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Commonplaces

Piquant excerpts lifted from Touchstone editors' own reading & listening.

Topic: Family



The education of women must be important, as the formation of character for the first seven or eight years of life seems to depend almost entirely upon them. It is certainly in the power of a sensible and well educated mother to inspire, within that period, such tastes and propensities as shall nearly decide the destiny of the future man; and this is done, not only by the intentional exertions of the mother, but by the gradual and insensible imitation of the child; for there is something extremely contagious in greatness and rectitude of thinking, even at that age; and the character of the mother with whom he passes his early infancy is always an event of the utmost importance to the child.

Sydney Smith
from "Female Education" in The Selected Writings of Sydney Smith (ed. W. H. Auden, 1956)


Family Commonplaces #10 May/June 2020


All our modern notions and speculations have taken a bent toward individualism. In the state we have been engaged to bring out the civil rights of the individual, asserting his proper liberties as a person, and vindicating his conscience, as a subject of God, from the constraints of force. In matters of religion, we have burst the bonds of church authority, and erected the individual mind into a tribunal of judgment within itself; we have asserted free will as the ground of all proper responsibility, and framed our theories of religion so as to justify the incommunicable nature of persons as distinct units. While thus engaged, we have well nigh lost, as was to be expected, the idea of organic powers and relations. The state, the church, the family, have ceased to be regarded as such, according to their proper idea, and become mere collections of units. A national life, a church life, a family life, is no longer conceived, or perhaps conceivable, by many. Instead of being wrought in together and penetrated, to some extent, by historical laws and forces common to all the members, we only seem to lie as seeds piled together, without any terms of connection, save the accident of proximity, or the fact that we all belong to the heap. And thus the three great forms of organic existence which God has appointed for the race, are in fact lost out of mental recognition. The conception is so far gone that, when the fact of such an organic relation is asserted, our enlightened public will stare at the strange conceit, and wonder what can be meant by a paradox so absurd. My design, at the present time, is to restore, if possible, the conception of one of these organic forms, viz: the family. For though we have gained immense advantages, in a civil, ecclesiastical, and religious point of view, by our modern development of individualism, we have yet run ourselves into many hurtful misapprehensions on all these subjects, which, if they are not rectified, will assuredly bring disastrous consequences. And no where consequences more disastrous than in the family, where they are already apparent, though not fully matured. . . .

Horace Bushnell
Christian Nurture (1847, rev. ed. 1861), s.v. "The Organic Unity of the Family"


Family Commonplaces #22 Jan/Feb 2020


I think our present outlook might be like that of a small boy who, on being told that the sexual act was the highest bodily pleasure, should immediately ask whether you ate chocolates at the same time. On receiving the answer no, he might regard absence of chocolates as the chief characteristic of sexuality. In vain would you tell him that the reason why lovers in their carnal raptures don’t bother about chocolates is that they have something better to think of. The boy knows chocolate: he does not know the positive thing that excludes it. We are in the same position. We know the sexual life; we do not know, except in glimpses, the other thing which, in Heaven, will leave no room for it.

C. S. Lewis
Time Magazine interview, September 8, 1947


Family Commonplaces #39 July/Aug 2019

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