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An essay by Agnes Repplier

The "Greatest Of These Is Charity"

Title:     The "Greatest Of These Is Charity"
Author: Agnes Repplier [More Titles by Repplier]

_Mrs. James Gordon Harrington Balderston to Mrs. Lapham Shepherd_


Will you pardon me for this base encroachment on your time? Busy women are the only ones who ever _have_ any time, so the rest of the world is forced to steal from them. And then all that you organize is so successful that every one turns naturally to you for advice and assistance, as I am turning now. A really charming woman, a Miss Alexandrina Ramsay, who has lived for years in Italy, is anxious to give a series of lectures on Dante. I am sure they will be interesting, for she can put so much local colour into them, and I understand she is a fluent Italian scholar. Her uncle was the English Consul in Florence or Naples, I don't remember which, so she has had unusual opportunities for study; and her grandfather was Dr. Alexander Ramsay, who wrote a history of the Hebrides. Unfortunately her voice is not very strong, so she would be heard to the best advantage in a drawing-room. I am wondering whether you would consent to lend yours, which is so beautiful, or whether you could put Miss Ramsay in touch with the Century Club, or the Spalding School. You will find her attractive, I am sure. The Penhursts knew her well in Munich, and have given her a letter to me.

Pray allow me to congratulate you on your new honours as a grandmother. I trust that both your daughter and the baby are well.

Very sincerely yours,

I forgot to tell you that Miss Ramsay's lectures are on

Dante, the Lover.
Dante, the Poet.
Dante, the Patriot.
Dante, the Reformer.

There was a fifth on Dante, the Prophet, but I persuaded her to leave it out of the course.

I. B.

_Mrs. Lapham Shepherd to Mrs. Wilfred Ward Hamilton_


Mrs. James Balderston has asked me to do what I can for a Miss Alexandrina Ramsay (granddaughter of the historian), who wants to give four lectures on Dante in Philadelphia. She has chopped him up into poet, prophet, lover, etc. I cannot have any lectures or readings in my house this winter. Jane is still far from strong, and we shall probably go South after Christmas. Please don't let me put any burden on your shoulders; but if Dr. Hamilton could persuade those nice Quakers at Swarthmore that there is nothing so educational as a course of Dante, it would be the best possible opening for Miss Ramsay. Mrs. Balderston seems to think her voice would not carry in a large room, but as students never listen to anybody, this would make very little difference. The Century Club has been suggested, but I fancy the classes there have been arranged for the season. There are preparatory schools, aren't there, at Swarthmore, which need to know about Dante? Or would there be any chance at all at Miss Irington's?

Miss Ramsay has been to see me, and I feel sorry for the girl. Her uncle was the English Consul at Milan, and the poor thing loved Italy (who doesn't!), and hated to leave it. I wish she could establish herself as a lecturer, though there is nothing I detest more ardently than lectures.

I missed you sorely at the meeting of the Aubrey Home house-committee yesterday. Harriet Maline and Mrs. Percy Brown had a battle royal over the laying of the new water-pipes, and over _my_ prostrate body, which still aches from the contest. I wish Harriet would resign. She is the only creature I have ever known, except the Bate's parrot and my present cook, who is perpetually out of temper. If she were not my husband's stepmother's niece, I am sure I could stand up to her better.

Cordially yours,

_Mrs. Wilfred Ward Hamilton to Miss Violet Wray_


You know Margaret Irington better than I do. Do you think she would like to have a course of Dante in her school this winter? A very clever and charming woman, a Miss Alexandrina Ramsay, has four lectures on the poet which she is anxious to give before schools, or clubs, or--if she can--in private houses. I have promised Mrs. Shepherd to do anything in my power to help her. It occurred to me that the Contemporary Club might like to have one of the lectures, and you are on the committee. That would be the making of Miss Ramsay, if only she could be heard in that huge Clover Room. I understand she has a pleasant cultivated voice, but is not accustomed to public speaking. There must be plenty of smaller clubs at Bryn Mawr, or Haverford, or Chestnut Hill, for which she would be just the thing. Her grandfather wrote a history of England, and I have a vague impression that I studied it at school. I should write to the Drexel Institute, but don't know anybody connected with it. Do you? It would be a real kindness to give Miss Ramsay a start, and I know you do not begrudge trouble in a good cause. You did such wonders for Fraulein Breitenbach last winter.

Love to your mother,
Affectionately yours,

_Miss Violet Wray to Mrs. J. Lockwood Smith_


I have been requested by Hannah Hamilton--may Heaven forgive her!--to find lecture engagements for a Miss Ramsay, Miss Alexandrina Ramsay, who wants to tell the American public what she knows about Dante. Why a Scotchwoman should be turned loose in the Inferno, I cannot say; but it seems her father or her grandfather wrote school-books, and she is carrying on the educational traditions of the family. Hannah made the unholy suggestion that she should speak at the Contemporary Club, and offered as an inducement the fact that she couldn't be heard in so large a room. But we are supposed to discuss topics of the day, and Dante happened some little while ago. He has no bearing upon aviation, or National Insurance Bills (that is our subject next Monday night); but he is brimming over with ethics, and it is the duty of your precious Ethical Society to grapple with him exhaustively. I always wondered what took you to that strange substitute for church; but now I see in it the hand of Providence pointing the way to Miss Ramsay's lecture field. Please persuade your fellow Ethicals that four lectures--or even one lecture--on Dante will be what Alice Hunt calls an "uplift." I feel that I must try and find an opening for Hannah's protegee, because she helped me with Fraulein Breitenbach's concert last winter,--a circumstance she does not lightly permit me to forget. Did I say, "May Heaven forgive her" for saddling me with this Scotch schoolmaster's daughter? Well, I take back that devout supplication. May jackals sit on her grandmother's grave! Meantime here is Miss Ramsay to be provided for. If your Ethicals (disregarding their duty) will have none of her, please think up somebody with a taste for serious study, and point out that Dante, elucidated by a Scotchwoman, will probably be as serious as anything that has visited Philadelphia since the yellow fever.

If you want one of Grisette's kittens, there are still two left. The handsomest of all has gone to live in regal splendour at the Bruntons, and I have promised another to our waitress who was married last month. Such are the vicissitudes of life.

Ever yours,

_Mrs. J. Lockwood Smith to Mrs. James Gordon Harrington Balderston_


I want to enlist your interest in a clever young Scotchwoman, a Miss Alexandrina Ramsay, who hopes to give four lectures on Dante in Philadelphia this winter. Her father was an eminent teacher in his day, and I understand she is thoroughly equipped for her work. Heaven knows I wish fewer lecturers would cross the sea to enlighten our ignorance, and so will you when you get this letter; but I remember with what enthusiasm you talked about Italy and Dante at Brown's Mills last spring, and I trust that your ardour has not waned. The Century Club seems to me the best possible field for Miss Ramsay. Do you know any one on the entertainment committee, and do you think it is not too late in the season to apply? Of course there are always the schools. Dear Mrs. Balderston, I should feel more shame in troubling you, did I not know how capable you are, and how much weight your word carries. Violet Wray and Mrs. Wilfred Hamilton are tremendously interested in Miss Ramsay. May I tell Violet to send her to you, so that you can see for yourself what she is like, and what chances she has of success? Please be quite frank in saying yes or no, and believe me always,

Yours very cordially,

[The end]
Agnes Repplier's essay: "The Greatest Of These Is Charity"