Lucy H.M. Soulsby.

Stray Thoughts for Girls online

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trimming went, and how long this or that has been worn; in fact, she takes
in every detail of the dress of each person she sees for a minute, and can
talk of it by the hour! She may have no harm in her, but she is first
cousin to a milliner's apprentice (and is mentally the poor relation of
the two, since the milliner notices these things as a part of business,
and very likely has other interests in life for her spare time). If the
girl wishes to prove herself of different family, she needs to put to
sleep the side of her that belongs to the keen-eyed young lady behind the
counter, by feeding other sides of her mind, and turning her powers of
observation on to other things.

I should like you to be faultlessly dressed outside, and I should like you
to be perfectly well inside; but I should not admire you if your chief
subject of conversation was the devices by which you arrived at the dress,
or the decoctions you took to arrive at the health.

Copy the flowers of the field, not only in prettiness, but in giving an
impression that you grow as naturally as they do! Make us feel that you
_could_ not have anything ugly or awkward or unbecoming about you. Your
dress and your rooms and your dinners should be perfect, but do not
entertain your guest with the mere mechanism of how you arrive at any one
of them. Give time and thought to this machinery of life - enough to
produce the right result, and then go on to the real interests, for which
they are only the stage. I do not want a sloven, but I want a girl who is
a real person and not a mere _poupée modèle_ to show off dresses.

Petty gossip is the prevailing danger of any small community such as a
girls' school. Provincial gossip, Matthew Arnold would call it - provincial
being one of his severest adjectives for the Philistines whom his soul
abhors, - by which he means that their talk is limited to their
narrow-minded local gossip, so that when a stranger comes from a larger
world, they have nothing in common. I think his use of that word marks his
French turn of mind; - parochial would be the better expression in England,
where the talk is very often literally parochial, - besides deserving the
word in its wider meaning, as describing talk which is full of
unimportant, local, and personal facts, instead of belonging to the larger
world of ideas.

English girls, as a whole, are supposed to be bad at talking - to giggle
among themselves, and to have nothing to say on general subjects. But,
besides this, there is a certain love of silly mysteries and secrets in
some girls, which is apt to be too much for their common sense.

Some girls are so keen to chatter, and make themselves interesting at any
cost, that they tell their family's private affairs or discuss the faults
of their nearest relations. I am sure you would all remember that any one,
with a grain of decent family pride, washes every bit of dirty linen at
home, and holds their tongue about family news till they are sure it is
public property, and to the family credit! If you ever want to talk about
such things for real reasons, always go to an older friend and not to one
of your own age; for an older friend would know enough of the world to
take it up by the right handle and to hold her tongue.

Again, some girls fancy that a little theatre gossip marks them out as
women of the world. To talk about a play and about the good and bad
strokes of acting is one thing: - the petty personal gossip about the
actors and actresses is on the same level, to my mind, as the talking
about dukes and duchesses by those who read of them in a society paper,
without ever expecting to meet them.

Again, there is some school talk which is undesirable, though not wrong. I
mean talk about the things which belong to your future life, but which
are just the sides of it that you want your education to help you to keep
in proper proportion. There are interests, such as hunting and dancing,
which are all right in their own time and place, but which make a silly,
empty mind when they are your chief mental food. You come to school to
take an interest in work, and in bookish things generally. It is not so
easy to do this when you are in the full swing of home amusements, and so
you come away for a sort of mental retreat, during which it will be easier
to you to let your bookish and thoughtful side grow. Here you are, and
your home amusements are left behind. Would it not be a pity to let your
mind keep running on the very things from which you have come away? Do not
let your tongue or your mind run on the amusements of home - they prevent
your taking real interest in your work.

Also there should be no talk about religious differences. Of course, you
all come from different homes and have somewhat different teaching, and I
do not wish you ever to discuss those differences. Every one should keep
to her home ways, and try to live up to them. Religious controversy never
yet made any into better Christians, and it generally makes them worse!

Avoid Religious gossip about the services and the clergy. Make it a rule
for yourself, wherever you are, never to criticize the clergyman or the
sermon. Very likely you might say something to the point - it might do him
good if he heard it! That will not happen, and what _will_ happen is, that
you will do yourself harm by being critical or amused, instead of making
your mind devout. If your "mind" knows that, whatever it may notice in
church, your "will" is not going to allow it to speak of, then your
critical part goes to sleep. A joke loses its amusingness if one is not
going to tell it, and you are then able to think only of your Prayers and

Purity and Reverence are the two main things in talk, but how about Sense?

There is one class of girl I have sometimes noticed with amused regret - I
dare say you have too - though she is by no means so objectionable as the
other kind I spoke of. She is a would-be child of nature. She has no
thoughtfulness or weight about her; she is an engaging kitten who exists
on the rather inadequate stock-in-trade of nice eyes; she is quite
irresponsible and useless, and tells you so, in an ingenuous way, for
which her nearest and dearest long to box her ears! I would call her "The
Artless Japanese," remembering the princess in the _Mikado_, who says, "I
sit and wonder, in my artless Japanese way, why I am so charming."

Again, very often a girl of your age gets a good deal of society in the
holidays or before she comes. She comes to school on purpose to keep away
from that, till the right time for it comes (when I hope she will have
plenty of it!)

Now, when a girl is not much accustomed to society (especially to men's
society), it sometimes turns her head, and she gets an idea that any joke
about a man is amusing. I will not say that this sort of a joke is like a
servant, for a well-brought-up servant puts many a young lady to shame by
her nice-mindedness. Young ladies' academies are supposed to be full of
that sort of thing - for which there is no word but vulgar - and when such
girls leave such academies to go home for good, they are always in holes
and corners either with a man, or with another girl talking about one. A
man does not respect that kind of girl - though he will go just as far with
her as she will let him - and he will tell it again at his club, and
probably to his sisters. If _she_ does not mind about her dignity, why
should _he_? There is hardly a man living who would not make game of the
advances of the girl who admires him, just as there is hardly a man living
who would speak to others of the girl he loves. Unluckily, every idiotic
girl (who is silly about him) thinks she is the one he cares for, and
never realizes how she is "giving herself away!"

And the worst of it is, that the girl is not only lowering herself, she is
lowering a man's standard of Woman in general. You, each one of you, help
to decide whether your brothers and every man you meet shall have a high
or a low standard about women. I assure you, when I think of girls I have
known of (and heard of from men), I wonder that men have any respect for
women at all.

We shall never know how much of Dante's nobleness was due to his having
once known a girl in Florence, who never was in any specially close
relationship to him. He met her at the gatherings of Florentine ladies,
where she must have heard his songs, but the most close personal
intercourse they had was one day when they passed each other in the
street, and she bowed to him, - "From that salute, humbleness flowed all
his being o'er." Do you say, he was a poet, and Beatrice was one of the
most famous of all Fair Women, and therefore they are no guide for you?
What man has not got poetry in him, waiting for the woman he loves to wake
it? and what woman does not possess that womanhood which is, by God's
ordering, in itself an attraction to a man, and which it rests with her so
to use - by self-restraint and love of noble things - that she may be, to
every man about her, something of what Beatrice was to Dante? - he may know
very little of her, and care less, but she will have helped to raise his
idea of what a woman should be.

Women have a great deal to answer for as regards men, and every girl
should do her best to be on the right side and to help a man to be at his
best, by showing that she thinks silliness and vulgar chaff objectionable.
Every girl sets the tone of those she talks with, for every one's
conscience responds to the tacit appeal of a nice-minded girl's dislike of
these things. If you do not respond, it checks such talk wonderfully.

Boys are sometimes told that they must swim with the stream at school and
join in bad talk because "everybody does it," but the nice boy stands out
and does not, and helps weaker ones thereby.

Girls have a much smaller temptation in that way - more to silliness than
to actual wrong; but your tone - in these matters that I speak of - helps
your brothers in their battles with downright wrong. Every boy who knows
his sister's standard is very high, is helped far more than he is
conscious of, by her influence, - and far more than she ever knows, for she
does not know all his temptations.

Women have been trained to nice-mindedness by centuries of public
opinion - they have always been admired for it, and blamed if they lack it;
while men have not been so trained; therefore women have a special power
of helping men, who are, consequently, not likely to be born so particular
about these things as women are.

Always feel responsible for what you laugh at: very often people say
things tentatively to see if you will laugh: you help to fix their
standard by the way you take it, and you often throw your weight into the
wrong scale because you are afraid of seeming priggish. A man's sense of
humour is different from a woman's; when you go into the world you must be
careful not to laugh just because a man makes a joke, until you are quite
sure that it is one to laugh at. Perhaps your host makes it, and his wife
looks a trifle grave: then be quick to take your cue from her and to
notice what nice women think nice for a woman.

Very often in talking to girls and preparing them for life, the whole
question of flirtation and nonsense is left out - there is not even as much
said as in Mrs. Blackett's village, where the clergyman's wife put every
girl through a special catechism before she left to go to service, part of
which was, "Lads, Sally?" The correct answer briskly given by Sally was,
"Have naught to do with them - but if they _will_, tell mother."

The whole subject of getting married, or falling in love, or meeting a man
you _may_ fall in love with, is often smothered up out of sight, as if it
were something wrong. If you have your life so full of other interests
that it does not concern you till the real thing comes, so much the
better - you will lose the pleasantest five years of your life if you turn
your mind in this direction too soon.

What often happens is that it is plentifully thought of and talked of
among the girls, and hidden away from the mothers and any older friends.
Either do not speak of it at all, or let it be an open straightforward
thing, instead of a Rosa Matilda mystery. So often a girl feels a
delightful spice of impropriety in any remark about a man or a boy. If she
had more to do with them she would not be so silly - unless she had a very
odd sort of menkind belonging to her; but you will find girls (very
unattractive ones, too) always imagining that a man is in love with them,
or else being silly themselves over every other man they meet.

What I am describing is, of course, very vulgar; but, from the castle to
the cottage, no house is folly-proof, though the outward manifestations of
it may be less objectionable where the manners are better.

Now, with regard to all the kinds of talk which I have singled out as
undesirable, please understand, that except in speaking of wickedness (or
worse still nastiness), which is always a sin and needs your penitent
confession and God's absolution, all these things are wrong, only in the
wrong place and wrong way and wrong proportion.

If you are keen about any of them, and want dreadfully to talk about it,
do so; let it out, if you cannot fill your mind with other things; only,
do it with an older person, so as to save yourself from that demon of
silliness who hovers about a room where girls are alone together. He is
powerless unless you invoke him; but remember, he is always there, eagerly
watching his opportunity.

I advise you to make it a rule for yourself always to go to an older
friend, when you want to talk about anything that might be not quite nice,
or that might verge on silliness. If conscience or prudence give any
pricks in the matter, go to an elder. You do not know how much such a rule
would save you from, and if you say, "but that is impossible, she would
not understand!" then I say to you, "well, it is always possible to hold
your tongue, though _I_ do not wish to impose such a severe penance on
you; I only say, talk to a safe friend, or to none."

This question of talk is a very practical one in school life. Probably
most of you think privately, "How silly girls are!" What do _you_ do, to
make the mass less silly? That sort of infectious silliness is the great
danger of school life, but the chatter is made up by individuals, who
could each talk instead of chattering: remember that a girl at school need
not be a schoolgirl; but she is in great danger of it, unless she is

When you live at home you do not talk nonsense at dinner, you probably
join in sensible talk. Well, do not alter because you are with girls, and
say complacently in your heart "How silly the others are!" Your
neighbours would not be silly if you did not admire it. You yourself are
part of the mass you are criticizing. On which side do your words go - talk
or chatter? Watch yourselves, and see how your words, each day, can fairly
be divided between those two scales.

"By thy words thou shall be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be
condemned." Are these words too solemn to use, after suggestions on talk
which may seem to you to have been occupied with very petty and ignoble
details? Surely not, for your talk on these commonplace matters really
settles your standard, and that of the world about you, on the deepest
moral questions. The common talk of the day is both cause and effect of
the morality of the day.

May I suggest some thoughts for self-examination on the matter? One good
question to put daily to yourself is, "How much of my talk to-day was for
myself, and against others? Perhaps I was too well-mannered to boast, but
have I turned things to my own advantage, shown up my own strong points,
instead of trying to help others to shine? Have I tried to get cheap
credit for wit, by sharp speeches, _would-be_ clever criticism and pulling
people to pieces? Have I started, or handed on, spiteful remarks?" If you
like, use another question, and ask yourself, "Was I like S. Theresa, 'An
Advocate of the Absent'?" Or ask, "Have I, by my way of speaking _or
listening_, lowered any one's standard to-day?" Very often people say
things or make jokes tentatively, to see how we shall take it, and through
fear of being stiff or priggish we surprise them by seeming to enjoy what
they were rather uncertain about. It is quite curious how ashamed most
people generally are of seeming as good as they really are; they "hide
their best selves as if they had stolen them." If they would show their
colours, they would find that many of the apparently careless people they
meet do care about the real interests of life. If they themselves do care
and yet try to seem careless, are they not responsible for half the
carelessness in those about them?

"The manner of our ordinary conversation," says Bishop Wilson, "is that
which either hardens people in wrong, or awakens them to the right. We
always do good or harm to others by the manner of our conversation."

Aunt Rachel; or, Old Maids' Children.

"What is the matter, my dear" said Aunt Rachel to her favourite niece,
Urith Trevelyan, who was spending the Easter holidays with her. "You look
fit to be a sister in mind, though I hope not in manners, to the Persian
poet, who described himself as 'scratching the head of Thought with the
nails of Despair.'"

"I think life is very difficult," remarked Urith, with a solemn sigh.

"There I partly agree with you," said Aunt Rachel; "especially to people
who insist on doing to-morrow's duty with to-day's strength. I doubt very
much if the holiday task, which I see in your hand, is the cause of this

"Oh dear, no! I was thinking what shall I do with myself when I leave
school at Midsummer; it will be so very hard to read by myself."

"My good child, do attend to what you are doing; you are just like the man
in the 'Snark,' who had

"'luncheon at five o'clock tea,
And dined on the following day.'

"I wish you would dine off that unfortunate task to-day, and when you have
finished it we will talk about your future work."

The task did not take long when Urith fairly gave her mind to it, and the
next day she and her aunt started for a distant cottage at the far end of
the parish. Urith seized the opportunity, and began as the door closed
behind them -

"Now, Aunt Rachel, how can I do everything I ought when I leave school? I
shall know nothing of Greek or Roman history, or mythology, or French or
German history, or even of English, except the period we have been just
doing, and I have done only a few books in the literature class, and none
in foreign literature, and I have forgotten all my geography, and I shall
have Latin and Greek to keep up, and French and German and chemistry, and
I don't know anything, hardly, of modern books, or of architecture or
natural history, or philosophy, or of cooking" - here, in her ardour, she
tripped over a stone, and her aunt availed herself of the pause to say -

"Add Shakespeare and the musical glasses, and you will have a tolerably
complete programme before you."

"Yes, Aunt Rachel, you need not laugh, you always say girls are so
uneducated, and can't respond to literary allusions; but how are they to
become educated when there is so much to be done?"

"My dear Urith, there is a very wise Irish proverb, 'Never cross a bridge
till you come to it,' and though this bridge of culture seems such a
bridge of sighs to you, I really do not think it need be. In the first
place, it has not got to be crossed in one year. You get far more law now
than in my young days, for you and your friends are not expected to come
out full-blown heroines at seventeen or eighteen; you are almost expected
to carry on your education for some time longer. It is not safe to count
on it, for real life may come on you in a dozen ways when you once leave
the safety of the schoolroom, but you will probably get several years of
tolerable quiet, and, if I were you, I would not spend my first year in a
desperate effort to fill up all the gaps in my education, and to go on
with school-work in the school spirit. I should take my first year of
freedom as the arbour on the Hill Difficulty, where Christian rested; the
lord of that country does not like pilgrims to stay there for good, but
they go on all the better for it afterwards. I should look on this year as
being the ornamental fringe to the intellectual dress you have been
weaving for yourself at school. And do not forget that the dress and the
trimming are not an end in themselves - they are only to enable you to
leave the house with decency, to go about your business; and at the end of
the first year I should count up my possessions and see where I was
wanting - if the dress proved thin, I would then set to work and furnish
myself with a jacket, by hard, steady work in the second year."

"But some of my school-work will be wasted if I don't keep it up."

"Quite true; but do not keep it up simply because you have once begun it;
some of your lessons will have done their work by ploughing and harrowing
your mind, and may be left behind. The use of school is to teach you how
to use your mind, and to try your hand at several branches of study, that
you may be able to follow whichever suits you."

"But I have not got any particular turn for anything, and it seems a pity
to drop things."

"Yes, it is a pity, but you are not going to teach, and you will have to
do the best you can. You had better make up your mind, before you begin
life, as to what sort of woman you want to be, and then cut your coat
according to your cloth, for if you begin by wanting to keep up
everything, you will probably end by dropping everything, in despair."

"Well, I want to keep up Latin and Greek and French and German, and
Algebra and Geometry and Chemistry and Mechanics, as well as English

"And seeing that your day will probably be only twenty-four hours long, I
fear 'want will be your master'! If you had a strong turn for any one of
these subjects, I should say keep it up, by all means; but as you have
not, I have very strong doubts whether you will find mathematics or
classics much use to you. You know enough to take them up again if ever
you wanted to help a beginner."

"Then do you think Latin and Greek and mathematics no good for a woman?"

"Certainly not; you will read your newspaper, and the books of the day, in
quite a different way now that your mind has been trained by these
subjects, but you do not need to keep the scaffolding up when your house
is built!"

"It does seem a pity!"

"Well, I do not want to debar you from these subjects if you really enjoy
them; there would be a reason for going on, if they were intense pleasure
to you, but I suspect you do them as 'lessons,' and, if so, you had better
forsake them for things that directly tend to make you useful."

"Oh, cooking and nursing, and that sort of thing."

"Yes; but I was not thinking of that sort of thing. I meant things that
bring you closer to others; Madame Schwetchine says that every fresh
sorrow we endure is like learning a fresh language, because it enables us
to speak to a fresh set of souls in their own tongue, and to sympathize.
Every fresh thing that you learn brings you in sympathy with a fresh set
of people. It gives pleasure and ease to a stranger to find that some one
in his new circle knows his old home, and we can try to be at home in the
mental country of each person we meet, so as to be able to respond to
them. If you are a genius you can have your own country, and wait in it,
till you meet some fellow-countryman; but as you only want to be an
ordinary woman, 'not too bright and good for human nature's daily food,'
you will give far more pleasure to others, and widen and strengthen your
own mind far more, by being able to join on easily to all you meet, than
by pursuing some one abstruse study, whether it be mathematics or

"But it seems such a small thing to spend one's mind in learning odds and
ends of other people's hobbies."

"But I would have a hobby of my own, and do some steady stiff reading,
only, as you are going to be a woman, and not a student, I would choose
reading that linked me to as many as possible of other people's interests.
How dull and shy poor little Miss Smith was yesterday, till I found that
she knew Venice as well as I did. After that she quite enjoyed her visit."

"Yes, but I could not have talked about Italy. I never have a chance of
going abroad."

"You do not know when you may go, and if you went to-morrow it would be a

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