John Angell James, (1785—1859)
"Children, obey your parents in the Lord; for this is right. Honor your father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise." Ephesians 6:1, 2
"It is better to dwell in the wilderness, than with a contentious and an angry woman." Proverbs 21:19
"Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves." Romans 12:10
It was the saying of a judicious governess to a pupil on leaving her establishment, "Be assured, my young friend, that the order, comfort and happiness of a family, very greatly depend upon the disposition and conduct of the younger members of it—when they cease to be children. I have seen the declining years of some kind parents completely embittered by the pride, self-will, and inconsiderate conduct of their children. When a young lady returns home, if she is not so good a daughter as she was before, whatever acquisitions she may have made at school, she had better not have been there."
This advice, so sensible and so appropriate, not only shows how well-qualified was the admirable woman who offered it for the discharge of her duties, but is well worthy of being written on the first page of every young woman's album, yes, upon the tablet of her heart, and of being read by her every day of her residence in her father's house.
What we are at home, is what we really are. Everyone is best known at home. Many change their conduct and behavior when they go into social company. It has become almost a proverbial saying—"Tell me not what people are in company—but what they are in the family circle." Home, as I have already said, is one of the sweetest words in our language; and nowhere better understood than in our own country. But it involves as many duties as it does enjoyments. It is not only a paradise of delights—but a school of virtue. A family is a little world within doors; the miniature resemblance of the great world without. It is in the home of her parents that a young female is trained for a home of her own—and generally speaking what she was in the former, that, in full maturity and expansion, she will be in the latter; the good wife and judicious mother, looking well to the way of her household, being the full-blown rose of which the good girl at home was the bud of promise and of hope.
And it may be depended upon as a principle, suggested by reason, as well as a fact corroborated by observation, that she who contributes nothing to the happiness of her early home as a daughter, is not likely to find others contributing to her later one as a wife, a mother, and a manager of the household. It is therefore of immense importance that you should at once, at the very commencement of this chapter, pause and ponder the momentous truth, that you are preparing your own future home by the manner in which you conduct yourself in the home of your father—and because of its importance it is thus dwelt upon with such repetition.
In one aspect the subject of this chapter is of more consequence in reference to you, than it is in reference to your brothers; you remain longer at home than they. It is the usual order of things for them to remove early from beneath the parental roof, first to learn, and then to pursue, their avocations in life; so that if their disposition be unamiable and their habits unfriendly to domestic peace, they soon depart and the annoyance goes with them. But you, if not necessitated to go out into a situation for your own support, remain with your parents until you are married; and if not wedded, you are with them continually. In the latter case, being a fixture in the household, you are under the greater obligation to increase its happiness. Of how much comfort or distress, according to her character and conduct, may a daughter be to a family through a period of ten or twenty years, dating from the period of her completion of her education! Hence it is always a source, not of unmixed delight, but of some anxiety, to a considerate mother, what kind of home character her child will prove when she has finished her education, and exchanges the company of her teachers and fellow-pupils, for that of the family circle.
Here then is the first thing, the great thing, to be determined upon by the young woman on her return home—to be largely a contributor to the happiness of the domestic circle. You cannot be a cipher in the house, or a nonentity. The other members of the little community must be affected by your conduct. You are ever in the midst of them, and your actions, words, and even your looks, exert an influence upon them. Behold, then, your starting point in the career of home duties. Take up this resolution, intelligently, deliberately, determinately, "I will, by God's grace, do all I can to make my home happy to others—and thus comfortable to myself."
Look at this resolution, ponder it, imprint it on your memory, heart, conscience. Is it not wise, virtuous, right? Do not reason, conscience, self-love, approve it? Let it be a serious matter of consideration with you, not merely a thought passing through the mind, and leaving no trace behind; but a deep, abiding, influential consideration. Have not your parents a right to expect it? Is it not the most reasonable thing in the world, that enjoying the protection and comforts of home—you should in return make home happy?
To diffuse happiness anywhere is a blissful enjoyment, but most of all at home. To light up any countenances with joy, is to a benevolent mind, a desirable thing; but most of all the countenances of parents, brothers, and sisters. Set out with an intense ambition to compel from the whole family circle the testimony that it was a happy era in its history when you permanently resided at home. O, to hear a mother say, "Your coming, my daughter, was as the settling of a ministering angel among us; your amiability of disposition, your constant efforts to please, your sweet and gentle self-sacrificing disposition have been a lamp in our dwelling, in the light of which we have all rejoiced. What a large accession, my beloved child, have you brought to our domestic felicity! Receive your mother's thanks and blessing." The hardest heart would be moved by such a hope as this.
Contemplate now the contrast to this, when the conduct of the daughter is such as to extort such a declaration as the following from sorrowful parents—"We looked forward with pleasure and with hope, not altogether unmixed with anxiety, to the time when we would receive her back from school, to be our companion and our comfort. But how bitter is our disappointment! Her unamiable disposition, her heedlessness of our happiness, her restlessness in the family circle, her craving for any company but ours—are painfully obvious. It was, we regret to say it, a sad increase of our domestic trouble, when she became a permanent inhabitant of our house." Sighs and tears follow this sad confession. Which of these shall be the case with you? Can you hesitate?
Having then made up your mind to be a comfort at home, you should, and will, of course, inquire into the means of accomplishing your purpose. These will, if the purpose be fixed, and the desire intense, almost without any enumeration suggest themselves. Those who really want to make others happy, will find out their own means of doing so, and be ingenious in their devices to effectuate their end. Many things are difficult and require deep thought, but not so the desire to please. If our heart be set upon it, we can diffuse bliss almost without effort or contrivance. From a heart fully possessed with the desire to make others happy, kind attitudes, words, and acts will perpetually flow off, like the waters of a spring ever rising of themselves.
But I will lay down rules for your guidance, that your behavior at home may contribute to the happiness of your family circle.
Should your parents themselves be truly pious people, who have trained you up in the fear of the Lord, their deepest solicitude and most earnest prayer for you, is that you may "Remember your Creator in the days of your youth." You have been the witnesses of some of their great concern on this ground, and for this object. You have heard a father's prayers, have seen, perhaps, a mother's tears for your salvation; but of the whole of their concern on this point you never can know. It is too deep for you to fathom. Until this great subject is determined; until they see you in earnest to lead a pious life, they cannot be happy. They value your love, your respect, your attentions to their comfort, your general good conduct, your acquirements, and not infrequently feel a parent's delight over you. But "Alas, alas," they say, "one thing you lack yet, and that is, the one thing needful—true piety, the salvation of the soul. Oh, my daughter, that you were a real Christian; and that your love to Christ were as sincere as your love for me—and that all your other excellences were sanctified by the crowning one of true religion."
What a check is such a reflection to the joy of a Christian parent. How many hours of bitterness such reflections occasion! What an interruption to the bliss of a family does it occasion when there is a difference of experience on this most momentous of all subjects! How is a mother's heart grieved to see her daughters, after all the pains she has taken to form their religious character, more taken up with fashion, company, and gaiety—than with eternal realities! And that good man, their father, how is he distressed to see his counsels unheeded, his prayers unanswered, and they whom he had hoped to lead to the altar of God, far more fond of the fleeting mirthful vanities of the world!
On the other hand, how happy are those parents whose children are one with them in this momentous concern. How sweet and sacred are the seasons of family worship, when, not by constraint, but willingly, the children assemble round the domestic altar, and join in the sacrifice of prayer and praise. No jars and discords now arise for the lack of sympathy in these great subjects. No opposition of tastes occurs, no clashing of interests. Very often does the mother exclaim in the fondness of her heart, "Thank God, that dear girl is a Christian, and to all her other excellences which endear her to my heart, adds piety towards God. The beauties of holiness invest her charms with a loveliness that nothing else can impart."
In order to make home happy, there must be a proper consideration and right discharge of all the duties you owe to the various members of the little community of which it is composed.
First of all, there are theduties to your PARENTS. That home cannot be a happy one where they are neglected, and filial duty is lacking in the heart and conduct of the children. God has selected the most comprehensive term that could be employed on this subject, "Honor your father and mother." This includes respect, love, and obedience. It is not necessary here to state the claims which parents have upon your gratitude, reverence, and regard. I can only remind you how much of the happiness of home depends upon a right understanding and discharge of the duties you owe to them. When the father's heart is wounded by disobedient conduct, or even disrespectful language; when the mother's comfort is neglected, and her burdens are unshared—when it is apparent that the children are much more intent upon their own gratification than that of their parents—when services are rendered to them tardily, reluctantly, and with bad attitudes—when dissatisfaction is uttered by the parent, only to be answered by disrespect from the child, happiness must be a stranger in such a home. Disobedience in young children, in whom reason and reflection are yet feeble, is bad enough, but it is far worse in those who are grown or growing to years of maturity.
On the other hand, if it be beautiful to see the tender obedience and affectionate attentions of childhood, which are rather the efforts of instinct than of reason—it is a far more attractive scene to witness the reverent regard, the studious desire to please, the anxious effort to gratify, manifested towards her parents by a grownup daughter. Here the intelligent mind is moved by the affectionate heart, and the affectionate heart is, in return, guided and impelled by the intelligent mind. If your parents have been less educated than you, and at the same time have spared no expense to afford you advantages which they did not possess, how ungrateful would it be in you, by any part of your conduct, to display your superiority and make them conscious of their ignorance! Before a mother's infirmities reach the point of actual incompetency, a good daughter will feel solicitous to share with her the burden of domestic care, and to relieve her as far as possible from her load of maternal duty. This requires caution, lest by an meddlesome intrusion of help, it would be suspected she was desirous of thrusting the mother from her superintendence, and of stepping into her place. It can never fail to wound a mother's heart to be supposed to be incompetent to fill her own situation as female head of the family. Even when senility is creeping on, she should be made to feel it as little as possible, and the forms and show of authority should be allowed to remain, when the reality has passed away. Jealousy is one of the last passions that die in the human heart, and it should not be awakened by any part of filial conduct in the mind of a parent. A wife, mother, and manager of the household, deposed by her daughter, is a painful sight. She may have much weakness, but still enough reflection remains to make her feel her humiliation.
Therefore, young women, in aiding a mother, do not attempt to wrest the keys from her keeping, but only employ them under her direction. For this be ever ready. It is to me one of the most lovely scenes on earth to see a young woman risen up to be the companion and helper of her mother, placing herself by her side, and foregoing many an invitation and opportunity of personal enjoyment to relieve her solitude, to lighten her cares, or to minister to her comfort. Your object should be to share your mother's labors, without superseding her authority—and to assist her in a way so tender and so delicate as shall neither awaken her suspicion that you wish to supplant her, nor make her feel that she is incapable of doing without you. To these duties all should be attentive, but especially those daughters who make a profession of religion.
Many who will read this work are happily in this state—and to them would I most earnestly and affectionately say, "Let your light shine" at home, that its inhabitants "seeing your good works, may glorify God your Heavenly Father." Let it be most impressively and constantly felt by you, and let it be seen by others, that you feel that Christianity is no abstract thing of times, places, and occasions; but an element of the general character, which is to enter into all relations, all duties, and all engagements. It must improve you in everything, spreading like a gilded surface over your whole selves and all your conduct, and shining like a beautiful polish on every other excellence. It must make you a better daughter in every aspect—more respectful, more kind, more devoted to your parents; and compel them to say, "Happy was the day when she became a Christian, for from that hour she became a lovelier and more loving child!"
It may be that the parents of some of you are not truly converted to God. This places you in a difficult and delicate situation, and will require the utmost solicitude, care, and prayer, that you may be prevented from doing, or being, anything that would prejudice them against religion; and that you may be enabled on the contrary so to conduct yourself as to predispose them in its favor. You must affect no superiority, nor even seem to say, "Stand aside—I am holier than you." This is improper towards any one, much more towards a parent. You can pray for them, and you can exhibit to them, by your example, invested with all the beauties of holiness, what religion is; but direct efforts to bring them under its influence, though they should not be altogether withheld, should be conducted with the greatest tenderness, humility, modesty and delicacy. There must be no lecturing, much less any reproach or accusation. A deep, tender, loving solicitude for their spiritual welfare, must be seen veiled with modesty, but still seen, penetrating the transparent and graceful covering; a solicitude which only now and then presumes to speak; but, when it does, always in love. Such a line of conduct may accomplish its purpose, and produce results like the following—
A female, who had been some years known and respected for her quiet, consistent, unobtrusive, Christian deportment, called on her minister to introduce her aged mother, who leaned on her arm, and seemed to repose on her that tender dependence which is so soothing and delightful to an aged parent, and so heart-thrilling to a dutiful and grateful child. Both were overcome by their feelings, and it was some moments before either could speak. The minister desired them to be seated, and cheerfully said, 'Well Hannah, I suppose this is your good mother, I am very happy to see her.' 'Yes,' replied the mother in broken accents, 'Her mother, and her daughter too. Twenty-five years ago I bore her in infancy; and now through her instrumentality, I trust I am born to God.'
Mr. Jay relates a similar anecdote. 'Well,' said a mother, one day, weeping (her daughter being proposed as a candidate for Christian communion), 'I will resist no longer. How can I bear to see my dear child love and read the Scriptures, while I never look into the Bible; to see her retire and seek God, while I never pray; to see her going to the Lord's table, while his death is nothing to me?' 'Ah,' said she to the minister who called to inform her of her daughter's desire, wiping her eyes, 'Yes, sir, I know she is right and I am wrong—I have seen her firm under reproach, and patient under provocation, and cheerful in all her sufferings. When, in her late illness, she was ready to die, heaven stood in her face. Oh, that I was as fit to die! I ought to have taught her, but I am sure she has taught me. How can I bear to see her joining the church of God, and leaving me behind, perhaps forever?' From that hour she prayed in earnest that the God of her child would be her God, and was soon seen walking with her in the way everlasting.
But there are, in most cases, other members of the household besides parents—BROTHERS and SISTERS—who also require attention and right conduct from a young woman at home. A loving, united, harmonious family, I repeat again, where the children all promote the comfort of their parents and of one another; where each is studious to please and to perform all kind offices for the rest, and all seek the happiness of each, is one of the loveliest scenes to be found in our selfish and discordant world. Much, very much, depends upon the daughters for this domestic harmony. They can exert, if prudent, good-tempered and accommodating—a softening influence over the minds and manners of their brothers. Sisterly affection, judiciously displayed, is one of the sweetest and most powerful ingredients in the cup of domestic enjoyment. True it is, that it will require occasionally some little self-denial, and sacrifice of personal gratification, desires, and feeling, to conciliate the affection, and secure the good-will of brothers, who are apt to begin too soon to feel that they are "the lords of the creation;" but this is necessary to keep the peace of the family. And a girl of good sense and affectionate disposition, will do a great deal towards it.
Woman is made to yield, though not to be trampled upon. Her gentle nature is formed for submission, rather than for resistance. A good and wise sister will feel this, and her affection will, in most cases, be her protection. Let her put forth the thousand little ingenious arts, and throw the silken cords of love over her brother's hearts, and she may do much to attach, and in some cases, even to subject, them to her, and make them fond of home.
A husband is but too apt to run away from the home which is tenanted by an ill-natured wife; and brothers have been often driven away to wicked company—by cross, sullen, unaccommodating sisters. I am aware that it is but too frequently the case, that young men are polite and attentive to every female but those they meet at home every day, and that scarcely any one has to complain of a lack of civility and pleasantness, but their sisters. At the same time it must be confessed, that some young women have themselves to blame for this, for it does require more virtue than is ordinarily found, to be much attached and very attentive to such an impersonation of pettishness, bad disposition, and vanity—as some silly girls present at home. How many parents' comfort is disturbed, and their hearts half-broken, by the jealousy, envy, and contention of their children!
To the elder daughter, especially if she be older than her brothers also, a larger share of responsibility attaches than to any other of the children, because her influence is greater. She does almost as much to form the character of the younger branches as the mother, and when the latter is feeble or inefficient, perhaps more. It is a lovely sight to behold an intelligent and affectionate girl, exerting a gentle, yet not authoritative or dictatorial power, over her younger brothers or sisters, setting them a beautiful example of filial piety, and devoting all her efforts to uphold parental authority over them, conciliating their confidence by her judgment, and their affection by her kindness; throwing a softening and gentle influence over their cruder and harsher natures, and compelling the parents to say "She is a second mother to the family!"
Mothers, I speak to you. Train your daughters, not to be elegant and helpless ladies—but to be useful wives, mothers, and managers of their homes. Be yourselves patterns in these things, and secure the imitation of your daughters. Much will depend upon you in this matter. And you, my young female friends—enter warmly and wisely into this subject yourselves. Do not assume the 'fine lady'—or wish to be only a kind of dressed dolls, to be carried about and played with by others.
I now suggest some other matters, partially implied in what I have already advanced, but of sufficient importance to be brought out in full view. Among these must be mentionedAMIABILITY—in other words, that sweetness of disposition which is ever seeking to please, and to avoid whatever would offend. There is a saying, that "disposition is everything." This is going too far, since it is not to be doubted good disposition is sometimes associated with bad principle—while on the other hand, there are many high-principled and noble-minded individuals, who are troubled, equally to their own annoyance and that of their friends, with infirmities of disposition. Still, though not everything, good disposition is a great thing. Very much depends in this matter upon our physical organization, for we see the same difference in the brute creation that we observe in the human species. But this, though an explanation, is not an apology; because reason and religion may do much, and in myriads of instances have done much, to correct and improve a naturally bad disposition.
Begin life, young woman, with a deep impression of the value of good disposition, both to your own happiness and to that of the people with whom you have to do, especially your family circle. Study well your own disposition. Know well what it is you have to contend with in your own case, and set yourself most diligently to subdue it. Be manager of yourself! Bad disposition is a generic phrase, there are several species of the thing, as for instance, there is aPEEVISHNESS or PETULANCE about some people which makes them susceptible of offence, not of either a very deep or passionate kind, but an irritability which disposes them to be hurt at little things, and to complain of the petty faults of others.
Then there is theVIOLENT disposition, which is excited, by some supposed or real offence, to sudden ebullitions of anger, or what we call being in a rage—sometimes even to violence.
There is also theSULLEN disposition, which, on being contradicted, opposed, or reproved, sinks into a silent, moody, and inwardly resentful state of mind. People of this turn will sulk for hours, if not days; retiring into themselves, they will brood over the matter which has occasioned their unhappy state, until they have actually made themselves ill by their bad disposition; and yet, if reasoned with, will assert they are not ill-tempered, but only "hurt." This is the disposition, which, more than anything else, is an interruption to domestic peace.
I am no apologist for stormy passions, or for those that indulge them, but those who are soon in a blaze and as soon cooled down and the fire extinguished, are not so inimical to the peace of a family, as those in whose heart the embers of ill-will are kept long smouldering under the ashes and not allowed to go out.
Next there is theSELFISH disposition, which leads its possessor ever to be seeking to concentrate the attentions of the family upon herself, especially if subject to sickness. All must bend to her; and every hand be employed for her. Her will must be consulted in everything, and her comfort be the study of all. She must engross the affection of her parents, the regard of her brothers and sisters, and the time and labor of the servants. This is sometimes encouraged by injudicious parents, who excite the envy and jealousy of the other branches of the family, by this exaction from all for the sake of the one. True, where there is great illness the sufferer should be, and usually is, the center of sympathetic attention—but where the ailments are slight, and especially where the patient is apt to exaggerate them, she should not be petted into an engrossing and exacting selfishness; but should be gently taught to have a little regard to the comfort of others.
In addition to these, there is theJEALOUS and ENVIOUS disposition, which contends not only for pre-eminence, but for monopoly; which accounts as a rival every one who receives the least special notice, and dislikes her on that account. What petty passions of this kind often creep into families, and poison all the springs of domestic happiness! Consider how much the dispositions of its members have to do with the peace of a household, how much of sunshine one sweet and lovely disposition, constantly in exercise, may throw over a household! And on the other hand, how much of gloom, and storm—one passionate, sullen, selfish, or envious disposition, may bring over the little community at home. Let all then begin life with a deep conviction, (and it cannot be too deep,) of the importance of this subject.
A bad disposition will torment you through life. With this you will carry your own curse with you everywhere. It will multiply your enemies, and alienate your friends—it will becloud your reason and benumb your religion—it will embitter your comforts and envenom your trials—it will make you unhappy at home, and secure you distress when away from home—it will give you wretchedness at the time, and conscious guilt and painful reflections afterwards. It will deprive your days of peace and your nights of sleep. In short, a bad disposition will be to the soul what a chronic and painful disease is to the body, a constant source of uneasiness and distress, with this difference, that whereas the former is a visitation from God, the latter is our own doing, and while one brings its own consolation with it to the Christian, the other brings nothing but punishment and shame.
To make home happy, you must of course conform to its general rules.This perhaps it is less necessary to insist upon in reference to you than it is to your brothers, because you are less in danger than they are of infringing domestic order. Every well-regulated family has its laws and customs; its times and seasons; its government and authority, which must be observed if the little community be kept in order and good condition. I will suppose it is a pious family where God is worshiped, and the morning and evening sacrifice are duly offered upon the domestic altar. At the appointed hour all ought to be present. Nothing can be more unseemly than to see one member after another come dropping in while the Scriptures are being read, as if the Bible were only the prayer bell to call the family together for worship. I have often witnessed this, and heard the remonstrances of the father with his dilatory children, whose lack of punctuality had been occasioned only by a wretched habit of lying late in bed. It has really in some cases given rise to domestic quarrels.
Much the same remark will apply to other matters. The father of a family may see reason to object to the late hours of the present day, and may request that all his household shall be at home by a certain hour of the evening. It may be thought by his children that he is too precise, too antiquated in his notions, too inconsiderate of their gratification—but still it is his law, he is master of his house—and they are subjects who are to obey him. It is unseemly for the children to be ever maintaining a struggle against paternal rule and maternal counsel.
On the contrary, it is the glory and the praise of a good and dutiful child to find what sacrifices of feeling and gratification she can submit to, rather than wrestle with parental authority and domestic government. On the other hand, parents should be very careful not to make their yoke oppressive, and their burden heavy. The laws of the family should not be too stringent, nor the authority of the father tyrannical, capricious and unnecessarily precise. But they must be obeyed as long as they last, and the elder branches of the family, where there are younger ones, should excel in leading them both by example and precept to habitual conformity to household law.
If you would make home happy, you must, of course, be HAPPY at home.No one can diffuse joy who is not joyful. Attitudes are infectious, because the heart is sympathetic. Cheerful people make others like themselves, and so do gloomy people; just as the sun irradiates by his beams, or the clouds darken by their shadow, the whole landscape. A young person whose heart finds its resting-place in the domestic circle; whose sympathies are with household scenes; whose chosen companions are her parents, and her brothers, and sisters; whose pleasures are the sweet interchanges of domestic services and affections; whose beloved employment it is to make her daily contribution to the comfort of the little community within doors; and whose good-natured disposition radiates from smiling eyes, and flows from gently-curled lips—such an inhabitant is a blessing to the house in which she dwells. The soft music of her speech, aided by the congenial influence of her accommodating and influencing disposition, sheds a benevolent influence on all the family.
But observe the opposite to all this, the girl that looks upon her home as a prison rather than a paradise, and thinks that to stay at home is a penance rather than a pleasure; and accordingly is anxious to escape from it, and is ever seeking opportunities to effect her purpose. Her gloomy aspect, her sullen disposition, her discontented attitude, her repulsive somberness, her peevish expressions, when she breaks her silence; her unsympathizing isolation—what a sad member of a family do these dispositions make her! She has no friends at home—no objects of strong affection—nothing to engage and interest her heart—but is ever seeking occasions to slip away, upon any pretense, or for any engagement. She is ever on the watch for opportunities or excuses for absence; ready for any errand; eager for every business that opens the door for her departure. She is not happy but in a continual round of parties, visits, or outdoor novelties, of which this fertile age is so prolific. Any society rather than that of the family—and any scenes rather than those of home—suit her taste.
Can such a young person make home happy? Yes, if a dangerous lunatic can do it; for such, or little better, is she. Young people, I repeat, be happy at home. Parents put forth all your ingenuity to make them so, by investing home with its proper attractions. Mothers, this devolves much on you. Be "keepers at home," for a gossiping mother is sure to make gossiping daughters. Let it be seen that you are happy at home in the midst of your families. Put on a cheerful countenance, that your children may love to bask in the sunshine of your smiles. Be the center of attraction to your families, and let the household delight to revolve in sweetest harmony around your maternal chair.
Industrious habits will contribute greatly to the happiness of home, especially on the part of a young female. Slothfulness is a wretched thing, as it regards the subject of it, and as it affects others. A lazy person cannot be a happy one. Indolence is a constant opposition to the law of our being, which is made for activity. That there is a species of indulgence connected with it, is true; but it is a very mixed kind of gratification, for as it is against nature, there is sometimes a consciousness of this, which awakens the conscience, and inflicts remorse. To the remonstrances of conscience are added the reproaches of others. And as it cannot always be indulged, there are to be overcome the repugnance, the lassitude, which make the least exertion more wearisome to the indolent than far greater efforts are to the active. Slothfulness is a miserable object—the very sight of it inflicts pain upon an industrious person. What a vexation is it to an industrious mother, to see the dull, heavy, immoveable habits of a daughter, whom neither entreaties, persuasives, nor rebukes, can quicken into activity, nor excite to industry—who, if moved at all, must be moved by main force, and needs every minute the same effort to keep it going—a poor lumpish creature, who is enough to wear out the patience of the most forbearing and affectionate mother on earth. Such habits in a daughter must be destructive of domestic happiness. The misery they create may not, like the profligacy of a prodigal son, come upon the family with the noise, and destructive force, and fury, of a hurricane, but it settles down upon its comfort like the silent power of blight or mildew. It is a constant vexation, which eats into a mother's heart, when she finds that a daughter who has grown to an age when she ought to be a relief to maternal labor and solicitude, is a heavy increase to both. This wretched habit may be overcome, and it must be, or you will be a poor, helpless, useless, unhappy creature through life. If indolent in your parent's house, what are you likely to be in your own? An idle daughter is likely to make an idle mother—and from my soul I pity the man who is tied for life to a lazy, indolent woman. No personal charms, no mental acquirements, no brilliancy of conversation, can make up for the want of domestic industry—and indeed these things are rarely found in the absence of industry, for indolence is usually too lazy to acquire knowledge—the habits of soul and body being in sympathy with each other.
It is essential to your making home happy that there should be much self-denial—a spirit of forbearance—an occasional surrender for the sake of peace, of supposed rights—and a willingness to forego what you could rightfully claim as your own. I am aware there are limits to this, especially in cases where concession pampers tyranny and encourages oppression. There may be brothers, and even sisters, whose disposition is so encroaching, that it should be resisted under parental authority, for the protection of the weaker and more yielding members of the household. It is, however, far better in some cases to concede rights, when the sacrifice is not too costly, and does not involve a violation of principle, than to contend for them. The contest, even where it is successful, often costs more than it is worth, the victory does not pay for the battle. Be, therefore, content sometimes to lose a little for the sake of retaining more. I cannot give you a piece of advice more conducive to your peace at home, or to your comfort through life—than to be ever ready gracefully and quietly to bear with the infirmities of disposition of those around you, and to yield little things which you deem belong to you, rather than disturb the peace of the family by contending for them.
Never seek an undue share of parental affection.Let there be no ambition to be a favorite, nor any arts to obtain this distinction. Some young people have made home miserable in this way, being base and guilty enough to attempt to rise in the esteem and affection of their parents, by little arts of detraction in reference to their brothers and sisters—and their parents being weak enough to encourage the attempt. Partiality was then not only cherished but manifested. Envy and jealousy ensued, and the peace of the family was destroyed. Abhor this conduct and be content to share with other branches of the family your parents' justly apportioned regard.
Recollect that your power to contribute to the happiness of home does not depend on the performance of great services, opportunities for which occur but seldom—but on attention to little matters, which are always taking place. Our existence as to time, is made up not only of years, but of moments—our body not only of limbs, but of particles—our history not only of great events, but of little occurrences—and our obligations, not only of splendid acts of duty, but of seemingly insignificant ones. Set out in life with a deep sense of the importance of little things, or rather with a conviction that where character, duty, and the happiness not only of ourselves but of others are involved, nothing is little.
This applies especially to your conduct in the family. In that little world then, keep up a constant attention to what will constitute the felicity of the passing hour. True politeness has been defined to consist in "benevolence in trifles." This is a beautiful definition, and worthy of being remembered by all who would fill the family circle with bliss. By politeness here, I do not mean heartless and unmeaning ceremony; nor even the graceful polish of manners which characterizes the communion of well-bred people—but a gentle, obliging demeanor and delicacy of behavior towards all around; that mode of conducting ourselves towards others which is opposed to what is coarse, vulgar, crude, or offensively familiar. The politeness that I mean, is not affection's root, but it is its flower, beauty, and fragrance. Or if not the plant itself, it is like the hedge around it, which preserves it from being trampled under foot.
In the family circle all the little acts that can give pleasure or pain—all words, tones, and looks—should ever be considered and weighed. Woman has perhaps more tact and discernment in reference to the minor affairs of life than men. Her mental eye is more discerning, her touch more delicate, her taste more refined, on all the matters of behavior. Let her therefore keep this up in reference to her conduct at home.
"But we return to the more ordinary circumstances of young women, resident under the parental roof, after having finished the term of their education—and observe that their conduct should be marked by a soothing forbearance and tenderness towards the infirmities of their parents. Deafness, lameness, dim-sightedness, and other infirmities of old age, circumscribe their pleasures, and perhaps a degree of fretfulness is sometimes observed. But a dutiful child will be fertile in expedients to extend their pleasures, to alleviate their privations, and to bear with and soothe their infirmities. The prompt eye will discern their needs, and anticipate their wishes. The needle will be threaded before the eye aches with endeavoring, and before the sigh is excited by inability to accomplish it; or, by gentle and playful persuasion, the needle-work will be exchanged for knitting or netting. The leg-rest or the footstool will be presented or exchanged before complaint of uneasiness is uttered. The large-print Bible and the spectacles will be placed at hand; the dim columns of the newspaper will be read aloud; the enquiring eye will be answered by a repetition of the conversation, or of the sacred address, which uttered by a stranger's voice, had passed over the dull ear—and in the most exalted sense, the benevolent pleasure will be enjoyed of being eyes to the blind, feet to the lame, ears to the deaf, and causing the trembling heart to sing for joy." (From "Female Excellence," published by the Religious Tract Society.)
I now return to the idea with which we started, that the right conduct of a daughter at home, is to study to make home happy. There is a fascination in the very expression, a happy home. And so far as what may be called the poetry of home scenes is concerned, is there a lovelier flower to be found in that garden of unearthly delights, that paradise of sweets, than a good daughter and affectionate sister, adorning her maiden charms with the virtues that befit her sex, her age, and her relationships—and elevating and sanctifying all her other excellences by a saintly piety, which makes her lovely in the eyes of God by all the beauties of holiness? Her father's pride, her mother's comfort, and her brother's companion—she is the ministering angel of them all. How much of bliss, does this one dear object of their common affection, throw over them all! Her absence is mourned as a common loss, and her return to the family circle is hailed as the restoration of a suspended enjoyment. When this lovely one is loved by another not belonging to the family, though about, through her, to be united with it, with what a treasure, at their expense, is he about to enrich his own home! Their hearts, at the thought of parting from her, bleed from wounds which nothing but the hope of her happiness could heal. Her removal leaves a blank, which, as they look upon her vacant seat, calls up recollections, and produces a sense of deprivation, which even the sight of her happiness can scarcely dispel.
But as woman's mission is to make happy her husband's home, suppose her gone forth to fulfill it. Well has she been trained, and well has she trained herself also, at her parental home, for this home of her own, and all the united excellences of the good daughter and the good sister now develop and blend in the more mature and matronly virtues of the good wife, mother, and domestic manager—and she who as the young woman at home, contributed so largely to the felicity of one family circle, has just prepared herself to contribute still more largely to the felicity of another, and that other is her own. Behold, my young friends, your pattern. May the imitation of it be your study, your prayer, your bliss!