William Makepeace Thayer.

The good girl and true woman : or, Elements of success drawn from the life of Mary Lyon and other similar characters online

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Online LibraryWilliam Makepeace ThayerThe good girl and true woman : or, Elements of success drawn from the life of Mary Lyon and other similar characters → online text (page 17 of 19)
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every one of you to fix on an hour for rising for a
week to come. Be sure not to fix on too early an
hour, for it would not injure your character nearly
so much to make a mistake, and decide to rise at
six, when you might rise at half-past five without


any injury to your health, as to fail of meeting
your own appointment."

Then she would proceed : " All who have de-
cided on their time of rising for a week, may raise
their hands." The- undecided would not lift their
hands. " You may all rise, then ; all means every
one. Yes, all are on their feet now. If you have
decided on your time of rising, you may take your
seat." The narrator says, " The lovers of their
own ease and comfort would be left standing,
while a large majority of the school were com-
fortably seated. " As fast as you fix on the hour,
you may take your seats," was the curt and effect-
ive address to those who were still unable to
decide. No one could sit down undecided, with-
out acting a falsehood, which was considered in
the school dishonorable, as well as wrong. If any
were inclined to stand it out, she was patient with
them, and willing to stand as long as they did.
When all had^signified that the decision was made,
they were directed to write down their decision,
and hand their papers to her, or keep them till she
called for them. One of the first remarks on the
succeeding day would be, " How did you succeed,
young ladies, about rising ? You may all stand.
Those who were up this morning at the time they
set yesterday, may take their seats." A very large
majority would be found to have kept their res-


olutions, and the delinquents could complain of no
one but themselves." The reader will notice that
she insisted upon their rising just at the time fixed,
declaring that it would injure their characters
more to fail of rising at the time specified, than
not to rise habitually so early by one half hour as
they might. She would say, " If that hour is five,
and you are on your feet before the clock has done
striking, then you are punctual ; but if you lie five
minutes, or even one, after that hour passes, you
are tardy, and you must lose a little respect for
yourself in consequence." Her plan was well
suited not only to make them early risers, but
also to make them decided. If they had resolu-
tion enough to spring to their feet the very mo-
ment they set to rise, notwithstanding the plea of
drowsiness to the contrary, they would have res-
olution enough to resist many other temptations,
and to discharge other duties promptly. It would
be a habit that would aid them in meeting all
their obligations.

Miss Lyon herself was a pattern of that decision
which she urged the young to cultivate. Some
called her " set in her opinions ;" but they mistook
her genuine decision for obstinate adherence to
preconceived ideas. Her biographer says : " Those
who did not entirely agree with her, had too much
confidence in her earnest and benevolent inten-


tions to try to thwart her plans. She was, as they
thought, and as she very well knew, set in her
opinions ; but she was set only when sure she was
right." Again : " She made the impresswn on
every one with whom she had anything to do, from
the common day laborer to the president of a col-
lege, that if she had set herself to do anything, it
was of no use to oppose her." One fact, hereto,
fore stated, is proof of her remarkable decision.
She resolved to devote her life to the instruction
of young ladies ; and so resolutely did she carry
out her determination, as to refuse, at once, a flat-
tering offer of marriage. Many young ladies who
become members of our Normal Schools, under
the regulation that they shall teach one year in
the commonwealth, after their education is com-
pleted, enter into the matrimonial state within a
few months, without any regard to their pledge.
The same is true of some who go to the West to
teach, under the auspices of the society that fur-
nishes teachers to that portion of our countiy.
The example of Miss Lyon appears more remark-
able in contrast with theirs.

In another place we have referred to the fact,
that young ladies often have fellowship with young
men of doubtful character in the social circle.
Perhaps it arises, in a measure, from the want of
decision enough to show that the unprincipled are


unworthy of their society. It demands courage
to be sufficiently decided in such a case, and few
there are who possess it. It is said that Queen
Victoria, in an assembly of the dignitaries of her
realm, actually turned her back upon one of the
number who approached her with grace and def-
erence, and the reason she assigned was the rep-
utation of the man for vicious practices. This was
rare independence, and a little more of it among
the young women of our land would contribute
largely to their character and influence.

How beautiful was this trait in the lovely Ruth !
She meant to be a faithful daughter, cost what it
might. Therefore, she would leave her native land,
or make any other sacrifice for her mother's sake.
" "Where thou goest I will go ; where thou lodgest
I will lodge ; thy people shall be my people, and
thy God my God." This is the language of deci-
sion. It is strong and heart-felt. In a religious
point of view, it is an interesting resolve. Ruth
had relinquished her heathen superstitions, and
become a worshipper of the true God ; and now
she decided to share the future with her mother,
at whatever sacrifice of feeling or comfort. If
every young disciple of our Lord would declare,
with equal firmness, to him, " Where thou goest I
will go," though it lead me away from home and
kindred, and all the heart holds dear, to lands of


darkness, it would be a stand for Christ worthy of
their profession. Alas ! the want of this decision,
brings reproach upon the name of Jesus.

It is not often that the young or old are placed
in circumstances where the exercise of this trait of
character is impossible. As we have said, many
times it will require courage, and great resolution,
but it is scarcely once in a lifetime when circum-
stances will render decision impossible. A his-
torian relates that a father went to a tyrannical
ruler to secure the pardon of his two sons, who
were condemned to die with other military men.
He offered a large amount of money, and his own
life, to ransom them. He was informed that this
equivalent would be accepted for one of his sons,
because the laws required the sacrifice of two ; he
must, therefore, decide which of the two sons
should be spared. He was ready to offer his life
for one or both ; but he was unable to decide
which should live, and which should die. While
in this painful dilemma, both the sons were re-
manded to execution. It is only once in an age
that kindre'd perplexities and difficulties, perhaps
we may call them impossibilities^ arise.

It was a remark of Wirt, " Decision of charac-
ter will often give to an inferior mind the com-
mand over the superior."






IT was a remark of Madame Necker, that
" Want of perseverance is the great fault of woman
in everything, morals, attention to health, friend-
ship, etc." This remark is probably just. Women
do not necessarily engage in those pursuits which
are best suited to develop this element of 'success-
ful living. Here and there one only is placed in
circumstances, and subjected to a discipline, that
enable her to become eminent for this quality.
Hence, it is not thought necessary that girls should
be educated with reference to this trait. The other
sex grapple with the main difficulties of life, and
prosecute nearly all enterprises triumphantly to the


end. But perseverance is just as requisite in per-
forming the minor duties of life well, and in prose-
cuting the minor purposes of life, as in those of
more importance. A girl needs this trait in pur-
suing her studies in the school-room, and in ac-
quiring a competent knowledge of needle-work
and domestic economy. * An eminent teacher said
to the writer, "Girls are more easily -discouraged
than boys with difficulties in their studies. They
are not so persevering to master the complex things
of some of the sciences." He might have had a
peculiar experience ; yet we think that teachers
generally would confirm his testimony;

Perseverance is an element of character which is
indispensable, though a person may not meet with
any obstacles in his or her pathway. It is necessary
to that energy and general strength of character
which successful persons usually possess. All the
females who have been prominent in good achieve-
ments possessed it. Without it Mary Lyon would
never have founded the Female Seminary at South
Hadley, nor even prepared herself for a teacher.
When we consider the obstacles which she over-
came in acquiring an education, and the prejudice,
apathy, and opposition which she encountered in
raising means for the erection of her favorite Semi-
nary, we are compelled to say that her persever-
ance was never surpassed by any of her sex. Her


own friends and relatives admired her plans and
commended her spirit ; but some of them felt
obliged to say, " The thing" is impossible." They
saw scarcely any hope of its success. But her own
heart did not fail her, unless it was on one occa-
sion, when a meeting was called in Boston to aid
the enterprise, and which proved a failure. She
wrote of it : " There was a meeting appointed in
Boston, in reference to the plan of a Seminary.
Very few were present. Tlje meeting was ad-
joured; and the adjourned meeting utterly failed.
There were, not enough present to organize, and
there the business in my view has come to an end.
I do not think it best to revive the subject again.
The indications of Providence appear to me
plain." But her discouragement was not of long
duration. Her lofty spirit mounted above these
scenes of doubt and darkness, and she trampled
upon every difficulty in her triumphal march to
success. It consumed a long time, and here her
perseverance becomes especially manifest. It was
not the number of the Grecian army, nor the skill
of their great commander, Achilles, that conquered
the strong city of Troy, but the ten years of earnest,
persevering struggle. The Egyptian pyramids were
the work of successive years, rising little by little in
their solemn grandeur, until the last stone was
raised. Thus it has been with all remarkable


enterprises in the ages gone by. Without perse-
verance the Mount Holyoke Seminary would have

Speaking of this trait of Miss Lyon's character,
Dr. Hitchcock said, in his anniversary address,
after her decease :

"Finally, I must not omit to mention her -great
mental energy and invincible perseverance. That
energy was a quiet power, but you saw that it had
giant strength. It might fail of success to-day,
but in that case it calmly waited till to-morrow.
Nay, a score of failures seemed only to rouse the
inventive faculty to devise new modes of operation ;
nor would the story of the ant that fell backward
sixty-nine times in attempting to climb a wall, and
succeeded only upon the seventieth trial, be an ex-
aggerated representation of her perseverance. Had
she lacked this energy and perseverance, she might
have been distinguished in something else, but she
never would have been the founder of Mount Hol-
yoke Female Seminary."

An eccentric writer defines perseverance, " stick-
ing to a thing." The definition points us to the
secret of that power which perseverance ever
wields. It is not a few spasmodic, strenuous efforts
that secure success, so much as " sticking " to the
work with a pertinacity that knows no defeat,
[f a girl undertakes to acquire a knowledge of any


science, as Astronomy or Philosophy, it is the work
of many weeks and months of patient study. A
few unusual and desperate exertions will not secure
the triumph. She is to add little to little, slow and
sure, as- the coral insect constructs an island of
splendor in the sea.

Again, Miss Lyon reminds us of Hannah More
in respect to persevering endeavors. The latter
originated that system of schools for the poor, for
which she was highly distinguished, in circum-
stances of the most discouraging nature. She de-
scribes her trials as follows : " I was told we should
meet with great opposition, if I did not try to pro-
pitiate the chief despot of the village [the first
place where she established a school], who is very
rich and very brutal ; so I ventured to the den of
this monster, in a country as savage as himself. He
begged I would not think of bringing any religion
into the country ; it made the poor lazy and use-
less. In vain I represented to him that they would
be more industrious as they were better principled ;
and that I had no selfish view in what I was doing.
He gave me to understand that he knew the world
too well to believe either one or the other. I was
almost discouraged from more visits; but I found
that friends must be secured, at all events ; for if
these rich savages set their faces against us, I saw
that nothing but hostilities would ensue. So I


made eleven more of these disagreeable visits ; and,
as I improved in the art of canvassing, had better
success. Miss TV. would have been shocked had
she seen the petty tyrants whose insolence I stroked
and tamed, the ugly children I praised, the pointers
and spaniels I caressed, the cider I commended, and
the wine I swallowed. After these irresistible flat-
teries, I inquired of each if he could recommend me
to a house, and said that I had a little plan which
I hoped would secure their orchards from being
robbed, their rabbits from being shot, their game
from being stolen, and which might lower the poor-
rates. If effect be the best proof of eloquence, then
mine was a good speech ; for I gained, in time, the
hearty concurrence of the whole people, and their
promise to discourage or favor the poor, as they
were- attentive or negligent in sending their
children." She made her conquest, against the
influence of the despot of the village, by personal
conversation with one individual after another, a
work that required the most patient and perse-
vering spirit. It was the beginning of an enter-
prise which brought to the author of it a world-
wide fame.

The wife of Dr. John Kitto is another example
of perseverance. Her husband was perfectly deaf,
and, of course, was shut out from nearly all inter-
course with the world. His literary pursuits re-


quired much research in extensive libraries, and this
consumed time which he desired to devote to
writing. His wife had not been reared with any
reference to a literary career, so that she could not
render him any special assistance in his studies
without first surmounting some imposing obstacles
in her path. She nevertheless resolved to become
a literal help-meet to her husband, and she per-
severed in her endeavors to become acquainted
with the subjects upon which he was writing, until
she rendered herself so useful to him that he could
scarcely prosecute his studies without her assistance.
It is probable that no man of letters was ever aided
to such an extent by his wife, as was Dr. Kitto, for
along series of years. But she never could have
accomplished so much if perseverance had not im-
parted energy and strength to her character. -

It is not necessary to multiply illustrations upon
this topic. All admit the value of perseverance, at
least, all who have lived long enough to observe
its triumphs in the world. We would have the
young reader value it as adapted to the sphere and
mission of girls. Let not boys have all the glory
that is to be won by this stately quality. Girls
need it as really as they. Let them persevere in
well-doing, and verily they will have their reward.
No matter how humble is the work they undertake,
this quality will be of lasting service to them. Even


in the discharge of the most common-place duties
of each day, it will be found invaluable. The sen-
timent of the folio wing lines ought to be no less th
sentiment of girls than boys :

" Never give up ! it is wiser and better
Always to hope than once to despair;
Fling off the load of doubt's cankering fetter,
And break the dark spell of tyrannical care !

Never give up! or the burthen may sink ~u

"*'i -.;.">
Providence kindly has mingled the cup,

And, in all trials or troubles, bethink you,
The watchword of life must be, Never give up !

" Never give up! there are chances and changes,
Helping the hopeful a hundred to one ;

And, through the chaos, high wisdom arranges
Ever success if you '11 only hope on.

Never give up ! for the wisest is boldest,

.,-;-; .

Knowing that Providence mingles the cup ;
And of all maxims, the best and the oldest

Is the true watchword of, Never give up!


" Never give up ! though the grape-shot may rattla,

Or the full thunder-cloud over you burst,
Stand like a rock, and the storm or the battle

Little shall harm you, though doing their worst!
Never give up ! if adversity presses,

Providence wisely has mingled the cup ;
And the best counsel in all your distresses

Is the stout watchword of, Never give up I"




QUALITIES hitherto considered combined to give
Miss Lyon remarkable presence of mind. Those
strong elements of character like decision and self-
reliance, are well suited to beget this indispensable
quality ; for it is that condition of mind and heart
that renders a person calm and unconfused in cir-
cumstances of danger, suffering, sorrow, and any
marked surprise. Such occasions arise daily in the
experience of old and young of both sexes. With-
out self-possession they often bring persons into
difficulty. They become the sport of these sur-
prises, and bring evil not only upon themselves,
but ulso upon others. Miss Lyon always reaped


the fruits of this excellent trait. No trials, or unex-
pected events of any kind, deprived her of self-corn-
niand. We have cited incidents of heMife, in pre-
vious chapters, which show how great was her self-
possession even when malignant disease was filling
others with consternation.

That women daily need this element of character
may be learned from the following facts : A
young lady was riding with her betrothed friend,
when the horse became restive, and dashed on at a
furious rate. The girl at once lost command of
herself, and began to scream, which caused the
horse to be still more furious. Her own reason
and common sense would have told her that
screaming would frighten the animal into greater
fury, but neither of them are allowed to advise
when self-possession is wanting.

A young woman was left in charge of a child,
during a brief absence of its parents. Accidentally
it's clothes took fire, and, instead of promptly ex-
tinguishing the flames, she screamed, and ran out
of doors for help, leaving the little sufferer to die a
horrible death. Presence of mind would havo
enabled her to save the child from this painful end.

A pleasure party were sailing on a still and beau-
tiful lake. The large number put them in rather a
precarious condition, although care and coolness
would have carried them safely on their excursion.


A young lady changed her position so suddenly
that the boat dipped a little water. She uttered a
scream, and sprang to the other side, while others
did the same, and immediately the boat was upset,
and several of the party were drowned.

A child was unexpectedly seized with convulsions
as his fond mother and other members of the family
sat with him in the room. In an instant he fell
prostrate and convulsed upon the floor, The
mother and sister cried out in great excitement,
one running hi one direction and the other in
another, yet to no purpose, while the afflicted boy
lay writhing in a fit. They were totally unfitted to
render suitable aid in consequence of their fright.

A multitude of such cases are occurring daily.
In the first instance, if the young lady had been
self-possessed, the horse might have been controlled.
In the second, self-possession would have easily ex-
tinguished the flames that caught the child's dress.
In the third, the same presence of mind would have
prevented the upsetting of the boat. And in the
fourth, it would have enabled the mother and sister
to attend at once to the relief of the convulsed
child. Here is certainly a very valuable trait to
cultivate. It will often be of great service to every
woman. The foregoing, contrasted with the follow-
ing facts, illustrate more fully this point :

In the early history of our country, the wife of


a Mr. Daviess, of Kentucky, distinguished herself
for self-possession in times of imminent danger. On
one occasion a party of Indians came to her house,
during her husband's absence, and ordered herself
and children to prepare to leave as their prisoners.
As Mr. D. was gone with a small party in pursuit
of a robber, and was expected to return every
moment, she contrived to delay the Indians by
showing them her dresses. The expedient was a
good one for the object she had in view, and evinced
a good degree of self-control. At another time,
a notorious plunderer came to her dwelling when
she was alone, with the intention of rifling the
house. He was armed with gun and tomahawk,
and presented a very savage and fierce appearance.
"With much coolness she set whiskey upon the table
and invited him to drink. Unsuspectingly, he
accepted the invitation, and set down his gun.
She immediately seized it, and, pointing it to his
breast, declared that if he stirred an inch she would
fire. The desperado was terrified at his appalling
danger, and dared not stir from his tracks. Her
husband soon returned to her relief. There was
great presence of mind evinced in this expedient
to capture the robber. Without it she might have
lost both property and life.

Not long since, a public school-house, in a large
city, took fire, from some defect in the arrangement


for warming the rooms. There were several hun-
dred pupils in the building at the time. One of the
female teachers discovered the fire, and, instead of
screaming as loudly as possible in her fright, as some
females would have done, she thought of the
injury and probable death that would occur if the
pupils should rush en masse to the doors for safety.
In a moment she resolved to communicate the
knowledge of the fire to the teachers in the several
rooms, that they might direct their pupils to leave
their seats in order, without informing them that
the house was on fire. In this way every one es-
caped without injury. Had she cried " Fire! " the
moment she discovered it, and rushed into the
rooms with this cry upon her lips, many would have
been injured, and perhaps killed, in the attempt to

The reader probably remembers the case of the
woman in Ashland, Mass., who shot the midnight
robber. It illustrates the subject before us so well
that we must give it somewhat in detail. She was
a very timid woman so timid that she fixed upon
that time for her husband to be absent, as there
would be a moon a good part of the night. Yet
she was a person of remarkable presence of mind, as
the details of this occurrence will show. She was
aroused from her slumber, about one o'clock in the
morning, by a noise. She raised herself up in bed,

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Online LibraryWilliam Makepeace ThayerThe good girl and true woman : or, Elements of success drawn from the life of Mary Lyon and other similar characters → online text (page 17 of 19)