Old people say that childhood is the best part of life. They look back at their childhood and remember all its happy days – the jolly games, the long rambles in the country, the fun they had at school, the kind father and mother and the little sisters and brothers, the old home, the sweets and cakes they used to eat, the children’s parties, the jokes they used to play, and the presents they got. When they were children, they had not had to work hard to get something to eat; their mothers gave them all they wanted. Their childish troubles, as they look back on them, seem very small and silly: they laugh over them now. They had no great sorrows, no heavy burdens to carry, no dangers to face. The world to them then was a very beautiful place, and they did not know that men could be cruel and hard. They believed all that was told to them, and they did not know how false and dishonest people could be. They were simple and innocent, and as happy as the day was long. So they sometimes sigh and wish they could be children again.
Perhaps these old folk is right. And yet I think they forget many things that were not so pleasant in their childhood. Perhaps if some fairy took them at their word and turned them into children again, they would not like it. There is a funny story called Vice Versa (which means “turned the other way round”), that tells of a boy who was crying because he had to go back to school after the holidays, and his father scolded him, and said, “Why, I only wish I could be a boy and go to school again.” And the fairies heard him: and all in a moment the father was a little boy, and his son was a grown man like his father. And the father, in the shape of a little boy, had to go to school; and I can tell you he did not like it at all. A child’s troubles may seem small to grown-up people, but they are very big to him.
Yet, after all, perhaps childhood is the happiest time. So while we are children, we should make the most of it. And it is a very important time in a man’s life, as a great poet said, “The child is the father of the man.” What he meant was, that a man’s character is largely settled in his childhood. What sort of men we shall depend on what we learn and what we do as children.