A GARDEN OF
Famous Schoolgirls of Former Days
Mrs. THOMAS CONCANNON M.A.
“The Sorrow of Lycadoon” “The Land of
Long Ago” “Earth, Sea and Sky” etc.
LONGMANS, GREEN, AND CO.
39 PATERNOSTER ROW, LONDON
NEW YORK, BOMBAY, AND CALCUTTA
I offer this little book (which aims at a reconstruction as faithful and accurate as careful research could achieve, of the real school-life and education of real little girls in many ages, and in many lands) to all those interested in the education of the Irish Girls of To-day—the women of a great and splendid To-morrow.
If it be true, as Cardinal Logue reminds us, that “A Nation is what its Women make its Men,” at no time was the question of the Education of her Girls of more importance to Ireland than it is now.
Is all well with that Education? By what test shall Ireland prove it?
As I write these words, there comes before me a memory of a wonderful little room, at the end of a Dresden Gallery, where the Sistine Madonna hangs beautiful and alone. Here, generation after generation of artists have come to gaze on that Miracle of Loveliness, and to test their own art by its perfection.
So, a little apart in the Gallery of the Scriptures hangs the immortal picture of the “Valiant Woman.” And it seemed to me, as I was writing of the Little Girls in my book, that I could see each age and each country coming to that picture as to a shrine, and trying to copy, each in its own medium, its untold perfection.
Do those who have charge of the Education of the Irish Girls of To-day stand often before that picture of the “Valiant Woman,” and do they try to reproduce her image?
If so, all is well with the Education of Ireland’s Girls—and all will be well with Ireland, the Nation.
Five of the sketches: Darlugdacha, St. Elizabeth, Cecilia Gonzaga, Margaret More, and Marie Jeanne d’Aumale, appeared in the “Irish Rosary” during 1912—I am indebted to the kindness of the Editor for permission to republish in book form. It is only one of a long list of favours, for which I am his grateful debtor.
I owe acknowledgment, also, to Professor Max Freund, Queen’s University, Belfast, for valuable direction in the Middle High German Studies underlying the sketch of St. Elizabeth.
Darlugdacha: A little Schoolgirl of St. Brigid 9
St. Elizabeth: A little German Schoolgirl of the Middle Ages 35
Cecilia Gonzaga: A little Italian Schoolgirl of the Renaissance 64
Margaret More: A little Schoolgirl of Tudor England 98
Marie Jeanne d’Aumale: A little Schoolgirl of Saint-Cyr 128
Two Schoolgirl Diarists of the Eighteenth Century:
I. —Hélène Massalski, Paris 168
II. —Anna Green Winslow, Boston 190
Pamela at Bellechasse: The Schooldays of Lady Edward Fitzgerald 208
Marjorie Fleming: Sir Walter Scott’s “Pet Marjorie” 224
A Garden of Girls
A Little Schoolgirl of St. Brigid
(Circa A.D. 490)
Part I.—The Orphaning of Darlugdacha
Across the plain, in the twilight, rode Flann with his noble guest-friends by his side, and his hunting train behind him. They had hunted all day in the woods to the south of the plain—on foot, as the old Irish custom was, while their horses grazed free in the forest glades, and the gillies guarded their masters’ trappings. Now, weary of limb themselves, they were astride their fresh steeds, and the miles that lay between them and the banqueting hall within the white Dún above the Liffey were miles of soft, springy turf. Even the trappers felt their heavy burdens light, as their feet touched it. They raced in time to the joyous concert of the beagles, and the tinkling of the horse-bells—every man of them with his great wolf-dog at his side.
The red sunset filled the West, and, in the glow of it, splendid mantles—purple and yellow, and green, and red—were yet more splendid. Gleams of fire were struck from great jewelled brooches, from the gold on bits and bridles, from richly-wrought horse-cloths. Flann himself, a glowing splendid figure, rode at the head of that splendid company, the pride of life in his heart, and crowning his haughtily carried head.
They came to a point from which a great oak tree was visible. It seemed to Flann, all at once, as if another hand than his were laid on the bridle, and his horse were being urged out of its straight course for the home stable. He lifted his echlasc, and with it tried to turn the horse’s head back again. But in vain. One way only the horse would go, and that was towards the great oak tree, which spread a wide dark net against the red background of the sunset.
“Let it thus be,” said Flann, yielding. “Let us lay the wolf’s head at the holy maiden’s feet, that she may know how her cattle may henceforth graze in peace.” He called out the word to his followers, and presently they were all—horsemen, and runners, and dogs—thundering across the turf due westward.
They came to the door of the Lios, which surrounded the cells of the holy maiden, Brigid, and her companions. “Knock loudly,” cried Flann; and a gillie stooped and found the knocker in a niche by the door, and struck the wood heavily with it.
The sound of the sliding bolt followed speedily. The door opened, and a white figure stood framed in the door-porch.
“Prince Flann,” said a woman’s clear voice, with a note of wonder in it, “a blessing on thee and on thy company. Is it aught of ill befallen Etain, thy wife, which brings thee so late to the door of Brigid’s cell?”
Flann shouted a word back to the Cuchairi, and one of them came forward, a tall man in a rough, frieze mantle, and laid a dead wolf at the nun’s feet.
“This is what brings us to Brigid’s cell, so far out of our way,” said Flann, pointing with jewelled “echlasc” to the gaunt, stark figure, stretched on the grass before the immdorus. “Now, oh! Blathnata, may the flocks of Brigid, and you her sisters, graze in peace.”
He met the eyes of the little pale nun, and found them fixed on him with a strange compassion. The red of the sunset had suddenly faded from the sky, and a quick fear clutched his heart as the chill, grey shadows followed it. What word was that Blathnata had spoken of an ill that may have befallen Etain, his wife?
His gaze went past the slim, white figure in the immdorus. Behind her he could see, over the darkling lawn, the pale glimmer of the little lime-washed wattle cells, where Brigid and her sisters dwelt. The oak tree was stirring with a queer moaning sound, and the voice of the brook that ran past it, and out under the Lios into the plain, held a sob. Then suddenly the smell of wet grass and running water was lost in the acrid smell of blood. The spear-wound in the wolf’s heart was bleeding again.
Prince Flann could feel beneath him how his horse was trembling in every limb. From behind came the nervous neighing of steeds, the soothing words of the riders, the frightened yelp of a dog, suddenly silenced. Then a burst of music came floating out from over the Lios—and horses and dogs quieted. Flann looked again, and saw the windows of the little wooden church, where the holy virgins were gathered for the vesper hymn, streaming with a faint but steady light.
How was it that Flann could only hear in the vesper music wherewith the Church, the kind Mother, soothes and comforts her tired and frightened children, before the coming of the darkness, the echoes of the death-song of Cineal Cearbhail? How was it that the lights of the Church burned before him like corpse-candles? Not he alone of that splendid company felt the joy and pride of life yield to an eerie sense of inevitable death.
“Must we wait until her evening prayer is ended, before we may speak with Brigid?” said Flann at last, mastering himself with a strong effort.
It was too dark to see the expression of Blathnata’s face. But the tone of her voice made the fear that was clutching at Flann’s heart take a tighter grip. “Our Mother knew (by what means I may not say) that Etain, thy wife, had need of her. Nathfraich, the charioteer, drove her over the plain, to-day, to thy Dún by the Liffey, and there she yet bides.”
What a ride was that over the plain in the darkness when the sun had burned itself out of the sky, and the world was black with its ashes. Never a word had Flann spoken since he turned his horse away from the door of Brigid’s Lios. Never once did he lift his head from his breast, until the neighing of his horse made him conscious of the scent of river-water. Then he looked, as his habit was, for the lights of his Dún, and saw them laid like a crown of jewels on the brow of the hill.
But what lights were they? Small need to ask that question when the wailing of women came to him already over the glimmering white palisade, towards which he and his company were climbing.
He was off his horse before a gillie could come to him. He had no thought of his guests as he hurried past the banqueting-hall, where their shields hung in order above the spread tables. Their feet had hardly touched the ground, when he had climbed the outer staircase which led to the grianan—and saw what it held for him.
In the centre of it, on a rich couch of beaten bronze, lay the white form of a girl. The little golden head was pressed deep into the thick deerskin cushion. On the breast, beneath the delicate white hands, joined for the supreme prayer, the fold of the embroidered coverlet was ominously still. The light of tall wax candles, grouped around the couch, fell on the chiselled beauty of a high-bred white, young face.
Around the circular, tapestry-covered walls women were seated, making lament for the passing away of so much beauty, and love, and youth. “It is low your yellow head lies to-night, oh, Etain of the golden locks, you that were wont to hold it high at the Feastings of Kings and Heroes, when poets sang the high deeds of Flann, your Lord. It is cold and still your hands are, that were wont to be stretched out for the relieving of the wants of the stranger, and the poor; for the pouring out of wine for guests; for the rewarding of learned men, and men of valour. No colder and stiller than your heart, that was once warm with the noble blood of the race of Con! Ochone! Ochone! for the cold, still heart that can never feel the warmth of the little child nestling against it.”
The “keeners” were suddenly silent—for a cry more heartrending than theirs was filling the death-chamber. It was the cry of a little motherless baby. A tall woman, dressed from head to foot in spotless white, with a white veil thrown over her long, dark hair, had entered the room, and, coming straight to where Flann knelt by the couch of his dead wife, she stooped and tried to lay in his empty arms, what she was carrying in the shelter of her white mantle.
“See, Prince Flann,” she said, “what Etain, thy wife, has left thee for thy consolation until the day comes when she may stretch out her hands to thee again—and welcome thee home for ever.”
But Flann would not lift his face. “Take it away, oh! Brigid!” he said, “and let me not look on that which has cost me the loss of my one treasure. Let the God you serve keep the child, and give me back Etain, my wife.”
There was a moment’s silence, for Brigid had the child anew in the folds of her mantle, and its cries had ceased. Then there came a deep groan, followed by a sudden, horrified cry from the women. Brigid knelt down quickly, the child in her arms, and lifted one of the hands, which Flann had flung in his passion of despair across the dead body of his wife. Heavy as lead it dropped from her grasp. It was the hand of a dead man.
She rose then, the sorrow of the world darkening her grey eyes. “Methinks the wish of Flann has been fulfilled,” she said. “Now he stands with Etain, his wife—and their little child shall be consecrate to God.”
Part II.—The Fostering of Darlugdacha.
So in the folds of Brigid’s white mantle, the little orphan maiden, Darlugdacha, found shelter; and the first home she knew was the white-washed hut of wattles and clay in the shadow of the great oak tree of the Plain of Kildare.
Very warm was the nest they made for her—the holy maidens, who were Brigid’s companions. Dear gentle Daria, the blind nun, wove a cradle of osiers, and Blathnata filled a deer-skin with downy feathers to lay in it. Kinnia spun fine linen for it; and Brigid, herself, took the wool of the whitest lamb in her flock, and spun and wove it into warm, soft coverlets. When the sisters were gathered with spindle, and distaff, and needle on the lawn, the little cradle stood in the midst of them, protected from the damp grass by the wolf-skin, which had been Flann’s last offering. But it was so contrived that it could be hung, also, from a branch of the tree. So, as the little green leaves began to peep out on the oak tree, they found among their green company something that they might well have taken for a beautiful, rosy blossom. And it was the little child in her cradle.
At night the cradle was hung from the feici in Brigid’s cell, a dim lamp swaying from the opposite end. And when the dawn came, and Brigid set wide the door to let it in, there was always standing by the threshold her own snow-white pet doe, waiting to give her milk to feed her tiny nursling.
The months passed quickly, and at last the little maiden had climbed out of the cradle, and was learning to take her first faltering steps. Blind Daria, with her deft hands, had fashioned the quaintest garments for her. They were of undyed lambs’-wool, and made in the same fashion that the holy maidens, themselves, had chosen. There was a white mantle, too; and on the curly, baby head, was set a snow-white veil.
But not in dress alone was Darlugdacha a little nun. Very early, like all healthy little girls, she insisted on taking an active part in the life she saw around her. There was one beautiful night when Brigid and her companions were gathered in the Church for the Second Nocturn. The lamps were swaying from the ridge-pole, and in the dim light of them the nuns were singing from psalters of their own copying the appointed psalms. All but blind Daria, who needed no psalter and no lamp-light.
All at once the blind nun’s quick ear caught a sound at the barred door. Very softly she stole from her place and set it open. There was Darlugdacha, with her white tunic all stained with mud, her rosy face all stained with tears, and her baby hands all hurt with beating at the door. Sightless Daria could see these things, as she stooped and gathered the forlorn little figure into her arms. Presently, she was back in her place again, with Darlugdacha’s head on her shoulder, and Darlugdacha singing her own version of the psalms after her, in the sweetest baby voice. But, long before the Office was ended, Darlugdacha was sound asleep.
After that night, Daria would always slip into the Abbess’ hut before she took her own place in the church, and, if the child seemed restless, she would wrap her up warmly in her own mantle and carry her with her. So Darlugdacha early took her part in the “Magnum Opus,” and the earliest words her tongue uttered were the praises of God. The music of the psaltery was her most frequent lullaby.
She was welcome everywhere, and in no place whithersoever her little pattering feet led her, did she find her help, however embarrassing to the recipient, disdained. Even when there were guests in the guest-house, and Blathnata, the cook, was very busy in the kitchen, Darlugdacha could enter that domain fearlessly, and, as Blathnata soon found out, could make herself astonishingly useful. The kitchen was a little round hut, which stood by itself behind the other cells. A fire of wood burned in the middle of it, the smoke escaping through a hole in the roof. It was always a joy to Darlugdacha when Blathnata swung the beautiful shining cauldron over the flames, and the cheerful simmering of the meat within filled the little hut with sound. She was very proud of herself when she was, at last, permitted to go near enough to the fire to turn the fish, or joints, that were roasting on spits of pointed hazel rods round the fire, and proudest of all, when Blathnata showed her how to baste them with honey. She was very young, indeed, when she cooked her first dish of Craibhacan, chopping the meat fine, and flavouring it with leeks, and kale, and rowan berries. Nathfraich, the charioteer, won her heart by making for her a tiny kneading trough, and a sieve with a whale-bone bottom, and he secured it for ever by manfully eating to the last crumb the first cake she baked with these utensils. Kinnia said, as she and Blathnata were carrying water one day from the covered well in the dairy to the kitchen, and Darlugdacha was trotting along by their side (her hand on one of the handles of the pail, as if she had the whole weight of it herself), that, for her part, she would rather eat a woman’s ration than a man’s ration of Darlugdacha’s baking. But when she saw Darlugdacha, presently, with one of Blathnata’s cooking-aprons on her (so as to save her white tunic), scrubbing away very busily at Blathnata’s wooden vessels, the little woman looked so sweet, that Kinnia told herself she would eat a whole cake, if it were necessary, to please her.
There was never such a busy little girl. When work was slack in the kitchen, there was the dairy to keep her in occupation. Brigid herself loved the dairy, and, mindful of her own young days, gave Darlugdacha the freedom of it early. In the delicious dawn-hour, when the sisters, one and all, went out to the milking, there was never a happier young thing, whether among the lambs, or the birds, or the flowers, than the tiny white maiden who trotted between Brigid and Daria, with each hand in one of theirs, laughing back at Kinnia and Blathnata, who carried the wooden milking vessels between them. She knew each of the cows by name, and she would call them out in her clear voice the moment she passed out of the door of the Lios, and came in sight of the “badhun” (bawn, lit. cow-fort), into which the cattle were driven each night for safety. And when the gate of the badhun was reached, there they were waiting for her—Bainidhe and Breacaidhe, and Sgead and Riabhac, and all the others, lowing in answer. And the sound of their bells put the birds on the tops of the apple-trees of the Lios, to shame.
It happened, however, one morning, that when Darlugdacha got to the gate of the badhun, she found among the waiting, lowing herd, no Bainidhe—the little white cow with the red ears, which was her special pet. It seemed that two lepers had come to Brigid the day before, and the sight of their miserable condition so prevailed with the compassionate Abbess that she promised to give them the best cow in her byre, leaving the choice to them. Of course, it naturally fell on Bainidhe.
Darlugdacha’s soft little heart was torn by two emotions when she heard the explanation of Bainidhe’s absence. She was dreadfully sorry, to be sure, for the poor lepers, whom she had learned to pray for night and morning. But, I fear me, she was far more sorry for Bainidhe, driven away from her nice, juicy pasturage, and the fragrant breath, and the lowing of her companions, and the warm shelter of the badhun—and the stroking of a little girl’s soft hand.
It was the turn of Brigid herself, that day, to drive the cows, after milking, from the badhun, and herd them in the Curragh. Usually, Darlugdacha would be out of herself with delight when it was proposed, as it was now, that she should go with her. But to-day it was clear that the delights of a day with the dear mother, all to herself, in the glorious plain, were overshadowed by the loss of Bainidhe. So Brigid told Kinnia to take Darlugdacha back with her to the dairy, and let her help to skim the cream, and stand as near as ever she liked to the cuinneog (churn), when the loinid (churn-dash) was beating the white milk-waves into flying froth—which, on ordinary occasions, was not considered a suitable place for a little girl, who had a white tunic to keep clean.
It took her some time before she was her cheerful little self again. Even the pat of butter Kinnia gave her to stamp failed to bring her consolation. But a good drenching in buttermilk froth helped her wonderfully; and when Kinnia (who, I am afraid, was not guiltless in the matter of that drenching) had wiped the small, rosy face dry again, she felt inclined to give credence to Kinnia’s expressed faith that she would see Bainidhe again before very long.
A greater number of poor came that day to the gate than usual. Darlugdacha was kept very busy helping Kinnia to attend to their wants. Here a poor woman wanted milk for her sick son; there a crippled girl had come for butter; for a poor man with a large family there was a great loaf of bread, with cheese and bacon, and a measure of milk. Now, as Darlugdacha flew from the kitchen to the dairy, and thence to the gate, she seemed to have in her ears all the time the lowing of Bainidhe. At last, towards evening, when all the other poor had departed, there came a great knocking with the “bas-chrannidhe” at the door; and when Kinnia and Darlugdacha went to open it, what should they find before them but the two lepers of the day before—and Bainidhe.
They had not been able to drive Bainidhe a single step beyond a certain point in the plain, well within sight of the Oak Tree. And so they had come back to ask Brigid to help them again.
Happy Darlugdacha, her small arms round Bainidhe’s white neck, her small hand alternately stroking Bainidhe’s nose, or pulling her red ear, was welcoming her restored darling, while Bainidhe was lowing with contentment, and trying to tell how clever she had been, and Kinnia was away with Blathnata in the kitchen, preparing a comfortable meal for the two poor lepers. At that moment the tinkling of cow-bells was heard, and Brigid came in sight, driving her cattle across the plain.
The lepers could not await her coming. They were off to meet her like two flashes of lightning. And presently, over the lowing of the cattle and the tinkling of the cow-bells, and the joyous barking of the “cubuachaill” (i.e., “dog-cowherd,” sheep-dog), Darlugdacha could hear their hoarse voices telling Brigid their story.
Then, quite suddenly, the tinkling of a cow-bell was heard from another direction, and a man was seen coming from the North driving a cow before him.
Darlugdacha left off stroking Bainidhe for a moment, and waited to see what would happen.
Brigid and the lepers and her cows came up with the stranger and his cow just at the Lios gate.
“My Master has sent this cow to thee as a gift,” said the man, and put an end of the halter that was round the cow’s neck in Brigid’s hand. With that he was off again.
Brigid looked at the cow which she held haltered, and then at the one Darlugdacha was stroking. And Darlugdacha looked at the new cow, and then at Bainidhe, and then back again. The two cows were exactly alike.
“Methinks my Master has sent this cow to you, poor men,” said Brigid, “instead of the one that would not go with you.” She put the halter into the hands of the two lepers; and when Kinnia and Blathnata had given them food, they drove off their new cow contentedly.
Since they did not come back for a long long time, I feel sure that the second cow must have gone with them obediently. As for Bainidhe, she was driven with her other companions into the badhun, and Darlugdacha stood very close to her, while Brigid herself milked her.
In those days, when the ideal of education was the direct preparation of the child for the duties which his future station in life was likely to lay on him, the law itself took cognisance of the necessity of training girls in the arts of household management. “The use of the quern, and the kneading trough, and the use of the sieve are to be taught to their daughters” says the Senchus Mór to Foster Parents in one place; and, again, to those who foster the children of Chieftains, “sewing, and cutting-out, and embroidery are to be taught to their daughters.”
You may be sure then that Darlugdacha (whom Brigid held in fosterage for the High King of Heaven Himself) was early trained in the use of the spindle, and the distaff, and the needle. In the quiet evenings of the tender Irish summer-time, when the nuns sat on the lawn under the shadow of the great oak, and Brigid, her poet’s soul stirred to the depths by the beauty of the world around her, was thinking, with pity, of Daria’s blindness, a little girl could be seen making a very brave attempt to imitate whatever she saw Kinnia, and Daria, and Blathnata, and Brigid herself do. It was Daria’s task to comb the wool. She drew it out in handfuls from the bag at her feet, and combed it with a pair of “cards” until it was fit for spinning. Then she turned it over to Blathnata, who wound it first loosely on the cuigeal (distaff), and then, dexterously, spun it on to the spindle. Kinnia was kept busy with her bronze needle and ball of wool, fashioning garments for the sisters themselves, or for the many poor who depended on them. And, while Brigid’s clever artist-fingers are copying on some beautiful ecclesiastical garment, with many coloured, precious threads, the design stamped on the leather pattern she holds before her, let us, whose fashionable pedagogy lays so much stress on “Object Lessons,” think how fortunate Darlugdacha is. There is not a process, from the sowing of the flax-seed to the making up of the linen altar-cloth, that she has not witnessed with her own eyes. She has been able to follow, step by step, the evolution of the woollen garment which Kinnia is fashioning—from the shearing of the sheep onward.
In the winter evenings the sisters sat in the loom-house, and wove the flaxen and woollen yarn they had prepared during the summer into linen and cloth. Darlugdacha loved to sit by, in the light of the rush candles, and watch the shuttle being flung back and forth. But something more precious was being woven during these hours than the web on the loom; and many a wonderful old story, many a gracious thought, many a poem, and many a prayer, were being patterned into the weaving of it. The old Irish, a people courteous and sociable, held no one cultured who could not “talk” well. Story-telling, as a great test of education and good breeding, was the accomplishment they valued most. Little Darlugdacha, who was set aside to be the bride of the King of Kings, was in the thought of those who fostered her to get the culture of a Princess. Can you picture her, a little white girl, sitting very close to her dear mother, telling, when the turn for a tale comes to her, some story she has been taught concerning the ancient days and ways in Erinn? Very sweetly and gravely the clear, treble voice carries the tale. Do you notice how pleasant is its “timbre,” how very expressive its inflections, how charming and musical its modulations? There is no instrument from which better effects can be obtained than the human “speaking” voice; and do they not do well, in this ancient Ireland, to which we have slipped back in search of our Darlugdacha, to devote great care to its cultivation? It is true they are fortunate in having in this language they speak, rich in sounds, full of delicately-shaded endings, a marvellous exerciser. And have we nothing to learn from Darlugdacha’s teachers?
We have still other things to learn from Darlugdacha’s teachers. Those story-telling lessons held many lessons in one. In a highly inflected language, like Old Irish, to learn to tell a continuous tale was to undergo, among other things, a thorough drill in Grammar. The material of the tale was a storehouse of instruction in History and Geography. The Memory-training, which we try to combine with an awakening of the aesthetic faculties when we prescribe the memorising of poetry for our youngsters, was admirably acquired by the same means. As for “Education,” there was Character-training in those old tales that set the heart beating for noble deeds, nobly done. Character-training, too, in the reasoned patriotism they taught by showing why Ireland was a country to be loved, and how to love her. Courtesy and Dignity ever hovered before the apprentice story-teller as the ideal to be striven for. Courtesy demanded the best of him, that it might be offered to his neighbour for his neighbour’s pleasure. Dignity and Self-respect demanded the best of him, that it might be worthy of himself.
You must not go away with the idea, however, that Darlugdacha’s “Instruction” was all gained by learning to re-tell the old tales. She had her reading and writing lessons, too. I like to think that the same method was adopted with her to make her learn her letters, as was found efficacious with Saint Columbkille. Perhaps Blathnata made a cake for her—a nice cake with plenty of honey in it—and traced the alphabet on the top of it. As Darlugdacha learned to know the letters, she could make her very own of them, you see, by eating them. It may have required more than one cake to make the process of instruction complete. No matter how many were needed, I am sure Blathnata did not spare them.
At last, Darlugdacha had got beyond her alphabet cakes, and was all afire to get helping the sisters to copy the psalter. Cilldara was a small place in those days, and had no “Teach Screptra.” But the books hung in their leathern satchels from hooks along the walls of the Erdam (or Sacristy) that opened off the little Church. Hither came the nuns in turn to help to make the new copies, of which the Abbess had constant need to bestow in alms on poor churches. Two or three other virgins had joined the community since Darlugdacha’s coming; and one of them, the daughter of a scribe, was particularly skilful at the work. Darlugdacha was fascinated by it. She would stand for hours at a time watching the clever pen go delicately over the vellum—and longing for the day when she, too, would sit at a desk with a quill in her right hand, and a knife in her left to keep it pointed, with her conical ink-cup fastened to her chair-arm—a fully-equipped scribe. In the meantime, she was forced to content herself with her fan-shaped, waxed tablets, on which she practised copying with a metal “style.” When the wax surface was used up, she rubbed it smooth, and began over again. Thus the little hands grew sure and steady—and, at last, one day, on an old piece of vellum, they tried their skill with the pen.
Down across the ages, from those exquisite days, fresh and beautiful as the summer dawn, there has come to us a poem of Brigid’s. It sets us in the midst of the preparations for a great Church Festival, where the Guest of Honour was to be One Who, indeed, was never absent from the midst of the white band of women whom the Oak Tree sheltered. For, was not every act of theirs a prayer? And were they not gathered together in His name? And hath He not made a promise? Nevertheless, it is fitting that, at Easter time His Resurrection be honoured, and the poor and the afflicted, His chosen representatives, be made joyful. So as the paschal moon gets nearer and nearer to its white perfecting in the East, the little hive beneath the Oak Tree grows busier. There is ale to be brewed for the faithful who shall attend the Celebration of the Passion in the neighbouring churches. There is corn to be ground in the querns, to be ready for baking into paschal cakes, or dealt out to the needy. There are candles for the altar to be made of virgin wax from the bee-hives in the nuns’ scented garden. There is store of meat to be salted and cooked for the banqueting table, spread for the poor. In the little wooden Church, blind Daria, the sacristan, is laying out her choicest vestments, taking from their places of safety the precious vessels. The altar linen, snowy from the brook, stands ready. Around His Throne are flowers and fragrant herbs.
And little Darlugdacha is flitting, like a white bird, in the midst of it all, singing Brigid’s hymn—finding, in all this preparation, its mystic significance, learning the reading of the Riddle of Life:—
I should like a great lake of ale
For the King of the Kings;
I should like the family of Heaven
To be drinking it through time eternal.
I should like the viands
Of belief and pure piety;
I should like flails
Of penance at my house.
I should like the men of Heaven
In my own house.
I should like kieves
Of peace to be at their disposal.
I should like vessels
Of charity for distribution;
I should like caves
Of mercy for their company.
I should like cheerfulness
To be in their drinking;
I should like Jesus
Here to be among them.
I should like the three
Marys of illustrious renown;
I should like the people
Of Heaven, there from all parts.
I should like that I should be
A rent-payer to the Lord;
That should I suffer distress,
He would bestow upon me a good blessing.
A Little German Schoolgirl of the Middle Ages
Part I.—“A Star in the East.”
Has not Herr Walther, good-humouredly turning the laugh against himself, advised all those who suffer from earache to stay away from the Court of Thuringia? For my part I can never read his “Spruch”:—“Swer in den ôren siech von ungesûhte sî,” without feeling a most realistic discomfort at the din, made even in the poetry (and at 700 years’ distance!) by the alternating trains of “coming and parting guests,” for whom Landgraf Hermann’s undiscriminating hospitality had equal “welcome and speeding”; and without endorsing Herr Wolfram’s regret that no Kaye, the boorish Seneschal of King Arthur’s Court, held office in the Wartburg, to keep the “good and bad” in their respective places.
How intolerable the ceaseless din could be, even to one who was born in the midst of it, a little boy was dolorously feeling on a certain summer’s evening of the year 1211. The noise seemed worse than usual from the impression he had (which nobody took the slightest trouble, alas! to remove), that he was hopelessly “out of it.” When, braving the dragon which kept terrible guard over King Ortnit, murdered in his sleep (a warning, in high relief over the tower gate, to watchmen too fond of sleep), he had climbed the rough spiral staircase to the keep, he had found no welcome from the warder, intent on scanning the horizon for an eagerly expected messenger. Shouts, that sounded not all too sober, from the House of the Muleteers, warned him off their premises. As for the kitchen—with the roaring of fires, and the creaking of spits, and the cursing of cooks and scullions, and the wailing of imprisoned fowl, awaiting execution under the huge table—that was Inferno! As the little boy passed the great stone steps that led to the entrance of the Palas, he put his hands in his ears; for the door of the Saal stood open, and amidst the gambols of gleemen, and the notes of every musical instrument known to the period—flageolet, guitar, organistrum, bagpipe, psaltery, tabor, lute, sackbut, rebeck and gigue—Landgraf Hermann was reminding guests (who needed small reminder) that, if ever there was an excuse for emptying flagons, it was to-day, when the little Hungarian Princess, the betrothed of his son and heir, Hermann, was due to arrive at her German home.
In the Armourers’ House our little boy had been frankly snubbed; and big brother, Hermann, whom he found in it (made much of as the hero of the day), being measured, if you please, for a suit of armour (which he supposed he would need very soon now), had given him the brutal advice to go back to Agnes, and Heinrich, and Conrad in the nursery—and not be forcing his company on his elders.
And then, suddenly, things had changed. As he turned out of the Armourers’ smithy, with Hermann’s mocking laugh in his ears, he heard his own name called once or twice. His mother had sent one of her women in search of him, and he was to come at once to the women’s apartments.
It certainly was a comfort to be wanted somewhere, and young Ludwig made about two steps of the staircase which led to the long open gallery on the side of the great courtyard. He lingered a little, though, on the gallery, for the sense of beauty and comfort which one had to starve somewhat in mediæval castles found satisfaction here. Sweet-scented flowers grew in boxes in the spaces between the charming double columns, which even to-day are the Wartburg’s chief architectural beauty. In gilded cages beneath the open arches were the little song-birds his mother loved. On the inside wall were painted tender domestic scenes from the Bible. He had a dim but very pleasant consciousness, as he passed them by, that the figures were smiling out on him the welcome of old friends. And as he paused for a moment at the door of his mother’s room, and looked back along the gallery, he noticed that the last rays of the sun were filling it, and the birds were singing, and some of the flowers, that had gone to sleep, had wakened up again.
But all this did not prepare him for what he found when he pushed open the door, and stood on the threshold of the great vaulted chamber, where his mother awaited him.
A feast of colour and light! Instead of the golden evening rays, here was the soft radiance of hundreds of waxen tapers. The hinged wooden shutters had been let down over the unglazed window spaces, and night was summoned hither before her time. From the quartered arches of the painted roof hung chandeliers of enamelled bronze, of the admirable workmanship of the period, and each of them was laden with lights. In long rows between the columns on which the roof rested stood tall candle-sticks with great “king-candles” burning in them. On the hearth flamed a fire of scented wood, and the light of candles and leaping fire made wonderful play with the glowing colours of the painted ceilings, and the splendid tapestry on the walls.
“Come hither, fair son.”
Young Ludwig came over the flower-strewn floor, between columns of coloured marble and “king-candles,” his handsome, fair head held high. In his page’s dress of crimson, he fitted in well with the rest of the scene. So did his mother, standing in the midst of her maidens, stately and beautiful in her mantle, with its shimmering embroideries, its long train, and breast fastening of regal pearls. She held out a little white hand to him, and he kissed it, kneeling on one knee. Then, with a sudden impulse, as if the mother claimed her rights as well as the princess, she stooped down to him, moved aside her wimple, and laid his firm young cheek against her own. She left her hand in his, while he rose from his knees, and led him with it to the top of the chamber.
“Look, fair son, and tell me what you see.”
For a moment Ludwig was so astonished at what he saw that he could not speak. Then he turned to his mother with a question: “Who worked the tapestry? And how do I come to be standing in the Landgraf’s robes, high on the Wartburg, with the valley and the town of Eisenach far beneath me, and a great star hanging low from the sky above my head?”
His mother answered one part of his question: “The ‘Wise Nun’ in thy Father’s Convent of Eisenach has wrought it,” she said, and then stopped suddenly, and led him to the lateral wall.
“This, too, hath the wise nun wrought?” he asked in growing astonishment. For the tapestry on this wall depicted a scene which had occurred in the Wartburg four years previously, with a fidelity which seemed impossible to anyone but an eye-witness.
It was the celebrated “War of the Poets” on the Wartburg—the “Wartburgkrieg”—the memory of which is as fresh to-day as when young Ludwig looked on the “Wise Nun’s” tapestry, and saw it pictured in glowing colours and wealth of detail on the canvas.
There on the “Minstrels’ Gallery” were the seats of Duke Hermann and Duchess Sophia. The Landgräfin had risen from hers, and with the folds of her mantle was covering a terror-stricken suppliant. In the Minstrel’s Hall, a step or two beneath the Gallery, were the other contestants. Ludwig recognises each of the angry faces that are turned towards the fugitive—Wolfram von Eschenbach, Walther von der Vogelweide, Heinrich von Zweten, and Heinrich Schreiber. A man, with the instruments of the executioner in his hand to label him for the spectator, is starting forward, but the quick movement is arrested by someone he sees in the opening door—a white-haired, venerable man, with a long beard.
“It is Klingsohr, the Wise Man from Hungary, who has come just in time to save the life of Heinrich von Ofterdingen,” says Ludwig, while his mother nodded confirmation. Young Ludwig passed on.
Here was the white-haired man again—in a garden this time before one of the little tables which have been in German inn-gardens since first such things were, and will be, until they are no more. He has risen from the table and is scanning the skies—and, behold! very low in them is hanging the star which shines about Ludwig’s own head in the piece of tapestry opposite. From the other tables, men in the knightly garb of peace, have risen likewise, neglecting their chess, and draughts, and dice, and drinking flagons, to follow the direction of the old man’s pointing arm.
On the left wall another many-figured scene. A king and queen on their thrones in the midst of a full and splendid court. Between them, the wonderful star is poised; and at their feet are kneeling ambassadors, whom Ludwig recognises as those sent from his father’s court, to ask the hand of the little Hungarian Princess (whose birth had been announced to him by Klingsohr) for his eldest son, Hermann.
“How wonderful it is,” said Ludwig, “but why did the ‘Wise Nun,’ so exact in all else, make the mistake of clothing me in the Landgraf’s robes, instead of Hermann?”
Nobody answered, for a peal from the Berchfrid, that rang through every corner of the huge enclosure on the Wartburg, made its way into the women’s apartments, and told those who waited there that they need wait no more. The serving women were busy with their lady’s mantle, and presently the hum of a merry little song, and the ring of a martial (and not quite steady) step was heard along the gallery, and Duke Hermann, somewhat flushed from his mighty potations, but excellently-humoured, came into the “kemenate.”
“Art ready to meet thy daughter-in-law, Frau Landgräfin?” he said, jocularly. “If so, there is no time to be lost. What, Ludwig, still at thy mother’s girdle? It fears me much that we shall never make a sturdy drinker and fighter of thee, to keep thy father in countenance.”
Over Duchess Sophia’s fine face a shadow fell. She loved this passionate Lord of hers, with all his faults and all his weaknesses. But it was the dearest prayer of her soul to preserve her sons from following the path he trod. As much as lay in her power, she strove to keep them away from the motley company which held revel in the hall of the main building. But Hermann had speedily emancipated himself. “The lust of the eyes, the delight of the flesh, and the pride of life,” had put their fascination on him as soon as he had got clear of the women’s apartments. Ludwig was different. A certain asceticism, answering her own, had early revealed itself in his character. A strength of purpose, a force of self-restraint, a natural attitude of noble aloofness from all that seemed unworthy, made her build high hopes on Ludwig. And as for Hermann, who knew what blessings might be brought him by this child-bride from Hungary, whose birth had been accompanied by such wonders, who had already won the gladness of peace for her own land?
Joyfully, then, she went forth to meet her. Outside on the gallery torches burned. The great courtyard was full of light and movement, the stamping of horses, the shouting of orders, snatches of laughter and song. She heard a whisper from Ludwig: “May I be your escort, Lady Mother?” and answered with a pressure of the hand. A groom brought her horse, and Ludwig lifted her from the mounting-stone at the bottom of the staircase, on to the bench-like seat, which, for the ladies of the thirteenth century, took the place of a saddle. Her husband and Hermann were already mounted; Ludwig, as his mother’s chosen squire, was at her horse’s head. So they rode, with a long train of knights, and ladies, and squires, and pages, behind them, out of the great court into the Vorburg, and then through the triple gates of the entrance tower, out over the lowered drawbridge, and so to the narrow and dangerous path which led to the plain below. So narrow was the path that they could but ride in single file with a torch-bearer beside each rider to light the way for them. In the depths below them, Eisenach lay, a great blazing jewel in the dark valley. All sorts of summer-night scents came to them from the sloping woods on either side. There was no darkness in the sky, only a deep blue, cut by exquisite star-forms. In the west was a thin curve of a very young moon. Landgraf Hermann began to hum a “Lied” of Walther’s, the “Praise of Summer”—“Swie wol der heide ir manicvaltiu varwe stât,” “How well the painted heath becomes its wealth of summer bloom”—and presently a boy’s soprano took it up, and to wood, and heath, and meadow were being revealed their own sweet loveliness, under the tender light of a poet’s longing, wistful yet passionless, like that of the thin young moon herself!
So those rode down from the Wartburg, who went forth from it to meet the King’s Daughter.
The gates of Eisenach opened to their trumpeter, and through the torch-lit streets they rode to the inn beside Saint George’s Gate, where Michael Hellgreff had had Klingsohr to guest, what time he saw the Star hang low in the mystic East. On their way, they passed groups of burghers and their dames, all in their Sunday best, sitting on benches under the overhanging stories of their gabled, wooden houses, who left off gossiping to cheer their Sovereigns and the handsome young bridegroom. Under the linden on the green, country lads and lasses, in the fine clothes which raised Neidhart’s bile, were dancing a merry “Springtanz,” to the infinite delight of the Court Pages and the dainty scorn of the Court Ladies. They shouted their “Heil” as the Ducal pair passed, but never lost a step. The market-place was almost impassable, so dense were the throngs that crowded round the roasting ox, and the fountain that played wine.
There were two people in the ducal procession who were not sorry to leave the uproar of the streets, and seek the quiet of Master Hellgreff’s garden. These were the Landgräfin and her second son. As for the Landgraf and Hermann, they and the Knights, and Squires, and Pages were out in the street again directly, and the ladies showed so evident a desire to follow them, and see all the gay doings, that the Landgräfin summoned back the Squires and put her ladies in their charge, and sent them forth.
But Ludwig and his mother had their own joy, sitting in the scented, dark garden, into which the gay noises of the streets came, robbed of their harshness, with the stars shining down on them, and the young moon over the woods, while they waited for the trumpet to sound at the gate.
It came at last, and Duchess Sophia hastened to the door of the inn, to be joined there by her Lord and Hermann, as had been agreed. As the Ducal tableau arranged itself, there was a moment’s silence, as if a whole people were holding its breath in expectation. It was broken by the noise of wheels, and a carriage passed through the towered gate, and stopped before the Hellgreff Inn. Two Knights, who rode on either side of it, dismounted, amid the frantic cheers of the by-standers, and knelt to kiss in turn the hand of the Landgraf and the Landgräfin. Then they turned to the carriage, wherein a lady was standing up, with a little sleeping girl in her arms. But the Landgräfin could wait no longer. Over the muddy street she went, in defiance of all etiquette, and took the little maid, warm and lovely with sleep, from the hands of Frau Bertha, and carried her to her Lord.
Then the joy of the people got beyond all bounds. And it was their shouts of welcome that made the little four-year-old bride open her eyes at last—on her German home.
Part II.—On the Wartburg.
It was astonishing how soon she really seemed to make it her home. Kind Duchess Sophia, who had watched the whole first night by the little bride’s silver cradle, in the Inn at Eisenach, looked carefully, in the days that followed their return to the Wartburg, for a sign of home-sickness. But, except that the child’s great dark eyes would sometimes fill with tears when they rested on Frau Bertha, she could find none. Little princesses are early schooled to stoicism, and before the tiny Hungarian’s “Königstochter,” left her father and mother, she had received lessons which, young as she was, she was not too young to understand.
So, after a time, she became, to all intents and purposes, a little German girl, as much one of the family as Agnes, or Heinrich, or Conrad, who shared the Kinderstube with her. She was more in awe of Hermann than anybody else; for Hermann had realised that, instead of its adding to his “manliness,” it made him rather ridiculous to be the “Bräutigam” of a mere baby like that—and his behaviour showed it. For Ludwig, on the contrary, she developed a shy friendship, which went straight to the boy’s chivalrous heart, and made her, in a manner, dearer to him than his blood-sister Agnes. For the rest, the little maid did not often see either Hermann or Ludwig, who were most of the day with their governor serving the first grade of their apprenticeship to the great profession of knighthood.
A mediæval nursery was a merry place, and mediæval children had nothing to envy their modern brothers and sisters, whether in the matter of toys or games. A lover of the romantic Middle Ages, Zingerle, in his wanderings through the Märchenwald of Middle High German poetry, or over the more prosaic lands ploughed by the Middle High German Moralists and “Didaktiker”—Thomasin von Zirclarie, Freidank, Hugo von Trimberg, and others—has found many a happy group of children, and gathered themselves and their games into a very charming book: “Das deutsche Kinderspiel im Mittelalter.” With the aid of it, we can easily reconstruct the life led by little Elizabeth in her nursery at the end of the “Kemenate” (women’s apartments).
While she and Agnes played with their dolls (“tocken”), or kept house with their toy cooking-vessels, Heinrich and Conrad jousted rather noisily on hobby horses, or, failing these, on two mettlesome steeds, which, outside the nursery, would have been taken for sticks. Nurse (“amme”) was as important a personage then as now, and had as many rôles to fill. Sometimes she presided over tourneys where wooden swords wrought frightful havoc on wooden shields. If anybody came out of the combat with bruised knee or finger, it was hers to dress the warrior’s wound—and, maybe, make it well again with kisses. At the tourneys where she presided there were nothing but victors. Everybody won the prize of painted egg or apple. (By the way, did you ever notice that the Christ Child of mediæval artists has always an apple in His chubby hand?) Sometimes she went visiting the stately “halls” where Elizabeth and Agnes played Châtelaine, and ate the wonderful things they cooked for her, and inquired about their doll-children, just as nurse does to-day. In a carved wooden box she kept the “best” toys, the birds and animals in coloured clay, or wood, or metal, which were too fine to be played with every day. In the nursery door there was always a hole cut near the ground, just large enough for a tiny dog or a cat to creep through. That, I am sure, was a kind thought of nurse’s. When games got too noisy, and little boys and girls were tiring themselves into crossness, she had a way of gathering them into the shelter of the great fire-place, and telling them the most fascinating stories. Some of the tales that are prime nursery-favourites to-day were told, without a doubt, by her “Amme” to Saint Elizabeth when she was a little girl. “The Seven Wild Swans,” “The Sleeping Beauty,” “Clever Else,” “The Fox and the Geese,” and many, many others. Some of the “Lügenmärchen” (of the kind definitely associated in later years with the name of the immortal Munchhausen) go back equally far. Nobody knows, for instance, how old is the legend of “Schlaraffenland”—“the Land of Cockayne”—of which our Middle Irish “Vision of Mac Conglinghe” is an interesting variant.
Young wits were sharpened by guessing riddles. Here are some Thirteenth Century ones, which Saint Elizabeth may have tried to guess:—
“The Full of the Valley, the Full of the Land,
But never the Full of a little girl’s Hand.”
The answer to that must often have lain before her, making her feel, as she stood in her high window-niche in the Kinderstube of the Wartburg, as if she were looking out from a tall ship on a great sea, beneath which towns, and fields, and woods lay buried, and unseen. For it was the Mist—above which the Wartburg, on its high crag, stood upraised.
Here is another which helped little boys and girls (who would presently be studying their “Comput”) to remember the divisions of time.
In my father’s garden stands a tree;
Upon it twelve fine branches see.
Thirty birds on every bough;
Eggs enough for each I trow—
Four-and-twenty in each nest.
Hurry up and guess the rest.
Little stammerers and lispers had their tongues exercised in difficult sound combinations, like our “Three grey geese in a green field grazing.” This one is very old, though I give it in a modern form: “Meiner Mutter Magd macht mir mein Mus mit meiner Mutter Mehl.”
The ceremony of “being put to bed” was not very different in mediæval nurseries from what it is to-day. Mediæval children, like their modern counterparts, probably got cross with sleep, and were naughty, and would not say their prayers or go to bed. And mediæval nurses had to threaten them with the “Wolf,” or the “Man,” the great bogies of the period; and, when they had captured their small refractory charges, they had to coax them into good humour again with rhymes about their little bare toes, or their ten small fingers, like our “this is the one that went to the market.” One comes across these rhymes in grave books of German erudition with the oddest effect.
Before the child went to sleep, of course, he or she had his or her prayers to say. Even the smallest child had to repeat the “Our Father” and the “Apostles’ Creed.” The “Hail Mary” was learned later. The great preacher, Berthold von Regensburg, says that, if a child of seven can say the Ave Maria, as well as the Pater Noster, and the Credo, “daz ist vil wunderguot,” “better than good,” as we say in Anglo-Irish.
Mediæval children commissioned a bigger troup of angels “to guard their bed” than ours do, who are content with a protector for each corner:—“There are four corners on my bed.” Elizabeth claimed twelve angels when she “laid her down to sleep”: “Two at my head, two by my sides, two at my feet, two to cover me, two to waken me, two to show me the way to the Heavenly Kingdom.”
And, if the mediæval child awoke in the night, there was always the night-lamp burning before the Crucifix, or the picture of the dear Mother, just as it burns in so many Catholic homes to-night!
The joys of child-life in the Middle Ages only really began with the spring. We who have, in our comfortable houses, learned to rob winter of his terrors, have paid the price by losing much of that joy in the spring, which is so persistent a note in Middle High German poetry. One must realise how dreary the winter must have been in those mediæval castles to realise the “Wonne des Frühlings”—for mediæval souls—the children’s especially. Think of being shut up in semi-darkness all the winter; for there was no glass in the windows, and if the storms raged (and how they must have raged round the Wartburg!) there was nothing for it but to pull down the heavy wooden shutters, and crouch round the fire for light, and heat, and comfort. And sometimes the fire smoked, for mediæval chimneys did not “draw” well; and how little eyes must have smarted, and young nerves suffered! The heavy clothes, too, one had to wear in those cold draughty rooms must have been a torture to little bodies. No wonder they greeted the spring as the “Freudenzeit.” There was a great ceremony when they went out into the spring woods in search of the first violet. The coming of swallow and stork was treated as a great event. Many games, too, “came in” with the spring; and if a little boy of to-day could, by any chance, have a chat with a little boy of the Middle Ages, he would find that the same rigid convention which makes it impossible for a self-respecting lad to play marbles, when “it is the time” for spinning tops, or to spin tops when “it is the time” for rolling hoops, ruled in the Middle Ages. Except that it was not a “convention” then, but the result of hard necessity. Little girls play jack-stones and skip with ropes to-day at certain seasons, because their small ancestresses of seven or eight hundred years ago were forced to confine these games to this season.
But do modern children get the same delight out of nature that the children of olden times did? Except the story of little Eoin in Mr. Pearse’s exquisite book of studies of Irish childlife, Iosagan, I know of nothing in modern literature that at all reminds one of the glorious passage in which Wolfram describes the effect of the bird-song on his child hero, Parzifal. I wish I could take some dear little boys and girls I know, a-roaming the spring woods with those little German children of so many centuries ago, and see them consult their flower-oracles, and catch butterflies, and bore holes in the birch-tree and drink the sweet sap, and learn to whistle a tune on a leaf, and look for strawberries in the glades. But, alas! space is limited, and I must try to get as much of a wide subject into it as possible.
There is one amusing ceremony I must mention, particularly as it forms a convenient stepping-stone to the next division of my subject. It was a ceremony which lasted quite to the end of the Middle Ages, and fittingly belonged to a period when Grammar, the first of the Seven Liberal Arts, was always represented with a rod. On a certain day in the early summer, mediæval children went out to the woods to cut the rods, which were afterwards to be used with such effect on their own sturdy little persons. The mediæval schoolmaster had no need of a proverb to convince him that to spare the rod was to spoil the child. And even when Walther protests against the abuse of the “Gerte,” he, by no means, desires its abolition.
At the age of seven the boys passed out of the women’s apartments and were given into the hands of a governor. The girls stayed behind with a “Meisterinne”; and it was the custom at princely courts to receive the daughters of the vassals to share the lessons of the Princesses. Thus we know that, among the companions who studied with Elizabeth was her faithful friend of the bitter years to come, Guta.
Though girls and boys were educated separately, it is impossible to separate the ideals of education in the case of the two sexes. In order, indeed, to arrive at any comprehension of the ideals towards which the educators of girls in the Catholic Middle Ages strained, we must strive to realize the mediæval conception of the “verie parfit gentil knight.” For if ever it needed a certain type of woman to help to produce a certain type of man, it was during the Age of Chivalry. Moreover, the Catholic Church, the one great pedagogic authority of the Middle Ages, has always held that Education must concern itself with the Soul as well as the body of man. And “there is no sex in soul” to side with Bishop Spalding against Francis Thompson. The educational ideals held up by the Church before those who set themselves to train her sons, were for those who trained her daughters, too. The knightly virtues, “Staete” and “Maeze” (Steadfastness and Moderation) were womanly virtues, too. The pillars of chivalry, “theumuot” (= Demut, humility), and Treue (fidelity) are the pillars of all true womanhood.
Something of the spirit of the education of the period may be gathered from the definition of the word Zûht (Zucht) in the Middle High German vocabulary: “that lofty culture of the mind, which is a fruit of education, and which expresses itself in outward modesty, inward chastity, self-restraint and self-denial, and in the externals of good breeding.” The chivalrous education aimed at cultivating “Self-Knowledge, Self-Reverence and Self-Control” in a man or woman whose corporal form had been developed to something as nearly approaching the ideal of perfection as possible. And it sought perfection in all things, because of Him Who is Infinite Perfection.
While the boys were undergoing that thorough course of physical training, and practising the Seven “Brumicheiten,” which correspond in the education of the future Knight to the Seven Liberal Arts in the education of the future cleric—riding, swimming, running, jumping, wrestling, shooting with bow and arrow, and hunting—the girls had also their physical exercises, carefully designed to develop the grace of the body. Much attention was paid to deportment. To walk with great strides, to swing one’s arms, to sit with one’s legs crossed, to take the initiative in addressing a strange man, to look at him boldly, to speak loud, to laugh noisily, were all great offences against “Zucht.” A girl was drilled to walk gracefully, with downcast eyes, to hold her mantle on her breast with a certain gesture, to lift her train with another. She had, moreover, to learn to ride, to tame falcons, and to acquire the ritual and language of the chase.
Book-learning for a woman was held of more importance than for a man. Little Elizabeth must have been stirred to great efforts in this direction by her eagerness to read the beautiful psalter which she loved to open in her frequent visits to the chapel. The old chaplain who taught her had no difficulty with her. When she had learned to read, she had a whole new world open to her, which, alas! is closed to us now. For which of us can Natural History have the same appeal, for instance, as for one who studied it in the fascinating pages of the “Physiologus”?
The Middle Ages did not lay a very great stress on the school-room as a factor of education. A great part of the training of boys and girls was got by what I might call the system of “direct apprenticeship to life.” Elizabeth and Agnes were being trained for the noble profession of wife and mother, Christian Châtelaine and great lady. They were early set to acquire the womanly arts and crafts, spinning, and tapestry, and embroidery. In the garden, where sweet-scented flowers and herbs were cultivated, they gathered simples, and made them, under skilled guidance, into unguents and potions. They took their places in the hall, and had the privilege of hearing the best poetry the period produced. They followed the direction of the great world-currents of the century from the talk of the travellers who claimed the Wartburg hospitality—returned crusaders, and pilgrims, or wandering scholars from some of the universities which were just then springing up. And once upon a time two men came to the Wartburg, two men in grey habits, with bare feet and a cord around their waist. And the story they had to tell was of the “Poor Little Man” of Assisi, their master! Oh! story to be remembered by Elizabeth through all her life!
It was never the custom of Duchess Sophia to keep her girls shut up in the women’s apartments. We are constantly meeting her and them, making the long descent from the Wartburg to the town of Eisenach. Sometimes it would be to take their part in a church festival; sometimes, perhaps, to listen to the preaching of a “Kreuzzug prediger,” and sometimes for that direct training in Christian Charity, which was so characteristic of the Middle Ages. There was no hiding away of the poor in those days in their own slums. They displayed themselves, and their sores, and their nakedness at the doors of Princes, and claimed the noblest as their servants. So Duchess Sophia and her girls went into the huts of the poorest, and tended them like sisters.
And all this time the great realities of life were playing their part in Elizabeth’s education. She had hardly been two years in the Wartburg when the dreadful news of her mother’s assassination was brought to her. Was she too young, little six-year-old girl that she was, fully to understand?
But on the Saint Sylvester Day of the year 1216, another blow befell, not her alone, but all those who dwelt on the Wartburg—young Hermann, her betrothed, died suddenly, and amid the wailing of the “Media Vita,” which surrounded the bier of his son, Duke Hermann lost his reason. For a year he sat in darkness and the shadow of death, murmuring ever the terrible psalm: “In the Midst of Life we are in Death.” He died in the year following, 1217. He was laid to rest in the convent he had founded, and young Ludwig reigned in his stead.
What was to become of Elizabeth? There were many who said, “let her be sent back to her father. The Arpad rule is weakening in Hungary, as witness Queen Gertrude’s murder. Her dowry, too, hath never been paid in full.” Duchess Sophia was of this way of thinking. She was nervous and irritable after the terrible strain of her husband’s illness, and the shock of her son’s death.
But there were two people who were determined that justice should be done to the little stranger, who had left home and kindred, on the promise of becoming, one day, Landgräfin of Thuringia. One of these two was old Walther of Varilla, who had brought her from her Hungarian home, and watched over her tenderly ever since.
The other was Landgraf Ludwig, into whose heart she had stolen, all unknown, when she was a tiny girl; and whose chivalrous soul could not bear to inflict an ignominy on her.
So it came to pass that, in the Burgkapelle, whither Elizabeth had turned so often from her play, she stood one day with her hand in Ludwig’s, and plighted her eternal troth.
A Little Italian Schoolgirl of the Renaissance
Part I.—A Dominican Educationist.
It was ever the custom of that most excellent Lord, Gianfrancesco Gonzaga, when he was home from his wars, to spend the hour before supper with his wife, and their children, in a fair loggia on a garden terrace overlooking the Mincio. Here, while the evening breeze came, cool from the lakes, and perfumed from the gardens, he tasted the delights of family life, and rested from the cares of War and State in the gentle atmosphere, which surrounded his pious and cultured Lady, Madonna Paola Malatesta.
Those who visit Mantua to-day may see, in the heart of its old Castello, in the celebrated Sala degli Sposi, just such another family scene, painted in fresco by Mantegna. It shows, it is true, a later generation of Gonzagas. Stately Marchese Lodovico, who sits in patriarchal dignity by the side of his wife, Marchesa Barbara, surrounded by their children and grandchildren, is, in the group I would fain conjure up for you, but a boy. At the risk of ruining the poetry of the scene, I must tell you that he is an extremely fat boy—oh! of a fatness, out of which he is to be presently most vigorously educated! His eight-year-old brother, Carlo, having outgrown his strength, is, on the other hand, far too lank and thin. But for the others, you are at liberty to call up the images of the dearest youngsters of your acquaintance. Margherita, a charming maiden of thirteen summers, whose betrothal to Leonello of Este, the heir of Marchese Niccolò of Ferrara, is already spoken of, might resent being called a “youngster.” But Gianlucido and Alessandro are tiny children; and golden-haired Cecilia, the flower of the flock, has reached the mature age of three!
This was the scene which met the eye of that most distinguished educationist, Vittorino da Feltre, who had come at the invitation of the Capitano of Mantua to undertake the education of these children; and as his eye fell upon it, he may well have felt all the doubts, that had ridden with him through all the long miles from Venice, suddenly depart. Indeed he had done well to come. Surely it was a task well worthy of a man’s noblest energies, to train up these fair children, and to make of them the men and women, in whom the Christian Humanist sees his ideals realised.
Who had been responsible for bringing Vittorino da Feltre to Mantua? Who had suggested to that bluff soldier, Gianfrancesco, eager to give his children all the benefits of the “New Learning,” for which Italy was madly athirst, the choice of a teacher, who was as great a Christian as he was a scholar and an educationist?
The accepted story is that Guarino, the great Greek scholar, being unable to accept the Gonzagas’ offer, himself, passed it on to his friend, Vittorino da Feltre. But I have my own good reasons for thinking that the choice of Vittorino was something more than a “pis aller,” and that Madonna Paola herself was mainly responsible for it.
The grand-daughter of that Carlo Malatesta (who took so much to heart the Gospel precepts of sacrificing whatever gives scandal—be it a man’s own right eye, or right hand—that he had, during his guardianship of a Gonzaga minor, thrown into the lake, at Mantua, a statue of Virgil, to which he found the people paying idolatrous reverence), her girlhood had been spent in Rimini, as great in repentance as in crime. Rimini hath other memories besides that of Francesca; and Madonna Paola, in the very year when the fate of her kinswoman, Parisina, at the hands of her husband, Marquis Nicholas of Ferrara, recalled, but too exactly, the story heard by Dante in the Second Circle of the Inferno, may well have turned to one of them for comfort. During the years of her girlhood, Rimini was the scene of the labours of the great Dominican reformer, the Blessed Giovanni Dominici. This remarkable man was a great friend of her grandfather, and we may well assume that his book, the “Regola del Governo di Cura famigliare,” though dedicated to a Florentine lady, Madonna Bartolommea, wife of Antonio Alberti (and kinswoman of the celebrated Leo Battista Alberti) was not unknown to those who had charge of Paola’s education, and, very probably, represented one of the very strongest influences of her girlhood. If this be so, it is impossible to see nothing more than a mere chance in the selection of a teacher who had already made a name for himself by a system of education exactly corresponding to that outlined in Dominici’s treatise. In studying the Renaissance, we are under a great disadvantage from the fact that its best known interpreters are generally quite incapable of appreciating the force and vivacity of religion during it. Symonds, and Burckhardt, and Settenbrini, setting out to prove Michelet’s theory that “the Renaissance was a discovery of the World and Man,” reject and misinterpret anything that contradicts it. The Middle Ages must be made as dark, and stagnant, and evil-smelling as possible—the “Dead Sea” indeed of Symonds; and the guiding principle of the Middle Ages, the Catholic Religion, must be a Spirit of Darkness—otherwise, what becomes of the theory? Poor Humanity, according to Symonds, had a cowl put on it by the Obscurantist Church, and was bidden to look neither “on the azure of the waters, nor the luxuriance of the vines, nor the radiance of the mountains with their robe of sun and snow.” And so, with downcast eyes, it passed on its way, knowing nothing but that “beauty is a snare, pleasure a sin, the world a fleeting show, man fallen and lost, death the only certainty, judgment inevitable, hell everlasting, heaven hard to win, ignorance acceptable to God.” “These,” we were told, were the “fixed ideas of the mediæval Church.”
I have no intention of refuting this palpably absurd rendering of the Catholic outlook, nor is there much necessity, for, fortunately, true history is coming into her own. In Germany she has made her first conquests; and here, thinking of men like Janssen, and Pastor, and Emil Michael, and praying to see go forth one day from the Lecture Halls of our Irish Universities, reapers to follow them into the fields that stand ready for the sickle; I cannot but rejoice at the bright prospects of a great Irish publishing house, which shall do for Irish savants, what Herder did for those of Germany.
As long as historians like Symonds interpreted the Renaissance for us, it was inevitable that we should be shown only a small part of it—just as much as would fit comfortably into the Michelet formula. Moreover, Symonds and his fellows really did not know Catholicism when they saw it. Between involuntary ignorance, and deliberate “suppressiones veri,” they have managed to give us a very untruthful picture of the Renaissance.
It is with something like a gasp of wonder we turn to the complete picture presented by Dr. Pastor. Here, side by side with belated Pagans, like the “Panormita,” and Lorenzo Valla, we see true Christian Savants like Gianozzo Manetti, Lionardo Bruni, Ambrogio Traversari, and our own Vittorino; side by side with monsters like Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta we have Christian rulers like the good Duke Frederick of Urbino; side by side with social butterflies like poor Beatrice of Este, we have devoted mothers of families like Madonna Paola; side by side with the celebrated sinners, we have the canonized saints, a long, long list of them. I believe, indeed, that, at no period of their history, have the two great Orders of St. Francis and St. Dominic shown themselves so fruitful in Saints, as that across which Symonds would fain have us see written the “I follow the finite” of Cosimo de’ Medici.
As a result of this treatment of the period, many of its most characteristic works have been hidden away from us. So it has come to pass that, while most students of Italian Literature know a great deal about a book like “Il Trattato del Governo della Famiglia,” if only because the question of its authorship has been so hotly debated, even those who hold for the paternity of Leo Battista Alberti, as against Pandolfini, may very well be unaware of the existence of the “Regola del Governo di Cura Famigliare,” dedicated to Leo Battista’s kinswoman, Bartolommea.
If anything were wanting to prove how much alike is Catholicism in all ages and nations, one would only have to put this little book, written five hundred years ago, for a Florentine lady, into the hands of an Irish Catholic mother of to-day, and see how much of it she can use for herself. Practically all of it, we should find.
“You have offered yourself,” the author says to Bartolommea, “body and soul, with all your possessions and your children, as far as they belong to you, to God, Our Lord, and now you want to know how to make the best use of all these things for His glory.” Thus, with the precision of the schoolman, he states and divides his subject. The first book, then, tells how to use the powers of the soul for God; the second, the faculties and senses of the body; the third, temporal goods. The fourth book tells how children are to be trained, and is, indeed, a most thorough treatise on Education.
Children are to be brought up (1) for God, (2) for father and mother, (3) for themselves, (4) for their country, (5) for the trials of life. Again, you see the schoolman, and admire the method. Can anything be more admirable than this summing up of the whole end and aim of Catholic Education, which takes account of the child in his future relations as Christian, member of a family, individual with an individual’s responsibilities for the investment of his talents (the faculties of soul and body), citizen, and man?
Then, with an astonishing feeling for realities, he prescribes the practical method by which this end shall be attained.
“You are bringing up your child for God. Therefore, let the thought of God await his first consciousness. For such as him, God became a Little Child. Show him that Little Child; have His image and that of Saint John in your homes, and let your baby make a playmate of Jesukin. (Does that not make one think a little of Iosagan playing with the children along the stone ditches of the Connemara roads?) For the girl have pictures of the girl-saints: Agnes with her lamb; Elizabeth and Cecilia with their roses; and Catherine with her wheel. But if you cannot afford to have these pictures in your homes (for those were not the days of colour printing and lithography) be sure to bring the little ones often to the Church, and let them see them there.”
I like to think that a great master, painting in those years, had a thought of dear, little, chubby, dark-eyed boys and girls being taken, one of the days soon to follow, into the church, when the masterpiece should be hanging in its place, and making friends with his “Bambino.”
Not by “sight” alone shall you teach your little ones to know God. “While they lie against your breast, and you feed them with your own substance, feed their souls with the sweetness of the love of Jesus, that wells first from your own heart; let the first words they utter be: ‘Jesus, Ave Maria, Deo Gratias, Pater noster qui es in coelo.’
“Have a little altar for the children,” the author counsels, “and teach them the different colours and the different vestments for the several festivals. Let them ring the ‘Hours’ with their own small bell. Nor were it ill done to let them preach to you; to the which preaching do you listen with all due attention and reverence. So shall they learn more easily, and more exactly, their Christian Doctrine, and you will have an opportunity of judging what progress they are really making in it.”
Dominici loves to see the young things gambol about. “As for games,” he says, “let them run and jump, and gambol and play”—but never so as to scare away the little playmate, Jesukin. He throws in a word of warning about the choice of their companions among the neighbour’s children.
Dominici is not in favour of sending children to the schools, as things then were. (It must be remembered that he was engaged in a work of reform among those responsible for those schools.) He advises the mother to teach the children as much as she can at home herself. Here the question of what they should study meets him. Is it safe to let their young and innocent minds come into contact with pagan morality? He strongly regrets the old days and the old ways. Our ancestors were wiser. First they taught the Psalter, and Sacred Doctrine. Then, if the child was to go further: the Morality of Cato, the Fictions of Aesop, the profitable wisdom of Prospero (i.e., certain “sentences” taken from the works of Saint Augustine); the Fidei Confessio of Bœthius; the philosophy of the “Eva Columello,” the “Tres leo Naturas”; and to help them to memorize the Sacred Story, the poem “Aethiopium Terras.”
He was writing this book for a woman who had known much trouble, who had seen her husband’s family driven into exile by the Medici. It behoves her then to rear up her children in the possession of that liberty of which no Cosimo can dispossess them—the liberty which is in the heart of every true man who has emancipated his Will from the thraldom of his passions. Again and again, he returns to this point: train their will. Teach them to know Good from Evil, and to choose good. No man can be free who is not free from these three things: free from sin, free from vengeance, free from debt. Nor can a man be free whose soul is in bondage to the appetites of his body. Rear your children hardily; so shall they have no fear of future evil fortune. Again he goes into detail: “Teach them to eat bitter things, lest too great daintiness be their undoing.” And again: “if they are sick, do not show them too much compassion, for so shall you take from them the opportunity of practising patience.”
Be careful with whom your children associate. “None of the things entrusted to you are so precious as your children. Their souls are worth more in God’s eyes than Heaven and Earth, and the whole of the irrational creation; and you do Him a greater service in bringing up your children well than if you possessed the whole world, and gave all away to the poor.”
When treating of the relation of the child to his parents, Dominici lays great stress on the observance of those outward forms, which express the reverence due from him to them. In the presence of parents, children shall not sit down unless desired to do so; they must stand in a respectful attitude, humbly bow the head when any command is addressed to them, and uncover when they meet their father or mother. “Twice a day at least shall they kneel and beg your blessing. The child must say: ‘Benedicite,’ and you shall answer: ‘May God bless thee with an everlasting blessing,’ or ‘may the blessing of God be always with thee.’ And let the child, kneeling to ask a blessing from you, remind you to ask a blessing from your Father who is in Heaven—not twice a day only, but as often as you change your occupation.”
Very noble are the precepts he gives Madonna Bartolommea, to whom Florence had shown herself, indeed, but an unkind stepmother. “You owe your child to your country. Therefore, teach him the duties of a good citizen, and morning and evening let him pray for the Patria.” Those are precepts we in Ireland might follow with profit.
I have lingered a little on the educational theories of the great Dominican, because many of them were put in practice in the school which Vittorino da Feltre founded at Mantua, under the protection of the Gonzagas that it is almost unthinkable that Vittorino and Madonna Paola were not directly influenced by it. We shall now see these theories in practice.
Part II.—La Casa Giocosa.
On the banks of the Mincio, the Gonzagas, very splendid even in their Condottiere days, had built a stately Pleasure House, which (for reasons on which it pleases certain historians yet to dispute) they called the “Casa Giocosa”—the “Joyous House,” if you care to translate it thus.
When Vittorino da Feltre came to Mantua, it would seem that the two elder of the Gonzaga boys were already being educated in this house. The Court School, where the sons of the reigning house and of the gentlemen in their service were educated, was an old European institution. The Palace Schools of Charlemagne are notable examples.
No trace of the “Casa Giocosa” is now to be found. Even its situation is a matter of uncertainty; but it has been described for us so often, and so vividly, that we need but to close our eyes, and there it stands again on broad meadow lands, that sweep down to the “slow-gliding Mincio,” in the midst of its fair lawns and terraced gardens, with its avenues of acacias and plane trees, its hedges of roses, its shady courts and fountains and statues, its marble “loggie,” and frescoed, spacious chambers, full of air and sunshine—a memory and an inspiration for all the schools that have followed it since.
Now, if ever there was a man who was that rare thing, a schoolmaster born, it was Vittorino da Feltre. He had discovered his vocation in his student days at the University of Padua, where he had kept body and soul together by teaching backward students, and helping them to keep up with their classes. He had developed it at Venice, where he had shared the management of a school with the great Greek scholar, Guarino. But at Mantua, whither he came, a ripe man of forty-five or so, with a large experience of boy-nature, a thorough mastery of methods of teaching, a store of well-tested theories, and a new field on which to exercise them, he was like a prince coming into his own kingdom. There seems something providential in the way things were arranged for Vittorino da Feltre. One is reminded of the Providence which we shall see in a later paper, surrounding the foundation of another great educational institution—Madame de Maintenon’s Saint-Cyr.
One condition Vittorino made before he took over the “Casa Giocosa.” He was to be supreme master in the establishment. Even the parents were not to interfere, and there was to be no appeal from his decision, whether as to the studies of the children, their food and manner of life, or their companions. On the last point, he was destined to meet with grave opposition. Some families claimed it as one of their immemorial privileges to send their children to the Court School, to be educated with the Princes. But, privilege or no privilege, Vittorino would tolerate nobody at the school whose example was likely to be harmful. Here you see him putting into practice one of the most constantly reiterated of the precepts of the Blessed Giovanni Dominici: “Be careful of your children’s companions.”
Not alone of the companions of the Princes was he careful, but of the servants. It would seem that when Vittorino took over the “Casa Giocosa,” he found a whole troup of liveried menials ready to minister to the slightest wish of the young Princes. His first care was to send them all off, replacing them by a few trustworthy attendants, not numerous enough to make discipline difficult. He put porters at the gate, on whom he could rely, wishing to secure for his school the atmosphere of quiet, and work, and prayer, and order, and wholesome austerity in which the young souls confided to him might grow to their full perfection. The vicinity of a splendid court made his precautions all the more necessary.
With the troops of servants disappeared the soft carpets, and luxurious couches, the gold and silver plate, and, above all, the rich foods which were playing such havoc with poor Lodovico’s figure—not to speak of anything else. Everything was to be plain and wholesome and abundant, but there was to be no luxury. Had not the Blessed Giovanni warned Madonna Bartolommea against rearing her children too softly? “Rear them hardily” had been his advice. “Teach them to eat bitter food and things unpleasant,” so shall they be able to say “we care not” when life is hard with them in the years to come.
The little picture-children for whom Dominici pleads, that Madonna Bartolommea’s boys and girls may make friendship with them early, were not forgotten by Vittorino. Be sure, when, at his request, Madonna Paola sent her painter to cover the walls of the study-halls and galleries with “frescoes of children playing,” the tiny Jesukin, and dear Saint John, who was as an elder brother to Him, were to be seen there, playing together—in the carpenter’s shop, mayhap, when Elizabeth had taken her boy to Nazareth to visit his small cousin, or by the covered well under the palm-tree in Zachary’s garden, when the sweet spring days had called Mary and her bambino to the hill-country.
Poor Lodovico must have felt the change rather hard at first. He had been accustomed to get up whatever time he liked, do as little as he pleased, and have his interest aroused by nothing except questions of eating and drinking. One really thinks there must have been something diseased in poor Lodovico’s extraordinary appetite. Our ancestors would have seen in him a fellow victim of Cathal MacFinguine, King of Munster, in whom there entered the Demon of Gluttony through eating the apples, whereon the Scholar of Fergal, son of Maelduin, had put his heathen charms, “so that the demon abode in the throat of Cathal, to the ruin of the men of Munster during three half-years; and it is likely he would have ruined Ireland during another half-year.”
At all events, Vittorino took Lodovico in hand at once. He was only allowed to eat at mealtimes; but at first his meals were set at short intervals, and there was no stint on the quantity of food; which, however, was as plain as possible, so that the appetite should not be over-stimulated.
Gradually, the meals became fewer, and Vittorino, discovering that Lodovico’s voracity was as much the result of an empty mind and starved interests as anything else, had the inspiration to accompany them with little entertainments. He had singers, and musicians, and storytellers placed in the dining-hall; and, lo! Lodovico, listening to them, forgot his plate, for the nonce, and did not notice the loss of it, when an attendant, on a sign from Vittorino, bore it quietly away.
With Carlo, the second son, the master pursued quite a different plan. Carlo was growing too fast, and spending his energies too rapidly in the ardour which he put into his games. Vittorino saw to it that the boy should have as much to eat as he wished at meal times. Between meals he had permission to eat, too—but only bread.
His attention to the food of his pupils and to their bodily welfare give the key to Vittorino’s whole educational system. The “Mens sana in corpore sano,” is as an educational ideal, not the exclusive possession of the Greeks. I have tried to show how vitally it influenced education in the Middle Ages; but, undoubtedly, Vittorino found new ardour for his pursuit of it in the image of the “Academy,” which his Greek studies had conjured up for him, and kept constantly before his mind.
But the little boys and girls, for whom Vittorino was going to assume responsibility, had something more than a body and a mind to be developed. They had each an immortal soul. The recognition of that fact must, logically, alter any system of education, not founded on it, into something very different. And so the Christian school of Mantua, forming colonists for this world, and citizens for heaven, was something essentially different from the Platonic Academy, however much it may have borrowed from it.
The strengthening and developing of body, and mind, and soul—that is, in a few words, what the whole system of Vittorino aimed at. It is in the harmonious ordering of the different studies and exercises, which he chose for the perfecting of the three parts of men, that the chief excellence of the “Casa Giocosa” consists.
“You are rearing your children for God,” the Blessed Giovanni reminded Madonna Bartolommea. Vittorino never forgot this for a moment, nor did he ever allow his pupils to forget that they had been “created and placed” in this world by God, “to know Him, love Him, and serve Him, and by that means to gain Everlasting Life.”
The common day began with hearing Mass in the school chapel. After Mass, the Office of Our Lady was recited, and a short instruction in some point of Christian Doctrine was given to the school. But this teaching was not theoretic only. He taught them not only what Christians must believe, but showed them how Christians must act. And so we find his pupils, in the after years, distinguished, among all the men and women of Italy, by their practical Christianity. Lodovico, once the self-indulgent, grew into the Marchese Lodovico, chaste and sober, and wise and kind—the best of the Gonzaga Princes. Little Frederick Montefeltro, sent as a hostage to the Mantuan Court, rejoiced, in the years when men spoke of him as the “Good Duke of Urbino,” that the chances of war had brought him such good fortune as to make him the pupil of such a master. Ever before his eyes he would have that master’s image, and as much as might be, he would carry out his system of life in the order of the Ducal Palace. So Vittorino’s portrait adorned one of the walls of the famous palace, with these words written under it: “In honour of his saintly master, Vittorino da Feltre, who by word and example, instructed him in all human excellence, Frederico, has set this here.” And better still, “the Court of Urbino was framed on the precepts which the Duke had learnt in the Casa Giocosa, and became in its turn a school where Italian princes sent their sons to be trained in knightly exercises and elegant manners.” And so we trace, in a direct line of descent from the “Casa Giocosa,” “the best book that was ever written upon good breeding,” as Doctor Johnson testified to Boswell: “‘Il Cortegiano’—the best book, I tell you, and you should read it.” An advice which one could not do better than repeat.
In an age when men lied and deceived shamelessly, Vittorino’s pupils were known for their absolute sincerity. This love of truth and hatred of falsehood was not won without careful efforts on the part of the master. He would not punish for a fault that was bravely confessed, and so took away one of the occasions of lying from timid children. A funny little story is told of Alessandro Gonzaga. The little fellow was ill, and had been ordered not to drink any water. But he was horribly thirsty, and disobeyed the commands. There was no great danger of being “found out,” but the boy was uneasy, until he had confessed. “Do you know what I did?” he said to Vittorino. “I took a big, big drink of water. Wasn’t I very good?” “Well,” said Vittorino, seeing that it could not be helped now, “at least, you were very good to tell it.”
He never allowed his pupils to utter a profane word. When Carlo was quite grown up, he swore a soldier’s oath in his master’s presence. And lo! the little man was upon him in an instant, boxing his ears, as if he were still a schoolboy. To the honour of Carlo, it must be said that he bore the indignity meekly, feeling that he had deserved it.
Like Dominici, Vittorino loved to see the children run about, and laugh, and leap, and play. He found two of them, during recreation hour one day, confabbing in a corner about their lessons. Do you think he was pleased? Not a bit of it. Out he routed them, and made them take part in the other children’s games. For, long before the English Duke, he had found out for himself that many a battle yet to be fought was being won already on those meadows by the Mincio, where his pupils were playing merrily.
One of the outstanding features in Vittorino’s system was the importance he attached to games—and all sorts of physical exercises. He held as a fundamental principle that “the human spirit cannot exercise its faculties fully, if the physical organs which it must use are defective.” He insisted on outdoor exercise, whatever the weather. He had his pupils taught riding, and swimming, and wrestling, and fencing. He organised hunting and fishing expeditions for them; and, remembering that many of his pupils were to be soldiers, he liked to teach them the art of warfare, by occupying mimic trenches, and pitching mimic camps, and taking mimic towns—according to the most approved methods.
These rougher plays were not for the girls, though they, in general, shared the lessons of the boys. For them there were dancing lessons, where every movement of their body was trained to an exquisite grace. They had riding lessons, too, and hunted and played “palla,” or tennis. No game was tolerated for them which would tend to make them ungraceful—as so many of the games our girls play to-day really seem to do.
Plenty of fresh air and exercise, plenty of good, simple food, to which they brought the sauce of a healthy hunger, sound and dreamless sleep, soon made the youngsters of the “Casa Giocosa” a healthy, happy band, whom it was a delight to see at their lessons.
He had the supreme gift of the good teacher, our Vittorino, that of knowing how to interest his pupils in their work. The maxim of Quintilian “do not allow the boy to conceive an aversion for the studies which he cannot yet love,” was adopted by him, and, until the young minds were ripe enough to love learning for its own sake, it was the master’s care to surround it with attractions. So we find him reviving the Quintilianian device of teaching the youngsters to read by means of painted cards and wooden blocks. As we have seen already, our Irish ancestors had a similar plan. In Whitley Stokes’ “Lives of the Irish Saints from the Book of Lismore,” there is a charming story of Saint Columbkille, as a child, learning his letters from a cake, on which they had been stamped.
In Vittorino’s school there was no place for the rod, which we have seen play such an important part in the mediæval school-system. He liked to appeal to the children through their sense of honour and dignity. The greatest punishment for such children was to make them feel ashamed.
As far as school-work went, however, there was little need for punishment. The enthusiasm for letters which had seized on all Italy had taken possession of the little people of the “Casa Giocosa” in an extraordinary degree; and in some cases, especially that of Gianlucido, the master’s care was rather to restrain than to urge them on. That great scholar, Ambrogio Traversari, General of the Camaldolese Order, writing to his friend, the celebrated Niccolò Nicoli, mentioned the boy’s marvellous achievements in Latin and Greek. On the occasion of a later visit, which he described for the great Cosimo de’ Medici, he listened to a Latin poem of about two hundred verses, wherein Gianlucido celebrated the coming of the Emperor Sigismund to Mantua.
That same letter to Cosimo makes mention of Cecilia, whom, perhaps, my readers think I have left too long undistinguished, among the band of merry children, playing by the Mincio. “There is also a daughter of the Marquis at the school,” writes Ambrogio, “who, though only ten years’ old, writes Greek with such elegance that, I am ashamed to acknowledge, scarcely any of my own pupils can approach it.” This tribute, indeed, hardly does full credit to Cecilia’s astonishing attainments. At eight years old, we are told, she read the works of Saint John Chrysostom, and wrote elegant Latin verses. She had begun the study of Greek at the mature age of six.
Nor did she excel less in the feminine arts, on which her master’s educational system laid such stress. Those little, high-born, Italian girls learned to dance almost as soon as they learned to walk, and a suggestion of the music which accompanied their early dancing lessons lingered in every graceful movement. Music, too, was as general as speech, and the child learned it as naturally. But, general as it was, it was never cheapened by being wedded to unworthy words. When a little girl learned to sing, there was food for her intellect in the lesson, too; for, in those days, men set sonnets of Petrarch and passages from Virgil to music, and the lute made a charming accompaniment.
The “speaking” voice was even more carefully trained than the “singing” voice. To quote from the delightful “Life of Vittorino da Feltre” in the Saint Nicholas Series: “the greatest trouble was taken with the cultivation of the voice, the manner of breathing, pronunciation, and all the other details which go to make up an easy and elegant delivery…. Like the ancient Romans, the master attached to this exercise a certain hygienic value.” It was a rare treat to hear Cecilia, in that golden voice of hers, declaim some of her own verses.
It is worth while to examine, in some detail, the system which led to such astonishing results.
Those painted cards and blocks, of which I have spoken, had been designed to teach the child to read Latin. The thing was not so surprising in those days as it would be in ours. As a matter of fact, it was as short a step towards the “unknown from the known” (the safest of pedagogic principles) to teach a child, whose mother-tongue was the speech of Lombardy, to read Latin, as to teach him or her to read Italian. So the children learned to read Latin very young indeed. Unless Cecilia was an exception, they learned to read Greek very young, too. The practice was to translate Greek into Latin.
Later on, the pupils took up the study of Grammar. The rules of Latin Grammar were deduced from a careful study of the works of Virgil and Cicero, while those of Greek were formulated while the pupils studied Homer and Demosthenes. The barbarous system, from which we are just emerging, which made the study of grammatical rules precede all else, was the unfortunate discovery of the century following Vittorino’s.
History was studied in the pages of Sallust, Valerius Maximus, and Livy.
Vittorino’s practice was to make his pupils read aloud, insisting on good pronunciation and artistic delivery. He made them learn off by heart, too, the best passages of the poets, orators, and philosophers. And so the children had faultless models to hand, when it was time for them to address themselves to original composition.
To balance any tendency this practice might have had to make his pupils adopt other people’s thoughts ready-made, he put them through a very thorough course of mental gymnastics. He aimed, with these exercises, to win for his pupils rather strength and vigour of mentality than subtilty. “I want to teach them to think, and not to split hairs,” expresses a pedagogic maxim of his, of which all his biographers have taken note. He made the youngsters propose difficulties to him, or raised them himself for them, and helped them to solve them. The Mathematical training given in the “Casa Giocosa” was the best in all Italy. At none of the Universities were Mathematics taught in a manner so profitable, or their educative value so fully realised.
When the children were a little older they took part in certain oratorical exercises, the idea of which the master had borrowed from the “Schools of Rhetoric” of Antiquity. Many of these boys would, in the years to come, be employed in Diplomatic Missions, and nothing could more fittingly prepare them for such work than these “Disputations.”
Such, in broadest outline, was the education which made of Cecilia Gonzaga, at the age of sixteen, one of the most charming and accomplished ladies in all Italy. Many a princely suitor came riding over the long bridge of San Giorgio to lay his hand and heart at the feet of the Marchese’s golden-haired girl, whose beauty and attainments had set their poets singing. One, in particular, found favour with her father—Oddantonio of Montefeltro, elder brother of that Frederico who had been Cecilia’s fellow-pupil at the “Casa Giocosa.” Oddantonio saw Cecilia, for the first time, on the occasion of Margherita’s marriage with Leonello of Este, fell in love with her immediately, and formally asked for her hand six weeks later. The alliance proposed was one that offered immense political advantages to the House of Gonzaga, and the Marchese eagerly accepted it, though the reputation of his prospective son-in-law was none of the best. In the off-hand way fathers had in those days, when it was a question of arranging their daughters’ matrimonial affairs, the Marquis sent for Cecilia one day, and told her to hold herself ready to be married.
But another Lover than Oddantonio had won Cecilia for Himself. The little Jesukin, with Whom she had played her childish games, Who, grown to manhood, had changed the water of the old philosophies into the wine of truth for her drinking, Who had sanctified the dust of the earth’s materialism because His Feet had touched it, and made the World a Sacred Place because He had died in it, was the Beloved of her heart.
As Magdalene, on a day, had broken the “alabaster box of precious ointment,” and anointed His Feet therewith, so, too, was Cecilia ready to pour out at His Feet all the treasures of heart, and mind, and soul, which Vittorino’s teaching had helped her to gather; as Magdalene spent the beauty of her hair to wipe the Feet she had anointed, so, too, was Cecilia ready to lay down her beauty for His dear sake.
Not many yards from the Castello of Mantua was a Convent of the Poor Clares, founded by Madonna Paola. Here was the abode which her Beloved had chosen for her, and here He offered her the habit which Francis had bestowed on Clare, the rope-girdle, the coarse veil. Oddantonio’s jewels and gifts, the satins and laces, and cloth of gold in which he would have decked his bride, were dross in the eyes of her, whose chosen ornaments were the jewels of Madonna Poverty.
When she announced her intention of becoming a Clarice to her father, his rage knew no bounds. One blushes to tell it (for Gianfrancesco, with all his faults, has a way of making us like him), but it must be told: he actually used physical violence to the poor girl to compel her to do what she was told. But steadfast as Clare herself, Cecilia stood firm, finding a little comfort in the unfailing sympathy of her mother and her teacher.
For two years the struggle lasted—Vittorino and Paola managing, between them, to dissuade the Marquis from forcing on his daughter’s marriage with a Prince, whose name was beginning to be in all men’s mouths as that of a notorious libertine. It may well be that Gianfrancesco was a little ashamed of himself when he was forced to recognise the true character of his chosen son-in-law. But ashamed or not, he was no more ready to see his brilliant girl bury herself in a Poor Clare’s Cell. To the last, he refused his permission for her entrance into religion; and Cecilia, fearing to bring disaster on the Convent she had chosen, was forced to acquiesce.
But a day came when Gianfrancesco had power to make his will felt no longer—a day when he lay very still and cold on a bier of black velvet, and was borne to his tomb in San Francesco.
Curiously enough, the Church wherein the great Marchese lay buried was part of the Convent Cecilia had been so anxious to make her home. Nothing stood in the way of the accomplishment of her heart’s desire now; and so it came to pass that the Vows he had so long refused to allow his daughter to take were uttered over Marchese Gianfrancesco’s tomb.
A Little Schoolgirl of Tudor England
At the foot of the river-stairs nearest the Westminster Law Courts, you might have seen (in the days when the sixteenth century was yet in its teens, King Henry the Eighth, a slim young Prince—the very flower of knighthood—and the Thames, a silver highway of romance,) a private barge, with a couple of blue-coated serving men, waiting for their master. And presently down the steps would come a man with brown hair a little tumbled, and dress a little awry, after a long, hard day’s work in the Courts. Something in the gait—a little defect, one shoulder somewhat higher than the other—might strike your attention, and you would turn to a water-bailiff near you with a question: “Is this Master More?” Then—whether intentionally or not, your whisper having carried further than the ear for which it was ostensibly intended—you would see the uneven shoulders swing suddenly round, and from half-way down the steps a clever face—wonderfully attractive in its irregularity—with a humorous mouth, and merry, grey eyes, would be lifted to you, and a laughing voice would proclaim its owner, “Thomas More, indeed, and very much more at your service.”
If upon being further pressed to know in what more he could serve you, you were well enough advised to make the request to be rowed down the river with him to Chelsea—there to make the acquaintance of his daughter, Mistress Margaret, and the others of his “Academia,” not to mention his second wife, Dame Alice (for whose solid, if somewhat Philistine, qualities you have the highest regard), and Master Gunnel, and John Harris, and Henry Pattieson—with all of whom you already seem to yourself familiar, from Erasmus, his letters—you would find yourself comfortably seated in the stern of the barge (before you had time to enlarge on the reasons, which had emboldened you to make your request), and being borne on your pleasant way down the pleasant, shining Thames.
Oh! a very pleasant way, in good sooth! The river covered with barges that carry bright colours, and music and laughter, and its banks covered with gardens that let the evening breeze rifle them for sweetness; the wooded hills that fill in the distance, brave in their new summer greenery, and the kindly sun, the giver of all these good gifts, so loth to leave the sight of them that he sinks but slowly, slowly to his bed in the West!
And yet methinks the most pleasant part of all would be yet to come. It would be waiting for you at a certain steps, towards which you might have seen your host, long since, strain his eyes. A group of young things are standing at the top, waving their scarves. Two of them, a little boy and a girl, so near a size that you take them for twins, are in such haste to get to the barge that they are in danger of tumbling right down the steps into the river. You can hear a girl’s voice call at them anxiously, “Cecy! Jack!” and when the barge is fastened to its moorings, and you are mounting the steps, leisurely enough to give your host a good start of you, you look up and see those two troublesome little monkeys held fast by the hands of a tall girl of fifteen or so, and you know by the way her father turns to her, first of all, that this is Margaret.
In the meantime your host is being pulled, very affectionately, from one to the other. Margaret’s restraining hand is not strong enough to keep Jack and Cecily in check any longer, and with those two rifling his pockets for barley-sugar, and Bess and Daisy hanging out of his arms, one on each side, and Margaret Giggs a little in the background, and young Will Roper, and Jack Dancey, and Rupert Alington dancing around, one understands why he cares not to be over-careful of his clothes.
Going up the garden path to the great house you will meet a stately lady stepping sedately down from it. If her welcome has a touch of frigidity, lay it not to her charge, good lady. In truth, her lord might have given her a little warning that a stranger was coming to supper. Then had she time to get Gillian to add a dish of black-caps and a lèche to the bill of fare, and herself to change into her scarlet gown and coif. Whereas, now!
Indeed, the fare is plain enough, as you will presently discover when you are seated at Master More’s right hand at the long table in the great hall. But dainty though you be at your sizes, on ordinary occasions, it will be odds if you have ever set down to a meal more to your taste, or eaten anything with a greater appetite than the salt meat, and coarse fish, and thick slices from the cob-loaf, flavoured, as these are, with the “Attic Salt,” for which this house is famous.
After supper someone will suggest a stroll through the garden; and you will accept the more readily since you hear Dame Alice say that Gillian needs her superintendence in the kitchen. As you rise from table your eye, through the long, wide lattice, catches a glimpse of glowing flower-beds and blossoming hedges, and you compliment your host on the beautiful home he has made for himself. Is it fancy, or does a slight shadow really fall on his laughing face, as if he felt in how short a time he must bid it all good-bye?
It would seem as if Margaret noticed the little cloud also, and her homely, clever face, so like her father’s in colouring and feature and expression, reflects it lovingly. But she knows how to conjure away his sadness. “Shall we not go to the Academia first, and show you to what good use we have put the day?” she asks him, laying her hand on his arm and turning her dear face up to his.
“Well proposed, Meg,” he says, tucking her arm under his own, and so leading the way up the broad oak stairs—you following among the others.
“How charming!” is your first exclamation as you enter the schoolroom. And, indeed, you are right. No more delightful room can be imagined than this panelled-oak chamber, with deep, low, roomy window-seats, and classic tapestry, flapping in the cool breeze from the river. After you have spoken a word with Master Gunnel, the tutor (whom you have noticed slip away early from the supper table, and find again here with young John Clement, with a Greek text between them) you will be conducted to the various desks, and shown their contents by their several owners. On Bessy’s you will find a “Livy” most probably, on Daisy Middleton’s a “Sallust,” and on Margaret’s a “Saint Augustine,” with her father’s marks “where she is to read and where desist.” Then Master Gunnel will conduct you to his own high desk, and take therefrom some of their traductions, at the purity and elegance of which, if you have any skill in Latin style, you will be completely amazed.
Though you compliment Master Gunnel on the proficiency of his pupils you know, and he knows, that the credit is all due to their father. Even in his busiest years it has been his chief occupation. If you had time to go over the letters which Margaret treasures so dearly, and which you may see (tied up like a lover’s in blue ribbon) in a safe corner of her desk, you would find, not once, but many times repeated, words like these: “I beg you, Margaret, tell me about the progress you are all making in your studies. For I assure you that, rather than allow my children to be idle and slothful, I would make a sacrifice of wealth, and bid adieu to other cares and business, to attend to my children and my family, amongst whom none is more dear to me than yourself, my beloved daughter.”
“Jack! Jack! What has become of Jack?” Margaret looks around anxiously; but for once Jack is not in any particular mischief, and comes up to his father with a look of self-satisfaction at the fact, which is infinitely comical.
“Look,” says his father, “how the little monkey knows already that he is going to be praised for the Latin letter he sent me to Court by the hand of the Bristol merchant.”
He takes the little chap between his knees, and strokes his curls while he talks to them all. Indeed, each of them had done very well, and it was not only because he was their father and loved them dearly that their letters had given him such pleasure. Their letters were very good; the thought very well put; the Latin pure and correct. But John’s pleased him best of all, because it was longer, and showed that he had taken more trouble with it than the others had done. It was funny too, and some of his own jokes had been turned very wittily against himself; the which pleased him not a little. But even in this matter John had remembered not to go too far, and while he thrust and parried very prettily, he never forgot that he was fencing with his father.
With that Cecy claps her hands in delight, for whatever of good or ill befalls Jack is her hap, too.
“There is a mount for thee, too, Cecy,” her father promises her, and takes her and Jack, one on each knee, and goes on with his discourse.
When he is away from home he will expect a letter from each of them every day. He will not take excuses such as Jack is wont to make, that he has not time, or the carrier went off before he knew, or, forsooth, he had nothing to write about. As for want of time, how could it fail, since everyone who has anything to say in the division of their day will let the letter to father take first place. And as for keeping the carrier waiting, why not have the letters ready and sealed, even before his coming? And as for having nothing to say—did anyone ever hear of such an excuse from girls, who (he pulls Cecy’s ears at this point) have always a world to say about nothing at all. If there is nothing at all to write about, why! let them write about “nothing at all.” But they know he likes to hear about their studies and their games. But whatever they write, whether it be fun or earnest, let them write it as carefully and with as much finish as possible. It will be no harm to write out first the whole in English, for then they will have much less trouble in turning it into Latin; not having to look for the matter, their mind will be more free to attend to the language. That, however, he will leave to their own choice; but on another thing he will be strict. Whatever they have composed, they must carefully examine before writing out clear; and in this examination they must first scrutinise the whole sentence, and then every part of it. Thus, if any solecisms have escaped them, they will easily detect them. By this diligence they will soon be able to turn out elegant productions.
“And have them shown to the Archbishop, or Dean Colet, or even the King, as Erasmus did with a letter of Margaret’s,” says Cecily.
A little shade comes over the kind face above her curls. If there is one thing he dreads for his girls, this wise father, it is vain-glory.
“Tilly-vally, Master More,” says Dame Alice, bustling in (just at the right moment, to show what a sensible choice he has made of a step-mother for his brilliant girls). “What comes over you to keep the girls all idling here, while Gillian needs them in the dairy, being all of a sweat, poor wench, a-trying to make the butter come? Off with you all, girls, now, and take your turns at the churn until the cream breaks, were it to keep you to morning.”
She leads the relief-party off to the dairy, and you find yourself alone with your host and Master Gunnel.
“Shall we to the garden until the young ones come back to us?” Master More inquires, and you need no second invitation.
What a beautiful garden it is! Even though so many of the flowers have gone to sleep, you know you have never been in so beautiful a garden in all your life. All sorts of sweet perfumes come to you as you seat yourself between your host and Master Gunnel in the pavilion that gives such a charming view of the river. You would like to know some of the names of these so sweet-smelling flowers and herbs that you might perfume your own garden with them.
Sayth Master Gunnel: “It is a pity that Mistress Margaret is not here, for she knows the name of each of them, and their nature, and their uses.”
Margaret’s father laughs. “If Margaret is not spoiled, methinks it is not to her tutor she owes it—for he is always ready to blazon forth her praises. I am glad to think, however, that she has good skill in herbs. It is that the children may learn the uses of common things that I keep in my garden and paddock many a plant which the fastidious would cast forth. A woman should have good knowledge of healing.”
“And of what else?” inquires Master Gunnel, innocently.
A merry laugh from your host. “Look what artifices he useth, this good Gunnel, to get me to mount my favourite hobby. You must e’en take the consequences, if it rides off with me.”
And with that he is off in good earnest, and you are minded to lose no word of what he says about the way a girl should be educated.
“In your country,” he says (turning to you), “which would have been mine, too, had not one of my ancestors left Ireland for England, I have heard it said that embroiderers ever kept before them, stamped in a piece of leather, the pattern of that design which they wished to imitate on church robes and vestments. Now, even such a pattern, stamped on the imperishable leather of Holy Writ, lies to our hands; and I know that good Master Gunnel here (of whose work one may speak in a manner, not all too fanciful, as resembling that of the embroiderer) puts in never a stitch without looking carefully at the model. Is it not so, Master Gunnel?”
For answer Master Gunnel begins to quote the glorious words: “Who shall find a valiant woman? far, and from the uttermost coast is the price of her. The heart of her husband trusteth in her, and he shall have no need of spoils.” And so on, till the picture is complete, and the “Valiant Woman” stands out before you, strong, and wise, and chaste, and kind, and sweet, in all her imperishable beauty.
The hour is exquisite. Sweeter and sweeter grows the garden, as the dew distils new perfumes. The paling river is pricked here and there by a rare star; but in the sky itself, from where you sit, you can only see one, and that is Venus. In the faint light your host’s face, raised to it, shows very soft and dreamy. Is he thinking of the wife of his youth, the dead mother of his girls?
Presently he begins to talk again. “If I were a preacher, or a moralist, or anything but a lawyer, trained only to look for the flaws in all things, I could show you how in that one passage of Holy Writ is contained a whole treatise on the Education of Women. But Master Gunnel shall do it for me.”
“Right willingly,” declares Master Gunnel, “if you will but show me how.”
“I would have you in the first place note that the ‘Mens Sana in Corpore Sano’ hath never been more clearly indicated than in that picture. For the healthy body, you shall see it mentioned not once but many times, and you shall guess at it, too, by the laughter and good humour which she carries down into her old age. ‘She hath girded her loins with strength, and hath strengthened her arm’—as if to show that this strength and suppleness of body, so admirable in a woman, were to be cultivated by suitable exercises; as to which, to speak sooth, none are so well adapted for the purpose as those she finds ready to hand in her household tasks, sweeping, kneading bread, churning, spinning.”
“At all of which she was proficient, this ‘Valiant Woman,’” puts in Master Gunnel. “‘She hath looked well to the paths of her house, and hath not eaten her bread idle’, and again: ‘She hath sought wool and flax, and hath wrought by the counsel of her hands.’ ‘Her fingers have taken hold of the spindle.’”
“As for her good humour,” continues your host, laughing a little, “I would ask your opinion whether it is better shown in anything than the excellent terms she always managed to maintain with her husband.”
“Of a truth,” sayth Master Gunnel demurely, “the fact proveth that she suffered not from megrims, to which effect I, for one (who believe in the healthfulness of the morning hours), consider her early rising much contributed.”
“Ah! Master Gunnel,” says More, standing up, “you will be able to write that treatise without any help from me.”
Here you put in a word, and entreat Master More to develop the matter further.
“And you will,” he promises you; “but let us climb to the roof of the new building, where I have promised to have the young ones, and question them on their knowledge of the stars.”
Under the great dome of the starry sky the conversation takes another tone—deeper and more serious. He holds, you gather from what you hear him say, that those who trained the mind and soul of that woman were not afraid to feed them with the food of strong thoughts. He discovers a strength and sureness about all her dealings, a big and generous way of regarding things that show a well-nourished, well-balanced mentality. That little touch about her concern for the well-being of her household: that they be generously fed, and warmly and comfortably clad, seems to him to indicate a wider outlook than the prejudice which confines woman’s studies to the petty things of life would tend to foster. “Be sure of this,” sayth he, “she is not one of those who are penny-wise and pound-foolish, saving a candle’s end and spoiling a velvet gown.”
“That she was well-read,” says Master Gunnel, “is not without warranty.”
“Now, how may that be?” you inquire; and Master Gunnel instances her clever and sensible conversation, which, he holds reasonably enough, was not acquired without reading, and study, and listening to the conversation of learned men. “I take it,” he says, turning to More, “that we can interpret this, what is further said of her: ‘She had opened her mouth to wisdom, and the law of clemency is on her tongue.’”
But here there comes a sound of laughter thrilling through the garden, and a scamper of light feet up the steps that lead to the flat roof of the new building, and the whole Academia, with the exception of Jack and Cecy (who have been attacked by “Johnny Nods,” and carried off to their respective beds), are here to tell all the frolic they had in the dairy, and how long it has taken for the butter to come.
When you found yourself last night in the oak bed-chamber, which Dame Alice had assigned to you as the pleasantest in the house, you felt strangely disinclined for slumber. So you set the wax candle (which had been borne before you very ceremoniously, to light you to your quarters) in a place secure from the night breeze, and, unbolting the heavy wooden shutter as noiselessly as possible, you opened your lattice, and stepped out into the balcony—out into the night that was sweet with flowers and starlight.
Then, as you sought among the stars for those with which you had made friendship when you formed one of the little group of star-gazers on the roof of the new building, you seemed to hear again the voice of your host. How droll he had been as he pulled Daisy’s pink ear, and praised her for that she was able, on occasion, to tell the sun from the moon! But, presently, the laughter and bantering had died away, and you found yourself listening in a delicious hushed expectancy for a whisper of the music of the spheres as your host’s words made you think of them as moving harmoniously, carrying each its appointed luminary like a blazing jewel set in a crystal circlet! Ah! truly the “Almagest” would make a man a poet in spite of himself; and now you know how a certain look in Margaret’s eyes came there. For who could gaze, night after night, into the great spaces wherein the revolutions of the spheres make melody, and around which the fixed stars are built, in their firmament, into a mighty battlement, without carrying some of the wonder and the glory of it all away in one’s own soul?
In the lighted hall, afterwards, cozy with candlelight and a great log ablaze on the wide hearth, you came back very gently to earth. Such a good earth and a kind earth; not so very far from heaven either, since there was love, and light, and music to keep the roadway free!
Here Dame Alice, taking her capable part in the concert of instrumental music (which you learned is a nightly event in this household), relaxed a little from her attitude of housewifely overcarefulness, and showed you a pleasanter part of her nature. And when you looked round the circle and saw the happy looks of each little performer on harp, and lute, and monochord, and flute, it is odds but your pity was stirred for certain little girls you left behind you in the twentieth century, who spend such miserable, profitless, lonely hours in “practising.” If the “practice hour” were such a jolly re-union of the whole family as it is here, be sure our little maids would get more good out of their music-lessons!
Gradually the instruments were laid carefully aside, and the maid-servants, who had been busy with their spinning and sewing during the concert, prepared the place for the night prayers. One thing surprised you no little, and this was the accuracy with which everyone in the household recited the alternate verses of the psalms chosen: “Miserere,” “Ad Te Domine levavi,” and “Deus misereatur nostri.”
Surely the blessing of God rested visibly on this home, where everything was done to show Him perpetual honour! And so with a sense of great spiritual peace in your heart you came away from your star-watch on the balcony, and presently were lost in blissful dreams in the huge four-poster bed, with its downy pillows and sheets that smelled of lavender.
And now it is morning again, and the sun is streaming through the chink in the wooden shutter, which you neglected to fasten properly last night. Someone below in the garden is singing, and you speed your toilet to the merry tune and time:—
“The Hunt is up, the Hunt is up,
And it is well nigh Daye,
Harry our King has gone hunting
To bring his Deere to baye.
The East is bright with Morning Lighte,
And Darkness it is fled,
And the merrie Horn wakes up the Morn
To leave his idle Bed.
Behold the Skies with golder Dies.
Tra la la la la la!”
“Up with it, young ones; up with the burden though it do come before it’s time,” says the merry voice of your host. And certainly they take him at his word, until the thrushes and blackbirds start singing, too—in self-defence.
“Shall we visit the menagerie now?” queries Master More, when there comes a moment’s silence in the wake of the “good-morrows” which greeted your appearance. “Nay,” as you look round the groups for an explanation, “these be not the only wild animals we keep in the enclosure.”
And then you look again, and see that everybody has some feeding stuff in his or her hand, and you find yourself presently engaged on a round of visits to the quaintest and most varied collection of pet-animals you ever dreamed of. There is one condition laid down in this household for all who would own a pet in it, and that is that the whole care of it devolves on the owner. Methinks in this there is a fine training in thoughtfulness and in the sense of responsibility as well as in Natural History.
There is a little time to spare yet, it seems, before the bell rings for Mass, and you willingly accept the invitation to pass it in the study in the new building. “And Meg shall come with us, too,” your host promises, “but for the others, I would ask no four walls to try and hold them while they be in such spirits.”
So off they go scampering round the garden, the wild young things!
In the new building you find a long gallery lined with books, which leads to a charming little room built all for study and retirement. On the broad oak table lie leaves of the manuscript which has occupied Master More during long hours while all the world beside slept. “Oh! Father,” says Margaret reproachfully, “what a state your desk is in,” and, thereupon, she sets about tidying it with deft hands, and an understanding mind.
“Our Meg here,” says her father, laying a hand on her bonny brown head, “is the only one of her sex one can trust among one’s books and papers, with the hope of finding one’s way safely through them after her. She is the tidy part of my own soul.”
“A part of his own soul!” Nobody shall know until the end has come on earth how true are these words; what tender, holy secrets are confided to this dear daughter alone in all the world; how much apart he lives, even in the midst of that gay and happy family life, in some respects, from all but her! But here as you note her flitting among his books, finding out those which she feels he will need for this work, looking up references and marking passages, you see how closely she is identified with his intellectual interests. Here in this little study she is as much at home as he. And in what lies beyond it, in the little bare room where only a carved crucifix breaks the white line of wall, and where her father seeks God and his own soul in solitude, what is her place? Oh! truly a privileged one there, too—as the world shall know at last when he shall have made the last distribution of his gifts from the Tower—and to her falls his hair-shirt, while Cecily has his “handkerchief,” and Elizabeth “a picture in parchment with her name on the back thereof.”
The bell for Mass sounds from the Parish Church a little bit down the river, and you follow your host and Margaret to the door to find Dame Alice (more stately than ever in her blue cloak and white head-dress), waiting to take Master More’s arm, and head the family procession, by the path they have made for themselves by the end of the meadows to the little church. What an appetite you carry home with you, and how the sweetness of that morning hour in the quaint old English church lingers with the band that seats itself for breakfast in the long hall, afterwards, making the meal a veritable “agape,” a feast of love! What merry jests and quips are bandied round, and how heartily your host makes you feel yourself of the company when you prove yourself not inapt to catch and throw back the light and shining ball of words aimed at you by Henry Pattieson, the official jester to the household. And so the morning hours pass.
And now it is time for Master More to make himself ready for the day’s business in the Law Courts. It appears, however, that you need not terminate your pleasant visit so quickly. It is proposed by the master of the house himself, seconded most cordially by Dame Alice, and passed with acclamation by the whole band of youngsters, that you spend yet another day in this hospitable household, and strengthen your acquaintance with its inmates. It is not to be expected, as you perfectly agree when the fact is pointed out to you by Dame Alice, that that good lady should spend much time with you, having heavy household duties to attend to, but the girls will be free presently, and as for the boys, having nothing more important to do than lessons, they and Master Gunnel are ready to devote themselves to you immediately.
But first Master More has to be seen off, and kerchiefs and sashes have to be waved at him from the water-stairs, until his barge grows smaller and smaller, and finally the speck it has become has been caught into the distance. Then off go the girls, under the bustling and energetic directions of Dame Alice, to help in the dairy or kitchen, or attend to the wants of the poor, whose meals are as regular a part of the household machinery as those of the family themselves. In the meantime you go to the schoolroom with Master Gunnel and the boys—young John Clement, and Jack Dancey, and Will Roper, wards or protégés of Master More, and the son of the house, young John More. A word or two puts you in possession of the present position and future prospects of the lads. Young Clement has a marked taste for medicine, and is already a distinguished botanist. He has been taken into the household at the recommendation of Dean Colet, at whose School of St. Paul’s he has already distinguished himself, and while pursuing his own Greek and Latin studies under Master Gunnel, preparatory to entering Oxford, he acts as assistant tutor and directs the botanical researches of the others. Will Roper is a ward of Master More, and Jack Dancey is the son of a legal client, whom the good man has taken into his house until his affairs can be settled. Otherwise it were ill for young Dancey, of whose estates the lawyers alone draw the profits. To balance matters, Dancey, very wisely, proposes to became a lawyer himself. As for Jack More, you know a little of his abilities already—but it needs no Master Gunnel to tell you presently when you shall be alone with him—the boys being given a task to do, and sent into the garden with it—that in the matter of brains, poor Jack can never hope to compete with his sisters.
You venture to remark that it is a pity, but you do not find Master Gunnel over ready to agree with you.
“For my part,” he says, “I hold with Master More that the harvest will not be much affected whether it is a man or a woman who sows the field. In truth, it is a matter on which he hath done me the honour to put his views in writing, at some length—if you care to see his letter, I have it at hand.”
Indeed, you care very much, and presently you are seated in a comfortable window seat, with the treasured letter spread out on your knees.
To your shame, be it spoken, you read the Latin with less ease than Cecy or Jack would show; noting which, Master Gunnel unostentatiously begins to read in English some of the more important passages.
“Listen to this,” he counsels you, pointing to a marked passage, and thereupon begins:—
“Nor do I think that the harvest will be much affected whether it is a man or a woman who sows the field. They both have the same human nature, which reason differentiates from that of beasts; both, therefore, are equally suited for those studies by which reason is perfectioned, and becomes fruitful like a ploughed land, on which the seed of good lessons has been sown. If it be true that the soil of woman’s brain be bad, and apter to bear bracken than corn, by which saying many keep women from study, I think, on the contrary, that a woman’s wit is, on that account, all the more diligently to be cultivated, that nature’s defect may be redressed by industry. This was the opinion of the ancients, of those who were most prudent as well as most holy. Not to speak of the rest, St. Jerome and St. Augustine not only exhorted excellent matrons and most noble virgins to study, but also, in order to assist them, diligently explained the abstruse meanings of Holy Scripture, and wrote for tender girls letters replete with so much erudition, that now-a-days old men, who call themselves professors of sacred science, can scarcely read them correctly, much less understand them. Do you, my learned Gunnel, have the kindness to see that my daughters thoroughly learn these works of those holy men….”
“So that is the explanation of the Saint Augustine we found on Margaret’s desk yesterevening?”
Master Gunnel nods confirmation, but he is much occupied in finding the next suitable passage in the letter, and does not speak immediately.
Then with his thumb on the paragraph selected, he looks up for a moment out of kind, rather near-sighted eyes.
“Do you remember last night when he spoke of the ‘Valiant Woman,’ and showed how all those who have girls to educate can find in her an imperishable model? For his own daughters he hath borne in mind, that, of all the virtues of the ‘Valiant Woman,’ it is her fear of the Lord that alone giveth substance and value to the others. ‘Many daughters have gathered together riches: thou hast surpassed them all. Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: the woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised.’ Hark, how he drives home the point. He hath been praising Elizabeth for her good conduct in her mother’s absence.
“‘Let her understand that such conduct delights me more than all possible letters I could receive from anyone. Though I prefer learning joined with virtue, to all the treasures of kings, yet renown for learning, when it is not united with a good life, is nothing else than splendid and notorious infamy: this would be specially the case in a woman. Since erudition in women is a new thing, and a reproach to the sloth of men, many will gladly assail it, and impute to literature what is really the fault of nature, thinking from the vices of the learned to get their own ignorance esteemed as virtue. On the other hand, if a woman (and this I desire and hope with you as their teacher for all my daughters) to eminent virtue should add an outwork of even moderate skill in literature, I think she will have more real profit than if she had obtained the riches of Crœsus and the beauty of Helen. I do not say this because of the glory which will be hers, though glory follows virtue as a shadow follows a body, but because the reward of wisdom is too solid to be lost like riches or to decay like beauty, since it depends on the intimate conscience of what is right, not on the talk of men, than which nothing is more foolish or mischievous.
“‘It belongs to a good man, no doubt, to avoid infamy, but to lay himself out for renown is the conduct of a man who is not only proud, but ridiculous and miserable. A soul must be without peace which is ever fluctuating between elation and disappointment from the opinions of men. Among all the benefits that learning bestows on men, there is none more excellent than this, that by the study of books we are taught in that very study to seek not praise, but utility. Such has been the teaching of the most learned men, especially of philosophers, who are the guides of human life, although some may have abused learning, like other good things, simply to court glory and popular renown.’”
Master Gunnel interrupts himself a moment with a reminiscent smile: “It may well have been that I was in danger of turning Margaret’s attention to the wrong things, but, if this were so, I was soon made to discover the mistake. Mark how gently I am brought to task:
“‘I have dwelt so much on this matter, my dear Gunnel, because of what you say in your letter, that Margaret’s lofty character should not be abased. In this judgment I quite agree with you; but to me, and, no doubt, to you also, that man would seem to abase a generous character who should accustom it to admire what is vain and low. He, on the contrary, raises the character who rises to virtue and true goods, and who looks down with contempt from the contemplation of what is sublime, on those shadows of good things which almost all mortals, through ignorance of truth, greedily snatch at as if they were true goods.’”
But here come the boys back with their finished tasks; and little Cecy is at the door, with her stepmother’s compliments, and are you fond of curds and cream? If so, you will come to the dairy and eat them, with a dish of strawberries, gathered by Dame Alice herself when the morning dew was yet on them, and carefully kept for you until this moment on the coolest shelf of the cool dark pantry.
MARIE JEANNE D’AUMALE
A Little Schoolgirl of Saint-Cyr
The little “new” girl had sobbed herself to sleep at last, and in all the long, white dormitory there was no sound but that of the regular breathing of healthy, sleeping children. Very gently, Madame de Fontaine withdrew her hand from the lock of the little fingers which had held it so long. Then, as she stooped to kiss the small face on the tear-stained pillow, she heard a murmur of “Maman!” and saw that the child was smiling in her sleep.
“She is dreaming of home,” said Madame de Fontaine to herself; and, involuntarily, she turned to the unshuttered window, when she was back in her cell at the end of the dormitory, and yielded her own dreams to the spells the white moon was weaving for them.
Away across the park, long cords of light were stretched across the dark mass of the Château, where a King and his courtiers held revel. Now and then, the night wind whispering to the tall trees, carried snatches of the music to which the dainty, jewelled feet of the Court ladies moved rhythmically. But these things barely touched the nun’s consciousness. Beyond the boundaries of the stately park, far away from the echoes of courtly music, or the light of a King’s presence, her dreams were following where those of little Marie Jeanne d’Aumale had led—to an old “gentilhommière” in the heart of the provinces, very shabby, and tumble-down, and dilapidated, but where a little girl could be very happy, because she called it “home.”
It may well have been that more than one of the little sleepers in the long row of little white beds was dreaming of just such an old “noblesse”; and that is why, as she looked into the moonlit park, the nun could see it so plainly before her. Poor little girls! Two titles had procured for them their right of entrance into Saint-Cyr: nobility of birth, and poverty; and one was more clearly written across the tumble-down walls, the grass-grown courtyard, the empty byres and stables of their old provincial “gentilhommières,” than the other on the Coat of Arms carved above the dilapidated doorway.
And was not one as honourable as the other? Nun as she was, Madame de Fontaine was not yet dead to that noble pride, to which, as Madame de Maintenon herself has finely said, “before having died, one must have lived.” And, standing there at the window of that establishment, whose foundation, four years ago, represented an instalment of payment of the debt contracted by the Monarchy to France, to the nobility of France, ruined in its service, she felt the thrill of one whose order “hath chosen the better part.”
And all the time, from the lighted palace across the park, floated the soft strains of dance-music! There, they who had made the other choice, who had abandoned their homes, and their home duties, who lived at Court, absentees from their estates, and deserters from their “consigne,” were dancing their “branles,” and “courantes,” their “menuets” and “passe-pied” in the light of the King’s presence. Let them dance on! The true hope of France was in these little sleeping girls, who, gathered together under the pious roof of Saint-Cyr, were being trained for a womanhood, which should work out the regeneration of a kingdom.
Never has a more splendid tribute been paid to women than in the foundation of Saint-Cyr; and one runs the risk of failing to realize its importance, both in the history of feminism, and in the history of education, if one neglects to consider it, as much in the light of the statesmanship of Louis XIV. as in that of the charity of Madame de Maintenon. The primary idea was hers, no doubt—but it remained for the King, not only to supply her with the means of putting her project into execution, but to perceive the part it might play in the economical reconstruction of his kingdom. Long wars had left the country desolate, but no class was made “with its desolation more desolate” than the class of country gentlemen. And yet it was among them that the King had always found his most gallant and disinterested defenders. It grieved him to the heart when he heard the tales of the misery in which, among their untilled fields and half-ruined walls, they were rearing their families. In his coffers there was not the wherewithal to requite their services, and help them to cultivate their fields again and rebuild their “gentilhommières.” But there was something else that could be done for them, and the King did it. He could give them “Valiant Women”—and he knew in his heart that the gift was indeed a royal one, and worthy of him—more precious to those who received it than gold and silver. “Far, and from the uttermost coasts” was to be the price of those whom Saint-Cyr was rearing for France.
As I have said, the primary idea was Madame de Maintenon’s, and it developed successively from a small start at Rueil (1682) with sixty pupils, through Noisy with its one hundred and twenty-four, to stately Saint-Cyr with its projected five hundred. Herself a daughter of the class of smaller landed gentry, she had experienced in her own person all the sorrows and bitterness, all the temptations and dangers to which these poor little sisters of her order must inevitably be exposed—and her thought was to gather as many of them as possible into shelter from them. With the generous means put at her disposition she reckoned that she could provide for five hundred young girls, up to the age of fifteen.
But—and it was the statesmanship of the King that raised the point—would there really be very much gained by keeping the girls only until their fifteenth year, and then sending them back to their families with nothing but a half-finished education to their credit? Would it not be better to keep them in Saint-Cyr until they were twenty, and their education complete? With an education such as was planned for them, and a small dowry to supplement the fortune it represented, these girls would find no difficulty in securing suitable “partis,” or being received into convents.
Madame de Maintenon perceived that this course would be much better, and she willingly agreed to have the original number of five hundred pupils reduced to two hundred and fifty. For, as she plainly saw, it was less a question of gathering in the greatest number of girls possible, than of conferring a permanent benefit on the whole kingdom, “by making the foundation a source of pious instruction for it.” Saint-Cyr was to be the leaven, which, hidden in “three measures of meal” (being the whole of France), was “to leaven the whole.” Every girl who left Saint-Cyr, after her thirteen years’ training in all Christian and womanly virtues and accomplishments, was to be a centre of education and enlightenment for all those with whom she should come in contact. In her was to come to life that picture of the Christian Gentlewoman which Fénélon has painted in immortal colours, and which M. Octave Gréard has hung in its true place in his gallery of women:—
“As for me,” he says, in his admirable introduction to the “Education des Filles,” “I love to picture to myself the young woman, educated by Fénélon, as he has painted her, in the setting of a provincial ‘gentilhommière’ he has chosen for her. Up with the dawn, lest laziness or self-indulgence should gain any hold on her; carefully planning the employment of her own day, and that of her servants, and apportioning its various tasks among them with gentle authority; devoting to her children all the time that is necessary to learn to know their characters, and to train them in right principles; her clever hands always busy with some useful piece of needlework; interesting herself in the business of the farm and the estate, and missing no opportunity of learning even from the humblest of those engaged on them; thoughtful for the comforts and wants of her dependents; founding little schools for poor children, and interesting her friends in the care of the destitute sick; leading amid solid and useful occupations, such as these, a full if uneventful existence, and animating everything about her with the same sentiment of life.”
No one who knows intimately the Catholic women of France can fail to recognise the type, and in its persistence (which really inspires a belief in the resurrection of France) must see an overwhelming justification of the statesmanship of Louis XIV. “What France needs,” says Père La Chaise, and he spoke for his royal penitent, too, “is not good nuns—we have enough of them—but good mothers of families.” It is the glory of Saint-Cyr, from its foundation until it fell under the axe of Revolution, to have furnished France with them, and, what is more, to have assured the vitality of the strain in a degree to which the affairs of France bear witness even to-day. When at a recent re-union of the “Ligue des Femmes Françaises,” the Catholic Women’s League of France, we saw the portrait of the ideal “Femme Française,” drawn by the Marquis de Lespinay, and recognised, in every gracious detail, its identity with the ideal which Fénélon formulated, and Saint-Cyr realized, did it not seem, indeed, that Madame de Maintenon’s prayer had been heard? That Saint-Cyr will live—in spirit at least—as long as France, and that France will live—because of it—as long as the world? Vive Saint-Cyr! Puisse-t-il durer autant que la France, et la France autant que le monde!
She was accustomed to early hours at home, was our little Marie-Jeanne, being a busy young person, whose usefulness in minding turkeys, and similar offices, was never questioned in the d’Aumale household. Accordingly, she was quite wide-awake when, very early next morning, the shutters were opened, and somebody passed down the dormitory, pausing at each little white bed to pass the holy-water to its small occupant, and elicit “Deo Gratiases” of varying degrees of drowsiness in answer to a very brisk “Benedicamus Domino.” Some of the “Deo Gratiases” were very, very sleepy—but certainly not Marie-Jeanne’s. Hers absolutely vibrated with energy, and the emphatic bump with which she immediately transferred her small person from bed to floor was but its fitting sequel.
“The dear little one!” said a voice; and Marie Jeanne, interrupting her toilet, looked up to see a very tall and beautiful lady pass the asperges to the nun, who had put her lonely little self to sleep last night, and come and take her in her arms.
“Shall I send one of the ‘bleues’ to help her to dress, Madame?” inquired the nun. But the beautiful lady shook her head. “I will help her, myself,” she told the Sister, “but indeed I think she will not need much helping.”
She was quite right. Everything that a little girl could reasonably be expected to do for herself, Marie Jeanne d’Aumale did. But, as she explained (afterwards, naturally, for she rightly gathered conversation was not allowed in the dormitory), the uniform of Saint-Cyr, which she donned this morning for the first time, was not at all like the style of garment she had been accustomed to wear at home, and one had to learn the ways of the fastenings.
It was a very pretty uniform, she decided, when she was fully dressed and ready to survey herself. It consisted of a neat brown frock, with a cape and apron to match. The apron was bound, in Marie Jeanne’s case, with a smart red ribbon, which showed, as she presently learned, that she belonged to the “Rouges,” the division comprising the youngest in the school, the children between seven and ten. The “Vertes,” whose apron-ribbon was green, came next in order of age, being girls between eleven and thirteen. Then came the “Jaunes,” with their yellow ribbon—girls between fourteen and sixteen. The “Bleues” were the big girls of the school, and showed their standing by the blue ribbon which bordered their apron. Little or big, they all wore pretty white muslin caps on their heads, and soft white muslin collars round their necks, of the fashion we call “Puritan.” They were encouraged to do their hair, if modestly, as becomingly as possible, and a dainty bit of ribbon was supplied occasionally to help in its adornment. It would appear from an “Entretien” with the “Vertes” in the year 1703, that Madame de Maintenon and the Dames de Saint-Louis had occasionally a little trouble with the “demoiselles” about the way they wore their caps, which they persisted in putting too far back on their heads, showing too much hair.
You may be sure that Marie Jeanne’s cap was properly put on—for, as you have probably guessed already, it was no less a person than Madame de Maintenon herself who helped her to dress on her first morning at Saint-Cyr. As we know, she very often came to the house before the children got up, and was present at their toilet, and had an eye to the way in which they discharged the household tasks that were assigned to them.
And now that Marie Jeanne is dressed and we have sufficiently admired her uniform, I have to ask you whether you would wish to spend the rest of the day with her and the other “Rouges” here at Saint-Cyr. If you do (and I can imagine no experience more profitable for any one interested in little girls and their education), I shall allow Madame de Maintenon herself to do the honours.
In an instruction to the “Class rouge” in the year 1701, she describes in great detail how a “reasonable little girl” spends her day at Saint-Cyr. The “Entretien” is particularly interesting, as enabling us to reconstruct the programme of the day’s work at the celebrated “Maison de Saint-Louis.” Nor is it less interesting, as showing Madame de Maintenon’s methods of instruction. One likes to picture the Classroom of the “Rouge” for the occasion—a charming big room, with tall windows looking out on a beautiful park, with coloured prints and maps on the walls, and fifty-six little girls, in the uniform I have described, sitting in their benches. One fancies that they have hurried back from recreation in the park, with more promptness than usual at the news that Madame is coming to them to-day. And now the door opens, and they all stand up to receive her. We can picture her seated on the rostrum, and our little friends in their places—and the “Entretien” ready to begin. I had forgotten one detail: At Saint-Cyr they always began a lesson with the recitation of the “Veni Creator.”
She looks round the eager little faces, and picks one out. “Mademoiselle de Provieuse,” says Madame, “do you know what is meant by a ‘reasonable’ little girl?” Now, it is not quite easy to define in so many words a reasonable little girl, though one may know in one’s own mind very well what a reasonable little girl is. So Mademoiselle de Provieuse hesitates, and Madame comes to the rescue. It appears that “a reasonable person” is simply “a person who is always doing the right thing at the right time.” That sounds simple, and every little girl present is interested immediately. It seems, then, that to be “reasonable”—and if there is one thing every little Saint-Cyrienne worth her salt wants to be, it is “reasonable”—one has nothing to do, but to do as well as one possibly can whatever one is supposed to be doing at any particular time. Let us see how that works out.
The first thing our “reasonable” little girl does when she awakes in the morning is to make her Morning Offering—and that she does with all her heart. Then, when she is called, she gets up immediately (even though six o’clock seems rather early), dresses herself quickly and modestly, but as neatly and carefully as she can. After that, if she has any time to spare, she helps the smaller children to dress, and takes her share in making beds, tidying up the dormitory, sweeping, dusting, and polishing. No half-done work for her—untidily made beds, sweeping that leaves all the dirt in the corners, or polishing that shows more smears than anything else! No, whatever a “reasonable” little girl does, she does with all her heart, and her only pride is in work well done.
The next item in the day’s programme is morning prayers in the schoolroom. And here our little girl shows how “reasonable” she is by her devotion and attention. She is not the sort of little girl who giggles, and whispers, and tries to distract her companions—not she, for she knows that there is nothing more serious than praying to God. Prayers are followed by breakfast—and as it is as important to eat well as it is to do anything else well, nothing pleases Madame better than to hear of a little girl thoroughly enjoying her breakfast. It would seem that at Saint-Cyr, there was sometimes permission to talk at breakfast, while sometimes silence was enforced. Madame de Maintenon, who likes to give her girls a reason for the rules to which they are subjected, explains on another occasion (Instruction to the “Jaunes,” July, 1703) why these times of silence were prescribed: “The first reason is to teach you to hold your tongues; nothing is so ugly in a girl as to be always talking, even if she were a genius, and said the wittiest and cleverest things possible. The Saint-Cyr girls have always been accused of this fault. Another reason is to give you time to think, for we know that, if you employ it well, nothing will contribute so much to your advantage.”
At eight o’clock our little girl goes to Mass (here a hint is slipped in as to her behaviour in Church—she must see her companions well seated before taking her own place, and during Mass-time she must not turn her head to see who is coming out; she must follow the parts of the Mass with all the respect and devotion of which she is capable, for nothing is so sacred as the Mass).
Classes occupy the time from 8.30 until 12; and I know you will be interested to know what our little friend learns at them. The programme of instruction for the “Rouges” included reading, writing, and arithmetic, the elements of grammar, Catechism and Bible History. If she were a little advanced, she could help the others, and Madame de Maintenon loved to see her little friends doing the mother to their younger companions. According to her, a little girl could not too soon begin to make herself useful to others. In an “Entretien” with the nuns, dated 1701, on the “necessity of avoiding useless fatigues,” we catch a glimpse of a little girl comfortably seated, with a little new-comer, to whom she is teaching her “ba bé,” kneeling at her feet. As Madame de Maintenon is such a disciple of Fénélon (in matters of education) one is glad to think that the little Saint-Cyriennes learned their “ba bé,” not in a Latin Psalter, as was the general habit of the time, but in “the prettily-bound book, with gilt edges and nice pictures,” which he recommends.
For teaching writing, she certainly adopted his methods: “When children can read a little, you should make a sort of play for them by making them form letters…. Children have a natural inclination to draw figures on paper, and, with the least little bit of help and direction, they will learn to form letters, and gradually accustom themselves to write. Then you will say to them: Write me a little note, or send such and such a piece of news to your brother, or your cousin.” We know that Madame de Maintenon herself adopted this method with one of her first pupils, the Duke of Maine. When he was only five years old she told him one day to write a letter to the King. “Oh! but I don’t know how to write a letter,” said the little chap. “Have you nothing in your heart you would like to tell him?” “I am very sorry he has gone away,” says the little Duke, readily. “Very well, write that down; nothing could be better. What else?” “Well, I shall be very, very glad when he comes back.” “There’s your letter written,” says Madame. “All you have to do is to write it down simply as you think it, and, if you think amiss, we shall correct you.” It is in this way, as she told the “Bleues” one day she came to correct their letters for them, that she taught Monsieur de Maine, “and you know,” she said, “what beautiful letters he writes now.”
I have not been able to find any indication of how arithmetic was taught at Saint-Cyr—but its importance for girls had been too strongly insisted on by Fénélon for it to be neglected. “Girls,” he says, “should know the four rules—addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. You should practice them in these rules by giving them accounts to make up. Many people find this task a great burden, but if one is accustomed to it from childhood, and learns to avail oneself of the help of the rules, to deal quickly with the most complicated accounts, one loses this distaste.” Very often, as he points out, good and economical housekeeping depends on the housekeeper’s exactitude in keeping accounts.
Grammar was taught at Saint-Cyr in the spirit of the “Education des Filles” by practice in correct writing and speaking, rather than by rule, “as boys study their Latin Grammar.” Again and again the importance of speaking “good French” is insisted upon—and we all know the models that were given them. It was to teach her little girls to speak the purest and best French that Madame de Maintenon had them trained to act some of the best plays of Corneille and Racine. There came a day when these young people “played ‘Andromaque’ so well that they would never play it again—neither it, nor any other of your pieces,” Madame writes to Racine. She did not keep her word, fortunately for us, for they were destined to play “Esther.”
If our visit to Saint-Cyr had been paid in the year 1689, we might have been in time for a rehearsal of “Esther,” or even (thrilling thought!) for the famous “fifth” performance, where Madame de Sévigné sat between Madame de Bagnols and the Maréchal de Bellefonds, in “the second bench behind the Duchesses,” and showed her appreciation by an absorbed attention and “certaines louanges sourdes et bien placées” which had their reward. For the King was so gratified that he actually came and spoke to her. “Madame, I am told you like it.” “Sire, what I feel is beyond expression.” “Said his Majesty to me: ‘Racine is very clever.’ Said I to him: ‘Indeed, Sire, he is very clever, but these young people are very clever, too.’” And off she goes for the torchlight drive to Paris, thinking less, one suspects, of Racine and the “very clever young people” who acted his piece, than of her own clever self, and the triumph she had scored over her friends, who were merely fashionable or pretty.
Alas! Dates are stubborn things, and the date of Marie Jeanne’s arrival at Saint-Cyr (1690) precludes all possibility of her having been (for instance) the “youngest of the Israelites” on this occasion, and peeping out from behind the curtains to see that brilliant audience. There were many people in France who, if they had been questioned about the matter, would have said it was just as well for herself. For it was not the sturdy good sense of the Curé of Versailles, alone, that was now awake to the danger of turning the heads of the young actresses; almost everybody who gave any thought to the matter saw how much justice there was in his blunt criticism that this was the way to train up theatrical “stars,” not “novices.” The fact that Saint-Cyr did not primarily set itself to train up “novices,” but rather good wives and mothers, lessened in no way the force of M. Hébert’s strictures. And Madame de Maintenon was not slow to perceive her mistake, and to repair it energetically.
It happened, accordingly, that it was into a very quiet Saint-Cyr—a very dull Saint-Cyr, according to the girls, who had lived through the excitement of the “Esther” performances of the year before—that Marie Jeanne found herself. Now, one day was exactly like another, and anybody who knew the time-tables could tell, exactly, what every little girl in the place was doing at a given hour.
That makes it all the easier for us, who have left Marie Jeanne and her companions, the Rouges, at their morning lessons, and must now come back to finish the day with them. The classes are nearly ended now, and there is a general, and not unpleasant feeling, that it is getting near dinner-time.
But before going to dine there is something to be done. A little girl must examine her conscience “to see in what she may have offended God during the morning, to ask His pardon, and to form the resolution of doing better, with His help, during the rest of the day.” The work she has offered to Him, when she awoke in the morning, is now examined by her, before she hands it in, so to speak; and the faults and blemishes are, if not repaired, at least apologised for. “Most particularly does she examine herself to see if she has fallen into the principal fault from which she has undertaken to rid herself.” At Saint-Cyr, nobody is considered too young to be allowed to forget the responsibility she has, as between her own soul and God.
Dinner-hour is twelve o’clock; and again, as at breakfast, a little girl is expected to really enjoy her food, and every care is taken to have it both appetizing and abundant. It is instructive, in this regard, to find Madame de Maintenon taking the Superior to task when an occasional retrenchment is attempted. In 1696, she wrote to Madame du Peron: “Madame, I have always forgotten to ask you why you continue to give rye bread to the children at a time when wheat is not dear. It is well for them to learn by their own experience the ups and downs of life, and they ought to take their share in the nation’s reverses. But they must go back to their ordinary régime when there is nothing to prevent it. The tendency of communities is to retrench in the matter of food rather than in things that show.” Again speaking to Madame de Glapion, she returns to the subject, giving her a lesson in true economy, which not nuns alone, but all housewives, might read with profit. It would appear that the nuns had not only been pushing their spirit of saving (in what concerned the girls) to the extreme, but that the work-mistresses had allowed a certain spirit of commercialism to creep into their direction of the needlework classes. “Are your girls sempstresses?” she asks, angrily. “Is it for that the King has entrusted them to you?” It is far better for them to learn to turn their hand to all kinds of sewing and mending—family sewing one might call it—than to be expert mantua-makers. She protests against the “economy” which savours of meanness and stupidity. “Indeed, ma sœur, when the big girls have worn their dresses more than a year, it is too much to expect the same dresses to last as long again with the little ones. The same remark applies to ever so many other things, where ‘economy’ has been pushed to such an extreme that I don’t know where you get material for mending. This is what it comes to: you keep mending, and darning, and patching, continually, without reflecting, that if, on the one hand, you save something, you waste so much silk, and thread and time, on the other, that there is really nothing gained.” With these liberal sentiments on the part of its foundress, we may expect to find the “table” at Saint-Cyr abundant and excellent. It is true it had not a great name for hospitality to strangers. “Be sure to take your dinner before you go,” said Madame de Maintenon’s brother one day to Bourdalone, who was to preach at Saint-Cyr. “Saint-Cyr is, in very truth, a House of God. One eats not, neither does one drink.” “It is true,” said Madame de Maintenon, gaily, “our ‘fort’ is education, and our ‘faible’ is hospitality.” But, it is only fair to Saint-Cyr to add that what it saved on its guests, it spent very profitably on its inmates. To one guest it was hospitable, at all events—the little Duchess of Burgundy. Would you like to know what she had for dinner one day she spent there? Lobster soup (it was a fast day), eggs, “sur le plat,” baked sole, gooseberry jelly, cream cakes, brown and white bread, and fresh butter. It sounds appetizing.
Dinner was followed by recreation; and to be a “reasonable” little girl, a little girl after Madame de Maintenon’s own heart, one had to put as much good will into one’s recreation as into anything else. She loved to see her girls run about, and dance, and play, and help their companions to enjoy themselves. But a strange thing had been reported to her. When they were in the garden, nobody could get them to move; and when they were in the class-rooms, they were always complaining of having to sit still so long. “Everything in its own place, and the garden was the place to run about.”
Such a charming garden, and park, as Saint-Cyr possessed—designed by the great Mansard, and with the King himself as sponsor for its poetically-named groves and alleys: Allée de Réflexions; Allée Solitaire; Allée du Cœur; Cabinet de Recueillement, and Cabinet Solitaire. If it were not the Comte d’Haussonvilles from whom I draw this curious piece of information, I should have inevitably credited Mademoiselle de Scudéry with the choice of these names. They seem so utterly unlike what we would expect from Louis XIV. One fancies Madame de Maintenon must have only accepted them with a sort of resigned amusement. Certainly she had no intention of allowing the names to justify themselves; for, instead of the sentimental meditation which they seemed to suggest, she was all for filling these groves and alleys with the gay laughter and games of healthy and happy little girls.
In her system of education, recreation played a very important part—in the first place for its hygienic value. “Let the children run about in the open air as much as possible,” she is always preaching to her nuns, “nothing will help them so much to grow tall and strong.” But, more important still, at no time more frequently than during recreation does a girl get an opportunity of sacrificing her own inclinations in order to give pleasure to others—and this is a lesson no woman can learn too early for her own happiness, if for nothing else. Moreover, proficiency in games of skill was important from a social point of view. Everybody—from the Royal Family down—played those games, and a girl would feel herself at a disadvantage afterwards if she had not attained some proficiency in them. Games like “I love my love” had, according to Madame de Maintenon, the combined merits of making a girl quick-witted, and giving her subject for reflection. It seems to me that Madame de Maintenon showed an even greater amount of commonsense than usual in the answer she gave a nun, who wished to know whether she approved of the little ones making rag-dolls at recreation, in the two-fold design of making them handy and amusing them. “Anything is better than keeping them unoccupied,” is her reply; “but you will succeed better in making them handy, by employing them at something genuinely useful. Little girls,” continues this keen student of girl nature, “usually love to be working, and you cannot make them happier than by giving them something useful to do. Show them how to do this right, and you are not only amusing them, but training them.” I wish every mother would take that lesson to heart. A little girl of three or four usually develops all of a sudden a great taste for sweeping, and baking, and washing (washing, particularly). Now, instead of sending her out to play, a wise mother will seize the opportunity of showing the little one how to do these things right. I saw the prettiest sight the other day; it was a laundry lesson to a tiny girl of three-and-a-half. You never saw such a happy little girl as the pupil; no game ever invented could hold half the interest for her, and I am bound to say that she displayed more aptitude than many a poor girl who came to the work after her ’teens. For my part, I am convinced that sewing, and sweeping, and washing, are far better instruments for hand-and-eye training than paper-folding, and mixing and modelling dough into cakes and scones, while quite as interesting to children as modelling in clay, has the educational advantage which anything woven into the genuine web of life has over what is extraneous to it. And here I may be allowed to remark that much of the educational unrest, so keenly diagnosed by Dr. Starkie, is due to the fact that parents, the first and natural teachers, have in these days a tendency to turn over their children, body and soul to a professional class—shirking their own duties. Everything nowadays, is supposed to be taught at school; and the only part parents take in their children’s education is to criticise the teachers, and grumble at the results of the system. If parents did their own share, things would be more satisfactory. And I include among the parents’ share the duty of teaching cooking, etc., and training the willing little hands to turn themselves to useful account in the busy family life around them.
But we have got far away from Marie Jeanne and the “Rouges” of Saint-Cyr, who, after a jolly recreation in the park, are trooping into their class-room for the two o’clock “instruction,” which as often as not, Madame de Maintenon gave herself.
What did she talk about at these “instructions”? “Of everything under the sun,” one is tempted to exclaim at first, when one turns over the list of subjects drawn up by Madame de Berval. Books were rare at Saint-Cyr, especially after the “Reform” of 1691, and it was from these “instructions” that the girls laid in their provision of general information. “Do not accustom them to a great diversity of reading; the seven or eight books which are in use in your house would do them for all their lives, if they only read for edification. Curiosity is dangerous and insatiable.” But there are books for which she makes an exception: “Try to make them love Saint Francis de Sales; his books are solid and show one how to attain the greatest perfection, with the utmost courtesy and refinement.” As for herself, one always feels that the “Introduction à la Vie Dévote” was never long out of her hands; and she comes to her girls with some of its chapters fresh in her memory. If to understand the “pedagogy” of Saint-Cyr, one must have studied Fénélon’s “Education des Filles,” to understand the whole spirit of the institution, the union of “Religion and Commonsense,” on which it was founded, one must re-read Saint Francis de Sales. Sometimes, especially for the bigger girls, the “Instruction” began with a reading from the “Introduction.” We find an interesting example in an “Instruction à la Classe Bleue” of March, 1712.
Madame de Maintenon interrupted the reading to ask Mademoiselle du Mesnil what she understood by the good-humoured and generous humility of which St. Francis de Sales spoke. “I believe,” said the young lady, “that, in this case, the good-humour would consist in not allowing oneself to be discouraged by the faults, of which one’s humility forced one to convict oneself; and the generosity in setting oneself, with all the courage and goodwill possible, to correct them.” Madame was delighted with the answer, and went on to point out to the girls the perfection and solidity of the Spirit of Saint Francis de Sales, “his straightforwardness, gentleness, and the attractive way he had of leading souls to God.” “Do you know him well, this Saint, my dear children?”
It appears they did, and Mademoiselle de Conflans proceeds to show her knowledge (and a fine literary taste, too, it seems to me) in the quotation she chooses from him, at Madame de Maintenon’s request. It is from that admirable chapter on “the manner of practising true poverty in the midst of riches” (Part III., Chapter XV.), and Mademoiselle de Conflans quotes it almost literally: “Tell me, are not the gardeners of great princes more concerned to cultivate and beautify the gardens they have in charge, than if they were their own? And why is that? Because, doubtless, they look on those gardens as belonging to the kings and princes, with whom they wish to gain favour by their services. My Philothea, the possessions we have are not ours.” (At this point, Mademoiselle de Conflans ceases to quote but paraphrases admirably.) “They are but given to us by God, to be managed for His glory, for our salvation, and for the good of our neighbour. As long as these ends are kept in view, we please God by looking well after our worldly possessions….”
“Suppose, Mademoiselle,” continues Madame, “then that you were married (she taught them, as we shall see presently, not to be afraid to mention the word marriage at Saint-Cyr), and that you had plenty of money, what would you do?” “I should feed and clothe my children well,” says Mademoiselle (who had not studied her Francis de Sales for nothing); “I should pay my debts; I should help my poor neighbours; I should take care of people who were ashamed to ask assistance; and I should visit and assist the sick poor in the hospitals.” “All that is excellent,” comments Madame, approvingly, “but among all these different kinds of charity, preference is to be given to that exercised towards your own poor tenants and poor relations. But if you met with some financial reverses, would it be right to borrow money to keep up your charities?” Mademoiselle de Chaunac gives it as her opinion that it would. “If you really think it would be right to borrow money to keep up one’s charities you are very much mistaken. One’s first duty is towards one’s own children and servants.”
That is good sense and justice, and the religion that was taught in Saint-Cyr was never separated from one or the other. “Make them see that true piety consists in the fulfilment of one’s duties; let them learn those of a wife and of a mother, their obligations towards their servants, the edification they owe to their neighbours, and what sort of a life they can and ought to lead in the world.” She was never tired, when talking to the girls, of contrasting true devotion with wrong-headed “voteenism.” She defined the latter by its manifestations: leaving the Blessed Sacrament to go to pray before a statue; leaving one’s class to say extra prayers; putting one’s head against the wall, for fear of allowing one’s devotion to evaporate, and being quite annoyed if one is interrupted, for something quite necessary; waiting an hour outside the confessional for “contrition” to fall from heaven, and then saying you don’t feel like going to confession, for you have not the proper sorrow for your sins; spending a lot of money on ornaments for the chapel and leaving your sisters in want; employing at prayer much more time than is marked out, and thereby neglecting the duties of your charge. “True piety, ‘devotion in the spirit of Saint François de Sales,’” as she calls it somewhere, “is, on the contrary, solid, simple, good-humoured, sweet, and free, consisting rather in innocence of life than in austerities and frequent retreats. When an educated woman misses vespers to stay with her sick husband, everybody will approve; when she holds the principle that we must honour our father and mother, however bad they may be, nobody will laugh; when she maintains that it is better for a woman to rear her children well, and train her servants, than to pass the whole morning in her oratory, people will easily accommodate themselves to that religion, and she will make it loved and respected.”
To prepare her girls for that exact fulfilment of duties which, according to her (and Saint Francis), is the best sign of true piety, she adopted two great means. The first was to train them to an exact observance of present duties. She was always preaching to them the honour and glory of work well done. It is a matter of pride to be able to sweep, and dust, and mend well, and, far from being ashamed of doing these things, a girl ought to be proud to be seen by everybody at them. But what of a girl who does not care in the least how her work is done, provided she gets through it some way or other? Madame de Maintenon has an ugly name for such little girls, and she does not hesitate to apply it: Coward! There was surely a terrible sting in the word, for girls of noble birth, with a long tradition of soldierly honour in their families. One fancies the lash of it made them turn to their sweeping, and dusting, and polishing with more zeal than the fear of punishment would have done. She likes her girls to remember they are noble, provided they show themselves worthy of their birth. “In the world, nobility is recognised by its true politeness; it loves to give pleasure, to spare trouble, to relieve pain. If one of you were forced to take a position with some individual, and could not bring yourself to do it, preferring to spend the whole day working to earn the necessaries of life, I could not blame her. If another received a proposal of marriage from a man of low birth, and she answered me, ‘I cannot overcome the disinclination I feel to it,’ I would pity her for refusing a match which might make her happy, but I should not find it strange, for these are inclinations common to the nobility. If I should hear a girl say, ‘I would rather a thousand times see my brother dead than hear that he had run away from the enemy, and is a coward’—a noble heart spoke there, and I feel the same as you. If some of you said, ‘I would rather wear homespun all my life than receive presents,’ I should say, ‘these are girls who feel their nobility, and are true to it.’” In the meantime, they can prove their nobility in no way better than the care they take to fulfil their daily duties exactly. In interesting their sense of honour, Madame de Maintenon shows her knowledge of girl nature, grafted on a good stock.
For the future, she looks forward, picturing vividly the life that awaits them. What matter if the picture be not very gay? It is well to face the truth, and teach her girls to be prepared for it. Most of them will marry; she hopes so, at all events, and in some cases goes out of her way to provide them with husbands. “What Saint-Cyr wants,” she says on one occasion, “is sons-in-law.” To all of them she repeats the advice she gave a girl, on leaving: “Either marry, or become a nun; don’t be an old maid.” She was more angry than ever her nuns remembered having seen her, one day she heard that they would not mention the word “marriage,” and that when they came to it in the Catechism, they passed it over. “What! a Sacrament, instituted by Jesus Christ, which He has honoured by His presence, the obligations of which are detailed by His apostles, and must be taught by you to your girls, cannot be named! That is what turns into ridicule the education given in convents. There is far more immodesty in this affectation than there is in talking of what is really innocent. When they have passed through matrimony, they will find there is nothing to laugh at in it. You must accustom them to speak of it very seriously, even sadly; for I believe it is the state of life in which one experiences the most tribulations, even in the happiest marriage.”
She herself speaks of it to the girls often, and seriously—and, if the truth must be told, too sadly. It was not quite fair to take her own experience as typical. Shall I be accused of a frightful heresy, too, if I judge her teaching that a woman should yield her taste and her judgment in all things to a husband (no matter how absurd and fanatical he may be) as extremely unwholesome?
The needlework lesson which followed the “Instruction” was considered among the most important of the day’s programme. “Try to give the girls a taste for work,” is a recommendation which is always recurring in Madame de Maintenon’s letters. Nor was it only for its direct practical application that she valued it for her girls. She wanted them, it is true, to be able to turn their hands to anything: “to pass from new to old, from fine to coarse, from dresses to underwear, caps and coifs.” But she knew, long before Lady Henry Somerset, the extraordinary comfort there is in the use of the hands. In a wonderfully suggestive article by Maude Egerton King in the “Vineyard,” Lady Henry Somerset’s discovery is recorded: “Who has not heard of Lady Henry Somerset and the help she has discovered for poor women drunkards in the use of their hands? She tells us how domestic grief brings desire for forgetting, and how this is most easily bought in poisonous drink—poor substitute, indeed, for the keen interest of handwork and the consolation found in its conquest of things.” “There was comfort in carding the wool, solace in the spinning-wheel, decision in the exacting shuttle as it flew to escape the batten and reed.” Madame de Maintenon had tasted in many hours of spirit weariness the solace of the busy hand: “nothing is more necessary for our sex than the love of work; it calms the passions, it occupies the mind, and filling up the time pleasantly, leaves one no leisure for evil thoughts. What is a woman to do who cannot bear to stay at home, or find pleasure in her household employments, or interest in a bit of needlework. What can she do but seek it at the theatre, or the card-table?” No wonder that next to piety, and reason, she values needlework as an instrument of education.
There is a singing lesson yet to be gone through, and a catechism lesson, before the supper and recreation, night prayers and examination of conscience which end the day at Saint-Cyr. Whether the girls have a voice or not, she likes them to join the singing-class. “Even if they cannot sing, they will know something about it, and take pleasure in it,” she tells the “Vertes” on one occasion, and goes on to impress them with the necessity of letting slip no opportunity of learning anything likely to be useful. “Look at me,” she says, “who found no talent so useful at Court as to be able to do hair well!”
At the Catechism Classes she likes the girls to question one another, but she had no patience with budding casuists, who made difficulties to show their own cleverness. Did she scold the little Duchess of Burgundy who, one day, doing Catechist to the “Bleues,” on being asked, “Where is the Valley of Jehosaphat?” covered her own ignorance by the scorn she poured on the questioner? “That’s a sensible question, indeed, Mademoiselle; and you have great need of knowing it in order to get to Heaven.” I do not think so. With Fénélon (whose precept in this particular was so much better than his practice) she held that women have not the brains for the subtleties of Theology or Philosophy. “Women only know things by halves” (here she repeats Fénélon’s very words), “and the little they know renders them proud, disdainful, talkative, and disgusted with common things.” “I would much prefer to see your girl occupied with your house-steward’s accounts than with the disputes of the Theologians,” Fénélon had said, and Madame de Maintenon (especially after the Quietist troubles, when even the “Rouges” talked of nothing else but “pure love,” “holy indifference,” “simplicity,” and all the other jargon of Madame Guyon’s letters) took the lesson to heart.
And now to conclude. In a letter to the “Dames de Saint Louis” of February, 1706, she sums up the whole aim of the education of Saint-Cyr, and nothing gives a more faithful picture of its ideal than her words:—
“Let all your instructions, conversations, reprimands, punishments, rewards, relaxations, be employed to make your girls virtuous, pure, modest, discreet, silent, reliable, kind, just, generous, lovers of honour, of good faith and probity, giving pleasure in all that is possible, hurting no one’s feelings, bearing peace everywhere, never repeating aught but what will please and reconcile. Thirteen years are not too long, my dear sisters, to train them up, and form them to so many good things.”
Thirteen years are certainly not too long—nor a whole life!
Two Schoolgirl Diarists of the Eighteenth Century
In the rather demure little company of girls—Irish, German, Italian, English, and French—whom it has been my pleasant task to gather together, what on earth has naughty Hélène Massalski to do? And what good purpose could one hope to serve by reviving, for twentieth century Irish girls, and their mothers and teachers, the mischievous pranks and schoolgirl frolics of a little Polish maiden in her eighteenth century French convent? All I can say now is that Hélène Massalski will not be kept away. “Here she comes,” with her scribbled diary, like Galuppi, “with his old music,” and here’s all the good it brings:—
“What they lived once thus at Venice, where the merchants were the kings,”
or at least so they lived in a fashionable Parisian convent of the eighteenth century. Here we have (presented from a perfectly different point of view from that from which we studied our other little girls’ school lives) a picture of the education, which produced the exquisite and distinguished type of womanhood, represented by the “Grandes Dames” and great Salon-holders of the ancient régime. Poor little girls! Not a few of those who played “hunt the stag” through the spacious gardens of l’Abbaye-aux-Bois, or were formed to “le bon ton et le bel usage” in the society of Madame de Rochechouart, were to hold their last “Salon” soon enough in the filthy prisons of the Revolution. But gracious, high-hearted, and spirited to the end, one sees them do honour to something in their convent training, which makes it seem to us a thing very noble and fine indeed.
It is not in a schoolgirl’s diary—commenced when Hélène was ten years old—that one can expect to find a philosophical presentation of the aims and ideals of the education offered to the daughters of the noblest families of France by the Bernardines of the Abbaye-aux-Bois. When the little Polish Princess was scribbling her notes (and spoiling her hand, as she naïvely confesses) she had no other idea than to copy the big girls who had all succumbed to the fashionable craze for writing “Mémoires.” But she has managed to give us a very real and convincing picture of her school, and of her mistresses, and there is not a little educational wisdom to be garnered from her shrewd comments on her experiences.
I imagine my readers would not be particularly interested in the sequence of events in Polish politics—feuds between the two great rival Polish houses of Radiwill and Massalski; the election to the Throne of Poland of the Massalski candidate, Stanislaus Augustus, with Russian help; the sudden volte-face of the Massalski’s towards nationalism; the Confederation of Bar, and its éclatant defeat under Count Oginski—which sent into exile in Paris, in the year of grace 1771, the Prince-Bishop (Massalski) of Wilna. For us the Prince-Bishop is merely of importance as the uncle of Hélène, and the date of his exile is only of note as that of the year our little friend first went to school. She herself will tell us her first day’s experiences:—
“I first came to the Abbaye-aux-Bois on a Thursday. My uncle’s friend, Madame Geoffrin, brought me to the Abbess’s parlour, a beautiful room all in white and gold. Madame de Rochechouart came to the parlour with Mère Quatre-Temps, the latter being mistress of the Lower Division where I was to be.
“They told me I was very pretty, and had pretty hair; but I made no answer, because I had forgotten all the French I knew on the journey … though I understood everything that was said to me. They said they were going to take me inside to dress me in the school uniform, and show me to Madame Geoffrin afterwards. They opened the wicket of the Grille, and passed me through it, for I was very small. They brought me to the Abbess’s room then, and Soeur Crinoire put the uniform on me; but when I saw it was black I began to cry bitterly; however, when they fastened the blue ribbons on me, I was somewhat consoled. Then they gave me sweets, and told me I should have some every day.
“The big girls who were on duty in the Abbess’s apartments came to have a look at me, and I could hear them say: ‘Poor youngster; she cannot speak any French; we must get her to talk Polish to see what sort of a language it is.’ But I knew they would only make fun of me, so I wouldn’t say a word. Then they said that I came from a country very far away called Poland, and somebody said, ‘Oh! how funny it must feel to be a Pole!’”
Hélène was not long until she made a friend. Mademoiselle de Montmorency, the daughter of one of the noblest houses of France, took the little stranger on her knee, and asked her wouldn’t she like to have her for her “little mother.” “I made signs that I should,” says Hélène, “for I made up my mind not to speak until I should be able to talk like everybody else.” The other girls wanted to know did Hélène think Mlle de Montmorency pretty, and the little Pole put her hand to her eyes, “as much as to say that she had lovely eyes.”
After being brought to the parlour to have her uniform inspected by her uncle and Madame Geoffrin, Hélène was sent off by Madame de Rochechouart, the mistress of schools, in care of Mademoiselle de Montmorency, to make the acquaintance of her future companions. She gives a spirited description of her reception at recreation, when the girls crowded round her, anxious to see what sort of a strange being the little foreigner was who could not speak French. At supper she made up with another little girl called Mademoiselle de Choiseul, and even ventured on a word or two in reply to something the latter said. At that, little Choiseul clapped her hands and shouted: “Oh! the little Polish girl can speak French!” Mlle de Choiseul told her that at roll-call she would have to ask for recreation for all the Pensionnaires and give a party. Hélène religiously complied with these recommendations, and her inauguration at l’Abbaye-aux-Bois was complete.
She was not long making herself at home—even too much at home, if one may judge from some of her escapades.
There were three divisions in the school—the “Blues,” the “Whites,” and the “Reds.” The “Blues” were the little girls from seven to ten; the “Whites” were the First Communion Class; and the “Reds” were the big girls who were finishing their education. As these young girls all belonged to the highest classes of society, and were destined to be mistresses of great establishments, and to play a great and important part in the social life of the time, their education had a very definite objective, and one cannot but be impressed with the perfection with which it was adapted to it. It was extremely practical on the one hand, and on the other, laid great stress on the accomplishments most valued in the circles in which the girls were to move. Extreme care was taken with their dancing, their music, their drawing, and perhaps most of all with their conversation, the art which the eighteenth century placed above all others. They were early accustomed to good society, being often let out to visit at great houses. We find Hélène out “three or four times a week,” one carnival, at children’s balls given by Madame de la Vaupalière and the Marquise du Châtelet, at another, out three times a week for a whole month, to rehearse for the part of Joas in Athalie at the Duchess of Mortemart’s. Royalty came to the school fêtes and school balls, and the greatest ladies in Paris strove for invitations. Madame de Rochechouart, the mistress of schools, had the habit of gathering some of the girls, in whom she was most interested, into her room every evening. “There,” says Hélène, “we read the newest books which could be fittingly read by us—we talked of everything that interested Paris, for the nuns spent so much of their time in the parlour, and we girls went out so much, that we knew everything…. It seems to me that Madame de Rochechouart and her sister had a distinction of manner all their own, and a “tone” which we all caught—I mean those of us who visited them much. Society ladies were astonished at the way we expressed ourselves, Mademoiselle de Conflans in particular. There was a distinction about her slightest remark.”
So much for their social training. For their domestic training there was the admirable system of “Obédiences,” that is, a system by which the principal duties of the great establishment were distributed among the elder girls under the expert supervision of the choir nuns, and with proper help from the lay-sisters. Future Duchesses and Countesses were to be found in the “Lingerie” folding sheets and serviettes; in the “Réfectoire” laying the cloth and setting the tables; in the “Sacristie” mending altar-cloths and vestments; in the “Apothicairerie” making poultices and mixing potions; in the “Cuisine” cooking or adding up household accounts. And when these young girls became mistresses of great houses themselves, their intimate knowledge of the practical working of them thus acquired must have been of immense service to them.
It was to the “Blues” that Hélène first belonged, and she has been thoughtful enough to copy out for us their “Timetable.” From which it appears that they rose at seven in summer, and 7.30 in winter, and went to bed all the year round at 9.30. They were in their places in the class-room at 8, to be inspected by the mistress of the school, Madame de Rochechouart, and studied and repeated their catechism until nine, when they had breakfast. Mass was after breakfast, and they studied from 10 to 11. At 11 they had a music lesson, and at half-past a dancing lesson. From 12 to 1 they had history and geography. At 1 they dined, and recreation continued after dinner until 3 o’clock, when they went back to the class-room for writing and arithmetic. From four to five they had a dancing lesson (where they learned to dance those “farlanes” and “montférines” in which Hélène was so proficient.) At five “goûter” and recreation until six. At six they practised the harp or clavecin, and at seven they had supper. On Sundays and fêtes they came to the schoolroom at 8 and studied the Gospel until 9. At 11 they had a sermon from one of the chaplains, and at 4 o’clock vespers.
The best masters in Paris were engaged for these young girls. Molé and Larive, the “Stars” of the Comédie-Française, taught them declamation and reading aloud; Philippe, Noverre, and Dauberval, “premier danseurs” at the “Opéra” taught them dancing. When they were ill, they had the King’s own doctor called in to prescribe for them, and expense was never considered in the question of their education.
Hélène sketches in a most comic way the three mistresses of the “Blues” in her time: Madame de Montluc (in religion Mère Quatre-Temps), “good-natured, quiet, careful, but far too fussy”; Madame de Montbourcher (Mère Sainte Macaire), “good-natured, stupid, very ugly, and dreadfully afraid of ghosts”; Madame de Fresnes (Mère Sainte Bathilde), “ugly, good-natured, great at telling stories.”
The “Blues” were usually promoted to the “White” or First Communion Class at ten, but Hélène’s tendency to get into scrapes kept her back a whole year, even after her companion in mischief, Mlle de Choiseul, had been promoted. Probably the nuns thought it better to separate these two choice spirits for a while, even though Hélène knew at her finger tips everything that was to be known of the Blues’ programme.
“I knew my Ancient History, the History of France, and my Mythology very well; I knew by heart the whole poem of ‘La Religion’ and ‘La Fontaine’s Fables,’ two cantos of ‘La Henriade,’ and the whole of the Tragedy of Athalie, in which I had played Joas” (at private theatricals, given by the young Duchess of Mortemart, one carnival). “I danced very well, I could sing at sight, and played the harp and the clavecin a little. But,” she continues plaintively, “the continual scrapes I got into, owing in a good deal to my friendship for Mlle de Choiseul, kept me back. I was so fond of her, that I would rather be in penance with her than see her punished alone; it was the same with her, and whenever she saw me punished, she would go away and do something, so as to get into penance too. The day was not long enough for us to say to each other all we had to say; and at night, as her room opened into mine, she would come to me, or I would steal into her.” And nice pranks they planned in these nocturnal visits! They found out that by putting a little oil on the hinges they could open a door without making any noise. Having opportunely unearthed a bottle of oil, they proceeded to make use of their discovery to make a round of the house in their dressing-gowns, and see what mischief they could do.
“Once we took a bottle of ink and poured it into the holy water font, which is just inside the choir door. The nuns say matins at two o’clock every morning, and as they know them off by heart, there is no light but that of the sanctuary lamp which barely lights the holy water font. They took the holy water, and never noticed what they were doing to themselves. But daylight came before matins were ended, and when they saw each other all daubed with ink, they took a fit of laughing, and the office was interrupted. They suspected that this was a trick of some of the girls, and they set up an inquiry the next day, but it was never discovered who did it.”
The two young ladies were less fortunate on another occasion.
“The ropes of the bells, called the ‘Gondi,’ because they were blessed by the Archbishop of Paris of the name, pass through a tribune behind the Abbess’s Throne. We climbed up one night, and tied our handkerchiefs as tightly as ever we could round the ropes. The novice whose duty it was to ring for matins, began to pull, but the knots on the ropes stopped them, and the bells did not move. She pulled and pulled, but it was all no use. Some of the nuns, noticing that it was after matins time, and hearing no bell, came down to see what was the matter. They saw the novice killing herself pulling away at the ropes. Then they came to the conclusion that there must be something the matter with the bells, and climbing the tribune, they found the handkerchiefs. Unfortunately, our initials were on them, H.M. and J.C.!”
I imagine it did not require these initials for the mistress of schools, Madame de Rochechouart, to know who the culprits were. She was a woman of great wisdom and discernment, full of tact and knowledge of human nature, and exercised the happiest influence on her wild young charges. A look from her was enough for Hélène, who was quite beyond the control of her other mistresses, and she tells a funny story of herself running back to the class-room on occasions, all in tears, “because Madame de Rochechouart looked at me with her big eyes.” “You silly child,” the others would say, “do you want her to make her eyes small on your account?”
The little Princess, who has a very sure hand for “portraits,” has left us one of “Madame de Rochechouart, sister of the late Duke of Mortemart, now twenty-seven years of age. Tall, beautifully made, a pretty foot, a delicate white hand, superb teeth and great dark eyes, grave and rather proud-looking, but with an enchanting smile.” The little girl lost her heart completely to this nun, and her name occurs on every page of these childish mémoires—until the last pathetic page, all stained with tears for the death of Madame de Rochechouart, so wonderfully told on it. “She possesses the love and respect of all the pensionnaires; she is rather severe, but perfectly just; we all adore her, and fear her; she is not demonstrative, but a word from her has an incredible effect; she is taxed with being proud and somewhat caustic towards her equals, but she is full of humanity and kindness for her inferiors. She is very clever and extremely well informed.”
Her method of dealing with her girls proves her qualities. She knew how to appeal to the sentiment strongest in them, “Noblesse Oblige,” and made them fear, above all things, to tarnish the lustre of their name by a low or unworthy action. Two of her girls, whose acquaintance we made in Hélène’s pages, show the effect of this teaching of hers in a remarkable manner. One was little Choiseul, Hélène’s particular friend, who on the occasion of a family scandal, acted with a strength and nobility of character, of which one could hardly believe a girl of fourteen capable. The other was Mlle de Montmorency, Hélène’s “petite maman,” whose death at the age of fifteen is one of the most moving episodes in Hélène’s journal.
Madame de Rochechouart knew how to discriminate between faults that were the effects of girlish giddiness, mere ebullitions of youth, and those that arose from, or were likely to end in permanent defects of character. Thus the episodes of the ink and the bells were not very severely punished by her; and the adventure with the scullery boy from the Conte de Beaumanoir’s kitchen, which Hélène relates with much zest, was touched off in such a way as to make the girls feel the ridicule of it. But when she found out her girls in anything low, or underhand, or dishonourable, she made them feel the full weight of her displeasure.
Her wisdom was shown in her conduct on the occasion of a “Revolution” in which the girls indulged, with the object of getting a very unpopular mistress removed from the “White” Class. This mistress, Madame de Saint Jérôme, had been appointed by the Abbess, contrary to the advice of Madame de Rochechouart, who knew how unsuitable she was for her charge, and told the Abbess plainly that she could not be responsible for the consequences if Madame de Saint Jérôme were confirmed in it. In spite of these representations, Madame de Saint Jérôme was retained. Then the hotheads, de Choiseul, de Mortemart, de Chauvigny, and, of course, Hélène, formed a conspiracy to bring about Madame de Saint Jérôme’s removal. “The wearing of the green” (whether in the shape of leaf, or blade of grass, or ribbon) was to be the badge of the conspirators—and the pass-word and answer thereto was to be, “I take you without green,” and the showing of it. In fine, as Hélène would say herself, it was all very well arranged.
The occasion for the outbreak was furnished by Madame de Saint Jérôme. One recreation day two little girls began to squabble, and, I am sorry to say, in spite of their aristocratic names, they even came to blows. Madame de Saint Jérôme, without inquiring into the rights of the matter, put all the blame on one of them, Mlle de Lastic, and on her expostulating, got into a frightful temper, caught Mlle de Lastic by the back of the neck, and threw her down so violently that her nose began to bleed. Then there was a dreadful to-do among all the girls, and their attitude was so threatening that Madame de Saint Jérôme left the school in terror of her life. Then Mlle de Mortemart got up on a table and asked all those who had the green to show it, and there was a universal show of it. A council of war was then called, and it was decided to leave the schoolroom in a body, seize the kitchen and store-rooms, and starve the nuns into submission.
They put this fine project into execution, after chasing the nuns they met in the kitchen and cellars. But they took the precaution to keep a lay-sister, and a young nun as hostages, the former with the view to having somebody to cook their supper for them.
After a little it was determined to send two of their number (Hélène and de Choiseul were subsequently chosen) with terms of peace to Madame de Rochechouart. These were drawn up in a very formal document, and embraced the following demands: (1), a general amnesty; (2), the withdrawal of Madame de Saint Jérôme; (3), eight days’ recreation.
Hélène and her fellow ambassador met a group of very anxious nuns on their way to Madame de Rochechouart. “They asked us: ‘Well, what are the rebels doing?’ We told them that we were carrying their proposals to Madame de Rochechouart.
“We went into her room, but she looked at us with so severe an air that I got pale, and Choiseul, bold as she is, trembled. However, she handed her the request. Madame de Rochechouart asked if the girls were in the schoolroom. We said ‘No.’ ‘Then,’ said she, ‘I can listen to nothing from them. You may go and bring your complaints to the Abbess, or anybody you like, for I won’t have anything to do with it. You have taken the best possible means of disgusting me for ever with such pupils, who are far more suited to enlist in some army or other, than to acquire the modesty and gentleness which are a woman’s greatest charm.’ We were in a dreadful state; Mademoiselle de Choiseul, who had more courage than I, threw herself at her feet and said that a word from Madame de Rochechouart would always have for her the force of a sovereign command, and that she had no doubt but that all the others felt the same in this matter; but that, in an affair of honour one would rather die than seem to betray or abandon one’s companions.’ ‘Well, then,’ said Madame de Rochechouart, ‘you may speak to whoever you like, for, for my part, I am no longer your mistress.’”
They went thereupon to the Abbess, but with not much better result. The Abbess, indeed, promised a general amnesty if the rebels should return, but insisted on the retention of Madame de Saint Jérôme, a condition which the “peace delegates” felt they could not accept.
They returned therefore to the rebels’ quarters with no very encouraging news. But, for the present, what these warriors were thinking of most was their supper. This, it seems, was a very gay affair, and was followed by games until what should have been bed-time—but wasn’t on this occasion for the good reason that there were no beds. It is true they gathered some straw from the poultry yard, and offered to make a bed from it for Madame Saint Sulplice, the young nun they held as a hostage, but she refused it, and said they should put the little ones in it, as being the more delicate. “We wrapped their heads round with napkins and clean dusters and dish-cloths,” says Hélène, “for fear they might catch cold.” The others spent the night as best they could, “partly in talking, and partly in sleeping.”
The next day ended it. The nuns, as the girls learned afterwards, were very much embarrassed, and to put an end to this intolerable state of things, some of them even advocated calling in the watch. But Madame de Rochechouart, with her usual good sense, pointed out that this would be the very means of creating a scandal—the thing which it was their best policy to avoid. She advocated sending for the mothers of the ringleaders, and accordingly the Duchesses de Chatellon and de Mortemart arrived on the scene, together with the Marquise du Châtelet and some other ladies. They carried off their own daughters and nieces from the rebels’ citadel, and the rest of the troop being thus left without leaders, soon capitulated on the terms of peace brought them presently by a lay sister. The message was: “The classes are open, it is ten o’clock, and those who shall be back in their places before twelve shall have a general amnesty for the past.”
They kept Madame de Saint Jérôme in her post a month longer, for the sake of the principle of the thing, and then quietly removed her.
In spite of all the trouble Hélène gave Mère Quatre-Temps, one is glad to find that they parted good friends when the time came for Hélène to be promoted to the “Whites.” “I went and asked pardon of Mère Quatre-Temps,” she says prettily, “for all the trouble I had caused her, and thanked her for her kindness. She told me she was really sorry not to have such intimate relations with me in future. She said, too, that although I had often driven her nearly wild, I had moments when I made up to her for all that. I kissed her.”
In effect, Hélène had her moments of goodness, and in order that we may part with her on as good terms as Mère Quatre-Temps, I am going to show her in one of them.
It was the night of her First Confession. “Sœur Bichon had come to see my nurse, and while Mademoiselle Gioul, my maid, was undressing me, Sœur Bichon said to me that she recommended herself to my prayers (for although I said them in common with the class downstairs, they made me say them again before putting me to bed). I said to Sœur Bichon: ‘What do you want me to ask God for you?’ She said: ‘Pray to Him to make my soul as pure as yours is at this moment.’ I said then, aloud, at the end of my prayers: ‘Oh! my God, grant to Sœur Bichon that her soul may be as white as mine ought to be at my age, if I had profited by all the good lessons that have been given me.’ My nurse was delighted with the way I had arranged this prayer, and hugged me, as did Sœur Bichon and Mademoiselle Gioul. When I was in bed, I asked was it a sin to pray for la grise (a gray cat which, like Mère Quatre-Temps, sometimes suffered from the attentions of Hélène and little Choiseul, if one had only space to tell the tale). My nurse and Sœur Bichon said it would be, and that I should not talk of la grise to the good God.
“Afterwards as I was not sleepy, Sœur Bichon came to my bed, and said that if I died that night, I should go straight to Paradise. I asked her what I should see in Paradise. And she said to me, ‘Picture to yourself, dearie, that Paradise is a great big hall, all made of diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and other precious stones. Le bon Dieu is sitting on a throne. Jesus Christ is on His right hand, and the Blessed Virgin on His left, the Holy Ghost is leaning over His shoulder, and all the Saints are passing up and down before Him.’ While she was telling me this, I fell asleep.”
And so we leave her, dreaming of Heaven, in her little white convent bed, poor little Hélène Massalski.
II.—ANNA GREEN WINSLOW
In 1771, the very year little Hélène Massalski was passed through the wicket of the grill of the Abbaye-aux-Bois, and dressed in her pensionnaire’s uniform to begin her adventurous school career, a demure little maiden in far off America sat her down to write her diary too. It is impossible to imagine a greater or more piquant contrast than that between the little Catholic girl in her French convent, and the little Puritan who was sent to her “Aunt Deming” in Boston by her parents in Nova Scotia to be “finished” by Boston teachers. While Hélène was “spoiling her hand” scribbling memoirs which nobody could read but herself, and getting Mlle. de Choiseul to write her “copy-book” for her so as to avoid trouble with M. Charme, her writing-master, little Anna Green Winslow was recording in careful penmanship the events of her Puritan day “for the edification of her ‘Hond. Mamma’” and her own practice in “making letters even.” Poor little girl! one feels that something more than the chill of the Boston winter has got into her frail little body; and one wishes for something better than the warmth of “Unkle Joshua’s” fire to cheer her on bitter days on her way from school. For in truth she is a very likeable little person, this “Pilgrim’s daughter,” and one feels that in a kindlier atmosphere she would have blossomed into something very dear and sweet. Sometimes in the midst of her notes of “Mr. Hunt’s” and “Mr. Beacon’s” sermons, one comes across the most naïve confession of personal vanity, and one cannot help loving her for it. It was all very well for Mr. Beacon to tell her that “true beauty consisted in holiness”; and to show her “Hond. Mamma” that she had been paying attention she even took the pains to copy his very words—his “lastly” to his dear young friends: “Let me tell you, you’l never be truly beautiful till you’re like the king’s daughter, all glorious within, all the ornimints you can put on while your souls are unholy make you the more like white sepulchres garnished without, but full of deformyty within. You think me very unpolite, no doubt, to address you in this manner, but I must go a little further and tell you, how cource soever it may sound to your delicacy, that while you are without holiness, your beauty is deformyty—you are all over black and defiled, ugly and loathsome to all holy beings, the wrath of the great God lies upon you, and if you die in this condition, you will be turned into hell, with ugly devils, to eternity.” That might be so; but it did not deter a certain little girl from “dressing all (even to loading) of her best” for “Miss Soley’s constitation” (“a very genteel, well-regulated assembly,” she informs her mamma). “I was dressed in my yellow coat, black bib and apron, black feathers on my head, my past (i.e., paste) comb, and all my past garnet marquesett and jet pins, together with my silver plume—my loket, rings, black collar round my neck, black mitts, and two or three yards of blue ribbon (black and blue is high taste), stripped tucker and ruffels (not my best) and my silk shoes compleated my dress.” Nor was there much consolation in the thought of “interior whiteness” on occasions when there seemed danger of Aunt Deming making her wear “‘the black hatt with the red Dominie.’ For the people will ask me what I have got to sell as I go along the street if I do, or how the folk at New Guinie do? Dear Mamma, you don’t know the fation here—I beg to look like other folk. You don’t know what a stir would be made in Sudbury-street, were I to make my appearance there in my red Dominie and black Hatt.”
In contrast with Hélène’s exciting experiences, little Anna Green’s sedate goings to and fro to writing school to Master Holbrook, or “dansing-school” to Master Turner, or sewing school to Madam Smith seem very tame indeed. It is quite an adventure for her “to be overtaken by a lady who was quite a stranger to her,” and to be accosted by her with “how do you do, Miss?” “I answered her, but told her I had not the pleasure of knowing her.” She then asked, “What is your name, Miss? I believe you think it is a very strange question to ask, but have a mind to know.” It turns out that the lady is an old friend of Nanny’s mother, and sends her all kinds of affectionate messages, including one “to come up and live on Jamaîcaplain,” the attraction being “a nice meeting-house, and a charming minister, and all so cleaver.” Sometimes when there is absolutely nothing to tell, Nanny copies out, “with her Aunt’s leave,” something which pleased that good lady very much, “and which I hope will please you, my Papa and Mamma.” It turns out to be a rather dull joke wherein Mr. W., “who don’t set up for an Expositor of Scripture, yet ventures to send Dr. Byles a short comment on 1 Cor. ix. 11 in the shape of a dozen pounds of chocolate.” To which the Dr. returned the following very pretty answer: “Dr. Byles returns respects to Mr. W. and most heartily thanks him for his judicious practical Familie Expositor, which is in Tast.” To do Nanny justice, this “joke” is more in the “tast” of Aunt Doming than her own, for the little lady has a charming sense of humour, and sometimes employs it very prettily even against herself. She was subject on occasions to “egregious fits of laughterre,” and can give the drollest description of some things that tickle her fancy. For instance, a “heddus roll” which Mr. D., the barber, made for her. “This famous roll is not made wholly of a red cow tail, but is a mixture of that and horsehair (very coarse) and a little human hair of yellow hue, that I suppose was taken out of the back part of an old wig. But D. made it all carded together and twisted up. When it first came home, aunt put it on, and my new cap on it; she then took up her apron and measured me, and from the roots of my hair on my forehead to the top of my notions, I measured above an inch longer than I did downward from the roots of my hair to the end of my chin. Nothing renders a young person more amiable than virtue and modesty without the help of fals hair, red cow tail, or Mr. D.”
Poor “Mr. D.” He does not seem to have been the beau idéal of barbers. Here is a picture of him at work. “In the course of my peregrination, as Aunt calls it, I happened into a house where D. was attending the lady of the family. How long she was at his opperation I know not. I saw him twist, and tug, and pick, and cut off whole locks of grey hair at a slice (the lady telling him she would have no hair to dress the next time) for the space of an hour and a half, when I left them, he seeming not to be near done.”
She certainly needed her sense of humour, for nothing could be more depressing than the company she was forced to keep. If she wasn’t ill herself, “with a whitloe on my fourth finger, and something like one on my middle finger,” and being ‘seasoned’ by Aunt Deming with Globe Salts, she was visiting sick relations and neighbours. She goes to see Aunt Storer, and “finds Unkle Storer so ill that he keeps chamber. As I went down I call’d at Mrs. Whitwell’s and must tell you Mr. and Mrs. Whitwell are both ill, Mrs. Whitwell with rheumatism.” Later on: “It has been a very sickly time here, not one person that I know of but has been under heavy colds (all laid up at Unkle Storer’s).” The climate seems to have been abominable. Almost every entry deals with the weather, and it is only well on in May that there is any mention of warmth. Even in June we read: “All last week till Saterday very cold and rainy.” A snowstorm keeps her from dining with “Unkle Joshua” on 6th December, and another from Mrs. Whitwell’s on the 14th. Christmas Eve, 1771, was “the coldest day we have had since I have been in New England,” and all folk abroad “have to run to keep themselves warm.” The rain of Sunday froze on Monday, so that “walking was so slippery and the air so cold that Aunt choses to have me for her scoller these days.” February 13th was “a bitter cold day.” February 18th, “bitter cold” again. On February 22nd the weather entry reads: “Since about the middle of December ult. we have had till this week a series of cold and stormy weather—every snowstorm (of which we have had abundance) except the first ended with rain, by which means the snow was so hardened that strong gales at N.W. soon turned it and all above ground to ice, which this day seven-night was from one to three, four, and, they say, in some places five feet thick, in the streets of this town. Last Saturday morning we had a snowstorm come on, which continued till 4 o’clock, p.m., when it turned to rain, since which we have had a warm air with many showers of rain, one this morning a little before day, attended with thunder. The streets have been very wet, the water running like rivers all this week, so that I could not possibly go to school.”
In spite of the weather Anna and Aunt Deming go to “meeting” with great frequency, sometimes favoured by kind neighbours like Mr. Soley and “Mr. Wales” with seats in their chaise. Anna is always supposed to write down the text and as much of the sermon as she can in her diary, and as sometimes Aunt Deming puts in her pen, the effect is slightly like that produced by the elder Mr. Weller’s letter to Sam. She likes Mr. Hunt’s sermons best, though she does not “understand all he said about the external and internal evidence” for the authenticity of the Bible. On an occasion when Mr. Hunt preached on “The Decrees of God” Anna had “set down some of his observations on a loose sheet of paper. But my Aunt says that a Miss of 12 years’ old can’t possibly do justice to the nicest subject in Divinity, and therefore had better not attempt a repetition of particulars, that she finds lie (as may be easily concluded) somewhat confused in my young mind. She also says that in her poor judgment, Mr. Hunt discoursed soundly, as well as ingeniously, upon the subject, and very much to her instruction and satisfaction.”
I am sorry to have to add that Anna was a dreadfully bigoted young person, and would not keep Christmas, “as the Pope and his associates have ordained.” Moreover, she has a horror of anything savouring of “episcopacie.” She is properly contemptuous of Dr. Pemberton’s and Dr. Cooper’s “gowns.” “In the form of episcopal cassocks we hear the Docts. design to distinguish themselves from the inferior clergy by these strange habits (at a time too when the good people of New England are threatened with and dreading the coming of an episcopal bishop).” She pokes irreverent fun at the doctors’ sleeves: “I don’t know whether one sleeve would make a full-trimmed negligee as the fashion is at present, though I can’t say but it might make one of the frugal sort, with but scant trimming … Aunt says when she saw Dr. P. roll up the pulpit stairs, the figure of Parson Trulliber recorded by Mr. Fielding occurred to her mind, and she was really sorry a congregational divine should, by any instance, give her so unpleasing an idea.”
She had her politics, too, as well as her religious convictions, though there are only slight indications in the diary of the storm that was to burst so soon, and of which Boston was to be the centre. She speaks incidentally of the famous “Boston Massacre” (1770), when the British troops sent to Boston to enforce the Townshend Acts fired at and killed several unarmed citizens (and, as Daniel Webster said, the Revolution began,) as the “murder of the 5th March last.” She had an account of the first anniversary celebrations of the Boston Massacre, “yesterday’s publick performances and exhibitions” ready to send to her “hond. Mamma,” “but Aunt says I need not write about ’em because no doubt there will be printed accounts.” She could have wished to be there herself, but could not, her face being swollen with a heavy cold. She knew James Lovell, the famous Boston patriot, who delivered the Anniversary Address. “Master Jimmy Lovell,” she calls him in another place. A propos of a “very beautiful white feather hat,” for the purchase of which she had long been saving up “papa’s kind allowance,” we learn she is, “as we say, a daughter of liberty. I chose to wear as much of our own manufactory as possible.” In which respect she is very much in the “fation,” as she dearly loves to be. “Daughters of liberty,” we read elsewhere, “held spinning and weaving bees, and gathered in bands pledging themselves to drink no tea till the obnoxious Revenue Act was repealed.” Young unmarried girls joined in an association with the proud declaration, “We, the daughters of those Patriots who have appeared for the public interest, do now with pleasure engage with them in denying ourselves the drinking of foreign tea.” When she went “a-visiting to Colonel Gridley’s with Aunt, and had danced with Miss Polly Deming to the ‘musick of the minuet’ sung by Miss Becky Gridley, the Colonel brought in the talk of Whigs and Tories, and taught me the difference between them.”
But in reality one suspects she understood even less of Col. Gridley’s political lecture than of Mr. Beacon’s sermon—and led her quiet life from day to day without the slightest suspicion of the great events whose shadows were thus cast before. She got through her day’s work—whether it were “spinning 30 knots of linning yarn (partly), new-footing a pair of stockings for Lucinda, reading a part of the pilgrim’s progress, coppieing part of my text journal,” or, as on the 9th March, a “piece-meal” day’s work, when she “sew’d on the bosom of unkle’s shirt, mended two pair of gloves, mended for the wash two handkerchiefs (one cambrick), sewed on half a border of a lawn apron of aunt’s, read part of the xxist chapter of Exodus, and a story in the ‘Mother’s Gift,’” without suspecting that anything more exciting was in store for her than the “constitations” of which she has given us such a graphic picture.
Very dull, I am afraid, these gatherings would have seemed to Hélène Massalski, accustomed to her brilliant school balls during the carnival, when “they left aside their school uniforms, and the mothers vied with each other in dressing their daughters,” or to her representations of “Esther,” when their costumes were designed after those of the Comédie Française, and Hélène, as Esther, wore a gown all white and silver, sparkling with diamonds valued at over one hundred thousand crowns, lent by the Duchesses de Mortemart, de Gramont, and de Choiseul. But little Anna Green Winslow thought them perfectly delightful, and told her mamma about them very prettily:—
“I told you I was going to a constitation with Miss Soley. I have now the pleasure to give you the result, viz., a very genteel, well-regulated assembly which we had at Mr. Soley’s last evening, Miss Soley being mistress of the ceremony. Mrs. Soley desired me to assist Miss Hannah in making out a list of guests, which I did some time since. I wrote all the invitation cards. There was a large company assembled in a handsome, large, upper room in the new end of the house. We had two fiddles, and I had the honour to open the diversion of the evening in a minuet with Miss Soley…. Our treat was nuts, raisins, cakes, wine, punch hot and cold, all in great plenty. We had a very agreeable evening from five to ten o’clock. For variety we woo’d a widow, hunted the whistle, threaded the needle, and while the company was collecting, we diverted ourselves with playing of pawns, no rudeness, mamma, I assure you.”
In contrast to Madame de Rochechouart, grande dame to her exquisite finger tips, grave, gracious, beautiful and intellectual, poor Aunt Deming, with her laboured jokes about “Mr. Calf,” and her appreciation of Dr. Byles, cuts a sorry figure. We feel genuine compassion for poor Nanny, obliged to spend so much time with her. Nothing can better illuminate “Aunt Deming’s” character than a letter of hers to her “dear neice,” when her “dear neice” had left her to go home to her mother. She begins by congratulating her on having had a less “troublesome journey” than she (Aunt Deming) anticipated. “I was always unhappy in anticipating trouble—it is my constitution, I believe—and when matters have been better than my fears, I have never been so dutifully thankful as my bountiful benefactor had a right to expect. This also, I believe, is the constitution of all my fellow-race.”
After condoling with her “neice” on her indisposition as well as that of Flavia and her mamma, she goes on to her own pet theme: “I’m at too great a distance to render you the least service, and were I near, too much out of health to—some part of the time—even speak to you. I am seized with exceeding weakness at the very seat of life, and to a greater degree than I ever before knew. Could I ride, it might help me, but that is an exercise my income will not permit. I walk out whenever I can. The day will surely come when I must quit this frail tabernacle, and it may be soon—I certainly know I am not of importance enough in this world for anyone to wish my stay—rather am I, and do I consider myself a cumberground. However, I shall abide my appointed time, and I desire to be found waiting for my change.”
No wonder it was a relief for a little girl to get out even to see Madam Storer’s funeral, or to visit Elder Whitwell’s rheumatic wife, or to see “my Unkle Ned, who has had the misfortune to break his legs.” She very much enjoyed a “setting-up” visit she paid to “Aunt Suky” to see the latter’s new baby; more, one suspects, for the opportunity it gave her of “dressing up just as if I was to go to the ball,” than for the sake of Nurse Eaton’s “tow-cakes,” which cost her a “pistoreen” in good money. “I took care to eat them before I paid for them,” she remarks shrewdly. She loves babies, one can see, and sends affectionate messages to her own little baby brother. On one occasion he “has made an essay for a post script to your letter, mamma. I must get him to read it to me when he comes up, for two reasons, the one is because I may have the pleasure of hearing his voice, the other because I don’t understand his characters. I observe that he is mamma’s ‘Ducky Darling.’”
“Cousin Charles Storer” seems to have been interested in the little girl’s reading. He lends her “Gulliver’s Travels abreviated,” which “Aunt says I may read for the sake of perfecting myself in reading a variety of composures.” With her “nihil obstat” Aunt Deming slips in an incidental lesson on “literary history.” “She sais farther that the piece was desin’d as a burlesque upon the times in which it was wrote, and Martimas Scriblensis and Pope Dunciad were wrote with the same design and as parts of the same work, tho’ wrote by three several hands.” Later on, Aunt Storer lent her three of cousin Charles’ books to read, “viz., The puzzeling cap, the female Oraters, and the History of Gaffer too-shoes.” She got the “History of Joseph Andrews abreviated” for a New Year’s Gift, and began “Sir Charles Grandison”—whether she ever finished it or not. The works of Fielding and Samuel Richardson “abreviated” seem to have been favourite books for children, and figure in booksellers’ lists of the period as suitable for the “Instruction and Amusement of all good Boys and Girls,” together with “The Brother Gift, or the Naughty Girl Reformed”; “The Sister Gift, or the Naughty Boy Reformed,” and “Mr. Winlove’s Moral Lectures.”
Compared with Hélène, who read the best literature of the day, under the careful eye of Madame de Rochechouart, and was saturated in the masterpieces of Corneille and Racine from her theatrical triumphs, poor Anna’s literary pabulum seems very thin stuff indeed.
In 1773, Anna’s parents came from Nova Scotia to live in Marshfield, and their little daughter left Aunt Deming’s house to return to them. At this date, the diary therefore comes to an end.
She lived to hear of some of the greatest battles of the War of the Revolution, and must have been rather puzzled which side to pray for, seeing her own family divided on the question. But soon she was beyond all earthly troubles, for she died of consumption in 1779.
PAMELA AT BELLECHASSE
The Schooldays of Lady Edward Fitzgerald
“Pale, pretty Pamela!” So charming a picture she makes, in her husband’s letters to his mother, as she sits in the window by the garden of Kildare Lodge, daintily stitching for her baby; or out in the garden (while he sits in the window) “busy in her little American jacket planting sweet pea and mignonette”; or in stately Leinster House, making for him a point of light in its gloom, of comfort in its loneliness, with her baby in her arms, “her sweet, pale, delicate face bending over it, and the pretty look she gives it,” that our hearts are hers for all time. Even the sordid story of the after years cannot alienate them from her. For us, in Ireland, whatever France may have done with her during the hard and pitiless “twenties” of the nineteenth century, she lives for ever, set by her husband’s love in an atmosphere of eternal youth, of eternal romance—lovely and pale, and sweet—Lord Edward’s girl-wife.
This is why, having come across, in the Mémoires of her mother, Madame de Genlis, an account of the education shared by Pamela with the Orléans children at the Convent of Bellechasse, I felt convinced that my readers would be grateful to me for setting the story of it down at the end of this book I have gathered, not of hero-lays indeed, but of tales of little girls’ school lives in many ages and many lands.
Apart altogether from our special interest in Pamela, as Lord Edward Fitzgerald’s wife, it is true that Madame de Genlis is too important a figure in the history of education to be passed over in silence. Through Miss Edgeworth’s Moral Tales, in which it is impossible to mistake her influence, her ideas have influenced middle-class education in Ireland as far down as the present generation at least (as distinct from the “rising” generation, which will doubtless be preserved from them by the thoughtfulness of our Education Boards in prescribing Miss Edgeworth’s works for examination purposes). In this connection it would be extremely interesting to inquire how far the outlook of the Irish Bourgeoisie, which gives such offence to Mr. Yeats, can be laid at the charge of Madame de Genlis.
In herself, that good lady united two oddly dissimilar educational traditions, that of Madame de Maintenon, and that of Jean Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau, perhaps, more because he was the fashion, and Madame de Maintenon by conscious selection. But there was one aspect of Madame de Maintenon’s system, which Madame de Genlis was, unhappily, unable to assimilate, because there was wanting in her own the deep and genuine piety which gives such strength to Madame de Maintenon.
It was in 1777, when the little twin Orléans Princesses were tiny babies, that Madame de Genlis (in accordance with a promise to their mother made before their birth: that she should take charge of their education), withdrew from her brilliant position as Court Lady at the Palais Royal, to the seclusion of the Convent of Bellechasse. She does not omit to point out what a sacrifice she was making, but then—what will she not do for her dear Duke and Duchess?
If the truth must be told, the sacrifice was more apparent than real. It is easy enough to gather from Madame’s own hints that her position at the Palais Royal, where she had made many enemies, was not altogether pleasant. Moreover, she was shrewd enough to see that in the new career as “gouvernante” of these royal children, there was a chance of distinction for a woman of her very real talents and intelligence which could never be gained at Court.
Clever actress and dramatist that she was, she never took more pains with her setting than on this occasion. She herself had drawn the plans “for the charming pavilion in the midst of the convent garden,” where she and her pupils were to live. Hers, too, of course, was the idea of the vine-covered pergola which connected it with the convent. The ceremony of installation was arranged, one may be sure, by her, though she passes it off as a “gentillesse” of the community. “I felt nothing but joy in entering this peaceable asylum where I was to exercise so sweet a sovereignty: I reflected that I should be able to give myself up to my real tastes, and I should be no longer exposed to the malice which had caused me such pain.”
There was not very much “seclusion” for the first few days, at all events. Everybody of her acquaintance, whether at the Palais Royal, or out of it, had heard so much of the establishment at Bellechasse that there was a rush to see it. Madame de Genlis, for all her “quiet” tastes, had the greatest pleasure in the world showing them round. “Everyone was enchanted with the place, which was really charming. I had in my room a large alcove, of which my bed only occupied the half; from it, there opened a passage, leading to the Princesses’ room, where a glass door without a curtain enabled me to see from my own bed everything that was going on. One of the rooms of the suite held in glass-cases my whole natural history collection. This and my bureau were all I had brought with me from the Palais Royal.” You will never guess why the “bureau” has such importance until Madame tells you that “she was the first woman to have a bureau,” and was very much criticised for it, though now it was all the fashion.
In those Rousseau days one took much thought for one’s dairy, and Madame de Genlis tells of one built by the Duke, and to which she had the pleasure of leading a charming milk-maid, after having married her to the young German gardener.
Rousseau and Madame de Maintenon are both in her mind when she tells us of the economy with which she managed the establishment—“such a remarkable economy that it has been much talked about,” she adds with complacence. “My first principle was to make up my account every day, and to know the price of things, and especially the quantities of food-stuffs given out every day in the kitchen for the different meals…. I knew exactly how much rice or vermicelli was needed for soup for four, eight, twelve persons. I knew the exact quantities required of sugar, jam, cream, oil, butter, milk, cheese, eggs, etc. I sent to the markets every week a man I could trust: he inquired in great detail about the price of all provisions, and brought me back the information in writing.” Details like these, constantly occurring in the Letters of Madame de Maintenon to her brother and young sister-in-law, gave Madame de Genlis the greatest pleasure.
She goes on to tell of the “delicious life” she leads at Bellechasse. She is relieved by her position from the “fag” of paying visits, but she can receive them very much at her ease. Men were received, this being a privilege of Princesses of the Blood Royal, but they had to leave at ten o’clock…. But, like Bourdalone going to preach at Saint Cyr, it is to be hoped that they took their dinner before they went, for, “to avoid useless expense, I had decided that none of my friends should dine at Bellechasse, except my husband, my brother, and my two sisters-in-law.” And these dined here but rarely.
She had hardly been installed when she got permission for her mother, and her two daughters to come and live with her, and we may feel sure that she early cast about in her mind for a reasonable pretext for introducing on the scene poor little Pamela, who was being brought up like a fisherman’s child in a little village in England.
In the meantime something really important and remarkable happened. The Duke came one evening to Bellechasse, and announced to Madame de Genlis that he should have to provide immediately a “gouverneur” for the two young Princes, whose manners were getting atrocious. He instanced the little Duke of Valois complaining of having to “tambourine” too long at his father’s door, and quoted a pun of the same little Prince, which was certainly not in the style of a Salon of the period. Their father came to consult Madame de Genlis on the choice of a “gouverneur.” She proposed several, and each met with an objection. M. de Schomberg would make the boys little pedants; the Chevalier de Durfort would pass on to them his own faults of over-emphasis and exaggeration; Monsieur de Thiars was too frivolous. “What about myself, then?” “Why not?” replied the Duke seriously. “His air and tone struck me greatly. I saw the possibility of something extraordinary and glorious, and I desired its realisation with all my heart.” As a matter of fact, before the Duke left the matter was settled, and Madame de Genlis had an honour and a title that no woman in France ever had before. Now the Ladies of the Palais Royal would know what was behind her retirement!
She was so much afraid of any contretemps, that she even arranged the details before the Duke left. The boys’ tutors, M. de Bonnard and the Abbé Guyot and M. Le Brun, were to be kept on, and one of them was to escort the Princes from the Palais to Bellechasse every day at twelve, and escort them home again to the Palais at ten o’clock at night. “A country house was to be bought, in which we should spend eight months of the year; and I was to have complete control of their education. Knowing that I myself was to teach them history, mythology, literature, etc., which, together with the lessons I gave to the Princesses, would leave me not a moment’s leisure, the Duke offered me 20,000 francs. My reply was that no money could pay for such a charge, that only friendship could be its recompense. He insisted. I positively refused. It is therefore quite gratuitously that I have educated these Princes.”
The arrangement, as far as the boys went, was that they were to get up at seven and have their Latin lesson, and religious instruction from the Abbé; they were then to have an arithmetic class with M. Le Brun, who was to bring them to Bellechasse at twelve. The Abbé and M. Le Brun could stay there, or go away as they pleased until the dinner-hour, two o’clock. “After dinner, I took complete charge of the boys until nine, when the masters returned to supper and to bring the boys away. I asked M. Le Brun to keep a detailed journal of the way the boys spent their mornings, leaving a wide margin for my observations. I myself wrote the first pages. These pages contained particular instructions for M. Le Brun on the education of the Princes. M. Le Brun brought me this journal every morning; I read it immediately; I scolded or praised, punished or rewarded the boys, according to what I saw in it.”
She next gives a portrait of the Duke of Valois, the future Louis Philippe, at the age of eight. It appears his want of application was the most noticeable thing about him. “I commenced by making them read history. M. le duc de Valois paid absolutely no attention. He stretched, and yawned, and you can imagine my astonishment when I saw him sprawl back on the sofa on which we were sitting and settle his feet on the table! I put him in penance on the spot.”
It would appear that the young Prince bore no grudge when the reason of the thing was explained to him. “He loved reasoning, as other children like nursery-tales.” In spite of his “natural good sense,” it seems, however, that he had a most unreasoning aversion to two of the oddest things, dogs and the smell of vinegar. It was the business of his “gouverneur” to rid him of these aversions, and this was happily accomplished. Among his gifts was a most remarkable memory. “I flatter myself that I have succeeded in developing and cultivating this gift of nature.”
Languages were to be taught at Bellechasse, and as far as possible by the direct method. The “second Valet de Chambre” was a German, who not only played the piano very well, but understood the principles of his native language thoroughly. It was he who taught the Duke German. He had an Italian valet who was supposed to speak nothing but Italian to his young master, and an English tutor, “who gave him lessons in my own room.” But, and it is here that Madame de Genlis shows herself so astonishingly modern, what about utilising their play hours, too, for learning English by getting a little English-speaking child to play with them? Mr. Forth, who is buying horses for the Duke in England, receives the commission to look for one, and finds her in little, nameless, five-year-old Pamela, who, after a short delay, is installed at Bellechasse, and made to share the education of the Princes and Princesses of the Blood Royal!
It had been arranged that the Duke should buy a country-house for the children, and choice was made of Saint Leu, where they spent all the year except the winter. “In the beautiful park I had little gardens made for each of my pupils, which they dug and planted for themselves.” (So Pamela knew something about her business when she set about planting her “sweet pea and mignonette” in the garden at Kildare Lodge).
The children had a chemist and botanist among their teachers, a Monsieur Alyon, who accompanied them in all their walks, made them pick flowers, and taught them Botany. M. Alyon gave them, every summer too, a practical course in Chemistry, at which Madame de Genlis made a point of being present. A Pole, called Merys, who was very clever at black-and-white drawing, and water-colours, and had executed many commissions for the Duchess, was employed by Madame to prepare slides for an historical magic lantern. Four different sets of slides were painted by him, from written descriptions made by Madame, and in this attractive way the children learned their Bible History, Ancient History, Roman History, and History of China and Japan. The youngsters, we learn, took their turn week about lecturing with the lantern. Can anything be more modern?
Except, indeed, it be the way they learned Geography! She tells us of “a delightful game” she invented for her pupils. “I made them stage and play out in the garden, or inside the Château, according to the subject, the most celebrated voyages.” Everybody in the house, including Madame herself, had a rôle in these representations. They had wooden horses for the cavalcade; “the lovely river in the park represented the sea; a number of pretty little boats were our fleets. We had a wardrobe of suitable costumes. The best ‘Voyages’ we played were those of Vasco de Gamma and Snelgrove.”
Another device she had for teaching them history was to stage historic tableau. “I proposed the subjects, and M. Merys grouped the actors.” Those who were not performing had to guess the subject, which would be either historical or mythological. So successful were these “tableaux” that Madame got permission to build a regular little theatre for her children. It was so arranged that the back of the stage could open, if one so wished, and show “a long alley of the garden, all illuminated and adorned with garlands of flowers.” For this little theatre Madame wrote a great number of plays.
In this connection we are told of a success of Pamela. A “tableau” had been arranged representing “Venus and Psyche,” and the parts were taken by Pamela and her two half-sisters, Pamela’s rôle being that of “Love.” David, the great historical painter, was present, and his enthusiasm knew no bounds. It came nearer to his conception of ideal beauty than anything he had ever seen, he declared.
So much for their life at Saint Leu during the summer. At Bellechasse in the winter they were equally busy and equally happy. “I had a turning-lathe put up in an ante-chamber, and all the children, as well as myself, learned to use it. We learned indeed everything that did not require brute force. We learned bookbinding and leather work, and made an enormous number of Morocco leather pocket-books, equal in workmanship to those manufactured in England; we went in for basket-making, making laces, ribbons, artificial flowers, marble paper, wood-gilding, all sorts of hair-work (even wig-making!) Finally, for the boys we had carpentry.” We learn that the future King of the French, Louis Philippe, was particularly good at carpentry. With the sole help of his little brother, the Duke de Montpensier, he made for a poor woman of Saint Leu, in whom he was interested, a great press, and a table with drawers, “both articles as well made as if they had been the work of a first-class joiner.”
Later on the Duke bought a seaside residence for the children, and here they learned to fish, and swim, and collect shells, and “acquire,” as Madame says, “all sorts of local information.”
In the midst of all this, the Revolution was brewing, and in a journey Madame took with her pupils through the North of France, one feels she did more than collect “local information.” She tried to make up her mind which side was going to win, and feeling certain it was not the King’s, she deliberately turned her pupils’ sympathies towards the Revolutionary Party.
“The desire of showing all sides to my pupils (a thing which on this occasion tempted me to take a rash step) brought me from Saint Leu to spend some days at Paris in order to see the people band together to storm the Bastille.” … She gives a wonderful description of the great ponderous black building swarming over with people, and of the cheers that went up from the crowds, as stone after stone fell beneath the blows of the assailants.
Among the cheers none were louder than those of little Pam, though one wonders very much if she knew what they were about. There she stood in the “Garden of Beaumarchais,” and waved her dainty handkerchief, and hurt her pretty throat with cheers for Liberty, Equality, Fraternity!
Did she know, I wonder, that in the street, there among the crowd of enthusiasts for Liberty, was a handsome young Irishman who had given up his title to throw his lot in with the people, and live up to its new doctrine of Equality? Did she know, I wonder, how she herself was to wear that title, and wear it as a crown set by a stranger people’s love?
Perhaps not. It was some months later that Lord Edward first saw the girl in the shadow of Madame de Genlis’ box at the opera. She reminded him of a dead lady whom he had loved with a boy’s romantic passion, and he asked for an introduction to Madame de Genlis.
A few days later Madame de Genlis was obliged to take Mademoiselle d’Orléans to Tournay. Lord Edward and an English friend accompanied them. Lord Edward, being much in charming Pamela’s society, lost his heart to her and proposed for her. Madame de Genlis stipulated for the consent of his mother, the Duchess of Leinster, and this being obtained, they were married at Tournay in 1793.
Sir Walter Scott’s “Pet Marjorie”
Room now in our “rosebud garden of girls” for the dear little Scottish lassie, Marjorie Fleming. For more than a hundred years she has been sleeping under the plain white marble cross in the graveyard of Abbotshall. Above her is the record of her life in length of years—of which the ninth was not complete: Marjorie Fleming. Born 1803; died 1811. Then, on the plinth, the name by which Sir Walter’s love has made her famous: Pet Marjorie. And yet none of the little girls whose stories I have told you is so well remembered as nine-year-old Marjorie, and none of them has counted so many distinguished men of letters for her admirers. Sir Walter Scott is only the first of a long list of great writers who have loved the little maid, though he was the only one of them who heard her voice repeating his ballads, and carried her proudly on his shoulder to set her at the head of his supper-table as Queen of the Revels. But seventy years after her death, Dr. John Brown (the Charles Lamb of Scotland) fell a victim to her fascinations, and wrote on her “the best book about a child that ever was written”; and when she was more than ninety years dead—she that had not lived nine—Mr. William Archer contributed a paper on her to the Pall Mall Gazette; Mr. Leslie Stephen has written a sketch of her life for the Dictionary of National Biography; while for the centenary of her birth (January 15, 1903) the Story of Pet Marjorie was retold by L. MacBean.
What is the secret of her charm? I think it is this: that Marjorie is “a little child” in all the strange and beautiful connotation of the word. All the poetry Wordsworth has taught us to find in childhood goes to the making of Marjorie—with something more added:—
“Loving she is, and tractable, though mild,
And Innocence hath privilege in her
To dignify arch looks and laughing eyes.”
The exquisite lines to six-year-old Hartley Coleridge might have been meant for her—
“whose fancies from afar were brought;
Who of her words did make a mock apparel,
And fitted to unutterable thought
The breeze-like motion and the self-born carol,”
with a difference to make her dearer. The children in Wordsworth “trail their clouds of glory” in a region into which we may only gaze from afar. Too rare is the atmosphere for our breathing; and we look at them a little wistfully, from another plane, feeling ourselves shut out from their “solitude” which to them is “blithe society.” Of that enchanted region of childhood, Marjorie alone has tried to make us free. The thrill the mother feels when her little one takes her into her confidence is ours to feel when we read Marjorie’s three diaries. That, I think, is what makes her so inexpressibly dear.
In Kirkcaldy, in 1803, Marjorie was born of good stock both in the paternal and maternal line. A grandfather who had fought for “Bonnie Prince Charlie” at Culloden on the Fleming side, and a grandfather who had distinguished himself in surgery, on the Rae side, were fit progenitors for romantic and clever Marjorie. Her Highland descent is well justified; for Marjorie, humorous, vivid, impulsive, high-spirited, and generous is a Celt to her finger-tips. Her face, too, as shown in Isa Keith’s sketches, has the Celtic characteristics, especially the deep-set eyes, with their indications of thought and humour, and the funny little mouth that could, one feels, coax and pout equally well.
The Fleming nursery, when Marjorie made her first appearance in it, had already two occupants, five-year-old William and two-year-old Isabella. The presiding genius of the place was a certain Jeanie Robertson. Nurse Jeanie was very particular about teaching her young charges their Catechism, and Willie, at two years’ old, did her so much credit that she was fond of showing off her young theologian, for the benefit of some militia officers stationed in town. Jeanie put the questions in broad Scots, beginning with: “Wha made ye, ma bonnie man?” For the correctness of this, and the three next replies, Jeanie had no anxiety, but her tone changed to menace and her closed “nieve” (fist) was shaken in the child’s face as she demanded: “Of what are you made?” “Durrt” was the invariable reply, delivered in an uncompromising tone. Whereat Jeanie would cuff him, soundly. “Wull ye never learn to say ‘dust,’ ye thrawn deevil?”
Whether or not, it was from Jeanie that Marjorie learned to know so much about the “deevil” I cannot say. But, at all events, she had a very wholesome fear of him, mixed with a certain interest in her methods. Cousin Isa, later on, taught her how to get the better of him (as she taught her so many other useful things, as, for instance, to make “simecolings, nots of interrigation, pearids and commas.”) She advised her: “When I feel Satan beginning to tempt me that I flee from him and he would flee from me.” But in the meantime there was a certain horrible fascination in thinking of him going about “like a roaring lyon in search of his pray,” and finding it in a little girl who “behaved extremely ill in God’s most holy church,” and “would never attande” herself “nor let Isabella attand,” or in a little girl “who stamped with her feet and threw her new hat on the ground” when Isabella brought her upstairs to teach her “religion and my multiplication and to be good and all my other lessons.”
It was when Marjorie had just turned five that Cousin Isabella Keith engaged on the course of education thus comprehensively described. Isabella was hardly out of her teens herself, but to Marjorie she was the embodiment of all wisdom. “Isabella,” she says in the second journal, “teaches me everything I know, I am much indebted to her, she is learn, and witty and sensible.” Then in another place: “I hope that at 12 or 13 years old I will be as learned as Miss Isa and Nancy Keith, for many girls have not the advantage I have, and I am very very glad that Satan has not given bols and many other misfortunes.” The reference to “bols,” it must be explained, was suggested by the story of Job, in whom Marjorie was much interested, feeling bound by their common enmity against the “Divel.” “It was the same Divel that tempted Job that tempted me, I am sure, but he resisted Satan, though he had boils and many many other misfortunes which I have escaped.”
Isabella Keith had come on a visit from her Edinburgh home to her aunt’s house at Kirkcaldy, and fell in love so deeply with her little cousin, that she begged to be allowed to take her back with her to Edinburgh to take charge of her education. The Flemings thought well of the plan, and in the summer of 1808 Marjorie left Kirkcaldy and went to live at her Aunt Keith’s house in No. 1, Charlotte-street, Edinburgh.
Young as she was, she had read all sorts of things before she had left home. She seems to have learned to read, as some children will, who grow up among books, almost unconsciously, and she made herself free of her father’s library in the most complete manner. Charles Lamb’s recipe for producing “incomparable old maids” had been tried in her case with extraordinary results. Like “Cousin Bridget” in Mackery End, “she was tumbled early, by accident or design, into a spacious closet of good old English reading, and browsed at will upon that fair and wholesome pasturage.” The plan may be all that Charles Lamb claims for producing “incomparable old maids,” but its effects on children are more questionable. Fortunately Marjorie seems to have got nothing worse from it than a vocabulary and stock of phrases that seem a little beyond her control, and a tremendous interest in romance, which cousin Isa has to keep in check. She is constantly losing her heart, now to “a sailer” who called here to say farewell; “it must be dreadful to leave his native country where he might get a wife and perhaps me, for I love him very much and with all my heart, but O I forgot Isabella forbid me to speak about love.” Again to Mr. Crakey, with whom she “walked to Crakyhall hand in hand in Innocence and metitation sweet thinking on the kind love which flows in our tender hearted mind which is overflowing with majestick pleasure.” And yet again to “Philip Caddie, who paid no little attention to me, he took my hand and led me downstairs and shook my hand cordialy.” But indeed it was a very innocent kind of romance, and Cousin Isa need not have been alarmed, for Marjorie’s “own true love” was Cousin Isa herself. Indeed once she has got away from the jargon of books—Kotzebue’s Pigeon and Fawny Rachel and The Cottage Cook, we hear no more of her as a “loveress” except it be of “swine, geese, cocks, and turkeys that made Ravelston so pleasant to me, indeed they are the delight of my heart.”
She had not been long in Edinburgh when she wrote to tell her sister all about it. The occasion was one of much solemnity, for, as she observes, “this is the first time I ever wrote a letter in my life.” In this letter she tells of the girls who play with her in the square, “and they cry just like a pig when we are under the painful necessity of putting it to death.” She draws a rather unflattering portrait of a certain Miss Potune, “a lady of my acquaintance,” and this in spite of the fact that “she praises me dreadfully.” “I repeated something out of Dean Swift, and she said I was fit for the stage, and you may think I was primmed up with majestick pride, but upon my word I felt myself turn a little birsay.” Perhaps she felt that Miss Potune was only trying to flatter her, just as she was doing with Aunt Keith. “This horrid fat simpliton says that my aunt is beautiful, which is entirely impossible, for that is not her nature.”
She returns again to the subject of Miss Potune in her diary, into which we shall now be privileged to peep.
“Miss Potune is very fat, she pretends to be very learned, she says she saw a stone that dropt from the skies, but she is a good Christian.” (The sequence of thought is not particularly apparent, but we begin to follow with more confidence in the next “lap,” starting with “Christian.”) “An annababtist is a thing I am not a member of; I am a Pisplikan just now and a Prisbeteren at Kercaldy, my native town, which though dirty is clein in the country; sentiment is what I am not acquainted with, though I wish it and should like to pratise it. I wish I had a great deal of gratitude in my heart and in all my body. The English have great power over the french; Ah me per adventure at this moment some noble Colnel at this moment sinks to the ground without breath; and in convulsive pangs dies; it is a melancholy consideration.”
Cousin Isabella had the little maid for a bedfellow, and we get some funny glimpses of what she had to endure from that arrangement. “I’ve slept with Isabella, but she cannot sleep with me. I’m so very restless. I danced over her legs in the morning and she cried ‘Oh! dear, you mad girl, Madgie,’ for she was very sleepy.”—(Oh! those little “Early wide-awakes!” Which of us who have been wakened by them at four o’clock in the morning will not sympathise with poor Isa Keith?) “Every morn I awake before Isa, and oh I wish to be up and out with the larkies, but I must take care of Isa, who when aslipe is as beautiful as Viness and Jupiter in the sky.” On a later occasion Marjorie records: “I went into Isabella’s bed to make her smile like the Genius Demedicus, or the statute in ancient Greece, but she fell asleep in my very face, at which my anger broke forth, so that I awoke her from a very comfortable nap. All was now hushed up, but my anger again burst forth at her bidding me get up.” Finally poor Isabella, in self-defence against “continual figiting and kicking” had to banish Marjorie to the foot of the bed, an arrangement not without its advantages, for it gave a certain young person opportunity “to be continialy at work reading the Arabian nights entertainment, which I could not have done had I slept at the top.” The situation, moreover, inspired the following remarkable verses:—
“I love in Isa’s bed to lie
O such a joy and luxury
The bottom of the bed I sleep
And with great care I myself keep
Oft I embrace her feet of lillys
But she has got on all the pillies
Her neck I never can embrace
But I do hug her feet in place.
But I am sure I am contented
And of my follies am repented
I’m sure I’d rather be
In a small bed at liberty.”
Isabella would seem to have restored her soon again, however, for we learn from a later poem:—
“When cold as clay when cold as ice
To get into a bed tis nice
It is a nice thing for to creep
But not to dose away and sleep
Into a bed where Isa lies
And to my questions she replies
Corrects my faults improves my mind
And tells me of the faults she find
But she is sound asleep sometimes
For that I have not got good rimes
But when awake I her teize much
And she doth squall at every touch
Then Isa reads in bed alone
And reads the fasts by good Nelson
Then I get up to say my prayers
To get my porridge and go downstairs.”
If Marjorie’s journal ranges in its discussion of subjects literally from “Shakespeare” (or, as she calls him, “Shakepear,” “of which I have a little knolege of,” thus summed up: “Macbeth is a pretty compisition but awful one Macbeth is so bad and wicked, but Lady Macbeth is so hardened in guilt she does not mind her faults and sins no,”) to the “Musical Glasses” (Nancy’s and Isabella’s uncle has got musical glasses and the sound of them is exceedingly sweet), her poetry is equally universal in its range. From the “Ephibol on my Dear Love Isabella,” composed when the poetess was six, to loyal verses on the King’s Birthday:—
“Poor man his health is very bad
And he is often very mad,”
and the Chef d’Oeuvre on “Mary Queen of Scots” we have a wide selection:—
“Poor Mary Queen of Scots was born
With all the graces which adorn
Her birthday is so very late
That I do now forget the date
Her education was in france
There she did learn to sing and dance
There she was married to the dauphin
But soon he was laid in the coffin,”
and so on through the whole romantic and tragic story to the end at Fotheringay. Nay, even beyond it, goes our poet historian, lured on by her sense of poetical justice against Queen Elizabeth:
“Elizabeth was a cross old maid
Now when her youth began to fade
Her temper was worce then before
And people did not her adore
But Mary was much loved by all
Both by the great and by the small
But hark her soul to heaven did rise
And I do think she gained a prize
For I do think she would not go
Into the awfull place below
There is a thing that I must tell
Elizabeth went to fire and hell
Him who will teach her to be cevel
It must be her great friend the divel.”
It is very consoling to know that Marjorie did not think any the worse of beautiful Queen Mary for being a Catholic:
“She was a Roman Catholic strong
Nor did she think that it was wrong.”
Perhaps the fact that she herself was a “Pisplikan just now and a Prisbeteren at Kercaldy, my native town, which though dirty is clein in the country,” made her more tolerant than others of her nation:
“For they her faith could not well bear
And to upbraid her they would dare.”
Marjorie did not always keep to these “Epic Heights.” Her muse is sometimes occupied with such subjects as the death of three young turkeys eaten by the rats, the elopement of Jessy Watson the servant maid, and her aunt’s monkey:
“There is a thing I love to see
That is our monkey catch a flee.”
Indeed her latest biographer opines that the lament for the three turkeys will become the most famous of Marjorie’s poems:
“Three turkeys fair their last have breathed
And now this world for ever leaved
Their father and their mother too
Will sigh and weep as well as you
Mourning for their osprings fair
Whom they did nurse with tender care
Indeed the rats their bones have cranched
To eternity are they launched
There graceful form and pretty eyes
Their fellow fowls did not despise
A direful death indeed they had
That would put any parent mad
But she was more than usual calm
She did not give a single dam
She is as gentel as a lamb
Here ends this melancholy lay
Farewell poor Turkeys I must say.”
This “melancholy lay” was addressed to the owner of the turkeys, Mrs. Crawfurd, of Braehead—a “delightfull place” in Marjorie’s opinion. “Now I am quite happy,” she records on the eve of a visit there, “for I am going to-morrow to a delightfull place, Braehead by name, belonging to Mrs. Craford, where there is ducks, cocks, hens, bubbyjocks, 2 dogs, 2 cats and swine, which is delightful.”
The visit had its disappointments. First in the matter of the weather: “I came here as I thought to enjoy nature’s delightful breath, it is sweeter than a fial of rose oil, but Alas my hopes are dissopointed, it is always spitring, but then I often get a blink and then I am happy.” Moreover Marjorie’s and Job’s old enemy (and Elizabeth’s “great friend”) was particularly busy at this time, and we have a constant record of ill behaviour. “To-day I affronted myself before Miss Margaret and Miss Isa Craford and Mrs. Craford and Mrs. Kermical, which was very nauty, but I hope there will be no more evil in all my journal.” Alas for good intentions! Behold what happened a few days after. “I am going to telle you that in all my life I never behaved so ill, for when Isa bid me go out of the room I would not go, and when Isa came to the room I threw my book at her in a dreadful passion and she did not lick me but said ‘Go into the room and pray,’ and I did it. I will never do it again. I hope that I will never afront Isa, for she said she was never so afronted in her life, but I hope it will never happen again.”
“I am going to turn over a new life and am going to be a very good girl and be obedient to Isa Keith, here there is plenty of goosberrys which makes my teath water….
“My religion is greatly falling off because I don’t pray with so much attention when I am saying my prayers and my character is lost away a-mong the Braehead people. I hope I will be religious again, but as for regaining my character I despare for it…. Everybody just now hates me and I deserve it, for I don’t behave well.”
In spite of her unfortunate experiences at Braehead, she was very anxious to return to it, and upbraided Isa in verse, on another occasion, when their visit, she learned, was only to be two days long:
“Beautious Isabella say
How long at braehead will you stay
O for a week or not so long
Then weel desart the busy throng
Ah can you see me sorrow so
And drop a hint that you must go
I thought you had a better hart
Than make me with my dear friends part
But now I see that you have not
And that you mock my dreadful lot
My health is always bad and sore
And you have hurt it a deal more.”
“The reason I wrote this poem is because I am going to Braehead only two days.”
No wonder she loved Braehead: “Here at Braehead I enjoy rurel felisity to perfection, content, retirement, rurel friendship, books all these dwell here, but I am not sure of ease and alternate labour useful life.” At Braehead even prose must take the colour of poetry from waving trees and morning sunbeams:
“In the morning the first thing I see is most beautiful trees spreading their luxurant branches between the Horison and me….
“I love to see the morning sun that rise so long before the moon … the moon that casts her silver light when the Horison sinks beneath the clouds and scateres its light on the surface of the earth.”
Another place where Marjorie dearly loved to go visiting was Ravelston House: “Ravelston is a fine place, because I get balm wine and many other dainties, and it is extremely pleasant to me by the company of swine, geese, cocks, etc., and they are the delight of my heart.”
Whether at home in Edinburgh, or in Braehead, or Ravelston, Isabella continues the education of her little charge: “I am thinking,” says Marjorie, in a serious Sunday mood, “how I shall improve the many talents I have. I am sorry I have threwn them away, it is shocking to think of it when many have not the instruction. I have, because Isabella teaches me to or three hours every day in reading and writing and arethmatick and many other things and religion into the bargain. On Sundays she teaches me to be virtuous.” Saturday was a half-holiday—even from virtue! “This is Saturday, and I am very glad of it, because I have play half of the day and I get money too, but alas I owe Isabella fourpence, for I am fined 2 pence whenever I bite my nails.”
On another Saturday we hear of her having “sauntered about the woulds and by the burn side and dirtied myselfe, which puts me in mind of a song my mother composed. It was that she was out and dirtied herselfe, which is like me.”
Poor Isabella did not always have an easy task. The “multiplication table” gave particular trouble. “I am now going to tell you about the horible and wretched plaege that my multiplication gives me you can’t conceive it—the most Devilish thing is 8 times 8 and 7 times 7; it is what nature itself can’t endure….” Sometimes the Devil gets out of the “multiplication table” and comes even near more sacred ground. “To-day I have been very ungrateful and bad and disobedient, Isabella gave me my writing, I wrote so ill that she took it away and locked it up in her desk where I stood trying to open it till she made me come and read my bible, but I was in a bad homour and red it so carelessly and ill that she took it from me and her blood ran cold, but she never punished me, she is as gental as a lamb to me an ungrateful girl.”
Isabella tries the effect of praise:—
“Isabella has given me praise for checking my temper, for I was sulky even when she was kneeling an hole hour teaching me to write.”
But Marjorie is honest enough to think a whipping would do herself good: “But she never whipes me, so that I thinke I should be the better of it, and the next time that I behave ill, I think she should do it, for she never does it, but she is very indulgent to me, but I am very ungrateful to her.”
It may have been at Ravelston (where “I am enjoying nature’s fresh air, the birds are singing sweetly, the calf doth frisk and play, and nature shows her glorious face, the sun shines through the trees”) that Marjorie first saw and conquered Sir Walter. For all readers of Waverley will remember how deeply its author loved the old house and garden, where he had played as a boy. The conquest was completed when Marjorie returned to Edinburgh, and by all accounts it was not her beauty that worked the charm. As Marjorie herself says, “I am very strong and robust and not of the delicate sex, nor of the fair, but of the deficient in looks,” and poor Isa Keith is quite concerned about her plainness: “She is grown excessively fat and strong,” she writes about this time to Kirkcaldy, “but I cannot say she is in great beauty, as she has lost two front teeth, and her continued propensity to laugh exhibits the defect rather strongly.” But in the eyes of Sir Walter, she was better than beautiful: “She’s the most extraordinary creature I ever met with,” he told Mrs. Keith, “and her repeating of Shakespeare overpowers me as nothing else does.”
Dr. Brown draws some charming pictures of the great man and the little child together, Marjorie teaching him nursery rhymes:—“He used to say when he came to Alibi Crackaby he broke down. Pin-Pan, Musky-Dan, Tweedle-um, Tweedle-um made him roar with laughter. He said Musky Dan especially was beyond his endurance, bringing up an Irishman and his hat fresh from the Spice Islands and odoriferous Ind; she getting quite bitter in her displeasure at his ill behaviour and stupidity. Then he would read ballads to her in his own glorious way, the two getting wild with excitement over Gil Morrice or the Baron of Smailholm, and he would take her on his knees and make her repeat Constance’s speeches in King John till he swayed to and fro sobbing his fill.”
The year before she died she was at a Twelfth Night Supper at Scott’s in Castlestreet. The company had all come—all but Marjorie; and all were dull because Scott was dull. “Where’s that bairn? What can have come over her? I’ll go myself and see!” And he was getting up, and would have gone, when the bell rang, and in came Duncan Roy and his henchman Dougal, with the Sedan chair which was brought right into the lobby and its top raised. And there in its darkness and dingy old cloth sat Maidie in white, her eyes gleaming, and Scott bending over her in ecstacy. “Sit ye there, my dautie, till they all see you,” and forthwith he brought them all. You can fancy the scene. And he lifted her up and marched to his seat with her on his stout shoulder, and set her down beside him; and then began the night, and such a night! Those who knew Scott best said that night was never equalled. Maidie and he were the stars; and she gave them Constance’s speeches, and Helvellyn, and all her repertoire, Scott showing her off, and being oftimes rebuked by her for his intentional blunders.
Perhaps the prudent mother at home in Kirkcaldy began to fear the effects of all this notoriety and excitement on her little daughter’s character. At all events she did not leave her in Edinburgh very many months after this. In July, 1811, Marjorie bade good-bye to her darling Isabella and returned to Kirkcaldy.
We have letters of hers, mainly to Isa, to fill up the simple story of the next few months. In one of them, she refers to an epidemic of measles. Little did Isabella think, as she laughed over the quaint phrases, that there was something ominous in it. In November Marjorie herself fell a victim to the epidemic, and was very ill for many weeks.
It was a strange Maidie even to those who knew her best that developed in this illness—a very patient, submissive, and quiet Maidie, who liked best to lie still and think. One day as she was lying very still her mother asked her if there was anything she wished. “Oh, yes. If you would just leave the room door open a wee bit, and play the ‘Land o’ the Leal,’ and I will lie and think and enjoy myself.”
On Sunday, the 15th December, she was allowed to be up for a little while, and her sister thus describes the scene.
“It was Sabbath evening, and after tea my father, who idolized the child, and never afterwards in my hearing mentioned her name, took her in his arms; and while walking up and down the room, she said: ‘Father, I will repeat something to you: what would you like?’ He said ‘Just choose yourself, Maidie.’ She hesitated for a moment, between the paraphrase ‘Few are Thy Days and Full of Woe,’ and the lines of Burns, ‘Why I am loth to leave this Earthly Scene?’” but chose the latter.
That was the last earthly scene for poor little Maidie. Six days later, they laid her to rest in the churchyard of Abbotshall.