With their more fortunate and envied sisters in the smart set, an engagement is the loosest kind of a bond, and neither man nor woman is safe from the wooing of other men and women until the marriage vows have been pronounced, and, if your society is very fashionable, not even then.
So that this society of which I speak would undeniably be called "good."
Now, of course, all women desire to be loved. She is a very queer woman who would deny that proposition if asked by the right person, and I hope he would have sense enough not to believe her if she did. I do not object to a girl making herself attractive to men in a modest and maidenly way. On the contrary, I heartily approve of it. But I would have her select a man who belonged to no other girl, and to know that nothing but misery can result from the taking of a lover away from her friend.
It is the fashion for women to deny that this is done. I never could see why. But possibly they deny it because they are afraid, if they discuss it, that people will think some girl has lured a lover or two away from them.
People who have witnessed the outward results of this phenomenon also deny the true cause, on the ground that the robber girl was not clever enough to have done it. That she simply was more to the man's taste than the first girl, and so it was all the fault of the man.
Of course, I cannot deny the fickleness of man. But I do say that the girl hardly lives, no matter how pretty she is, who has not the wit to get another girl's lover if she wants him. It makes no difference how young she is, she never makes the mistake of disparaging the first girl. No woman of the world is less liable to such an error than a girl who deliberately intends to get another girl's lover.
She begins by gaining her confidence. Very likely she manages to stay all night with her. (That is the time when you tell everything you know, just because it is dark, and then spend the rest of your life wishing you hadn't.)
Then, when she has the points of the compass, so to speak, she says she will help her dear friend, and the dear friend, not being clever (or she wouldn't have confided), thinks she is the loveliest girl in the world, and, after promising to send her lover to call in order to be "helped," she calmly goes to sleep, just as if she has not seen the beginning of the end.
The other girl has observed—and she is, of course, pretty and attractive. Girls who do not know anything and who never study are always pretty. It is only the plain girl who is obliged to be clever. The first time she sees the lover of her dear friend she begins to laud her to the sky. She herself is looking so pretty, and she shows off in the most favorable light, while all the time singing her dear friend's praise with such fatal persistency that she fairly makes him sick of the sound of her name and of her namby-pamby virtues. Now the man would hardly be human if he did not tell this artless little creature that he had had enough of her dear friend, and that he would much prefer to talk about herself. Pouts of hurt surprise. She "thought you were such a friend of hers!" She "only wanted to entertain you by the only subject" she "thought would interest you." Presto! The entering wedge! She knows it, but the man does not. He has no idea of being disloyal to his sweetheart, but he is a lost man nevertheless—lost to the first girl and won by the second. Won in a perfectly harmless and legitimate way too. Won while doing her duty, keeping her promise, helping her friend. Her conscience acquits her. She has only observed and made use of her cleverness to know that too smooth and easy a course to true love generally gives him to the other girl.
But in reality she has stolen him—she has committed a real theft. And, personally, I should prefer to know her had she stolen money. You can jail a man who steals your watch, but the girl who steals a man's heart away from his sweetheart walks free, and uncondemned even—to their shame be it spoken—by those who know what she has done.
Nobody dares condemn her—even the friends of the robbed girl, for that presupposes some lack in her charm, and gives publicity to her loss. The wronged girl, because of her pride and conventionality and civilization, makes no outcry. A barbarian in her place would have fallen on the robber girl in a fury and scratched her eyes out. Sometimes I am sorry that our barbaric days are over.
Some of the greatest tragedies in life have come from this disloyalty among girls in their relations with each other.
I have no patience with those people who fall in love with forbidden property and give as their excuse, "I couldn't help it." Such culpable weakness is more dangerous to society than real wickedness.
Love is not a matter of infatuation. It is not the temptation which is wrong. It is the deliberate following it up, simply because the temptation is agreeable. Of course, it is agreeable! You are not often irresistibly tempted to go and have your teeth filled!
Men never will have done with their strictures on girls until girls achieve two things. One is to observe more honor in their relations with each other, and the other is to learn to think.
ON THE SUBJECT OF HUSBANDS
"All that I am, my mother made me"
Perhaps you think that girls do not know enough about other girls' husbands to discuss them with any profit. But if there has been a dinner or theatre party within our memory where the married girls did not take the bachelors and leave their husbands for us, we would just like to know when it was, that's all.
I dare say it never occurred to these wives what an opportunity this custom gives us to study social problems at close range. We girls are supposed to be blind and deaf and dumb; but we are none of the three. We try to see all there is to see, and hear all there is to hear, and then, when we get together, we wouldn't be human if we didn't talk it over and tell each other how infinitely better we could manage Jessie's husband than she does, and that it seems a pity that Carrie doesn't understand George.
I suppose it would be rather handsome of us always to pretend that we did not hear the covert rebuke or the open sarcasm bandied about between these husbands and wives. On the whole, I think it would be chivalrous for us to be utterly oblivious, and talk about the weather, if anybody asked us if we knew that Mary never could spend a cent without having John ask her what she did with it.
That is the way men do when they do not wish to tell on each other. I think men are fine in that way. We girls all think so, only we seldom have the moral courage to emulate their admirable example. We are so fond of "talking things over." And if the married women do not wish us to talk their husbands over, just let them give us our own rightful property, the bachelors, and we will never utter another cheep.
However, I would not give up my small experience with other girls' husbands for a great deal. It has convinced me of something of which I always have been reasonably sure, and that is that American men make the best husbands in the world, and that women who cannot get along with Americans, and who think men of another race, who have more polish, more finesse, more veneer, would suit them better, could not manage to live happily with the Angel Gabriel.
Dear me! If these dissatisfied American wives could only realize that an all-wise Providence had, in the American man, given us the best article in the market, and that when we rebel at our lot we are simply proving that we do not deserve our good fortune, they would never even discuss the subject of having men of any other nationality.
Of course, in every nation there is a class of men who are as noble, as high-minded, as chivalrous as even the most captious American girl could wish. But I refer to the general run of men when I say that there is something about men born outside of America, a native selfishness or callousness, a lack of perception and appreciation of the fineness of womanhood, amounting to a sort of mental brutality, which wellnigh unfits them for close social contact with the super-sensitive American woman. And just as surely as American women persist in disregarding this subtle yet unmistakable truth, just so surely will they lay themselves open to these soul-bruises from foreign husbands which American men, as a race, are incapable of inflicting. I say they are incapable of inflicting them, because American men, in the face of everything said and written to the contrary, are, in regard to women, the finest-grained race of men in the world.
Now in this generalizing, I beg that you will not accuse me of asserting that these strictures are true of every man who is not an American, or that all American men are perfect. But I do wish to state clearly and frankly my admiration for American men as a race. When an American man is a gentleman, he is to my mind the most perfect gentleman that any race can produce, because his good manners spring from his heart, and there are a few of us old-fashioned enough to plead that politeness should go deeper than the skin.
Now if the assertion is made that the American man makes the best husband in the world, let him not think that there is no room for improvement, for with him it is much the same as it is with the wild strawberry. At first blush one would say that there could be no more delicious flavor than that of the wild strawberry. Yet everybody knows what the skilled gardeners have made of it in the form of the cultivated fruit. Nevertheless, the crude article, found growing wild upon its native heath, is much to be preferred to the candied ginger of other nations.
After admitting that the wild strawberry is capable of cultivation, and even attaining, under skilful care, the highest type of perfection, let no one make the mistake of thinking that the time for such improvement is after they have been grown and placed upon the market. If they are found to be knotty, half green, or in a state of decadence, and you are bound to buy strawberries, you can take them, and, by your native woman's wit, you can dress them into a state of palatableness, even if you have to reduce them to a pulp in the sacred mysteries of a short-cake.
But in order to take all the comfort which strawberries are capable of giving to mankind, they should be perfect in themselves when they come from the hand of the gardener—just as it was his mother's duty to have trained that husband of yours before he came under your influence.
It really is asking too much of a woman to expect her to bring up a husband and her children too. She vainly imagines, when she marries this piece of perfection, with whom she is so blindly in love, that he is already trained, or, rather, that he is the one human being in the world who has been perfect from infancy, and who never needed training. She never dreams of the curious fact that mothers always train their daughters to make good wives, yet rarely ever think of training their boys to make good husbands.
Therefore, unless, like Topsy, they have "just growed" good and kind and considerate, a woman has a life-work before her in training her own husband.
But the fact of the matter is that while we girls receive specific training, to the express end of making good wives, the boys of the family receive only general training of chivalry and courtesy towards all women—not with a view of having to spend the greater part of their lives with one woman, or the tact with which this one woman must be treated.
I wonder what would happen if somebody should open a Select Kindergarten for Embryo Husbands? Yet we girls have been in a similar institution for embryo wives since childhood. We are told in our early teens: "Well, only your mother would bear that. No husband would;" or, "You will have to be more gentle and unselfish with your brother, if you want to make some man a good wife."
A good wife! It has a magic sound!
Of course, every girl expects to marry, and the shadowy idea of making a good wife to this mysterious but delightfully interesting personage, who is growing up somewhere in the world, and waiting for her, even as she is waiting for him, makes the hard task of self-discipline easier, for we all wish to make "a good wife."
Nor are we taught alone to be gentle and sweet and faithful. We girls have to learn that all-potent factor in a happy life—tact. We are early taught that it is not enough to master the fundamental principles which govern the genus man. We have to discover that each man must be treated differently. We must cater to individual tastes. We must learn individual needs, and fill them. In short, we are taught to observe men, to study them, and then to hold ourselves accordingly.
Pray do not imagine that all this is put into words, or that we have certain hours for studying how to make good wives, or that it is as rigid or exhausting as a broom drill. It is the intangible, esoteric philosophy which permeates the households of thousands of American families, where the mothers are the companions and confidantes of the daughters. It is an understood thing. You would be surprised to know how young some girls are when they have thoroughly mastered this wonderful tact with men. And what is it that makes the American girl so dangerous for all the other women in the world to compete with? It is because she studies her man. And how did she learn it? By seeing her mother manage her father—or, perhaps, by seeing how easily her father could be managed, if her mother only understood him better.
There is a good deal of progressive thought among girls in this generation.
Why in the world mothers train their girls and boys alike up to a certain point in general courtesy and consideration for each other, and then go on with the girls, teaching them the gentle, faithful finesse which every wife has to understand, yet leaves her boy to "gang his ain gait" just at the formative period of his life, I am not able to say.
If I could only hear some mother say to her son, "Don't let your slate-pencil squeak so! Try not to make distracting noises. You may have a nervous wife, and you might just as well learn to be quiet. There is no sense in thinking just because you are a boy that you can make unnecessary and superfluous noises!" I think I should die of joy! Or how would it sound to hear her say, "Whenever you come in and find your sister irritable, don't simply take yourself out of her way. Look around and do something kind for her. Make a point of knowing what she likes and of doing it. Life is so much more monotonous for women than for men, you should be especially generous with your sister, so that some day you will make some sweet girl a good husband."
Can't you just see what kind of a husband that boy would make?
Romance comes later to a boy than to a girl, but it hits him just as hard when it does come, and a boy is quite as responsive as a girl to the suggestion of a personal chivalry which shall prepare him to be a better husband to a shadowy personality which he cannot do better than to keep in his mind and heart.
Why does a woman, who finds it difficult, perhaps even impossible, to persuade her husband to do certain essential things, never take pity on the poor little girl across the street, who, in ten or fifteen years, is going to marry her son?
Take, at random, the subject of a wife's having an allowance. Thousands of wives have it, and therefore they are not the ones we are to consider. But where there are thousands who possess an allowance from their husbands, or who have money in their own right, there are millions who never have a cent they are not obliged to ask their husbands for.
There is no question of gift about it. At the altar he endowed her with all his worldly goods, and he thinks he has lived up to the letter of his vow when he tells her that all he has is as much hers as his. But unless that oft-quoted saying is followed up by a certain sum, no matter how small, which is in truth her very own, she feels that that clause in the marriage service might as well be stricken out.
When wives as universally share in adding to the general prosperity of the home—by managing the house, keeping their husband's clothes in order, and caring for the children—as men always admit is the case, wives are actually adding dollars to their husband's income. Then ought not a man to divide that same income with her in the form of an allowance, for which, if only to add to her self-respect, he has no more right to call her to account than she has to insist on seeing a list of his expenditures?
I have nothing to say about extravagant or untrustworthy wives, who do not come into the subject at all. I am only referring to the magnificent multitude of good, careful, thrifty, typical American wives, whose sole aim in life is to make a happy home for husband and children. Nor am I denying that these women have all their wishes granted, and are allowed to spend their husbands' money with reasonable freedom, provided they account for it afterwards. I am only asserting that every married woman, from the farmer's wife to that of the bank president, should have some money regularly which is sacredly her own.
Perhaps men think I am exaggerating the evil. Perhaps they do not know that the only advice married women give to engaged girls which never varies is: "Be sure you ask for an allowance from the first, because, if you don't, you may never get it."
I suppose that the majority of men do not know that their wives hate to ask them for money. Of course it does not seem so terrible to those of us whose fathers occasionally want to keep back enough money to buy coal when our daughterly demands get refused. But it never occurs to us that a girl's lover-husband, this courteous stranger whom she has loved and married, would ever forget his theatre and American-Beauty days sufficiently to say: "What did you do with that dollar I gave you yesterday?"
Now, frankly speaking, it never occurs to unmarried girls that the honeymoon can ever wear off. We look upon husbands as only married sweethearts. We sort of halfway believe them—at least we used to, before we observed other girls' husbands—when they tell us that they long for the time when they can pay our bills and buy clothes for us. We never thought, until we were told, that any little generous arrangement, which we expected to last, must be fixed during the first few weeks of marriage. I dare say most of us had planned to say, in answer to the money question, "Just as you like, dear. I'd rather have you manage such matters for me. You know so much more about them than I do." It is a horrible shock, from a sentimental point of view, to be told to say, "I'll take an allowance, please," and then, if two amounts are mentioned, to grab for the biggest. Oh, it is a shame! It is a shame to be told that we shall be sorry if we don't, and to know that we shall have no opportunity to show how unselfish and trusting we are.
It is all your fault, you men, that you do not think of these things more. You might stop a moment to consider that it is rather a delicate matter for a woman to ask money of a man. If your wife is like most wives, she is doing as much to help you make your money as you are. She is keeping you well and happy and your home beautiful. You could not keep your mind on business an hour if she did not. Therefore she deserves every dollar which, after discussing your future life together, you feel that you can afford to give her. She ought to be made to feel that she has earned it, and that she may spend it freely and happily, or invest it, just as she chooses. Do you think that you would not get the whole of it back if you were ill and needed it? It is an ungracious thing to call her to account for every dollar. How do you know but that she wants to save a little out of the market-money to buy you a nicer birthday present than usual?
American men are the most lavish husbands in the world. It is only that they do not think what a joy it is to a woman to have even the smallest amount of money of her very own, concerning which no one on earth has a right to question her.
And yet, what is the use of trying to train a husband into a habit of thought like this, when he has been used to hearing his mother argue his father into giving her money, and yet to know that she and all the world considered him generous, and that, in truth, he was?
A woman who suffers heartache because her husband never apologizes to her, or who endures mortification unspeakable because she has not a penny of her own, has no right to rebel, even in her own heart, unless she is training her son to make the sort of husband for some little girl, now in pinafores, which she would have wished for herself.
A FEW MEN WHO BORE US
THE SELF-MADE MAN
Somebody has cleverly defined a bore as "a man who talks so much about himself that I never can get a chance to talk about myself." But that is too narrow. I am broad-minded. I want somebody to find a definition large enough (if possible) to include all the bores. I do not know, however, but that I am asking too much.
Neither is this definition entirely true. For I have heard men talk about themselves for hours at a time, and they talked so well and kept their Ego so carefully hidden that I was enchanted, and never mentioned myself, even when they paused for breath. Then, too, I have been bored to the verge of suicide by some worthy soul who insisted upon talking to me of (presumably) my pet subject—myself—and who was doing his poor little best to say nice things and to be entertaining.
A bore is a man or a woman who never knows How or When. There are times in the lives of all of us when it bores us to be talked to of home or friends or wife or husband or mother or religion. There are times when nothing but a large, comfortable silence can soothe the worry and fret of a trying day. At such times let the tactless woman and the thoughtless man beware, because everything they say will be a bore.
It is not wilful cruelty which makes us say that (to a woman) the word "bore" is in the masculine gender and objective case, object of our deepest detestation. Men are oftener bores than women, for two reasons: One is that they seldom stop to think that they could be a bore to anybody; and the second is that we women never let them see that we are being bored, for it is our aim in life to look pleasant and to keep the men's vanity done up in pink cotton, no matter if we are secretly almost dropping from our chairs with weariness—the utter, unspeakable weariness of the soul, compared to which weariness of the body is a luxury.
Women are too tender-hearted. A woman cannot bear to hurt a man's feelings by letting him know that he is killing her by his stupidity. And even if she did, in the noble spirit of altruism, rather than selfishness, the next woman, with one reproachful glance at her, would pick up the mutilated remains of the man's vanity and apply the splints of her respectful attention and the balm of her admiration, partly to add a new scalp to her belt, and partly to show off the unamiability of her sister woman.
So it is of no use to kick against the pricks. Bores are in this world for a purpose—to chasten the proud spirit of women, who otherwise might become too indolent and ease-loving to be of any use—and they are here to stay. We have no conscience concerning women bores. We escape from them ruthlessly. And, perhaps, because women are quicker to take a hint is the reason there are fewer of them. It is only the men who are left helpless in their ignorance, because no woman has the courage to tell them.
Our only defence is in telling the men in bulk what we have not the courage nor the wish to tell the individual, and letting them sit down and think hard, applying the relentless microscope of self-analysis to their carefully tended Ego, to see if, haply, any of these things we say apply to themselves.
Of course, this is hard on men, because very likely some of those who have been led by women to believe that they are entertaining, even to the verge of fascination, are the very ones who are the greatest bores. But we women do our best. We are hampered by our supposed amiability, and bound up by a thousand invisible cords of tact and policy to a line of action which dupes the cleverest of men. And we are shrewd enough to know that if we should become what they now, in the smart of their wounded vanity, would call honest, they would simply turn their broadcloth backs upon our uncalled-for frankness and seek the honeyed society of some sweet woman who flattered them exactly as we used to flatter them before we became so "honest."
Ah, well-a-day! Enter the self-made man. And with him the commercial spirit of the age. Enter the clink of coin and the unctuous corpulence of a roll of bills. Enter the essence of self-satisfaction, the glorious spectacle of a man who spells "myself" with a capital M.
Have you never noticed the change in conversation with the entrance of a new person? How, when a lovely girl enters, the men all straighten their ties and the women moisten their lips? How, when the new person is a self-made man, with his newness so apparent that he seems to exhale the odor of varnish and gilt—how all repose vanishes, and whatever of crudity there is anywhere suddenly makes itself known, and rushes forth to meet the wave of self-boasting which sweeps all before it when the self-made man speaks?
And yet I approve of the self-made man in the abstract. It is the true spirit of Americanism which caused him to raise himself from the ranks of the poor and obscure, and educate himself, or, more likely still, grow rich without education. But is it necessary for him to have the bad taste to boast of it, and never let you forget for one moment that he is the product of man's hand and that the Creator only acted in the capacity of sponsor?
I admire the pluck, the perseverance, the indomitable energy, the ambition which produced the man of prominence from the raw boy; but, kind Heaven, let us forget for one brief moment, if we can, that he did this thing.
It is not the fact that he is a self-made man that bores us—we honor him for that. But it is his vain boasting—the tactless forcing of his unwelcome personality into general conversation, his weak vanity, which demands our admiration for the toil and hardships he has undergone, which, if they had served the purpose they should have done, would have made him too strong a man, and too much of a man, to force either pity or admiration from people when it was not freely offered.
The favorite gibe of the self-made man is directed against the college graduate. Let there be a young fellow present who is fresh from college, and let him mention any subject connected with college life, from honors to athletics, and then, if you are hostess, sit still and let the icy waves of misery creep over your sensitive soul, for this is the opportunity of his life to the self-made man. Hear him tear colleges limb from limb, and cite all the failures of which he ever has known to be those of college men. Hear him tell of the futile efforts of college boys to get into business. Hear him drag in all the evidences of shattered constitutions, ruined by study, and then hold your breath; for all this is but preliminary to the telling of the story of a colossal success—the history of the self-made man. You might as well lean back and let him have his say, for he has only been waiting all this time for an opening in the conversation to insert the wedge of his Ego.
It seems to be the prerogative of some self-made men not only to boast of themselves, their wives, their sons, their daughters, their houses, their horses—everything!—but to decry all methods of achievement not their own, and all successes not won by their methods. These are the self-made men who bring into disrepute all the grandeur and glorious achievement of their kind. Why must they spoil it? I implore them to assume a virtue if they have it not. I beg them, with all their getting, to get understanding. And if they will not open their eyes and see the anguish they are causing, if they cannot detect the fixed smile of polite endurance on the tired faces of their patient women friends, there will come a day, and we can already see its faint glimmering in the East, when we shall not care whether they are self-made, and we could even live through it if they were not made at all.
The dyspeptic generally wants to tell you all about it. That is a bore to begin with; for nobody in the world wants to hear anybody in the world tell all about anything in the world. Oh, those wearisome, breathless people, who insist upon giving you the tiresome details of insipid trivialities! There is no escape from them; they are everywhere. They are to be found on farms, in mining-camps, in women's clubs, in churches, jails, and lunatic asylums, and the nearest approach to a release from them is to be fashionable, for in society nobody ever is allowed to finish a sentence.
This sort of a bore can only be explained on the microbe theory. None other can account for its universality. You can carry contagion of it in your clothes and inoculate a person of weak mental constitution, who is of a build to take anything, until, in a fortnight, he or she will be a hopeless slave to the tell-all-about-everything habit. There is nothing like the pleasing swiftness of some of our modern diseases about it—such as heart failure, which nips you off painlessly. It is rather like the old-fashioned New England consumption, which gives you a hectic flush and an irritating hack, but which you can thrive on for fifty years and then die of something else.
I never heard of a yacht which did not carry at least one of this particular breed of bores upon every trip. I never heard of a private-car party which was free from it. Or, if you do not carry them with you, you meet them on the way, and they ruin the sunset for the whole party.
Something ought to be done about it. There ought to be a poll-tax on bores. Mothers ought to train their children to avoid lying and boring people with equal earnestness. Infirmaries should be established for the purpose of making the stupid interesting, or classes organized on "How to be Brief," or on "The Art of Relating Salient Points," or on "The Best Method of Skipping the Unessentials in Conversation." I would go, for one.
I quite envy a man who is an acknowledged bore. He is so free from responsibility. He does not care that the conversation dies every time he shows his face. He is used to it. It is nothing to him that clever men and women ache audibly in his presence. He has no reputation to lose. The hostess is not a friend of his, for whom he feels that he must exert himself. A bore has no friends. He is a social leech.
It implies, first of all, a superb conceit to think anybody wishes one to tell all about anything, but conceit is a natural attribute—a twin brother of its sister, vanity—and everybody has it to a greater or less degree. Indeed, the cleverest man I know—quite the cleverest—is one who always panders to this particular foible because he recognizes its universality. He has a country-house, which is always full of guests, with a great many girls among them. Every afternoon, when he drives out from town, his first sentence is, "Now come, children, and tell me all about everything. Who has been here, and what they said, and what you thought, and everything that has happened, including all that is going to happen. Don't skip a word."
See the base flattery of that! Is it any wonder that his house is always full? What bores he would be responsible for making if we were stupid enough to do as he asks! The chief reason people do not is that ten people cannot tell all they know about everything, even if they want to. He is only furnished with two ears.
The dyspeptic is one who makes the most valiant effort to try. His dyspepsia is the most important issue of the world with him, and he will talk about it. He cannot keep still and let other people enjoy their sound digestion and healthful sleep. He will not even let other people eat in peace. When he refuses a dish at table he must needs tell you why—just as if you cared!
"Have some coffee, Mr. Bore?"
"No, I thank you, Madame Sans-Gene. I like coffee, but it doesn't like me!"
Irritating, maddeningly reiterated words—the trade-mark of the dyspeptic bore! I feel like saying, "I agree with the coffee. I don't like you either!"
A dyspeptic disagrees with me as religiously as if I had eaten him.
No wonder a man is ill who never thinks or talks of anything but the seat of his ailment, for talk about it he will, and tell you that he cannot eat hot breads or pastry or griddle-cakes or waffles. And if any of those adorable things which your soul loves are on the table, he will sit and watch you eat them, with his hand on his own pulse, and will entertain you with cheerful statements of how he would be feeling if he were eating any of the deadly poisons, until it nearly gives you indigestion to hear him describe it.
I dare say I know plenty of women dyspeptics, as long as dyspepsia is said to be our national ailment, but if I do I never hear them talk about it.
Of course every woman knows that a sick man is sicker than a thousand sick women, each of whom is twice as sick as he is. We all know that he can groan louder and roll his eyes higher and keep more people flying about, and all this with just a plain pain, than his wife would do with seven fatal ailments. Then to hear him tell about it, after he has recovered, is to imagine that he is Lazarus over again, and that the day of miracles has returned, that he ever lived to tell the tale. All this refers to an acute attack. But when his trouble is chronic, and it has to do, like dyspepsia, with a man's eating!—you cannot escape. He will tell you all about it.
In the first place, dyspepsia is such a refined and lady-like trouble. It has no disgusting details. You can refer to it at all times without fear of nauseating your hearers. In the second place, you can count on nearly half of your hearers having it too, as dyspepsia is almost as catching as Christian Science.
Carlyle was the most famous of dyspeptics. But magnificent as he was in his growling, I fancy it is more bearable to read about it than it was for that adorable wife of his to hear him talk about it. How well we can imagine her feelings when she wrote, "The amount of bile that he brings home is awfully grand."
But one forgives much of his dyspeptic talk, and even allows the mantle of one's Christian charity to cover the sins of lesser bile-cursed men to hear how he sums up the subject:
"With stupidity and sound digestion, man may front much. But what, in these dull, unimaginative days, are the terrors of conscience to the diseases of the liver? Not on morality, but on cookery, let us build our stronghold. There, brandishing our frying-pan as censer, let us offer sweet incense to the devil and live at ease on the fat things he has provided for his elect."
I really do feel sorry for dyspeptics when I read a thing like that. I am not heartless. It must be a sad thing not to be able to eat lobster and ice-cream together, and to have to say "No" to broiled mushrooms, and not to dare to eat Welsh-rarebits after the theatre, and to have to lock up your chafing-dish. But I do say this: unless a man can talk of his trouble as cleverly as Carlyle—and some of the choice dyspeptics I know can almost do that—I want them not to talk at all. If they suffer, let them do it in silence. If they die, let them die entertainingly, or else, I say, don't die in public.
I never see a dyspeptic with his little pair of silver scales on the table, weighing out two ounces of meat, or one ounce of bread, and looking like a death's-head at a feast, and talking like a grave-digger with Yorick's skull for a theme, that I do not think of this:
"Fantastic tricks enough man has played in his time; has fancied himself to be most things, even down to an animated heap of glass; but to fancy himself a dead iron balance for weighing pains and pleasures on was reserved for this, his latter era."
THE TOO-ACCURATE MAN
Women often complain that men in society will not return measure for measure in conversation, but stalk about dumb and unanswering, leaving women gasping from the fatigue of entertaining them.
But I am on the side of the men. I always am. They are a misjudged and maligned set. I approve of men keeping silence when they have nothing to say. It shows that they recognize their limitations and refuse to rush in where angels fear to tread.
Is not a wise silence sometimes to be preferred to the wisest speech? Is there not often a finer eloquence in an answering silence than the cleverest words could express?
A man who talks constantly has a thousand ways always at hand in which to make a fool of himself. A silent man has but one, and even then there are always those who insist upon thinking that he is silent because of his wisdom, and not from lack of it, although Eliza Leslie says, "We cannot help thinking that when a head is full of ideas some of them must involuntarily ooze out."
But as a stimulus to conversation, an intelligently silent man is as instantaneous in his effect as music or eating. Men have become famous as conversationists who only sat and looked admiringly at vivacious women. It is a rare accomplishment, that of wise silence. It is more of a delicate compliment, more condensed and boiled-down flattery, more scent of incense than the most fulsome speech. And if one's victim is rather a voluble talker, with a reputation for wit, a man need never rack his brains beforehand, wondering what to say, or how he can keep up with her. Let him listen to her, with his metaphorical mouth open in wrapt admiration, and she is his.
Silence is a weapon. It is a powerful corrective when used against a silent person, who then sees himself as others see him. It is a defence, used against the indiscreet, and in the hands of wise men it is a suit of armor. Silence is never dangerous, unless, like a gun, in the hands of a fool. How, then, can women complain of silent men, unless they mean fools, and if they do, why not say so, and fortify their drawing-rooms with music-boxes or magic lanterns?
But anything so negatively unhappy as silence is the least of one's bores. One is seldom annoyed by the persistence of a silent man, for silence often means shyness; therefore it is in our power to curtail his usefulness. But, on the other hand, take a type of the talkative man, the literal, too-accurate man, who insists upon finishing his sentences, and who will stop to dot his i's and to cross his t's, and whose dates are of more moment than his soul's salvation—can anything be done for him?
"Avoid giving invitations to bores," says a clever woman, "they will come without."
Alas, how true! The too-accurate man is ubiquitous. If you hear of him, and refuse to meet him, it is only to find that he has married your best friend, whom worlds could not bribe you to give up. If you weed him out of your acquaintance, it is only to realize that he was born into your relationship a generation ago, before you could prevent it. Sometimes he is your father, sometimes your brother. Both of these, however, can be lived down. But occasionally you discover that, in a moment of frenzy, you have married him! Heaven help you then, for "marriage stays with one like a murder!"
Imagine living all one's life with a man who relates thus the trivial incident of having walked with a friend up Broadway last Thursday afternoon, when he met two little boys about ten years old who asked him to buy a paper:
"Last week—Thursday, I think it was, though perhaps it was Friday, or, maybe, Saturday. Let me see: when did I leave my office early? It must have been Thursday, because Friday I stayed later than usual. Yes, it was Thursday. It was about four o'clock, perhaps a little later—a quarter after four, or maybe half-past, but I hardly think it could have been as late as that. I think it was nearer four than half-past. Anyway, I was walking up Broadway with a man by the name of Bigelow. Bigelow? Bigelow? Was that his name? It commenced with B, and had two syllables. Boswell? Blackwell? Blayney? What was that fellow's name? I never can tell a story unless I get the man's name right. Bilton? Bashforth? Buckby? No, not Buckby, but that sounds like it. Buckley? That's it. That was his name! I knew I'd get it. Well, I was walking up Broadway with Buckley, and at about Thirty-fourth Street—Wait a moment—was it Thirty-fourth Street? It couldn't have been that far up. About Thirty-second Street, I think. I don't quite remember whether we had passed the Imperial or not. But it was within a block of it, anyway, when we met two little boys about ten years old—perhaps one was a little older; one looked about ten, and the other about eleven, or perhaps even twelve, although I think ten would come nearer to it—and they asked us in a tone between a whine and a cry—the word whimper more nearly describes it—if we would buy either a Sun or a World—I've forgotten which."
Delectable as honesty is in a bank clerk, or would be in a lawyer, one yearns for a little less accuracy in the moral makeup of the too-accurate man; for a little of the celestial leaven of exaggeration in the dusty dryness of his dead-level garrulousness. What difference does it make whether the Revolutionary War took place before or after the discovery of America, as long as you make your war anecdote interesting? Who cares whether Napoleon or Wellington came out ahead at Waterloo, as long as your listener is kept awake by your recital?
I related a sprightly incident only last night about a watch which Francis the Second gave to Mary Stuart, only with my usual airy touch I said Francis the Second gave it to Marie Antoinette! What difference does it make? They were both Marys, and they are both dead.
A most unpleasant old party corrected me, and added: "Francis died about two hundred years before Marie Antoinette was born."
"Then all the more of a compliment that he should have given her the watch!" I said. And I fancy I had him there.
That is the sort of man who interrupts his wife's dinner-stories all the way through with, "1812, my dear"; "Ouida, not Emerson"; "Herod, not Homer"; until I shouldn't be surprised to see her throw a plate at his head. Oh, isn't it fine that one does not dare to do all the things one feels like doing in society?
There is only one way to get even with the too-accurate man, and that is, when he has finished his most exciting story, to say, "And then what happened next?"
Accuracy is almost fatal to a flow of spirits. If one is obliged to weigh one's words, one may live to be called a worthy old soul, but one will not be in demand at dinner-parties.
The too-accurate man need not pride himself upon his honesty above his fellow-men. Oftenest he is to be found paying lithe of mint, anise, and cumin, and neglecting the weightier matters of the law—justice, mercy, and truth. He strains at a gnat and swallows a camel. He is not more trustworthy than the man whose conversation is embellished with hyperbole, because he at least has the wit to discriminate, and the too-accurate man is only stupid.
In essentials, the man who decorates his conversation with mild but pleasing patterns of that style of statement made famous by one Ananias, is to be depended upon quite as surely as the man who takes all the sunshine from the day, and leads one's thoughts to dwell on high, by spending ten minutes trying to recall whether he dropped that stone on his foot before or after dinner. He, and not your own evil nature, should be responsible for your instinctive wish that he had happened to be toying with a bowlder instead of a small stone which could only mutilate.
The painful accuracy which makes some men such deadly bores is a form of monomania. It is the same sort of trouble which afflicts a kleptomaniac. She will steal the veriest trash, just so she can be stealing. He hoards the most useless trifles until his mind is nothing but a garret filled with isolated bits of rubbish that nobody wants to hear, unless one has an essay to write; and even then it is easier to consult the encyclopaedia.
I never believe a statement made by a too-accurate man one bit more quickly than one made by a genial, entertaining diner-out. If it were on the subject of timetables, just between ourselves, I should take the trouble to verify both.
THE IRRESISTIBLE MAN
To other men, the irresistible man too often means the man who publicly ogles women. That is because men can see him. But to women, what we can see forms but a small portion of our lives. We hear more than we see, and feel more than we hear. George Eliot says: "The best of us go about well wadded with stupidity, otherwise we would die of the roar that lies on the other side of silence."
But most men have to see things, and they can always see the ogling man, and he always makes them perfectly furious. Queer, isn't it, when the Simon Tappertits of this life are the least of the men who bore us? In fact, I never should have thought of him if some man had not spoken of him. And while I occasionally have been honored by the exertions of one of these insects to attract my attention, thereby proving that I am a woman, I can honestly say that I never remember seeing one. Women who are capable of being really bored never even see such men; any more than if you were being roasted alive you would care if a hairpin pulled.
It is a mistake to confound the irresistible man with the fool. Neither is he stupid. Very often he is a man of no small amount of brain. He is, of course, always conceited, and generally, though not always, handsome. I am not describing the soft, sapient, pretty man who lisps, nor the weak-kneed young gentleman with pink cheeks who sings tenor. Far worse. The irresistible man, as we know him, is often a man who is doing a man's work in the world, and doing it well. He is frequently a man of character, but through that character runs this strange, irritating thread of conceit, which blinds our eyes to whatever of real worth may be within, because of his exasperatingly confident exterior.
We should brush him aside as carelessly as if he were a fly should there be nothing to him worth hating. But the maddening part of it to us is that the irresistible man is worth saving, only he will not be saved. He thinks he is perfect as he is. If he could get our point of view and let some woman take a hand at him, she might efface his irresistibleness and make a man of him. But no, the irresistible man is in this world to give points—not take them.
A queer thing about this particular type of the irresistible man is that he nearly always has grown up in a small town and has only come to the city because his village got too small for his talents. That of itself explains his whole attitude towards the world. Having probably been the "show pupil" at school, having taken prizes and ranked first among his fellows until he was twenty-one, he brings that confident attitude with him and plants himself in the heart of the great city, like Ajax defying the lightning, without the thought that changed environments might demand change of conduct as well as change in clothes.
Doubtless the whole town helped to spoil him. Doubtless he has heard all his life that the town was too small for him, and that a man like himself ought to go to the city, where there would be a market for his talents. Doubtless he has conquered the hearts of all the village maidens; therefore he expects the same arts to win among city girls. This system of easy victory and of yearning for other worlds to conquer, instead of making him fit himself capably for a larger field, has, on account of this absurd fault of irresistibleness, only made him superficial. His crudeness is, to the uninitiated, almost pitiful. Having never been obliged to work for pre-eminence, he descries exertion, and never admits that he has to try hard to win anything. His cheap little accomplishments of singing—badly—possibly even of reciting dialect with realistic effects, he is accustomed to say he "just picked up." I often have thought that he must have picked them up after somebody else had thrown them away. But they have been efficacious in his town, and in a larger field, with foemen more worthy of his steel, they are intended to enslave.
The irresistible man is too pitiful to laugh at with any degree of comfort. The pathos of the situation is almost too apparent. That is one reason why he is allowed to go on as he is. It is why no one has the heart to try to correct him. What can you say to a man whose confidence in his power to please you is such that at parting he says: "I cannot spare you another evening this week, but I'll come next Thursday if I can. Don't expect me, however, until I let you know, and don't be disappointed if you find that I can't come, after all."
To be sure, you have not asked him to repeat his visit at all. To be sure, you have nearly died during this call which is just over. But what are you going to do? We have a white bulldog whose confident attitude towards the world is quite like that of the irresistible man. Jack blunders in where nobody wants him, and puts his great, heavy paw on our best gowns, and scratches at the door when we want to sleep, and gets under our feet when we are trying to catch a train, and makes a nuisance of himself generally. But he is so sure that we love him that we haven't the heart to turn him out-of-doors. We simply endure him, because he is a dumb brute who is so used to being petted that everybody tolerates him, and nobody tries to improve him or teach him better manners.
Confidence is a beautiful thing. But it is also one of the most delicate of attributes, and requires the daintiest handling. The man who is confident with women must be very sure of a personal magnetism, or of sufficient merit to insure success, otherwise his confidence will prove the flattest of failures. The only difference between the irresistible man who bores us to death and the successful man who is so fascinating that he cannot come too often, is that one has confidence with nothing to base it on, and the other bases his confidence on fact.
Women are not looking for flaws in men. They are only too anxious to make the best of sorry specimens, and shut their eyes to faults, and to coax virtues into prominence. Men have nothing to complain of in the way women in society treat them. They get better than they deserve and much better than they give. So all they will have to do to win a better opinion will be to deserve it, and, if they make never so slight an advance, they will see that they are met more than half-way by even the most captious critics of their acquaintance.
Adaptability is a heaven-sent gift. It is like the straw used in packing china. It not only saves jarring, but it prevents worse disasters, and without it a man is only safe when he is alone. The moment he comes into smart contact with his fellow-beings there is a crash, and the assembled company have a vision of broken fragments of humanity, which might have remained whole and suffered no more injury than a possible nick had the combatants been padded with adaptability. The irresistible man is the man who thinks he can get through the world without it. The irresistible man is the one who is so perfect in his own estimation that he needs no change. He is beyond human help.
THE STUPID MAN
His opposite, the clever man, said to me yesterday: "You know, to be actually interested is as likely to make one grateful as anything in this world, unless it be a realization of the kindness of Fate in sparing us the perpetual society of fools."
The perpetual society of fools! Think of it, and then revel, you women, in the thought that we are only bored occasionally—once a week, say, or once a day, or once every two hours, taking our bores as we do ill-flavored medicine. It never occurred to me before I heard that phrase that life held anything more wearisome than to be bored occasionally.
I have read Ben-Hur, and thought how awful it would be to be a galley-slave. I have read The Seats of the Mighty, and shuddered at the idea of being imprisoned for five years alone and without a light. I have seen a flock of sheep driven by shouting, panting, racing little boys, and have been glad I did not have to drive sheep for my daily bread. I have rejoiced that my lot was not that of a Paris cab-horse, but I never in all my life thought of any fate so appalling as that contained in those words—the perpetual society of fools.
Why not reform our penitentiary methods? What is a prison cell to a clever embezzler, if he can have books and a pipe? Nothing but a long rest for his worn-out nerves—possibly a grateful change.
But what would be the feelings of a man of brilliant intellect—for the accomplished villain is always clever—who was detected in his crime, and who stood breathless before his accusers, waiting for and expecting a life sentence at hard labor, to hear the judge's voice pronounce sentence, "Condemned for life to the perpetual society of fools!"
I believe the man would be taken from the court-room a raving maniac.
I cannot but think that a real fool is conscious of his own foolishness. He must realize his aloofness from the rest of mankind, and in moments of such bitter self-knowledge I can picture many whom the world regards as too far gone to comprehend their calamity praying the prayer of the court-jester, "God be merciful to me a fool." I am a little tender towards such. I do not condemn them. They have reached the stage when they are the victims of human pity—a lamentable condition. But those dense persons inhabiting the thickly populated region bordering on foolishness—those self-satisfied, uncomprehending egotists occupying the half-way house between wisdom and folly, known as stupidity—against such my wrath burns fiercely. They are deceptive—so un-get-at-able. They wear the semblance of wisdom, yet it is but a cloak to snare and delude mankind into testing their intelligence. They are not labelled by Heaven, like the fools we may avoid if we will, or to whom we may go in a spirit of philanthropy. They do not wear straw in their hair like maniacs, nor drool like simpletons. Now they infest society clad in the most immaculate of evening clothes. Often they are college graduates, and get along very well with other men. They are frequently found among the rich, sometimes even among the poor. Sometimes they are stolid and cannot understand. Sometimes they are indifferent and won't understand. Sometimes they are English.
We women are those upon whose souls their stupidity bears most heavily. But stay—they do not oppress all women alike! There are women whose spiritual needs never soar above the alphabet. When these men are men of family, and one expects to find their wives sitting with clinched hands and set teeth, simply enduring life and praying for death, one is often surprised to see that they are generally stout women, who wear many diamonds and a bovine expression in their eyes. Evidently there is no nervous tension in their house, and the dense man is quite capable of comprehending the a b c of human nature and of keeping his family in flannels.
In strictly fashionable society the stupid man is not conspicuous, because one never has time to comprehend that one is not understood. If he nods his head sagely and says nothing, one is probably grateful and passes on to the next, thinking that he is most entertaining. But in that society where one sometimes sits down and breathes, where conversation is considered as a fine art, and where talk is a mutual game of battledoor and shuttlecock, then it is that your stupid man looms up on the horizon like a blanket of clouds.
In America, particularly, conversation is something which not even the French, who approach it most nearly, can thoroughly understand, for with all its blinding nimbleness and kaleidoscopic changes there is a substratum of Puritan morality which holds some things sacred—too sacred even to argue in public—and one who transgresses turns off the colored lights, and lo! your conversation is all in grays and browns. To converse properly in America one must possess not only a nimble wit and a broad understanding, but he must take into consideration one's pedigree, and the effect of the climate.
This practically bars the stupid man from ever hearing the sound of his own voice outside the secluded walls of his own home—or should. It ought also to bar the simply witty man; for what is more jarring than a misplaced wit or an ill-timed jocularity?
No, the chief requisite for a seat among the glorious company of the elect is a deep-seeing, far-reaching, sensitive comprehension; a capacity to see not only through a thing but over it and under it and beyond it; to see not only its derivation and ancestry, but its purport and import and influence and posterity; to detect the inner meaning and the double meaning, and to smile alone at its surface meaning. There are those of us, particularly women, who must have this all-enveloping comprehension if we are to be thought fit to live. Our conversation is such that, if we were taken literally, we deserve to be strangled.
In this day of mad competition in every walk in life, it is not those who can shout the loudest, even in those busy marts where voice reigns supreme, who are going to be heard. No one man can continue to shout the loudest. A momentary audience and a raw throat are the most he can expect. But it is he who can exaggerate the most intelligently and overpaint the most subtly. That sort of impertinence will attract the eye and ear of the most loudly howling mob. Even the wayfarer gets an inkling from a poster, but it is a man of the widest comprehension who gets the whole truth from the subtlest exaggeration, and he who possesses a sense of humor who realizes its acuteness.
To persons of this ilk the stupid man is a calamity compared to which the loss of fortune and back-door begging would be a luxury.
But of course there are grades of stupidity even among stupid men, and of these the educated stupid man is perhaps the most exhausting, because a woman is constantly led into trying to converse with him, having heard rumors that he is a college man, or that he has written a book on mathematics. If a man is a genuine fool, of course one would merely show him pictures, or play games with him, and so save brain tissue. But with the deceptive halfway man, one is defenceless.
A single instance of a bona-fide conversation will serve as a fearful warning to the unwary.
A graduate of a German university, a man who has written three books and has a reputation for always winning his lawsuits, sought me out after a dinner, with the fatal accuracy of a man who has dined to repletion and wishes to be amused.
Possibly because I also had dined and was therefore affable, I endeavored to see if there was any forgotten corner of his mind, any blind alley I hitherto had left unexplored, where I might find mine own and feel at home.
His face was dull, heavy, unemotional, but I said in sprightly tones to coax his lethargy:
"I have made such a delicious discovery to-day. I have found that Carlyle has given the most acute definition of humor I ever read. Isn't that rather surprising, when Carlyle's humor is rather lumbering?"
He thought a moment.
"It is," he said, carefully, with that want of recklessness which should endear him to a stone image.
"Do you know it, or shall I tell you?" I said, with fatal geniality.
"Tell me," he said, heavily, wadding his mind with cotton, for fear some lightness should percolate through it.
"Why, he said that humor was an appreciation of the under side of things. Isn't that delicious?"
I spoke with unctuous satisfaction, for I really expected him to comprehend. He looked at my beaming countenance with grave suspicion, and slowly reddened. He said nothing. I still smiled, but my smile was fast freezing.
"Well?" I said, impatiently.
"You are jesting," he said. "That isn't the real answer."
"Why, yes, it is. Do you mean to say that you don't understand?"
"You jest so much. I never can tell—" he broke off, helplessly.
"But surely you see that," I urged. "How would you define humor?"
"Why, humor is something funny. There's nothing funny about—er—that that Carlyle said."
"Yes, but it's only a very delicate and occult way of exhibiting his acuteness," I said. "Don't you see? An appreciation of the under side of things—the side that does not lie on the surface."
"Are you serious?" he asked, as I leaned back to rest from my toil.
"Perfectly. But I can hardly believe that you are."
"Do you mean to say that you really see anything in that definition?"
"I do," I said, with ominous distinctness.
My manner indicated his stupidity, and he resented it. He grew excited.
"Now, tell me, on your honor, do you really see anything funnier in the under side of that sofa than in the top side?"
I could have screamed with anguish. But, being in company, I only smote my hands together in my impotence and prayed for death.
The tension was relieved by the young son of our hostess in the library just beyond having overheard our conversation. He laid his hand over his mouth and went into such convulsions of silent laughter, all the time writhing and twisting his lean body into such contortions that in watching his extraordinary gymnastics over the head of my unconscious vis-a-vis, and wondering if the boy ever could untie himself, I forgot my suffering. I even relaxed my mental strain and forgot the stupid man.
Would I could keep on forgetting him.
THE NEW WOMAN
"You have taught me To be in love with noble thoughts."
That clever bon-mot, "To say 'everybody is talking about him' is a eulogy. To say 'every one is talking about her' is an elegy," is no longer true, more's the pity. More's the pity, I mean, because such a delicious bit deserves a longer life. I could weep over the early death of an epigram with a hearty spirit, which is second only to the grief I feel at a good story spoiled for relation's sake. Cleverness, like beauty, is its own excuse for being, and the first attribute of the new woman is her cleverness. It is the new woman who is responsible for the death of that epigram. But as she did not take an active part in the murder, but was only an accessory after the fact, let us hope that she will escape with as light a sentence as possible from that stern old judge, public opinion, who is not her friend.
The newspapers have ridiculed the new woman to such an extent, and their ridicule is so popular, that it requires an act of physical courage to stand up in her defence and to tell the public that the bloomer girl is not new; that they have had the newspaper creation—like the poor—with them always; that they have passed over the real new woman without a second glance. In other words, to assure them as delicately as possible that they have been barking up the wrong tree.
The first thing which endears the new woman to me personally, more even than her cleverness, is that she has a sense of humor. You may deny that, if you want to. I firmly believe it, but I am not infallible. Thank Heaven that I am not. I abominate those people who are always right. You can't amuse yourself by picking flaws in them. They are so irritatingly conclusive. Now I am never conclusive, and you ought to be glad of it. It makes it so much pleasanter for you to be able to disagree with me logically.
Why have men always possessed an exclusive right to the sense of humor? I believe it is because they live out-of-doors more. Humor is an out-of-door virtue. It requires ozone and the light of the sun. And when the new woman came out-of-doors to live, and mingled with men and newer women, she saw funny things, and her sense of humor began to grow and thrive. The fun of the situation is entirely lost if you stay at home too much.
Now don't let the supersensitive men—who always want women to pursue the perfectly lady-like employment of knitting gray socks—don't let them have a fit right here for fear women have come out-of-doors to stay and are never going in-doors again. Even women, my dear sirs, know enough to go in when it rains. They love a hearth-rug quite as well as a cat does. A cat and a woman always come home to the hearth-rug. But there is very little mental exhilaration in a hearth-rug. Lots of comfort, but little humor. The real excitement of life, at least to a cat, is when in a morning stroll abroad she goes out of her sphere—the hearth-rug—and meets some feline friend to whom she extends a claw, playful or otherwise; or possibly meets some merry puppy which induces her to move rapidly up the nearest tree with an agility which you never would believe the mother of a family could boast if you had not been an eye-witness to the interesting scene. Such an encounter will not induce her to want to stay up a tree. It only makes the safety of the hearth-rug more inviting. Now, if she always remained on the hearth-rug, how could we tell, should the hearth-rug be invaded in the absence of her natural protectors, that she could defend herself? For my part, I am glad to know, when I leave her, that she is not so helpless or so sleepy as she looks. It is a great thing to know that a cat's tree-climbing abilities are not hopelessly dormant. It does not make her purr the less when she is stroked. Her fur is as soft, her ways are as gentle as they ever were, and as she lies there so quietly upon the hearth-rug she looks as though she never had left it. Only once in a while she regards you out of one eye in a companionable way, as who should say, "That's all right. You know I can climb a tree when occasion requires."
The dear new woman! I like her. Perhaps she is crude in her newness. Give her time. Perhaps she makes a little too much of her freedom. How do you know what she suffered before she became new? Perhaps she has her faults. Are you perfect?
Of course there is the woman who shrieks on political platforms and neglects her husband, and lets her children grow up like little ruffians; the woman who wears bloomers and bends over her handle-bar like a monkey on a stick; the woman who wants to hold office with men and smoke and talk like men—alas, that there is that variety of woman—but she is not new. Pray did you never see her before she wore bloomers? Bloomers are no worse than the sort of clothes she used to wear. Her swagger is no more pronounced now than it used to be in skirts. She has always had bloomer instincts. You don't pretend to declare, do you, that there never were unconventional women, ill-dressed and rowdy women, before the new woman was heard of? That is the great mistake you make. These women are not new women. We've always had them. We never, unfortunately, have been without them.
The real new woman is a creature quite different. She is one whom you would wish to know. She is one whom you would invite to your most select dinners. You would be better men if you had more friends like her, and broader-minded women if you dropped a few of those who hand you doughnut recipes over the back fence, and who entertain you with the history of the baby's measles, and how they are managing to meet the payments on their little house. I am not unsympathetic, either, with the measles or the payments, but I prefer the subjects of conversation which a new woman selects. There is more ozone in them.
The new woman whom I mean is silk-lined. She is nearly always pretty. She is always clever. She is always a lady, and she is always good. Perhaps, to the cynical, that combination sounds as if she might not be interesting; but she is. Of course not always. One may have all those gifts, and yet not know how to make use of them for other people's benefit. The gift of being interesting is a distinct one by itself. But the new woman, having fresh and outside interests, is generally able to talk of them delightfully.
The new woman is new only in the sense that she has opened her eyes and has begun to see the value of the simple, common, everyday truths which lie nearest to her. The whole world becomes new to those who suddenly awake to the beauties which they never had thought of before.
Once women taught their daughters housekeeping and sewing from stern principle, and made it neither beautiful nor attractive.
Then house-keeping went out of fashion.
Feather-headed boys married trivial girls, and began to make a home without the first gleam of knowledge as to how the thing should be done. The foolish little wife knew not how to cook or sew. The foolish little husband said he was glad of it. He didn't want his wife to wear herself out in the kitchen. Servants could do such things. So they hired servants more ignorant than themselves, "and the last state of that man was worse than the first." Children came to them. That was the most pitiful part of all. A house may be badly managed and ignorantly cared for, and people do not die of it, or become warped or crippled, but the soul of a child, to say nothing of the helpless little body, can be ruined utterly through the irresponsibility of the criminally ignorant people to whom the poor little thing is sent. Their ignorance is so dense and deep-searching that they never know that they are ignorant. But back of it all there is a reason. A bigoted, senseless, false, and misnamed delicacy. Mothers reared their daughters and sent them to fulfil their mission in life, of being wives and mothers, versed in everything except the two things they were destined to be. It was as if a physician were taught architecture, music, and painting, and then sent out to practise his unskill in medicine upon a helpless humanity.
Then the new woman opened her eyes. She read those sturdy words which are much quoted, but which never can be repeated too often: "The situation which has not its duty, its ideals, was never yet occupied by man. Yes, here, in this poor, miserable, hampered, despicable Actual, wherein thou even now standest, here or nowhere is thy Ideal; work it out therefrom, and working, live, be free. Fool! the Ideal is in thyself; thy condition is but the stuff thou art to shape this same Ideal out of; what matters whether such stuff be of this sort or that, so the form thou give it be heroic, be poetic? Oh, thou that pinest in the imprisonment of the Actual, and criest bitterly to the gods for a kingdom wherein to rule and create, know this of a truth—the thing thou seekest is already with thee, 'here, or nowhere,' couldst thou only see."
It read like book-learning when applied to other women. It read like a revelation when applied to herself. She thought what her mission was. To make a home; to be a good wife; to understand and teach little children. And where do you find the new woman now? In the kindergarten colleges; in university settlements; attending mothers' meetings; teaching ignorant mothers how to understand the tender souls and delicate bodies of the dear little creatures committed to their loving but unwise care. You find them well prepared by a course of study to accept the responsibilities of life when their time comes. Is that trivial? Is that a subject to sneer at or to jest about? Rather it is the hope of the nation.
Legislation cannot satisfactorily restrict immigration. Laws do not forbid the criminal from marrying and the insane from being born. All the masculine wisdom in the world cannot prevent the State from annually paying millions of dollars for the support of those who are foredoomed through generations of ignorance and crime—crime which too often comes only from ignorance—to fill your jails and asylums. Who is doing anything to remedy? The men. Who is doing anything to prevent? The women. The new woman, the sneered at, the ridiculed and abused, caricatured by the cartoonist, derided by the press, is going quietly to work with jail-schools, with free kindergartens in tenement districts, with college settlements, to begin with the care of mothers and children. That is just one of the things the new woman is doing. Is she a poor creature? Is she wearing bloomers? Is she masculine or unwomanly? Rather she possesses attributes almost divine in that she strikes at the very root of the matter, and begins a course of action which, if carried out, will do what all the men in creation can never cure. She will prevent.
The new woman is young. The new woman is oftener a pretty girl than otherwise. They are not poor girls either, who are doing these things. They are not obliged to earn their daily bread. They are the daughters of the rich. They are the travelled, cultured, delicately reared girls. They are such girls as, two generations ago, would have disdained anything but accomplishments, who were only charitable with their money, and who never dreamed of giving their own time to such work. They were girls who considered their education finished when they left school.
I glory in the new woman in that so often she is rich and beautiful. It is easy enough to be good if you are plain. In fact, there is nothing else left for a plain woman "to do." But take these lovely girls who are tempted by society to idle away their days and waste their lives listening to a flattery which may be but a thing of the moment, and let them have sense to see through its hollowness, and want to be something and do something, and it becomes heroic.
Perhaps it is only a fad. Then Heaven send more fads. If it is the fashion to have a vocation and to educate one's self along these lines which never were heard of a few years ago, then for once fashion has accidentally become noble.
It strikes me rather that the reign of common-sense has begun—that the age of utility has come. When nine out of every ten of the girls you meet in smart society have a distinct vocation of their own; when a girl who only sings or plays or crochets is considered by her sister-women to be a butterfly; when society girls are being trained nurses; when, if you are paying calls upon a fashionable friend, you are quite apt to be told that she is living at Hull House this month; when a girl whose face generally appears in the society column suddenly comes out as the composer of a new song; when a girl who dances best at balls calmly announces that she is taking a course at the university; when everything nowadays is gone into so seriously, the time has come to look the question of the new woman squarely in the face—to put a stop to cheap witticisms at her expense and to give her your honest respect.
The new woman has attacked the problem of how to live. Not how to live for show, not how to veneer successfully, but how to get the most good out of life. She is not simply endeavoring to kill time as she once was. She is trying to live each day for itself. She is not living so much in the to-morrows which never come. Having begun to earn her own money, she is learning the value of her father's—a thing the American father has been trying to teach her for fifty or a hundred years, but she could not learn because she saw it come so easily and she let it go so freely.
A man said to me not long ago, "What has got into the girls? Has it become the fashion to economize? All the nicest girls I know are talking of the value of money and of how much is wasted unthinkingly. Are we poor bachelors to take courage and believe that we can afford one of these beautiful luxuries in wives?"
Alas, it is anything but a hint to take courage; for this heavenly phase of the new woman means that when she has learned that she can support herself, so that in case her riches take wings she need not be forced to drudge at uncongenial employment, or to marry for a home, she will be more particular than ever in the kind of a man she marries. For in fitting herself for marriage she is learning quite as well the kind of husband she ought to have. And she will not be as apt to marry a man on account of his clothes or because he dances divinely as once she might have done.
I do not mean to say that the new woman will not marry. In point of fact she will—if properly urged by the right man. But she will not marry so early, so hurriedly, nor so ill-advisedly as before. And therefore the men whom new women marry will do well to realize the compliment of her choice; for it will mean that, according to her light, he has been weighed in the balance and not found wanting. Of course the other women marry on that principle too. The only difference between the new woman and her sisters is in the amount of her light and the use she makes of it.
It is the man who marries the new woman who is going to get the most out of this life; for even in living there is everything in knowing how. And far from leaving man out of her problem in life, her philosophy is teaching her to look for his possibilities with the same anxiety that she employs in studying her own; that to adapt herself to his individuality need not necessarily imperil her own; that the first element in the forming of this perfect home which it is her ambition to establish is perfect congeniality of spirit between herself and her husband.
It is as if the new woman were striving, by making the best of her present environments, and simply developing her woman nature instead of struggling to usurp man's, to enunciate a philosophy of life which I shall so dignify homely duties and beautify the commonplace that her creed might well be:
"We shall pass through this world but once. If there be any kindness we can show, or any good thing we can do to any fellow-being, let us do it now. Let us not defer nor neglect it, for we shall not pass this way again."