It is doubtful if a man whose whole nature has become stunted, warped and foul by sin, has in him the ability to love a true woman as she deserves to be loved. I do not mean to intimate that his devotion to her is feigned, but it is only such attachment as he is capable of, and is no more to be compared with the unselfish love that she freely lavishes upon him, than the mud-begrimed slush which settles in city gutters to the snowy blanket covering country fields.
Beauty and the Beast may be a pretty fairy-tale, but in the realism of practical life it assumes the guise of a tragedy that makes the looker-on shudder with disgustful pity. My heart aches when I think of the women who began the work of reformation with hope and laid it down with despair at the end of a life that made them "turn weary arms to death" with a sigh of welcome. On the table before me stands the portrait of one such woman. When she was a merry-hearted girl, she fell in love with a handsome, brilliant young fellow, whose only failing was a dangerous fondness for liquor. He loved her deeply—better than anything else in the world—except drink. Nevertheless, he promised to overcome even this passion for her sake. During the month immediately preceding their marriage, he came twice into her presence intoxicated. In vain did her family plead and protest. Her only answer was:
"Harry cannot keep straight without some one to help him. I must marry him now. He needs me!"
Two years after her marriage she died of a broken heart, whispering at the last to a dear friend that she "was not sorry to go, but would be thankful life was over if she were only sure that her year-old baby would not be left to Harry's care."
Yet he was in most respects tender and considerate. The trouble was that his devotion to her remained at the point at which it stood when he became her husband. The habit of intemperance grew.
Suppose that, added to this great fault, had been others still more vicious. Had his been a coarse brutal nature, would not the idea of reformation have been still more hopeless?
A woman, in tying herself for life to an unprincipled man who has yielded to the dictates of sin year after year, forgets that he has lost to a great extent his better nature and is now hardly responsible for his actions. The spirit may indeed be willing, but the flesh is lamentably weak. The appetites that have been long indulged do not relinquish their claims after only a few months' restraint, and when the girl for whose sake they have been repressed is won, they will return to the swept and garnished room, and the last end of their victim will be worse than the first.
I often wonder what a good, pure woman promises herself when she proposes to entwine her clean life with one that is scarred, seamed and blackened. Evade the truth as she may, there are but two courses for her to pursue. She must either live a lonely life apart from her husband's, frowning down, or silently showing disapproval of his habits, or she must, to preserve peace and the semblance of happiness, bring herself down to his level and become even less delicate and more degraded than he. For is not a coarse woman always more abhorrent than a coarse man? There are the instincts of her entire moral and physical nature to be cast aside before she can descend to vulgarity. In the one case her husband will hate her, while in the other she will lose his respect and will despise herself.
An evil life so blunts the conscience that the wife of an unreformed man need hardly expect him to be faithful to her. If a man will sin against common decency, morality and social codes, he will sin against his wife.
There is another aspect of the case to be considered. The American girl of to-day seldom takes the possibility of offspring into her matrimonial plans. They are not only a possibility, but a probability, and it behooves every woman to cast aside false modesty, and with a pure heart and honest soul seriously consider if she is not doing irreparable wrong to unborn children in giving them an unprincipled father. Is she willing to see her children's blood tainted by his vices, their lives wrecked by evil temptations inherited from him? She must, indeed, be a reckless woman and a soulless, who, with this thought uppermost can still say, "I will marry this man—let the consequences be what they may!"
That a man has some redeeming qualities does not make him a life-companion to be desired above all others. Said a poor Irish woman:
"Pat is always a good husband, savin' the toimes he's in liquor!"
"When is he sober?" asked a bystander.
"Sure an' his money gin'rally gives out by Friday mornin', and from that on to Saturday night, he can't git a dhrop. Faith, but he's koind and consid'rate at sich a time!"
Did the loyal soul find that marriage paid?
One great mistake that many silly women make is to think that a dash of wickedness makes a man more attractive. Years ago I heard a girl say:
"I want to know Jack S. He has been very wild, and a man is so much more interesting for being a little naughty, you know."
I did not "know," nor do I now understand why pearls should plead to be thrown before swine, or fresh-blown roses upon the dung-hill.
One of the oldest problems among the many seemingly contradictory "examples" set for the student of human nature has to do with the different positions assigned to mother and mother-in-law.
Painters, poets, divines, sages,—the inspired Word itself,—rank the mother's office as the noblest assigned to creatures of mortal mould. Mother-love and the love of the dear Father of us all are compared, the one with the other. Of all human affections, this, the first that takes root in the infant's heart, is the last to die out under the blighting influence of vice, the deadening blows of time. "My Mother" is spoken by the world-hardened citizen with a gentler inflection,—a reverential cadence, as if the inner man stood with uncovered head before a shrine.
Mother-in-law! The words call a smile that is too often a sneer to lips in which dwells habitually the law of kindness, while lampoon, caricature, jest and song find in them theme and catchword for mockery and insult.
I witnessed, not long ago, the skillful impersonation of a husband who held in his hand a letter just received from his wife. The first page informed him that after his departure from home his wife's mother had arrived; the second, that she intended to remain during the winter; the third, that she had been taken suddenly and violently ill; and the fourth, that she was dead. The reader spoke no word while perusing the epistle, but his facial play attested his emotions better than speech could have done. His countenance was grave on learning of the visit, desperate at the thought of its length, and expressed annoyance at the inconvenience of her illness while under his roof; when the final page was reached, his features became illumined with ecstatic joy. Dropping the letter, he clasped his hands, and, raising his eyes, ejaculated with blissful fervor—
"Thank Heaven! she's dead!"
Of course we laughed. It was expected of us. Nevertheless, this kind of jesting has its effect. It is dangerous playing with edged tools that would be better laid aside and allowed to rust instead of being brought forward where they may do mischief.
The relation of mother-in-law and son-or daughter-in-law ought to be what I am glad to think it sometimes is, one of perfect harmony. The mother who has brought up a daughter to woman's estate, and made her fit to be the wife of a good man and the mother of his children, should be appreciated by the man who profits by the wife's mother's teachings. Had this mother been careless and negligent, allowing the daughter to cultivate traits that make her husband wretched, how quick would he be to lay the blame where it belongs,—upon the mother who trained, or left untrained the daughter. Why should he not give credit to the same source?
There are many women who, to their shame be it said, openly sneer at their mothers-in-law, and ridicule their manners, habits, etc. Yet, in the same breath, the woman of this class will freely state that she has "the best husband in all creation." Whose influence made him the man he is, if not the mother's with whom, for so many years, he was the first and dearest care, until she uncomplainingly saw him leave her home with the girl he married?
Husband and wife do not look into the matter deeply enough to think what underlies this dislike for the other's mother. The man who truly loves his wife will do all in his power and make any self-sacrifice to further her happiness. If she is not an exceptional woman, she will be made happier by his affection for the mother to whom she is devoted, and miserable by a lack of this sentiment. Let us argue the case according to rule. It makes Mary happy if John is fond of her mother, and unhappy if he is not. If John loves Mary he wishes to make her happy. Ergo, when he shows his love for her mother he is likewise giving evidence of his love for Mary.
So, when I hear a so-called devoted wife cast unkind slurs upon her mother-in-law, I wonder how genuine is the affection for her husband which allows her to make him unhappy by awaking in his breast suspicions that his mother is distasteful to his wife. True love would hardly be so cruel. What if John's mother has disagreeable peculiarities? She is none the less his mother, and, as such, he is bound to love and respect her. If the love he bears her blinds him to her deficiencies, is it not the part of a true wife to keep his eyes closed to these foibles, since seeing them will make him uncomfortable? Every man likes to feel that his dear mother and dearer wife are congenial friends. And it is their duty to be friendly, if not congenial.
The mother-in-law, too, has her task. It would be folly to state that she is not often and grossly to blame for the uncomfortable state of this relationship. She is frequently a trifle jealous, sometimes fails to remember how she felt when young, resents her child's love for, and dependence on, another, feels bitterly that she no longer has it in her power to make her darling's happiness, and has such a high ideal of what should be the qualities of the partner her girl has chosen that she puts his faults under a magnifying glass of criticism until the molehills become mountains, and appreciation of the good is swallowed up in recognition of every evil trait. Happily, this is not always the case, and the genuine mother is, as a rule, so grateful to see her child happy that for his or her sake she loves the one who causes this contentment, even if he or she be far from congenial to herself, and "not the man she would have picked out for her daughter to marry."
I have serious doubts as to whether the existing antagonism would have been half so prevalent had not such a multitude of coarse jokes been perpetrated on the subject. The best way to perpetuate an evil is to take it for granted and to speak of it as a matter of course. I am glad to be able to name among my friends more than one man who is large-souled enough to tenderly love and respect his wife's mother, and several women who frankly acknowledge that their own special mothers-in-law are all goodness and kindness.
It is natural that people brought up differently, and living separately for a long term of years, should, when thrown into close relationship, differ on many subjects, and clash in various opinions, and that occasional misunderstandings should arise. Even with husband and wife this is true. But if man and woman can, for the affection they bear each other, forgive and forget these little differences, why may not each, for the same sweet love's sake, and in the thought of what maternal devotion is, pardon and overlook the foibles of the other's mother?
One evil effect of pasquinade and sneer is to put the prospective daughter-in-law on the defensive, and prepare her mind, unconsciously to herself, to regard her future husband's mother as her natural enemy. Many a girl marries with the preconceived notion that, to preserve her individual rights, and to rule in her own small household, she must carefully guard against the machinations of the much-decried mother-in-law. Nine times out of ten, had not this thought become slowly but securely rooted in past years, the intercourse between the two women might be all peace and harmony. The young wife's mind is, insensibly to her, poisoned before she enters the dreaded relation (in law). She is on the alert, defensive, ready to impute motives to the mother-in-law she would never dream of attributing to her own parent, in like circumstances.
Yet, many a girl has never known what maternal love means until at her marriage she was welcomed by the open arms and large heart of her husband's mother. It is not only orphan girls who have this experience, for some parents never bestow upon their children the peculiar brooding tenderness which all young people need, even when they have almost attained man's and woman's estate. Said one youthful matron to me—"My own mother has been an invalid for so many years that I have not felt that I could go to her with all my worries and perplexities, for my annoyances only added to her troubles. Therefore, never until I was married did I know what real "mothering" meant. Then my husband's mother seemed as much mine as his. I was her "daughter." When my first baby was coming, all the dainty little garments were furnished by this grandmamma, and her care and tenderness for me were such that the remembrance of them fills my heart to overflowing with gratitude." Another woman told me with a moved smile that she was "so fortunate a woman as to have two mothers," while a man I know openly declares that his mother-in-law is "the best mother in the world,—next to his own mother."
One elderly woman, who has been a mother-in-law five times, informed me the other day that in her heart she knew little difference between her own daughters and sons and their respective husbands and wives. "You see," she said, "they are all my dear children."
I cite these instances merely to prove how happily harmonious this oft-abused state may be, and what a pity it is that it should ever be otherwise.
If you, my reader, do not enjoy the relationship, allow me to suggest a cure for the trouble. Put your own mother—or daughter—in the place of the offender, and act according to the light thrown upon the subject by this shifting of positions. Say to yourself—"This woman means well, but she does not know me yet well enough to understand just how to put things in the way to which I have been accustomed. She loves John so well that she seems unjust or inconsiderate to me. She could not, in the eyes of John's wife, have a better excuse for hasty speech or harsh action."
The love you both bear this same oft-perplexed John should be at once solvent and cement, melting hardness, and uniting seemingly antagonistic elements.
Above all things, as John's wife, never criticise his mother to him. If he sympathizes with you, he is disloyal to his mother; if not, you consider him unfeeling, and immediately accuse him of "taking sides" against you. Think for one moment of your own boy, perhaps still a mere baby. Does it not, even now, grieve you to the heart to think that the day will come when he will discuss and acknowledge your faults to anyone, albeit his listener is only his wife? If John is the man he should be, he fancies that his mother is "a creature all too bright and good" to be criticised, and, as you want your son to have the same opinion of his mother, uphold John in his fealty, and scorn to destroy such blessed love and faith. Make the effort to see John's mother with his eyes, and by so doing make him love you better, and prove yourself worthy to be the wife of a true man and the mother of a son who will be as leal and steadfast as his father.
AND OTHER RELATIONS-IN-LAW
The other day I chanced to be a listener to the conversation of two young married women. They were making their plans for the coming week. One of them remarked, drearily:
"Henry's sister and her husband are to spend next Sunday with me."
"Are they!" exclaimed the other. "And my husband's father and mother are to honor me by a visit on the same day."
For a moment there was silence, then No. 1 said in an awed voice:
"My dear, you and I need the prayers of the congregation. We are both objects of pity. Our relations-in-law are upon us!"
Within my secret self I pondered whether or not the visitors dreaded the expected ordeal as much as the visited did.
The phrases, "my husband's relatives," "my wife's family," are seldom pronounced without an accompanying bitter thought. John tolerates Mary's kin, and Mary regards John's father and mother, sisters and brothers with an ill-concealed distrust and enmity. Sometimes there is just cause for this antagonistic feeling; more frequently it is the outcome of custom. It is fashionable to regard connections by marriage as necessary evils. Some families, resolved to make the best of that which is inevitable, put a smiling face upon the whole matter, and hide from the outside world the knowledge of their chagrin. No mother has ever seen the girl she thought quite good enough for her boy whom she considers the model of all that is noble and manly, while that sister is rare who feels that the wife chosen by her favorite brother is what "the dear boy really needs as a life-long companion." Once in a great while, when the chosen bride by some remarkable chance happens to suit the family fancy, the whole world is informed of the fact, and the bride elect inwardly pronounces John's blood relations to be "awfully gushing" or "desperately hypocritical." The happy medium is difficult of attainment.
Of course there are some exceptions to the general rule of antagonism. And I am glad to believe that sometimes, even when this feeling exists, husband and wife are too considerate of one another's comforts to betray any sign of discontent. Said a woman to me:
"My dear, Mrs. S. is John's mother, and it is my duty to conceal from him the fact that she is disagreeable to me. I could be a much happier woman for never seeing my mother-in-law again, but my husband must never suspect it. The dear fellow flatters himself that his wife and mother 'hit it off so well together.' To our credit be it said, that we have never enlightened him as to the true state of affairs."
And for the sake of the man they both loved, these women refrained from outward evidence of the intense dislike each felt for the other.
The trouble begins very far back. When the boy is laughingly warned against "the girl with a family," and the girl is reminded that this or that jolly fellow "has a dragon of a mother," the evil seed is sown. From that time until the pair are forever united at the altar, it grows, and with marriage it begins to bring forth the unpeaceable fruits of endless dissensions. I sometimes wonder if the new life could be begun with a predisposition towards amity, what the result would be.
There is fault on both sides from the beginning. It is an accepted proverb that no house is large enough to hold two families, and certainly no family is large enough to contain two factions. As soon as the son of the household marries, an antagonistic element is introduced. Mother and sisters immediately bring to bear upon the new bride opera-glasses of criticism,—viewing faults through the small end, and virtues through the large.
It would be strange indeed if two women who have never met until the younger one was of a marriageable age, should have the same methods of housekeeping, etc. But the mother-in-law is inclined to believe that John's wife should do things her way, and that any other way is slovenly, new-fangled, or ridiculous. The son's wife—possessing her share of individuality—resents the interference, and shows that resentment. Too often, alas! both make the dreary mistake of retailing their sorrows to John, and then the breach becomes too wide ever to be bridged over. Unless John is an exceptionally independent man he will attempt in his clumsy way to bring both women to the same way of thinking, and the result would be ludicrous were it not also pitiful. The chances are nine hundred and ninety-nine to one thousand that he will succeed in making his mother feel that he is unduly influenced by his silly wife, while said wife thinks indignantly that John is, and always will be, "under his mother's thumb."
I firmly believe that Mary is often to blame for John's dislike for her family. When she marries, she revels in the new and delightful sensation of having some one to "take her part," and sympathize with her in all her petty annoyances and big troubles. Her father, mother, sisters and brothers often vex her, and what more natural than that she should pour her tale of woe into the young husband's ears? He is delightfully indignant and full of pity for her and resentment towards those who have caused her discomfort. At all events he understands her!
By the time the story is told and she is duly consoled she has forgotten her injuries. She loves her family, and while they are sometimes very trying, who could expect her to bear a grudge against the dear ones? The little burst of anger over, she feels towards them as she has always felt and banishes from her mind all thought of the little occurrence.
Not so, John! His wife (and the possessive pronoun casts about her an atmosphere of importance) has been made uncomfortable, and he is up in arms. His and no one's else is the right to criticise Mary. What business have these people to interfere? He immediately becomes his wife's most ardent champion, and while he muses the fire burns, until he is ready to take the poor little woman away from all her inconsiderate relatives. What is his chagrin on discovering that the woman who, but a few hours ago sobbed out to him her wrongs, has seemingly overlooked all injuries, and is just as fond of sister and brother, and quite as dependent upon "Papa and Mamma" as she ever was. In vain he protests and calls to her mind their injustice. Yes, she remembers it, now that he speaks of it, but the dear people meant nothing unkind, they love her dearly at heart. For her part she could not take to heart a little thing like that. And John remarks that if she is mean-spirited enough to pass by such an occurrence, he has nothing to say. It is her family, thank goodness, not his! After this, he is more quick than ever before to detect a fancied slight and to resent it. Mary laments secretly that "John does not love her family." It is a genuine grief to her, and she does not appreciate the fact that she herself began the work that has now gone too far to check.
Were I to give a piece of advice to a bride, it would be—Never complain to your husband of the actions of a single member of your family, and never find fault with his nearest of kin. Your liege lord may disapprove of the members of his own family, or perhaps of some of his mother's characteristics, and he may talk to you of them. But he will hotly resent your mention of them, and will exercise all his masculine ingenuity to prove that his relatives always mean to act for the best,—exactly what you would have him believe of your nearest and dearest. A woman who has never had a suspicion of difference with her relations-in-law, confides to me of the course she has pursued throughout her married life. She says:
"I have never told Charlie that I notice the faults of his family, nor have I ever called his attention to any of their foibles. In that way I have prevented him from feeling that he must side with them against me. He comes to me often with the story of some difference he has had with his mother, and he talks freely of his sister's failings and his brother's inconsistencies. He even sometimes gets righteously indignant, and fairly sputters. Inwardly, I chuckle with amusement, and outwardly I appear sympathetic, but never a word do I say to commit myself. It is his family, and if there is a row, I, to quote Young America, 'am not in it.'"
I happen to know that this woman's husband's family think that "Charlie has a none-such of a wife," and that they are all fond of her.
If tact and diplomacy are ever exercised, it must be in the management of relations-in-law. The thought that so often the state is one of hatred, or, at best, tolerance, makes the position of all concerned strained and delicate. To many a mother the term "mother-in-law" is a much-dreaded appellation. A woman upon whom this doubtful honor has recently been laid, said to me:
"I hope my boy will never set his wife against me by asking her to 'do things as his mother did.' I shudder to think of it. I want him to tell her that the mince and pumpkin pies, biscuits, muffins, and even gingerbread, made by his wife are vastly superior to any ever produced by his mother. I would rather take the second place in my son's affections than have my new daughter for one moment think of me as her 'mother-in-law.'"
I believe that this is the sincere sentiment of more than one fond mother, as I am also sure that many a fond wife would rather have her husband loved by her own family than to receive so much affection herself. She is sure of her position, but John is a dreadful "relation-in-law," and it is hard to love such. It is sad to think such a mother or wife makes a fatal mistake from the very start, and herself brings about the state of affairs she dreads.
The recognition of a fact often seems to make it doubly true. The knowledge that relations-in-law are frequently relations-at-war, predisposes both parties to unjust judgment. Did each determine to see all the good possible in the other, connections-by-marriage might become kin-at-heart.
A TIMID WORD FOR THE STEP-MOTHER.
At a luncheon party of a dozen women which I attended last winter, this very topic was introduced. Strangely enough, there were present three women whose mothers had died while the children were still infants, and whose fathers had married again, and two women who were themselves step-mothers. Each of the three who could not remember her own mother agreed that she who took her place had filled it so conscientiously that the child hardly felt the lack. The two step-mothers confessed that they loved their husbands' children as dearly as their own. Said one woman:
"When people speak to me of my step-daughter I have to stop and think which one of the children I did not bring into the world. She is as dear to me as my own flesh and blood."
After we had gleaned all the evidence of truth from the chaff to which we are sometimes treated, a lively member of the company remarked ruefully:
"I declare, all that I have just heard makes me positively ashamed that I did not have a step-mother, or that there is no prospect as far as I can see into the dim future, of my ever becoming one."
There is something to be said on both sides, and we may as well face the facts without prejudice. No woman, however tender, can really take an own mother's place. Her step-children may think that she does, and this is one of the instances where ignorance is such genuine bliss that it would be cruel folly to enlighten it. It would not be natural if actual mother-love could be felt by a woman toward any children save those for whom she has braved the danger of death and the mightiest pain mortal can know. With this suffering comes a love far greater than the anguish, a passionate devotion which, we are certain, must reach beyond the grave itself. That mother who, having young children, still wishes to die, is an anomaly rarely met with. No matter how much she may be forced to endure, she still prays to live for her sons' and daughters' sakes. A poor sufferer once said:
"If I had no child I would beg the good Lord to let me die. But while my baby lives, I beg Him to spare this life which is too valuable to Him to be lost."
It is not possible that an outsider "whose own the sheep are not" should know this heaven-given feeling. Still, every unselfish mother will acknowledge that were she dying, she would be comforted to know that her children would find some conscientious, true foster-mother who would bring them up just as faithfully and tenderly as she knew how to do.
There is no more forlorn being on this wide earth than a widower with little children, and with no woman-relative to help him look after them. Why then this rooted hatred and horror of step-mothers?
You—my step-mother reader—are sadly unfortunate if anyone has been so cruel to you and your charges as to instil into their minds an aversion for you with whom they must live for years, perhaps all their lives. But, perhaps, after all, the case is not so bad as you fear. You may have a morbid sensitiveness on the subject which makes it look very dark to you. Even if matters are as you think, if you try conscientiously to overcome the children's prejudice, and your husband aids you in your efforts, you are bound to live down their dislike. Children are tender-hearted and clear-sighted. They will soon judge for themselves, and the one rule against which they will not rebel is that of love. The first thing for you to do is to begin with your own feelings. Make yourself love the little ones. Unless they are unusually unattractive the task will not be a difficult one. Perhaps you love them already. If so, half the battle is won. In driving a restless horse, it is absolutely essential that you should not be at all nervous yourself. Every horseman will tell you that the animal knows instinctively the character of the person managing him. If a thrill of fear touches him who holds the reins, the horse responds to it as to an electric shock, and becomes almost beside himself with nervousness. If a firm, steady, yet gentle grasp is on the lines, the creature obeys in spite of himself. This same principle applies to children. If you cannot control yourself the children know it, and you may as well give up all idea of curbing them. The nervous twitching at the bit and the attempt to govern them by reason of your superior age or knowledge aggravates the evil. It is a mistake to forget that children are human beings, with sensitive feelings like our own, only not as hardened and used to the ways of this unsympathetic world as we are. Their government must have love at its beginning, continuing and ending if it would be successful.
You may as well recognize the fact first as last that you are laboring under a disadvantage in that the hyphenized "step" must precede your name of mother. This being the case, you have need to add to your love patience, and to that tact, and to that pity. If the children exasperate you, do not let them guess it. Keep a rigid guard upon the harsh tongue. If the demon of Impatience tempts you to utter the quick "Stop that noise!" or "Do be quiet!"—seal your lips as surely as if life and death depended upon your silence. Your most severe critics will not be slow in discovering that you love them too much to "scold" or be cross. You make tremendous strides towards their love when they cannot point to a single unjust act that you commit against them.
It may be well in passing to remind you that boys and girls remember an injustice for many years. They themselves are often fair enough to acknowledge after the first flush of anger is over, that they merited a punishment which they have received. As a rule, until they are old men and women, they do not forget the undeserved blow, the unprovoked sarcasm. We many times receive patiently, as grown men and women, reminders that we are doing wrong, but we find it hard to pardon the person who accuses us falsely.
The most powerful auxiliary love can have in accomplishing its end is tact. Some people have more than others, but at all times it may be cultivated. Perhaps the best rule by which to learn it is the old one of "Put yourself in his place." Reverse the positions as in Anstey's "Vice Versa," and imagine yourself a hot-headed, sore-hearted, prejudiced child, with a step-mother against whom your mind has been poisoned by those older and presumably wiser than yourself. How would you receive this or that correction? Acquire the habit of thus putting the matter before your mind's eye, and you will soon find that tactful patience becomes second nature.
If you can possibly avoid it, do not correct the children in the presence of other people, or complain to their father of them. If he once reproves them with the prefix, "Your mother tells me that you have done so-and-so," he has laid the foundations of a distrust difficult to remove. Rather let them domineer over you than try to manage them by appealing to their father, and, thus making them feel sure that you are attempting to prejudice him against them. They are naturally suspicious, and it will take very little to make them positively certain that you are their natural enemy.
Never fail to remember the great and irreparable loss which these children have suffered in the death of the only person in the wide world who could thoroughly understand them. If you had a mother to help you in your childhood, you will know what they miss, or, if you, too, were a lonely little being, let the memory of that loneliness make you lovingly pitiful towards the children who suffer in the same way. Such pity soon leads to an unconquerable love.
Bear in mind in justification of what may seem like unreasonable prejudice, that all children have heard many stories, some of which are true, of the cruelties of step-parents. Doubtless, you in your own life, have known of more than one second wife who was jealous of her husband's love for the first wife's children. When women are heartless they are desperately cruel, and do not hesitate to vent their hatred upon the little ones whose look, Mrs. Browning tells us,—
"is dread to see, For they mind you of their angels in high places, With eyes turned on Deity."
She also reminds those whose consciences are so hardened by selfishness that they dare be cruel to the mere babies in their care that—
"The child's sob in the darkness curses deeper Than the strong man in his wrath."
We have not to do in this Talk with this type of woman, but with beings of the mother-sex who would, if they were allowed, make life brighter for the bereaved little ones.
One way to keep step-children's affection is to talk to them often and reverently of their own mother. This is due to them and to her who bare them. Do not allow them to forget her, and guard against the entrance of any jealous feeling into this sacred duty of keeping her memory fresh. The children were hers, and in the eternal home will be hers again. They are only lent to you as a sacred trust. It is not sacrilegious to believe that their mother knows of your efforts to make them good men and women, and that she, as their guardian angel, will not forget to bless her who gives her life to the children who were once "the sweetest flowers" her own "bosom ever bore."
CHILDREN AS HELPERS.
A correspondent inquires whether or not children ought to be trained to do housework and to make themselves useful in the numerous ways in which the young hands and feet can save the older ones.
Unless you expect to be a millionaire many times over, and in perpetuity—emphatically Yes!
It is not necessary that your little daughter should become a drudge; that she should have imposed upon her tasks beyond her strength, or which interfere with out-door exercise and merry in-door play. But through all her childhood must be borne in mind the fact that she is now in training for womanhood, that should she ever marry and have a home of her own, the weight of unaccustomed household tasks will bend and bruise the shoulders totally unaccustomed to burdens of any kind.
If you have a colt that in years to come you intend using as a carriage-horse, you will not let him stand idle in the stable eating and fattening until he is old enough for your purpose. He would then be, in horse-parlance, so "soft" that the lightest loads would weary and injure him. Instead of that, while still young, he is frequently exercised, and broken in, judiciously, first to the harness, then to draw a light vehicle, and so on, until he himself does not know when the training ceases and the actual work begins.
The college-boy, looking forward to "joining the crew," trains for months beforehand, walking, running, rowing, until the flaccid muscles become as firm and hard as steel.
In America, where fortunes are made, lost, and made and lost again in a day, we can never say confidently that our children will inherit so much money that it will always be unnecessary for them to work. And, even could we be sure that our daughters will marry wealthy men, we should, for their own happiness and comfort, teach them that there is work for everyone in this world, and certain duties which every man and woman should perform in order to preserve his or her self-respect.
By the time your child can walk, he may begin to make himself useful. One little boy, three years old, finds his chief delight in "helping mamma." He has his own "baby duster" with which he assiduously rubs the rungs of the parlor chairs until his little face beams with the proud certainty that he is of some use to humanity, and that "dear mamma" could not possibly have dusted that room without her little helper. He brings her boots and gloves when she is preparing for a walk, and begs to be allowed to put her slippers on her feet when she returns home. Often when she is writing and he has grown weary of play, the tender treble asks,—
"Dear Mamma, you are vewy busy. Can't I help you?"
Of course it is an interruption, and he cannot be of the least assistance; but is not that request better than the fretful whine of the child who is sated with play and still demands more?
"She missed the little hindering thing."
says one line of a heart-breaking old poem descriptive of a bereaved mother's loneliness.
Eugene Field strikes the same chord, until she who has laid a child under the sod thrills with remorseful pain:
"No bairn let hold until her gown, Nor played upon the floore,— Godde's was the joy; a lyttle boy Ben in the way no more!"
Ah, impatient mother! as you put aside the affectionate officiousness of the would-be assistant, with frown or hasty word, bethink yourself for one moment of the possible time when, in the dreary calm of a well-ordered house, you will hearken vainly for shrilly-sweet prattle and pattering feet!
There are ways in which even the toddlers can make work lighter for the mothers. When your small daughter has finished with her toys, she should be obliged to put them away in a box kept for that purpose. The mother and nurse will thus be spared the bending of the back and stooping of the knees to accomplish this light task, and the child will enjoy the occupation, and feel very important and "grown-up" in putting her doll to bed, and dolly's furniture, clothes, etc., in their proper place.
When making the beds, allow the little girl to hand you the pillows; and, even should you stumble over her and them, sometimes, you will do well to maintain the pious pretence that she lightens your work by assisting in tucking in the covers, and in gathering up soiled articles of clothing and putting them in the clothes-bag or hamper. She will soon learn to dust chair-rungs and legs, and to wipe off the base-board,—and do it more conscientiously than hireling Abigail. She may pick bits of thread, string and paper from the carpet, and clean door-handles and window-sills. One mother, when making pies, places her four-year old daughter in a chair at the far end of the kitchen table, and gives her a morsel of dough and a tiny pan. The little one watches the mother and attempts to handle her portion of pastry as mamma does. After it is kneaded, it is tenderly deposited, oftentimes a grayish lump, in spite of carefully washed hands (for little hands will somehow get dirty, try sedulously though you and their owner may to prevent it), in the small tin, and it is placed in the oven with the other pies. It serves admirably at a doll's tea-party, and the meddlesome fingers have been kept busy, the restless mind contented, while the housewife's work is accomplished.
By the time your girl is ten years old, she should be equal to making her own bed, some older person turning the mattresses for her that the young back may not be strained by lifting, and to dust and keep her own little room in order. Of course you will have to watch carefully, and teach her little by little, line upon line. A model housekeeper used to say that one should "cultivate an eye for dirt." Bear this in mind, and cultivate your daughter's eye for dust, dirt and cobwebs. You will find, unless she is a phenomenal exception to the majority of young people, that she will not see when the soap-cup needs washing, or that there are finger-smears on the doors, and "fluff" in the corners. But with the blessed mother-gift of patience, point out to her, again and again, the seemingly small details, the "hall-marks" of housewifery, which, heeded, make the thrifty, neat housekeeper, and, when neglected, the slattern. As she grows older, let her straighten the parlors every morning, make the cake on Saturdays, and show her that you regard her as your right-hand woman in all matters pertaining to domestic affairs. Give her early to understand that it is to her interest to keep her father's house looking neat, that it is her home, and reflects credit, or the reverse, upon herself, and that it is her duty, and should be her pleasure, to help you, her mother, when you are overwearied and need rest. She will enjoy play as a child, society and recreation as a girl, all the more because she has some stated tasks. She may learn to manage the family mending by aiding you in sorting and repairing the clothes when they come up from the wash. When she is capable of entirely relieving you of this burden, pay her a stated amount each week for doing it. She will glory in the delightful feeling of independence imparted by the knowledge of her ability to earn her own pocket-money, and take the first lesson in that much-neglected branch of education,—knowledge of the value of dollars and cents, and how to take care of them.
Few children are born with a sensitive conscience regarding their work, so the mother will, at first, find it necessary to keep an eye on all the tasks performed by the willing, if often careless, girl. Do not judge her too harshly. Try to recall how you felt when you were a lazy, because a rapidly growing, girl; bear in mind that it is natural for kittens and all young creatures to be careless and giddy, and try to be gentle and forbearing while correcting and training her. If she is good for anything, your care will be rewarded in years to come by seeing her trying to do all her work in life "as mamma does."
While it is especially expedient that the girls receive this domestic training, the boys of the family should not be exempt from their share of the responsibility. You need not dread that this kind of work will make your boy unmanly or effeminate. It will rather teach him to be more considerate of women, more appreciative of the amount that his mother and sisters have to do, and less careless in imposing needless labor upon them.
Some mothers go so far as to instruct their sons in the delicate tasks of darning stockings, and repairing rents in their own clothes. There is a vast difference in the skill manifested by different boys. Some seem to have a natural aptitude for dainty work while others have fingers that are "all thumbs." One man, now a father, cherishes a tiny cushion of worsted cross-stitch made by himself when a child but five years of age. He is deft with his fingers, and, as the saying is, "can turn his hand to anything." May it not be that the manipulation then acquired still serves him?
Another man tells laughingly how, when a boy at college, he would tie up the hole, in his socks with a piece of string, and then hammer the hard lump flat with a stone. He could as easily make a gown as darn a stocking. Tales such as this fill motherly souls with intense pity for the poor fellow so powerless to take care of his clothing, and so far from any woman-helper. If possible, teach your boy enough of the rudiments of plain sewing to help him in an emergency, so that he can put on a button, or stitch up a rip, when absent from you.
As many men as women have a natural bias for cookery, and there are husbands not a few who insist on making all the salad eaten on their tables.
One branch of work in which boys are sinfully deficient is "putting things to rights." The floor of your son's room may be littered with books, papers, cravats, soiled collars and cuffs, but he never thinks it his duty to pick them up and to keep his possessions in order. About one man in a thousand is an exception to this rule, and thrice blessed is she who weds him. It goes without saying in the household that by some occult principle of natural adaptation, there is always a "time" for a man to scatter abroad and for a woman to gather together. Mother or sister attends to "the boy's things." Why has the boy any more than the girl the right to leave his hat on the parlor table, his gloves on the mantel, his coat on the newel-post, and his over-shoes in the middle of the floor? They are left there, and there they remain until some long-suffering woman puts them away. From hut to palace, and through uncounted generations, by oral and written enactment, as well as by tacit consent, whatever other innovations are made, the custom holds that man can upset without fault, and his nearest of feminine kin is blamable if she do not "pick up after him."
Teach your son that it is his business to keep his own room in order, and that there is no more reason why his sister should follow him up, replacing what he has disarranged, than that he should perform the same office for her. Inculcate in him habits of neatness. In acquiring an "eye" for the disorder he has caused, and deftness in rectifying it, he is taking lessons in tender consideration and growing in intelligent sympathy for mother, sister and the wife who-is-to-be.
CHILDREN AS BURDEN-BEARERS.
Those of us who are mothers would do well to read carefully and ponder deeply St. Paul's assertion that when he was a child he spoke as a child, and felt as a child, and thought as a child; and that when he was a man, and not until then, he put away childish things.
Can the same be said of the child of to-day?
In this "bit of talk," I want to enter my protest against thrusting upon children the care-taking thought that should not be theirs for years to come. When the responsibility that is inseparable from every life bears heavily upon us, we sigh for the carefree days of childhood, but we do not hesitate to inflict upon our babies the complaints and moans which teach them, all too soon, that life is a hard school for us. A child must either grieve with us or become so inured to our plaints that he pays no attention to them. In the latter case he may be hard-hearted but he is certainly happier than if he were exquisitely sensitive.
"What a pretty suit of clothes you have!" said I to a four-year-old boy.
The momentary expression of pride gave way to one of anxiety.
"Yes; but mamma says when these wear out she does not know how papa will ever buy me any more clothes. I am a great expense! Oh!" with a long-drawn sigh of wretchedness, "isn't it awful to be poor?"
The poverty-stricken father was at this time managing to dress himself, wife and baby on an income of four thousand dollars per annum. In her desire to make her child take proper care of his clothes, the mother had struck terror to the little fellow's heart. Such childish terror is genuine, and yet hard to express. The self-control of childhood is far greater than the average father or mother appreciates. Some children seem to have an actual dread of communicating their fears and fancies to other people.
A friend tells me that when she was but six years old she heard her father say impatiently, as his wife handed him a bill:
"I can't pay this! At the rate at which bills come in nowadays, I soon will not have a cent left in the world. It is enough to bankrupt a man!"
At bedtime that night the little daughter asked her mother, with the indifferent air children so soon learn to assume:
"Mamma, what becomes of people when all their money is gone, and they can't pay their bills?"
"Sometimes, dear," answered the unsuspicious mother, "their houses and belongings are sold to pay their bills."
"And when people have no house, and no money, and nothing left, where do they go? Do they starve to death?"
"They generally go to the poorhouse, my daughter."
"Oh, mamma!" quavered the little voice, "don't you think that is dreadful?"
"Very dreadful, darling! Now go to sleep."
To sleep! How could she, with the grim doors of the home for the county paupers yawning blackly to receive her? All through the night was the horror upon her, and to this day she remembers the sickening thrill that swept over her while playing with a little friend, when the thought occurred:
"If this girl's mother knew that we were going to the poorhouse, she would not let her play with me."
Little by little the impression wore off, aided in the dissipation by the sight of numerous rolls of bills which papa occasionally drew from his pocket. But not once in all that time did the child relax the strict guard set upon her lips, and sob out her fear to her mother. She does not now know why she did not do it, except that she could not.
An otherwise judicious father talks over all his business difficulties with his seven-year-old son. The grown man does not know what a strain the anxiety and uncertainty of his father's ventures are to the embryo financier. Not long ago the father announced to him:
"Well, Harold, that man I was telling you of has failed—lost his money—and one thousand dollars of mine have gone with it."
The boy's white, set face would have alarmed a more observant man.
"Oh, papa! what shall we do!"
"Get along somehow, my boy!" was the unsatisfactory answer.
Then, as the boy sadly and slowly left the room, the man to whom one thousand dollars were no more than one dime to this anxious child, explained, laughingly, to a friend, that "that little fellow was really wonderful; he understood business, and was as much interested in it as a man of forty could be."
We fathers and mothers have no right to make our children old before their time. Each age has its own trials, which are as great as any one person should bear. We know that the troubles that come to our babies are only baby troubles, but they are as large to them as our griefs are to us. A promised drive, which does not "materialize," proves as great a disappointment to your tiny girl as the unfulfilled promise of a week in the country would to you, her sensible mother. Of course our children must learn to bear their trials. My plea is that they may not be forced to bear our anxieties also. If a thing is an annoyance to you, it will be an agony to your little child, who has not a tenth of your experience, philosophy and knowledge of life.
There is something cowardly and weak in the man or woman who has so little self-control that he or she must press a child's tender shoulders into service in bearing burdens. Teach your children to be careful, teach them prudence and economy, but let them be taught as children.
The forcing of a child's sympathies sometimes produces a hardening effect, as in the case of a small boy whose mother was one of the sickly-sentimental sort. She had drawn too often upon her child's sensibilities.
"Charlie," she said, plaintively, to her youngest boy, "what would you do if poor mamma were to get very sick?"
"Send for the doctor."
"But, Charlie, suppose poor, dear mamma should die! Then, what would you do?"
"I'd go to the funeral!" was the cheerful response.
To my mind this mother had the son ordained for her from the beginning of the world.
Many boys are all love and sympathy for their mothers. Mamma appeals to all that is tender and chivalrous in the nature of the man that is to be. The maternal tenderness ought to be too strong to impose upon this sacred feeling.
Perhaps one of the prettiest of Bunner's "Airs from Arcady" is that entitled, "In School Hours," in which he thus describes the woe of the thirteen-year-old girl when she receives the cruel letter from the boy of her admiration. The poet tells us this sorrow "were tragic at thirty," and asks, "Why is it trivial at thirteen!"
"Trivial! what shall eclipse The pain of our childish woes? The rose-bud pales its lips When a very small zephyr blows. You smile, O Dian bland, If Endymion's glance is cold: But Despair seems close at hand To that hapless thirteen-year old!"
OUR YOUNG PERSON.
I well remember a girl's tearful appeal to me when she was stigmatized and reproved for her "giddy youth!" "It is not my fault that I was born young! And I am not responsible for the fact that I entered upon existence seventeen, instead of seventy, years ago. At all events, it was not a sin even if I was guilty of such a folly!"
Perhaps we older people are too prone to forget that youth is not a sin to be condemned, or even a folly to be sneered at. "Wad some power the giftie gie us" to remember that we were not always cool-headed, clear-seeing and middle-aged! Trouble and responsibility come so soon to all, that we err in forcing young heads to bow, and strong shoulders to bend, beneath a load which should not be laid upon them for many years. As we advance in age, our weaknesses and temptations change, and no longer take the form of heedlessness, intolerance, extravagance, and most trying of all to the critical and dignified observer,—freshness.
We may describe this last-named quality somewhat after the fashion of the little boy who defined salt as "What makes potatoes taste bad when they don't put any on 'em!"
So "freshness" is that which makes youth delightful by its absence.
Unfortunately, it is almost inseparable from this period, and while there are girls, and even boys, in whom the offending quality is nearly, if not entirely, lacking, they are almost as the red herring of the wood, and the strawberry of the sea, in nursery rhyme.
Freshness takes many and varied forms, the most common being that of self-conceit and the desire to appear original and eccentric in feelings, moods, likes and dislikes. Like the fellows of the club of which Bertie, in "The Henrietta," was an illustrious member, the average boy winks, nods, looks wise and "makes the other fellows think that he is a Harry of a fellow,—but he isn't!"
The desire to be considered worldly-wise—"tough"—is rampant in the masculine mind between the ages of fifteen and twenty. The boy who has been to a strict preparatory boarding-school and is just entering upon his college course, whose theatre-goings have been limited to the "shows" to which his father has given him tickets, or to which he has escorted his mother or sisters, and whose wildest dissipations have consisted in a surreptitious cigarette and glass of beer, neither of which he enjoyed, but both of which he pretended to revel in for the sake of being "mannish,"—will talk knowingly of "the latest soubrette," "a jolly little ballet-dancer," "the wicked ways of this world," and "the dens of iniquity in our large cities." Dickens tells us that "when Mr. Feeder spoke of the dark mysteries of London, and told Mr. Toots that he was going to observe it himself closely in all its ramifications in the approaching holidays, and for that purpose had made arrangements to board with two old maiden aunts at Peckham, Paul regarded him as if he were the hero of some book of travel or wild adventure, and was almost afraid of such a slashing person."
Why it is considered manly to be "tough" is one of the unsolved mysteries of the boyish mind. Any uneducated, weak fool can go wrong. It takes a man to be strong enough to keep himself pure and good.
Another "fresh" characteristic of this age is the pretence of doubt. A fellow under twenty-one is likely to have doubts, to find articles in the creed of his church "to which he cannot agree. That kind of thing is well enough for women and children, but for a man of the world,"—and then follows an expressive pause, accompanied by a shrug of the shoulders and lift of the brows.
With a girl this trying age is often given over to sentimental musings and blues. She is convinced that nobody understands her, her mother least of all, that she is too sensitive for this harsh world, that she will never receive the love and consideration due her. Cynicism becomes her main characteristic, and she bitterly sneers at friendship and gratitude, declaring that true, disinterested affection exists only in the imagination. Is it any wonder that mothers sometimes become discouraged? Poor mothers! whose combined comfort and distress is the knowledge that the time is fast approaching when their boys and girls will blush for shame at the remembrance of their "salad days, when they were green in judgment."
Parents have need of vast patience, and let them, before uttering condemnation, carefully consider if they themselves are not a little to blame for the state of their children's minds; if over-indulgence and unwise consideration have not had much to do with the trouble. One excellent woman has made of her son an insufferable boor by constantly deferring to him, no matter in what company, and by allowing him to see that she considers his very ordinary intellect far above the average. In a parlor full of educated men and women she went out of her way to tell what remarkable views "Charlie" had upon certain religious subjects, and, after attracting the attention of the assembled company, called upon "Charlie" to give vent to his sentiments that all present might observe how original they were. Whereupon the hulk of a son, consequential and patronizing, discoursed bunglingly, and at length, on his opinions and beliefs, until he was inflated to speechlessness by conceit, and his hearers disgusted into responsive silence.
If your girl is clever, do not tell her so, or repeat to others in her presence her bright observations. But, on the other hand, do not snub her, or allow her to feel that her intellect is of an inferior order. The best way to make a fool of the Young Person is to tell him that he is a fool. Stimulate your child by all the love and appreciation at your command, but let it be intelligent appreciation, not blind admiration or prejudiced disapproval. Do you recollect how you felt and dreamed and gushed when you were a girl, the pages of sentimental twaddle (as you now call it) which you confided to the diary which you burned in disgust at twenty-one? Do you remember how genuine your distresses then seemed? You can smile at the girl you once were, but still you find it in your heart to pity her, poor, silly child, foolishly sobbing late into the night over some broken friendship or imaginary heart-trouble. Perhaps she had no mother to whom to go, or perhaps her mother "did not understand." See that you do not make the same mistake, but, while you recognize the folly of the trouble, think of the heartache back of it all. When your girl was a tiny child, you petted and comforted her as she wailed over her broken dolly. Was that grief so much more sensible than this, or do you love her less now? When your four-year-old boy came to you with his stories of what he would do when he was "a great big man," you drew him close to you and encouraged him to "talk it all out." Now, when he is a head taller than you, and tells you of his hopes and aspirations, you sigh that "boys are so fresh and visionary!"
It is not necessary to condone or to condemn all. What would you say to the gardener who let your choice young vines run in straggling lines all over the ground and in all directions,—or who ruthlessly cut off all the stalks within an inch of the roots? Young people need training, encouragement and urging in some directions, repression and pruning in others. Above all, they need tender forbearance.
Another trying feature of the Young Person is his wholesale intolerance of everything and everybody. Only himself and perhaps one or two of his own friends escape his censure. These being covered with the mantle of his approbation, are beyond criticism. This habit of uncharitableness is such an odious one that our boy or girl should avoid it carefully.
If you would acquire the custom of saying no evil, it is advisable to guard against thinking it. Difficult as it may seem, it is quite possible to put such a guard upon the mind as to accustom it to look on the best side of persons and things. Nobody is wholly bad, or, at least, few people are so entirely given over to disagreeable traits as the Young Person would lead us to think. Only a few days ago a young man was speaking in my presence of another fellow, who was, as far as I know, a respectable, well-bred boy.
"Oh!" said the Young Person, when his name was mentioned, "he is no good."
"Why not?" queried I. "Is he bad?"
"He is too much of a fool to be bad."
"Is he such a fool? I thought he was considered rather bright?"
"Well, he thinks himself awfully bright. He is a regular donkey."
"Are his manners disagreeable?"
"No-o-o, I don't know that they are. In fact, I believe he prides himself on the reputation he has acquired for gentlemanliness."
"Then, what is so disagreeable about him?"
"Perhaps," dryly suggested the father of the Young Person, "he is not particularly fond of you, and that it why you disapprove of him."
"No, sir!" was the indignant rejoinder, "that is not it. To be sure, he never troubles himself to pay me any marked attention. Nor do I care to have him do so. He is a low fellow."
Deny it as he might, the reason my young friend disliked the "low fellow" was because the tiny thorn of neglect had wounded his vanity and pricked and rankled into a fester. This is human nature, but as we advance in years, we appreciate that people may be really excellent in many respects, and yet have no great fondness for us. Youth still has much to learn.
Ten girls whom I know formed a society for the repression of unkind criticism. The members pledged themselves to try, as far as in them lay, to speak kindly of people when it was possible for them to do so, and when impossible to say nothing. At first it was hard, for self-conceit would intrude, and it is hard for one girl to praise another who dislikes her. Little by little the tiny seed of effort grew into a habit of kindly speech.
What volumes it argues for a woman's gentle ladyhood and Christianity when it can truthfully be said of her, "She never speaks uncharitably of anybody!"
Let us older people set an example of tolerance and charitable speech. Too often our children are but reproductions, perhaps somewhat highly colored, of ourselves, our virtues, and our faults. And this is especially true of the mothers. John Jarndyce gives us a word of encouragement when he says—
"I think it must somewhere be written that the virtues of the mothers shall occasionally be visited upon the children, as well as the sins of the father."
Such being the case, let us children of a larger growth show such tact, unselfishness and tender charity, that our children, seeing these virtues, may copy them, and thereby aid in removing the disagreeable traits of, at least, our Young Persons.
The following is a bona fide letter. It is written in such genuine earnest, and so clearly voices the sentiments of many young men of the present day, that I am glad to have an opportunity to answer it.
1. Why should I, a fast-growing, hard-working youth of eighteen, who go every morning, four miles by street-car, to my office, and the same back at night, often so weary and faint as to be hardly able to sit, not to say stand, be obliged to give up my seat to any flighty, flashy girl who has come down-town to shop, or frolic, or do nothing? Isn't she as able to "swing corners" holding on to a strap as I? and to hold her own perpendicular in the aisle?
2. Why isn't it as rude for her and her companions to giggle and whisper and stare, the objects of amusement being her fellow-passengers, as it would be for me and my fellows? Yet we would be "roughs"—and she and her crew must be "treated with the deference due the gentler sex." And why am I a boor if I do not give her my seat, while she is considered a lady if she takes it without thanking me?
3. Are girls, take them as a rule, as well-bred as boys?
Judging by appearances, it would seem that many men share in the feeling expressed in your first query. I am not a "flighty, flashy girl," but I crossed the city the other night in a horse-car in which there were twenty men and two women—one of them being myself. I stood, while the score of men sat and lounged comfortably behind their newspapers. They were tired after a hard day's work, and would have been wearied still more by standing. A well woman was worn out and a delicate woman would have been made ill, by this exertion.
My dear boy! let me ask you one question. Why should you, no matter how tired you are, spring eagerly forward to prevent your sister from lifting a piece of furniture, or carrying a trunk upstairs? Why not let her do it? I can imagine your look of indignant surprise. "Why? because she is a woman! It would nearly kill her!" Exactly so; but you will swing the burden on your broad, strong shoulders, bear it to its destination, and the next minute run lightly down-stairs,—perhaps, as you would say, "a little winded," but not one whit strained in nerve or muscle.
There lies the difference. The good Lord who made us women had His own excellent reason for making us physically weaker than men. Perhaps because, had we their strength, we would be too ambitious. However that may be, men, as the stronger sex, should help us in our weakness. Standing in the horse-car that is jostling over a rough track, holding on with up-stretched arm to a strap and "swinging corners" during a two-mile ride, would do more harm to a girl of your own age than you would suffer were you to stand while making a twenty-mile trip. For humanity's sake, then, if your gallantry does not prompt you to make sacrifice, do not allow any woman, old or young, to "hold her perpendicular in the aisle" when you can offer her a seat and while you have a pair of capable legs upon which to depend for support.
A true gentleman is always unselfish, be he old or young, rested or weary; and such being the case, the foreign day-laborer, in blue blouse and hob-nailed boots, who rises and gives a lady his place in car or omnibus, is the superior of the several-times-a-millionaire, in finest broadcloth, spotless linen, patent leathers and silk hat, who sits still, taking refuge behind his newspaper, in which he is seemingly so deeply absorbed as to be blind to the fact that a woman, old enough to be his mother, stands near him. With one gentlemanliness is instinctive, with the other it is, like his largest diamond stud, worn for show, and even then is a little "off color." I hope it is hardly necessary to remind you that true courtesy does not stay to distinguish between a rich or a poor woman, or to notice whether she is a pretty young girl, fashionably attired, or a decrepit laundress taking home the week's wash. She is a woman! That should be sufficient to arouse your manliness.
This is the truthful reply to query No. 1. Not a pleasant answer perhaps, but an honest one. To make the advice more palatable, take it with a plentiful seasoning of gratitude for the gift of physical strength which makes you a man.
And now for No. 2. Here you are right, and your suggestion has had my serious consideration. Possibly, thoughtlessness may account for the foolish "whispering and giggling" you mention, but stares and amused comments upon fellow-passengers are nothing less than acts of rudeness, be they perpetrated by boy or girl. But two wrongs never yet made a right, and because a girl is discourteous is no reason why you should put yourself on the same footing with her, and fail to observe towards her "the deference due" all women. If you are in a car with a profane drunkard, you do not copy his actions, or, if obliged to address him, adopt his style of language.
The glaring defect in the manners and voice of the American girl is that she is "loud." German Gretchen or Irish Bridget is more likely to speak softly in public than her rich young mistress. It is often a shock to the observer when sweet sixteen seated opposite him in the horse-car, begins conversation with her companion. Her face is gentle, her whole mien refined,—but, her voice! She talks loudly and laughs constantly. One beautiful woman whom I have met,—wealthy and well-educated, always reminds me of a peacock. You doubtless have seen and heard peafowls often enough to understand the comparison. The graceful motion and gorgeous plumage demand our admiration, until the creature, becoming accustomed to our presence, raises his voice in a piercing call, something between a hoot and a shriek, which causes us to cover our ears. After such an experience, we turn with relief to the sober hens who are contented to cluck peacefully through life, reserving their cackling until they have done something of which to boast, and wish to inform us that the egg they have laid is at our disposal.
As a rule the girl who is prononcee in a public conveyance is not well-bred, and she who laughs loudly and talks noisily, meanwhile passing comments on those persons who are so unfortunate as to be her traveling companions, has no claim to the much-abused title of "lady." But you can hardly compare your manners and those of your friends with the deportment of low-born, ill-bred girls. I fancy that you would find that everyone would pronounce sentence as severe upon them as upon you, were your actions the same.
I have been amazed before this at what I have been told, and at what I have myself noticed, of the failure of women to thank men who rise and offer them seats.
It would seem incredible that any person should so far neglect all semblance of civility as to accept a place thus offered as a matter of course. It is a kindness on the part of a man, and should always be met by some acknowledgment. If, when you rise, and lifting your hat, resign your place to a woman, and she, without a word, accepts it as her due, your only consolation will be to fall back on the comforting thought that you have behaved like a gentleman, and that any discourtesy of hers cannot detract from the merit of your action. You did not do it for the thanks you might receive, but because it is right. It is not pessimistic to assert that all through life, we are working on this principle—not that we may receive the credit for what we do, but doing good for the good's sake. Do not be so rash as to say bitterly—"So much for sacrificing my own comfort!" "Catch me giving a woman my seat again!" and those other foolish, because angry, things which a vexed boy is tempted to say under such circumstances. Continue in the good way, hoping that "next time" you may have the pleasure of doing a favor to a lady who has the breeding to appreciate and be grateful for an act of courtesy.
Your third question is one difficult to answer. Are girls as well bred as boys—Yes—and no! Their training lies along different lines. A few days ago I was talking with a young man who had a grievance. A girl of his acquaintance had, the night before, been at a reception which he had also attended. Feeling a little weary she retired to a comfortable corner of the room, and sat there during the entire evening. She "did not feel like dancing," and told her hostess "she would rather sit still." My young friend had a severe headache, but, although suffering, his appreciation of les convenances would not allow him to sit down in a secluded niche for fifteen minutes, during the entire evening. His "grievance" was that had he done this he would have been voted a boor, while the girl's action was condoned by hostess and guests. One thing must always be considered—namely, that a woman's part is, in many points of etiquette, passive. It is the man who takes the initiative, and who is made such a prominent figure that all eyes are drawn to him. Have you ever noticed it? Man proposes, woman accepts. Man stands, woman remains seated. Man lifts his hat, woman merely bows. Man acts as escort, woman as the escorted. So, when a man is careless or thoughtless, it is all the more evident. For this reason, begin as a boy, to observe all the small, sweet courtesies of life. I often wish there were any one point in which a woman could show her genuine ladyhood as a man displays his gentlehood by the management of his hat,—raising it entirely from the head on meeting a woman, lifting it when the lady with whom he is walking bows to an acquaintance, or when his man-companion meets a friend, baring his head on meeting, parting from, or kissing mother, sister or wife. These, with other points, such as rising when a woman enters the room, and remaining standing until she is seated, giving her the precedence in passing in or out of a door, and picking up the handkerchief or glove she lets fall—are sure indices of the gentleman, or, by their absence, mark the boor.
But our girl should not think that she can afford to overlook the acts of tactful courtesy which are her duty as well as her brother's. Prominent among these she should place the deference due those who are older than herself. Her temptation is often to exercise a patronizing toleration toward her elders, and, while she is not actually disrespectful, she still has the air of a very superior young being holding converse with a person who has the advantage merely in the accident of years. Did she realize how ridiculous these very youthful, foolish manners are, she would blush for herself. She will—when she has attained the age of discretion.
Another of our girls' mistakes is that of imagining that brusqueness and pertness are wit. There is no other error more common with girls from fifteen to eighteen; they generally choose a boy as the butt of their sarcastic remarks—and, to their shame be it said, they frequently select a lad who is too courteous to retort in kind.
But these faults in boy and girl alike are evidences of a "freshness" which wears off as the years roll on, as the green husk, when touched by the frost, falls away, leaving exposed the glossy brown shell enclosing the ripe, sweet kernel of the nut.
If this answer to your letter reads like a sermon, pardon one who is interested in young people, and who, well remembering when she was young herself, would fain hold out a helping hand to those who are stumbling on in the path she trod in years gone by.
THAT SPOILED CHILD.
I was the other day one of many passengers in a railroad train in which a small girl of four or five years of age was making a journey, accompanied by her mother and an aunt. The child was beautiful, with a mass of golden curls. Her velvet coat and the felt hat trimmed elaborately with ostrich plumes were faultless in their style; her behavior would compare unfavorably with the manners of a young Comanche Indian. She insisted upon standing in the centre of the aisle, where she effectually blocked all passage, and, as the train was going rapidly, ran a great risk of being thrown violently against the seats. When remonstrated with by her guardians, she slapped her aunt full in the face, pulled herself free from her mother's restraining grasp, and, in a frenzy of rage, threw herself down right across the aisle. There she lay for a full half hour. When her mother would have raised her to her feet she uttered shriek after shriek, until her fellow-travelers' ears rang. After this triumph of young America over the rule and command of tyrannizing mamma, the innocent babe was allowed to remain prostrate in her chosen resting-place, while brakemen, conductor and passengers stepped gingerly over the recumbent form. She varied the monotony of the situation by occasional wrathful kicks in the direction of her mother or at some would-be passer-by.
"It is best to let sleeping dogs lie," sighed the mother of this prodigy to her sister. "When she gets one of these attacks (and she has them quite often) I just leave her alone until she becomes ashamed of it. She can't bear to be crossed in anything."
When I stepped from the train at my destination the humiliation for which her attendants longed was still a stranger to the willful child.
Trouble-fearing persons have a belief to the effect that it is, in the long run, easier to let a child have his own sweet way until he has attained the age of discretion,—say at fourteen or fifteen years,—when his innate sense of propriety will convince him of the error of his ways. Such a theorist was a dear old gentleman who, many years ago, remonstrated with me upon the pains and time I spent in training my first born. The children of this aged saint had been reared according to the old-fashioned notion, but when they had babies of their own they departed from it, and the rising generation had full and free sway. Their grandparent, albeit frequently the victim of their pranks, loved them dearly. He now assured me that—
"While they are regular little barbarians, my dear, still they have all that freedom and wild liberty which should accompany childhood. They eat when and what they please, go to bed when they feel like it, rise early or late as the whim seizes them, and know no prescribed rules for diet and deportment. But they come of good stock and will turn out all right."
They did come of good, honest parents, and this may have been what saved their moral, while their physical being has suffered from the course pursued during their infancy and early youth. There were six children; now there are four. One died when a mere baby from cold contracted from running about the house in winter weather in her bare feet. She was so fond of doing this that her mother could not bear to put shoes and stockings on the dear little tot. The other, a sweet, affectionate boy, suffered at regular intervals during the fifteen years of his life from acute indigestion. Directly after one of these attacks, he, as was his habit, followed the cravings of an undisciplined appetite, and attended, late at night, a pea-nut-and-candy supper, almost immediately after which he was taken violently ill and died in three days. The four remaining children do not, all told, possess enough constitution to make one strong man. They are all delicate and constant sufferers.
In this case judicious care might have averted the above-mentioned evils. Would the game have been worth the candle?
This is a question which parents cannot afford to disregard. It is expedient for them to consider seriously whether or not the stock on both sides of the family, of which their children come, is so good as to warrant neglect or to justify over-indulgence.
Our mother-tongue does not offer us a phrase by which we may express what we mean by l'enfant terrible. But our father-land produces many living examples which may serve as translations of the French words. Such an one was the small boy who, while eagerly devouring grapes, threw the skins, one after another, into the lap of my new light silk gown. His mother entered a smilingly gentle protest in the form of—
"Oh, Frankie dear! do you think it is pretty to do that?" to which he paid as much attention as to my look of distress. The reader who believes in "lending a hand" in righting the minor evils of society must have more temerity and a larger share of what the boy of the period denominates "nerve" than I possess, if she interferes with a child while in the presence of the mother. It is as unsafe as the proverbial act of inserting the digits between the bark and the tree. It is, moreover, a liberty which I should never permit the dearest friend to take. In fact, so strong is my feeling on this subject, that I should have allowed "Frankie dear" to make a fruit-plate and finger-bowl of the shimmering folds of my gown rather than utter a feeble objection before his doting mamma.
The practice of spoiling a child is unjust to the little one and to the parent. The latter suffers tenfold more than if she, day by day, inculcated the line-upon-line, protest-upon-protest system. That she does not do this is sometimes due to mistaken kindness, but oftener to self-indulgence or dread of disagreeable scenes, that brings a harvest of misery as surely as he who sows the wind will reap the whirlwind.
A spoiled child is an undutiful child. This must be true. The constant humoring and considering of one's whims will, in course of time, produce a stunted, warped and essentially selfish character, that considers the claims of gratitude and affection as nil compared with the furtherance of personal aims and desires. Never having learned self-control or obedience, parents and their timid remonstrances must go to the wall before the passions or longings which these same parents in days gone by have fostered. "Only mother" or "nobody but father" are phrases that are so frequent as to become habitual, while the "you yourself used to let me do this or that" is the burden of many an excuse for misdemeanors. And after all the years of parental indulgence, what is your reward? The spring is gone from your own being, while your children will not let you live your life over again in theirs.
We all recall AEsop's fable of the young man about to be executed, who begged on the scaffold for a last word with his mother, and when the wish was granted, stooped to her and bit off the tip of her ear, that the pain and disfigurement might serve as a constant reminder of the hatred he felt for the over-indulgence and lack of discipline which had brought him to this shameful death. The hurt which the mother's heart feels at the thought of causing her child's downfall is pain too great to be endured.
The letting-alone principle is a short-sighted one. Even in infancy a spoiled child may make such a nuisance of himself as to produce a disagreeable impression upon all who know him,—an impression which it takes many years of model behavior to eradicate. It is actual cruelty to throw upon the child the work the parent should have performed. It is easy to train the growing plant, but after the bark is tough and the fibre strong it is a terrible strain upon grain and vitality to bend it in a direction to which it is unaccustomed.