Duties of a Wife
Domestic happiness, thou only bliss
Of Paradise that has surviv'd the fall!
Tho' few now taste thee unimpair'd and pure,
Or tasting, long enjoy thee: ----
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Thou art the nurse of Virtue. In thine arms'
She smiles appearing, as in truth she is,
Heaven-born, and destin'd to the skies again.
Thou art not known, where pleasure is ador'd,
That reeling goddess, with the zoneless waist
And wand'ring eye, still leaning on the arm
Of novelty, her fickle frail support:
For thou art meek and constant, hating change,
And finding in the calm of truth-tied love
Joys that her stormy raptures never yield.
Forsaking thee, what shipwreck have we made
O honour, dignity, and fair renown!
P. 12: What is in that solemn moment pledged to the object who receives at the altar, a woman's plightful faith? Do you not promise to obey, to serve, love, and honour him? To comfort him in sickness and in health, and to forsake all others for him alone?
After a vow thus made, the duties of a wife, like her affections, must be unalienable. No longer seeking individual enjoyment, her pleasures must spring from participation, and her happiness be the reflected bliss arising from sharing the peace of another. Her cares also, reposing in another bosom, are divested of half their thorns, and her comforts, springing from the same cause, are multiplied in enjoyment, and sweet in remembrance.
The matrimonial duties are reciprocal - they consist of mutual forbearance and mutual offices of love and kindness. Those of a wife are the most strongly enforced, for to hers are added by Divine command, that of obedience also. Obedience! start not at the word which generally sounds so harsh to a female ear, but rather ask yourself if it be difficult to pay it to the commands of affection, to the wishes of tenderness, to the looks of love? May no other obedience be ever exacted from you; but remember, that the matrimonial path is not, any more than another, strewn with thornless roses; and if fate should decree that some of them are to be pointed at our bosom, recollect also that religion, fortitude, and patience will blunt their edge, although they may not be able to heal entirely the wounds inflicted by them.
P. 14: If in the character of such a husband some shades arise (and be assured in every one some will appear,) it is a wife's hand that must throw over them the graceful veil of concealment, nor may she suffer any one with impunity to raise it.
Her bosom must be the sacred repository of his little imperfections, nor must the slightest breath whisper them to another.
Thus have I pointed out to you the pleasing duties of a wife, delightful in the performance, and sweet in their recollection. But I must now, though with a trembling hand, reverse the picture; for, alas! it is the lot of many of our sex to have also its painful ones to fulfill. Oh! may this severest of trials never be yours. It is one of so strong a nature, that the heart of tenderness and sensibility would break under it, were it not for the consoling voice of religion, whose ready hand mercifully presents the healing balsam for every wound.
Pp. 15-16: Your children, those pledges of peace and happiness, may be robbed of the affections of a father, whilst their innocent endearments, once the sweet sources of both to him, converted by his dereliction from the paths of domestic virtue, into the scorpion stings of self-reproach, are avoided like the touch of contagion. Frequent and lengthened absences adding to our anxieties, as well as his neglects, may steal the rose of health from your cheek; and the flower of happiness thus blighted, owns "no second spring;" but oh! recollect, I ardently entreat, nay, CONJURE you, that in this awful trial you are exercised in those great and Christian virtues, forbearance and fortitude. Seek not to recall the wanderer by even a look of reproof; let him see the smile of uncomplaining resignation on your brow, although that of happiness can no longer be traced there; but above all things, let him see you still watchful in the performance of every duty as a Wife, and doubly solicitous for his interest, his welfare, and his honour, although he may himself cruelly desert these sacred posts.
Such a mode of conduct, however painful in its adoption, may perhaps recall the wanderer to your bosom, from which one upbraiding word might estrange him for ever. Your very virtues and forbearance will be a keener reproof, a more powerful language, than the most gifted eloquence could utter; and thus gently, thus tenderly led back to the path of domestic peace, he may return never to wander from it more.
If, alas! on the contrary, your best and gentlest efforts fail to recall him to the forsaken road, and forfeiting at once the dignity and the character of his sex, he throws you upon a cold unfeeling world, in the most desolate, the most agonizing of situations, that of a deserted wife, then daily, nay, hourly implore of him by whom often-
"In love directed, and in mercy meant,
Are trials suffer'd, and afflictions sent,"
to assist you with the powerful aids of religion and virtue in this most awful trial. Recollect, if self-reproach be not added to it, terrible as it may appear, it might have been made infinitely more severe. Never suppose, for a moment, that a husband's neglect of his duties, however flagrant and complex, absolves a wife from the performance of hers; nor assume the fatal language, or more fatal ideas, of retaliation.
P. 32: The first lesson I should recommend to you for self-instruction, is that of bearing disappointments cheerfully. Like the cherished plant of the green-house, you have hitherto by parental tenderness been sheltered so carefully, that not one of its storms has been suffered to reach you; but like that, when removed from its protection, and exposed to a different atmosphere, expect not to escape them altogether. Disappointments of that nature . . . are too trifling to be considered by a well-regulated mind, but as the little vexations of the moment; yet may be made most useful, by looking upon them as preparatory to those greater ones, which may be given to our lot in life, as well as to another's.
Pp.104-105: A low voice and soft address are the common indications of a well-bred woman, and should seem to be the natural effects of a meek and quiet spirit; but they are only the outward and visible signs of it; for they are no more meekness itself, than a red coat is courage, or a black one devotion.
Yet nothing is more common than to mistake the sign for the thing itself; nor is any practice more frequent than that of endeavouring to acquire the exterior mark, without once thinking to labour after the interior grace. Surely this is beginning at the wrong end, like attacking the symptom and neglecting the disease. To regulate the features while the soul is in tumults, or to command the voice while the passions are without restraint, is as idle as throwing odours into a stream when the source is polluted.
Meekness, like most other virtues, has certain limits, which it no sooner exceeds than it becomes criminal. Servility of spirit is not gentleness, but weakness; and if allowed, under the specious appearances it sometimes puts on, will lead to the most dangerous compliances. She who hears innocence maligned without vindicating it, falsehood asserted without contradicting it, or religion profaned without resenting it, is not gentle, but wicked.
P. 109: Meekness is imperfect, if it be not both active and passive; if it will not enable us to subdue our own passions and resentments, as well as qualify us to hear patiently the passions and resentments of others.
P. 206-207: To what are generally termed learned women, Dr. and Mrs. Pierpont entertained a great aversion, but they could discern a wide difference between a well-educated woman and a pedant. The former is a rational companion, who enlivens the social hour; the latter is one who, neglecting and scorning the homely duties incumbent upon a woman, stores her mind with deep learning, and thus encroaching upon the province of man, by him is considered with astonishment, rather than admiration, with pity rather than love; while, by the greater part of her own sex, she is looked upon as one who has quitted their pale, and having done so, loses that gentle fellowship which binds them together.
The dislike of, and outcry against, educated women, has arisen from an improper display which some have made of their knowledge, and the ardour with which they have pursued abstruse studies at the expense of those avocations and employments which more immediately belong to their sex; when they have been engaged in solving a problem, translating a difficult passage, or calculating the distance of a fixed star, while their house has been in disorder, their children in rags, their husbands neglected, and themselves presenting a picture of anything but that neatness which is so incumbent upon a woman.
Knowledge is like riches; the source of much happiness or misery according
as we make a good or bad use of it; if the former, we cannot possess too
much or it; if the latter, the less we possess the better. It requires as
much honesty in collecting, as much care in keeping and as much prudence
in distributing. And surely, if the possessing of it enables a woman to
perform her duties more perfectly, to be the instructress of youth, and
the friend and rational companion of man, it cannot be amiss to cultivate
her mind. Ignorance is a fruitful source of error, and although it may sometimes
be an excuse and palliative for misdeeds, it negatives virtue, and takes
from the perfection of our character, by rendering us the children of habit,
rather than of reason.
P. 209-210: A man by marrying places his domestic comforts in the power of his wife, and relinquishes to her all command and management of them; and she must so regulate them, as that he shall in no particular imagine or feel that anything could be better arranged; she must endeavour that her house shall be the best ordered, her servants the best, and even her table the best, of any that come under his observation; and all this must be done, and may be done, without his knowing how or when; he must reap the benefit of labours which he must never witness in their progress; he will know that to his wife he is obliged for these comforts and pleasures, but he must never be deprived of her society at those times when he seeks for the enjoyments of his home, because she is busily employed in household affairs; by a proper and methodical arrangement of her business and time, she may always be ready to meet him and his friends in the drawing-room, while the kitchen has not been neglected.
P. 216: It is said that "lovers quarrels" are but the renewal of love; but it is not so in truth. Continued differences and bickerings will undermine the strongest affection, and a wife cannot be too careful to avoid disputes upon the most trivial subjects; indeed it is the every-day occurrences which try the love and tempers in the married life - great occasions for quarrels can seldom occur. Every wish, every prejudice must meet with attention, and the first thought of a woman should be the pleasing and providing for her husband. It is impossible to enumerate all the little incidents which frequently annoy married men, or the little unobtrusive pleasures which it is in the power of a wife to give; but throughout her life, in her employments and in her amusements, she must ever bear his pleasure in her mind. She must act for him, in preference to herself, and she will be amply rewarded by witnessing his delight in her and in his home. To a woman who loves her husband with all the devotedness of her nature, this will be a pleasure, not a task; and to make him happy, she will never grudge or feel any sacrifice of self.
But no state will insure perfect happiness; the most amiable and the most deserving may suffer. God is all-powerful and all-wise, and he chooses various ways to try our love for Him, and our faith in his promises of eternal life - He is all-merciful, and never taxes us beyond our strength - He is beneficent, and chastiseth those whom he loves. The greater our trials, the greater will be our reward if we come out of them with honour.
The greatest misery a woman can experience, is the changed heart and alienated affection of her husband; but even in that painful case she must not relax in the performance of her duties; she must not upbraid, she must bear with fortitude and patience her great disappointment; she must return good for evil to the utmost, and her consolation will be the consciousness that her trials have not their rise or continuance in any dereliction of affection or duty on her part.
Some women, in order to win back a husband's wandering love, have recourse to the attempt to arouse his jealousy; but they are much mistaken in pursuing such a method. A man, however debased may be his conduct, never entirely forgets the love he once bore to the bride of his youth: there are moments when feelings of tenderness for her will return with force to his heart; and to reap the benefit of such moments the injured but forgiving wife must still be enshrined in the purity of former times. A husband will excuse his fault to himself, and in some measure also stand exonerated to the world, if his wife relax in the propriety of her conduct; while on the contrary, the gentle forbearance, the uncomplaining patience, and unobtrusive rectitude of the woman he injures, will deeply strike his heart, and do much to win him back to his former love, and to the observance of the vows he breathed at the altar, when his heart was devoted to the being from whom it has wandered. A kind look, an affectionate expression half-uttered, must bring his wife to his side, and she must with smiles and tenderness encourage the returning affection, carefully avoiding all reference to her sufferings, or the cause of them.
P. 221: Of industry, I need scarcely make mention to you. No moment of a young person's day ought to be unemployed, and she should remember also, that it is right to do every thing in the best manner, if it be only the folding of a piece of paper. Activity of body produces activity of mind; and again, activity of mind quickens the feelings of the heart, and makes us more alive to happiness; while slothfulness of body causes sluggishness of mind and heart; the one will seek for no new idea, nor keep in action and strength the few it may possess; the feelings of the other will be supinely centered in ourselves, and will never be moved by the happiness or misery of others. There is yet something more which I wish to impress strongly upon your mind, namely, that a woman is essentially a being of retirement and seclusion, and that her nature becomes deteriorated by any employment which brings her before the public. Home is our province, and let your greatest wish and endeavour be, to perform the duties belonging to it perfectly and properly; do not seek to raise yourself by your talents or acquirements, to be the rival of the other sex, but let your delight and desire be, to contribute to their happiness; nature has make us subservient to man, and relying upon him for support and assistance. Take from us our dependence upon him, and we shall lose a great portion of our claim upon his love and tenderness, while we shall rob him of the great softener of his character; our helplessness naturally induces in him a tenderness of manner, thought, and feeling towards us, it increases our gratitude to him, while giving and receiving protection forms an affectionate link to bind us together.
P. 275-277: Jealousy is, on several accounts, more inexcusable in a woman than in a man. There is not any thing that so much exposes her to ridicule, or so much subjects her to the insult of affrontive addresses; it is an inlet to almost every possible evil - the fatal source of innumerable indiscretions, the sure destruction of her own peace, and is frequently the bane of her husband's affections. When once embarked in the matrimonial voyage, the fewer faults you discover in your partner the better: never search after what it will give you no pleasure to find; never desire to hear what you will not like to be told: therefore, avoid that tribe of impertinents who sow dissension wherever they gain admission by insinuating invented falsehood; or, by telling unwelcome truths, injure innocent people, disturb domestic union, and destroy the peace of families.
Should the companion of your life be guilty of some secret indiscretions, run not the hazard of being told, by these malicious meddlers, what it is better for you never to know. But if some accident betrays an imprudent correspondence, take it for a mark of esteem that he endeavours to conceal from you what he knows you must upon a principle of reason and religion, disapprove. Do not, by discovering your acquaintance with it, take off the restraint which your supposed ignorance lays him under, and thereby give a latitude to undisguised irregularity. Be assured, whatever accidental sallies the gaiety of inconsiderate youth may lead him into, you can never be indifferent to him whilst he is careful to preserve your peace of mind by concealing what he believes might be an infringement of it. Rest satisfied, therefore, that time and reason will get the better of all faults which proceed not from a bad heart; and that by maintaining the first place in his esteem, your happiness will be built on too firm a foundation to be easily shaken.
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