Aphorisms on Childhood

In 1991, Irving Weiss and his wife Anne published Reflections on Childhood: A Quotations Dictionary. The book is “a historical collection of observations, opinions, and reminiscences about childhood and children,” the authors write in the preface. It is also a rich, wide-ranging compendium that spotlights the many pleasures and pains of being a child and a parent:

Credulity is the man’s weakness, but the child’s strength. — Charles Lamb

Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the unlived life of their parents. —Carl Jung

Reflections on Childhood is an enlightening and entertaining collection. Aphorism aficionados are also indebted to Irving Weiss Malcolm de Chazal into English. In 1972, Weiss published Plastic Sense (Sens-Plastique), a translation of a work first published in France in 1948, and which included a preface by W. H. Auden. The book was re-issued with some revisions in 1979. I came across the revised edition in a used bookstore in San Francisco in the mid-1980s and immediately had my socks knocked off by Weiss’s deft translations of De Chazal’s beautiful, beguiling and often downright bizarre aphorisms. I had never heard of De Chazal at the time, and haven’t heard of him since, expect in Auden’s own aphorism anthology, The Faber Book of Aphorisms, where De Chazal is well represented. But that chance encounter with De Chazal in a used bookstore forever altered my thinking about what aphorisms are—and could be. Weiss has recently published a complete edition of De Chazal’s Sens-Plastique, from Green Integer Press.

Now, to regress back to childhood, here are some more poignant pointers fromReflections:

Alas! it is not the child but the boy that generally survives in the man. —Sir Arthur Helps

Children find everything in nothing; men find nothing in everything. —Leopardi

Children always want to look behind mirrors. —Joseph Joubert

A child remains a child until there is another child. — Estonian proverb

The precursor of the mirror is the mother’s face. —D.W. Winnicott

If you want to see what children can do, you must stop giving them things. —Norman Douglas

If there is anything that we wish to change in our children we should first examine it and see whether it is not something that could better be changed in ourselves. —Carl Jung