Lucy H.M. Soulsby.

Stray Thoughts for Girls online

. (page 7 of 11)
Online LibraryLucy H.M. SoulsbyStray Thoughts for Girls → online text (page 7 of 11)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


has been teachable and ready to assimilate good; she goes home with new
aspirations to be met by old prejudices - prejudices intensified by
half-loving jealousy of the alien influences of school. Are you to shut
your eyes to the new lights, and be as though you had never known them?
No, but do not keep one Commandment by breaking another. The First
Commandment is supreme, Thou shall have none other gods but Him Who is the
Truth; Truth must be obeyed at all costs, but if your truth-seeking
breaks the Fifth Commandment, it probably breaks the Second also, and the
principle you are obeying will turn out to be a graven image of God, and
not the voice of God Himself. Very grave doubt rests on any form of
goodness which is in opposition to your mother; it may be good for others,
but can scarcely be so for you. I know of a girl who got under High Church
influence at school, and who, in pursuit of spiritual good, gets
surreptitious High Church books and newspapers, under cover to a friend.
Another got under Low Church influence, and refuses to please her mother
by dressing prettily or going out. It seems to me that both girls read
their lesson backwards and neglect the weightier matters of the law,
truth, and obedience, - while they seek what is good in itself but not good
for them. Others persist in going to a church their mother disapproves
of, - they say they can get good at a musical church, and only irritation
and harm by going with her. I feel heartily for the trial of going to a
church they dislike, but surely conquering self or pleasing a mother is
good in itself, quite apart from the help given by the service; while, as
to the good derived from the musical church under those circumstances, I
doubt much if it comes down from the Father Who gave us the Fifth
Commandment.

I should say, mistrust new lights which are a hindrance to old duties,
"For meek obedience too is Light." It is more likely that we should be
mistaken, than that a duty should cease to be binding. Let us take to
heart Cromwell's appeal to his Parliament, "I beseech you, my beloved
brethren, I beseech you by the mercies of Christ, to believe that you may
be mistaken."

The third difficulty is that girls often fail to see that home life is one
of the "Home Arts," which requires training and practice as much as music
does. How much of our home life is set to music? How much of it sets all
harmony and rhythm at defiance? A true woman is

"Like the keystone to an arch
That consummates all beauty:
She's like the music to a march
That sheds a joy on duty."

Do you make your father forget his bothers when he comes in from his
business? Do you give your mother a share in your interests? Does your
brother look forward to his time at home, instead of thinking it a bore?
No one has such power over your brothers as you have: you can do more than
any one to give them high ideals: how many a brother, who has fallen to
the stable-yard level of company, might have been held up if his sister
had used her wits and tact to make herself as agreeable to him as she does
to other people!

Sometimes it is not selfishness which makes home life a failure, but the
not having

"among least things,
An undersense of greatest."

A girl tries to live nobly at home and fails: she is not enough wanted,
her mother is not blind, and does not want to be deposed from
housekeeping; her father is not paralytic, and only wants her to play to
him in the evening; life seems choked by tiny interruptions, such as doing
the flowers, or writing notes, and she sinks into a placid or unplacid
drudge - the aspirations with which she left school have died out.

Need this be? If she went into a sisterhood or a hospital, the tiny
details would all be glorified by the halo which surrounds a vocation; it
would all be part of a saintly life. Why is home not felt to be a
vocation? Why cannot a girl welcome some tiresome commission or fidgeting
rule of her mother's, as much as if it were imposed by some Mother
Superior? Ought not the trifling duties to be fuel to her burning desire
for her nobleness of life, instead of dust to choke it? You can make them
which you will.

Girls often say, "I have nothing to do, worth doing, at home; I want to go
and do some real work;" and they sometimes have the face to say this,
while they are still as full of faults as when they left school, and when
every hour of the day, at home, brings with it an opportunity of
conquering some fault.

Are you ready for real work? Can you take criticism or contradiction with
a perfectly unruffled face and voice? Do you overcome your hindrances to
usefulness at home, _e.g._ do you improve your handwriting so that your
mother need not be ashamed to let you write for her? Do you help her
tactfully and consentingly - the only help which rests people - or do you
argue each point, so that it is far less trouble to do the thing twice
over than to ask you? Are you prompt and alert in your movements, or do
you indulge in that exasperating slowness, which some girls seem to
consider quite a charm? Do you wait till the last minute, and then
leisurely put on your things, with serene unconsciousness of the fret it
is to every one's temper? If you want to see how unthoroughbred such a
habit looks, read "Shirley," and study the character of Mr. Donne, the
curate, who flatters himself that he enhances his importance by keeping
the others waiting while he complacently finishes his tea.

Do you lay down the law. Do you allow yourself the tone of positive,
almost dictatorial, assertion, which, coming from a girl, so sets an
old-fashioned person's teeth on edge; or do you try to speak in the
tentative, suggestive, inquiring tone, which is not only required by good
manners, but is also a real help to humility of mind?

Do not say that these things are too simple and obvious to bear on your
future work for the Relief of Man's Estate, - on Work with a big W. They
are of the very essence of the formation of character, and your Work for
others stands or falls by that.

The sanctifying influence of home-life lies mainly in its necessity, its
obviousness, - in the fact of our remaining unprofitable servants after we
have done our best. It is the school in which we are placed by God; we are
_bound_ to learn its lessons, and do its duties: there is no halo of
self-sacrifice around it - the position rightly viewed gives us no choice.
"I must," - _there_ is the sting, the irksomeness to us. We can submit
cheerfully to our self-chosen Pope, and seem most sweet-tempered in
bearing criticism and in doing tiresome duties, - the "I must" is not
there. This wilful obedience is worth just nothing as discipline of
character, compared with obedience to our lawful authorities; "Ay, there's
the rub!"

Is not this very necessity in home life - this "I must" - just the thing
which makes it akin to our Lord's life? Is there not in that Holiest Life
a continual undercurrent of "I must"? His earthly life was a course of
obedience, not a succession of self-willed efforts; its keynote was, "Wist
ye not that I _must_ be about My Father's business?"




Esprit de Corps.


While I was away, I was present at a discussion on _Esprit de Corps_, and
whether it was a good thing in girls' schools. What is _esprit de
corps_? - The feeling that we are one of a large body of which we are
proud. A soldier has it when he is proud of his regiment and is proud of
belonging to it.

Now, is it good or bad for girls to have a strong feeling of this kind for
their school? Many opinions were expressed at the meeting. My opinion is
that it is a good thing - a necessary thing. But every virtue has its
defect - if you overdo it, you fall into some fault; if you are too
amiable, you may fall into being untruthful; and so with _esprit de
corps_. I want you to have it, but I want you to be on your guard against
some faults connected with it. I want our School to be full of it, but I
want it to be of the best kind.

One fault very common in members of any large body is conceit. The feeling
of belonging to a fine institution swallows up personal humility. You may
be more occupied with the importance and dignity of your position, than
ready to take home the idea that you yourself are a very faulty member!
Margaret Fuller, a clever American friend of Emerson's, said, "There are
so many things in the universe more interesting than my individual faults,
that I really cannot stay to dwell on them." There is one form of
conceit - or rather of self-satisfaction - to which schoolgirls are liable:
they know they are living up to the average standard imposed by public
opinion and _esprit de corps_, and they are satisfied with this, instead
of trying to live up to their own best self. It is quite possible for any
straightforward, honourable girl to live up to the average standard, and
it is very comfortable to feel satisfied. But if you are trying to live up
to the highest standard you know, you will not be comfortable - you will be
always profoundly discontented with yourself, but it will be the Divine
discontent Plato speaks of. You will be always failing, but it will be
failing nobly - the failure of one who loves the highest, and is content to
follow the highest, even though it be afar off. In King Arthur's court,
the noblest knights went in search of the Sangreal - scarcely one could
succeed in his quest, but it was nobler to aim high and fail than to be
content with "low successes." We, too, ought each to follow the quest of
the Sangreal, that is, to seek to be perfect, and then there is no room
for self-satisfaction, far less conceit.

Sometimes _esprit de corps_ not only makes us think a great deal of our
own merits, but it also makes us blind to the merits of others. We need
only put this into words, to see its smallness, but it often happens. Some
people's patriotism seems to consist in despising the French and Germans.
No one values true patriotism more than I do, but I detest
"insularity" - that insufferable feeling of superiority of which English
people are so often guilty. We ought to love our own school, or hall, or
college; but it is a poor, low kind of love if it means despising other
schools, or halls, or colleges, picking holes in them, refusing to learn
from them, and being mere partisans. A soldier would be proud of his own
regiment, and think it the finest there was, but he would admire the
splendid history that other regiments could boast, and he would be glad
and proud of the fact that there were so many fine ones. All good schools
belong to a splendid brotherhood - a grand army - and they should be proud
of each other. We can be just as true and loyal to our own, and yet have
wide feelings. _Esprit de corps_ - loyalty to our body - is a very splendid
thing, and we degrade it when we turn it into mere clannishness; it ought
to bring out our love for all that is good, just as love for home ought
to make us love outsiders better.

I have spoken of the faults of _esprit de corps_ - do not think that means
I do not value it. No; a thousand times, no! If we had no _esprit de
corps_ we should not be a living body, but a dead, stagnant mass, only fit
to be swept away. What is true _esprit de corps_? My idea of it is, being
content to sink all personal interests - being content to be as he that
doth serve - being glad and proud to fill the smallest post, if so be that,
by filling that post in the most perfect way, you can help on the
perfection of the school to which you belong. I was talking to some one
the other day about the community to which she belongs, and where she
holds a leading place. "Of course, I would black the shoes," said she, "if
it would help the work in the very least, and so would any one who was
worth their salt." I quite agree with her, and I would not give much for
any work in which that was not the feeling of the workers, from the
highest to the lowest: that is the only true _esprit de corps_.

Some say women are incapable of such a masculine virtue - that women cannot
put their private feelings in their pocket and act in subordination to the
good of the whole - that they cannot sink their self-importance and their
petty jealousies - that they cannot suppress themselves for a cause.
Schools like ours have done a great deal for the mental education of
women. I think they will do something more valuable still if they show
that through their public education women can learn true public spirit,
that school teaches true _esprit de corps_ - that it teaches them to seek
the beauty of being second, instead of the glory of being first.

In acting or recitations, could you be glad to take a minor part to help
on the whole, or would you be huffy and cross-grained because your powers
were not brought to the front? In the Wagner music at Baireuth, the
singers take the good parts in turn, and the best prima donna, as Kundry
in "Parzival," in one whole act has only one word. Think of the
self-suppression needed for one who has such talent, to be content to act
in such a piece and to put her full power into the dumb by-play, which is
all that she has to do.

_Esprit de corps_ is _the_ virtue above all others which we, as members of
this school, should seek to attain, and, in the very nature of things,
nothing so entirely kills it as any self-seeking; while if you wish to be
worth anything as an individual, remember that nothing is so smallening,
so alien to any true greatness - to the most far-off touch of greatness - as
the wish to be Number One.

_Esprit de corps_, to my mind, means that we all stand shoulder to
shoulder, loving our school, helping each other; doing our duty in home
and school, and in after-life, more perfectly, because we are proud of our
school and mean to be worthy members, so far as in us lies; helping others
because "our advantages are trusts for the good of others." Remember our
school motto, "Ad Lucem," and, because you have been brought nearer to the
light, help to be sunshine in all shady places. And while you are at
school, have the _esprit de corps_ which will make you do everything you
can, for the good and credit of the school.

For one thing, be careful to get it a good name outside. "Manners are not
idle" - people are quite right when they judge a school, as they largely
do, by its manners. If girls are really growing as they should in
gentleness, courtesy, reverence for age, and all that makes true
womanhood, it must tell on their manners, and if they are not doing so,
their school is not doing for them what it should. If you have real
_esprit de corps,_ you will not give people who are prejudiced against us,
any reason to think ill of our School in this respect.

Another point of true _esprit de corps_ concerns those who have
power - whether as prefect, or VI. form, or head of a form, or through
being popular. Power was given you that you might do more work for
others - you are made a chief in order that you may be as he that serveth;
privilege means responsibility - not enjoyment. There is nothing so mean as
to take the loaves and fishes of any post, and not to do its duties; to
order others about, and to be lax with yourselves. A ruler is contemptible
who does not rule himself. Whether we are teacher, or prefect, or head of
a form, or a leader in any way, it ought to make us hot, and sore, and
ashamed, in exercising our rightful rule over others, whenever we are
conscious (as we must all be at times) that we have failed in ruling
ourselves - failed in temper, - failed in carrying out minutely, every law,
great or small, that we help to enforce on others. _Esprit de corps_ will
make us use our power for the good of the school and not for our own
pleasure.

_Esprit de corps_ means being ready to give time and trouble to all school
interests - without any thought of whether you will have a leading part
given you, or of whether it is very amusing to do it. You would be
unworthy members of the school if you simply came to do your lessons, and
took no part in the little things which make corporate life go with a
swing. You might as well think you were worthy members of your home
because you ate and slept there. Membership in a home means being ready to
take part in all its little tiresome duties; to throw yourself into
amusements which sometimes do not amuse you personally; in all ways to
help on family life. The girl who distinguishes herself in the tennis is
thought a good public-spirited member, and so she is, - she helps the
school and shows _esprit de corps_, - but, to my mind, the girl who fags
well at the match, and gets small thanks and no credit, shows even more
_esprit de corps_ than the one who has the excitement of distinguishing
both herself and the school.

The clever girl who wins prizes and scholarships, helps our school to
shine, and no one applauds her more than I do, but in my heart, I feel
that the school owes even more to the dull plodding girl, who knows she
cannot do much, but who determines to give her very best to the school,
and to be worthy of it by giving no scamped work. Perhaps she gets low
marks, perhaps she is told she ought to do better, - and quite rightly,
because we want her to rise to give really good work, and are not
satisfied till she does; but whether it is good or not, if it is her
_best_, she has fought a good battle for the school, and has "helped to
maintain the high standard of duty which was founded in the school by its
first and beloved head-mistress - Ada Benson."




Rough Notes of a Lesson.


I hope to start a new lesson for some of you, and I have gathered you all
here to-day, whether you will be able to come to it or not, because, in
thinking over what I wished to say about this one lesson, I found I was
led into describing what I should like all lessons to do for you. My new
lesson will be a talk on various things in which you are, or ought to be,
interested. I have tried this plan before, and have sometimes been laughed
at for having such miscellaneous lessons, but I found their effect very
good. I had a spare half-hour in the week, which I gave to this Talking
Lesson.

Once I took Dante, and after a sketch of his life and of Florence, we went
through the "Inferno;" I read the famous parts in full and told the story
of the rest, and now many of those children who listened feel, when they
come on anything about Dante, as if they had met an old friend.

Then I happened to go to Yorkshire and saw several of its lovely abbeys:
I came back with a craze for architecture, so I and the girls did that
together. Neither they, nor I, imagine that we understand architecture, or
are authorities on it; but though we only took the barest outline, it made
us all use our eyes and enjoy old buildings. I often get letters from
those girls, saying that they have since enjoyed their travels so much
more, because they now notice the architecture. You know the story of
"Eyes and No Eyes" - how two boys went out for a walk - one saw nothing to
notice, and the other found his way lined with interesting things. I am
sure, architecturally, your way is lined with beauty in Oxford, which
deserves both outward and "inward eyes."

Another time we took the French writers of Louis XIV. and we all feel that
Molière and La Fontaine and Mme. de Sevigné are our personal friends, so
that the value of their books is doubled to us!

We took mythology at one time, and many girls found that they understood,
much better, allusions in books and various pictures in the Academy, which
are often about mythological subjects. Ignorance on this point may
sometimes be very awkward. I have heard of an American lady who invited
her artistic friends to come and see a picture she had lately bought of
"Jupiter and Ten." The friends puzzled over her notes of invitation, and,
on arriving at her house, were still more puzzled to know how to pass off
the mistake gracefully, when they found that the picture was one of
"Jupiter and Io." I trust you will not cause your friends embarrassment of
this kind!

Another time we took the history of Queen Victoria, as our way of
celebrating the Jubilee patriotically. We began by all collecting as much
patriotic poetry as we could, which was surprisingly little - I wonder if
you would find more - and, all through, we made a special point of finding
poems written about any of the events. We found _Punch_ a valuable
assistance, and we much enjoyed the cartoons and jokes which had been so
mysterious to us before. Just that part of history which is not in
"Bright," and which, yet, is before our time, is so very hard to find out
about, and many allusions in the newspapers and parliamentary speeches are
consequently wasted on us.

Now, all this was miscellaneous, yet I had one object running through it
all, and the girls helped me to carry it out by listening in the right
spirit, knowing that I was only pointing out the various doors through
which they might go by-and-by. Not one of them thought she had "done" a
subject because we had thus talked about it, - we all learnt to feel our
own ignorance, and at the same time, how much there was in the world to
learn.

I want to show you this morning where such a lesson should fit in, in the
general plan of your education. To do that, you must first have the plan.
Have you ever thought what education was to do for you, or, are you
learning your lessons, day by day, just because they are set? I know what
I want to do with you, but I cannot do it unless you work hand-in-hand
with me, and you cannot do that unless you think about the matter and
realize that, for instance, Euclid is not only Euclid, it ought to teach
certain mental and moral qualities which you must have if you are ever to
be worth your salt. There is a story of Dr. Johnson, which seems to me to
apply to so many things. When his friend, Mr. Thrale, the great brewer,
died, there was a sale of the brewery, which Dr. Johnson attended. An
acquaintance expressed surprise at the great man's honouring with his
presence such an ordinary affair as the sale of a brewery. "Sir," said Dr.
Johnson, turning with crushing deliberation on the unhappy speaker, "this
is not the sale of a mere brewery, but of the potentiality of growing rich
beyond the dreams of avarice." This story seems to me well worth
remembering, both because it is so characteristic of the Doctor, and
because it is applicable to so many things. It is so easy to go through
the world not seeing the importance of things, like the common people in
"Phantasies," who never saw what a fairyland they lived in. Lessons, for
instance, are not mere lessons, they are "the potentiality of growing rich
in wisdom and in goodness beyond our highest dreams."

I should be sorry if, in after life, you should wake up and say to
yourself, "How much more good my lessons would have done me if some one
had shown me the real use of them and made me think, so that I might have
learnt all I could, instead of just slipping through them day by day." No
one can do the thinking for you. Unless you work with me by trying to
think, I cannot really do much for you. I can bring you to the water, but
I cannot make you drink. Yes, after all, I _can_ make you drink, _i.e._ do
your lessons day by day as a matter of obedience. So a better illustration
would be that I can make you eat, but I cannot make you digest your food.
You can prevent its doing you any good. If you simply learn your lessons
by rote and do not use your thinking powers, education is very little
good, - the obedience will have done you good, but, as far as mental growth
is concerned, you will not gain much, for that sort of education drops
off, like water off a duck's back, when you leave school. They say "a fool
and his money are soon parted," but that is nothing to the speed with
which a fool and his education are parted!

Now, I am going to take the chief subjects you learn, and show the higher
things which I want you to gain when you are doing those lessons, and
_you_ must want it too, or my wanting it will not do much good. You do not
learn Mathematics simply that you may know so many books of Euclid, and so
many pages of Algebra; it is to give you power over your minds, to enable
you to follow a chain of reasoning, to teach you to keep up continuous
attention, and not to jump at conclusions. I do not say you cannot learn
these things except by Mathematics; you might do it by Logic, and I know
many people who have done it by mother-wit and the teaching of life; but
when a person is inclined to trust to his mother-wit, and to neglect
educational advantages because he can do without them, I for one feel


1 2 3 4 5 7 9 10 11

Online LibraryLucy H.M. SoulsbyStray Thoughts for Girls → online text (page 7 of 11)