Item of the Day: The Young Woman’s Companion (1811)

Full Title:The Young Woman’s Companion: or, Frugal Housewife. Containing the most approved methods of pickling, preserving, potting, collaring, confectionary, managing and colouring foreign wines and spirits, making English wines, compounds, &c. &c. Also the art of cookery, containing directions for dressing all kinds of butchers’ meat, poultry, game, fish, &c. &c. &c. with the complete art of carving, illustrated and made plain by engravings. Likewise instructions for marketing. With the theory of brewing a malt liquor. To which are added, directions for letter writing, drawing, painting, &c. and several valuable miscellaneous pieces.

Written by “A Very Distinguished Lady.” Contains several recipes and notes pinned into the margins by the owners. Printed by Russell and Allen in Manchester, 1811.From the Introduction. On Economy. BY A VERY DISTINGUISHED LADYECONOMY is so important a part of a woman’s character, so necessary to her happiness, and so essential to her performing properly her duties of a wife and of a mother, that it ought to have the precedence of all other accomplishments, and take its rank next to the first duties of life. It is, moreover, an art as well as a virtue — and many well-meaning persons, from ignorance, or from inconsideration, are strangely deficient in it. Indeed it is too often wholly neglected in a young woman’s education — and she is sent from her father’s house to govern a family, without the least degree of that knowledge, which should qualify her for it: this is the source of much inconvenience; for though experience and attention may supply, by degrees, the want of instruction, yet this requires time — the family, in the mean time, may get into habits, which are very difficult to alter; and, what is worse, the husband’s opinion of his wife’s incapacity may be fixed too strongly to suffer him ever to think justly of her gradual improvements. I would therefore earnestly advise you to make use of every opportunity you can find, for the laying in some store of knowledge on this subject, before you are called into practice; by observing what passes before you — by consulting prudent and experienced mistresses of families — and by entering in a book a memorandum of every new piece of intelligence you acquire: you may afterwards compare these with more mature observations, and you can make additions and corrections as you see occasion.

Economy consists of so many branches, some of which descend to such minuteness, that it is impossible for me in writing to give you particular directions. The rude outlines may be perhaps described, and I shall be happy if I can furnish you with any hint that may hereafter be usefully applied.

The first and greatest point is to lay out your general plan of living in a just proportion to your fortune and rank; if these two will not coincide, the last must certainly give way; for, if you have right principles, you cannot fail of being wretched under the sense of the injustice as well as danger of spending beyond your income, and your distress will be continually increasing. No mortifications, which you can suffer from retrenching in your appearance, can be comparable to this unhappiness. If you would enjoy the real comforts of affluence, you should lay your plan considerably within your income; not for the pleasure of amassing wealth, though where there is a growing family, it is an absolute duty to lay by something every year — but to provide for contingencies, and to have the power of indulging your choice in the disposal of the overplus — either in innocent pleasures, or to increase your funds for charity and generosity, which are in fact the true funds of pleasure. In some circumstances indeed, this would not be prudent; there are professions in which a man’s success greatly depends on his making some figure where the bare suspicion of poverty would bring on the reality. If, by marriage, you should be placed in such a situation, it will be your duty to exert all your skill in the management of your income. Yet, even in this case, I would not strain to the utmost for appearance, but would choose my models among the most prudent and moderate of my own class; and be contented with slower advancement, for the sake of security and peace of mind.

A contrary conduct is the ruin of many; and, in general the wives of men in such professions might live in a more retired and frugal manner than they do, without any ill consequences, if they did not make the scheme of advancing the success of their husbands an excuse to themselves for the indulgence of their own vanity and ambition.

Perhaps it may be said, that the settling the general scheme of expences is seldom the wife’s province, and that many men do not choose even to acquaint her with the real state of their affairs. Where this is the case, a woman can be answerable for no more than is intrusted to her. But I think it a very iill sign, for one or both of the parties, where there is such a want of openness in what equally concerns them. As I trust you will deserve the confidence of your husband, so I hope you will be allowed free consultation with him on your mutual interests: and, I believe there are few men, who would not hearken to reason on their own affairs, when they saw a wife ready and desirous to give up her share of vanities and indulgencies, and only earnest to promote the common good of the family.

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Filed under 1810's, Culture, Posted by Carrie Shanafelt, Women

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