On Children And Dogs by Jenny Wren

Story type: Essay

Are you very shocked that I should couple these two subjects? An insult to the children, do you say? Well, do you know, I am afraid I consider it an insult to the dogs. I am not fond of children, and I love dogs. A man may be a superior animal to a dog, but a puppy is decidedly more intelligent than a baby. What can you find more helpless, more utterly incapable, than a baby? Look at a puppy in comparison. At a month old it is trotting about, and growing quite independent; more sensible altogether than a child aged a year.

I am afraid I shock people often by my opinions, but they are really genuine. I am always more interested in the canine race than in the blossoms of humanity. Very likely it is the behavior of each that makes me so. Children never take to me, nor come near me if they can help it. I do not understand them, or know what to talk to them about. On the other hand, dogs will come to me at once, and, what is more, keep to me. I have never been growled at in my life, and I have come across a good many dogs, too.

“You were a baby yourself once!” How often has this been said to me when I have aired the above opinions. It is put before me as an unanswerable argument, a sort of annihilating finale to the conversation. Yet I really don’t see what it has to do with the matter. I suppose I was a baby once. At least they say so. Which protestation, by the way, rather leaves it open to doubt, for “on dits” like weather forecasts are nice reliable institutions if you do but follow the opposite of what they tell you. Still, as there is more than one witness to the effect, I will give in and admit it; I was a baby.

But the admission makes me no fonder of the species. If anything it makes me admire them the less; for if I at all resembled the photographs that were taken of me–“before my eyes were open,” I was going to say; at any rate before I could stand–I wonder a stone was not put round my neck, and they did not drown me in the first bucket of water they came across.

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It is said that ugly babies grow up the best looking, and vice versa. This is a pleasant and comforting thought for the ugly baby. It can bear a little depreciation now, because it can look forward to the time when it will far outdo its successful rival. And the pretty baby’s glory is soon over. It becomes only a memory which rather irritates than soothes. For after all, retrospection is not so pleasant as anticipation.

The above remark was said before a child about four years old, the other day. She must have been listening intently, and having taken in the sense she inwardly digested it; for the next time she quarrelled with her sister, she broke in spitefully, “You must have been the beautifullest baby that ever was born.”

Children should never be seen until they are over two. Until then they are neither pretty nor entertaining. But at this age they begin to say funny things, and so are interesting. “You only care for them when they amuse you!” cried a young mother once, indignant at my selfishness. I suppose it is a selfish way of looking at it; but if modern children were brought up as we were brought up I should not object to them in the least. We were always kept strictly in the nursery, only appearing down-stairs on the rarest occasions: and when we arrived there we behaved properly–we were seen and not heard. We did not run noisily up and down the room, taking up the whole conversation of the party. We did not try to make the most disagreeable personal remarks; or if we did we were sent up-stairs at once, and not laughed at for our “sharpness.”

There are no children, now-a-days; they are mimic men and women. They dine late, they stay up until the small hours, and are altogether as objectionable a faction as can be. They respect their father and mother not a whit. It was only two or three days ago I heard a child of five allude to her father as “the fat old governor,” and simply get laughed at for her remark, no one joining more heartily than the said parent himself. Of course, with such applause, the child repeats it again and again.

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They have such dreadfully sharp eyes, too, these children. Not a defect escapes their notice. You tremble to hear what will come out next. They ask Mr. Jones what makes his nose so red. They want to know why Mrs. Smith puts flour on her face. In spite of a thick veil, they discover at once that Miss. Blank has a moustache, and inquire of her with interest if she is a man!

There are some nice children, of course–there are exceptions to every rule–and if they are pretty I cannot help admiring them. It is fortunate that I have never had anything to do with children. If I were a governess I should be so dreadfully unjust, I should always favor the pretty ones. I love beauty in any form. There are girls I could sit and look at all day, if they would let me. Only they are most of them so self-conscious; they expect to be admired, and when I see girls laying themselves out for admiration, however beautiful they may be, however strong my inclination to gaze, I will not gratify their vanity. For it is certainly true, that though we prefer the praise of men, we do not disdain any like offering from our own sex.

That is the best of very young children. They do not notice you, they are not yet awake to the power of their charms, so that you are able to look your full. I say “very” young, because it is a knowledge that comes to them only too soon, and a little of this knowledge is, at any rate, “a dangerous thing.”

Children sometimes set you thinking more than any philosopher who ever existed. Their ideas are so fresh, so unsophisticated, so original. The atmosphere of the great unknown still seems to cling to their souls. They are not yet tainted with the world’s impure air. They ask you questions impossible to answer, but which you are obliged to parry in an underhand manner, so as not to expose your ignorance. They solve problems and reach conclusions after a way of their own, which, at any rate, have plenty of reason about them. I remember being very much struck by a little boy’s idea once when his mother was remarking on the strange appearance of a man who, while his whiskers were black as ebony, possessed hair of a snowy white. “But why, mother, should it seem funny?” broke in the child. “Aren’t his whiskers twenty years younger than his hair?”

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Dogs certainly cannot talk or say quaint things, but they can do nearly everything else. At any rate they can understand you and distinguish between the words, as the following instance proves.

We have family prayers at home, and have had them ever since we were quite little things. What an ordeal they used to be too! We used to be watched so strictly, and the moment our eyes wavered from our books, attention would at once be drawn to the culprits and cover them with confusion. Woe be to him, too, who forgot to turn over the leaf of his book with the rest! It is such an unkind thing to do to print all the books alike. If you forget and turn over later, you are at once detected. Being sharp children, however, we used to make this our first care, so that whatever we were doing–laughing, pinching, winking, our pages all went over together, so we sounded attentive.

Our little dog was even more cunning than ourselves. He was never permitted, on any plea, to lie before the fire. “It enlarged his liver,” his master said. Now this decree is a great deprivation to dogs. They like warmth and comfort just as much as we do; indeed, they love the fire to such an extent that if all the terrors of Hades were put before them, they would by no means have a salutary effect. The dogs would try to be as naughty as possible in the hopes of getting there.

But this particular little animal was made of most obstinate materials, and had no intention of being baulked; so directly we knelt down for prayers, he scrambled from under the table, and stretched his full length before the fire. He knew he would not be spoken to until we had finished, and felt quite safe until we all joined in the Lord’s Prayer at the end, when he would immediately decamp, and thus escape any scolding for his disobedience. It was more especially clever of him because we all joined in the Confession as well, but he never took any notice of that, and always put off his departure until the last minute.

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We had this dog twelve years altogether, and a sad night it was, indeed, when he had a fit and died. The breakfast-table next morning presented a most distressing spectacle. We were all positively swimming in tears. The whole family was upset at his death; and when, later on in the day, he was wrapped up in a fish basket and buried in the garden, next door to a favorite rabbit–on whose grave a cabbage had been planted, most unkindly reminding him of the sweets of life he had left behind–we all lifted up our voices and wept again.

I often wonder if we shall meet our faithful dumb friends hereafter! Sages say no; but I cannot believe they are so entirely blotted out, and like to think they have some happy sugary existence somewhere, and that we shall see them again some day.

Dogs are very human after all; they have a great many of our virtues and nearly all our vices. I expect it is this that endears them to us, for “One touch of nature makes all the world kin.” They are just as contradictory, as disappointing, as ourselves. Why will they always show off to such bad advantage? After spending weeks in teaching them, and fortunes on pieces of sugar, why, before an audience, will they insist on ringing the bell when they are told to shut the door? and when you ask them to sit up and beg, why do they die for the Queen?

A little while ago we used to have grand steeplechases with our dogs. We put up fences and water jumps, all of which–with the aid of sugar again–they were able to master in time. I think they used to get quite excited themselves at last. Our old gardener, who used to watch the races with great interest, told me once that he “‘ad seen one of the little dawgs a’jumpin’ backwards and forwards over that ‘ere bit of wood (the highest and most perilous jump), and a’practisin’ by hisself!” He was a very clever “little dawg,” but I don’t think he ever reached such a pitch of intelligence as to practice “by hisself.”

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We had to fill up the fences down to the ground, or, to save themselves the trouble of getting over, they would run under or scramble through in some extraordinary fashion, which in the end took much the most time and pains. Humanity again! Lazy people always take the most trouble!

When I was a little girl I had every morning to learn and repeat to my governess three verses from a French Bible. I thought I had hit upon an easy way of getting over this, and of reducing the quantity I had to commit to memory; so I chose the cxxxvi. Psalm, in which you will find, if you care to look it up (I have just had to do the same to find out the number, not being by any means a living concordance to the Psalms!)–you will find that half of each verse is composed of the words, “For His mercy endureth for ever.” Ingenuity wasted! Trouble increased! Not one whit the better off was I. Until that Psalm was finished I had to learn six verses instead of three. I retired anything but satisfied, and heartily wishing I had left that Psalm alone. It was very mean of my governess all the same. She should better have appreciated the craftiness of her pupil. But, poor things, they have to be very sharp and always on the look-out, or the children will take them in; they will not let any opportunity escape them, and, indeed, I pity anyone who has the care of these unraveled Sphinxes, these uncut Gordian knots.

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