Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

Fenelon's Treatise
on the
Education of Daughters;
Translanted from the French and Adapted to English Readers
With an Original Chapter, "On Religious Studies."
By the Rev. T. F. Dibdin, B. A. F. A. S
Albany; printed and published by Backus and Whiting, 1806.

Chapter XI.
Instruction of Women in their Duties.

LET us now discuss, in detail, those particulars of which it is the duty of a woman to be well informed. What are her employments ? She is charged with the education of her children- of the boys, till a certain age-of the girls till they are married ; of the conduct, manners, and morals of her domestic attendants ; of the whole detail of household expenses ; of the means of managing every thing with credit and economy ; and sometimes, of the regulation of farms and the receipt of profits which arise from them.

Women, as well as men, should adapt their pursuits in literature and science to their situations and functions in life; and according to their occupations, should be their studies. We must, therefore, confine the instruction of women to the foregoing circumstances. But a curious woman, wishing to pry into every thing, may fancy that these instructions will confine her curiosity within narrow limits indeed-she is mistaken, because she knows not the importance and extent of the particulars in which I wish her |to be instructed.

What discernment is necessary to know the disposition and genius of each of her children ! to find out the proper mode of conduct so as to discover their humours, inclinations, and talents! to check those passions which are born with them, to inculcate good maxims, and to cure them of their errors ! What prudence should she possess, to acquire and preserve authority over them, without forfeiting their confidence and esteem! Has she not also need of observing and thoroughly knowing those people whom she places near them. ? Undoubtedly she has : a mother of a family ought to be completely instructed in religion, and to possess a mature firm mind, adapted to, and experienced in, the government of her children.

Can it be supposed that women ought not to be explicitly and formally instructed in these duties, because they naturally fall into them during the lives of their husbands, who are generally engaged in business from home ? Or, if widows, they still attend to them more closely ? St. Paul generally attaches the salvation of mothers to the good education of daughters ; for by these, he assures them, they will be saved.

I do not here take upon me to explain all that a woman ought to know for the education of her daughters ; because such a memorial would make them sufficiently feel the extent of that knowledge which it is their duty to obtain.

To the government of families, add ECONOMY. The greater part of women neglect it as a mean consideration, fit only for country folks or farmers ; or, at best, for innkeepers and house-keepers. Women nursed in the lap of affluence, luxury, and idleness, not only neglect but despise, this domestic virtue ; and seem to be forgetful of a middle state between the rusticity of a peasant, and the wildness of a Canadian savage. If you speak to them of the sale of corn, of the cultivation of lands, of the different kinds of revenue, of the receipt or raising of rents and other seignoral rights, of the best method of laying out farms, and appointing receivers, they imagine that you wish to reduce them to occupations, unworthy of their rank and character.

Ignorance is the offspring of their contempt for economy. The ancient Greeks and Romans, so distinguished for their ability and politeness, studied economy with the utmost care : some of their finest writers, from their own experience, have composed works which we still possess, and in which they give an account of the latest improvements of agriculture. It is well known that even their conquerors did not disdain to work in the field ; and instances have come down to us in which the splendor of a triumph was followed by the care and conduct of a plough. All this is so foreign to our own customs and manners, that we should not credit it if it were not supported by historical truth. But is it not natural that the defence or augmentation of a country should be subordinate to the ultimate object of cultivating it peaceably ? Of what advantage is victory, if it enable us not to gather the fruits of peace ? After all, solidity of intellect consists in wishing to be exactly informed of the way in which those things operate, which constitute the foundations of human life ; the greatest occurrences are regulated by this principle. The strength and felicity of a country consists not in the possession of provinces badly cultivated, but in the enjoyment of those productions of the earth which are necessary and sufficient for the Sustenance of a numerous people.

Without doubt it requires a more elevated and comprehensive genius to be instructed and well informed in all the particulars relating to economy, and to be thereby able to regulate an entire family (which is a little republic,) than to play, talk of the fashions, and be expert in all the little polite arts of conversation. That is a contemptible mind indeed, which aspires not beyond perfection in the talent of conversation : one sees, on all sides, women whose discourse is full of sound sense and solid maxims -while this conduct is replete with frivolousness and absurdity-the effect of not applying by times to better pursuits.

But take care of the opposite defect; women run a risk of being in extremes in every thing. It would be advisable for them, from their Infancy, to have the management of some trifling affair-to keep accounts-to see the mode of bargaining for what they purchase, and to know how each thing should be made to answer a good use. Take care, also, that economy borders not on avarice : shew them, in detail, all the absurdities attendant on this latter passion. Tell them that " avarice gains little, and dishonors itself greatly."' A reasonable mind will seek, in a frugal and laborious life, only how to avoid the shame and injustice attached to a prodigal and ruinous conduct. Superfluous expenses are to be retrenched as they enable a person to devote a portion of money to satisfy the claims of benevolence, friendship, and charity : great gain is frequently the result of seasonable forbearance : good order and management, and not sordid savings, are the source of profit. Do not fail to expose the gross error of those female economists who pertinaciously forbid a mold candle, while they suffer their whole affairs to be subjected to the knavery or rapacity of a steward.- Respect propriety as well as economy. Accustom young people to do nothing in a slovenly and disorderly manner, and to remark the least disarrangement in a house. Make them also sensible that nothing so much contributes to propriety and economy, as the keeping of every thing in its proper place. This rule appears too trifling to mention ; nevertheless it goes a great way if it be rigidly observed. "For instance--are you in want of any thing ? not a moment is lost in finding it-there is neither trouble, disputation, nor embarrassment attending its search : you put your hand immediately upon it, and when satisfied, replace it in the situation where you found it. This nice nice order constitutes one of the essential parts of propriety; and every eye is struck with the neat appearance of so exact an arrangement. Moreover, a particular place allotted to each article, not only has a pleasing appearance, but, in reality, tends to the preservation of that article. It is used less than it otherwise would be- it is not so frequently spoilt by accident-it is even more respected and treasured : for example, a vase would never be covered with dust, or become liable to be broken, if it were instantly put away after being done with.- A passion for arranging things orderly, produces a love of neatness ; and this will appear very advantageous, if it be considered that by such means servants are never encouraged in idleness and confusion. Again, something is gained by making their service prompt and easy, and depriving us of an opportunity of becoming impatient and impetuous, which is generally the case when things cannot be found from confusion and irregularity.

At the same time, avoid the excess of politeness and propriety- When propriety is within moderation, it is a virtue; but when we consult too much our own tastes and fancies, it is converted into a littleness of mind. Good taste rejects excessive delicacy : it treats little matters as little ones, and is not hurt at any unpleasant consequences resulting therefrom. Ridicule, before children, those knick-knacks and gewgaws, of which some women are prodigiously fond, and which lead them insensibly into unwarrantable expenses. Accustom young people to a propriety and decorum which is simple and easy of practice-shew them the best way of managing things-but shew them also the advantage of slighting them. Tell them how paltry and contemptible it is to grumble if a dish be badly seasoned, if a curtain be unevenly folded, or a chair be too high or too low.

It is undoubtedly better to be naturally coarse, than to have an overweening delicacy in matters of little moment. This pernicious delicacy, if not repressed in women of understanding, is more dangerous as it regards conversation than every thing else : to females of this stamp, the greater part of mankind appears insipid or fatiguing : the least deviation from politeness is monstrous : and they are -always ridiculing and disgusted.- Make such women know betimes that nothing is so injudicious as judging superficially of people by their manners, instead of examining the very bottom of their intellect, their sentiments and useful qualities. Convince them, by a variety of proofs, how much a country woman, with a coarse or even ridiculous manner, but with a good heart and sound understanding, is more estimable than a courtisan, who, under an acquired politeness, hides an ungrateful and unjust heart, capable of every meanness and dissimulation. Observe also, that those characters are always weak which incline to idleness and disgust. There is no one whose conversation is so- bad, as that some good may not, occasionally, be drawn from It ; and although a person at liberty would prefer choosing the best characters to converse with, yet there is some consolation, when reduced to converse with inferior characters, that we may make them talk on subjects that they understand, from which, perhaps, some information may be gained.-But let us now return to those particulars in which a girl should be instructed.

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