To every young man, life is specially hard. As he goes into it he needs the sympathy of all who love him; he needs the prayers and the help of all his friends. For lack of the strong support of love, many a young man goes down in the battle and many who come through victorious, owe their victories to the holy affection of truly loyal hearts that inspired them with hope and courage in all their hours of struggle. The value of strong friendships never can be known in this world.
Next to mother and father, there is no one who can do so much to help a young man to live nobly, as his own sister. She cannot always go with him. Her weak arm could not always shield him if she were beside him. But there is a help which she can give him that will prove mightier than her presence. It is not the help of good advice and earnest words—these should have power, too—but the help rather of silent and holy influence, gained in the home by a life of unselfishness and beauty, and then held as a potent charm outside and beyond the home walls. There is a power over her brother possible to every true sister, which would be like the very hand of God to guide him and restrain him in all the paths of life. All sisters, however, do not have this power over their brothers, and alas! Sometimes the power is for evil rather than for good.
May I try to tell you, dear girls, how you can indeed be your brothers' guardian angels? Show them in your own lives at home—the perfect grace and beauty of a true, noble and lofty womanhood. Strive after all that is delicate, all that is pure, all that is tender, all that is holy and sacred in the divine ideal of womanhood. Show them in yourselves such perfect loveliness that they will turn away ever after from everything that is unlovely. Make virtue so attractive to them, as they see it embodied in you, that they will always be repelled by vice. Let them see in you such purity of soul, such sweetness of spirit, such divine sanctity, that wherever they go your influence will hang about them like an armor of defense, or, like an angle, hover above their heads in perpetual blessing. Be as nearly a perfect woman, each one of you, through Christ's help, as it is possible for you to be. Then when temptations come to your brother, there will rise up before his eyes such visions of purity and love. that he will turn away from the tempter with loathing.
But oh! If you are not such angels of true womanhood to your brothers, if you do not fill their souls with visions of purity and sweetness, what help do you hope to be to them when they stand in the face of sore temptations? If you are deceitful, if you are selfish, if you are false, if you violate the holy proprieties of modesty and true refinement; if you are frivolous and trifling; if you follow pleasure, turning away from everything serious; if you are careless or heartless—do not deceive yourselves with the vain hope that you can be in any high sense your brothers' guardians in the day of danger. You may advise, you may persuade, you may implore with tears and every token of tender love, when they begin to yield—but your entreaties will avail nothing because your own life has failed to stand the test, and to exhibit before them a lofty ideal of womanhood. But if you will only be true, noble, unselfish, gentle, womanly, in the highest, purest sense; if you only are thoughtful and considerate and live for a purpose, making your character decided and strong, you will throw over your brothers a silent, imperceptible yet mighty influence, which will be a shield to them in danger, a panoply in temptation, and which will fill their hearts with the purest, loftiest aspirations and aims.
A writer has truthfully said in speaking of a sister's influence upon her brother: "Woman is to him an object of respect or contempt, according to what he sees of his sister's mind and heart. She cannot therefore be too careful in teaching him to respect as well as love her. She cannot confer on him a greater kindness than by giving him an exalted idea of womanhood. She cannot inflict a greater injury than by leading him to think that all women are trifling and heartless, indolent except in the pursuit of pleasure, and greed of admiration." ....
...It must be said also that young ladies should accept, and even seek, the counsel of their brothers with regard to their companions. Let the brothers be true to their sisters, setting before them a lofty example; let them be ready to shield them from danger and to be their wise, faithful counselors; then let sisters look to their brothers for protections and for advice, and be quick to heed the warnings they give and to shun the dangers they point out. Are young women always wise in this regard? Do they desire or receive the counsel of their brothers with regard to companions? Are they always careful enough even when they know young men to be immoral?
...Indeed, there is not phase of his life into which a young man will not be the better, and his life the cleaner and richer—for the influence and the help of his sister. Washington Irving wrote these moving words concerning the loss he had sustained in his life from having no sisters: "Often have I lamented that Providence denied me the companionship of sisters. Often have I thought that had I been thus favored I should have been a better man." There is many a man who would have been better if he had been blessed with sisters. Every brother who has a sister should cherish her and let his heart go out to her in loyal, manly love. He should prize her love for him as one of the sweetest flowers in the earth's garden, one of the most sacred and precious things in life, and he should love her with an affection deep, tender and strong.
Since so much has been said in this chapter of the sister's influence and of the wondrous and subtle charm of her power over her brothers; it ought also to be said that not every sister possesses this power. There are many who throw it away. No sister can keep this powerful influence, and be frivolous and trifling. No one can keep it and be a silly butterfly of fashion. To retain it, she must be a true, thoughtful, noble woman. She must have a character that shines like crystal in its purity, its sincerity, its simplicity. The power she has and retains, must be the power of true womanliness, whose strength is gentleness and whose inspiration is purity of soul.
There is no better place than this, to say a few earnest words to young girls on the cultivation of their own hearts. Among all the elements of beauty in the character of a young woman—none is more essential than purity of mind and heart, and none gives such grace to the whole life and spirit. Here are a few sentences taken from a private letter: "True refinement is not mere outside polish. It goes deeper and penetrates to the very foundation of character. It is purity, gentleness and grace in the heart, which, like the perfume of flowers, breathe out and bathes all the life in sweetness. It is not merely mental culture; there is true refinement often where education has been limited, where in the speech you may detect faults and errors. On the other hand, there is sometimes high intellectual furnishing, without any true refinement. That which really refines—is purity of mind and heart."
These words are very true. It is not possible even to think of true womanhood, without purity. It was as easy to think of a rose without beauty—or of a lily without whiteness. Amid the wreck of this world, wrought by sin, there are still some fragments of the beauty of Eden, and among these, none is lovelier than the unsullied delicacy of a true woman's heart. It is possible, too, to preserve this holy purity even amid all this world's sin and foulness. I have seen a lily floating in the black waters of a bog. All about it lay stagnation and vileness, but in the midst of all this, the lily remained pure as the robes of an angel. It lay on the dark pond, rocked on the bosom of every ripple, yet never receiving a stain. It held up its unsullied face toward God's blue heaven, and poured its fragrance all about it. So it is possible, even in this world of moral evil, for a young woman to grow up, keeping her soul unstained in the midst of it all—and ever breathing out the perfume of holy, unselfish love.
"Keep me pure; make others great." This is a fit prayer for every young girl. She should prize nothing in this world so highly as her purity of heart, of thought, of soul. She should be willing to lose anything else—pleasure, wealth, reward, rather than lose this richest jewel. She should guard her imagination, her heart, and her affections, that no breath which would sully, may ever blow over her life.
There is need here for earnest warning. There are dangers to which every young girl is exposed. There are indications in society of the lowering of the tone of girlhood. There are things in some circles that are painful to every sensitive heart. There are magazines and books offered everywhere, and read by too many, which leave a trail of stain on the fair flowers of maidenly refinement. When on a winter's morning you breathe upon the exquisite tracery of frostwork on a window pane, it melts down, and no human hand can ever restore it. Still less is it possible to restore the charm of purity to the soul that has lost it. If a young girl would grow into the most spotless womanhood, radiant in every feature with the loveliness of Christ's own image—she must from her earliest youth, through all the experiences of her life, maintain unsullied purity of heart.
So far the duty only of brothers to sisters and sisters to brothers has been considered. It ought to make a young man's heart exult to have a beautiful and noble sister to lean upon his arm and look up to him for protection, for counsel, for strong, holy friendship. And a sister ought to be proud and happy to have a brother growing into a manly strength, to stand by her side, to bear her upon his arm, and to shelter her from life's storms. Between brother and sister there should be a friendship, which is deep, strong, close, confiding and faithful.
....In like manner, the sisters in a home should maintain their friendship for each other, through all the changes and all the varied experiences of life. This they do, more frequently than their brothers. There are many very beautiful sisterly attachments. Their life within the home holds them together more closely, than brothers are held in their outside life. They have better opportunities for the cultivation of friendship among themselves, in the many hours they sit together at their household work. The interests of their lives, are less likely to separate them or start differences between them. Nothing is lovelier than the picture of sisters locked in each other's arms, their lives blending in holy love, the one helping the other, giving comfort in sorrow, strength in weakness and help in trial.
Are the brothers and sisters who read these pages realizing in their own lives, the ideals which have here been even so imperfectly sketched? Are they living together in tender love in their own home? If they are, Heaven's blessing will fall upon their hearts and lives, like a baptism of holy peace. If they are not, where is the fault? What can be done to correct it? Too many blessed possibilities of joy, of love and of helpfulness lie in these sacred relationships, to be neglected, or ruthlessly tossed into the dust. Life is too short to be spent in strife and discord anywhere, especially in the holy circle of the home. Strifes and alienations here, are the seeds for a harvest of sorrow. Sad, sad will it be to stand by the coffin of a brother or a sister, and while we look at the cold, silent clay, remember that we were ever unkind to one who stood so near, that we ever failed in acts of love, or that we ever allowed anything to estrange us or make our fellowship cold and formal.
Have you brothers or sisters living anywhere in this great world? Have you allowed the friendship to grow cold—or the ties to be forgotten? Have you permitted all fellowship to be broken off? Lose not a day until you have done the first thing, taken the first step, to gather up the shattered links—and reunite them in a holy chain. If they are far away, write to them in words of love. If they are within reach, go to them in person. If you are still living side by side in the old home, and if your life together has not been close, intimate, confiding and helpful—seek at once by all the wise arts of a loving heart to make it what it ought to be.
Then, not matter how plain, simple or old fashioned your home may be—the sacred friendships beneath its roof will transfigure it all. Poverty is a light cross—if there is love at home. Toil, hardships, care sacrifice and even sorrow lose their ruggedness, bleakness and severity—when tender affection entwines over them—as cold, bare, rugged rocks are changed into beauty, when green and gentle smiling flowers, grow from every crevice, and fill every black nook and fissure.
"Dear moss," said the thatched roof on an old ruin, "I am so worn, so patched, so ragged; really I am quite unsightly. I wish you would come and cheer me up a little; you will hide all my infirmities and defects, and, through your loving sympathy, no danger of contempt or dislike will be pointed at me." "I will do this," said the moss; and it crept up and around and in and out, until every flaw was hidden and all was smooth and fair. Presently the sun shone out and the old thatched roof looked bright and fair, a picture of rare beauty in the golden rays. "How beautiful that roof looks!" cried one who saw it. "How beautiful that roof looks!" said another. "Ah!" said the old roof, "rather let them say, 'How beautiful is the loving moss which spends itself in covering up all my faults, keeping the knowledge of them all to herself, and by her own grace making my age and poverty wear the garb of youth and luxuriance!"
Is your home plain and bare? Must you meet hardships and endure toil? Have you cares and privations? Do you sigh for something finer, more beautiful, less hard? Call up love to wreathe itself over all your home-life. Cultivate home friendships! Bind up the broken home ties. Plant the flowers of affection in every corner. Then soon all will be transfigured! You will forget care, hardships and toil, for they will all be hidden under lovely garments of affection. Your eye will see no more the troubles, the hardness, the anxieties, the toils—but will be charmed with the luxuriance of love that shall cover every blemish!