The Daughters of England/Chapter V
All these, however, are but the materials of character, materials altogether useless, and sometimes worse than useless, without the operation of a master-power to select, improve, and turn them to the best account. With men, this power is most frequently self-interest—with women it is that bias of feeling towards what they are most inclined to love, which is generally recognized under the name of taste; and both these principles begin to exercise their influence long before the mind has attained any high degree of intellectual cultivation, and long before we are aware of our own motives. I have called this principle in woman, taste, because so far as it is biassed by the affections, taste involves a moral; and it is a peculiar feature in the female character, that few things are esteemed which do not recommend themselves in some way or other to the affections. Thus, women are often said to be deficient in judgment, simply from this reason, that judgment is the faculty by which we are enabled to decide what is intrinsically best, while taste only influences us so far as to choose what is most agreeable to our own feelings.
In the cursory survey we have now taken of what may properly be called the intellectual groundwork of the female character, our attention has been directed not only to those scholastic attainments which are generally comprehended in a good education, but to that general knowledge, which can only be acquired by after-study, by observation, by reading, and by association with good society.
It is no uncommon thing amongst young women, to hear them say, they like a thing they do not know why—nay, so warm are their expressions, one would be led to suppose their preference arose from absolute love, and yet,
It is that habitual tendency of feeling or tone of mind, which I have called taste, that decides their choice; and it is thus that our moral worth or dignity depend upon the exercise of good taste, in the selection we make of the intellectual materials we work with in the formation of character, and the general arrangement of the whole, so as to render the trifling subservient to the more important, and each estimable according to the purpose for which it is used.
I am aware that religious principle is the only certain test by which character can be tried; but I am speaking of things as they are, not as they ought to be; and I wish to prove the great importance of taste, by showing that it is a principle busily at work in directing the decisions of the female mind on points supposed to be too trifling for the operation of religious feeling, and often before any definite idea of religion has been formed. It is strictly in subservience to religion, that I would speak of good taste as being of extreme importance to woman; because it serves her purpose in all those little variations of human life, which are too sudden in their occurrence, and too minute in themselves, for the operation of judgment; but which at the same time constitute so large a sum of woman's experience.
It may be said, that the rules of good taste are so arbitrary, that no one can fully understand them. I can only repeat, what I have said on this subject in "The Poetry of Life," and I think the rule is sufficient for women in general. It is, that the majority of opinion amongst those who are best able to judge, may safely be considered as most in accordance with good taste. Thus, when your taste has received from your parents a particular bias, which you are afterwards led to suspect is not a correct one, inquire with all respect, whether, on that particular subject, your parents are the persons best qualified to judge. Or when you find in society that anything is universally approved or condemned, before accommodating your own taste to this exhibition of popular feeling, ask whether the judges who pronounce such sentence, are competent ones, and if there be a higher tribunal at which the question can be tried—or in other words, judges who understand the subject better, let it be referred to them, before you finally make up your mind.
Perhaps it may be objected that this is a tedious process, and that taste is a thing of sudden conclusion. But let it be remembered, I am now speaking of the formation of a good taste, as a part of the character; not of the operation of taste where it has been found. Nor, indeed, is the suddenness with which some young persons decide in matters of taste, any proof of their good sense. So far from this, we often find them, under the influence of better judges, reduced to the mortifying necessity of changing their opinions to the direct opposite of what they have too hastily expressed.Still, though the process of forming the taste upon right principles, may at first be slow; and though it may some, times appear too tedious for juvenile impetuosity, the exercise of good taste will in time become so easy, and habitual, as to operate almost like an instinct; and, until it is so, the process I have recommended, will have the great advantage of preventing young ladies from being too forward in expressing their sentiments; and what is of far greater importance, they will be cautious in making their selection of what they admire, and what they condemn.
We must not, however, attach too much importance to good taste, nor require it to operate beyond its legitimate sphere. Taste, unquestionably, gives a bias to the character, in its tendency to what is elevated or low, refined or vulgar; but after all, the part of taste is only that of a witness called into a court of justice, to test the value of an article, which has some relation to the great and momentous decision in which the judge, the jury, and the court, are so deeply interested. As taste is that witness, religion is that judge; and it is only as the one is kept subservient to the other, that it can be rendered conducive to our happiness or our good. Have we not all seen in society, the ridiculous spectacle of a young and forward girl, exhibiting all the extravagance of juvenile importance in her condemnation of a book, which has not happened to please her fancy; when, had she waited a few minutes longer, the conversation would have taken such a turn, as would have convinced her that amongst wise men, and enlightened women, the work was considered justly worthy of high commendation? With what grace could she, then, after having thus committed herself, either defend, or withdraw her own opinions? or with what complacency could she reflect upon the exposure she had made of her bad taste, before persons qualified to judge? Far wiser is the part, perhaps, of her more diffident companion, who having equally failed in discovering the merits of the work in question, goes home and reads it again, with her attention more directed to its beauties; and who, even if she fails at last in deriving that pleasure from the book which she had hoped, has the humility to conclude that the fault is in her own taste, which she then begins to regulate upon a new principle, and with a determination to endeavour to admire what the best judges pronounce to be really excellent.
The province of taste, then, includes all the minute affairs of woman's life—which belongs to all pleasurable feeling,- held in subordination to religious principle—all which belongs to dress, manners, and social habits, so far as they may be said to be ladylike, or otherwise. Should any consideration, relating to one or all of these points, be allowed to interfere in the remotest degree with the requirements of religion, it is a proof whenever they do so, that the standard of excellence is a wrong one; and the individual who commits so fatal an error, would do well to look to the consequences, and remedy the evil before it shall be too late. Religion never yet was injured by permitting good taste to follow in her train; but that lovely handmaid can deserve the name of taste no longer, if she attempts to step before religion, or in any respect to assume her place.
Above every other feature which adorns the female character, delicacy stands foremost within the province of good taste. Not that delicacy which is perpetually in quest of something to be ashamed of, which makes a merit of a blush, and simpers at the false construction its own ingenuity has put upon an innocent remark; this spurious kind of delicacy is as far removed from good taste, as from good feeling, and good sense; but that high-minded delicacy which maintains its pure and undeviating walk alike amongst women, as in the society of men; which shrinks from no necessary duty, and can speak when required, with seriousness and kindness of things at which it would be ashamed indeed to smile or to blush—that delicacy which knows how to confer a benefit without wounding the feelings of another, and which understands also how, and when to receive one—that delicacy which can give alms without display, and advice without assumption; and which pains not the most humble or susceptible being in creation. This is the delicacy which forms so important a part of good taste, that where it does not exist as a natural instinct, it is taught as the first principle of good manners, and considered as the universal passport to good society.
Nor can this, the greatest charm of female character, if totally neglected in youth, ever be acquired in after life. When the mind has been accustomed to what is vulgar, or gross, the fine edge of feeling is gone, and nothing can restore it. It is comparatively easy, on first entering upon life, to maintain the page of thought unsullied, by closing it against every improper image; but when once such images are allowed to mingle with the imagination, so as to be constantly revived by memory, and thus to give their tone to the habitual mode of thinking and conversing, the beauty of the female character may indeed be said to be gone, and its glory departed.
But we will no longer contemplate so unlovely—so unnatural a picture. Woman, happily for her, is gifted by nature with a quickness of perception, by which she is able to detect the earliest approach of anything which might tend to destroy that high-toned purity of character, for which, even in the days of chivalry, she was more reverenced and adored, than for her beauty itself. This quickness of perception in minute and delicate points, with the power which woman also possesses of acting upon it instantaneously, has, in familiar phraseology, obtained the name of tact; and when this natural gift is added to good taste, the two combined are of more value to a woman in the social and domestic affairs of every-day life, than the most brilliant intellectual endowments could be without them.
When a woman is possessed of a high degree of tact, she sees, as if by a kind of second-sight, when any little emergency is likely to occur; or when, to use a more familiar expression, things do not seem likely to go right. She is thus aware of any sudden turn in conversation, and prepared for what it may lead to; but, above all, she can penetrate into the state of mind of those with whom she is placed in contact, so as to detect the gathering gloom upon another's brow, before the mental storm shall have reached any formidable height; to know when the tone of voice has altered, when an unwelcome thought has presented itself, and when the pulse of feeling is beating higher or lower in consequence of some apparently trifling circumstance which has just transpired.
In these and innumerable instances of a similar nature, the woman of tact, not only perceives the variations which are constantly taking place in the atmosphere of social life, but she adapts herself to them with a facility which the law of love enables her to carry out, so as to spare her friends the pain and annoyance which so frequently arise out of the mere mismanagement of familiar and apparently unimportant affairs. And how often do these seeming trifles—
the wrong construction put upon a right meaning—the accidental betrayal of what there would have been no duplicity in concealing—how often do these wound us more than direct unkindness. Even the young feel this sometimes too sensitively for their own peace. But while the tears they weep in private, attest the severity of their sorrow, let them not, like the misanthrope, turn back with hatred or contempt upon the world which they suppose to have injured them; but let them rather learn this wholesome lesson, by their own experience, so to meet the peculiarities of those with whom they associate, as to soften down the asperities of temper, to heal the wounds of morbid feeling, and to make the current of life run smoothly, so far as they have power to cast the oil of peace upon its waters.
Such then is the general use of tact. Particular instances of its operation would be too minute, and too familiar, to occupy, with propriety, the pages of a book; for, like many other female excellencies, it is more valued, and better understood, by the loss a character sustains without it, than by any definite form it assumes, even when most influential upon the conversation and conduct. This valueable acquirement, however, can never be attained without the cultivation in early life of habits of close observation It is not upon the notes of a piece of music only, not upon a pattern of fancy-work, nor even upon the pages of an interesting book, that the attention must alone be brought to bear; but upon things in general, so that the faculty of observation shall become so sharpened by constant use, that nothing can escape it.
Far be it from me to recommend that idle and vulgar curiosity, which peeps about without a motive, or, worse than that, with a view to collect materials for scandal. Observation is a faculty which may be kept perpetually at work, without intrusion or offence to others; and at the same time, with infinite benefit to ourselves. Every object in creation, every sound, every sensation, every production either of nature or of art, supplies food for observation, while observation in its turn supplies food for thought. I have been astonished in my association with young ladies, at the very few things they appear to have to think about. Generally speaking, they might be all talked up in the course of a week. And what is the consequence? It is far beyond a jest, for the consequence too frequently is, that they grow weary of themselves, then weary of others, and lastly weary of life—of life, that precious and immortal gift, which they share with angels, and which to them, as to the angelic host, has been bestowed in order that therewith they may glorify the gracious Giver.
Now, this very weariness, which at the same time is the most prevalent disease, and the direct calamity, we find amongst young women; since it not only makes them useless and miserable, but drives them perpetually into excitement as a momentary relief—this weariness arises out of various causes with which young people are not sufficiently made acquainted, and one of the most powerful of which is, a neglect of the habit of observation.
"I have seen nobody, and heard nothing to-day," is the vapid remark of one to whom the glorious heavens, and the fruitful earth, might as well be so much paint and patchwork. "What an uninteresting person!" exclaims another, who has never looked a second time at some fine expressive countenance, where deep feeling tells its own impassioned story. "I wish some one would come and invite us out to tea," says a third, whose household library is stored with books, and whose parents have within themselves a fund of intelligence, which they would be but too happy to communicate, could they find an attentive listener in their child. "But my life is so monotonous," pleads a fourth, "and my range of vision so limited, that I have nothing to observe." With those who live exclusively in towns, I confess this argument might have some weight; and for this reason, I suppose it is, that town-bred young women are often more ignorant than those who spend a portion of their early life in the country—not certainly because there is really less to be observed in towns, but because the mind, in the midst of a multitude of moving images, is comparatively unimpressed by any. I confess, too, there is something in the noise and tumult of a crowded city, which stupifies the mind, and blunts its perception of individual things, until the whole shifting pageant assumes the character of some vast panorama, upon which we look, only with regard to the whole, and forgetful of each individual part.
"It is true, I have taken my accustomed walk in the city," observes a fifth young woman, "but I have found nothing to think about." What! was there nothing to think about in the squalid forms of want and misery which met you at every turn?—nothing in the disappointed look of the patient mendicant as you passed him by?—nothing in the pale and half-clad mother, seated on the step at the rich man's door, folding her infant to her bosom, and shrouding it with the "wings of care?"—was there nothing in all that was doing amongst those busy thousands, for supplying the common wants of man; the droves of weary animals goaded, stupified, or maddened, none of which would ever tread again the greensward on the mountain's side, or slake its thirst beside the woodland brook?—was there nothing in the bold and beautiful charger, the bounding steed, or the sleek and well-fed carriage-horse, contrasted with the galled and lacerated victims of oppression, waiting for their round of agony to come again?—was there nothing in the vastness of man's resources, the variety of his inventions, the power of combined effort, as displayed in that perpetual succession of luxuries both for the body and the mind?—was there nothing in that aspect of order and industry, so important to individual, as well as national prosperity?—was there nothing, in short, in that mighty mass of humanity, or in the millions of pulses beating there, with health or sickness, weal or wo?—was there nothing in all this to think about? Why, one of our late poets was wont to weep as he walked along Fleet-street and the Strand; so intense were his sympathies with that moving host of fellow-beings. And can young and sensitive women be found to pass over the same ground, and say they find nothing to think about? Still less could we expect to meet with a being thus impervious in the country; for there, if human nature pleases not, she may find
"——— books in the running brooks,
Whether it arises from an intellectual, or a moral defect, that this happy experience is so seldom realized, is a question of some importance in the formation of character. If young ladies really do not wish to be close observers, the evil is a moral one, and I cannot but suspect that much truth lies here. They wish, undoubtedly, to enjoy every amusement which can be derived from observation, but they do not wish to observe; because they either have some little pet sorrow which they prefer brooding over to themselves, or some favourite subject of gossip, which they prefer talking over with their friends, or they think it more ladylike not to notice common things, or more interesting to be absorbed, to start when spoken to, and to spend the greatest portion of their time in a state of reverie.
If such be the choice of any fair reader of these pages, I can only warn her that the punishment of her error will eventually come upon her, and that as surely as she neglects in youth to cultivate the expansive and pleasure-giving faculty of observation, so surely will life become wearisome to her in old age, if not before. There are, however, many whose error on this point arises solely out of their ignorance of the innumerable advantages to be derived from a close observation of things in general. Their lives are void of interest, their minds run to waste, they are constantly pining for excitement, without being conscious of any definite cause for what they suffer. They see their more energetic and intelligent companions animated, interested, and amused, with something which they are consequently most anxious to be made acquainted with, supposing it will afford the same pleasure to them; when, to their astonishment, they find it only some object which has for a long time met their daily gaze, without ever having made an impression upon their own minds, or excited a single idea in connexion with it. To such individuals it becomes a duty to point out, as far as we are able, the obstacles which stand in the way of their deriving that instruction and amusement from general and individual observation, which would fill up the void of their existence, and render them at the same time more companionable, and more happy.There is a word in our language of most inexplicable meaning, which by universal consent has become a sort of test-word amongst young ladies, and by which they try the worth of everything, as regards its claim upon their attention. I mean the word interesting. In vain have I endeavoured to attach any definite sense to this expression, as generally used by the class of persons addressed in this work. I can only conjecture that its signification is synonymous with exciting, and that it is applicable to all which awakens sentiment, or produces emotion. However this may be, the fact that a person or a thing is considered amongst young ladies as uninteresting, stamps it with irremediable obloquy, so that it is never more to be spoken, or even thought of; while, on the other hand, whatever is pronounced to be interesting, is considered worthy of their utmost attention, even though it should possess no other recommendation; and thus, not only heroes and heroines, but books, letters, conversation, speeches, meetings public and private, friends, and even lovers, are tried by this universal test, and if they fail here, wo betide the luckless candidate for female favour!
Of those who have hitherto been slaves to this all-potent word, I would now ask one simple question—Is it not possible to create their own world of interest out of the materials which Providence has placed before them? or must they by necessity follow in the train of those who languish, after the excitement of fictitious sorrow, or who luxuriate in the false sentiment of immoral books, and the flattery of unprincipled men, simply because they find them interesting?
Never has there been a delusion more insidious, or more widely spread, than that which arises out of the arbitrary use of this dangerous and deceitful word, as it obtains amongst young women. Ask one of them why she cannot read a serious book; she answers, "the style is so uninteresting." Ask another why she does not attend a public meeting for the benefit of her fellow-creatures; she answers that "such meetings have lost their interest." Ask a third why she does not make a friend of her sister; she tells you that her sister "does not interest" her. And so on, through the whole range of public and private duty, for there is no call so imperative, and no claim so sacred, as to escape being submitted to this test: and on the other hand, no sentiment that cannot be reconciled, no task that cannot be undertaken, and no companionship that cannot be borne with, under the recommendation of having been introduced in an interesting manner.
Of all the obstacles which stand in the way of that exercise of the faculty of observation, which I would so earnestly recommend, I believe there is none so great as the importance which is attached to the word "interesting," amongst young women. Upon whatever interests them, they are sufficiently ready to employ their powers of observation ; but with regard to what does not, they pass through the pleasant walks of daily life, as if surrounded by the dreary wastes of a desert. Of want of memory, too, they are apt to complain, and from the frequency with which this grievance is spoken of, and the little effort that is made against it, one would rather suppose it an embellishment to the character than otherwise, to be deficient in the power of recollecting. It is a fact, however, which personal experience has not been able to controvert, that whatever we really observe, we are able to remember. Ask one of these fair complainers, for instance, who laments her inability to remember, what coloured dress was worn by some distinguished belle, for what piece of music she herself obtained the most applause, or what subject was chosen by some beau-ideal of a speaker, and it is more than probable her memory will not be found at fault, because these are the things upon which she has employed her observation; and, had the subjects themselves been of a higher order, an equal effort of the same useful faculty, would have impressed them in the same imperishable characters upon her memory.
After considering the subject in this point of view, how important does it appear that we should turn our attention to the power which exists in every human being, and especially during the season of youth, of creating a world of interest for themselves, of deviating so far from the tendency of popular taste, as sometimes to leave the Corsairs of Byron to the isles of Greece, and the Gypsies of Scott to the mountains of his native land; and while they look into the page of actual life, they will find that around them, in their daily walks, beneath the parental roof, or mixing with the fireside circle by the homely hearth, there are often feelings as deep, and hearts as warm, and experience as richly fraught with interest, as ever glowed in verse, or lived in story. There is not, there cannot be any want of interest in the exercise of the sympathies of our nature upon common things, when no novel has ever exhibited scenes of deeper emotion, than observation has revealed to every human being, whose perceptions have been habitually alive to the claims of weak and suffering humanity; nor has fiction ever portrayed such profound wretchedness as we may daily find amongst the poor and the depraved; and not wretchedness alone, for what language of mimic feeling has ever been found to equal the touching pathos of the poor and simple-hearted? Nay, so far does imagination fall short of reality, that the highest encomium we can pass upon a writer of fiction, is, that his expressions are "true to nature."
This is what we may find every day in actual life, if we will but look for it—intensity of feeling under all its different forms; the mother's tender love; the father's high ambition; hope in its early bud, its first blight, and its final extinction; the joy of youth; the helplessness of old age; patience under suffering; disinterested zeal; strong faith, and calm resignation. And shall we say that we feel no interest in realities of which the novel and the drama are but feeble imitations? It is true that heroes and heroines do not strike upon their hearts, or fall prostrate, or tear their hair before us, every day; but I repeat again, that the touching pathos of true feeling, which all may become acquainted with, if they will employ their powers of observation upon human life as it exists around us, has nothing to equal it in poetry or fiction. If, then, we would turn our attention to human life as it is, and employ our powers of observation upon common things, we should find a never-failing source of interest, not only in the sympathies of our common nature, but in all which displays the wisdom and goodness of the Creator; for this ought ever to be our highest and ultimate aim in the exercise of every faculty we possess, to perceive the impress of the finger of God upon all which his will has designed, or his hand has created.
All I have yet said, on this subject, however, has reference only to the benefit, or the enjoyment, of the individual who employs the faculty of observation. The law of love directs us to a happier and holier exercise of this faculty. No one can be truly kind, without having accustomed themselves in early life to habits of close observation. They may be kind in feeling, but never in effect; for kindness is always estimated, not by the good it desires, but by that which it actually produces. A woman who is a close observer, under the influence of the law of love, knows so well what belongs to social and domestic comfort, that she never enters a room occupied by a family whose happiness she has at heart, without seeing in an instant every trifle upon which that comfort depends. If the sun is excluded when it would be more cheerful to let it shine in—if the cloth is not spread at the right time for the accustomed meal—if the fire is low, or the hearth unswept—if the chairs are not standing in the most inviting places, her quick eye detects in an instant what is wanting to complete the general air of comfort and order which it is woman's business to diffuse over her whole household; while, on the other hand, if her attention has never been directed to any of these things, she enters the room without looking around her, and sits down to her own occupations without once perceiving that the servants are behindhand with the breakfast, that the blinds are still down on a dark winter's morning, that a window is still open, that a chair is standing with its back to the fender, that the fire is smoking for want of better arrangement, or that a corner of the hearth-rug is turned up.
Now, provided all other things are equal, which of these two women would be the most agreeable to sit down with? The answer is clear; yet, nothing need be wanting in the last, but the habit of observation, to render her a more inviting companion. It may perhaps be surmised, if not actually said, of the other, that her mind must be filled with trifles, to enable her habitually to see such as are here specified; but it is a fact confirmed by experience, and knowledge of the world, that a quick and close observation of little things, by no means precludes observation of greater; and that the woman who cannot comfortably sit down until all these trifling matters are adjusted, will be more likely than another, whose faculties have not been thus exercised, to perceive, by an instantaneous glance of the eye, the peculiar temper of her husband's mind, as well as to discover the characteristic peculiarities of some interesting guest; while, on the other hand, the woman who never notices these things, will be more likely to lose the point of a clever remark, and to fail to perceive the most interesting features in the society with which she associates. The faculty of observation is the same, whatever object it may be engaged upon ; and that which is minute, may sharpen its powers, and stimulate its exercise, as well as that which is more important.
With regard to kindness, it is impossible so to adapt our expressions of good-will, as to render them acceptable, unless we minutely observe the characters, feelings, and situation of those around us. Inappropriate kindness is not only a waste of good things, it is sometimes an annoyance—nay, even an offence to the sensitive and fastidious, because it proves that the giver of the present, or the actor in the intended benefit has been more solicitous to display his own generosity, than to promote their real good; or he might have seen, that, with their habits, tastes, and peculiarities, such an act must be altogether useless.
A woman wanting the habit of observation, though influenced by the kindest feelings, will be guilty of a vast amount of inconsistencies, which, summed up together by those whom they have offended, will, in time, obtain for her the reputation of being anything but kind in her treatment of others. Such, for instance, as walking away at a brisk pace, intent upon her own business, and leaving behind some delicate and nervous invalid to endure all the mortification of neglect. When told of her omission, she may hasten back, make a thousand apologies, and feel really grieved at her own conduct; but she will not easily convince the invalid that it would not have shown more real kindness to have observed from the first that she was left behind. No; there is no way of being truly kind, without cultivating habits of observation. Nor will such habits come to our aid in after life, if they have been neglected in youth. Willingness to oblige, is not all that is wanted, or this might supply the defect. Where this willingness exists without observation, how often will a well-meaning person start up with a vague consciousness of some omission, look about with awkward curiosity to see what is wanted, blunder upon the right thing at the wrong time, and then sit down again, after having made every one else uncomfortable, and himself ridiculous.
In connection with the habit of observation, how much real kindness may be practised, even by the most insignificant member of a family. I have seen a little child, far too diffident to speak to the stranger-guest, still watch his plate at table with such assiduity, that no wish remained ungratified, simply from having just what the child perceived he most wanted, placed silently beside him.
From this humble sphere of minute observation, men are generally and very properly considered as excluded. But to women they look, and shall they look in vain, for the filling up of this important page of human experience? Each particular item of the account may be regarded as beneath their notice; but well do they know, and deeply do they regret, if the page is left blank, or if the sum-total is not greatly to their advantage.
Observation and attention are so much the same in their results, that I shall not consider them separately, but only add a few remarks on the subject of attention as it applies to reading.
There is no social pleasure, amongst those it has been my lot to experience, which I esteem more highly than that of listening to an interesting book well read; when a fire-side circle, chiefly composed of agreeable and intelligent women, are seated at their work. In the same way as the lonely traveller, after gaining some lofty eminence, on the opening of some lovely valley, or the closing of some sunset scene, longs to see the joy he is then feeling reflected in the face of the being he loves best on earth; so, a great portion of the enjoyment of reading, as experienced by a social disposition, depends upon the same impressions being made upon congenial minds at the same time. I have spoken of an interesting book, well read, because I think the art of reading aloud is far too rarely cultivated; and I have often been astonished at the deficiency which exists on this point, after what is called a finished education.
To my own feelings, the easy and judicious reading of a well-written book, on a favourite subject, is even more delightful than music; because it supplies the mind with ideas, at the same time that it gratifies the ear and the taste. Little do they know of this pleasure, who pass in and out of a room unnecessarily, or who whisper about their thimble or their thread, while this music of the mind is thrilling the souls of those who understand it; and little do they know of social enjoyment, who prefer poring over the pages of a book alone, rather than allowing others share their pleasure at the same time. I am aware that many books may be well worth reading alone, which are not calculated for general reading; and I am aware also, that every fire-side circle is not capable of appreciating this gratification; but I speak of those which are; and I think that woman, as peculiarly a social being, should be careful to arrange and adjust such affairs, as to create the greatest amount of social pleasure. Of this, however, hereafter.
It is more to my present purpose, to speak of those habits of inattention to which many young persons unscrupulously yield, whenever a book is read aloud. It may be remarked, as a certain proof of their want of interest, when they rise to leave the room, and request the reader not to wait for them; for though politeness may require some concession on their part, it is a far higher compliment to the reader, and indeed to the company in general, to evince an interest so great, that rather than lose any part of the book, they will ask, as a personal favour, that the reading of it may be suspended until their return, provided only their absence is brief. I have often felt with sympathy for the reader on these occasions, the disappointment he must experience when assured by one of his audience, that to her at least his efforts to give pleasure, and excite interest, have been in vain.
Beyond this there is a habit of secret inattention, of musing upon other things whenever a book is read aloud, which grows upon the young, until they lose the power to command their attention, even when they would. This, however, I imagine to arise in great measure out of the want of cultivating the art of reading; for the monotonous tone we so frequently hear, the misplaced emphasis, and, worse than all, the affectation of reading well, when the reader and not the book is too evidently intended to be noticed, are of themselves sufficient to repel attention, and to excite a desire to do anything rather than listen.
Truly has it been said, that "the sport of musing is the waste of life," for though occasional seasons of mental retirement are profitable to all, the habit of endless and aimless reverie, which some young persons indulge in, is as destructive to mental energy, as to practical usefulness! Hour after hour glides on with them unmarked, while thought is just kept alive by a current of undefined images flowing through the mind.—And what remains? "A weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable" existence; as burdensome to themselves, as unproductive of good to others.
As a defence against the encroachments of this insidious enemy, it is good to be in earnest about everything we do—earnest in our studies—earnest in our familiar occupations—earnest in our attachments—but above all, earnest in our duties. There is a listless, dreamy, halfish way of acting, which evades the stigma of direct indolence, but which never really accomplishes one laudable purpose. Enthusiasm is the direct opposite of this; but in the safe medium between this extreme and enthusiasm, is that earnestness which I would recommend to all young persons as a habit. Enthusiasm to the mind of youth, is vastly more taking than sober earnestness; yet, when we look to the end, how often do we find that the one is discouraged by difficulties, and finally diverted from its object, where the other perseveres, and ultimately succeeds!
Habitual earnestness is directly opposed to habitual trifling; and this latter may truly be said to be the bane of woman's life. To be in earnest is to go steadily to work with whatever we undertake; counting the cost, and weighing the difficulty, and still engaging in the task, assured that the end to be attained will repay us for every effort we make. To do one thing and think about another, to begin and not go on, to change our plan so often as to defeat our purpose, or to act without having formed a plan at all, this it is to trifle, and consequently to waste both time and effort.
By cultivating habitual earnestness in youth, we acquire the power of bringing all the faculties of the mind to bear upon any given point, whenever we have a purpose to accomplish. We do not then find, at the time we want to act, that attention has gone astray, that resolution cannot be fixed, that fancy has scattered the materials with which we were to work, that taste refuses her sanction, that inclination rebels, or that industry chooses to be otherwise engaged. No; such is the power of habit, that, when accustomed from early youth to be in earnest in whatever we do, no sooner does an opportunity for making any laudable effort occur, than all these faculties and powers are ready at our call; and with their combined and willing aid, how much may be attained either for ourselves or others!
The great enemy we have to encounter, both in the use of the faculty of observation, and in the cultivation of habits of earnestness, is indolence; an enemy which besets our path from infancy to age, which stands in the way of all our best endeavours, and even when a good resolution has been formed, persuades us to delay the execution of it. Could we prevail upon the young to regard this enemy, as it really is, a greedy monster following upon their steps, and ever grasping out of their possession, their time, their talents, and their strength—instead of a pleasant fire-side companion, to be dallied with in their leisure hours—what a service would be done to the whole human race! for, to those who have been the willing slaves of indolence in youth, it will most assuredly become the tyrant of old age.
The season of youth, then, is the time to oppose this enemy with success; and those who have quickened their powers of observation by constant exercise, and applied themselves with habitual earnestness to unremitting efforts of attention and industry, will be in no danger of finding life, as it advances, either uninteresting or wearisome; or their own portion of experience destitute of utility and enjoyment.