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MRS. L. Does not the situation of many require this devotion of themselves? Some are in narrow circumstances, and not able to provide sufficient assistance either for their household work, or in their nurseries; and have apparently no alternative but to neglect their children, or to give up their own time and thoughts to them. Others, from delicate health, are unable both to discharge their duty to their families, and to attend to the calls of society.
MRS. B. Of course general observations are not always applicable to particular cases, and often what is incumbent on one individual would be wrong or needless in another.
I have in my recollection an instance which may, perhaps, exemplify the error in conduct of which I am speaking.
Mrs. C- in whose neighbourhood I lived in my youth, considered herself as a pattern of wives and mothers, making it her boast that she combined the good housewifery of former times to the maternal care and attention for which the present age of mothers is remarkable. Her husband was a man of property; but, if rendering him happy in his home, and respectable in the eyes of his neighbours (as far as depends on a wife), should form some part of a good wife's care, she, certainly, did not sustain the character. Considering the extent of her husband's property, her economy approached to meanness. Her table was always so scantily provided, and such strict limitation of every article throughout her establishment was enforced, that poverty seemed an inmate, while comfort was
banished from her house. For the glory of being accounted a thrifty manager, she submitted, and obliged others to submit, to many privations; and, often, she was obliged to share the labours of her household, which she preferred to the expence of keeping a proper complement of servants. At no period of the day, which was shared between household and nursery cares, could her husband promise himself her society, and, in the evenings, he generally found her wearied and fretted by the petty concerns of her life. For visiting or receiving company she constantly declared she had no time; and, indeed, she at length acquired a disrelish for any society which was not comprised within her narrow scene of action.
A life of retirement soon renders us unfit and unwilling to mingle in general society. The exertion both of mind and body in which company engages us, we seldom think compensated by the degree of pleasure we receive from it, when, from seclusion, we have lost our relish for topics of general interest. Our thoughts and feelings are too much wrapped up in our own concerns, and we become devoid of that sympathy in the tastes, feelings, and concerns of others, which gives the chief interest to our intercourse with our fellow-creatures. Natural obstacles, a sea flowing, or mountains intervening between friends, are not more effectual barriers to the interchange of ideas and feelings, than the want of sympathy and common interest in each other's welfare.
The unenvied husband of this good wife sought amusement any where but at home.
much of his time either in field sports, or in the more dangerous pleasures of the turf and the gaming table. His wife's confined view of her duties prevented her from anticipating this effect of her management; nor, indeed, did she ever imagine herself as in any way the author of her husband's failings. Her children, also, both mentally and physically, were sufferers. Her imagination, not allowed to range beyond her domestic circle, fed itself upon the supposed diseases of her children, which, I believe I may justly assert, were more often engendered in their constitutions, than averted, by the measures and precautions which her over-solicitude prompted. Their tempers were injured by injudicious indulgence at one time, and by the fretfulness which her cares induced, and which she could not always restrain, even towards the objects of those cares. Her servants, too, were not amongst the happiest of her family; her principle in regard to them being, that they ought to belong to a "much-enduring race," to work hard and fare hard.
What effect this lady's character might have had upon her offspring cannot now be known, as consumption rapidly terminated her life. It was the opinion of her physician that this disease had met with encouragement from the restless anxiety of her mind, and the frequent over-exertion of her strength. Her death occasioned but little feeling in her neighbourhood: few tears were shed, few regrets expressed, for one who had made no attempts to attach others to her, or to perform any of the kindly offices of good neighbourhood. Her
equals lost no friend when she expired; the poor no benefactress.
There are many ladies who, though they do not carry their conduct to the extreme which I have just described, yet, in a degree, err in a similar manner, and suffer their minds to be too much engrossed with similar cares. They build a wall around them, and confine within it their ideas, prospects, hopes, and expectations, and can imagine no happiness nor good to spring beyond it.
I hope I have exposed with sufficient force, the danger and inconveniences which arise from either of the extremes in conduct, which I have attempted to describe. Instances still more lamentable might have been adduced, but as I trust they have generally been peculiar cases, connected with a strange perversity of disposition, their examples need not be instanced to those in whom no such depravity exists. If I have prepossessed you in favour of a middle course, I shall be contented. Society has various claims upon us, and these may in most cases be satisfied without any omission or neglect of higher demands upon our time and attention. To economise time, to avoid frittering away any great portion of it on trifles, or with listless indifference to suffer it to pass away unemployed; to perform strictly the duties of each day, so that no occasional pressure of employment may hurry you into a hasty and careless method of proceeding; - these. will be the best means of insuring you time for the demands which may be made upon you by society in general.
I have already instanced our mutual friend Maria, as an example worthy of imitation in the disposition of her time, both in the performance of her duties, and in the continued cultivation of her talents. Nor is her character incomplete in regard to the minor circumstances which attend her situation in society. From the profession of her husband, it is, perhaps, more important in her case than it would be in that of another, to maintain a larger circle of acquaintance, and in this she displays the same judgment as in other points of conduct. She does neither more nor less than what is necessary: she is not for ever to be seen in parties or in public; but she never absents herself from them until she is forgotten. The parties at her own house, though not frequent, answer the end in view. With a select circle of friends, she maintains a more constant intercourse, and to be included in this circle is at once a pleasure and a privilege. No member of it has ever required an act of friendship from her, which she has not cheerfully performed. In their time of sickness and distress she has been ever ready to comfort or to aid them.
In most of the charitable institutions the time bestowed by an individual is, often, as essential in promoting the good for which they are established as pecuniary donations: disinterested personal exertions may be called the soul of public charities, by superintending the formation of judicious regulations for their government, and by seeing such regulations enforced and maintained. Under peculiar circumstances only, or from ill health, should