Mirror of true womanhood


John and Eliza H________ were both natives of England, and came, with their infant son, to settle in one of America’s thrifty manufacturing towns in 1849. He had learned the trade of a carpenter, had worked in London, but, being ambitious to rise to something higher, had gone to America with the hope of improving his knowledge and becoming in time an architect. His education, unfortunately, had never gone beyond that of an ordinary school, while his wife, who had studied in one of the excellent schools taught in England by the Sisters of Notre Dame, had graduated there with the highest honours, and had further improved her opportunities by perfecting herself in drawing. The young people had known each other from childhood, and their union was one of deep and pure affection. They were also most exemplary in the fulfilment of all their religious duties. The husband was too proud of his young wife, and too sincerely devoted to her to consent to her accepting even the most advantageous position as school-teacher. He had set his heart on rising in the world, and would be the sole provider for his family and the sole artificer of their fortunes.

During the first ten months of their stay in America everything went well with them, and John’s emoluments far exceeded his household expenses. He found, however, that men of his craft in America had received an education superior to his, and that his inferiority in this respect was a serious bar to his advancement. At this point began the incomparable services rendered to him by his wife. She proposed to devote a few hours daily, after his return from work, to teaching him all that she knew herself. It was a loving offer, lovingly accepted, and love seemed to quicken the intellect both of teacher and pupil, the progress made by John being marvellously rapid. God also blessed these studies, for the two never began or ended a lesson without kneeling to implore the divine light.

Six months had not elapsed since the beginning of these lessons, when John’s expertness as a draughtsman astonished his companions and employers and obtained him promotion. But he did not relax his home studies. Not a little of his spare money was used to purchase the best works on architecture, and the young man applied himself many months with enthusiasm to mastering every detail of that great science, – especially all that pertains to design and construction. His wife, who now left him to himself, was nevertheless made the companion of all this preparatory labour. A second child came to gladden the pair, while thus toiling together beneath the eye of God. And almost simultaneously with the birth of their babe a new blessing was sent to them. It was proposed to build a new church in a remote part of the State, and John, after visiting the locality, had sent in a plan so well conceived, and an estimate of costs with specifications so carefully drawn up, that the construction of the church was awarded to him.

This was John’s first triumph; it called forth his utmost gratitude, but it did not make him proud. He referred his success to the Divine Author of every blessing, to whom both he and his wife had most humbly and earnestly recommended it; and , after God, he thanked his dear helper and mistress, whose teachings and encouragement and bright affection had given him both the light to know how to do his new work, and the unfailing courage to undertake and accomplish it.

With the first triumph came also their first trial – their first separation. For the building of the church required that the architect should be often on the spot; and besides his being charged with the construction, he was most anxious that this, his first building, should be perfect; so far as his skill and care should make it. It was a terrible trial for these young hearts. The clergyman for whom John was building, though not of his own faith, was much interested in him. He was shocked not a little at first to hear of John’s going on Sundays to the far-off little Catholic mission-chapel, and his trustees murmured at having a Romanist to superintend the building of their beautiful and costly church. But the gentleness of the young man, his constant attendance at the works, his perfect control over the workmen, the exceeding beauty of his own designs as well as of the carpenter’s work, which he began to have executed in advance for the interior of the edifice, and, above all, the comparative cheapness of all that he did, soon silenced the murmurers.

The enterprise was happily brought to a close, and a handsome donation in money, with a vote of thanks from the parishioners, was added to the price originally stipulated. There was more than that: during the progress of the works the name of the architect was mentioned so favourably in clerical circles and the quality of his work elicited such genuine admiration, that he was asked for designs for two other churches.

His enforced absence from home now seemed to the husband and father so painful a sacrifice, so great a loss of all that a true man holds most dear, that he began to repent of the ambition which had impelled him to soar above his carpenter’s craft: the reputation he had already acquired and the brilliant fortune which smiled upon him seemed too poor a compensation, he thought, for the loss of that dear companionship of his wife, his friend, his instructress; for the caresses of his babes, and all the bliss of the peaceful and sunny home for which his soul thirsted continually.

Still, when he mentioned his regrets to his wife, she would not – though her heart was oppressed by the prospect of these long and frequent separations – allow him to repine or draw back from the career on which he was but entering. Without giving up their home, rendered doubly dear to both by their first struggles and John’s apprenticeship for his present profession, Eliza resolved to be with him as much as possible during the fine season. She wrote to him daily, cheering him and encouraging him especially to be more then ever faithful to those solid and soul-nourishing practices of piety, which maintain the union of our spirit with the Creator, and give us the confidence to undertake and the power to accomplish every thing planned for his glory and in accordance with the duties of our vocation.

You are impatient to know the end, dear reader. It shall soon be told. Just as John was carrying out the most important of all his constructions, an accident in his workshop (for he would persist in designing himself all decorations in woodwork, and in carving what was most difficult and delicate) maimed his right hand for life. From then on he could never handle the chisel or the pencil. And hitherto he had not had any assistants or cared to form pupils.

The blow was a heavy one to him, and all his prospects seemed to him blighted forever. His wife was soon by his side, however, to comfort and reassure him. She could draw, she said, if he could not, and he could direct her in filling up any design demanded of him. As his studies in architecture had been carried on in her company and with her guidance and co-operation, she was more competent then he thought in all that pertained to his profession.

So the young wife and mother, acting under the inspiration of her love, and responding to his unbounded belief in her capacity, not only studied architectural drawing under her husband’s eye, but induced him to advertise for assistants and apprentices, and soon found herself with no less than six remarkable young men studying her husband’s noble profession in his house and under their joint superintendence.

Alas, the season of unhoped for prosperity which ensued was but of too brief a duration. Eliza had been, at the time to which our narrative has brought us, twelve years in America – twelve years of unmixed happiness springing form a love which increased with each successive year, because each year revealed in the wife some new perfection her husband had not discovered, some treasure of goodness more precious than any possessed till then. Five children surrounded the board of the proud fond mother; and every one of them she was herself educating. After the birth of their sixth child her health failed; no scientific skill availed to stay the progress of the insidious disease which had declared itself.

He was not crushed, because she seemed to have breathed into him in dying her own heavenly spirit of resignation. He understood that he must now take up her work, and be to his six orphans both father and mother. He was rich enough to give up his profession; and devoted himself entirely to the education of his dear ones.

Would that every wife who reads these articles may thus learn to be to her husband a friend and a saviour! She would thus be most truly the Angel of the Home, keeping the steps of all within it from straying to the right of the left, and guiding them through life toward the blissful goal of their pilgrimage. Speaking, as we do throughout these articles, not of the monastic life of spiritual perfection, self-crucifixion, and apostolic labour, but of the home-life which is the nursery of true men and women, both for the common paths of worldly toil and duty, and for that other higher and more perfect road, we can safely say of the results of a Christian wife or mother’s training: “No man ever lived a right life who had not been chastened by woman’s love, strengthened by her courage, and guided by her discretion.”

Looking to the influence for all good and honour and greatness that a wife, in God’s design, is capable of exercising over her husband, we cannot but place here the beautiful words of a living author: Chivalry, to the original purity and power of which we owe the defence alike of faith, of law, and of love,…assumes that in this rapturous devotion (of the husband) to the singe love of his youth, is the sanctification of all man’s strength, and the continuance of all his purposes.

“You cannot think that the buckling on of the knight’s armour by his lady’s hand was a mere caprice of romantic fashion. It is the type of an eternal truth – that the soul’s armour is never well set to the heart unless a woman’s hand has braced it; and it is only when she braces it loosely that the honour of manhood fails.”

The poor man and the rich man, the man destined to labour all his life, needs more than at any period in the past to have his wife arm him for the daily battle against temptation; against the terrible corruption and dishonesty which rule over every class of public opinion on all that the Past held sacred, reverence for the home, for the church; faith in God and in all that is most capable to make man God-like; against Christianity itself, and the civilization and manifold sanctities it created. Let every true wife daily brace more and more tightly round her husband’s heart the armour of the old principles which made their fathers invincible in their long battle against error and wrong.

Thus “the honour of manhood” will not fail among us, so long as every wife and mother aims at being the Angel of the Home.