"It is the solution worked out in the life, not
merely in words, that brings home to other lives the fact that the
problem is not insoluble."
It may be truly said that special types of problems come before the
unmarried woman for solution—problems as to her connection with society
and with the race, which confront her as they do not others. Though few
signs of a mental struggle were visible on the surface, there is no
doubt that Elsie Inglis met these problems and settled them in the
silence of her heart. It is a fact of much interest in connection with
the subject of this memoir that amongst the papers found after she had
died is the MS. of a novel written by herself, entitled The
Story of a Modern Woman, and one turns the pages with eager interest
to see if they furnish a key to the path along which she travelled in
solving her problems. The expectation is realized, and in reading the
pages of the novel we find the secret of the assurance and happy courage
which characterized her. Whether she intended it or not, many parts of
the book are without doubt autobiographical. In this chapter we propose
to give some extracts from the novel which we consider justify the
belief that the authoress is describing her own experiences.
The first extract refers to her "discovery" that she was almost entirely
without fear. The heroine is Hildeguard Forrest, a woman of
thirty-seven, a High School teacher. During a boating accident, which
might have resulted fatally, the fact reveals itself to Hildeguard that
she does not know what fear is. The story of the accident closes with
"Self-revelation is not usually a pleasant process.
Not often do we find ourselves better than we expected. Usually the
sudden flash that shows us ourselves makes us blush with shame at
the sight we see. But very rarely, and for the most part for the
people who are not self-conscious, the flash may, in a moment,
reveal unknown powers or unsuspected strength.
"And Hildeguard, sitting back in the boat, suddenly realized she
wasn't a coward. She looked back in surprise over her life, and
remembered that the terror which as a child would seize her in a
sudden emergency was the fear of being parted from her mother, not
any personal fear for herself, or her own safety.
"Such a pleasurable glow swept over her as she sat there in the
rocking boat. 'Why, no,' she thought; 'I wasn't frightened.'"
A similar accident befell Elsie Inglis when a young woman. Whether the
absence of fear disclosed itself to her then or not cannot be said, but
she is known to have said to a friend after her return from Serbia: "It
was a great day in my life when I discovered that I did not know what
Benjamin Kidd in The
Science of Power gives
(unintentionally) an indication where to look for the secret of the
childless woman's feeling of loneliness—she has no link with the
future. He affirms that woman because of her very nature has her
roots in the future. "To women," he says, "the race is always more than
the individual; the future greater than the present."
As we follow Hildeguard through the pages of the novel, she is shown to
us as faced with the problem of becoming "a lonely woman," the problem
that meets the unmarried and the childless woman. And the claims and the
meaning of religion are confronting her too. The story traces the
workings of Hildeguard's mind and the events of her life for a year.
Christmas Day in the novel finds Hildeguard a lonely and dissatisfied
woman with no "sure anchor." She has had a happy childhood, with many
relations and friends around her. One by one these are taken from
her—some are dead, others are married—and she sees herself, at the age
of thirty-seven, a forlorn figure with no great interest in the future,
and her thoughts dwelling mostly on the joyous past. Two or three of
Hildeguard's friends are conversing together in her rooms. None of them
has had a happy day. Each in her own way is feeling the depression of
the lonely woman. Frances, a little
Quaker lady, enters the room, as someone remarks on the sadness of
"'Yes,' at last said the Quaker lady; 'I heard what you said as I
came in, dear. Christmas is a hard time with all its memories. I
think I have found out what we lonely women want. It is a future.
Our thoughts are always turning to the past. There is not anything
to link us on to the next generation. You see other women with their
families—it is the future to which they look. However good the past
has been, they expect more to come, for their sons and their
daughters. Their life goes on in other lives.' Hildeguard clasped
her hands round her knees and stared into the fire."
"Their life goes on in other lives"—the thought finds a home in
Hildeguard's mind. When, soon after, the little Quakeress dies,
Hildeguard, looking at the quiet face, says to herself: "Dear little
woman! So you have got your future." But in her own case she does
not wait for death to bring it to her; she faces her problems, and,
refusing to be swamped by them, makes the currents carry her bark along
to the free, open sea. She flings herself whole-heartedly into causes
whose hopes rest in the future. She draws around her children, who need
her love and care, and makes them her hostages for the future. In all
this we see Elsie Inglis describing a stage in her own life.
But before the story brings us round again to Christmas, something else
has helped to change the outlook for Hildeguard; she has found herself
in relation to God. Her religion is no merely inherited thing—not hers
at second-hand, this "link with God." It is a real thing to her, found
for herself, made part of herself, and so her sure foundation. It has
come to her in a flash, a never-to-be-forgotten illumination of the
words: "The Power of an Endless Life." She faces life now glad
In her "den" on that Christmas Eve she is described thus to us by Elsie
"Ann had put holly berries over the pictures, and the mantelpiece,
too, was covered with it. Between the masses of green and the red
berries stood the solid, old-fashioned, gilt frames of long ago, the
photographs in them becoming yellow with age. Hildeguard turned to
them from the portraits on the walls. She stood, her hands resting
on the edge of the mantelpiece. Then suddenly it came to her that
her whole attitude towards life and death had altered. For long
these old photographs had stood to her
as symbols of a past glowing with happiness. Though the pain still
lingered even after time had dulled the edge, yet the old pictures
typified all that was best in life, and the dim mist of the years
rose up between the good days and her.
"But now, as she looked, her thoughts did not turn to the past. In
some unexplained way the loves of long ago seemed to be entwined
with a future so wonderful and so enticing that her heart bounded as
she thought of it.
"'Grow old along with me;
The best is yet to be.'
"Only last Christmas those words would have meant nothing to her.
Then her bark seemed to be stranded among shallows. She felt that
she was an old woman, and 'second bests' her lot in the coming
years. There could never be any life equal to the old life, in the
back-water into which she had drifted.
"But to-day how different the outlook! Her ship was flying over a
sunlit sea, the good wind bulging out the canvas. She felt the
thrill of excitement and adventure in her veins as she stood at the
helm and gazed across the dancing water. It seemed to her as if she
had been asleep and the "Celestial Surgeon" had come and 'stabbed
her spirit broad awake.' Joy had done its work, and sorrow;
responsibility had come with its stimulating spur, and the ardent
delight of battle in a great crusade. New powers she had discovered
in herself, new possibilities in the world around her. She was ready
for her 'adventure brave and new.' Rabbi Ben Ezra had waited for
death to open the gate to it, but to Hildeguard it seemed that she
was in the midst of it now, that 'adventure brave and new' in which
death itself was also an adventure.
"'The Power of an Endless Life'—the words seemed to hover around
her, just eluding her grasp, just beyond her comprehension, yet
something of their significance she seemed to catch. She remembered
the flash of intuition as she stood beside Frances' newly-made
grave, but she realized, her eyes on the old pictures, that it would
take ćons to understand all it meant, to exhaust all the wonder of
the idea. She could only bring to it her undeveloped powers of
thought and of imagination, but she knew that stretching away, hid
in an inexpressible light, lay depths undreamt of. To her
nineteenth-century intellect life could only mean evolution—life
ever taking to itself new forms, developing itself in new ways. At
the bed-rock of all her thought lay the consciousness of 'the Power
not ourselves, which makes for Righteousness.'
"No mystic she, to whom an ineffable union with the Highest was the
goal of all. Never even distantly did she reach to that idea. Rather
she was one of God's simple-hearted soldiers, who took her orders
and stood to her post. The words thrilled her, not with the prospect
of rest, but with the excitement of advance, 'an Endless Life' with
ever new possibilities of growth and of achievement, ever greater
battles to be fought for the right, and always new hopes of
happiness. Doubtingly and hesitatingly she committed herself to the
thought, conscious that it had been forming slowly
and unregarded in the strenuous months that lay behind her, through
the long years, ever since the first seemingly hopeless 'good-bye'
had wrung her heart. She began dimly to feel the 'power' of the
idea, the life of which she was the holder, only 'part of a greater
whole.' Earth itself only a step in a great progression. Ever
upward, ever onward, marching towards some 'Divine far-off event, to
which the whole creation moves.'"
If another pen than Elsie Inglis's had drawn the picture we should have
said it was one of herself. Surely she was able to weave around her
heroine, from the depth of her own inner experiences of solved problems,
the mantle of joy and freedom with which she herself was clothed.
The causes to which Elsie Inglis became a tower of strength; the "nation
she twice saved from despair"; the many children, not only those in her
own connection, on whom she lavished love and care, are the witnesses
to-day of the completeness and the splendour of her power to mould each
adverse circumstance in her life and make it yield a great advantage.