Sisters and Brothers
By Timothy Shay Arthur, 1853
If you have younger sisters, who are just entering society, all your interest should be awakened for them. You cannot but have seen some little below the surface, and already made the discovery that too few of the young men who move about in the various social circles to which you have admission, are fit associates for a pure-minded woman. Their exterior, it is true, is very fair; they sing well, they dance well, their persons are elegant, and their manners attractive; but you have met them when they felt none of the restraints of female society, and seen them unmask their real characters. You can remember the ribald jest, the obscene allusion, the sneer at virtue, the unblushing acknowledgment of licentiousness. You have heard them speak of this sweet girl, and that pure-minded woman, in terms that would have roused your deepest indignation, had your own sister been the subject of allusion.
You may know all these things, but your innocent sisters at home cannot know them, nor see reason for shunning the society of those whose real characters, if revealed, would cause them to turn away in disgust and horror! From the dangers of an acquaintanceship with such young men, it is your duty to guard your sisters; and you must do this more by warding off the evil, than by warnings against it. In order to this, you should make it a point of duty always to go with your sisters into company, and to be their companion, if possible, on all public occasions. By so doing, you can prevent the introduction of men whose principles are bad; or, if such introductions are forced upon them in spite of you, can throw in a timely word of caution.
This latter, it may be too late to do after an acquaintanceship is formed with a man whose character is detestable in your eyes, provided he has a fair exterior. Your sister will hardly be made to believe that one who is so attractive in all respects, and who can converse of virtue and honor so eloquently, can possibly have an impure or wicked mind. She will think you prejudiced. The great thing is to guard, by every means in your power, these innocent ones from the polluting presence of a bad man. You cannot tell how soon he may win the affections of the most innocent, confiding, and loving of them all — and draw her off from virtue. And even if his designs are honorable — if he wins her but to wed her — her lot will be by no means an enviable one; he cannot make her happy; for no pure-minded woman ever has been, or ever can be made happy — by a corrupt, evil-minded, and selfish man!
You are a brother; your position is one of great responsibility; let this be ever before your mind.
On your faithfulness to your duty, may depend a lifetime of happiness or misery for those who are, or ought to be, very dear to you. But not only should you seek to guard them from the danger just alluded to — your affection for them should lead you to enter into their pleasures as far as in your power to do so; to give interest and variety to the home circle; to afford them, at all times, the assistance of your judgment in matters of trivial as well as grave importance. By this you will gain their confidence and acquire an influence over them that may, at some later period, enable you to serve them in a moment of impending danger.
We very often — indeed, far too often — see young men with sisters who appear to be entirely indifferent in regard to them. They rarely visit together; their associates, male and female, are strangers to each other; they appear to have no common interests. This state of things is the fault, nine times in ten, of the young men. It is the result of their neglect and indifference. There are very few sisters who do not love with a most tender and unselfish regard their brothers, especially their elder brothers, and who would not feel happier in being their companions, than in the companionship of almost anyone. Notwithstanding all this neglect and indifference, how willingly is every little office performed that adds to the brother's comfort! How much care is there for him who gives back so little in return! The sister's love is as unselfish as it is unostentatious. It is shown in acts, not in professions. How can any young man be indifferent to such love? How can he fail in its full and free reciprocation?
A regard for himself, as well as for his sisters, should lead a young man to be much with them. Their influence in softening, polishing, and refining his character, will be very great. They have perceptions of the propriety and fitness of things far quicker than he has; and this he will soon see if he observes their remarks upon the persons with whom they come in contact, and the circumstances that transpire around them. While he is reasoning on the subject, and balancing many things in his mind before coming to a satisfactory conclusion — they, by a kind of intuition, have settled the whole matter, and settled it, he will find, truly.
In the graver things of life, a man's judgment is more to be relied upon than a woman's, because here a regular course of reasoning from premises laid down is required, and this a man is much more able to do than a woman; but in matters of taste and propriety, and in the quick appreciation of character — a woman's perceptions are worth far more than a man's judgment. And in the more weighty and serious matters of life, a man will always find that he will receive aid, in coming to a proper decision, from a wife or sister who loves him, if he will only carefully lay the whole subject before her, with the reasons that appeal to his judgment, and be guided in some measure by her perceptions of what is right. This is because man is in the province of the understanding, which acts by thought — and woman in the province of the affections, which act by perceptions; not that a man does not have perceptions, or a woman reason, but the leading characteristic difference between the sexes is as stated, and each comes to conclusions mainly by either the one or the other of these two modes.
This position, which we believe to be the true one in regard to the difference between the sexes, demonstrates the great use of female society, especially the society of those who feel some interest in and affection for us. In such society, there is a reciprocation of benefits that is nearly, if not quite, equal. And nowhere can this reciprocation be of greater utility than among brothers and sisters, just entering upon life, with all their knowledge of human character and human life to gain.
Older brothers are not usually as attentive to their younger sisters, as the latter would feel to be agreeable. The little girls that were so long known as children, with the foibles, faults, and caprices of children, although now grown up into tall young ladies, who have left or are about leaving school, are still felt to be children, or but a little advanced beyond childhood, by the young men who have had some three or four years' experience in the world. With these older brothers, there will not usually be, arising from this cause, much confidential and unreserved fellowship; at least, not until the sisters have added two or three years more to their ages, and assumed more of the quiet dignity of womanhood.
Upon these older brothers, therefore, the conduct of sisters cannot, usually, have much effect. They are removed to a point chiefly beyond the circle of their influence. But upon brothers near about their own age, and younger than themselves, the influence of sisters may be brought to bear with the most beneficial results.
The temptations to which young men are exposed, when first they come in contact with the world, are many, and full of the strongest allurements. Their virtuous principles are assailed in a thousand ways; sometimes boldly, and sometimes by the most insidious arts of the wicked and evil-minded. All, therefore, that can make virtue lovely in their eyes, and vice hideous — they need to strengthen the good principles stored up, from childhood, in their minds. For their sakes, home should be made as attractive as possible, in order to induce them frequently to spend their evenings in the place where, of all others, they will be safest. To do this, a young lady must consult the tastes of her brothers, and endeavor to take sufficient interest in the pursuits that interest them, as to make herself companionable. If they are fond of music, one of the strongest incentives she can have for attaining the highest possible skill in performing upon the piano, will be the hope of making home, thereby, the most attractive place where they can spend their evenings. If they are fond of reading, let her read, as far as she can, the books that interest them, in order that she may take part in their conversations; and let her, in every other possible way, furnish herself with the means of making home agreeable.
There is no surer way for a sister to gain an influence with her brother, than to cultivate all exterior graces and accomplishments, and improve her mind by reading, thinking, and observation. By these means she not only becomes his intelligent companion — but "inspires him with a feeling of generous pride towards her, that, more than anything else, impresses her image upon his mind, brings her at all times nearer to him, and gives her a double power over him for good.
The indifference felt by brothers towards their sisters, when it does exist, often arises from the fact that their sisters are inferior, in almost everything, to the women they are in the habit of meeting abroad. Where this is the case, such indifference is not so much to be wondered at.
Sisters should always endeavor to gain, as much as possible, the confidence of their brothers, and to give them their confidence in return. Mutual good offices will result from this, and attachments that could only produce unhappiness, may be prevented. A man sees more of men than a woman does, and the same is true in regard to the other gender. This being so, a brother has it in his power at once to guard his sister against the advances of an unprincipled man, or a man whose habits he knows to be bad; and a sister has it in her power to reveal to her brother traits of character in a woman, for whom he is about forming an attachment, which would repel rather than attract him.
Towards her younger brother a sister should be particularly considerate. In allusion to this subject, Mrs. Farrar has written so well that we cannot repress our wish to quote her. "If your brothers are younger than you, encourage them to be perfectly confidential with you; win their friendship by your sympathy in all their concerns, and let them see that their interests and their pleasures are liberally provided for in the family arrangements. Never disclose their little secrets, however unimportant they may seem to you; never repress their feelings by ridicule; but be their tenderest friend — and then you may become their ablest adviser. If separated from them by the course of school and college education, make a point of keeping up your intimacy by full, free, and affectionate correspondence; and when they return to the paternal roof, at that awkward age between youth and manhood, when reserve creeps over the mind like an impenetrable veil, allow it not to interpose between you and your brothers. Cultivate their friendship and intimacy with all the address and tenderness you possess; for it is of unspeakable importance to them that their sisters should be their confidential friends. Consider the loss of a ball or party, for the sake of making the evening pass pleasantly to your brothers at home, as a small sacrifice — one you should unhesitatingly make. If they go into company with you, see that they are introduced to the most desirable acquaintances, and show them that you are interested in their conducting themselves well."
Having quoted so much from the "Young Lady's Friend," we feel inclined to give a few passages more from the author's admirable remarks on the relation of brother and sister.
"So many temptations beset young men, of which young women know nothing, that it is of the utmost importance that your brothers' evenings should be happily passed at home; that their friends should be your friends; that their engagements should be the same as yours; and that various innocent amusements should be provided for them in the family circle. Music is an accomplishment usually valuable as a home enjoyment, as rallying round the piano the various members of a family, and harmonizing their hearts, as well as their voices, particularly in devotional strains. I know no more agreeable and interesting spectacle than that of brothers and sisters playing and singing together those elevated compositions in music and poetry which gratify the taste and purify the heart, while their parents sit delighted by. I have seen and heard an elder sister thus leading the family choir, who was the soul of harmony to the whole household, and whose life was a perfect example of those virtues which I am here endeavoring to inculcate. Let no one say, in reading this chapter, that too much is here required of sisters; that no one can be expected to lead such a self-sacrificing life; for the sainted one to whom I refer, was all that I would ask my sister to be; and a happier person never lived. 'To do good and make others happy,' was the rule of her life; and in this she found the art of making herself so."
"Brothers will generally be found strongly opposed to the slightest indecorum in sisters. Their fellowship with all sorts of men enables them to judge of the construction put upon certain actions, and modes of dress and speech, much better than women can; and you will do well to take their advice on all such points."
"I have been told by men, who had passed unharmed through the temptations of youth, that they owed their escape from many dangers to the intimate companionship of affectionate and pure-minded sisters. They have been saved from a hazardous meeting with idle company by some home engagement, of which their sisters were the charm; they have refrained from mixing with the impure, because they would not bring home thoughts and feelings which they could not share with those trusting and loving friends; they have put aside the wine-cup, because they would not profane with their fumes the holy kiss, with which they were accustomed to bid their sisters good-night."