[Editorial] “Love of Nature” (from The Mother’s Assistant and Young Lady’s Friend, August 1853; pp. 57-62)
In this busy working world, women, and especially young women, seem, by common consent, to be entitled to more of the leisure and holiday of life than any other class. They are the lilies for whom others are content to toil and spin. Fathers and mothers seem willing to take labor and forethought upon themselves, to exonerate their daughters from the heavy burthens of life. Brothers set their faces bravely against the world, and struggle for fortune, that their sisters may never know a care. It is true that effort is required of them in their school-days, but it is not generally in kind or degree such as painfully to tax either mind or body; and when school is done with, if the circumstances are moderately easy, the young females of a family are generally left to employ a large portion of their time and their faculties very much as they please.
It seems but reasonable that the class thus exempted from the severe exertions and stern realities of life should at least secure their own happiness, and should, moreover, return something to the community for the privileges and immunities they enjoy. And what better return can they make than to strive to form their own characters in such a manner that the influence they exert shall be pure, healthful and renovating?
The cultivation and exercise of what are usually termed accomplishments by young ladies seem natural and befitting to their age and position. They enable them to give pleasure to friends, and, if not suffered to encroach on more valuable and important things, are innocent as well as ornamental. But it is not of these we would now speak. It is of some of the more intimate tastes and feelings, the bents, leanings and habits of the mind, that which goes to make up private and intrinsic character, and the influence of which is unconsciously exerted.
We must say that we always deeply regret to see the charming freshness, the simple tastes and the noble impulses of early youth, become tainted by the meannesses, the frivolities and the littlenesses, which more or less prevail in the society of the world. The habit of perpetual gossip among the female sex, the necessity for the indis-
criminate admiration of the other, the passion for personal adornment, the desire of universal popularity at the sacrifice of all sincerity and independence, go to make up a character not extremely uncommon, but certainly very different from one of the kind we are contemplating.
But it may be said that the colors and leanings of character are given before the mind is capable of directing itself; that, if a girl has a common standard and mean motives constantly placed before her, she cannot be expected to form herself to a high and beautiful ideal. We do believe that there are many minds so finely gifted by nature, or rather by Providence, that they bloom into mental and moral beauty under any circumstances. And we also believe that the most worldly mothers are, in their secret hearts, gratified, when they mark pure and delicate qualities unfold themselves in their offspring. And we cannot help thinking that it is not so much from design, as from carelessness and want of foresight, that characters of a countrary description are formed. Mothers are often engrossed by the cares and competitions of life. They pay for the direct instruction of their daughters in science and accomplishments, and leave their real feelings, tastes and habits, to be formed by chance. They seek for them the society of the rich, the respectable, the fashionable, and fancy they have done their duty.
Now, we think that mothers would be immense gainers themselves, and would better insure the happiness of their daughters, if they would be a little more careful of the influence to which they expose them. Perhaps the time when a judicious guardian is most important to young females is from the age of ten or twelve to that of sixteen or eighteen years. As the physical system then receives a sudden expansion and consolidation, so the fancy brightens and the feelings deepen. New emotions and stronger affections spring up in the heart. Imagination glows and radiates. Everything is beheld under a novel aspect, and new energies are directed by new motives. At this age the desire of sympathy is strong, and society generally appears under the most attractive and fascinating colors. Which, then, is best, to gratify this desire for excitement by introducing the young and impressible, either by reading or by actual contact, into the strife and whirl of worldly pleasures and ambitions, which intoxicate for a while, but which, like all intoxication and excess, are sure to end in weariness and disgust, or so to elevate and strengthen the
mind, by a love for higher and purer pleasures, that it never can become wholly dependent upon worldly enjoyments, or worldly success, for happiness? Is it not an immense injury to young girls to destroy their love for simple pleasures by inducing an early and undue fondness for dress and parties, and visits to watering-places where crowds annually congregate, and where, if not guarded by tastes and habits previously formed, the sweet, generous impulses, natural to the youthful female heart, are exposed to be stifled, and a growth of vain and selfish passions encouraged? Is it not better to lead their young minds and hearts to expand themselves in fields and woods, and among brooks, flowers and birds? Is it not better for the young to secure for them a quiet and independent home, where bad influences can be so easily excluded, and which is the natural soil for purity, gentleness and affection, than to subject them to the surveillance of crowded boarding-houses, where, if one attempts to discriminate in the cultivation of acquaintance, or to redeem a portion of the time from gossip, or to form something like a home in their own small domain, they are sure, however just and kind their feelings and their conduct, to expose themselves to accusations of coldness, exclusiveness, ill-nature and ridiculous suspicions of all kinds, from those who are willing to sacrifice their time and dwarf their faculties to please the idle and the commonplace, and who have learned in the school of the world to forward their own ends by a mawkish simulation, and indiscriminate profession of kindness and interest?
Young girls will read; and, if left to themselves, nineteen in twenty will confine their reading to works of prose fiction. Is it desirable to give our young daughters lessons in studies of the more violent passions,—to exhibit to them such highly-wrought pictures of the delights and splendors of fashionable society, as to make them sigh for wealth, for conquest and display, and to be unhappy in a situation which does not give them the opportunity for the indulgence of these delights? If so, such works as the novels of Mrs. Gore, Lady Blessington, Sir E. L. Bulwer, and numbers of others, daily showered upon us from the press, are best adapted to our wants. But, if we would preserve the feelings fresh, if we would purify and elevate the tastes, if we would train the imagination to delight itself in natural and moral beauty, and make it a well-spring of enjoyment through the whole of life, then take these books away,
lock them in the most secret drawer of your cabinet, and give them instead beautiful poetry,—the poetry of Milton, Cowper, Campbell, Goldsmith, Thomson, Gray, Southey and Wordsworth. Stint them in books. Lead them to read over and over again, to catch their spirit, to imbibe their sentiments, to enrich memory with their lovely images, to warm the heart with their pure and gentle tenderness, to lead them to the love of external nature.
And this brings us to the thought that was first in our mind when we took our pen to communicate our idea to others. We had been looking at golden clouds and trees waving in the singing summer wind, and at the magical effect of long lines of yellow light, cast by the setting sun between their trunks upon a smooth, green meadow, and at what was a thousand times more beautiful still, a sweet young face lighted up with enthusiasm, as it gazed upon the scene of beauty; and we could not help feeling, as we have often felt before, that among the most precious powers of enjoyment which the great and beneficent Father has so abundantly bestowed upon his creatures, to which He has given the most unlimited means of gratification, and which He undoubtedly intended as a help to our upward tendencies, is this love of external nature. How wise and how kind, in a world where there is so much to blunt the finer sensibilities, and in a state of society which tends strongly to develop the harder and coarser qualities of our nature,—such as love of gain, the pride of wealth and station, the spirit of rivalry and competition in things comparatively mean and worthless,—to give us this power, which, if properly encouraged and cultivated, exerts such a sweet, preserving, cherishing influence over the higher and better parts of our being, and which is capable of adding so much to the sum of our truest earthly happiness! One who can find delight in gazing on a distant mountain or a placid lake, who loves to watch the varying hues of earth and sky as the early dawn, or the soft twilight works magical effects of light and shadow, to whom a glorious sunset brings a thrill of admiration, and who contemplates the sublimity of a stormy sky or the gentle beauty of a quiet landscape with pleasure, has always within reach abundant sources of the most exquisite gratification.
Solitude has no terrors for those who feel a friendly presence, an intimate companionship with the sweet influences of external nature. For those who truly love beautiful poetry and beautiful scenery, a thousand delicate and delicious enjoyments are always open; for
memory is a generous store-keeper, and nature is everywhere. Such can never become wholly dependent upon worldly enjoyments, or worldly success for happiness. And let it not be forgotten that the turn of mind induced by this acquaintance with nature, and with the noblest expression of the best and finest spirits who have ever graced the earth, while it purifies the taste and enriches the imagination, is much more favorable than its opposite to warmth of heart, to sincerity of feeling, to earnestness of purpose, to attachment to home and friends, to virtue and piety, to love of God and good-will to man.
We would beg the careful mother not to be too anxious for the early initiation of her daughter into “the ways of the world;” or too much afraid of her becoming “romantic,” from solitary walks, or periods of silent reflection, or a love of poetry. There are more important realities than dress and amusements, and a higher and deeper wisdom than can be acquired in the strife of worldly ambition. And this, too, if we leave out of view the most important subject of all, and confine our ideas to the enjoyment of the present life. There is a certain kind of knowledge, the absence of which enriches and beautifies the character of a young girl, and which she will be most likely to escape by such companionship and with such influences as we have been recommending. Here and there, too, we meet with superior minds, who know how to appreciate this kind of excellence, and who are ready with the sympathy and encouragement which are delightful to the youthful heart. Once in a while we see the eager claimant for admiration, the skilled practitioner in every art to obtain it, passed over by some kind, discriminating eye, which perceives and loves to cherish the modest flower of real worth.
It is not, however, for the chances of what is called success in general society, that we recommend a different mode and standard of culture from the one more generally met with in the fashionable circles. It is for the higher private happiness of the individual; for the inexhaustible sources of pure enjoyment, unknown and unheeded by others, which are opened to her; for the power she has of idealizing our barren, practical, sensuous habits and tendencies; for the superior charm which she is able to bestow upon home, upon intimate friends, upon solitude, sickness, and old age.
Listen to what Wordsworth says:
“Nature never did betray
The heart which loved her. ’T is her privilege,
Through all the years of this our life, to lead
From joy to joy; for she can so inform
The mind which is within us, so impress
With quietness and beauty, and so feed
With lofty thoughts, that neither evil tongues,
Rash judgments, nor the sneers of selfish men,
Nor greetings where no kindness is, nor all
The dreare intercourse of daily life,
Shall e’er prevail against us, nor disturb
Our cheerful faith that all which we behold
Is full of blessings.”