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THE IDLE THOUGHTS
AN IDLE FELLOW.
by JEROME K. JEROME.
THE VERY DEAR AND WELL-BELOVED
OF MY PROSPEROUS AND EVIL DAYS–
TO THE FRIEND
WHO, THOUGH IN THE EARLY STAGES OF OUR ACQUAINTANCESHIP DID OFTTIMES DISAGREE WITH ME, HAS SINCE BECOME TO BE MY VERY WARMEST COMRADE–
TO THE FRIEND
WHO, HOWEVER OFTEN I MAY PUT HIM OUT, NEVER (NOW) UPSETS ME IN REVENGE–
TO THE FRIEND
WHO, TREATED WITH MARKED COOLNESS BY ALL THE FEMALE MEMBERS OF MY HOUSEHOLD, AND REGARDED WITH SUSPICION BY MY VERY DOG, NEVERTHELESS SEEMS DAY BY DAY TO BE MORE DRAWN BY ME, AND IN RETURN TO MORE AND MORE IMPREGNATE ME WITH
THE ODOR OF HIS FRIENDSHIP–
TO THE FRIEND
WHO NEVER TELLS ME OF MY FAULTS, NEVER WANTS TO BORROW MONEY, AND NEVER TALKS ABOUT HIMSELF–
TO THE COMPANION
OF MY IDLE HOURS, THE SOOTHER OF MY SORROWS, THE CONFIDANT OF MY JOYS AND HOPES–
MY OLDEST AND STRONGEST
THIS LITTLE VOLUME
GRATEFULLY AND AFFECTIONATELY
One or two friends to whom I showed these papers in MS. having observed that they were not half bad, and some of my relations having promised to buy the book if it ever came out, I feel I have no right to longer delay its issue. But for this, as one may say, public demand, I perhaps should not have ventured to offer these mere “idle thoughts” of mine as mental food for the English-speaking peoples of the earth. What readers ask nowadays in a book is that it should improve, instruct, and elevate. This book wouldn’t elevate a cow. I cannot conscientiously recommend it for any useful purposes whatever. All I can suggest is that when you get tired of reading “the best hundred books,” you may take this up for half an hour. It will be a change.
IDLE THOUGHTS OF AN IDLE FELLOW.
ON BEING IDLE
ON BEING IN LOVE
ON BEING IN THE BLUES
ON BEING HARD UP
ON VANITY AND VANITIES
ON GETTING ON IN THE WORLD
ON THE WEATHER
ON CATS AND DOGS
ON BEING SHY
ON EATING AND DRINKING
ON FURNISHED APARTMENTS
ON DRESS AND DEPORTMENT
The Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow.
ON BEING IDLE.
Now, this is a subject on which I flatter myself I really am _au fait_. The gentleman who, when I was young, bathed me at wisdom’s font for nine guineas a term–no extras–used to say he never knew a boy who could do less work in more time; and I remember my poor grandmother once incidentally observing, in the course of an instruction upon the use of the Prayer-book, that it was highly improbable that I should ever do much that I ought not to do, but that she felt convinced beyond a doubt that I should leave undone pretty well everything that I ought to do.
I am afraid I have somewhat belied half the dear old lady’s prophecy. Heaven help me! I have done a good many things that I ought not to have done, in spite of my laziness. But I have fully confirmed the accuracy of her judgment so far as neglecting much that I ought not to have neglected is concerned. Idling always has been my strong point. I take no credit to myself in the matter–it is a gift. Few possess it. There are plenty of lazy people and plenty of slow-coaches, but a genuine idler is a rarity. He is not a man who slouches about with his hands in his pockets. On the contrary, his most startling characteristic is that he is always intensely busy.
It is impossible to enjoy idling thoroughly unless one has plenty of work to do. There is no fun in doing nothing when you have nothing to do. Wasting time is merely an occupation then, and a most exhausting one. Idleness, like kisses, to be sweet must be stolen.
Many years ago, when I was a young man, I was taken very ill–I never could see myself that much was the matter with me, except that I had a beastly cold. But I suppose it was something very serious, for the doctor said that I ought to have come to him a month before, and that if it (whatever it was) had gone on for another week he would not have answered for the consequences. It is an extraordinary thing, but I never knew a doctor called into any case yet but what it transpired that another day’s delay would have rendered cure hopeless. Our medical guide, philosopher, and friend is like the hero in a melodrama–he always comes upon the scene just, and only just, in the nick of time. It is Providence, that is what it is.
Well, as I was saying, I was very ill and was ordered to Buxton for a month, with strict injunctions to do nothing whatever all the while that I was there. “Rest is what you require,” said the doctor, “perfect rest.”
It seemed a delightful prospect. “This man evidently understands my complaint,” said I, and I pictured to myself a glorious time–a four weeks’ _dolce far niente_ with a dash of illness in it. Not too much illness, but just illness enough–just sufficient to give it the flavor of suffering and make it poetical. I should get up late, sip chocolate, and have my breakfast in slippers and a dressing-gown. I should lie out in the garden in a hammock and read sentimental novels with a melancholy ending, until the books should fall from my listless hand, and I should recline there, dreamily gazing into the deep blue of the firmament, watching the fleecy clouds floating like white-sailed ships across its depths, and listening to the joyous song of the birds and the low rustling of the trees. Or, on becoming too weak to go out of doors, I should sit propped up with pillows at the open window of the ground-floor front, and look wasted and interesting, so that all the pretty girls would sigh as they passed by.
And twice a day I should go down in a Bath chair to the Colonnade to drink the waters. Oh, those waters! I knew nothing about them then, and was rather taken with the idea. “Drinking the waters” sounded fashionable and Queen Anne-fied, and I thought I should like them. But, ugh! after the first three or four mornings! Sam Weller’s description of them as “having a taste of warm flat-irons” conveys only a faint idea of their hideous nauseousness. If anything could make a sick man get well quickly, it would be the knowledge that he must drink a glassful of them every day until he was recovered. I drank them neat for six consecutive days, and they nearly killed me; but after then I adopted the plan of taking a stiff glass of brandy-and-water immediately on the top of them, and found much relief thereby. I have been informed since, by various eminent medical gentlemen, that the alcohol must have entirely counteracted the effects of the chalybeate properties contained in the water. I am glad I was lucky enough to hit upon the right thing.
But “drinking the waters” was only a small portion of the torture I experienced during that memorable month–a month which was, without exception, the most miserable I have ever spent. During the best part of it I religiously followed the doctor’s mandate and did nothing whatever, except moon about the house and garden and go out for two hours a day in a Bath chair. That did break the monotony to a certain extent. There is more excitement about Bath-chairing–especially if you are not used to the exhilarating exercise–than might appear to the casual observer. A sense of danger, such as a mere outsider might not understand, is ever present to the mind of the occupant. He feels convinced every minute that the whole concern is going over, a conviction which becomes especially lively whenever a ditch or a stretch of newly macadamized road comes in sight. Every vehicle that passes he expects is going to run into him; and he never finds himself ascending or descending a hill without immediately beginning to speculate upon his chances, supposing–as seems extremely probable–that the weak-kneed controller of his destiny should let go.
But even this diversion failed to enliven after awhile, and the _ennui_ became perfectly unbearable. I felt my mind giving way under it. It is not a strong mind, and I thought it would be unwise to tax it too far. So somewhere about the twentieth morning I got up early, had a good breakfast, and walked straight off to Hayfield, at the foot of the Kinder Scout–a pleasant, busy little town, reached through a lovely valley, and with two sweetly pretty women in it. At least they were sweetly pretty then; one passed me on the bridge and, I think, smiled; and the other was standing at an open door, making an unremunerative investment of kisses upon a red-faced baby. But it is years ago, and I dare say they have both grown stout and snappish since that time. Coming back, I saw an old man breaking stones, and it roused such strong longing in me to use my arms that I offered him a drink to let me take his place. He was a kindly old man and he humored me. I went for those stones with the accumulated energy of three weeks, and did more work in half an hour than he had done all day. But it did not make him jealous.
Having taken the plunge, I went further and further into dissipation, going out for a long walk every morning and listening to the band in the pavilion every evening. But the days still passed slowly notwithstanding, and I was heartily glad when the last one came and I was being whirled away from gouty, consumptive Buxton to London with its stern work and life. I looked out of the carriage as we rushed through Hendon in the evening. The lurid glare overhanging the mighty city seemed to warm my heart, and when, later on, my cab rattled out of St. Pancras’ station, the old familiar roar that came swelling up around me sounded the sweetest music I had heard for many a long day.
I certainly did not enjoy that month’s idling. I like idling when I ought not to be idling; not when it is the only thing I have to do. That is my pig-headed nature. The time when I like best to stand with my back to the fire, calculating how much I owe, is when my desk is heaped highest with letters that must be answered by the next post. When I like to dawdle longest over my dinner is when I have a heavy evening’s work before me. And if, for some urgent reason, I ought to be up particularly early in the morning, it is then, more than at any other time, that I love to lie an extra half-hour in bed.
Ah! how delicious it is to turn over and go to sleep again: “just for five minutes.” Is there any human being, I wonder, besides the hero of a Sunday-school “tale for boys,” who ever gets up willingly? There are some men to whom getting up at the proper time is an utter impossibility. If eight o’clock happens to be the time that they should turn out, then they lie till half-past. If circumstances change and half-past eight becomes early enough for them, then it is nine before they can rise. They are like the statesman of whom it was said that he was always punctually half an hour late. They try all manner of schemes. They buy alarm-clocks (artful contrivances that go off at the wrong time and alarm the wrong people). They tell Sarah Jane to knock at the door and call them, and Sarah Jane does knock at the door and does call them, and they grunt back “awri” and then go comfortably to sleep again. I knew one man who would actually get out and have a cold bath; and even that was of no use, for afterward he would jump into bed again to warm himself.
I think myself that I could keep out of bed all right if I once got out. It is the wrenching away of the head from the pillow that I find so hard, and no amount of over-night determination makes it easier. I say to myself, after having wasted the whole evening, “Well, I won’t do any more work to-night; I’ll get up early to-morrow morning;” and I am thoroughly resolved to do so–then. In the morning, however, I feel less enthusiastic about the idea, and reflect that it would have been much better if I had stopped up last night. And then there is the trouble of dressing, and the more one thinks about that the more one wants to put it off.
It is a strange thing this bed, this mimic grave, where we stretch our tired limbs and sink away so quietly into the silence and rest. “O bed, O bed, delicious bed, that heaven on earth to the weary head,” as sang poor Hood, you are a kind old nurse to us fretful boys and girls. Clever and foolish, naughty and good, you take us all in your motherly lap and hush our wayward crying. The strong man full of care–the sick man full of pain–the little maiden sobbing for her faithless lover–like children we lay our aching heads on your white bosom, and you gently soothe us off to by-by.
Our trouble is sore indeed when you turn away and will not comfort us. How long the dawn seems coming when we cannot sleep! Oh! those hideous nights when we toss and turn in fever and pain, when we lie, like living men among the dead, staring out into the dark hours that drift so slowly between us and the light. And oh! those still more hideous nights when we sit by another in pain, when the low fire startles us every now and then with a falling cinder, and the tick of the clock seems a hammer beating out the life that we are watching.
But enough of beds and bedrooms. I have kept to them too long, even for an idle fellow. Let us come out and have a smoke. That wastes time just as well and does not look so bad. Tobacco has been a blessing to us idlers. What the civil-service clerk before Sir Walter’s time found to occupy their minds with it is hard to imagine. I attribute the quarrelsome nature of the Middle Ages young men entirely to the want of the soothing weed. They had no work to do and could not smoke, and the consequence was they were forever fighting and rowing. If, by any extraordinary chance, there was no war going, then they got up a deadly family feud with the next-door neighbor, and if, in spite of this, they still had a few spare moments on their hands, they occupied them with discussions as to whose sweetheart was the best looking, the arguments employed on both sides being battle-axes, clubs, etc. Questions of taste were soon decided in those days. When a twelfth-century youth fell in love he did not take three paces backward, gaze into her eyes, and tell her she was too beautiful to live. He said he would step outside and see about it. And if, when he got out, he met a man and broke his head–the other man’s head, I mean–then that proved that his–the first fellow’s–girl was a pretty girl. But if the other fellow broke _his_ head–not his own, you know, but the other fellow’s–the other fellow to the second fellow, that is, because of course the other fellow would only be the other fellow to him, not the first fellow who–well, if he broke his head, then _his_ girl–not the other fellow’s, but the fellow who _was_ the– Look here, if A broke B’s head, then A’s girl was a pretty girl; but if B broke A’s head, then A’s girl wasn’t a pretty girl, but B’s girl was. That was their method of conducting art criticism.
Nowadays we light a pipe and let the girls fight it out among themselves.
They do it very well. They are getting to do all our work. They are doctors, and barristers, and artists. They manage theaters, and promote swindles, and edit newspapers. I am looking forward to the time when we men shall have nothing to do but lie in bed till twelve, read two novels a day, have nice little five-o’clock teas all to ourselves, and tax our brains with nothing more trying than discussions upon the latest patterns in trousers and arguments as to what Mr. Jones’ coat was made of and whether it fitted him. It is a glorious prospect–for idle fellows.
ON BEING IN LOVE.
You’ve been in love, of course! If not you’ve got it to come. Love is like the measles; we all have to go through it. Also like the measles, we take it only once. One never need be afraid of catching it a second time. The man who has had it can go into the most dangerous places and play the most foolhardy tricks with perfect safety. He can picnic in shady woods, ramble through leafy aisles, and linger on mossy seats to watch the sunset. He fears a quiet country-house no more than he would his own club. He can join a family party to go down the Rhine. He can, to see the last of a friend, venture into the very jaws of the marriage ceremony itself. He can keep his head through the whirl of a ravishing waltz, and rest afterward in a dark conservatory, catching nothing more lasting than a cold. He can brave a moonlight walk adown sweet-scented lanes or a twilight pull among the somber rushes. He can get over a stile without danger, scramble through a tangled hedge without being caught, come down a slippery path without falling. He can look into sunny eyes and not be dazzled. He listens to the siren voices, yet sails on with unveered helm. He clasps white hands in his, but no electric “Lulu”-like force holds him bound in their dainty pressure.
No, we never sicken with love twice. Cupid spends no second arrow on the same heart. Love’s handmaids are our life-long friends. Respect, and admiration, and affection, our doors may always be left open for, but their great celestial master, in his royal progress, pays but one visit and departs. We like, we cherish, we are very, very fond of–but we never love again. A man’s heart is a firework that once in its time flashes heavenward. Meteor-like, it blazes for a moment and lights with its glory the whole world beneath. Then the night of our sordid commonplace life closes in around it, and the burned-out case, falling back to earth, lies useless and uncared for, slowly smoldering into ashes. Once, breaking loose from our prison bonds, we dare, as mighty old Prometheus dared, to scale the Olympian mount and snatch from Phoebus’ chariot the fire of the gods. Happy those who, hastening down again ere it dies out, can kindle their earthly altars at its flame. Love is too pure a light to burn long among the noisome gases that we breathe, but before it is choked out we may use it as a torch to ignite the cozy fire of affection.
And, after all, that warming glow is more suited to our cold little back parlor of a world than is the burning spirit love. Love should be the vestal fire of some mighty temple–some vast dim fane whose organ music is the rolling of the spheres. Affection will burn cheerily when the white flame of love is flickered out. Affection is a fire that can be fed from day to day and be piled up ever higher as the wintry years draw nigh. Old men and women can sit by it with their thin hands clasped, the little children can nestle down in front, the friend and neighbor has his welcome corner by its side, and even shaggy Fido and sleek Titty can toast their noses at the bars.
Let us heap the coals of kindness upon that fire. Throw on your pleasant words, your gentle pressures of the hand, your thoughtful and unselfish deeds. Fan it with good-humor, patience, and forbearance. You can let the wind blow and the rain fall unheeded then, for your hearth will be warm and bright, and the faces round it will make sunshine in spite of the clouds without.
I am afraid, dear Edwin and Angelina, you expect too much from love. You think there is enough of your little hearts to feed this fierce, devouring passion for all your long lives. Ah, young folk! don’t rely too much upon that unsteady flicker. It will dwindle and dwindle as the months roll on, and there is no replenishing the fuel. You will watch it die out in anger and disappointment. To each it will seem that it is the other who is growing colder. Edwin sees with bitterness that Angelina no longer runs to the gate to meet him, all smiles and blushes; and when he has a cough now she doesn’t begin to cry and, putting her arms round his neck, say that she cannot live without him. The most she will probably do is to suggest a lozenge, and even that in a tone implying that it is the noise more than anything else she is anxious to get rid of.
Poor little Angelina, too, sheds silent tears, for Edwin has given up carrying her old handkerchief in the inside pocket of his waistcoat.
Both are astonished at the falling off in the other one, but neither sees their own change. If they did they would not suffer as they do. They would look for the cause in the right quarter–in the littleness of poor human nature–join hands over their common failing, and start building their house anew on a more earthly and enduring foundation. But we are so blind to our own shortcomings, so wide awake to those of others. Everything that happens to us is always the other person’s fault. Angelina would have gone on loving Edwin forever and ever and ever if only Edwin had not grown so strange and different. Edwin would have adored Angelina through eternity if Angelina had only remained the same as when he first adored her.
It is a cheerless hour for you both when the lamp of love has gone out and the fire of affection is not yet lit, and you have to grope about in the cold, raw dawn of life to kindle it. God grant it catches light before the day is too far spent. Many sit shivering by the dead coals till night come.
But, there, of what use is it to preach? Who that feels the rush of young love through his veins can think it will ever flow feeble and slow! To the boy of twenty it seems impossible that he will not love as wildly at sixty as he does then. He cannot call to mind any middle-aged or elderly gentleman of his acquaintance who is known to exhibit symptoms of frantic attachment, but that does not interfere in his belief in himself. His love will never fall, whoever else’s may. Nobody ever loved as he loves, and so, of course, the rest of the world’s experience can be no guide in his case. Alas! alas! ere thirty he has joined the ranks of the sneerers. It is not his fault. Our passions, both the good and bad, cease with our blushes. We do not hate, nor grieve, nor joy, nor despair in our thirties like we did in our teens. Disappointment does not suggest suicide, and we quaff success without intoxication.
We take all things in a minor key as we grow older. There are few majestic passages in the later acts of life’s opera. Ambition takes a less ambitious aim. Honor becomes more reasonable and conveniently adapts itself to circumstances. And love–love dies. “Irreverence for the dreams of youth” soon creeps like a killing frost upon our hearts. The tender shoots and the expanding flowers are nipped and withered, and of a vine that yearned to stretch its tendrils round the world there is left but a sapless stump.
My fair friends will deem all this rank heresy, I know. So far from a man’s not loving after he has passed boyhood, it is not till there is a good deal of gray in his hair that they think his protestations at all worthy of attention. Young ladies take their notions of our sex from the novels written by their own, and compared with the monstrosities that masquerade for men in the pages of that nightmare literature, Pythagoras’ plucked bird and Frankenstein’s demon were fair average specimens of humanity.
In these so-called books, the chief lover, or Greek god, as he is admiringly referred to–by the way, they do not say which “Greek god” it is that the gentleman bears such a striking likeness to; it might be hump-backed Vulcan, or double-faced Janus, or even driveling Silenus, the god of abstruse mysteries. He resembles the whole family of them, however, in being a blackguard, and perhaps this is what is meant. To even the little manliness his classical prototypes possessed, though, he can lay no claim whatever, being a listless effeminate noodle, on the shady side of forty. But oh! the depth and strength of this elderly party’s emotion for some bread-and-butter school-girl! Hide your heads, ye young Romeos and Leanders! this _blase_ old beau loves with an hysterical fervor that requires four adjectives to every noun to properly describe.
It is well, dear ladies, for us old sinners that you study only books. Did you read mankind, you would know that the lad’s shy stammering tells a truer tale than our bold eloquence. A boy’s love comes from a full heart; a man’s is more often the result of a full stomach. Indeed, a man’s sluggish current may not be called love, compared with the rushing fountain that wells up when a boy’s heart is struck with the heavenly rod. If you would taste love, drink of the pure stream that youth pours out at your feet. Do not wait till it has become a muddy river before you stoop to catch its waves.
Or is it that you like its bitter flavor–that the clear, limpid water is insipid to your palate and that the pollution of its after-course gives it a relish to your lips? Must we believe those who tell us that a hand foul with the filth of a shameful life is the only one a young girl cares to be caressed by?
That is the teaching that is bawled out day by day from between those yellow covers. Do they ever pause to think, I wonder, those devil’s ladyhelps, what mischief they are doing crawling about God’s garden, and telling childish Eves and silly Adams that sin is sweet and that decency is ridiculous and vulgar? How many an innocent girl do they not degrade into an evil-minded woman? To how many a weak lad do they not point out the dirty by-path as the shortest cut to a maiden’s heart? It is not as if they wrote of life as it really is. Speak truth, and right will take care of itself. But their pictures are coarse daubs painted from the sickly fancies of their own diseased imagination.
We want to think of women not–as their own sex would show them–as Lorleis luring us to destruction, but as good angels beckoning us upward. They have more power for good or evil than they dream of. It is just at the very age when a man’s character is forming that he tumbles into love, and then the lass he loves has the making or marring of him. Unconsciously he molds himself to what she would have him, good or bad. I am sorry to have to be ungallant enough to say that I do not think they always use their influence for the best. Too often the female world is bounded hard and fast within the limits of the commonplace. Their ideal hero is a prince of littleness, and to become that many a powerful mind, enchanted by love, is “lost to life and use and name and fame.”
And yet, women, you could make us so much better if you only would. It rests with you, more than with all the preachers, to roll this world a little nearer heaven. Chivalry is not dead: it only sleeps for want of work to do. It is you who must wake it to noble deeds. You must be worthy of knightly worship.
You must be higher than ourselves. It was for Una that the Red Cross Knight did war. For no painted, mincing court dame could the dragon have been slain. Oh, ladies fair, be fair in mind and soul as well as face, so that brave knights may win glory in your service! Oh, woman, throw off your disguising cloaks of selfishness, effrontery, and affectation! Stand forth once more a queen in your royal robe of simple purity. A thousand swords, now rusting in ignoble sloth, shall leap from their scabbards to do battle for your honor against wrong. A thousand Sir Rolands shall lay lance in rest, and Fear, Avarice, Pleasure, and Ambition shall go down in the dust before your colors.
What noble deeds were we not ripe for in the days when we loved? What noble lives could we not have lived for her sake? Our love was a religion we could have died for. It was no mere human creature like ourselves that we adored. It was a queen that we paid homage to, a goddess that we worshiped.
And how madly we did worship! And how sweet it was to worship! Ah, lad, cherish love’s young dream while it lasts! You will know too soon how truly little Tom Moore sang when he said that there was nothing half so sweet in life. Even when it brings misery it is a wild, romantic misery, all unlike the dull, worldly pain of after-sorrows. When you have lost her–when the light is gone out from your life and the world stretches before you a long, dark horror, even then a half-enchantment mingles with your despair.
And who would not risk its terrors to gain its raptures? Ah, what raptures they were! The mere recollection thrills you. How delicious it was to tell her that you loved her, that you lived for her, that you would die for her! How you did rave, to be sure, what floods of extravagant nonsense you poured forth, and oh, how cruel it was of her to pretend not to believe you! In what awe you stood of her! How miserable you were when you had offended her! And yet, how pleasant to be bullied by her and to sue for pardon without having the slightest notion of what your fault was! How dark the world was when she snubbed you, as she often did, the little rogue, just to see you look wretched; how sunny when she smiled! How jealous you were of every one about her! How you hated every man she shook hands with, every woman she kissed–the maid that did her hair, the boy that cleaned her shoes, the dog she nursed–though you had to be respectful to the last-named! How you looked forward to seeing her, how stupid you were when you did see her, staring at her without saying a word! How impossible it was for you to go out at any time of the day or night without finding yourself eventually opposite her windows! You hadn’t pluck enough to go in, but you hung about the corner and gazed at the outside. Oh, if the house had only caught fire–it was insured, so it wouldn’t have mattered–and you could have rushed in and saved her at the risk of your life, and have been terribly burned and injured! Anything to serve her. Even in little things that was so sweet. How you would watch her, spaniel-like, to anticipate her slightest wish! How proud you were to do her bidding! How delightful it was to be ordered about by her! To devote your whole life to her and to never think of yourself seemed such a simple thing. You would go without a holiday to lay a humble offering at her shrine, and felt more than repaid if she only deigned to accept it. How precious to you was everything that she had hallowed by her touch–her little glove, the ribbon she had worn, the rose that had nestled in her hair and whose withered leaves still mark the poems you never care to look at now.
And oh, how beautiful she was, how wondrous beautiful! It was as some angel entering the room, and all else became plain and earthly. She was too sacred to be touched. It seemed almost presumption to gaze at her. You would as soon have thought of kissing her as of singing comic songs in a cathedral. It was desecration enough to kneel and timidly raise the gracious little hand to your lips.
Ah, those foolish days, those foolish days when we were unselfish and pure-minded; those foolish days when our simple hearts were full of truth, and faith, and reverence! Ah, those foolish days of noble longings and of noble strivings! And oh, these wise, clever days when we know that money is the only prize worth striving for, when we believe in nothing else but meanness and lies, when we care for no living creature but ourselves!
ON BEING IN THE BLUES.
I can enjoy feeling melancholy, and there is a good deal of satisfaction about being thoroughly miserable; but nobody likes a fit of the blues. Nevertheless, everybody has them; notwithstanding which, nobody can tell why. There is no accounting for them. You are just as likely to have one on the day after you have come into a large fortune as on the day after you have left your new silk umbrella in the train. Its effect upon you is somewhat similar to what would probably be produced by a combined attack of toothache, indigestion, and cold in the head. You become stupid, restless, and irritable; rude to strangers and dangerous toward your friends; clumsy, maudlin, and quarrelsome; a nuisance to yourself and everybody about you.
While it is on you can do nothing and think of nothing, though feeling at the time bound to do something. You can’t sit still so put on your hat and go for a walk; but before you get to the corner of the street you wish you hadn’t come out and you turn back. You open a book and try to read, but you find Shakespeare trite and commonplace, Dickens is dull and prosy, Thackeray a bore, and Carlyle too sentimental. You throw the book aside and call the author names. Then you “shoo” the cat out of the room and kick the door to after her. You think you will write your letters, but after sticking at “Dearest Auntie: I find I have five minutes to spare, and so hasten to write to you,” for a quarter of an hour, without being able to think of another sentence, you tumble the paper into the desk, fling the wet pen down upon the table-cloth, and start up with the resolution of going to see the Thompsons. While pulling on your gloves, however, it occurs to you that the Thompsons are idiots; that they never have supper; and that you will be expected to jump the baby. You curse the Thompsons and decide not to go.
By this time you feel completely crushed. You bury your face in your hands and think you would like to die and go to heaven. You picture to yourself your own sick-bed, with all your friends and relations standing round you weeping. You bless them all, especially the young and pretty ones. They will value you when you are gone, so you say to yourself, and learn too late what they have lost; and you bitterly contrast their presumed regard for you then with their decided want of veneration now.
These reflections make you feel a little more cheerful, but only for a brief period; for the next moment you think what a fool you must be to imagine for an instant that anybody would be sorry at anything that might happen to you. Who would care two straws (whatever precise amount of care two straws may represent) whether you are blown up, or hung up, or married, or drowned? Nobody cares for you. You never have been properly appreciated, never met with your due deserts in any one particular. You review the whole of your past life, and it is painfully apparent that you have been ill-used from your cradle.
Half an hour’s indulgence in these considerations works you up into a state of savage fury against everybody and everything, especially yourself, whom anatomical reasons alone prevent your kicking. Bed-time at last comes, to save you from doing something rash, and you spring upstairs, throw off your clothes, leaving them strewn all over the room, blow out the candle, and jump into bed as if you had backed yourself for a heavy wager to do the whole thing against time. There you toss and tumble about for a couple of hours or so, varying the monotony by occasionally jerking the clothes off and getting out and putting them on again. At length you drop into an uneasy and fitful slumber, have bad dreams, and wake up late the next morning.
At least, this is all we poor single men can do under the circumstances. Married men bully their wives, grumble at the dinner, and insist on the children’s going to bed. All of which, creating, as it does, a good deal of disturbance in the house, must be a great relief to the feelings of a man in the blues, rows being the only form of amusement in which he can take any interest.
The symptoms of the infirmity are much the same in every case, but the affliction itself is variously termed. The poet says that “a feeling of sadness comes o’er him.” ‘Arry refers to the heavings of his wayward heart by confiding to Jimee that he has “got the blooming hump.” Your sister doesn’t know what is the matter with her to-night. She feels out of sorts altogether and hopes nothing is going to happen. The every-day young man is “so awful glad to meet you, old fellow,” for he does “feel so jolly miserable this evening.” As for myself, I generally say that “I have a strange, unsettled feeling to-night” and “think I’ll go out.”
By the way, it never does come except in the evening. In the sun-time, when the world is bounding forward full of life, we cannot stay to sigh and sulk. The roar of the working day drowns the voices of the elfin sprites that are ever singing their low-toned _miserere_ in our ears. In the day we are angry, disappointed, or indignant, but never “in the blues” and never melancholy. When things go wrong at ten o’clock in the morning we–or rather you–swear and knock the furniture about; but if the misfortune comes at ten P.M., we read poetry or sit in the dark and think what a hollow world this is.
But, as a rule, it is not trouble that makes us melancholy. The actuality is too stern a thing for sentiment. We linger to weep over a picture, but from the original we should quickly turn our eyes away. There is no pathos in real misery: no luxury in real grief. We do not toy with sharp swords nor hug a gnawing fox to our breast for choice. When a man or woman loves to brood over a sorrow and takes care to keep it green in their memory, you may be sure it is no longer a pain to them. However they may have suffered from it at first, the recollection has become by then a pleasure. Many dear old ladies who daily look at tiny shoes lying in lavender-scented drawers, and weep as they think of the tiny feet whose toddling march is done, and sweet-faced young ones who place each night beneath their pillow some lock that once curled on a boyish head that the salt waves have kissed to death, will call me a nasty cynical brute and say I’m talking nonsense; but I believe, nevertheless, that if they will ask themselves truthfully whether they find it unpleasant to dwell thus on their sorrow, they will be compelled to answer “No.” Tears are as sweet as laughter to some natures. The proverbial Englishman, we know from old chronicler Froissart, takes his pleasures sadly, and the Englishwoman goes a step further and takes her pleasures in sadness itself.
I am not sneering. I would not for a moment sneer at anything that helps to keep hearts tender in this hard old world. We men are cold and common-sensed enough for all; we would not have women the same. No, no, ladies dear, be always sentimental and soft-hearted, as you are–be the soothing butter to our coarse dry bread. Besides, sentiment is to women what fun is to us. They do not care for our humor, surely it would be unfair to deny them their grief. And who shall say that their mode of enjoyment is not as sensible as ours? Why assume that a doubled-up body, a contorted, purple face, and a gaping mouth emitting a series of ear-splitting shrieks point to a state of more intelligent happiness than a pensive face reposing upon a little white hand, and a pair of gentle tear-dimmed eyes looking back through Time’s dark avenue upon a fading past?
I am glad when I see Regret walked with as a friend–glad because I know the saltness has been washed from out the tears, and that the sting must have been plucked from the beautiful face of Sorrow ere we dare press her pale lips to ours. Time has laid his healing hand upon the wound when we can look back upon the pain we once fainted under and no bitterness or despair rises in our hearts. The burden is no longer heavy when we have for our past troubles only the same sweet mingling of pleasure and pity that we feel when old knight-hearted Colonel Newcome answers “_adsum_” to the great roll-call, or when Tom and Maggie Tulliver, clasping hands through the mists that have divided them, go down, locked in each other’s arms, beneath the swollen waters of the Floss.
Talking of poor Tom and Maggie Tulliver brings to my mind a saying of George Eliot’s in connection with this subject of melancholy. She speaks somewhere of the “sadness of a summer’s evening.” How wonderfully true–like everything that came from that wonderful pen–the observation is! Who has not felt the sorrowful enchantment of those lingering sunsets? The world belongs to Melancholy then, a thoughtful deep-eyed maiden who loves not the glare of day. It is not till “light thickens and the crow wings to the rocky wood” that she steals forth from her groves. Her palace is in twilight land. It is there she meets us. At her shadowy gate she takes our hand in hers and walks beside us through her mystic realm. We see no form, but seem to hear the rustling of her wings.
Even in the toiling hum-drum city her spirit comes to us. There is a somber presence in each long, dull street; and the dark river creeps ghostlike under the black arches, as if bearing some hidden secret beneath its muddy waves.
In the silent country, when the trees and hedges loom dim and blurred against the rising night, and the bat’s wing flutters in our face, and the land-rail’s cry sounds drearily across the fields, the spell sinks deeper still into our hearts. We seem in that hour to be standing by some unseen death-bed, and in the swaying of the elms we hear the sigh of the dying day.
A solemn sadness reigns. A great peace is around us. In its light our cares of the working day grow small and trivial, and bread and cheese–ay, and even kisses–do not seem the only things worth striving for. Thoughts we cannot speak but only listen to flood in upon us, and standing in the stillness under earth’s darkening dome, we feel that we are greater than our petty lives. Hung round with those dusky curtains, the world is no longer a mere dingy workshop, but a stately temple wherein man may worship, and where at times in the dimness his groping hands touch God’s.
ON BEING HARD UP.
It is a most remarkable thing. I sat down with the full intention of writing something clever and original; but for the life of me I can’t think of anything clever and original–at least, not at this moment. The only thing I can think about now is being hard up. I suppose having my hands in my pockets has made me think about this. I always do sit with my hands in my pockets except when I am in the company of my sisters, my cousins, or my aunts; and they kick up such a shindy–I should say expostulate so eloquently upon the subject–that I have to give in and take them out–my hands I mean. The chorus to their objections is that it is not gentlemanly. I am hanged if I can see why. I could understand its not being considered gentlemanly to put your hands in other people’s pockets (especially by the other people), but how, O ye sticklers for what looks this and what looks that, can putting his hands in his own pockets make a man less gentle? Perhaps you are right, though. Now I come to think of it, I have heard some people grumble most savagely when doing it. But they were mostly old gentlemen. We young fellows, as a rule, are never quite at ease unless we have our hands in our pockets. We are awkward and shifty. We are like what a music-hall Lion Comique would be without his opera-hat, if such a thing can be imagined. But let us put our hands in our trousers pockets, and let there be some small change in the right-hand one and a bunch of keys in the left, and we will face a female post-office clerk.
It is a little difficult to know what to do with your bands, even in your pockets, when there is nothing else there. Years ago, when my whole capital would occasionally come down to “what in town the people call a bob,” I would recklessly spend a penny of it, merely for the sake of having the change, all in coppers, to jingle. You don’t feel nearly so hard up with eleven pence in your pocket as you do with a shilling. Had I been “La-di-da,” that impecunious youth about whom we superior folk are so sarcastic, I would have changed my penny for two ha’pennies.
I can speak with authority on the subject of being hard up. I have been a provincial actor. If further evidence be required, which I do not think likely, I can add that I have been a “gentleman connected with the press.” I have lived on 15 shilling a week. I have lived a week on 10, owing the other 5; and I have lived for a fortnight on a great-coat.
It is wonderful what an insight into domestic economy being really hard up gives one. If you want to find out the value of money, live on 15 shillings a week and see how much you can put by for clothes and recreation. You will find out that it is worth while to wait for the farthing change, that it is worth while to walk a mile to save a penny, that a glass of beer is a luxury to be indulged in only at rare intervals, and that a collar can be worn for four days.
Try it just before you get married. It will be excellent practice. Let your son and heir try it before sending him to college. He won’t grumble at a hundred a year pocket-money then. There are some people to whom it would do a world of good. There is that delicate blossom who can’t drink any claret under ninety-four, and who would as soon think of dining off cat’s meat as off plain roast mutton. You do come across these poor wretches now and then, though, to the credit of humanity, they are principally confined to that fearful and wonderful society known only to lady novelists. I never hear of one of these creatures discussing a _menu_ card but I feel a mad desire to drag him off to the bar of some common east-end public-house and cram a sixpenny dinner down his throat–beefsteak pudding, fourpence; potatoes, a penny; half a pint of porter, a penny. The recollection of it (and the mingled fragrance of beer, tobacco, and roast pork generally leaves a vivid impression) might induce him to turn up his nose a little less frequently in the future at everything that is put before him. Then there is that generous party, the cadger’s delight, who is so free with his small change, but who never thinks of paying his debts. It might teach even him a little common sense. “I always give the waiter a shilling. One can’t give the fellow less, you know,” explained a young government clerk with whom I was lunching the other day in Regent Street. I agreed with him as to the utter impossibility of making it elevenpence ha’penny; but at the same time I resolved to one day decoy him to an eating-house I remembered near Covent Garden, where the waiter, for the better discharge of his duties, goes about in his shirt-sleeves–and very dirty sleeves they are, too, when it gets near the end of the month. I know that waiter. If my friend gives him anything beyond a penny, the man will insist on shaking hands with him then and there as a mark of his esteem; of that I feel sure.
There have been a good many funny things said and written about hardupishness, but the reality is not funny, for all that. It is not funny to have to haggle over pennies. It isn’t funny to be thought mean and stingy. It isn’t funny to be shabby and to be ashamed of your address. No, there is nothing at all funny in poverty–to the poor. It is hell upon earth to a sensitive man; and many a brave gentleman who would have faced the labors of Hercules has had his heart broken by its petty miseries.
It is not the actual discomforts themselves that are hard to bear. Who would mind roughing it a bit if that were all it meant? What cared Robinson Crusoe for a patch on his trousers? Did he wear trousers? I forget; or did he go about as he does in the pantomimes? What did it matter to him if his toes did stick out of his boots? and what if his umbrella was a cotton one, so long as it kept the rain off? His shabbiness did not trouble him; there was none of his friends round about to sneer him.
Being poor is a mere trifle. It is being known to be poor that is the sting. It is not cold that makes a man without a great-coat hurry along so quickly. It is not all shame at telling lies–which he knows will not be believed–that makes him turn so red when he informs you that he considers great-coats unhealthy and never carries an umbrella on principle. It is easy enough to say that poverty is no crime. No; if it were men wouldn’t be ashamed of it. It’s a blunder, though, and is punished as such. A poor man is despised the whole world over; despised as much by a Christian as by a lord, as much by a demagogue as by a footman, and not all the copy-book maxims ever set for ink stained youth will make him respected. Appearances are everything, so far as human opinion goes, and the man who will walk down Piccadilly arm in arm with the most notorious scamp in London, provided he is a well-dressed one, will slink up a back street to say a couple of words to a seedy-looking gentleman. And the seedy-looking gentleman knows this–no one better–and will go a mile round to avoid meeting an acquaintance. Those that knew him in his prosperity need never trouble themselves to look the other way. He is a thousand times more anxious that they should not see him than they can be; and as to their assistance, there is nothing he dreads more than the offer of it. All he wants is to be forgotten; and in this respect he is generally fortunate enough to get what he wants.
One becomes used to being hard up, as one becomes used to everything else, by the help of that wonderful old homeopathic doctor, Time. You can tell at a glance the difference between the old hand and the novice; between the case-hardened man who has been used to shift and struggle for years and the poor devil of a beginner striving to hide his misery, and in a constant agony of fear lest he should be found out. Nothing shows this difference more clearly than the way in which each will pawn his watch. As the poet says somewhere: “True ease in pawning comes from art, not chance.” The one goes into his “uncle’s” with as much composure as he would into his tailor’s–very likely with more. The assistant is even civil and attends to him at once, to the great indignation of the lady in the next box, who, however, sarcastically observes that she don’t mind being kept waiting “if it is a regular customer.” Why, from the pleasant and businesslike manner in which the transaction is carried out, it might be a large purchase in the three per cents. Yet what a piece of work a man makes of his first “pop.” A boy popping his first question is confidence itself compared with him. He hangs about outside the shop until he has succeeded in attracting the attention of all the loafers in the neighborhood and has aroused strong suspicions in the mind of the policeman on the beat. At last, after a careful examination of the contents of the windows, made for the purpose of impressing the bystanders with the notion that he is going in to purchase a diamond bracelet or some such trifle, he enters, trying to do so with a careless swagger, and giving himself really the air of a member of the swell mob. When inside he speaks in so low a voice as to be perfectly inaudible, and has to say it all over again. When, in the course of his rambling conversation about a “friend” of his, the word “lend” is reached, he is promptly told to go up the court on the right and take the first door round the corner. He comes out of the shop with a face that you could easily light a cigarette at, and firmly under the impression that the whole population of the district is watching him. When he does get to the right place he has forgotten his name and address and is in a general condition of hopeless imbecility. Asked in a severe tone how he came by “this,” he stammers and contradicts himself, and it is only a miracle if he does not confess to having stolen it that very day. He is thereupon informed that they don’t want anything to do with his sort, and that he had better get out of this as quickly as possible, which he does, recollecting nothing more until he finds himself three miles off, without the slightest knowledge how he got there.
By the way, how awkward it is, though, having to depend on public-houses and churches for the time. The former are generally too fast and the latter too slow. Besides which, your efforts to get a glimpse of the public house clock from the outside are attended with great difficulties. If you gently push the swing-door ajar and peer in you draw upon yourself the contemptuous looks of the barmaid, who at once puts you down in the same category with area sneaks and cadgers. You also create a certain amount of agitation among the married portion of the customers. You don’t see the clock because it is behind the door; and in trying to withdraw quietly you jam your head. The only other method is to jump up and down outside the window. After this latter proceeding, however, if you do not bring out a banjo and commence to sing, the youthful inhabitants of the neighborhood, who have gathered round in expectation, become disappointed.
I should like to know, too, by what mysterious law of nature it is that before you have left your watch “to be repaired” half an hour, some one is sure to stop you in the street and conspicuously ask you the time. Nobody even feels the slightest curiosity on the subject when you’ve got it on.
Dear old ladies and gentlemen who know nothing about being hard up–and may they never, bless their gray old heads–look upon the pawn-shop as the last stage of degradation; but those who know it better (and my readers have no doubt, noticed this themselves) are often surprised, like the little boy who dreamed he went to heaven, at meeting so many people there that they never expected to see. For my part, I think it a much more independent course than borrowing from friends, and I always try to impress this upon those of my acquaintance who incline toward “wanting a couple of pounds till the day after to-morrow.” But they won’t all see it. One of them once remarked that he objected to the principle of the thing. I fancy if he had said it was the interest that he objected to he would have been nearer the truth: twenty-five per cent. certainly does come heavy.
There are degrees in being hard up. We are all hard up, more or less–most of us more. Some are hard up for a thousand pounds; some for a shilling. Just at this moment I am hard up myself for a fiver. I only want it for a day or two. I should be certain of paying it back within a week at the outside, and if any lady or gentleman among my readers would kindly lend it me, I should be very much obliged indeed. They could send it to me under cover to Messrs. Field & Tuer, only, in such case, please let the envelope be carefully sealed. I would give you my I.O.U. as security.
ON VANITY AND VANITIES.
All is vanity and everybody’s vain. Women are terribly vain. So are men–more so, if possible. So are children, particularly children. One of them at this very moment is hammering upon my legs. She wants to know what I think of her new shoes. Candidly I don’t think much of them. They lack symmetry and curve and possess an indescribable appearance of lumpiness (I believe, too, they’ve put them on the wrong feet). But I don’t say this. It is not criticism, but flattery that she wants; and I gush over them with what I feel to myself to be degrading effusiveness. Nothing else would satisfy this self-opinionated cherub. I tried the conscientious-friend dodge with her on one occasion, but it was not a success. She had requested my judgment upon her general conduct and behavior, the exact case submitted being, “Wot oo tink of me? Oo peased wi’ me?” and I had thought it a good opportunity to make a few salutary remarks upon her late moral career, and said: “No, I am not pleased with you.” I recalled to her mind the events of that very morning, and I put it to her how she, as a Christian child, could expect a wise and good uncle to be satisfied with the carryings on of an infant who that very day had roused the whole house at five AM.; had upset a water-jug and tumbled downstairs after it at seven; had endeavored to put the cat in the bath at eight; and sat on her own father’s hat at nine thirty-five.
What did she do? Was she grateful to me for my plain speaking? Did she ponder upon my words and determine to profit by them and to lead from that hour a better and nobler life?
No! she howled.
That done, she became abusive. She said:
“Oo naughty–oo naughty, bad unkie–oo bad man–me tell MAR.”
And she did, too.
Since then, when my views have been called for I have kept my real sentiments more to myself like, preferring to express unbounded admiration of this young person’s actions, irrespective of their actual merits. And she nods her head approvingly and trots off to advertise my opinion to the rest of the household. She appears to employ it as a sort of testimonial for mercenary purposes, for I subsequently hear distant sounds of “Unkie says me dood dirl–me dot to have two bikkies [biscuits].”
There she goes, now, gazing rapturously at her own toes and murmuring “pittie”–two-foot-ten of conceit and vanity, to say nothing of other wickednesses.
They are all alike. I remember sitting in a garden one sunny afternoon in the suburbs of London. Suddenly I heard a shrill treble voice calling from a top-story window to some unseen being, presumably in one of the other gardens, “Gamma, me dood boy, me wery good boy, gamma; me dot on Bob’s knickiebockies.”
Why, even animals are vain. I saw a great Newfoundland dog the other day sitting in front of a mirror at the entrance to a shop in Regent’s Circus, and examining himself with an amount of smug satisfaction that I have never seen equaled elsewhere outside a vestry meeting.
I was at a farm-house once when some high holiday was being celebrated. I don’t remember what the occasion was, but it was something festive, a May Day or Quarter Day, or something of that sort, and they put a garland of flowers round the head of one of the cows. Well, that absurd quadruped went about all day as perky as a schoolgirl in a new frock; and when they took the wreath off she became quite sulky, and they had to put it on again before she would stand still to be milked. This is not a Percy anecdote. It is plain, sober truth.
As for cats, they nearly equal human beings for vanity. I have known a cat get up and walk out of the room on a remark derogatory to her species being made by a visitor, while a neatly turned compliment will set them purring for an hour.
I do like cats. They are so unconsciously amusing. There is such a comic dignity about them, such a “How dare you!” “Go away, don’t touch me” sort of air. Now, there is nothing haughty about a dog. They are “Hail, fellow, well met” with every Tom, Dick, or Harry that they come across. When I meet a dog of my acquaintance I slap his head, call him opprobrious epithets, and roll him over on his back; and there he lies, gaping at me, and doesn’t mind it a bit.
Fancy carrying on like that with a cat! Why, she would never speak to you again as long as you lived. No, when you want to win the approbation of a cat you must mind what you are about and work your way carefully. If you don’t know the cat, you had best begin by saying, “Poor pussy.” After which add “did ‘ums” in a tone of soothing sympathy. You don’t know what you mean any more than the cat does, but the sentiment seems to imply a proper spirit on your part, and generally touches her feelings to such an extent that if you are of good manners and passable appearance she will stick her back up and rub her nose against you. Matters having reached this stage, you may venture to chuck her under the chin and tickle the side of her head, and the intelligent creature will then stick her claws into your legs; and all is friendship and affection, as so sweetly expressed in the beautiful lines–
“I love little pussy, her coat is so warm, And if I don’t tease her she’ll do me no harm; So I’ll stroke her, and pat her, and feed her with food, And pussy will love me because I am good.”
The last two lines of the stanza give us a pretty true insight into pussy’s notions of human goodness. It is evident that in her opinion goodness consists of stroking her, and patting her, and feeding her with food. I fear this narrow-minded view of virtue, though, is not confined to pussies. We are all inclined to adopt a similar standard of merit in our estimate of other people. A good man is a man who is good to us, and a bad man is a man who doesn’t do what we want him to. The truth is, we each of us have an inborn conviction that the whole world, with everybody and everything in it, was created as a sort of necessary appendage to ourselves. Our fellow men and women were made to admire us and to minister to our various requirements. You and I, dear reader, are each the center of the universe in our respective opinions. You, as I understand it, were brought into being by a considerate Providence in order that you might read and pay me for what I write; while I, in your opinion, am an article sent into the world to write something for you to read. The stars–as we term the myriad other worlds that are rushing down beside us through the eternal silence–were put into the heavens to make the sky look interesting for us at night; and the moon with its dark mysteries and ever-hidden face is an arrangement for us to flirt under.
I fear we are most of us like Mrs. Poyser’s bantam cock, who fancied the sun got up every morning to hear him crow. “‘Tis vanity that makes the world go round.” I don’t believe any man ever existed without vanity, and if he did he would be an extremely uncomfortable person to have anything to do with. He would, of course, be a very good man, and we should respect him very much. He would be a very admirable man–a man to be put under a glass case and shown round as a specimen–a man to be stuck upon a pedestal and copied, like a school exercise–a man to be reverenced, but not a man to be loved, not a human brother whose hand we should care to grip. Angels may be very excellent sort of folk in their way, but we, poor mortals, in our present state, would probably find them precious slow company. Even mere good people are rather depressing. It is in our faults and failings, not in our virtues, that we touch one another and find sympathy. We differ widely enough in our nobler qualities. It is in our follies that we are at one. Some of us are pious, some of us are generous. Some few of us are honest, comparatively speaking; and some, fewer still, may possibly be truthful. But in vanity and kindred weaknesses we can all join hands. Vanity is one of those touches of nature that make the whole world kin. From the Indian hunter, proud of his belt of scalps, to the European general, swelling beneath his row of stars and medals; from the Chinese, gleeful at the length of his pigtail, to the “professional beauty,” suffering tortures in order that her waist may resemble a peg-top; from draggle-tailed little Polly Stiggins, strutting through Seven Dials with a tattered parasol over her head, to the princess sweeping through a drawing-room with a train of four yards long; from ‘Arry, winning by vulgar chaff the loud laughter of his pals, to the statesman whose ears are tickled by the cheers that greet his high-sounding periods; from the dark-skinned African, bartering his rare oils and ivory for a few glass beads to hang about his neck, to the Christian maiden selling her white body for a score of tiny stones and an empty title to tack before her name–all march, and fight, and bleed, and die beneath its tawdry flag.
Ay, ay, vanity is truly the motive-power that moves humanity, and it is flattery that greases the wheels. If you want to win affection and respect in this world, you must flatter people. Flatter high and low, and rich and poor, and silly and wise. You will get on famously. Praise this man’s virtues and that man’s vices. Compliment everybody upon everything, and especially upon what they haven’t got. Admire guys for their beauty, fools for their wit, and boors for their breeding. Your discernment and intelligence will be extolled to the skies.
Every one can be got over by flattery. The belted earl–“belted earl” is the correct phrase, I believe. I don’t know what it means, unless it be an earl that wears a belt instead of braces. Some men do. I don’t like it myself. You have to keep the thing so tight for it to be of any use, and that is uncomfortable. Anyhow, whatever particular kind of an earl a belted earl may be, he is, I assert, get-overable by flattery; just as every other human being is, from a duchess to a cat’s-meat man, from a plow boy to a poet–and the poet far easier than the plowboy, for butter sinks better into wheaten bread than into oaten cakes.
As for love, flattery is its very life-blood. Fill a person with love for themselves, and what runs over will be your share, says a certain witty and truthful Frenchman whose name I can’t for the life of me remember. (Confound it! I never can remember names when I want to.) Tell a girl she is an angel, only more angelic than an angel; that she is a goddess, only more graceful, queenly, and heavenly than the average goddess; that she is more fairy-like than Titania, more beautiful than Venus, more enchanting than Parthenope; more adorable, lovely, and radiant, in short, than any other woman that ever did live, does live, or could live, and you will make a very favorable impression upon her trusting little heart. Sweet innocent! she will believe every word you say. It is so easy to deceive a woman–in this way.
Dear little souls, they hate flattery, so they tell you; and when you say, “Ah, darling, it isn’t flattery in your case, it’s plain, sober truth; you really are, without exaggeration, the most beautiful, the most good, the most charming, the most divine, the most perfect human creature that ever trod this earth,” they will smile a quiet, approving smile, and, leaning against your manly shoulder, murmur that you are a dear good fellow after all.
By Jove! fancy a man trying to make love on strictly truthful principles, determining never to utter a word of mere compliment or hyperbole, but to scrupulously confine himself to exact fact! Fancy his gazing rapturously into his mistress’ eyes and whispering softly to her that she wasn’t, on the whole, bad-looking, as girls went! Fancy his holding up her little hand and assuring her that it was of a light drab color shot with red; and telling her as he pressed her to his heart that her nose, for a turned-up one, seemed rather pretty; and that her eyes appeared to him, as far as he could judge, to be quite up to the average standard of such things!
A nice chance he would stand against the man who would tell her that her face was like a fresh blush rose, that her hair was a wandering sunbeam imprisoned by her smiles, and her eyes like two evening stars.
There are various ways of flattering, and, of course, you must adapt your style to your subject. Some people like it laid on with a trowel, and this requires very little art. With sensible persons, however, it needs to be done very delicately, and more by suggestion than actual words. A good many like it wrapped up in the form of an insult, as–“Oh, you are a perfect fool, you are. You would give your last sixpence to the first hungry-looking beggar you met;” while others will swallow it only when administered through the medium of a third person, so that if C wishes to get at an A of this sort, he must confide to A’s particular friend B that he thinks A a splendid fellow, and beg him, B, not to mention it, especially to A. Be careful that B is a reliable man, though, otherwise he won’t.
Those fine, sturdy John Bulls who “hate flattery, sir,” “Never let anybody get over me by flattery,” etc., etc., are very simply managed. Flatter them enough upon their absence of vanity, and you can do what you like with them.
After all, vanity is as much a virtue as a vice. It is easy to recite copy-book maxims against its sinfulness, but it is a passion that can move us to good as well as to evil. Ambition is only vanity ennobled. We want to win praise and admiration–or fame as we prefer to name it–and so we write great books, and paint grand pictures, and sing sweet songs; and toil with willing hands in study, loom, and laboratory.
We wish to become rich men, not in order to enjoy ease and comfort–all that any one man can taste of those may be purchased anywhere for 200 pounds per annum–but that our houses may be bigger and more gaudily furnished than our neighbors’; that our horses and servants may be more numerous; that we may dress our wives and daughters in absurd but expensive clothes; and that we may give costly dinners of which we ourselves individually do not eat a shilling’s worth. And to do this we aid the world’s work with clear and busy brain, spreading commerce among its peoples, carrying civilization to its remotest corners.
Do not let us abuse vanity, therefore. Rather let us use it. Honor itself is but the highest form of vanity. The instinct is not confined solely to Beau Brummels and Dolly Vardens. There is the vanity of the peacock and the vanity of the eagle. Snobs are vain. But so, too, are heroes. Come, oh! my young brother bucks, let us be vain together. Let us join hands and help each other to increase our vanity. Let us be vain, not of our trousers and hair, but of brave hearts and working hands, of truth, of purity, of nobility. Let us be too vain to stoop to aught that is mean or base, too vain for petty selfishness and little-minded envy, too vain to say an unkind word or do an unkind act. Let us be vain of being single-hearted, upright gentlemen in the midst of a world of knaves. Let us pride ourselves upon thinking high thoughts, achieving great deeds, living good lives.
ON GETTING ON IN THE WORLD.
Not exactly the sort of thing for an idle fellow to think about, is it? But outsiders, you know, often see most of the game; and sitting in my arbor by the wayside, smoking my hookah of contentment and eating the sweet lotus-leaves of indolence, I can look out musingly upon the whirling throng that rolls and tumbles past me on the great high-road of life.
Never-ending is the wild procession. Day and night you can hear the quick tramp of the myriad feet–some running, some walking, some halting and lame; but all hastening, all eager in the feverish race, all straining life and limb and heart and soul to reach the ever-receding horizon of success.
Mark them as they surge along–men and women, old and young, gentle and simple, fair and foul, rich and poor, merry and sad–all hurrying, bustling, scrambling. The strong pushing aside the weak, the cunning creeping past the foolish; those behind elbowing those before; those in front kicking, as they run, at those behind. Look close and see the flitting show. Here is an old man panting for breath, and there a timid maiden driven by a hard and sharp-faced matron; here is a studious youth, reading “How to Get On in the World” and letting everybody pass him as he stumbles along with his eyes on his book; here is a bored-looking man, with a fashionably dressed woman jogging his elbow; here a boy gazing wistfully back at the sunny village that he never again will see; here, with a firm and easy step, strides a broad-shouldered man; and here, with stealthy tread, a thin-faced, stooping fellow dodges and shuffles upon his way; here, with gaze fixed always on the ground, an artful rogue carefully works his way from side to side of the road and thinks he is going forward; and here a youth with a noble face stands, hesitating as he looks from the distant goal to the mud beneath his feet.
And now into sight comes a fair girl, with her dainty face growing more wrinkled at every step, and now a care-worn man, and now a hopeful lad.
A motley throng–a motley throng! Prince and beggar, sinner and saint, butcher and baker and candlestick maker, tinkers and tailors, and plowboys and sailors–all jostling along together. Here the counsel in his wig and gown, and here the old Jew clothes-man under his dingy tiara; here the soldier in his scarlet, and here the undertaker’s mute in streaming hat-band and worn cotton gloves; here the musty scholar fumbling his faded leaves, and here the scented actor dangling his showy seals. Here the glib politician crying his legislative panaceas, and here the peripatetic Cheap-Jack holding aloft his quack cures for human ills. Here the sleek capitalist and there the sinewy laborer; here the man of science and here the shoe-back; here the poet and here the water-rate collector; here the cabinet minister and there the ballet-dancer. Here a red-nosed publican shouting the praises of his vats and there a temperance lecturer at 50 pounds a night; here a judge and there a swindler; here a priest and there a gambler. Here a jeweled duchess, smiling and gracious; here a thin lodging-house keeper, irritable with cooking; and here a wabbling, strutting thing, tawdry in paint and finery.
Cheek by cheek they struggle onward. Screaming, cursing, and praying, laughing, singing, and moaning, they rush past side by side. Their speed never slackens, the race never ends. There is no wayside rest for them, no halt by cooling fountains, no pause beneath green shades. On, on, on–on through the heat and the crowd and the dust–on, or they will be trampled down and lost–on, with throbbing brain and tottering limbs–on, till the heart grows sick, and the eyes grow blurred, and a gurgling groan tells those behind they may close up another space.
And yet, in spite of the killing pace and the stony track, who but the sluggard or the dolt can hold aloof from the course? Who–like the belated traveler that stands watching fairy revels till he snatches and drains the goblin cup and springs into the whirling circle–can view the mad tumult and not be drawn into its midst? Not I, for one. I confess to the wayside arbor, the pipe of contentment, and the lotus-leaves being altogether unsuitable metaphors. They sounded very nice and philosophical, but I’m afraid I am not the sort of person to sit in arbors smoking pipes when there is any fun going on outside. I think I more resemble the Irishman who, seeing a crowd collecting, sent his little girl out to ask if there was going to be a row –“‘Cos, if so, father would like to be in it.”
I love the fierce strife. I like to watch it. I like to hear of people getting on in it–battling their way bravely and fairly–that is, not slipping through by luck or trickery. It stirs one’s old Saxon fighting blood like the tales of “knights who fought ‘gainst fearful odds” that thrilled us in our school-boy days.
And fighting the battle of life is fighting against fearful odds, too. There are giants and dragons in this nineteenth century, and the golden casket that they guard is not so easy to win as it appears in the story-books. There, Algernon takes one long, last look at the ancestral hall, dashes the tear-drop from his eye, and goes off–to return in three years’ time, rolling in riches. The authors do not tell us “how it’s done,” which is a pity, for it would surely prove exciting.
But then not one novelist in a thousand ever does tell us the real story of their hero. They linger for a dozen pages over a tea-party, but sum up a life’s history with “he had become one of our merchant princes,” or “he was now a great artist, with the world at his feet.” Why, there is more real life in one of Gilbert’s patter-songs than in half the biographical novels ever written. He relates to us all the various steps by which his office-boy rose to be the “ruler of the queen’s navee,” and explains to us how the briefless barrister managed to become a great and good judge, “ready to try this breach of promise of marriage.” It is in the petty details, not in the great results, that the interest of existence lies.
What we really want is a novel showing us all the hidden under-current of an ambitious man’s career–his struggles, and failures, and hopes, his disappointments and victories. It would be an immense success. I am sure the wooing of Fortune would prove quite as interesting a tale as the wooing of any flesh-and-blood maiden, though, by the way, it would read extremely similar; for Fortune is, indeed, as the ancients painted her, very like a woman–not quite so unreasonable and inconsistent, but nearly so–and the pursuit is much the same in one case as in the other. Ben Jonson’s couplet–
“Court a mistress, she denies you; Let her alone, she will court you”–
puts them both in a nutshell. A woman never thoroughly cares for her lover until he has ceased to care for her; and it is not until you have snapped your fingers in Fortune’s face and turned on your heel that she begins to smile upon you.
But by that time you do not much care whether she smiles or frowns. Why could she not have smiled when her smiles would have filled you with ecstasy? Everything comes too late in this world.
Good people say that it is quite right and proper that it should be so, and that it proves ambition is wicked.
Bosh! Good people are altogether wrong. (They always are, in my opinion. We never agree on any single point.) What would the world do without ambitious people, I should like to know? Why, it would be as flabby as a Norfolk dumpling. Ambitious people are the leaven which raises it into wholesome bread. Without ambitious people the world would never get up. They are busybodies who are about early in the morning, hammering, shouting, and rattling the fire-irons, and rendering it generally impossible for the rest of the house to remain in bed.
Wrong to be ambitious, forsooth! The men wrong who, with bent back and sweating brow, cut the smooth road over which humanity marches forward from generation to generation! Men wrong for using the talents that their Master has intrusted to them–for toiling while others play!
Of course they are seeking their reward. Man is not given that godlike unselfishness that thinks only of others’ good. But in working for themselves they are working for us all. We are so bound together that no man can labor for himself alone. Each blow he strikes in his own behalf helps to mold the universe. The stream in struggling onward turns the mill-wheel; the coral insect, fashioning its tiny cell, joins continents to one another; and the ambitious man, building a pedestal for himself, leaves a monument to posterity. Alexander and Caesar fought for their own ends, but in doing so they put a belt of civilization half round the earth. Stephenson, to win a fortune, invented the steam-engine; and Shakespeare wrote his plays in order to keep a comfortable home for Mrs. Shakespeare and the little Shakespeares.
Contented, unambitious people are all very well in their way. They form a neat, useful background for great portraits to be painted against, and they make a respectable, if not particularly intelligent, audience for the active spirits of the age to play before. I have not a word to say against contented people so long as they keep quiet. But do not, for goodness’ sake, let them go strutting about, as they are so fond of doing, crying out that they are the true models for the whole species. Why, they are the deadheads, the drones in the great hive, the street crowds that lounge about, gaping at those who are working.
And let them not imagine, either–as they are also fond of doing–that they are very wise and philosophical and that it is a very artful thing to be contented. It may be true that “a contented mind is happy anywhere,” but so is a Jerusalem pony, and the consequence is that both are put anywhere and are treated anyhow. “Oh, you need not bother about him,” is what is said; “he is very contented as he is, and it would be a pity to disturb him.” And so your contented party is passed over and the discontented man gets his place.
If you are foolish enough to be contented, don’t show it, but grumble with the rest; and if you can do with a little, ask for a great deal. Because if you don’t you won’t get any. In this world it is necessary to adopt the principle pursued by the plaintiff in an action for damages, and to demand ten times more than you are ready to accept. If you can feel satisfied with a hundred, begin by insisting on a thousand; if you start by suggesting a hundred you will only get ten.
It was by not following this simple plan that poor Jean Jacques Rousseau came to such grief. He fixed the summit of his earthly bliss at living in an orchard with an amiable woman and a cow, and he never attained even that. He did get as far as the orchard, but the woman was not amiable, and she brought her mother with her, and there was no cow. Now, if he had made up his mind for a large country estate, a houseful of angels, and a cattle-show, he might have lived to possess his kitchen garden and one head of live-stock, and even possibly have come across that _rara-avis_–a really amiable woman.
What a terribly dull affair, too, life must be for contented people! How heavy the time must hang upon their hands, and what on earth do they occupy their thoughts with, supposing that they have any? Reading the paper and smoking seems to be the intellectual food of the majority of them, to which the more energetic add playing the flute and talking about the affairs of the next-door neighbor.
They never knew the excitement of expectation nor the stern delight of accomplished effort, such as stir the pulse of the man who has objects, and hopes, and plans. To the ambitious man life is a brilliant game–a game that calls forth all his tact and energy and nerve–a game to be won, in the long run, by the quick eye and the steady hand, and yet having sufficient chance about its working out to give it all the glorious zest of uncertainty. He exults in it as the strong swimmer in the heaving billows, as the athlete in the wrestle, the soldier in the battle.
And if he be defeated he wins the grim joy of fighting; if he lose the race, he, at least, has had a run. Better to work and fail than to sleep one’s life away.
So, walk up, walk up, walk up. Walk up, ladies and gentlemen! walk up, boys and girls! Show your skill and try your strength; brave your luck and prove your pluck. Walk up! The show is never closed and the game is always going. The only genuine sport in all the fair, gentlemen–highly respectable and strictly moral–patronized by the nobility, clergy, and gentry. Established in the year one, gentlemen, and been flourishing ever since–walk up! Walk up, ladies and gentlemen, and take a hand. There are prizes for all and all can play. There is gold for the man and fame for the boy; rank for the maiden and pleasure for the fool. So walk up, ladies and gentlemen, walk up!–all prizes and no blanks; for some few win, and as to the rest, why–
“The rapture of pursuing
Is the prize the vanquished gain.”
ON THE WEATHER.
Things do go so contrary-like with me. I wanted to hit upon an especially novel, out-of-the-way subject for one of these articles. “I will write one paper about something altogether new,” I said to myself; “something that nobody else has ever written or talked about before; and then I can have it all my own way.” And I went about for days, trying to think of something of this kind; and I couldn’t. And Mrs. Cutting, our charwoman, came yesterday–I don’t mind mentioning her name, because I know she will not see this book. She would not look at such a frivolous publication. She never reads anything but the Bible and _Lloyd’s Weekly News_. All other literature she considers unnecessary and sinful.
She said: “Lor’, sir, you do look worried.”
I said: “Mrs. Cutting, I am trying to think of a subject the discussion of which will come upon the world in the nature of a startler–some subject upon which no previous human being has ever said a word–some subject that will attract by its novelty, invigorate by its surprising freshness.”
She laughed and said I was a funny gentleman.
That’s my luck again. When I make serious observations people chuckle; when I attempt a joke nobody sees it. I had a beautiful one last week. I thought it so good, and I worked it up and brought it in artfully at a dinner-party. I forget how exactly, but we had been talking about the attitude of Shakespeare toward the Reformation, and I said something and immediately added, “Ah, that reminds me; such a funny thing happened the other day in Whitechapel.” “Oh,” said they, “what was that?” “Oh, ’twas awfully funny,” I replied, beginning to giggle myself; “it will make you roar;” and I told it them.
There was dead silence when I finished–it was one of those long jokes, too–and then, at last, somebody said: “And that was the joke?”
I assured them that it was, and they were very polite and took my word for it. All but one old gentleman at the other end of the table, who wanted to know which was the joke–what he said to her or what she said to him; and we argued it out.
Some people are too much the other way. I knew a fellow once whose natural tendency to laugh at everything was so strong that if you wanted to talk seriously to him, you had to explain beforehand that what you were going to say would not be amusing. Unless you got him to clearly understand this, he would go off into fits of merriment over every word you uttered. I have known him on being asked the time stop short in the middle of the road, slap his leg, and burst into a roar of laughter. One never dared say anything really funny to that man. A good joke would have killed him on the spot.
In the present instance I vehemently repudiated the accusation of frivolity, and pressed Mrs. Cutting for practical ideas. She then became thoughtful and hazarded “samplers;” saying that she never heard them spoken much of now, but that they used to be all the rage when she was a girl.
I declined samplers and begged her to think again. She pondered a long while, with a tea-tray in her hands, and at last suggested the weather, which she was sure had been most trying of late.
And ever since that idiotic suggestion I have been unable to get the weather out of my thoughts or anything else in.
It certainly is most wretched weather. At all events it is so now at the time I am writing, and if it isn’t particularly unpleasant when I come to be read it soon will be.
It always is wretched weather according to us. The weather is like the government–always in the wrong. In summer-time we say it is stifling; in winter that it is killing; in spring and autumn we find fault with it for being neither one thing nor the other and wish it would make up its mind. If it is fine we say the country is being ruined for want of rain; if it does rain we pray for fine weather. If December passes without snow, we indignantly demand to know what has become of our good old-fashioned winters, and talk as if we had been cheated out of something we had bought and paid for; and when it does snow, our language is a disgrace to a Christian nation. We shall never be content until each man makes his own weather and keeps it to himself.
If that cannot be arranged, we would rather do without it altogether.
Yet I think it is only to us in cities that all weather is so unwelcome. In her own home, the country, Nature is sweet in all her moods. What can be more beautiful than the snow, falling big with mystery in silent softness, decking the fields and trees with white as if for a fairy wedding! And how delightful is a walk when the frozen ground rings beneath our swinging tread–when our blood tingles in the rare keen air, and the sheep-dogs’ distant bark and children’s laughter peals faintly clear like Alpine bells across the open hills! And then skating! scudding with wings of steel across the swaying ice, making whirring music as we fly. And oh, how dainty is spring–Nature at sweet eighteen!
When the little hopeful leaves peep out so fresh and green, so pure and bright, like young lives pushing shyly out into the bustling world; when the fruit-tree blossoms, pink and white, like village maidens in their Sunday frocks, hide each whitewashed cottage in a cloud of fragile splendor; and the cuckoo’s note upon the breeze is wafted through the woods! And summer, with its deep dark green and drowsy hum–when the rain-drops whisper solemn secrets to the listening leaves and the twilight lingers in the lanes! And autumn! ah, how sadly fair, with its golden glow and the dying grandeur of its tinted woods–its blood-red sunsets and its ghostly evening mists, with its busy murmur of reapers, and its laden orchards, and the calling of the gleaners, and the festivals of praise!
The very rain, and sleet, and hail seem only Nature’s useful servants when found doing their simple duties in the country; and the East Wind himself is nothing worse than a boisterous friend when we meet him between the hedge-rows.
But in the city where the painted stucco blisters under the smoky sun, and the sooty rain brings slush and mud, and the snow lies piled in dirty heaps, and the chill blasts whistle down dingy streets and shriek round flaring gas lit corners, no face of Nature charms us. Weather in towns is like a skylark in a counting-house–out of place and in the way. Towns ought to be covered in, warmed by hot-water pipes, and lighted by electricity. The weather is a country lass and does not appear to advantage in town. We liked well enough to flirt with her in the hay-field, but she does not seem so fascinating when we meet her in Pall Mall. There is too much of her there. The frank, free laugh and hearty voice that sounded so pleasant in the dairy jars against the artificiality of town-bred life, and her ways become exceedingly trying.
Just lately she has been favoring us with almost incessant rain for about three weeks; and I am a demned damp, moist, unpleasant body, as Mr. Mantalini puts it.
Our next-door neighbor comes out in the back garden every now and then and says it’s doing the country a world of good–not his coming out into the back garden, but the weather. He doesn’t understand anything about it, but ever since he started a cucumber-frame last summer he has regarded himself in the light of an agriculturist, and talks in this absurd way with the idea of impressing the rest of the terrace with the notion that he is a retired farmer. I can only hope that for this once he is correct, and that the weather really is doing good to something, because it is doing me a considerable amount of damage. It is spoiling both my clothes and my temper. The latter I can afford, as I have a good supply of it, but it wounds me to the quick to see my dear old hats and trousers sinking, prematurely worn and aged, beneath the cold world’s blasts and snows.
There is my new spring suit, too. A beautiful suit it was, and now it is hanging up so bespattered with mud I can’t bear to look at it.
That was Jim’s fault, that was. I should never have gone out in it that night if it had not been for him. I was just trying it on when he came in. He threw up his arms with a wild yell the moment he caught sight of it, and exclaimed that he had “got ’em again!”
I said: “Does it fit all right behind?”
“Spiffin, old man,” he replied. And then he wanted to know if I was coming out.
I said “no” at first, but he overruled me. He said that a man with a suit like that had no right to stop indoors. “Every citizen,” said he, “owes a duty to the public. Each one should contribute to the general happiness as far as lies in his power. Come out and give the girls a treat.”
Jim is slangy. I don’t know where he picks it up. It certainly is not from me.
I said: “Do you think it will really please ’em?” He said it would be like a day in the country to them.
That decided me. It was a lovely evening and I went.
When I got home I undressed and rubbed myself down with whisky, put my feet in hot water and a mustard-plaster on my chest, had a basin of gruel and a glass of hot brandy-and-water, tallowed my nose, and went to bed.
These prompt and vigorous measures, aided by a naturally strong constitution, were the means of preserving my life; but as for the suit! Well, there, it isn’t a suit; it’s a splash-board.
And I did fancy that suit, too. But that’s just the way. I never do get particularly fond of anything in this world but what something dreadful happens to it. I had a tame rat when I was a boy, and I loved that animal as only a boy would love an old water-rat; and one day it fell into a large dish of gooseberry-fool that was standing to cool in the kitchen, and nobody knew what had become of the poor creature until the second helping.
I do hate wet weather in town. At least, it is not so much the wet as the mud that I object to. Somehow or other I seem to possess an irresistible alluring power over mud. I have only to show myself in the street on a muddy day to be half-smothered by it. It all comes of being so attractive, as the old lady said when she was struck by lightning. Other people can go out on dirty days and walk about for hours without getting a speck upon themselves; while if I go across the road I come back a perfect disgrace to be seen (as in my boyish days my poor dear mother tried often to tell me). If there were only one dab of mud to be found in the whole of London, I am convinced I should carry it off from all competitors.
I wish I could return the affection, but I fear I never shall be able to. I have a horror of what they call the “London particular.” I feel miserable and muggy all through a dirty day, and it is quite a relief to pull one’s clothes off and get into bed, out of the way of it all. Everything goes wrong in wet weather. I don’t know how it is, but there always seem to me to be more people, and dogs, and perambulators, and cabs, and carts about in wet weather than at any other time, and they all get in your way more, and everybody is so disagreeable–except myself–and it does make me so wild. And then, too, somehow I always find myself carrying more things in wet weather than in dry; and when you have a bag, and three parcels, and a newspaper, and it suddenly comes on to rain, you can’t open your umbrella.
Which reminds me of another phase of the weather that I can’t bear, and that is April weather (so called because it always comes in May). Poets think it very nice. As it does not know its own mind five minutes together, they liken it to a woman; and it is supposed to be very charming on that account. I don’t appreciate it, myself. Such lightning-change business may be all very agreeable in a girl. It is no doubt highly delightful to have to do with a person who grins one moment about nothing at all, and snivels the next for precisely the same cause, and who then giggles, and then sulks, and who is rude, and affectionate, and bad-tempered, and jolly, and boisterous, and silent, and passionate, and cold, and stand-offish, and flopping, all in one minute (mind, I don’t say this. It is those poets. And they are supposed to be connoisseurs of this sort of thing); but in the weather the disadvantages of the system are more apparent. A woman’s tears do not make one wet, but the rain does; and her coldness does not lay the foundations of asthma and rheumatism, as the east wind is apt to. I can prepare for and put up with a regularly bad day, but these ha’porth-of-all-sorts kind of days do not suit me. It aggravates me to see a bright blue sky above me when I am walking along wet through, and there is something so exasperating about the way the sun comes out smiling after a drenching shower, and seems to say: “Lord love you, you don’t mean to say you’re wet? Well, I am surprised. Why, it was only my fun.”
They don’t give you time to open or shut your umbrella in an English April, especially if it is an “automaton” one–the umbrella, I mean, not the April.
I bought an “automaton” once in April, and I did have a time with it! I wanted an umbrella, and I went into a shop in the Strand and told them so, and they said:
“Yes, sir. What sort of an umbrella would you like?”
I said I should like one that would keep the rain off, and that would not allow itself to be left behind in a railway carriage.
“Try an ‘automaton,'” said the shopman.
“What’s an ‘automaton’?” said I.
“Oh, it’s a beautiful arrangement,” replied the man, with a touch of enthusiasm. “It opens and shuts itself.”
I bought one and found that he was quite correct. It did open and shut itself. I had no control over it whatever. When it began to rain, which it did that season every alternate five minutes, I used to try and get the machine to open, but it would not budge; and then I used to stand and struggle with the wretched thing, and shake it, and swear at it, while the rain poured down in torrents. Then the moment the rain ceased the absurd thing would go up suddenly with a jerk and would not come down again; and I had to walk about under a bright blue sky, with an umbrella over my head, wishing that it would come on to rain again, so that it might not seem that I was insane.
When it did shut it did so unexpectedly and knocked one’s hat off.
I don’t know why it should be so, but it is an undeniable fact that there is nothing makes a man look so supremely ridiculous as losing his hat. The feeling of helpless misery that shoots down one’s back on suddenly becoming aware that one’s head is bare is among the most bitter ills that flesh is heir to. And then there is the wild chase after it, accompanied by an excitable small dog, who thinks it is a game, and in the course of which you are certain to upset three or four innocent children–to say nothing of their mothers–butt a fat old gentleman on to the top of a perambulator, and carom off a ladies’ seminary into the arms of a wet sweep.
After this, the idiotic hilarity of the spectators and the disreputable appearance of the hat when recovered appear but of minor importance.
Altogether, what between March winds, April showers, and the entire absence of May flowers, spring is not a success in cities. It is all very well in the country, as I have said, but in towns whose population is anything over ten thousand it most certainly ought to be abolished. In the world’s grim workshops it is like the children–out of place. Neither shows to advantage amid the dust and din. It seems so sad to see the little dirt-grimed brats try to play in the noisy courts and muddy streets. Poor little uncared-for, unwanted human atoms, they are not children. Children are bright-eyed, chubby, and shy. These are dingy, screeching elves, their tiny faces seared and withered, their baby laughter cracked and hoarse.
The spring of life and the spring of the year were alike meant to be cradled in the green lap of nature. To us in the town spring brings but its cold winds and drizzling rains. We must seek it among the leafless woods and the brambly lanes, on the heathy moors and the great still hills, if we want to feel its joyous breath and hear its silent voices. There is a glorious freshness in the spring there. The scurrying clouds, the open bleakness, the rushing wind, and the clear bright air thrill one with vague energies and hopes. Life, like the landscape around us, seems bigger, and wider, and freer–a rainbow road leading to unknown ends. Through the silvery rents that bar the sky we seem to catch a glimpse of the great hope and grandeur that lies around this little throbbing world, and a breath of its scent is wafted us on the wings of the wild March wind.
Strange thoughts we do not understand are stirring in our hearts. Voices are calling us to some great effort, to some mighty work. But we do not comprehend their meaning yet, and the hidden echoes within us that would reply are struggling, inarticulate and dumb.
We stretch our hands like children to the light, seeking to grasp we know not what. Our thoughts, like the boys’ thoughts in the Danish song, are very long, long thoughts, and very vague; we cannot see their end.
It must be so. All thoughts that peer outside this narrow world cannot be else than dim and shapeless. The thoughts that we can clearly grasp are very little thoughts–that two and two make four-that when we are hungry it is pleasant to eat–that honesty is the best policy; all greater thoughts are undefined and vast to our poor childish brains. We see but dimly through the mists that roll around our time-girt isle of life, and only hear the distant surging of the great sea beyond.
ON CATS AND DOGS.
What I’ve suffered from them this morning no tongue can tell. It began with Gustavus Adolphus. Gustavus Adolphus (they call him “Gusty” down-stairs for short) is a very good sort of dog when he is in the middle of a large field or on a fairly extensive common, but I won’t have him indoors. He means well, but this house is not his size. He stretches himself, and over go two chairs and a what-not. He wags his tail, and the room looks as if a devastating army had marched through it. He breathes, and it puts the fire out.
At dinner-time he creeps in under the table, lies there for awhile, and then gets up suddenly; the first intimation we have of his movements being given by the table, which appears animated by a desire to turn somersaults. We all clutch at it frantically and endeavor to maintain it in a horizontal position; whereupon his struggles, he being under the impression that some wicked conspiracy is being hatched against him, become fearful, and the final picture presented is generally that of an overturned table and a smashed-up dinner sandwiched between two sprawling layers of infuriated men and women.
He came in this morning in his usual style, which he appears to have founded on that of an American cyclone, and the first thing he did was to sweep my coffee-cup off the table with his tail, sending the contents full into the middle of my waistcoat.
I rose from my chair hurriedly and remarking “—-,” approached him at a rapid rate. He preceded me in the direction of the door. At the door he met Eliza coming in with eggs. Eliza observed “Ugh!” and sat down on the floor, the eggs took up different positions about the carpet, where they spread themselves out, and Gustavus Adolphus left the room. I called after him, strongly advising him to go straight downstairs and not let me see him again for the next hour or so; and he seeming to agree with me, dodged the coal-scoop and went, while I returned, dried myself and finished breakfast. I made sure that he had gone in to the yard, but when I looked into the passage ten minutes later he was sitting at the top of the stairs. I ordered him down at once, but he only barked and jumped about, so I went to see what was the matter.
It was Tittums. She was sitting on the top stair but one and wouldn’t let him pass.
Tittums is our kitten. She is about the size of a penny roll. Her back was up and she was swearing like a medical student.
She does swear fearfully. I do a little that way myself sometimes, but I am a mere amateur compared with her. To tell you the truth–mind, this is strictly between ourselves, please; I shouldn’t like your wife to know I said it–the women folk don’t understand these things; but between you and me, you know, I think it does a man good to swear. Swearing is the safety-valve through which the bad temper that might otherwise do serious internal injury to his mental mechanism escapes in harmless vaporing. When a man has said: “Bless you, my dear, sweet sir. What the sun, moon, and stars made you so careless (if I may be permitted the expression) as to allow your light and delicate foot to descend upon my corn with so much force? Is it that you are physically incapable of comprehending the direction in which you are proceeding? you nice, clever young man–you!” or words to that effect, he feels better. Swearing has the same soothing effect upon our angry passions that smashing the furniture or slamming the doors is so well known to exercise; added to which it is much cheaper. Swearing clears a man out like a pen’orth of gunpowder does the wash-house chimney. An occasional explosion is good for both. I rather distrust a man who never swears, or savagely kicks the foot-stool, or pokes the fire with unnecessary violence. Without some outlet, the anger caused by the ever-occurring troubles of life is apt to rankle and fester within. The petty annoyance, instead of being thrown from us, sits down beside us and becomes a sorrow, and the little offense is brooded over till, in the hot-bed of rumination, it grows into a great injury, under whose poisonous shadow springs up hatred and revenge.
Swearing relieves the feelings–that is what swearing does. I explained this to my aunt on one occasion, but it didn’t answer with her. She said I had no business to have such feelings.
That is what I told Tittums. I told her she ought to be ashamed of herself, brought up in at Christian family as she was, too. I don’t so much mind hearing an old cat swear, but I can’t bear to see a mere kitten give way to it. It seems sad in one so young.
I put Tittums in my pocket and returned to my desk. I forgot her for the moment, and when I looked I found that she had squirmed out of my pocket on to the table and was trying to swallow the pen; then she put her leg into the ink-pot and upset it; then she licked her leg; then she swore again–at me this time.
I put her down on the floor, and there Tim began rowing with her. I do wish Tim would mind his own business. It was no concern of his what she had been doing. Besides, he is not a saint himself. He is only a two-year-old fox-terrier, and he interferes with everything and gives himself the airs of a gray-headed Scotch collie.
Tittums’ mother has come in and Tim has got his nose scratched, for which I am remarkably glad. I have put them all three out in the passage, where they are fighting at the present moment. I’m in a mess with the ink and in a thundering bad temper; and if anything more in the cat or dog line comes fooling about me this morning, it had better bring its own funeral contractor with it.
Yet, in general, I like cats and dogs very much indeed. What jolly chaps they are! They are much superior to human beings as companions. They do not quarrel or argue with you. They never talk about themselves but listen to you while you talk about yourself, and keep up an appearance of being interested in the conversation. They never make stupid remarks. They never observe to Miss Brown across a dinner-table that they always understood she was very sweet on Mr. Jones (who has just married Miss Robinson). They never mistake your wife’s cousin for her husband and fancy that you are the father-in-law. And they never ask a young author with fourteen tragedies, sixteen comedies, seven farces, and a couple of burlesques in his desk why he doesn’t write a play.
They never say unkind things. They never tell us of our faults, “merely for our own good.” They do not at inconvenient moments mildly remind us of our past follies and mistakes. They do not say, “Oh, yes, a lot of use you are if you are ever really wanted”–sarcastic like. They never inform us, like our _inamoratas_ sometimes do, that we are not nearly so nice as we used to be. We are always the same to them.
They are always glad to see us. They are with us in all our humors. They are merry when we are glad, sober when we feel solemn, and sad when we are sorrowful.
“Halloo! happy and want a lark? Right you are; I’m your man. Here I am, frisking round you, leaping, barking, pirouetting, ready for any amount of fun and mischief. Look at my eyes if you doubt me. What shall it be? A romp in the drawing-room and never mind the furniture, or a scamper in the fresh, cool air, a scud across the fields and down the hill, and won’t we let old Gaffer Goggles’ geese know what time o’ day it is, neither! Whoop! come along.”
Or you’d like to be quiet and think. Very well. Pussy can sit on the arm of the chair and purr, and Montmorency will curl himself up on the rug and blink at the fire, yet keeping one eye on you the while, in case you are seized with any sudden desire in the direction of rats.
And when we bury our face in our hands and wish we had never been born, they don’t sit up very straight and observe that we have brought it all upon ourselves. They don’t even hope it will be a warning to us. But they come up softly and shove their heads against us. If it is a cat she stands on your shoulder, rumples your hair, and says, “Lor,’ I am sorry for you, old man,” as plain as words can speak; and if it is a dog he looks up at you with his big, true eyes and says with them, “Well you’ve always got me, you know. We’ll go through the world together and always stand by each other, won’t we?”
He is very imprudent, a dog is. He never makes it his business to inquire whether you are in the right or in the wrong, never bothers as to whether you are going up or down upon life’s ladder, never asks whether you are rich or poor, silly or wise, sinner or saint. You are his pal. That is enough for him, and come luck or misfortune, good repute or bad, honor or shame, he is going to stick to you, to comfort you, guard you, and give his life for you if need be–foolish, brainless, soulless dog!