Read PART I: CHAPTER XIII of The Home , free online book, by Fredrika Bremer, on ReadCentral.com.

A LITTLE EDUCATION AND COFFEE COMMITTEE.

As Elise entered Evelina’s room, Pyrrhus sprang, barking, towards her, and wagging his tail. Mrs. Gunilla was there, and she and the hostess emulated each other in welcoming their friend.

“Nay! best-beloved, that is charming!” exclaimed Mrs. Gunilla, embracing Elise cordially. “Now, how does the little lady? somewhat pale? somewhat out of spirits, I fancy? I will tell confidentially that I know we shall presently get some magnificent coffee, which will cheer up little Elise.”

Evelina took Elise’s hand, and looked kindly and sympathising at her with her calm sensible eyes. Pyrrhus touched her foot gently with his nose, in order to call her attention, and then seated himself on his hind legs before her, began growling, in order to express his sympathy also. Elise laughed, and she and Mrs. Gunilla vied with each other in caressing the little animal.

“Ah, let me sit down here and chat with you, where everything seems so kind,” said Elise, in reply to Evelina’s glance, which spoke such a kind “How do you do?” “Here all is so quiet and so comfortable. I do not know how you manage, Evelina, but it seems to me as if the air in your room were clearer than elsewhere; whenever I come to you it seems to me as if I entered a little temple of peace.”

“Yes, and so it seems to me,” said Mrs. Gunilla, cordially.

“Yes, thank God,” said Evelina, smiling gratefully, and with tears in her eyes; “here is peace!”

“And at our little lady’s, the young folks raise dust sometimes in the temper, as well as in the rooms. Is it not so?” said Mrs. Gunilla, with facetiousness. “Well, well,” added she, by way of consolation, “everything has its time, all dust will in time lay itself, only have patience.”

“Ah, teach me that best thing, Aunt,” said Elise, “for I am come here precisely with the hope of gaining some wisdom I need it so much. But where are your daughters to-day, Evelina?”

“They are gone to-day to one of their friends,” replied she, “to a little festival, which they have long anticipated with pleasure; and I also expect to have my share, from their relation of it to me.”

“Ah! teach me, Evelina,” said Elise, “how I can make my daughters as amiable, as good, and as happy, as your Laura and Karin. I confess that it is the anxiety for the bringing up of my daughters which ever makes me uneasy, and which lies so heavy on my heart this very day. I distrust my own ability my own artistical skill, rightly to form their minds rightly to unfold them.”

“Ah, education, education!” said Mrs. Gunilla, angrily; “people are everlastingly crying out now for education. One never can hear anything now but about education. In my youth I never heard talk and outcry for education, and yet, thank God, a man was a man in those days for all that. I confess that when I first heard this talk of education, I supposed that there would be two sorts, as of everything in the world. I thought so! But now, ever since lé tiers état have pushed themselves so much forward, have made so much of themselves, and have esteemed themselves as something exclusive in the world with their education now the whole world cries out, ‘educate! educate!’ Yes, indeed, they even tell us now that we should educate the maid-servants. I pray God to dispense with my living in the time when maid-servants are educated; I should have to wait myself on them, instead of their waiting on me. Yes, yes! things are going on towards that point at a pretty rate, that I can promise you! Already they read Frithiof and Axel; and before one is aware, one shall hear them talk of ‘husband and wife,’ and ’wife and husband;’ and that they fancy themselves ’to be vines, which must wither if they are not supported;’ and ‘sacrifices,’ and other such affecting things, until they become quite incapable of cleaning a room, or scouring a kettle. Yes, indeed, there would be pretty management in the world with all their education! It is a frenzy, a madness, with this education! It is horrible!”

The longer Mrs. Gunilla talked on this subject, the more she excited herself.

Elise and Evelina laughed heartily, and then declared that they themselves, as belonging to the tiers état, must take education, nay, even the education of maid-servants, under their protection.

“Ah,” said Mrs. Gunilla, impatiently, “you make all so artistical and entangled with your education; and you cram the heads of children full of such a many things, that they never get them quite straight all the days of their life. In my youth, people learned to speak ‘the language,’ as the French was then called, just sufficient to explain a motto; enough of drawing to copy a pattern, and music enough to play a contre danse if it were wanted; but they did not learn, as now, to gabble about everything in the world; but they learned to think, and if they knew less of art and splendour, why, they had the art to direct themselves, and to leave the world in peace!”

“But, your best Honour,” said Evelina, “education in its true meaning, as it is understood in our time, teaches us to take a clearer view of ourselves and of the world at large, so that we may more correctly understand our own allotted station, estimate more properly that of others, and, in consequence, that every one may be fitted for his own station, and contented therewith.”

“Yes, yes,” said Mrs. Gunilla, “all that may be very good, but ” But just then the coffee came in, with biscuits and gingerbread, which made an important diversion in the entertainment, which now took a livelier character. Mrs. Gunilla imparted to Elise, with jesting seriousness, a variety of good counsel on the education of her children. She sent for and recommended particularly a certain Orbis Pictus, which she herself had studied when a child, and which began with the words, “Come here, boy, and learn wisdom from my mouth,” and in which one could see clearly how the soul was fashioned, and how it looked. It looked like a pancake spread out on a table round and smooth, with all the five senses properly numbered. Mrs. Gunilla assured Elise, that if her children paid attention to this picture, it would certainly develop and fashion their ideas of the human soul. Furthermore, she proposed the same educational course as had been used with such distinguished success upon her deceased father and his brother, when they went to school, and which consisted in every boy being combed with a fine comb every Saturday, and well whipped, whilst an ounce of English salt was allowed per boy, in order to drive the bad spirits out of him. Beyond this, they had, too, on the same day, a diet of bread and beer, in which was a dumpling called “Grammatica,” so that the boys might be strengthened for the learning of the following week.

During the merriment which these anecdotes occasioned, the Judge came in: delighted with the merriment, and delighted with his wife, he seated himself beside her, quite covetous of an hour’s gossip with the ladies. Mrs. Gunilla served him up the human soul in the Orbis Pictus, and Elise instigated her still further to the relation of the purification of the boys. The Judge laughed at both from the bottom of his heart, and then the conversation turned again on the hard and disputable ground of education; all conceding, by general consent, the insufficiency of rules and methods to make it available.

Evelina laid great stress on the self-instruction of the teacher. “In the degree,” said she, “in which man developes in himself goodness, wisdom, and ability, he succeeds commonly in calling out these in children.”

All the little committee, without exception, gave their most lively approval; and Elise felt herself quite refreshed, quite strengthened by the words which showed her so clearly the path to her great object. She turned now, therefore, the conversation to Evelina’s own history and development. It was well known that her path through life had been an unusual one, and one of independence, and Elise wished now to know how she had attained to that serenity and refreshing quiet which characterised her whole being. Evelina blushed, and wished to turn the conversation from herself a subject which she least of all would speak about, and that probably because she was in harmony with herself but as the Judge with his earnest cordiality united in the wish of his wife and Mrs. Gunilla, that Evelina would relate to them some passages in the history of her life, she acceded, remarking only that what she had to relate was in no way extraordinary; and then, after she had bethought herself for a moment, she began, addressing herself more especially to Elise, and in the mean time Mrs. Gunilla hastily jotted down the narrative, which we will here designate

EVELINA’S HISTORY.

Have you ever been conscious, while listening to a beautiful piece of music, of a deep necessity, an indescribable longing, to find in your own soul, in your own life, a harmony like that which you perceived in the tune? if so, you have then an idea of the suffering and the release of my soul. I was yet a little child when, for the first time, I was seized upon by this longing, without at that time comprehending it. There was a little concert in the house of my parents; the harp, piano, horn, and clarionette, were played by four distinguished artists. In one part of the symphony the instruments united in an indescribably sweet and joyous melody, in the feeling of which my childish soul was seized upon by a strong delight, and at the same time by a deep melancholy. It seemed to me as if I had then an understanding of heaven, and I burst into tears. Ah! the meaning of these I have learned since then. Many such, and many far more painful, tears of longing, have fallen upon the dark web of my life.

To what shall I compare the picture of my youthful years? All that it, and many other such family pictures exhibit, is unclear, indefinite, in one word, blotted as it were in the formation. It resembled a dull autumn sky, with its grey, shapeless, intermingling cloud-masses; full of those features without precision, of those contours without meaning, of those shadows without depth, of those lights without clearness, which so essentially distinguish the work of a bungler from that of a true master.

My family belonged to the middle class, and we were especially well content to belong to this noble class; and as we lived from our rents, and had no rank in the state, we called ourselves, not without some self-satisfaction, people of condition. We exhibited a certain genteel indifference towards the haute volee in the citizen society, not only in words but sometimes also in action; yet, nevertheless, in secret we were extremely wounded or flattered by all those who came in contact with us from this circle; and not unfrequently too the family conversation turned, quite accidentally as it were, on the subject of its being ennobled on the plea of the important service which our father could render to the state in the House of Knights; and in the hearts of us young girls it excited a great pleasure when we were addressed as “my lady.” Beyond this agitation of the question nothing came.

The daughters of the house were taught that all pomp and pleasure of this world was only vanity, that nothing was important and worth striving after but virtue and inward worth; yet for all this, it so happened that their most lively interest and endeavours, and the warmest wishes of the hearts of all, were directed to wealth, rank, and worldly fortune of every kind. The daughters were taught that in all things the will of God must alone direct them; yet in every instance they were guided by the fear of man. They were taught that beauty was nothing, and of no value; yet they were often compelled to feel, and that painfully, in the paternal house, that they wore not handsome. They were allowed to cultivate some talents, and acquire some knowledge, but God forbid that they should ever become learned women; on which account they learned nothing thoroughly, though in many instances they pretended to knowledge, without possessing anything of its spirit, its nourishing strength, or its pure esteem-inspiring earnestness. But above all things they learned, and this only more and more profoundly the more their years increased, that marriage was the goal of their being; and in consequence (though this was never definitely inculcated in words, but by a secret, indescribable influence), to esteem the favour of men as the highest happiness, denying all the time that they thought so.

We were three sisters. As children, it was deeply impressed upon us that we must love one another; but in consequence of partiality on the side of our teachers, in consequence of praise and blame, rewards and punishments, which magnified little trifles into importance, envy and bitterness were early sown among the sisters. It was said of my eldest sister and myself, that we were greatly attached to each other; that we could not live asunder. We were cited as examples of sisterly love; and from constantly hearing this, we at last came to believe it. We were compared to the carriage-horses of the family; and we were in the habit, almost of our own accord, of seating ourselves every day after dinner on each side of our good father, who caressed us, and called us his carriage-horses. Yet, in fact, we did not pull together. My sister was more richly endowed by nature than I, and won favour more easily. Never did I envy a human being as I envied her, until in later years, and under altered circumstances, I learned to love her rightly, and to rejoice over her advantages.

We were not very rich, and we cast a philosophically compassionate glance upon all who were richer than we, who lived in a more liberal manner, had more splendid équipages, or who dressed themselves more elegantly. “What folly what pitiable vanity!” said we: “poor people, who know nothing better!” We never thought that our philosophy was somewhat akin to the fox and the grapes.

If we looked in this manner upon the advantages of the great, we despised still more the pleasures of the crowd. (We ought to be so all-sufficient for ourselves. Ah, alas!) And if ever a theatrical piece was much talked of and visited, we had a kind of pride in saying, with perfect indifference, that we never had seen it; and whenever there was a popular festival, and the crowd went towards Haga or the Park, it was quite as certain that our calesche if it went out at all would drive on the road to Sabbatsberg, or in some other direction equally deserted at the time; for all which, we prided ourselves on our philosophy. Yet with all this in our hearts we really never were happy.

The daughters came out into society. The parents wished to see them loved and wooed; the daughters wished it no less but they were not handsome were dressed without any pretension. The parents saw very little company; and the daughters remained sitting at balls, and were nearly unobserved at suppers. Yet from year to year they slid on with the stream.

The daughters approached to ripened youth. The parents evidently wished them married; they wished it likewise, which was only natural, especially as at home they were not happy; and it must be confessed that neither did they themselves do much to make it pleasant there. They were peevish and discontented no one knew exactly what to do or what she wanted; they groped about as if in a mist.

It is customary to hear unmarried ladies say that they are satisfied with their condition, and do not desire to change it. In this pretension there lies more truth than people in general believe, particularly when the lively feelings of early youth are past. I have often found it so; and above all, wherever the woman, either in one way or another, has created for herself an independent sphere of action, or has found in a comfortable home that freedom, and has enjoyed that pure happiness of life, which true friendship, true education, can give.

A young lady of my acquaintance made what was with justice called a great match, although love played but a subordinate part. As some one felicitated her on her happiness, she replied, quite calmly, “Oh, yes! it is very excellent to possess something of one’s own.” People smiled at her for her thus lightly esteeming what was universally regarded so great a good fortune; but her simple words, nevertheless, contain a great and universal truth. It is this “one’s own,” in the world, and in his sphere of action, which every man unavoidably requires if he would develop his own being, and win for himself independence and happiness, self-esteem, and the esteem of others. Even the nun has her own cell, where she can prepare herself in peace for heaven, and in which she possesses her true home. But in social life, the unmarried woman has often not even a little cell which she can call her own; she goes like a cloud of mist through life, and finds firm footing nowhere. Hence, therefore, are there often marriages the genuine children of necessity, which ought never to have taken place, and that deep longing after the deep quiet of the grave, which is experienced by so many. But there is no necessity for this, and in times, in which the middle classes are so much more enlightened, it becomes still less so; we need, indeed, only contemplate the masses of people who strive for a subsistence, the crowds of neglected and uncared-for children that grow up in the world, in order to see that whatever is one-sided in the view of the destination of woman vanishes more and more, and opens to her a freer sphere of action.

But I return to the pros and cons of my own life, one feature of which I must particularly mention. If young ladies of our acquaintance connected themselves by marriage with men who were rather above than below them in property or station, we considered it, without exception, reasonable and estimable. But if a man, whose connexions and prospects were similar to our own, looked round him for a wife in our house, we considered it great audacity, and treated it accordingly. We were secretly looking out for genteeler and richer individuals, who again, on their part, were looking out for genteeler and richer individuals than we. N. B. This looking-out in the great world is a very useful thing, both for gentlemen and ladies, although anybody who would be naïve enough to acknowledge as much, would not be greatly in favour either with those who looked-out or those who did not.

In the mean time, a spirit was developed within me, which full of living energy woke to the sense of its nonentity to a sense of the enslaving contradictions in which it moved, and to the most vehement desire to free itself from them. As yet, however, I did not understand what I was to do with my restless spirit. By contemplation, however, of noble works of art, it appeared to me frequently that the enigma of my inner self became clear to me. When I observed the antique vestal, so calm, so assured, and yet so gentle when I saw how she stood, self-possessed, firm, and serene I had a foretaste of the life which I needed, and sought after, both outwardly and inwardly, and I wept tears of melancholy longing.

Tortured by the distorted circumstances (many of which I have not mentioned) under which I moved in my own family connexion, I began, as years advanced, to come in contact with the world in a manner which, for a temper like mine, was particularly dangerous.

We have heard of the daughters of the Husgafvel family, who grew old yawning over the spinning-wheel and the weaving-stool; but, better so to grow old, yes, better a thousand times to grow grey over the spinning-wheel and the ashes of the cooking-stove, than with artificial flowers oh, how artificial! in the hair, on the benches of the ball-room, or the seat of the supper-room, smiling over the world, which smiles over us no longer. This was the case with me.

There are mild, unpretending beings, who bow themselves quietly under the yoke which they cannot break; move, year after year, through the social circle, without any other object than to fill a place there to ornament or to disfigure a wall. Peace to such patient souls! There, too, are joyous, fresh, ever youthful natures, who, even to old age, and under all circumstances, bring with them cheerfulness and new life into every circle in which they move. These belong to social life, and are its blessings. Many persons and it is beautiful that it should be so are of this description. I, however, belonged neither to the joyous and enlivening, nor yet to the patient and unpretending. On this account I began to shun social life, which occasioned in me, still more and more, a moral weariness; yet, nevertheless, I was driven into it, to avoid the disquiet and discomfort which I experienced at home. I was a labourer who concealed his desire for labour, who had buried his talent in the earth, as was the hereditary custom of the circle in which I lived.

The flower yields odour and delight to man, it nourishes the insect with its sweetness; the dewdrop gives strength to the leaf on which it falls. In the relationships in which I lived, I was less than the flower or the dewdrop; a being endowed with power and with an immortal soul! But I awoke at the right time to a consciousness of my position. I say at the right time, because there may be a time when it is too late. There is a time when, under the weight of long wearisome years, the human soul has become inflexible, and has no longer the power to raise itself from the slough into which it has sunk.

I felt how I was deteriorating; I felt clearly how the unemployed and uninterested life which I led, nourished day after day new weeds in the waste field of my soul. Curiosity, a desire for gossip, an inclination to malice and scandal, and an increasing irritability of temper, began to get possession of a mind which nature had endowed with too great a desire for action for it blamelessly to vegetate through a passive life as so many can. Ah! if people live without an object, they stand as it were on the outside of active life, which gives strength to the inward occupation, even if no noble endeavour or sweet friendship give that claim to daily life which makes it occasionally, at least, a joy to live; disquiet rages fiercely and tumultuously in the human breast, undermining health, temper, goodness, nay, even the quiet of conscience, and conjuring up all the spirits of darkness: so does the corroding rust eat into the steel-plate and deface its clear mirror with a tracery of disordered caricatures.

I once read these words of that many-sided thinker, Steffen: “He who has no employment to which he gives himself with true earnestness, which he does not love as much as himself and all men, has not discovered the true ground on which Christianity even here brings forth fruit. Such an occupation becomes a quiet and consecrated temple in all hours of affliction, into which the Saviour pours out his blessing; it unites us with all other men, so that we can sympathise in their feelings, and makes our actions and our wills administer to their wants; it teaches us rightly to weigh our own circumscribed condition and the worth of others. It is the true, firm, and fruit-bearing ground of real Christianity.”

These words came like a breath of air on glowing sparks. A light was kindled in my soul, and I knew now what I wanted, and what I ought to do. After I had well considered all this with myself, I spoke with my parents, and opened my whole heart to them. They were surprised, opposed me, and besought me to think better of it. I had foreseen this; but as I adhered firmly and decidedly to my wishes and my prayers, they surprised me by their kindness.

I was very fond of children; my plan was, therefore, to begin housekeeping for myself, and to undertake some work or occupation which should, by degrees, enable me to take two or three children, for whom I would provide, whom I would educate, and altogether adopt as my own. I was well persuaded that I needed many of the qualifications which make a good teacher; but I hoped that that new fountain of activity would, as it were, give to my whole being a new birth. My goodwill, my affection for children would, I believed, be helpful to make me a good guide to them; and thus, though I could not become a wife, I might yet enjoy the blessing of a mother.

“And why could you not why could you not?” interrupted Elise.

“People say,” returned Evelina, smiling, “that you had to make your selection of a husband from many adorers; you cannot then understand a case in which there should not even be one choice. But truly, indeed, that was my case. But do not look at me so amazed don’t look at me as if I were guilty of high treason. The truth is, sweet Elise, that I never had an opportunity to say either yes or no to a lover. With my sisters, who were much more agreeable and much more attractive than I, it was otherwise.”

But now I must return to that moment of my life when I released myself from every-day paths but, thank God! not with violence, not amid discontent; but with the blessing of those who had given me life, for which I now, for the first time, blessed them.

Touched by my steadfastness of purpose, and by the true goodwill which they had perceived in me, my parents determined God reward them for it! to bestow upon my desired domestic establishment the sum of money which they had put aside for my dowry, in case I married. Indeed, their and my sisters’ kindness made them find pleasure in arranging all for me in the best and most comfortable manner; and when I left the paternal roof for my own new home, it was with tears of real pain. Yet I had too clearly studied my own character and position to be undecided.

It was a day in April, my thirtieth birthday, when, accompanied by my own family, I went to take possession of my new, small, but pretty dwelling. Two young father-and-motherless girls, not quite without means, followed me to my new habitation. They were to become my children, I their mother.

I never shall forget the first morning of my waking in my new abode. At this very moment it is as if I saw how the day dawned in the chamber; how all the objects gradually assumed, as it seemed to me, an unaccustomed definiteness. From the near church ascended the morning hymn with its pleasant serious melody, which attuned the soul to harmonious peace. I rose early; I had to care for house and children. All was cheerful and festival-like in my soul; a sweet emotion penetrated me like the enlivening breeze of spring. Also without spring breathed. I saw the snow melt from the roofs, and fall down in glittering drops, yet never had I seen the morning light in them so clear as now. I saw the sparrows on the edge of the chimneys twittering to greet the morning sun. I saw without, people going joyfully about their employments: I saw the milk-woman going from door to door, and she seemed to me more cheerful than any milk-woman I had ever seen before; and the milk seemed to me whiter and more nutritious than common. It seemed to me as if I now saw the world for the first time. I fancied even myself to be altered as I looked in the glass; my eyes appeared to me larger; my whole appearance to have become better, and more important. In the chamber near me the children awoke the little immortals whom I was to conduct to eternal life. Yes, indeed, this was a beautiful morning! In it the world first beamed upon me, and at the same time my own inner world, and I became of worth and consequence in my own estimation.

The active yet quiet life which I led from this time forth, suited me perfectly well. From this time I became more thoroughly in harmony with myself, and altogether happier. The day was often wearisome, but then the evening rest was the sweeter, and the thought that I had passed a useful day refreshed my soul. The children gave me many cares, many troubles; but they gave likewise an interest to my life, and happiness to my heart, and all the while, in pleasure and want, in joy and sorrow, they became dearer and dearer to me. I cannot imagine that children can be dearer to their own mother than Laura and Karin are to me.

In this new position I also became a better daughter, a more tender sister than I had hitherto been; and I could now cheer the old age of my parents far more than if I had remained an inactive and superfluous person in their house. Now for the first time I had advantage of all that was good in my education. Amid lively activity, and with a distinct object in life, and in affectionate relationships, that which was vain and false fell gradually away from my disposition; and the knowledge which I had obtained, the truths which I had known, were productive in heart and deed since I had, so to say, struck root in life.

Evelina ceased. All had heard her with sympathy, but no one more than Ernst Frank. A new picture of life was opened to his view, and the truest sympathy expressed itself on his manly features. He suffered by this picture of so contracted a world, in so oppressive and gloomy a condition, and his thoughts already busied themselves with plans for breaking open doors, for opening windows in these premises, to free this oppressed and captive life.

“Ah, yes!” said Mrs. Gunilla, with a gentle sigh, “everybody here in this world has their difficult path, but if every one walks in the fear and admonition of the Lord, all arrive in the end at their home. Our Lord God helps us all!” And Mrs. Gunilla took a large pinch of snuff.

“Don’t forget the Orbis Pictus,” exclaimed she to Elise, who with her husband was preparing to go; “don’t forget it, and let the children be educated from it, that they may observe how the soul looks. He, he, he, he!”