Girls and Women Part 5

Now in an old city such a change could not be brought about so quickly.

It could only be made by a large number of leaders of society joining to make it. No stranger nor young person could do much except to make her own part of any conversation as worthy as possible. But the mothers can lead the daughters, and the daughters, starting from a higher point, can go on in the same way.

These are some of the many unproductive occupations in which rich women may use their time well, without finding it necessary to compete with their poorer sisters in earning money.



"Culture comes from the constant choice of the best within our reach. It belongs to character more than to acquirements, though a person of culture usually has certain acquirements, for these are generally within the reach of all those who earnestly wish for the best things."

A woman, for instance, may be a cultivated musician, and have a weak character in some directions; but just so far as her music is of high quality she must have chosen the best. She must have been patient and energetic, and she must have been willing to practice fine music. I knew a girl so brilliant that she was able to play a Beethoven sonata almost at sight when she had studied music less than a year. But she did not care for Beethoven. She preferred Offenbach, and she never became a cultivated musician.

But though girls are apt to think of culture as something distinct from character, they do after all acknowledge its moral side, for beautiful manners are its first test. I see every day a young girl who seems to have no special gift. Her delicate health has prevented her from studying much, so although the wealth and position of her family have made it possible for her to have the best teachers all her life, her education is not far advanced. With all her piano lessons she will stumble over the simplest march if any one is listening to her; she replies to her French teacher in monosyllables; she has read few books: and as for her arithmetic, children in the primary schools could put her to shame. Nevertheless, she would everywhere be recognized at once as a cultivated young lady. The simplicity, gentleness, and sweetness of her manners, her truthfulness, modesty, and dignity count for far more than French or music or literature even with those who lay most stress on accomplishments. Such manners as hers are rare, and yet they are likely to be found running through whole families. Her mother and her sister, both of whom are cleverer than she, have almost equally fine manners, though they miss the last touch of grace. Such manners come from the choice of generation after generation. One woman after another has chosen to be sincere, good-tempered, kind, and noble. The women who so choose also choose the best in other ways. They read good books instead of bad ones, they prefer a beautiful picture to a showy one, and Beethoven to Offenbach. You may say that a girl of such a family cannot help being cultivated: culture is inborn. So it is, because generation after generation has chosen aright. Her own positive contribution to the family is that last touch of grace. I think that comes from the fact that she could not succeed in other directions as her mother and sister did. The best within _her_ reach was in the direction of manners, though I think she did not decide that consciously. It was the determination to meet mortification with heroism, to turn aside from feelings of envy and wounded vanity, which added the last exquisite charm to her manners.

That such manners are often found among people of some wealth may, I think, be accounted for by choice. Though many poor people are not at all responsible for their poverty, yet when generation after generation choose the best things, including the best husbands and wives, some of the sources of poverty are removed, and although such families are seldom very rich, they are often in comfortable circumstances, and as they use money as well as other things in the best way, and do not live for show, they are really richer than others with the same means.

I think, on the whole, good breeding is found oftenest in families where the fathers have been professional men for generations. A line of ministers where each has chosen to do the highest work he knew, careless of money, or a line of physicians where each has chosen to help his fellow-men, leads down to a beautiful blossoming time.

But no class monopolizes fine manners. Sometimes they seem to belong entirely to the woman herself, and no trace of them can be found in an earlier generation. She chooses alone, and she accomplishes all that has been accomplished for others by cultivated ancestors.

Truthfulness is essential to culture, which, without it, will be only a veneer. I have had an opportunity to know well a large class of girls selected from the most highly cultivated families in one of our cities.

Comparing them with other sets of less highly cultivated girls, I think, on the whole, the standard of truth is higher among the first, though it has never been my misfortune to find a low standard among girls.

Unhappily, however, these girls have been so encouraged to shirk mathematics that they have little power to think justly and accurately on many questions. Mathematics may be called narrow, but no one can have sound intellectual culture without these mental gymnastics.

I believe, too, that science must have a larger place in the education of girls if they are to be able to look at things in a broad way, and if I am right in calling culture the result of choice, the fairness of judgment which comes from broad views is more essential to it than any special accomplishment.

A specialist is seldom really cultivated, just because he is a specialist. Darwin when young was an enthusiast in music and poetry. But after a life given exclusively to science, he was amazed to find that Shakespeare was tedious to him. His services to the world were so great, and the spirit in which he worked was so noble, that we can hardly regret his course; but he said himself that if he could begin life again he would read some poetry and hear some music every day, so that he might not lose the power of appreciating these things. Goethe, who stands at the opposite extreme, as the "many-sided," adds that one must see something beautiful every day.

Women are seldom specialists however. Their danger is superficiality through trying to do too many things. How can we be broad without being superficial? I have elsewhere said that I believe the school education should include the rudiments of many branches, and that these rudiments should be so thoroughly mastered that the girl should be able to go on with any study by herself. I think the education should be continued along several lines, if possible. These will differ with different women; but whatever they are, it is essential that a balance should be kept between beauty and truth. Music, art, or poetry on the one hand, and science or history on the other, seem to me to give what is most needed. In Elizabeth Shepherd's books the formula _Tonkunst und Arznei_--music and medicine--is often quoted, and so we should get the proper balance. I do not think that an ardent girl who loves music art, and poetry, and who hates history and science and mathematics, will ever quite do herself justice if she carries on all three of her favorite studies and ignores the others, even though her favorites are most essential to culture. I think, however, that though mathematics cannot be spared from the foundation of an education, it yields less culture on the whole to students who have no taste for it than any other study, so I do not advocate carrying it far, but history or some science would be a good counterpoise for a mind given to the study of beauty alone.

A friend says we must all be one-sided, so that perhaps our best chance is to have one hobby at a time and ride that to death, and then try another, becoming at last two, three, or four-sided, though never completely rounded. If that be the case, it seems to me a good thing to choose some of our hobbies at least from among the subjects for which we have most taste and talent. Now where the opportunities for culture have been great, it often happens that girls grow discouraged. They see how far away they are from perfection, and they conclude they are good for nothing. Do not yield to such morbid feelings. Make your own estimate of yourself, without regard to your wishes. You do in your heart know what you can do well if you are willing to work.

Make your estimate silently. It will probably be too high, but you will work in the right line. Then let half your work be in the direction in which you think you may make your life outwardly effective; for instance, if you are a Darwin let it be in the line of natural science.

Let the other half of your work be constantly varied. Suppose you have chosen history as the study for a life-time, take as a companion study something new every year,--first a science, then art, then literature, then mathematics, then a language, etc., etc. For the fruit of culture is to be and not to do; and what we are, intellectually at least, depends even more on the breadth of knowledge which helps us to balance conflicting judgments than on special knowledge which gives us accurate judgment in details. Even in the moral world, are not the finest characters those in whom many virtues are balanced rather than those in which one virtue is distorted by being allowed exclusive sway? It is a great thing to be generous, but not to be wasteful; it is great to be gentle, but not to be weak.

The philosophers tell us, however, that all things move in an ascending spiral. We do in order to be. What we are bears unconscious fruit in what we do. A woman who is cultivated in the true sense exerts a constant influence for good. One rich woman says, "I will not live to myself," and gives clothing to ragged children. Another rich woman says the same thing, and studies history and poetry and comes silently to just conclusions about the relative value of clothes and thought. She cannot be unjust to her smartly dressed maid, and her daily life lifts her maid into a new moral atmosphere; or her gently expressed judgments on all things are so unswervingly on the side of truth and love that her father and brother become ashamed of their little tricks in business or politics which they had once thought trifles. True culture does always react on life.

And yet in one direction culture seems to weaken the moral fibre. The kind of courage which leads to quick heroic action in great emergencies is apt to be lost by the habit of balancing arguments for and against action. The gentleness which comes from quiet study often makes one incapable of decision when severity is necessary. I was shocked not long ago by hearing a group of sweet, high-bred girls discussing the scene in "William Tell" where the wife of the hero tries to prevent him from going out with his bow and arrow while Gessler is in the neighborhood.

With one accord the girls thought Tell should have yielded to his wife's wish. It is true she was right in regard to the danger, but Tell's carelessness about it was so clearly the result of his high-minded freedom from suspicion that it seemed as though every heart should beat quicker at his nobleness. These girls have moral courage. I dare say some of them would die at the stake rather than tell a lie. But it would take a sharply defined test like that to rouse them. Too much thought has made it difficult for them to take any risk through unconsciousness of danger. They could not act freely and spontaneously, and they could not even admire such action in others.

How shall we train our girls so that they may have just judgments and yet not make them so introspective that the bloom shall be brushed off the beauty of every action? Perhaps Emerson's suggestion, that every young person should be encouraged to do what he is afraid to do, would meet the case.

In a city like Boston there is a great temptation to undertake too many lines of study at once. There are free lectures every day in the week from men who have mastered their subjects, and it seems as if one might lie still and drink in all knowledge without effort. There are lectures in private parlors for those who are too delicate to go to a public hall--elementary lectures, and advanced lectures and readings. But no one ever became cultivated by going to lectures. If a girl would choose a single course and study the subject between times by herself, then she would really be the better for the instruction. I think the difficulty of choice among many good things in the city is the reason that so many earnest girls have dissipated minds. A woman in the city must be constantly on her guard against this peculiar temptation.

Perhaps at this point it will do no harm to insert a few commonplace rules for study.

Do not try to study too many things at once.

Try to do all your work thoroughly, even if you do not get beyond the rudiments in anything.

Do not be in a hurry.

It is said that eagerness to finish things shows weakness. It certainly leads to shallowness, "Without haste, without rest" was Goethe's motto.

I have heard of a woman who began to study botany at ninety. That shows a mind so trained and cultivated that the soil could not be exhausted with age. How good it was that she was still fresh enough to respond to new thoughts! She might have learned as much botany in a course of lectures when she was twenty, and have listened to a dozen other courses at the same time, without half the delight and inspiration she had at ninety; that is, receiving so many new ideas at once at twenty might have made her mind more jaded than the gradual, steady unfolding of many more ideas during a lifetime.

I know a lady of forty-five who within the last month has taken her first piano lesson. She did not even know the meaning of the letters, and yet she has already made wonderful progress. She will probably never become a great player, though her fingers are unusually supple and she has some musical ability. But even if she does not, a new world of thought and beauty is opening to her.

I have just heard of another lady of seventy who went abroad for the sake of learning the French language.

It is a great mistake to think that all we are to learn must be begun before we are thirty lest we may not have a chance to make a practical use of it. Culture is within and not without.

I hope that I shall have as many readers in the country as in the city, and country people are not distracted with opportunities for culture.

Indeed, they often think they have none. I will tell you the stories of three cultivated country women.

One lived on a farm a mile from the post-office, and there was not much money for her to spend. There were half a dozen cultivated families in the village including that of the minister, and among them were to be found most of the books which make the best literature. She knew how to use both these friends and these books, and at twenty she was better read than her Boston cousins. As she did not see her friends often, she was more careful to make every call tell, and her visitors said it was delightful to go to see her, she had such fresh things to say to them and such interesting questions to ask. She studied botany by herself and became expert. She learned mathematics so well in the public school that when she began to think she would like to see something of the world outside her corner, she was able to get good places to teach. First, she went to a seaside village and there she learned a thousand new things. Then she spent a few years at the West, varying her route in going and coming till she had seen a large part of her own country. By this time she had saved enough money to go abroad and study quietly for a year. Now, she had her French and German, and she saw pictures and heard music and visited cathedrals and discovered how other people lived. But by and by her sisters died, and she was needed at home. Of course she was a great acquisition in the village, and she had many sources of enjoyment in pursuing the studies she had begun. But she wanted new thoughts too. She invited a friend to spend a month with her, and when she found that her friend had made a study of chemistry she sent for a few dollars' worth of chemicals and set up a satisfactory laboratory in the barn. Naturally she made the acquaintance of every desirable person who visited the village, and moreover her Boston relatives were always eager to have her for a guest, as she was interested in all their favorite pursuits in an entirely original way.

Another girl lived in one little town till she was thirty, and then married a man of culture whose home was in the city. His sisters said she was a beauty and had good taste in dress; and they thought these things had captivated their brother. But first they had to own that she was a woman of fine character, good-tempered, dignified, truthful and modest, for these virtues flourish in the country quite as often as in the city. But still, they knew that she had had no education, and they expected no intellectual companionship. Then it proved that she had read more thoughtfully than they had. They belonged to a dozen literary societies, but the one little village Shakespeare Club had done good work. The sisters always went to the theatre every week in the winter, but the bride who could count on her fingers the plays she had heard, had selected these so carefully that her taste was already well formed.

Then she proved to be musical. Small as the village was, there had been one young lady in it who had had the best musical advantages. Our heroine had not let this opportunity slip. She had not heard many concerts, but she had practiced the best music. She had studied Latin, of course, in the village high school, and French with a French lady who spent her summers in the neighborhood. She had treated herself every year to five dollars' worth of Soule's photographs, and she had studied these so carefully that she really knew something of the great artists.

Then she had traveled! She had begun to teach in her own village when she was eighteen, and every summer she had spent a little of her salary in some interesting trip. As a teacher, she had taken advantage of excursion rates to the great National Teachers' Institutes. In this way she had visited most sections of the United States. And she had planned her trips so thoughtfully that she had been alive to everything which was to be seen. Once she had even taken the accumulations of several years and spent her summer abroad. The sisters looked scornful at this.

How could anybody see anything worth seeing with an excursion party? Yet they had to own that what we see depends on the eyes we have as much as on our surroundings. She could not see everything in three months, but she knew what she wanted to see, and she had thoroughly assimilated that by much thought about it before and after the journey.

She had once spent six weeks at a summer school of languages, and had devoted herself so energetically to German that she had been able to go on reading it by herself, and thus in a few years she had become familiar with some of the masterpieces of its literature. But the sisters were most astonished when they found her reading Italian one day--Dante, too, which was too hard for them. The explanation of this was that for some years the Catholic priest in her native village had been a good-natured Tuscan who had been glad to exchange Italian for English with her.

You see, she had had no regular education and no money but what she earned, yet by choosing the best within reach at all times she had become as cultivated as her sisters-in-law who had had every opportunity.

All women are not so fond of study; but they may be cultivated, nevertheless. The finest manners I have ever seen belong to a woman who has lived all her life in the house where she was born in a little town in New England. She never went away to school, and has not the student temperament, though she is gifted in every direction. She has a love of beauty which has led her to make everything beautiful around her. She has had little musical training, yet her playing and singing have always had the indefinable musical quality. She has read a good deal, especially of the best novels and poetry, but "All for love and nothing for reward." She has traveled from time to time a little when she could spare the money, but always for pleasure and not to improve her mind.

She has had no artistic training, but with meagre materials she arranges tableaux which are famed throughout the county, and on every public occasion in the village she decorates the Town Hall exquisitely. She has added wonderfully to the happiness of the place by always following her love of beauty, making everything she touches beautiful without any pretense or even any consciousness of having a mission.

So women may be cultivated in the country as well as in the city. But some one may say that the hard workers have no time for culture. It does seem to be true that hard workers need to use more sagacity than others not to let their work crowd out everything else. They have one advantage. Nobody can be really cultivated without learning some one thing thoroughly. This their work compels workers to do. And the building is more important than its decoration, though without the decoration it may be a sombre structure.

Now, hard workers obviously cannot study French and German and Italian and music and art, at least all at once, and if they try and so crowd out all their little leisure, they miss the better culture which is within their reach. What must you who are hard workers take time to do?

1. Take a little time to think. Especially try to judge fairly in every-day matters. Culture, demands balance of mind; but is not that as good when it comes from thought as from study? If the subject in hand is one of which you do not know enough to judge, study it, if you have time. If not, suspend your judgment. That will show true culture. For instance, do not be a violent partisan either for or against the tariff unless you have carefully examined the arguments on both sides. Few perhaps have time to do that. You will still have an opinion. The few arguments you have studied all point in one direction. The people you trust most believe in one measure. Very well, keep your opinion. If you were a voter you might even vote in the way you believe to be best; but do not allow yourself to be violent or to denounce everybody whose judgment differs from yours.

2. Try to be enough at leisure to observe little courtesies. Hard workers are in danger of being irritable and hurried and careless of the trifles which add so much to the beauty and dignity of life. Of course my injunction includes some social life. We get much of our best intellectual as well as moral life from contact with others.

3. Keep open every avenue to beauty. You have no time to study, but read a few beautiful and noble sentences every day. You have no time to practice music; then it is doubly necessary to hear all you can and the best that you can. And you can always look at beauty. There is always a strip of blue sky with its stars at night. And there are few who could not see a beautiful sunset almost every day in the year if they made it a happy duty to look at it. I have often thought that any one who would persist in seeing this one vision every day would be lifted up above most of the turmoil of life.

Chapter end

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