from Letters to Mothers
by Mrs. L.H. Sigourney
PRIVILEGES OF THE MOTHER
MY Friend, if in becoming a mother, you have reached the climax of your happiness, you have also taken a higher place in the scale of being. A most important part is allotted you, in the economy of the great human family. Look at the gradations of your way onward, --your doll, your playmates, your lessons, --perhaps to decorate a beautiful person, --to study the art of pleasing, --to exult in your own attractions, --to feed on adulation, --to wear the garland of love; --and then to introduce into existence a being never to die; --and to feel your highest, holiest energies enlisted to fit it for this world and the next.
No longer will you now live for self, --no longer be noteless and unrecorded, passing away without name or memorial among the people. It can no more be reproachfully said of you, that " you lend all your graces to the grave, and keep no copy." "My cousin Mary of Scotland, hath a fair son born unto her, and I am but a dead tree," said Queen Elizabeth, while the scowl of discontent darkened her brow. In bequeathing your own likeness to the world, you will naturally be anxious to array it in that beauty of virtue, which fades not at the touch of time. What a scope for your exertions, to render your representative, an honour to its parentage, and a blessing to its country.
You have gained an increase of power. The influence which is most truly valuable, is that of mind over mind. How entire and perfect is this dominion, over the unformed character of your infant. Write what you will, upon the printless tablet, with your wand of love. Hitherto, your influence over your dearest friend, your most submissive servant, has known bounds and obstructions. Now, you have over a newborn immortal, almost that degree of power which the mind exercises over the body, and which Aristotle compares to the "sway of a prince over a bond-man." The period of this influence must indeed pass away; --but while it lasts, make good use of it.
Wise men have said, and the world begins to believe, that it is the province of woman to teach. You then, as a mother, are advanced to the head of that profession. I congratulate you. You hold that license which authorizes you to teach always. You have attained that degree in the College of Instruction, by which your pupils are in your presence continually, receiving lessons whether you intend it or not, and if the voice of precept be silent, fashioning themselves on the model of your example. You cannot escape from their imitation. You cannot prevent them from carrying into another generation, the stamp of those habits which they inherit from you. If you are thoughtless, or supine, an unborn race will be summoned as witnesses of your neglect.
" Meantime, the mighty debt runs on,
The dread account proceeds,
And your not-doing is set down
Among your darkest deeds."
In ancient times, the theory that the mother was designated by nature as an instructor, was sometimes admitted and illustrated. The philosopher Aristippus, was the pupil of maternal precepts. Revered for his wisdom, he delighted in the appellation of Metrodidactos, the " taught of his mother."
"We are indebted, says Quintilian, for the eloquence of the Gracchi, to their mother Cornelia,'' who though qualified to give publick lectures in philosophy at Rome, did not forget to be the faithful teacher in private, of those, whom she so justly styled "her jewels." St. Jerome also bears similar testimony. " The eloquence of the Gracchi, derived its perfection from the mother's elegance and purity of language."
Should heathen mothers be permitted to be more faithful in their duties, than those who are under bonds to the life-giving Gospel ? " A good mother, says the eloquent L'Aime Martin, will sieze upon her child's heart, as her special field of activity. To be capable of this, is the great end of female education. I have shewn that no universal agent of civilization exists, but through mothers. Nature has placed in their hands, our infancy and youth. I have been among the first to declare the necessity of making them, by improved education, capable of fulfilling their natural mission. The love of God and man, is the basis of this system. In proportion as it prevails, national enmities will disappear, prejudices become extinguished, civilization spread itself far and wide, --one great people cover the earth, and the reign of God be established. This is to be hastened, by the watchful care of mothers over their offspring, from the cradle upwards."
What an appeal to mothers! What an acknowledgement of the dignity of their office ! The aid of the " weaker vessel," is now invoked by legislation and sages. It has been discovered that there are signs of disease in the body politick, which can be best allayed, by the subordination taught in families, and through her agency to whom is committed the "moulding of the whole mass of mind in its first formation."
Woman is surely more deeply indebted to the government that protects her, than man, who bears within his own person, the elements of self-defence. But how shall her gratitude be best made an operative principle ? Secluded as she wisely is, from any share in the administration of government, how shall her patriotism find legitimate exercise ? The admixture of the female mind in the ferment of political ambition, would be neither safe if it were permitted, nor to be desired if it were safe. Nations who have encouraged it, have usually found their cabinet- councils perplexed by intrigue, or turbulent with contention. History has recorded instances, where the gentler sex have usurped the sceptre of the monarch, or invaded the province of the warrior. But we regard them either with amazement, as a planet rushing from its orbit, or with pity as the lost Pleiad, vanishing from its happy and brilliant sisterhood.
Still, patriotism is a virtue in our sex, and there is an office where it may be called into action, a privilege which the proudest peer might envy. It depends not on rank or wealth, the canvassings of party, or the fluctuations of the will of the people. Its throne is the heart, its revenue in Eternity. This office is that of maternal teacher. It is hers by hereditary right. Let her make it an inalienable possession. Nature invested her with it, when giving her the key of the infant soul, she bade her enter it through the affections. Her right to its first love, her intuitive discernment of its desires and impulses, her tact in detecting the minutest shades of temperament, her skill in forming the heart to her purpose, are proofs both of her prerogative, and of the Divine Source, whence it emanates.
It seems now to be conceded, that the vital interests of our country, may be aided by the zeal of mothers. Exposed as it is, to the influx of untutored foreigners, often unfit for its institutions, or adverse to their spirit, it seems to have been made a repository for the waste and refuse of other nations. To neutralize this mass, to rule its fermentations, to prevent it from becoming a lava-stream in the garden of liberty, and to purify it for those channels where the life-blood of the nation circulates, is a work of power and peril. The force of public opinion, or the terror of law, must hold in check these elements of danger, until Education can restore them to order and beauty. Insubordination is becoming a prominent feature in some of our principal cities. Obedience in families, respect to magistrates, and love of country, should therefore be inculcated with increased energy, by those who have earliest access to the mind. A barrier to the torrent of corruption, and a guard over the strong holds of knowledge and of virtue, may be placed by the mother, as she watches over her cradled son. Let her come forth with vigour and vigilance, at the call of her country, not like Boadicea in her chariot, but like the mother of Washington, feeling that the first lesson to every incipient ruler should be, "how to obey." The degree of her diligence in preparing her children to be good subjects of a just government, will be the true measure of her patriotism. While she labours to pour a pure and heavenly spirit into the hearts that open around her, she knows not but she may be appointed to rear some future statesman, for her nation's helm, or priest for the temple of Jehovah.
But a loftier ambition will inspire the christian mother, that of preparing " fellow citizens for the saints in glory." All other hopes should be held secondary, all other distinctions counted adventitious and fleeting. That she may be enabled to fulfil a mission so sacred, Heaven has given her priority and power, and that she may learn the nature of the soul which she is ordained to modify, has permitted her to be the first to look into it, as into the cup of some opening flower, fresh from the Forming Hand. The dignity of her office admits of no substitute. It is hers to labour day and night, with patience, and in joyful hope. It is hers to lead forth the affections in healthful beauty, and prompt their heavenward aspirings. It is hers to foster tenderness of conscience, and so to regulate its balance that it swerve not amid the temptations of untried life. It is hers so to rivet principle, that it may retain its integrity, both "beneath the cloud, and under the sea." And as she labours for God, so she labours for her country, since whatever tends to prepare for citizenship in heaven, cannot fail to make good and loyal subjects of any just government on earth.
This then, is the patriotism of woman, not to thunder in senates, or to usurp dominion, or to seek the clarion-blast of fame, but faithfully to teach by precept and example, that wisdom, integrity and peace, which are the glory of a nation. Thus, in the wisdom of Providence, has she been prepared by the charm of life's fairest season, for the happiness of love; incited to rise above the trifling amusements and selfish pleasures which once engrossed her, that she might be elevated to the maternal dignity; cheered under its sleepless cares by a new affection; girded for its labours by the example of past ages; and adjured to fidelity in its most sacred duties, by the voice of God.
Admitting that it is the profession of our sex to teach, we perceive the mother to be first in point of precedence, in degree of power, in the faculty of teaching, and in the department allot- ed. For in point of precedence, she is next to the Creator; in power over her pupil, limitless and without competitor; in faculty of teaching, endowed with the prerogative of a transforming love; while the glorious department allotted, is a newly quickened soul, and its immortal destiny.
Let her then not be regardless of the high privileges conferred upon her, or seek to stipulate for a life of indolence and ease, or feebly say that her individual exertion can be of little value. Let her not omit daily to cast into the treasury of the unfolding mind, her " two mites." The habits which she early impresses, though to her eye they seem but as the filmy line of the spider, scarcely clasping the spray, trembling at every breeze, may prove as links of tempered steel, binding a deathless being to eternal felicity or woe. A glorious aggregate will at last be formed by long perseverance in " line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little, and there a little." As the termites patiently carry grains of sand, till their citadel astonishes the eye, as the coral insect toils beneath the waters, till reef joins reef, and islands spring up with golden fruitage and perennial verdure, so let the mother, "sitting down or walking by the way," in the nursery, the parlour, even from the death-bed, labour to impress on her offspring that goodness, purity and piety, which shall render them accept- able to society, to their country, and to their God.
Scanned from and corrected to Letters to Mothers by Mrs. L.H. Sigourney.
Published by Hudson and Skinner, Printers. Hartford, 1838.