Lucy H.M. Soulsby.

Stray Thoughts for Girls online

. (page 1 of 11)
Online LibraryLucy H.M. SoulsbyStray Thoughts for Girls → online text (page 1 of 11)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

E-text prepared by Clare Boothby, Diane Monico, and the Project Gutenberg
Online Distributed Proofreading Team




"I sing the Obsolete"

New and Enlarged Edition

Longmans, Green, and Co.
39 Paternoster Row,
London New York and Bombay




"An unlessoned girl, unschool'd, unpractis'd,
Happy in this, she is not yet so old
But she may learn."


What _is_ the awkward age?

Certainly not any special number of years. It is most frequently found
between the ages of thirteen and twenty-seven, but some girls never go
through it, and some never emerge from it!

I should be inclined to define it as the age during which girls are
asked - and cannot answer - varying forms of the question which so
embarrassed the Ugly Duckling: "Can you purr - can you lay eggs?"

Most girls on growing up pass through an uncomfortable stage like this, in
which neither they nor their friends quite know what niche in life they
can best fill - sometimes, because of their own undisciplined characters;
sometimes, because the niche itself seems to be lacking. Whether this
stage be their misfortune or their fault, it is an unpleasant one - both
for themselves and for their friends. With much sympathy for both, I
dedicate these few suggestions to my known and unknown friends who are
passing through it.

OXFORD, April 4, 1893.


In bringing out a new edition, the book has been enlarged by adding papers
on "Making Plans," "Conversation," "Get up, M. le Comte!" "Sunday," and "A
good Time;" "Coming out" has been omitted, and "Friendship and Love"
somewhat altered. The present form has been adopted in order to make it
match the other volumes of "Stray Thoughts."

BRONDESBURY, Nov. 23, 1903.
















"The Sweet, Sweet Love of Daughter,

"I have discovered a thing very little known, which is, that in
one's whole life one can never have more than a single mother. You
may think this obvious and (what you call) a trite observation....
You are a green gosling! I was at the same age (very near) as wise
as you, and yet I never discovered this (with full evidence and
conviction, I mean) till it was too late." - _Gray's Letters_.

"of Sister,

"The Blessing of my later years
Was with me when a Boy
She gave me eyes, she gave me ears,
And love, and thought, and joy."

"and of Wife."

"The thousand still sweet joys of such
As hand in hand face earthly life."
M. Arnold.

"I desired to make her my wife, knowing that she would be a
counsellor of good things, and a comfort in cares and grief. For
her conversation hath no bitterness; and to live with her hath no
sorrow, but mirth and joy." - _Wisdom of Solomon_.



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' pleasures
And a sigh for others' woes:

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

Nothing to say for herself,
That is the fault you find!
Hark to her words to the children,
Cheery and bright and kind.

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

"Nothing to say for herself,"
Yes! right, most right, you are,
But plenty to say for others,
And that is better by far.

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.

Arthur Heathcote.

The Virtuous Woman.


"Wisdom ordereth all things strongly and sweetly." - WISDOM viii. 1

It would be interesting to make a "Garden of Women" from the poets,
collecting the pictures of "Fair Women" they have drawn for us, but I want
to consider specially the ideal woman of that ancient poet Solomon, and to
see how far she can be translated into modern life.

The subject ought to be considered by you who are leaving a school you
have loved and valued, and which you should commend to the world, by
showing that it has made you fit for home. Beaumaris School has a blank
shield for its arms, with the motto, "_Albam exorna_," "Adorn the white;"
you are all starting with white shields, and you _can_ adorn the white: it
is not only in Spenser that we find Britomarts. You are as much a band of
champions as were King Arthur's Knights; you have all the same enemy, have
made the same vows, and for a year have been in fellowship, learning and
practising the same lessons: can you help feeling that there is a
responsibility laid on you, to see that the world shall be the better
because of you? Be like Sir Galahad with his white shield on which "a
bloody cross" was signed, when he had fought and won.

You know that I admire the old-fashioned type of woman - the womanly
woman, - and you will not suspect me of wishing you to start off "on some
adventure strange and new," but I do want you not to be content to lead a
commonplace life; you _must_, anyway, live your life: resolve that by
God's grace you will live it _nobly_. You cannot alter the outward form of
your life, - you will probably be surrounded by very commonplace household
duties, and worries, and jars, - but you can be like King Midas, whose
touch turned the most common things to gold. We have it in our power, as
Epictetus tells us, to be the gold on the garment of Life, and not the
mere stuff of which Fate weaves it. We can choose whether we will live a
king's life or a slave's: Marcus Aurelius on his throne was a king, for
nothing could conquer him; but Epictetus in chains was equally
unconquerable and equally a king. We all have the choice between the Crown
and the Muck Rake, and I think we sometimes turn to the straws and the
rubbish, not because they are fascinating to us, but because they seem
the only things open to us: we do not feel as if our lives had anything to
do with Crowns. If you think of your various homes from the point of view
of turning their "necessities to glorious gains," and as a field for
winning your spurs, I suspect you are each feeling that this is very "tall
talk" for such a commonplace home as yours. "All lives have an ideal
meaning as well as their prose translation;" but you feel perhaps that you
are sure to be swamped in little bothers and duties, and pleasures, and
dulness and stagnation, so that you will find it hard to see any ideal
meaning at all. This is not true, and to look on an ideal life as "tall
talk" is a snare of the Devil; and in these days of common sense and
higher education we need to guard against it, and to remember that "a
thing may be good enough for practical purposes, but not for ideal
purposes." "Ideal life" is not tall talk, but our plain duty, unless our
Lord was mocking us when He said, "Be ye perfect, as your Father in Heaven
is perfect."

To know our ideal is one step towards attaining it. "So run, not as
uncertainly; so fight, not as one that beateth the air." Before taking
such a definite step in life as leaving school, it would be very
interesting to draw up a plan of what you would like your life to be, and
also of what you hope to make of the life apparently before you, which
may be very different from the life you would like. If you kept it, like
sealed orders, for five years, it would be interesting to see how your
views had changed, and how prayers had been answered in unexpected ways,
and it would also be a solemn warning to see, as we assuredly should, that
wilful prayers had been heard to our hurt.

Bacon, when he made a new start as Solicitor-General, made a survey of his
life, past and future, his faults and blunders, his strong and weak
points, his hopes, the books he meant to read and to write, the friends he
wished to make. I am sure that thinking over our own lives as a whole
would strengthen and guide us. We rush into action and fight our best, but
we do not make a plan of the campaign, and thus much of our energy is
wasted by misdirected effort; and, in leaving a school-life of rule and
regularity, you will be much tempted to slip through the day without the
safeguard of a life of Rule; but, until you _are_ the saints you are
_called_ to be, you cannot afford to do without this help. We must
remember the warning of St. Francis de Sales against playing at being
angels before we are men and women.

On the other hand, you will need to guard against the temptation to make
your rules unbending and inconsiderate, to follow your ideal, heedless of
the fact that you thereby become tiresome to your people. How often the
home people feel jealous of school, and say it has cut a girl off from her
home interests, that she comes back full of outside friendships and
interests and new principles. Of course she does; if not, what good would
school have done her? But she ought to feel how natural and how _loving_
is this (often unexpressed) jealousy, and, by sympathetic tact, to avoid
rousing it, and not to be always thrusting school interests down home
throats. The duty of a life of rule at home is all the more complex
because home pleasures are duties too; if it was only a question of
self-denial it would be plain sailing, but your mother likes you to go
out, and your brothers want you, and if you refuse to enjoy yourself it
hurts them: if you even betray that you would rather be doing something
else, you spoil their pleasure, for a "martyr" to home duty is a most
depressing sight to gods and men. And the complexity lies in the fact that
you enjoy going, and conscience pricks you every now and then because you
never read, and you seem to go through the day in a slipshod way, with no
definite rule, - no daily cross-bearing, no self-restraint to give salt to
the day. At school you have a definite duty of self-improvement set before
you, and everything urges you to follow it. This remains a duty when you
go home, but it is very hard to reconcile it with the many things that
clash - not the least of these being our own laziness when the help of
external pressure is taken away. You have had intellectual advantages, and
you will be downright sinful if you fritter all your time away over
flowers and tennis, and never read because you do not like to be thought
unsociable: you are bound to improve your talents, but take it as your
motto, that _rules should be iron when they clash with our own wishes, and
wax when they clash with those of others_.

Yet we must yield _sensibly_, and not allow our time to be needlessly
wasted - at all events, by brothers and sisters and friends. It is
different with a father or mother: they are only lent to us for a part of
our lives, and no memory of sensible, useful work will be to us the same
pleasure in after years as the thought of the time that passed more
pleasantly for a mother because we spent it in idle (!) talk, or the
knowledge that a father had enjoyed the feeling that we were always at
hand if he wanted us. A strong-minded woman might consider matters
differently, and feel that a language learnt, or a district visited, was
of more value, but we shall not be able to reason so when we see life in
the new light which death throws upon it; the little restrictions of home
life will then assume a very different aspect.

Unless you are driven with an unusually loose rein, you will probably be
irked by having to be punctual, and to account for your letters and for
your goings and comings; but if you ever feel inclined to resent it, just
think what it will be when you are left free - free to be late because
there is no one to wait dinner for you, free to come and go as you will
because there is no one who cares whether you are tired or not; some of
these days you will give anything to be once more so "fettered."

Higher education often makes girls feel it waste of time to write notes
for their mothers, and to settle the drawing-room flowers: they "must go
and read." Now, what mental result, what benefit to the world, will result
from an ordinary woman's reading, which can, in any way, be comparable to
the value of a woman who diffuses a home-atmosphere, and is always "at
leisure from herself"? You know that I care very much for your
reading - you will have plenty to do if you read all the books I have
begged you to study - but if it gave your mother pleasure for you to be at
the stupidest garden-party, I should think you were wasting your time
terribly if you spent it over a book instead. Some people think ordinary
society, and small talk, beneath them: - well! do not let the talk be
smaller than you can help, but remember Goulburn's warning, "Despise not
little crosses, for they have been to many a saved soul an excellent
discipline of humility."

But to come at last to Solomon's ideal - what is our first impression of
her? Surely it is _strength_, and we probably feel her strong-minded, and
rather a "managing woman" - and, as a rule, these are not loved. I feel
that she wants some sorrow to humanize her - she would hardly be sorry for
less prosperous, less sensible people: the modern feeling of, "the pity of
it, Iago, the pity of it!" has never gone home to her; she is not like
Ruskin's "gentleman" who has tears always in his eyes, in spite of the
smile on his lips; she is not "quick to perceive the want" in the many
lives, which are empty or crippled, though, perhaps, seemingly prosperous:
things turn out well with her, and she deserves it, so the sight of her
would bring home a sense of undeservingness to the less fortunate; she
cannot speak so as to be "understanded of" them; she is not one of those
who have learnt that "_avoir beaucoup souffert c'est comme ceux qui savent
beaucoup de langues, avoir appris à tout comprendre, et à se fairs
comprendre de tous_." But the virtues Solomon describes need not result in
this type, which is antagonistic to us; extremes meet, and it is the
exaggeration of a very lovable type - the woman who gives you the feeling
of rest and protection and strong motherliness, who is as the shadow of a
great rock in a weary land. "The meekness and gentleness of Christ" is
translated by Matthew Arnold as the "sweet reasonableness," and this
makes a very lovable woman. Sweet unreasonableness makes a more _taking_
one, but not a _keeping_ one. Butterfly women have more fascinating ways,
but Spring-time comes to an end - the day will come for all women when
others will come to them to be ministered to, to be rested and soothed and
raised. It is sad to watch many who have the faded pretty ways which once
was all that was required of them, and who, in middle life, cannot
understand why their belongings find them so inadequate! Long ago, Swift
warned girls against making nets instead of cages, but they have not all
learnt wisdom yet. And the main point is, not how you can get, or give,
most amusement, but how you can give most comfort; and no one goes to a
weak person for that. There are few things certain in life, but one of
these few is, that others will come to each one of us, in doubt, in
sorrow, in pain, in ignorance, and that, through negligence and ignorance
of ours, they may go away uncomforted, unhelped, untaught, and this,
though each one of us has it in her power to become, through God's grace,
one of those Queens of Consolation of whom Dante spoke.

I think the Virtuous Woman ought to be on her guard against hardness: it
is her temptation, naturally, as it was that of the Elder Brother, - but
love and humility can make even strength lovable. And for those who are
in no danger of being too like the Virtuous Woman, but who are still
struggling out of a lower life, I am quite sure that weakness is the rock
ahead. It must be so for nearly all women: their feelings are keener and
sooner developed than those of men, and they are less trained in intellect
and self-control. Their chief value lies in intuition and impulse, and
their chief danger also. You will never be the "Virtuous Woman" if you are
self-indulgent in novels which dwell on feelings, in daydreams, in foolish
friendships, which only bring out the emotional side of your nature,
instead of strengthening you to do what is right, and widening your
sensible interests in life. There is but one certain protection against
this temptation, and we find it in Proverbs xxxi.; I mean, _industry at

Industry is a leading feature of Solomon's ideal, and nothing but plenty
to do can possibly keep our minds fresh and sweet, and wholesome and
strong, - and hence, strengthening for others. Feeling is the only part of
a woman's nature which will develop of itself: - her mind will not grow
unless definitely cultivated, and no more will her conscience, but if she
leave the field fallow, weeds of foolish feelings and fancies spring up on
all sides. This is why it is your duty, when you leave, not to allow
yourself to be idle: not only because God expects you to bring your
sheaves with you at the Last Day, but because your field cannot stand
empty - if good grain is not there, weeds will be. And manual
work - gardening or housework - gives more fresh air to the mind than
anything else. If you ever, as _Punch_ expresses it, "find your doll
stuffed with sawdust," if life seems a disappointment, and you are a prey
to foolish fancies, and have lost your spring, then try being really tired
out in body by useful work, and see if you do not find it an effectual
tonic. Some say that these "mental measles" are a phase which the modern
girl must inevitably pass through: perhaps so, but I should be
disappointed if you went through them, - at all events, if you did so in
the hopelessly idiotic way that many do! I should be disappointed if, in
the future, you came and said, "I am in the dark, and Life is all a
tangle!" I do feel you ought to have learnt that "the light of Duty shines
on every day for all." "We always have as much light as we need, though
often not as much as we would like," and if you honestly want to do your
next duty, you will have light enough to do it by. Come to me, by all
means, if you like, and say, "I feel idle and good-for-nothing, and don't
particularly want to see my Duty!" but do not moan about Life being all
perplexity! It is always nobler to do your duty than to leave it undone:
make this principle your sheet-anchor, and spiritual feelings and light
will come some day, if God sees fit. It does not always do to apply
direct remedies to these "measles:" if your mind is out of gear, leave it
alone, and attack it through the body by industry. And industry _at home_
is best; here was the true strength of the Virtuous Woman. The strength of
her modern descendant lies abroad: she is strong and admirable, she does
splendid work, but there is always a tinge of excitement to help one
through outside work. Things done among father and mother, brothers and
sisters, are either very peaceful or very flat, according as your feelings
are either wholesome or unwholesome - there is none of the pleasurable
excitement, generally more or less feverish, of working with friends we
love and admire; it is the difference between milk and wine. I do not
think wine wrong, but I think it is much better to cultivate a taste for
milk; you must watch yourselves, and not get to feel home things dull.
Some are so strong in home, so wrapped up in their own family, that
outsiders feel _de trop_, which of course is a fault on the other side. If
we have happy homes, it is a trust for the use of others; we can give a
home feeling to those who are less fortunate as they pass by us, like the
swallow flying through the lighted hall. Lonely people may gain a sense of
home from this large-heartedness in the happy, a feeling of rest and
repose, which is the very essence of the atmosphere I should like my
Virtuous Woman to shed around her; she must "do good by effluvia;" in her
home, "roof and fire are types only of a nobler light and shade - shade as
of the rock in a weary land, and light as of the Pharos in the stormy sea.
And wherever a true wife comes this home is always round her. The stars
only may be over her head, the glowworm in the night-cold grass may be the
only fire at her foot: yet home is wherever she is; and for a noble woman
it stretches far around her, better than ceiled with cedar or painted with
vermilion, shedding its quiet light far for those who else were homeless."

Let us now consider the Virtuous Woman verse by verse. Solomon is
describing a rich woman with an "establishment," a sphere and husband and
children, as if a woman's life was not complete without this. And no more
it is; it may be very useful and very beautiful, but it is not complete.
Girls are often blamed for thinking too much about marriage: I think they
do not do it enough, - at least in the right way; you are not fit to be
wives now, and you should aim at becoming so, and to do that, you must be
fit to manage your house and to teach your children; if you fit yourselves
to be perfect wives, you will at least be very perfect old maids, and find
plenty to do for other people's children! But your life would then be
incomplete. St. Paul is misquoted when his words in Cor. vii. 34 are used
to condemn marriage; our Lord puts it before all other earthly ties, and
it is used as a type of His love for His Church, which should guard us
from two errors in connection with it. If married love is to be a type,
however faint, of Christ's love for His Church, there must be no
unworthiness connected with it; "no inner baseness we would hide;" no
marrying for the sake of being married, for the dignity and position, or
the worldly advantages it may bring; and there must be no matchmaking or
flirtation that a woman need be ashamed of afterwards. "Let the wife see
that she reverence her husband," says St. Paul, and the husband must be
able to reverence her. And there must be no selfishness, no getting
entangled in engagements that must bring trouble on others; to marry _for_
money is degrading, but a woman may redeem it by being a good wife; to
marry _without_ money means debt, which is irretrievably degrading, and is
altogether selfish instead of romantic.

But, married or single, rich or poor, Solomon's Virtuous Woman gives us
principles to go on.

"_The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her_." Is not
trustworthiness a main point in those we respect? Do we not require our
Virtuous Woman to be reliable, not to repeat what we say to her, not to
forget her promises, in short, that we know "where to have her"?

"_She will do him good and not evil all the days of his life_." It would
distinctly do him evil if she did his work for him! This is a great
temptation of capable people; it is so much easier to do a thing yourself
than to see others bungling over it; but remember, that _not to do other
people's duties is as much a duty as it is to do your own_. Unselfish
people are often selfish in the harm they do husbands, and brothers, and
sisters, and unconscionable friends, by doing their duties for them. You
recognize that you yourself are on a downward path when you leave duties
undone. You have no right to help any one else to tread that path. It is
much pleasanter to spoil your brothers than to make them take their fair
share of family burdens; it is much pleasanter to be popular, - but if your
brother grows up selfish, three-fourths of the sin will be on your head.
You will have to be very careful to convince him that you are not selfish
by sacrificing yourself on every occasion when it is not bad for him, but

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

Online LibraryLucy H.M. SoulsbyStray Thoughts for Girls → online text (page 1 of 11)