Letter iv. Personal Habits.
My Dear Daughter: -- The power of winning love and friends, which is such a precious possession to all young people especially to young girls, will, in connection with good behavior and good manners, depend very largely upon certain personal habits, chief among which are order, neatness, promptness, and cheerfulness.

The girl or woman who is personally disorderly and untidy in her room and dress puts a great strain upon the patience and affection of all those associated with her who are possessed of refined and cultivated tastes. In fact, I believe there is nothing so disenchanting, so contrary to ideal young womanhood as a lack of neatness and tidiness in person and dress. This wonderful physical organism with which we have been endowed depends for its perfection and health and attractiveness upon the care we give it. The teeth, the hair, the complexion, are all dependent for their beauty -- and it is quite right that we should strive to make them beautiful -- upon constant attention to those conditions which insure their health and perfection. And the most important of these conditions is cleanliness. At the present time, no young girl can hope for recognition or welcome in refined and cultivated society, upon whose teeth tartar and other discoloring deposits are allowed to accumulate; whose breath is not pure and sweet; whose hair is muggy and untidily kept; whose finger nails are neglected and dark at the edges. These things may seem trifles, but they are not, for they are the outward expression of an inward grace; all these marks really reveal character. An untidy girl may be talented and good-tempered, but she lacks one of the most essential qualities for gaining and retaining respect and affection.

The room of any young girl is a great revealer of character in respect to real refinement and purity of taste, especially if one comes upon it somewhat unawares. Not very long since, I was called by unexpected circumstances to spend a day or two at the house of a friend, where, owing to the severe illness of two members of the family, the spare rooms were not available and I was without delay or warning shown to the private room of a young lady member of the family. It was a low attic room with a deep dormer window, and, seen unfurnished, might be regarded as unattractive in size and shape. But the impression it made as I entered and surveyed it was of refinement, beauty, repose, and purity. The furniture was plain, but the bed was made up so beautifully, and looked so inviting in its snowy covering that I did not notice whether the bedstead was fine or plain. The carpet and papering of the room were of light neutral tints, and the broad sloping walls which made the sides of the dormer window were ornamented, the one with a long branch of dogwood blossoms, the other with graceful groupings of poppies and swamp grass, painted thereon by the occupant of the room herself. A wicker rocking-chair had a cushion of bright-colored satine firmly tied in, and matching the ribbons which were drawn through the bordering interstices of the chair. A small table, another chair, a footstool, and two or three simple pictures on the walls, along with wash-stand and bureau, completed the furnishing of a room that instantly attracted and delighted the beholder. But the impression above all others that the room gave was of perfect purity and sweetness and health; and this was due to the beautiful tidiness and cleanliness everywhere apparent. Wash-stand and bureau were in perfect order, with their white mats, clean towels, and every accessory of a refined lady's toilet. The wide deep closet was filled with the appurtenances of a young lady's wardrobe, but was strikingly neat and attractive. Shoes and slippers were laid neatly in a certain place on the shelves; articles of clothing that are usually difficult to dispose of in an orderly manner, all had an appropriate place, and so neatly and tidily was everything arranged that one felt sure the purity and order extended to the most secret recesses of every place in the room. There was no danger in any direction of coming upon anything that was not in keeping with the room of a refined and delicate young girl. The drawers of bureau and wash-stand, as I happened to have opportunity to observe them, were as sweet and clean and orderly as the rest of the room. I felt better acquainted with the character of that young girl after two days occupation of her beautifully kept and appointed room than a year of ordinary acquaintance would have given me.

And while I am on the subject of an orderly and daintily kept room, let me tell you that the modern bane of order and neatness in a house is too many trivial and useless things, intended perhaps for ornament, but confusing to the eye, offensive to good taste, and more effective for catching dust than for anything else. The multiplication of cheap picture-cards, wall-pockets, brackets, and all sorts of little useless knicknacks, has helped on this confusion, till one is almost tempted to regard them as nuisances. A few of these ornamental trifles, arranged with an eye to a certain unity of design, may do very well; but, as William Morris, the great apostle of true decorative art in England, has said, "Better pure empty space than unworthy and confusing ornament." You may have heard it related of the great naturalist, Thoreau, that he made a collection of stones during his rambles, and placed them on his writing-table; but when he found he had to dust them every day, he threw them away.

This same general principle applies to dress. Too many little trivial ornaments will destroy the character and dignity of any costume. Better one or two ornaments of good quality, or better none at all, than half a dozen of poor quality. And in regard to a young girl's wardrobe, the same fundamental rule prevails: if every article of apparel is not daintily clean, it is unbecoming and unworthy a refined personality. Soiled laces and soiled ribbons are to be shunned; but better untidiness and soil of the outward apparel than of that which we know by the general name of underwear, which is far more personal and important than the outward costume. The more refined the character and taste of any young girl, the more particular will she be in the matter of all articles of apparel that are private to herself, that they shall at least be daintily neat and clean. I need not say to you how disenchanting it is to see a young lady's foot with a shoe half buttoned because half the buttons are gone; or to see a slipper slip off and disclose neglected and untidy hose. No young girl of proper self-respect or refinement will ever tolerate any such blemishes in her wardrobe.

Next in importance to habits of order and personal neatness comes the habit of promptness. The girl who loiters and dawdles and keeps people waiting, who is behindhand with her work as well as in keeping her appointments, who is never ready at meal-time, but who is always ready with some excuse for such annoying conduct, is a household nuisance, a really painful trial to all who are brought into intimate relations with her. How often have I wished it were possible to arouse the consciousness of daughters in comfortable homes to the pain and inconvenience they give their parents and friends by a habitual lack of promptness! For my own part, I remember how my conscience was first aroused, in my youth, on this point. I was reading a book written for young girls by Jane Taylor -- a writer I wish were in print now -- when I came across this instruction: "When you hear the bell ring for meals, rise immediately, leave whatever you are doing, and at once go to the table." Just as I was reading this sentence the bell rang, and I immediately obeyed the summons. I noticed that my mother needed my help in seating the younger children at the table and attending to their wants, and I gave her my assistance. Somehow the meal seemed to pass off more pleasantly than usual, and I felt my conscience prick me that I had so often given my mother trouble by loitering and delaying at meal-time. I resolved that henceforth I would be promptly on hand to help her. From that time there was a marked change for the better in the ease with which our family meals were served, and all because I was always promptly on hand to help my mother. I do not know that she or any of the family knew or noticed the reason, but I was very well aware of it. It was really a kind of turning-point in my habits of life and usefulness at home. To this day I never hear a bell ring for meals, without the injunction of Jane Taylor coming into my mind: "Rise immediately, leave whatever you are doing, and go at once to the table." I can assure you, my child, it would add greatly to the comfort and happiness of many houses, and greatly relieve many an overtaxed mother, if this good old-fashioned direction were heeded not only by daughters but by other members of the family also.

And if now, in addition to these good habits, you cultivate the habit of cheerfulness and earnestly guard against temptation to fretfulness, moroseness, or impatience, you will be well started on the way towards a useful and lovely womanhood. A good daughter in a home is a well-spring of joy, an ever-fresh source of delight and consolation to her parents. Especially is she the stay and support and strength of her mother, the happiness of whose life depends so largely upon the respectful and affectionate conduct and attentions of her children.

letter iii aims in life
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