BETA

LVII.—THE LADY’S DILEMMA.


My son is going suddenly to countries far away,1
And I must get his shirts cut out, and made without delay,2
And get a set of stockings darned, and look to all his clothes,3
That everything may be complete and nice before he goes.4
Come here, Maria, instantly, and tell me if you know5
Of any needle-women here I could engage to sew6
There’s not a single day to spare, and therefore you may tell7
That I will pay them handsomely, if they will do it well.”8
Why, Ma’am, I’ve heard repeatedly, that not a woman here9
Can make a shirt with work that’s fit for gentlemen to wear ;10
I’m sure I don’t know where to ask, with any hope to find11
A person who can do the work according to your mind.”12
It can’t be quite so bad as that,—but bring my bonnet down,13
And I will go myself and make inquiry in the town.”14
The lady stopped before a house, and there upon a line15
Were children’s garments hanging out—trimmed round with crochet fine.16
Maria was mistaken, I thought she could not tell ;17
For people who do crochet-work, of course can sew as well.”18
The door was standing open, and there the lady spied19
The children’s bonnets gaily trimmed with bows and flowers beside ;20
But lying on the table, and hanging on the chairs,21
Were many other articles, that needed great repairs :22
The husband’s shirt was cobbled up, his stocking heels were out,23
And, with a flounced and dirty gown, were lying tossed about.24
The lady turned her quickly round, just saying with a sigh,25
If husbands drink, and women beg, I see the reason why.”26
The next house looked more fortunate, for there were daughters four,27
The youngest girl was ten or twelve, the others all were more.28
Oh, here’s a nest of workwomen,” the lady thought, and smiled ;29
And can you make a shirt ? ” she said, unto the youngest child,30
No, Ma’am,” replied the little girl, “ but I can crochet do ;31
And sisters they do broderie and knitting borders too.”32
But all your elder girls can work, I’m sure ? ” the lady said.33
The mother looked uneasily, and rather shook her head ! —34
Well, Ma’am, they can’t do work that’s fine, girls are not taught it now ;35
At school they have so many things to learn besides, you know.”36
But needlework should surely take the very foremost place ;37
To fail in that, must ever be a woman’s great disgrace.”38
Yes, Ma’am, indeed, that’s very true, ’ tis what I’ve always thought,39
And I can’t value many things my children have been taught.40
I’ve always kept my girls to school, to do a mother’s part,41
And sure enough, there’s many things which they can say by heart :42
They’ve lessons in the Grammar rules, and History, and Spheres,43
And such a power of learned words, I’m fit to stop my ears ;44
But still, I’m never quite content about this education,45
For all the girls get too genteel to fill a humble station :46
They get too proud for servant’s work, but few will learn to cook,47
And at a place of all-work now, they’re quite too grand to look.48
The ladies’ object is not this, I’m certain in the schools,49
Which makes me think, there may be something wrong about the rules.50
By my experience, I should say, a poor man’s child should read,51
Make out a bill, and write and spell, and sew right well indeed ;52
Should darn and stitch, work button-holes, and make and mend, you see ;53
But as to crochet, that may go to Jericho for me.54
Of course the maps, and other things, are useful in their place,55
But then to fail in needlework, that is a sore disgrace.”56
The mother cast a wistful eye upon her eldest there,57
Who wished a lady’s-maid to be, or else a milliner.58
A flush passed quickly o’er her cheek, a cloud was on her brow :59
Young girls,” she said, ‘were hard to keep from bad companions now.”60
The lady still pursued the search, and found, where’er she went,61
The power to make a finished shirt, a rare accomplishment.62
At last, she tried another house, that she had heard about,63
And here she found a “ hand ” indeed, a seamstress out and out ;64
But when she told her pressing need, she learned with great dismay,65
That needlework had been bespoke for many a coming day.66
I can assure you, Madam, I-refuse it with regret,67
But many hands would fail’ to do the work that I could get.68
Now ladies do not work themselves, and poor folks do not learn,69
find it is not difficult my livelihood to earn.70
I often wonder how it is, that such a thing could grow,71
That only Fancy needlework should be in fashion now ;72
Of course the gentry please themselves, but for a humble station,73
I think that needlework : stands first in women’s education,74
To make the most of everything, and in the neatest way,75
And earn an, honest shilling, too, against a rainy day.”76
The lady left the seamstress there, with many a sage reflection,77
To try the school, submitted to the Government Inspection ;78
The hum of youthful voices, and the glance of eager eyes,79
Gave hopeful expectation still, that they were growing wise.80
Her heart swelled with emotion, her eyes were filled with tears,81
To see these young ones gathering in a store for after years,82
To fit them for the toils and cares of working women’s lives,83
As skilful household servants, or as thrifty workmen’s wives,84
The school was then in classes of children great and small,85
The eldest stood before a map, that hung against the wall ;86
All eyes were fixed intently, as the pointer flew about,87
And darted here, and darted there, to point the places out ;88
And one might almost smile to see the lady’s great surprise,89
When children small repeated all the Principalities,90
The Duchies, and the Provinces, Danubian and French,91
In words almost as accurate as those we gain from Trench ;92
They told where all the rivers rise that feed the Mississippi,93
And where the famous sage was born, the husband of Xantippe.94
The lady said, “ This surely is an almost useless task.”95
The Inspector’s coming shortly, Ma’am—we don’t know what he’ll ask,96
And in the maps especially, we wish them to excel ;97
Lest when he makes report of us, we should not stand so well98
As other schools, and thus incur discouragement and blame,99
And bring a slur, it may be, on the Governess’s name.”100
The lady felt the reasoning, and turned her to a class101
That round a pupil-teacher had arranged itself to parse.102
She listened with astonishment, to hear grammarians young103
Anatomize the very roots of our fine English tongue ;104
They marshalled all the parts of Speechs and with no hesitation,105
Of every kind of Verb they showed Mood, Tense, and Conjugation.106
The lady felt her ignorance, and was afraid to show107
To those triumphant, eager eyes, how little ladies know ;108
So passed, to where another class was then in full display,109
And here again she almost felt inclined to run away.110
Such miracles in Rule of Three ! such mental calculation !111
Whilst Billions and Quintillions ran in easy numeration.112
But now at last she called to mind, the thing for which she came,113
And straight went to the Governess, her business there to name,114
Could she have half-a-dozen shirts made by the children there ?115
About her shirt work, she must say, she was particular.116
The mistress looked along the forms, to scan her workers o’er,117
But one might read upon her face, she knew they’d not the power.118
We’ve very few good workers now—our time is very full119
So many other things have been put foremost in the school120
And little interest is felt about the sewing too,121
Compared with many other things the children have to do !122
The learned Gentlemen who come, with College education,123
Of course consider needlework beneath their observation,124
But as we gain a grant of books, and money for tlie schools,125
It is our interest of course to carry out their rules.126
I wish that ladies competent were made Inspectors too,127
To give importance to the things that women ought to do ;128
We should not thon be posed to find young people who could sew ;129
’Tis nothing but encouragement that children want, you know.130
And were my own opinion asked, I certainly should say,131
The time that’s spent in needlework is never thrown away ;132
But ’ tis with that as other things, in order to excel,133
There must be time and practice both, before they do it well.”134
The lady looked at all the work, and sadly shook her head,135
She plainly saw that at the school her shirts could not be made,136
She went away—what next she did, I need not now relate,137
But I have heard it, as a fact, that from that very date,138
She reconciled her mind to what she had opposed before,139
That we must have machines to sew, now hands can sew no more.140