HOLD UP YOUR HEADS, GIRLS!
HELPS FOR GIRLS, IN SCHOOL AND OUT.
BY ANNIE H RYDER.
"'Handsome is that handsome does,—hold up your heads, girls!' was the language of Primrose in the play when addressing her daughters." WHITTIER
COPYRIGHT, 1886, BY D. LOTHROP & Co.
To My Girls Everywhere.
INTRODUCTION I. HOW TO TALK II. HOW TO GET ACQUAINTED WITH NATURE III. HOW TO MAKE THE MOST OF WORK IV. WHAT CAN I DO? V. WHAT TO STUDY VI. ENGLISH LITERATURE AND OTHER STUDIES VII. THE COMMONPLACE VIII. MOODS IX. WOMANLINESS X. GIRLS AND THEIR FRIENDS XI. YOUTHS AND MAIDENS
HOLD UP YOUR HEADS, GIRLS!
When we make an object with our hands, we frequently notice that the most care is needed as we near its completion. A false stroke of the brush will change an angel into a demon, a misguided blow of the mallet will shiver the statue into fragments: so, in the work which attempts to form a noble womanhood, all the efforts of years of training will be marred or rendered ineffectual, if the right influence, proper occupation, and wholesome encouragement are not given to a girl in the period which borders on womanhood. We wait for the rose to open; but if we allow the atmosphere to become impure, or otherwise prevent its development, its life will stagnate, it will refuse to give out odor, and the world will lose that beauty it might have enjoyed.
Susceptible as girls are, vigorous, affectionate, cheerful and aspiring, if they are deprived suddenly of good influence and encouragement, the very conditions of their growth will be removed, and they, like the rose, will shut their lives within their lives.
There is no time in a girl's life so neglected, and yet so dependent upon sympathy, as that when she is first thrown upon her own efforts. Too old to be any longer led, she is not old enough to be left without guidance. This time usually comes when she has finished the ordinary school course and finds herself, all at once, waiting, either for an entrance into what is called society, or for an opportunity to earn her living.
There is a certain lightness of heart, carelessness, abandon, maybe, about girls while they are still in school, which is both delightful and natural, however provoking to teachers. Every thing is very bright now; and if the girl learns her lessons, is obedient, and tries to think, she believes that somehow things will all come around right with time. All at once she is confounded. She awakes in the morning, and finds that school does not keep to-day,—no, nor to-morrow! What is to be done? Going and coming, which get to be more going and coming; dish-washing, which daily increases into dish-washing; or ennui, which degenerates into melancholy, ensue. Life is not what the school-girl supposed. Six months of it make her older than a whole school-year.
Girls look upon graduation day as a grand portal through which they are to enter into a palace glistening with splendor; but, lo! when they reach that portal, they see only a very low gate-way, while a hedge, thorny and high, shuts out the palace. How to get through? Rather, how are their elders to make them see that, with the patience and energy of the prince in the story, they can cause the hedge to turn to roses, and open wide before them?
A girl needs, first of all, encouragement. She should not be told what things are to oppose her, if she has ambition to excel in a certain direction, but what things are to help her to attain her purpose. She wants praise, but not flattery. A girl knows when she is flattered sooner than a boy. If conceit is engendered from praise, that will do no harm. Time will destroy conceit, if a girl has much to do with sensible people and sensible books.
A girl needs to be trusted. Nothing will be more efficacious than making her feel of certain importance and usefulness to others. It is evident she wants sympathy in her endeavors and disappointments. I do not mean that she should be indulged, or that she should not be made to work out her own salvation; but that she should realize that, if she tries, some one will know and bless her, and if she stumbles, some one will help her up again. Just as truly should she know that, if she is careless of endeavor or negligent of her days, she will meet with disparagement and punishment.
It is most necessary for a girl to have a motive placed before her, that she may bring out whatever undeveloped faculties may be latent within her. This motive may be a comparatively slight one,—no more than the training of a window-garden, the collecting of newspaper slips, or the making of bread; but, if she does her particular work better than others, she will attain a certain degree of superiority, and her time has, for her, been as profitably filled as that which another person devotes to a larger work. By motive, let me repeat, I mean something given a girl to do which shall be especially her work: not always an ambitious one,—a desire to shine in society, letters, or the arts,—but something just for herself, with its own rewards.
How much more numerous the motives which can be given an American girl than one who lives on foreign soil! Look at the German girl, for example. Her country arbitrarily divides its people into high and low. The peasant maiden has so long stayed one side of the barrier, she thinks she always must; so, with her scanty loaf of black bread near her on the ground, she leans against a tree, knits her stocking, and tends the flock. When night comes she goes home to her rude stone cottage, lifts a prayer to the Virgin, if she is an Austrian, and one for the king. Her mind never strays beyond the village gate. The more fortunate girls in towns and cities receive the allotted years of study in the schools, and when these end at fifteen, about the time of confirmation, the girls are put into families away from home to get a year's experience in domestic matters. Then they marry, and obediently follow the commands of their husbands.
It may be thought that a society girl needs no incentives to a right use of time and privileges, but she most certainly does. Her responsibility is great: she will either sway a circle or a household. Her influence will as surely affect her associates as did the influence of those celebrated French women whose salons were the places where battles were fought and decisive moments gained. Society is in great need of women: it always will be. Now this period of young womanhood is precisely the time for cultivating those principles which will later be most helpful to society.
Surely, for those who are to bear more heavily the weight of life, who are to work as they wish not; in fact, in a way against which all but principle struggles,—certainly, for these, there is every need of motive. This class increases daily, and the discouragement and distrust of its members grow with sad rapidity.
Girls, girls everywhere,—my girls,—do not think I mean to flatter you! Do not think I mean to praise you more highly than I ought! I simply want you to know your own capabilities, and to realize that much, very much, depends upon every one of you. How much there is for you to do! You are frank and honest now, or ought to be; you have not learned to imitate the falseness of so-called proprieties. It is fully possible to keep young, genuine, girlish even, and at the same time to be womanly. The world is not sunshiny enough; there are too many November days in the year: bring fairer weather and fresh June mornings.
You are not awkward, even if you have not learned just how to be graceful; you are not useless, though you have not yet acquired all the knowledge of the kitchen, laundry, and sewing-room; nor are you unprofitable because you do not now earn the so many dollars a week you will sometime gain. There is large hope of you, even when you forget yourselves in the use of fashionable slang, because your minds and hearts are open to receive kind warnings, and to learn to despise such terms as mar the beauty of easy, delicate speech.
You want courage and physical strength outside of your lively affections. You want wisdom and long training in the use of books. You need to be occupied, to be active in brain and heart and hand; busied even with more than the duties assigned you; occupied in times of rest as well as in times of labor.
You should see more and feel no less. Indeed, the power of observation is most cultivating and most easily developed.
You ought to be more familiar with Nature,—the sky, and trees, and fields; not always to have a scientific knowledge of it, but a certain familiarity, so that you may ever be surrounded by a glorious company of friends. You need to know the value of literature, and to adorn yourselves with the graces of conversation.
Those qualities which contribute most to womanhood and character you should be most eager to make your own.
May I talk with you about such subjects as may suggest ways of educating your minds, of benefiting your bodies, and of helping, in some little measure, towards that growth of soul which should be the aim of all instruction?
HOW TO TALK.
I saw a group of girls the other day bidding one another good-by after a year together at boarding-school. It was the merriest, most sparkling, set of people!—girls in every sense!—bobbing about, kissing, tuning their voices in all sorts of keys, with apparently not one care nor the shadow of an unpleasant memory! How I longed to get right in among them, and be hugged with the rest! though the hugging came along with armfuls of umbrellas, bags, hats, rackets, and whatever else would not go into the last inch of trunk. Pretty dresses, jaunty hats, tidy gloves and boots they wore; but better than these were their bright, honest faces, and the hearty words they spoke, Cheerfulness seemed to gush out in the wildest hilarity. How they talked with their tongues, and their eyes, and their hands! Enthusiasm sent their words racing after each other into sentences which had no beginning and no end.
Though you might never guess it, from the confusion of their language, these girls were practising some of the first principles in the art of conversation, without, indeed, being conscious of it. They were sincere and in earnest.
A girl is born to be a readier talker than a boy. She is usually less positive; and, as she has more animation, more spontaneity, more feeling, she talks much more. But somehow these natural gifts for talking are not cultivated by her as they should be: sometimes they are wholly disregarded. In a few years those very girls, who talked so fluently and engrossingly, will be sitting in corners trying to patch sentences together into what is called conversation.
Now, my dear girls, the importance of this art of talking is so great that. I should almost say any other art you may acquire cannot be compared with it; in fact, it is something so necessary to us that persons who are lacking in it stand in great danger of being metaphorically swallowed by the words of such individuals as know the cunning uses of language. Loosen some persons' tongues, and, no matter what sacrifices of character, of friendship, of good training, they have to make, they will reach the goal of their endeavor, and drive every one else into a corner. The power of eloquence and persuasion is mightier than any two-edged sword, and cuts down enemies like the sickle before the harvest. Go never so determined to remain unconvinced by certain talkers, and, before their eloquence ceases, you are enemies to yourselves, and wonder you never thought their way before.
Do not let me misguide you, however. Though you may be deceived by words, finding yourselves utterly incapable of replying to argument, still the joys you receive from the talks of certain well-minded persons are far greater than any danger I have implied.
What is it which makes some persons using very simple words say them so they drop like manna into hungry minds and hearts, or electrify with grand ideas and moving suggestions? Some will answer that it is brightness of intellect, and a keenness of insight added to profound thoughtfulness. I believe this in a large measure, though, if it were always true, we should oftener be able to understand certain full-mouthed speakers, deep thinkers, and philosophers. They do any thing but electrify, and suggest little more than sleep and weariness. Others will reply that successful talking is the effect of personal magnetism. That may be true to a slight degree. When certain strangers enter the room, we sometimes realize at once that it will be extremely difficult to say any more than yes or no to them; while others, previously unknown to us, may come in and draw out thoughts from us in rapid succession,—thoughts we hardly knew we were capable of expressing. But I would define a large part of the personal magnetism used in talking as an honest compound of heartiness, thoughtfulness, and sympathy.
Conversation does not demand that we should always be vivacious, sparkling, witty, fanciful, or even that we should use beautiful language; but good talk does ask for heart and interest. Put your heart into what you have to say: put your interest into it, and your conscience will be awakened, your zeal will be aroused; then you will compel attention, and set others thinking also. De Quincy writes, "From the heart, from an interest of love or hatred, of hope or care, springs all permanent eloquence; and the elastic spring of conversation is gone if the talker is a mere showy man of talent, pulling at an oar which he detests."
These things being true, it seems to me that character is the first requirement in the art of conversation. I take it for granted that every girl can, with perseverance, acquire a fluent use of words; for this depends mainly on practice: so I shall try to indicate those qualities which lie back of the words, and which give life to them. Even the nature of a talk will have its source in character, and to character it will return. Whatever chance or circumstance brings about a conversation, it will generally lead to such expressions of ideas as will show the dispositions of the conversers.
Just here, girls, let me remark, that, if by any slang or catch words you thoughtlessly express yourselves, the danger is, your character will be misunderstood, and your pure hearts but merry minds will be censured for what is not in them. Depend upon it, your own personality will be inferred from what you say, hence the value of utter sincerity in what you talk.
Naturally, we are led to think about courtesy and good manners as requirements in the art of talking. Have you not met certain men and women who, when they opened their mouths to speak to you, conferred a favor on you? and, when they spoke, have you not felt the benediction descending on your heads? I have. They were not always scholars, nor were they great people, nor rich people, but mannered people. Such persons used their words as if they expected words from you, for which they would be grateful. They did not monopolize conversation, neither did they frequently interrupt; but when they had a suggestion to offer, opportunity being afforded, they spoke honestly, though politely, their good sound thoughts,—ideas which frequently destroyed the evil of gossip or impatiently uttered remarks.
Conversation does not depend upon rapidity of speech, as certain impulsive persons seem to think. I acknowledge that much of the interruption in conversation, and much of the monopoly, and a large number of the quick, almost angry words, result from eagerness rather than conceit or selfishness. If one cannot be animated without rapid speech, let him talk fast. It is a bad practice, however, even in the ablest talkers.
One can have opinions, and yet not use them to knock down one's opponents who have had no chance to arm against one. Do not be ungenerous, girls, selfish, in talking. Allow that some one else may have ideas as good as yours. George Eliot says, in "Daniel Deronda," "I cannot bear people to keep their minds bottled up for the sake of letting them off with a pop." That is not conversation: it is a selfish display of a few treasured maxims or witticisms or opinions.
If courtesy, deference, patience, and generosity are needed to talk well, then certainly sympathy is necessary. A woman who has no comfortable word for her sister woman had better talk to the wall. But I need not reproach girls for lack of sympathy, nor for lack of interest in the girls they meet. Their confidence in new friends is so absolute; their desire to receive sympathy, as well as to give it, is so great, that they frequently impart their whole lists of secrets to the bosoms of others whom they have not known a month. Now a more careful use of sympathy and confidence will induce not only good manners but good talk. It will tell you how to avoid such subjects as would give rise to unpleasant, even quarrelsome, talk. It will show you when you have talked too long with one person in a mixed company, and when you are wounding the feelings of another by paying no regard to her.
Impartial treatment of those we meet in society is certainly very charming. We say it is a great accomplishment to be able to speak a pleasant word to the neighbor on the right, and a different, though equally expressive, one to the friend on the left. Mary likes books, Sallie prefers society, Ruth enjoys housekeeping, Margaret is fond of music. Then why not ask Mary if she has noticed the beautiful woodcuts in the last Harper's, or seen the new edition of Hawthorne? Why not inquire of Sallie about the last matinee and the last hop? Why not ask Ruth how she made those delicious rolls, and how she prepared the coffee, or how she manages to make her room look so cheerful and cosey? And why not make Margaret give you her opinion of Wagner or of Beethoven?
I cannot dwell too long on the necessity of that adaptability to others which a kind and sympathetic heart will always strive for in conversation. Suppose you do not know the group amidst which you are seated in a drawing-room, and it is expected you will all become acquainted? Well, if it must be, say something to Miss Brown about yesterday's storm or today's sunshine; something to Miss Eliot about the kindness of your hostess, who is entertaining her friends in her usual hospitable manner, with a word to each just suited to the individual addressed; and something to Mrs. Hammerton about the pleasant surroundings,—a picture near you, a book, a vase of exquisite form.
But suppose you are to talk with a gentleman? Why, begin with just such remarks as you would use to a sensible girl; and, if he does not seem to care for them, turn his attention to the world of his own affairs,—to the street and the office. A man often takes pleasure in giving information about matters of great public interest of which so many girls are ignorant. After you have passed a few remarks about the last election, or the new town-hall, you will probably find out what he prefers to discuss, and then you can easily entertain him, and be entertained in return. I think that most men are quite as fond of general topics in conversation as women are; and I fail to see the necessity of introducing different subjects for gentlemen than for ladies,—I mean when both young men and young women appreciate what it is to be gentlemen and ladies.
Girls, why do so many of you indulge in so much smaller talk with men than with women? Because it is expected of you? Only by a few, and they make themselves very absurd by always trying to say nonsensical things to you. Men of this sort appear to have an impression that you are still children amused with a Jack-in-the-box which springs up in a very conceited hobgoblin way. Everybody likes a joke, and at times feels a childlike pleasure in speaking nonsense; but, believe me, sense is much more attractive in conversation.
Discretion in conversation really implies a peculiar tact of woman, a kind of cleverness, not so frequently found in men, and very seldom met with in boys. When a woman sees her guests are led by a monopolizer along unsafe channels of thought, she can easily, by that happy faculty of hers, bring them back again where all will run smoothly. She can change the subject by some little remark irrelevant to it. Perhaps adaptability comes from discretion. When you are talking with Englishmen,—well, do not talk quite as Englishmen do, though they may be perfectly sincere; but talk as Americans talk. Say a the way they do in Boston, or wherever else you may belong: stick to your own town's forms of speech so long as they are reasonable. Above all things, do not ape the peculiar pronunciations of certain individuals. Affectation, imitation in talk, is ruinous. Be yourselves! Girls and boys are not themselves as much as they ought to be.
Being honest, still adapt yourselves to new people as you would to new scenes: talk with the Englishman on such subjects as he prefers. When you are speaking with honest country people about the beauty of their fields, do not talk about "Flora spreading her fragrant mantle on the superficies of the earth, and bespangling the verdant grass with her beauteous adornments." Use baby talk to babies; kind and simple words to the aged; a good, round, cheerful word to the girls, almost slang,—though no, not quite that! Make the grocer feel you have an interest in groceries; the seamstress an interest in sewing, as of course you have; and the doctor an interest in sickness. In fact, make each one with whom you come in contact realize that you care for him and what he specially does. Just put yourselves into the places of others, and the words will take care of themselves.
The intellect is not such a supreme factor in conversation as the points of character I have so far named. Mr. Mathews, in his "Great Conversers," writes, "The character has as much to do with the colloquial power as has the intellect; the temperament, feelings, and animal spirits even more, perhaps, than the mental gifts." I add this remark from De Quincy: "More will be done for the benefit of conversation by the simple magic of good manners (that is, chiefly by a system of forbearance) applied to the besetting vices of social intercourse than ever was or can be done by all varieties of intellectual power assembled upon the same arena."
But there are certain things the mind must do in connection with the disposition. Concentrating the thoughts is one of these things,—very hard for young or old to acquire. Persons resort to very queer methods to obtain it,—some scratch their heads, others rub their chins. I have seen a public speaker try to wreak thoughts out of a watch-chain. Another jerked at the rear pockets of his swallow-tailed coat to pick out a thought there. You know the story Walter Scott tells about the head boy? He always fumbled over a particular button when he recited; so, one day, the button being furtively removed by Walter, the boy became abstracted, and Scott passed above him. Madame De Stael, as she talked, twisted a bit of paper, or rolled a leaf between her fingers. (Some have attributed this to her vanity, as she had very beautiful hands.) I believe friends came to note her necessity, and supplied her with leaves. Well, do what you will that is harmless, if it but serve to pin your attention right down to the matter before you.
The great conversers of literature are wrongly called so. Set topics do not often lead to genuine conversation, and those who occupy the time by delivering their ideas on given subjects are really lecturers. Johnson as well as Coleridge talked right on while all the rest sat and listened.
Conversation that is real implies give and take. We do not talk to illuminate the minds of others only, but to get their ideas also. And, don't you see, we never quite know what our own thoughts are till we come to try to make them clear to others? "Intercourse is, after all, man's best teacher. 'Know thyself is an excellent maxim; but even self- knowledge cannot be perfected in closets and cloisters." [Footnote: Mathews.] Three or four expressing ideas on the same subject give one a larger range of thoughts, make one more liberal and less obstinate.
If you care for a girl's opinion because it is just like yours, maybe it is her sympathy you are after and not her opinion. An interchange of ideas sometimes leads to discussion, and that is admirable for the growth of mind, provided it does not degenerate into dispute.
It is not necessary that conversation should roll around a given point. I think that is the most entertaining, restful, and real talk which is the most roving. You may begin in Portland and end in San Francisco. You may start talking about preserving peaches, and halt on the latest sensation. It is often very amusing to trace the line of such converse: it moves in a zigzag course, and terminates many miles out of the original direction. By this discursiveness I do not mean gossip. Of course talk of that kind has no good part in conversation: it is the slave of ignorance and bad character. I might, however, differ from some as to what gossip is,—whether there may not be certain kinds of talk miscalled gossip. I am quite sure that criticising the misfortunes of others, and watching a chance for dilating upon their lot, with your neighbors on the next doorstep, would come under the head of worse than gossip. It might be well to distinguish between gossip and scandal: the one is goodness adulterated; the other is evil unmixed.
Good conversation is the mark of highest culture. That is why, in spite of shabby dresses, unbanged hair, tremendous mouths, and large noses, some persons are purely delightful. We have seen that this is so, yet have not added that something lies in the voice as well as in the manners and words of such people. From nervousness, and other causes which I have not been able to trace, girls are apt to pitch their voices too high, as though they thought to be better able to speak distinctly. A gruff, mannish voice is worse than a piping, shrill tone in a woman; but fulness of tone prevents no melody, and this comes from a medium pitch. In the very modulations of the voice are detected excellence and refinement. The human voice, in its sounds and accents, is a record of character: trust it as the key-board of the human being.
May I remind you here, girls, of the harm arising from loud talk in public places? How many times do we suffer annoyance from the noisy voice in the car, the station, or on the street! How bold and immodest such tones are! Some persons seem to think the public is not to be regarded, and that it has no right to criticism. They appear to believe that a train is no different than an open field, where the voice needs no restraint, and where manners are not the most refined. They treat the passengers with as little care as they do the cars; for, while they make a waste-basket of the latter, they regard the former as so many brazen images to be stared at ad libitum. Passengers have ears, though they themselves be removed from the talkers by the distance of a seat or two.
Now about the words you use, girls. I fully realize the expressiveness of slang and the convenience of exaggeration. But if a peach pie is almost "divine," and the Hudson River "awfully lovely," what can be said of the New Testament and Niagara Falls? What is to become of the poor innocent words in the English language which mean only delicious and beautiful? By a girl's words know her; but, oh! never by the slang she uses. This use of slang is really a serious matter. Honest words are so misconstrued, and propriety in the employment of them so injured,—phrases are capable of so many interpretations,—that even serious people use slang in a very pathetic way without ever knowing the words are slang. Girls not only hurt themselves, but go to work to defame the very English language and the people who speak English.
When a young woman, who makes much pretension to fine manners and an elegant education, takes the steam-car for a rostrum, and exclaims about her French teacher as "awfully funny but awfully horrid, don't you know; awfully lovely sometimes, but awfully awful at others!" we wonder why she gives so much attention to French when her English vocabulary seems to have reduced itself to the scanty proportions of one word. Oh, I know how pertinent certain kinds of slang are! I acknowledge that a few peculiar expressions convey ideas more emphatically than whole pages of classical English.
The dangers from the habitual use of slang cannot be too strongly presented. Imagine a girl of the period versed in the loose expressions of the day. She goes away; but, after an absence of five years in a country where she hears little except in a foreign tongue, she returns, and with her comes her slang. How common, how witless, her talk appears! Her slang has long since gone out of fashion. The best of English never changes its style.
Girls, especially very young girls, must have their secret signs, their language of nods and becks and shrugs; but young ladies who have outgrown "eni, meni, moni, mi; husca, lina, bona, stri," ought to outgrow signs which are suggestive of coarse, rude acts, and which, with the slang expressions that accompany them, have often originated in some theatre of questionable character.
The responsibility rests with you, girls, to stop this increasing use of slang, and of words of double meaning. I say you can prevent it because you are so much regarded. Your influence is wide, wider than you suppose. If you do not cease speaking slang, your younger sisters will not, your friends and acquaintances may not. More than this: if you use coarse words, or those which may be interpreted in various ways, then coarse manners will soon follow coarse tones, and a general swaggering and lawlessness. My dear girls, I am only prophesying what will be if no prevention is employed. Surely you will give no cause for censure, if you seriously think about this matter.
It is a part of youthful exuberance to exaggerate. Children always want a thing as long as "from here to Jerusalem," and stretch their tiny arms out till they nearly fall backwards, trying to make an inch as long as a mile. But, cave canem! the fault of exaggerating once powerful over you, not only the bounds of the English language are leapt, but truth is unconsciously set at nought. We always allow for the words of some persons, for with them a scratch is a wound; a wind, a hurricane; one dollar, a thousand; and all they do in life, a big, big bluster. The only way to bring back English to a state of purity—for it has been outraged by slang, imitation, technical expressions, a straining after long words, and a regular system of exaggeration—is to speak simple words, using all necessary force and emphasis in the voice instead of in the number of syllables, saying what you mean by just the words that will convey the meaning. Of course the dictionary must be frequently used. There is no help so sure as that which it affords to one who would use language properly.
Do not be troubled if you hesitate in conversation, and cannot immediately find the proper word. Search in your mind till you get the expression, then next time it will come more rapidly. One of the best ways to increase fluency of speech is to avoid repetition of words as much as possible. Turn the name of an object or of an idea into a phrase, or substitute a synonym, and in this way you add variety and words to your vocabulary. Do not use foreign words when English will do as well. There are times when it will not, though it is a very copious language. Never think English inferior. Hear its music in Tennyson and Longfellow, De Quincey and Ruskin. See its beauty in the pages of Hawthorne and Irving. Do not use technical terms with those unacquainted with science or art. It shows a lack of good sense.
I want once more to insist on the value of good conversation, more particularly because of its suggestiveness. I believe there are few things really great and good which have not this power of suggestion. The picture is not wonderful that can be appreciated at a glance, the book is not remarkable which will not bear a second reading, music is not good unless it awakes harmonies, a thought is not valuable unless it suggests another thought.
The graces of conversation none can wear as well as woman. They are most becoming to you, my dear girls,—even brighter and richer and dearer than any jewels with which you may adorn yourselves. They consist mostly of pleasant, well-chosen words, sympathetic, hearty tones, sprightliness, and certain winsome modulations of voice.
When every other accomplishment fails to entertain, there is always left the resource of good talk, pleasing to old and young. We cannot sit at Luther's table, and hear him utter life-giving words, "If a man could make a single rose, we should give him an empire; yet roses, and flowers no less beautiful, are scattered in profusion over the world, and no one regards them." We cannot listen to Coleridge, "with his head among the clouds." We, alas! cannot even catch the energetic flash of Margaret Fuller's words. But every one of us can improve her conversation by persevering effort in the ways indicated, and can listen still to the best of talk.
Somewhere Emerson writes, "Wise, cultivated, genial conversation is the last flower of civilization, and the best result which life has to offer us,—a cup for the gods, which has no repentance."
HOW TO GET ACQUAINTED WITH NATURE.
My dear girls, I want to talk to you to-day about one of your very best friends,—one so altogether lovely, from first to last, that we can never exhaust her attractions.
Nature is, indeed, among the most loving and constant friends a girl can have, and not by any means the imaginary acquaintance so many suppose she is. She lives and breathes, and has a form and spirit. Are you looking about to see where she is? No need of that. Come right here, and sit down beside me under this great pine-tree. How strong and comfortable its back feels against yours! Do you see all those soft green points looking down on you while the tasselled branches gently sway? Just look at the deep blue patches of sky away up and up among the green arches. How cool and smooth and restful! how unending the color is in which the leaves lie! How hardy and brave the branches look! See the lines of beauty in them,—long, aspiring, slightly curving lines,—which meet and terminate in cathedral spires. What grace in the motion of every spray of greenness! what a healing odor in the breath of the tree! And, hark! a little breeze has touched it, and tuned its language into a plaintive song,—a sound like the surf washing upon a distant shore. Do you know why the pine is so sad a tree? Let me tell you her story. No; she will sing it herself, if you will listen to the nocturn: "Long, long ago I had my home on an island of the ocean, and my branches swayed and sang to the waves that kissed my feet with the fondness of a betrothed lover. The winds were envious of our sweet union, and blew away from me the germs of life. My seeds sprang up again, but on foreign soil; and the new trees, my offspring, are the same in form and color, but their souls are all sad from my recounted memories of departed joy." When the slightest breeze comes near, and ventures to softly touch the branches, a sound like sobbing follows; but when, with rougher grasp, the east wind approaches, a wailing like the utterances of a storm-tossed sea is heard. Listen! do you not hear it now? It is the imprisoned spirit of the pine, longing for the waves, moaning out a vain desire for the embrace of the sea.
How am I sure the tree is alive and friendly? Doesn't it bow to you when you pass, and curve and sweep before you? Doesn't it offer you rest and refreshment in its shade? Doesn't it entertain you by showing you beautiful pictures and forms, and doesn't it furnish you with music? See what an instructor it is! Away up there among the branches are lessons involving the very first principles of architecture, sculpture, and painting,—signs that show the laws of harmony and hint at morality itself. Its trunk and limbs look honest and courageous, firm and trusty, while all its lofty, tapering height points Godward.
It is your confidant; and the more you tell it, the more you will find to say. While it is very modest and retiring, requiring time to get acquainted with you, still, the more it talks to you, the more you will want to hear. The pine is your school-master, and you are the royal pupil,—Roger Ascham and Queen Elizabeth. It is no longer an ordinary tree, but something born with a spirit in it; and it has birthdays. Thoreau, the man who loved Nature so much that the birds and the fishes took care of him and were never afraid of their master, used to visit certain trees on certain days in the year. The pine has a birthday worth celebrating in December, the maple in October, and the birch in May. You think this is all fancy, and believe persons must be very imaginative to find such friends in Nature? Oh, no; along with fancy Nature tucks very real things into our thoughts about her. You only need an introduction to her, and you will see for yourselves. The most practical among you will find that even fancy is a most useful quality, because it leads men to think out great truths.
Some of the most remarkable ideas in literature, philosophy, science, and, religion have come from just this snug little acquaintance with Nature. Probably the most original poet in the last hundred years was Wordsworth. However much he lacked in some respects, he has done most towards shaping the minds of other poets, and towards advancing new and beautiful theories. His honest ideas, his simple truths, were told him by the field-flowers—the celandine and daisy and daffodil—as well as by the common trees and the common sky. I suppose most of the principles of natural philosophy, and of many of the sciences, must have been derived from an acquaintance with Nature in her ordinary aspects. Oh, do not think it necessary to behold Nature in her great stretches of sublimity in order to appreciate her. You will come to know her far more easily, and much more helpfully, in a little woodside walk, or right here underneath these branches, than you will in Niagara Falls, or in looking at her in the great ocean. She comes down more to the level of your understanding here in this meadow. Comes down to your comprehension? Yes; I mean that, and yet I would not for a moment imply that in her most commonplace guise you can exhaust her beauty. Do you know what Mr. Ruskin says about such an apparently insignificant thing as a blade of grass? "Gather a single blade of grass, and examine for a minute, quietly, its narrow, sword-shaped strip of fluted green. Nothing it seems there, of notable goodness or beauty. A very little strength and a very little tallness, and a few delicate long lines meeting in a point.... And yet, think of it well, and judge whether of all the gorgeous flowers that beam in summer air, and of all strong and goodly trees, pleasant to the eyes and good for food,—stately palm and pine, strong ash and oak, scented citron, burdened vine,—there be any so deeply loved, by God so highly graced, as that narrow point of feeble green."
But how to get acquainted with Nature is the question. By observation,—by simply opening your eyes and seeing. If no one yet knows all about a blade of grass, surely no one has so far beheld all the beauty there is in a single sun-rise. You cannot see every thing at a glance. When you first let your eyes rest upon the horizon, you may see only a piece of sky in the east: not very remarkable, you think, except that here and there are things that look like streaks of red and yellow. Later, you find something unobserved before,—clouds shaped like islands and balanced in mid-air, or lying like rafts which float along the edge of the sky. Then the color seems to deepen, and to spread out in great bars of light which lift and remove the remnants of the night. They are floating barges,—gondolas richly decked with crimson and gold, and burning with jewels of light. A coolness seems to come in the air, an exhilaration in your feeling. Energy, enterprise, are inspired with the dawn. When the sun is really up in the heavens, you feel an expansion of spirits, and great light is within you. You, too, will make a path through the day, as the sun makes his path through the heavens. By and by you will be able to say with the bardic philosopher, "I see the spectacle of morning from the hill-top over against my house from daybreak to sunrise, with emotions which an angel might share ... I seem to partake its rapid transformations. The active enchantment reaches my dust, and I dilate and conspire with the morning wind ... Give me health and a day, and I will make the pomp of emperors ridiculous." And, at length, you will rise above the earthly, and exclaim with the psalmist, "Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in."
Observe the humblest flower that grows, and first you may notice only its color, or form, or fragrance. Look again, and some added beauty appears. Observe more closely, handle it, and you are made a little thoughtful, because, all unconsciously to yourself, it may be, the flower is doing something to your mind and heart and soul. Perhaps its velvety softness and its lowliness speak to you of humility and gentleness; or perhaps its fragrance breathes sweetness into your life and feeling,—only a little, to be sure, but that little means something. The spirit of the flower speaks to your spirit; and you wonder what relation it bears to you, and if you are not both connected with the spirit of God.
There is something more than sentiment in attributing character to flowers, something better than fancy in saying, "Pansies for thoughts." Growing things all mean real things; so do the stones in the stone-wall, and the gravel on the road, and the very breeze that blows in our faces,—all and each have a significance which does not at once meet the outward eye.
It would be very delightful, and certainly very useful, if, besides this friendliness in Nature, you could learn some of the special values of Nature, as shown by science. A botanist has fuller joy in flowers and ferns and grasses than a mere observer of them, and a geologist has more pleasure in rocks than he who remarks them for their beauty's sake. Still, this friendship and this general observation had to come before the scientific knowledge was possible. I have great sympathy for those who, while ignorant of technicalities, love objects for just simply the things themselves.
When you begin to get acquainted with the externals of Nature, then, of course, you will ask how they are made; and the lessons of science will attract you. Looking at the smoothness of the rounded stones, you will be led to examine their ancient homes beneath the waves; noticing the long straight lines on the rocks, you will wander back to the period when ice covered the land, and the earth was wrapped in chaotic gloom. Observe, only observe! and curiosity will press for you the very secrets out of the woods, the streams, the skies. Look around you! There is such an infinite number of objects to consider right about your own porch-door,—the lichens on the door-stone, the apple-tree shading the path, the striped pebble that you kick aside, the plant pressing up between the boards, the dew shimmering on the weed. Investigate all your surroundings, especially the small, neglected places, and try to have an opinion about what you observe. A busy man, a merchant, noticed, some time ago, a thistle growing by the wayside. He was journeying in the steam-cars at the time; and, although the next stopping-place was somewhat far, he walked back to find the strange flower. The prize he gained was a rare plant, a beautiful thistle of which he had only heard before.
Oh, Nature is so modest! But once set her talking, she will forget your presence, and babble like the brook. How much she has told the poets, and the men of science! How much she will tell you, too, if you but heed her!
Ah, girls, what slight attention we have, in reality, shown to Nature! We treat her more like a servant than a friend and companion. The desire for excitement has turned our minds to vainer subjects. The struggles which our elders have made for money and position have deprived them of chances for regarding natural objects. However deplorable this may be, it is a still more lamentable fact, that you, dear girls, give so little heed to Nature,—you who have time and to spare. It lies with you to cultivate this love for the natural world, that future generations may be more mindful of it.
When we refuse the gladness that Nature offers us, we dismiss a large share of the happiness God intended for us. I ought to be a little more lenient in my criticism on the lack of appreciating Nature, perhaps; for not a few of us may find lingering in our minds some autumnal glory which lights up our memories with colors of crimson and gold. We should remember, however, that not only the glow of autumn and the flush of summer are beautiful, but that every season, every climate, every aspect in the shifting panorama of Nature, has a beauty as real. Our own region, be it arid with parching suns, or wet with frequent rains; be it always winter there, or always summer, is full of beauty. There is sunset on the desert, moonrise on mid-ocean, gorgeous coloring and crowding life in the tropics, dazzling starlight over ice-bound lands. Neither is one day so much better than another for beholding Nature. Yesterday we let the mild sunshine redden the blood beneath the skin; to-day we are drawn from our study of the perfect harmony of grays in the clouds and trees to watch, within the house, the bright light which gleams from the coals,—Nature brought up out of the earth.
Regard even one day of our worst weather, as we say,—worst for our health or convenience we must always mean. Think of a bleak and sleety March day. As the storm whirls against the house with strong blasts of rain and snow, our excitement increases by watching the swaying trees, and by listening to the shaking windows, while the lawless winds howl and rage around the corner. When the winds settle from boisterousness into low complaints, and now and then fall into quiet utterances, musical murmurings, the rain pauses, the sky softens, and our minds grow calm and gentle. But when, again, the clouds gather darkness, and make strength for a new onslaught, we become sober with fear and doubt. Tell me, if, as we view these changes, and hear these stirring or weird sounds, we do not indeed behold battle scenes, and listen to music from which even Wagner might have learned.
But the storm is the exceptional aspect, and we ought to care more for ordinary views. Winter is common enough, but it has its perfections. Its colors, though less gorgeous than those of autumn, are the most restful and quiet in their tone and feeling. Those grays and browns, huddling together in silent lines side by side, are full of peaceful beauty as they rest upon the white snow or up against uncertain skies. I like a gray atmosphere relieved by silver birches, just enough sombreness set off by cheerfulness. It is wisdom and patience ornamented with gray locks.
Spring, early spring, in New England, we call more disagreeable than winter. Ah, but it is the budding time! When you meet spring, before the trees come out in full dress, when all that fluttering, fluffy greenness, and that crimson flowering etch, with innumerable branchlets, the embroidery of Nature against the sky, you meet, even though the east sea winds blow, a season incomparable.
An opportunity for getting acquainted with Nature is never wanting. If men should cut down all the forest trees, as they now threaten, they could not "cut the clouds out of the sky," as Thoreau affirms. A roof light in a garret, even, gives the eye visions dazzlingly beautiful over beyond all the chimney pots, if the eye only looks. We would go far to see on canvas the lake, the river, the wood that borders our heritage; and yet we rarely heed their living charms that daily offer us new pleasures. We cross the ocean to visit great churches, and we throng to hear an organ played by a master musician; while in yonder forest we may enter a cathedral, loftier and grander far than art can form, through whose densely branching arches and solemn aisles sweeps the music of the winds from the organ pipes of the pines.
Nature, in most of her aspects, will give us small chance for censuring her scant attractions. A field of grass and flowers, sunshine and chirping birds, the clinging, changing foliage, or the shimmer of snow and ice, the light of moon and stars, are in some of her commonest pictures. We are simply to give heed. As Carlyle suggests, it is not because we have such superior levity that we pay no attention to Nature. By not thinking, we simply cease to wonder, that is all.
Oh, get acquainted with Nature, my girls, and see how lovely the world will become! Do you know that beautiful sketch by Charles Kingsley called "My Winter Garden"? Read it, and see how he gets the world out of a small space,—how he becomes rich. You know no man can buy a landscape,—it belongs to all. We are, every one, rich in summer skies, in fair forests, in great tracts of meadow verdure. See how Kingsley grows contented,—how he becomes wise. "Have you eyes to see? Then lie down on the grass, and look near enough to see something more of what is to be seen; and you will find tropic jungles in every square foot of turf; mountain cliffs and debacles at the mouth of every rabbit burrow; dark strids, tremendous cataracts, 'deep glooms and sudden glories' in every foot-broad rill which wanders through the turf.... Nature, as every one will tell you who has seen dissected an insect under the microscope, is as grand and graceful in her smallest as in her largest forms."
We are told there is something most practical in physiology. One of its first requirements is proper exercise for the body. Now, no exercise combines so many advantages as walking: by no other means can we come so easily to an acquaintance with Nature. Never ride in the country, or anywhere within Nature's dearest precincts, when you can as well go on foot. You cannot see things flying by you. Do not adopt the custom of most pedestrians, that of getting over the ground as rapidly as possible. Take daily walks, no matter what the weather is; but do not go too far. Irregularity in this exercise is harmful. It is far better to walk two miles daily than ten miles at one time, and fifteen a week hence. Go to see something on your walks, if you discover nothing more than a great hole in the ground; and come home with some thought about what you have seen. I found out a great truth, one day last spring, of which I was wholly ignorant before,—that a rose is sweeter in the morning than in the noonday. Many a lesson in that; some practical knowledge too.
In a delightful way, the hermit of Walden tells us how to take walks, how to truly saunter. He says that the word saunterer was derived from those persons who, during the Middle Ages, went on crusades to the Holy Land. When one of them, as he journeyed towards the East, appeared among the children, they would exclaim, "'There goes a Sainte Terrer!'—a Holy Lander"—which, you can see, came to be called "Saunterer." Thoreau says that every one who walks as he should, with his eyes and his heart open, is bound to a Holy Land. "Every walk is a sort of crusade, preached by some Peter the Hermit in us, to go forth and reconquer this Holy Land from the hands of the Infidels." Is not that a beautiful thought?
Walk with freedom of the chest and limbs, carrying nothing in the hands to prevent the play of any muscles. Breathe through the nose rather than through the mouth. I suppose the most of the girls can walk in an ordinary street dress; but I would suggest, if a girl is to go far, that she wear a full, short skirt, of not very heavy weight, a loose flannel blouse, and stout shoes. This costume can be arranged so that it will not in the least shock her townspeople. It is always safest, and usually most agreeable, to walk accompanied by one or more friends who are bound on the same quest. Begin your walk as you are to continue it: at an even, easy pace, or with such steps as you naturally take when the first signs of weariness appear. Use as much of your body as you can. Welcome the increased circulation of the blood, and the glow of the skin; but be very careful to retard these when you are nearing the end of your saunter, or are about to rest for a while. Remember the danger of standing or sitting quietly when in a perspiration.
It is profitable to rest early in a walk, and to break it by frequently sitting down for a few moments at a time. Do not walk too rapidly. Remember you are not to care who gets to the top of the mountain first. It should be your aim to see things on the way up, as well as from the summit. If one often turns to get views from behind, the ascent gradually prepares one's mind for the climacteric vision from the top. You may boast that you have walked a given number of miles, but count yourself still prouder because you have seen what that number of miles held for you along the way.
Be careful of your steps, yet be bold and confident, that you may leap the stream or scale the rock. If you stop to reflect, the stream will grow wider, and the rock steeper and smoother. A stick helps many in climbing, but I believe the skilled pedestrian climbs unaided. Do not jump, girls. Creep, slide, crawl; but never shock your system with a jump of few or many feet in height.
The dangers of walking arise from too great an ambition to go a long distance, from striving to out-walk somebody, from walking too rapidly and irregularly, and from allowing the mind to become so exhilarated as not to be sensible of the fatigues of the body. Stop when you are tired. Remember that, in a walk of ten miles, the last five are longer than the first five; then reserve that second half for the next day.
Form observation clubs, mountain clubs, pedestrian clubs,—any worthy association which will take you out of doors, and teach you about the region in which you live. Be earnest about it, as about a solemn, necessary work. Take your English cousins for examples. I think it was Sara Coleridge who, in her old age, complained because she could no longer walk more than fifteen miles a day. In that delightful essay, written by Charles Lamb, on "Old China," Bridget Elia sighs because she and her companion have become so rich they cannot walk their thirty miles, as they had so often done, on a holiday.
In England or in Switzerland, one meets whole flocks of English girls out on a walk of a week's duration. Think of the sport in such a tramp,—the hilarity on the way! the lunches gathered by hap-hazard from country bake-shops and groceries, and eaten in any retired nook that offers by the roadside! Think of the appetite for commonest food, and of the amusing difficulties which come from lack of knives and forks! On such a walk, how easy to pick one's self up after lunch, throw the dinner-table away, and trot on to the next village. As a girl passes from town to town, how eager she is to note their characteristics, to look at the people curiously, and to pry into their shop-windows. How much she learns about Nature! Is the sky so blue at home? Are the wild flowers so abundant? Is the grass so soft and green? Oh, girls! try to make yourselves at home with Nature, and walk out among her attractions. In all your observations of Nature do not forget her living personality, her power to love you, to comfort you, and to develop you. Feel that you have a friend with you even when you seem to go solitary. Remember that, in learning to know Nature, you are learning to know yourselves. From your friends and your books, ask all about what you see. Be favored with every grand spectacle in Nature, but be never wearied with her commonplace aspects. Do not think of yourselves so much as living in rooms and houses, but as living in the house, the palace of the earth and sky, whose every gallery, corridor and hall, is carpeted with Nature's tapestries of unfading color and deep softness; whose walls are hung with glowing sunsets; and through whose green roof, here and there, "a pane of blue sky" appears.
HOW TO MAKE THE MOST OF WORK.
When God made heaven and earth, and all things beautiful for the enjoyment of his children, He added His last, best blessing,—the gift of work. Sweeter than the fruits of Eden, more grateful than the fragrance that breathed from the flowers of Paradise, and grander than all the starry hosts of heaven, was this most precious favor. By it the world is delivered of its hidden riches, and the mind of man developed into its broadest capabilities. Yes, dear girls, there is a blessedness in work that transcends every joy you have. You know it; but the question comes, How to make the most of the gift?
What a dull old world this would be if we spent all our days on hotel verandas at summer resorts! Absolutely unbearable! We should all die of ease. It is as necessary for us all to work as it is to breathe. Nothing exists in the natural world without its special office or duty; and surely, in the world of man, no one can live without occupation. Lack of sufficiently worthy work is one of the crying evils of our day, among both boys and girls. Every thing is done to make labor less, or to turn it completely into pleasure,—to shirk it, or to scorn it. The sewing-machine has made the good sewer a phenomenon. Our grandmothers used to rip their dresses and linings with sharp scissors: a good jump from a carriage will send us right out of a modern costume. Teachers learn the lessons now, and the pupils take notes and cram once in a while. Text-books have gone out of fashion. The next generation will not see any antique furniture: it will all lie in a hopelessly unglued state, separated into its elements. There will not be any china tea-sets,—all broken in the last dish-washing. There may be a few books in loose bindings and faded covers, and a few works of art in frames that furnace-heat has set sadly awry. There will be a plenty of fine machines.
Mr. Froude tells us, "When the magnificent Earl of Essex was sent to Cambridge, in Elizabeth's time, his guardian provided him with a deal table covered with green baize, a truckle-bed, half a dozen chairs, and a wash hand-basin. The cost of all was five pounds." Harvard boys have somewhat enlarged that invoice of housekeeping goods. What do you think about the furnishings of college girls?
Welcome improvement. Yes, indeed! Be glad of clothes-wringers, dish- washers, carpet-sweepers, Quincy methods, Meisterschaft systems, and all else that will economize labor and time, or make more attractive the special work you have to do; but never forget that no machine can be invented which will make housekeeping a sport, and thorough, hard work of any kind unnecessary. And remember, too, there is no royal road to learning, as the Alexandrian philosopher said. Kings and queens must walk over the same rough road which we tread when they go up to the temple of knowledge. Cloth of gold cannot smooth the way, nor elegant editions make knowledge more subservient.
Girls, what do you think about shirking work? One of the chief differences between happy girls and moody ones consists in the amount of work they do, or leave undone. The despair which settles over many a girl's days, the indifference, comes from no longer being compelled to do certain tasks. "Get work, get work: be sure 'tis better than what you work to get." Do not delay the task that must be done. Procrastination is worse than the thief of time: it is the robber of our own character, our own growth and happiness. We need to work continually to be strong, mentally, physically, or spiritually, even; and the longer we put off exercise, the less competent we are. I cannot believe that a lazy person is a real Christian. Who labors, prays. I know so many girls who delay writing essays, hoping that slight sickness, or some unforeseen event, may ward off the trouble of thinking for an hour; then, when the time of necessity comes, and no deliverance from the hands of tyrannical teachers, a series of nervous attacks ensue, because of overtaxed minds (?); and the doctors order those poor girls out of the presence of such cruel task-masters. Medical science and educational science always do conflict; but eleven-o'clock suppers, social circles, tri-weekly gad-abouts, and over-anxious parents, who yearn for a good match for their daughters, disarrange the brains and stomachs of girls oftener than any undue desire to excel in study. The average student is never killed by the average school or the average school-teacher. But shirking work of any kind, delaying it, or contriving to make it less, will bring about a certain irregularity, and certain spasmodic efforts that are utterly ruinous.
The cramming system, in schools, or homes, or trades, is deplorable. You cannot put a whole geometry into your brain three days before examination, without its bulging and breaking through the cranium in less than a month's time. You cannot sweep and bake and wash Saturday morning, without the pies burning, the clothes tearing, and the dust flying. You cannot do all your book-keeping in just the hour before the evening train starts: some one's account will be incorrect. Regularity achieves what intensity never can. It is not the amount of work that hurts, so much as spasmodic attempts to work. Girls are not as strong as formerly. Irregular work, fast work, fast living, are largely at fault. Girls scorn work: it is too humble, or too little appreciated. Now, the fact is, girls, there is highest worth and dignity in precisely those kinds of labor that seem the lowliest and count for the least. Kinds of work differ, not so much in worth as in the use they make of our faculties to do to our utmost what lies before us. The monotony of housekeeping, or the daily repetition of work immediately to be undone, is, after all, the most essential labor. Without it, especially in America, the home would be destroyed. "If a woman is not fit to manage the internal matters of a house, she is fit for nothing, and should never be put in a house or over a house, any way. Good housekeeping lies at the root of all the real ease and satisfaction in existence." [Footnote: Harriet Prescott Spofford.]
It is an offence to women everywhere that in summing up women's work, the census will carefully enumerate those employed in professions,— doctors, lawyers, ministers, teachers, authors,—those who work in factories and clothing establishments; those who are accountants, manufacturers, servants, farmer's, and fish-women, even; but contains not one word about the home-keepers. Are they not in any profession? Have they no valuable calling? Enrolled, would not they swell the number of workers by several hundreds of thousands in Massachusetts alone? If the census slights home-keepers, however, the girls slight home-keeping even more. Very few girls are to step aside from the commonplace, as we carelessly term it; but more depends, in this world, on the ordinary than the extraordinary. The work of the humblest is as essential to the labor of the highest as is the work of the highest to the labor of the lowliest. Michael Angelo could plan a St. Peter's; but the men who climbed up with wood and stone—"the hewers of wood and the drawers of water"—were necessary to its construction. Genius is a slave to labor. Says Smiles, in his work on "Thrift," "Genius is but a capability of laboring intensely"; making, you see, even talent itself, and its highest expression, an outgrowth of work.
No simplest task we do but is essential to somebody. Slight it, shirk it, scorn it, and somebody suffers. Leave the parlor undusted, and callers are sure to come. Wear a stocking with a hole in it, you will find it necessary to take your boot off before night. There is the greatest need among girls of a more entire consecration to certain humble, homely, housewifely duties. The wearing torment of discontent with unassuming work arises not from lack of ambition, but from scorn of what one has to do. I sometimes think this reaching out after the unattainable is worse for a girl than passive indifference to what she might acquire. A large part of the success a person achieves is dependent upon her thinking her calling the very best in the world. It is not the work which dignifies you: it is you who dignify the work.
The girl who wins honor in medicine, in literature, in music, in engineering, in astronomy, in laundry-work, in cookery, in needle-work, ennobles literature, or music, or science, or housekeeping. What worthy pursuit can you not, by excellence, raise into honor and esteem? Matilda of Normandy embroidered, in the quiet of her castle, stitch by stitch, and day after day, the battle of Hastings, at which the Conqueror won. When that great mingling of Normans and Saxons proved to be the important and the last step in the making of England, men looked back to the battle which decided the Norman Conquest, and, lacking needed information from chronicles, turned to the work of Matilda. There, on the Bayeux tapestry, was wrought the battle scene they required,—a piece of woman's work. It was a peasant girl, you know, who brought victory to France in the Hundred Years' War between that country and England.
Girls and boys have too slight an appreciation of manual labor. In most ways, work with the hands is more necessary than mental labor. God made man work in a garden before he gave him power to write books or keep accounts. Fine white hands are very pretty when they belong to a lady; but sunburnt, muscular ones are beautiful in the vineyard.
May I warn you not to despise the small amount of work you can accomplish, as compared with what others are able to do? Let me remind you, too, it is not what we get in money, buildings, knowledge, reputation, influence, by means of work, so much as what labor does for ourselves, our characters. Carlyle expressed the idea in a very short sentence, "Not what I have, but what I do, is my kingdom."
Even if our work is spoilt as we near its completion, and, instead of gain, failure awaits us, we have still been winners in ourselves, because we have acquired habits of industry, have made our powers of perseverance stronger, and have developed physical or mental strength as well. Work is never lost. When Carlyle sat down to write his "French Revolution" the second time,—a careless servant having burnt his manuscript,—he was a nobler man than when he wrote out the first issue. When Walter Scott failed, and Abbotsford was encumbered with a large debt, when his dream of restoring a kind of baronial life was all shattered, he did a grander work than in the building of that magnificent estate; for he strove with all the powers of his mind to earn the money which should repay his creditors. Though he died in the struggle, it was not fought in vain.
WHAT CAN I DO?
"But what can I do?" you ask. Oh, I hear that so many, many times, and I feel the deepest sympathy for the girl who asks it. Usually, when the question is put, there is no marked ability in the asker,—I mean, no special power to do a particular work. I have hardly the right to say this, however, since we are all endowed in some way, and each girl must have a work in which she can do better than any other. Perhaps, girls, you belong to the great middle class,—the people who have no large fortunes, no particular influence; and, maybe, you think if you only had a rich relative, or some acquaintance, who stood in authority, you might do a good work, or, at least, earn a livelihood. Do you remember that this very class of people have been the greatest reformers, thinkers, workers, rulers, everywhere? The United States owes its existence to people who had to depend upon themselves.
But let us see about this question, what to do. In the first place, if a girl has a decided inclination towards this or that honorable calling, she should foster every opportunity for pursuing it. If she can do a nurse's work better than a teacher's, and if no home ties of an imperative nature restrain her, she ought to become a nurse. A large field for the special work of nursing has been opened during late years. In all our prominent hospitals we find training-schools for nurses. The girl who feels she is fairly strong, and who has a good amount of physical courage, does a brave deed when she goes into the hospital to become a nurse. When she graduates, fitted to render service to the sick, and willing to devote her life to them, she is a noble acquisition to the world's helpers.
If a girl can do most and best as a physician or surgeon, she ought to be always the doctor. We no longer question the right or ability of women to practise medicine. The time will come when women will be as numerous in the medical profession as men. A girl ought to be very sure of a few things, however, before she studies medicine with a view to practising. There are peculiar hardships in a doctor's life, requiring physical strength, continuous toil, strong nerves, decision, reticence, and indifference to unjust criticism. With natures more susceptible than young men possess, be sure, girls, that you are equal to the burdens that weigh so heavily on the shoulders of the boys.
If a girl can cook better than she can do other work, the kitchen ought to claim her. Schools of cookery have made of cooking an art to be industriously followed where success is desired. Superintendents of cooking are usually reliable persons, and command good salaries. In a smaller way, many a girl in town or country can turn her knowledge of cooking to advantage, by selling her cake, or jelly, or pickles, for a snug little sum. There is a call for such prepared food not only in the industrial rooms of cities, but in country shops as well. We buy Miss M.'s orange cake, and Miss F.'s spiced pickles; for the one makes her cake, and the other her pickles, better, much better, than others do. The world always wants the best in small as well as in great things, and will pay for it.
Should a girl enjoy the cultivation of plants, she would be able to give much pleasure to her friends by caring for a private conservatory or window-garden. In this way she could learn much about plants, and become a successful florist. Then, if there were reasons why she should earn a living, with a small capital she could gradually work into the cultivation of flowers to such an extent as to make them very serviceable money-makers.
Sometimes girls have a fondness for fowls, and like to accumulate pin- money from the eggs hens lay. Why should they not give much time to the care of poultry? try for fine breeds, and for eggs that bring the highest prices?
A good deal has been written recently in relation to the cultivation of the silk-worm as a means of creating an occupation for girls and women, and as a method of forwarding American industries. The results already attained in this work are valuable and highly promising. Very earnest women are encouraging its progress, and will gladly supply any needed information in regard to it. Girls, you will come to see that women of large hearts and generous souls are deeply interested in your welfare. I hope every city has such noble examples of this kind of women as Boston presents. If you wish to know more about silk culture, please refer to Miss Marian McBride of the "Boston Post."
I have cited sufficient examples to urge that, if desire turns a girl to this or that occupation, she ought to seek it and follow it, provided, always, her judgment is as clear as her wish is ardent. Remembering that a lady is such of herself, whether in a drawing-room or an attic, behind the counter or in the school-room, a girl will be of noble worth, and will become one place as well as another. I do believe in choice of work; but I believe even more strongly in a girl's preserving the "eternally womanly," whatever she does, and wherever she is.
In most cases, a woman's work and place are in her own home. "Wherever a true wife comes, home is always round her. The stars only may be over her head, the glow-worm in the night-cold grass may be the only fire at her foot; but home is yet wherever she is: and for a noble woman it stretches far round her, better than ceiled with cedar, or painted with vermilion, shedding its quiet light far, for those who else were homeless." [Footnote: Ruskin.]
As a girl is bound to do what she honestly feels she can do best, she should never question how her work may seem to another, if it does not absolutely injure another. I should not ask is this man's work or woman's work; but, rather, is it my work? But, in whatever I attempted, I should repeatedly say to myself, Am I keeping my womanhood strong and real, as God intended it? am I working womanly? In many cases, much more good might be accomplished by girls and women, if, instead of so much talk about lacking privileges, they took the places they could fill. Sister Dora never questioned whether she ought to bind up the wounds of her crushed workmen: she laid them on the beds of her hospital, and calmly healed them. Caroline Herschel did not stop to ask whether her telescope were privileged to find new stars, but swept it across the heavens, and was the first discoverer of at least five comets. A great obstacle in the way of advancement to girls comes from the coarse mannerism of certain women who have worked in given directions. Why is it that, when a woman begins to do the work a man has been accustomed to perform, she cultivates a man's ways? It is not the work which does it. Would that there might be less of this unwomanliness! Because a woman is a doctor, why need she use slang or profanity? Because she holds certain great, liberal truths in regard to woman, why must she wear a stiff derby, swagger, and strike attitudes? These expressions, extremes in dress, conspicuous actions, deceive many, and turn the world bitterly against what it ought to receive. Such peculiarities are wholly unnecessary. Some of the loveliest women who walk the earth are found among doctors, among professors, among book-makers, among farmers, even.
You think there is less chance for girls to work than for boys? Yes, there is; but, on an examination of statistics, I find that in all positions—professions, clerkships, manufactures, trades, industries— where you find men working, you will find women also, though in smaller numbers usually. Examine the reports of census takers, and you will find my statement true. In Mr. Wright's valuable pamphlet on "The Working Girls of Boston," you will be surprised to find so great a variety of employments as he there enumerates. There are recorded merchants, machinists, carpenters, plumbers, cabinet-makers, and tanners, even.
Why is it so many of you girls try teaching? Is it because that seems a genteel way to get a living, and does not seem so hard as other callings? In 1880 there were 8,562 women engaged in teaching in Massachusetts. Of these, a fourth would probably have done a better work in some other way. Teaching is a noble profession: it has great chances for self-culture and for helpfulness to others. In no profession can one do more good, if one tries with all one's heart. It is one of the highest callings even for this reason: a teacher utterly unable to see any results of her labor, in black and white, at the end of her pupil's course, as the book-maker may see in the number of printed pages, is willing to trust that, because she has done what she could, good will come to her pupil. A carpenter may see his house completed; but the building of mind, of character, of manhood and womanhood, the teacher never may see finished. It passes on into the hands of the great Teacher of all. Although teaching is a very responsible work, yet does one seldom reach fame in it. The truth is, fame does not stand for so much work done, but for so much worldly opinion gained. Do not enter this work of teaching to misunderstand or slight it, but to be proud of it, and to ennoble it.
You feel the necessity of earning money, and so must take whatever work you can get? Alas! I know you do, many of you, dear girls. But do not think this so very unfortunate. Unless your very life is being worn out; unless your wages are ground down to a pittance, and your work is wholly disagreeable, be thankful. You are as well off as the girls who are languishing with dissipation and ennui. The average girl has the average amount of hardship and blessing in her life. I know there are many girls who cannot be found among the average.
If there is no wish on a girl's part to follow a special work, if she has no marked ability, let her ask the advice of friends; but, more than that, let her seek, through her own personal efforts, some honest work. Pluck, not luck; the Yankee, not the aristocrat, earn a living. For a girl of average ability I think a mingling of manual and mental labor preferable to purely manual or strictly mental work. There are many authors, journalists, accountants, etc., who have achieved striking success; but ordinarily this success has sprung from certain brilliant or profound mental attributes. Hand labor that requires no thought does not exercise our best faculties. I cannot specify just here what occupations an average girl may undertake. I gladly refer to certain books which contain statistics of work and its profits, or which suggest occupations: "The Working Girls of Boston," by Carroll D. Wright; "Think and Act, Men and Women, Work and Wages," by Virginia Penney; "What Girls Can Do," by Phillis Brown.
My poor girls, who work so hard, so very hard, who seem daily to narrow all enjoyment, and to give your very existence to factories and looms, to dry-goods counters and ready-made clothing stores, who put your eyes out earning twenty-five cents a day, and sometimes put your souls out trying to keep breath in your bodies one short year more,—what shall I say to you? I cannot find the words to tell you what I would say. Your experience shall not be embittered by being told what to do and what not to do. Bear your work as well as you can, try to find something really good about it, do not slight it. Remember you make the world noble; and, if you have an absorbing desire to work in some other way, watch every little loop-hole of opportunity, and see if you cannot make it large enough to jump through to a wider field. Let us all avoid fickleness, however,—the doing a little of this and of that: it is poor economy. To grow up to a work, to master it, we must first be slaves to it. Girls, everywhere, make progress slowly,—grow in efficiency, and do not shoot up into it.
Now, I want to talk a little to the girls who have leisure,—so much of it, sometimes, that it all turns crazy on their hands, and expends itself in the last most fashionable excitement. Girls too often do things just because other girls are doing them, never for a moment considering fitness or ability; consequently they look back upon half- accomplished bits of work—this or that insanity in worsted, card-board, wood-carving, modelling, or darning—very much as they would upon the broken fragments of an upset dinner-table. Away up in that convenient attic lie the desecrated splendors of the past, scattered in confusion by charitable mice,—blue and crimson wax-flowers melt underneath the eaves, all destitute of petals that would not fit on; patchwork quilts and cushions, in silk and satin distractions, just fall short of harmony in the arrangement of their squares and colors; vivid buttercups and daisies mingle with bulky cat-o'-nine-tails,—all on canvas covered with paint; blacking-jugs adorned with pictures, embossed and otherwise; moth-eaten Kensington, partly outlined in conventional lilies and conventional stitches; forlorn-looking cats and dogs on half-made rugs and slippers,—all, all are there to point out certain very unpleasant morals, referring chiefly to inability and lack of perseverance.
Understand, to excel in worsted, in painting, in any of the arts which afford so much pleasure, even in amateur work, is highly commendable. Perhaps to dip into these occupations to pass time might be considered better than laziness. But to do them simply because others are following them is wholly unwarrantable. I do not believe in crazes,—do you? What is worth doing is worth pursuing.
Intense interest may be necessary to success; but extremes make us very abrupt, inconsistent, and fickle in our occupations. Test the quality of your last attempt to make a tree on canvas before you buy a full set of colors, and before you put out your sign as an artist. Much study, hard work, aptitude, are required by art;—and the phenomenal debut of a fully fledged artist "after ten lessons" ("the whole art taught in six weeks") will never be witnessed. I should say, before passing further, that even a slight acquaintance with the decorative arts as practised at present appears to be quite improving to one's taste, and cultivating to the perceptions.
Music—singing, playing—is a great accomplishment. Would that every girl might know its precious helps,—its sources of amusement and culture, and the divine mysteries of its art. But unless you can express the musician's thought, and interpret harmonies by harmony, never be afraid to say, "I cannot play."
If the crazes which now threaten to capture society, and to seriously affect the speech, work, dress, and accomplishments of young ladies, continue at their present rate, I think there will be a grand chance for escape from them. It will suddenly become the fashion to be tranquil, plain of speech, real and thorough in every work. Now we strive our utmost to prevent monotony, and promote variety. The dressmaker's trade we learn in 1885 will not be of much use in 1886. Last winter we learned how to cook; and this, we are studying how to cure by mental processes. Next year we shall go to the gymnasium and tighten up our muscles. After that, we may open sewing-schools; and, perhaps, later, turn our attention to literature classes.
There are so many things a girl can do, even when society claims her,— more than ever, I should say! Make work, if you cannot get it, girls. Encourage poor girls by joining the industrial unions instituted in their behalf. Go into the hospitals, old ladies' homes, charity bureaus, flower missions. Join a Chautauqua club, or one of the societies for the encouragement of studies at home. That one founded in Boston for home studies, and which now numbers many hundreds, affords excellent instruction, particularly in literature and history. This educational society has done a wonderful amount of good through correspondence, books loaned, criticisms, examinations. Attend the numerous lectures, exhibits, etc., which are provided free of expense in all large cities.
Do not be afraid of useful fancy work. One can rest delightfully while making a row on an afghan, or knitting on a bed slipper. I always pity a boy who never seems to have any way of occupying himself while he rests. He whistles, puffs a cigarette, perhaps, or whittles away the window-seat. Girls have no need of being lazy while they rest. They certainly will not sit in lawless indifference if they know the blueness of discontent. Cheerful people are workers; and, when they find any tendency to go "mooning" over their tasks, they shake themselves into broad daylight.
I have suggested but a few of the things girls can do with greatest profit to themselves and to others. Form reading associations, hygiene societies, relief clubs, emergency clubs, horticultural unions, charity bureaus, science clubs, painting clubs. Why are they not just as entertaining as progressive euchre clubs? You know a girl never does as well when no incentive is placed before her; so I have hinted at the value of organization for general improvement, for work, and for larger usefulness in every sense. The modern sewing-circle, the missionary associations, even the temperance organizations in churches, have frequently been most efficient means of holding churches together. Clubs for boys are not so strongly recommended as for girls, because these associations for young men come to be their dependence for entertainment, and consume the hours which ought to be spent at home, or in the society of both girls and boys. Club-life in England, particularly London, has taken the place of home-life. Now, the girls need have no fear from their associations, because they are formed principally to forward the interests of home.
Work, then, girls! Work for pleasure, work for profit! Work for the health of your bodies, and the health of your souls! "You will find that the mere resolve not to be useless, and the honest desire to help other people, will, in the quickest and most delicate ways, improve yourselves." "When men are rightly occupied their amusement grows out of their work, as the color petals out of a fruitful flower; when they are faithfully helpful and compassionate, all their emotions become steady, deep, perpetual, and vivifying to the soul as the natural pulse to the body." [Footnote: Ruskin.]
But whatever your work is, girls, do not be in too much of a hurry for great results. If there is any thing in old countries that strongly impresses the American mind, it is, probably, the great amount of labor, the infinite patience, and the centuries of time, that were necessary to construct their public edifices. We cannot understand such waits, such slow progress. On the contrary, the fact that most impresses the mind of a foreigner in our own streets is the hurry, impatience, rush and scramble of American life. The people walk along the narrow streets of Boston with such hurried steps, such deeply-seamed faces, such infinite anxieties, as if they were about to adjust the foundations of the earth, and had about two minutes to spare before applying the lever. Go slowly, girls, and your work will last the longer.
Do not expect to complete your line of reading or study in one winter. Do not await a large salary for the first year's work. Do not hope to more than initiate a charitable society in one autumn. Then try to remember the necessity of concentrating forces, and of bringing your heaviest action to bear on one point: too many undertakings dissipate strength and prostrate work. There is a great deal of poor work done now; and it is said to have been somewhat mediocre so far through the nineteenth century, because time enough has not been taken to do thorough work. The strong desire is to get to the end of toil. We have hardly time to think what to get for dinner or what to wear; but we get something to eat when we are hungry, and go out into the cold wearing a spring jacket.
Now, one good, strong word more for work. We are born to enjoy and use it; civilization depends upon it, our womanhood is strengthened by it, our talents increased, our chances of happiness multiplied, and our service in every department of life is made worthier by the doing with our might just what lies before us.
WHAT TO STUDY.
How much girls think they will do when they get out of school! How many books they think they will read!—histories of Greece and of Rome, Grote and Curtius, of Plutarch and Gibbon; histories of France, Germany, and England, Guizot, Ranke, Green and Freeman; biographies of Caesar, Leo, Lorenzo, Frederick, Elizabeth, and Napoleon! How they will feed on the literature of modern nations, from Chaucer through Tennyson; from Luther through Goethe; from Rabelais through Victor Hugo; from Bryant and Irving through Hawthorne and Longfellow! How much they will translate from Homer and Virgil and Tacitus; from Schiller, Racine, Fenelon, and Moliere! How much philosophy they will read from Darwin, Spencer, Huxley! How they will trace the stars in the heavens, and the marks of God's fingers on the rocks and sands! How they will separate into their parts water and air, plants and animals! How they will haunt the libraries, museums, laboratories, and lecture-rooms!—all when they get out of school.
Oh, my dear girls, you will not do any of these things unless you have much leisure, and an eager thirst for knowledge. Some new fascination— society and pleasures—or special duties and pressing occupations will drive the fervid desires of your school-days quite from your hearts, or make it impossible for you to gratify them. At any rate, in attempting to pursue all these studies, you will find that neither the ordinary length of life, nor the average brain, will be sufficient for the work. Your lists of books, like your lists of intentions, will serve only to fill the waste-paper baskets.
But now let us see what you can do, girls, if you will. Almost every one of you spends a few hours a week in reading, and some of you pour away "oceans of time" over fashionable fiction. Why not give just two or three little hours to study,—study so pleasant and so arranged that you may call it reading, or recreating, or getting acquainted with "the best of all good company"? After a while you will find these hours precious and necessary. They will give you rest, and a greater number of useful and pleasant subjects to think about; they will afford you broader and readier information; and they will deepen within you an interest in the highest and most helpful things this life affords.
What we get in the average school is largely rudimentary knowledge, the object of which is to create a love for more knowledge, to bend our inclinations towards what is true and right, to prepare our minds for larger duties,—in a word, to fit us for a noble womanhood and a useful citizenship.
Now, suppose you feel more kindly towards natural science than you do towards mathematics; or suppose you have more fondness for language than for philosophy: well, just at this period, since you are really out of school, you ought to spend a few spare hours on the object of your favor. You should branch off from the trunk of knowledge, and flourish mainly in one direction, when you will find it will take all the time you can give to grow into any size, and blossom into one kind of fruitage.
There are so many things to learn in any department of knowledge, and the amount increases so rapidly, year by year, that, after a certain measure of general information has been acquired in the schools, it is almost necessary to make rigid choice of what we shall study, or of what we shall read. This may be narrowing, and even superficial, in one sense, since it confines our information within one channel, and prevents it from mingling with the ebb and flow of broader human interests. It may make us too regardless of any pursuit aside from our own, and bring us to the condition which many a foreigner finds himself in,—that of holding a complete knowledge about his own trade, but utter ignorance of every other. But I think not. If we are really intelligent, and comprehend the difficulties of the department of knowledge we are working in, I believe we have respect for the department another fills, though we know nothing of it. Of course, we are always to consider that the study we have chosen is best for us, and, therefore, to be lovingly and jealously followed. I think the method of choosing special studies is the only way of acquiring thorough and accurate knowledge.
If you are devoting your odd hours to literature, it is unnecessary to make pretensions to a knowledge of chemistry. Do not be afraid to say, "I do not know." We all expect too much learning from one another, especially elders from younger people. If John can tell his father a great deal about surveying, and Mary cannot, no matter: she can tell them both a good deal about physiology.
As far as possible, in your studying or reading, group those subjects together which belong together. If you are inclined to the physical sciences, bring into your work natural philosophy, general chemistry, general physiology, biology, geology, and mineralogy. If you desire to know more of one branch of natural science, as, for example, biology, why not group zoology, conchology, anatomy, physiology, botany, microscopy? I would always be careful not to make the group too large, though learning from one science helps in another.
This grouping system is admirable. I believe that an honest observer of the highest institutions for learning in our land, whether they were founded for the interests of young men or young women, will remark that there is too small a chance for grouping studies, and that the opportunities for choosing electives are too few. The American idea is, to get through the academy or college, and graduate with a diploma, rather than to pursue a study till such time as those who know most about that branch of learning shall deem a student ready for entrance upon higher work. I must think the German universities superior to ours in this respect. Life is short, and we can learn but little. I do not understand why it is necessary to spend several years in the preparation of certain studies for entrance to a college, when there will be no special use made of them after matriculation. I do not see how the imperative pursuit of science, for example, in school or college, is going to help the girl who is determined to devote future years to literature. Why, of course, it will not harm her; but why not be more economical of time and strength?
I can see, and know from experience, that the elective system is not wholly practical in high schools, nor for girls and boys who are not yet eighteen years old: because boys and girls need a stated amount of general knowledge, which they get in the high schools; because they are not sufficiently decided in their own minds and feelings,—not sufficiently developed, mentally, to really know what is best for them to study; and because so many boys and girls will shirk the hardest studies. I believe college presidents give these reasons sometimes in regard to their own students. But it is to me incomprehensible that men and women in college should not know what they are there for. If they are working for the name of being college graduates, it is no matter whether electives are presented to them or not. If they have not any preferences in their studies, they never will have in life. If they wish for a general broad education, which fits a student for no special position, but makes him abler to fill any place in after years, then only is a general, rather than a particular, course to be recommended. In this last case, the counsel of teachers and friends is indispensable; but, even here, choice is necessary.