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- A Domestic Problem - 4/12 -


continually and unconsciously impressed, should have much greater value in the formation of mental character than the mere lesson experiences of school. Home education is, after all, the great fact; and it is domestic influences by which the characters of children are formed. Where men are exhausted by business, and women are exhausted by society (or other means), we may be pretty sure that but little can be done to shape and conduct the home with a reference to the higher mental needs of the children who live in it."

Now, who, more than any one, "shapes and conducts the home"? Who creates these "domestic influences," this "medium in which the child is habitually immersed"? Woman. In the name of common sense, then, throw open to woman every avenue of knowledge. Surround her with all that will elevate and refine. Give her the highest, broadest, truest culture. Give her chances to draw inspiration from the beautiful in nature and in art. And, above all, insure her some respite from labor, and some tranquillity. Unless these conditions are observed, "but little can be done to shape and conduct the home with reference to the higher mental needs of the children who live in it."

I once heard "Grace Greenwood" tell a little story which ought to come in here, for our own object is to make out as strong a case as we possibly can. We want to prove that mothers must have culture because they are mothers. We want to show it to be absolutely necessary for woman, in the accomplishment of her acknowledged mission. When this fact is recognized, then culture will take rank with essentials, and receive attention as such.

"Grace Greenwood" said that a friend of hers, a teacher "out West," had in her school four or five children from one family. The parents were poor, ignorant, and of the kind commonly called low, coarse sort of people. The children, with one exception, were stupid, rough-mannered, and depraved. The one exception, a little girl, showed such refinement, appreciation, and quickness of apprehension, that the teacher at last asked the mother if she could account for the striking difference between this child and its brothers and sisters. The mother could not. The children had been brought up together there in that lonely place, had been treated alike, and had never been separated. She knew the little girl was very different from her brothers and sisters, but knew not the reason why. The teacher then asked, "Was there any thing in your mode of life for the months preceding her birth, that there was not in the corresponding time before the births of the others?" The mother at first answered decidedly that there was nothing; but after thinking a few moments said, "Well, there was one, a very small thing, but that couldn't have had any thing to do with the matter. One day a peddler came along; and among his books was a pretty, red-covered poetry book, and I wanted it bad. But my husband said he couldn't afford it, and the peddler went off. I couldn't get that book out of my mind; and in the night I took some of my own money, and travelled on foot to the next town, found the peddler, bought the book, and got back before morning, and was never missed from the house. That book was the greatest comfort to me that ever was. I read it over and over, up to the day my child was born."

Also would come in well here that oft-told story of a pauper named "Margaret," who was once "set adrift in a village of the county ... and left to grow up as best she could, and from whom have descended two hundred criminals. The, whole number of this girl's descendants, through six generations, is nine hundred; and besides the 'two hundred' a large number have been idiots, imbeciles, drunkards, lunatics, and paupers."

Friends, to say nothing of higher motives, would it not be good policy to educate wisely every girl in the country? Are not mothers, as child-trainers, in absolute need of true culture? In cases where families depend on the labor of their girls, perhaps the State would make a saving even by compensating these families for the loss of such labor. Perhaps it would be cheaper, even in a pecuniary sense, for the State to do this, than to support reformatory establishments, prisons, almshouses, and insane-asylums, with their necessary retinues of officials. Institutions in which these girls were educated might be made self-supporting, and the course of instruction might include different kinds of handicraft.

It was poor economy for the State to let that pauper "grow up as best she could." It would probably have been money in the State's pocket had it surrounded "Margaret" in her early childhood with the choicest productions of art, engaged competent teachers to instruct her in the solid branches, in the accomplishments, in hygiene, in the principles and practice of integrity, and then have given her particular instruction in all matters connected with the training of children. And had she developed a remarkable taste for painting, for modelling, or for music, the State could better have afforded even sending her to Italy, than to have taken care of those "two hundred criminals," besides "a large number" of "idiots, imbeciles, drunkards, lunatics, and paupers."

CHAPTER IV.

THE OTHER PART OF "WOMAN'S MISSION."--RUFFLES VERSUS READING.--THE CULTIVATION OF THE FINGERS.

Let us leave for a while this matter of child-training, and consider the other part of woman's mission,--namely, "making home happy." It would seem that even for this the wife should be at least the equal of her husband in culture, in order that the two may be in sympathy. When a loving couple marry, they unite their interests, and it is in this union of interests that they find happiness. We often hear from a wife or a husband remarks like these: "I only half enjoyed it, because he (or she) wasn't there;" "It will be no pleasure to me unless he (or she) is there too;" "The company were charming, but still I felt lonesome there without him (or her)." The phrase "half enjoy" gives the idea; for a sympathetic couple are to such a degree one that a pleasure which comes to either singly can only be half enjoyed, and even this half-joy is lessened by the consciousness of what the other is losing. In a rather sarcastic article, taken from an English magazine, occur a few sentences which illustrate this point very well. The writer is describing a honeymoon:--

"The real difficulty is to be entertaining. The one thirst of the young bride is for amusement, and she has no idea of amusing herself. It is diverting to see the spouse of this ideal creature wend his way to the lending library, after a week of idealism, and the relief with which he carries home a novel. How often, in expectation, has he framed to himself imaginary talks,--talk brighter and wittier than that of the friends he forsakes! But conversation is difficult in the case of a refined creature who is as ignorant as a Hottentot. He begins with the new Miltonic poem, and finds she has never looked into 'Paradise Lost.' He plunges into the Reform Bill; but she knows nothing of politics, and has never read a leading article in her life. Then she tries him, in her turn, and floods him with the dead chat of the town and an ocean of family tattle. He finds himself shut up for weeks with a creature who takes an interest in nothing but Uncle Crosspatch's temper and the scandal about Lady X. Little by little the absolute pettiness, the dense dulness, of woman's life, breaks on the disenchanted devotee. His deity is without occupation, without thought, without resources. He has a faint faith in her finer sensibility, in her poetic nature: he fetches his Tennyson from his carpet-bag, and wastes 'In Memoriam' on a critic who pronounces it pretty!"

In cases of this kind, the half-joy is strikingly apparent. We see that a husband possessing culture is likely to be lonesome among his poets and his poetry, his works of reform, and his lofty ideas, unless--she is there too.

If it be said that learned women are prone to think lightly of home comforts and home duties, to despise physical labor, to look down on the ignorant, let us hasten to reply that learning is not culture, and that we want not learned mothers, but enlightened mothers, wisely educated mothers. And let us steadfastly and perseveringly assert that enlightenment and a wise education are essential to the accomplishment of the mother's mission. When the housefather feels the truth of this, then shall we see him bringing home every publication he can lay his hands on which treats intelligently of mental, moral, or physical training. Then shall we hear him saying to the house-mother, "Cease, I pray you, this ever-lasting toil. Read, study, rest. With your solemn responsibilities, it is madness thus to spend yourself, thus to waste yourself." In his home shall the true essentials assume that position which is theirs by right, and certain occupations connected with that clamorous square inch of surface in the upper part of the mouth shall receive only their due share of attention. For in one way or another, either by lessening the work or by hiring workers, the mother shall have her leisure.

And what will women, what will the house-mothers, do when they feel this truth? Certainly not as they now do. Now it is their custom to fill in every chink and crevice of leisure time with sewing. "Look," said a young mother to me: "I made all these myself, when holding the baby, or by sitting up nights." They were children's clothes, beautifully made, and literally covered with ruffles and embroidery. Oh the thousands of stitches! The ruffles ran up and down, and over and across, and three times round. Being white, the garments were of course changed daily. In the intervals of baby-tending, the mother snatched a few minutes here and a few minutes there to starch, iron, flute, or crimp a ruffle, or to finish off a dress of her own. This "finishing off" was carried on for weeks. When her baby was asleep, or was good, or had its little ruffles all fluted, and its little sister's little ruffles were all fluted, then would she seize the opportunity to stitch, to plait, to flounce, to pucker, and to braid. Wherever a hand's breadth of the original material was left visible, some bow, or band, or queer device, was fashioned and sewed on. This zealous individual, by improving every moment, by sitting up nights, by working with the baby across her lap, accomplished her task. The dress was finished, and worn with unutterable complacency. It is this last part which is the worst part. They have no misgivings, these mothers. They expect your warm approval. "I can't get a minute's time to read," said this industrious person; and, on another occasion, "I'll own up, I don't know any thing about taking care of children." Swift, speaking of women, said that they "employ more thought, memory, and application to become fools than would serve to make them wise and useful;" and perhaps he spoke truly. For suppose this young mother had been as eager to gain ideas as she was to accomplish a bias band, a French fold, or a flounce. Suppose that, in the intervals of baby-tending, instead of fluting her little girls' ruffles and embroidering their garments, she had tried to snatch some information which would help her in the bringing up of those little girls. The truth is, mothers take their leisure time for what seems to them to be first in importance. It is easy to see what they consider essentials, and what, from them, children are learning to consider essentials. The "knowingness" of some of our children on subjects connected with dress is simply appalling. A girl of eight or ten summers will take you in at a glance, from topmost plume to boot-tap, by items and collectively, analytically and synthetically. She discourses, in technical terms, of the fall of your drapery,--the propriety of your trimmings, and the effect of this, that, or the other. She has a


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