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The Women of England, Their Social Duties, and Domestic Habits. Ellis, Sarah Stickney, 1812–1872.
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AT a time when the pressure of stirring events, and the urgency of public and private interests, render it increasingly desirable that every variety of labour should be attended with an immediate and adequate return; I feel that some apology is necessary for the presumption of inviting the attention of the public to a work, in which I have been compelled to enter into the apparently insignificant detail of familiar and ordinary life.

The often-repeated truth—that “trifles make the sum of human things,” must plead my excuse; as well as the fact, that while our libraries are stored with books of excellent advice on general conduct, we have no single work containing the particular minutiæ of practical duty, to which I have felt myself called upon to invite the consideration of the young women of the present page: 2 day. We have many valuable dissertations upon female character, as exhibited on the broad scale of virtue; but no direct definition of those minor parts of domestic and social intercourse, which strengthen into habit, and consequently form the basis of moral character.

It is worthy of remark also, that these writers have addressed their observations almost exclusively to ladies, or occasionally to those who hold a subordinate situation under the influence of ladies; while that estimable class of females who might be more specifically denominated women, and who yet enjoy the privilege of liberal education, with exemption from the pecuniary necessities of labour, are almost wholly overlooked.

It is from a high estimate of the importance of this class in upholding the moral worth of our country, that I have addressed my remarks especially to them; and in order to do so with more effect, I have ventured to penetrate into the familiar scenes of domestic life, and have thus endeavoured to lay bare some of the causes which page: 3 frequently lie hidden at the root of general conduct.

Had I not known before the commencement of this work, its progress would soon have convinced me, that in order to perform my task with candour and faithfulness, I must renounce all idea of what is called fine writing; because the very nature of the duty I have undertaken, restricts me to the consideration of subjects, too minute in themselves to admit of their being expatiated upon with eloquence by the writer—too familiar to produce upon the reader any startling effect. Had I even felt within myself a capability for treating any subject in this manner, I should have been willing in this instance to resign all opportunity of such display, if, by so doing, I could more clearly point out to my countrywomen, by what means they may best meet that pressing exigency of the times, which so urgently demands a fresh exercise of moral power on their part, to win back to the homes of England, the boasted felicity for which they once were famed.

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Anxious as I am to avoid the charge of unnecessary trifling on a subject so serious as the moral worth of the women of England, there is beyond this a consideration of far higher importance, to which I would invite the candid attention of the serious part of the public, while I offer, what appears to me a sufficient apology, for having written a book on the subject of morals, without having made it strictly religious. I should be sorry indeed, if, by so doing, I brought upon myself the suspicion of yielding for one moment to the belief that there is any other sure foundation for good morals, than correct religious principle; but I do believe, that, with the Divine blessing, a foundation may be laid in very early life, before the heart has been illuminated by Divine truth, or has experienced its renovating power, for those domestic habits, and relative duties, which in after life will materially assist the developement of the christian character. And I am the more convinced of this, because we sometimes see, in sincere and devoted Christians, such peculiarities of conduct page: 5 as materially hinder their usefulness—such early-formed habits, as they themselves would be glad to escape from, but which continue to cling around them in their earthly course, like the clustering of weeds in the traveller's path.

It may perhaps more fully illustrate my view of this important subject, to say that those who would train up young people without the cultivation of moral habits, trusting solely to the future influence of religion upon their hearts, are like mariners, who, while they wait for their bark to be safely guided out to sea, allow their sails to swing idly in the wind, their cordage to become entangled, and the general outfit of their vessel to suffer injury and decay; so that when the pilot comes on board, they lose much of the advantage of his services, and fail to derive the anticipated benefit from his presence.

All that I would venture to recommend with regard to morals, is, that the order and right government of the vessel should, as far as is possible, be maintained, so that when the hope of page: 6 better and surer guidance is realized, and the heavenly Pilot in his own good time arrives, all things may be ready—nothing out of order, and nothing wanting, for a safe and prosperous voyage.

It is therefore solely to the cultivation of habits that I have confined my attention—to the minor morals of domestic life. And I have done this, because there are so many abler pens than mine employed in teaching and enforcing the essential truths of religion; because there is an evident tendency in society, as it exists in the present day, to overlook these minor points; and because it is impossible for them to be neglected, without serious injury to the Christian character.


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