Immagini della pagina
PDF
ePub

youth and health and happiness, smiling with the heroism of a martyr, while her heart was breaking within her!

“She never told her love,
But let concealment, like a worm i' the bud,
Feed on her damask cheek, – she pined in thought, –
And with a green and yellow melancholy
She sat, like patience on a monument,
Smiling at grief."

But if the girl, capable of this heroic fortitude, had in happier circumstances married and become a mother, it is more than probable that she would have indulged the instinct of maternal affection in spoiling her children, at the expense of both reason and the sense of duty, although the pain of self-control in this case could bear no comparison to what must have been endured in the other. The reason of this difference is, that the motives to self-control have not power enough in the latter case to force her attention to them, nor is the danger likely to arise from indulging her feelings sufficiently apparent to make it an obvious duty to keep them under control. If she viewed the subject in its true light, she would find in the lasting welfare of her children a motive even stronger than the sense of shame, which in the other instance produced such unflinching fortitude, and she would prove, with regard to their education, what has been so abundantly proved in other respects, that no sacrifice of self is too great, no effort of self-control too painful and continual, for maternal love.

Habitual moderation is so early and constantly enforced upon women, that, in our class, at least, they are generally secure from the temptations which are most perilous to men.

Their danger lies in the indulgence of affections pure and good in themselves, but evil in their excess, or when prevailing over judgment. It is a common complaint, that women are led entirely by their feelings, and in the first chapter of this work we have pointed out the causes of this defect in their education and mode of life, which develop with a forcing power the feelings and imagination, whilst utterly neglecting the cultivation of the judgment. Where the former are wrong in themselves, the

nan.

moral perceptions are roused, and the sense of duty awakened to oppose them; but the untrained mind does not perceive the limits beyond which no feeling may be safely trusted, lest it should usurp the judgment-seat from reason and conscience.

The narrowness of woman's sphere of life, the nature of the questions on which she is mostly called upon to decide, which are all more or less connected with her affections, tend to foster this defect. Men who live and act amidst the clashing interests of the multitude, and are accustomed to exercise their judgment and to give their decision on questions wholly uncon. nected with their private feelings, are practically trained to a calmer method of judging, and they know that to take feeling instead of reason for a guide is to snatch the helm from the hand of the steady pilot, to trust it to the drunkard or the mad.

It is true, that in private life men in general yield more to impulse than women. If a question does not come before them as a matter of business, so as to call forth their professional habits of calm and impartial judgment, they have less power of controlling feeling or inclination, and far less com. mand of temper. This is the natural result of their education, which imposes on them no moral restraint but that required by their position in the world as public or professional men. Hence they very rarely bring the principles they are forced to act upon there into the unrestrained intercourse of home, where their position is most unfavorable to moral development, except in minds of a truly noble stamp. If, then, we desire to find in them an example of the good qualities they sometimes reproach us too justly for wanting, we must look away from home life, and follow them to that wider theatre on which their virtues are exhibited. If we are to hope for a day when the family circle will no longer seem too narrow for their display, when irresponsible power will not be held as a privilege of exemption from self-control, and as a right to be careless of the tastes and feelings of the weak and dependent, it must be when women have sufficiently disciplined their own minds, and raised their own standard, to be capable of training their sons to a higher and better tone of moral sentiment.

[ocr errors]

It is also to better mental training that we must look to correct the defect of judgment in women, which is not so much a feebleness of the judgment itself when appealed to, as a want of the habit of appealing to its decisions at all. At the same time, mental training alone will not suffice; there must be also the moral power of self-control, the habit of regulating the will according to certain determinate principles, or we may “ see the right and yet pursue the wrong." This habit will give to women the strength of character in which they are deficient, and save them from the charge of fickleness and inconsistency, to which they have been too liable. We are far from intending to recommend the affectation of attributing every trifling act to some important principle, which is one of the most tedious forms of sity ; we desire only that, wherever a rule has been formed in accordance with some dictate of conscience or reason, there should be the habit of strict and unhesitating adherence to it. Method, of which in its highest form this habit is an essential part, will preserve the due proportion in the relative importance of rules thus formed. Consistency insures respect and influence, the two props of woman's dignity, but without self-control consistency is impossible ; impulses, feelings, and inclinations must be continually varying; principle alone is firm and unchanging, and keeps the course of life steady to its destined aim.

There is one branch of self-control which requires especial mention, from its great and constant influence over happiness. We mean the regulation of the temper and spirits. Good temper and even spirits are amongst the greatest blessings of life, and we believe both to be much more within our own power than is usually supposed, and to be the characteristics of a wellregulated mind. No doubt they are often natural gifts, the fruits of a happy temperament, but where nature has been less bountiful, our own efforts can yet in a great measure supply the deficiency.

The varieties of ill-temper are almost as great as those of individual character. There is the violent, the irritable, the sullen, the peevish, the jealous, and the fretful temper; but in

а

[ocr errors]

all of these, and in as many more as might be named, there is one common element, namely, a morbid sensitiveness to what affects ourselves, and a proportionate disregard to what affects others. In other words, selfishness, in a greater or less degree, is at the bottom of every form of ill-temper. No one, however, will deny that the selfishness can or ought to be corrected, and in every case, except where irritability is the result of acute physical suffering, and in some rare cases of peculiar nervous temperaments, the ill-temper will disappear with the selfishness which was its main principle. Even where physical suffering is the cause of irritation, the power of the will to control the latter is very great, and in many an obscure sick-room the forti. tude which would honor a hero is silently and unostentatiously exercised in subduing the restless impatience of pain.

Self-control, or the habit of keeping the mind in subjection to certain principles, is, of course, the direct antagonist of ill. temper, the offspring of impulse, and therefore its best corrective. Unfortunately, even when persons are brought to acknowledge a bad temper, they are prone to consider it as a natural infirmity, quite as much out of their power to remedy as a crooked spine or a squinting eye, and the poor victims of their violence or their fretfulness are told, they really cannot help it, nature made them irritable, and the inevitable evil must be borne, – at what cost of self-control in those from whom they exact endurance, they do not pause to inquire, nor do they ever seem willing to allow for others the plea they bring forward for themselves. Very frequently, also, their own conduct contradicts the assertion on which that plea is founded, and they are seen to control themselves perfectly whenever the motive is sufficiently strong. The most ill-tempered servant can generally command his language and manner before his master; and the master, again, who perhaps makes the lives of his wife and children a prolonged martyrdom, becomes courteous and enduring in society, or patient and submissive with professional superiors. Behold some family circle, — listen to the angry voices, the bitter words, mark the inflamed countenances and flashing eyes, which in a different class of society would make

[ocr errors]

you fear that words would soon be followed by blows; - at the height of the storm a knock is heard at the door, and a visitor ascends the stairs ; — instantly the loud tones are hushed, the ruffled brows smoothed, and by the time the stranger enters the room, nothing in look or voice reveals the contention that was raging a minute before. The power of control then exists, and the same effort which can subdue ill-temper at one moment might evidently subdue it at another, were the motive felt with equal force. We may fairly draw the conclusion, that in such minds it is not an irremediable natural infirmity which causes the evil, but their own weak sense of duty, and the feebleness of character which allows them to be the sport of every impulse. The opinion of the world, the fear of public exposure, have more force with them than the law of their own conscience.

There is a habit of fretfulness, of worrying about little things, which, though not to be actually called ill-temper, is nearly allied to it, and produces scarcely less pitiable effects, because it is indulged without scruple. Many people who would be shocked at any outbreak of passion, and regard almost as criminal any complaint under serious suffering or affliction, will yet fret at every little trouble and annoyance, and give way to pettish irri. tation, till one is almost tempted to think that they consider their Christian principles of patience and resignation as too costly for every-day wear, and so keep a different set for common use ! There are none of the minor defects of character which cause more domestic discomfort. No man can long find pleasure in the society of a fretful, fussy wife. He goes home for rest and enjoyment, and if, instead of finding them, he is harassed by petty complaints, and teased by petty disturbances, he will probably soon seek them elsewhere. Nor are the effects of a fretful temper less pernicious to the happiness of children ; their natural spirits are damped by it, and the foundation of a similar disposition is too often laid.

It need scarcely be remarked how indispensable is cheerfulness of temper to the single woman.

It is essential to preserve her from the listlessness and the depression which are too frequently the consequence of a solitary life ; to arm her, as with

a

« IndietroContinua »