( Originally Published 1879 )
OUR nature demands home. It is the first essential element of our social being. This cannot be complete without the home relations; there would be no proper equilibrium of life and character without the home influence. The heart, when bereaved and disappointed, naturally turns for refuge to home-life and sympathy. No spot is so attractive to the weary one; it is the heart's moral oasis. There is a mother's watchful love and a father's sustaining influence; there is a husband's protection and a wife's tender sympathy; there is the circle of loving brothers and sisters—happy in each other's love. Oh, what is life without these! A desolation, a painful, gloomy pilgrimage through "desert heaths and barren sands."
Home influence may be estimated from the immense force of its impressions. It is the prerogative of home to make the first impression upon our nature, and to give that nature its first direction onward and upward. It uncovers the moral fountain, chooses its channel, and gives the stream its first impulse. It makes the " first stamp and sets the first seal" upon the plastic nature of the child. It gives the first tone to our desires and furnishes ingredients that will either sweeten or embitter the whole cup of life. These impressions are indelible and durable as life. Compared with them, other impressions are like those made upon sand or wax. These are like "the deep borings into the flinty rock." To erase them we must remove every strata of our being. Even the infidel lives under the holy influence of a pious mother's impressions. John Randolph could never shake off the restraining influence of a little prayer his mother taught him when a child. It preserved him from the clutches of avowed infidelity.,
The home influence is either a blessing or a curse, either for good or for evil. It cannot be neutral. In either case it is mighty, commencing with our birth, going with us through life, clinging to us in death, and reaching into the eternal world. It is that 'unitive power which arises out of the manifold relations and associations of domestic life. The specific influences of husband and wife, of parent and child, of brother and sister, of teacher and pupil, united and harmoniously blended, constitute the home influence.
From this we may infer the character of home influence. It is great, silent, irresistible and permanent. Like the calm, deep stream, it moves on in silent, but overwhelming power. It strikes its roots deep into the human heart, and spreads its branches wide over our - whole being. Like the lily that braves the tempest, and " the Alpine flower that leans its cheek on the bosom of eternal snows," it is exerted amid the wildest storms of life and breathes a softening spell in our bosom even when a heartless world is freezing up the fountains of sympathy and love. It is governing, restraining, attracting and traditional. It holds the empire of the heart and rules the life. It restrains the wayward passions of the child and checks him in his mad career of ruin.
Our habits, too, are formed under the moulding power of home. The " tender twig" is there bent, the spirit shaped, principles implanted, and the whole character is formed until it becomes a habit. Goodness or evil are there " resolved into necessity." Who does not feel this influence of home upon all his habits of life? The gray-haired father who wails in his second infancy, feels the traces of his childhood home in his spirit, desires and habits. Ask the strong man in the prime of life whether the most firm and reliable principles of his character were not the inheritance of the parental home.
The most illustrious statesmen, the most distinguished warriors, the most eloquent ministers, and the greatest benefactors of human kind, owe their greatness to the fostering influence of home. Napoleon knew and felt this when he said, "What France wants is good mothers, and you may be sure then that France will have good sons." The homes of the American revolution made the men of the revolution. Their influence reaches yet far into the inmost frame and constitution of our glorious republic. It controls the fountains of her power, forms the character of her citizens and statesmen, and shapes our destiny as a people. Did not the Spartan mother and her home give character to the Spartan nation? Her lessons to her child infused the iron nerve into the heart of that nation, and caused her sons, in the wild tumult of battle, "either to live behind their shields, or to die upon them!" Her influence fired them with a patriotism which was stronger than death. Had it been hallowed by the pure spirit and principles of Christianity what a power of good it would have been !
But alas! the home of an Aspasia had not the heart and ornaments of the Christian family. Though "the monuments of Cornelia's virtues were the character of her children," yet these were not "the ornaments of a quiet spirit." Had the central heart of the Spartan home been that of the Christian mother, the Spartan nation would now perhaps adorn the brightest page of history.
Home, in all well constituted minds, is always associated with moral and social excellence. The higher men rise in the scale of being, the more important and interesting is home. The Arab or forest man may care little for his home, but the Christian man of cultured heart and developed mind will love his home, and generally love it in proportion to his moral worth. He knows it is the planting-ground of every seed of morality—the garden of virtue, and the nursery of religion. He knows that souls immortal are here trained for the skies; that private worth and public character are made in its sacred retreat. To love home with a deep and abiding interest, with a view to its elevating influence, is to love truth and right, heaven and God.
Our life abroad is but a reflex of what it is at home. We make ourselves in a great measure at home. This is especially true of woman.' The woman who is rude, coarse and vulgar at home, cannot be expected to be amiable, chaste and refined in the world. Her home habits 'will stick to her. She cannot shake them off. They are woven into the web of her life. Her home language will be first on her tongue. Her home by-words will come out to mortify her just when she wants most to hide them in her heart. Her home vulgarities will show their hideous forms to shock her most when she wants to appear her best. Her home coarseness will appear most when she is in the most refined circles, and appearing there will abash her more than else-where. All her home habits will follow her. They have become a sort of second nature to her. It is much the same with men. It is indeed there that every man must be known by those who would make a just estimate either of his virtue or felicity; for smiles and embroidery are alike occasional, and the mind is often dressed for show in painted honor and fictitious benevolence. Every young woman should feel that just what she is at home she will appear abroad. If she attempts to appear otherwise, everybody will soon see through the attempt. We cannot cheat the world long about our real characters. The thickest and most opaque mask we can put on will soon become transparent. This fact we should believe without a doubt. Deception most often deceives itself. The deceiver is the most deceived. The liar is often the only one cheated. The young woman who pretends to what she is not, believes her pretense is not understood. Other people laugh in their sleeves at her foolish pretensions. Every young woman should early form in her mind an ideal of a true home. It should not be the ideal of a place, but of the character of home. Place does not constitute home. Many a gilded palace and sea of luxury is not a home. Many a flower-girt dwelling and splendid mansion lacks all the essentials of home. A hovel is often more a home than a palace. If the spirit of the congenial friendship link not the hearts of the inmates of a dwelling it is not a home. If love reign not there; if charity spread not her downy mantle over all; if peace prevail not; if contentment be not a meek and merry dweller therein; if virtue rear not her beautiful children, and religion come not in her white robe of gentleness to lay her hand in benediction on every head, the home is not complete. We are all in the habit of ` building for ourselves ideal homes. But they are generally made up of outward things—a house, a garden, a carriage, and the ornaments and appendages of luxury. And if, in our lives, we do not realize our ideas, we make ourselves miserable and our friends miserable. Half the women in our country are unhappy because their homes are not so luxurious as they wish.
The grand idea of home is a quiet, secluded spot, where loving hearts dwell, set apart and dedicated to improvement—to intellectual and moral improvement. It is not a formal school of staid solemnity and rigid discipline, where virtue is made a task and progress a sharp necessity, but a free and easy exercise of all our spiritual limbs, in which obedience is a pleasure, discipline a joy, improvement a self-wrought delight. All the duties and labors of home, when rightly understood, are so many means of improvement. Even the trials of home are so many rounds in the ladder of spiritual progress, if we but make them so. It is not merely by speaking to children about spiritual things that you win them over. If that be all you do, it will accomplish nothing, less than nothing. It is the sentiments which they hear at home, it is the maxims which rule your daily conduct—the likings and dislikings which you express—the whole regulations of the household, in dress, and food, and furniture—the récreations you indulge—the company you keep—the style of your reading—the whole complexion of daily life—this creates the element in which your children are either growing in grace, and preparing for an eternity of glory—or they are learning to live without God, and to die without hope.