Immagini della pagina


these have never been desecrated may yet be roused to feel their
force, and be rescued by their influence from its earlier dream of



It would be well if women took this serious view of frivolity; for while they look upon the trivial occupations, the petty cares, the waste of time and of talent, to which this defect leads, as opposed merely to the intellectual pursuits, which occupy so secondary a place in their estimation, they consider it too much a venial fault; whereas, if they remembered how often shallowness of mind and shallowness of heart go together, they would, doubtless, strive more earnestly to correct the former. Pursuits which require serious mental exertion, and absorb attention, are, by their very nature, most hostile to this fault; and it is this which makes them most desirable, in a position like that of women, commanding much leisure, but obliging considerable attention to trifling things; in other words, giving the widest scope to idleness, while providing just enough occupation to lull conscience to sleep, and to prevent the waste of time assuming a criminal appearance. Those pursuits, if earnestly followed whenever necessary cares or avocations allow it, will keep up mental activity in the midst of the merest drudgery of life; while, on the other hand, if inclination leads to trifles, however serious or elevated the studies to which the mind may forcibly be turned at stated times, it will lapse into frivolity at each return of leisure. This fact of the small influence exerted on the mind by obligatory, compared with voluntary occupation, is full of important consequences in its bearings upon daily life, and the formation of habits; and it deserves to be seriously considered by the young, who, just fresh from the guidance of others, åre beginning to form their own plans of occupation.

It is that earnestness and activity of mind, leading to the love of knowledge and to the anxious search for it, as far as our means will allow, which constitutes the striking difference we so often feel to exist between two persons whose actual attainments, whether high or low in themselves, are very much on a par. The one is satisfied and stagnant, the other active and aspiring; the one would remain a mere unreasoning machine in the midst of all means and appliances of mental culture, and even if wellinformed, only retail in conversation the opinion of others; while the other finds food for thought in the most homely life, improves every, scanty opportunity of gaining knowledge, and stamps the impress of a cultivated mind on the performance of the small daily duties, which are such a dull routine to the other. It is not, then, vast knowledge that we hold up as necessary to women, but the earnest appreciation of knowledge, leading them to seek


it themselves when they can, and to enter eagerly into the pursuits and interests of others who are more engaged in the search; it is not a life devoted to study, but the mental habits which study gives when followed in the right method and spirit. We may rest satisfied that the dullest drudgery of the most monotonous domestic cares will not bind down persons so trained to dwell willingly among trifling occupations and interests. There is little fear, indeed, that the mind which has once been awakened to the pursuit of truth, and felt the delight of exploring Nature's laws, or the enchanted realms of poetry and art--the mind that has once opened to the deep interests that stir and affect mankind, and been roused to reflect on the ends and purposes of human life, should ever habitually contemplate or allow itself to be engrossed by petty cares and frivolous pleasures.


The very early close of woman's nominal education makes it doubly necessary that these things should be impressed on young girls themselves. It is their own self-training during the best years of youth when the faculties are expanding, and the mind becoming fit to reap the fruit of former culture, which will attain for them what no early education can give, and which their own rarely even prepares; it is by rousing their own endeavours and ambition that we can best hope to counteract the lowering influence of that mode of life which society offers to them, and while they mix freely and gaily in the amusements of their age, to keep their minds alive to better things, and active in the attainment of serious and worthy objects.

Unfortunately young persons, though often aware of the insufficiency of their early education, and even sensible of the defects or the ignorance which are its results, very seldom perceive with equal clearness the necessity of exerting themselves to supply their deficiencies. On the other hand, those who have received a good education are inclined to consider the work as finished, and themselves as fully prepared for all the circumstances of their future life. With regard to mental improvement, the evil effect of this is mostly evident among women. Young men are in general forced to labour; some professions, requiring the severest exercise of the mental faculties, afford a constant school of improvement, while even in others, the work to be done, the practical application of their knowledge, the spirit of emulation, and the weight which capacity and judgment give to a man in the opinion of others;-all these things are more or less a continual training to the mind; whereas, as we have said before, the practical existence of women is so confined, that the labour of self-improvement, carried on upon principle, will alone ensure that years shall not rather bring deterioration than progress. The

[blocks in formation]

great point, then, which we would labour to impress on the young is, that in whatever manner the first eighteen or twenty years of life have been spent, a task is yet before them which may have been facilitated or impeded by the teaching of those early years, but which the latter can never justify them in neglecting. There is no common standard of human excellence, no fixed point however high, either of character or knowledge, at which, when attained, we may stand still and rest satisfied with our labours. "Be ye perfect as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect," were the words of Him whom we profess to follow, and such is the only standard set before us, evidently pointing to an infinite series of toils and endeavours, never certainly to be accomplished on earth; and who shall tell through what succession of ages, through what forms of being hereafter, to be carried on? Such, then being the law under which we strive for improvement, it is evident that there can be no interval, no end to our labours: and it follows that when we cease to gain ground, we actually begin to lose it, and the arrest of progress is but another word for deterioration.

It may appear to some that these views of life and the conviction of the duty and necessity of self-discipline arising from them, are too stern to be pressed on the young; but few of the received prejudices of society have done more harm than that which assigns youth as a period of unavoidable thoughtlessness, which causes this great destroyer of human happiness and virtue to be considered, not simply as excusable, but often as a fair and amiable attribute of the brightest portion of human existence. Doubtless youth is the season for pleasure, for then only is it unmixed with regret, or unclouded by anxiety, but at no age can pleasure be with impunity a pursuit. We are far from taking the ascetic view of life, which condemns its enjoyments as unlawful, and would confine the mind in a circle of gloomy contemplations; the pleasures of social intercourse, the light accomplishments which add to its charm, the mere exercise of physical activity and vigour, the thousand delights opened by the contemplation of nature and of art,-these and many others afford at every period of life, not only lawful and rational enjoyment, but positively needful relaxation from serious pursuits and labours. It is only when these take the place of higher objects, when they are no longer relaxations, but engrossing occupations, that evil begins. It is when we bind ourselves to the car of pleasure, that each light and graceful wreath becomes an ignominious yoke. The warning has no novelty; would that the race of triflers of both sexes would allow us to pronounce it needless, as it is trite!

The doctrine of the inaptitude of youth for serious purposes is



as false as it is pernicious; for youth, with its joyous spirit, its bright fancy, its eager anticipations, is also the season of high aspiration, of generous resolution, of warm unselfish feeling; and it may be wiser, even if we look upon it in the mere light of expediency, to reckon upon these in their freshness for the undertaking of any great or noble course of endeavour, than to wai till a frivolous life has lowered their tone, and the world has blunted their sensibility. Bright as the present may be to them, and discouraging the words of those who have tried life before them, the young still live in the future. When no actual pleasure or excitement engrosses the mind, it contemplates with all the strong emotions of an age when every thought kindles a feeling, the vast unknown region spreading so illimitably before them, in which fancy strives to shape their destined course. The hours for such contemplation often return in woman's retired life, and too soon bring a bitter consciousness to many minds, that the wide future offers little to their utmost endeavours; and fancy returns weary from her distant flight, as the dove to the ark, finding no place to rest upon. It is to the feelings of such a moment that we would appeal-before the bitterness has sunk into the heart, and while yet the ardent nature and energetic impulses are unfettered by the world's prejudices, and unpolluted by the world's sophistry.

In this view of the nature and feelings of youth, we venture to lay before young girls themselves this sketch of a wider education than has commonly been deemed expedient; and confidently appeal from the frivolous tastes and habits inculcated by society, to their own higher feelings and aspirations. We believe it will not be vain to point out to them the resources and consolations that knowledge and mental refinement offer amidst some of the inevitable evils of woman's lot; nor vain the hope that a lofty ambition may kindle in many hearts, to ennoble woman's career, to shed new lustre over the annals of female influerce, and to labour for future national improvement and greatness, by fitting themselves for social usefulness, and for the labour of training a future generation in a purer and nobler course of virtue and patriotism. We offer no easy task to allure the feeble and the frivolous-no aim of social distinction and power to tempt a low or worldly ambition; but we point to a goal worthy to excite the endeavour of the noblest and highest gifted of God's creatures, and earnestly hope to aid some in reaching it.




THE first step in self-education is carefully to examine what powers we are endowed with that may aid us in that task of progressive improvement, imposed, as we have seen, by a law of our being. Any systematic inquiry into the powers of the human mind is, indeed, far beyond the compass or pretensions of such a work as this; yet something more of this nature is required than is to be found generally in works on Education, for they are too apt to consider rather the things which are to be taught, than the principles which are to be cultivated. Our object, then, will be to examine into those principles, to point out the close connexion of the moral and mental powers generally, the necessary influence of conscience, and therefore of religion, over the whole life, from its highest concerns to its daily routine,-the duty of cultivating reason in order to enlighten conscience, the means and motives for pursuing truth as the pole-star of our existence,—the superiority of sound mental discipline above mere intellectual attainments, and, lastly, the means of acquiring knowledge, the love of which, based on higher grounds than society generally recognises, is so valuable a source of enjoyment and consolation to women in their depressed and often lonely condition. These are the points, on a due consideration of which, we think a rational course of self-training may be grounded, together with a careful cultivation of method as the presiding spirit of all education, and of the power of habit as the great instrument of all progress. The two latter being thus of universal application, we shall begin with them.

Among the various capabilities of our nature, we find none

« IndietroContinua »