Compiled below are the notebook entries composed by Wilson, separated out from her collected texts (quotations are included only when followed by her comments). The few entries that contain dateable references or other sufficient grounds for chronological placement have been resequenced, with an accompanying note. Otherwise the original order has been preserved. This compilation aims to give readers a more direct experience of Wilson's voice as a writer, and to enable comparison with the record of self that emerges from the composite text of The Note Books.
The only dated entry in The Note Books was written prior to Wilson's employment at the agency.
One of the least responsible creatures on earth is the woman who has no child (through no fault of her own), no husband (because none sought her), no lover (because none came), no vote (because not legalized). The life has great freedom when you think of it. The man could marry (dozens of women will have him), the man has money (easy to earn it if started rightly), the man has power (as a rule), the man is responsible for the world as it is. So the woman can be an artist in living, she need not make history, she can watch.
And I think these irresponsibilities are part of her greatest dangers.
I cannot think any woman is happier than I am to-night. I have at last got work which means making my own home away from the business place. What care I that it is only thirty shillings a week, that my room will only be a bed- sitting room, that baths will be a luxury, that my food will be bread, eggs, and cheese? It is all going to be my own. I can change when it is too uncomfortable, and yet not lose my work. And if the work is lost I have, anyway while my savings last, a place in which I have the right to stay, to be able to move about without the criticism of other people.
I wish I knew if other women feel as I do. I don't think it is entirely the result of ten years earning my bread, sometimes with lots of butter, in other people's houses. I think I have always wanted alone-ness as a drunkard wants drink. How can I explain to these mothers, these employers of home-workers, that a room alone, a warmed one to which the employee can go, is a necessity?
I am now going to deal with employers, but I shall never make them understand, unless they have been the worker in another's home. It is a horrid thing to say of any one, but I can truthfully say that they are not intentionally unkind. They just do not know. They do not seem able to understand that their house, which to them is a lovely possession, is a prison to their workers. It need not be. But I suppose it would be changing human nature if we asked them to remember that part of the salary they pay, if it is resident work, is a home. And a home is a place where your needs are catered for — just a bit. But these mothers all think that to be in their house is heaven. They think it, even if unhappily married, so far as I can see. But the acid test is that no one willingly takes work in another's house. You can never be really at home in your employer's house. And if she is all the time thinking you are too well paid, have too much luxury, are not sufficiently busy, how much less of a home it is.
It was always the meal-times I hated most, and the few times I was ill for I had to prove I was ill.
I think now — now that I am released — of those three houses in which I worked for nearly ten years altogether, with some amount of amusement. They, my employers, were so blind to the real me. Perhaps the modern young thing — if she ever takes up such work — manages better, for, as I now realize, I ought to have thought it out more carefully, and have done anything else rather than allow such a life for myself. . . .
The first house was a vicarage. They got me very cheaply, and how I worked! I was so grateful for their attention. I thought they would be fond of me, but Mrs. Le Marchant did not care at all. I was young, and she did not find my manners too bad — though I expect I was very gauche — and if I could prepare Basil and Sylvia for their cheap clergy schools, that was all she wanted.
I see now how worried she was about expenses, but I also see how dishonestly she worked me. I do not remember ever having an hour to myself, except the conventional half-day on Sunday, and then she expected me to show up at their church, and I was too frightened at first not to do it.
And after bathing the children and putting their bedrooms and the nursery schoolroom to rights, how I hated those piles and piles of mending that I did by the light of an oil lamp in that cold schoolroom night after night. I was not allowed to put on more coal after six o'clock. I shiver now when I think of that room, and the ice-cold bedroom that I shared with Sylvia. I have hated the cold ever since. I never give myself adequate heat without a burst of gratitude that fate has at last allowed me to choose my own comforts rather than be obliged to take those based on the other woman's ideas.
I was too much afraid to suggest or to ask for anything for myself. What a fool I was. And all for the sake of forty pounds a year. The only battle I ever had with her was that my laundry should be paid for. I had not arranged for this, and began paying for it at the laundry which came for the heavy things not done at the vicarage. I fought her when I discovered that a good part of my income would go in these bills, and reluctantly she allowed the visiting laundry maid to do my things with the children's. But not before she told me that I ought by rights to relieve the laundry maid of some of the work, and do it myself! But as I knew nothing of that, even her parsimony did not make her try me. Everything else I had to do. Dressing, bathing, undressing, feeding the children; sometimes serving and often laying the meals.
I often used to think how queer it was that Mrs. Le Marchant never thought of my position as one that Sylvia would perhaps occupy. I think Mr. Le Marchant did. He worried about the future, and sometimes he would give me the tiny attentions that mean so much to the woman placed as I was, and ask if I were happy. I never had the heart to say anything but yes. His little daughter Sylvia was like him, and I was so sorry to think of her when her father died and the house had to be left. Sylvia was sent to an orphanage, and I was told not to write as it would unsettle her. It was a cruel order. I have still her letter which says: ‘Do you love me? I love you if you love me or if you don't.’
The second house was, of course, an improvement, because I knew better what I wanted. I certainly wanted luxury. If I had to give up my liberty I thought it fair that I should have comforts. So very proud was I when I got a post as governess to John, only child and heir of Lord and Lady Brakeshire. I was frightened at the big house and the many servants, but I was determined to keep my head up, and for the magnificent sum of ninety pounds I was to be John's guide, philosopher, and friend.
At first the luxury and the easy life did impress and console me. I started at their London house. We soon moved down to their country one situated in a huge park, with a drive of almost three miles. John had a nurse and nursery maid, so I had no work to do but to teach. I breakfasted alone in the schoolroom, I lunched with John downstairs when there were no visitors, and after four o'clock I saw John no more. My tea was brought to me on a tray in the schoolroom, and my supper followed about four hours later. I was as much a prisoner as if I had been in Holloway, for I knew no one in the village.
The nurses resented me, and as for the servants' manners, they were unspeakable. My comforts entirely depended upon the housekeeper. I give one instance. My supper- dinner consisted of one tray with an entrée, vegetables, and sweet, all served at once by the second footman. Down the passage in the nursery the nurses and Lady Brakeshire's special maid had a full-course dinner served them every night by the same man, beginning with soup and ending with coffee.
The three years at the cold vicarage, where at least I had been treated as a person, used to seem to me something almost desirable after I had been six months with the Brakeshires. I tried in vain to get away, Lady Brakeshire met all my timid attempts with a brusque: ‘Oh, you must stay and finish John for his preparatory school.’ I did it, but those four years of luxury taught me a need I have never forgotten: my own room, however poor, rather than someone else's house, however rich.
My last three years were spent with Dr. Brown in a busy and dirty part of south-east London. I say dirt, because that is what I chiefly remember about that house. Dr. and Mrs. Brown were kind. We had fun, and I was allowed to enter into the life of the house. The three children were interesting to teach, and although my salary was reduced from eighty to fifty pounds when the elder ones went to school, I could not complain legally.
But the dirt! The confusion in the house! Comfortable, yes, in a fashion, but I had no idea such dirt could be in homes belonging to educated people. The confusion that arose when we went away for holidays! I can still see the taxi-driver's twinkle as I and the odds and ends followed the Browns' car to the station. I can still recollect my hopelessness at getting any sort of order in the schoolroom. The two servants took the tone of the house, and though they may have been tidy in their own rooms, they certainly did the least possible amount of cleaning downstairs.
Sticky chairs, stained cutlery, dirty plates, drawers full of rubbish, tumbled beds, untidy clothes! I ought to have laughed, but it was so tiring.
It was also demoralizing. I could not teach properly in such a mess. The look of the schoolroom floor was sufficient to create in me a lazy, what-is-the-use feeling. School books would either be lost or pulled to pieces; toys, made or bought by the many admiring relatives, were destroyed or put out of action.
Everything was chaotic, and I became more and more inefficient.
I think, also, I became ungracious. I was not altogether to blame. I went there feeling I could like the Browns. Mrs. Brown was kind when she interviewed me, remembered to pay my fare, spoke sympathetically about the free times I should have. I went there more cheerfully than to either of the other places. But they were too kind to begin with. They exerted themselves for the first week, and then forgot the ‘stranger within their gates.’ They took me for granted, objected to any criticism I felt needed, and I gradually became more, not less, shy and awkward.
I realize now that they could not know how unaccustomed I was to a home. Had I been assured of one of my own in the background I could have more easily made myself happy in a lent one. But I craved for continual assurance that I was needed.
Dirt is not a crime. Dr. Brown had a real love for his fellow-men, Mrs. Brown had a great sense of humour, the children were keen about their work. My bread was not made bitter as when it came from the Brakeshires, but I was perhaps the more lonely because always standing just outside the charmed circle. The family members had the curious attitude, adopted by all happily married people and their children, that the stranger cannot be anything else but happy when looking at them. They never knew how I felt their combined criticism if I failed them in any way. I was too isolated, there was no one who could see the life from my angle. The complete understanding of each other that the Browns possessed emphasized my homelessness. I thought more there of my failures at home than anywhere else. When I left the Browns I knew they would not even do what John had done — write a letter — nor did they. I was out of their picture, and dead.
And so I learnt that the one necessity for such as I am in life is one's own room, where I may be myself, and neither apologize for, nor justify, my presence.
I have it at last. Could any woman be happier than I am to-night?
An honest visitor came, spoke of her wish to marry; said many, perhaps most, would rather rub along with any man than none at all. She said it meant position and more chances. To me this is curious and early Victorian. A woman with brains can make a livelihood, and ‘marriage with anyone’ could be hell, with children adding to the torment. No, what bewilders me is the fact that the bad, the coarse, and the cruel can all get out of the lucky bag of life that priceless treasure: real genuine love; whether from man or woman what matters it? They have it, and why? Ah! doesn't God even care to distribute that greatest gift so that those big enough to hold may have it? But the very power of love seems to hide from the lover the unworthiness of the object. No wonder I gasp at the pluck shown by the lonely woman who stands with her back to the wall with nothing at all, and fights, keeping strong for herself, but tender for the weak.
I think anxieties about ways and means have robbed me of thrills that I ought to have had. I wonder if it was my fault? Life is to me at times very frightening. I have always the feeling of living in a world that belongs to other people who must be placated or dodged. But surely living should be wonderful sometimes in spite of pain?
One way of getting an idea of our fellow-countrymen's miseries is to go and look at their pleasures.
George Eliot. Felix Holt, the Radical(1866)
Comment : What are my pleasures?
Friendship. Reading and making notes. Warmth. Knowing that the agency has helped someone. Hot bath. Talk and dinner (if both are good). Motoring. Writing and receiving letters. Simplifying life.
Of all mental cruelties I think the worst is the man or woman who, not having experienced the situation, judges someone who has failed. To-day I had a brother, rich and prosperous, refusing anything but a pittance of a few shillings a week to his elderly sister. He argued that he had made a good thing out of life and that his sister was lazy. He took no account that women cannot, unless in protected positions, make provision for old age; that men earn more than the average woman; that the age of his sister made it difficult to get work; that long years of poor feeding in uneasy jobs as companion to old ladies of small incomes had devitalized his sister. I felt physically sick when he left, and I saw him drive off in his car. He has married, it is true, but is childless. I sensed in him that man's dislike of the poor, unspirited, plain woman, and I hated him. I know I ought to have been sorry. For what a chance he was losing; a little kindness to my candidate and he would have changed her life of hell into one of heaven. She wants so little; two to three pounds a week would have done it.
My home is any room across the door of which I can draw the bolt.
Blessed are those who have the home-longing, for they shall go home.
Comment: Will they? I think of this queer saying every Christmas, and wonder what it means. Perhaps in another world just the right home is waiting for me.
To-day I thought of Jesus' women friends; they were all unmarried.
I wonder if anyone, until she has done it, can really know the sensations of hunting for a means of livelihood.
I do not mean those happy people set on the right path, backed by wise and perhaps moneyed relatives; but those who, not having been guided in the past, have had to find work—any work—so as to get food and shelter.
It is nonsense to say that work is to be had, and that grit and willingness is all that is needed. Take Miss Brown who came to me to-day. She liked little children, there was no one to warn her that youth soon vanishes. She had work easily found for her from a six months training school— all that she could afford—but now at forty-five she is tired. A home of her own is what she is aching to get. But that will never be possible now. And each year she is to earn less and less; she is old, unwanted. Yet she has faithfully served little children all her life. And her very qualities have been her undoing. She had the childish idea that work brought its reward in the shape of provision. But with the greatest care she has only saved five hundred pounds for her unwanted old age. The pension is im- possible for another fifteen years, and what use is it to her without any home at all? When young, each of these home workers should be forced to see a film based on the ingrati- tude of their employers; and given help about making their own terms for annuities with a reputable insurance society.
Life, when seeking work, is like going down a dark passage. You cannot come back. The passage has doors all down each side. I tell my candidates to leave no door alone, try each, don't force the lock, but if it opens they must go in just to take a look round. Doors lead to other rooms sometimes. Often the work that seems all wrong leads to better things. But the very best people won't think enough of their own needs, and the selfish never think of anything else.
Yet, in spite of all, I still hope that these material troubles help the growth of a soul. I cannot believe that ‘a blind caprice rules this world.’ It would all be monstrous, a nightmare. And so I cling to the hope—almost a passionate belief based on no proof—that luck does not rule. For ‘Luck’ let us read ‘Divinity.’ ‘Divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will’; even if that Divinity sends some to the Poor Law Institution and others to well- paid pensioned work or a husband, children, and home.
One of the bravest of my unemployed came in to-day. She has nothing, no home, no relatives, no money. Yet she can laugh, and even, when insulted by the coarse, the thoughtless, and the indifferent, can hold her own. I suggested that she should go to a society for ladies in difficulties. She went and was apparently treated with scant courtesy by the lady-in-charge. I need not describe the usual official attitude to an out-of-work from an official. My friend did not say much, but I could see it as so often it has been described to me: the delay, the stare, the refusal even to rise when she come[s] into the room, the crude questions. Finally, my friend was told that a free advertisement would be allowed her in a daily paper. She was told to frame this for herself, told the number of words she would be allowed, and then dismissed peremptorily. As she got to the door she was called back. ‘I forgot to ask if you were certified?’ she was asked. Accustomed as my friend is to pointless questions this did startle her for the moment, until she realized the confusion in the questioner's mind. ‘No,’ was her answer, ‘and I hope I never shall be, but I am certificated.’
I saw three types of workers to-day.
The first was in an office in the centre of files, papers, and the apparatus that makes one long for a lonely island with nothing but breadfruit and water. She was efficient, practical, and quick. I was dismissed in just under ten minutes. She was obviously afraid in case I stayed over the allotted time, but I just managed to do it, though I certainly did not succeed in getting all I wanted done. I knew she would put through the business with dispatch if without imagination. She was earning £500 at least, and received probably about £350. But it was an amusing life, she had clerks to do the dull work, and saw plenty of people with whom she felt she was a power. As for marriage, I expect she thought she had had a happy escape. I heard her once say something to that effect. She was beautifully groomed, and her dress was very practical.
The second type I met as I crossed the Strand that same day. She was ill-dressed, and looked as if she had never been able to give her own person a thought. But she carried a very fat, happy looking baby in her arms, and two other tiny ones were dragging at her skirts. All four were laughing, and were on their way to the Embankment gardens to enjoy themselves, and I think they did. Her husband was a dustman, and got good pay, she said, and was so fond of ‘them.’ ‘Them’ were well dressed and fed; it was herself whom she had forgotten entirely. I could only hope her daughter, when grown, would dress and care for her mother who had lost her life in that of her children.
The third type was in the front row of a troupe of gay girls and women making a row of roses with their legs swinging in the air as they lay on their backs with their heads toward the back of the stage. As the music played they swung their legs to and fro, making patterns with their coloured silk-clad legs and feet; with the frills of their petticoats, or what served as such, helping in the display. It was marvellously done, and I wondered if the actors felt the fatigue they did not show. Some apparently get through it each day, and sometimes twice, with a considerable amount of fatigue, but my friend claimed to be fresh as possible, and she certainly looked it. I asked her about chances of employment when this show came to an end, but she shrugged her shoulders and said: ‘It's the life I like, and I must take the rough with the smooth.’ She was quite content, and certainly her needs were small. So long as she had a roof over her head, and a friend to buy her the little she could eat, she was content. The friend, of course, varied, but that was all part of the game. It was life, and she was tasting it.
Which of these three did I envy? The first seemed to have lost herself in efficiency, the second for the sake of the children, and the last for the sake of her body.
A. B. C. says the registry is wrongly managed. That I make it a clinic, not an agency. I expect she is right, and I may be cheating Miss de Burgh. But is no one to take the side against Fate of those who get broken by this life? Perhaps God is sorry He has given to some of them such a battle. Perhaps He will say so and give them the sun, moon, and stars when they get to the other side. Or is this de-Godding God? Mistakes can happen. These failures may be just the right sort—for another planet. Most people seem to be moulding or being moulded.
I want to serve the outcasts who cannot be made to fit in. I don't want to educate. I can understand because I, too, am not very good at fitting in. I can see why they fail without being irritated by them. I do not want to alter them. I am just sorry that they are not having their share, that life is too hard. The world is full of busy happy doctors and nurses and social workers and reformers and psycho-analysts. But no one can help these ‘outside’ people. God Himself does not help, He will take their forgiveness. They are not going to get anything out of life. Cannot I help without bothering about the social, the medical, the sexual side? I want only to listen and to take their part.
There is one thing all employed women should be grateful for if they have it: service under those worthy of their service. Miss Morris was angry to-day, because Miss asked her to use a backing-sheet on her typewriter. Miss Morris went into Miss de Burgh's room, who just laughed and said: ‘If it upsets your dignity to use a backing-sheet for goodness' sake don't.’ Miss Morris came back with a smile, Miss Waife laughed also, and everything went well. Later, when I asked Miss de Burgh why she had not upheld Miss Waife, she said: ‘Life is a trying affair, we must try to keep a sense of proportion; if I lose it, the whole office will also. Miss Waife rightly saw that the matter was trifling, but I own I should have been in trouble had Miss Waife stood on her rights as senior. Bless the child, she didn't go back on me, and I shall let her know how kind she has been to me.’
Comment: I have been fairly hungry too, but I have been still hungrier for other things: mental food, chances of talk, ease with kindly people. It is a great puzzle to me why some of us go so hungry all through life; and others get every chance of food, both physical and mental.
Idleness is as necessary to good work as is activity.
Comment: With delight I quote this from an unknown source.
To think means to stop speaking and acting.
‘Our aesthetic sense would not grow at all if we allowed all our tastes and preferences to be dictated to us by art critics or other experts.’—Said to me by an expert.
His attainments may be small, but his thoughts are great.
(This deed is chronicled in hell.—Shakespeare.)
In the ideal world I suppose it will not matter if one has belongings—relatives or friends—or not. I wonder.
It is an alarming thought that, without some sort of background, one can be whisked off into the jaws of official- dom and be lost; unless one has a strong mind. And who has that when ill and alone? And again, one's work may not fit one for solving personal problems in the sane manner. I might—but would I? How do I know what mad thing I should do if ill and weak and penniless? These questions have come because of Rachel's difficulties.
Rachel is a nursery nurse, and if you are a real nurse for little children you have to have some of their characteristics, otherwise you would not be able to live, play, sleep, eat, dress with, and for, children every day with perhaps an hour or two off one day in seven, and then perhaps with few or no friends to go to for refreshment. This sounds an alarming description, but it comes near the truth.
Anyway it is what Rachel did for seven years. She was in charge of two children, both from a month old, and she was devoted to them. Neither child was perfect at birth; one suffered with bad eyes, and the other with rickets, and yet she seemed to have been able to get them to be, at six and seven respectively, bonny and happy children. And this without any help from the parents, who were busy making money, and did not care at all for their daughters until they woke to find how jolly a possession these children could be, and how fond these children were of a nurse who was their all in all.
The result was Rachel crying in the office, out of work, and two children probably crying at home without her. She had been given a month's wages instead of notice, and had been told to slip out while her children were asleep. Miss de Burgh was away. I thought Rachel was weeping about work. I assured her she could get work easily with such a reference—for no parent could say much was wrong if she had been kept for seven years—and wanted her to fill in the registry forms. But she wept instead, and I finally got from her that it was the horror of knowing that her babies would wake in the night and think she had deserted them. And again I felt the sick hopelessness that comes when one feels, almost as if it were tangible and could be touched, the ruthlessness of the world, and the helplessness of the ‘baby’ especially. I was to know more before I had finished with Rachel.
She was in such need of rest that I persuaded her to go to her sister in the country. It was not the best of homes for her, Rachel had evidently grown away from her sister, her only relative. I gathered that she had learnt better and more delicate ways of living, and that it was not the nicest house in which Rachel could get back some sense of proportion. She could not be of any real importance there. It was a busy house, and there were growing girls, Rachel's nieces, who looked upon Rachel as a frump. The sister did not really care, but thought she gave a good deal if she gave free board and lodging. I found this out afterwards, not at the time.
Of course, Rachel, with more time on her hands than she had had for years, developed nervous headaches, and finally the local doctor got her to attend a hospital for nervous disorders. I found that a neurologist named Spencer was head of the department to which Rachel went three times a week, and he seems to have thought that Rachel would be a good subject for analysis. The almoner was capable; she ferreted out all about Rachel, and took an enormous amount of trouble. I don't remember how I came into the story, probably Rachel spoke of me as her only friend.
Anyway Rachel used to come to me at the office, and I took her out for meals when I could. I was puzzled to find that her nervousness seemed a good deal worse each time. Like all childish people she was very shrewd, and I wished sometimes that the almoner and doctors—especially the one who was trying to analyse her—could have heard her remarks about the visits. ‘He asks me rude questions,’ she told me. ‘What do you do then?’ asked I. ‘I just look blank as I did with the children when they were trying to be rude,’ she told me. ‘They can't go on then.’ I wondered.
Rachel prattled on: ‘I tell them about you, of course, when they ask me what friends I have. I like telling them of you.’ Poor Rachel, and foolish myself; I was yet to know of the senselessness of telling the official mind anything that was personal.
The next part of the story was a 'phone message to me at the office to say that Rachel was distinctly worse, had gone to the hospital, and had been taken, as there were no beds in the hospital available, to the workhouse infirmary of that district. I had been specially informed as her friend, and was requested not to visit her.
It was late when I got this strange message, but of course I could not leave Rachel like that. I asked why should such arbitrary ways have been adopted, and was assured that every attention had been and should be given her, that she should wear her own night clothes, and be watched carefully. But I could not feel at ease. A workhouse was not the place for a refined and tender-hearted woman, however friendless, if it were possible to prevent it. An operation I could have understood, but nervousness was not likely to be cured in that way. I asked for the name of the specialist, was reminded that Dr. Spencer was the head of the department, and that he had recommended the plan. Could I see him? Yes, and was given his address. I 'phoned and made an appointment that evening. My feelings were mixed. It seemed odd that so much attention should be given to Rachel, and yet so little care of her feelings and probable reaction to such a place. Yet surely she could not have gone against her will? I was bewildered, cleared up my desk and went.
It was wet, but when I got to the specialist's house everything was comfortable: the man who opened the door, the secretary, who explained that Dr. Spencer would not be long; the warmth of the waiting-room and the opulence of the consulting-room when at last I got into it, and the ease with which the doctor met me. I was probably shabby and wet, and not at all like the spruce nurses who waited on him all day. But I made my case out as directly and quickly as I could. What really was wrong with Rachel, and why such drastic treatment as a workhouse ward and no friends to visit her? He, professionally urbane, avoided all conversational pitfalls. He took my thanks for letting me see him after office hours as necessary but easily, he listened without interruption, and when he spoke his words were few. He thought it necessary for Rachel to pull herself together, and to do this the, perhaps, slight discomforts of a workhouse ward should be beneficial, and the fact that her one friend did not come would make her able to depend on herself. They had examined her with care, and decided that this was the best treatment. No doubt I would acquiesce? Here he looked at me with the air of one who is never challenged as to the correctness of his opinion.
I looked round the room and I felt his success; I thought of his wife, his children, his car outside, his servants, his altogether-comfortableness, and compared it with what I did not know but could imagine: Rachel in a workhouse ward on a workhouse bed, with a workhouse supper— Rachel, who had given her very self to save one child from blindness and the other from lameness—Rachel, whose childishness had landed her with people to whom she was a case—no more.
I faltered out the words: ‘But you cannot expect from Miss—from Rachel, the technique in living you have; you have success'—here he bowed his acknowledgment of my tribute—'servants, everything; I mean if you were ill it would be made comfortable, made easy for you to be nervous.’ The doctor looked surprised; men, such as he, were not nervous as hysterical nursery governesses were. I stopped.
‘You will keep away entirely as I suggest,’ he said with authority. I said ‘Yes,’ and got up. He had the technical knowledge, surely he must care or he would not have given me this time, or given Rachel any thought? I stopped on the doorstep. ‘But if I don't go she will think she is forsaken, she cannot be left alone entirely, that surely is not right?’ He waved me on, I was taking up his time, dinner was ready, dinner, lots of it, with proper equip- ment, dinner with friends, with his well-cared-for children waited on, perhaps, by a Rachel in the background. He could not wait for me. I must do as I was told. I was nobody. ‘I will see to everything,’ he assured me. I still stayed; the matter was urgent. Rachel was alone, frightened, depending on me. ‘But you promise?’ I urged. ‘You won't let her think I have deserted her? I am the only friend she has.’ ‘Yes, yes,’ he answered. ‘Believe me I am aware of what I do, it is just these cases where the friends must be separated, where the friends do the harm. I have the case in hand.’ And in another moment I was outside. It was over. I had said I would leave Rachel in his hands. Surely it must be right. He could not go to his dinner with any harm in his heart towards a helpless nurse whose abilities just lay in loving service, nothing else. I remember that night so well, I went home to bread and cheese—Mrs. Gibson was cross— and sweets and coffee and a smoke, and tried to put Rachel out of my mind.
It was not easy. Twice I had a rambling ill-written letter addressed from the institution asking me to come, and each time I wrote promising I would be at the door when she came out. I felt as if writing to someone in prison, but my promise was given, and surely I had made it clear that Dr. Spencer was responsible for so grave a mental operation. Every one has to let the specialist do his—I was almost writing ‘worst’—best, unhampered by the ignorant friend or silly relative. It must be right. I would be sensible.
But I could not be. I could not think in terms of medicine, but in the ordinary terms of humanity. Rachel, who had not a relative in the world to care for her, was alone, and alone in a workhouse. I could not leave her. I could, anyway, take a gift to the place and ask in person how she was. So, after nearly a fortnight's worry, I bought sweets and biscuits and a silly novel, and went off to find the place one Sunday afternoon. I made myself think I was still acting according to my promise by not seeing her, but Rachel had spent Christmas in the place, surely it was not much to allow myself to send her something. I arrived to find the usual crowd of visitors swarming round an unperturbed young porter, who sorted each visitor out with ease, never for a moment allowing any one of them to take up too much of his time. I watched as each went in, and saw that every one carried something, and that none looked able to buy easily. It was a depressing sight. When the crowd had gone I went up to ask if my parcel might be taken to Miss Rachel Howard, and if he would please tell me how she was. A blank stare met my question. I put it again. ‘Rachel ' Oward? She isn't 'ere.’
‘But she must be, the hospital 'phoned to say she had been brought here before Christmas, nearly a fortnight ago.’ I was frightened, but had enough sense not to show anything.
‘Who are you?’ was the next question. ‘Myself’ was what I wanted to say, but more sense than usual was given to me that day. I suddenly saw that my official position would be all that counted.
‘I am an assistant at Miss de Burgh's Registry Office, and I have had instructions to call about Miss Howard.’
‘Wait a minute. I will look up the case.’
Diving back into his small office he looked up the ‘case’—what a word!—and emerged triumphantly. ‘She isn't here, she was took off to the workhouse more'n a week ago. She wasn't ill, not real ill, you understand. We couldn't keep 'er. She had no friends, so she was took there. Some trouble, too, I can tell you.’
‘Workhouse?’ I echoed. ‘This is the workhouse.’
‘No, this is the infirmary, the workhouse is—’ and here he gave me details of the other place half a mile away.
‘Have you any letters for her?’ I asked.
Again he dived back into his office, and said after reference to his note book: ‘Yes, all sent on to her and this one got down to me last night, it will be sent all right but I guess she isn't now able to read them.’ And he showed me one in my handwriting.
‘Why cannot she read them?’ I asked still dazed by my knowledge.
He shrugged his shoulders. ‘Oh, she carried on so about being took to the House. They always end mental if they haven't any friends, at least most do, and I 'spects they put 'er into the observation ward, first thing.’
‘Can I go there now?’ I asked.
He looked at the clock behind him in the office. ‘Well, you must look slippy, but I guess they will let you in if you comes from an office.’
I turned away.
The streets looked cold and depressing, the people in them all would appear to be out because they must on some errand, not for enjoyment. It was cold and getting dark. But it occurred to me that even the streets would be better for Rachel than enforced detention in a workhouse obser- vation ward. I do not remember how I got over that half-mile. It seemed hours since I left the infirmary, and found myself again facing officialdom outside the gates of the workhouse. This time it was an old man who seemed ready to take pains for me. I was passed from place to place, in a huge building that seemed all passages and little offices. I saw no inmates, but only nurses in uniform, and three porters. Finally, I was shot into a bigger room with about ten beds not all filled; some of the patients were sitting in hard chairs by them. I could not see Rachel, but a nurse sitting at a table in the middle saw my hesitation and came up to me. Fortunately I could face her and not let my eyes wander, but no woman in that room was normal, and all were penniless and alone. I will not describe even what I did see there while I spoke to the nurse. I know that were I to spend one night there alone in the grip of an institution I should never be quite normal again.
The nurse told me Rachel Howard was not there; she had been for observation, but they had decided that she was only a pauper case, not ill, and had been sent down to the feeble-minded division. She called to one of the patients. ‘Here you, you know the way to Ward H, take this—’ here she looked at me to decide what designation would suit me, and decided that ‘lady’ was not correct— ‘this la—wo—visitor down and ask the nurse if she may see Howard.’
And after waiting ten minutes in one corridor, and again five minutes in a short passage through which I could see an enormous room with pillars in the middle and beds arranged round the pillars, I was at last introduced—I use the word purposely—to Rachel. Rachel in a stiff cotton frock, reaching to her feet, and a useless apron and cap. Totteringly and half supported by a grim-faced nurse she led me to her bed near the open door. She sank down on the locker, and I bent over her.
‘It's I, Rachel. Don't you know me?’
The nurse left. No one seemed to be looking. I kissed her. And she woke,
‘Where am I?’
‘Don't you know?’ I asked. ‘You wrote to me. Didn't you get my letters?’ She pulled one from her pocket. ‘It's all they will let me keep,’ she said. ‘They have taken my bag with my money from me.’
‘I can get it back,’ said I, stoutly. ‘But where did you think you were? You addressed your letters from the infirmary.’
‘I don't know. They said I was not ill and must go away in a van. I said I wanted my clothes and would come to you. But they said I could not dress, but must come out from bed in a stretcher, and I kicked, yes, I did, I kicked and fought and I cried. Then they carried me down some stairs, and I held my bag, and then there was a van and I cried and said I did not want to go to prison, but they put me in. The nurses left me, and they were men then, and I was not strong enough to fight them. And I came away. Is this prison? They took my bag. I held it as long as I could. I had a bath, and someone watched me, and said if I cried any more I should go to prison or to a mad-house. And they were mad, the other people, and a doctor came and talked, and said I was not mad, and could come down to this room, but they are all the same. You cannot leave here, and I was afraid I should forget your address. My head hurt me so, and I asked a man who brought the letters if he would post my letters to you, and he did. I had no stamps. That was kind of him, wasn't it? But I cried and cried, and I cannot have my own clothes, and these hurt my skin.’
Later, that day, and on other days, I stole time from the office to have interviews. Interviews that led nowhere. I dared not go back to Dr. Spencer. He appeared to have no power in the workhouse, and my white-hot indignation prevented me from approaching him in a suitable spirit. But I saw nurses; nurses who seemed to have no influence at all, and yet had the happiness of all the inmates of that place in their hands. I saw a doctor who flourished a not too clean and very large handkerchief in my face, and talked mostly of the difficulty his wife had in getting servants, and who dismissed ‘Howard's case’ as ‘if not mental now, would be, sooner or later.’ I tried a guarded letter to Rachel's sister, and found I could draw no help from her.
Finally I heard of a barrister who took charge of penniless cases. Again my lunch hours were used, and at last I got into his office. It is not easy to describe the difference I felt when in that barrister's office from the other places I had been in while fighting for Rachel's reason. He was very quiet, slow in movement and speech. He did not hurry me. I was breathless and dull and slow. I got out the facts. His questions were few. I do not remember them. But to my last waking thought I shall remember the relief I felt at being with someone with power and who was using that power to help, not to show his authority; someone who seemed to have imagination and to know what I was feeling; who even knew, coward that I am, that I dreaded each visit to the workhouse. I remember the last thing he said. ‘You fear to go there. You need not. You will only have to go once more. Do you wonder why they wish to keep patients there against their will? Have you not found that it is soothing to your self-respect to show statistics that you are doing more than you did last year? That is all there is. The doctor does not have the extra work, but he can send up good proof why his salary should be raised, or why he should have another typist. But in this case he will not be able to add Miss Howard's number to his total. You will be able to take her out the next time you go.’
‘Can it happen again to her?’ I faltered at the threshold.
‘I think you should, after she has rested, try to show her that she must take charge of her own affairs more decidedly; but no doubt you will see how best to help her once you have her out. You will get her, don't trouble.’
And his words came true.
I was told to fetch Rachel one evening four days later. I had been to the place the day after my interview with the barrister, but did not mention anything of my efforts. I spent the time comforting Rachel, and assuring her that she would be able to go out soon. She trusted me as if I were God, and I was shaking each time I left her. Fool that I am. There is right in the world as well as wrong.
And Rachel seems happy enough now in a houseful of children, and no one knows but myself, and puzzled Miss de Burgh, of that dreadful month.
The workhouse authorities actually sent her in a bill of £3 a week, during her enforced time, but Rachel showed unusual force, and herself met the guardians, or whatever they call themselves, and fought for the reduction of the bill to £1 a week—and won. Later I asked her why she had given in so easily to the hospital authorities, and she said: ‘There was nothing else to do. I told them to ask you, but it was late, and the van was there and all the doors seemed shut. I thought doctors knew best, and the almoner said she would tell you.’
I also wrote to Dr. Spencer, but got no satisfaction, as he merely ‘resented the tone of criticism’ in my letter, and went on to say that later he would have helped Rachel. But no help would have been possible had Rachel become insane.
My Troubles with the Coarse—The Cure.
- 1. The Kingdom of God is within me.
- 2. No one can hurt me but myself.
- 3. If I were pure I should pity and overlook snobbery and contempt. The amount of snobbery in me makes me see it. Free myself from all evil and I could walk unhurt into, and from, evil.
O God, All-pitiful, give me quick imagination that I err not when I speak with my brother.
He listened to those to whom God appeared not to listen; he wanted to help those who have been put hopelessly in the wrong.
Comment: Quoted from memory. I think of this every time I have an interview with an out-of-work.
The greatest wrong to do to others is to goad them into being less than they need to be.
Of all cruel ‘vices’ social ambition is the worst. The social climber never ceases to be spiritually or intellectually dishonest.
I remember the man but of set purpose forget his name.
(when speaking of a shameful act).
Comment: Real chivalry.
A marred personality will for ever show its scars.
There are three sorts of hostesses:
- 1. Those who want you to come and play audience: to admire their methods or their possessions.
- 2. Those who think you should be there—because you are a relative, or for some strange reason you have not found out—and merely want a robot visitor.
- 3. Those who really want you and are prepared to give you some of their time, who recognize that their home may not have the comforts yours has—although you may live in one room—and do their best to make it worth while, recognizing that while under their roof they are responsible for your happiness.
I think my technique as a mother would have been better than my technique as a daughter, and I am sure I could be a better hostess than I can ever hope to be a guest.
I must not be settled about anyone. I must be prepared for them to alter, to be better than they were. If I make up my mind about someone, I cannot judge and certainly I cannot help.
I doubt if the harm done by the worship of good form is generally realized. It is incompatible with tolerance, and those who are incapable of acquiring it, owing to some marked originality of intellect or temperament, are made to suffer very greatly indeed. . . . As a means of keeping inferiors in their place it is unsurpassed. It produces inflexibility of temper, and is therefore a means of utilizing the powerful weapon of taboo in order to crystallize the status quo.
W. B. Curry. The School and a Changing Civilization(1934)
Comment: My trouble is to recognize quickly enough that the worshipper of ‘good form’ is being rude to me, and to get away in time. It is so hard to believe that someone means to hurt you until it is over, and then I am thinking of the right retort on the staircase.
Years of homelessness have made me unfit for ordinary life in a home. The only time I feel the need of a husband is when I am a guest. Two together are better than one in a strange house.
We go round with a rag and tin of oil when dealing with machinery, and we call in trained mechanics to mend it. How much qualified skill is asked when dealing with that highly organized delicate mechanism, the human being?
Your acts show what you want to be, and the way you act shows what you are.
Nothing throws unkind people so much off their balance as the impression that you are completely independent of them.
A Scrap of Conversation.
A. I do envy the power of saying the right thing to everybody!
B. Don't—it's the greatest snare.
A. It prevents many difficulties and embarrassments.
B. Very desirable things.
A. Yes, for those who like to laugh, but not for those who are laughed at.
B. More so; the worst of all misfortunes is to wriggle too smoothly through life.
I had an interesting argument with a woman of the world last night. From her view I deserve my lack of success; I deserved that sort of home; I will not learn the rules of the world as it is and therefore cannot expect better treatment. Curious!
Comment, five years later: I see now she was wrong. No evil is cured that way.
When one has no weapons one naturally scratches. Hence, I will take, without complaint, rudeness from all my out-of-works.
Registrar seated. She rises as
Enters a well-dressed, good-looking, and cheerful clergyman.
[A pause; she then takes the jump, but rather nervously.] I doubt if a man would think her life-to-be was so great a thing.
[He goes out. She sits rather dejectedly. Enter a young stenographer. ]
[A knock is heard. The clergyman's head appears round the corner.]
[The stenographer retires. The registrar gets up.]
[The clergyman looks grieved, but the registrar is now wound up.]
The one, and only, indication God has given us of those He would desire us to know, is the family to which He sends us. No parent chooses his, or her, child; no child chooses his, or her, parents. And the influence of our relatives on us is so incalculable when we are young, and so hard to throw off when we are old.
Loyalty to one's family seems impossible to acquire after youth. Justice in the nursery is the only solution if the parents want their children to stand by each other later in life. Why does the successful brother want to forget the older, plainer, rather helpless spinster sister? Because he was brought up to consider himself of more consequence than any sister. Why does the happily married sister laugh at the younger, self-distrustful brother who has always found life just a shade too difficult for him? Because he reminds her of a step-uncle whom she saw despised by her father.
But the parents never seem able to be just once the family has passed the ideal state of one-daughter-one-son. After that, or failing to get those ingredients, there would always seem to be something in bad taste or lacking in the family pudding. I never yet met the mother who had not a favourite daughter if she had more than one, and very few of the mothers I meet in the office pass the test of equal fairness to both sexes. Not being a parent perhaps I ought not to criticize, but I wonder if the parents ever have to look back, after they are dead, to see how those children, to whom they gave life, are progressing. It would be a dreadful sight for some of the parents of the candidates I interview.
Every child should know it is a treasure.
Rose Graham. Letter credited in Acknowledgments.
Comment: I never remember any time as a child when I felt I was wanted.
Perhaps the ultimate test of courage arrives only when we find that, to be true, we shall have to go on, though all disagree, and many despise. We can do without the approval of stupid people, or the approval of bad people; but to turn to one's family in vain, to have no understanding love on which to lean—that is the hardest and most cruel of ordeals. Only the very strong can walk that path.
The unspeakable blessedness of having a home! Much as my imagination has dwelt upon it for thirty years, I never knew how deep and exquisite a joy could lie in the assurance that one is at home for ever. Again and again I come back upon this thought; nothing but Death can take me from my abiding place. And Death I would fain learn to regard as a friend, who will but intensify the peace I now relish.
Comment: If only I had a permanent home. I am an ungrateful wretch to complain, for I do not live with my employers, and I am thankful for that every day. But to know that the room in which I live was my own for ever while on this earth! I cannot think of any greater cause for peace than that. I think I could venture out into the world with so much more ease. No landlady likes you for ever. They either get familiar, or to think they could make more money if they made a change.
Children of the same family, the same blood, with the same first associations and habits, have some means of enjoyment in their power which no subsequent connections can supply.
Comment: How often I think of this when I see my relatives and, alas, find no point of contact.
I do not think I overstate the case, but think I am correct when I say that I can always tell from a workless or unhappy woman if hers has been a happy childhood or not. I am able to encourage those who have known real love, safe care in their childhood, to trust and to try again. But for those who have known irritable, uncertain, unloving care as children I can only weep silently when they show irritability, distrust, and often violent antagonism when I try to help.
Give a child a knowledge of fear—not the ordinary fears flesh is heir to, but the fear born out of the knowledge of the power of evil—and for always he will have, when afraid, to contend with seven devils worse than the new-comer. Every fresh fear will bring back the old hideousness, no matter how much newer and better knowledge the years may bring.
The most genuine women are old maids and have often most of the motherly touch.
Comment: Of course, this is hotly denied by all married women but, nevertheless, there is truth in it. I have had mothering from the childless, and unselfish care from the unmarried. I suppose, if married, one must be selfish and think first, or perhaps all the time, of one's family. And yet, I think, I should feel still more stricken in the presence of an unhappy child if I had my own happy ones at home.
Nobody's child is everybody's child. But in a perfect society surely no undesired child would be born. I feel with passion that I am responsible for these girls who come to me and own that they have no one behind them at all. I am a woman, and all women are responsible for all children.
Childrens' Troubles—as seen in Cinema and Theatre.
I have been lucky lately. Geraldine has taken me to a cinema and to a play. Both have been of enormous interest because of the difference in the treatment of the same problem: children.
The cinema described the barren, ugly life of several
hundreds of children of the upper classes herded in a cheap
school. The mistresses, most of them anxious to do
rightly, were completely inadequate when faced with the
misery of a child, who needed love and understanding. I
felt physically sick, but as usual, greatly relieved to see the
trouble so clearly depicted. I had the usual intense satisfaction, at such a time, hoping perhaps ten per cent of the
audience would understand something better than before,
and do differently. I can never cry at tragedy, either in a
book or on the stage; I am so relieved. For so many will
understand, when it is explained by an artist, that
they cannot understand when they meet it in real life.
The other, a play, has been received much more enthusiastically, and considered to be a terrible picture of adolescence. I cannot understand it at all. The so-called suffering child is a girl in her teens, who bitterly resents her mother marrying again. Her mother had had to work very hard all her life, because of a bad husband, to keep the home going for her own mother and the two children, and an old servant. The girl in question is surrounded with love, and even when the mother is marrying again, she has plenty of love still to give to the two daughters. The future step-father is gentle, and the doctor is much more understanding than any doctor I have met in real life. Yet we were all supposed to weep over the jealousy shown by this girl.
I suppose there is something terrible in jealousy, but when you are a millionaire as regards home life and love it seems odd to be so peculiarly selfish about an adored mother's future.
It reminded me of my own bewilderment about John Galsworthy's characters: Irene and Fleur. Both these women had pure gold offered them. Irene scorns, and will not try to understand, Soames, but being unmarried perhaps I cannot judge her; as for Fleur, to have had the devotion of Soames and the love of a man like Michael, would seem to me, a lodger in life's household, paradise indeed.
He was rich because he had a love of justice, patience, a sense of proportion, and imagination.
‘Give us to-day the bread of to-morrow’ is an easier prayer for me than the usual one of ‘Give us this day our daily bread.’
I have no moral right to any money I have not earned.
He violently repudiated the least suggestion that he was in any way remarkable, and generally evinced that passion for the normal, which is often the distinguishing charac- teristic of those born outside its frontiers. . . . Certain facts, however, were revealed by his appearance, the most notable being poverty and loneliness . . . and the havoc created by these in a sensitive organism.
Comment: I understand that passion to be normal. It's so lonely, so out-of-the-way to be odd. And concerning the combination of complete loneliness and poverty, I can understand any length to which such torn minds can go in their pain.
What nonsense it is to think it is easy to be clean; it is most expensive, and often quite difficult.
The life of simplicity consists in ruthlessly throwing away rubbish.
We differ in what we think funny. At the following story two people laughed, and I wanted to cry.
When X, a Manchester mechanic, was charged at Willes- den to-day, with travelling on the L.M.S. railway from Manchester, without paying his fare, he pleaded that he had come up to try and see the cup-final. When remanded to prison for a week, he asked the police: ‘Shall I be able to hear the result there all right?’ I thought of all the joys and pleasures and comforts some have, and how this man, for want of a few shillings, was in prison, and his one pleasure ruthlessly taken from him.
The fear of the future, of helpless old age, of ill health, dependence on hard cruel efficiency, these are the things that make me incapable of enjoyment.
Prayer for worldly goods is worse than fruitless, but prayer for strength of soul is that passion of the soul which catches the gift it seeks.
George Meredith. Letter, appears in The Writings and Life of George Meredithby Mary Sturge Gretton (1926)
It is not unreasonable to hold that in matters of moment to his lasting and highest welfare, man is under Divine guidance; while in affairs of more indifference he is left to experience and to whatsoever common sense he may possess.
Comment: I believe these statements to be true. The prizes of this world, material prosperity, are not, it seems, in the hands of God at all. I long ago ceased to ask God for any material good.
How to live a truthful life puzzles me very much. Truth is poison to some people, and it takes two to get it, one to hear and one to speak. I am supposed by my relatives to tell lies. I only know that, far back as a child, I confessed to a lie, after six months' agony, to my father, and from that day I was labelled a liar. Whereas, never have I been braver or more earnest about telling the truth. Finally, I have acted on the idea that there are two kinds of lies:
- 1. Genuine lies about absolute verities.
- 2. Verbal falsehood, at times necessary.
I got this idea from Plato's Republic, but being unlearned I won't quote.
If I act a lie—the real sort, the lie in the soul—I feel I shall lose that intangible thing, protection from the unseen. If I lose that, then my luck will go. If I can but be true to myself my luck may hold out to the end.
A lamp has been invented which is said to detect at once a false pearl or diamond. What an impossible (I don't agree) world it would be if all our little insincerities, cowardices, and deceptions of ourselves and others were to be similarly revealed. Just imagine talking in the light of a lamp that showed our real thoughts and feelings. (But I should like it, it would be restful and speech is so misleading. We need such help.)
Comments in brackets mine.
Have a care of resentment, or taking things amiss; a natural, ready, and most dangerous passion: but be apter to remit than to resent: it is more Christian and wise. For as softness often conquers where rough opposition fortifies, so resentment, seldom having any bounds, makes many times greater fault than it finds: for some people have out-resented their wrong so far, that they made themselves faultier by it; by which they cancel the debt through a boundless passion, overthrow their interest and advantage, and become debtor to the offender.
Comment: I have been told that resentfulness may be the other side of a great virtue, but for me it is a great sin.
On thinking I have found that I have changed my views about finding God. I don't want a too-easily-found God. When (if ever) I find Him, I shall be badly or happily surprised. I don't want a too-easily-understood God. I must first be spiritually minded before I can hope to see. The spiritually minded sometimes do much wrong; they tell lies; they are afraid; and yet they seem to get nearer God. They want to find Him. They are always humble. And a friend says that perhaps God may even grieve over the lies and their fear, and love them the more.
Jesus does not seem to have been much disturbed by sin except:
- 1. Worldliness, i.e. a wrong estimate of the purpose of life.
- 2. Lack of love and sympathy.
- 3. Wrong view of God.
- 1. The do-nothings. (Compare Bunyan's Mr. Anything and Browning's ‘unlit lamp.’)
- 2. The instinctively hard.
- 3. Those who think wrongly and would do wrong if not found out; ‘the mind is dyed the colour of its thoughts.’
- 4. The Pharisee class. The beginning of a man's doom is when vision is withdrawn from him. They lie about themselves, and then about God.
- 5. The drifters.
Are the ‘sins’ that come because of a badly made body really sins? Surely only the black sins of the soul should be counted?
‘And do you think it is a good thing for a man to be so defenceless?’
SOCRATES. ‘Yes, so long as he has the one defence that he has never done any wrong to God or men either by word or deed. What does a man fear who is neither an idiot nor a coward? Not dying but doing wrong.’ Plato. Gorgias
Comment: This has often consoled me when I have felt a stranger in an icy world.
Knowledge can make one very lonely. And when people think that with words they can make foul things fair I am lonelier than ever. I want only comfort from those who know and yet have found peace.
To-day I had a most heartless employer and a dishonest employee. Of the two, of course, I blame the employer most. If one has more one must behave better, but it is all such a vicious circle. Each employer, who is bad, makes trouble that does not cease when the employee leaves; and each dishonest employee makes conditions worse for the next helpless employee. All very trite, no doubt, but bitterly true.
The world fighteth for the righteous.
Hearts unwounded sin again.
("Hearts unwounded sing again")
Comment: I do not know where I got this. It was on my lips when I woke to-day.
When I was helping V. E. with money she was far kinder to me. Now, when I have only spiritual things to offer, she misunderstands.
From this I see:
- 1. Money is more important to some.
- 2. My spiritual bank credit is too small.
And how can I blame God? He offered me the things
He liked the best and of which He had the most, and I
may have rejected them as
Why should L. P. be big enough to recognize her responsibilities towards her own and (bigger still) to other people's
children, and yet deny God any responsibility at all? I feel
God would far rather hold Hardy's tenet: ‘Thou shouldst
have learnt that NOT TO MIND FOR ME could mean but
NOT TO KNOW.’
To ask little of anyone and to make a successful fight against bitterness, if I could but do this—if only I did not need from others. All my life I have been in need. ‘Help me to help all those in need,’ but one cannot give when one has nothing.
Thomas Hardy points out that ‘pessimism’ is an incorrect term when used for ‘obstinate questionings’ in regard to the mysteries of the universe; and he has quoted as a defence a line from one of his own poems:‘If way to the better there be, it exacts a full look at the worst.’
Comment: I know few remarks more maddening than:
‘Oh, I expect you are exaggerating,’ when one is trying to
get relief by telling of pain. For my own part I listen hard
to the complainer. I encourage him to look at, and expect,
the worst before he can find the way to the better. Then I
hope to lead him to believe that:
‘There shall come a time
when it shall be Light, and when man shall awake from his
lofty dreams, and find his dreams still there, and that
nothing has gone save his sleep.’
Unusual beauty of whatever sort frightens the ordinary man.
For my life I can see no difference between the failures and those who think everything is easy because it has been easy for them.
I saw Mildred last night. I told her of my horror that a lovely nature like Z's could deteriorate. She said that some badness in a nature if undetected, disregarded, ignored, allowed to grow, might bring about a great fall; but that otherwise God would never let one down after a great fight.
There seems a great deal of confusion between a creed and religion. Surely every one must have some sort of religion, but whether one can circumscribe it with a creed is another matter. I think one's religion is that which one cares for most. I think it is the expression of one's soul. The power to formulate a creed seems to depend on one's intellect, one's upbringing. Anyway, I don't want a creed that is gained at no cost to myself and worth nothing to anyone.
Maude confided to me to-day that she had wronged a friend; she confessed to it—a rare action for an adult although we constantly ask children to do it—but that the friend had responded only to the length of ‘I forgive,’ but ‘it would never be the same again.’ I was frightened at such vindictiveness. Surely an acknowledgment of a sin means that the onlooker can forgive, and forgiveness means trust that the sin will not be repeated? I own that if there was no difficulty in forgetting there would be nothing to forgive. But complete forgiveness is essential after con- fession; if it is withheld the wrong done is shifted to the unforgiver; the evil will go on multiplying. And this reminded me of the almost impossible task of forgiving when there has been no confession. I am resentful by nature. And I don't forgive. The only way I get round the difficulty is by fielding the wrongs done me as a cricketer fields a ball. I let the wrong hurt me, I own, more than it should because of my resentment, but I also try to learn from it and stop the pain going on to others. I do not seem able for instance to forgive the authorities for my childhood, but I can try to make life easier for every child I meet. Meanwhile Maude's late friend is doing Maude and herself irreparable damage.
We are here to grow souls. Some succeed, some kill theirs. Dare I say this? It is but to myself. If you keep your soul awake it can take itself to the next place; if you let it die out I do not see how you can expect to go on any- where. Your body is dead and rots under the earth, or is burned in the fire.
‘If I can find out God, then I shall find Him; If none can find Him, then I shall sleep soundly.’ [Sara Teasdale, The Lamp(1917)]
I think this theory may account for the fact of the love- ableness of some who sin greatly and others who, although apparently sinless, seem to have no love; they may not have souls at all. I may not have one. I may be like the tadpole who refuses to grow legs and lungs, and so cannot become a frog.
Those of us who have no souls should, I think, have lots
of this world's pleasures given to them. For ‘No one can
live without delight, which is why he who is deprived of
spiritual delights goes over to carnal delights.’
I think the cleavage runs between those who are hungering for righteousness, and those who are indifferent. Those who hunger are at last filled, not because they become good— they often remain very bad; but I dare to think that they can recognize goodness when they see it and do not try to damage or to decry it. They see goodness, as an artist sees beauty, in most unlikely places.
I strive and strive to make the office staff and the work happy and easy. And I fail. Do I also fail to understand God and His efforts to make the world worth while for His creatures? I am not educated sufficiently and, in the same way, the clerks do not understand me. This sounds blasphemous, but it may contain a grain of truth.
If he fail or if he win To no good man is told. G. K. Chesterton. The Ballad of the White Horse(1911)
Comment: Possibly a time comes when they never think about success.
Ignorance got as far as Heaven's gates, but then took the wrong turning. I feel sure that we are meant to get knowledge, and that goodness based on knowledge and experience is a more useful possession than unenlightened instinctive goodness, although the last is very attractive to me, and I find very annoying to most other people.
The things that are for thee gravitate to thee.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Over-Soul(1841)
Comment: I read this when I was just beginning to earn my living; it has never failed to console me. I do not know who wrote it, and I am now inclined to think that I shall have to wait for the next world before I get all the ‘things.’
Yes, one would think that people whose gods are different would not, and even could not, be jealous. But experience shows that it does not work that way. Partly, I think, they don't believe that anyone can have spiritual values instead of material ones, and so they resent the difference as an affectation; and partly they do believe it, and so resent the real superiority that this implies. Gilt can't be expected to like the neighbourhood of gold, the comparison being fatal to the gilt. . . . The saint is always stoned. But what puzzles me about you is that you are not serene in your knowledge of the rightness of your own values. You must know that the spirit is all; it is no use worrying over the people who don't yet know it. The only way to take such people is the way of ‘They know not what they do.’ After all that is the truth. And some of them may know one day.
Comment: Yes, but if one lives in a country where the grass is blue to oneself, and every one speaks of it as yellow, it shakes me and frightens me to hear it always spoken of as yellow.
His was one of the natures in which conscience gets the more active when the yoke of life ceases to gall them.
George Eliot. Middlemarch(1874)
Comment: I have tested this. It is very true for some of us.
Oh, for a touch of Ithuriel's spear, the archangel, whose spear had the magic property of showing every one exactly and truthfully what he is! I know it would be a dreadful day, but how much easier it would be to go on afterwards.
If only I can see my vices as vices; and not as dressed-up virtues.
The truth is as you say. But you have a sort of heavenly truth: and on earth one has sometimes to act by earthly truth which is lower.
Comment: This is an answer I had once when I wrote asking for help for an unemployed woman who had done wrong. I argued that most of us would, if we had our deserts, be poorer than we are, and that this woman had paid in full for her wrong-doing, over-paid if one took note of her present position. And yet I was not allowed to help because of others served by the same agency.
Coming home in the bus I heard a mother describe her relief at hearing that sleep-walkers practically never hurt themselves. To be unconscious of evil really would seem a safeguard. The tragedy seems to be when we see the evil and are not able to turn it or use the same weapons. Some- times materialistic things weigh on me till I can't breathe, sometimes I feel outside them and surrounded by real love. I expect the love is there, but the inside ring of materialistic things shuts it out.
For years I have been asking most passionately why I should suffer from the sins of others. Now I begin to wonder in a vague way why not. Evidently we must suffer so long as there is cruelty in the world. We should never be really happy with so much selfishness, therefore we have to be sin-bearers. It seems hard on those, like C. E., who are kind, but I'm seeing my mistake in asking to be free; so long as we are in such a world we can't be. But why so many sin-bearers and so few saviours?
The Lord be good to thee and keep thee from thy heart's desire.
Comment : I heard this once and it has pleased me more times than I can count.
When I considered these things in myself, and took thought in my heart how that in kinship unto Wisdom is immortality, and in her friendship is good delight, and in the labours of her hands is wealth that faileth not, and in assiduous communing with her is understanding, and great renown in having fellowship with her words, I went about seeking how to take her unto myself. Now I was a child of parts, and a good soul fell to my lot; nay, rather, being good, I came unto a body undefiled.
Comment: I feel that we with ‘poor souls’ should take courage from this.
I find prayer and wine are two avenues through which I can get out of the body. Wine is quicker, but seems very irreverent. Prayer, I suppose, is the better way.
Tess of the D'Urbervilles had another method. She says: ‘I don't know about ghosts, but I do know that our souls can be made to go outside our bodies when we are alive. . . . A very easy way to feel 'em go is to lie on the grass at night and look straight up at some big, bright star; and, by fixing your mind upon it, you will soon find that you are hundreds and hundreds o' miles away from your body, which you don't seem to want at all.’
Euphoria: There are seconds—they come five or six at a time—when you suddenly feel the presence of the eternal harmony perfectly attained. It is something not earthly—I don't mean in the sense that it's heavenly— but in that sense that man cannot endure it in his earthly aspect. He must be physically changed or die. This feel- ing is clear and unmistakable; it's as though you appre- hend all nature and suddenly say: ‘Yes; that's right.’ God, when He created the world, said at the end of each day of creation: ‘Yes; it's right, it's good.’ It—it's not being deeply moved, but simply joy. You don't for- give anything because there is no more need of forgiveness. It's not that you love—oh, there's something in it higher than love—what's most awful is that it's terribly clear and such joy. If it lasted more than five seconds, the soul could not endure it and must perish. In those five seconds I live through a lifetime, and I'd give my whole life for them, because they are worth it. To endure ten seconds one must be physically changed.
Fyodor Dostoevsky. Demons[originally titled The Possessed] (1872)
Comment: I know of these moments, I am more happy then than at any other time.
Every grief a man endures opens another window on some beauty or truth in the order of the universe, evolved out of chaos and old night.
In moments of exaltation and depression truth stands out away from us.
Does ‘Blessed are they that mourn’ mean blessed are they that cry for others? In that case, even such as I am will be comforted.
I have come to the conclusion that many an apparent insult is but a cry for help. Obviously, if someone pays me the compliment of coming for assistance and is rude, when it is admittedly more profitable for them to make a good impression, it means either my technique is lamentably bad or their pain too great for concealment. I own pain does not work that way with me, but it undoubtedly does with some.
I think this because of Miss X. who came to me yesterday, Miss de Burgh being at a committee meeting. I thought her the most frozen client I had ever interviewed. Appar- ently there was nothing she was trained to do and very little that she would try to do. It was obvious she needed work, her clothes were good but very shabby. And I was just thinking regretfully of the registration fee which seemed more likely to come from my pocket than from hers, when I heard the tinkle of tea cups. I went out and brought back tea for us both. She thawed.
She told me she had kept her father's house for twenty- five years, since she was nineteen when her mother died— I adjusted her age for myself, she had called herself the usual thirty-nine; her father and she had lived on her mother's comfortable income; the house, furniture, valu- able pictures and good jewelry had all belonged to her mother and all had been left to her father. He had married again two years ago, but had died soon after, leaving everything to his second wife, who, in her turn, was leaving the money and possessions to her niece who had no connection at all with the original owner. I looked at Miss X. over my tea-cup and pondered. There was a woman who had known good care when young, and then for twenty-five years had known the ease and freedom that can come from a wealthy father. She was now nearly fifty and looking for shelter and food. I asked her what she had done the last two years, and she said she had tried staying with friends and relatives in turn. ‘But I had not even pocket money,’ she faltered out, ‘I could not go on. Besides, lacking everything, somehow . . .’ I understood. It would surprise a good many self-satisfied hostesses if they realized that their beautiful homes are not always happy places for the guest.
What a long way there is between the appearance of a thing and the reality. To deceive oneself is a happiness for those who cannot see.
Another true story came to-day where again the appear- ance is not the reality. Lady Evesham is angry with Miss Z., who will not go to her as her grandchildren's holiday governess as in former years. Lady Evesham wanted to blame me, for Miss Z. ran away and left me to tell Lady Evesham. Miss Z. had been governess to Lady Evesham's children in the old days. ‘What's wrong with her?’ demanded Lady Evesham. ‘She needs the money and the holiday by the sea will do her good and she knows I do not like changing governesses.’
Later, when Lady Evesham had gone and Miss Z. had returned, I repeated this to Miss Z. and asked her why she would not go. Again I had not looked behind the appear- ances for the truth.
Miss Z. was kind enough to enlighten me. ‘It's no holiday for me; I am old. I was worn out last year trying to keep a check on the children who come back so fit from those expensive and good schools and so happy to be free. I cannot keep pace with them. The pound a week and my fare does not pay for my ill health afterwards. I am never for a moment alone, not even in my bedroom. I came back last year so exhausted that my one room still seems paradise to me when I think of those noisy waves, the hot sands and that continual walk up and down from the hotel. Her children were younger than these and they loved me. These do not care for me, and perhaps it is my fault.’
I looked at her. She was old. ‘How do you manage?’
‘I have a pound a week annuity,’ she explained. ‘I saved every penny I could. I live near a club for women and a friend pays the subscription every year. I go there all day for the fire and light and so manage very well. It is so peaceful to know that I never need make any more efforts to please people in their houses.’
I agreed with her and said I would write to Lady Evesham.
It is wonderful that Miss X. could take such misfortunes with calm and Miss Z. be so grateful that she had managed to save enough to give herself a pound a week.
Those who suffer most are those with a sense of justice, and yet, even more than knowledge, pain is power.
I heard to-day of a single woman, charing, very badly, all day, to keep body and soul together; and failing. At first I felt the old sick helplessness, and then I found a reason. I don't feel ill when I find an artist suffering before he can express himself; so perhaps I might try to be a bit more hopeful about the charwoman; it is her form of expression, and shows her pluck; she has nothing else to express, but she shakes something out and is the better for it; further on in her life's history, perhaps— perhaps?
How can we blame the Levite and Pharisee when they look at and pass us by on the other side from where we lie stripped of all courage and wounded in the battle of life? Have we not also done the same? But what can we say or do for the Samaritan who comes and, not only heals us of our fear, but takes us away from it?
A horse in St. Martin's Lane to-day was being frightened by the motor cars. The man used a stick. There was a great crowd. A policeman spoke to the man and showed him how to manage the horse. Every one sympathized with the animal.
But I have seen faces of human beings sick with apprehension, I have seen the big torturing the weak and no one cared.
Why should the sufferings of animals always be so quickly understood by us?
Comment: I think I understand now my bewilderment over this. I think that the more simple a person is, the more he will understand the simpler life of an animal. Also they have complete power over the animal, never over the person.
The man of romance is not he whose existence is diversified by the greatest possible number of extraordinary events; but he in whom the simplest occurrences produce the most sensations.
Anon. Edmond Rostand, qtd. in The Twymansby Henry Newbolt (1911)
Comment: The excitement of being myself is enough experience for me. As I step into the hot water in my bath every night I think over my experiences—painful, evil, pleasant, good, and know that so long as I can think, I am living; that while I suffer I am learning.
JUDAS. I am in prison of my pity; the moaning of men and beasts torments me; the pain is not my own pain From which I come praying for deliverance.
JESUS. To other men I say Be merciful, to you alone Be cruel. Life is not to be lived without some balance. Robinson Jeffers. Dear Judas(1929)
Comment : I do not understand this, but I copied it because I know of the torment Judas suffered.
I had a shock to-day. A client greatly resented pity.
Is it true that it is the most contemptible of all the virtues?
That it is a form of contempt? I do not think mine was.
I offered it as a flower, to help her through. I sell pity
as some sell great gifts. It is sometimes all I can offer
in this fight. I, certainly, was not contemptuous. How
could I be
A man standing near me at Mudie's counter, where I was changing books, was eating dry brown bread—evidently his dinner. It made me ashamed of my affluence, but he had a love for books.
A fine nature should have:
- 1. Grit, energy.
- 2. Gentleness, a sense of pity.
- 3. Appreciation of beauty in all its forms.
If there are words and wrongs like knives, whose deep inflicted lacerations never heal—cutting injuries and insults of serrated and poison-dripping edge—so, too, there are consolations of tone too fine for the ear not fondly and for ever to retain their echo; caressing kindnesses—loved, lingered over through a whole life, recalled with unfaded tenderness, and answering the call with undimmed shine, out of that raven cloud foreshadowing Death himself.
Charlotte Brontë. Villette(1853)
Comment: This is true. I have now no reason ever to complain that life was too hard. I have known the power of healing that one soul can give another. I am rich for ever.
The introduction tells us that Wilson began working at the agency for 30 shillings a week, and never made more than £3 (60 shillings) a week (ix). If raises were fairly regular, 45 shillings would place the following entry somewhere in the middle of Wilson's 21 years at the agency, in the mid-1920s. Wilson would have been in her late thirties.
When I remember, that a day will come, when I need no longer be tied to this body, limited, as only a working spinster on forty-five shillings a week can be limited, to a set place, the same people; hampered by lack of knowledge; frustrated by lack of opportunity, then I feel intoxicated with the joy of knowing that no one can take that day from me. I shall then know why I had to suffer here. I shall know what is the Good. I shall be allowed to be good. I shall understand.
The group of entries from pages 231-259 (from the section "Friends and Enemies") contains references to a romantic affair with a man. Wilson also refers to this man toward the end of the retrospective entry written a few months after losing her work (218-223).
Real love is so rare that if there is a God of Love surely He should leave it undisturbed. The world needs it for seed.
Capacity for friendship varies like capacity for love.
The starving are always selfish.
Every relationship with another human being is unique and alone.
There is a rag-and-bone man outside. I send to you the counterpart of rags and bones in the spiritual universe. Some day when I am really beautiful and good, I will send you love, the counterpart of silk and diamonds.
Your absence makes me tired.
It is he that loves best who is made a slave of, and is, moreover, forsaken sooner or later.
Honoré de Balzac.
Comment: I put this into my book with the passionate hope that it it not true.
Let me not fail those who trust me when they seem to need me least.
There are certain persons for whom pure truth is a poison. Do not make friends with them.
Familiarity breeds blindness, not contempt.
Men rarely like such of their fellows as read their inward nature too clearly and truly.
Charlotte Brontë. Shirley(1849)
Comment: I don't agree.
Hungry for affection—and why not? I am trying to learn to ‘say grace for others dining’; it is not easy.
I once regretted to a friend that I had never understood the language of worldly-wise people and had made so many mistakes. She said: ‘Take comfort, had you done so you would have made them your friends perhaps, but you would have let slip your own standards; you would have learnt small verities at the expense of big ones, and you would have vitiated your own soul.’
Of the Inequality amongst Us.
Plutarch says somewhere, that he does not find so great a difference betwixt beast and beast, as he does betwixt man and man. Which is said in reference to the internal qualities and perfections of the soul. And, in truth, I find (according to my poor judgment) so vast a distance betwixt Epaminondas and some that I know (who are yet men of common sense), that I could willingly enhance upon Plutarch, and say, that there is more difference betwixt such and such a man, than there is betwixt such a man and such a beast.
Michel de Montaigne.
Comment: It is small wonder then that we are cut up alive by the words and actions of some.
‘Everyman is as good as his neighbour.’ If so, no man is better than the worst, which is nonsense.
If you do an injustice to anyone, eventually you will come to hate him.
Methods of meeting enemies.
- 1. Not to recognize the hostility: a dangerous attitude.
- 2. To run away: rather cowardly.
- 3. To get one's blow in first and hardest: clever; cannot be done by me.
- 4. To recognize the hostility as a doctor diagnoses an
illness, or a nurse recognizes a child's bad temper: but I do
not know what to do, even if I do see the hostility; and
certainly I never see it in time to prevent more; also, what
I want, is the ability to conquer the bad with the good;
but alas! ‘Wisdom and goodness to the vile seem vile’
—even if I were wise and good.
Five types of friends.
- 1. The child: goes to play.
- 2. The dog: forgets.
- 3. The slave: obeys.
- 4. The servant: does not understand.
- 5. The one who knows all about you and yet loves.
I dislike C. E. F.; for she cheapens everything she touches.
For me a broken friendship is the worst form of pain. He recognizes that he has changed towards me. What at one time he wanted urgently, he now only wants at odd times, in small quantities. Why should I be so devastatingly hurt because of my steadfastness and loyalty? He is in no pain at all. I am faithful and therefore beaten. We suffer for the attribute that God is said to possess. Surely faithfulness should bring peace, not this grinding pain.
Gentleness, modesty, and self-doubt are the things to give to the gentle and sensitive. To impress the other type must mean firmness and self-confidence. You are bullied and insulted the more if you offer doubts of yourself, or an apology which will be misinterpreted.Said to me by a friend and copied because I know I need the advice, although I find it hard to understand.
I have lost a friend. She cares no more for me. It has even taken me six months to get so far as to put this on record. I never had a thought against S. I thought her wise and good and brave. She says I have been selfish and callous and unseeing. For a time I drew my breath in pain all day. But I have partly recovered because of wise remarks made by Edith Page.
- 1. Those of us who give without reservation lay ourselves open to suffering.
- 2. Some people are not constant.
- 3. Losing a friend does not always mean badness, it may mean growth.
- 4. Accusations are not always true, the friend who accuses may only desire to rationalize her faithlessness.
I hope for the sort of detachment that can come when the people in my world have, one after the other, been tried and found wanting.
But no man may deliver his brother nor make agreement unto God for him.
Comment: This always moves me.
One of the biggest signs of our lack of civilization is to be seen in an out-patients' department attached to any hospital, great or small. I have never taken any patient to these places without realizing the horrors of giving power to the ordinary woman or man over another. Even ordinary courtesies are omitted.
I took a client of ours to a hospital to-day. I hate such an experience more each time. We got there at five minutes past ten, and I left with her between half-past four and five o'clock. Illness unaided and alone would be far preferable to the contemptuous treatment we had.
I could see nothing of the divine love of healing, only the horrors of pride of office and love of bullying. I have also been in workhouses—or Poor Law Institutions, as I think they are called—and can see nothing of pity or divine compassion for those broken in a hard fight.
This may be my fault. I know that goodness is easily hidden and that evil is not so adroit; yet I still feel, with passion, that only those can be called civilized who remember, when speaking to others less fortunate, to be extra considerate.
The entry below appears to be based on observation of the treatment of others in hospitals, as in the entry above (274). There is no indication that Wilson was hospitalized herself, either for her terminal illness or earlier.
A Hospital Charter (Fourteen points.)
- 1. The patient to be spoken of as the ‘client’; this will encourage the staff to remember occasionally that the atient is paying his or her way, either by lack of privacy in the cause of medicine, or in hard cash.
- 2. No meaningless remarks to be addressed to the client
‘And how are we to-day?’
‘Well, have we been a good girl?’ (Especially unnecessary, when said by a youthful nurse to a woman twice her age).
‘What a nice dinner.’ (Usually said before the cover is taken from the plate.)
‘Let me make you comfy, dearie.’
‘Turn over like a good boy and go to sleep.’ (Said to a man of fifty.)
- 3. Truthful and complete answers to be given to direct questions from the client. The sanity of the patient might be presumed: because a patient is supine, he has not lost his reason; some brains function all the better in that position.
- 4. Relatives of the client to be treated with a certain amount of reserve. Information to them should be given only after application to the client. Distinguish carefully between those who call from a sense of duty or curiosity, and those who are real friends.
- 5. Visitors, when once passed by the client, to be allowed free access. This is desirable for two reasons: (a) The nurse will be relieved from unofficial errands; (b) the client will remain more contentedly in prison.
- 6. All property of the client, especially outdoor shoes, hat and coat, to be within reach of the client. He, or she, may be quite unable to lift a hand, but means of escape should always be present.
- 7. All letters and parcels to be delivered immediately.
- 8. To knock at a bedroom door should not be an unheard-of act of courtesy.
- 9. No forced hilarity, no professional jokes should be allowed between nurses in front of a client.
- 10. A light, suitably shaded from other beds, should be provided over each bed.
- 11. The doctor is not to be trusted who takes only the word of the nurse; nor is the nurse who cannot deviate from the doctor's orders, wholly to be commended. In this connection note that quite often, the client himself could offer the most correct report as to what he has eaten or for how long he has slept in the racket that prevails in these places throughout the night.
- 12. The staff should be asked to endeavour to understand the effect of pain, and to ‘give the loser leave to chide.’
- 13. The hospital was created for the client. Recollection of this startling fact might sometimes prevent the staff from allowing the tidy appearance of the bed to outweigh, in importance, the comfort of its occupant.
- 14. Respect should be paid especially to the poor and friendless who take the last mile of the journey alone. With them goes a report of this world and its treatment of pain and poverty.
Rules for old age.
- 1. To expect no sympathy from those not of one's own generation or education.
- 2. To keep the power of amusing oneself alone.
- 3. To talk less and listen more.
- 4. To keep alive the hope that the next world will contain satisfaction for the lost hopes in this.
- 5. At such festivals as Christmas go to other ‘odd women’ for companionship; not to any friends' home-gathering, which would but emphasize my homelessness.
- 6. To acknowledge good in the younger generation.
- 7. To add to the Litany a prayer for a sense of proportion (possibly old age will give me this without prayer).
- 8. To be able to take in new ideas; or, if unable to do this, not to turn from them.
- 9. To remember that a place in someone's heart is better than a house of one's own.
- 10. To be grateful if of use; but, if not wanted, to be glad of the perfect independence of the undesired.
- 11. To resist with passion the theory that weakness of the body must mean weakness of the spirit.
People grow old only when their hearts wither; so those whom the gods love die young, with hearts still able to love.
Some women, many I think, dread looking old. But I am inclined to think that to have no scars from well fought, if lost, battles would make a dull face even if still well preserved. Also old age shows character quicker—for those who can read—than youthful faces do. And if, as in an enlarged photograph, there is any vulgarity it cannot be hidden.
You can never be sorry enough for the girl who suffers because she feels that life is passing her by and leaving her nothing.
This age business is silly. Why judge by age at all? I have known old people at eighteen, and young ones at eighty. One of the unhappiest verses in the Bible is that which talks of threescore years and ten. It makes people feel old before they should. And yet I think there should be a technique in growing old, as there is in all other things. Anyway, life sometimes looks very ugly to those growing old. To be pushed from one's work must be an ill thing to bear with philosophy. Yet I would fain get the old ones to see, that to move aside, is both the better and the more chivalrous thing. Also, to learn to be content alone with herself, is the only philosophy that will bring a woman to a peaceful old age.
Nothing suffered by the body can fail to enrich the mind—if we choose.
I think I could manage to get through illness if I could have the luck of knowing I was in my own bed, in my own room, served by my own employees, and ruling the doctor instead of being ruled as someone destitute of any sense. It all depends on money, unfortunately. If you have none you must first explain, then prove, you are ill, and after that you have to be continually drawing on your gratitude bank, a fatiguing process. However, I think my luck will hold, I shall go out quickly, out from the dark into the light. Never can I pray against ‘sudden death,’ and although I am told it means unprepared death I still refuse to pray against it. My life as a whole is preparation for death. At the end I hope I shall realize the futility of fear, life's examination will be over, preparation cannot help then.
Psycho-analysts and those who have been analysed are often very impertinent to other people. A major mental operation, such as that process is claimed to be, surely should make the surgeon and patient more, not less, gentle. But the process devitalizes the soul, it loses its fragrance. And no analyst seems willing to credit an imaginative person with any goodness. He is more ready to see the Caliban than the Christ in the sufferer before him; and he treats him as one who has lost all claim to dignified treatment. He cannot explain, he does not recognize the saint, the sinner, the artist, or the simple.
I have no creed, no dogma, nothing to help me when I take the last journey alone.
I have once or twice, foolishly, said to a friend that it thrilled me to think of the great adventure waiting for me any day; a journey I could take unimpeded by any luggage, not even a tooth-brush. I found that the listener either did not believe me or decided that I was lacking in imagination, and would be one of the cowards when I met Death.
I cannot say. I can only claim that to me at present Death is an ally, it helps me not to tremble at shadows here. At the end of the journey ‘Death will unload me!’
As I see life now, every birthday eases me a little of this fear of living that is with me always.
They tell me I shall tremble to think of my sins. They are so many; I cannot let them trouble me too much. I have been so confused. I have been punished for what I thought was right and rewarded for evil. I think the only sins that will count will be those that have hurt others, especially those weaker than myself. That will be hard. But if I am to have that light surely I shall, at the same time, be allowed light on everything; and to have answers to my questions will alleviate. I have been asking questions all my life.
And again they argue that I may sink into nothingness; and I wonder afresh at the fuss made about a permanent sleep. ‘That space of time when I shall no longer be moves me more than these few moments.’
But the chances are that, as I think I have seen, and some- times heard, the dead near me, I shall meet those of my own kind there. God cannot be worse than the saints I have known in this life, and if He has no time for me, they will ‘heal me of the wound of living.’
Some fishes, being told that water was the greatest of all things, went to inquire about it and how it could be seen. Until they were caught in a net and removed from water they could not understand. I think that may happen to us when we wake in the next world and realize that we knew of it all the time.
Some of us will have a lot to leave for burial, some ‘big’ ones will leave little.
So he died undesired.
The most terrible comment on a death I have ever read.
I read in the paper to-day of the death of an old man, the first to take advantage of the Old Age Pension. He had been unable to believe such a bounty and had gone to the local post office early the first morning the Act had come into force and waited for the doors to open. I think some of us will wait outside heaven's gate in as unbelieving a spirit.
When we speak unkindly of the dead they may be sorry, I do not know. But when we speak truthfully of the bad things done by them to us, they suffer horribly; and when we speak of the good they did, it is heaven for them. I do not know how this can be, but it was shown to me as truth.
Comment: I am struck by your remark of the dead suffering in this way. I had never thought it for myself, but I feel instantly that it may be true.
‘If there were no heaven I should love God no less; and if no hell, no less should I fear Him.’ Many think that this saying is based upon the vision in which Santa Teresa beheld an aged woman carrying burning straw in one hand to destroy heaven, and a vessel of water in the other with which to put out hell, in order that men might love God for His own sake alone.
The desire to be with the dying—and some even wish to be the only one—is curious, the dying may be so near the place where they will be as gods, and look right through the deeds of men that it would be immaterial however much I was shunted or misjudged—they would so soon understand, I could wait.
Wilson's reference to her age dates the following entry to 1931 or later.
I should distinguish more carefully the difference between a God-sent trouble and one made by man. To be alive at all means the possibility of a God-sent trial. In front of a man-made trouble I should fight and if I cannot fight I ought to share the pain. My pain may assist the unseen watchers. Or is that morbid? Ought I to turn away from pain I cannot help? Pain increases the spiritual momentum of the world. Thoroughly healthy people are so often thoroughly hard people. Those who suffer become interested in the Unseen, surely an advantage in a life that so rapidly spills over after the age of forty-five?
The reference to Britain's purchase of the Codex Sinaticus dates the following entry to October 1933 or later. The sale of the Codex was initiated by the Soviet Government in the summer of 1933. The purchase price of £100,00 had been agreed upon by October; the Codex was delivered to the British Museum on December 26.
When strained beyond my power to endure sensibly the sight of suffering I often find comfort in Thomas Hardy's poem of the bedridden peasant calling on his unknowing God:
The Bedridden Peasant. To an Unknowing God.
Much wonder I—here long low-laid— That this dead wall should be Betwixt the Maker and the made, Between Thyself and me!
For, say one puts a child to nurse, He eyes it now and then To know if better it is, or worse, And if it mourn, and when.
But thou, Lord, giv'st us men our day In helpless bondage thus To Time and Chance, and seem'st straightway To think no more of us!
That some disaster cleft Thy scheme And tore us wide apart, So that no cry can cross, I deem; For Thou art mild of heart, And wouldst not shape and shut us in Where voice can not be heard: Plainly Thou meant'st that we should win Thy succour by a word.
Might but Thy sense flash down the skies Like man's from clime to clime, Thou wouldst not let me agonize Through my remaining time;
But, seeing how much Thy creatures bear— Lame, starved, or maimed, or blind— Wouldst heal the ills with quickest care Of me and all my kind.
Then, since Thou mak'st not these things be, But these things dost not know, I'll praise Thee as were shown to me The mercies Thou wouldst show.
One unhappy ill-used child, one blind man unable to get food, one uneducated person longing for help makes me dizzy with the badness of a world where there is enough if we did but co-operate.
We are accepting conditions that should be impossible for any sane community.
The Roman Catholics tell me that there is a settling up finally: I cannot see how that can comfort me for the lack of payment now. The Christian Scientists tell me that it is all cured by the power of thought: they do not seem able to cure the obvious ills in spite of their claim. Other creeds have their solutions; but nothing big is done. We put small patches on everywhere, and go on hoping for better times.
Avarice is the greatest sin just now, and I can understand the temptation. There is no evil that money will not alleviate. Those with money refuse to subscribe to this, but I defy them to find me any form of wretchedness that cannot be relieved by money.
So if I were a big potentate and not a mere moneyless woman I would attack the question of money.
I would give to every person who came into this world enough for bed, bread, and a bus ticket. They could be idle if they wished, but no more than this bare minimum would be given. Every opportunity to be clean would be allowed, and no indignity attached to their condition. I think I could be happy with no work, provided I was able to go where I wished and learn.
Old age would be provided for by pensions—adequate for decent living—for women at fifty-five, and for men at sixty years of age.
Hospitals would be supported properly, but there would be far fewer diseases, and mental weakness in my world would be dealt with by euthanasia. If God denies the person any power to act for himself I do not think it can be wrong to give that helpless person back to God.
Except for creators, teachers would be regarded as the most important people in the State. Give us the right teachers, in the right environment, and half our present troubles would disappear in three generations. But to belong to the most respected profession would not mean more, but rather less, money. No one is to be attracted by the work because of the pay. Also if one is rich it means a very well formed soul to be able to withstand the temptations of riches. So I would guard my teacher from such ills. He would get less pay, but more power, than any other profession.
Statesmen would come next in the scale of greatness, and they also would not be paid so well as those doing monotonous, or less interesting, work.
The other professions would come next in importance. They provide interests and happinesses that I do not see can be obtained from delivering milk at five-thirty in the morning, for instance; so those thinking of the professions also would have to choose between money or power—not both.
Then I see those engaged in trade—the bulk of the workers, I suppose. They would get more money, very much more than the teachers. But their profits would be regulated. There would be no possibility of an assistant with barely enough to eat, while the head of the firm made thousands of pounds in profit. The more important the commodity the less profit would be possible—if profit at all was allowed. The luxury trades could make more if they could, perhaps men and women would not need so many luxuries then.
Finally, for those engaged in dull or fatiguing work I would offer more money or fewer hours of work. Liberty or money: they would have to decide which they would take.
And if they had leisure they would know how to use it, because their education would have fitted them for living a life, as well as earning a living.
Not that education would be the same for all. Each child would receive that for which he was best fitted. There would be the same standards of cleanliness and speech for all, so that all could meet each other without embarrassment. Only personal tastes and difference in the mind would create barriers, the milkman could play bridge with the chairman of the Milk Supply Company, and I could meet one of my aristocratic employers for dinner with ease —if they wanted me, which they would not!
I write for my own amusement. My bed-sitting room is not too warm; I cannot afford all the gas I want when a shilling-in-the-slot meter gives so little; my meal to-night was only a rather tired egg and a shrunken orange—I have heard this is the typical spinster's meal—for my landlady is angry that I did not go out this August Bank Holiday. But I have had a new book and been very contented thinking of a world as I would like it.
It has been a wasted day, I suppose, waste also of paper. Hundreds of good and wise men have tried to solve these problems, and not succeeded.
Yet if we could send, as I have been told we did, fifty million pounds to Ireland on sweepstakes in one year, and spend a hundred thousand pounds on the Codex Sinaiticus, surely a way might be found? Surely, if we were educated enough to want to help all the people of every class, this money could have been deflected and used to put this crazy world right.
We could start by using it for education.
We would establish those of kindlier build, In fair Compassions skilled, Men of deep art in life-development; Watchers and warders of thy varied lands, Men surfeited of laying heavy hands Upon the innocent, The mild, the fragile, the obscure content Among the myriads of thy family. Those, too, who love the true, the excellent, And make their daily moves a melody. (Thomas Hardy). The Dynasts(1904)
This final group of seven entries includes those in which Wilson mentions the loss of her work (likely in early 1934), and those that by other indications appear to have been composed in the period of unemployment preceding her death—nine months, according to the introduction (ix). The entry beginning page 218 indicates that Wilson looked for work for several months after being laid off, before the diagnosis of her terminal illness.
I have lost my work. It is three weeks since I knew, but I did not dare to own to my book that the daily fear has become a certain fact. Am I now sorry I did not live the life of a miser on one pound a week—many would call that affluence—and save, first ten, and then forty, shillings a week? I had no dependents. I might have been able to do it. But my rises in salary were so uncertain. I do not think I should have ever made enough for safety even had I managed to live in dirt and cold all these years. Whenever I contemplated it I pushed the idea aside as impossible.
And what now? I don't know. I can only say—weakly—that I asked very little of life, and that the little has come in such tiny drops. What did I want? I wanted inde- pendence, and was prepared to work myself to the last ounce to get it. And independence was to mean a flat, with its own front door, some books, and security when old.
Perhaps, had I demanded more, I should have got the minimum. But I don't know how to demand in a world not made for the ‘likes of me.’ Rudyard Kipling says that the fear of poverty is the worst fear of all. Samuel Butler says the same. I agree. And being a woman I know more about it than they ever could.
Nevertheless, this acknowledgment from two master minds consoles me, for my fears have helped me as much as they have hindered. I found I must be myself if I meant to control those fears, independent of every one. I found, if I went to others, either they did not understand, which frightened me badly; or else they resented being reminded; or, if understood, I found myself depending too much on the understanding.
And so I was flung back on myself.
I can hear the happily married woman, who has exchanged a careful father for an affectionate husband, say: ‘Impossible to live your own life on so little money and no love.’ And the well-educated man would jeer at my ill-stocked mind and echo ‘Impossible.’
They are wrong.
Because of my fear I was forced to work for food and shelter. I depended on myself.
Because of my fear I have been forced back on to myself for mental sustenance. I had to be independent of others' affection or approval. I can remember when I cried for the shelter of a home, for relatives who would, even if failing to understand, give me loyalty. There were times when my mind was so ill equipped that I was hysterical with fear.
I still wonder why I did not have more tools with which to attack life. Yet I see that my fears carved the way for me. I have lived my own life, thought my own thoughts, not those of others, fought my own fears, unhelped except or those few books I could get.
Hence I claim that my life has been worth living.
And the future? I dare not think of that to-night.
I will try to sleep. There has been a lovely sunset.
The following entry suggests that Wilson's rearrangement of her notebooks into thematic sections was part of a process of retrospective reflection on her life, along with the narratives of personal development she composes here and in the entry beginning on page 218.
I HAVE been cutting into sections my note books, and quite half of the extracts would appear to come under bewilderment. And then I found a curious connection between bewilderment and vision. Being bewildered brings you to vision. I find myself looking at the muddle, and then feeling straight away that the solution was there also, that the fact of the muddle meant a cure, an answer, a reason.
I cannot believe that the whole world is in one gigantic confusion, and that luck is the only god.
There seems too much feeling, too much real emotion shown by these writers for such waste. Real feeling is a form of genius.
So I am thrown back to the curious combination of calling this section ‘Vision and Bewilderment.’ Even as I write down the problem, copying some great man's troubled expression of the bewildered state of his mind, I find something whispering to me: ‘Go on, copy it; the asking will bring the solution some time.’
Certainly if I express as clearly as I can a problem, the answer seems nearer than if I leave a problem as of no importance.
Directing my mind towards the solution brings a bit of light, even if a faint one.
From my earliest years it was pain that worried me. I felt the anxiety, the discomfort, the emotion of those near me. And, of course, I had my own pain to diagnose. I remember early in my schoolroom days, before I went to a boarding school at the age of nine, a nursery governess waking me at night to confide to me a trouble about something my father had said to her; I think it was about inviting her brother to see her, and I remember the anxiety I felt that she should not feel unwanted in the house, or unable to do anything she wanted. And, again, I remember an elderly man coming to the house, asking for my father, and being roughly turned away by a maid because he looked like a tramp. I remember also my bewilderment at seeing a hospital ward, and being told that the patients were very lucky, and that their dinners were as nice as mine; I remember thinking that if they were too poor to buy dinners and were also ill they should have better dinners than mine, and that anyway no one should call them fortunate people.
I remember growing older and finding, by slow process, that adults did not always tell the truth, were not always kind, could make a child's life a burden to her without any compunction, with sometimes even a certain amount of pleasure.
It is not necessary for me to remind myself of some
horrors, but I think I had a bit more than most children,
sufficiently to think, even to this day, that childhood is
neither a dignified nor a happy state compared with the
time when one at least has the chance mentally to stand up
for oneself or, failing that, to run away. I never knew, as a
child, of any adult who was wholly to be trusted. My
brothers and sister managed better, judging by the way they
speak now of these days. But I know that ‘When young
lips have drunk deep of the waters of Hate, Suspicion, and
Despair, all the Love in the world will not wholly take
away that knowledge, though it may turn darkened eyes for
a while to the light, and teach Faith where no Faith was.’
I think I naturally plant fears where others would think only in terms of a joke, or an adventure or an unusual event. I know I am likely to think, if I hear a child crying, that the child is in terror; and such is not always the case. And yet I find myself unable to comfort myself in that way, adults thought the same when I cried as a child. Who can tell unless there is love near? Who can tell? But I am sure that I needed more demonstrative love than I had, and I have found that spoken, safe, steady love seems to do more for the young, the timid, the unsuccessful, than any amount of practical advice, or even material help, at times. Thoughts, words, and last, actions, I put the best first. If you think rightly and kindly the human in front of you feels the goodness and is comforted.
I was obliged, in my reading, to look for assurance that my pain was pain, not hysteria, nor a mind morbidly inclined; and after I found proof that others had felt the same pain, then I had to look for a reason for my pain.
I do not think I have found the entire reason, or ever shall, but I have found some vision in the matter. I think that, though my early years weakened my health and nerves, my experience has helped me with other frightened people. I don't think I ever made the mistake of brushing aside real pain. I have been able to get into touch more quickly than some do with other troubled frightened people. I had known so many fears myself about how I should be received or treated that it was easy for me to make the atmosphere easier for others. I say this only to myself, and hope it is not conceited of me.
I am sure that to try to pretend to the sufferer that a trouble does not exist because it has not been experienced by oneself is one of the cruellest forms of false consolation. I soon found that one must acknowledge the pain first and at once. Excusing the cruel man to the sufferer is of no use at first. The pain is there, one must attend to that first. It is unreasonable to expect the sufferer to understand and forgive the aggressor until his or her wounds have been recognized and healed, so far as is possible. I remember to this day, and cannot ever say his name without tears, a man who stood up for me when I was being hit with scornful words by my father: ‘Don't speak so of Eve in front of me.’ I ran from the room, and never knew how the matter was settled. The friend did not come again, but I found it much easier to forgive my father from that day. I was over eighteen at the time, but it was the only occasion that I ever remember when someone stood up for me, taking my side as the weaker one, and alone. For we were not taught loyalty to each other in the nursery.
I have of course made terrible and most silly mistakes at times, crediting to others a wealth of feeling they did not possess, pitying where it was felt to be an insult, and often making more of incidents than was sane or just. Also, I am terribly resentful, which is a great sin, my worst, I think. And I hate the aggressor still. I have never got to the heights of being more sorry for the cruel, the powerful, the masters of their fate, than for their victims. I recognize that they are in worse state, but I am too busy, too torn about the fate of their victims to be good to the cruel; and, to do them justice, my forgiveness would irritate them very much.
Then what have I got for myself out of this sense of pity? I think I have, because of my power to feel, more joys than some would seem to have. I can touch heights that thrill me just as much as pain can drag me down. Also, and still more important, the fact that I felt acutely made me seek for God. Happiness alone might never have done it. Pain did. I could not bear pain in myself, or see it in others, without looking for a cause, and looking for that made me search for God. I have looked for Him in every incident, every place, and every person. I found no answer why there should be pain, but I found that the search was the thing that mattered.
Also my capacity for pain made me angry at times when nothing else would have stopped cruelty. Happy people are so ready to say there is no evil. Why cannot we acknowledge evil as evil? ‘She did not mean to do wrong,’ and ‘He did not know,’ make me tired. Also, ‘There is no evil’ and ‘Everything is really all right’ make me despair of ever turning wrongs into rights. And again how I hate ‘Poverty is one's own fault’ and ‘We all get our deserts.’ Variations on these flat-footed optimistic platitudes are ‘There are compensations for every ill’ and ‘We can get used to everything in time.’ Nothing is going to be done for sufferers if we can drug ourselves with such easy lies that can only comfort cruel men.
I was forced to be glad that I knew pain and could help in a way that the happy never could.
I know I have often been laughed at, more often laughed at than agreed with, but if I have helped to stop any pain, if I have made a sufferer understand that I recognize the pain, then I think it is worth while for me to have these memories that ‘thick the blood’ when I am tired or sleepless or out of sorts.
It has not been too easy a life or comfortable But I see now that that does not matter. The pain made me look for light, and although I have not found much, I feel I have been helped to walk along in the dark with a fairly secure knowledge that light is at the end of the walk. I feel as if I were near, very near sometimes, to that light.
So I put together my bewildered and my visionary extracts because they seem to grow together, leading me to the time when ‘It shall be light.’
The following entry contains Wilson's second reference to the process of rearranging her notebooks into thematic sections.
Sleep hath its own world, A boundary between the things misnamed Death and Existence. Sleep hath its own world, And a wide realm of wild reality, And dreams in their development have breath, And tears, and torture, and the touch of joy. Lord Byron, "The Dream" (1816)
Comment : I do not know the author of this, I quote from memory. I put the quotation into my Illness section because I dream only when ill.
Swan-Song of any Pioneers.
They reap with singing where through bitter days we sowed the seed; They eat the bread for which our dearest perished in their >need; They say: ‘Behold our easy, just reward who never went Your unenlightened way to work.’ They reap: we are >content. V. H. Friedlaender. Works credited in Acknowledgments
Comment : This has consoled me many times since I lost my work.
My needs are first, money (and only uneducated women who, like myself, have had to make every penny they spend will understand this confession); second, friendship; third, a room which is mine alone; fourth, books; last, some leisure.
The happiest people, I think, would be those with the greatest amount of variety in their lives. I should like to have known poverty, riches; failure, success; solitude, society; activity, leisure; simple unsophisticated and educated people. I hate dirt, so I am not nice enough for the very poor, but, to be thoroughly unhappy, I do not need misery and dirt so much as to live with snobs who can appreciate nothing unless the object is hall-marked.
I should like to own that friends come first, but I must show my selfish self when writing to, or about, that self. I need money badly because it protects me from cruelty and because I have tested the hardness of other people's beds. There is, alas, no trouble that money will not alleviate. So I must own that money comes first. But money is only an alleviation, I do not mind that I cannot have what it will buy. It is my friends who have given me all the happiness I need.
I woke early to the fact that I had no home, in the sense I think the word connotes; home should mean, I think, a place where you are not only taken for granted, but taken in always, however bad or unsuccessful, and cared for because you belong there, your needs understood, and met as a matter of course; and, best of all, protection and loyalty. I know this means I am feeble, unable easily to stand alone; but I cry out at times for a place where my failures would not matter and where my successes would count as nothing, provided I loved and let myself be loved.
But this was not for me. I was of no consequence to my father, my brothers forged ahead for money and position, and Ethel married a rich husband. They all found the plain spinster daughter and sister very much in the way. And then they were disloyal in ways I will not think about even to myself here.
I ought not to complain, for I was taught through my lack more than had I been wealthy. Homeless people who came to me at the office knew I was as they were, and this helped them and me.
It was those friends who let me into their mental life who gave me most. I can live the other more imaginative life alone, but mental food must be obtained outside sometimes.
At the office I met my colleagues on equal terms, a delightful experience after being a governess; committee members, proud of their office on committees, but willing to show appreciation if I could get the right employee; inspectors of agencies and of health insurance cards, also proud of power but able to be human; commercial travellers anxious about their returns; mechanics for telephones, typewriters, and gas stoves enjoying their machinery; employers mostly loving only their own homes and all that was in them; and, best of all, employees, who took sympathy so greedily. I admit these last took toll of me, but I was of use to them and that was reward for someone who had never been wanted in her life before. Of all those I met Geraldine Waife, a colleague, was the most valuable. She was always ready for a talk, so easy to get on with. And when she married, what fun it was to go to her house and have well-served meals, a theatre for which one did not wait in the rain, other friends of hers to meet, and books to borrow.
Then came a change. Geraldine went abroad. I think she would have understood. She wanted to understand. Some people don't.
Psychologists say that you have only yourself to blame if, having thought highly, too highly, of a friend, she or he drops from that height. I am not able to claim any scientific knowledge of the mind, but my answering question is: Has not the friend, at some time or another, claimed to be climbing those particular slopes? A friendship often starts because one finds another climbing the same way. I think one may sympathize a little with the sufferer who finds her friend has never wanted that particular mountain, or has turned back without giving notice to her fellow- traveller.
My greatest griefs in life have been losses of friends. When they failed I felt it must have been something unworthy in me, for I loved them. And now that I am older, able to flee to my own tower of refuge in myself, although worn in the fight for mental as well as physical independence, I can see that these losses have often been my own fault. I did not trust. I do not think I have ever been able to trust anyone wholly. I was always—when at all ill—expecting they would let me down. It was the way mental fatigue always took with me. My friends were not to blame. How could they know? They felt my current of uneasiness, it irritated them, unconsciously they fostered it, and finally some of them would prove it to be a certainty.
Yet I cannot blame myself entirely. From my youth up I have suffered from uncertain people. I never knew if I was to be kissed or whipped, it was mostly the latter. They were not bad people, but they had little self-control. It has worked havoc with my outlook on life. It has made me horridly hasty to think the friend false or faithless, and has also caused in me a continual ache for a constant demonstration that I was safe with my friend. These two characteristics hurt, irritate, tire, and bore those happy people who are certain of themselves and all about them.
And, again, I lost friends because I had not learned how to play. Many of my friends had come to me through Geraldine, and were living easier lives than those I saw at the office.
The difficulties of the lives of those nurses, maids, and nursery governesses ate into my soul. I could not forget how hopelessly insecure those workers were; I could not prevent myself from seeing the ingratitude of those women who, having security, used other women, and then threw them aside. I suppose I was morbid. But I could have cured my morbidity if I had been allowed to express it, and given an answer to my questions. No one gave me the answer. I only found people avoiding me because I had a grievance. A grievance appears to be something the other man does not want to know. Yet they had their troubles, I know, and I ought to have understood, though their troubles were the troubles of affluence. I, a workhouse lodger in life, and dealing with other workhouse lodgers, became sullen. It spoilt my enjoyment of everything pleasant if I felt that the majority of people would never share it. The knowledge made me lonely and I was ill at ease with those who had never suffered, who felt sure of themselves in a pleasant world. I suppose I should have gone to a convent and forgotten the outside world. But I wanted freedom, and of dogma I knew, and know, nothing. I felt inadequate, queer, cut off from my kind, alone, degraded. I was to blame. I asked too much; it is only the rare souls who can understand that which they have not experienced.
But the difficulties passed. I did not regain those friends, but I made others, perhaps of more value because they accepted me as I was and did not try to change me. Some understood my burden of pity. I learned the peace of being with those entirely sincere and kind, and who had no social ambitions.
Later came the knowledge of enmity. I had acquired more pluck, I was older, I began to fight for, instead of only pitying, my workless people. I made enemies. At one time Miss de Burgh nearly sent me away. A colleague at the office made trouble. The employers did not always amuse and interest me, at times I found myself angry. The enmity of the world pressed on me. I found myself unable to deal with the coarse, and I was afraid of vindictiveness and self-seeking, which at one time I had not seen. My manners deteriorated, and manners are catching. Miss de Burgh left things to me, but I had no real authority in the office. And then, quite suddenly, one day I heard a junior call me ‘old,’ and I found myself frightened. I was worn out, I was tired, and there was nothing behind me. Youth had gone. I, too, had no safety. I had had more fun and freedom in my life than many, but I was also going to be one of the unemployable.
I expect I was hard and bitter those years. I did not know that I was being tried, and that I was learning, on the intensive system, vital truths. I still do not know why I had such a hard schooling. But I got the knowledge and am the better for it. Unless I am definitely careful of, and kind to, every human being who passes my way I shall be cruel to many.
I realized my position late because I had always thought
‘he’ would come back. I see
I fancy modern women may manage better. I do not know. It was a miracle that I ever met him, for he was not used to my kind. And it was nothing to wonder about that he left me when tired of me. I am grateful that I had him for a time. I think he did get something. Perhaps I shall meet him again.
My next experience about friends was when I lost my work a few months ago. I found that if of no use some leave you at once. I think all my life I have been shirking this art of depending on oneself for everything: a faith, a home, and mental food. I think I have learnt it at last. And when I get work I shall not lean on anyone. I shall not fail my friends again through peevishness or wanting them to share my pity or to understand what they have not experienced. I shall at last be reasonable and try to be at ease with all classes. I am even conquering my fear of poverty and cruel people. There is another world behind, over this. In it I shall find my books and my friends again.
Ostle placed the entry below before the concluding quotation of the first section ("Women: Their Work; Their Homes"), with the following note: "I found this on the back of an envelope and against Eve's probable desires I include it with her other self-talks. She will not mind now" (44). As a retrospective reflection on Wilson's life and career, it appears to belong to the same period as the longer pieces beginning on pages 116 and 218.
To have an easy life, to get what you want at once and to learn nothing; no, I won't be jealous of that. But if I might have a little more beauty in mine; I do not think that was asking too much. Cheap lodgings, hard work, thin-natured, or mentally starved, people: I suppose it was all I deserved. And a psychologist once told me that we gravitate to what we want. Perhaps I was fitted for nothing else. A friend once told me I was getting dull because I was so often with dull people. Did I have other chances? Perhaps I did—dreadful thought—and never knew they were offered to me as a means of escape. To myself, though, just for once I will say that, when the chance seemed to be coming there was always someone crying for help, and I turned back. Very conceited and egoistic of me to write this. A psychologist would say it was my excuse for failing. I must leave it on paper, not in my book. I must destroy it to-morrow.—(Written one night about two a.m.)
I have had my certificate of release to-night. I saw the
doctor, played the fool, and so got the information I
wanted. I have now to keep in mind and do all he tells
me not to do! I bluffed him very well, I think. Men,
to whom the world as a whole listen respectfully, are easily
flattered; they forget that each person is a different entity.
They think in classes. It was quite easy. I have the
disease mother had. I thought so. I may go out any time.
And my money will last out over the year. That is all
that matters. Because of this money business I have to
say ‘No’ to God. He cannot be more thoughtless, less
understanding than my friends. He must surely understand if I am compelled to hand back to Him this, so-called,
gift of life. To be condemned to live when I lack the means
is senseless. We all have the right to say ‘No’ to senseless
propositions. No adult forces a child, unless the adult
is a beast, into a life that makes that child a savage. If
I fail to get enough to shelter, to clothe, and to feed myself
I become the savage. If God exists He will understand.
If He does not exist, then I go out to sleep and what is
better than sleep when weary? I am but a child in a world
I certainly never made. Conditions are now such that I
am of no more use. Man is immortal till his work is done.
Mine is done. The delicious