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The grave charge has been brought against them by their own sex, of a propensity to scandal and mischief making. It is said, that the sins of the tongue are the besetting sins of woman. This charge I shall attempt neither to palliate nor deny. I could not be faithful to the duty I have undertaken, to delineate the sphere and duties of woman, if I lightly passed over it. It is unfortunately the case, that the power we all possess of doing mischief infinitely transcends our power of doing good. It may take ages and generations to build up a great city, but one incendiary may burn it down in a night. It costs time and money to build the noble ship, yet when she is launched and filled with the precious things of the earth, one false sweep of her rudder may plunge her in the bosom of the ocean. So it requires years to build up between two souls the still nobler edifice of a sacred friendship. Yet it is in the power of the weakest person living, who possesses speech, to destroy it in a moment. The report, and perhaps misrepresentation of a hasty speech, the ebullition of a transitory emotion, may plant a thorn in the breast that can never be extracted.
We are all imperfect, and do many things that are censurable every day; and our best actions are capable of being so misrepresented as to appear to be not only without merit, but actually odious.
Some women appear to be incapable of keeping a secret. It seems to burn upon their lips till they have uttered it. Let a woman of this description come in possession of a secret, affecting the peace of whole families, and which every tie of humanity would persuade her to bury in utter oblivion, and what does she do? Stay at home and forget it by pursuing her accustomed avocations? Ah! no, wet or dry, cold or hot, out she must go at the earliest hour that it is decent to visit. She calls on her most intimate friend, without perhaps any definite intention of unburdening her mind. But when she arrives, she can think of nothing else. One topic after another is started, but all immediately flag. A strange air of mystery and constraint comes over her, which brings the conversation entirely to a stand. “What is the matter? Has any thing happened? Do tell me what has happened.” It is all over. Out it must come, if it costs her her life. But
then she quiets her conscience by exacting a promise of inviolable secrecy. That promise of secrecy however, means that she will tell it only to those of her immediate acquaintance, whom she can trust; so in about two days it is all over town. It is a profound secret until it is found that every body knows it. Thus it is in the power of some two or three women, who are so disposed, to keep any community in a perpetual strife. I have myself known a whole town to be thrown into the most violent excitement, and a division created, which separated families, alienated friends, and entirely broke up all social harmony for years, by one base insinuation of not more than ten words.
It might seem at first sight, that such conduct as this could proceed from nothing but pure
malice. But whoever should draw this inference would commit great injustice. In nine cases out of ten it has no worse or deeper motive than love of excitement, fondness for telling news. It proceeds from inconsideration, and the want of something more important to engage their attention. The thoughts of man are busied in other matters. He has not time for gossip even if
he had the inclination. Between regrets and self gratulation on the past, struggle for the present, and plans for the future, he has little time to look into his neighbors' affairs. But women, who are shut out from the exhaustless topics of business and politics, are under a stronger temptation to busy themselves in what is going on immediately around them. It is not malice. For let that very neighbor, whose character in a thoughtless hour they have picked in pieces, be overtaken by sickness and distress, and their hearts are the first to bleed, their hands the first to bring relief.
Women are accused of being strong in their prejudices, personal in their feelings, quick to take offence, and implacable in their resentments. Women are said never to quarrel with any discretion. When once roused they do and say things that never can be forgiven nor forgotten. This certainly, if it be true, is an unfortunate trait of character. It is unfortunate for the world, but still more so for themselves. Imperfect as we all are, occasions of offence are often occurring, and it is very certain that if every real offence, much more every imaginary one, were resented and pursued to the utmost, there could be no peace in society. Nothing in the world is more easy than to quarrel, if people are so disposed. The most trivial things may be tortured either into neglect, or freedom or insult. So that it may generally be said, that most quarrels are not so much the consequence of any particular offence, as the manifestation of a state of mind previously existing. The wolf is always sure to discover that the lamb he has determined to devour, has been troubling the water, though he spies it below him in the stream.
This quickness and depth of feeling has a natural cause in the greater susceptibility of the female constitution to impressions of all kinds, and in the feeling of helplessness and dependence. None feel so deeply as those who cannot resist. Woman then, when she considers herself injured has it not in her power to feel or to display the same magnanimity that she might if she were conscious of the ability to vindicate her rights. A sense of wrong sinks deep into her soul, it rankles there, and her lively imagination clothes the perpetrator with all painful and hateful associations, which reason and religious principle