The Young Lady's Mentor - A Guide to the Formation of Character. In a Series of Letters to Her Unknown Friends
by A Lady
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A Guide to the Formation of Character. In a Series of Letters to Her Unknown Friends



Philadelphia: H.C. Peck & Theo. Bliss.



The work which forms the basis of the present volume is one of the most original and striking which has fallen under the notice of the editor. The advice which it gives shows a remarkable knowledge of human character, and insists on a very high standard of female excellence. Instead of addressing herself indiscriminately to all young ladies, the writer addresses herself to those whom she calls her "Unknown Friends," that is to say, a class who, by natural disposition and education, are prepared to be benefited by the advice which she offers. "Unless a peculiarity of intellectual nature and habits constituted them friends," she says in her preface, "though unknown ones, of the writer, most of the observations contained in the following pages would be uninteresting, many of them altogether unintelligible."

She continues: "That advice is useless which is not founded upon a knowledge of the character of those to whom it is addressed: even were the attempt made to follow such advice, it could not be successful."

"The writer has therefore neither hope nor wish of exercising any influence over the minds of those who are not her 'Unknown Friends.' There may, indeed, be a variety in the character of these friends; for almost all the following Letters are addressed to different persons; but the general intellectual features are always supposed to be the same, however the moral ones may differ."

"One word more must be added. All of the rules and systems recommended in these Letters have borne the test of long-tried and extensive experience. There is nothing new about them but their publication."

The plan of the writer of the Letters enables her to give specific and practical advice, applicable to particular cases, and entering into lively details; whereas, a more general work would have compelled her to confine herself to vague generalities, as inoperative as they are commonplace.

The intelligent reader will readily appreciate and cordially approve of the writer's plan, as well as the happy style in which it is executed.

To the "Letters to Unknown Friends" which are inserted entire, the editor has added, as a suitable pendant, copious extracts from that excellent work, "Woman's Mission," and some able papers by Lord Jeffrey, the late accomplished editor of the Edinburgh Review.

Thus composed, the editor submits the work to the fair readers of America, trusting that it will be found a useful and unexceptionable "Young Lady's Mentor."


Contentment 7

Temper 31

Falsehood and Truthfulness 52

Envy 61

Selfishness and Unselfishness 74

Self-Control 93

Economy 117

The Cultivation of the Mind 137, 164

Amusements 193

The Influence of Women on Society 218

The Sphere of Woman's Influence 227

Education of Women 233

Love—Marriage 244

Literary Capabilities of Women 256

Ennui, and the Desire to be Fashionable 267

The Influence of Personal Character 270

On the Means of Securing Personal Influence 276



It is, perhaps, only the young who can be very hopefully addressed on the present subject. A few years hence, and your habits of mind will be unalterably formed; a few years hence, and your struggle against a discontented spirit, even should you be given grace to attempt it, would be a perpetually wearisome and discouraging one. The penalty of past sin will pursue you until the end, not only in the pain caused by a discontented habit of mind, but also in the consciousness of its exceeding sinfulness.

Every thought that rebels against the law of God involves its own punishment in itself, by contributing to the establishment of habits that increase tenfold the difficulties to which a sinful nature exposes us.

Discontent is in this, perhaps, more dangerous than many other sins, being far less tangible: unless we are in the constant habit of exercising strict watchfulness over our thoughts, it is almost insensibly that they acquire an habitual tendency to murmuring and repining.

This is particularly to be feared in a person of your disposition. Many of your volatile, thoughtless, worldly-minded companions, destitute of all your holier feelings, living without object or purpose in life, and never referring to the law of God as a guide for thought or action, may nevertheless manifest a much more contented disposition than your own, and be apparently more submissive to the decision of your Creator as to the station of life in which you have each been placed.

To account for their apparent superiority over you on this point, it must be remembered that it is one of the dangerous responsibilities attendant on the best gifts of God,—that if not employed according to his will, they turn to the disadvantage of the possessor.

Your powers of reflection, your memory, your imagination, all calculated to provide you with rich sources of gratification if exercised in proper directions, will turn into curses instead of blessings if you do not watchfully restrain that exercise within the sphere of duty. The natural tendency of these faculties is, to employ themselves on forbidden ground, for "every imagination of man's heart is evil continually." It is thus that your powers of reflection may only serve to give you a deeper and keener insight into the disadvantages of your position in life; and trivial circumstances, unpleasant probabilities, never dwelt on for a moment by the gay and thoughtless, will with you acquire a serious and fatal importance, if you direct towards them those powers of reasoning and concentrated thought which were given to you for far different purposes.

And while, on the one hand, your memory, if you allow it to acquire the bad habits against which I am now warning you, will be perpetually refreshing in your mind vivid pictures of past sorrows, wrongs, and annoyances: your imagination, at the same time, will continually present to you, under the most exaggerated forms, and in the most striking colours, every possible unpleasantness that is likely to occur in the future. You may thus create for yourself a life apart, quite distinct from the real one, depriving yourself by wilful self-injury of the power of enjoying whatever advantages, successes, and pleasures, your heavenly Father may think it safe for you to possess.

Happiness, as far as it can be obtained in the path of duty, is a duty in itself, and an important one: without that degree of happiness which most people may secure for themselves, independent of external circumstances, neither health, nor energy, nor cheerfulness can be forthcoming to help us through the task of our daily duties.

It is indeed true, that, under the most favourable circumstances, the thoughtful will never enjoy so much as others of that which is now generally understood by the word happiness. Anxieties must intrude upon them which others know nothing of: the necessary business of life, to be as well executed as they ought to execute it, must at times force down their thoughts to much that is painful for the present and anxious for the future. They cannot forget the past, as the light-hearted do, or life would bring them no improvement; but the same difficulties and dangers would be rushed into heedlessly to-morrow, that were experienced yesterday, and forgotten to-day; and not only past difficulties and dangers are remembered, but sorrows too: these they cannot, for they would not, forget.

In the contemplation of the future also, they must exercise their imagination as well as their reason, for the discovery of those evils and dangers which such foresight may enable them to guard against: all this kind of thoughtfulness is their wisdom as well as their instinct; which makes it more difficult for them than it is for others to fulfil the reverse side of the duty, and to "be careful for nothing."[1]

To your strong mind, however, a difficulty will be a thing to be overcome, and you may, if you only will it, be prudent and sagacious, far-sighted and provident, without dwelling for a moment longer than such duties require on the unpleasantnesses, past, present, and future, of your lot in life.

Having thus seen in what respects your superiority of mind is likely to detract from your happiness, in the point of the colouring given by your thoughts to your life, let us, on the other hand, consider how this same superiority may be so directed as to make your thoughts contribute to your happiness, instead of detracting from it.

I spoke first of your reasoning powers. Let them not be exercised only in discovering the dangers and disadvantages likely to attend your peculiar position in life; let them rather be directed to discover the advantages of those very features of your lot which are most opposed to your natural inclinations. Consider, in the first place, what there may be to reconcile you to the secluded life you so unwillingly lead. Withdrawn, indeed, you are from society,—from the delightful intercourse of refined and intellectual minds: you hear of such enjoyments at a distance; you hear of their being freely granted to those who cannot appreciate them as you could, (safely granted to them for perhaps this very reason.) You have no opportunity of forming those friendships, so earnestly desired by a young and enthusiastic mind; of admiring, even at a reverential distance, "emperors of thought and hand." But then, as a compensation, you ought to consider that you are, at the same time, freed from those intrusions which wear away the time, and the spirits, and the very powers of enjoyment, of those who are placed in a more public position than your own. When you do, at rare intervals, enjoy any intercourse with congenial minds, it has for you a pleasurable excitement, a freshness of delight, which those who mix much and habitually in literary and intellectual society have long ceased to enjoy: while the powers of your own mind are preserving all that originality and energy for which no intellectual experience can compensate, you are saved the otherwise perhaps inevitable danger of adopting, parrot-like, the tastes and opinions of others who may indeed be your superiors, but who, in a copy, become wretchedly inferior to your real self. Time you have, too, to cultivate your mind in such a manner, and to such a degree, as may fit you to grace any society of the kind I have described; while those who are early and constantly engaged in this society are often obliged, from mere want of this precious possession, to copy others, and resign all identity and individuality. To you, nobly free as you are from the vice of envy, I may venture to suggest another consideration, viz. the far greater influence you possess in your present small sphere of intellectual intercourse, than if you were mixed up with a crowd of others, most of them your equals, many your superiors.

If you have few opportunities of forming friendships, those few are tenfold more valuable than many acquaintance, among a crowd of whom, whatever merits you or they might possess, little time could be spared to discover, or experimentally appreciate them. The one or two friends whom you now love, and know yourself beloved by, might, in more exciting and busy scenes, have gone on meeting you for years without discovering the many bonds of sympathy which now unite you. In the seclusion you so much deplore, they and you have been given time to "deliberate, choose, and fix:" the conclusion of the poet will probably be equally applicable,—you will "then abide till death."[2] Such friends are possessions rare and valuable enough to make amends to you for any sacrifices by which they have been acquired.

Another of your grievances, one which presses the more heavily on those of graceful tastes, refined habits, and generous impulses, is the very small proportion of this world's goods which has fallen to your lot. You are perpetually obliged to deny yourself in matters of taste, of self-improvement, of charity. You cannot procure the books, the paintings, you wish for—the instruction which you so earnestly desire, and would so probably profit by. Above all, your eyes are pained by the sight of distress you cannot relieve; and you are thus constantly compelled to control and subdue the kindest and warmest impulses of your generous nature. The moral benefits of this peculiar species of trial belong to another part of my subject: the present object is to find out the most favourable point of view in which to contemplate the unpleasantness of your lot, merely with relation to your temporal happiness. Look, then, around you; and, even in your own limited sphere of observation, it cannot but strike you, that those who derive most enjoyment from objects of taste, from books, paintings, &c., are exactly those who are situated as you are, who cannot procure them at will. It is certain that there is something in the difficulty of attainment which adds much to the preciousness of the objects we desire; much, too, in the rareness of their bestowal. When, after long waiting, and by means of prudent management, it is at last within your power to make some long-desired object your own, does it not bestow much greater pleasure than it does on those who have only to wish and to have?

In matters of charity this is still more strikingly true—the pleasure of bestowing ease and comfort on the poor and distressed is enhanced tenfold by the consciousness of having made some personal sacrifice for its attainment. The rich, those who give of their superfluities, can never fully appreciate what the pleasures of almsgiving really are.

Experience teaches that the necessity of scrupulous economy is the very best school in which those who are afterwards to be rich can be educated. Riches always bring their own peculiar claims along with them; and unless a correct estimate is early formed of the value of money and the manner in which it can be laid out to the best advantage, you will never enjoy the comforts and tranquillity which well-managed riches can bestow. It is much to be doubted whether any one can skilfully manage large possessions, unless, at some period or other of life, they have forced themselves, or been forced, to exercise self-denial, and resolutely given up all those expenses the indulgence of which would have been imprudent. Those who indiscriminately gratify every taste for expense the moment it is excited, can never experience the comforts of competency, though they may have the name of wealth and the reality of its accompanying cares.

Still further, let your memory and imagination be here exercised to assist in reconciling you to your present lot. Can you not remember a time when you wanted money still more than you do now?—when you had a still greater difficulty in obtaining the things you reasonably desire? To those who have acquired the art of contentment, the present will always seem to have some compensating advantage over the past, however brighter that past may appear to others. This valuable art will bring every hidden object gradually into light, as the dawning day seems to waken into existence those objects which had before been unnoticed in the darkness.

Lastly, your imagination, well employed, will make use of your partial knowledge of other people's affairs to picture to you how much worse off many of those are,—how much worse off you might yourself be. You, for instance, can still accomplish much by the aid of self-denial; while many, with hearts as warm in charities, as overflowing as your own, have not more to give than the "cup of cold water," that word of mercy and consolation.

You may still further, perhaps, complain that you have no object of exciting interest to engage your attention, and develop your powers of labour, and endurance, and cleverness. Never has this trial been more vividly described than in the well-remembered lines of a modern poet:—

"She was active, stirring, all fire— Could not rest, could not tire— To a stone she had given life! —For a shepherd's, miner's, huntsman's wife, Never in all the world such a one! And here was plenty to be done, And she that could do it, great or small, She was to do nothing at all."[3]

This wish for occupation, for influence, for power even, is not only right in itself, but the unvarying accompaniment of the consciousness of high capabilities. It may, however, be intended that these cravings should be satisfied in a different way, and at a different time, from that which your earthly thoughts are now desiring. It may be that the very excellence of the office for which you are finally destined requires a greater length of preparation than that needful for ordinary duties and ordinary trials. At present, you are resting in peace, without any anxious cares or difficult responsibilities, but you know not how soon the time may come that will call forth and strain to the utmost your energies of both mind and body. You should anxiously make use of the present interval of repose for preparation, by maturing your prudence, strengthening your decision, acquiring control over your own temper and your own feelings, and thus fitting yourself to control others.

Or are you, on the contrary, wasting the precious present time in vain repinings, in murmurings that weaken both mind and body, so that when the hour of trial comes you will be entirely unfitted to realize the beautiful ideal of the poet?—

"A perfect woman, nobly plann'd To warn, to counsel, to command: The reason firm, the temperate will, Endurance, foresight, strength, and skill."[4]

Then, again, I would ask you to make use of your powers of reflection and memory. Reflect what trials and difficulties are, in the common course of events, likely to assail you; remember former difficulties, former days or weeks of trial, when all your now dormant energies were developed and strained to the utmost. You felt then the need of much greater powers of mind and body than those which you now complain are lying dormant and useless. Further imagine the future cases that may occur in which every natural and acquired faculty may be employed for the great advantage of those who are dear to you, and when you will experience that this long interval of repose and preparation was altogether needful.

Such reflections, memories, and imaginations must, however, be carefully guarded, lest, instead of reconciling you to the apparent uselessness of your present life, they should contribute to increase your discontent. This they might easily do, even though such reflections and memories related only to trials and difficulties, instead of contemplating the pleasures and the importance of responsibilities. To an ardent nature like yours, trials themselves, even severe ones, which would exercise the powers of your mind and the energies of your character, would be more welcome than the tame, uniform life you at present lead.

The considerations above recommended can, therefore, be only safely indulged in connection with, and secondary to, a most vigilant and conscientious examination into the truth of one of your principal complaints, viz. that you have to do, like the Duke's wife, "nothing at all."[5] You may be "seeking great things" to do, and consequently neglecting those small charities which "soothe, and heal, and bless." Listen to the words of a great teacher of our own day: "The situation that has not duty, its ideal, was never yet occupied by man. Yes, here, in this poor, miserable, pampered, despised actual, wherein thou even now standest, here, or nowhere, is thy ideal; work it out, therefore, and, working, believe, live, be free. Fool! the ideal is in thyself; the impediment, too, is in thyself: thy condition is but the stuff thou art to shape that same ideal out of—what matters whether the stuff be of this sort or of that, so the form thou give it be heroic, be poetic? O thou that pinest in the imprisonment of the actual, and criest bitterly to the gods for a kingdom wherein to rule and create, know this of a truth,—the thing thou seekest is already with thee, 'here, or nowhere,' couldst thou only see."

When you examine the above assertions by the light of Scripture, can you contradict their truth?

Let us, however, ascend to a still higher point of view. Have we not all, under every imaginable circumstance, a work mighty and difficult enough to develope our strongest energies, to engage our deepest interests? Have we not all to "work out our own salvation with fear and trembling?"[6] Professing to believe, as we do, that the discipline of every day is ordered by Infinite Love and Infinite Wisdom, so as best to assist us in this awfully important task, can we justly complain of any mental void, of any inadequacy of occupation, in any of the situations of life?

The only work that can fully satisfy an immortal spirit's cravings for excitement is the work appointed for each of us. It is one, too, that has no intervals of repose, far less of languor or ennui; the labour it demands ought never to cease, the intense and engrossing interest it excites can never vary or lessen in importance. The alternative is a more awful one than human mind can yet conceive: those who have not fulfilled their appointed work, those who have not, through the merits of Christ, obtained the "holiness without which no man shall see the Lord,"[7] "must depart into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels."[8]

With a hell to avoid, and a heaven to obtain, do you murmur for want of interest, of occupation!

In the words of the old story, "Look below on the earth, and then above in heaven:" remember that your only business here is to get there; then, instead of repining, you will be thankful that no great temporal work is given you to do which might, as too often happens, distract your attention and your labours from the attainment of life eternal. Having been once convinced of the awful and engrossing importance of this "one thing" we have to "do,"[9] you will see more easily how many minor duties may be appointed you to fulfil, on a path that before seemed a useless as well as an uninteresting one. For you would have now learned to estimate the small details of daily life, not according to their insignificance, not as they may influence your worldly fate, but as they may have a tendency to mould your spirit into closer conformity to the image of the Son.[10] You will now no longer inquire whether you have any work to do which you might yourself consider suitable to your capabilities and energies; but whether there is within your reach any, the smallest, humblest work of love, contemned or unobserved before, when you were more proud and less vigilant.

Look, then, with prayer and watchfulness into all the details of your daily life, and you will assuredly find much formerly-unnoticed "stuff," out of which "your ideal" may be wrought.

You may, for instance, have no opportunity of teaching on an enlarged scale, or even of taking a class at a Sunday-school, or of instructing any of your poor neighbours in reading or in the word of God. Such labours of love may, it is possible, though not probable, be shut out of your reach: if, however, you are on the watch for opportunities, (and we are best made quick-sighted to their occurrence in the course of the day, by the morning's earnest prayer for their being granted to us,) you may be able to help your fellow-pilgrims Zion-ward in a variety of small ways. "A word in season, how good is it!" the mere expression of religious sympathy has often cheered and refreshed the weary traveller on his perhaps difficult and lonely way. A verse of Scripture, a hymn taught to a child, only the visitor of a day, has often been blessed by God to the great spiritual profit of the child so taught. Are not even such small works of love within your reach?

Again, with respect to family duties, I know that in some cases, when there are many to fulfil such duties, it is a more necessary and often a more difficult task to refrain altogether from interfering in them. They ought to be allowed to serve as a safety-valve for the energies of those members of the family who have no other occupations: of these there will always be some in a large domestic circle. Without, however, interfering actively and habitually, which it may not be your duty to do, are you always ready to help when you are asked, and to take trouble willingly upon yourself, when the excitement and the credit of the arrangement will belong exclusively to others? This is a good sign of the humility and lovingness of your spirit: how is the test borne?

Further, you may complain that your conversation is not valued, and that therefore you have no excitement to exertion for the amusement of others; that your cheerfulness and good temper under sorrows and annoyances are of no consequence, as you are not considered of sufficient importance for any display of feeling to attract attention. When I hear such complaints, and they are not unfrequent from the younger members of large families, I have little doubt that the sting in all these murmurs is infixed by their pride. They assure me, at the same time, that if there was any one to care much about it, to watch anxiously whether they were vexed or pleased, they would be able to exercise the strictest control over their feelings and temper,—and I believe it, for here their pride and their affection would both come to the assistance of duty. What God requires of us, however, is its fulfilment when all these things are against us. The effort to control grief, to conceal depression, to conquer ill-temper, will be a far more acceptable offering in his eyes, when they alone are expected to witness it. That which now his eyes alone see will one day be proclaimed upon the housetop.[11]

I must, besides, remind you that your proud spirit may deceive you when it suggests, that because your sadness or your ill-humour attracts no expressed notice or excites no efforts to remove it, it does not therefore affect those around you. This is not the case; even the gloom and ill-humour of a servant, who only remains a few minutes in attendance, will be depressing and annoying to the most unobservant master and mistress, though they might make no efforts to remove it. How much more, then, may your want of cheerfulness and sweet temper affect, though it may be insensibly, the peace of your family circle. Here you are again seeking great things for yourself, and neglecting your appointed work, because it does not to you appear sufficiently worthy of your high capabilities. Your proud spirit needs being humbled, and therefore, probably, it is that you will not be allowed to do great things. No, you must first learn the less agreeable task of doing small things, of doing what would perhaps be called easy things by those who have never tried them. To wear a contented look when you know that, perhaps, the effort will not be observed, certainly not appreciated,—to take submissively the humblest part in the conversation, and still bear cheerfully that part,—to bear with patience every hasty word that may be spoken, and so to forget it that your future conduct may be uninfluenced by it,—to remove every difficulty, the removal of which is within your reach, without expecting that the part you have taken will be acknowledged or even observed,—to be always ready with your sympathy, encouragement, and counsel, however scornfully they may have before been rejected; these are all acts of self-renunciation which are peculiarly fitted to a woman's sphere of duty, and have a direct tendency to cherish the difficult and excellent grace of humility; they may, however, help to foster rather than to subdue a spirit of discontent, if they are performed from a motive of obtaining any, even the most exalted, human approbation. They must be done to God alone, and then the promise is sure, "thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly."[12] Thus, too, the art of contentment may be much more easily learnt. Disappointment will surely sour your temper if you look forward to human appreciation of a self-denying habit of life; but when the approbation of God is the object sought for, no neglect from others can excite discontent or much regret. For here there can be no disappointment: that which comes to us through the day has all been decreed by him, and as it must therefore give us opportunities of fulfilling his will, and gaining his approbation, we must necessarily "be content."

It must, indeed, be always owing to some deficiency in religious principle, that one discontented thought is suffered to dwell in the mind. If our heart and our treasure were in heaven,[13] should we be easily excited to regret and irritation about the inconveniences of our position on earth? If we sought "first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,"[14] should we have so much energy remaining to waste on petty worldly annoyances? If we obeyed the injunction, "have faith in God," should we daily and hourly, by our sinful murmuring, imply such doubts of the divine attributes of wisdom, love, and power? This is a want of faith you do not manifest towards men. You would trust yourself fearlessly to the care of some earthly physician; you would believe that he understood how to adapt his strengthening or lowering remedies to each varying feature of your case; you would even provide yourself with remedies, which, on the faith of his skill, you would trustingly use to meet every symptom that might arise on future occasions. But when the Great Physician manifests a still greater watchfulness to adapt his daily discipline to your varying temper and the different stages of your Christian growth, you murmur—you believe not in his wisdom as you do in that of the sons of earth.

Do not, then, take his wisdom on faith alone; you must indeed believe, you must believe or perish; but it may be as yet too difficult a lesson for you to believe against sense, against feeling. What I would urge upon you is, to strengthen your weak faith by the lessons of experience, to seek anxiously, and to pray to be enabled to see distinctly, the peculiar manner in which each trial of your daily lot is adapted to your own individual case.

I do not speak now of great trials, of such afflictions as crush the sufferer in the dust. When the hand of God is so plainly seen, it is comparatively easy to submit, and his Holy Spirit, ever fulfilling the promise "as thy day is, so shall thy strength be,"[15] sometimes makes the riven heart strong to bear that which, in prospective, it dares not even contemplate. You, however, have had no trial of this nature; yours are the petty irritations, the small vexations which "smart more because they hold in Holy Writ no place."[16] Even at more peaceful times, when you can contemplate with resignation the general features of your lot in life, you cannot subdue your spirit to patience under the hourly varying annoyances and temptations with which you are beset. The peculiar sensitiveness of your disposition, your affectionate, generous nature, your refinement of mind, and quick tact, all expose you to suffer more severely than others from the selfishness, the coarse-mindedness, the bluntness of perception of those around you. You often say, in the bitterness of your heart, Any other trial but this I could have borne; every other chastisement would have been light in comparison. But why have you so little faith? Why do you not see that it is because all these petty trials are so severe to you, therefore are they sent? All these amiable qualities that I have enumerated, and the love which they win for you, would make you admire and value yourself too much, unless your system were reduced, so to speak, by a series of petty but continued annoyances. As I said before, you must seek to strengthen your faith by tracing the close connection between these annoyances and the "needs be" for them. It is probably exactly at the time when you are too much elated by praise and admiration that you are sent some counterbalancing annoyance, or perhaps suffered to fall into some fault of temper which will lessen you in your own eyes, as well as in those of others. You are often troubled by some annoyance, too, when you have blamed others for being too easily overcome by an annoyance of the very same kind. "Stand upon" an anxious "watch," and you will see how constantly severe judgments of others are punished by falling ourselves into temptations similar to those which we had treated as light ones when sitting in judgment upon others. If you would acquire the habit of exercising faith with respect to the smallest details of your every-day life, by such faith the light itself might be won, and your eyes be opened to see how wondrously all things, even those which appear the most needlessly worrying, are made to work together for your good.[17] These are, however, but the first lessons in the school of faith, the first steps on the road which leads to "rest in God."

Severer trials are hastening onward, for which your present petty trials are serving as a preparatory discipline. According to the manner in which these are met and supported, will be your patience in the hour of deep darkness and bitter desolation. Waste not one of your present petty sorrows: let them all, by the help of prayer, and watchfulness, and self-control, work their appointed work in your soul. Let them lead you each day more and more trustingly to "cast all your care upon Him who careth for you."[18] In the present hours of tranquillity and calm, let the light and infrequent storms, the passing clouds that disturb your peace, serve as warnings to you to find a sure refuge before the clouds of affliction become so heavy, and its storms so violent, that there will be no power of seeking a haven of security. That must be sought and found in seasons of comparative peace. Though the agonized soul may finally, through the waves of sorrow, make its way into the ark, its long previous struggles, and its after harrowing doubts and fears, will shatter it nearly to pieces before it finds a final refuge. It may, indeed, by the free grace of God, be saved at the last, but during the remainder of its earthly pilgrimage there is no hope for it of joy and peace in believing.

But when the hour of earthly desolation comes to those who have long acknowledged the special providence of God in "all the dreary intercourse of daily life," "they knew in whom they have believed,"[19] and no storms can shake that faith. They know from experience that all things work together for good to them that love God. In the loving, child-like confidence of long-tried and now perfecting faith, they are enabled to say from the depths of their heart, "It is the Lord, let him do what seemeth him good."[20] They seek not now to ascertain the "needs be" for this particular trial. It might harrow up their human heart too much to trace the details of sorrows such as these, in the manner in which they formerly examined into the details of those of daily life. "It is the Lord;" these words alone not only still all complaining, but fill the soul with a depth of peace never experienced by the believer until all happiness is withdrawn but that which comes direct from God. "It is the Lord," who died that we might live, and can we murmur even if we dared? No; the love of Christ constrains us to cast ourselves at his feet, not only in submission, but in grateful adoration. It is through his redeeming love that "our light affliction, which is but for a moment, will work for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory."

Even the very depth of mystery which may attend the sorrowful dispensation, will only draw forth a stronger manifestation of the Christian's faith and love. She will be enabled to rejoice that God does not allow her to see even one reason for the stroke that lays low all her earthly happiness; as thus only, perhaps, can she experience all the fulness of peace that accompanies an unquestioning trust in the wisdom and love of his decrees. For such unquestioning trust, however, there must be a long and diligent preparation: it is not the growth of days or weeks; yet, unless it is begun even this very day, it may never be begun at all. The practice of daily contentment is the only means of finally attaining to Christian resignation.

I do not appeal to you for the necessity of immediate action, because this day may be your last. I do not exhort you "to live as if this day were the whole of life, and not a part or section of it,"[21] because it may, in fact, be the whole of life to you. It may be so, but it is not probable, and when you have certainties to guide you, they are better excitements to immediate action than the most solemn possibilities.

The certainty to which I now appeal is, that every duty I have been urging upon you will be much easier to you to-day than it would be, even so soon as to-morrow. One hour's longer indulgence of a discontented spirit, of rebellious and murmuring thoughts, will stamp on your mind an impression, which, however slight it may be, will entail upon you a lifelong struggle against it. Every indulged thought becomes a part of ourselves: you have the awful freedom of will to make yourself what you will to be. "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you,"[22] "Quench" the Spirit[23] and the holy flame will never be rekindled. Kneel, then, before God, even now, to pray that you may be enabled to will aright.

Before you opened these pages, some of your daily irritations were probably preying on your mind. You have often, perhaps, recurred to the annoyance, whatever it may be, while you read on and on. Make this annoyance your first opportunity of victory, the first step in the path of contentment. Pray to an ever-present God, that he may open your eyes to see how large may have been the portion of blame to yourself in the annoyance you complain of,—in how far it may be the due and inevitable chastisement of some former sin; how, finally, it may turn to your present profit, by giving you a keener insight into the evils of your own heart, and a more indulgent view of the often imaginary wrongs of others towards you.

Let not this trial be lost to you; by faith and prayer, this cloud may rain down blessings upon you. The annoyance from which you are suffering may be a small one, casting but a temporary shadow, even like the

"Cloud passing over the moon; 'Tis passing, and 'twill pass full soon."[24]

But ere that shadow has passed away, your fate may be as decided as that of the renegade in poetic fiction. During the time this cloud has rested upon you, the first link of an interminable chain of habits, for good or for ill, may have been fastened around you. Who can tell what "Now" it is that "is the accepted time?" We know from Scripture that there is this awful period, and your present temptation to murmuring and rebellion against the will of God (for it is still his will, though it may be manifested through a created instrument) may be to you that "Now." Pray earnestly before you decide what use you will make of it.


[1] Phil. iv. 6.

[2] Young's Night Thoughts.

[3] "The Flight of the Duchess." Browning.

[4] Wordsworth.

[5] See page 15.

[6] Phil. ii. 12.

[7] Heb. xii. 14.

[8] Matt. xxv. 41.

[9] Phil. iii. 13.

[10] Rom. viii. 29.

[11] Luke xii. 3.

[12] Matt. vi. 18.

[13] Matt. vi. 20, 21.

[14] Matt. vi. 33.

[15] Deut. xxxiii. 25.

[16] Lyra Apostolica.

[17] Rom. viii. 28.

[18] 1 Pet. v. 7.

[19] 2 Tim. i. 12.

[20] 1 Sam. iii. 18.

[21] Jean Paul Richter.

[22] 1 Pet. v. 8, 9.

[23] Thess. v. 19.

[24] The Siege of Corinth.



The subject proposed for consideration in the following letter has been already treated of in perhaps all the different modes of which it appears susceptible. Every religious and moral motive has been urged upon the victim of ill-temper, and it is scarcely necessary to add that each has, in its turn, been urged in vain. This failing of the character comes gradually to be considered as one over which the rational will has no control; it is even supposed possible that a Christian may grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Saviour while the vice of ill-temper is still flourishing triumphantly.

It is, indeed, a certain fact that, unless the temper itself is specially controlled, and specially watched over, it may deteriorate even when the character in other respects improves; for the habit of defeat weakens the exercise of the will in this particular direction, and gradually diminishes the hope or the effort of acquiring a victory over the indulged failing. It is a melancholy consideration, if it be, as I believe, really the case, that a Christian may increase in love to God and man, while at the same time perpetually inflicting severe wounds on the peace and happiness of those who are nearest and dearest to her. Worse than all, she is, by such conduct, wounding the Saviour "in the house of his friends,"[25] bringing disgrace and ridicule upon the Holy Name by which she is called.

In the compatibility which is often tacitly inferred between a bad temper and a religious course of life, there seems to be an instinctive recognition of this peculiar vice being so much the necessary result of physical organization, that the motives proving effectual against other sins are ineffectual for the extirpation of this. Perhaps, if this recognition were distinct, and the details of it better understood, a new and more successful means might be made use of to effect the cure of ill-temper.

As an encouragement to this undertaking, there can be no doubt, from some striking instances within your own knowledge, that there are certain means by which, if they could only be discovered, the vice in question may be completely subdued. Even among heathen nations, we know that the art of self-control was so well understood, and so successfully practised, that Plato, Socrates, and other philosophers were able to bring their naturally fiery and violent tempers into complete subjection to their will. Can it be that this secret has been lost along with the other mysteries of those distant times, that the mode of controlling the temper is now as undiscoverable as the manner of preparing the Tyrian dye and other forgotten arts? It is surely a disgrace to those cowardly Christians who, having in addition to all the natural powers of the heathen moralist the freely-offered grace of God to work with them and in them, should still walk so unworthy of the high vocation wherewith they are called, as to shrink hopelessly from a moral competition with the ignorant worshippers of old.

My sister, these things ought not so to be; you feel they ought not, yet day after day you break through the resolutions formed in your calmer moments, and repeat, probably increase, your manifestations of uncontrolled ill-temper. This is not yet, however, in your case, a wilful sin; you still mourn bitterly over the shame to yourself and the annoyance to others caused by the indulgence of your ill-temper. You are also painfully alive to the doubts which your conduct excites in the mind of your more worldly associates as to the reality of a vital and transforming efficacy in religion. You feel that you are not only disobeying God yourself, but that you are providing others with excuses for disobeying him, and with examples of disobedience. You mourn over these considerations in bitterness of heart; you even pray for strength to resist this, your besetting sin, and then—you leave your room, and fall into the same sin on the very first opportunity.

If, however, prayer itself does not prove an effectual safeguard from persistence in sin, you will ask what other means can be hopefully employed. None—none whatever; that from which real prayer cannot preserve us is an inevitable misfortune. But think you that any kind of sin can be among those misfortunes that cannot be avoided? No, my friend: "He is able to succour them that are tempted;"[26] and we are also assured that He is willing. Cease, then, from accusing the All-merciful, even by implication, of being the cause of your continuing in sin, and examine carefully into the nature of those prayers which you complain have never been answered. The Scripture reason for such disappointments is clearly and distinctly given: "Ye ask and receive not, because ye ask amiss."[27] Examine, then, in the first place, whether you yourself are asking "amiss?" What is your primary motive for desiring the removal of this besetting sin? Is it the consideration of its being so hateful in the sight of God, of its being injurious to the cause of religion? or is it not rather because you feel that it makes you unloveable to those around you, and inflicts pain on those who are very dear to you, at the same time lessening your own dignity and wounding your self-respect? These are all proper and allowable motives of action while kept in their subordinate place; but if they become the primary actuating principle, instead of a conscientious hatred of sin because it is the abominable thing that God hates,[28] if pleasing man be your chief object, you have no reason to complain that your prayers are unanswered. The word of God has told you that it must be so. You have asked "amiss." There is also a secondary sense in which we may "ask amiss:" when we pray without corresponding effort. Some worthy people think that prayer alone is to obtain for them all the benefits they can desire, and that the influences of the Holy Spirit will, unassisted by human effort, produce a transforming change in the temper and the conduct. This they call magnifying the grace of God, as if it could be supposed that his gracious help would ever be granted for the purpose of slackening, instead of encouraging and exciting, our own exertions. Do not the Scriptures abound in exhortations, warnings, and threatenings on the subject of individual watchfulness, diligence, and unceasing conflicts? "To the law and to the testimony, if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them."[29] Perhaps you have prayed under the mental delusion I have above described; you have expected the work should be done for you, instead of with you; that the constraining love of Christ would constrain you necessarily to abandon your sinful habits, while, in fact, its efficacy consists in constraining you to carry on a perpetual struggle against them.

Look through the day that is past, or watch yourself through that which is to come, and observe whether any violent conflict takes place in your mind whenever you are tempted to sin. I fear, on the contrary, that you expect the efficacy of your prayers to be displayed in preserving you from any painful conflict whatever. It is strange, most strange, how generally this perversion of mind appears practically to exist. Notwithstanding all the opposing assertions of the Bible, people imagine that the Christian's life, after conversion, is to be one of freedom from temptation and from all internal struggles. The contrary fact is, that they only really begin when we ourselves begin the Christian course with earnestness and sincerity.

If you would possess the safety of preparation, you must look out for and expect constant temptations and perpetual conflicts. By such means alone can your character be gradually forming into "a meetness for the inheritance of the saints in light."[30] Whenever your conflicts cease, you will enter into your glorious rest. You will not be kept in a world of sin and sorrow one moment after that in which you have attained to sufficient Christian perfection to qualify you for a safe freedom from trials and temptations: but as long as you remain in a temporal school of discipline, "your only safety is to feel the stretch and energy of a continual strife."[31]

If I have been at all successful in my endeavours to alter your views of the manner in which you are first to set about acquiring a permanent victory over your besetting sin, you will be the more inclined to bestow your attention on the means which I am now going to recommend for your consequent adoption. They have been often tried and proved effectual: experience is their chief recommendation. They may indeed startle some pious minds, as seeming to encroach too far on what they think ought to be the unassisted work of the Spirit upon the human character; but you are too intelligent to allow such assertions, unfounded as they are on Scripture, to prove much longer a stumbling-block in your way. I would first of all recommend to you a very strict inquiry into the nature of the things that affect your temper, so that you may be for the future on your guard to avoid them, as far as lies in your power. Avoidance is always the safest plan when it involves no deviation from the straightforward path of duty; and there will be enough of inevitable conflicts left, to keep up the habits of self-control and watchfulness. Indeed, the avoidance which I recommend to you involves in itself the necessity of so much vigilance, that it will help to prepare you for measures of more active resistance. On this principle, then, you will shrink from every species of discussion, on either practical or abstract subjects, which is likely to excite you beyond control, and disable you from bearing with gentleness and calmness the triumph, either real or imaginary, of your opponent. The time will come, I trust, when no subject need be forbidden to you on these grounds, but at present you must submit to an invalid regimen, and shun every thing that has even a tendency to excitement.

This system of avoidance is of the more importance, because every time your ill-temper acquires the mastery over you, its strength is tenfold increased for the next conflict, at the same time that your hopes of the power of resistance, afforded either by your own will or by the assisting grace of God, are of course weakened. You find, at each fall before the power of sin, a greater difficulty in exercising faith in either human or divine means of improvement. You do not, indeed, doubt the power of God, but a disbelief steals over you which has equally fatal tendencies. You allow yourself to indulge vague doubts of his willingness to help you, or a suspicion insinuates itself that the God whom you so anxiously try to please would not allow you to fall so constantly into error, if this error were of a very heinous nature. You should be careful to shun any course of conduct possibly suggestive of such dangerous doubts. You should seek to establish in your mind the habitual conviction that, victory being placed by God within your reach, you must conquer or perish! None but those who by obedience prove themselves children of God, shall inherit the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world.[32]

I have spoken of the vigilance and self-control required for the avoidance of every discussion on exciting subjects; but this difficulty is small indeed when compared with those unexpected assaults on the temper which we are exposed to at every hour of the day. It is to meet these with Christian heroism that the constant exertion of all our inherent and imparted powers is perpetually required. Every device that ingenuity can suggest, every practice that others have by experience found successful, is at least worth the trial. One plan of resistance suits one turn of mind; an entirely opposite one proves more useful for another. To you I should more especially recommend the habitual consideration that every trial of temper throughout the day is an opportunity for conflict and for victory. Think, then, of every such trial as an occasion of triumphing over your animal nature, and of increasing the dominion of your rational will over the opposing temptations of "the world, the flesh, and the devil." Consider each vexatious annoyance as coming, through human instruments, from the hand of God himself, and as an opportunity offered by his love and his wisdom for strengthening your character and bringing your will into closer conformity with his. You should cultivate the general habit of considering every trial in this peculiar point of view; thinking over the subject in your quiet hours especially, that you may thus have your spirit prepared for moments of unexpected excitement.

To a person of your reflective turn of mind, the prudent management of the thoughts is one of the principal means towards the proper government of the temper. As some insects assume the colour of the plant they feed on, so do the thoughts on which the mind habitually nourishes itself impart their own peculiar colouring to the mental and moral constitution. On your thoughts, when you are alone, when you wander through the fields, or by the roadside, or sit at your work in useful hours of solitude, depends very much the spirit you are of when you again enter into society. If, for instance, you think over the trials of temper which you are inevitably exposed to during the day as indications of the unkindness of your fellow-creatures, you will not fail to exaggerate mere trifles into serious offences, and will prepare a sore place, as it were, in your mind, to which the slightest touch must give pain. On the contrary, if you forcibly withdraw yourself from any thought respecting the human instrument that has inflicted the wounds from which you suffer or are likely to suffer,—if you look upon the annoyance only as an opportunity of improvement and a message of mercy from God himself,—you will then gradually get rid of all mental irritation, and feel nothing but pity for your tormentors, feeling that you have in reality been benefited instead of injured. When you have acquired greater power of controlling your thoughts, it will be serviceable to you to think over all the details of the annoyance from which you are suffering, and to consider all the extenuating circumstances of the case; to imagine (this will be good use to make of your vivid imagination) what painful chord you may have unconsciously struck, what circumstances may possibly have led the person who annoys you to suppose that the provocation originated with yourself instead of with her. It may be possible that some innocent words of yours may have appeared to her as cutting insinuations or taunts, referring to some former painful circumstance, forgotten or unknown by you, but sorrowfully remembered by her, or a wilful contradiction of her known opinion and known wishes, for mere contradiction's sake.

By the time you have turned over in your mind all these possible or probable circumstances, you will generally see that the person offending may really be not so much (if at all) to blame; and then the candid and generous feelings of your nature will convert your anger into regret for the pain you have unintentionally inflicted. I do not, however, recommend you to venture upon this practice yet. Under present circumstances, any indulged reflection upon the minute features of the offence, and the possible feelings of the offender, will be more likely to increase your irritation than to subdue it; you will not be able to view your own case through an unprejudiced medium, until you have acquired the power of compelling your thoughts to dwell on those features only of an annoyance which may tend to soften your feelings, while you avoid all such as may irritate them.

A much lower stage of self-control, and one in which you may immediately begin to exercise yourself, is the prevention of your thoughts from dwelling for one moment on any offence against you, looking upon such offence in this point of view alone, that it is one of those divinely-sent opportunities of Christian warfare without which you could make no advance in the spiritual life. The consideration of the subject of temper, as connected with habits of thought, on which I have dwelt so long and in so much detail, is of the greatest importance. It is absolutely impossible that you can exercise control over your temper, or charitable and forgiving feelings toward those around you, if you suffer your mind to dwell on what you consider their faults and your own injuries. Are you, however, really aware that you are in the habit of indulging such thoughts? I doubt it. Few people observe the direction in which their thoughts are habitually exercised until they have practised for some little time strict watchfulness over those shadowy and fleeting things upon which most of the realities of life depend. Watch yourself, therefore, I entreat you, even during this one day. I ask only for one day, because I know that, in a character like yours, such an examination, once begun in all earnestness, will only cease with life. It is of sins of ignorance and carelessness alone that I accuse you; not of wilfully harbouring malicious and revengeful thoughts. You have never, probably, observed their existence: how, then, could you be aware of their tendency? Perhaps the following illustration may serve to suggest to you proofs of the danger of the practice I have been warning you against. If one of your acquaintance had offended another, you would feel no doubt as to the sinfulness and the cruelty to both of dwelling on all the aggravating circumstances of the offence, until the temper of the offended one was thoroughly roused and exasperated, though, before the interference of a third person, the subject may have been passed over unnoticed. Is not this the very process you are continually carrying on in your own mind, to your own injury, indeed, far more than to any one else's? These habits of thought must be altered, or no other measures of self-control can prosper with you, though, in connection with this primary one, many others must be adopted.

One practice that has been found beneficial is that of offering up a short prayer, even as your hand is upon the door which is to admit you into family intercourse, an intercourse which, more than any other, involves duties and responsibilities as well as privileges and pleasures. This practice could insure your never entering upon a scene of trial, without having the subject of difficulty brought vividly before your mind. David's prayer—"Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips"[33]—would be very well suited to such occasions as these. This prayer would, at the same time, bring you down help from Heaven, and, by putting you on your guard, rouse your own energies to brave any temptation that may await you.

There is another plan which has often been tried with success,—that of repeating the Lord's prayer deliberately through to oneself, before venturing to utter one word aloud on any occasion that excites the temper. The spirit of this practice is highly commendable, as, there being no direct petition against the sin of ill-temper, it is principally by elevating the spirit "into a higher moral atmosphere," that the experiment is expected to be successful. You will find that a scrupulous politeness towards the members of your family, and towards servants, will be a great help in preserving your temper through the trials of domestic intercourse. You are very seldom even tempted to indulge in irritable answers, impatient interruptions, abrupt contradictions, while in the society of strangers. The reason of this is that the indulgence of your temper on such occasions would oblige you to break through the chains of early and confirmed habits From infancy those habits have been forming, and they impel you almost unconsciously to subdue even the very tones of your voice, while strangers are present. Have you not sometimes in the middle of an irritable observation caught yourself changing and softening the harsh uncontrolled tones of your voice, or the roughness of your manner, when you have discovered the unexpected presence of a stranger in the family circle? You have still enough of self-respect to feel deep shame when such things have happened; and the very moment when you are suffering from these feelings of shame is that in which you ought to form, and begin to execute, resolutions of future amendment. While under the influence of regretful excitement, you will have the more strength to break through the chains of your old habits, and to begin to form new ones. If the same courtesy, which until now you have only observed towards strangers, were habitually exercised towards the members of your domestic circle, it would, in time, become as difficult to break through the forms of politeness by indulging ill-temper towards them, as towards strangers or mere acquaintance.

This is a point I wish to urge on you, even more strongly with regard to servants. There is great meanness in any display of ill-temper towards those who will probably lose their place and their character, if they are tempted by your provocation (and without your restraints of good-breeding and good education) to the same display of ill-temper that you yourself are guilty of. On the other hand, there is no better evidence of dignity, self-respect, and refined generosity of disposition, than a scrupulous politeness in requiring and requiting those services for which the low-minded imagine that their money is a sufficient payment. You will not alone receive as a recompense the love and the grateful respect of those who serve you, but you will also be forming habits which will offer a powerful resistance to the temptations of ill-humour.

You will not surely object to any of the precautions or the practices recommended above, that they are too trifling or too troublesome; you have suffered so much from your besetting sin, that I can suppose you willing to try every possible means of cure.

You should, however, to strengthen your desire of resistance and of victory, look much further than the unpleasant consequences of ill-temper in your own case alone. You are still young, life has gone prosperously with you, the present is fair and smiling, and the future full of bright hopes; you have, comparatively speaking, few occasions for irritation or despondency. A naturally warm temper is seen in you under the least forbidding aspect, combined, as it is, with gay animal spirits, strong affections, and ready good nature. You need only to look around, however, to see the probability of things being quite different with you some years hence, unless a thorough present change is effected. Look at those cases (only too numerous and too apparent) in which indulged habits of ill-temper have become stronger by the lapse of time, and are not now softened in their aspect by the modifying influences of youth, of hope, of health. See those victims to habitual ill-humour, who are weighed down by the cares of a family, by broken health, by disappointed hopes, by the inevitably accumulating sorrows of life. Do you not know that they bestow wretchedness instead of happiness, even on those who are dearest and nearest to them? Do you not know that their voice is dreaded and unwelcome, as it sounds through their home, deprived through them of the lovely peace of home? Is not their step shunned in the passage, or on the stairs, in the certainty of no kind or cheerful greeting? Do you not observe that every subject but the most indifferent is avoided in their presence, or kept concealed from their knowledge, in the vain hope of keeping away food for their excitement of temper? Deprived of confidence, deprived of respect, their society shunned even by the few who still love them, the unfortunate victims of confirmed ill-temper may at last make some feeble efforts to shake off their voluntarily imposed yoke.

But, alas! it is too late; in feeble health, in advanced years, in depressed spirits, their powers of "working together with God" are altogether broken. They may be finally saved indeed, but in this life they can never experience the peace that religion bestows on its faithful self-controlling followers. They can never bestow happiness, but always discomfort on those whom they best love; they can never glorify God by bringing forth the fruits of "a meek and quiet spirit." This is sad, very sad, but it is not the less true. Strange also it is, in some respects, that when sin is deeply mourned over and anxiously prayed against, its power cannot be more effectually weakened. This is, however, an invariable feature throughout all the dispensations of God, and you would do well to examine carefully into it, that you may add experience to your faith in the Scripture assertion, "What a man soweth, that shall he also reap."[34] May you be given grace to sow such present seed as may bring forth a harvest of peace to yourself, and peace to your friends!

I must not forget to make some observations with respect to those physical influences which affect the temper and spirits. It is true that these are, at some times, and for a short period, altogether irresistible. This is, however, only in the case of those whose character was not originally of sufficient force and strength to require much habitual self-control, as long as they possessed good health and spirits. When this original good health is altered in any way that alters their natural temper, (all diseases, however, have not this effect,) not having had any previous practice in resisting the new and unaccustomed evil, they yield to it as hopelessly as they would do to the pain attending the gout and the rheumatism. If, however, such persons as those above described are sincere in their desire to glorify God, and to avoid disturbing the peace of those around them, they will soon learn to make use of all the means within their reach to remove the moral disease, as assiduously and as vigorously as they would labour to remove the physical one. Their newly-acquired self-control will be blest to them in more ways than one, for the grace of God is always given in proportion to the need of those who are willing to work themselves, and who have not incurred the evil they now struggle against, by wilful and deliberate sin. I have spoken of only a few cases of ill-temper being irresistible, and even these few only to be considered so at first, before proper means of cure and prevention are used. Under other circumstances, though the ill-temper mourned over may be strongly influenced by physical causes, the sin must still remain the same as if the causes were strictly moral ones. For instance, if you know that by sitting up at night an hour or two later than usual, or by not taking regular exercise, or by eating of indigestible food, you will put it out of your power to avoid being ill-tempered and disagreeable on the following day, the failure is surely a moral one. That the immediate causes of your ill-humour may be physical ones, does not at all affect the matter, seeing that such causes are, in this case, completely under your own control. From this it follows that it must be a duty to watch carefully the effects produced on your temper by every habit of your life. If you do not abandon such of these as produce undesirable effects, you deserve to experience the consequences in the gradual diminution of the respect and affection of those who surround you.

Should the habits producing irritation of temper be such as you cannot abandon without loss or detriment to yourself or others, the object in view will be equally attained by exercising a more vigilant self-control while you are exposed to a dangerous influence. For instance, you have often heard it remarked, and have perhaps observed in your own case, that poetry and works of fiction excite and irritate the temper. You may know some people who exhibit this influence so strongly that no one will venture to make them a request or even to apply to them about necessary business, while they are engaged in the perusal of any thing interesting. I know more than one excellent person, who, in consequence of observing the effect produced on their temper, by novels, &c., have given up this style of reading altogether. So far as the sacrifice was made from a conscientious motive, they doubtless have their reward. From the consequences, however, I should be rather inclined to think that they were in many cases not only mistaken in the nature of the precautions they adopted, but also in their motives for adopting them. Such persons too frequently seem to have no more control over their temper when exposed to other and entirely inevitable temptations, than they had before the cultivation of their imagination was given up. They do not, in short, seem to exercise, under circumstances that cannot be escaped, that vigilant self-control which would be the only safe test of the conscientiousness of their intellectual sacrifice.

For you, I should consider any sacrifice of the foregoing kind especially inexpedient. Your deep thoughtfulness of mind, and your habitual delicacy of health, make it impossible for you to give up light literature with any degree of safety; even were it right that you should abandon that species of mental cultivation which is effected by this most important branch of study. People who never read difficult books, and who are not of reflective habits of mind, can little understand the necessity that at times exists for entire repose to the higher powers of the mind—a repose which can be by no means so effectually procured as by an interesting work of fiction. A drive in a pretty country, a friendly visit, an hour's work in the garden, any of these may indeed effect the same purpose, and on some occasions in a safer way than a novel or a poem. The former, however, are means which are not always within one's reach, which are impossible at seasons when entire rest to the mind is most required,—viz. during days and weeks of confinement to a sick and infected room. At such periods, it is true that the more idle the mind can be kept the better; even the most trifling story may excite a dangerous exertion of its nervous action; at times, however, when it is sufficiently strong and disengaged to feel a craving for active employment, it is of great importance that the employment should be such as would involve no exercise of the higher intellectual faculties. I have known serious evils result to both mind and body from an imprudent engagement in intellectual pursuits during temporary, and as it may often appear trifling, illness. Whenever the body is weak, the mind also should be allowed to rest, if the invalid be a person of thought and reflection; otherwise Butler's Analogy itself would not do her any harm. It is only "Lorsqu'il y a vie, il y a danger." This is a long digression, but one necessary to my subject; for I feel the importance of impressing on your mind that it can never be your duty to give up that which is otherwise expedient for you, on the grounds of its being a cause of excitement. You must only, under such circumstances, exercise a double vigilance over your temper. Thus you must try to avoid speaking in an irritated tone when you are interrupted; you must be always ready to help another, if it be otherwise expedient, however deep may be the interest of the book in which you are engaged; and, finally, if you are obliged to refuse your assistance, you should make a point of expressing your refusal with gentleness and courtesy.

You should show others, as well as be convinced of it yourself, that the refusal to oblige is altogether irrespective of any effect produced on your temper by the studies in which you are engaged. Perhaps during the course of even this one day, you may have an opportunity of experiencing both the difficulty and advantage of attending to the foregoing directions.

In conclusion, I would remind you, that it may, some time or other, be the will of God to afflict you with heavy and permanent sickness, habitually affecting your temper, generating despondency, impatience, and irritation, and making the whole mind, as it were, one vast sore, shrinking in agony from every touch. If such a trial should ever be allotted to you, (and it may be sent as a punishment for the neglect of your present powers of self-control,) how will you be able to avoid becoming a torment to all around you, and at the same time bringing doubt and ridicule on your profession of religion?

If, during your present enjoyment of mental and bodily health, you do not acquire a mastery over your temper, it will be almost impossible to do so when the effects of disease are added to the influences of nature and habit. On the other hand, from Galen down to Sir Henry Halford, there is high medical authority for the important fact that self-control acquired in health may be successfully exercised to subdue every external sign, at least, of the irritation and depression often considered inevitably attendant on many peculiar maladies. There are few greater temporal rewards of obedience than the consciousness, under such trying circumstances, of still possessing the power of procuring peace for oneself, love from one's neighbour, and glory to God.

Remember, finally, that every day and every hour you pause and hesitate about beginning to control your temper, may probably expose you to years of more severe future conflict. "Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation," is fully as true when asserted of the beginning of the slow moral process by which our own conformity "to the image of the Son" is effected, as of the saving moment in which we "arise and go to our Father."[35]


[25] Zach. xiii. 6.

[26] Heb. ii. 18.

[27] James iv. 3.

[28] Jer. xliv. 4.

[29] Isa. viii. 20.

[30] Col. i. 12.

[31] Archdeacon Manning.

[32] Matt. xxv. 24.

[33] Ps. cxli. 3.

[34] Gal. vi. 7.

[35] Luke xv.



I do not accuse you of being a liar—far from it; on the contrary, I believe that if truth and falsehood were distinctly placed before you, and the opportunity of a deliberate choice afforded you, you would rather expose yourself to serious injury than submit to the guilt of falsehood. It is, therefore, with the more regret that your conscientious friends observe a daily-growing disregard of absolute truth in your statement of indifferent things, and, a plus forte raison, in your statement of your own side of the question as opposed to that of another. There are, unfortunately, a thousand opportunities and temptations to the exaggerated mode of expression for which I blame you; and these temptations are generally of so trifling a nature, that the whole energies of the conscience are never awakened to resist them, as might be the case were the evil to others and the disgrace to yourself more strikingly manifest. Few people seem to be at all aware of the difficulties that really attend speaking the exact truth, or they would shrink from indulging in any habits that immeasurably increase these difficulties,—increase it, indeed, to such a degree, that some minds appear to have lost the very power of perceiving truth; so that, even when they are extremely anxious to be correct in their statement, there is a total incapacity of transmitting a story to another in the way that they themselves received it. This is one of the most striking temporal punishments of sin,—one of those that are the inevitable consequences of the sin itself, and quite independent of the other punishments which the revealed will of God attaches to it. The persons of whom I speak must sooner or later perceive that no dependence is placed on their statements, that even when respect and affection for their other good qualities may prevent a clear recognition of the falsehood of their character, yet that they are now never applied to for information on any matters of importance. Perhaps, to those who have any sensitiveness of observation, such doubts are even the more painful the more vaguely they are implied. For myself, I have long acquired the habit of translating the assertions and the stories of the persons of whom I speak into the language in which I judge they originally existed. By the aid of a small degree of ingenuity, it is not very difficult to ascertain, from the nature of the refracting medium, the degree and the direction of the change that has taken place in the pure ray of truth.

Yet such people as these often deserve pity as much as blame: they are, perhaps, unconscious of the degree in which habit has made them insensible to the perversion of truth in their statements; and even now they scarcely believe that what seems to them so true should appear and really be false to others. The intellectual effects of such habits are equally injurious with the moral ones. All natural clearness and distinctness of intellect becomes gradually obscured; the memory becomes perplexed; the very style of writing acquires the taint of the perverted mind. Truth is impressed upon every line of Dr. Arnold's vigorous diction, while other writers of equal, perhaps, but less respectable eminence, betray, even in their mode of expression, the habitual want of honesty in their character and in their statements.

In your case, none of the habits of which I have spoken are, as yet, firmly implanted. A warm temper, ardent feelings, and a vivid imagination are, as yet, the only causes of your errors. You have still time and power to struggle against them, as the chains of habit have not been added to those of nature. But, before the struggle begins, you must be convinced of its necessity; and this is probably the point on which you are entirely incredulous. Listen to me, then, while I help you to discover the hidden mysteries of a heart that "is deceitful above all things," and let the self-examination I urge upon you be prompt, be immediate. Let it be exercised through the day that is coming; watch the manner in which you express yourself on every subject; observe, especially those temptations which will assail you to venture upon greater deviations from truth than those which you think you may harmlessly indulge in, under the sanction of vivid imagination, poetic fancy, &c. This latter part of the examination may throw great light on the subject: people are not assailed frequently and strongly by temptations that have never, at any former time, been yielded to.

I have reason to believe that, as one of the preparations for such self-examination, you entertain a deep sense of the exceeding sinfulness of sin, and feel an anxious desire to approve yourself as a faithful servant to your heavenly Master. I do not, therefore, suppose that at present any temptation would induce you to incur the guilt of a deliberate falsehood. The perception of moral evil may, however, be so blunted by habits of mere carelessness, that I should have no dependence on your adhering for many future years to even this degree of plain, downright truth, unless those habits are decidedly broken through. But do not, from this, imagine that I consider a distinct, decided falsehood more, but rather less, dangerous for the future of your character than those lighter errors of which I have spoken. Though you may sink so far, in course of time, as to consider even a direct lie a very small transgression of the law of God, you will never be able to persuade yourself that it is entirely free from sin. The injury, too, to our neighbour, of a direct lie, can be so much more easily guarded against, that, for the sake of others, I am far more earnest in warning you against equivocation than against decided falsehood. It is sadly difficult for the injured person to ward off the effects of a deceitful glance, a misleading action, an artful insinuation. No earthly defence is of any avail here, as the sorrows of many a wounded heart can testify; but for such injured ones there is a sure, though it may be a long-suffering, Defender. He is the Judge of all the earth; and even in this world he will visit, with a punishment inevitably involved in the consequences of their crime, those who have in any manner deceived their neighbour to his hurt.

I do not, however, accuse you of exaggerating or equivocating from malice alone: no,—more frequently it is for the sake of mere amusement, or, at the worst, in cowardly self-defence; that is, you prefer throwing the blame by insinuation upon an innocent person to bearing courageously what you deserve yourself. In most cases, indeed, you can plead in excuse that the blame is not of any serious nature; that the insinuated accusation is slight enough to be entirely harmless: so it may appear to you, but so it frequently happens not to be. This insinuated accusation, appearing to you so unimportant, may have some peculiar relations that make it more injurious to the slandered one than the original blame could have been to yourself. It may be the means of separating her from her chief friend, or shaking her influence in quarters where perhaps it was of great importance to her that it should be preserved unimpaired. When we lay sinful hands on the complicated machinery of God's providence, it is impossible for us to see how far the derangement may extend.

You may, during the course of this coming day, have an opportunity of giving your own version of a matter in which another was concerned with you, and in which, if the blame is thrown on her, she will have no opportunity of defending herself. Be on your guard, then; have a noble courage; fear nothing but the meanness and the wickedness of accusing the absent and the defenceless. The opportunity offered you to-day of speaking conscientiously, however trifling it may in itself appear, may possibly be the turning point of your life; may lead you on to future habits of cowardice and deceit, or may impart to you new vigilance and energy for future victories over temptation.

You may, also, during the course of this day, be strongly tempted as to the mode of repeating what another has said in conversation: the slightest turn in the expression of the sentence, the insertion or omission of one little word, the change of a weaker to a stronger expression, may exactly adapt to your purpose the sentence you are tempted to repeat. You may also often be able to say to yourself that you are giving the impression of the real meaning of the speaker, only withheld by herself because she had not courage to express it. Opportunities such as these are continually offering themselves to you, and you have ingenuity enough to make the desired change in the repeated sentence so effectual, that there will be no danger of contradiction, even if the betrayed person should discover that she is called upon to defend herself. I have heard this so cleverly done, that the success was complete, and the poor slandered one lost, in consequence, her admirer or her friend, or at least much of her influence over them. You, too, may in like manner succeed: but what is the loss of others in comparison of the penalty of your success? The punishment of successful sin is not to be escaped.

In any of the cases I here bring forward as illustrations, as helps to your self-examination, I am not supposing that there is any tangible, positive, wilful deceit in your heart, or that you deliberately contemplate any very serious injury being inflicted on the persons whose conversations and actions you misrepresent. On the contrary, I know that you are not thus hardened in sin. With regard, however, to the deceit not assuming any tangible form in your own eyes, you ought to remember the solemn words, "Thou, O God I seest me;" and what is sin in his eyes can only fail to be so in ours from the neglect of strict self-examination and prayer that the Spirit of the Lord may search the very depths of the heart. Sins of ignorance seem to assume even a deeper dye than others, when the ignorance only arises from wilful neglect of the means of knowledge so abundantly and freely bestowed. When you once begin in right earnest to try to speak the truth from your heart, in the smallest as well as in the greatest things, you will be surprised to find how difficult it is. Carelessness, false shame, a desire for admiration, a vanity that leads you to disclaim any interest in that which you cannot obtain,—these are all temptations that beset your path, and ought to terrify you against adding the chains of habit to so many other difficulties.

There is one more point of view in which I wish you to consider this subject; that, namely, of "honesty being the best policy." There is no falsehood that is not found out in the end, and so turned to the shame of the person who is guilty of it. You may perpetually dread, even at present, the eye of the discriminating observer; she can see through you, even at the very moment of your committal of sin; she quickly discovers that it is your habit to depreciate people or things, only because you are not in your turn valued by them, or because you cannot obtain them; she can see, in a few minutes' conversation, that it is your habit to say that you are admired and loved, that your society is eagerly sought for by such and such people, whether it be the case or not. Quick observers discover in a first interview what others will not fail to discover after a time. They will then cease to depend upon you for information on any subject in which your own interest or your vanity is concerned. They will turn up their eyes in wonder, from habit and politeness, not from belief. They will always suspect some hidden motive for your words, instead of the one you put forward; nay, your giving one reason for your actions will, by itself alone, set them on the search to discover a different one. All this, perhaps, will in many cases take place without their accusing you, even in their secret thoughts, of being a liar. They have only a vague consciousness that you are, it may be involuntarily, quite incapable of giving correct information.

The habitual, the known truth-speaker, occupies a proud position. Alas! that it should be so rare. Alas! that, even among professedly religious people, there should be so few who speak the truth from the heart; so few to whom one can turn with a fearless confidence to ask for information on any points of personal interest. I need not to be told that it is during childhood that the formation of strict habits of truthfulness is at once most sure and most easy. The difficulty is indeed increased ten thousandfold, when the neglect of parents has suffered even careless habits on this point to be contracted. The difficulties, however, though great, are not insuperable to those who seek the freely-offered grace of God to help them in the conflict. The resistance to temptation, the self-control, will indeed be more difficult when the effort begins later in life; but the victory will be also the more glorious, and the general effects on the character more permanent and beneficial. Not that this serves as any excuse for the cruel neglect of parents, for they can have no certainty that future repentance will be granted for those habits of sin, the formation of which they might have prevented.

Dwelling, however, even in thought, on the neglect of our parents can only lead to vain murmurings and complainings, and prevent the concentration of all our energies and interest upon the extirpation of the dangerous root of evil.

In this case, as in all others, though the sin of the parent is surely visited on the children, the very visitation is turned into a blessing for those who love God. To such blessed ones it becomes the means of imparting greater strength and vigour to the character, from the perpetual conflicts to which it is exposed in its efforts to overcome early habits of evil.

Thus even sin itself is not excepted from the "all things" that "work together for good to them that love God."[36]


[36] Rom. viii. 28.



It is, perhaps, an "unknown friend" only who would venture to address a remonstrance to you on that particular sin which forms the subject of the following pages; for it seems equally acknowledged by those who are guilty of it, and those who are entirely free from its taint, that there is no bad quality meaner, more degrading, than that of envy. Who, therefore, could venture openly to accuse another of such a failing, however kind and disinterested the motive, and still be admitted to rank as her friend?

There is, besides, a strong impression that, where this failing does exist, it is so closely interwoven with the whole texture of the character, that it can never be separated from it while life and this body of sin remain. This is undoubtedly thus far true, that its ramifications are more minute, and more universally pervading, than those of any other moral defect; so that, on the one hand, while even an anxious and diligent self-examination cannot always detect their existence, so, on the other, it is scarcely possible for its victims to be excited by an emotion of any nature with which envy will not, in some manner or other, connect itself. It is still further true, that no vice can be more difficult of extirpation, the form it assumes being seldom sufficiently tangible to allow of the whole weight of religious and moral motives being brought to bear upon it. But the greatest difficulty of all is, in my mind, the inadequate conception of the exceeding evil of this disposition, of the misery it entails on ourselves, the danger and the constant annoyance to which it exposes all connected with us. Few would recognise their own picture, however strong the likeness in fact might be, in the following vivid description of Lavater's:—"Lorsque je cherche a representer Satan, je me figure une personne que les bonnes qualites d'autrui font souffrir, et qui se rejouit des fautes et des malheurs du prochain."

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