Much of the insubordination to be found in the children of the present day is due to the growing habit of entrusting the little ones to servants whose own wills and tempers are uncontrolled and untrained. A child knows that his nurse has no right to insist upon obedience, and he takes advantage of the knowledge until he is a small tyrant who is conscious of no law beyond that of his own inclinations.
The prime rule in the training of children should be implicit obedience. The child is happier for knowing that when a command or prohibition is stated there is no appeal from the sentence, and that coaxing avails naught. Uncertainty is as trying to small men and women as to us who are more advanced in the school of life.
So much depends upon this great principle of obedience, that it is marvelous that parents ever disregard it. I have known in my own experience three cases in which it was impossible to make a child take medicine, and death has followed in consequence. One of the most painful recollections I have is of seeing a child six years old forced to swallow a febrifuge that was not unpalatable in itself. The mother, father, and nurse held the struggling boy, while the physician pried open the set teeth and poured the liquid down his throat. Under these circumstances it is probable that the remedy proved worse than the disease.
I have not space to do more than touch upon the great influence of early training on the future life. All my days I have been thankful for the gentle but firm hand that, as a child, taught me moral courage, self-denial and submission. The temptations of life have been more easily resisted, the trials more lightly borne, because of the years in which I was in training for the race set before me. We do not want to enter our children on the course as unbroken, "soft" and wild colts, whose spirits must be crushed before they will submit to the work assigned them. They may be young, yet strong; spirited, yet gentle; patient, yet resolute.
GETTING ALONG IN YEARS.
"Does your husband think a full beard becoming to him?" asked I of a young wife.
Her twenty-three-year-old lord, whose good-looking face had been adorned and made positively handsome by a sweeping brown moustache, had, since our last meeting, "raised" an uneven crop of reddish whiskers that shortened a face somewhat too round, and altogether vulgarized what had been refined.
"No, indeed! He knows, as I do, that it disfigures him. It is a business necessity to which he sacrificed vanity. The appearance of maturity carries weight in the commercial world. His beard adds ten years to his real age."
Being in an audience collected to hear an eminent clergyman last summer, I heard an astonished gasp behind me, as the orator arose:
"Why he has shaved off his beard! How like a round oily man of God he looks!"
"True," said another, "but fifteen years younger. He is getting along in years, you see, and wants to hide the fact."
The last speaker sat opposite to me at the hotel table that day, and in discussing the leader of the morning service, repeated the phrase that had jarred upon my ear.
"It is fatal to a clergyman's popularity and to a woman's hopes to be suspected of getting along in years."
I told the story of my bearded youth and asked:
"Where then is the safe ground? When is it altogether reputable for one to declare his real age?"
"Oh, anywhere from thirty to forty-five! Before and after that term life can hardly be said to be worth the living."
I smiled, as the rattler meant I should. But the words have stayed by me, the more persistently that observation bears me out in the suspicion that the merry speaker only uttered the thought of many others.
"The years of man's life are three-score-and-ten," says the Word of Him who made man and knew what was in man. The wearer of a body that, with tolerably good treatment ought to last for seventy years, must then, according to popular judgment, spend nearly half of that time in learning how to play his part in the world, barely a fifth in carrying out God's designs in and for him, and then remain for a quarter of a century a cumberer of the home and earth. Such waste of strength, time and accumulated capital would be cried out upon as wretched mismanagement were the scheme of human devising.
The French proverb that "a woman" (and presumably a man) "is just as old as she chooses to be," comes so much nearer what I believe was our Creator's wise and merciful purpose in giving us life, that I turn thankfully and hopefully to this side of the subject.
The best way to avoid growing old is not to be afraid of getting along in years. To come down to "hard pan"—whence originates this unwholesome dread of ripeness and maturity? It surely is not a fear of death that makes us blanch and shrink back at the oft-recurring mile-stones in the journey of life that brings all of us nearer the goal towards which we are bound.
I once heard a young woman say, seriously:
"I hope that when I am forty-five, I may quietly die. I do not dread death, but I do shudder at the idea of being laid on the shelf."
I do not mean to be severe when I assert that, nine times out of ten, it is the victim's own fault that she is pushed out of the way, or, as our slangy youth of to-day put it, "is not in it." It is your business and mine to be in it, heart, soul, and body, and to keep our places there by every effort in our power. A fear of that which is high, or mental or physical inertia, or, to be less euphemistic and more exact, laziness—should not deter us. This object is not to be accomplished by adopting juvenile dress and kittenish ways. We should beautify old age, not accentuate it by artificial means. When your roadster, advanced in years and woefully stiff in the joints, makes a lame attempt to imitate a gamboling colt, and feebly elevates his hind legs, and pretends to shy at a piece of paper in the road, you smile with contemptuous amusement and say:
"The old fool is in his dotage!"
But if he keeps on steadily to his work, doing the best he can, your comment is sure to be somewhat after this fashion:
"This is truly a wonderful horse! He is just as good as on the day I bought him, fifteen years ago!"
Let us determine to face the situation, when it is necessary, calmly and sensibly. For, unlike the aforesaid horse, we do not expect to be knocked on the head with a club, or quietly chloroformed out of existence at a stated period. We would do well to follow our optimistic principles, and look at the many benefits which, in the words of the old catechism, "do accompany and flow from" this state. If you have lived well, fifty is better than thirty, as the sun-and-frost-kissed (not bitten) Catawba grape is better than the tiny green sphere of June, and as maturity is nearer perfection than crude youth. The tedious routine of the life-school, the hours spent in acquiring knowledge for which you had no immediate use, are past. The wisdom that must come with time and experience is yours.
Another of the great advantages in being near the top of the mountain is that you can speak from superior knowledge words of comfort and encouragement to those beneath you, who are still toiling over the path you have trod. Such help from you who have "been there," and have now successfully passed the most trying places, will do more to keep up others' hearts than many sermons preached by one who knows it all only in theory.
Since old age is inevitable, do not let us try to pretend that it is not, and let us never act as if there were any hope of shunning it. On the other hand, neither should we wish that it were possible for us to evade it. It is just as much of a God-ordained period as youth, and we ought to grow old in the manner in which God meant we should. He meant us to keep heart and soul young by constant occupation and by unselfish interest in the affairs of others.
I know one woman, past the fifties, who is, the young people declare, "much more fun than any girl." Their enjoyments are hers, and she laughs as heartily over their fun, sympathizes as sincerely in their disappointments, as if she were thirty years younger than she is. In fact, her sympathy is more genuine, for her age puts her completely beyond the faintest suspicion of rivalry, and it is easier to tell of one's defeats and triumphs when the listener is too far along in years to be jealous or envious.
It should not be necessary for us to call courage into use to reconcile us to our lost youth. Plain common sense is all that is requisite. We have gained much on life in the past century. As science has taught us how to ward off death, so has it instructed us in the art of preserving youth far beyond middle age. Over my fireplace hangs a portrait of my grandmother, one of the loveliest women of her time.
She died at the age of fifty, and in it she wears a mob-cap and an old woman's gown. For years before her death, she felt that she belonged to the past generation, did not join in the younger people's occupations, and claimed her place in the chimney-corner. In her day the "dead-line" in a man's life was drawn at fifty. Now we know that to be out of all reason. If the years of a man's life are three-score-and-ten let us determine to move the dead-line on to seventy, and claim that we are not old until we have reached that point. And if, by reason of strength we can hold on to four-score, let us push it on the ten years farther, and, taking courage, thank God for this new lease of life.
We do not belong to the past generation, but to the acting, working, living present. Our juniors are the rising generation, and no one belongs to the past except those who have laid aside the burden of life—light to some, wearisome to others—forever. They are the only ones who have any excuse for stepping out of the ranks. They have done so by their Captain's order. Let us, who remain, stand bravely in our places, that we may be present or accounted for when the roll-call containing our names is read.
"Conformity to fact or reality. Exact accordance with that which is, has been, or shall be."
I looked up Webster's definition of Truth yesterday, after overhearing a conversation between two girls in the horse-car. They spoke so loudly that not to hear would have been an impossibility. My attention was first attracted to them by the name of a friend.
"Did you know of Mr. B.'s illness?" asked the younger and more pronounced colloquist.
"Yes," responded the other; "I know he has had pneumonia, but I understand that he is now convalescent."
"Oh, then, you haven't heard the latest!"
The discovery of her companion's ignorance acted upon the girl like magic. She became vivacious, and beamed with the glow of satisfaction kindled by the privilege of being the first to relate a morsel of news.
"Well, my dear! Mamma and I were calling there, and while I was talking to Miss B., I heard Mrs. B. tell my mother this awful thing. You know Mr. B.'s sister is a trained nurse (I never did believe in trained nurses!) and when he was taken so ill they sent for her to come and take care of him. She got along tolerably well until a few days ago when the doctor prescribed quinine for Mr. B. By mistake, she gave him ten grains of morphine."
"Yes, my dear, she did! It seems like an immense quantity, but, as I wanted to be accurate (I always say that accuracy is a Christian duty), I asked Miss B. how many grains her father took, and she said 'Ten!' Well! the poor victim slept thirty hours, and they were so frightened that they sent for the doctor. He said that, fortunately, no harm was done, but that it was an unpardonable piece of carelessness. They discharged the nurse forthwith. She ought to have been arrested and punished,—not turned loose upon a confiding community."
"Yet you say she is his own sister?"
"Yes, indeed! and the family have always been perfectly devoted to her! But they have sent her to the right-about now. It is too bad! A family row is such an unfortunate thing. They may be thankful not to have a murder-case to deal with!"
Strangely enough, I was en route for the house of my friend, Mrs. B., and as the car, at this juncture, crossed the street on which she lived, I motioned to the conductor to ring the bell, and alighted before hearing more of that remarkable tale. Being acquainted with the whole matter as it actually occurred, I was amused and indignant, as well as curious, to learn how this girl had received the wretchedly garbled version of an affair, the facts of which were these:
When Mr. B. was suddenly prostrated by an alarming attack of pneumonia, his sister, a noble woman who had taken up as her life-work the duties of a trained nurse in a Boston hospital, was telegraphed for. As she had a serious case in charge, it was impossible to obey the summons, and a New York nurse was engaged. Mr. B.'s physician had, early in his illness, prepared some powders, each containing a minute portion of morphine, and several had been administered to the patient. Of late, he had taken five grains of quinine each morning. A few days before the above mentioned harangue, the doctor ordered the nurse to double the usual dose of quinine. She, carelessly, or misunderstanding the directions, gave two of the morphine powders. The dose was not large enough to cause more serious injury than throwing the patient into a long and heavy sleep, and frightening his family. The doctor, who had engaged the nurse, discharged her, as Mr. B. was so far improved as to need only such care as his wife and daughter could give him.
My curiosity prompted me to inquire of Mrs. B. and Miss B., without divulging my motive, the particulars of the call they had received from the horse-car orator. I learned that Mrs. B. had told the girl's mother the facts of the case while the two daughters were talking together. Miss B. said that they, now and then, overheard a few words of the conversation between the older women, and that her companion had made several inquiries concerning it. Among others was the query:
"How many grains of the medicine does your father take every day?"
Miss B., supposing she referred to the quinine, answered:
"Five, generally; but on the day of which mamma speaks, ten grains were prescribed."
And from this scanty amount of rapidly acquired information had grown the story to which I had been an amazed listener.
"Behold how great a matter a little fire kindleth!"
Yet this girl did not intend to lie. She gleaned scraps of a conversation, and allowed a vivid imagination to supply the portions she did not hear. Add to this the love of producing a sensation, which is an inherent trait of many characters, and behold potent reasons for seven-tenths of the cases of exaggeration which come to our notice, romances constructed upon the "impressionist-picture" plan—a thing of splash and glare and abnormal perspective that vitiates the taste for symmetry and right coloring.
We all like to be the first to tell a story, and are anxious to relate it so well that our listeners shall be entertained. That a tale loses nothing in the telling is an established fact, especially if the narrator thereof observes a lack of interest on the part of his listeners. Then the temptation to arouse them to attention becomes almost irresistible and unconsciously one accepts the maxim at which we all sneer,—that it is folly to let the truth spoil a good story. Every day we have occasion to hold our heads, reeling to aching with conflicting accounts of some one incident, and repeat the question asked almost nineteen hundred years ago:
"What is truth?"
We hear much of people who are "too frank." These destroyers of the peace of mind of friend and foe alike pride themselves on the fact that they are "nothing if not candid," and "always say just what they think." Be it understood, this is not truthfulness. The utterance of unnecessary and unkind criticism, however honest, is impertinence, amounting to insolence.
When your "frank friend(?)" tells you that your gown does not fit, that you dress your hair in such an unbecoming manner, that your management of your household is not what it should be, she takes an unwarrantable liberty. If traced back, the source of these remarks would be found in a large percentage of instances, in a disagreeable temper, captious humors, and a spirit that is anything but Christian. One may be entirely truthful without bestowing gratuitous advice and admonition.
People differ widely in their notions of veracity, and few would endorse the technical definition with which this talk begins. Is it because there is so much intentional falsehood, so much that is not in "exact accordance with that which is, has been, or shall be," or that standards of veracity vary with individual disposition, and what may be classified as social climatic influences? Is it true that in morals there is no stated, infallible and eternal gauge—"the measure of a man—that is, of an angel?"
If a lie is something told "with the intention to deceive," as says the catechism, a nineteenth century Diogenes would have need to search in a crowd with an electric light in quest of a perfectly truthful man.
For our comfort and hope be it recorded that there are men and women who are uniformly veracious, and still courteous, who would not descend to falsehood or subterfuge, yet who are never guilty of the rudeness of making untactful speeches.
Were there more of such exceptions to the rule of inconsiderate, exaggerated and recklessly mendacious talk that wounds ear and heart, the "society lie" would be no more, and this flimsy excuse for falsehood would be voted an article too tenuous and threadbare for use.
Good people, so-called Christians, seldom appreciate what immense responsibility is theirs in setting the example of telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Said an amiable woman to me a few days ago:
"Mrs. Smith, who is a strict Sabbatarian, asked me yesterday if I had ever been to a Sunday reception or tea. Now, while I do not generally approve of them, I do, once in a great while, attend one. But, rather than shock her by acknowledging the offence I lied out of it. It is the only course left for the well-bred in such circumstances."
An hour later I saw her punish her child for denying that she had committed some piece of mischief of which she was guilty. The mother's excuse to herself probably was that the child told a lie, she, a "society fib." Perhaps the smaller sinner had no reputation for breeding to maintain.
The love for drink is not more surely transmitted from father to son than is the habit of lying. Once begun in a family, it rears itself, like a hooded snake, all along the line in generation after generation and appears to be an ineradicable evil. It spreads, too, as specks in a garnered fruit. We are startled by seeing it in children by the time they can lisp a lie, and we note in them, with a sickening at heart, the father's or grandfather's tendency to secretiveness or deceit, or the mother's penchant for false excuses. We can scarcely bequeath a greater sorrow to our offspring than to curse them before their birth with this hereditary taint, which is, perhaps, one of the hardest of all evils to correct. It may take the form of exaggerated speech, of courteous or cowardly prevarication, or of downright falsehood, but, in whatever guise, it is a curse to the owner thereof as well as to his family. If you are so unfortunate as to have any symptom of it in your blood, watch your boy or girl from infancy, and try, by all the arts in your power, fighting against nature itself, even, to prevent what is bred in the bone from coming out in the flesh.
We children of a larger growth can do much toward the correction of this blemish in others as in ourselves by close guard over our own speeches and assertions.
There are no sharper, more intolerant critics than the little ones, and if they inherit the tendency to insincerity the only way in which you can avert the much-to-be dreaded sin is by being absolutely truthful yourself. Cultivate veracity as a virtue, as a grace, as a vital necessity for the integrity of the soul. Prune excrescences in the shape of loose statements; if you err in telling a wonderful story, let it be in cutting down rather than in magnifying. A couple of ciphers less are better than one too many. It is to be feared that for many of us this would be a hard, although a wholesome task. The trail of the serpent is over us all. We yield heedlessly to the temptation to break promises, and to the habit of giving false reasons to our children, little thinking that their grave, innocent eyes may read our souls more clearly than those of older persons who are not so easily deceived by our tongues. When your child, although a mere baby in years, once discovers in you exaggeration or untruthfulness, he remembers it always, and you, from that moment, lose one of the most precious joys and sacred opportunities of your life—that of inspiring his entire confidence and trust, and of leading the tiny feet in the seldom-trodden path of Perfect Truth.
THE GOSPEL OF CONVENTIONALITIES.
Young people are proverbially intolerant, so I listened patiently, a few days since, to the outburst of an impetuous girl-friend.
"Oh," she exclaimed, "we are all such shams!"
"Shams?" I repeated, interrogatively.
"Yes, just that, shams through and through! We, you and I are no exceptions to the universal rule of, to quote Mark Twain, 'pretending to be what we ain't.' We are polite and civil when we feel ugly and cross; while in company we assume a pleasant expression although inwardly we may be raging. All our appurtenances are make-believes. We wear our handsome clothes to church and concert, fancying that mankind may be deceived into the notion that we always look like that. Food cooked in iron and tin vessels is served in French china and cut glass. When children sit down to table as ravenously hungry as small animals, their natural instincts are curbed, and they are compelled to eat slowly and 'properly.' You see it everywhere and in everything. The whole plan of modern society, with its manners and usages, is a system of shams!"
In contradistinction to this unsparing denunciation, I place Harriet Beecher Stowe's idea of this "system of shams." In "My Wife and I" she says:
"You see we don't propose to warm our house with a wood fire, but only to adorn it. It is an altar-fire that we will kindle every evening, just to light up our room, and show it to advantage. And that is what I call woman's genius. To make life beautiful; to keep down and out of sight the hard, dry, prosaic side—and keep up the poetry—that is my idea of our 'mission.' I think woman ought to be what Hawthorne calls 'The Artist of the Beautiful.'"
Mrs. Stowe is in the right. In this commonplace, fearfully real world, what would we do without the blessed Gospel of Conventionalities? In almost every family there is one member, frequently the father of the household, who, like my young friend, has no patience with "make-believes" and eyes all innovations with stern disapproval and distrust. It is pitiful to witness the harmless deceits practiced by mothers and daughters, the wiles many and varied, by which they strive to introduce some much-to-be-desired point of table etiquette to which "Papa is opposed." Sometimes his protest takes the form of a good-natured laugh and shrug accompanied by the time-battered observation that "you can't teach an old dog new tricks." More frequently overtures of this kind are repulsed by the gruff excuse:
"My father and mother never had any of these new-fangled notions and they got on all right. What was good enough for them is good enough for me!"
And so paterfamilias continues to take his coffee with, instead of at the end of, his dinner, eats his vegetables out of little sauce plates with a spoon, insists that meat, potatoes and salad shall all be placed upon the table at once, and, if the father and mother than whom he does not care to rise higher were, in spite of their excellence, of the lower class, he carries his food to his mouth on the blade of his knife, and noisily sips tea from his saucer. Evidently he does not believe in shams, those little conventionalities, nearly all of which have some excellent cause for existence, although we do not always pause to examine into their raison d'etre. They may be founded upon hygienic principles, or on the idea of the greatest good to the greatest number. Many seemingly slight breaches of etiquette, if practiced by everyone, would create a state of affairs which even the most ardent hater of les convenances would deplore. If, for instance, all men were so entirely a law unto themselves that they despised the rule which commands a man to resign his chair to a lady, what would become of us poor women? In crowded rooms we would have the pleasure of standing still or walking around the masculine members of the company, who would sit at ease. Were the unmannerly habit of turning the leaves of a book with the moist thumb or finger indulged in by all readers, the probabilities are that numberless diseases would thus be transmitted from one person to another.
It argues an enormous amount of self-conceit in man or woman when he or she calmly refuses to conform to rules of etiquette. In plain language, we are none of us in ourselves pur et simple so agreeable as to be tolerable without the refinement and polish of manners upon which every "artist of the beautiful" should insist in her own house. Too many mothers and housekeepers think that "anything will do for home people." It is our duty to keep ourselves and our children "up" in "the thing" in table and parlor manners, dress and the etiquette of visiting, letter-writing, etc. Even among well-born people there are certain small tokens of good breeding which are too often neglected. One of these is what a college boy recently described in my hearing as the "bread-and-butter letter." At my inquiring look he explained that it was "the note of thanks a fellow writes to his hostess after having made a visit at her house—don't you know?"
This note should be written as soon as possible after the guest returns to her home, even if she has been entertained for only a night. In it she informs her hostess of her safe arrival, and thanks her for her kind hospitality. A few lines are all that is necessary.
It seems incredible that in decent society anyone should be so little acquainted with the requirements of the drawing-room as to enter a lady's parlor, and stop to speak to another person before first seeking his hostess and paying her his respects. And yet I have seen men come into a room and stop to chat first with one, then with another friend, before addressing the entertainer. If, while searching for the lady of the house in a parlor full of people, a man is addressed by some acquaintance, he should merely make an apology and pass on until he has found his hostess. After that he is free to talk with whom he pleases.
It is to be hoped that when a man commits the rudeness of passing into a room before a lady instead of giving her the precedence, it is from forgetfulness. Certainly I have frequently been the amazed witness of this proceeding. Forgetfulness, too, may be the cause of a man's tilting back his chair until it sways backward and forward, meantime burying his hands in the depths of his trousers pockets. But such thoughtlessness is, in itself, discourtesy. No man or woman has a right to be absorbed in his or her affairs to the extent of forgetting what is due to other people.
The tricks of manner and speech contracted by a boy or young man should be noticed and corrected by mother or sister before they become confirmed habits. Such are touching a lady on arm or shoulder to attract her attention, inquiring "What say?" or "Is that so?" to indicate surprise, glancing at the addresses on letters given him to mail, and consulting his watch in company. It would be difficult to find a better rule for courtesy with which to impress a boy or girl than the advice written by William Wirt to his daughter:
"The way to make yourself pleasing to others is to show that you care for them. The world is like the miller at Mansfield 'who cared for nobody, no, not he, because nobody cared for him.' And the whole world will serve you so if you give it the same cause. Let all, therefore, see that you do care for them, by showing what Sterne so happily calls 'the small sweet, courtesies of life,' in which there is no parade, whose voice is to still, to ease; and which manifest themselves by tender and affectionate looks, and little kind acts of attention, giving others the preference in every little enjoyment at the table, walking, sitting or standing."
There is one gross breach of good breeding which can hardly be due to inattention. There is a homely proverb to the effect that one "should wash her dirty linen at home," and it is to the violation of this advice that I refer. Discussing home matters, complaining of the actions of members of your family, or confiding their faults or shortcomings to an outsider, even though she be your dearest friend, is as great an act of discourtesy as it is contrary to all the instincts of family love and loyalty. Your father may be a hypocrite, your mother a fool of the Mrs. Nickleby stamp, your brother a dissipated wretch, and your sister a professional shop-lifter, while your husband combines the worst characteristics of the entire family—but as long as you pretend to be on speaking terms with them, stand up for them against all the rest of the world; and if matters have come to such a pass that you have severed all connection with them, let a proper pride for yourself and consideration for the person to whom you are talking deter you from acknowledging their faults. These persons are members of your family—that should be enough to keep you forever silent as to their peccadilloes or sins. But, if you do not feel this, for politeness' sake refrain from making your listener supremely uncomfortable by your complaints. No true lady will so far forget her innate ladyhood as to be guilty of this rudeness.
To fulfill what Mrs. Stowe calls our "mission," we women must insist on the observance of the conventionalities at home. Husbands are sometimes, even when "taken young," too obstinate to change; although, to their credit be it said, if approached in the right way they will generally try to correct tricks of speech or manner. But with our children there should be no peradventure. Upon us is laid the responsibility of making them what we choose, of developing them into gentlemen, or neglecting them until they become boors. It is never too early to begin. First impressions are lasting ones, and the child who, from the beginning, is trained to observe the "small, sweet courtesies," not only when in company, but in the nursery and with the members of his own family, will never forget them. We often observe "that man does as well as he can, but he is not the gentleman born." That should, of itself, be a lesson to us mothers, to teach our children, not only by precept but by example, to keep alive the "altar-fire" of conventionality, and thus to make life warm, beautiful, poetic. After all, may not what the impulsive girl whom I quoted at the beginning of this talk termed the "sham" of life, be the real, though hidden side? We read that "the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal."
FAMILIAR OR INTIMATE?
"What makes the difference between those two carriages?" I asked a wagon builder, while examining two light vehicles of the same general build and design. One cost twice as much as the other, and looked as if it were worth four times as much.
"Some of it is in the material, but more in the finishing," was the response. "This is of pretty fair wood, but simply planed and painted, while this"—pointing to the more costly equipage—"is as hard as a rock, and has been rubbed smooth, then polished until the surface is as fine as silk. Then it is flowed all over with the best varnish, left to dry ten days, and over-flowed again. That makes all the difference in the look of wagons. Two of them may be built just alike, and one will look like a grocer's errand-cart, while the other is a regulation gentleman's turnout. It is all the effect of polish and finish."
Involuntarily my mind reverted to Mr. Turveydrop and his modest assurance that "we do our best to polish, polish, polish."
The carriage builder struck the right chord when he affirmed that "finish made all the difference," and it applies as truly to flesh and blood as to insensate wood. Only the wood has sometimes the advantage of taking more kindly to improvement than do human free agents.
The rough places on which the effects of polish have not showed are too numerous for me to touch upon more than a few of them in this talk. We will acknowledge that the paint and varnish are not all that is necessary. The wood must be hard and prepared for the flowing process, if the wagon is to stand the scrutiny of critical eyes. Too often the paint is laid on thickly—perhaps too thickly—over indifferent material, and the first shock or scratch makes it scale and flake off.
As the test of the genuineness of the polish must be its durability, so intimacy is the standard by which we may judge of the finish of the so-called well-bred man or woman. If the refinement be ingrain, the familiarity which inevitably breeds contempt will never intrude itself.
To come down to everyday particulars: One of the unwarrantable familiarities is to enter a friend's house without ringing her door-bell,—unless you have been especially requested to do so. No ground of intimacy on which you and your friend may stand justifies this liberty. The housekeepers are few and far between who, in their inmost souls, will not resent this invasion of their domain. It argues an enormous amount of self-conceit on your part when you fancy that you are considered so entirely one of the family that your unannounced presence will never prove an unwelcome intrusion.
In country places neighbors contract the habit of "running in" to see one another. Were the truth known, many a housekeeper, deep in pie-making and bread-kneading, would gladly give her handsomest loaf for two minutes in which to smooth her rumpled hair and change her soiled apron.
It is only in books that the heroine always looks so charming, no matter in what labor she may be engaged, that she would be glad to receive any acquaintance. Of course our housewife's husband may see her when she is baking, and our domestic moralist would argue that what is good enough for him is good enough for callers. Perhaps it does not occur to her that the husband has so often found his wife dressed "neatly and sweetly" that the cooking costume will not make upon him the disagreeable impression it might produce upon a caller who sees her hostess once in this guise where the husband has hundreds of opportunities of beholding her in company clothes.
It may be remarked in this connection that the persons who are guilty of lapses like that of entering your front door unannounced are of the same class as those who enter your bed-chamber or sanctum without knocking. This is a rudeness which nothing warrants. There are times when we wish to be alone in our own rooms, and when we want to feel that we are safe from sudden interruption during the processes of bathing and dressing, even if the door of our apartment is not locked. One's own room should be so completely her own that her nearest and dearest will not feel at liberty to enter without permission. Of course it is frequently the case that two persons, sisters, or husband and wife, or mother and daughter, occupy the same chamber. When this is the case, it is theirs wholly and completely, and they are right to insist that other members of the household shall knock before entering.
Another evidence of lack of finish is offering gratuitous advice. If your opinion is asked, it is kind and right that you should give it; but a safe rule to go by is that unless your advice is requested it is not wanted. It is one of the strangest problems in human nature that one should of her own accord implicate herself in other people's affairs and take upon herself onerous responsibility by giving her unsolicited opinion in matters which do not concern her. It is a disagreeable task, and a very thankless one. Viewed from this standpoint, I am hardly surprised at the price demanded by lawyers for their advice. Perhaps the secret of their high fees may be that they decline to give a judgment unless asked for it. Our "own familiar friends" might learn a lesson from them.
It is a pity that any well-bred intimate should so far forget herself as to correct another person's child in the presence of the little one's father or mother. That this is frequently done will be certified to by hundreds of mothers who have been made irate by such untimely aids to their discipline. Johnny's mother tells him to stop making that noise, and her visitor adds severely, "Now, Johnny, do not make that noise any more!" Susie is saucy to her mamma, and her mamma's friend reprovingly remarks to the little girl that she is pained and surprised to hear her speak so naughtily to her dear mamma. Children resent this, and are far more keen and observant of these matters than their elders think.
Little four-year-old and his mamma were spending the day at grandpapa's last week. The family was seated on the veranda when the small man announced his intention to his mamma of going out upon the grass to pick wild flowers. Before the mother could reply, the grandfather stated his objection:
"No, child, the grass is too wet. I am afraid you will get your feet damp."
Four-year-old was equal to the occasion, as Young America generally is.
"Thank you, grandpa," was the calm response, "but my mamma is here. She can manage me."
Undoubtedly he was extremely impertinent; but did not the interference of the grandparent justify the rebuke?
Every one, even the lower classes, those who are considered under-bred, know that it is an atrocious impertinence to make inquiries of one's best friend as to the state of his finances. But like questions in the form of "feelers" are of such frequent occurrence that a reminder of this kind is scarcely out of place. There are few persons who deliberately ask you the amount of your income, but how often does one hear the queries:
"How much did you pay for that horse of yours?" "Was that gown very expensive?" "Have you a mortgage on that place?" "How much is the mortgage?" "What rent do you pay?" "How much does your table cost you per week?" etc., etc., until the unfortunate being at whom this battery of inquiries is aimed feels tempted to forget his "polish" and "finish," and retort as did the sobbing street boy when questioned by the elderly philanthropic woman as to the cause of his tears:
"None of your blamed business."
The etiquette of the table is supposed to be so thoroughly rooted and grounded into our children from infancy, and is, as a rule, so well understood by all ladies and gentlemen, that the visitor though a fool, could scarcely err therein. But this is not the case. At my own board, a man of the world, accustomed to excellent society, told me that he saw no mustard on the table, and as he always liked it with his meat he would trouble me to order some; while another man, a brilliant scholar, asked at a dinner party, "Will you tell your butler to bring me a glass of milk?" With these men the sandpaper of parental admonition or the flowing varnish of early association had evidently been neglected.
Intimacy, and even tender friendship may, and do, exist between men and women who are bound to one another by no family tie. Familiarity can never decently enter into such a relationship. If you, as a refined woman, have a man friend who slaps you on the back, squeezes your arm to attract your attention, holds your hand longer than friendship ought to dictate, and, without your permission, calls you in public or in private by your first name, you need not hesitate to drop him from your list of intimates. He is neither a gentleman nor does he respect you as you deserve. He may be, in his way, an estimable man, but it is not in your way, and he belongs to the rank of very ordinary acquaintanceship.
If a man asks you to call him by his first name, and your friendship with him justifies it, do not hesitate to do so; but if he is the "finished" article, he will not imagine that this concession on your part gives him the right to drop unbidden the "Miss" or "Mrs." from your name.
A true gentleman does not speak of a lady, even his betrothed, to strangers without what boys call "the handle" to her name. Nor should a woman mention men by their last names only. When a young or elderly woman speaks of "Smith," "Brown" or "Jones," you may make up your mind that the last coat of varnish was neglected when she was "finished."
Always be cautious in making advances toward familiarity. Be certain that your friendship is desired before going more than halfway. Not long ago I heard a woman say gravely of an uncongenial acquaintance whose friendship had been forced upon her:
"She is certainly my familiar friend. We can never be intimate."
In the best grades of society it is not now considered a sign of refinement to be "delicate." When our grandmothers, and even our mothers, were girls, robust health was esteemed almost a vulgarity. Now, the woman who is pale and "delicate" is not an interesting invalid, but sometimes an absolute bore. There are exceptions to this rule of pride in indelicate health,—notably among the lower classes. These people having neglected and set at defiance all hygienic rules, feel that a mark of special distinction is set upon them by their diseases. In fact, they "enjoy poor health," and take all occasions to discourse to the willing or disgusted listener upon their "symptoms," "disorders," their "nerves," and "Complaints." The final word should be spelt with a huge C, so important a place does it occupy in their estimation. The three D's which should be rigidly excluded from polite conversation—Domestics, Dress and Diseases—form the staple of their conversation. And the greatest of these is Diseases.
A farmer's daughter, whose rosy cheeks and plump figure elicited from me a gratulatory comment upon her robust appearance, indignantly informed me that she was "by no means strong, and had been doctorin' off and on for a year past for the malaria."
"Do you eat and sleep tolerably well?"
"Oh, yes," with the plaintive whine peculiar to the would-be invalid. "I sleep dreadful heavy. I take a nap each day for a couple of hours. And I must have a pound of beefsteak or mutton-chops for dinner. The fever makes me that hungry! You see it devours all that I eat, and the strength of the food goes to that."
Had any one pointed out to the deluded girl the folly of her theory, and explained that the fever patient becomes almost crazed from the restlessness that will not allow him to sleep, and that he loathes the very thought of food with a disgust that makes the daintiest dishes prepared by loving hands as gritty cinders between his teeth, she would have smiled patronizing superiority, and explained at length that her complaint was a peculiar one,—no common, everyday illness.
With this class, stomach disorders and their attendant sufferings, such as giddiness, shortness of breath and pain in the side, are always attributed to cardiac irregularity. There may be a lack of appetite and dull or acute pain following eating, and the fetid breath arising from a disordered condition of the stomach; but they resent the notion that their "heart disease" is dyspepsia, and would, in all probability, discharge the physician who recommended pepsin and judicious diet.
Perhaps the most discouraging feature of this class of persons is that they are ignorant and obstinate in this ignorance. The opinion of all the medical fraternity in the country would, in the farmer's daughter's estimation, be unworthy of consideration compared with the advice or suggestion advanced by one of her own kind. The practitioner among the unlearned has fearful odds to contend with in trying to bring an ignorant patient under his regimen. One word from sister, cousin or aunt, and the invalid will cast aside the physician's remedies, and take quarts of some patent medicine.
If you should question your laundress or cook, or your farmer's wife, you would be appalled to discover what peculiar notions she has of her physical make-up. It would be interesting and astounding to allow one of these people to draw a chart of her interior machinery, as she supposes it to be. It would bear as little resemblance to the reality as did the charts of the ancients who antedated Tycho Brahe, Pythagoras, and Copernicus, to the celestial charts of the nineteenth century. One would note especially the prominence given to certain organs. The stomach is almost, if not entirely, ignored. It is a matter for speculation why this valuable factor of the human system should be regarded with some disfavor by the ignorant. They joyfully admit the existence of the heart, brain and kidneys, and even the liver, and discourse with zestful unction on their own peculiar and special diseases of these organs; but suggest not to them that the stomach is out of sorts. This is not, in their estimation, a romantic Complaint. Their specialty is Nerves. To hear the frequency with which they attribute to these all uncomfortable sensations, one would imagine that the victims were made by a special pattern, like the tongue, of ends of nerves, all super-sensitive. The Nerves are a mysterious portion of their being, to whose account everything is laid, from extreme irritability and vexation, to nausea and rheumatism. "My nerves are that sensitive!" is a universal complaint.
It is difficult for the average mind to grasp the reason why the stomach, man's best friend and worst enemy, should be made of no account, and repudiated with such indignant resentment. Surely the giddiness occasioned by a tendency of blood to the head is no more romantic than the dizziness induced by gaseous fermentation of matter in the stomach. The digestive organs should and do receive vast consideration from the medical profession. How often do we hear it said of some man lying at the point of death that as long as his digestive functions are duly performed there is hope; and how often, after the crisis is past, do we learn from the jubilant doctor that the patient's stomach was his salvation! "If that had failed, nothing could have saved him."
Let me recommend, as the pre-eminent duty of the sensible reader, care of the stomach and the alimentary apparatus. By care I do not mean dosing. With too many people the science of hygiene is confined in their imagination and practice to remedial measures. Of the weightier matters of precaution they reck nothing. Once in so often they "take a course of physic." This is done not so much because it is needed, as on principle, and because they have somewhere heard that it is a good thing to do. So, although all the digestive functions may be performing their part in a perfectly proper and regular manner, they must be weakened and irritated by draughts which do more harm than good.
Old proverbs are often the truest, and this may be affirmed of the adage that "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." Do not, if by care you can prevent it, allow your stomach to become disordered; but if, in spite of care, it is irritated, soothe instead of punishing it. Manage it as you sometimes control a fretful child,—by letting it severely alone. A few hours' fasting is an excellent remedy, and may continue until a feeling of faintness warns you that nature needs your assistance. Then eat slowly a little light food, such as milk-toast or very hot beef-tea. Quiet and diet work more wonders than quarts of medicine.
If your digestive organs are susceptible to disorder, be reasonably careful about what you eat, even though you consider yourself quite well. What a stomach has once done in the line of misbehavior, a stomach may do again. If a pitcher has in it a tiny flaw, it may crack when filled with boiling liquid. If you know of some article of food which disagrees with you, let it alone. If you are inclined to dyspepsia, eschew hot breads, pastry, fried or greasy food, nuts and many sweets. Avoid becoming dependent upon any medicine to ward off indigestion, if by care in your diet you can accomplish the same purpose. Many dyspeptics take an inordinate amount of bicarbonate of soda, an excellent corrective to acidity of the stomach when partaken of occasionally, and in small portions. In some cases, large and frequent doses have produced a cancerous condition of the coating of the stomach, which has resulted in death. It sounds ridiculous to speak of dependence upon soda-mint and pepsin tablets degenerating into an incurable habit, but there are some people to whom they are as necessary after each meal as were snuff and quids of tobacco to the old people seventy years ago.
Nature has provided a wonderful system of drains for carrying away the effete matter of the body. The effect caused by the neglect of these is akin to that produced by the choking of the waste-pipes in a house. If they become stopped, you send in haste for a plumber, that he may correct the trouble before it causes illness. If this state of affairs is allowed to continue in the human body, the system takes up the poison which slowly but surely does its work.
Next to the special organs designed for this plan of sewerage, the skin takes the most active part in disposing of impurities in the blood. The tiny pores are so many little doors through which the mischief may pass harmlessly away. But these pores must be kept open, and the only way to accomplish this end is by the free use of soap and warm water. This is such a homely remedy that it is sometimes sneered at and often overlooked. Certain portions of the body, such as the face and hands, are frequently washed, while other parts which are covered by the clothing are neglected. The entire body, especially in the creases where perspiration accumulates, should be sponged once a day, if one perspires freely. While sponging is excellent, a plunge bath should be frequently indulged in, as it opens the pores and thoroughly cleanses the entire surface.
Another desideratum is exercise, regular and abundant. Housework and walking are all that a woman needs, although she may find great pleasure as well as benefit from horseback riding, rowing and tennis. But let her not allow herself to tax her strength to the point of over-weariness. The amount of sleep needed by a woman is a mooted point, but unless she is what slangy boys term "constitutionally tired," she should sleep enough at night to ensure her against drowsiness in the daytime. For the elderly and feeble, an occasional nap after the noonday meal, especially during the warm weather, will prove most refreshing.
Try to bear in mind that you are not the only one concerned in your health. Higginson, in speaking of the duty of girls to observe all hygienic laws, tells us that, "unless our girls are healthy, the country is not safe. The fate of institutions may hang on the precise temperament which our next president shall have inherited from his mother."
CHEERFULNESS AS A CHRISTIAN DUTY.
Near me stands an anniversary present from a dear friend. It is a large "loving cup," and is just now full of my favorite nasturtiums—glowing as if they held in concentrated form all the sunshine which has brought them to their glory of orange, crimson, gold and scarlet. The ware of which the cup is made is a rich brownish-yellow in color, and between each of the three handles is a dainty design in white-and-cream, surrounded by an appropriate motto. The one turned toward me at present forms the text of my present talk and will, I hope, prove a happy hint to some of my readers:
"Be always as happy as ever you can, For no one delights in a sorrowful man."
The rhyming couplet has set me to thinking, long and seriously, upon the duty of cheerfulness, a duty which we owe not only to our fellow-men, but to ourselves. It is such an uncomfortable thing to be miserable that I marvel that any sensible human being ever gives way to the inclination to look on the dark side of life.
In writing this article, I wish to state in the beginning that the women to whom it is addressed are not those over whom bereavement has cast dark shadows. For genuine grief and affliction I have vast and unbounded sympathy. For imaginary woes I have none. There is a certain class of sentimentalists to whom it is positive joy to be made to weep, and the longer they can pump up the tears the more content they are. These are people who have never known a heart-sorrow. They revel in books that end in death, and they listen to the details of a dying-bed scene with ghoulish interest. Had genuine bereavement ever been theirs, they would find only harrowing pain in such things. Shallow brooks always gurgle most loudly in passing over the stones underlying them. The great and mighty river flows silently and calmly above the large boulders hidden far below the surface.
The women of this sentimental class are those that read and write verses upon "tiny graves," "dainty coffins," and "baby shrouds."
The other day a friend shuddered audibly over the poem, admired by many, entitled—"The Little White Hearse."
"Just listen," she exclaimed, "to this last verse! After describing the grief of the mother whose baby has just ridden to what she calls 'its long, lasting sleep,' she further harrows up the feelings by winding up with:—
"'I know not her name, but her sorrow I know— While I paused on that crossing I lived it once more. And back to my heart surged that river of woe That but in the heart of a mother can flow— For the little white hearse has been, too, at my door.'
"How could she write it? How could she bring herself to put that down in black and white with the memory of the baby she has lost, in her mind?"
"My dear," quietly answered a deep-natured, practical woman,—"either the author of that poem is incapable of such suffering as some mothers endure, or the little white hearse has never stopped at her door. If it had, she could not have written the poem."
She who "talks out" her pain is not the one who is killed by it. A peculiarity of hopeless cases of cancer is that the sufferer therefrom has a dread of mentioning the horror that is eating away her life.
Since, then, imaginary woe is a species of self-indulgence, let us stamp that healthful person who gives way to it as either grossly selfish or foolishly affected. Illness is the only excuse for such weakness, and even then will-power may do much toward chasing away the blue devils.
Some people find it harder than others to be uniformly cheerful. While one man is, as the saying is, "born happy," another inherits a tendency to look upon the sombre aspect of every matter presented to him. To the latter, the price of cheerfulness is eternal vigilance lest he lapse into morbidness. But after a while habit becomes second nature. I do not advocate the idea of taking life as a huge joke. The man or woman who does this, throws the care and responsibility that should be his or hers upon some other shoulders. My plea is for the brave and bright courage that makes labor light. When we work, let us work cheerfully; when we play, let us play with our whole hearts. In this simple rule lies the secret of the youth that endures long after the hair is white and the Delectable Mountains are in sight.
There is no habit of more fungus-like growth than that of melancholy, yet many good people give way to it. Some Christians go through this life as if it were indeed a vale of tears, and they, having been put in it without their consent were determined to make the worst of a bad bargain, and to be as wretched as opportunity would allow. How much better to consider this very good world as a garden, whose beauty depends largely upon our individual exertions to make it fair. We may cultivate and enjoy the flowers, or let them become so overrun with underbrush that the blossoms are smothered and hidden under the dank growth of the evil-smelling and common weeds.
Said a clergyman to one of his depressed and downcast parishioners:
"My friend, your religion does not seem to agree with you."
Only a few chapters back I quoted from the Apostle of Cheerfulness—Dr. Holmes—that most quotable of men. But he expresses what I would say so much more clearly than I can, that once more I refer my readers to him. I do not apologize for doing so. This last one of the noble company of America's great writers, who have passed away during the last ten years, cannot be read too much or loved too dearly. Let us see, what he, as Autocrat of the Breakfast Table, has to say on this subject.
"Oh, indeed, no! I am not ashamed to make you laugh occasionally. I think I could read you something which I have in my desk which would probably make you smile. Perhaps I will read it one of these days if you are patient with me when I am sentimental and reflective; not just now. The ludicrous has its place in the universe; it is not a human invention, but one of the divine ideas, illustrated in the practical jokes of kittens and monkeys long before Aristophanes or Shakespeare. How curious it is that we always consider solemnity and the absence of all gay surprises and encounter of wits as essential to the idea of the future life of those whom we thus deprive of half their faculties, and then call blessed. There are not a few who, even in this life, seem to be preparing themselves for that smileless eternity to which they look forward by banishing all gayety from their hearts and all joyousness from their countenances. I meet one such in the street not infrequently—a person of intelligence and education, but who gives me (and all that he passes), such a rayless and chilling look of recognition—something as if he were one of Heaven's assessors, come down to 'doom' every acquaintance he met—that, I have sometimes begun to sneeze on the spot, and gone home with a violent cold dating from that instant. I don't doubt he would cut his kitten's tail off if he caught her playing with it. Please tell me who taught her to play with it?"
It is one of the unexplained mysteries of human nature that people receive their griefs as direct from the hand of God, but not their joys. Why does not a kind Father mean for us to profit by the one as much as by the other? And since into nearly every life falls more sunshine than shadow, why leave the sunny places and go out of our way to sit and mope in the darkest, dreariest shade we can find? I believe in the Gospel of Cheerfulness. It is your duty and mine to get every drop of cream off of our own especial pan of milk. And if we do have to drink skim milk, shall we throw away the cream on that account? If it were not to be used it would not be there. God does not make things to have them wasted.
All of us have our worries—some small, some great—and the strength and depth of our characters are proved by the way in which we meet the trials. Cheerfulness is God's own messenger to lighten our burdens and to make our times of joy even more bright and beautiful. Have you noticed how, as soon as you can laugh over a vexation, the sting of it is gone? And the best of it all is that you cannot be happy yourself without casting a little light, even though it be but reflected sunshine, into some other life.
William Dunbar, in 1479, said:
"Be merry, man, and take not sair to mind The wavering of this wretched world of sorrow: To God be humble, to thy friend be kind, And with thy neighbor gladly lend and borrow; His chance to-night, it may be thine to-morrow! Be blyth in heart for any aventure, How oft with wise men it has been said aforow, Without gladness availes no treasure."
THE FAMILY INVALID.
One of the most anomalous of the inconsistencies peculiar to human nature is that we who are flesh, and consequently liable to all the ills to which flesh is heir, should know so little about the manner in which to check or, at least, alleviate these miseries. In the average household the proper care of the sick is an unknown art, or one so little understood that illness would seem to be an impossible contingency.
The chamber of illness is at best a sadly uncomfortable place, and it is the duty of the nurse, be she a hireling or the nearest and dearest of kin to the prostrate inhabitant thereof, to be cognizant of the methods of tending and easing the unfortunate being during the trying period of his enforced idleness. Only those who have been confined to a sick couch can appreciate its many trying features. The looker-on sees a man or woman uncomfortable or in pain, lying in an easy bed, "the best place for sick folk," with nothing to trouble him beyond the bodily malease which holds him there. He is merely laid aside for repairs, and, if the observer be somewhat wearied and overworked, he is conscious of a pang of envy. But he does not think of the sleepless nights through which the monotonous ticking of the clock is varied only by the striking of the hours, each one of them seeming double its actual length; or of the aching head and limbs; the feverish restlessness which makes repose an impossibility; or—most trying of all—the dumb nausea and loathing of the food, which, as one poor woman complained of meals partaken in bed, "tastes of the mattress and covers!"
The member of the family who is laid low by illness should receive the first consideration of the entire household. Intelligent care and nursing will be of more benefit than medicines. An old poem, written over two hundred and fifty years ago, struck the right chord when it advised:
"Use three physicians: First, Dr. Quiet, Then Dr. Merryman, and Dr. Diet."
Noise and disturbance of whatever description must be an unknown quantity in a sick room. There "Dr. Quiet" should hold undisputed and peaceful sway. Felt or soft kid slippers, devoid of any offensive squeak, should be worn, and loud tones and exclamations prohibited. On the other hand, do not whisper to any person who chances to be in the room. Whispering arouses the patient's curiosity and suspicions, and, if he be asleep, the sibilant sound will pierce his slumbers and awaken him. Let all remarks be made in a low-pitched undertone. Never, even at the risk of causing offence, allow discussion of any subject to occur in the presence of the invalid. You may imagine that he does not mind it, that his mind will be diverted; but the argument ended, there may be noticed a flush on the cheek and a rapidity of breathing that bodes ill. One admirable physician makes it a rule never to permit political or religious topics to be canvassed in the hearing of one of his "cases," as a wide experience has taught him that such matters cannot be talked of without causing some degree of excitement, and thus retarding the patient's progress on the road toward health. For the same reason, try, by every effort, to keep your charge from thinking of work which should be done, and of any possible inconvenience he may be causing. There never was, and never will be, a convenient time for a person to be ill, so, whenever it comes, resolve to make the best of it. There is no greater cruelty than that of allowing a sick person to imagine that, but for his ill-timed indisposition, you might be able to go here or there, or to do this or that. Under such an idea the couch becomes a bed of clipped horse-hairs to the helpless sufferer, and he feels himself to be a useless hulk. This unkindness is oftentimes unintentional, and due more to thoughtlessness than to deliberate hard-heartedness. To avoid causing such discomfort do not look worried or distracted while ministering to your patient's wants, and do not fussily "fly around" in straightening and setting the room to rights. Let everything be done decently and in order, rapidly and quietly.
Another desideratum of the chamber of illness is cleanliness in the minutest particular. When the disease permits it, the sick person should be sponged all over daily, the teeth cleansed and the hair brushed. Wash the face and hands often during the day, as this process rests and refreshes.
The same gown should not be worn day and night, and the sheets must be changed frequently. If practicable, place a lounge at the side of the bed and lift or roll the patient off upon that, and turn mattresses and beat up pillows before re-making the bed. If this cannot be done with safety, the sheets may be removed, and others adjusted, simply by moving the invalid from one side to the other of the bed, rolling up the soiled sheet closely to the body, and spreading on the clean one in its place. Then the patient may be moved back to his original place, and the fresh sheet spread on the other side of the couch.
Air the room often, covering the patient warmly for a moment while you let in a sluice of ozone. Do not allow the chamber to become overheated, or to grow so cold as to chill the hands and face. The sick person may wear over the shoulders a flannel "nightingale" or jacket, to leave the arms at liberty.
In preparing the tray of food, let everything be as dainty as possible. Use for this purpose your choicest china and whitest linen. One important rule with regard to food is, Give a very little at a time, and avoid vulgar abundance. The sight of the loaded plate will discourage a weak appetite, and the delicate stomach will revolt at the suggestion of accepting such a mass. A small bird, a neatly trimmed French chop, a bit of tenderloin steak, or tender broiled chicken, will be eaten, when, if two chops or half a steak were offered, not a mouthful would be swallowed. To the well and strong this may seem like folly, but let us, in our strength, pity and humor the weaknesses of those upon whom God has laid suffering. It takes all the ingenuity and tact which love can muster to make a sick-room tolerable, and food anything but distasteful.
A poor consumptive girl had fancied that she could eat a few raw oysters, and the physician cheerfully prescribed them. At his next visit he was met by the mother, who informed him with dismay that her daughter would not touch the delicacy—"her stomach turned against it the instant the dish was brought in."
"How many did you let her see?" he asked.
"Which would have daunted a well man, madam!" said the wise man. "Give her one at a time—cold and crisp, upon your best china plate, and tell her that is all she can have for at least an hour. Make her think that her appetite is under restraint. This is in itself a stimulant."
The hint is valuable.
In administering medicine, be careful to follow the physician's directions as to quantity and time of taking. Do not prepare the dose in the presence of the patient, as it may make him exceedingly nervous to watch the dropping or pouring of the drug; and after it has been swallowed, put bottle and spoon out of sight.
In too many families there exists sinful ignorance as to what should be done in case of illness before the doctor arrives. If a child comes in from play, hoarse and feverish, with nausea and pain in the head, he is often allowed to sit or lie about the house until the disagreeable symptoms become so pronounced as to cause alarm, and the physician is summoned. The sufferer should have his feet soaked in hot water, be put to bed, and some anti-febrine like aconite administered until a slight perspiration is induced. Aconite is such deadly poison that the mother must be sure she knows just in what quantity to give it. The dose for a child from three to six years of age is half a drop in a teaspoonful of water, every hour until the feverishness disappears. Unless serious illness is beginning, the chances are that, under this treatment, the little one will be almost well by the next day.
Mothers would do well to make a study of children's ailments and their proper treatment. Above all, the matter of diet should be comprehended. It is appalling to see the conglomeration of indigestible substances which a sick person is allowed to eat. All children should be trained to take medicine, and to submit to any prescribed dietary without resistance.
To keep up your patient's courage be, or at all events seem, cheerful. Wise old Solomon, in his day, knew that a merry heart did good like a medicine, and the morsel of wisdom is no less true now than then. Such being the case, bring into the presence of the sufferer a bright face and undisturbed demeanor.
Much may be said on the other side of the question, i.e., from the nurse's standpoint. There are patients and patients, and some of them are impatients. It is a pity for a sick person to allow himself to so far lose control over his temper and manners as to be disagreeable when all that tender care and nursing can do is his. But really ill people are seldom cross, and the tried nurse may take to heart the comforting thought that one rarely hears of a man dying in a bad humor. It is undoubtedly discouraging to have a patient turn away from a carefully prepared dainty with a shudder of disgust and revulsion. It may sound harsh to say it, but nobody, sick or well, has the right to do such an unkind and rude thing. Any one in extreme bodily discomfort cannot be always smiling and uttering thanks, but he can be gentle and appreciative of the efforts that are made toward mitigating his distress. On his own account, as well as for the sake of his attendant, he should keep up a semblance of cheerfulness, the moral force of which is great. On the part of patient and nurse there must be self control and forbearance, which if closely practiced may bring sunshine into the most darkly shaded chamber of suffering.
A TEMPERANCE TALK.
(Frank and Personal.)
A correspondent sends me, under cover of a personal letter, this request:
"Will Marion Harland show her hand upon the temperance question? The occasional mention of wine, brandy, etc., in her cookery-books, and her silence upon a subject of such vital moment to humanity, may predispose many to doubt her soundness as to the apostle's injunction to be 'temperate in all things.'"
To clear decks for action, I observe that the text quoted by my catechist contains no "injunction" but an impersonal statement of the truth that "Every man that striveth for the mastery" (or in the games) "is temperate in all things." The apostle is likening the running and wrestling of the Olympic games to the Christian warfare, and throws in the pregnant reminder that he who is training for race or fight must, as he says elsewhere, "Keep his body under." The same rules hold good with the athlete of to-day. While training, he neither drinks strong liquors nor smokes.
The stringency of the regulation, I interject in passing, is a powerful argument laid ready to the hand of the advocates of total abstinence. A habit that so far injures the physical powers as to tell upon the action of heart, brains, lungs or muscles, must be an evil to any human being, however healthy.
The Chief Apostle, in another place, admonishes his neophytes to let their "moderation" be known of all men. The revised version translates the word "forbearance" or "gentleness." We will try to keep both texts in mind during the informal homily that is the outcome of the question put to my surprised self.
"Surprised," because in the course of thirty-odd years of literary life I have had so many opportunities of "showing my hand" upon this and other great moral issues, and have improved them so diligently that my readers should by now be tolerably familiar with the platform on which I stand. Not being a card player, and knowing absolutely nothing of the technicalities of the game, I am at a loss whether or not to look for an implication of underhand work in the phrase chosen by the inquisitor. If she means that I have kept aught back which that part of the reading public that does me the honor to be interested in my work has a right to know, I hope in the course of this paper to disabuse her mind of the impression.
As a means to this end, I wish to put upon record disapproval that amounts to detestation of the practice of drinking anything that, in the words of the old temperance pledge I "took" when a child, "will make drunk come." That was the way it ran. The Rev. Thomas P. Hunt, one of the best known temperance lecturers in America, used to make us stand up in a body and chant it, he keeping time with head and hand, and the boys imitating him.
"We do not think We'll ever drink Brandy or rum, Or anything that makes drunk come"
I have never changed my mind on that head. What I thought then, I know now, that for half a century I have seen what desolation drunkenness has wrought in our land. I never see a boy toss off his "cocktail," or "cobbler", or "sling," or by whatever other name the devil's brew is disguised, with the mannish, knowing air that proves him to be as weak as water, when he would have you think him strong as—fusel oil!—that I do not recall the vehement outburst in Mrs. Mulock-Craik's "A Life for a Life," of the old clergyman whose only son had filled a drunkard's grave:
"If I had a son, and he liked wine, as a child does, perhaps—a pretty little boy, sitting at table and drinking healths at birthdays; or a schoolboy, proud to do what he sees his father doing—I would take his glass from him, and fill it with poison—deadly poison—that he might kill himself at once, rather than grow up to be his friends' curse and his own damnation—a drunkard!"
I lack words in which to express my contempt for the petty ambition, rooted and grounded in vanity, that urges a young fellow to prove the steadiness of his brain by tippling what he does not want, or even like. For not one in fifty of those who take "nips" and "coolers," cared for the taste of the perilous stuff at the first or twentieth trial. He proved himself a man, one of the stronger parts of creation, by pouring liquid fire down his quailing throat until he could do so without winking. He swears and smokes cigarettes at street corners for the same reason.
"I love a dog!" exclaimed a lively young girl, patting a big St. Bernard.
"Would I were a dog!" sighed an amorous dude.
"Oh, you'll grow!" retorted the fair one, consolingly.
I feel like plagiarizing the saucy hit, in witnessing the desperate efforts aforementioned on the part of our mistaken boy. Sometimes (let us thank a merciful heaven that this is so!) he does grow out of the folly, and into manly self-contempt at the recollection of it. Often—ah!—the pity and the shame of it!
If somebody were to make it fashionable to take belladonna, aconite or prussic acid in "safe" doses, three, or six, or a dozen times a day in defiance of all the medical science in the world, the would-be man would never be content until he had overcome natural repugnance to the "bitters," and rate himself as so much higher in the scale of being by the length of time his constitution could hold out against the deadly effect of the potation—plume himself upon his superiority to men who killed themselves by taking a like quantity. To drink one glass of wine or spirits a day is to venture upon thin ice; when the one glass has become the three that our boy must have, it is but a question of time how soon the treacherous crust will give way.
Clearly, then—so clearly that it is difficult to see how anybody, however blinded by self-conceit, can fail to perceive it—the only safe thing is to let liquor as a beverage alone. The practice is, at the best, like kindling the kitchen fire every morning with kerosene. Insurance agents are slow to take risks upon property where this is the rule.
Nobody is so besotted as to ask, "Does dram-drinking pay?" There is not a sane man or woman in America who would hesitate in the reply, and the answers would all be the same.
If he is a fool who tempts the approach of appetite that may—that does in seventy-five times out of one hundred—become deadly and incurable disease, what shall we say of the "strong head" that espies no sin in social convivialities with the weak brother? Let me tell one or two stories of the score that rush upon my memory with the approach to this part of my subject.
Forty years ago I sat down to the dinner-table of a man who stood high in the community and church. He was a liberal liver, as his father had been before him. That father had taken his toddy tri-daily for seventy years, and died in the odor of sanctity. They could do such things in that day, and never transcend the three-glass limit. My godly grandfather did the same, and was never one whit the worse for liquor in his life. Their sons and grandsons cannot do it without ruining themselves, body and soul.
I italicize the sentence. I wish I could write it in letters of fire over the door of every liquor saloon.
It may be the climate; it may be the high-pressure, fever-heated rate of modern living; it may as well be that those honest men who made their own apple whiskey and peach brandy, by their daily dram-drinking transmitted the taste which adulterated liquors, in the generation following, were to lash into uncontrollable appetite.
But to my story. My father, one of the first in his day to set the example of total abstinence "for his brethren and companions' sake," had spoke repeatedly in my presence of the harm done by social drinking, and what influence women could exert for or against the custom. So I declined wine upon general principles when it was offered by the courtly host. No verbal comment was made upon my singular conduct, but the pert fifteen-year-old son of the house took occasion to drink my health with a dumb grimace, and beckoned the butler audaciously to fill up his glass, and a distinguished clergyman, whose parishioner the host was, looked polite astonishment across the table at the girl who dared. He took his wine gracefully—pointedly, it seemed to me—an example imitated by his curate, a much younger man. When we returned to the drawing-room, the master of the house sought me out, and began to rally me upon the attentions of a young man in the company to myself, in such a fashion that my cheeks flushed hotly with indignant astonishment. Lifting my eyes to his, I saw that he was drunk! The horror and dismay of the discovery were inconceivable. The rest of the interview, which was ended by his wife's appearance upon the scene to coax him off to his room, left an indelible impression upon my mind. The Spartans had a way of "drenching" a helot with liquor, then parading him in his drunken antics before the boys of the town to disgust them with dram-drinking. My object-lesson was the more striking because I had honored the inebriate.
The eloquent rector read the burial service over him ten years ago. For over twenty years he had been a hopeless sot, beggared in fortune, wrecked in reputation—a by-word and a hissing in a town where he had once stood among the best and purest. He outlived his son, who drank himself to death before he was thirty.
Another and later experience was in a fine old farm-house in the Middle States. There had been a birthday celebration, and neighbors and friends gathered about a board laden with country dainties, and congratulated the worthy couple who presided over the feast upon the four stalwart sons who, with their wives and children, were settled upon and about an estate that had been for six generations in the family. Hale, merry fellows they were—a little more red of face and loud of talk than was quite seemly in a stranger's eyes, but industrious and "forehanded," and kind of heart to parents, wives and babies. After dinner we sat under the cherry trees upon the lawn, and one of the sons brought out a round table, another a tray of glasses, another a monster bowl of milk punch.
Everybody pledged the patriarch's health in the creamy potation except myself. Again, I acted upon general principles. Were I a wine-bibber I should never touch glasses with a young man, or offer him anything "that could make drunk come." Disliking spirituous draughts of all kinds, and with the object-lesson of my girlhood branded upon memory, I refused to taste the brimming glass, even when the pastor of the household, a genial "dominie," rallied me upon my abstinence. He offered gallantly, when he found me obdurate, to drink my share, and had his glass replenished by the reddest-faced and loudest-mouthed of the farmer-sons.
"You're the right sort, dominie!" he said, with a roar of laughter, filling the tumbler until it ran over and into the pastor's cuffs. Whereat the farmer laughed yet more uproariously.
One of the four young men died a while ago of delirium tremens, and not one of the other three has drawn a sober breath in years. The parents are dead, the old farm is sold, and the brothers are all poor. Rum has done it all.
I do not imply that either of these scenes had any marked influence upon the destiny of the slaves of appetite, except as they were encouraged to pursue a course tacitly approved by the wise and good. But I am thankful that I did not lend the weight of a straw to the downward slide. "Woe unto him that putteth the cup to his neighbor's lips!" says the Book of books. There might be subjoined, "Or helps to hold it there when the neighbor's own hand has lifted it!"