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Female Education in Germany.
When I first went to Germany it was with the expectation of finding in every tenth woman an uncrowned Corinna, and in every twentieth a silent Sappho; and when I say silent, I mean it simply in the same sense as the poet who spoke of “mute inglorious" Miltons. It is true I did not seek my Corinnas at the Capitol, nor my Sapphos at Lesbos, since a cruel fate compelled me to turn my steps to remoter Northern regions, where the climate and the social peculiarities of the people were such, that it at once became evident to me the classic creatures I sought could not by any possibility exist in those monotonous coasts. I found much hospitality, considerable wealth, singular prejudices, and an amount of conservatism and aristocratic exclusiveness such as to strike one as being infinitely comie in these nineteenth-century days. But my Corinnas and my Sapphos I found not, nor did I indeed, seeing the physiology of the country, expect to find them. I consoled myself with the thought that, as I was not condemned to drive all my life in eccentric vehicles, behind four “ fox. coloured " horses, over impossible roads, nor pledged to consume smoked geese, liver-sausages, and sauerkraut to the end of my days, I might accept the interlude with philosophy, and enjoy my sojourn in that com. growing country as much as the nature of things in general would allow.
But the times of "peace and plenty," of shampooing drives and plethoric repasts came to an end, and I made "mes malles," and departed from those shores with a certain sense of repletion, the fulness of which clings to me yet. My time was come, and amidst much kissing of the dexter and sinister cheek, and many banquets, I departed, not without some regret (for I had found a kindly people, honest if not brilliant, and friendly if not precisely amusing), but with yet more pleasant anticipations of what was in store for me.
It was perhaps an unjust thing on my part to have preconceived any notions at all of the people and country to which I was going, but that I had conceived very strong ideas I cannot deny. I was possessed with a sort of Teuto-mania, all the more unaccountable because I did not know a word of the language, and had never, to my knowledge, come in contact with any natives of the country I so much, and so blindly, admired, if I except a German governess who had kept guard over us on half-holidays at school, with a bird's-nest on the top of her head in the shape of hair, a white linen pocket-handkerchief tied round her neck by way of a collar, and knitted cotton stockings which she displayed liberally in her walks abroad, as she had a weakness for square-toed shoes tied on with pieces of narrow black ribbon, which I am told are technically termed " sandals."
Thus my only German acquaintance can scarcely be said to have justified my preconceived notions as to my fair Saxon sisters. I had read (surreptitiously, I am free to confess,) a translation of the Sorrows of Werther; but having already Thackeray's immortal verse by heart, the aroma of the greater poet's conception was lost to me, and with the rashness of youth I had adopted our great humourist's view of the bread-and-butter-cutting proclivities of Mrs. Charlotte, and had not therefore found my stolen fruit quite as sweet as I had expected it to be. I had read a translation of Schiller's Bride of Messina, and of Fouque's works ; I was acquainted with Grimm's fairy tales (as what English child worth salt to its porridge is not?), and I had even looked into Goethe's Wilhelm Meister, but not being able to find out any story, and the whole thing mystifying me unpleasantly, I had returned the volume to its bookshelf, and consoled myself with a translation of Schiller's Cabal und Liebe. Thus I think it may fairly be said that my previsions were innate, of themselves, and not owing to any special influence from without.
And let me here observe that, when speaking of female education in Germany, I mean less the amount of knowledge, positive and abstract, theoretical and real, instilled into the minds of her young girls and women, than the general and determining outer influences which help to form their character and to make them what they are. Let me also say that I do not speak of the “upper Ten," as we understand that mystic number, but that I speak of the great majority which forms the nation. I speak also of Northern and Central Germany, and not of Austria or the more southern parts ; for the difference between a Viennese and a Hanoverian is almost as marked as that between a French and an English woman. In large towns, such as Berlin, Dresden, Hamburg, there are, of course, circles and drawing-rooms where the talk, the dress, the manners, are cosmopolitan. This is the result of a conflux of foreigners of every nation,—the various elements being fused together into a sort of social mosaic, harmonious as a whole, though differing widely in detail: men of position and wealth ; women who have seen the world, and are tolerant, facile in their conversation, elegant in their toilettes, and most agreeable in their pretty, brilliant talk, which is gay without being laboured, and lively without being ill-natured. Of such as these I do not speak. It has been said that Paris is France; and I believe that this statement may be taken as substantially true. London is not England; nor do I think that even the marvellous powers of absorption shown by Prussia can pretend that Berlin is Germany. And it is of Germany and German women that I now would fain speak; not of Prussia or the fair Berlinese, but rather of the inhabitants of those smaller and much-despised "tin-pot States," with their charming little Residenz-towns and old-world notions.
Some verses arise in my mind (written, I believe, by a distinguished member of one of our universities,) which would well describe my journey from that plethoric land of which I have spoken to that more intellectual land whither I journeyed with such fond anticipations :
And onward through those dreary flats
They move, with scanty space to sit on,
And waists that paralyze a Briton.
By nany a tidy little town,
Where tidy little Fraus are knitting. (The men's pursuits are lying down,
Smoking perennial pipes, and-spitting.)
The “stout girls in the steeple hats did not so specially afflict me, nor did their waists, though undoubtedly thick, cause me any acute emotion ; it was a detail, and though from an artistic point of view, not a specially pleasing one, yet I should have scorned to confess that my British faculties were in any way “paralyzed " by this physical pheno
But at length I came to my “ tidy little town," where the tidy little Fraus were knitting,” and little did I then dream that those three other ugly old maids were weaving my destiny in such a way that I should have ample opportunities of studying, not only the tidy little town and the tidy little Fraus, and the knitting of the same, but also to contemplate at my leisure the "men's pursuits,"-of "lying down, smoking perennial pipes, and "-0 ye gods, that I should have to chronicle it here !" spitting !' But the truth must be spoken.
We had a Grand Duke and a Grand Duchess at K., and we had a diplomatic corps, and an army, and two or three generals, staggering under orders and decorations; we had a theatre, and a Kur-Garten, where people walked up and down, and drank poisonous waters in summer : the ladies in frilled (night-) caps, mushroom straw hats, and morning wrappers; the men in a miscellaneous costume, incapable of portrayal. We had coffee-gardens at K., where the Grand-Ducal band played on summer afternoons, and where the whole population appeared to be military, so close and regular was the attendance of all the young officers on these occasions. Of course we could not have an thousand" at K., nor even an upper ten hundred; but we had an upper fifty or so, who all wrote Von before their names, sat on the adelige (or noble) side of the theatre, considered (and were even snobbish enough to call) themselves the “haute volée," and gave the tone, such as it was, to society.
A German girl comes into the world with two original sins : the vice of coffee-drinking, and an indisposition to take exercise. A German baby is a piteous object; it is pinioned and bound up like a mummy in yards of bandages, which are unfolded once (at the outside twice) a day; it is nerer bathed, but I suppose is sometimes washed in some occult manner. Its head is never touched with soap and water until it is eight or ten months old, when the fine skull-cap of encrusted dirt which it has by that time obtained is removed by the application of various unguents. Many German ladies have assured me that the fine heads of hair one so often sees in Germany are entirely owing to this skull-cap.
When, having some juvenile relatives staying with me, I insisted on their being “ tubbed,” all my female friends were shocked at my ignorance and wilfulness, and assured me that it was simply owing to our barbaric bath-system that the King of Hanover had lost his sight. “My friends, we are not all blind,” I said, and then they were silenced, though not convinced. To this terrible system of bandaging, combined with a potato and coffee diet, do I attribute in a great degree the number of curved spines, crooked shoulders, and abnormal developments that one meets with in Germany. As little girls grow older, they have their coffee like their elders, and by degrees form a number of acquaintances of their own age, with whom they have daily meetings, so that society is a large ingredient of juvenile life. Then comes the time for going to school. With little knapsacks on their backs, containing books, slate, &c., whole gangs of little students are to be seen walking through the streets, always chattering, and generally with apples, bread, or cakes, to distribute and consume, making in this way friends or enemies. This continues until a girl is grown up. On holidays the children meet together and play; there seems no idea that these little brothers and sisters should suffice for each other, with the occasional excitement of a “party.” All the little sayings and jealousies, all the little spites and resentments, are thus kept up during a long course of years, and the daily gossip becomes almost a necessity of life. A child is seldom sent to another town to school ; the extra expense of board and lodging is a serious item, and the Germaus are proverbially a frugal people. Thus, even in the holidays, there is no change; the children do not, as with us, “come home” from school ; they are at home; they only have more time for the discussion of their little spites and jealousies, more coffee-drinking, more gossip, and more liberty. As time goes on, and the little girl buds into early maidenhood, this passing to and fro through the public streets has serious disadvantages; she becomes self-conscious, has a bowing acquaintance with her friends' brothers, and a system of coquetry is carried on which has no good influence on her character. I say coquetry advisedly, for it is not the " flirtation" we see amongst young people in our own country, beginning openly in fun, and ending in amusement; nor is it that sort of schoolboy love, which is at times so life-enduring, that the little fourteen-year old Etonian with the club-foot ceases to be an object of ridicule in his allabsorbing passion for Mary Chaworth. Boys and girls never play together in Germany, as our boys and girls do; therefore the young Fräulein of fourteen who has a bowing acquaintance, and something perhaps more, with her friends' brothers, since they arrange to meet her on their way from college, or on her way to school, is conscious that these tacit arrangements are not allowed, are wrong, and to be enjoyed after the surreptitious manner of stolen fruit. She has had hitherto coffee and gossip, but now a fresh stimulant comes into her life ; she ceases to be natural; she has the consciousness of something to conceal, and her eyes become less candid, and her gaze is not so fearless as it was.
And now comes the solemn rite of confirmation. I do not like to speak at length on this subject, but I have been pained beyond measure at the way in which this turning point in a young life, this moment of enthusiastic resolves and passionate repentance, of ardent aspirations and humble regrets, is regarded (as a rule) in Germany.
The young girl goes to so-called confirmation classes. It is a sort of received iden amongst these young people that they shall then select an object (if they have not already done so) upon which to fix their affections, the youths who attend these classes claiming the like privilege. “I am going to have my visiting cards printed, Amalia,” says one young girl, coming out of the confirmation lecture. • And mamma has promised mo a new black silk for the confirmation-day, and a blue silk, made long and gored in the skirt, trimmed in each seam with velvet to match," says the other. “But there is Otho X. and his cousin. Let us walk quickly down the Brunnen-Strasse, and we shall meet them there again before they cross the Schloss Garden." And the day of confirmation comes.
Not in white do these young creatures approach God's altar to swear fresh allegiance to their King, to register new vows of faith and obedience, and to be confirmed in all promises of holiness and goodness opce made for them,--not in garments typical of innocence, but in black silk-dresses and white kid-gloves—a sort of female Ethiopian-serenader costume,—with great bouquets in their hands, and pocket-handkerchiefs frilled with lace, and all the self-consciousness of being dressed for the first time in “silk attire." And then what follows ? Not quiet hours amongst brothers and sisters, or by tie mother's side; not happy moments of silent communing with her own heart ; but a succession of visitors, presents, cake and wine, exclamations of admiration at the toilettes, congratulations on final emancipation from the “ Du” of child into the “ Sie” of young-ladyhood. In the afternoon a droschky is hired, and the confirmed young Christian is driven out to pay visits and show off her incongruous finery.
Thus the child grows into girlhood, the girl into maidenhood, and the maiden by degrees into young-womanhood. Being now confirmed, she has the privilege of coming down in the morning in the universal cap, which often covers untidily-arranged hair. If she is of a domestic turn, after swallowing several cups of coffee and a few rolls of white bread, she will go into the kitchen; here her time will be passed until eleven, when she will withdraw to her room, and spend an hour or more in dressing. At length coiffée et habillée, she is “at home," if any one should call; or should the day be fine she will perhaps walk with her favourite friend on the fashionable promenade, exchanging greetings with her acquaintances and criticizing the toilettes of her female friends and enemies. Then comes dinner ; and at three o'clock she will set off to her coffee-party. The afternoon will be spent in gossip; the last pieces at the theatre and the favourite actor will be discussed. At six o'clock the party will break up, as some of the young ladies are