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WOMEN OF ENGLAND.
CHARACTERISTICS OF THE WOMEN OF ENGLAND.
EVERY country has its peculiar characteristics, not only of climate and scenery, of public institutions, government, and laws; but every country has also its moral characteristics, upon which is founded its true title to a station, either high or low, in the scale of nations.
The national characteristics of England are the perpetual boast of her patriotic sons; and there is one especially which it behooves all British subjects not only to exult in, but to cherish and maintain. Leaving the justice of her laws, the extent of her commerce, and the amount of her resources, to the orator, the statesman, and the political economist, there yet remains one of the noblest features in her national character, which may not improperly be regarded as within the compass of a woman's understanding, and the province of a woman's pen. It is the domestic character of England-the home comforts, and fireside virtues for which she is so justly celebrated. These I hope to be able to speak of without presumption, as intimately associated with, and dependent upon, the moral feelings and habits of the women of this favored country.
It is therefore in reference to these alone that I shall endeavor to treat the subject of England's nationality; and in order to do this with more precision, it is necessary to draw the line of observation within a narrower circle, and to describe what are the characteristics of the women of England. I ought, perhaps, in strict propriety, to say
what were their characteristics; because I would justify the obtrusiveness of a work like this by first premising that the women of England are deteriorating in their moral character, and that false notions of refinement are rendering them less influential, less useful, and less happy than they were.
In speaking of what English women were, I would not be understood to refer to what they were a century ago. Facilities in the way of mental improvement have greatly increased during this period. In connection with moral discipline, these facilities are invaluable; but I consider the two excellences as having been combined in the greatest perfection in the general average of women who have now attained to middle, or rather advanced age. When the cultivation of the mental faculties had so far advanced as to take precedence of the moral, by leaving no time for domestic usefulness, and the practice of personal exertion in the way of promoting. general happiness, the character of the women of England assumed a different aspect, which is now beginning to tell upon society in the sickly sensibilities, the feeble frames, and the useless habits of the rising generation.
In stating this humiliating fact, I must be blind indeed to the most cheering aspect of modern society, not to perceive that there are signal instances of women who carry about with them into every sphere of domestic duty, even the most humble and obscure, the accomplishments and refinements of modern education; and who deem it rather an honor than a degradation to be permitted to add to the sum of human happiness, by diffusing the embellishments of mind and man
ners over the homely and familiar aspect of and, avoiding the two extremes where cirevery-day existence. cumstances not peculiar to that class are supposed to operate, to take the middle or intervening portion as a specimen of the whole.
Such, however, do not constitute the majority of the female population of Great Britain. By far the greater portion of the young ladies (for they are no longer women) of the present day, are distinguished by a morbid listlessness of mind and body, except when under the influence of stimulus, a constant pining for excitement, and an eagerness to escape from every thing like practical and individual duty. Of course, I speak of those whose minds are not under the influence of religious principle. Would that the exception could extend to all who profess to be governed by this principle!
Napoleon Bonaparte was accustomed to speak of the English nation as a "nation of shopkeepers ;" and when we consider the number, the influence, and the respectability of that portion of the inhabitants who are, directly or indirectly, connected with our trade and merchandise, it does indeed appear to constitute the mass of English society, and may justly be considered as exhibiting the most striking and unequivocal proofs of what are the peculiar characteristics of the people of England. It is not therefore from the aristocracy of the land that the characteristics of English women should be taken; because the higher the rank, and the greater the facilities of communication with other countries, the more prevalent are foreign manners, and modes of
Gentle, inoffensive, delicate, and passively amiable as many young ladies are, it seems an ungracious task to attempt to rouse them from their summer dream; and were it not that wintry days will come, and the surface of life be ruffled, and the mariner, even she who steers the smallest bark, be put upon the inquiry for what port she is really bound-thinking and acting common to that class of were it not that the cry of utter helplessness society in other countries. Neither is it enis of no avail in rescuing from the waters of tirely among the indigent and most laborious affliction, and the plea of ignorance unheard of the community, that we can with proupon the far-extending and deep ocean of priety look for those strong features of naexperience, and the question of accounta- tionality, which stamp the moral character bility perpetually sounding, like the voice of of different nations; because the urgency of a warning spirit, above the storms and the mere physical wants, and the pressure of billows of this lower world-I would be one constant and necessary labor, naturally inof the very last to call the dreamer back to duce a certain degree of resemblance in soa consciousness of present things. But this cial feelings and domestic habits, among state of listless indifference, my sisters, must people similarly circumstanced, to whatever not be. You have deep responsibilities; country they may belong. you have urgent claims; a nation's moral worth is in your keeping. Let us inquire then in what way it may be best preserved. Let us consider what you are, and have been, and by what peculiarities of feeling and habit you have been able to throw so much additional weight into the scale of your country's worth.
In order to speak with precision of the characteristics of any class of people, it is necessary to confine our attention as much as possible to that portion of the class where such characteristics are most prominent;
In looking around, then, upon our "nation of shopkeepers," we readily perceive that by dividing society into three classes, as regards what is commonly called rank, the middle class must include so vast a portion of the intelligence and moral power of the country at large, that it may not improperly be designated the pillar of our nation's strength, its base being the important class of the laborious poor, and its rich and highly ornamental capital, the ancient nobility of the land. In no other country is society thus beautifully proportioned, and England should beware of any
deviation from the order and symmetry of renders it impossible for her to be satisfied her national column.
without actually doing something for the obThere never was a more short-sighted ject of her regard. I speak only of woman view of society, than that by which the wo- in her refined and elevated character. Vanimen of our country have lately learned to ty can satiate itself with admiration, and look with envious eyes upon their superiors selfishness can feed upon services received; in rank, to rival their attainments, to imitate but woman's love is an overflowing and inextheir manners, and to pine for the luxuries haustible fountain, that must be perpetually they enjoy; and consequently to look down imparting from the source of its own blessedwith contempt upon the appliances and ness. It needs but slight experience to know, means of humbler happiness. The women that the mere act of loving our fellow-creaof England were once better satisfied with tures does little towards the promotion of that instrumentality of Divine wisdom by their happiness. The human heart is not so which they were placed in their proper credulous as to continue to believe in affecsphere. They were satisfied to do with tion without practical proof. Thus the intertheir own hands what they now leave un-change of mutual kind offices begets a confi
done, or repine that they cannot have others to do for them.
dence which cannot be made to grow out of any other foundation; and while gratitude is added to the connecting link, the character on each side is strengthened by the personal energy required for the performance of every duty.
A system of philosophy was once promulgated in France, by which it was attempted to be proved that so much of the power and the cleverness of man was attributable to his hand, that but for a slight difference in the formation of this organ in some of the inferior animals, they would have been entitled to rank in the same class with him. Whatever may be said of the capabilities of man's hand, I believe the feminine qualification of being able to use the hand willingly and well, has a great deal to do with the moral influence of woman. The personal services she is thus enabled to render, enhance her value in the domestic circle, and when such services are performed with the energy of a sound understanding, and the grace of an accomplished mind-above all, with the disinterested kindness of a generous heart-they not only dignify the performer, but confer happiness, as well as obligation. Indeed, so great is the charm of personal attentions arising spontaneously from the heart, that women of the highest rank in society, and far removed from the necessity of individual exertion, are frequently observed to adopt habits of personal kindness towards others, not only as the surest means of giving pleasure, but as a natural and grateful relief to the overflowings of their own affections.
There may exist great sympathy, kindness, and benevolence of feeling, without the power of bringing any of these emotions into exercise for the benefit of others. They exist as emotions only. And thus the means which appear to us as the most gracious and benignant of any that could have been adopted by our heavenly Father for rousing us into necessary exertion, are permitted to die away, fruitless and unproductive, in the breast, where they ought to have operated as a blessing and means of happiness to others.
It is not uncommon to find negatively amiable individuals, who sink under a weight of indolence, and suffer from innate selfishness a gradual contraction of mind, perpetually lamenting their own inability to do good. It would be ungenerous to doubt their sincerity in these regrets. We therefore only conclude that the want of habits of personal usefulness has rendered them mentally imbecile, and physically inert; whereas, had the same individuals been early accustomed to bodily exertion, promptly and cheerfully performed on the spur of the moment, without waiting to question whether it was agree
There is a principle in woman's love, that able or not, the very act of exertion would
have become a pleasure, and the benevolent purpose to which such exertions might be applied, a source of the highest enjoyment.
Time was when the women of England were accustomed, almost from their childhood, to the constant employment of their hands. It might be sometimes in elaborate works of fancy, now ridiculed for their want of taste, and still more frequently in household avocations, now fallen into disuse from their incompatibility with modern refinement. I cannot speak with unqualified praise of all the objects on which they bestowed their attention; but, if it were possible, I would write in characters of gold the indisputable fact, that the habits of industry and personal exertion thus acquired, gave them a strength and dignity of character, a power of usefulness, and a capability of doing good, which the higher theories of modern education fail to impart. They were in some instances less qualified for travelling on the continent without an interpreter, but the women of whom I am speaking seldom went abroad. Their sphere of action was at their own firesides, and the world in which they moved was one where pleasure of the highest, purest order, naturally and necessarily arises out of acts of duty faithfully performed.
Perhaps it may be necessary to be more specific in describing the class of women to which this work relates. It is, then, strictly speaking, to those who belong to that great mass of the population of England which is connected with trade and manufactures; or, in order to make the application more direct, to that portion of it who are restricted to the services of from one to four domestics, -who, on the one hand, enjoy the advantages of a liberal education, and, on the other, have no pretension to family rank. It is, however, impossible but that many deviations from these lines of demarkation must occur, in consequence of the great change in their pecuniary circumstances, which many families during a short period experience, and the indefinite order of rank and station in which the elegances of life are enjoyed, or its privations endured. There is also this
peculiarity to be taken into account, in our view of English society, that the acquisition of wealth, with the advantages it procures, is all that is necessary for advancement to aristocratic dignity; while, on the other hand, so completely is the nation dependent upon her commercial resources, that it is no uncommon thing to see individuals who lately ranked among the aristocracy, suddenly driven, by the failure of some bank or some mercantile speculation, into the lowest walks of life, and compelled to mingle with the laborious poor.
These facts are strong evidence in favor of a system of conduct that would enable all women to sink gracefully, and without murmuring against Providence, into a lower grade of society. It is easy to learn to enjoy, but it is not easy to learn to suffer.
Any woman of respectable education, possessing a well-regulated mind, might move with ease and dignity into a higher sphere than that to which she had been accustomed; but few women whose hands have been idle all their lives, can feel themselves compelled to do the necessary labor of a household, without a feeling of indescribable hardship, too frequently productive of a secret murmuring against the instrumentality by which she was reduced to such a lot.
It is from the class of females above described, that we naturally look for the highest tone of moral feeling, because they are at the same time removed from the pressing necessities of absolute poverty, and admitted to the intellectual privileges of the great; and thus, while they enjoy every facility in the way of acquiring knowledge, it is their still higher privilege not to be exempt from the domestic duties which call forth the best energies of the female character.
Where domestics abound, and there is a hired hand for every kindly office, it would be a work of supererogation for the mistress of the house to step forward, and assist with her own; but where domestics are few, and the individuals who compose the household are thrown upon the consideration of the mothers, wives, and daughters for their daily
comfort, innumerable channels are opened for the overflow of those floods of human kindness, which it is one of the happiest and most ennobling duties of woman to administer to the weary frame, and to pour into the wounded mind.
It is perhaps the nearest approach we can make towards any thing like a definition of what is most striking in the characteristics of the women of England, to say, that the nature of their domestic circumstances is such as to invest their characters with the threefold recommendation of promptitude in action, energy of thought, and benevolence of feeling. With all the responsibilities of family comfort and social enjoyment resting upon them, and unaided by those troops of menials who throng the halls of the affluent and the great, they are kept alive to the necessity of making their own personal exertions conducive to the great end of promoting the happiness of those around them. They cannot sink into supineness, or suffer any of their daily duties to be neglected, but some beloved member of the household is made to feel the consequences, by enduring inconveniences which it is alike their pride and their pleasure to remove. The frequently recurring avocations of domestic life admit of no delay. When the performance of any kindly office has to be asked for, solicited, and re-solicited, it loses more than half its charm. It is therefore strictly in keeping with the fine tone of an elevated character to be beforehand with expectation, and thus to show, by the most delicate yet most effectual of all human means, that the object of attention, even when unheard and unseen, has been the subject of kind and affectionate solicitude.
By experience in these apparently minute affairs, a woman of kindly feeling and properly disciplined mind, soon learns to regulate her actions also according to the principles of true wisdom, and hence arises that energy of thought for which the wornen of England are so peculiarly distinguished. Every passing event, however insignificant to the eye of the world, has its crisis, every occurrence its emergency, every cause its
effect; and upon these she has to calculate with precision, or the machinery of household comfort is arrested in its movements, and thrown into disorder.
Woman, however, would but ill supply the place appointed her by Providence, were she endowed with no other faculties than those of promptitude in action and energy of thought. Valuable as these may be, they would render her but a cold and cheerless companion, without the kindly affections and tender offices that sweeten human life. It is a high privilege, then, which the women of England enjoy, to be necessarily, and by the force of circumstances, thrown upon their affections, for the rule of their conduct in daily life. "What shall I do to gratify myself to be admired—or to vary the tenor of my existence?" are not the questions which a woman of right feelings asks on first awaking to the avocations of the day. Much more congenial to the highest attributes of woman's character, are inquiries such as these: "How shall I endeavor through this day to turn the time, the health, and the means permitted me to enjoy, to the best account?-Is any one sick? I must visit their chamber without delay, and try to give their apartment an air of comfort, by arranging such things as the wearied nurse may not have thought of. Is any one about to set off on a journey? I must see that the early meal is spread, or prepare it with my own hands, in order that the servant, who was working late last night, may profit by unbroken rest. Did I fail in what was kind or considerate to any of the family yesterday? I will meet her this morning with a cordial welcome, and show, in the most delicate way I can, that I am anxious to atone for the past. Was any one exhausted by the last day's exertion? I will be an hour before them this morning, and let them see that their labor is so much in advance. Or, if nothing extraordinary occurs to claim my attention, I will meet the family with a consciousness that, being the least engaged of any member of it, I am consequently the most at liberty to devote myself to the general good of the whole, by cultiva