Part 3 out of 3
that one a still beautiful and, comparatively speaking, young lady.
Be quiet for a minute--can't you? Give the poor girl a chance."
A lady of my acquaintance says that sitting out a Wagnerian opera
seems to her like listening to a singer accompanied by four
orchestras playing different tunes at the same time. As I have said,
there are times when Wagner carries me along with him, when I exult
in the crash and whirl of his contending harmonies. But, alas! there
are those other moods--those after dinner moods--when my desire is
for something distinctly resembling a tune. Still, there are other
composers of grand opera besides Wagner. I grant to the late Herr
Wagner, that, in so far as music is concerned, opera can supply us
with all we can need.
But it was also Wagner's argument that grand opera could supply us
with acting, and there I am compelled to disagree with him. Wagner
thought that the arts of acting and singing could be combined. I
have seen artists the great man has trained himself. As singers they
left nothing to be desired, but the acting in grand opera has never
yet impressed me. Wagner never succeeded in avoiding the operatic
convention and nobody else ever will. When the operatic lover meets
his sweetheart he puts her in a corner and, turning his back upon
her, comes down to the footlights and tells the audience how he
adores her. When he has finished, he, in his turn, retires into the
corner, and she comes down and tells the audience that she is simply
mad about him.
Overcome with joy at finding she really cares for him, he comes down
right and says that this is the happiest moment of his life; and she
stands left, twelve feet away from him, and has the presentiment that
all this sort of thing is much too good to last. They go off
together, backwards, side by side. If there is any love-making, such
as I understand by the term, it is done "off." This is not my idea
of acting. But I do not see how you are going to substitute for it
anything more natural. When you are singing at the top of your
voice, you don't want a heavy woman hanging round your neck. When
you are killing a man and warbling about it at the same time, you
don't want him fooling around you defending himself. You want him to
have a little reasonable patience, and to wait in his proper place
till you have finished, telling him, or rather telling the crowd, how
much you hate and despise him.
When the proper time comes, and if he is where you expect to find him
while thinking of your upper C, you will hit him lightly on the
shoulder with your sword, and then he can die to his own particular
tune. If you have been severely wounded in battle, or in any other
sort of row, and have got to sing a long ballad before you finally
expire, you don't want to have to think how a man would really behave
who knew he had only got a few minutes to live and was feeling bad
about it. The chances are that he would not want to sing at all.
The woman who really loved him would not encourage him to sing. She
would want him to keep quiet while she moved herself about a bit, in
case there was anything that could be done for him.
If a mob is climbing the stairs thirsting for your blood, you do not
want to stand upright with your arms stretched out, a good eighteen
inches from the door, while you go over at some length the varied
incidents leading up to the annoyance. If your desire were to act
naturally you would push against that door for all you were worth,
and yell for somebody to bring you a chest of drawers and a bedstead,
and things like that, to pile up against it. If you were a king, and
were giving a party, you would not want your guests to fix you up at
the other end of the room and leave you there, with nobody to talk to
but your own wife, while they turned their backs upon you, and had a
long and complicated dance all to themselves. You would want to be
in it; you would want to let them know that you were king.
In acting, all these little points have to be considered. In opera,
everything is rightly sacrificed to musical necessity. I have seen
the young, enthusiastic opera-singer who thought that he or she could
act and sing at the same time. The experienced artist takes the
centre of the stage and husbands his resources. Whether he is
supposed to be indignant because somebody has killed his mother, or
cheerful because he is going out to fight his country's foes, who are
only waiting until he has finished singing to attack the town, he
leaves it to the composer to make clear.
Also it was Herr Wagner's idea that the back cloth would leave the
opera-goer indifferent to the picture gallery. The castle on the
rock, accessible only by balloon, in which every window lights up
simultaneously and instantaneously, one minute after sunset, while
the full moon is rushing up the sky at the pace of a champion comet--
that wonderful sea that suddenly opens and swallows up the ship--
those snow-clad mountains, over which the shadow of the hero passes
like a threatening cloud--the grand old chateau, trembling in the
wind--what need, will ask the opera-goer of the future, of your
Turners and your Corots, when, for prices ranging from a shilling
upwards, we can have a dozen pictures such as these rolled up and
down before us every evening?
But perhaps the most daring hope of all was the dream that came to
Herr Wagner that his opera singers, his grouped choruses, would
eventually satisfy the craving of the public for high class statuary.
I am not quite sure the general public does care for statuary. I do
not know whether the idea has ever occurred to the Anarchist, but,
were I myself organising secret committee meetings for unholy
purposes, I should invite my comrades to meet in that section of the
local museum devoted to statuary. I can conceive of no place where
we should be freer from prying eyes and listening ears. A select
few, however, do appreciate statuary; and such, I am inclined to
think, will not be weaned from their passion by the contemplation of
the opera singer in his or her various quaint costumes.
And even if the tenor always satisfied our ideal of Apollo, and the
soprano were always as sylph-like as she is described in the
libretto, even then I should doubt the average operatic chorus being
regarded by the connoisseur as a cheap and pleasant substitute for a
bas relief from the Elgin marbles. The great thing required of that
operatic chorus is experience. The young and giddy-pated the chorus
master has no use for. The sober, honest, industrious lady or
gentleman, with a knowledge of music is very properly his ideal.
What I admire about the chorus chiefly is its unity. The whole
village dresses exactly alike. In wicked, worldly villages there is
rivalry, leading to heartburn and jealously. One lady comes out
suddenly, on, say, a Bank Holiday, in a fetching blue that conquers
every male heart. Next holiday her rival cuts her out with a green
hat. In the operatic village it must be that the girls gather
together beforehand to arrange this thing. There is probably a
"The dear Count's wedding," announces the chairwoman, "you will all
be pleased to hear, has been fixed for the fourteenth, at eleven
o'clock in the morning. The entire village will be assembled at ten-
thirty to await the return of the bridal cortege from the church, and
offer its felicitations. Married ladies, will, of course, come
accompanied by their husbands. Unmarried ladies must each bring a
male partner as near their own height as possible. Fortunately, in
this village the number of males is exactly equal to that of females,
so that the picture need not be spoiled. The children will organise
themselves into an independent body and will group themselves
picturesquely. It has been thought advisable," continues the
chairwoman, "that the village should meet the dear Count and his
bride at some spot not too far removed from the local alehouse. The
costume to be worn by the ladies will consist of a short pink skirt
terminating at the knees and ornamented with festoons of flowers;
above will be worn a bolero in mauve silk without sleeves and cut
decollete. The shoes should be of yellow satin over flesh-coloured
stockings. Ladies who are 'out' will wear pearl necklaces, and a
simple device in emeralds to decorate the hair. Thank God, we can
all of us afford it, and provided the weather holds up and nothing
unexpected happens--he is not what I call a lucky man, our Count, and
it is always as well to be prepared for possibilities--well, I think
we may look forward to a really pleasant day."
It cannot be done, Herr Wagner, believe me. You cannot substitute
the music drama for all the arts combined. The object to be aimed at
by the wise composer should be to make us, while listening to his
music, forgetful of all remaining artistic considerations.
THE WHITE MAN'S BURDEN! NEED IT BE SO HEAVY?
It is a delightful stroll on a sunny summer morning from the Hague to
the Huis ten Bosch, the little "house in the wood," built for
Princess Amalia, widow of Stadtholter Frederick Henry, under whom
Holland escaped finally from the bondage of her foes and entered into
the promised land of Liberty. Leaving the quiet streets, the tree-
bordered canals, with their creeping barges, you pass through a
pleasant park, where the soft-eyed deer press round you, hurt and
indignant if you have brought nothing in your pocket--not even a
piece of sugar--to offer them. It is not that they are grasping--it
is the want of attention that wounds them.
"I thought he was a gentleman," they seem to be saying to one
another, if you glance back, "he looked like a gentleman."
Their mild eyes haunt you; on the next occasion you do not forget.
The Park merges into the forest; you go by winding ways till you
reach the trim Dutch garden, moat-encircled, in the centre of which
stands the prim old-fashioned villa, which, to the simple Dutchman,
appears a palace. The concierge, an old soldier, bows low to you and
introduces you to his wife--a stately, white-haired dame, who talks
most languages a little, so far as relates to all things within and
appertaining to this tiny palace of the wood. To things without,
beyond the wood, her powers of conversation do not extend:
apparently such matters do not interest her.
She conducts you to the Chinese Room; the sun streams through the
windows, illuminating the wondrous golden dragons standing out in
bold relief from the burnished lacquer work, decorating still further
with light and shade the delicate silk embroideries thin taper hands
have woven with infinite pains. The walls are hung with rice paper,
depicting the conventional scenes of the conventional Chinese life.
You find your thoughts wandering. These grotesque figures, these
caricatures of humanity! A comical creature, surely, this Chinaman,
the pantaloon of civilization. How useful he has been to us for our
farces, our comic operas! This yellow baby, in his ample pinafore,
who lived thousands of years ago, who has now passed into this
strange second childhood.
But is he dying--or does the life of a nation wake again, as after
sleep? Is he this droll, harmless thing he here depicts himself?
And if not? Suppose fresh sap be stirring through his three hundred
millions? We thought he was so very dead; we thought the time had
come to cut him up and divide him, the only danger being lest we
should quarrel over his carcase among ourselves.
Suppose it turns out as the fable of the woodcutter and the bear?
The woodcutter found the bear lying in the forest. At first he was
much frightened, but the bear lay remarkably still. So the woodman
crept nearer, ventured to kick the bear--very gently, ready to run if
need be. Surely the bear was dead! And parts of a bear are good to
eat, and bearskin to poor woodfolk on cold winter nights is grateful.
So the woodman drew his knife and commenced the necessary
preliminaries. But the bear was not dead.
If the Chinaman be not dead? If the cutting-up process has only
served to waken him? In a little time from now we shall know.
From the Chinese Room the white-haired dame leads us to the Japanese
Room. Had gentle-looking Princess Amalia some vague foreshadowing of
the future in her mind when she planned these two rooms leading into
one another? The Japanese decorations are more grotesque, the
designs less cheerfully comical than those of cousin Chinaman. These
monstrous, mis-shapen wrestlers, these patient-looking gods, with
their inscrutable eyes! Was it always there, or is it only by the
light of present events that one reads into the fantastic fancies of
the artist working long ago in the doorway of his paper house, a
meaning that has hitherto escaped us?
But the chief attraction of the Huis ten Bosch is the gorgeous Orange
Saloon, lighted by a cupola, fifty feet above the floor, the walls
one blaze of pictures, chiefly of the gorgeous Jordaen school--"The
Defeat of the Vices," "Time Vanquishing Slander"--mostly allegorical,
in praise of all the virtues, in praise of enlightenment and
progress. Aptly enough in a room so decorated, here was held the
famous Peace Congress that closed the last century. One can hardly
avoid smiling as one thinks of the solemn conclave of grandees
assembled to proclaim the popularity of Peace.
It was in the autumn of the same year that Europe decided upon the
dividing-up of China, that soldiers were instructed by Christian
monarchs to massacre men, women and children, the idea being to
impress upon the Heathen Chinee the superior civilization of the
white man. The Boer war followed almost immediately. Since when the
white man has been pretty busy all over the world with his
"expeditions" and his "missions." The world is undoubtedly growing
more refined. We do not care for ugly words. Even the burglar
refers airily to the "little job" he has on hand. You would think he
had found work in the country. I should not be surprised to learn
that he says a prayer before starting, telegraphs home to his anxious
wife the next morning that his task has been crowned with blessing.
Until the far-off date of Universal Brotherhood war will continue.
Matters considered unimportant by both parties will--with a mighty
flourish of trumpets--be referred to arbitration. I was talking of a
famous financier a while ago with a man who had been his secretary.
Amongst other anecdotes, he told me of a certain agreement about
which dispute had arisen. The famous financier took the paper into
his own hands and made a few swift calculations.
"Let it go," he concluded, "it is only a thousand pounds at the
outside. May as well be honest."
Concerning a dead fisherman or two, concerning boundaries through
unproductive mountain ranges we shall arbitrate and feel virtuous.
For gold mines and good pasture lands, mixed up with a little honour
to give respectability to the business, we shall fight it out, as
previously. War being thus inevitable, the humane man will rejoice
that by one of those brilliant discoveries, so simple when they are
explained, war in the future is going to be rendered equally
satisfactory to victor and to vanquished.
In by-elections, as a witty writer has pointed out, there are no
defeats--only victories and moral victories. The idea seems to have
caught on. War in the future is evidently going to be conducted on
the same understanding. Once upon a time, from a far-off land, a
certain general telegraphed home congratulating his Government that
the enemy had shown no inclination whatever to prevent his running
away. The whole country rejoiced.
"Why, they never even tried to stop him," citizens, meeting other
citizens in the street, told each other. "Ah, they've had enough of
him. I bet they are only too glad to get rid of him. Why, they say
he ran for miles without seeing a trace of the foe."
The enemy's general, on the other hand, also wrote home
congratulating his Government. In this way the same battle can be
mafficked over by both parties. Contentment is the great secret of
happiness. Everything happens for the best, if only you look at it
the right way. That is going to be the argument. The general of the
future will telegraph to headquarters that he is pleased to be able
to inform His Majesty that the enemy, having broken down all
opposition, has succeeded in crossing the frontier and is now well on
his way to His Majesty's capital.
"I am luring him on," he will add, "as fast as I can. At our present
rate of progress, I am in hopes of bringing him home by the tenth."
Lest foolish civilian sort of people should wonder whereabouts lies
the cause for rejoicing, the military man will condescend to explain.
The enemy is being enticed farther and farther from his base. The
defeated general--who is not really defeated, who is only artful, and
who appears to be running away, is not really running away at all.
On the contrary, he is running home--bringing, as he explains, the
enemy with him.
If I remember rightly--it is long since I played it--there is a
parlour game entitled "Puss in the Corner." You beckon another
player to you with your finger. "Puss, puss!" you cry. Thereupon he
has to leave his chair--his "base," as the military man would term
it--and try to get to you without anything happening to him.
War in the future is going to be Puss in the Corner on a bigger
scale. You lure your enemy away from his base. If all goes well--if
he does not see the trap that is being laid for him--why, then,
almost before he knows it, he finds himself in your capital. That
finishes the game. You find out what it is he really wants.
Provided it is something within reason, and you happen to have it
handy, you give it to him. He goes home crowing, and you, on your
side, laugh when you think how cleverly you succeeded in luring him
away from his base.
There is a bright side to all things. The gentleman charged with the
defence of a fortress will meet the other gentleman who has captured
it and shake hands with him mid the ruins.
"So here you are at last!" he will explain. "Why didn't you come
before? We have been waiting for you."
And he will send off dispatches felicitating his chief on having got
that fortress off their hands, together with all the worry and
expense it has been to them. When prisoners are taken you will
console yourself with the reflection that the cost of feeding them
for the future will have to be borne by the enemy. Captured cannon
you will watch being trailed away with a sigh of relief.
"Confounded heavy things!" you will say to yourself. "Thank goodness
I've got rid of them. Let him have the fun of dragging them about
these ghastly roads. See how he likes the job!"
War is a ridiculous method of settling disputes. Anything that can
tend to make its ridiculous aspect more apparent is to be welcomed.
The new school of military dispatch-writers may succeed in turning
even the laughter of the mob against it.
The present trouble in the East would never have occurred but for the
white man's enthusiasm for bearing other people's burdens. What we
call the yellow danger is the fear that the yellow man may before
long request us, so far as he is concerned, to put his particular
burden down. It may occur to him that, seeing it is his property, he
would just as soon carry it himself. A London policeman told me a
story the other day that struck him as an example of Cockney humour
under trying circumstances. But it may also serve as a fable. From
a lonely street in the neighbourhood of Covent Garden, early one
morning, the constable heard cries of "Stop thief!" shouted in a
childish treble. He arrived on the scene just in time to collar a
young hooligan, who, having snatched a basket of fruit from a small
lad--a greengrocer's errand boy, as it turned out--was, with it,
making tracks. The greengrocer's boy, between panting and tears,
delivered his accusation. The hooligan regarded him with an
expression of amazed indignation.
"What d'yer mean, stealing it?" exclaimed Mr. Hooligan. "Why, I was
carrying it for yer!"
The white man has got into the way of "carrying" other people's
burdens, and now it looks as if the yellow man were going to object
to our carrying his any further. Maybe he is going to get nasty, and
insist on carrying it himself. We call this "the yellow danger."
A friend of mine--he is a man who in the street walks into lamp-
posts, and apologises--sees rising from the East the dawn of a new
day in the world's history. The yellow danger is to him a golden
hope. He sees a race long stagnant, stretching its giant limbs with
the first vague movements of returning life. He is a poor sort of
patriot; he calls himself, I suppose, a white man, yet he shamelessly
confesses he would rather see Asia's millions rise from the ruins of
their ancient civilization to take their part in the future of
humanity, than that half the population of the globe should remain
bound in savagery for the pleasure and the profit of his own
He even goes so far as to think that the white man may have something
to learn. The world has belonged to him now for some thousands of
years. Has he done all with it that could have been done? Are his
ideals the last word?
Not what the yellow man has absorbed from Europe, but what he is
going to give Europe it is that interests my friend. He is watching
the birth of a new force--an influence as yet unknown. He clings to
the fond belief that new ideas, new formulae, to replace the old worn
shibboleths, may, during these thousands of years, have been
developing in those keen brains that behind the impressive yellow
mask have been working so long in silence and in mystery.
WHY DIDN'T HE MARRY THE GIRL?
What is wrong with marriage, anyhow? I find myself pondering this
question so often, when reading high-class literature. I put it to
myself again the other evening, during a performance of Faust. Why
could not Faust have married the girl? I would not have married her
myself for any consideration whatsoever; but that is not the
argument. Faust, apparently, could not see anything amiss with her.
Both of them were mad about each other. Yet the idea of a quiet,
unostentatious marriage with a week's honeymoon, say, in Vienna,
followed by a neat little cottage orne, not too far from Nurnberg, so
that their friends could have come out to them, never seems to have
occurred to either of them.
There could have been a garden. Marguerite might have kept chickens
and a cow. That sort of girl, brought up to hard work and by no
means too well educated, is all the better for having something to
do. Later, with the gradual arrival of the family, a good, all-round
woman might have been hired in to assist. Faust, of course, would
have had his study and got to work again; that would have kept him
out of further mischief. The idea that a brainy man, his age, was
going to be happy with nothing to do all day but fool round a
petticoat was ridiculous from the beginning. Valentine--a good
fellow, Valentine, with nice ideas--would have spent his Saturdays to
Monday with them. Over a pipe and a glass of wine, he and Faust
would have discussed the local politics.
He would have danced the children on his knee, have told them tales
about the war--taught the eldest boy to shoot. Faust, with a
practical man like Valentine to help him, would probably have
invented a new gun. Valentine would have got it taken up.
Things might have come of it. Sybil, in course of time, would have
married and settled down--perhaps have taken a little house near to
them. He and Marguerite would have joked--when Mrs. Sybil was not
around--about his early infatuation. The old mother would have
toddled over from Nurnberg--not too often, just for the day.
The picture grows upon one the more one thinks of it. Why did it
never occur to them? There would have been a bit of a bother with
the Old Man. I can imagine Mephistopheles being upset about it,
thinking himself swindled. Of course, if that was the reason--if
Faust said to himself:
"I should like to marry the girl, but I won't do it; it would not be
fair to the Old Man; he has been to a lot of trouble working this
thing up; in common gratitude I cannot turn round now and behave like
a decent, sensible man; it would not be playing the game"--if this
was the way Faust looked at the matter there is nothing more to be
said. Indeed, it shows him in rather a fine light--noble, if
If, on the other hand, he looked at the question from the point of
view of himself and the girl, I think the thing might have been
managed. All one had to do in those days when one wanted to get rid
of the Devil was to show him a sword hilt. Faust and Marguerite
could have slipped into a church one morning, and have kept him out
of the way with a sword hilt till the ceremony was through. They
might have hired a small boy:
"You see the gentleman in red? Well, he wants us and we don't want
him. That is the only difference between us. Now, you take this
sword, and when you see him coming show him the hilt. Don't hurt
him; just show him the sword and shake your head. He will
The old gentleman's expression, when subsequently Faust presented him
to Marguerite, would have been interesting:
"Allow me, my wife. My dear, a--a friend of mine. You may remember
meeting him that night at your aunt's."
As I have said, there would have been ructions; but I do not myself
see what could have been done. There was nothing in the bond to the
effect that Faust should not marry, so far as we are told. The Old
Man had a sense of humour. My own opinion is that, after getting
over the first annoyance, he himself would have seen the joke. I can
even picture him looking in now and again on Mr. and Mrs. Faust. The
children would be hurried off to bed. There would be, for a while,
an atmosphere of constraint.
But the Old Man had a way with him. He would have told one or two
stories at which Marguerite would have blushed, at which Faust would
have grinned. I can see the old fellow occasionally joining the
homely social board. The children, awed at first, would have sat
silent, with staring eyes. But, as I have said, the Old Man had a
way with him. Why should he not have reformed? The good woman's
unconsciously exerted influence--the sweet childish prattle! One
hears of such things. Might he not have come to be known as
Myself--I believe I have already mentioned it--I would not have
married Marguerite. She is not my ideal of a good girl. I never
liked the way she deceived her mother. And that aunt of hers! Well,
a nice girl would not have been friends with such a woman. She did
not behave at all too well to Sybil, either. It is clear to me that
she led the boy on. And what was she doing with that box of jewels,
anyhow? She was not a fool. She could not have gone every day to
that fountain, chatted with those girl friends of hers, and learnt
nothing. She must have known that people don't go leaving twenty
thousand pounds' worth of jewels about on doorsteps as part of a
round game. Her own instinct, if she had been a good girl, would
have told her to leave the thing alone.
I don't believe in these innocent people who do not know what they
are doing half their time. Ask any London magistrate what he thinks
of the lady who explains that she picked up the diamond brooch:-
"Not meaning, of course, your Worship, to take it. I would not do
such a thing. It just happened this way, your Worship. I was
standing as you might say here, and not seeing anyone about in the
shop I opened the case and took it out, thinking as perhaps it might
belong to someone; and then this gentleman here, as I had not noticed
before, comes up quite suddenly and says; 'You come along with me,'
he says. 'What for,' I says, 'when I don't even know you?' I says.
'For stealing,' he says. 'Well, that's a hard word to use to a
lady,' I says; 'I don't know what you mean, I'm sure.'"
And if she had put them all on, not thinking, what would a really
nice girl have done when the gentleman came up and assured her they
were hers? She would have been thirty seconds taking them off and
flinging them back into the box.
"Thank you," she would have said, "I'll trouble you to leave this
garden as quickly as you entered it and take them with you. I'm not
that sort of girl."
Marguerite clings to the jewels, and accepts the young man's arm for
a moonlight promenade. And when it does enter into her innocent head
that he and she have walked that shady garden long enough, what does
she do when she has said good-bye and shut the door? She opens the
ground-floor window and begins to sing!
Maybe I am not poetical, but I do like justice. When other girls do
these sort of things they get called names. I cannot see why this
particular girl should be held up as an ideal. She kills her mother.
According to her own account this was an accident. It is not an
original line of defence, and we are not allowed to hear the evidence
for the prosecution. She also kills her baby. You are not to blame
her for that, because at the time she was feeling poorly. I don't
see why this girl should have a special line of angels to take her up
to heaven. There must have been decent, hard-working women in
Nurnburg more entitled to the ticket.
Why is it that all these years we have been content to accept
Marguerite as a type of innocence and virtue? The explanation is, I
suppose, that Goethe wrote at a time when it was the convention to
regard all women as good. Anything in petticoats was virtuous. If
she did wrong it was always somebody else's fault. Cherchez la femme
was a later notion. In the days of Goethe it was always Cherchez
l'homme. It was the man's fault. It was the devil's fault. It was
anybody's fault you liked, but not her's.
The convention has not yet died out. I was reading the other day a
most interesting book by a brilliant American authoress. Seeing I
live far away from the lady's haunts, I venture to mention names. I
am speaking of "Patience Sparhawk," by Gertrude Atherton. I take
this book because it is typical of a large body of fiction. Miss
Sparhawk lives a troubled life: it puzzles her. She asks herself
what is wrong. Her own idea is that it is civilisation.
If it is not civilisation, then it is the American man or Nature--or
Democracy. Miss Sparhawk marries the wrong man. Later on she gets
engaged to another wrong man. In the end we are left to believe she
is about to be married to the right man. I should be better
satisfied if I could hear Miss Sparhawk talking six months after that
last marriage. But if a mistake has again been made I am confident
that, in Miss Sparhawk's opinion, the fault will not be Miss
Sparhawk's. The argument is always the same: Miss Sparhawk, being a
lady, can do no wrong.
If Miss Sparhawk cared to listen to me for five minutes, I feel I
could put her right on this point.
"It is quite true, my dear girl," I should say to her, "something is
wrong--very wrong. But it is not the American man. Never you mind
the American man: you leave him to worry out his own salvation. You
are not the girl to put him right, even where he is wrong. And it is
not civilisation. Civilisation has a deal to answer for, I admit:
don't you load it up with this additional trouble. The thing that is
wrong in this case of yours--if you will forgive my saying so--is
you. You make a fool of yourself; you marry a man who is a mere
animal because he appeals to your animal instincts. Then, like the
lady who cried out 'Alack, I've married a black,' you appeal to
heaven against the injustice of being mated with a clown. You are
not a nice girl, either in your ideas or in your behaviour. I don't
blame you for it; you did not make yourself. But when you set to
work to attract all that is lowest in man, why be so astonished at
your own success? There are plenty of shocking American men, I
agree. One meets the class even outside America. But nice American
girls will tell you that there are also nice American men. There is
an old proverb about birds of a feather. Next time you find yourself
in the company of a shocking American man, you just ask yourself how
he got there, and how it is he seems to be feeling at home. You
learn self-control. Get it out of your head that you are the centre
of the universe, and grasp the idea that a petticoat is not a halo,
and you will find civilisation not half as wrong as you thought it."
I know what Miss Sparhawk's reply would be.
"You say all this to me--to me, a lady? Great Heavens! What has
become of chivalry?"
A Frenchman was once put on trial for murdering his father and
mother. He confessed his guilt, but begged for mercy on the plea
that he was an orphan. Chivalry was founded on the assumption that
woman was worthy to be worshipped. The modern woman's notion is that
when she does wrong she ought to be excused by chivalrous man because
she is a lady.
I like the naughty heroine; we all of us do. The early Victorian
heroine--the angel in a white frock, was a bore. We knew exactly
what she was going to do--the right thing. We did not even have to
ask ourselves, "What will she think is the right thing to do under
the circumstances?" It was always the conventional right thing. You
could have put it to a Sunday school and have got the answer every
time. The heroine with passions, instincts, emotions, is to be
welcomed. But I want her to grasp the fact that after all she is
only one of us. I should like her better if, instead of demanding:
"What is wrong in civilisation? What is the world coming to?" and so
forth, she would occasionally say to herself:
"Guess I've made a fool of myself this time. I do feel that 'shamed
She would not lose by it. We should respect her all the more.
WHAT MRS. WILKINS THOUGHT ABOUT IT.
Last year, travelling on the Underground Railway, I met a man; he was
one of the saddest-looking men I had seen for years. I used to know
him well in the old days when we were journalists together. I asked
him, in a sympathetic tone, how things were going with him. I
expected his response would be a flood of tears, and that in the end
I should have to fork out a fiver. To my astonishment, his answer
was that things were going exceedingly well with him. I did not want
to say to him bluntly:
"Then what has happened to you to make you look like a mute at a
temperance funeral?" I said:
"And how are all at home?"
I thought that if the trouble lay there he would take the
opportunity. It brightened him somewhat, the necessity of replying
to the question. It appeared that his wife was in the best of
"You remember her," he continued with a smile; "wonderful spirits,
always cheerful, nothing seems to put her out, not even--"
He ended the sentence abruptly with a sigh.
His mother-in-law, I learned from further talk with him, had died
since I had last met him, and had left them a comfortable addition to
their income. His eldest daughter was engaged to be married.
"It is entirely a love match," he explained, "and he is such a dear,
good fellow, that I should not have made any objection even had he
been poor. But, of course, as it is, I am naturally all the more
His eldest boy, having won the Mottle Scholarship, was going up to
Cambridge in the Autumn. His own health, he told me, had greatly
improved; and a novel he had written in his leisure time promised to
be one of the successes of the season. Then it was that I spoke
"If I am opening a wound too painful to be touched," I said, "tell
me. If, on the contrary, it is an ordinary sort of trouble upon
which the sympathy of a fellow worker may fall as balm, let me hear
"So far as I am concerned," he replied, "I should be glad to tell
you. Speaking about it does me good, and may lead--so I am always in
hopes--to an idea. But, for your own sake, if you take my advice,
you will not press me."
"How can it affect me?" I asked, "it is nothing to do with me, is
"It need have nothing to do with you," he answered, "if you are
sensible enough to keep out of it. If I tell you: from this time
onward it will be your trouble also. Anyhow, that is what has
happened in four other separate cases. If you like to be the fifth
and complete the half dozen of us, you are welcome. But remember I
have warned you."
"What has it done to the other five?" I demanded.
"It has changed them from cheerful, companionable persons into gloomy
one-idead bores," he told me. "They think of but one thing, they
talk of but one thing, they dream of but one thing. Instead of
getting over it, as time goes on, it takes possession of them more
and more. There are men, of course, who would be unaffected by it--
who could shake it off. I warn you in particular against it,
because, in spite of all that is said, I am convinced you have a
sense of humour; and that being so, it will lay hold of you. It will
plague you night and day. You see what it has made of me! Three
months ago a lady interviewer described me as of a sunny temperament.
If you know your own business you will get out at the next station."
I wish now I had followed his advice. As it was, I allowed my
curiosity to take possession of me, and begged him to explain. And
he did so.
"It was just about Christmas time," he said. "We were discussing the
Drury Lane Pantomime--some three or four of us--in the smoking room
of the Devonshire Club, and young Gold said he thought it would prove
a mistake, the introduction of a subject like the Fiscal question
into the story of Humpty Dumpty. The two things, so far as he could
see, had nothing to do with one another. He added that he
entertained a real regard for Mr. Dan Leno, whom he had once met on a
steamboat, but that there were other topics upon which he would
prefer to seek that gentleman's guidance. Nettleship, on the other
hand, declared that he had no sympathy with the argument that artists
should never intrude upon public affairs. The actor was a fellow
citizen with the rest of us. He said that, whether one agreed with
their conclusions or not, one must admit that the nation owed a debt
of gratitude to Mrs. Brown Potter and to Miss Olga Nethersole for
giving to it the benefit of their convictions. He had talked to both
ladies in private on the subject and was convinced they knew as much
about it as did most people.
"Burnside, who was one of the party, contended that if sides were to
be taken, a pantomime should surely advocate the Free-Food Cause,
seeing it was a form of entertainment supposed to appeal primarily to
the tastes of the Little Englander. Then I came into the discussion.
"'The Fiscal question,' I said, 'is on everybody's tongue. Such
being the case, it is fit and proper it should be referred to in our
annual pantomime, which has come to be regarded as a review of the
year's doings. But it should not have been dealt with from the
political standpoint. The proper attitude to have assumed towards it
was that of innocent raillery, free from all trace of partisanship.'
"Old Johnson had strolled up and was standing behind us.
"'The very thing I have been trying to get hold of for weeks,' he
said--'a bright, amusing resume of the whole problem that should give
offence to neither side. You know our paper,' he continued; 'we
steer clear of politics, but, at the same time, try to be up-to-date;
it is not always easy. The treatment of the subject, on the lines
you suggest, is just what we require. I do wish you would write me
"He is a good old sort, Johnson; it seemed an easy thing. I said I
would. Since that time I have been thinking how to do it. As a
matter of fact, I have not thought of much else. Maybe you can
I was feeling in a good working mood the next morning.
"Pilson," said I to myself, "shall have the benefit of this. He does
not need anything boisterously funny. A few playfully witty remarks
on the subject will be the ideal."
I lit a pipe and sat down to think. At half-past twelve, having to
write some letters before going out to lunch, I dismissed the Fiscal
question from my mind.
But not for long. It worried me all the afternoon. I thought,
maybe, something would come to me in the evening. I wasted all that
evening, and I wasted all the following morning. Everything has its
amusing side, I told myself. One turns out comic stories about
funerals, about weddings. Hardly a misfortune that can happen to
mankind but has produced its comic literature. An American friend of
mine once took a contract from the Editor of an Insurance Journal to
write four humorous stories; one was to deal with an earthquake, the
second with a cyclone, the third with a flood, and the fourth with a
thunderstorm. And more amusing stories I have never read. What is
the matter with the Fiscal question?
I myself have written lightly on Bime-metallism. Home Rule we used
to be merry over in the eighties. I remember one delightful evening
at the Codgers' Hall. It would have been more delightful still, but
for a raw-boned Irishman, who rose towards eleven o'clock and
requested to be informed if any other speaker was wishful to make any
more jokes on the subject of Ould Ireland; because, if so, the raw-
boned gentleman was prepared to save time by waiting and dealing with
them altogether. But if not, then--so the raw-boned gentleman
announced--his intention was to go for the last speaker and the last
speaker but two at once and without further warning.
No other humourist rising, the raw-boned gentleman proceeded to make
good his threat, with the result that the fun degenerated somewhat.
Even on the Boer War we used to whisper jokes to one another in quiet
places. In this Fiscal question there must be fun. Where is it?
For days I thought of little else. My laundress--as we call them in
the Temple--noticed my trouble.
"Mrs. Wilkins," I confessed, "I am trying to think of something
innocently amusing to say on the Fiscal question."
"I've 'eard about it," she said, "but I don't 'ave much time to read
the papers. They want to make us pay more for our food, don't they?"
"For some of it," I explained. "But, then, we shall pay less for
other things, so that really we shan't be paying more at all."
"There don't seem much in it, either way," was Mrs. Wilkins' opinion.
"Just so," I agreed, "that is the advantage of the system. It will
cost nobody anything, and will result in everybody being better off."
"The pity is," said Mrs. Wilkins "that pity nobody ever thought of it
"The whole trouble hitherto," I explained, "has been the foreigner."
"Ah," said Mrs. Wilkins, "I never 'eard much good of 'em, though they
do say the Almighty 'as a use for almost everything."
"These foreigners," I continued, "these Germans and Americans, they
dump things on us, you know."
"What's that?" demanded Mrs. Wilkins.
"What's dump? Well, it's dumping, you know. You take things, and
you dump them down."
"But what things? 'Ow do they do it?" asked Mrs. Wilkins.
"Why, all sorts of things: pig iron, bacon, door-mats--everything.
They bring them over here--in ships, you understand--and then, if you
please, just dump them down upon our shores."
"You don't mean surely to tell me that they just throw them out and
leave them there?" queried Mrs. Wilkins.
"Of course not," I replied; "when I say they dump these things upon
our shores, that is a figure of speech. What I mean is they sell
them to us."
"But why do we buy them if we don't want them?" asked Mrs. Wilkins;
"we're not bound to buy them, are we?"
"It is their artfulness," I explained, "these Germans and Americans,
and the others; they are all just as bad as one another--they insist
on selling us these things at less price than they cost to make."
"It seems a bit silly of them, don't it?" thought Mrs. Wilkins. "I
suppose being foreigners, poor things, they ain't naturally got much
"It does seem silly of them, if you look at it that way," I admitted,
"but what we have got to consider is, the injury it is doing us."
"Don't see 'ow it can do us much 'arm," argued Mrs. Wilkins; "seems a
bit of luck so far as we are concerned. There's a few more things
they'd be welcome to dump round my way."
"I don't seem to be putting this thing quite in the right light to
you, Mrs. Wilkins," I confessed. "It is a long argument, and you
might not be able to follow it; but you must take it as a fact now
generally admitted that the cheaper you buy things the sooner your
money goes. By allowing the foreigner to sell us all these things at
about half the cost price, he is getting richer every day, and we are
getting poorer. Unless we, as a country, insist on paying at least
twenty per cent. more for everything we want, it is calculated that
in a very few years England won't have a penny left."
"Sounds a bit topsy turvy," suggested Mrs. Wilkins.
"It may sound so," I answered, "but I fear there can be no doubt of
it. The Board of Trade Returns would seem to prove it conclusively."
"Well, God be praised, we've found it out in time," ejaculated Mrs.
"It is a matter of congratulation," I agreed; "the difficulty is that
a good many other people say that far from being ruined, we are doing
very well indeed, and are growing richer every year."
"But 'ow can they say that," argued Mrs. Wilkins, "when, as you tell
me, those Trade Returns prove just the opposite?"
"Well, they say the same, Mrs. Wilkins, that the Board of Trade
Returns prove just the opposite."
"Well, they can't both be right," said Mrs. Wilkins.
"You would be surprised, Mrs. Wilkins," I said, "how many things can
be proved from Board of Trade Returns!"
But I have not yet thought of that article for Pilson.
SHALL WE BE RUINED BY CHINESE CHEAP LABOUR?
"What is all this talk I 'ear about the Chinese?" said Mrs. Wilkins
to me the other morning. We generally indulge in a little chat while
Mrs. Wilkins is laying the breakfast-table. Letters and newspapers
do not arrive in my part of the Temple much before nine. From half-
past eight to nine I am rather glad of Mrs. Wilkins. "They 'ave been
up to some of their tricks again, 'aven't they?"
"The foreigner, Mrs. Wilkins," I replied, "whether he be Chinee or
any other he, is always up to tricks. Was not England specially
prepared by an all-wise Providence to frustrate these knavish tricks?
Which of such particular tricks may you be referring to at the
moment, Mrs. Wilkins?"
"Well, 'e's comin' over 'ere--isn't he, sir? to take the work out of
our mouths, as it were."
"Well, not exactly over here, to England, Mrs. Wilkins," I explained.
"He has been introduced into Africa to work in the mines there."
"It's a funny thing," said Mrs. Wilkins, "but to 'ear the way some of
them talk in our block, you might run away with the notion--that is,
if you didn't know 'em--that work was their only joy. I said to one
of 'em, the other evening--a man as calls 'isself a brass finisher,
though, Lord knows, the only brass 'e ever finishes is what 'is poor
wife earns and isn't quick enough to 'ide away from 'im--well,
whatever 'appens, I says, it will be clever of 'em if they take away
much work from you. It made them all laugh, that did," added Mrs.
Wilkins, with a touch of pardonable pride.
"Ah," continued the good lady, "it's surprising 'ow contented they
can be with a little, some of 'em. Give 'em a 'ard-working woman to
look after them, and a day out once a week with a procession of the
unemployed, they don't ask for nothing more. There's that beauty my
poor sister Jane was fool enough to marry. Serves 'er right, as I
used to tell 'er at first, till there didn't seem any more need to
rub it into 'er. She'd 'ad one good 'usband. It wouldn't 'ave been
fair for 'er to 'ave 'ad another, even if there'd been a chance of
it, seeing the few of 'em there is to go round among so many. But
it's always the same with us widows: if we 'appen to 'ave been lucky
the first time, we put it down to our own judgment--think we can't
ever make a mistake; and if we draw a wrong 'un, as the saying is, we
argue as if it was the duty of Providence to make it up to us the
second time. Why, I'd a been making a fool of myself three years ago
if 'e 'adn't been good-natured enough to call one afternoon when I
was out, and 'ook it off with two pounds eight in the best teapot
that I 'ad been soft enough to talk to 'im about: and never let me
set eyes on 'im again. God bless 'im! 'E's one of the born-tireds,
'e is, as poor Jane might 'ave seen for 'erself, if she 'ad only
looked at 'im, instead of listening to 'im.
"But that's courtship all the world over--old and young alike, so far
as I've been able to see it," was the opinion of Mrs. Wilkins. "The
man's all eyes and the woman all ears. They don't seem to 'ave any
other senses left 'em. I ran against 'im the other night, on my way
'ome, at the corner of Gray's Inn Road. There was the usual crowd
watching a pack of them Italians laying down the asphalt in 'Olborn,
and 'e was among 'em. 'E 'ad secured the only lamp-post, and was
leaning agen it.
"'Ullo,' I says, 'glad to see you 'aven't lost your job. Nothin'
like stickin' to it, when you've dropped into somethin' that really
"'What do you mean, Martha?' 'e says. 'E's not one of what I call
your smart sort. It takes a bit of sarcasm to get through 'is 'ead.
"'Well,' I says, 'you're still on the old track, I see, looking for
work. Take care you don't 'ave an accident one of these days and run
up agen it before you've got time to get out of its way.'
"'It's these miserable foreigners,' 'e says. 'Look at 'em,' 'e says.
"'There's enough of you doing that,' I says. 'I've got my room to
put straight and three hours needlework to do before I can get to
bed. But don't let me 'inder you. You might forget what work was
like, if you didn't take an opportunity of watching it now and then.'
"'They come over 'ere,' 'e says, 'and take the work away from us
"'Ah,' I says, 'poor things, perhaps they ain't married.'
"'Lazy devils! 'e says. 'Look at 'em, smoking cigarettes. I could
do that sort of work. There's nothing in it. It don't take 'eathen
foreigners to dab a bit of tar about a road.'
"'Yes,' I says, 'you always could do anybody else's work but your
"'I can't find it, Martha,' 'e says.
"'No,' I says, 'and you never will in the sort of places you go
looking for it. They don't 'ang it out on lamp-posts, and they don't
leave it about at the street corners. Go 'ome,' I says, 'and turn
the mangle for your poor wife. That's big enough for you to find,
even in the dark.'
"Looking for work!" snorted Mrs. Wilkins with contempt; "we women
never 'ave much difficulty in finding it, I've noticed. There are
times when I feel I could do with losing it for a day."
"But what did he reply, Mrs. Wilkins," I asked; "your brass-finishing
friend, who was holding forth on the subject of Chinese cheap
labour." Mrs. Wilkins as a conversationalist is not easily kept to
the point. I was curious to know what the working classes were
thinking on the subject.
"Oh, that," replied Mrs. Wilkins, "'e did not say nothing. 'E ain't
the sort that's got much to say in an argument. 'E belongs to the
crowd that 'angs about at the back, and does the shouting. But there
was another of 'em, a young fellow as I feels sorry for, with a wife
and three small children, who 'asn't 'ad much luck for the last six
months; and that through no fault of 'is own, I should say, from the
look of 'im. 'I was a fool,' says 'e, 'when I chucked a good
situation and went out to the war. They told me I was going to fight
for equal rights for all white men. I thought they meant that all of
us were going to 'ave a better chance, and it seemed worth making a
bit of sacrifice for, that did. I should be glad if they would give
me a job in their mines that would enable me to feed my wife and
children. That's all I ask them for!'"
"It is a difficult problem, Mrs. Wilkins," I said. "According to the
"Ah," said Mrs. Wilkins. "They don't seem to be exactly what you'd
call popular, them mine owners, do they? Daresay they're not as bad
as they're painted."
"Some people, Mrs. Wilkins," I said, "paint them very black. There
are those who hold that the South African mine-owner is not a man at
all, but a kind of pantomime demon. You take Goliath, the whale that
swallowed Jonah, a selection from the least respectable citizens of
Sodom and Gomorrah at their worst, Bluebeard, Bloody Queen Mary, Guy
Fawkes, and the sea-serpent--or, rather, you take the most
objectionable attributes of all these various personages, and mix
them up together. The result is the South African mine-owner, a
monster who would willingly promote a company for the putting on the
market of a new meat extract, prepared exclusively from new-born
infants, provided the scheme promised a fair and reasonable
opportunity of fleecing the widow and orphan."
"I've 'eard they're a bad lot," said Mrs. Wilkins. "But we're most
of us that, if we listen to what other people say about us."
"Quite so, Mrs. Wilkins," I agreed. "One never arrives at the truth
by listening to one side only. On the other hand, for example, there
are those who stoutly maintain that the South African mine-owner is a
kind of spiritual creature, all heart and sentiment, who, against his
own will, has been, so to speak, dumped down upon this earth as the
result of over-production up above of the higher class of archangel.
The stock of archangels of superior finish exceeds the heavenly
demand; the surplus has been dropped down into South Africa and has
taken to mine owning. It is not that these celestial visitors of
German sounding nomenclature care themselves about the gold. Their
only desire is, during this earthly pilgrimage of theirs, to benefit
the human race. Nothing can be obtained in this world without money-
"That's true," said Mrs. Wilkins, with a sigh.
"For gold, everything can be obtained. The aim of the mine-owning
archangel is to provide the world with gold. Why should the world
trouble to grow things and make things? 'Let us,' say these
archangels, temporarily dwelling in South Africa, 'dig up and
distribute to the world plenty of gold, then the world can buy
whatever it wants, and be happy.'
"There may be a flaw in the argument, Mrs. Wilkins," I allowed. "I
am not presenting it to you as the last word upon the subject. I am
merely quoting the view of the South African mine-owner, feeling
himself a much misunderstood benefactor of mankind."
"I expect," said Mrs. Wilkins, "they are just the ordinary sort of
Christian, like the rest of us, anxious to do the best they can for
themselves, and not too particular as to doing other people in the
"I am inclined to think, Mrs. Wilkins," I said, "that you are not
very far from the truth. A friend of mine, a year ago, was very
bitter on this subject of Chinese cheap labour. A little later there
died a distant relative of his who left him twenty thousand South
African mining shares. He thinks now that to object to the Chinese
is narrow-minded, illiberal, and against all religious teaching. He
has bought an abridged edition of Confucius, and tells me that there
is much that is ennobling in Chinese morality. Indeed, I gather from
him that the introduction of the Chinese into South Africa will be
the saving of that country. The noble Chinese will afford an object
lesson to the poor white man, displaying to him the virtues of
sobriety, thrift, and humility. I also gather that it will be of
inestimable benefit to the noble Chinee himself. The Christian
missionary will get hold of him in bulk, so to speak, and imbue him
with the higher theology. It appears to be one of those rare cases
where everybody is benefited at the expense of nobody. It is always
a pity to let these rare opportunities slip by."
"Well," said Mrs. Wilkins, "I've nothin' to say agen the Chinaman, as
a Chinaman. As to 'is being a 'eathen, well, throwin' stones at a
church, as the sayin' is, don't make a Christian of you. There's
Christians I've met as couldn't do themselves much 'arm by changing
their religion; and as to cleanliness, well, I've never met but one,
and 'e was a washerwoman, and I'd rather 'ave sat next to 'im in a
third-class carriage on a Bank 'Oliday than next to some of 'em.
"Seems to me," continued Mrs. Wilkins, "we've got into the 'abit of
talkin' a bit too much about other people's dirt. The London
atmosphere ain't nat'rally a dry-cleanin' process in itself, but
there's a goodish few as seem to think it is. One comes across
Freeborn Britons 'ere and there as I'd be sorry to scrub clean for a
shillin' and find my own soap."
"It is a universal failing, Mrs. Wilkins," I explained. "If you talk
to a travelled Frenchman, he contrasts to his own satisfaction the
Paris ouvrier in his blue blouse with the appearance of the London
"I daresay they're all right according to their lights," said Mrs.
Wilkins, "but it does seem a bit wrong that if our own chaps are
willin' and anxious to work, after all they've done, too, in the way
of getting the mines for us, they shouldn't be allowed the job."
"Again, Mrs. Wilkins, it is difficult to arrive at a just
conclusion," I said. "The mine-owner, according to his enemies,
hates the British workman with the natural instinct that evil
creatures feel towards the noble and virtuous. He will go to trouble
and expense merely to spite the British workman, to keep him out of
South Africa. According to his friends, the mine-owner sets his face
against the idea of white labour for two reasons. First and
foremost, it is not nice work; the mine-owner hates the thought of
his beloved white brother toiling in the mines. It is not right that
the noble white man should demean himself by such work. Secondly,
white labour is too expensive. If for digging gold men had to be
paid anything like the same prices they are paid for digging coal,
the mines could not be worked. The world would lose the gold that
the mine-owner is anxious to bestow upon it.
"The mine-owner, following his own inclinations, would take a little
farm, grow potatoes, and live a beautiful life--perhaps write a
little poetry. A slave to sense of duty, he is chained to the
philanthropic work of gold-mining. If we hamper him and worry him
the danger is that he will get angry with us--possibly he will order
his fiery chariot and return to where he came from."
"Well, 'e can't take the gold with him, wherever 'e goes to?" argued
"You talk, Mrs. Wilkins," I said, "as if the gold were of more value
to the world than is the mine-owner."
"Well, isn't it?" demanded Mrs. Wilkins.
"It's a new idea, Mrs. Wilkins," I answered; "it wants thinking out."
HOW TO SOLVE THE SERVANT PROBLEM.
"I am glad to see, Mrs. Wilkins," I said, "that the Women's Domestic
Guild of America has succeeded in solving the servant girl problem--
none too soon, one might almost say."
"Ah," said Mrs. Wilkins, as she took the cover off the bacon and gave
an extra polish to the mustard-pot with her apron, "they are clever
people over there; leastways, so I've always 'eard."
"This, their latest, Mrs. Wilkins," I said, "I am inclined to regard
as their greatest triumph. My hope is that the Women's Domestic
Guild of America, when it has finished with the United States and
Canada, will, perhaps, see its way to establishing a branch in
England. There are ladies of my acquaintance who would welcome, I
feel sure, any really satisfactory solution of the problem."
"Well, good luck to it, is all I say," responded Mrs. Wilkins, "and
if it makes all the gals contented with their places, and all the
mistresses satisfied with what they've got and 'appy in their minds,
why, God bless it, say I."
"The mistake hitherto," I said, "from what I read, appears to have
been that the right servant was not sent to the right place. What
the Women's Domestic Guild of America proposes to do is to find the
right servant for the right place. You see the difference, don't
you, Mrs. Wilkins?"
"That's the secret," agreed Mrs. Wilkins. They don't anticipate any
difficulty in getting the right sort of gal, I take it?"
"I gather not, Mrs. Wilkins," I replied.
Mrs. Wilkins is of a pessimistic turn of mind.
"I am not so sure about it," she said; "the Almighty don't seem to
'ave made too many of that sort. Unless these American ladies that
you speak of are going to start a factory of their own. I am afraid
there is disappointment in store for them."
"Don't throw cold water on the idea before it is fairly started, Mrs.
Wilkins," I pleaded.
"Well, sir," said Mrs. Wilkins, "I 'ave been a gal myself in service;
and in my time I've 'ad a few mistresses of my own, and I've 'eard a
good deal about others. There are ladies and ladies, as you may
know, sir, and some of them, if they aren't exactly angels, are about
as near to it as can be looked for in this climate, and they are not
the ones that do most of the complaining. But, as for the average
mistress--well it ain't a gal she wants, it's a plaster image,
without any natural innards--a sort of thing as ain't 'uman, and
ain't to be found in 'uman nature. And then she'd grumble at it, if
it didn't 'appen to be able to be in two places at once."
"You fear that the standard for that 'right girl' is likely to be set
a trifle too high Mrs. Wilkins," I suggested.
"That 'right gal,' according to the notions of some of 'em," retorted
Mrs. Wilkins, "'er place ain't down 'ere among us mere mortals; 'er
place is up in 'eaven with a 'arp and a golden crown. There's my
niece, Emma, I don't say she is a saint, but a better 'earted, 'arder
working gal, at twenty pounds a year, you don't expect to find,
unless maybe you're a natural born fool that can't 'elp yourself.
She wanted a place. She 'ad been 'ome for nearly six months, nursing
'er old father, as 'ad been down all the winter with rheumatic fever;
and 'ard-put to it she was for a few clothes. You 'ear 'em talk
about gals as insists on an hour a day for practising the piano, and
the right to invite their young man to spend the evening with them in
the drawing-room. Perhaps it is meant to be funny; I ain't come
across that type of gal myself, outside the pictures in the comic
papers; and I'll never believe, till I see 'er myself, that anybody
else 'as. They sent 'er from the registry office to a lady at
"'I 'ope you are good at getting up early in the morning?' says the
lady, 'I like a gal as rises cheerfully to 'er work.'
"'Well, ma'am,' says Emma, 'I can't say as I've got a passion for it.
But it's one of those things that 'as to be done, and I guess I've
learnt the trick.'
"'I'm a great believer in early rising,' says my lady; 'in the
morning, one is always fresher for one's work; my 'usband and the
younger children breakfast at 'arf past seven; myself and my eldest
daughter 'ave our breakfest in bed at eight.'
'That'll be all right, ma'am,' says Emma.
"'And I 'ope,' says the lady, 'you are of an amiable disposition.
Some gals when you ring the bell come up looking so disagreeable, one
almost wishes one didn't want them.'
"'Well, it ain't a thing,' explains Emma, 'as makes you want to burst
out laughing, 'earing the bell go off for the twentieth time, and
'aving suddenly to put down your work at, perhaps, a critical moment.
Some ladies don't seem able to reach down their 'at for themselves.'
"'I 'ope you are not impertinent,' says the lady; 'if there's one
thing that I object to in a servant it is impertinence.'
"'We none of us like being answered back,' says Emma, 'more
particularly when we are in the wrong. But I know my place ma'am,
and I shan't give you no lip. It always leads to less trouble, I
find, keeping your mouth shut, rather than opening it.'
"'Are you fond of children,' asks my lady.
"'It depends upon the children,' says Emma; 'there are some I 'ave
'ad to do with as made the day seem pleasanter, and I've come across
others as I could 'ave parted from at any moment without tears.'
"'I like a gal,' says the lady, 'who is naturally fond of children,
it shows a good character.'
"'How many of them are there?' says Emma.
"'Four of them,' answers my lady, 'but you won't 'ave much to do
except with the two youngest. The great thing with young children is
to surround them with good examples. Are you a Christian?' asks my
"'That's what I'm generally called,' says Emma.
"'Every other Sunday evening out is my rule,' says the lady, 'but of
course I shall expect you to go to church.'
"'Do you mean in my time, ma'am,' says Emma, 'or in yours.'
"'I mean on your evening of course,' says my lady. ''Ow else could
"'Well, ma'am,' says Emma, 'I like to see my people now and then.'
"'There are better things,' says my lady, 'than seeing what you call
your people, and I should not care to take a girl into my 'ouse as
put 'er pleasure before 'er religion. You are not engaged, I 'ope?'
"'Walking out, ma'am, do you mean?' says Emma. 'No, ma'am, there is
nobody I've got in my mind--not just at present.'
"'I never will take a gal,' explains my lady, 'who is engaged. I
find it distracts 'er attention from 'er work. And I must insist if
you come to me,' continues my lady, 'that you get yourself another
'at and jacket. If there is one thing I object to in a servant it is
a disposition to cheap finery.'
"'Er own daughter was sitting there beside 'er with 'alf a dozen
silver bangles on 'er wrist, and a sort of thing 'anging around 'er
neck, as, 'ad it been real, would 'ave been worth perhaps a thousand
pounds. But Emma wanted a job, so she kept 'er thoughts to 'erself.
"'I can put these things by and get myself something else,' she says,
'if you don't mind, ma'am, advancing me something out of my first
three months' wages. I'm afraid my account at the bank is a bit
"The lady whispered something to 'er daughter. 'I am afraid, on
thinking it over,' she says, 'that you won't suit, after all. You
don't look serious enough. I feel sure, from the way you do your
'air,' says my lady, 'there's a frivolous side to your nature.'
"So Emma came away, and was not, on the whole, too sorry."
"But do they get servants to come to them, this type of mistress, do
you think, Mrs. Wilkins?" I asked.
"They get them all right," said Mrs. Wilkins, "and if it's a decent
gal, it makes a bad gal of 'er, that ever afterwards looks upon every
mistress as 'er enemy, and acts accordingly. And if she ain't a
naturally good gal, it makes 'er worse, and then you 'ear what awful
things gals are. I don't say it's an easy problem," continued Mrs.
Wilkins, "it's just like marriages. The good mistress gets 'old of
the bad servant, and the bad mistress, as often as not is lucky."
"But how is it," I argued, "that in hotels, for instance, the service
is excellent, and the girls, generally speaking, seem contented? The
work is hard, and the wages not much better, if as good."
"Ah," said Mrs. Wilkins, "you 'ave 'it the right nail on the 'ead,
there, sir. They go into the 'otels and work like niggers, knowing
that if a single thing goes wrong they will be bully-ragged and sworn
at till they don't know whether they are standing on their 'ead or
their 'eels. But they 'ave their hours; the gal knows when 'er work
is done, and when the clock strikes she is a 'uman being once again.
She 'as got that moment to look forward to all day, and it keeps 'er
going. In private service there's no moment in the day to 'ope for.
If the lady is reasonable she ain't overworked; but no 'ow can she
ever feel she is her own mistress, free to come and go, to wear 'er
bit of finery, to 'ave 'er bit of fun. She works from six in the
morning till eleven or twelve at night, and then she only goes to bed
provided she ain't wanted. She don't belong to 'erself at all; it's
that that irritates them."
"I see your point, Mrs. Wilkins," I said, "and, of course, in a house
where two or three servants were kept some such plan might easily be
arranged. The girl who commenced work at six o'clock in the morning
might consider herself free at six o'clock in the evening. What she
did with herself, how she dressed herself in her own time, would be
her affair. What church the clerk or the workman belongs to, what
company he keeps, is no concern of the firm. In such matters,
mistresses, I am inclined to think, saddle themselves with a
responsibility for which there is no need. If the girl behaves
herself while in the house, and does her work, there the contract
ends. The mistress who thinks it her duty to combine the roles of
employer and of maiden aunt is naturally resented. The next month
the girl might change her hours from twelve to twelve, and her
fellow-servant could enjoy the six a.m. to six p.m. shift. But how
do you propose to deal, Mrs. Wilkins, with the smaller menage, that
employs only one servant?"
"Well, sir," said Mrs. Wilkins, "it seems to me simple enough.
Ladies talk pretty about the dignity of labour, and are never tired
of pointing out why gals should prefer domestic service to all other
kinds of work. Suppose they practise what they preach. In the
'ouse, where there's only the master and the mistress, and, say a
couple of small children, let the lady take her turn. After all,
it's only her duty, same as the office or the shop is the man's.
Where, on the other 'and, there are biggish boys and gals about the
place, well it wouldn't do them any 'arm to be taught to play a
little less, and to look after themselves a little more. It's just
arranging things--that's all that's wanted."
"You remind me of a family I once knew, Mrs. Wilkins," I said; "it
consisted of the usual father and mother, and of five sad, healthy
girls. They kept two servants--or, rather, they never kept any
servants; they lived always looking for servants, breaking their
hearts over servants, packing servants off at a moment's notice,
standing disconsolately looking after servants who had packed
themselves off at a moment's notice, wondering generally what the
world was coming too. It occurred to me at the time, that without
much trouble, they could have lived a peaceful life without servants.
The eldest girl was learning painting--and seemed unable to learn
anything else. It was poor sort of painting; she noticed it herself.
But she seemed to think that, if she talked a lot about it, and
thought of nothing else, that somehow it would all come right. The
second girl played the violin. She played it from early morning till
late evening, and friends fell away from them. There wasn't a spark
of talent in the family, but they all had a notion that a vague
longing to be admired was just the same as genius.
"Another daughter fancied she would like to be an actress, and
screamed all day in the attic. The fourth wrote poetry on a
typewriter, and wondered why nobody seemed to want it; while the
fifth one suffered from a weird belief that smearing wood with a red-
hot sort of poker was a thing worth doing for its own sake. All of
them seemed willing enough to work, provided only that it was work of
no use to any living soul. With a little sense, and the occasional
assistance of a charwoman, they could have led a merrier life."
"If I was giving away secrets," said Mrs. Wilkins, "I'd say to the
mistresses: 'Show yourselves able to be independent.' It's because
the gals know that the mistresses can't do without them that they
sometimes gives themselves airs."
WHY WE HATE THE FOREIGNER.
The advantage that the foreigner possesses over the Englishman is
that he is born good. He does not have to try to be good, as we do.
He does not have to start the New Year with the resolution to be
good, and succeed, bar accidents, in being so till the middle of
January. He is just good all the year round. When a foreigner is
told to mount or descend from a tram on the near side, it does not
occur to him that it would be humanly possible to secure egress from
or ingress to that tram from the off side.
In Brussels once I witnessed a daring attempt by a lawless foreigner
to enter a tram from the wrong side. The gate was open: he was
standing close beside it. A line of traffic was in his way: to have
got round to the right side of that tram would have meant missing it.
He entered when the conductor was not looking, and took his seat.
The astonishment of the conductor on finding him there was immense.
How did he get there? The conductor had been watching the proper
entrance, and the man had not passed him. Later, the true
explanation suggested itself to the conductor, but for a while he
hesitated to accuse a fellow human being of such crime.
He appealed to the passenger himself. Was his presence to be
accounted for by miracle or by sin? The passenger confessed. It was
more in sorrow than in anger that the conductor requested him at once
to leave. This tram was going to be kept respectable. The passenger
proved refractory, a halt was called, and the gendarmerie appealed
to. After the manner of policemen, they sprang, as it were, from the
ground, and formed up behind an imposing officer, whom I took to be
the sergeant. At first the sergeant could hardly believe the
conductor's statement. Even then, had the passenger asserted that he
had entered by the proper entrance, his word would have been taken.
Much easier to the foreign official mind would it have been to
believe that the conductor had been stricken with temporary
blindness, than that man born of woman would have deliberately done
anything expressly forbidden by a printed notice.
Myself, in his case, I should have lied and got the trouble over.
But he was a proud man, or had not much sense--one of the two, and so
held fast to the truth. It was pointed out to him that he must
descend immediately and wait for the next tram. Other gendarmes were
arriving from every quarter: resistance in the circumstances seemed
hopeless. He said he would get down. He made to descend this time
by the proper gate, but that was not justice. He had mounted the
wrong side, he must alight on the wrong side. Accordingly, he was
put out amongst the traffic, after which the conductor preached a
sermon from the centre of the tram on the danger of ascents and
descents conducted from the wrong quarter.
There is a law throughout Germany--an excellent law it is: I would
we had it in England--that nobody may scatter paper about the street.
An English military friend told me that, one day in Dresden,
unacquainted with this rule, he tore a long letter he had been
reading into some fifty fragments and threw them behind him. A
policeman stopped him and explained to him quite politely the law
upon the subject. My military friend agreed that it was a very good
law, thanked the man for his information, and said that for the
future he would bear it in mind. That, as the policeman pointed out,
would make things right enough for the future, but meanwhile it was
necessary to deal with the past--with the fifty or so pieces of paper
lying scattered about the road and pavement.
My military friend, with a pleasant laugh, confessed he did not see
what was to be done. The policeman, more imaginative, saw a way out.
It was that my military friend should set to work and pick up those
fifty scraps of paper. He is an English General on the Retired List,
and of imposing appearance: his manner on occasion is haughty. He
did not see himself on his hands and knees in the chief street of
Dresden, in the middle of the afternoon, picking up paper.
The German policeman himself admitted that the situation was awkward.
If the English General could not accept it there happened to be an
alternative. It was that the English General should accompany the
policeman through the streets, followed by the usual crowd, to the
nearest prison, some three miles off. It being now four o'clock in
the afternoon, they would probably find the judge departed. But the
most comfortable thing possible in prison cells should be allotted to
him, and the policeman had little doubt that the General, having paid
his fine of forty marks, would find himself a free man again in time
for lunch the following day. The general suggested hiring a boy to
pick up the paper. The policeman referred to the wording of the law,
and found that this would not be permitted.
"I thought the matter out," my friend told me, "imagining all the
possible alternatives, including that of knocking the fellow down and
making a bolt, and came to the conclusion that his first suggestion
would, on the whole, result in the least discomfort. But I had no
idea that picking up small scraps of thin paper off greasy stones was
the business that I found it! It took me nearly ten minutes, and
afforded amusement, I calculate, to over a thousand people. But it
is a good law, mind you: all I wish is that I had known it
On one occasion I accompanied an American lady to a German Opera
House. The taking-off of hats in the German Schausspielhaus is
obligatory, and again I would it were so in England. But the
American lady is accustomed to disregard rules made by mere man. She
explained to the doorkeeper that she was going to wear her hat. He,
on his side, explained to her that she was not: they were both a bit
short with one another. I took the opportunity to turn aside and buy
a programme: the fewer people there are mixed up in an argument, I
always think, the better.
My companion explained quite frankly to the doorkeeper that it did
not matter what he said, she was not going to take any notice of him.
He did not look a talkative man at any time, and, maybe, this
announcement further discouraged him. In any case, he made no
attempt to answer. All he did was to stand in the centre of the
doorway with a far-away look in his eyes. The doorway was some four
feet wide: he was about three feet six across, and weighed about
twenty stone. As I explained, I was busy buying a programme, and
when I returned my friend had her hat in her hand, and was digging
pins into it: I think she was trying to make believe it was the
heart of the doorkeeper. She did not want to listen to the opera,
she wanted to talk all the time about that doorkeeper, but the people
round us would not even let her do that.
She has spent three winters in Germany since then. Now when she
feels like passing through a door that is standing wide open just in
front of her, and which leads to just the place she wants to get to,
and an official shakes his head at her, and explains that she must
not, but must go up two flights of stairs and along a corridor and
down another flight of stairs, and so get to her place that way, she
apologises for her error and trots off looking ashamed of herself.
Continental Governments have trained their citizens to perfection.
Obedience is the Continent's first law. The story that is told of a
Spanish king who was nearly drowned because the particular official
whose duty it was to dive in after Spanish kings when they tumbled
out of boats happened to be dead, and his successor had not yet been
appointed, I can quite believe. On the Continental railways if you
ride second class with a first-class ticket you render yourself
liable to imprisonment. What the penalty is for riding first with a
second-class ticket I cannot say--probably death, though a friend of
mine came very near on one occasion to finding out.
All would have gone well with him if he had not been so darned
honest. He is one of those men who pride themselves on being honest.
I believe he takes a positive pleasure in being honest. He had
purchased a second-class ticket for a station up a mountain, but
meeting, by chance on the platform, a lady acquaintance, had gone
with her into a first-class apartment. On arriving at the journey's
end he explained to the collector what he had done, and, with his
purse in his hand, demanded to know the difference. They took him
into a room and locked the door. They wrote out his confession and
read it over to him, and made him sign it, and then they sent for a
The policeman cross-examined him for about a quarter of an hour.
They did not believe the story about the lady. Where was the lady?
He did not know. They searched the neighbourhood for her, but could
not find her. He suggested--what turned out to be the truth--that,
tired of loitering about the station, she had gone up the mountain.
An Anarchist outrage had occurred in the neighbouring town some
months before. The policeman suggested searching for bombs.
Fortunately, a Cook's agent, returning with a party of tourists,
arrived upon the scene, and took it upon himself to explain in
delicate language that my friend was a bit of an ass and could not
tell first class from second. It was the red cushions that had
deceived my friend: he thought it was first class, as a matter of
fact it was second class.
Everybody breathed again. The confession was torn up amid universal
joy: and then the fool of a ticket collector wanted to know about
the lady--who must have travelled in a second-class compartment with
a first-class ticket. It looked as if a bad time were in store for
her on her return to the station.
But the admirable representative of Cook was again equal to the
occasion. He explained that my friend was also a bit of a liar.
When he said he had travelled with this lady he was merely boasting.
He would like to have travelled with her, that was all he meant, only
his German was shaky. Joy once more entered upon the scene. My
friend's character appeared to be re-established. He was not the
abandoned wretch for whom they had taken him--only, apparently, a
wandering idiot. Such an one the German official could respect. At
the expense of such an one the German official even consented to
Not only the foreign man, woman and child, but the foreign dog is
born good. In England, if you happen to be the possessor of a dog,
much of your time is taken up dragging him out of fights, quarrelling
with the possessor of the other dog as to which began it, explaining
to irate elderly ladies that he did not kill the cat, that the cat
must have died of heart disease while running across the road,
assuring disbelieving game-keepers that he is not your dog, that you
have not the faintest notion whose dog he is. With the foreign dog,
life is a peaceful proceeding. When the foreign dog sees a row,
tears spring to his eyes: he hastens on and tries to find a
policeman. When the foreign dog sees a cat in a hurry, he stands
aside to allow her to pass. They dress the foreign dog--some of
them--in a little coat, with a pocket for his handkerchief, and put
shoes on his feet. They have not given him a hat--not yet. When
they do, he will contrive by some means or another to raise it
politely when he meets a cat he thinks he knows.
One morning, in a Continental city, I came across a disturbance--it
might be more correct to say the disturbance came across me: it
swept down upon me, enveloped me before I knew that I was in it. A
fox-terrier it was, belonging to a very young lady--it was when the
disturbance was to a certain extent over that we discovered he
belonged to this young lady. She arrived towards the end of the
disturbance, very much out of breath: she had been running for a
mile, poor girl, and shouting most of the way. When she looked round
and saw all the things that had happened, and had had other things
that she had missed explained to her, she burst into tears. An
English owner of that fox-terrier would have given one look round and
then have jumped upon the nearest tram going anywhere. But, as I
have said, the foreigner is born good. I left her giving her name
and address to seven different people.
But it was about the dog I wished to speak more particularly. He had
commenced innocently enough, trying to catch a sparrow. Nothing
delights a sparrow more than being chased by a dog. A dozen times he
thought he had the sparrow. Then another dog had got in his way. I
don't know what they call this breed of dog, but abroad it is
popular: it has no tail and looks like a pig--when things are going
well with it. This particular specimen, when I saw him, looked more
like part of a doormat. The fox-terrier had seized it by the scruff
of the neck and had rolled it over into the gutter just in front of a
motor cycle. Its owner, a large lady, had darted out to save it, and
had collided with the motor cyclist. The large lady had been thrown
some half a dozen yards against an Italian boy carrying a tray load
of plaster images.
I have seen a good deal of trouble in my life, but never one yet that
did not have an Italian image-vendor somehow or other mixed up in it.
Where these boys hide in times of peace is a mystery. The chance of
being upset brings them out as sunshine brings out flies. The motor
cycle had dashed into a little milk-cart and had spread it out neatly
in the middle of the tram lines. The tram traffic looked like being
stopped for a quarter of an hour; but the idea of every approaching
tram driver appeared to be that if he rang his bell with sufficient
vigor this seeming obstruction would fade away and disappear.
In an English town all this would not have attracted much attention.
Somebody would have explained that a dog was the original cause, and
the whole series of events would have appeared ordinary and natural.
Upon these foreigners the fear descended that the Almighty, for some
reason, was angry with them. A policeman ran to catch the dog.
The delighted dog rushed backwards, barking furiously, and tried to
throw up paving stones with its hind legs. That frightened a
nursemaid who was wheeling a perambulator, and then it was that I
entered into the proceedings. Seated on the edge of the pavement,
with a perambulator on one side of me and a howling baby on the
other, I told that dog what I thought of him.
Forgetful that I was in a foreign land--that he might not understand
me--I told it him in English, I told it him at length, I told it very
loud and clear. He stood a yard in front of me, listening to me with
an expression of ecstatic joy I have never before or since seen
equalled on any face, human or canine. He drank it in as though it
had been music from Paradise.
"Where have I heard that song before?" he seemed to be saying to
himself, "the old familiar language they used to talk to me when I
He approached nearer to me; there were almost tears in his eyes when
I had finished.
"Say it again!" he seemed to be asking of me. "Oh! say it all over
again, the dear old English oaths and curses that in this God-
forsaken land I never hoped to hear again."
I learnt from the young lady that he was an English-born fox-terrier.
That explained everything. The foreign dog does not do this sort of
thing. The foreigner is born good: that is why we hate him.