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Mothers of Great and Good Men by Amelia Edith Huddleston Barr

From, Maids Wives and Bachelors

Women are apt to complain that their lot is without influence. On the contrary, their lot is full of dignity and importance. If they do not lead armies, if they are not state officers, or Congressional orators, they mould the souls and minds of men who do, and are; and give the initial touch that lasts through life. The conviction of the mother's influence over the fate of her children is old as the race itself; ancient history abounds with examples; and even the destinies of the gods are represented as in its power. It was the mothers of ancient Rome that made ancient Rome great; it was the Spartan mothers that made the Spartan heroes. Those sons went out conquerors whose mothers armed them with the command, “With your shield, or on it, my son!”

The power of the mother in forming the character of the child is beyond calculation. Can any time separate the name of Monica from that of her son Augustine? Never despairing, even when her son was deep sunk in profligacy, watching, pleading, praying with such tears and fervor that the Bishop of Carthage cried out in admiration, “Go thy way; it is impossible that the son of these tears should perish!” And she lived to see the child of her love all that her heart desired. Nor are there in all literature more noble passages than those which St. Augustine consecrates to the memory of a parent whom all ages have crowned with the loftiest graces of motherhood.

Bishop Hall says of his mother, “She was a woman of rare sanctity.” And from her he derived that devoted spirit and prayerful dignity which gave him such unbounded influence in the church to which his life was consecrated. The “divine George Herbert” owed to his mother a still greater debt, and the famous John Newton proposes himself as “an example for the encouragement of mothers to do their duty faithfully to their children.” Every one is familiar with the picture which represents Dr. Doddridge's mother teaching him, before he could read, the Old and New Testament history from the painted tiles in the chimney corner. Crowley, Thomson, Campbell, Goethe, Victor Hugo, Schiller and the Schlegels, Canning, Lord Brougham, Curran, and hundreds of our great men may say with Pierre Vidal:

  “If aught of goodness or of grace
    Be mine, hers be the glory;
  She led me on in wisdom's path
    And set the light before me.”

Perhaps there was never a more wonderful example of maternal influence than that of the Wesleys' mother. To use her own words, she cared for her children as “one who works together with God in the saving of a soul.” She never considered herself absolved from this care, and her letters to her sons when they were men are the wonder of all who read them. Another prominent instance is that of Madame Bonaparte over her son Napoleon. This is what he says of her: “She suffered nothing but what was grand and elevated to take root in our souls. She abhorred lying, and passed over none of our faults.” How large a part the mother of Washington played in the formation of her son's character, we have only to turn to Irving's “Life of Washington” to see. And it was her greatest honor and reward when the world was echoing with his renown, to listen and calmly reply, “He has been a good son, and he has done his duty as a man.”

John Quincy Adams owed everything to his mother. The cradle hymns of his childhood were songs of liberty, and as soon as he could lisp his prayers she taught him to say Collins' noble lines, “How sleep the brave who sink to rest.” No finer late instance of the influence of a mother in the formation of character can be adduced than that of Gerald Massey. His mother roused in him his hatred of wrong, his love of liberty, his pride in honest, hard-working poverty; and Massey, in his later days of honor and comfort, often spoke with pride of those years when his mother taught her children to live in honest independence on rather less than a dollar and a half a week. The similar instance of President Garfield and his mother is too well known to need more than mention.

There can be no doubt of the illimitable influence of the mother in the formation of her child's character. The stern, passionate piety of Mrs. Wesley made saints and preachers of her children; the ambition and bravery of Madame Bonaparte moulded her son into a soldier, and the beautiful union of these qualities helped to form the hero beloved of all lands,—George Washington. I do not say that mothers can give genius to their sons; but all mothers can do for their children what Monica did for Augustine, what Madame Bonaparte did for Napoleon, what Mrs. Washington did for her son George, what Gerald Massey's mother did for him, what ten thousands of good mothers all over the world are doing this day,—patiently moulding, hour by hour, year by year, that cumulative force which we call character. And if mothers do this duty honestly, whether their sons are private citizens or public men, they will “rise up and call them blessed.”


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