For the N. Y. Evangelist.
Few characters in "Uncle Tom's Cabin" come home to heart more than that of Topsey, the reckless, mischievous child; so hardened and discouraged, that good advice could not move her, nor threats and scolding frighten her into reformation. It required the magnetic influence of Eva's love to act upon the unappreciated negro child. Those who live in happy families, can hardly understand how new was this tenderness to a poor neglected creature. They are guarded by a father, caressed by a mother, and brothers, and sisters, and they have their finer affections expanded beneath the genial sunshine of domestic love. Others, deprived of these favoring circumstances, yet do not suffer from the loss, because they are shielded by a cold phlegmatic temperament, against which the arrows of reproach, and taunt, fall powerless. These know not the keen suffering of a sensitive child, who never hears a word of approbation; but from day to day is burned to the quick by harsh reproof.
An impulsive nature may be full of faults, but these are but the ebullitions of a strong character, and by firm but affectionate treatment can be trained aright; like the straggling luxuriance of the wild vine, it is not enough to cut with the pruning-knife to make the vine grow. Nor will wind, and cold rain alone make it flourish, without the warm sunlight, and support to which its young tendrils may cling. So an ardent, excitable child, made for love and happiness, by unkind treatment may become the callous, discouraged Topsey.
The character is not confined to the Southern climate, nor peculiar to any complexion or rank in life. In the houses of the rich, amid glittering mirrors and massive silver, there is many a strong-willed boy, who seems reckless and hardened to reproof, but who would soon develop a strength and beauty of character, under the influence of love and encouragement. More than one fair child, who was not understood, nor rightly governed, but ever reproved and scolded, has had the bitter feelings of poor Topsey, "Is nothing but a nigger." His character is daily discussed, and pronounced hopelessly bad, and none speak to him but to blame; and thus the light of hope is gradually extinguished, till he becomes the miserable being he has been taught to believe himself. Many living through early youth under a cloud of censure, are rescued from the despair by what seems an accidental meeting with one whose words of commendation and encouragement arouse new life in the soul. We often exclaim with surprise, when we find young persons when they enter on married life, suddenly develop a sweetness of disposition, and force of character, which nobody gave them credit for before. The mystery is easily explained. They have found that true affection and happiness for which they pined before. It is the same miracle of love wrought in them, which transformed the degraded Topsey into a Christian missionary.
The child who is protected on all sides by the influence of a loving family, who is appreciated and understood, is indeed a happy child. His home may be poor, and toilsome, but if his character is unfolded by kind parents, if Christian affection reigns in the family circle, he may thank God for the sunshine in which his life begins.
Those who have the care of the young, may learn a lesson from the failure of all endeavors to move the hardened Topsey. While the rod of correction is freely used, and in many cases cannot be dispensed with, there is a power which sometime humbles in the dust the child who has been scarred and made callous by continual blame. If parents, teachers, and elder brothers and sisters, would but learn to show love to those they seek to influence, we should not hear from the lips of children such words as these—"I never do anything right," "I'm always down foot," "It's no use to try, I can't please any one." There is hope, even in this dogged sensitiveness to blame. A touch of the hand, a kiss, an encouraging smile, or a word of praise, has been with many a young mind the turning-point from despair, to a course of virtue and happiness.
Those who cannot see something to prize in every child, who know not how to cheer and encourage the first signs of good, ought to give up the training of the young, or else go to their Bibles, and learn on their knees a lesson from Him who spares "the bruised reed," "and does not quench the smoking flax."
M. E. W.