Page images
PDF
EPUB

the young is doubly difficult, and into the perplexing question of what girls should read I do not attempt to enter. Even were I competent to indicate the works most suited for girls' reading, the list would be of no great value. Individual reading must depend upon individual taste, save, of course, when reading solely for study and instruction. I know of only one writer who aspires to point out a course of reading for girls. Girls and their Ways by One who Knows Them' is a specimen of a kind of work which is constantly being written ostensibly to meet the wants of both parents and girls. The author gives a list of between 200 and 300 books. Over fifty poets from Langland and Chaucer to Jean Ingelow and Sir Henry Taylor must be read; nearly 70 histories, 90 biographies, 25 works of travel, 20 on theology, 12 on science, and 40 of a miscellaneous character. Is there any mental colossus living capable of grappling with this superabundance of literary wares during the allotted years of individual mankind ? Just think for a single moment what it would mean to place the whole of these works before a girl. The prospect of having to go through every volume would simply overwhelm her, and she would not read them but skim them. Her friends would soon discover that they are as sick that surfeit with too much as they that starve with nothing.' But the gigantic proportions of this course of reading are not its most distinguished feature. Probably no one would guess which are the two chief works any

mention of which in the list of books to be read is omitted. They are Shakespeare and the Bible, in themselves a course of reading and without which a course of reading is baseless and insubstantial. In the department of fiction East Lynne is ignored. Mrs. Henry Wood ought to feel much gratified at being rejected in such company.

Another book of a somewhat similar character to Girls and their Ways is Miss Phillis Browne's What Girls can do. Miss Browne gives an account of her own experience as a girl in the matter of reading, which is highly interesting and suggestive. She describes how she managed to get hold of some three-volume novels of a questionable character, and how she used to go to the garret where they were kept, 'sit on the ground and read all day long books of all kinds until she was almost dazed. When her father discovered how she was employed he was exceedingly angry, and made her promise to open no book for twelve months which he had not placed in her hands. He offered her, doubtless as he thought as an antidote to the novels, Dr. Dick's Christian Philosopher. 'I found this work a very decided change,' writes Miss Browne. I tried hard to read it, but it was beyond me. The unreal world in which I had been living had spoiled me for the every-day world in which I found myself, and the book to which I turned for solace was not written for such as I.' Miss Browne became very miserable, and her mother intervened on

her behalf. She was then given Bracebridge Hall, and other works more suitable to a girl's mind. “If I might advise as to the kind of story books that should be given to young girls,' she continues, ‘I should say, let them be such as give pure, natural views of life and character. Let the moral be suggested rather than direct. . . . Do not be uneasy if the heroine gets into mischief occasionally. A girl that is always good is an anomaly; perfection of character is unusual, and light without shadow is dazzling to the human vision. Above all let the books be cheerful, not sad.'

Miss Phillis Browne's experience constitutes a practical argument in favour of the application of Mr. Ruskin's abstract rules. “The best romance,' he says, “becomes dangerous if by its excitement it renders the ordinary course of life uninteresting, and increases the morbid thirst for scenes in which we shall never be called on to act.' Further on he writes, “Whether novels or poetry or history be read, they should be chosen not for their freedom from evil, but for their possession of good. That is the very key-note to the whole problem of reading for rich and poor, young and old. It is the standard by which parents and guardians should judge any book they may wish to give their children. The duty and responsibility of making the choice is an onerous one, but must be faced. The young mind is a virgin soil, and whether weeds or rare flowers and beautiful trees are to spring up in it will, of course, depend upon the character of the seeds sown. You cannot scatter literary tares and reap mental corn. A good book is the consecrated essence of a holy genius, bringing new light to the brain and cultivating the heart for the inception of noble motives. Boys' literature of a sound kind ought to help to build up men. Girls' literature ought to help to build up women. If in choosing the books that boys shall read it is necessary to remember that we are choosing mental food for the future chiefs of a great race, it is equally important not to forget in choosing books for girls that we are choosing mental food for the future wives and mothers of that race, When Mr. Ruskin says that man's work is public and woman's private, he seems for the moment insensible to the public work of women as exercised through their influence on their husbands, brothers, and fathers. Woman's work in the ordering, beautifying, and elevating of the commonweal is hardly second to man's; and it is this which ought to be borne in mind in rearing girls. In personal reminiscences we are frequently reminded of the good or evil which resulted to the autobiographer from the books placed within his or her reach. Would that every girl were so fortunate as Miss Louisa Alcott seems to have been. • When the book mania fell upon me at fifteen,' she writes, ' I used to venture into Mr. Emerson's library and ask what I should read, never conscious of the audacity of my demand, so genial was my welcome. His kind

[ocr errors]

hand offered to me the riches of Shakespeare, Dante, Goethe, and Carlyle, and I gratefully recall the sweet patience with which he led me round the book-lined room, till “the new and very interesting book” was found, or the indulgent smile he wore when I proposed something far above my comprehension ; “Wait a little for that,” he said ; “ meantime try this, and if you like it come again.” For many of these wise books I am waiting still, very patiently, because in his own I have found the truest delight and best inspiration of my life.'

Perhaps the best reading which girls can possibly have is biography, especially female biography, of which many excellent works have been published. One cannot help as one reads the biographies of great women-whether of Miss Florence Nightingale, Mrs. Fry, or Lady Russell—being struck by the purity of purpose and God-fearing zeal which moved most of their subjects. There are few women who have made themselves famous who have not been in the habit, in all their trials and tribulations, of turning to their Bibles for comfort with a touching simplicity of faith. Young people cannot read too much biography, and, however addicted to fiction they may be, parents will find record of fact an admirable method of balancing their children's mind. Fiction should lend relief to girl-life, biography should impart right principle, and poetry grace. To feast too much on any one of these is unwise, and though probably fiction will always be most popular, girls should be encouraged to read more poetry and much more biography than they are, I think, accustomed to.

Since the foregoing was written I have had placed in my hands some papers which are an important and interesting contribution to the discussion of what girls read. Recently Mr. Charles Welsh, at considerable trouble and expense, collected from various schools replies to a series of questions put with a view to eliciting information from the young themselves as to the literature which they most extensively affect. He received from boys' and girls' schools, thanks to the courtesy of their chiefs, some two or three thousand responses. A thousand of these are from girls of ages ranging from eleven to nineteen. The questions asked were thirteen in number. To give in detail the result of the inquiries would take up a whole number of this Review. I may, however, with Mr. Welsh's kind permission, append a summary of the replies to two of the thirteen questions, viz." Who is your favourite author ? ' and 'Who is your favourite writer of fiction?' The distinction between these questions is somewhat subtle, and young ladies have only rarely given the name of one writer in reply to bath. I have therefore thought it best to take the replies to the two together as affording an indication of the favourite author with

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

.

[ocr errors]

.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

51

[ocr errors]

.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors]

the thousand young ladies applied to. Rejecting all names which
are not mentioned five times, the result is as follows :-
Charles Dickens.

. 330
Bunyan

11
Sir Walter Scott
.226 Miss Braddon

11
C. Kingsley
91 Mrs. H. B. Stowe

11
C. M. Yonge

91 Miss Worboise
Shakespeare
73 H. Ainsworth

10
E. Wetherell
54 Lord Tennyson

9 Mrs. Henry Wood

Miss Montgomery

9
George Eliot
41 R. D. Blackmore

9
Lord Lytton
41 W. Black

8
Longfellow
31 Defoe.

8
A.L.O.E.

30
Mark Twain

8
Andersen
29 F. Smedley

7
Ilesba Stretton

26
Carlyle

6
Canon Farrar
22 Miss Edgeworth

6
Grace Aguilar
21 Miss Havergal

6
Grimm
19 Jobn Ruskin

6
Thackeray
18 Lewis Carroll

5
Mrs. Walton
17 R. M. Ballantyne

ñ
Whyte Melville.

17
C. Brontë

5
W. H. G. Kingston

16
Mrs. Gaskell

5
Jules Verne
16 Mrs. Hemans

5
Mrs. Craik.
14 Mrs. E. Marshall

5
Macaulay
13 Captain Marryat

5
Miss Alcott
12 F. Anstey.

5 This analysis of the voting, as it may be called, suggests some curious reflections to those who have at all studied 'girls' literature.' Hardly one of the recognised writers for girls is mentioned, and without attributing any want of frankness to the young ladies who have voted so emphatically in favour of Dickens and Scott, I cannot help thinking that the list far from adequately represents what girls read. Three things at least I should say contributed to make them vote as they have done. In the first place, doubtless they considered it proper to vote for such names as Scott and Dickens, although perhaps they had not read two of the works of either; in the second, Dickens' or Scott's works are probably in the school or home library, and hence easily get-at-able; in the third, from personal inquiries I am induced to believe that young ladies do not take particular note of authors' names, and such household words as Scott and Dickens occur to their minds more readily than the patronymics of the authors who devote their energies olely to writing for girls. Miss Sewell, for instance, is not mentioned once, neither is Miss Maggie Symington; Miss Sarah Doudney is mentioned only four times, Mrs. Ewing and Marian Farningham only once efich. To imagine that Carlyle is more popular with girls than any opise of these is absurd. In reply to the question. What other books had ve you read ?' many books published for girls are mentioned, and,y with every respect for the judgment of the young ladies appealed

to,

I venture to think

that their voting has been somewhat coloured by circumstances more or less accidental. At the same time, unless the above list is to be entirely discredited, it must open the eyes of parents to the real needs of our girls. Mr. Welsh is doubtless correct when he surmises that much of the popularity from the publishers' point of view of books for girls is due to the fact that they are bought by parents and friends for presents. If girls were to choose their own books, in other words, they would make a choice for themselves very different from that which their elders make for them. Allowing, therefore, that the table now given at all represents the degrees of regard in which various authors are held by girls, it should induce those who especially aspire to write for girls to think twice before giving to the world another story on the usual lines.

EDWARD G. SALMON.

« PreviousContinue »