« PreviousContinue »
THE LADIES' READER.
EXAMPLES FOR PRACTICE IN READING AND
FEMALE EDUCATION.-JUDGE STORY.
IF Christianity may be said to have given a permanent elevation to woman, as an intellectual and moral being, it is as true, that the present age, above all others, has given play to her genius, and taught us to reverence its influence. It was the fashion of other times to treat the literary acquirements sex, as starched pedantry, or vain pretension; to stigmatize them as inconsistent with those domestic affections and virtues, which constitute the charm of society. We had abundant homilies read upon their amiable weaknesses and sentimental delicacy, upon their timid gentleness and submissive dependence; as if to taste the fruit of knowledge were a deadly sin, and ignorance were the sole guardian of innocence. Their whole lives were “sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought;" and concealment of intellectual power was often resorted to, to escape the dangerous imputation of masculine strength.
In the higher walks of life, the satirist was not without color for the suggestion, that it was
“A youth of folly, an old age of cards ;" and that, elsewhere, “most women had no character at all," beyond that of purity and devotion to their families. Admirable as are these qualities, it seemed an abuse of the gifts of Providence, to deny to mothers the power of instructing their children, to wives the privilege of sharing the intellectual pursuits of their husbands, to sisters and daughters the delight of ministering knowledge in the fireside circle, to youth and beauty the charm of refined
sense, to age and infirmity the consolation of studies which elevate the soul, and gladden the listless hours of despondency.
These things have in a great measure, passed away. The
prejudices which dishonored the sex, have yielded to the influence of truth. By slow, but sure advances, education has extended itself through all ranks of female society. There is no longer any dread, lest the culture of science should foster that masculine boldness, or restless independence, which alarms by its sallies or wounds by its inconsistencies. We have seen that here, as everywhere else, knowledge is favorable to human virtue and human happiness; that the refinement of literature adds lustre to the devotion of piety; that true learning, like true taste, is modest and unostentatious; that grace
of manners receives a higher polish from the discipline of the schools; that cultivated genius sheds a cheering light over domestic duties, and its very sparkles, like those of the diamond, attest at once its power and its purity.
There is not a rank of female society, however high, which does not now pay homage to literature, or that would not blush, even at the suspicion of that ignorance, which, a half century ago, was neither uncommon nor discreditable. There is not a parent, whose pride may not glow at the thought, that his daughter's happiness is, in a great measure, within her own command, whether she keeps the cool, sequestered vale of life, or visits the busy walks of fashion.
A new path is thus opened for female exertion, to alleviate the pressure of misfortune, without any supposed sacrifice of dignity, or modesty. Man no longer aspires to an exclusive dominion in authorship. He has rivals, or allies, in almost every department of knowledge; and they are to be found among those, whose elegance of manners, and blamelessness of life, command his respect, as much as their talents excite his admiration.
THE WIPE-WASHINGTON IRVING.
I HAVE often had asion to remark the fortitude with which women sustain the most overwhelming reverses of fortune. Those disasters which break down the spirit of a man and prostrate him in the dust, seem to call forth all the energies of the softer sex, and give such intrepidity and elevation to their character, that at times it approaches to sublimity. Nothing can be more touching than to behold a soft and tender female, who had been all weakness and dependence, and alive to every trivial roughness while treading the prosperous paths of life, suddenly rising in mental force to be the comforter and supporter of her husband under misfortune, and abiding with unshrinking firmness, the bitterest blast of adversity.
As the vine which has long twined its graceful foliage about the oak, and been lifted by it in sunshine, will, when the hardy plant is rifted by the thunderbolt, cling round it with its caressing tendrils and bind up its shattered boughs; so is it beautifully ordered by Providence, that woman, who is the mere dependent and ornament of man in his happier hours, should be his stay and solace when smitten with sudden calamity; winding herself into the rugged recesses of his nature, tenderly sup: porting the drooping head, and binding up the broken heart.
These observations call to mind a little domestic story, of which I was once a witness. My intimate friend, Leslie, had married a beautiful and accomplished girl, who had been brought up in the midst of fashionable life. She had, it is true, no fortune, but that of my friend was ample; and he delighted in the anticipation of indulging her in every elegant pursuit, and administering to those delicate tastes and fancies that spread a kind of witchery about the sex. “Her life,” said he, “shall be like a fairy tale."
It was the misfortune of my friend, however, to have embarked his property in large speculations; and he had not been married many months, when, by a succession of sudden disasters, it was swept from him, and he found himself reduced almost to penury. For a time he kept his situation to himself, and went about with a haggard countenance and a breaking heart. His life was but a protracted agony; and what rendered it more insupportable, was the keeping up a smile in the presence of his wife; for he could not bring himself to overwhelm her with the news. She saw, however, with the quick eyes of affection, that all was not well with him. She marked his altered looks and stifled sighs, and was not to be deceived by his sickly and vapid attempts at cheerfulness. She tasked all her sprightly powers and tender blandishments to win him back to happiness; but she only drove the arrow deeper into his soul. The more he saw cause to love her, the more torturing was the thought that he was soon to make her wretched. A little while, thought he, and the smile will vanish from the cheekthe song will die away from those lips--the lustre of those eyes will be quenched with sorrow; and the happy heart which
now beats lightly in that bosom will be weighed down like mine by the cares and miseries of the world.
At length he came to me one day and related his whole situation in a tone of the deepest despair. When I heard him through, I inquired, “Does your wife know all this ?" At the question he burst into an agony of tears. “For God's sake!" cried he, “if you have any pity on me, don't mention my wife; it is the thought of her that drives me almost to madness !"
“ And why not?” said I. She must know it sooner or later; you cannot keep it long from her, and the intelligence may break upon her in a more startling manner than if imparted by yourself; for the accents of those we love soften the harshest tidings. Besides, you are depriving yourself of the comforts of her sympathy; and not merely that, but also endangering the only bond that can keep hearts together-an unreserved community of thought and feeling. She will soon perceive that something is secretly preying upon your mind; and true love will not brook reserve; it feels undervalued and outraged, when even the sorrows of those it loves are concealed from it.”
“Oh, but, my friend! to think what a blow I am to give to all her future prospects—how I am to strike her very soul to the earth, by telling her that her husband is a beggar! that she is to forego all the elegancies of life--all the pleasures of society--to shrink with me into indigence and obscurity! To tell her that I have dragged her down from the sphere in which she might have continued to move in constant brightness—the light of every eye—the admiration of every heart !-how can she bear poverty? she has been brought up in all the refinement of opulence. How can she bear neglect? she has been the idol of society. Oh, it will break her heart-it will break her heart!”
I saw his grief was eloquent, and I let it have its flow; for sorrow relieves itself by words. When his paroxysm had subsided, and he had relapsed into moody silence, I resumed the subject gently, and urged him to break his situation at once to his wife. He shook his head mournfully, but positively.
“But how are you to keep it from her? It is necessary she should know it, that you may take the steps proper to the alteration of your circumstances. You must change your style of living nay,” observing a pang to pass across his countenance, “ don't let that afflict
I am sure you have never placed your happiness in outward show-you have yet friends, warm friends, who will not think the worse of you for being yourself.
less splendidly lodged; and surely it does not require a palace to be happy with Mary-"
“I could be happy with her," cried he, convulsively, “in a hovel! I could go down with her into poverty and the dust!I could—I could- -God bless her !--God bless her!” criod he, bursting into a transport of grief and tenderness.
“ And, believe me, my friend," said I, stepping up and grasping him warmly by the hand, “ believe me she can be the same with you. Ay, more: it will be a source of pride and triumph to her—it will call forth all the latent energies and fervent sympathies of her nature; for she will rejoice to prove that she loves you for
There is in every true woman's heart a spark of heavenly fire which lies dormant in the broad daylight of prosperity; but which kindles up and beams and blazes in the dark hour of adversity. No man knows what the wife of his bosom is--no man knows what a ministering angel she isuntil he has gone with her through the fiery trials of this world.”
There was something in the earnestness of my manner and the figurative style of my language that caught the excited imagination of Leslie. I knew the auditor I had to deal with; and following up the impression I had made, I finished by persuading him to go home and unburden his sad heart to his wife.
I must confess, notwithstanding all I had said, I felt some little solicitude for the result. Who can calculate on the fortitude of one whose whole life has been a round of pleasures ? Her gay spirits might revolt at the dark downward path of low humility suddenly pointed out before her, and might cling to the sunny regions in which they had hitherto revelled. Besides, ruin in fashionable life is accompanied by so many galling mortifications, to which in other ranks it is a stranger. In short, I could not meet Leslie the next morning without trepidation. He had made the disclosure.
“ And how did she bear it ?”
“Like an angel! It seemed rather to be a relief to her mind, for she threw her arms round my neck and asked if this was all that had lately made me unhappy. But, poor girl," added he, "she cannot realize the change we must undergo. She has no idea of poverty but in the abstract; she has only read of it in poetry, where it is allied to love. She feels as yet no privation; she suffers no loss of accustomed conveniences nor elegancies. When we come practically to experience its sordid cares,