This paradoxical line of Wordsworth expresses a profound truth. It means that all the qualities, mental, moral and physical, which will be found in the future man are potentially present in the child. Just as the future tree preexists in the sprout, the future man pre-exists in the child.
Childhood is the most impressionable period of a man’s life. It is a period when his essential character is being shaped. The qualities which a child inherits from his parents, combined with those which he develops as a result of his upbringing, begin to manifest themselves in the early years. Bearing this fact in mind, parents and teachers should try to mould the character of children, taking care of their health and surrounding them with good influences. According to modern psychology, the experiences of childhood have a lasting influence. Some of these experiences lie buried in the deeper mind of the grown-up man and influence his behaviour without his knowledge.
Several examples bear out the truth of the remark that the child is father of the man. Napoleon as a boy was fond of building forts of snow and storming or defending them, thus foreshadowing his later remarkable achievement as a General. When Nelson was a child he was once asked if he had no fear. He replied” Fear! What is it? I never knew fear.” This child was destined to become the courageous hero of Trafalgar.
Shivaji as a boy showed a keen interest in politics and was fond of hearing stories from the Indian epics. Macaulay who is famous for his astonishing memory read a lot even as a schoolboy, and remembered all that he had read. That is why in his writings he frequently uses the expression “As every school boy knows”-which makes us uneasy because we do not know what this schoolboy knows.
There are, of course, exceptions. Some men of genius do not seem to have given early indications of their future greatness. Many English poets like Wordsworth and Shelley were pronounced dunces at school. In some cases, the promise shown in childhood may not be fulfilled owing to adverse circumstances. Again, as is proved by the lives of some saints, certain experiences in later life may transform a man’s character and change the direction of his life. However, even in all these cases, we cannot confidently assert that there was no suggestion of future greatness in childhood of such men.
It cannot be denied that later experiences play an important part in moulding a man’s personality. But, generally speaking, though, they only modify the character already formed by inherited qualities and childhood experiences. It is very rarely that they radically change the character or a man. The general truth or Wordsworth’s line cannot be doubted.