12 Charleville Circus
Feb 21 1915
My dear Betty
I will try to answer you letter this afternoon while it is quiet after turning it over in my mind since yesterday morning.
It seems to me that two main considerations have led you to suggest this change of plan. First the expense involved and second the fact that you dislike the idea of staying on at school without any break for a good many more years still.
Now about the first point. You rather underestimate the present expenses although Father’s share is about what you think. I am not absolutely sure of the amounts but I think your school bills, with music and sundry extras have come hitherto to about £80 a year. Of this I have paid £20 and I believe Aunt Lottie has always paid part but am not sure. I think it is much better that you should know this exactly as you have begun to think about the subject. I had always intended to go on paying part of your education expenses and I am very glad to do so. I told Father when I first proposed it that I felt more had been spent upon me than upon any of the others except Arthur and perhaps Cyril and I had always felt it would be only fair that where I reaped the benefit of this, as I do now, I should repay I in some way by helping with you. So you see supposing you should get a £60 or even a £50 scholarship at Oxford, the amount still to be paid would not be more than it has been while you have been at school. Should circumstances make it difficult or impossible for Father to pay so much I could increase my contribution and would do so gladly if we are sure you are doing the best thing in going up to Oxford. Also in cases of extreme difficulty there are College loan funds usually to help students through. While I am on the money question, I think you ought to bear in mind as one factor of the case that it is generally possible to earn much more as a teacher than as a nurse.
Now on the second point. I am not at all surprised that you feel you would like some break at least which should definitely mark the end of your life as a schoolgirl and give you a little change of experience in a different kind of life either at home or elsewhere. I believe myself that whether or not you decide to try later for a scholarship, it would really be a good thing for you to have such a break. Curiously enough the question has been to some extent in my mind lately, partly on your account, partly because it seemed to me two birds might in this way be killed with one stone and Ethel at the same time taken from home and given a complete change of interests and surroundings for a time. I think you realise that it would do her a great deal of good; it might be difficult to get her to see it but I should present the case to her and also to Father and Mother in this way: she may at some time in the future have to face the problem of earning her own living unless she remains dependent upon her relations, not an enviable position I think as a rule. Although she is very capable in many ways, she would find it difficult as she has absolutely no special training. Now I think her strongest interests lie in the direction of personal and individual social work. Although this is not highly paid work yet there are posts with small salaries for people who have had a little training and experience and it is possible to get such training under the C.O.S. workers or in various other ways, generally in London. Now if we invited her to come up here for anyway six months, perhaps rather more, she might take up some regular work with a view to getting experience so that later on if necessary she might try for a salaried post. You meanwhile could take her place at home. If the scholarship idea were not given up you could probably find time for an hour or two’s reading a day generally. If a little visiting or travelling could also be fitted in while you were away from school that would be all the better. Of course I do not know whether Miss Lacey would think that a long gap in your history work at school would destroy all chance of winning a scholarship place if you came home and worked seriously for a year or so for it afterwards. Provided you did not get quite rusty, I believe a time of lying fallow and digesting what one has learned is most valuable (there’s a fine mixed metaphor!).
You will see in all that I have said above I am assuming that you continue to aim at Oxford and History scholarship. I feel from what you say that you are considering nursing not because you feel a distinct preference for that over teaching, but because you feel you could be quite satisfied to do that and for practical reasons it might be better than the other. Now since that is the case I think it is necessary to consider the matter very carefully, both as to what you are competent to do and as to what is really the most valuable work you can do. Now a nurse’s work is undoubtedly very valuable and I am quite sure you could make a good nurse, but except in the case of a few women who get important posts such as matron of a large hospital, I do not think a nurse’s work gives scope for any very unusual ability. She must have practical capacity, common sense, method, also good temper and preferably I think some discretion (in private nursing)! Fortunately many women possess a good many of these qualities. I think you have quite a good share of them all but in addition you have as you know some literary ability; I believe you have also, and will have more as you grow older, some power at judging character and of leadership; also mutual powers of more keenness and vigour than the ordinary work of a nurse demands. The atmosphere of most hospitals is I fancy distinctly non-intellectual. Few nurses care to read anything of much worth or to talk of matters of real interest. (I speak from hearsay but I feel sure I am right.) There must be exceptions of course and you would be sure I think, so far as the over-strain of a nurse’s work, left you time or energy for anything beyond.
From the point of view of your own happiness you want to be quite sure that you can hear this atmosphere, resist it and not let it depress you. From the point of view of your work in the world you are bound to consider whether in taking up this work you would be failing to make use of more valuable powers, and doing which there are plenty of others competent to do.
On this point it is difficult for me to say much. I know you have and will develop the moral qualities (in its widest sense) most necessary to be a teacher. I cannot judge your mental capacity but I daresay you have given a very fair estimate in your letter. Where you say however that Miss Haynes gives you credit for “your own ideas” in your essays it seems to me that may be worth a good deal, if you mean that you have the power of using facts as material for thought, as far as facts go I expect you have the family failing, a bad memory, still even in a bad memory things do stick at last and more readily as there are more associations to which to attach the facts. Of course it is quite possible that you have not got a historical mind; at least not enough so to win a scholarship but I think you are rather young to be quite sure. Probably both you and the people who teach you could give a more certain opinion a year hence. If you do feel that your heart is decidedly literary it might be wiser to try for a scholarship in English, not History, if you do try. In this case of course you ought to discuss the matter soon with Miss Lacey and anyone else who could help you. I have sometimes wondered before whether you ought not to have chosen this rather than History. This does not eliminate the difficulty of Responsions. Are you sure Miss Lacey thinks you are still so far from ready?
I appreciate fully your desire not to be for too long a charge upon the family. I know exactly from experience how one feels about that. It is never an easy matter to choose between the duty of developing one’s powers as far as possible so as to be equipped to do the best work and is capable of and that of sacrificing personal advantages so as not to be a burden upon others. I think in your case if Father’s affairs are not too badly shaken by the war, you are justified in going on towards the Oxford plan unless it becomes plain that your chances are too small. Should this be the case, or should it appear a few months hence that Father’s income will be seriously diminished I think you might well consider more seriously the plan you suggest.
Meanwhile, as you would in any case not leave school for some time, why not go on just as you are at present, unless you think seriously of taking English instead of History. The teaching you are doing will not be enough to make much difference to your fees, but it may make rather more difference later, if you are getting on fairly well; on the other hand, Father has not yet felt the war financially; the dividend just announced has been quite a good one for last year. About next July raise again the question of your chance of a scholarship, and also the question of your taking a term or two off about 1916; I could come up and have another talk with Miss Lacey if you liked. I do strongly feel it would be a good thing to get this break and change if you were to go on. After this discussion the whole question of your plans could be gone into and your new scheme considered if it then seemed best.
I am afraid you will have been looking before this for an answer to your letter but on Sunday Cyril turned up unexpectedly for a few hours about tea-time and then there was not time to finish it. Yesterday evening I was too tired to tackle a letter needing some thought; also I need a room to myself to think in (weak-minded, isn’t it?)! So I postponed it until my free afternoon today when I could get home about three. I do not feel I have said all there is, but we must try and meet and talk about things a little later on. I have been perhaps rather more discouraging than I meant to be towards your new plan. You must bear in mind too that my answer would be quite different if you said that you liked the idea of nursing better than that of teaching.
Well you will never get through this letter, so I will leave anything else until we can talk.
Cyril has just moved to Blackdown Barracks, Farnborough, near Aldershot. He looked so well and so tanned. He seemed very cheerful indeed except that he does not think Mela is very well. She is having a dreadfully hard time in the operating theatre.
Now I have two belated home letters to write, postponed from Sunday. Much love.
Your affectionate sister
PS – Glad you wrote.