By Louisa Lane Clarke
It is here probably that the parson's wife is most tried, and requires the greatest circumspection. For at home she has ever her husband near to advise and support her in her domestic duties; but abroad she must needs go oftentimes alone, and both act and judge for herself. Now in this, as in all other cases, she takes the Saviour for the pole star, and God's word for the chart, by which to steer through the channel of social life with safety to herself, and with honour to her christian profession. She knows how many things which are lawful are not expedient, and that any inconsistency of conduct, any wavering of principles, any undue concession to the world, may be a stumbling-block, and an occasion of falling, not only to herself, but to the little ones, and weak ones, of her master's flock.
She knows that her dress is criticised, her conversation noticed, her goings out counted, and her steps measured, her laughter weighed in a balance not always just, and her frowns in a scale not always true; and lifting herself up above the billows of reproach, she rests against the Rock of ages, and looking unto Jesus at every turn of the way, says, "Lord what will thou have me to do?" One trial is very likely--her dress. Every eye is keen to scan the silk, and count the cost, and arraign the fashion as too fine or too plain; and she might smile, and pass on unheeding these busybodies, to dress as suits her means and her taste, if she were simply a christian woman; but as the parson's wife it becomes her to avoid all offence; and therefore whilst scrupulously plain and neat in her appearance, without ornament or trimming that can be dispensed with, yet she, equally avoids singularity or untidiness and negligence; bearing in mind that although the apostolic command be, "Whose adorning let it not be that out ward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or putting on of apparel, but let it be the hidden man of the heart in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price;" yet that a meek and quiet spirit may be made more acceptable to many by attention to the dress and manner, even as a gem may be more highly valued when cut and polished than when it lay a dim misshapen thing within its earthly bed, she carries her conscience to her wardrobe; and conscience knows no trifles from the purchase of a ribbon to the acquisition of a brocade. The poor are especially apt to notice their superior's dress, and the pastor's wife could hardly reprove the vanity in a child, or pride in a cottage, whilst every fold of a flowing robe, and every crisping curl, wrote the same sin upon herself in characters which the very fool could read.
Another trial is her visiting. It is her duty to know every individual in her husband's parish, her duty to visit them, to see them at her own house as often as they are willing to come. But there is a narrow path to walk in here, and she needs a watchful eye to keep the track as it winds through every character. Her safest plan is not to lose sight of her own. What says the apostle? "Wandering about from house to house, and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not."
Certainly, though all may be visited, yet those who most resemble herself will be her chief acquaintances and friends; and if she be true to her principles and steady in her conduct, the number of these increases continually. Scandal, tittle-tattle, tale-bearing, are the very bindweeds of society; as the bind-weed destroys the flower, so do they choke every kindly feeling and every noble thought. It is her duty to shun these most carefully; and she does so most effectually by the influence which a life of prayer sheds around her. She is well acquainted with the plague of her own heart, she feels the burden of her own infirmities, she is accustomed to self-examination and waiting upon God, from which exercises she goes forth so humbly that a brother's fall or a sister's sin can but draw forth silent pity, kind compassion, and prayerful intercession for them. Unknown motives of mistaken good may have actuated them, or bitter repentance may now be afflicting them. She supposes all good, she speaks not of any evil. "It is useless to repeat that gossiping story to the parson's wife, she will only find excuses if she can, or be grieved and angry with the repeater." Nor does she see any profit in discussing the domestic affairs of her neighbours, the gentleman's temper, the lady's extravagance, the children's disobedience, and servant mismanagement. From each individual she will kindly and patiently hear their own sorrows if they choose, but of one another she will not allow a suspicion, if she can help it. Thus even if her conversation be not highly intellectual, at least it is always kind and harmless.
There is another thing which she guards against. George Herbert, when he entered upon his ministry, said to his wife, "You are now a minister's wife, and must so far forget your father's house as not to claim a precedence or place, but that which she purchases by her obliging humility; and I am sure places so purchased do best become them. And let me tell you that I am so good a herald as to assure you this is truth." Therefore all haughtiness of demeanour towards her inferiors in rank, all coldness of manner, all offensive looks, she carefully avoids, abstaining from the least appearance of pride; but with modesty supports her own dignity, and with courtesy respects that of others, counting it her nobility to be a servant of God and of the church.