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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
To the Countess of Bute
I
By Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689–1762)
 
LOUVÈRE, February 19th, N. S., 1753.    
My Dear Child:
I GAVE you some general thoughts on the education of your children in my last letter; but fearing you should think I neglected your request, by answering it with too much conciseness, I am resolved to add to it what little I know on that subject, and which may perhaps be useful to you in a concern with which you seem so nearly affected.
  1
  People commonly educate their children as they build their houses,—according to some plan they think beautiful, without considering whether it is suited to the purposes for which they are designed. Almost all girls of quality are educated as if they were to be great ladies, which is often as little to be expected as an immoderate heat of the sun in the north of Scotland. You should teach yours to confine their desires to probabilities, to be as useful as is possible to themselves, and to think privacy (as it is) the happiest state of life. I do not doubt your giving them all the instructions necessary to form them to a virtuous life; but ’tis a fatal mistake to do this without proper restrictions. Vices are often hid under the name of virtues, and the practice of them followed by the worst of consequences. Sincerity, friendship, piety, disinterestedness, and generosity are all great virtues; but pursued without discretion become criminal. I have seen ladies indulge their own ill-humor by being very rude and impertinent, and think they deserved approbation by saying, “I love to speak truth.” One of your acquaintances made a ball the next day after her mother died, to show she was sincere! I believe your own reflection will furnish you with but too many examples of the ill effects of the rest of the sentiments I have mentioned, when too warmly embraced. They are generally recommended to young people without limits or distinction; and this prejudice hurries them into great misfortunes, while they are applauding themselves in the noble practice (as they fancy) of very eminent virtues.  2
  I cannot help adding (out of my real affection to you) that I wish you would moderate that fondness you have for your children. I do not mean that you should abate any part of your care, or not do your duty to them in its utmost extent; but I would have you early prepare yourself for disappointments, which are heavy in proportion to their being surprising. It is hardly possible, in such a number, that none should be unhappy; prepare yourself against a misfortune of that kind. I confess there is hardly any more difficult to support; yet it is certain, imagination has a great share in the pain of it, and it is more in our power than it is commonly believed, to soften whatever ills are founded or augmented by fancy. Strictly speaking, there is but one real evil,—I mean acute pain; all other complaints are so considerably diminished by time, that it is plain the grief is owing to our passion, since the sensation of it vanishes when that is over.  3
  There is another mistake I forgot to mention, usual in mothers: if any of their daughters are beauties, they take great pains to persuade them that they are ugly, or at least that they think so; which the young woman never fails to believe springs from envy, and is perhaps not much in the wrong. I would, if possible, give them a just notion of their figure, and show them how far it is valuable. Every advantage has its price, and may be either over- or undervalued. It is the common doctrine of what are called good books, to inspire a contempt of beauty, riches, greatness, &c.; which has done as much mischief among the young of our sex as an over-eager desire of them. Why they should not look on these things as blessings where they are bestowed, though not necessaries that it is impossible to be happy without, I cannot conceive. I am persuaded the ruin of Lady F—— M—— was in great measure owing to the notions given her by the good people that had the care of her;—’tis true, her circumstances and your daughters’ are very different. They should be taught to be content with privacy, and yet not neglect good fortune if it should be offered them.  4
  I am afraid I have tired you with my instructions. I do not give them as believing my age has furnished me with superior wisdom, but in compliance with your desire, and being fond of every opportunity that gives a proof of the tenderness with which I am ever
Your affectionate mother,            
M. WORTLEY.    
  5
 
  I should be glad if you sent me the third volume of Campbell’s ‘Architecture,’ and with it any other entertaining books. I have seen the Duchess of Marlborough’s ‘Memoirs,’ but should be glad of the ‘Apology for a Late Resignation.’ As to the ale, ’tis now so late in the year, it is impossible it should come good. You do not mention your father; my last letter from him told me he intended soon for England.  6
 
 
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