Page images

dental ladies, than anything yet arrived at. | cesses. A good scholar makes good schoIt is a late triumph of womanhood that a lars, and in lesser feminine degree, all acwoman should write as an habitual occupa-curacy and definiteness of knowledge can tion, and yet have no sense of being a star communicate itself. All that we term acor a special object of attention on that ac- quirement can be passed on, but qualities count. It is this class who form the real ingrain and special are in a main degree protection of their sex against the satire incommunicable. In a general sense, of and cynicism which every attempt at intel- course, it is elevating to live with superior lectual advance has always awakened. minds, and an immense advantage to have The world has never been without its free intercourse with them that is, if authoresses; the impulse is too natural for there are kindred qualities in the recipient; absolute repression. But their position be- but the position of a governess, bound by fore this period was not an enviable one, her contract to impart specific instruction, unless backed by wealth and social posi- interferes with this indirect accidental bention, which endorses everything; and they efit. People must be absolutely free to were so few in number, and so marked by choose their own methods, and they must circumstances -some which they could not be independent and master of the position, help, and some of their own making-that to influence others through their choicest, quiet women, whatever their ability, shrank most individual gifts. from connection with them. In his Family The master and mistress of a household Pen,' Isaac Taylor notes it as an intellectual ought to be the heads of it. A great deal peculiarity of midland counties' Dissent that of inevitable injustice follows where this is an authoress found an honourable and nat- not the case, and clever subordinates find ural place among its members, and could themselves kept down by inferior intelliretain her distinctly feminine character gences. In fact, the ideal governess ought among them. Miss Austen so recoiled not to be a student of character in any from the publicity which at her time was marked degree. None of us, if we knew associated with authorship, that she rigidly it, would receive a stranger into our housedeclined using her success as an entrance hold to whom all our faults and weaknesses to brilliant society, and refused to meet would soon be a printed book. Such misMadame de Staël, regarding such an en- placed discernment must be a source of suscounter as a step out of the seclusion which picion and unhappiness to all parties. Nor she valued more than fame. Practically should the governess occupy herself too speaking, the only resource for intellectual sedulously with the characters of the chiland accomplished women driven to do some-dren under her charge. The habit of readthing for their support was tuition; neither ing character often tends to a sort of fatalimagination nor experience had any other ism, and is opposed to that passion for insuggestion. The ordinary grievance at- stilling and imparting and moulding which tached to this solitary refuge is, that women constitute the born teacher. Yet these inare driven to it whose intellect is not equal convenient qualities, exercised in an apto the demands of such a calling. These propriate field, constitute the great charm we pity very much; but it is so much in the and chief power of many a successful aunature of things that feebleness and incom- thoress, who is likely also to be a much petence should be at a nonplus when thrown more amiable character when her gifts bring upon their own resources, that we can her credit and fortune, than when they hardly look forward to a state of society keep her, according to her temperament, in when it shall be otherwise: nor do we con- perpetual hot water or anxious mistrust. sider the suggestion of "S. G. O." to all poor and helpless ladies to turn ladies'maids, however plausible, a practical solution of the difficulty, as there are probably more incompetent governesses than there are fine ladies open to their services. But our present business is with a much smaller and more select class with ladies who are not too stupid but too clever and original for governesses. All that approaches to genius and originality cannot be imparted ity about these letters which constitute them not even the faculty of analysis; while a piece of autobiography of no common these innate powers constantly interfere merit. The impression we get of the writer both with aptitude and inclination for teach- from the book itself is confirmed by the ing, which is necessarily slow in its pro- mention we find of her in a short record of

We have been led into this train of thought by the reperusal of a little book once familiar to us which chance brought again in our way. It is dated forty years back, and contains an experience of governess-life of sixty years since. It bears the expressive title of Dependence,' and consists of a series of genuine letters detailing the feelings and events of a course of anxious years. There is a graphic power and an unmistakable real

[ocr errors]


travel written several years later by an Her powers, such as they are, excite interAmerican Professor, who became acquainted est; but she could not supply a definite with the lady as the wife of his uncle, the demand. Thus she writes of her first apclergyman to whom most of the letters in plication, at the age, as we guess her at, of Dependence' are addressed. He finds little more than twenty: I could not honher the presiding genius of an English estly tell Mrs. Danvers [we supply a body parsonage, every inmate of which charms to initial letters, which confuse the reader him. Of her he says: "My aunt's powers of the book itself] that I was competent of conversation were such as it has not been in any way to the instruction of girls so my good fortune to see surpassed. Her far advanced as she represents her eldest tender sympathy for suffering, her strong daughters; but my ignorance of music was love of justice, her lofty scorn of oppres- the bar she could not get over. The corsion, at once flashed in her eye, glowed in respondence that I had with Mrs. Danvers her cheek, and trembled in her utterance. prepossessed me very much in her favour. Though remarkable for that self-possession After writing her an account of myself and so common to all well-bred persons in Eng- all my wonderful perfections, she says, land, the thrilling earnestness of her deeper I have perused and reperused your letter, tones reminded me of what I had read of with increased regret that such a mind the conversations of Mrs. Siddons." This should be rejected merely for the sake of is a picture of a remarkable woman, but frivolous accomplishments.'" She is connot one best fitted for the only work the scious of talent, but it never seems the right time found her to do. The letters, in fact, sort for the calling she is forced into. "What would be too painful in some of their humili- shall I do?" she asks. "Am I always desating details, but for the novel-like consum- tined to undertake things which I am incapamation, marriage which is imminent as ble of performing? I am half inclined even we close the page. We venture to illus- now to write and tell Mrs. Venn all I know trate our subject by some extracts from the of my incapabilities and deficiencies. I did book in question, the more readily that it not willingly deceive her, if I have done it. seems to have failed to excite attention at I am aware that there is something about the time of its publication; though short me which gives people a higher idea of my extracts can never do justice to a flowing qualifications than they merit. I do, from epistolary pen, especially when held by the bottom of my heart, lament this; for I female hand. We learn that the writer is see no good in being able to impose upon the daughter of a clergyman-a scholar, people. It is a talent I possess in common and with habits acquired by intercourse with Miss Teach'em; there is only this difwith persons of higher rank and wealth ference she does it from design; I never than his own-who, dying while his three advance a syllable for the purpose." daughters were scarcely more than children, left them wholly unprovided for, and without those accomplishments indispensable for the prizes of governess-life. We can all remember how Miss Austen's immortal Mrs. Elton discusses these prizes. "With your superior talents," she says to Jane Fairfax, you have a right to move in the first circles. Your musical knowledge alone would entitle you to name your own terms, and have as many rooms as you like, and mix in the family as much as you choose; that is -I do not know-if you knew the harp you might do all that, I am very sure. But you sing as well as play. Yes, I really believe you might, even without the harp, stipulate for what choose. Of all houses in the kingdom, Mrs. Bragge's is the one I would most wish to see you in. Wax-candles in the schoolyou may imagine how desirable." It was the want of the harp, and the singing, and so forth, that condemned the lady before us to do without the wax-candles of governess-life. And we see it is inevitable.



[ocr errors]


[ocr errors]

The Miss Teach'em here mentioned is put before her as a model governess. Her able dissection of this character points out another vocation for the young aspirant, if such had been open to her.

"She spoke to me without reserve, and she seemed perfectly to understand the present state of things.Pretension is the order of the day,’ she said, and those who cannot make any must not expect to succeed.' I am sure she is right. I need only to look at that odious Miss Teach'em to be convinced of it. She is all pretension, and see how she succeeds in establishing her own importance! I see more of her than of anybody I think. I believe it is Burns who complains somewhere, that if he happens to like a few persons they are scattered all over the world directly; whereas, if there be a miscreant that he him in one way or other all through life. I hope hates heartily, he is sure to be pushed against shall not be pushed against Miss Teach'em all through life. I could hardly help smiling the other day when Mrs. Lane, in pure kindness, invited her here to bear me company in their absence. I found it quite impossible to convince her that I had much rather be alone. She told



chance; and for our daily food we are at the mercy of a dirty-looking old Irishwoman, who presides in the kitchen in the quality of cookand she resembles nothing I ever saw before in human shape. She might do duty for one of the witches in Macbeth, without any dressing but her ordinary attire. Well, after two or three days, imagine me sitting at two o'clock waiting for the children's dinner to be sent up. The footman knows nothing about it, but calls to the kitchen. Sure, the mistress never ordered any !' 'Well, send up something.' 'But there is nothing.' At length, after a good deal of subterranean grumbling, the scraps of the day before are sent up. . . . But this is nothing to the want of fire. Twice in the first month of my being here we had no fire in the schoolroom, because the mistress had forgotten to order any coals, and there were not enough in the house to cook the dinner. Only imagine me wrapt up in shawls, and the poor children with benumbed fingers, and their mamma assuring them that being cold was all a fancy young people ought to be warm;' and then asking if the carriage was ready; for somehow or other she never forgets to order that, however short her memory about other things.'


me I ought to derive so much benefit from the society of such a person, and so on.

"Well, I thought I would try to extract some good from her, as a sort of reward for the penance I was doomed to undergo in her society the whole day long. I thought she might perhaps be able to give me some hints on the best means of managing children. I would not learn her art of managing their parents if I could; and yet that, I believe, is the secret of her success. I tried in vain. She really can do nothing but talk; and all her talk is about herself and her plans, and what people have said of them, and how wonderfully she had succeeded wherever she had been, and how anxious all parents were to have her. I sat silently wondering that she should think it worth while to pretend even before me; but long habit has made it her nature. What a labour and toil it must have been to her at first to make believe all the day long! It is well for her that the parents of her pupils are more easily induced to believe in the wonderful merits she lays claim to than I am. Education with her consists in learning a limited number of lessons and languages. I said something of the cultivation of the mind and improvement of the character, but she gave me to understand that a governess had nothing to do with these. I said I had thought they were of the first consequence. Oh, certainly; but she assured me, and perhaps too truly, that parents always inquired more particularly about what accomplishments you could teach their children than what principles you would implant in them."



Tutors and governesses cannot help being unjust towards the parents. They assume, from the fact that principles are more important than accomplishments, that their own shortcomings should be excused on condition of implanting a higher tone of feeling; but parents naturally expect to infuse this through their own influence. It is in the technicalities of education that they want assistance. These technical deficiences seem to have thrown the lady out of the beaten track of governess-life, and sometimes brought her into circumstances more

And yet this mamma is so particular about the true Parisian accent that the children are not allowed to read French to their English governess. The book furnishes half-a-dozen effective openings for a lady's novel. There is the distinct portraiture of the central figures of the scene, detail, never degenerating into that cataset off by a felicitous choice of surrounding logue of inventory minuteness so often fatal to epistolary description: there is that fine confidence in the reading of a physiognomy so essential to the novelist, however undesirable as a practical guide; that eye for character, that passion for human nature cision of opinion, that general sharpness of under any trappings, that aplomb and dedefinition and distinctness of view, whether into things or notions, which we see in the born author, and which contribute to make the pen a natural and at once familiar in

favourable to the cultivation of a remarkable letter-writing talent, than to present ease and comfort. She never falls into commonplace situations or among commonplace people. The first family she engages her

strument to minds of this order, who can
extract a flavour of romance and adventure
out of the driest forms of life. However
silent and solitary, the hours passed by this

gant in manner, but disorderly and Irish to
a typical and, we believe, obsolete degree:
where an appeal to the maid for a window-
blind is most complacently answered by
petticoat; where her missing clothes for the
wash are found, after long search, trans-
inuted by the servants into a pillow; and
"where, from the drawing-room to the kitchen,
nothing is in order-everything is done by

self to is Irish; fashionable and even ele-wasted novelist in the evening seclusion of nished her with some subject for the eveher schoolroom, the day has generally furning letter which is to hold her in communion episode. An Irish apple-woman at a stall and sympathy with her kind. Here is an round the corner excites her attention. The old woman presents an apple to the children of her compatriots, and refuses payment, because it does her heart good to see the ladies step into their elegant car


riage every day. This disinterestedness is enough to awaken our young friend's sympathy and curiosity. After a time she learns her history, which she amuses herself with reporting to her friend.

for lately she had recognised a gentleman compromised in the Irish rebellion, who, to get her out of London, had offered to pay her expenses back; but "I could not leave my boy. Where his bones lie, there shall mine lie."

"I then asked her, what I had long wished to know, how she came to leave a country that she loved so much, and to take up her abode here. She told me she was a widow with one son, and he left her to seek his fortune in London. She heard from him sometimes, and she had reason to fear he had formed some bad connections; so she sold all that she had, and came over with a good bit of money to take care of him. She found her son on the point of marriage with a very worthless woman that he had found in the streets. She had tried to break off the match, but she could not. Mother,' said he, 'I love her; I love her even better than I do you.' 'Hard words these were for a mother to hear; but I made up my mind not to leave my poor lad, for I saw that he was ensnared past help. So he married her, and I lived with them, and kept my own money in my purse at the bottom of my box; and sometimes his wife would be a bit kind to him, and then my heart was all open to her; then she would keep out all night with her bad friends, and my poor lad, when he came home, would lay his head down on the table for hours together, and when he looked up he would say, "Mother, don't look at me." Sometimes he would say, "I shall not bear this long," for he felt within him that it could not last. I was always there when he came home from his work, and he did not sicken for the want of anything; but he pined away his heart was broken within him.

"Just before he died his wife came in. She had been away for several days, for she never came home but when she wanted to get some money. She looked at him as he lay in bed, and she seemed to know how it was without asking,

The girl who could write this story would be sure to tell it well; so that she might well wonder at Mrs. O'Brien's apathy; but still we sce powers misapplied. Conversational gifts need an appropriate field. We have been told lately that nobody can tell a story well without the vantage-ground of position. We can hardly imagine eloquence of any kind more painfully deprived of its chances than in the position of an English with her Irish employer, we have further governess. Not venturing across the seas for she went to his clothes and felt in the pock- insight into the experience so popular in ficets. He saw her, and he tried to speak, but the tion, so painful and often humiliating in words died in his throat. She muttered a curse real life, of seeking a new situation. A on my poor boy as he lay dying, because there dependent's involuntary study of character was no money in his pockets, and she went out imparts no courage, nor, in fact, any pracof the room. I did not heed where she went, nor tical advantage. "I never see a cloud on could I, when the lad fixed his eyes on me, and any one's brow," she somewhere says, "that grasped my hand and died. Well, I thought II do not expect it to burst on my head.” would bury him decently, for I had still a bit of This poor young thing trembles under the money in my purse; but when I came to look, ordeal of interviews with cold unpitying neither purse nor money was there. She had strangers, and indemnifies herself for what gone to my box when she found no money in his she undergoes by the necessary relief of a pocket, and she had not left me a sixpence. For narrative of looks, tones, and bargainings all that, he had a decent burial; and I sold all ending in disappointment. Her powers are hard tasks. recognized, but they only involve her in Relying upon them, a certain religious patroness betrays her into the family of a virago terrible to live with. The children are being brought up as heathens, though the father is a distinguished professor; and a religious profession with our young friend excites a reverence and admi


that I could, and with the help of my friends got this sitting, which I had set my heart upon because it is so near to the churchyard where my poor boy lies; and every night before I go home, I go down and look at his grave. it comforts my heart to see so much of him. ""

The old woman's story goes on to say that she might return to her own country,


"Now I hope," the warm-hearted narrator goes on to say. "now I hope this story will touch you. more than it did Mrs. O'Brien. I was quite full of it and expected I should certainly do the poor creature some good by telling her. She heard me with listless apathy, and only wondered how I could stop to talk to an old apple-woman in the street.' She is just at the door- at least just at the corner." yes; I know where she is. I am surprised that these kind of persons are suffered to set up their stalls in the street. She cannot expect much custom for her apples in such a neighbourhood as this.' The churchyard is just at the bottom of the street, where her son- 'Oh yes, I remember; and you are simple enough to believe her story.' I said not another word. I looked, for I felt ashamed of myself; but it was at hav ing made such a mistake as to tell my story to her. I could pledge my life on the truth of the old woman, and so would you if you had heard her tell the story herself."




ration which often curiously clash with her the other side of the water, but she was afraid irrepressible penetration. As she ap- to cross in such weather-meaning evidently proaches her unknown sphere of action, oppressed with nervous fears, she exclaims, Why should I tremble so much? Why should I have such a horror of the place? They are but human beings that I am about to encounter; and have not been told on very good authority that the tone of my voice is sufficient to interest any one and subdue all things? But her misgivings are prophetic. After a terrible journey by land and sea she arrives late before a dismal house- “painted black, I thought.”


[ocr errors]

"The parlour-door was opened, and I saw my two pupils, who sat in mute amazement by the fire. The mother then rose and pushed a chair towards me in a most awkward and ungracious

manner. I had not been used to see such un

couthness; and not quite certain of her identity, I said with a slight curtsy, 'I presume I have the pleasure of seeing Mrs. Sowerby.' 'Yes,' she grumbled in an indistinct manner; but that was owing, perhaps, to the loss of her front teeth. I could not disguise from myself that my coming was very unwelcome to her, if I might interpret her most forbidding manner and looks. I sat for a few minutes in silence, most devoutly hoping that all my fancied skill in physiognomy might prove false; for if either I or Lavater have an atom of truth in our science, there never was a more unpropitious countenance for a poor dependent to contemplate.

to infer that it was a most unfeminine thing in me to come; and she looked all manner of reproach at me. I could hardly help smiling, even in the very bitterness of my heart; but I said something of my inexperience of the water having made me courageous, perhaps from not knowing the danger. How shall I. vegetate with such a woman? How came I here? Against her will, I must suppose; and how strange that seems! My position here is a most extraordinary one."

In fact Mr. Sowerby and Mrs. St. Clair between them had smuggled a governess into the house; and she is instructed that it is her duty to stay so long as she feels she is doing good to the children. These children tell her that mamma says papa is a Methodist. "And what is a Methodist, my dear ?" I don't know," said the little creature; "but I think it is a naughty thing." "But you do not think your papa is naughty? she repeated. Mamma says he is a Methodist." I only answered, "Your papa is a good man."



Mr. Sowerby has a miserable time of it. But we should pity him the more but for one fact that comes out. She sits and wonders at first how such a marriage ever came about, but supposes he married her at an age when

"Finding she had taken up the poker to mend the fire, which wanted no such assistance, I fan-" Folly and innocence are so alike, eied her silence might proceed from the mere The difference, though essential, fails to strike." awkwardness of a person unused to strangers; so I continued to hope Mr. Sowerby was well. But adds, before long'Yes, he is well enough. He ought to have been in the way, but he seldom is when he is wanted. He knew you were coming to-day, but he said the water would be so rough you would not cross.' This was delivered with effort, and in a most ungracious manner; but it opened a subject for me to speak upon, so I told the horrors of my journey, to all of which she made little or no reply. Almost in despair, I began to try my powers upon the children, but they were equally chilling and inaccessible. I had just settled it in my mind that I had never seen such children before, and both they and their mother were more disagreeable than anything I had ever imagined, when the door opened, and their father entered. He is a middle aged man, of a most kind and benign aspect; his whole face was radiant with good-nature. Neither his mind nor his manners have had much cultivation. He has never, as he has since told me, been to any school; but he is well versed in the school of Christ. There he had learned to extend the

hand of kindness and even welcome to a stranger.... I inquired about Mrs. St. Clair; and the only time that the lady of the house joined in the conversation was when she observed, with some eagerness, that she had been some days on

"I must tell you I have heard it said that he deserves the bitter cup he is drinking, for he threw away an affection that would have made him happy. He met with this woman when there was some little difference between him and the other. She was a forsaken old maid, and her connections being higher than his own, he was pleased with the attentions they paid him. He was flattered by the advances she made, and her friends all helped to persuade him she was in love with him, for they had long found her a disagreeable burden upon their hands; so in an evil hour he married her. Oh what wretches [this to the lover] you men are, even the very best! I have thought a great deal of that faithful love which has induced the poor forsaken lady to remain single. I think if I could meet with her I should be tempted to let her know how amply she is avenged.'

A fear of being thought changeable by her friends, and the horror of having to seek for a new home, induce her to remain while it is possible. She has friends in the neighbourhood, spends the day at Christhouse, and Lady Bertram and the

« PreviousContinue »