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“In herself she dwelleth not, Although no home were half so fair; No simplest duty is forgot, Life hath no dim and lowly spot That doth not in her sunshine share.
“She doeth little kindnesses Which most leave undone or despise; For naught that sets our heart at ease, And giveth happiness or peace, Is low esteemed in her eyes.
“She hath no scorn of common things, And, though she seem of other birth, Round us her heart entwines and clings, And patiently she folds her wings To tread the humble paths of earth.
“Blessing she is; G.o.d made her so, And deeds of week-day holiness Fall from her noiseless as the snow, Nor hath she ever chanced to know That aught were easier than to bless.
“She is most fair, and thereunto Her life doth brightly harmonize; Feeling or thought that was not true Ne’er made less beautiful the blue Unclouded heaven of her eyes.”
_My Dear Daughter:_–In one of my letters to you, I said that there were certain excellent manuals which contained important general and special directions concerning the forms and manners or etiquette of polite society, and that all young people should study and profit by some standard works of this kind. But there are a great many things pertaining to the conduct of life, that go to make up character and affect the impression we make upon those around us, which are not set down in books and cannot be imparted by set forms and rules. For instance, one of the most desirable possessions for any person, young or old, is tact–a power of moving on through life without constantly coming into collision with people and things and opinions. And yet no rules were ever laid down by which anyone can learn to acquire tact. It is rather the natural result of a disposition to make people with whom we are a.s.sociated comfortable and happy, since in order to do this we must constantly guard against arousing antagonisms or wounding the susceptibilities of those around us.
Now, to ill.u.s.trate by some instances of lack of tact: A lady guest at a table where broiled ham was the meat provided, declined to take any, and then added, “I don’t think pork is fit food for any human stomach.” Of course an embarra.s.sment fell upon host and hostess and all the company, and the rest of the meal-time was pa.s.sed in an ineffectual endeavor to restore conversation to a harmonious basis. What caused this lady to make such a remark? Simply lack of tact, which means that she had not the fine sensitiveness that would prevent her from wounding the feelings of her friends. She had no delicacy of perception as to the reflection she cast upon her host and hostess by so brusquely condemning something to which they were habituated. This is one instance of lack of tact, but here is another of different character: A company of educated people sat down at table together, and the conversation happened to turn on the question of the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays. One lady, who was a recent college graduate and supposed to be possessed of an unusual degree of culture, said in a most positive manner: “I think the advocates of the theory that some one other than Shakespeare wrote the plays attributed to him, simply show their ignorance and shallowness.”
An uncomfortable pause fell upon, the company, for two of the best informed people present were entirely convinced that some one other than Shakespeare wrote the plays. It was simply lack of tact that betrayed this lady into a positiveness and obtrusiveness of statement that made others uncomfortable and aroused their antagonism. Here is still another instance: One lady was introduced to another lady who was the wife of a gentleman much older than herself. After catching the name the lady said: “Are you the wife of old Mr. C—-?” Of course everybody around who had any sensibility was pained and embarra.s.sed by such a blunt, brusque question. Yet the lady who displayed this want of tact was a college graduate and the princ.i.p.al teacher in an important school.
Now, no rule or rules will ever prevent anyone from doing and saying things which show lack of tact. Nothing will do it but the cultivation of a spirit of sympathy which will enable one to realize how other people feel when their opinions and peculiarities or circ.u.mstances are so bluntly antagonized or alluded to. I know an excellent and high-minded lady, of superior intellectual culture, who often complains that she has few friends. She says that she longs for the affection and esteem of her friends, yet, as she expresses it, she has “no personal magnetism.” I was once present in a literary society of which this lady, Mrs. A., was a member. Another member, Mrs. B., made a statement about a matter under discussion in the society, when Mrs. A. arose and said, bluntly: “That is not true.” Everybody was astonished, and listened almost indignantly while Mrs. A. went on to show that Mrs. B. had simply been misinformed and was mistaken. It would have been entirely easy and proper for Mrs. A. to ask permission to correct a misapprehension on the part of Mrs. B., and she could have done it in such a way as would have wounded n.o.body’s feelings. Mrs. A., while she complains that she has few friends, frequently a.s.serts that she believes in saying just what she thinks. This is all well enough, but she says it with so little tact as to constantly wound the feelings and antagonize the opinions of everyone around her.
Tact is as important in manners as in speech. The word is closely allied to the word _touch_, and a person who has good tact is really one who can touch people gently, carefully, kindly, in all the relations of life. In the animal creation no creature has more perfect tact than a well-bred kindly-treated household cat. You may have seen one of these enter a room where perhaps a circle of people were seated around a stove or open fire. Puss wants her warm place in front of the fire or stove, but she does not brusquely and rudely push her way there. No. She glides gently, purringly around the circle, rubs caressingly against this one and that, as though gently saying, “By your leave”; and when finally she reaches the desired spot, she lays herself down so gracefully and quietly and curls herself up so deftly that to witness the act really affords pleasure to the observer. A creature of less tact and grace would only appear obtrusive and offend and antagonize the company, and probably rightfully receive reproof and be ejected from the room.
And so I would wish to see you and all young people cultivate tact; study how to speak and act so as to touch gently all with whom you are a.s.sociated. Behind the best tact lies the wish to be kind and to make people comfortable and happy, to avoid wounding and irritating; and so it is true that the basis of true tact is, after all, the moral sentiment.
The young person who would cultivate tact in speech and manners will carefully guard against obtrusiveness. This is a defect in the manners of so many people, both young and old, and includes such a mult.i.tude of things, that it is worth while to particularize a little upon it.
Quietness, repose, order, are distinguishing marks of cultivated social life everywhere, and to people who are habituated to these conditions of life it is painful to have incongruous or inappropriate acts or sounds thrust upon their attention. Here is a generalization that explains the reason why many things, harmless in themselves are unpleasant to and offend the taste of cultivated people. No really cultivated young girl will, for instance, open and play upon a piano in a hotel parlor or any other parlor at inappropriate times or when it is occupied by strangers.
She will never perform in public any of the duties of the toilet, such as cleaning her nails or using a tooth-pick. She will not eat peanuts or fruit or candy, or chew gum, in public places. In fact, I cannot imagine a really refined young lady chewing gum even in the privacy of her own room, so offensive is it to good taste. She will not descant upon bodily ailments in the drawing-room or at the table. She will not rush noisily up and down stairs or through the house, clashing doors and startling everyone with unpleasant noises. She will not interrupt people who are conversing, to ask an irrelevant question or one pertaining to her own affairs. She will not slap an acquaintance familiarly on the shoulder, or make special displays of affection or intimacy before people. She will if possible suppress the sudden sneeze, and use every effort to quiet a cough. She will not go uninvited into the private room of anyone, nor into the kitchen of her hostess where she is a visitor. All such things really inflict pain upon sensitive people; they offend because they obtrude; and all similar actions and obtrusiveness are to be carefully avoided by everyone who desires to acquire a true and genuine culture of action, speech, and manners. It is well worth your while to think earnestly and often upon these things; to learn to understand why so many thoughtless actions on the part of young people are set down to a general lack of cultivation. All such obtrusiveness must be done away with before we shall be able to realize the prayer of David, “that our daughters may be like corner-stones, polished after the similitude of a palace.”
WHO ARE THE CULTIVATED?
_My Dear Daughter:_–No words in the English language are so much bandied about in efforts to describe or cla.s.sify society at the present day as are the words “culture,” “cultured,” “cultivated” and their ant.i.theses. These are the terms that intimidate the vain, selfish, illiterate rich; for to be described as “rich but uncultivated” is regarded as a greater slur upon the social standing of families than to be reported as having gained wealth by dishonesty or trickery. And then the matter is made all the harder for those willing to acquire a hypocritical polish at any expense if they can only be called “cultivated,” from the fact that they do not know what true culture is, nor are they able to recognize it when they see it. They are like a person lacking in all artistic sense, who wishes to buy pictures–at the mercy of every impostor.
What, then, is the secret that lies behind the demeanor and manners of the cultivated man or woman, or the cultivated family? What power or what sentiment modulates the voice to kind and gentle tones; restrains the boisterous conversation or laughter; gives such a delicate perception of the rights of others as to make impossible the dictatorial or arrogant form of address the impertinent question, the personal familiarity, the curiosity about private affairs, the forwardness in giving advice or expressing unasked opinions, the boastful statement of personal possessions or qualities, the action that causes pain or inconvenience or discomfort to a.s.sociates or dependents, all of which are the most common forms of transgression among the uncultivated?
In his famous address on “The Progress of Culture,” delivered before a celebrated college society in Cambridge in 1867, Emerson summed up the whole matter in one sentence: “The foundation of culture, as of character, is at last the moral sentiment.” Here is the whole secret in a single sentence. The restraining grace is “at last the moral sentiment.” It is a fine genuine unselfishness that, observing how all these things may pain and wound, refrains from doing any of them. The man or woman or family who can avoid transgressing in these particulars can do so habitually only as the result of a fine moral sentiment underlying the whole nature. And those who possess or have cultivated in themselves this fine moral sentiment of unselfishness, justice, and considerateness, will be surrounded by an atmosphere of culture though their dwelling-place be an uncarpeted cabin, while those who lack this restraining grace will be “uncultivated” though their surroundings afford every comfort, beauty, and luxury. It should be a thought of encouragement to us, and an inspiration of hope that we may possess the true and imperishable riches of a cultivated spirit, however poor and struggling our lives may be, or however barren of external beauty our surroundings. Culture depends not on material possessions. In fact, the very abundance of conveniences and comforts and elegances often seems to have an injurious and deteriorating effect on individuals and families by producing in them a selfish love of personal ease and exclusiveness.
On the other hand, the painful and patient economizing of humble toilers often produces an unselfishness and patience and gentleness of demeanor which is in effect the very finest culture.
In these days of specialists and artists and architects and upholsterers, anyone who has money can possess himself of the material surroundings of taste and culture. His house may be “a poem in stone”
exteriorly, and a “symphony in color” in its interior adornments. This much of the products of genuine culture he may buy with money. But no money can buy the pearl of great price, the cultured spirit in the individual or family, without which the most palatial mansion is but a dead and lifeless sh.e.l.l. Lacking this moral sentiment and culture, how many a handsomely appointed home is the abode of rudeness, unkindness, selfishness, and misery! The rude speech or cutting retort or selfish act are doubly and trebly incongruous when pictured walls and frescoed ceilings and luxurious surroundings of artistic beauty are the silent witnesses of the vulgarity. On the other hand, there is opportunity for the display of the best and kindest and most cultivated manners in the humble home where lack of suitable furnishings and dearth of conveniences puts everyone’s unselfishness to the test.
I have frequently heard wise parents and teachers speak of the perplexity of spirit which they feel when they see that in so many instances the acquirement of accomplishments, as they are termed, fails to add any moral strength or beauty to the character of the young people in whose welfare and advancement their hearts are so entirely absorbed.
This young girl sings and plays beautifully, paints and draws in a genuinely artistic manner, speaks French and German like a native, and yet she is ill-tempered and shrewish if circ.u.mstances happen to cross her inclination. Here is a young man who is possessed of a fine collegiate education, and who is also an excellent musician. Yet he can be rude and disrespectful to his mother, insolent to his father, overbearing and arrogant towards servants and subordinates, and a perfect boor to his younger brothers and sisters. Both these young persons have uncultivated spirits. So we see that the cultivation of the intellectual nature, the acquirement of accomplishments, the practice of any art, the advantages of travel, the surroundings of elegance, may or may not tend to the genuine culture of the spirit; and as wise and earnest parents and teachers perceive this truth, they realize more and more that the great problem of culture, alike for parent and teacher, is how to develop the moral sentiment.
RELIGIOUS CULTURE AND DUTY.
_My Dear Daughter:_–I have endeavored in my previous letters to give you a kind of outline series of directions and instructions in matters that pertain to the ordinary every day duties of life. I have spoken of the motives that should influence your actions, and have tried to show you that all truly lovely and beautiful conduct must have a basis in the moral sentiment. I have reserved till this last letter what I have to say to you on the most important subject of all: the infinitely momentous subject of religious culture and duty.
In the first place I must explain that there is a great difference between the methods and circ.u.mstances of religious instruction now and those which surrounded the youth of the maturer generation. When people of the age of your parents were young, the habits of family life were such that religious observances held a place of first importance. All household affairs were arranged with reference to morning and evening worship, which consisted of singing, reading the Bible, and prayer. No matter how much work was to be done, the family must rise in time to allow for the performance of this service. Children heard so much about G.o.d, and heaven, and the life beyond death, that often a morbid and unnatural frame of mind was induced. Parents and instructors often forgot to make allowance for the fact that youth naturally and rightly loves and enjoys this life, and rightly and naturally dreads death. So much was said about the other world that it seemed almost a sin to think about or plan much for this. G.o.d and heaven were imagined as close above in the sky? the judgment day was ever held threateningly before us; and pictures of a literal lake of fire and brimstone, into which wicked people would be cast, were painted for the imagination of children, till, as the experience of hundreds testifies, even the most conscientious of them feared to close their eyes in sleep at night lest they should awake in that terrible place of torment.
From this doubtless too severe and harsh religious regime, a reaction has taken place which has thrown the customs of family life and the religious education of the young people of to-day far into the opposite extreme. The hurry and railroad rush of modern social and commercial life have shortened or even cut off entirely the hours for family worship. In the modern effort to emphasize the fact that G.o.d is love, the other fact that sin deserves and receives punishment has been thrown too far into the background, or is ignored altogether. Regular reading of the Bible has become as rare as it formerly was universal.
Irreverence and skepticism in regard to its truths and teachings permeate a large portion of society, and the general influence of the social life of young people is opposed to the cultivation or expression of the religious spirit or aspiration. All this involves the loss of a most valuable mental and spiritual discipline, and earnest parents of to-day are at a loss how to supply it.
I will press upon your attention only one argument for the culture of a religious spirit, and that is the argument of experience. What is the universal testimony of those whose lives are really governed by the fear and love of a divine Creator? It is that in the consciousness of a desire to obey G.o.d and live in harmony with His laws they find their highest happiness.
To everyone who lives beyond the earliest period of childhood, comes at some time or other sorrow, disappointment, sickness, loss, bereavement.
The great fact of death looms up at the end of every pathway, however bright and happy. The universal testimony of the human race, from the earliest records of human experience to the present time, is that only faith and hope in a beneficent G.o.d ruling over all events can sustain and comfort the human heart through all the changes and vicissitudes of life, and reconcile to the thought of death.
Early youth is naturally happy, gay, care-free, and indifferent to sorrows and fears of which it knows nothing. But there comes a time to every sensible and earnest young heart when it realizes the transitoriness of all earthly things, and longs for something on which the heart can take hold and rest. I do not believe any young person fails of this experience sooner or later. It is a hunger of the heart which nothing but the love of G.o.d can fill, and if, when it is first felt, the heart only humbly and earnestly turns to G.o.d with high and firm resolve to seek a knowledge of Him and His laws, to bring all actions and plans of life into harmony with His revealed will, the foundation of an enduring happiness is laid for this life, and doubtless for the life to come.
But this desire and effort after a knowledge of G.o.d and obedience to His will do not come without a struggle. We are strange and mysterious creatures, having within us a nature that is most susceptible to temptations, to do evil. Every one of us is conscious of a struggle constantly going on in our hearts and lives between evil and good. The temptations to selfishness, greed, unkindness, untruthfulness, irreverence, indolence, are constant and severe until we have by long conflict and repeated victory habituated our hearts to choosing the right. Yet every victory over self and temptation helps us toward that spiritual attainment which will in time enable us to say, with the sweet psalmist of Israel: “The Lord is the portion of my soul; the Lord is the strength of my heart; the Lord is my light and my salvation.”
Most usually the heart first turns toward G.o.d with deep earnestness through sorrow. There are many griefs and burdens of life which cannot be alleviated or lightened in any way except by spiritual comfort and help. And this spiritual comfort and help are among the deepest realities of life. There is a strength, a happiness, a peace and a support in sorrow which the world can neither give nor take away. How priceless a blessing to possess! The saddest, darkest, most suffering life can be irradiated and uplifted and enriched by this spiritual blessing. The most fortunately circ.u.mstanced life may be made poor by its absence. Dean Stanley tells us of a sister who for perhaps forty years was a constant sufferer from spinal disease, and during that period almost constantly confined to her couch. Yet her countenance was irradiated with cheerfulness, and she seemed to inspire everyone who came near her with comfort, and with ardor and enthusiasm for goodness.
Such examples are not rare. Every community knows some person or persons sustained in deep affliction, though long continued trial and sorrow and loss, by this unseen spiritual power. On the other hand, experience and observation show us constantly recurring examples of discontent, peevishness, unhappiness, on the part of those who appear to be specially favored in the possession of the comforts and riches of this life. Lord Chesterfield said that, having seen and experienced all the pomps and pleasures of life, he was disgusted with and hated them all, and only desired, like a weary traveler, to be allowed “to sleep in the carriage” until the end came. But Paul the apostle, contemplating the close of his eventful life of sorrow and suffering, said: “I have fought the good fight? I have finished the course? I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness.”
So it seems only a reasonable appeal to every young heart, as soon as it is mature enough to understand and make choice among the realities and verities of life, to choose this better part; to keep the heart receptive to and expectant of this divine comfort and help; to seek to know and obey the will of this G.o.d of all consolation. But this choice is a purely individual matter. No one can make another person good any more than he can make him happy. All that anyone, all that the wisest and best teachers and parents can do, is to present the arguments for and urge the choice of the better part.
But if it is chosen, or if there is a desire to be enabled to choose it, what a help and stimulus comes from the reading and study of the Bible, especially of the Psalms and the New Testament! Therein are recorded every phase of the spiritual experiences of humanity in its aspiration after a knowledge of G.o.d. Therein are recorded the words and precepts of “the Great Teacher sent from G.o.d,” who said that he and the Father were one, and that he was sent of G.o.d to seek and save the lost. Here are the records of the compa.s.sionate expressions that fell from his lips as he proclaimed his message as the Son of G.o.d. Whatever other opinion men may have of Christ, all must confess that in his words to and about sinning and sorrowing and suffering men and women, he displayed a love and sympathy such as earth had never known before, and such as it has known since, in kind, only in the devoted followers of Christ. To have the memory stored with these expressions or teachings, or with the prayers and aspirations of the psalms and the prophecies, is to have a fountain of comfort and consolation for the heart, that pa.s.ses all understanding.
But this fact of human experience you must accept on the testimony of those who have experienced it, until you have experienced it for yourself.
And thus, my daughter, while I wish for you the possession of all the graces and adornments of person and character that pertain to and are possible for the life that now is, how infinitely more do I desire for you that you may know G.o.d and the comforts and consolations of His word and spirit. To know that you had sought and found for yourself this knowledge, that you knew and sought the help of the divine spirit in resisting temptation to do wrong, that in disappointment your heart would turn to G.o.d for comfort, that in sorrow you would seek consolation in communion with G.o.d, would be to feel that your future happiness was absolutely a.s.sured. In this seeking after G.o.d, all things would be yours. And even though you had made but a small and weak beginning to follow on and know the Lord, I should rejoice in the a.s.surance that the good work, having been begun, would be completed unto the end. And so I close these letters with the same summing up of all advice, all instruction, which more than four thousand years ago a prophet of G.o.d gave to his reflections upon the vicissitudes of human life: “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear G.o.d and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”
A LITTLE SERMON TO SCHOOL-GIRLS.
Be kindly affectioned one toward another with brotherly love, in honor preferring one another.
–_Rom._ xii. 10.
Whose adorning … let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit which is in the sight of G.o.d of great price.
–1 _Peter_, iii. 4.