Opinions

OPINIONS

Let us turn to a question too often overlooked in the bringing up of girls. A girl may have opinions upon questions of figure and style, fashion and furniture, but who cares what she thinks about public men and questions, books and events? All the same, what she thinks is of consequence to the world; even if she is not to be the mother of future fathers and mothers, she will make her mark somehow.

The young maiden should have a general and a special preparation towards the forming of just opinions. For the first, she should be made to use her common-sense upon the questions that occur. "What do you think of so-and-so?" says the parent, making a little wholesome fun if her thinking be foolish. But the special preparation requires more thought. What are the subjects upon which thinking persons generally must have opinions? It is upon these the girl should be qualified to judge.

In the first place, her success in life will depend greatly upon the relations with other people into which she lets herself be drawn. She must have some knowledge of character, human motives; and, therefore, as much as for the sake of her own development, every girl ought, as I have said, to go through some easy course of moral philosophy. We know how easily a girl is carried away by plausible ways of putting things, until she may find herself bound to a worthless friend or unworthy lover. And what is the poor girl to do if she have nothing to oppose to––"Oh, everybody thinks so now!" "That's a mere old-world grandmother's notion of propriety"; "A man's first duty is to look after himself, and it stands to reason that if everybody does that, nobody need trouble himself about other people"?

Again, women should know something of the principles of political economy. How many ladies are ready to decide off-hand that "it would be good for trade if an earthquake shook down all the houses in London"; that, "if all the landowners in England excused their tenants paying rent, bread would be cheaper"; or, that "the wealth of England would have been increased if the country had contained gold-mines, instead of our iron and coal"; in fact, to fall into any one of the little traps which Mrs. Fawcett sets for the unwary in her Political Economy for Beginners,––which is, by the way, as interesting as it is instructive, and the girl who studies it with thoughtful attention will be in a position to form sensible opinions on some of those questions of the day which come up to be dealt with, not as matters of opinion, but as causes, powerful to set class against class. It would be for the welfare of the country if educated women had just ideas on subjects of this nature, not only that they should share the interests of husband and brothers, but in order that they should see, and keep before the men of their families, the other side of questions which the press of affairs would incline the latter to look at from a personal standpoint.

Possibly, a mission is devolving upon educated women. A mediator is wanted between labour and capital, not only to persuade the master to endure in gentleness, but to open the eyes of the men to the difficulties and responsibilities of the masters; and this mediator, the lady, with her tact, sympathy, and quick intuitions, is fitted to become, if she will take pains to get the necessary knowledge. Not that she need step out of her proper sphere to meddle with public matters; only that she should qualify herself to speak an understanding and kindly word on these subjects to the wife, if not to the husband, in her cottage visitings. A single sentence, showing a mastery of the subject in question, spoken in one cottage may go far to turn the tide of feeling in a whole community of work-people.

Women have been clamorous for their rights, and men have, on the whole, been generous and gentle in meeting their demands. So much has been granted, that we have no right to claim immunities which belong to the seclusion of the harem. We are not free to say, "Oh, these things are beyond me; I leave such questions to the gentlemen." It is not impossible that, in the course of Providence, women have of late been brought so much to the front, that they may be in a condition to play the part of mediators in these times of dangerous alienation between class and class. That we are in the early stages of a revolution, is patent to thinking persons; and whether this revolution is to be bloodless, unmarked by the horrors which have attended others we know of, rests, more than they realise, with the women of Britain. It is time for them, at any rate, to away with the frivolous temper which "cares for none of these things."

Nor is a social revolution the only one pending: there is a horror of great darkness abroad; Christianity is on its trial; and more than that, the most elementary belief in, and worship of, Almighty God. The judgment to come, the resurrection of the body, the life everlasting,––these fundamental articles of a Christian's faith have come to be pooh-poohed; and this, not only amongst profane persons and ungodly livers, but amongst people of reputation both for goodness and wisdom.

And how are the young girls to be prepared to meet this religious crisis? In the first place, it is unwise to keep them in the dark as to the anxious questions stirring. Their zeal and love will be quickened by the knowledge that once again Christianity and infidelity are in the way to be brought into agonising conflict at our doors. But let their zeal be according to knowledge. Lay the foundations of their faith. It matters less that the lines between Church and Dissent, or between High and Low and Broad Church, be well defined, than that they should know fully in Whom they have believed, and what are the grounds of their belief. Put earnest, intellectual works into their hands. Let them feel the necessity of bracing up every power of mind they have to gain comprehension of the breadth and the depth of the truths they are called to believe. Let them not grow up with the notion that Christian literature consists of emotional appeals, but that intellect, mind, is on the other side. Supply them with books of calibre to give the intellect something to grapple with––an important consideration, for the danger is, that young people in whom the spiritual life is not yet awakened should feel themselves superior to the vaunted simplicity of Christianity.

One more point: let them not run away with the fallacy that no one is responsible for what he believes, but only for what he does. Try this principle for a moment by applying it to our social relations––say, that no man is bound to believe in the fidelity of his wife, in the dutifulness of his child, in the common integrity of the people he has dealings with––and the whole framework of society is broken up. For, indeed, our whole system, commercial and social, is nothing else than a system of credit, kept up by the unbounded faith man reposes in man. That every now and then there is hue and cry after a defaulter, is only one way of proving how true are men in general to the trusts reposed in them. Does a countryman hide away his sovereigns in an old stocking because he puts no faith in banks? He is laughed at as a miser. Will he have nothing to do with his neighbours because he is mistrustful of them? He is a misanthrope, only fit to live by himself. And if the man who does not place due and necessary faith in his fellows, however much his trust has been abused, is an outcast, what is to be said of him who lifts up his face to Almighty God, his Maker, Father, Preserver, Redeemer, sole intimate Friend, and ever-present judge, and says, "I do not believe, because I can neither see nor understand"? I am not going out of my way to speak strongly as to the necessity of taking a firm stand here. For the sake of the children yet to be born, let the girls be brought up in abhorrence and dread of this black offence of unbelief. On points not vital, let them think gently and tolerantly, having a firm grasp of the truth as they hold it themselves, but leaving others to choose their ways of approach and service. But on questions that trench on the being, nature, and work of Almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and our relations of love and service towards Him, there is no room for toleration of adverse opinions: though we may have much cause to esteem the holders of such opinions. "His (creed) must be true whose life is in the right," is precisely one of those fallacies which young people should be taught to examine.

As for proofs, this is no question for proof. Every pulse that beats in the universe is, if we will have it so, a witness for God, being inexplicable without Him; but who goes about to prove that the sun is shining? At the same time, such works as Paley's Natural Theology, possibly, and Butler's Analogy most certainly, have their use, if only as showing how many plausible arguments have long ago been answered.