In response to a young woman's letter to her father (asking for his advice), he writes:
MY DEAREST GRACE,
I received your valued letter; and in return, I have to say, that the first essential to a pleasant and productive employment of your time is, the regular and systematic distribution of it. This does not supersede the relaxations of society, domestic concerns, light reading, and exercise out & indoors.
The truth is, that the zest of the last is greatly heightened by the previous tension and fatigue which you may have incurred throughout those parts of the day which are given to the more serious pursuits of instruction and self- improvement. Regulate your hours, then; for it were quite vain to offer any advice to those who will not relinquish the habit of living at random, and living as they list.
With this as my great preliminary advice, I would further recommend:
(1) that the first time of your day should be devoted to religious meditation and prayer, both of which would be mightily helped by a little serious practical reading. Of course, I suppose a regular progress, through the Bible; but, over and above this, a pious practical commentary, though only of a single verse each morning, might tell impressively on the heart. I give as samples, ‘Bridges on the 119th Psalm, ‘Home on the Psalms, Doddridge's ‘Family Expositor, Scott's and Henry's Bibles. The same in the evening as well as morning.
(2) One or two hours of solid reading - such as the Evidences of Christianity - its doctrines expanded so as to suit a general reader; as ‘Syrnington on the Atonement; ‘Owen on the Work of the Holy Spirit; ‘ Owen on the Person of Christ, &c. Intellectual literature - as Reid's, Stewart's, and even Brown's ‘Works, Foster's "Essays"; "Chalmers on Endowments and Establishments".
(3) All proper female work - as the management of cow- heels in the kitchen, and stocking-heels in the drawing-room; the making of puddings in the one place, and of pin-cushions in the other; the orderly arrangement of all your articles in drawers, and on mantelpieces, and table-heads; the proper keeping of accounts, with as much letter-writing as is incumbent upon you.
(4). After standing acquitted of these, I give you great license as to all proper and innocent recreations; and I ask you to make trial for a week of the regularity I now prescribe, and see whether there is not a charm in it which might well convince us of the immense resources both for improvement and enjoyment that have been placed within our reach by a kind Providence.
I would rank biography and even history as light reading, along with imaginative literature, such as poetry and a few good and right novels.I will allow you, however, to make Cowper's ‘Poems and "Paradise Lost" tell for solid reading. Tell me what you think of Thomson's "Seasons" And now my last advice to you is, self-denial, or the habit of giving up your own will first to the will of God; and then, in things lawful, even in things indifferent, to the will of others, also.
I promise you the greatest enjoyment from the success of such a discipline; and remember what I have often felt to be a most precious connexion between two things in Christianity - the connexion between obedience and spiritual discernment, in virtue of which I should look, as the fruit of the sacrifice that I now recommend, for a clearer view of the Gospel end its method of salvation.
Yours most truly,
"EDINBURGH, November 17, 1838.