The Mirror of True Womanhood Chapter 7

These are taken from a very old but beautiful book, written by Monsignor Bernard O’Reilly in 1877. Some examples may indeed be “outdated”, but we firmly believe that the principles laid out in this book are not only good, but give a truly Catholic perspective of what the woman is and how she stands before God and in society. We pray that it might benefit you greatly. (Editor)


How Woman’s Selfishness Ruins the Home

It may be that many of the class we are most anxious to benefit by the suggestions herein conveyed, the over-burdened with toil and care and poverty, will think and say that these lessons point not to the improvement of such a miserable lot as theirs. If they only knew how many a poor home is a paradise of heroism, of spotless purity, of truth and honor and contentedness! It is especially with the homes of the laborer, the mechanic, the struggling parents with a numerous family and scanty sustenance, that the writer of these pages has been all his life familiar. For position with whom he may have been acquainted, there are hundreds of the hard toilers, of the over-burdened and the hard driven, whose hand he has grasped, whose brave true hearts he has read, and whose humble homes he has found adorned with virtues and merits a prince might envy in vain.

It is to this loved class of readers that he would bring light and comfort by the perusal of such examples as are here set forth.

Eugene was the seventh son of a stone-mason, who had begun his married life with a sum of five dollars over and above all the expenses of his wedding. But he had what was more to him than five thousand, a soul which was incapable of wronging God or the neighbor willfully and knowingly, a pair of strong arms, a brave and trustful heart, a firm determination to improve himself in his craft and to conquer independence for himself and his wife – and, more than all that, he had in that young wife a soul as spotless as his own, and a treasure of devotion, sound sense, and unalterable sweetness, which made his life one long bridal day of unclouded joy and unmixed bliss. Thirteen children blessed the home of this laborious couple, six of whom were girls, and all of whom, inheriting the untainted blood and robust constitution of their parents, survived them, and were worthy of them.

In the home in which Eugene was born, there was indeed independence, comfort, abundance for all the need of the large nestful, – but never affluence. Eugene had been early apprenticed to a worker in brass, had mastered his craft with singular ease, and at the age of twenty had several thousand dollars, -his own earning,-placed to his account in the saving bank.

Three of his brothers were happily married. They had not only taken every precaution which their religious training suggested in choosing their companions, but had been guided by wise counsels and the judgment of their admirable mother. Not so Eugene: he had been attracted by the fair face and lively manners of the only daughter of a neighboring family, and had set his heart on marrying her, without much consulting his parents in the matter. This was the very point where he failed in his duty, and in which a prudent mother’s judgment and advice would have saved his life and happiness from utter shipwreck.

Henrietta, being an only daughter among six children, had been allowed her own way from infancy. She had been a sickly child, and her natural peevishness and hatred of all restraint had been at first tolerated on account of her many ailments. When she arrived at girlhood she became the pet of the whole family. Innocent, openhearted, impetuous, her sallies and outbursts of temper were laughed at by her brothers, and overlooked by the too fond and indulgent mother, in the hope that her real goodness and piety would shake off these imperfections as the girl grew into the woman, just as the heated metal in the furnace purges off its dross at a high temperature.

Unfortunately, the pure gold of her mature was subjected by her unwise parents to no sort of tempering or chastening of any kind, and the dross remained there to give, in due course of time, its coloring and quality to the gold which it was sure to overlie and conceal.

Eugene’s mother had detected this want of framing in her future daughter-in-law, and warned her son in the mildest and most affectionate manner, that she feared his happiness would not be safe in the keeping of a woman who was not sweet-tempered, and who was also, she suspected, selfish and vain in no common degree.

Passion is blind and deaf and headlong. The mother’s warming was mistaken for prejudice and resented as a foul wrong done to the loved object. It only served to impel Eugene to hire and furnish a comfortable residence, and to hasten his marriage with Henrietta, without any regard to his father or his mother’s advice to weigh well the question. There was added to this want of filial reverence a total neglect of the duties which piety towards God imposes on Catholics in the reception of the august sacrament of matrimony. It was treated by the bridegroom and the parents of the bride as a ceremony on which religion does indeed bestow a blessing, but which, after all, is, in too common estimation, but a joyous family festivity.

Still, not without admonition from his venerable father, from the admirable mother who had taught him his duties well. And from his married brothers, did Eugene fail to implore on his own nuptials the blessing of that God and Lord without whose aid they “labor in vain” who set about building up the house of their own prosperity and happiness. The honeymoon was soon ended; but before the end Eugene had discovered that the woman of his choice was little like his own mother- from whose lips, amid all her cares and unceasing activity, he had never heard one loud word; whose sweet features, even when under bodily or mental pain, he had never seen clouded for a moment with anger or passion of any kind. To him, to all his brothers, as to her doting husband, that dear mother of his had ever been a true companion, sharing, from infancy upward, his every joy and hope and fear, receiving his unbounded confidence, as if his whole soul had been laid bare to her motherly eye. And she was more than companion: she was a friend, a counselor, directing his studies, encouraging his ambition, and guiding his labors.

But his pretty wife, though loving him as well as she knew how, expected him to devote himself to her every caprice, while she had never been taught to devote herself to any one, or to seek any other’s happiness at the expense of her own comfort. In his mother’s home, which resembles a beehive where every inmate worked from early dawn till sunset, amid the most perfect order and the pleasant hum of happy voices, – Eugene had been accustomed, at his return from each day’s toil, to find the bright faces of mother and sisters all aglow with the welcome of true affection. His room, like those of his brothers, was the picture of restful comfort; and a sisterly hand, the whole year round, would daily place a tiny vase of fresh flowers beneath the picture of the Virgin Mother over his mantel. The supper or dinner table was, in the truest sense, a feast of soul much more even than a repast for the body, to all the members of the household. Labor gave to each a keen appetite for the delightful meal, and a hearty relish for the warmth, the joyousness, and the deep repose of that most blessed fireside. So mush so, that the young men as they grew up could not bear to be away from that family board at which true love presided.

Eugene expected, most naturally, that the woman he had chosen from among all woman would hold toward him the place of mother and sister, just as he resolved to be for his young bride the tenderest and most devoted of husbands, compensating, by the thousand devices of his affection for the loss to her of her parents, home, and kinsfolk.

The first week of their home-life had not passed, here Eugene discovered to his dismay, that not only there was no companionship between them, but that Henrietta was totally careless of her husband’s comfort, totally untrained to the management of a household, and averse to every thing relating to domestic cares.

Her husband’s business was a thriving one; he loved it, and was now more than ever ambitious to push his way to the foremost rank as a machanician. His past economies had been nearly exhausted by the furnishing of his little home and the lavish expenditure of his month of honeymoon. He had returned to his workshop with a new zest for exertion, and bent himself to the task before him with all the more ardor that he hoped to find praise and encouragement from her to whom he had given his life.

As he came back from his work on the very first day after resuming it, his hands and face covered with the honorable dust and stains of his toil, – his heart was chilled by the greeting, “Oh! Dear! How dirty you are! Do go and wash and change before any one sees you!” Nor did she accompany him as he hastened, with a strange sensation at his heart, to comply with his wife’s desire. Not so had he been ever treated in the old home by the noble woman he called mother, to whom his begrimed face and soiled hands had always been a motive for a warmer and more loving welcome home. When he had put on his wonted home-cloths he found his wife surrounded with a bevy of young female friends. They had dined, without waiting for him; nor did Henrietta so much as offer to accompany her husband to his cold and solitary meal.

When the evening was over, the young mistress of the home complained of the headache, complained of the intolerable length of the day, without having her husband to converse with her and amuse her, and ended by declaring that she thought the lot of a mechanic’s wife a hard one. There was not the slightest attempt at cheering him after his long day of unusual exertion, brightened, too, by the thought of the sweet rest he looked forward to at its close.

The days and weeks which followed only served to dispel one illusion after another. True love is founded on esteem, as esteem rests on respect; when respect fails, there is no ground for love. Poor Eugene was soon doomed to discover that his young wife was utterly untrustful, and had not the slightest scruple in deceiving him, even where deception was unnecessary. What would he not have given to open his heart to his mother and take counsel with her on the terrible difficulty which beset his path in life at the beginning! But he knew that one of the rules inculcated by his parents on all their married children was never to allow their domestic trials to be made known outside their own roof; and especially, not to have the families of husband or wife made acquainted with secret troubles, which the young people must themselves learn to settle between them and beneath the eye of God.