No. 246. Wednesday, December 12, 1711. Steele

[Greek: Ouch ara soi ge patàer aen ippóra Paeleùs Oudè Thétis máetaer, glaukàe dè d étikte thálassa Pétrai t aelíbatoi, hóti toi nóos estìn apaenàes.]


As your Paper is Part of the Equipage of the Tea-Table, I conjure you to print what I now write to you; for I have no other Way to communicate what I have to say to the fair Sex on the most important Circumstance of Life, even the Care of Children. I do not understand that you profess your Paper is always to consist of Matters which are only to entertain the Learned and Polite, but that it may agree with your Design to publish some which may tend to the Information of Mankind in general; and when it does so, you do more than writing Wit and Humour. Give me leave then to tell you, that of all the Abuses that ever you have as yet endeavoured to reform, certainly not one wanted so much your Assistance as the Abuse in [nursing [1]] Children. It is unmerciful to see, that a Woman endowed with all the Perfections and Blessings of Nature, can, as soon as she is delivered, turn off her innocent, tender, and helpless Infant, and give it up to a Woman that is (ten thousand to one) neither in Health nor good Condition, neither sound in Mind nor Body, that has neither Honour nor Reputation, neither Love nor Pity for the poor Babe, but more Regard for the Money than for the whole Child, and never will take further Care of it than what by all the Encouragement of Money and Presents she is forced to; like Æsop's Earth, which would not nurse the Plant of another Ground, altho never so much improved, by reason that Plant was not of its own Production. And since anothers Child is no more natural to a Nurse than a Plant to a strange and different Ground, how can it be supposed that the Child should thrive? and if it thrives, must it not imbibe the gross Humours and Qualities of the Nurse, like a Plant in a different Ground, or like a Graft upon a different Stock? Do not we observe, that a Lamb sucking a Goat changes very much its Nature, nay even its Skin and Wooll into the Goat Kind? The Power of a Nurse over a Child, by infusing into it, with her Milk, her Qualities and Disposition, is sufficiently and daily observed: Hence came that old Saying concerning an ill-natured and malicious Fellow, that he had imbibed his Malice with his Nurses Milk, or that some Brute or other had been his Nurse. Hence Romulus and Remus were said to have been nursed by a Wolf, Telephus the Son of Hercules by a Hind, Pelias the Son of Neptune by a Mare, and Ægisthus by a Goat; not that they had actually suck'd such Creatures, as some Simpletons have imagin'd, but that their Nurses had been of such a Nature and Temper, and infused such into them.

Many Instances may be produced from good Authorities and daily Experience, that Children actually suck in the several Passions and depraved Inclinations of their Nurses, as Anger, Malice, Fear, Melancholy, Sadness, Desire, and Aversion. This Diodorus, lib. 2, witnesses, when he speaks, saying, That Nero the Emperors Nurse had been very much addicted to Drinking; which Habit Nero received from his Nurse, and was so very particular in this, that the People took so much notice of it, as instead of Tiberius Nero, they call'd him Biberius Mero. The same Diodorus also relates of Caligula, Predecessor to Nero, that his Nurse used to moisten the Nipples of her Breast frequently with Blood, to make Caligula take the better Hold of them; which, says Diodorus, was the Cause that made him so blood-thirsty and cruel all his Life-time after, that he not only committed frequent Murder by his own Hand, but likewise wished that all human Kind wore but one Neck, that he might have the Pleasure to cut it off. Such like Degeneracies astonish the Parents, [who] not knowing after whom the Child can take, [see [2]] one to incline to Stealing, another to Drinking, Cruelty, Stupidity; yet all these are not minded. Nay it is easy to demonstrate, that a Child, although it be born from the best of Parents, may be corrupted by an ill-tempered Nurse. How many Children do we see daily brought into Fits, Consumptions, Rickets, &c., merely by sucking their Nurses when in a Passion or Fury? But indeed almost any Disorder of the Nurse is a Disorder to the Child, and few Nurses can be found in this Town but what labour under some Distemper or other. The first Question that is generally asked a young Woman that wants to be a Nurse, [Why[3]] she should be a Nurse to other Peoples Children; is answered, by her having an ill Husband, and that she must make Shift to live. I think now this very Answer is enough to give any Body a Shock if duly considered; for an ill Husband may, or ten to one if he does not, bring home to his Wife an ill Distemper, or at least Vexation and Disturbance. Besides as she takes the Child out of meer Necessity, her Food will be accordingly, or else very coarse at best; whence proceeds an ill-concocted and coarse Food for the Child; for as the Blood, so is the Milk; and hence I am very well assured proceeds the Scurvy, the Evil, and many other Distempers. I beg of you, for the Sake of the many poor Infants that may and will be saved, by weighing this Case seriously, to exhort the People with the utmost Vehemence to let the Children suck their own [Mothers, [4]] both for the Benefit of Mother and Child. For the general Argument, that a Mother is weakned by giving suck to her Children, is vain and simple; I will maintain that the Mother grows stronger by it, and will have her Health better than she would have otherwise: She will find it the greatest Cure and Preservative for the Vapours and future Miscarriages, much beyond any other Remedy whatsoever: Her Children will be like Giants, whereas otherwise they are but living Shadows and like unripe Fruit; and certainly if a Woman is strong enough to bring forth a Child, she is beyond all Doubt strong enough to nurse it afterwards. It grieves me to observe and consider how many poor Children are daily ruin'd by careless Nurses; and yet how tender ought they to be of a poor Infant, since the least Hurt or Blow, especially upon the Head, may make it senseless, stupid, or otherwise miserable for ever?

But I cannot well leave this Subject as yet; for it seems to me very unnatural, that a Woman that has fed a Child as Part of her self for nine Months, should have no Desire to nurse it farther, when brought to Light and before her Eyes, and when by its Cry it implores her Assistance and the Office of a Mother. Do not the very cruellest of Brutes tend their young ones with all the Care and Delight imaginable? For how can she be call'd a Mother that will not nurse her young ones? The Earth is called the Mother of all Things, not because she produces, but because she maintains and nurses what she produces. The Generation of the Infant is the Effect of Desire, but the Care of it argues Virtue and Choice. I am not ignorant but that there are some Cases of Necessity where a Mother cannot give Suck, and then out of two Evils the least must be chosen; but there are so very few, that I am sure in a Thousand there is hardly one real Instance; for if a Woman does but know that her Husband can spare about three or six Shillings a Week extraordinary, (altho this is but seldom considered) she certainly, with the Assistance of her Gossips, will soon perswade the good Man to send the Child to Nurse, and easily impose upon him by pretending In-disposition. This Cruelty is supported by Fashion, and Nature gives Place to Custom. SIR, Your humble Servant.


[Footnote 1: [nursing of], and in first reprint.]

[Footnote 2: [seeing], and in 1st r.]

[Footnote 3: [is, why], and in 1st. r.]

[Footnote 4: Mother,]

Translation of motto:
No amorous hero ever gave thee birth,
Nor ever tender goddess brought thee forth:
Some rugged rock's hard entrails gave thee form,
And raging seas produced thee in a storm:
A soul well suiting thy tempestuous kind,
So rough thy manners, so untamed thy mind.'