Life of Octavia Hill as told in her letters/Chapter 5

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The removal to 14, Nottingham Place was one of the great crises in Octavia’s life. The housing work, with which her name is specially connected, was organised in this new home; and here began the regular co-operation of the sisters in the educational work, which they felt to be so important in itself, and which, as will be seen from the letters, linked itself on so happily to the work among the poor tenants of the Marylebone courts.

On the other hand, this period was marked by special troubles; which, however, led to the formation of new friendships, and the strengthening of old. Thus the value of her friendship with Mr. William Shaen, which had been realised many years earlier, was yet more fully appreciated, in consequence of the difficulties connected with the purchase of Ruskin’s houses; and the help, then begun, continued throughout his life. Her friendship with Mrs. Nassau Senior, the sister of Mr. Thomas Hughes, was increased by the ability which she brought to bear in the arrangement of the accounts for the houses.[1] A time of great despondency and pain, during Octavia’s first visit to Italy, led her to appreciate the sympathy of her friend, Miss Mayo; and the rather dreary, commonplace life in the hydropathic establishment at Ben Rhydding, brought her in contact with Mr. Cockerell, who became one of her most helpful fellow-workers; while the need of assistance, caused by the turbulence of the children in the playground, made specially valuable the staunch fellow-work of Miss Harriet Harrison and her sister Emily.

Another friend, who came forward to help, when Octavia was obliged to go to Italy and Ben Rhydding on account of her health, was Mrs. Godwin, the sister-in-law of George MacDonald. The management of the houses had devolved on Emily, who found in Mrs. Godwin's firm and gentle influence the greatest assistance in those early difficult days in Freshwater Place. With regard to the housing problem, my wife gives the following account of the incident which first fixed Octavia's mind on the subject:

"When we went to Nottingham Place, Octavia arranged to have a weekly gathering in our kitchen, of the poor women whom we knew, to teach them to cut out and make clothes. One night, one of the women fainted; and we found out that she had been up all the previous night washing, while she rocked her baby's cradle with her foot. Next day, Octavia went to the woman's home, and found her living in a damp, unhealthy kitchen. Octavia was most anxious to help her to move into more healthy quarters, and spent a long time hunting for rooms; but could find none where the children would be taken. Then all she had heard as a child about the experiences of her grandfather, Dr. Southwood-Smith, in East London, and all she had known of the toy-workers' homes, rushed back on her mind; and she realised that even at her very doors there was the same great evil. With this in her mind, she went to take her drawings to Ruskin, not long after the death of his father. He was burdened by the responsibility of the fortune that he had just inherited, and told Octavia how puzzled he was as to the best use to make of it. She at once suggested the provision of better houses for the poor. He replied that he had not time to see to such things; but asked whether, if he supplied the capital for buying a tenement house, she could undertake the management. He should like to receive five per cent, on his capital ; not that he cared for the money ; but that, if the scheme were placed on a business footing, others might follow the example. Upon which, Octavia exclaimed, ' Who will ever hear of what I do ? ' Nevertheless, she admitted the justice of his criticism, and promised to use her best efforts to make the scheme a paying one ; and so actually began the work which was to spread so far.

"When Octavia was searching for a suitable house to turn into tenements for the poor,—she was most anxious to find one with a garden. We spent many days looking at empty houses, and seeing landlords and agents ; but, whenever the purpose for which the house was required was understood, difficulties were at once raised. At last, after one of these refusals, Octavia exclaimed, ' Where are the poor to live ? ' Upon which the agent replied coldly. ' I don't know ; but they must keep off the St. John's Wood Estate.' "

With regard to the school, which was to supply so many zealous and sympathetic helpers for Octavia's work, it will be noted that all of the four sisters had shown an early interest in education ; and while Octavia and Emily carried on the teaching at Nottingham Place, in which Florence afterwards shared, Miranda was managing a day school for the children of small tradesmen and artizans. The Nottingham Place school was originally intended only for a few children of intimate friends. But the growth of the numbers, and Octavia's additional work in the management of the houses, induced Miranda, in 1866, to give up her separate teaching, and to become the head of the Nottingham Place school.

As will be seen from one or more of the letters, Octavia was disposed to emphasise the difference between her stern ideas of discipline, and Miranda's gentle persuasiveness ; and, though this difference may have been exaggerated in Octavia's mind, something of the same feeling seems to be reflected in the accounts given by early pupils. On the other hand, that Octavia's readiness of resource and helpfulness in emergencies was specially impressed on the memories of the scholars, seems proved by an amusing story, which I remember hearing from one of the pupils. One night, some of the girls suddenly awoke to the impression that some intruder had come into the room. Whether the newcomer was a ghost or a burglar, they were, of course, uncertain. (I forget whether a chest of drawers or a towel-horse was the real offender.) But after trying all sorts of remedies, one girl cried out triumphantly, " I'll tell Miss Octavia " ; and this form of defiance seemed to restore the courage of the most timid.

But one would rather mention as the distinctive part in the management of the Nottingham Place school, not so much the differences of quality between any of the sisters as the way in which they all worked into each other's hands. Another old pupil, writing since Octavia's death, says, " I feel what a privilege I had in being one amongst you all—the little I do was first put into me in Nottingham Place days. I so admired you all, and the separate work you did."

Nor was Octavia's power over the young limited to those who were officially recognised as her pupils. Dr. Greville MacDonald, who has since made his mark in such different ways, writes :— " Miss Octavia Hill had an extraordinary influence upon me in my boyhood, though she could have known nothing of it. She was the first person who taught me how to learn, and how to love learning. In my youth, when I began to know a little of her social power and her personal sacrifice, she had more to do, I think, than even my father, in giving me a steadfast faith ; which, thanks to her heart and life, became established amidst the ruins of conflicting questions, and has ever grown in steadfastness."

But, besides the assistance which the school supplied in the development of Octavia's work among the poor, the home at Nottingham Place was connected in a more material way with the inhabitants of the Marylebone courts. The stables at the back of the house were turned into a room for the tenants' parties ; the rooms above were let to a blind man and his family in whom Octavia was much interested ; and, in order to prepare the place for habitation, Octavia and Miss Cons whitewashed and painted the rooms, and even glazed the windows. This practical knowledge of such work was a great help to her in carrying out the repairs of the houses, and training unskilled men, whom she wished to employ.

The rest of the development of this period may be gathered from the letters. There is one to Mrs. Shaen, dwelling on her difficulties with the playground ; and at first they were very great. When the ground was being enclosed, the wall was twice pulled down. And, when Octavia and Emily went into the court, they were pelted. At the time of the opening, to which I and my father went, we were warned by a policeman that the court was too bad for us to go down. How great a change was wrought the following letters will show.

14, Nottingham Place, W.
December 13th, 1860.

Emily to Miranda.

We came here on Saturday ; and very delighted we are with our new quarters. Poor Ockey had such difficulty about getting the house, because of being a lady without property, and so young ; they thought it mere speculation. Mr. Maurice and Ruskin, who were her references, were so kind about it. Ruskin saw the landlord at the College about it ; and Ockey received a letter to the effect that Mr. Ruskin had borne testimony to her " energy and every estimable quality," and, if he and Mr. Maurice would, without giving a formal guarantee, say as much in writing as that they believed Ockey capable of managing the affair, it would be sufficient. These letters were written ; but, before they were both received, Miss Wodehouse had given a formal guarantee ; and 0. , to her delight, found that Mr. Shaen had arranged the matter. Was it not nice of Miss Wodehouse ? She heard from Miss J. B. of the difficulty, and said that she had perfect confidence in 0. and perfect confidence in the plan ; and she would give the guarantee in a minute. . . . We did not know till nine o'clock that morning that we were to move; so you may think what a bustle we were in. . . . Ockey is immensely busy, and quite in her element, buying things, and reading over schedules of fixtures, and examining the plans, and carpentering. We have not yet fixed what rooms we are to keep; it must depend on the lodgers. . . . We are close to the park; so the air is very good; and we are about ten minutes' walk from Queen's College. The back of the house is delightfully quiet, because it looks out on Marylebone church and schools. The rooks in your favourite tree are so near that we often hear them cawing.

The Pines,
Christmas Day, 1860.

Emily to Miranda

. . . Ockey came from Brighton yesterday. On Monday evening she proposes to start for Cumberland. She has to go up to town to-morrow, for Ruskin is going to attend to her work. She is much better than last week; and I never knew her sweeter. I can hardly bear her to leave the room, I have seen so little of her for so long, and I feel she is so soon going away.

14, Nottingham Place,
January 20th, 1861.

You need not be anxious about the house, everyone calculates to lose the first quarter. Ockey has all the money put aside for her first quarter's rent, in case we should not let. . . .

Is it not delightful that Ockey is so happy with Miss Harris ? She seems not able to express half her joy; her letters are full of such expressions as "Oh, I am so happy!" "Oh, it is so delicious!"—and she thinks she

shall go back there again and again.


January 1st, 1861.

To Miranda.

.... I am just going to Cumberland for three weeks. Think of the glory of that! To-morrow I am to see Ruskin about my work. We had a very delightful evening on my birthday ; you know he sent me "The Angel in the House" and "Faithful for Ever." Ruskin and I had a delightful long talk on the 5th about all sorts of things. . . . This bright, beautiful Christmas, with all its glorious thoughts, makes one hope that next year we shall all be together. Dearest Andy, you know I would not urge you lightly to leave a work you had undertaken ; but I do feel that we ought to be all together again. Life is too short and precious for us to spend much of it separate ; and we do want all our strength for work here. . . . It's a miserable fact that I never write to you except about business ; but I should have liked to tell you about our new home, with its wide stone stairs, and large, light, quiet rooms. I am looking forward to your return with great longing. . . . It's striking twelve, so I must not write more ; but, dearest Andy, I do wish you all good birthday wishes, and that this year may be brighter than any before it. Give darling Flo a kiss for me ; how delicious it will be to see her again !



May 18th, 1861.

To Miranda.[2]

... I wish, dear Mir., that you were having a holiday ; it seems really hard for you alone to be work- ing. I wonder when you will get some change and refreshment. ... I am grieved that Mama refused to go to Cromer ; I am really anxious about her getting away somehow this summer ; she seems to me to be living too monotonous a life ; so if you see anything she would like to do, pray encourage it, regardless of expense, and write and tell me about it at once. I don't consider it an open question whether, if it is in our power, we should send her anywhere she fancies going. And will you remember that often the only way to do this is to enter heart and soul into some pleasure with her?

Written from Derwent Bank (undated, 1861).

To Miranda.

.... How well I remember coming suddenly in upon you that last dreadful night, and finding you hard at work on my skirt (which, by the way, has met with unqualified admiration, darling), and how good you were in never opposing my coming. Well, I've had such a summer as I never shall forget. The unbroken peace of it, like one long unclouded day ! The merry home life, and exquisite redundance of the perpetual beauty. If I raise my eyes I see the mountains, perhaps crowned and veiled in lighted cloud ; if I walk round the garden, the long sprays of rose, or delicate green ferns, delight me ; if, in the night, or rather early dawn, I come into this room which adjoins mine, I see the moonlight lying over the river, field and hills, or the long cold level lake of mist lying in the valley, breaking under the first ray of the sun, and rising in wreathed pillars, covering the lowest end of the village of Broughton, as it rises, but never, I under- stand, rising as high as this house. Then we've read so ; the ignorant old thing is getting some glimmerings about history. I've left off walking again ; after the first fortnight I got more and more tired with it, but I persevered till the fever came, and have never resumed it ; but the terrace here is my continual haunt.


June 10th, 1861.

To Florence.

I want to tell you something of all I have seen and felt, because ... I fear you have had a sad house. I have been to Keswick. We spent several delicious days there, sitting up on lovely hills overlooking Derwent Water, with all its wooded islands, and the blue valleys that part ridge beyond ridge of mountains ; and rowing in the evening on the smooth water watching the sun set, and mists gathering on the mountains, gathering in intensity of colour, minute by minute ; or driving far over the mountain passes to Buttermere, and Crummock, and learning about ferns and flowers. Then we drove to a lovely little village called Eamont Bridge ; it is rich in historic memories. . . . We saw a large Druid circle called Mayborough (of which Turner has made a lovely picture). Then we went to Lord Brougham's place, Brougham Hall. It is an old building which belonged to his ancestors generations back. It is kept in the best possible taste ; there are fine old Norman rooms, with a well under one bed for supplying the castle in times of siege. There are beautiful pictures by Gainsborough, Reynolds, Holbein, a most interesting collection of portraits. Then we saw a grand old ruined castle. Then the village where the rebels were taken in the rebellion against George, in favour of Charles Edward. Mary's aunt, a dear old lady who lived at Eamont Bridge, was the child of a man whose father has written a most interesting letter giving an account of their capture. The Duke of Cumberland came to his house ; and Mrs. Mason's father, then a youth, was sent out to him to give him notice of an ambush. His mother hid in a wardrobe for fear.

We drove to the foot of Ullswater, and then rowed up it nine miles ; but it poured, which we thought fun.

Flimby, Maryport,

July 15, 1861.

To Emily.

I wrote a few words to you to All Saints, as I didn't like your birthday to pass without one word from me ; but now I write in answer to your dear little letter......

We are so happy here, sitting out on the beach. Bathing, reading, and going to church are, I believe, our only employments, for I am often very very weary. The children[3] are running wild, as they always do here, it seems ; so Mary and I sit in the sunlight in great peace. The children heard it was your birthday to-morrow; and, dear little things, they have come running in with their little treasures of seaweed and flowers begging me to send them ; several offers have been made of various things which it was impossible to send by post ; so I enclose lavender and heartsease, and some seaweed from them all, and my best love to you, darling. Shall I send the balance sheets to you in future, or will it be useless ? Does A. understand them? I speak of returning in September, because A. cannot do my work and hers too ; also because I thought I'd like to see you quietly before Sophy's return; but I don't want the report spread ; besides, it's quite uncertain whether I shall be well enough to return. Do tell me whether it could be anyhow easily arranged about the double work without me till October.

Derwent Bank,

August 15, 1861.

To Miranda.

I went all over a coal pit yesterday. It was very impressive. Of course the depth and darkness and lowness one expected ; but I had not realised the entire absence of all native life ; no rats or mice, or even insects. Of course there was no place for them to be ; but, were the pit forsaken, there would be none at all. At present there are a few weak flies seen ; and the rats are terrifically fierce, having so little food. When caught in a trap they are usually found with great pieces eaten out of them by their fellows. They are brought down sometimes in the bags brought with food for the horses, who live in darkness, but in such an equable temperature, and free from exposure to weather that they look quite thriving. Wood down there soon rots, and is soon covered with white lichen like wool, but exquisitely feathered. The large furnace, kept continually burning near the second shaft, to cause a perpetual draught, looked so living and bright, after the damp low dimly lighted passages. The height of these depends on the depth of the coal strata. They call the earth above it the roof. The safety of a mine, and the ease with which it is worked, much depends on the material of the roof. Here it is stone, which is nice and firm. The main roads are first cut out, from which five yards apart are the cuttings. When these are sufficiently worked, the spaces left between (called pillars) are taken out, and the roof supported with props, which soon give way, and the passages gradually are closed.

April 27th, 1862.

To Miss Baumartner.

Ruskin is coming to us on Wednesday. . . . There is something almost solemn in the intense joy. . . I can remember when he came to us when we were so very very poor, and home was like a little raft in a dark storm ; where the wonder every day was whether we could live thro' it ; and now the sea looks calm, even if there are waves ; and we have leisure to look at the little boat in which we sail, and wonder if it will ever be painted with bright colours. ... I remember too how once Ruskin's coming was like some strange joy ; any little accident might have removed him for ever from all connection with us. Now the silent work of years has bound us together in a sort of friendship, which, whether it leads to outward communication or not, years, and separation, and silences will not touch ; and this visit comes like the expression of a friendship naturally, and like a bit of a whole.

14, Nottingham Place,

August 31st, 1862.

To Mrs. Shaen.

I am in town now to take care of the young friends, who are to live with us. The work is extremely interesting to me ; all the girls have some special interest to me. Annie and Edith Harris from their relationship to my best friend ; I. from her position ; M. from her position, and for the sake of her family. Minnie's pupils, who are coming daily to be taught with the others, are the children of a widow who is working hard to educate them well to support themselves. They are dear, earnest, thoughtful, gentle, well-trained girls; so that the work will be very nice, and supplies an object now that the home is rather broken up.


To Gertrude (about starting the School).

As to needlework, it is one of my great desires to teach it to those children thoroughly, as well as all habits of neatness, punctuality, self-reliance, and such practical power and forethought as will make them helpful in their homes. I think they may be taught to delight in them. When lessons are over, I hope to read to them, while they work; or we will sing or talk together. If the children have time for study, work, walking, and play, I so much hope some of the elder ones will manage to spare some time for teaching quiet little children, either on Sunday or some other day. I think it would deepen their interest in their own studies so much; but I do mean to be so very careful not to overwork them. I may find that one cannot set them to teach without overstraining them.

14, Nottingham Place,
(undated). Probably August 1862.

To her Mother.

I believe that I really have not written to you since you left us, which certainly is very shameful behaviour on my part. ... A. is certainly infinitely better than she was, in mind and spirits, but just as foolish about overwork. It seems impossible to influence her about it. Annie and Edith are very fond of her ; and this is good, I think. She will often sing to them in the evening, and read aloud to us all. I hope gradually, by these sort of things, to get her interested in finishing work early, and undertaking no more ; but it is slow and difficult work. Her school is increasing, and her hope and delight in it too. You will easily imagine what a busy and merry household we are, with these young things laughing and playing like kittens. . . .

I take Annie and Edith to the Swimming Bath every week. . . . They are to join a gymnasium too, and always walk in the park. I hope we shall manage to keep, or rather make them well. I don't think they have strong constitutions. . . .

I am very glad that you are seeing so much that is beautiful and grand. It ' must be a great delight. . . . Now that teaching has fallen to my share, I regret very much my great ignorance. I want to work very hard at Latin. Minnie and I are thinking of trying whether Miss S., or some other good Christian, will read it with us. At present I work at it a little alone. . . . The Sintram is packed to go now. We miss it very much ; but I have had the St. Michael framed, and think of putting it there. I often reproach myself so much, dear Mama, now that you are gone, with the way I never entered into your plans for joy. I tried latterly to do it, even then feeling my mistakes, which I suppose will all come more clearly before me as years go on ; and perhaps it is no good dwelling too much on what is past recall. I wish this letter, or anything else I could do, would make you feel how entirely I rejoice with you in all you are seeing ; but perhaps you do know it partly. I am trying now to make the house- hold bright and sociable for all the children ; and I feel more every day that every right healthy joy is a little bit of true riches the end for which really all work is done. . . . Tell dear Flo. I will write next time, and assure her I remember all her directions about half hours after dinner very seriously and very tenderly, because they remind me of her. I hope she'll find my education improved on her return. Give her a kiss for me.

January 18th, 1863.

To Miss Baumgartner.

We are all reassembled for work after Xmas dispersion ; and my little troop occupy much of my time. We are all well, and busy. I am succeeding capitally. Ruskin, you know, perhaps, has gone, giving me the grandest drawing lesson, an hour and a half quite alone, thorough teaching ; and then it is so nice ; I do feel we are such thorough friends. He talks so quietly, so trustfully, so (I had almost written) reverently ; and then the thought made me laugh. But I think you'll know what I mean. He saw me again the next day at Burne-Jones's, introducing me to him and his wife ; and after a little time, asking to speak with me on business. We went into a quiet little room ; and, after business was over, had the most delicious talk. He asked me to write to him in Switzerland, saying that I was "the one" (and then with his accustomed accuracy correcting the statement to), "one of the few" people from whom he wished to hear ; and then once more he qualified it by saying, "You tell me just the things I wish to hear." All this, however, this quiet acknowledged friendship can hardly be described even in words, to me so precious, which expressed it, because it depended on the way, and slight accents and actions impossible to describe. So to come to more important things ; Ruskin was so delighted with the trumpet Fra Angelico, that I am to leave Turners and all else and devote myself to Fra Angelico and Orcagna, wherever I can find them ; also a little water-colour drawing won the remark that now I had "delicacy" of touch for anything. Nevertheless Ruskin's heart is with social things ; and I was earnestly charged to leave any drawing, if I saw what of help I could give anywhere, believing (which is not difficult) that in doing any good, I was fulfilling Ruskin's wish and will as much as in drawing. "Never argue that it is not my work," he said ; "I believe you have power among people, which I ought not to monopolise. I'm going away myself too ; so just look upon it that I leave you charged to do anything you may see good to be done ; only mind, Octavia ! one way there is in which you may both grieve and vex me, namely by hurting yourself. Don't be proud and foolish ; remember your strength is worth keeping. Rest for months or years, if you ought, but don't lose it." Rather a strange, rather a proud, a very thankful and glorious position,—isn't it, Emma ? It doesn't make much practical change. The social work is best done by the way. He didn't mean "help people with money," for he didn't leave me any. I meant to rest a good deal ; but the confidence and the freedom, if it is wanted,—these make a difference.

14, Nottingham Place, W.,

February 4th, 1863.

To Florence.

.... I only began my physiology yesterday, but have done a great deal since, and if Mrs. M. has the sense not to object to the children's learning it, I shall go on with it steadily, preparing a lesson for them each week, and so shall learn much myself. I think you would think all our little flock very much improved, if you could see them. . . .

.... You will have heard, I suppose, of our magnificent concert for the blind. It was one of the most splendid evenings of my life. . . . M.E. is so delightful a child to me. I can't tell you how I enjoy her. I often long for you, dear, with all your sympathy with people in general, and power of making children happy. You know I've a damping cool sort of way that just stabs all their enjoyment. I don't think I've any child nature left in me. However, it will injure them less, that what they all want is to grow up. I mean S. and I. and M.E. want qualities, that will fit them for early usefulness, developed.

July 25th, 1863.

Mrs. Hill to Miranda.

.... I think neither M. nor O. can have found time to tell you about their visit to Ruskin. He entertained them grandly at luncheon. They stayed two hours talking on all kinds of high subjects. It seems M. said some very pithy things, which delighted him extremely, and which he afterwards quoted. He spoke of O.'s painting powers very highly—he was all kindness. M. says he seems so impressed with O.'s greatness, and he told someone she was the best person he knew. .... He said to O., "I don't like to blame people for what they do, when they are mad with grief or terror ; but I must say it was cruel of you to tell me about A.'s illness ; I was very ill at the time ; and it threw me back." She answered, "I didn't think——" "You didn't think I should care. I care very much for her sake, and very much for yours." He asked a great deal about it, and when they spoke of how we nursed you, the tears came into his eyes.

July, 1863.

To Miss Baumgartner.

Miranda's life has been in imminent danger ; in fact, for some days the doctors gave us no hope. . . . You may imagine what the watching and nursing were. I can never tell ; so awfully is every incident of those long days and nights burnt into my memory. But there is one thing you can't know. The infinite, the wonderful, the universal sympathy and desire to help ; it was something triumphantly beautiful ; one felt it even at the worst, only it felt so very far away, so helpless. Mr. Maurice was here daily, often twice or thrice. He used to come, like a great tender angel of strength, so infinitely pitiful, saying and reading to us things never to be forgotten, answering Miranda's questions unconsciously asked, so that they answered those deep down in us, thinking no service too small for him to render, none too arduous, startling me to a sense of my own existence by some tender bit of thought for me. And Miss Sterling, I don't know what we should have done without her. When danger was gone but anxiety remained, I sank down to a state of miserable weakness and low spirits ; and she would come and take me out for drives. I couldn't stand or walk, so terribly fatiguing had the nursing been ; why, the simple feeding was enough. Miranda was fed every half hour, and Mama and I did very nearly everything. Ruskin sent most kindly. And then the little children, who stole about the house and spoke in whispers ; and my children, who did their work quite self-reliantly, and waited with gentlest service on us ; and poor old women who sent daily to ask, and teachers who offered all service to set us free, and friends who drove in to bring flowers and grapes, and servants who were like rocks of strength : there wasn't one person, who didn't show love and helpfulness far above what one could have dreamed or hoped.

July 25th, 1863.

To Miss Baumgartner.

Minnie and I had been at Ruskin's, talking for two hours about faith. It has left upon us both an impression of the deepest solemnity. Minnie says joy. Well yes, I say joy too. . . . I am sitting in the hush of an examination ; the children each at a separate table are deep in sums ; so strangely do the little things of this world blend themselves with the great, all these strange duties leading one on to the great thoughts and facts that lie below.

14, Nottingham Place,

September 1st, 1863.

To Emily from her Mother.

Dear Octa has just arrived. She has been so happy at Leicester. She says she never had such a fight to get away from any place. They were so happy together, those girls. Octa spirited them up to all kinds of things, made designs for L.'s carvings, inspired one of them to come up to town and go in for a Latin certificate at Queen's ; gave A. hints about village schools, etc.

November 29th, 1863.

To Miss Baumgartner.

We have all felt some time or other how much we owe to those who have consented to be served by us ; and I sometimes dream about the time that shall come when we shall try "to keep up the spirit of our poor," not by shutting up their hearts in cold dignified independence, but by giving them others to help, and thus rousing the deepest of all motives for self help, that which is the only foundation on which to build our services to others. How strangely then, when all confess mutual dependence, and glory in mutual service, will all our strange words sound about admiration for those who starve in silence ; as if that silent starvation were not the most awful protest against all who might have been near friends, who might have been noble Christian ministers. ... I have been thinking very much of the past, because of the sad news from Australia of my dear old playfellow Charlton Howitt. They sent me a copy of the Govt. Provincial Engineer, saying it should be sent to me as "one of dear Charlton's old old friends" ; and they all seem to bear it as calmly and faithfully as they were sure to do.

Offley Cottage, Luton, Beds.,

December 22nd, 1863.

To Miss Baumgartner.

It happens that Andy's school has moved to the very room which, in the first old days of London work, Mama took as a workroom, now twelve years ago,

I had not been to the room till the day of this party, and Andy had not remembered it.

And there I stood again after twelve years, with a deep sense of mighty love on all sides, to help me to do whatever I willed ; friends and sisters, pupils and servants watched and waited for sign and look that they might know what I wanted done ; and there was not one among the little pale faces lit up with unwonted joy, that I might not have committed to some strong friend to be cherished, if my own strength failed.

On the Sunday following I had eight young servants from different places, whom I have long known and watched, to go with me to receive the Communion, as we hope to do together each year.

As I came out, Mr. Hughes was waiting for me, asking, almost entreating, that one of us would teach his children. Finding that we really couldn't, he asked me to come to breakfast next day, and see Mrs. Hughes, to advise her about a governess.

They were extremely cordial and earnest, said that for years they had been longing to get us, but that Miss Sterling had always told them that we were too busy, which indeed is true. I was much touched by Mr. Hughes' grief about the children's hatred of lessons ; and finding that they wanted someone to take the children into the country for a month, till they could find a governess, I thought that I might take the work, and perhaps might get the little things through some difficulties, and so might make lessons pleasanter hereafter.

I gave my own pupils[4] three days' lessons. Minnie took the last three, after which they went in to the Cambridge Local Examinations. I came down here at three days' notice, and have succeeded beyond my brightest hopes.

Offley Cottage, Luton,

Christmas, 1863.

To Miranda.

Last night Mr. Hughes read some splendid Christmas thoughts about "Vie de Jesus" of Mr. Maurice's from "Macmillan." It was glorious. Mr. Hughes is cordiality and politeness itself, and does so like to talk about Co-operation. He speaks of Mr. Neale, but has not seen him lately.

December 31st, 1863.

I am very happy here, getting on capitally, especially with Mrs. Hughes, whom I like extremely. Mr. Hughes and I have very nice talks ; and he is so entirely kind and considerate. The children are most delighted with the history poems.[5] Will you tell Mama I kept the "Education" because Mrs. Hughes was so interested in it ; and I have read a bit to her each night after dinner, before Mr. Hughes joined us.

14, Nottingham Place,

February 18th, 1864.

To Miss Davies.

Re a petition to ask for the extension of University Exams, to


I am really ashamed to have troubled you to write twice about the signatures, which we are heartily glad to forward.

I meant to write and ask whether signatures of private governesses in private families were needed. I gather from your last note that they are. I will obtain any that I can on the other paper, and forward them to you, if I am not suddenly called from London. We are very anxious to learn the girls' fate; though we feel sure none of our pupils have passed. I suppose, in that case, we shall receive no notice. If there is any chance of a formal or informal examination next term, we should like to know; and every pupil shall pass. We shall know the standard, and have time to prepare, and shall send in those girls only who are just of the right age.

P.S.—I see you ask how I think the examinations told. I was extremely pleased with the effect on our pupils. I thought they were much invigorated by the examination; it interested them much; the intercourse with other students gave them a feeling of working with a large body of learners all over England, which was very good; and I think the examination tended to raise their standard somewhat—which, I regret to say, I think is not high.

These like all other examinations require careful and noble use; people must look beyond them, or they cannot look at them rightly. There are better things to be learnt than ever can come out in an examination. And to work for one is dangerous; learning, for the sake of learning and knowing, is the only legitimate course; but a standard, that will test our knowledge at last, is almost invaluable.

I hope to find these examinations quite consistent with real education of body, soul, and spirit. I would not give up an hour's rowing weekly, nor a single bit of reading to a blind old woman, nor any deeper study than would be tested in the examination, for the privilege of attending and passing; but I believe the intellectual stimulus will be most valuable, and need interfere with nothing; and I quite expect to send up our pupils regularly, if you are able to obtain the privilege for us. But there is a still greater value in these examinations. Some such plan must be adopted before the education of our girls will improve. It is next to impossible for ladies to know what their governesses know; there is no recognised system of examining pupils. I am sure the want is a very great one, and very generally felt. I have had very much to do with finding governesses for people; and I feel the difficulty myself keenly, so keenly that I would not myself undertake pupils here, until I had organised a plan by which their parents might see something of their progress. I provided each girl with a book, in which her answers to the examination questions, each half year, might be written; and then her parents can see her progress. But of course this plan is clumsy. The questions are given by the teachers, who must necessarily know where the pupils are likely to fail, and who examine, in fact, on their own course of instruction; and we want just such a standard as this offers. I write in haste, but hope you will be able to understand, though I have expressed myself so badly.

April 17th, 1864.

To Mrs. Shaen.

As to myself, I can only say that every year adds more and more to the number of blessings I have to be thankful for,—friends, and knowledge, or rather sight, and power, and hope, all increasing steadily; rich and poor, young and old, teachers and taught, forming so bright a band of friends round us here. I don't think anyone can be richer, and all our work opens before us calling for fresh energy and hope, while as I look back over the past years of those I love, as well as of mine, I see ever fresh proofs of a guiding love and wisdom. I am so happy!

March 11th, 1864.

To Miss Baumgartner.

Florence is coming back to us after the Easter holidays. Will you be interested to know that I have got to know Holman Hunt very well, through the Hughes's, to whom I often go now? Two of their children come to us to learn drawing, arithmetic, and Latin. I like Mr. Hughes more and more.

We heard Kingsley the other day, such a splendid sermon.

Mary Eliza passed the Cambridge Local Examination, though two years under the age, and with six weeks' preparation. I have my certificate (i.e. from Queen's College) signed, amongst others, by Stanley.

14, Nottingham Place,
Sunday, April 19th, 1864.

To Mrs. Shaen.

I have long been wanting to gather near us my friends among the poor, in some house arranged for their health and convenience, in fact a small private model lodging-house, where I may know everyone, and do something towards making their lives healthier and happier; and to my intense joy Ruskin has promised to help me to work the plan. You see he feels his father's property implies an additional duty to help to alleviate the misery around him; and he seems to trust us about this work. He writes, "Believe me, you will give me one of the greatest pleasures yet possible to me, by enabling me to be of use in this particular manner, and to these ends." So we are to collect materials, and form our plans more definitely; and tho' we shall begin very quietly, and I never wish the house to be very large, yet I see no end to what may grow out of it. Our present singing and work will, of course, be open to any of our tenants who like to come. We shall take the children out, and teach the girls; and many bright friendships, I hope, will grow up amongst us. The servants and children here are trained for the work and longing to co-operate. I saw Ruskin on Monday, and felt that the suggestion might be a blessing to him; so I wrote on Wednesday, and received the grand promise of help by return of post, showing how entirely it met his own wishes. So now we are deep in studying details of model lodging-houses, and are so very happy.

May 19th, 1864.

From Ruskin to Octavia.[6]

My Dear Octavia,

Yes, it will delight me to help you in this; but I should like to begin very quietly and temperately, and to go on gradually. My father's executors are old friends, and I don't want to discomfort them by lashing out suddenly into a number of plans,—in about three months from this time I shall know more precisely what I am about: meantime, get your ideas clear—and, believe me, you will give me one of the greatest pleasures yet possible to me, by enabling me to be of use in this particular manner, and to these ends.

Affectionately yours,
J. Ruskin.

Thank you for notes upon different people. I've got the plates for Miss B.

Received May 24th, 1864.

To Miss Baumgartner.

I write expecting your warm sympathy in a much beloved plan that now Ruskin promises to help me to carry out. We are to have a house near here (with a little ground to make a playground and drying ground), and this house is to be put to rights, for letting to my poor friends among the working-class women. We are to begin very quietly, and go on gradually; but I see such bright things that may (that almost must) grow out of it. I hope much from the power the association of several families will give us of teaching and help. The large circle of helpful friends around us will be invaluable. I am so happy that I can hardly walk on the ground.

Egerton House,
Beckenham, July 11th, 1864.

To her Mother.

I think you will be interested to hear that we went to West Wickham church yesterday. It is the loveliest village church I ever saw, I think, standing near an old castle-like house, and far from the village. Evidently, at some time the chaplain of the lord of the manor has been the clergyman; and the chapel has been an appendage to the great house. … We had not long sat down, when I saw Mr. Neale very near. His wife and two daughters were with him. He does not look one bit changed to me. … The service was very beautiful and set me thinking much about him, and his life, and its apparent failures and real successes. There was something very touching in the sight and thought of him. I had such a sense of his being looked upon by many people, if not as foolish, at least as having utterly failed. As if that unbounded, because entirely unselfish, generosity could fail to leave its impression on the world! His own retreat from all the people who would have reverenced his spirit seems, too, as if he himself had a sense of utter failure. I would give a great deal, if I could know what may, indirectly, or rather untraced, grow out of such work as his.

14, Nottingham Place,
December 11th, 1864.

To Miss Baumgartner.

The purchase of the house has been delayed by legal difficulties; but, at last, Ruskin has placed the whole affair in my hands; and when I am satisfied about the house, he will at once send me a cheque for the whole amount required. This enables me to employ our own lawyer,[7] who is, heart and soul, in the plan; but, since I saw Ruskin, I could not attend to the matter at all; for every moment of light time has been occupied by a drawing for the Society of Antiquaries; and the dark has been little enough for teaching, accounts, and all my various extra work. This drawing I should like you to see; it is a copy of the earliest dated portrait of an Englishman,—1446. It is of an ancestor of Lord Verulam; one of the Grimstones; such a quiet, stedfast face, looking out from under a perfectly black hat, with quiet thoughtful eyes, like a person who went slowly and steadily on his way, without either hurry or doubt. I should never have done, were I to tell you of all the importance attached to his shield and chain and necklace, and all the accessories of the picture; how the antiquaries glory in each detail, and understand Page:Life of Octavia Hill as told in her letters.djvu/238 Page:Life of Octavia Hill as told in her letters.djvu/239 Page:Life of Octavia Hill as told in her letters.djvu/240 Page:Life of Octavia Hill as told in her letters.djvu/241 Page:Life of Octavia Hill as told in her letters.djvu/242 Page:Life of Octavia Hill as told in her letters.djvu/243 Page:Life of Octavia Hill as told in her letters.djvu/244 Page:Life of Octavia Hill as told in her letters.djvu/245 Page:Life of Octavia Hill as told in her letters.djvu/246 Page:Life of Octavia Hill as told in her letters.djvu/247 Page:Life of Octavia Hill as told in her letters.djvu/248 Page:Life of Octavia Hill as told in her letters.djvu/249 Page:Life of Octavia Hill as told in her letters.djvu/250 Page:Life of Octavia Hill as told in her letters.djvu/251 Page:Life of Octavia Hill as told in her letters.djvu/252 Page:Life of Octavia Hill as told in her letters.djvu/253 Page:Life of Octavia Hill as told in her letters.djvu/254 Page:Life of Octavia Hill as told in her letters.djvu/255 Page:Life of Octavia Hill as told in her letters.djvu/256 Page:Life of Octavia Hill as told in her letters.djvu/257 Page:Life of Octavia Hill as told in her letters.djvu/258 Page:Life of Octavia Hill as told in her letters.djvu/259 Page:Life of Octavia Hill as told in her letters.djvu/260 Page:Life of Octavia Hill as told in her letters.djvu/261 Page:Life of Octavia Hill as told in her letters.djvu/262 Page:Life of Octavia Hill as told in her letters.djvu/263 Page:Life of Octavia Hill as told in her letters.djvu/264 Page:Life of Octavia Hill as told in her letters.djvu/265 Page:Life of Octavia Hill as told in her letters.djvu/266 looked so pretty—their untidiness only went for picturesqueness. They had cakes, biscuits and oranges ; but except one or two boys, the flowers interested them more than the cake. Florence played at trap with the boys and Mr. Smale.

Derwent Bank,

July 22nd, 1868.

Octavia to Miss Mayo.

The time of my leaving here draws sadly near and I have done so little—mostly weeding I think, and that is so interesting, it keeps me out of doors, not standing or walking and yet gives me something to do. It is quiet and nice and I like the smell of the earth and the soothing monotony of the movement and thought. We have not been reading anything of any depth or weight ; usually we do here, but somehow this time we have read scraps of things, and what I should call decidedly light reading. , "Scenes in Clerical Life," part of Chaucer, the "Story of Doom" (I am delighted with Laurence), a good deal of Browning, and a little of Thackeray.

Ben Rhydding, Leeds,

August 3rd, 1868.

To Miss Mayo. I want Dr. Macleod to let me leave, as I am so without definite illness now ; and it hardly seems right to stay here merely to gain strength ; but they won't even let me speak on the subject yet ; and nothing is so provoking as to leave things half done ; so I must let the matter be finally decided by them.

(Very warm expressions of admiration and gratitude for Dr. Macleod.) 2, Ashfield House, Harrogate, September 20th, 1868.

I came here on Wednesday to see Miss Harris, who has been seriously ill but is now rapidly gaining strength. . . .

I should like to have seen you while I am still in overflowing health and so merry ; it seems too bad to go to one's best friends always when one is broken.

(Description of Turner's Norham and Melrose.)

We are reading the Spanish Gipsy aloud. I wonder what you think of it. To me it seems full of wonderful passages expressive of fresh fact, and so exquisitely expressed that one longs to remember the exact words ; but the whole thing is disjointed ; the story improbable. I always find it impossible to believe people would have acted as she makes them. I suppose I am mistaken ; but I can never feel the things the least natural ; and yet I should find it hard to say on what ground I disbelieved them. To me the power of looking all round questions, and seeing how all view them, is not specially delightful, unless at the end there comes some deliberate or distinctive sense of reverence or sympathy with the most right. The perpetual suspense is painful to me. I feel as if I would say, " See as much, judge as mercifully, as you can ; but show just so much enthusiasm on one side or another, as would lead to action in real life." The other temperament seems always either weak and irresolute, or likely to lead to wrong action.

Now Browning, with all his dramatic power, and turning it upon such various (and often such low) people, has yet distinct love or scorn, has definite grasp of some positive good.

14, Nottingham Place,

October 4th, 1868.

To a Friend.

We three sisters have had a jolly meeting ; and we are anticipating the arrival of our dear pupils, Mama and Florence, to-morrow. Dear Alice Collingwood[8] has done wonders ; I never knew the business half so well managed when my sisters were away ; and she has been so happy in the work, and has learnt to know and care for the people so much.

Have you read Morris's "Jason"? I have been reading it for the second time. I am increasingly impressed by it. It is marvellous to me how any one can so throw himself into so noble a time without Christianity ; the hint of deeper meaning is so telling, and goes so home, because it is only suggested and kept subservient to the intense realism of the scenes and incidents. It is a book one believes from first to last. The accessories are described so beautifully ; it is true poetry.

I know it is very forlorn to depend for intellectual intercourse on books and absent people. But for you who have so many resources, I hope it is not quite so bad. At any rate, how you must be feeling yourself useful. Still I am sorry for you ; you seem somehow (all sensitive people do) to get so much more pain than pleasure out of your feeling. I wonder whether you are ill-balanced, and your bodies ought to be more vigorous to match your organisations ; or whether you are, as it were, martyrs, for us to love and look up to, and learn from and delight in ; but appointed, for some inscrutable reason, to bear a large share of the pain of the world—to be purified to a higher point than we, until the last sorrow shall be put under your feet.

Any way and every way, God bless and keep you.

14, Nottingham Place,

November 29th, 1868.

To Miss Baumgartner.

We are all assembled again, and very happy. We have a very large number of pupils, as many as we could take in ; but these are mainly under my sisters' care, who enjoy the work, and thrive in it. I only teach the girls a few things, and rejoice in their bright young life. I give a few drawing lessons, and am managing my dear houses, which are getting into such excellent order as to be a great joy, and but little painful care. I am drawing again at last, too, to my great delight, and am able to see a good deal of my friends, and to bind up all the links of knowledge of the details of their lives, broken by my illness and absence. So it is a quiet, beautiful, thankful, busy, but not oppressed, life.

14, Nottingham Place,

March 7th, 1869.

To Miss Harris.

My Dearest Mary,

I have had a most delightful week. The crowning day was last Sunday, when I dined at Ruskin's. It was exceedingly interesting. I had been determined to ask him a little about Greek mythology, literature and art ; and how, without knowledge of Greek, one might enter into some comprehension of all these ; for I have lived long enough to remember the passionate revolt of our then young thinkers against the dead formal worship of all that had its origin in Greece; and now I am interested to notice the men, leading from weight of earnestness, tho' educated in all the Gothic and Teuton sympathies, turning back to Greek thought, and even imagery, as if it contained nobler symbols of abiding truth than our northern legends. Yes, even to feel the influence of the Grecian wave myself. So we got into interesting talk. He told me that there was little translation of Greek which he knew or cared for; that he had done a little himself, which will be published with next Tuesday's lecture; that Homer, even translated by Pope, taught one a good deal; that some tales by Cox (do you know them?) were intensely good; but (as I was pleased to know that I had instinctively felt), Morris's Jason was the most helpful almost of all. He sketched for me most beautifully, a kind of plan of Greek mythology, saying that the deities who governed the elements were the primary ones; the earth the sustainer of man; the water governing the ebb and flow of his fortunes, the two fiery deities earthly and heavenly; and the goddess of the air the inspirer. He quoted curious parallel thoughts from the Bible; "the wind bloweth where it listeth." He told me some strange things, too, about Minerva giving men strength from winged beings, and once, when enduing Menelaus with courage to fight Paris, giving it from a mosquito; whereas most gods give them strength from quadrupeds that are strong. Round these central deities are grouped many minor ones; Mercury, the cloud-compeller, often represented as a shepherd, guides the footsteps of men in life and death.

I asked him how far Virgil was too Roman to be trusted. He seemed very much pleased to find that I Page:Life of Octavia Hill as told in her letters.djvu/272 Page:Life of Octavia Hill as told in her letters.djvu/273 Page:Life of Octavia Hill as told in her letters.djvu/274 Page:Life of Octavia Hill as told in her letters.djvu/275 Page:Life of Octavia Hill as told in her letters.djvu/276 Page:Life of Octavia Hill as told in her letters.djvu/277

  1. How difficult some of Octavia’s zealous workers found this problem may be gathered from the following story:—On one occasion she heard a stormy altercation going on between one of her collectors and a tenant, and found that the point at issue was whether the rent due was 6s. 11d. or 7s. all but a penny.
  2. After her return from Italy.
  3. Miss Harris's five nieces of whom she had charge.
  4. At Nottingham Place.
  5. Written by Miranda for her little pupils.
  6. First reference to the housing schemes.
  7. Mr. William Shaen.
  8. A former pupil.