Sarah Stickney Ellis.

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

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nature of their employments, the associations they form,
and the subjects which engage their attention, all tend to
give to the minds of men in general, a clearness of under-
standing on certain points, and an acquaintance with im-
portant facts, beyond what is possessed by one woman in a
thousand ; though, at the same time, women have a vast
advantage over them in this respect, that the liveliness and
facility of their intellectual powers, enable them to invest
with interest many of the inferior, and less important topics
of conversation.

General knowledge, however, is not less important to
them, than to men, in the effect it produces upon their
own minds and feelings. A well-informed woman may
generally be known, not so much by what she tells you, as
by what she does not tell you ; for she is the last to take
pleasure in mere gossip, or to make vulgar allusions to the
appearance, dress, or personal habits, of her friends and
neighbours. Her thoughts are not in these things. The
train of her reflections goes not along with the eating, drink-
ing, visiting, or scandal, of the circle in which she moves.
She has a world of interest beyond her local associations ;
and while others are wondering what is the price of her
furniture, or where she bought her watch ; she, perhaps, is
mentally solving that important question, whether civiliza*
tion ever was extinguished in a Christian country.

Nor is it merely to be able to say, when asked, in what
year any particular sovereign reigned — that knowledge is
worth acquiring. Its highest use is to be able to assist on
all occasions in the establishment of truth, by a clear state-
ment of facts ; to say what experience has proved ; and to
overcome prejudice by just reasoning. It enables us also
to take expansive views of every subject upon which our
minds can be employed, so as never to argue against general
principles, from opposite impressions produced merely upon
our own minds.


As a farther illustration of this narrow kind of reasoning,
we will suppose a case. A well-meaning, but ignorant man,
derives a considerable income from a sugar plantation in
the West Indies, by which he supports a number of poor
relations. He argues thus — " If slavery be abolished, it
will injure my profits ; and I shall no longer be able to
support my relations. It is good that I should exercise my
benevolent feelings through this channel ; consequently,
the slave-trade must also be good. I will, therefore, neither
vote for the abolition of slavery, nor give my countenance
to those who do." A more truly enlightened man, though
no more influenced by kindly feeling, would know, that it
must always be right to uphold right principles, and that
God may safely be trusted with the consequences to our-

Nor is it from our own personal feelings alone, that we
become liable to this perversion of judgment, with regard
to things in general. Prejudice has ever been found more
infectious than the plague, and scarcely less fatal. We hear
our friends speak warmly on subjects we do not understand.
They argue vehemently, and our minds, from want of
knowledge, are open to receive as truth, the greatest possi-
ble absurdities, which, in our turn, we embrace and defend,
until they become more dear to us than truth itself. The
probable conclusion is, that in the course of time, we prefer
to remain in error, rather than be convinced that we have
all the while been wrong. Thus, it is often ignorance
alone, which lays the foundation of many of those serious
mistakes in opinion and conduct, for which we have to bear
all the blame, and suffer all the consequences, of moral

Want of general knowledge is also a very sufficient reason
why some persons, when they mix in good society, live in
a state of perpetual fear lest their deficiencies should be


found out. Their's is not that amiable modesty which
arises from a sense of the superiority of others ; for to
admire our friends, or even our fellow-creatures, is always
a pleasurable sensation ; while a conviction of our own
ignorance of such topics as are generally interesting in good
society, carries with it a feeling of disgraceful humiliation,
perfectly incompatible with enjoyment. Uneasiness, timid-
ity, and shyness, with an awkward shrinking from every
office of responsibility, or post of distinction, are the un-
avoidable accompaniments of this conviction ; and from
this cause, how many opportunities of extending our sphere
of usefulness are lost ! How many opportunities of rational
and lawful enjoyment, too, especially if, from a conscious-
ness of our own inferiority, we refuse to associate with
persons of better information and more enlightened minds.
Our sufferings are then of a twofold nature, arising from a
sense of mortification at our loss, and from the fretfulness
and irritation of temper which such privations naturally

It is well, too, if envy does not steal in, to poison the
little comfort we might otherwise have left — well if we do
not look with evil eye upon the higher attainments of our
friends — well if, while we professedly admire, we do not
throw out some hint that may tend to diminish their value
in the estimation of others.

Thus, there is no end to that culpable want of knowledge,
which must be the consequence of an idle or wasted youth.
We may, and we necessarily must, learn much in after
years by experience, observation, reading, and conversation.
But we are then, perhaps, in middle age, only acquiring a
bare knowledge of those facts, which ought in by-gone years
to have been forming our judgment, fixing our principles,
and supplying our minds with intellectual food.

If there is no calculation to be made of the evils arising


from a want of knowledge, as little can we estimate the
amount of good, of which knowledge lays the foundation.
Perhaps one of its greatest recommendations to a woman,
is the tendency it has to diffuse a calm over the ruffled
spirit, and to supply subjects of interesting reflection, under
circumstances the least favourable to the acquisition of new

Such is the position in society which many estimable
women are called to fill, that unless they have stored their
minds with general knowledge during the season of youth,
they never have the opportunity of doing so again. How
valuable, then, is such a store, to draw upon for thought,
when the hand throughout the day is busily employed, and
sometimes when the head is also weary. It is then that
knowledge not only sweetens labour, but often, when the
task is ended, and a few social friends are met together,
it comes forth unbidden, in those glimpses of illumination
which a well-informed, intelligent woman, is able to strike
out of the humblest material. It is then that, without the
slightest attempt at display, her memory helps her to throw
in those apt allusions, which clothe the most familiar objects
in borrowed light, and make us feel, after having enjoyed
her society, as if we had been introduced to a new, and
more intellectual existence than we had enjoyed before.

It is impossible for an ignorant, and consequently a short-
sighted, prejudiced woman, to exercise this influence over
us. We soon perceive the bounds of the narrow circle
within which she reasons, with self ever in the centre ;
we detect the opinions of others, in her own ; and we feel
the vulgarity with which her remarks may turn upon our-
selves, the moment we are gone.

How different is the enjoyment, the repose we feel in the
society of a well-informed woman, who has acquired in
early youth the habit of looking beyond the little affairs of


every-day existence — of looking from matter to mind —
from action to principle — from time to eternity. The gossip
of society — that many-toned organ of discord, seldom reach-
es her ; even slander, which so often slays the innocent,
she is in many cases able to disarm. Under all the little
crosses and perplexities which necessarily belong to house-
hold care, she is able to look calmly at their comparative
insignificance, and thus they never can disturb her peace ;
while in all the pleasures of intellectual and social inter-
course, it is her privilege to give as bountifully as she

It must not be supposed that the writer is one who would
advocate, as essential to a woman, any very extraordinary
degree of intellectual attainment, especially if confined to
one particular branch of study. " I should like to excel in
something," is a frequent, and, to some extent, a laudable
expression ; but in what does it originate, and to what does
it tend ? To be able to do a great many things tolerably
well, is of infinitely more value to a woman, than to be able
to excel in one. By the former, she may render herself
generally useful ; by the latter, she may dazzle for an hour.
By being apt, and tolerably well skilled in everything, she
may fall into any situation in life with dignity and ease — by
devoting her time to excellence in one, she may remain in-
capable of every other.

So far as cleverness, learning, and knowledge are con-
ducive to woman's moral excellence, they are therefore de-
sirable, and no farther. All that would occupy her mind to
the exclusion of better things, all that would involve her in
the mazes of flattery and admiration, all that would tend to
draw away her thoughts from others and fix them on her-
self, ought to be avoided as an evil to her, however brillian
or attractive it may be in itself.



As a picture which presents to the eye of the beholder,
those continuous masses of light and shade usually recog-
nized under the characteristic of breadth, though it may be
striking, and sometimes even sublime in its effect, yet, with-
out the more delicate touches of art, must ever be defective
in the pleasure it affords ; so the female character, though
invested with high intellectual endowments, must ever fail
to charm, without at least a taste for music, painting, or

The first of these requires no recommendation in the pre-
sent day. Indeed, the danger is, that the fair picture which
woman's character ought to present, should be broken up
into that confusion of petty lights and shades, which, in the
phraseology of painting, is said to destroy its effect as a
whole. May we not carry on the similitude still farther and
compare the more important intellectual endowments of hu-
man character to the broad lights and massive shadows of a
picture ; music, to the richness and variety of its colouring ;
painting, to correctness and beauty of its outline ; and poe-
try, to general harmony of the whole, consisting chiefly in
the aerial or atmospheric tints which convey the idea of
morning, noon, or evening, a storm, a calm, or any of the
seasons of the year ; with all the varied associations which
belong to each.

I have said that music requires no recommendation in the
present day, when to play like a professor ranks amongst
the highest attainments of female education. Since, then y


music is so universally regarded both by the wise and good,
not only as lawful, but desirable, it remains to be consider-
ed under what circumstances the practice of it may be ex-
pedient or otherwise.

In the first place, ' Have you what is called an ear for
music V If you are not annoyed by discord, nor made to
suffer pain by a false note, nor disturbed by errors in time,
let no persuasion ever induce you to touch the keys of a
piano, or the chords of a harp again.

Perhaps you reply, ' But I am so fond of music' I
question it not : for though difficult to be accounted for,
many persons, who have no ear, are fond of music. Yet,
why not, under such circumstances, be content to be a lis-
tener for the rest of your lives, and thankful that there are
others differently constituted, who are able to play for your
amusement, and who play with ease in a style superior to
what you would have attained by any amount of labour?
All have not the same natural gifts. You, in your turn,
may excel in something else ; but as well might an auto-
maton be made to dance, as a woman destitute of taste for
music, be taught to play with any hope of attaining excel-
lence, or even of giving pleasure to her friends. It is pos-
sible that by an immense expenditure of time and money, a
wooden figure might be so constructed, to dance so as to
take the proper steps at the right time ; hut the grace, the
ease, indeed all that gives beauty to the movements of the
dancer, must certainly be wanting. It is thus with music.
By a fruitless waste of tinie and application, the hand may
acquire the habit of touching the right keys ; but all which
constitutes the soul of music must be wanting to that per-
formance, where the ear is not naturally attuned to " the
concord of sweet sound."

It is a good thing to be a pleased and attentive listener*
even in music. And far happier sometimes is the unpre*


tending girl, who sits apart silently listening to another's
voice, than any one of the anxious group of candidates for
promotion to the music-stool, whose countenances occasion-
ally display the conflicting emotions of hope and fear, tri-
umph and disappointment.

There are, however, amongst men, and women too, cer-
tain individuals whose souls may be said to be imbued with
music as an instinct. It forms a part of their existence,
and they only live entirely in an atmosphere of sound. To
such it would be a cold philosophy to teach the expediency
of giving up the cultivation of music altogether, because of
the temptations it involves ; and yet to such individuals,
above all others, music is the most dangerous. To them
it may be said, that, like charity, though in a widely differ-
ent sense, it covers a multitude of sins ; for such is its influ-
ence over them, that while carried away by its allurements,
they scarcely see or feel like moral agents, so as to distin-
guish good from evil ; and thus they mistake for an intel-
lectual, nay, even sometimes for a spiritual enjoyment, the
indulgence of that passion, which is but too earthly in its

I will not say that music is a species of intoxication, but
I do think that an inordinate love of it may be compared to
intemperance, in the fact of its inciting the passions of the
human mind so much more frequently to evil than to good.
We are warranted by the language of Scripture to believe,
that music is a powerfully pervading principle in the uni-
verse of God. The harmony of the spheres is figuratively-
set forth under the idea of the morning stars singing together,
and the Apocalyptic vision abounds with allusions to celes-
tial choirs. Indeed, so perfectly in unison is music with
our ideas of intense and elevated enjoyment, that we can
scarcely imagine heaven without the hymning of the praises
of the Most High by the voices of angels and happy spirits.



But let it be remembered, that all this is in connection with
a purified state of being. It is where the serpent sin has
never entered, or after he has been destroyed. So long as
the evil heart is unsubdued — so long as there are desperate
passions to awaken — so long as the hand of man is raised
against his brother — so long as the cup of riotous indul-
gence continues to be filled — so long as temptation lurks
beneath the rose-leaves of enjoyment, music will remain to
be a dangerous instrument in the hands of those who are
by nature and by constitution its willing and devoted slaves.

Even to such, however, I would fain believe, that when
kept under proper restrictions, and regulated by right prin-
ciples, music may have its use. There can be no need to
advise such persons to cultivate, when young, their talent
for music. The danger is, that they will cultivate no other.

Between these individuals, and the persons first de-
scribed, there is a numerous class of human beings, of
whom it may be said, that they possess by nature a little
taste for music ; and to these the cultivation of it may be
desirable, or otherwise, according to their situation in life,
and the views they entertain of the use of accomplishments
in general. If the use of accomplishments be to make a
show of them in society, then a little skill in music is cer-
tainly not worth its cost. But if the object of a daughter
is to soothe the weary spirit of a father when he returns
home from the office or the counting-house, where he has
been toiling for her maintenance ; to beguile a mother of
her cares ; or to charm a suffering sister into forgetfulness
of her pain ; then a very little skill in music may often be
made to answer as noble a purpose as a great deal ; and
never does a daughter appear to more advantage, than when
she cheerfully lays aside a fashionable air, and strums over,
for more than the hundredth time, some old ditty which her
father loves. To her ear it is possible it may be altogether


divested of the slightest charm. But of what importance
is that ? The old man listens until tears are glistening in
his eyes, for he sees again the home of his childhood — he
hears his father's voice — he feels his mother's welcome —
all things familiar to his heart in early youth come back
to him with that long-remembered strain ; and, happiest
thought of all ! they are revived by the playful fingers of
his own beloved child. The brother too — the prodigal —
the alien from the paths of peace. In other lands, that
fire-side music haunts his memory. The voice of the
stranger has no melody for him. His heart is chilled.
He says, " I will arise and go to my father's home," where
a welcome, a heart-warm welcome, still awaits him. Yet
so wide has been the separation, that a feeling of estrange-
ment still remains, and neither words, nor looks, nor affec-
tionate embraces can make the past come back unshadowed,
or dispel the cloud which settles upon every heart. The
sister feels this. She knows the power of music, and when
the day is closing in, that first strange day of partial recon-
ciliation, she plays a low soft air. Her brother knows it
well. It is the evening hymn they used to sing together
in childhood, when they had been all day gathering flowers.
His manly voice is raised. Once more it mingles with the
strain. Once more the parents and the children, the sister
and the brother, are united as in days gone by.

It requires no extraordinary skill in execution to render
music subservient to the purposes of social and domestic
enjoyment ; but it does require a willing spirit, and a feel-
ing mind, to make it tell upon the sympathies and affections
of our nature.

There is a painful spectacle occasionally exhibited in
private life, when a daughter refuses to play for the gratifi-
cation of her own family, or casts aside with contempt the
-music they prefer; yet when a stranger joins the circle,


and especially when many guests are met, she will sit
down to the piano with the most obliging air imaginable,
and play with perfect good-will whatever air the company
may choose. What must the parents of such a daughter
feel, if they recollect the fact, that it was at their expense,
their child acquired this pleasing art, by which she appears
anxious to charm any one but them 1 And how does the
law of love operate with her ? Yet, music is the very art,
which by its mastery over the feelings and affections, calls
forth more tenderness than any other. Surely, then, the
principle of love ought to regulate the exercise of this gift,
in proportion to its influence upon the human heart. Surely,
it ought not to be cultivated as the medium of display, so
much as the means of home enjoyment ; not so much as a
spell to charm the stranger, or one who has no other link
of sympathy with us, as a solace to those we love, and a
tribute of gratitude and affection to those who love us.

With regard to the application and use of the art of paint-
ing, or perhaps we ought to say drawing, there is a very
serious mistake generally prevailing amongst young per-
sons, as well as amongst some -who are more advanced in
life. Drawing, as well as music, is not only considered
as something to entertain company with, but its desirable-
ness as an art is judged of precisely by the estimate which
is formed of those pieces of polished pasteboard brought
home from school, and exhibited as specimens of genius in
the delineation of gothic arches, ruined cottages, and flowers
as flat and dry as the paper on which they are painted.
The use of drawing, in short, is almost universally judged
of amongst young ladies, by what it enables them to produce ;
and no wonder, when such are the productions, that its
value should be held rather cheap.

It has often been said with great truth, that the first step
towards excellence in the art of drawing, is to learn to see ;


and certainly, nothing can be more correct than that the
quickening of the powers of observation, the habit of re-
garding, not only the clear outline, but the relative position
of objects, with the extension of the sphere of thought which
is thus obtained, is of infinitely more value in forwarding
the great work of intellectual advancement, than all the
actual productions of female artists since the world began.

There are many very important reasons why drawing
should be especially recommended to the attention of young
persons, and I am the more anxious to point them out, be-
cause, amongst the higher circles of society, it appears
to be sinking into disrepute, in comparison with music.
Amongst such persons, it is beginning to be considered as
a sort of handicraft, or as something which artists can do
better than ladies. In this they are perfectly right ; but
how then are they to reap the advantage to themselves,
which I am about to describe as resulting from an attentive
cultivation of the graphic art ?

Amongst these advantages, I will begin with the least. —
It is quiet. It disturbs no one ; for however defective the
performance may be, it does not necessarily, like music,
jar upon the sense. It is true, it may when seen offend
the practised eye ; but we can always draw in private, and
keep our productions to ourselves. In addition to this, it
is an employment which beguiles the mind of many cares,
because it never can be merely mechanical. The thoughts
must go along with it, for the moment the attention wanders,
the hand ceases from its operations, owing to the necessity
there is that each stroke should be different from any which
has previously been made. Under the pressure of anxiety,
in seasons of protracted suspense, or when no effort can be
made to meet an expected calamity, especially when that
calamity is exclusively our own, drawing is of all other
occupations the one most calculated to keep the mind from


brooding upon self, and to maintain that general cheerful-
ness which is a part of social and domestic duty.

Drawing, unlike most other arts, may be taken up at any
time of life, though certainly with less prospect of success
than when it has been pursued in youth. It can also be
laid down and resumed, as circumstance or inclination may
direct, and that without any serious loss ; for while the
hand is employed in other occupations, the eye may be
learning useful lessons to be worked out on some future

But the great, the wonder-working power of the graphic
art, is that by which it enables us to behold, as by a new
sense of vision, the beauty and the harmony of the crea-
tion. Many have this faculty of perception in their nature,
who never have been taught, perhaps not allowed, to touch
a pencil, and who remain to the end of their lives unac-
quainted with the rules of painting as an art. To them
this faculty affords but glimpses of the ideal, in connection
with the real ; but to such as have begun to practise the
art, by first learning to see, each succeeding day unfolds
some new scene in that vast picture, which the ever-vary-
ing aspect of nature presents. As the faculty of hearing,
in the savage Indian is sharpened to an almost incredible
degree of acuteness, simply from the frequent need he has
for the use of that particular sense ; so the eye of the
painter, from the habit of regarding every object with refe-

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Online LibrarySarah Stickney EllisThe daughters of England : their position in society, character and responsibilities → online text (page 6 of 22)