J. M. (James Maurice) Wilson.

Three Addresses to Girls at School online

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The following addresses were printed for private circulation among those
to whom they were delivered. But they fell also into other hands; and I
have been frequently asked to publish them. I hesitated, on account of
the personal and local allusions; but I have found it impossible to
remove these allusions, and I have therefore reprinted the addresses in
their original form.



_Sept. 1890._





_October 25, 1887._




_December, 1889._




_April 13, 1890._








Now that I have given away the certificates it will be expected that I
should make a few remarks on that inexhaustible subject, Education. My
remarks will be brief.

I take this opportunity of explaining to our visitors the nature of the
Higher Certificate examination. It is an examination instituted
originally to test the efficiency of the highest forms of our public
schools, and to enable boys to pass the earlier University examinations
while still at school. The subjects of study are divided into four
groups. In order to obtain a certificate it is necessary to pass in four
subjects taken from not less than three groups. A certificate therefore
ensures a sound and fairly wide education. The subjects of the groups
are languages, mathematics, English history, and lastly science. One
concession is made to girls which is not made to boys. They are allowed
to pass in two subjects one year, and two others the next, and thus
obtain their certificates piecemeal. Boys have to pass in all four
subjects the same year. The High School sent in seventeen candidates for
the examination in two or three of the subjects - History, Elementary
Mathematics, French, German, and Latin, - and fifteen of these passed in
two subjects at least: and, inasmuch as seven of them had in a previous
year passed in two other subjects, they obtained their certificates. The
rest carry on their two subjects, and will, we hope, obtain their
certificates next summer; six of them appear to be still in the school.
This is a very satisfactory result. The value of these certificates to
the public is the testimony they give to the very high efficiency of the
teaching. These examinations are not of the standard of the Junior or
Senior Local Examinations. They are very much harder. And all who know
about these matters see at a glance that a school that ventures to send
in its girls for this examination only is aiming very high. The
certificates for Music, given by the Harrow Music School examiners, are
also recognised by the profession as having a considerable value. But on
this subject I cannot speak with the same knowledge.

The value of these examinations to the mistresses is that they serve as
a guide and standard for teaching. We are all of us the better for being
thus kept up to the mark. Their value to you is that they help to make
your work definite and sound: and that, if it is slipshod, you shall at
any rate know that it is slipshod.

Therefore, speaking for the Council, and as the parent of a High School
girl, and as one of the public, I may say that we set a very high value
on these examinations and their results. They test and prove absolute
merit. Now, you may have noticed that one of the characteristics of
this school is the absence of all prizes and personal competitions
within the school itself; all that only brings out the relative merit of
individuals. I dare say you have wondered why this should be so, and
perhaps grumbled a little. "Other girls," you say, "bring home prizes:
our brothers bring home prizes; or at any rate have the chance of doing
so - why don't we?" And not only you, but some friends of the school who
would like to give prizes - for it is a great pleasure to give
prizes - have sometimes wondered why Miss Woods says "No." I will tell
you why. Miss Woods holds - and I believe she is quite right - that to
introduce the element of competition, while it would certainly stimulate
the clever and industrious to more work, would also certainly tend to
obscure and weaken the real motives for work in all, which ought to
outlive, but do not always outlive, the age at which prizes are won.

Intelligent industry, without the inducement of prizes, is a far more
precious and far more durable habit than industry stimulated by
incessant competition. Teaching and learning are alike the better for
the absence of this element, when possible. I consider this to be one of
the most striking characteristics of our High School, and one of which
you ought to be most proud. It is a distinction of this school. And when
you speak of it, as you well may do, with some pride, you will not
forget that it is due entirely to the genius and character of your
Head-mistress. I believe that one result will be, that you will be the
more certain to continue to educate yourselves, and not to imagine that
education is over when you leave school.

Is it necessary to say anything to you about the value of education? I
think it is; because so many of the processes of education seem at the
time to be drudgery, that any glimpses and reminders of the noble
results attained by all this drudgery are cheering and encouraging. The
reason why it is worth your while to get the best possible education
you can, to continue it as long as you can, to make the very most of it
by using all your intelligence and industry and vivacity, and by
resolving to enjoy every detail of it, and indeed of all your school
life, is that it will make you - _you yourself_ - so much more of a
person. More - as being more pleasant to others, more useful to others,
in an ever-widening sphere of influence, but also more as attaining a
higher development of your own nature.

Let us look at two or three ways in which, as you may easily see,
education helps to do some of these things.

Education increases your interest in everything; in art, in history, in
politics, in literature, in novels, in scenery, in character, in travel,
in your relation to friends, to servants, to everybody. And it is
_interest_ in these things that is the never-failing charm in a
companion. Who could bear to live with a thoroughly uneducated woman? - a
country milkmaid, for instance, or an uneducated milliner's girl. She
would bore one to death in a week. Now, just so far as girls of your
class approach to the type of the milkmaid or the milliner, so far they
are sure to be eventually mere gossips and bores to friends, family, and
acquaintance, in spite of amiabilities of all sorts. Many-sided and
ever-growing interests, a life and aims capable of expansion - the fruits
of a trained and active mind - are the durable charms and wholesome
influences in all society. These are among the results of a really
liberal education. Education does something to overcome the prejudices
of mere ignorance. Of all sorts of massive, impenetrable obstacles, the
most hopeless and immovable is the prejudice of a thoroughly ignorant
and narrow-minded woman of a certain social position. It forms a solid
wall which bars all progress. Argument, authority, proof, experience
avail nought. And remember, that the prejudices of ignorance are
responsible for far more evils in this world than ill-nature or even
vice. Ill-nature and vice are not very common, at any rate in the rank
of ladies; they are discountenanced by society; but the prejudices of
ignorance - I am sure you wish me to tell you the truth - these are not

Think, moreover, for a moment how much the cultivated intelligence of a
few does to render the society in which we move more enjoyable: how it
converts "the random and officious sociabilities of society" into a
quickening and enjoyable intercourse and stimulus: everybody can recall
instances of such a happy result of education. This can only be done by
educated women. How much more might be done if there were more of them!

And think, too, how enormously a great increase of trained intelligence
in our own class - among such as you will be in a few years - would
increase the power of dealing with great social questions. All sorts of
work is brought to a standstill for want of trained intelligence. It is
not good will, it is not enthusiasm, it is not money that is wanted for
all sorts of work; it is good sense, trained intelligence, cultivated
minds. Some rather difficult piece of work has to be done; and one runs
over in one's mind who could be found to do it. One after another is
given up. One lacks the ability - another the steadiness - another the
training - another the mind awakened to see the need: and so the work is
not done. "The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few." A
really liberal education, and the influence at school of cultivated and
vigorous minds, is the cure for this.

Again, you will do little good in the world unless you have wide and
strong sympathies: wide - so as to embrace many different types of
character; strong - so as to outlast minor rebuffs and failures. Now
understanding is the first step to sympathy, and therefore education
widens and strengthens our sympathies: it delivers us from ignorant
prepossessions, and in this way alone it doubles our powers, and fits us
for far greater varieties of life, and for the unknown demands that the
future may make upon us.

I spoke of the narrowness and immovability of ignorance. There is
another narrowness which is not due to ignorance so much as to
persistent exclusiveness in the range of ideas admitted. Fight against
this with all your might. The tendency of all uneducated people is to
view each thing as it is by itself, each part without reference to the
whole; and then increased knowledge of that part does little more than
intensify the narrowness. Education - liberal education - and the
association with many and active types of mind, among people of your own
age, as well as your teachers, is the only cure for this. Try to
understand other people's point of view. Don't think that you and a
select few have a monopoly of all truth and wisdom. "It takes all sorts
to make a world," and you must understand "all sorts" if you would
understand the world and help it.

You are living in a great age, when changes of many kinds are in
progress in our political and social and religious ideas. There never
was a greater need of trained intelligence, clear heads, and earnest
hearts. And the part that women play is not a subordinate one. They act
directly, and still more indirectly. The best men that have ever lived
have traced their high ideals to the influence of noble women as mothers
or sisters or wives. No man who is engaged in the serious work of the
world, in the effort to purify public opinion and direct it aright, but
is helped or hindered by the women of his household. Few men can stand
the depressing and degrading influence of the uninterested and placid
amiability of women incapable of the true public spirit, incapable of a
generous or noble aim - whose whole sphere of ideas is petty and
personal. It is not only that such women do nothing themselves - they
slowly asphyxiate their friends, their brothers, or their husbands.
These are the unawakened women; and education may deliver you from this
dreadful fate, which is commoner than you think.

In no respect is the influence of women more important than in religion.
Much might be said of the obstacles placed in the way of religious
progress by the crude and dogmatic prepossessions of ignorant women, who
will rush in with confident assertion where angels might fear to tread:
but this is neither the time nor the place for such remarks. It is
enough to remind you that in no part of your life do you more need the
width and modesty and courage of thought, and the delicacy of insight
given by culture, than when you are facing the grave religious questions
of the day, either for yourself or others.

But let me turn to a somewhat less serious subject. We earnestly desire
that women should be highly educated. And yet is there not a type of
educated woman which we do not wholly admire? I am not going to
caricature a bluestocking, but to point out one or two real dangers.
Education is good; but perfect sanity is better still. Sanity is the
most excellent of all women's excellences. We forgive eccentricity and
one-sidedness - the want of perfect sanity - in men, and especially men
of genius; and we rather reluctantly forgive it in women of genius; but
in ordinary folk, no. These are the strong-minded women; ordinary folk,
who make a vigorous protest against one or two of the minor mistakes of
society, instead of lifting the whole: I should call these, women of
imperfect sanity. It is a small matter that you should protest against
some small maladjustment or folly; but it is a great matter that you
should be perfectly sane and well-balanced. Now education helps sanity.
It shows the proportion of things. An American essayist bids us "keep
our eyes on the fixed stars." Education helps us to do this. It helps us
to live the life we have to lead on a higher mental and spiritual level
it glorifies the actual.

And now, seeing these things are so, what ought to be the attitude of
educated girls and women towards pleasures, the usual pleasures of
society? Certainly not the cynical one - "Life would be tolerable if it
were not for its pleasures." Pleasures do make up, and ought to make
up, a considerable portion of life. Now I have no time for an essay on
pleasures. I will only offer two remarks. One is that the pleasure open
to all cultivated women, even in the pleasures that please them least,
is the pleasure of giving pleasure. Go to give pleasure, not to get it,
and that converts anything into a pleasure. The other remark is, Pitch
your ordinary level of life on so quiet a note that simple things shall
not fail to please. If home, and children, and games, and the daily
routine of life - if the sight of October woods and the Severn sea, and
of human happy faces fail to please, then either in fact or in
imagination you are drugging yourself with some strong drink of
excitement, and spoiling the natural healthy appetite for simple
pleasures. This is one of the dangers of educated women: but it is their
danger because they are imperfectly educated: educated on one side, that
of books; and not on the other and greater side, of wide human
sympathies. Society seems to burden and narrow and dull the uneducated
woman, but it also hardens and dulls a certain sort of educated woman
too, one who refuses her sympathies to the pleasures of life. But to the
fuller nature, society brings width and fresh clearness. It gives the
larger heart and the readier sympathy, and the wider the sphere the more
does such a nature expand to fill it.

What I am now saying amounts to this, that an educated intelligence is
good, but an educated sympathy is better. I recall certain lines written
by the late Lord Carlisle on being told that a lady was plain and
commonplace: -

"You say that my love is plain,
But that I can never allow,
When I look at the thought for others
That is written on her brow.

"The eyes are not fine, I own,
She has not a well-cut nose,
But a smile for others' pleasure
And a sigh for others' woes.

"Quick to perceive a want,
Quicker to set it right,
Quickest in overlooking
Injury, wrong, or slight.

"Hark to her words to the sick,
Look at her patient ways,
Every word she utters
Speaks to the speaker's praise.

"Purity, truth, and love,
Are they such common things?
If hers were a common nature
Women would all have wings.

"Talent she may not have,
Beauty, nor wit, nor grace,
But until she's among the angels
She cannot be commonplace."

There is something to remember: cultivate sympathy, gentleness,
forgiveness, purity, truth, love: and then, though you may have no other
gifts, "until you're among the angels, you cannot be commonplace."

And here I might conclude. But I should not satisfy myself or you, if I
did so without paying my tribute of genuine commendation to the High
School, and of hearty respect for the Head-mistress and her staff of
teachers. Clifton owes Miss Woods a great debt for the tone of
high-mindedness and loyalty, for the moral and intellectual stamp that
she has set on the School. She has won, as we all know, the sincere
respect and attachment of her mistresses and her old pupils; and the
older and wiser you grow the more you all will learn to honour and love
her. And you will please her best by thorough loyalty to the highest
aims of the School which she puts before you by her words and by her


[Footnote 1: An Address given at the High School, Clifton, Oct. 25,




It is a real pleasure to find myself in Bath on an educational mission.
I have ancestral and personal educational connections with Bath of very
old standing. My father was curate of St. Michael's before I was born;
my grandfather and uncle were in succession head-masters of the Grammar
School here, fine scholars both, of the old school. My first visit to
Bath was when I was nine years old, and on that occasion I had my first
real stand-up fight with a small Bath Grammar School boy. I think that
if the old house is still standing I could find the place where we
fought, and where a master brutally interrupted us with a
walking-stick. Since those days, my relations with Bath have been rare,
but peaceful; unless, indeed, the honourable competition between Clifton
College and its brilliant daughter, Bath College, may be regarded as a
ceaseless but a friendly combat between their two head-masters whom you
see so peaceably side by side.

I propose, first, to say a few words about the condition of schools
twenty years ago, before the present impulse towards the higher
education of women gave us High Schools and Colleges at the
Universities, and other educational movements. There is a most
interesting chapter in the report of the Endowed Schools Commission of
1868 on girls' schools, and some valuable evidence collected by the
Assistant Commissioners. It is not ancient history yet, and therein lies
its great value to us. It shows us the evils from which we are only now
escaping in our High Schools: evils which still prevail to a formidable
extent in a large section of girls' education, and from which I can
scarcely imagine Bath is wholly free.

The report speaks of the general indifference of parents to the
education of their girls in our whole upper and middle class, both
absolutely and relatively to that of their boys. That indifference in
part remains. There was a strong prejudice that girls could not learn
the same subjects as boys, and that even if they could, such an
education was useless and even injurious. That prejudice still survives,
in face of facts.

The right education, it was thought, for girls, was one of
accomplishments and of routine work, with conversational knowledge of
French. The ideal of a girl's character was that she was to be merely
amiable, ready to please and be pleased; it was, as was somewhat
severely said by one of the Assistant Commissioners, not to be good and
useful when married, but to _get_ married. There was no ideal for single
women. They did not realize how much of the work of the world must go
undone unless there is a large class of highly educated single women.
This view of girls' education is not yet extinct.

Corresponding to the ideal on the part of the ordinary British parent
was, of course, the school itself. There was no high ideal of physical
health, and but little belief that it depended on physical conditions;
therefore the schools were neither large and airy, nor well provided
with recreation ground; not games and play, but an operation known as
"crocodiling" formed the daily and wearisome exercise of girls. That
defect also is common still. There was no ideal of art, or belief in the
effect of artistic surroundings, and therefore the schools were
unpretending even to ugliness and meanness. The walls were not
beautified with pictures, nor were the rooms furnished with taste. There
was no high ideal of cultivating the intelligence, and therefore most of
the lessons that were not devoted to accomplishments, such as music,
flower-painting, fancy work, hand-screen making, etc., were given to
memory work, and note-books, in which extracts were made from standard
authors and specimen sums worked with flourishes wondrous to behold. The
serious study of literature and history was almost unknown. The memory
work consisted in many schools in learning Mangnall's Questions and
Brewer's Guide to Science - fearful books. The first was miscellaneous:
What is lightning? How is sago made? What were the Sicilian Vespers, the
properties of the atmosphere, the length of the Mississippi, and the
Pelagian heresy? These are, I believe, actual specimens of the
questions; and the answers were committed to memory. About twenty-five
years ago I examined some girls in Brewer's Guide to Science. The verbal
knowledge of some of them was quite wonderful; their understanding of
the subject absolutely _nil_. They could rattle off all about positive
and negative electricity, and Leyden jars and batteries; but the words
obviously conveyed no ideas whatever, and they cheerfully talked utter
nonsense in answer to questions not in the book.

Examinations for schools were not yet instituted; the education was
unguided, and therefore largely misguided. Do not let us imagine for an
instant that these evils have been generally cured. The secondary
education of the country is still in a deplorable condition; and it
behoves us to repeat on all occasions that it is so. The schools I am
describing from the report of twenty years ago exist and abound and
flourish still, owing to the widespread indifference of parents to the
education of their girls, to the qualifications and training of their
mistresses, and the efficiency of the schools. Untested, unguided, they
exist and even thrive, and will do so until a sounder public opinion and
the proved superiority of well-trained mistresses and well-educated
girls gradually exterminates the inefficient schools. But we are, I
fear, a long way still from this desirable consummation.

What were the mistresses? For the most part worthy, even excellent
ladies, who had no other means of livelihood, and who had no special
education themselves, and no training whatever. Naturally they taught
what they could, and laid stress on what was called the _formation of
character_, which they usually regarded as somehow alternative with
intellectual attainments and stimulus, and progress in which could not
be submitted to obvious tests.

I suppose most of us think that there is no more valuable assistance in
the formation of character than any pursuit that leads the mind away
from frivolous pursuits, egotistic or morbid fancies, and fills it with
memories of noble words and lives, teaches it to love our great poets
and writers, and gives it sympathies with great causes. But this was not
the prevailing opinion twenty years ago. The influence of good people,
good homes, good example - in a word truly religious influence, as we
shall all admit - is the strongest element in the formation of character;
but the next strongest is assuredly that education which teaches us to
admire "whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are lovely, and

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Online LibraryJ. M. (James Maurice) WilsonThree Addresses to Girls at School → online text (page 1 of 3)