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“A wise man will hear and will increase learning, and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels.”
THERE are so many topics which do not belong
to any of the general subjects hitherto spoken of, but which if omitted would make this work very incomplete, that a separate chapter must be devoted to them.
Some of these relate to the character and conduct of the governesses themselves, others to their position in society, and others to the means by which they can raise their temporal condition.
With regard to the first subject, there is a point on which many err; they do not feel sufficiently the importance of observing strict secrecy with regard to the affairs of the families in which they reside.
A physician once told the writer that it was once customary, before receiving the degree of M.D., to take what was called the hypocratic oath, which bound him never in any way to make use of information which he might obtain of family secrets, through the delirium of patients, or the necessary confessions which they made to him, in order to enable him to understand their cases, or in any other way which his profession should reveal to him. Now, should not a similar determination, though not enforced by the sanctity of an oath, be that of every governess when she enters a family? She must learn many things by living in the house, which she would never have known, but for that temporary connexion. She witnesses the tempers, and she discovers sometimes the estrangements amongst relations, and learns portions of their history, but she takes up the story in the midst of it-she knows nothing of the causes which have led to these conditions, nor is she in any way qualified to judge of the circumstances themselves. She has a very imperfect acquaintance with the things going on about her, and if she cannot shut her eyes or her ears to them, at all events she can be silent. Let her shrink from the base gossiping which would carry the tale beyond the doors of the house in which she resides. Yes, even to her dearest friend, there are things she ought never to reveal. Are there not, for instance, in families, painful inherited maladies, perhaps the saddest of all, mental aberration—which all desire to conceal from public observation, and the exposure of which may be be ruinous to the peace of whole families?
Instead of the knowledge of such facts being considered a sacred deposit, too many governesses relate them as means of gratifying the curiosity of others. An employer might listen for a time to such tales, but she would more probably recoil in disgust from the relation, or she would shrink
from being made the depositary of that which ought never to have been repeated to her, and she would despise the person who could commit so great a breach of propriety.
Many a young girl who, from mere ignorance of the forms of society, commits to such a governess tales of the family, or foolish secrets of her own, may thus be exposed to ridicule and disgrace, where a wise and judicious person would have pointed out to her the imprudence she was committing, and would have given her for life a lesson of practical wisdom. How many circumstances are now well known, which could never have been blazed abroad but for such agency.
This is another cause beyond those already named, which has created a dislike to governesses as a body, and caused a dread of treating them with that tone of friendliness which some have so ill requited. The good, as in all other situations in this life, have suffered for the evil.
Another cause of complaint is this, that those who have been accustomed to move in a narrow circle, form to themselves ideas of what people are, and must do, and be, in circles totally different from their own. Those who have always been obliged to observe strict economy, are apt to think others wasteful and extravagant, whose position in life not only enables, but obliges them to live in a style suitable to their rank. They forget, or their minds are not expansive enough to perceive, that the real good of society is promoted by this difference of degrees, and these means of encouraging arts and manufactures.
But the same governess may be transplanted from the family of an opulent merchant to that of a younger branch of the aristocracy. In the former position, she has seen a lack of nothing that can minister to luxury and indulgence. In the latter, if she observe habits of economy, she censures them as meanness, because she knows the rank of her employer, when probably the judgment she passes, condemns the very acts which are worthy of the highest praise, and the fruits of the most exalted principle. They are acts of self-denial, in order to enable those who practise them, more abundantly “to do good, and to communicate.” If we want to get an extensive view of a landscape, we must be not in a valley, but on a hill.
Another fault, proceeding from a similar cause, is the habit of remarking on the manners, dress, and appearance of the ladies by whom governesses are employed. The latter have formed to themselves notions, which, if disturbed by facts, they nevertheless cannot abandon. A lady of rank, they think, could never demean herself to do the same things as one in humbler life if she does, she steps out of her right position. They fancy that she must sit in state all day, and be haughty and distant in her demeanour; and if they find the reverse the case, they are ready to ascribe the unexpected humility to want of dignity, just as a child fancies that a bishop always wears a mitre, and a king or queen a crown. The same ignorance has also sometimes been shown in criticising not only the lady herself, but also her friends; and the impertinent remarks and censure to which they have been exposed, have been the cause of her exclusion from the drawing-room.
Now, if ladies of refinement have received such returns for their attempts to treat governesses with kindness, can we wonder at their looking suspiciously on them as a body, and expressing the fear that there is something in their very position which produces these effectsWe do not justify such a feeling, but only say that there is a strange tendency in human nature thus to generalize. “ All the men in Germany are red-haired, and all the women cross-eyed,” wrote a traveller when he had been a few days at an inn in that country; and in like manner a few painful specimens of teachers leads to a similar impression respecting the whole class. The over-anxiety of a mother should never be made a subject of ridicule and condemnation by her governess, though it may often weary and disturb her, to be constantly reminded of the extreme delicacy of one of her pupils, and the importance of not letting another study much, of the care she must bestow on the figure of a third, and the diet of a fourth. Nor should the interest shown in the progress of the children be deemed excessive, or the frequent inquiry resented, as to whether this or that study is sufficiently attended to. What would be thought of a mother who never troubled herself to look into these things