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The square shape around the seriffed letter I is formed out of interlacing ribbons with terminal foliation of acanthus leaves and pomegranate buds. The decoration is created in thin black lines, leaving the letters, vines, and leaves white. It appears to be a wood engraving.

IT is against Infallible Parents, and chiefly the
Perfect Mother, that I would fain take up
my parable, albeit their ways are too won-
derful for me, and past my finding out.

    Wisdom is bound up in the heart of a child
together with foolishness. The free, fearless
mind of his fathers he inherits: their prejudices
he has to be taught. Few and weak are the links of his reasoning, scanty,
his facts, absurd his logic; yet when he takes his first mental flights,
he often swoops right down into the very heart of the truth, and that
chiefly because such truth as he has espied is one which lies quite bare
and on the surface, but which mature sapience has long ago decreed to
be invisible. For this he is invariably reproved. He has posed his
elders—children need not be argued with—they should be seen and not
heard. So, believing not one syllable of imperious denial or disclaimer,
he holds his peace, and forthwith looks out for such other secrets of
this queer world as he may pry into—a watchful critic, obstinately
storing up every new fact to confirm his tacit revolt, till the time comes,
sooner or later, when by force or fraud the young rebel is subdued, or
reconciled, to the wisdom of the majority. Then, learning with a new
arrogance more suited to his growing years that his eyes are at last
really opened to know good and evil, he embraces the consoling faith
that all is for the best in this worst possible of worlds. Not till long
afterwards, if ever at all, from such snug perch in the cage of life as he
has managed to secure, does he look back and try to understand those
childish beatings of the wings against the golden wires, then so
strangely invisible to the fledgling in his eager gaze across the far, free
world beyond—now, alas, so plain, so firm, so impassable. But all he
can do now is to peck at the bars, not indeed with much hope of
breaking them, but at least to spoil their gilding; nor in these days
can the most perverse Irreconcilable, who from first to last has always
been wholly on the children’s side, hope to do much more. Fellow-
prisoner! if you too have defied Conversion, and are in heart still
blessedly Unregenerate, read on—we are friends!

    Of all the pitfalls in the way of youth fra le vane speranze e’l van
dolore, the Moral Tale would be the most dangerous, but that, except
by stupid children, it is always profoundly suspect. Excellent Parents,
Kind Aunts, Judicious Friends, commanded at least our guarded


acquiescence, but the Moral Fabulist we rejected as a bare-faced,
deliberate cheat. We knew—that is, we felt—it was all wrong and
unjust and silly; and what right-feeling child could feel it otherwise?
With superb disdain he ignores the maxims of grown-up morality as
clumsy plots to cajole him into a noiseless, manageable submission.
But, after all, the despised Moralist does not go quite unavenged; for
in the inmost soul of the young enthusiast there will linger a shadowy,
haunting suspicion of the great world as of a place all Aunts and
Uncles and Schoolmasters, wherein it were well for a wise child not to
be too candid, but rather to hold his peace. From that moment he
becomes a true-born Englishman, jealously concealing his feelings,
whether in self-respecting reserve or in hypocrisy, he least of all knows.

    One of these well-meant Moralities has always strangely haunted
me. On it I am going to dwell, and that, I fear, mostly in the first
person, because so much of it is only my own imagining. Who wrote
this dismal apologue of The Purple Jar I know not, nor care. Not, I
trust, Sancta Maria Edgeworth, than whom few hold higher place in
my last-revised Calendar. Nor need I go hunt in the Bodleian, for,
though I dare say I shall tell the story all wrong, the only version
which concerns me is that which has grown in my memory through
long years, from the days when we gathered it with much painful
poring and spelling from an obsolete sheepskin volume—the ‘Third
Class Reader,’ I think it was called, but to us irreverent urchins known
familiarly as the ‘Silly Book.’ There it was printed as a parable of
Youth s folly and Age’s wisdom: we, alas! read it as a true tale of
outraged innocence and cold-blooded treachery.

    The first scene is a street. Rosamond and her admirable Mamma
are on their way to the shoemaker’s. Our little heroine is sadly down
at heel, and Mamma with her usual beneficence is going to buy her a
nice, strong pair of boots. But as Rosamond trips along, prattling
of boots and gratitude as inoffensively as any utilitarian parent could
wish, suddenly there flashes on her a strange, glorious, entrancing
radiance—the veritable purple light of youth itself. I suppose the
chemist had just lit his gas, or more likely his candles, and there it
stood proudly, the beautiful Purple Jar—its ample body one great disc
of imperial splendour, its shoulders curving so graciously up to the pale
lilac delicacy of its neck, and crowned with its tiara of pure, glittering
crystal. Among its fellows of azure, gules and vert it shone forth, the
queen of all—the fairest, because the rarest. For remember, in our
day there was no blazing, acrid aniline; our old indigo and madder


violets were dull and sombre, in fact what we called elderly colours.
Even among our sweatmeats the violet specimens were by far the
fewest, and therefore the most highly prized. So to poor Rosamond
this shapely pyramid of ruddy purple, its translucent gleam, its
plenteous mass, was something entirely novel. What can she do but
gaze, and gaze, and long with all a child’s yearning for instant posses-
sion ? A yearning of pure, admiring love; for already her very heart-
strings are twining about it, and if only it shall be hers, be sure that
when Mamma and Laura have gone up to dress, the little arms will
creep round it with a passionate hug, and the warm cheek be pressed
against its poor, cold, insensible sides, and breathless lips shower
kisses and murmured caresses as of a young mother, mingled with a
lover’s triumph—‘And now, Purple Jar, you are all my very own!’
What though Mr. Pestle is frowning through the tooth-brushes, and
Mamma warning her that she has dropped her muff, and commencing
that old, old lecture on the vulgarity of staring—Rosamond’s thoughts
are other where; she pants for the blissful days in store glorified by this
talisman of felicity she shudders to think what life must be without it.
Those who have forgotten the quick sensations of childhood may call
this exaggerated. I did not feel it so then; I cannot think it so now.
I know how heroic was the resolve with which in her imperious need
the child conquered the supreme delicacy which bars a foolish petition,
and boldly faced her Mamma with a request for the purchase of the

    Now this Mamma was not only an admirable, but a good—a very
good woman. She loved her child, but somewhat, I fear, as her child
loved the Jar, with an inward whisper now and then. ‘She is all my
own, my very own.’ In all her life Mrs. Barlow—for so I have always
somehow named her—had never wished for anything that was not
clearly and lawfully obtainable, or which was not also wished for by the
other Mrs. Bensons and Goodchilds of story; or if once she too had
longed for the improper, she had very properly forgotten all about it.
Really most untoward! to think that any child of hers! such pre-
posterous inclinations! this must be nipped in the bud. So turning
with her sweet, wise smile to the flushing suppliant, she speaks—
à propos des bottes. The Useful she will munificently bestow, but the
Beautiful ‘she cannot possibly afford.’ Not that I have ever doubted
that she had been very genteelly left by Mr. Barlow, or that she had
always felt it her duty to live well within her income, but of course,
if once the children suspect your means, they will hardly worship you


for taking them to the Polytechnic, and you lose a precious opportunity
of inculcating gratitude. So Rosamond, with a vague sense of
Mamma’s financial embarrassments and of the vast, ungrudging sacri-
fice involved in those long-promised and much-talked-of boots, is
penetrated by a great shame. But, alas! is there no escape? can she
let it go? If Mamma can only afford one will she please buy the jar
—it is so big and all of such lovely purple glass. ‘Purple glass!’
repeats Mamma with a flash of inspiration. She sees her way now,
this Excellent Parent! Has not a beautiful Providence expressly
placed ignorance as a bit between the teeth of youth, whereby we may
drive them as we will? Does it not lay a thousand snares and pitfalls,
whereby their little hopes and joys may be turned back upon them as
suicidal weapons, and all things work mightily together for the incul-
cation of Moral Lessons? And shall she, wise in the example of poor
dear Mr. Barlow, and in the lore of Mme. de Genlis and the Parent’s
Instructor, be wanting to this Providential opportunity? Surely no!
she is an Admirable Mamma—she loves her child—she knows her duty
she will lay a trap.

    So they step into the shop, and by a transparent collusion between
Mr. Pestle and Mamma it appears that the price of the Jar is just that
of the boots. And now Rosamond may choose the good and eschew
the evil as best seemeth her; but first, from a scrupulous respect for
fair dealing and possibly also to barb the stings of future remorse,
Mamma will place the issue clearly before her. Preluding briefly on
parental infallibility and passive obedience she points out how lasting
and substantial are the pleasures of boots as compared to those of the
Jar. Observe that she does not call it the Purple Jar; that would be a
story, for she knows that it is not purple at all, but of course she is not
bound to mention this. She merely advises; she wishes Rosamond to
choose freely; only, if she choose the Jar, she must make her old
boots last another month; for till then Mamma will not be able to
afford new ones. Rosamond is a little frightened by these solemn
judicial proceedings, but she is very brave. Seeing all the sacrifice,
she accepts it gladly. In vain does Mamma goad her with the
thought of walks to Rose Hill and Primrose Wood, for mark her
answer—‘I shall not mind that at all; for when you are gone, I can set
my Jar on the table, and put flowers in it, and look at it, and then I
shall never be lonely; besides a month will soon be over, but I shall
have my beautiful Jar always.’ O most unaccountable and discon-
certing of children! O poor, poor Mrs. Barlow of the soft, flaxen


braids and sweet wise smile, well may you wonder, you dear, dull,
English matron! and would wonder more if you knew all! For what
your child sees is no mere paltry chemist’s bottle but the divine illusions
of Art and Beauty; that eager, quivering voice is more than childish
petulance,—it is the faint birth-cry of the very spirit of the archangels,
of Michael and of Raphael. Well, well! smile on sweetly and wisely
—thou hast thy trap.

    So the die is cast, the Jar is to be sent home, and as Rosamond in
pure gratitude nestles for a moment in the big sable boa, whose
mingled odour of preservative camphor and natural vermin she will
associate to her dying day with maternal goodness, be sure that no
qualm flutters the well-regulated heart beneath it. I am not so sure
that Mr. Pestle, sneering sarcastic therapeutist as he was, did not feel a
little uneasy, for perhaps he had a little Frederick of his own, who came
in sometimes to help Papa roll the pills, and who, though he scorned
the secret of the Purple Jar, held other pretty delusions which Pestle
would not for all the world destroy.

    I cannot paint the walk home, its terrible slowness, the fever, the
sickening longing when Mamma would stop to look into those tiresome
toy and picture shops—O cunning, didactic Mamma!—and all the
time the prolonged savour of the coming certainty. Good Heavens!
how the child ran on, and what nonsense! how she clung to Mamma’s
hand, and how hard it was for her not to jump up and kiss her again
and again before the whole street in a perfect riot of love and trust-

    And, lo! the Jar already arrived and on the table, and in front of it
Laura, impassive as ever—is she of flesh and blood? calmly drawing.
Of course she was drawing—they were always drawing, these terrible
Lauras. Why, I can see the very picture, the tottering column and
broken arch on the left crowned with vague twiggery, the glossy black-
ness in the mouldings and capital—with what furtive and ladylike
discretion used Laura to moisten the pencil tip—the deformed traveller
and two trees on the right—they are beeches, so the pencil goes, jog,
jog—had they been chestnuts it would have gone jag, jag, scrape,
according to the rules of that black art called ‘tree-touches.’ And when
Laura has shaded and stippled and finicked, and smudged it all over
except the salivated shadows with the leather stump, she will have
done her worst, and then it will be for Mr. Touchup to spend a inauvais
quart d’heure over it, and lay on those bold masses of Chinese white
and bathe the thing in isinglass. And at last, tastily framed in seaweed


Laura will preserve it with just pride, and I dare say if you ask her
next time you are at Clapham, the old lady will show it you in the
spare bedroom, and tell you how she had been considered to have a
very remarkable talent for drawing, ‘but that of course, my dear, was
before my marriage.’

    Need I say that Rosamond was never suspected of such talent, and
so was not allowed to learn, though she pleaded hard enough, and was
always scrawling in her rough, ridiculous way. For, you see, she had
no patience, and as Touchup said, ‘Patience is so ab-so-lute-ly essential.’
So she can only loyally admire Laura’s masterpieces, and plan what
pretty things she would draw if only she knew how. As for working
out her own way, please, remember that in those far-off days it was
læsa majestas to attempt anything without ‘proper instruction,’ and that
our infallible guardians settled among themselves what we were, and
what we could, or could not do. John chopped the frog’s leg off and
so must make a good surgeon, and Joseph a parson, because he was
shocked and told Papa. Jane was destined for literature, because in her
dull apathy she liked the playground no better than the schoolroom,
and Clara doomed to the harp, because her taste was really so beautiful,
and her arm—this in a whisper—as elegant as Mamma firmly believed
her own to have once been. Had Rosamond cultivated a talent which
she had been ‘distinctly told’ she did not possess, Mrs. Barlow would
have been all aghast at her presumption, and Laura’s laughing, ‘O you
dear, ridiculous, clumsy, little thing!’ would have smothered the
kindling spark of genius. For a genius I am afraid she was in her
childish way, this little sister, as even Laura may have been too before
she left off frilled trousers. But now, since among the objects which
young ladies may and should admire, druggists’ bottles were certainly
never even so much as mentioned at Acacia Lodge, she draws on

    I wish my story were done, for the little tragedy which that cruel
horse-hair couch, and the false, blear-eyed mirror, and the gaunt piano,
with its flaring red silk stomacher gathered up by the big brass brooch,
must so keenly have relished that day, I like not to tell. Just a few
whose real, grown-up sorrows have not quite effaced the scars of their
first disillusions, may sigh to read, but the many will only laugh, and
well perhaps for them that they can. They have no patience with
children’s fancies—if the girl begins to cry, let her be sent to bed at
once. Even Mrs. Barlow herself could say no more. As she watched
Rosamond’s delight, I think she was exquisitely happy. Her trap is


about to spring, and the joyous chirping of the little bird to be turned
into piteous cries of despair. O! that demure cruelty of the Woman
and the Ecclesiastic! where in ah this wicked world is there anything
so fell?

    And whereunto shall I liken it? If you are a Barlow, you will
wonder how I can have forgotten what all the best Barlows have settled
long ago, that the proper illustration of cruelty is a cat playing with a
mouse, and not an Admirable Mamma tormenting her child. But I
fancy that when Mrs. Barlow watched—as I dare say she often did with
a certain scandalised fascination—poor Tabby’s barbarous antics the
caressing pats, the guileless complacency, the fatal springs—she entered
unconsciously into the sport, and constructed out of her own instincts a
pretty intelligible set of feelings, which having transferred to the
account of Puss, she could safely call cruelty. My own notion—per-
haps it is wrong—is that Puss is debarred by Providence, not only from
the luxury of cruelty, but even from the high human zest of sport, and
that she is merely practising those exercises of vigilance and dexterity
on which her livelihood depends, profoundly unconscious that mice can
feel. It is we alone, to whom it is given to probe and realise the feel-
ings of our fellows, who can really enjoy their sufferings—who can per-
versely delight to trouble the repose, to lacerate the heart, to reopen the
old wounds, and all in pure, selfish love. I hold very cheap my first
forefather, the old, arboreal, anthropoid Nondescript, and would shoot
and stuff him without remorse if I found him surviving in some desert
island, but all the same I see that his children have not escaped the
curses of over-domestication—perversion of instinct and morbidity of

    But Mrs. Barlow’s mind at that moment offers a problem so com-
plicated, that I dare only glance at its most obvious feature—that
quintessential savour, that unalloyed delight—the triumph of the
inferior over the superior mind. Mediocrity is intensely jealous. As
my dear old Voltairean friend used to say of our Cur£ in her grand First-
Empire tones, ‘C’est un homme tres borne. Il hait partout la supériorité.
Voilà pourquoi il me déteste!’ Not indeed that poor Rosamond boasted
a superior mind, nor, I fear, as yet much mind at all, but only some
vague, instinctive yearnings for higher things, which Mrs. Barlow either
did not feel or did not cultivate, and which therefore she pronounced
to be wholly improper. Among all the strange dealings of old and
young which I see going on around me, this crass, maternal jealousy
puzzles me most. I often hear the man in his big, self-depreciatory


tone, as of one whose sins after all sit not so badly upon him, hope that
Jack will make a better man than his father, but I never heard Mamma
breathe a similar prayer over dear Louisa. The better a woman is, the
more gigantic and more sincere is her self-admiration and self-belief ;
and the more subtly does she veil in devotion to her husband, her
children, this supreme devotion to self. The Excellent Mamma—and
truly excellent she is—has but one type of excellence—herself. Her
child must parody her virtues, think her thoughts, wear her chains, live
her life, and, losing all individuality, be gradually absorbed into the
Nirvana of Mamma. Alas! that we cannot all be excellent in the same
way! Every aspiration to perfections which are not hers is a tacit
insult to the mother’s infallibility. Nay, I sometimes fancy that in the
obedient, responsive machinery of Mrs. Barlow’s conscience there
must have lurked a distressing suspicion that all this high-flown Jar
nonsense somehow took the bloom off her prosaic Boot-theory, and
thrust the moralist down to lower ground. Heroism—the very shadow
of heroism—is an exasperation to the unheroic.

    So there was probably just a touch of benevolent spite to heighten
the zest of her Spartan morality. Rosamond shall see what comes of
knowing better than Mamma, when she discovers how finely she has
been deceived. Deceived? but by whom? Hem! well, we need not
go into that, but smoothe our lappets, and fumble in the reticule, and
practise our best smile, for already the child is calling out, ‘Oh, it is
full of nasty, black stuff! May I not pour this away?’ Jane shall
fetch a bucket. In grave silence (Jane has her cue) she tilts the Jar—
Laura kisses her pencil in knowing amusement—Mamma fixes the
chosen vessel with a mysterious stare—what can they all mean?—and
with gurgling sobs the doctor’s stuff is pouring, pouring forth, and with
it all the child’s delight. Amazement—dismay—the numbness of first
grief—desolation complete—then the fiery pang of outraged justice and
the shrill, resentful cry—‘But, Mamma, you never told me of this!’

    What kind, improving things Mrs. Barlow said I cannot repeat, for
this was just the part of the story I never remembered. Nor do I think
that Rosamond was as submissively attentive as she seemed, so absorbed
was she in weeping and self-pity. Dear, amiable Laura of course cried
too, susceptible to the infection of tears, but Mamma, gravely jubilant,
did not cry, nor did Jane, for in her eyes her kind, just mistress could
do no wrong; but when she was safe back in her kitchen, I dare say
she sighed hugely over her kneading trough, and owned that perhaps
Madam was just a bit hard sometimes, though to be sure Miss Rosy


was fearful aggravating and not a bit like the other young ladies, but
always such a one for anything pretty. So Jane—God speed her loving,
clumsy hands! falls to work to fashion a dough pig with currant eyes
and caraway bristles, and when she goes to tuck up her darling, she
will carry it up hot in her apron, and Rosamond shall munch the tooth-
some statuary, and be comforted.

    The rest of the tale has faded quite away, except how the authoress
gloated like a ghoul over the tribulations of that weary month; how
during the next morning walk Rosamond was always lagging behind to’
pull up her slipshod shoes, and was forthwith interned in the house as
altogether too disreputable for public view; sentenced for one calendar
month—no Primrose Wood, no going to tea at Mrs. Goodchild’s, or to
hear Harriet Benson’s new bird organ, but to sit always, always at home
O impatient little feet and fingers that drum the window pane!
alone, with no company but the poor, pale, colourless Jar. Let us
fervently hope that the dancing bears always came round just at those
very times, and the fantoccini, and the courtly old signor with his
poodles, and Punch’s show, and the little Auvergnat with a waxen
Solomon’s Judgment in his box and the white mice peeping out of his
sleeve his flashing smile and kind eyes such a vision of ragged felicity
that even Jane relents, and against all rules permits bread, nay even
cake, to be carried out to him, and Rosamond, flighty little puss! feels
that if he really were the Marquis of Carabas in disguise, she would
gladly trudge with him, slipshod or barefoot, and carry Solomon through
the wide world till they reached his father’s kingdom. All these brave
shows, I trust, passed before the prison window, and that Laura missed
them every one.

    Whether Mrs. Barlow relented I know not, nor how the tale ended,
nor even how long it was. If, when you have searched the archives of
the nursery, it should turn out to be after all no more than three or four
pages of big print, believe that I have but told a part of the full
version as I held it, and hold it still. Its whole import has grown
upon me gradually, but from the very first there was never a doubt that
Rosamond was entirely right, and her Mother entirely wrong, or that a
black deed of stupidity and injustice had been done. Dear lady, best
of Moral Fabulists, your tale has in spite of you told some truths to
which you yourself were stone-blind—the child’s barbaric, untrained, yet
holy admiration of beauty such as he sees it; his vast yearning for
possession—no mere sordid acquisitiveness, but the thirst for realising,
for identifying his soul with the thing admired by the nearness of secure


ownership; his faith in the universal Utopia; his choice—sadly wrong
no doubt, but for all that truly heroic—of the Beautiful before the
Useful; all those childish things which seem ever pleading to us, ‘Ne
brutalisez pas la machine!’—which we parents and pedagogues, calling
them delusions, trample in our dust.

    Can all this, it will be said, refer to the sordid, gluttonous little
animals one meets in the holidays? No indeed! nor yet to those
effeminate manikins in slashed velvet and Florentine barrets who early
learn to lisp the Correggiosity of Correggio. I am only speaking of the
average English child of gentle birth, pure blood and healthy instinct,
before we have made him ashamed of his better feelings, and equipped
him for the coarse, great world by the far coarser world of school. Such
children do of their own free will betray a genuine love of beautiful
things and an honest readiness to sacrifice to them their grosser desires.
The elements of this childish sense of beauty need not here be analysed;
enough that it rests mainly on three grounds. First, smallness; partly
connected with delicacy and fineness, but much more with the patron-
ising, piotecting love of pets. That the child has any true sense of the
grandiose is a common error—bigness he admires partly as a sign of
force in sympathy with his own ebullient energies, partly from mere
greedy preference of what is largest and most for the money. The
other elements are bright colour, and, most important of all, rarity.
Given these most inadequate grounds, the child does undoubtedly
discriminate, appreciate and admire; and these active feelings do, or
rather might, form a large and wholesome element in his early life.
But our good parents, and we too I fear in our own day, must have
it otherwise. The children admire the wrong things—their taste is
really deplorable—what on earth can they know about it? Hush, dear !
Papa does not like to be teased about such rubbish! He has risen
above Purple Jars.

    Well, I am no Parent’s Instructor to give advice, but only grief
and wonder and scolding. Por of all the moon-rakers and sand-rope-
weavers on this foolish planet the most pitiful and the most hopeless to
my thinking are the Judicious Parents. How they love their little
dolls! how they tyrannise over them! how careful they are not
to spoil them! how entirely they do spoil and mar them for
any aim in life higher than their own! How patiently do they
mould and smoothe and pat and thump the rebellious little clay
models, investing them with some strange merit of incongruous age
and sobriety! what rejoicing over the neat, easily managed automata


when quite finished! what woe unspeakable when at times the young
Adam breaks out! Strangest of all, that blind confidence in the child’s
credulity, a confidence undisturbed by the faintest recollection of the
parents’ own infant scepticism. Beautiful it is, this parental affection,
because it rests on instinct; grotesque, because that instinct is per-
verted—a veritable chinoiserie of love. Such, too, are its masterpieces—
nature so overlaid with minutest art that the nature is well nigh lost;
all beauty of material jealously effaced by cunning handicraft. And
then all is well; the artificer happily unconscious that under his strenu-
ous hand are being crushed the purest charms and the sweetest graces—
that the child’s sensuous instinct buds forth in exuberant welcome to
the wealth of Nature, as a young fig-tree which, pruned unkindly, bleeds
to death. But why not indeed? Let it die, this rank, useless growth,
and plant we our leeks and onions in its place, dear to mature palates !
And so it comes about that only the poor réfractaire, who in his intense
Conservatism is always finding himself on the Extreme Left with
impracticables and irreconcilables, remains to cherish in silence the
supreme reproof of all pedagogy, the watchword of all goodly nurture,
‘Suffer little children to come, and forbid them not.’

    As children they come, with a child’s sweet, foolish wisdom, foolish
dreams, supremely foolish longings—come to us standing outside the
doors of a poor pantomime Paradise, where we too once were happy,
which never more shall we re-enter; into our woeful world we drag
them to make them even as ourselves. I know well that in this hard,
ugly world are weaving epics and tragedies and idylls of love and
sacrifice, beside which all fairyland and the grand transformation scene
itself are as shabby tinsel; but these, alas, the child cannot see. For
him the lust of the eye and the pride of life are no Satanic snares, but
the unspeakable gift of God. We may blindfold the eager gaze, if we
like, but it will never brighten again at our bidding; cramp and fetter
the wayward life, and yet it shall never be as ours. Why then forbid
young eyes to see their full in all beauty—even beauty to us poor and
false? lest peradventure the very desire of seeing should fade out ere the
sight wax dim. Mr. Ruskin indeed has said that Art is not for children,
but rather fresh air and food and nature. But then by Art, we usually
mean so much that is really Nature, so much that can best rouse
and warm a child’s soul, which is capable of no higher passion
than loving admiration. The whole domain of child-land is swayed
by this beneficent lust of the eye, this exquisite delight of the young
stranger in a world so full of beautiful surprises. Yet which of us has


the loving courage to take him by the hand, and lead him all through
the raree show, and stop to stare at all the pitiful, make-believe marvels,
and not by one sneer or yawn poison his delight, or turn his joy to shame?
But unless we can stoop to this, we shall hardly train his eye to any
power of eager sight with all our Art Schools and Museums and
Academies, but rather, I fear, dim and extinguish it. What such
wholesome training should be, what are the sweet uses of Purple Jars,
so far as I know them, must here be left unsaid, but, believe me, they
are many and potent.

    More and worse remains. For the story tells not only of a wilful
darkening of the seeing eye, but of deliberate and treacherous mis-
leading of the blindfolded. Of such sort is much of our home discipline.
It seems so much easier to the Excellent Parent to convince by
deception than by argument or persuasion or authority. The end is
no doubt gained—the tiresome child silenced, the tired parent at ease.
But meanwhile a wrong, a calamity, a crime has been perpetrated, so
irreparable that the Infallible herself would stand aghast thereat, were
she not infallible. For, little as she knows it, the smooth, pure ice of
moral rectitude and maternal perfection on which hitherto she has
glided so superbly before the eyes of her young admirers, has broken
under her, and, alas! by her own fault. No longer will she steer her
calm, majestic course, but rather flounder dismally and shamefully—
strange object of wonderment and misgiving and heart searching to
the disillusioned worshipper. Once for all she has been found out. The
child no longer believes her mother—whom then will she believe? For
the scepticism of children is a disbelief, not in God, but in the Parent;
the religion of love once discarded, the young infidel loves henceforth,
if at all, with mere brute instinct. Is this a light harm? With the
loftiest professions the superior, in pretending to raise the inferior mind,
has stooped to fraud, treachery and cruelty. From that instant the
whole conspiracy of education is seen through as a bungling plot to
inveigle children into paths which are not those of peace and pleasant-
ness for themselves, but of ease and self-seeking for their instructors.
To us the end may justify the means; in their eyes the means damns
the end. The bubble has burst; the Purple Jar is drained of its fairy
splendour. Virtue becomes the monster which, to be hated, needs but
to be seen through the pedagogic camera—hated because it is uncon-
sciously felt to war against the soul, and rob life of its just delights—
hated as only hypocrisy, cant, and pretence can be hated by the pure-
hearted and hot-headed. Mournful as it seems, this, more or less, is


the burden of the cry from many a model English nursery. To such
a pass have all our long-suffering, deeply planned strivings brought us—
the parents utilitarian morality inculcated by trickery, enforced by
oppression, and therefore never cordially adopted—the child’s uncon-
scious love of right and hate of wrong, his simple enthusiasm, his
sensitive honour, his shrinking delicacy, all crushed and wounded
beyond healing.

    O kind Papas and Mammas of story! I fear me that after all there is
little kindness in you. If yours be love, I know not what is this I feel for
your victims. Crabbed Age and Youth cannot dwell together—their joys
and griefs are too far apart, nay often clean opposed—yet from time to
time a sweet and wholesome converse may hold them a while together
on the same path. There is in all of us a retour de jeunesse, or rather a
survival of childhood, a relighting of smouldering fires, which accords not
ill with simple, youthful gladness; the sweet, momentary seriousness of
the child is strangely attuned to our habitual gravity. It is when at
their best, most simple, most earnest, most sequestered from the shame-
ful world, that the child and the man are really at one, that they can
interchange their gifts, that mirth may be given for wisdom, gladness
for guidance, peace for strength. In this hopeless impasse, this uni-
versal loss of human contentment to which we have brought the world,
this strange medley of luxury and woe, it seems almost as if the children
alone have kept the power of pure enjoyment. For us it remains mostly
to share their pleasure as best we may, or at least not to spoil it.

    Ah, Rosamunda! little wild rose, opening so pure and fresh to joy
thee in the boon air and merry sun, let other hands than mine, more stern,
more self-certain, dash the dew from thy bright cheek and mangle thy
pretty vesture, and train thee to the prim perfection of my lady’s garden.
For I too have been young—have laughed and played and sighed, and
have not forgotten. As my comrades, trooping to death along the
high road of success and fame, leave me behind, fain would I linger
yet awhile among the young and brave, mingling with the merry crew
to cheer on their games and faintly echo their glee, consoling little
griefs and laughing away transient pains, nor seek, as fond fools may,
some measured return of gratitude. But thou, little dream-child, I
know, art not ungrateful, nor ungracious. What though they are all
against us? we are brave; we are strong; we are two against the
world! Has Mamma taken Laura to Primrose Wood and left thee to
disenchantment and the Purple Jar? Then together we will revive the
broken spell. Let us away from the town beyond the last ugly villa,


and roam the fair river-meads, where you shall ask a thousand eager
questions, and I, a very Solomon in your eyes, will tell of all trees and
flowers and glad living things we see, till the gleam of the waters and
the rush of the breeze and the green glorious growth beneath us shall
call laughing music to your lips, and to mine some echo of long silent
harmonies. Then back we will trudge, spoil-laden; for the poor, forlorn
old Jar shall have his share in our festivity. And when we have crowned
him with reeds and poppies and meadow-sweet and tall golden flags,
and girdled his gleaming bosom with ivy and bindweed, he shall stand
transfigured—no longer a poor Purple Jar, foolishly worshipped for an
hour, then wantonly despised, but the selfsame Crystal Vase that
eternally droops its sprays over the couch of the Sleeping Beauty.
And thou, dear child, to whom all fairyland and its wonders are
familiar, wilt know it again at once, and clap thy hands in returning
pride and admiration, and, half-believing, thank the old magician for
his charm.

    But already Mamma has returned, not at all put out by our escapade,
indeed vastly complaisant, and as usual quite delighted—guileless
Rosy can never make out why—that Uncle John should take so much
notice of her little girl, and invite her to tea, and—of course she may go
if he is quite sure she will not be too troublesome. So off we march to
hold high banquet on sweet forbidden dainties from dishes which have
each a history, and Rosamond shall marvel for the hundredth time at
my pots and pans and graven images many and outlandish, and shall
even handle my chiefest treasure, which no mortal housemaid may
touch and live, the vase of old emerald crackle smothered with gouts
and tears of foaming enamel. And then, after due pressing, I consent
to unlock the old corner cupboard where sleep Aunt Cynthia’s dolls—so
tenderly used, so carefully laid by, poor soul! for the children she never
lived to bear; and beside them the tiny pink jockey cap and miniature
spurs in which the Archdeacon won on Beelzebub; and on the top shelf
all that survive of the Chinese toys, Indian gods, and other dear-bought
rubbish which the poor Admiral used to bring home for Susan’s brats.
Perhaps we shall play a little at one of the stupid, obsolete games we find
in the drawer, which are not such bad fun after all, at least for Rosamond
who always wins, or reconstruct one or two old picture-puzzles, or read
some more about the robins in Dame Trimmer’s incomparable story.
And when we have put everything away neatly in its proper place
for Mamma’s golden maxims must not be openly discredited—we fall
to talk, and that neither patronising monologue nor vacant chatter, for


the subject changes so suddenly, arguments so illogical and novel,
questions so startling and insoluble are sprung upon the Oracle, that
he feels he is on his mettle and his reputation at stake. Our discourse
is no doubt absurdly serious, for small skill have I and still less heart to
parry or wound young questioners by banter and mockery; likely
enough we shall get all wrong and talk sad nonsense. But old Fatima
will not mind that, as she poses on her tiger-rug—a motionless, vaguely
outlined form blurred in a nimbus of fluffy whiteness, with tasselled
ears and eyes unfathomable, the embodied Spirit of Discretion—for
she was brought up on the knees of an Ambassador, has sat in Con-
gresses, and smeared with indolent tail the signatures of a Great Treaty;
to her after a youth of protocols and pourparlers all speech is but a
human purr. And after all what care we if cat or king be listening ?
For in perfect simplicity we will talk only of beautiful and joyous
things, the child weaving her wildest, silliest fancies, and because we
both believe in all goodness and fairyland, I would not for the world
check her, but, so far as I may, gently lead her bright enthusiasm to
dwell on such sweet verities of life and nature as she can best under-
stand, and I most revere.

    Ah me! how fast the time has flown! Hark! it is Jane, with pattens
and lantern, come to fetch home her charge. Good-night, Rosamond!
little dream-guest of my failing hearth! good-night! brave, trustful
English children, all of you! To your dreams! to your dreams! and
may they every one come true!

                                                                                                EDWARD PURCELL.

MLA citation:

Purcell, Edward. “Of Purple Jars.” The Pageant, 1897, pp. 198-220. Pageant Digital Edition, edited by Frederick King and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2019-2021. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2021.