The Daughters of England/Chapter XI
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Chapter XI. Selfishness, Vanity, Artifice, and Integrity
|Chapter XII. Dedication of Youth→|
It is my intention to occupy the present chapter with farther observations upon the three great enemies to woman's advancement in moral excellence—selfishness, vanity and artifice, as opposed to her disinterestedness, simplicity of heart, and integrity.
It seems to be a strange anomaly in her nature, that in connection with all which woman is capable of doing and suffering for the good of others, there should lurk about her heart a peculiar kind of selfishness, which the strong discipline of personal trial, and often of severe affliction, is frequently required to subdue. It is justly remarked of woman, that in cases of afflictive dispensation, the qualities of her heart and mind generally appear to the greatest advantage, and none of them more so, than her devotedness; by which I would be understood to mean, the power she sometimes evinces of throwing every consideration of self into the balance as nothing, when weighed against the interest or the happiness of those she loves. Supported under some of the most trying vicissitudes of life by this spirit of devotedness, her capabilities of acting and enduring have sometimes appeared almost superhuman; so much so, that when we contemplate woman in this point of view, we almost fail to recognize, as a being of the same species, the idle flutterer of the ball-room, or the listless murmurer beside the parental hearth.
It is a fearful thing to await the coming of "the dark days of sorrow," before the evil spirit of selfishness, shall be exorcised. Let us inquire, then, what aspect this enemy assumes in early life, in order that it may be the more easily detected, and expelled from its favourite citadel, the human heart.
Selfishness has other features besides greediness. It is a very mistaken notion, that because persons give freely, they cannot be selfish; for there is a luxury in giving, which sentimental epicures will sometimes not deny themselves, even for the sake of principle. Thus, some young people are liberal in making presents with their parents' hard-earned money, and even when the same money would be more properly and more justly applied in paying their lawful debts. Such is the mere generosity of impulse, which deserves no better name than self-gratification. Indeed, all acting from mere impulse, may be classed under the head of selfishness; because it has no object beyond the relief or satisfaction of the actor, without reference to its influence or operation upon others.
The aspect which female selfishness most frequently assumes in early life, may best be described as a kind of absorption in self, or a habit of making self at once the centre and limit of every consideration, which habit is far from being incompatible with liberality in giving. Everything, in this case, which forms the subject of conversation or thought, has reference to self; and separate from self, there are few which possess the slightest interest."I wish it was always winter," said a young lady very coolly to me, "the glare of the sunshine is so painful to my sight." I reminded her of the poor of our own species, and the animals of the creation in general; but she persisted in wishing it was always winter: and yet this young lady was generous in giving, but, like too many others, she was accustomed to look upon the whole universe only as it bore some relation or reference to herself.
Nor does it follow either that such persons should entertain for themselves an inordinate admiration. To hear them talk, one would sometimes be led to suppose that self was the very being with whom, of all others, they were most dissatisfied; yet, all the while, they are too busy finding fault with self, to have time to approve or admire what they might otherwise behold in others.
How different is this state of mind and feeling from that which acknowledges the rule of Christian love! In accordance with this rule, it is highly important to begin early to think much of others, and to think of them kindly. We are all, when young, and especially those who believe themselves gifted with more than ordinary talent, tempted to think it both amusing and clever to find out the faults of others; and amongst the busy, the meddling, and the maliciously disposed, this habit does often unquestionably afford a more than lawful degree of amusement; while to her by whom it is indulged, it invariably proves in the end most destructive to genuine cheerfulness, good humour, and peace of mind; because its own nature being offensive, it raises up against her a host of enemies, by whom all that is wrong in her character is magnified, and all that is good is evil spoken of. At the same time she will also find, that this seeming cleverness is shared with the most vulgar-minded persons of both sexes, and of every grade in society, because none are so low as to be incapable of seeing the faults of their neighbours.
Could such young satirists be convinced how much real enjoyment they sacrifice for the sake of awakening a momentary interest in their conversation, they would surely pause before the habit should have become so far confirmed as to have repelled their nearest friends, and set them apart from all the social sympathies and sweet charities of life; for such is inevitably the consequence of persevering indulgence in this habit, but especially with such as possess no real talent for amusing satire, and who, in their futile attempts to attain the unenviable distinction of being satirical, ascend no farther than to acquire a habit of speaking spitefully. It is almost needless to say, that such women are seldom loved, and seldom sought, in cases where a sympathizing friend or kind assistant is required. When such individuals are overtaken by affliction, they then feel how different a thing it is to have wounded and repelled, from what it is to have soothed and conciliated. Happy for them if they begin to feel this before it is too late!
But if, in connection with their affliction, the minds of such individuals should become subject to impressions of a religious nature, and, as is natural in such cases, they should seek the society of religious people, how deeply will they then deplore that their unfortunate habit of thinking and speaking evil of others should have opened their eyes to a thousand little discrepancies of character, and fancied absurdities of conduct, in those it has become most important to their happiness that they should confide in! How do the ridiculous, the inconsistent, the vulgar, then start up to view, with a prominence that throws every other quality into shade; so that even while they listen to a religious discourse, their thoughts are entirely diverted by some peculiarity in the manner in which it is delivered.
And all this chain of sad consequences may arise out of the simple habit of trying to be striking and amusing in company, so that self may, by that means, be made an object of greater importance. In comparison with such behaviour, how beautiful is that of the simple-hearted young woman, who can be so absorbed in the conversation of others, as to forget that she has taken no part in it herself; but more especially admirable is the conduct of her, who looks only, or chiefly, for what is to be loved and commended in others; and who, though not insensible to the darker side of human nature, draws over it the veil of charity, because she considers all her fellow-creatures as heirs to the same sufferings and infirmities which she endures, yet as children of the same heavenly Father, and subject with herself to the same dispensation of mercy and forgiveness.
The habit of thinking perpetually of self is always accompanied by its just and necessary punishment—a more than ordinary share of wounded feeling. The reason is a very obvious one; that persons whose thoughts are usually thus engaged, are apt to suppose themselves the subject of general observation, and scarcely can a whisper be heard in the same room, but they immediately settle it in their own minds that they are the subject of injurious remark. They are also keenly alive to every slight; such as not being known or noticed when they are met, not being invited to visit their friends, and a thousand other acts of omission, which an unselfish disposition would kindly attribute to some other cause than intentional disrespect.
It is the result of selfishness, too, when we are so unreasonable as to expect that everybody should love us; or when we are piqued and irritated when convinced that some, upon whom we have but little claim, do not. Surely, so unfair a demand upon the good- will of society might be cured by asking, Do we love everybody, do justice to everybody, and deserve to be loved by everybody? For, until this is the case, what title have we to universal affection? It might also tend, in some degree, to equalize the balance of requirement in favour of self, if we would recollect that the faults we most dislike in others, may, all the while be less offensive to us, than ours are to them; and that not only for all the actual faults, but even for the objectionable peculiarities, which society puts up with in us, we owe a repayment, which can only be made in kindness and forbearance to others.
In the manners and appearance of persons accustomed to dwell much upon the slights they are subject to, and the injuries they receive from others, there is a restless uneasiness, and a tendency to groundless suspicion, as much at variance with peace of mind, as with that charity which "thinketh no evil." Compare with such a state of mind and feeling the sunny calm which lives, even in the countenance of her, whose soul is at peace with all the human race; who finds in all, even the most humble, something either to admire, or love; and who esteems whatever kindness she receives from others, as more than her own merits would have entitled her to expect; and we see at once the advantage she enjoys over those with whom self is the subject of paramount interest.
Another fatal enemy to woman's peace, as well as to her moral and spiritual advancement, is her tendency to a peculiar kind of petty artifice, as directly opposed, in its nature, to simplicity of heart, as to integrity. Artifice may possibly be considered too severe a name for what is scarcely more than a species of acting; or, perhaps, it may, with still greater propriety, be called, practising upon others, for the purpose of gratifying selfishness, and feeding vanity.
Affectation is the first symptom of this tendency. There are many kinds of affectation, differing in their moral nature according to the seriousness and importance of what is affected. Affectation of ignorance is, perhaps, the most absurd of all. Yet how often do we find a young pretender to gentility affecting not to know anything which is vulgar or mean: and, amongst this class, taking especial pains to place many things with which every rational being ought to be acquainted.
The affectation of sensibility is, perhaps, the most common of all; because that peculiar faculty of the female mind, bestowed for the purpose of rendering her more efficient as a minister of comfort and consolation, is looked upon rather as a matter of taste, than as a principle; just as if fine feelings were only given to women to look pretty with. Women who are vain of their sensibility, and wish to have it indulged, generally choose weak and flattering friends, to whom they constantly complain of what they suffer from excess of feeling.
It is, indeed, a lamentable fact, and most probably the consequence of some mismanagement in early youth, that the sensitiveness of some women is such as to render them altogether useless, and sometimes worse than useless, in any case of suffering or alarm. If such individuals sincerely regret this disqualification, they are truly deserving of our pity; but if they make a parade of it, no language can be strong enough for their condemnation.
Allusion has already been made to that affectation of modesty which consists in simpering and blushing about what a truly delicate mind would neither have perceived nor understood, nor would have been in the slightest degree amused by if it had.
Affectation of humility is often betrayed by a proneness in persons to accuse themselves of some darling fault; while they repel with indignation the suspicion that they possess any other.
That kind of affectation which relates especially to manner, consists chiefly in assuming a particular expression of countenance, or mode of behaviour, which is not supported by a corresponding state of feeling. Thus an affectation of attention, when the thoughts are wandering, instead of that quiet and fixed look which indicates real interest, produces a certain degree of uneasiness of countenance arising out of the restraint imposed upon nature, which effectually destroys the power of beauty; while those futile attempts at being brilliant, which consist only in flashes of the eye, smiles that have neither appropriateness nor meaning, and an expression of face changing suddenly from grave to gay—from despair to rapture—are sufficient indications of a state of mind almost too degraded and deplorable for ridicule.
Affectation of manner, however, is not unfrequently the result of excessive timidity; and then indeed it claims our tenderest compassion, and our kindest sympathy. I have known little girls, when harshly treated in childhood, acquire a constrained and affected manner, from the constant state of unnatural apprehension in which they lived. This kind of affectation is apt to become in after years a fixed habit, and has subjected many a well-meaning person to unmerited ridicule, and sometimes to contempt. Indeed, affectation of manner ought always to be guarded against, because of the unfavourable impression it is calculated to make upon others; and especially upon those who know of no higher qualities in connection with this peculiarity of manner, and upon whom it is consequently the only impression ever made, and the only standard by which the unfortunate subject of affectation is judged of for life. How much of the influence of good example, and the effect of benevolent effort, is frustrated by this seemingly insignificant cause, may be judged of by the familiar conversation which takes place in society, and particularly amongst the young, when they discuss the merits or demerits of persons from whose influence or authority they would gladly discover a plea for escaping.
Besides the timidity which belongs to constitutional fear, and which so frequently produces affectation of manner, there is a timidity of a widely different kind, about which many serious mistakes are made. I mean the timidity of the vain. Excessive vanity, excites a nervous trembling apprehension in the young candidate for public favour, which is often most erroneously supposed to arise from a low estimate of self. Nor is it impossible that it should arise from this cause, and be the consequence of vanity still; for, if I may use the expression, there is a vanity above par, and another vanity below it—there is a vanity which looks eagerly for homage, believing it to be a right; there is another which scarcely ventures into the field of competition, convinced of its inadequacy to succeed, but which nevertheless, retires with a feeling of sullenness and depression, not much allied to genuine humility. It is that state of vacillation between the excessive pleasure which admiration would afford if obtained, and the excessive pain which anything approaching to ridicule or contempt would occasion, that often imparts to the manners of the young, a blushing nervous kind of hesitation and backwardness, miscalled timidity. The timidity of modest feeling escapes from notice, and is happy; that of vanity escapes, and is piqued and miserable. She who suffers from the timidity of vanity, shrinks from society higher than herself, not so much from fear, as from jealousy of being outshone. The simple-hearted woman, desirous of improvement, esteems it a privilege to go into the company of her superiors, for the sake of what she may learn from those who are better informed, or more estimable, than herself.
In contemplating the nature and effects of artifice, or rather that system of practising upon others which I have endeavoured to describe, and in reflecting upon the state of mind which this species of practising indicates, we arrive at a more clear and decided idea of integrity, as directly opposed to this system, than we can by any other process of thought. There is in fact no means of giving a positive definition of integrity, so as to make it fully understood. We may call it a straightforward and upright mode of conduct; but it will still remain, as before, to be considered by young ladies a sort of thing which belongs to servants and trades people, but not to them.
It is a matter of surprise to some, and ought to be a subject of universal regret, that in our public seminaries for the training of youth, integrity should occupy so small a share of attention. Even in our popular works on education, it holds no very important place; and yet I am inclined to think, that a want of strict integrity is the greatest of all wants to a social, moral, and accountable being. In this opinion, I doubt not but many of my readers will cordially agree, because all are more or less inclined to restrict the meaning of integrity, to a conscientious abstaining from fraudulent practices. Thus, when a man has never been known to cheat in his business, it is said of him, that his integrity is unimpeachable; and a woman is dignified with the same character, when she is strict in keeping her accounts, and discharging her pecuniary debts. So far, both are entitled to our respect; but there are innumerable modes in which integrity operates upon character and conduct, besides what relate to the management of pecuniary affairs.
Simplicity of heart is perhaps more generally understood and admired than integrity, if we may judge by the frequent and eloquent manner in which it is expatiated upon by those who describe the attractions of youth. Simplicity of heart is unquestionably a great charm in woman; yet I cannot think it superior to integrity, because it consists more in ignorance of evil, and consequently of temptation, than in principle, which would withstand both. It consists chiefly in that unruffled serenity of soul, which suspects no lurking mischief beneath the fair surface of things in general—which trusts, and confides, and is happy in this confidence; because it has never been deceived, nor hag learned the fatal mystery of deceiving others. It is like the dew on the untrodden grass, the bloom of the flower, the down on the butterfly's wing, the purity of newly-fallen snow, before even a breath of wind has swept over it. Alas! what has it to do in this world of ours, where so many rude feet tread, and where so many rough winds blow? Consequently we find but little true simplicity of heart, except in early youth; or connected with a dullness of perception as to the nature and condition of the human race; or in situations where a very limited knowledge of the world is admitted.
But integrity we may find in every circumstance of life, because integrity is founded on principle; and consequently while not a stranger to temptation, its nature is to withstand it. Integrity is shown in a straightforward and upright line of conduct, on trifling, as well as on great occasions; in private, as well as in public; beneath the eye of God alone, as well as before the observation of men. It is a shield of protection under which no man can make us afraid; because when actuated in all things by the principle of integrity, no unexpected event can bring to light what we are afraid or ashamed to have known. The woman who walks through the world with unstained integrity, is always safe. No fear then of whispering tongues; or of those confidential revealings of friendly secrets, by which the creature of artifice is ever kept in a state of dread; no fear then of a comparing of evidence by different parties; of the treachery of private agents; of the mal-occurrence of contingent events; above all, of that half-implied suspicion which can with difficulty be warded off, except by an entire falsehood. The woman of integrity fears none of these. Her course is clear as that of the sun in the heavens, and the light she sheds around her in society, is scarcely less genial and pure.
Let us ask then, how this integrity may be preserved, or rather—for I fear that Will be more to the purpose—how it is most frequently, and most fatally destroyed.
There is reason to fear, that even home education is defective enough on this point; but if every one who has been educated at a public school, would tell one half of the many arts of subterfuge, trickery, and evasion, which she learned to practise there; and if all who are advanced in life would also trace out the consequences upon their subsequent conduct, of having learned in early life these lessons in the school of deception, I believe an amount of moral culpability, and of offensiveness in the sight of God, would be unfolded, which some of our early instructors would shudder to contemplate. On looking into the dark past, they would then see how, while they were so diligently and patiently—yes, and meritoriously too, teaching us the rules of grammar, arithmetic, and geography; expending their daily strength, and often their midnight thought, in devising and carrying out improved schemes for making us learn more languages, and remember more words; we had been almost equally busy in devising schemes to promote our own interest, to establish ourselves in the favour of our instructors, or to escape their too frequently well-merited displeasure.
And women from their very infancy are apt at all this; because to the timid, and affectionate little girl, it is so sad a thing to fall into disgrace—so pleasant a thing to be approved, and loved. Her young and tender spirit sinks like a broken flower, when she falls under condemnation; but springs up exulting like the lark, when commended by the lips she loves.
What, then, shall we say, when it is this very sensitiveness and tenderness of her nature, which so often, in the first instance, betrays her into ingenious, indirect, and too frequently unlawful means, for warding off blame, or obtaining praise. There is but one thing we can say—that in common kindness, in Christian charity, her education should be studiously rendered such as to strengthen her under this weakness, not to involve her more deeply in its worst consequences—the loss of her integrity.
Few persons are aware, until they have entered into a full and candid examination of this subject, how very minute, and apparently insignificant, are those beginnings, from whence flow some of the deepest channels of deception. Falsehood makes a serious beginning at school, when the master helps out a drawing, and the pupil obtains the praise, as if the whole work was her own. The master has most probably added only a few effective touches, so extremely small as not to be detected by an unpractised eye; and while the proud and triumphant mother exhibits the drawing to her flattering friends, it would be difficult indeed for the little girl to say it was not her own doing, because all the patience, all the labour, and a great deal of the merit, were unquestionably hers. Yet, to let it pass with these unqualified commendations bestowed upon her as the author, is a species of lying to God. Her young heart knows it to be so, and she feels either humbled, or confirmed in the deception. Happy! thrice happy, if it be the former!
Nor is home-education by any means exempt from its temptations to falsehood. There are many little deceptions practised upon unsuspecting mothers and absent fathers, which stain the page of youthful experience, and lead to farther and more skilful practice in the school of deception. There are stolen sweets, whose bitter fruit has been deliberate falsehood ; excuses made, and perhaps wholly believed, which were perhaps only half true; and sly thefts committed upon household property, to serve a selfish end; all which have had a degrading effect upon the character, and which in their worst consequences hare led to one falsehood made use of to conceal another, and a third or a fourth to cover both.
But if childhood is beset with these temptations, how much has woman to guard against, when she first mixes with society, and enters the disputed ground, where, to be most agreeable, constitutes the strongest title to possession. She is then tempted to falsehood, not in her words only, but in her looks; for there is a degree of integrity in looks, as well as in expressions; and I am not quite sure that the woman who can look a falsehood, is not a worse deceiver than she who only tells one. All sweetness of look and manner, assumed for the purpose of gaining a point, or answering a particular end, comes under this description of artifice. Many persons who cannot conscientiously assent to what is said, assume a look of sympathy or approval, which sufficiently answers the purpose of deception, and at the same time escapes all risk of discovery as such. Thus, an implied assent by a smile and a nod, to what we do not believe, often spares us the trouble and pain of exposing our real sentiments, where they are unpopular, or would be likely to meet with inconvenient opposition.
Still I should be sorry to set down all persons who smile, and nod, and appear to assent to two different sides of a question, as intentional deceivers; because I believe that much of this sort of double-dealing arises out of the habit so many women indulge, of never making up their minds decidedly on any point of general interest, or viewing any subject in a distinct and determinate manner; so that they may almost be said really to think for the time in two different ways; at any rate, during the time they listen to each speaker separately, they are sufficiently convinced for them.
Thus it becomes the first act of integrity to endeavour to see, hear, and believe the truth, and then to speak it. A grateful woman, regardless of this rule, speaks of all persons as good, to whom she is indebted, or who have in any way served her purposes. Another, and a far more serious instance of the same kind of practice, consists in pretending not to see, or not to understand vice, where it is not convenient to believe in its existence; and this is often done by the same persons, who are quick to detect and expose it where such exposure is suited to their purpose.
And thus women in general become habituated to an indefinite way of thinking, and a careless mode of speech, both which may be serviceable to the mean-spirited, by preventing the detection of error in sentiment, or unsoundness of principle; though I believe neither of them were ever yet found available in assisting the cause of truth or righteousness.Again, in the act of doing good, there is a manner of speaking of what we have done, which, though not directly false, is certainly at variance with strict integrity. I mean when young ladies talk especially about their schools, their poor women, and their old men; as if their individual charities were most benevolent in their operation, and unbounded in their extent; when perhaps they have but recently begun to be exercised in these particular channels. This is speaking the truth in such a manner, as to produce a false impression; and the consequence not unfrequently is, when really zealous and devoted people hear the speaker give this account of her good deeds, and when they take up the subject, and address her upon it, according to the impression her words have produced; that, rather than descend from the false position she has assumed, and lower herself in the opinion of those with whom she wishes to stand well, she goes on to practise farther artifice, or possibly plunges into actual falsehood.
And it ought always to be borne in mind, that these little casual, but sometimes startling turns in common conversation, produce more actual untruths than the most trying circumstances in life, where we have incomparably more at stake. If we were all to take account each night of the untruths we had told in the course of the day, from an exaggerated description designed to make a story more amusing, down to the frequent case of receiving credit for an original remark, which we knew was not our own, I imagine few persons would find themselves altogether clear of having done violence to the pure spirit of truth. And if we add, also, to this list of falsehoods, all those unfair or garbled statements, which may tend to throw a brighter colouring over some cause we wish to advocate, or cast another into shade, I believe we should find that we bad indeed abundant need to pray for the renewed assistance of the Holy Spirit, to touch and guard our lips, so that they should utter no more guile.
Besides these instances of the want of integrity, in which our own consciences alone are concerned, there are others which demand a stricter attention to the claims of justice, as they relate to our friends, and to society at large. Under which head, I would notice the duty of doing justice to those we do not love, and especially to those who have injured us. Instead of which, how frequently do we find that young women begin to tell all the bad qualities of their friends, as soon as they have quarrelled with them. How often do we find, too, that such disagreements are related with conscious unfairness, their own evil being kept out of tight, as well as their friend's good, where there has been a mixture of both.
There is a common practice, too, when our own conduct is in any way called in question, and our friends kindly assign a plausible reason for what we have done, to let that pass as the real one, though we know, within our hearts, it is not so; or to let persons make a favourable guess respecting us, without contradicting it, though we know their conclusions, in consequence of our silence, or apparent assent, will be false ones.
Now, all these things, how insignificant soever they may appear to man, are important between the soul and its Maker, and must be deeply offensive in the sight of that Being who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity. They are important, as forming parts of a whole, items of a mass, links in a chain, steps in a downward progress, which must lead away from a participation with the blessed, in a kingdom, whose enjoyments consist of purity and truth.
We have now come to that consideration of the subject of integrity, which relates to pecuniary affairs. And here what a field of operation opens before us, for the development of those principles of good or evil, of benevolence or selfishness, of uprightness or artifice, which I have endeavoured to describe, less by their own nature, than by their influence upon the manners and general conduct of women.
I believe there is nothing in the usages of society more fatal to the interests of mankind, to the spiritual progress of individuals, or to the general well-being of the human soul, than laxity of principle as regards our pecuniary dealings with each other. It is a case which all can understand—the worldly, as well as religious professors; if, then, the slightest flaw appears in the conduct of the latter in this respect; the interests of religion must be injured in consequence, and the cause of Christ must suffer.
"But it is impossible," say the fair readers of this page, "that this part of the subject can have any reference to us, we have so little to do with money;" or, perhaps, they say, "so little in our power to spend." Perhaps it is the very smallness of your supply according to the ideas you have formed of its inadequacy to meet your wishes, which is the cause of your want of integrity; for no one can act in strict accordance with the principles of integrity, until they have learned to practise economy. By economy, I do not mean simply the art of saving money, hut the nobler science of employing it for the best purposes, and in its just proportions.
In order to act out the principles of integrity in all their dignity, and all their purity, it is highly important, too, that young women should begin in early life to entertain a scrupulous delicacy with regard to incurring pecuniary obligations; and especially, never to throw themselves upon the politeness of gentlemen, to pay the minutest sum in the way of procuring for them gratification, or indulgence. I do not say that they may not frequently be so circumstanced, as, with the utmost propriety, to receive such kindness from near relations, or even from elderly persons; but I speak of men in general, upon whom they have not the claim of kindred; and I have observed the carelessness with which some young ladies tax the politeness—nay, the purses of gentlemen, respecting which it would be difficult to say, whether it indicated most an absence of delicate feeling, or an absence of integrity.
I am aware, that, in many cases, this unsatisfactory kind of obligation is most difficult to avoid, and, sometimes, even impossible; yet, a prompt and serious effort should always be made—and made in such a way that you shall clearly be understood to have both the wish, and the power, to pay your own expenses. If the wish is waiting, I can have nothing to say in so humiliating a case; but if you have not the means of defraying your own charges, it is plain that you have no right to enjoy your pleasures at the expense of another. There are, however, different ways of proposing to discharge such debts; and there is sometimes a hesitancy in the alternate advance and retreat of the fair lady's purse, which would require extraordinary willingness on the part of the gentleman, were his object to obtain a repayment of his own money.
It is the same in the settlement of all other debts. Delicacy ought seldom, if ever, to form a plea for their adjustment being neglected. Indeed, few persons feel their delicacy much wounded, by having the right money paid to them at the right time; or, in other words, when it is due. The same remarks will apply to all giving of commissions. Never let such affairs stand on and on, for want of a suitable opportunity for arranging their settlement; especially, never let the payment of a debt be longer delayed, because it is evidently forgotten by the party to whom it is owing.
All matters of business should also be adjusted as fairly, and as promptly, with friends and near relations, as with strangers; and all things in such cases should be as clearly understood. If the property transferred be intended as a gift, say so; if a loan, say that the thing is lent; and if a purchase, either pay for it, or name the price you expect. How many lasting and lamentable misunderstandings amongst the nearest connections would this kind of integrity prevent! how much wounded feeling, disappointment, and chagrin!
It is a mistaken view of economy, and evinces a great want of integrity, when persons are always endeavouring to obtain services, or to purchase goods, at a lower rate than their just value. But if the vender of an article be indebted to you for a kindness, it is something worse than mean, to ask, for that reason, an abatement in its price.
In many cases where our claims are just, it is easy to press them in an unjust manner; and we never do this more injuriously to the interests of society, than when we urge work-people beyond what is necessary, by telling them that a thing will positively be needed at a certain time, when we do not really believe it will. There is a general complaint against dressmakers, shoemakers, and many other makers of articles of clothing, that they are habitually regardless of punctuality and truth. But I am disposed to think the root of the grievance in a great measure arises out of the evil already alluded to, on the part of the ladies by whom they are employed.
Let us imagine the case of a young dressmaker, one of that most pitiable-class of human beings, whose pallid countenances, and often deformed and feeble frames, sufficiently attest the unnatural exertions by which they obtain their scanty bread. A young lady wishes to have a dress elaborately made, and for the sake of having it done expeditiously, names the precise day on which it must be finished, adding as a sufficient reason for punctuality, that it must then be worn. The poor dressmaker sits all night long in her little joyless room, working by the light of a thin candle, while the young lady sleeps soundly in her bed. The Sabbath dawns, and the dressmaker is still at work; until passing feet begin to be heard in the street, and shutters are unclosed; and then, with aching head and weary limbs, she puts away her unfinished task, doubting whether the remainder of the day shall be devoted to the sleep which exhausted nature demands, or to wandering abroad to search for purer air, of which that nature is equally in need. The day arrives at last on which the dress must be taken home, according to appointment. This time the dressmaker is punctual, because she believes that delay would be of consequence. She knocks at the door of the lady's mansion. The servant coolly tells her that her young mistress has gone to spend a few days in the country. Is it likely that this poor workwoman should be equally punctual the next time her services are required? or need we ask how the law of love has operated here?
The habit of keeping strict accounts with regard to the expenditure of money, is good in all circumstances of life; but it is never so imperative a duty, as when we have the property of others committed to our care. Unfaithfulness in the keeping and management of money which belongs to others, has perhaps been the cause of more flagrant disaster and disgrace, than any other species of moral delinquency which has stained the character of man, or woman either. Yet, how easily may this occur, without an extreme of scrupulous care, which the young cannot too soon, or too earnestly learn to practise. Even in the collecting of subscriptions for two different purposes, small sums, by some slight irregularity, may become mixed; and integrity is sacrificed, if the minutest fraction be eventually placed to the wrong account.
I cannot for an instant suppose that a Christian woman, under any circumstances, even the most difficult and perplexing, could be under the slightest temptation to appropriate to her own use, for a month, a week, a day, or an hour, the minutest item of what she had collected for another purpose, trusting to her own future resources for its reimbursement; because this would be a species of dishonesty, which, if once admitted as a principle of conduct, would be liable to terminate in the most fearful and disastrous consequences. It is the privilege of the daughters of England, that they have learned a code of purer morals, than to admit even such a thought, presented under the form of an available means of escape from difficulty, or attainment of gratification. Still it is well to fortify the mind, as far as we are able, against temptation of every kind, that if it should occur—and who can be secure again it?—we may not be taken unawares by an enemy whose assaults are sometimes as insidious, as they are always untiring.
One of the means I would now propose to the young reader, is to turn with serious attention to the case of Ananias and Sapphira, as related in the Acts of the Apostles; nor let it be forgotten, that this appalling act of moral delinquency, originating in selfishness, and terminating in falsehood, was the first sin which had crept into the fold of Christ, after the Shepherd had been withdrawn, and while the flock remained in a state approaching the nearest to that of perfect holiness, which we have reason to believe was ever experienced on this earth, since the time when sin first entered into the world.
Yes, it is an awful and impressive thought, that even in this state, temptation was allowed to present itself in such a form, accompanied with a desire still to stand well with the faithful, even after integrity was gone. The words of Peter are most memorable on this occasion. Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? Evidently implying, that it was better not to pretend to act upon high and generous principles, than not to do so faithfully. He then concludes in this emphatic language: "Thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God." By which we learn, that every species of dishonesty practised between the soul and its Maker, is equally offensive in the sight of God, as that which is evident to men; and that there is no clear, upright, and faithful walk for any human being in this world, whether young or old, whether rich or poor, whether exalted or lowly, but that which is in strict accordance with the principles of integrity.