Advice Books

Dorothy Leigh, from The Mother's Blessing, or the Godly Counsel of a Gentlewoman Not Long Since Deceased, Left Behind for Her Children

From its first publication in 1616, Dorothy Leigh's advice book, The Mother's Blessing, went through at least twenty editions and many reprints. It is addressed, ostensibly, to Leigh's sons, to counsel and direct them after her death; because children are a mother's proper audience, this gesture removes the onus that might attend a woman presuming to teach matters of morals and religion. But the mere fact of publication indicates that Leigh seeks a larger audience, and much of the tract is formally addressed to women, to move them, she says, "to be more careful of their children." A female readership probably accounts for the book's popularity, which may arise from the fact that this advice book is by a woman and goes far to defend women's dignity and capability in the family and household. In the section excerpted here, Leigh advises her sons on the tenderness and careful education they should bestow on their children and the care they should take to choose wives they will always love and treat as companions.


Proverbs 1.8. "My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of the mother."

Chapter 2. The first cause of writing is a motherly affection.

But lest you should marvel, my children, why I do not according to the usual custom of women exhort you by words and admonitions rather than by writing, a thing so unusual among us, and especially in such a time when there be so many godly books in the world that they mold in some men's studies while their masters are marred because they will not meditate upon them, as many men's garments moth eat in their chest, while their Christian brethren quake with cold in the street for want of covering. Know therefore that it was the motherly affection that I bare unto you all which made me now (as it often hath done heretofore) forget myself in regard of you; neither care what you or any shall think of me, if among many words I write but one sentence which may make you labor for the spiritual food of the soul which must be gathered every day out of the word as the children of Israel gathered manna in the wilderness.

Chapter 11. Children to be taught betimes, and brought up gently.

I am further also to entreat you that all your children may be taught to read, beginning at four years old or before. And let them learn till ten, in which time they are not able to do any good in the commonwealth but to learn how to serve God, their king, and country by reading. And I desire, entreat, and earnestly beseech you, and every one of you, that you will have your children brought up with much gentleness and patience. What disposition soever they be of, gentleness will soonest bring them to virtue. For frowardness and curstness >> note 1 doth harden the heart of a child and maketh him weary of virtue. Among the froward thou shalt learn frowardness; let them therefore be gently used and always kept from idleness. And bring them up in schools of learning if you be able and they fit for it. If they will not be scholars, yet I hope they will be able by God's grace to read the Bible, the law of God, and to be brought to some good vocation or calling of life. Solomon saith, Teach a child in his youth the trade of his life, and he will not forget it nor depart from it when he is old. >> note 2

Chapter 13. It is great folly for a man to mislike his own choice.

Methinks I never saw a man show a more senseless simplicity than in misliking his own choice, when God hath given a man almost a world of women to choose him a wife in. If a man hath not wit enough to choose him one whom he can love to the end, yet methinks he should have discretion to cover his own folly. But if he want discretion, methinks he should have policy, which never fails a man to dissemble his own simplicity in this case. If he want wit, discretion, and policy, he is unfit to marry any woman. Do not a woman that wrong as to take her from her friends that love her, and after a while to begin to hate her. If she have no friends, yet thou knowest not but that she may have a husband that may love her. If thou canst not love her to the end, leave her to him that can. Methinks my son could not offend me in anything if he served God except he chose a wife that he could not love to the end. I need not say if he served God, for if he served God, he would obey God and then he would choose a godly wife and live lovingly and godlily with her, and not do as some man, who taketh a woman to make her a companion and fellow, and after he hath her, he makes her a servant and drudge. If she be thy wife, she is always too good to be thy servant and worthy to be thy fellow. If thou wilt have a good wife, thou must go before her in all goodness and show her a pattern of all good virtues by thy godly and discreet life, and especially in patience, according to the counsel of the Holy Ghost: Bear with the woman, as with the weaker vessel. >> note 3 Here God showeth that it is her imperfection that honoreth thee and that it is thy perfection that maketh thee to bear with her. Follow the counsel of God therefore and bear with her. God willed a man to leave father and mother for his wife. >> note 4 This showeth what an excellent love God did appoint to be between man and wife. In truth I cannot by any means set down the excellency of that love. But this I assure you, if you get wives that be godly and you love them, you shall not need to forsake me. Whereas if you have wives that you love not, I am sure I will forsake you. Do not yourselves that wrong as to marry a woman that you cannot love. Show not so much childishness in your sex as to say, you loved her once and now your mind is changed. If thou canst not love her for the goodness that is in her, yet let the grace that is in thyself move thee to do it; and so I leave thee to the Lord, whom I pray to guide both thee and her with his grace, and grant that you may choose godlily and live happily and die comfortably, through faith in Jesus Christ.

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