Page:Life of Octavia Hill as told in her letters.djvu/34

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14
chap.
LIFE OF OCTAVIA HILL

way. So she applied for admission for both her daughters to this work. But, as Miss Wallace was unable to carry on the business, Mr. Vansittart Neale most generously came forward with the capital, in order to carry it on on a co-operative basis. He asked Mrs. Hill to become the manager, which she very gladly consented to do, as she was much interested in co-operation and in the employment of women.

Such was Octavia's first introduction to London. The change from the healthy open-air life at Finchley, and from the beauty of the country, to the ugliness of her new surroundings told heavily on her spirits; and this depression was increased by the sudden sense of the evil and misery in the world. Among the workers at the Guild was a Miss Joanna Graham, who rapidly became a warm friend of Miranda's. She introduced both sisters to the "London Labour and the London Poor," then just brought out by Mayhew; also to the pamphlets and other essays written by the Christian Socialist leaders of the movement with which Mr. Neale had already brought them into contact. The pictures given by Mayhew of the life of the London poor, and the desire awakened by the Christian Socialists to struggle against evils, which seemed to her irresistible, produced in Octavia such a state of mind that she began to think that all laughter or amusement was wicked. Miranda, always able to see the humorous side of a question, tried to laugh her out of this extreme depression; and, when Octavia persisted, the elder sister composed an imaginary epitaph on herself, supposed to be written by Octavia:

"Her foibles were many, her virtues were few;
 And the more that she laughed, the more stern the world grew."

This produced a most startling letter of stern remonstrance from Octavia; so stern that one is relieved to find it closed by a loving message and followed by a P.S. "Love to all. Thank you for the apples."

Of course, this extreme gloom, unnatural in any young girl, was especially out of keeping with anyone of Octavia's buoyant temperament, and the happy busy life at the Ladies' Guild soon had its effect.