A with some humour, though the humour is a little
too much of the kind which George Eliot speaks of as " well known to pro- duce laughter," and, we fancy, with an amateur's hand, the subject of the delicate embarrassments of a Professor in a Ladies' College. We strongly suspect that the article was written by some one who never lectured in a Ladies' College in his life, and who simply ima- gined a priori the sort of nervous perplexity to which that situation would be likely to give rise. " He feels," said the reviewer, " that he must be interesting ; but he is haunted, above all, with the sense that he must be proper. He remembers that when, in reply to the lady principal's inquiry how he liked his class, he answered with the strictest intellectual reference that they were charming, the stern matron suggested that another adjective would perhaps be more appropriate. He feels his whole moral sense as a teacher ebbing away. In the case of men he would insist on a thorough treatment of his subject, and would avoid sentiment and personal details as insults to their intelligence ; but what is he to do with rows of pretty faces that grow black as he touches upon the dialectic of Socrates, but kindle into life and animation when he depicts the sage's snub nose? Anecdotes, pretty stories, snatches of poetical quotation slip in more and more, as the students perceive and exercise their power. Men, too, are either intelligent or unintelligent, but the unhappy Professor at a Ladies' College soon perceives that he has to deal with a class of mind which is both at once." Almost every remark here strikes us as curiously cumulative evidence that the reviewer never taught in a Ladies' College (indeed, it is not at all implied in his article that be ever did), or that if he did, he has wilfully spread the varnish of conventional jocosity over his picture in order to adapt it to the taste of his consumers.
No doubt his anecdote of the class of girls who took capital notes of a lecture on the Venetian Republic, with the trifling ex- ception of substituting in every instance the word " Phoenician " for " Venetian," is founded upon fact, and is, perhaps, not quite unparalleled amongst lads,—as, for example, in the case (abso- lutely true) of the man who understood his instructor to be severely condemning Henry VIII. for the countenance he had given to "the bloody Thirty-Nine Articles,"—meaning, of course, the bloody Six Articles. But the general tone of the reviewer's remarks is utterly unreal. In the first place, the " rows of pretty faces" are clearly mythical elements. It is the proper sort of complimentary thing to say ; but it is grievous to be forced to admit that the average English girl is by no means pretty, and that if there are one or two really pretty faces in any class, —even a large one,—it is rather a rare occurrence. Pleasant enough faces, no doubt, there are in sufficient numbers, but an impartial observer will see on the countenances of the pleasantest an expression of business-like industry which makes him forget their attractiveness in the drawing-room sense ; and he may probably see on those of the few who are self-con- scious of beauty an expression of gene, if not of half-peevish- ness, at the unwelcome efforts to which they are subjected, which entirly annihilates their attractiveness in the same sense. And so it happens that that ball-room standard of young ladies to which the Saturday reviewer gives so entirely fabulous a prominence, disappears at once, being put out of remembrance both by the common-place industriousness of the pleasant faces, and the fretful dejection which clouds the few haunted by an espiegle consciousness that their true sphere of action is elsewhere. Ring- leted inattention and bright eyes gleaming with supercilious im- patience are not, in fact, so very persuasive as the Saturday reviewer in his vain imagination imagines. On the contrary, the Professor's true difficulty is to keep his reproaches sufficiently far within the bounds of what he would not hesitate to say to lads of the same age and abilities. The present writer does not scruple to assert that his own experience of Ladies' College classes gives a very different result to that of the amateur sketch in the Saturday. Locking back over a long line of girls capable and incapable of proving that x n is necessarily equal to n x nz, that the square of a sum is the sum of the squares together with twice the product of each distinct combination of two, and other such beautiful elementary propositions, the faces which peer out in most agreeable relief from the thickening mists of memory are, with the rarest exceptions, by no means distinguished by their beauty. There, for instance, is a broad, solid brow, which expresses true British tenacity, and covers a profoundly sceptical mind as to even the fundamental axioms of mathematics, disputing point by point the authority of Euclid, and regarding an unfavourable opinion on the conclusive- ness of his reasoning as a mere vindication of the true liberal right to exercise private judgment freely, without liability to persecution. There, too, is a keen, delicate face, which expresses piteous, not to say wounded, feeling at the dogma that if you have thrown tails with a halfpenny three times there is still just as good a chance for tails as heads the fourth time, if the halfpenny be fair. There, again, is a merry face, which is apt to express the humorous feeling as to mathematical difficulties, and is disposed to view a "continued fraction" as a sort of giddy harlequinade of numbers throwing somersaults for her express embarrassment and amusement. There, once more, is the countenance of a martyr to the science, which says as plainly as words can speak, I am your victim ; my wrongs are written in chalk upon the board ; I say what you say, under protest, but reserving to myself the liberty of cleaning it all out of my mind at the first practicable moment.' There, too, is a painstaking, hopeless face, suffused with intel- lectual mist, but struggling heroically, and with the thought " how divine a thing it is to suffer and be strong " written in indelible pathos upon it. And there, finally, are one or two clear, bright, vigorous, interested faces, which catch the points, and enjoy the engineering, of mathematical problems, and look as much pleased when they have evaded a trap as a child at blind man's buff who has just slipped beneath the seeker's arms. One of the prettiest faces the present writer can recall is perhaps his least pleasant recollection of a ladies' college ; — a clouded, aggrieved, hoity-toity air sat upon that fair damsel's features, which, far from melting the mild heart of the professor, invari- ably excited such little capacities for intellectual cruelty as he had at command. The Saturday reviewer, were he really experienced in Ladies' Colleges, would well know that " charming " is the last phrase any professor would apply to his class. He might call it quick, or bright, or indus- trious, or heavy, or indolent, or even stupid ; be might speak of it as "stiff clay," or as plodding, or as brisk and buoyant. He might even feel personally affronted by their yawns, or personally gratified by their display of interest, but the last thing he would think of would be their fascinations. The most delicate flattery in such a case is studiousness, and when an indolent pretty girl tries to throw dust in her instructor's eyes by sweet penitential graces, he is apt—if he is not an ass—to feel the real slight rather aggravated by this show of contempt for his acutenesss than extenuated by this little dramatic effort to deprecate his disapproval.
No ; the true " embarrassment " of a Professor at a Ladies' Col- lege does not concern the girls, but the duenna. There must always be present a " lady-visitor " at these College classes, to satisfy the minds of anxious parents, and to note girls whom too complaisant a professor may allow systematically to neglect their studies without report. Now, the lady-visitor, as nine times out of ten she does not care a halfpenny for the subject of the lecture, and goes only out of a stern sense of duty, is no doubt a foreign element in the whole transaction. To teach under the supervision of a mild, pervading eye, which wanders critically about the class, and fixes perhaps contemplatively, not to say deprecatingly, at last on the eye-glass of the professor himself, as he directs it sternly at some wild awl puzzleheaded answerer, is no doubt trying. He feels at once that he is subjected to the scrutiny of all the Etiquettes ; that if his coat is shabby or his hat is unbrushed the Presence will detect it ; if he writes badly on the board, the Presence will inwardly comment upon it ; if he makes too savage a remark on any unlucky girl's repeated blunders, and the unlucky girl in question should melt into a mild shower, the Presence may render it nearly impossibleto avoid a scene; if, on the other hand, he is betrayed into an illustration from common life, the Presence will miss the point and perhaps elevate wondering eyebrows ; if he refers to the rationale of the'game of pitch and toss, the Presence may be shocked ; and if lie:explains what "the odds" in favour of " the field" against " the favourite" means, the Presence might even interfere. Then, sometimes, too, the Presence introduces another Presence to bear her company, and there are glances of intelligence, if not whispers of positive conversation, between the two. Then indeed, the poor professor is conscious that the class- room is under the surveillance of Society, and unless very sturdy of heart may fairly break down. We admit these ministering Presences are inevitable. But if ever a professor does act in the absurd and sentimental fashion attributed to him by the Saturday reviewer, quoting little bits of poetry and giving personal anecdotes instead of sticking to the substance of his lesson, it must cer- tainly be to conciliate the meteoric splendour of these changeful Presences, and not to gain the respect of his class, who very quickly see the difference between an ornamental lecturer and a teacher who teaches. The faces "growing black" when the lecturer descanted on " the dialectic of Socrates," must be pure romance. No doubt the "snub nose" might make them smile,—as it would lads,—but they would soon learn to talk with disrespect of a lecturer who, being bound to teach the history of philosophy, should speculate deeply in snub noses and bits of sentimental verse. They might not call it "confounded humbug," as young men would, but they would convey the same idea in terms probably little less succinct. But the inevitable lady-visitor is often embarrassing to the poor professor for another reason. She is usually unknown to him ; and when the class rises, unless he is a very active man, he is left alone with this representative of " society" under a painful sense of obligation to say something, under which she on her side naturally labours quite as painfully. Of course, if the professor can establish a common ground in literary sympathy by successful quotations of the kind described by the Saturday reviewer, this situation may be mitigated. There is a legend of some shy professor in the anguish of this terrible moment, and wholly unable to recall anything but the Bombay telegram, remarking, in the desperation of his heart, that "grey shirtings seemed to have been going up "—which, if authentic, no doubt lost him his chair, supposing the lady addressed had the resolution to repeat it to the council of the college. But even if this legend caricatures the difficulties of the Professors of Ladies' Colleges,—there can really be no manner of doubt that these embarrassments do not arise from any difficulties in the real business of their vocation, except such as in a quite equal and often greater degree affect also classes for young men. The business relation entirely effaces all imaginary sentimental difficulties ; and the only real " perturbations " which per- tain exclusively to these Colleges is due to the presence of a non-business element in the class in the shape of a cha- peron, who to a certain extent introduces a self-conscious element not properly belonging either to the teaching or the learning that is going on. This is no doubt, as yet at least, inevitable ; and it is a very small deduction to be made from the thoroughly business-like and effective character of these colleges.
As to the Saturday reviewer's notion that girls don't sincerely care about learning, because they have an idea that docile ignor- ance is their most attractive role with admirers,—of course that is put forward not seriously, but in mockery. The idea of middle-class girls of sixteen, seventeen, or eighteen deliberately preparing themselves by studied indolence to be ignorant enough for the future admirers of female ignorance, is too coldly theatrical even for the imaginary young lady of the Saturday reviewer. If an ordinary girl of that age were capable of such deliberate sacri- fice of her intellectual curiosity to her market calculations, she would probably know the many advantages to be gained, even for a role of ignorant humility, by so rehearsing the ground as to be able to learn intelligently and gratefully when the desired in- structor came. But the truth is, this conventional picture of girls
suppressing all their intellectual interests from the desire to be in- teresting, is merely one of those time-honoured jokes which one has forgotten how to smile at, and which mean about as much as the innuendoes in the Best Man's speech at a wedding breakfast when he proposes the health of the bridesmaids. It is surely even a little silly to mix up traditional jocosities of this well worn and guaranteed kind, with the impediments in the way of a decent education for girls.