Tuesday, 19 January 2016
10 October 1889 - 'Schoolgirl Troubles and How to Deal with Them' by Nanette Mason - Part 1 'Home-sick and Desponding'
Many a schoolgirl would give a good deal for one of the magic carpets of the fairy tale books, on which she would have but to sit and wish, and so go flying through the air to home again. And we can hardly wonder at it. To be turned out of the parental nest at an early age to pick up education at a boarding-school, surrounded by strange faces and governed by unfamiliar and unwelcome rules, is a heavy trial to a sensitive nature. Happy are the girls whose people live in large educational centres, and who need never experience homesickness, because they can find what is needed in the way of learning in the next street.
Annie is not one of that lucky number. After every holiday, when she returns to school, she weeps all the way to the train. Ethel, too, not only does the same, but lets her tears flow for days - last term it was a full fortnight - after her arrival. Winnie weeps when she gets a letter from home, and when she gets a letter that isn't from home, for no other reason than because it isn't, she weeps again. And when you speak about home, tears are in the eyes of all three; just as if they were grown-up people listening to the familiar strains of "Auld Lang Syne".
Some girls are more prone than others to home-sickness, much in the same way that some are more liable than their neighbours to attacks of measles and scarlet fever. A girl of resolute temper can hardly even realise what it means. When she leaves home there are tears in her eyes, maybe, but she brushes them away and calls in philosophy to fight against what she looks on as a weakness. It is like Eve leaving Paradise, "Some natural tears she dropped, but wiped them soon". Her grief never lasts beyond the first few miles, not that she does not love home, but because "what can't be cured must be endured", and it is her nature always to make the best of things. She is not without feeling, but she has learned early one of the most important lessons for our comfortable passage through the world, that "the art of life consists in not being overset by trifles".
Not a few girls, however, are naturally disposed to gloom, and when clouds come along they pay attention only to the dark side. One would think it was they whom the poet had in view when he wrote, "There's nought in this life sweet, if men were wise to see't, but only melancholy. Oh, sweetest melancholy". They are sometimes so in love with depression that to cheer them up looks like robbing them of their joy.
If a girl of this sort goes to school she is sure to do so with a heart overflowing with grief, and it is hard to feel much sympathy with her. She looks so like crying to indulge a caprice and to illustrate the old proverb that "It's no more pity to see a woman weep than to see a goose go barefoot". If you say to her, "Mary" - or whatever her name is - "why are you looking so glum?" she can give no reasonable reply. Some tears would move a stone to pity, but hers are not of that sort.
A girl, however, one has deep feeling for is the timid and retiring character, afraid of strangers and so shy perhaps as to be startled by the sound of her own voice, who goes to school like a girl driven into banishment. Her hankering after the home with which she is familiar, and the friends with whom she is intimate, mounts to the height of passion, and to be in exile and to have exchanged it, it may be, perfect liberty for constant restraint are felt by her as great afflictions.
She has not yet had the experience which shows that, whether we like it or not, separation is an incident which we must all learn to put up with. As we make our progress through the world, we find that life is made up of partings, and that we must steel our hearts to face what is inevitable.
Fortunately, the tears of youth do not as a rule last long, and in the first stages of existence the heart has a great capacity for getting over depressing events. For a day or two a girl may resemble the character in the story whose heart was so heavy that the chair broke down under her, but she quickly becomes volatile enough for anything. And curiously enough, she who has suffered from the greatest depressions of melancholy is often seen to rise afterwards to the greatest elevations of cheerfulness and mirth.
A good cry once in a while is not an entirely useless performance. It relieves the mind and only becomes foolish when indulged in to extravagance, and as if one were sent to school merely to conjugate the verb to weep.
There is an art of transforming all things - even trouble - into gold, and of making them the sources of no end of mental wealth and improvement. Home-sickness may be made a blessing if it teaches us to value aright the firesides we have left. We best see things as they really are by being removed from them, and a mother's tender care and the wise counsels of a father's are never appreciated half so much as when we are no longer sheltered by the roof under which we were born.
The rule is not infallible, but you may gain a good deal of information about a girl's home from the way in which she takes absence from it. No one is home-sick whose coming to school is a welcome relief from the irrational and uncomfortable life that prevails in some houses, where everything is at sixes and sevens, children being in the way of their parents, and parents in that of their children. It is the happy homes that send out more or less home-sick daughters.
There is this, at least, in common between us and cats, that we are disinclined to change our locality, and grow attached to a thousand and one little things for no other reason than that we happen to live amongst them. To remain constantly in one place is not, however, good for us. There is health in change, both mental and physical. "Home-keeping youth have ever homely wits," is a saying with a good deal of truth in it.
It is wholesome discipline to be thrown on one's own resources, and many a schoolgirl which she says good-bye to her people at the railway station, may be thankful at being forced to shift for herself. She may be nervous and diffident at first; but that wears off after a little, and the result is sometimes surprising. We have seen girls go off to school, for the first time, mere ciphers and intellectual jelly-fish and, after a year or two, there they were quite new creatures, with bright intellects and full of life and self-possession.
To go alone anywhere is not to be reckoned a hardship, loneliness being a condition of humanity of which our hermit spirits should try to make a wise and profitable use.
"Why should we faint and fear to live alone,
Since all alone, so heaven has willed, we die?
Not e'en the tenderest heart and next our own
Knows half the reasons why we smile and sigh."
A pleasant reflection that we are enduring separation for the sake of learning, and with a view to becoming a credit to all who are dear to us. There is a saying that women in all ages have taken more pains to adorn the outside than the inside of their heads; but in these days this truth is going out of date. The pursuit of learning, when followed up with diligence, does a great deal to prevent the feelings of home-sickness. The sovereign cure for grief of any kind is occupation. Melancholy is a nightmare; be busy about something, and it is already ended, for we cannot be sad and interested at the same time. The reason why many girls are home-sick is simply because they do not keep their eyes about them, and their attention at the proper time fixed on those lessons to learn which they were sent to school.
A great consolation in home-sickness is the thought of meeting our loved ones again, when we are sure to find that absence has made the heart grow fonder, and that home is dearer to it than ever. Meetings are made all the brighter because of partings, and of all innocent pleasures give us that of recounting to a fireside circle the experiences we have gained when separated from them. Time hurries fast when one keeps busy, and whilst to the melancholy idler a term appears an age, the industrious girl sees it go by with such rapidity that is quite a surprise when the end comes, and she finds herself free to fly off to her father's house, like a bird escaped out of a cage.