Part 2 out of 3
Ah! old stanch friend, with your deep, clear eyes and bright, quick
glances, that take in all one has to say before one has time to speak
it, do you know you are only an animal and have no mind? Do you know
that that dull-eyed, gin-sodden lout leaning against the post out
there is immeasurably your intellectual superior? Do you know that
every little-minded, selfish scoundrel who lives by cheating and
tricking, who never did a gentle deed or said a kind word, who never
had a thought that was not mean and low or a desire that was not base,
whose every action is a fraud, whose every utterance is a lie--do you
know that these crawling skulks (and there are millions of them in the
world), do you know they are all as much superior to you as the sun is
superior to rushlight you honorable, brave-hearted, unselfish brute?
They are MEN, you know, and MEN are the greatest, and noblest, and
wisest, and best beings in the whole vast eternal universe. Any man
will tell you that.
Yes, poor doggie, you are very stupid, very stupid indeed, compared
with us clever men, who understand all about politics and philosophy,
and who know everything, in short, except what we are and where we
came from and whither we are going, and what everything outside this
tiny world and most things in it are.
Never mind, though, pussy and doggie, we like you both all the better
for your being stupid. We all like stupid things. Men can't bear
clever women, and a woman's ideal man is some one she can call a "dear
old stupid." It is so pleasant to come across people more stupid than
ourselves. We love them at once for being so. The world must be
rather a rough place for clever people. Ordinary folk dislike them,
and as for themselves, they hate each other most cordially.
But there, the clever people are such a very insignificant minority
that it really doesn't much matter if they are unhappy. So long as
the foolish people can be made comfortable the world, as a whole, will
get on tolerably well.
Cats have the credit of being more worldly wise than dogs--of looking
more after their own interests and being less blindly devoted to those
of their friends. And we men and women are naturally shocked at such
selfishness. Cats certainly do love a family that has a carpet in the
kitchen more than a family that has not; and if there are many
children about, they prefer to spend their leisure time next door.
But, taken altogether, cats are libeled. Make a friend of one, and
she will stick to you through thick and thin. All the cats that I
have had have been most firm comrades. I had a cat once that used to
follow me about everywhere, until it even got quite embarrassing, and
I had to beg her, as a personal favor, not to accompany me any further
down the High Street. She used to sit up for me when I was late home
and meet me in the passage. It made me feel quite like a married man,
except that she never asked where I had been and then didn't believe
me when I told her.
Another cat I had used to get drunk regularly every day. She would
hang about for hours outside the cellar door for the purpose of
sneaking in on the first opportunity and lapping up the drippings from
the beer-cask. I do not mention this habit of hers in praise of the
species, but merely to show how almost human some of them are. If the
transmigration of souls is a fact, this animal was certainly
qualifying most rapidly for a Christian, for her vanity was only
second to her love of drink. Whenever she caught a particularly big
rat, she would bring it up into the room where we were all sitting,
lay the corpse down in the midst of us, and wait to be praised. Lord!
how the girls used to scream.
Poor rats! They seem only to exist so that cats and dogs may gain
credit for killing them and chemists make a fortune by inventing
specialties in poison for their destruction. And yet there is
something fascinating about them. There is a weirdness and
uncanniness attaching to them. They are so cunning and strong, so
terrible in their numbers, so cruel, so secret. They swarm in
deserted houses, where the broken casements hang rotting to the
crumbling walls and the doors swing creaking on their rusty hinges.
They know the sinking ship and leave her, no one knows how or whither.
They whisper to each other in their hiding-places how a doom will fall
upon the hall and the great name die forgotten. They do fearful deeds
in ghastly charnel-houses.
No tale of horror is complete without the rats. In stories of ghosts
and murderers they scamper through the echoing rooms, and the gnawing
of their teeth is heard behind the wainscot, and their gleaming eyes
peer through the holes in the worm-eaten tapestry, and they scream in
shrill, unearthly notes in the dead of night, while the moaning wind
sweeps, sobbing, round the ruined turret towers, and passes wailing
like a woman through the chambers bare and tenantless.
And dying prisoners, in their loathsome dungeons, see through the
horrid gloom their small red eyes, like glittering coals, hear in the
death-like silence the rush of their claw-like feet, and start up
shrieking in the darkness and watch through the awful night.
I love to read tales about rats. They make my flesh creep so. I like
that tale of Bishop Hatto and the rats. The wicked bishop, you know,
had ever so much corn stored in his granaries and would not let the
starving people touch it, but when they prayed to him for food
gathered them together in his barn, and then shutting the doors on
them, set fire to the place and burned them all to death. But next
day there came thousands upon thousands of rats, sent to do judgment
on him. Then Bishop Hatto fled to his strong tower that stood in the
middle of the Rhine, and barred himself in and fancied he was safe.
But the rats! they swam the river, they gnawed their way through the
thick stone walls, and ate him alive where he sat.
"They have whetted their teeth against the stones,
And now they pick the bishop's bones;
They gnawed the flesh from every limb,
For they were sent to do judgment on him."
Oh, it's a lovely tale.
Then there is the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, how first he
piped the rats away, and afterward, when the mayor broke faith with
him, drew all the children along with him and went into the mountain.
What a curious old legend that is! I wonder what it means, or has it
any meaning at all? There seems something strange and deep lying hid
beneath the rippling rhyme. It haunts me, that picture of the quaint,
mysterious old piper piping through Hamelin's narrow streets, and the
children following with dancing feet and thoughtful, eager faces. The
old folks try to stay them, but the children pay no heed. They hear
the weird, witched music and must follow. The games are left
unfinished and the playthings drop from their careless hands. They
know not whither they are hastening. The mystic music calls to them,
and they follow, heedless and unasking where. It stirs and vibrates
in their hearts and other sounds grow faint. So they wander through
Pied Piper Street away from Hamelin town.
I get thinking sometimes if the Pied Piper is really dead, or if he
may not still be roaming up and down our streets and lanes, but
playing now so softly that only the children hear him. Why do the
little faces look so grave and solemn when they pause awhile from
romping, and stand, deep wrapt, with straining eyes? They only shake
their curly heads and dart back laughing to their playmates when we
question them. But I fancy myself they have been listening to the
magic music of the old Pied Piper, and perhaps with those bright eyes
of theirs have even seen his odd, fantastic figure gliding unnoticed
through the whirl and throng.
Even we grown-up children hear his piping now and then. But the
yearning notes are very far away, and the noisy, blustering world is
always bellowing so loud it drowns the dreamlike melody. One day the
sweet, sad strains will sound out full and clear, and then we too
shall, like the little children, throw our playthings all aside and
follow. The loving hands will be stretched out to stay us, and the
voices we have learned to listen for will cry to us to stop. But we
shall push the fond arms gently back and pass out through the
sorrowing house and through the open door. For the wild, strange
music will be ringing in our hearts, and we shall know the meaning of
its song by then.
I wish people could love animals without getting maudlin over them, as
so many do. Women are the most hardened offenders in such respects,
but even our intellectual sex often degrade pets into nuisances by
absurd idolatry. There are the gushing young ladies who, having read
"David Copperfield," have thereupon sought out a small, longhaired dog
of nondescript breed, possessed of an irritating habit of criticising
a man's trousers, and of finally commenting upon the same by a sniff
indicative of contempt and disgust. They talk sweet girlish prattle
to this animal (when there is any one near enough to overhear them),
and they kiss its nose, and put its unwashed head up against their
cheek in a most touching manner; though I have noticed that these
caresses are principally performed when there are young men hanging
Then there are the old ladies who worship a fat poodle, scant of
breath and full of fleas. I knew a couple of elderly spinsters once
who had a sort of German sausage on legs which they called a dog
between them. They used to wash its face with warm water every
morning. It had a mutton cutlet regularly for breakfast; and on
Sundays, when one of the ladies went to church, the other always
stopped at home to keep the dog company.
There are many families where the whole interest of life is centered
upon the dog. Cats, by the way, rarely suffer from excess of
adulation. A cat possesses a very fair sense of the ridiculous, and
will put her paw down kindly but firmly upon any nonsense of this
kind. Dogs, however, seem to like it. They encourage their owners in
the tomfoolery, and the consequence is that in the circles I am
speaking of what "dear Fido" has done, does do, will do, won't do, can
do, can't do, was doing, is doing, is going to do, shall do, shan't
do, and is about to be going to have done is the continual theme of
discussion from morning till night.
All the conversation, consisting, as it does, of the very dregs of
imbecility, is addressed to this confounded animal. The family sit in
a row all day long, watching him, commenting upon his actions, telling
each other anecdotes about him, recalling his virtues, and remembering
with tears how one day they lost him for two whole hours, on which
occasion he was brought home in a most brutal manner by the
butcher-boy, who had been met carrying him by the scruff of his neck
with one hand, while soundly cuffing his head with the other.
After recovering from these bitter recollections, they vie with each
other in bursts of admiration for the brute, until some more than
usually enthusiastic member, unable any longer to control his
feelings, swoops down upon the unhappy quadruped in a frenzy of
affection, clutches it to his heart, and slobbers over it. Whereupon
the others, mad with envy, rise up, and seizing as much of the dog as
the greed of the first one has left to them, murmur praise and
Among these people everything is done through the dog. If you want to
make love to the eldest daughter, or get the old man to lend you the
garden roller, or the mother to subscribe to the Society for the
Suppression of Solo-Cornet Players in Theatrical Orchestras (it's a
pity there isn't one, anyhow), you have to begin with the dog. You
must gain its approbation before they will even listen to you, and if,
as is highly probable, the animal, whose frank, doggy nature has been
warped by the unnatural treatment he has received, responds to your
overtures of friendship by viciously snapping at you, your cause is
"If Fido won't take to any one," the father has thoughtfully remarked
beforehand, "I say that man is not to be trusted. You know, Maria,
how often I have said that. Ah! he knows, bless him."
And to think that the surly brute was once an innocent puppy, all legs
and head, full of fun and play, and burning with ambition to become a
big, good dog and bark like mother.
Ah me! life sadly changes us all. The world seems a vast horrible
grinding machine, into which what is fresh and bright and pure is
pushed at one end, to come out old and crabbed and wrinkled at the
Look even at Pussy Sobersides, with her dull, sleepy glance, her
grave, slow walk, and dignified, prudish airs; who could ever think
that once she was the blue-eyed, whirling, scampering,
head-over-heels, mad little firework that we call a kitten?
What marvelous vitality a kitten has. It is really something very
beautiful the way life bubbles over in the little creatures. They
rush about, and mew, and spring; dance on their hind legs, embrace
everything with their front ones, roll over and over, lie on their
backs and kick. They don't know what to do with themselves, they are
so full of life.
Can you remember, reader, when you and I felt something of the same
sort of thing? Can you remember those glorious days of fresh young
manhood--how, when coming home along the moonlit road, we felt too
full of life for sober walking, and had to spring and skip, and wave
our arms, and shout till belated farmers' wives thought--and with good
reason, too--that we were mad, and kept close to the hedge, while we
stood and laughed aloud to see them scuttle off so fast and made their
blood run cold with a wild parting whoop, and the tears came, we knew
not why? Oh, that magnificent young LIFE! that crowned us kings of
the earth; that rushed through every tingling vein till we seemed to
walk on air; that thrilled through our throbbing brains and told us to
go forth and conquer the whole world; that welled up in our young
hearts till we longed to stretch out our arms and gather all the
toiling men and women and the little children to our breast and love
them all--all. Ah! they were grand days, those deep, full days, when
our coming life, like an unseen organ, pealed strange, yearnful music
in our ears, and our young blood cried out like a war-horse for the
battle. Ah, our pulse beats slow and steady now, and our old joints
are rheumatic, and we love our easy-chair and pipe and sneer at boys'
enthusiasm. But oh for one brief moment of that god-like life again!
ON BEING SHY.
All great literary men are shy. I am myself, though I am told it is
I am glad it is not. It used to be extremely prominent at one time,
and was the cause of much misery to myself and discomfort to every one
about me--my lady friends especially complained most bitterly about
A shy man's lot is not a happy one. The men dislike him, the women
despise him, and he dislikes and despises himself. Use brings him no
relief, and there is no cure for him except time; though I once came
across a delicious recipe for overcoming the misfortune. It appeared
among the "answers to correspondents" in a small weekly journal and
ran as follows--I have never forgotten it: "Adopt an easy and
pleasing manner, especially toward ladies."
Poor wretch! I can imagine the grin with which he must have read that
advice. "Adopt an easy and pleasing manner, especially toward
ladies," forsooth! Don't you adopt anything of the kind, my dear
young shy friend. Your attempt to put on any other disposition than
your own will infallibly result in your becoming ridiculously gushing
and offensively familiar. Be your own natural self, and then you will
only be thought to be surly and stupid.
The shy man does have some slight revenge upon society for the torture
it inflicts upon him. He is able, to a certain extent, to communicate
his misery. He frightens other people as much as they frighten him.
He acts like a damper upon the whole room, and the most jovial spirits
become in his presence depressed and nervous.
This is a good deal brought about by misunderstanding. Many people
mistake the shy man's timidity for overbearing arrogance and are awed
and insulted by it. His awkwardness is resented as insolent
carelessness, and when, terror-stricken at the first word addressed to
him, the blood rushes to his head and the power of speech completely
fails him, he is regarded as an awful example of the evil effects of
giving way to passion.
But, indeed, to be misunderstood is the shy man's fate on every
occasion; and whatever impression he endeavors to create, he is sure
to convey its opposite. When he makes a joke, it is looked upon as a
pretended relation of fact and his want of veracity much condemned.
His sarcasm is accepted as his literal opinion and gains for him the
reputation of being an ass, while if, on the other hand, wishing to
ingratiate himself, he ventures upon a little bit of flattery, it is
taken for satire and he is hated ever afterward.
These and the rest of a shy man's troubles are always very amusing to
other people, and have afforded material for comic writing from time
immemorial. But if we look a little deeper we shall find there is a
pathetic, one might almost say a tragic, side to the picture. A shy
man means a lonely man--a man cut off from all companionship, all
sociability. He moves about the world, but does not mix with it.
Between him and his fellow-men there runs ever an impassable
barrier--a strong, invisible wall that, trying in vain to scale, he
but bruises himself against. He sees the pleasant faces and hears the
pleasant voices on the other side, but he cannot stretch his hand
across to grasp another hand. He stands watching the merry groups,
and he longs to speak and to claim kindred with them. But they pass
him by, chatting gayly to one another, and he cannot stay them. He
tries to reach them, but his prison walls move with him and hem him in
on every side. In the busy street, in the crowded room, in the grind
of work, in the whirl of pleasure, amid the many or amid the
few--wherever men congregate together, wherever the music of human
speech is heard and human thought is flashed from human eyes, there,
shunned and solitary, the shy man, like a leper, stands apart. His
soul is full of love and longing, but the world knows it not. The
iron mask of shyness is riveted before his face, and the man beneath
is never seen. Genial words and hearty greetings are ever rising to
his lips, but they die away in unheard whispers behind the steel
clamps. His heart aches for the weary brother, but his sympathy is
dumb. Contempt and indignation against wrong choke up his throat, and
finding no safety-valve whence in passionate utterance they may burst
forth, they only turn in again and harm him. All the hate and scorn
and love of a deep nature such as the shy man is ever cursed by fester
and corrupt within, instead of spending themselves abroad, and sour
him into a misanthrope and cynic.
Yes, shy men, like ugly women, have a bad time of it in this world, to
go through which with any comfort needs the hide of a rhinoceros.
Thick skin is, indeed, our moral clothes, and without it we are not
fit to be seen about in civilized society. A poor gasping, blushing
creature, with trembling knees and twitching hands, is a painful sight
to every one, and if it cannot cure itself, the sooner it goes and
hangs itself the better.
The disease can be cured. For the comfort of the shy, I can assure
them of that from personal experience. I do not like speaking about
myself, as may have been noticed, but in the cause of humanity I on
this occasion will do so, and will confess that at one time I was, as
the young man in the Bab Ballad says, "the shyest of the shy," and
"whenever I was introduced to any pretty maid, my knees they knocked
together just as if I was afraid." Now, I would--nay, have--on this
very day before yesterday I did the deed. Alone and entirely by
myself (as the school-boy said in translating the "Bellum Gallicum")
did I beard a railway refreshment-room young lady in her own lair. I
rebuked her in terms of mingled bitterness and sorrow for her
callousness and want of condescension. I insisted, courteously but
firmly, on being accorded that deference and attention that was the
right of the traveling Briton, and at the end I looked her full in the
face. Need I say more?
True, immediately after doing so I left the room with what may
possibly have appeared to be precipitation and without waiting for any
refreshment. But that was because I had changed my mind, not because
I was frightened, you understand.
One consolation that shy folk can take unto themselves is that shyness
is certainly no sign of stupidity. It is easy enough for bull-headed
clowns to sneer at nerves, but the highest natures are not necessarily
those containing the greatest amount of moral brass. The horse is not
an inferior animal to the cock-sparrow, nor the deer of the forest to
the pig. Shyness simply means extreme sensibility, and has nothing
whatever to do with self-consciousness or with conceit, though its
relationship to both is continually insisted upon by the poll-parrot
school of philosophy.
Conceit, indeed, is the quickest cure for it. When it once begins to
dawn upon you that you are a good deal cleverer than any one else in
this world, bashfulness becomes shocked and leaves you. When you
can look round a roomful of people and think that each one is a mere
child in intellect compared with yourself you feel no more shy of them
than you would of a select company of magpies or orang-outangs.
Conceit is the finest armor that a man can wear. Upon its smooth,
impenetrable surface the puny dagger-thrusts of spite and envy glance
harmlessly aside. Without that breast-plate the sword of talent
cannot force its way through the battle of life, for blows have to be
borne as well as dealt. I do not, of course, speak of the conceit
that displays itself in an elevated nose and a falsetto voice. That
is not real conceit--that is only playing at being conceited; like
children play at being kings and queens and go strutting about with
feathers and long trains. Genuine conceit does not make a man
objectionable. On the contrary, it tends to make him genial,
kind-hearted, and simple. He has no need of affectation--he is far
too well satisfied with his own character; and his pride is too
deep-seated to appear at all on the outside. Careless alike of praise
or blame, he can afford to be truthful. Too far, in fancy, above the
rest of mankind to trouble about their petty distinctions, he is
equally at home with duke or costermonger. And valuing no one's
standard but his own, he is never tempted to practice that miserable
pretense that less self-reliant people offer up as an hourly sacrifice
to the god of their neighbor's opinion.
The shy man, on the other hand, is humble--modest of his own judgment
and over-anxious concerning that of others. But this in the case of a
young man is surely right enough. His character is unformed. It is
slowly evolving itself out of a chaos of doubt and disbelief. Before
the growing insight and experience the diffidence recedes. A man
rarely carries his shyness past the hobbledehoy period. Even if his
own inward strength does not throw it off, the rubbings of the world
generally smooth it down. You scarcely ever meet a really shy
man--except in novels or on the stage, where, by the bye, he is much
admired, especially by the women.
There, in that supernatural land, he appears as a fair-haired and
saintlike young man--fair hair and goodness always go together on the
stage. No respectable audience would believe in one without the
other. I knew an actor who mislaid his wig once and had to rush on to
play the hero in his own hair, which was jet-black, and the gallery
howled at all his noble sentiments under the impression that he was
the villain. He--the shy young man--loves the heroine, oh so
devotedly (but only in asides, for he dare not tell her of it), and he
is so noble and unselfish, and speaks in such a low voice, and is so
good to his mother; and the bad people in the play, they laugh at him
and jeer at him, but he takes it all so gently, and in the end it
transpires that he is such a clever man, though nobody knew it, and
then the heroine tells him she loves him, and he is so surprised, and
oh, so happy! and everybody loves him and asks him to forgive them,
which he does in a few well-chosen and sarcastic words, and blesses
them; and he seems to have generally such a good time of it that all
the young fellows who are not shy long to be shy. But the really shy
man knows better. He knows that it is not quite so pleasant in
reality. He is not quite so interesting there as in the fiction. He
is a little more clumsy and stupid and a little less devoted and
gentle, and his hair is much darker, which, taken altogether,
considerably alters the aspect of the case.
The point where he does resemble his ideal is in his faithfulness. I
am fully prepared to allow the shy young man that virtue: he is
constant in his love. But the reason is not far to seek. The fact is
it exhausts all his stock of courage to look one woman in the face,
and it would be simply impossible for him to go through the ordeal
with a second. He stands in far too much dread of the whole female
sex to want to go gadding about with many of them. One is quite
enough for him.
Now, it is different with the young man who is not shy. He has
temptations which his bashful brother never encounters. He looks
around and everywhere sees roguish eyes and laughing lips. What more
natural than that amid so many roguish ayes and laughing lips he
should become confused and, forgetting for the moment which particular
pair of roguish ayes and laughing lips it is that he belongs to, go
off making love to the wrong set. The shy man, who never looks at
anything but his own boots, sees not and is not tempted. Happy shy
Not but what the shy man himself would much rather not be happy in
that way. He longs to "go it" with the others, and curses himself
every day for not being able to. He will now and again, screwing up
his courage by a tremendous effort, plunge into roguishness. But it
is always a terrible _fiasco_, and after one or two feeble flounders
he crawls out again, limp and pitiable.
I say "pitiable," though I am afraid he never is pitied. There are
certain misfortunes which, while inflicting a vast amount of suffering
upon their victims, gain for them no sympathy. Losing an umbrella,
falling in love, toothache, black eyes, and having your hat sat upon
may be mentioned as a few examples, but the chief of them all is
shyness. The shy man is regarded as an animate joke. His tortures
are the sport of the drawing-room arena and are pointed out and
discussed with much gusto.
"Look," cry his tittering audience to each other; "he's blushing!"
"Just watch his legs," says one.
"Do you notice how he is sitting?" adds another: "right on the edge
of the chair."
"Seems to have plenty of color," sneers a military-looking gentleman.
"Pity he's got so many hands," murmurs an elderly lady, with her own
calmly folded on her lap. "They quite confuse him."
"A yard or two off his feet wouldn't be a disadvantage," chimes in the
comic man, "especially as he seems so anxious to hide them."
And then another suggests that with such a voice he ought to have been
a sea-captain. Some draw attention to the desperate way in which he
is grasping his hat. Some comment upon his limited powers of
conversation. Others remark upon the troublesome nature of his cough.
And so on, until his peculiarities and the company are both thoroughly
His friends and relations make matters still more unpleasant for the
poor boy (friends and relations are privileged to be more disagreeable
than other people). Not content with making fun of him among
themselves, they insist on his seeing the joke. They mimic and
caricature him for his own edification. One, pretending to imitate
him, goes outside and comes in again in a ludicrously nervous manner,
explaining to him afterward that that is the way he--meaning the shy
fellow--walks into a room; or, turning to him with "This is the way
you shake hands," proceeds to go through a comic pantomime with the
rest of the room, taking hold of every one's hand as if it were a hot
plate and flabbily dropping it again. And then they ask him why he
blushes, and why he stammers, and why he always speaks in an almost
inaudible tone, as if they thought he did it on purpose. Then one of
them, sticking out his chest and strutting about the room like a
pouter-pigeon, suggests quite seriously that that is the style he
should adopt. The old man slaps him on the back and says: "Be bold,
my boy. Don't be afraid of any one." The mother says, "Never do
anything that you need be ashamed of, Algernon, and then you never
need be ashamed of anything you do," and, beaming mildly at him, seems
surprised at the clearness of her own logic. The boys tell him that
he's "worse than a girl," and the girls repudiate the implied slur
upon their sex by indignantly exclaiming that they are sure no girl
would be half as bad.
They are quite right; no girl would be. There is no such thing as a
shy woman, or, at all events, I have never come across one, and until
I do I shall not believe in them. I know that the generally accepted
belief is quite the reverse. All women are supposed to be like timid,
startled fawns, blushing and casting down their gentle eyes when
looked at and running away when spoken to; while we man are supposed
to be a bold and rollicky lot, and the poor dear little women admire
us for it, but are terribly afraid of us. It is a pretty theory, but,
like most generally accepted theories, mere nonsense. The girl of
twelve is self-contained and as cool as the proverbial cucumber, while
her brother of twenty stammers and stutters by her side. A woman will
enter a concert-room late, interrupt the performance, and disturb the
whole audience without moving a hair, while her husband follows her, a
crushed heap of apologizing misery.
The superior nerve of women in all matters connected with love, from
the casting of the first sheep's-eye down to the end of the honeymoon,
is too well acknowledged to need comment. Nor is the example a fair
one to cite in the present instance, the positions not being equally
balanced. Love is woman's business, and in "business" we all lay
aside our natural weaknesses--the shyest man I ever knew was a
Oh, yes, I do--I know a lot about 'em. I was one myself once, though
not long--not so long as my clothes. They were very long, I
recollect, and always in my way when I wanted to kick. Why do babies
have such yards of unnecessary clothing? It is not a riddle. I
really want to know. I never could understand it. Is it that the
parents are ashamed of the size of the child and wish to make believe
that it is longer than it actually is? I asked a nurse once why it
was. She said:
"Lor', sir, they always have long clothes, bless their little hearts."
And when I explained that her answer, although doing credit to her
feelings, hardly disposed of my difficulty, she replied:
"Lor', sir, you wouldn't have 'em in short clothes, poor little
dears?" And she said it in a tone that seemed to imply I had
suggested some unmanly outrage.
Since than I have felt shy at making inquiries on the subject, and the
reason--if reason there be--is still a mystery to me. But indeed,
putting them in any clothes at all seems absurd to my mind. Goodness
knows there is enough of dressing and undressing to be gone through in
life without beginning it before we need; and one would think that
people who live in bed might at all events be spared the torture. Why
wake the poor little wretches up in the morning to take one lot of
clothes off, fix another lot on, and put them to bed again, and then
at night haul them out once more, merely to change everything back?
And when all is done, what difference is there, I should like to know,
between a baby's night-shirt and the thing it wears in the day-time?
Very likely, however, I am only making myself ridiculous--I often do,
so I am informed--and I will therefore say no more upon this matter of
clothes, except only that it would be of great convenience if some
fashion were adopted enabling you to tell a boy from a girl.
At present it is most awkward. Neither hair, dress, nor conversation
affords the slightest clew, and you are left to guess. By some
mysterious law of nature you invariably guess wrong, and are thereupon
regarded by all the relatives and friends as a mixture of fool and
knave, the enormity of alluding to a male babe as "she" being only
equaled by the atrocity of referring to a female infant as "he".
Whichever sex the particular child in question happens not to belong
to is considered as beneath contempt, and any mention of it is taken
as a personal insult to the family.
And as you value your fair name do not attempt to get out of the
difficulty by talking of "it."
There are various methods by which you may achieve ignominy and shame.
By murdering a large and respected family in cold blood and afterward
depositing their bodies in the water companies' reservoir, you will
gain much unpopularity in the neighborhood of your crime, and even
robbing a church will get you cordially disliked, especially by the
vicar. But if you desire to drain to the dregs the fullest cup of
scorn and hatred that a fellow human creature can pour out for you,
let a young mother hear you call dear baby "it."
Your best plan is to address the article as "little angel." The noun
"angel" being of common gender suits the case admirably, and the
epithet is sure of being favorably received. "Pet" or "beauty" are
useful for variety's sake, but "angel" is the term that brings you the
greatest credit for sense and good-feeling. The word should be
preceded by a short giggle and accompanied by as much smile as
possible. And whatever you do, don't forget to say that the child has
got its father's nose. This "fetches" the parents (if I may be
allowed a vulgarism) more than anything. They will pretend to laugh
at the idea at first and will say, "Oh, nonsense!" You must then get
excited and insist that it is a fact. You need have no conscientious
scruples on the subject, because the thing's nose really does resemble
its father's--at all events quite as much as it does anything else in
nature--being, as it is, a mere smudge.
Do not despise these hints, my friends. There may come a time when,
with mamma on one side and grand mamma on the other, a group of
admiring young ladies (not admiring you, though) behind, and a
bald-headed dab of humanity in front, you will be extremely thankful
for some idea of what to say. A man--an unmarried man, that is--is
never seen to such disadvantage as when undergoing the ordeal of
"seeing baby." A cold shudder runs down his back at the bare
proposal, and the sickly smile with which he says how delighted he
shall be ought surely to move even a mother's heart, unless, as I am
inclined to believe, the whole proceeding is a mere device adopted by
wives to discourage the visits of bachelor friends.
It is a cruel trick, though, whatever its excuse may be. The bell is
rung and somebody sent to tell nurse to bring baby down. This is the
signal for all the females present to commence talking "baby," during
which time you are left to your own sad thoughts and the speculations
upon the practicability of suddenly recollecting an important
engagement, and the likelihood of your being believed if you do. Just
when you have concocted an absurdly implausible tale about a man
outside, the door opens, and a tall, severe-looking woman enters,
carrying what at first sight appears to be a particularly skinny
bolster, with the feathers all at one end. Instinct, however, tells
you that this is the baby, and you rise with a miserable attempt at
appearing eager. When the first gush of feminine enthusiasm with
which the object in question is received has died out, and the number
of ladies talking at once has been reduced to the ordinary four or
five, the circle of fluttering petticoats divides, and room is made
for you to step forward. This you do with much the same air that you
would walk into the dock at Bow Street, and then, feeling unutterably
miserable, you stand solemnly staring at the child. There is dead
silence, and you know that every one is waiting for you to speak. You
try to think of something to say, but find, to your horror, that your
reasoning faculties have left you. It is a moment of despair, and
your evil genius, seizing the opportunity, suggests to you some of the
most idiotic remarks that it is possible for a human being to
perpetrate. Glancing round with an imbecile smile, you sniggeringly
observe that "it hasn't got much hair has it?" Nobody answers you for
a minute, but at last the stately nurse says with much gravity:
"It is not customary for children five weeks old to have long hair."
Another silence follows this, and you feel you are being given a
second chance, which you avail yourself of by inquiring if it can walk
yet, or what they feed it on.
By this time you have got to be regarded as not quite right in your
head, and pity is the only thing felt for you. The nurse, however, is
determined that, insane or not, there shall be no shirking and that
you shall go through your task to the end. In the tones of a high
priestess directing some religious mystery she says, holding the
bundle toward you:
"Take her in your arms, sir." You are too crushed to offer any
resistance and so meekly accept the burden. "Put your arm more down
her middle, sir," says the high-priestess, and then all step back and
watch you intently as though you were going to do a trick with it.
What to do you know no more than you did what to say. It is certain
something must be done, and the only thing that occurs to you is to
heave the unhappy infant up and down to the accompaniment of
"oopsee-daisy," or some remark of equal intelligence. "I wouldn't jig
her, sir, if I were you," says the nurse; "a very little upsets her."
You promptly decide not to jig her and sincerely hope that you have
not gone too far already.
At this point the child itself, who has hitherto been regarding you
with an expression of mingled horror and disgust, puts an end to the
nonsense by beginning to yell at the top of its voice, at which the
priestess rushes forward and snatches it from you with "There! there!
there! What did ums do to ums?" "How very extraordinary!" you say
pleasantly. "Whatever made it go off like that?" "Oh, why, you must
have done something to her!" says the mother indignantly; "the child
wouldn't scream like that for nothing." It is evident they think you
have been running pins into it.
The brat is calmed at last, and would no doubt remain quiet enough,
only some mischievous busybody points you out again with "Who's this,
baby?" and the intelligent child, recognizing you, howls louder than
Whereupon some fat old lady remarks that "it's strange how children
take a dislike to any one." "Oh, they know," replies another
mysteriously. "It's a wonderful thing," adds a third; and then
everybody looks sideways at you, convinced you are a scoundrel of the
blackest dye; and they glory in the beautiful idea that your true
character, unguessed by your fellow-men, has been discovered by the
untaught instinct of a little child.
Babies, though, with all their crimes and errors, are not without
their use--not without use, surely, when they fill an empty heart; not
without use when, at their call, sunbeams of love break through
care-clouded faces; not without use when their little fingers press
wrinkles into smiles.
Odd little people! They are the unconscious comedians of the world's
great stage. They supply the humor in life's all-too-heavy drama.
Each one, a small but determined opposition to the order of things in
general, is forever doing the wrong thing at the wrong time, in the
wrong place and in the wrong way. The nurse-girl who sent Jenny to
see what Tommy and Totty were doing and "tell 'em they mustn't" knew
infantile nature. Give an average baby a fair chance, and if it
doesn't do something it oughtn't to a doctor should be called in at
They have a genius for doing the most ridiculous things, and they do
them in a grave, stoical manner that is irresistible. The
business-like air with which two of them will join hands and proceed
due east at a break-neck toddle, while an excitable big sister is
roaring for them to follow her in a westerly direction, is most
amusing--except, perhaps, for the big sister. They walk round a
soldier, staring at his legs with the greatest curiosity, and poke him
to see if he is real. They stoutly maintain, against all argument and
much to the discomfort of the victim, that the bashful young man at
the end of the 'bus is "dadda." A crowded street-corner suggests
itself to their minds as a favorable spot for the discussion of family
affairs at a shrill treble. When in the middle of crossing the road
they are seized with a sudden impulse to dance, and the doorstep of a
busy shop is the place they always select for sitting down and taking
off their shoes.
When at home they find the biggest walking-stick in the house or an
umbrella--open preferred-of much assistance in getting upstairs. They
discover that they love Mary Ann at the precise moment when that
faithful domestic is blackleading the stove, and nothing will relieve
their feelings but to embrace her then and there. With regard to
food, their favorite dishes are coke and cat's meat. They nurse pussy
upside down, and they show their affection for the dog by pulling his
They are a deal of trouble, and they make a place untidy and they cost
a lot of money to keep; but still you would not have the house without
them. It would not be home without their noisy tongues and their
mischief-making hands. Would not the rooms seem silent without their
pattering feet, and might not you stray apart if no prattling voices
called you together?
It should be so, and yet I have sometimes thought the tiny hand seemed
as a wedge, dividing. It is a bearish task to quarrel with that
purest of all human affections--that perfecting touch to a woman's
life--a mother's love. It is a holy love, that we coarser-fibered men
can hardly understand, and I would not be deemed to lack reverence for
it when I say that surely it need not swallow up all other affection.
The baby need not take your whole heart, like the rich man who walled
up the desert well. Is there not another thirsty traveler standing
In your desire to be a good mother, do not forget to be a good wife.
No need for all the thought and care to be only for one. Do not,
whenever poor Edwin wants you to come out, answer indignantly, "What,
and leave baby!" Do not spend all your evenings upstairs, and do not
confine your conversation exclusively to whooping-cough and measles.
My dear little woman, the child is not going to die every time it
sneezes, the house is not bound to get burned down and the nurse run
away with a soldier every time you go outside the front door; nor the
cat sure to come and sit on the precious child's chest the moment you
leave the bedside. You worry yourself a good deal too much about that
solitary chick, and you worry everybody else too. Try and think of
your other duties, and your pretty face will not be always puckered
into wrinkles, and there will be cheerfulness in the parlor as well as
in the nursery. Think of your big baby a little. Dance him about a
bit; call him pretty names; laugh at him now and then. It is only the
first baby that takes up the whole of a woman's time. Five or six do
not require nearly so much attention as one. But before then the
mischief has been done. A house where there seems no room for him and
a wife too busy to think of him have lost their hold on that so
unreasonable husband of yours, and he has learned to look elsewhere
for comfort and companionship.
But there, there, there! I shall get myself the character of a
baby-hater if I talk any more in this strain. And Heaven knows I am
not one. Who could be, to look into the little innocent faces
clustered in timid helplessness round those great gates that open down
into the world?
The world--the small round world! what a vast mysterious place it must
seem to baby eyes! What a trackless continent the back garden
appears! What marvelous explorations they make in the cellar under
the stairs! With what awe they gaze down the long street, wondering,
like us bigger babies when we gaze up at the stars, where it all ends!
And down that longest street of all--that long, dim street of life
that stretches out before them--what grave, old-fashioned looks they
seem to cast! What pitiful, frightened looks sometimes! I saw a
little mite sitting on a doorstep in a Soho slum one night, and I
shall never forget the look that the gas-lamp showed me on its wizen
face--a look of dull despair, as if from the squalid court the vista
of its own squalid life had risen, ghostlike, and struck its heart
dead with horror.
Poor little feet, just commencing the stony journey! We old
travelers, far down the road, can only pause to wave a hand to you.
You come out of the dark mist, and we, looking back, see you, so tiny
in the distance, standing on the brow of the hill, your arms stretched
out toward us. God speed you! We would stay and take your little
hands in ours, but the murmur of the great sea is in our ears and we
may not linger. We must hasten down, for the shadowy ships are
waiting to spread their sable sails.
ON EATING AND DRINKING.
I always was fond of eating and drinking, even as a child--especially
eating, in those early days. I had an appetite then, also a
digestion. I remember a dull-eyed, livid-complexioned gentleman
coming to dine at our house once. He watched me eating for about five
minutes, quite fascinated seemingly, and then he turned to my father
"Does your boy ever suffer from dyspepsia?"
"I never heard him complain of anything of that kind," replied my
father. "Do you ever suffer from dyspepsia, Colly wobbles?" (They
called me Colly wobbles, but it was not my real name.)
"No, pa," I answered. After which I added:
"What is dyspepsia, pa?"
My livid-complexioned friend regarded me with a look of mingled
amazement and envy. Then in a tone of infinite pity he slowly said:
"You will know--some day."
My poor, dear mother used to say she liked to see me eat, and it has
always been a pleasant reflection to me since that I must have given
her much gratification in that direction. A growing, healthy lad,
taking plenty of exercise and careful to restrain himself from
indulging in too much study, can generally satisfy the most exacting
expectations as regards his feeding powers.
It is amusing to see boys eat when you have not got to pay for it.
Their idea of a square meal is a pound and a half of roast beef with
five or six good-sized potatoes (soapy ones preferred as being more
substantial), plenty of greens, and four thick slices of Yorkshire
pudding, followed by a couple of currant dumplings, a few green
apples, a pen'orth of nuts, half a dozen jumbles, and a bottle of
ginger-beer. After that they play at horses.
How they must despise us men, who require to sit quiet for a couple of
hours after dining off a spoonful of clear soup and the wing of a
But the boys have not all the advantages on their side. A boy never
enjoys the luxury of being satisfied. A boy never feels full. He can
never stretch out his legs, put his hands behind his head, and,
closing his eyes, sink into the ethereal blissfulness that encompasses
the well-dined man. A dinner makes no difference whatever to a boy.
To a man it is as a good fairy's potion, and after it the world
appears a brighter and a better place. A man who has dined
satisfactorily experiences a yearning love toward all his
fellow-creatures. He strokes the cat quite gently and calls it "poor
pussy," in tones full of the tenderest emotion. He sympathizes with
the members of the German band outside and wonders if they are cold;
and for the moment he does not even hate his wife's relations.
A good dinner brings out all the softer side of a man. Under its
genial influence the gloomy and morose become jovial and chatty.
Sour, starchy individuals, who all the rest of the day go about
looking as if they lived on vinegar and Epsom salts, break out into
wreathed smiles after dinner, and exhibit a tendency to pat small
children on the head and to talk to them--vaguely--about sixpences.
Serious men thaw and become mildly cheerful, and snobbish young men of
the heavy-mustache type forget to make themselves objectionable.
I always feel sentimental myself after dinner. It is the only time
when I can properly appreciate love-stories. Then, when the hero
clasps "her" to his heart in one last wild embrace and stifles a sob,
I feel as sad as though I had dealt at whist and turned up only a
deuce; and when the heroine dies in the end I weep. If I read the
same tale early in the morning I should sneer at it. Digestion, or
rather indigestion, has a marvelous effect upon the heart. If I want
to write any thing very pathetic--I mean, if I want to try to write
anything very pathetic--I eat a large plateful of hot buttered muffins
about an hour beforehand, and then by the time I sit down to my work a
feeling of unutterable melancholy has come over me. I picture
heartbroken lovers parting forever at lonely wayside stiles, while the
sad twilight deepens around them, and only the tinkling of a distant
sheep-bell breaks the sorrow-laden silence. Old men sit and gaze at
withered flowers till their sight is dimmed by the mist of tears.
Little dainty maidens wait and watch at open casements; but "he cometh
not," and the heavy years roll by and the sunny gold tresses wear
white and thin. The babies that they dandled have become grown men
and women with podgy torments of their own, and the playmates that
they laughed with are lying very silent under the waving grass. But
still they wait and watch, till the dark shadows of the unknown night
steal up and gather round them and the world with its childish
troubles fades from their aching eyes.
I see pale corpses tossed on white-foamed waves, and death-beds
stained with bitter tears, and graves in trackless deserts. I hear
the wild wailing of women, the low moaning of little children, the dry
sobbing of strong men. It's all the muffins. I could not conjure up
one melancholy fancy upon a mutton chop and a glass of champagne.
A full stomach is a great aid to poetry, and indeed no sentiment of
any kind can stand upon an empty one. We have not time or inclination
to indulge in fanciful troubles until we have got rid of our real
misfortunes. We do not sigh over dead dicky-birds with the bailiff in
the house, and when we do not know where on earth to get our next
shilling from, we do not worry as to whether our mistress' smiles are
cold, or hot, or lukewarm, or anything else about them.
Foolish people--when I say "foolish people" in this contemptuous way I
mean people who entertain different opinions to mine. If there is one
person I do despise more than another, it is the man who does not
think exactly the same on all topics as I do--foolish people, I say,
then, who have never experienced much of either, will tell you that
mental distress is far more agonizing than bodily. Romantic and
touching theory! so comforting to the love-sick young sprig who looks
down patronizingly at some poor devil with a white starved face and
thinks to himself, "Ah, how happy you are compared with me!"--so
soothing to fat old gentlemen who cackle about the superiority of
poverty over riches. But it is all nonsense--all cant. An aching
head soon makes one forget an aching heart. A broken finger will
drive away all recollections of an empty chair. And when a man feels
really hungry he does not feel anything else.
We sleek, well-fed folk can hardly realize what feeling hungry is
like. We know what it is to have no appetite and not to care for the
dainty victuals placed before us, but we do not understand what it
means to sicken for food--to die for bread while others waste it--to
gaze with famished eyes upon coarse fare steaming behind dingy
windows, longing for a pen'orth of pea pudding and not having the
penny to buy it--to feel that a crust would be delicious and that a
bone would be a banquet.
Hunger is a luxury to us, a piquant, flavor-giving sauce. It is well
worth while to get hungry and thirsty merely to discover how much
gratification can be obtained from eating and drinking. If you wish
to thoroughly enjoy your dinner, take a thirty-mile country walk after
breakfast and don't touch anything till you get back. How your eyes
will glisten at sight of the white table-cloth and steaming dishes
then! With what a sigh of content you will put down the empty beer
tankard and take up your knife and fork! And how comfortable you feel
afterward as you push back your chair, light a cigar, and beam round
Make sure, however, when adopting this plan, that the good dinner is
really to be had at the end, or the disappointment is trying. I
remember once a friend and I--dear old Joe, it was. Ah! how we lose
one another in life's mist. It must be eight years since I last saw
Joseph Taboys. How pleasant it would be to meet his jovial face
again, to clasp his strong hand, and to hear his cheery laugh once
more! He owes me 14 shillings, too. Well, we were on a holiday
together, and one morning we had breakfast early and started for a
tremendous long walk. We had ordered a duck for dinner over night.
We said, "Get a big one, because we shall come home awfully hungry;"
and as we were going out our landlady came up in great spirits. She
said, "I have got you gentlemen a duck, if you like. If you get
through that you'll do well;" and she held up a bird about the size of
a door-mat. We chuckled at the sight and said we would try. We said
it with self-conscious pride, like men who know their own power. Then
We lost our way, of course. I always do in the country, and it does
make me so wild, because it is no use asking direction of any of the
people you meet. One might as well inquire of a lodging-house slavey
the way to make beds as expect a country bumpkin to know the road to
the next village. You have to shout the question about three times
before the sound of your voice penetrates his skull. At the third
time he slowly raises his head and stares blankly at you. You yell it
at him then for a fourth time, and he repeats it after you. He
ponders while you count a couple of hundred, after which, speaking at
the rate of three words a minute, he fancies you "couldn't do better
than--" Here he catches sight of another idiot coming down the road
and bawls out to him the particulars, requesting his advice. The two
then argue the case for a quarter of an hour or so, and finally agree
that you had better go straight down the lane, round to the right and
cross by the third stile, and keep to the left by old Jimmy Milcher's
cow-shed, and across the seven-acre field, and through the gate by
Squire Grubbin's hay-stack, keeping the bridle-path for awhile till
you come opposite the hill where the windmill used to be--but it's
gone now--and round to the right, leaving Stiggin's plantation behind
you; and you say "Thank you" and go away with a splitting headache,
but without the faintest notion of your way, the only clear idea you
have on the subject being that somewhere or other there is a stile
which has to be got over; and at the next turn you come upon four
stiles, all leading in different directions!
We had undergone this ordeal two or three times. We had tramped over
fields. We had waded through brooks and scrambled over hedges and
walls. We had had a row as to whose fault it was that we had first
lost our way. We had got thoroughly disagreeable, footsore, and
weary. But throughout it all the hope of that duck kept us up. A
fairy-like vision, it floated before our tired eyes and drew us
onward. The thought of it was as a trumpet-call to the fainting. We
talked of it and cheered each other with our recollections of it.
"Come along," we said; "the duck will be spoiled."
We felt a strong temptation, at one point, to turn into a village inn
as we passed and have a cheese and a few loaves between us, but we
heroically restrained ourselves: we should enjoy the duck all the
better for being famished.
We fancied we smelled it when we go into the town and did the last
quarter of a mile in three minutes. We rushed upstairs, and washed
ourselves, and changed our clothes, and came down, and pulled our
chairs up to the table, and sat and rubbed our hands while the
landlady removed the covers, when I seized the knife and fork and
started to carve.
It seemed to want a lot of carving. I struggled with it for about
five minutes without making the slightest impression, and then Joe,
who had been eating potatoes, wanted to know if it wouldn't be better
for some one to do the job that understood carving. I took no notice
of his foolish remark, but attacked the bird again; and so vigorously
this time that the animal left the dish and took refuge in the fender.
We soon had it out of that, though, and I was prepared to make another
effort. But Joe was getting unpleasant. He said that if he had
thought we were to have a game of blind hockey with the dinner he
would have got a bit of bread and cheese outside.
I was too exhausted to argue. I laid down the knife and fork with
dignity and took a side seat and Joe went for the wretched creature.
He worked away in silence for awhile, and then he muttered "Damn the
duck" and took his coat off.
We did break the thing up at length with the aid of a chisel, but it
was perfectly impossible to eat it, and we had to make a dinner off
the vegetables and an apple tart. We tried a mouthful of the duck,
but it was like eating India-rubber.
It was a wicked sin to kill that drake. But there! there's no respect
for old institutions in this country.
I started this paper with the idea of writing about eating and
drinking, but I seem to have confined my remarks entirely to eating as
yet. Well, you see, drinking is one of those subjects with which it
is inadvisable to appear too well acquainted. The days are gone by
when it was considered manly to go to bed intoxicated every night, and
a clear head and a firm hand no longer draw down upon their owner the
reproach of effeminacy. On the contrary, in these sadly degenerate
days an evil-smelling breath, a blotchy face, a reeling gait, and a
husky voice are regarded as the hall marks of the cad rather than or
Even nowadays, though, the thirstiness of mankind is something
supernatural. We are forever drinking on one excuse or another. A
man never feels comfortable unless he has a glass before him. We
drink before meals, and with meals, and after meals. We drink when we
meet a friend, also when we part from a friend. We drink when we are
talking, when we are reading, and when we are thinking. We drink one
another's healths and spoil our own. We drink the queen, and the
army, and the ladies, and everybody else that is drinkable; and I
believe if the supply ran short we should drink our mothers-in-law.
By the way, we never eat anybody's health, always drink it. Why
should we not stand up now and then and eat a tart to somebody's
To me, I confess the constant necessity of drinking under which the
majority of men labor is quite unaccountable. I can understand people
drinking to drown care or to drive away maddening thoughts well
enough. I can understand the ignorant masses loving to soak
themselves in drink--oh, yes, it's very shocking that they should, of
course--very shocking to us who live in cozy homes, with all the
graces and pleasures of life around us, that the dwellers in damp
cellars and windy attics should creep from their dens of misery into
the warmth and glare of the public-house bar, and seek to float for a
brief space away from their dull world upon a Lethe stream of gin.
But think, before you hold up your hands in horror at their
ill-living, what "life" for these wretched creatures really means.
Picture the squalid misery of their brutish existence, dragged on from
year to year in the narrow, noisome room where, huddled like vermin in
sewers, they welter, and sicken, and sleep; where dirt-grimed children
scream and fight and sluttish, shrill-voiced women cuff, and curse,
and nag; where the street outside teems with roaring filth and the
house around is a bedlam of riot and stench.
Think what a sapless stick this fair flower of life must be to them,
devoid of mind and soul. The horse in his stall scents the sweet hay
and munches the ripe corn contentedly. The watch-dog in his kennel
blinks at the grateful sun, dreams of a glorious chase over the dewy
fields, and wakes with a yelp of gladness to greet a caressing hand.
But the clod-like life of these human logs never knows one ray of
light. From the hour when they crawl from their comfortless bed to
the hour when they lounge back into it again they never live one
moment of real life. Recreation, amusement, companionship, they know
not the meaning of. Joy, sorrow, laughter, tears, love, friendship,
longing, despair, are idle words to them. From the day when their
baby eyes first look out upon their sordid world to the day when, with
an oath, they close them forever and their bones are shoveled out of
sight, they never warm to one touch of human sympathy, never thrill to
a single thought, never start to a single hope. In the name of the
God of mercy; let them pour the maddening liquor down their throats
and feel for one brief moment that they live!
Ah! we may talk sentiment as much as we like, but the stomach is the
real seat of happiness in this world. The kitchen is the chief temple
wherein we worship, its roaring fire is our vestal flame, and the cook
is our great high-priest. He is a mighty magician and a kindly one.
He soothes away all sorrow and care. He drives forth all enmity,
gladdens all love. Our God is great and the cook is his prophet. Let
us eat, drink, and be merry.
ON FURNISHED APARTMENTS.
"Oh, you have some rooms to let."
"Well, what is it?"
"'Ere's a gentleman about the rooms."
"Ask 'im in. I'll be up in a minute."
"Will yer step inside, sir? Mother'll be up in a minute."
So you step inside and after a minute "mother" comes slowly up the
kitchen stairs, untying her apron as she comes and calling down
instructions to some one below about the potatoes.
"Good-morning, sir," says "mother," with a washed-out smile. "Will
you step this way, please?"
"Oh, it's hardly worth while my coming up," you say. "What sort of
rooms are they, and how much?"
"Well," says the landlady, "if you'll step upstairs I'll show them to
So with a protesting murmur, meant to imply that any waste of time
complained of hereafter must not be laid to your charge, you follow
At the first landing you run up against a pail and a broom, whereupon
"mother" expatiates upon the unreliability of servant-girls, and bawls
over the balusters for Sarah to come and take them away at once. When
you get outside the rooms she pauses, with her hand upon the door, to
explain to you that they are rather untidy just at present, as the
last lodger left only yesterday; and she also adds that this is their
cleaning-day--it always is. With this understanding you enter, and
both stand solemnly feasting your eyes upon the scene before you. The
rooms cannot be said to appear inviting. Even "mother's" face betrays
no admiration. Untenanted "furnished apartments" viewed in the
morning sunlight do not inspire cheery sensations. There is a
lifeless air about them. It is a very different thing when you have
settled down and are living in them. With your old familiar household
gods to greet your gaze whenever you glance up, and all your little
knick-knacks spread around you--with the photos of all the girls that
you have loved and lost ranged upon the mantel-piece, and half a dozen
disreputable-looking pipes scattered about in painfully prominent
positions--with one carpet slipper peeping from beneath the coal-box
and the other perched on the top of the piano--with the well-known
pictures to hide the dingy walls, and these dear old friends, your
books, higgledy-piggledy all over the place--with the bits of old blue
china that your mother prized, and the screen she worked in those far
by-gone days, when the sweet old face was laughing and young, and the
white soft hair tumbled in gold-brown curls from under the
Ah, old screen, what a gorgeous personage you must have been in your
young days, when the tulips and roses and lilies (all growing from one
stem) were fresh in their glistening sheen! Many a summer and winter
have come and gone since then, my friend, and you have played with the
dancing firelight until you have grown sad and gray. Your brilliant
colors are fast fading now, and the envious moths have gnawed your
silken threads. You are withering away like the dead hands that wove
you. Do you ever think of those dead hands? You seem so grave and
thoughtful sometimes that I almost think you do. Come, you and I and
the deep-glowing embers, let us talk together. Tell me in your silent
language what you remember of those young days, when you lay on my
little mother's lap and her girlish fingers played with your rainbow
tresses. Was there never a lad near sometimes--never a lad who would
seize one of those little hands to smother it with kisses, and who
would persist in holding it, thereby sadly interfering with the
progress of your making? Was not your frail existence often put in
jeopardy by this same clumsy, headstrong lad, who would toss you
disrespectfully aside that he--not satisfied with one--might hold both
hands and gaze up into the loved eyes? I can see that lad now through
the haze of the flickering twilight. He is an eager bright-eyed boy,
with pinching, dandy shoes and tight-fitting smalls, snowy shirt frill
and stock, and--oh! such curly hair. A wild, light-hearted boy! Can
he be the great, grave gentleman upon whose stick I used to ride
crosslegged, the care-worn man into whose thoughtful face I used to
gaze with childish reverence and whom I used to call "father?" You
say "yes," old screen; but are you quite sure? It is a serious charge
you are bringing. Can it be possible? Did he have to kneel down in
those wonderful smalls and pick you up and rearrange you before he was
forgiven and his curly head smoothed by my mother's little hand? Ah!
old screen, and did the lads and the lassies go making love fifty
years ago just as they do now? Are men and women so unchanged? Did
little maidens' hearts beat the same under pearl-embroidered bodices
as they do under Mother Hubbard cloaks? Have steel casques and
chimney-pot hats made no difference to the brains that work beneath
them? Oh, Time! great Chronos! and is this your power? Have you
dried up seas and leveled mountains and left the tiny human
heart-strings to defy you? Ah, yes! they were spun by a Mightier than
thou, and they stretch beyond your narrow ken, for their ends are made
fast in eternity. Ay, you may mow down the leaves and the blossoms,
but the roots of life lie too deep for your sickle to sever. You
refashion Nature's garments, but you cannot vary by a jot the
throbbings of her pulse. The world rolls round obedient to your laws,
but the heart of man is not of your kingdom, for in its birthplace "a
thousand years are but as yesterday."
I am getting away, though, I fear, from my "furnished apartments," and
I hardly know how to get back. But I have some excuse for my
meanderings this time. It is a piece of old furniture that has led me
astray, and fancies gather, somehow, round old furniture, like moss
around old stones. One's chairs and tables get to be almost part of
one's life and to seem like quiet friends. What strange tales the
wooden-headed old fellows could tell did they but choose to speak! At
what unsuspected comedies and tragedies have they not assisted! What
bitter tears have been sobbed into that old sofa cushion! What
passionate whisperings the settee must have overheard!
New furniture has no charms for me compared with old. It is the old
things that we love--the old faces, the old books, the old jokes. New
furniture can make a palace, but it takes old furniture to make a
home. Not merely old in itself--lodging-house furniture generally is
that--but it must be old to us, old in associations and recollections.
The furniture of furnished apartments, however ancient it may be in
reality, is new to our eyes, and we feel as though we could never get
on with it. As, too, in the case of all fresh acquaintances, whether
wooden or human (and there is very little difference between the two
species sometimes), everything impresses you with its worst aspect.
The knobby wood-work and shiny horse-hair covering of the easy-chair
suggest anything but ease. The mirror is smoky. The curtains want
washing. The carpet is frayed. The table looks as if it would go
over the instant anything was rested on it. The grate is cheerless,
the wall-paper hideous. The ceiling appears to have had coffee spilt
all over it, and the ornaments--well, they are worse than the
There must surely be some special and secret manufactory for the
production of lodging-house ornaments. Precisely the same articles
are to be found at every lodging-house all over the kingdom, and they
are never seen anywhere else. There are the two--what do you call
them? they stand one at each end of the mantel-piece, where they are
never safe, and they are hung round with long triangular slips of
glass that clank against one another and make you nervous. In the
commoner class of rooms these works of art are supplemented by a
couple of pieces of china which might each be meant to represent a cow
sitting upon its hind legs, or a model of the temple of Diana at
Ephesus, or a dog, or anything else you like to fancy. Somewhere
about the room you come across a bilious-looking object, which at
first you take to be a lump of dough left about by one of the
children, but which on scrutiny seems to resemble an underdone cupid.
This thing the landlady calls a statue. Then there is a "sampler"
worked by some idiot related to the family, a picture of the
"Huguenots," two or three Scripture texts, and a highly framed and
glazed certificate to the effect that the father has been vaccinated,
or is an Odd Fellow, or something of that sort.
You examine these various attractions and then dismally ask what the
"That's rather a good deal," you say on hearing the figure.
"Well, to tell you the truth," answers the landlady with a sudden
burst of candor, "I've always had" (mentioning a sum a good deal in
excess of the first-named amount), "and before that I used to have" (a
still higher figure).
What the rent of apartments must have been twenty years ago makes one
shudder to think of. Every landlady makes you feel thoroughly ashamed
of yourself by informing you, whenever the subject crops up, that she
used to get twice as much for her rooms as you are paying. Young men
lodgers of the last generation must have been of a wealthier class
than they are now, or they must have ruined themselves. I should have
had to live in an attic.
Curious, that in lodgings the rule of life is reversed. The higher
you get up in the world the lower you come down in your lodgings. On
the lodging-house ladder the poor man is at the top, the rich man
underneath. You start in the attic and work your way down to the
A good many great men have lived in attics and some have died there.
Attics, says the dictionary, are "places where lumber is stored," and
the world has used them to store a good deal of its lumber in at one
time or another. Its preachers and painters and poets, its
deep-browed men who will find out things, its fire-eyed men who will
tell truths that no one wants to hear--these are the lumber that the
world hides away in its attics. Haydn grew up in an attic and
Chatterton starved in one. Addison and Goldsmith wrote in garrets.
Faraday and De Quincey knew them well. Dr. Johnson camped cheerfully
in them, sleeping soundly--too soundly sometimes--upon their
trundle-beds, like the sturdy old soldier of fortune that he was,
inured to hardship and all careless of himself. Dickens spent his
youth among them, Morland his old age--alas! a drunken, premature old
age. Hans Andersen, the fairy king, dreamed his sweet fancies beneath
their sloping roofs. Poor, wayward-hearted Collins leaned his head
upon their crazy tables; priggish Benjamin Franklin; Savage, the
wrong-headed, much troubled when he could afford any softer bed than a
doorstep; young Bloomfield, "Bobby" Burns, Hogarth, Watts the
engineer--the roll is endless. Ever since the habitations of men were
reared two stories high has the garret been the nursery of genius.
No one who honors the aristocracy of mind can feel ashamed of
acquaintanceship with them. Their damp-stained walls are sacred to
the memory of noble names. If all the wisdom of the world and all its
art--all the spoils that it has won from nature, all the fire that it
has snatched from heaven--were gathered together and divided into
heaps, and we could point and say, for instance, these mighty truths
were flashed forth in the brilliant _salon_ amid the ripple of light
laughter and the sparkle of bright eyes; and this deep knowledge was
dug up in the quiet study, where the bust of Pallas looks serenely
down on the leather-scented shelves; and this heap belongs to the
crowded street; and that to the daisied field--the heap that would
tower up high above the rest as a mountain above hills would be the
one at which we should look up and say: this noblest pile of
all--these glorious paintings and this wondrous music, these trumpet
words, these solemn thoughts, these daring deeds, they were forged and
fashioned amid misery and pain in the sordid squalor of the city
garret. There, from their eyries, while the world heaved and throbbed
below, the kings of men sent forth their eagle thoughts to wing their
flight through the ages. There, where the sunlight streaming through
the broken panes fell on rotting boards and crumbling walls; there,
from their lofty thrones, those rag-clothed Joves have hurled their
thunderbolts and shaken, before now, the earth to its foundations.
Huddle them up in your lumber-rooms, oh, world! Shut them fast in and
turn the key of poverty upon them. Weld close the bars, and let them
fret their hero lives away within the narrow cage. Leave them there
to starve, and rot, and die. Laugh at the frenzied beatings of their
hands against the door. Roll onward in your dust and noise and pass
them by, forgotten.
But take care lest they turn and sting you. All do not, like the
fabled phoenix, warble sweet melodies in their agony; sometimes they
spit venom--venom you must breathe whether you will or no, for you
cannot seal their mouths, though you may fetter their limbs. You can
lock the door upon them, but they burst open their shaky lattices and
call out over the house-tops so that men cannot but hear. You hounded
wild Rousseau into the meanest garret of the Rue St. Jacques and
jeered at his angry shrieks. But the thin, piping tones swelled a
hundred years later into the sullen roar of the French Revolution, and
civilization to this day is quivering to the reverberations of his
As for myself, however, I like an attic. Not to live in: as
residences they are inconvenient. There is too much getting up and
down stairs connected with them to please me. It puts one
unpleasantly in mind of the tread-mill. The form of the ceiling
offers too many facilities for bumping your head and too few for
shaving. And the note of the tomcat as he sings to his love in the
stilly night outside on the tiles becomes positively distasteful when
heard so near.
No, for living in give me a suit of rooms on the first floor of a
Piccadilly mansion (I wish somebody would!); but for thinking in let
me have an attic up ten flights of stairs in the densest quarter of
the city. I have all Herr Teufelsdrockh's affection for attics.
There is a sublimity about their loftiness. I love to "sit at ease
and look down upon the wasps' nest beneath;" to listen to the dull
murmur of the human tide ebbing and flowing ceaselessly through the
narrow streets and lanes below. How small men seem, how like a swarm
of ants sweltering in endless confusion on their tiny hill! How petty
seems the work on which they are hurrying and skurrying! How
childishly they jostle against one another and turn to snarl and
scratch! They jabber and screech and curse, but their puny voices do
not reach up here. They fret, and fume, and rage, and pant, and die;
"but I, mein Werther, sit above it all; I am alone with the stars."
The most extraordinary attic I ever came across was one a friend and I
once shared many years ago. Of all eccentrically planned things, from
Bradshaw to the maze at Hampton Court, that room was the most
eccentric. The architect who designed it must have been a genius,
though I cannot help thinking that his talents would have been better
employed in contriving puzzles than in shaping human habitations. No
figure in Euclid could give any idea of that apartment. It contained
seven corners, two of the walls sloped to a point, and the window was
just over the fireplace. The only possible position for the bedstead
was between the door and the cupboard. To get anything out of the
cupboard we had to scramble over the bed, and a large percentage of
the various commodities thus obtained was absorbed by the bedclothes.
Indeed, so many things were spilled and dropped upon the bed that
toward night-time it had become a sort of small cooperative store.
Coal was what it always had most in stock. We used to keep our coal
in the bottom part of the cupboard, and when any was wanted we had to
climb over the bed, fill a shovelful, and then crawl back. It was an
exciting moment when we reached the middle of the bed. We would hold
our breath, fix our eyes upon the shovel, and poise ourselves for the
last move. The next instant we, and the coals, and the shovel, and
the bed would be all mixed up together.
I've heard of the people going into raptures over beds of coal. We
slept in one every night and were not in the least stuck up about it.
But our attic, unique though it was, had by no means exhausted the
architect's sense of humor. The arrangement of the whole house was a
marvel of originality. All the doors opened outward, so that if any
one wanted to leave a room at the same moment that you were coming
downstairs it was unpleasant for you. There was no ground-floor--its
ground-floor belonged to a house in the next court, and the front door
opened direct upon a flight of stairs leading down to the cellar.
Visitors on entering the house would suddenly shoot past the person
who had answered the door to them and disappear down these stairs.
Those of a nervous temperament used to imagine that it was a trap laid
for them, and would shout murder as they lay on their backs at the
bottom till somebody came and picked them up.
It is a long time ago now that I last saw the inside of an attic. I
have tried various floors since but I have not found that they have
made much difference to me. Life tastes much the same, whether we
quaff it from a golden goblet or drink it out of a stone mug. The
hours come laden with the same mixture of joy and sorrow, no matter
where we wait for them. A waistcoat of broadcloth or of fustian is
alike to an aching heart, and we laugh no merrier on velvet cushions
than we did on wooden chairs. Often have I sighed in those
low-ceilinged rooms, yet disappointments have come neither less nor
lighter since I quitted them. Life works upon a compensating balance,
and the happiness we gain in one direction we lose in another. As our
means increase, so do our desires; and we ever stand midway between
the two. When we reside in an attic we enjoy a supper of fried fish
and stout. When we occupy the first floor it takes an elaborate
dinner at the Continental to give us the same amount of satisfaction.
ON DRESS AND DEPORTMENT.
They say--people who ought to be ashamed of themselves do--that the
consciousness of being well dressed imparts a blissfulness to the
human heart that religion is powerless to bestow. I am afraid these
cynical persons are sometimes correct. I know that when I was a very
young man (many, many years ago, as the story-books say) and wanted
cheering up, I used to go and dress myself in all my best clothes. If
I had been annoyed in any manner--if my washerwoman had discharged me,
for instance; or my blank-verse poem had been returned for the tenth
time, with the editor's compliments "and regrets that owing to want of
space he is unable to avail himself of kind offer;" or I had been
snubbed by the woman I loved as man never loved before--by the way,
it's really extraordinary what a variety of ways of loving there must
be. We all do it as it was never done before. I don't know how our
great-grandchildren will manage. They will have to do it on their
heads by their time if they persist in not clashing with any previous
Well, as I was saying, when these unpleasant sort of things happened
and I felt crushed, I put on all my best clothes and went out. It
brought back my vanishing self-esteem. In a glossy new hat and a pair
of trousers with a fold down the front (carefully preserved by keeping
them under the bed--I don't mean on the floor, you know, but between
the bed and the mattress), I felt I was somebody and that there were
other washerwomen: ay, and even other girls to love, and who would
perhaps appreciate a clever, good-looking young fellow. I didn't
care; that was my reckless way. I would make love to other maidens.
I felt that in those clothes I could do it.
They have a wonderful deal to do with courting, clothes have. It is
half the battle. At all events, the young man thinks so, and it
generally takes him a couple of hours to get himself up for the
occasion. His first half-hour is occupied in trying to decide whether
to wear his light suit with a cane and drab billycock, or his black
tails with a chimney-pot hat and his new umbrella. He is sure to be
unfortunate in either decision. If he wears his light suit and takes
the stick it comes on to rain, and he reaches the house in a damp and
muddy condition and spends the evening trying to hide his boots. If,
on the other hand, he decides in favor of the top hat and
umbrella--nobody would ever dream of going out in a top hat without an
umbrella; it would be like letting baby (bless it!) toddle out without
its nurse. How I do hate a top hat! One lasts me a very long while,
I can tell you. I only wear it when--well, never mind when I wear it.
It lasts me a very long while. I've had my present one five years.
It was rather old-fashioned last summer, but the shape has come round
again now and I look quite stylish.
But to return to our young man and his courting. If he starts off
with the top hat and umbrella the afternoon turns out fearfully hot,
and the perspiration takes all the soap out of his mustache and
converts the beautifully arranged curl over his forehead into a limp
wisp resembling a lump of seaweed. The Fates are never favorable to
the poor wretch. If he does by any chance reach the door in proper
condition, she has gone out with her cousin and won't be back till
How a young lover made ridiculous by the gawkiness of modern costume
must envy the picturesque gallants of seventy years ago! Look at them
(on the Christmas cards), with their curly hair and natty hats, their
well-shaped legs incased in smalls, their dainty Hessian boots, their
ruffling frills, their canes and dangling seals. No wonder the little
maiden in the big poke-bonnet and the light-blue sash casts down her
eyes and is completely won. Men could win hearts in clothes like
that. But what can you expect from baggy trousers and a monkeyjacket?
Clothes have more effect upon us than we imagine. Our deportment
depends upon our dress. Make a man get into seedy, worn-out rags, and
he will skulk along with his head hanging down, like a man going out
to fetch his own supper beer. But deck out the same article in
gorgeous raiment and fine linen, and he will strut down the main
thoroughfare, swinging his cane and looking at the girls as perky as a
Clothes alter our very nature. A man could not help being fierce and
daring with a plume in his bonnet, a dagger in his belt, and a lot of
puffy white things all down his sleeves. But in an ulster he wants to
get behind a lamp-post and call police.
I am quite ready to admit that you can find sterling merit, honest
worth, deep affection, and all such like virtues of the
roast-beef-and-plum-pudding school as much, and perhaps more, under
broadcloth and tweed as ever existed beneath silk and velvet; but the
spirit of that knightly chivalry that "rode a tilt for lady's love"
and "fought for lady's smiles" needs the clatter of steel and the
rustle of plumes to summon it from its grave between the dusty folds
of tapestry and underneath the musty leaves of moldering chronicles.
The world must be getting old, I think; it dresses so very soberly
now. We have been through the infant period of humanity, when we used
to run about with nothing on but a long, loose robe, and liked to have
our feet bare. And then came the rough, barbaric age, the boyhood of
our race. We didn't care what we wore then, but thought it nice to
tattoo ourselves all over, and we never did our hair. And after that
the world grew into a young man and became foppish. It decked itself
in flowing curls and scarlet doublets, and went courting, and
bragging, and bouncing--making a brave show.
But all those merry, foolish days of youth are gone, and we are very
sober, very solemn--and very stupid, some say--now. The world is a
grave, middle-aged gentleman in this nineteenth century, and would be
shocked to see itself with a bit of finery on. So it dresses in black
coats and trousers, and black hats, and black boots, and, dear me, it
is such a very respectable gentleman--to think it could ever have gone
gadding about as a troubadour or a knight-errant, dressed in all those
fancy colors! Ah, well! we are more sensible in this age.
Or at least we think ourselves so. It is a general theory nowadays
that sense and dullness go together.
Goodness is another quality that always goes with blackness. Very
good people indeed, you will notice, dress altogether in black, even
to gloves and neckties, and they will probably take to black shirts
before long. Medium goods indulge in light trousers on week-days, and
some of them even go so far as to wear fancy waistcoats. On the other
hand, people who care nothing for a future state go about in light
suits; and there have been known wretches so abandoned as to wear a
white hat. Such people, however, are never spoken of in genteel
society, and perhaps I ought not to have referred to them here.
By the way, talking of light suits, have you ever noticed how people
stare at you the first time you go out in a new light suit They do
not notice it so much afterward. The population of London have got
accustomed to it by the third time you wear it. I say "you," because
I am not speaking from my own experience. I do not wear such things
at all myself. As I said, only sinful people do so.
I wish, though, it were not so, and that one could be good, and
respectable, and sensible without making one's self a guy. I look in
the glass sometimes at my two long, cylindrical bags (so picturesquely
rugged about the knees), my stand-up collar and billycock hat, and
wonder what right I have to go about making God's world hideous. Then
wild and wicked thoughts come into my heart. I don't want to be good
and respectable. (I never can be sensible, I'm told; so that don't
matter.) I want to put on lavender-colored tights, with red velvet
breeches and a green doublet slashed with yellow; to have a light-blue
silk cloak on my shoulder, and a black eagle's plume waving from my
hat, and a big sword, and a falcon, and a lance, and a prancing horse,
so that I might go about and gladden the eyes of the people. Why
should we all try to look like ants crawling over a dust-heap? Why
shouldn't we dress a little gayly? I am sure if we did we should be
happier. True, it is a little thing, but we are a little race, and
what is the use of our pretending otherwise and spoiling fun? Let
philosophers get themselves up like old crows if they like. But let
me be a butterfly.
Women, at all events, ought to dress prettily. It is their duty.
They are the flowers of the earth and were meant to show it up. We
abuse them a good deal, we men; but, goodness knows, the old world
would be dull enough without their dresses and fair faces. How they
brighten up every place they come into! What a sunny commotion
they--relations, of course---make in our dingy bachelor chambers! and
what a delightful litter their ribbons and laces, and gloves and hats,
and parasols and 'kerchiefs make! It is as if a wandering rainbow had
dropped in to pay us a visit.
It is one of the chief charms of the summer, to my mind, the way our
little maids come out in pretty colors. I like to see the pink and
blue and white glancing between the trees, dotting the green fields,
and flashing back the sunlight. You can see the bright colors such a
long way off. There are four white dresses climbing a hill in front
of my window now. I can see them distinctly, though it is three miles
away. I thought at first they were mile-stones out for a lark. It's
so nice to be able to see the darlings a long way off. Especially if
they happen to be your wife and your mother-in-law.
Talking of fields and mile-stones reminds me that I want to say, in
all seriousness, a few words about women's boots. The women of these
islands all wear boots too big for them. They can never get a boot to
fit. The bootmakers do not keep sizes small enough.
Over and over again have I known women sit down on the top rail of a
stile and declare they could not go a step further because their boots
hurt them so; and it has always been the same complaint--too big.
It is time this state of things was altered. In the name of the
husbands and fathers of England, I call upon the bootmakers to reform.
Our wives, our daughters, and our cousins are not to be lamed and
tortured with impunity. Why cannot "narrow twos" be kept more in
stock? That is the size I find most women take.
The waist-band is another item of feminine apparel that is always too
big. The dressmakers make these things so loose that the hooks and
eyes by which they are fastened burst off, every now and then, with a
report like thunder.
Why women suffer these wrongs--why they do not insist in having their
clothes made small enough for them I cannot conceive. It can hardly
be that they are disinclined to trouble themselves about matters of
mere dress, for dress is the one subject that they really do think
about. It is the only topic they ever get thoroughly interested in,
and they talk about it all day long. If you see two women together,
you may bet your bottom dollar they are discussing their own or their
friends' clothes. You notice a couple of child-like beings conversing
by a window, and you wonder what sweet, helpful words are falling from
their sainted lips. So you move nearer and then you hear one say:
"So I took in the waist-band and let out a seam, and it fits
"Well," says the other, "I shall wear my plum-colored body to the
Jones', with a yellow plastron; and they've got some lovely gloves at
Puttick's, only one and eleven pence."
I went for a drive through a part of Derbyshire once with a couple of
ladies. It was a beautiful bit of country, and they enjoyed
themselves immensely. They talked dressmaking the whole time.
"Pretty view, that," I would say, waving my umbrella round. "Look at
those blue distant hills! That little white speck, nestling in the
woods, is Chatsworth, and over there--"
"Yes, very pretty indeed," one would reply. "Well, why not get a yard
"What, and leave the skirt exactly as it is?"
"Certainly. What place d'ye call this?"
Then I would draw their attention to the fresh beauties that kept
sweeping into view, and they would glance round and say "charming,"
"sweetly pretty," and immediately go off into raptures over each
other's pocket-handkerchiefs, and mourn with one another over the
decadence of cambric frilling.
I believe if two women were cast together upon a desert island, they
would spend each day arguing the respective merits of sea-shells and
birds' eggs considered as trimmings, and would have a new fashion in
fig-leaves every month.
Very young men think a good deal about clothes, but they don't talk
about them to each other. They would not find much encouragement. A
fop is not a favorite with his own sex. Indeed, he gets a good deal
more abuse from them than is necessary. His is a harmless failing and
it soon wears out. Besides, a man who has no foppery at twenty will
be a slatternly, dirty-collar, unbrushed-coat man at forty. A little
foppishness in a young man is good; it is human. I like to see a
young cock ruffle his feathers, stretch his neck, and crow as if the
whole world belonged to him. I don't like a modest, retiring man.
Nobody does--not really, however much they may prate about modest
worth and other things they do not understand.
A meek deportment is a great mistake in the world. Uriah Heap's
father was a very poor judge of human nature, or he would not have
told his son, as he did, that people liked humbleness. There is
nothing annoys them more, as a rule. Rows are half the fun of life,
and you can't have rows with humble, meek-answering individuals. They
turn away our wrath, and that is just what we do not want. We want to
let it out. We have worked ourselves up into a state of exhilarating
fury, and then just as we are anticipating the enjoyment of a vigorous
set-to, they spoil all our plans with their exasperating humility.
Xantippe's life must have been one long misery, tied to that calmly
irritating man, Socrates. Fancy a married woman doomed to live on
from day to day without one single quarrel with her husband! A man
ought to humor his wife in these things.
Heaven knows their lives are dull enough, poor girls. They have none
of the enjoyments we have. They go to no political meetings; they may
not even belong to the local amateur parliament; they are excluded
from smoking-carriages on the Metropolitan Railway, and they never see
a comic paper--or if they do, they do not know it is comic: nobody
Surely, with existence such a dreary blank for them as this, we might
provide a little row for their amusement now and then, even if we do
not feel inclined for it ourselves. A really sensible man does so and
is loved accordingly, for it is little acts of kindness such as this
that go straight to a woman's heart. It is such like proofs of loving
self-sacrifice that make her tell her female friends what a good
husband he was--after he is dead.
Yes, poor Xantippe must have had a hard time of it. The bucket
episode was particularly sad for her. Poor woman! she did think she
would rouse him up a bit with that. She had taken the trouble to fill
the bucket, perhaps been a long way to get specially dirty water. And
she waited for him. And then to be met in such a way, after all!
Most likely she sat down and had a good cry afterward. It must have
seemed all so hopeless to the poor child; and for all we know she had
no mother to whom she could go and abuse him.
What was it to her that her husband was a great philosopher? Great
philosophy don't count in married life.
There was a very good little boy once who wanted to go to sea. And
the captain asked him what he could do. He said he could do the
multiplication-table backward and paste sea-weed in a book; that he
knew how many times the word "begat" occurred in the Old Testament;
and could recite "The Boy Stood on the Burning Deck" and Wordsworth's
"We Are Seven."
"Werry good--werry good, indeed," said the man of the sea, "and ken ye
It is just the same when you want to marry. Great ability is not
required so much as little usefulness. Brains are at a discount in
the married state. There is no demand for them, no appreciation even.
Our wives sum us up according to a standard of their own, in which
brilliancy of intellect obtains no marks. Your lady and mistress is
not at all impressed by your cleverness and talent, my dear
reader--not in the slightest. Give her a man who can do an errand
neatly, without attempting to use his own judgment over it or any
nonsense of that kind; and who can be trusted to hold a child the
right way up, and not make himself objectionable whenever there is
lukewarm mutton for dinner. That is the sort of a husband a sensible
woman likes; not one of your scientific or literary nuisances, who go
upsetting the whole house and putting everybody out with their
"I remember, I remember,
In the days of chill November,
How the blackbird on the--"
I forget the rest. It is the beginning of the first piece of poetry I
ever learned; for
"Hey, diddle diddle,
The cat and the fiddle,"
I take no note of, it being of a frivolous character and lacking in
the qualities of true poetry. I collected fourpence by the recital of
"I remember, I remember." I knew it was fourpence, because they told
me that if I kept it until I got twopence more I should have sixpence,
which argument, albeit undeniable, moved me not, and the money was
squandered, to the best of my recollection, on the very next morning,
although upon what memory is a blank.
That is just the way with Memory; nothing that she brings to us is
complete. She is a willful child; all her toys are broken. I
remember tumbling into a huge dust-hole when a very small boy, but I
have not the faintest recollection of ever getting out again; and if
memory were all we had to trust to, I should be compelled to believe I
was there still.
At another time--some years later--I was assisting at an exceedingly
interesting love scene; but the only thing about it I can call to mind
distinctly is that at the most critical moment somebody suddenly
opened the door and said, "Emily, you're wanted," in a sepulchral tone
that gave one the idea the police had come for her. All the tender
words she said to me and all the beautiful things I said to her are
Life altogether is but a crumbling ruin when we turn to look behind:
a shattered column here, where a massive portal stood; the broken
shaft of a window to mark my lady's bower; and a moldering heap of
blackened stones where the glowing flames once leaped, and over all
the tinted lichen and the ivy clinging green.
For everything looms pleasant through the softening haze of time.
Even the sadness that is past seems sweet. Our boyish days look very
merry to us now, all nutting, hoop, and gingerbread. The snubbings
and toothaches and the Latin verbs are all forgotten--the Latin verbs
especially. And we fancy we were very happy when we were hobbledehoys
and loved; and we wish that we could love again. We never think of
the heartaches, or the sleepless nights, or the hot dryness of our
throats, when she said she could never be anything to us but a
sister--as if any man wanted more sisters!
Yes, it is the brightness, not the darkness, that we see when we look
back. The sunshine casts no shadows on the past. The road that we
have traversed stretches very fair behind us. We see not the sharp
stones. We dwell but on the roses by the wayside, and the strong
briers that stung us are, to our distant eyes, but gentle tendrils
waving in the wind. God be thanked that it is so--that the
ever-lengthening chain of memory has only pleasant links, and that the
bitterness and sorrow of to-day are smiled at on the morrow.
It seems as though the brightest side of everything were also its
highest and best, so that as our little lives sink back behind us into
the dark sea of forgetfulness, all that which is the lightest and the
most gladsome is the last to sink, and stands above the waters, long
in sight, when the angry thoughts and smarting pain are buried deep
below the waves and trouble us no more.
It is this glamour of the past, I suppose, that makes old folk talk so
much nonsense about the days when they were young. The world appears
to have been a very superior sort of place then, and things were more
like what they ought to be. Boys were boys then, and girls were very
different. Also winters were something like winters, and summers not
at all the wretched-things we get put off with nowadays. As for the
wonderful deeds people did in those times and the extraordinary events
that happened, it takes three strong men to believe half of them.
I like to hear one of the old boys telling all about it to a party of
youngsters who he knows cannot contradict him. It is odd if, after
awhile, he doesn't swear that the moon shone every night when he was a
boy, and that tossing mad bulls in a blanket was the favorite sport at
It always has been and always will be the same. The old folk of our
grandfathers' young days sang a song bearing exactly the same burden;
and the young folk of to-day will drone out precisely similar nonsense
for the aggravation of the next generation. "Oh, give me back the
good old days of fifty years ago," has been the cry ever since Adam's
fifty-first birthday. Take up the literature of 1835, and you will
find the poets and novelists asking for the same impossible gift as
did the German Minnesingers long before them and the old Norse Saga
writers long before that. And for the same thing sighed the early
prophets and the philosophers of ancient Greece. From all accounts,
the world has been getting worse and worse ever since it was created.
All I can say is that it must have been a remarkably delightful place
when it was first opened to the public, for it is very pleasant even
now if you only keep as much as possible in the sunshine and take the
Yet there is no gainsaying but that it must have been somewhat sweeter
in that dewy morning of creation, when it was young and fresh, when
the feet of the tramping millions had not trodden its grass to dust,
nor the din of the myriad cities chased the silence forever away.
Life must have been noble and solemn to those free-footed, loose-robed
fathers of the human race, walking hand in hand with God under the
great sky. They lived in sunkissed tents amid the lowing herds. They
took their simple wants from the loving hand of Nature. They toiled
and talked and thought; and the great earth rolled around in
stillness, not yet laden with trouble and wrong.
Those days are past now. The quiet childhood of Humanity, spent in
the far-off forest glades and by the murmuring rivers, is gone
forever; and human life is deepening down to manhood amid tumult,
doubt, and hope. Its age of restful peace is past. It has its work
to finish and must hasten on. What that work may be--what this
world's share is in the great design--we know not, though our
unconscious hands are helping to accomplish it. Like the tiny coral
insect working deep under the dark waters, we strive and struggle each
for our own little ends, nor dream of the vast fabric we are building
up for God.
Let us have done with vain regrets and longings for the days that
never will be ours again. Our work lies in front, not behind us; and
"Forward!" is our motto. Let us not sit with folded hands, gazing
upon the past as if it were the building; it is but the foundation.
Let us not waste heart and life thinking of what might have been and
forgetting the may be that lies before us. Opportunities flit by
while we sit regretting the chances we have lost, and the happiness
that comes to us we heed not, because of the happiness that is gone.
Years ago, when I used to wander of an evening from the fireside to
the pleasant land of fairy-tales, I met a doughty knight and true.
Many dangers had he overcome, in many lands had been; and all men knew
him for a brave and well-tried knight, and one that knew not fear;
except, maybe, upon such seasons when even a brave man might feel
afraid and yet not be ashamed. Now, as this knight one day was
pricking wearily along a toilsome road, his heart misgave him and was
sore within him because of the trouble of the way. Rocks, dark and of
a monstrous size, hung high above his head, and like enough it seemed
unto the knight that they should fall and he lie low beneath them.
Chasms there were on either side, and darksome caves wherein fierce
robbers lived, and dragons, very terrible, whose jaws dripped blood.
And upon the road there hung a darkness as of night. So it came over
that good knight that he would no more press forward, but seek another
road, less grievously beset with difficulty unto his gentle steed.
But when in haste he turned and looked behind, much marveled our brave
knight, for lo! of all the way that he had ridden there was naught for
eye to see; but at his horse's heels there yawned a mighty gulf,
whereof no man might ever spy the bottom, so deep was that same gulf.
Then when Sir Ghelent saw that of going back there was none, he prayed
to good Saint Cuthbert, and setting spurs into his steed rode forward
bravely and most joyously. And naught harmed him.
There is no returning on the road of life. The frail bridge of time
on which we tread sinks back into eternity at every step we take. The
past is gone from us forever. It is gathered in and garnered. It
belongs to us no more. No single word can ever be unspoken; no single
step retraced. Therefore it beseems us as true knights to prick on
bravely, not idly weep because we cannot now recall.
A new life begins for us with every second. Let us go forward
joyously to meet it. We must press on whether we will or no, and we
shall walk better with our eyes before us than with them ever cast
A friend came to me the other day and urged me very eloquently to
learn some wonderful system by which you never forgot anything. I
don't know why he was so eager on the subject, unless it be that I
occasionally borrow an umbrella and have a knack of coming out, in the
middle of a game of whist, with a mild "Lor! I've been thinking all
along that clubs were trumps." I declined the suggestion, however, in
spite of the advantages he so attractively set forth. I have no wish
to remember everything. There are many things in most men's lives
that had better be forgotten. There is that time, many years ago,
when we did not act quite as honorably, quite as uprightly, as we
perhaps should have done--that unfortunate deviation from the path of
strict probity we once committed, and in which, more unfortunate
still, we were found out--that act of folly, of meanness, of wrong.
Ah, well! we paid the penalty, suffered the maddening hours of vain
remorse, the hot agony of shame, the scorn, perhaps, of those we
loved. Let us forget. Oh, Father Time, lift with your kindly hands
those bitter memories from off our overburdened hearts, for griefs are
ever coming to us with the coming hours, and our little strength is
only as the day.
Not that the past should be buried. The music of life would be mute
if the chords of memory were snapped asunder. It is but the poisonous
weeds, not the flowers, that we should root out from the garden of
Mnemosyne. Do you remember Dickens' "Haunted Man"--how he prayed for
forgetfulness, and how, when his prayer was answered, he prayed for
memory once more? We do not want all the ghosts laid. It is only the
haggard, cruel-eyed specters that we flee from. Let the gentle,
kindly phantoms haunt us as they will; we are not afraid of them.
Ah me! the world grows very full of ghosts as we grow older. We need
not seek in dismal church-yards nor sleep in moated granges to see the
shadowy faces and hear the rustling of their garments in the night.
Every house, every room, every creaking chair has its own particular
ghost. They haunt the empty chambers of our lives, they throng around
us like dead leaves whirled in the autumn wind. Some are living, some
are dead. We know not. We clasped their hands once, loved them,
quarreled with them, laughed with them, told them our thoughts and
hopes and aims, as they told us theirs, till it seemed our very hearts
had joined in a grip that would defy the puny power of Death. They
are gone now; lost to us forever. Their eyes will never look into
ours again and their voices we shall never hear. Only their ghosts
come to us and talk with us. We see them, dim and shadowy, through
our tears. We stretch our yearning hands to them, but they are air.
Ghosts! They are with us night and day. They walk beside us in the
busy street under the glare of the sun. They sit by us in the
twilight at home. We see their little faces looking from the windows
of the old school-house. We meet them in the woods and lanes where we
shouted and played as boys. Hark! cannot you hear their low laughter
from behind the blackberry-bushes and their distant whoops along the
grassy glades? Down here, through the quiet fields and by the wood,
where the evening shadows are lurking, winds the path where we used to
watch for her at sunset. Look, she is there now, in the dainty white
frock we knew so well, with the big bonnet dangling from her little
hands and the sunny brown hair all tangled. Five thousand miles away!
Dead for all we know! What of that? She is beside us now, and we can
look into her laughing eyes and hear her voice. She will vanish at
the stile by the wood and we shall be alone; and the shadows will
creep out across the fields and the night wind will sweep past
moaning. Ghosts! they are always with us and always will be while the
sad old world keeps echoing to the sob of long good-bys, while the
cruel ships sail away across the great seas, and the cold green earth
lies heavy on the hearts of those we loved.
But, oh, ghosts, the world would be sadder still without you. Come to
us and speak to us, oh you ghosts of our old loves! Ghosts of
playmates, and of sweethearts, and old friends, of all you laughing
boys and girls, oh, come to us and be with us, for the world is very
lonely, and new friends and faces are not like the old, and we cannot
love them, nay, nor laugh with them as we have loved and laughed with
you. And when we walked together, oh, ghosts of our youth, the world
was very gay and bright; but now it has grown old and we are growing
weary, and only you can bring the brightness and the freshness back to
Memory is a rare ghost-raiser. Like a haunted house, its walls are
ever echoing to unseen feet. Through the broken casements we watch
the flitting shadows of the dead, and the saddest shadows of them all
are the shadows of our own dead selves.
Oh, those young bright faces, so full of truth and honor, of pure,
good thoughts, of noble longings, how reproachfully they look upon us
with their deep, clear eyes!
I fear they have good cause for their sorrow, poor lads. Lies and
cunning and disbelief have crept into our hearts since those
preshaving days--and we meant to be so great and good.
It is well we cannot see into the future. There are few boys of