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ON THE DANGER AND DISAPPOINTMENT ATTENDING
MRS. B. There are two extremes of conduct often observable in women, either of which the wise and discreet amongst us will desire to avoid: the one, because it is marked by impropriety, and attended with danger to the character, and with chagrin and disappointment in the hopes of enjoyment: the other, because, although less hazardous, it has effects of an unamiable tendency on the temper and disposition. Although any one who pursues the latter course may fancy that she fulfils her duty within her house, yet she falls short in the performance of that from which, as a member of society, she cannot be exempted.
The first extreme of conduct to which I allude, is the immoderate love and pursuit of pleasure, or rather, of those amusements by which the senses, chiefly, are gratified. And let me here remark, that I am not going, with ascetic strictness, to condemn amusement altogether; for, without the aid of
the philosopher, we may easily perceive that what has been benevolently designed by our Creator to afford us gratification we may innocently enjoy, provided we keep within the limits of moderation. Thus, when we are hungry, to eat is pleasant; but if we do more than satisfy the appetite, we may lay the foundation of disease and pain. Exercise is a gratification to the vigorous and healthy, but fatigue and weakness follow its excess. Excess produces either satiety or pain. And as this is a law annexed to every pleasure, the true Epicurean will ever bear for his motto, 66 Enjoy with moderation." The fact that pain and sorrow result from our abuse of blessings, conveys to us a command which we ought implicitly to obey.
MRS. L. It is strange, that rational beings, who have all the same object to attain (I mean happiness), should pursue such various paths to it. Some must inevitably be wrong. It appears to me that all are in an error who seek present enjoyment instead of future good.
MRS. B. I should rather that our present enjoyment depends upon the rational pursuit of good; and that we are called upon to sacrifice no. present inclinations or wishes except those which are opposed to our future welfare. So it is with the innocent pleasures of life: we are not required to deny ourselves the moderate indulgence in them, because that indulgence need not prevent the fulfilment of our duties, injure our healths, or tempt us to an extravagant expenditure of income. On the contrary, it will often give a rest to the mind, and prepare it to resume with renewed diligence every
important avocation. Varied scenes and amusements, too, are sometimes beneficial to the invalid, checking his inclination to dwell on trifling symptoms, and promoting cheerfulness, the friend and companion of health.
Who can call it a crime to enjoy, even to rapture, the music which our groves and fields provide for us ? Who can discover a reason why we should not relish the perfume of the rose, or delight in the varied and lovely scenes of nature? These pleasures are provided for us, unsought for; and when for a season they are withdrawn from us, or their attractions are diminished, who can deny the effect? Does not their restoration renew our pleasures, and enhance their charms?
If such beneficent provision for our gratification has been made in the natural world, may we not infer, that an equal share has been designed for us in the moral world? And in opposition to the monkish austerity of past ages, or to the religious zeal of the present, may we not claim a right to participate in every social amusement that involves no breach of duty, tends to corrupt no right principle, or to injure, in any way, either ourselves or others? When our social pleasures and amusements are thus regulated and governed, I think we may believe, and act upon this belief, that "To enjoy is to obey."
Let us now enquire what are the general effects of a mere life of pleasure, when pursued by a wife or a mother, unrestrained by a sufficient regard to her duties.
The keenest votaries of dissipation are often those whose minds, when they first commenced their career, were framed for true enjoyment; but, unluckily, mistaking the road to it, they have pursued that which led to spurious pleasures only, and which their haggard bodies and worn-out spirits too plainly evince. In a very few years they are often beheld as the wrecks of what they were, both in mind and person. The finest and most highly polished steel more easily corrodes than a baser metal; and if the rust remain unheeded, it eats deeply in and spoils the whole. Of this there have been in fashionable life many notorious exemplifications. Women of the highest attainments and of the finest dispositions have become contemptible and miserable; the latter end of their lives pitiable, and their death-beds awful warnings to unreflecting survivors, from having put no restraint over their inclinations for amusement, until it has become inordinate and uncontrollable.
In arriving at this state of degradation, they have abandoned, without a moment's thought, every duty to which by their situation in society they were destined. To the welfare of their husbands and children they have shown a total indifference, and have selfishly squandered away wealth, even to ruin. Had we had the means of following any of these instances through their whole course, in private as well as in public, of penetrating into their thoughts, and examining the varied feelings of their hearts, we should, I am persuaded, have been struck with amazement, at discovering
how small a portion of enjoyment they had realised. While pursuing some supposed delight, we should have found them in a feverish state of excitation, brooking with ill humour any opposition to their views which they might encounter, and cherishing any unamiable or unlawful feelings to which an unworthy pursuit would give rise. And when this fever within them had subsided, we should have been sensible of the havoc it had caused by the discontented countenance, the joyless and languid air, the dispirited mind and fretful behaviour. Compare this state of feeling with that which accompanies and rewards the accomplishment of any virtuous and benevolent scheme, or which attends the sacrifice of inclination to duty: what enviable sensations beam in the face, and what cheerfulness in the manner! The comparison must lead you to acknowledge, that the path of dissipation is also that of folly, and one which will not conduct to happiness.
We will suppose a woman circumstanced as yourself; commencing, but more thoughtlessly, her new career, and, probably, regarding her marriage as an epoch from which to date her emancipation from the restraints which parental authority may, perhaps, have seen fit to impose, or which the rules of society prescribe for the government of woman's single state. If such are her feelings, she will reject the idea that she has at the altar imposed on herself new obligations; and, without regard to her husband's circumstances or prospects, it is probable she will follow the bent of her inclinations, instead of the dictates of duty and principle. If, unfortu