The Magazine Child

I trust it is for no such petty personal reason as that I am myself childless, that I feel tempted to contribute a “club” to the collection of weapons with which a long-suffering public is at last arming itself in the hope of ejecting The Child from current magazine fiction.

Surely, a potent cause of the recent popularity of the juvenile is its felicitous lending of itself to illustration. How familiar we have all become with the shapeless-legged little girl in wrinkled stockings and outgrown frock, her lanky hair surmounted by a splashing bow, and with her straight-backed little brother with his Buster Brown suit and his “Dutch cut,” — two trade-marks of the modern boy. The types are attractive and they are often remarkably well drawn, both by the descriptive and the illustrative pen, but the time has come when we have been served with child to repletion. We are heartily sick of the child of the slum and the child of fortune, of the Jewish child and the Bowery child, of the morbid, misunderstood child, and the sentimental, neglected child, of the tomboy and the prig, the natural and the unnatural child. In our state of surfeit we feel tempted to say with Lamb when asked how he liked children, “I like them fried.”

People who enjoy reading about children derive a kindred pleasure to that afforded by the weather as a perennially popular subject of conversation. Childhood is a universal experience, and we are all sufficient egotists to enjoy reading about our dead selves, to nod our gray heads and say, “Yes, that is true, I was like that;” for, though we all have not children of our own, we all have been children ourselves.

May not the present youthful epidemic among writers be due also in part to the comparative rarity of large families among the reading public to-day? As fewer examples of a specimen remain to be studied, more attention is focused on those that survive, and it is the cult of the hour to turn the light of scientific and psychological research on a child as on an interesting type of animal life slowly becoming obsolete. The ubiquity of the child in contemporary fiction is symbolic of the over-emphasis placed upon his every word and deed in daily life. Owing to the modern craze for the development of individualism — even in the immature — the child has become the father of the man in a sense never dreamed of in Wordsworth’s philosophy. The sight of parents in such complete subjection tempts us to become reactionary, to revert to the primitive methods of the old woman who lived in a shoe, and it is not improbable that being whipped soundly and put to bed would be quite as beneficial for the children as being analyzed and put into a magazine.

The jaded traveler buys a “Weekly” or a “Monthly” at the news-stand, in the hope of temporarily forgetting his domestic duties and suburban sorrows; but instead of finding a tale of adventure, love, or crime, to refresh a soul thirsting for romance, he is confronted by an exhaustive study of the conditions leading to young Harry’s latest deed, or the psychological motives inspiring little Lucy’s last saying.

I am, by nature, as fond of children as if I had not a dozen badly brought-up nieces and nephews of my own; but if I am beginning to grow tired of young people, I represent one of a large class, and it is not our fault nor yet the fault of the children. It is a guilty trio of conspirators whom we hold responsible for our seeming heartlessness, and we hereby offer up a prayer to writers, illustrators, and editors, that the Magazine Child be at last allowed to grow up.