To Sarah Savage Thatcher

    New York City        22 February 1789

    My dear

    By yours of the 10th. inst. I percieve you keep up the sweeten-water Club1—and that you are more cheerful than when you wrote before—Cheerfulness, my dear, is the most effectual sweetner of Life; it cannot be cultivated enough—Religion, heretofore, destroyed the pleasures of Life & made the world a state of misery, by inculcating sentiments adverse to cheerfulness—and I am happy to find this mode of teaching Religion is wearing fast away—and Religion begins to be connected with the milder sentiments of Good humer & soci[a]bility.

    Your accounts of Phillips & Sally are highly pleasing—and I am confident your care and attention will make them every thing I could wish to have them them to be. And for that purpose, and for your amusement I shall again send you another extract from my favorite book upon education—

    “The mind of a Child is a rich soil, productive equally of lovely flowers and noisom weeds. Good passions and impressions are flowers which ought carefully to be cultivated; bad passions and impressions are weeds which ought to be discouraged, if they cannot be totally rooted out.”2 If due care be taken in season very few will get into the mind. “But such moral cul[t]ure is no slight art: it requires compleat knowledge of the human heart, of all its mazes, and of all its biasses.” Tho, my dear, we are not possessed of this degree of knowledge it ought not to discourage us from attempting the great object of education upon these principles: For tho our knowledge of the human heart, and the early springs of action, in children, be not so perfect as to keep out of their tender minds all bad impressions; yet by attention we may keep out many that would otherwise enter; we may also retard the growth & pernicious spread of those, that, in spite of all our caution, creep into the mind. And surely this is effecting a great deal.

    “An infant on the breast discerns good or bad humour in its nurse,” or mother, “from their external signs on her Countenance, and from the different tones of her voice. And these signs and tones affect the infant very differently: a Song or a smile, chears it: a harsh look or tone, makes it afraid, or keeps it in awe.” If this be the state of infant minds, of which I have no doubt, of what importance it becomes to the child that no impressions be made on their tender minds but such as have a natural tendency to produce the amiable virtues. My Author proceeds—

    “By these means, the human heart lies open to early instruction; and is susceptible of having proper notions stamped on it, such as those of right and wrong, of praise and blame, of benevolence and selfishness[”] &c &c

    “The great utility of such notions, will appear from opposing them to various absurd notions and opinions, which never could have prevailed in the world, had they not been inculcated during infancy. Take the following instances—Stories of Ghosts and Hobgo[b]lins heard, for the first time, by one grown up, make no impression unless it be of Laughter; but stamped on the mind of a child, they harass it incessantly, and are never wholly obliterated.”

    And I cannot refrain from taking this opportunity of observing—that upon this principle of early impressions it is owing that the minds of many, & indeed of all, to a considerable degree, are harassed and tormented thro’ Life with the notion of Devils, and Spirits of various kinds—but generally such as are exceedingly inimical to the human rase race—dancing about in the air, watching for the ruing of poor mortals—tearing them to pieces after death—throwing them into a hideous place called Hell where their misery becomes infinitely great—&c

    These stories, I say, have the same origin with those of Ghosts and Hobgoblins in the dark—but they are vastly more injurious to the happiness of the human race, because as the Stories of Ghosts and Hobgoblins are only made use of by nurses, & the first instructors of children, to keep them in subjection during infancy; they naturally ware off so soon as children begin to reason—that is, children soon reason themselves into a belief of their non-existance—tho they cannot altogether obliterate the early impressions made in their infancy—thus they become subject to a continual war between their feelings & understanding—which State of mind is attended with many bad consequences they scarce ever get entirely clear of—While But the doctrine of Devils and evil Spirits is so twisted with the Religion of most countries, that when <lined out> men begin to reason, and to a considerable degree laugh at the notions of Ghosts, the awe and Solemnity that usually attends the Religion of all Countries, makes them look with too much reverence upon this doctrine to suffer them to examine it with the same freedom, & upon the same principles, they do that of Ghosts—Add to this the priests and Ministers of all nations have ever been studious to strengthen & invigorate, upon the minds of men, those impressions of Devils and Spirits; these being the best engines whereby men, in the riper years of understanding, might be keept in the same subjection to them that, when children, they had been to their nurses—

    I dont know whether you will read this long digression—or if you should run it over, that you will think it any way connected with hints upon education—however it appeared to me so connected with, & flowing from the principle of the foregoing quotation that I could not help inserting them in this place—To return then—

    “Many popish doctrines are contradictory to Common sense; and yet held to be self-evident because they were instilled during childhood. What is it that can rivet in the mind of any one the strange doctrine of Transubstantiation, but the taking advantage of early youth, which is susceptible equally of every impression right or wrong? Were that Doctrine reserved till persons were grown up, it would be rejected by all for its eminent absurdity”—

    Upon like principles, the same may be said of several doctrines now embraced by people calling themselves christians; and for rejecting which, upon the same principles that they reject Transubstantiation, they now have the affrontry to say I am not a Christian—

    What I principally have in view by the foregoing extracts & observations is, that great care be taken with children that they have nothing but agreeable sensations—arising from placed [placid] countenances, good-humour and soci[a]bility—Avoid as much as possible their seeing faces flushed with anger, Revenge Fretfullness, discontent—and ill nature. Let them never be present when two persons are disputing with temper—

    Pride is inspired, first, by praising children for such things as have no merit in them dress up a child in fine cloaths, with ruffles &c tell him he is a man—that he does not look like the beggar boys &c. and rest assured he will be much fonder of wearing rich cloaths than doing manly, virtuous actions. This I had a sufficient proof of in Phillips before I came from home—And I have no doubt but he may be brought to have an avertion to ruffels, & all kinds of useless orniments.

    But I fear you are weary—And I will bid you good night for the present—It is growing dark, & I have several Letters to write before the mail closes—I love you my dear—and our dear children whom you will kiss a thousand times for their papa—Tell Tempe [Hedge] I love her—Olly & Robert they must behave well, learn to read, write &c &c

    with affection, I subscribe myself your husband—

    P.S. Let me know when Mr. [Silas] Lee will set off for Wiscasset, that I may direct my Letters accordingly—

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    ALS, TFP