The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Care of Children's Senses

by Dr. Macnaughton Jones.
Volume 3, 1892/93, pgs. 904-913

Abstract of a Lecture delivered at the Hampstead Branch of the Parents' National Educational Union.

[Professor Henry Macnaughton Jones, 1844-1918, was an Irish doctor from Cork who worked in London as an obstetrician. He founded the Cork Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital, later known as the Victoria Hospital. In 1866 he married Henrietta Gregg; they had three children. He also wrote poetry.]


I will now say a few words as to children's ears. These, for want of time, must take the form of aphoristic [concise] rules, the neglect of which costs many a child loss of hearing. It is often very difficult to say whether a very young child is absolutely deaf or not. Such tests as the tuning fork, the piano, the whistle, loud speaking, and various other sounds must be conducted by the surgeon. The earlier, however, this is determined, the better. (A model of the ear was shown, and its component parts briefly demonstrated.) The object of early detection of absolute deafness is to secure proper lip teaching, and the education of the deaf mute. This should be done early and by skilled teachers. Postponement only leads to greater difficulty in education and bad habits on the part of the mute. What tact, care, patience, gentleness, kindness, moral example, are required in the education, only those who have experience of mute children know. Not every nurse or even parent is endowed with such qualities. Much can be done by proper object teaching and patience, the efforts of the skilled teacher can be supplemented by home training. Good civil servants and useful members of society can thus be turned out, for it is wonderful what a degree of intelligence these children often possess.

The next point to press home to parents is the necessity for early treatment of any aural affection; in this direction the nose and upper part of the throat are included. All aural surgeons now regard the nose and middle ear as practically a single organ. Obstruction in the nostril leads to deafness, for it hinders the free ventilation of the ear through interruption of the nasal respiration, as it prevents air passing up the tubes leading to the back of the nose at each side of the ear. This is called "Eustachian obstruction," the tube being named after a great anatomist who described it. Obstruction of this ventilating shaft of the ear causes deafness. Hence any growth at the back of the nose, any swelling or congestion of its orifice, and want of patency in the nasal passage leading to it, should be at once attended to in children. Defective pronunciation, snoring at night, deformity of the chest wall, are a few of the more pronounced evidences of postnasal obstruction from what are called adenoid growths. Such growths at the back of the nose often lead to deafness and to other serious ear mischief, as, for example, inflammation and abscess. They are comparatively easy to remove, and the immediate effect on the child's hearing, speech and breathing is remarkable.

One golden rule should be observed in regard to the ear--never neglect discharge from it. That old ignorant and most impotent attitude of "waiting until a child grows out of" anything is nowhere more dangerous than in the case of an ear discharge. It arises out of a natural fear to meddle with what the person knows nothing about. A discharge from the ear is a danger signal, often the red light following on the first little electric tinkle of the bell, in the slight pain that causes the little sufferer to carry the hand to the ear, long before any serious mischief declared itself. Then follow discharge, possibly growths in the outer passage, perforation of the drum covering, middle ear abscess, brain complications, possibly convulsions and death. All may be prevented by timely interference and judicious management. Such cases are, I am sorry to say, only too numerous. A terrible responsibility for wilful neglect attaches itself to those parents who see such symptoms lasting from day to day, and still hesitate to act. In scarlatina, hearing is often lost that might be preserved. It is one of the most potent causes of destruction of the drum and its ossicles and covering. The physician in charge of a case should take steps to prevent this. And it frequently is to be prevented by proper medical and surgical measures. Measles is another frequent cause of deafness. There is one habit which leads to inflammation of the ear that I wish to refer to, and that is forcible dipping of the child in sea water. Sea bathing, especially diving on the head, is a not uncommon cause of deafness. Children with affected middle ears should not be thus forcibly dipped.

I could quote some very striking cases, in which permanent head mischief has arisen from this rough immersion of a child--fright and shock are caused, the circulation in the brain is suddenly and seriously interrupted.

It may be taken as a general rule, safe to follow in the care of children"do nothing forcibly with them." Don't forcibly syringe them. Don't box or pull them." To box a child's ear, and I have once known it do so, might lead to its death. The brain mischief it causes leads to stupidity and stultifies the child. The secret of the management of children is gentleness. If the cord of love does not lead them, none other will. Their delicate sense organs teach us the lesson of gentleness in their management. Of course to this rule there are exceptions. But, at least this I will urge, that nature has provided more suitable portions of the human body on which to play the fool, than the exquisitely sensitive ear and the almost equally sensitive and delicate skin of the hand. If an insect gets into a child's ear, drop warm oil into it. If the child put a piece of slate pencil, a shell, a pebble, a piece of mock glass jewellery, or any other foreign substance, take him at once to a doctor, and let him do nothing but syringe the ear for its removal--no pulling or poking--simple syringing, and, with patience, out it will come, and do no harm. I have removed, under some superimposed wax, a grain of shot, which lay in a lady's ear from childhood. There was not the least injury to the hearing. I could quote numbers of cases of various kinds of foreign body, for which I have been consulted. I have never failed ultimately to remove them by syringing, and without that permanent injury to the ear often brought about by forcible efforts at removal with mechanical appliances.

One other caution about ears: don't poke ends of towels or any other instruments for purposes of cleanliness into the outer ear passage. It often only serves to imprison wax and possibly set up inflammation. Don't keep microbe collecting plugs of cotton-wool in the ear. They are incubating centres for decomposing and fermenting debris. I will dismiss my remarks on the ear with these two cardinal cautions:

      Never neglect pain in the ear.

      Never neglect discharge.

I show you some light and clean ear protectors made of celluloid, I have myself devised for wearing in the ear. They are perforated, and hence do not prevent hearing.

From what I have said in speaking of the effects of deficient space in the nasal passages on hearing, or of obstruction at the back of the nose, due to growths on the ventilation of the middle ear, it is obvious how important it is to attend to any evidences of such narrowing or blocking. In addition to the unpleasant breathing in the daytime, the child snores heavily at night; often the tonsils are enlarged as well, and the back of the child's throat, including the space between the palate and the wall of the throat, is encroached on. Not alone is it necessary to remove the post-nasal growths, but the projecting portion of hypertrophied tonsils should also be removed--and I might here state, for the comfort of timid parents, that of the hundred of tonsil extirpated or partially removed by me, I never have had in one single instance to repeat the operation, or to reflect on any evil consequences that followed it. I speak of patients of all ages from three years and upwards.

Injuries to the nose cause serious deviation of the bones or of the median partition between the nostrils. The consequences of such injuries should be immediately attended to surgically; otherwise the cartilage and bones have a tendency to grow in awkward directions, and so obstruct the passage, while considerable deformity is added to the risks of impairment of respiration and hearing. Children should be taught to breathe through the nose, and to keep their mouths shut. Speech, hearing, and respiration are thus protected. The nose is the natural medium for filtering and heating the air before finding its way into the throat and lungs. It must also be recollected that colds in the head and the temporary obstruction to nasal breathing are predisposing causes to deafness, and that such catarrhal states should receive due attention. Any increment of deafness as the cold was "passing off" should be corrected.

As regards the sense of taste in children, parents have grave responsibility. The law of heredity is not to be despised. Many a child whose parents are fond of alcohol have the parental vice engendered, fostered and encouraged by careless and loose habits in the use of wine and alcohol at table, and by encouraging children to drink that which they frequently have a natural dislike to the taste of, and which, while perfectly useless to them as a food, is positively harmful to them.

How dreadful is the responsibility that rests on parents and guardians of children in this respect I fear is not fully appreciated. Is it not true that before young fellows go to a public school, they have learned at the home table the lessons which in after-life leads to debauchery and drunkenness? The consequence is that lads of tender age are constantly to be seen emerging from refreshment bars, drinking saloons, or public-houses, where they retreat the moment they are from under the eye of the tutor or master. Worse still, how many women in good society might trace their love of wine and its final disastrous consequence on their health to the example they had seen set them by their mothers in childhood and growing girlhood.

Children as a rule do not require wine or alcoholic drinks of any kind. As in all matters of domestic administration and example, discretion and sound judgment are necessary to avoid what may appear selfish withholding on the one hand, or rash inducement and temptation on the other. One thing is certain, that the healthiest children generally are those who are reared on plain but nutritious food--whose palates are not educated for fastidious tastes, and whose capricious appetites are not pampered by eccentricity in the selection of complex, and the rejection of simple, foods.

The care of the skin and the education of a child's sense of touch are matters I shall but briefly refer to. In these days of general belief in the efficacy of the morning tub, it is not needful to say much on the score of cleanliness. Dirty skins in children generally go with dirty, slovenly, and untidy habits. if I were asked what is the quickest test you can apply to ascertain the general character of the supervision a child receives physically and morally, I would say "Just look at its ears and hands." Ex uno disce omnes. [Google: "learn all from one"] Young Hercules' feet and hands tell a true tale. One caution I cannot refrain from giving on this point. Don't be too heroic with children's tubs and sea bathing. There are certain instincts of the child such as fear of water, dread of immersion and shock; his sensibility to cold, his want of reaction after the bath, and the child's circulatory power and vigour--all these have to be considered. ["Paddling" in hose feet on the beach for hours is another habit which should be condemned. The circulation of a child may not react after the prolonged application of cold to the extremities.] Great mischief may be done by overlooking these. On the other hand, treating children as if they were young lobsters, and popping them into hot water, until their delicate skins are half scalded, is most enervating and injurious.

The gradual evolution of a child's sense of touch through the process of education of both eye and finger is one of the most wonderful things in physiology. To educate this harmonious relation of the senses is the great privilege we adults have. in such harmonious relationship as is exhibited in painting a picture, in playing the violin or piano, in delicate mechanical manipulation, take, for example, my own art, the surgeon's, in many of its delicate operations on the eye and ear; in various adjustments of colour; in the art of the sculptor; in the making of a watch, we see the outcome of a gradual evolutionary process in the child, the youth, the man. Some appear to come into the world with the evolutionary process half completed, as in the case of a Mozart, Michael Angelo, a Joseph Hoffman or Sarasate. Ear, eye, finger, all respond in perfect harmony. But in most children, not so endowed, this final complex unison depends on a slow and gradual education of all the senses working in concord and without effort. In short, what we term automatic action of the finger goes hand in hand with unconscious operation of the eye and ear--thus, like a sympathetically vibrating chord in music, one sense re-echoes to the other, without a single discordant vibration in producing the ultimate effect.

Much might be said of taking quite a different view of the subject to the one I have. There is such a thing as "seeing with the eyes shut," as my old friend the late James Hinton long ago said.

There is a psychical as well as physical side to the development, growth, care and culture of the senses. This may be viewed from a positive or a negative aspect. It is true that our senses are deceptive in the inferences we draw from them, if we trust entirely to the impressions they convey to the brain. The eye is deceptive, and "optical illusions" is a common expression for such ocular misrepresentations of nature and nature's phenomena. The ear deceives us in the character and direction of sound. The touch is defective in the ideas it conveys both of size and form. It is often necessary to correct the idea or conception, resulting from the use of one sense by that of another, sight by hearing or touch, hearing by sight, and touch by both. Truly, we often see by the eye of reason and the operation of the mental faculties better than with the unaided organ of vision. And we have to bring the same force to bear on hearing, smell, and touch to form correct estimates of the direction of sound, the source of odours, and the estimation of shape or dimension. The painter who depicts a foaming cataract or paints a thunderstorm, literally makes you hear with your ears shut. The musician who draws his inspiration from that picture hears with his ears shut. Involuntarily, we often close our eyes to shut out the interference of external impressions on our retinas, so as to get a better and clearer view of a picture we wish to portray in language or to describe with the pen. We see better with our eyes shut--we do not even see ourselves with our eyes--we get a better idea of what we are like inside and outside if we close them. If this be true, then how necessary it is to early modify the erroneous impressions and lessons drawn from the senses in the young. Children should early be taught to think and to draw correct deductions from what they thought they saw, felt, and touched. How early may we not commence with objective lessons, and begin to educate by gradual increments of teaching those senses aright; to instil broader and more comprehensive views of nature and art, to teach children to see and hear intelligently and truly. Parents are often sadly deficient in this respect, nay worse, through some absurd notion of humouring and playing with children or amusing them, they deliberately misrepresent, and instil erroneous or distorted views of nature, and the origins of things into young minds' and much of the popular children's literature and pictorial books tend in the same direction. Children are quick to learn--slow to unlearn. The young brain, like the soft wax, receives the impress, and if this hardens before it is obliterated, it crystallises there, and often requires to be "tried by fire," before it is removed.

Let us be careful, then, how we light up the "windows of the soul," and what electric rays of knowledge we switch, at any moment of the growing child's existence, into the yet dark chambers of its mental structure. I cannot refrain from quoting here a translation from Plato by Mr. Ruskin, and quoted by him in his lecture on the "Relation of Art to Religion": "Must it be, then, only with our poets that we insist that they shall either create for us the image of a noble morality, or among us create none? Or shall we not also keep guard over all other workers for the people, and forbid them to make what is ill-customed, and unrestrained, and ungentle, and without order or shape, either in likeness of living things, or in buildings, or in any other thing whatsoever, that is made for the people? And shall we not rather seek for workers who can teach the inner nature of all that may be sweetly schemed; so that the young men, as living in a wholesome place, may be profited by everything that, in work fairly wrought, may touch them through hearing or sight--as if it were a breeze bringing health to them from places strong for life?"

Various tints of light are used by gardeners to cultivate certain plants and develop given shades of colour. Let us imitate our artificial trainers in the vegetable world, and while we avoid the hothouse system of pressure and forcing, let us slowly but surely guide by the gentler hands of common intelligence and common sense these opening buds of curiosity and reason, that sprout momentarily in the avenues, which, through the portals of the child's senses, lead direct to the emporium of thought itself in the fretwork mechanism of its brain. Ah, far greater is this responsibility than even that involved in the physical care, carrying its effects and results through all time (for "nothing ever dies," not even "the faintest smile that lights upon that child's cheek that lonely grief hath made its dwelling-place; it is an act of truth and vernal in everlasting youth").

To train the young eye to see in all nature about it that "all things are great and wonderful," and that there is a guiding hand in all, is a glorious task--to teach it to see in the small "cup of loving service" a deeper beauty than the scene any painter can depict, is a task more glorious still. To train the young ear and voice to join in the soft inspiring music of the solemn cathedral choir, is a grand education for the young ear--to teach it to listen to the voice of love and charity in the great babbling world of sorrow and of crime, and to follow the example of the young Jewish carpenter whose ears were always open, even when "he stooped down and wrote in the midst" to the appeal of sin and dispair--this is a grander object still. To teach children that their bellies are not to be their gods is a better education than to rear them up as young Epicures in marangues, paté de foie gras, and omelettes, or as youthful Bacchanalians to sniff the bouquet of the wine cup; to teach them that to restrain and deny self, while millions of suffering fellow-children hunger for what is lavishly given to their mother's pugs, that were better food for their mental palates than to make the great events of the day their luncheons and dinners. Do you doubt me? I quote from the Globe of last Saturday:

"In Philadelphia lives in seclusion a pug dog belonging to the Duchess of Marlborough, for the support of which some £300 is spent annually. The late Duke did not like dogs, and when he married Mrs. Hammersley, she did not know what to do with this animal, which was becoming old and wheezy. In the end it was 'boarded-out,' and the dog--a pug, according to the Philadelphia Press--is bathed every other day in hot milk and fed with chopped steak; wears a blanket out of doors, and is never taken out unaccompanied. His kennel has three divisions for sleeping, eating, and bathing, the sides being of glass to permit a thorough observation of him. The Duchess is written to weekly, that the pet's condition may always be known to her. It's name is 'Woowoo.'"

Yes, teach them to cultivate their marvellous senses for other uses than the never ceasing and morbid introspective contemplation of their selfish selves. Teach them that there is one sense that embraces the use of all others, one higher, nobler, purer sense, reflecting itself in every human heart mirror, on which it casts its ennobling rays, a sense embracing in its subtle operation our moral responsibilities, and our animal lives and passions, the hardest sense of all to guide aright, but without whose instruction and direction we are as blind leading the blind, but staggering, chance-following wanderers on the pathway of life--that is, the sense of duty--and as the great poet [Tennyson] who has just passed "over the bar" so beautifully puts it, they will find when men and women--

      "Not once or twice in our rough Island story
      The path of duty was the way to glory;"

that "he that walks therein thirsting only for the right--he shall find the stubborn thistle bursting into glossy purples, which out-redden all voluptuous garden roses--"ay, he shall ultimately come even to "those shining table-lands beyond which our God himself is moon and sun." Teach them not to move about, as Matthew Arnold says, "like eddies of purposeless dust," but "to do the duty God has set them, do whatever comes to hand, doing it bravely, doing it nobly, their best warrant, His command." Let us "hark back" on our own childhoods and our recollections of the lessons we learned, and never forgot for evil or for good. How many have we not cause to regret the teaching of! Thus using aright and not abusing their delicate sense organs, they are not likely to wander off searching for the mirages of new faiths they will never see, and the will-o'-the-wisps of restrung skeletons of mediaeval hypotheses they can never grasp. They will learn to see with the clear eye of reason, undazzled by some aurora of a fascinating scepticism. They will hear with the ear of an open and unprejudiced understanding, and listen not to the discord that destroys all the melody in religion and art about them. They will touch only that which will ennoble and not defile them; and guided by the sweet odours that emanate from motives, sown as seeds in the garden of a well-cultivated mind, but which blossom into the fragrant flowers of acts, bearing fruit in deeds of charity and love. Thus they will, quoting again the words of the late Poet Laureate [Tennyson], that for this "was their common clay ta'en from the common soil--moulded of God, and fashioned by the tears of angels into the perfect shapes" of men and women.

Proofread by LNL, August, 2023