Florence Nightingale

Curriculum Vitae

The manuscript I had a sickly childhood, the climate of England did not suit me, after that of Italy (Florence) where I was born. I could never like the plays of other children. But the happiest time of my life was during a year's illness, which I had when I was 6 years old. I never learnt to write till I was 11 or 12, owing to a weakness in my hands. And I was shy to misery. At 7 years of age we had a governess, who brought me up most severely. She was just and well intentioned, but she did not understand children and she used to shut me up for 6 weeks at a time. My sister, on the contrary, she spoilt.

When I was 10, my mother would have no more governesses and my father took us himself in hand. He taught me Latin and Greek and Mathematics and whatever he knew himself. I had the most enormous desire of acquiring. For 7 years of my life I thought of little else but cultivating my intellect. And even now when I think what a human intellect may become by industry, ambition comes before me like Circe with her cup to tempt me.

I had also the strongest taste for music. But God was merciful to me and took away my voice by constant sore throat. Otherwise I think if I could have sung, I should have wished for no other satisfaction. Music excited my imagination and my passionate nature so much, that I recognize this as a real blessing.

God has always led me of Himself. I remember no particular sermon or circumstances which ever made any great impression upon me. But the first idea I can recollect when I was a child was a desire to nurse the sick. My day dreams were all of hospitals and I visited them whenever I could. I never communicated it to any one, it would have been laughed at; but I thought God had called me to serve Him in that way.

My life was so wholly unpractical that I never did my own hair till I came here. I did not know the difference between rye and barley, between linen and cotton. When I was 17 (it was the year of the Influenza in London) our whole family had it. I had to nurse 15 servants in bed, my mother and two children of her brother, who were in the house. I had only one assistant, the cook, who was not ill. But soon other nurses were sent for. The Influenza passed away and all was at an end with my practical life. Except that and attending my dear old nurse, who died in our house, I never had any real activity.

The same year I was introduced in London. We were presented at court and our life of society began. There is no part of my life, upon which I can look back without pain.

I had wandered about in the Desert years long, seeking bread and finding none. Then l took stones and eat them, instead of bread, because I was starved. Then I was shown all the glory of the world in the form in which it usually presents itself to women, hearts to be conquered, admiration to be won. And I took it. I worshipped the devil and accepted his gifts. I was much too proud to seek for admiration, but I had pleasure in that which I won, and in those whom the Devil made Mine.

Later it only remained for me to make the great leap and I should have made it. But God protected me. Marriage had never tempted me. I hated the idea of being tied for ever to a life of society, and only such a marriage could I have. I had never given up the idea of reaching at last a better life. But there came a marriage for me which fulfilled all my mother's ambition, intellect, position, connections, everything; not that she ever tried to influence me. I myself was tempted after several years' resistance, it was such an easy escape out of my difficulties. I could then do pretty much what I liked. An accident prevented it. I will believe that it was God who saved me from casting myself down from the Temple.

Meanwhile I had never given up looking about for an opening to serve God. Six years ago I made a desperate attempt to get into an English Hospital as nurse. For years I tried all the Hospitals in vain. Besides, the very idea terrified my mother and I must confess now that I understand a mother not liking her daughter to go into an English Hospital. However that may be I never could get into one.

The year before I had tried, by going every day for several hours to our village school to do what I believed to be God's will there. But first, my health failed after some months and an illness followed, which my mother fancied came from this cause, and she prevented my going so often. And, secondly, my education had never fitted me for that kind of teaching. I knew that I taught ill. I did not know how to do any better and the very importance of the work and the interest I had in it and my fear of myself discouraged me more than if I had taken it merely as a pastime.

Besides, we lived more and more in society. Three months we spent in London in the season, six months at a country house in Hampshire, where the village population was very much scattered and the park so large that no cottages were very near. Three months at another countryhouse in Derbyshire. We always had company, from 10 to 15 people, staying in the house in the country and I was always expected to be in the drawing-room. Our society consisted of clever intellectual men, all very good society, that I allow they never talked gossip or foolishly. But they took up all our time.

Among the many stones I eat, one piece of bread God always granted me. A nephew of my mother, whom I almost brought up and who was the apple of my eye. He was a sickly child. When he went to school, I prepared him; in the holidays I taught him; when he went later to college, I was his instructress. He never had any particular affection for me otherwise, I should have made him my idol, but God kept my affection for him pure. I was ambitious for him and he did not succeed in the way in which I wished; so much the better. God has other views for him.

God has never left me quite alone. What I have suffered in the way of remorse my whole life I can never describe. But it was not repentance unto life, but unto death. I really think it made me worse. I had not found the true way. Once, twice, three times I can remember, I thought He had called me. But I was not faithful and I fell off again. Then I suffered ten times more. It seemed to me that the greatest temptation always came soon after I had fancied my calling and election sure, like Christ's temptation after His Baptism. Lately I have lived a tolerably even kind of life, a great deal in society, going into the village and to the village school, or the evening school, as often as I could. But that was not often.

For the last two years it seems to me that God has led me into peace, or rather is leading me into it — often troubled by sin and remorse and old habits — craving for food which He has not given me, but still there is something like His strength under it.

Two years ago, to my great surprise, my mother consented to my going into Egypt with two friends. On my return I was enabled, by ways which I could hardly expect, to go to Kaiserswerth. Had I been with any other friends, I could not have done it. Six years before, I had obtained a report of Kaiserswerth. Since then I had always been wishing to go there and sometimes when the opportunity was in my very hand, it was taken from me. This time I had never expected to go. My sister declared I never should, but the way was opened for me by a curious chain of circumstances which I could never have expected and which I am not at liberty to tell. My sister has always had delicate health and her being ordered to Karlsbad was one reason, a great disappointment which befel (!) me was another. My kind mother was willing to make me amends by allowing me to go.

The Sisterhood of Deaconesses at Paris I had seen on my way back from Rome three years ago, but I had not been able to remain.

I had always been in the habit of visiting the poor at home. But it was so unsatisfactory — for me to preach patience to them, when they saw me with what they thought every blessing (ah how little they knew) seemed to me such an impertinence and always checked me. I longed to live like them and with them and then I thought I could really help them. But to visit them in a carriage and give them money is so little like following Christ, who made Himself like His brethren.

God has led me by ways which I have not known. He has never cast me off for all I have done against Him. What I owe Him I can never tell in these few minutes.


July 24, 1851

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