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The Woman of the World

The woman of the world and the worldly woman wear their rue world, with a difference. Between them there is a great gulf fixed—a gulf that separates worldly knowledge from worldly ambition. Worldly knowledge is desirable; worldly ambition is despicable. The one may be, and should be, noble; the other could, by no trick of transformation, be other than ignoble. Worldly knowledge is safety. A life without it is left largely adrift to the chance forces of destiny.

They shall safely steer who see.
—From "From the Heights" by John Boyle O'Reilly

And sight is always better than blindness. Ignorance and innocence are not altogether synonymous. The innocence of knowledge is higher.

Blind endeavor is not wise;
Wisdom enters through the eyes,
And the seer is the knower—
Is the doer and the sower.
—From "From the Heights" by John Boyle O'Reilly

By the truer interpretation a woman of the world is not a worldly woman at all. It requires far higher qualities than the selfishness and materialism that make the worldly woman to make one whose breadth of view, liberal sympathies, mental poise, and felicitous judgment fit her to be a woman of the world. It is she who is the leader in all good works. It is she who perceives needs and comprehends the relative importance of events. Her horizon is wide, her insight swift as light and as unerring, and her sentiment never degenerates into mere sentimentality. She is a woman who can think as well as feel, and who lives in the clear upper air of intellectual greatness. A knowledge of the fundamental forces of life, of its finer possibilities and larger worth, saves her from the emotional plane of fanaticism. She acts from reason and intelligence, and has sufficient experience or intuition—the one apt to be true as the other—to realize that the good of others is, for the most part, to be achieved incidentally rather than by any direct and specific effort. The individual who sets out with a conscious purpose to do good, rather than fulfill his initial duty to the good, is apt to degenerate into a prig and a bore. It is much the wiser course to strengthen and build up the good than it is to denounce the evil. To help people to help themselves, rather than increase their dependence by emotional regrets, is far the more effective.

The worldly woman has no permanent place in social life; she is kaleidoscopic and unstable. Self-interest is a poor anchor; but it is all the one she has, and a corresponding insecurity of character is the result. One only lives worthily by living for something higher than immediate personal concerns. The mere worldly ambition, even when realized, is a kind of Dead Sea fruit, that turns to ashes at the touch.

But a knowledge of the world is essential to a wise use and direction of life. It is this which gives vision; and by vision one looks forward and attracts new and potent forces of growth. Thought is the one potent force. The woman of the world, with wide knowledge and fine culture, recognizes this spiritual law, while the worldly woman knows only the present hour, and has no vision of the larger destinies.

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Lilian Whiting

  • Born on October 3rd, 1859 in Niagara Falls, New York and died in 1942
  • Author and journalist
  • Edited The Boston Traveler and The Boston Budget

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