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Woman’s Work In A Country Parish
by [?]


Footnote: {1} This lecture was one of a series of “Lectures to Ladies,” given in London in 1855, at the Needlewoman’s Institution.

I have been asked to speak a few words to you on a lady’s work in a country parish. I shall confine myself rather to principles than to details; and the first principle which I would impress on you is, that we must all be just before we are generous. I must, indeed, speak plainly on this point. A woman’s first duties are to her own family, her own servants. Be not deceived: if anyone cannot rule her own household, she cannot rule the Church of God. If anyone cannot sympathise with the servants with whom she is in contact all day long, she will not really sympathise with the poor whom she sees once a week. I know the temptation not to believe this is very great. It seems so much easier to women to do something for the poor, than for their own ladies’ maids, and house-maids, and cooks. And why? Because they can treat the poor as THINGS: but they MUST treat their servants as persons. A lady can go into a poor cottage, lay down the law to the inhabitants, reprove them for sins to which she has never been tempted; tell them how to set things right, which, if she had the doing of them, I fear she would do even more confusedly and slovenly than they. She can give them a tract, as she might a pill; and then a shilling, as something sweet after the medicine; and she can go out again and see no more of them till her benevolent mood recurs: but with the servants it is not so. She knows their characters; and, what is more, they know hers; they know her private history, her little weaknesses. Perhaps she is a little in their power, and she is shy with them. She is afraid of beginning a good work with them, because, if she does, she will be forced to carry it out; and it cannot be cold, dry, perfunctory, official: it must be hearty, living, loving, personal. She must make them her friends; and perhaps she is afraid of doing that, for fear they should take liberties, as it is called–which they very probably will do, unless she keeps up a very high standard of self- restraint and earnestness in her own life–and that involves a great deal of trouble, and so she is tempted, when she wishes to do good, to fall back on the poor people in the cottages outside, who, as she fancies, know nothing about her, and will never find out whether or not she acts up to the rules which she lays down for them. Be not deceived, I say, in this case also. Fancy not that they know nothing about you. There is nothing secret which shall not be made manifest; and what you do in the closet is surely proclaimed (and often with exaggeration enough and to spare) on the house-top. These poor folks at your gate know well enough, through servants and tradesmen, what you are, how you treat your servants, how you pay your bills, what sort of temper you have; and they form a shrewd, hard estimate of your character, in the light of which they view all that you do and say to them; and believe me, that if you wish to do any real good to them, you must begin by doing good to those who lie still nearer to you than them. And believe me, too, that if you shrink from a hearty patriarchal sympathy with your own servants, because it would require too much personal human intercourse with them, you are like a man who, finding that he had not powder enough to fire off a pocket-pistol, should try to better matters by using the same quantity of ammunition in an eighty-four pound gun. For it is this human friendship, trust, affection, which is the very thing you have to employ towards the poor, and to call up in them. Clubs, societies, alms, lending libraries are but dead machinery, needful, perhaps, but, like the iron tube without the powder, unable to send the bullet forth one single inch; dead and useless lumber, without humanity; without the smile of the lip, the light of the eye, the tenderness of the voice, which makes the poor woman feel that a soul is speaking to her soul, a heart yearning after her heart; that she is not merely a THING to be improved, but a sister to be made conscious of the divine bond of her sisterhood, and taught what she means when she repeats in her Creed, “I believe in the communion of saints.” This is my text, and my key-note–whatever else I may say to-day is but a carrying out into details of the one question, How may you go to these poor creatures as woman to woman?