Page images

large a proportion of the girls of the country are to be found in school as of the boys. As much money is expended, and I am led to believe, from such information as I have been able to collect, more, for their training and accomplishment than for those of the boys. There are abundant opportunities for our young women between the time they leave school and that when they are married, to improve and cultivate themselves for the genial pursuits of literature; and yet, for the most part, what are the results? Fashion and folly. Can it be said with fairness that our young women have literary culture, artistic taste, or any of that refinement and elevation of manner, sentiment, and mind, which their advantages justify us in demanding of them? They are taught to read, but who of them reads well? Any one who has not had occasion to observe with special care the style of reading peculiar to our young ladies, would be astounded to discover how ungraceful, stammering and bungling it is in the majority of cases; and this, let it be remembered, after they have left school. I do not believe I exaggerate when I


that you can find half a dozen or half a score of creditable performers on the piano, for one who can read properly, and with the power of interpreting her author to the listener, among the graduates of our female academies and seminaries. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are annually spent



in this country for the purpose of giving our daughters instruction in music; and yet what does it amount to? A small number comparatively master the rudiments of the science; a smaller number yet are so far cultivated as to perform with taste and feeling, whilst the number of those who become thoroughly imbued with the love of the art and the appreciation of its principles and powers, is so small as absolutely to astound, one. After the lessons of the master have ceased, in many homes the piano is opened only upon state occasions. The immense responsibilities and engrossing cares of flirting banish the disposition for music. The young lady renounces art for arts. And when the husband is gained, a few evenings within the first year or two may be enlivened by an occasional strain; but the wail of the first infant silences the strings of the instrument, and the piano remains closed until our friend's daughter comes to take her place upon the stool. All girls of “ genteel families” are thus taught music; but where are the musicians ?

In this country, where books are preëminently cheap, and where they are to be found in every household of even moderate means, no young woman of the middle or wealthier classes can truly say that she is unable to form an acquaintance with the best authors. The poets, the essayists, the best novelists, are all within their reach. But do they read them?

A space of two or more years is by courtesy supposed to intervene between the damsel's leaving school and her entrance upon the duties of married life; yet how much substantial reading is done within one of those years? That some reading is done is evident, for the immense circulation of the magazines and flash literature plainly declares that there must be a demand where there is such a supply. But does it often enter into the brains of the maidens, that Gibbon, Hume, Robertson ; that Guizot, Bancroft, Prescott, Grote and Niebuhr are fit reading for them ? They assure you that history is flat, stale, unprofitable; that for their part they can get enough of it from the Waverley norrls. The inspired old masters of the lyre are too. stiff, antiquated, pedantic, for them; Moore's lyrics are more to their taste. They may languish in sentimental sympathy or glow with ardent passion over the pages of the author of Manfred, but they decline an invitation from the bard of Rydal Mount, to bear him company to the cool grottoes, the calm majestic scenes of Nature. Milton and Gray they parsed at school, and the acquaintance thus acquired serves them for the remainder of their life. Shakspeare-except in Bowdler's edition—is a book not fit to be in any lady's library. So our young ladies dawdle about the house until it is time to receive company or to pay visits ; after which they spin street yarn by the hank. Dinner and a nap prepare




them for the serious occupation of the evening—the entertainment of a certain number of young gentlemen who are dignified by the appellation of “beaux.” Thus the day is passed; and those who spend it in this fashion assure me with a seriousness that is really comical, that “they have no time to read.” Can it be denied that the toilet and the men are the two influences of absorbing interest to the mass of young American women between the ages of sixteen and twenty? Time enough is wasted by most of them before the looking-glass within five years, to bring them in to appreciative acquaintance with the best authors of ancient and modern times. Enough interest and animation are expended upon silly laughing at sillier jests, to put them into intimate intercourse with the masters of the Greek and Latin literatures. Enongh money is squandered in the United States, within every ten years, upon the musical education of young ladies who have no musical capacity, to place a select and excellent library of the best authors in nearly every household in the land. Let us suppose that one of our girls, leaving school, determines to devote two hours per day to reading, and that she resolutely perseveres for a twelvemonth. At the rate of thirty pages an hour --a moderate calculation—she will have carefully read at least Gibbon's, Robertson's, Prescott's, Bancroft's, and Macaulay's historical works; or, allowing for the greater speed with which light literature is read, she will have gone through the Waverley novels and the works of Irving and Cooper. 'It is a moderate computation to allow ten thousand pages of careful reading as the result from one hour a day. My young lady readers can multiply that amount by the number of hours they have for literary pursuits and ascertain for themselves what number of excellent and valuable books they can consume within a year.

One hour spent in writing an abstract for every two devoted to reading, will enable them to embody in an available form the fruits of their study, and at the same time cultivate a habit of composition. None can imagine but those who have tried the experiment, and reaped the reward, the agility and grace which the pen acquires from this kind of practice; and this is a mode of training and accomplishment within the easy

reach of five out of ten-shall I not say eight out of ten ?-of all the school-girls in the United States, and those who are leaving school. Let us have done then with the empty apology that after their school-days our young women have not time for literary cultivation.

Another serious obstacle besides those enumerated above is the scrappy style of reading too commonly adopted. We are so accustomed to paragraphs, stories, and review articles; we can so easily and cheaply acquire the material for superficial conversation in


« PreviousContinue »