ILLUSTRATED WITH PHOTOGRAPHS
THE SNARE OF PREPARATION
AS my sisters had already attended Rockford College, of which my father was a trustee, without any question I entered there at seventeen, with such meager preparation in Latin and algebra as the village school had afforded.
The school at Rockford was one of the earliest efforts for women's higher education in the Mississippi Valley, reflecting much of the missionary spirit of pioneer Mount Holyoke, and, like it, had had the effect of withdrawing a handful of young women from the outside world in order to prepare them to go forth to sow good seed in wicked places. The proportion of missionaries among its early graduates was almost as large as Mount Holyoke's own, and in addition there had been thrown about the founders of the early Western school the glamour of frontier privations. The early students, conscious of the heroic self-sacrifices made on their behalf, felt that each minute of the time thus dearly bought must be conscientiously used. This inevitably fostered a certain intensity and fever of preparation, an atmosphere which continued long after the direct making of it had ceased, and which deeply impressed the girls who came even as late as my day. This strenuous atmosphere may have been responsible for an amusing plaint, which I find myself to have registered against life's indistinctness, and which I imagine more or less reflected the sentiments of a large group: "So much of our time is spent in preparation, so much in routine, and so much in sleep, we find it difficult to have any experience at all!"
There was practically no Economics taught in women's colleges — at least in the freshwater ones — thirty years ago, and the very word sociology was unknown. We painstakingly studied "Mental" and "Moral" Philosophy, which was very dry in the classroom, but became the subject of the most spirited discussions outside, and gave us a clue for animated rummaging in the little college library. Of course we read a great deal of Carlyle, Ruskin and Browning, and liked the most abstruse parts the best; but like the famous gentlemen who talked prose without knowing it, we never dreamed of connecting them with our "philosophy." My genuine interest was history, partly because of a superior teacher, and partly because my father had always insisted upon a certain amount of historic reading ever since he had paid me, as a little girl, five cents a "Life" for each Plutarch hero I could intelligently report to him, and ten cents for every signer of the Declaration of Independence. When we started for the long vacations, a little group of five of us would vow that during the summer we would read all of Motley's "Dutch Republic," or, more ambitious still, all of Gibbon's "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire." When we returned at the opening of school and three of us announced we had finished the latter, each became skeptical of the other two, because each one had found that to read through those interminable five volumes during the summer meant putting aside so many other things we wanted to read that we did not believe anybody else had had the strength of mind to do it. We therefore fell upon each other with a sort of rough-and-tumble examination, in which no quarter was given or received; but the suspicion was finally removed that anyone had "skipped." We took for a [page 2] "class motto" the Saxon word for lady, literally translated bread-giver, and we took the poppy for an ensign because poppies grew among the wheat, as if Nature knew that wherever there was hunger that needed food, there would be pain that needed relief. We must have found the sentiment in a book somewhere, but we used it so much that it finally seemed like an original idea of our own, although, of course, none of us had ever seen a European field, the only page upon which Nature has written this particular message.
[IMAGE JANE ADDAMS
TAKEN AT ROCKFORD IN 1881, WHEN SHE WAS TWENTY YEARS OLD]
That this group of ardent girls, who discussed everything under the sun with such unabated interest, did not take it all out in talk may be demonstrated by the fact that one of the class who married a missionary founded a very successful school in Japan for the children of the English and Americans living there; another of the class became a medical missionary to Korea, and because of her successful treatment of the Queen, was made court physician at a time when the opening was considered of importance in the diplomatic as well as in the missionary world; still another became an unusually skilled teacher of the blind; and one of them a pioneer librarian in that early effort to bring "books to the people"; still two others of the group [page 3] became missionaries, one in Turkey and the other in Patagonia.
[IMAGE MISS ANNA P. SILL
FOUNDER AND PRINCIPAL OF ROCKFORD COLLEGE]
Of course in such an atmosphere a girl like myself, of serious, not to say priggish, tendency, did not escape a concerted pressure to push her into the "missionary field." During the four years it was inevitable that every sort of evangelical appeal should have been made to reach the comparatively few "unconverted" girls in the school. We were the subject of prayer at the daily chapel exercise and the weekly prayer meeting, attendance upon which was obligatory; and the most direct efforts were put forth upon "the day of prayer for schools and colleges." I was singularly unresponsive to all these forms of emotional appeal, although I became unspeakably embarrassed when they were presented to me at close range. I suppose I held myself aloof from all these influences partly because the little group to which I have referred was much given to a sort of rationalism, doubtless founded upon an early reading of Emerson. In this connection I remember when Bronson Alcott came to lecture at the school that we vied with each other for an opportunity to do him a personal service because he had been a friend of Emerson, and we were inexpressibly scornful of our fellow students who cared for him merely on the basis of his grandfatherly relation to "Little Women." I recall cleaning the clay of the unpaved streets off his heavy cloth overshoes in a state of ecstatic energy. But I think in my case there were other factors as well that contributed to my unresponsiveness to the evangelical appeal, resulting partly from a curious course of reading I had marked out for myself in mediaeval history, which seems to have left me fascinated by an ideal of mingled learning, piety and physical labor, more nearly exemplified by the Port Royalists than by any others. I talked over my perplexities with my father in the spring vacation of my last year at school. As we drove through a piece of timber in which the woodchoppers had been at work during the winter, I put to him an outline of the situation in which I found myself at school, and once more heard his testimony in favor of "mental integrity above everything else." So earnestly were we talking that he suddenly drew up the horses only to find that he did not know where he was. We were both entertained by the incident, I that my father had been "lost in his own timber" so that various cords of wood must have escaped his [practiced] eye, and he on his side that he should have been so absorbed in this maze of youthful speculation.
We were in high spirits as we emerged from the tender green of the spring woods into the clear light of day, and as we came back into the main road I categorically asked him: "What are you? What do you say when people ask you?"
His eyes twinkled a little as he looked into my eyes and soberly replied:
"I am a Quaker."
"But that isn't enough to say," I urged.
"Very well," he added; "to people who insist upon details, as some one is doing now, I add that I am a Hicksite Quaker"; and not another word of the weighty subject could I induce him to utter. The only moments in which I seemed to have approximated in my own experience to a faint realization of the "beauty of holiness," as I conceived it, was each Sunday morning between the hours of nine and ten, when I went into the exquisitely neat room of the teacher of Greek and read with her from a Greek testament. We did this every Sunday morning for two years. It was not exactly a lesson, for I never prepared for it, and while I was held within reasonable bounds of syntax, I was allowed much more freedom in translation than was permitted the next morning when I read Homer; neither did we discuss doctrines, for although it was [page 4] with this same teacher that in our junior year we studied Paul's "Epistle to the Hebrews," committing all of it to memory and analyzing and reducing it to doctrines within an inch of our lives, we never allowed an echo of this exercise to appear at these blessed Sunday morning readings. It was as if the disputatious Paul had not yet been, for we always read from the Gospels. The resume of Rockford College was still very simple in the '70's. Each student made her own fire and kept her own fire and kept her own room in order. Sunday morning was a great clearing-up day, and the sense of having done this for my own immediate surroundings, the consciousness of clean linen, said to be close to the consciousness of a clean conscience, always mingles in my mind with these early readings. I certainly bore away with me a lifelong enthusiasm for reading the gospels in bulk, as it were, a whole one at a time, and an insurmountable distaste for having them cut up into chapter and verse, or to have the incidents in that wonderful life referred to in this manner as if they were merely a record.
[IMAGE MISS SARAH F. BLAISDELL
TEACHER OF LATIN AND GREEK IN ROCKFORD COLLEGE FOR TWENTY YEARS]
My copy of the Greek testament had been presented to me by the brother of our Greek teacher, Professor Blaisdell, of Beloit College — a true scholar in "Christian Ethics," as his department was called. I recall that one day in the summer after I left college — one of the black days which followed the death of my father — this kindly scholar came to see me in order to bring such comfort as he could and to inquire how far I had found solace in the little book. When I suddenly recall the village in which I was born I always remember its steeples and roofs as it looked that day from the hilltop where we talked together, the familiar details smoothed out and merging, as it were, into that wide conception of the universe which for the moment swallowed up my personal grief, or at least assuaged it, with a realization that it was but a drop in that "torrent of sorrow and anguish and terror which flows under all the footsteps of man." This realization of sorrow as the common lot, of death as the great common experience, was the first comfort which my bruised spirit had received. In reply to my impatience with the Christian doctrine of "resignation," that you thought of your sorrow only in its effect upon yourself and were disloyal to the affection, I remember how quietly the Christian scholar changed his phraseology, saying that sometimes it came to us better in the words of Plato, and as nearly as I can remember, that was the first time I had ever heard Plato's sonorous argument for the permanence of the excellent.
To return to my last year at school, it was inevitable that the pressure toward religious profession should increase as graduating day approached. Vague hints were dropped that a non-Christian had never received an "honor"; that the valedictory could not come to one who did not represent the Christian spirit in which the school was founded. I continued my attitude of non-conformity, and of course no such vague rumors ever materialized into actual threats, much less into action. So curious, however, are the paths of moral training that several times during subsequent experiences I have felt that this passive resistance of mine, this clinging to an individual conviction, was the best moral training I received at Rockford College. During the first decade of Hull-House especially, it was felt by propagandists of [diverse] social theories that the new Settlement would be a fine "coign of vantage" from which to propagate social faiths, and that a mere preliminary step would be the conversion of the founders; hence I have been "reasoned with" hours at a time, and I recall at least three occasions when this was followed by actual prayer. In the first instance the honest exhorter, who fell upon his knees [page 5] before my astonished eyes, was an advocate of single tax upon land values. He begged, in that indirect phraseology which is deemed appropriate for prayer, that "the sister might see the beneficial results it would bring to the poor who live in the awful congested districts around this very house."
[IMAGE ROCKFORD COLLEGE, WHERE FOR FOUR YEARS JANE ADDAMS WENT TO SCHOOL]
This incident could be multiplied a hundred fold, and possibly nothing aided me to stand on my own feet and select what seemed reasonable from this wilderness of dogmatism, so much as my early encounter with genuine zeal and affectionate solicitude, while, nevertheless, I could not accept what it presented as the whole truth.
Toward the end of our four-year course we debated much as to what we were to be, and long before the end of my school days it was quite settled in my mind that I should study medicine and "live with the poor." This conclusion of course was the result of many things, but the process of reasoning are perhaps epitomized in my "graduating essay," on the subject of "Cassandra," whose prediction of the destruction of Troy had been laughed to scorn by the brave warriors who called her mad. The essay stated this to be her tragic fate: "always to be in the right, and always to be disbelieved and rejected."
The essay held her to be an example of feminine intuition, "an accurate perception of truth and justice, which rests contented in itself and will make no effort to confirm itself or to organize through existing knowledge." The essay then proceeds — I am forced to admit, with a touch of dogmatism — with the statement that woman can only "grow accurate and intelligible by the thorough, accurate study of at least one branch of physical science, for only with eyes thus accustomed to the search for truth can she detect all self-deceit and fancy in herself."
So much for the first part of the thesis. Having thus "gained accuracy, would woman bring this force to bear throughout morals and justice, then she must take the active, busy world as a test." I was quite certain that, by following these directions carefully, in the end the contemporary woman would find "her faculties clear and acute from the study of science, and her hand upon the magnetic chain of humanity." [page 6]
This veneration for science portrayed in my final essay was doubtless the result of the statements the text books were then making on what was called the "Theory of Evolution," the acceptance of which even thirty years after the publication of Darwin's "Origin of Species" had about it a touch of intellectual adventure. We knew, for instance, that our science teacher had accepted this theory, but we had a strong suspicion that the teacher of Butler's "Analogy" had not. We chafed at the meagerness of the college library in this direction, and I used to bring back in my hand-bag books belonging to an advanced brother-in-law who had studied medicine in Germany and who therefore was quite emancipated. The first gift I made when I came into possession of my small estate the year after I left school was a thousand dollars to the library of Rockford College, with the stipulation that it be spent for scientific books. In the long vacations I pressed plants, stuffed birds and pounded rocks in some vague belief that that was an approximation to the new method, and yet, when my step-brother, who was becoming a real scientist, tried to carry me along with him into the merest outskirts of the methods of research, it at once became evident that I had no aptitude and much preferred to read of Darwin's "Trip Around the World in the Beagle" to following through his careful observations of the earth-worm. I did both during the same summer, although candor compels me to say that I never would have finished the latter if I had not been pulled and pushed by my really ardent companion, who, in addition to a multitude of earth-worms and a fine microscope, possessed untiring tact with one of flagging zeal.
As our boarding-school days neared the end, in the consciousness of approaching separation we vowed eternal allegiance to our "early ideals," and promised each other we would "never abandon them without conscious justification," and we often warned each other of "the perils of self-tradition."
We believed, in our sublime self-conceit, that the difficulty of life would lie solely in the direction of losing these precious ideals of ours, of failing to follow the way of martyrdom and high purpose we had marked out for ourselves, and we had no notion of the obscure paths of tolerance, just allowance and self-blame wherein we might learn something of the mystery and complexity of life's growing purposes.
Whatever may have been the perils of self-tradition, I certainly did not escape them, for it required eight years from the time I left Rockford in the summer of 1881 until Hull-House was opened in the autumn of 1889, to formulate my convictions, in even the least satisfactory manner, much less to reduce them to a plan for action. During most of that time I was absolutely at sea, so far as any moral purpose was concerned, clinging only to the desire to live in a really living world and refusing to be content with a shadowy intellectual or aesthetic reflection of it.
THE winter after I left school was spent in the Woman's Medical College of Philadelphia, but the development of a spinal difficulty, which had shadowed me from childhood, forced me into Dr. Weir Mitchell's hospital (for the late spring, and the next winter I was literally bound to a bed in my sister's house for six months). In spite of the tedium, the long winter had its mitigations for after the first few weeks I was able to read with a luxurious consciousness of leisure, and I remember opening the first volume of Carlyle's "Frederick the Great" with a lively sense of gratitude that it was not Gray's "Anatomy," having found, like many another, that general culture is a much easier undertaking than professional study. The long illness inevitably put quite out of the question the immediate prosecution of a medical course, and although I had passed my examinations creditably enough in the required subjects for the first year, I was very glad to have a physician's sanction for giving up clinics and dissecting rooms and to follow his prescription of spending the next two years in Europe.
Before I had returned to America I had discovered that there were other genuine reasons for living among the poor than that of practicing medicine upon them, and my brief foray into the profession was never resumed, having been undertaken from the first merely as a means to an end. The long illness left me in a state of nervous exhaustion with which I struggled for years, traces of it remaining long after Hull-House was opened in 1889. At the best it allowed me but a limited amount of energy, so that doubtless there was much nervous depression at the foundation of the spiritual struggles which this article is forced the record. However, ill health was not solely responsible for these struggles, for, as my commonplace book sententiously remarked, "In his own way each man must struggle, lest the moral law become a far-off abstraction utterly separated from his active life." [page 7]
One of the most poignant of these spiritual experiences which occurred during the first few months after our landing upon the other side of the Atlantic, was on a Saturday night, when I received an ineradicable impression of the wretchedness of East London, and also saw for the first time the overcrowded quarters of a great city at midnight. A small party of tourists were taken to the East End by a city missionary to witness the Saturday night sale of decaying vegetables and fruit which, owing to the Sunday laws in London, could not be sold until Monday, and, as they were beyond safe keeping, were disposed of at auction as late as possible on Saturday night. On Mile End Road, from the top of an omnibus which paused at the end of a dingy street lighted by only occasional flares of gas, we saw two huge masses of ill-clad people clamoring around two hucksters' carts. They were bidding their farthings and ha'-pennies for a vegetable held up by the auctioneer, which he at last scornfully flung, with a jibe for its cheapness, to the successful bidder. In the momentary pause only one man detached himself from the groups. He had bidden in a cabbage, and when it struck his hand he instantly sat down on the curb, tore it with his teeth and hastily devoured it, unwashed and uncooked as it was. He and his fellows were types of the "submerged tenth," as our missionary guide told us, with some little satisfaction in the then new phrase, and he further added that so many of them could scarcely be seen in one spot save at this Saturday night auction, the desire for cheap food being apparently the one thing which could move them simultaneously. They were huddled into ill-fitting, cast-off clothing, the ragged finery which one sees only in East London. Their pale faces were dominated by that most unlovely of human expressions, the cunning and shrewdness of the bargain-hunter who starves if he cannot make a successful trade, and yet the final impression was not of ragged, tawdry clothing nor of pinched and sallow faces, but of myriads of hands, empty, pathetic, nerveless and workworn, showing white in the uncertain light of the street, and clutching forward for food which was already unfit to eat.
Perhaps nothing is so fraught with significance as the human hand, this oldest tool with which man has dug his way from savagery and with which he is constantly groping forward. I have never since been able to see a number of hands held upward, even when they are moving rhythmically in a callisthenic exercise, or when they belong to a class of chubby children who wave them in eager response to a teacher's query, without a certain revival of this memory, a clutching at the heart which is but reminiscent of the despair and resentment which seized me then.
For the following weeks I went about London almost furtively, afraid to look down narrow streets and alleys lest they disclose again this hideous human need and suffering. I carried with me for days at a time that curious surprise we experience when we first come back into the streets after days given over to sorrow and death; we are bewildered that the world should be going on as usual and unable to determine which is real, the inner pang or the outward seeming. In time all huge London came to seem unreal save the poverty in its East End. During the following two years on the Continent, while I was irresistibly drawn to the poorer quarters of each city, nothing among the beggars of South Italy nor among the salt-miners of Austria carried with it the same conviction of human wretchedness which was conveyed by this momentary glimpse of an East London street. It was, of course, a most fragmentary and lurid view of the poverty of East London, and quite an unfair view. I should have been shown either less or more. I went away with no notion of the hundreds of men and women who had gallantly identified their fortunes with these empty-handed people, and who, in church and chapel, relief works and charities, were at least making an effort toward the mitigation of their wretched condition.
Another poignant experience occurred one snowy morning in Saxe-Coburg, when looking from the window of our little hotel upon the town square, we saw crossing and recrossing it a single file of women with semi-circular, heavy, wooden tanks fastened upon their backs. These tanks, filled with a hot brew incident to one stage of beer making, they were carrying in this primitive fashion to a remote cooling-room. The women were bent forward, not only under the weight which they were bearing, but because the tanks were so high that it would have been impossible for them to have lifted their heads. Their faces and hands, reddened in the cold morning air, showed clearly the white scars where they had previously been scalded by the hot stuff, which splashed if they stumbled ever so little on their way. Strung into action by one of those sudden indignations against cruel conditions which at times fill the young with unexpected energy, I found myself across the square in company with mine host interviewing the phlegmatic owner of the brewery, who [page 8] received us with exasperating indifference, or rather received me, for the innkeeper mysteriously slunk away as soon as the great magnate of the town began to speak. I went back to a breakfast for which I had lost my appetite, as I had for Gray's "Life of Prince Albert" and his wonderful tutor, Baron Stockmore, which I had been reading late into the night before. The book had lost its fascination; how could a man, feeling so keenly his obligation "to make princely the mind of his prince," ignore such conditions of life for the multitude of humble, hard-working folk? We were spending two months in Dresden that winter, given over to much reading of "The History of Art" and to visiting of its art gallery and opera house, and after such an experience I would invariably suffer a moral revulsion against this feverish search after culture. In such moods no pictures brought me any comfort save those of Albrecht Durer. I was chiefly appeals to by his unwillingness to lend himself to a smooth and cultivated view of life, by his determination to record its frustrations and even the hideous forms which darken the day for our human imagination, rather than to ignore any of life's complications. I believed that his canvases intimated the coming of religious and social changes of the Reformation and the peasants' wars; that his sad knights, who are never fighting but always bravely standing guard, were longing to avert that shedding of blood which is sure to occur when men forget how complicated life is and insist upon reducing it to logical dogmas, as they did during the Reformation period.
The wonder and beauty of Italy, however, brought healing and some relief to the growing sense of the futility of all artistic and intellectual pursuits when disconnected from an effort to mitigate the misfortunes of the world, a sense which at times amounted almost to a paralysis. "The serene and soothing touch of history" also aroused old enthusiasms. I not only spent many days in the catacombs, but I returned to Europe two years later in order spend a winter in Rome and to carry out a systematic study of them.
The summer following my first Italian visit was spent in our old home in northern Illinois, and one Sunday morning I received the rite of baptism and became a member of the Presbyterian church in the village. At this time there was certainly no outside pressure pushing me towards such a decision. At twenty-five one does not ordinarily take such a step from a mere desire to conform, and while I was not conscious of any emotional "conversion," I took upon myself the outward expressions of the religious life with all humility and sincerity. It was doubtless true that I was
and that various cherished safeguards and claims to self-dependence had been broken into by many piteous failures. But certainly I had been brought to the conclusion that "sincerely to give up one's conceit or hope of being good in one's own right, is the only door to the Universe's deeper reaches." Perhaps the young clergyman recognized this as the test of the Christian temper; at any rate he required little assent to dogma or miracle, and assured me that, while both the ministry and the officers of his church were obliged to subscribe to "doctrines" of well-known severity, the faith required of the laity was almost Early Christian in its simplicity. I had long before whole-heartedly accepted the teachings of the Gospel, but at this moment something persuasive within made me long for an outward symbol of fellowship, some bond of peace, some blessed spot where unity of spirit might claim right of way over all differences. There was also growing within me an almost passionate devotion to the ideals of democracy, and when in all history had these ideals been so thrillingly expressed as when the faith of the fisherman and the slave had been boldly opposed to the accepted moral belief that the well-being of a privileged few might justly be built upon the ignorance and sacrifice of the many? Who was I, with my dreams of universal fellowship, that I did not identify myself with the institutional statement of this belief as it stood in the little village in which I was born, and without which testimony in each remote hamlet of Christendom it would be so easy for the world to slip back into the doctrines of selection and aristocracy?
In one of the intervening summers between the European journeys I visited a Western state where I had formerly invested a sum of money in mortgages. I was much horrified by the wretched conditions among the farmers, which had resulted from a long period of drought, and one forlorn picture was fairly burned into my mind. A number of starved hogs — collateral for a promissory note — were huddled into an open pen. Their backs were lumped in a curious, camel-like fashion, and they were devouring one of their own number, the latest victim of absolute starvation or possibly merely the one least able to defend [page 9] himself against their voracious hunger. The farmer's wife looked on indifferently, a picture of despair as she stood in the door of the bare, crude house, and the two children, whom she vainly tried to keep out of sight, continually thrust forward their faces almost covered by masses of coarse, sunburned hair, and their little bare feet so black, so hard, the great cracks so filled with dust that they looked like flattened hoofs. The children could not be compared to anything so joyous as satyrs, although they appeared but half human. It seemed to me quite impossible to receive interest from mortgages placed upon farms which might at any season be reduced to such conditions, and with great inconvenience to my agent and doubtless with hardship to the farmers, as speedily as possible I withdrew all my investments. But something had to be done with the money, and in my reaction against unseen horrors I bought a farm adjacent to my native village and also a flick of innocent-looking sheep. My partner in the enterprise had not chosen the shepherd's lot as a permanent occupation, but hoped to speedily finish his college course upon half the proceeds of our venture. This pastoral enterprise still seems to me to have been essentially sound, both economically and morally, but perhaps one partner depended too much upon the impeccability of her motives and the other found himself too preoccupied with study to properly tend the sheep, for certainly the venture ended in a spectacle scarcely less harrowing than the memory which it was designed to obliterate. At least the sight of two hundred sheep with four rotting hoofs apiece was not reassuring to one whose conscience craved economic peace. A fortunate series of sales of mutton, wool and farm enabled the partners to end the enterprise without loss, and they passed on, one to college and the other to Europe, if not wiser, certainly sadder for the experience.
It was during the second journey to Europe that I attended the meeting of the London Match Girls, who were on strike and who met daily under the leadership of well-known labor men of London. The low wages that were reported at the meetings, the "phossy" jaw which was described and occasionally exhibited, the appearance of the girls themselves, I did not, curiously enough, in any wise connect with what was called the Labor Movement, not did I understand the efforts of the London Trades Unionists, concerning whom I held the vaguest notions. But of course this impression of human misery was added to the others which were already making me so wretched. I think that up to this time I was still filled with the sense which Wells describes as in the possession of one of his young characters, that somewhere in Church or State are a body of authoritative people who will put things right as soon as they really know what is wrong. Such a young person persistently believes that behind all suffering, behind sin and want, must lie redeeming magnanimity. He may imagine the world to be tragic and terrible, but it never for an instant occurs to him that it may be contemptible or squalid or self-seeking. Apparently I looked upon the efforts of the Trades Unionists as I did upon those of Frederick Harrison and the Positivists whom I heard the next Sunday in Newton Hall, as a manifestation of "loyalty to humanity" and an attempt to aid in its progress.
It is hard to tell when the very simple plan which afterward developed into the Settlement began to form itself in my mind. It may have been even before I went to Europe for the second time, but I gradually became convinced that it would be a good thing to rent a house in a part of the city where many primitive and actual needs are found, in which young women who had been given over too exclusively to study might restore a balance of activity along traditional lines and learn of life from life itself, where they might try out some of the things they had been taught and put truth to "the ultimate test of the conduct it dictates or inspires." I do not remember to have mentioned this plan to anyone until our European party of four reached Madrid in April, 1888.
We had been to see a bull fight, rendered in the most magnificent Spanish style, where, greatly to my surprise and horror, I found that I had seen, with comparative indifference, five bulls and many more horses mangled and killed. The sense that this was the last survival of all the glories of the amphitheater, the illusion that the riders on the caparisoned horses might have been knights of a tournament, or the slightly armed matador a gladiator facing his martyrdom, and all the rest of the obscure yet vivid association which an historic survival always produces, had carried me beyond the endurance of any of the rest of the party. I finally met them in the foyer, stern and pale with disapproval of my brutal endurance, and but partially recovered from the faintness and disgust which the spectacle itself had produced upon them. I had no defense to offer to their reproaches, save that I had not thought much about the bloodshed; but in the evening the natural and inevitable [page 10] reaction came, and in deep chagrin I felt myself tried and condemned, not only by this disgusting experience but by the entire moral situation which it revealed. It was suddenly made quite clear to me that I was lulling my conscience by a dreamer's scheme, that a mere paper reform might become a defense for continued idleness, and that I was making it a raison d'être for going on indefinitely with study and travel. It is easy to become the dupe of a deferred purpose, to fail to rouse one's self
I had fallen into the meanest type of self-deception in making myself believe that all this was in preparation of great things to come, and nothing less than the moral reaction following the experience at a bull fight had been able to reveal to me that, so far from following in the wake of a chariot of philanthropic fire, I had been tied to the tail of the veriest ox-cart of self-seeking.
I had made up my mind that next day, come what would, I would begin to carry out the plan, if only by talking about it. I can well recall the stumbling and uncertainty with which I finally set it forth to Miss Star, my old-time school friend, who was one of a party of four. I even dared to hope that she might join in carrying out the plan, but nevertheless I set it forth in the fear of having that disheartening experience which is so apt to afflict our most cherished plans when they are at last divulged, when we suddenly feel that there is nothing there to talk about, and as the golden dream slips through our fingers we are left to wonder at our own fatuous belief. But gradually the comfort of Miss Starr's companionship, the vigor and enthusiasm which she brought the bear upon it, told both in the growth of the plan and upon the sense of its validity, so that by the time we had reached the enchantment of the Alhambra the scheme had become conniving and tangible, although still most hazy in detail.
A month later we parted in Paris, Miss Starr to go back to Italy, and I to journey on to London to secure as many suggestions as possible from those wonderful places of which we had heard, Toynbee Hall and the People's Palace. So that it finally came about that in June, 1888, I found myself at Toynbee Hall, equipped not only with a letter of introduction from Canon Fremantle, but with high expectations and a certain belief that, whatever perplexities and discouragements concerning the life of the poor were in store for me, I should at least know something at first hand and have the solace of daily activity. I had confidence that, although life itself might contain many difficulties, the period of mere passive receptivity had come to an end, and I had at last finished with the everlasting "preparation for life," however ill-prepared I might be.
It was not until years afterward that I came upon Tolstoy's phrase "the snare of preparation," which he insists we spread before the feet of young people, hopelessly entangling them in a curious inactivity at the very period of life when they are longing to construct the world anew and to conform it to their own ideals.
In the nest issue, Miss Addams will write about "Early Undertakings at Hull-House." [page 11]
"Snare of Prep."
- Written by (1)
- Mentions (27)
- Published in (1)
- Member of (1)
- Mentioned in (10)
- Related to (6)
- Comments (0)