There were almost no flickers of sensitivity to the horror. The callous behavior of parents and adults to infants in seventeenth-century England and eighteenth-century France is almost too impossible to appear credible. The women of the poor suckled for a trade, getting as many babies to a meager breast as they could. Naturally, their own child was fed first; often the other sucklings were half starved, and frequently hand fed on an appalling diet of pap which was a little flour and water.
The broken down hovels to which babies were consigned for wet-nursing were as dirty as they were pitiable. Often there was a dung heap at the door to give warmth, and the floor was strewn with filth of every kind. Death of an infant was an event of minimal consequence and of exceptional frequency.
Childhood was little better. Children were remorselessly flogged. A middle-class child in England was required to stand whenever he was in the presence of his parents and would be savagely punished if he did not. The children of the poor were expected to work as soon as they could walk and were often driven from home to work when little more than seven or eight. Born and bred in a world of callous brutality, the men and women of those days took torture and dismemberment in their stride, were indifferent to the horrors of slavery and the slave trade, and thought nothing of tormenting an idiot or an animal or throwing a witch onto a bonfire.
Then, about 1700, attitudes among the prosperous commercial classes in England began to change, for reasons that are not readily apparent. It may have been a realization that a living, healthier child had more salvage value. Also, the realization that children, with a 50 per cent child mortality; represented too many future customers to waste. Although humanitarian considerations may have existed, the cynicism regarding monetization of the child cannot be dismissed. In much the same way as stressing the horrors of cruelty to animals could spawn an industry for their care and welfare.
The result was the great wave of humanitarianism that swept Europe and America in the nineteenth-century. Public executions largely vanished and torture was stopped. Of course, a great deal of cruelty remained, but it was steadily diminishing. Today,we lack much cause to celebrate. The more outrageous and personal excesses of cruelty are not allowed to flourish unchecked, but has often been replaced by a pornography of violence through advertising and the media which stirs deep and dangerous emotions. A kind of child exploitation that is high risk, subtle and which seems to repress child instincts which could manifest itself in more frightening forms.
Today, we live in a time where children are still being victimized in a complex process involving the the ways we manufacture innocence: an innocence industry while also being attracted to less savory product. This synthetic innocence tends to have a brittle fragile quality filled with hidden content gleaned from a cultural netherworld. Innocence is indeed something we create, and not necessarily born to. Business wise, it makes more sense to contain the perverse under the aegis of the normal. These are all stories we tell about ourselves, not something we are. The view of innocence at birth that dissipates with age is a recent phenomenon, the Dickens notions which fostered a sentimental cult of the child.
For about two thousand years before that, Christianity held firm on original sin. When, Freud asserted that even small children harbor sexual and violent fantasies, he did succeed in awakening sensibilities, but he arguably did no more than revive and affirm the older form of religious teachings. Our sense of today’s world as an innocent one has a great deal to do with the prominence of children in it, as a marketing gambit, but childhood innoce
Its pretty apparent that innocence is mass-produced,standardized and homogenous much like any other mass market commodity.Innocence is a commodity,just look at video games and the children’s products industry to see how well it generates revenue. Publicly, we succumb to a purveying regard of American culture that is patriotic, optimistic,wholesome and choked full of middle-class values, secure,and ultimately despite reservations, in the and rightness of the American way. American culture is heavily addicted to this sense of itself, and thus has refined disavowal into a high art, and even created an alter-ego innocence debris industry.
It is a melancholy object to those who walk through this great town or travel in the country, when they see the streets, the roads, and cabin doors, crowded with beggars of the female sex, followed by three, four, or six children, all in rags and importuning every passenger for an alms. These mothers, instead of being able to work for their honest livelihood, are forced to employ all their time in strolling to beg sustenance for their helpless infants: who as they grow up either turn thieves for want of work, or leave their dear native country to fight for the Pretender in Spain, or sell themselves to the Barbadoes.
I think it is agreed by all parties that this prodigious number of children in the arms, or on the backs, or at the heels of their mothers, and frequently of their fathers, is in the present deplorable state of the kingdom a very great additional grievance; and, therefore, whoever could find out a fair, cheap, and easy method of making these children sound, useful members of the commonwealth, would deserve so well of the public as to have his statue set up for a preserver of the nation….
….As to my own part, having turned my thoughts for many years upon this important subject, and maturely weighed the several schemes of other projectors, I have always found them grossly mistaken in the computation. It is true, a child just dropped from its dam may be supported by her milk for a solar year, with little other nourishment; at most not above the value of 2s., which the mother may certainly get, or the value in scraps, by her lawful occupation of begging; and it is exactly at one year old that I propose to provide for them in such a manner as instead of being a charge upon their parents or the parish, or wanting food and raiment for the rest of their lives, they shall on the contrary contribute to the feeding, and partly to the clothing, of many thousands.
There is likewise another great advantage in my scheme, that it will prevent those voluntary abortions, and that horrid practice of women murdering their bastard children, alas! too frequent among us! sacrificing the poor innocent babes I doubt more to avoid the expense than the shame, which would move tears and pity in the most savage and inhuman breast. Read More:http://art-bin.com/art/omodest.html