Miss Eleanor M. Brown who died in 1922 was a member of staff at the Sheffield Pupil Teacher Centre.
Someone remarked the other day how cruel it is for one suddenly to see a name in cold print, the name of one dearly cherished but gone. It is terrible that the name should become common property, to be stared at, to be spoken of. Also, to write of one so recently working, smiling, listening, sympathising, suffering is almost impossible; that grave is "all too young." It is with much diffidence and reverence, therefore, that one would venture to say even what is set down here.
Miss Brown came to the centre a long time ago, I followed her soon after. She put me on probation for a fairly long period, and then admitted me to her friendship. That was her way. Several of us on the staff then had so far escaped the more alarming of the twenties, and we had not yet succumbed to the "horrid arbitrariness" of tests, so we managed to hold each week, a brief but joyous conference during one "free" period. Often we had some real conversation; this has been and is very pleasant to recall.
Miss Brown was one whose real friendship - in the sense of some degree of intimacy and confidence - could not be lightly gained, and she herself rightly put a high value on it. That she was exclusive with regard to the inner circle is certain, yet no one could suffer fools with greater apparent gladness. This is to be explained not merely by her high notion of courtesy but also by a most truly human sympathy. In her secret soul demanding the very utmost, she tolerated with generous gaiety what might be commonplace, boring, exacting, incredibly dull. She was very quick to note special qualities, and she was not the easy critic whose praise matters little. Capable of the utmost depths of feeling, she despised vain shows of emotion, and she exercised over herself an enviable self-mastery that must at times have cost her dear. Like all interesting persons, Miss Brown had decided opinions. She was usually right; at least, her prejudices were based ultimately on what is reasonable. Great passions like fine ambition, real anger, even hate she could understand and admire; but baser feelings like petty malice, weak treachery, mean betrayal, she could not away with. Her sense of fun showed her ancestry, although she considered herself entirely English. But her eyes betrayed her.
Her attitude towards life was essentially optimistic. A declared reactionary, she was really all for progress in spite of her gibes at '32 and '70/ She had no morbid desire to die. She believed in the reality of a life's work, in the continuity of existence and effort, in "beginning all over again." One is compelled to think that for long, she had the presentiment that health was to be taken from her; for she frequently dwelt on the priceless value of bodily vigour and would say suddenly in the midst of some gay conversation; "Which would you rather be, a strong and healthy tramp or a well-off invalid?"
She used to declare that
teaching was not her true calling, yet never was there a truer teacher.
She had a special gift for bringing about "the reformation of manners"
in the more modern sense of that phrase. She was one of the favoured
ones who while getting the more obvious results of work get also those
which more truly give joy. One need not define these; that
would demand a very light touch. But the power to get them is not
to be acquired by taking thought, nor by labour, nor by seeking it diligently
and with tears.
Those who really knew Miss Brown would say that as a hostess she was inimitable. Watching her, one used to feel that she should have been the gracious head of some fine community, or the mistress of an English home with sons and daughters round her.
Although she often quoted Henley, probably she would have accepted Barrie's modification of his line. She had no desire to linger on helpless, knowing that
"To have done is
Quite out of fashion, like a rusty nail,
In monumental mockery."
As Maeterlinck teaches, we ought to look at the whole life, not merely the last part which may appear unhappy or even tragic. "Vous Vous direz que leur destin n'a pas ete heureux puisque leur mort n'a pas ete heureux. Mais vous oubliez que la mort n'est jamais heureuse aux yeux de ceux qui ne meurent pas encore, et pourtant c'est ainsi que nous jugeons la vie. Il semble que la mort absorbe tout." In contrast to Miss Brown's last suffering years - and through her high courage they were not wholly sad - we ought to remember her happy years of youth and the scope of her interests. Sensitive to beauty, she drew joy from books, music, plays, dancing, pictures, nature. But she scorned fatiguing persons who "enthused," and so it is with trepidation even now that anyone who loved her would say:-
"I hear thee when
the tossing waves' low rumbling
Creeps up the hill,
I go to the low wood and listen trembling
When all is still
We have a false pagan way of thinking of death. We sing strange hymns and we go to a grave hoping to renew a communion violently and cruelly broken. But truer far is the conception in Barrie's fine passage on the death of Meredith. What is called Meredith's Funeral is going on, but the real Meredith has passed into the joyous and glorious company of kindred spirits taught by RES.'S. to expect him. Delicious idea!
Miss Brown loved Shakespeare; it is not so very long since she went to see "The Merry Wives of Windsor." She helped many to understand him and he would say of her that she has gone to explore "the undiscovered country." It is true that he calls that country one "from whose bourne no traveller returns," but then he also lets one say:-
"Hereafter in a
better world than this,
I shall desire more love and knowledge of you."