The great Southern Presbyterian theologian Robert Lewis Dabney has been mentioned a number of times on this site. It is a very telling indication of our times that such a visionary man is so little known, and usually slandered when mentioned at all. You can find the entire collection of his written works at the Dabney Archive, all of which are well worth reading. However, such a massive undertaking can be a bit overwhelming, and so on Sundays I will post bite-sized excerpts from Dabney’s works, with perhaps a little bit of my own commentary. This will be done in hopes of promoting wider readership for this great man. You can find links to all the previous “Dabney on Sunday” posts at the bottom of this post.
The following excerpt is taken from Dabney’s article which appeared in The Central Presbyterian (November-December 1867), entitled “A Mother’s Crowning Glory.” The article can be found among the “Secular Topics” section of volume 5 in his Discussions, p. 373. Dabney explains how the Virginian mother’s “ornament of a meek and quiet spirit” can be bequeathed:
And now, the chief question is—shall this character be perpetrated? Or must it pass away, with so much that is now gone and going, of the State of the old Commonwealth? This question must be answered, chiefly by their daughters, We fervently pray they may resolve that every virtue and grace of the past generation of women shall be transmitted to the succeeding. And it will be no unimportant means of effecting this result, if they cherish an ardent admiration of their character.
The high and responsible mission of woman in society has often and justly been argued; because it is hers to lay the foundations, of character, in those who are afterwards to rule society. But never before was the welfare of a people so dependent on their women as now and here. We freely declare, that under God, our chief hope of our poor, down-trodden mother State, is in her women. Early in the war, when the stream of our noblest blood began to flow so liberally in battle, the writer was talking to a honored citizen of the State, whose age, learning, and statesmanship need no commendation, if propriety allowed the mention of his name. The remark was made that so many of our best men were falling in battle, there was reason to fear that the staple and pith of the people of Virginia would be permanently depreciated. His reply was:—”There is no danger of this while the women of Virginia are what they are. Be assured, such mothers will not allow the offspring of these martyr sires to depreciate.”
But since, this river of generous blood has swelled into a flood. And what is worse, the remnant of survivors, few, subjugated, disheartened, almost despairing, and alas, dishonored, because they did not disdain a life on conditions such as those which surround us, are subjected to every influence from without, which can be imagined, malignantly designed to sap the foundations of their manhood, and degrade them into material for slaves. If our women do not sustain them, they will inevitably sink. Unless the spirits, which rule and cheer their homes, reanimate their self-respect, and confirm their resolve, and nerve them with the principles of personal honor, they will ere long become the base serfs which their enemies desire. Outside their homes, everything conspires to depress, to tempt, and to degrade. Do they advert to their business affairs? They see before them only loss, embarrassment, and prospective destitution. To the politics of the country? They behold a scene of mercenary domination and often a disgusting subserviency, where the sacrifice of honor is the uniform condition of success.—Only in their homes, is there one ray of light or warmth beneath the skies to prevent their freezing into despair.
Let us speak a word to the daughters of our dear old Commonwealth. In your homes are your domain. There you are to rule with the scepter of love. We beseech you, wield that gentle empire in behalf of the principles, the honor, the patriotism, the independence, the religion which we inherited from our mothers. Teach our ruder sex that only by a deathless loyalty to these, can woman’s dear love be deserved or won. Then we shall be saved, saved from a doom more loathsome than the grave, and blacker than its darkness. A few weeks ago, as statesmen of better days who united the polished love of the scholar to the eloquence of the Senator, whose genius and character illustrated the honor of Virginia, when she was a free subject. Among the gems of wisdom which dropped from his lips was this: “A brave people may be overpowered for a time by brute force, and be neither dishonored nor destroyed. But if the spirit of national independence and honor is lost, this is the death of the State; a death on which there waits no resurrection.” Be it yours, to nurse this sacred flame, now smothered, with more than vestal watchfulness. Your task is unobtrusive; it is performed in the privacy of home, and by the gentle touches of daily love. But it is the noblest work which mortal man can perform. For it prepares the polished stones out of which the temple of our liberties must be constructed. We have seen men constructing a lofty pile of sculptured marble, where columns with polished shaft pointed to the skies, and domes reared their arches on high like mimic heavens. We saw them swinging the massive blocks into their places on the walls, with cranes and cables, with many a shout and outcry, and huge creaking of ponderous machinery. But these were not the true artisans: they were but course laborers. The true artist, whose priceless cunning was to give immortal beauty to the pile, and teach the dead stones to breathe the sublimity and grace, were not there. None saw or heard their labors. In distant and quiet workrooms, where no eye watched them and no shout gave signal of their emotions, they plied their patient chisels, slowly, and with gentle touches, evoking the form of beauty which lay hid in the blocks before them. Such is your work; the home and fireside your scene of industry. But the materials which you form are the souls of the men who are to compose the fabric of State and Church. The politician, the public professional man, he is but the cheap, hireling day laborer, who moves and lifts the finish block to its place. You are the true artists; and therefore yours is the nobler task.
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