Lucy H.M. Soulsby.

Stray Thoughts for Girls online

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Poetry and pastry are often the same sort of weak self-indulgence.

I do not say read _no_ novels that are exciting and romantic, or even that
are silly, but I do say, sandwich them. Face the fact that a silly or
passionate novel is likely to have great power over you at this stage, and
therefore read very few of them, and read many of Scott, Thackeray,
Dickens, Miss Austen, and Mrs. Gaskell.

Do not read society novels that make you live with flippant, irreverent,
or coarse people, or those who take sin lightly.

It is not right for a girl to live with people in books who would not be
good friends for her in life, and she ought to make a conscience of not
doing it, even though there may be no definite bad scenes in the book to
shock her.

Books should give you nice ideas. You have got the making of your own mind
and character in your own hands, and you are responsible for the books on
which you choose to feed yourself, for each one of them alters you for
good or bad. Your book list is a very good help to self-examination.

There is a great deal to think about and to settle for yourself when you
begin life, but there are three points of goodness binding on every one.
One is, giving time to God. A girl must stick to her prayers and go to
Church on Sunday whether other people do or not. Sunday varies in
different households, and I think each girl is bound by her parents'
standard in the matter as long as she lives at home; when she marries she
should think the matter over and have her own standard. But the root of
Sunday-keeping lies in the fact that she must feed the Sunday side of her
or it will die; and she should go to Church, once at least, to show her
colours. As to how much she feeds that Sunday side, or when, - that varies
with the household, only she should resolve on something and stick to it.
You need not be disobliging, since you can always make time by denying

Secondly, have a standard in talk. You cannot tell your elders when you
think them wrong, but you should not join in, when your contemporaries say
what you think wrong. Speak out then, or at least be silent and

Thirdly, do something for other people, some steady kindness which you do
not give up just to suit your own convenience.

Now, what plan of life should you have? You must have a plan and
resolution, for if you drift you are almost certain to drift _down_ and
not up.

Yet you are quite rightly looking forward to a time of freedom. But
freedom means being able to command yourself, it does not mean being free
to drift without a helm.

Also you will be under control to a certain extent. Very likely you will
sometimes resent control or reproof at home more than you would resent it
from an outsider! But you are a stage nearer that sad freedom of later
life when it is nobody's business to look after you, and you have now got
to learn how to use wisely that fuller freedom of later life.

I hope you have been learning at school to use the comparative freedom of
"being out." I hope that, with both men and girls, you will remember what
I tell you here about not being silly and uncontrolled, or loud and
boisterous. The actual school rules pass away, but there is not one of
them that is not founded on some principle that I hope you will carry with
you and live by.

The books, the music, the pictures in which you are interested here are
not mere lessons to be shut up joyfully when you leave! They are the great
interests and amusements of the friends whom you most value, and it would
be very disappointing if you did not use your free time in making
opportunities to carry them on better than at school, for you come here
mainly to find out what interesting things there are in the world you are
going into.

But to go to practical details. Take a girl who wants to be good and
dutiful and useful, to be a comfort at home, to keep her brain in good
working order, and to enjoy herself: what should she resolve upon if she
is to be of use in the world and not drift idly along? She must think it
out for herself, and no longer wait for orders. She must put the salt of
self-denial and effort into every day, of her own accord, and not feel
absolved because her mother has not given any special orders. You are
responsible for your own life, and it is horribly easy to slide into a
slack, pleasure-seeking life which will eat all the good out of you.

You must not fill the day with rules and employments so that people feel
you always engaged, yet, though you must seem disengaged, you must have a
real purpose underneath. You must be free to idle about after breakfast
while your mother or the visitors are settling the day's employments, and
yet you should aim at always having something to show for your morning,

"Something accomplished, something done."

It is more difficult to live an ordinary idle life well than a
hard-working one, because it rests entirely with you whether you put any
salt into your day, and because it is your duty to do much as other people
do, while at the same time, underneath, you must keep to your standard of
Right and Wrong.

But, suppose a girl wants to arrange her own individual life on the best
possible lines. Had you better make your plan, and begin at once?

There is great danger, if you wait, that your good resolutions will die
away, and you will never begin. And yet, when you first leave, you want a
little time to feel quite free, and your people like to feel you are quite
free to enjoy yourself.

There is a great deal to be said for beginning at once, but I am not sure
about it!

If you feel that you will _never_ begin good ways unless you do so at
once, then begin! But I am not sure that I should advise you to make your
Resolution at once, though I should like you to make your Plan. I should
like you to plan your day while you are here, and write it out: you will
not do much with Resolutions unless you write them. Plan what time you
will get up and go to bed (you should have a conscience about both);
settle a plan of your reading, - what books you want to read during the
first year, what poetry to learn, what subjects to study. Plan it all out,
and then seal it up, and keep it till Christmas comes. Then think over it,
and pray over it, before New Year's Day, and then start your definite
resolutions with the new year.

But are you to fritter away the time between this and then? No, carry out
your ideas of reading sensible books and doing kind things for friends and
poor people, and saying your prayers and reading the Bible, and write down
every day exactly how much you did. Let your resolution be to keep a
record of these months, rather than a resolution to keep to a detailed
plan. Keeping a record is self-discipline in itself, it means
self-examination every night. If it shows you to be silly and idle and
unpersevering, it will make you ashamed of yourself. Also it will give
you some idea of how much time you can really count on getting. See how
your plan works before you promise God to keep it, and then you will not
make unwise resolutions at the New Year.

In arranging one's life, it is well to take our Lord's three divisions of
Duty, - Prayer, Alms, and Fasting, - and see how our life and our plans
stand this test.

_Prayer_. - Under this head you would notice whether your daily prayers,
and your attendance at the Holy Communion, were regular, and how you kept

_Alms_. - What proportion of your money do you give away? You ought to give
away one shilling out of every half-sovereign which you spend on yourself;
and be sure you spend dress-money on dress, it is not honest to use it on
charity, or books, and then to look shabby.

But money is only part of the giving which you owe: 'Such as I have give I
unto thee.' What have you got? You have got education. There may be girls
like yourself living near you who have less; could you not start some
sensible reading together? I remember delightful French and German and
Dante readings when we lived in the country, - eight or ten girls used to
come regularly, and we all enjoyed it.

Are there no old people you could amuse in some way, - possibly with
whist? Or rather lonely people (aunts sometimes), to whom you could write
regularly; people like to be remembered, especially by the young! As long
as you are young your kindnesses are very much valued, and if you choose
to be selfish instead, it is forgiven you, but, as you are in youth so you
will be in middle life, therefore be careful. As I heard Mr. Clifford say,
"As long as you are young you may be selfish, or vain, or silly, and
people love you all the same! But, by the time you are thirty, people will
begin to say they will not stand it any longer, and by the time you are
forty or fifty you will be left to a lonely life!" So begin a _kind_ life
at once, and act towards all around you on the principle 'such as I have I
give thee.' Sometimes you can share your money, sometimes your pleasures,
sometimes your education. And remember that in the work and kindnesses
which you do for others, you must put first and foremost what you do for
your mother and father and home people. "_Haus Teuffel, Strasse Engel_" is
a bad name. The point of that text about 'Corban, it is a gift,' is, that
you must not feel absolved from duties at home, because you do good works
outside. Find out some home duty you can do regularly, and stick to it. I
dare say your mother may not suggest any to you, because she wants you to
have a good time, but think of _her_ pleasure and amusement; mothers
often talk as if they enjoyed being left at home, just to make more room
for you. Keep your eyes open, and find out what you can do to make life
pleasanter to her. Talk over your plans with her; often mothers do not
realize that a girl wants to find duties and kind things to do, and so
they only shower pleasures on her which do not satisfy her.

If there seems no special work for you, be on the look-out to do the
things that other people do not like doing; that is the sort of person I
like better than any other, - the one who feels "somebody must do the
tiresome work, why shouldn't I?" Nothing you could do in the future would
please me so much as if you lived by that motto; and, if you add to it a
determination to make it quite a pleasure to your mother to find fault
with you, you will do well!

So much for Prayer, our duty to God, and for Alms, our duty to our
neighbour; how about Fasting, our duty to ourself?

What is the good of fasting? Is it simply that we should be uncomfortable?
No, the point of fasting is self-discipline and training. This is your
duty to self: not to get comfort or amusement or success in the world,
but, so to train, to drill, to feed and strengthen yourself, that you may
be a good soldier for God.

Such questions as the proper amount of Rest and Amusement and Exercise
all come under this head, for we ought to aim at just as much as will make
us good soldiers, not to try for as much as we can get.

We must manage ourselves; we must keep our bodies in good order, and keep
our brains keen and bright. Self-denial in sleep and food and drink are
part of this management.

Early Rising ought to be on your list of resolutions. Some find it best to
name a certain hour, but then, if they are not called punctually, they
feel the resolution broken, and they very likely lie on slothfully. I
think it is best to resolve to get up either five or ten minutes after you
wake, or are called; look at your watch, and jump up when the time comes.

When you are up, your Rule of Prayer is the first thing to think of and to
act on.

And when you are dressed (carefully and prettily dressed), and your soul
is dressed in God's armour, what are you going to do with the new day God
has given you?

First carry out some duty in the house; next see to your own improvement,
not as a self-ending pleasure, but in order to make yourself a useful
woman, to train you for better work in the future.

_Reading_ is not the only kind of such training, but it is one of the
best kinds and gives you new ideas. I advise you to try for half an hour a
day, and to keep a list of the books you read:[1] make an abstract of a
sensible book once in three months: sandwich your English novels with
foreign ones: keep a sensible book on hand and, alternately with books you
fancy, read something a little above you: take up some special subject
every three or six months and read several books on it, or else read
through the books on my lists: read no novels before luncheon.

It is seldom safe to fix the hour very decidedly; some one interrupts you,
and then you feel the rule broken and you get discouraged!

Make a point of being occupied, keep some needlework on hand, idleness
leads to silly thoughts and self-indulgence. Do not be out-of-doors all
day; have something indoors to show for yourself. Feminine occupations
have a good result on the character, and help you to be quiet and
recollected, to be the womanly woman who makes a real Home for her father
and brothers. As Roger Ascham is reported by Landor to have said to Lady
Jane Grey, "exercise that beauteous couple, the mind and body, much and
variously; but at home, at home, Jane! indoors, and about things indoors."

Mr. Lowell said that most men act as if they had sealed orders not to be
opened till middle life! I do not want you to waste your life like that, I
want you to feel that you have a definite purpose and that you know what
orders you ought to give yourselves, or rather what are God's orders for
your life.

What is your purpose in life? I hope - Lord Bacon's words in our Tuesday
midday Prayer express it - "the glory of God and the relief of man's
estate." You go into life knowing how dearly the Lord Jesus Christ loves
you, at how dear a cost He bought you; therefore, not just to save your
souls, not just because you would be _afraid_ to live carelessly, but,
because of His amazing love, you will try to live as He asks you to do.
God grant you such a sense of that amazing love that you may rejoice to
spend and be spent in His service.

And you will want to live for the relief of man's estate. The more your
eyes open to life, the more you see how many sore hearts there are in the
world, and (besides the well-dressed sorrows which are as sore as any)
there is the pain and poverty and sin of those who have no chance in the
world; what can you do for the poor - you who have so many chances in life,
who have so much love, so many pleasures? There may not be very much open
to you when you first grow up, and you may be very busy with your
pleasures and home duties. Let your mother enjoy your pleasures, she has
been planning them for years, but do what little things you can to
discipline yourself so that by-and-by (when you are free to work) you may
be a worker worth having. It is that which makes the waiting years worth

Often a girl gets tired of enjoying herself and longs for some purpose in
life, but she is tied in a hundred ways. Sometimes she loses her
aspirations, her wish to do some good in the world, and sinks down into an
idle round of small pleasures and worries. But do not you do that; rather
realize that, according as you spend your waiting time, - before you marry
or find some definite work, - such you will be when your opportunity comes:

"Be resolute and great
To keep thy muscles trained: know'st thou when Fate
Thy measure takes, or when she'll say to thee,
'I find thee worthy; do this thing for me'?"

I was talking over East London work the other day with a worker, and she
was saying that the best preparation for usefulness lay in such common
things as cooking, cutting out, musical-drill, gardening, children's
games, neat business-like letters, keeping your own accounts, a power of
small talk! All these are possible to each of you, and a resolute putting
of salt into each day, - some discipline, some self-denial, some
thoroughness, - will turn you out able by-and-by to do good work for the
Relief of man's estate.

"Be resolute and great
To keep thy muscles trained"

that you may be fit to do something to show forth your sense of the
exceeding great love of our Master and only Saviour Jesus Christ.

[Footnote 1: "Record of a Year's Reading" (6_d_. Mowbray) would be useful
to you.]


Tourgenieff has a story in which three young princes, one by one, went
into an enchanted garden and plucked a magic apple which gave the eater
one wish. The first asked for money, the second for beauty, the third for
the good-will of old women. The third proved to be the successful one.

If a fairy godmother offered you one gift, what would you choose? I am not
sure that you would not do well to imitate that shrewd young prince! It is
old ladies who can teach you knowledge of the world, and whose good-will
gets you the most desirable invitations! However, you can easily gain
their good-will without any apple, so that, on the whole, I should advise
a princess to choose the gift of being a good Talker - or rather one who
produces good Talk.

A woman Macaulay, even with brilliant flashes of silence, is not loved:
you do not want a hostess who "holds forth," but one who sets her guests
talking; and every woman is the hostess when she is talking to a man, or
to any one younger or shyer than herself. You should make people go away
with a regretful feeling that they missed a great deal by having talked so
much themselves that they heard very little from you.

Do you think it is easy to listen - that it means mere silence? I assure
you it means nothing of the sort; it means listening with all your heart
and soul and mind, and making the speaker feel, by your way of listening,
that you _have_ a heart and a soul and a mind. There could not well be
anything further from the person who makes him feel that there is a mere
dead wall of silence before him _at_ which he is talking.

Listening is a fine art and requires great tact and a peculiar delicate
perception of the shades that are passing over the speaker's mind, and
dictating (often unconsciously) the words he says - words which in
themselves do not convey his mind, unless you are of the family of the
Interpreter in Bunyan, and know by instinct what he feels.

Only a large heart of quick understanding has this gift; but we help our
heart wonderfully by keeping our mind keen. The heart is apt to be very
blundering and stupid by itself; just as the mind is very apt to go off on
a wrong scent about people, unless you have a warm heart to throw true
light on their motives.

A _quick-witted heart_ is what I should put as the first requisite for a
good talker; and next a _noble heart_ - a heart that cares for the best
side of things and people, a heart which brings out the bearable side of
circumstances, and the nobler side of people, and the interesting side of

Some people are like Kay, in Anderson's "Snow Queen," they have a bit of
ice in their heart, and they see all the smallnesses and absurdities about
them, instead of being alive to the pathos, or endurance, or good-nature
of the apparently stupid lives round them. They are always in a critical,
carping, superior frame of mind. These people can often talk brilliantly,
but it is thin. You cannot have a large mind without a large heart. 'We
live by admiration, hope, and love;' without these, we cease to live - we

The best talk is kindly; any fool can point out flaws, said Goethe (who
certainly had a great mind, whatever his heart was like), - it takes a
clever man to discern excellencies. A good talker makes other people feel
they are much cleverer than they had before realized; they are at their
best, thanks to the listener who draws out the best side of them. It is
delightful to be with some people - you are sure of hearing good
talk - interesting subjects spring up wherever they are.

Perhaps you have a friend staying with you who is one of these delightful
people, and you say: "Oh dear! I must go and pay a duty visit - it will be
so dull, but do come with me." And, lo and behold! that visit is
delightful, for your friend made that dull person into an interesting one
by getting her to talk and show her real self. For the real self of every
soul is interesting, only it often has such a "buried life" that we are
not skilful enough to find it.

Now, does your way of talking bring out the best side of yourself and of
those you talk to?

School gives you tremendous opportunities of adding to the kindliness and
nice-mindedness of the world; for there you talk with a large number who,
like yourself, are not yet made, and who are, therefore, more coloured by
the person they talk to than older people would be.

There are people in the world who never hear unkind gossip or vulgar
jokes, for no one would think of saying such things to them. I know girls
who would never have such things said - who would never get a letter
written to them that was not of a nice tone - because, instinctively, their
friends would feel such things out of harmony with them.

When girls are silly, or spiteful, or not quite nice in what they say to
you, it pays _you_ a bad compliment; do not in your own mind merely
condemn _them_. They would not say it to you if they felt you above talk
of that kind. You may be above it in your own mind and may feel that your
home surroundings are on a higher level than such talk; but either you
have not had the courage to show your colours, or else you are like that
in your heart, and they know it by instinct.

See to it that you keep at your best: for the danger of school is the
temptation to follow a multitude to do, not evil, but folly.

Many, from indolence or thoughtlessness, or from yielding to the bad bit
in them, join in silly school talk, silly mysteries, giggling, criticizing
other people, boasting about home, loud, rough ways of talking, slang,
cliques and exclusive friendships (every one of which is underbred, as
well as silly or unkind), and are yet, three-quarters of them, fit for
something better, - at home they _would_ be better, and at school they
_could_ be better.

Many people dread schools for fear of wrong talk going on; now some of you
may (through gossip, or newspapers, or servants, or novels) know of bad
things or fast things; and it is perhaps not your fault that you know; but
_it is a very heavy sin on your conscience if you hand on your knowledge_
and make others dwell on wrong things which would never have been in their
minds but for you. Books or friends which give us a knowledge of
wickedness, do more harm than we know.

Never have the blood-guiltiness on your head of teaching evil to others,
or leading their minds to dwell on it. Some find it much harder to get rid
of such thoughts than others do - they may be more naturally inclined to
it, and you may have woke up in them far more harm than you guess.

Your very first duty when you are thrown with others is to see that _no
one shall ever be less nice-minded because they knew you_. See to it that
no one learns anything about evil through your being with them. You can
very easily soil a mind, and you can never wash it clean.

If you feel the least doubt about a thing, do not say it - do not tell the
story; if you want to ask a question and feel in the very least
uncomfortable about it, hold your tongue, or ask your mother instead.

There are many things which it is not wholesome to talk about among
yourselves, but which it is quite right to ask your mother about, or any
one in her place, if you find yourself dwelling on them. Of course this
includes everything which makes you feel at all hot, with a sense of
something not quite nice; - everything in books which it would make you hot
to read out loud (an excellent test); - and _I_ include all uncanny things
such as ghosts and palmistry and fortune-telling: - these are not safe
things to talk about, and I ask you as my particular wish not to do it,
though you are quite welcome to unburden your mind to me if you wish to do
so! I think your common sense will bear me out in not wanting them talked
about among yourselves, because you never know who may take it seriously
or what harm you may be doing, though as I have read "The Mysteries of
Udolpho" to you, you will see that it is not the subject, but the
indiscriminate talking which I object to!

But apart from wrong talk, what sort of silly talk are you likely to be
infected with at school? It is not unlikely that among a number of girls
there will be one with a hawk's eye for dress, who knows exactly how a

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