The Children

Author: Alice Christiana Thompson Meynell

The Fields

The pride of rustic life is the child’s form of caste-feeling. The country child is the aristocrat; he has des relations suivies with game-keepers, nay, with the most interesting mole-catchers. He has a perfectly self-conscious joy that he is not in a square or a suburb. No essayist has so much feeling against terraces and villas.

As for imitation country—the further suburb—it is worse than town; it is a place to walk in; and the tedium of a walk to a child’s mind is hardly measurable by a man, who walks voluntarily, with his affairs to think about, and his eyes released, by age, from the custom of perpetual observation. The child, compelled to walk, is the only unresting observer of the asphalt, the pavement, the garden gates and railings, and the tedious people. He is bored as he will never be bored when a man.

He is at his best where, under the welcome stress and pressure of abundant crops, he is admitted to the labours of men and women, neither in mere play nor in the earnest of the hop-field for the sake of his little gains. On the steep farm lands of the Canton de Vaud, where maize and grapes are carried in the botte, so usually are children expected in the field that bottes are made to the shape of a back and arms of five years old. Some, made for harvesters of those years, can hold no more than a single yellow ear of maize or two handfuls of beans. You may meet the same little boy with the repetitions of this load a score of times in the morning. Moreover the Swiss mother has always a fit sense of what is due to that labourer. When the plums are gathered, for instance, she bakes in the general village oven certain round open tarts across which her arm can hardly reach. No plum tarts elsewhere are anything but dull in comparison with these. There is, besides, the first loaf from the new flour, brown from the maize and white from the wheat. Nor can a day of potato-gathering be more appropriately ended than with a little fire built afield and the baking of some of the harvest under the wood ashes. Vintaging needs no praises, nor does applegathering; even when the apples are for cider, they are never acrid enough to baffle a child’s tooth.

Yet even those children who are so unlucky as never to have worked in a real field, but have been compelled to vary their education with nothing but play, are able to comfort themselves with the irregular harvest of the hedges. They have no little hand in the realities of cultivation, but wild growths give them blackberries. Pale are the joys of nutting beside those of haymaking, but at least they are something.

Harvests apart, Spring, not Autumn, should make a childhood of memories for the future. In later Autumn, life is speeding away, ebbing, taking flight, a fugitive, taking disguises, hiding in the dry seed, retreating into the dark. The daily progress of things in Spring is for children, who look close. They know the way of moss and the roots of ivy, they breathe the breath of earth immediately, direct. They have a sense of place, of persons, and of the past that may be remembered but cannot be recaptured. Adult accustomed eyes cannot see what a child’s eye sees of the personality of a person; to the child the accidents of voice and look are charged with separate and unique character. Such a sense of place as he got in a day within some forest, or in a week by some lake, so that a sound or odour can bring it back in after days, with a shock—even such a sense of single personality does a little watchful girl get from the accents, the turns of the head, the habits of the hands, the presence of a woman. Not all places, nor all persons, are so quick with the expression of themselves; the child knows the difference. As for places that are so loaded, and that breathe so, the child discerns them passionately.

A travelled child multiplies these memories and has them in their variety. His heart has room for many places that have the spirit of place. The glacier may be forgotten, but some little tract of pasture that has taken wing to the head of a mountain valley, a field that has soared up a pass unnamed, will become a memory, in time, sixty years old. That is a fortunate child who has tasted country life in places far apart, who has helped, followed the wheat to the threshing-floor of a Swiss village, stumbled after a plough of Virgil’s shape in remoter Tuscan hills, and gleaned after a vintage. You cannot suggest pleasanter memories than those of the vintage, for the day when the wine will be old.


Related Resources

None available for this document.

Download Options

Title: The Children

Select an option:

*Note: A download may not start for up to 60 seconds.

Email Options

Title: The Children

Select an option:

Email addres:

*Note: It may take up to 60 seconds for for the email to be generated.

Chicago: Alice Christiana Thompson Meynell, "The Fields," The Children, ed. Macaulay, G. C. (George Campbell), 1852-1915 and trans. Evans, Sebastian in The Children Original Sources, accessed March 29, 2023,

MLA: Meynell, Alice Christiana Thompson. "The Fields." The Children, edited by Macaulay, G. C. (George Campbell), 1852-1915, and translated by Evans, Sebastian, in The Children, Original Sources. 29 Mar. 2023.

Harvard: Meynell, AC, 'The Fields' in The Children, ed. and trans. . cited in , The Children. Original Sources, retrieved 29 March 2023, from