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- Hold Up Your Heads, Girls! - 4/19 -


man could make a single rose, we should give him an empire; yet roses, and flowers no less beautiful, are scattered in profusion over the world, and no one regards them." We cannot listen to Coleridge, "with his head among the clouds." We, alas! cannot even catch the energetic flash of Margaret Fuller's words. But every one of us can improve her conversation by persevering effort in the ways indicated, and can listen still to the best of talk.

Somewhere Emerson writes, "Wise, cultivated, genial conversation is the last flower of civilization, and the best result which life has to offer us,--a cup for the gods, which has no repentance."

II.

HOW TO GET ACQUAINTED WITH NATURE.

My dear girls, I want to talk to you to-day about one of your very best friends,--one so altogether lovely, from first to last, that we can never exhaust her attractions.

Nature is, indeed, among the most loving and constant friends a girl can have, and not by any means the imaginary acquaintance so many suppose she is. She lives and breathes, and has a form and spirit. Are you looking about to see where she is? No need of that. Come right here, and sit down beside me under this great pine-tree. How strong and comfortable its back feels against yours! Do you see all those soft green points looking down on you while the tasselled branches gently sway? Just look at the deep blue patches of sky away up and up among the green arches. How cool and smooth and restful! how unending the color is in which the leaves lie! How hardy and brave the branches look! See the lines of beauty in them,--long, aspiring, slightly curving lines,--which meet and terminate in cathedral spires. What grace in the motion of every spray of greenness! what a healing odor in the breath of the tree! And, hark! a little breeze has touched it, and tuned its language into a plaintive song,--a sound like the surf washing upon a distant shore. Do you know why the pine is so sad a tree? Let me tell you her story. No; she will sing it herself, if you will listen to the nocturn: "Long, long ago I had my home on an island of the ocean, and my branches swayed and sang to the waves that kissed my feet with the fondness of a betrothed lover. The winds were envious of our sweet union, and blew away from me the germs of life. My seeds sprang up again, but on foreign soil; and the new trees, my offspring, are the same in form and color, but their souls are all sad from my recounted memories of departed joy." When the slightest breeze comes near, and ventures to softly touch the branches, a sound like sobbing follows; but when, with rougher grasp, the east wind approaches, a wailing like the utterances of a storm-tossed sea is heard. Listen! do you not hear it now? It is the imprisoned spirit of the pine, longing for the waves, moaning out a vain desire for the embrace of the sea.

How am I sure the tree is alive and friendly? Doesn't it bow to you when you pass, and curve and sweep before you? Doesn't it offer you rest and refreshment in its shade? Doesn't it entertain you by showing you beautiful pictures and forms, and doesn't it furnish you with music? See what an instructor it is! Away up there among the branches are lessons involving the very first principles of architecture, sculpture, and painting,--signs that show the laws of harmony and hint at morality itself. Its trunk and limbs look honest and courageous, firm and trusty, while all its lofty, tapering height points Godward.

It is your confidant; and the more you tell it, the more you will find to say. While it is very modest and retiring, requiring time to get acquainted with you, still, the more it talks to you, the more you will want to hear. The pine is your school-master, and you are the royal pupil,--Roger Ascham and Queen Elizabeth. It is no longer an ordinary tree, but something born with a spirit in it; and it has birthdays. Thoreau, the man who loved Nature so much that the birds and the fishes took care of him and were never afraid of their master, used to visit certain trees on certain days in the year. The pine has a birthday worth celebrating in December, the maple in October, and the birch in May. You think this is all fancy, and believe persons must be very imaginative to find such friends in Nature? Oh, no; along with fancy Nature tucks very real things into our thoughts about her. You only need an introduction to her, and you will see for yourselves. The most practical among you will find that even fancy is a most useful quality, because it leads men to think out great truths.

Some of the most remarkable ideas in literature, philosophy, science, and, religion have come from just this snug little acquaintance with Nature. Probably the most original poet in the last hundred years was Wordsworth. However much he lacked in some respects, he has done most towards shaping the minds of other poets, and towards advancing new and beautiful theories. His honest ideas, his simple truths, were told him by the field-flowers--the celandine and daisy and daffodil--as well as by the common trees and the common sky. I suppose most of the principles of natural philosophy, and of many of the sciences, must have been derived from an acquaintance with Nature in her ordinary aspects. Oh, do not think it necessary to behold Nature in her great stretches of sublimity in order to appreciate her. You will come to know her far more easily, and much more helpfully, in a little woodside walk, or right here underneath these branches, than you will in Niagara Falls, or in looking at her in the great ocean. She comes down more to the level of your understanding here in this meadow. Comes down to your comprehension? Yes; I mean that, and yet I would not for a moment imply that in her most commonplace guise you can exhaust her beauty. Do you know what Mr. Ruskin says about such an apparently insignificant thing as a blade of grass? "Gather a single blade of grass, and examine for a minute, quietly, its narrow, sword-shaped strip of fluted green. Nothing it seems there, of notable goodness or beauty. A very little strength and a very little tallness, and a few delicate long lines meeting in a point.... And yet, think of it well, and judge whether of all the gorgeous flowers that beam in summer air, and of all strong and goodly trees, pleasant to the eyes and good for food,--stately palm and pine, strong ash and oak, scented citron, burdened vine,--there be any so deeply loved, by God so highly graced, as that narrow point of feeble green."

But _how_ to get acquainted with Nature is the question. By observation,--by simply opening your eyes and seeing. If no one yet knows all about a blade of grass, surely no one has so far beheld all the beauty there is in a single sun-rise. You cannot see every thing at a glance. When you first let your eyes rest upon the horizon, you may see only a piece of sky in the east: not very remarkable, you think, except that here and there are things that look like streaks of red and yellow. Later, you find something unobserved before,--clouds shaped like islands and balanced in mid-air, or lying like rafts which float along the edge of the sky. Then the color seems to deepen, and to spread out in great bars of light which lift and remove the remnants of the night. They are floating barges,--gondolas richly decked with crimson and gold, and burning with jewels of light. A coolness seems to come in the air, an exhilaration in your feeling. Energy, enterprise, are inspired with the dawn. When the sun is really up in the heavens, you feel an expansion of spirits, and great light is within you. You, too, will make a path through the day, as the sun makes his path through the heavens. By and by you will be able to say with the bardic philosopher, "I see the spectacle of morning from the hill-top over against my house from daybreak to sunrise, with emotions which an angel might share ... I seem to partake its rapid transformations. The active enchantment reaches my dust, and I dilate and conspire with the morning wind ... Give me health and a day, and I will make the pomp of emperors ridiculous." And, at length, you will rise above the earthly, and exclaim with the psalmist, "Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in."

Observe the humblest flower that grows, and first you may notice only its color, or form, or fragrance. Look again, and some added beauty appears. Observe more closely, handle it, and you are made a little thoughtful, because, all unconsciously to yourself, it may be, the flower is doing something to your mind and heart and soul. Perhaps its velvety softness and its lowliness speak to you of humility and gentleness; or perhaps its fragrance breathes sweetness into your life and feeling,--only a little, to be sure, but that little means something. The spirit of the flower speaks to your spirit; and you wonder what relation it bears to you, and if you are not both connected with the spirit of God.

There is something more than sentiment in attributing character to flowers, something better than fancy in saying, "Pansies for thoughts." Growing things all mean real things; so do the stones in the stone-wall, and the gravel on the road, and the very breeze that blows in our faces,--all and each have a significance which does not at once meet the outward eye.

It would be very delightful, and certainly very useful, if, besides this friendliness in Nature, you could learn some of the special values of Nature, as shown by science. A botanist has fuller joy in flowers and ferns and grasses than a mere observer of them, and a geologist has more pleasure in rocks than he who remarks them for their beauty's sake. Still, this friendship and this general observation had to come before the scientific knowledge was possible. I have great sympathy for those who, while ignorant of technicalities, love objects for just simply the things themselves.

When you begin to get acquainted with the externals of Nature, then, of course, you will ask how they are made; and the lessons of science will attract you. Looking at the smoothness of the rounded stones, you will be led to examine their ancient homes beneath the waves; noticing the long straight lines on the rocks, you will wander back to the period when ice covered the land, and the earth was wrapped in chaotic gloom. Observe, only observe! and curiosity will press for you the very secrets out of the woods, the streams, the skies. Look around you! There is such an infinite number of objects to consider right about your own porch-door,--the lichens on the door-stone, the apple-tree shading the path, the striped pebble that you kick aside, the plant pressing up between the boards, the dew shimmering on the weed. Investigate all your surroundings, especially the small, neglected places, and try to have an opinion about what you observe. A busy man, a merchant, noticed, some time ago, a thistle growing by the wayside. He was journeying in the steam-cars at the time; and, although the next stopping-place was somewhat far, he walked back to find the strange flower. The prize he gained was a rare plant, a beautiful thistle of which he had only heard before.

Oh, Nature is so modest! But once set her talking, she will forget your presence, and babble like the brook. How much she has told the poets, and the men of science! How much she will tell you, too, if you but heed her!

Ah, girls, what slight attention we have, in reality, shown to Nature! We treat her more like a servant than a friend and companion. The desire for excitement has turned our minds to vainer subjects. The struggles which our elders have made for money and position have deprived them of chances for regarding natural objects. However deplorable this may be, it is a still more lamentable fact, that you, dear girls, give so little heed to Nature,--you who have time and to spare. It lies with you to cultivate this love for the natural world, that future


Hold Up Your Heads, Girls! - 4/19

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