RECORD: Darwin, C. R. 1882. [Letter to Mrs. Emily Talbot on the mental and bodily development of infants] Report of the secretary of the department. Journal of Social Science, containing the Transactions of the American Association 15 (February): 5-8.

REVISION HISTORY: Scanned and OCRed by John van Wyhe 7.2008. RN1

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It does not so much matter what the statistics will show, as it does matter that the mother shall learn to study the growtli of her child, and learn what constitutes a stage of progress, and how to discover and remove obstacles to this growth, as well as to afford judicious aid to the child's efforts at mastering the use of his faculties. One intelligent woman who is interested in this subject will kindle an interest which will spread throughout an entire town. The wisdom gained through these observations will extend gradually to all families, and will elevate the character of infant education incalculably.

When the mother becomes observant of the actions of the child as a matter of education, and when there comes to be a stock of generalized experiences on this subject, how much will be done toward correcting evil tendencies upon their first manifestation ) It is a trite remark, that the shaping of a tree is an easy affair if undertaken while it is a sapling, but impossible after the tree has attained its growth. The education that goes on within the family is the object which now calls with most importunity on us for our attention as students of social science.


That portion of Mrs. Talbot's Report having reference to the subject of Infant Development was as follows:

The importance of making some systematic effort to record the development of infant life has occupied the thoughts of many people in various countries for a long period, and observations of isolated cases have been made, such as those by Mr. Alcott, on a group of children fifty years ago, in Pennsylvania ; that by Taine, on the "Development of Language in a Young Child;" that by Charles Darwin, on the "Expression of the Emotions," and by Professor Preyer, on " Psychogenesis." In a more modest way, and from the impulse of strong parental feeling and curiosity, rather than from any deliberate intention of making a scientific investigation, mothers here and there, in this and other countries have kept a diary of the physical and mental development of their children. It was suggested at the last General Meeting of this Association that in this field was a work which ought to be seriously undertaken, and that this Department should begin the difficult

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task. The value of the suggestion was confirmed by discussion ; advice was sought from men of science and psychologists, gentlemen eminent in their specialties ; correspondence was opened with distinguished Europeans, and one result may be seen in a simple and concise register which, in the form of circulars and by reprints in many different newspapers in this country and in England, has reached tens of thousands of readers, and brought to this Department a wide and interesting correspondence. It is too soon to announce results; too soon to formulate any theory of the physical and mental development of children, but we are already in possession of interesting facts. We have hundreds of mothers engaged; many of whom have been trained in our universities and colleges to make investigations with accuracy, and to weigh evidence with candor. With patience and perseverance we hope that this Department may soon make such progress in the collection of facts as to justify the attempt, that in the course of the next decade a continued series of observations, in large numbers, may reveal order in the variations of phenomena, and that some portion of the secret of the mental and physical development of infants may be discovered. The interesting communications from Mr. Darwin and Mr. Alcott herewith submitted, will illustrate what the Committee have aimed to do, which will also appear in detail from the Register itself appended to this report:

Letter of Mr. Darwin.

Down, Beckenham, Kent,
Railway Station, Orpington, S. E. R.,

July 19, 1881.

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.

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I will venture to specify a few points of enquiry 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 schoolmasters or mistresses, if a large number of children were first classed according to age and their mental attainments, and afterward 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 often-repeated statement that colored children at first learn as quickly as white*children, but that tbey 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 bow far such early tastes are persistent and influence the future career of the individual. In some instances such tastes die away without apparently leaving an}- after effect; but it would be desirable to know how far this is commonly the case, as we should then know whether it wrere 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, wThich 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

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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,


To Mrs. Emily Talbot.

Mr. Alcott's Letter.

Concord, Massachusetts, August 31, 1881.

Professor W. T, Harris, Orchard House, Concord:

Dear Sir: You ask me to give you some extracts from my notes on Infancy, taken during the earliest years of my children. The following are now submitted to your perusal. In copying them from my manuscripts I beg you will remember that (while they may gain in scientific clearness) they may lose some of the attractiveness you found in them, when read in connection with the reflections and inferences made at the time of writing. The psychology must remain for the present untouched, but, in copying for your use, I allowed myself to improve the phraseology, making an occasional change for the sake of greater clearness. I confine myself to notes taken during the first three months of my eldest child's existence.


March 16, 1831.—During the first days after birth she slept most of the time. As she gradually awoke and was exposed to the light, she opened her eyes as if intent on adjusting these for the purpose of seeing. Luminous objects particularly attracted her notice. While viewing these her hands moved instinctively, her arms were extended and drawn toward the mouth, which also appeared to be sensitive to the stimulus by frequent movements of the lips and tongue.

Tenth day after birth.—Her features are daily assuming a more sensitive and mobile expressiveness. To-day her attention was arrested by the contrasted colors of her mother's dress, and her attention was accompanied with a smile. She sleeps less, and is more observant (if I may say so) when awake.

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