Sarah Stickney Ellis.

The daughters of England : their position in society, character and responsibilities online

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N E W-Y O R K:

1 842.


72 Vese y-st. N. Y.


There can be no more gratifying circumstance to a writer, than
to find that a subject which has occupied her thoughts, and employ-
ed her pen, has also been occupying the thoughts of thousands of
her fellow-beings ; but she is gratified in a still higher degree to
find, that the peculiar views she entertains on that subject, are
beginning to be entertained by a vast number of the intelligent and
thinking part of the community, with whom she was not previously
aware of sharing, either in their sympathy, or their convictions.

Such are the circumstances under which " The Women of Eng-
land " has been received by the public, with a degree of favour,
which the merits of the work alone would never have procured for
it. And as no homage of mere admiration could have been so
welcome to the author, as the approval it has met with at many an
English hearth, she has been induced to ask the attention of the
public again, to a farther exemplification of some subjects but
slightly touched upon, and a candid examination of others which
found no place, in that work.

The more minute the details of individual, domestic, and social
duty, to which allusion is made, the more necessary it becomes to
make a distinct classification of the different eras in woman's
personal experience ; the Author, therefore, proposes dividing the
subject into three parts, in which will be separately considered, the
character and situation of the Daughters, Wives, and Mothers of

The Daughters of England only form the subject of the present
volume : and as in a former work the remarks which were offered
$o the public upon the social and domestic duties of woman, were


expressly limited to the middle ranks of society in Great Britain :
so, in the present, it must be clearly understood as the intention of
the writer to address herself especially to the same interesting and
influential class of her countrywomen. Much that is contained in
that volume, too, might with propriety have been repeated here,
had not the Author preferred referring the reader again to those
pages, assured that she will be more readily pardoned for this
liberty, than for transcribing a fainter copy of what was written in
the first instance fresh from the heart.

It seems to be the peculiar taste of the present day to write, and
to read, on the subject of woman. Some apology for thus taxing
the patience of the public might be necessary, were it not that both
honour and justice are due to a theme, in which a female sovereign
may, without presumption, be supposed to sympathize with her
people. Thus, while the character of the daughter, the wife, and
the mother, are so beautifully exemplified in connection with the
dignity of a British Queen, it is the privilege of the humblest, as
well as the most exalted of her subjects, to know that the heart of
woman, in all her tenderest and holiest feelings, is the same beneath
the shelter of a cottage, as under the canopy of a throne*

Rose BUI, January 10th, 1842.






If it were possible for a human being to be suddenly,
and for the first time, awakened to consciousness, with the
full possession of all its reasoning faculties, the natural
inquiry of such a being would be, " What am I ? — how am
I to act ? — and, what are my capabilities for action P 1

The sphere upon which a young woman enters on first
leaving school, or, to use a popular phrase, on " complet-
ing her education," is so entirely new to her, her mind is
so often the subject of new impressions, and her attention
so frequently absorbed by new motives for exertion, that, if
at all accustomed to reflect, we cannot doubt but she will
make these, or similar questions, the subject of serious
inquiry — " What is my position in society ? what do I aim
at? and what means do I intend to employ for the accom-
plishment of my purpose ?" And it is to assist any of the
daughters of England, who may be making these inquiries
in sincerity of heart, that I would ask their attention to the
following pages ; just as an experienced traveller, who had
himself often stepped aside from the safest path, and found
the difficulty of returning, would be anxious to leave direc-


tions for others who might follow, in order that they might
avoid the dangers with which he had already become ac-
quainted, and pursue their course with greater certainty of
attaining the end desired.

First, then, What is your position in society ? for, until
this point is clearly settled in your own mind, it would be
vain to attempt any description of the plan to be pursued.
The settlement of this point, however, must depend upon
yourselves. Whether you are rich, or poor, an orphan,
or the child of watchful parents — one of a numerous fami-
ly, or comparatively alone — filling an exalted or an humble
position — of highly-gifted mind, or otherwise — all these
points must be clearly ascertained before you can properly
understand the kind of duty required of you. How these
questions might be answered, is of no importance to the
writer, in the present stage of this work. The importance
of their being clearly and faithfully answered to yourselves,
is all she would enforce.

For my own purpose, it is not necessary to go further
into your particular history or circumstances, than to re-
gard you as women, and, as I hope, Christian women.
As Christian women, then, I address you. This is plac-
ing you on high ground ; yet surely there are few of my
young countrywomen who would be willing to take lower.

As women, then, the first thing of importance is to be
content to be inferior to men — inferior in mental power, in
the same proportion that you are inferior in bodily strength.
Facility of movement, aptitude, and grace, the bodily frame
of woman may possess in a higher degree than that of
man ; just as in the softer touches of mental and spiritual
beauty, her character may present a lovelier page than his.
Yet, as the great attribute of power must still be wanting
there, it becomes more immediately her business to inquire
how this want may be supplied.


An able and eloquent writer on " Woman's Mission,"
has justly observed, that woman's strength is in her influ-
ence. And, in order to render this influence more com-
plete, you will find, on examination, that you are by nature
endowed with peculiar faculties — with a quickness of per-
ception, facility of adaptation, and acuteness of feeling,
which fit you especially for the part you have to act in
life ; and which, at the same time, render you, in a higher
degree than men, susceptible both of pain and pleasure.

These are your qualifications as mere women. As Chris-
tians, how wide is the prospect which opens before you —
how various the claims upon your attention — how vast your
capabilities — how deep the responsibility which those ca-
pabilities involve ! In the first place, you are not alone ;
you are one of a family — of a social circle — of a commu-
nity—of a nation. You are a being whose existence will
never terminate, who must live for ever, and whose happi-
ness or misery through that endless future which lies be-
fore you, will be influenced by the choice you are now in
the act of making.

What, then, is the great object of your life ? " To be
good and happy," you will probably say; or, "To be
happy and good.'' Which is it 1 For there is an impor-
tant difference in giving precedence to one or the other of
these two words. In one case, your aim is to secure to
yourself all the advantages you can possibly enjoy, and
wait for the satisfaction they produce, before you begin
the great business of self-improvement. In the other, you
look at your duties first, examine them well, submit your-
self without reserve to their claims, and, having made them
habitual, reap your reward in that happiness of which no
human being can deprive you, and which no earthly event
can entirely destroy.

Is it your intention beyond this to live for yourself, or


for others ? Perhaps you have no definite aim as relates to ^*
this subject. You are ashamed to think of living only for ^
yourself, and deem it hard to live entirely for others ; you,
therefore, put away the thought, and conclude to leave this
important subject until some future day. Do not, however,
be deceived by such a fallacious conclusion. Each day of
your life will prove that you have decided, and are acting
upon the decision you make on this momentous point.
Your conduct in society proves it, your behaviour in your
family, every thought which occupies your mind, every
wish you breathe, every plan you form, every pleasure
you enjoy, every pain you suffer — all prove whether it is
your object to live for yourself, or for others.

Again, is it your aim to live for this world only, or for
eternity ? This is the question of supreme importance,
which all who profess to be Christians, and who think se-
riously, must ask and answer to themselves. There can
be no delay here. Time is silently deciding this question
for you. Before another day has passed, you will be so
much nearer to the kingdom of heaven, or so much farther
from it. Another day, another, and another, of this fearful
indecision, will be adding to your distance from the path
of peace, and rendering your task more difficult if you
should afterwards seek to return.

If it be your deliberate desire to live for this world only,
all the highest faculties of your nature may then lie dor-
mant, for there is no field of exercise here, to make the
cultivation of them worth the pains. If it is your delibe-
rate desire to live for this world only, the improvement of
the bodily senses becomes more properly the object of pri-
mary interest, in order that you may taste, smell, feel, hear,
and see, with more acuteness. A little invention, a little
calculation, a little observation of cause and effect, may
be necessary, in order that the senses may he gratified in


a higher degree ; but beyond this, all would indeed be
worse than vanity, that would tend to raise the human
mind to a knowledge of its own capabilities, and yet leave
it to perish with the frail tenement it inhabits.

I cannot, however, suppose it possible that any daughter
of Christian parents, in this enlightened country, would
deliberately make so blind, so despicable a choice. And
if your aim be to live for eternity ; if you would really
make this an object, not merely to read or to talk about, but
to strive after, as the highest good you are capable of con-
ceiving, then is the great mystery of your being unravelled
■ — then is a field of exercise laid open for the noblest facul-
ties of your soul — then has faith its true foundation, hope
its unextinguishable beacon, and charity its sure reward.

I must now take it for granted, that the youthful reader
of these pages has reflected seriously upon her position in
society as a woman, has acknowledged her inferiority to
man, has examined her own nature, and found there a ca-
pability of feeling, a quickness of perception, and a facility
of adaptation, beyond what he possesses, and which, con-
sequently, fit her for a distinct and separate sphere ; and I
would also gladly persuade myself, that the same individ-
ual, as a Christian woman, has made her decision not to
live for herself, so much as for others ; but, above all, not
to live for this world, so much as for eternity. The ques-
tion then arises — What means are to be adopted in the pur-
suit of this most desirable end ? Some of my young read-
ers will perhaps be disposed to exclaim, " Why, this is but
the old story of giving up the world, and all its pleasures !"
But let them not be too hasty in their conclusions. It is
not a system of giving up which I am about to recommend
to them, so much as one of attaining. My advice is rather
to advance than to retreat, yet to be sure that you advance
in the right way. Instead, therefore of depreciating the


value of their advantages and acquirements, it is my inten-
tion to point out, so far as I am able, how all these advan-
tages may be made conducive to the great end I have al-
ready supposed them to have in view — that of living for
others, rather than for themselves—of living for eternity,
rather than for time.

I have already stated, that I suppose myself to be ad-
dressing young women who are professedly Christians, and
who know that the profession of Christianity as the reli-
gion of the Bible, involves responsibility for every talent
they possess. By responsibility I mean, that they should
consider themselves, during the whole of their lives, as in
a condition to say, if called upon to answer, whether they
have made use of the best means they were acquainted
with, for attaining what they believed to be the most de-
sirable end.

Youth and health are means of the utmost importance in
this great work. Youth is the season of impressions, and
can never be recalled ; health is a blessing of such bound-
less value, that when lost it may safely be said to be sighed
for more than any other, for the sake of the countless ad-
vantages it affords. Education is another means, which
you are now supposed to be enjoying in its fullest extent ;
for I have already said that I suppose myself to be address-
ing young women who are popularly spoken of as having
just completed their education. Fresh from the master's
hand, you will therefore never possess in greater perfection
the entire sum of your scholastic attainments than now.
Reading and conversation, it is true, may improve your
mind ; but of your present possessions, in the way of learn-
ing and accomplishments, how many will be lost through
indolence or neglect, and how many more will give place
to claims of greater urgency, or subjects of more lively
interest ?


The present moment, then, is the time to take into ac-
count the right use of all your knowledge and all your
accomplishments. What is the precise amount of these,
we will not presume to ask ; but let it not be forgotten, that
your accountability extends to the time, the trouble, and
the expense bestowed on your education, as well as to what
you may have actually acquired. How many years have
you been at school 1 — We will suppose from two to ten,
and that from one hundred pounds, to five or more, have
been expended upon you during this time ,• add to this the
number of teachers employed in your instruction, the num-
ber of books appropriated to your use, the time — to say
nothing of the patience — bestowed upon you, the anxiety
of parents, who probably spared with difficulty the sum that
was necessary for your education, their solicitude, their
self-denial, their prayers that this sum might be well ap-
plied ; reflect upon all these, and you will perceive that a
debt has been contracted, which you have to discharge to
your parents, your family, and to society — that you have
enjoyed a vast amount of advantages, for which you have
to account to the great Author of your being.

Such, then, is your position in life ; a Christian woman,
and therefore one whose first duty is to ascertain her proper
place — a sensitive and intelligent being, more quick to feel
than to understand, and therefore more under the necessity
of learning to feel rightly — a responsible being, with num-
berless talents to be accounted for, and believing that no
talent was ever given in vain, but that all, however appa-
rently trifling in themselves, are capable of being so used
as to promote the great end of our being, the happiness of
our fellow- creatures, and the glory of our Creator.

Let not my young friends, however, suppose that I am
about to lay down for them some system of Spartan disci-
pline, some iron rule % by which to effect the subjugation of


all that is buoyant in health, and delightful in the season of
youth. The rule I would propose to them is one by which
they may become beloved as well as lovely — the source of
happiness to others, as well as happy in themselves. My
desire is to assist them to overcome the three great ene-
mies to their temporal and eternal good — their selfishness,
indolence, and vanity, and to establish in their stead feel-
ings of benevolence and habits of industry, so blended with
Christian meekness, that while affording pleasure to all
who live within the sphere of their influence, they shall be
unconscious of the charm by which they please.

I have already stated, that women, in their position mlife>
must be content to be inferior to men ; but as their inferi-
ority consists chiefly in their want of power, this deficiency
is abundantly made up to them by their capability of exer-
cising influence ; it is made up to them also in other ways,
incalculable in their number and extent, but in none so
effectually as by that order of Divine Providence which
places them, in a moral and religious point of view, on the
same level with man; nor can it be a subject of regret to
any right-minded woman, that they are not only exempt
from the most laborious occupations both of mind and body,
but also from the necessity of engaging in those eager
pecuniary speculations, and in that fierce conflict of worldly
interests, by which men are so deeply occupied as to be in
a manner compelled to stifle their best feelings, until they
become in reality the characters they at first only assumed.
Can it be a subject of regret to any kind and feeling woman,
that her sphere of action is one adapted to the exercise of the
affections, where she may love, and trust, and hope, and
serve, to the utmost of her wishes 1 Can it be a subject of
regret that she is not called upon, so much as man, to cal-
culate, to compete, to struggle, but rather to occupy a sphere
in which the elements of discord cannot with propriety be


admitted — in which beauty and order are expected to de-
note her presence, and where the exercise of benevolence
is the duty she is most frequently called upon to perform.

Women almost universally consider themselves, and wish
to be considered by others, as extremely affectionate ;
scarcely can a more severe libel be pronounced upon a
woman than to say that she is not so. Now the whole law
of woman's life is a law of love. I propose, therefore, to
treat the subject in this light — to try whether the neglect
of their peculiar duties does not imply an absence of love,
and whether the principle of love, thoroughly carried out,
would not so influence their conduct and feelings as to ren-
der them all which their best friends could desire.

Let us, however, clearly understand each other at the
outset. To love, is a very different thing from a desire to
be beloved. To love, is woman's nature — to be beloved
is the consequence of her having properly exercised and
controlled that nature. To love, is woman's duty — to be
beloved, is her reward.

Does the subject, when considered in this point of view t
appear less attractive? " No," you reply, "it constitutes
the happiness of every generous soul, to love ; and if that
be the secret of our duty, the whole life of woman must
be a pleasant journey on a path of flowers."

Some writers have asserted, that along with the power
to love, we all possess, in an equal degree, the power to
hate. I am not prepared to go this length, because I would
not acknowledge the principle of hatred in any en-
lightened mind ; yet I do believe, that in proportion to our
capability of being attracted by certain persons or things,
is our liability to be repelled by others, and that along with
such repulsion there is a feeling of dislike, which belongs
to women in a higher degree than it does to men, in the
game proportion that their perceptions are more acute, and


their attention more easily excited by the minuter shades
of difference in certain things. Although not willingly
recognizing the sensation of hatred, as applied to anything
but sin, I am compelled to use the word, in order to render
my meaning more obvious ; and certainly, when we listen
to the unrestrained conversation of the generality of young
ladies, we cannot hesitate to suppose that the sensation of
hatred towards certain persons or things, does, in reality,
form part of the most important business of their lives.

To love and to hate, then, seem to be the two things
which it is most natural and most easy for women to do.
In these two principles how many of the actions of their
lives originate ? How important is it, therefore, that they
should learn in early life to love and hate aright.

Most young women of respectable parentage and educa-
tion, believe that they love virtue and hate vice. But have
they clearly ascertained what virtue and vice are — have
they examined the meaning of these two important words
by the light of the world, or by the light of divine truth ?
Have they listened to the plausible reasoning of what is
called society ; where things are often spoken of by false
names, and where vulgar vice is distinguished from that
which is sanctioned by good breeding 1 or have they gone
directly to the eternal and immutable principles of good and
evil, as explained in the Bible, which they profess to be-
lieve ? have they by this test tried all their favourite habits
— their sweet weaknesses — their darling idols ? and have
they been willing to abide the result of this test — to love
whatever approaches that standard of moral excellence, and
to renounce whatever is offensive to the pure eye of Omni-
science ? Now, when we reflect that all this must be done
before we can safely give ourselves up either to love or
hate, we shall probably cease to think that our great duty
is so easily performed.


Youth is the season for regulating these emotions as we
ought, because it is comparatively easy to govern our affec-
tions when first awakened ; after they have been allowed
for some time to flow in any particular channel, it requires
a painful and determined effort to restrain or divert their
course ; nor does the constitution of the human mind en-
dure this revulsion of feeling unharmed. As the country
over whose surface an impetuous river has poured its
waters, retains, after those waters are gone, the sterile
track they once pursued, marring the picture as with a
scar — a seamy track of barrenness and drought ; so the
course of misplaced affection leaves its indelible trace upon
the character, breaking the harmony of what might other-
wise have been most attractive in its beauty and repose.

There is, perhaps, no subject on which young women
are apt to make so many and such fatal mistakes as in the
regulation of their emotions of attraction and repulsion ; and
chiefly for this reason — because there is a popular notion
prevailing amongst them, that it is exceedingly becoming
to act from the impulse of the moment, to be, what they
call, " the creatures of feeling," or, in other words, to ex-
clude the high attribute of reason from those very emotions
which are given them, especially, to serve the most exalted
purposes. " It is a cold philosophy," they say, " to calcu-
late before you feel ;" and thus they choose to act from im-
pulse rather than from principle.

The unnatural mother does this when she singles out a
favourite child as the recipient of all her endearments,
leaving the neglected one to pine away its little life. The
foolish mother does this, when she withholds, from imagin-
ed tenderness, the wholesome discipline which infancy re-
quires — choosing for her unconscious offspring a succession
of momentary indulgences which are sure to entail upon
them years of suffering in after life. The fickle friend does



this, when she conceives a sudden distaste for the compa-

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Online LibrarySarah Stickney EllisThe daughters of England : their position in society, character and responsibilities → online text (page 1 of 22)