Well Doing, Woman's Culture
( Originally Published 1879 )
I AM happy, says G. S. Weaver, in knowing that although men differ about woman's intellectual capacities, they agree in ascribing to her the highest order of moral and social qualities. All admit that woman is the morality and religion, the love and sociality, of humanity. In these developments of human attainments, she is the queen without a peer. These are at present woman's peculiar fields of power. Society has measurably shut her out from the intellectual arena of life. But if it has cut short her operations in this, it has extended them in the field of social life. Wide and grand are her opportunities here. Man is not so deficient in gallantry as he is in generosity and judgment. In what man has oppressed woman it is more the fault of his head than his heart; it is more a weakness of conscience than of affection. He is prouder of his judgment than he ought to be. His judgment often fails because it is not sanctified by conscience. His intellect is often deceived because its vision is not extended and widened by a deep affection and a broad benevolence. In this, woman has the advantage of him in the present relations of the sexes. Her moral sense consecrates her intellect, and her heart quickens it, thus making her judgment more intuitive and ready, more comprehensive and sure. She feels that a thing is so; he reasons that it is so. She judges by impression when facts are stated; he by logic. Her impressions she cannot always explain, because her intellect has not been sufficiently cultivated; his logic often fails him, because it is not sufficiently imbued with the moral element. The light of the conscience and the heart does not shine upon it with sufficient strength. This we understand to be the present difference between the male and female mind. It is more than a difference in growth and culture, in inherent constitution. We do not believe that the relation between the different departments of the human mind naturally differ in men and women; that is, we do not believe that man is more intelligent and less moral, and woman more moral and less intellectual. A perfect male mind is an equal strength of the several departments of mind; that is, an equal strength of the intellectual, moral, social, and energetic portions of the mind, a balance among its several powers. The same is true of the female mind.
So far as this relation of the parts is concerned, it is the same in the perfect male and female mind. In just so much as this relation is changed, is the judgment corrupted and the mental strength impaired. In the present male mind this relation is changed by giving the greater cultivation to the intellect, and less to the moral sense and the heart. So his judgment is impaired and the moral dignity of his soul debased. He is a less man than he ought to be; is deformed in his mental growth like a tree grown in a shady place where the light could reach it from only one quarter. He has less power of mind than he would have with the same amount of cultivation properly and equally distributed among the several departments of his mind. Strength lies in balance of power. Our men are not too intellectual, but too intellectual for their moral and affectionate strength. They are like an apple grown all on one side, or a horse with disproportioned body, or any animal with some of its limbs too short for the rest. Mentally they are deformed and lame by their one-sided culture. In the present female mind there is a disproportion in another direction. In this the intellect . has been neglected, while the moral and social mind has had a better degree of cultivation. Thus our women have been mentally deformed and weakened. They are less woman than they ought to have been. Their characters and judgments have lacked harmony, and their lives have been marked by the 'same deficiencies. Their minds are one-sided and marked with sad irregularities. They are not too moral and affectionate, but are not sufficiently intellectual. The same amount of culture which they have received would have conferred more beauty and dignity to the character and life had it been more general, or equally applied to the several powers of mind. Sound judgment, pure life, dignity of character are the results of a balance of power and culture in the several departments of mind. This difference in the culture of the male and female mind has made a breach between the sexes. The present male mind cannot comprehend the female, nor the female the male. Instead of growing up in similarity and harmony, they have grown up into wide differences.
The male and female mind are not alike by nature, by any means. There is a wide difference between them; but the difference is in the nature, texture, and .quality of the mind, and not in the relation of parts. The female mind has an inherent constitution peculiar to itself that makes it female; so with the male. This difference is beyond the fathoming line of human thought. We know it exists, but wherefore and how we know not. It is the secret of the Divine Constructor of mentality. In our mental structure we are to seek for harmony, a consistent rhythmic development of parts. The opportunities offered to woman for the cultivation of her moral and religious nature are eminently favorable. If her intellectual opportunities are not so good, her moral and religious are better.
She is not so pressed with temptation. The world does not bear with such an Atlas burden on her conscience. The almighty dollar does not eclipse so large a field of her mental vision. Material pursuits do not check so much her spiritual progress. God is nearer to her heart, more in her thoughts, sweeter in her soul, brighter in her visions, because she is less compassed about by the snares of vice and the hostile pursuits of the false and flattering world. It is a blessed thing for humanity that woman is more religious and morally upright; because man is too irreverent and base. He lacks the sanctity of high morality and the consecration of religion. I speak of man in the mass. Woman is the conservation of morality and religion. Her moral worth holds man in some restraint and preserves his ways from becoming inhumanly corrupt. Mighty is the power of woman in this respect. Every virtue in woman's heart has its influence on the world. Some men feel it. A brother, husband, friend, or son, is touched by its sunshine. Its mild beneficence is not lost. A virtuous woman in the seclusion of her home, breathing the sweet influence of virtue into the hearts and lives of its beloved ones, is an evangel of goodness to the world. She is one of the pillars of the eternal kingdom of right. She is a star shining in the moral firmament. She is a princess administering at the fountains of life. Every prayer she breathes is answered to a greater or less extent in the hearts and lives of those she loves. Her piety is an altar-fire where religion acquires strength to go out on its merciful mission. We cannot overestimate the utility and power of woman's moral and religious character. The world would go to ruin without it. With all our ministers and churches, and Bibles and sermons, man would be a prodigal without the restraint of woman's virtue and the consecration of her religion. Woman, first lays her hand on our young powers. She plants the first seeds. She makes the first impressions; ,and all along through life she scatters the good seed of the kingdom and sprinkles the dews of her piety. But woman does not do enough. Her power is not yet equal to its need. Her virtue is not mighty enough. Her religion comes short in its work. Look out and see the world—a grand Pandora's box of wickedness-a great battle-field of clashing passions and warring interests— a far-spread scene of sensualism and selfishness, in which woman herself acts a conspicuous part. Look at society—the rich eating up the poor; the poor stabbing at the rich; fashion playing in the halls of gilded sensualism; folly dancing to the tune of ignorant mirth; intemperance gloating over its roast beef, or whisky jug, brandy punch, champagne bottle, bearing thousands upon thousands down to the grave of igno miny, sensualism, and drunkenness. Is there not a need of more vigorous virtue in woman? Is there not a call for a more active religion, a more powerful impulse in behalf of morality? Who shall heed this cry of wicked, wasting humanity, if young woman does not ? To youthful woman we must look for a powerful leader in the cause of morality and religion. The girls of to-day are to be greatly instrumental in giving a moral complexion to the society of to-morrow. It is important that they should fix high this standard of virtue. They ought to lay well their foundations of religion. They ought early to baptize their souls in the consecrated waters of truth and right.
The first element in their moral character which they should seek to establish firmly is purity. A pure heart is the fountain of life. "The pure in heart shall see God." Not only is purity of life needed to make a young woman beautiful and useful, but purity in thought, feeling, emotion, and motive. All within us that lies open to the gaze of God should be pure. A young woman should be in heart what she seems to be in life. Her words should correspond with her thoughts. The smile of her face should be the smile of her heart. The light of her eye should be the light of her soul. She should abhor deception; she should loathe intrigue; she should have a deep disgust of duplicity. Her life should be the outspoken language of her mind, the eloquent poem of her soul speaking in rhythmic beau-ties the intrinsic merit of inward purity. Purity antecedes all spiritual attainments and progress. It is the first and fundamental virtue in a good character; it is the letter A in the moral alphabet; it is the first step in the spiritual life; it is the Alpha of the eternal state of soul which has no Omega. Whatever may be our mental attainments or social qualities, we are nothing without purity; only "tinkling cymbals." Our love is stained, our benevolence corrupted, our piety a pretense which God will not accept. An impure young woman is an awful sight. She outrages all just ideas of womanhood, all proper conceptions of spiritual beauty.
To have evil imaginings, corrupt longings, or deceitful propensities ought to startle any young woman. To feel a disposition to sensuality, a craving for the glitter of a worldly life, or a selfish ambition for unmerited distinction is dangerous in the extreme. It is the exuding of impure waters from the heart. Who feels such utterings within should beware. They are the whisperings of an evil spirit, the temptations to sin and crime. If I could speak to all the young women in the world, I would strive to utter the intrinsic beauties and essential qualities of purity; I would seek to illustrate it as the fountain of all that is great and good, all that is spiritually grand and redeeming. There is no virtue, no spiritual life, no moral beauty, no glory of soul, nor dignity of character without purity.
The second virtue she should cultivate is benevolence. Queen of virtues, lovely star in the crown of life, bright and glorious image of Him who is love, how beautiful is it in woman's heart ! A woman without benevolence is not a woman; she is only a deformed personality of womanhood. In every heart there are many tendencies to selfishness, but the spirit of benevolence counteracts them all. A hollow, cold, graceless, ungodly thing is a heart without benevolence. In a world like this, where we are all so needy and dependent, where our interests are so interlocked, where our lives and hearts overlap each other, and often grow together, we cannot live without a good degree of benevolence. Our true earth-life is a benevolent one. Our highest interests are in the path of benevolence. We do most for ourselves when we do most for others. "It is more blessed to give than to receive." Good deeds double in the doing, and the larger half comes back to the door. The most benevolent soul lives nearest to God. A large heart of charity is a noble thing. Selfishness is the root of evil; benevolence is its cure. In no heart is benevolence more beautiful than in youthful woman's. In no heart is selfishness more ugly. To do good is noble; to be good is nobler. This should be the aim of all young women. The poor and needy should occupy a large place in their hearts. The sick and suffering should move upon their sympathies. The sinful and criminal should awaken their deepest pity. The oppressed and down-trodden should find a large place in their compassion. How blessed is woman on errands of mercy! How sweet are her soothing words to the disconsolate! How consoling her tears of sympathy to the mourning! How fresh her spirit of hope to the discouraged! How soft her hand to the sick ! How balmy the breath of her'love to the oppressed! Woman appears in one of her loveliest aspects when she appears as the practical follower of Him who "went about doing good." The young woman who does these works of practical benevolence is educating her moral powers in the school of earnest and glorious life. She is laying the foundations for a noble and useful womanhood. She is planting the seeds of a charity that will grow to bless and save the suffering of our fellow-men. In no other way can she so successfully cultivate the virtue of benevolence. It is not enough that she pity the sorrows of the poor and suffering. Her hand must be taught to heed the pleadings of her pitying heart. What she feels, she must do. What she wishes, she must make an effort to accomplish. What she prays for, she must strive to attain. Everybody predicts a beautiful life from a good-doing young woman.
The third virtue which the young woman should cultivate is integrity, or the sentiment of duly. A German philosopher has poetically and truthfully said, "The two most beautiful things in the universe are the starry heavens above our heads and the sentiment of duty in the human soul." Few objects are richer for the contemplation of a truly high-minded man than a young woman who lives, acts, speaks, and exerts her powers from an enlightened conviction of duty ; in whose soul the voice of duty is the voice of God. In such women there is a mighty force of moral power. Though they may be gentle as the lamb, or retiring and modest in their demeanor, there is in them what commands respect, what enforces esteem. They are the strong women. The sun is not truer to his course than they to theirs. They are reliable as the everlasting rocks. Every day finds in them the same beautiful, steady, moral firmness. Men look to them with a confidence that knows no doubt. They are fearless and brave, they have but to know their duty to be ready to engage in it. Though men laugh or sneer, though the world frown or threaten, they will do it. There is no bravado in them; it is the simple power of integrity. They are true to what to them seems right. Such spirits are often the mildest and meekest we have. They are sweet as the flower while they are firm as the rock. We know them by their lives. They are consistent, simple-hearted, uniform, and truthful. The word on the tongue is the exact speech of the heart. The expression they wear is the spirit they bear. Their parlor demeanor is their kitchen and closet manner. Their courtesy abroad is their politeness at home. Their confiding converse is such as the world may hear and respect them the more for it. Such are the women of integrity. Men love to trust their fortunes in their hands. The good love to gather around them for the blessing of their smiles; they strew their pathway with moral light. They bless without effort; they teach sentiments of duty and honesty in every act of their lives. Such is the rectitude of character which every young woman should cultivate. Nothing will more surely secure confidence and esteem. There is especial need of such cultivation, for young women are doubted in many respects more generally than any other class of people. Most people seldom think of believing many things they hear from the lips of young women, so little is genuine integrity cultivated among them. I am sorry to make such a remark. I wish truth did not compel it.
I would that young women would cultivate the strictest regard for truth in all things; in small as well as in important matters. Exaggeration or false coloring is as much a violation of integrity as a direct false hood. Equivocation is often falsehood. Deception in all forms is opposed to integrity. Mock manners, pre-tended emotions, affectation, policy plans to secure attention and respect are all sheer falsehoods, and in the end injure her who is guilty of them. Respect and affection are the outgrowth of confidence. She who secures the firmest confidence will secure the most respect and love. No love is lasting but that which rests in confidence. Confidence can only be secured by integrity. The young woman with a high sense of duty will always secure confidence, and having this, she will secure respect, affection, and influence.
The fourth virtue of inestimable value which the young woman should cultivate is piety. This may be regarded as the crown of all moral virtues. It is that which sanctifies the rest. It is a heavenly sun in the moral firmament, shedding a divine luster through the soul—a balmy, hallowing light, sweeter than earth can give. Piety is the meek-eyed maid of heaven, that holds her sister Faith in one hand and Hope in the other, and looks upward with a confiding smile, saying, "My treasure is above." Of all the influences wrought in the human soul, the work of piety is the most harmonizing and divine. It subdues the flesh and the world, and calls down heaven to bless the happy pietist. It is the constant, ever-speaking voice of the Father uttering in sublime and beautiful impressions the holy eloquence of his everlasting love. It is the communing ground of the mortal child with the immortal Parent. In the mind of youthful woman it is as beautiful as. it can be anywhere. And when she consecrates all her powers by the laying on of its heavenly hands, and sanctifies all her feelings by its hallowed influences., she exhibits a view of beauty—of physical, moral, and spiritual beauty—not elsewhere surpassed on earth.
A deep, pervading, all-controlling piety is the highest attainment of man on earth. It is that reverent, humble, grateful, affectionate, and virtuous purity of spirit in which the human and divine meet and embrace each other. It is the spiritual crown which men put on when they go into the kingdom of heaven. This is what we urge as the last and finishing excellency of the youthful female character. The cultivation of this is what we press as conferring mortal perfection of character, or as great perfection as frail, sinful creatures can put on below "the mansions of the skies."
We urge it as the best and highest duty of every young woman —a duty she owes to herself; her fellows, and her God—a duty as full of joys as the heavens are of stars, and when performed, reflecting matchless grace upon her soul. We do not urge it through fear of hell or hope of heaven; we do not urge it from motives of policy we urge it for its own intrinsic worth; for the blessedness of being pious; for the excellency and worth of character and life it confers. No character is complete till it is swayed and elevated by genuine piety. No heart is fully happy till it is imbued with the spirit of piety. No life is all it may and should be till its motives are baptized in the waters of piety. No soul is saved till it is transformed by the gracious spirit of this daughter of the skies. This divine grace of the soul should be sought by every young woman, and cultivated with the most assiduous care, for without it she is destitute of the highest beauty and divinest charm and power of womanhood.