The Daughters of England/Chapter IX
How much of what is most lovely, and most valuable to us in the course of our earthly experience, arises out of the poverty and the feebleness of our nature. Friendship would never have existed, but for the absolute want of the human heart, from its utter inability to perform the functions of life without a participator in its joys, a recipient of its secrets, and a soother of its sorrows.
Youth is the season when we most feel this want; later in life, we learn as it were to stand alone. Interests and claims, which have little to do with the affections, press upon us on every hand, and hem us into a narrow and accustomed path, from which there is little temptation to deviate. But in youth we seem to walk at large, with no boundary to our horizon; and the fear and uncertainty which necessarily attend our movements, render a companion, with whom we may consult, deliberate, and sympathize, absolutely necessary to our cheerfulness and support.
It is a subject of surprise to many, that the young so seldom enter into close and intimate friendship with the members of their own family. Were this more frequently the case, how much more candour and simplicity of heart would mingle with the intercourse of friends! To the members of our own family, we must of necessity appear as we really are. No false or flattering aspect can deceive those whose eyes are constantly upon our conduct ; and we are consequently less tempted to put forward our best feelings before them, in the hope of concealing our worst. In such intimacies the nearest friends have the least suspicion of each other's truth. After-circumstances can bring forth no unexpected development of character on either side; nor can there be the wounded feeling, which falsehood, however unpremeditated or unconsciously practised, never fails to produce. Again, there would be the strength of natural ties to mingle with this bond the recollections of childhood, the oft-repeated forgiveness, the gratitude to which allusion has already been made—all these would blend together in a union the most sacred, and the most secure, which perhaps is ever found on earth.
Nor do I scruple to call this union the most secure, because it is the only intimacy in which everything can with propriety be told. There are private histories belonging to every family, which, though they operate powerfully upon individual happiness, ought never to be named beyond the home-circle; and there are points of difference in character, and mutual misapprehensions, with instances of wounded feeling, and subjects of reproof and correction, which never can be so freely touched upon, even in the most perfect union of conjugal affection. On this subject, however, I have already spoken so fully in another work, that little room is left for farther notice here: I will, therefore, only allude to some of the causes which I believe most frequently operate against young persons choosing their confidants at home, and especially for the communication of their religious feelings, or impressions.
It is a melancholy thought, that the want of consistency in the private and domestic habits of religious professors, may possibly be the means of inducing young persons to seek their spiritual advisers amongst those with whom they are less intimately acquainted, and of whom they have consequently formed a higher estimate; while, on the other hand, a diffidence of themselves, perhaps a misgiving, both as to their past and future conduct, renders them unwilling to communicate fully and freely with those who daily watch their steps, lest the suspicion of hypocrisy should fall upon them for having given utterance to sentiments and emotions, so much at variance with the general course of their lives.
That these hinderances to home-confidence should sometimes exist, where the parties are perfectly sincere in their good intentions, I am quite prepared to believe; but there are other cases, and perhaps more frequent ones, in which the sincerity is less perfect, where the dread of being committed to any particular line of conduct consistent with the sentiments or emotions expressed, operates against their being so much as spoken of to any who compose the family circle.
It would be taking a dark view of human nature, indeed, to suppose that those who know us best are less disposed than strangers to attach themselves to us; yet, I would ask the young aspirant to intimacy with a new acquaintance, whether she is entering upon that intimacy with a sincere and candid wish to be to that friend exactly what she is at home? If not, she is, to all intents and purposes, a deceiver. And there is much deceit in all our early friendships, though I am far from supposing it to be all intentional. Indeed, I am convinced it is not, because this heart-searching process is what few young persons submit to, before commencing an intimacy.
In friendship, as well as in all other reciprocal engagements, it is highly important to limit our expectations of benefit according to the exact measure of our deserts; and by this means we may avoid many of those bitter disappointments, for which the world is so unjustly and unsparingly blamed. The world is bad enough; but let us be honest, and take our share of condemnation, for making at least one item of the world such as it is; and by thus acquiring the habit of strict and candid self-examination in early life, we see that we have little right to charge the world with falsehood, when our first engagement, beyond the circle of our own family, has been entered into by a system of deceit.
There is, too, a rashness and impetuosity in the formation of early friendships, which of themselves are sufficient to render such intimacies uncertain, and of short duration. Few characters can be considered as really formed, under the age of twenty-one, or twenty-five; yet friendships sometimes begin at a much earlier date. It is not in nature, then, that the friend we loved at sixteen, should be the same to us at twenty-six; or that the features of our own character should have undergone no change during that period. Yet it must not be called falsehood, or fickleness either, which causes such friendships to fail. It is consistent with the laws of reason, and of nature, that they should do so; for had the same individuals who thus deplore each other's falsehood, met for the first time at the age of twenty-six, they would probably each have been the very last which the other would have chosen as a friend.
Again, there must be an equality in friendship, to render it either lasting or desirable-^an equality not only in rank and station, but, as far as may be, in intellectual advantages. However warm may be the attachment of two friends of different rank in society, they must occasionally be involved in dilemmas, from which it is impossible to escape without wounded feeling, either on one side or both. Each of these friends, it must be remembered, will have her relatives and connections, through whom her pride will be perpetually subject to imaginary insult, and her susceptibility to real pain. Those who are inferior in mind are, however, much more objectionable as friends, than those who are inferior only in worldly circumstances; because they must always be incapable of judging of persons more highly gifted than themselves, and thus they will bestow their praise and their blame with equal injustice. The ignorant, too, are always prejudiced; and, therefore, in the choice of friends whose minds are unenlightened, the young must necessarily incur the risk of imbibing opinions formed upon false conclusions, which in all probability will exercise a powerful influence upon the whole of their subsequent lives.
Young people are too apt to think the only use of talent is to interest in conversation; if, then, they find themselves interested without it, they are satisfied to dispense with this quality in a friend. But how empty—how unprofitable must become that intimacy where mind is not taken into account—how worthless, how unsatisfactory in every case of trial, the society of that friend who cannot advise, as well as pity.
Were it not for equality being requisite to the mutual participation of the pleasures of friendship, I should strongly recommend all young persons to seek a friend amongst those who are older, and more experienced than themselves. In this case, however, too much must not be expected in return, for it is scarcely possible that the confiding intimacy of a young girl should always be interesting, or even acceptable to a woman more advanced in life; unless, indeed, the kindness of relationship should render the office of the elder confidant a welcome duty.
Regardless of these wholesome rules, it is more than probable that the greater part of my young readers will go on forming intimacies according to circumstances, or individual fancy, and with little reference to future consequences. In time, however, some of these intimacies will become irksome, while others will die away. It will then become a serious question, 'Whom shall I endeavour to retain as friends?' Try, then, to ascertain, in this stage of your short experience, whose society has had the happiest effect upon your own character; and let not this great question remain unsettled, until you have ascertained, with regard to each one of the individuals who have composed your circle of nominal friends, whether they have generally left you better or worse for a day spent in their company—more willing to submit to the requirements of religious duty, or more disposed to consider those requirements unreasonable and severe.
The pleasure or amusement immediately derived from the society of an individual, is a dangerous and deceitful test by which to try the value of their friendship; but the direct influence of their society upon our own state of mind, not while they are with us, but after the charm of their society is withdrawn, is a means of judging, which no rational and responsible being ought to neglect. If, for instance, in the circle of our favourite associates, there is one who habitually awakens the laughter of merriment, and charms into magic fleetness the hours you pass together; yet if the same individual leaves you flat, and dull, and indisposed for the useful and less pleasing occupations of life; beware of making her your friend. But if there be another who, possibly less amusing at the time you converse together, yet leaves you raised above the common level of experience, by the support of true and lofty principles; disposed to reject what is false or mean, and to lay hold on what is good; lifted out of the slavery of what is worldly or trifling, and made stronger in every generous purpose, and every laudable endeavour; let the friendship of that individual be bound around your heart, and cherished to the end of life, as one of the richest blessings permitted us to enjoy on earth.
By this rule, those who are candidates for our friendship, may safely be tried; but there is yet a closer test, which must be applied to friendship itself. If the friend you have chosen, never attempts to correct your faults, or make you better than you are, she is not worthy of the name; nor ought she to be fully confided in, whatever may be the extent of her kindness to you, or the degree of her admiration of your character.
Having well chosen your friend, the next thing is, to trust her, and to show that you do so. Mutual trust is the strongest cement of all earthly attachments. We are so conscious of weakness ourselves, that we need this support from others; and no compliment paid to the ear of vanity was ever yet so powerful in its influence, as even the simplest proof of being trusted. The one may excite a momentary thrill of pleasure, the other serves, for many an after day, to nourish the life-springs of a warm and generous heart.
It is needless to say how effectually a suspicious, or a jealous temper, destroys this truth. If we really loved our friends as we ought, and as we probably profess to love them, we should be less watchful of their conduct towards ourselves, than of ours to them ; nor should we grudge them the intimacy of other friends, when conducive to their enjoyment, if our own attachment was based upon pure and disinterested affection. Friendship, which is narrowed up between two individuals, and confined to that number alone, is calculated only for the intercourse of married life, and seldom has been maintained with any degree of lasting benefit or satisfaction, even by the most romantic and affectionate of women. True friendship is of a more liberal and expansive nature, and seldom flourishes so well as when extended through a circle. A circle of young female friends, who love and trust each other, who mutually agree to support the weak in their little community, to confirm the irresolute, to reclaim the erring, to soothe the irritable, and to solace the distressed; what a realization does this picture present of the brightest dreams of imagination, when we think what woman might be in this world to her own sex, and to the community at large!
And is this, then, too much to expect from the daughters of England—that woman should be true to woman? In the circle of her private friends, as well as from her own heart, she learns what constitutes the happiness and the misery of woman, what is her weakness and what her need, what her bane and what her blessing. She learns to comprehend the deep mystery of that electric chain of feeling which ever vibrates through the heart of woman, and which many with all his philosophy, can never understand. She learns that every touch of that chain is like the thrilling of a nerve; and she thus acquires a power peculiar to herself, of distinguishing exactly between the links which thrill with pleasure, and those which only thrill with pain.
Thus, while her sympathy and her tenderness for a chosen few is strengthened by the bond of friendship into which she has entered, though her confidence is still confined to them, a measure of the same sympathy and tenderness is extended to the whole sisterhood of her sex, until, in reality, she becomes what woman ever must be—in her noblest, purest, holiest character—the friend of woman.
What should we think of a community of slaves, who betrayed each other's interests 1 of a little band of shipwrecked mariners upon a friendless shore, who were false to each other? of the inhabitants of a defenceless nation, who would not unite together in earnestness and good faith against a common enemy? We are accustomed to hear of the meanness of the powerful, when they forsake the weak; but there is a meanness of a lower grade—when the weak forsake each other.
No party, however, can be weak, which has truth for its element, and love for its bond of union. Women are only weak in their vanity, their selfishness, their falsehood to each other. In their integrity, their faithfulness, their devoted affection, they rise to an almost superhuman eminence; because they are strong in the elements of immaterial being, and powerful in the nature which is capable, when regenerated, of being shared with angels.
From the nature of true friendship, we turn to the consideration of what are its requirements. These, also, are mutual. If we expect to receive, we must be studious to give. An interchange of kind offices and evident proofs of affection are essential to the vitality of friendship; avoiding, however, the slightest approach to anything like a debtor and creditor account of the number of presents given or received, or even of the number of letters exchanged.
It seems a strange anomaly in friendship, that young persons, however ardently attached, should so seldom write, except when a letter is considered to be due by a certain length of time having elapsed since the last was received. It often happens, that one friend is particularly engaged, while the other has an abundance of unoccupied time; but a letter is still required by the idle party, or the love which she thinks so glowing and so tender, finds no channel of expression to her friend. Perhaps a friend is ill; and then is the time, above all others, when real love would dictate a succession of kind letters, such as would not tax the afflicted, or the feeble one, with the effort of making any return. There is, in fact, a mystery about the letter-writing of young women, which I have never been able fully to understand. It occupies their time; it used to drain their purses, or the purses of their friends; it calls forth more complaining than almost any thing else they have to do; the letters they receive are seldom fraught with much interest; and yet they plunge into this reciprocity of annoyance, as if the chief business of life was to be writing or receiving letters.
Still I am far from supposing that this means of interchanging sentiment and thought, might not be rendered highly beneficial to the youthful mind; because I believe writing is of great importance as a branch of education. Without this habit, few persons, and especially women, think definitely. The accustomed occupation of their minds is that of musing; and they are, consequently, seldom able to disentangle a single clear idea from the current of vague thoughts, which they suffer perpetually to flow, and which affords them a constant, but, at the same time, a profitless amusement, in the variety of ideas it presents, alike without form, and void. But, in order to write with any degree of perspicuity, we are, to a certain extent, compelled to think; and, consequently, the habit of writing letters, if the subject-matter be well chosen, might be rendered highly advantageous to young women, who, on the termination of their scholastic exercises, require, more than at any other time of life, some frequently recurring mental occupation, to render their education complete.
The art of writing a really good letter ranks unquestionably amongst the most valuable accomplishments of woman, and next to that of conversing well. In both cases, the first thing to be avoided, is common-place; because, whatever partakes of the nature of common place, is not only vulgar, but ineffective. I know not how I can better define this term, so frequently used, and so little understood, than by saying that common-place consists chiefly in speaking of things by their little qualities, rather than their great ones. Thus it is common-place to speak of religious persons as using cant, to speak of distinguished characters as being well or ill-dressed, and to speak of the works of Shakspeare as being peculiar in their style. It is also common-place to use those expressions of kindness, or sympathy, which custom has led us to expect as a matter of course. And we never feel this more, than in cases of affliction or death; because there is a kind of set phraseology made use of on such occasions, which those who really feel would often be glad to vary, if they only knew how. It is common-place to speak of some fact as recently discovered, to those who have long known it. But above all that is genuine in common-place, the kind of flattery generally adopted by men, when they mean to address themselves pleasantly to women, deserves the credit of pre-eminence. Indeed, so deficient, for the most part, is this flattery, in point, originality, and adaptation, that I have known sensible women, who felt more really flattered by the most humiliating truths, even plainly spoken; because such treatment implied a confidence in their strength of mind and good sense, in being able to bear it.
Common-place letters are such as, but for the direction, would have done as well for any other individual as the one to whom they are addressed. In description especially, it is desirable to avoid common-place. A correspondent making a tour of the Lakes, tells you that on such a day she set off to the summit of Helvellyn. That the first part of the ascent was steep and difficult, the latter more easy; that the view from the summit was magnificent, extending over so many lakes, and so many other mountains; and there ends the story; and well for you, if it does end there. But such writers unfortunately often go on through a whole catalogue of beauties and sublimities, no single one of which they set before you in such a manner as to render it one whit more attractive, or indeed more peculiar in any of its features, than the king's highway.
In the vain hope of avoiding common-place, some young writers have recourse to extravagant expressions when describing little things; a mode of writing, which, besides being the medium of falsehood, leaves them in the uncomfortable predicament of having no language adequate to what is great.
It is difficult to say what is the direct opposite of common-place, without giving lengthened quotations from the best style of epistolary correspondence, with which the literature of our country during the last century abounds. There is a quality both in writing and conversation, to which I can give no other name than freshness, which is not only opposite in its nature and effect to common-place, but on which I believe depends more than half the pleasure and amusement we derive from the intercourse of mind with mind. Few persons possess this charm; because few are humble enough to suppose that it would be any advantage to them; and those who do, are always in danger of losing it by writing too much. The letters of a woman of moderate abilities, and limited sphere of observation, may possess this great beauty; while those of a more highly gifted, or accomplished writer, may want it; because it must ever depend upon a capability of receiving vivid impressions, combined with a certain degree of simplicity of heart.The first consideration in commencing a letter should be, "What is my object in writing it?" If simply for the relief of your own mind you take up the pen, remember that such a communication can only be justified by pressing and peculiar circumstances, and that it ought only to be addressed to the nearest and dearest of your friends, whose love for you is of such a nature as to pardon so selfish an act.
A higher object in writing, is to give pleasure, or afford benefit, to an absent friend; it is therefore necessary to place yourself in idea in her circumstances, and consider what she would most wish to know. If her affection for you be such, and such I am aware affection often is, that she has no desire beyond that of receiving intelligence concerning yourself, let your descriptions of your state and circumstances be clear and fresh; so that she may see you as you really are, and, as it were, live with you through the enjoyments or the trials of every day. How strong and lively may be the impressions thus conveyed—how deep the interest they excite, provided only the writer will condescend to be sufficiently simple—sufficiently sincere.
It is, however, only under peculiar circumstances, such as change of scene and situation, that young persons can have much of this kind to communicate. What then are they to say? Shall the minute details of family affairs be raked up, to fill their letters? This is at least a dangerous alternative, more especially as it too frequently induces a habit of exaggeration, in order to make what is called "a good story" out of a mere trifle; and thus, that worst kind of falsehood, which is partly true, becomes perpetuated through the medium of pen and paper.
To avoid this danger on the one hand, and the weariness of writing without anything to say, on the other, would it not be practicable for young women to agree, for their own improvement and that of their friends, to correspond on some given subject, and if unequal to the task of treating it in a style of an essay, they might at least relate to each other some important or amusing facts, which they had met with in the course of their reading, and by relating them in their own language, and then comparing them with that of the author, they would be learning valuable lessons in the art of composition? for of all kinds of style, that of easy narrative is the most useful.
The study of nature in this department of mental improvement, might be made to afford a never-failing source of interest, both for individual thought and familiar communication. The peculiarities of plants and animals, and even the different traits of human character developed by people of different countries and grades of society, might all contribute to the same object, so as in time to displace from the page of female correspondence, the trifling, the common-place, or the more mischievous gossip, which that page too generally unfolds.
In speaking of a mutual interchange of tokens of affection being essential to the vitality of friendship, I am far from including under this head, those expressions of endearment which are sometimes used by young women, so indiscriminately, as entirely to lose their individual force and value. Indeed, I am not quite sure that terms of endearment made use of as a matter of course, are desirable under any circumstances; because there will be occasions, even with the most warmly attached, when the tones of the voice, and the expression of the countenance, indicate anything but love; and having heard these tender epithets still made use of on such occasions, it is scarcely possible to retain our value for them when applied with real tenderness and respect. It also frequently happens, where these epithets are commonly used, that the very individual who has just been speaking to us injuriously of another, turns to the injured party with the same expression of endearment so frequently applied to ourselves, and which we consequently become extremely willing to dispense with for the future.
It is the peculiar nature of friendship, that it will not be mocked. All manner of weakness, and a fearful sum of follies and transgressions, it is willing to bear with; but faithfulness is a requisite without which it is impossible it should continue to exist. It is not necessary, in order to be faithful to our friends, that we should be always praising them, nor yet that we should praise them more than they deserve. So far from this, we do them real injury by too much praise, because it always occasions disappointment in those who cultivate their acquaintance upon the strength of our evidence in their favour. Nor is it necessary, when we hear their characters discussed in company, to defend them against every charge; at least to deny their having those faults which are conspicuous to every eye. But one thing is necessary on such occasions—that a friend should be ever prompt and anxious to bring forward the evidence which remains on the side of virtue, so far as it may be done with prudence and delicacy.
The indulgence of caprice is another evil prevalent amongst the young, with which friendship disdains that her claims should be put in competition. Capricious persons are those who frequently choose to act under a momentary impulse, in a manner opposed to the general and acknowledged rule of their conduct and feelings. Thus the social companion of yesterday, may choose to be a stranger today. She may have no unkindness in her heart towards you, yet it may suit her mood to meet as if you had never met before. She may have no desire to give you pain, yet her looks may be as forbidding, and her manners as repulsive, as if she had never loved you. She may be habitually cheerful, yet her humour may be to hang her head, and lower her brow, and hardly articulate an answer when you speak to her.
It is scarcely necessary to say, that few things are more ruinous to friendship, and to domestic and social happiness in general, than caprice ; because its very nature is to render every one uncertain, and to chill, to wound, or to irritate all with whom it comes in contact; while friendship requires that you should always be the same, and nothing can be more painful to the feelings of a friend, than to find that caprice, or the indulgence of your own humour, is a matter of more importance to you than her happiness. Such wounds, however, are happily not incurable. Friendship, thus repulsed, is soon withdrawn; and the capricious woman has the satisfaction of finding herself left at last to the enjoyment of her different moods alone. There is, in short, something in the very nature of caprice so selfish and ungenerous, so opposed to all the requirements of affection, that in no connection in life, except where the tie is indissoluble, can it long be endured.
But while we are justified in acting upon the repulsion which caprice so naturally excites, there are other trials which, if true, friendship must submit to endure; because they necessarily spring out of the nature of the human heart, and, instead of being checked by the influence of society, they are fostered by it, and subsist upon the very elements of which it is composed. One of these evils is a spurious kind of social intercourse, falsely denominated friendship, which, unfortunately, sometimes links itself with the true. I say falsely, for that friendship is not worthy of the name, which is founded upon tale-bearing and detraction. Yet, how much of the intimacy of young women consists in the magnifying and telling of little troubles, particularly of a domestic nature, and most commonly injurious to some member of the household to which they belong.
Let the young be especially warned against this most insidious and most dangerous temptation; and let them be assured, that there are few causes of more bitter repentance in after life, than the reflection that they have thus wantonly made themselves enemies to those of their own house. There is one fact which ought of itself to deter them from the indulgence of this habit. It is, that friendship based on such a foundation, is never lasting. No; friendship must have love, not hate, for its element. If the intimacy of youth consists in evil speaking, and injurious thoughts, it soon becomes assimilated with the poisonous aliment on which it feeds. The friend becomes an enemy; and what is the consequence? The shafts of slander are turned against yourself, and the dark secrets you have revealed, go forth to the world as swift witnesses against you, as well as against those to whom duty and natural affection should have kept you true.
Besides which, there are few cases of human conduct where inexperienced youth can be a correct or sufficient judge. It may appear to you at the time you speak of family grievances, that a parent has been too severe, that a sister has been selfish, or that a brother has been unjust. But you are not even capable of judging of yourself, as regards the impression produced by your own behaviour upon others; how then can you pronounce upon the motives of others in their behaviour to you? more especially how are you to lift the veil of experience, and penetrate the deep mysteries of parental love? yet, how otherwise are you to understand
"The secrets of the folded heart
There are hordes of human beings, once partakers with us in the privileges and enjoyments of our native land, now branded with infamy, and toiling in chains upon a distant shore, who have to regret, when too late, some guilty theft committed in early youth upon the property of a confiding and indulgent master. And the voice of our country cries out against them for the injury and ingratitude, as well as for the injustice, of what they have done. And is it possible that within the fair and polished circles of the same favoured land, where woman blooms and smiles, and youth is radiant with joy, and happy in the security of domestic peace—is it possible that woman can so far forget her heart-warm affection, her truth, her devotedness of soul, as, while hex hands are pure from the contamination of so foul a crime as theft, to permit her tongue to be the instrument of injury more deep than robbery—more bitter than the loss of wealth.
We will not—we cannot believe it ; because the time is coming when the daughters of England, admonished of their duties on every hand, will learn to look, not to the mere gratification of an idle moment, in what they say, and what they do, but to the eternal principles of right and wrong; and to the great balance in which human actions are weighed, in reference not only to time, but to eternity.
It is good for many reasons that youth should early acquire a habit of checking its own impulses, and never is this more important than when under temptation to speak injuriously of others. A few years more of experience, a few more instances of personal trial, a little more self-knowledge, and a little more observation of others, will in all probability open your understandings to an entirely altered view of human nature, of the motives which influence the conduct of mankind, as well as of the claims of affection when combined with those of duty. You will then see, how unjust have been your first conclusions, how your thoughts have wronged those whom you were unable to understand; and happy will it be for you when making this discovery, to reflect that you have scrupulously kept your erroneous views and injurious suspicions confined to the knowledge of your own heart.
Friendship, if true, has much to bear from the idle and mischievous gossip of society. Indeed, gossip may justly be considered as having destroyed more youthful attachments, than selfishness, falsehood, or vanity; though all these three have done their part in the work of destruction. It is easy to say, 'I care not for such and such injurious reports.' 'The opinion of the world is of no consequence to me,' and it is undoubtedly the part of wisdom not to allow such causes to operate against our peace of mind. Unfortunately, however, for us, the world is made up of our friends, as well as of those who are strangers to us; and in this world it is the malignant office of gossip to set afloat rumours of what is evil, rather than statements of what is good. Were such rumours welcomed only by the credulity of strangers, they would certainly be of little consequence to us; but, alas, for the faithfulness of affection; our friends, though at first surprised at last believe them; and then comes the trial of friendship, for to be injuriously and unjustly thought of by those who ought to know us better, and simply because common report has circulated some charge against us, is that, which, perhaps more than anything else, destroys our confidence in the profession, the language, the very name of friendship.
The character of woman in every situation in life, has ever been found most admirable, when most severely tried; and I know that her friendship is equal to remaining unshaken by difficulties and dangers, which might well be supposed to move a firmer nature than her's. But I speak of the little trials of minute and every-day experience, for it is against these that woman seldom brings her highest principles and best feelings to bear. It is in the sunshine of society that friendship most frequently withers, because the "love that tempests never shook" may expire under the deadly breathing-upon of common slander.
On the first view of this subject, it seems impossible to believe that mere gossip, which we unanimously agree to regard as being in so many instances false, should operate with such potency in dissolving the tenderest ties of early life. Yet I appeal to experience, and observation too, when I ask, whether the ranks of society are not thronged with individuals closely assimilated in their habits and ways of thinking, mutually in want of the consolations of friendship, and adapted to promote each other's happiness, of whom it may be said with melancholy truth,
"Alas! they had been friends in youth,
What then is the part which friendship ought to act in a case where rumour is strong against a friend? The part of true friendship is always a straightforward and decided one. First ask whether the charge brought against your friend be wholly at variance with the principles you know to regulate her conduct in general, wholly at variance with the sentiments uniformly expressed in her confidential intercourse with you, and wholly at variance with the tenor of her previous life. If such be the case, reject it with a noble indignation: for even if in one instance your friend has actually departed from the general principles of her conduct, her habitual sentiments, and her accustomed mode of action—and if in the end you find that the world has all the while been right, while you have been mistaken—it is better a thousand times to have felt this generous, though misplaced confidence, than to have been hastily drawn in to entertain an injurious suspicion of a friend.
Still, where the evidence is strong against a friend, where it increases and becomes confirmed, it would be blindness and folly to continue to disregard it. But before you yield even to such accumulating evidence, more especially before you act upon it, or suffer one syllable to pass your lips in support of the charge, or even of other charges of a similar nature to that openly alleged, fail not, as you value everything that is just and equitable in the conduct of one human being towards another—fail not to appeal directly to the injured party, so as to allow her an opportunity of exculpating, or at least of excusing, herself.
If this had but been done in one instance out of a thousand, where slander has scattered her poison upon the foundation of human love, what a different position would woman now maintain in the scale of moral excellence. How much of real good the hand of friendship might by this means have drawn out from seeming evil; how many a wounded bosom the balm of friendship might have healed; how many of those who are now lonely and unloved might have been linked together in the endearing fellowship of mutual affection!
People talk as if the worst thing that could happen to us, was to be deceived; they dare not be generous, they dare not trust, because they should thereby incur the risk of being deceived. That this theory may very properly be acted upon in business, I am quite disposed to allow; but if in friendship there is no other alternative than to listen to injurious rumour, to lean to the side of suspicion, and to believe the first report against a friend; let me rather be deceived a thousand times, for then I shall at least enjoy the consciousness of having known what it was to trust, as well as love.
Friendship has many trials. Though vanity and selfishness are at the root of many of these, they are for the most part too minute, and apparently too trifling, for description. Perhaps the greatest of these arises out of the undue value attached by women to the general attentions of men. For the assistance, the protection, and the disinterested kindness of the other sex, all women ought to be deeply grateful; but for those common attentions which good breeding dictates, without reference to the individual on whom they are bestowed, I own I cannot see why they should ever be so much the subject of envy amongst women, as to cast a shade upon their intercourse with each other.
This part of my subject necessarily leads me to the consideration of what, for want of a more serious name, I am under the necessity of calling flirtation; by which I would be understood to mean, all that part of the behaviour of women, which in the art of pleasing, has reference only to men. It is easy to understand whether a woman is guilty of flirtation or not, by putting her conduct to this simple test—whether, in mixed society, she is the same to women as to men.
Although nothing could be more revolting to the feelings of a true-hearted woman, than needlessly to make a public exposure of the weaknesses and follies of her own sex, yet something of this is not only justifiable, but necessary in the present case, in order to contrast the conduct of those who are truly admirable, with that which is only adopted for the purpose of courting admiration. Nor would I speak uncharitably, when I confess, that, like others, I have often seen a drooping countenance suddenly grow animated, an oppressive headache suddenly removed, and many other symptoms of an improved state of health and spirits as suddenly exhibited, when the society of ladies has become varied by that of the nobler sex; and never does female friendship receive a deeper insult, than when its claims are thus superseded by those, perhaps, of a mere stranger.
Though the practice of flirtation, or the habit of making use of certain arts of pleasing in the society of men, which are not used in that of women, is a thing of such frequent occurrence, that few can be said to be wholly exempt from it; yet we rarely find a woman so lost to all sense of delicacy, as to make an open profession of flirtation. Indeed, I am convinced, that some do actually practise it unconsciously to themselves, and for this reason I am the more anxious to furnish them with a few hints, by which they may be better able to detect the follies of their own conduct.
In the first place, then, allow me to ask, why it is necessary, or even desirable, for young women to do more to please men than women? Their best friends, as friends only, will ever be found amongst their own sex. There is but one relation in life in which any of the men whom they meet with in mixed society can be anything to them; and surely they can have no thought of marrying half those whom they take more pains to please, than they take in their intercourse with their own sex. What then, can be the state of mind of her who exercises all her powers of fascination upon beings in whom she can have no deep, or real interest? She must have some strong motive, or why this total change in her behaviour, so that her female friends can scarcely recognize in her the same individual, who, an hour before, was moping, fretful, listless, and weary of herself, and them? She must have some strong motive, and it can be no other than one of these two— either to gain the admiration, or the affection, of all those whom she favours with the full exhibition of her accomplishments in the art of pleasing. If her motive be simply to gain their admiration, it is a blind and foolish mistake into which her vanity has betrayed her, to suppose that admiration is to be purchased by display, or to imagine that the open and undisguised claims she makes upon it, are not more calculated to disgust than attract.
But there remains the second, and stronger motive; and this would seem, at first sight, to demand more delicacy of treatment, since it is generally considered an amiable propensity in woman's nature to desire to be beloved. Let her, however, be honest, sincere, and honourable, in the means she adopts for the gratification of this desire. Let her require nothing for which she is not prepared to make an adequate return. The kindness, the generosity, the integrity of her character demand this. If, therefore, her desire be to obtain the love of all those with whom she engages in the business of flirtation, she is either on the one hand involved in a very serious and alarming outlay of affection; or, on the other, in a system of selfishness and meanness, for which every honest-hearted woman ought to blush. I have used the words selfishness and meanness, because the art of flirtation deserves to be described by no better; because it is selfish to endeavour to obtain that for which we know that a return will be expected, which we are not the least prepared to make; because it is mean to use, in obtaining it, a degree of art, which makes us appear better, or more admirable, than we really are.
Is it not good, then, for woman to bear about with her, even in early life, the conviction that her only business with men in society, is to learn of them, and not to captivate, or dazzle them; for there is a boldness—an indelicacy, in this exercise of her influence, as much at variance with good taste, as with right principle, and real feeling. Is it not good, also, to bear about with her the remembrance, that no woman ought to be so brilliant or so agreeable in mixed society, as in her own domestic circle. There is no harm in pleasing, it is at once her privilege, and her power; but let her influence through the exercise of this means be what it may, there will come in after life sore trials, under which she will need it all; and poor indeed is that woman, who, when affection wanes, and disappointment chills the glow of youthful ardour, feels that she has expended all her powers of pleasing in public, or upon comparative strangers.
I have said, that all women plead not guilty to the charge of flirtation in themselves; yet, all are ready to detect and despise it in their friends. All can detect in others, when the bland and beaming smile is put on for the occasion; when expressive looks are interchanged; when glittering curls are studiously displayed; when songs are impressively sung; when flowers which have been presented, are preserved and worn; when unnecessary attentions are artfully called forth; but, above all, for it is best to cut short this catalogue of folly, when conversation is so ingeniously turned as to induce, and almost compel some personal allusion, in which a compliment must almost unavoidably be couched.
And in all this system of absurdity, containing items of folly too numerous for tongue or pen to tell, from the glance of a beautiful eye, to the expression of a mutual sentiment; from the gathering of a favourite flower, to the awakening of a dormant passion; from the pastime of an idle moment, to the occupation of years; in all this, it is deeply to be regretted, that the influence of man is such, as to excite, rather than to repress—to encourage this worse than folly, rather than to warn and to correct. Indeed, whatever may be the excellencies of man in every other walk of life, it is a subject of something more than regret, that these excellencies are so little called forth in his intercourse with woman in mixed society. As a father, a husband, a brother, and a friend, his character assumes a totally different aspect. And why, I would ask of him, if his eye should ever deign to glance over these pages,—why is he not the friend of woman in society, as well as in the more intimate relations of social and domestic life?
Time was, when warriors and heroes deemed it not incompatible with glory or renown, to make the cause of helpless woman their's. Nay, such was the respect in which her claims were held, that the banner could not wave in battle, nor the laurel-wreath in peace, so proudly as when lances were broken, and lays were sung, in defence of her fair fame. On what did that fame then rest?—on what must it rest for ever? On her moral purity—on her exemption from mean and grovelling thoughts, and on her aspirations after what is noble, and refined, and true. And is woman less deserving now, than she was a thousand years ago, of the kindness, the protection, the honourable and fair dealing, of man? So far from this, she has made rapid progress in the work of moral renovation, having gained in real worth, more than she has lost in romantic feeling. But one hinderance to her improvement still remains—one barrier against her progress in the path of wisdom and of truth. It is the influence of man, in his intercourse with her in general society.
Perhaps he is not aware how powerful and extensive this influence is, or he would surely sometimes endeavour to turn it to better account. I wish not to describe it in too flattering a manner, by telling how many a young heart is made to throb for the first time with vanity, and idle thoughts, and foolish calculations, in consequence of his flattery and attentions; but it is most important he should know, that while women naturally and necessarily look to the stronger sex to give character and decision to their own sentiments; it is in the common intercourse of society, that such sentiments are implanted, fostered, and matured.
To speak of the popular style of conversation used by gentlemen when making themselves agreeable to young ladies, as trifling, is the best thing we can say of it. Its worst characteristic is its falsehood, while its worst tendency is to call forth selfishness, and to foster that littleness of mind, for which man is avowedly the despiser of woman. If intellectual conversation occupies the company, how often does he turn to whisper nonsense to woman; if he sees her envious of the beauty of her friend, how often does he tell her that her own charms are unrivalled; if he discovers that she is foolishly elated with the triumph of having gained his attentions, how studiously does he feed her folly, waiting only for the next meeting with a boon companion, to treat the whole with that ridicule which it deserves—deserves, but not from him.
It may be—I would fain believe it is, his wish that woman should be simple-hearted, intelligent, generous, frank, and true; but how is his influence in society exercised to make her any one of these? Woman is blamed, and justly so, for idle thoughts, and trifling conversation; but, I appeal to experience, and ask, whether, when a young girl first goes into society, her most trifling conversation is not that which she shares with men? It is true that woman has the power to repel by a look, a word, or even a tone of her voice, the approach of falsehood or folly; and admirable are the instances we sometimes find of woman thus surrounded as it were by an atmosphere of moral purity, through which no vulgar touch can penetrate. But all are not thus happily sustained, and it seems hard that the weaker sex should not only have to contend with the weakness of their own hearts; but that they should find in this conflict, so much of the influence of man on the side of evil.
In speaking of friendship, I have said nothing of that which might be supposed to exist between the two sexes; because I believe, that, in early youth, but little good can accrue to either party from making the experiment; and chiefly for reasons already stated, that man, in his intercourse with woman, seldom studies her improvement; and that woman, in her's with man, is too much addicted to flirtation. The opinion of the world, also, is opposed to this kind of intimacy; and it is seldom safe, and never wise, to do what society unanimously condemns. Besides which, it is exceedingly difficult for a young and inexperienced girl to know when a man is really her friend, and when he is only endeavouring to gain her favour; the most serious mistakes are, therefore, always liable to be made, which can only be effectually guarded against, by avoiding such intimacies altogether.
Again, it is no uncommon thing for men to betray young women into little deviations from the strict rule of propriety, for their own sakes, or in connection with them; which deviations they would be the first to condemn, if they were in favour of another. Be assured, however, that the man who does this—who, for his own gratification betrays you into so much as the shadow of an error—who even willingly allows you to be placed in an exposed, a questionable, or even an undignified situation—in short, who subjects you, for his own sake, to the slightest breath of censure, or even of ridicule, is not your real friend, nor worthy so much as to be called your acquaintance.
Fain would we hope and trust, that men who would do this, are exceptions to a general rule; and, honourable it is to the sex, that there are those, who, without any personal interest of their own being involved, are truly solicitous to raise the moral and intellectual standard of excellence amongst women; men who speak the truth, and nothing but the truth, even to the trusting and too credulous; who never, for the gratification of an idle moment, stoop to lead the unwise still farther into folly, the weak into difficulty, or the helpless into distress; men who are not satisfied merely to protect the feeble portion of the community, but who seek to promote the safety and the happiness of woman, by placing her on the sure foundation of sound principle; men who are ready to convince her, if she would but listen to their faithful teaching, that she possesses no beauty so attractive as her simplicity of heart, no charm so lasting as her deep and true affection, and no influence so powerful as her integrity and truth.
I cannot leave the subject of the general behaviour of women to the other sex, without adverting to a popular tendency amongst the young and inexperienced, to attach undue importance to the casual notice of distinguished men; such as popular speakers, eloquent ministers of religion, or any who hold conspicuous situations in society. The most objectionable feature which this tendency assumes, is an extravagant and enthusiastic attachment to ministers of religion. I am aware there is much in the character and office of a faithful minister, justly calculated to call forth the respectful admiration both of young and old; that there is also much in his pastoral care of the individual members of his flock equally calculated to awaken feelings of deep and strong attachment; and when such feelings are tempered with reverence, and kept under the proper restraint of prudence and good taste, it is unquestionably right that they should be cherished. My remarks can have no reference to young women whose conduct is thus regulated; but there are others, chiefly of enthusiastic temperament, who, under the impression that it is right to love and admire to the utmost of their power, whoever is worthy of admiration, give way to a style of expression, when speaking of their favourite ministers, and a mode of behaviour towards them, which is not only peculiarly adapted to expose them, as religious professors, to the ridicule of the world; but which, of itself, too plainly betrays their want of reverence and right feeling on the subject of religion in general.
But the duties of friendship remain yet to be considered in their highest and most important character. We have never been intimately associated with any one, even in early youth, without having received from them some bias of feeling, either towards good or evil; and the more our affections were engaged in this intimacy, the more decided this bias has been. What, then, has been the nature of our influence upon them?—upon all to whose bosom- confidence we have been admitted? Is this solemn query to be reserved for the hour of death? or is it not the wiser part of youth to begin with its practical application, while the character is yet fresh and pliant, and before the traces of our influence, if wrong, shall have become too deep to be eradicted?
If your friend is farther advanced in religious experience than yourself, be willing, then, to learn from her example; but be watchful, also, to point out with meekness and gentleness, her slightest deviations from the line of conduct which a Christian professor ought to pursue; and by this means you may not only materially promote her highest interests, but you may also assist in promoting the interests of religion itself, by preserving it from the calumny and disrespect for which such deviations so naturally give occasion.
If your friend is less advanced than yourself in religious experience, or if, as is most probable, you are both in a backward and defective state, suffer not your mind on any account to become regardless of the important fact, that in proportion to the degree of confidence you have enjoyed with that friend, and in proportion with the hold you have obtained of her affections, is the responsibility you incur with regard to her moral and spiritual advancement. It is fruitless to say, "I see her faults, I mourn over her deviations, but I dare not point them out, lest I wound her feelings, or offend her pride." I know the task is difficult, perhaps the most so of any we ever undertake. But our want of disinterested lore, and of real earnestness in the cause of Christ, render it more difficult than it would otherwise be.
We might in this, as in many other instances, derive encouragement from what is accomplished by women in the way of supporting public institutions, and promoting public good. Look at some of the most delicate and sensitive females—how they penetrate the abodes of strangers—how they persevere through dangers and difficulties, repelled by no contumely, and deterred by no hardship, simply because they know that the work in which they labour, is the cause of Christ. And shall we find less disinterested zeal, less ardour, less patience, less self-denial, in bosom-friends who share each other's confidence and love?
I am the more anxious to impress these observations upon the young reader, because the present is peculiarly a time for laudable and extraordinary exertions for the public good; and because I am convinced, that benevolent, and highly salutary, as these exertions are, they will never so fully answer the noble end desired, as when supported by the same principles faithfully acted upon in the intimate relations of private life.