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´╗┐Title: Americans and Others
Author: Repplier, Agnes, 1858-1950
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Americans and Others" ***

By Agnes Repplier

THE FIRESIDE SPHINX. With 4 full-page and 17 text illustrations by
  Miss E. BONSALL.
A BOOK OF FAMOUS VERSE. Selected by Agnes Repplier. In Riverside
  Library for Young People.
  THE SAME. _Holiday Edition_.



The Riverside Press Cambridge

_Published October 1912_

The Riverside Press


Five of the essays in this volume appear in print for the first time.
Others have been published in the _Atlantic Monthly_, the _Century
Magazine_, _Harper's Bazar_, and the _Catholic World_.


A Question of Politeness

The Mission of Humour

Goodness and Gayety

The Nervous Strain

The Girl Graduate

The Estranging Sea

Travellers' Tales

The Chill of Enthusiasm

The Temptation of Eve

"The Greatest of These is Charity"

The Customary Correspondent

The Benefactor

The Condescension of Borrowers

The Grocer's Cat


A Question of Politeness

"La politesse de l'esprit consiste a penser des choses honnetes et

A great deal has been said and written during the past few years on
the subject of American manners, and the consensus of opinion is,
on the whole, unfavourable. We have been told, more in sorrow than
in anger, that we are not a polite people; and our critics have cast
about them for causes which may be held responsible for such a
universal and lamentable result. Mr. Thomas Nelson Page, for example,
is by way of thinking that the fault lies in the sudden expansion
of wealth, in the intrusion into the social world of people who fail
to understand its requirements, and in the universal "spoiling" of
American children. He contrasts the South of his childhood, that
wonderful "South before the war," which looms vaguely, but very
grandly, through a half-century's haze, with the New York of to-day,
which, alas! has nothing to soften its outlines. A more censorious
critic in the "Atlantic Monthly" has also stated explicitly that for
true consideration and courtliness we must hark back to certain old
gentlewomen of ante-bellum days. "None of us born since the Civil
War approach them in respect to some fine, nameless quality that
gives them charm and atmosphere." It would seem, then, that the war,
with its great emotions and its sustained heroism, imbued us with
national life at the expense of our national manners.

I wonder if this kind of criticism does not err by comparing the many
with the few, the general with the exceptional. I wonder if the
deficiencies of an imperfect civilization can be accounted for along
such obvious lines. The self-absorption of youth which Mrs. Comer
deprecates, the self-absorption of a crowd which offends Mr. Page,
are human, not American. The nature of youth and the nature of crowds
have not changed essentially since the Civil War, nor since the Punic
Wars. Granted that the tired and hungry citizens of New York,
jostling one another in their efforts to board a homeward train,
present an unlovely spectacle; but do they, as Mr. Page affirms,
reveal "such sheer and primal brutality as can be found nowhere else
in the world where men and women are together?" Crowds will jostle,
and have always jostled, since men first clustered in communities.
Read Theocritus. The hurrying Syracusans--third century
B.C.--"rushed like a herd of swine," and rent in twain Praxinoe's
muslin veil. Look at Hogarth. The whole fun of an eighteenth-century
English crowd consisted in snatching off some unfortunate's wig, or
toppling him over into the gutter. The truth is we sin against
civilization when we consent to flatten ourselves against our
neighbours. The experience of the world has shown conclusively that
a few inches more or less of breathing space make all the difference
between a self-respecting citizen and a savage.

As for youth,--ah, who shall be brave enough, who has ever been brave
enough, to defend the rising generation? Who has ever looked with
content upon the young, save only Plato, and he lived in an age of
symmetry and order which we can hardly hope to reproduce. The
shortcomings of youth are so pitilessly, so glaringly apparent. Not
a rag to cover them from the discerning eye. And what a veil has fallen
between us and the years of _our_ offending. There is no illusion
so permanent as that which enables us to look backward with
complacency; there is no mental process so deceptive as the comparing
of recollections with realities. How loud and shrill the voice of
the girl at our elbow. How soft the voice which from the far past
breathes its gentle echo in our ears. How bouncing the vigorous young
creatures who surround us, treading us under foot in the certainty
of their self-assurance. How sweet and reasonable the pale shadows
who smile--we think appealingly--from some dim corner of our
memories. There is a passage in the diary of Louisa Gurney, a
carefully reared little Quaker girl of good family and estate, which
is dated 1796, and which runs thus:--

"I was in a very playing mood to-day, and thoroughly enjoyed being
foolish, and tried to be as rude to everybody as I could. We went
on the highroad for the purpose of being rude to the folks that passed.
I do think being rude is most pleasant sometimes."

Let us hope that the grown-up Louisa Gurney, whenever she felt
disposed to cavil at the imperfections of the rising generation of
1840 or 1850, re-read these illuminating words, and softened her
judgment accordingly.

New York has been called the most insolent city in the world. To make
or to refute such a statement implies so wide a knowledge of
contrasted civilizations that to most of us the words have no
significance. It is true that certain communities have earned for
themselves in the course of centuries an unenviable reputation for
discourtesy. The Italians say "as rude as a Florentine"; and even
the casual tourist (presuming his standard of manners to have been
set by Italy) is disposed to echo the reproach. The Roman, with the
civilization of the world at his back, is naturally, one might say
inevitably, polite. His is that serious and simple dignity which
befits his high inheritance. But the Venetian and the Sienese have
also a grave courtesy of bearing, compared with which the manners
of the Florentine seem needlessly abrupt. We can no more account for
this than we can account for the churlishness of the Vaudois, who
is always at some pains to be rude, and the gentleness of his
neighbour, the Valaisan, to whom breeding is a birthright, born, it
would seem, of generosity of heart, and a scorn of ignoble things.

But such generalizations, at all times perilous, become impossible
in the changing currents of American life, which has as yet no quality
of permanence. The delicate old tests fail to adjust themselves to
our needs. Mr. Page is right theoretically when he says that the
treatment of a servant or of a subordinate is an infallible criterion
of manners, and when he rebukes the "arrogance" of wealthy women to
"their hapless sisters of toil." But the truth is that our hapless
sisters of toil have things pretty much their own way in a country
which is still broadly prosperous and democratic, and our treatment
of them is tempered by a selfish consideration for our own comfort
and convenience. If they are toiling as domestic servants,--a field
in which the demand exceeds the supply,--they hold the key to the
situation; it is sheer foolhardiness to be arrogant to a cook.
Dressmakers and milliners are not humbly seeking for patronage;
theirs is the assured position of people who can give the world what
the world asks; and as for saleswomen, a class upon whom much
sentimental sympathy is lavished year by year, their heart-whole
superciliousness to the poor shopper, especially if she chance to
be a housewife striving nervously to make a few dollars cover her
family needs, is wantonly and detestably unkind. It is not with us
as it was in the England of Lamb's day, and the quality of breeding
is shown in a well-practised restraint rather than in a sweet and
somewhat lofty consideration.

Eliminating all the more obvious features of criticism, as throwing
no light upon the subject, we come to the consideration of three
points,--the domestic, the official, and the social manners of a
nation which has been roundly accused of degenerating from the high
standard of former years, of those gracious and beautiful years which
few of us have the good fortune to remember. On the first count, I
believe that a candid and careful observation will result in a
verdict of acquittal. Foreigners, Englishmen and Englishwomen
especially, who visit our shores, are impressed with the politeness
of Americans in their own households. That fine old Saxon point of
view, "What is the good of a family, if one cannot be disagreeable
in the bosom of it?" has been modified by the simple circumstance
that the family bosom is no longer a fixed and permanent asylum. The
disintegration of the home may be a lamentable feature of modern
life; but since it has dawned upon our minds that adult members of
a family need not necessarily live together if they prefer to live
apart, the strain of domesticity has been reduced to the limits of
endurance. We have gained in serenity what we have lost in
self-discipline by this easy achievement of an independence which,
fifty years ago, would have been deemed pure licence. I can remember
that, when I was a little girl, two of our neighbours, a widowed
mother and a widowed daughter, scandalized all their friends by
living in two large comfortable houses, a stone's throw apart,
instead of under one roof as became their relationship; and the fact
that they loved each other dearly and peacefully in no way lessened
their transgression. Had they shared their home, and bickered day
and night, that would have been considered unfortunate but

If the discipline of family life makes for law and order, for the
subordination of parts to the whole, and for the prompt recognition
of authority; if, in other words, it makes, as in the days of Rome,
for citizenship, the rescue of the individual makes for social
intercourse, for that temperate and reasoned attitude which begets
courtesy. The modern mother may lack influence and authority; but
she speaks more urbanely to her children than her mother spoke to
her. The modern child is seldom respectful, but he is often polite,
with a politeness which owes nothing to intimidation. The harsh and
wearisome habit of contradiction, which used to be esteemed a family
privilege, has been softened to a judicious dissent. In my youth I
knew several old gentlemen who might, on their death-beds, have laid
their hands upon their hearts, and have sworn that never in their
whole lives had they permitted any statement, however insignificant,
to pass uncontradicted in their presence. They were authoritative
old gentlemen, kind husbands after their fashion, and careful
fathers; but conversation at their dinner-tables was not for human

The manners of American officials have been discussed with more or
less acrimony, and always from the standpoint of personal experience.
The Custom-House is the centre of attack, and critics for the most
part agree that the men whose business it is to "hold up" returning
citizens perform their ungracious task ungraciously. Theirs is
rather the attitude of the detective dealing with suspected
criminals than the attitude of the public servant impersonally
obeying orders. It is true that even on the New York docks one may
encounter civility and kindness. There are people who assure us that
they have never encountered anything else; but then there are people
who would have us believe that always and under all circumstances
they meet with the most distinguished consideration. They intimate
that there is _that_ in their own demeanour which makes rudeness to
them an impossibility.

More candid souls find it hard to account for the crudity of our
intercourse, not with officials only, but with the vast world which
lies outside our narrow circle of associates. We have no human
relations where we have no social relations; we are awkward and
constrained in our recognition of the unfamiliar; and this
awkwardness encumbers us in the ordinary routine of life. A policeman
who has been long on one beat, and who has learned to know either
the householders or the business men of his locality, is wont to be
the most friendly of mortals. There is something almost pathetic in
the value he places upon human relationship, even of a very casual
order. A conductor on a local train who has grown familiar with scores
of passengers is no longer a ticket-punching, station-shouting
automaton. He bears himself in friendly fashion towards all
travellers, because he has established with some of them a rational
foothold of communication. But the official who sells tickets to a
hurrying crowd, or who snaps out a few tart words at a bureau of
information, or who guards a gate through which men and women are
pushing with senseless haste, is clad in an armour of incivility.
He is wantonly rude to foreigners, whose helplessness should make
some appeal to his humanity. I have seen a gatekeeper at Jersey City
take by the shoulders a poor German, whose ticket called for another
train, and shove him roughly out of the way, without a word of
explanation. The man, too bewildered for resentment, rejoined his
wife to whom he had said good-bye, and the two anxious, puzzled
creatures stood whispering together as the throng swept callously
past them. It was a painful spectacle, a lapse from the well-ordered
decencies of civilization.

For to be civilized is to be incapable of giving unnecessary offence,
it is to have some quality of consideration for all who cross our
path. An Englishwoman once said to Mr. Whistler that the politeness
of the French was "all on the surface," to which the artist made
reply: "And a very good place for it to be." It is this sweet surface
politeness, costing so little, counting for so much, which smooths
the roughness out of life. "The classic quality of the French
nation," says Mr. Henry James, "is sociability; a sociability which
operates in France, as it never does in England, from below upward.
Your waiter utters a greeting because, after all, something human
within him prompts him. His instinct bids him say something, and his
taste recommends that it should be agreeable."

This combination of instinct and taste--which happily is not
confined to the French, nor to waiters--produces some admirable
results, results out of all proportion to the slightness of the means
employed. It often takes but a word, a gesture, to indicate the
delicate process of adjustment. A few summers ago I was drinking tea
with friends in the gardens of the Hotel Faloria, at Cortina. At a
table near us sat two Englishmen, three Englishwomen, and an Austrian,
the wife of a Viennese councillor. They talked with animation and
in engaging accents. After a little while they arose and strolled
back to the hotel. The Englishmen, as they passed our table, stared
hard at two young girls who were of our party, stared as deliberately
and with as much freedom as if the children had been on a London
music-hall stage. The Englishwomen passed us as though we had been
invisible. They had so completely the air of seeing nothing in our
chairs that I felt myself a phantom, a ghost like Banquo's, with no
guilty eye to discern my presence at the table. Lastly came the
Austrian, who had paused to speak to a servant, and, as _she_ passed,
she gave us a fleeting smile and a slight bow, the mere shadow of
a curtsey, acknowledging our presence as human beings, to whom some
measure of recognition was due.

It was such a little thing, so lightly done, so eloquent of perfect
self-possession, and the impression it made upon six admiring
Americans was a permanent one. We fell to asking ourselves--being
honestly conscious of constraint--how each one of us would have
behaved in the Austrian lady's place, whether or not that act of
simple and sincere politeness would have been just as easy for us.
Then I called to mind one summer morning in New England, when I sat
on a friend's piazza, waiting idly for the arrival of the Sunday
papers. A decent-looking man, with a pretty and over-dressed girl
by his side, drove up the avenue, tossed the packet of papers at our
feet, and drove away again. He had not said even a bare "Good
morning." My kind and courteous host had offered no word of greeting.
The girl had turned her head to stare at me, but had not spoken. Struck
by the ungraciousness of the whole episode, I asked, "Is he a stranger
in these parts?"

"No," said my friend. "He has brought the Sunday papers all summer.
That is his daughter with him."

All summer, and no human relations, not enough to prompt a friendly
word, had been established between the man who served and the man
who was served. None of the obvious criticisms passed upon American
manners can explain the crudity of such a situation. It was certainly
not a case of arrogance towards a hapless brother of toil. My friend
probably toiled much harder than the paperman, and was the least
arrogant of mortals. Indeed, all arrogance of bearing lay
conspicuously on the paperman's part. Why, after all, should not his
instinct, like the instinct of the French waiter, have bidden him
say something; why should not his taste have recommended that the
something be agreeable? And then, again, why should not my friend,
in whom social constraint was unpardonable, have placed his finer
instincts at the service of a fellow creature? We must probe to the
depths of our civilization before we can understand and deplore the
limitations which make it difficult for us to approach one another
with mental ease and security. We have yet to learn that the amenities
of life stand for its responsibilities, and translate them into
action. They express externally the fundamental relations which
ought to exist between men. "All the distinctions, so delicate and
sometimes so complicated, which belong to good breeding," says M.
Rondalet in "La Reforme Sociale," "answer to a profound unconscious
analysis of the duties we owe to one another."

There are people who balk at small civilities on account of their
manifest insincerity. They cannot be brought to believe that the
expressions of unfelt pleasure or regret with which we accept or
decline invitations, the little affectionate phrases which begin and
end our letters, the agreeable formalities which have accumulated
around the simplest actions of life, are beneficent influences upon
character, promoting gentleness of spirit. The Quakers, as we know,
made a mighty stand against verbal insincerities, with one striking
exception,--the use of the word "Friend." They said and believed that
this word represented their attitude towards humanity, their spirit
of universal tolerance and brotherhood. But if to call oneself a
"Friend" is to emphasize one's amicable relations towards one's
neighbour, to call one's neighbour "Friend" is to imply that he
returns this affectionate regard, which is often an unwarranted
assumption. It is better and more logical to accept _all_ the polite
phraseology which facilitates intercourse, and contributes to the
sweetness of life. If we discarded the formal falsehoods which are
the currency of conversation, we should not be one step nearer the
vital things of truth.

For to be sincere with ourselves is better and harder than to be
painstakingly accurate with others. A man may be cruelly candid to
his associates, and a cowardly hypocrite to himself. He may handle
his friend harshly, and himself with velvet gloves. He may never tell
the fragment of a lie, and never think the whole truth. He may wound
the pride and hurt the feelings of all with whom he comes in contact,
and never give his own soul the benefit of one good knockdown blow.
The connection which has been established between rudeness and
probity on the one hand, and politeness and insincerity on the other,
is based upon an imperfect knowledge of human nature.

   "So rugged was he that we thought him just,
    So churlish was he that we deemed him true."

"It is better to hold back a truth," said Saint Francis de Sales,
"than to speak it ungraciously."

There are times doubtless when candour goes straight to its goal,
and courtesy misses the mark. Mr. John Stuart Mill was once asked
upon the hustings whether or not he had ever said that the English
working-classes were mostly liars. He answered shortly, "I
did!"--and the unexpected reply was greeted with loud applause. Mr.
Mill was wont to quote this incident as proof of the value which
Englishmen set upon plain speaking. They do prize it, and they prize
the courage which defies their bullying. But then the remark was,
after all, a generalization. We can bear hearing disagreeable truths
spoken to a crowd or to a congregation--causticity has always been
popular in preachers--because there are other heads than our own upon
which to fit the cap.

The brutalities of candour, the pestilent wit which blights whatever
it touches, are not distinctively American. It is because we are a
humorous rather than a witty people that we laugh for the most part
with, and not at, our fellow creatures. Indeed, judged by the
unpleasant things we might say and do not say, we should be esteemed
polite. English memoirs teem with anecdotes which appear to us
unpardonable. Why should Lady Holland have been permitted to wound
the susceptibilities of all with whom she came in contact? When Moore
tells us that she said to him, "This book of yours" (the "Life of
Sheridan") "will be dull, I fear;" and to Lord Porchester, "I am sorry
to hear you are going to publish a poem. Can't you suppress it?" we
do not find these remarks to be any more clever than considerate.
They belong to the category of the monumentally uncouth.

Why should Mr. Abraham Hayward have felt it his duty (he put it that
way) to tell Mr. Frederick Locker that the "London Lyrics" were
"overrated"? "I have suspected this," comments the poet, whose least
noticeable characteristic was vanity; "but I was none the less sorry
to hear him say so." Landor's reply to a lady who accused him of
speaking of her with unkindness, "Madame, I have wasted my life in
defending you!" was pardonable as a repartee. It was the exasperated
utterance of self-defence; and there is a distinction to be drawn
between the word which is flung without provocation, and the word
which is the speaker's last resource. When "Bobus" Smith told
Talleyrand that his mother had been a beautiful woman, and Talleyrand
replied, "_C'etait donc Monsieur votre pere qui n'etait pas bien_,"
we hold the witticism to have been cruel because unjustifiable. A
man should be privileged to say his mother was beautiful, without
inviting such a very obvious sarcasm. But when Madame de Stael
pestered Talleyrand to say what he would do if he saw her and Madame
Recamier drowning, the immortal answer, "_Madame de Stael sait tant
de choses, que sans doute elle peut nager_," seems as kind as the
circumstances warranted. "Corinne's" vanity was of the hungry type,
which, crying perpetually for bread, was often fed with stones.

It has been well said that the difference between a man's habitual
rudeness and habitual politeness is probably as great a difference
as he will ever be able to make in the sum of human happiness; and
the arithmetic of life consists in adding to, or subtracting from,
the pleasurable moments of mortality. Neither is it worth while to
draw fine distinctions between pleasure and happiness. If we are
indifferent to the pleasures of our fellow creatures, it will not
take us long to be indifferent to their happiness. We do not grow
generous by ceasing to be considerate.

As a matter of fact, the perpetual surrender which politeness
dictates cuts down to a reasonable figure the sum total of our
selfishness. To listen when we are bored, to talk when we are listless,
to stand when we are tired, to praise when we are indifferent, to
accept the companionship of a stupid acquaintance when we might, at
the expense of politeness, escape to a clever friend, to endure with
smiling composure the near presence of people who are distasteful
to us,--these things, and many like them, brace the sinews of our
souls. They set a fine and delicate standard for common intercourse.
They discipline us for the good of the community.

We cannot ring the bells backward, blot out the Civil War, and
exchange the speed of modern life for the slumberous dignity of the
Golden Age,--an age whose gilding brightens as we leave it shimmering
in the distance. But even under conditions which have the
disadvantage of existing, the American is not without gentleness of
speech and spirit. He is not always in a hurry. He is not always
elbowing his way, or quivering with ill-bred impatience. Turn to him
for help in a crowd, and feel the bright sureness of his response.
Watch him under ordinary conditions, and observe his large measure
of forbearance with the social deficiencies of his neighbour. Like
Steele, he deems it humanity to laugh at an indifferent jest, and
he has thereby earned for himself the reputation of being readily
diverted. If he lacks the urbanities which embellish conversation,
he is correspondingly free from the brutalities which degrade it.
If his instinct does not prompt him to say something agreeable, it
saves him from being wantonly unkind. Plain truths may be salutary;
but unworthy truths are those which are destitute of any spiritual
quality, which are not noble in themselves, and which are not nobly
spoken; which may be trusted to offend, and which have never been
known to illuminate. It is not for such asperities that we have
perfected through the ages the priceless gift of language, that we
seek to meet one another in the pleasant comradeship of life.

The Mission of Humour

   "Laughter is my object: 'tis a property
    In man, essential to his reason."
THOMAS RANDOLPH, _The Muses' Looking-Glass_.

American humour is the pride of American hearts. It is held to
be our splendid national characteristic, which we flaunt in the faces
of other nations, conceiving them to have been less favoured by
Providence. Just as the most effective way to disparage an author
or an acquaintance--and we have often occasion to disparage both--is
to say that he lacks a sense of humour, so the most effective
criticism we can pass upon a nation is to deny it this valuable
quality. American critics have written the most charming things
about the keenness of American speech, the breadth and insight of
American drollery, the electric current in American veins; and we,
reading these pleasant felicitations, are wont to thank God with
greater fervour than the occasion demands that we are more merry and
wise than our neighbours. Mr. Brander Matthews, for example, has told
us that there are newspaper writers in New York who have cultivated
a wit, "not unlike Voltaire's." He mistrusts this wit because he
finds it "corroding and disintegrating"; but he makes the comparison
with that casual assurance which is a feature of American criticism.

Indeed, our delight in our own humour has tempted us to overrate both
its literary value and its corrective qualities. We are never so apt
to lose our sense of proportion as when we consider those beloved
writers whom we hold to be humourists because they have made us laugh.
It may be conceded that, as a people, we have an abiding and somewhat
disquieting sense of fun. We are nimble of speech, we are more prone
to levity than to seriousness, we are able to recognize a vital truth
when it is presented to us under the familiar aspect of a jest, and
we habitually allow ourselves certain forms of exaggeration,
accepting, perhaps unconsciously, Hazlitt's verdict: "Lying is a
species of wit, and shows spirit and invention." It is true also that
no adequate provision is made in this country for the defective but
valuable class without humour, which in England is exceedingly well
cared for. American letters, American journalism, and American
speech are so coloured by pleasantries, so accentuated by ridicule,
that the silent and stodgy men, who are apt to represent a nation's
real strength, hardly know where to turn for a little saving dulness.
A deep vein of irony runs through every grade of society, making it
possible for us to laugh at our own bitter discomfiture, and to scoff
with startling distinctness at the evils which we passively permit.
Just as the French monarchy under Louis the Fourteenth was wittily
defined as despotism tempered by epigram, so the United States have
been described as a free republic fettered by jokes, and the taunt
conveys a half-truth which it is worth our while to consider.

Now there are many who affirm that the humourist's point of view is,
on the whole, the fairest from which the world can be judged. It is
equally remote from the misleading side-lights of the pessimist and
from the wilful blindness of the optimist. It sees things with
uncompromising clearness, but it judges of them with tolerance and
good temper. Moreover, a sense of the ridiculous is a sound
preservative of social virtues. It places a proper emphasis on the
judgments of our associates, it saves us from pitfalls of vanity and
self-assurance, it lays the basis of that propriety and decorum of
conduct upon which is founded the charm of intercourse among equals.
And what it does for us individually, it does for us collectively.
Our national apprehension of a jest fosters whatever grace of modesty
we have to show. We dare not inflate ourselves as superbly as we
should like to do, because our genial countrymen stand ever ready
to prick us into sudden collapse. "It is the laugh we enjoy at our
own expense which betrays us to the rest of the world."

Perhaps we laugh too readily. Perhaps we are sometimes amused when
we ought to be angry. Perhaps we jest when it is our plain duty to
reform. Here lies the danger of our national light-mindedness,--for
it is seldom light-heartedness; we are no whit more light-hearted
than our neighbours. A carping English critic has declared that
American humour consists in speaking of hideous things with levity;
and while so harsh a charge is necessarily unjust, it makes clear
one abiding difference between the nations. An Englishman never
laughs--except officially in "Punch"--over any form of political
degradation. He is not in the least amused by jobbery, by bad service,
by broken pledges. The seamy side of civilized life is not to him
a subject for sympathetic mirth. He can pity the stupidity which does
not perceive that it is cheated and betrayed; but penetration allied
to indifference awakens his wondering contempt. "If you think it
amusing to be imposed on," an Englishwoman once said to me, "you need
never be at a loss for a joke."

In good truth, we know what a man is like by the things he finds
laughable, we gauge both his understanding and his culture by his
sense of the becoming and of the absurd. If the capacity for laughter
be one of the things which separates men from brutes, the quality
of laughter draws a sharp dividing-line between the trained
intelligence and the vacant mind. The humour of a race interprets
the character of a race, and the mental condition of which laughter
is the expression is something which it behooves the student of human
nature and the student of national traits to understand very clearly.

Now our American humour is, on the whole, good-tempered and decent.
It is scandalously irreverent (reverence is a quality which seems
to have been left out of our composition); but it has neither the
pitilessness of the Latin, nor the grossness of the Teuton jest. As
Mr. Gilbert said of Sir Beerbohm Tree's "Hamlet," it is funny without
being coarse. We have at our best the art of being amusing in an
agreeable, almost an amiable, fashion; but then we have also the rare
good fortune to be very easily amused. Think of the current jokes
provided for our entertainment week by week, and day by day. Think
of the comic supplement of our Sunday newspapers, designed for the
refreshment of the feeble-minded, and calculated to blight the
spirits of any ordinarily intelligent household. Think of the
debilitated jests and stories which a time-honoured custom inserts
at the back of some of our magazines. It seems to be the custom of
happy American parents to report to editors the infantile prattle
of their engaging little children, and the editors print it for the
benefit of those who escape the infliction firsthand. There is a
story, pleasant but piteous, of Voltaire's listening with what
patience he could muster to a comedy which was being interpreted by
its author. At a certain point the dramatist read, "At this the
Chevalier laughed"; whereupon Voltaire murmured enviously, "How
fortunate the Chevalier was!" I think of that story whenever I am
struck afresh by the ease with which we are moved to mirth.

A painstaking German student, who has traced the history of humour
back to its earliest foundations, is of the opinion that there are
eleven original jokes known to the world, or rather that there are
eleven original and basic situations which have given birth to the
world's jokes; and that all the pleasantries with which we are daily
entertained are variations of these eleven originals, traceable
directly or indirectly to the same sources. There are times when we
are disposed to think eleven too generous a computation, and there
are less weary moments in which the inexhaustible supply of
situations still suggests fresh possibilities of laughter. Granted
that the ever fertile mother-in-law jest and the one about the
talkative barber were venerable in the days of Plutarch; there are
others more securely and more deservedly rooted in public esteem
which are, by comparison, new. Christianity, for example, must be
held responsible for the missionary and cannibal joke, of which we
have grown weary unto death; but which nevertheless possesses
astonishing vitality, and exhibits remarkable breadth of treatment.
Sydney Smith did not disdain to honour it with a joyous and unclerical
quatrain; and the agreeable author of "Rab and his Friends" has told
us the story of his fragile little schoolmate whose mother had
destined him for a missionary, "though goodness knows there wasn't
enough of him to go around among many heathen."

To Christianity is due also the somewhat ribald mirth which has clung
for centuries about Saint Peter as gatekeeper of Heaven. We can trace
this mirth back to the rude jests of the earliest miracle plays. We
see these jests repeated over and over again in the folklore of Latin
and Germanic nations. And if we open a comic journal to-day, there
is more than a chance that we shall find Saint Peter, key in hand,
uttering his time-honoured witticisms. This well-worn situation
depends, as a rule, upon that common element of fun-making, the
incongruous. Saint Peter invaded by air-ships. Saint Peter
outwitting a squad of banner-flying suffragettes. Saint Peter losing
his saintly temper over the expansive philanthropy of millionaires.
Now and then a bit of true satire, like Mr. Kipling's "Tomlinson,"
conveys its deeper lesson to humanity. A recently told French story
describes a lady of good reputation, family, and estate, presenting
herself fearlessly at the gates of Heaven. Saint Peter receives her
politely, and leads her through a street filled with lofty and
beautiful mansions, any one of which she thinks will satisfy her
requirements; but, to her amazement, they pass them by. Next they
come to more modest but still charming houses with which she feels
she could be reasonably content; but again they pass them by. Finally
they reach a small and mean dwelling in a small and mean thoroughfare.
"This," says Saint Peter, "is your habitation." "This!" cries the
indignant lady; "I could not possibly live in any place so shabby
and inadequate." "I am sorry, madame," replies the saint urbanely;
"but we have done the best we could with the materials you furnished

There are no bounds to the loyalty with which mankind clings to a
well-established jest, there is no limit to the number of times a
tale will bear retelling. Occasionally we give it a fresh setting,
adorn it with fresh accessories, and present it as new-born to the
world; but this is only another indication of our affectionate
tenacity. I have heard that caustic gibe of Queen Elizabeth's anent
the bishop's lady and the bishop's wife (the Tudors had a biting wit
of their own) retold at the expense of an excellent lady, the wife
of a living American bishop; and the story of the girl who, professing
religion, gave her ear-rings to a sister, because she knew they were
taking _her_ to Hell,--a story which dates from the early Wesleyan
revivals in England,--I have heard located in Philadelphia, and
assigned to one of Mr. Torrey's evangelistic services. We still
resort, as in the days of Sheridan, to our memories for our jokes,
and to our imaginations for our facts.

Moreover, we Americans have jests of our own,--poor things for the
most part, but our own. They are current from the Atlantic to the
Pacific, they appear with commendable regularity in our newspapers
and comic journals, and they have become endeared to us by a lifetime
of intimacy. The salient characteristics of our great cities, the
accepted traditions of our mining-camps, the contrast between East
and West, the still more familiar contrast between the torpor of
Philadelphia and Brooklyn ("In the midst of life," says Mr. Oliver
Herford, "we are--in Brooklyn") and the uneasy speed of New
York,--these things furnish abundant material for everyday American
humour. There is, for example, the encounter between the Boston girl
and the Chicago girl, who, in real life, might often be taken for
each other; but who, in the American joke, are as sharply
differentiated as the Esquimo and the Hottentot. And there is the
little Boston boy who always wears spectacles, who is always named
Waldo, and who makes some innocent remark about "Literary Ethics,"
or the "Conduct of Life." We have known this little boy too long to
bear a parting from him. Indeed, the mere suggestion that all
Bostonians are forever immersed in Emerson is one which gives
unfailing delight to the receptive American mind. It is a poor
community which cannot furnish its archaic jest for the diversion
of its neighbours.

The finest example of our bulldog resoluteness in holding on to a
comic situation, or what we conceive to be a comic situation, may
be seen every year when the twenty-second of February draws near,
and the shops of our great and grateful Republic break out into an
irruption of little hatchets, by which curious insignia we have
chosen to commemorate our first President. These toys, occasionally
combined with sprigs of artificial cherries, are hailed with
unflagging delight, and purchased with what appears to be patriotic
fervour. I have seen letter-carriers and post-office clerks wearing
little hatchets in their button-holes, as though they were party
buttons, or temperance badges. It is our great national joke, which
I presume gains point from the dignified and reticent character of
General Washington, and from the fact that he would have been
sincerely unhappy could he have foreseen the senile character of a
jest, destined, through our love of absurdity, our careful
cultivation of the inappropriate, to be linked forever with his name.

The easy exaggeration which is a distinctive feature of American
humour, and about which so much has been said and written, has its
counterpart in sober and truth-telling England, though we are always
amazed when we find it there, and fall to wondering, as we never
wonder at home, in what spirit it was received. There are two kinds
of exaggeration; exaggeration of statement, which is a somewhat
primitive form of humour, and exaggeration of phrase, which implies
a dexterous misuse of language, a skilful juggling with words. Sir
John Robinson gives, as an admirable instance of exaggeration of
statement, the remark of an American in London that his dining-room
ceiling was so low that he could not have anything for dinner but
soles. Sir John thought this could have been said only by an American,
only by one accustomed to have a joke swiftly catalogued as a joke,
and suffered to pass. An English jester must always take into account
the mental attitude which finds "Gulliver's Travels" "incredible."
When Mr. Edward FitzGerald said that the church at Woodbridge was
so damp that fungi grew about the communion rail, Woodbridge ladies
offered an indignant denial. When Dr. Thompson, the witty master of
Trinity, observed of an undergraduate that "all the time he could
spare from the neglect of his duties he gave to the adornment of his
person," the sarcasm made its slow way into print; whereupon an
intelligent British reader wrote to the periodical which had printed
it, and explained painstakingly that, inasmuch as it was not possible
to spare time from the neglect of anything, the criticism was

Exaggeration of phrase, as well as the studied understatement which
is an even more effective form of ridicule, seem natural products
of American humour. They sound, wherever we hear them, familiar to
our ears. It is hard to believe that an English barrister, and not
a Texas ranch-man, described Boston as a town where respectability
stalked unchecked. Mazarin's plaintive reflection, "Nothing is so
disagreeable as to be obscurely hanged," carries with it an echo of
Wyoming or Arizona. Mr. Gilbert's analysis of Hamlet's mental

   "Hamlet is idiotically sane,
    With lucid intervals of lunacy,"--

has the pure flavour of American wit,--a wit which finds its most
audacious expression in burlesquing bitter things, and which misfits
its words with diabolic ingenuity. To match these alien jests, which
sound so like our own, we have the whispered warning of an American
usher (also quoted by Sir John Robinson) who opened the door to a
late comer at one of Mr. Matthew Arnold's lectures: "Will you please
make as little noise as you can, sir. The audience is asleep"; and
the comprehensive remark of a New England scholar and wit that he
never wanted to do anything in his life, that he did not find it was
expensive, unwholesome, or immoral. This last observation embraces
the wisdom of the centuries. Solomon would have endorsed it, and it
is supremely quotable as expressing a common experience with very
uncommon felicity.

When we leave the open field of exaggeration, that broad area which
is our chosen territory, and seek for subtler qualities in American
humour, we find here and there a witticism which, while admittedly
our own, has in it an Old-World quality. The epigrammatic remark of
a Boston woman that men get and forget, and women give and forgive,
shows the fine, sharp finish of Sydney Smith or Sheridan. A
Philadelphia woman's observation, that she knew there could be no
marriages in Heaven, because--"Well, women were there no doubt in
plenty, and some men; but not a man whom any woman would have," is
strikingly French. The word of a New York broker, when Mr. Roosevelt
sailed for Africa, "Wall Street expects every lion to do its duty!"
equals in brevity and malice the keen-edged satire of Italy. No
sharper thrust was ever made at prince or potentate.

The truth is that our love of a jest knows no limit and respects no
law. The incongruities of an unequal civilization (we live in the
land of contrasts) have accustomed us to absurdities, and reconciled
us to ridicule. We rather like being satirized by our own countrymen.
We are very kind and a little cruel to our humourists. We crown them
with praise, we hold them to our hearts, we pay them any price they
ask for their wares; but we insist upon their being funny all the
time. Once a humourist, always a humourist, is our way of thinking;
and we resent even a saving lapse into seriousness on the part of
those who have had the good or the ill fortune to make us laugh.

England is equally obdurate in this regard. Her love of laughter has
been consecrated by Oxford,--Oxford, the dignified refuge of English
scholarship, which passed by a score of American scholars to bestow
her honours on our great American joker. And because of this love
of laughter, so desperate in a serious nation, English jesters have
enjoyed the uneasy privileges of a court fool. Look at poor Hood.
What he really loved was to wallow in the pathetic,--to write such
harrowing verses as the "Bridge of Sighs," and the "Song of the Shirt"
(which achieved the rare distinction of being printed--like the
"Beggar's Petition"--on cotton handkerchiefs), and the "Lady's
Dream." Every time he broke from his traces, he plunged into these
morasses of melancholy; but he was always pulled out again, and
reharnessed to his jokes. He would have liked to be funny
occasionally and spontaneously, and it was the will of his master,
the public, that he should be funny all the time, or starve. Lord
Chesterfield wisely said that a man should live within his wit as
well as within his income; but if Hood had lived within his wit--which
might then have possessed a vital and lasting quality--he would have
had no income. His role in life was like that of a dancing bear, which
is held to commit a solecism every time it settles wearily down on
the four legs nature gave it.

The same tyrannous demand hounded Mr. Eugene Field along his
joke-strewn path. Chicago, struggling with vast and difficult
problems, felt the need of laughter, and required of Mr. Field that
he should make her laugh. He accepted the responsibility, and, as
a reward, his memory is hallowed in the city he loved and derided.
New York echoes this sentiment (New York echoes more than she
proclaims; she confirms rather than initiates); and when Mr. Francis
Wilson wrote some years ago a charming and enthusiastic paper for
the "Century Magazine," he claimed that Mr. Field was so great a
humourist as to be--what all great humourists are,--a moralist as
well. But he had little to quote which could be received as evidence
in a court of criticism; and many of the paragraphs which he deemed
it worth while to reprint were melancholy instances of that jaded
wit, that exhausted vitality, which in no wise represented Mr.
Field's mirth-loving spirit, but only the things which were ground
out of him when he was not in a mirthful mood.

The truth is that humour as a lucrative profession is a purely modern
device, and one which is much to be deplored. The older humourists
knew the value of light and shade. Their fun was precious in
proportion to its parsimony. The essence of humour is that it should
be unexpected, that it should embody an element of surprise, that
it should startle us out of that reasonable gravity which, after all,
must be our habitual frame of mind. But the professional humourist
cannot afford to be unexpected. The exigencies of his vocation compel
him to be relentlessly droll from his first page to his last, and
this accumulated drollery weighs like lead. Compared to it, sermons
are as thistle-down, and political economy is gay.

It is hard to estimate the value of humour as a national trait. Life
has its appropriate levities, its comedy side. We cannot "see it
clearly and see it whole," without recognizing a great many
absurdities which ought to be laughed at, a great deal of nonsense
which is a fair target for ridicule. The heaviest charge brought
against American humour is that it never keeps its target well in
view. We laugh, but we are not purged by laughter of our follies;
we jest, but our jests are apt to have a kitten's sportive
irresponsibility. The lawyer offers a witticism in place of an
argument, the diner-out tells an amusing story in lieu of
conversation. Even the clergyman does not disdain a joke, heedless
of Dr. Johnson's warning which should save him from that pitfall.
Smartness furnishes sufficient excuse for the impertinence of
children, and with purposeless satire the daily papers deride the
highest dignitaries of the land.

Yet while always to be reckoned with in life and letters, American
humour is not a powerful and consistent factor either for destruction
or for reform. It lacks, for the most part, a logical basis, and the
dignity of a supreme aim. Moliere's humour amounted to a philosophy
of life. He was wont to say that it was a difficult task to make
gentlefolk laugh; but he succeeded in making them laugh at that which
was laughable in themselves. He aimed his shafts at the fallacies
and the duplicities which his countrymen ardently cherished, and he
scorned the cheaper wit which contents itself with mocking at idols
already discredited. As a result, he purged society, not of the
follies that consumed it, but of the illusion that these follies were
noble, graceful, and wise. "We do not plough or sow for fools," says
a Russian proverb, "they grow of themselves"; but humour has
accomplished a mighty work if it helps us to see that a fool is a
fool, and not a prophet in the market-place. And if the man in the
market-place chances to be a prophet, his message is safe from
assault. No laughter can silence him, no ridicule weaken his words.

Carlyle's grim humour was also drilled into efficacy. He used it in
orderly fashion; he gave it force by a stern principle of repression.
He had (what wise man has not?) an honest respect for dulness, knowing
that a strong and free people argues best--as Mr. Bagehot puts
it--"in platoons." He had some measure of mercy for folly. But
against the whole complicated business of pretence, against the
pious, and respectable, and patriotic hypocrisies of a successful
civilization, he hurled his taunts with such true aim that it is not
too much to say there has been less real comfort and safety in lying
ever since.

These are victories worth recording, and there is a big battlefield
for American humour when it finds itself ready for the fray, when
it leaves off firing squibs, and settles down to a compelling
cannonade, when it aims less at the superficial incongruities of life,
and more at the deep-rooted delusions which rob us of fair fame. It
has done its best work in the field of political satire, where the
"Biglow Papers" hit hard in their day, where Nast's cartoons helped
to overthrow the Tweed dynasty, and where the indolent and luminous
genius of Mr. Dooley has widened our mental horizon. Mr. Dooley is
a philosopher, but his is the philosophy of the looker-on, of that
genuine unconcern which finds Saint George and the dragon to be both
a trifle ridiculous. He is always undisturbed, always illuminating,
and not infrequently amusing; but he anticipates the smiling
indifference with which those who come after us will look back upon
our enthusiasms and absurdities. Humour, as he sees it, is that
thrice blessed quality which enables us to laugh, when otherwise we
should be in danger of weeping. "We are ridiculous animals," observes
Horace Walpole unsympathetically, "and if angels have any fun in
their hearts, how we must divert them."

It is this clear-sighted, non-combative humour which Americans love
and prize, and the absence of which they reckon a heavy loss. Nor
do they always ask, "a loss to whom?" Charles Lamb said it was no
misfortune for a man to have a sulky temper. It was his friends who
were unfortunate. And so with the man who has no sense of humour.
He gets along very well without it. He is not aware that anything
is lacking. He is not mourning his lot. What loss there is, his
friends and neighbours bear. A man destitute of humour is apt to be
a formidable person, not subject to sudden deviations from his chosen
path, and incapable of frittering away his elementary forces by
pottering over both sides of a question. He is often to be respected,
sometimes to be feared, and always--if possible--to be avoided. His
are the qualities which distance enables us to recognize and value
at their worth. He fills his place in the scheme of creation; but
it is for us to see that his place is not next to ours at table, where
his unresponsiveness narrows the conversational area, and dulls the
contagious ardour of speech. He may add to the wisdom of the ages,
but he lessens the gayety of life.

Goodness and Gayety

"Can surly Virtue hope to find a friend?"--DR. JOHNSON.

Sir Leslie Stephen has recorded his conviction that a sense of humour,
being irreconcilable with some of the cardinal virtues, is lacking
in most good men. Father Faber asserted, on the contrary, that a sense
of humour is a great help in the religious life, and emphasized this
somewhat unusual point of view with the decisive statement: "Perhaps
nature does not contribute a greater help to grace than this."

Here are conflicting verdicts to be well considered. Sir Leslie
Stephen knew more about humour than did Father Faber; Father Faber
knew more about "grace" than did Sir Leslie Stephen; and both
disputants were widely acquainted with their fellow men. Sir Leslie
Stephen had a pretty wit of his own, but it may have lacked the
qualities which make for holiness. There was in it the element of
denial. He seldom entered the shrine where we worship our ideals in
secret. He stood outside, remarks Mr. Birrell cheerily, "with a pail
of cold water." Father Faber also possessed a vein of irony which
was the outcome of a priestly experience with the cherished foibles
of the world. He entered unbidden into the shrine where we worship
our illusions in secret, and chilled us with unwelcome truths. I know
of no harder experience than this. It takes time and trouble to
persuade ourselves that the things we want to do are the things we
ought to do. We balance our spiritual accounts with care. We insert
glib phrases about duty into all our reckonings. There is nothing,
or next to nothing, which cannot, if adroitly catalogued, be
considered a duty; and it is this delicate mental adjustment which
is disturbed by Father Faber's ridicule. "Self-deceit," he
caustically observes, "seems to thrive on prayer, and to grow fat
on contemplation."

If a sense of humour forces us to be candid with ourselves, then it
can be reconciled, not only with the cardinal virtues--which are but
a chilly quartette--but with the flaming charities which have
consumed the souls of saints. The true humourist, objects Sir Leslie
Stephen, sees the world as a tragi-comedy, a Vanity Fair, in which
enthusiasm is out of place. But if the true humourist also sees
himself presiding, in the sacred name of duty, over a booth in Vanity
Fair, he may yet reach perfection. What Father Faber opposed so
strenuously were, not the vanities of the profane, of the openly and
cheerfully unregenerate; but the vanities of a devout and
fashionable congregation, making especial terms--by virtue of its
exalted station--with Providence. These were the people whom he
regarded all his priestly life with whimsical dismay. "Their
voluntary social arrangements," he wrote in "Spiritual
Conferences," "are the tyranny of circumstance, claiming our
tenderest pity, and to be managed like the work of a Xavier, or a
Vincent of Paul, which hardly left the saints time to pray. Their
sheer worldliness is to be considered as an interior trial, with all
manner of cloudy grand things to be said about it. They must avoid
uneasiness, for such great graces as theirs can grow only in calmness
and tranquillity."

This is irony rather than humour, but it implies a capacity to see
the tragi-comedy of the world, without necessarily losing the power
of enthusiasm. It also explains why Father Faber regarded an honest
sense of the ridiculous as a help to goodness. The man or woman who
is impervious to the absurd cannot well be stripped of self-delusion.
For him, for her, there is no shaft which wounds. The admirable advice
of Thomas a Kempis to keep away from people whom we desire to please,
and the quiet perfection of his warning to the censorious, "In
judging others, a man toileth in vain; for the most part he is
mistaken, and he easily sinneth; but in judging and scrutinizing
himself, he always laboureth with profit," can make their just appeal
only to the humorous sense. So, too, the counsel of Saint Francis
de Sales to the nuns who wanted to go barefooted, "Keep your shoes
and change your brains"; the cautious query of Pope Gregory the First,
concerning John the Faster, "Does he abstain even from the truth?"
Cardinal Newman's axiom, "It is never worth while to call whity-brown
white, for the sake of avoiding scandal"; and Father Faber's own
felicitous comment on religious "hedgers," "A moderation which
consists in taking immoderate liberties with God is hardly what the
Fathers of the Desert meant when they preached their crusade in
favour of discretion";--are all spoken to those hardy and humorous
souls who can bear to be honest with themselves.

The ardent reformer, intolerant of the ordinary processes of life,
the ardent philanthropist, intolerant of an imperfect civilization,
the ardent zealot, intolerant of man's unspiritual nature, are
seldom disposed to gayety. A noble impatience of spirit inclines them
to anger or to sadness. John Wesley, reformer, philanthropist,
zealot, and surpassingly great in all three characters, strangled
within his own breast the simple desire to be gay. He was a young
man when he formed the resolution, "to labour after continual
seriousness, not willingly indulging myself in the least levity of
behaviour, or in laughter,--no, not for a moment"; and for more than
fifty years he kept--probably with no great difficulty--this stern
resolve. The mediaeval saying, that laughter has sin for a father
and folly for a mother, would have meant to Wesley more than a figure
of speech. Nothing could rob him of a dry and bitter humour ("They
won't let me go to Bedlam," he wrote, "because they say I make the
inmates mad, nor into Newgate, because I make them wicked"); but
there was little in his creed or in the scenes of his labours to
promote cheerfulness of spirit.

This disciplining of nature, honest, erring human nature, which
could, if permitted, make out a fair case for itself, is not an
essential element of the evangelist's code. In the hands of men less
great than Wesley, it has been known to nullify the work of a lifetime.
The Lincolnshire farmer who, after listening to a sermon on Hell,
said to his wife, "Noa, Sally, it woant do. Noa constitootion could
stand it," expressed in his own fashion the healthy limit of
endurance. Our spiritual constitutions break under a pitiless strain.
When we read in the diary of Henry Alline, quoted by Dr. William James
in his "Varieties of Religious Experience," "On Wednesday the
twelfth I preached at a wedding, and had the happiness thereby to
be the means of excluding carnal mirth," we are not merely sorry for
the wedding guests, but beset by doubts as to their moral gain.

Why should Henry Martyn, that fervent young missionary who gave his
life for his cause with the straight-forward simplicity of a soldier,
have regretted so bitterly an occasional lapse into good spirits?
He was inhumanly serious, and he prayed by night and day to be saved
from his "besetting sin" of levity. He was consumed by the flame of
religious zeal, and he bewailed at grievous length, in his diary,
his "light, worldly spirit." He toiled unrestingly, taking no heed
of his own physical weakness, and he asked himself (when he had a
minute to spare) what would become of his soul, should he be struck
dead in a "careless mood." We have Mr. Birrell's word for it that
once, in an old book about India, he came across an after-dinner jest
of Henry Martyn's; but the idea was so incongruous that the startled
essayist was disposed to doubt the evidence of his senses. "There
must have been a mistake somewhere."

To such a man the world is not, and never can be, a tragi-comedy,
and laughter seems forever out of place. When a Madeira negress, a
good Christian after her benighted fashion, asked Martyn if the
English were ever baptized, he did not think the innocent question
funny, he thought it horrible. He found Saint Basil's writings
unsatisfactory, as lacking "evangelical truth"; and, could he have
heard this great doctor of the Church fling back a witticism in the
court of an angry magistrate, he would probably have felt more
doubtful than ever concerning the status of the early Fathers. It
is a relief to turn from the letters of Martyn, with their aloofness
from the cheerful currents of earth, to the letters of Bishop Heber,
who, albeit a missionary and a keen one, had always a laugh for the
absurdities which beset his wandering life. He could even tell with
relish the story of the drunken pedlar whom he met in Wales, and who
confided to him that, having sold all his wares, he was trying to
drink up the proceeds before he got home, lest his wife should take
the money away from him. Heber, using the argument which he felt would
be of most avail, tried to frighten the man into soberness by
picturing his wife's wrath; whereupon the adroit scamp replied that
he knew what _that_ would be, and had taken the precaution to have
his hair cut short, so that she could not get a grip on it. Martyn
could no more have chuckled over this depravity than he could have
chuckled over the fallen angels; but Saint Teresa could have laughed
outright, her wonderful, merry, infectious laugh; and have then
proceeded to plead, to scold, to threaten, to persuade, until a
chastened and repentant pedlar, money in hand, and some dim
promptings to goodness tugging at his heart, would have tramped
bravely and soberly home.

It is so much the custom to obliterate from religious memoirs all
vigorous human traits, all incidents which do not tend to edification,
and all contemporary criticism which cannot be smoothed into praise,
that what is left seems to the disheartened reader only a pale shadow
of life. It is hard to make any biography illustrate a theme, or prove
an argument; and the process by which such results are obtained is
so artificial as to be open to the charge of untruth. Because General
Havelock was a good Baptist as well as a good soldier, because he
expressed a belief in the efficacy of prayer (like Cromwell's "Trust
in God, and keep your powder dry "), and because he wrote to his wife,
when sent to the relief of Lucknow, "May God give me wisdom and
strength for the work!"--which, after all, was a natural enough thing
for any man to say,--he was made the subject of a memoir determinedly
and depressingly devout, in which his family letters were annotated
as though they were the epistles of Saint Paul. Yet this was the man
who, when Lucknow _was_ relieved, behaved as if nothing out of the
ordinary had happened to besiegers or besieged. "He shook hands with
me," wrote Lady Inglis in her journal, "and observed that he feared
we had suffered a great deal." That was all. He might have said as
much had the little garrison been incommoded by a spell of unusual
heat, or by an epidemic of measles.

As a matter of fact, piety is a by no means uncommon attribute of
soldiers, and there was no need on the part of the Reverend Mr. Brock,
who compiled these shadowy pages, to write as though General Havelock
had been a rare species of the genius military. We know that what
the English Puritans especially resented in Prince Rupert was his
insistence on regimental prayers. They could pardon his raids, his
breathless charges, his bewildering habit of appearing where he was
least expected or desired; but that he should usurp their own
especial prerogative of piety was more than they could bear. It is
probable that Rupert's own private petitions resembled the memorable
prayer offered by Sir Jacob Astley (a hardy old Cavalier who was both
devout and humorous) before the battle of Edgehill: "Oh, Lord, Thou
knowest how busy I must be this day. If I forget Thee, do not Thou
forget me. March on, boys!"

If it were not for a few illuminating anecdotes, and the thrice
blessed custom of letter writing, we should never know what manner
of thing human goodness, exalted human goodness, is; and so acquiesce
ignorantly in Sir Leslie Stephen's judgment. The sinners of the world
stand out clear and distinct, full of vitality, and of an engaging
candour. The saints of Heaven shine dimly through a nebulous haze
of hagiology. They are embodiments of inaccessible virtues, as
remote from us and from our neighbours as if they had lived on another
planet. There is no more use in asking us to imitate these
incomprehensible creatures than there would be in asking us to climb
by easy stages to the moon. Without some common denominator, sinner
and saint are as aloof from each other as sinner and archangel.
Without some clue to the saint's spiritual identity, the record of
his labours and hardships, fasts, visions, and miracles, offers
nothing more helpful than bewilderment. We may be edified or we may
be sceptical, according to our temperament and training; but a
profound unconcern devitalizes both scepticism and edification.
What have we mortals in common with these perfected prodigies of

It was Cardinal Newman who first entered a protest against "minced"
saints, against the pious and popular custom of chopping up human
records into lessons for the devout. He took exception to the
hagiological licence which assigns lofty motives to trivial actions.
"The saint from humility made no reply." "The saint was silent out
of compassion for the ignorance of the speaker." He invited us to
approach the Fathers of the Church in their unguarded moments, in
their ordinary avocations, in their moods of gayety and depression;
and, when we accepted the invitation, these figures, lofty and remote,
became imbued with life. It is one thing to know that Saint Chrysostom
retired at twenty-three to a monastery near Antioch, and there spent
six years in seclusion and study. It is another and more enlightening
thing to be made aware, through the medium of his own letters, that
he took this step with reasonable doubts and misgivings,--doubts
which extended to the freshness of the monastery bread, misgivings
which concerned themselves with the sweetness of the monastery oil.
And when we read these candid expressions of anxiety, Saint
Chrysostom, by virtue of his healthy young appetite, and his distaste
(which any poor sinner can share) for rancid oil, becomes a man and
a brother. It is yet more consoling to know that when well advanced
in sainthood, when old, austere, exiled, and suffering many
privations for conscience' sake, Chrysostom was still disposed to
be a trifle fastidious about his bread. He writes from Caesarea to
Theodora that he has at last found clean water to drink, and bread
which can be chewed. "Moreover, I no longer wash myself in broken
crockery, but have contrived some sort of bath; also I have a bed
to which I can confine myself."

If Saint Chrysostom possessed, according to Newman, a cheerful
temper, and "a sunniness of mind all his own," Saint Gregory of
Nazianzus was a fair humourist, and Saint Basil was a wit. "Pensive
playfulness" is Newman's phrase for Basil, but there was a speed
about his retorts which did not always savour of pensiveness. When
the furious governor of Pontus threatened to tear out his liver,
Basil, a confirmed invalid, replied suavely, "It is a kind intention.
My liver, as at present located, has given me nothing but

To Gregory, Basil was not only guide, philosopher, and friend; but
also a cherished target for his jests. It has been wisely said that
we cannot really love anybody at whom we never laugh. Gregory loved
Basil, revered him, and laughed at him. Does Basil complain, not
unnaturally, that Tiberina is cold, damp, and muddy, Gregory writes
to him unsympathetically that he is a "clean-footed, tip-toeing,
capering man." Does Basil promise a visit, Gregory sends word to
Amphilochus that he must have some fine pot-herbs, "lest Basil should
be hungry and cross." Does Gregory visit Basil in his solitude at
Pontus, he expresses in no measured terms his sense of the discomfort
he endures. It would be hard to find, in all the annals of
correspondence, a letter written with a more laudable and
well-defined intention of teasing its recipient, than the one
dispatched to Basil by Gregory after he has made good his escape from
the austerities of his friend's housekeeping.

"I have remembrance of the bread and of the broth,--so they were
named,--and shall remember them; how my teeth stuck in your hunches,
and lifted and heaved themselves as out of paste. You, indeed, will
set it out in tragic style, taking a sublime tone from your own
sufferings; but for me, unless that true Lady Bountiful, your mother,
had rescued me quickly, showing herself in my need like a haven to
the tempest-tossed, I had been dead long ago, getting myself little
honour, though much pity, from Pontic hospitality."

This is not precisely the tone in which the lives of the saints (of
any saints of any creeds) are written. Therefore is it better to read
what the saints say for themselves than what has been said about them.
This is not precisely the point of view which is presented unctuously
for our consideration, yet it makes all other points of view
intelligible. It is contrary to human nature to court privations.
We know that the saints did court them, and valued them as avenues
to grace. It is in accord with human nature to meet privations
cheerfully, and with a whimsical sense of discomfiture. When we hear
the echo of a saint's laughter ringing down the centuries, we have
a clue to his identity; not to his whole and heroic self, but to that
portion of him which we can best understand, and with which we claim
some humble brotherhood. We ourselves are not hunting assiduously
for hardships; but which one of us has not summoned up courage enough
to laugh in the face of disaster?

There is no reading less conducive to good spirits than the recitals
of missionaries, or than such pitiless records as those compiled by
Dr. Thomas William Marshall in his two portly volumes on "Christian
Missions." The heathen, as portrayed by Dr. Marshall, do not in the
least resemble the heathen made familiar to us by the hymns and tracts
of our infancy. So far from calling on us to deliver their land "from
error's chain," they mete out prompt and cruel death to their
deliverers. So far from thirsting for Gospel truths, they thirst for
the blood of the intruders. This is frankly discouraging, and we
could never read so many pages of disagreeable happenings, were it
not for the gayety of the letters which Dr. Marshall quotes, and which
deal less in heroics than in pleasantries. Such men as Bishop Berneux,
the Abbe Retord, and Father Feron, missionaries in Cochin-China and
Corea, all possessed that protective sense of humour which kept up
their spirits and their enthusiasms. Father Feron, for example,
hidden away in the "Valley of the Pines," six hundred miles from
safety, writes to his sister in the autumn of 1858:--

"I am lodged in one of the finest houses in the village, that of the
catechist, an opulent man. It is considered to be worth a pound
sterling. Do not laugh; there are some of the value of eightpence.
My room has a sheet of paper for a door, the rain filters through
my grass-covered roof as fast as it falls outside, and two large
kettles barely suffice to receive it. ... The Prophet Elisha, at the
house of the Shunamite, had for furniture a bed, a table, a chair,
and a candlestick,--four pieces in all. No superfluity there. Now
if I search well, I can also find four articles in my room; a wooden
candlestick, a trunk, a pair of shoes, and a pipe. Bed none, chairs
none, table none. Am I, then, richer or poorer than the Prophet? It
is not an easy question to answer, for, granting that his quarters
were more comfortable than mine, yet none of the things belonged to
him; while in my case, although the candlestick is borrowed from the
chapel, and the trunk from Monseigneur Berneux, the shoes (worn only
when I say Mass) and the pipe are my very own."

Surely if one chanced to be the sister of a missionary in Corea, and
apprehensive, with good cause, of his personal safety, this is the
kind of a letter one would be glad to receive. The comfort of finding
one's brother disinclined to take what Saint Gregory calls "a sublime
tone" would tend--illogically, I own,--to ease the burden of anxiety.
Even the remote reader, sick of discouraging details, experiences
a renewal of confidence, and all because Father Feron's good humour
is of the common kind which we can best understand, and with which
it befits every one of us to meet the vicissitudes of life.

I have said that the ardent reformer is seldom gay. Small wonder,
when his eyes are turned upon the dark places of earth, and his whole
strength is consumed in combat. Yet Saint Teresa, the most
redoubtable reformer of her day, was gay. No other word expresses
the quality of her gladness. She was not only spiritually serene,
she was humanly gay, and this in the face of acute ill-health, and
many profound discouragements. We have the evidence of all her
contemporaries,--friends, nuns, patrons, and confessors; and we
have the far more enduring testimony of her letters, in proof of this
mirthfulness of spirit, which won its way into hearts, and lightened
the austerities of her rule. "A very cheerful and gentle disposition,
an excellent temper, and absolutely void of melancholy," wrote
Ribera. "So merry that when she laughed, every one laughed with her,
but very grave when she was serious."

There is a strain of humour, a delicate and somewhat biting wit in
the correspondence of Saint Teresa, and in her admonitions to her
nuns. There is also an inspired common sense which we hardly expect
to find in the writings of a religious and a mystic. But Teresa was
not withdrawn from the world. She travelled incessantly from one end
of Spain to the other, establishing new foundations, visiting her
convents, and dealing with all classes of men, from the soldier to
the priest, from the prince to the peasant. The severity of her
discipline was tempered by a tolerant and half-amused insight into
the pardonable foibles of humanity. She held back her nuns with one
hand from "the frenzy of self-mortification," which is the mainstay
of spiritual vanity, and with the other hand from a too solicitous
regard for their own comfort and convenience. They were not to
consider that the fear of a headache,--a non-existent headache
threatening the future--was sufficient excuse for absenting
themselves from choir; and, if they were too ailing to practise any
other austerities, the rule of silence, she reminded them, could do
the feeblest no harm. "Do not contend wordily over matters of no
consequence," was her counsel of perfection. "Fly a thousand leagues
from such observations as 'You see I was right,' or 'They did me an

Small wonder that peace reigned among the discalced Carmelites so
long as Teresa ruled. Practical and fearless (save when a lizard ran
up her sleeve, on which occasion she confesses she nearly "died of
fright,") her much-sought advice was always on the side of reason.
Asceticism she prized; dirt she abhorred. "For the love of Heaven,"
she wrote to the Provincial, Gratian, then occupied with his first
foundation of discalced friars, "let your fraternity be careful that
they have clean beds and tablecloths, even though it be more
expensive, for it is a terrible thing not to be cleanly." No
persuasion could induce her to retain a novice whom she believed to
be unfitted for her rule:--"We women are not so easy to know," was
her scornful reply to the Jesuit, Olea, who held his judgment in such
matters to be infallible; but nevertheless her practical soul
yearned over a well-dowered nun. When an "excellent novice" with a
fortune of six thousand ducats presented herself at the gates of the
poverty-stricken convent in Seville, Teresa, then in Avila, was
consumed with anxiety lest such an acquisition should, through some
blunder, be lost. "For the love of God," wrote the wise old saint
to the prioress in Seville, "if she enters, bear with a few defects,
for well does she deserve it."

This is not the type of anecdote which looms large in the volumes
of "minced saints" prepared for pious readers, and its absence has
accustomed us to dissever humour from sanctity. But a candid soul
is, as a rule, a humorous soul, awake to the tragi-comic aspect of
life, and immaculately free from self-deception. And to such souls,
cast like Teresa's in heroic mould, comes the perception of great
moral truths, together with the sturdy strength which supports
enthusiasm in the face of human disabilities. They are the
lantern-bearers of every age, of every race, of every creed, _les
ames bien nees_ whom it behooves us to approach fearlessly out of
the darkness, for so only can we hope to understand.

The Nervous Strain

"Which fiddle-strings is weakness to expredge my nerves this
night."--MRS. GAMP.

Anna Robeson Burr, in her scholarly analysis of the world's great
autobiographies, has found occasion to compare the sufferings of the
American woman under the average conditions of life with the
endurance of the woman who, three hundred years ago, confronted dire
vicissitudes with something closely akin to insensibility.
"To-day," says Mrs. Burr, "a child's illness, an over-gay season,
the loss of an investment, a family jar,--these are accepted as
sufficient cause for over-strained nerves and temporary retirement
to a sanitarium. _Then_, war, rapine, fire, sword, prolonged and
mortal peril, were considered as furnishing no excuse to men or women
for altering the habits, or slackening the energies, of their daily

As a matter of fact, Isabella d' Este witnessed the sacking of Rome
without so much as thinking of nervous prostration. This was nearly
four hundred years ago, but it is the high-water mark of feminine
fortitude. To live through such days and nights of horror, and emerge
therefrom with unimpaired vitality, and unquenched love for a
beautiful and dangerous world, is to rob the words "shock" and
"strain" of all dignity and meaning. To resume at once the
interrupted duties and pleasures of life was, for the Marchioness
of Mantua, obligatory; but none the less we marvel that she could
play her role so well.

A hundred and thirty years later, Sir Ralph Verney, an exiled
royalist, sent his young wife back to England to petition Parliament
for the restoration of his sequestrated estates. Lady Verney's path
was beset by difficulties and dangers. She had few friends and many
enemies, little money and cruel cares. She was, it is needless to
state, pregnant when she left France, and paused in her work long
enough to bear her husband "a lusty boy"; after which Sir Ralph writes
that he fears she is neglecting her guitar, and urges her to practise
some new music before she returns to the Continent.

Such pages of history make tonic reading for comfortable ladies who,
in their comfortable homes, are bidden by their comfortable doctors
to avoid the strain of anything and everything which makes the game
of life worth living. It is our wont to think of our
great-great-great-grandmothers as spending their days in
undisturbed tranquillity. We take imaginary naps in their quiet
rooms, envying the serenity of an existence unvexed by telegrams,
telephones, clubs, lectures, committee-meetings, suffrage
demonstrations, and societies for harrying our neighbours. How sweet
and still those spacious rooms must have been! What was the remote
tinkling of a harp, compared to pianolas, and phonographs, and all
the infernal contrivances of science for producing and perpetuating
noise? What was a fear of ghosts compared to a knowledge of germs?
What was repeated child-bearing, or occasional smallpox, compared
to the "over-pressure" upon "delicate organisms," which is making
the fortunes of doctors to-day?

So we argue. Yet in good truth our ancestors had their share of
pressure, and more than their share of ill-health. The stomach was
the same ungrateful and rebellious organ then that it is now. Nature
was the same strict accountant then that she is now, and balanced
her debit and credit columns with the same relentless accuracy. The
"liver" of the last century has become, we are told, the "nerves"
of to-day; which transmigration should be a bond of sympathy between
the new woman and that unchangeable article, man. We have warmer
spirits and a higher vitality than our home-keeping
great-grandmothers ever had. We are seldom hysterical, and we never
faint. If we are gay, our gayeties involve less exposure and fatigue.
If we are serious-minded, our attitude towards our own errors is one
of unaffected leniency. That active, lively, all-embracing
assurance of eternal damnation, which was part of John Wesley's
vigorous creed, might have broken down the nervous system of a
mollusk. The modern nurse, jealously guarding her patient from all
but the neutralities of life, may be pleased to know that when Wesley
made his memorable voyage to Savannah, a young woman on board the
ship gave birth to her first child; and Wesley's journal is full of
deep concern, because the other women about her failed to improve
the occasion by exhorting the poor tormented creature "to fear Him
who is able to inflict sharper pains than these."

As for the industrious idleness which is held to blame for the
wrecking of our nervous systems, it was not unknown to an earlier
generation. Madame Le Brun assures us that, in her youth,
pleasure-loving people would leave Brussels early in the morning,
travel all day to Paris, to hear the opera, and travel all night home.
"That," she observes,--as well she may,--"was considered being fond
of the opera." A paragraph in one of Horace Walpole's letters gives
us the record of a day and a night in the life of an English
lady,--sixteen hours of "strain" which would put New York to the
blush. "I heard the Duchess of Gordon's journal of last Monday," he
writes to Miss Berry in the spring of 1791. "She first went to hear
Handel's music in the Abbey; she then clambered over the benches,
and went to Hastings's trial in the Hall; after dinner, to the play;
then to Lady Lucan's assembly; after that to Ranelagh, and returned
to Mrs. Hobart's faro-table; gave a ball herself in the evening of
that morning, into which she must have got a good way; and set out
for Scotland the next day. Hercules could not have accomplished a
quarter of her labours in the same space of time."

Human happiness was not to this gay Gordon a "painless languor"; and
if she failed to have nervous prostration--under another name--she
was cheated of her dues. Wear-and-tear plus luxury is said to break
down the human system more rapidly than wear-and-tear plus want; but
perhaps wear-and-tear plus pensive self-consideration is the most
destructive agent of all. "Apres tout, c'est un monde passable"; and
the Duchess of Gordon was too busy acquainting herself with this fact
to count the costs, or even pay the penalty.

One thing is sure,--we cannot live in the world without vexation and
without fatigue. We are bidden to avoid both, just as we are bidden
to avoid an injudicious meal, a restless night, a close and crowded
room, an uncomfortable sensation of any kind,--as if these things
were not the small coin of existence. An American doctor who was
delicately swathing his nervous patient in cotton wool, explained
that, as part of the process, she must be secluded from everything
unpleasant. No disturbing news must be told her. No needless
contradiction must be offered her. No disagreeable word must be
spoken to her. "But doctor," said the lady, who had long before
retired with her nerves from all lively contact with realities, "who
is there that would dream of saying anything disagreeable to me?"
"Madam," retorted the physician, irritated for once into
unprofessional candour, "have you then no family?"

There _is_ a bracing quality about family criticism, if we are strong
enough to bear its veracities. What makes it so useful is that it
recognizes existing conditions. All the well-meant wisdom of the
"Don't Worry" books is based upon immunity from common sensations
and from everyday experience. We must--unless we are insensate--take
our share of worry along with our share of mishaps. All the kindly
counsellors who, in scientific journals, entreat us to keep on tap
"a vivid hope, a cheerful resolve, an absorbing interest," by way
of nerve-tonic, forget that these remedies do not grow under glass.
They are hardy plants, springing naturally in eager and animated
natures. Artificial remedies might be efficacious in an artificial
world. In a real world, the best we can do is to meet the plagues
of life as Dick Turpin met the hangman's noose, "with manly
resignation, though with considerable disgust." Moreover,
disagreeable things are often very stimulating. A visit to some
beautiful little rural almshouses in England convinced me that what
kept the old inmates alert and in love with life was, not the charm
of their bright-coloured gardens, nor the comfort of their cottage
hearths, but the vital jealousies and animosities which pricked
their sluggish blood to tingling.

There are prophets who predict the downfall of the human race through
undue mental development, who foresee us (flatteringly, I must say)
winding up the world's history in a kind of intellectual apotheosis.
They write distressing pages about the strain of study in schools,
the strain of examinations, the strain of competition, the strain
of night-work, when children ought to be in bed, the strain of
day-work, when they ought to be at play. An article on "Nerves and
Over-Pressure" in the "Dublin Review" conveys the impression that
little boys and girls are dangerously absorbed in their lessons, and
draws a fearful picture of these poor innocents literally "grinding
from babyhood." It is over-study (an evil from which our remote
ancestors were wholly and happily exempt) which lays, so we are told,
the foundation of all our nervous disorders. It is this wasting
ambition which exhausts the spring of childhood and the vitality of

There must be some foundation for fears so often expressed; though
when we look at the blooming boys and girls of our acquaintance, with
their placid ignorance and their love of fun, their glory in
athletics and their transparent contempt for learning, it is hard
to believe that they are breaking down their constitutions by study.
Nor is it possible to acquire even the most modest substitute for
education without some effort. The carefully fostered theory that
school-work can be made easy and enjoyable breaks down as soon as
anything, however trivial, has to be learned.

Life is a real thing in the school-room and in the nursery; and
children--left to their own devices--accept it with wonderful
courage and sagacity. If we allow to their souls some noble and free
expansion, they may be trusted to divert themselves from that fretful
self-consciousness which the nurse calls naughtiness, and the doctor,
nerves. A little wholesome neglect, a little discipline, plenty of
play, and a fair chance to be glad and sorry as the hours swing
by,--these things are not too much to grant to childhood. That
careful coddling which deprives a child of all delicate and strong
emotions lest it be saddened, or excited, or alarmed, leaves it
dangerously soft of fibre. Coleridge, an unhappy little lad at school,
was lifted out of his own troubles by an acquaintance with the heroic
sorrows of the world. There is no page of history, however dark, there
is no beautiful old tale, however tragic, which does not impart some
strength and some distinction to the awakening mind. It is possible
to overrate the superlative merits of insipidity as a mental and
moral force in the development of youth.

There are people who surrender themselves without reserve to
needless activities, who have a real affection for telephones, and
district messengers, and the importunities of their daily mail. If
they are women, they put special delivery stamps on letters which
would lose nothing by a month's delay. If they are men, they exult
in the thought that they can be reached by wireless telegraphy on
mid-ocean. We are apt to think of these men and women as painful
products of our own time and of our own land; but they have probably
existed since the building of the Tower of Babel,--a nerve-racking
piece of work which gave peculiar scope to strenuous and impotent

A woman whose every action is hurried, whose every hour is open to
disturbance, whose every breath is drawn with superfluous emphasis,
will talk about the nervous strain under which she is living, as
though dining out and paying the cook's wages were the things which
are breaking her down. The remedy proposed for such "strain" is
withdrawal from the healthy buffetings of life,--not for three days,
as Burke withdrew in order that he might read "Evelina," and be rested
and refreshed thereby; but long enough to permit of the notion that
immunity from buffetings is a possible condition of existence,--of
all errors, the most irretrievable.

It has been many centuries since Marcus Aurelius observed the fretful
disquiet of Rome, which must have been strikingly like our fretful
disquiet to-day, and proffered counsel, unheeded then as now: "Take
pleasure in one thing and rest in it, passing from one social act
to another, thinking of God."

The Girl Graduate

"When I find learning and wisdom united in one person, I do not wait
to consider the sex; I bend in admiration."--LA BRUYERE.

We shall never know, though we shall always wonder, why certain
phrases, carelessly flung to us by poet or by orator, should be
endowed with regrettable vitality. When Tennnyson wrote that mocking
line about "sweet girl graduates in their golden hair," he could
hardly have surmised that it would be quoted exuberantly year after
weary year, or that with each successive June it would reappear as
the inspiration of flowery editorials, and of pictures, monotonously
amorous, in our illustrated journals. Perhaps in view of the serious
statistics which have for some time past girdled the woman student,
statistics dealing exhaustively with her honours, her illnesses, her
somewhat nebulous achievements, and the size of her infant families,
it is as well to realize that the big, unlettered, easy-going world
regards her still from the standpoint of golden hair, and of the
undying charm of immaturity.

In justice to the girl graduate, it must be said that she takes
herself simply and sanely. It is not her fault that statisticians
note down every breath she draws; and many of their most heartrending
allegations have passed into college jokes, traditional jokes, fated
to descend from senior to freshman for happy years to come. The
student learns in the give-and-take of communal life to laugh at many
things, partly from sheer high spirits, partly from youthful
cynicism, and the habit of sharpening her wit against her neighbour's.
It is commonly believed that she is an unduly serious young person
with an insatiable craving for knowledge; in reality she is often
as healthily unresponsive as is her Yale or Harvard brother. If she
cannot yet weave her modest acquirements into the tissue of her life
as unconcernedly as her brother does, it is not because she has been
educated beyond her mental capacity: it is because social conditions
are not for her as inevitable as they are for him.

Things were simpler in the old days, when college meant for a woman
the special training needed for a career; when, battling often with
poverty, she made every sacrifice for the education which would give
her work a market value; and when all she asked in return was the
dignity of self-support. Now many girls, unspurred by necessity or
by ambition, enter college because they are keen for personal and
intellectual freedom, because they desire the activities and the
pleasures which college generously gives. They bring with them some
traditions of scholarship, and some knowledge of the world, with a
corresponding elasticity of judgment. They may or may not be good
students, but their influence makes for serenity and balance. Their
four years' course lacks, however, a definite goal. It is a training
for life, as is the four years' course of their Yale or Harvard
brothers, but with this difference,--the college woman's life is
still open to adjustment.

Often it adjusts itself along time-honoured lines, and with
time-honoured results. In this happy event, some mystic figures are
recalculated in scientific journals, the graduate's babies are added
to the fractional birth-rate accredited to the college woman, her
family and friends consider that, individually, she has settled the
whole vexed question of education and domesticity, and the world,
enamoured always of the traditional type of femininity, goes on its
way rejoicing. If, however, the graduate evinces no inclination for
social and domestic delights, if she longs to do some definite work,
to breathe the breath of man's activities, and to guide herself, as
a man must do, through the intricate mazes of life, it is the part
of justice and of wisdom to let her try. Nothing steadies the restless
soul like work,--real work which has an economic value, and is
measured by the standards of the world. The college woman has been
trained to independence of thought, and to a wide reasonableness of
outlook. She has also received some equipment in the way of
knowledge; not more, perhaps, than could be easily absorbed in the
ordinary routine of life, but enough to give her a fair start in
whatever field of industry she enters. If she develops into
efficiency, if she makes good her hold upon work, she silences her
critics. If she fails, and can, in Stevenson's noble words, "take
honourable defeat to be a form of victory," she has not wasted her

It is strange that the advantages of a college course for
girls--advantages solid and reckonable--should be still so sharply
questioned by men and women of the world. It is stranger still that
its earnest advocates should claim for it in a special manner the
few merits it does not possess. When President David Starr Jordan,
of Leland Stanford University, tells us that "it is hardly necessary
among intelligent men and women to argue that a good woman is a better
one for having received a college education; anything short of this
is inadequate for the demands of modern life and modern culture";
we can only echo the words of the wise cat in Mr. Froude's "Cat's
Pilgrimage," "There may be truth in what you say, but your view is

Goodness, indeed, is not a matter easily opened to discussion. Who
can pigeonhole goodness, or assign it a locality? But culture (if
by the word we mean that common understanding of the world's best
traditions which enables us to meet one another with mental ease)
is not the fair fruit of a college education. It is primarily a matter
of inheritance, of lifelong surroundings, of temperament, of
delicacy of taste, of early and vivid impressions. It is often found
in college, but it is not a collegiate product. The steady and
absorbing work demanded of a student who is seeking a degree,
precludes wide wanderings "in the realms of gold." If, in her four
years of study, she has gained some solid knowledge of one or two
subjects, with a power of approach in other directions, she has done
well, and justified the wisdom of the group system, which makes for
intellectual discipline and real attainments.

In households where there is little education, the college daughter
is reverenced for what she knows,--for her Latin, her mathematics,
her biology. What she does not know, being also unknown to her family,
causes no dismay. In households where the standard of cultivation
is high, the college daughter is made the subject of good-humoured
ridicule, because she lacks the general information of her
sisters,--because she has never heard of Abelard and Heloise, of
Graham of Claverhouse, of "The Beggars' Opera." Nobody expects the
college son to know these things, or is in the least surprised when
he does not; but the college daughter is supposed to be the repository
of universal erudition. Every now and then somebody rushes into print
with indignant illustrations of her ignorance, as though ignorance
were not the one common possession of mankind. Those of us who are
not undergoing examinations are not driven to reveal it,--a
comfortable circumstance, which need not, however, make us
unreasonably proud.

Therefore, when we are told of sophomores who place Shakespeare in
the twelfth, and Dickens in the seventeenth century, who are under
the impression that "Don Quixote" flowed from the fertile pen of Mr.
Marion Crawford, and who are not aware that a gentleman named James
Boswell wrote a most entertaining life of another gentleman named
Samuel Johnson, we need not lift up horror-stricken hands to Heaven,
but call to mind how many other things there are in this world to
know. That a girl student should mistake "_Launcelot Gobbo_" for King
Arthur's knight is not a matter of surprise to one who remembers how
three young men, graduates of the oldest and proudest colleges in
the land, placidly confessed ignorance of "_Petruchio_."
Shakespeare, after all, belongs to "the realms of gold." The higher
education, as now understood, permits the student to escape him, and
to escape the Bible as well. As a consequence of these exemptions,
a bachelor of arts may be, and often is, unable to meet his
intellectual equals with mental ease. Allusions that have passed
into the common vocabulary of cultivated men and women have no
meaning for him. Does not Mr. Andrew Lang tell us of an Oxford student
who wanted to know what people meant when they said "hankering after
the flesh-pots of Egypt"; and has not the present writer been asked
by a Harvard graduate if she could remember a Joseph, "somewhere"
in the Old Testament, who was "decoyed into Egypt by a coat of many

To measure _any_ form of schooling by its direct results is to narrow
a wide issue to insignificance. The by-products of education are the
things which count. It has been said by an admirable educator that
the direct results obtained from Eton and Rugby are a few copies of
indifferent Latin verse; the by-products are the young men who run
the Indian Empire. We may be startled for a moment by discovering
a student of political economy to be wholly and happily ignorant of
Mr. Lloyd-George's "Budget," the most vivid object-lesson of our
day; but how many Americans who talked about the budget, and had
impassioned views on the subject, knew what it really contained? If
the student's intelligence is so trained that she has some adequate
grasp of economics, if she has been lifted once and forever out of
the Robin Hood school of political economy, which is so dear to a
woman's generous heart, it matters little how early or how late she
becomes acquainted with the history of her own time. "Depend upon
it," said the wise Dr. Johnson, whom undergraduates are sometimes
wont to slight, "no woman was ever the worse for sense and knowledge."
It was his habit to rest a superstructure on foundations.

The college graduate is far more immature than her characteristic
self-reliance leads us to suppose. By her side, the girl who has left
school at eighteen, and has lived four years in the world, is weighted
with experience. The extension of youth is surely as great a boon
to women as to men. There is time enough ahead of all of us in which
to grow old and circumspect. For four years the student's interests
have been keen and concentrated, the healthy, limited interests of
a community. For four years her pleasures have been simple and sane.
For four years her ambitions, like the ambitions of her college
brother, have been as deeply concerned with athletics as with
text-books. She has had a better chance for physical development than
if she had "come out" at eighteen. Her college life has been
exceptionally happy, because its complications have been few, and
its freedom as wide as wisdom would permit. The system of
self-government, now introduced into the colleges, has justified
itself beyond all questioning. It has promoted a clear understanding
of honour, it has taught the student the value of discipline, it has
lent dignity to the routine of her life.

Some reverence for the laws ourselves have made,

is surely the first and best lesson which the citizen of a republic
needs to learn.

Writers on educational themes have pointed out--with tremors of
apprehension--that while a woman student working among men at a
foreign university is mentally stimulated by her surroundings,
stimulated often to the point of scholarship, her development is not
uniform and normal. She is always in danger of sinking her femininity,
or of overemphasizing it. In the former case, she loses charm and
personality; in the latter, sanity and balance. From both perils the
college woman in the United States is happily exempt. President
Jordan offers as a plea for co-education the healthy sense of
companionship between boy and girl students. "There is less of
silliness and folly," he says, "where man is not a novelty." But,
in truth, this particular form of silliness and folly is at a discount
in every woman's college, simply because the interests and
occupations which crowd the student's day leave little room for its

The three best things about the college life of girls are its attitude
towards money (an attitude which contrasts sharply with that of many
private schools), its attitude towards social disparities, and its
attitude towards men. The atmosphere of the college is reasonably
democratic. Like gravitates towards like, and a similarity of
background and tradition forms a natural basis for companionship;
but there is tolerance for other backgrounds which are not without
dignity, though they may be lacking in distinction. Poverty is
admittedly inconvenient, but carries no reproach. Light hearts and
jesting tongues minimize its discomforts. I well remember when the
coming of Madame Bernhardt to Philadelphia in 1901 fired the students
of Bryn Mawr College with the justifiable ambition to see this great
actress in all her finer roles. Those who had money spent it royally.
Those who had none offered their possessions,--books, ornaments,
tea-cups, for sale. "Such a chance to buy bargains," observed one
young spendthrift, who had been endeavouring to dispose of all she
needed most; "but unluckily everybody wants to sell. We know now the
importance of the consuming classes, and how useful in their modest
way some idle rich would be."

That large and influential portion of the community which does not
know its own mind, and which the rest of the world is always
endeavouring to conciliate, is still divided between its honest
desire to educate women, and its fear lest the woman, when educated,
may lose the conservative force which is her most valuable asset.
That small and combative portion of the community which knows its
own mind accurately, and which always demands the impossible, is
determined that the college girl shall betake herself to practical
pursuits, that she shall wedge into her four years of work, courses
in domestic science, the chemistry of food, nursing, dressmaking,
house sanitation, pedagogy, and that blight of the
nursery,--child-study. These are the things, we are often told,
which it behooves a woman to know, and by the mastery of which she
is able, so says a censorious writer in the "Educational Review,"
"to repay in some measure her debt to man, who has extended to her
the benefits of a higher education."

It is to be feared that the girl graduate, the youthful bachelor of
arts who steps smiling through the serried ranks of students, her
heart beating gladly in response to their generous applause, has
little thought of repaying her debt to man. Somebody has made an
address which she was too nervous to hear, and has affirmed, with
that impressiveness which we all lend to our easiest generalizations,
that the purpose of college is to give women a broad and liberal
education, and, at the same time, to preserve and develop the
characteristics of a complete womanhood. Somebody else has followed
up the address with a few fervent remarks, declaring that the only
proof of competence is performance. "The world belongs to those who
have stormed it." This last ringing sentence--delivered with an
almost defiant air of originality--has perhaps caught the graduate's
ear, but its familiar cadence awakened no response. Has she not
already stormed the world by taking her degree, and does not the world
belong to her, in any case, by virtue of her youth and inexperience?
Never, while she lives, will it be so completely hers as on the day
of her graduation. Let her enjoy her possession while she may.

And her equipment? Well, those of us who call to mind the medley of
unstable facts, untenable theories, and undesirable accomplishments,
which was _our_ substitute for education, deem her solidly informed.
If the wisdom of the college president has rescued her from domestic
science, and her own common sense has steered her clear of art, she
has had a chance, in four years of study, to lay the foundation of
knowledge. Her vocabulary is curiously limited. At her age, her
grandmother, if a gentlewoman, used more words, and used them better.
But then her grandmother had not associated exclusively with
youthful companions. The graduate has serious views of life, which
are not amiss, and a healthy sense of humour to enliven them. She
is resourceful, honourable, and pathetically self-reliant. In her
highest and happiest development, she merits the noble words in which
an old Ferrara chronicler praises the loveliest and the most maligned
woman in all history: "The lady is keen and intellectual, joyous and
human, and possesses good reasoning powers."

To balance these permanent gains, there are some temporary losses.
The college student, if she does not take up a definite line of work,
is apt, for a time at least, to be unquiet. That quality so lovingly
described by Peacock as "stayathomeativeness" is her least
noticeable characteristic. The smiling discharge of uncongenial
social duties, which disciplines the woman of the world, seems to
her unseeing eyes a waste of time and opportunities. She has read
little, and that little, not for "human delight." Excellence in
literature has been pointed out to her, starred and double-starred,
like Baedeker's cathedrals. She has been taught the value of
standards, and has been spared the groping of the undirected reader,
who builds up her own standards slowly and hesitatingly by an endless
process of comparison. The saving in time is beneficial, and some
defects in taste have been remedied. But human delight does not
respond to authority. It is the hour of rapturous reading and the
power of secret thinking which make for personal distinction. The
shipwreck of education, says Dr. William James, is to be unable,
after years of study, to recognize unticketed eminence. The best
result obtainable from college, with its liberal and honourable
traditions, is that training in the humanities which lifts the raw
boy and girl into the ranks of the understanding; enabling them to
sympathize with men's mistakes, to feel the beauty of lost causes,
the pathos of misguided epochs, "the ceaseless whisper of permanent

The Estranging Sea

   "God bless the narrow sea which keeps her off,
    And keeps our Britain whole within itself."

So speaks "the Tory member's elder son," in "The Princess":--

   "... God bless the narrow seas!
    I wish they were a whole Atlantic broad";

and the transatlantic reader, pausing to digest this conservative
sentiment, wonders what difference a thousand leagues would make.
If the little strip of roughened water which divides Dover from
Calais were twice the ocean's breadth, could the division be any
wider and deeper than it is?

We Americans cross from continent to continent, and are merged
blissfully into the Old-World life. Inured from infancy to contrasts,
we seldom resent the unfamiliar. Our attitude towards it is, for the
most part, frankly receptive, and full of joyous possibilities. We
take kindly, or at least tolerantly, to foreign creeds and customs.
We fail to be affronted by what we do not understand. We are not
without a shadowy conviction that there may be other points of view
than our own, other beliefs than those we have been taught to cherish.
Mr. Birrell, endeavouring to account for Charlotte Bronte's
hostility to the Belgians,--who had been uncommonly kind to
her,--says that she "had never any patience" with Catholicism. The
remark invites the reply of the Papal chamberlain to Prince Herbert
Bismarck, when that nobleman, being in attendance upon the Emperor,
pushed rudely--and unbidden--into Pope Leo's audience chamber. "I
am Prince Herbert Bismarck," shouted the German. "That," said the
urbane Italian, "explains, but does not excuse your conduct."

So much has been said and written about England's "splendid
isolation," the phrase has grown so familiar to English eyes and ears,
that the political and social attitude which it represents is a
source of pride to thousands of Englishmen who are intelligent enough
to know what isolation costs. "It is of the utmost importance," says
the "Spectator," "that we should understand that the temper with
which England regards the other states of Europe, and the temper with
which those states regard her, is absolutely different." And then,
with ill-concealed elation, the writer adds: "The English are the
most universally disliked nation on the face of the earth."

Diplomatically, this may be true, though it is hard to see why.
Socially and individually, it is not true at all. The English possess
too many agreeable traits to permit them to be as much disliked as
they think and hope they are. Even on the Continent, even in that
strange tourist world where hostilities grow apace, where the
courtesies of life are relaxed, and where every nationality presents
its least lovable aspect, the English can never aspire to the prize
of unpopularity. They are too silent, too clean, too handsome, too
fond of fresh air, too schooled in the laws of justice which compel
them to acknowledge--however reluctantly--the rights of other men.
They are certainly uncivil, but that is a matter of no great moment.
We do not demand that our fellow tourists should be urbane, but that
they should evince a sense of propriety in their behaviour, that they
should be decently reluctant to annoy. There is distinction in the
Englishman's quietude, and in his innate respect for order.

But why should he covet alienation? Why should he dread popularity,
lest it imply that he resembles other men? When the tide of fortune
turned in the South African war, and the news of the relief of
Mafeking drove London mad with joy, there were Englishmen who
expressed grave alarm at the fervid demonstrations of the populace.
England, they said, was wont to take her defeats without despondency,
and her victories without elation. They feared the national
character was changing, and becoming more like the character of
Frenchmen and Americans.

This apprehension--happily unfounded--was very insular and very
English. National traits are, as a matter of fact, as enduring as
the mountain-tops. They survive all change of policies, all shifting
of boundary lines, all expansion and contraction of dominion. When
Froissart tranquilly observed, "The English are affable to no other
nation than themselves," he spoke for the centuries to come.
Sorbieres, who visited England in 1663, who loved the English turf,
hated and feared the English cooking, and deeply admired his
hospitable English hosts, admitted that the nation had "a propensity
to scorn all the rest of the world." The famous verdict, "_Les Anglais
sont justes, mais pas bons_," crystallizes the judgment of time.
Foreign opinion is necessarily an imperfect diagnosis, but it has
its value to the open mind. He is a wise man who heeds it, and a dull
man who holds it in derision. When an English writer in "Macmillan"
remarks with airy contempt that French criticisms on England have
"all the piquancy of a woman's criticisms on a man," the
American--standing outside the ring--is amused by this superb
simplicity of self-conceit.

Fear of a French invasion and the carefully nurtured detestation of
the Papacy,--these two controlling influences must be held
responsible for prejudices too deep to be fathomed, too strong to
be overcome. "We do naturally hate the French," observes Mr. Pepys,
with genial candour; and this ordinary, everyday prejudice darkened
into fury when Napoleon's conquests menaced the world. Our school
histories have taught us (it is the happy privilege of a school
history to teach us many things which make no impression on our minds)
that for ten years England apprehended a descent upon her shores;
but we cannot realize what the apprehension meant, how it ate its
way into the hearts of men, until we stumble upon some such paragraph
as this, from a letter of Lord Jeffrey's, written to Francis Horner
in the winter of 1808: "For my honest impression is that Bonaparte
will be in Dublin in about fifteen months, perhaps. And then, if I
survive, I shall try to go to America."

"If I survive!" What wonder that Jeffrey, who was a clear-headed,
unimaginative man, cherished all his life a cold hostility to France?
What wonder that the painter Haydon, who was highly imaginative and
not in the least clear-headed, felt such hostility to be an essential
part of patriotism? "In _my_ day," he writes in his journal, "boys
were born, nursed, and grew up, hating and to hate the name of
Frenchman." He did hate it with all his heart, but then his earliest
recollection--when he was but four years old--was seeing his mother
lying on her sofa and crying bitterly. He crept up to her, puzzled
and frightened, poor baby, and she sobbed out: "They have cut off
the Queen of France's head, my dear." Such an ineffaceable
recollection colours childhood and sets character. It is an
education for life.

As for the Papacy,--well, years have softened but not destroyed
England's hereditary detestation of Rome. The easy tolerance of the
American for any religion, or for all religions, or for no religion
at all, is the natural outcome of a mixed nationality, and of a
tolerably serene background. We have shed very little of our blood,
or of our neighbour's blood, for the faith that was in us, or in him;
and, during the past half-century, forbearance has broadened into
unconcern. Even the occasional refusal of a pastor to allow a cleric
of another denomination to preach in his church, can hardly be deemed
a violent form of persecution.

What American author, for example, can recall such childish memories
as those which Mr. Edmund Gosse describes with illuminating candour
in "Father and Son"? "We welcomed any social disorder in any part
of Italy, as likely to be annoying to the Papacy. If there was a
custom-house officer stabbed in a fracas at Sassari, we gave loud
thanks that liberty and light were breaking in upon Sardinia." What
American scientist, taking a holiday in Italy, ever carried around
with him such uncomfortable sensations as those described by
Professor Huxley in some of his Roman letters? "I must have a strong
strain of Puritan blood in me somewhere," he writes to Sir John
Donnelly, after a morning spent at Saint Peter's, "for I am possessed
with a desire to arise and slay the whole brood of idolaters, whenever
I assist at one of these services."

Save and except Miss Georgiana Podsnap's faltering fancy for
murdering her partners at a ball, this is the most bloodthirsty
sentiment on record, and suggests but a limited enjoyment of a really
beautiful service. Better the light-hearted unconcern of Mr. John
Richard Green, the historian, who, albeit a clergyman of the Church
of England, preferred going to the Church of Rome when Catholicism
had an organ, and Protestantism, a harmonium. "The difference in
truth between them doesn't seem to me to make up for the difference
in instruments."

Mr. Lowell speaks somewhere of a "divine provincialism," which
expresses the sturdy sense of a nation, and is but ill replaced by
a cosmopolitanism lacking in virtue and distinction. Perhaps this
is England's gift, and insures for her a solidarity which Americans
lack. Ignoring or misunderstanding the standards of other races, she
sets her own so high we needs must raise our eyes to consider them.
Yet when Mr. Arnold scandalized his fellow countrymen by the frank
confession that he found foreign life "liberating," what did he mean
but that he refused to

   "drag at each remove a lengthening chain"?

His mind leaped gladly to meet new issues and fresh tides of thought;
he stood ready to accept the reasonableness of usages which differed
materially from his own; and he took delight in the trivial
happenings of every day, precisely because they were un-English and
unfamiliar. Even the names of strange places, of German castles and
French villages, gave him, as they give Mr. Henry James, a curious
satisfaction, a sense of harmony and ordered charm.

In that caustic volume, "Elizabeth in Rugen," there is an amusing
description of the indignation of the bishop's wife, Mrs.
Harvey-Browne, over what she considers the stupidities of German

"What," she asks with asperity, "could be more supremely senseless
than calling the Baltic the Ostsee?"

"Well, but why shouldn't they, if they want to?" says Elizabeth

"But, dear Frau X, it is so foolish. East sea! Of what is it the east?
One is always the east of something, but one doesn't talk about it.
The name has no meaning whatever. Now 'Baltic' exactly describes it."

This is fiction, but it is fiction easily surpassed by fact,--witness
the English tourist in France who said to Sir Leslie Stephen that
it was "unnatural" for soldiers to dress in blue. Then, remembering
certain British instances, he added hastily: "Except, indeed, for
the Artillery, or the Blue Horse." "The English model," comments Sir
Leslie, "with all its variations, appeared to him to be ordained by

The rigid application of one nation's formulas to another nation's
manners has its obvious disadvantages. It is praiseworthy in an
Englishman to carry his conscience--like his bathtub--wherever he
goes, but both articles are sadly in his way. The American who leaves
his conscience and his tub at home, and who trusts to being clean
and good after a foreign fashion, has an easier time, and is not
permanently stained. Being less cock-sure in the start about his
standing with Heaven, he is subject to reasonable doubts as to the
culpability of other people. The joyous outdoor Sundays of France
and Germany please him at least as well as the shut-in Sundays of
England and Scotland. He takes kindly to concerts, enlivened,
without demoralization, by beer, and wonders why he cannot have them
at home. Whatever is distinctive, whatever is national, interests
and delights him; and he seldom feels called upon to decide a moral
issue which is not submitted to his judgment.

I was once in Valais when a rude play was acted by the peasants of
Vissoye. It set forth the conversion of the Huns to Christianity
through the medium of a miracle vouchsafed to Zacheo, the legendary
apostle of Anniviers. The little stage was erected on a pleasant
hillside, the procession bearing the cross wound down from the
village church, the priests from all the neighbouring towns were
present, and the pious Valaisans--as overjoyed as if the Huns were
a matter of yesterday--sang a solemn _Te Deum_ in thanksgiving for
the conversion of their land. It would be hard to conceive of a drama
less profane; indeed, only religious fervour could have breathed
life into so much controversy; yet I had English friends, intelligent,
cultivated, and deeply interested, who refused to go with me to
Vissoye because it was Sunday afternoon. They stood by their guns,
and attended their own service in the drawing-room of the deserted
little hotel at Zinal; gaining, I trust, the approval of their own
consciences, and losing the experience of a lifetime.

Disapprobation has ever been a powerful stimulus to the Saxon mind.
The heroic measures which it enforces command our faltering homage,
and might incite us to emulation, were we not temperamentally
disposed to ask ourselves the fatal question, "Is it worth while?"
When we remember that twenty-five thousand people in Great Britain
left off eating sugar, by way of protest against slavery in the West
Indies, we realize how the individual Englishman holds himself
morally responsible for wrongs he is innocent of inflicting, and
powerless to redress. Hood and other light-minded humourists laughed
at him for drinking bitter tea; but he was not to be shaken by ridicule.
Miss Edgeworth voiced the conservative sentiment of her day when she
objected to eating unsweetened custards; but he was not to be chilled
by apathy.

The same strenuous spirit impelled the English to express their
sympathy for Captain Alfred Dreyfus by staying away from the Paris
fair of 1900. The London press loudly boasted that Englishmen would
not give the sanction of their presence to any undertaking of the
French Government, and called attention again and again to their
absence from the exhibition. I myself was asked a number of times
in England whether this absence were a noticeable thing; but truth
compelled me to admit that it was not. With Paris brimming over like
a cup filled to the lip, with streets and fair-grounds thronged, with
every hotel crowded and every cab engaged, and with twenty thousand
of my own countrymen clamorously enlivening the scene, it was not
possible to miss anybody anywhere. It obviously had not occurred to
Americans to see any connection between the trial of Captain Dreyfus
and their enjoyment of the most beautiful and brilliant thing that
Europe had to give. The pretty adage, "_Tout homme a deux pays: le
sien et puis la France_," is truer of us than of any other people
in the world. And we may as well pardon a nation her transgressions,
if we cannot keep away from her shores.

England's public utterances anent the United States are of the
friendliest character. Her newspapers and magazines say flattering
things about us. Her poet-laureate--unlike his great predecessor who
unaffectedly detested us--began his official career by praising us
with such fervour that we felt we ought in common honesty to tell
him that we were nothing like so good as he thought us. An English
text-book, published a few years ago, explains generously to the
school-boys of Great Britain that the United States should not be
looked upon as a foreign nation. "They are peopled by men of our blood
and faith, enjoy in a great measure the same laws that we do, read
the same Bible, and acknowledge, like us, the rule of King

All this is very pleasant, but the fact remains that Englishmen
express surprise and pain at our most innocent idiosyncrasies. They
correct our pronunciation and our misuse of words. They regret our
nomadic habits, our shrill voices, our troublesome children, our
inability to climb mountains or "do a little glacier work" (it sounds
like embroidery, but means scrambling perilously over ice), our
taste for unwholesome--or, in other words, seasoned--food. When I
am reproved by English acquaintances for the "Americanisms" which
disfigure my speech and proclaim my nationality, I cannot well defend
myself by asserting that I read the same Bible as they do,--for maybe,
after all, I don't.

The tenacity with which English residents on the Continent cling to
the customs and traditions of their own country is pathetic in its
loyalty and in its misconceptions. Their scheme of life does not
permit a single foreign observance, their range of sympathies seldom
includes a single foreign ideal. "An Englishman's happiness," says
M. Taine, "consists in being at home at six in the evening, with a
pleasing, attached wife, four or five children, and respectful
domestics." This is a very good notion of happiness, no fault can
be found with it, and something on the same order, though less perfect
in detail, is highly prized and commended in America. But it does
not embrace every avenue of delight. The Frenchman who seems never
to go home, who seldom has a large family, whose wife is often his
business partner and helpmate, and whose servants are friendly
allies rather than automatic menials, enjoys life also, and with some
degree of intelligence. He may be pardoned for resenting the attitude
of English exiles, who, driven from their own country by the
harshness of the climate, or the cruel cost of living, never cease
to deplore the unaccountable foreignness of foreigners. "Our social
tariff amounts to prohibition," said a witty Englishman in France.
"Exchange of ideas takes place only at the extreme point of

It is not under such conditions that any nation gives its best to
strangers. It is not to the affronted soul that the charm of the
unfamiliar makes its sweet and powerful appeal. Lord Byron was
furious when one of his countrywomen called Chamonix "rural"; yet,
after all, the poor creature was giving the scenery what praise she
understood. The Englishman who complained that he could not look out
of his window in Rome without seeing the sun, had a legitimate
grievance (we all know what it is to sigh for grey skies, and for
the unutterable rest they bring); but if we want Rome, we must take
her sunshine, along with her beggars and her Church. Accepted
sympathetically, they need not mar our infinite content.

There is a wonderful sentence in Mrs. Humphry Ward's "Marriage of
William Ashe," which subtly and strongly protests against the blight
of mental isolation. Lady Kitty Bristol is reciting Corneille in Lady
Grosville's drawing-room. "Her audience," says Mrs. Ward, "looked
on at first with the embarrassed or hostile air which is the
Englishman's natural protection against the great things of art."
To write a sentence at once so caustic and so flawless is to triumph
over the limitations of language. The reproach seems a strange one
to hurl at a nation which has produced the noblest literature of the
world since the light of Greece waned; but we must remember that
distinction of mind, as Mrs. Ward understands it, and as it was
understood by Mr. Arnold, is necessarily allied with a knowledge of
French arts and letters, and with some insight into the qualities
which clarify French conversation. "Divine provincialism" had no
halo for the man who wrote "Friendship's Garland." He regarded it
with an impatience akin to mistrust, and bordering upon fear. Perhaps
the final word was spoken long ago by a writer whose place in
literature is so high that few aspire to read him. England was
severing her sympathies sharply from much which she had held in
common with the rest of Europe, when Dryden wrote: "They who would
combat general authority with particular opinion must first
establish themselves a reputation of understanding better than other

Travellers' Tales

   "Wenten forth in heore wey with mony wyse tales,
    And hedden leve to lyen al heore lyf aftir."
                                   _Piers Plowman_.

I don't know about travellers' "hedden leve" to lie, but that they
"taken leve" no one can doubt who has ever followed their wandering
footsteps. They say the most charming and audacious things, in
blessed indifference to the fact that somebody may possibly believe
them. They start strange hopes and longings in the human heart, and
they pave the way for disappointments and disasters. They record the
impression of a careless hour as though it were the experience of
a lifetime.

There is a delightful little book on French rivers, written some
years ago by a vivacious and highly imaginative gentleman named
Molloy. It is a rose-tinted volume from the first page to the last,
so full of gay adventures that it would lure a mollusc from his shell.
Every town and every village yields some fresh delight, some humorous
exploit to the four oarsmen who risk their lives to see it; but the
few pages devoted to Amboise are of a dulcet and irresistible
persuasiveness. They fill the reader's soul with a haunting desire
to lay down his well-worn cares and pleasures, to say good-bye to
home and kindred, and to seek that favoured spot. Touraine is full
of beauty, and steeped to the lips in historic crimes. Turn where
we may, her fairness charms the eye, her memories stir the heart.
But Mr. Molloy claims for Amboise something rarer in France than
loveliness or romance, something which no French town has ever yet
been known to possess,--a slumberous and soul-satisfying silence.
"We dropped under the very walls of the Castle," he writes, "without
seeing a soul. It was a strange contrast to Blois in its absolute
stillness. There was no sound but the noise of waters rushing through
the arches of the bridge. It might have been the palace of the
Sleeping Beauty, but was only one of the retrospective cities that
had no concern with the present."

Quiet brooded over the ivied towers and ancient water front.
Tranquillity, unconcern, a gentle and courteous aloofness
surrounded and soothed the intrepid travellers. When, in the early
morning, the crew pushed off in their frail boat, less than a dozen
citizens assembled to watch the start. Even the peril of the
performance (and there are few things more likely to draw a crowd
than the chance of seeing four fellow mortals drown) failed to awaken
curiosity. Nine men stood silent on the shore when the outrigger shot
into the swirling river, and it is the opinion of the chronicler that
Amboise "did not often witness such a gathering." Nine quiet men were,
for Amboise, something in the nature of a mob.

It must be remembered that Mr. Molloy's book is not a new one; but
then Touraine is neither new nor mutable. Nothing changes in its
beautiful old towns, the page of whose history has been turned for
centuries. What if motors now whirl in a white dust through the heart
of France? They do not affect the lives of the villages through which
they pass. The simple and primitive desire of the motorist is to be
fed and to move on, to be fed again and to move on again, to sleep
and to start afresh. That unavoidable waiting between trains which
now and then compelled an old-time tourist to look at a cathedral
or a chateau, by way of diverting an empty hour, no longer retards
progress. The motorist needs never wait. As soon as he has eaten,
he can go,--a privilege of which be gladly avails himself. A month
at Amboise taught us that, at the feeding-hour, motors came flocking
like fowls, and then, like fowls, dispersed. They were disagreeable
while they lasted, but they never lasted long. Replete with a
five-course luncheon, their fagged and grimy occupants sped on to
distant towns and dinner.

But why should we, who knew well that there is not, and never has
been, a quiet corner in all France, have listened to a traveller's
tale, and believed in a silent Amboise? Is there no limit to human
credulity? Does experience count for nothing in the Bourbon-like
policy of our lives? It is to England we must go if we seek for silence,
that gentle, pervasive silence which wraps us in a mantle of content.
It was in Porlock that Coleridge wrote "Kubla Khan," transported,
Heaven knows whither, by virtue of the hushed repose that consecrates
the sleepiest hamlet in Great Britain. It was at Stoke Pogis that
Gray composed his "Elegy." He could never have written--

   "And all the air a solemn stillness holds,"

in the vicinity of a French village.

But Amboise! Who would go to rural England, live on ham and eggs,
and sleep in a bed harder than Pharaoh's heart, if it were possible
that a silent Amboise awaited him? The fair fresh vegetables of
France, her ripe red strawberries and glowing cherries, her crisp
salads and her caressing mattresses lured us no less than the vision
of a bloodstained castle, and the wide sweep of the Loire flashing
through the joyous landscape of Touraine. In the matter of beauty,
Amboise outstrips all praise. In the matter of romance, she leaves
nothing to be desired. Her splendid old Chateau--half palace and half
fortress--towers over the river which mirrors its glory and
perpetuates its shame. She is a storehouse of historic memories, she
is the loveliest of little towns, she is in the heart of a district
which bears the finest fruit and has the best cooks in France; but
she is not, and never has been, silent, since the days when Louis
the Eleventh was crowned, and she gave wine freely to all who chose
to be drunk and merry at her charge.

If she does not give her wine to-day, she sells it so cheaply--lying
girt by vine-clad hills--that many of her sons are drunk and merry
still. The sociable habit of setting a table in the open street
prevails at Amboise. Around it labourers take their evening meal,
to the accompaniment of song and sunburnt mirth. It sounds poetic
and it looks picturesque,--like a picture by Teniers or Jan
Steen,--but it is not a habit conducive to repose.

As far as I can judge,--after a month's experience,--the one thing
no inhabitant of Amboise ever does is to go to bed. At midnight the
river front is alive with cheerful and strident voices. The French
countryman habitually speaks to his neighbour as if he were half a
mile away; and when a score of countrymen are conversing in this key,
the air rings with their clamour. They sing in the same lusty fashion;
not through closed lips, as is the custom of English singers, but
rolling out the notes with volcanic energy from the deep craters of
their throats. When our admirable waiter--who is also our best
friend--frees his soul in song as he is setting the table, the walls
of the dining-room quiver and vibrate. By five o'clock in the morning
every one except ourselves is on foot and out of doors. We might as
well be, for it is custom, not sleep, which keeps us in our beds.
The hay wagons are rolling over the bridge, the farmhands are going
to work, the waiter, in an easy undress, is exchanging voluble
greetings with his many acquaintances, the life of the town has

The ordinary week-day life, I mean, for on Sundays the market people
have assembled by four, and there are nights when the noises never
cease. It is no unusual thing to be awakened, an hour or two after
midnight, by a tumult so loud and deep that my first impression is
one of conspiracy or revolution. The sound is not unlike the hoarse
roar of Sir Henry Irving's admirably trained mobs,--the only mobs
I have ever heard,--and I jump out of bed, wondering if the President
has been shot, or the Chamber of Deputies blown up by malcontents.
Can these country people have heard the news, as the shepherds of
Peloponnesus heard of the fall of Syracuse, through the gossiping
of wood devils, and, like the shepherds, have hastened to carry the
intelligence? When I look out of my window, the crowd seems small
for the uproar it is making. Armand, the waiter, who, I am convinced,
merely dozes on a dining-room chair, so as to be in readiness for
any diversion, stands in the middle of the road, gesticulating with
fine dramatic gestures. I cannot hear what is being said, because
everybody is speaking at once; but after a while the excitement dies
away, and the group slowly disperses, shouting final vociferations
from out of the surrounding darkness. The next day when I ask the
cause of the disturbance, Armand looks puzzled at my question. He
does not seem aware that anything out of the way has happened; but
finally explains that "quelques amis" were passing the hotel, and
that Madame must have heard them stop and talk. The incident is
apparently too common an occurrence to linger in his mind.

As for the Amboise dogs, I do not know whether they really possess
a supernatural strength which enables them to bark twenty-four hours
without intermission, or whether they divide themselves into day and
night pickets, so that, when one band retires to rest, the other takes
up the interrupted duty. The French villager, who values all domestic
pets in proportion to the noise they can make, delights especially
in his dogs, giant black-and-tan terriers for the most part, of
indefatigable perseverance in their one line of activity. Their bark
is high-pitched and querulous rather than deep and defiant, but for
continuity it has no rival upon earth. Our hotel--in all other
respects unexceptionable--possesses two large bulldogs which have
long ago lost their British phlegm, and acquired the agitated yelp
of their Gallic neighbours. They could not be quiet if they wanted
to, for heavy sleigh-bells (unique decorations for a bulldog) hang
about their necks, and jangle merrily at every step. In the courtyard
lives a colony of birds. One virulent parrot which shrieks its
inarticulate wrath from morning until night, but which does--be it
remembered to its credit--go to sleep at sundown; three paroquets;
two cockatoos of ineffable shrillness, and a cageful of canaries and
captive finches. When taken in connection with the dogs, the hotel
cat, the operatic Armand, and the cook who plays "See, O Norma!" on
his flute every afternoon and evening, it will be seen that Amboise
does not so closely resemble the palace of the Sleeping Beauty as
Mr. Molloy has given us to understand.

All other sounds, however, melt into a harmonious murmur when
compared to the one great speciality of the village,--stone-cutting
in the open streets. Whenever one of the picturesque old houses is
crumbling into utter decay, a pile of stone is dumped before it, and
the easy-going masons of Amboise prepare to patch up its walls. No
particular method is observed, the work progresses after the fashion
of a child's block house, and the principal labour lies in dividing
the lumps of stone. This is done with a rusty old saw pulled slowly
backward and forward by two men, the sound produced resembling a
succession of agonized shrieks. It goes on for hours and hours, with
no apparent result except the noise; while a handsome boy, in a
striped blouse and broad blue sash, completes the discord by currying
the stone with an iron currycomb,--a process I have never witnessed
before, and ardently hope never to witness again. If one could
imagine fifty school-children all squeaking their slate pencils down
their slates together,--who does not remember that blood-curdling
music of his youth?--one might gain some feeble notion of the acute
agony induced by such an instrument of torture. Agony to the nervous
visitor alone; for the inhabitants of Amboise love their shrieking
saws and currycombs, just as they love their shrieking parrots and
cockatoos. They gather in happy crowds to watch the blue-sashed boy,
and drink in the noise he makes. We drink it in, too, as he is
immediately beneath our windows. Then we look at the castle walls
glowing in the splendour of the sunset, and at the Loire sweeping
in magnificent curves between the grey-green poplar trees; at the
noble width of the horizon, and at the deepening tints of the sky;
and we realize that a silent Amboise would be an earthly Paradise,
too fair for this sinful world.

The Chill of Enthusiasm

"Surtout, pas de zele."--TALLEYRAND.

There is no aloofness so forlorn as our aloofness from an
uncontagious enthusiasm, and there is no hostility so sharp as that
aroused by a fervour which fails of response. Charles Lamb's "D--n
him at a hazard," was the expression of a natural and reasonable frame
of mind with which we are all familiar, and which, though admittedly
unlovely, is in the nature of a safeguard. If we had no spiritual
asbestos to protect our souls, we should be consumed to no purpose
by every wanton flame. If our sincere and restful indifference to
things which concern us not were shaken by every blast, we should
have no available force for things which concern us deeply. If
eloquence did not sometimes make us yawn, we should be besotted by
oratory. And if we did not approach new acquaintances, new authors,
and new points of view with life-saving reluctance, we should never
feel that vital regard which, being strong enough to break down our
barriers, is strong enough to hold us for life.

The worth of admiration is, after all, in proportion to the value
of the thing admired,--a circumstance overlooked by the people who
talk much pleasant nonsense about sympathy, and the courage of our
emotions, and the open and generous mind. We know how Mr. Arnold felt
when an American lady wrote to him, in praise of American authors,
and said that it rejoiced her heart to think of such excellence as
being "common and abundant." Mr. Arnold, who considered that
excellence of any kind was very uncommon and beyond measure rare,
expressed his views on this occasion with more fervour and publicity
than the circumstances demanded; but his words are as balm to the
irritation which some of us suffer and conceal when drained of our
reluctant applause.

It is perhaps because women have been trained to a receptive attitude
of mind, because for centuries they have been valued for their
sympathy and appreciation rather than for their judgment, that they
are so perilously prone to enthusiasm. It has come to all of us of
late to hear much feminine eloquence, and to marvel at the nimbleness
of woman's wit, at the speed with which she thinks, and the facility
with which she expresses her thoughts. A woman who, until five years
ago, never addressed a larger audience than that afforded by a
reading-club or a dinner-party, will now thrust and parry on a
platform, wholly unembarrassed by timidity or by ignorance.
Sentiment and satire are hers to command; and while neither is
convincing, both are tremendously effective with people already
convinced, with the partisans who throng unwearyingly to hear the
voicing of their own opinions. The ease with which such a speaker
brings forward the great central fact of the universe, maternity,
as an argument for or against the casting of a ballot (it works just
as well either way); the glow with which she associates Jeanne d'Arc
with federated clubs and social service; and the gay defiance she
hurls at customs and prejudices so profoundly obsolete that the
lantern of Diogenes could not find them lurking in a village
street,--these things may chill the unemotional listener into apathy,
but they never fail to awaken the sensibilities of an audience. The
simple process, so highly commended by debaters, of ignoring all that
cannot be denied, makes demonstration easy. "A crowd," said Mr.
Ruskin, "thinks by infection." To be immune from infection is to
stand outside the sacred circle of enthusiasts.

Yet if the experience of mankind teaches anything, it is that vital
convictions are not at the mercy of eloquence. The "oratory of
conviction," to borrow a phrase of Mr. Bagehot's, is so rare as to
be hardly worth taking into account. Fox used to say that if a speech
read well, it was "a damned bad speech," which is the final word of
cynicism, spoken by one who knew. It was the saving sense of England,
that solid, prosaic, dependable common sense, the bulwark of every
great nation, which, after Sheridan's famous speech, demanding the
impeachment of Warren Hastings, made the House adjourn "to collect
its reason,"--obviously because its reason had been lost. Sir
William Dolden, who moved the adjournment, frankly confessed that
it was impossible to give a "determinate opinion" while under the
spell of oratory. So the lawmakers, who had been fired to white heat,
retired to cool down again; and when Sheridan--always as deep in
difficulties as Micawber--was offered a thousand pounds for the
manuscript of the speech, he remembered Fox's verdict, and refused
to risk his unballasted eloquence in print.

Enthusiasm is praised because it implies an unselfish concern for
something outside our personal interest and advancement. It is
reverenced because the great and wise amendments, which from time
to time straighten the roads we walk, may always be traced back to
somebody's zeal for reform. It is rich in prophetic attributes,
banking largely on the unknown, and making up in nobility of design
what it lacks in excellence of attainment. Like simplicity, and
candour, and other much-commended qualities, enthusiasm is charming
until we meet it face to face, and cannot escape from its charm. It
is then that we begin to understand the attitude of Goethe, and
Talleyrand, and Pitt, and Sir Robert Peel, who saved themselves from
being consumed by resolutely refusing to ignite. "It is folly,"
observed Goethe, "to expect that other men will consent to believe
as we do"; and, having reconciled himself to this elemental obstinacy
of the human heart, it no longer troubled him that those whom he felt
to be wrong should refuse to acknowledge their errors.

There are men and women--not many--who have the happy art of making
their most fervent convictions endurable. Their hobbies do not
spread desolation over the social world, their prejudices do not
insult our intelligence. They may be so "abreast with the times" that
we cannot keep track of them, or they may be basking serenely in some
Early Victorian close. They may believe buoyantly in the Baconian
cipher, or in thought transference, or in the serious purposes of
Mr. George Bernard Shaw, or in anything else which invites credulity.
They may even express their views, and still be loved and cherished
by their friends.

How illuminating is the contrast which Hazlitt unconsciously draws
between the enthusiasms of Lamb which everybody was able to bear,
and the enthusiasms of Coleridge which nobody was able to bear. Lamb
would parade his admiration for some favourite author, Donne, for
example, whom the rest of the company probably abhorred. He would
select the most crabbed passages to quote and defend; he would
stammer out his piquant and masterful half sentences, his scalding
jests, his controvertible assertions; he would skilfully hint at the
defects which no one else was permitted to see; and if he made no
converts (wanting none), he woke no weary wrath. But we all have a
sneaking sympathy for Holcroft, who, when Coleridge was expatiating
rapturously and oppressively upon the glories of German
transcendental philosophy, and upon his own supreme command of the
field, cried out suddenly and with exceeding bitterness: "Mr.
Coleridge, you are the most eloquent man I ever met, and the most
unbearable in your eloquence."

I am not without a lurking suspicion that George Borrow must have
been at times unbearable in his eloquence. "We cannot refuse to meet
a man on the ground that he is an enthusiast," observes Mr. George
Street, obviously lamenting this circumstance; "but we should at
least like to make sure that his enthusiasms are under control."
Borrow's enthusiasms were never under control. He stood ready at a
moment's notice to prove the superiority of the Welsh bards over the
paltry poets of England, or to relate the marvellous Welsh prophecies,
so vague as to be always safe. He was capable of inflicting Armenian
verbs upon Isopel Berners when they sat at night over their gipsy
kettle in the dingle (let us hope she fell asleep as sweetly as does
Milton's Eve when Adam grows too garrulous); and he met the
complaints of a poor farmer on the hardness of the times with jubilant
praises of evangelicalism. "Better pay three pounds an acre, and live
on crusts and water in the present enlightened days," he told the
disheartened husbandman, "than pay two shillings an acre, and sit
down to beef and ale three times a day in the old superstitious ages."
This is _not_ the oratory of conviction. There are unreasoning
prejudices in favour of one's own stomach which eloquence cannot
gainsay. "I defy the utmost power of language to disgust me wi' a
gude denner," observes the Ettrick Shepherd; thus putting on record
the attitude of the bucolic mind, impassive, immutable, since
earth's first harvests were gleaned.

The artificial emotions which expand under provocation, and collapse
when the provocation is withdrawn, must be held responsible for much
mental confusion. Election oratory is an old and cherished
institution. It is designed to make candidates show their paces, and
to give innocent amusement to the crowd. Properly reinforced by brass
bands and bunting, graced by some sufficiently august presence, and
enlivened by plenty of cheering and hat-flourishing, it presents a
strong appeal. A political party is, moreover, a solid and
self-sustaining affair. All sound and alliterative generalities
about virile and vigorous manhood, honest and honourable labour,
great and glorious causes, are understood, in this country at least,
to refer to the virile and vigorous manhood of Republicans or
Democrats, as the case may be; and to uphold the honest and honourable,
great and glorious Republican or Democratic principles, upon which,
it is also understood, depends the welfare of the nation.

Yet even this sense of security cannot always save us from the chill
of collapsed enthusiasm. I was once at a great mass meeting, held
in the interests of municipal reform, and at which the principal
speaker was a candidate for office. He was delayed for a full hour
after the meeting had been opened, and this hour was filled with good
platform oratory. Speechmaker after speechmaker, all adepts in their
art, laid bare before our eyes the evils which consumed us, and called
upon us passionately to support the candidate who would lift us from
our shame. The fervour of the house rose higher and higher. Martial
music stirred our blood, and made us feel that reform and patriotism
were one. The atmosphere grew tense with expectancy, when suddenly
there came a great shout, and the sound of cheering from the crowd
in the streets, the crowd which could not force its way into the huge
and closely packed opera house. Now there are few things more
profoundly affecting than cheers heard from a distance, or muffled
by intervening walls. They have a fine dramatic quality, unknown to
the cheers which rend the air about us. When the chairman of the
meeting announced that the candidate was outside the doors, speaking
to the mob, the excitement reached fever heat. When some one cried,
"He is here!" and the orchestra struck the first bars of "Hail
Columbia," we rose to our feet, waving multitudinous flags, and
shouting out the rapture of our hearts.

And then,--and then there stepped upon the stage a plain, tired,
bewildered man, betraying nervous exhaustion in every line. He spoke,
and his voice was not the assured voice of a leader. His words were
not the happy words which instantly command attention. It was evident
to the discerning eye that he had been driven for days, perhaps for
weeks, beyond his strength and endurance; that he had resorted to
stimulants to help him in this emergency, and that they had failed;
that he was striving with feeble desperation to do the impossible
which was expected of him. I wondered even then if a few common words
of explanation, a few sober words of promise, would not have
satisfied the crowd, already sated with eloquence. I wondered if the
unfortunate man could feel the chill settling down upon the house
as he spoke his random and undignified sentences, whether he could
see the first stragglers slipping down the aisles. What did his
decent record, his honest purpose, avail him in an hour like this?
He tried to lash himself to vigour, but it was spurring a
broken-winded horse. The stragglers increased into a flying squadron,
the house was emptying fast, when the chairman in sheer desperation
made a sign to the leader of the orchestra, who waved his baton, and
"The Star-Spangled Banner" drowned the candidate's last words, and
brought what was left of the audience to its feet. I turned to a friend
beside me, the wife of a local politician who had been the most fiery
speaker of the evening. "Will it make any difference?" I asked, and
she answered disconsolately; "The city is lost, but we may save the

Then we went out into the quiet streets, and I bethought me of
Voltaire's driving in a blue coach powdered with gilt stars to see
the first production of "Irene," and of his leaving the theatre to
find that enthusiasts had cut the traces of his horses, so that the
shouting mob might drag him home in triumph. But the mob, having done
its shouting, melted away after the irresponsible fashion of mobs,
leaving the blue coach stranded in front of the Tuileries, with
Voltaire shivering inside of it, until the horses could be brought
back, the traces patched up, and the driver recalled to his duty.

That "popular enthusiasm is but a fire of straw" has been amply
demonstrated by all who have tried to keep it going. It can be lighted
to some purpose, as when money is extracted from the enthusiasts
before they have had time to cool; but even this process--so
skilfully conducted by the initiated--seems unworthy of great and
noble charities, or of great and noble causes. It is true also that
the agitator--no matter what he may be agitating--is always sure of
his market; a circumstance which made that most conservative of
chancellors, Lord Eldon, swear with bitter oaths that, if he were
to begin life over again, he would begin it as an agitator. Tom Moore
tells a pleasant story (one of the many pleasant stories embalmed
in his vast sarcophagus of a diary) about a street orator whom he
heard address a crowd in Dublin. The man's eloquence was so stirring
that Moore was ravished by it, and he expressed to Sheil his
admiration for the speaker. "Ah," said Sheil carelessly, "that was
a brewer's patriot. Most of the great brewers have in their employ
a regular patriot who goes about among the publicans, talking violent
politics, which helps to sell the beer."

Honest enthusiasm, we are often told, is the power which moves the
world. Therefore it is perhaps that honest enthusiasts seem to think
that if they stopped pushing, the world would stop moving,--as though
it were a new world which didn't know its way. This belief inclines
them to intolerance. The more keen they are, the more contemptuous
they become. What Wordsworth admirably called "the self-applauding
sincerity of a heated mind" leaves them no loophole for doubt, and
no understanding of the doubter. In their volcanic progress they bowl
over the non-partisan--a man and a brother--with splendid unconcern.
He, poor soul, stunned but not convinced, clings desperately to some
pettifogging convictions which he calls truth, and refuses a clearer
vision. His habit of remembering what he believed yesterday clogs
his mind, and makes it hard for him to believe something entirely
new to-day. Much has been said about the inconvenience of keeping
opinions, but much might be said about the serenity of the process.
Old opinions are like old friends,--we cease to question their worth
because, after years of intimacy and the loss of some valuable
illusions, we have grown to place our slow reliance on them. We know
at least where we stand, and whither we are tending, and we refuse
to bustle feverishly about the circumference of life, because, as
Amiel warns us, we cannot reach its core.

The Temptation of Eve

"My Love in her attire doth shew her wit."

It is an old and honoured jest that Eve--type of eternal
womanhood--sacrificed the peace of Eden for the pleasures of dress.
We see this jest reflected in the satire of the Middle Ages, in the
bitter gibes of mummer and buffoon. We can hear its echoes in the
invectives of the reformer,--"I doubt," said a good
fifteenth-century bishop to the ladies of England in their horned
caps,--"I doubt the Devil sit not between those horns." We find it
illustrated with admirable naivete in the tapestries which hang in
the entrance corridor of the Belle Arti in Florence.

These tapestries tell the downfall of our first parents. In one we
see the newly created and lovely Eve standing by the side of the
sleeping Adam, and regarding him with pleasurable anticipation.
Another shows us the animals marching in line to be inspected and
named. The snail heads the procession and sets the pace. The lion
and the tiger stroll gossiping together. The unicorn walks alone,
very stiff and proud. Two rats and two mice are closely followed by
two sleek cats, who keep them well covered, and plainly await the
time when Eve's amiable indiscretion shall assign them their natural
prey. In the third tapestry the deed has been done, the apple had
been eaten. The beasts are ravening in the background. Adam, already
clad, is engaged in fastening a picturesque girdle of leaves around
the unrepentant Eve,--for all the world like a modern husband
fastening his wife's gown,--while she for the first time gathers up
her long fair hair. Her attitude is full of innocent yet
indescribable coquetry. The passion for self-adornment had already
taken possession of her soul. Before her lies a future of many cares
and some compensations. She is going to work and she is going to weep,
but she is also going to dress. The price was hers to pay.

In the hearts of Eve's daughters lies an unspoken convincement that
the price was not too dear. As far as feminity is known, or can ever
be known, one dominant impulse has never wavered or weakened. In
every period of the world's history, in every quarter of the globe,
in every stage of savagery or civilization, this elementary instinct
has held, and still holds good. The history of the world is largely
the history of dress. It is the most illuminating of records, and
tells its tale with a candour and completeness which no chronicle
can surpass. We all agree in saying that people who reached a high
stage of artistic development, like the Greeks and the Italians of
the Renaissance, expressed this sense of perfection in their attire;
but what we do not acknowledge so frankly is that these same nations
encouraged the beauty of dress, even at a ruthless cost, because they
felt that in doing so they cooperated with a great natural law,--the
law which makes the "wanton lapwing" get himself another crest. They
played into nature's hands.

The nations which sought to bully nature, like the Spartans and the
Spaniards, passed the severest sumptuary laws; and for proving the
power of fundamental forces over the unprofitable wisdom of
reformers, there is nothing like a sumptuary law. In 1563 Spanish
women of good repute were forbidden to wear jewels or
embroideries,--the result being that many preferred to be thought
reputationless, rather than abandon their finery. Some years later
it was ordained that only women of loose life should be permitted
to bare their shoulders; and all dressmakers who furnished the
interdicted gowns to others than courtesans were condemned to four
years' penal servitude. These were stern measures,--"root and
branch" was ever the Spaniard's cry; but he found it easier to stamp
out heresy than to eradicate from a woman's heart something which
is called vanity, but which is, in truth, an overmastering impulse
which she is too wise to endeavour to resist.

As a matter of fact it was a sumptuary law which incited the women
of Rome to make their first great public demonstration, and to
besiege the Forum as belligerently as the women of England have, in
late years, besieged Parliament. The Senate had thought fit to save
money for the second Punic War by curtailing all extravagance in
dress; and, when the war was over, showed no disposition to repeal
a statute which--to the simple masculine mind--seemed productive of
nothing but good. Therefore the women gathered in the streets of Rome,
demanding the restitution of their ornaments, and deeply
scandalizing poor Cato, who could hardly wedge his way through the
crowd. His views on this occasion were expressed with the bewildered
bitterness of a modern British conservative. He sighed for the good
old days when women were under the strict control of their fathers
and husbands, and he very plainly told the Senators that if they had
maintained their proper authority at home, their wives and daughters
would not then be misbehaving themselves in public. "It was not
without painful emotions of shame," said this outraged Roman
gentleman, "that I just now made my way to the Forum through a herd
of women. Our ancestors thought it improper that women should
transact any private business without a director. We, it seems,
suffer them to interfere in the management of state affairs, and to
intrude into the general assemblies. Had I not been restrained by
the modesty and dignity of some among them, had I not been unwilling
that they should be rebuked by a Consul, I should have said to them:
'What sort of practice is this of running into the streets, and
addressing other women's husbands? Could you not have petitioned at
home? Are your blandishments more seductive in public than in private,
and with other husbands than your own?'"

How natural it all sounds, how modern, how familiar! And with what
knowledge of the immutable laws of nature, as opposed to the
capricious laws of man, did Lucius Valerius defend the rebellious
women of Rome! "Elegance of apparel," he pleaded before the Senate,
"and jewels, and ornaments,--these are a woman's badges of
distinction; in these she glories and delights; these our ancestors
called the woman's world. What else does she lay aside in mourning
save her purple and gold? What else does she resume when the mourning
is over? How does she manifest her sympathy on occasions of public
rejoicing, but by adding to the splendour of her dress?"[1]

[Footnote 1: Livy.]

Of course the statute was repealed. The only sumptuary laws which
defied resistance were those which draped the Venetian gondolas and
the Milanese priests in black, and with such restrictions women had
no concern.

The symbolism of dress is a subject which has never received its due
share of attention, yet it stands for attributes in the human race
which otherwise defy analysis. It is interwoven with all our carnal
and with all our spiritual instincts. It represents a cunning triumph
over hard conditions, a turning of needs into victories. It voices
desires and dignities without number, it subjects the importance of
the thing done to the importance of the manner of doing it. "Man wears
a special dress to kill, to govern, to judge, to preach, to mourn,
to play. In every age the fashion in which he retains or discards
some portion of this dress denotes a subtle change in his feelings."
All visible things are emblematic of invisible forces. Man fixed the
association of colours with grief and gladness, he made ornaments
the insignia of office, he ordained that fabric should grace the
majesty of power.

Yet though we know this well, it is our careless custom to talk about
dress, and to write about dress, as if it had no meaning at all; as
if the breaking waves of fashion which carry with them the record
of pride and gentleness, of distinction and folly, of the rising and
shattering of ideals,--"the cut which betokens intellect and talent,
the colour which betokens temper and heart,"--were guided by no other
law than chance, were a mere purposeless tyranny. Historians dwell
upon the mad excesses of ruff and farthingale, of pointed shoe and
swelling skirt, as if these things stood for nothing in a society
forever alternating between rigid formalism and the irrepressible
spirit of democracy.

Is it possible to look at a single costume painted by Velasquez
without realizing that the Spanish court under Philip the Fourth had
lost the mobility which has characterized it in the days of Ferdinand
and Isabella, and had hardened into a formalism, replete with dignity,
but lacking intelligence, and out of touch with the great social
issues of the day? French chroniclers have written page after page
of description--aimless and tiresome description, for the most
part--of those amazing head-dresses which, at the court of Marie
Antoinette, rose to such heights that the ladies looked as if their
heads were in the middle of their bodies. They stood seven feet high
when their hair was dressed, and a trifle over five when it wasn't.
The Duchesse de Lauzun wore upon one memorable occasion a head-dress
presenting a landscape in high relief on the shore of a stormy lake,
ducks swimming on the lake, a sportsman shooting at the ducks, a mill
which rose from the crown of her head, a miller's wife courted by
an abbe, and a miller placidly driving his donkey down the steep
incline over the lady's left ear.

It sounds like a Christmas pantomime; but when we remember that the
French court, that model of patrician pride, was playing with
democracy, with republicanism, with the simple life, as presented
by Rousseau to its consideration, we see plainly enough how the real
self-sufficiency of caste and the purely artificial sentiment of the
day found expression in absurdities of costume. Women dared to wear
such things, because, being aristocrats, they felt sure of
themselves: and they professed to admire them, because, being
engulfed in sentiment, they had lost all sense of proportion. A
miller and his donkey were rustic (Marie Antoinette adored
rusticity); an abbe flirting with a miller's wife was as obviously
artificial as Watteau. It would have been hard to find a happier or
more expressive combination. And when Rousseau and republicanism had
won the race, we find the ladies of the Directoire illustrating the
national illusions with clinging and diaphanous draperies; and
asserting their affinity with the high ideals of ancient Greece by
wearing sandals instead of shoes, and rings on their bare white toes.
The reaction from the magnificent formalism of court dress to this
abrupt nudity is in itself a record as graphic and as illuminating
as anything that historians have to tell. The same great principle
was at work in England when the Early Victorian virtues asserted
their supremacy, when the fashionable world, becoming for a spell
domestic and demure, expressed these qualities in smoothly banded
hair, and draperies of decorous amplitude. There is, in fact, no
phase of national life or national sentiment which has not betrayed
itself to the world in dress.

And not national life only, but individual life as well. Clothes are
more than historical, they are autobiographical. They tell their
story in broad outlines and in minute detail. Was it for nothing that
Charles the First devised that rich and sombre costume of black and
white from which he never sought relief? Was it for nothing that
Garibaldi wore a red shirt, and Napoleon an old grey coat? In proof
that these things stood for character and destiny, we have but to
look at the resolute but futile attempt which Charles the Second made
to follow his father's lead, to express something beyond a
fluctuating fashion in his dress. In 1666 he announced to his
Council--which was, we trust, gratified by the intelligence--that
he intended to wear one unaltered costume for the rest of his days.
A month later he donned this costume, the distinguishing features
of which were a long, close-fitting, black waistcoat, pinked with
white, a loose embroidered surtout, and buskins. The court followed
his example, and Charles not unnaturally complained that so many
black and white waistcoats made him feel as though he were surrounded
by magpies. So the white pinking was discarded, and plain black
velvet waistcoats substituted. These were neither very gay, nor very
becoming to a swarthy monarch; and the never-to-be-altered costume
lasted less than two years, to the great relief of the courtiers,
especially of those who had risked betting with the king himself on
its speedy disappearance. Expressing nothing but a caprice, it had
the futility and the impermanence of all caprices.

Within the last century, men have gradually, and it would seem
permanently, abandoned the effort to reveal their personality in
dress. They have allowed themselves to be committed for life to a
costume of ruthless utilitarianism, which takes no count of physical
beauty, or of its just display. Comfort, convenience, and sanitation
have conspired to establish a rigidity of rule never seen before,
to which men yield a docile and lamblike obedience. Robert Burton's
axiom, "Nothing sooner dejects a man than clothes out of fashion,"
is as true now as it was three hundred years ago. Fashion sways the
shape of a collar, and the infinitesimal gradations of a hat-brim;
but the sense of fitness, and the power of interpreting life, which
ennobled fashion in Burton's day, have disappeared in an enforced

Men take a strange perverted pride in this mournful sameness of
attire,--delight in wearing a hat like every other man's hat, are
content that it should be a perfected miracle of ugliness, that it
should be hot, that it should be heavy, that it should be disfiguring,
if only they can make sure of seeing fifty, or a hundred and fifty,
other hats exactly like it on their way downtown. So absolute is this
uniformity that the late Marquess of Ailesbury bore all his life a
reputation for eccentricity, which seems to have had no other
foundation than the fact of his wearing hats, or rather a hat, of
distinctive shape, chosen with reference to his own head rather than
to the heads of some odd millions of fellow citizens. The story is
told of his standing bare-headed in a hatter's shop, awaiting the
return of a salesman who had carried off his own beloved head-gear,
when a shortsighted bishop entered, and, not recognizing the peer,
took him for an assistant, and handed him _his_ hat, asking him if
he had any exactly like it. Lord Ailesbury turned the bishop's hat
over and over, examined it carefully inside and out, and gave it back
again. "No," he said, "I haven't, and I'll be damned if I'd wear it,
if I had."

Even before the establishment of the invincible despotism which
clothes the gentlemen of Christendom in a livery, we find the
masculine mind disposed to severity in the ruling of fashions. Steele,
for example, tells us the shocking story of an English gentleman who
would persist in wearing a broad belt with a hanger, instead of the
light sword then carried by men of rank, although in other respects
he was a "perfectly well-bred person." Steele naturally regarded
this acquaintance with deep suspicion, which was justified when,
twenty-two years afterwards, the innovator married his cook-maid.
"Others were amazed at this," writes the essayist, "but I must
confess that I was not. I had always known that his deviation from
the costume of a gentleman indicated an ill-balanced mind."

Now the adoption of a rigorous and monotonous utilitarianism in
masculine attire has had two unlovely results. In the first place,
men, since they ceased to covet beautiful clothes for themselves,
have wasted much valuable time in counselling and censuring women;
and, in the second place, there has come, with the loss of their fine
trappings, a corresponding loss of illusions on the part of the women
who look at them. Black broadcloth and derby hats are calculated to
destroy the most robust illusions in Christendom; and men--from
motives hard to fathom--have refused to retain in their wardrobes
a single article which can amend an imperfect ideal. This does not
imply that women fail to value friends in black broadcloth, nor that
they refuse their affections to lovers and husbands in derby hats.
Nature is not to be balked by such impediments. But as long as men
wore costumes which interpreted their strength, enhanced their
persuasiveness, and concealed their shortcomings, women accepted
their dominance without demur. They made no idle claim to equality
with creatures, not only bigger and stronger, not only more capable
and more resolute, not only wiser and more experienced, but more
noble and distinguished in appearance than they were themselves.
What if the assertive attitude of the modern woman, her easy
arrogance, and the confidence she places in her own untried powers,
may be accounted for by the dispiriting clothes which men have
determined to wear, and the wearing of which may have cost them no
small portion of their authority?

The whole attitude of women in this regard is fraught with
significance. Men have rashly discarded those details of costume
which enhanced their comeliness and charm (we have but to look at
Van Dyck's portraits to see how much rare distinction is traceable
to subdued elegance of dress); but women have never through the long
centuries laid aside the pleasant duty of self-adornment. They dare
not if they would,--too much is at stake; and they experience the
just delight which comes from cooperation with a natural law. The
flexibility of their dress gives them every opportunity to modify,
to enhance, to reveal, and to conceal. It is in the highest degree
interpretative, and through it they express their aspirations and
ideals, their thirst for combat and their realization of defeat,
their fluctuating sentiments and their permanent predispositions.

   "A winning wave, deserving note,
    In the tempestuous petticoat;
    A careless shoe-string, in whose tie
    I see a wild civility."

Naturally, in a matter so vital, they are not disposed to listen to
reason, and they cannot be argued out of a great fundamental instinct.
Women are constitutionally incapable of being influenced by
argument,--a limitation which is in the nature of a safeguard. The
cunning words in which M. Marcel Provost urges them to follow the
example of men, sounds, to their ears, a little like the words in
which the fox which had lost its tail counsels its fellow foxes to
rid themselves of so despicable an appendage. "Before the
Revolution," writes M. Provost, in his "Lettres a Francois," "the
clothes worn by men of quality were more costly than those worn by
women. To-day all men dress with such uniformity that a Huron,
transported to Paris or to London, could not distinguish master from
valet. This will assuredly be the fate of feminine toilets in a future
more or less near. The time must come when the varying costumes now
seen at balls, at the races, at the theatre, will all be swept away;
and in their place women will wear, as men do, a species of uniform.
There will be a 'woman's suit,' costing sixty francs at Batignolles,
and five hundred francs in the rue de la Paix; and, this reform once
accomplished, it will never be possible to return to old conditions.
Reason will have triumphed."

Perhaps! But reason has been routed so often from the field that one
no longer feels confident of her success. M. Baudrillart had a world
of reason on his side when, before the Chamber of Deputies, he urged
reform in dress, and the legal suppression of jewels and costly
fabrics. M. de Lavaleye, the Belgian statist, was fortified by reason
when he proposed his grey serge uniform for women of all classes.
If we turn back a page or two of history, and look at the failure
of the sumptuary laws in England, we find the wives of London
tradesmen, who were not permitted to wear velvet in public, lining
their grogram gowns with this costly fabric, for the mere pleasure
of possession, for the meaningless--and most unreasonable--joy of
expenditure. And when Queen Elizabeth, who considered extravagance
in dress to be a royal prerogative, attempted to coerce the ladies
of her court into simplicity, the Countess of Shrewsbury comments
with ill-concealed irony on the result of such reasonable endeavours.
"How often hath her majestie, with the grave advice of her honourable
Councell, sette down the limits of apparell of every degree; and how
soon again hath the pride of our harts overflown the chanell."

There are two classes of critics who still waste their vital forces
in a futile attempt to reform feminine dress. The first class cherish
artistic sensibilities which are grievously wounded by the caprices
of fashion. They anathematize a civilization which tolerates
ear-rings, or feathered hats, or artificial flowers. They appear to
suffer vicarious torments from high-heeled shoes, spotted veils, and
stays. They have occasional doubts as to the moral influence of
ball-dresses. An unusually sanguine writer of this order has assured
us, in the pages of the "Contemporary Review," that when women once
assume their civic responsibilities, they will dress as austerely
as men. The first fruits of the suffrage will be seen in sober and
virtue-compelling gowns at the opera.

The second class of critics is made up of economists, who believe
that too much of the world's earnings is spent upon clothes, and that
this universal spirit of extravagance retards marriage, and blocks
the progress of the race. It is in an ignoble effort to pacify these
last censors that women writers undertake to tell their women readers,
in the pages of women's periodicals, how to dress on sums of
incredible insufficiency. Such misleading guides would be harmless,
and even in their way amusing, if nobody believed them; but unhappily
somebody always does believe them, and that somebody is too often
a married man. There is no measure to the credulity of the average
semi-educated man when confronted by a printed page (print carries
such authority in his eyes), and with rows of figures, all showing
conclusively that two and two make three, and that with economy and
good management they can be reduced to one and a half. He has never
mastered, and apparently never will master, the exact shade of
difference between a statement and a fact.

Women are, under most circumstances, even more readily deceived; but,
in the matter of dress, they have walked the thorny paths of
experience. They know the cruel cost of everything they wear,--a cost
which in this country is artificially maintained by a high protective
tariff,--and they are not to be cajoled by that delusive word
"simplicity," being too well aware that it is, when synonymous with
good taste, the consummate success of artists, and the crowning
achievement of wealth. Some years ago there appeared in one of the
English magazines an article entitled, "How to Dress on Thirty Pounds
a Year. As a Lady. By a Lady." Whereupon "Punch" offered the following
light-minded amendment: "How to Dress on Nothing a Year. As a Kaffir.
By a Kaffir." At least a practical proposition.

Mr. Henry James has written some charming paragraphs on the symbolic
value of clothes, as illustrated by the costumes worn by the French
actresses of the Comedie,--women to whose unerring taste dress
affords an expression of fine dramatic quality. He describes with
enthusiasm the appearance of Madame Nathalie, when playing the part
of an elderly provincial bourgeoise in a curtain-lifter called "Le

"It was the quiet felicity of the old lady's dress that used to charm
me. She wore a large black silk mantilla of a peculiar cut, which
looked as if she had just taken it tenderly out of some old wardrobe
where it lay folded in lavender, and a large dark bonnet, adorned
with handsome black silk loops and bows. The extreme suggestiveness,
and yet the taste and temperateness of this costume, seemed to me
inimitable. The bonnet alone, with its handsome, decent, virtuous
bows, was worth coming to see."

If we compare this "quiet felicity" of the artist with the absurd
travesties worn on our American stage, we can better understand the
pleasure which filled Mr. James's heart. What, for example, would
Madame Nathalie have thought of the modish gowns which Mrs. Fiske
introduces into the middle-class Norwegian life of Ibsen's dramas?
No plays can less well bear such inaccuracies, because they depend
on their stage-setting to bring before our eyes their alien aspect,
to make us feel an atmosphere with which we are wholly unfamiliar.
The accessories are few, but of supreme importance; and it is
inconceivable that a keenly intelligent actress like Mrs. Fiske
should sacrifice _vraisemblance_ to a meaningless refinement. In the
second act of "Rosmersholm," to take a single instance, the text
calls for a morning wrapper, a thing so manifestly careless and
informal that the school-master, Kroll, is scandalized at seeing
Rebecca in it, and says so plainly. But as Mrs. Fiske plays the scene
in a tea-gown of elaborate elegance, in which she might with
propriety have received the Archbishop of Canterbury, Kroll's
studied apologies for intruding upon her before she has had time to
dress, and the whole suggestion of undue intimacy between Rebecca
and Rosmer, which Ibsen meant to convey, is irrevocably lost. And
to weaken a situation for the sake of being prettily dressed would
be impossible to a French actress, trained in the delicacies of her

If the feeling for clothes, the sense of their correspondence with
time and place, with public enthusiasms and with private
sensibilities, has always belonged to France, it was a no less
dominant note in Italy during the two hundred years in which she
eclipsed and bewildered the rest of Christendom; and it bore fruit
in those great historic wardrobes which the Italian chroniclers
describe with loving minuteness. We know all about Isabella d' Este's
gowns, as if she had worn them yesterday. We know all about the jewels
which were the assertion of her husband's pride in times of peace,
and his security with the Lombard bankers in times of war. We know
what costumes the young Beatrice d' Este carried with her on her
mission to Venice, and how favourably they impressed the grave
Venetian Senate. We can count the shifts in Lucretia Borgia's
trousseau, when that much-slandered woman became Duchess of Ferrara,
and we can reckon the cost of the gold fringe which hung from her
linen sleeves. We are told which of her robes was wrought with fish
scales, and which with interlacing leaves, and which with a hem of
pure and flame-like gold. Ambassadors described in state papers her
green velvet cap with its golden ornaments, and the emerald she wore
on her forehead, and the black ribbon which tied her beautiful fair

These vanities harmonized with character and circumstance. The joy
of living was then expressing itself in an overwhelming sense of
beauty, and in material splendour which, unlike the material
splendour of to-day, never overstepped the standard set by the
intellect. Taste had become a triumphant principle, and as women grew
in dignity and importance, they set a higher and higher value on the
compelling power of dress. They had no more doubt on this score than
had wise Homer when he hung the necklaces around Aphrodite's tender
neck before she was well out of the sea, winding them row after row
in as many circles as there are stars clustering about the moon. No
more doubt than had the fair and virtuous Countess of Salisbury, who,
so Froissart tells us, chilled the lawless passion of Edward the
Third by the simple expedient of wearing unbefitting clothes. Saint
Lucy, under somewhat similar circumstances, felt it necessary to put
out her beautiful eyes; but Katharine of Salisbury knew men better
than the saint knew them. She shamed her loveliness by going to
Edward's banquet looking like a rustic, and found herself in
consequence very comfortably free from royal attentions.

In the wise old days when men outshone their consorts, we find their
hearts set discerningly on one supreme extravagance. Lace, the most
artistic fabric that taste and ingenuity have devised, "the fine web
which feeds the pride of the world," was for centuries the delight
of every well-dressed gentleman. We know not by what marital cajolery
Mr. Pepys persuaded Mrs. Pepys to give him the lace from her best
petticoat, "that she had when I married her"; but we do know that
he used it to trim a new coat; and that he subsequently noted down
in his diary one simple, serious, and heartfelt resolution, which
we feel sure was faithfully kept: "Henceforth I am determined my
chief expense shall be in lace bands." Charles the Second paid
fifteen pounds apiece for his lace-trimmed night-caps; William the
Third, five hundred pounds for a set of lace-trimmed night-shirts;
and Cinq-Mars, the favourite of Louis the Thirteenth, who was
beheaded when he was barely twenty-two, found time in his short life
to acquire three hundred sets of lace ruffles. The lace collars of
Van Dyck's portraits, the lace cravats which Grahame of Claverhouse
and Montrose wear over their armour, are subtly suggestive of the
strength that lies in delicacy. The fighting qualities of
Claverhouse were not less effective because of those soft folds of
lace and linen. The death of Montrose was no less noble because he
went to the scaffold in scarlet and fine linen, with "stockings of
incarnate silk, and roses on his shoon." Once Carlyle was disparaging
Montrose, as (being in a denunciatory mood) he would have disparaged
the Archangel Michael; and, finding his hearers disposed to disagree
with him, asked bitterly: "What did Montrose do anyway?" Whereupon
Irving retorted: "He put on a clean shirt to be hanged in, and that
is more than you, Carlyle, would ever have done in his place."

It was the association of the scaffold with an ignoble victim which
banished black satin from the London world. Because a foul-hearted
murderess[2] elected to be hanged in this material, Englishwomen
refused for years to wear it, and many bales of black satin languished
on the drapers' shelves,--a memorable instance of the significance
which attaches itself to dress. The caprices of fashion do more than
illustrate a woman's capacity or incapacity for selection. They
mirror her inward refinements, and symbolize those feminine virtues
and vanities which are so closely akin as to be occasionally

[Footnote 2: Mrs. Manning.]

   "A saint in crape is twice a saint in lawn,"

mocked Pope; and woman smiles at the satire, knowing more about the
matter than Pope could ever have known, and seeing a little sparkle
of truth glimmering beneath the gibe. Fashion fluctuates from one
charming absurdity to another, and each in turn is welcomed and
dismissed; through each in turn woman endeavours to reveal her own
elusive personality. Poets no longer praise With Herrick the brave
vibrations of her petticoats. Ambassadors no longer describe her
caps and ribbons in their official documents. Novelists no longer
devote twenty pages, as did the admirable Richardson, to the wedding
finery of their heroines. Men have ceased to be vitally interested
in dress, but none the less are they sensitive to its influence and
enslaved by its results; while women, preserving through the
centuries the great traditions of their sex, still rate at its utmost
value the prize for which Eve sold her freehold in the Garden of

"The Greatest of These is Charity"

_Mrs. James Gordon Harrington Balderston to Mrs. Lapham Shepherd_


Will you pardon me for this base encroachment on your time? Busy women
are the only ones who ever _have_ any time, so the rest of the world
is forced to steal from them. And then all that you organize is so
successful that every one turns naturally to you for advice and
assistance, as I am turning now. A really charming woman, a Miss
Alexandrina Ramsay, who has lived for years in Italy, is anxious to
give a series of lectures on Dante. I am sure they will be interesting,
for she can put so much local colour into them, and I understand she
is a fluent Italian scholar. Her uncle was the English Consul in
Florence or Naples, I don't remember which, so she has had unusual
opportunities for study; and her grandfather was Dr. Alexander
Ramsay, who wrote a history of the Hebrides. Unfortunately her voice
is not very strong, so she would be heard to the best advantage in
a drawing-room. I am wondering whether you would consent to lend
yours, which is so beautiful, or whether you could put Miss Ramsay
in touch with the Century Club, or the Spalding School. You will find
her attractive, I am sure. The Penhursts knew her well in Munich,
and have given her a letter to me.

Pray allow me to congratulate you on your new honours as a grandmother.
I trust that both your daughter and the baby are well.

      Very sincerely yours,

I forgot to tell you that Miss Ramsay's lectures are on

    Dante, the Lover.
    Dante, the Poet.
    Dante, the Patriot.
    Dante, the Reformer.

There was a fifth on Dante, the Prophet, but I persuaded her to leave
it out of the course.

            I. B.

_Mrs. Lapham Shepherd to Mrs. Wilfred Ward Hamilton_


Mrs. James Balderston has asked me to do what I can for a Miss
Alexandrina Ramsay (granddaughter of the historian), who wants to
give four lectures on Dante in Philadelphia. She has chopped him up
into poet, prophet, lover, etc. I cannot have any lectures or
readings in my house this winter. Jane is still far from strong, and
we shall probably go South after Christmas. Please don't let me put
any burden on your shoulders; but if Dr. Hamilton could persuade
those nice Quakers at Swarthmore that there is nothing so educational
as a course of Dante, it would be the best possible opening for Miss
Ramsay. Mrs. Balderston seems to think her voice would not carry in
a large room, but as students never listen to anybody, this would
make very little difference. The Century Club has been suggested,
but I fancy the classes there have been arranged for the season. There
are preparatory schools, aren't there, at Swarthmore, which need to
know about Dante? Or would there be any chance at all at Miss

Miss Ramsay has been to see me, and I feel sorry for the girl. Her
uncle was the English Consul at Milan, and the poor thing loved Italy
(who doesn't!), and hated to leave it. I wish she could establish
herself as a lecturer, though there is nothing I detest more ardently
than lectures.

I missed you sorely at the meeting of the Aubrey Home house-committee
yesterday. Harriet Maline and Mrs. Percy Brown had a battle royal
over the laying of the new water-pipes, and over _my_ prostrate body,
which still aches from the contest. I wish Harriet would resign. She
is the only creature I have ever known, except the Bate's parrot and
my present cook, who is perpetually out of temper. If she were not
my husband's stepmother's niece, I am sure I could stand up to her

      Cordially yours,

_Mrs. Wilfred Ward Hamilton to Miss Violet Wray_


You know Margaret Irington better than I do. Do you think she would
like to have a course of Dante in her school this winter? A very clever
and charming woman, a Miss Alexandrina Ramsay, has four lectures on
the poet which she is anxious to give before schools, or clubs, or--if
she can--in private houses. I have promised Mrs. Shepherd to do
anything in my power to help her. It occurred to me that the
Contemporary Club might like to have one of the lectures, and you
are on the committee. That would be the making of Miss Ramsay, if
only she could be heard in that huge Clover Room. I understand she
has a pleasant cultivated voice, but is not accustomed to public
speaking. There must be plenty of smaller clubs at Bryn Mawr, or
Haverford, or Chestnut Hill, for which she would be just the thing.
Her grandfather wrote a history of England, and I have a vague
impression that I studied it at school. I should write to the Drexel
Institute, but don't know anybody connected with it. Do you? It would
be a real kindness to give Miss Ramsay a start, and I know you do
not begrudge trouble in a good cause. You did such wonders for
Fraulein Breitenbach last winter.

      Love to your mother,
            Affectionately yours,
                  HANNAH GALE HAMILTON.

_Miss Violet Wray to Mrs. J. Lockwood Smith_


I have been requested by Hannah Hamilton--may Heaven forgive
her!--to find lecture engagements for a Miss Ramsay, Miss
Alexandrina Ramsay, who wants to tell the American public what she
knows about Dante. Why a Scotchwoman should be turned loose in the
Inferno, I cannot say; but it seems her father or her grandfather
wrote school-books, and she is carrying on the educational
traditions of the family. Hannah made the unholy suggestion that she
should speak at the Contemporary Club, and offered as an inducement
the fact that she couldn't be heard in so large a room. But we are
supposed to discuss topics of the day, and Dante happened some little
while ago. He has no bearing upon aviation, or National Insurance
Bills (that is our subject next Monday night); but he is brimming
over with ethics, and it is the duty of your precious Ethical Society
to grapple with him exhaustively. I always wondered what took you
to that strange substitute for church; but now I see in it the hand
of Providence pointing the way to Miss Ramsay's lecture field. Please
persuade your fellow Ethicals that four lectures--or even one
lecture--on Dante will be what Alice Hunt calls an "uplift." I feel
that I must try and find an opening for Hannah's protegee, because
she helped me with Fraulein Breitenbach's concert last winter,--a
circumstance she does not lightly permit me to forget. Did I say,
"May Heaven forgive her" for saddling me with this Scotch
schoolmaster's daughter? Well, I take back that devout supplication.
May jackals sit on her grandmother's grave! Meantime here is Miss
Ramsay to be provided for. If your Ethicals (disregarding their duty)
will have none of her, please think up somebody with a taste for
serious study, and point out that Dante, elucidated by a Scotchwoman,
will probably be as serious as anything that has visited Philadelphia
since the yellow fever.

If you want one of Grisette's kittens, there are still two left. The
handsomest of all has gone to live in regal splendour at the Bruntons,
and I have promised another to our waitress who was married last month.
Such are the vicissitudes of life.

        Ever yours,
            VIOLET WRAY.

_Mrs. J. Lockwood Smith to Mrs. James Gordon Harrington Balderston_


I want to enlist your interest in a clever young Scotchwoman, a Miss
Alexandrina Ramsay, who hopes to give four lectures on Dante in
Philadelphia this winter. Her father was an eminent teacher in his
day, and I understand she is thoroughly equipped for her work. Heaven
knows I wish fewer lecturers would cross the sea to enlighten our
ignorance, and so will you when you get this letter; but I remember
with what enthusiasm you talked about Italy and Dante at Brown's
Mills last spring, and I trust that your ardour has not waned. The
Century Club seems to me the best possible field for Miss Ramsay.
Do you know any one on the entertainment committee, and do you think
it is not too late in the season to apply? Of course there are always
the schools. Dear Mrs. Balderston, I should feel more shame in
troubling you, did I not know how capable you are, and how much weight
your word carries. Violet Wray and Mrs. Wilfred Hamilton are
tremendously interested in Miss Ramsay. May I tell Violet to send
her to you, so that you can see for yourself what she is like, and
what chances she has of success? Please be quite frank in saying yes
or no, and believe me always,

        Yours very cordially,

The Customary Correspondent

"Letters warmly sealed and coldly opened."--RICHTER.

Why do so many ingenious theorists give fresh reasons every year for
the decline of letter writing, and why do they assume, in derision
of suffering humanity, that it has declined? They lament the lack
of leisure, the lack of sentiment,--Mr. Lucas adds the lack of
stamps,--which chill the ardour of the correspondent; and they fail
to ascertain how chilled he is, or how far he sets at naught these
justly restraining influences. They talk of telegrams, and
telephones, and postal cards, as if any discovery of science, any
device of civilization, could eradicate from the human heart that
passion for self-expression which is the impelling force of letters.
They also fail to note that, side by side with telephones and
telegrams, comes the baleful reduction of postage rates, which
lowers our last barrier of defence. Two cents an ounce leaves us naked
at the mercy of the world.

It is on record that a Liverpool tradesman once wrote to Dickens,
to express the pleasure he had derived from that great Englishman's
immortal novels, and enclosed, by way of testimony, a cheque for five
hundred pounds. This is a phenomenon which ought to be more widely
known than it is, for there is no natural law to prevent its
recurrence; and while the world will never hold another Dickens,
there are many deserving novelists who may like to recall the
incident when they open their morning's mail. It would be pleasant
to associate our morning's mail with such fair illusions; and though
writing to strangers is but a parlous pastime, the Liverpool
gentleman threw a new and radiant light upon its possibilities. "The
gratuitous contributor is, _ex vi termini_, an ass," said
Christopher North sourly; but then he never knew, nor ever deserved
to know, this particular kind of contribution.

Generally speaking, the unknown correspondent does not write to
praise. His guiding principle is the diffusion of useless knowledge,
and he demands or imparts it according to the exigencies of the hour.
It is strange that a burning thirst for information should be
combined with such reluctance to acquire it through ordinary
channels. A man who wishes to write a paper on the botanical value
of Shakespeare's plays does not dream of consulting a concordance
and a botany, and then going to work. The bald simplicity of such
a process offends his sense of magnitude. He writes to a
distinguished scholar, asking a number of burdensome questions, and
is apparently under the impression that the resources of the
scholar's mind, the fruits of boundless industry, should be
cheerfully placed at his disposal. A woman who meditates a "literary
essay" upon domestic pets is not content to track her quarry through
the long library shelves. She writes to some painstaking worker,
enquiring what English poets have "sung the praises of the cat," and
if Cowper was the only author who ever domesticated hares? One of
Huxley's most amusing letters is written in reply to a gentleman who
wished to compile an article on "Home Pets of Celebrities," and who
unhesitatingly applied for particulars concerning the Hodeslea cat.

These are, of course, labour-saving devices, but economy of effort
is not always the ambition of the correspondent. It would seem easier,
on the whole, to open a dictionary of quotations than to compose an
elaborately polite letter, requesting to know who said--

   "Fate cannot harm me; I have dined to-day."

It is certainly easier, and far more agreeable, to read Charles
Lamb's essays than to ask a stranger in which one of them he
discovered the author's heterodox views on encyclopaedias. It
involves no great fatigue to look up a poem of Herrick's, or a letter
of Shelley's, or a novel of Peacock's (these things are accessible
and repay enquiry), and it would be a rational and self-respecting
thing to do, instead of endeavouring to extort information (like an
intellectual footpad) from writers who are in no way called upon to
furnish it.

One thing is sure. As long as there are people in this world whose
guiding principle is the use of other people's brains, there can be
no decline and fall of letter-writing. The correspondence which
plagued our great-grandfathers a hundred years ago, plagues their
descendants to-day. Readers of Lockhart's "Scott" will remember how
an Edinburgh minister named Brunton, who wished to compile a hymnal,
wrote to the poet Crabbe for a list of hymns; and how Crabbe (who,
albeit a clergyman, knew probably as little about hymns as any man
in England) wrote in turn to Scott, to please help him to help
Brunton; and how Scott replied in desperation that he envied the
hermit of Prague who never saw pen nor ink. How many of us have in
our day thought longingly of that blessed anchorite! Surely Mr.
Herbert Spencer must, consciously or unconsciously, have shared
Scott's sentiments, when he wrote a letter to the public press,
explaining with patient courtesy that, being old, and busy, and very
tired, it was no longer possible for him to answer all the unknown
correspondents who demanded information upon every variety of
subject. He had tried to do this for many years, but the tax was too
heavy for his strength, and he was compelled to take refuge in

Ingenious authors and editors who ask for free copy form a class apart.
They are not pursuing knowledge for their own needs, but offering
themselves as channels through which we may gratuitously enlighten
the world. Their questions, though intimate to the verge of
indiscretion, are put in the name of humanity; and we are bidden to
confide to the public how far we indulge in the use of stimulants,
what is the nature of our belief in immortality, if--being women--we
should prefer to be men, and what incident of our lives has most
profoundly affected our careers. Reticence on our part is met by the
assurance that eminent people all over the country are hastening to
answer these queries, and that the "unique nature" of the discussion
will make it of permanent value to mankind. We are also told in
soothing accents that our replies need not exceed a few hundred words,
as the editor is nobly resolved not to infringe upon our valuable

Less commercial, but quite as importunate, are the correspondents
who belong to literary societies, and who have undertaken to read,
before these select circles, papers upon every conceivable subject,
from the Bride of the Canticle to the divorce laws of France. They
regret their own ignorance--as well they may--and blandly ask for
aid. There is no limit to demands of this character. The young
Englishwoman who wrote to Tennyson, requesting some verses which she
might read as her own at a picnic, was not more intrepid than the
American school-girl who recently asked a man of letters to permit
her to see an unpublished address, as she had heard that it dealt
with the subject of her graduation paper, and hoped it might give
her some points. It is hard to believe that the timidity natural to
youth--or which we used to think natural to youth--could be so easily
overcome; or that the routine of school work, which makes for honest
if inefficient acquirements, could leave a student still begging or
borrowing her way.

We must in justice admit, however, that the unknown correspondent
is as ready to volunteer assistance as to demand it. He is ingenious
in criticism, and fertile in suggestions. He has inspirations in the
way of plots and topics,--like that amiable baronet, Sir John
Sinclair, who wanted Scott to write a poem on the adventures and
intrigues of a Caithness mermaiden, and who proffered him, by way
of inducement, "all the information I possess." The correspondent's
tone, when writing to humbler drudges in the field, is kind and
patronizing. He admits that he likes your books, or at least--here
is a veiled reproach--that he "has liked the earlier ones"; he
assumes, unwarrantably, that you are familiar with his favourite
authors; and he believes that it would be for you "an interesting
and congenial task" to trace the "curious connection" between
American fiction and the stock exchange. Sometimes, with thinly
veiled sarcasm, he demands that you should "enlighten his dulness,"
and say _why_ you gave your book its title. If he cannot find a French
word you have used in his "excellent dictionary," he thinks it worth
while to write and tell you so. He fears you do not "wholly understand
or appreciate the minor poets of your native land"; and he protests,
more in sorrow than in anger, against certain innocent phrases with
which you have disfigured "your otherwise graceful pages."

Now it must be an impulse not easily resisted which prompts people
to this gratuitous expression of their opinions. They take a world
of trouble which they could so easily escape; they deem it their
privilege to break down the barriers which civilization has taught
us to respect; and if they ever find themselves repaid, it is
assuredly by something remote from the gratitude of their
correspondents. Take, for example, the case of Mr. Peter Bayne,
journalist, and biographer of Martin Luther, who wrote to
Tennyson,--with whom he was unacquainted,--protesting earnestly
against a line in "Lady Clare":--

   "'If I'm a beggar born,' she said."

It was Mr. Bayne's opinion that such an expression was not only
exaggerated, inasmuch as the nurse was not, and never had been, a
beggar; but, coming from a child to her mother, was harsh and unfilial.
"The criticism of my heart," he wrote, "tells me that Lady Clare could
never have said that."

Tennyson was perhaps the last man in Christendom to have accepted
the testimony of Mr. Bayne's heart-throbs. He intimated with some
asperity that he knew better than anyone else what Lady Clare _did_
say, and he pointed out that she had just cause for resentment against
a mother who had placed her in such an embarrassing position. The
controversy is one of the drollest in literature; but what is hard
to understand is the mental attitude of a man--and a reasonably busy
man--who could attach so much importance to Lady Clare's remarks,
and who could feel himself justified in correcting them.

Begging letters form a class apart. They represent a great and
growing industry, and they are too purposeful to illustrate the
abstract passion for correspondence. Yet marvellous things have been
done in this field. There is an ingenuity, a freshness and fertility
of device about the begging letter which lifts it often to the realms
of genius. Experienced though we all are, it has surprises in store
for every one of us. Seasoned though we are, we cannot read without
appreciation of its more daring and fantastic flights. There was,
for instance, a very imperative person who wrote to Dickens for a
donkey, and who said he would call for it the next day, as though
Dickens kept a herd of donkeys in Tavistock Square, and could always
spare one for an emergency. There was a French gentleman who wrote
to Moore, demanding a lock of Byron's hair for a young lady, who
would--so he said--die if she did not get it. This was a very
lamentable letter, and Moore was conjured, in the name of the young
lady's distracted family, to send the lock, and save her from the
grave. And there was a misanthrope who wrote to Peel that he was weary
of the ways of men (as so, no doubt, was Peel), and who requested
a hermitage in some nobleman's park, where he might live secluded
from the world. The best begging-letter writers depend upon the
element of surprise as a valuable means to their end. I knew a
benevolent old lady who, in 1885, was asked to subscribe to a fund
for the purchase of "moderate luxuries" for the French soldiers in
Madagascar. "What did you do?" I asked, when informed of the incident.
"I sent the money," was the placid reply. "I thought I might never
again have an opportunity to send money to Madagascar."

It would be idle to deny that a word of praise, a word of thanks,
sometimes a word of criticism, have been powerful factors in the
lives of men of genius. We know how profoundly Lord Byron was affected
by the letter of a consumptive girl, written simply and soberly,
signed with initials only, seeking no notice and giving no address;
but saying in a few candid words that the writer wished before she
died to thank the poet for the rapture his poems had given her. "I
look upon such a letter," wrote Byron to Moore, "as better than a
diploma from Gottingen." We know, too, what a splendid impetus to
Carlyle was that first letter from Goethe, a letter which he
confessed seemed too wonderful to be real, and more "like a message
from fairyland." It was but a brief note after all, tepid, sensible,
and egotistical; but the magic sentence, "It may be I shall yet hear
much of you," became for years an impelling force, the kind of
prophecy which insured its own fulfilment.

Carlyle was susceptible to praise, though few readers had the
temerity to offer it. We find him, after the publication of the
"French Revolution," writing urbanely to a young and unknown
admirer; "I do not blame your enthusiasm." But when a less
happily-minded youth sent him some suggestions for the reformation
of society, Carlyle, who could do all his own grumbling, returned
his disciple's complaints with this laconic denial: "A pack of damned
nonsense, you unfortunate fool." It sounds unkind; but we must
remember that there were six posts a day in London, that "each post
brought its batch of letters," and that nine tenths of these
letters--so Carlyle says--were from strangers, demanding autographs,
and seeking or proffering advice. One man wrote that he was
distressingly ugly, and asked what should he do about it. "So
profitable have my epistolary fellow creatures grown to me in these
years," notes the historian in his journal, "that when the postman
leaves nothing, it may well be felt as an escape."

The most patient correspondent known to fame was Sir Walter Scott,
though Lord Byron surprises us at times by the fine quality of his
good nature. His letters are often petulant,--especially when Murray
has sent him tragedies instead of tooth-powder; but he is perhaps
the only man on record who received with perfect equanimity the
verses of an aspiring young poet, wrote him the cheerfullest of
letters, and actually invited him to breakfast. The letter is still
extant; but the verses were so little the precursor of fame that the
youth's subsequent history is to this day unknown. It was with truth
that Byron said of himself: "I am really a civil and polite person,
and do hate pain when it can be avoided."

Scott was also civil and polite, and his heart beat kindly for every
species of bore. As a consequence, the world bestowed its tediousness
upon him, to the detriment of his happiness and health. Ingenious
jokers translated his verses into Latin, and then wrote to accuse
him of plagiarizing from Vida. Proprietors of patent medicines
offered him fabulous sums to link his fame with theirs. Modest ladies
proposed that he should publish their effusions as his own, and share
the profits. Poets demanded that he should find publishers for their
epics, and dramatists that he should find managers for their plays.
Critics pointed out to him his anachronisms, and well-intentioned
readers set him right on points of morality and law. When he was old,
and ill, and ruined, there was yet no respite from the curse of
correspondents. A year before his death he wrote dejectedly in his
journal:--"A fleece of letters which must be answered, I suppose;
all from persons--my zealous admirers, of course--who expect me to
make up whatever losses have been their lot, raise them to a desirable
rank, and stand their protector and patron. I must, they take it for
granted, be astonished at having an address from a stranger. On the
contrary, I should be astonished if one of these extravagant epistles
came from anybody who had the least title to enter into

And there are people who believe, or who pretend to believe, that
fallen human nature can be purged and amended by half-rate telegrams,
and a telephone ringing in the hall. Rather let us abandon illusions,
and echo Carlyle's weary cry, when he heard the postman knocking at
his door: "Just Heavens! Does literature lead to this!"

The Benefactor

   "He is a good man who can receive a gift well."--EMERSON.

There is a sacredness of humility in such an admission which wins
pardon for all the unlovely things which Emerson has crowded into
a few pages upon "Gifts." Recognizing that his own goodness stopped
short of this exalted point, he pauses for a moment in his able and
bitter self-defence to pay tribute to a generosity he is too honest
to claim. After all, who but Charles Lamb ever _did_ receive gifts
well? Scott tried, to be sure. No man ever sinned less than he against
the law of kindness. But Lamb did not need to try. He had it in his
heart of gold to feel pleasure in the presents which his friends took
pleasure in giving him. The character and quality of the gifts were
not determining factors. We cannot analyze this disposition. We can
only admire it from afar.

"I look upon it as a point of morality to be obliged to those who
endeavour to oblige me," says Sterne; and the sentiment, like most
of Sterne's sentiments, is remarkably graceful. It has all the
freshness of a principle never fagged out by practice. The rugged
fashion in which Emerson lived up to his burdensome ideals prompted
him to less engaging utterances. "It is not the office of a man to
receive gifts," he writes viciously. "How dare you give them? We wish
to be self-sustained. We do not quite forgive a giver. The hand that
feeds us is in some danger of being bitten."

Carlyle is almost as disquieting. He searches for, and consequently
finds, unworthy feelings both in the man who gives, and holds himself
to be a benefactor, and in the man who receives, and burdens himself
with a sense of obligation. He professes a stern dislike for presents,
fearing lest they should undermine his moral stability; but a man
so up in morals must have been well aware that he ran no great risk
of parting with his stock in trade. He probably hated getting what
he did not want, and finding himself expected to be grateful for it.
This is a sentiment common to lesser men than Carlyle, and as old
as the oldest gift-bearer. It has furnished food for fables,
inspiration for satirists, and cruel stories at which the
light-hearted laugh. Mr. James Payn used to tell the tale of an
advocate who unwisely saved a client from the gallows which he should
have graced; and the man, inspired by the best of motives, sent his
benefactor from the West Indies a case of pineapples in which a colony
of centipedes had bred so generously that they routed every servant
from the unfortunate lawyer's house, and dwelt hideously and
permanently in his kitchen. "A purchase is cheaper than a gift," says
a wily old Italian proverb, steeped in the wisdom of the centuries.

The principle which prompts the selection of gifts--since selected
they all are by some one--is for the most part a mystery. I never
but once heard any reasonable solution, and that was volunteered by
an old lady who had been listening in silence to a conversation on
the engrossing subject of Christmas presents. It was a conversation
at once animated and depressing. The time was at hand when none of
us could hope to escape these tokens of regard, and the elaborate
and ingenious character of their unfitness was frankly and fairly
discussed. What baffled us was the theory of choice. Suddenly the
old lady flooded this dark problem with light by observing that she
always purchased her presents at bazaars. She said she knew they were
useless, and that nobody wanted them, but that she considered it her
duty to help the bazaars. She had the air of one conscious of
well-doing, and sure of her reward. It did not seem to occur to her
that the reward should, in justice, be passed on with the purchases.
The necessities of charitable organizations called for a sacrifice,
and, rising to the emergency, she sacrificed her friends.

A good many years have passed over our heads since Thackeray launched
his invectives at the Christmas tributes he held in heartiest
hatred,--the books which every season brought in its train, and which
were never meant to be read. Their mission was fulfilled when they
were sent by aunt to niece, by uncle to nephew, by friend to hapless
friend. They were "gift-books" in the exclusive sense of the word.
Thackeray was wont to declare that these vapid, brightly bound
volumes played havoc with the happy homes of England, just as the
New Year bonbons played havoc with the homes of France. Perhaps, of
the two countries, France suffered less. The candy soon disappeared,
leaving only impaired digestions in its wake. The books remained to
encumber shelves, and bore humanity afresh.

   "Mol, je dis que les bonbons
    Valent mieux que la raison";

and they are at least less permanently oppressive. "When thou makest
presents," said old John Fuller, "let them be of such things as will
last long; to the end that they may be in some sort immortal, and
may frequently refresh the memory of the receiver." But this
excellent advice--excellent for the simple and spacious age in which
it was written--presupposes the "immortal" presents to wear well.
Theologians teach us that immortality is not necessarily a blessing.

A vast deal of ingenuity is wasted every year in evoking the
undesirable, in the careful construction of objects which burden
life. Frankenstein was a large rather than an isolated example. The
civilized world so teems with elaborate and unlovely inutilities,
with things which seem foreign to any reasonable conditions of
existence, that we are sometimes disposed to envy the savage who
wears all his simple wardrobe without being covered, and who sees
all his simple possessions in a corner of his empty hut. What pleasant
spaces meet the savage eye! What admirable vacancies soothe the
savage soul! No embroidered bag is needed to hold his sponge or his
slippers. No painted box is destined for his postal cards. No
decorated tablet waits for his laundry list. No ornate wall-pocket
yawns for his unpaid bills. He smokes without cigarette-cases. He
dances without cotillion favours. He enjoys all rational diversions,
unfretted by the superfluities with which we have weighted them. Life,
notwithstanding its pleasures, remains endurable to him.

Above all, he does not undermine his own moral integrity by vicarious
benevolence, by helping the needy at his friend's expense. The great
principle of giving away what one does not want to keep is probably
as familiar to the savage as to his civilized, or semi-civilized
brother. That vivacious traveller, Pere Huc, tells us he has seen
a Tartar chief at dinner gravely hand over to an underling a piece
of gristle he found himself unable to masticate, and that the gift
was received with every semblance of gratitude and delight. But there
is a simple straightforwardness about an act like this which commends
it to our understanding. The Tartar did not assume the gristle to
be palatable. He did not veil his motives for parting with it. He
did not expand with the emotions of a philanthropist. And he did not
expect the Heavens to smile upon his deed.

One word must be said in behalf of the punctilious giver, of the man
who repays a gift as scrupulously as he returns a blow. He wants to
please, but he is baffled by not knowing, and by not being sympathetic
enough to divine, what his inarticulate friend desires. And if he
does know, he may still vacillate between his friend's sense of the
becoming and his own. The "Spectator," in a mood of unwonted subtlety,
tells us that there is a "mild treachery" in giving what we feel to
be bad, because we are aware that the recipient will think it very
good. If, for example, we hold garnets to be ugly and vulgar, we must
not send them to a friend who considers them rich and splendid. "A
gift should represent common ground."

This is so well said that it sounds like the easy thing it isn't.
Which of us has not nobly striven, and ignobly failed, to preserve
our honest purpose without challenging the taste of our friends? It
is hard to tell what people really prize. Heine begged for a button
from George Sand's trousers, and who shall say whether enthusiasm
or malice prompted the request? Mr. Oscar Browning, who as Master
at Eton must have known whereof he spoke, insisted that it was a
mistake to give a boy a well-bound book if you expected him to read
it. Yet binding plays a conspicuous part in the selection of
Christmas and birthday presents. Dr. Johnson went a step farther,
and said that nobody wanted to read _any_ book which was given to
him;--the mere fact that it was given, instead of being bought,
borrowed, or ravished from a friend's shelves, militated against its
readable qualities. Perhaps the Doctor was thinking of authors'
copies. Otherwise the remark is the most discouraging one on record.

Yet when all the ungracious things have been said and forgotten, when
the hard old proverbs have exhausted their unwelcome wisdom, and we
have smiled wearily over the deeper cynicisms of Richelieu and
Talleyrand, where shall we turn for relief but to Emerson, who has
atoned in his own fashion for the harshness of his own words. It is
not only that he recognizes the goodness of the man who receives a
gift well; but he sees, and sees clearly, that there can be no
question between friends of giving or receiving, no possible room
for generosity or gratitude. "The gift to be true must be the flowing
of the giver unto me, correspondent to my flowing unto him. When the
waters are at a level, then my goods pass to him, and his to me. All
his are mine, all mine, his."

Critics have been disposed to think that this is an elevation too
lofty for plain human beings to climb, an air too rarified for them
to breathe; and that it ill befitted a man who churlishly resented
the simple, stupid kindnesses of life, to take so sublime a tone,
to claim so fine a virtue. We cannot hope to scale great moral heights
by ignoring petty obligations.

Yet Emerson does not go a step beyond Plato in his conception of the
"level waters" of friendship. He states his position lucidly, and
with a rational understanding of all that it involves. His vision
is wide enough to embrace its everlasting truth. Plato says the same
thing in simpler language. He offers his truth as self-evident, and
in no need of demonstration. When Lysis and Menexenus greet Socrates
at the gymnasia, the philosopher asks which of the two youths is the

"'That,' said Menexenus, 'is a matter of dispute between us.'

"'And which is the nobler? Is that also a matter of dispute?'

"'Yes, certainly.'

"'And another disputed point is which is the fairer?'

"The two boys laughed.

"'I shall not ask which is the richer, for you are friends, are you

"'We are friends.'

"'And friends have all things in common, so that one of you can be
no richer than the other, if you say truly that you are friends.'

"They assented, and at that moment Menexenus was called away by some
one who came and said that the master of the gymnasia wanted him."[1]

[Footnote 1: Lysis. Translated by Jowett.]

This is all. To Plato's way of thinking, the situation explained
itself. The two boys could not share their beauty nor their strength,
but money was a thing to pass from hand to hand. It was not, and it
never could be, a matter for competition. The last lesson taught an
Athenian youth was the duty of outstripping his neighbour in the hard
race for wealth.

And where shall we turn for a practical illustration of friendship,
as conceived by Emerson and Plato? Where shall we see the level waters,
the "mine is thine" which we think too exalted for plain living? No
need to search far, and no need to search amid the good and great.
It is a pleasure to find what we seek in the annals of the flagrantly
sinful, of that notorious Duke of Queensberry, "Old Q," who has been
so liberally and justly censured by Wordsworth and Burns, by Leigh
Hunt and Sir George Trevelyan, and who was, in truth, gamester,
roue,--and friend. In the last capacity he was called upon to listen
to the woes of George Selwyn, who, having lost at Newmarket more money
than he could possibly hope to pay, saw ruin staring him in the face.
There is in Selwyn's letter a note of eloquent misery. He was, save
when lulled to sleep in Parliament, a man of many words. There is
in the letter of Lord March (he had not yet succeeded to the
Queensberry title and estates) nothing but a quiet exposition of
Plato's theory of friendship. Selwyn's debts and his friend's money
are intercommunicable. The amount required has been placed that
morning at the banker's. "I depend more," writes Lord March, "upon
the continuance of our friendship than upon anything else in the
world, because I have so many reasons to know you, and I am sure I
know myself. _There will be no bankruptcy without we are bankrupt

Here are the waters flowing on a level, flowing between two men of
the world; one of them great enough to give, without deeming himself
a benefactor, and the other good enough to receive a gift well.

The Condescension of Borrowers

"Il n'est si riche qui quelquefois ne doibve. Il n'est si pauvre de
qui quelquefois on ne puisse emprunter."--_Pantagruel_.

"I lent my umbrella," said my friend, "to my cousin, Maria. I was
compelled to lend it to her because she could not, or would not, leave
my house in the rain without it. I had need of that umbrella, and
I tried to make it as plain as the amenities of language permitted
that I expected to have it returned. Maria said superciliously that
she hated to see other people's umbrellas littering the house, which
gave me a gleam of hope. Two months later I found my property in the
hands of her ten-year-old son, who was being marshalled with his
brothers and sisters to dancing-school. In the first joyful flash
of recognition I cried, 'Oswald, that is my umbrella you are
carrying!' whereupon Maria said still more superciliously than
before, 'Oh, yes, don't you remember?' (as if reproaching me for my
forgetfulness)--'you gave it to me that Saturday I lunched with you,
and it rained so heavily. The boys carry it to school. Where there
are children, you can't have too many old umbrellas at hand. They
lose them so fast.' She spoke," continued my friend impressively,
"as if she were harbouring my umbrella from pure kindness, and
because she did not like to wound my feelings by sending it back to
me. She made a virtue of giving it shelter."

This is the arrogance which places the borrower, as Charles Lamb
discovered long ago, among the great ones of the earth, among those
whom their brethren serve. Lamb loved to contrast the "instinctive
sovereignty," the frank and open bearing of the man who borrows with
the "lean and suspicious" aspect of the man who lends. He stood lost
in admiration before the great borrowers of the world,--Alcibiades,
Falstaff, Steele, and Sheridan; an incomparable quartette, to which
might be added the shining names of William Godwin and Leigh Hunt.
All the characteristic qualities of the class were united, indeed,
in Leigh Hunt, as in no other single representative. Sheridan was
an unrivalled companion,--could talk seven hours without making even
Byron yawn. Steele was the most lovable of spendthrifts. Lending to
these men was but a form of investment. They paid in a coinage of
their own. But Leigh Hunt combined in the happiest manner a readiness
to extract favours with a confirmed habit of never acknowledging the
smallest obligation for them. He is a perfect example of the
condescending borrower, of the man who permits his friends, as a
pleasure to themselves, to relieve his necessities, and who knows
nothing of gratitude or loyalty.

It would be interesting to calculate the amount of money which Hunt's
friends and acquaintances contributed to his support in life.
Shelley gave him at one time fourteen hundred pounds, an amount which
the poet could ill spare; and, when he had no more to give, wrote
in misery of spirit to Byron, begging a loan for his friend, and
promising to repay it, as he feels tolerably sure that Hunt never
will. Byron, generous at first, wearied after a time of his position
in Hunt's commissariat (it was like pulling a man out of a river,
he wrote to Moore, only to see him jump in again), and coldly withdrew.
His withdrawal occasioned inconvenience, and has been sharply
criticised. Hunt, says Sir Leslie Stephen, loved a cheerful giver,
and Byron's obvious reluctance struck him as being in bad taste. His
biographers, one and all, have sympathized with this point of view.
Even Mr. Frederick Locker, from whom one would have expected a
different verdict, has recorded his conviction that Hunt had
probably been "sorely tried" by Byron.

It is characteristic of the preordained borrower, of the man who
simply fulfils his destiny in life, that not his obligations only,
but his anxieties and mortifications are shouldered by other men.
Hunt was care-free and light-hearted; but there is a note akin to
anguish in Shelley's petition to Byron, and in his shamefaced
admission that he is himself too poor to relieve his friend's
necessities. The correspondence of William Godwin's eminent
contemporaries teem with projects to alleviate Godwin's needs. His
debts were everybody's affair but his own. Sir James Mackintosh wrote
to Rogers in the autumn of 1815, suggesting that Byron might be the
proper person to pay them. Rogers, enchanted with the idea, wrote
to Byron, proposing that the purchase money of "The Siege of Corinth"
be devoted to this good purpose. Byron, with less enthusiasm, but
resigned, wrote to Murray, directing him to forward the six hundred
pounds to Godwin; and Murray, having always the courage of his
convictions, wrote back, flatly refusing to do anything of the kind.
In the end, Byron used the money to pay his own debts, thereby
disgusting everybody but his creditors.

Six years later, however, we find him contributing to a fund which
tireless philanthropists were raising for Godwin's relief. On this
occasion all men of letters, poor as well as rich, were pressed into
active service. Even Lamb, who had nothing of his own, wrote to the
painter, Haydon, who had not a penny in the world, and begged him
to beg Mrs. Coutts to pay Godwin's rent. He also confessed that he
had sent "a very respectful letter"--on behalf of the rent--to Sir
Walter Scott; and he explained naively that Godwin did not concern
himself personally in the matter, because he "left all to his
Committee,"--a peaceful thing to do.

But how did Godwin come to have a "committee" to raise money for him,
when other poor devils had to raise it for themselves, or do without?
He was not well-beloved. On the contrary, he bored all whom he did
not affront. He was not grateful. On the contrary, he held gratitude
to be a vice, as tending to make men "grossly partial" to those who
have befriended them. His condescension kept pace with his demands.
After his daughter's flight with Shelley, he expressed his just
resentment by refusing to accept Shelley's cheque for a thousand
pounds unless it were made payable to a third party, unless he could
have the money without the formality of an acceptance. Like the great
lords of Picardy, who had the "right of credit" from their loyal
subjects, Godwin claimed his dues from every chance acquaintance.
Crabb Robinson introduced him one evening to a gentleman named Rough.
The next day both Godwin and Rough called upon their host, each man
expressing his regard for the other, and each asking Robinson if he
thought the other would be a likely person to lend him fifty pounds.

There are critics who hold that Haydon excelled all other borrowers
known to fame; but his is not a career upon which an admirer of the
art can look with pleasure. Haydon's debts hunted him like hounds,
and if he pursued borrowing as a means of livelihood,--more lucrative
than painting pictures which nobody would buy,--it was only because
no third avocation presented itself as a possibility. He is not to
be compared for a moment with a true expert like Sheridan, who
borrowed for borrowing's sake, and without any sordid motive
connected with rents or butchers' bills. Haydon would, indeed, part
with his money as readily as if it belonged to him. He would hear
an "inward voice" in church, urging him to give his last sovereign;
and, having obeyed this voice "with as pure a feeling as ever animated
a human heart," he had no resource but immediately to borrow another.
It would have been well for him if he could have followed on such
occasions the memorable example of Lady Cook, who was so impressed
by a begging sermon that she borrowed a sovereign from Sydney Smith
to put into the offertory; and--the gold once between her
fingers--found herself equally unable to give it or to return it,
so went home, a pound richer for her charitable impulse.

Haydon, too, would rob Peter to pay Paul, and rob Paul without paying
Peter; but it was all after an intricate and troubled fashion of his
own. On one occasion he borrowed ten pounds from Webb. Seven pounds
he used to satisfy another creditor, from whom, on the strength of
this payment, he borrowed ten pounds more to meet an impending bill.
It sounds like a particularly confusing game; but it was a game played
in dead earnest, and without the humorous touch which makes the charm
of Lady Cook's, or of Sheridan's methods. Haydon would have been
deeply grateful to his benefactors, had he not always stood in need
of favours to come. Sheridan might perchance have been grateful,
could he have remembered who his benefactors were. He laid the world
under tribute; and because he had an aversion to opening his
mail,--an aversion with which it is impossible not to
sympathize,--he frequently made no use of the tribute when it was
paid. Moore tells us that James Wesley once saw among a pile of papers
on Sheridan's desk an unopened letter of his own, containing a
ten-pound note, which he had lent Sheridan some weeks before. Wesley
quietly took possession of the letter and the money, thereby raising
a delicate, and as yet unsettled, question of morality. Had he a right
to those ten pounds because they had once been his, or were they not
rather Sheridan's property, destined in the natural and proper order
of things never to be returned.

Yet men, even men of letters, have been known to pay their debts,
and to restore borrowed property. Moore paid Lord Lansdowne every
penny of the generous sum advanced by that nobleman after the
defalcation of Moore's deputy in Bermuda. Dr. Johnson paid back ten
pounds after a lapse of twenty years,--a pleasant shock to the
lender,--and on his death-bed (having fewer sins than most of us to
recall) begged Sir Joshua Reynolds to forgive him a trifling loan.
It was the too honest return of a pair of borrowed sheets (unwashed)
which first chilled Pope's friendship for Lady Mary Wortley Montagu.
That excellent gossip, Miss Letitia Matilda Hawkins, who stands
responsible for this anecdote, lamented all her life that her father,
Sir John Hawkins, could never remember which of the friends borrowed
and which lent the offending sheets; but it is a point easily settled
in our minds. Pope was probably the last man in Christendom to have
been guilty of such a misdemeanour, and Lady Mary was certainly the
last woman in Christendom to have been affronted by it. Like Dr.
Johnson, she had "no passion for clean linen."

Coleridge, though he went through life leaning his inert weight on
other men's shoulders, did remember in some mysterious fashion to
return the books he borrowed, enriched often, as Lamb proudly records,
with marginal notes which tripled their value. His conduct in this
regard was all the more praiseworthy inasmuch as the cobweb statutes
which define books as personal property have never met with literal
acceptance. Lamb's theory that books belong with the highest
propriety to those who understand them best (a theory often advanced
in defence of depredations which Lamb would have scorned to commit),
was popular before the lamentable invention of printing. The library
of Lucullus was, we are told, "open to all," and it would be
interesting to know how many precious manuscripts remained
ultimately in the great patrician's villa.

Richard Heber, that most princely of collectors, so well understood
the perils of his position that he met them bravely by buying three
copies of every book,--one for show, one for use, and one for the
service of his friends. The position of the show-book seems rather
melancholy, but perhaps, in time, it replaced the borrowed volume.
Heber's generosity has been nobly praised by Scott, who contrasts
the hard-heartedness of other bibliophiles, those "gripple
niggards" who preferred holding on to their treasures, with his
friend's careless liberality.

   "Thy volumes, open as thy heart,
    Delight, amusement, science, art,
    To every ear and eye impart.
    Yet who, of all who thus employ them,
    Can, like the owner's self, enjoy them?"

The "gripple niggards" might have pleaded feebly in their own behalf
that they could not all afford to spend, like Heber, a hundred
thousand pounds in the purchase of books; and that an occasional
reluctance to part with some hard-earned, hard-won volume might be
pardonable in one who could not hope to replace it. Lamb's books were
the shabbiest in Christendom; yet how keen was his pang when Charles
Kemble carried off the letters of "that princely woman, the thrice
noble Margaret Newcastle," an "illustrious folio" which he well knew
Kemble would never read. How bitterly he bewailed his rashness in
extolling the beauties of Sir Thomas Browne's "Urn Burial" to a guest
who was so moved by this eloquence that he promptly borrowed the
volume. "But so," sighed Lamb, "have I known a foolish lover to praise
his mistress in the presence of a rival more qualified to carry her
off than himself."

Johnson cherished a dim conviction that because he read, and Garrick
did not, the proper place for Garrick's books was on
his--Johnson's--bookshelves; a point which could never be settled
between the two friends, and which came near to wrecking their
friendship. Garrick loved books with the chilly yet imperative love
of the collector. Johnson loved them as he loved his soul. Garrick
took pride in their sumptuousness, in their immaculate, virginal
splendour. Johnson gathered them to his heart with scant regard for
outward magnificence, for the glories of calf and vellum. Garrick
bought books. Johnson borrowed them. Each considered that he had a
prior right to the objects of his legitimate affection. We, looking
back with softened hearts, are fain to think that we should have held
our volumes doubly dear if they had lain for a time by Johnson's
humble hearth, if he had pored over them at three o'clock in the
morning, and had left sundry tokens--grease-spots and spatterings
of snuff--upon many a spotless page. But it is hardly fair to censure
Garrick for not dilating with these emotions.

Johnson's habit of flinging the volumes which displeased him into
remote and dusty corners of the room was ill calculated to inspire
confidence, and his powers of procrastination were never more marked
than in the matter of restoring borrowed books. We know from
Cradock's "Memoirs" how that gentleman, having induced Lord
Harborough to lend him a superb volume of manuscripts, containing
the poems of James the First, proceeded to re-lend this priceless
treasure to Johnson. When it was not returned--as of course it was
not--he wrote an urgent letter, and heard to his dismay that Johnson
was not only unable to find the book, but that he could not remember
having ever received it. The despairing Cradock applied to all his
friends for help; and George Steevens, who had a useful habit of
looking about him, suggested that a sealed packet, which he had
several times observed lying under Johnson's ponderous inkstand,
might possibly contain the lost manuscript. Even with this ray of
hope for guidance, it never seemed to occur to any one to storm
Johnson's fortress, and rescue the imprisoned volume; but after the
Doctor's death, two years later, Cradock made a formal application
to the executors; and Lord Harborough's property was discovered
under the inkstand, unopened, unread, and consequently, as by a happy
miracle, uninjured.

Such an incident must needs win pardon for Garrick's churlishness
in defending his possessions. "The history of book-collecting," says
a caustic critic, "is a history relieved but rarely by acts of pure
and undiluted unselfishness." This is true, but are there not virtues
so heroic that plain human nature can ill aspire to compass them?

There is something piteous in the futile efforts of reluctant lenders
to save their property from depredation. They place their reliance
upon artless devices which never yet were known to stay the
marauder's hand. They have their names and addresses engraved on
foolish little plates, which, riveted to their umbrellas, will, they
think, suffice to insure the safety of these useful articles. As well
might the border farmer have engraved his name and address on the
collars of his grazing herds, in the hope that the riever would
respect this symbol of authority. The history of book-plates is
largely the history of borrower versus lender. The orderly mind is
wont to believe that a distinctive mark, irrevocably attached to
every volume, will insure permanent possession. Mr. Gosse, for
example, has expressed a touching faith in the efficacy of the
book-plate. He has but to explain that he "makes it a rule" never
to lend a volume thus decorated, and the would-be borrower bows to
this rule as to a decree of fate. "To have a book-plate," he joyfully
observes, "gives a collector great serenity and confidence."

Is it possible that the world has grown virtuous without our
observing it? Can it be that the old stalwart race of book-borrowers,
those "spoilers of the symmetry of shelves," are foiled by so
childish an expedient? Imagine Dr. Johnson daunted by a scrap of
pasted paper! Or Coleridge, who seldom went through the formality
of asking leave, but borrowed armfuls of books in the absence of their
legitimate owners! How are we to account for the presence of
book-plates--quite a pretty collection at times--on the shelves of
men who possess no such toys of their own? When I was a girl I had
access to a small and well-chosen library (not greatly exceeding
Montaigne's fourscore volumes), each book enriched with an
appropriate device of scaly dragon guarding the apples of Hesperides.
Beneath the dragon was the motto (Johnsonian in form if not in
substance), "Honour and Obligation demand the prompt return of
borrowed Books." These words ate into my innocent soul, and lent a
pang to the sweetness of possession. Doubts as to the exact nature
of "prompt return" made me painfully uncertain as to whether a month,
a week, or a day were the limit which Honour and Obligation had set
for me. But other and older borrowers were less sensitive, and I have
reason to believe that--books being a rarity in that little Southern
town--most of the volumes were eventually absorbed by the gaping
shelves of neighbours. Perhaps even now (their generous owner long
since dead) these worn copies of Boswell, of Elia, of Herrick, and
Moore, may still stand forgotten in dark and dusty corners, like gems
that magpies hide.

It is vain to struggle with fate, with the elements, and with the
borrower; it is folly to claim immunity from a fundamental law, to
boast of our brief exemption from the common lot. "Lend therefore
cheerfully, O man ordained to lend. When thou seest the proper
authority coming, meet it smilingly, as it were halfway." Resistance
to an appointed force is but a futile waste of strength.

The Grocer's Cat

"Of all animals, the cat alone attains to the Contemplative

The grocer's window is not one of those gay and glittering enclosures
which display only the luxuries of the table, and which give us the
impression that there are favoured classes subsisting exclusively
upon Malaga raisins, Russian chocolates, and Nuremberg gingerbread.
It is an unassuming window, filled with canned goods and breakfast
foods, wrinkled prunes devoid of succulence, and boxes of starch and
candles. Its only ornament is the cat, and his beauty is more apparent
to the artist than to the fancier. His splendid stripes, black and
grey and tawny, are too wide for noble lineage. He has a broad
benignant brow, like Benjamin Franklin's; but his brooding eyes,
golden, unfathomable, deny benignancy. He is large and sleek,--the
grocery mice must be many, and of an appetizing fatness,--and I
presume he devotes his nights to the pleasures of the chase. His days
are spent in contemplation, in a serene and wonderful stillness,
which isolates him from the bustling vulgarities of the street.

Past the window streams the fretful crowd; in and out of the shop
step loud-voiced customers. The cat is as remote as if he were
drowsing by the waters of the Nile. Pedestrians pause to admire him,
and many of them endeavour, with well-meant but futile familiarity,
to win some notice in return. They tap on the window pane, and say,
"Halloo, Pussy!" He does not turn his head, nor lift his lustrous
eyes. They tap harder, and with more ostentatious friendliness. The
stone cat of Thebes could not pay less attention. It is difficult
for human beings to believe that their regard can be otherwise than
flattering to an animal; but I did see one man intelligent enough
to receive this impression. He was a decent and a good-tempered young
person, and he had beaten a prolonged tattoo on the glass with the
handle of his umbrella, murmuring at the same time vague words of
cajolery. Then, as the cat remained motionless, absorbed in revery,
and seemingly unconscious of his unwarranted attentions, he turned
to me, a new light dawning in his eyes. "Thinks itself some," he said,
and I nodded acquiescence. As well try to patronize the Sphinx as
to patronize a grocer's cat.

Now, surely this attitude on the part of a small and helpless beast,
dependent upon our bounty for food and shelter, and upon our sense
of equity for the right to live, is worthy of note, and, to the
generous mind, is worthy of respect. Yet there are people who most
ungenerously resent it. They say the cat is treacherous and
ungrateful, by which they mean that she does not relish unsolicited
fondling, and that, like Mr. Chesterton, she will not recognize
imaginary obligations. If we keep a cat because there are mice in
our kitchen or rats in our cellar, what claim have we to gratitude?
If we keep a cat for the sake of her beauty, and because our hearth
is but a poor affair without her, she repays her debt with interest
when she dozes by our fire. She is the most decorative creature the
domestic world can show. She harmonizes with the kitchen's homely
comfort, and with the austere seclusion of the library. She gratifies
our sense of fitness and our sense of distinction, if we chance to
possess these qualities. Did not Isabella d' Este, Marchioness of
Mantua, and the finest exponent of distinction in her lordly age,
send far and wide for cats to grace her palace? Did she not instruct
her agents to make especial search through the Venetian convents,
where might be found the deep-furred pussies of Syria and Thibet?
Alas for the poor nuns, whose cherished pets were snatched away to
gratify the caprice of a great and grasping lady, who habitually
coveted all that was beautiful in the world.

The cat seldom invites affection, and still more seldom responds to
it. A well-bred tolerance is her nearest approach to demonstration.
The dog strives with pathetic insistence to break down the barriers
between his intelligence and his master's, to understand and to be
understood. The wise cat cherishes her isolation, and permits us to
play but a secondary part in her solitary and meditative life. Her
intelligence, less facile than the dog's, and far less highly
differentiated, owes little to our tutelage; her character has not
been moulded by our hands. The changing centuries have left no mark
upon her; and, from a past inconceivably remote, she has come down
to us, a creature self-absorbed and self-communing, undisturbed by
our feverish activity, a dreamer of dreams, a lover of the mysteries
of night.

And yet a friend. No one who knows anything about the cat will deny
her capacity for friendship. Rationally, without enthusiasm,
without illusions, she offers us companionship on terms of equality.
She will not come when she is summoned,--unless the summons be for
dinner,--but she will come of her own sweet will, and bear us company
for hours, sleeping contentedly in her armchair, or watching with
half-shut eyes the quiet progress of our work. A lover of routine,
she expects to find us in the same place at the same hour every day;
and when her expectations are fulfilled (cats have some secret method
of their own for telling time), she purrs approval of our punctuality.
What she detests are noise, confusion, people who bustle in and out
of rooms, and the unpardonable intrusions of the housemaid. On those
unhappy days when I am driven from my desk by the iron determination
of this maid to "clean up," my cat is as comfortless as I am.
Companions in exile, we wander aimlessly to and fro, lamenting our
lost hours. I cannot explain to Lux that the fault is none of mine,
and I am sure that she holds me to blame.

There is something indescribably sweet in the quiet, self-respecting
friendliness of my cat, in her marked predilection for my society.
The absence of exuberance on her part, and the restraint I put upon
myself, lend an element of dignity to our intercourse. Assured that
I will not presume too far on her good nature, that I will not indulge
in any of those gross familiarities, those boisterous gambols which
delight the heart of a dog, Lux yields herself more and more passively
to my persuasions. She will permit an occasional caress, and
acknowledge it with a perfunctory purr. She will manifest a
patronizing interest in my work, stepping sedately among my papers,
and now and then putting her paw with infinite deliberation on the
page I am writing, as though the smear thus contributed spelt, "Lux,
her mark," and was a reward of merit. But she never curls herself
upon my desk, never usurps the place sacred to the memory of a far
dearer cat. Some invisible influence restrains her. When her tour
of inspection is ended, she returns to her chair by my side,
stretching herself luxuriously on her cushions, and watching with
steady, sombre stare the inhibited spot, and the little grey phantom
which haunts my lonely hours by right of my inalienable love.

Lux is a lazy cat, wedded to a contemplative life. She cares little
for play, and nothing for work,--the appointed work of cats. The
notion that she has a duty to perform, that she owes service to the
home which shelters her, that only those who toil are worthy of their
keep, has never entered her head. She is content to drink the cream
of idleness, and she does this in a spirit of condescension,
wonderful to behold. The dignified distaste with which she surveys
a dinner not wholly to her liking, carries confusion to the hearts
of her servitors. It is as though Lucullus, having ordered Neapolitan
peacock, finds himself put off with nightingales' tongues.

For my own part, I like to think that my beautiful and urbane
companion is not a midnight assassin. Her profound and soulless
indifference to mice pleases me better than it pleases my household.
From an economic point of view, Lux is not worth her salt. Huxley's
cat, be it remembered, was never known to attack anything larger and
fiercer than a butterfly. "I doubt whether he has the heart to kill
a mouse," wrote the proud possessor of this prodigy; "but I saw him
catch and eat the first butterfly of the season, and I trust that
the germ of courage thus manifested may develop with years into
efficient mousing."

Even Huxley was disposed to take a utilitarian view of cathood. Even
Cowper, who owed to the frolics of his kitten a few hours' respite
from melancholy, had no conception that his adult cat could do better
service than slay rats. "I have a kitten, my dear," he wrote to Lady
Hesketh, "the drollest of all creatures that ever wore a cat's skin.
Her gambols are incredible, and not to be described. She tumbles head
over heels several times together. She lays her cheek to the ground,
and humps her back at you with an air of most supreme disdain. From
this posture she rises to dance on her hind feet, an exercise which
she performs with all the grace imaginable; and she closes these
various exhibitions with a loud smack of her lips, which, for want
of greater propriety of expression, we call spitting. But, though
all cats spit, no cat ever produced such a sound as she does. In point
of size, she is likely to be a kitten always, being extremely small
for her age; but time, that spoils all things, will, I suppose, make
her also a cat. You will see her, I hope, before that melancholy
period shall arrive; for no wisdom that she may gain by experience
and reflection hereafter will compensate for the loss of her present
hilarity. She is dressed in a tortoiseshell suit, and I know that
you will delight in her."

Had Cowper been permitted to live more with kittens, and less with
evangelical clergymen, his hours of gayety might have outnumbered
his hours of gloom. Cats have been known to retain in extreme old
age the "hilarity" which the sad poet prized. Nature has thoughtfully
provided them with one permanent plaything; and Mr. Frederick Locker
vouches for a light-hearted old Tom who, at the close of a long and
ill-spent life, actually squandered his last breath in the pursuit
of his own elusive tail. But there are few of us who would care to
see the monumental calm of our fireside sphinx degenerate into senile
sportiveness. Better far the measured slowness of her pace, the
superb immobility of her repose. To watch an ordinary cat move
imperceptibly and with a rhythmic waving of her tail through a
doorway (while we are patiently holding open the door), is like
looking at a procession. With just such deliberate dignity, in just
such solemn state, the priests of Ra filed between the endless rows
of pillars into the sunlit temple court.

The cat is a freebooter. She draws no nice distinctions between a
mouse in the wainscot, and a canary swinging in its gilded cage. Her
traducers, indeed, have been wont to intimate that her preference
is for the forbidden quarry; but this is one of many libellous
accusations. The cat, though she has little sympathy with our vapid
sentiment, can be taught that a canary is a privileged nuisance,
immune from molestation. The bird's shrill notes jar her sensitive
nerves. She abhors noise, and a canary's pipe is the most piercing
and persistent of noises, welcome to that large majority of mankind
which prefers sound of any kind to silence. Moreover, a cage presents
just the degree of hindrance to tempt a cat's agility. That Puss
habitually refrains from ridding the household of canaries is proof
of her innate reasonableness, of her readiness to submit her finer
judgment and more delicate instincts to the common caprices of

As for wild birds, the robins and wrens and thrushes which are
predestined prey, there is only one way to save them, the way which
Archibald Douglas took to save the honour of Scotland,--"bell the
cat." A good-sized sleigh-bell, if she be strong enough to bear it,
a bunch of little bells, if she be small and slight,--and the
pleasures of the chase are over. One little bell is of no avail, for
she learns to move with such infinite precaution that it does not
ring until she springs, and then it rings too late. There is an
element of cruelty in depriving the cat of sport, but from the bird's
point of view the scheme works to perfection. Of course rats and mice
are as safe as birds from the claws of a belled cat, but, if we are
really humane, we will not regret their immunity.

The boasted benevolence of man is, however, a purely superficial
emotion. What am I to think of a friend who anathematizes the family
cat for devouring a nest of young robins, and then tells me exultingly
that the same cat has killed twelve moles in a fortnight. To a pitiful
heart, the life of a little mole is as sacred as the life of a little
robin. To an artistic eye, the mole in his velvet coat is handsomer
than the robin, which is at best a bouncing, bourgeois sort of bird,
a true suburbanite, with all the defects of his class. But my friend
has no mercy on the mole because he destroys her garden,--her garden
which she despoils every morning, gathering its fairest blossoms to
droop and wither in her crowded rooms. To wax compassionate over a
bird, and remain hard as flint to a beast, is possible only to
humanity. The cat, following her predatory instincts, is at once more
logical and less ruthless, because the question of property does not
distort her vision. She has none of the vices of civilization.

   "Cats I scorn, who, sleek and fat,
    Shiver at a Norway rat.
    Rough and hardy, bold and free,
    Be the cat that's made for me;
    He whose nervous paw can take
    My lady's lapdog by the neck,
    With furious hiss attack the hen,
    And snatch a chicken from the pen."

So sang Dr. Erasmus Darwin's intrepid pussy (a better poet than her
master) to the cat of Miss Anna Seward, surely the last lady in all
England to have encouraged such lawlessness on the part of
a--presumably--domestic animal.

For the cat's domesticity is at best only a presumption. It is one
of life's ironical adjustments that the creature who fits so
harmoniously into the family group should be alien to its influences,
and independent of its cramping conditions. She seems made for the
fireside she adorns, and where she has played her part for centuries.
Lamb, delightedly recording his "observations on cats," sees only
their homely qualities. "Put 'em on a rug before the fire, they wink
their eyes up, and listen to the kettle, and then purr, which is
_their_ music." The hymns which Shelley loved were sung by the
roaring wind, the hissing kettle, and the kittens purring by his
hearth. Heine's cat, curled close to the glowing embers, purred a
soft accompaniment to the rhythms pulsing in his brain; but he at
least, being a German, was not deceived by this specious show of
impeccability. He knew that when the night called, his cat obeyed
the summons, abandoning the warm fire for the hard-frozen snow, and
the innocent companionship of a poet for the dancing of witches on
the hill-tops.

The same grace of understanding--more common in the sixteenth than
in the nineteenth century--made the famous Milanese physician,
Jerome Cardan, abandon his students at the University of Pavia, in
obedience to the decision of his cat. "In the year 1552," he writes
with becoming gravity, "having left in the house a little cat of
placid and domestic habits, she jumped upon my table, and tore at
my public lectures; yet my Book of Fate she touched not, though it
was the more exposed to her attacks. I gave up my chair, nor returned
to it for eight years." Oh, wise physician, to discern so clearly
that "placid and domestic habits" were but a cloak for mysteries too
deep to fathom, for warnings too pregnant to be disregarded.

The vanity of man revolts from the serene indifference of the cat.
He is forever lauding the dog, not only for its fidelity, which is
a beautiful thing, but for its attitude of humility and abasement.
A distinguished American prelate has written some verses on his dog,
in which he assumes that, to the animal's eyes, he is as God,--a being
whose word is law, and from whose sovereign hand flow all life's
countless benefactions. Another complacent enthusiast describes
_his_ dog as sitting motionless in his presence, "at once tranquil
and attentive, as a saint should be in the presence of God. He is
happy with the happiness which we perhaps shall never know, since
it springs from the smile and the approval of a life incomparably
higher than his own."

Of course, if we are going to wallow in idolatry like this, we do
well to choose the dog, and not the cat, to play the worshipper's
part. I am not without a suspicion that the dog is far from feeling
the rapture and the reverence which we so delightedly ascribe to him.
What is there about any one of us to awaken such sentiments in the
breast of an intelligent animal? We have taught him our vices, and
he fools us to the top of our bent. The cat, however, is equally free
from illusions and from hypocrisy. If we aspire to a petty
omnipotence, she, for one, will pay no homage at our shrine.
Therefore has her latest and greatest defamer, Maeterlinck, branded
her as ungrateful and perfidious. The cat of "The Blue Bird" fawns
and flatters, which is something no real cat was ever known to do.
When and where did M. Maeterlinck encounter an obsequious cat? That
the wise little beast should resent Tyltyl's intrusion into the
ancient realms of night, is conceivable, and that, unlike the dog,
she should see nothing godlike in a masterful human boy, is hardly
a matter for regret; but the most subtle of dramatists should better
understand the most subtle of animals, and forbear to rank her as
man's enemy because she will not be man's dupe. Rather let us turn
back and learn our lesson from Montaigne, serenely playing with his
cat as friend to friend, for thus, and thus only, shall we enjoy the
sweets of her companionship. If we want an animal to prance on its
hind legs, and, with the over-faithful Tylo, cry out, "little god,
little god," at every blundering step we take; if we are so
constituted that we feel the need of being worshipped by something
or somebody, we must feed our vanity as best we can with the society
of dogs and men. The grocer's cat, enthroned on the grocer's
starch-box, is no fitting friend for us.

As a matter of fact, all cats and kittens, whether royal Persians
or of the lowliest estate, resent patronage, jocoseness (which they
rightly hold to be in bad taste), and demonstrative
affection,--those lavish embraces which lack delicacy and reserve.
This last prejudice they carry sometimes to the verge of unkindness,
eluding the caresses of their friends, and wounding the spirits of
those who love them best. The little eight-year-old English girl who
composed the following lines, when smarting from unrequited
affection, had learned pretty much all there is to know concerning
the capricious nature of cats:--

   "Oh, Selima shuns my kisses!
    Oh, Selima hates her missus!
      I never did meet
      With a cat so sweet,
    Or a cat so cruel as this is."

In such an instance I am disposed to think that Selima's coldness
was ill-judged. No discriminating pussy would have shunned the
kisses of such an enlightened little girl. But I confess to the
pleasure with which I have watched other Selimas extricate
themselves from well-meant but vulgar familiarities. I once saw a
small black-and-white kitten playing with a judge, who, not
unnaturally, conceived that he was playing with the kitten. For a
while all went well. The kitten pranced and paddled, fixing her
gleaming eyes upon the great man's smirking countenance, and pursued
his knotted handkerchief so swiftly that she tumbled head over heels,
giddy with her own rapid evolutions. Then the judge, being but human,
and ignorant of the wide gap which lies between a cat's standard of
good taste and the lenient standard of the court-room, ventured upon
one of those doubtful pleasantries which a few pussies permit to
privileged friends, but which none of the race ever endure from
strangers. He lifted the kitten by the tail until only her forepaws
touched the rug, which she clutched desperately, uttering a loud
protesting mew. She looked so droll in her helplessness and wrath
that several members of the household (her own household, which
should have known better) laughed outright,--a shameful thing to do.

Here was a social crisis. A little cat of manifestly humble origin,
with only an innate sense of propriety to oppose to a coarse-minded
magistrate, and a circle of mocking friends. The judge,
imperturbably obtuse, dropped the kitten on the rug, and prepared
to resume their former friendly relations. The kitten did not run
away, she did not even walk away; that would have been an admission
of defeat. She sat down very slowly, as if first searching for a
particular spot in the intricate pattern of the rug, turned her back
upon her former playmate, faced her false friends, and tucked her
outraged tail carefully out of sight. Her aspect was that of a cat
alone in a desert land, brooding over the mystery of her nine lives.
In vain the handkerchief was trailed seductively past her little nose,
in vain her contrite family spoke words of sweetness and repentance.
She appeared as aloof from her surroundings as if she had been wafted
to Arabia; and presently began to wash her face conscientiously and
methodically, with the air of one who finds solitude better than the
companionship of fools. Only when the judge had put his silly
handkerchief into his pocket, and had strolled into the library under
the pretence of hunting for a book which he had never left there,
did the kitten close her eyes, lower her obdurate little head, and
purr herself tranquilly to sleep.

A few years afterwards I was permitted to witness another silent
combat, another signal victory. This time the cat was, I grieve to
say, a member of a troupe of performing animals, exhibited at the
Folies-Bergere in Paris. Her fellow actors, poodles and monkeys,
played their parts with relish and a sense of fun. The cat, a thing
apart, condescended to leap twice through a hoop, and to balance
herself very prettily on a large rubber ball. She then retired to
the top of a ladder, made a deft and modest toilet, and composed
herself for slumber. Twice the trainer spoke to her persuasively,
but she paid no heed, and evinced no further interest in him nor in
his entertainment. Her time for condescension was past.

The next day I commented on the cat's behaviour to some friends who
had also been to the Folies-Bergere on different nights. "But," said
the first friend, "the evening I went, that cat did wonderful things;
came down the ladder on her ball, played the fiddle, and stood on
her head."

"Really," said the second friend. "Well, the night _I_ went, she did
nothing at all except cuff one of the monkeys that annoyed her. She
just sat on the ladder, and watched the performance. I presumed she
was there by way of decoration."

All honour to the cat, who, when her little body is enslaved, can
still preserve the freedom of her soul. The dogs and the monkeys
obeyed their master; but the cat, like Montaigne's happier pussy long
ago, had "her time to begin or to refuse," and showman and audience
waited upon her will.


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