful spirit seemed to mingle with his filial affection, and moved him to an expression of thanks for every little favour. When given only a piece of bread, if a few moments happened to intervene between its reception and the customary acknowledgment, he would inquire as if troubled at the omission, "Did I forget to thank mother?" He was often told that to his Father in heaven, he was indebted for what he most loved, and with an affecting earnestness and graceful gesture of his little head, would say, "Thank God." At the period of family devotion he was early taught a quiet and reverent deportment, and after books became so interesting to him, preferred to look over when his father read the Scriptures, and to have it spread before him when he knelt during the prayer.

It might possibly have been feared that the mind, by starting into such sudden expansion, would have left the heart at a distance, but the germs of gentleness and virtue kept pace with the growth of intellect. There was also preserved a fine and fortunate balance between mind and body, for his physical education had been considered an important department of parental care and responsibility. His erect form, and expanded chest, revealed the rudiments of a good constitution, while his fair brow, bright black eye, and playful smile, bespoke that union of health, beauty, and cheerfulness, which never failed of attracting attention. There was less of light and boisterous mirth about him than is common to children of his age. His features expressed rather a mild and rational happiness than any exuberance of joy. This might have arisen partly from the circumstance of his having no young companion to encourage wild or extravagant sports; but principally, that the pleasures of thought were so continually resorted to, as to modify and elevate the countenance. His whole appearance was that of a healthful, happy, and beautiful infant, in the possession of a degree of learning and intelligence, to which infancy usually has no pretensions.

But it was forbidden us to witness the result of this interesting experiment upon mind; or to trace the full development of a bud whose unfolding was so wonderful. An acute dysentery which prevailed in the neighbourhood, numbered him among its victims, and after a fortnight's painful languishing, he died on the 11th of August, 1829, at the age of two years and five months.

After the breath had forsaken him he was still lovely, though emaciated. Fresh roses and orange flowers were around his head and on his bosom, and a bud clasped in his snowy hand. He seemed like one who had suffered and fallen asleep, and there lingered a peaceful and patient spirit around his silent wasted lips. His mother was seated by her dead son, pale, but resigned. She had never been separated from him since his birth, and she wished to continue near him till the grave should claim its own. The parents were strengthened as true Christians, to yield their only one to the will of his Father in heaven. And the anguish of their affliction was undoubtedly mitigated by the recollection, that nothing in their power had been omitted to promote his improvement and heighten his felicity, and that his dwelling was now to be where knowledge is no longer gained by slow laborious efforts, but where light is without cloud, and the soaring soul freed from its encumbrances of clay.

(The end)
Lydia H. Sigourney's essay: Precocious Infant

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