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How great is the change which is instantly effected in the situation of a woman, by the few solemn words pronounced at the altar! She, who the moment before was, without authority or responsibility, a happy, perhaps a careless, member of one family, finds herself, as if by magic, at the head of another, and involved in duties of the highest importance. If she possess good sense, her earnest wish will be, to act with propriety in her new sphere. Many, no doubt, by previous judicious instruction, assisted by their own observations, are well prepared to sustain their part with judgment and temper; but some there are whose situations, or whose dispositions, have led them into other pursuits; and who, consequently, find themselves, as soon as they are married, without that information and those principles of action by which their future conduct ought to be governed. For the guidance of these the following pages are intended.
The married and single state equally demand the exercise and improvement of the best qualities of the heart and the mind. Sincerity, discretion, a well-governed temper, forgetfulness of self, charitable allowance for the frailty of human nature, are all requisite in both conditions. But the single woman being, in general, responsible for her own conduct solely, is chiefly required to cultivate passive qualities. To fall easily into the domestic current of regulations and habits; to guard with care against those attacks of caprice and ill-humour which might disturb its course; to assist, rather than to take the lead, in all family-arrangements, are among her duties; while the married woman, in whose hands are the happiness and welfare of others, is called upon to lead, to regulate, and to command. She has to examine every point in the new situation into which she is transplanted; to cultivate in herself, and to encourage in her husband, rational and domestic tastes, which may prove sources of amusement in every stage of their lives, and particularly at the latter period, when other resources shall have lost their power to charm. She has to proportion, not as in the single state, her own personal expenses merely, but the whole expenditure of her household to the income which she is now to command; and in this part of her duty there is often exercise for self-denial as well as for judgment. The condition of her husband may require her to abandon, not only habits of expense, but even those of generosity. It may demand from her a rigid adherence to economy, neither easy nor pleasant, when contrary habits and tastes have,
under more liberal circumstances, been fixed and cultivated. Such alterations in habit may at first be regarded as sacrifices, but, in the end, they will meet their compensation in the satisfaction which always results from the consciousness of acting with propriety and consistency. Sometimes, however, the means of indulging liberal and generous propensities are extended by marriage. Where this is the case, that extreme attention to economy, which circumscribes the expenditure very much within the boundaries of the income, would betray a narrow and mean spirit, and would have the effect to abridge the blessings which by affluence may be dispensed around.
No woman should place herself at the head of a family without feeling the importance of the character which she has to sustain. Her example alone may afford better instruction than either precepts or admonitions, both to her children and servants. By a "daily beauty" in her life, she may present a model by which all around her will insensibly mould themselves. 66 Knowledge is power" only when it fits us for the station in which we find ourselves placed; then it gives decision to character; and every varying circumstance of life is met with calmness, for the principle to act upon is at hand; then we are prepared either to add our share to the amusement and interest of general society, or to lend our strength, on the demand of our nearest ties, to support, comfort, or instruct. Duty will not be an appalling word to those whose minds are properly framed. Indeed, they who have made it the rule of their lives, have found it also the source
of their happiness; while, in others, the consciousness of having neglected its precepts, has corroded every power of enjoyment.
As dialogue admits of great latitude in detail, the author has taken advantage of that form to convey the following remarks to her reader, whom she supposes to be a young and inexperienced housekeeper, and uninformed in all the minutiae of domestic management. To such only she ventures to offer her work, as a basis upon which good sense, when aided by experience, may afterwards establish a more complete and perfect system of Domestic Duty.