By Timothy Shay Arthur, 1853
It often happens that a daughter possesses greatly superior advantages to those enjoyed, in early years, by either her father or mother. She is not compelled to labor as hard as they were obliged to labor when young; and she is blessed with the means of education far beyond what they had. Her associations, too, are of a different order, all tending to elevate her views of life, to refine her tastes, and to give her admission into a higher grade of society than they were fitted to move in.
Unless very watchful of herself and very thoughtful of her parents, a daughter so situated will be led at times to draw comparisons between her own cultivated intellect and taste — and the lack of such cultivation in her parents; and to think indifferently of them, as really inferior, because not so well educated and accomplished as she is. A distrust of their judgment and a disrespect of their opinions will follow, as a natural consequence, if these thoughts and feelings are indulged. This result often takes place with thoughtless, weak-minded girls; and is followed by what is worse — a disregard to their feelings, wishes, and express commands.
A sensible daughter, who loves her parents, will hardly forget to whom she is indebted for all the superior advantages she enjoys. She will also readily perceive that the experience which her parents have acquired, and their natural strength of mind, give them a real and great superiority over her, and make their judgment, in all matters of life, far more to be depended upon, than hers could possibly be.
It may be that her mother has never learned to play upon the piano, has never been to a dancing-school, has never had anything beyond the merest rudiments of an education — but she has good sense, prudence, industry, economy. She understands and practices all the virtues of domestic life; has a clear, discriminating judgment; has been her husband's faithful friend and adviser for some twenty or thirty years; and has safely guarded and guided her children up to mature years. These virtues of a mother, entitle her to respect and fullest confidence.
Thoughtless indeed must be that child who can permit an emotion of disrespect toward her parents to dwell in her bosom for more than a single moment!
Respect and love toward parents are absolutely necessary to the proper formation of the character upon that true basis which will bring into just order and subordination, all the powers of the mind. Without this order and subordination, there can be no true happiness. A child loves and respects his parents, because from them he derived his being, and from them receives every blessing and comfort. To them, and to them alone, does his mind turn as the authors of all the good gifts he possessed. As a mere child, it is right for him thus to regard his parents as the authors of his being and the originators of all his blessings. But as reason gains strength, and he sees more deeply into the nature and causes of things, which only takes place as the child approaches the years of maturity — it is then seen that the parents were only the agents through which life, and all the blessings accompanying it — came from God, the great Father of all.
If the parents have been loved with a truly filial love, then the mind has been suitably opened and prepared for love toward God, and an obedience to his divine laws, without which there can be no true happiness. When this new and higher truth takes possession of the child's mind, it in no way diminishes his respect for his earthly parents, but increases it. He no longer obeys them because they command obedience — but he regards the truth of their precepts, and in that truth hears the voice of God speaking to him. More than ever is he now careful to listen to their wise counsels, because he perceives in them the authority of reason, which is the authority of God.
Most young ladies, on attaining the age of responsibility, will perceive a difference in the manner of their parents. Instead of opposing them, as heretofore, with authority — the parents will now oppose the children with reason, where opposition is deemed necessary. The mother, instead of saying, when she disapproves anything, "No, my child, you cannot do it;" or, "No you must not go, dear;" will say, "I would rather not have you do so;" or, "I do not approve of your going." If you ask her reasons, she will state them, and endeavor to make you comprehend their force.
It is far too often the case, that the daughter's desire to do what her mother disapproves is so active, that neither her mother's objections nor reasons are strong enough to counteract her wishes, and she follows her own inclinations instead of being guided by her mother's better judgment. In these instances, she almost always does wrong, and suffers therefore either bodily or mental pain.
Obedience in childhood is that by which we are led and guided into right actions. When we become men and women, reason takes the place of obedience; but, like a young bird just fluttering from its nest, reason at first has not much strength of wing; and we should therefore allow the reason of those who love us, like the mother-bird, to stoop under and bear us up in our earlier efforts, lest we fall bruised and wounded to the ground. To whose reason should a young girl look, to strengthen her own, so soon as to her mother's, guided as it is by love? But it too often happens that, under the first impulses of conscious freedom, no voice is regarded, but the voice of inclination and passion. The mother may oppose, and warn, and urge the most serious considerations, but the daughter turns a deaf ear to all. She thinks that she knows best.
"You are not going tonight, Mary?" said a mother, coming into her daughter's room, and finding her dressing for a ball. She had been rather seriously ill for some days, with a cold that had fallen upon her throat and chest, which was weak, but was now somewhat better.
"I think I will, mother, for I am much better than I was yesterday, and have improved since morning. I have promised myself so much pleasure at this ball, that I cannot think of being disappointed."
The mother shook her head.
"Mary," she replied, "you are not well enough to go out. The air is damp, and you will inevitably take more cold. Think how badly your throat has been inflamed."
"I don't think it has been so very bad, mother."
"The doctor told me it was badly inflamed, and said you would have to be very careful of yourself, or it might prove serious."
"That was some days ago. It is a great deal better now."
"But the least exposure may cause it to return."
"I will be very careful not to expose myself. I will wrap up warm and go in a carriage. I am sure there is not the least danger, mother."
"While I am sure that there is very great danger. You cannot pass from the door to the carriage, without the damp air striking upon your face, and pressing into your lungs."
"But I must not always exclude myself from the fresh air, mother. Fresh air and exercise, you know, the doctor says, are indispensable to health."
"Dry air — not damp air. This makes the difference. But you must act for yourself, Mary. You are now a woman, and must freely act in the light of that reason which God has given you. Because I love you, and desire your welfare, I thus seek to convince you that it is wrong to expose your health tonight. Your great desire to go, blinds you to the real danger, which I can fully see."
"You are over-anxious, mother," urged Mary. "I know how I feel much better than you possibly can, and I know I am well enough to go."
"I have nothing more to say, my child," returned the mother. "I wish you to act freely, but wisely. Wisely I am sure you will not act if you go tonight. A temporary illness may not alone be the consequence; your health may receive a shock from which it will never recover."
"Mother wishes to frighten me," said Mary to herself, after her mother had left the room. "But I am not to be so easily frightened. I am sorry she makes such a serious matter about my going, for I never like to do anything that is not agreeable to her feelings. But I must go to this ball. William is to call for me at eight, and he would be as much disappointed as myself, if I were not to go. As to making more cold, what of that? I would willingly pay the penalty of a pretty severe cold, rather than miss the ball."
Against all her mother's earnestly urged objections, Mary went with her lover to the ball. She came home, at one o'clock, with a sharp pain through her bosom, red spots on her cheeks, oppression of the chest, and considerable fever. On the next morning she was unable to rise from her bed. When the doctor, who was sent for, came in, he looked grave, and asked if there had been any exposure by which a fresh cold could be taken.
"She was at the ball last night," replied the mother.
"Not with your approval, madam?" he said quickly, looking with a stern expression into the mother's face.
"No, doctor. I urged her not to go; but Mary thought she knew best. She did not believe there was any danger."
A strong expression rose to the doctor's lips, but he repressed it, lest he should needlessly alarm the patient. On retiring from her chamber, he declared the case to be a very critical one; and so it proved to be. Mary did not leave her room for some months; and when she did, it was with a constitution so impaired, that she could not endure the slightest fatigue, nor bear the least exposure. Neither change of climate nor medicine availed anything toward restoring her to health. In this feeble state she married, about twelve months afterward, the young man who had accompanied her to the ball. One year from the period at which that happy event took place, she died, leaving to stranger hands a babe that needed all her tenderest care, and a husband almost broken-hearted at his loss.
This is not merely a picture from the imagination, and highly colored. It is from human nature, and every line is drawn with the pencil of truth. Hundreds of young women yearly sink into the grave, whose friends can trace to some similar act of imprudence, committed in direct opposition to the earnest persuasions of parents or friends, the cause of their premature demise and death. And too often other, and sometimes even worse consequences than death, follow a disregard of the mother's voice of warning.