From "Consequences" the descent was easy. The tables and chairs were pushed against the walls, the bishops and the spinsters and the generals would sit in a ring upon the floor playing hunt the slipper. Musical chairs made the two hours between bed and dinner the time of the day they all looked forward to: the steady trot with every nerve alert, the ear listening for the sudden stoppage of the music, the eye seeking with artfulness the likeliest chair, the volcanic silence, the mad scramble.
The generals felt themselves fighting their battles over again, the spinsters blushed and preened themselves, the bishops took interest in proving that even the Church could be prompt of decision and swift of movement. Before the week was out they were playing Puss-in-the-corner; ladies feeling young again were archly beckoning to stout deans, to whom were returning all the sensations of a curate. The swiftness with which the gouty generals found they could still hobble surprised even themselves.
Why are we so young?
But it is in the music-hall, as I have said, that I am most impressed with the youthfulness of man. How delighted we are when the long man in the little boy's hat, having asked his short brother a riddle, and before he can find time to answer it, hits him over the stomach with an umbrella! How we clap our hands and shout with glee! It isn't really his stomach: it is a bolster tied round his waist—we know that; but seeing the long man whack at that bolster with an umbrella gives us almost as much joy as if the bolster were not there.
I laugh at the knockabout brothers, I confess, so long as they are on the stage; but they do not convince me. Reflecting on the performance afterwards, my dramatic sense revolts against the "plot." I cannot accept the theory of their being brothers. The difference in size alone is a strain upon my imagination. It is not probable that of two children of the same parents one should measure six foot six, and the other five foot four. Even allowing for a freak of nature, and accepting the fact that they might be brothers, I do not believe they would remain so inseparable. The short brother would have succeeded before now in losing the long brother. Those continual bangings over the head and stomach would have weakened whatever affection the short brother might originally have felt towards his long relation. At least, he would insist upon the umbrella being left at home.
"I will go for a walk with you," he might say, "I will stand stock still with you in Trafalgar Square in the midst of the traffic while you ask me silly riddles, but not if you persist in bringing with you that absurd umbrella. You are too handy with it. Put it back in the rack before we start, or go out by yourself."
Besides, my sense of justice is outraged. Why should the short brother be banged and thumped without reason? The Greek dramatist would have explained to us that the shorter brother had committed a crime against the gods. Aristophanes would have made the longer brother the instrument of the Furies. The riddles he asked would have had bearing upon the shorter brother's sin. In this way the spectator would have enjoyed amusement combined with the satisfactory sense that Nemesis is ever present in human affairs. I present the idea, for what it may be worth, to the concoctors of knockabout turns.
Where Brotherly (and Sisterly) Love reigns supreme.
The family tie is always strong on the music-hall stage. The acrobatic troupe is always a "Family": Pa, Ma, eight brothers and sisters, and the baby. A more affectionate family one rarely sees. Pa and Ma are a trifle stout, but still active. Baby, dear little fellow, is full of humour. Ladies do not care to go on the music-hall stage unless they can take their sister with them. I have seen a performance given by eleven sisters, all the same size and apparently all the same age. She must have been a wonderful woman—the mother. They all had golden hair, and all wore precisely similar frocks—a charming but decolletee arrangement—in claret-coloured velvet over blue silk stockings. So far as I could gather, they all had the same young man. No doubt he found it difficult amongst them to make up his mind.
"Arrange it among yourselves," he no doubt had said, "it is quite immaterial to me. You are so much alike, it is impossible that a fellow loving one should not love the lot of you. So long as I marry into the family I really don't care."
When a performer appears alone on the music-hall stage it is easy to understand why. His or her domestic life has been a failure. I listened one evening to six songs in succession. The first two were sung by a gentleman. He entered with his clothes hanging upon him in shreds. He explained that he had just come from an argument with his wife. He showed us the brick with which she had hit him, and the bump at the back of his head that had resulted. The funny man's marriage is never a success. But really this seems to be his own fault. "She was such a lovely girl," he tells us, "with a face—well, you'd hardly call it a face, it was more like a gas explosion. Then she had those wonderful sort of eyes that you can see two ways at once with, one of them looks down the street, while the other one is watching round the corner. Can see you coming any way. And her mouth!"
It appears that if she stands anywhere near the curb and smiles, careless people mistake her for a pillar-box, and drop letters into her.
"And such a voice!" We are told it is a perfect imitation of a motor- car. When she laughs people spring into doorways to escape being run over.
If he will marry that sort of woman, what can he expect? The man is asking for it.
The lady who followed him also told us a sad story of misplaced trust. She also was comic—so the programme assured us. The humorist appears to have no luck. She had lent her lover money to buy the ring, and the licence, and to furnish the flat. He did buy the ring, and he furnished the flat, but it was for another lady. The audience roared. I have heard it so often asked, "What is humour?" From observation, I should describe it as other people's troubles.
A male performer followed her. He came on dressed in a night-shirt, carrying a baby. His wife, it seemed, had gone out for the evening with the lodger. That was his joke. It was the most successful song of the whole six.
The one sure Joke.
A philosopher has put it on record that he always felt sad when he reflected on the sorrows of humanity. But when he reflected on its amusements he felt sadder still.
Why was it so funny that the baby had the lodger's nose? We laughed for a full minute by the clock.
Why do I love to see a flabby-faced man go behind curtains, and, emerging in a wig and a false beard, say that he is now Bismarck or Mr. Chamberlain? I have felt resentment against the Lightning Impersonator ever since the days of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. During that summer every Lightning Impersonator ended his show by shouting, while the band played the National Anthem, "Queen Victoria!" He was not a bit like Queen Victoria. He did not even, to my thinking, look a lady; but at once I had to stand up in my place and sing "God save the Queen." It was a time of enthusiastic loyalty; if you did not spring up quickly some patriotic old fool from the back would reach across and hit you over the head with the first thing he could lay his hands upon.
Other music-hall performers caught at the idea. By ending up with "God save the Queen" any performer, however poor, could retire in a whirlwind of applause. Niggers, having bored us with tiresome songs about coons and honeys and Swanee Rivers, would, as a last resource, strike up "God save the Queen" on the banjo. The whole house would have to rise and cheer. Elderly Sisters Trippet, having failed to arouse our enthusiasm by allowing us a brief glimpse of an ankle, would put aside all frivolity, and tell us of a hero lover named George, who had fought somebody somewhere for his Queen and country. "He fell!"—bang from the big drum and blue limelight. In a recumbent position he appears to have immediately started singing "God save the Queen."
How Anarchists are made.
Sleepy members of the audience would be hastily awakened by their friends. We would stagger to our feet. The Sisters Trippet, with eyes fixed on the chandelier, would lead us: to the best of our ability we would sing "God save the Queen."
There have been evenings when I have sung "God save the Queen" six times. Another season of it, and I should have become a Republican.
The singer of patriotic songs is generally a stout and puffy man. The perspiration pours from his face as the result of the violent gesticulations with which he tells us how he stormed the fort. He must have reached it very hot.
"There were ten to one agin us, boys." We feel that this was a miscalculation on the enemy's part. Ten to one "agin" such wildly gesticulating Britishers was inviting defeat.
It seems to have been a terrible battle notwithstanding. He shows us with a real sword how it was done. Nothing could have lived within a dozen yards of that sword. The conductor of the orchestra looks nervous. Our fear is lest he will end by cutting off his own head. His recollections are carrying him away. Then follows "Victory!"
The gas men and the programme sellers cheer wildly. We conclude with the inevitable "God save the King."
The Ghost and the Blind Children.
Ghosts are in the air. It is difficult at this moment to avoid talking of ghosts. The first question you are asked on being introduced this season is:
"Do you believe in ghosts?"
I would be so glad to believe in ghosts. This world is much too small for me. Up to a century or two ago the intellectual young man found it sufficient for his purposes. It still contained the unknown—the possible—within its boundaries. New continents were still to be discovered: we dreamt of giants, Liliputians, desert-fenced Utopias. We set our sail, and Wonderland lay ever just beyond our horizon. To-day the world is small, the light railway runs through the desert, the coasting steamer calls at the Islands of the Blessed, the last mystery has been unveiled, the fairies are dead, the talking birds are silent. Our baffled curiosity turns for relief outwards. We call upon the dead to rescue us from our monotony. The first authentic ghost will be welcomed as the saviour of humanity.
But he must be a living ghost—a ghost we can respect, a ghost we can listen to. The poor spiritless addle-headed ghost that has hitherto haunted our blue chambers is of no use to us. I remember a thoughtful man once remarking during argument that if he believed in ghosts—the silly, childish spooks about which we had been telling anecdotes—death would possess for him an added fear: the idea that his next dwelling-place would be among such a pack of dismal idiots would sadden his departing hours. What was he to talk to them about? Apparently their only interest lay in recalling their earthly troubles. The ghost of the lady unhappily married who had been poisoned, or had her throat cut, who every night for the last five hundred years had visited the chamber where it happened for no other purpose than to scream about it! what a tiresome person she would be to meet! All her conversation during the long days would be around her earthly wrongs. The other ghosts, in all probability, would have heard about that husband of hers, what he said, and what he did, till they were sick of the subject. A newcomer would be seized upon with avidity.
A lady of repute writes to a magazine that she once occupied for a season a wainscotted room in an old manor house. On several occasions she awoke in the night: each time to witness the same ghostly performance. Four gentlemen sat round a table playing cards. Suddenly one of them sprang to his feet and plunged a dagger into the back of his partner. The lady does not say so: one presumes it was his partner. I have, myself, when playing bridge, seen an expression on my partner's face that said quite plainly:
"I would like to murder you."
I have not the memory for bridge. I forget who it was that, last trick but seven, played the two of clubs. I thought it was he, my partner. I thought it meant that I was to take an early opportunity of forcing trumps. I don't know why I thought so, I try to explain why I thought so. It sounds a silly argument even to myself; I feel I have not got it quite right. Added to which it was not my partner who played the two of clubs, it was Dummy. If I had only remembered this, and had concluded from it—as I ought to have done—that my partner had the ace of diamonds—as otherwise why did he pass my knave?—we might have saved the odd trick. I have not the head for bridge. It is only an ordinary head—mine. I have no business to play bridge.
Why not, occasionally, a cheerful Ghost.
But to return to our ghosts. These four gentlemen must now and again, during their earthly existence, have sat down to a merry game of cards. There must have been evenings when nobody was stabbed. Why choose an unpleasant occasion to harp exclusively upon it? Why do ghosts never give a cheerful show? The lady who was poisoned! there must have been other evenings in her life. Why does she not show us "The first meeting": when he gave her the violets and said they were like her eyes? He wasn't always poisoning her. There must have been a period before he ever thought of poisoning her. Cannot these ghosts do something occasionally in what is termed "the lighter vein"? If they haunt a forest glade, it is to perform a duel to the death, or an assassination. Why cannot they, for a change, give us an old-time picnic, or "The hawking party," which, in Elizabethan costume, should make a pretty picture? Ghostland would appear to be obsessed by the spirit of the Scandinavian drama: murders, suicides, ruined fortunes, and broken hearts are the only material made use of. Why is not a dead humorist allowed now and then to write the sketch? There must be plenty of dead comic lovers; why are they never allowed to give a performance?
Where are the dead Humorists?
A cheerful person contemplates death with alarm. What is he to do in this land of ghosts? there is no place for him. Imagine the commonplace liver of a humdrum existence being received into ghostland. He enters nervous, shy, feeling again the new boy at school. The old ghosts gather round him.
"How do you come here—murdered?"
"No, at least, I don't think so."
"No—can't remember the name of it now. Began with a chill on the liver, I think."
The ghosts are disappointed. But a happy suggestion is made. Perhaps he was the murderer; that would be even better. Let him think carefully; can he recollect ever having committed a murder? He racks his brains in vain, not a single murder comes to his recollection. He never forged a will. Doesn't even know where anything is hid. Of what use will he be in ghostland? One pictures him passing the centuries among a moody crowd of uninteresting mediocrities, brooding perpetually over their wasted lives. Only the ghosts of ladies and gentlemen mixed up in crime have any "show" in ghostland.
The Spirit does not shine as a Conversationalist.
I feel an equal dissatisfaction with the spirits who are supposed to return to us and communicate with us through the medium of three-legged tables. I do not deny the possibility that spirits exist. I am even willing to allow them their three-legged tables. It must be confessed it is a clumsy method. One cannot help regretting that during all the ages they have not evolved a more dignified system. One feels that the three- legged table must hamper them. One can imagine an impatient spirit getting tired of spelling out a lengthy story on a three-legged table. But, as I have said, I am willing to assume that, for some spiritual reason unfathomable to my mere human intelligence, that three-legged table is essential. I am willing also to accept the human medium. She is generally an unprepossessing lady running somewhat to bulk. If a gentleman, he so often has dirty finger-nails, and smells of stale beer. I think myself it would be so much simpler if the spirit would talk to me direct; we could get on quicker. But there is that about the medium, I am told, which appeals to a spirit. Well, it is his affair, not mine, and I waive the argument. My real stumbling-block is the spirit himself—the sort of conversation that, when he does talk, he indulges in. I cannot help feeling that his conversation is not worth the paraphernalia. I can talk better than that myself.
The late Professor Huxley, who took some trouble over this matter, attended some half-dozen seances, and then determined to attend no more.
"I have," he said, "for my sins to submit occasionally to the society of live bores. I refuse to go out of my way to spend an evening in the dark with dead bores."
The spiritualists themselves admit that their table-rapping spooks are precious dull dogs; it would be difficult, in face of the communications recorded, for them to deny it. They explain to us that they have not yet achieved communication with the higher spiritual Intelligences. The more intelligent spirits—for some reason that the spiritualists themselves are unable to explain—do not want to talk to them, appear to have something else to do. At present—so I am told, and can believe—it is only the spirits of lower intelligence that care to turn up on these evenings. The spiritualists argue that, by continuing, the higher-class spirits will later on be induced to "come in." I fail to follow the argument. It seems to me that we are frightening them away. Anyhow, myself I shall wait awhile.
When the spirit comes along that can talk sense, that can tell me something I don't know, I shall be glad to meet him. The class of spirit that we are getting just at present does not appeal to me. The thought of him—the reflection that I shall die and spend the rest of eternity in his company—does not comfort me.
She is now a Believer.
A lady of my acquaintance tells me it is marvellous how much these spirits seem to know. On her very first visit, the spirit, through the voice of the medium—an elderly gentleman residing obscurely in Clerkenwell—informed her without a moment's hesitation that she possessed a relative with the Christian name of George. (I am not making this up—it is real.) This gave her at first the idea that spiritualism was a fraud. She had no relative named George—at least, so she thought. But a morning or two later her husband received a letter from Australia. "By Jove!" he exclaimed, as he glanced at the last page, "I had forgotten all about the poor old beggar."
"Whom is it from?" she asked.
"Oh, nobody you know—haven't seen him myself for twenty years—a third or fourth cousin of mine—George—"
She never heard the surname, she was too excited. The spirit had been right from the beginning; she had a relative named George. Her faith in spiritualism is now as a rock.
There are thousands of folk who believe in Old Moore's Almanac. My difficulty would be not to believe in the old gentleman. I see that for the month of January last he foretold us that the Government would meet with determined and persistent opposition. He warned us that there would be much sickness about, and that rheumatism would discover its old victims. How does he know these things? Is it that the stars really do communicate with him, or does he "feel it in his bones," as the saying is up North?
During February, he mentioned, the weather would be unsettled. He concluded:
"The word Taxation will have a terrible significance for both Government and people this month."
Really, it is quite uncanny. In March:
"Theatres will do badly during the month."
There seems to be no keeping anything from Old Moore. In April "much dissatisfaction will be expressed among Post Office employees." That sounds probable, on the face of it. In any event, I will answer for our local postman.
In May "a wealthy magnate is going to die." In June there is going to be a fire. In July "Old Moore has reason to fear there will be trouble."
I do hope he may be wrong, and yet somehow I feel a conviction that he won't be. Anyhow, one is glad it has been put off till July.
In August "one in high authority will be in danger of demise." In September "zeal" on the part of persons mentioned "will outstrip discretion." In October Old Moore is afraid again. He cannot avoid a haunting suspicion that "Certain people will be victimized by extensive fraudulent proceedings."
In November "the public Press will have its columns full of important news." The weather will be "adverse," and "a death will occur in high circles." This makes the second in one year. I am glad I do not belong to the higher circles.
How does he do it?
In December Old Moore again foresees trouble, just when I was hoping it was all over. "Frauds will come to light, and death will find its victims."
And all this information is given to us for a penny.
The palmist examines our hand. "You will go a journey," he tells us. It is marvellous! How could he have known that only the night before we had been discussing the advisability of taking the children to Margate for the holidays?
"There is trouble in store for you," he tells us, regretfully, "but you will get over it." We feel that the future has no secret hidden from him.
We have "presentiments" that people we love, who are climbing mountains, who are fond of ballooning, are in danger.
The sister of a friend of mine who went out to the South African War as a volunteer had three presentiments of his death. He came home safe and sound, but admitted that on three distinct occasions he had been in imminent danger. It seemed to the dear lady a proof of everything she had ever read.
Another friend of mine was waked in the middle of the night by his wife, who insisted that he should dress himself and walk three miles across a moor because she had had a dream that something terrible was happening to a bosom friend of hers. The bosom friend and her husband were rather indignant at being waked at two o'clock in the morning, but their indignation was mild compared with that of the dreamer on learning that nothing was the matter. From that day forward a coldness sprang up between the two families.
I would give much to believe in ghosts. The interest of life would be multiplied by its own square power could we communicate with the myriad dead watching us from their mountain summits. Mr. Zangwill, in a poem that should live, draws for us a pathetic picture of blind children playing in a garden, laughing, romping. All their lives they have lived in darkness; they are content. But, the wonder of it, could their eyes by some miracle be opened!
Blind Children playing in a World of Darkness.
May not we be but blind children, suggests the poet, living in a world of darkness—laughing, weeping, loving, dying—knowing nothing of the wonder round us?
The ghosts about us, with their god-like faces, it might be good to look at them.
But these poor, pale-faced spooks, these dull-witted, table-thumping spirits: it would be sad to think that of such was the kingdom of the Dead.
Parents and their Teachers.
My heart has been much torn of late, reading of the wrongs of Children. It has lately been discovered that Children are being hampered and harassed in their career by certain brutal and ignorant persons called, for want of a better name, parents. The parent is a selfish wretch who, out of pure devilment, and without consulting the Child itself upon the subject, lures innocent Children into the world, apparently for the purpose merely of annoying them. The parent does not understand the Child when he has got it; he does not understand anything, not much. The only person who understands the Child is the young gentleman fresh from College and the elderly maiden lady, who, between them, produce most of the literature that explains to us the Child.
The parent does not even know how to dress the Child. The parent will persist in dressing the Child in a long and trailing garment that prevents the Child from kicking. The young gentleman fresh from College grows almost poetical in his contempt. It appears that the one thing essential for the health of a young child is that it should have perfect freedom to kick. Later on the parent dresses the Child in short clothes, and leaves bits of its leg bare. The elderly maiden Understander of Children, quoting medical opinion, denounces us as criminals for leaving any portion of that precious leg uncovered. It appears that the partially uncovered leg of childhood is responsible for most of the disease that flesh is heir to.
Then we put it into boots. We "crush its delicately fashioned feet into hideous leather instruments of torture." That is the sort of phrase that is hurled at us! The picture conjured up is that of some fiend in human shape, calling itself a father, seizing some helpless cherub by the hair, and, while drowning its pathetic wails for mercy beneath roars of demon laughter, proceeding to bind about its tender bones some ancient curiosity dug from the dungeons of the Inquisition.
If the young gentleman fresh from College or the maiden lady Understander could be, if only for a month or two, a father! If only he or she could guess how gladly the father of limited income would reply,
"My dear, you are wrong in saying that the children must have boots. That is an exploded theory. The children must not have boots. I refuse to be a party to crushing their delicately fashioned feet into hideous leather instruments of torture. The young gentleman fresh from College and the elderly maiden Understander have decided that the children must not have boots. Do not let me hear again that out-of-date word—boots."
If there were only one young gentleman fresh from College, one maiden lady Understander teaching us our duty, life would be simpler. But there are so many young gentlemen from College, so many maiden lady Understanders, on the job—if I may be permitted a vulgarism; and as yet they are not all agreed. It is distracting for the parent anxious to do right. We put the little dears into sandals, and then at once other young gentlemen from College, other maiden lady Understanders, point to us as would-be murderers. Long clothes are fatal, short clothes are deadly, boots are instruments of torture, to allow children to go about with bare feet shows that we regard them as Incumbrances, and, with low cunning, are seeking to be rid of them.
Their first attempt.
I knew a pair of parents. I am convinced, in spite of all that can be said to the contrary, they were fond of their Child; it was their first. They were anxious to do the right thing. They read with avidity all books and articles written on the subject of Children. They read that a Child should always sleep lying on its back, and took it in turns to sit awake o' nights to make sure that the Child was always right side up.
But another magazine told them that Children allowed to sleep lying on their backs grew up to be idiots. They were sad they had not read of this before, and started the Child on its right side. The Child, on the contrary, appeared to have a predilection for the left, the result being that neither the parents nor the baby itself for the next three weeks got any sleep worth speaking of.
Later on, by good fortune, they came across a treatise that said a Child should always be allowed to choose its own position while sleeping, and their friends persuaded them to stop at that—told them they would never strike a better article if they searched the whole British Museum Library. It troubled them to find that Child sometimes sleeping curled up with its toe in its mouth, and sometimes flat on its stomach with its head underneath the pillow. But its health and temper were decidedly improved.
The Parent can do no right.
There is nothing the parent can do right. You would think that now and then he might, if only by mere accident, blunder into sense. But, no, there seems to be a law against it. He brings home woolly rabbits and indiarubber elephants, and expects the Child to be contented "forsooth" with suchlike aids to its education. As a matter of fact, the Child is content: it bangs its own head with the woolly rabbit and does itself no harm; it tries to swallow the indiarubber elephant; it does not succeed, but continues to hope. With that woolly rabbit and that indiarubber elephant it would be as happy as the day is long if only the young gentleman from Cambridge would leave it alone, and not put new ideas into its head. But the gentleman from Cambridge and the maiden lady Understander are convinced that the future of the race depends upon leaving the Child untrammelled to select its own amusements. A friend of mine, during his wife's absence once on a visit to her mother, tried the experiment.
The Child selected a frying-pan. How it got the frying-pan remains to this day a mystery. The cook said "frying-pans don't walk upstairs." The nurse said she should be sorry to call anyone a liar, but that there was commonsense in everything. The scullery-maid said that if everybody did their own work other people would not be driven beyond the limits of human endurance; and the housekeeper said that she was sick and tired of life. My friend said it did not matter. The Child clung to the frying- pan with passion. The book my friend was reading said that was how the human mind was formed: the Child's instinct prompted it to seize upon objects tending to develop its brain faculty. What the parent had got to do was to stand aside and watch events.
The Child proceeded to black everything about the nursery with the bottom of the frying-pan. It then set to work to lick the frying-pan clean. The nurse, a woman of narrow ideas, had a presentiment that later on it would be ill. My friend explained to her the error the world had hitherto committed: it had imagined that the parent knew a thing or two that the Child didn't. In future the Children were to do their bringing up themselves. In the house of the future the parents would be allotted the attics where they would be out of the way. They might occasionally be allowed down to dinner, say, on Sundays.
The Child, having exhausted all the nourishment the frying-pan contained, sought to develop its brain faculty by thumping itself over the head with the flat of the thing. With the selfishness of the average parent—thinking chiefly of what the Coroner might say, and indifferent to the future of humanity, my friend insisted upon changing the game.
His foolish talk.
The parent does not even know how to talk to his own Child. The Child is yearning to acquire a correct and dignified mode of expression. The parent says: "Did ums. Did naughty table hurt ickle tootsie pootsies? Baby say: ''Oo naughty table. Me no love 'oo.'"
The Child despairs of ever learning English. What should we think ourselves were we to join a French class, and were the Instructor to commence talking to us French of this description? What the Child, according to the gentleman from Cambridge, says to itself is,
"Oh for one hour's intelligent conversation with a human being who can talk the language."
Will not the young gentleman from Cambridge descend to detail? Will he not give us a specimen dialogue?
A celebrated lady writer, who has made herself the mouthpiece of feminine indignation against male stupidity, took up the cudgels a little while ago on behalf of Mrs. Caudle. She admitted Mrs. Caudle appeared to be a somewhat foolish lady. "But what had Caudle ever done to improve Mrs. Caudle's mind?" Had he ever sought, with intelligent illuminating conversation, to direct her thoughts towards other topics than lent umbrellas and red-headed minxes?
It is my complaint against so many of our teachers. They scold us for what we do, but so rarely tell us what we ought to do. Tell me how to talk to my baby, and I am willing to try. It is not as if I took a personal pride in the phrase: "Did ums." I did not even invent it. I found it, so to speak, when I got here, and my experience is that it soothes the Child. When he is howling, and I say "Did ums" with sympathetic intonation, he stops crying. Possibly enough it is astonishment at the ineptitude of the remark that silences him. Maybe it is that minor troubles are lost sight of face to face with the reflection that this is the sort of father with which fate has provided him. But may not even this be useful to him? He has got to meet with stupid people in the world. Let him begin by contemplating me. It will make things easier for him later on. I put forward the idea in the hope of comforting the young gentleman from Cambridge.
We injure the health of the Child by enforcing on it silence. We have a stupid formula that children should be seen and not heard. We deny it exercise to its lungs. We discourage its natural and laudable curiosity by telling it not to worry us—not to ask so many questions.
Won't somebody lend the young gentleman from Cambridge a small and healthy child just for a week or so, and let the bargain be that he lives with it all the time? The young gentleman from Cambridge thinks, when we call up the stairs to say that if we hear another sound from the nursery during the next two hours we will come up and do things to that Child the mere thought of which should appal it, that is silencing the Child. It does not occur to him that two minutes later that Child is yelling again at the top of its voice, having forgotten all we ever said.
The Child of Fiction.
I know the sort of Child the weeper over Children's wrongs has in his mind. It has deep, soulful, yearning eyes. It moves about the house softly, shedding an atmosphere of patient resignation. It says: "Yes, dear papa." "No, dear mamma." It has but one ambition—to be good and useful. It has beautiful thoughts about the stars. You don't know whether it is in the house or isn't: you find it with its little face pressed close against the window-pane watching the golden sunset. Nobody understands it. It blesses the old people and dies. One of these days the young gentleman from Cambridge will, one hopes, have a Baby of his own—a real Child: and serve him darn-well right.
At present he is labouring under a wrong conception of the article. He says we over-educate it. We clog its wonderful brain with a mass of uninteresting facts and foolish formulas that we call knowledge. He does not know that all this time the Child is alive and kicking. He is under the delusion that the Child is taking all this lying down. We tell the Child it has got to be quiet, or else we will wring its neck. The gentleman from Cambridge pictures the Child as from that moment a silent spirit moving voiceless towards the grave.
We catch the Child in the morning, and clean it up, and put a little satchel on its back, and pack it off to school; and the maiden lady Understander pictures that Child wasting the all too brief period of youth crowding itself up with knowledge.
My dear Madam, you take it from me that your tears are being wasted. You wipe your eyes and cheer up. The dear Child is not going to be overworked: he is seeing to that.
As a matter of the fact, the Child of the present day is having, if anything, too good a time. I shall be considered a brute for saying this, but I am thinking of its future, and my opinion is that we are giving it swelled head. The argument just now in the air is that the parent exists merely for the Children. The parent doesn't count. It is as if a gardener were to say,
"Bother the flowers, let them rot. The sooner they are out of the way the better. The seed is the only thing that interests me."
You can't produce respectable seed but from carefully cultivated flowers. The philosopher, clamouring for improved Children, will later grasp the fact that the parent is of importance. Then he will change his tactics, and address the Children, and we shall have our time. He will impress on them how necessary it is for their own sakes that they should be careful of us. We shall have books written about misunderstood fathers who were worried into early graves.
The misunderstood Father.
Fresh Air Funds will be started for sending parents away to the seaside on visits to kind bachelors living in detached houses, miles away from Children. Books will be specially written for us picturing a world where school fees are never demanded and babies never howl o' nights. Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Parents will arise. Little girls who get their hair entangled and mislay all their clothes just before they are starting for the party—little boys who kick holes in their best shoes will be spanked at the public expense.
Marriage and the Joke of it.
Marriages are made in heaven—"but solely," it has been added by a cynical writer, "for export." There is nothing more remarkable in human sociology than our attitude towards the institution of marriage. So it came home to me the other evening as I sat on a cane chair in the ill- lighted schoolroom of a small country town. The occasion was a Penny Reading. We had listened to the usual overture from Zampa, played by the lady professor and the eldest daughter of the brewer; to "Phil Blood's Leap," recited by the curate; to the violin solo by the pretty widow about whom gossip is whispered—one hopes it is not true. Then a pale-faced gentleman, with a drooping black moustache, walked on to the platform. It was the local tenor. He sang to us a song of love. Misunderstandings had arisen; bitter words, regretted as soon as uttered, had pierced the all too sensitive spirit. Parting had followed. The broken-hearted one had died believing his affection unrequited. But the angels had since told him; he knew she loved him now—the accent on the now.
I glanced around me. We were the usual crowd of mixed humanity—tinkers, tailors, soldiers, sailors, with our cousins, and our sisters, and our wives. So many of our eyes were wet with tears. Miss Butcher could hardly repress her sobs. Young Mr. Tinker, his face hidden behind his programme, pretended to be blowing his nose. Mrs. Apothecary's large bosom heaved with heartfelt sighs. The retired Colonel sniffed audibly. Sadness rested on our souls. It might have been so different but for those foolish, hasty words! There need have been no funeral. Instead, the church might have been decked with bridal flowers. How sweet she would have looked beneath her orange wreath! How proudly, gladly, he might have responded "I will," take her for his wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death did them part. And thereto he might have plighted his troth.
In the silence which reigned after the applause had subsided the beautiful words of the Marriage Service seemed to be stealing through the room: that they might ever remain in perfect love and peace together. Thy wife shall be as the fruitful vine. Thy children like the olive branches round about thy table. Lo! thus shall a man be blessed. So shall men love their wives as their own bodies, and be not bitter against them, giving honour unto them as unto the weaker vessel. Let the wife see that she reverence her husband, wearing the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit.
Love and the Satyr.
All the stories sung by the sweet singers of all time were echoing in our ears—stories of true love that would not run smoothly until the last chapter; of gallant lovers strong and brave against fate; of tender sweethearts, waiting, trusting, till love's golden crown was won; so they married and lived happy ever after.
Then stepped briskly on the platform a stout, bald-headed man. We greeted him with enthusiasm—it was the local low comedian. The piano tinkled saucily. The self-confident man winked and opened wide his mouth. It was a funny song; how we roared with laughter! The last line of each verse was the same:
"And that's what it's like when you're married."
"Before it was 'duckie,' and 'darling,' and 'dear.' Now it's 'Take your cold feet away, Brute! can't you hear?'
"Once they walked hand in hand: 'Me loves ickle 'oo.' Now he strides on ahead" (imitation with aid of umbrella much appreciated; the bald-headed man, in his enthusiasm and owing to the smallness of the platform, sweeping the lady accompanist off her stool), "bawling: 'Come along, do.'"
The bald-headed man interspersed side-splitting patter. The husband comes home late; the wife is waiting for him at the top of the stairs with a broom. He kisses the servant-girl. She retaliates by discovering a cousin in the Guards.
The comic man retired to an enthusiastic demand for an encore. I looked around me at the laughing faces. Miss Butcher had been compelled to stuff her handkerchief into her mouth. Mr. Tinker was wiping his eyes; he was not ashamed this time, they were tears of merriment. Mrs. Apothecary's motherly bosom was shaking like a jelly. The Colonel was grinning from ear to ear.
Later on, as I noticed in the programme, the schoolmistress, an unmarried lady, was down to sing "Darby and Joan." She has a sympathetic voice. Her "Darby and Joan" is always popular. The comic man would also again appear in the second part, and would oblige with (by request) "His Mother- in-Law."
So the quaint comedy continues: To-night we will enjoy Romeo and Juliet, for to-morrow we have seats booked for The Pink Domino.
What the Gipsy did not mention.
"Won't the pretty lady let the poor old gipsy tell her fortune?" Blushes, giggles, protestations. Gallant gentleman friend insists. A dark man is in love with pretty lady. Gipsy sees a marriage not so very far ahead. Pretty lady says "What nonsense!" but looks serious. Pretty lady's pretty friends must, of course, be teasing. Gallant gentleman friend, by curious coincidence, happens to be dark. Gipsy grins and passes on.
Is that all the gipsy knows of pretty lady's future? The rheumy, cunning eyes! They were bonny and black many years ago, when the parchment skin was smooth and fair. They have seen so many a passing show—do they see in pretty lady's hand nothing further?
What would the wicked old eyes foresee did it pay them to speak:—Pretty lady crying tears into a pillow. Pretty lady growing ugly, spite and anger spoiling pretty features. Dark young man no longer loving. Dark young man hurling bitter words at pretty lady—hurling, maybe, things more heavy. Dark young man and pretty lady listening approvingly to comic singer, having both discovered: "That's what it's like when you're married."
My friend H. G. Wells wrote a book, "The Island of Dr. Moreau." I read it in MS. one winter evening in a lonely country house upon the hills, wind screaming to wind in the dark without. The story has haunted me ever since. I hear the wind's shrill laughter. The doctor had taken the beasts of the forest, apes, tigers, strange creatures from the deep, had fashioned them with hideous cruelty into the shapes of men, had given them souls, had taught to them the law. In all things else were they human, but their original instincts their creator's skill had failed to eliminate. All their lives were one long torture. The Law said, "We are men and women; this we shall do, this we shall not do." But the ape and tiger still cried aloud within them.
Civilization lays her laws upon us; they are the laws of gods—of the men that one day, perhaps, shall come. But the primeval creature of the cave still cries within us.
A few rules for Married Happiness.
The wonder is that not being gods—being mere men and women—marriage works out as well as it does. We take two creatures with the instincts of the ape still stirring within them; two creatures fashioned on the law of selfishness; two self-centred creatures of opposite appetites, of desires opposed to one another, of differing moods and fancies; two creatures not yet taught the lesson of self-control, of self-renunciation, and bind them together for life in an union so close that one cannot snore o'nights without disturbing the other's rest; that one cannot, without risk to happiness, have a single taste unshared by the other; that neither, without danger of upsetting the whole applecart, so to speak, can have an opinion with which the other does not heartedly agree.
Could two angels exist together on such terms without ever quarrelling? I doubt it. To make marriage the ideal we love to picture it in romance, the elimination of human nature is the first essential. Supreme unselfishness, perfect patience, changeless amiability, we should have to start with, and continue with, until the end.
The real Darby and Joan.
I do not believe in the "Darby and Joan" of the song. They belong to song-land. To accept them I need a piano, a sympathetic contralto voice, a firelight effect, and that sentimental mood in myself, the foundation of which is a good dinner well digested. But there are Darbys and Joans of real flesh and blood to be met with—God bless them, and send more for our example—wholesome living men and women, brave, struggling, souls with common-sense. Ah, yes! they have quarrelled; had their dark house of bitterness, of hate, when he wished to heaven he had never met her, and told her so. How could he have guessed those sweet lips could utter such cruel words; those tender eyes, he loved to kiss, flash with scorn and anger?
And she, had she known what lay behind; those days when he knelt before her, swore that his only dream was to save her from all pain. Passion lies dead; it is a flame that burns out quickly. The most beautiful face in the world grows indifferent to us when we have sat opposite it every morning at breakfast, every evening at supper, for a brief year or two. Passion is the seed. Love grows from it, a tender sapling, beautiful to look upon, but wondrous frail, easily broken, easily trampled on during those first years of wedded life. Only by much nursing, by long caring- for, watered with tears, shall it grow into a sturdy tree, defiant of the winds, 'neath which Darby and Joan shall sit sheltered in old age.
They had commonsense, brave hearts. Darby had expected too much. Darby had not made allowance for human nature which he ought to have done, seeing how much he had of it himself. Joan knows he did not mean it. Joan has a nasty temper; she admits it. Joan will try, Darby will try. They kiss again with tears. It is a workaday world; Darby and Joan will take it as it is, will do their best. A little kindness, a little clasping of the hands before night comes.
Many ways of Love.
Youth deems it heresy, but I sometimes wonder if our English speaking way is quite the best. I discussed the subject once with an old French lady. The English reader forms his idea of French life from the French novel; it leads to mistaken notions. There are French Darbys, French Joans, many thousands of them.
"Believe me," said my old French friend, "your English way is wrong; our way is not perfect, but it is the better, I am sure. You leave it entirely to the young people. What do they know of life, of themselves, even. He falls in love with a pretty face. She—he danced so well! he was so agreeable that day of the picnic! If marriage were only for a month or so; could be ended without harm when the passion was burnt out. Ah, yes! then perhaps you would be right. I loved at eighteen, madly—nearly broke my heart. I meet him occasionally now. My dear"—her hair was silvery white, and I was only thirty-five; she always called me "my dear"; it is pleasant at thirty-five to be talked to as a child. "He was a perfect brute, handsome he had been, yes, but all that was changed. He was as stupid as an ox. I never see his poor frightened-looking wife without shuddering thinking of what I have escaped. They told me all that, but I looked only at his face, and did not believe them. They forced me into marriage with the kindest man that ever lived. I did not love him then, but I loved him for thirty years; was it not better?"
"But, my dear friend," I answered; "that poor, frightened-looking wife of your first love! Her marriage also was, I take it, the result of parental choosing. The love marriage, I admit, as often as not turns out sadly. The children choose ill. Parents also choose ill. I fear there is no sure receipt for the happy marriage."
"You are arguing from bad examples," answered my silver-haired friend; "it is the system that I am defending. A young girl is no judge of character. She is easily deceived, is wishful to be deceived. As I have said, she does not even know herself. She imagines the mood of the moment will remain with her. Only those who have watched over her with loving insight from her infancy know her real temperament.
"The young man is blinded by his passion. Nature knows nothing of marriage, of companionship. She has only one aim. That accomplished, she is indifferent to the future of those she has joined together. I would have parents think only of their children's happiness, giving to worldly considerations their true value, but nothing beyond, choosing for their children with loving care, with sense of their great responsibility."
Which is it?
"I fear our young people would not be contented with our choosing," I suggested.
"Are they so contented with their own, the honeymoon over?" she responded with a smile.
We agreed it was a difficult problem viewed from any point.
But I still think it would be better were we to heap less ridicule upon the institution. Matrimony cannot be "holy" and ridiculous at the same time. We have been familiar with it long enough to make up our minds in which light to regard it.
Man and his Tailor.
What's wrong with the "Made-up Tie"? I gather from the fashionable novelist that no man can wear a made-up tie and be a gentleman. He may be a worthy man, clever, well-to-do, eligible from every other point of view; but She, the refined heroine, can never get over the fact that he wears a made-up tie. It causes a shudder down her high-bred spine whenever she thinks of it. There is nothing else to be said against him. There is nothing worse about him than this—he wears a made-up tie. It is all sufficient. No true woman could ever care for him, no really classy society ever open its doors to him.
I am worried about this thing because, to confess the horrid truth, I wear a made-up tie myself. On foggy afternoons I steal out of the house disguised. They ask me where I am going in a hat that comes down over my ears, and why I am wearing blue spectacles and a false beard, but I will not tell them. I creep along the wall till I find a common hosier's shop, and then, in an assumed voice, I tell the man what it is I want. They come to fourpence halfpenny each; by taking the half-dozen I get them for a trifle less. They are put on in a moment, and, to my vulgar eye, look neat and tasteful.
Of course, I know I am not a gentleman. I have given up hopes of ever being one. Years ago, when life presented possibilities, I thought that with pains and intelligence I might become one. I never succeeded. It all depends on being able to tie a bow. Round the bed-post, or the neck of the water-jug, I could tie the wretched thing to perfection. If only the bed-post or the water-jug could have taken my place and gone to the party instead of me, life would have been simpler. The bed-post and the water-jug, in its neat white bow, looked like a gentleman—the fashionable novelist's idea of a gentleman. Upon myself the result was otherwise, suggesting always a feeble attempt at suicide by strangulation. I could never understand how it was done. There were moments when it flashed across me that the secret lay in being able to turn one's self inside out, coming up with one's arms and legs the other way round. Standing on one's head might have surmounted the difficulty; but the higher gymnastics Nature has denied to me. "The Boneless Wonder" or the "Man Serpent" could, I felt, be a gentleman so easily. To one to whom has been given only the common ordinary joints gentlemanliness is apparently an impossible ideal.
It is not only the tie. I never read the fashionable novel without misgiving. Some hopeless bounder is being described:
"If you want to know what he is like," says the Peer of the Realm, throwing himself back in his deep easy-chair, and puffing lazily at his cigar of delicate aroma, "he is the sort of man that wears three studs in his shirt."
The difficulty of being a Gentleman.
Merciful heavens! I myself wear three studs in my shirt. I also am a hopeless bounder, and I never knew it. It comes upon me like a thunderbolt. I thought three studs were fashionable. The idiot at the shop told me three studs were all the rage, and I ordered two dozen. I can't afford to throw them away. Till these two dozen shirts are worn out, I shall have to remain a hopeless bounder.
Why have we not a Minister of the Fine Arts? Why does not a paternal Government fix notices at the street corners, telling the would-be gentleman how many studs he ought to wear, what style of necktie now distinguishes the noble-minded man from the base-hearted? They are prompt enough with their police regulations, their vaccination orders—the higher things of life they neglect.
I select at random another masterpiece of English literature.
"My dear," says Lady Montresor, with her light aristocratic laugh, "you surely cannot seriously think of marrying a man who wears socks with yellow spots?"
Lady Emmelina sighs.
"He is very nice," she murmurs, "but I suppose you are right. I suppose that sort of man does get on your nerves after a time."
"My dear child," says Lady Montresor, "he is impossible."
In a cold sweat I rush upstairs into my bedroom.
I thought so: I am always wrong. All my best socks have yellow spots. I rather fancied them. They were expensive, too, now I come to think of it.
What am I to do? If I sacrifice them and get red spots, then red spots, for all I know, may be wrong. I have no instinct. The fashionable novelist never helps one. He tells us what is wrong, but he does not tell us what is right. It is creative criticism that I feel the need of. Why does not the Lady Montresor go on? Tell me what sort of socks the ideal lover ought to wear. There are so many varieties of socks. What is a would-be-gentleman to do? Would it be of any use writing to the fashionable novelist:—
How we might, all of us, be Gentlemen.
"Dear Mr. Fashionable Novelist (or should it be Miss?),—Before going to my tailor, I venture to write to you on a subject of some importance. I am fairly well educated, of good family and address, and, so my friends tell me, of passable appearance. I yearn to become a gentleman. If it is not troubling you too much, would you mind telling me how to set about the business? What socks and ties ought I to wear? Do I wear a flower in my button-hole, or is that a sign of a coarse mind? How many buttons on a morning coat show a beautiful nature? Does a stand-up collar with a tennis shirt prove that you are of noble descent, or, on the contrary, stamp you as a parvenu? If answering these questions imposes too great a tax on your time, perhaps you would not mind telling me how you yourself know these things. Who is your authority, and when is he at home? I should apologize for writing to you but that I feel you will sympathize with my appeal. It seems a pity there should be so many vulgar, ill-bred people in the world when a little knowledge on these trivial points would enable us all to become gentlemen. Thanking you in anticipation, I remain . . . "
Would he or she tell us? Or would the fashionable novelist reply as I once overheard a harassed mother retort upon one of her inquiring children. Most of the afternoon she had been rushing out into the garden, where games were in progress, to tell the children what they must not do:—"Tommy, you know you must not do that. Haven't you got any sense at all?" "Johnny, you wicked boy, how dare you do that; how many more times do you want me to tell you?" "Jane, if you do that again you will go straight to bed, my girl!" and so on.
At length the door was opened from without, and a little face peeped in: "Mother!"
"Now, what is it? can't I ever get a moment's peace?"
"Mother, please would you mind telling us something we might do?"
The lady almost fell back on the floor in her astonishment. The idea had never occurred to her.
"What may you do! Don't ask me. I am tired enough of telling you what not to do."
Things a Gentleman should never do.
I remember when a young man, wishful to conform to the rules of good society, I bought a book of etiquette for gentlemen. Its fault was just this. It told me through many pages what not to do. Beyond that it seemed to have no idea. I made a list of things it said a gentleman should never do: it was a lengthy list.
Determined to do the job completely while I was about it, I bought other books of etiquette and added on their list of "Nevers." What one book left out another supplied. There did not seem much left for a gentleman to do.
I concluded by the time I had come to the end of my books, that to be a true gentleman my safest course would be to stop in bed for the rest of my life. By this means only could I hope to avoid every possible faux pas, every solecism. I should have lived and died a gentleman. I could have had it engraved upon my tombstone:
"He never in his life committed a single act unbecoming to a gentleman."
To be a gentleman is not so easy, perhaps, as a fashionable novelist imagines. One is forced to the conclusion that it is not a question entirely for the outfitter. My attention was attracted once by a notice in the window of a West-End emporium, "Gentlemen supplied."
It is to such like Universal Providers that the fashionable novelist goes for his gentleman. The gentleman is supplied to him complete in every detail. If the reader be not satisfied, that is the reader's fault. He is one of those tiresome, discontented customers who does not know a good article when he has got it.
I was told the other day of the writer of a musical farce (or is it comedy?) who was most desirous that his leading character should be a perfect gentleman. During the dress rehearsal, the actor representing the part had to open his cigarette case and request another perfect gentleman to help himself. The actor drew forth his case. It caught the critical eye of the author.
"Good heavens!" he cried, "what do you call that?"
"A cigarette case," answered the actor.
"But, my dear boy," exclaimed the author, "surely it is silver?"
"I know," admitted the actor, "it does perhaps suggest that I am living beyond my means, but the truth is I picked it up cheap."
The author turned to the manager.
"This won't do," he explained, "a real gentleman always carries a gold cigarette case. He must be a gentleman, or there's no point in the plot."
"Don't let us endanger any point the plot may happen to possess, for goodness sake," agreed the manager, "let him by all means have a gold cigarette case."
How one may know the perfect Gentleman.
So, regardless of expense, a gold cigarette case was obtained and put down to expenses. And yet on the first night of that musical play, when that leading personage smashed a tray over a waiter's head, and, after a row with the police, came home drunk to his wife, even that gold cigarette case failed to convince one that the man was a gentleman beyond all doubt.
The old writers appear to have been singularly unaware of the importance attaching to these socks, and ties, and cigarette-cases. They told us merely what the man felt and thought. What reliance can we place upon them? How could they possibly have known what sort of man he was underneath his clothes? Tweed or broadcloth is not transparent. Even could they have got rid of his clothes there would have remained his flesh and bones. It was pure guess-work. They did not observe.
The modern writer goes to work scientifically. He tells us that the creature wore a made-up tie. From that we know he was not a gentleman; it follows as the night the day. The fashionable novelist notices the young man's socks. It reveals to us whether the marriage would have been successful or a failure. It is necessary to convince us that the hero is a perfect gentleman: the author gives him a gold cigarette case.
A well-known dramatist has left it on record that comedy cannot exist nowadays, for the simple reason that gentlemen have given up taking snuff and wearing swords. How can one have comedy in company with frock-coats—without its "Las" and its "Odds Bobs."
The sword may have been helpful. I have been told that at levees City men, unaccustomed to the thing, have, with its help, provided comedy for the rest of the company.
But I take it this is not the comedy our dramatist had in mind.
Why not an Exhibition of Gentlemen?
It seems a pity that comedy should disappear from among us. If it depend entirely on swords and snuff-boxes, would it not be worth the while of the Society of Authors to keep a few gentlemen specially trained? Maybe some sympathetic theatrical manager would lend us costumes of the eighteenth century. We might provide them with swords and snuff-boxes. They might meet, say, once a week, in a Queen Anne drawing-room, especially prepared by Gillow, and go through their tricks. Authors seeking high-class comedy might be admitted to a gallery.
Perhaps this explains why old-fashioned readers complain that we do not give them human nature. How can we? Ladies and gentlemen nowadays don't wear the proper clothes. Evidently it all depends upon the clothes.
Woman and her behaviour.
Should women smoke?
The question, in four-inch letters, exhibited on a placard outside a small newsvendor's shop, caught recently my eye. The wanderer through London streets is familiar with such-like appeals to his decision: "Should short men marry tall wives?" "Ought we to cut our hair?" "Should second cousins kiss?" Life's problems appear to be endless.
Personally, I am not worrying myself whether women should smoke or not. It seems to me a question for the individual woman to decide for herself. I like women who smoke; I can see no objection to their smoking. Smoking soothes the nerves. Women's nerves occasionally want soothing. The tiresome idiot who argues that smoking is unwomanly denounces the drinking of tea as unmanly. He is a wooden-headed person who derives all his ideas from cheap fiction. The manly man of cheap fiction smokes a pipe and drinks whisky. That is how we know he is a man. The womanly woman—well, I always feel I could make a better woman myself out of an old clothes shop and a hair-dresser's block.
But, as I have said, the question does not impress me as one demanding my particular attention. I also like the woman who does not smoke. I have met in my time some very charming women who do not smoke. It may be a sign of degeneracy, but I am prepared to abdicate my position of woman's god, leaving her free to lead her own life.
Candidly, the responsibility of feeling myself answerable for all a woman does or does not do would weigh upon me. There are men who are willing to take this burden upon themselves, and a large number of women are still anxious that they should continue to bear it. I spoke quite seriously to a young lady not long ago on the subject of tight lacing; undoubtedly she was injuring her health. She admitted it herself.
"I know all you can say," she wailed; "I daresay a lot of it is true. Those awful pictures where one sees—well, all the things one does not want to think about. If they are correct, it must be bad, squeezing it all up together."
"Then why continue to do so?" I argued.
"Oh, it's easy enough to talk," she explained; "a few old fogies like you"—I had been speaking very plainly to her, and she was cross with me—"may pretend you don't like small waists, but the average man does."
Poor girl! She was quite prepared to injure herself for life, to damage her children's future, to be uncomfortable for fifteen hours a day, all to oblige the average man.
It is a compliment to our sex. What man would suffer injury and torture to please the average woman? This frenzied desire of woman to conform to our ideals is touching. A few daring spirits of late years have exhibited a tendency to seek for other gods—for ideals of their own. We call them the unsexed women. The womanly women lift up their hands in horror of such blasphemy.
When I was a boy no womanly woman rode a bicycle—tricycles were permitted. On three wheels you could still be womanly, but on two you were "a creature"! The womanly woman, seeing her approach, would draw down the parlour blind with a jerk, lest the children looking out might catch a glimpse of her, and their young souls be smirched for all eternity.
No womanly woman rode inside a hansom or outside a 'bus. I remember the day my own dear mother climbed outside a 'bus for the first time in her life. She was excited, and cried a little; but nobody—heaven be praised!—saw us—that is, nobody of importance. And afterwards she confessed the air was pleasant.
"Be not the first by whom the new is tried, Nor yet the last to lay the old aside," is a safe rule for those who would always retain the good opinion of that all-powerful, but somewhat unintelligent, incubus, "the average person," but the pioneer, the guide, is necessary. That is, if the world is to move forward.
The freedom-loving girl of to-day, who can enjoy a walk by herself without losing her reputation, who can ride down the street on her "bike" without being hooted at, who can play a mixed double at tennis without being compelled by public opinion to marry her partner, who can, in short, lead a human creature's life, and not that of a lap-dog led about at the end of a string, might pause to think what she owes to the "unsexed creatures" who fought her battle for her fifty years ago.
Those unsexed Creatures.
Can the working woman of to-day, who may earn her own living, if she will, without loss of the elementary rights of womanhood, think of the bachelor girl of a short generation ago without admiration of her pluck? There were ladies in those day too "unwomanly" to remain helpless burdens on overworked fathers and mothers, too "unsexed" to marry the first man that came along for the sake of their bread and butter. They fought their way into journalism, into the office, into the shop. The reformer is not always the pleasantest man to invite to a tea-party. Maybe these women who went forward with the flag were not the most charming of their sex. The "Dora Copperfield" type will for some time remain the young man's ideal, the model the young girl puts before herself. Myself, I think Dora Copperfield charming, but a world of Dora Copperfields!
The working woman is a new development in sociology. She has many lessons to learn, but one has hopes of her. It is said that she is unfitting herself to be a wife and mother. If the ideal helpmeet for a man be an animated Dresden china shepherdess—something that looks pretty on the table, something to be shown round to one's friends, something that can be locked up safely in a cupboard, that asks no questions, and, therefore, need be told no lies—then a woman who has learnt something of the world, who has formed ideas of her own, will not be the ideal wife.
References given—and required.
Maybe the average man will not be her ideal husband. Each Michaelmas at a little town in the Thames Valley with which I am acquainted there is held a hiring fair. A farmer one year laid his hand on a lively-looking lad, and asked him if he wanted a job. It was what the boy was looking for.
"Got a character?" asked the farmer. The boy replied that he had for the last two years been working for Mr. Muggs, the ironmonger—felt sure that Mr. Muggs would give him a good character.
"Well, go and ask Mr. Muggs to come across and speak to me, I will wait here," directed the would-be employer. Five minutes went by—ten minutes. No Mr. Muggs appeared. Later in the afternoon the farmer met the boy again.
"Mr. Muggs never came near me with that character of yours," said the farmer.
"No, sir," answered the boy, "I didn't ask him to."
"Why not?" inquired the farmer.
"Well, I told him who it was that wanted it"—the boy hesitated.
"Well?" demanded the farmer, impatiently.
"Well, then, he told me yours," explained the boy.
Maybe the working woman, looking for a husband, and not merely a livelihood, may end by formulating standards of her own. She may end by demanding the manly man and moving about the world, knowing something of life, may arrive at the conclusion that something more is needed than the smoking of pipes and the drinking of whiskies and sodas. We must be prepared for this. The sheltered woman who learnt her life from fairy stories is a dream of the past. Woman has escaped from her "shelter"—she is on the loose. For the future we men have got to accept the emancipated woman as an accomplished fact.
The ideal World.
Many of us are worried about her. What is going to become of the home? I admit there is a more ideal existence where the working woman would find no place; it is in a world that exists only on the comic opera stage. There every picturesque village contains an equal number of ladies and gentlemen nearly all the same height and weight, to all appearance of the same age. Each Jack has his Jill, and does not want anybody else's. There are no complications: one presumes they draw lots and fall in love the moment they unscrew the paper. They dance for awhile on grass which is never damp, and then into the conveniently situated ivy-covered church they troop in pairs and are wedded off hand by a white-haired clergyman, who is a married man himself.
Ah, if the world were but a comic opera stage, there would be no need for working women! As a matter of fact, so far as one can judge from the front of the house, there are no working men either.
But outside the opera house in the muddy street Jack goes home to his third floor back, or his chambers in the Albany, according to his caste, and wonders when the time will come when he will be able to support a wife. And Jill climbs on a penny 'bus, or steps into the family brougham, and dreams with regret of a lost garden, where there was just one man and just one woman, and clothes grew on a fig tree.
With the progress of civilization—utterly opposed as it is to all Nature's intentions—the number of working women will increase. With some friends the other day I was discussing motor-cars, and one gentleman with sorrow in his voice—he is the type of Conservative who would have regretted the passing away of the glacial period—opined that motor-cars had come to stay.
"You mean," said another, "they have come to go." The working woman, however much we may regret it, has come to go, and she is going it. We shall have to accept her and see what can be done with her. One thing is certain, we shall not solve the problem of the twentieth century by regretting the simple sociology of the Stone Age.
A Lover's View.
Speaking as a lover, I welcome the openings that are being given to women to earn their own livelihood. I can conceive of no more degrading profession for a woman—no profession more calculated to unfit her for being that wife and mother we talk so much about than the profession that up to a few years ago was the only one open to her—the profession of husband-hunting.
As a man, I object to being regarded as woman's last refuge, her one and only alternative to the workhouse. I cannot myself see why the woman who has faced the difficulties of existence, learnt the lesson of life, should not make as good a wife and mother as the ignorant girl taken direct, one might almost say, from the nursery, and, without the slightest preparation, put in a position of responsibility that to a thinking person must be almost appalling.
It has been said that the difference between men and women is this: That the man goes about the world making it ready for the children, that the woman stops at home making the children ready for the world. Will not she do it much better for knowing something of the world, for knowing something of the temptations, the difficulties, her own children will have to face, for having learnt by her own experience to sympathize with the struggles, the sordid heart-breaking cares that man has daily to contend with?
Civilization is ever undergoing transformation, but human nature remains. The bachelor girl, in her bed-sitting room, in her studio, in her flat, will still see in the shadows the vision of the home, will still hear in the silence the sound of children's voices, will still dream of the lover's kiss that is to open up new life to her. She is not quite so unsexed as you may think, my dear womanly madame. A male friend of mine was telling me of a catastrophe that once occurred at a station in the East Indies.
No time to think of Husbands.
A fire broke out at night, and everybody was in terror lest it should reach the magazine. The women and children were being hurried to the ships, and two ladies were hastening past my friend. One of them paused, and, clasping her hands, demanded of him if he knew what had become of her husband. Her companion was indignant.
"For goodness' sake, don't dawdle, Maria," she cried; "this is no time to think of husbands."
There is no reason to fear that the working woman will ever cease to think of husbands. Maybe, as I have said, she will demand a better article than the mere husband-hunter has been able to stand out for. Maybe she herself will have something more to give; maybe she will bring to him broader sympathies, higher ideals. The woman who has herself been down among the people, who has faced life in the open, will know that the home is but one cell of the vast hive.
We shall, perhaps, hear less of the woman who "has her own home and children to think of—really takes no interest in these matters"—these matters of right and wrong, these matters that spell the happiness or misery of millions.
The Wife of the Future.
Maybe the bridegroom of the future will not say, "I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come," but "I have married a wife; we will both come."