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Speech

Marsden Diocesan Girls' School

Issue date: 
Friday, 15 December 1933
Speaker: 
Viscount Bledisloe, GCMG, KBE, PC

I cannot but be reminded on visiting this school that it is named after that eminent Apostle of Christianity, Samuel Marsden; that it was founded fifty-five years ago in the year following the establishment in this country by Act of Parliament of free, compulsory, and secular education; and that, after being a proprietary school, it came under Anglican Diocesan control in 1924. Its establishment is a significant reminder that there was in 1878 a strong section of the population which favoured the teaching of Christianity in the schools as well as the home.

According to the philosopher Bacon, "it requires greater knowledge to plan a beautiful garden than to build a beautiful house." There is no more lasting or impressive beauty for the adornment of God's creatures that the "beauty of holiness," and there is no garden that responds more readily to its cultivation than the young woman, being born in the image of God and capable of reflecting His lustre and refinement. I like to think of our young people as gardens which can be so cultivated as to radiate beauty and utility, and this make the world brighter, more congenial, and richer by their presence in it. If this applies to the young man, much more does it apply to the young woman. Indeed, nothing is more calculated to put back the hands of the clock of human culture than the abandonment of domestic efficiency and the vulgarization of womanhood, evidenced by their speech, their habits, and their aims in life. I am glad to notice that you are trained here to be good housewives. In the case of the normal woman such training cannot be superseded by any other, although it can often be usefully supplemented. Among other school subjects you are taught cultured English. To what extent do you mean to use it in after life? There is something vacuous, unintelligent, and disproportionate about the conventional phraseology of so many young women who claim social superiority or fashionable distinction. Such words as "amazing," "marvellous," "colossal" on the one hand, and "awful," "terrible," and "devastating" on the other are frequently on their tongues in reference to very ordinary events and still more ordinary individuals, and their constant use tends to breed, through exaggeration, inaccuracy and insincerity in their utterers and lack of conviction in their hearers. Ours is a beautiful language, rich in words and phrases applicable to all the tones and semi-tones, the crescendos, diminuendos, and arpeggios of human experience. Can we not use it more carefully in our daily conversation? There is nothing old-fashioned or early-Victorian in clinging to the cultured phraseology of the Bible, of Shakespeare, of Sir Walter Scott, or of Edmund Burke. You may say, in using exaggerated language or slang, "Well, other girls do it, and why not we?" Surely the answer is because Marsden School is a place of higher education provided for the needs of those who should point the way in the matter of culture and refinement to the less fortunate sections of the population, and it is a poor tribute to the intellectual equipment with which it has so generously provided us. I should like to see a money-box provided in every leading secondary school and in the home of every well-educated family in this Dominion into which a penny shall be placed for some charitable object every time a member of the house uses a word of flagrant exaggeration or indelicate slang. Impetuosity of language is often as unconvincing as its inappropriateness. There is an old traditional prayer which runs," Let Divine wisdom guard our lives and teach us how and when to speak and when to be silent." Truth coupled with Tolerance breeds Prudence in word and deed, and that reserve force which is indicative of Character which calls forth Confidence in the leaders of mankind, especially in times of crisis and adversity. Silence is often golden. Truth is sometimes best left unspoken. To blurt it out in anger and impetuosity or in vain arrogance may be the height of unwisdom and the negation of that Charity which we place first among the Christian virtues.

If religious education is to justify itself in a critical world and under modern conditions some definite advantage must be apparent in its recipients or beneficiaries in their after lives. They must make it clear by way of contrast that they possess some equipment which enabled them to lead happier, more useful, and more healthful lives than those who are not similarly endowed. There are many who look to organized religious activities as the sole source of their religious zeal and spiritual comfort, forgetful of the fact that the Divine Creator is present with us in our natural surroundings. There are comparatively few who realize God either in the myriad forms of Nature or even in the most sublime forms of inspired art. The Heavens and the Earth alike declare the glory of the Deity, and the Firmament showeth His handiwork. The more that humanity realizes the Eternal Presence in and through all that is beautiful in their environment, the more easily and fully will they be able to accept with confidence the reality and helpfulness of religion.

Some of you are destined to be leaders and others followers. To the former I say, "What example are you setting, bearing in mind that it may make or mar the lives of those who follow [you]?" To the latter I say, "Whom are you following and why are you doing it?" And this is the great test of your character. Are you selecting for your leaders and exemplars those who will draw out and strengthen all that is best in you, or are you taking what engineers call the "l. l. r.," the line of least resistance, which is calculated to weaken your character and destroy those high ideals which your teachers seek to implant in you. Every faculty which we possess is improved by use, is strengthened by having to face difficulties and in overcoming them. Just as our manual and mental capacity when trained at school is developed by constant use and suffers atrophy and decay when rusting in idleness, so our characters are bound to suffer unless constantly strengthened by resisting the temptations to slide down into a lower place of human achievement. If you want to be continuously happy, whether times be good or bad, learn to love the simple things of life and not lean too heavily upon life's excrescences and artificialities. The cynic has added to the Biblical beatitudes, "Blessed is he that expecteth nothing. Verily he shall not be disappointed." Let us rather with a truer sense of proportion make this our new beatitude: "Blessed are those who expect little and who rely for their life's happiness upon the easily obtainable." Verily they will live a life of contentment and will find joy and abounding gladness in every favourable turn of Fortune's wheel. They will carry the tonic of smiling confidence to all who are brought into contact with them. They will be bright blossoms even in a parched landscape.

Last updated: 
Friday, 9 January 2009

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