Long ago, in the days of the fairies, it is told that girls were sometimes known to have the gift of healing by touch, and you may guess they were then much run after, and of great use among their friends. These days are gone, and that gift is now never heard of, but you, girls, have a power remaining quite as wonderful and every bit as serviceable. And what is that? Spiritual influence, young folks. Indeed, I am not sure but that the spiritual influence you may exercise, if you choose, is worth any number of the gifts of that age of sleeping beauties and enchanted castles.
Most of you - there are just a few sleepy heads excepted - are eager for power of some sort. You see that life is too serious an affair to be frittered away in doing nothing, and you don't want to be spoken about in the long run as having lived altogether in vain. Sensible girls! There is nothing like leaving one's mark, though it be but a little mark, on the world. Try, then, to have influence, for by it we may multiply ourselves to almost any extent, and have a hand in many another person's schemes and - not in a bad sense - a finger in many another person's pies.
"it is a fine subject," says Mary, "but of no practical account to me, for influence I have none." Don't you remember, Mary, how the wren said, as he dipped his beak into the lake, "Thou art lessened by this mouthful"? The wren, no doubt, expressed himself boastfully, but he spoke sound philosophy, for even the least has some power. You have relations and friends and acquaintances, so you have plenty of influence, and you could hardly be without it even if you went to play the hermit in a wood and live on crusts and watercresses.
The first field for the exercise of influence is certainly home. Never go out of your way but start with what lies nearest. There are most difficulties there, for it is much easier, as everyone knows, to appear a model worthy of imitation to people we meet, say, once a week, than to those who see us every hour of the day. But at home you should begin. Be good daughters and loving sisters, and the greater blessing will follow that influence for which you have leisure out of doors. How much a girl can do to make her father's house brighter and happier, and how sweet a transition it will be when she comes to supply sunshine to a house of her own! "You have ever been an angel to me," a poet said, when on his death-bed, to his wife. May many a one, girls, have as good reason some day for using the same words about you!
Be eager for opportunities both at home and abroad, but not too eager either, for we may become greedy of power just as we may of money. Keep within bounds in this as in everything, and indeed the sober joys of influence are enough to satisfy anyone.
The best influence lies in example. In real gentleness and a consistent life there is something very persuasive; never forget that. Be, then, as near perfection as you can.
But what am I saying? Whatever you may think about yourselves, my friends, perfect women, as perhaps I have told you before, do not run thirteen to the dozen. Indeed, someone say there are only two good women in the whole world, and of these one is dead and the other cannot be found. I only mention this calculation, however, as a curiosity, my own opinion being that it would be absurd to make a lower estimate than half a dozen good women at least to every good man.
If the best influence lies in example, the worst very often lies in advice. You think, Julia, this is a hit at you. Well, if the cap fits you, little one, wear it. Nobody likes being preached to, or to have even the best counsel administered for all the world as if it were a black draught. Do it gently if at all, just like my Nanette, who wrote the other day a letter of advice to her brother, and "I know you will not take it amiss," she added, "from your poor sister who loves you." Who could take it amiss when it was put in that way?
When you have influence, don't boast about it or encourage other people either to boast about it for you. A friend once told me he had overheard a girl's mother telling how her daughter could twist him round her little finger. "From that moment," said he, "the feat was impossible." His self-love got up in arms at the suggestion that he was not quite at free agent. So if any of you girls think yourselves born to rule the universe, or any single individuals in it, you had better keep the notion to yourselves.
Influence is not to be measured by the stir it makes in starting. Kisses, it is said, are not accompanied by so loud a report as cannon-balls, but they echo a great deal longer through the universe. Example, too, is a silent sort of speech, but it is far more powerful than if you kept your tongue wagging all day like a lambkin's tail.
Words, however, are not to be despised; the great thing is to take care to have them few and choose them well. Such was the case with one I remember, whose name the world never heard, and whose address, if she is still living, I do not know. All I am quite certain about is that by gentle words, united to a most perfect character, she acquired so great an influence over all her friends, that one of them said to me no later than yesterday, "As to my thoughts, I am not sure to whom they belong I know not whether they are hers or mine."