Letter VII

From Letter VII:

[27] Domestic happiness, and the importance of little things towards promoting it, is a subject of so much importance, that I cannot satisfy myself without again resuming it.

God, for the most benevolent purposes, has formed us social, assimilating, dependent. A human being alone, is wretched and helpless. Perhaps you can scarcely conceive a punishment you would more dread, than absolute seclusion from all intercourse with your fellow-creatures. Thus formed for society, what can be a stronger inducement to the cultivation of amiable and benevolent dispositions, than their being absolutely necessary to render it either pleasant or beneficial? The peevish, the morose, the austere, are beings who enjoy little themselves, and prevent, as much as they can, others from tasting enjoyment too. The most proper punishment for such persons, would be to confine them to absolute solitude, till they had learned the value of social intercourse, and the necessity of cultivating that gentleness, that patience, that generosity [28] of soul, without which our houses become only nurseries of discord and discontent, where little is to be heard but contention and quarrelling. Let the being who cannot bear to have his humours controlled, his habits interrupted, or his wishes opposed, condemn himself, for one month, to a situation where ho solace from human aid can reach him. Those tempers which are most vexations to others, being most tormenting to their possessors, such a one would be glad to comply with almost any condition, in order to be received into the bosom of society again; or he must remain incorrigibly uncivilized.

An attempt is often made to be polite and kind to acquaintances and strangers, by persons who entirely neglect these subordinate virtues where they are most wanted, and would be most beneficial – at home. But the attempt sits awkwardly; and it is easy to see that it is only an occasional act, not a prevailing habit. Whereas, “true politeness is a polish, not a varnish,” and must rather be the abiding effect of benevolence, than the transient fruit of admonition.

Guard, I beseech you, against gloominess and discontent. These are unnatural and frightful dispositions in early life; and, if indulged, they will, at a later period, lead to surliness and malignity. Good humour has often been called the sunshine of the soul; and its cheering influence [29] is alike pleasant to all – the grave and the gay, the old and the young. The days of sorrow and darkness must come; but let them not be anticipated, by magnifying, into real sorrows, those petty grievances which ought to vanish with the moment. A simple and easy expedient for preventing this, is to turn the attention and conversation, as soon as possible, to some more pleasant subject.

Anger is yet a more terrible evil, and as its power increases with indulgence, it leads to innumerable crimes, and sometimes terminates in acts of violence the most dreadful. Though the passionate man may have a strong sense of injury, yet anger never enabled him to triumph over one difficulty, or to avert one danger: on the contrary, it plunges its victim into a thousand dilemmas, which the well-regulated mind avoids.

It has often been supposed that moderation is the effect of weakness; but this is a mistake. Perhaps, in most of the common concerns of life, it is a proof of superior wisdom; of a mind well-disciplined by religion, and passions curbed and directed by divine grace. A character of this sort, conscious of its fallibility, wishes to examine causes and effects; to see things as they really are, and to decide with an impartial judgment. The advantages arising from such a [30] spirit can scarcely be conceived, and cannot be painted. One, who knew what it was to be a king and a conqueror, hath said; “He who ruleth his own spirit, is greater than he that taketh a city.” The triumph of the one is transient and hazardous, that of the other abiding and satisfactory: the latter may win the applause of a small part of the world; but the former enjoys the testimony of conscience and the approbation of God.

The virtue of self-government is of as much importance in retired, domestic life, as in a more public sphere of action; and without it, those endearing charities which constitute the charm of social intercourse, cannot be habitually practised.

Although different duties devolve on the different sexes, yet each is necessary to the happiness of the other; and no family appears complete, exclusively formed of either. Our mutual wants and dependancies are the cement of society. Brothers affecting to despise and domineer over sisters, or sisters inattentive to the happiness of brothers, is equally repugnant to self-interest and social enjoyment. The powers and privileges which the appointments of Providence and the laws of society afford to man, can never be employed against woman, without diminishing her usefulness, and consequently [31] lessening his happiness. The grand principles of human duty are the same for both sexes; and if a different sphere of action be assigned to each, it is in order that the harmony of the whole may be more complete. There seems a sacred bound, which neither can infringe without being less estimable and less useful; but within that, there is scope for every faculty, and for every valuable feeling. If public offices, political transactions, commercial exertions, be the province of man; the education of children, the order and oeconomy of the family, and the business of creating the pleasures of home, all devolve upon women: and are not these of equal importance to the good of the whole? O, let us thank God, who hath made us mutually dependant, in order that we might be mutually happy.

Scarcely any thing tends more strongly to prove the social propensity, than the abuse of it. That care, that solicitude, that kindness, which is due to the human species, has been sometimes lavished on the brute creation; as if the instinct of nature were so strong, that we must express our affection to some object. There are men who bestow that expence and attention on their horses or hounds, which they owe to their families; and women who waste on lap-dogs and monkeys, the tenderness intended for their fellow-creatures: [32] and, it may be, children who devote to kittens and rabbits, that fondness of which their brothers and sisters have little share. Though few faults can be more reprehensible than the cruel treatment of animals; yet an extravagant expenditure of time, money or attention, on them, is certainly to prostitute affection, and to defraud our species: but the very propensity to this ought to remind us of our insufficiency to our own happiness, and lead us to associate, as if fully conscious of it.