With one voice

On the delightful margin of the Merrimac, in one of the most pleasant
and beautiful situations, which that fertile and healthful part of
America affords, lived Mrs. Williams, the virtuous relict of a
respectable clergyman.

She had two daughters, lovely and promising as ever parent could boast.

Mrs. Williams’ circumstances were easy. She possessed a little
patrimony, to which she retired, after her husband’s decease; but a
desire of preserving this for her children, and a wish to promote their
advantage and enlarge their society, induced her to open a Boarding
School.

As she had an eye, no less to the social pleasure, than to the pecuniary
profit of the undertaking, she admitted only seven, at a time, to the
privilege of her tuition.

These were all young ladies, who had previously received the first
rudiments of learning, and been initiated into the polite
accomplishments, which embellish virtue and soften the cares of human
life. They had generally lived in the metropolis, and had acquired the
graces of a fashionable deportment; but they possessed different tempers
and dispositions, which had been variously, and, in some respects,
erroneously managed.

To cultivate the expanding flowers, and to prune the juvenile
eccentricities, which were disseminated among these tender plants; or,
to speak without a figure, to extend and purify their ideas, to elevate
and refine their affections, to govern and direct their passions,
required an eye, watchful, and a hand, skilful as those of the judicious
Mrs. Williams.

While her judgment and prudence aided the useful acquisitions of the
mind, a sprightly fancy and a cheerful disposition, regulated by
experience and discretion, qualified her to enter, at once, with
becoming dignity and condescending ease, into all their concerns; to
participate their pleasures; while, with candor and mildness, she
reproved their errors, detected their follies, and facilitated their
amendment.

As the young ladies had finished their school education, before Mrs.
Williams received them to her mansion, her instructions were more
especially designed to polish the mental part, to call forth the dormant
virtues, to unite and arrange the charms of person and mind, to inspire
a due sense of decorum and propriety, and to instil such principles of
piety, morality, benevolence, prudence and economy, as might be useful
through life.

Their time was, accordingly, disposed in a manner most conducive to the
attainment of these objects. Every part of it was employed to some
valuable purpose; “for idleness,” Mrs. Williams observed, “is the rust
of the mind.”

Whatever tended to enlarge, inform, improve, or amuse, she supposed
worthy their attention.

She particularly endeavored to domesticate them; to turn their thoughts
to the beneficial and necessary qualifications of private life; often
inculcating, that

“Nothing lovelier can be found in woman
Than to study household good;”

and laboring to convince them of the utter insignificance and
uselessness of that part of the sex, who are

“Bred only and completed to the taste
Of lustful appetence; to sing, to dance,
To dress, and troll the tongue, and roll the eye.”

Early rising she recommended, both by precept and example. This, she
said, would not only promote their health, but render them mistresses of
many hours, which must otherwise be lost in enervating sloth and
inaction. “And should we,” continued she, “who have so much cause for
exertion, thus sacrifice the best part of our time?”

“Falsely luxurious, will not man awake,
And, starting from the bed of sloth, enjoy
The cool, the fragrant, and the silent hour,
To meditation due, and sacred song?
And is there aught in sleep can charm the wise?
To lie in dead oblivion, losing half
The fleeting moments of too short a life?
Total extinction of th’ enlighten’d soul!
Or else to feverish vanity alive,
Wilder’d and tossing through distemper’d dreams?
Who would in such a gloomy state remain,
Longer than nature craves; when every muse,
And every blooming pleasure wait without,
To bless the wildly devious morning walk?”

Another laudable practice of Mrs. Williams, was perfect regularity in
the government of her pupils, and in the arrangement of their daily
exercises. “When,” said she, “we observe the order of the natural world,
and admire the consistency and harmony of every part, we may hence
derive a lesson, for the regulation of our conduct, in the sphere
assigned to us.”

Pursuant to this plan of operation, the young ladies arose at five; from
which they had two hours at their own disposal, till the bell summoned
them at seven, to the hall, where, the ceremonies of the morning
salutation over, they breakfasted together; their repast being seasoned
with the unrestrained effusions of good humor and sociability. On these
occasions, Mrs. Williams suspended the authority of the matron, that, by
accustoming her pupils to familiarity in her presence, they might be
free from restraint; and, feeling perfectly easy and unawed, appear in
their genuine characters. By this means she had an opportunity of
observing any indecorum of behavior, or wrong bias; which she kept in
mind, till a proper time to mention, and remonstrate against it; a
method, the salutary effects of which were visible in the daily
improvement of her pupils.

The breakfast table removed, each took her needle-work, except one, who
read some amusing and instructive book, for the benefit and
entertainment of the rest. The subject was selected by Mrs. Williams,
who conferred the reading upon them in rotation.

At twelve o’clock, they were dismissed till one, when dinner again
called them together, which was conducted in the same manner as the
morning repast.

Having resumed their occupations, the reader of the day produced some
piece of her own composition, either in prose, or verse, according to
her inclination, as a specimen of her genius and improvement. This being
submitted to Mrs. Williams’ inspection, and the candid perusal and
criticism of her companions; and the subject canvassed with great
freedom of opinion, they withdrew from the tasks of the day to seek that
relaxation and amusement, which each preferred. No innocent
gratification was denied them. The sprightly dance, the sentimental
song, and indeed every species of pastime, consistent with the decorum
of the sex, was encouraged, as tending to health, cheerfulness, and
alacrity.

In these pleasing pursuits and enjoyments, the present class of happy
companions had nearly completed the term allotted them by their parents,
and were soon to leave the peaceful shades in which they delighted, when
being assembled on the Monday morning of their last week, their revered
Preceptress thus accosted them:

“As the period is approaching, my dear pupils, when I must resign your
society, and quit the important charge of instructer and friend, which I
have sustained with so much pleasure, and, I trust, with some degree of
fidelity, I shall sum up the counsels, admonitions, and advice, which I
have frequently inculcated, and endeavor to impress them on your minds,
as my valedictory address. For this purpose, during this last week of
your residence with me, I shall dispense with your usual exercises, and
substitute a collection of my own sentiments, enforced by the pathos of
the occasion.

“Your docility, and cheerful diligence in attending to my instructions;
your modest, affectionate, and respectful behavior, together with the
laudable progress you have made in every branch, which you have pursued,
have well rewarded my care, and engaged my approbation and love. To me,
therefore, a separation will be painful. To you the period is important.
It is a period, which, while it relieves you from the confinement of
scholastic rules, introduces you to new scenes of cares, of pleasures,
of trials, and of temptations, which will call for the exercise of every
virtue, and afford opportunity for improving the endowments, both
natural and acquired, which you possess. Think not then, that your
emancipation from schools, gives you liberty to neglect the advantages
which you have received from them. The obligations under which you are
laid to your parents for the education they have given you, require a
diligent improvement of every talent committed to your trust.

“Of needle-work you are complete mistresses, from the most delicate and
highly finished, to the most ordinary, though perhaps not less useful,
economy of mending and making the coarser garments of family use. Many,
I am aware, suppose _this last_ a species of learning, which is beneath
the attention of a lady: but Clara will tell you how valuable it has
proved to her; and how valuable it _may_ prove to you.

“Nursed in the lap of affluence, and accustomed to unbounded expense,
Clara little thought, at your age, that she should ever depend on her
needle for the livelihood and decent appearance of a rising family. A
discreet and prudent mother early inculcated the lessons of industry and
economy, which she now practices; and taught her that the knowledge
could be of no disservice, though she never had occasion for it. She
married with the brightest prospects. But a series of unavoidable
disasters, such as no human wisdom could foresee or prevent, reduced her
to narrow circumstances; and, to complete her misfortune, she was left a
widow with four small children. Her parents were in the grave; her
patrimony was gone! In this exigence what was her resource? Not
fruitless lamentations, and unavailing complaints. She immediately
summoned her resolution; and by the use of her needle has ever since
supported herself and family with decency, and been highly respected for
her prudent exertions and exemplary industry. Directly the reverse of
this amiable character is that of Belinda. She was educated in the same
way with Clara; the same schools gave them tuition; and similar
prospects awaited their entrance into life. Calamities attended the
progress of each; but different as their tempers and dispositions was
their conduct under them. The falling fortunes of Clara were awhile
suspended by her discretion and frugality; while the ruin of Belinda was
hastened by her extravagance, dissipation, and idleness. View them, now,
in their reduced state! Neatness, cheerfulness, and activity preside in
the dwelling of Clara; negligence, peevishness, and sloth are legibly
stamped on that of Belinda. The ear is pained by her complaints of
poverty; the eye is disgusted by her slatternly appearance, and
ostentatious display of the tattered remnants of finery, which bespeak
the pride and indolence of their owner; who will neither convert them
into more comfortable garments, nor, by repairing, render them becoming.

“I hope, however, that occasions like these may never call for your
exertions. But there may be cases, when, to know the use of your needles
will answer important purposes, even in an exalted station, and amidst
the splendor of affluence and plenty.

“Matilda dignified a princely fortune by the exercise of every virtue
which can adorn a lady. Among these, charity shone conspicuous. Her maid
said to her, one day, Madam, would you have me lay aside these
cast-clothes for some poor person? Yes, replied Matilda; but sit down,
and mend them first. Don’t you see they need it? Why, Madam, rejoined
the girl, is it not enough for you to give them away? I should think the
least they can do is to mend them for themselves! In that case, said
Matilda, my bounty would be greatly diminished. People, who need charity
have not the necessary materials for putting such articles into repair;
and should I furnish them, perhaps they have never been taught to use
their needles. No more have I, returned the maid. Have you not? said
Matilda. Well then, sit down, and I will direct your ingenuity upon
these clothes. By this mean you may learn a very useful lesson, I assure
you; a lesson, which by practising for yourself, will enable you to lay
up part of your wages against the time when sickness or old age shall
take you from your labors.

“Such examples of condescension and benevolence to inferiors, are of
more real and lasting use than pounds prodigally bestowed.

“Do you seek higher testimonies of the honor and utility of this
employment? You may collect many from the histories which you have read
during the last year. Among the Romans, and several other nations of
antiquity, a scarf, wrought by the needle of a favorite fair, was
received as an honorable token of respect, and improved as an invincible
stimulus to heroic deeds. Ladies of the first rank and station
considered it as no derogation from the dignity or delicacy of their
character, to make their own apparel, and that of their families. The
virtuous Panthea, when her husband was going to fight in the cause of
Cyrus, her generous deliverer, magnificently adorned his person, and
decorated his armor with her own needle-work.

“We ought never to be idle. No moment should be unoccupied. Some
employment, salutary, either to body or mind, or both, should be
constantly pursued; and the needle is always at hand to supply the want
of other avocations. The listless vacuity, which some young ladies
indulge, renders them extremely unhappy, though they are insensible of
the cause and seek to beguile the time in frivolous amusements.

“A still more endearing motive remains to be suggested; and that is the
pleasure, which your accomplishments in this ornamental and useful art
must afford your parents; and the pain, which your neglect of it
hereafter must occasion them.

“But your faithful and assiduous improvement of time, since you have
been with me, is a sure pledge of your perseverance in the path of duty,
and your progress in every virtue. I trust, therefore, that what I have
said will be engraved on your memories; and that some useful ideas will
be selected by each of you for your future advantage.

“Your minds are a good soil; and may I not flatter myself, that the
seeds of instruction which I have sown, will spring up, and yield fruit
abundantly?’”

With one voice, they most affectionately assured Mrs. Williams, that it
should be their daily study to profit by her lessons; and withdrew.