Letter XV

From Letter XV:

[73] The preceding letter supposes, that young persons have, in general, some appropriation of property at their own disposal. But with many this cannot be the case, and it is often necessary that their exertions should be united with those of their parents, for the support of the family. This ought never to be deemed disgraceful. Occupation is the duty and the happiness of human beings; and were we suffered to live without it, life would soon be wearisome and painful. Where there are large families, and small resources, the income might be increased, and enjoyments multiplied, by the talents of young persons being exercised in those pursuits in which they are most likely to excel. Boys are, in general, soon sent out into the world, in order to be fitted for that active part which awaits them in it. The lot of girls is different: retired occupations, family duties, are their sphere; and it is in their father’s house, in the exercise of the subordinate ones, that they are to learn those of a higher order. Nor is it [74] desirable that young women should, in general, be sent from the paternal roof, to learn arts and trades; and yet there are many ways in which such might render themselves useful, and employ their time with satisfaction and advantage. Every one knows of what importance book-keeping is, in commercial concerns, and what essential service might a daughter or sister render, and for what future usefulness might she be qualifying herself, where this, in certain cases, her department? Some do excel in it, and are highly respectable for their exertions. The science of numbers is thought so common, so low an attainment, that, in the education of young women, it is seldom sufficiently attended to; but it is connected with almost every thing that is useful and important in society, and persons who excel in it, find it an inexhaustible source of entertainment.

Artists have sometimes initiated their daughters into their different professions; and there are painters and engravers who have thus furnished them with an interesting occupation, and enabled them, in an agreeable manner, to contribute to their own support. Ingenuity will seldom be at a loss how to direct its attention; and there are females who can earn a comfortable subsistence even by making pens.

There are many employments, which, till the [75] present time, have been almost exclusively confined to the other sex, which are certainly much more proper for females; as, habit-making, stay-making, &c. &c.; and why should not writing, arithmetic, music, drawing, and geography, be taught to girls, both in private an in schools, by those of their own sex whose education has qualified them for such occupations? That men, whose muscular strength, whose general education, and whose rank in society, afford them so many advantages, should spend their whole lives in teaching little Misses to figure a minuet, or in standing behind a counter measuring tape and numbering pins, is surely as ridiculous as it is improper. All shops where articles of female dress are principally sold, ought, exclusively, to be kept by women; and it is certainly the duty of the higher ranks, to encourage, amongst the indigent of their own sex, every species of manufacture in which they can engage with safety and propriety.

It is a great encouragement to many who have met with misfortune, and who many not have been brought up to any regular occupation, that there are, in the present day, repositories opened for works of art, where the opulent may be furnished with the elegancies they admire, and the industrious assisted to support themselves, or enabled more liberally to contribute to the [76] support of those wretched beings who have no such resource.* How gratifying the sight, to behold a group of young ladies, in their afternoon meetings, instead of wasting their hours over the agitating card-table, animating each other’s benevolence, and uniting their taste and skill, in order to relieve some family in distress, or rescue some poor child from beggary, and place it on the form of humble instruction. Who would not rise from such an occupation, with an [sic] heart far more gladdened, than from thrumming marches and minuets on a piano-forte, in broken time, and amid mistaken movements? Music is a delightful science, but it is so complicated and comprehensive, that only those who have an almost overbearing propensity for it, are likely to excel. Out of a thousand who make the attempt, scarcely one perseveres; and such is the time and application it demands, that persons most solicitous for the good of the young are always sorry to see those [77] who have made little proficiency in the attainments which might be daily accommodated to useful purposes, as arithmetic, history, geography, chemistry, &c. sitting down, often without either taste or judgment, to make a noise on an instrument.

It is, perhaps, desirable, for all who are not under the necessity of earning their own maintenance, and can command leisure, to have some favourite pursuit, which they may resort to when the common duties of life do not demand attention: where the prevailing taste is for music, it may be cultivated with advantage, provided (which ought to be the restriction laid on all our amusements) it be never suffered to encroach on the hours due to sacred duties, or useful occupations,

What boundless sources of enjoyment unfold before the active, ardent, happy minds of youth. Nature, with all her inexhaustible riches, her endless variety, opens a book replete with wonders and with beauties, which can never be fully read during the longest life. The most accurate observers of her works, may be numbered amongst the greatest benefactors to mankind. But who shall say how much, that might be useful to man, lies yet undiscovered? Or who shall be the happy being to bring to light sources of pleasure and advantage, yet unthought [78] of? How do we admire those beautiful imitations of nature, which the pencil of the artist affords; but these only please, in proportion as they are faithful to her; those persons, therefore, who have a decided taste for drawing, ought to study nature in all her forms and combinations, and not be contented with merely copying copies. Such should, at first, take a single leaf, a shell, a tree, for a model; and afterwards add and [sic] group as they have ability.

There are few occupations more innocent, amusing, interesting, or healthful, than gardening; and wherever a taste of this sort can, in any degree, be indulged, it is desirable that it should be cultivated early. It is almost inconceivable how much, both of the beautiful and useful, a small plot of ground, by diligent attention, may be made to produce; and in no case is the fruit of activity and skill more apparent. Gardening is a sort of creation, as it gives to the hand of persevering industry, what before existed only in imagination. But were there no other reward annexed to this occupation, the health and cheerfulness resulting from it, would be an ample compensation. The poor might derive much more advantage from a small plot of ground, than they are accustomed to do; and it would be well if they were encouraged, by little vegetable bequests from the richer domain of their [79] more opulent neighbours. The produce of a single fruit-tree, by proper training and care, has paid the rent of a cottage; and were those who have superior information on the subject, but to afford the aid of advice and direction, much essential service might be derived from the humblest spot that ever constituted a garden.—

My heart is filled with affections – with emotions – whenever I address you, which it is impossible for me to express. I see a thousand sources of enjoyment and utility hidden from numbers, because they seem to have no guiding hand to direct them in the way where thy might be found. O, my dear young friends, be just to yourselves, your faculties, your Makes. Cultivate a spirit of activity, a taste for occupation. Gain improvement wherever you can; and thus may you find life, to its latest moment, a progressive scene of knowledge and of goodness, which is ever the wish of

Your affectionate [Aunt].

* It may not be superfluous to remark, that these repositories were not intended as shops for those who wish to dispose of their ingenious labours, merely to procure the means of obtaining articles of finery, or of frequenting places of amusement. They are designed to relieve unforeseen distress, or to afford the necessaries of life, to those who are unfortunately precluded from a more regular mode of procuring subsistence.