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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : A LITTLE SERMON TO SCHOOL-GIRLS.

Letters To A Daughter And A Little Sermon To School Girls by Helen Ekin Starrett

A LITTLE SERMON TO SCHOOL-GIRLS.

Be kindly affectioned one toward another with brotherly love, in honor preferring one another.

-- Rom. xii.10.

Whose adorning ... let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit which is in the sight of God of great price.

-- 1 Peter, iii.4.

Wherever people are associated together it will always be found that some are more popular and beloved than others. Taking it for granted that all my young readers would wish to be lovely and beloved by those with whom they are associated, I wish to make a short study of some of those characteristics which always distinguish a lovely or loveable person, and also of some characteristics which tend to make people unlovely and disagreeable.

But if anyone should at the outset say, |I do not care whether people like me or not, I have no particular wish to be lovely or beloved,| what could I answer? Nothing. I could only express my sorrow that the better and higher nature of such an one was so undeveloped, and that the greatest source of true happiness was so unknown and unappreciated. I could only hope that the conscience and the moral nature of such an one might be aroused and quickened by some good and faithful admonition or word of instruction. And right here I wish to call the special attention of my young friends to this fact: Youth is a period given up largely to the work of obtaining an education; but education is of a two-fold nature. We have an intellectual nature and we have a spiritual or moral nature. The intellectual powers and faculties it is possible to educate almost in spite of even the distaste or aversion of the pupil to receiving that education. We can, in a measure, force a knowledge of the sciences upon even reluctant pupils. We can prove to them that three angles of a triangle are equal to two right angles, or that an acid and an alkali will combine to form a salt; but we can never force an antagonistic nature to receive a spiritual truth. Your parents or teacher may instruct you that it is wrong to be untruthful or unkind or deceitful, but your own inner natures alone can receive such truths and assimilate them. No human being can compel another human being to be good. Here is where one of the chief anxieties and chief sorrows of parents and teachers arises. There is no anxiety so deep as the anxiety of the good that those they love may be good also; no sorrow so poignant as the sorrow of the heart over the willful wrong-doing of those near and dear. If at the close of your prescribed school course you should return to your homes, skilled in all the sciences, possessed of extensive knowledge of literature, fine musicians, fine artists, and yet selfish, ungentle, proud or haughty in demeanor, wanting in thoughtfulness for the rights and feelings of others, careless of being unkind, the time spent in your education would largely have been spent in vain.

Among the first characteristics of a person who is lovely and beloved, we must place a kind and gentle manner toward all, kind words and kind deeds, and a restraint of hasty speech or action. In order to possess these qualities, it is not necessary ever to be obtrusive with our attentions. Sometimes people pain us by thrusting upon us attentions which we do not want. There is a kind of officious attentiveness which is really the expression of a species of vanity. It is true we ought to be observant, and if we see where we can really help others by offering kind acts or services, we ought to be willing to do it. But to young people associated together as schoolmates, the opportunity for exercising gentleness and kindness towards one another comes mostly in the line of daily work. Some pupils are more advanced in their studies than others: some have had greater advantages in their homes than others: and these differences afford an opportunity for exercising toward each other a spirit of kindness and gentleness. It is one of the most common occurrences in schools for pupils to come in who have not had the advantages which enable them to know how to conduct themselves gracefully in society; how to dress themselves; how to use knife, fork, napkin, etc., properly at the table; and while it is of course the duty of teachers to instruct them in all these things, it is also the imperative duty of their companions to refrain from unkind criticism or laughing at and making sport of blunders which may arise only from lack of information. Very often these students are |jewels in the rough,| of the rarest and finest quality. You may have heard the story of Daniel Webster, when he came in from his father's farm to enter upon his collegiate course, and went to board with one of the professors who had several students boarding in his family. Daniel had certainly never been taught good manners at the table, however many other good things he had been taught in his home, for he immediately attracted the attention of all the other boarders by sitting with his knife and fork held upright in each hand and resting on the table while he masticated his food. The professor quelled the rising laughter among his fellow-students by a firm glance of reproof, but said nothing to Daniel. He had observed that the boy was sensitive, and he now had the problem before him how he should correct this awkwardness in Daniel without wounding his feelings; and he took the following method: Calling one of the senior boarders to him before the next meal, he said: |We want to break our young friend of his awkward way of holding his knife and fork, and we don't want to hurt his feelings. Now I want you, at supper to-night, to hold your knife and fork the same way, and then I will call your attention to it and tell you it is not the right and proper way to do.| The student agreed, and so between the kind intention of the professor and the kind willingness of the student the embryo statesman was taught an important lesson without being pained and abashed by his ignorance.

In marked contrast with this incident is one which personally I knew to happen in a school. A little country girl who had recently become an inmate of the school knocked at the room of her neighbor, a young lady who had been brought up amid all the refinements of life, and asked her if she would lend her her hair-brush. Two or three other girls happened to be in the room, and this young lady replied, |Hadn't you better ask me for my tooth-brush? In this school, hair-brushes are private property.| Never did the little country girl forget this rude rebuke, although she very shortly learned that among cultivated and refined people hair-brushes are considered private property. But however cultivated externally the young lady was who thus rudely rebuffed even the ignorance of her companion, her conduct showed a spirit uncultivated in gentleness and kindness.

It often happens in schools that some become general favorites because perhaps they are blessed with good looks, or are able to dress with good taste and becomingly, or are possessed of a certain piquancy of manner and conversational powers which attract and entertain. There are others equally good and talented who are not blessed with comeliness, who are not bright and winning in conversation, who are awkward in dress and manner. What kindness and considerateness is due from the more favored to the less favored! How careful should school-girls, and not school-girls only, but everybody be to extend courtesy and kindness to those of their number who are apt to be neglected, to be left lonely and forgotten while more favored ones enjoy special pleasures! I do not mean by this that we are to be equally intimate and equally fond of all our daily associates, but we ought to be equally kind. Our especial endearments and kindnesses and attentions to our particular friends ought to be in a measure kept for private expression, so that we may not wound the feelings of those less attractive, or less endowed with bodily and mental graces, by contrast or comparison.

To aid us in cultivating this spirit of kindness, no maxim is more useful than that laid down by Christ: |Whatsoever ye would that others should do unto you, do ye even so unto them.| One of the best tests we can apply to ourselves is to imagine ourselves in the place of others. Suppose we were conscious of homely features, ungainly forms and awkward manners, or of lack of information or knowledge; suppose we were in such straitened circumstances that we were obliged to wear coarse, cheap, unsuitable or unbecoming garments how would we feel and how would we wish to be treated? And if we find within ourselves an unwillingness to be judged by this standard, or to conform our conduct to it, then we should realize that we do wrong, that we are wrong in spirit. Then should come the conscious effort to do right, to change our spirit from selfishness to unselfishness, from unkindness to kindness. This is the work that no human being can do for us. Every individual soul must pass through that struggle alone. Whenever we are conscious of the necessity of a decision between doing right and doing wrong, even though we may feel indisposed to do the right and disposed to do the wrong, yet if we can will to do the right we have taken a step toward God and heaven; we have begun the unfolding of the moral and spiritual nature.

Now I have before said that an intellectual culture may be, so to speak, veneered upon us, but a spiritual culture must come from within outward. In botany you learn of two kinds of plants -- those which grow by external accretions, as bulbs, which, are called exogenous? and plants which grow within outward, which are called endogenous A great philosopher has said that |man is that noble endogenous plant which grows, like the palm, from within outward.| The culture of the heart and the growth of the spiritual nature is wholly individual; it depends on ourselves alone. Parents and teachers can furnish the surroundings and the accessories which they hope will most help to nourish this spiritual growth, but they can do no more. And often how bitterly are they disappointed when they see that, in spite of admonition and instruction and entreaty and example, and every external help and incentive, the inner nature, the heart, the soul of child or pupil is not assimilating spiritual truth, is not growing |in grace and in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.|

And now I pass from the consideration of that experience which is the foundation of a lovely character to consider some of the forms of outward expression of this inward character. I have said that we may feel indisposed to do right; we may really prefer and like best the wrong; nevertheless if we will to do what is right we have gained a victory. So it may be a great help to us in gaining this inward victory to familiarize ourselves with rules for conduct or expression. Suppose, for instance we know we are liable to give way to bad tempers and to speak hastily and harshly. We may even feel that it is a relief to speak thus hastily or harshly, but if we will to control our tempers we may find a great help in resolving never to speak in a loud or harsh tone of voice. You all know that the scolding or quarreling tone of voice is loud and harsh. If we resolve never to allow ourselves to use this tone, it will help us to control our tempers, and it will also be an obedience to one of the rules of good manners.

We call a well-mannered person a cultivated person; and this culture consists mainly in kindness and gentleness of manner, in self-restraint, and in unobtrusiveness The real reason for every true rule of good manners is some moral reason. The true reason why we are forbidden by good manners to do certain things is that the doing of such things gives pain or causes inconvenience to some one. Why do the rules of good manners forbid the slamming of doors, or noisy running along halls or up and down stairs, or loud talking or boisterous laughter? Because such noises inflict pain on those who hear them, if they are of refined sensibilities. For the same reason it is bad manners to drum on a piano, or to drum on table or desk or chair, or to shuffle the feet, or to make any noise that distracts or obtrudes. Why is it bad manners to come late to meals, to be unpunctual, to keep people waiting? Because we inflict pain and inconvenience upon those who are in a certain measure dependent for their comfort on our promptness and punctuality. Why is it bad manners to sprawl in one's seat, to assume ungainly attitudes, to make grimaces, or to munch peanuts or apples in the cars or in public places? For the same reason. We make those who witness such conduct uncomfortable, and inflict pain upon them.

One very common cause of discomfort and pain caused by young people to their parents and teachers is want of thoughtfulness and consideration. For one-half the faults for which young people need to be reproved the reply is, |I didn't think.| Now, while we cannot expect young folks to exercise the thoughtfulness and judgment of maturer people, we certainly have a right to expect that they will endeavor to acquire a habit of thoughtfulness in regard to the convenience and interests of others. It is this want of thoughtfulness that often betrays young people into doing very improper and injurious things. Parents and teachers are constantly troubled by finding that their children and pupils do things which they never thought of forbidding them to do. That which all good and faithful teachers strive to do is to develop in their pupils such a sense of propriety and thoughtfulness and such a high moral sense as will make them a law for right unto themselves. They want to cultivate and to see them cultivating in themselves a strong practical common-sense and a wise sense of propriety. Without such common-sense and innate sense of propriety, the longest set of rules would be useless. For instance, if your teachers were to set about making a set of rules do you suppose any one of them would have thought of making such rules as: |Young ladies are not permitted to go to the roof of the house and sit with their feet dangling over the railings of the balcony;| or |Young ladies must not go into people's pastures and catch their ponies to go riding;| or |When young ladies are out riding in a buggy it is not allowable for one of the young ladies to ride on the horse which the others are driving.|

A hundred rules might be gotten up forbidding the doing of a hundred things, the only evil of which is that they are outlandish and unbecoming; not modest, or ill-mannered, and behind which there is no evil intent -- only thoughtlessness. The same endowment of common sense ought to teach young people to do those things which will promote their health, and not to do those things which would injure it. The greatest blessing to a young person, especially to a young woman, is good health; but unless she will take care of it herself, it is an almost hopeless task to attempt to take care of it for her. You may have heard the somewhat slangy expression sometimes made about stupid and conceited young men, that they |don't know enough to come in when it rains.| It is, however, an almost just complaint of many a pretty and otherwise sensible young woman that she apparently doesn't know enough to put on overshoes when it rains, or to change thin clothing for thick when it grows cold. There is needed among young girls everywhere such a development of common-sense as will prevent this senseless and thoughtless conduct.

And now let us consider some of the rewards that will come to those who give attention to the culture of the spirit. Emerson says that |it is our manners that associate us,| and this is one of his truest observations. We all wish, or we all should wish, to become fitted for association with the good, the refined, the intelligent, the cultivated, with those who have a noble purpose in life. Into such society there is but one passport -- intelligence, and gentle, quiet, cultivated manners, coupled with a like noble and earnest purpose. Possessed of these, any person may be sure of a welcome in the best society, however plain in appearance or dress. Wanting in these, good looks and fine dress are of no avail to secure the coveted association. Remember I am now speaking of the society of intellectual, refined, and cultivated people, and not of mere fashionable society. But to gain friendly and equal access to this best society, the culture of heart and mind must be genuine; it must be thorough, deep, sincere. The young person whose education of mind and heart is shallow and superficial, who has no definite aim in life, may well fear to submit to the critical tests sure to be applied by such society.

I cannot better illustrate my meaning than by relating to you two incidents that have come under my own personal observation. You all know that in our old Eastern cities, which have so long been the homes of wealth and learning, is to be found a society almost unequalled for its high standard of intellectual culture and refined manners as well as for beneficent actions. Two young Western women whom I have known, aspired to gain access to and meet with recognition in a certain famous circle of such people in one of these Eastern cities. Both young women were graduates of Western universities, and had had really exceptional advantages for acquiring a thorough collegiate education. One had been surrounded by every possible helpful condition. Fond parents, possessed of abundance of this world's goods, and admiring friends, had done everything in their power to secure for her freedom from all other cares while she was pursuing her studies. Being thus helped and petted and praised and encouraged she seemed to feel that all circumstances and everybody's convenience and comfort must give way for her plans and interests. The other young girl was the eldest daughter of a poor widow. She struggled through the university by teaching in vacation; renting a poor little room in the town where the university was situated, and cooking her own food, doing her own washing and ironing, living in the plainest way, wearing cheap clothing, and eating the plainest food, while she was pursuing her studies. Her struggles with poverty and bitter circumstances taught her sympathy and kindness and helpfulness; and though she was plain, very plain, in face and figure, the gentle kindness of her spirit was apparent to all. As time passed on after their graduation, both of these young women gained the goal of their hopes and ambitions: an introduction to this brilliant and cultivated circle of people through certain literary clubs. And furthermore, both secured an invitation to read a paper before the same literary society during the same winter. The first-named young lady was visiting friends, while the second had secured a position as teacher. When the first young lady appeared before the society, her dress of velvet, point lace, and diamonds, was so striking as to be obtrusive. Her paper was fairly good, but contained nothing of any permanent value. Her self-consciousness and evident desire to be conspicuous had the effect of repelling the earnest and thoughtful men and women who composed the society. Her essay and herself were alike quietly dropped; and to this day she cannot understand why. She calls the members of the society proud, haughty, and exclusive, and denounces the city where these people live as pedantic, disagreeable, and unsocial. Before this same club came our quiet, unostentatious, plain young friend of the toilsome life. Her dress was as plain as her face, but her paper was rich in information and filled with the results of a deep and earnest observation. Around her gathered the good men and women who knew how to appreciate such a spirit, and from thenceforward she was one of them. Every winter since the reading of her first essay I have found her name among the list of those who are leaders in the world of thought and of benevolent action. With pride in the success, of a genuine Western girl, I have often observed her name among the invited guests present at receptions given to distinguished authors and philanthropists both of our own country and of Europe. Why did she succeed against such odds, when the other failed with all her advantages? Simply because she was possessed of the true, deep, thorough genuine culture, both of mind and heart, which alone associates, the best people together. To her, |plain living and high thinking| was a life-long practice, and she was at home and happy with the good and the learned.

Would you be prepared to attain a like reward? Cultivate her spirit; imitate her example.

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