What Can She Do by Edward Payson Roe
This book was not written to amuse, to create purposeless excitement, or to secure a little praise as a bit of artistic work. It would probably fail in all these things. It was written with a definite, earnest purpose, which I trust will be apparent to the reader.
As society in our land grows older, and departs from primitive simplicity, as many are becoming rich, but more poor, the changes that I have sought to warn against become more threatening. The ordinary avenues of industry are growing thronged, and it daily involves a more fearful risk for a woman to be thrown out upon the world with unskilled hands, an untrained mind, and an unbraced moral nature. Impressed with this danger by some considerable observation, by a multitude of facts that might wring tears from stony eyes, I have tried to write earnestly if not wisely.
Of necessity, it touches somewhat on a subject delicate and difficult to treat--the "skeleton in the closet" of society. But the evil exists on every side, and at some time or other threatens every home and life. It is my belief that Christian teachers should not timidly or loftily ignore it, for, mark it well, the evil does not let us or ours alone. It is my belief that it should be dealt with in a plain, fearless, manly manner. Those who differ with me have a right to their opinion.
There is one other thought that I wish to suggest. Much of the fiction of our day, otherwise strong and admirable, is discouraging in this respect. In the delineation of character, some are good, some are bad, and some indifferent. We have a lovely heroine, a noble hero, developing seemingly in harmony with the inevitable laws of their natures. Associated with them are those of the commoner or baser sort, also developing in accordance with the innate principles of their natures. The first are presented as if created of finer clay than the others. The first are the flowers in the garden of society, the latter the weeds. According to this theory of character, the heroine must grow as a moss-rose and the weed remain a weed. Credit is not due to one; blame should not be visited on the other. Is this true? Is not the choice between good and evil placed before every human soul, save where ignorance and mental feebleness destroy free agency? In the field of the world which the angels of God are to reap, is it not even possible for the tares to become wheat? And cannot the sweetest and most beautiful natural flowers of character borrow from the skies a fragrance and bloom not of earth? So God's inspired Word teaches me.
I have turned away from many an exquisite and artistic delineation of human life, sighing, God might as well never have spoken words of hope, warning, and strength for all there is in this book. The Divine and human Friend might have remained in the Heavens, and never come to earth in human guise, that He might press His great heart of world- wide sympathy against the burdened, suffering heart of humanity. He need not have died to open a way of life for all. There is nothing here but human motive, human strength, and earthly destiny. We protest against this narrowing down of life, though it be done with the faultless skill and taste of the most cultured genius. The children of men are not orphaned. Our Creator is still "Emmanuel--God with us." Earthly existence is but the prelude of our life, and even from this the Divine artist can take much of the discord, and give an earnest of the eternal harmonies.
We all are honored with the privilege of "co-working with Him."
If I in my little sphere can by this book lead one father to train his children to be more strong and self-reliant, one mother to teach her daughters a purer, more patient, more heroic womanhood--if I have placed one more barrier in the tempter's way, and inspired one more wholesome fear and principle in the heart of the tempted--if, by lifting the dark curtain a moment, I can reveal enough to keep one country girl from leaving her safe native village for unprotected life in some great city--if I can add one iota toward a public opinion that will honor useful labor, however humble, and condemn and render disgraceful idleness and helplessness, however gilded--if, chief of all, I lead one heavy-laden heart to the only source of rest, I shall be well rewarded, whatever is said of this volume.