Page:Life of Octavia Hill as told in her letters.djvu/40

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twenty children, girls to whom they are teaching some decorative arts. The children played in the grounds; the young ladies (Miranda and Octavia) were with us at luncheon; and we had a great deal of talk about Mr. Ruskin, who is a friend of theirs. They described his eloquence as a speaker, his earnestness of manner, his changing countenance, even when he was silent, as though thoughts grave and gay were passing through his mind. It was plain to me that his strong intellect and bright fancy were having their true influence on these young persons, themselves highly gifted and altogether like-minded, eighteen and sixteen or thereabouts—sisters. I was astonished at the strength of intellect which they displayed. The talk of the elder one especially was, I think, more striking than that of any person of her age I ever knew. She reminded me of Corinne and other women of renown. What a pleasure it was to look at her fine face with the glow of enthusiasm upon it, and to wonder whether gifts like hers would not one day produce fruits which the world would value. Her description of the effect which the hearing of Beethoven's music on some late occasion had had upon her was an utterance of passionate feeling showing true poetic susceptibility.

"They are the granddaughters of Dr. Southwood Smith."

Towards the end of 1855 an important event took place, which led to Mrs. Hill's withdrawal from the Ladies' Guild. My father had been interested in Octavia's work for the Toy workers, and offered to take a Bible Class for them. The Theological Essays controversy was just then at burning point; and the ladies who had handed over the business part of the toy work, still considered that they had a right to interfere about the religious instruction of the children. These ladies were very Evangelical (as Evangelicalism went in those days) and they threatened to withdraw all pecuniary help and the support of the Ragged School Union, if my father was allowed to teach the girls. The managers of the business were so much alarmed at this threat that they asked my father to withdraw his offer. Mrs. Hill and her daughters were naturally very indignant at this; and Mrs. Hill's protests led to her losing