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THE GIRL GRADUATE.
Shades of fair maidens and matrons of “ye oldene tyme!" If you could once more come among us, and see the changes that have been wrought since your departure to the Land of the Immortals, would not your delicate cheeks flush, and your modest eyes look downward to the earth in very shame at the abasement of your sex? Abasement? What? In this magnificent, miserable, far-searching, much-losing nineteenth century, is there, can there, be such a thing as the abasement of womanhood? Not possible! Bear witness, oh, Platform Women, who stalk with manly stride across the boards, and give lectures on anatomy and indigestion! Bear witness, oh, triumphant Female Preachers of woman's rights, who, proudly donning the divided skirt, bid yelling defiance to the tyrant Man! Bear witness, ye strange apparitions, clad in Newmarket coats, masher collars, and deer-stalker hats, who swing your crutchheaded canes airily as you walk down Regent Street, leaving us in doubt as to whether you are men or women! Bear witness all to the progress of the age, marked gloriously by the emancipation of woman from the bonds of slavery! Especially let us admire the educational, high-pressure system which produces the Girl Graduate, the patient, hard-working, long-suffering creature in whom all the pretty vanities and fanciful follies of the feminine temperament have been crushed, and who has crammed into her delicate, over-taxed brain so much learning that she can often surprise and outrun in the race for knowledge the most patient male student. that ever consumed the midnight oil.
Greek, Latin, algebra, philosophy, logic, all these things she is supposed to have command of; she has passed her examinations with glowing honours, she has taken her degree, she has won her heart's desire, and she is, or thinks she is, on an equality with man. Often she knows little or nothing about the European languages in common use; but, no matter, she has Homer. Certes, to read the grand old Greek in his own tongue is a privilege not to be despised, but a couple of fresh roses in the Girl Graduate's cheeks would be a better poem than the Iliad. But the roses have paled and died long ago, the lustre of the eye is dimmed, the fine delicacy of the feminine wit is dulled, and while busied in endeavouring to master logic, the woman-student has lost her great gift of Nature:-instinct,—and she measures things by rule and plan, not by that wonderfully illogical way of reasoning, "I think so because I think so;" a surmise which, absurd as it may seem at first hearing,
has proved, in nine cases out of ten, to be correct, so really great are our natural instincts and presentiments, and so truly narrow is our logic.
I lately met a successful Girl Graduate, and melancholy indeed was the impression she made upon me. She had passed the examinations with the highest honours, and she was pointed out to me as a perfect marvel of knowledge, a walking encyclopædia of buried languages.
"How old is she?" I inquired.
Only twenty-four! I should have thought her at least forty. Pale and sallow, lanky and awkward, with straight hair cut short and put back from a high forehead on which there were already many wrinkles, she looked a plain, unhealthy woman; her shoulders had the student's stoop, and her movements were constrained and full of gaucherie. She was careless, almost slovenly, in her dress; but I mentally excused all this in her, feeling sure that her conversation would be brilliant enough to make amends for all her other shortcomings. But what was my surprise when I found that she had scarcely anything to say for herself. Her conversation consisted almost of monosyllables. There was little discussion concerning music going on around us, and after the ceremony of introduction and the first few words of greeting had passed between us, I asked
“Are you fond of music?”
The Girl Graduate looked at the carpet and nervously twiddled her thumbs. “Ye-es,” she replied at last, with hesitation. “At least--that is I don't mind it much."
“Ah, I suppose," I continued, "that you think no music equal to the rush and swing of Homer's Iliad?”
She stared vacantly at me, and seemed puzzled. Finally she gave me a pale smile and said half confidentially: "O, you mustn't think I care for Homer so much. Of course, when I went in' for classics, I had to read him a good deal, and so had the other girls, but I don't think any of us cared much about it. As long as we could get through it somehow and pass, the rest didn't matter.”
It was my turn to be puzzled now. I looked earnestly at the sallow young lady before me, and feeling a little curious as to the result of my next question, I said
“And what are you going to do, now that you have taken your degree?"
"Oh, I don't know; I am at home at present.”
“Yes," I said; “but are you going to adopt any profession? Are you going to teach, or start a school, or practise any particular calling?"
“Oh, I don't know.” (This with a deep sigh and a smothered yawn.) “You see, I am at home just now."
And no more information could I get from her. During the rest of the evening, which was a pleasant reunion of literary, musical, and artistic celebrities, she sat in a corner of the room, silent, inert, looking very tired and worn-out; and certainly, by her appearance, she seemed the least happy woman in the world. Later on, our hostess—a merry little lady, who was very well satisfied with her life of domestic cares and blissessaid to me
“I see you have been talking to the wonderful girlscholar. Do you know, she is one of eleven children, and her poor father and mother are working themselves almost to death to support their family. That is the eldest girl, who has just 'graduated,' and she cannot, or will not, help her mother in the least. She cannot mend her own clothes, she doesn't know how to darn a stocking, and she hasn't an idea of cookery or housekeeping --but she can read Homer!” And, with a shrewd nod, my hostess flitted away; "on hospitable thoughts intent,” leaving me to stroll through her large conservatory, where the fragrant blossoms suddenly began to talk to me in their own sweet way:
"If I,” said a pure white rose, leaning softly against my cheek to attract my attention—"if I were to try and make myself like the strong cedar-tree outside, which has battled against a thousand hurricanes, how strange and foolish I should be. I should die in the attempt;