J. M. (James Maurice) Wilson.

Three Addresses to Girls at School online

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our Bibles, and most of all the Sacred Figure, dimly seen, but never
long absent from our thoughts, enveloped in a sort of sacred and
mysterious halo - the figure of our Lord Jesus Christ enshrined in our
hearts, and that Father in Heaven of Whom He spoke. All these are among
the religious influences; and what is their aim and object? What is it
that we should try and extract from them for ourselves? How should we
use them in our turn to better those who come after us?

Well, I reply, they should all be regarded as the avenues by which our
human nature as a whole ought to rise, and the only avenues by which it
can rise, to its rightful and splendid heritage and its true
development. We cannot be all that we might be without straining our
efforts in this direction of aspiration towards God, towards all that
is ideal, spiritual and divine.

We are often inert, effortless, and then the religion I have spoken of
repels us because it demands an effort; we are often selfish, and it
repels us because it calls us out of self; we are often absorbed in the
small and immediate aims for present enjoyment, interested in our own
small circles, and religion insists that these are not enough. It is for
ever calling us, as all true education calls us, as literature and
history call us, to rise higher, to see more, to widen our sympathies,
to enlarge our hearts, to open the doors of feeling and emotion.
Religion therefore may make great demands on us; it may disturb our
repose; it may shake us, and say, look, look; look up, look round; it
may be importunate, insistent, omnipresent, but it is not dull.

There is a sham semblance of religion which you are right in regarding
as dull, for it is dull. When it is unreal and insincere it is deadly
dull; when phrases are repeated, parrotwise, by people who have either
never felt or have long lost their power and inspiration, then too it is
deadly dull. When a sharp line, moreover, is made between all the
various influences that elevate us, and place us in presence of the
ideal and spiritual world; when the common relations of life, when art,
poetry, criticism, science; when educated and refining intercourse and
conversation, and all that occupies us on our intellectual sides is
classed as secular, and the only helps to religion that are recognized
are services and creeds and traditions of our particular church, then
such religion cuts itself off from many of its springs, and from most of
its fairest fields, and _is_ barren, and unprofitable, and dull.

You are not likely to make this error. You are perhaps more likely to
make the opposite error, by a natural reaction from this. Because, when
all the world of interest and beauty and human life is opening before
you, you cannot believe that religion is confined to the narrow sphere
of ideas in which it was once thought to consist, and is still sometimes
declared to consist, you may think that you can dispense with that
narrow but central sphere of ideas; and there you are wrong. I am quite
sure that there is no inspiring and sustaining force, which shall make
your lives worthy, comparable to the faith which Christ taught the
world, that we are verily the children of God, and sharers of His Divine
life, heirs of an eternal life in Christ towards which we may press, and
the appointed path to which lies in the highest duties that our daily
life presents and consecrates. On this inspiring power of faith in
Christ I shall not speak to-day. I mean to speak on one only of the
duties which form the path to the higher life, which you may overlook,
and yet which is inherent in religion.

The duty which I shall speak of is the necessity of entering into the
life and needs and sympathies of others; of living not with an eye
exclusively on yourself, but with the constant thought for others. It
is the law of our being that admits of no exception. You may hope that
the law of gravitation will be suspended in your case, and leap out of
the window; but you will suffer for your mistake; and you will be
equally mistaken and equally maim your life, if you think that somehow
the law of the spiritual world would admit of exception, and that you
can win happiness, goodness, and the full tide of life; become the best
that you are capable of being, while remaining isolated,
self-absorbed - by being centripetal, not centrifugal. It cannot be. Now
this is worth saying to you, because you know here at school what a
united social life is. All girls do not know this. You do. There is
distinctly here a school life, a school feeling, a house feeling. No
casual visitor to your playing fields and hall can mistake this. And you
know that this enlarges and draws something out of your nature that
would never have been suspected had it not been for school life. But
when school life ends, what will become of this discovery that you have
made? Boys, when they leave school and have developed the passionate
feeling of love for their old school, - the strong _esprit de corps_, the
conviction that in brotherhood and union is their strength and
happiness, - contrive to find fresh united activities, and transfer to
new bodies their public spirit and power of co-operation. Their college,
their regiment, their football club, their work with young employés,
their parish, their town - something is found into which they can throw
themselves. And again and again I have watched how this has become a
religion, a binding and elevating and educating power in the mind of
young men; and again and again, too, I have noticed how without it men
lose interest, lose growth and greatness; individualism creeps on them,
half their nature is stunted. For the individual life is only half the
life; and even that cannot be the rich and full and glorious thing it
might be, unless it is enlarged on all sides, and rests on a wide social
sympathy and love.

But how is it for girls when they leave school? It is distinctly harder
for you to find lines of united action. Society tends to individualize
young ladies; its ideal for them is elegant inaction and graceful
waiting, to an extent infinitely beyond what it is for young men. You do
not find at your homes ready-made associations to join, or even an
obvious possibility of doing anything for anybody. And so I have
witnessed generous and fine school-girl natures dwarfed, cabined,
confined; cheated of the activities which they had learned to desire to
exercise, becoming individualistic, and therefore commonplace; not
without inward fury and resistance, secret remonstrance, but concealing
it all under the impassive manner which society demands.

Something is wrong: and your generation is finding this out, and finding
out also its cure. Year by year greater liberty of action is open to
educated women; and educated women are themselves seeing, and others are
seeing for them, that they have a part to play in the world which none
others can play; if they do not play it, then work, indispensable to the
good of society, and therefore to their own good, is undone. I say to
_their own good_, for we all want happiness: but happiness is not won by
seeking for it. Make up your minds on this point, that there are certain
things only to be got by not aiming directly at them. Aim, for example,
at being influential, and you become a prig; aim at walking and posing
gracefully, and you become an affected and ludicrous object; aim even at
breathing quite regularly, and you fail.

So if you aim at happiness or self-culture or individualistic
completeness, the world seems to combine to frustrate you. People,
circumstances, opportunities, temper, everything goes wrong; and you lay
the blame on everything except the one thing that is the cause of it
all, the fact that you yourself are aiming at the wrong thing. But aim
at making everything go well where you are; aim at using this treasure
of life that God has given you for helping lame dogs over stiles, for
making schools, households, games, parishes, societies, sick-rooms,
girls' clubs, what not? - run more smoothly; wake every morning with the
thought what can I do to-day to oil the wheels of my little world; and
behold people, circumstances, opportunities, temper, even health, all
get into a new adjustment, and all combine to fill your life with
interests, warmth, affection, culture, and growth: you will find it
true: good measure, shaken down, heaped together, and running over,
shall men give into your bosoms.

Ah! but _what_ can one do? It is so hard to find out the right thing.
Yes; and no possible general rule can be given. You must fix the ideal
in your mind, and be sure that in some way or other openings will arise.
I will not touch life at school; you know more about that than I do, and
perhaps need not that I should speak of public spirit, and generous
temper, and the united life. I will only say that a girl who does not
throw herself into school life with the generous wish to give pleasure
and to lift the tone around her, does not get more than a fraction of
the good that a school life like this can give, and does not do her
duty. I speak of later years alone. And in the first instance, and
always in the first place, stand the claims of home. I dare say you
remember the young lady who wanted to go and learn nursing in a
hospital, and was asked by the doctor why she desired this. "Father is
paralysed," she said, "and mother is nearly blind, and my sisters are
all married, and it is so dull at home; so I thought I should like
nursing." I don't want you to emulate that young person. Grudge no love
and care at home: no one can give such happiness to parents, brothers,
sisters, as you can, and to make people happy is in itself a worthy
mission; it is the next best thing to making them good. And remember
also, that there are many years before you: and that though it may seem
that years are spent with nothing effected except that somehow things
have gone more smoothly, you yourself will have been matured, deepened,
and consolidated by a life of duty, in a way in which no self-chosen
path of life could have trained you. And if, as is quite possible, some
of you are impatient already for the exercise of your powers in some
great work, I will preach patience to you from another motive. It is
this: that you are not yet capable of doing much that is useful, from
want of training and general ability. I remember Miss Octavia Hill once
saying that she could get any quantity of money, and any quantity of
enthusiasm, but that her difficulty was to get trained intelligence,
either in men or women. So, a few days ago, Miss Clementina Black, who
is Hon. Secretary of the Women's Trade Association, said to a friend of
my own that she had had many voluntary lady helpers of various degrees
of education and culture, and that she had found without exception that
the highly educated students were the most fitted to do the work well;
that they alone were capable of the patience, accuracy, and attention
to detail which were one essential quality to the doing of such work,
and that they alone could provide the other essentials, which can only
spring from a cultivated mind - viz., wideness of view, sense of
proportion, and capacity for general interest in other important
questions - social, literary, and intellectual. "It is this cultivation
of mind which prevents you from being crushed under the difficulty and
tedium and disappointment which must attend every effort to teach
principles and promote ideal aims among the mass of ignorant, apathetic,
uninterested, and helpless working women, who must themselves in the
last resort be the agents in bringing about a better condition of

You may rest assured that if you set your mind on a career of splendid
usefulness for your fellows (and I hope every one of you here aims at
this), then you will need all the training that the highest and most
prolonged education can give you. Become the most perfect creature you
have it in your power to become. If Oxford or Cambridge are open to
you, welcome the opportunity, and use the extra power they will give
you. If not, then utilise the years that lie before you, in perfecting
your accomplishments, in self-education; in interesting and informing
yourself on social questions, in enlarging your horizon, while you
cheerfully, happily, brilliantly perform _all_ your home duties.

And during this period of preparation which you all must go through,
remember that there are some things which you can do better in your
inexperience and ignorance than any other people. How is this? Tell me
why it would be more comfort, and do more good sometimes to a poor sick
woman to bring her a few primroses or daffodils than to give her any
substantial relief. The reason is the same. The very freshness and
innocence of young faces, that sympathise without having the faintest
suspicion of the sin and misery of the world, is more refreshing and
helpful than the stronger sympathy of one who really knows all the evil.
You can be primroses and daffodils, and give glimpses into a purer
world of love and gentleness and peace.

And if a prolonged training is impossible to you, it is often possible
for you to assist in some humble capacity some lady who is so engaged in
work on a scale which you could not yourself touch. Be her handmaid and
fag and slave, and so gradually train yourself to become capable of
independent action.

But to sum up all I am saying it amounts to this - Where there's a will
there's a way, and I want you to have the will.

Did you ever think for what reason you should have had such a splendid
time of it in your lives? Not two girls in a thousand are getting such
an education as you are, such varied studies, such vigorous public
school life, such historic associations. And why? Because you are better
than others? I think not. It is that you play your part in the great
social organism our national life; hundreds are toiling for us, digging,
spinning, weaving, mining, building, navigating, that we may have
leisure for the thought, the love, the wisdom that shall lighten and
direct their lives. You cannot dissociate yourselves from the labouring
masses, and in particular from the women and girls of England. They are
your sisters; and a blight and a curse rests on you if you ignore them,
and grasp at all the pleasures and sweetness and cultivation of your
life with no thought or toil for them. Their lives are the foundations
on which ours rest. It is horrible in one class to live without this
consciousness of a mutual obligation, and mutual responsibility. All
that we get, we get on trust, as trustee for them. I remember that
Thring says somewhere, that "no beggar who creeps through the street
living on alms and wasting them is baser than those who idly squander at
school and afterwards the gifts received on trust."

I know that our class education isolates us and separates us from the
uneducated and common people as we call them, makes us perhaps regard
them as uninteresting, even repellent. Part of what we hope from the
girls who come from great schools like this is, that they shall have a
larger sympathy, a truer heart. Remember all your life long a saying of
Abraham Lincoln's, when he was President of the United States. Some one
remarked in his hearing that he was quite a common-looking man.
"Friend," he replied, gently, "the Lord loves common-looking people
best; that is why He has made so many of them."

You can all make a _few_ friends out of the lower class; you cannot do
much; but learn to know and love a few, and then you will do wider good
than you suspect.

But you are beginning to ask - Is all this religion? You expected
something else. Let me remind you of the man who came to Jesus Christ,
and asked Him what he should do to obtain eternal life. And this
question, I may explain, means - What shall I do that I may enter on that
divine and higher life now while I live; how can I most fully develop my
spiritual nature? And the answer was - Love God; and love your neighbour
as yourself. Go outside yourself in love to all that is divine and ideal
in thought and duty; go outside yourself in love to your neighbour - and
your neighbour is every one with whom you have any relation; and then,
and then alone, does your own nature grow to its highest and best. This
is the open secret of true religion.

Eastertide is the teacher of ideals. Its great lesson is - "If ye were
raised together with Christ, seek the things that are above." If by
calling yourself a Christian you mean that you aim at the higher, the
spiritual, the divine life, then think of things that are above. [Greek:
Ta anô phroneite], think heaven itself. And heaven lies around us in our
daily life - not in the cloister, in incense-breathing aisle, in
devotions that isolate us, and force a sentiment unreal, morbid, and
even false, but in the generous and breathing activities of our life.
Religion glorifies, because it idealizes, that very life we are each
called on to lead. Look, therefore, round in your various lives and
homes, and ask yourselves what is the ideal life for me here, in this
position, as school-girl, daughter, sister, friend, mistress, or in any
other capacity. Education ought to enable you to frame an ideal; it
ought to give you imagination, and sympathy, and intelligence, and
resource; and religion ought to give you the strong motive, the
endurance, the width of view, the nobleness of purpose, to make your
life a light and a blessing wherever you are.


[Footnote 3: An Address given to St. Leonard's School, St. Andrews, on
Sunday, April 13, 1890.]

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