Education was a major theme in Youth’s Companion, where reading was equated with virtue. In “Miss Warner’s Prejudice,” Lesina presents the lesson—and a picture of life in a small town.


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[Moral Tales] “Miss Warner’s Prejudice,” by Lesina (from Youth’s Companion, August 16, 1855; p. 65)

Miss Olivia Warner occupied her accustomed seat, at a front window in their, sitting-room, while her mother sat in a rocking-chair near by, alternately knitting and nodding. Miss Olivia having finished off a piece of work for the village sewing society, and inspected it, evidently to her own satisfaction, glanced at the opposite house, and sighed deeply. Old Mrs. Warner was accustomed to such demonstrations of discontent from her daughter; but this particular sigh seemed to carry some meaning, and she therefore inquire its cause. ‘What’s the matter now, Levy?’ said she. ‘O nothing, mother, only I’m tired, and I happened to be thinking just then how differently girls are brought up from what they used to be. Now, they pretend to know more than their mothers, at sixteen, when the truth is, they know nothing but a little music and French, and how to sit in the parlor and play the agreeable, or beautify themselves for balls and parties. I’m thankful I was’nt brought up so. There’s Louise Emery, playing waltzes, and polkas, and all such nonsense, from morning till night. A pretty house-keeper she makes for her poor father.—Just like her mother, for all the world. A literary lady, I suppose she considers herself. Well, for my part, I think the less a woman has to do with books, the better for her and her friends. I wonder Mr. Emery don’t get married; but then I suppose he does’nt dare to, his first wife led him such a life. But all the women in the world ain’t book worms, thank fortune, and I could tell him so, if I dared to. I’m sorry for the poor man, I’m sure; but I’ve talked to Louise till I’m tired, and she leaves everything to the servants, the same as ever.’ Then Miss Olivia laid her neatly folded work on the table, and looking up at the same time, saw her nephew standing before her. ‘Why George, when did you come in?’ ‘O just now, aunt; who have you been talking to? Grandma has been asleep, and I waited till you stopped, to speak.’ ‘That’s very polite of your grandmother, surely; but she does it often, so I don’t mind it. I am afraid, George, that you find it very dull here. You must be introduced to some of our young people.’ ‘The young lady you were extolling so highly just now, aunty, for one. I have quite a curiosity to see her.’ ‘Very well, you shall. No doubt you’ll find her very pleasant, and she’ll entertain you by thumping on the piano whenever you wish.’ ‘Did you call her a book worm?’ ‘Yes, I do. She is always reading or scribbling, when she is not at the piano. If they had’nt uncommon servants, everything in her father’s house would go to “rack and ruin.” ’ ‘Perhaps she oversees them herself.’ ‘That’s likely! who ever knew a literary lady to know anything about housekeeping?’ ‘I can’t say how that is, aunt, but I ever have a wife, she will be intellectual, as well as a good housekeeper.’ ‘Nonsense, child, you must not expect to find that in any one. It is’nt natural to expect it. Take my advice, and don’t marry a lady like Louise Emery. If you pore over books all day, won’t you want to come home to a nicely cooked supper, and sit down and talk to your wife in the evening, while she sews?’ ‘Certainly, aunt, I shall expect that, but I shall not want my wife to be cook, neither shall I wish her to entertain me with the gossip of the place. She must be able to converse on any subject, and have a cultivated taste for reading. I have pictured to myself a home, where the presiding genius would be one to love and be proud of.’ ‘Ah, that all sounds very well; but if your presiding genius should be left without help, as all ladies are liable to be, would you be contented to live on mental food alone?’ ‘O no, aunt, I don’t intend to marry a Mrs. Jellyby, or any one similar, so please not throw any more cold water on my plans.’ ‘I don’t know who Mrs. Jellyby is, George; but if you take my advice, you’ll marry a woman who can make puddings and pies, instead of one whose head is full of books and music.’ ‘Thank you, aunty, I hope you’ll be satisfied with my choice, whoever it falls upon.’ While the above conversation was taking place, Louise Emery, the subject of Miss Olivia’s censorious remarks, sat alone, with an open letter in her hand. She looked sad, and occasionally tears came to her eyes, but were quickly brushed away. The letter was from her father, informing her that he would be at home in a few days, with a newly married wife, and one whom he hoped Louise would love and cherish as a mother. The thought of seeing a stranger occupy her mother’s place, was a sore trial to Louise; but she wisely resolved to love and respect if possible, the one whom her father had chosen. The report of Mr. Emery’s marriage formed the principal topic of conversation at the next sewing circle. Miss Olivia affirmed that Louis was dreadfully distressed about it, and she did’nt wonder for ’twas a perfect shame for Mr. Emery to bring an entire stranger into his family when there were so many ladies in his own town whose good qualities were very manifest. But all the talking did no good. It resulted in many visits of condolence to Louise, which were exceedingly annoying to her. George Warner had made Miss Emery’s acquaintance, and his frequent calls on her indicated that he found it decidedly agreeable, and Louise, on her part, was much pleased with the intelligent gentlemanly, young student.

Mr. Emery arrived with his wife at the expected time, and Louise very soon learned to love and respect her. Much to Louise’s joy, she found that in many things, her step-mother’s tastes were similar to her own. Mrs. Emery was a lady whose mind was highly cultivated, and Louise found her a pleasant and valuable assistant in her studies, and reading.—‘Just to think,’ said Miss Olivia at the sewing circle, a few weeks after Mrs. Emery’s arrival in town, ‘I asked Mrs. Emery to join our society, and she declined. Said she would be glad to assist us in a benevolent object; but should prefer not to attend our meetings. Now don’t you call that rude? I don’t think I shall put myself out to be polite to her again. She’s just like the other wife, I do believe, full of book knowledge, and they do say she is an authoress. Poor Mr. Emery. But then he knew a man could’nt be happy with a literary wife, from experience, so he don’t deserve pity.’ ‘Is Mr. Emery unhappy?’ inquired a pleasant looking lady, who had overheard the conversation. ‘To me he seems the reverse.’ ‘O, well, he has’nt been married long. Wait a year and see.’

Time brought other subjects to occupy the thoughts and tongues of those who were too conscientious to waste their lives over books; and Mrs. Emery was left to the enjoyment of her chosen pursuits, with Louise for a happy companion, and poor Mr. Emery, as Miss Ophelia still called him, was too cheerful to have ever been taken for the unhappy ‘husband of a blue.’

When George Warner spent another vacation with his aunt, he passed much of his time at Mrs. Emery’s, and greatly to his aunt’s amazement, declared Louise to be the most interesting young lady he ever knew.

Several years had passed. Again Miss Olivia sat at the window, work in hand, watching the comings and goings at their opposite neighbor’s. ‘Well, I should’nt wonder,’ said she to her mother, ‘if the Emerys were to give a party. Something uncommon is going to happen, that’s certain. It can’t be that Louise is to be married.’ ‘Why not, child?’ ‘Why I should have heard; but then it may be, they are so secret about all their affairs. I pity the man who gets her.’ While Miss Olivia was speaking, a carriage stopped at the door, a gentleman stepped out of it, and while she was wondering who it could be, her nephew stood before her. ‘Why George, what has brought you here now?’ exclaimed Miss Olivia, grasping him warmly by the hand, ‘I thought you were in Virginia.’ ‘So I was, aunt; but here I am. Did’nt you receive my letter?’ ‘La, no, dear, you know I never go to the Post Office.’ ‘And you don’t know that I came to be married?’ ‘No indeed, George!’ and Miss Olivia sank back into her chair, overcome with surprise. ‘Married! to whom?’ ‘Can’t you guess?’ ‘Not Louise Emery?’ ‘Yes, aunt.’ ‘O! George, I am afraid you’ll repent it. But you would not take my advice, so you must take the consequences.’ ‘I have’nt the slightest objection to that, aunty; but do cheer up, and don’t look so doleful about it. You will see what a good wife she will make, notwithstanding she has a cultivated mind, and you will learn to love her, I hope, for my sake.’ Miss Olivia was troubled; but as she could not help the matter, she wisely resolved to make the best of it.

Two ladies occupied a handsome and tastefully furnished room. One, evidently an invalid, reclined on a comfortable lounge, and the other, much younger and very beautiful, sat near her with a book in her hand. She had been reading aloud; but as the twilight deepened, she closed the book, and now approaching the invalid, laid her soft hand on the throbbing brow, and kindly inquired, ‘How is your head now, aunt? Can I do anything to make you comfortable?’ ‘No, dear, nothing but to give me a song before I retire.’ The young lady readily complied, and seated at the piano, did not observe the entrance of a gentleman, who as soon as she ceased singing, asked the invalid if the music did not disturb her. ‘O no, George, not when Louise sings. I asked her to.’ A servant calling Mrs. Warner from the room just then, Miss Olivia, for she was the invalid, took the opportunity to tell her nephew that which he already knew, that his wife was a treasure. ‘Why, she is such an excellent nurse, George. I have gained more in the few weeks since I came, than I did in months before. I was foolishly prejudiced against Louise, and am truly glad you did not take my advice. But another thing, George, had I my life to live over again, I would seek an education, for I am convinced that those who find pleasure in books, are kept from many temptations to gossip and scandal, in which those who never read, too frequently indulge.’

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