The deepest loss of youth is the loss of the innocency and trust which belong to childhood. In his glorious and yet terrible Confessions Rousseau struck the note which vibrates with the sense of that loss. After the death of his mother at Geneva he was sent with a cornrad to live with a Protestant minister, M Lambercier, at Bossey. There he underwent the first budding of evil on the tree of his own nascent experience, and also his first encounter with injustice, and that from the hands of those whom he had loved and and trusted.
Though he was only a boy, he later wrote, from that hoar the gates of Eden were closed against him: "Here was the term of the serenity of my childish days. From this moment I ceased to enjoy a pure happiness and I feel even this day that the reminiscence of the delights of my infancy came to an end. Even the country lost in my eyes that charm of sweetness and simplicity which goes to the heart; it seemed somber and deserted, and was as if covered by a veil, hiding its beauties from our sight. We no longer tended our little gardens, our plants, our flowers; we went no more lightly to scratch the earth, shouting for joy as we discovered the germ of the seed we had sown."
If you ever visit the Episcopal hospital in Philadelphia, you will see on the wall of the main hall the inscription, or dedication, which tells of the donors and how they came to give that property. It was the home where sisters had lived, and the dedication makes touching reference to the memories of their childhood, telling how in that home and in those grounds, before they knew pain and sickness and sorrow, they had spent the happiest days of their life.
I wonder if that is not always so. I wonder if even men who have had what seems to us cheerless and dismal surroundings in their youth do not from the heights of success and renown in life look back to childhood as the happiest and most blessed time. I believe it is usually true.
Henry M. Stanley is the only man I know of who speaks of his childhood as a lonely and starless night, without love and without hope. Hearing the chaplain in the almshouse read the words of the divine John (15:12), "Love one another," he wondered in his boyish heart why it was that with a heart so ready for love, so responsive to its tiniest ray, he never felt its sunshine in his life. But we must remember that it is the man who writes the autobiography, that it is the man with a sense of what life might have been, who takes pity on the boy who once was himself.
David was intensely human in his desire to turn back to the things of yesterday. Few who have traveled any distance on the path of life are strangers to this emotion, this longing of David's heart. There are those, indeed, who, like Charles Dickens or Henry M. Stanley, had a bleak, cheerless, and loveless youth —no love, no play, only want and fear. But most of us have happy recollections of our childhood days. When life hurts, when the way grows weary, when we are vexed and baffled by unattainable but deep desires, or saddened by losses, or burdened with a sense of our mistakes and blunders, our failures and our sins, then does not David's longing for the water out of the well of yesterday become our longing? How true this is, is demonstrated by the hold on the heart of such songs as "The Barefoot Boy," "My Old Kentucky Home," "The Old Oaken Bucket," "Carry Me Back to Ole Virginny," and "Backward, Turn Backward, O Time, in Your Flight." These songs appeal to all ages, all classes, all conditions of life, because their major note touches one of the deep and elemental things in human nature.