Project Canterbury

The History of the Life and Death of the Holy Jesus.

Of nursing Children, in imitation of the blessed Virgin-Mother. [ca 1649]

By Jeremy Taylor

London, 1828, pp 30-42

1. THESE later ages of the world have declined into a softness above the effeminacy of Asian princes, and have contracted customs, which those innocent and healthful days of our ancestors knew not; whose piety was natural, whose charity was operative, whose policy was just and valiant, and whose economy was sincere, and proportionable to the dispositions and requisites of nature. And in this particular, the good women of old gave one of their instances. The greatest personages nursed their own children, did the work of mothers, and thought it was unlikely, women should become virtuous by ornaments and superadditions of morality, who did decline the laws and prescriptions of nature; whose principles supply us with the first and most common rules of manners and more perfect actions. In imitation of whom, and especially of the Virgin Mary, who was mother and nurse to the holy Jesus, I shall endeavour to correct those softnesses and unnatural rejections of children, which are popular up to a custom and fashion, even where no necessities of nature or just reason can make excuse.

2. And I cannot think the question despicable, and the duty of meanest consideration; although it be specified in an office of small esteem, and suggested to us by the principles of reason, and not by express sanctions of Divinity. For although other actions are more perfect and spiritual, yet this is more natural and humane; other things, being superadded to a full duty, rise higher, but this builds stronger, and is like a part of the foundation, having no lustre, but much strength; and however the others are full of ornament, yet this hath in it some degrees of necessity, and possibly is with more danger and irregularity omitted, than actions, which spread their leaves fairer, and look more gloriously.

3. First: Here I consider, that there are many sins in the scene of the body and the matter of sobriety, which are highly criminal, and yet the laws of God, expressed in Scripture, name them not; but men are taught to distinguish them by that reason, which is given us by nature, and is imprinted in our understanding, in order to the conserve of human kind. For since every creature hath something in it sufficient to propagate the kind, and to conserve the individuals from perishing in confusions and general disorders, which in beasts we call instinct, that is, an habitual or prime disposition to do certain things, which are proportionable to the end whither it is designed; man, also, if he be not more imperfect, must have the like: and because he knows and makes reflections upon his own acts, and understands the reason of it, that which in them is instinct, in him is natural reason, which is, a desire to preserve himself and his own kind; and differs from instinct, because he understands his instinct and the reasonableness of it, and they do not. But man, being a higher thing, even in the order of creation, and designed to a more noble end in his animal capacity, his argumentative instinct is larger than the natural instinct of beasts: for he hath instincts in him, in order to the conservation of society, and therefore hath principles that is, he hath natural desires to it for his own good; and because he understands them, they are called principles, and laws of nature, but are no other than what I have now declared; for beasts do the same things we do, and have many the same inclinations, which in us are the laws of nature, even all which we have in order to our common end. But that, which in beasts is nature and an impulsive force, in us must be duty and an inviting power: we must do the same things with an actual or habitual designation of that end, to which God designs beasts, (supplying by his wisdom their want of understanding,) and then, what is mere nature in them, in us is natural reason. And therefore marriage in men is made sacred, when the mixtures of other creatures are so merely natural, that they are not capable of being virtuous; because men are bound to intend that end, which God made. And this, with the superaddition of other ends, of which marriage is representative in part, and in part effective, does consecrate marriage, and makes it holy and mysterious. But then there are in marriage many duties, which we are taught by instinct; that is, by that reason whereby we understand, what are the best means to promote the end, which we have assigned us. And by these laws all unnatural mixtures are made unlawful, and the decencies which are to be observed in marriage, are prescribed us by this.

4. Secondly: Upon the supposition of this discourse, I consider again, that, although to observe this instinct, or these laws of nature, (in which I now have instanced,) be no great virtue in any eminency of degree, (as no man is much commended for not killing himself, or for not degenerating into beastly lusts;) yet, to prevaricate some of these laws, may become almost the greatest sin in the world. And therefore, although to live according to nature be a testimony fit to be given to a sober and a temperate man, and rises no higher; yet, to do an action against nature is the greatest dishonour and impiety in the world, (I mean of actions whose sense lies in the body,) and disentitles us to all relations to God, and vicinity to virtue.

5. Thirdly: Now, amongst actions which we are taught by nature, some concern the being and the necessities of nature, some appertain to her convenience and advantage: and the transgressions of these respectively have their heightenings or depressions; and, therefore, to kill a man is worse than some preternatural pollutions, because more destructive of the end and designation of nature, and the purpose of instinct.

6. Fourthly: Every part of this instinct is then, in some sense, a law, when it is in a direct order to a necessary end, and by that is made reasonable: I say in some sense it is a law; that is, it is in a near disposition to become a law. It is a rule, without obligation to a particular punishment, beyond the effect of the natural inordination and obliquity of the act; it is not the measure of a moral good or evil, but of the natural; that is, of comely and uncomely. For if, in the individuals, it should fail, or that there pass some greater obligation upon the person in order to a higher end, not consistent with those means designed in order to the lesser end, in that particular it is no fault, but sometimes a virtue. And, therefore, although it be an instinct, or reasonable towards many purposes, that every one should beget a man in his own image, in order to the preservation of nature; yet, if there be a superaddition of another and higher end, and contrary means persuaded in order to it, (such as is holy celibate, or virginity, in order to a spiritual life, in some persons,) there the instinct of nature is very far from passing obligation upon the conscience, and in that instance ceases to be reasonable. And, therefore, the Romans, who invited men to marriage with privileges, and punished morose and ungentle natures that refused it, yet they had their chaste and unmarried vestals: the first, in order to the commonwealth; these, in a nearer order to religion.

7. Fifthly; These instincts or reasonable inducements become laws, obliging us, in conscience and in the way of religion; and the breach of them is directly criminal when the instance violates any end of justice, or charity, or sobriety, either designed in nature's first intention, or superinduced by God or man. For every thing that is unreasonable to some certain purpose, is not presently criminal, much less is it against the law of nature, (unless every man, that goes out of his way, sins against the law of nature); and every contradicting of a natural desire or inclination is not a sin against a law of nature. For the restraining sometimes of a lawful and a permitted desire is an act of great virtue, and pursues a greater reason; as in the former instance. But those things only, against which such a reason as mixes with charity or justice, or something that is now in order to a farther end of a commanded instance of piety, may be without error brought, those things are only criminal. And God, having first made our instincts reasonable, hath now made our reason and instincts to be spiritual; and having sometimes restrained our instincts, and always made them regular, he hath, by the intermixture of other principles, made a separation of instinct from instinct, leaving one in the form of natural inclination, and they rise no higher than a permission or a decency, it is lawful, or it is comely so to do: (for no man can affirm it to be a duty to kill him that assaults my life, or to maintain my children For ever without their own industry, when they are able, what degrees of natural fondness soever I have towards them; nor that I sin, if I do not marry, when I can contain:) and yet every one of these may proceed from the affections and first inclinations of nature. But until they mingle with justice, or charity, or some instance of religion and obedience, they are no laws; the other that are so mingled, being raised to duty and religion. Nature inclines us, and reason judges it apt and requisite in order to certain ends; but then every particular of it is made to be an act of religion from some other principle: as yet, it is but fit and reasonable, not religion and particular duty, till God or man hath interposed. But whatsoever particular in nature was fit to be made a law of religion, is made such by the superaddition of another principle; and this is derived to us by tradition from Adam to Noah, or else transmitted to us by the consent of all the world Upon a natural and prompt reason, or else by some other instrument derived to us from God, but especially by the Christian religion, which hath adopted all those things which we call "things honest, things comely, and things of good report," into a law and a duty: as appears Phil. iv. 8.

8. Upon these propositions I shall infer, by way of instance, that it is a duty, that women should nurse their own children. For, first, it is taught to women by that instinct which nature hath implanted in them. For, as Phavorinus the philosopher discoursed, it is but to be half a mother to bring forth children, and not to nourish them; and it is some kind of abortion, or an exposing of the infant, which, in the reputation of all wise nations, is infamous and uncharitable. And if the name of mother be an appellative of affection and endearments, why should the mother be willing to divide it with a stranger? The earth is the mother of us all, not only because we were made of her red clay, but chiefly that she daily gives us food from her bowels and breasts; and plants and beasts give nourishment to their offsprings, after their production, with greater tenderness than they bare them in their wombs: and yet women give nourishment to the embryo, which, whether it be deformed or perfect, they know not, and cannot love what they never saw; and yet when they do see it, when they have rejoiced that a child is born, and forgotten the sorrows of production, they, who then can first begin to love it, if they begin to divorce the infant from the mother, the object from the affection, cut off the opportunities and occasions of their charity or piety.

9. For why hath nature given to women two exuberant fontinels, which, "like two roes that are twins, feed among the lilies," and drop milk like dew from Hermon, and hath invited that nourishment from the secret recesses, where the infant dwelt at first, up to the breast where naturally now the child is cradled in the entertainments of love and maternal embraces: but that nature, having removed the babe, and carried its meat after it, intends that it should be preserved by the matter and ingredients of its constitution, and have the same diet prepared with a more mature and proportionable digestion? If nature intended them not for nourishment, I am sure it less intended them for pride and wantonness; they are needless excrescences and vices of nature, unless employed in nature's work and proper intendment. And if it be a matter of consideration, of what blood children are derived, we may also consider that the derivation continues after the birth; and therefore, abating the sensuality, the nurse is as much the mother as she that brought it forth; and so much the more, as there is a longer communication of constituent nourishment (for so are the first emanations) in this, than in the other. So that here is first the instinct, or prime intendment, of nature.

10. Secondly: And that this instinct may also become humane and reasonable, we see it by experience in many places, that foster-children are dearer to the nurse than to the mother, as receiving and ministering respectively perpetual prettinesses of love, and fondness, and trouble, and need, and invitations, and all the instruments of endearment; besides a vicinity of dispositions and relative tempers by the communication of blood and spirits from the nurse to the suckling, which makes use the more natural, and nature more accustomed. And, therefore, the affections, which these exposed or derelict children bear to their mothers, have no grounds of nature or assiduity, but civility and opinion; and that little of love, which is abated from the foster-parents, upon public report that they are not natural, that little is transferred to mothers upon the same opinion, and no more. Hence come those unnatural aversions, those unrelenting dispositions, those carelessnesses and incurious deportments towards their children, which are such ill-sown seeds, from whence may arise up a bitterness of disposition and mutual provocation. This affection which children bear to their nurses, was highly remarked in the instance of Scipio Asiaticus, who rejected the importunity of his brother Africanus in behalf of the ten captains, who were condemned for offering violence to the vestals, but pardoned them at the request of his foster-sister and being asked, why he did more for his nurse's daughter than for his own mother’s son? gave this answer: "I esteem her rather to be my mother, that brought me up, than her that bare me and forsook me." And I have read the observation, that many tyrants have killed their mothers, but never any did violence to his nurse; as if they were desirous to suck the blood of their mother raw, which she refused to give to them digested into milk. And the bastard-brother of the Gracchi, returning from his victories in Asia to Rome, presented his mother with a jewel of silver, and his nurse with a girdle of gold, upon the same account. Sometimes children are exchanged, and artificial bastardies introduced into a family, and the right heir supplanted. It happened so to Artabanus, king of Epirus. His child was changed at nurse, and the son of a mean knight succeeded in the kingdom; the event of which was this: The nurse too late discovered the treason; a bloody war was commenced; both the pretenders slain in battle; and the kingdom itself was usurped by Alexander, the brother to Olympias, the wife of Philip the Macedonian. At the best, though there happen no such extravagant and rare accidents, yet it is not likely a stranger should have the child better than the mother; and if the mother's care could suffer it to be exposed, a stranger's care may suffer it to be neglected. For how shall a hireling endure the inconveniences, the tediousnesses, and unhandsomenesses of a nursery, when she, whose natural affection might have made it pleasant, out of wantonness or softness hath declined the burden? But the sad accidents which, by too frequent observation, are daily seen happening to nurse-children, give great probation, that this intendment of nature, designing mothers to be the nurses, that their affection might secure and increase their care, and the care best provide for their babes, is most reasonable and proportionable to the discourses of humanity.

11. But as this instinct was made reasonable, so in this also the reason is in order to grace and spiritual effects; and, therefore, is among those things which God hath separated from the common instincts of nature, and made properly to be laws, by the mixtures of justice and charity. For it is part of that education which mothers, as a duty, owe to their children, that they do, in all circumstances, and with all their powers, which God to that purpose gave them, promote their capacities and improve their faculties." Now, in this also, as the temper of the body is considerable in order to the inclinations of the soul, so is the nurse in order to the temper of the body; and a lamb sucking a goat, or a kid sucking an ewe, change their fleece and hair respectively, say naturalists. For "the soul of man were put into the body of a mole, it could not see nor speak, because it is not fitted with an instrument apt and organical to the faculty; and when the soul hath its proper instruments, its music is pleasant or harsh, according to the sweetness or the unevenness of the string it touches: for David himself could not have charmed Saul's melancholie spirit with the strings of his bow, or the wood of his spear. And just so are the actions or dispositions of the soul, angry or pleasant, lustful or cold, querulous or passionate, according as the body is disposed by the various intermixtures of natural qualities. And as the carelessness of nurses hath sometimes returned children to their parents crooked, consumptive, half starved, and unclean, from the impurities of nature; so their society and their nourishment together have disposed them to peevishness, to lust, to drunkenness, to pride, to low and base demeanours, to stubbornness. And as a man would have been unwilling to have had a child by Harpaste, Seneca's wife's fool; so he would, in all reason, be as unwilling to have had her to be the nurse: for very often mothers by the birth do not transmit their imperfections, yet it seldom happens but the nurse does: which is the more considerable, because nurses are commonly persons of no great rank, certainly lower than the mother, and, by consequence, liker to return their children with the lower and more servile conditions; and commonly those vainer people teach them to be peevish and proud, to lie, or at least seldom give them any first principles contrariant to the nurse's vice. And, therefore, it concerns the parent's care, in order to a virtuous life of the child, to secure its first seasonings; because, whatever it sucks in first, it swallows and believes infinitely, and practises easily, and continues longest. And this is more proper for a mother's care; while the nurse thinks, that giving the child suck, and keeping its body clean, is all her duty. But the mother cannot think herself so easily discharged. And this consideration is material in all cases, be the choice of the nurse never so prudent and curious; and it is not easily apprehended to be the portion of her care to give it spiritual milk, and therefore it intrenches very much upon impiety and positive relinquishing the education of their children, when mothers expose the spirit of the child either to its own weaker inclinations, or the wicked principles of an ungodly nurse, or the carelessness of any less-obliged person.

12. And then let me add, that a child sucks the nurse's milk, and digests her conditions, if they be never so bad, but seldom gets any good. For virtue being superaddition to nature, and perfections not radical in the body, but contradictions to, and meliorations of natural indispositions, does not easily convey itself by ministrations of food, as vice does; which, in most instances, is nothing but were nature grown to custom, and not mended by grace: so that it is probable enough, such natural distemperatures may pass in the rivulets of milk, like evil spirits in a white garment, when virtues are of harder purchase, and dwell so low in the heart that they but rarely pass through the fountains of generation. And, therefore, let no mother venture her child upon a stranger, whose heart she less knows than her own. And because few of those nicer women think better of others than themselves, (since, out of self-love, they neglect their own bowels,) it is but an act of improvidence to let my child derive imperfections from one, of whom I have not so good an opinion as of myself.

13. And if those many blessings and holy prayers, which the child needs, or his askings or sicknesses, or the mother's fears or joys, respectively, do occasion, should not be cast into this account; yet those principles, which, in all cases wherein the neglect is vicious, are the causes of the exposing the child, are extremely against the piety and charity of Christian religion, which prescribes severity and austere deportment, and the labours of love, and exemplar tenderness of affections, and piety to children, which are the most natural and nearest relations the parents have. That religion, which commands us to visit and to tend sick strangers, and wash the feet of the poor, and dress their ulcers, and sends us upon charitable embassies into unclean prisons, and bids us lay down our lives for one another, is not pleased with a niceness and sensual curiosity (that I may not name the wantonnesses of lusts), which denies suck to our own children. What is more humane and affectionate than Christianity? and what is less natural and charitable than to deny the expresses of a mother's affection? which certainly to good women is the greatest trouble in the world, and the greatest violence to their desires, if they should not express and minister.

14. And it would be considered, whether those mothers, who have neglected their first duties of piety and charity, expect so prompt and easy returns of duty and piety from their children, whose best foundation is love; and that love strongest, which is most natural; and that most natural, which is conveyed by the first ministries and impresses of nourishment and education. And if love descends more strongly than it ascends, and commonly falls from the parents upon the children in cataracts, and returns back again up to the parents but in gentle dews; if the child's affection keep the same proportions towards such unkind mothers, it will be as little as atoms in the sun, and never express itself but when the mother needs it not; that is, in the sunshine of a clear fortune.

l5. This, then, is amongst those instincts, which are natural, heightened first by reason, and then exalted by grace into the obligation of a law; and, being amongst the sanctions of nature, its prevarication is a crime very near those sins, which divines, in detestation of their malignity, call sins against nature, and is never to be excused but in cases of necessity or greater charity; as when the mother cannot be a nurse by reason of natural disability, or is afflicted with a disease, which might be transmitted in the milk; or, in case of the public necessities of a kingdom, for the securing of succession in the royal family. And yet, concerning this last, Lycurgus made a law, that the noblest amongst the Spartan women, though their kings' wives, should at least nurse their eldest son, and the plebeians should nurse all theirs; and Plutarch reports, that the second son of king Themistes inherited the kingdom in Sparta, only because he was nursed with his mother's milk, and the eldest was therefore rejected, because a stranger was his nurse. And that queens have suckled and nursed their own children, is no very unusual kindness in the simplicity and hearty affections of elder ages, as is to be seen in Herodotus and other historians. I shall only remark one instance, out of the Spanish chronicles, which Henry Stephens, in his apology for Herodotus, reports to have heard from thence related by a noble personage, Monsieur Marillac: That a Spanish lady, married into France, nursed her child with so great a tenderness and jealousy, that, having understood the little prince once to have sucked a stranger, she was unquiet, till she had forced him to vomit it up again. In other cases, the crime lies at their door, who enforce neglect upon the other, and is heightened in proportion to the motive of the omission; as, if wantonness or pride be the parent of the crime, the issue, besides its natural deformity, hath the excrescences of pride or lust to make it more ugly.

16. To such mothers I propound the example of the holy Virgin, who had the honour to be visited by an angel; yet after the example of the saints in the Old Testament, she gave to the holy Jesus drink from those bottles, which himself had filled for his own drinking; and her paps were as surely blessed for giving him suck, as her womb for bearing him: and reads a lecture of piety and charity, which if we deny to our children, there is then in the world left no argument or relation great enough to kindle it from a cinder to a flame. God gives dry breasts, for a curse to some, for an affection to others; but those that invite it to them by voluntary arts, "love not blessing, therefore shall it be far from them." And I remember, that it was said concerning Annius Minutius the censor, that he thought it a prodigy, and extremely ominous to Rome, that a Roman lady refused to nurse her child, and yet gave suck to a puppy, that her milk might, with more safety, be dried up with artificial applications. Let none, therefore, divide the interests of her own children; for she that appeared before Solomon, and would have the child divided, was not the true mother, and was the more culpable of the two.

Project Canterbury