Huddersfield Chronicle (10/May/1856) - Lecture by Mrs. Balfour

The following is a transcription of a historic newspaper article and may contain occasional errors. If the article was published prior to 1 June 1957, then the text is likely in the Public Domain.


On Thursday evening Mrs. C.L. Balfour delivered a lecture in the Philosophical Hall, to the members of the Female Institute — her subject being “Thoughts on female education.” There was a large audience, principally of the gentler sex.

W. Willans, Esq. took the chair, and briefly introduced Mrs. Balfour to the audience.

Mrs. Balfour said it was with great diffidence and deference she ventured to offer to them what she had preferred to call “thoughts on female education,” a subject in which she had ever been deeply interested. After a sketch of the schools which she attended in her early days — which included both pleasing and unpleasing recollections, she proceeded to consider the meaning of the word education. It did not mean, when applied to woman, an educing and developing of the intellectual faculties — the strengthening of the reasoning powers — the implanting of principles — the building of character or the development of faculties. They limited it in a variety of ways — spoke of it as belonging to a particular time in life — as restricted to a particular place, and having some particular object. The time was the period of youth — the place, school — and the education had merely reference to a certain amount of intellectual acquirements — such as strengthening the memory and obtaining the routine of fashionable accomplishments. Such was the general idea with regard to female education in the present day. Every person must know that training had much more to do with the moral character, the habits, and future development than teaching. Home must be the first school — the mother, necessarily the most valuable or the most ruinous teacher for good or for evil. Education was not limited to the school-room — it did not begin or end there. All relative education was to prepare persons for carrying on their own education, the same as society had a government to prepare people for self-government. There was two maxims with regard to education much forgotten — one was to know thoroughly all they professed to know; the next was not to pretend to know what they did not know. Girls were only taught results; boys principles. It had always seemed to her that one of the great merits of the Society of Friends was the admirable way in which they taught certain ordinary branches of instruction — such as English grammar, arithmetic in its higher branches, and English reading. Thoroughness and completeness, as far as the mode of study went, ought to be a primary matter in female education, because it strengthened the character, and would give a distinct and moral sense of perfect truth and sincerity as the basis of all knowledge. Education depended much on the existence of three or four principles in the persons themselves. They could not obtain education irrespective of efforts made by themselves; for it was not what was done by society but what people were resolved to do that was really valuable. They had volume upon volume of instances of men who had raised themselves from the humblest ranks of life by their indomitable energy of character — but there were comparatively few instances in which the same could be said in regard to women. There was always a little sarcasm, a little ridicule, and a slight tendency to sneer at a woman who manifested a disposition to be bookish. The necessary duties of life must not be ignored or slightingly performed, and these presented some hindrance with regard to the continuance of a systematic plan of self culture. Yet this did not touch the real truth of the matter — which was that woman had so little faith in herself — so little faith in her duty to train and educate her mind. If women considered the duties which would devolve upon them as daughter, sister, wife and mother, they would recognise the fact of its being light to cultivate their mind — and would see it their duty as well as their privilege to enter upon the work of self-culture as zealously and earnestly as man. The lecturer next dwelt upon the plans woman should adopt for self-cultivation. She should first cultivate the faculty of observation. Every one had admitted the quickness of perception, acuteness of observation, and knowledge of character which woman seemed to possess intuitively. Woman had plans of reasoning not easy to define, but the conclusions of which were generally correct; but, unfortunately, instead of educating this faculty, she wasted it upon trivialities. The second important work in female education was conversation. This rightly employed and wisely used was one of the most important means in the work of education. Cowper had told them a great deal on the subject in one line. “To talk is not always to converse.” The next department was writing. She did not think in these days we were such letter writers as formerly. The penny post had annihilated letters. The goodly sheet filled on three sides, and the ends where it was folded, perhaps cross written too, was known no more. In the present day we only wrote notes. She recommended that after reading any book, they should write down any thought it had suggested to their mind. In this way they would find many a book valuable, not for what it contained, but for what it suggested. It they did not read with a systematic plan, they could not read to any good purpose. She thought posterity would regard it as a great blessing to have been born in this age, when the first railroad was made, the first steam engine in operation, when the telegraph first sent its message, and the sun painted its first portrait. England now wanted what a great Frenchwoman said to Napoleon that France wanted — mothers. For the cultivation of woman’s mental powers she recommended principally the study of biography, which would do much to prevent the exclusive reading of works of fiction. She did not deprecate the perusal of works of fiction. Three classes, however, erred with regard to works of imagination. First, those who thought fiction trifled with the sanctity and dignity of truth. Such should remember that similitude was one of the oldest forms of teaching, and had ever been recognised as the most influential. The next class who erred were the scientific investigators, who said life was too short and the world too full of mystery for them to waste time on works of imagination. The argument appeared plausible, but history proved that the greatest discoverers had always been men of great imagination. The third class, and the largest, were those who also erred most fatally — those who with greedy voracity were ever devouring the contents of circulating libraries. In conclusion the lecturer pointed out the importance of historical study — showed how woman had ever excelled in criticism, and defended the utility of reading our poetic literature showing as it did the resources of our language. Everything was useful which tended to develop mind, educate the feelings, called forth genial sympathies, that spread a charm over the social circle, intellectualised their recreations, and added to the sum of innocent enjoyment.

Votes of thanks were accorded to Mrs. Balfour and the chairman, after which the meeting separated.