The Christian Father's Present to His Children
by John Angell James, 1825
FEMALE ACCOMPLISHMENTS, VIRTUES, AND PURSUITS
As the perusal of this volume is intended for those who may be supposed to have finished, or are near the completion of scholastic pursuits, all that can be designed in this chapter, is to follow up the object of a good education, which, most probably, it has been the felicity of many of my female readers to receive; or, in the opposite case, to correct the faults, and point out in what way to supply the defects of a bad one.
"A young lady may excel in speaking French and Italian, may repeat a few passages from a volume of extracts; play like a professor, and sing like a siren; have her dressing-room decorated with her own drawings, tables, stands, screens, and cabinets—more, she may dance like Sempronia herself—and yet may have been very badly educated. I am far from meaning to set no value whatever on any or all of these qualifications; they are all of them elegant, and many of them properly tend to the perfecting of a genteel education. These things in their measure and degree may be done—but there are others which should not be left undone. Many things are becoming—but 'one thing is needful.' Besides, as the world seems to be fully apprized of the value of whatever tends to embellish life, there is less occasion here to insist on its importance.
"But, though a well-bred young lady may lawfully learn most of the fashionable arts, yet it does not seem to be the end of education to make women of fashion, dancers, singers, players, painters, actresses, sculptors, gilders, varnishers, engravers, and embroiderers. Most men are commonly destined to some profession, and their minds are consequently turned each to its respective object. Would it not be strange if they were called out to exercise their profession, or to set up their trade, with only a little general knowledge of the trades of other men, and without any previous definite application to their own peculiar calling?
"The profession of young ladies, to which the bent of their instruction should be turned, is that of daughters, wives, mothers, and managers of families. They should be therefore trained with a view to these several conditions, and be furnished with a stock of ideas and principles, and qualifications and habits, ready to be applied and appropriated, as occasion may demand, to each of these respective situations; for though the arts which merely embellish life, must claim admiration, yet when a man of sense comes to marry, it is a companion whom he wants—and not an artist. It is not merely a creature who can paint, and play, and dress, and dance—it is a being who can comfort and console him; one who can reason and reflect, and feel, and judge, and act and discourse, and discriminate—one who can assist him in his affairs, lighten his cares, soothe his sorrows, purify his joys, strengthen his principles, and educate his children." (Mrs. Hannah More)
This is sound reasoning and unquestionable discretion; it proceeds on the obvious and indisputable principle, that the excellence of means is to be judged of by their adaptation to the end to be produced; and the value of an instrument to be appreciated by its fitness for the work contemplated. That is a perfect female education, which best prepares women for the station in society which Providence has destined them to occupy. And what is that station? To be wives, mothers, and managers of families. Do not think that this is degrading woman below her just rank, or that such a station requires nothing more than an initiation into the mysteries of the kitchen, or a memory well stored with the responses of the "Cook's Oracle."
If to be the suitable companion of a sensible man; the judicious mother of a rising family; the neat and orderly and frugal manager of an extensive household; if to be qualified to counsel her husband in the intricacies of life, to soothe him in his troubles, to lighten his heart of half its load of care, to enliven his solitude with the charm of her conversation, and render his home "the soft green," on which his weary spirit shall love to repose; if to be qualified to train up her children in the paths of true religion, to form them to habits of virtue, to preside over their education, and the formation of their character, so as to multiply in them her own image of female excellence, and raise in each of them her second lovely self; if to be qualified to render her house attractive, both to its stated inhabitants, and the friends who may occasionally resort to it; I say, if this be a low station, and fitness for it be nothing more than base qualifications, where, in all this world, shall we find any one that is high, or noble, or useful?
For these sacred occupations has Providence destined the female sex, and say, what kind of education fits for such a scene of endearing and important duties? For such a circle of obligations, she should indeed be accomplished—"no term however has been more abused than this. 'Accomplishment' is a word that signifies completeness, perfection. But I may safely appeal to the observation of mankind, whether they do not meet with swarms of youthful females, issuing from our boarding schools, as well as emerging from the more private scenes of domestic education, who are introduced into the world, under the broad and universal title of accomplished ladies, of whom it cannot very truly be pronounced that they illustrate the definition, by a completeness which leaves nothing to be added, and a perfection which leaves nothing to be desired.
"This frenzy of accomplishments, unhappily, is no longer restricted within the usual limits of rank and of fortune; the middle orders have caught the contagion, and it rages downward with increasing violence, from the elegantly dressed but slenderly portioned curate's daughter, to the equally fashionable daughter of the little tradesman, and of the more opulent—but not more judicious farmer. And is it not obvious, that as far as this epidemic mania has spread, this very valuable part of society is declining in usefulness, as it rises in its unlucky pretensions to elegance? And this revolution of the manners of the middle class has so far altered the character of the age, as to be in danger of rendering obsolete the heretofore common saying, 'that most worth and virtue are to be found in the middle station.' For I do not scruple to assert, that in general, as far as my observation has extended, this class of females, in what relates both to religious knowledge, and to practical industry, falls short both of the very high and the very low. Their new course of education, and the habits of life, and elegance of dress, connected with it, peculiarly unfits them for the active duties of their own very important condition; while with frivolous eagerness and second-hand opportunities, they run to snatch a few of those showy acquirements which decorate the great. This is done apparently with one or other of these views; either to make their fortune by marriage, or if that fails to qualify them, to become teachers of others—hence the abundant multiplication of superficial wives, and of incompetent and illiterate governesses." (Mrs. Hannah More)
By accomplishments, I believe, are usually intended, dancing, music, drawing, the languages, etc. etc.
As for DANCING, if it be allowable at all in a system of Christian education, it cannot be permitted to rise to a higher rank than that of a mere physical training, which should be strictly confined to the school, and laid aside forever when the school is left for home. Balls and dances of every kind, public and private, are in my judgment, reprehensible and injurious; and if our Lord's exposition of the seventh commandment be correct, I am perfectly sure that the dance room is no place for Christian morals—the half-naked costume there exhibited has the same effect as Montesquieu ascribed to the dances of the Spartan virgins, which taught them "to strip chastity itself of modesty." Piety looks round in vain, in a ball-room, for one single object congenial with its nature.
MUSIChas not the same objection. The acquisition of this pleasing science requires a vigorous exercise of that faculty of the mind which is the foundation of all knowledge—I mean attentiveness; and therefore, like the mathematics, is valuable, not merely for its own sake—but as a part of mental education. Besides this the ear is tuned by its Maker to harmony, and the concord of sweet sounds is a pleasant and innocent recreation. Music becomes sinful, only when too much time is occupied in acquiring the science, or when it is applied to demoralizing compositions. I am decidedly of opinion, that in general, far more time is occupied in this accomplishment than ought to be thus employed. Many pupils practice three, four, five hours a day. Now suppose four hours a day be thus spent, commencing from six years of age, and continuing until eighteen, then leaving out the Sundays, and allowing thirteen days annually for traveling, there will be 14,400 hours spent at the piano—which, allowing ten hours a day for the time usually devoted to study, will make nearly four years out of twelve given to music.
Can this be justified, my female friends, on any principle of reason or Scripture? What ideas might have been acquired, what a stock of knowledge amassed, what habits of mental application formed in this time! And what renders this the more culpable is, that all this time is spent in acquiring a science which, as soon as its possessor is placed at the head of a family—is generally neglected and forgotten! If it be really true, therefore, that music cannot be acquired without practicing four hours a day, I do not hesitate to say that the sacrifice is far too costly; and females should forego the accomplishment, rather than purchase it at such a rate. If the great design and chief excellence of the female character, were to make a figure for a few years in the drawing-room, to enliven the mirthful scene of fashionable resort, and, by the freshness of her charms, and the fascination of her accomplishments, to charm all hearts, and conquer one—then let females give all their precious hours until they can play like Orpheus, or sing like a siren—but if it be what I have already stated, then indeed it will sound like a meager qualification for a wife, or a mother, to say—She is an exquisite performer on the harp or piano."
DRAWING, with all the fancy operations of the brush, the pencil, the needle, and the scissors, are innocent and agreeable, provided they are kept in the place of recreations—and are not allowed to rise into occupations. Of late years they have acquired a kind of hallowed connection, and FANCY has been seen carrying her painted and embroidered productions to lay on the altar of MERCY and of ZEAL. These things are sinful only when they consume too much time, and draw the mind from the love and pursuit of more important, or more necessary duties. They are little 'elegant trifles', which will do well enough to fill up the fragments of time—but must not displace the more momentous objects which require and occupy its larger portions.
TheLANGUAGES are accomplishments, for which there is a great demand in the system of modern education. I confess plainly at once, that I rate the importance of French at a much lower value than many do. I believe not one in a hundred who pretend to learn it, ever derive the least advantage from it. The object of acquiring a foreign language is to converse with those who speak it, or to be as a key to all the literature which it contains. To be able to hammer out a few sentences, ill pronounced, and worse constructed; to tell what a table, or a house, or door is, or pass the usual compliments in French—is a miserable reward for years of learning the French language. If, then, you have begun French, or Italian, and still retain anything of what you have learned, give a moderate portion of your time to recover what else will soon be utterly lost; for nothing is so soon lost from the mind as a little of a foreign language. Pursue the study until you can, at least, read it with nearly as much ease as your mother tongue. Perhaps the chief advantage from this accomplishment is, that it raises our reputation a little in elegant society, and so far increases our weight of character, and thus enlarges the sphere of our usefulness.
On the subject of accomplishments, then, my views are sufficiently explicit. The greater part of them I by no means condemn. Custom has rendered them necessary, true religion allows them to be innocent, and ingenuity can render them useful. Piety is not in a state of hostility with taste, and would not look more lovely in Gothic barbarity than in Grecian elegance. Provided she maintains all her sanctity, dignity, spirituality, and benevolence—she does not appear less inviting when attired by the MUSES, and attended by the GRACES. Females may play, and draw, and paint, and write Latin, and speak Italian and French, provided the time, the money, and the admiration lavished on these external acquirements, be all within reasonable limits; provided they are regarded as sources of private entertainment, not as arts of public display; are considered as recreations from more severe and necessary pursuits, not as the chief end of education; and are viewed as mere appendages of excellence, not its substitute.
It unfortunately happens, however, that the female who has in reality received the worst education, often makes the best figure in society. There are many schools which (to adopt a simile borrowed from the trades of my own town) instead of resembling the jeweler's workshop, where sterling gold and real diamonds are polished—are nothing more than gilders, varnishers, and platers, whose object is to give the brightest surface in the shortest time, and at the least expense. The paste and the gilt look very well, perhaps better than the gem and the gold, because more of it can be obtained for the same sum—but which will wear best, and last the longest? It requires much self-denial, sturdy attachment to solid excellence and nobleness of mind, for a female of few accomplishments—but many virtues, to go home from a company, where some gilded, varnished mind has received, for her music or singing, the tribute of admiration—and still to prefer the 'unostentatious excellence of character' to all the fascinations of exterior decoration.
But look onward in life. See the future career of both. The siren wins the heart, for which, as a prize, she has sung and played. She marries, and is placed at the head of a rising family. But, alas! the time she should have spent in preparing to be a companion to her husband, a mother to her children, a mistress to her servants, was employed at the piano, in qualifying her to charm the drawing-room circle. She succeeded, and had her reward—but it ended when she became a wife and a mother! She had neither good sense, nor information; neither frugality, order, nor system; neither ability to govern and guide her children. Her husband sees everything going wrong, and is dissatisfied; he caught the 'nightingale' to which he listened with such transport in her native bower—but she is now a miserable-looking, moping, silent bird in her cage! All is discontent and wretchedness, for both at length find out that she was better qualified to be a public singer than a wife, or a mother!
Far different is the case with the unostentatious woman of real moral worth. She too wins a heart more worth winning than the 'prize' last spoken of. Some congenial mind, looking round for an individual who shall be a help-meet indeed, sees in her good sense and prudence, in her well-stored understanding, in her sobriety of manners, in her sterling piety—the virtues likely to last through life, with foliage ever verdant, fruit ever abundant. They are united in marriage—the hopes of lovers, rational, unromantic, founded on kindred minds, and kindred hearts—are realized in all the fond endearments of wedded life. Although the first bloom and freshness of youthful affection fades away, its mellowness still remains, and mutual esteem still continues and grows. Their family increases, over which she presides in the meekness of wisdom, the order of system, and the economy, not of baseness—but of prudence. To her children, whom her husband trusts with confidence to her care, she is the instructor of their minds, the guide of their youth. Their father sees them rising up to prove the wisdom of his choice, when he selected a wife rather for 'virtues' than 'accomplishments'—their mother delights in a husband who is one with her in all her views, and approves of all her doings. They pass through life together, blessing and being blessed—mutual comforters, and mutual counselors, often saying, if not singing,
"Domestic happiness, you only bliss
Of Paradise that has survived the Fall!
You are not known where pleasure is adored–
That reeling goddess with the zoneless waist."
How true and how beautiful are the words of Solomon "Who can find a virtuous and capable wife? She is worth more than precious rubies. Her husband can trust her, and she will greatly enrich his life. She will not hinder him but help him all her life. She extends a helping hand to the poor and opens her arms to the needy. She has no fear of winter for her household because all of them have warm clothes. She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs with no fear of the future. When she speaks, her words are wise, and kindness is the rule when she gives instructions. She carefully watches all that goes on in her household and does not have to bear the consequences of laziness. Her children stand and bless her. Her husband praises her: 'There are many virtuous and capable women in the world, but you surpass them all!' Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last; but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised. Reward her for all she has done. Let her deeds publicly declare her praise." Proverbs 31:10-31.
My young female friends, have you no ambition to answer, in future life, these beautiful patterns of female excellence? Have you no desire, that if Providence should place you at the head of a family, you may shine forth in all the mild radiance of domestic, feminine excellence? Is there not, as you read, some spirit-stirring desires in your soul? Does not all the glitter of mere external accomplishments, fade away into darkness before such effulgent virtue? Does not all the 'painted insignificance of mere drawing-room charms' dwindle into nothing before that solid excellence which is a "perpetual fountain of domestic sweets."
If so, and you would thus bless and be blessed, make up your mind deliberately to this opinion, and abide by it—that what is useful is infinitely to be preferred to what is dazzling—and virtuous excellence to be more ardently coveted than fashionable accomplishments. A right objective is of unspeakable consequence. Whatever we propose as the grand paramount object, will form the character! We shall subordinate everything else to it! May this be this your aim—to excel rather in the solid and useful attainments, than in external showy decorations!
Seek a large portion of what is usually denominatedGOOD SENSE. It is very difficult to define what I mean, and perhaps it is not necessary, for every one knows what I intend, by this quality. It is that sobriety of character, that quick perception of all the proprieties of life, that appropriate discernment of what is best to be done in all the ordinary circumstances of human society, which shall enable us to act with nobility to ourselves—and comfort to others. It is a thoughtful, cautious way of judging and acting—and is equally opposed to that rashness which acts with haste—and that ignorance which cannot act at all. It is, in fact, prudence, accommodating itself to all the relations of life, and the ever-varying circumstances of society.
To store your mind withUSEFUL INFORMATION. Read much, and let your reading be of a right kind. Reject with disdain, as you ought, the libel which has been circulated by some against your understanding—that poetry and novels are the books most adapted to the understanding and feelings of young ladies. On this topic I refer you to the chapter on Books. I cannot, however—but insert here a few additional hints on the subject.
To assist in the right formation of your character, I very urgently recommend the perusal of Mrs. Hannah More's "The Modern System of Female Education;" for although this work is more particularly intended for mothers, it may be read with immense advantage also by daughters. The views of this incomparable woman are so correct, and also enlarged, so accordant with reason, and what is still more important, so harmonious with Scripture—that you cannot look up to a better guide.
"Serious study serves to harden the mind for more trying conflicts; it lifts the reader from sensation to intellect; it abstracts her from the world and its vanities; it fixes a wandering spirit, and fortifies a weak one; it corrects that spirit of trifling, which she naturally contracts from the frivolous turn of female conversation, and the petty nature of female employments; it concentrates her attention, assists her in a habit of excluding trivial thoughts, and thus even helps to qualify her for religious pursuits."
Thus would I have a female qualified for her station as a wife, mother, and manager of a family—but this is not all; for mental improvement should be associated with a correct knowledge of household affairs. She who is to preside over a family, should be most intimately acquainted with everything that can preserve its order, or promote its comfort. That must be a most injudicious mother, who is not anxious to teach a daughter how to manage a family to the greatest advantage! And that must be a weak and silly girl, who is not willing to be taught. All the time, therefore, must not be given to books; for learned ladies, without neatness, without order, without economy, without frugality, "May do very well for maidens or aunts, but they'll never make good wives!"
A husband's home should be rendered comfortable for himself and his children—or else they are both very likely to wander from home for comfort. Cleanliness, neatness, frugality, order—are all of great importance in the habits of a wife, mother, and mistress, for the lack of which, no knowledge, however profound or extensive, can be a substitute. It is not at all requisite that a wife should be either an accomplished housemaid, or a perfect cook—but the lack of this ability has led many a man, who was blessed with a learned wife, to exclaim, with something between disgust and despair, "I now find, to my cost—that academic attainments, personal beauty, and ostentatious accomplishments—are poor a qualifications for a wife!"
Before I close this chapter, I must mention one or twoDISPOSITIONS, which young females should assiduously cherish and unostentatiously exhibit.
The first isFILIAL OBEDIENCE; not that this is binding upon daughters only, for what son is he who honors not, loves not, comforts not, his father and his mother? Wherever Providence should cast his lot, or in whatever circumstances he should be placed, let him continue in every possible way to promote the happiness of his parents. Young people are but too apt to think, that the obligations to filial piety diminish in number and strength as years increase. I am afraid, that really one of the signs of the times, and it is no bright one—is the decrease of this amiable and lovely virtue. I think I see rising—I wish I may be in error—a spirit of independence, which is aiming to precede the period of manhood—the time when the yoke of parental control may be thrown off. This is neither for the comfort of the parents, nor the advantage of the children. It is not obedience only that should not be refused; for where this is denied, there can be neither true religion nor virtue—but all that public way of showing them honor, and all that private way of promoting their comfort, for which, opportunities are constantly presented. There is no period in the life of a father or mother, when the obligation to be in some measure subject to them, and in all measure to promote their happiness, ceases.
The following is the description of a daughter which I have somewhere met with—"MARIA received her unhappy existence at the price of her mother's life, and at the age of seventeen she followed, as the sole mourner, the coffin of her remaining parent. From her thirteenth year, she had passed her life at her father's sick bed, the gout having deprived him of the use of his limbs, and beheld the arch of heaven only when she went forth to fetch food or medicines. The discharge of her filial duties occupied the whole of her time and all her thoughts. She was his only nurse and for the last two years. She prepared his scanty meal, she bathed his aching limbs, and, though weak and delicate from constant confinement, and the poison of melancholy thoughts, she had acquired an unusual power in her arms, from the habit of lifting her old and suffering father out of and back into, his bed of pain. Thus passed away her early youth in sorrow; she grew up in tears, a stranger to the amusements of youth, and its more delightful schemes and imaginations. She was not, however, unhappy; she attributed no merit to herself for her virtues—but for that reason were they more her reward. 'The peace which passes all understanding,' disclosed itself in all her looks and movements. It lay on her countenance like a steady unshadowed moonlight; and her voice, which was at once naturally sweet and subtle, came from her like the fine flute tones of a masterly performer, which, still floating at some uncertain distance, seemed to be created by the player, rather than to proceed from the instrument. If you had listened to it in one of those brief sabbaths of the soul, when the activity and discursiveness of the thoughts are suspended, and the mind quietly eddies round instead of flowing onward (as at late evening in the spring, I have seen a bat fly in silent circles round and round a fruit tree in full blossom, in the midst of which, as within a close tent of the purest white, an unseen nightingale was piping its purest notes,) in such a mood, you might have half fancied, half felt, that her voice had a separate being of its own—that it was a living something whose mode of existence was for the ear only—so deep was her resignation, so entirely had it become the habit of her nature, and in all she did or said so perfectly were her movements, and her utterance without effort, and without the appearance of effort. Her dying father's last words, addressed to the clergyman who attended him, were his grateful testimony, that during his long and sore trial, his good MARIA had behaved to him like an angel; that the most disagreeable offices, and the least suited to her age and sex, had never drawn an unwilling look from her; and that whenever his eye had met hers, he had been sure to see in it either the tear of pity, or the sudden smile expressive of her affection and wish to cheer him. 'God,' said he, 'will reward the good girl for all her long dutifulness to me!' He departed during the inward prayer, which followed these his last words. His wish will be fulfilled in eternity!"
What daughter can read this and not admire, and if need be, imitate the conduct of MARIA? Few are called to these self-denying acts of filial piety—but who would not do all they could to sweeten, as far as may be, the 'dregs of life' to an aged mother, or a blind father? It has been observed, that a good daughter generally makes an exemplary wife and mother.
SENSIBILITY, when blended with a sound judgment, and guided in its exercises by good sense and prudence—is a lovely ornament of the female character. By sensibility, I mean a susceptibility of having emotion excited by external objects; a habit of mind, in which the affections are easily moved, by objects calculated and worthy to produce feeling. Of course, this is an evil or an excellence, according as it is united with other mental habits. An excess of sensibility, is one of the most injurious ingredients which can enter into the formation of character. Where it is united with a weak judgment, and a wild imagination, it exposes its possessor to the greatest possible dangers, and opens in her own bosom a perpetual source of vexation, misery, and self-torment. If we were to trace to their source many of those quarrels which have alienated friends, and made irreconcilable enemies—those hasty and imprudent marriages which have terminated in total wretchedness; those acts of profligacy, suicide, and even murder, which have stained the annals of mankind—we should find the seed of all these mischiefs, in an excess of morbid sensibility.
Feeling, like fire, is a good servant—but a bad master—a source of comfort, and a means of usefulness—if well governed. But if left to rage without control—it is an engine of destruction, and a cause of misery. Every heart should have an altar, on which this fire should be perpetually kept burning—but then prudence should ever be on the watch, lest it should consume the temple!
Young females are in imminent danger of being led away by the representation, that an unfeeling woman, though she be pure as a statue of marble, yet withal, if she be as cold, is a most unlovely character. This I admit, and therefore I class a well-governed sensibility among the decorations of the female character. But then, the tendency of this remark is certainly mischievous, since, according to the spirit in which it is usually both made and received, it means, that an excess of feeling rather adorns than injures the character. It will be found, generally speaking, that young people rather force the growth, than check the luxuriance of their feelings; which is just in the inverted order of nature, since the affections generally grow without culture—the judgment scarcely ever.
The voice of flattery, also, is all on the side of feeling. A warm-hearted girl, carried away by her feelings, and misled by a wild and ardent imagination, will find many more admirers than the sensible, prudent, and reserved one—and for this plain reason, because there are more fools in the world than wise men. Follow out the history of the two characters. It is the end that proves all.
Imprudent attachments, rash friendships, misdirected anxieties, eccentric charities, fickle schemes, groundless anticipations, mortifying disappointments, harassing litigations, with innumerable other evils—come in the train of excessive and ungoverned sensibility. Let young women therefore remember, that the 'understanding' is the queen among the faculties of the soul, beneath whose despotic sway, the imagination and affections may be as active and as ardent as they please, so that they never offend against the laws of their sovereign.
With these limitations, I will admit that sensibility is an ornament of female character. A cold, unfeeling, heartless woman—who has no tear for sorrow, no smile for excellence—who has no power but that of niggardly calculation—and no emotions but those which, by a sort of centripetal force, are all drawn to self as the center of gravity—is a libel upon her sex. She may have prudence—but it is likely to degenerate into cunning; frugality—but it will in all probability soon become avarice; caution—but it will be changed to suspicion; intellect—but it will be proud, censorious, and cynical.
Pure sensibility is the soil in which the generous affections grow—it cherishes that mercy which is full of good fruits; gives birth to all the enterprises of benevolence, and when touched and purified with a "live coal from the altar," will give a keener taste for the spirit of true religion, a richer enjoyment of its privileges, and a quicker zeal in discharging its duties. But then it must be feeling associated with principle, and guided in all its exercises by a sound judgment.
A RETIREDNESS OF DISPOSITIONis also an exquisite ornament of the female character. Even the most distant approach to whatever is forward in manner, and vain in conversation, should be most studiously avoided. Delicate reserve, without awkward bashfulness—is a great part of the loveliness of every young female; especially in all her conduct towards the opposite sex. A lady who takes pains to be noticed, generally gains her object without its reward—for she is noticed—but at the same time she is despised. Nothing can be more disgusting than a bold obtrusiveness of manners in a female, except it be that 'affectation of retiredness' which retreats only to be followed.
Flippancy and pertness are sometimes mistakenly substituted, by their possessor, for smartness and cleverness. These latter qualities never look well when they are studied—they are never tolerable but when they are natural; and are among the last things which we should seek to 'acquire'—for when obtained in this way, they appear no better than ornaments stuck on, instead of being wrought in. I am not contending against that ease of manners which the most retiring female may and should adopt, even in the company of gentlemen—that artless and elegant freedom which is compatible with the most delicate reserve. But I deplore that obtrusive mode of address, which determines to attract attention.
A love of display has been thought to be among the blemishes which usually attach to female character in general. I do not now refer to the 'petty concerns of dress', for this is truly pitiable—and an individual silly enough to indulge such 'a butterfly, peacock taste' as this—is too weak to afford any rational hopes of having her follies corrected. Arguments are lost upon that little mind whose ambition cannot comprehend, or value, or covet—a distinction of greater worth, than a richer silk, a more graceful plume, or a more modern fashion. This Lilliputian heroine, armed at every point with feathers, flowers, and ribbons; supported by all her auxiliary forces of plumassiers, frisseurs, milliners, mantua makers, perfumers, etc., etc.—contending for the palm of victory, on the arena of fashion, must be left to her fate, to conquer or to fall—I have no concern with HER.
But there is vanity of another kind, against which I would caution young females, and that is a fondness for exhibiting their fashionable accomplishments or mental acquirements. Ostentation in a man is bad enough—but in a woman is still worse. Few things are more offensive than to see a female laboring to the uttermost to convince a company, that she has received a good intellectual education, has improved her advantages, and is really a sensible, clever woman!
Now observe, I am not contending against a woman's acquainting herself with intellectual subjects—for I reject with indignation the calumny that the female mind is unequal to the profoundest subjects of human investigation, or should be restricted in its studies to more feminine pursuits. Much less am I anxious to exclude the stores of female intellect, and the music of female tongues, from the feast of reason and the flow of soul. No! Too long have the softer sex been insulted by the supposition, that they are incapable of joining or enriching the mental communion and conversation of the drawing-room. I most unequivocally, unhesitatingly say, that they have a much smaller share of conversational communion than their natural talents, and their acquired information, entitle them to.
All I am contending against is, that love of display which leads some to force themselves upon the attention of a company, which is not contented with sharing—but is ambitious of monopolizing the time and opportunities of rational discourse. Some silversmith and jewelers, who wish to attract public attention, make a splendid display of gems and jewels in their window—but their window contains their whole stock, they have no store besides. There are others, who, making all proper exhibition, can conduct their customers from room to room within, each filled with stores of inestimable value. Not unlike the former, some people make a grand display in conversation—but their tongue, like the shop-window, exhibits all they possess—they have very little besides in the mind. But there are others who, like the latter tradesman, are not deficient in respectable display—but then, besides the ideas which they exhibit in conversation, they have a valuable stock of knowledge in the mind.
To conclude this long chapter, I must again remind you that true piety is the deep basis of EXCELLENCE; sound morality its lofty superstructure; good sense, general knowledge, correct feeling, the necessary furniture of the fabric; and unaffected modesty and proper accomplishments its elegant decorations!
Downloaded from Grace Gems - A Treasury of Ageless, Sovereign Grace, Devotional Writings
Bible Bulletin Board
Middletown, DE 19709 USA