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PRELIMINARY SKETCH OF THE OBLIGATIONS OF
Mrs. L. - Since the ceremony which you, my dear Madam, lately witnessed, and which was the commencement of a new era in my life, I am become aware of my ignorance in regard to the obligations now incumbent on me as a married woman. To your experience I refer for instruction regarding the extent and nature of my new duties, and the best mode of discharging them.
Mrs. B. - It may be well to give you, at first, a sketch of your new situation, which shall include a range of duty, belonging, not to you individually, but to married women in the great bulk of society, of those who are not members of either of the extreme ranks of the community, the highest and the lowest, but who have in common certain obligations and duties to discharge, which are varied, by the fortuitous circumstances of rank and fortune, more in degree than in number. For instance, and in the first place, every woman by marriage is placed at the head of a family, and in some degree or other acquires importance in society. This circumstance, alone, imposes on her an obligation to frame her conduct so as to render it at least irreproachable in the eyes of others, if not a model for imitation. In a greater or less number she has dependents around her, not only expecting to derive from her comfort and prosperity, but unconsciously regulating their conduct by hers, and imbibing from her precepts and opinions favourable or otherwise to their morals. She may have, in the course of time, a family of children around her — to them she ought to appear as an infallible guide and example; untarnished by habits, which, in their influence, would affect, prejudicially, the character of youth, and incapable of uttering sentiments in any way injurious to the cause of virtue.
In the next place, a woman increases, by her marriage, her family-ties and relationships. These give her new friendships to cultivate, and to cement with esteem and affection - while those previously formed are still to be preserved and maintained. This is by no means an unimportant point of attention; for the happiness of many a married couple has been materially affected by injudicious conduct towards both new and old connections. Jealousies and petty family-feuds spring from this source, and diminish the respectability, as well as the comfort of domestic life; to avert them needs only the exercise of good sense and good temper.
The mistress of a family has, too, the power,
generally, of being the spring of its movements, and the regulator of its habits. Exerting this power properly, she sees around her every one obedient to the laws of order and regularity. The laborious parts of household-occupations are all performed without unnecessary pressure, and the consequent comfort is felt by the whole family, and especially shown in the satisfied countenances of those who perform the work. They, knowing exactly their daily task, can by diligence earn for themselves periods of relaxation and rest, which would be completely lost but for the regularity prevailing throughout the family-arrangements. Where this is neglected, discontent and ill-humour have constant exciting causes in the confusion and discomfort which pervade the family.
Another point of duty, which usually devolves on the married woman, and which demands the constant exercise of judgment and prudence, is, the expenditure of that portion of income allotted to household exigences. Here judgment should direct and determine her to a just division of that sum between luxuries and essentials: prudence should secure her adherence to that division, and should regulate all the minutiæ of her expenditure. Extravagance and inattention to this branch of domestic management would be destructive of the comfort of almost every family, and perhaps fatal to its prosperity.
The married woman has also obligations of society to discharge, which may be said to extend beyond the bounds of family-connections and relationship : — she has to cultivate suitable acquaintance; to perform the various offices of good neighbourhood ; to be social, friendly, and charitable.
In the last place, the married woman has duties to herself to perform. These regard the government of herself in temper; in subjecting her mind and affections to her reason; in restraining and correcting propensities and habits prejudicial to the happiness of married life; in the disposal of her time, the improvement of her mental powers, the cultivation of morality, and the duties of religion.
Of all these social, domestic, and personal obligations, her husband is the centre: when they are properly discharged, his welfare and happiness are certainly promoted ; and his esteem, affection, and confidence established on a permanent basis. In neglecting them, he is neglected, his respectability diminished, and his domestic peace and comfort destroyed.
MRS. L. This is not a more enlarged view of the subject than every married woman ought, I think, to take, and yet how many pursue a plan of action on a far narrower scale. Some appear to inclose themselves, as it were, within the walls of their dwellings, and are scarcely sensible of any cares or duties beyond them.
Mrs. B. — So limited a scope of action has a tendency to circumscribe the powers of the mind, and even to contract the affections. The mind, likewise, often exercises itself prejudicially, when not sufficiently employed in important concerns. Thus you may sometimes observe women of considerable powers occupied with needless anxieties ; destroy
ing health by solicitude to preserve it; fretful and anxious on the subject of children, servants, and all the world; and oftentimes self-willed and captious, only for want of employment.
MRS. L. There can be no doubt that home should contain the strongest affections of the wife and parent, and should be the seat of her vigilance and cares; but I have yet to learn if these are sufficient to engage, exclusively, the heart and mind, and to close them against a larger field for their exercise and employment.
Mrs. B. — Any extreme in conduct can rarely be necessary, and can as seldom be pursued without some injurious effect. There are instances, it is true, in which circumstances demand devotedness to household concerns, and to maternal cares, and which render such a line of conduct highly praiseworthy. But those whose station and affluence enable them to command the service of others in household cares, are not to be commended if they toil through the duties their servants ought to perform. In doing this, they are led to neglect the more varied and extensive claims which are attached to their sphere of life, and thereby to diminish their value in society, and to render their characters, as a whole, imperfect.
Mrs. L. — And yet, confined and unpleasing as such a character is, is it not preferable to one that pursues an opposite extreme ? — one who, selfishly, regardless of family-duties, leads a life of dissipation and amusement; whose heart and soul are always in the world, and never at home?