Another fault mentioned is the lack of moral earnestness. "Frivolity, arising from want of purpose in life," one names, "even the most sacred duties and relations being marred by this frivolousness. The best years of life are wasted in small talk and still smaller reading, tears and sighs being wasted over a novelist's creations, while God's creatures die for want of a word of sympathy."
Another names, "Frivolity, want of definiteness of purpose." Still another says: "The giving of so little time to serious reflection and for preparation for the responsible duties of life. In other words, frivolity of manner, shallowness of thought, and, as a consequence, insipidity of speech are strongly marked faults in some young ladies." This writer pleads for deeper, intenser earnestness. "Young women will reach a high excellence of moral character only as they prepare themselves for life by self-discipline and culture." Another puts it down as "A want of firm decision in character and
action," and says that too often, in times "when they ought to stand like a rock, they yield and fall;" and adds: "The young ladies of our land have power to mould the lives of the young men for good or for evil."
There is a caution in these words which every young woman should heed. Life is not play, for it has its solemn responsibilities, its sacred duties; and eternity lies beyond this little span. I call you to earnestness, moral earnestness. Determine to make the most and the best of your life. Get an education to fit you for life's duties, even though it must be gotten in the little fragments of time that you can redeem from busy days. Life is too short to crowd everything into it. Something must always be left out. Better leave out many of your amusements and recreations, than grow up into womanhood ignorant and with undisciplined intellectual powers. Train your mind to think. Set your ideal before you,--rich, beautiful womanhood,--and bend all your energy to reach it.
Some of these letters speak of the common talk of girls as being largely idle gossip; criticisms of absent people; unkind words about persons whom the ladies would meet with warm professions of friendship and fervent kisses if they were to come in a minute later.
Dear girls, I plead for sincerity in speech. "Do not yield to the passion for miserable gossip which is so common. Talk about things, not people. Do not malign or backbite your absent friend. What is friendship worth if the moment the person is out of sight the tongue that has professed affection becomes a poisoned fang, and the lips which gave their warm kiss utter the word of ridicule, or sneer, or aspersion? Better be dumb than have the gift of speech to be used in the miserable idle words, insincerities, and backbitings too
common in modern society. Surely something better can be found to talk about; if not, utter silence is more heaven-like. A stupid girl who cannot talk at all is better far than a chattering girl who can talk of nothing good or useful.
"Find thou always time to say some earnest word between the idle talk."
One mentions "_want of reverence for sacred things_" as a sad fault in some young women. He has seen them whispering in the church and Sunday school, during sermon and lesson, even during prayer, and has marked
other acts of irreverence. It is to be hoped that this fault is indeed rare, unless it be in very young girls, who know no better. But as the fault has been pointed out by one who has been sorely pained by it, will not the
girls and young women think of it a moment? A girl's religion should be full of joy and gladness. It should make her happy, fill her lips with song; but it should make her so reverent that, in the presence of her God, in prayer, in worship, in the study of the Bible, her heart shall be silent with the silence of adoration. Dear girls, remember that in any religious service, you are standing or bowing before God, and let nothing for one instant tempt you to whisper, to joke, to do aught that would grieve the Holy Spirit.
Others speak of _a want of respect for the aged_, and especially for parents, as a fault of young women. "How often is the kind advice a father and mother set aside, just because it goes against some whim or fancy of their own! A desire on the part of a young lady to live in the fashion, to be well-dressed at all hours and ready for callers--how much toil and sacrifice often fall to a good mother from such an ambition!" The writer gives other illustrations of the same spirit in some girls. It is hoped that there are but few who see their own face in this mirror.
Not long since I stood by the coffin and grave of a young girl whom I had known for a dozen years. She received a fine education, having finished a course in one of the best colleges of the land. What did she do with her education? Did she sit down as a lady of elegant leisure? Did she think her trained powers were too fine to be used in any common work? Did she look down from her lofty height upon her mother as old-fashioned, out of date? No: she came home from college at the end of her course, and at once went into her home to lift the burden and care from the shoulders of the loving, patient mother who had toiled for her so long in order that she might receive her education and training. When the beautiful girl was dead, the mother
told me with loving gladness how Gertrude had lifted one by one every burden from her during those years, until, at last, the child's own hands carried all the household care and responsibility. She did not think her
richly-furnished life too fine to be used in plain household duties, She remembered all her mother's self-denials in her behalf in earlier days, and rejoiced that now she might, in some measure, reward her. I have spoken of this one young woman's loving regard for her mother, and of the way she showed it, in the hope that it may inspire in many another young girl's heart a spirit of noble helpfulness toward a tired mother.
One writer notes as a fault in some young women, that they are careless of their good names. "They are not careful enough as to their associates and companions. Some of them are seen with young men who are known to be of questionable moral character. On the streets they talk loudly, so as unconsciously to attract attention to themselves. They act so that young men of the looser sort will stare at them and even dare to speak to them." In these and other ways, certain young women, this writer says, imperil their own good name, and, I may add, imperil their souls.
When will young girls learn that modesty and shrinking from public gaze are the invariable marks of true beauty in womanhood; and that anything which is contrary to these is a mark of vulgarity and ill-breeding? Guard your name as the jewel of your life. Many a young woman with pure life has lived under shadows all her later years, because of some careless--only careless, not wrong--act in youth which had the appearance of evil.
In one letter received from a thoughtful young man, mention is made of a "disregard of health," as a common fault in young women. Another mentions but one fault,--"the lack of glad earnestness." Another specifies,
"thoughtlessness, heedlessness, a disregard of the feelings of others," Another thinks some young women "so weak and dependent that they incur the risk of becoming a living embodiment of the wicked proverb, 'So good
that they are good for nothing.'" On the other hand, however, one writer deplores just the reverse of this, the tendency in young women to be independent, self-reliant, appearing not to need protection and shelter.
Doubtless there is truth in both those criticisms: there are some young women who are so dainty, so accomplished, so delicate, that they can be of little use in this world. When misfortune comes to such and they are thrown out of the cosy nest, they are in a most pitiable condition indeed. They can do nothing to provide for themselves. Then there are others who so pride themselves on their independence, that one of the sweetest charms of womanhood is lost--the charm of gentle trustfulness.
I have suggested enough faults for one lesson,--perhaps as many as you can carry in your mind, certainly as many as you can correct, although I have not exhausted the list that I find in my correspondence. As I said at
the beginning, these faults are pointed out, not in the spirit of criticism, but in the spirit of kindness, of truest interest, and with desire to help. Many of them may seem very trivial faults, but small specks stain the whiteness of a fair robe. "Little things make perfection." You cannot afford to keep the least discovered fault in your character or conduct, for little blemishes are the beginnings of greater ones that by and by will destroy all the beauty of life.
"It is the little rift within the lute That by and by will make music mute, And, ever widening, slowly silence all-- The little rift within the lover's lute: Or little pitted speck in garnered fruit, That rotting inward, slowly moulders all."
Will you not, then, pray this prayer: "Cleanse thou me from secret faults"? Do not try to hide your faults--hiding them does not cure them. Every true woman wants to grow into perfect moral and spiritual beauty. In order to do this, she wants to know wherein she fails, what blemishes others see in her, what blemishes God sees in her. Then, as quickly as she discovers the faults, she wants to have them removed. The old artist Apelles had for his motto: "_Nulla dies sine linea_"--"No day without a line." Will you not take this motto for yours, and seek every day to get the victory over some little blemish, to get some fault corrected, to get in your life a little more of the beauty of perfect womanhood? Cleanse thou me, O Lord, from secret faults.