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INFANCY AND CHILDHOOD.
The period which elapses before boyhood, may be conveniently divided into infancy, which properly signifies before the use of speech, and childhood. Persons who examine this subject more with scientific, than with poetical eyes, tell us, that the first dentition is completed by the end of the second or the middle of the third year, when childhood begins; and the second dentition about the twelfth year, whence are dated boyhood and girlhood. Though we are about to extract literary compositions and not teeth, we shall find it convenient to treat of infancy and childhood in separate sections, in order that we may notice some incidents of life which occur between the mewling of the baby and the whining of the schoolboy ; in a third section we shall consider some matters common to the Infant, and the Child.
And, first, the Infant
Let us turn from this description to one from Lord Byron
Full sweeps the deep pure fountain of young life,
Our first and sweetest nurture, when the wife
She sees her little bud put forth its leaves. Shakspeare, in another place, strongly depictures a mother's feelings, where he makes a ruthless character, like Lady Mac
“I have given suck, and I know how tender 'tis to love the babe that milks me.” With a sort of divided admiration between the mother and the child, but inclining to the side where his poetry would be most appreciated, Moore writes
His little snow white fingers straying
Along her lips' luxuriant flower,
Silvery through a roseate bower!
Her dark hair fell in mazes bright,
'Twas love beneath the veil of night!
They seem'd so kindred in their charms,
Just budded in her blooming arms ! The following extract upon the subject displays Chaucer, not in the light of a dissector of human nature, and a humorist, for which he is best known in the present day, but as a describer of the tender feelings, upon which he most prided himself, and for which he was most extolled by his contemporaries. It is from the Man of Law's Tale-Custance is supposed to be condemned by her jealous husband to be put with her child on board a ship, which is then to be drifted to sea.
Hire litel child lay weeping in hire arm,
“ Pees, Litel son, I wol do thee no harm :”
she rist, and walketh doun the strond
The next extract is of a still more melancholy character ; it is by Kirke White, and is supposed to be spoken by a female convict on the night before her execution.
Sleep, baby mine, enkerchieft on my bosom
Thy cries they pierce again my bleeding breast,
To lull thee fondly in her arms to rest.
When soon an outcast on the world thou'lt be ;
In her low grave of shame and infamy !
A very different kind of nursing and sucking is noticed in a spirited description by Lord Byron of the statue at Rome of the she-wolf that brought up Romulus
And thou the thunder stricken Nurse of Rome,
Guard thine immortal cubs, nor thy fond charge forget ? This notice of a monument of art reminds us that many of the most exquisite productions of the Italian and Spanish schools of painting, are upon the subject of the Virgin Mary aud Child, which is, in fact, a picture of nursing. There is a virgin and child by Corregio in which the repose of the picture is assisted by introducing a little white rabbit. A virgin and child by Parmegiano, like all his pictures remarkable for grace of attitude, represents the virgin putting her finger to the teeth of the child. In another virgin and child by Corregio, Mary Magdalene is kissing the feet of the infant.
But if our nurse's arms are not tired of dangling, the reader must be tired of the nurse's arms. It is therefore high time to put the baby into the cradle and rock it to sleep. To aid this operation the Poets have supplied us with lullabies ; besides writing cradle hymns still more soporific. It is unnecessary to extract poems of such easy access and so well known as Watts's cradle hymn, or Walter Scott's lullaby on
an infant chief. Campbell in his Pleasures of Hope,” and • Rogers in his
of “Human Life,” have described babies in cradles ; but their pictures of infancy are so inferior to that of little Torquatus, with his half-opened lips, by the Roman poet Catullus, that it is not for the honor of English poetry to cite them.
But I will cite, as more of a literary curiosity, the first stanza of a lullaby composed by Greene, and supposed to be sung by his wife on his leaving her and his child upon going abroad. Greene is the person that has given us the first extant notice of Shakspeare, by the name of Shakescene, in his “ Groatsworth of Wit.” He died, after supping to excess on red herrings and Rhenish wine, in the year 1592.
Weepe not my Wanton, smile upon my knee,
Mother's wagge, prettie boy,
Having now rocked our baby to sleep, an opportunity is afforded of talking over the little stranger-one of the first subjects of remark is its likeness to its parents. This is the prominent topic in the descriptions by Campbell and Rogers before noticed. There is a curious circumstance connected with this subject in Shakspeare's play of the Winter's Tale. It is generally believed, and apparently with reason, that Shakspeare, in this play, alludes to Henry VIII declaring the illegitimacy of his daughter by Anne Boleyne, Queen Elizabeth. And this supposition is aided by reference to a character in the piece of Mamilius, a young Prince who is only introduced that he may die in infancy ; Anne Boleyne having had a