To my mind this letter is an absolute gem as regards the understanding of child-nature. There is no mention of anything that could possibly make the little being of ten feel her youth or the writer's age. There is no word of religion. Love terrestrial is the moving power throughout. The motive for life suggested in it is not exactly happiness, which none can command, but the regulating of one's life, with ambition as an object. The incorporation of Eastern ideas into the West is responsible for much of that spirit which attributes all evils to the will of God, as trials to be accepted with resignation rather than difficulties to be fought against and overcome, and if possible provided against beforehand. 'sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof' is a saying that has, I think, been twisted into many senses never intended.
Advice, however, may be offered too young and bear no fruit. I once heard a kind grandmother preaching unselfishness to a little boy of four or five: 'No one loves selfish people; you won't be happy if you are selfish.' And he, the rosy-faced little rascal, looked up and said earnestly: 'Oh! but, gran, that is not quite true; for I am so selfish and so happy!'
Many mothers prefer to remain in ignorance rather than find out that the tastes and views of their daughters are different from their own. If, as is sometimes thought, this difference is greater now than it used to be, I cling to my opinion that it is largely due to sending girls away from home for educational purposes. Freedom and a good education have many advantages, but the corresponding disadvantages should be faced when the plan is originally decided upon.
Some years ago there came out a book, 'Le Journal de Marie Bashkirtseff,' which made a considerable sensation at the time, and raised - so far as I could judge - a good deal of anger and irritation amongst English mothers of the day. It was accused of being strained, exaggerated, and morbid; and so perhaps it is. One accusation, I believe, was true - that the heroine made herself two years younger than she really was, i.e. she begins the journal nominally at the age of twelve, whereas she was really fourteen. In spite of its faults I believe this book will remain for all time a most useful introduction to the knowledge of that strange being - a young girl, say, from sixteen to twenty-one. Its exaggeration is that of a microscope, which reveals Nature without distorting it.
This constitutes its utility for all mothers who have girls growing up around them.
A girl should bear in mind that it is quite possible she is a cause of considerable disappointment to her mother, and this possibility should be thought of humbly and affectionately rather than with resentment. For though, perhaps, it is due to no fault of her own, the disappointment is none the less real to her mother. She should do her utmost to make herself as pleasant in her home as she can. What elders expect from the young is a fair amount of willingly given assistance and unselfish cheerfulness. Few things, I think, contribute more to happiness in the home than a certain power of conversation; and, if it does not come naturally to them, girls would do well to try and acquire it. Any moderately intelligent woman can learn 'to talk'; and to be absolutely silent in society is, not modesty, but a form of selfishness, for it casts a gloom over everyone present. The true greatness of individuals lies in their own hearts, and conversation is as much a question of kindness as of cleverness. Mr. George Meredith, in 'Beauchamp's Career,' describes delightfully the charm of conversation in a girl. Of course all cannot have this, but all can try for it: 'Renée's gift of speech counted unnumbered strings, which she played on with a grace that clothed the skill and was her natural endowment - an art perfected by the education of the world. Who cannot talk! But who can? Discover the writers in a day when all are writing. It is as rare an art as poetry, and in the mouths of women as enrapturing - richer than their voices in music.' With young girls silence often becomes a habit from not being trained to join in the conversation of their elders - a fault in many English homes. But if a girl realises this is a mistake, she can get over it after she is grown up if she chooses. If, on the contrary, she is silent merely from being socially bored, she had better learn that a very simple remedy for boredom in society is to try and amuse others. There is sure to be someone uglier or duller or older than she is, to whom she can devote herself. One of the chief uses of society is the constant self-discipline it imposes. Depend upon it, as George Eliot says, we should all gain unspeakably if we could learn to see some of the poetry and pathos, the tragedy and the comedy, lying in the experience of a human soul that looks out through dull gray eyes and that speaks in a voice of quite ordinary tones. Such a thing is almost impossible to some girls, whose great amusement in life is to chatter. This has its charm to many; but girls of this temperament should, on the contrary, try to cultivate the art of listening, to draw forth information from others, and to understand their attitude without forming too hasty judgments. 'To communicate our feelings and sentiments is natural. To take up what is communicated just as it is communicated is culture.' A power to sympathise with others is one to be much cultivated, ever remembering it has to be paid for.
For he who lives more lives than one, More deaths than one must die.
Happiness and cheerfulness were not at all cultivated by serious-minded good people in my youth, who were much affected by the teaching, even if not under the influence, of the Quakers and Wesley. To be sad was almost considered a virtue. The High Church movement began the change, as I remember it, against the gloom of the Low Church teaching. The practical sense of the present day is now fighting the morbid tendencies, which have taken a hold on so many, reflected from the writings of Ibsen and Maeterlinck. Those not naturally of a happy temperament should cultivate happiness from within, not artificially assume it.