John Ruskin.

Sesame & lilies, The two paths, & The king of the golden river online

. (page 7 of 23)
Online LibraryJohn RuskinSesame & lilies, The two paths, & The king of the golden river → online text (page 7 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

descend, owning themselves for ever children, gathering
pebbles on a boundless shore. It is of little consequence
how many positions of cities she knows, or how many
dates of events, or how many names of celebrated persons
— it is not the object of education to turn a woman into a
dictionary ; but it is deeply necessary that she should be
taught to enter with her whole personality into the history
she reads ; to picture the passages of it vitally in her own
bright imagination ; to apprehend, with her fine instincts,
the pathetic circumstances and dramatic relations, which
the historian too often only eclipses by his reasoning, and
disconnects by his arrangement ; it is for her to trace
the hidden equities of divine reward, and catch sight,
through the darkness, of the fateful threads of woven fire
that connect error with its retribution. But, chiefly of
all, she is to be taught to extend the limits of her sympathy
with respect to that history which is being for ever deter-
mined, as the moments pass in which she draws her
peaceful breath ; and to the contemporary calamity which,
were it but rightly mourned by her, would recur no more
hereafter. She is to exercise herself in imagining what
would be the effects upon her mind and conduct, if she
were daily brought into the presence of the suffering
which is not the less real because shut from her sight.
She is to be taught somewhat to understand the nothing-
ness of the proportion which that little world in v/hich
she lives and loves, bears to the world in which God
lives and loves; — and solemnly she is to be taught to
strive that her thoughts of piety may not be feeble in
proportion to the number they embrace, nor her prayer
more languid than it is for the momentary relief from
pain of her husband or her child, when it is uttered for
the multitudes of those who have none to love them, —
and is " for all who are desolate and oppressed."

Thus far, I think, I have had your concurrence ;


Sesame and Lilies

perhaps you will not be with me in what I believe is most
needful for me to say. There is one dangerous science
for women — one which let them indeed beware how
they profanely touch — that of theology. Strange, and
miserably strange, that while they are modest enough to
doubt their powers, and pause at the threshold of sciences
where every step is demonstrable and sure, they will
plunge headlong, and without one thought of incom-
petency, into that science in which the greatest men
have trembled, and the wisest erred. Strange, that they
will complacently and pridefully bind up whatever vice
or folly there is in them, whatever arrogance, petulance,
or blind incomprehensiveness, into one bitter bundle of
consecrated myrrh. Strange, in creatures born to be
Love visible, that where they can know least, they will
condemn first, and think to recommend themselves to
their Master by scrambling up the steps of His judgment-
throne, to divide it with Him. Most strange, that they
should think they were led by the Spirit of the Comforter
into habits of mind which have become in them the un-
mixed elements of home discomfort ; and that they dare
to turn the Household Gods of Christianity into ugly
idols of their own — spiritual dolls, for them to dress
according to their caprice ; and from which their hus-
bands must turn away in grieved contempt, lest they
should be shrieked at for breaking them.

I believe, then, with this exception, that a girl's
education should be nearly, in its course and material of
study, the same as a boy's ; but quite differently directed.
A woman, in any rank of life, ought to know whatever
her husband is likely to know, but to know it in a
different way. His command of it should be foundational
and progressive, hers, general and accomplished for daily
and helpful use. Not but that it would often be wiser
in men to learn things in a womanly sort of way, for
present use, and to seek for the discipline and training
of their mental powers in such branches of study as will
be afterwards fittest for social service ; but, speaking
broadly, a man ought to know any language or science

Of Queens' Gardens 65

he learns, thoroughly, while a woman ought to know the
same language, or science, only so far as may enable her
to sympathise in her husband's pleasures, and in those
of his best friends.

Yet, observe, \Ndth exquisite accuracy as far as she
reaches. There is a wide difference between elementary
knowledge and superficial knowledge — between a firm
beginning, and a feeble smattering. A woman may
always help her husband by what she knows, however
little; by what she half-knows, or mis-knows, she will
only teaze him.

And indeed, if there were to be any difference between
a girl's education and a boy's, I should say that of the
two the girl should be earlier led, as her intellect ripens
faster, into deep and serious subjects ; and that her
range of literature should be, not more, but less frivolous,
calculated to add the qualities of patience and serious-
ness to her natural poignancy of thought and quickness
of wit ; and also to keep her in a lofty and pure element
of thought. I enter not now into any question of choice
of books ; only be sure that her books are not heaped
up in her lap as they fall out of the package of the circu-
lating library, wet with the last and lightest spray of the
fountain of folly

Or even of the fountain of wit ; for with respect to that
sore temptation of novel reading, it is not the badness
of a novel that we should dread, but its over-wrought
interest. The weakest romance is not so stupifying as
the lower forms of religious exciting literature, and the
worst romance is not so corrupting as false history, false
philosophy, or false poUtical essays. But the best
romance becomes dangerous, if, by its excitement, it
renders the ordinary course of life uninteresting, and
increases the morbid thirst for useless acquaintance with
scenes in which we shall never be called upon to act.

I speak therefore of good novels only ; and our
modern literature is particularly rich in types of such.
Well read, indeed, these books have serious use, being
nothing less than treatises on moral anatomy and

F 219

66 Sesame and Lilies

chemistry ; studies of human nature in the elements of it.
But I attach little weight to this function : they are
hardly ever read with earnestness enough to permit them
to fulfil it. The utmost they usually do is to enlarge
somewhat the charity of a kind reader, or the bitterness
of a malicious one ; for each will gather, from the novel,
food for her own disposition. Those who are naturally
proud and envious will learn from Thackeray to despise
humanity; those who are naturally gentle, to pity it;
those who are naturally shallow, to laugh at it. So, also,
there might be a serviceable power in novels to bring
before us, in vividness, a human truth which we had
before dimly conceived ; but the temptation to pictur-
esqueness of statement is so great, that often the best
writers of fiction cannot resist it ; and our views are
rendered so violent and one-sided, that their vitality is
rather a harm than good.

Without, however, venturing here on any attempt at
decision how much novel reading should be allowed, let
me at least clearly assert this, that whether novels, or
poetry, or history be read, they should be chosen, not
for what is out of them, but for what is in them. The
chance and scattered evil that may here and there haunt,
or hide itself in, a powerful book, never does any harm
to a noble girl \ but the emptiness of an author oppresses
her, and his amiable folly degrades her. And if she can
have access to a good library of old and classical books,
there need be no choosing at all. Keep the modem
magazine and novel out of your girl's way : turn her
loose into the old library every wet day, and let her alone.
She will find what is good for her ; you cannot : for there
is just this difference between the making of a girl's
character and a boy's — you may chisel a boy into shape,
as you would a rock, or hammer him into it, if he be of
a better kind, as you would a piece of bronze. But you
cannot hammer a girl into anything. She grows as a
flower does, — she will wither without sun ; she will
decay in her sheath, as the narcissus does, if you do not
give her air enough ; she may fall, and defile her head in

Of Queens' Gardens 67

dust, if you leave her without help at some moments of
her life ; but you cannot fetter her ; she must take her
own fair form and way, if she take any, and in mind as in
body, must have always

** Her household motions light and free
And steps of virgin liberty."

Let her loose in the library, I say, as you do a fawn in a
field. It knows the bad weeds twenty times better than
you ; and the good ones too, and will eat some bitter
and prickly ones, good for it, which you had not the
slightest thought were good.

Then, in art, keep the finest models before her, and
let her practice in all accomplishments be accurate and
thorough, so as to enable her to understand more than
she accomplishes. I say the finest models — that is to say,
the truest, simplest, usefullest. Note those epithets ;
they will range through all the arts. Try them in music,
where you might think them the least applicable. I say
the truest, that in which the notes most closely and
faithfully express the meaning of the words, or the
character of intended emotion ; again, the simplest, that
in which the meaning and melody are attained with the
fewest and most significant notes possible ; and, finally,
the usefullest, that music which makes the best words
most beautiful, which enchants them in our memories
each with its own glory of sound, and which applies them
closest to the heart at the moment we need them.

And not only in the material and in the course, but
yet more earnestly in the spirit of it, let a girl's education
be as serious as a boy's. You bring up your girls as if
they were meant for sideboard ornaments, and then com-
plain of their frivolity. Give them the same advantages
that you give their brothers — appeal to the same grand
instincts of virtue in them ; teach t/igm also that courage
and truth are the pillars of their being : do you think
that they would not answer that appeal, brave and true
as they are even now, when you know that there is
hardly a girl's school in this Christian kingdom where

68 Sesame and Lilies

the children's courage or sincerity would be thought of
half so much importance as their way of coming in at a
door ; and when the whole system of society, as respects
the mode of establishing them in life, is one rotten
plague of cowardice and imposture — cowardice, in not
daring to let them live, or love, except as their
neighbours choose ; and imposture, in bringing, for
the purposes of our own pride, the full glow of the
world's worst vanity upon a girl's eyes, at the very
period when the whole happiness of her future exist-
ence depends upon her remaining undazzled?

And give them, lastly, not only noble teachings, but
noble teachers. You consider somewhat, before you
send your boy to school, what kind of a man the
master is ; — whatsoever kind of man he is, you at least
give him full authority over your son, and show some
respect to him yourself : if he comes to dine with you,
you do not put him at a side table ; you know also that,
at his college, your child's immediate tutor will be under
the direction of some still higher tutor, for whom you
have absolute reverence. You do not treat the Dean
of Christ Church or the Master of Trinity as your

But what teachers do you give your girls, and what
reverence do you show to the teachers you have chosen ?
Is a girl likely to think her own conduct, or her own
intellect, of much importance, when you trust the entire
formation of her character, moral and intellectual, to a
person whom you let your servants treat with less respect
than they do your housekeeper (as if the soul of your
child were a less charge than jams and groceries), and
whom you yourself think you confer an honour upon by
letting her sometimes sit in the drawing-room in the
evening ?

Thus, then, of literature as her help, and thus of art
There is one more help which she cannot do without —
one which, alone, has sometimes done more than all
other influences besides, — the help of wild and fair
nature. Hear this of the education of Joan of Arc j

Of Queens* Gardens 69

"The education of this poor girl was mean according
to the present standard ; was ineffably grand, according
to a purer philosophic standard ; and only not good for
our age, because for us it would be unattainable. * * *

" Next after her spiritual advantages, she owed most
to the advantages of her situation. The fountain of
Domremy was on the brink of a boundless forest ; and it
was haunted to that degree by fairies, that the parish
priest {cure) was obliged to read mass there once a year,
in order to keep them in any decent bounds. * * *

" But the forests of Domremy — those were the glories
of the land ; for in them abode mysterious powers and
ancient secrets that towered into tragic strength. * Abbeys
there were, and abbey windows,' — ' like Moorish temples
of the Hindoos,' that exercised even princely power both
in Touraine and in the German Diets. These had their
sweet bells that pierced the forests for many a league at
matins or vespers, and each its own dreamy legend.
Few enough, and scattered enough, were these abbeys,
so as in no degree to disturb the deep solitude of the
region ; yet many enough to spread a network or awning
of Christian sanctity over what else might have seemed
a heathen wilderness." ^

Now, you cannot, indeed, have here in England, woods
eighteen miles deep to the centre ; but you can, perhaps,
keep a fairy or two for your children yet, if you wish to
keep them. But do you wish it? Suppose you had
each, at the back of your houses, a garden, large enough
for your children to play in, with just as much lawn as
would give them room to run, — no more — and that you
could not change your abode ; but that, if you chose, you
could double your income, or quadruple it, by digging a
coal shaft in the middle of the lawn, and turning the
flower-beds into heaps of coke. Would you do it ? I
think not. I can tell you, you would be wrong if you did,
though it gave you income sixty-fold instead of four-fold.

^ "Joan of Arc : in reference to M. Michelet's History of France,"
De Quincey's Works. Vol. iii. p. 217.

70 Sesame and Lilies

Yet this is what you are doing with all England. The
whole country is but a little garden, not more than
enough for your children to run on the lawns of, if you
would let them all run there. And this little garden
you will turn into furnace-ground, and fill with heaps of
cinders, if you can; and those children of yours, not
you, will suffer for it. For the fairies will not be all
banished ; there are fairies of the furnace as of the
wood, and their first gifts seem to be "sharp arrows
of the mighty;" but their last gifts are "coals of

And yet I cannot — though there is no part of my
subject that I feel more — press this upon you ; for we
made so little use of the power of nature while we had
it that we shall hardly feel what we have lost. Just on
the other side of the Mersey you have your Snowdon,
and your Menai Straits, and that mighty granite rock
beyond the m.oors of Anglesea, splendid in its heathery
crest, and foot planted in the deep sea, once thought of
as sacred — a divine promontory, looking westward ; the
Holy Head or Headland, still not without awe when its red
light glares first through storm. These are the hills, and
these the bays and blue inlets, which, among the Greeks,
would have been always loved, always fateful in influence
on the national mind. That Snowdon is your Parnassus ;
but where are its Muses ? That Holyhead mountain is
your Island of ^gina, but where is its Temple to
Minerva ?

Shall I read you what the Christian Minerva had
achieved under the shadow of our Parnassus, up to the
year 1848? — Here is a little account of a Welsh School,
from page 261 of the Report on Wales, published by the
Committee of Council on Education. This is a school
close to a town containing 5,000 persons : —

" I then called up a larger class, most of whom had
recently come to the school. Three girls repeatedly
declared they had never heard of Christ, and two that
they had never heard of God. Two out of six thought

Of Queens' Gardens 71

Christ was on earth now " (they might have had a
worse thought, perhaps), "three knew nothing about
the crucifixion. Four out of seven did not know the
names of the months, nor the number of days in a year.
They had no notion of addition beyond two and two, or
three and three ; their minds were perfect blanks."

Oh ye women of England ! from the Princess of that
Wales tu the simplest of you, do not think your own
children can be brought into their true fold of rest,
while these are scattered on the hills, as sheep having
no shepherd. And do not think your daughters can be
trained to the truth of their own human beauty, while
the pleasant places, which God made at once for their
school-room and their playground, lie desolate and
defiled. You cannot baptize them rightly in those
inch-deep fonts of yours, unless you baptize them also
in the sweet waters which the great Lawgiver strikes
forth for ever from the rocks of your native land — waters
which a Pagan would have worshipped in their purity,
and you worship only with pollution. You cannot lead
your children faithfully to those narrow axe-hewn church
altars of yours, while the dark azure altars in heaven —
the mountains that sustain your island throne, — moun-
tains on which a Pagan would have seen the powers of
heaven rest in every wreathed cloud — remain for you
without inscription ; altars built, not to, but by, an
Unknown God.

III. Thus far, then, of the nature, thus far of the
teaching, of woman, and thus of her household office,
and queenliness. We come now to our last, our widest
question, — What is her queenly office with respect to
the state?

Generally, we are under an impression that a man's
duties are public, and a woman's private. But this is
not altogether so. A man has a personal work or duty,
relating to his own home, and a public work or duty,
which is the expansion of the other, relating to the state.
So a woman has a personal work or duty, relating to her

72 Sesame and Lilies

own home, and a public work and duty, which is also
the expansion of that.

Now the man's work for his own home is, as has been
said, to secure its maintenance, progress, and defence ;
the woman's to secure its order, comfort, and loveliness.

Expand both these functions. The man's duty, as
a member of a commonwealth, is to assist in the main-
tenance, in the advance, in the defence of the state.
The woman's duty, as a member of the commonwealth,
is to assist in the ordering, in the comforting, and in the
beautiful adornment of the state.

What the man is at his own gate, defending it, if need
be, against insult and spoil, that also, not in a less, but
in a more devoted measure, he is to be at the gate of
his country, leaving his home, if need be, even to the
spoiler, to do his more incumbent work there.

And, in like manner, what the woman is to be within
her gates, as the centre of order, the balm of distress,
and the mirror of beauty ; that she is also to be without
her gates, where order is more difficult, distress more
imminent, loveliness more rare.

And as within the human heart there is always set
an instinct for all its real duties, — an instinct which you
cannot quench, but only warp and corrupt if you with-
draw it from its true purpose; — as there is the intense
instinct of love, which, rightly disciplined, maintains all
the sanctities of life, and, misdirected, undermines them;
and must do either the one or the other ; — so there is in
the human heart an inextinguishable instinct, the love of
power, which, rightly directed, maintains all the majesty
of law and life, and misdirected, wrecks them.

Deep rooted in the innermost life of the heart of man,
and of the heart of woman, God set it there, and God
keeps it there. Vainly, as falsely, you blame or rebuke
the desire of power ! — For Heaven's sake, and for Man's
sake, desire it all you can. But what power ? That is
all the question. Power to destroy? the lion's limb,
and the dragon's breath ? Not so. Power to heal, to
redeem, to guide, and to guard. Power of the sceptre

Of Queens' Gardens 73

End shield ; the power of the royal hand that heals in
touching, — that binds the fiend, and looses the captive ;
the throne that is founded on the rock of Justice, and
descended from only by steps of mercy. Will you not
covet such power as this, and seek such throne as this,
and be no more housewives, but queens ?

It is now long since the women of England arrogated,
universally, a title which once belonged to nobility only ;
and, having once been in the habit of accepting the
simple title of gentlewoman, as correspondent to that of
gentleman, insisted on the privilege of assuming the
title of " Lady," ^ which properly corresponds only to
the title of " Lord."

I do not blame them for this ; but only for their
narrow motive in this. I would have them desire and
claim the title of Lady, provided they claim, not merely
the title, but the office and duty signified by it. Lady
means "bread-giver" or "loaf-giver," and Lord means
" maintainer of laws," and both titles have reference, not
to the law which is maintained in the house, nor to the
bread which is given to the household ; but to law
maintained for the multitude, and to bread broken
among the multitude. So that a Lord has legal claim
only to his title in so far as he is the maintainer of the
justice of the Lord of Lords ; and a Lady has legal
claim to her title, only so far as she communicates that
help to the poor representatives of her Master, which
women once, ministering to Him of their substance,
were permitted to extend to that Master Himself; and
when she is known, as He Himself once was, in break-
ing of bread.

^ I wish there were a true order of chivalry instituted for our
English youth of certain ranks, in which both boy and girl should
receive, at a given age, their knighthood and ladyhood by true
title ; attainable only by certain probation and trial both of
character and accomplishment ; and to be forfeited, on conviction,
by their peers, of any dishonourable act. Such an institution
would be entirely, and with all noble results, possible, in a nation
which loved honour. That it would not be possible among us, is
not to the discredit of the scheme.

74 Sesame and Lilies

And this beneficent and legal dominion, this power
of the Dominus, or House-Lord, and of the Domina, or
House- Lady, is great and venerable, not in the number of
those through whom it has lineally descended, but in the
number of those whom it grasps within its sway ; it is
always regarded with reverent worship wherever its
dynasty is founded on its duty, and its ambition co-
relative with its beneficence. Your fancy is pleased
with the thought of being noble ladies, with a train of
vassals. Be it so; you cannot be too noble, and your
train cannot be too great ; but see to it that your train is
of vassals whom you serve and feed, not merely of slaves
who serve and feed you ; and that the multitude which
obeys you is of those whom you have comforted, not
oppressed, — whom you have redeemed, not led into

And this, which is true of the lower or household
dominion, is equally true of the queenly dominion ; —
that highest dignity is open to you, if you will also accept
that highest duty. Rex et Regina — Roi et Reine —
" J^ight-doQTS ; " they differ but from the Lady and Lord,
in that their power is supreme over the mind as over the
person — that they not only feed and clothe, but direct
and teach. And whether consciously or not, you must
be, in many a heart, enthroned : there is no putting by
that crown ; queens you must always be ; queens to your
lovers ; queens to your husbands and your sons j queens
of higher mystery to the world beyond, which bows' itself,
and will for ever bow, before the myrtle crown, and the
stainless sceptre, of womanhood. But, alas ! you are too
often idle and careless queens, grasping at majesty in the

1 2 3 4 5 7 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

Online LibraryJohn RuskinSesame & lilies, The two paths, & The king of the golden river → online text (page 7 of 23)