Pictures of the Socialistic Future
SUNDAY was such a Sunday as I had never spent before. My wife got permission at last to visit little Annie. It seems that the observance of order in the Children's Homes necessitates the regulation that parents should only see their children in their due turn. How my wife had pictured to herself the meeting with her child! All sorts of cakes, and sweetmeats, and playthings had been got together to take to her. But to mother's great distress she found she had to leave all these things behind her at the entrance. It was forbidden, she learned, for any of the children to have any playthings which were not common to all, because this would not accord with their education, which taught absolute social equality. The same thing applied to sweetmeats. Such things were only too apt to give rise to quarrels and vexations, and to disturb the regular course of matters in the Home.
My wife was in perfect ignorance of these new regulations, as for some time past she has been engaged in the kitchen of her Home, and not in attending to the children.
Then again, my wife had expected that Annie would show more lively and tender delight at meeting with her mother. But in her new surroundings the child was disposed to be less confiding than she had always been. True, the separation had not been a long one, but there is a good deal of truth in the case of young children, in the words, "Out of sight out of mind." Then again, the idea of seeing her mother had constantly been associated in Annie's mind with the expectation of sweets and playthings. But now she beheld her mother come with empty hands. Childlike, she soon wanted a change again, and she quickly got away from the embraces of her mother in order to rejoin the other children at play.
My wife found Annie looking somewhat pale and changed. This is probably due to the different way of living, and the different kind of nourishment. Naturally, the strictest order is maintained in the Home. But (and the same intention pervades all our institutions) there is no superfluity of victuals, and the large scale of the undertaking does not admit of any pampering of individual children. Children's looks vary so rapidly, and were Annie now at home with us, her looks would hardly disquieten the experienced mother. But, of course, it is a different thing altogether when separated, and mother now pictures to herself the approach of some disease which she sees herself powerless to contend against.
A conversation my wife had with one of the Kindergarten teachers of the Home threw her into considerable agitation. My wife was lamenting the separation of young children from their parents, when this person cut short her complaint by the abrupt remark:
"Oh, we hear these doleful complaints here daily. Even animals, devoid of reason, soon get over it when their young are taken away. With how much more ease ought women to become reconciled to it, women who are reckoned amongst thinking beings."
My wife wanted to complain to the governor of this woman's unfeelingness, but I advised her not to do so, because the woman would be sure to have her revenge out of Annie. She does not know what it is to be a mother. And she can't even get a husband, although, as I am credibly informed, it is not for lack of having, on several occasions, made use of the equality now enjoyed by women of themselves proposing.
Before my wife had returned from the long journey to the Children's Home, grandfather came in. It was with difficulty that the old gentleman had found his way up the steep and dark staircase to our new home. I was really thankful that my wife was not present, because her father's complaints would only have made her heart still heavier.
To say the truth, they were trifling and external matters he had to complain about. But then, old people have this weakness of clinging to old habits and little ways, and in the maintenance houses all such little things are, with some harshness, broken through and swept away. Grandfather fancies, too, his health is not quite so good as it used to be. Now he has a pain here, anon he feels a pinching or a pricking sensation there, and is often out of sorts. Externally I saw no difference in him, but the fact is, grandfather has now a good deal more time to think about himself than he had in our family circle, where there was always something to interest him and distract his attention. He used to be a good deal in the workshop with me, and here he would try to make himself useful. What he did was of no great account but then it occupied him. The doing nothing is not at all a good thing for old people, whereas any little work, no matter how light, keeps up their interest in life, holds them bound up with the present, and preserves them from sudden bodily and mental decay.
The poor old man felt quite strange in our tiny little new place, and he was much touched, too, by the absence of most of the old furniture. I could not let him go back alone, so I went with him.
It happened, unfortunately, whilst I was away, and before my wife had returned, that Ernst came to pay us a visit. Of course, he found the door locked, but he told a neighbour's boy, an old playfellow of his, that an invincible longing for home had made him employ an hour's freedom in rushing off to see his parents. He can't somehow at all get used to his institution. The everlasting reading, writing, and learning by heart—in short, the whole business of study is not at all in his way. His wish is to be put to some trade, and only to learn whatever has reference to that. And I have no doubt whatever of his making a good craftsman. But our Minister of Instruction is of the same opinion that Bebel was of, that all persons are born with about the same amount of intelligence, and that, therefore, they must all alike, up to their eighteenth year (when technical education begins), have the same identical training, as a necessary preparation for the social equality of their after lives.
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