Chapter 2 Concerning The Young Maidens At Home

YOUNG MAIDENHOOD––THE FORMATION OF CHARACTER AND OPINIONS

"For life in general there is but one decree. Youth is a blunder."––DISRAELI.

The idea of staying at home "for good" is delightful to the schoolgirl, and her parents look forward with equal pleasure to having their daughter about them in her bright fresh youth. If the young girl be docile and gentle, and ready to fall into the relation of pupil-friend to her parents, and if they be wise and kind enough to put themselves in the place of their daughter, and realise how much teaching and counsel she still requires of them, the relation is a very sweet one. If, on the other hand, the parents are content to let their young daughter shake down into her place with the notion that all they have to do now is to give her a fair share of whatever "home" offers, the relation is found embarrassing, both by the girl and her parents. Her maiden sweetness notwithstanding, the parents are disappointed to find their daughter so little formed. She is not an interesting companion at present, poor child! Her talk is full of "oh," "well," "you know." She has many unreasoning enthusiasms and aversions, and these are her opinions, such as they are. She has brought some little knowledge out of the schoolroom, but this appears to do little towards giving her soundness of judgment.

Her affections are as lawless as her opinions: all the emotional sentiment in her is bestowed on some outsider, girl or woman friend, most likely, while the people who have claims on her are overlooked royally. So of her moral sense: duties she acknowledges, and will move heaven and earth to fulfil them––overstrained loyalty to a friend, excessive religious observances, perhaps; while she is comically blind to duty as her elders see it; does not scruple about disobedience, evasions, even deliberate fibs. She could do great things in a great cause, so she thinks, but the trivial round, the common task, afford her occasions of stumbling. She likes to talk about herself––what she feels, thinks, purposes, and her talk is pathetic, as showing how far she is in the dark as to the nature of the self about which her thoughts are playing curiously. And this is a thoroughly nice girl, a girl who will make something of herself at last, even if left to her own devices, but whom a little friendly help may save from much blundering and sadness.

There are girls of another pattern, who have no enthusiasms––other than a new "frock" excites; who do not "gush," have no exaggerated notions of duty or affection, but look upon the world as a place wherein they are to have and to get, but not, save under compulsion, to do, to bear, and to give––these three, which make up the ideal of a noble life, have no part in their thoughts. Girls of this sort are easier to get on with than the others, because they have marked out a line for themselves, and know what they are about; but there is no principle of growth in such natures. Then, there are maidens so sweet, that, like the lilies of the field, they seem in need of no human culture. But the average nice girl, who leaves school with her education "finished," so she thinks and is yet in a crude, unformed state, what is to be done with her?

The very insufficiency of her young daughter appeals as strongly to the mother as does the helplessness of her infant. The schools have not finished, but begun the education of the girl, and now she has come home to be taught how to make the best of herself, and how she is to succeed in life,––for that is the problem before her. The girl who has been brought up at home, under her mother's eye, is, in this respect, in very much the same case as the school-girl; she, too, has yet to learn to live. Rich or poor, married or single, she may be, but it is not upon these that the success of a woman's life depends. Many a rich woman, whose children run over her, whose husband slights her, knows sorrowfully that she has made a failure of life; while many a poor woman is a queen in her own house, or is "made much of" in a house that is not hers. The woman who has herself well in hand, who thinks her own thoughts, reserves her judgments, considers her speech, controls her actions––she is the woman who succeeds in life, with a success to be measured by her powers of heart, brain, and soul.