It may not lie upon the surface, this choicest of your treasures; diamonds seldom do. Miners remove a great deal of mere dust before the sparkling jewel they are seeking gladdens the eye.
Genius has been often and variously defined. I would call it an intuition of one's own best gift. Rosa Bonheur, the French painter, knew hers; American actress Charlotte Cushman recognized hers; British writer George Eliot was not greatly at a loss concerning hers.
As for us of less emphatic individuality, sometimes we wait until a friend's hand leads us up before the mirror of our potential self. Sometimes we see it reflected in another's success (as the eaglet, among the flock of geese, first learned that he could fly, when he recognized a mate in the heaven-soaring eagle, whose shadow frightened all the geese away). Sometimes we come upon our heritage unwittingly, but always it is there, be sure of that, and "let no man take thy crown."
As iron filings fall into line around a magnet, so make your opportunities cluster close about your special gift. In a land as generous as ours, this can be done by every woman who reads these lines. A sharpened perception of their own possibilities is far more needed by our girls than better means for education.
But how was it in the past? If there is one reflection that grieves me as no other can, it is this thought of God's endowment bestowed upon each one of us, so that we might in some special manner gladden and bless the world by bestowing upon it our best; the thought of His patience all through the years as He has gone on hewing out the myriad souls of a wayward race, that they might be lively stones in the temple of use and of achievement; and side by side with this the thought of our individual blindness, our failure to discern the riches of brain, heart and hand with which we were endowed.
But most of all, I think about the gentle women who have lived and died and made no sign of their best gifts, but whose achievements of voice and pen, of brush and chisel, of noble statesmanship and great-hearted philanthropy might have blessed and soothed our race through these 6,000 years.
There is a stern old gentleman of my acquaintance who, if he had heard what I have just said, would have stated his objection in this fashion: "That's all folderol, my friend; a mere rhetorical flourish. If women could have done all this, why didn't they, pray tell?
"If it's in it's in, and will come out, but what's wanting can't be numbered."
He would then proceed to ask me, with some asperity, if I thought any of my "gifted" women could have invented a steam engine. Whereupon I would say to him what I now say to you, "Most assuredly I think so; why not?"
And I would ask, in turn, if my old friend had studied history with reference to the principle that, as a rule, human beings do not rise above the standard implied in society's general estimate of the class to which they belong. Take the nations of Eastern Europe and Western Asia--"civilized" nations, too, be it remembered; study the mechanic of Jerusalem, the merchant of Damascus and Ispahan; in what particular are the tools of the one or the facilities of commerce familiar to the others superior to those of a thousand years ago?
Surely, as far as Oriental inventions are concerned, they have changed as little as the methods of the bee or the wing-stroke of the swallow. We hear no more of man's inventiveness in those countries than of woman's.
Why should we, indeed, when we remember that both are alike untaught in the arts and sciences, which form the basis of mechanical invention? They are inspired by no intellectual movement, no demand, no "modern spirit."
It is not "in the air" that men shall be fertile of brain and skilled of hand as inventors there, any more than it is here that women shall be, and where both knowledge and incentive are not present, achievement is evermore a minus quantity. None but a heaven-sent genius, stimulated by a love of science, prepared by special education and inspired by the prestige of belonging to the dominant sex, ever yet carved types, tamed lightning or imprisoned steam.
Besides, in ages past, if some brave soul, man or woman, conscious of splendid powers, strove to bless the world by his or her free exercise, what dangers were involved! Was it Joan of Arc? The fagot soon became her portion. Galileo? On came the rack.
Christopher Columbus? The long disdain of courtiers and jealousy of ambitious coadjutors followed him. Robert Fulton? He faced the sarcasm of the learned and the merriment of the boors.
Even for the most adventurous inventor of today (as the aeronaut experimenters), what have we but bad puns and insipid conundrums--until he wins--and then ready caps tossed high in air and fame's loud trumpet at his ear--when death's cold finger has closed it up forever.
Times are changing, though. The world grows slowly better and more brotherly. The day is near when women will lack no high incentive to the best results in every branch of intellectual endeavor and skilled workmanship.