Every-day Thoughts in Prose and Verse
by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
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          Dangers of New Ideas.
      Among the many privileges which the present
  era accords woman is that of "developing the
  best within her," to use her own favorite phraseology.
      It was the generally accepted idea in olden times
  that a woman must keep to her limited domain of
  wife or spinster, dependent upon husband or rela-
  tives for home and occupation, no matter what
  wealth of talent in other directions cried for utter-
  ance in her soul.
      The girl who utilized her talents outside of the
  domestic sphere was regarded as "strong-minded"
  and masculine, if not worse; and the married
  woman who dared write, sing, act or recite de-
  classed herself.
      That was one extreme.  We now seem to have
  reached the other.
      There is an idea prevalent to-day that it is the
  duty of every woman to seek to "express" an in-
  definable something within her which shall estab-
  lish her individuality.
      To make "the most of herself" is every woman's
  ideal.  It is an excellent one; but in pursuing it
  she needs to be very certain that her conception of
  "most" would not be estimated as "least" in the
  eyes of wisdom.
      In America this desire for individuality is so prev-
  alent that domestic obligations are frequently put
  aside as easily as household furniture is stored,
  while the wife and mother sets forth in search of
  "her best self."
      In olden times when a woman forfeited home and
  its duties for a career, other wives and mothers
  turned their backs upon her.
      But the sex is broadening in sympathy and indul-
  gence, and its charity is covering a multitude of sins.
      A woman who has divorced two or three husbands
  and shifted her maternal obligations upon other
  shoulders and purses, in order that she may be free
  and untrammeled in her pursuit of her idea, meets
  with a great deal of consideration at the hands of
  her sister women to-day.
      "She had to pass through just those experiences,"
  they say, "in order to evolve."
      "What does a husband or a child or two count
  in the great scheme of self-development?" says
  another.  "A woman must do what is for her own
  highest good, no matter what sacrifices are made in
  the process."
      A somewhat conservative lady spoke with regret
  of a friend who had devastated two homes.
      "Don't think of her in that way," said another.
  "She is a woman of talent, and I feel she has a
  message to give the world yet.  She is struggling
  toward the light through all this experience."
      This liberality of judgment is more commendable
  than the casting of stones.
      But its philosophy is a dangerous one to preach-
  freely to ambitious and not always well-balanced
      It is charitable and kinds to believe that another's
  fall was but a step toward a higher state of devel-
  opment; but it becomes a pernicious and dangerous
  doctrine when a woman begins to think her own
  development demands a similar sacrifice of near
  duties and responsibilities.
      There is an elastic tendency to this modern philos-
  ophy which enables the woman of lawless impulses
  to hide her adventurous propensities under its
      The liberal thought of the day regarding woman
  is full of hope for the erring and remorseful soul;
  but it is, too, when carried to an extreme, full of
  danger for the weak and unstable, and it is an ex-
  cuse for the selfish.
      I do not believe "the best" within a woman was
  ever developed, save through doing with all her
  might the nearest duties first.
      Of course, there may be a diversity of opinions
  regarding those duties, but one's own conscience
  and common sense should be the guide.
      It is not a duty to sacrifice life and strength to the
  service of a brutal, selfish and vicious husband, who
  has broken every vow he took at the alter, yet in-
  sists that his wife shall live up to the letter of hers.
      In such a case it is a woman's nearest duty to get
  as far away from the man as possible and not lay
  her future upon the same pyre which has consumed
  her past.
      But the woman who allows her ambition and her
  vanity to lead her to sacrifice a good husband's hap-
  piness, merely because she feels she can shine on the
  heights of art with a more effulgent light alone (or
  with another man) violates a principle which dis-
  turbs the harmony of society.  When she relin-
  quishes her children for any aim or ambition, how-
  ever exalted, no matter what her attainments may
  be, she has but repeated Esau's bargain of old.
      "Look what she has achieved!"  I have heard
  women say of one who had acquired fame and gold.
  "She had to fling away all trammels and ties in order
  to become just what she is."
      But on a good man's life and on the lives of inno-
  cent children rested a shadow which in some lights
  seemed to be a stain.
      Was her fame and her gold worth the price she
  made others pay?
      There was a man who succeeded in an aim-- a
  petty ambition from our standpoint, but no smaller
  than the founding of an empire or the winning of
  immortal fame must seem in God's eyes.
      This man wanted the road to nearest village,
  three miles distant, to run through his property, be-
  cause it would bring him an amount of money which
  seemed like a fortune in his small eyes.  The man's
  property was all hills and valleys.
      The Selectman planned to have the road go
  around these hills, over level meadows.
      But the man was strong willed, persistent, schem-
  ing.  He succeeded and gloried in his success.
      That was years ago.  To-day thousands of horses
  become knee sprung and lame and spavined, scores
  of vehicles break down, wheelman meet with acci-
  dents and the nerves of summer residents and tour-
  ists become unstrung because of these hills and val-
  leys which must be traversed to reach the town, the
  trolley of the train.
      Was his success worth to the man the price
  humanity has paid for it?
      Before we lay out any road to the heights of
  glory or of power, it would be well for us to ask our-
  selves whose peace, comfort or happiness must be
  sacrificed by it.
      It is our privilege to give up personal comfort and
  personal happiness, if we choose to do so, in order to
  accomplish a certain purpose.
      It is not our privilege or our right to immolate
  others upon the alter of our success.
      There is no success in any line of art which can
  repay a woman for the knowledge that her child
  suffers at the mention of her name.
      Let us be lenient in our judgment of such women,
  but let us not put them upon a pinnacle as beings to
  be worshipped and emulated.
      It is well for an ambitious woman to realize that
  the subtle fragrance of positive duties well per-
  formed is more far reaching and lasting than the
  pungent odor of the ephemeral rose of fame.
      There is no "message" so great for a woman to
  give to the world as that of a self-controlled and
  well lived life.

Every-day thoughts in prose and verse. by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
Chicago: W. B. Conkey Company, 1901.
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