Practical Hints from a Father to His Daughter
William Sprague, 1835
There is scarcely any subject on which it is more important that you should form correct notions, and in relation to which a mistaken view is of more practical and dangerous tendency — than that of amusements. Many a young girl, who might have been an ornament to her gender, and a blessing to the world, has, by yielding to the dictates of a wayward inclination, and setting aside the decisions of sober reason on this subject — not only rendered herself of no account in society — but clouded all her prospects both for this world and eternity. In contemplating this subject, I wish you to feel that you are standing by the grave of female character and hopes, and to heed the warning voice that issues from it, charging you to beware how you tread in the footsteps of the fallen and ruined!
The grand reason why so many girls have fallen victims
to the love of amusement is, that they have judged erroneously of the
end which it is designed to answer. They have taken up the opinion, (and
it must be acknowledged that it has too often received the sanction even of
parents,) that a portion, especially of early life, was designed to be
frittered away in idle and foolish indulgences; that they are at liberty
during this period to regard the gratification of the senses as an
ultimate object; and to think of nothing in connection with amusement
beyond the mere momentary enjoyment with which it is connected. With this
impression, they have asked no question with so much interest — as how they
may most effectually be amused. And this passion has increased by
indulgence, until they have acquired an utter disrelish for the sober
concerns of life! Who would suppose that beings could be employed in these
idle pursuits . . .
who are destined to an immortal existence,
who are accountable for the improvement of all their time, and
are liable every hour, to enter on an exact and eternal retribution?
The legitimate end of amusement, is not answered in mere personal gratification — but in refreshing and invigorating the powers for the more successful discharge of duty. The constitution of the human mind is such, that it will not bear to be intensely employed on the same object for a long time without interruption. The effect of an attempt to keep it thus employed, would be that far less would be accomplished than might be with occasional relaxation. And also, the energies of the mind, instead of being quickened and improved — would gradually be diminished. Hence some amusement becomes necessary, in order to secure the greatest usefulness.
In this view, you will perceive not only, that amusement is designed to prepare you for the discharge of duty — that is, for an attention to the serious concerns of life — but that it is itself an important part of duty; and like everything else in which you engage, ought to be subject to the direction of conscience. You have no right to forget your accountability or to refuse to acknowledge God in selecting your amusements, or in yielding yourself to them — than you have when you enter the closet or sanctuary, to engage in private or public worship.
You will perceive, moreover, if the preceding remarks are correct, that the whole purpose of amusement, may be answered by mere change of employment! It is by no means necessary, as the popular notion is, that the change should be from an employment that is useful — to one that is useless or even worse! But the object may be even better accomplished, by a change that shall keep the mind still employed to advantage.
If your ordinary employment is one that lays your mental faculties under severe usage — then that to which you resort for amusement, ought undoubtedly to require moderate mental exercise. And in cases of unusual mental exhaustion — it may be proper to give the mind a respite for a short season. But in all ordinary cases, you will find that in unbending from severe exertion of mind, with reference to renewing that exertion with greater success — you need not yield to total inaction, or occupy yourself with anything that is trifling — but may still be doing something for the benefit of yourself or your fellow creatures.
If you regulate your amusements by a regard to this principle, you will find it a most effectual means of redeeming time, and will have the pleasure to reflect that even your hours of relaxation — are hours of usefulness.
There are several tests by which you may judge whether any particular amusement is innocent:
Of course, the amusement must be safe and moral for you to indulge in it. Inquire whether before engaging in it — if you dare ask God to accompany it with his blessing. Do not think that this is an unreasonable suggestion. Rely on it, it is fully accordant with enlightened reason and conscience. We have no right to use our faculties in any way which our Maker and Judge does not approve; and if we are conscious of using them aright, we shall at once feel our need of his blessing, and be encouraged to ask it.
Let me add, that you cannot innocently indulge in any amusement — which will not fit you for the better discharge of the ordinary duties of life. If this be not the effect — then the time which is thus occupied is worse than lost. For not only is there no good accomplished — but the faculties, by this means, acquire, or are confirmed in, a wrong direction! And thus habits are often formed, both intellectual and moral — which are alike inconsistent with dignity, happiness, and usefulness. Is it not lamentably true, that a large part of the amusements which prevail in the world, instead of invigorating the faculties for the more faithful discharge of duty — actually unfit the mind for useful exertion on the one hand; and create a disrelish for useful exertion on the other hand? I need not repeat the caution, that you will have no part with any of these scenes of unprofitable indulgence!
That you may not misapprehend my meaning, I will descend a little to particulars, and give you my opinion in few words, of some of the fashionable amusements of the day.
I will begin with parties of pleasure. You already know that I am in favor of your cultivating the social graces. Instead of objecting to your meeting occasionally a circle of friends, for an agreeable interchange of kind sentiments, and for purposes of intellectual and moral improvement — I would encourage such meetings with all my heart! And if you choose to call them parties of pleasure — you have my consent for doing so.
But those scenes which usually pass in the world under this name — scenes of mere conviviality and trifling — in which there is nothing to enlighten the mind, or to refine or elevate the affections — I am constrained to regard as utterly unworthy a rational and accountable being! It is not the fact that the occasions to which I refer, usually collect a large number? This constitutes the ground of my objection to them; for a large number may as well be occupied in a profitable manner, as a small one! But it is the fact that the very purpose for which they come together, is to fritter away time in idle and foolish conversation.
It is this circumstance, which gives to the parties to which I refer, their distinctive character; and whether they consist of many or few, their tendency is perhaps equally pernicious! They not only answer no good purpose — but serve to dissipate the mind, and throw open the doors of the heart to every temptation!
Another amusement which has been very common, and which still prevails to a considerable extent, is dancing. To this, considered as a mere exercise — no objection certainly can be made. And if it were cultivated with exclusive reference to this, nothing worse could be said of learning to dance, than that it is not the most profitable way of spending time. And I will go further, and add, that if a few girls were disposed to stand up together for a half hour, and dance for recreation — I cannot conceive that there could be any immorality in it.
But all this, you are perfectly aware, is very remote from the amusement as it actually exists. Everyone knows . . .
1. that dancing brings the sexes together in circumstances, to say the least, not the most favorable to the cultivation of female delicacy;
2. that the mind is usually engrossed for a considerable time, in preparation for dancing;
3. that, for the most part, dancing occupies hours which should be given to repose;
4. that dancing is fitted to nourish a spirit of vanity, and work up the mind to a feverish and useless excitement;
5. and that dancing is followed by a state, both of mind and body, which, for a time at least, forbids anything like useful exertion.
I am confident that I might appeal to any young girl who is accustomed to dance in balls and assemblies, and if she were honest, she would confirm from her own experience — all that I have said.
I have been struck with the fact, that in every instance in which I have ever heard a young girl, under serious impressions, speak of that part of her life which she has devoted to this amusement — she has said unhesitatingly, that, more than anything else, it served to give her an aversion to more serious matters. Such testimony, rendered in such circumstances, ought surely to be regarded as decisive.
The only other amusement, in relation to which I shall at present offer an opinion, is the theater. The great argument which is urged in favor of this is, that it is a school in which you may study to advantage the human character; inasmuch as the various operations of the heart, under different circumstances, are here successfully exhibited. This argument is worth nothing; for it were far better to study human nature, as it is acted out in the every day realities of life around us — than as it appears in the highly dramatic and overstrained representations of the stage; just as it would be desirable to contemplate any object of interest, rather than a picture of it, even though it might be drawn by the most skillful artist.
And as for the objections to this amusement, they are so obvious that I scarcely need allude to them. The vulgarity, the immorality, the impiety connected with it, are proverbial! And if the fact did not stare us in the face — we would say that it was impossible that ladies professing the utmost delicacy, and who, in private, would be offended by an indecent allusion — will nevertheless deliberately and habitually expose themselves to all the profaneness and immorality of the theater!
And what renders this still more surprising is, that in being present on these occasions, they consent to mingle with the most profligate part of the community — with people who are at home only in the atmosphere of moral corruption, and whom common decency cannot behold without a blush! This is a fact in the history of your gender, for which I own myself utterly unable to account.
If the thought should occur to you that I am abridging your liberty too far, by depriving you of amusements which are regarded by many as innocent — let me entreat you, before you indulge such a reflection, to pause and refer the several species of amusement, of which I have spoken — to the tests which I am sure your reason and conscience have already approved.
Upon which of them, let me ask — could you upon your knees, humbly invoke the blessing of God? Which of them could you indulge — and not feel an increased aversion to the more serious concerns of life? In which of them should you be willing to engage — if you were to be assured by a messenger from the invisible world, that you were spending your last day on earth. In relation to which of them, can you say, that it would serve to prepare you the better for your various personal and relative duties? I am sure that I need only propose these questions to your conscience, to satisfy you that there is no unreasonableness in the advice which I have given you in respect to these several amusements.
But I know you will ask, if the fashionable amusements of the day are forbidden — then what are those in which you may safely and innocently indulge. I answer in general by repeating what I have already said, that there is scarcely any employment, different from your ordinary one — which requires comparatively little mental effort, in which you may not find legitimate recreation. You may amuse yourself by various kinds of reading, which, at the same time, will exert a favorable influence on your mind and heart. You may amuse yourself by the study of natural science; especially by arranging the flowers of the field, and calling them by their names; or by carrying your curious researches into the mineral kingdom, and deciphering the evidences of the Creator's handy work in the mountain rock, and the insignificant pebble, and every degree of mineral existence between them. You may amuse yourself by cheerful and yet useful conversation with some entertaining friend, or even by walking abroad in solitude, and breathing the fresh air, and looking at the moon and the stars as they shine forth in silent grandeur on the face of the sky — or in contemplating the bright verdure that covers the earth in spring — or in listening to the sound of a distant brook, as it rushes down a steep mountain, and buries itself in a deep forest. The contemplation of these various objects, and of all the variegated scenery of nature, opens a most legitimate field for amusement, while it is fitted also to enlarge our conceptions of the Creator's works, and to foster a spirit of elevated devotion and rational piety!