Popular Science Monthly/Volume 24/December 1883/Female Education from a Medical Point of View I
THERE are a good many reasons why physicians should have opinions about the education of youth rather different from those held by most of the public and of the professional educators. Their whole art is founded on the study of the human being—his beginning, his development, his course, his decay, and his death. All his structures and all his functions are carefully inquired into. A doctor must nowadays be a physiologist, and a physiologist includes the mental as well as the bodily functions of man in his range of inquiry. In fact, it is one of the peculiarities of the physiological mode of studying human nature that man is looked on as a whole—body and mind together—a unity, in which they can not be studied apart from each other. Then the practical aims of modern medicine, founded on this enlarged study of man, are getting to be more and more concentrated on measures for the prevention of diseases, and not merely for their cure. To prevent disease one must control the conditions of life. Especially in youth, when the human being is most amenable to influences for good and evil that affect the whole future life, must one regulate the conditions of life, if health is to be preserved. The doctor finds that health means far more than a good digestion. It means a conscious sense of well-being all over, contentment, power of work, capacity to resist evil influences, and, to some extent, good morality. It means a sound mind in a sound body. The process and the method of education undoubtedly influence health strongly. If the educator has damaged the health, the doctor is expected to put it right. An important part of the physician's duty is to study the sum-total of a man's hereditary tendencies, and his bodily weak or strong points, what is commonly called his constitution. He finds that education in many of its modern forms may be either a most helpful or a most dangerous process to many constitutions. In fact, the modern physician is rather disposed to set up as the skilled engineer of the human machine, and the authoritative exponent of its proper treatment in all its departments, both when it is working rightly as well as when it goes wrong.
A careful study of the qualities and capacities of one's material is the very first thing to be done before determining the wear and tear to which it is to be subjected, or arranging the work it is to do. This is a comparatively easy matter, when an ordinary machine is to be made, however complicated. The iron and the steel of the locomotive can be most accurately tested. Yet all prudent engineers allow an enormous margin for casualties. The actual strain put on is not half of what the machinery could really bear. Who would subject the plates of a boiler to a pressure just up to their bursting-point? Nature in her mechanics usually makes much more allowance than engineers do. The heart of an animal could send five times the amount of blood that it has to propel at twice the rate of the normal blood-current. The arterial pipes that contain and conduct the blood to the extremities are of sufficient thickness and strength to resist five times the pressure put on them day by day. The stomach in a healthy man has usually the power of digesting twice or thrice the amount of food really needed for nourishing the body. Woe betide the diners-out, if it stopped short just at the point when enough for Nature's wants had been digested! This principle of having a reserve of spare power beyond the ordinary daily needs, only to be called into operation on rare and special occasions, is Nature's principle throughout the whole region of life. She scatters seeds by the million where thousands only can grow.
There is a law of Nature, too, that lies at the very root of the principles I am going to advocate to-night. It is this, that every living being has from its birth a limit of growth and development in all directions beyond which it can not possibly go by any amount of forcing. Man can not add one cubit to his stature. The blacksmith's arm can not grow beyond a certain limit. The cricketer's quickness can not be increased beyond this inexorable point. The thinker's effort can not extend further than this fixed limit of brain-power in each man. This limit is fixed at different points in each man in regard to his various powers, but there is a limit beyond which you can not go in any direction in each faculty and organ.
The capacity for being educated or developed in youth, the receptive capacity of each brain, is definitely fixed as to each brain of each young man and woman.
Then the important laws of hereditary transmission of weaknesses and peculiarities and strong points must be studied and kept in mind, so far as we know them, by the educator of youth. To hear some persons talk, you would imagine that every youth and maid had a constitution as free from faults and weak points, and as little liable to go wrong, as a forty-shilling watch. Nothing is more certain than that every man and woman is like their progenitors in the main. It takes generations for new conditions of life to eradicate hereditary peculiarities, and then they are always tending to come back. These hereditary peculiarities in youth are mostly not seen as actualities that can be pointed out and proved to exist by any outward signs. They exist as potentialities only, and come out as actual measurable and ascertainable facts at certain ages, or under certain conditions. A young man who inherits gout strongly may for the first five-and-twenty years of his life be absolutely free from any trace of the disease. Yet we are warranted in inferring that something is there which must be taken into account in the diet and conditions of life, if we wish to contract and eradicate the tendency. Many nervous diseases and conditions are the most hereditary of all, and we have good reason to think that, in those subject to them, the conditions of life, and the treatment to which the brain and the rest of the nervous system are subjected during the period of the building of the constitution that is, during adolescence from thirteen to twenty-five—are of the highest importance in hastening and accentuating, or retarding and lessening, those nervous peculiarities. The problems of the hereditary transmission of qualities and tendencies to disease are some of the most wonderful in nature, and they are as yet by no means clearly elucidated. Many of them, as yet, can not be brought under any law. In our present state of physiological knowledge, it is, for instance, a quite inconceivable thing what takes place when we have two generations of perfectly healthy persons intervening between an insane great-grandmother and an insane great-grandchild. The grandparent and the parent carried something in their constitutions which was never appreciable to us at all. Yet it was there just as certainly as if it had broken out as a disease. It is one of the future problems of physiology and medicine to deduce the exact laws of heredity in living beings, and to counteract the evil hereditary tendencies through conditions of life. To do the latter we shall undoubtedly have to begin early in life, and we shall have to control the education especially, and make it conformable to Nature's indications, laws, and conditions.
Another law of living beings to be kept in mind is this: There is a certain general energy in the organism which may be used in many directions, and may take different forms, such as for growth, nutrition, muscular force, thinking, feeling, or acquiring knowledge, according as it is called out or needed. But its total amount is strictly limited, and if it is used to do one thing, then it is not available for another. If you use the force of your steam-engine for generating electricity, you can not have it for sawing your wood. If you have the vital energy doing the work of building the bones and muscles and brain during the year that a girl grows two inches in height, and gains a stone in weight, you can not have it that year for the acquisition of knowledge and for study. If by undue pressure you do call up and use for education the energy that ought to go toward growth and strengthening the body, you produce a small and unhealthy specimen of humanity, just like those plants which have had their flowers unduly forced, and are deficient in bulk and hardiness, and will not produce seed. Nature disposes of her energies in a human being in due proportion to the wants of each organ and faculty. There is a natural and harmonious relation which each bears to the other. This relation is different in different persons, and at different periods of life. The plowman takes up most of his energy in muscular effort and in the repair of waste muscle, and he has little left for thinking. The student uses his up in the mental effort of his brain, and has little left for heavy muscular work. No doubt Nature is sometimes prodigal of energy, and provides enough for the high-pressure working of both the brain and the muscles in some cases. But this is not the rule, and should not be assumed as applicable to many persons. At the different periods of life Nature uses up her available energy in different ways. She allocates it in babyhood chiefly to body-growth, in early girlhood partly to growth and partly to brain development; in adolescence, the period of which I am to speak chiefly to-night, her effort is evidently to complete the building up of the structures everywhere, to bring to full development the various functions, to strengthen and harmonize the whole body and the brain, so that they shall be able to produce, and do in the succeeding years of full maturity all that they are capable of. It is certainly not a period of production, but of acquisition. If the original constitution derived from ancestry has been good, if the conditions of life in childhood have been favorable, if the education has been of the right kind, developing the whole being in all her faculties equally and harmoniously after Nature's plan, and if the period of adolescence has crowned and completed every organ and every faculty, no faculty being unduly called on to the impoverishment of the others, then we expect, and indeed must have, a woman in health, which means happiness, with the full capacity for work, for production, and for resisting hurtful influences, and for living her allotted time. But this can only result from a harmonious and healthy development, which we may take as the physician's word to denote education in his sense. It can only result from regarding the woman as a unit, body and mind inseparable; it can only result from the educator's efforts being on the lines of Nature's facts, and Nature's harmonies, and Nature's laws.
Another fact in regard to the vital energies and forces of the human body is this: That you may use up by an undue push and pressure at one time of life the power that ought to have been spread out over long periods. We see this daily in men who have had trying or or excited lives and occupations. Some of them wear out soon, and grow old soon, and are old men with no energy or vitality left at fifty. What you put into one period of life you want at another. If with ten tons of coal in the tender you keep your locomotive running at sixty miles an hour for the first two hours, you do not expect it to do this for long. Each period of life has its peculiar forces and energies in which it is specially rich. In adolescence the strong points, mental and bodily, are very marked. I shall specially allude to them by-and-by. It is sufficient to say here that they are not thinking or intense repression of all the general energies so as to concentrate them in mental work. This may be done, but the question is, Is it well to do it? Does it make life more complete and happy to do so, looking at life as a whole? A physician, like a philosopher, must look on life from the cradle to the grave, not on one portion of it only, as the educationalist is perforce obliged to do, having nothing to do with it afterward. Like many architects and contractors building our houses for us, they turn out an article finished up to the standard of the time, and then hand it over to you. They never see it again. Its future does not concern them much. I have often proposed that your architect and contractor should be bound to come and look at your house every five years for the first twenty, and should get certain deferred payments at these periods according as the work is standing, and no defects developing. So I would have the educator's reputation depend, not on what he has turned out at twenty-one, but on the result at forty or fifty or sixty. Education is a preparation for the work of life, not a thing that is good in itself. If it has helped life to be healthy, happy, successful, and long, then it has been good; if in any degree it has caused disease, unhappiness, non-success, then it has been bad.
There is another vital fact in the constitution of human nature that needs to be taken into account—at least I for one believe it to be a fact. It is this, that one generation may, by living at high pressure, or under specially unfavorable conditions, exhaust and use up more than its share of energy. That is, it may draw a bill on posterity, and transmit to the next generation not enough to pay it. I believe many of us are now having the benefit of the calm, unexciting, lazy lives of our forefathers of the last generation. They stored up energy for us; now we are using it. The question is, Can we begin at adolescence, work at high pressure, keep this up during our lives (which in that case will be on an average rather short), and yet transmit to our posterity enough vital energy for their needs? How often it has happened, in the history of the world, that people who for generations have exhibited no special energy, blaze out in tremendous bursts of national greatness for a time, and then almost die out! The Tartars under Genghis Khan, the Turks when they overawed Europe, the Arabs when they conquered Spain, are examples. We must take care that this does not happen to us. How often we see a quiet country family, that has for generations led quiet, humdrum lives, suddenly produce one or two great men, and then relapse into greater obscurity than before, or become degenerate and die out altogether!
Another fact in the body and mind history of human beings is this, that there are certain physiological eras or periods in life, each of which has a certain meaning. The chief of such eras are childhood, puberty, adolescence, maturity, the climacteric, and senility. We have to ascertain, What does Nature mean by these eras? What does it strive to attain to in each period? What are the ideal conditions of each? No one of these periods can be studied from a bodily point of view alone, or from a mental point of view alone. They must be regarded from the point of view of the whole living being, with all its powers and faculties, bodily and mental. Not only so, but in most cases the inherited weaknesses must be taken into account too. Those eras of life can not be fully understood looked at with reference to the individual. Their meaning is only seen when the social life, the ancestral life, and the life of the future race, are all taken into account. And this is what makes some proper attention to those eras so very important from the social as well as the physician's point of view. If they are not understood, and so are mismanaged, not only the individual suffers, but society and the race of the future. Particularly the era of adolescence is important, for it is the summer ripening time in the vital history. If the grain is poorly matured, it is not good for either eating or sowing.
Such is the physician's, or perhaps I should rather say the physiologist's, way of regarding a woman, her development, and her education. It is because we do not think the average parent and the professional educator in the technical sense always take this wide view, but that the professional enthusiasm of the latter takes account of, and tries to cultivate, one set of faculties only, viz., the mental; because we think the public mind is getting to regard as all-important in female education what we think is not so important, and so to take little account of what we regard as of supreme importance to the individual and to the race viz., the constitution and the health that I think that the physiological view of female education should be brought forward and presented to the public mind more frequently than is the case; while the bad results in after-life of disregarding Nature's laws, as these results come under the notice of the physician, should be strongly and clearly brought before the general mass of parents and educators. It is not a matter that concerns the physician and his immediate patient only. It concerns the whole of the people.
I shall now enter more into detail in illustration of the general principles I have mentioned, as applied to that period of the life of a young woman when the chief part of her education is going on. I am not going to speak much of the period of childhood, or up to the age of thirteen or so. Before that time it is no doubt important that education should be conducted on physiological principles, with due regard to the growth of the whole organism, and therefore without too many-hours of mental work, with plenty of play and rest, and in well-ventilated school-rooms. During the period of childhood few girls will overwork themselves. If it is done, it is by outside pressure, and any bad effects are usually temporary, and easily got over by a little rest, and a good holiday in the country.
The era of adolescence is one of the greatest importance from a bodily and mental point of view in young men and women, but especially in the latter. Bodily, the child eats, sleeps, grows, plays, and does what she is told. Life has no seriousness. Everything in the body and mind is inchoate and unformed. Nothing indicates permanence. There are great and constant muscular energy, noise, sound sleep, quick digestion. The delights of life consist in sweets and games, the imagination is shallow, the affections are instinctive, "character" is nascent; there is no morality in any correct sense, and no real religious sentiment. There is little liability to nervous diseases except those affecting the muscular system; there are no neuralgias, no liability to mental diseases, and most other diseases are sharp and soon over. It is very different with the girl when adolescence commences. Then bodily energies of a new kind begin to arise, vast tracts of brain quite unused before are brought into active exercise. The growth assumes a different direction and type, awkwardness of movement becomes possible, and on the other hand a grace never before attainable can be acquired. The bones begin to cohere and solidify at their ends, and the soft cartilage joinings to get firmer. The tastes for food and drink often change. Bread and butter and sweets no longer satisfy entirely. Stronger and more stimulating foods are craved. The carriage and walk change. The lines of beauty begin to develop. But the mental changes are even more striking. All that is specially characteristic of woman begins to appear; childish things are put away; dolls no longer give pleasure. For the first time distinct individual mental peculiarities show themselves. The effective portion of the mental nature begins to assume altogether new forms, and to acquire a new power. Literature and poetry begin to be understood in a vague way, and the latter often becomes a passion. The imagination becomes strengthened, and is directed into different channels from before. The sense of right and wrong and of duty becomes then more active. Morality in a real sense is possible. A sense of the seriousness and responsibility of life may be said then to awaken for the first time. The knowledge of good and evil is acquired. The religious instinct arises then for the first time in any power. Modesty and diffidence in certain circumstances are for the first time seen. The emotional nature acquires depth, and tenderness appears. The real events and possibilities of the future are reflected in vague and dream-like emotions and longings that have much bliss in them, but not a little too of seriousness and difficulty. The adolescent feels instinctively that she has now entered a new country, the face of which she does not know, but which may be full of good and happiness to her. The reasoning faculty acquires more backbone, but is as yet the slave of the instincts and the emotions. A conception of an ideal in anything is then attainable, and the ideal is very apt to take the place of the real. The relations and feelings toward the other sex utterly change, and the change makes its subject liable to tremendous emotional cataclysms, that may utterly overmaster the rest of the mental life. There is a subjective egoism, and often selfishness, tending toward objective dualism. There is resolute action from instinct, and there is a tendency to set at defiance calculation and reason. All those changes go hand in hand with bodily changes and bodily development. There is a direct action and interaction between body and mind, all through. Accompanying all these there are, when health is present, a constant ebullition of animal spirits, a joyous feeling, a pleasure in life for its own sake, and there is a craving for light and beauty in something. There should not only be enough energy in the body and mind to do work, but there should be some to spare for fun and frolic, which is just Nature's pleasant way of expending vital force that is not needed at the time for anything else.
For the origination, for the gradual evolution of all these mental changes into perfect womanhood, there are needed corresponding bodily developments. Without these we should have none of those marvelous mental and emotional phenomena properly evolved and developed. If the health is weak, the nutrition poor, the bodily functions disordered and imperfect, and the nervous force impaired, we are liable to have the whole feminine mental development arrested or distorted. If undue calls are made on the nervous force, or the mental power, or the bodily energies, the perfection of nature can not be attained, and womanhood is reached without the characteristic womanly qualities of mind or body. The fair ideal is distorted. The girl student who has concentrated all her force on cramming book knowledge, neglecting her bodily requirements; the girl betrothed who has been allowed to fall in love before her emotional nature was largely enough developed; and the girl drudge who has been exhausted with physical labor all alike are apt to suffer the effects of an inharmonious, and therefore an unhealthy, mental and bodily constitution. The body and the mind go in absolute unison, just as the blush on the maiden's cheek comes and goes with emotion, as the brightness and mobility of her features go with mental vivacity and happiness.
All those mental and bodily changes are not sudden, nor fully completed and brought to perfection at once; it takes on an average from ten to twelve years before they are fully completed. All that time they are going on, and during that time there is an immense strain on the constitution. All that time the whole organic nature is in a state of what we call instability: that is, it is liable to be upset in its working by slight causes. The calls on the inherent vital energy to carry on and to bring to the harmonious perfection of full womanhood all these combined bodily and mental qualities I have referred to, during these ten or twelve years, is very great indeed.
We physicians maintain that this period is one of momentous importance, and we have good reason to know this, for we are often called on to treat diseases that arise then, and, having originated then, have been fully matured afterward. The risks and the dangers to body and mind are then very great indeed. We count it a fearful risk to run, not merely that actual disease should be brought on, but that a girl capable of being developed into a healthy and happy woman, with a rounded feminine constitution after Nature's type the only type that secures happiness and satisfaction to a woman should by bad management, misdirected education, or bad conditions of life, grow into a distorted, unnatural, and therefore unhappy woman, who can not get out of the life that she has only to live once all that it is capable of yielding her. Like all the other physiological eras of life, that of adolescence only comes once. If the developing process, which is its chief characteristic, is not completed, then it is missed for life. Whatever is done then is final; whatever is left undone is also final. If a woman is not formed at twenty-five, the chances are she will never be so; if she is not healthy then, she probably will not be so. Who in his senses can deny that it is far better for nineteen women out of twenty to be healthy than to be intellectually well educated? No acquirements of knowledge can possibly make up for health in afterlife. There is an organic happiness that goes only with good health and a harmoniously constituted body and mind. Without that organic happiness life is not worth having. Cheerfulness is one of the best outward signs of this perfect health, and what woman has not missed her vocation in the world who is not cheerful? A general sense of well-being is the best conscious proof of perfect health. It underlies all enduring happiness. It means good and harmonious development of mind and body, properly working functions, and satisfied organic needs. Any method of education that impairs this must be bad and one-sided.
Here it may be necessary to correct a too common notion that the brain only subserves mental work. To hear the common expression "brain-work," one would imagine that muscular exercise, ordinary employments, and digestion, could go on without the brain's working at all. No idea could be more mistaken. The brain is a most complicated organ in structure and function, that regulates the working of every portion of the body, that has certain portions of it devoted to motion and feeling, and passion, and digestion, and body-growth, and nutrition, etc. It is the one organ that dominates all the others, regulating and harmonizing all their functions. If one side of it is injured during growth, the opposite side of the body is left stunted and partially paralyzed, as well as the mental power weakened. If undue calls are made on one part, the other portions suffer. Now this wondrous and as yet only partially known organ has grown most of its growth, in so far as mere bulk is concerned, by the time adolescence begins. But its higher qualities—its force, its power of producing varied energies—are then only nascent. They develop during this period. It is then that the brain needs plenty of rest in sleep, fresh air, pure blood, good, nourishing, non-stimulating food, and work that develops but does not exhaust. The mental portion of the brain is no doubt the highest, and undue calls on that portion exhaust more than any other part. As I said, only a certain amount of energy or work is possible by any amount of stimulation. The brain has most diversified functions, but it has also a solidarity of action. No part is sick without all the other parts suffering. No function is overtaxed without all the other functions being weakened. Overtaxing of the mental function is specially weakening. In mature life, after the body is fully developed, such an overtaxing can be repaired by rest. The injury is merely temporary. If a man overworks his brain in business or study, and gives himself too little sleep, and gets an attack of indigestion, it means that he has taken up the brain-energy that ought to have gone toward digestion in mental work. But he stops work, goes to the country, and his recuperated brain soon acquires force enough to stimulate the stomach to secrete its juices and do its work. But if in adolescence, before the bones are knit, and the growth completed, and the feminine nature far advanced toward perfection, if the brain that is in the process of doing all these things is year by year called on to exert its yet imperfect forces chiefly in acquiring book-knowledge by long hours of study, and in consequence the growth is stopped, the blood is thinned, the cheeks are pallid, the fat destroyed, the wondrous forces and faculties that I have spoken of are arrested before they attain completion, then, when the period of growth and development ceases, the damage is irreparable. There is no time or place of organic repentance provided by Nature for the sins of the schoolmaster. Life has to be faced with an imperfect organism, its work and duties done with impaired forces, and its chances of accidents met without a stock of reserve power. This is a poor lookout for the individual; but when motherhood comes, and sound minds in sound bodies have to be transmitted to posterity, how is it to be then with the future race? This aspect of the question of female education during the period of adolescence is of absolutely primary importance to the world. Yet it is wholly ignored in many systems of education. What is the use of culture, if it is all to end with the present generation? What a responsibility to transmit to future generations weak bodies and over-sensitive brains, liable to all sorts of nervous disease! Nothing can be more certain than that the qualities, good and bad, acquired in one generation are sent on to the next. The world may be all the better of a generation of healthy, ignorant, and happy mothers, who can produce stalwart, forceful sons and daughters (not that I wish this lecture to be an apology for health and ignorance), but the world must be worse for a system of stopping full and harmonious development in the mothers of the next generation. My plea is, that as Nature is harmonious in mental and bodily development, we should follow on her lines, and not set up an educational standard for ourselves that is one-sided, because it takes no proper account of the constitution of the body and brain at all, only considering one brain-function—the mental.
Along with these developments of mind and emotion during adolescence there are, unfortunately, too apt to develop hereditary weaknesses, especially of the nervous kind. Physicians then meet with hysteria, neuralgia, nervous exhaustion, insanity, etc., for the first time. As normal individualities of bodily form and mental character then arise, so abnormal developments arise too where they are inherited or brought on by unfavorable treatment. This law is found to prevail in human constitutions: if you give Nature a good chance by specially favorable conditions, and by counteractive measures early in life, she tends to eradicate evil hereditary tendencies, and to return to a healthy type, if the evil has not gone too far in the ancestry or in the individual. Unfortunately, there are very few families indeed, nowadays, free from tendencies to some hereditary disease or other. Our modern life tends to develop the brain and nervous system, and undue development means risk of disease always. What the profession of medicine specially desires to guard our population now against, is our becoming a nervous race. We want to have body as well as mind; otherwise we think that degeneration of the race is inevitable. And, therefore, we rather would err on the safe side, and keep the mental part of the human machine back a little, while we would encourage bulk, and fat, and bone, and muscular strength. We think this gives a greater chance of health and happiness to the individual, and infinitely more chance of permanence and improvement to the race. This applies to the female sex, we think, more than to the male. Man's chief work is more related to the present (from a physiological point of view), woman's chief work to the future of the world. Why should we spoil a good mother by making an ordinary grammarian?
It will be said, as an hereditary fact, that most great men have had mothers of strong minds. I believe this to be true, but it is not a fact that many great men have had what would now be called "highly-educated" mothers. On the contrary, very few such men have had such mothers. There were usually an innate force and a good development of mind and body in the mothers of such men, who usually had led quiet, uneventful, unexciting lives. I am inclined to believe that if the mothers of such men had been in adolescence worked in learning book-knowledge for eight or ten hours a day in a sitting posture; if they had been stimulated by competition all that time, and had ended at twenty-one by being first-prize women (as probably most of them had the power of being) if this had befallen them, then, I think, their sons would have been small and distorted men, instead of being the lights of the world.
One great argument for the "higher education" of women is that it makes them fitter companions for highly-educated men. This view should be looked at in the light of the ideal women that have been created in literature by men and women of genius. If genius has the instinct to discover the highest qualities, and to portray them for our instruction, we should get guidance here. Women have been painted by our poets, dramatists, and creative writers of fiction, by the thousand. Many persons would accept the ideals thus sketched for them as a surer guide than the labored deductions of the scientists. Men of genius ought to have known the kind of women whose companionship they liked, and whose influence on them was best. While they have had to create every kind of woman in peopling the ideal worlds they have made for us, it is certainly very remarkable that the ideal type of the very highly book-educated woman of the modern educationalist is scarcely met with at all. In "The Princess" of our poet-laureate the fancy can not be said to be a serious or imitable one. Though the sentiment of the "sweet girl-graduates with their golden hair" is this:
"Oh! lift your natures up,
Embrace our aims: work out your freedom, girls;
yet the poet paints the sweetness so as altogether to overpower the learnedness in the picture, and the Princess's ideal and purpose come to naught. And Lady Psyche's dream of likeness and equality is as far as ever from being realized:
Two heads in council, two beside the hearth,
Shakespeare's women are certainly not of the learned sort. Their years of adolescence were not taken up in getting book-knowledge exclusively. Their emotional nature was not dried up by the strain of intellectual work in youth. Their constitutions were not spoiled by study. They had fair faces, and womanly forms, and warm affections, and strong, impulsive passions, and mother-wit, and keen discernment, and most vigorous resolution, but nothing that we would call learning not one of them. Portia, who acted the most learned part of all Shakespeare's women, vehemently describes herself as
George Eliot has created for us a whole host of young women, all real, all true to nature. Herself a woman, and a genius of the highest order; penetrating, learned, accomplished, subtile, and with a power of discriminating language unequaled in our generation; a wife and mother too—she was the best-fitted woman of the age unquestionably to draw for us a picture of young womanhood, highly educated in knowledge, up to the educationalist's ideal. "Where do you find such a character in her writings? Dorothea in "Middlemarch" had exactly the makings of the successful omnivorous young female students of the present day; intellectual, conscientious, hyper-conscientious—as such young women so often are to their cost—"studious, her mind was theoretic, and yearned after some lofty conceptions of the world. . . . She was enamored of intensity and greatness." She was self-sacrificing to a fault. She was often ardent, and not in the least self-admiring. Yet Dorothea is not highly educated in the modern sense. Perhaps a modern educationalist would say that that was the reason poor Dorothea made such a mess of it, and threw herself away first on a selfish, shallow old brute, thinking he was a hero, and then on the least interesting fellow in the book.
One of the finest studies of adolescence in the female sex, from the mental side, is Gwendolen Harleth, in "Daniel Deronda." The picture is worthy of study by all persons who take an interest in human nature. Gwendolen was neither good nor studious. She was idle in learning, and she was selfish. She had a vast amount of subjective egoism, tending toward objective dualism, resolute action from instinct, a setting at defiance of calculation and reason, yet acting most reasonably toward the end in view. She was full of sentimentality, of inchoate religious instinct, of a desire for notice. Yet she was undeniably a fine young woman, and is a type of a large mass of the young women whom our modern educationalists would like to set to work for eight hours a day, from the age of thirteen to twenty, acquiring book-learning. I confess I more agree with Hannah Flore's notion of education for such a girl: "I call education not that which smothers a woman with accomplishments, but that which tends to consolidate a firm and regular system of character, that which tends to form a friend, a companion, and a wife. I call education not that which is made up of shreds and patches, of useless arts, but that which inculcates principles, polishes taste, regulates temper, cultivates reason, subdues the passions, directs the feelings, habituates to reflection, and trains to self-denial—that which refers all actions, feelings, sentiments, tastes, and passions to the love and fear of God." If to this we add that which hardens the muscles, adds to the fat, quickens and makes graceful the movements, hardens the bones, softens the skin, enriches the blood, promotes but does not over-stimulate the bodily functions, quickens and makes accurate the observation, increases the sense of real beauty of all kinds, promotes the cheerfulness, and develops a sense of universal well-being, we should have, in my opinion, the principles on which an educational system should be founded.
George Eliot's Romola was in a sense a learned woman, brought up in the midst of books, and in the atmosphere of culture. Yet she took to love-making, marriage, self-denial, charity, and religion, and deserted her books the moment her duty in them was done. She had no innate love of book-learning; most of what she had acquired seemed to do her little good in her after-life. It was no guide to her in her difficulties, it was no solace to her in disappointments, it was no resource to her when everything else had failed. It had not taken hold of her nature, because it was not on the great lines on which her nature was constituted. She and her father were as much alike as a man and woman can be. Yet to him his books were an occupation and a delight which he loved, to her their study had been a self-denial all through.
We all know what Thackeray's women were, and yet he stands very high as a faithful student and expounder of human nature, as it exists.
When we look at the sort of women again that these great masters of the study of human character made their heroes fall down and worship, we certainly do not find that the schoolmaster had had much to do with the creation of their attractiveness. Hamlet and Ophelia, Adam Bede and Hetty, Deronda and Gwendolen, Lydgate and Rosamond, are the common types of men above the common mold taking to women of the unlearned if not quite uneducated type. The thoughtful and scientific Lydgate said about pretty, shallow Rosamond: "She is grace itself; she is perfectly lovely and accomplished; that is what a woman ought to be: she ought to produce the effect of exquisite music"; while he said about the stately, thoughtful Dorothea, "The society of such women was about as relaxing as going from your work to teach the second form, instead of reclining in a paradise, with sweet laughs for bird-notes and blue eyes for a heaven."
But it may be said all this was wrong, the result of yielding to unaided, unlearned Nature's lowest affinities, and that it turned out badly for those men. If they had mated suitably, the world would have been better, and they themselves would have been happier. But the physiologist will not readily believe that Nature's mental affinities can be wrong, any more than he can believe that the appetite is not on the whole the best guide as to the kind and amount of food that is good for us. When he finds in nature a marked masculine and feminine type of being, of body and of mind, marked enough from birth, but diverging widely from the beginning of the physiological era of adolescence, each type tending toward a different ideal, and attaining this at the end of that period; and, recognizing these facts of nature, he finds it most difficult to admit that the same type of education should prevail in this momentous era, or that the same standard and ideal of a completed education should be striven after for the two sexes. And, when he finds that the great geniuses of literature have created these types of young women as different from the masculine type as the Apollo Belvedere is unlike the Venus de’ Medici, he can not but become strongly persuaded that his deductions from physiological facts are true, and that they have been always instinctively recognized by the wisest of mankind. If it can be shown that the present tendency to over-educate the female sex in book-learning during adolescence, and the mental work, confinement, etc., that this implies tend to impair perfect health, to interfere with Nature's lines of feminine development, to exhaust energy that is needed for other purposes, and to diminish the chances of the permanence of the race, then it is time that the physiological view in regard to education were put in a plain way to the professional educator and to the parent.
- Lecture delivered at the Philosophical Institution of Edinburgh, November, 1882.