RECORD: Anon. 1883. Mr. Charles Darwin on infant development. The Field Naturalist pp. 5-7.

REVISION HISTORY: Scanned by John van Wyhe 8.2008, transcribed (single key) by AEL Data 9.2012. RN2


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MR. CHARLES DARWIN ON INFANT DEVELOPMENT.

THE American Social Science Association is doing an exceedingly useful work in enlisting parents as observers of infant development.* The subject was introduced to the Saratoga meeting in a philosophical spirit by Dr. W. T. Harris, who rightly gave credit to Mrs. Emily Talbot, of Boston, for the happy thought of making fathers and mothers scientific observers of the development of their infant offspring. Alcott, Taine, Darwin and Preyer have already done something in this fascinating study, but a much larger body of data is desirable. Mr. Darwin has very concisely and suggestively put the matter in the following letter to Mrs. Talbot—

DOWN, BECKENHAM, KENT,
RAILWAY STATION, ORPINGTON, S. E. R.,
July 19.

DEAR MADAM: In response to your wish, I have much pleasure in expressing the interest which I feel in your proposed investigation on the mental and bodily development of infants. Very little is at present accurately known on this subject, and I believe that isolated observations will add but little to our knowledge; whereas tabulated results from a very large number of observations, systematically made, would probably throw much light on the sequence, and period of development of the several faculties. This knowledge would probably give a foundation for some, improvement in our education of young children, and would show us whether the same system ought to be followed in all cases.

I will venture to specify a few points of inquiry which, as it seems to me, possess some scientific interest. For instance, does the education of the parents influence the mental powers of their children at any age, either at a very early or somewhat more advanced stage? This could perhaps be learned by school masters and mistresses if a large number of children were first classed according to

*Papers on Infant Development, published by the Education Department of the American Social Science Association. Edited by Mrs. Emily Talbot. Boston: Tolman & White, 8vo, pp. 52.

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age and their mental attainments, and afterwards in accordance with the education of their parents, as far as this could be discovered. As observation is one of the earliest faculties developed in young children, and as this power would probably be exercised in an equal degree by the children of educated and uneducated persons, it seems not impossible that any transmitted effect from education could be displayed only at a somewhat advanced age. It would be desirable to test statistically, in a similar manner, the truth of the oft-repeated statement that colored children at first learn as quickly as white children, but that they afterwards fall off in progress. If it could be proved that education acts not only on the individual, but, by transmission, on the race, this would be a great encouragement to all working on this all-important subject. It is well known that children sometimes exhibit, at a very early age, strong special tastes, for which no cause can be assigned, although occasionally they may be accounted for by reversion to the taste or occupation of some progenitor, and it would be interesting to learn how far such early tastes are persistent and influence the future career of the individual. In some instances such tastes die away without apparently leaving any after effect, but it would be desirable to know how far this is commonly the case, as we should then know whether it were important to direct as far as this is possible the early tastes of our children. It may be more beneficial that a child should follow energetically some pursuit of however trifling a nature, and thus acquire perseverance, than that he should be turned from it because of no future advantage to him. I will mention one other small point of inquiry in relation to very young children, which may possibly prove important with respect to the origin of language; but it could be investigated only by persons possessing an accurate musical ear. Children, even before they can articulate, express some of their feelings and desires by noises uttered in different notes. For instance, they make an interrogative noise, and others of assent and dissent, in different tones; and it would, I think, be worth while to ascertain whether there is any uniformity in different children in the pitch of their voices under various frames of mind.

I fear that this letter can be of no use to you, but it will serve to show my sympathy and good wishes in your researches. I beg leave to remain, dear madam, yours faithfully, CHARLES DARWIN.

To Mrs. Emily Talbot.

The pamphlet before us, which we cordially commend for its interest and suggestiveness, contains also notes of observations taken fifty years ago by Mr. A. Bronson Alcott during the earliest years of his children, six examples of recent dates, a paper by Mr. Hippolyte Taine on the "Development of Language in a young child," Mr. Darwin's biographical sketch of an infant, and observations on a German child by Prof. William Preyer. The Council have issued an explanatory circular, from which we quote all the essential points:

The Education. Department of the American Social Science Association, early in 1881, issued the accompanying Register, with an explanatory Circular. The same Department Committee would now call the attention of parents to the second issue of the Register of Observations on the development of infants, and beg their continued interest. In pursuing the study of this subject the Committee hope to attain several results:

1. True records of the order of development, and facts illustrating it.
2. More thoughtful attention, by both parents, to the idiosyncracies in dispositions, and to the needs of each child.
3. The discussion of unsettled questions, such as the inheritance of traits, the development of speech, intelligent consciousness, the influence of food, race, climate, etc.
4. Assistance to parents in the formation of more intelligent and systematic plans of education.

In reply to the query why these questions are asked, and certain others are not, it is proper to say that the form in which the Register is presented only suggests lines of study open to parents. It is hoped that sufficient curiosity and interest will be excited in the subject to tempt divergence from the method here presented. Each observer is therefore invited to broaden the field of observation by suggestions and by original research, and to report the results of investigation to this Committee.

REGISTER OF PHYSICAL AND MENTAL DEVELOPMENT OF

(Give the Baby's full name)
Name and occupation of the father?
Place and time of father's birth?
„ „ mother's „?
„ „ baby's „?
Is it a first, second or third child?
Baby's weight at birth? at 3 months?
at 6 months?
at 1 year?
How fed?
Is the baby strong and healthy, or otherwise?
At what age did the baby exhibit consciousness, and in what manner?
At what age did the baby smile?
„ „ recognise its mother?
„ „ notice its hand?
„ „ follow a light with its eyes?
„ „ hold up its head?
„ „ sit alone on the floor?
„ „ creep?
„ „ stand by a chair?
„ „ stand alone?
„ „ walk alone?
„ „ hold a plaything when put in its hand?
„ „ reach out and take is plaything?
„ „ appear to be right or left handed?

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At what age did the baby notice pain, as the prick of a pin?
„ „ show a like or dislike in taste?
„ „ appear sensible to sound?
„ „ notice the light of a window or turn towards it?
„ „ fear the heat from stove or grate?
„ „ speak, and what did it say?
How many words could it say at 1 year?
at 18 months?
at 2 years?
(Please observe and report the
order of the Parts of Speech.)
Are these observations made from memory?
from a diary?
or from week to week?

In a letter received from Mrs. Talbot she suggests that observers should be asked to make weekly accounts of an infant's pulse and weight, especially when well born, of healthy stock, and living under good hygienic conditions. It is possible that the theories set forth in medical works on these physical signs are not based on a sufficiently careful observation of facts. It seems desirable that the attention of students of medicine should be particularly called to this subject with the view to an equipment in facts that will make them learned and skilful advisers in our families. It may be feared that if the whole truth were known, it would be found that the observations now relied upon were made in disease first, when the responsibilities and the possible issues are grave. To correct these we need the observations made by the students of the secrets of life in its happiest and healthiest phrases.

Professor Preyer has suggested that fathers should take up this matter, but without discouraging that view in the slightest degree, we may quote with approval the remark of a lady who has made some of the interesting observations recorded in this pamphlet: "Scientific observation of the baby ought to be the mother's compensation for the tedious routine of her daily duties."

The work is one in which many observers might easily take part, with pleasure to themselves and profit to science. The needs of the present are carefully ascertained facts.


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Citation: John van Wyhe, editor. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (http://darwin-online.org.uk/)

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