A Tendency Or Two
( Originally Published Late 1800's )
There is a growing tendency in our social life to neglect the duties which we owe to our homes. The cares of business press so heavily upon us, or the exactions of social customs consume our time to such a degree, that we are in danger of turning our homes into boarding - houses or fashionable dress - making establishments. A married couple rent a house, hire a servant or two, and the man goes to his business and the woman to her fashionable life. The man comes home to eat and sleep after his work by day and his club hours by night. The woman sits in the parlor, passes an idle, inexcusably useless life. The children are turned out to hired nurses, and the home which was intended as a school of virtue is turned into a hot-bed of vice through the chill of neglect.
Thus home comes to be a convenience of out daily life, where two people mutually agree to board with each other. The place may be sumptuously furnished with all that wealth can buy, or it may be a cottage of a laborer. In either case the husband's life is immersed in business; the wife is equally immersed in dress and society. The husband, in the pursuit of the almighty dollar, has no time to devote to wife and children at home. He pays the monthly bills incurred for their support, and with that he thinks his duty done. The wife devotes the energies of her life, not to the beautifying of home, but that of her person. She turns over to brainless servants the care of her home and the rearing of her children. She goes into society from time to time, and when she has displayed her dress and ornaments and left an impression of her husband's wealth and influence, she thinks her duty done. The rest of her time is spent in abject idleness or with her dressmaker. The children, entrusted to a paid nurse, are gratified with every indulgence. They grow up in a willful childhood, indolent and frivolous youth, into selfish manhood and useless womanhood. Like their parents, they are unfitted to meet the grave responsibilities of life and to plant the institution of a new home. The members of such a home oftentimes do not have more than a speaking acquaintance with each other. They meet once a day at dinner, and even here they have little in common. The wife and children know nothing of the business cares of the father, and they could not talk intelligently upon the matters which interest him. He knows nothing of the social appointments and frivolities of dress, which interest the mother and daughters. The sons are either employed in business, like their father, or in the dissipations of the street and club. Thus, too often, the homes of the rich, where peace and plenty should dwell, become mere fashionable boarding-houses for an idle, wasteful family. The true idea of home is lost and forgotten. It becomes no longer a school of manly character, but a school of selfishness and vice. The children of such a home are not trained to lives of self-denial and true nobility of character, but are led from indulgence to selfishness, and from selfishness on to wickedness. This is the home of the city, where the evil tendencies of our society are undermining the sanctity and blessedness of home.
No doubt some of my readers will remember an old farm-house among the hills of the country, where the orchards sweep and the meadow lands lay clothed in beauty. There was no beautiful architecture in the old farm-house; its bare walls and bare floors, cheer-less windows and low ceilings are printed deeply upon the fading memories of our youth. In the old home-stead there was love and peace and the rollicking joys of childhood. In the old kitchen, in the bright firelight a gray-haired mother sat, knitting and nodding in the winter evenings; near her sat the father of the family, with his day's work done, and the children upon his knees; with story and song he was delighting their young hearts. The old homestead is gone. The mother and father lie beneath the swarded mounds in the grave-yard ; but out from that home have gone into the world men of iron will, stern purpose and noble character, to do 'manly service in this world of work. And from that home have gone noble girls to adorn, with the presence of an angel, other homes in distant states.
In this country home there was no wealth, only goodness and love and gentleness. In that city home there was wealth, but none of the elements that go to make up true home life. There are homes in the country as well as in the city, on the farm as well as in the town, where the pursuit of the almighty dollar is the only thought of the inmates. Here, too, are bare walls, and bare floors, and grim unhappiness. Bare and unhappy, because the money required to purchase the decent comforts of life, to say nothing of its luxuries, must be devoted to the bank account and the purchase of stocks and bonds. The love of pelf destroys all those noble associations of home-life. The father and mother are the slaves of toil ; the children are ground down to the barest necessities of life ; no want is supplied, or indulgence granted. That money is thought to be wasted which goes to hang a picture on the wall, put books in the library, music in the parlor and good food upon the table. That money is counted lost which buys flowers for the yard and makes the outward appointments of the house nice and comfortable. That money is counted lost which is expended to grant some pleasure or purchase a toy for a child. What a mean thing life is in such a home ! A child will leave it, as he ought to, leave it, at the earliest possible moment. He will go out from such a home, glad to be free from the annoying restraints and enforced poverty of his childhood and youth. Thousands of the young are flying from such homes every year, to escape the hard condition of their early lives. They crowd into our great cities, they swarm the avenues of labor that seem to promise a higher significance and better hope. Ancestral acres are abandoned, the long bank account of the parsimonious father is left behind. The children leave home, and the old folks are left to pass a discontented and unhappy old age. When the father and the mother die, the homestead is sold. The stranger's money and the stranger's presence efface the memory of the unhappy years of youth. From such a home children go forth to lives of dissipation, vice and crime.
These tendencies in our American life bode ill to the American States. Whatever touches the sanctity of home and destroys the primary school of character, is a menace to society and a danger to the republic. Some of us received from Christian parents, in a home of happiness and love, those traits of character which have bound us fast to duty and integrity amid the world's temptations. What we received in the weakness of childhood, we should be willing to impart to others in the strength of manhood. To the homes which God has given us, to the children of our care, we owe a solemn duty. Their future happiness or unhappiness, and their future usefulness in life, depend almost entirely upon the manner in which we meet this duty. No man has any right to assume so many cares that he can devote no attention to the culture and training of his family. No woman has any right to fill her life with the frivolities of fashion, to the neglect of the immortal souls intrusted to her care. To mother more than to all other agencies is due the character of the child ; if she fail in the duties thrust upon her, then the altar of home-life becomes a desecrated shrine. The powers of the king are taken from him. The queen is dethroned, and the poor subject rises at last to smite its oppressor. Oh, the desecrated homes ! Oh, the schools of vice ! Oh, the temples of pollution that are reared in the name of the American home! We are told that the French people have no word that will adequately translate the English word home. But surely in that sunny land of France they must have the thing without the name, while so many of the English-speaking races have the name without the thing.