This is a difficult subject to address you upon, and one which you will probably reject as unsuited to yourself. There are few qualities that the possessor is less likely to be conscious of than either selfishness or unselfishness; because the actions proceeding from either are so completely instinctive, so unregulated by any appeal to principle, that they never, in the common course of things, attract any particular notice. We go on, therefore, strengthening ourselves in the habits of either, until a double nature, as it were, is formed, overlaying the first, and equally powerful with it. How unlovely is this in the case of selfishness, even where there are, besides, fine and striking features in the general character, and how lovely in the case of unselfishness, even when, as too frequently happens, there is little comparative strength or nobleness in its intellectual and moral accompaniments!
You are now young, you are affectionate, good-natured, obliging, possessed of gay and happy spirits, and a sweetness of temper that is seldom seen united with so much sparkling wit and lively sensibilities. Altogether, then, you are considered a very attractive person, and, in the love which all those qualities have won for you from those around you, may bring forward strong evidence against my charge of selfishness. But is not this love more especially felt by those who are not brought into daily and hourly collision with you. They only see you bright with good-humour, ready to talk, to laugh, and to make merry with them in any way they please. They therefore, in all probability, do not think you selfish. Are you certain, however, that the estimate formed of you by your nearest relatives will not be the estimate formed of you by even acquaintance some years hence, when lessened good-humour and strengthened habits of selfishness have brought out into more striking relief the natural faults of your character?
The selfishness of the gay, amusing, good-humoured girl is often unobserved, almost always tolerated; but when youth, beauty, and vivacity are gone, the vice appears in its native deformity, and she who indulges it becomes as unlovely as unloved. It is for the future you have cause to fear,—a future for which you are preparing gloom and dislike by the habits you are now forming in the small details of daily life, as well as in the pleasurable excitements of social intercourse. As I said before, these, at present almost imperceptible, habits are unheeded by those who are only your acquaintance: but they are not the less sowing the seeds of future unhappiness for you. You will, assuredly, at some period or other, reap in dislike what you are now sowing in selfishness. If, however, the warning voice of an “unknown friend” is attended to, there is yet time to complete a comparatively easy victory over this, your besetting sin; while, on the contrary, every week and every month’s delay, by riveting more strongly the chains of habit, increases at once your difficulties and your consequent discouragement.