I would like to invite the innumerable visitors of the Exhibition to the most august and touching spectacle offered by the Champ de Mars: I want to speak of the cot of Saint Mary on a Sunday.
The creation of the cots dates back to 1844: it is due to the initiative of the respectable M. Mar-beau, who still directs this admirable institution with a solicitude and an activity of devotion whose merit I do not want to diminish by my praise.
Napoleon I, who adored children as future soldiers, said with the intuition of genius: "Nothing can replace the education of swaddling clothes. "It is indeed swaddling clothes that serve as a mould for man. Such is the way he comes out of them, such is the way he remains all his life. In the moral as in the physical, the first step decides everything. If the balance of the faculties is not well established in the cradle, it is never fully re-established in the course of human life.
Mr Marbeau tells anyone who will listen, the good hearted man, the story of a child he took into his cot at the age of three. This poor child, who had lost his mother, and whose grandmother left him to loneliness and abandonment, because she had to earn her miserable living outside, was completely dazed when he was taken in. But at that age, the sap is only ever asleep and not extinguished. So how happy was the foster father to see, after a few days, the sap bubble up and the plant turn green again! The child tried his first smile at the sight of his little cot mates. He soon understood the £oins with which he was surrounded; gaiety and intelligence came with health, springing from a common source. He was a being reconquered to social life: the miracle was done.
- Six months later," exclaims M. Marbeau in conclusion, "perhaps I would have looked in vain for the absent sap: the human being having disappeared, I would have found only the beast. "
This proves that the child, a sociable being, cannot do without care or an entourage. Apart from the nurturing of swaddling clothes, the body can survive, the soul disappears.
Who is to say that the present generation would not be better and more beautiful if childhood, better directed, had better prepared the age made? These organs, in which the noblest and vilest instincts reside in germ, are at the beginning like a soft wax which moulds itself to good or evil, according to the impression given to it.
I do not say that, by a good education in the nappies, one can make more great men: genius is a gift from God and that God reserves for himself; but one is always sure to make good citizens.
At the age of three, a child has already received his stamp, if not for good or for evil, at least towards good or towards evil. Well-directed faculties develop: faculties that are too compressed are no longer reborn.
It was when he saw common women abandoning their children to indifferent supervision in order to follow their husbands into the workshop, in search of the necessary daily bread, that the idea came to M. Marbeau of founding crèches, where these poor creatures would be looked after and cared for, while their mothers went about their day's work, and were responsible for coming to nurse them morning and evening.
Like all ideas inspired by the good Lord, this one slowly made its way. Even today, after 24 years of persistence and preaching, Paris has only 17 crèches, and the suburbs only 3.
How can it be that in a city like Paris, with the maternal patronage of the Empress, after 24 years of effort, there is only one crèche in each arrondissement, when there should be one in each district! But it costs a lot to do good, and to preserve civilisation in the very source where it is fed? - Judge for yourself! It costs 6 francs a year to be a member of the nursery society, and 40 francs once donated to found a cot.
Are there then only men without womb and mothers without motherhood in our country, so that there are only 17 crèches in Paris?
Yes! I hope to shame the indifferent by recounting through the pen, with the help of a drawing, the spectacle that can be given for nothing every Sunday at the Champ de Mars, behind the imperial pavilion.
Here is the Pouponnière, which we will first let describe by its inventor, Mr. Jules Delbruk, member of the Société des crèches:
"This piece of furniture is called a pouponnière, from the name of poupon, a small child. It is the child's first field of activity, just as the cradle is its first place of rest. I invented it for the crèche: the children, as soon as they are no longer sleeping, find there
1° an asylum where they are safe from all danger;
2° a support to try out their first steps to the exact extent of their strength, they alone are the judges of this; 3° a gallery with a double ramp where they make their first tour of the world;
3° a dining room where one woman is enough to feed them as if they were a flock of birds.
"In a family, one can easily arrange a nursery oneself; it would be smaller, made of wicker perhaps, open or closed, with a single ramp. In the nursery, the child moves without the risk of bumping into the furniture; it has its own little living room in the mother's large living room, and is thus preserved from the dangers of height deviation and deformity, which are too often presented by poorly made devices (for teaching children to walk). I recommend mothers to try them. "
This is the scene: here is what happens. The children in the swimming costume watch from their cradle as they play with those who are old enough to be put in the nursery. Even in their mother's arms, they sometimes forget to draw from the breast that nurses them, in order to look at the other infants who play and laugh.
When you enter this little world, what strikes you first is the complete indifference of the children towards grown-ups. They don't even notice that there are people watching them. They are entirely to themselves: they are absorbed, so to speak, in their own sociability. For sociability is the first instinct that manifests itself in them; and that explains to you how swaddled babies are so attentive to infants.
Another thing that strikes you is that this instinct of sociability leads the child to an irresistible need for imitation. Every child is born a monkey: he does what he sees done. He laughs if he hears laughter; and the miracle is that health seems to come to him in imitation of the health of other children. How fruitful this contagion of example can be under good guidance!
When a child awkwardly imitates his neighbour, there is laughter around him as bright and fresh as an April morning sun; and the man who would dare to claim that there is a concert comparable to that, I would disown him for a man!
As soon as a child can use his hands to eat and to play, which is all one thing, he is seated in his closed stall in the dining room. The one who can stand on his feet is behind, trying to walk with the help of the gallery railings while he is standing, and the bars to get up as soon as he has fallen. You should see the protective look he gives to the weaker kids sitting in front of him! But, to the credit of human nature, there is not the slightest hint of disdain or contempt in this protective air. A good lesson for grown-ups and grown-ups. Children teach them to protect the little ones, but without making them feel it, which was the right way at all times, which is the only right way today, where the benefit is obliged to carry a receipt with it.
If you do not believe what I say, dear reader, go and see it; and so that you do not take the wrong path, here is the exterior and interior of the Crèche Sainte-Marie, And if the spectacle is even more beautiful and more touching than I have said, bring back from this visit a booklet of membership of the Society. My reward will be in your good work.
©L'Exposition Universelle de 1867 Illustrée