I have a book published in 1901, The Companion Dictionary of Quotations. My Grandmother signed her name in it on 2.7.1901. She added several quotations of her own in beautiful writing using pen and ink. One of the quotations is:
“Be good, sweet maid, and let who can be clever,
Do lovely things, not dream them, all day long;
And so make life, death and that vast forever,
One grand sweet song.”
It is the last verse of a poem by Charles Kingsley called A Farewell to C.E.G. (I have no idea who she was.) Charles Kingsley was a writer and a clergyman, 1819 – 1875.
There is an original and a revised version of the poem. The original said “Do noble deeds”.
The poem sounds rather patronizing today, but I think it’s message is still one we need to listen to. C.S.Lewis commented, “Be good, sweet maid, and don’t forget that this involves being as clever as you can.” Well, he would say that – he was an intellectual. Was he missing the point?
I think Kingsley was saying that it doesn’t matter whether one is clever or not – one can do lovely, noble things whatever one’s IQ. Kingsley was highly educated, yet he was saying that one’s life is not just about being clever, and theorising about life, the Universe and Everything. We are here on Planet Earth to do good and noble deeds, to make the world a better place, to think of others and not just ourselves. If we could all do this, life would be “a grand, sweet song”.
Kingsley was very concerned about the working conditions of the poor, their education, sanitation, and the pollution of rivers. His most famous book is The Water Babies, published 1863 but still popular in the 1950s. It is about boy chimney sweeps, who had to go up chimneys instead of pushing brushes up to clear the soot. They often died on the job. Other novels were about the plight of agricultural workers. Kingsley wanted social reform and brought people’s attention to the way things were for the poor in his novels. He was one of the founders of the Christian Socialist Movement. I think those were good and noble deeds. As he was very clever, he used his brains in his contributions to society but he was aware of the fact that the less-clever could offer other things. We must all contribute, all sing together, to make that heavenly choir.
Above all, the message is to turn one’s dreams into reality – get up off your backside and make it happen!