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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 78

'Nancy Stair.'

'Nancy Stair.'

The following extract from 'Nancy Stair,' one of the ablest and best novels of last year is full of ripe wisdom and common sense:—

Old Dr M'Murtie came into the library and addressed me, with some heat and scant apology.

"John," said he, looking at me over his glasses, "I am going to make myself disagreeable. I am going to be that damned nuisance, a candid friend; but somebody's got to speak to you, for you're just letting that girl of yours kill hereself."

I stared at him in speechless wonderment.

"She's killing herself." he went on, relentlessly. "And when it's too late you'll see the truth of it. No girl's body is equal to the excitement she s had for years, ever since she was a baby, in fact. . . . It's all damned non-sense," he summed up, succinctly, "and it's for you to stop it."

"Instead of helping her to get out a second edition of poems." he went on, "ye'd show more sense if you put your mind to considering the problem of how much work a woman can do in justice to the race. Every female creature is in all probability the repository of unborn generations, and should be trained to think of that solemn fact as a man is taught to think of his country."

"Some women," I answered testily, "are forced to work daily at laborious tasks to support families——"

"And others," he interrupted, "squeeze their feet and give each other poison; but they are not my patients, and Nancy Stair is. And I think you'll find that the women who work, as you say, do most of it with their bodies, not with their heads or their nerves, and it's in work of this kind the trouble of female labor lies. Nancy should save her vitality. She should store it up for wife hood and motherhood. She'll be a spent woman before she has a husband, and your grand-children puny youngsters as a resulting. Think it over. John," he concluded; "think it over."

Now, let me draw Mr Wilson's attention to a matter which he has persistently ignored. My lecture at the Froebel Club was addressed to an audience composed almost entirely of women; the bearing of my remarks was pointed especially to the education of girls; and the extract which I read from my public report in 1897 dwelt almost exclusively on school over-pressure as affecting the potentialities of motherhood. Let me repeat the extract in question :—

In the apparent causes of insanity among patients admitted that of "over-study" is of special interest. It is certainly important that parents and guardians should clearly recognise that prolonged and excessive mental strain, and neglect of exercise, recreation, and rest, especially among girls, during the period of rapid growth and development, cannot be continued without an ultimate dwarfing of both mind and body, and grave peril to the integrity of the organism. In the stress of competition for honors and prizes the brain is so often worked at the verge of the breaking strain, to the neglect of everything else, that one is inclined to wonder that entire mental collapse does not result more frequently. If the secondary effects of over-pressure among girls in impairing the potentialities of reproduction and healthy maternity were more widely known, it would probably prove a greater incentive to moderation than the more striking, but comparatively rare causation of insanity.

Mr Wilson Goes not seem to realise, when he admits that school over-pressure is doing harm to girls, that he is conceding precisely what I specially tried to impress page 46 upon my audience at the Froebel Club, and I think I may fairly say succeeded in impressing on them. Even here, however, there are essential differences between Mr Wilson's views and my own. It never seems to occur to the rector that anything short of an actual breakdown is to be regarded as evidence of harm done. He does not seem to have ever given a thought to such injuries as are referred to by the authorities I have quoted, and he is quite willing to let things drift indefinitely, in spite of his half-hearted admission that we are doing a great wrong to girls in allowing them to strain themselves in too ex-acting competitive examinations.