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Fear








Probably in no instinct more than in that of fear can we find the
reflections of all the past ages of life in the world with its manifold
changes, its dangers, its tragedies, its sufferings, and its deaths.

FEAR HEREDITY.--The fears of childhood are remembered at every step,
and so are the fears through which the race has passed. Says
Chamberlain: Every ugly thing told to the child, every shock, every
fright given him, will remain like splinters in the flesh, to torture
him all his life long. The bravest old soldier, the most daring young
reprobate, is incapable of forgetting them all--the masks, the bogies,
ogres, hobgoblins, witches, and wizards, the things that bite and
scratch, that nip and tear, that pinch and crunch, the thousand and one
imaginary monsters of the mother, the nurse, or the servant, have had
their effect; and hundreds of generations have worked to denaturalize
the brains of children. Perhaps no animal, not even those most
susceptible to fright, has behind it the fear heredity of the child.

President Hall calls attention to the fact that night is now the safest
time of the twenty-four hours; serpents are no longer our most deadly
enemies; strangers are not to be feared; neither are big eyes or teeth;
there is no adequate reason why the wind, or thunder, or lightning
should make children frantic as they do. But the past of man forever
seems to linger in his present; and the child, in being afraid of these
things, is only summing up the fear experiences of the race and
suffering all too many of them in his short childhood.

FEAR OF THE DARK.--Most children are afraid in the dark. Who does not
remember the terror of a dark room through which he had to pass, or,
worse still, in which he had to go to bed alone, and there lie in cold
perspiration induced by a mortal agony of fright! The unused doors which
would not lock, and through which he expected to see the goblin come
forth to get him! The dark shadows back under the bed where he was
afraid to look for the hidden monster which he was sure was hiding there
and yet dare not face! The lonely lane through which the cows were to be
driven late at night, while every fence corner bristled with shapeless
monsters lying in wait for boys!

And that hated dark closet where he was shut up until he could learn to
be good! And the useless trapdoor in the ceiling. How often have we
lain in the dim light at night and seen the lid lift just a peep for
ogre eyes to peer out, and, when the terror was growing beyond
endurance, close down, only to lift once and again, until from sheer
weariness and exhaustion we fell into a troubled sleep and dreamed of
the hideous monster which inhabited the unused garret! Tell me that the
old trapdoor never bent its hinges in response to either man or monster
for twenty years? I know it is true, and yet I am not convinced. My
childish fears have left a stronger impression than proof of mere facts
can ever overrule.

FEAR OF BEING LEFT ALONE.--And the fear of being left alone. How big and
dreadful the house seemed with the folks all gone! How we suddenly made
close friends with the dog or the cat, even, in order that this bit of
life might be near us! Or, failing in this, we have gone out to the barn
among the chickens and the pigs and the cows, and deserted the empty
house with its torture of loneliness. What was there so terrible in
being alone? I do not know. I know only that to many children it is a
torture more exquisite than the adult organism is fitted to experience.

But why multiply the recollections? They bring a tremor to the strongest
of us today. Who of us would choose to live through those childish fears
again? Dream fears, fears of animals, fears of furry things, fears of
ghosts and of death, dread of fatal diseases, fears of fire and of
water, of strange persons, of storms, fears of things unknown and even
unimagined, but all the more fearful! Would you all like to relive your
childhood for its pleasures if you had to take along with them its
sufferings? Would the race choose to live its evolution over again? I do
not know. But, for my own part, I should very much hesitate to turn the
hands of time backward in either case. Would that the adults at life's
noonday, in remembering the childish fears of life's morning, might feel
a sympathy for the children of today, who are not yet escaped from the
bonds of the fear instinct. Would that all might seek to quiet every
foolish childish fear, instead of laughing at it or enhancing it!





Next: Other Undesirable Instincts

Previous: Other Useful Instincts



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