You are beginning to feel a peculiar interest in one young man more than in any other. You think of him in his absence; you welcome his coming; his eyes seem to caress you; the clasp of his hand thrills you; you begin to think that you have passed from the domain of friendship into that of love.
Before you really make that admission, let us “reason together.” Let us take a fair look at matters, and see whether it is wiser to pass the border line, or to remain only friends. Who is this young man? You tell me his name, but that means nothing. Who is he? What is he in himself? What are his talents, capacities, habits, inherited tendencies? Who is his father, his mother? What is their worth? I do not mean in money, but in themselves? What ancestral diseases or defects may he transmit to his posterity, which will be your posterity if he becomes your husband? Are the family tendencies such that you would be willing to see them repeated in your children?
What Is The Responsibility of Marriage?
There is no indelicacy in asking yourself these questions, nor in making the investigations which will enable you to answer them satisfactorily. The woman who marries, marries not only into her husband’s family, she also marries his family; she is to become one of it, to live with it in closer and closer companionship as her children, bearing the family temperament, disposition and tendencies, gather one by one around her hearth.
Is the family one of the type that she will desire to associate with intimately all the days of her life? You may feel that it does not matter if you do not love your husband’s mother, or admire his sisters; no matter if you do not have respect for his father, you will live so far away from them that it will not be oftener than once in several years that you will be obliged to meet them. It might even happen that you would never see them, and yet it be a very serious matter that they were not respectable or lovable people, for they constitute one-half of the ancestry of your children. Their most undesirable characteristics may, perchance, be the endowment of your sons and daughters, and your heart ache, or even break, over the habits, or, it may be, criminality, which may disgrace your home through the paternal inheritance that you chose for them. Viewed in this light, marriage becomes a most serious matter. It is unfortunate that girls generally have the idea that it is not modest to think of marriage further than the ceremony. Of the responsibilities and duties they are not only ignorant, but think it ladylike to remain uninformed until experience teaches them, and that teaching is often accompanied by heart-breaking sorrow. If you should make inquiry you would discover that a large proportion of mothers have buried their firstborn children, and should you ask them why, they would in all probability say, almost without exception, that it was because they did not know how to give them a dower of health, or how to care for their physical needs.
Again, investigation would show you that children go astray, become wild, dissipated, or even criminal, because parents have not known how to train them, how to keep their confidence, how wisely to guide them in ways of righteousness.
We all believe it very important that mothers should know how to direct and govern their children, and yet we do not train the future mothers for this important office. We teach girls how to sew or cook, how to embroider and play the piano. We do not expect them to know, without instruction, how to mingle the ingredients for a cake or pudding, but we imagine that they will know by intuition how to secure the best results in the mingling of heterogeneous compounds in the formation of the characteristics of a human being.
When we speak of the mother’s privilege, we think of the actual mother, whose privilege is to care for and guide her real children. But the mother’s privilege in fact begins in her own childhood, when by her habits of life and thought she is deciding her own character, and at the same time creating, in great degree, the talents and tendencies of her possible children. It is her privilege to secure a measure of physical vigor for her descendants by her care of her own health in her very girlhood. She can endow them with mental power by not frittering away her own powers of mind in foolish reading or careless methods of study. By her own self-respecting conduct she helps to give them the reverence for self which will insure their acting wisely.
All this is the mother’s privilege; and still one more great privilege is hers, and that is to choose one-half the ancestry of her descendants. She cannot choose their ancestry that comes to them through herself; that is a fixed fact. Her parents must of necessity be her children’s grandparents. Her family characteristics are also their inheritance. The only thing she can do in regard to their inheritance through her is to modify the objectionable traits, and to cultivate the good traits herself, so that family faults may in her be weakened and the probability of transmission lessened, and the family virtues be strengthened and their probable transmission intensified. But she has the power to decide what shall be the paternal ancestry of her household; and if she is duly impressed with the responsibility of this power, she will not allow herself to fall in love and marry a man of whose family she knows nothing, or knows facts that do not promise well for posterity.