Letters to Young Married People



Home of our childhood! How affection clings,
And hovers round thee with her seraph wings!

O. W. Holmes.

For there are two heavens, sweet,
Both made of love — one inconceivable
Even by the other, so divine it is;
The other far on this side of the stars
By men called Home, when some blest pair have met,
As we are now.

Leigh Hunt.

THE French have no word into which the English word home may be legitimately translated; yet it is sufficiently evident that many of the French people have the thing without the name, while a large portion of the American people have the name without the thing. There are comparatively few who have an adequate idea of what home is, as an institution. It is recognised as a house, containing a convenient number of chairs and tables, with a sufficiency of chamber furniture and eatables, a place to eat and sleep in, simply. It is not unjust to say that half of the young married people of America have no higher conception of home than this. What they call their homes are simply boarding-houses, where, for purposes of economy and convenience, they board themselves,

In my idea, home rises to the dignity of an institution of life, and, like everything legitimately to be called an institution of life, is both an outgrowth of life, and a contributor to its development. Like all institutions, it has its external form and internal power and significance. Like the church, it has its edifice and appointments not only, but its membership, its bonds of spiritual fellowship, and its germinal ideas, developing themselves into influences that bear flowers and fruits to charm and feed the soul. It is into the meaning of the word Home that I would introduce you first, my friends, and then into the home itself. Marriage is the legitimate basis of a genuine home. A husband is its priest and a wife its priestess; and it is for you, young husband and young wife, to establish this institution, maintain it, beautify it in its outward form, fill it with all good influences, develope its capacities, make it the expression of your best ideas of intimate social life, and to use it as an instrument of genial power in moulding such outside life as may come into contact with it. Its outward form and its internal arrangements should, so far as your means will permit, be the outgrowth of your finest ideas and the expression of your best tastes, combined with the practical ingenuities which may be rendered necessary by a wholesome economy.

It is not the elm before the door of home that the sailor pines for when tossing on the distant sea. It is not the house that sheltered his childhood, the well that gave him drink, nor the humble bed where he used to lie and dream. These may be the objects that come to his vision as he paces the lonely deck, but the heart within him longs for the sweet influences that came through all these things, or were associated with them ; for the heart clings to the institution which developed it — to that beautiful tree of which it is the fruit. Wherever, therefore, the heart wanders, it carries the thought of home with it. Wherever, by the rivers of Babylon, the heart feels its loss and loneliness, it hangs its harp upon the willows and weeps. It prefers home to its chief joy. It will never forget it. For there swelled its first throb. There were developed its first affections. There a mother’s eyes looked into it; there a mother’s voice spoke to it; there a mother’s prayers blessed it. There the love of parents and brothers and sisters gave it precious entertainment. There bubbled up from unseen fountains life’s first effervescing hopes. There life took form, and color, and consistence. From that centre went out all its young ambitions. Towards that focus return its concentring memories. There it took form, and fitted itself to loving natures and pleasant natural scenes; and it will carry that impress wherever it may go, unless it become perverted by sin or make to itself another home, sanctified by a new and more precious affection.

It is in the little communities which we call American homes that the hope of America rests. It is here that subordination to wholesome restraint and respect for law are inculcated. It is here, if anywhere, that the affections receive their culture, that amiable dispositions are developed, that the amenities of life are learned, that the mind and the body are established in healthful habits, that mutual respect for mutual rights is engendered, and here that all those faculties and qualities are nurtured which enter into the structure of worthy character. In the homes of America are born the children of America, and from them go out into American life American men and women. They go out with the stamp of these homes upon them, and only as these homes are what they should be, will they be what they should be. It is with this in view that I offer a few suggestions touching the establishment of this institution by you.

Just as soon as it is possible for you to do so, buy a house, the ground it stands on, and as much land around it as your business, convenience, or taste may require. A home can never be all that it should be to you and yours, unless you own it. This is doubtless impossible to a great multitude who will read this letter, but let not such be discouraged. A beautiful home life may be developed, even by a tenant at will; though the security and fixedness of proprietorship are greatly tributary to home’s permanent influences. If the home is owned, see that its exterior represent you faithfully. What you cannot afford in architecture, you can supply in vines and flowers. The interior should receive the impress of all the order, neatness, taste, and ingenuity that are in you. Your home is the temple of your sweetest human love. It is in this temple that young immortals are born. It is here that characters are shaped into manhood and womanhood — the highest earthly estate. It is here that you are to work out the problem of your lives. It is a place of dignity. Therefore give it honor; make it beautiful; make it worthy!

All this, however, only relates to the location — the shell of your home. The ordering of its internal life is of still greater importance. The greatest danger of home life springs from its familiarity. Kindred hearts, gathered at a common fireside, are far too apt to relax from the proprieties of social life. Careless language and careless attire are too apt to be indulged in when the eye of the world is shut off, and the ear of the world cannot hear. I counsel no stiffness of family etiquette — no sternness of family discipline — like that which prevailed in the olden time. The day is past for that, but the day for thorough respectfulness among the members of a home — the day for careful propriety of dress and address — will never pass. For it is here that the truest and most faultless social life is to be lived; it is here that such a life is to be learned. A home in which politeness reigns is a home from which polite men and women go out; and they go out directly from no other.

The ordering of a home life is so intimately connected with the treatment of children, that this subject should be treated definitely. First, every child born to you should learn among the first things it is capable of learning, that in your home your will is supreme. The earlier a child learns this, the better; and he should learn, at the same time, from all your words and all your conduct, that such authority is the companion of the tenderest love and the most genial kindness. Play with your children as much as you please; make yourselves their companions and sympathizers and confidants ; but keep all the time the reins of your authority steadily drawn, and never allow yourselves to be trifled with. It is only in this way that you can keep the management of your home in your own hands, and retain the affectionate respect of those whom you love as you do yourselves.

Again, make your home a happy place — a pleasant place. Much can be done towards this end by beautifying it in the manner I have already pointed out. Much more can be done by providing food and amusement for the minds of your children. These minds you will find to be active, restless, and greedy for new impressions. This restlessness is a heaven-implanted impulse. You have neither the power nor the right to repress it; but it is your duty to give it direction, so far as possible, and to guide it to legitimate ends. You will find one of three things to be true of your children. They will be happy at home, or discontented at home, or they will seek for happiness away from home. In the ignorance of the nature of childhood on the part of parents has originated the ruin of millions of men and women. Bursting from an unnatural and irrational restraint, they have rushed from the release of parental authority to perdition; or, allowed to seek for happiness away from home and away from restraint, they have contracted habits which curse them and their parents while they live. So I tell you that the only way for you to save your children is to make a home so pleasant to them — to provide such grateful changes for their uneasy natures — as shall make their home the most delightful spot on earth, a spot to be loved while they live in it, and a spot to be recalled with grateful memories when they leave it. Profoundly to be commiserated is that child who looks back upon his home as upon a prison-house; upon his youth as a season of hardship; upon his parents as tyrants. If such a child ever become a good and genial man or woman, it will be in spite of a bad home.

I am well aware that the homes of America will not become what they should be until a true idea of life shall become more widely implanted. The worship of the dollar does more to degrade American homes and the life of those homes than anything — than all things — else. Utility is the God of almost universal worship. The chief end of life is to gather gold, and that gold is counted lost which hangs a picture upon the wall, which purchases flowers for the yard, which buys a toy or a book for the eager hand of childhood. Is this the whole of human life? Then it is a mean, meagre, and a most undesirable thing! A child will go forth from such a home as a horse will go from a stall — glad to find free air and a wider pasture. The influence of such a home upon him in after life will be just none at all, or nothing good. Thousands are rushing from homes like these every year. They crowd into cities. They crowd into villages. They swarm into all places where life is clothed with a higher significance; and the old shell of home is deserted by every bird as soon as it can fly. Ancestral homesteads and patrimonial acres have no sacredness; and when the father and the mother die, the stranger’s money and the stranger’s presence obliterate associations that should be among the most sacred of all things.

I would have you build up for yourselves and for your children a home which will never be lightly parted with — a home which shall be to all whose lives have been associated with it the most interesting and precious spot upon earth. I would have that home the abode of dignity, propriety, beauty, grace, love, genial fellowships and happy associations. Out from such a home I would have good influences flow into neighborhoods and communities. In such a home I would see noble ambitions taking root, and receiving all generous culture. And there I would see you, young husband and young wife, happy. Do not deprive yourselves of such influences as will come to you through an institution like this. No money can pay you for such a deprivation. No circumstances but those of utter poverty can justify you in denying these influences to your children.

It is to the institution of home, as developed in its best form and power, under the letter and spirit of Christianity, that I point when the socialist approaches me with his sophisms, the New Lights with their loose theories of marriage, and the infidel with his howl over the basis of American civilization. It is the history of this home, since Christ lived, that is one of the strongest testimonials to his divine authority. In whatever land, under whatever system, by whatever men and women, the Christian home has been set aside for fanciful inventions, society has degenerated towards or into beastliness, As I have said before, the hope of America is the homes of America. If you to whom I write will each for himself and herself make these homes the noble institutions Heaven designs they shall be, this generation shall not pass away before the world shall look upon a people the like and the equal of which it has never seen. A generation shall take possession of the land full of dignity, love, grace, and goodness, glowing with a patriotism as true as their regard for home is sacred, and showing that the strength of the nation is forged under the smoke that rises from its happy household fires.

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