Several of my young friends complained that the chapter headed 'Daughters' in my first book, though it sympathised with the woes of childhood, was addressed rather to mothers than to daughters. They say: 'We want a chapter about ourselves, on our own difficulties and trials, on love and marriage, and the proper conduct of life between seventeen and twenty-five.' So now, partly from memory of my own experience (for I was a girl once), and partly from observing others, I am going to talk on these subjects as well as I can, only referring as before to the well-to-do classes, the only ones about which I know anything. Where I find that my own thoughts have been expressed by others, I shall deliberately quote; and as these quotations will be from the writings of both men and women, some mothers may not think them suitable for the reading of very young people.
So far as I have been able to judge, the first difficulty which most commonly presents itself to a grown-up girl is her position with regard to her mother, no matter how excellent that mother may be, and even when the girl remembers the devotion she bore to her up to the age of (say) fifteen or sixteen. When a girl is about this age a barrier seems often to arise between them, usually caused by some want of confidence on the girl's part.
The difficulty, however, is only aggravated if the mother resents or is hurt by this reticence. George Eliot refers to this subject with Titanesque touches. She says: 'We are bound to reticence most of all by that reverence for the highest efforts of our common nature which commands us to bury its lowest fatalities, its invincible remnant of the brute, its most agonising struggles with temptation, in unbroken silence.' But, on the other hand, the same author thus describes the downward career of one of her best-drawn characters: 'Tito had an innate love of reticence - let us say, a talent for it - which acted as other impulses do, without any conscious motive, and, like all people to whom concealment is easy, he would now and then conceal something which had as little the nature of a secret as the fact that he had seen a flight of crows.' Some natures are born so secretive and shy that it is a real difficulty to them to speak out or ask advice, so that they cannot learn in any way except from that exceedingly bitter source - personal experience. I would advise the young to fight as much as they can against concealment. There is of course one subject which by its very nature can only live in privacy. We all go through the stage sooner or later of understanding what love means, and we all think at the time there is only one thing in the world of importance - that our hearts should not be unveiled. But with genuine and open natures this passes, and they end very often by open confession later on of that which torture would not have drawn from them at the time. Why reticence, to my mind, is so bad is that it so quickly grows into deception, and the smallest events develop into something quite different from what they really were.
Yet no one can recognise more than I do the necessity of some kinds of hypocrisy; it is 'the respect that Vice pays to Virtue,' and a form both of truth and strength. 'The Englishman kisses and does not tell, the Frenchman kisses and tells, and the Italian tells and does not kiss!' - so went the old saying. Admitting the facts, the concealment of the Englishman is the best. When one is young, one thinks just the contrary, and people are very apt to say: 'If I have a passion, why should I hide it under a bushel? So long as there is no concealment there is no harm.' This kind of argument may take people into very deep water. A parent of reserved nature rather encourages concealment in the children, and indeed thinks it 'beautiful,' forgetting that the children may inherit from the other side of the family a need for sympathy and the expression of affection, and that these are as absolutely necessary to some natures as food for the body. In my experience I can most honestly say that the people who have done best in life are those whose temperament has enabled them to talk out their difficulties with friends or relatives, and who have learned to ask advice. Advice should be taken to develop one's own judgment - and, as I said before, need never be followed. It is useful to understand how matters strike other people who are not personally concerned. The non-understanding of this is often the cause of a bad influence being exercised by one sex over the other. It is more easy to pardon faults than to forgive those who assume virtues they do not possess.
The mere forming of one's trouble into words makes it seem lighter to bear. We have all sometimes, if not often, known the extreme worry experienced on waking because of some trivial thing we have done or left undone, which disappears entirely or assumes its proper proportions after our morning bath. Talking out to a friend often plays the part of the bath.
I can trace a change in my whole life from the kindness of a Jewish old maid to me when I was a precocious little monster of ten years old. We were at Leghorn during a fearful earthquake, and the hotel where we were staying, though not actually thrown down, was so shaken and injured as to be considered unsafe to live in. This good lady took us all in, and was kindness itself to us. My heart went out to her with a genuine outpouring of love and gratitude, and when we left, having observed my many little childish selfishnesses, she wrote me the following letter:
'My dearest Theresa, - As I feel quite certain you really love me, you will listen with attention to the few remarks I have to make, and at the same time convince me of your affection by reading occasionally these lines in remembrance of me. Now, dearest, I must tell you that patience is one of the greatest requisites, not only for our own happiness, but for everyone about us. Be careful to keep that in mind. At meals (be you ever so hungry) do not show impatience; look round and observe whether those dearer than yourself have all they require, before you think of yourself. This will prevent your being selfish, which is of all things the most odious. Think first of your dearest mother, for rarely in health and never in suffering does she give one thought on herself. Therefore you, my darling, have but to follow her bright example, and you will be an ornament to society, a pattern of good-breeding, and an example to your infant sisters, who will look up to and listen to your affectionate advice. Remember that love towards all who instruct you is absolutely necessary, and patience and good-feeling for the servants will make them both love and respect you. This is my affectionate advice to you, my dearest Theresa; and whenever you feel inclined to be impatient or selfish you will read this and remember me.'