By Louisa Lane Clarke
The parson's house, being as it were "a city set upon a hill," and a light which can not be hid, is therefore to. be ruled by him with much circumspection and care; as knowing thereby he can either minister greatly to the glory of his Master, or bring a reproach upon his profession, and cast a stumbling-block before the people. He is "the husband of one wife, ruling his children and his household well." Here the parson's wife is one who lives by the apostle's rule--"the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their husbands."
She is one who holds an especial appointment under God; that of example to the whole parish: and because of herself she is utterly incapable of performing this, her life may truly be said to be a life of prayer and looking upward. "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" "For thy name's sake lead me and guide me." "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord; only do thou forsake us not." Thus walking humbly with her God, and trusting, under Him, to her husband for daily guidance, she is careful and consistent in her behaviour, gentle in commanding, diligent in duties, upright and open in all her dealings, patient in afflictions, chastened in her joy, forbearing and meek towards every one. Even as all men look to the pastor as a guiding star, so do all women look to her as an encouragement in good and a strengthener against evil.
She rises early, because she knows that the master's eye is worth a thousand a year, and that no household prospers when the mistress is slothful and negligent. Before she leaves her chamber, she passes over in her own mind the probable trials and temptations of the coming day; the provocations from without, the besetments from within, and the doubtful way she must tread before nightfall; and in her blindness she seeks for light, and in her weakness she seeks for strength; in her emptiness she goes to the Fountain of all grace, from that fulness to take of the living waters which shall refresh her soul; as to the Lord she looks for her "daily bread," that portion which, like the manna of old, is enough for every need, She opens the book of God, and learns his will; she reads a warning, and is careful; she marks a promise, and is comforted; then goes forth like one whose loins are girded for the race--whose arms are ready for the battle--whose feet are shod for the rough and toil some way.
She visits every part of the house, and takes account of every expenditure, with, the scrupulous care of one who is but the steward of another's property; for truly she owes a double responsibility both to her husband and her God. Yet whilst very prudent and economical, there is nothing of avarice or meanness. If any thing can be saved, it is only to be expended in better ways, for God's service. If any comfort or luxury is denied, it is her own, that others may be made better or happier. She does not habitually spend her mornings in the ease of a drawing-room, her afternoons in worldly visiting, or her evenings in gaiety; but, first with her children in the nursery or school-room, who have the prior claim; then in overlooking her servants, and superintending the business of the dairy and the farm. The afternoons, if fine, she passes in going round to her poor or sick neighbours, with little books for those who read; with refreshments or medicine for the sick; and, as often as may be advisable, she visits her wealthier neighbours; but al ways having a check upon herself here, as we shall notice in another place.
But whilst the parson's wife is thus occupied in active duties, she is not therefore debarred from the amusements and pleasures of her station; for it is likewise a duty to cultivate those talents which God has given her, and from which her purest delights may ever flow. A portion of her time is given to reading. This is not altogether optional; it is a needful thing both for the strengthening of her mind, and the progress of her soul in spiritual knowledge. She feels that there is a natural tendency, in most female minds, to become absorbed by the affections, the every day occurrences of life, and to dwell upon petty cares and perplexities until they are all magnified, by the eye of sense, so far beyond their due proportions, that they weigh upon the mind and weaken it, in sensibly perhaps, but certainly. For this reason wisdom must be sought for as a preventive, and applied as a pleasant remedy against the evil; and an hour or two set apart for quiet and steady reading is found, by the parson's wife, to be of great use in preserving a high and cheerful tone of mind.
The subject is of course a matter of choice or capacity. The study of history, especially the history of the church, tends much to expand the understanding, to enlarge her views of Christianity, and to establish her in the faith of the early Christians; it also furnishes her with a bulwark against those heresies and schisms which constantly disturb the peace of the church and endanger the safety of believers. Her knowledge of these things she finds very useful in her intercourse with the poor, to whom she is able in a simple way to impart much valuable information, which otherwise they might not obtain for themselves. In reading travels, and noting the manners and customs of other countries, she often finds a light thrown upon some heretofore obscure passage of scripture; or she learns at least a lesson of tolerance and universal charity, seeing the different effects of education and circumstance upon the human character; and by the singleness of her eye, which ever turns towards one great light, she traces the wisdom and providence of the God of the whole earth, and has a subject for wonder and for praise in the moral as well as the physical government of this varied and ever changing world. Biographical sketches she reads for comfort and edification; as in the trials of God's people she oft-times finds her own, and in their troubles, her present difficulties; the path they trod is the same she now is treading; and by their footmarks in the way she often guides her own, either to avoid some stone of stumbling, or to attain a height of holiness which had not been perceived before.
Her reading, whether of poetry or prose, is both various and suited to her peculiar tastes; with this one restriction, that her books be such as will strengthen and confirm her in all good; not merely divert her thoughts or touch her feelings; still less such as may pervert her principles; for which reason even some works, which in themselves are harmless, she will abstain from, both for example's sake, and because her time is of double value. Little can be spared for self--and none may be thrown away.
Her music, if she have that talent, is one of those gifts sanctified at the altar, which are scrupulously devoted to God; in singing his praise, in songs of thankfulness, in giving pleasure to those around,--her husband, children, friends; but kept with carefulness, lest it be the means of drawing her into worldly society, and the waste of an hour at any time. If she be a painter, there is an open door for good in this thing; and many a rainy day or leisure hour, when the talent may be traded with to advantage, by preparing a few drawings for benevolent purposes, or the gift of a picture where it will give pleasure.
In the cultivation of her garden many a happy hour is spent with her children, teaching them the management of flowers, and leading them to observe the beauties of creation: doing good, also, by having a portion of it devoted to those simple herbs which are so useful in the sick room; the lavender for perfume, the balm for the fever drink, all-heal and the comfrey root and the houseleek for ointment. For the parson's wife is an able assistant to the parish doctor, and no stranger to the quiet suffering of the sick room; she is well skilled in all easy remedies; and if her time and inclination allow it, has studied the nature of all common diseases, so as to give good advice, and often a prompt relief, where other aid is out of reach, or hard to be obtained. She knows that much depends upon the diet and cleanliness of the sick; and is not seldom found ministering to the sickly and capricious appetite with some unlooked for dainty, some simple yet pleasant food; bringing comfort to the darkened room even by the light step, and by the cheerful voice, which is the delight of her own home, and the evidence of her active and gladsome spirit.
As the morning and afternoon are thus passed, the evening is wholly devoted to her husband; if he thinks fit to join his parishioners in social meeting, she accompanies him; if he wills rather to remain quiet after the labours of the day, she stays with him; and then these happiest hours might be pro longed until midnight, did they not both consider regularity at night as important as early rising in the morning; particularly as they depend greatly upon one another; and the bell rings for prayers at a seasonable hour; after which the parson's wife passes through her kitchen, to see that all things are in order, and reminds her servants of any new duty; she visits her nursery, to bless her little ones; and retires to rest--perhaps with some sorrow; for the path she treads is rough and changeful. In all these duties she has a three fold trial; in the hindrances which her own sinful heart and unruly affections will often cast before her, as well as from the temptations of Satan, and the opposition of a vain and thoughtless world. She has, perhaps, many cares and not a few crosses, yet her heart is uplifted by Faith, and sustained by prayer; knowing that she has a Friend, who bids her cast all her care upon Him; and feeling that, hard as the way may be, it has a joyful ending,--dark as the world may be, there is a Heaven beyond it;--so she lies down in peace, and rises again, "Blessed in her going out, and blessed in her coming in;" as every soul most surely is which thus walks closely with its God.