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Derision, which is so great a part of human comedy, has not spared the humours of children.  Yet they are fitter subjects for any other kind of jesting.  In the first place they are quite defenceless, but besides and before this, it might have been supposed that nothing in a child could provoke the equal passion of scorn.  Between confessed unequals scorn is not even suggested.  Its derisive proclamation of inequality has no sting and no meaning where inequality is natural and manifest.

Children rouse the laughter of men and women; but in all that laughter the tone of derision is more strange a discord than the tone of anger would be, or the tone of theological anger and menace.  These, little children have had to bear in their day, but in the grim and serious moods — not in the play — of their elders.  The wonder is that children should ever have been burlesqued, or held to be fit subjects for irony.

Whether the thing has been done anywhere out of England, in any form, might be a point for enquiry.  It would seem, at a glance, that English art and literature are quite alone in this incredible manner of sport.

And even here, too, the thing that is laughed at in a child is probably always a mere reflection of the parents’ vulgarity.  None the less it is an unintelligible thing that even the rankest vulgarity of father or mother should be resented, in the child, with the implacable resentment of derision.

John Leech used the caricature of a baby for the purposes of a scorn that was not angry, but familiar.  It is true that the poor child had first been burlesqued by the unchildish aspect imposed upon him by his dress, which presented him, without the beauties of art or nature, to all the unnatural ironies.  Leech did but finish him in the same spirit, with dots for the childish eyes, and a certain form of face which is best described as a fat square containing two circles — the inordinate cheeks of that ignominious baby.  That is the child as Punch in Leech’s day preserved him, the latest figure of the then prevailing domestic raillery of the domestic.

In like manner did Thackeray and Dickens, despite all their sentiment.  Children were made to serve both the sentiment and the irony between which those two writers, alike in this, stood double-minded.  Thackeray, writing of his snobs, wreaks himself upon a child; there is no worse snob than his snob-child.  There are snob-children not only in the book dedicated to their parents, but in nearly all his novels.  There is a female snob-child in “Lovel the Widower,” who may be taken as a type, and there are snob-children at frequent intervals in “Philip.”  It is not certain that Thackeray intended the children of Pendennis himself to be innocent and exempt.

In one of Dickens’s early sketches there is a plot amongst the humorous dramatis personae, to avenge themselves on a little boy for the lack of tact whereby his parents have brought him with them to a party on the river.  The principal humorist frightens the child into convulsions.  The incident is the success of the day, and is obviously intended to have some kind of reflex action in amusing the reader.  In Dickens’s maturer books the burlesque little girl imitates her mother’s illusory fainting-fits.

Our glimpses of children in the fugitive pages of that day are grotesque.  A little girl in Punch improves on the talk of her dowdy mother with the maids.  An inordinate baby stares; a little boy flies, hideous, from some hideous terror.