Religious subjects must

Being assembled, this afternoon, Mrs. Williams thus resumed her
discourse.

“Reading is so common a part of education, that the value of it is not
duly estimated; nor the manner of performing it, sufficiently attended
to. It is not the mere propriety of pronunciation, accent, and cadence,
which constitutes good reading. You must enter into the spirit of the
subject, and feel interested in the matter, before you can profit by the
exercise.

“But you are so well acquainted with the manner of reading, that the
quality of books most worthy of your perusal is the only point on which
I need to enlarge.

“Romances, the taste of former times, are now so far out of vogue, that
it is hardly necessary to warn you against them. They exhibit the spirit
of chivalry, knight-errantry, and extravagant folly, which prevailed in
the age they depict. But they are not interesting; nor can they be
pleasing to the correct taste and refined delicacy of the present day.

“Novels, are the favorite and the most dangerous kind of reading, now
adopted by the generality of young ladies. I say dangerous, because the
influence, which, with very few exceptions, they must have upon the
passions of youth, bears an unfavorable aspect on their purity and
virtue. The style in which they are written is commonly captivating; and
the luxuriance of the descriptions with which they abound, extremely
agreeable to the sprightly fancy, and high expectations of the
inexperienced and unreflecting. Their romantic pictures of love, beauty,
and magnificence, fill the imagination with ideas which lead to impure
desires, a vanity of exterior charms, and a fondness for show and
dissipation, by no means consistent with that simplicity, modesty, and
chastity, which should be the constant inmates of the female breast.
They often pervert the judgment, mislead the affections, and blind the
understanding.

“A melancholy example of this sort is exhibited in Juliana. Juliana was
the only daughter of a wealthy merchant, who grudged no expense which
could please or embellish his darling child. He, however, possessed
neither leisure nor abilities ‘to teach the young idea how to shoot;’
but thought it sufficient that he gave her every advantage, which could
be derived from the various schools, to which she was consigned. She had
a brilliant fancy, and a fondness for books, which, properly directed,
might have proved of great use to her. But, having no better principles
instilled into her mind, she indulged herself in the unlimited reading
of novels, and every light publication which a circulating library could
furnish.

“Hence her imagination took wing, and carried her far above the scenes
of common life. The excessive refinement of her mind admitted no
ordinary amusements or avocations. Plain truth from her own sex was an
insult; and from the other, nothing less than adoration would satisfy
her unbounded vanity. Her beauty (of which she really had a considerable
share) and the large fortune which she would probably inherit, gained
her many admirers; some of whom were men of unquestionable merit. But a
sober, rational courtship could not answer her ideas of love and
gallantry. The swain, who would not die for her, she deemed unworthy of
notice.

“Her father strongly recommended a gentleman, as well calculated, in his
opinion, to make her happy, and as having his entire approbation; but
she rejected him with disdain, though she could produce no one objection
against his person, or character.

“Her father acquiesced; expressing, however, his regret at the mistaken
notions she had imbibed; and warning her most pathetically against the
indulgence of so romantic a disposition; yet all in vain. He was
considered as an illiterate plodder after wealth, which she had a right
to bestow as she pleased.

“At last the lovely youth whom she had so long contemplated, made his
appearance. A military captain entered the town on the recruiting
service. Young, handsome, easy, bold and assuming; with all the _bon
ton_ of the coxcomb, and all the insolence of the novice. He saw
Juliana; he sacrificed to her charms, and conquered. She could not
resist the allurements of his gallantry. His affectation of dying love
was received with apparent pleasure; while art and duplicity took
advantage of her weakness, to precipitate her into engagements to pity
and relieve him. Her friends saw her danger, and warmly remonstrated
against her imprudent conduct, in receiving the addresses of a man,
destitute of property to support her, and void of every kind of personal
merit. Her father entreated and implored the rejection of her lover,
till, finding every other method vain, he at length resolutely forbade
him the house, and his daughter’s company. This was viewed as
persecution; and, consistently with her sentiments of adventurous love,
a clandestine amour was commenced. Her father surprised them together;
and, enraged at their disgraceful intrigue, seized the captain, and
endeavored to turn him out of doors. He violently resented this
ungentlemanlike treatment, as he termed it, and defended himself with
his sword. The old gentleman received a slight wound in the scuffle; but
accomplished his purpose. Juliana was terrified at this rencounter, and,
dreading her father’s displeasure, ran out with her paramour. His
lodgings were near, and thither, favored by the darkness of the night,
he instantly led her. She involuntarily followed him, without
considering the impropriety of her conduct. Here he drew his sword, and,
throwing himself at her feet, professed his despair, and declared
himself resolved to put an immediate end to his life. She endeavored to
reason him into calmness; but in vain. He was sensible, that, if he now
relinquished her to her father, he should lose her forever. His apparent
agony overcame her, and she gave him her hand.

“Her father was almost distracted at her elopement. He traced her steps,
and, following her to the house, condescended to soothe her with
parental kindness; and promised her pardon and continued affection, if
she would renounce her worthless lover, and return. She confessed it was
too late; that she was his wife.

“Petrified with astonishment, he looked at her, for some time, with
speechless grief; and, showing his arm, bound up with the wound he had
received, left her with every token of anguish and indignation!

“When the fever of passion had abated, a returning sense of duty in
Juliana, and, in the captain, the fear of losing the property which he
sought, induced them to seek a reconciliation, and make submissive
efforts to obtain it. But her father was too highly incensed to grant it
to him, on any terms; or to her, on any other than the utter rejection
of her unworthy companion. These terms were not complied with.

“Sorrow and vexation preyed so deeply upon the mind of this afflicted
parent, that they brought on a rapid decline; and he died without again
seeing his undutiful and ruined daughter. His estate was divided between
Juliana and her four brothers. Her portion was received by her husband,
and soon spent in dissipation and excess. Having rioted on the fortune
of his wife, while she often pined at home for want of the common
necessaries of life, he left her, to join his regiment, promising
remittances from time to time, for her support. This promise, however,
was but ill performed; and she now feels the dreadful effects of her
folly, in the accumulated ills of poverty and neglect. Yet she still
cherishes the most passionate fondness for what has proved her bane. A
friend called to see her, not long since, and found her the emblem of
wretchedness and sloth. Her emaciated form, her squalid appearance, the
disorder of her house, and her tattered raiment, bespoke the shameful
negligence of the owner. Yet she was sitting with a novel in her hand,
over which she had apparently been weeping. She expatiated largely on
the tale it contained, while her children, who exhibited a picture of
real woe, engaged not her attention. Her friend enquired how she could
be thus interested and distressed by mere fiction, while every thing
about her was calculated to arouse the keenest feelings of her soul! She
coolly replied, I have fortitude sufficient to support my own calamity,
but I must sympathize with the heroine of adversity. I have not lost my
sensibility with my fortune. My only luxury is now imagination! How
ill-timed, and how improperly exerted, was this kind of sensibility, in
Juliana! Where, and what was her sensibility, when she disobeyed an
indulgent parent, sacrificed her reputation, and threw herself into the
arms of a worthless man for protection—from what? from the kindness and
love of her best friends!

“But I would not be understood to condemn all novels indiscriminately;
though great prudence is necessary to make a useful selection. Some of
them are fraught with sentiment; convey lessons for moral improvement;
and exhibit striking pictures of virtue rewarded; and of vice, folly,
and indiscretion punished; which may prove encouragements to imitate, or
warnings to avoid similar practices. I shall not descend to particulars.
Those, which are sanctioned by the general voice of delicacy and
refinement, may be allowed a reading; yet none should engross your
minds, to the neglect of more important objects; nor be suffered to
monopolize too large a portion of your time.

“Novels are a kind of light reading, on which the imagination feasts,
while the more substantial food which is requisite to the nourishment of
the understanding, is either untasted or undigested. Imagination is a
sportive faculty, which should be curbed by the reins of prudence and
judgment. Its sallies are delightful in youth, provided they be not too
excursive.

“Poetry is, by some, ranked with novels; but I think injudiciously. Good
poetry is certainly a sublime source of entertainment and instruction.
What music is to the ear, poetry is to the heart. There must, indeed, be
a natural taste for it, before it can be highly relished or enjoyed; and
this taste, whereever it exists, should be cultivated. I know of no kind
of reading more richly formed for the mental repast of a liberal and
polished young lady, than the poetical productions of true genius. The
trifling and indelicate cantos of ordinary witlings, and every day
poetasters, are unworthy your attention. But the species of poetry which
I now recommend, is peculiarly adapted to soften the passions, excite
sympathy, and meliorate the affections. It soothes the jarring cares of
life, and, pervading the secret recesses of the soul, serves to rouse
and animate its dormant powers.

“Many essays, written by monitors of both sexes, are extant, which you
may find profitable and pleasing, both in youth and more advanced age.
Among the foremost of these, I mention Mrs. Chapone’s letters to her
niece, which contain a valuable treasure of information and advice.

“But among your hours devoted to reading, history must not be without a
place. Here an extensive field of ages and generations, which have gone
before you, is opened to your view. Here your curiosity may be gratified
by a retrospection of events, which, by conducting your thoughts to
remotest climes and periods, interests and enlarges the mind. Here the
various revolutions, the rise, fall, and dismemberment of ancient
kingdoms and states may be traced to the different springs of action, in
which they originated. Hence you may gain a competent acquaintance with
human nature in all its modifications, from the most rude and barbarous,
to the most civilized and polished stages of society. This is a species
of knowledge, which will not only be of constant use to you, in the
government of your own temper and manners, but highly ornamental in your
intercourse with the polite and learned world.

“But let your reading of every description be regular and methodical.
Never confuse your minds by a variety of subjects at once. When you turn
your attention to any one in particular, finish, and lay that aside,
before you take up another. Let what you read be well understood at the
time, and well digested afterwards. Possess yourselves, at least, of the
leading traits: otherwise your labor will be totally lost. If
convenient, always recapitulate what you have been perusing, and annex
to it your own sentiments and remarks, to some friend. If you have no
friend at hand, who will be disposed to hear, recollect, and run it over
in your own thoughts. This will be a great assistance to memory. But
whatever be the kind of reading which you undertake, select such authors
as good judges esteem the best, upon the subject. Have a particular
regard to the morality and delicacy of the books you peruse.

“When you read for mere amusement, (which should seldom happen) be
careful not to corrupt and vitiate your taste by frothy and illiberal
performances, which will degrade the dignity and sully the purity of
your minds. That time is very greatly misspent, which is bestowed in
reading what can yield no instruction. Not a moment’s attention should
be given to books which afford not some degree of improvement. Always
have an eye, therefore, to profit, as well as to pleasure. Remember that
youth is the seed-time of life. You are now to cultivate that knowledge,
which future years must ripen. Free from those domestic cares, which
will engross and occupy your minds, when placed at the head of families,
a most inestimable price is now put into your hands to get wisdom. Now
you may learn; then you must practice.

“Now, therefore, lay up in store some provision for every exigence, some
embellishment for every station.

“Look upon Elvira. Her acquirements in a single state have qualified her
for a shining pattern of matronal duties. Her husband’s business abroad
prevents him from attending to domestic avocations; nor need he be
anxious respecting the management of his household affairs. Elvira is
present to every occasion. The superintendence of her family, and the
education of her children is her delight. Capable of instructing them in
every needful branch of science, and of furnishing them with every
requisite endowment, she is, at once, their guide, their example, and
their friend. When her husband returns from the cares and fatigues of
business, with what becoming ease and cheerfulness does she dissipate
the anxiety which sometimes hangs upon his brow, and exhilarate his
spirits by the enlivening charms of rational and refined conversation!
In the entertainment of their friends, how distinguished a part she
sustains! Her powers of mind have been so happily improved, that she is
able to discuss every subject with ease and propriety. To an enlarged
understanding and a cultivated taste, to an extensive knowledge of the
world and an acquaintance with polite literature, she superadds those
amiable virtues, which give society its highest relish; while the
elegance of her manners and the modesty of her deportment are a proof of
the greatness of her mind, and render her esteemed, beloved, and
respected by all who know her.

“But I flatter myself that each of you, my dear pupils, will be an
Elvira. Then will you do justice to the superior advantages of your
education; be the delight of your friends, and the ornaments of your
country.

“Religious subjects must, by no means, be neglected in the course of
your reading. Let the BIBLE be the rule of your faith and practice. If
you wish an explanation of any particular passages, seek it from some
judicious and pious friend, or in the writings of some judicious and
learned commentator. But always attend chiefly to those points which
serve to mend the heart, rather than to those knotty, metaphysical
disquisitions, which tend only to perplex the understanding, and involve
the inquirer in such labyrinths of abstrusity, as are above human
comprehension, and beyond human concern. The essential doctrines and
precepts of the gospel are level to every capacity; and upon a life and
conversation governed by these, our hopes, both of present peace and
future glory, must be founded. “He hath shewed thee what is good; and
what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy,
and to walk humbly with thy God.”