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The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
______________________________________
The Old Grace and the New Intellect

by Mrs. Steinthal
Volume 11, 1900, pgs. 410-422


Mrs. Steinthal then read a paper on The Old Grace and the New Intellect.

So much has lately been written on the subject of good manners, that it may seem presumptuous to try to give a new dress to old thoughts. But the question seems to me to be one of such vital importance at the present day, and one of which may so seriously hinder and impede the progress of the human race, that I dare not hesitate to bring before the members of P.N.E.U. But, first--does the title present a true picture? Is all grace old and intellect new? Are we not rather given, in these flying days, to make aphorisms and sweeping assertions, and, because they are smart and catching, accept them in a loose, illogical fashion as truths, and never pause to consider if there is even a substratum of truth in them or not? How many women to-day take it for granted that one swallow makes a summer, or one yellow leaf an autumn?

We will endeavour, therefore, to ascertain if grace must necessarily be old, or intellect modern; if we run any danger of losing grace or good manners, and if it is possible for the two to exist side by side.

On re-reading much of the literature of the early part of this century, I am struck by the fact that bad manners are constantly complained of. In a delightful book--A Girl's Life 80 Years Ago--Eliza Southgate writes in a letter in 1800:--"Mrs. Lovell is a fine, lady-like woman, yet her manners are such as would have been admired fifty years ago; there is too much appearance of whalebone and buckram to please the depraved taste of the present day. Nancy, the eldest daughter, is elegant and refined and has no airs."

She also writes in another letter:--"Miss S. was--I can't tell you what--you may have heard of her, celebrated for her wit; lost a lover by exercising it rather too severely. Poor soul! It was a sad affair; she has at last become aware of the impropriety of her conduct, and now hopes to atone for it by flattering every gentleman she sees. She talks incessantly, laughs always at what she says herself. At table where the judges, lawyers, and a dozen ladies and gentlemen were seated, Miss S. engrossed the conversation. In this manner she draws a whole swarm around her; the poor souls rattle out their outrageous compliments, trembling with fear, for the moment their ardour to please seems to abate, she rouses them to a sense of their duty by a lash of her tongue."

Have you not met Miss S. within the last few years, and decided that she is the result of the High Schools, or of the many examinations of to-day? What does Miss Austin say about girls' manners? On hearing that Fannie was not "out," Miss Crawford remarks:--"The manners of a girl out or not, as well as appearance, are, generally speaking, so totally different. A girl not out has always the same kind of dress--a close bonnet, for instance--looks very demure, and says never a word. Girls should be quiet and modest. The most objectionable part is, that the alteration of manners, on being introduced into company, is frequently too sudden. They sometimes pass in such a very little time from reserve to quite the opposite--to confidence. That is the faulty part of the present system. One does not like to see a girl of eighteen or nineteen so immediately up to everything, and, perhaps, when one has seen her hardly able to speak the year before."

Now let us consider the opportunity women had of educating the intellect.

In 1753 we find Lady Mary Montague stoutly denying that she had written books. Literary women were looked upon as abnormal creatures, whose example was to be shunned, and any marked aptitude for learning that she might show was discouraged.

If a boy had shown similar fitness for mathematical research as Mary Somerville, about 1780, anxious attention would have been devoted to the choice of books and teachers, school and university; but the case of a girl showing such taste seemed to be adequately met by allowing her the privelege of following her own devices.

Intellectual pursuits were considered unladylike, and women writers were regarded with horror.

A Frenchman, Le Blanc, wrote in the early part of the century: "A taste for science in most women does not come till they have lost every other relish, and, as it is not natural to them, it generally does them more harm than good. Very few of them are made amiable by it, but may have their brains turned, and are exposed by it to the laughter of reasonable persons of both sexes. A woman who, through misfortune, falls into this absurdity makes herself insupportable by that air of sufficiency which she assumes on all occasions without perceiving it. She seems always in astonishment at what she knows, though her pretended knowledge is commonly what others find less astonishing than herself."

Fanny Burney, you will recollect, feared to acknowledge the authorship of Evelina, and her heroine, Cecilia, was mocked by her friends for even reading.

The late Lord Granville, when speaking in 1890 on the question of women becoming County Councillors, said, "When I was a boy, a great statesman took his daughter into Devonshire on a visit. On his return to London he received a letter from his hostess, enclosing a copy of verses, and suggesting that, very likely, the modesty of his daughter had prevented him seeing the copy which she then sent him. The statesman sent for his daughter and criticized the verses, pointing out some unsuitable lines, praising the beauties of others, and, on whole, approving of the poem. But having done this, he appealed to her never to write again. He was not afraid of her becoming a good poetess, but he was afraid of the disadvantages which were likely to be suffered by her if she were supposed to be a lady of literary attainments."

You will remember how, even later, George Eliot [Mary Ann Evans, author of Silas Marner] and Charlotte Bronte [She wrote Jane Eyre under the pen name Currer Bell] sought to disguise their identity under nom de plume.

Do my many swallows prove the summer to you, and do you not agree that the visible and open union of grace and intellect has been only possible within the last fifty years? I say fifty years because I think that the beginning of the last half of the century was the period of the highest culture and the best manners.

Cranford [by Elizabeth Gaskell], the record of the most perfect gentlewomen and gentlemen in fiction, is a picture of those times.

Who do you and I care to call on most: Who helps us to realize what is meant by a perfect English gentlewoman?

Surely, the elderly ladies of our acquaintance, who, in addition to the old world grace with which they welcome you, stimulate and delight you by their interest--ever alive--in literature and in the events of the day.

It was constantly said of the late Mrs. W. E. Forster [Jane Martha Arnold, married William Edward Forster], the eldest daughter of Dr. [Thomas] Arnold, "Everyone feels better when in her presence." Her manners were founded on habitual consideration of others.

When discussing our subject with one of the charming old ladies, she remarked, "We were always trained by our parents to show great politeness to our elders. We curtsied when we entered a room, and were taught to look after their comforts, such as bringing a footstool or a cushion. So, I think, manners were soon a second nature. Ah! my dear," she continued, "the manners of the girls to-day are terrible, terrible."

It is a common failing of old age to regret the past glories and to regard all progress as a "going back." But to-day the young tell us in strident tones:--

          So I said, and think not I said it in jest
          (You will find it is true to the letter),
          That the only thing old people ought to know best
          Is that young people ought to know better.

To-day we are passing through a crisis. This century has been called the Women's Century, and I think I have proved to you that, in one direction at least, the position of woman has been much changed and developed.

We give more liberty and independence to our daughters.

I do not speak so much of boys as of girls in this paper, as I feel that on account of the rapid changes made, that the manners of the latter are in the greater danger. Moreover, is not grace essentially a woman's quality? Enlightened mothers, in their anxiety to be in touch with the times, have possibly given their daughters too much liberty when too young: and, when they have grown older, for fear of what people may say, have tried to tighten the rein. Liberty once given can never be withdrawn from individuals, any more than from nations, without quarrel and trouble.

The liberty of women within certain limits must grow, and society will adapt itself to it. But, in this growth lies our danger--danger to our womanhood and to our highest powers--the loss of gracious manners, of ready tact, of true sympathy.

There is a tendency at present day to an affectation of hardness, at any rate outwardly. It is not the fashion nowadays for a woman to cry in public. Tears trickled down the cheeks of many elderly men and women the other day at an affecting meeting for waifs and strays, but the young sat dry-eyed and unmoved. Women may be more brilliant and give more light, but if there is no heat, they fail to touch one's heart.

Some people are born without what George Meredith describes as the gift of intimacy. Friendships they have never, either with their own sex or the other. Of these might be quoted Morley's words:--"They experience an awful loneliness of life--a life as full of acquaintance as a cake is full of currants, no two ever touching the other."

Edward, in Mansfield Park [by Jane Austen], gives us the key to good manners when he says:--"The manner I speak of might rather be called conduct, perhaps the result of good principles, and it will, I believe, be everywhere found that what the mothers are, or are not what they ought to be, so are the rest of the nation." It is in the home, and by the parents that the manners of each generation are made or marred.

Herbert Spencer, in Sociology, describes the growth of manners in the primitive race and in the child, the two cases being analogous.

Before there exist in considerable degree the sentiments which find satisfaction in the happiness of others, of which good manners are the outward sign, there exist, in considerable degree, the sentiments which find satisfaction in the admiration given by others.

One of our great difficulties in the life progress of our children arises from the primitive impulsiveness, which causes, alike in the child and in the savage, a variability perplexing to one who would form a conception of the average nation. But, keeping this in mind, we can better reconcile the child's excessive egoism, and his fellow-feeling, his cruelty and his kindness.

But the power deputed to the parent is great. We realize that there must be most aid where there is least strength. We feed the helpless infant from hour to hour, keep him warm, amused, and exercised. As the child grows, its powers of self-preservation increase, and although we still guard it to some extent morally and physically, our attention somewhat slackens. At this period, we devote ourselves to teaching the growing child the meaning of meum and teum [mine and thine]. But when the boy or girl enters into the battle of life, they are dealt with after a contrary system. The general principle now is, that his reward shall be proportioned according to his virtues. Parental aid does somewhat soften the effects of the social law, but the mitigation can be but slight.

Clearly, with a society, as with a species, survival depends on conformity to both of these antagonistic principles, "Hence the necessity of maintaining the cardinal difference between the ethics of the family and the ethics of the state. Unqualified generosity must remain the principle of the family when the children are young, and generosity qualified by justice must remain its principle as the children grow older. Conversely the principles of the society, guiding the acts of the citizens to one another, must be justice, qualified by such generosity as their several natures prompt."

Let us grasp this truth, and realizing that, in the child comes, first, desire of approbation, love of admiration, so train him that these qualities become the foundation of the higher one, love of one's neighbour, desire to please others. This must be kept in mind in the very earliest years of a child's life. I am convinced that a great deal of the ill-mannered behaviour of older boys and girls arises from a deep-seated conviction that the good manners required of them are hypocritical. How can it be otherwise if there has been no transition from the early desire to be pleased, to the succeeding desire to please, and they are suddenly told not to look so cross, not to behave so roughly, to speak more gently, and a hundred "do's" and "don't's," to express feelings which they don't feel. A boy or girl can be made to understand that rough and noisy behaviour hurts his father and mother or sister, so that he might honestly feel a wish to be gentle in their presence, and not think that women and elders generally have an idiotic fancy for company manners. You may require a formal act as a matter of obedience, but do not ask for an expression unless you can call up the feelings, or you will ruin all. Some of us resemble the little girl in Punch, who wanted to wag the dog's tail to put him in a good humour.

Manners, to be really good, must be founded on habitual consideration for others. The root of the matter lies in Charles Reade's title, "Put yourself in his place."

A mother remarked lately, on hearing that her little daughter of eight had entertained a visitor by showing her doll and treasures, and talking without any signs of shyness, nor yet of fowardness, "I try to make my children grow out of themselves. I feel that is the way to make them true gentlewomen."

Let us see to it, therefore, that our little ones are trained in daily acts of courtesy to their elders, to the servants, to all they come in contact with, for, of the education of the mind and heart, the one is of equal importance as the other. A child must never feel that a gift in money or kind can make up for rude words or can ensure esteem or affection. It is because we run so swiftly after intellectual pursuits, philanthropic societies, congresses--educational, scientific or religious--that we have ceased to put the amenities of life in their true position.

Is it possible for a woman to be much before the public and to retain the courtesies and good manners that are a sign of the true gentlewoman? I do believe that there are many to-day who charm their audiences as much before and at the close of their lectures as when they are speaking on a platform; but these, alas, are in the minority. A public woman, too often, loves the mass and hates the unit. I have taken women to speak at meetings who have not had the civility to even answer questions or join in any conversation, and who, when introduced to the committee of the local society, have scarcely deigned to speak civilly. One such woman I well remember, who, when she stood up before an audience, opened out her arms and exclaimed, "My friends, I care for you all." She was one who cared for the multitude, but was utterly indifferent to one or two. Good work can suffer from bad manners. Women with the best intentions, the highest motives, can make themselves so intensely disagreeable that the work and the worker get cordially disliked.

Some of our daughters--many, I hope--will, in the next generation, take their part in aiding the progress of the race, and some of them may be able to do their best work on the platform. If they are trained from infancy to think more of others than of themselves, to act from heart impulses and not from self-glorification, the latter being only the first stage of a savage or of a child--if they have reached the second and nobler stage of regarding their neighbour as themselves, and are filled with a divine impulse to help and raise others, then will the old grace and the new intellect be one, and woman will reach the zenith of her greatness.

You say it is more difficult in these days to guide children whose habits of observation and logic are more cultivated under the new systems that are springing up. The spirit of independence and personal right is fostered.

A German teacher wrote lately, "I can understand the teacher who said he would rather teach twenty German children than one English child. I understand him, but I do not sympathize with him. The German child is nearly a slave compared to the English child, and is, therefore, more easily subdued by the one in authority."

But this need not daunt us. By creating an atmosphere of unselfishness, of quiet service to others in the home, the most impetuous child will respond.

We have grown out of the idea of the 17th century that children must be trained in manners by never being allowed to sit or speak in the presence of their parents, and even out of the habit of the last century when parents were invariably addressed as "Sir" or "Madam". This might easily become lip service, but we members of the P.N.E.U. realize the importance to-day of inculcating principles in the hearts of our little ones, which must produce the fruits of heart service.

Let our children be taught from their earliest years to seek for the good in their friends and others. As Michael Angelo saw the angel sitting in the heart of the marble, and with divine fervour released her from her prison, so let us strive to set free the angel in the heart of our friend, and we cannot then fail to be a power for good over the lives and destinies of all we come in contact with.

How often an older woman, unconsciously despising youth, nips the enthusiasm and the longing to be of use to others that many girls feel. If we elders only realized that each girl we meet may be a future worker, a secretary, a speaker or writer, or a great benefactor to her race, we should be more careful to treat her with courtesy and with reverence. Too often we feel, as a woman expressed it the other day, that it is a waste of time to talk to nobodies, and we speak curtly and show them that they bore us, and the poor girl feels suddenly chilled and her desire for a higher life fades away.

A speaker at our conference, two years ago, struck this note when she laughingly declared that, in the present day, mothers were more interesting people than their daughters.

Let us endeavour to retain the old grace--the grace of Miss Mattie and Colonel Newcomb, and of Mrs. Forster and many others we could name, so that this sin of murdering high aspirations may not be laid to our charge. We ought to be able to expect from every fully developed man and woman, kind words, generous impulses, self-denying actions.

Good manners and good breeding are one, and can be found in the cottage and the palace.

Thoughtfulness for others, tenderness towards others' feelings, these are the hall-marks of a noble gentlewoman.

What is our experience to-day? We write letters begging for an instant reply, business letters about servants, etc., invitations to dinners, questions and so on. We often have to wait long for the replies, and probably only get an answer by again writing an urgent appeal. One mother I know never answers an invitation, and has to be personally seen to ascertain if she means to accept or not. Naturally, her children also pay but little attention to the answering of letters, and the natural consequence is that they are left out of every pleasure and wonder why life is so dull.

When some girls pay a visit, the time of the hostess is spent in putting back the books she takes out of the bookcases, tidying the cushions, arranging the room whenever the visitor leaves it, and so on.

There is a distinct wave of bad manners passing over the race, and it rests with the mothers to recognize the dire effect it must produce on society and on both the men and women of the future. Let us accept Stevenson's ideal, "My duty to my neighbour is expressed by stating that I have to make him happy--if I may." Let us give warm, generous praise to noble acts, inspiring words, believing, as we do, that a distinctive mark of mediocrity is to be always lukewarm in praise. Is not this mediocrity the prevailing note of our age?

So we see that, long ago, there was an old grace, with its charming old-world manners, but which was ashamed of showing intellectual effort. To-day we run a danger of being mastered by an admiration for intellect alone. Women now attain high intellectual heights, and just as a parvenu imagines that his newly gained riches will obtain for him all his heart desires, so there is a danger of women over-estimating their new opportunities, and of intellect reigning without grace.

The education of the heart must co-exist with the education of the mind, and grace and intellect must be twin sisters in order to complete the ideal woman.

But I would close my paper with a note of hope and encouragement,

          "For manners are not idle, but the fruit
          Of loyal natures and of noble mind."

There is a glorious future before our country if we members of the P.N.E.U. will see to it that we make our children the happy possessors of "The Old Grace and the New Intellect."


~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


Dr. A. Schofield (Chairman) opened the discussion by saying "Mrs. Steinthal remarked that many boys and girls did not practise good manners because they considered them hypocritical, or put on. With regard to that, I think we must distinguish between the three sources of good manners.

The best source of good manners is that which is hereditary. A child born of gentle stock, where good manners have been the heritage for several generations, is already, by heredity, imbued with those principles which easily blossom out into gentle and gracious manners. The second best source of good manners is where they are learned in early home life during the unconscious period of the mind's development. The point about learning manners at this period is that the child, as it grows up, never feels those manners to be assumed, because they are practised unconsciously. This unconscious training can only be accomplished in early life, and if parents neglect this, and young people who go out into the world have to put on manners, they must necessarily feel such manners to be only assumed. The third source of good manners is found in two classes of people: the first of these is always most at ease when they forget themselves; their manners are perfect when they don't think of them; and they are awkward only when they have put on some special manner for the occasion. These are natural gentlemen and gentlewomen. The other class have good manners only when they do not forget themselves; but when they have not put on these good manners, they are simply boors.

Of course, the best manners are those which are inherited, the next best, those learnt in early training, the last, those that are put on. I wish to ask Mrs. Steinthal--Does she agree with me that the type and standard of good manners is changing and is not what it was in our grandmothers' time? Are we not moving faster? Has there not been a reconstruction of the standard in what good manners consist?

Lady Campbell: I think Dr. Schofield has put the matter into a nut-shell. Good manners are the real politesse du coeur [courtesy of the heart], and that is what we wish to inculcate in our children. If we can make children recognize that they must think of others first, that it is a pleasure to make others happier by an little action of our own, then we get the expression of what is called good manners, but what is really the politesse du coeur! It is a child's natural wish to give happiness, and it behoves us older people to see what examples we set them. But we are all of us so dreadfully off in the morning, and when the child comes to speak to us, we are rather apt to be irritable. We do more harm in that moment than we can undo in weeks or months. If we speak to our children in an uncivil or unkind manner, how can we blame them if, the next moment, they speak in the same way to the servants? How can we expect them to be civil and polite? We parents should try to hold very fast to the "Old Grace," which I think may be the "New Grace" as well.

Mrs. Holroyd Chaplin: I regret that I was not here during the whole of Mrs. Steinthal's paper, so that I cannot speak in answer to her, but I feel that Dr. Schofield did not sufficiently base his arguments on the great importance of the root of good manners: absolute unselfishness. The selfish person can never have good manners.

Lady Campbell: We have heard a great deal of trying to keep grace, pursue grace, and make it one's own; but I think a word of warning must be said to the very gracious people--let them always try to be very sincere. There is terrible confusion in the minds of those who are often sincere, but rude, between sincerity and hypocrisy. If the gracious people always tried to be sincere, that would be an excellent object lesson to the brusque and the curt.

Mrs. Bagenal: In teaching my own children manners, which I think are of very great importance, I founded my teaching on the question of hypocrisy and kindliness, and I received the greatest help from one of Mrs. Ewing's books which said, "Feelings follow actions;" because, if you make a child do a kind thing, kind feelings will, as a rule, follow. Every little kind action done to any person produces afterwards a kind feeling, whether the child has felt kindly to that person beforehand or not.

Mrs. Anson asked whether it was generally considered that unselfish mothers made selfish daughters?

Mrs. Ashley Carus-Wilson: We have just been told that the manners of the young leave much to be desired. I think we may explain that statement by saying that the manners of young countries often leave much to be desired. Those of us who have traveled in the States and in Greater Britain must have noticed a certain lack of manners. A little incident from Greater Britain seems to me to touch the very root of the matter. A child, who was being catechized in a school, was told to repeat the answer to "What is your duty to your neighbour?" He steadily refused to insert the clause referring to "elders and betters"; and on being asked the reason, answered. "Father says I h'aint got no betters." If we train our children from their earliest days to believe that they have many betters, not only socially, but in character, intellect and experience, there is not much fear that they will lack that deference and sympathy which are, I think, the two qualities that will produce the real politesse du coeur.

Mrs. Steinthal, rising to reply, first thanked Dr. Schofield for his remarks, and said: Mrs. Anson's question must be answered in the affirmative. Just as tidy mothers have untidy daughters, and as busy mothers have daughters who dislike business, so unselfish mothers make selfish daughters. But I have tried to show that there is a principle which goes far down into the root of our being, and which begins when children are very young. Absolute sincerity must be the incentive for our lives: it must come from the high and noble desire to do to others what we would that others should do unto us. I particularly wanted to give this paper, because so many women are going into public life now, and we hear so much of their work being hindered and hampered by their manners. Our womanhood should be first of all, and the moment we feel that public life is more to us than private life, we ought to say to ourselves--the woman's life must come first. We try not to hurt others, but we often go home chilled ourselves when we ought to be warm. We all have busy lives, but we need all the friendship and warmth we can get; we must also feel that we must give warmth to others.


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