A lecture on 'Happiness,' given by Miss Lucy Soulsby in 1898 (published by Longmans, Green & Co.), is an excellent example of the teaching to which I refer, and would, I think, be helpful to many a girl.
A very common grievance to-day between mothers and daughters is that the girls while still young refuse to go out into society at all, feeling how tiresome and unprofitable it is. This is all very well if the girl has mapped out her fate, and knows exactly what sort of a life she is going to lead; but if she is merely drifting, it is only a form of selfishness, and rather a foolish one. Until life is really settled, the more varied and open to change it can be kept the better. After marriage I am sure the more people stay at home the better for ten or fifteen years.
The state I have referred to of more or less antagonism between mother and daughter ought not to cause the amount of distress that it often does. Time, the great healer, constantly rights things again, and as a rule a girl never turns with more true love to her mother than just after her marriage. But my advice to girls under these circumstances is to be conciliatory and hide from others the irritation which often they cannot help feeling. This I should recommend, even if from no higher motive than that the casual observer should not judge them too harshly. It is a rooted idea in the minds of many men that a bad daughter makes a bad wife. Was not Iago's strongest argument in the poisoning of Othello's mind against poor Desdemona 'she did deceive her father marrying you'? Not long ago I heard a young man say: 'I mean to marry for a mother-in-law - that is to say, I will never marry a girl who does not love her mother, nor would I marry a girl with a mother whom I thought unworthy of her love.'
The French, of course, exact an outward expression of devotion from both sons and daughters unknown in this country, and I doubt whether our literature could produce a parallel passage to these opening lines of Florian's poem of 'Ruth':
Le plus saint des devoirs, celui qu'en trait de flamme La nature a gravé dans le fond de notre âme, C'est de chérir l'objet qui nous donna le jour. Qu'il est doux à remplir ce précepte d'amour! Voyez ce faible enfant que le trépas menace; Il ne sent plus ses maux quand sa mère l'embrasse. Dans l'âge des erreurs ce jeune homme fougueux N'a qu'elle pour ami dès qu'il est malheureux; Ce vieillard qui va perdre un reste de lumière Retrouve encore des pleurs en parlant de sa mère.
Last summer, while waiting at a hot railway station and pondering in my mind how I could bring together a few notes that might help to solve some of the difficulties in girls' lives, I caught sight of a little yellow publication on the bookstall, called 'The Modern Marriage Market.' It will be remembered that this consisted of four articles, by ladies, reprinted from magazines. I bought it at once, thinking that these ladies would probably say what I wanted to say better than I could do it. It was interesting to find that they severally took what, roughly speaking, might be called the four sides of the question, though the last article held the philosophic view that, as with most affairs of life, there is much to be said on all sides. Miss Marie Corelli holds up the little blind god Love as the only one worthy to regulate our lives and destinies. Lady Jeune is surprisingly satisfied with things as they are. Mrs. Steel prefers even Eastern to Western customs rather than ignore the importance of the future generation. Lady Malmesbury takes, as I have already said, a broader and more moderate view as regards the pros and cons of the various points at issue. Most people would agree that the matter is one on which it is almost impossible to generalise, as so much depends on the enlightened bringing-up of the girl herself. The whole question has been treated with stronger and more philosophic consideration in an essay called 'Marriage,' which I mentioned before, in Sir Henry Taylor's 'Notes from Life.' His essay has the additional advantage of being addressed to both men and women, which is certainly to be desired. He begins with a quotation from Webster's play, in which the Duchess of Malfy asks: 'What do you think of marriage?' and Antonio answers:
'I take it as those that deny purgatory; It locally contains or heaven or hell; There is no third place in it.'
Sir Henry Taylor goes on to say that when he was young he did not agree with this, but that increase of years made him think Antonio's view the correct one. It seems to me that the last fifty years have wrought a considerable change in these matters. Nowadays members of society, so far as I am acquainted with them, consider it very inconsistent with their own dignity to admit that marriage has turned out 'hell' for them, and see that a more philosophical attitude of mind enables them to expect less and really find a great deal of happiness on the lines of the quotation at the conclusion of Lady Malmesbury's article: 'Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him that is alone when he faileth, for he hath not another to help him up.' In my youth I used to think that the gain in marriage was almost entirely on the woman's side; but as I grow older I am inclined to think the advantages and the disadvantages to men and women are nearly equal.
The crux of the whole position as regards the girl seems to me to be hinted by Lady Jeune when she implies that the mother should take the matter into her own hands - if not of making, at any rate of unmaking, marriages. And from this point of view I think I have something to suggest.
The questions that are constantly put to me on this subject by girls more or less young prove to me that a great part of the difficulty arises from the injudicious ignorance in which they are allowed to grow up. Let us begin at the beginning. A young girl of eighteen or nineteen once said to me: 'What is the harm of kissing?' And it is not altogether an easy question to answer if the girl herself has no feeling about it. When I was twelve years old my mother deliberately explained to me that for girls to kiss boys and men was childish and infra dig.; that grown-up women thought most gravely of kissing, and reserved it for those they loved very much, and who had asked them to marry them. This gradually puts the matter on a sounder basis. We have to be much older to understand that 'kisses are like grains of gold and silver found upon the ground, of no value in themselves, but showing that a mine is near.' On the other hand, some girls may think in perfect innocence that a kiss means a great deal more than it really does, especially as it is generally taken, not given; and I have even heard of a girl of seventeen who thought she was so lowered by having been kissed by a man that she was bound to marry him to save herself from disgrace. So one girl takes it; another may think, having once begun, there is no going back, and the onward course is the only possible one. To another, one accidental kiss may be only a great help and protection, teaching her by fear to understand and distrust herself. This state of ignorance ought never to be in a girl who has reached a marriageable age. If the stopping of kissing is desirable at twelve, it is equally important that at fifteen or sixteen the mother or an elder sister or some kind friend should explain the facts of Nature sufficiently to prevent for ever the possibility of such distorted notions as to the facts of life. There are hundreds of ways of expanding and enlarging a girl's mind so as to increase rather than diminish the modesty which is her greatest safeguard, and certainly not the least of her attractions. Indeed, it is a favourite theory of mine that the instincts of life are apt to grow before their protector - modesty - which is more the result of cultivation and civilisation than particularly pertaining to what is natural. All prohibitions wound liberty and increase desire. We none of us can defend ourselves from a danger as to the very existence of which we are ignorant. If a girl is trained to understand that we are part of that great whole which is called Nature, and that in fact our common development is shared by every flower that blooms, she is neither surprised nor shocked when further knowledge gathers round her as life expands. This, I believe, will serve as a very wholesome check against an over-preponderance being given to the romantic attitude so much advocated by Miss Marie Corelli. She describes marriage as the 'exalted passion which fills the souls' of a man and woman, 'and moves them to become one in flesh as well as one in spirit.' Mrs. Steel says, and I must say I agree with her, that this so-called 'exalted passion' is quite as often likely to lead to evil as to good.