The hollowness of courtesies, and substance of deceits, idleness and pastime --
All these and many more alike, thick conveying fancies, Flit in throngs about my theme, as honey-bees at even to their hives!"
The Christian home includes the parlor. This department we must give but a brief and passing notice. Yet it is as important and responsible as the nursery. In it we have a view of the relations of home to society beyond it. The parlor is set apart for social communion with the world. Much of momentous interest is involved in this relation. The choice of companions, the forming of attachments and matrimonial alliances, the establishment of social position and influence in life beyond the family, -- these are all involved in the home-parlor.
If we would, therefore, escape the shackles and contamination of corrupt society, we must hold the parlor sacred and give to it the air and bearing of at least a moral aristocracy. Home is the first form of society. The law of love rules and reigns there. It is enthroned in the heart, and casts light around our existence. In that society we live above the trammels of artificial life. In its parlor the members merge with society beyond its sacred precincts. Hence it is the most beautiful room; the best furniture is there; smiles adorn it; friends meet there; fashion meets there in her silks and jewels, with her circumstance and custom, her sympathies, antipathies and divers kinds of conversation; form and profession reign there; flatteries and hypocrisies intrude themselves there; pledges are given there; attachments and vows are made there; the mind and heart are impressed and moulded there; the cobweb lines of etiquette are drawn there; a panorama of social fascinations pass before the youthful eye there, -- these make the parlor the most dangerous department of home. There the young receive their first introduction to society; there they see the world in all the brilliancy of outward life, in the pomp and pageantry of a vanity fair. All seems to them as a fairy dream, as a brilliant romance; their hearts are allured by these outward attractions; their imaginations are fed upon the unreal, and they learn to judge character by the external habiliments in which its reality is concealed. They estimate worth by the beauty of the face and form, by the cost of dress and the genuflections of the body. They form their notions of happiness from fashion, fortune and position. They become enslaved to love-sick novels and fashionable amusements. There, too, they make choice of companions; there they form matrimonial alliances; there their hearts are developed, their minds trained for social life, their affections directed, and influence brought to bear upon them, which will determine their weal or their woe.
If such be the influence of the home-parlor, should it not be held sacred, and made to correspond, in all the uses for which it is set apart, with the spirit and character of a Christian family; and should not its doors be effectually guarded against the intrusion of spurious and demoralizing elements of society?
Parents should teach their children all about the character, interests and deceptions of parlor-life. They should undeceive them in their natural proneness to judge people from the standpoint of character assumed in the parlor. They see the lamb there, but not the lion; the smile but not the frown; the affability of manner, but not the tyranny of spirit. They hear the language of flattery, but not the tongue of slander. They see no weak points, detect no evil temper and bad habits. There is an artificial screen behind which all that is revolting and dangerous is concealed. Who would venture to judge a person by his mechanical movements in the parlor? Many are there the very opposite to what they are elsewhere: --
"Abroad too kind, at home 'tis steadfast hate,
One of the most dangerous periods of life is, when we leave the nursery and school, and enter the parlor. With what solicitude, therefore, should Christian parents guard their parlors from social corruption. They should prepare their children for society, not only by teaching them its manners and customs, how to act in company, how to grace a party, and move with refined ease among companions there, but also by teaching them the dangers and corruptions which lurk in their midst and follow in the train of rustling silks and fashionable denouement. They should never permit their parlor to become the scene of fashionable tyranny. The Christian parlor can be no depot for fashion. It should be sacred to God and to the church. It should be a true exponent of the social elements of Christianity. It should not be a hermitage, a state of seclusion from the world; but should conform to fashion, yet so far only as the laws of a sanctified taste and refinement will admit.
These laws exclude all compromise and amalgamation with the ungodly spirit and customs of the world. Allegiance to the higher and better law of God will keep us from submission to the laws of a depraved taste and carnal desire. We must keep ourselves unspotted from the world. Whenever we submit with scrupulous exactness to the laws of fashion; whenever we yield a servile complaisance to its forms and ceremonies, wink at its extremes and immoralities and absurd expenditures, seek its flatteries and indulge in its whims and caprices, by throwing open our parlors as the theatre of their denouement, and introducing our children to their actors and master-spirits, we prostitute our homes, our religion and those whom God has given us to train up for Himself, to interests and pleasures the most unworthy the Christian name and character.
There is much danger now of the Christian home becoming in this way slavishly bound to the influence and attractions of society beyond the pale of the church, until all relish for home-enjoyment is lost, and its members no longer seek and enjoy each other's association. They drain the cup of voluptuous pleasure to its dregs, and flee from home as jejune and supine. The husband leaves his wife, and seeks his company in fashionable saloons, at the card table or in halls of revelry. The wife leaves the society of her children, and in company with a bosom companion, seeks to throw off the tedium of home, at masquerade meetings, at the theater or in the ball-room, where
"Vice, once by modest Nature chained,
The children follow their example; become disgusted with each other's company, and sacrifice their time and talents to a thousand little trifles and absurdities. Taste becomes depraved, and loses all relish for rational enjoyment. The heart teems with idle fancies and vain imaginations. Sentimentalism takes the place of religion; filthy literature and fashionable cards shove the Family Bible in some obscure nook of their parlor and their hearts. The hours devoted to family prayer are now spent in a giddy whirl of amusement and intoxicating pleasure, in the study of the latest fashions and of the newly-published love adventures of some nabob in the world of refined scoundrelism. The parental solicitude, once directed to the eternal welfare of the child, is now expended in match-making and setting out in the world.
Thus does the Christian home often become adulterated with the world by its indiscriminate association with unfit social elements. That portion of society whose master-spirits are love-stricken poets, languishing girls, amorous grandmothers, and sap-headed fiction writers, is certainly unfit for a place in the parlor of the Christian family. We should not permit the principles of common-sense decorum to give place to the lawless vagaries of fancy and the hollow-hearted forms of artificial life. Under the gaudy drapery of smiles and flounces, of rustling silks and blandishments, there are hearts as brutish and stultified, and heads as brainless and incapable of gentle and moral emotion, and characters as selfish and ungenerous, as were ever concealed beneath the rags of poverty, or the uncouth manners and rough garb of the incarcerated villain!
It is, therefore, beneath the dignity of the Christian to permit his home to become in any way a prey to immoral and irreligious associations and influences. Like the personal character of the Christian, it should be kept unspotted from the world; and no spirit, no customs, no companions, opposed to religion, should be permitted to enter its sacred limits. Heedless of this important requisition, parents may soon see their children depart from the ways in which they were trained in the nursery, and at last become a curse to them, and bring down their gray hairs with sorrow to the grave.
Here is indeed the great fault of many Christian parents in the present day. They do not exert that guardian care they should over the social relations and interests of their children. They are too unscrupulous in their introduction to the world, and leave them in ignorance of its snares and deceptions. What results can they look for if they permit their parlor tables to become burdened with French novels, and their children to mingle in company whose influence is the most detrimental to the interests of pure and undefiled religion? Can they reflect upon their daughters for forming improper attachments and alliances? Can they wonder if their sons become desperadoes, and ridicule the religion of their parents? No! They permitted them to dally with the fangs of a viper which found a ready admittance into their parlor; and upon them, therefore, will rest the responsibility, -- yea, the deep and eternal curse! Woe unto thee, thou unfaithful parent; the voice of thy children's blood shall send up from the hallowed ground of home, one loud and penetrating cry to God for vengeance; and thou shalt be "beaten with many stripes." It will not only cry out against you, but cling to you!
Guard your parlor, therefore, from the corrupting influence of all immoral associations. Be not carried away by the pomp and glare of refined and decorated wickedness. Let not the ornaments and magnificence of mere outward life divert your attention from those hidden principles which prompt to action. In the choice of companions for your children in the parlor, look to the ornaments of the heart rather than to those of the body. Be not allured by the parade of circumstance and position in life: Be not carried away by that which may intoxicate for a moment, and then leave the heart in more wretchedness than before. Ever remember that the future condition of your children, their domestic character and happiness, will depend upon the kind of company you admit in your parlor. This leads us to the consideration of the part Christian parents should take in the marriage of their children. This we shall investigate in our next chapter under the head of "Match-making."