Letters to a Daughter and A Little Sermon to School Girls by Helen Ekin Starrett

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Page 1

_My Dear Daughter:_--One of the greatest blessings I could wish for you,
as you pass out from the guardianship of home into life with its duties
and trials, is that you should possess the power of winning love and
friends. With this power, the poor girl is rich; without it, the richest
girl is poor. In the main, this power of winning friends and love
depends upon two things: behavior and manners. Between these there is an
important distinction, but one is the outgrowth of the other. The root
of good manners is good behavior. Consider with me for a little what
each implies.

Behavior is a revealer of real character. It has especially to do with
the more serious duties and relations of life. Its greatest importance
is in the home. How well do I remember a visit, made in my youth, to a
school friend whom I had learned to admire greatly for her superior
intellect, quick wit, power of acquiring knowledge, and ability to
recite well in class. In her home she was rude and disrespectful and
even disobedient to her parents; cross and sarcastic with her brothers
and sisters; selfish and indolent in all matters pertaining to the work
of the household. What a disenchantment was my experience! That great
and good man, who has written so many noble precepts about the conduct
of life, Mr. Emerson, in speaking of and praising a noble citizen, says:
"Never was such force, good meaning, good sense, good action, combined
with such lovely domestic behavior, such modesty, and persistent
preference for others." This was what was lacking in my school friend:
lovely domestic behavior. Nothing could compensate for this deficiency.

What was needed in this young girl in order that she might have
exhibited in her daily life a "lovely domestic behavior"? An almost
total reconstruction of character; such a cultivation of the moral sense
as would have made it a matter of conscience with her to "honor her
father and mother," to be respectful to them and desirous of pleasing
and serving them. Selfishness was the main cause of her ill-treatment of
her brothers and sisters, as it was of her indolence, and her
indifference to the performance of her share of the household duties.
Her behavior in the home was such that she repelled, rather than
attracted, affection. Her own personal preference, mood, feeling, were
constantly allowed to control her conduct; and the deep underlying
deficiency in her character was lack of a tender conscience and of a
sense of duty.

Lovely domestic behavior is the natural outgrowth and expression of a
beautiful, harmonious, and lovely character In order to behave
beautifully, we must cultivate assiduously the graces of the spirit. We
must persistently strive against selfishness, ill-temper irritability,
indolence. It is impossible for the selfish or ill-tempered girl to win
love and friends. Generosity, kindness, self-denial, industry--these are
the traits which inspire love and win friends. These are the graces that
will make the humblest home beautiful and happy, and without which the
costliest mansion is a mere empty shell.

One more point in regard to behavior I wish to impress upon your mind as
of very great importance, although it relates less to the home and more
to general society. I mean that of modest behavior as distinguished
from forwardness and boldness. One of the greatest charms of young
girlhood is modesty; one of the greatest blemishes in the character of
any young person, especially of any young girl or woman, is forwardness,
boldness, pertness. The young girl who acts in such a manner as to
attract attention in public; who speaks loudly, and jokes and laughs and
tells stories in order to be heard by others than her immediate
companions; who dresses conspicuously; who enjoys being the object of
remark; who expresses opinions on all subjects with forward
self-confidence, is rightly regarded by all thoughtful and cultivated
people as one of the most disagreeable and obnoxious characters to be
met with in society. Modesty is one of the loveliest of graces, and
should be constantly cultivated.

And now you will see what I mean by saying that the root of good
manners is good behavior. In other words, good manners have their time
and living root in moral qualities and the Christian graces. There is a
certain surface display of manners which may be acquired and which may
deceive and pass with those who do not know us intimately; but there is
all the difference between such superficial good manners and those which
are real, that there is between the cut bouquet of flowers which
delights for an hour or two and then withers away, and the living,
growing plant which constantly delights us with fresh beauty and bloom.

What are the characteristics of the agreeable and beautiful manners that
are the ornament and charm of the well-behaved girl? First we should
place gentleness, quietness, and serenity or self-possession. It has
been well said by an observing social critic, that the person who has
no manners at all has good manners. What is meant by this, and there is
a deep truth in it, is that gentle and quiet manners do not attract
attention at all. Their greatest charm is their unobtrusiveness, just as
the charm and distinguishing mark of a well-dressed person is that the
dress is not striking or obtrusive. You can infer from this how
inconsistent with good manners is heat and exaggeration in conversation.
It is a just complaint among refined and cultivated people that many,
even of the well-educated young women of the present day, talk too
loudly and vehemently; are given to exaggeration of statement and slang
expressions. The greatest blemish of the conversation and manners of the
young people of to-day is obtrusiveness and exaggeration. By
obtrusiveness I mean a style of speech and manners that attracts
attention and remark; by exaggeration I mean the too constant use of
the superlative in conversation, and a certain incongruity and
inappropriateness of expression which is very offensive to the
cultivated taste. Such expressions as "perfectly awful," "perfectly
beautiful," "too lovely for anything," "hateful," "horrible," may
constantly be heard in conversation upon trivial and unimportant
subjects in companies of young people whose educational opportunities
and social advantages would lead us to expect a very different style of
conversation. So of incongruous and inappropriate expressions. "My
grandfather and grandmother died on the same day of the year? wasn't it
funny?" said a young miss to a companion She meant that it was a strange
circumstance or coincidence. It was the wise remark of a great man that
"culture kills exaggeration." True and careful culture should also weed
out from our beautiful and expressive English language all such
incongruities and blemishes of speech as I have indicated.

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Fri 5th Jun 2020, 22:40