Lucy H.M. Soulsby.

Stray Thoughts for Girls online

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doings, such as not going to Church) is the easier side to take. It seems
obtrusive to show what you feel to be right; and very often the one who
takes the religious side is narrow-minded and tiresome compared to the
others. Goodness is very often tiresome, and non-religion broad-minded and
amusing. (Gallio is often a most attractive person!) It takes courage then
to side with the tiresome one, instead of saying something rather clever.
In youth one has a great horror of belonging to the tiresome side.
Cleverness counts for so much, and it is hard in early life to put
goodness first! One does not realize the beauty of the strength and
principle shown by the tiresome people, and it takes real principle to
show one's colours in ordinary talk.

I once heard of an earnest religious girl who was asked to a pleasant
country house, and who thought she might lawfully take a holiday, as it
were, and be like other people while away from home; so she laughed and
talked with the rest and kept her real life to herself. On the last night,
a girl she had taken a fancy to came into her room, and, after a little
time, said, "It has been so nice meeting you, but I rather wish your
sister had come too." "But I have no sister." "Why, I have heard so much
of her, and of how good she is, and though you wouldn't think it, I have
been bothered about things lately, and when I heard your name, I thought
it was she who was coming here, and I planned to have a talk with
her: - you're awfully nice, but of course one wouldn't talk about those
things to you any more than to any of the rest of us."

I leave you to fancy the resolutions that girl made, to show her colours
for the future!

And then it does not seem to matter - no _harm_ is being said or done,
Gallio is generally an excellent person, and really "So-and-so" was
unnecessarily tiresome in raising the point; and then, again, one's
indolence bids one be quiet and vote neither way.

But every vote on the right side counts; it alters the balance of the
general feeling, and probably helps some one looking on, - some one who
never let out that they needed or cared for any help. "Right!" has a big
battle to fight, and you and I are soldiers, and must stand to our guns.

Have the courage to show that you like goodness. It makes a difference,
for no one ever tells an unkind story to a large-hearted woman, or a nasty
story to a nice-minded woman.

If they tell either to you, it means an intuitive perception that you
enjoy it, - you bring out that side of them; if there is no response in
you, that side of them goes to sleep while they are with you. You create
your world in your own image, and are responsible for what is said to you,
as well as for what you say.

II. - My second advice is: _Show your mother that you love her._ "In one's
whole life one can never have more than a single mother. You may think
this obvious.... You are a green gosling! I was at the same age as wise as
you, and yet never discovered this till it was too late."[3]

Your mother will plan for you to go out and enjoy yourselves, and she
probably will not say that she is left alone by this or that arrangement;
but _you_ must think for her and protest against it, and see that she gets
amusement, and is talked to.

I know girls who will leave their mother alone night after night, or sit
at home and never utter a word. _They_ do not think of it, and _she_ feels
left out. Even if she makes you go out, she will like your noticing and
thinking for her. I believe each daughter fails to realize in her own case
how much her mother values signs of the love which both know to be there.

You may say, "My mother does not like a fuss!" - Very likely. But there are
ways and ways. - I do not believe any older person is ever anything but
pleased when their little pleasures are seen to be a matter of real
consideration to a younger one. I have watched so many mothers now that I
see it, but I myself used to let my affection be taken for granted. I see
now how much more pleasure I might have given, and I would give anything
if _you_ would do what they say is impossible - _i.e._ profit by some one
else's experience, and try to show your affection for your mother. She is
the only person to whom it is safe to fully express your affection. If you
feel strongly for any one else, expressing it is apt to lead you to be
silly, or sentimental, or wanting in self-control, but little loving ways
with your mother are quite different - they are always comforting to her
and good for you. Every one of an older generation is apt to feel that the
younger one does not want them; therefore express your affection doubly to
an elder compared to what is necessary or right, or wise to an equal,
_because by nature the elder does not quite believe in it!_

I dare say you are nevertheless thinking as I used to do. "One's mother is
quite different - _she_ knows I love her best." In a way that is true, but
all I have said is true too!

III. - My third advice is: _Put some salt into every day_ - the salt of
effort and self-denial. Go on with a book though it bores you. Go out for
a walk though you feel lazy. Finish some drawing or needlework, which you
would rather leave to begin something else. Make yourself do something
which you do not like, and which is useful.

And I say to all of you, not only to the leaving ones: Do not lounge
through the day just because it is holidays. You are not a little child
who has to be made to do things: you are a sensible, reasonable being, who
wants to grow. You do not leave off eating for a month, you do not leave
off growing for a month; then do not leave off growing in other ways. Do
not be _worthless_ at any time.

Some of you seem to think you will not have to give account of holidays to
God - _I_ think you will be more called to account for them, for then you
have a chance of showing your real stuff.

And when you are grown up, and quite free, feel that you are still more

Enjoy yourself to the top of your bent, but see that each day you gain new
power to do what you ought, and what you make up your mind to do; and
remember that this power is only gained in the using - and dies out if we
do not use it. I shall be horribly disappointed if you do not gain this
power, and if you do not use it well, "to the Glory of God and the Relief
of Man's Estate."

Be ambitious - be all you were meant to be; make the world different; be
generous - freely you have received, freely give.

Some one said to me the other day, "Girls are younger nowadays, and they
go on being young till they are well through middle life. At sixteen we
had to look after other people, but they shirk responsibility, till women
of thirty are content to be like birds of the air, just amusing
themselves, and feeling no call to be of any serious use."

I said, "Well, _I_ do not like to see even a girl of eighteen with no
_raison d'être_, 'living like a prize animal!'"

Why were you born? God thought about you, and took trouble about you, and
has something you can do for Him. To exist beautifully is not enough! Have
you definite duties, which you stick to even though they bore you, _e.g._,
house duties, or reading aloud, or lessons with the younger ones? If not,
find some!

Marcus Aurelius counted each day lost in which he could not at night look
back on something he had done for others.

Jeremy Taylor, in the "Golden Grove," says: - "Suppose every day to be a
day of business: for your whole life is a race and a battle; a
merchandise, a journey. Every day propounds to yourself a rosary or
chaplet of works, to present to God at night."

I have given you three pieces of advice -

I. - Vote on the right side in conversation.
II. - Show that you love your mother.
III. - Put salt into every day.

I would end with one more. I take it from Saint Simon, that clever
on-looker at the Court of Louis XIV. whose memoirs are famous. His morning
greeting to himself was -

_"Get up, M. le Comte! you have great things to do to-day."_

You will all of you go out to lives that you _can_ make empty and
self-indulgent and narrow if you like; you _can_ shirk duties and eat
capriciously or intemperately, and lie in bed too long; you _can_ idle
about all day amusing yourself, and fill your mind with dress and gossip
and spite; - perhaps you would feel there was "no harm" in such a life!

_No harm!_ I would rather hear you were dead than that you lived a life
like that!

On the other hand, every day of your life you _can_ make the wings of your
soul grow by an honest bit of self-denial, by an honest bit of work for
others, by an honest bit of mental work.

Every day you can be _more worth having_; there is not one of you here who
has not the power to make herself - and to _pray_ herself - into a noble,
dutiful woman.

_"Get up, M. le Comte! you have great things to do to-day."_

[Footnote 3: Gray's Letters to W. Mann.]

A Friday Lesson.

Our course of lessons for this term brings us to-day to Jephthah's story;
to decide on the amount of blame due to the father is not a matter which
so nearly concerns us as to learn the lesson of true womanhood taught us
by the daughter. Hers was no blind obedience; her reason for sacrificing
herself gives us the true position of a woman as a helpmeet, and as a
helpmeet in the performance of public duty. "If thou hast opened thy mouth
unto the Lord" - her father must do his duty at all costs, and she will
help him to do it, even at the cost of her own life. The place of every
woman is to make duty possible and imperative for those about her - for
brother, sister, husband, friend. How many women keep their menkind back
from public duty by their fretfulness about the inconveniences entailed on
themselves? A clergyman or doctor has to face fatigue or infection, - a
citizen wishes to vote according to his conscience and against his
interest: how often a woman - wife, sister, or mother - puts expediency
before him, persuades him that "'second best' will do," instead of aiming
at "one equal temper of heroic hearts."

Besides the love of her country and the sense of public duty, which shine
out in Jephthah's daughter, notice the plain lesson of simple obedience,
"That she subdued her to her Father's will."

The ideal of obedience is less thought of now than in the "Ages of
Faith," - perhaps, in one way, this is only a right development; but,
though obedience is a "young" stage of moral growth, it is a necessary
one, - mankind went through it, and each man or woman worth the name must
go through it even as our Lord Himself did. I recognize the strength, the
North-country virtue of "grit" in such independence and sturdiness as that
of the Yorkes in "Shirley," but the willing and reasonable obedience of a
strong nature seems to me still higher - it is a nobler attitude of mind to
feel, "I don't care whether I get my own way in this or that, or am my own
master; I want to be in touch with the larger, higher life around me,"
that larger life of moral growth into which only a humble, teachable
nature can enter. The larger, stronger nature - the big dog - yields gladly
to its master; the small terrier nature loves to find an opportunity to
yap and snarl. There is nothing fine about the unreasoning instinct to
resent an order - it is rather the sign of a small nature. To take the
commonest instances, when you are told to go to bed, or to mend your
dress, or to put on a wrap, or to tidy your room, are you in any way a
finer nature if you dawdle and argue and resent the order? Nothing is so
small as self-sufficiency and self-centredness, whereas humility and
obedience are of the Nature of our Lord Himself, and every humble and
obedient soul is in communion with His Greatness. Dante's hierarchy of
heaven, "in order serviceable," in ordered ranks, culminating in God
Himself, gives us a feeling of harmonious greatness which is lacking in
the scattered units of his "Inferno." It was only ignoble greatness which
preferred to reign in Hell rather than serve in Heaven.

It may be that, in the maturer stages of life, obedience ceases to be a
primary virtue. I am not at all clear when that mature stage begins, - but
all would admit, in theory, that a noble character must have obedience as
a foundation. I think it would help you if you could step outside your own
momentary irritation at being ordered to do this or that, and see how
unlovely it is to argue and stand on your rights and contest points. The
essence of good breeding is to give way to others; quite apart from the
consideration of the "Fifth Commandment," a thorough-bred person would
shudder at the rude tone of voice, the snappishness, the contentiousness,
the contradiction which many girls - otherwise "nice" girls - allow
themselves to show in speaking to their mothers. How many of you feel
quite guiltless on this score? I am afraid you would often have to blush
if a stranger, to whom you looked up, could hear the way you answer back
at home.

You half feel as though it were "fine" not to be ordered about; - but the
"best" people in the Christian sense of the word, and the "best" people in
the worldly sense, inherit the feelings of the ages of chivalry, that, the
nobler a man was, the more deference and service he showed to others:
"_Ich dien_" is the motto of chivalry and worldly greatness. - "I am among
you as he that serveth" was the saying of Him Who, "though He were a Son,"
"learnt obedience." For this next week, when you are tempted to answer
back - to be independent - to resent being ordered - remember how much more
beautiful, how much more noble, is a humble submissive temper, than the
miserably small ambition of being your own master. Do not be so
small-minded as to contest and resent authority. You sometimes hear a
servant say, "That's not my place," or "I won't be put upon." You never
hear a true lady speak in that temper, - and yet, is there any difference
in spirit between this tone which you would condemn, and your own way of
answering back? You cannot get out of bad habits all at once, but get
your ideal right, and you will grow to it. If you are not living in your
own family, and feel inclined to resent orders, remember the days of
chivalry, when all pages (often princes by birth) spent their youth
serving in other people's houses, and learning the motto of every true
knight, "I serve."

And whether with strangers or at home, remember Him Who was subject unto
His parents, Him of Whom Jephthah's daughter was but a faint type.

A Home Art; or, Mothers and Daughters.

Know your own work, and do it.

This is a simple sounding rule, but we all find practical difficulties in
following it. You have most of you lately left school, and I think the
difficulty of the first part of this saying must have struck some of you.
At school you knew your own work, - you had a certain time-table, you
walked with the crutches of routine; and when you left school and found
your day mostly at your own disposal, you learnt that a free life is far
more difficult, and therefore far nobler, than a life under direction.

It was pleasant at first to be able to carry out your own fancies, but you
awoke after a while to the fact that you were not spending holidays but
living your real life; and then the thought must have come, if you had any
stuff in you, "I must anyhow live my life; am I living it nobly?"

How can you live a noble life? Bacon gives us, perhaps, the best answer
when he says that "the end of all learning should be the Glory of God and
the Relief of Man's Estate." Shall this be the result of your school
learning? Others can speak to you from experience, as I cannot, of the
glory and happiness of a life spent in the Relief of Man's Estate: I would
speak to you of a preliminary stage of work for that relief, of some of
the difficulties which beset girls on first leaving school, and owing to
which so much noble aspiration and unselfish enthusiasm run to waste.

I believe one of the main difficulties is _friction at home_; a difficulty
on which I the rather dwell because it is harder, for those who know you
personally, to speak of it without irritating you, or else criticizing
your home. How is this home difficulty met? Some meet it by leaving
home, - which reminds me of the minister who said in his sermon, "This is a
serious difficulty in our belief, my brethren; let us look it boldly in
the face, - and pass it by." Some lay themselves open to _Punch's_ attack,
when he depicts a girl saying, "Mamma has become quite blind now, and papa
is paralytic, and it makes the house so dull that I'm going to be a
hospital nurse."

Many who are too clear-sighted to neglect home duties, yet leave this
difficulty unfaced, in that they look for all the pleasure of their life
outside home, and within that home allow themselves to live in an
atmosphere of friction and peevishness. The girl who does that has left
the riddle of home life unsolved: she was meant to wrestle with that
difficulty till she wrung from it the blessing, the peace which comes only
from self-conquest and acceptance of all the circumstances of her life.

Have any of you the lurking thought, "I was born by no choice of my own:
those who brought me into the world owe duty to me, not I to them?" I have
known some say this, and I have known many act as if they thought it, and
I have known some who felt as if God had better work for them to do
outside home, and have either gone off to do it, or have chafed against
life because they could not go. It does seem to me that the present very
general eclipse of the old Roman virtue of filial piety lies at the root
of much of the unsound work, and of the undone work, of the present day.

Know your own work, and do it. What is your work on leaving school? Is it
not to learn to fit into your home? At school, when you got your remove,
your duty was to get into the work of the new form, and to do it. You have
now been moved to higher and far more difficult work than any sixth form,
you are in the school of home. Are you learning its lessons, or are you
fretting for a remove? It may be you find life so easy and pleasant at
home that you feel any talk of its difficulties does not apply to you; it
is all play so far. But I know so many who feel this friction on leaving
school, that I am sure it must be the case with some of you.

If any here fail to feel the debt they owe at home - the debt which God
enforced as next to the debt owed to Himself - let me remind them that the
whole instinct of mankind has responded to the appeal of parents; filial
piety has always been reverenced and held beautiful, and the hereditary
sense of mankind must be taken into account in deciding what is, or is
not, a virtue. But supposing I granted, for the sake of argument, that the
original debt was on your parents' side and not on yours, what then? You
remain as bound as ever to show them submission and devotion; all, in
short, that the old-fashioned believers in the Fifth Commandment thought
to be due from a daughter. If you are striving after a noble life you must
give all this, - if you owe allegiance to either the Christian ideal of
love or to the Pagan one of strength. "If a man love not his brother whom
he hath seen, how can he love God Whom he hath not seen?" and, equally, if
he love not his brother close at hand, how can he love brethren afar off?
It is a poor sort of love which lavishes itself on self-chosen and,
therefore, less irritating objects of charity, and is powerless to
influence the home atmosphere. It is a poor sort of strength which shrinks
from the hardest fight, from the conquest of self at home.

Is not every right and wise piece of good work for others an attempt to
help them to train themselves to live a higher life? And can we dare to
put our hand to this plough while neglecting our own training?

I was asked to speak to you about WORK, and you may think I am forgetting
this in dwelling on home life. Not at all; I am looking on home life not
as an end in itself, but as God's great training-school for His best
workers; as the special place for the development of those qualities which
are essential to all true and lasting work for "the Relief of Man's

I do not think I underrate the difficulties girls find; quite apart from
her own faults and weaknesses, a girl who leaves school and goes home has
probably three difficulties to contend with.

First, the change from restraint to liberty, which is a difficult phase in
every life. Will you make it a change from "the rich bounties of
constraint" to self-restraint, which is better still; or will you let it
be a change to the weak lawlessness of a drifting life? If you would
respect yourselves, and be worthy to take part in the great battle between
good and evil, make and keep some rules for yourselves. Have a rule about
getting up in the morning and (almost equally important) about going to
bed at night; a rule against novels in the morning; a rule to read
something sensible every day. Make what rule you please, only keep it, or
you will never be more than a cumberer of the ground. Reading is the best
thing to save your life from being eaten away by trifles. The best
advisers say to a man taking a country living, "Read, read, read;" I say
to you, read doggedly; the snare of a free life is desultory reading. Make
any plan of stiff reading you like, and stick to it for one year, writing
out notes of what you read, and you will be fitter for real work if it
comes, as come it will.

I dare say you find reading is cold work, - very few women really enjoy
knowledge for its own sake, - you are tempted to throw it up, and to drift
in an easy good-tempered way, which pleases the others much more than your
shutting yourself up to read. And the others are quite right in expecting
you, now school is over, to be a woman, "with a heart at leisure from
itself" and from self-improvement. One of the hardest home lessons for
some girls to learn is the power of sitting idle and chatting. They feel
it waste of time; they long to be doing something tangible; and yet a home
atmosphere is mainly the result of the mother having acquired the art of
leisure. You will be very unrestful house-mothers when your turn comes,
and very unsatisfactory daughters and sisters in the mean time, if you are
always at high pressure, and giving your family to understand that you
must not be spoken to!

Too often the girl, who by dint of conscientious struggles keeps up real
study, gets out of touch with her surroundings, and sees the stream of
family confidences, and affections, and appeals for help and sympathy
flowing towards the easy-going sister, who makes no struggles of any kind.
Your great wish is to be a true woman, "with continual comfort in her
face." Are your books, and your self-discipline, and your time-table, only
a hindrance to this? Must you starve either head or heart? Why cannot you
seem outwardly at leisure, and yet live an inner life of thought and work?
It needs self-denial, forethought, economy of time, and that most
Christian grace of tact; but these are all attainable, all part of that
Wisdom which "orders all things sweetly and strongly," and which is the
rightful heritage of every true woman. Let no delusion about amiability
induce you to leave off reading and study, only be very discreet as to how
and when you do it.

Let your time-table be a secret hair shirt, and not a red rag flaunted in
your family's face. But never give up reading and thinking, the keeping in
touch with abstract ideas. As long as you are young you can get on without
this, but, when the charm of youth deserts you, you will find life (and
others will find _you_) a blessing or a curse, according as you have
developed or starved your powers of mind. It may be that you find little
pleasure in your steady reading, and see no immediate results from it;
never mind, read on, lest you become in middle life one of those amiable,
empty-headed women who can give neither help, nor comfort, nor advice,
worth the taking. How many old maids, and young maids too, tied by home
duties, allowed their minds to get thin and empty: when, at last, they
were set free they were silly and inconsequent; no work requiring thought
and insight could be entrusted to them.

The second difficulty which is felt by many comes from the new lights of
the day. At school, girls come in contact with varied ideals and
inspirations, - they drink new wine, and they go home to find that old
bottles are still used there. Very often this difficulty is greater in
proportion as a girl has rightly profited by school - in proportion as she

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