Pursuits and Occupations

PURSUITS AND OCCUPATIONS

I have left little space to glance at the pursuits and occupations proper for young women at home. It is becoming rather usual on the Continent, and, to some extent at home, for the schools to instruct young ladies in the duties of household economy––an invasion, perhaps, of the mother's province. Every woman should understand, and know how to perform, every duty of cooking or cleaning, mending or making, proper to a house; and a regular, practical course of training under her mother's eye might well occupy an hour or two of the girl's morning. May I suggest the great use and value of a household book, in which the young housekeeper notes down exactly how to do everything, from the scouring of a floor to the making of an omelet, either as she has done it herself, or has watched it being done, with the little special wrinkles that every household gathers. Such an "Enquire Within" should be invaluable hereafter, as containing personal experiences, and should enable her to speak with authority to cook or housemaid who "Never saw it done like that, ma'am." The ordering of dinners, setting of tables, entire management for a short time of the affairs of a house, will all have place in this training in domestic economy.

Where there is still a nursery, the home daughter has a great advantage, for the right regulation of the nursery in all that pertains to cleanliness, ventilation, brightness, health, happiness is a science in itself; and where there is no longer one at home, it is worth while for her to get some practical knowledge of details at the hands of a friend who has a well-regulated nursery. As for sewing, every woman should know how to cut out and make all garments for herself and her children up to a full-grown dress, and it is worth while to learn how to cut out and make even that scientifically; so here is another art in which the young lady at home must needs serve her apprenticeship. At the same time, an hour's brisk needlework at a time is as much as should commonly be expected of her; for while almost every other sort of household occupation affords healthful muscular action, to sit long at her needle is not good for a young girl.

Besides, she has not unlimited time to sew; her education has only been begun so far, and must be kept up, and she must acquire habits of intellectual effort on her own account. She should have an hour or two in the morning for solid reading. English literature is almost an untrodden field for her; she has much history to read––ancient, mediaeval, modern,––all of which would be read the more profitably in the light of current history. She has learnt to read French and German, and now is her time to get some acquaintance with French and German literature. She will probably find it necessary to limit the reading of novels to the best, those which have become classics, except on occasion of a bad cold, or toothache, or for an idle half-hour after dinner. It is very helpful to read with a commonplace book or reading-diary, in which to put down any striking thought in your author, or your own impression of the work, or of any part of it; but not summaries of facts. Such a diary, carefully kept through life, should be exceedingly interesting as containing the intellectual history of the writer; besides, we never forget the book that we have made extracts from, and of which we have taken the trouble to write a short review.

Two or three hours of the afternoon should be given to vigorous out-of-door exercise, to a long country walk, if not to tennis, cricket, etc. The walk is interesting in proportion as it has an object, and here the student of botany has a great advantage. At almost every season there is something to be seen in some out-of-the-way spot, to make up the list of specimens illustrating an order. The girl who is neither a botanist nor an artist may find an object for her walk in the catching of some aspect of nature, some bit of landscape, to describe in writing. The little literary effort should be both profitable and pleasant, and such a record should be a dear possession in after days.

It is evident that the young lady at home has so much in hand, without taking social claims into consideration, that she can have no time for dawdling, and, indeed, will have to make a time-table for herself and map out her day carefully to get as much into it as she wishes.

The pursuits we have indicated are all, more or less, with a view to self-culture; but they will become both more profitable and more pleasant if they can be proposed to the girl as labours of love and service. Household duties and needlework will, of course, be helpful in the home; but all her occupations, and especially her music, even her walks and reading, can be laid under contribution for the family good, or for that of her neighbours, rich or poor. The girl who knows something of wild-flowers or birds, for example, is popular as a walking companion with persons of all sorts and conditions. Sunday-school teaching, cottage visiting, some sort of regular, painstaking, even laborious effort for the ignorant, the distressed, should be a part of every girl's life, a duty not to be put aside lightly for other claims. For it is only in doing, that we learn to do; through service, that we learn to serve; and it is more and more felt that a life of service is the Christian, and even the womanly, ideal life.

I shall notice, later, the importance of qualifying a girl, by means of definite training, for a particular line of service––for teaching, or nursing, or for general work in a parish, for instance; but in default of such training, as giving her an object in life apart from social success, the mother may do much to make "Ich dien" [I serve] the motto of her daughter's life, marking out some special line of helpfulness into which she may throw her youthful energy.

   "Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase)
   Awoke one night from a deep trance of peace,
   And saw within the moonlight of his room,
   Making it rich and like a lily in bloom,
   An angel writing in a book of gold.
   Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
   And to the presence in the room he said,––
   'What writest thou?' The vision raised his head,
   And in a voice, made all of sweet accord,
   Answered, 'The names of all who love the Lord!'
   'And is mine one?' Ben Adhem asked. 'Nay, not so,'
   Replied the angel. Abou spoke more low, '
   But cheerful still,––' I pray thee, then,
   Write me as one who loves his fellow-men.'
   The angel wrote and vanished. The next night
   He came again, with a great wakening light,
   And showed the names whom love of God had blessed,
   And lo! Ben Adhem's led the rest"

"Write me as one who loves his fellow-men!" is, indeed, the cry of the earnest-minded amongst ourselves; and to qualify her for some definite line of service, in the workhouse, the infirmary, amongst the blind or the mute, to give her some object in life beyond herself, and having no bearing on her own advancement, is, perhaps, the kindest and wisest thing the mother can do for her daughter.