[Scanned from and corrected to Letters to Mothers by Mrs. L.H. Sigourney.
from Letters to Mothers
by Mrs. L.H. Sigourney
LETTER VMATERNAL LOVE
To love children, is the dictate of our nature. Apart from the promptings of kindred blood, it is a spontaneous tribute to their helplessness, their innocence, or their beauty. The total absence of this love, induces a suspicion that the heart is not right. " Beware, said Lavater, of him who hates the laugh of a child." " I love God, and every little child," was the simple, yet sublime sentiment of Richter.
The man of the world, pauses in his absorbing career, and claps his hands, to gain an infant's smile. The victim of vice, gazes wishfully on the pure, open forehead of childhood, and re- traces those blissful years that were free from guile. The man of piety loves that docility and singleness of heart, which drew from his Saviour's lips, the blessed words, " of such is the kingdom of heaven."
Elliot, the apostle of the Indians, amid his laborious ministry, and rude companionship, shewed in all places, the most marked attention to young children. In extreme age, when his head was white as the Alpine snows, he felt his heart warm at their approach. Many a pastor whom he had assisted to consecrate, bore witness to the pathos of his appeal, the solemnity of his intonation, when he inquired, " Brother, lovest thou our Lord Jesus Christ? Then feed these lambs."
The love of children, in man is a virtue: in woman, an element of nature. It is a feature of her constitution, a proof of His wisdom, who having entrusted to her the burden of the early nurture of a whole race, gives that sustaining power which produces harmony, between her dispositions, and her allotted tasks.
To love children, is a graceful lineament, in the character of young ladies. Anxious as they usually are to acquire the art of pleasing, they are not always aware what an attraction it imparts to their manners. It heightens the influence of beauty, and often produces a strong effect where beauty is wanting.
" Love children," said Madame de Maintenon, in her advice to the young dauphiness; whether for a prince or a peasant, it is the most amiable accomplishment." It was this very trait in her own character, that won the heart of Louis the Great. When she was governess of his children and past the bloom of life, he surprised her one morning, in the royal nursery, sustaining with one arm, the oldest son, then feeble from the effects of a fever, rocking with the other hand a cradle, in which lay the infant princess, while on her lap reposed the sleeping infant. His tenderness as a father, and his susceptibility as a man, accorded that deep admiration which would have been denied to the splendour of dress, the parade of rank, or the blaze of beauty.
But how feeble are all the varieties of love, which childhood elicits, compared to that which exists in a mother's breast. Examine, I pray you, its unique nature, by contrast and comparison. We are wont to place our affections, where our virtues are appreciated, or to fix our reliance where some benefit may be conferred. But maternal love, is founded on utter helplessness. A wailing cry, a foot too feeble to bear the burden of the body, an eye unable to distinguish the friend who feeds it, a mind more obtuse than the new-born lamb, which discerns its mother amid the flock, or the duckling that hastens from its shell to the stream, are among the elements of which it is compounded.
It is able also to subsist without aliment. Other love requires the interchange of words or smiles, some beauty, or capability, or moral fitness, either existing, or supposed to exist. It is wont, as it advances in ardour, to exact a vow of preference, above all the world beside, and if need be, to guard this its Magna Charta, with the sting of reproach, or the fang of jealousy. It is scarcely proof against long absence, without frequent tokens of remembrance, and its most passionate stage of existence, may be checked by caprice.
But I have seen a mother's love, endure every test unharmed, and come forth from the refiner's furnace, purged from that dross of selfishness which the heart is wont to find among its purest gold. A widow expended on her only son, all the fullness of her affection, and the little gains of her industry. She denied herself every superfluity, that he might receive the benefits of education, and the indulgences that boyhood covets. She sat silently by her small fire, and lighted he single candle, and regarded him with intense delight, as he amused himself with his books, or sought out the lessons for the following day. The expenses of his school were discharged by the labour of her hands, and glad and proud was she to bestow on him, privileges, which her own youth had never been permitted to share. She believed him to be diligently acquiring the knowledge which she respected, but was unable to comprehend. His teachers, and his idle companions, knew otherwise. He indeed, learned to astonish his simple and admiring parent, with high-sounding epithets, and technical terms, and to despise her for not understanding them. When she saw him discontented, at comparing his situation with that of others, who were above him in rank, she denied herself almost bread, that she might add a luxury for his table, or a garment to his wardrobe.
She erred in judgment, and he in conduct; but her changeless love surmounted all. Still, there was little reciprocity, and every year diminished that little, in his cold and selfish heart. He returned no caress; his manners assumed a cast of defiance. She strove not to perceive the alteration, or sadly solaced herself with the reflection, that " it was the nature of boys."
He grew boisterous and disobedient. His returns to their humble cottage became irregular. She sat up late for him, and when she heard his approaching footstep, forgot her weariness, and welcomed him kindly. But he might have seen reproach written on the paleness of her loving brow, if he would have read its language. During, those long and lonely evenings, she sometimes wept as she remembered him in his early years, when he was so gentle, and to her eye so beautiful. " But this is the way of young men," said her lame philosophy. So, she armed herself to bear.
At length, it was evident that darker vices were making him their victim. The habit of intemperance could no longer be concealed, even from a love that blinded itself. The widowed mother remonstrated with unwonted energy. She was answered in the dialect of insolence and brutality.
He disappeared from her cottage. What she dreaded, had come upon her. In his anger, he bad gone to sea. And now, every night, when the tempest howled, and the wind was high, she lay sleepless, thinking of him. She saw him, in her imagination, climbing the slippery shrouds or doing the bidding of rough, unfeeling men. Again, she fancied that he was sick and suffering, with none to watch over him, or have patience with his waywardness, and her head which silver hairs began to sprinkle, gushed forth, as if it were a fountain of waters.
But hope of his return, began to cheer her When the new moon looked with its slender crescent in at her window, she said " I think my boy will be here, ere that moon is old." And when it waned and went away, she sighed and said " my boy will remember me."
Years fled, and there was no letter, no recognition. Sometimes she gathered tidings from a comrade, that he was on some far sea, or in some foreign land. But no message for his mother When he touched at some port in his native country, it was not to seek her cottage, but to spend his wages in revelry, and re-embark on a new voyage.
Weary years, and no letter. Yet she had abridged her comforts, that he might be taught to write, and she used to exhibit his penmanship with such pride. But she dismissed the reproachful thought. "It was the way with sailors."
Amid all these years of neglect and cruelty, the mother's love lived on. When Hope refused it nourishment, it asked food of Memory. It was satisfied with the crumbs from a table which must never be spread again. Memory brought the broken bread which she had gathered into her basket, when the feast of innocence was over, and Love received it as a mendicant, and fed upon it and gave thanks. She fed upon the cradle-smile, upon the first caress of infancy, upon the loving years of childhood, when putting his cheek to hers, he slumbered the live-long night, or when teaching him to walk, he tottered with outstretched arms to her bosom, as a new-fledg'd bird to its nest.
But Religion found this lonely widow, and communed with her at deep midnight, while the storm was raging without. It told her of a " name better than of sons or of daughters," and she was comforted. It bade her resign herself to the will of her Father in Heaven, and she found peace.
It was a cold evening in winter, and the snow lay deep upon the earth. The widow sat alone by her little fire-side. The marks of early age had settled upon her. There was meekness on her brow, and in her hand a book from whence that meekness came.
A heavy knock shook her door, and ere she could open it, a man entered. He moved with pain, like one crippled, and his red and downcast visage was partially concealed by a torn hat. Among those who had been familiar with his youthful countenance, only one save the Being who made him, could have recognized him, through his disguise and misery. The mother looking deep into his eye, saw a faint tinge of that fair blue, which had charmed her, when it unclosed from the cradle-dream.
" My son ! My son !"
Had the prodigal returned by a late repentance, to atone for years of ingratitude and sin? I will not speak of the revels that shook the peaceful roof of his widowed parent, or of the profanity that disturbed her repose. The remainder of his history is brief. The effect of vice had debilitated his constitution, and once as he was apparently recovering from a long paroxysm of intemperance, apoplexy struck his heated brain, and he lay a bloated and hideous carcase.
The poor mother faded away and followed him. She had watched over him, with a meek nursing patience, to the last. Her love had never turned away from him, through years of neglect, brutality, and revolting wickedness. " Bearing all things, believing all things, hoping all things, enduring all things," was its motto.
Is not the same love in the hearts of us all, who are mothers ? And wherefore has it been placed there, that deathless love ? Sisters, why is it placed there ?
To expend itself in the physical care of our children, in the indulgence of their appetites? A nurse, or a servant might do this, for money. To adorn their persons ? That is the milliner's province. To secure showy accomplishments? A fashionable teacher will do this better. To spend itself on aught that earth can bestow ? I pray you not thus to degrade its essence or its mission.
The wisdom that never errs, attempers means to ends. It proportions the strongest affections to the greatest needs. It arms the timid, domestic bird, with an eagle's courage, when its young, are to be defended. It has implanted in our bosoms, a love, next in patience to that of a Redeemer, that we may perform the ministry of an angel, and help to people with angels, the court of Heaven.