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- Hold Up Your Heads, Girls! - 6/19 -


When God made heaven and earth, and all things beautiful for the enjoyment of his children, He added His last, best blessing,--the gift of work. Sweeter than the fruits of Eden, more grateful than the fragrance that breathed from the flowers of Paradise, and grander than all the starry hosts of heaven, was this most precious favor. By it the world is delivered of its hidden riches, and the mind of man developed into its broadest capabilities. Yes, dear girls, there is a blessedness in work that transcends every joy you have. You know it; but the question comes, How to make the most of the gift?

What a dull old world this would be if we spent all our days on hotel verandas at summer resorts! Absolutely unbearable! We should all die of ease. It is as necessary for us all to work as it is to breathe. Nothing exists in the natural world without its special office or duty; and surely, in the world of man, no one can live without occupation. Lack of sufficiently worthy work is one of the crying evils of our day, among both boys and girls. Every thing is done to make labor less, or to turn it completely into pleasure,--to shirk it, or to scorn it. The sewing-machine has made the good sewer a phenomenon. Our grandmothers used to rip their dresses and linings with sharp scissors: a good jump from a carriage will send us right out of a modern costume. Teachers learn the lessons now, and the pupils take notes and cram once in a while. Text-books have gone out of fashion. The next generation will not see any antique furniture: it will all lie in a hopelessly unglued state, separated into its elements. There will not be any china tea-sets,--all broken in the last dish-washing. There may be a few books in loose bindings and faded covers, and a few works of art in frames that furnace-heat has set sadly awry. There will be a plenty of fine machines.

Mr. Froude tells us, "When the magnificent Earl of Essex was sent to Cambridge, in Elizabeth's time, his guardian provided him with a deal table covered with green baize, a truckle-bed, half a dozen chairs, and a wash hand-basin. The cost of all was five pounds." Harvard boys have somewhat enlarged that invoice of housekeeping goods. What do you think about the furnishings of college girls?

Welcome improvement. Yes, indeed! Be glad of clothes-wringers, dish- washers, carpet-sweepers, Quincy methods, Meisterschaft systems, and all else that will economize labor and time, or make more attractive the special work you have to do; but never forget that no machine can be invented which will make housekeeping a sport, and thorough, hard work of any kind unnecessary. And remember, too, there is no royal road to learning, as the Alexandrian philosopher said. Kings and queens must walk over the same rough road which we tread when they go up to the temple of knowledge. Cloth of gold cannot smooth the way, nor elegant editions make knowledge more subservient.

Girls, what do you think about shirking work? One of the chief differences between happy girls and moody ones consists in the amount of work they do, or leave undone. The despair which settles over many a girl's days, the indifference, comes from no longer being compelled to do certain tasks. "Get work, get work: be sure 'tis better than what you work to get." Do not delay the task that must be done. Procrastination is worse than the thief of time: it is the robber of our own character, our own growth and happiness. We need to work continually to be strong, mentally, physically, or spiritually, even; and the longer we put off exercise, the less competent we are. I cannot believe that a lazy person is a real Christian. Who labors, prays. I know so many girls who delay writing essays, hoping that slight sickness, or some unforeseen event, may ward off the trouble of thinking for an hour; then, when the time of necessity comes, and no deliverance from the hands of tyrannical teachers, a series of nervous attacks ensue, because of overtaxed minds (?); and the doctors order those poor girls out of the presence of such cruel task-masters. Medical science and educational science always do conflict; but eleven-o'clock suppers, social circles, tri-weekly gad-abouts, and over-anxious parents, who yearn for a good match for their daughters, disarrange the brains and stomachs of girls oftener than any undue desire to excel in study. The average student is never killed by the average school or the average school-teacher. But shirking work of any kind, delaying it, or contriving to make it less, will bring about a certain irregularity, and certain spasmodic efforts that are utterly ruinous.

The cramming system, in schools, or homes, or trades, is deplorable. You cannot put a whole geometry into your brain three days before examination, without its bulging and breaking through the cranium in less than a month's time. You cannot sweep and bake and wash Saturday morning, without the pies burning, the clothes tearing, and the dust flying. You cannot do all your book-keeping in just the hour before the evening train starts: some one's account will be incorrect. Regularity achieves what intensity never can. It is not the amount of work that hurts, so much as spasmodic attempts to work. Girls are not as strong as formerly. Irregular work, fast work, fast living, are largely at fault. Girls scorn work: it is too humble, or too little appreciated. Now, the fact is, girls, there is highest worth and dignity in precisely those kinds of labor that seem the lowliest and count for the least. Kinds of work differ, not so much in worth as in the use they make of our faculties to do to our utmost what lies before us. The monotony of housekeeping, or the daily repetition of work immediately to be undone, is, after all, the most essential labor. Without it, especially in America, the home would be destroyed. "If a woman is not fit to manage the internal matters of a house, she is fit for nothing, and should never be put in a house or over a house, any way. Good housekeeping lies at the root of all the real ease and satisfaction in existence." [Footnote: Harriet Prescott Spofford.]

It is an offence to women everywhere that in summing up women's work, the census will carefully enumerate those employed in professions,-- doctors, lawyers, ministers, teachers, authors,--those who work in factories and clothing establishments; those who are accountants, manufacturers, servants, farmer's, and fish-women, even; but contains not one word about the home-keepers. Are they not in any profession? Have they no valuable calling? Enrolled, would not they swell the number of workers by several hundreds of thousands in Massachusetts alone? If the census slights home-keepers, however, the girls slight home-keeping even more. Very few girls are to step aside from the commonplace, as we carelessly term it; but more depends, in this world, on the ordinary than the extraordinary. The work of the humblest is as essential to the labor of the highest as is the work of the highest to the labor of the lowliest. Michael Angelo could plan a St. Peter's; but the men who climbed up with wood and stone--"the hewers of wood and the drawers of water"--were necessary to its construction. Genius is a slave to labor. Says Smiles, in his work on "Thrift," "Genius is but a capability of laboring intensely"; making, you see, even talent itself, and its highest expression, an outgrowth of work.

No simplest task we do but is essential to somebody. Slight it, shirk it, scorn it, and somebody suffers. Leave the parlor undusted, and callers are sure to come. Wear a stocking with a hole in it, you will find it necessary to take your boot off before night. There is the greatest need among girls of a more entire consecration to certain humble, homely, housewifely duties. The wearing torment of discontent with unassuming work arises not from lack of ambition, but from scorn of what one has to do. I sometimes think this reaching out after the unattainable is worse for a girl than passive indifference to what she might acquire. A large part of the success a person achieves is dependent upon her thinking her calling the very best in the world. It is not the work which dignifies you: it is you who dignify the work.

The girl who wins honor in medicine, in literature, in music, in engineering, in astronomy, in laundry-work, in cookery, in needle-work, ennobles literature, or music, or science, or housekeeping. What worthy pursuit can you not, by excellence, raise into honor and esteem? Matilda of Normandy embroidered, in the quiet of her castle, stitch by stitch, and day after day, the battle of Hastings, at which the Conqueror won. When that great mingling of Normans and Saxons proved to be the important and the last step in the making of England, men looked back to the battle which decided the Norman Conquest, and, lacking needed information from chronicles, turned to the work of Matilda. There, on the Bayeux tapestry, was wrought the battle scene they required,--a piece of woman's work. It was a peasant girl, you know, who brought victory to France in the Hundred Years' War between that country and England.

Girls and boys have too slight an appreciation of manual labor. In most ways, work with the hands is more necessary than mental labor. God made man work in a garden before he gave him power to write books or keep accounts. Fine white hands are very pretty when they belong to a lady; but sunburnt, muscular ones are beautiful in the vineyard.

May I warn you not to despise the small amount of work you can accomplish, as compared with what others are able to do? Let me remind you, too, it is not what we get in money, buildings, knowledge, reputation, influence, by means of work, so much as what labor does for ourselves, our characters. Carlyle expressed the idea in a very short sentence, "Not what I have, but what I do, is my kingdom."

Even if our work is spoilt as we near its completion, and, instead of gain, failure awaits us, we have still been winners in ourselves, because we have acquired habits of industry, have made our powers of perseverance stronger, and have developed physical or mental strength as well. Work is never lost. When Carlyle sat down to write his "French Revolution" the second time,--a careless servant having burnt his manuscript,--he was a nobler man than when he wrote out the first issue. When Walter Scott failed, and Abbotsford was encumbered with a large debt, when his dream of restoring a kind of baronial life was all shattered, he did a grander work than in the building of that magnificent estate; for he strove with all the powers of his mind to earn the money which should repay his creditors. Though he died in the struggle, it was not fought in vain.

IV.

WHAT CAN I DO?

"But what can I do?" you ask. Oh, I hear that so many, many times, and I feel the deepest sympathy for the girl who asks it. Usually, when the question is put, there is no marked ability in the asker,--I mean, no special power to do a particular work. I have hardly the right to say this, however, since we are all endowed in some way, and each girl must have a work in which she can do better than any other. Perhaps, girls, you belong to the great middle class,--the people who have no large fortunes, no particular influence; and, maybe, you think if you only had a rich relative, or some acquaintance, who stood in authority, you might do a good work, or, at least, earn a livelihood. Do you remember that this very class of people have been the greatest reformers, thinkers, workers, rulers, everywhere? The United States owes its existence to people who had to depend upon themselves.

But let us see about this question, what to do. In the first place, if a girl has a decided inclination towards this or that honorable calling, she should foster every opportunity for pursuing it. If she can do a nurse's work better than a teacher's, and if no home ties


Hold Up Your Heads, Girls! - 6/19

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