Precocious Children” is an excerpt from Samuel Goodrich’s Fireside Education reprinted in The Mother’s Assistant; it warns parents against attempting to make their children into prodigies. “Precocity” was the abiding concern of many in the 19th century, who felt that children were taking on “adult” attitudes too young—a concern not entirely unknown in the 21st century.
“Precocious Children,” by Samuel Goodrich; excerpted from Fireside Education (from The Mother’s Assistant, September 1844; p. 58)

I will venture to make a suggestion to parents, which is the more important from the fact that selfishness sometimes puts on the guise of virtue, and deceives even those who are concerned in the trick. There are parents, who, from the ambition to have their children shine, stimulate them by base excitements to exertion, thus sacrificing the purity of the heart, and often the health of the body. There are parents, who, from a frivolous vanity, dress their children in an extravagant manner; thus tarnishing the youthful spirit with the same paltry vice which sways themselves. There are some people who are flattered if their children appear precocious, and those usually attempt to make them prodigies.

I once knew a mother who was possessed with this insane ambition in respect to an only child. This was a little boy, of bright intellect, but feeble constitution. There was, by nature, a tendency to a premature development of the mental faculties, and this dangerous predisposition was seconded by all the art and influence of the mother. The consequence was, that while the boy’s head grew rapidly, and at last became enormous, his limbs became shrunken and almost useless. His mind too advanced, and at the age of eight years he was indeed a prodigy. At ten, he died, and his mother, who was a literary lady, performed the task of writing and publishing his biography. In all this she seemed to imagine that she was actuated by benevolent motives, and never appeared to suspect the truth, plain and obvious to others, that this child was as truly sacrificed by a mother’s selfishness to the demon of vanity, as the Hindoo infant, given by its mother to the god of the Ganges, is immolated on the altar of superstition. Let parents beware, then, how they permit their own selfishness, their own vanity or ambition, to lead them into the sacrifice of their children’s happiness. Lest it be remembered that premature fruit never ripens well, and that precocious children are usually inferior men or women. Parents, therefore, should be afraid of prodigies. Nothing is in a worse taste, than for parents to show off their children as remarkable for wit, or, indeed, for anything.

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