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- An Original Belle - 6/94 -


last one in the world to put myself on exhibition. But it would be a heavenly joy to me--I might add surprise--if my own daughter became like some of the women of whom I have read and dreamed; and I do read and dream of that in which you little imagine me to be interested. To the world I am a stern, reticent, practical man I must be such in my calling. In my home I have tried to be good-natured, affectionate, and philosophical. I have seen little opportunity for anything more. I do not complain, but merely state a fact which indicates the general lot. We can rarely escape the law of heredity, however. A poet and a metaphysician were among our German ancestry; therefore, leading from the business-like and matter-of-fact apartment of my mind, I have a private door by which I can slip away into the realm of speculation, romance, and ideals. You perceive that I have no unnatural or shame-faced reticence about this habit. I tell you of it the moment you show sufficient interest to warrant my speaking."

"But, papa, I cannot hope to approach or even suggest the ideals of your fancy, dressed, no doubt, in mediaeval costume, and talking in blank verse."

"That's a superficial view, Marian. Neither poetic or outlandish costume, nor the impossible language put into the mouths of their creations by the old bards, makes the unconventional woman. There is, in truth, a conventionality about these very things, only it is antiquated. It is not a woman's dress or phraseology that makes her an ideal or an inspiration, but what she is herself. No two leaves are alike on the same tree, but they are all enough alike to make but one impression. Some are more shapely than others, and flutter from their support with a fairer and more conspicuous grace to the closely observant; but there is nothing independent about them, nothing to distinguish them especially from their companions. They fulfil their general purpose, and fall away. This simile applies to the majority of people. Not only poetry and romance, but history also, gives us instances wherein men and women differ and break away from accepted types, some in absurd or grotesque ways, others through the sheer force of gifted selfishness, and others still in natural, noble development of graces of heart and mind."

"Stop generalizing, and tell me, your silly, vain, flirtatious daughter, how I can be unconventional in this prosaic midday of civilization."

"Prosaic day? You are mistaken, Marian. There never was a period like it Barbaric principles, older than Abraham, are now to triumph, or give place to a better and more enlightened human nature. We almost at this moment hear the echoes of a strife in which specimens of the best manhood of the age are arrayed against one another in a struggle such as the world has never witnessed. I have my part in the conflict, and it brings to me great responsibilities and dangers."

"Dangers! You in danger, papa?"

"Yes, certainly. Since you wish to be treated like a woman, and not a child,--since you wish me to show my real life,--you shall know the truth. I am controlled by the government that is engaged in a life-and-death struggle to maintain its own existence and preserve for the nation its heritage of liberty. Thus far I have been able to serve the cause in quiet, unrecognized ways that I need not now explain; but I am one who must obey orders, and I wish to do so, for my heart is in the work. I am no better than other men who are risking all. Mamma knows this in a way, but she does not fully comprehend it. Fortunately she is not one of those who take very anxious thought for the morrow, and you know I am inclined to let things go on quietly as long as they will. Thus far I have merely gone to an office as I did before the war, or else have been absent on trips that were apparently civilian in character, and it has been essential that I should have as little distraction of mind as possible. I have lived long in hope that some decisive victory might occur; but the future grows darker, instead of lighter, and the struggle, instead of culminating speedily, promises to become more deadly and to be prolonged. There is but one way out of it for me, and that is through the final triumph of the old flag. Therefore, what a day will bring forth God only knows. There have been times when I wished to tell you something of this, but there seemed little opportunity. As you said, a good many were coming and going, you seemed happy and preoccupied, and I got into the habit of reasoning, 'Every day that passes without a thought of trouble is just so much gained; and it may be unnecessary to cloud her life with fear and anxiety;' yet perhaps it would be mistaken kindness to let trouble come suddenly, like an unexpected blow. I confess, however, that I have had a little natural longing to be more to my only child than I apparently was, but each day brought its increasing press of work and responsibility, its perplexing and far-reaching questions. Thus time has passed, and I said, 'Let her be a light-hearted girl as long as she can.'"

"O papa, what a blind, heartless fool I've been!"

"No, my dear, only young and thoughtless, like thousands of others. It so happened that nothing occurred to awaken you. One day of your old life begat another. That so slight a thing should make you think, and desire to be different, promises much to me, for if your nature had been shallow and commonplace, you wouldn't have been much disturbed. If you have the spirit your words indicate to-night, it will be better for you to face life in the height and depth of its reality, trusting in God and your own womanhood for strength to meet whatever comes. Those who live on this higher plane have deeper sorrows, but also far richer joys, than those who exist from hand to mouth, as it were, in the immediate and material present. What's more, they cease to be plebeian in the meaner sense of the word, and achieve at one step a higher caste. They have broken the conventional type, and all the possibilities of development open at once. You are still a young, inexperienced girl, and have done little in life except learn your lessons and amuse yourself, yet in your dissatisfaction and aspiration you are almost infinitely removed from what you were yesterday, for you have attained the power to grow and develop."

"You are too philosophical for me. How shall I grow or develop?"

"I scarcely know."

"What definite thing shall I do to-morrow?"

"Do what the plant does. Receive the influence that tends to quicken your best impulses and purposes; follow your awakened conscience naturally. Do what seems to you womanly, right, noble in little things or in great things, should there be opportunity. Did Shakespeare, as a child, propose to write the plays which have made him chief among men? He merely yielded to the impulse when it came. The law holds good down to you, my little girl. You have an impulse which is akin to that of genius. Instead of continuing your old indolent, strolling gait on the dead level of life, you have left the beaten track and faced the mountain of achievement. Every resolute step forward takes you higher, even though it be but an inch; yet I cannot see the path by which you will climb, or tell you the height you may gain. The main thing is the purpose to ascend. For ihose bent on noble achievement there is always a path. God only knows to what it may bring you. One step leads to another, and you will be guided better by the instincts and laws of your own nature than if I tried to lead you step by step. The best I can do is to give you a little counsel, and a helping hand now and then, as the occasion requires."

"Now in truth, papa, do not all your fine words signify about what you and mamma used to say years ago,--'You must be a good little girl, and then you will be happy'? It seems to me that many good people are conventionality itself."

"Many are, and if they ARE good, it is a fortunate phase of conventionality. For instance, I know of a man who by the law of heredity and the force of circumstances has scarcely a bad habit or trait, and has many good ones. He meets the duties of life in an ordinary, satisfactory way, and with little effort on his part I know of another man who externally presents nearly the same aspect to society, who is quiet and unobtrusive in his daily life, and yet he is fighting hereditary taint and habit with a daily heroism, such as no soldier in the war can surpass. He is not conventional, although he appears to be so. He is a knight who is not afraid to face demons. Genuine strength and originality of character do not consist in saying or doing things in an unusual way. Voluntary eccentrics are even worse than the imitators of some model or the careless souls which take .their coloring from chance surroundings. Conventionality ceases when a human being begins the resolute development of his own. natural law of growth to the utmost extent. This is true because nature in her higher work is not stereotyped. I will now be as definite as you can desire. You, for instance, Marian Vosburgh, are as yet, even to yourself, an unknown quantity. You scarcely know what you are, much less what you may become. This conversation, and the feeling which led to it, prove this. There are traits and possibilities in your nature due to ancestors of whom you have not even heard. These combine with your own individual endowments by nature to make you a separate and distinct being, and you grow more separate and distinct by developing nature's gifts, traits, powers,--in brief, that which is essentially your own. Thus nature becomes your ally and sees to it with absolute certainty that you are not like other people. Following this principle of action you cannot know, nor can any one know, to just what you may attain. All true growth is from within, outward. In the tree, natural law prevents distortion or exaggeration of one part over another. In your case reason, conscience, good taste, must supervise and direct natural impulses. Thus following nature you become natural, and cease to be conventional. If you don't do this you will be either conventional or queer. Do you understand me?"

"I think I begin to. Let me see if I do. Let me apply your words to one definite problem,--How can I be more helpful and companionable to you?"

"Why, Marian, do you not see how infinitely more to me you are already, although scarcely beyond the wish to be different from what you were? I have talked to you as a man talks to a woman in the dearest and most unselfish relation of life. There is one thing, however, you never can know, and that is a father's love for a daughter: it is essentially a man's love and a man's experience. I am sure it is very different from the affection I should have for a son, did I possess one. Ever since you were a baby the phrase, 'my little girl,' has meant more than you can ever know; and now when you come voluntarily to my side in genuine sympathy, and seek to enter INTELLIGENTLY into that which makes my life, you change everything for the better, precisely as that which was in cold, gray shadow before is changed by sunlight. You add just so much by your young, fresh, womanly life to my life, and it is all the more welcome because it is womanly and different from mine. You cease to be a child, a dependant to be provided for, and become a friend, an inspiration, a confidante. These relations may count little to heavy, stolid, selfish men, to whom eating, drinking, excitement,


An Original Belle - 6/94

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