PLEASURE AND DUTY
We now come to consider a perplexing question which comes up for settlement upon the close of a girl’s school career. Two rival claimants upon her time and interest are in the field—pleasure and duty; the question is, what is to be allowed to each, and how far may they clash. Kind-hearted parents, who find that their daughter is continually wanted for picnic or tennis, ball or concert, for morning lounge or evening party, withdraw the claims of duty, and have the field to giddy pleasure. They say, ‘Poor
child, she will never have a second youth.” “Every dog must have its day.” We have been young ourselves; let her have a ‘good time’ and ‘enjoy herself while she can.’” “If we hold her back from taking her pleasure, she will only crave for it the more; let her have a surfeit—she will settle down the more readily to a quiet life afterwards,” and so on.
But before they launch their daughter—
“Youth at the prow, and Pleasure at the helm,”
it behoves parents to look into the matter. In the first place, the result, the gain of the girl’s whole education hitherto is at stake. She might as well have been allowed to play ever since she was born as to play uninterruptedly now. For the gain of her education is not the amount of geography, science, and French that she knows; she will forget these soon enough unless well-trodden tracks be kept up to the brain-growth marking these acquirements. But the solid gain education has brought her lies in the powers and habits of attention, persistent effort, intellectual and moral endeavour, is has educed. Now, habits which are allowed to fall into disuse are all the same as though they had never been formed; powers not exercised grow feeble and are lost. The ground which has been gained in half-a-dozen years may be lost in a single one. And here we have the reason why many girls who have received what is called a good education read nothing weightier than a feeble or trashy novel, are not intelligent companions, and show little power of moral effort.
As for settling down by-and-by, that is not the question: if she is to recover the ground lost, she must begin all over again, and at an age when it
is far more difficult to acquire habits and develop powers than in childhood. Again, the taste for parties of pleasure, for what may be called organised amusement, is an ever-growing taste, and dislodges the habit of taking pleasure in the evening reading, the fireside games with the children, the home music, the chat with friendly neighbours, the thousand delights that home should afford. For
“Pleasure is spread through the earth
In stray gifts, to be claimed by whoever shall find”;
and not the least evil of incessant party-going and pleasure-seeking is, that it blinds people to the nature and conditions of pleasure; pure and true pleasure is of impromptu occurrence, a stray gift, to be found not sought; it is just a thing to happen upon by the way.
What, then, of those parents who take the opposite line,—ordain that their daughters shall stay at home and help their mothers? They did not run after pleasure, and neither shall their girls; they had home duties to attend to when they were young and so shall their daughters, “for no good comes of gadding about.”
Well, to turn the tables, it is well these should remember that you cannot put an old head on young shoulders; that young things will frolic, whether they be kittens or lambs or maidens; that what becomes deliberate pleasure-seeking in older people, comes to the girls as—
“Stray gifts to be claimed by whoever shall find”;
that parties of pleasure are delightful just because they give the girls opportunities of meeting their kind,
other young people, in whom they rejoice, “as ’tis their nature to.” Prospero was not sufficient for Miranda. Birds of a feather flock together, and, the young to the young.
The thing then is, to draw the line wisely. Either extreme is mischievous. The girl must have definite duties on which pleasure schemes are rarely allowed to encroach—a rule, for going out once, twice, a week?—some evenings reserved for home pleasures, the mornings for regular occupations and duties, and, so far as the unfortunate habits of society allow, evening amusements avoided which spoil the following morning. But to suggest rules on this subject would be presumptuous; every mother ordains for her own daughters, remembering how—
“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy;
All play and no work makes Jack a mere toy.”