J. M. (James Maurice) Wilson.

Three Addresses to Girls at School online

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whatsoever things are of good report;" and this ought to be, and is, one
of the results of the literary teaching given by well-educated

I have been describing the common type of what used to be called the
"seminaries" and "establishments for young ladies" of twenty years ago.
And it may give you the impression that there was no good education to
be got in those days, and that the ladies of my generation were
therefore very ill-educated. Permit me to correct that impression. There
were homes in which the girls learned something from father or from
mother, or, perhaps, something from a not very talented governess; but
in which they educated themselves with a hunger and thirst after
knowledge, and an enjoyment of literature that is rare in any school. Do
not imagine that any school education under mistresses however skilled,
or resulting in certificates however brilliant, is really as effective
in the formation of strong intellectual tastes and clear judgment and
ability as the self-education which was won by the mothers of some of
you, by the women of my generation and those before. Such education was
rare, but it was possible, and it is possible still. Under such a system
a few are educated and the many fail altogether. The advantage of our
day is that education is offered to a much larger number. But I cannot
call it better than that which was won by a few in the generation of
your mothers. If we would combine the exceptional merits of the old
system with the high average merits of the new we must jealously
preserve the element of freedom and self-education.

To return to the report. The indifference of parents and the public, the
inadequacy of school buildings and appliances, the low intellectual
ideals of mistresses, were the evils of twenty years ago, prevailing
very widely and lowering school education, and we must not expect to
have got rid of them altogether. An educational atmosphere is not
changed in twenty years.

But our High Schools are a very real step in advance. The numbers of
your school show that there is a considerable and increasing fraction of
residents in Bath who do care for the intellectual quality of the
education of their girls; and the report of the examiners is a most
satisfactory guarantee that the instruction given here is thoroughly
efficient along the whole line. Bath must be congratulated on its High
School for Girls, as it must be congratulated on its College for Boys.

But are we therefore to rest and be thankful in the complacent belief
that we have now at length attained perfection, at least in our High
Schools? I am called in to bless High School education, and I do bless
it from my heart. I know something of it. My own daughter was at such a
school; I have been vice-president of a High School for ten years. I
wish there were High Schools in every town in England. They have done
and are doing much to lift the standard of girls' education in England.
But I will again remind you that High Schools are educating but a
fraction of the population, and that the faults of twenty years ago
still characterise our girls' education as a whole.

And now, having said this, I shall not be misunderstood if I go on to
speak of some of the deficiencies in our ideals of girls' education
which seem to me to affect High Schools as well as all other schools.
One point, in which the older education with its manifold defects had a
real merit, is that there was no over-teaching, no hurry to produce
results, and therefore no disgust aroused with learning and literature.
At any rate, the girls, or the best of them, left school or governess
"with an appetite." Now I consider this is a real test of teaching at
school or college, in science or literature: does it leave boys and
girls hungry for more, with such a love for learning that they will go
on studying of themselves? If the teaching of some science is such that
you never want to go to another science lecture as long as you live:
your lessons on literature such that your Shakespeare, your Spenser,
your Burke, your Browning will never again descend from your shelves:
then, whatever else schools may have done, they have sacrificed the
future to the present. It is on this account that the pressure of
external examinations and its effect on the teaching of mistresses must
be most carefully watched. To get immediate results is easy, but it is
sometimes at the cost of later results. Our aim should be not so much to
teach, as to make our pupils love to learn, and have methods of
learning; and every teacher should remember that our pupils can learn
far more than we can teach them; and, as Thring used to say, "hammering
is not teaching." With a system of competitive examinations for the Army
and Civil Service, boys must sometimes sacrifice the future to the
present. Girls need never do so, and therefore girls' schools need not
copy the faults as well as the excellences of boys' schools.

I have ventured to say so much for an intellectual danger in High
Schools. I do not doubt that your head-mistress is aware of it, and on
her guard: I speak much more to the public, to the parents, and to the
Council (if I may say so), as an expert, because I know that the public
sometimes want to be satisfied that the education is good at every
stage, and they ought to be content if it is good at the final stage.
Another point on which I would venture to say a word to parents is this.
Do not take your girls away from school too early. Every schoolmaster
knows that the most valuable years, those which leave the deepest marks
in character and intellect, are those from sixteen to eighteen. It is
equally true with girls, as schoolmistresses know equally well. It is in
the later years that they get the full benefit of the higher teaching,
and that much of what may have seemed the drudgery of earlier work reaps
its natural and deserved reward. Let your children come early, so as to
be taught well from the beginning, and let them stay late.

I do not myself know what your buildings may be; but a friend to whom I
wrote speaks of them as inadequate and somewhat unworthy of the city.
May I venture to say to a Bath public that it is worth while to have
first-rate buildings for educational purposes? No money is better spent.
If the Bath public will take this up in earnest it cannot be doubted
that the Girls' School Company would second their efforts in such an
important centre. Come over and see our Clifton High School, with its
spacious lawns and playgrounds and pleasant rooms, and you will be
discontented with a righteous discontent.

And now I will point out another defect in High School education which
parents and mistresses may do much to remedy. There is usually - and I am
assuming without direct knowledge that it is the case here - no system by
which any one girl is known through her whole school career to any one
mistress; nothing corresponding to the tutor system of our public
schools. It follows that a girl passes from form to form, and the
relation between her and her mistress is so constantly broken that it is
morally less powerful than it might be. The friendly and permanent
relation of old days is converted into an official and temporary
relation. It will be obvious to any one who reflects that the loss is
great. The cure for it is twofold. The parents may do much by
establishing a friendly relation with the form mistresses of their
girls. I have known parents who had never taken the trouble to inquire
even the names of their girls' mistress. If parents wish to get really
the best out of a school, I would say to them (and I am speaking
specially to mothers), you are delegating to the form mistress a very
large share of the responsibility for the formation of your daughter's
character; the least you can do is to be in the most friendly and
confidential communication with her that circumstances permit. And I
would say to the mistresses that, as far as is possible, you should be
to the girls what form masters are in a good school to their
boys - friends in school and out of school, acquainted with their
tastes, companions sometimes in their games or their walks, and in all
ways breaking down the merely formal relation of teacher and pupil. The
ideally bad master, as I have often said to my young masters on a first
appointment, is one who as soon as his boys clear out of the class-room,
puts his hands in his pockets and whistles, and thanks Heaven that he
will see no more of the boys for so many hours. I do not know what the
corresponding action on the part of a mistress may be, as I believe they
have no pockets and can't whistle, but there is probably a corresponding
state of mind. I venture, therefore, to suggest that in our High Schools
there should be a greater _rapprochement_ than is usual between parents
and mistresses and girls in order to make the system more truly
educational in the best sense.

I am now going to turn to a wholly different subject; and I am going to
talk to the girls. In the crusade against the lower type of education
that prevailed twenty years ago, and still exists, who are the most
important agents? It is the girls who are still in the High Schools, or
who are passing out of them, or who are otherwise getting the higher
education in a few private schools. "Ye are our epistle, known and read
of all men," and read of all women too, with their still keener eyes.

There is a very real danger in our High Schools that the intellectual
side of education may be overestimated and overpressed, not by
mistresses, but by yourselves; and that the natural, human, domestic,
and family elements in it may be undervalued. What are you yourselves at
home, in society, with parents, brothers, sisters, children, friends,
schoolfellows, servants? Is the better education, that you are
undoubtedly getting, widening your sympathies, opening your heart and
mind to all the educational influences which do not consist in books or
in work? Is it giving you greater delicacy of touch? Is it opening new
channels for influences, streaming in on you or streaming out from you?
Your daily life may become a higher education, and is so to the truly
noble-minded and well-educated girl or woman. Do not regard as
interruptions, and as teasing, the calls of household, the duties to
parents, visitors, children, and the rest; it is part of the education
of life to fulfil all these duties well, delightfully, brilliantly,
joyously, enthusiastically; these things are not interruptions to life,
they are life itself. There was a pitiful magazine article written the
other day by some lady complaining that social duties, the having to see
her friends, her cook, her gardener, her dress-maker, etc., prevented
her from reading Herbert Spencer, and developing her small fragment of
soul. Social duties, rightly done, are one of the developments of soul.
Let it be seen that you girls who can enjoy your literature, and your
history, and your music, and your drawing with keen appreciation are not
made thereby selfish or unsociable; but that you are more delightful
creatures than those who have no such independent resources and joys. A
girl who gets her certificate or prize and is cross or dull at home,
and does not think it worth while to be kind and agreeable to a young
brother or an old nurse, to every creature in her household down to the
cat and the canary, is a traitor to the cause of higher education.

Again, it has been observed that the practical and artistic elements in
school education have been, in general, more thoroughly developed of
late years since they were put into a secondary place. This is as it
should be. Such subjects as music, drawing, cooking, housekeeping,
wood-carving, nursing, needlework, when they are studied at all, are
studied more professionally and thoroughly and intelligently, and less
in the spirit of the amateur and dabbler. So I would say to you, both
now and when you leave, show that your education in intelligence has
given you wide interests and powers to master all such subjects. Take
them up all the more thoroughly.

Closely akin to this merit of thoroughness is the large spirit of
unselfishness that ought to come, and certainly in many instances does
come, with wider interests, a more intelligent education, and a more
active imagination. Women in our class have more leisure than men; they
can actually do what is impossible by the conditions of life for us men
to do, link class to class by knowledge and sympathy and help and
kindness. They can be of immense service in this way. There is a story
in the life of an American lady, Mrs. Lynam, that occurs to me. There
was much conversation about a certain Mr. Robbins, who had lately died;
he had been such a benefactor, such a good man, and so on. A visitor
asked, "Did Mr. Robbins found a benevolent institution?" "No," was the
reply, "he _was_ a benevolent institution." Women of our class may be,
they ought to be, "benevolent institutions." And such women exist among
us; pity is there are so few of them. They can unobtrusively be centres
of happiness, and knowledge, and generous attitudes of mind. Now there
ought to be more of such women, and I look to our High Schools with
hope. They ought to make girls public-spirited and large-minded.

There is another element in girls' education which is only imperfectly
as yet brought out, and which you yourselves can do something to
develop. I mean the better appreciation of an education which is not in
books, and not in accomplishments, and not in duties, and not in social
intercourse. How shall I describe it? Think of the old Greek education
of men. There was a large element of literature and poetry and natural
religion and imagination in it; and a large element of gymnastic also;
but besides all this it was an education of eye and ear; it was a
training that sprang from reverence for nature, as a whole, for an ideal
of complete life, in body and mind and soul; and not only for complete
individual life, but also for the city, the nation. It was a consummate
perfection of life that was ever leading the Athenian upward, by a
life-long education, to strive for a certain grace and finish in every
one of his faculties. And we see to what splendid results in literature
and art and civic and personal beauty it led them.

This element is still wanting in our higher education; it is the ideal
of nobility of life and perfection. We lack it in our physical
education. That is still far from perfect. If we all, parents, children,
boys and girls, schoolmasters and schoolmistresses, had some of the
Greek feeling of high admiration of physical perfection of form and
grace and activity, we should not see so many boys and girls of very
imperfect gracefulness, nor should we see fashions of dress so ruinous
to all ideals of perfection and grace. We cannot make up for the want of
this national artistic ideal of beauty of figure by artificial
gymnastics, scientific posturings, and ladders and bars. They are better
than nothing, they are a protest, they certainly remedy some defects and
prevent others. But do not you be content with them. By self-respect and
self-discipline, by healthy life, early hours, open air, natural
exercise, the joyous and free use of all your powers, by dancing,
playing games, by refusal to give way to unhealthy and disfiguring
fashions, and, above all, by an aspiration after grace and perfection,
do what you can to remedy this national defect in our ideals for girls.

Did you ever read Kingsley's "Nausicaa in London"? Do you all know who
Nausicaa was? If not, let me advise you to borrow Worsley's "Odyssey"
and read Book VI., and read Kingsley's Essay too. Nausicaa was a Greek
maiden who played at ball; and I think you are doing more to approach
the old Greek ideal when you play at lawn tennis and cricket and hockey,
and I would add rounders and many another game, than when you are going
through ordered exercises, valuable as they are, or even than when you
are learning Greek or copying Greek statues.

This leads me to say that games contribute much to remedy another
deficiency in our ideal. There is a defective power of real enjoyment of
life, of healthy spirits among us moderns. There is more enjoyment now
than there was. I think my generation was better than the one that
preceded us in this respect; we had more games, more fun, more _abandon_
in enjoyment than our fathers and mothers, your grandfathers and
grandmothers, had, if we may judge from letters published and
unpublished. And they too often thought we were a frivolous generation,
not so staid and decorous as we might be, and repressed and checked us;
while we on the contrary urge on you to enjoy more fully the splendour
of your youth and vitality. We desire to see you dance and sing and
laugh and bubble over with the delicious inexhaustible flow of vital
energy; we know that it need not interfere with the refinement of
perfect manners and decorum, and we know too that there is the force
which will sober down and do good work, and there is the health-giving
exercise, the geniality, and the joy that will make you stronger and
pleasanter, more patient and more persuasive to good in years to come.
So it is with boys: men are made in our playgrounds as much as in the
class-room; so, too, is it with you. I must give you a quotation from
"Fo'c's'le Yarns," that delightfullest of volumes -

"It's likely God has got a plan
To put a spirit in a man
That's more than you can stow away
In the heart of a child. But he'll see the day
When he'll not have a bit too much for the work
He's got to do. And the little Turk
Is good for nothing but shouting and fighting
And carrying on; and God delighting
To make him strong and bold and free
And thinking the man he's going to be -
More beef than butter, more lean than lard,
Hard if you like, but the world is hard.
You'll see a river how it dances
From rock to rock wherever it chances:
In and out, and here and there
A regular young divil-may-care.
But, caught in the sluice, it's another case,
And it steadies down, and it flushes the race
Very deep and strong, but still
It's not too much to work the mill.
The same with hosses: kick and bite
And winch away - all right, all right,
Wait a bit and give him his ground,
And he'll win his rider a thousand pound."

There is a word in German which has no English equivalent; it expresses
just the missing ideal I am speaking of. It is a terrible mouthful, as
German words often are - Lebensglückseligkeit - it is the rapture and
blessedness and happiness of living. Carry the idea away with you, and
make it one of your personal ideals, and home ideals, and school ideals,
and life ideals, this Lebensglückseligkeit.

"'Tis life, whereof our nerves are scant,
Oh life, not death, for which we pant;
More life, and fuller, that I want."

You can carry this idea with you into society, and use it to brighten
its conventional sociabilities, and stimulate them into positive
enjoyability by more of intelligence and animation.

We had a visit the other day from an American gentleman, Mr. Muybridge,
who came to give a lecture at Clifton College. I believe he also
lectured in Bath. He remarked to Mrs. Wilson in the lecture-room that he
was glad to see some ladies present. "I like ladies at my lectures; they
are so intelligent." "Yes," she replied, "but I fear you are
attributing to us the qualities of American ladies; we are not
particularly intelligent." "You are joking!" was his reply. "No," she
went on, "we are always told how much more intelligent American ladies
are than English." He paused for some time, and then slowly said, "Well,
I'll not deny they are smarter."

Well, this quality that Mr. Muybridge describes as "smartness" is an
American equivalent of Lebensglückseligkeit; it is a sort of intensity
of life, of vivacity, of willingness to take trouble, to interest and be
interested, that is a little lacking in our English ideal of young
ladies: and we must be on our guard lest any school ideals of study and
bookishness should actually increase this deficiency. Any one, mistress
or girl, who makes good education to be associated with dulness and
boredom and insipidity is again a traitor to the cause of higher

I have run to greater length than I intended, and I will conclude.

It should be the aim of us all, Council, parents, mistresses, and girls,
to show that our ideal of education includes both the training of the
intelligence and reason, and the storing the mind with treasures of
beauty and instruments of power for opening new avenues into the
storehouse of knowledge and delight that the world contains; and also
the development of the practical ability, the benevolence and sympathy,
the vivacity, the enjoyment of life, the fulness of activity, bodily and
mental, that makes the Lebensglückseligkeit I spoke of, and the
superadding, or rather diffusing through it all, an unobtrusive but deep
Christian faith and reverence and charity.

The Archbishop of Canterbury lately said in his charge that "public
schools were infinitely more conducive to a strong morality than any
other institution." He was thinking of boys' schools, of which he speaks
with intimate knowledge; but I believe that, where girls' schools have
at their head one who in the spirit of Dr. Arnold recognizes the
responsibility for giving an unostentatious, unpartisan-like, but
all-pervading and intelligent religious tone to the life, the aims, and
the ideal of the school, and where the Council and parents value this
influence, there the influence of girls' High Schools may be more
conducive to strong morality and true religion in England than even that
of our great public schools. For the High Schools are training more and
more of the most influential class among the women of England, as the
public schools are training the men, and the influence of women must of
necessity be of the first importance; for it is they who determine the
religious training and the atmosphere of the home, and thus profoundly
affect the national character. Let us all alike try to keep before
ourselves from day to day and from year to year these high ideals of
education which can nowhere be so well attained, both by mistresses and
girls, as in a High School.

And in particular let me appeal to you, the inhabitants of Bath, to be
proud of this school, to foster it, to assist it in every way, and be
assured that in so doing you are conferring a lasting benefit on your
famous city.


[Footnote 2: An Address delivered at the High School, Bath, and the High
School, Clifton, Dec. 1889.]




I am not going to preach you a sermon of quite the usual type, but
intend rather to offer a few detached remarks without attempting to
weave them into any unity of plan, or to connect them with any
particular text from the Bible. Such unity as these remarks may possess
will result not from design but from the nature of the subject. For I am
going to speak about religion.

Now as I write this word I almost fancy I hear the rustle of an audience
composing itself to endure what it foresees must be a dull and
uninteresting address. "Religion! he can't make that interesting." Now,
why is this? What is religion, that in the eyes of so many clever and
intelligent and well-educated young people it should be thought dull?

Of this one point I am quite sure, that it is the fault of our
misunderstanding and misrepresentation, in the past and the present,
that religion seems dull.

Religion is, in its essence, the opening to the young mind of all the
higher regions of thought and aspiration and imagination and
spirituality. When you are quite young you are occupied of course with
the visible things and people round you; each hour brings its
amusements, its occupations and its delights, and reflection scarcely
begins. But soon questions of right and wrong spring up; a world of
ideas and imaginations opens before you; you are led by your teachers
and your books into the presence of great thoughts, the inspirations
that come from beauty in all forms, from nature, from art, from
literature, and especially from poets; you come under the influence of
friends - fathers, mothers, or other elders - who evidently have springs
of conduct and aspirations you as yet only dimly recognize; and mixed
with all these influences there is that influence on us from childhood
upward of our prayers that we have been taught, our religious services,


Online LibraryJ. M. (James Maurice) WilsonThree Addresses to Girls at School → online text (page 2 of 3)