They are taught to esteem graceful manners, elegance of deportment, flashy humor, affability of character, and unlimited condescension as being the elements of a finished education; and the precious days of childhood with the more precious time of adolescence have been entirely absorbed to acquire it.
This is the school that has given birth to what is called "Arts of Pleasure," to which it sacrifices the knowledge of more necessary things which instruct the mind, fortify the heart, and invigorate the will. Our compassion and disgust are simultaneously aroused, when we see so many women whose education has given them no other knowledge than to teach them how to flatter the taste of others at the expense of Christian modesty.
How many women there are who, from their youth, have renounced the dignity and glorious privileges of their sex, calmly resigning themselves to play the inferior and humiliating role that the prejudices and passions of a frivolous society impose upon them!
It is our heart-felt desire that you may never experience anything of the kind; suffer not the aureola with which God has decorated your brow to be ruthlessly removed and trampled under foot. Remember that your soul is just as noble as that of man; that it is illuminated by the same faith, drawn towards heaven by the same hopes, and united to the same Author of all greatness and of all life by the same charity. Should your belief in this waver, transport yourself in spirit to Calvary: there you will see that women were the only sympathizers of Jesus, and, while hanging on the cross, women were, with the exception of St. John, the only witnesses of His death.
The apostles and disciples, all had fled; and in this memorable scene in which all things seem to be confounded courage and valor seemed to have taken refuge in the soul of women. Hence the Church records, with love and gratitude, on the brightest pages of her history, this noble and generous act of devotedness as being the special privilege of your sex, since it was won on the ever-memorable day of our redemption.
It is not easy to look a painful truth in the face; but we are forced to do so when we reluctantly confess that female frivolity is the source of that levity which prevails now-a-days, to such an extent as to affect the very laws and government of society. To keep aloof from this poisonous atmosphere, you must cultivate that serious turn of mind, that gravity which gives women an air of majesty, and wins the homage of those who do not even understand her.
Experience will teach you that the importance attached to the seriousness with which woman's life should be enveloped is undervalued. Learn to appreciate it as it merits; show that appreciation by now giving to all the actions of your life that weight and gravity which shall render them agreeable to God.
To succeed in your good resolution great firmness is required; you will be obliged to condemn the frivolity of young persons in whose company circumstances may throw you. You must set your face against the fashions of the world, against the force of habit and prejudice, perhaps against the freaks of your own character. But remember that the reward awaiting you is well worth the struggle you are asked to sustain; and this struggle will not be so difficult as you may think, if you face it courageously, coherently and perseveringly, employing, of course, the proper means.
To begin, you should cast overboard that inclination to frivolity wherever you meet with it. But since a bad plant is more quickly and radically destroyed by pulling it out of the roots than by simply lopping of the tops as they appear over ground, so do we likewise succeed better in correcting a bad habit, or destroying an evil inclination by attacking it at its source than by being satisfied with arresting its bad effects, allowing the cause to remain. And since it is in the mind that frivolity takes up its abode, it is there that it must be sought for and destroyed.
There exists among the different faculties of the soul a certain order, a species of hierarchy which gives a certain preponderance to some of them over the others; consequently some of them are of an inferior while others are of a superior order. You will labor in vain to give a serious cast to your sentiments and actions if you feed your mind on frivolous thoughts, while serious thoughts are the progenitors of enduring affections and noble deeds. Hence the culture of the mind is an important factor to the acquisition of a taste for those things which are the true ornament of woman. Sentiments are the outcomings of thoughts, and both together are expressed by actions.
Feed your intelligence with serious thoughts; never amuse it with those trifles which absorb the attention of persons of your age. Do not think that those serious thoughts badly become your youth; that they would deprive you of a part of your comfort, rendering you wearisome to others and insupportable to yourself; that they would give you a pedantic and affected air which would lead others to believe that you despised them; that every age has its peculiar tastes and customs, and that it would be an act of uncalled-for severity to exact from a young person just beginning, so to say, the apprenticeship of life, a gravity of manners and dispositions that would scarcely be required at a maturer age.
Seriousness is required in all ages, but not always in the same degree. Thus the gravity befitting a young lady is very different from that expected from a woman more advanced in years. This virtue, far from excluding legitimate amusement and pleasure, only regulates and elevates them by confining them to just limits. An agreeable and lively turn may be given to the most serious things, rendering them pleasing and acceptable to the minds of all.
Truth is never subtle, and never darkens the soul in which it resides; on the contrary, it sheds a halo of light around her, revealing all those interior movements which lend a sweet and amiable charm to every action.
You would be the first to condemn the doctrine of those who maintain that woman must be of a frivolous turn of mind in order to be agreeable. You would justly regard, as an outrage to your sex, such assertions as go to show that seriousness can have no place in the mind of woman. Such being the case, you will not say, with many of your age, that the time will come soon enough to feed your soul with solid substantial food; and that the age of serious thoughts will come only too soon; nor will you close your eyes to the fact, taught by long experience, that every one must reap in riper years such fruit as they had sown in youth. If you wait till then, it will be too late for you to enter another groove and form new habits. If you are now frivolous in your thoughts and sentiments you will be so later; for, as age fortifies the tastes and inclinations, frivolity must increase as you advance in years.
Perhaps facts of this nature have already fallen under your notice; you must have met with old ladies whose levity so painfully contrasts with the gravity that becomes their age; and, while it is not permitted us to judge others, yet every good Christian must be shocked at this contrast. Profit by their example, sad as it is, and hasten to conclude that it is folly to defer to a future time what can and should be done at present; and that defects, as well as virtue, are fortified by time and habit. If your early education has not been truly Christian, if the teachings of divine faith have not yet rendered you familiar with the most serious things of life, you might perhaps consider as difficult, or even impracticable, the counsels that I give you now.
Is there anything more serious or more in opposition to our natural inclinations, and at the same time less consistent with the deplorable levity of our minds, than the truths of our holy religion? For serious, indeed, must be the reflections that those truths inspire, which you should now learn to meditate seriously, in order to make them a life-long practice. Is it not a serious occupation of the mind to think of God, of the salvation of your soul, the briefness of life, eternity which follows it, the duties that religion imposes upon you? Is it not a serious occupation to address God in holy prayer, to descend into the secret folds of your conscience, and examine all your actions in the light of the gospel; to reveal in all your works the sacred character that you have received in baptism; to lead a life according to the spirit of faith, and not according to the spirit of the world-for, if there is no difference between your conduct and that of worldlings, to what purpose will the title of Christian avail you? All this is a serious work, and requires a serious mind to accomplish it.
The practice of Christian virtues supposes and develops at the same time the love of seriousness. This love does not increase in a superficial soul; while it is entirely sterile in a frivolous mind. Remember that you have now attained the age between childhood and womanhood, when it is no longer lawful to be amused by trifles, and when you are called upon to prepare for austere duties which you must, ere long, discharge.
You have now come to that period of life at which you must determine your final future course; hence you have need of a serious mind and will to guide you securely in the choice of the road, as also to pave it with those virtues which in the end will form your most precious treasures. This road will be such as you have made it, narrow or wide, level or rough, according to the pains and labor that you have expended in preparing it.
If you hearken to the voice of reason, and wish to profit by the lessons of wisdom, you will not squander a most precious time in vain amusements; you will neither step to the right nor to the left, but continue right on in the way of stern duty. The world's siren charms will have no attraction for you, as their bitter fruits would extort from you bitter regrets for having so little profited by the most precious time of your life.
Oh, how sorrowful the old age of women who have never nourished their minds otherwise than with frivolous thoughts: finding neither in themselves nor in society any means to dispel the gloom that envelops them, and not being able to enlist the sympathy of the world which abandons and despises them, they are condemned to eke out a miserable existence in the disgust and wearisomeness of a sombre solitude.
To a serious woman, on the contrary, old age lends a peculiar charm which renders her company agreeable to, and sought for, by all serious minds. Her conversation and manners still possess all the blitheness, freshness and vivacity of youth. Her steady lightsome gaze, tempered by a benignant and reflective mind, lends her an air of amiability and majesty. Her language is instructive, her counsels encouraging, while her reproaches arouse the heart to a sense of duty. She has friends wherever she is known, friends who revere and respect, without idolizing her. In her youth she never pandered to flattery, now, old, she shall not experience ingratitude. The friends she earned by her sterling worth will recall to her mind the happy souvenirs of her youth, even up to the last days of her life; for her years bear with them all their primitive charms which can never decline under the influence of time, because the thoughts and affections that produced and preserved them are now what they were, solid and grave. And while the companions of her youth languish and fret in their sad isolation, she, always the same, sees herself surrounded by a multitude, anxious to profit by her experience.
If you have learned to be serious in youth, you shall enjoy an agreeable old age; but if the former be stamped with levity and frivolity, the latter shall be fraught with sorrow and desolation. Do not count on the charms of youth, it is a flower that shall very soon fade, and like a bird on the wing, shall leave no trace behind it. The lustre of your eyes now beaming delight shall soon grow dull; the bloom shall depart from your cheek; the bright hopes that now fill your soul shall give place to sad souvenirs; and your heart which is now the abode of delight shall then be harrowed with sorrow and woe. To-day you are flattered and praised, then you shall be a castaway, abandoned. All that will remain to you is God and your soul, with whom you had never learned to converse or commune. Oh, sad, indeed, is the old age of a frivolous youth!