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Title: The Good Englishwoman
Author: Orlando Cyprian (AKA Orlo)
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Transcriber’s Notes

Obvious typographical errors have been silently corrected. Variations
in hyphenation have been standardised but all other spelling and
punctuation remains unchanged.

The half title immediately before the title page has been omitted.

Italics are represented thus _italic_.



                                  THE
                           GOOD ENGLISHWOMAN

                                  BY

         Author of “Vie de Boheme: A Patch of Romantic Paris,”
             “The Life and Letters of John Rickman,” etc.

                                LONDON
                          GRANT RICHARDS LTD.
                          ST MARTIN’S STREET
                               MDCCCCXX



                      PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN BY
                 THE DUNEDIN PRESS LIMITED, EDINBURGH



                               TO BETTY

                           WHEN SHE IS OLDER
                    WITH THE SUPERFLUOUS INJUNCTION
                         NOT TO TAKE THIS BOOK
                             TOO SERIOUSLY



CONTENTS


  CHAPTER                                                           PAGE

  I. THE MAN IN THE SIDECAR                                            9

  II. LITTLE GIRLS                                                    29

  III. BIG GIRLS                                                      51

  IV. THE ENGLISH WIFE                                                76

  V. THE ENGLISH MOTHER                                              102

  VI. THE ENGLISHWOMAN’S MIND                                        128

  VII. THE ENGLISHWOMAN’S MANNERS                                    145

  VIII. THE ENGLISHWOMAN AND THE ARTS                                166

  IX. THE ENGLISHWOMAN IN SOCIETY                                    187

  X. THE ENGLISHWOMAN AT WORK                                        204

  XI. THE ENGLISHWOMAN AT PLAY                                       219

  XII. THE ENGLISHWOMAN IN PARLIAMENT                                234



CHAPTER I

A FEW REMARKS FROM THE MAN IN THE SIDECAR


My uncle Joseph, a solitary man, once broke the silence of a country
walk by asserting with explosive emphasis: “I don’t see how any man can
understand women.” I assented vaguely, and he went on: “How can we ever
grasp their point of view, my dear boy, which is so totally different
from ours? How can we understand the outlook on life of beings whose
instincts, training, purpose, ambitions have so little resemblance to
ours? For my part I have given up trying: it is a waste of time. Never
let a woman flatter you into thinking that you understand her: she is
trying to make you her tool. The Egyptians gave the Sphinx a woman’s
face and they were right. Women are so mysterious.” And the south-west
wind took up his words and whispered them to the trees, which nodded
their heads and waved their branches, rustling “mysterious, mysterious”
in all their leaves.

I do not argue with my uncle Joseph, especially on a country walk
when the south-west wind is blowing. So I took out my pipe and lit
it in spite of the south-west wind, saying to myself: “You silly
wind, you silly trees, you know nothing of wisdom. You would catch up
anything that my uncle Joseph said and make it seem important.” And the
south-west wind solemnly breathed “important” into the ear of a little
quarry, in the tone of a ripe family butler. “There is just as much,
and just as little, mystery about men and women as there is about you.
It depends how much one wants to know. So far as there is any mystery,
as a matter of fact, it is much more on the side of men, who are far
more incalculable, far more complex than women in their motives and
reactions. But men are lazy, you silly old things, and it saves a lot
of trouble to invent a mystery and give it up rather than sit down
before a problem to study it. Men have thousands of other things to
think about besides women, but women, who have not the same variety,
are so devilish insistent, that they would keep men thinking about them
all their time if they could. So, in self-defence, men have pacified
the dear things by calling them mysterious, which is highly flattering,
and by giving them up for three-quarters of their days. Uncle Joseph
has probably been arguing unsuccessfully with Aunt Georgiana, as he
always will, because he never took the trouble to master her mental and
emotional processes. But that does not prove the general truth of his
proposition. His is just the mind which grows those weeds of everyday
thought the seeds of which thoughtless south-west winds blow about as
they do the seeds of thistles. Go off and blow those clouds away, you
reverberator of commonplaces.”

Throwing up his hands with a shriek of “commonplaces,” the wind flew up
over the hill ruffling its hair as he passed.

I think I was quite right not to answer my uncle Joseph and to rebuke
the south-west wind. People are so tiresomely fond of uttering
generalisations which they do not really believe and on which they
never act. It is surely no less foolish to say that women are complete
mysteries than to say that one understands them perfectly. Every
individual understands a few men and a few women, or life would be
impossible. Besides, understanding has its degrees which approach,
but never reach, perfection. Samuel Butler somewhere says that the
process of love could only be logically concluded by eating the loved
one—a coarse way of saying that perfect love would end in complete
assimilation: it is the same with the relation of knowledge. Happily
love between human beings of opposite sexes can exist without being
pushed to this voracious conclusion: so can understanding.

It may be true that women have quicker intuitions than men, though only
over a limited range of subjects: but men, on the other hand, are more
widely and studiously observant, besides being far more interested in
the attainment of truth as the result of observation. Patient induction
is, after all, an excellent substitute for brilliant guessing. Women
would be extremely disappointed if men really acted on the “mystery”
theory and took to thinking or writing as little about woman as the
majority think or write about the problem of existence. Nothing,
however, will prevent men from talking and thinking about women, and
a glance at any bookshelf will prove that they do not always do so in
complete ignorance of their subject. Balzac, who was no magician, was
not entirely beside the mark in creating the Duchesse de Maufrigneuse,
and Lady Teazle is a recognizable being. George Meredith’s Diana seems
to have human substance: Mr Shaw’s Anne in “Man and Superman” and Mr
Wells’ Anne Veronica, though founded on masculine observations, are
admitted by women to be reasonable creations. The laziness of men,
I repeat, and the vanity of women are responsible for the legend of
woman’s inviolable mystery. The laws of gravitation were a mystery
till Newton used his observation: the mystery still remains, but the
experiments of Newton and other physicists has driven it further back.
So it is with the human soul. Each one is a mystery, but observation
and familiarity can penetrate a number of its veils, leaving only
some of the intimate recesses unexplored, and even these recesses are
threatened with exposure as our knowledge of telepathy and of the
subconscious elements increases.

There are certain experiences of women which a man cannot share,
certain aspirations and fears at whose poignancy he can only guess,
certain instinctive impulses of which he is not directly conscious: but
he can surmount the barriers in some measure by the use of his eyes
and ears. If, therefore, he choose to record what his eyes and ears
tell him, he is not exceeding the limits of masculine capacity. My
uncle Joseph could hardly deplore so unpretentious a line of approach.
A mere man may be content to leave Miss Dorothy Richardson and Miss
May Sinclair delving gloomily in the jungles of feminine psychology
where he would fear to follow them, and yet feel that, without
presumption, he may hold some views about his natural complement.
The question is what views are right and what are wrong. The war has
changed many things, and man’s views about his natural complement
among them. Most people, with that useful faculty of oblivion for
which we thank Providence, have forgotten what they thought in 1914:
if there were such a thing as a mental gramophone which could record
their thoughts of five years ago, they would be extremely surprised.
Things that seemed absurd then have now been taken for granted, and
it is possible that many things taken for granted then may be shown
to have become absurd. It has certainly become ridiculous to speak
of the “weaker sex,” except in a strictly muscular sense. Women have
revealed capacities for organisation and disciplined effort in large
bodies, especially in this country, for which the epithet “surprising”
is but feeble. Has this fact alone not caused a revolution of ideas?
If we have not all accepted it yet, we shall all soon have to accept
the principle that, in all but purely physical exertion, men and women
have equal potential abilities. The potential ability of women is still
in need of development, for they are starting some centuries behind
the men, but the inevitable result will be the recognition of “equal
opportunity.” To what sociological crisis this may lead, I do not know,
and as this is not a sociological treatise, I need not prophesy: but it
is an element that must count heavily in any review of old ideas.

Another element which must count is the franchise, which will, of
course, be extended in the near future till there is no inequality
between the sexes in this respect. Women are political beings with vast
possibilities of becoming a political force. They will play a more and
more important part in the history of the nation. They will dance a new
dance in the ballet of humanity. That recently so familiar figure in a
short skirt of khaki and close-fitting cap, seated firmly but not too
gracefully astride a motor bicycle rushing with its side-car, and often
its male passenger, through the traffic is more than a phenomenon, it
is a symbol. The air has whipped her cheeks pink and blown loose a
stray lock above her determined eyes. What beauties she has of form or
feature are none of them hid. She is all the woman that the world has
known, but with a new purpose and a new poise. For good or ill she has
entered the machine, and we came to look on her with an indifferent and
familiar eye. But what will she do, what will she think, whither will
she carry us in that side-car of hers? To all her ancient qualities she
has added a new one: object of desire, mother of children, guardian
of the hearth, mate of man or virgin saint, she has now another
manifestation, that of fellow-combatant; some say, also of adversary.
One might almost say that, bending over the handle-bars of her machine,
with her body curved and her legs planted firmly on the footboard
she mimes the very mark of interrogation which her changes of social
posture present. A living query in khaki, she is a challenge to the
prophet and the philosopher. One who is neither will let the challenge
pass, sure only of one thing—that develop as she may and carry us where
she will, the tradition of the good Englishwoman is safe in her keeping.

“The good Englishwoman,” an untranslatable phrase—I beseech our French
neighbours not to translate it _la bonne anglaise_—is an expression
which has a corresponding reality. We all know it, in our flesh, in our
bones, in our minds and in our souls. The Englishwoman is a definite
person to all of us in England: she is not merely the female of the
species living in these isles, she has a significance in the world
at large. We love her and we honour her, but we do not often reflect
what it is that we love and honour. It is a mental occupation which
might be more frequently indulged in, were we not such indifferent
reflectors. The ingenious Henry Adams, that enlightened but pensive
American, whose death has just given us one of the most fascinating
books of modern times, spent his whole life in reflecting on his
countrymen, with results which are stimulating if not encouraging. He
did not spend so much time reflecting on his countrywomen, though he
said that he owed more to them than to any man, but his reflections
on that head resolved themselves into a question which no Englishman
would formulate in similar circumstances. Henry Adams used to invite
agreeable and witty people to dine,[1] and, at an unexpected moment,
to propound to the “brightest” of the women the question: “Why is the
American woman a failure?” He meant a failure as a force rather than
as an individual, but it was an irritating question all the same,
nor is it surprising that it usually drew the answer: “Because the
American man is a failure.” The Englishman would be too chivalrous to
ask such a question of his guests, but he would not even formulate it.
The Englishman, even a considerably sophisticated one, could never
think of the Englishwoman as a failure, whether as an individual, a
force or an inspiration. He is bound by his experience, his upbringing
and his instincts to think of her as a success. Let us then put the
question “Why is the Englishwoman a success?” We shall get no very
good impromptu answers, nor do I suggest that “Because the Englishman
is a success” would be the correct one. We should be the last to take
so much credit to ourselves. We are justly proud of the Englishwoman,
but what is it of which we are proud? Of all the approving epithets
that have been applied to women, which do we choose for our own? Is
our pride in their beauty, their brilliance, their courage, their wit,
their tact, their energy, their endurance, their sagacity, their skill
in handicraft, their devotion to their young, their taste in art and
dress, their grace of movement, the sweetness of their speech or the
greatness of their minds? Are they only an attraction or an independent
force? Are they better mistresses or mothers? When Henry Adams lived
in this country as a young man he found that "Englishwomen, from the
educational point of view, could give nothing until they approached
forty years old. Then they become very interesting—very charming—to the
man of fifty." What do we say to such a criticism from so acute a mind?

  [1] See _The Education of Henry Adams_, p. 442

It is easier to ask questions than to answer them, and I propose to
shirk the harder part of the task. Questions cannot be satisfactorily
answered for other people, and, where everyone has to make up his or
her mind, the mere asking of questions is in itself an aid to their
solution. Each reader will answer the questions I have asked in a
different way: having done so, he must pass to another consideration.
We are proud of the Englishwoman, but we criticise her, again each one
of us differently. We must consider the grounds of our criticism. She
dresses badly, some will say; her hair is always untidy, say others;
foreigners assert that she is proud and stupid; Englishmen, secretly
glad that she is proud, try to forget that she is poorly educated. That
she walks gracefully, none will say, but as an athlete she is second to
none: it would be rash to say that her taste in the home is remarkable,
but the atmosphere of home, which not even the most hideous decoration
can kill nor the most beautiful create, emanates from her alone. As a
housewife she has her glories and her failings. She has not the almost
brutish industry of the German nor the avaricious acuteness of the
French _bourgeoise_; she is, in general, neither expert in household
industry nor in business. Nevertheless, the Englishman is only really
contented in a household presided over and served by Englishwomen,
and that is not only because they understand his wants, but because
they are genial and simple, neither servile nor imperious, good
comrades who do not expect too little or exact too much. Fearless in
her actions, the Englishwoman is timid in her ideas: what she may do
in the future is incalculable, her possibilities are unbounded; but
there seem to be limits to the expansion, except by imitation, of her
power of thought. As an administrator she will find no superior, but
the political thinkers, as well as the artists, will for the most
part come from other nations. These are but random criticisms which,
among others, will occur to any mind that reflects upon the subject.
They show, once more, that the essence of the Englishwoman or of her
goodness is not a simple one. She is therefore an excellent topic for a
conversation that should be provocative and stimulating. If I sustain
one part, the reader will mentally sustain the other. Let us continue
it.

It is hardly necessary to say that any criticism of the Englishwoman
in these pages is not an attack upon her: nor is any approbation to
be considered a defence. At least I pay this much respect to my uncle
Joseph that no woman shall flatter me into defending her: she is more
than capable of doing this for herself. But, beyond this, I quite
fail to understand what a friend of mine meant when he suggested that
I should write in defence of women. “Against whom or against what?”
I asked, but his explanation was not lucid. I gathered that he had
in mind the complaint sometimes heard that women have ceased to be
women in order to become inferior men; that they are getting hard and
conceited; that they turn up their noses at the domestic virtues,
at marriage and the whole conception of life as duty, and that they
think only of having “a good time.” The isolated instances given as
grounds for this complaint are, I am convinced, not typical. That women
have developed and broken through the far too narrow restrictions of
a hundred years ago is only a matter for thankfulness: something is
always lost in every adjustment, but more is gained if the adjustment
is natural. The flighty girl whom most grumblers of this kind have
in mind is only a fraction, and a very imperfect fraction, of the
Englishwoman. A far more serious line was taken by Henry Adams towards
the end of his life, when he became finally convinced that he was a man
of the eighteenth century living in an unfamiliar world whose guiding
forces he could not fathom. Musing over the enormous mass of new forces
put into the hand of man by the end of the nineteenth century, he
wondered what should be the result of so much energy turned over to
the use of women, according to the scientific notions of force. He
could not write down the equation. The picture of the world that he
saw was of man bending eagerly over the steering wheel of a rushing
motor car too intent on keeping up a high speed and avoiding accidents
to have leisure for any distractions. The old attraction of the woman,
one of the most powerful forces of the past, had become a distraction,
and woman, no longer able to inspire men, had been forced to follow
them. Woman had been set free: as travellers, typists, telephone girls,
factory hands, they moved untrammelled in the world. But in what
direction were they moving? After the men, said Henry Adams; discarding
all the qualities for which men had no longer any interest or pleasure,
they too were bending over the steering wheel in the same rapid career.
Woman the rebel was now free and there was only one thing left for her
to rebel against, maternity, or the inertia of sex, to speak in terms
of force. Inertia of sex, the philosopher truly remarked, could not
be overcome without extinguishing the race, yet an immense force was
working irresistibly to overcome it. What would happen? Henry Adams
gave up the riddle, grateful for the illusion that woman alone of all
the species was unable to change.

Superficial observers might say that this movement has been accelerated
by the war. Hundreds of homes have loosened their ties in the stress of
war, thousands of unrebellious daughters have left their narrow walls
at the call of patriotism and are now unwilling to return to them. They
have learnt to live in the herd with their own sex, and prefer it to
living with their own sex in the pen; physical danger and discomfort
are no longer bogeys to frighten them; they have been “on their own,”
and “on their own” they intend to stay. All very true, no doubt, with
the added complication of serious competition between the sexes in a
restricted labour market. At the same time, these superficial observers
forget that there has been an extraordinary return to the traditional
relations between men and women during the war. The inspiration of the
woman has never been stronger; once more, after many years, men have
fought for their women and the women have regarded their champions with
gratitude; women have tended and worked for men in greater numbers
and with greater alacrity than ever before in the history of the
world; the comradeship between the sexes has grown warmer and stronger
without destroying the still more natural relation, for marriage as an
institution has enjoyed a season of abnormal popularity. In a country
at war, especially in a country invaded, men and women return to the
relations of extreme antiquity; the men fight to protect the home and
the family, which they alone can do. If they are beaten, the home is
destroyed and the women are ravished.

We in England have escaped this last simplification: we have been
lucky, but we have lost the directness of the lesson. Nevertheless,
it is patent enough to thoughtful people. War has revealed men and
women pretty much as they always have been, and the revelation will
not be forgotten. The apprehensions of a Henry Adams, after the five
years of war, do, in fact, appear to be exaggerated. The futility of
all that vast array of mechanical force which so appalled him has been
thoroughly exposed: ideas have come to their own again as the only
things that matter. In his search for ideas and in their application
man can well afford to listen to women: nor will he be backward in
doing so. For my part, I cannot see him racing towards the future alone
in an evil-looking 120-horse-power car, leaving women dustily in the
distance. I prefer to come back to the khaki figure on a motor-bicycle
with a man in the side-car, the woman guiding but in the service of the
man, the man a passenger but in transit to his work. And the picture
is not, as it may seem at first sight, an inversion of older relations,
for it has always been the woman who drives. Men can attract women,
seduce them, bully them, desert them and hypnotize them, but they
cannot drive them; yet a wise woman can drive almost any man. This art
is not likely to be lost by the sex in this or any other country, it is
therefore important that the driving should be in the right direction.

This is the chief responsibility that the future lays on the
Englishwoman: she must have good hands and a clear head, and it would
perhaps be well if she could improve her head without spoiling her
hands. Man, regarded not as a passenger but as an animal, is spirited
but docile. If the women of this country ever made up a corporate mind
to secure any desirable end, they could drive the men towards it with
ease, provided they chose the right bits and bridles: and those bits
and bridles will be the old patterns. It is the women who think there
is no need to drive with skill but trust to their power to progress by
themselves on their own machines that make the mistake. When it comes
to a tug of war they find their inferiority to the stronger animal.
But, my dear ladies, there need be no tug-of-war if you use the forces
which are already in your hands. You would have got the suffrage long
ago if you had all really wanted it. And when you did get it, it was
not by assaulting policemen in small sections and chaining a few of
yourselves to Cabinet Ministers’ railings; you got it by exercising an
old force, the force of admiration. Your services in the war won you
the admiration of all Englishmen, and what an Englishman will not do
for women he admires cannot be imagined.

The future of England, or more than half of it, lies in your hands. You
are the great reproductive force and the great educative force: you can
divert the masculine forces to worthy or unworthy ends by your powers
of attraction and inspiration. You are as yet inexperienced in the
forum, but in every other place of propaganda—the home, the theatre,
the lawn, the beach, the garden, the club and even the press—your voice
can make itself heard continuously and without interruption. You can
approach man when he is at his weakest, when he is no longer encased in
his armour of business, but when he is tired, when he wants sympathy,
when he is disposed to be affectionate, when he is comfortable, when
he is well fed, when his chivalry deprives him of effective repartee,
when he must either listen or run ignominiously away. Who can save a
man from a woman but another woman? That was why Madame de Warens gave
herself to Rousseau. A man is a bore at his peril, but a woman can be
tiresome with impunity. Jeanne d’Arc was tiresome, so was Florence
Nightingale: but they got their way. A man has only one reason for
being listened to, that what he says is intelligible and advantageous
to his hearer: unless he is a clergyman in a pulpit he is bound to
persuade his audience that his matter possesses these qualities. But
you have a hundred other reasons for being listened to. If you have
beauty, that is enough; if you are well dressed, that is also enough;
if you are beloved, your speech will sound as music; if you are a wife,
a mother, a sister, you have an audience of husband, sons, brothers
by natural right; if a man has misunderstood you, he will hear you
humbly; if you have understood him, your words will be wisdom. You can
preach when you pour out tea, and make proselytes at the dinner table;
at rising up and lying down the word is with you. With a whisper and
a sigh, or a sally and a smile, you can accomplish more than an hour
of oratory in Parliament: make a man feel a brute and he is soil for
your seed; make him feel wise and he will praise your wit; make him
feel a god and he will graciously hear your prayer. Irritate him and
your cause is lost, your sex betrayed. What need you more of arts or
opportunities? Pray rather for ideas to be given to you. Man is the
chief inventor of ideas, and is likely to remain so, but he is a wise
inventor who gets woman to stand for his invention. The ideas for which
you, as a body, choose to stand will prevail: heaven send that you
choose them wisely.



CHAPTER II

LITTLE GIRLS

    A la pêche des moules
      Je ne veux plus aller, maman.
    A la pêche des moules
      Je ne veux plus aller.
    Les garçons de Marennes
      Me prendraient mon panier, maman.
    Les garçons de Marennes
    Me prendraient mon panier.


Six year-old Barbara stood in her little frock of spotted muslin by
the side of the grand piano piping out in a thin treble the words of
this old French nursery rhyme. Her eyes were fixed on the illustration
by Boutet de Monvel which shows three most unmistakeable _gamins_
following in the wake of a fisher-girl who shrinks with a timid
expression from the words which one can almost hear on their naughty
little lips. Barbara understood the picture little more than she
understood the words of the song and really, I reflected, that was a
very good thing. The old French tune is very dainty, but there is in
the words that tang of sexuality which the French seem to imbibe with
their mother’s milk. “Ils vous font des caresses,” indeed! Six-year-old
Barbara has better things to do at her age than to imagine that she is
the quarry of the male with all the advantages and disadvantages of
this position. Little French girls, for all the superficial strictness
of their bringing up, are, apparently, never allowed to look on the
world with any other eyes than the eyes of the woman. Our English girls
learn to do this quickly enough, but at least they are allowed to
begin their lives in perfect innocence. If they pay for this by seldom
acquiring the last fine shade of attractive femininity, they gain in
the frankness and fearlessness which are the gift of our incomparable
English nursery ways. The bloom then fostered never entirely departs,
no matter how experience may try it. To the last the English woman
remains a sociable being with whom one could potentially set off with
on a walking tour, an inconceivable enterprise with a French one or an
Italian, who have learnt the grammar of passion and of its imitations
young, to be obsessed with it always, while the English girl has been
absorbing the grammar of health, of goodfellowship and of games.

I have no doubt of this, that one reason why the Englishwoman is a
success is that she starts as a good little English girl, or even
a bad one. No little girl in the world is so attractive, not the
overdressed _bébé_, all ribbons and laces, of the French, not the
dumpy product of the German, not the pallid _bambina_ of the Italian,
and least of all the spoilt little horror of the American. What can
equal the creamy satin of her complexion, the sturdy straightness of
her limbs, the curl of her hair, the joyous gleam of her eyes? Beauty,
it is sad to say, too often leaves them as they grow older, but, when
they are little girls, nearly all Englishwomen are not merely pretty,
but beautiful. There can be no sight more nearly approaching the ideal
of fairyland than Kensington Gardens on a fine morning of spring or
summer, when the sun is glinting through the elm trees and the Broad
Walk is all alive with hoops and perambulators. Nor is the sight less
enchanting by the sea in the later summer, when golden locks tumble in
the wind and bare legs twinkle in the waves. Even the little girls of
the back street, when they are not too dirty, and of the remote village
are beautiful with the glorious quality of British youth, which no
competition can take away from us. It is not a fragile beauty nor one
of languorous _morbidezza_, but it has a jovial quality, and breathes
the spirit of the opening lines of “L’Allegro,” yet its colours have a
delicacy in their brilliance which give it a special grace. Its merits
are not all chargeable to us, the dwellers in England. It is due in
part to the English climate which we ever curse and ever discuss, in
part to the mixture of races which were blended into our admirable
composition, and in part to our excellent nursery tradition and our
incomparable English nurses.

The English nurse, though we can see that she varies in excellence,
is supreme all over the world. We are all of us prone to idealise our
nurses, for we only remember the comfort of their presences and are
not aware of their acts of negligence or omission, such as giving us
comforters to suck—as I am told, a deadly sin—or letting us fall out
of perambulators while they were engaged in ambrosial dalliance. We
remember with affection their features and their voices, the Moody and
Sankey hymns that they used to sing us—diversified, in my own case,
with "Ehren on the Rhine"—and the stories which they used to tell. They
also used to have fascinating relations who were sometimes allowed to
penetrate to us or whom we were allowed to visit. Modern children, I
fear, miss these joys, for parents are getting so particular, no doubt
quite rightly. Nurses are now trained in special institutions, so
that they do all the right things and none of the wrong ones. They are
ladylike, oh, so ladylike, and parents obey their commands in fear and
trembling. You can see them any day in the Gardens walking along with
turned up noses and conscientious faces—the very last thing in baby
culture. But let not the Norland nurses take umbrage at these foolish
remarks, for their training gives them, as I readily recognise, a
superiority to the old-fashioned Nana which cannot be contested.

In any case, whether she be old-or new-fashioned, the English nurse is
supreme. She is in demand all over Europe, she condescends to South
America, and is worth her weight in gold in those far lands of the
Empire where the one drawback to serving the state is that it makes the
proper rearing of children an almost insoluble problem. To account for
this superiority of the English nurse is not so easy, for her obviously
high place in the ranks of good Englishwomen would, one might suppose,
not be so obvious to dwellers in foreign lands, whose women, it is to
be presumed, are fond enough of children and better acquainted with the
climate and constitutions of their own country than a foreigner could
be. A desire to implant early in their offspring a colloquial knowledge
of our language cannot be the only reason why foreign parents engage
English nurses. One of the real reasons is, I am sure, that the English
nurse knows how to combine friendliness with discipline: it is a gift
recognised in other relations as supremely belonging to the Englishman.
Her pride, also, which stands out against undue interference by the
parents in her administration of the nursery is another good reason.
Nurses in other countries, I suspect, are apt to humour children too
much, to spoil them themselves and to allow the parents to outrage
to any extent the proved rules and traditions of infant hygiene, to
dress them up and make dolls of them instead of treating them as the
immature little animals that they are, to take them out and give them
unwholesome food at restaurants, and, in general, to involve them too
early in the cogs of adult life. It was against this tendency that
Doctor Montessori made her protest, the gist of which is that the adult
home is not adapted for giving that scope which is necessary for the
proper bringing up of children.

It cannot be denied that an unnecessary fad may be made of the
Montessori system, especially in this country for which it was not
primarily invented, but the soundness of much that her theory contains
is incontestable. Yet the English nursery was evolved long before
Doctor Montessori, and it is there that most of what is valuable in her
theories had already been developed. There is nothing for which the
rather wasteful spaciousness of English life, as compared with that of
other countries, is so valuable as for the institution of the nursery.
We may overburden ourselves with bricks and mortar and insist on having
a house where our fellows abroad are content with a flat: we may use
two servants where they use one, and seem to them to strain a limited
income quite unreasonably by insisting on so large a shell. That this
habit is due to our reserve and the Englishman’s intense longing for
privacy in domesticity is undeniable, but it is not all. As a matter
of fact, the privacy of the Englishman’s home is, in a sense, far less
jealously guarded than that of the Frenchman. But besides privacy an
Englishman wants a little space before he can feel comfortable, and he
knows instinctively that children want space too. To an English child
the lot of a French, German or Italian child must seem intolerable. For
no single moment, except when in bed, is it out of the sight of its
elders’ eyes. It must always be good and always be tidy, or else in
the common living rooms of the _appartement_ it becomes an intolerable
nuisance. Where can such a child expand, where can it indulge in those
solitary dreams and quaint impulsive activities, the essence of whose
enjoyment is that they shall be pursued in secrecy, and whose memory
has an undying sweetness?

Contrast with this cramped life, even with an intense affection to
grace it, more ardent than that tolerant good comradeship of many
English parents with their little children, with the life of a child,
even in a quite modest household, who from its earliest moments has
had a part of the home sacred to it. That room, small or large,
was always loved: it was a peaceful haven to return to after the
adventures and exhibitions of a less sympathetic external world.
There Nana held beneficent sway, but the real inhabitants were the
children themselves and the favourite creatures of their play-world.
There was room for disorder in the disorderly mood, even though it
all had to be cleared up; there noise was not immediately hushed;
there one could loll or sprawl without being reproved; there nothing
was precious of that preciousness which meant that throwing cushions
was a crime and breakage a disaster; there the air was fresh and not
laden with the fumes of cigars or heavy perfumes; there meals could be
eaten in one’s own time, for, fearful as were the treats of feeding
with the grown-ups, it was discouraging to find that one’s efforts at
spritely conversation were apt to fall flat, and that one must get
finished about the same time as large people with large mouths who
were allowed to talk with their mouths full, at the risk of being told
that everybody was waiting and that one was not to talk any more.
The nursery is the enemy of self-consciousness, it is the home of
frankness and a light hearted innocence. No good Englishwoman is ever
out of place in a nursery, whether it be hers or another’s: she knows
instinctively that there are few places on earth where her virtues are
more obvious, and she herself has been a little English girl in that
happy nursery land which is the cradle of all good Englishwomen.

But what of the children whose only nursery is the streets and whose
only nurse is a sister but little older than themselves? Well, I
believe a great many of them have a happy childhood though they are
denied some of the privileges of more gently nurtured children. The
little girls with tattered frocks who dance so gaily to the wandering
barrel organ no more suggest despair than their brothers who, of a
Saturday afternoon, come to play noisy cricket and football outside my
window. Nevertheless we cannot afford to be complacent about them.
We have only to think of winter borne with poor food and decaying
boots; of the appeals for comforts from the poorer parishes of the big
towns where the children’s wants make education almost a mockery till
they can be to some extent filled. An Italian, or was it a Spaniard,
once commenting on our country said: “You have a society for the
prevention of cruelty to children: we have none in Italy because it is
not necessary. No Italian is cruel to children.” This was possibly an
exaggeration, for there are fiends in all nations; but it is a blot
on our country that such a society should be so vitally necessary to
counteract the harm that poverty and ignorance can do to the precious
young lives in whom lies the hope of the future. Dirt and ignorance,
drink and vice, these are the enemies of little English girls and boys.
The very excellence of children’s upbringing in the upper and middle
classes make the backwardness lower down all the more a disgrace. It is
a disgrace which we all share, for the responsibility for improvement
is incumbent on us all. In education alone is there any hope. All
honour therefore to those men and women who by the institution of
baby clinics and mothers’ classes endeavour to mitigate the evils
that should never exist. The spoiling of one Englishwoman would be
a grievous thing, yet thousands are spoiled every year by ignorance,
overcrowding, and bad example. The first few chapters of William de
Morgan’s “Alice for Short” are not the work of a romantic imagination,
but of an observant mind. How far is that wretched mite, who lived in
a damp cellar with two drunken parents, from the Alice of “Alice in
Wonderland,” who is the very soul of England’s childhood! Absolute
equality, no matter what some socialists say, can never exist, but the
chances for the two Alices should not differ by so vast a measure.
The burden of lessening it must be borne by us all, and no sudden
remedy will be of any use. One thing which English parents will never
allow is the assumption by the state of the duty of bringing up their
children. Nurseries wide enough to hold all the children in England
might be built with enough English nurses to staff them, clothes might
be provided, toys and even food, but it would be in vain. The cry of
pauperisation, or tyranny, or militarism, or some other cry would
go up, but the root of the matter would be that Alf Smith and Emma
his wife, whatever their views might be upon the nationalisation of
railways and mines, have no intention of demanding or submitting to the
nationalisation of children. The only alternative is to improve the
home of Alf Smith and Emma, or at least to see that little Susie and
Jane, their daughters, by some means or other, grow up determined to
give their children better training, more care, more space, and higher
ideals, though not necessarily greater joyousness, than were theirs in
early childhood.

But this is not a sociological treatise. There are people enough
already who have remedies to suggest for all the evils of the
day. Let me return to Lewis Carroll’s Alice who so engagingly
dreamed herself into Wonderland. She belonged to a day before any
remarkable innovations in children’s education had arrived among us.
The kindergarten may have been in existence then, but Montessori
and Dalcroze were not heard of. I have sometimes wondered, I must
confess, if the admirable principles of these and other educational
spell-workers are not too apt to develop into fads and poses. There are
people to-day, for instance, who have a passion for making education
play and and play education instead of keeping the two healthily
separate. Any decent English girl or boy, if not unduly forced, can
learn the rudiments of the three Rs without being beguiled into it by
an artful series of games with a purpose which have neither the fun of
hide-and-seek nor the zest of hunt-the-slipper. Surely it is a fallacy
to proceed on the assumption that children’s brains are sluggish and
revolt as naturally against systematic instruction as the palate
against unpleasant medicine: a child’s brain, on the contrary, is
extraordinarily active and pecks about after knowledge as keenly as any
farmyard chicken after grains. While we may be thankful that there is a
wholesome fear to-day of brutalising young minds by useless drudgery,
dull, formal methods and unsympathetic discipline, we should take care
to avoid the equally great danger of overstimulating that very delicate
and sensitive instrument, a child’s brain, by encouraging it to absorb
too much. After all, we do not encourage a child to eat more than
it can digest. Besides, a good trainer knows that conscious effort,
without which no activity can produce the best results, cannot grow
suddenly out of unconscious following of impulse. The period of effort
may be as short as you please and be followed by as long periods as
you like of pleasant relaxation, but the mind cannot be accustomed too
early to struggling against inertia, and a system of education which
only follows the path of inertia can hardly be the best one.

When Alice met the Dodo and his companions she proposed a race not a
bout of Dalcrozian eurhythmics, and I do not know that she was much to
be pitied. Eurhythmics are excellent things in themselves, but mothers
who see in them a complete substitute for reading and racing are making
a sad mistake. Every Alice, like Lewis Carroll’s heroine, lives in a
dream-world which gradually fades away with the trailing “clouds of
glory” into reality, but some parents seem to delight in artificially
increasing the fairylike mist of unreality, or at least unworldliness,
which surrounds the marvellous time of childhood. They try to keep
the child in a kind of mental incubator with elaborate stained glass
walls, as if the “dome of many coloured glass” under which we are all
born were not enough to stain “the white radiance of eternity.” To do
this, in my opinion, is unkind to little Alice. She cannot remain the
sleeping beauty for ever, and the odds are that it will not be a Prince
Charming who arouses her, but some ugly apparition of the everyday
for which her experience has in no way prepared her. As a nation we
are mightily fond of illusions, and suffer sadly from indulgence in
them. We can overcome best by seeing clearly what it is that stands
over against us, and dreamy Alice will be none the worse for being
allowed to see a little clearly among the many happy fantasies of her
days of wonderland. Old Kingsley had his cranks, but he did not wander
far from the mark in his “Waterbabies.” Poor little Tom, the sweep’s
lad, came up too hard against bitter realities of a certain material
kind, from which his creator rescued him by handing him over to the
jolly water babies in the river at the bottom of Harthover Fell. But
the fairy life and the caresses of Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby could not
save Tom from coming up against certain harder spiritual realities, by
mastery of which alone could he become a man. His soul was saved by
the uncomfortable Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid, tempered by the loving care
of little Effie. If you object that he had much better have became a
complete fairy or a Peter Pan who never grew up, then I disagree with
you, and the fairies do not agree with you either. They would prefer
to have the immortal soul in the perishable body like Hans Andersen’s
mermaid who gave up her tail to walk among men, though to walk was like
treading on sharp knives. Good Englishwomen are such admirable mortals
that it would be a thousand pities to make bad fairies of them. Some
mothers of little Alices like to think of life as a long episode in
the Russian ballet, all gay colour and perfect pose: they forget that
Madame Karsavina works more hours in a day to attain this perfection
than they do in a week to attain nothing at all. They are unaware
of the surprising fact that it is possible to be more than a little
ordinary and only moderately ornamental, and yet to be reasonably happy
and useful. What I should like to see to-day would be more reality in
the nursery and more dreams in the board school.

If more reality is wanted in the nursery, it is still more wanted in
the schoolroom, though fortunately there is a great deal more there
now than in the day of Lewis Carroll’s Alice. She, if you remember,
in a moment of bewilderment reflected that she could answer some of
Mangnall’s questions. You will only find Mangnall’s questions to-day
in some dusty bookshelf of a country inn with the maiden name of
a portly landlady in faded ink upon the flyleaf. It was simply a
portable dictionary of elementary and usually inaccurate knowledge,
dished up with most undesirably stuffy maxims, to be learned by rote
and not to be understood at all. It could only convey the impression
that the aim of lessons was to imbibe a certain quantity of dry
facts without the slightest connection and forming no pathway to any
connected presentation of reality. The old methods of the Misses
Pinkerton’s academy and the old bogey-morality and dragon-instruction
of the Goodchild family were still thriving when Alice passed into
the looking-glass. The aim of that education was not to make a child
an intelligent being or to bring out its natural talents by careful
nurture, but, especially if it was a girl, to produce a docile
parrot which could read, write and do sums, without asking too many
inconvenient questions. To the arch priests and priestesses of that
dead formula the idea of a child’s having tastes would have been
a dreadful heresy: a child, at all events a girl, had no business
with such subversive things. Her business was to acquire humility,
deportment and a use of the globes, in fine to learn the things, and
those only, which “a lady should know.”

Schools and governesses are better now, but some of the old confusions
still hover round the education of a girl. Nowadays everybody airs his
views about the public schools in print, but there is a certain element
of simplicity in a boy’s education: in most cases, after all, he has
got to be prepared for a definite profession. There is no definite
profession for which little Alice is to be prepared, unless she takes
the reins into her own hands in time, as some of our older Alices are
learning to do. There is still the impression abroad, even among
the wage-earning classes, that, until it is more or less discernible
whether and what she is going to marry, it does not matter very much
what she learns or what she does, provided that she keeps out of
mischief. In those families, especially, where in the last resort it
is not necessary for the daughters to earn their living in the labour
market, this policy of drift is most obvious. A little French, a little
music, a little history, a little recitation of approved poets—that
is the recipe for the education of a “nice, refined girl.” As if any
girl worth her salt would be content with a diet of spoon feeding. It
is only those who have never learnt anything that imagine any useful
learning to be possible without the desire to know more than it was
good for you to be taught. The child’s mind is a bursting reservoir of
energy, and it is hard that it should be wasted by being drained to
make imitation waterfalls in an artificial garden. It usually shows a
tendency to flow in some definite direction: why, in Heaven’s name,
should it be diverted?

The two great needs in education are enthusiasm and personality,
enthusiasm in the pupil and personality in the teacher. Personality
is the great wizard who can produce water from stones and gold mines
from sand. It would be better to learn skittles from a great man than
all the graces in the world from a mere practitioner of knowledge.
No system is bad enough to withstand the electric influence of
personality, and none is so good that it will succeed if there is no
personality to give it life. We have strong characters in England: it
is a matter in which we flatter ourselves that we are not behind the
rest of the world: yet so often our schoolmasters and schoolmistresses
seem to be inanimate beings, mere machines for hearing lessons, setting
papers and giving marks. Those to whom learning has been a perfunctory
business bear the signs of it all their lives. There are too many of
them, and the majority of them are women. They are the people who care
to know nothing for its own sake; they regard the suggestion that one
could read any book but a light novel as humorous; there is no subject
that they can discuss intelligently or with any sign of original
reflection. Where they so far rouse themselves as to express views, the
views will be nothing but the expression of their appetites, desires
and prejudices given by the particular penny paper which they read.
They have no interests outside housekeeping, and they don’t take the
trouble to do even that scientifically. One sees them in shoals in
teashops and on beaches, with their cheap novel in their hand and a
vaguely discontented look upon their faces. Their discontent is not
surprising, for how can anyone be contented who has never taken a
lively interest in anything but food and clothing? If little Alice’s
mother lets her become as one of these she is cruelly betraying a
sacred trust: she is doing her best to turn the living thing to which
she gave birth into a dead one. If she has not the personality herself
to turn Alice’s enthusiasms, about which there will be no doubt at all,
to good account, then let her have the sense to look for somebody who
has.

Little Alice before long will probably make clear what she wants to
learn: if so, she may as well learn it. Nobody has yet formulated the
end of education with final completeness: it is largely a matter of
acquiring good habits and an internal harmony which ensure smooth and
profitable running when the engine is competent to run by itself. It
certainly does not matter much what is learnt, provided that it is
learned thoroughly and with eagerness. Some people insist that mastery
of tools is the ideal of education: but what are little Alice’s tools?
They are partly physical, partly emotional and partly intellectual:
her great charm, in contrast to her sisters in Latin countries and
in America, is that she is not encouraged to learn the use of her
physical attractions and feminine emotions too early. Mastery of tools
and mastery of self are formulas better applicable to the maturer
education of the young man. The tools of a woman are hardly suitable
in the hands of a little girl, whose older self is still to be. If I
were to invent a formula for little Alice it would be something like
“happiness, eagerness and enthusiasm.” If she has these while she is
young, misery, apathy and boredom are not likely to be hers when she is
older.

Barbara has finished her song, and has settled down to give the Teddy
Bear a teaparty. There she sits, the acutest judge and observer of her
father in all the world. She is gathering memories which will never
leave her, as I gathered them from my father—the smell of his shaving
soap in the morning, the scratch of his rougher cheek in the good-night
kiss, the feel of his clothes, the tones of his voice in pleasure and
in anger, his difficult standard of good manners, his awful moments of
irritation when he was almost too dreadful to look on and his voice was
like the rumbling of an earthquake, his little mysterious jokes with my
mother at which I laughed without in the least knowing why, the way in
which he could be humoured, the hush that was expected when he was said
to be tired or busy, his real but diffident sympathy in tragedies,
the jolly way he took sovereigns out of his waistcoat pocket, his one
glorious outburst when bicycling against the driver of an obstructive
dray, the radiance shed by his approval and the gloom of his, as I now
suspect, often legendary displeasure, his never failing urbanity, of
a consistency almost comic, amid the extemporary and the haphazard.
A sensitive plate is now taking in my own foibles and mannerisms.
When in after years that plate is fully developed and the results are
contemplated with amused commiseration, I shall be content if there is
no injured comment on the chance given to the owner and developer of
that plate of becoming what she ought to be, an Englishwoman of the
best kind.



CHAPTER III

BIG GIRLS


When I was about nine years old my cousins took me to an entertainment
at the girls’ school which all but one of them had lately left.
Never shall I forget the awkward fear with which I faced a room
full of mature and stately beings for whose benefit the conjurer
had been summoned. I wondered how he would dare to conjure lightly
before an assembly of so many incarnations of Minerva. There was
Olympian superiority upon their brows and their flowing locks were
surely ambrosial. The one relief was that to them, apparently, I did
not exist, though some younger sprites in shorter skirts giggled
embarrassingly when I tripped over a chair. Their accomplishments,
too, were miraculous; they played such runs upon the piano and the
violin, they recited with such _aplomb_ “The Jackdaw of Rheims,” they
even did a German play of which, as I was told many years later by my
cousin, none of them understood a word. The goddesses graciously unbent
when the conjurer was pleased to be facetious and miraculous after
the manner of his kind. He delighted me too, that conjurer, but he
was the cause, none the less, of my greater humiliation. He needed an
accomplice, or shall we say a butt, upon the stage, and, basely taking
advantage of my solitary masculinity, he called me out. The Minervas
could no longer ignore my miserable existence. There I was exposed to
their censorious gaze, a thing in breeches, a most obvious compound of
“toads and snails and puppy dogs’ tails,” placed in one of the less
dignified positions of this world with no fellow to support me. I held
things for the conjurer and they disappeared, I tied knots which were
as water, money issued from my nose and perspiration from my forehead.
I had to assure the goddesses that I saw no deception, as if all the
assurance to be found in that room was not on their side rather than on
mine: I even had to pronounce the ridiculous word “Abracadabra” at the
critical moment of a more than usually mystifying illusion. Finally I
had to hold a glass of water covered with a silk handkerchief. To my
inconsolable despair I dropped the glass, which broke with a hideous
crash upon the stage. Blushing scarlet and covered with confusion I
was invited to make way for “one of the young ladies who no doubt
had a steadier hand than a dissipated young man.” I slunk away into
obscurity, hating all conjurers and fearing all big girls more than
ever.

    “Maud is not yet seventeen
    But she is tall and stately”

No lines by an English poet have better crystallised the impression of
English womanhood at the moment of its emergence from the chrysalis.
The impression, of course, is enormously heightened when it is conveyed
in the mass, as in a ceremony at a girls’ school or the sight of the
same school progressing formally to church _en crocodile_. A boy, in
the glory of his physical strength and agility, may find it easy to
forget the stateliness of one or two, as I did that of my cousins, but
no boy exists who would not quail before a combined manifestation.

And yet what were these but flappers, a word which no longer needs
inverted commas? It is a typically English product, that quintessence
of pertness and levity, that preposterous imitation and caricature of
womanhood, that graceless state of pigtaildom, that compound of vanity,
_abandon_, chatter and chocolates, that innocent rakishness, that
perverse chastity, that boundless but unconcentrated desire, that rapt
satisfaction with the present, that gorgeous hopefulness of the future,
that delight to the eye, that distress to the ear; those rosebuds in
boys’ buttonholes, those thorns in mothers’ sides, those blankets of
intelligent conversation, those pitchers with capacious ears, those
graceful runners and hideous walkers, those creatures of soft cheeks,
shy souls and shameless hearts, the English flappers. The rise of this
phenomenon to a precocious but perfectly definite position in society
has been extremely rapid. Half of the present generation in England
can remember when flappers were not, and there is no sign in previous
history that they were ever intended to be. In the Middle Ages and the
Renaissance women became wives so early that there was no time for
flapperdom, yet any flapper of to-day has more independence than the
wife of many a knight who flaunted on the Field of the Cloth of Gold.
The Puritans did not encourage precocity in young women, and as for the
Merry Monarch, there is no record that he paid attentions to ladies
who were not yet out. The formal eighteenth century kept young ladies
very much “in” till they were married, and this perhaps over-repressive
attitude continued well into the Victorian age. The flapper, it must be
remembered, is not merely a young woman; if she were no more, she would
find her parallel in many a heroine of history or fiction. She is more
than young, she is immature: she trades upon her immaturity, using
it as a temptation, a protection and an excuse. Her hair is down and
her skirts are up—though not much more up to-day, I fear, than those
of her aunts—and her imitations of maturity are more in the domain of
conduct than of dress or deportment. Until the other day this cheerful
being did not exist. Who can imagine Miss Bennet or Emma Woodhouse
as flappers? What flapper entered the ken of Dickens or Thackeray or
George Meredith, except as a monstrosity? Even Henry James was too
early for the flapper, with all his tremendous apparatus of modernity.
He touched on some problems of flapperdom in “The Awkward Age” it is
true, but the unfortunate Nanda was very much “out” when she began so
disconcertingly to complicate the existence of her not too admirable
mother. No, the flapper suddenly burst upon an amazed nineteenth
century at the moment of its exit in an odour of decadence and Yellow
Bookery—how Maudle and Postlethwaite would have hated her!—and rode in
triumphantly on the first wave-crest of the twentieth century, a callow
Venus with her hands on her hips and her tongue in her cheek.

At present the flapper is English entirely, except in so far as she
is also American, and of her mode of existence in that mighty country
in which the pretensions of all the female sex are allowed to be
infinite and where Ella Wheeler Willcox played Corinna in her teens I
am not competent to speak. At what age the mantle of bright omnipotence
is allowed to be put on with the petticoat is hidden from me. At all
events the English flapper is alone in Europe. In Germany, I imagine,
her counterpart is still the unwieldy “Backfisch,” with her plait of
coarse light hair and her bob of salutation. She is not a creature
of much account: professors feed her mind with knowledge and she
feeds her body with chocolate and cream cakes. In France, the most
progressive of all Latin countries, the “jeune fille” is still not
emancipated,[2] in spite of Mademoiselle Lenglen, who has won her way
in a censorious world with a tennis racquet. Emancipation is, after
all, the note of the flapper: she gives no impression of being held
in trust. The “jeune fille” is very much held in trust, a trust which
even the most predatory Frenchman will respect. If she is allowed at
all to fly, it is as a balloon or a kite at the end of string securely
tied to her mother’s apron-strings. She is held in trust, of course,
for marriage, an affair which in England is becoming more and more
haphazard. For us, whatever other qualities marriage may have—and these
may be exquisite—it must, at the least, promise a little diversion.
The French, on the contrary, are ready, if need be, to follow Mrs
Malaprop’s maxim of beginning with a little aversion. To us, according
to our natures, marriage may be primarily a sacrament, an enchantment,
or a consummation, but to the French it is essentially an alliance,
a solemn and stately word which they properly apply to the wedding
ring. With this in prospect little kites must not be allowed to fly
too high, nor to become unconscious of the string. They may aspire
to greater freedom as much as they please, since it will inevitably
come; their curiosities about that free state are not discouraged nor
are the arts and graces by which they will shape the most triumphant
course untrammelled forgotten; and the joys to which they may attain
are kept before them to console them for what they must renounce in
the probationary stage. The “jeune fille” may not walk the street of
a town alone, after a dance she is returned as a matter of course to
her mother, she is not taken out by her boys to dine at restaurants
and witness musical comedies from stalls; she does not puff about
the country on a motor bicycle nor flash about in the car with the
chauffeur for sole cavalier; she does not make a habitual fourth at
bridge nor join the lads at snooker when Mama has gone to bed. Indeed,
so long as there is any alliance in prospect the French mama never goes
to bed, speaking figuratively: she is conscious of the kite-string even
in the majesty of her _peignoir_. The English mama, if she is sensible,
takes her normal night’s rest with the addition, possibly, of a nap
after lunch. She is not anxious, for, if there is one virtue in the
flapper, it is her well-developed faculty of looking after herself.

  [2] Even M. Marcel Proust’s remarkable picture of modern “jeunes
  filles” in his masterpiece of discursion “A l’ombre des jeunes filles
  en fleurs” does not convince me that flappers exist in France.

I permit myself perhaps to speak of the young lady with a certain
levity of which she would not approve, for she is apt to take
herself pretty seriously, though rather as an individual than as an
institution. “My dear,” I heard one say the other day, “I have just
taken up theosophy: it’s too thrilling and wonderful. You can’t think
what a difference it has made to me.” Her friend, I trust, did not
echo my own private reflection that the difference was not yet visible
externally, though possibly to the discerning eye her aura had changed
colour slightly. Yet the levity, regrettable though it may be, is not
in the least to be taken as a cloak for complete disapproval, however
negligible such disapproval might be to its objects: it is no more
than a trifling insistence—tasteless of course—on the element of comedy
that twinkles round this estimable section of feminine society. I
respect the flapper, in the first place, because she is on the verge of
becoming the young Englishwoman than whom there is no finer creature
of her kind. Imperfectly educated she certainly is; ignorance is hers
without any mitigating desire for knowledge; artistically she is not
successful, nor intellectually; even in dress she has yet to learn, if
she ever will, the two advantages of originality and perfect finish:
but all this seems almost petty when one considers how magnificent
she is as a being, how well made, how frank and generous, how full
of energy, how good a comrade, how pleasant a companion. These are
the basic virtues of the young Englishwoman, and the flapper has
them all. The worst that can be said of her, perhaps, is that she
exaggerates certain characteristic shortcomings of her sex in England
without contributing any particularly striking grace of her own in
compensation. Is there loudness and vulgarity about, then she is
conspicuously noisy; is there powder on the nose and carmine upon the
lips, then her nose and lips are especially ridiculous; is there a
shrill tone, the highest note will be a flapper’s; is there a tendency
for the eye to rove, it will be particularly unsuitable in a cheeky
orb peeping from a pigtailed head. Her elemental good qualities, at
which she would be inclined to turn up her nose, are her principal
jewels together with a certain lithe and tempting picturesqueness
which is all her own: she is to be loved, at all events, by the
discriminating for her promise rather than for her performance and for
her very brilliant testimony to the excellence of a social system which
encourages and approves this independence in the young. It may be said
that the flapper in general is too eager to discount, as she usually
does, the pleasures of maturity, but probably this is better for
her, in the present and in the future, than to be kept in a state of
impatient yearning, of greedy _Sehnsucht_, which checks the naturally
charming spontaneity of her development. In fact, flappers are good and
desirable things provided that they do not become _too_ obvious.

There is a certain reason for insistence on this excellent proviso. It
may seem paradoxical to argue that the most modern tendency to blur
the line of demarcation between the flapper and her elders is a sign
of over-obviousness on the part of the former. This line, externally
at all events, used to be firmly marked, by the hair on the brow and
the skirt about the knee: but now the general cult, bobbed head and
the free knee, has made this double line delusive. Short of a study of
census returns it would be difficult to tell where the flapper ends
and the woman begins. And this confusion—which is my point—does not
mean the elimination of the flapper as a separate identity, but rather
a prolongation of the flapper standard beyond its legitimate limits.
It argues, to my mind, a deplorable abandonment of her own standard
on the part of the older woman. Herrick could no longer apostrophise
in ecstasy the “sweet liquefaction of her clothes” when he saw his
Julia striding along in a woollen jumper and a short tweed skirt with
a pudding basin pressed down over her mediæval bob. Woman’s gift is to
give line and animation to drapery, to oppose graciousness of the curve
to the masculine rectilinear, and to contrast the poetry of motion with
the prose of mere movement. Why is it decreed to-day that all women
should

    By hook or crook
    Contrive to look
    Both angular and flat—

to quote the song from _Patience_? Only a century ago Englishwomen
had adorably drooping shoulders and soft arms; their contours were
well rounded or they were miserable. To-day it is the round who are
miserable. So marked a physical change is more than accident: it is a
symptom of some constitutional or systematic change, and it has let
the flapper in as a concrete symbol of the revolution. Personally I
could welcome the return of a measure of rotundity, both in form and
manner, not the too doughy rotundity of, say, an Amelia Sedley, but
something more in the manner of George du Maurier’s drawings in _Punch_
of Mrs Ponsonby de Tomkyns and the statuesque ladies who attended her
“at homes.” To George du Maurier that was the English type, and his
admiration of it is clear in every line. He idealised possibly, but
such idealism does him artistically infinite credit. Angularity, for
him, was only the price paid in lost charm for intellect, as in his
three Miss Bilderbogies: only extreme cleverness, in his view, could
excuse such absence of contour in a woman, and even then the excuse
would have to be explicitly made with some humility. Where has it all
gone, that amplitude, that richness that was present to his eyes and
fed his imagination? One would say that there must have been a shortage
of cream somewhere to have so encouraged the Bilderbogie strain and
repressed the Ponsonby de Tomkyns. It may have been that there was too
much cream in the Ponsonby de Tomkyns stratum and too little elsewhere,
an error now remedied by a more even distribution. Let us hope so, in
the expectation that the traditional creaminess of things English may
again become visible in the community. English girls were once compared
to rosebuds and cream: the rose is still there, and no nation can
compete with it, but when it comes to a question of cream, the best
that the average flapper can boast in her composition is a fairly stiff
admixture of milk and soda.

I sometimes wonder if there is anything left for the flapper to look
forward to when she comes out, since this formality is still talked
of. Possibly there are still some functions closed to her, but they
can be few. She is to be found at dinner parties and dances, she has
men friends to stand her theatres and chocolates, she can flirt to the
utmost limit, and unless she habitually wears a pigtail it is ten to
one that nobody will notice anything different in the dressing of her
hair. She will be forced to assume, possibly, a greater responsibility,
but that is a penalty rather than a pleasure. Let us at any rate
give her the credit of reaching consciously a greater seriousness
of outlook whether she has to fend for herself or not. Frivolity in
its worst sense is not a fault of English girls. Fond as they are
of enjoyment and unimaginative as they are in their pleasures, they
all take life with a measure of earnestness. The war gave to them, or
to many of them, an object for their earnestness of which they had
hitherto felt the want. Their seizure of the opportunity does them
infinite credit. It would be absurd to suppose that their motives
were purely altruistic, for women as a whole are not moved to action
by abstract ideas. They saw that there were things to be done and
that it might be rather fun to do them. It would need an eloquent pen
to tell adequately how well they did them, and the fact that they
got some fun out of it, even perhaps more than they expected, can
in no way diminish our approbation. I confess that the magnificent
services of English girls during the war have moved me deeply, and
I cannot find it in me to sympathise with those who are inclined
to consider the whole thing rather regrettable, unsettling to the
girls and likely to provoke antagonisms when, if ever, we return to
peaceful conditions. Surely this is a petty point of view. As a matter
of national pride their performance takes on quite another aspect.
The women of England were the only ones in the world who served in
thousands anywhere and everywhere. Other nations could not get over
their prejudices so easily, or only in a few cases. Botchkareva,
it is true, organised a Battalion of Death in which Russian women
actually fought, but the serving Englishwomen were an army. Also,
there was nothing strained about it, nothing unnatural, as it would
have been in a Latin nation. Here was a vindication of that British
prudery and hypocrisy which other nations like to mock at. Our freedom
of intercourse, our comradeship of the sexes, which no other people
understands, was triumphantly justified in the test of war. The triumph
belongs chiefly to the women: it showed the sterling worth of their
essential qualities, independence, fearless capability, untiring
energy, cheerfulness under difficulty and coolness in danger. The best
of them could lead as well as work, and where they led, as in those
Serbian hospitals, men worshipped them, glorifying the country that
could produce such women. So when I see, or used to see, a pert little
figure in khaki carrying its little powdered nose in the air and being
a little silly, I tried to remember that these were superficial defects
not gravely detrimental to the value of the article. But they can be so
dreadfully and exasperatingly silly, can they not? Even Sister Anne,
of Number —— General Hospital, who took me out to tea at Aboukir Bay
and gave me a Government hot water bottle as a souvenir, was a little
silly, but she was a genuine, jolly being all the same who did her
country more credit than she was probably aware of.

This excursus into the topic of the war was really unpremeditated,
but, after all, it was almost impossible to leave it out in speaking
of the English girl. To omit to record that which is eminently
worthy of praise, simply because it has been praised before, besides
being ungenerous in a critic, accentuates his strictures beyond his
intention. No doubt Mrs Ponsonby de Tomkyns and her age would have
responded with equal enthusiasm, but the greater energy and athleticism
which succeeded her generation did much to increase the effectiveness
of the response when it was actually called for. And now peace is
before us again, with much speculation about the future of women. So
far as the English girl is concerned, be she flapper or no, I see no
reason why she should deteriorate with the disappearance of stress,
especially as the condition of modern society for many years to come
seems likely to demand strenuous natures.

There is, however, one type of young Englishwoman, still existent,
whose extinction would be a blessing. It is the type of Mr Reginald
McKenna’s Sonia, that survival of Dodo into an unwilling generation.
She is a limited species of course. London, money, society connections,
good looks and a vivacious personality are indispensable for success
in this line, and this is a combination of elements within the reach
of few. Yet she does exist outside the pages of novels, and the harm
that she does goes far beyond her own personal futility. She is a bad
example, and unfortunately an example too widely held up to admiration.
She captures the Press, which delights to reproduce her photograph in
her latest posture and to record her latest bid for notoriety, while it
would not dare to print a truthful account of her life, with all its
vanities and selfishnesses and little immoralities. Her motto is to
have a good time even if the world go to pieces. She exaggerates her
ego into a god whom it is the duty of life and the world to appease by
frequent offerings of incense and enjoyment. Of any duty except to look
pretty she is quite unconscious. Any decent feeling she would promptly
dub stuffiness. What she wants is glamour and movement from morning
to night. The drab and dark side of the world is to be excluded, not
by rising superior to it, but by ignoring it and debarring it from
approach to the sacred presence, as the revellers in the story tried
to debar the red death. It is that kind of young woman who never
represses a selfish impulse and who, when self-denial on the part of
the community is called for, assumes that the call is intended for the
drab beings who earn a daily wage but is not to prejudice the pleasures
of superior beings like herself, whose very existence is sufficient
privilege for the community to warrant the transfer to its back of any
burden that would legitimately have been hers. You see her often enough
in London, watching the Russian ballet with an air of proprietorship,
as if her appreciation was the only thing that mattered, that of the
ordinary herd being cold, earthy and altogether negligible; you may see
her selling programmes at charity matinées, flattering and fluttering
by her radiant presence the audience—"oh, my dear, such quaint stuffy
horrors!"—who buy; you will see her in the company of the rich more
often than in that of the well bred, for money is to her infinitely
more than manners and flashy novelty more than solid worth. She was
slightly eclipsed by the war, though it gave her some admirable
opportunities for self-display, but it affected her little. It neither
wrung her heart nor improved her character, since it was to her but
a new excitement and a source of wealth to many of her friends. She
dresses garishly, she spends recklessly, she plays high, she dabbles
in vice as she dabbles in movements for the sake of fresh sensations
for her _blasé_ palate. With a ha’porth of wit she gilds an infinite
vulgarity, and she has the soul of a courtesan without the courtesan’s
excuse. If Rhadamanthus condemns her to be perpetual chambermaid to a
hostel in Hades for the souls of lost commercial travellers he will
have given her an appropriate task in appropriate company.

There are other types of girl whom many of us may dislike, the
pseudo-Bohemian of Chelsea, the _détraquée_ enthusiast who formed in
old days the main guard of Miss Pankhurst’s army, the spoiled chorus
girl whom Mr Compton Mackenzie has so well depicted in “Carnival,”
the horsey young lady who can talk of nothing but hunting and the
merely vacuous devourer of sweets and sensational novels. Most of
these, however, have some compensating virtues and the majority try,
at all events, to do something more than exist. Want of opportunity
or want of ambition have often landed them in their particular groove
and circumscribed their natures: a sudden emergency, in their case,
may bring out unsuspected powers and surprisingly latent virtues. The
Bohemian young lady of Chelsea, I admit, is extremely irritating,
though her worst faults appear on the surface. Her postures, if she
only knew it, give an impression of shallowness and pretence, but she
is a little intoxicated by the glamour of revolt against convention and
the general obtuseness to things artistic, which is an undeniable and
annoying fact to those who are not afflicted with it. Chelsea boasts
many courageous spirits, not all of them men, however above their
accomplishments their aims may be, but it gets deservedly a bad name
when it takes up the attitude of regarding all life as nothing but a
colour scheme, or an arrangement of line and mass. The issues of life
are not all artistic: in fact, the artistic issue is only one of many,
supremely important, of course, but not extremely extensive, a fact
of which Murger was uncomfortably aware when he wrote the inimitable
“Scènes de la Vie de Bohème.” Yet, after all, the artist must have
his or her little bit of fanfaronnade, if only to keep the heart up
in his desolating struggle to give expression to refractory ideas.
The inexcusable beings are those who, not being in any sense artists,
presume on a habitation of artistic regions to flourish the borrowed
panache more furiously than its legitimate possessor.

The enthusiast in unprofitable causes, with no sense of proportion in
her composition, is rather the victim of circumstance than a deliberate
sinner. The remedy for her is simply a matter of providing a more
fitting channel for her energy and her superfluous emotion. This is
difficulty which we have still to face, for the country which, having
a large surplus of women over men, gives the former nothing, or not
enough to do, is asking for trouble and encouraging the development of
its girls into “wild, wild women” in a different sense to that of the
song. If it could only be secured that no young Englishwoman entered
adult life without a solid interest or a definite direction for her
unexpended energy we should neither see the crazy excesses of the
suffragettes nor the abysmal apathy which settles on the young in too
many suburban drawing rooms, country towns and seaside apartments. The
Englishwoman shines far more in activity than in repose: she is most
herself with a flush in her cheek and motion in her limbs, and she can
never successfully imitate the becoming languour appropriate to the
women of sunnier climates. She will move more, I fancy, in the future
with less hesitation and a surer sense of direction.

The English girl, as a rule, marries for love. French people say that
this is an inadequate reason for marriage, but I doubt if the results
in this country are any worse than those of the arranged marriage
in France. As a nation we seem to be suited by a certain youthful
irresponsibility in this, as in other matters. Also there is the fact
that young English folk are not very desperate lovers. They like to
believe that they are, of course, and the authors of sentimental
fiction encourage the belief, but they take care to combine a good dose
of practical sense with their passion. Mistakes occur, it cannot be
denied, but they are due rather to flightiness and self-indulgence than
to the mad lash of real passion. Juliet may have been a typical English
maiden of Shakespeare’s day, but she is not so now, or it would not
need an Englishwoman of fifty to play the part properly; and it would
be ridiculous to imagine one of our nation assuming in real life the
rôle of Carmen or of a D’Annunzianesque heroine, alternately blazing
and languishing in a vapour of eloquence. Rosalind is far more the true
English type: she takes some interest in the physical as well as the
emotional development of her lover.

Indeed, there are English girls of certain classes who conduct their
own alliance almost as coolly and circumspectly as the wariest French
mother. For them it is a matter of stages, first walking out, then
keeping company, and then the engagement with its solemn ring. But the
ring by no means clinches matters: the wait for adequate circumstances
to make the marriage advisable may last one year or more. If during
that wait the probationer fails to answer expectations, or even himself
cools off, the affair is adjusted without undue recrimination. Rings
and other presents are returned and, in all probability, another
probationer is quickly found to begin the round anew. The methods of
the “upper” classes are hasty and ill-considered in comparison, though
the grave love making of Sir Walter Scott’s and Jane Austen’s young
people will show that this was not always so. Yet, on the whole, in
spite of the quite obvious sentimentality of our imaginations on this
subject—what other nation has such a vast yearly output of incredibly
washy love stories?—we are not unduly sentimental in our actions. Love
for us makes the world go round, not merely the head, and it is usually
built on a firm foundation of compatability.

The young Englishwoman does not enter upon the matrimonial voyage
all of a tremble, which is another excellent thing. She has a fairly
shrewd idea of what she wants and of what she is going to get. She is
quite aware that marriage entails duties as well as pleasures, but,
as she has already had a good deal of the fun, she is soberly ready
to welcome the new responsibility which will to some extent diminish
it. Men of other nations may think there is something charming in
the prospect of leading a timid (but rather hungry) child into a new
and fascinating garden full of the delights of the senses and the
emotions, but that is not the Englishman’s desire. For him, too, love
is not all emotion: his passion is tinged unconsciously with prudence.
His nature leads him to look for a companion as well as a divinity,
and since he is a simple soul, to whom the refinements of sentiment
are tiresome in the long run, he prefers a comrade ready-made to a
novice whose transformation into a comrade will take some time and
considerable trouble. The English girl is always a comrade, from the
nursery onwards. The spirit of comradeship is so deeply ingrained in
the family sense of English people that they could not avoid it if they
would. It is on that side that you can always best take an English
girl, for, though she has vanity too, she is not one of those precious
creatures who are sensitive in their vanities and nowhere else; who
will take a rebuff calmly if it is delivered with a courtly word, but
will bitterly resent a gratification if it is proffered too roughly
for their pride. Judged by universal standards Englishmen are splendid
husbands but inadequate lovers: Englishwomen are perfect wives but
unsatisfactory mistresses.



CHAPTER IV

THE ENGLISH WIFE


When I dine out and look around me, or when I am present at any other
social function at which men and their wives appear in unmistakeable
couples, the infinite variety of married people affects me strongly.
There they all are, Mrs Anderson who simply exists to provide a stout
and comfortable background for her picturesque husband, fragile Mrs
Conkling whose pathetic anxiety to bring out her angular husband’s
laboured wit would be tiresome if it were not so genuinely maternal,
Lady Manville of the truly refined apprehensions who puts up so
complacently with an irritable snob, Mrs Fitzmaurice who pants to live
up, and Mrs Dobbs who does not trouble to live down, to the man whose
name she carries, Mrs Cantelupe who mentally embraces the doctor, and
Mrs Martingale who openly snubs the Major, and many more of them, all
with nothing in common but that they are English wives. One might
imagine the existence of some subtle common bond that would unite
the persons who had gone in for so definite a profession—at least for
a woman—as matrimony. Yet it does not seem obvious even to the most
acute perception. If it were more obvious the question would not so
often insolubly put itself how such and such persons ever come to marry
at all. True, there are many married people who have to so successful
a measure assimilated one another that it is an impossible effort to
imagine them otherwise than married, yet in their case a more subtle
form of the question is often suggested, as to the spirit and the
emotion with which they first determined to unite their destinies.
Further investigations into the subconscious may in time reveal the
deep mysteries of affinity, real or imagined, but at present a dark
curtain hangs over them. It cannot be mere luck that makes an English
wife. The Englishman has a national, as well as an individual, quality.
His chief consoler and supporter, therefore, is likely to have some
national quality too, whether it dimly exists from the beginning in a
maidenly consciousness, or whether it grows in the married state as a
natural result of the contiguity. A Frenchman, or a French woman, who
had as sure a touch as the author of “Les Silences du Colonel Bramble,”
might throw some light on the nature of this essential quality, but
for an Englishman the task is too difficult to be formally attempted.
The best he could contribute would be sidelights and reflections.

A man may well ponder, as he seldom does, on the change of identity
undergone by a woman who takes another name on signing the register.
In general, the sacrifices and accommodations involved in marriage are
mutual. If the woman loses some independence, the man loses more; the
elimination of caprice is equal for both, though one may eliminate more
freely than the other; the community of goods and persons hits, on the
whole, both sides equally; both are vulnerable in the same degree by
ills affecting their complement. But a woman loses her maiden name,
and the man makes no equivalent sacrifice. The possibility of so doing
would hardly strike him, for the assumption of a new identity is to
him almost inconceivable. It would appear strange to him, indeed, if
the case were reversed, and that ever after marriage he should feel
about himself the implied question “Who _was_ he?” Men feel that there
is so little about themselves that requires explanation, a fact which
accounts for what is to women their extraordinary want of curiosity
about one another. Men take one another for granted as they take
themselves: were this state of things altered it would be tantamount
to a revolution. Men’s clubs, which flourish on the assumption of the
individual’s unalterable identity and a nebulous tolerance of most of
his general social connections, would find the new flavour of enigma
too disruptive for their continuance in comfort. There is no getting
over this difference by any amount of tact. The most unassuming of men,
the most diffident, amplifies his personality in marriage, casting his
name, like a protective cloak, round the person whom he has chosen
with a generous finality which makes any inquiry as to the nature of
her former covering theoretically superfluous. But the woman, however
fondly she may cherish the garment of her maiden name, even to the
extent of showing it at every opportunity through the chance openings
of her new covering, has accepted a restriction as she has accepted
a label. A man’s appellation or title reveals nothing of his private
state, but a married woman’s name is a sign to all the world that she
is, or has been, wrapped in the mantle of a man.

This act of envelopment, performed in the marriage ceremony, is
infinitely symbolic, allegorical, susceptible of amplification to any
sentimental or moral tune that you please. It is the commonplace of
the “few well-chosen words” to which married couples have to submit
from the steps of the altar. The symbol and the allegory, the moral and
the sentiment, are, however, less interesting than the actual degree
of reality which attends and follows the act. The grace or otherwise
which a wife imparts to the folds of the mantle around her is one of
the tests of proficiency in the married profession. It is a test out of
which the English wife comes very well; much better for instance than
the German, who accepts the covering with thankfulness and humility,
poking out a meek head now and then but otherwise only amplifying,
as the years go on, the circumference of the garment; whereas the
American assimilates the whole garment to herself with any amount of
dash, leaving it to her partner to supply the motive power and fill the
pockets, while taking up as little room as he conveniently can,—and the
American man’s capacity for social compression is as striking as his
capacity for commercial expansion.

The Englishwoman wears her mantle neither selfishly nor cringingly:
she appropriates her part of it with a natural dignity which so
incorporates it with herself that the imagination almost fails to
grasp the fact of her ever having been without it. She is by no means
indifferent to the fall of its folds round her own figure, taking
a good deal of pride and trouble in the arrangement of them, but
her self-consciousness in this respect does not make her forgetful
of the figure cut by her partner. She insists that the elegance of
his posture, which she would be the first to exaggerate, shall be
unimpaired by any extravagance on her part which might strain the
buttons or mar the flowing lines of the side which he presents to the
world. It is rather a heavy mantle that the Englishman throws, a solid
article in tweed or homespun, not lightly to be shifted and apt to be
impervious to gentle breezes as well as to more blustering elements:
but if the Englishwoman inevitably feels at times a trifle overpowered
and would gratefully welcome the respite of a button or two, she is not
given to any awkward wriggles of betrayal or to moppings of the brow in
public. In private the owner of the mantle may have, for his good, to
be aware of sharp elbows, and even to submit in domestic seclusion to
the terrifying total emergence from the common garment of an overheated
partner; but, after this salutary breathing space, he usually finds no
reluctance on her part to re-assume and rearrange the folds. He can,
in fact, rely upon his wife to minimise any possible appearance of
misfit, since an Englishwoman resents above all any diminution of the
common dignity, by which she means her husband’s dignity more than her
own. No wives are more proud of their husbands nor more anxious that
the world should appreciate them at their true worth: for failure in
this respect they are readier to blame the world’s obtuseness than any
defect in their own estimate.

The English wife’s greatest disappointment, perhaps, is that her
husband should fail to do himself justice by any fault of his own. She
will carry him gaily through failure after failure so long as her own
confidence is unimpaired, repairing the cuts and mending the holes worn
by unlucky tumbles so skilfully, in the happiest instances, as even to
escape his own eye; but if he slip through mere blundering awkwardness,
through diffidence or through shortsightedness in missing the step
obviously to be taken, then indeed she is smitten to the heart, for
has it not destroyed the great illusion, which she might be the first
to suspect but the last to give up, that it is he who is carrying her
through?

It is remarkable how this illusion persists, when it is an illusion, on
the part of a man, without his suspecting the reverse of the illusion
to be the truth, as it may sometimes be. The indignant refusal to
desert Mr Micawber was less, we may suspect (though _he_ did not), due
to a sense of his protection than to an agonised fear on his behalf.
Yet, even at the best, when a man does his fair share, even to a degree
of enviable brilliance, of carrying through, the amount contributed
by his wife towards diminishing her own and his dead weight is not so
widely recognised. A man, certainly an Englishman, is a costly engine
which requires a great deal of attention if the best is to be got out
of it: the feeding, coaxing, tuning up, adjustment and lubrication that
he constantly needs is enough to occupy one woman’s time for most of a
year. If he has never had it, he contrives to run along smoothly enough
with the attentions of well paid hirelings who see to his physical
lubrication, leaving the mental and emotional gear to look after
itself. But once he has it, he surrenders to its need. Thenceforward he
has nothing to do but to make his daily run in the outer world knowing
that a far more efficient and faithful attendant is waiting to adjust
any part of his gear that may have got shaken or damaged in the course
of the day. He would pretend to himself, I dare say, that he performs
similar services in return to his attendant, but he would find it hard
to substantiate his claim. The man returns from the day’s work with
the sense of having thrown off a burden till the next morning. Seldom
has a woman any similar sensation. Her burden, if less exhausting, is
practically continuous: she must sort out her pile of cares and get
to the bottom of them daily, for a household will not tolerate the
arrears which grow with impunity in a man’s office. If a man felt the
same responsibility for his wife’s welfare as she for his, his burden,
too, would be continuous. Nature is kind to him in this respect, or
perhaps she is only wise. If he is to do most of the public work of the
world, he must be allowed to be a trifle impervious to the need for
the private adjustments which are, strictly speaking, in his province.
He will be excused, even profusely visited with thanks, if he show
sympathy and gratitude. Who knows if the English wife gets enough of
these commodities, since she will seldom confess to their deficiency?
That her deserts are great no Englishman will deny, more than ever
since the war, which saw poignant anxiety, intensity of nervous strain,
every kind of economic difficulty and an incalculable increase in the
coefficient of domestic friction added to her normal lot. She bore it
all with courage, neither losing her presence of mind nor diminishing
her dignity; and though some hastily assumed and badly stitched
matrimonial mantles may have shown the strain of the violent disruption
during periods of the war, the majority showed what very serviceable
garments in time of stress they really were, capable of almost infinite
elasticity without the straining of a fibre, warming him in the camp
and her in her lonely bed.

During the war the English wife kept the English home going, and at all
times it is she who is the centre of the English home. This fact alone
would give her a unique position among wives, for the English home
is unique. If the man maintains it, the woman gives it its peculiar
character, and the character is one which at once impresses itself
upon all foreign observers. What the Englishwoman preserves, what she
warms, one might almost say, with her blood, is not a dining-room for
her husband, a nursery for her children, a drawing-room for herself
and a sleeping place for them all; it is not even only a focus for
purely family radiations to concentrate themselves upon; still less
is it just a background to set off the more agreeable side of life,
carefully concealing the obscure and dusty delvings that make it
possible. All these elements come into it, but there is much more. It
is the symbol of British hospitality, that spring of unsuspected warmth
in a traditionally cold nation, which guards its privacy fiercely that
it may share it without embarrassment. There is no stiffness in its
welcome, no constraint in its entertainment: that its guests should
for a moment forget their guesthood is its wish and its triumph. In
this triumph the woman has the greater share. However much her husband
may have invited, it is she who entertains. Her husband’s friendships
are to that extent in her keeping, for the masculine link that he has
strained in marrying cannot be reforged by his own good fellowship
alone.

Charles Lamb complained humorously of the behaviour of married
people in this respect, but his complaints have no great body in
them. A friendship that depended mainly upon bachelor roysterings
must inevitably suffer by a roysterer’s marriage, but to accuse the
English wife of wishing to destroy what is valuable in her husband’s
feelings for other men or women is to do her an injustice. Indeed, I
have often found the anxiety of English wives to prove the contrary
almost pathetic, and it may be advanced as a reasonable proposition
that the man who exchanges his welcome in a bachelor flat for one in an
English home has the better of the exchange. The note of the English
home, except in its most ceremonial moments, is domesticity, not a
domesticity of shirtsleeves and happy-go-luckydom, but one in which the
domestic affections do not find it necessary to run and hide themselves
in the closet when the frontdoor bell rings, and in which an increase
in the steam pressure of the domestic machinery is not obviously made
for the comfort of added society. The guest slides into an English
home, be it for an evening or for a month, as easily as a new leaf is
slid into the dining-room table. If any sacrifices are made on his
behalf, it is a matter of pride that he should be unaware of them: if
his pleasures are consulted it is, for him, with the assurance that the
meeting of them would only be an extension, the most natural in the
world, of the admirable activities of his host and hostess.

Few Englishwomen, perhaps, could preside in a _salon_, but nearly all
can infuse cheerful ease into a gathering of guests, whether it be
at a house party or a humble Sunday supper. Lady Monkshood, who puts
me at once at ease when I am ushered into a room full of opulent and
unknown strangers of a Saturday afternoon at The Hall, sheds no ray by
one atom warmer than little Mrs Periwinkle who keeps a piece of cold
beef and some stewed fruit going on Thursdays in the Temple for any
scribbling folk who care to drop in. And both of them, Lady Monkshood
and Mrs Periwinkle, have this in common, that there is no corner of the
globe in which they show to greater advantage than in the room where
they welcome their friends. The Englishwoman’s home is her most perfect
setting, and those who do not know her in it know her not. She grows
into it, by some wonderful instinct of Englishwomen, irradiating it
and letting it irradiate her. Her husband may show to more advantage
in spacious and crowded scenes, but if she look not well at her own
table she will look well nowhere: for in the house that she has made
her own, built up and ruled, among the “things” that are so part of
herself that she can hardly leave them without a pang, even for the joy
of returning to them with rapture, watching the service which answers
her will and the faces which reflect her love, an added grace is given
to her figure, a brightness to her eyes and a melody to her voice. The
homes of England go far to make England herself, they are her mystic
source of strength, her pledge of security. Not all are splendid, not
all have ease; care knocks daily at the door of too many, as poverty
too often dims their lustre: but within them all the same essential
quality shines out, of hospitality without ceremony, comfort without
extravagance, intercourse without parade; and the Englishwoman with her
unostentatious pride, her wistful solicitude, her rather unresponsive
mind and her extremely sensitive heart is there at the centre.

Wherefore those misguided women are to be reprobated who, having the
means at their disposal to create an English home, use them to produce
the illusion of a cosmopolitan hotel. This crime, whether it be due to
American influence and example, or only inspired by the mad desire to
spend an unnecessary amount of money, must fortunately be rare, if it
is unfortunately conspicuous. It is almost impossible to believe that
one of English blood who in youth has known any of the spell thrown
over the existence of those who share it by an English home can have
the misguided courage to banish voluntarily so much that is precious
from their life. A home can be rich as well as poor, as complete in a
palace as in a cottage, but those who land themselves in great houses
which they cannot assimilate, filling them with objects for which
they have neither affection nor reverence, creating no atmosphere but
that of magnificence, asking for no service but that of well-paid but
stingily given obsequiousness, who gather guests as carelessly as
the footman shovels coal and disperse them as nonchalantly as the
housemaid scatters ashes, having thrown before them all the impersonal
luxuries of which a Ritz can boast—those are the people who have
forgotten what home, what comfort, what cosiness, what an English
hearth, an English gathering round an English fire, an English muffin,
an English welcome can be to those who have not lost one of the most
desirable sweets of their nationality, how gracious their appeal to the
happily present, how warm and soothing their memory to the unwillingly
absent.

The inner light, however, the participation in a perfect spirit and a
peculiar, fine-flavoured quality, which distinguishes the English home
does not, I fear, carry with it an irreproachability in externals. Here
the English wife is perhaps less admirable. The temperamental harmony
of the home so often is somewhat oddly contrasted with the decorative
inharmoniousness of its material objects. Let me hasten to admit that
when the Englishwoman has taste in her choice of a setting for herself
she has very good taste indeed. She can achieve, at her best, with
her _mise en scène_, her hangings, her furniture, her colours, her
pictures, her ornaments, the same successful temperamental fusion that
she achieves in her personal relations. She can create the appearance
in a room of being continuously and gracefully inhabited, of having
come together in all its parts inevitably, not for show but for the
plainer usages of life, and yet keep it fresh and unruffled, free from
the dusty footmarks of yesterday as from the odour of yesterday’s
meals. The drawing-room or sitting-room of an enlightened English woman
is neither a salon, awful in its bleak precision, nor simply a feminine
boudoir, beflowered and rustling like a _robe de chambre_ to which the
entry of a man, even of a husband, takes on the air of a gallantry or
an intrusion. It remains sacred to the woman, yet rather as the main
sanctuary of the household of which she is the priestess than as the
holy of holies; and, in this connection, it is interesting to remark
that the English woman, as a rule, has no visible inner sanctuary.
She carries it, I suspect, so securely in her own heart that her
writing table and her workbox are sufficient to contain its material
overflow. This capacity for fusion is naturally most remarkable when
it is æsthetic as well as temperamental, but striking success on the
side of temperament will carry off a wonderful measure of æsthetic
incongruity. There are rooms that I know full of conventional horrors,
all photographs and sham Chippendale, easy chairs and uneasy tables,
that I would not have changed for the world for the sake of the friend
who animates them. Yet it must be confessed that the majority of our
women have little taste in the appointments of a house. A long and
bad Victorian tradition may to some extent account for this, but it
is due also to a want of clearness in balancing the claims of comfort
and beauty, and to a certain practical hastiness, a kind of unselfish
frugality, which forbids them to spend too much forethought on what is
not in itself immediately useful.

Much may be forgiven, no doubt, to those who can afford little, but
might they not at least make better use of the space which the builder
has given them, not by filling every inch of it, but by letting it do
a little more work unhindered? Most English rooms give one the sense
of being hemmed in on every side by the furniture and of being at all
points afflicted by a multiplicity of objects which seem unable to
give any satisfactory explanation of their presence to any interested
observer. This mania for overcrowding rooms is not confined to any
one stratum of society: the millionairess who encumbers herself with
Chinese porcelain, Chelsea figures, brocade cushions and satinwood
tables suffers from it just as badly as the greengrocer’s wife whose
parlour, with its photographs of all possible relations, its glass
vases dangling prisms, its presents from various seasides, its
mats, antimacassars and footstools, has hardly a spare inch of space
uncovered. We have not much to learn from the Japanese, I believe, but
a touch of their unfailing eye for the proper effect of simplicity and
congruity would be an excellent addition to the æsthetic equipment of
the Englishwoman, just as in dress she owes herself a lesson from the
Frenchwoman in the art of completeness in every detail from hat and
hair to shoes. In matters of decoration, domestic as well as personal,
the Englishwoman is a good improviser but a bad composer.

       *       *       *       *       *

It might seem unnecessary to dwell at all on what the English wife
takes from her husband and what she gives him, seeing that we are
a race of the most frantic writers and readers of novels under the
sun. Nevertheless it would be impossible in this chapter to omit the
conjugal relation which, while it reflects in its changes the manners
of different generations, remains all through something essentially
English. The humility of the mediæval _châtelaine_ which persisted
in the ceremonious respect of a Duchess of Newcastle for her “dear
lord,” and the rather pompous solemnity of the early nineteenth century
with which Mrs Briggs addressed “Mr Briggs” as such even in his
portly presence are now things of the past, having fled scandalised
before the easy familiarity of more modern husbands and wives: but
there would appear less difference than might be supposed if the
Duchess of Newcastle beloved by Lamb could exchange sentiments with
a wife of to-day. They would find, in particular, a common fund of
that protective tenderness which is characteristic in the attitude
of an Englishwoman to her husband, whom she regards in some aspects
as a mother regards her son strutting in his first pair of trousers
before admiring friends: she adores his grown up airs and would not
reveal to him for worlds that he is not yet quite capable of looking
after himself. It is for this that she puts up so kindly with his
idiosyncracies, not because he is a man whose will is law and whose
whims are not to be questioned. She feels that she is to some extent
responsible for him, not only in the home, but in the outer world: to
the wise fairy who orders his domestic interior she adds the character
of interpreter whose aim is to reveal his promising social exterior
to a possibly unappreciative audience, much in the manner that a
bilingual Hottentot, producing a white man before his tribe, would
give them to understand that he came in every way up to the best
Hottentot standards of good manners and capability. In the same spirit
she is ever ready to act as his shock-absorber, ready to undergo every
compression on her own part for the sake of his smoother daily progress.

A man, though he might naturally wish to do so, cannot act as a buffer
for his wife except in the greater shocks of life where the strain on
the joint machine is much eased by any elasticity on his part: the
smaller jars and jolts occur in the home where he is inevitably the
passenger. It is she upon whom falls the daily impact of breakages,
leakages of domestic energy, minor and unceasing adjustments and
all the host of inquiries which may be generically described as the
"Pleas’m"s. If she is occasionally exasperated at the complacency
with which he receives the service, she has the good sense to reflect
that if the passenger were continually worrying about the feelings of
the springs he would never have the heart to drive anywhere at all;
and, since he is unavoidably there in the seat, it is better that he
should get up some momentum than subject the springs to the motionless
pressure of his own dead weight.

The English wife does not exact a punctilious politeness from her
husband, which is only an instance of the general difficulty that
English people experience in associating polished manners with
familiarity. Politeness for them is a mark of distance, and its
use in any degree of social proximity has the air of hoisting a
telescope to see one’s friends across a table: it is a source, even,
of suspicion, and there are few of us sufficiently enlightened not to
feel almost unconsciously the “Garn, ’oo are yer gettin’ at?” which
rises to the lips of our less cultured citizens on being treated to
any address at all elaborately flavoured. There is sound sense, not
merely boorishness, at the bottom of this instinctive suspicion, for
forms and ceremonies are at their best a mask to conceal more natural
emotions, though we do not always too nicely judge the moments when
these emotions might be more profitably concealed than revealed. At
the same time, the English wife expects a good deal of attention from
the man who, presumably, first won her by his attentions, and feels
aggrieved if she does not get it. The English husband—and he would be
the first to admit it—is expected to remain _l’amant de sa femme_ and
to abound in those attentions great and small which are easily prompted
by the emotion of passionate love, but sprout less eagerly from the
more solid but less exciting relation of the _ami_, in the conjugal
sense of that word. The happiest wife has her _amant_ and _ami_ in one,
and she is slow, for all that the novelists and dramatists may say,
to look for the former away from home. Most of our country women are
more ready to face the great disillusionment with resignation than to
seek a new revelation as an antidote. But it is not easy to destroy
the illusions of an Englishwoman or, as it may be better put, they are
not often totally destroyed. One reason for this, perhaps the chief,
is that neither the Englishman nor Englishwoman have, in early life,
formed a passionate ideal of _l’amour_ to be destroyed in the process
of daily realisation. They regard the prospect of “settling down” with
equanimity, having usually had before their eyes an example of the
amount of tenderness and affection which attend the settlement, and
being too practical to imagine themselves ever taking desperate and
decisive action to assuage a merely emotional longing for an intangible
something. We are too ready adventurers in the realm of the concrete to
waste our energy on less promising quests in the realm of ideas. All
our adventures, marriage included, have a practical aim which keeps our
roving desires in a fairly domesticated condition, like house terriers
who hunt a rabbit now and then rather than greyhounds for ever
straining at the leash. The English wife views her husband’s rabbit
hunts with the complacency of a good mistress, quite ready to admire
the good figure that he cuts, provided the chase is not tiresomely
prolonged. She will even allow the rabbits to make a polite semblance
of being caught, so long as it is perfectly understood that it is
all a game and so long as they do not too shamelessly wait for their
pursuer. She does not claim so much indulgence for herself, knowing
that her husband’s progress is a serious walk rather than an amiable
constitutional, and that the distraction caused by having to turn and
whistle after a rabbit-hunting companion would be too trying for his
temper. It is usually enough for her to let him suspect her virtuously
avoided opportunities, with a hint of her successful chases before she
caught him.

Mr H. G. Wells, in a series of novels after the “New Machiavelli,”
tried to make us believe that the triangular drama was as common in
England as in other nations, and quite as well suited to our ordinary
habits. It was a foolish attempt to ascribe the passions of the few to
the temperaments of the many. Wives of Sir Isaac Harman and Passionate
Friends are no more characteristically English than Don Quixote, except
in an extremely attenuated sense. There are people in London, also
conspicuous at the Russian ballet, who find a diversion in a display
of promiscuity, though they are a small and despicable section of
the community: but the seeker after a maximum of loves and lovers
is not the typical Englishman or woman, just as Mr Walter Sickert’s
back bedrooms and lumbar nudities are not typical English scenery.
No doubt, as a nation, we are sexually unimaginative, which leads
us into a false puritanism, makes our marriage laws grossly unfair,
hinders enlightened attempts to amend them, and complacently allows
the worst of all diseases to do its fell work upon the population.
But eroticism, we may be thankful, is alien to us, particularly as
any attempt to translate eroticism into adequate or possible social
terms is bound to be, as Mr Wells shows, a dismal failure. The English
woman and the English man, like all others of the species, are liable
to be misled by their physical desires, but their good sense and
their innate domesticity are too strong to countenance any hasty
experiments in the relations which they consider sacred and vital. It
is good philosophy, surely, to take things as they are, not as you
might wish them to be. It is the athletic activity, the courage, the
practical energy of the Englishwoman which make her, possibly, ascetic
in her imagination and prim even in her abandonments. To a Frenchman
it is always problematical whether a given woman is virtuous, to an
Englishman her virtue is a natural assumption: the difference indicated
in the women of the two nations is obvious. The Englishwoman can answer
the reliance of the man with a self-reliance which is one of her most
charming qualities; the Frenchwoman can only answer her countrymen’s
suspicion by an elaborate avoidance of any appearance of justifying
it: and the mind of the latter is occupied with infinite possibilities
the absence of which from the mind of the average Englishwoman allows
her to be more spontaneous, if also more frivolous. In the future of
feminism, they will get over their frivolity quicker than their French
sisters with their excessive caution, and, without the showy exuberance
of the American sister, will give the most solid contribution to the
welfare of the human race. In marriage, which also purges frivolity,
the Englishwoman has already shown the measure of her strength and
of her wisdom. If, prone to material waste and putting sentiment
before utility, she has yet to become an adept in the theory of social
economy, her practical instinct, aided by her admirable economy of
emotion, make her by temperament and by experience a woman of action,
a staunch comrade and an agreeable companion. She is fitted to teach
as much, at least, as she will ever have to learn, nor has she anything
to fear from any comparison made over the whole ground of womanly
activities, capabilities and graces.



CHAPTER V

THE ENGLISH MOTHER


When a woman has begun to speak and think in terms of “your father”
as well as of “my husband,” she has not merely extended the sphere of
her interpretership, but has assumed a new personality in addition to
any that she may have had before, the personality of the mother. The
extension of the interpretership, which is one of the responsibilities
of the added personality, is in itself not unimportant. In the outer
world the wife-interpreter has not to create an entire character, but
to give a greater reality to an already well apprehended external
appearance, and that only in the direction of increasing its amenity.
The mother has to create the father for the children progressively,
timing the stages of the structure to the expansion of their
intelligence, and she has to awake in them not only a sense of his
beauty, goodness and power, but of his displeasure, his wisdom even in
denial, and the sanctity of his preoccupations. This task is not too
easy, however lightly and inevitably it is undertaken. The beneficent
deity, so soon to dwindle in stature to that of an ordinary man, is
not hidden, as it is wise for deities to be, so that if the artistic
imagination be stretched too far in his creation, the discrepancies
between the living person and the created being become sufficiently
glaring to strike even a childish apprehension. The woman who creates
the father with tact, giving the impression of removing rather than
giving false impressions, is a valuable wife and an excellent mother.
It is difficult for a man to reveal himself to a child, unless he has a
peculiarly expansive disposition, and, with the best will in the world
to stand before his offspring on his own legs, he is bound to depend to
some extent—though some men are far more lazy than others—upon wifely
interpretation. But the interpreter must be wary lest she is caught
by keen little eyes in the act of booming out oracles from behind a
hollow image, for no discovery is more disillusioning; nor must she
officiously intervene if the hardy growing intellect demands a directer
communication with the source of all wisdom. The temptation to say:
“don’t bother Daddy, he’s busy” is not always due to entirely unselfish
promptings. It is better for a child that the direct revelations should
come in the shape of mysteriously expressed riddles than that they
should be repressed by intervention from the sanctuary, for the riddle,
if a good one, may bear unconscious fruit, whereas silence may lead
to disappointment and an estrangement which can never afterwards be
overcome. There are fathers who, at a certain stage, can step blandly
down from the high place, incarnating themselves as it were, and take
the novice by the hand which will rest in his as long as may be: there
are other fathers who can never quite leave the steps of their own
altar. The difference is a matter of temperament. Yet, in either case,
the ultimate relations between father and children will depend upon
the mother’s tact, sympathy, and power of divination in the earliest
stages. Any flaw in her own understanding will here be visited with
punishment.

The Englishwoman brings a considerable amount of acumen into her
parental interpretership, though it consists, perhaps, more in her
acute comprehension of a child’s imagination than in profundity of
psychological analysis of her husband’s character. She has a natural
gift for attaining the confidence of children, putting things to them
in the manner least calculated to cause doubt or dismay. Her own
illogical mind protects them from the devastating effects of logic
upon too tender susceptibilities. I remember so well a father who
set out one winter’s evening in pure kindness of heart to teach two
daughters the rudiments of whist. All went well, if rather silently,
till an awful moment when in a majestic voice—intended purely as a
warning and not as a reproof—the father uttered the words: “Why on
earth did you trump your partner’s best card?” The reply was a flood
of tears and a hasty call for female intervention. Mother would have
conveyed the warning with less emphasis and more prolixity, but she
would have preserved a disposition for whist which was then and there
for ever shattered. These are the domestic pitfalls against which she
has to guard, as the speaking tube through which father and children
communicate, a speaking tube shortening ever with the years till its
use becomes quite unnecessary.

But motherhood is more than this: it is a new personality put on with
pain, worn with mingled joy and anxiety, only to be put off with
death. Its qualities are universal, and there would be only idleness
in an elaborate attempt to ascribe any particular maternal character
to the English, as opposed to any other, mother. She is but one of
the world of mothers with all their virtues, pleasures and sorrows,
as deeply moved by the mystery, as keenly wounded by the arrows, as
proudly equal to the sacrifices of motherhood as a woman of another
nation. Nationality does not enter into motherhood, which is a function
of universal humanity, so well understood that, instead of being
emotionally exhaustive on the subject, I have only to refer each
reader to the memories of his or her own heart, where childhood, if
not marriage also, has stored some of its most precious secrets. There
may be degrees of motherly feeling, for instance between the hen with
a brood and the cow with a single calf,—a contrast which has its human
counterpart—but for all mothers the essential quality is that of the
pelican. I need say no more than that English mothers make the most
admirable pelicans, sparing themselves no more and devoting themselves
no less than those of other nations. In no country, therefore, is
the mother more honoured or cherished: and if the tie that binds a
man to his mother in later life is less emotionally strong than with
some Latin nations, it is because an Englishman directs his emotions
habitually along different channels, not because his heart is devoid
of a very precious memory, indelibly enshrined. But it is possible to
over-sentimentalise this theme by dwelling on it. Certain passages in
“Pendennis” come to my mind as I write the words in which Thackeray
pulls out the “vox pathetica” in reflecting on the relations between
Arthur and his mother. When one is treated to voluntaries of this
kind one has an irresistible inclination to be horrid and realistic,
remembering that in England, as in all other countries, there are
mothers who do not deserve the name, that baby clinics would be not
so urgently necessary in our big towns if all mothering were perfect,
and that Samuel Butler wrote a book called “The Way of All Flesh,”
which is a strong-tasting antidote to any overdoses of sentiment in
the matter of parenthood. How Thackeray would have disliked that book!
Yet the truth in it will live as long as “Pendennis.” Lately, however,
what with “Fanny’s First Play,” “The Younger Generation” and the like,
dilutions of this truth have been a little too freely administered: so
I prefer to leave the ultimate moralisings to the individual.

A boy of six whom once I knew, when his mother prepared to teach
him to read, countered her with the grave announcement that, in his
opinion, “mothers were not meant to teach.” It is a more reasonable
view than appears at first sight, at all events for English children.
To them the combination of intense love and a desire to teach is too
overwhelming: they prefer a more dispassionate interest in a matter
which seems to them one in which all emotion may conveniently be
avoided. It is too much at an immature age to be called on to respond
to an intellectual and an emotional stimulus combined, and it is
unfair from a child’s point of view to be made to feel that laziness
or inaccuracy, periodical faults in all of us, are not only faults
but failures in devotion towards those for whom devotion is a natural
habit. Most English parents, though after some ineffectual struggles
against this natural reluctance, acquiesce in the truth of it. The time
of the Goodchilds has gone by, and education has been much improved.
The acquiescence—to tell the truth—is apt to go too far, and the
process of education is left to machines called teachers without any
interest at all on the part of the parents. The English mother, I
think, is little preoccupied about education. To her it is only one of
the many processes of equipment necessary for a child in its passage
to an age of discretion—a more elaborate process for boys than for
girls, but likely to bring more tangible results. About material and
physical well-being she will occupy herself endlessly, to the dismay of
masters and matrons, but she will pay comparatively small attention to
the development of an intellect, unless her own is exceptionally well
developed, in comparison to the development of muscle and character.
If her children respond feebly to the teaching they are given, she
will resign herself, not without a secret sympathy for them, to having
stupid children, but without inquiring whether possibly there is some
psychological trouble at the bottom of this failure, which a new
adjustment and fresh guidance might overcome: if, on the other hand,
the response is conspicuously successful, she rather wistfully regards
the soaring of their young intellects beyond her ken, wondering “how
she came to have such clever children.”

Cleverness is a horrible word, much overworked in England: it may mean
nothing but an aptitude for passing examinations with credit. She is
certainly right to regard this aptitude as unimportant, but she is
wrong where so often she remains indifferent while a really promising
mind is slowly ruined by unsuitable teaching or unsuitable food. Few
English mothers—I suspect the French of surpassing them here—manage to
keep their children’s confidence in this matter. The play-hours and
the friendships of school are inexhaustible subjects of conversation,
but lessons quickly come under the head of things not talked about,
except in a jocular way or in passing, rather embarrassed, reference.
Even the best of mothers is at a disadvantage here, at least where
a son is concerned, a fact cleverly illustrated in Mr Arnold Lunn’s
novel “Loose Ends.” New interests, new views expressed by new human
beings seize hold of him with violence, bursting in on the old close
community of two, and leaving the more stable of the couple out in the
cold, irritatingly faced with inability to “keep up,” though conscious
all the while of no difficulty in keeping up anywhere else in the
wide world. Here again, it is often her very passion which throws
her out of the race with less devoted rivals: boys and girls can be
intellectually as well as morally tiresome, and they feel the need for
being able to indulge their tiresomeness without giving pain. As one of
my friends put it: “I never talk about these things at home, it always
leads to ‘Grief’.” Good schoolmasters and all schoolboys know that
“grief” is fatal in the realm of ideas. Few parents can repress ‘grief’
with success, and they must pay the penalty for their over-lively
concern. Their only remedy, unless they are content to relapse in their
children’s eyes into dear old back numbers, is to wait till the ferment
has settled down: “grief” will then neither be so frequent nor so
difficult to overcome.

       *       *       *       *       *

It is the mother more than the father who makes, and who is, the home.
Her influence upon her children is incalculable, but surely it is going
a little too far, especially in the case of boys, to say that during
the time of their education they should not leave home or lose the
influence of home. During the controversy over Mr Alec Waugh’s “Loom of
Youth,” Sir Sydney Olivier wrote to the _Nation_ a letter in which were
these words:

 “No parent should be allowed to send his boy to school in a boarding
 house without special excuse any more than to send him to a private
 lunatic asylum.”

This very dogmatic assertion leaves out of account one of what seem to
be the undisputed advantages of public school education, the advantage
of living in an orderly and disciplined community for a greater part
of the years of later boyhood. There will always be exceptional boys
to whom this life is not appropriate, but for the majority of boys
it is both beneficial and enjoyable. It might even be said that the
majority of boys demand it. Even the holders of opposite views agree
that it is an infinitely better system for boys from inadequate homes
than the day school. In my opinion, the definition of an inadequate
home would be a very wide one, and likely to remain so in spite of
all possible advances in the way of greater social equality and
uniformity. The Montessori system is based on the belief that the home,
which is organised for the convenience of its adult inhabitants, cannot
give the requisite attention and liberty to children, who are slow in
action, capricious and inexperienced: home life to young children, in
this view, is both too protective and too restrictive. For different
reasons there is a case to be made out for holding that, as a rule,
the home is not properly organised for the advantage, out of school
hours, of growing boys between the ages of thirteen and nineteen. All
parents are naturally anxious to prepare their children for life in
the world, to enlighten them in their difficulties and aid the opening
of their minds, but it remains sadly true that most of them find their
incapability of fulfilling this natural function only too soon. As a
well known man of letters said to me recently: “Yes, the boys have got
to go to school. My wife and I started with all sorts of jolly ideas
about keeping them at home and educating them ourselves. But we found
it was no good. They said they wanted to go to school, and so they
must.”

As I said above, there is something antipathetic to the young in
learning from those whom they love: they would rather be controlled
and taught by those for whom they have no primary affection. Besides,
it must be confessed that parents have other shortcomings, all the
shortcomings of varied human nature, which are perfectly patent to the
uncanny acuteness of children. The father and mother whose influence
during the critical years of childhood and adolescence would be
nothing but good are extremely rare. Parents, for one thing, can so
seldom hit the mean between taking too much interest and too little.
Indifference means either undue indulgence or undue restriction;
too great interest leads either to jealousy of other influences, to
hampering independence, to surrounding a boy with a close atmosphere
of emotion from which he would give anything to get away. Boys like to
be treated calmly, to be rewarded calmly and to be punished calmly:
they are unemotional creatures whom school suits well in this respect.
The continued society of ideal parents may be ideal for a boy, but
where parents fall short of the ideal, it is questionable whether
their continued society is a good thing: and they may be sure that
their lapses will be judged by their children with all the cruelty of
innocence and ignorance.

Holidays, to which the boys come back full of affection and pleasant
anticipation, are quite long enough to give the good mother and father
all the chance they need if they will only take it, to say nothing of
the influence of letters. How different is the eagerness with which
at a boarding school a boy looks for the letters bearing the well
known handwriting of his mother to the apathy with which any home
bred boy must regard the daily prospect of banalities over the family
tea-table! As a matter of fact, the opportunities of the holidays are
too often neglected. It is then that enthusiasm may be reinforced and
new interests aroused to counteract the routine and convention which
is the chief fault of our schools to-day. Too many parents think their
duties are limited then to giving their children enjoyment, forgetting
that theirs is the responsibility for sending their boys back to school
not one whit more developed or improved than when they left its gates
some weeks earlier. This very failure shows the difficulty of home
education: the boarding school is organised purely for the advantage
of the boys, while in the home the convenience of the parents must be
competitive, even where it is not paramount. The interests of young
and old cannot possibly entirely coincide, and it would be foolish
for parents who, after all, have their own lives to lead and their
own developments to be pursued, to sacrifice their time and their
arrangements altogether for the sake of their children. To what
lengths an English mother will go in this direction many a son will
confess, remembering his own insensibility at the moment: but it would
be bad that she should be tempted to go too far or be forced, on the
other hand, into a habit of indifference through having continually to
restrain her natural impulse of devotion in the general interests of
the whole household.

Another argument for entirely home education is the moral one. It is
one of the most powerful in its appeal to mothers, to whom the idea of
adolescent impurity is revolting. Personally, I cannot see any reason
for supposing that the temptations of an adolescent male, which are
absolutely inevitable, will be any less violent at home than at school.
The mother of a French boy certainly does not believe that they are,
and does not act on that assumption. So far as strength to resist
temptations goes, the influence of judicious parents on boys at school
is, as I know perfectly well, quite as strong and quite as successful
as it could have been if the boys had never left their sight. Besides,
there are few mothers who can resist a kind of morbid spying on their
children as they first come into contact with physical experience of
their sex. Nothing could possibly be more irritating for a boy, and it
may lead him into foolishness out of more defiance and desperation. It
is a thorny time for both parties to the relationship, and happy are
those mothers and sons who come out of it with mutual love and respect
undiminished. Sir Sydney Olivier, to judge from another passage in the
letter already referred to, would like the morals of boys to be saved
and their sentimental education completed by love affairs with mature
females. Such affairs are, no doubt, extremely valuable in certain
cases. As Rousseau said in his Confessions: “Il est certain que les
entretiens intéressants et sensés d’une femme de mérite sont plus
propres à former un jeune homme que toute la pédantesque philosophie
des livres.” But he also allowed still closer relations with Madame
de Warens to be included in his own scheme of development. It is to
be doubted if England is suited to this form of education. Certainly
few English mothers would regard without intense suspicion the ideal
and elderly Egeria, who is to absorb usefully and harmlessly all the
superfluous sentimental energy of their beloved son. Their hearts are
so terribly vulnerable in this respect, poor things, for they hate
physical truths and love sentimental pruderies. Only the best of them
really look things in the face and say to their boys: “Look here, I
know how things are. You are growing up and I sympathise deeply with
all your feelings and temptations. I have always tried to teach you
that the greatest things, and the only things truly valuable, are love
and beauty and truth. I think you have learnt what I meant to teach
you, and now you will have to begin to put it to the test. I shall
trust you to do nothing unworthy. I shall not ask you questions or spy
upon you. But, whatever you do, remember there is nobody in the world
more ready to hear your troubles or to help you than your mother. That
is what mothers are for, even if they suffer in the process. I know you
will not make me suffer willingly: but I would rather suffer anything
than feel that you were ashamed to turn to me for help and sympathy
in any difficulty.” Such confidence breeds strength, the strength in
which every good English home should abound. And it must come from that
centre of the home—the mother.

       *       *       *       *       *

The relation of mother and son is essentially different from that
of mother and daughter; or rather, the son and the daughter stand
in different relations to the home. Also the needs of the two sexes
during their growth are different. The natural independence of a girl
at the school age is smaller than that of the boy, so that, taking
all these things into consideration, there is not the same acuteness
about the question of her leaving home during her education. The far
greater concentration and the far smaller degree of freedom in most
girls’ schools, when compared with the public schools for boys, which
are complete little worlds in themselves, limit the advantages which
they give to compensate for any loss of home influence. Further, women
are not, like men, naturally gregarious, and those who are not suited
for living in a herd profit little from being placed in it. Certainly
there are difficulties of adjustment to be overcome if girls remain
entirely at home, but the adjustment is easier than it is for boys, who
are so expansive in their energies and want such a deal of room for
their exuberant vitalities. Besides, it is at the “awkward age” that a
girl, however great a complication she may then become in the life of
her parents, is most dependent on the help and support of her mother.
Even the most brazen flapper, so I have been told, endures agonies
at her first entry into society as one of its fully fledged members.
In fine, a girl’s education may very well take place at home, and I
support this theory by the fact that, whereas a home-bred boy is always
distinguishable from one who has had the advantages of a public school,
it is almost impossible to tell whether a girl has been to a boarding
school or not, except where she exhibits an exaggerated hoydenism which
is one of the less favourable marks of girls’ boarding schools.

The real crux for mothers and daughters comes after this age is past,
unless a girl is very early married. It is then that she feels the
keen craving for independence and chafes against the restraint of home
life. Her degree of satisfaction at her lot when she reaches this stage
is one test of the judiciousness of her parents in her whole early
upbringing and of their perception how far they can go towards meeting
her natural craving for freedom and responsibility. The first question
is whether Mary and Emily are going to have a definite occupation or
not. Too often before the war it was certain that they were not, but
were going to idle away their days reading novels, playing tennis and
munching chocolates in cinemas until some admirer plucked them from
their peaceful flowerbed. Even when they wanted to do something real
and satisfying, their wish was looked on as something foolish and
hysterical, not to be tolerated for an instant in a well-conducted
family. Certainly Mary and Emily had no excuse for leaving home if
they had nothing to leave it for, but to keep young Englishwomen idle
perforce so as to curb their independence is a dangerous and a cruel
game. Also it leads to an infinity of bickering in the family. The war
has, luckily, knocked some sense into people’s heads on the subject
of occupations for women. Mary and Emily have tasted the pleasure of
regular work and the joy of leisure earned by toil. They are not going
to forget it, and the new direction given to their energies is going to
serve for the girls of generations to come after them.

But the fact of a regular occupation does not settle all the vexed
questions of daughters in the home. They will always be vexed, and
individuals will always have to find their own solutions. Mary’s mother
cannot understand why Mary is so discontented in her comfortable home:
Emily seems contented enough, but Mary is always chafing and tossing
her head and sulking in corners, talking with envy of her friends who
live unwholesomely in poky little rooms and threatening to join them
if she only gets the chance. “What more can the child want?” cries
the mother. “She lives far better here than she could ever do on her
own. She can go out when she likes and she can bring her friends here
where they are always welcome. She gets properly looked after when she
is ill, and when things go wrong she is glad enough of my sympathy
and comfort.” Well, for one thing, Mary, who is of a more independent
temperament than Emily, has not had the opportunity of finding out that
living on one’s own is not all that fancy paints it. She is possessed
by the idea, and she will only learn how much she misses her home when
she has suffered from some of the facts which its realisation entails.
It might be almost worth while to let her try for a time: if she comes
back with relief, well and good. If she finds independence preferable
with all its drawbacks, the wisdom of having ceased to put constraint
upon her will be obvious. Mary, no doubt, is often flighty and does not
know what she really wants, but Mary’s mother has possibly taken no
trouble to study Mary or to find out where the root of her grievances
lie.

She does not probably realise how irksome it is to some temperaments
to live perpetually in another person’s house, however great their
love for that person. A home is controlled by one will alone, it is
impossible to make it a republic. If the will is that of Mary’s mother,
Mary will often find it tiresome to submit to it: if, by any chance,
it comes to be Mary’s will, it is a bad look out for her mother and
father. The mere want of privacy in itself is irritating, unless
Mary has a den of her own and time of her own which are inviolable.
Some parents think that they have an unlimited claim on the time and
convenience of their children, forgetting that filial duty, fine and
natural a motive as it is, is only one among many motives for human
action, and that these motives are in the habit of conflicting. Mary’s
mother may be under the apprehension that Mary has complete liberty at
home: but Mary knows better. How often is she hindered from sitting
down to a solid morning’s work by the knowledge that if she does not
do the flowers nobody will. How often when she is just tucking up on a
Sunday afternoon for a good read is she not disturbed by the certainty
with which the atmosphere is charged that her father will be grieved
if he has no companion for his walk? She could, of course, refuse to
go, but she would then have to accept all the onus of seeming to be
ungracious, and have that absolutely exasperating feeling of having
to be apologetic for not doing something of the doing of which there
should have been no legitimate expectation, tacit or otherwise. Duty is
mostly a repression of one’s own desires, and therefore salutary: but
there is a limit to its value, and in some people there is an intense
desire to get away from it sometimes, if only for a little. Many a
girl who loves her parents and looks with affection on her home, must
frequently think with a sigh that even in the squalidest rooms, there
would be no flowers to do and nobody to expect one to go on Sunday
walks, no feeling that there is somebody to judge one’s friends when
they come and to listen to what one says to them, no rigid times for
meals, no callers to be entertained when mother is lying down, however
absorbed one is in one’s own work, no Emily to play the piano after
dinner, in fact no convenience but one’s own to consult at all.

Men feel this longing for privacy and independence, why should it seem
strange and regrettable in girls? As a whole, they are less capable
of looking after themselves than their brothers, perhaps, but that
is partly due to their weaker social position. Also Mary’s case is
by no means that of every girl, a fact which unfairly tells against
Mary, who does not care a snap of her fingers for Emily’s docility
and want of enterprise. Individuals have got to work out their own
salvation, a task which is always made far more difficult for Mary than
for her brother. Of course, there are infinite degrees of stress and
accommodation in this relation of Mary and her mother: circumstances,
character, common sense, temper, nerves, compatibility, all play their
parts in different admixtures. Where Mary and her mother are both
sensible, or arrive at sense by suffering, the final accommodation is
generally satisfactory. Where sense is wanting, or passion clouds it,
there will always be trouble: and, however much Mary’s mother may have
to put up with from Mary, of which Mary may be only vaguely conscious,
yet she is in the main to blame for not agreeing to one obvious
solution of letting Mary do what she wants. She may be as certain as
the snow is white that Mary is really happier under her roof, and that
only her own tactful care prevents Mary from making some disastrous
mistakes through her own inexperience or defects of character; she may
even be more right than wrong in this belief: yet the fact remains
that Mary is grown up and is the only person who can, in the long run,
be responsible for her life. Is it right to thwart without convincing
her, when it is possible to let her obtain conviction by experience?
Only on the most antiquated theory of parental authority and filial
subordination, a theory which rests upon no observed facts but rather
upon a persistent blindness to the truth.

There is no such thing as natural affection: affection has to be won,
and, once it is won, to be kept by effort or to be lost again. It
is always assumed that parents and children naturally adopt to one
another the attitude of beatific charity, as if they could not be the
severest critics and the most bitter haters one of another, when the
affectionate habits of childhood have frozen into mere formalities
through incompatibilities of temper. In England, where the names of
mother and father are treated with every outward respect, there is far
less real sentiment for them as ideas than in Latin countries. What
makes the relation so close and so warm in England is the comradeship
of the English and the glow of the English home, which welds a strong
bond so early that an overwhelming amount of tension is required for
its complete disruption. But the seeds of strife are sown inevitably
in the adolescence of every family: the weeds to which they grow are
hardy, too, if they are not nipped in the bud. The English mother has
got to do the nipping, but with sympathy not with severity, for the
tool of severity will turn against her, and she will suffer a thousand
fold the pain she has inflicted thoughtlessly on her children.

The truth is that all parents and children must go through a period
of storm and stress, and most of the stress falls on the mothers.
All young things are more or less ungrateful, and this is perfectly
natural: they are following their strongest impulse in pushing their
way out to full growth as ruthlessly as shoots of the rose tree.
They have no time to be reflective till this irresistible impulse
has weakened, so that they cannot realise before full maturity all
that they have forced out of their parents in the way of self-denial,
self-restraint, nervous irritation and even physical labour. For
tangible pleasures and comforts they are grateful enough, but the
intangible prevention of pain, the care and watching, the influence
and the teaching do not become visible to them until they are almost
on the far horizon of past youth. In the sharp momentary irritations
of growth children cannot take these things into account, and for them
a sense of injustice blots out gratitude like a sudden black fog. When
they look back, and suffer from the rough contact of younger life
themselves, then they see the vexed questions of their youth in truer
proportions: they may not find that the wrong was always on their side,
but at least they will sympathise with the pardonable weakness to which
it was due, and will weigh it in the balance with benefits felt but
not seen. Those families are happy who see these exasperations pass
away like a short-lived storm, leaving no devastated tract behind them,
but bringing calm and mellow weather in their wake. The English mind,
averse from brooding, ever ready for compromise and comradeship, is
a temperate climate, rejoicing in these halcyon anti-cyclones after
the chilly gust and the grumbling thunder. When the English family
barometer is at “set fair,” the atmosphere is delightful, and there is
no more charming or sympathetic friendship possible than that between
an English mother and her children, when each looks kindly upon the
other with the eye of perfect understanding, in mutual pride and love
and tolerance. No distance breaks the bond nor does the lapse of time
weaken it, and the mother, seeing the runners to whom she has handed on
the torch settling into a steady stride, can enjoy contented the sunset
of motherhood and matrimony, with the prospect of assuming a benevolent
grandmotherhood that will enable her to spoil her children’s children
without paying the consequences.



CHAPTER VI

THE ENGLISHWOMAN’S MIND


Nobody could fail to be impressed by the physical beauty of young
Englishwomen. It is confined to no class, though better preserved
in the more leisurely. The ball-room and the village green compete
easily with any exhibition of it on the stage. The question now to
be presented is whether an honest observer, presuming him competent
to observe, would be equally impressed with the mental qualities of
our women. The answer, I think, would be extremely doubtful. Our
young beauties, in any case, proudly conscious of their triumph
in the physical test, would be indifferent to the outcome of the
intellectual, if they could even conceive that anyone would be foolish
enough to apply it. A quick brain is not in England regarded as an
enviable possession, which proves it not to be a national one. In his
penetrating first chapter to “Diana of the Crossways” George Meredith
pointed out that "English men and women feel toward the quick-witted of
their species as to aliens—having the demerits of aliens—wordiness,
vanity, shallowness, an empty glitter, the sin of posturing." He might
have added that, so far as women are concerned, quick wits were only
excused by absence of physical attraction, though he implied this
addition in his picture of Diana Warwick in her conflict with public
opinion. George du Maurier contrasted with evident approbation the
beauty of young Vere-de-Veredom with the consoling hideousness of the
three clever Miss Bilderbogies, translating thus into art a thoroughly
English point of view. One can respect this point of view without
adopting it: the British instinct for safety is illustrated by it.
Englishmen may well be suspicious, and Englishwomen jealous, of the
combination of beauty and brains: it is too overwhelmingly powerful and
likely to be disturbing to the peace.

The combination occurs, perhaps, more frequently than is commonly
supposed, but it is such a grave departure from the respected tradition
that we hasten to forget each instance as quickly as possible, to
prevent any danger of a cumulative impression. Yet it is in no spirit
of pandering to the tradition that the Englishwoman’s mind appears
in this chapter unadorned or unexplained by her appearance: it is
simply a matter of convenience. The mind of woman is not legitimately
considered by itself, for the whole, the representative woman is not
purely a function of her mind. Nevertheless, the Englishwoman’s mind,
if not essential to the Englishwoman, exists, and it is growing. It
would be unchivalrous to pass it by without observation. In George
Meredith’s day it was hardly resolved that a woman might have a
mind at all: this in itself is a measure of the later growth, for
on this head, at least, there is now no doubt. The creator of Diana
Warwick represented the Saxon man firmly treading with his heel on
any feminine mental sparks which might set on fire the chips of his
crumbling social structure. His faith in the sex’s capacity for growth
has been justified to-day, when it would be absurd to represent women
as anything but emancipated. Meredith’s view of the men as “pointed
talkers” and the women as “conversationally fair Circassians” is no
longer true. The women of England have made some progress on the upward
route which he hoped that they would take.

At the same time, it will not do to contemplate our ladies as at the
end of their journey instead of very much on the road. Exceptional
women there have always been in this country, but the average woman
still has an average mind, as the exceptional women, who are the
severest critics of their sisters, will be the first to assert.
They are the leaders through the jungle, forced ever to look back
in impatience at the leisurely crowd following in the rear, calmly
accepting the removal of the obstacles with which they have not to
struggle, and far from guessing the need of the mental hatchet which
had so happily cleared them away. It is probably true in all countries,
but certainly in ours, that the necessity of cultivating a mind, even
the latent possibility of doing so, is not apparent to the majority
of women. It is made so easy for them to do without this troublesome
acquisition. They are taught at school just sufficient for them to
fill their probable station, which they do with docility and without
ambition. Neither in their work nor their play have they any sense of
a void aching to be filled up. Indeed what void could there be—unless
it were pecuniary—when there is golf and tennis, bridge, fox trotting
and hesitating, cinema gazing, novel-reading, playgoing to musical
comedies and revues, or, in the most domestic regions, sewing and the
rearing of children to keep them happily in the conviction that life
is full enough without the added burdens of thought and knowledge? Men
call them clever if they dress becomingly or if they can shuffle a
room-full of guests adroitly, throwing conversational shuttlecocks up
in the air for others to sweat in pursuit of: and to them cleverness
appears a minor virtue, seeing the little enthusiasm with which
their admirers regard it compared with their ecstasy over other more
obviously feminine felicities. Or, on a lower scale, what time have
they for any adornment of the mind, when the weekly toil of tending
children and cooking for husbands, or the long days of drudgery at the
factory, so fatigue the body and soul, that the mere bodily adornment
of Sunday is almost too strenuous a reaction, when simple pleasures of
the senses or even simple repose are the only appropriate drugs for
their overstrained systems? Women with minds have still much work to do
in order to give those who have none the leisure to look for them. The
result is that women lag behind, with an unfortunate effect upon our
national appearance. If ever the women overtake the men, much that is
shoddy will disappear from the mental shopwindow? of this country.

So much may be said, I think, by a man without incurring the accusation
of ordinary masculine prejudice. It is less than what is said and felt
by the pioneers among women. That the world, even in England, is still
arranged by men mainly for masculine convenience may be true, and will
remain so as long as women allow most of their thinking to be done for
them, as Miss Ethel Smyth, in her remarkable memoirs, holds that they
do. Yet the enlightened man, though he may prefer that change should
take place slower than the most ardent wish, may look forward with hope
to the time when his convenience may less preponderate and feminine
reverberations will cease to attend his thinking, then fulfilling the
prophecy of the Lady Psyche in Tennyson’s “Princess”:

                                          Everywhere
    Two heads in council, two beside the hearth,
    Two in the tangled business of the world,
    Two in the liberal offices of life,
    Two plummets dropped for one to sound the abyss
    Of science, and the secrets of the mind.

In the contemplation of this hope what he now sees before him in
his womankind as a whole is an intellectual plant of idle and
promiscuous growth, capable, as its rarer shoots prove, of the
sturdiest and most luxuriant upward ranging, but content for the
most part to twine itself, like the convolvulus, round the first
support offered to its tendrils, a house, a domestic affection, the
crumbling tower of antiquated beliefs, the hazily pointing sign-post
of a dubious philosophy or the hardier neighbouring weeds which are
rooted in passions and desires. From these more handy and material
supports it will not tear itself away to grow towards the sun with
lithe, independent shoots disdainfully forcing their way past all
encumbrances. The rarer instances where from choicer ground and more
livening influences this species pushes a vigorous head into the skies
serve only to accentuate the lazy lowliness of the general stock. It
seems to shrink from the light of ideas, or, where the attraction of
the light is too imperious to be resisted, it lifts a shoot gingerly
upwards only to curl a tendril lovingly round the first comfortable
fact met with in the short upward progress, and to adhere to it
gracefully, quite satisfied with the result of its exertion. Or let
us vary the illustration. Men, in their intellectual journey, can
contemplate with satisfaction at the first glance some vast mansion
of knowledge rising up before them from its solid foundations to all
the infinite variety of its higher tracery. That they cannot grasp the
whole does not trouble them, for they quickly see the stages by which
the ascent to greater knowledge will be attained. They are inspired not
bewildered by the lofty prospect, resigning themselves happily to a
study of the bare plan that will enable them to explore the beauties of
the mansion intelligently and in order. The woman, on the other hand,
is appalled by such an approach: the mansion swims before her eyes,
the plan seems a confusing maze of meaningless lines. Her introduction
must proceed on a different method. She must be led in by a side door
through some pleasant alley into one of the rooms of the mansion, all
comfortably furnished with easy chairs and pictures on the walls. Here,
if she is allowed to linger without being too hastily pushed on by the
official guide, her curiosity will be aroused. The assimilation of one
room will prompt her to a timid sally into the next one, and so by
good luck, if she is never frightened, she may in time be as much at
home as any other explorer. Yet even then it is questionable whether
she will ever venture out into the main court to gain a comprehensive
view of the whole and of its relation to the surrounding architecture.
Her domestic instinct tells her that she is more at home indoors,
attending to the things which she can touch and see. So she is content
to inhabit an _appartement_ in the palace of truth, as an invalid
pensioner might inhabit a set of rooms in Hampton Court Palace without
ever drinking in the beauty of the whole building. It is only her mind
which so flinches at magnificences and is afflicted with vertigo on
eminences; her heart will take a Mount Everest of difficulties in its
stride as if it were Primrose Hill, and her emotions will carry her
on wings into the clouds without tremors, though she fall in the end
as far and fast as Lucifer. Only when her intellectual dizziness is
conquered shall we find her frequently, clear-headed and exultant, on
the topmost pinnacles of truth, whence she can look down on her more
elderly sisters placidly knitting in the verandah, while the children
are playing hide-and-seek upon the stairs.

The less adventurous spirit of woman in purely mental enterprise is
shown in the besetting sin of our girl students, the tendency to regard
learning as nothing but the accumulation of facts. Women are the most
assiduous crammers: they will work long and desperately to “get up”
texts and facts, they will industriously follow a teacher, memorising
his every word and slavishly following his precepts. Since they are
less lazy than men, mere disgust with drudgery does not tempt them
off the track laid out for them and, in their determination to gain
the end in view, which is usually a concrete one, they plod on and
on, neither looking to the right nor the left, neither lingering nor
venturing up attractive by-ways, lest they should lose the track,
or miss the prescribed turning on the main road. Men try short cuts,
often with disastrous consequences, but the tendency in itself has its
advantages. It trains the mental eye for the lie of the country, so
that the most desultory of male wanderers, though his wanderings do
not lead him very far, may yet acquire some broad impression of the
whole landscape, which is more stimulating to the imagination than a
walk between hedges faithfully performed. But, if a man be tempted to
scoff at this greater docility and timidity of his female companions,
let him reflect that it is very largely due to the fault of his own
kind, a fault which Englishwomen are now bent on clearing away. For
centuries a world made for the convenience of men kept women in leading
strings which are now being cut, though their habit will take long to
eradicate. In their early years, whatever their ultimate aim, men are
put out on the pastures of knowledge like young colts. In their case
who questions the wisdom of sending them to a university? It is assumed
that a general mental training will be of benefit to them in any
profession. Not so with a woman: unless teaching is to be her aim she
will find the training of a university hard to come by, because it has
not become established that a general mental training of the best kind
is as needful for a woman as for a man, and that it is as beneficial
to the community that she should have it. A generation or two of equal
opportunity will work wonders in the comparative aptitudes of the sexes.

Women may well exclaim at the little use men have made of their greater
opportunities: boldness in mental adventure is not a salient virtue of
our men. Still, even in England, the cloud of scouts which precedes
the plodding main army is composed chiefly of men. Women have yet to
prove their equal ability for this service. They have got to improve
themselves in map-reading if they are to enter these ranks, and maps
are only instances of those bogies to most women, abstractions. They
take her beyond the immediate range of vision, beyond the hills on
the horizon about which she feels instinctively that she has no right
to let her imagination play unless the further prospect is displayed
before her physical eye, and she is, therefore, apt to pull a man up
short when he is measuring the distant ground beyond his view and to
bring him back to the church tower in the foreground, if not to the
village pump. For this reason general discussion with English women
is so often fruitless: they cannot get away from the concrete and,
intensely interested as they are in the thing immediately to be done,
they feel at sea in the elaboration of general principle from which
immediate action could be best taken or criticised. So often, too, a
man is brought up short by finding that a woman is winding all his
ideas, which have no immediate attachments to anything within view,
round some visible peg in the vicinity, or is mentally striving to find
the visible peg which she is sure is really the point of attachment.
The worst is when she imagines the peg, quite wrongly, to be stuck
into her own _amour propre_: all argument is then futile, for the two
are hopelessly at cross purposes. When a man is trying to set out a
general point of view and a woman is asking herself meanwhile: “why is
he saying this now and to me?” the chance of mutual comprehension is
slight.

It is this same passionate attachment to the concrete, where ideas
are concerned, which makes women poor critics, though they are keen
observers. If there is one application of the intellect where a
comprehensive outlook is necessary, it is criticism. The individual
judging and the individual thing judged are in themselves such
infinitesimal portions of the whole of reality, that the one cannot
seize the other unless they become magnified in the imagination so
as to display the infinite connection of relations which is the
condition of them both. In woman the personal element so enormously
preponderates, both in her appreciations and her dislikes, that her
critical judgment usually shoots out into the world through a distorted
lens only partially illuminating the objects on which it is bent.
Nevertheless, it may be a sad day for men if this feminine lens is
rectified. The very distortion is one that serves his comfort, since it
focusses so much light upon him and his home. I would not personally
exchange the eye of the English wife and the English mother which sheds
so warm and loving a beam upon the home for any more searching ray
which illuminated a whole distant world and left a home in comparative
darkness. It is hopelessly foolish idealism to wish for the combination
of every virtue in one atom of humanity: we English with our excellent
habit of compromise do not habitually act as if such a thing were
possible. Yet there are certain idealists in this country who, in
their anxiety to secure equality of opportunity for women, seem to
assume that progress can be made without profound changes in the thing
progressing, and as though by taking thought women could attain to
all that men have got without losing some of their own peculiar and
valuable possessions. Unfortunately it is not so. Men and women will
never be practically interchangeable beings, and, perhaps, the limit
of desirable progress would be that any individual should have the
chance of deciding what admixture of the male and female qualities and
possessions will suit him or her best. Freedom of choice is after all
the great essential of liberty: the use of this liberty can only be
well guided by what is greater than liberty, wisdom.

This chapter, I fear, has rather belied its title. We must hark back
to the Englishwoman. Let me make her amends by asserting that if she
pleases she may have as fine a mind as any woman breathing. She has a
naturally quick intelligence, if she be careful not to let its keenness
rust; she has been dowered with common sense and power of imagination
in inverse proportions; in practical matters she has a sure glance for
the best course to be taken, but her vision is hazy where principles
are concerned. Her critical standards are usually as conventional as
her standards of conduct, but she can be strikingly original in action
and will stand up nobly for her convictions. Where she attains to a
measure of intellectual superiority, except at the highest levels,
she is apt to lose her balance, becoming either priggish and cold or
luxuriously vague and mystical. The blue stocking is not typical, but
she is English and she still exists. There was an awful Miss Benger who
invited Charles Lamb and his sister to tea, macaroons and intellectual
conversation, as Charles pathetically describes her in his letter to
Coleridge:

 “From thence she passed into the subject of poetry; where I, who had
 hitherto sat mute, and a hearer only, humbly hoped I might now put
 in a word to some advantage, seeing that it was my own trade in a
 manner. But I was stopped by a round assertion that no good poetry
 had appeared since Dr. Johnson’s time.... I here ventured to question
 the fact, and was beginning to appeal to names, but I was assured ‘it
 certainly was the case’.”

She has her counterpart to-day. She lays down the law, with a steely
glance through her pince-nez, scattering words like “fundamental”
with the self-satisfied air of one distributing sugar-plums to not
very deserving children. She will stultify the very best of critics
by quoting his most foolish passages as oracles, and contrive, where
she admires the right things, to do so for the wrong reasons. The
hazy dabbler is quite as bad, and quite as irritating. She vibrates
like Memnon’s harp to any breath from higher planes, and mistakes
the sympathetic vibrations of her empty head for the sounding of some
organ note of the infinite. Like the shallowest pond she may sometimes
produce the illusion of reflecting the profundity of the heavens,
till a closer examination reveals the mud and the tin kettles such a
very little way below the surface. The good Englishwoman is neither
of these: she has either too great a simplicity or too well developed
a sense of humour, for she hates pretence and is not slow to perceive
it in others. So distrustful is she of artifice that she seldom
shines in the fine rapier-play of witty conversation: her interchange
of ideas may be compared rather to the game of lawn tennis, with
plenty of movement and hard-hitting in it, most balls being returned
from the base line with a well-timed drive, not snappily volleyed
at the net. She is most attractive when a flush of emotion colours
her thinking, showing thus as an effective foil to her mankind who
think unemotionally or wear the mask of indifference to conceal their
sensitiveness. She understands this shyness in Englishmen and overcomes
it so delicately by her sympathy that they glow in her society as the
Dolomite peaks in the sunset. She does this, if she takes any trouble
at all, with a natural simplicity, not with the elaborate study that
Balzac’s Princesse de Cadignan exercised to fascinate her D’Arthez.

The worst of it is that so many Englishwomen neglect their natural
advantages. They forget their minds in thinking of their bodies, their
souls, their duties or their amusements. They are apt, like slatterns,
to trot about the material world in intellectual dressing gowns with
their ideas in curl papers. This is delightful enough for friendly
intimacy, but is calculated to produce a less charming impression in
the wider world. But there is hope in the future. The Englishwoman
is beginning to study herself more intently in the looking-glass.
The result will be what we should expect of an Englishwoman’s
turn-out, quiet and workmanlike, neither fussy nor flimsy, but with an
unmistakable cut and a richness rather of material than of ornament.
But she must submit herself to good tailors who understand her figure,
paying them a good price. No cheap intellectual garment off the peg
will do justice to the natural graciousness of her lines which, for all
their conservatism, Englishmen truly appreciate; and, for all their
grumbles, they will not at heart grudge any trouble or expense in
enhancing its effect.



CHAPTER VII

THE ENGLISHWOMAN’S MANNERS


The quality, so rare and so unmistakeable, of good manners is more
usually appreciated or missed in men than in women: and this in
itself shows that the quality is something wider and deeper than
good behaviour, which may be required of both sexes. The niceties of
deportment, graceful and pleasing as they may be, are of comparatively
small moment in human relations. They vary from nation to nation, one
preferring to eat with knife and fork, another with its hands; but good
manners are good manners all the world over. The Christian ideal of
chivalry, at its best, made men exquisite heroes and women exquisite
angels, but in its fallings away it turned, for men, the noble
practices of knighthood into weapons of conquest for the beleaguering
of women, and, for women, stitched the angelic halo formally to the
coif of womanhood. Knightly devotion, once an inspiration, became
a formality accepted as small change instead of as a choice gift.
So decadent knights of a later age opened doors and made pretty
speeches to win hearts, while the hearts’ owners permitted themselves
impertinences and other licenses in the knowledge that the knights
would not dare to reproach them, and as for the other angels—it
mattered little what they thought. It has therefore come about that the
good manners looked for in men are supposed very largely to consist
in those arts of politeness and consideration by which a stronger sex
places its protection and devotion at the service of the weaker, and
on this supposition the weaker sex, having to receive rather than
give, has less scope for exercising similar arts. In fact they are
not considered necessary to a female equipment. A man is judged by
his manners, but a woman, provided she does not grossly violate the
decencies, mainly by her appearance. This distinction was unimportant,
perhaps, when women were held in very real subjection, but it becomes a
matter of greater concern in modern days of feminine independence.

Most people, however, are aware that good manners, of the signal and
striking kind which are like the precious ointment running down into
the beard, are more than correct deportment and chivalrous deference.
Even if they themselves cannot acquire them, they recognise them in
others. This is especially true in England, where men and women can
have the most exquisite manners in the world, though they can also
have the most execrable. The merits of the English “gentleman” have
been celebrated often enough: his praise is justified when he truly
lives up to his proud title. The one supreme test of a gentleman is
his possession of good manners: gentle birth and speech, taste in
dress, tolerable morality, a pliant knee, and a stout heart, all his
other qualities, will not turn the scale in his favour if good manners
be wanting. These alone, of all heaven’s gifts, are essential to a
gentleman, all the rest are optional. They should be equally essential
to the lady, but they are not so in common estimation. We still insist
that certain accidents of birth and breeding are the differentia of the
lady, and though good manners most usually accompany these accidents,
they often do not, while they flourish where these accidents are
absent. We cannot change the general sense of the language, but only
show its implications. There are no finer examples of good manners than
those of the best Englishwoman, but they are not the pride of her sex
as a whole, which will freely criticise and archly inspire the manners
of men without troubling themselves to notice or improve the manners of
women.

There is only one motto for good manners: the two words "noblesse
oblige"—not in the restricted sense of the word “noblesse” but in the
widest sense in which every human being has a conscious nobility. The
sense of infinite obligation to one’s fellows is not easy to maintain
continuously before one’s eyes, yet it is that sense, never forgotten,
insistent as conscience, forcing itself to beautiful expression
against the appetites and the prejudices, so ingrained by habit or
disposition as to be almost unconscious, which is the root of good
manners. St Paul’s “Charity” hardly transcends it, and it towers above
the Catechism’s “Duty towards my neighbour” as a Gothic cathedral above
a dissenting conventicle. To one in whom this sense, if not perfect,
is strongly developed, a lapse from good manners brings inevitable
remorse. The great prompter of these lapses is self-seeking, and that
is why the best manners are to be found among those who have simplicity
of soul and stability of position. The young, the ambitious, the rising
with their eye on a far goal, the falling in dread of an abyss, the
searcher intent on his quest, the thinker absorbed in his theory, the
poet and artist hot-foot after beauty, the over-burdened toiler—all
these are forced to swerve by other dominant influences from the path
which good manners would point out. But for those who are contented
or resigned, even for those who are complacent, the path is not so
difficult to trace, for they are not hindered by thickets of their
own emotions and desires, while from those whose hearts are single,
serenely undistracted by the conflicting desires and aims of human
life, good manners come as naturally as light from the sun. The happy
ray beams forth from their personalities, illuminating all on whom it
falls: it adds a quality to their glances, their voices, their very
motions which irresistibly attracts the more dingy and struggling
spirits of commoner humanity. It may proceed from a rugged exterior as
well as from features delicately chiselled by centuries of selective
generation. It is no negation, no monkish self-suppression, no humility
of Uriah Heep, but a positive force issuing from a positive feeling of
right pride, of “noblesse,” to which any poor-minded action or speech
must seem contemptible.

I call to the front of my mind the memory of an Oxfordshire village on
the confines of the Cotswold Hills, one of those tiny hamlets of grey
stone which vanish into the grey and blue mystery of the surrounding
woods and hills. The harmony of its colour, ascending through infinite
gradations of lichened roof and blue threads of smoke to the deep
velvet of the foliage under a pearly sky, is exquisite; but not more
exquisite than the inner harmony of its older villagers, now fast
departing. There have I seen the natural flower of good manners in all
its beauty, blooming all the more brightly for the grey simplicity of
its external setting. A blessing from the soft skies above them seemed
to have settled on the hearts of those old people. Life had given them
none of its choice gifts: toil had been their daily companion, with
poverty his friend, bringing sickness as a frequent visitor, but the
sturdy growth of their souls had no more been stunted than the beeches
and elms by the nettles around their trunks. Stopping to greet one of
these elders, hoeing with bent white head his patch of garden, one felt
in converse with the spirit of Shakespeare’s England, which, for all
its industrial casing of to-day, is still the real England. One could
no more fail of civility with them than with a king, so compelling was
the force of their own grave courtesy. They had perfect ease without
insolence, respect without a trace of servility. Dignity, natural
and unconscious, was in their every tone and gesture. Nor did Mrs
Giles within the cottage bely her husband in his garden. She received
a visit as an attention, not as a condescension, conveying in her
welcome all that a perfect hostess could convey, without awkwardness
or restraint, genuine in affection, well-bred in jest. To regard such
people otherwise than as equals in all but opportunity would prove a
heart devoid indeed of nobility. It was an annual joy and a refreshment
of spirit to see these old folk gathered at the Christmas feast. Never
could entertainment want more perfect guests. The spirit of ease and
gaiety which animated this one bright day in their dim year came from
their hearts to warm those of their entertainers. There was no need to
force the note of gaiety, so strongly did the tone of simple happiness
vibrate in them, for all that good fortune so seldom plucked at their
heart-strings. With these old people it was inconceivable that any
such festival should fail to “go,” from the first cut of the roast
beef to the final round of musical chairs, for every being in that
little schoolroom was an English lady or an English gentleman in all
the loftiest sense of these two names. All, however circumscribed their
condition, had “a noble lustre in their eyes,” and in their gentle
spirits there was such an influence that, had the meanest wretch on
earth been introduced to such a Christmas gathering, it would have been
true to say

                      “Be he ne’er so vile
    This day shall gentle his condition.”

To taste so richly the fine essence of good manners was a rare and
memorable privilege. Those who were guests betrayed even in retrospect
their fine appreciation of courtly values. To them it was no charity,
no prescriptive dole. “Ay, sir,” said Mr Giles next day, “that was a
joyful touch!” Many of us, I imagine, who have had the good fortune
to see the best, as well as the worst, of those who live the plainer
and humbler lives, must have been struck by the pleasant heartiness
of natural English manners, when they are not complicated by an
uncertainty as to social position. A household known to me welcomed
during the war some girls from a factory at a mid-day meal which, for
all the simplicity of its preparation, went a trifle beyond the custom
of its guests in the way of accessories. Not for one moment were they
flustered. “I guess I’ll follow you,” was the simple remark to her
hostess of one guest, and all difficulty vanished. A radiant party,
bent theatre-ward, left the house to its elderly owners, whose daughter
received on the doorstep the ecstatic comment “I just _love_ the dear
old dad,” a tribute which the “dad,” a gentleman of some eminence in
a learned profession, received with legitimate pride. It all comes
back to simplicity of heart, which only belongs to those who are firm
in their niche and can look around them. The betwixt-and-betweens are
always nervous, and shyness will make them sheepish, self-assertive,
familiar, vulgar or dumb according to their temperaments. These
wobblers, wherever they are found in the social ladder, all drop good
manners with the same anxious trepidation, the rich in the halls of the
great, the clerk and his wife in the middle-class drawing room, the
wife of the country townsman on the precarious fringe of the county,
the shallow prig in the presence of the artist, in fact, the snob
generally on the threshold of his desire.

The sad thing is that the natural good manners of English people are so
largely corrupted by snobbery of different kinds, and it is the women
who are worst affected by this taint, since it is through them that
lines of social intercourse are drawn, while men hover more easily on
both sides of the fence. The tinge of snobbery may be fierce or faint,
but the least trace of it is a stain on the fair face of good manners.
The Maria of Mrs John Lane, observed as she is with such witty and
lamentable accuracy, is a type of too many Englishwomen. She pushes,
struggles and demeans herself daily with lies, subterfuges and petty
dishonesties, imposing on the weak, toadying upon the stronger, with
an eye of scorn for those below and a beam of adulation for those
above—and all for such a sorry end. I saw the suffragettes throw
themselves in waves, sobbing hysterically, against the rocky breasts
of Westminster policemen till their strength gave out and their hair
came down: it was a ridiculous and ugly spectacle, but a worthy cause
gave rise to it. The spectacle of our Marias, charging and jostling
against social barriers, is more ridiculous and more ugly because it is
sanctified by no ideal of any possible value.

How the ladies do push and jostle, to be sure! Woman struggling with
her own sex is indeed a tigress. The feminine assault upon a popular
’bus at Piccadilly Circus is a _mêlée_ from which all but the most
pugnacious of men would shrink, preferring to be ground to a powder
by the trituration of multitudinous humanity in the tube than to be
exposed to the shovings and stampings of ’bus-crazed women. They know
it themselves, the dear things. My young friend Camilla, who is of the
kind who consorts with Cabinet Ministers, told me the other day that in
a ’bus-scrum not long ago she felt a peculiarly aggressive blow from
behind. Turning round with a heart more furious than Dido’s, to quell
her unmannerly aggressor with a look of hatred, an abusive phrase and
perchance the jerk of a sharp elbow, she beheld her panting sister,
Antonia, in all the frenzy of going over the top. The sisters called
a truce, but were not in the least shame-faced. They both meant to
get home at any cost, and had declared legitimate war upon the crowd.
At a popular sale, so I hear, or in a busy shop, they sweep down
like the Assyrians and positively fight for garments, or nearly tear
shop-assistants in twain as Pentheus was torn by the Bacchanals.

This power which women have of inspiring fury in one another is very
strange—is it confined to this country or is it universal? Englishwomen
certainly have the power of goading one another to forget the first
rudiments of good manners. They have a ruthless want of consideration
for one another which to a man is quite appalling. A woman, usually
suave as silk, will behave like a very shrew to a saleswoman or a
shop-assistant, adopting in the first preliminaries of the bargain
an attitude of suspicious disdain which, I confess, would prompt me
to assault and battery. Men may be brutes, but they prefer to be
gentle and accommodating in the smaller transactions of life. It is a
pleasure to wait on them at meals or to serve them in shops. The man
of fashion is urbane with his hosier, and the young clerk who haunts
the neighbouring Lyons’ for lunch and dominoes has an easy-going
politeness for the “Miss” who takes his order, to which she responds
with the official affability of her class, comparable to the limp
stiffness of an ill-starched shirt. But watch two Englishwomen at grips
in a tea-shop, one serving, one waiting to be served. They measure
one another with a chilly eye, each determined not to give an inch,
for each knows there will be no pity on either side. They can be very
hard, our Englishwomen, when no men are by, for, though they despise
his softness and gullibility, they like to preserve the man’s illusion
of equal softness in a woman. No man can be well served by women who
do not love him: either they will take advantage of his good nature or
show complete indifference to his exasperation. In either case he is
powerless. He can neither inspire them to probity nor cow them into
obedience as he can other men. But from women no women’s secrets are
hid, and they do not scruple to use their penetration with a disregard
of decency which is sometimes amazing.

But, lest these words should seem to be a universal stricture on all
our countrywomen, let me hasten to say that the blemish, though common,
is not universal. In their relations with one another Englishwomen are
apt, in this matter, to fall away from the best of their type, but that
best does not so fall. Women can charm women, as well as goad them,
and the good Englishwoman exercises her charm on both sexes alike. The
graces of demeanour which Miss Austen drew are perennial. Her stories
move in an atmosphere of good manners, which is still fundamental in
unspoiled English people. Some of her characters were vulgar, some
stalwartly self-seeking, some coarse by idleness and vanity: but a Mrs
Norris, a Lady Bertram or even a Mrs Elton preserved good manners, and
who can forget poor Emma’s shame at her rudeness to Miss Bates? In an
age when passions rather than manners interest our novelists, it is a
relief to turn to Miss Austen to be convinced again that English people
have them: her praise will not be dimmed among us till good manners
have finally vanished. That it is still bright, in spite of all that
change in social conditions could do to tarnish it, is in itself an
antidote to pessimism.

After all, it is the English wife and mother who is chiefly responsible
for good manners in the home, and it is in the home that her own
manners are most attractive. Nearly every Englishwoman is an admirable
hostess, and there is a particular flavour about the welcome given
by an Englishwoman in her own dwelling. To receive it is one among
the uniquely pleasant experiences within the reach of humanity, not
only in this country but wherever on the globe an Englishwoman has
raised the tabernacle of home till she return again to the holy
precincts of England, that home of homes. The hospitality of English
people is justly renowned, and that for its cordiality rather than
its lavishness. In this the cheery generosity and brotherliness of
English men play no small part, but the serenity and solicitous
friendliness of English women are the ingredients which give it the
incomparable bouquet that other nations perceive and cannot imitate.
Mr Maurice Baring, in a recent book, expatiates upon the extraordinary
considerateness and hospitable energy of the Americans: he may have had
every reason to do so, but I cannot believe that English hospitality
comes one whit behind it. We may be less ready to make special efforts
for strangers outside the home, but within there is no limit to the
success of our ministrations, when we are remaining true to the spirit
of an English home and not aping the unsatisfying sufficiency of a
cosmopolitan hotel. Our stiffness, which is our instinctive protection
for our too little ruthless hearts in the general clash of human atoms,
falls off us in our homes. The guest, once within our hall, is in a
new world, not to be conceived by one who only knew the uncompromising
dreariness of our streets.

The Englishwoman removes her formality with her hat: with her for
hostess new guest and old guest alike find neither ceremony nor
constraint. She does not motion them to a settee, in the German
fashion, and expect the overflow to group itself primly round the
walls of a room obviously devoted only to these chilly entertainments.
She takes them into her life when she settles them in the comfortably
disposed armchairs of the room she lives in. They may drop out of it
again when the door closes behind them, but while they are there all
equally share the warmth. It is her wish, not precisely formulated,
that those who visit her, whether for an hour or a month, should not be
impressed or flattered but should enjoy themselves. She wants them, as
the saying is, “to have a good time,” and into the realisation of this
desire she brings a charming motherliness—particularly noticeable, I
imagine, by men—which is one of her most beautiful qualities.

Few races can have such a passion as ours for “having people to stay,”
so far as means will allow. All layers of English society have this
passion in their hearts. Its satisfaction lays its chief burden on the
woman, not only in the increase of domestic arrangements to be made,
but in its added demand upon the fund of her social energy. She rises
to it like a well-bred horse to a jump, self-spurred by the exercise
of an activity for which she is so admirably suited. She may not
always be sufficiently imaginative to fit her hospitable offerings to
the particular temperament of every guest—though it is just in this
discrimination and adaptability that the best Englishwomen shine—but
her intention is invariably in that direction. Even Mrs Proudie at the
Palace, Barchester, intolerable woman as she was, would have meant well
by those who shared her formidable tea-table.

So vital a quality is this of Englishwomen that to have only met them
out of their own surroundings is only to have seen half their selves:
their intelligences may have been all poorly, or richly, enough on
exhibition, but their manners cannot be fairly judged till they have
been exposed in their own appropriate setting. It is surprising what
lustre will then be taken on by facets which seemed harsh and uncouth
in an uncongenial light. The most censorious foreigner caught by the
radiation of an Englishwoman within her own four walls could not
come away unmelted. Like the nightly twinkle of ships’ lights on the
dark chilly waters of a harbour innumerable English hearths stud the
external coldness of our country with spots of warmth and brightness.
The genial fire is tended by the Englishwoman, the paragon of vestal
domesticity. Even in her least attractive manifestations, as haughty
clerk, surly landlady, insolent hussy of the factory, raucous slattern
of a slum, empty dawdler, or priggish teacher, she sloughs a husk upon
her own doorstep. You must judge her at home, as a guest not as an
inquisitor, before you wholly condemn her manners. You will find, as a
rule, that you will forgive much more than you condemn.

The point, however, is not so much what we may have to forgive her now
as her probable demands on our forbearance in the future. Taking our
figure in khaki astride the motor bicycle as typifying the Englishwoman
to come, into whatsoever less violent exercise she may as an individual
divert her energies, we may well ask what is the outlook for her
manners. We may take it for granted, I am sure, that the essential
virtues of the English stock are there unchanged, but a new strength
and a new independence have sprung up to modify their activities.
The new grafting may for some time produce a less mellow fruit. It
is the settled people, I have already said, who bring forth the fine
fruit of English manners, and where is settlement to-day? Society is
regrouping itself busily like iron filings on a sounding board, values
are profoundly changing, ideals are in the agonies of birth and death.
The seething crowd in Oxford Street is England in miniature: people are
everywhere hurrying to and fro, physically and mentally, laden with new
ideas, new purposes and new experiences. It will be hardly strange if
they leave their manners at home, or drop them in the bustle, as a man
with two bags to carry might leave or drop his walking stick. We may
wait in hope for their resumption in times of more leisured progress.

It is not that men and women generally are hunting for new positions
in the snobbish and vulgar sense of the phrase, though efforts of this
kind are inevitably obvious after the recent displacement of wealth:
it is that the restoration of the world’s gravity is hustling us all
in spite of ourselves, making us all more hard and less accommodating.
Spring cleaning has only just begun, and it is a process in which our
most irreproachable English women will not lay undue stress on ceremony
and well-bred ease. The great thing is to sweep up the rubbish, banish
the dust and get things clean, and if we look to the women to play the
true housewives in this matter, we must excuse a certain _brusquerie_
in the handling of the broom. The dwelling when restored may not be
quite the one to which we were accustomed: there may be a hygienic
bareness where we remember a cosy stuffiness, a brisker march in
ministration to replace slow-moving but charming affability, and a not
too gracious economy to succeed some harmlessly extravagant amenities.
We shall not complain if our women, needing broader horizons than the
drawing room fireplace, fix their eyes upon the things which matter,
and grasp them with a finer sense of proportion than did their mothers.
In common sense, in sympathy, in personal charm they will never surpass
the best of older generations, but wider opportunity and greater
freedom must give them new and fine qualities for which a Diana Warwick
sighed and which a Christina Pontifex would have abhorred.

And if equality be the cry, let it be for equality of opportunity,
of education, of service to the state, but not a petty insistence on
equality of personal value which must ever be an illusion. There is
nothing so deleterious to manners as self-assertiveness, and if it
is necessary for citizens of the New Jerusalem to assert daily and
with vehemence in the market place that they are as good as any of
the other citizens, there will be at least one quality in which it
will be inferior to the older foundation. Let me plead with the women
of England not so to misuse the name of a great ideal, as it has
been misused before: they will not by so doing redress the wrongs of
inequality. If they are supremely conscious of their worth, let them
at least preserve the urbanity of the truly great who assert no claim
but act upon the easy assumption of its general recognition. But it
would be better if they could emulate the humility of the truly wise
who, measuring themselves humbly by their ideals, find no delight in
standing on tip-toe among their fellow mortals. Equality of achievement
or capacity is beyond human powers to secure, and of what value are
more formal equalities when grand eminences of wisdom and bursting
torrents of energy put to shame the less exalted hillocks and narrower
streams of the average human landscape? To serve with dignity is a
greater claim to honour than to be served with deference. This is a
hard lesson for those emerging from ill-devised trammels: they can
only learn it slowly when they have become accustomed to their freedom.
The good Englishwoman will more readily learn it than the man, for it
will be proved to her in the primeval claims which men and children
make on her devotion. Let her harry overweening man as much as she
will, shaking her broom in his face, compelling him to call her in to
reinforce his weakness and striving victoriously for equality with
him in every service to the community; but only at her peril will she
cast aside permanently her good manners as despicable relics of older
restraints and seclusions. They are the natural flower of her good
comradeship and motherliness: why should she stunt the growth from
those two roots which are fixed ineradicably in the deepest fibres of
her nature?



CHAPTER VIII

THE ENGLISHWOMAN AND THE ARTS


The recognition accorded in previous chapters to the good
Englishwoman’s claims and virtues has, I hope, dispelled any impression
that they are the work of a mind befogged with old masculine
prejudices, for I must begin this chapter with a confession that with
regard to the arts I hold a view which is not too complimentary to
women. However, many women of judgment admit its truth, so that the
indignation of a few will leave me unrepentant. The view is, simply,
that given roughly the same environment and training men are far better
creative artists than women. To inquire fully into the reasons for this
would be a long matter, for they are complex and, in some measure,
below the external surface of personality: it is for the psychologist
to dig them out. But I claim the fact to be sufficiently proved by
the record of history, which shows that for one even capable woman
artist there are ten men at least, and that among the company of the
sublime masters, unless we adopt Samuel Butler’s absurd theory of the
authorship of the Odyssey, there is not a single woman. That this is
due simply to the long oppression of the sex and the denial to it of
equal opportunity with men cannot for a moment be admitted. There have
been women enough to show that, given the talent and the inspiration,
the sex has had ample scope to reach its full capacity in the arts. Yet
its performance, in spite of all that brilliant individuals may have
achieved, has not come within measurable distance of the performance
of men. It does seem as if the capacity for physical creation which is
woman’s pride and burden has stood in the way of that other creation—so
analogous in its ecstasies and its agonies to childbearing—for which
men have proved themselves peculiarly suited. Where the subtle
difference, the little falling-off, exactly comes is difficult to
determine, even on a careful comparison of the two sexes: no particular
gift belongs to one which may not belong to the other. Yet, to whatever
art you look, be it poetry, music or painting, on a general survey the
work of men sweeps right up to a lofty pinnacle beside which the work
of women is but a moderate hill.

Possibly, for so it seems to me, a man’s imagination, like his muscular
frame, is an engine of far greater potential energy than a woman’s,
and far less tied by the limitations of a particular individuality. A
man, in his creative, as well as his reflective, thought can soar out
of himself to that _species æternitatis_ which is the only point of
view for the great artist as well as for the philosopher. Few women
can follow him thither, and when they do, the struggle and effort of
the flight seem to weaken their imaginative energies. Beatrice reached
paradise after death by her virtues: she would never, like her lover,
have reached even the Purgatorio alive by the force of her artistic
imagination. While I insist on it, I shall not labour the point. In
the England of Shakespeare, Milton, Purcell, Reynolds, Gainsborough,
Raeburn and Constable, the sex represented by Christina Rossetti,
Elizabeth Browning, the Brontës, George Eliot, Angelica Kauffmann, Miss
Ethel Smyth, yes, even the one and only Jane Austen, can only adopt an
attitude of respect and, if they are true artists, of reverence for
masculine artistic achievement. Also, what is true of creative art I
believe to be true of interpretative. There is not, indeed, the same
difference between the highest achievements of the two sexes in the
interpretative sphere: Mrs Siddons balances Kean; Ellen Terry, Henry
Irving; Melba, Sims Reeves; Beatrice Harrison, Leonard Borwick. Yet
in the general survey, the advantage of the men preponderates: whether
as actors, singers or instrumentalists they have more vigour, a finer
mental grasp of the work they are interpreting, a firmer touch and that
greater power of soaring above their own personalities into that realm
where beauty walks unhampered by the flesh.

After which lordly pronouncement, a more combative member of her sex
might retort, it is hardly necessary to continue this chapter: pray
pass blandly on to some other field in which you allow us a fuller
measure of accomplishment. But that I reply—mentally spreading out my
hands with the traditional gesture of deprecation—would be a great
mistake. I should not like to be misapprehended in a fit of momentary
pique. Of female accomplishment even in the arts, as Henry James might
have said, I abound in recognitions. An enthusiastic admirer of Jane
Austen and the Brontës, who has publicly and unreservedly praised the
work of Miss Somerville and Martin Ross and the autobiographical art
of Miss Ethel Smyth, who has melted before Lady Hallé’s phrasing and
Gerhardt’s tone cannot justly be accused of prejudice against woman
artists. If I deny supremacy or equality in artistic achievement, up to
the present moment, I have every respect for feminine accomplishment,
and I put no bounds to my belief in the amplitude of its future,
especially when the pen is its weapon. Transcendent musical genius
seems to be denied growth upon our soil. We have lost, if we ever had
it, our natural melody; our passions do not consume us wholly and our
dreaming is too shot with the practical. Where our men have not risen
high, our women, though a surpassing voice may here and there be born,
are not likely to soar. As for painting and the other plastic arts,
well, one can only wait in hopes of something better from women than
they have yet been able to give us. But our women can write, heaven
knows, though many of them write too much, and where the passionate
intensity and the transfiguring imagination of an Emily Brontë is
present the result is unqualified greatness, as surely as the work is
a masterpiece when the shrewd observation and the elegance of a Jane
Austen illuminate it. So perhaps I may be allowed to continue, not in
expatiation on the Englishwoman’s contribution to our national art,
but in the consideration of the arts generally in relation to the good
Englishwoman. Besides, to tell the truth, there are more complaints to
be made. I regret them, but they are just, so let us proceed with a
thoroughly unpleasant chapter.

The lowest common denominator of artistic taste among those who
claim to be educated is indeed low in this country, but that is not
surprising, for it is the same in every country; and those who are
inclined to lift up their hands in horror at the philistinism of their
countrymen, while gushing over the higher artistic standards of other
nations, are singularly beside the mark. They are usually applying
different standards in one judgment, comparing what is common in the
one case with what is remarkable in the other, forgetting that, if
masterpieces are in question, England stands below no country in the
world save possibly in music, and ignoring the M. Jourdains, the M.
Perrichons, the Buchholtz families and other ordinary folk at which
the artists of all nations have habitually poked fun. What we have not
got is some compensating national felicity in the domain of art, such
as the German sensitiveness to musical beauty, the French aptitude for
elegant diction, the histrionic talent of the Italian or, possibly, the
Spanish gift of rhythmical movement. The unprejudiced foreigner could
hardly be struck by any national accomplishment of this kind among
English people, whose most obvious national quality is their admirable
capacity for practical action. This holds true even of our women, and
the point I am inclined to make is that this is strange when it is
considered that a greater proportion of educated women practise, albeit
with one finger, some art or another in England than in any other
country. This is partly due to educational tradition and partly to the
greater independence of Englishwomen. For many generations educational
tradition has laid stress on the importance of “accomplishments” in
the upbringing of a girl, while administering the same in homoeopathic
doses and insisting on a more than Greek moderation in the enthusiasm
with which they were to be embraced. Most of us remember the faint
and ladylike water colours of a great-grandmother, who would have
blushed as much to paint anything resembling a picture seen with an
artist’s eye as she would to have infused a breath of passion into the
ditties she so artlessly sang to the harp or to the guitar. Squire
Western wanted nothing but a few old English melodies from Sophia’s
piano, and it is not likely that Mr Woodhouse’s taste in music was any
higher. Accomplishments were “very nice” for a girl, adding to her
attractions, but art was quite a different thing, most unladylike,
an affair for not too reputable men, beset with temptations to every
kind of depravity. And if women were so bold as to write anywhere but
in albums they were well advised to do so anonymously, as did Miss
Edgworth, Fanny Burney and Jane Austen. During the nineteenth century,
of course, this tradition grew fainter, and for the present generation,
with their eurhythmics, their ballet dancing and their self-expression,
it has become most admirably attenuated, so that there is good hope
of its complete disappearance in the future. We are coming to look on
education for girls as well as for boys as a training for a definite
end rather than as an affair of landscape gardening. Nevertheless, the
old tradition still lingers in our drawingrooms and schoolrooms. While
it is generally agreed that no boy is in any need of accomplishments
to fulfil his destiny in the world, these doubtful benefits are still
pressed indiscriminately upon boys’ sisters in the belief that there
is some value for a woman in having acquired, even against her will,
a feeble amateurishness in one or more of the arts. Only when it is
generally recognised that unless art is spontaneous, unless it is a
freely chosen medium for an honest self-expression, it is utterly
and absolutely valueless, in fact non-existent, will the standard of
artistic taste in this country begin to rise.

The tradition, at all events, has made Englishwomen great dabblers
in the arts, and they have been assisted in carrying this dabbling
beyond their schooldays by their independence which is younger than
the tradition. By this independence—for the good of our nation may
it never grow less—they go on sketching tours, set up studios in
Chelsea, invade foreign _ateliers_ unattended, trip off to foreign
_conservatoires_ free from the tethering ropes which still attach the
native pensionnaires to censorious hearths. Never was there such a
nation of woman painters and sketchers and etchers, singers, players,
music-teachers, journalists and novelists as ours. Yet, for all their
quantity, the quality which they achieve is disheartening. Why is
it? What do they lack? Is it the furious energy of concentration, is
it discontent with easy achievement, is it honesty, is it vision, is
it passion? Or is it simply that, except in rare instances, they are
weak, birds of short flight who cannot sustain the upward sweep of more
powerful masculine pinions? The attainments of a few exceptional women
artists go a little way to atone for the shortcomings of the multitude.
Here, at least, there is room for progress on the part of Englishwomen
during the remainder of the century. Let them throw off the last
remnant of hampering tradition and use their increasing independence to
better purpose.

It is impossible to overestimate the importance of women’s influence
in the formation of taste: if men are the dynamos, women are the
distributors. As mothers, as sisters, as wives, their mental energies
are playing continuously on the plastic material of their immediate
surroundings. Men, as a rule, are only intellectually affected by the
artistic views of their fellow men, but the likes and dislikes of women
work themselves into the most intimate fibres of domestic life. The
decoration of a house, its intimates, its conversation, its amusements,
its entertainments reflect far more of the woman than of the man who,
if he is not satisfied, prefers to seek a freer artistic atmosphere
outside his own doors than to attempt the almost impossible task of
bringing it with him into an unreceptive household. The position is not
one to be regretted, for women should be the source of beauty as man of
protection and maintenance; but the comparative dryness of this source
in England is remarkable, seeing the amount of time and money spent
upon accomplishments and the multitudes of our women who play, sing and
draw all over the world.

When I consider the drawingrooms and diningrooms that English women
will complacently regard, the futile pictures upon the walls, the
tasteless, shapeless ornaments, and, above all, the absence of
harmonious finish which makes their household gods, where they do not
blatantly display a common origin in Tottenham Court Road, appear a
hasty collection from the junk-shop round the corner rather than a
successful combination of effects on an artistic plan—on this count
alone I cannot think this remonstrance overstated. The pity is all the
greater in that we start with so many advantages. The hideous stiffness
of the Germans and the rather uncomfortable formality of the French
is not ours. It is natural to us to be comfortable, we make our rooms
look as if they were lived in, we have thrown off Victorian dinginess
for cheerful colours, we have a magnificent tradition in furniture;
yet with all this, while we often achieve the pleasantly habitable,
we rarely achieve the completely artistic. There is really no
impossibility in this achievement: all we want is a finer eye, a nicer
discrimination, a higher standard of design in essentials and a greater
regard for elegance and harmony in appurtenances. We are too contented,
at present, with the merely pretty or the baldly useful; we buy without
criticism, we replace with inconsequence and, worst of all, we inherit
with effusion. Our Englishwoman will go out sketching-block in hand to
capture the delicate contours of our English hills and our English
clouds, and strive to mix in her palette the exquisite harmonies that
blend in English heaths and lanes and bricks, yet she will return to
stare without loathing at furniture which violates every canon of
proportion and colours that cry aloud in their disagreement, as if
art was all very well in the fields and woods but wholly out of place
in a comfortable home of England. To make matters worse, some efforts
to introduce art have been dolefully inartistic, as the reproachful
epithet of “arty” in our dictionary too painfully shows. The word
“art” itself is suspect to the English, carrying with it a suspicion
of artificiality and pose. In the home, at least, let us substitute
for it “grace and harmony”; where these are present the result will be
artistic. There are sensitive women, women of taste, enough who know
this, but their influence does not radiate. We want the energy of these
women to be formative and reformative: we want the arts and crafts of
this country permeated with their good influence, to counteract the
influence of commercial man who makes cheaply and badly what he can
sell with ease. This would be an accomplishment worthy of the name.

The state of domestic music is little better. Here again it is the
woman who sets the tone. Think of the thousands of English pianos
tinkling at this moment, of the wheezing of countless gramophones, and
the warbling of a myriad drawing room ditties—with what tune does it
fill the shuddering earth?

For whom do ballad concerts flourish, for whom do melodic journeymen
pour out machine-made progressions of sixths, ninths, and elevenths to
sentimental lyrics?

Chiefly for women.

Who are those who delight to proclaim that they “know a lovely garden”
or to inquire in flat tones of musical interrogation where the pink
hands they knew beside the Shalimar have got to?

Chiefly women.

For whom has the wearisome infinity of ragtime assaulted humanity?

Again for women.

Who was Chaminade and for whom did she spin her inanities?

A woman who knew what women wanted.

At whom do Jewish violinists ogle while they saw out emotional waltzes
through the meaty atmosphere of restaurants?

At women.

And who exclaim that “he plays divinely, my dear?”

Women again.

Oh, the musical repertoire of the English home, how well I used to know
it! Its “Erotik,” its “Schmetterling,” its “Pierrette,” its Nocturne in
E flat on the piano; its “Humoreske,” its “Benedictus,” its “Serenata,”
its “Cavatina” on the violin; and its songs, its “Rosary,” its “Indian
Love Lyrics,” its little archnesses by Hermann Löhr, its spasms by
Frank Lambert, its sobs by Guy d’Hardelot—really I have often wished
that I lived in the good old days of “The Battle of Prague” which at
least made no pretensions to be music. The repertoire was always the
same, rehearsed in the drawing-room, produced in the village hall
with amazing inefficiency and complete self-satisfaction. Standard of
execution or criticism there was none: amiable intention was allowed
to suffice, and fingers could slither, bows wobble and voices squeeze
tremulously out of constricted larynxes without apology. Have we any
cause for pride in these things? And the teachers of music, can we
praise them? Why do we attempt so much and achieve so little? No wonder
Miss Ethel Smyth craved for a climate where music, even in the family,
was an art and not an accomplishment: no wonder that she borrowed five
shillings from the village postman to go to London concerts till an
infuriated father, after kicking in the panel of her bedroom door, gave
way and allowed her to fly to Leipzig. For the love of music let us try
again now the war is over. We suffer from too much bad music. The women
of England are mainly responsible, for I admit that the bulk of the
men don’t care; surely women could effect a little improvement. If we
cannot have better music all at once, perhaps we might have less. If I
were Minister of Fine Arts, I would close all pianos and violin cases
but those of certified musicians, for a year, except for the playing
of _bona fide_ scales and exercises, and no singing but of _solfeggi_
should be heard from private individuals, a fine of forty shillings
being inflicted for each breach of the regulations. Meanwhile Sir
Thomas Beecham should have a free hand and unlimited money wherewith to
conduct a cleansing and inspiring propaganda for the reform of musical
taste in the home. The village entertainments of a year hence would be
superb. Raff’s “Cavatina” would at least be played in tune.

In letters, at all events, there is no need to be so irritable. In this
domain of art, ornamented by no nation more signally than our own, the
critic of to-day may discern so much that has been notably done and so
much that is indubitably promised that, in regarding our Englishwomen
of letters, he may surrender himself to a benevolent glow of gratitude
and admiration. With the names of Virginia Woolf, Clemence Dane, Rose
Macaulay, May Sinclair, Dorothy Richardson, “Somerville and Ross,”
Elizabeth of the German Garden, Jane Harrison and Evelyn Underhill
occurring agreeably, among many others, to his mind, he might well be
content to succumb to the temptation of gracefully acknowledging in
this art a divided empire and withdrawing with a courtly bow. But he
would be neglecting his duty. There is a goodly body of women upon
the heights, but it is nothing to the multitudes still ambling in
the sentimental lanes of the Valley of Twaddle. The home, the home
is the test, the bookstall counter, the lending library, the beach
on a summer’s day. Turn thither the eye, and who shall say that the
Englishwoman has reached the limits of progress? In this country and
in America a mass of second-rate novels is yearly produced which it is
appalling to contemplate. For whom are they, and for whom are those
drugs of the mind, the story magazines, produced? Chiefly for women.
The lending library of a seaside town tells a plain enough tale. Which
are the well-thumbed books with dog-eared pages? Not those on whose
title page appears any of the names that I have mentioned above, but
senseless masquerades of artistic fiction, panderings to prurience
and love of sensation, spongy sweets of sentiment and little tarts
of so-called “mystery.” The tale that these shelves tell is that the
bulk of Englishwomen have no wish to think when they read. Books are
to them as a cup of tea—a pleasant narcotic—or as a stick of chewing
gum that can be comfortably sucked for hours in a state of vacuity.
And when they are moved, dear sensitive ladies, who touches their
delicate chords? Ella Wheeler Wilcox and Mrs Barclay. It is no use for
them to retort that the men are just as bad, for it is not true. It is
women who keep up the circulation of the worse popular novelists. The
Englishman who works with his head or his hands reads comparatively
little: his work, exercise, cards, billiards, golf and other sport
leave him too little time. He only sips the cup of sentiment and
sensation of which the woman swallows daily goblets. Also, it is the
man who sets out deliberately to improve his mind far more frequently
than the woman. Men are the chief customers for the “Everyman” editions
and “The Home University Library”; men read technical books and papers
about their hobby, whether it be chess or motor cycling or stamp
collecting or photography, while women at best acquire a new stitch in
knitting; men read the political news in the papers while their wives
snatch up the outer cover with the _feuilleton_.

If only the Englishwoman, in the mass, could learn to take some
pleasure in thinking and to bear thinking in taking her pleasure, the
artistic standards of this country would be raised immeasurably. We
should have better plays in our theatres, for one thing, and—how badly
we want it—better actresses. The stage minx who has a few tricks and
looks pretty might disappear before the disapprobation of her sex, and
learn before she reappeared how to speak and walk and stand still on
the stage. We might evolve again a really great tragic actress or even
a comic one. We have neither of them now. We might, impossible as it
may seem, make some artistic use of the cinema, for that, if anything,
is the haunt of women who find that it saves them even the trouble
of reading. It is well, perhaps, for one’s peace of mind that one
does not stop to imagine the possible appearance in all its nakedness
of the soul to which the bulk of modern films appeals. Would it not
be a distorted impish little thing, with vacuous goggling eyes, a
slobbering mouth and a receding chin? Would it not have a woman’s
form to wriggle in ecstasy as a gigantic tear squeezed out of Mary
Pickford’s magnified eyelid? It is a monstrosity unworthy to exist,
and yet it now thrives amazingly upon its ample diet. In thousands
of halls in towns, villages and cities it is fed every afternoon and
evening with variations of the same crudity which never palls upon its
unregenerate palate. Who can speak of art in England with this vast
daily sacrifice to its negation drawing millions to the unedifying
rites?

And now this unpleasant chapter is ended. Even if it has done no more
than annoy, it has perhaps attained its object, which was to point out
the vast room still left for women in the strengthening and purifying
of our country’s art. The influence of women, when they choose to
exercise it, is so irresistible and so salutary that they cannot
really be injured by an honest complaint of its failure hitherto to
act sufficiently upon national taste and of its tendency, where it is
exercised, to be hampering rather than helpful. The chosen spirits
among Englishwomen who, by general acknowledgment, are pursuing high
ideals with success in the various arts must feel that an injustice
is being done to them by their more numerous sisters. Like ardent
mountain climbers, pressing on towards a far glistening peak, they
must be irritated that the bulk of the party choose to sit down in
Teutonic fashion in some comfortable châlet a few hundred feet up to
imbibe in perfect contentment small beer and smaller lemonade. Nor are
men indifferent. Not at their behest do women lag behind. It is not
their wish that women should be feeble critics possessed of uncertain
standards or of no standards at all, easily misled by tinsel and facile
tears, hypnotised by charlatans, enticed by plausible pedlars of the
cheap and showy, charmed by smooth phrases but repelled by fine ideas,
partial in their views, lazy in their judgments; for men, in their
rambles after the true and the beautiful, often have reason to regret
the rarity of feminine companionship to sympathise and share in these
loftier activities of the mind. Why should man any longer deplore his
masculine solitude? There is nothing now to hinder women from hastening
to his side: their knees are no longer hampered by the trailing skirts
of prejudice and tradition, they have only to put on intellectual
breeches and strike upwards with a will. If they fail there will be no
excuse for them: the reproach of being weaker vessels, not by nature’s
decree nor men’s foolishness, but of their own deliberate choice, will
not be easily avoided. The good Englishwoman has unlimited will and
energy: she may yet, if she wishes, lead the women of the world as well
in artistic cultivation as in practical activity.



CHAPTER IX

THE ENGLISHWOMAN IN SOCIETY


“La société crée la femme où la nature a fait une femelle.” This
reflection comes from that great novelist, but not too profound
philosopher, Balzac. It is sufficiently general to start many trains of
thought, though it is not in itself a peculiarly valuable addition to
sociological ideas. Yet Balzac’s own train of thought when he wrote it
is clear enough. He was lingering with admiration over the figure of
Diane de Maufrigneuse, Princesse de Cadignan, his incarnation of all
the charm and the attraction of women. For him the opposition between
the woman and the female was no idle one. In the latter he took no
interest: she meant less to him than the hideous cowering creature with
a baby at its breast which appeared behind that rutilant and terrifying
primitive man on the cover of Mr Wells’ universal history, No. 2, means
to us. But woman, as typified in Diane the supreme example, appeared
to him as a work of art so amazingly perfected in every detail that
one can almost describe him as kissing the tips of his fingers when
he writes of her. He saw women as wonderful and beautiful refinements
of raw nature, extraordinarily complicated, subtle beyond measure, no
less alluring but more wily than the sirens, forming part of society,
it is true, but in a remote way of their own, not as companions of the
other half of humanity but as incalculable accidents of the simpler
life of men. They were in his eyes divinities, witches or devils, but
hardly ordinary human beings. Mrs Edith Wharton in her “French Ways and
their Meaning” seems, in a less enthusiastic way, to adopt the same
attitude towards French women. She boldly tells the American girl that
she is but a child in the nursery compared with this daedal repository
of feminine secrets, the French _femme du monde_. It is, in fact, the
French point of view, which accounts for the power of women, or rather
of the woman, in France and for the limitation of her activities to her
own peculiar temples. She does not waste her virtues by wafting them
at large over the dustier tracts of life, though it is possible that
the _jeunes filles en fleur_, with their golf and tennis and boyish
companionships, of whom M. Marcel Proust so engagingly writes, may come
down from their pedestals more frequently than their mothers.

However this may be, Balzac’s train of thought does not apply to
England. His reflection would not have occurred to an English novelist,
or, if it had, it would have been thrown off easily as an obvious,
not particularly pregnant, fact, without the wealth of suggestion in
the antithesis of “female” and “woman” which is implied in Balzac’s
sentence. The Englishman would be more apt to give the reflection
another turn, to say: “Nature made woman and woman makes society,”
leaving sharp the opposition between nature and society but blurring
that between the natural and the social woman, with the idea that the
two are too closely interwoven to be usefully disconnected. And that is
the English point of view. Woman in England has never been a mystery,
an intricate engine with simple aims and complicated methods, of a
different order from man with his complex aims and simpler methods. The
texture of English life is, and has always been, compounded of both as
the warp and the woof—the more active man passing rapidly between the
more stable feminine strands which keep his thread in place. Though
this interconnection has become more obvious latterly with the complete
disappearance of feudal and patriarchal traditions, earlier literature
bears abundant witness to it. The Canterbury Tales are significant
enough in this respect. In spite of occasional romanticism in the tales
themselves, we have no hedged divinities in the band of pilgrims: the
nun, the prioress and the wife of Bath all take their places naturally
in the cavalcade, and the poet insists as little on the special claims
of their femininity as he pays deference to their modesty. And where is
the mystery in Viola, Sylvia, Beatrice or Rosalind? They are palpably
of the same stuff as their lovers, and only distinguished by greater
sanity from their fools. If there be any point in mystery, it is
men, with weird compounds of good and evil in their souls, who were
Shakespeare’s mysteries. But, so far as social relations are concerned
in Shakespeare, as in England generally, men and women are part of the
same homespun which covers all the issues of life in this country.
I see no reason to doubt that it will continue to do so: even the
apparently strong antagonisms of recent years, when loud exclamations
were heard against a “man-made” world, made little difference to the
even textile process of ordinary social life, and now, since the
political enfranchisement of women, are but very feeble ghosts.

The truth is that in few societies have women always had greater
rights than in English society. The English woman is neither, like
the Frenchwoman, the flying buttress of one particular man, nor, like
the German, his beast of burden, nor like the American, his imperious
tyrant: she is, as I have already pointed out, his companion, and she
is the ideal companion because she has so long been admitted to all the
private rights of companionship. English society is held together by
English women, for the men of England have a strange aloofness from one
another and a want of curiosity about one another which is always an
astonishment to women, who can make or break men’s friendships without
an effort. English men cling to one another with such feeble tendrils
that the faintest tug pulls them apart. Yet, if women sometimes almost
involuntarily apply the tug, they are coagulators of men, linking
knots of them together by tighter bonds of familiarity than they could
have ever manufactured for themselves. They are able to perform this
function because the two sexes do not live separate lives converging at
a few fixed points, but common lives with a few divergences which are
becoming more and more reduced. Wherever you look you see them coupled
together, in tea shops and restaurants, in theatres and music-halls and
cinemas, on the hunting field and in the butt; they shop together, they
serve together, they go to church together. This state of affairs is
not without its disadvantages: it encourages, for one thing, a lower
standard of common thought than in France where the men keep more to
themselves and more together, setting a higher level of intelligence to
which women are expected to conform when the two sexes meet on common
ground. But it is the characteristic note of English society, in which
alone could women say without pose or presumption that “they like to
have their men about.” _Their_ men, mark you, not men in general, and
in a very conscious possessive sense. There is an amusing passage in
an early chapter of “Mount Music” by Miss Somerville and Martin Ross.
Major Talbot-Lowry, a middle-aged country gentleman, has just left the
room, singing. “In both his wife’s and his cousin’s faces was the same
look that often comes into women’s faces when, unperceived, they regard
the sovereign creature. Future generations may not know that look, but
in the faces of these women, born in the earlier half of the nineteenth
century, there was something of awe, and of indulgence, of apprehension
and of pity. Dick was so powerful, so blundering, so childlike.” The
authors are perhaps right in saying that future generations will not
know this look: the awe and the apprehension are giving way to more
sympathetic emotions. But the look that remains will not be unlike
the old look. It is a look of which English men are more conscious
than women suppose: they catch it early on the more innocent faces of
sisters and sisters’ friends. They know that women regard them with a
blend of tolerance and admiration, as a kind of familiar institution to
which they are bound by ties too intimate to be unravelled or analysed.

This intimate connection in the texture of society has an unmistakeable
effect upon English men. It gives them, from early days, an
inner refinement which, however rough and unpolished or cold and
uncompromising their external appearance, is nearly always to be
found behind it. Heavy-footed, wanting in delicacy and the finer
shades as they may seem in comparison with men of some other nations,
who pay more attention to finish and elegance of address, they are
in many ways more truly civilised, with less of the wild man of the
woods, the hunter, at the bottom of their natures. The manners of
an English gentleman, which are manners of the heart, not of the
dancing master or the enchanter, have, for their inward grace, no
equal in the world. And the emotion which lies behind these manners
is common to all English men, an emotion distilled of long and easy
companionship with women, in which neither took more than was given
in return, but the interchange of services and sympathies, not of
mere compliments, naturally issued from mutual recognition of worth
and mutual acknowledgement of dependence. For English women too this
intimacy, which included a consciousness of the emotions it engendered
in men, has had its peculiar grace. It has given them that frankness,
that independence without bravado, that air of being equal to any
situation, which are their remarkable qualities. At any age, even
the most flighty, they fall too naturally into the performance of
their stabilising function to waste more than a small and pardonable
amount of energy upon private timidities and pursuits betraying a
more primitive woman. They are in some sort aware of a national part
to play which it would be indecent to abandon, either from passion or
indifference. Hence they have a freer stride and a less self-conscious
attitude than those women of other countries who are only credited with
the graces and weaknesses of undiluted femininity.

But, if women stabilise, they also stratify. Men are more liquid
entities, coalescing temporarily with other men at any level without
difficulty and without feeling themselves engaged to remain at that
or any other level longer than they please. But there is a viscosity
about women—it is only another way of regarding their stabilising
function—which forbids them to flow so freely and makes it harder for
them to disengage themselves after any coalition with other entities
of their own kind. So they arrange themselves inevitably in strata,
the number of which in England is legion, which rise with an infinity
of gradation from the labourer’s cottage to the royal palace. The
process is almost too natural to be called snobbery, though its result
often gives rise to that unpleasant quality, for the feminine element
is buoyant and subject rather to the laws of expansion than those of
gravity. Mrs John Lane’s Maria, good-natured but vulgarly pushing,
will stick at nothing to penetrate the layers immediately above her:
armed with determination, selfishness and ingratitude she marches
brazenly to the attack, braving the snub to force the breach, feeling
the wound but snatching the dart from it to add to the armoury which,
from her ultimate vantage point, she will discharge upon her subsequent
imitators. And a Maria will drag a man upwards with her, protesting
but powerless, for men have not the force to abjure or to withstand
such campaigns. Comic enough in fiction, it is nauseating in reality,
especially as these pushing particles admit nothing but entirely
laudable ambitions, whereas the scale in which they so furiously
struggle to rise is not one of wit or merit, but one of trivialities,
of pennies and titles, motor cars and meals.

But if the Marias show an uncanny quickness in judging the points of
contact between the social layers, it is not the Marias who make the
layers in the first place. These are the work of all women equally, as
naturally made as birds’ nests, but for the protection of themselves
rather than of their young. Two men may meet at the office or the club,
day in day out, for years without in the least becoming involved in one
another’s domestic circumstances or becoming aware of one another’s
native layers. But it is impossible for women to meet casually for
long without a degree of mutual implication which can never be undone.
One visit by a woman to another woman’s home forms a link which the
return of that visit closes irrevocably; it can thereafter neither be
ignored nor broken without pain: whereas a man, especially a bachelor,
may flit for ever like a butterfly, sipping in all freedom the honey
where he finds it. At the bottom of this difference is the instinct
of the home, which is so peculiarly strong in Englishwomen. A home
must have stability and a definite position with regard to other
homes, it cannot vaguely exist in an indeterminate social latitude and
longitude. As map-readers would say, its coordinates must be settled
and cannot be changed without an upheaval. Stability, moreover, is
not the only quality of a home to women: they cherish its explanatory
quality also. Away from their homes they feel vague and unattached,
like travellers without passports, presenting rather a questionable
appearance, dependent for recognition rather on the goodwill of others
than on their own indubitable claims. In their homes they are solid and
substantial, answering every question before it is asked, proof against
all error, in a settled place and status with all circumstances and
attachments stretching obviously away to the limits of vision. It is
to the Englishwoman, far more than to the English man, that home is a
castle.

The consequence is that Englishwomen, no less than women of other
nations, are strongly individualistic, and stand like boulders in the
stream of modern democracy which is running towards collectivism. It is
impossible for the majority of women to sympathise with the collective
ideal, since all their instincts run counter to it. In England,
particularly, where for centuries the stratification of society has
gone quietly on without catastrophic changes, it is hard to believe
that, with political power now in their hands, women will easily
permit a profound revolution in their modes of life. So long as wages
and standards of life are in question, they may well vote with the
most progressive, even the most aggressive, party: but the old social
landmarks will not be entirely swept away unless the women, too, are
swept off their feet by a wave of circumstance or emotion. It will be
curious to see how the good Englishwoman modifies the course of history
in the near future, as she is bound to do if she in a way succeeds in
forcing a compromise between the oncoming of collectivist democracy and
her own instinctive conservatism. So far as women are concerned, every
layer of society is bound to offer resistance to eruption from below
simply for its own safety. In this matter the stationmaster’s wife will
not be behind the doctor’s or the works-foreman’s sister behind the
vicar’s. If eruption comes at all, instead of the steady but almost
imperceptible percolation which is the usual process of social change
in this country, it can only come from the lowest layers whose Marias
have nothing to lose and everything to gain by a more than usually
abrupt effort to rise. If only wise statesmanship can discount the need
for any abruptness, this eruption will never occur: the essential
changes, in my belief, can be wrought without so ruinous a disturbance
as to rend our English homespun into rags, or to snap the threads of
that womanly warp which gives it its strength and durability.

The married women, at all events, will resist to the last: the weak
threads in the womanly warp—and I mean weak in the sense of not
withstanding disruptive influences—are the bachelor women. Nowadays it
is foolish to talk of “old maids” and “_coiffer Sainte Cathérine_,” or
to use any other patronising phrase for unmarried women which implies
that they have missed the only vocation of their sex. Already before
the war this attitude was becoming _passé_ in England, and the war
has definitely bundled it into the lumber room. The enormous activity
of women, young and old, during the war cannot subside leaving no
effect at all, and one of its most permanent effects is that large
numbers of women have learned to live as self-sufficing lives as men,
working independently for an adequate return, dwelling in camps or
colonies or bachelor companionships or even in solitude, and using
their leisure as the spirit moved them. Young girls who ordinarily
would not have dreamed of leaving the home where they were doing
nothing in particular, and older women who dabbled more or less
aimlessly in existence because they could not catch a proper hold
of it, both learned the happiness which comes from doing something
in particular. They found in regular work an emancipation of which
they had never dreamed: it solved their riddles and blew away their
fantasies, besides removing them from those hundred and one insidious
little distractions which waste more than half the time of unoccupied
women. If this emancipation led to some follies, it led also to much
wisdom. The value of regularity became patent to many for the first
time: the settling effect of a definite aim for each day, the fact
that, in the long run, work passes the time much more quickly than
amusement, were revelations; and the realisation of holding a career,
albeit a temporary one, in her own two hands gave to many a woman a new
assurance and a new pride which were precious as jewels. Thereafter
they could never regard with equanimity the possibility of a return
to the older more dependent or less purposeful life. The cessation of
wartime employment obscured their immediate prospect but did not cloud
their new ideals, for they had learnt a new and healthy discontent. It
was not that the other ideal of women, marriage and a home, lost its
attraction—far from it: but, it had become clear that women need not
wait, like wares in a market place, till the arrival of a purchaser,
doing odd jobs and maintaining as long as possible the freshness of
their looks. They had realised the real virtues of the bachelor state,
which are not its opportunities for disorder, laxity and idleness, but,
in youth, its freedom, its mobility and its sense of hammering out
life with a will on the anvil of ambition, and, in maturer age, the
full interests, the easy and untrammelled relations, the opportunities
for many sided intercourse without responsibility and the power of
unhampered concentration on a purpose which are its compensations for
the inevitable loneliness.

In the near future, it seems probable, the English girl will enter
bachelorhood as fully and as regularly as an English boy. The old idea
of its being unsettling or harmful is quickly passing away. English
girls in general are nearly as capable of looking after themselves as
their brothers, nor are they more likely than they to withstand the
attractions of matrimony when they are offered. In the meantime they
will prove themselves of value to society in some definite activity,
instead of going shopping, arranging flowers and staying about
indefinitely in other people’s houses. Mothers and fathers it is true,
will be left forlorn a little earlier, but they will have to put up
with it, and it will teach them to preserve the charm of one another’s
society with more care against the day when, after the crowded cares of
parenthood have vanished, nothing else is left to them.

But, to return to my original point, will the bachelor woman be a
stabiliser or will she be disruptive? She will have the feminine
instinct for stability and definite surroundings: she will never become
so fluid a being socially as a man. Nevertheless, for the time of
her bachelorhood she will not so easily indulge those instincts and
will be likely, in the first flush of freedom, to hold them of small
importance. She is, moreover, apt in these days to be carried away
by her head farther than her heart would naturally take her, and her
head, like a newly hoisted sail, will belly in the wind of any ready
theorist. Girls are poor critics of ideas, and are apt to grasp at
them with a touch of flighty passion which is more dangerous than the
intellectual trifling of young men, who can play with them as keenly
yet as unemotionally as they play with tennis balls. The one foe always
lying in wait for bachelor women is hysteria, which takes the form of
flightiness in the young and of a sour wilfulness in the older who
succumb to it. Disruptive tendencies in the state will always find
fruitful ground among hysterical females, who will push a theory
to unpractical limits, not out of honest conviction, but from pure
passion. But the danger of any permanent damage, provided always that
the nation as a whole maintains its sanity, from this source need not
be too seriously considered. A career or a profession is in itself a
stabilising influence, and, now that women in England have few specific
grounds for discontents on the score of sex-inequalities, the sparks
of hysteria can fly harmlessly upwards without being gathered into a
blaze. However, we shall see. The good Englishwoman, married or single,
is riding forward at a round pace into the future. She is not likely to
lose her bearings, but we shall all suffer if she does. It rests with
her teachers to endow her richly with the faculty of finding her way,
even in the dark.



CHAPTER X

THE ENGLISHWOMAN AT WORK


So much has been written lately about women’s work in England
that most of the obvious generalisations on the subject have been
exhausted. Much has yet to be done before all the vexed questions
raised by the increase of woman workers during the war are settled,
but that is a matter for the trades themselves. The only principle of
primary validity is that women have as much right as men to enter the
labour market, but they must win their places legitimately by their
performances and not at the price of being sweated. Women, of course,
have always worked in England. A book recently published by a woman on
woman workers in the seventeenth century has reminded us of this, if
we have forgotten Hood’s Song of the Shirt. So that the entry of women
into the more technical and highly organised employments, hitherto
mainly reserved for men, is nothing more than an inevitable process
of development. The one thing, in this connection, which strikes an
ordinary observer is that women are still a long way from having
acquired men’s capacity for self-organisation, and this is the road on
which the Englishwoman who works must progress in the future. Women can
learn _esprit de corps_, but they do not seem to imbibe it naturally.
This, I think, is partly due to their more sequestered education, with
fewer games in which combined effort is all important, and partly to
their intensely personal outlook on the whole of life. To them life is
a clash of individual atoms rather than of corporate bodies to whose
progress the fate of individual members is of comparatively little
interest. History for them, whether past or contemporary, is a drama in
which living persons, not ideas and processes, are the protagonists.
For the large majority of them the notion of solidarity begins and ends
with the home, within which it is absolute, only to be nebulous outside
it. Yet the talent is not absent, only dormant. When it awakes the
results are striking and often put men to shame. Florence Nightingale
teaches us this lesson, and we have learnt it again more recently from
the women’s ambulances and the women’s organisations which have helped
us to win the war.

The opportunities for corporate action on the part of women are
unlimited, and it is a fact which women of all classes are coming
to realise in a greater measure. It was made plain, even to the more
gently born among them who worked in factories and offices during the
war, that without corporate action it was almost impossible to get
justice. The rightness of ideas, unfortunately, does not conquer by its
own momentum, especially in England where both men and women are apt
to await its embodiment in concrete facts. They saw that ameliorations
and advantages, the justice of which was admitted as soon as it was
urged by common action, did not come to those who did not press for
them, and that such action on the part of isolated individuals was
triumphantly met by the retort that nobody else had asked for any
change, a sufficient proof that it was not necessary. With their gain
of political franchise and the removal by law of sex-disqualifications
women in this country have every incentive to put into practice
lessons of this kind. There is no reason, moreover, why they should
restrict their corporate action to their own sex. They work with men
domestically, forming combinations of immense strength: there is no
reason why they should not do so generally. In the middle classes this
truth is at last recognised, but in the working classes it is still
regarded with suspicion. The Trades Unions, whether they like it or
no, will have to admit women of like trades to full membership.

Another thing, as I have already remarked, which women have learnt
more fully during the war, is the healthiness of regular work for its
own sake, apart from its merely material rewards. Few that have had
this salutary experience will reconcile themselves to a return to an
existence of semi-idleness, nor will they bring up their daughters to
regard such an existence, even where it is economically possible, as a
natural one. The doctrine that no citizen has a right to live unless
he or she makes his contribution to the work of the community is no
longer a musty relic of simpler ages, but is forcing itself more and
more upon universal recognition as an undeniable principle. Some of its
most fervent devotees, it is true, would restrict the meaning of “work”
to manual labour, but this is a pure delusion which cannot last in any
fully organised and orderly community. It is almost impossible to set
the limits of utility, and men have often condemned as useless the very
activities which were to be the means of abundant progress to future
generations. Utility and selfishness, moreover, can easily go together,
so that the eradication of the latter can only be accomplished at
the price of restricting the former. The one certain negation of
utility is self-indulgence, which can only be allowed in small doses
when utility has earned its keep. Women have learnt the wider limits
of utility: they will no longer, in the more leisured classes, limit
their idea of it to domestic utility, and women of the future will be
no worse prepared for this important sphere of it if they are trained
to enter the world at the age of discretion able to render definite
service to the community in a form which it considers valuable.

To the weary worker in shop or factory, to the overworked servant
and the harassed mother of a family it may seem ridiculous, even
impertinent, to say these things. But they will recognise that, so far
as the words contained any reproach, it was not directed at them, and
that the diversion of any superfluous feminine energy into regular
channels of work is not a matter of trifling import. They themselves
will benefit by any such development, for better organisation of women
will improve the lot of women who already work at trades, and will win
more general recognition for the fact that the domestic labours of the
household, whether performed for wages or not, are really work and
not merely an occupation. Every woman with a dwelling and a family,
irrespective of any other possible employment, is one of the country’s
workers, and one of the best kind of workers, since her work is not
done for a material reward but to fulfil a duty and attain an ideal.
This has been said often enough, but it cannot be said too often.
In certain classes the standard of motherhood is low and so is the
standard of housewifery. Education alone will not raise these standards
to a worthy level: we want a higher conception of domestic work and of
its importance in the productiveness of our country, the aim of all
labour being production. It always appears strange to me that a man
who, if given the amount of individual responsibility in a business
which is entailed in the administration of a household, would consider
himself a fully-occupied worker, will often look upon his wife’s
activities—which keep him comfortable, his children healthy and his
servants contented—as mere incidents in an otherwise ornamental life.

Mr. J. Swinburne, a very gifted engineer, in a sensational paper
read not long ago before the Musical Association, poked a great deal
of good-humoured fun at the claims of women to equal consideration
with men. Though “Women in Music” was the title of his paper, he
surveyed generally the performances of women in every kind of activity
and came to an unfavourable conclusion. One of his criticisms was
that women’s minds are almost wholly receptive and hardly at all
productive. They were not, he urged, originators of ideas or systems,
neither leaders of thought, inventors or captains of industry. In
his view, the great impulses which really drive round the wheels of
civilisation have always been and always will be virile. So far as
the past is concerned, this is certainly true, but it is questionable
whether it is necessarily true of the future. The truth is that women
are some centuries behindhand in experience of public activity, and
this deficiency cannot quickly be made up. But the good Englishwoman
will hardly go forward into the future with any damaging assumptions
on her back: she will rather dump them by the roadside and press on,
acknowledging a somewhat light equipment for her journey, but trusting
to capacities in her knapsack to the possibilities of which she will
confess no limits.

Englishwomen are excellent employees: they are more docile than men
and less lazy by nature. Men are far more critical of their employers
and every man, no matter how well suited to him his employment may be,
faces his daily task with a certain spirit of rebellion. Having greater
activity of mind and body than a woman, he is always distracted by the
idea that he might be spending his time more profitably, or at least
more agreeably. On the other hand, men are more methodical, and less
at the mercy of their emotions when at work. Mary the housemaid runs
upstairs at such a pace that she is speechless by the time she reaches
the top, and Eliza the cook, if she has had a “few words” or her young
man has been faithless, will produce pastry that is uneatable. Men
do not run upstairs, and they leave their hearts outside the office
with their overcoats, transforming themselves with ease into part of
an impersonal machine from which they completely detach themselves at
night with the same nonchalance. Mr Swinburne asserts that women take
their work too seriously, as if that were a fault: the real fault is
that they are apt to brood over it in their leisure hours, thus robbing
the mind of its relaxation. Englishwomen might learn of Englishmen a
habit of greater attention to themselves as machines.

The Englishman sets great store on physical well-being, a trait which,
in exaggeration, is not particularly pleasing. But physical well-being
means efficiency, so that on the whole a certain selfishness in
insisting on sufficient food and rest for body and mind is valuable to
a worker. We men are wisely gross, but we might not like to see the
women as gross as we are, nor are we likely to do so, but we have
something to teach them in our respect for the body as an engine rather
than as an object of admiration, and in the readiness with which we
cast away preoccupation when our work is done. I have seen a general in
the field sitting in his dugout writing letters home while his force
was delivering an important attack. All his arrangements had been made,
all his orders framed with care: there was nothing to do at the moment
but to allow his subordinates to act and to await their reports. So,
like a wise man, he diverted his mind. Few women could have shown as
much self-control. Men, of course, are not proof against anxiety, but
they do manage to harden themselves against small worries. Women, on
the other hand, so often show no discrimination, and give them as much
mental and emotional wear and tear over a molehill as over a mountain.
To speak mechanically, women would do well to improve their oil-feeds.
As it is, their engines knock too readily and frequently seize on small
provocation.

And, speaking of oil, there is a precious oil called geniality which
I should like to see more freely poured out by Englishwomen whose
employment brings them into contact with the body of their fellow
creatures. They are much behind their Latin sisters in this respect.
A Frenchwoman serves a customer with an _empressement_ which is not
merely a professional affectation. She takes a personal interest in
the transaction, and would prefer to carry it through with smiles
and gaiety on both sides. She is warm in her opening and parting
salutations, ready to seize a suggestion with a pleased alacrity
and always on the look out for anything that she can do or say to
increase the satisfaction of her client or customer. This spontaneous
cheerfulness of address is only natural to the Irish among us, but
I am bound to say that many Englishwomen who wait or serve push its
opposite to an absurd extreme. We all know the awful chilly superiority
of the being who takes our orders at a counter or at a tea-shop. She
advances either with the air of Juno invoked by a presumptuous mortal
or approaches with an irritable scuttle as if she were far too busy
with other important affairs to pay much attention to our insignificant
wants. At times she will condescend to a kind of Olympian affability,
with mincing speech and an affected smirk, but never betray herself an
ordinary English girl, cheerful, unaffected, anxious to please, eager
to find a personal link of sympathy with all her customers: that would
be unladylike and wanting in commercial deportment. Men are much more
friendly. For kindly solicitude no Frenchman, Swiss, German or Italian
ever beat the old-fashioned English waiter, even if his gastronomical
imagination was more limited. Bartenders are comrades, but barmaids
are usually Gorgons. I crack a joke with my tailor, even when I owe
him money, but I have never seen anything so common pass between the
silk-gowned divinity of the dressmaking department and one of her
respectful but determined clients: a simper on one side and a sniff
on the other are the more usual small change which passes between the
feminine server and the feminine served. There seems to be no good
reason for this stiffness of Englishwomen. In ordinary social life
these same women are as good-humoured as the rest of their kind, and
we are not a crabbed race, however reserved we may be. It is, I think,
partly a convention which might well be allowed to die, and partly due
to the woman’s intense desire to live up to any position in which she
may be placed. Her self-consciousness overwhelms her natural humanity,
which is a pity, since geniality added to other feminine graces is
irresistible.

Women as employers or managers of others are not susceptible of
generalisation: they can be very good and very bad. In this respect
they have a less even level than men, whose administration, in
general, is more exposed to pressure of public opinion and who, in all
business relations, are less personal than women. A woman superior can
inspire greater personal affection and more bitter personal antipathy
in her subordinates, because she carries about with her wherever she
goes all her good and bad qualities, while a man, if he is often too
lazy to get the best out of his good ones, is equally slow to show the
worst of his bad ones: where he at best will create a strong link of
common endeavour among the whole of a personnel, a woman will forge
chains of most intimate affection, but where he inspires fear and that
dislike which is called “unpopularity,” she from sheer perversity
can surround herself with an atmosphere of rebellious hatred. There
is no doubt that the infinite capacity of Englishwomen at their best
for tact and sympathy gives them an immense advantage over men in any
kind of personal relation if they care to use it: a motherly employer
can do infinitely more for the welfare and happiness of employees
than the most fatherly, for men have a delicacy about intruding too
far into individual circumstances, whereas there is nothing into
which a sympathetic woman cannot inquire without embarrassment. Here,
certainly, there is much progress before the Englishwoman. Outside
the domestic sphere, she is still in her infancy as an employer, as
an administrator or as an industrial organiser. She has so far failed
to extend the happy touch with which she can conduct a household or
a small personal business to the large concern or to the company,
as though her grasp failed the moment she was out of immediate
contact with concrete personalities in the more hazy realm of units,
aggregations and impersonal figures. Where she calculates in days the
man calculates in years, and, though she may know with surprising
accuracy the idiosyncrasies and capabilities of a staff within the
immediate survey of her own eyes, she leaves it to the man to devise
the large schemes which will find useful employment for thousands.

Possibly this wider and more impersonal grasp will never come to
women: if so, we shall have to learn more accurately the reason why,
for the impossibility is now not obvious. With organisation and
combination becoming more and more the rule in every department of
human activity, it will be a great loss to the community if, through
women’s failure to extend their administrative capacity over wider
areas, the fostering care and sympathetic penetration peculiar to women
are confined to narrow circles. In that sense they have great need
to develop the productive mind and also the gift of leadership, which
is the art of attaching energies rather than affections. The proof
of clear aims and a keen vision, single-hearted devotion to a worthy
end, judicious selection of means to attain it, quick recognition
of capacity in others and confidence in it when recognised, care in
preparation, incisiveness in action, these are the qualities which draw
men after them in spite of personal incompatibilities, and harness a
multitude of scattered energies, at their highest efficiency, into a
single co-ordinated effort. Women, so far, have been wanting in these
qualities, and yet what could they not do if they had them? Joan of
Arc and Napoleon both led armies: one touched the hearts of men, the
other their pride. A woman who to the moral force of Joan could add
the executive genius of Napoleon might lead the world straight to the
millennium.

So extreme a combination of unusual qualities is improbable: but it is
by no means inconceivable that some Sylvia commended by all the swains
should develop the practical powers of a Whiteley or a Burbidge, a
phenomenon which might occur sooner than the emergence from among women
of a really commanding master-intellect. It may happen in time that a
woman starting from small beginnings may earn millions and leave them
to her sons as any Carnegie or Pierpont Morgan of to-day. The fact that
it now seems impossible is a proof of what women have yet to achieve
rather than of their natural limitations. I should not like to lay
odds against the success of women as great originators of commercial
enterprise, but I would modestly back my opinion that such pioneers
will as quickly arise within these islands as from any part of the
world outside them.



CHAPTER XI

THE ENGLISHWOMAN AT PLAY


No recent development has been more remarkable than that of athletics
among women, particularly among Englishwomen. We are apt to forget
how short a time it is since George du Maurier drew his beautiful
young ladies elegantly disporting themselves in flounced skirts on the
tennis lawn, wielding racquets with diminutive heads and as taut as
landing nets with which they gently lobbed back the ball to a swain in
side-whiskers and knickerbockers. Women, of course, have always played.
Nausicaa and her maidens innocently tossed a ball to and fro before the
wondering eyes of shipwrecked Ulysses: the battledore and shuttlecock
are nearly as old as cork and feathers. Pastimes, too, which involved
no physical exertion have always been favourites with women. But it
has been left, one might almost say, to our own generation to see
women playing games involving strength and agility of body in the same
sense in which men play them, as real trials of skill and endurance,
quickeners of the blood, purgers of the body, with seriousness and
absorption as ends in themselves. No longer do we tolerate the merely
ladylike player who is afraid to perspire or get blisters on her
hands; even at croquet she must be strenuous and attentive: pretty
incompetence may still attract a certain kind of man in the drawing
room, but it is shunned on the field and on the lawn.

In this development Englishwomen have, beyond all doubt, played the
leading part, and in England, the home of field sports, it is right
that this should be so. Women of other nations are now following their
lead, which is all the better for them. We need not regret overmuch
that a girl from France should bear away a tennis championship, since
there is no sign of decadence among our own women, and it is well for
English people to be taught that they cannot have things eternally all
their own way. English speaking women still lead the world in sport
and games, and it is likely that they will continue to do so. Athletic
prowess is in itself a sign of independence, a virtue in which the
English woman has by far the longest tradition. All the same, she has
made such strides in this tradition lately that there seems little
room for her to go any further, since there are inevitable limits
to her muscular development. She has finally banished the fetish of
being “ladylike,” at all events, while she is playing games. She takes
off her coat with a vengeance and lets her limbs have full play. I
shudder to think what Mrs Grundy of even fifty years ago would have
said to a photograph of a lady champion delivering a smashing volley,
with one leg kicked up in the air and her knee-high skirt flying in
the wind. And the admirable Miss Pinkerton—I cannot conceive her
horror on beholding two teams of schoolgirls, in jerseys, perfunctory
skirts, most obvious knickers and shin-guards, facing one another for
a hockey match. Hunting she might have allowed—did not Sophia Western
hunt? A little archery, perhaps, set off the figure to advantage;
straightforward skating—but no figures, please—promoted grace, and
possibly bowls might be permitted, though this would not be desirable.
But the idea of a woman waving a cricket bat or a golfclub, or actually
letting off a horrible gun at a pheasant, or being seen at a billiard
table, or tearing along the road astride a motor bicycle, would have
seemed to women of that day the height of indecency.

Nobody could wish to return to those old days, though the question
may arise, for girls as well as for boys, whether in this country we
do not pay too much attention to athletics. I do not believe that in
girls’ schools athletic efficiency assumes the abnormal importance
which it assumes in the public schools for boys. Women, for one thing,
do not particularly worship athletic skill in their own sex, and, for
another, they have other little vanities of their own to keep this
particular vanity in a reasonable place. Still, there is a type of
girl in England who thinks of nothing but games and recreations from
the time of getting up to the time of going to bed. We could do very
well indeed without her. You will see her in the morning setting out
soon after breakfast in a gaudy woollen jumper, a short tweed skirt
and the thickest brogues she can find, for her daily round of golf.
She always tries to find a man to play with, by the way, and imitates
with exaggeration every trick of the masculine game. After lunch it
is either another round of golf or a spin in the motor, if she can
drive herself. Then hey! for a colossal tea and immediate bridge with
innumerable cigarettes till dinner. After dinner it must be more
bridge, billiards or dancing. She talks of nothing but games or sport
and men, and she thinks of nothing else. If she hunts, she looks down
her nose at those who don’t; if she favours winter sports, she has a
poor notion of those who cannot rush off to Switzerland as Christmas
comes round. And whatever she does, she is not a true sportsman, being
far too keenly concerned in her own advantage. She will manœuvre for
the most accomplished partner, whether it be at tennis or bridge,
and, if he be a man, she will ignore all other deficiencies on his
part, so long as he will help her to win and will gain her the kudos
of appearing remarkably accomplished in the public eye. She knows
nothing of the comradeship of sport, and will unblushingly give her
partner at the morning’s golf the cold shoulder at the evening’s
dance if some backboneless elegant, with as little muscle as he has
character, happens to show her off with greater effect at the jazz or
the fox-trot. She has never been known to play for her side, to make
light of a partner’s mistakes or to take a beating cheerfully. Games,
in her creed, are meant for the display of herself, and she holds any
partner who fails to assist her in this aim as simply contemptible. In
general, her only ideal in life is to have a good time, which means
continuous excitement and always varying pleasure. She has never given
up an hour’s pleasure voluntarily to do a kindness: she has never done
a stroke of genuine work, and never reads any book but a titillating
novel. Her conversation, unless you happen to be interested in one
of her many kinds of “shop,” is the abyss of dulness, and she would
immediately vote anyone a dreadful bore who endeavoured to lead her
thoughts beyond a ball, a card, a dance or a kiss. The war, indeed,
made her better in spite of herself. Finding that she had to enjoy
herself less, she did turn her thoughts to helping her country. But,
whether she drove an ambulance or became a V.A.D., self was not very
far away. Having a good time still remained her ideal, and many
opportunities she found of having it in company with young officers.
The war over, her relapse into the old habits did not take long, and
she is now with us again in all her graceful insolence. Her only
salvation is to marry and have children, lots of them. This will give
her something to do at last, and she will learn, unwillingly, the
inevitable self-denials which parenthood entails even for the most
selfish.

This, unfortunately, is an essentially English type, but among English
women it is in a minority, though a too conspicuous one. The majority,
like their men, manage to combine games, as healthy recreations worthy
of serious endeavour, with useful work and more important aims in life.
On the whole they are far less self indulgent in this respect than
men, even the most hard-working of whom seem, as a rule, to find an
orgy of games or sport necessary on their holiday, cutting themselves
off from all but a minute section of their fellows as surely as if
they remained in their offices. Also, Englishwomen in general do not
become maniacs about their favourite form of sport, unless they hunt,
and all who hunt regard that sport as a solemn profession rather than
a recreation. Women do not care twopence about the achievements of
professional players of games over whose performances men waste so
much time and breath, nor do they learn Wisden’s Almanac by heart in
their youthful enthusiasm. In short, they take a more reasonable view
of games than English men, giving them no more than their proper place
in the whole scheme of values and rating athletic ability no higher
than it deserves. Personally, though I admit that this is little more
than prejudice, I do not think the more violent games are suitable for
women: and if a more than usually robust member of her sex should rise
and say: “Men play this and that, why should not we?” I can only answer
“Why not, indeed?” and point out in extenuation of my old-fashioned
ideas that feminine graces are not the same as masculine ones, and that
it is a pity to diminish them by rough usage. It is all very well for
women to play cricket among themselves or the mixed cricket of country
houses whereat the men use broomhandles left-handed, but they have not
the strength or the hardness of body to play the game properly, so why
should they trouble to learn it?

And for women’s football there is absolutely no justification. It is
only a game for young men who can face bodily injury with equanimity
and recover from it quickly. A woman kicks as feebly as she throws, and
she may be well content to put up with these limitations. Besides, what
can look more idiotic than the sight to which the illustrated papers
occasionally treat us, of twenty-two more or less knock-kneed young
females in shirts and shorts ambling about a football field? If they
only realised how hideous they looked they would run to the pavilion
and hide themselves at once. Football, however, is not common, but
hockey is. Well, hockey is a good game, healthy and not too physically
exacting, but no wise man ever plays mixed hockey. The truth is that a
woman’s self-control in games is not proof against more than a certain
degree of excitement. When that degree is passed, she will fling rules
and safety to the winds in her passion to win victory or avoid defeat.
In the clash of hockey sticks the intensity of excitement cannot be
limited: opponents with dangerous weapons in their hands come into
close physical contact, and the results may be appalling. In any case,
I doubt if hockey enhances any of the feminine graces. Let the girls
play it at their schools if they must, but do not let them ask us to
admire the hockey stoop, with sunk chests and rounded shoulders, which
many of them will acquire and which only a long course of carrying
waterpots on their heads could ever cure. If men who, from playing
games, get kinks in their brains are to be censured, so are women who
get kinks in their bodies.

Then there is another question. Should women delight to kill? We all
know, of course, that Diana was a huntress and that Atalanta helped
to kill the boar: but Diana was a very chilly young goddess who did
little to increase the cheerfulness of mortals, and Atalanta’s boar
was a public nuisance. Killing is such a small element in the joy of
fox-hunting that it would be absurd to look askance at the women who,
for the delight of riding across country and of managing a horse with
skill, adorn the hunting field and join with ardour in the chase.
Fishing, too, is catching rather than killing. But when it comes to
shooting, then killing for its own sake is the primary aim. This aim
is not a natural one for women. They are by nature the fosterers and
the originators of life, and it must surely appear to most of them a
perversion of all their natural instincts to take life violently and
gratuitously from any living creatures, simply for the pleasure of
doing so. Lady Nimrod, therefore, will go without praise from me, for
all her prowess in the covert or the trophies of her big game shoots.
I would rather she had many scalps of men than one skin of a tiger
tracked and slain by herself. There is so much saving of life still
to be done in the world, and women are so admirably constituted for
this end, that it is not unreasonable to prefer their developing this
side of their energies to their adding themselves to the forces of
destruction. Lady Nimrods, however, are few and likely to be fewer. As
civilisation spreads, hunting, which, after all, is an artificial relic
of an earlier state of society, is bound to disappear, with all its
advantages and its drawbacks. The world will become too small for it.

Nevertheless, even if the more violent contests and deliberate killing
are to be deprecated as recreations for women, there are plenty of
games and sports left which they can and do adorn—golf, tennis, squash
racquets, croquet, lacrosse, skating, skiing, tobogganing, badminton,
and the rest. At all of these they can, if they begin young enough,
hold their own with men. Few women keep sufficient suppleness to attain
a very high degree of graceful accomplishment in any game which they
take up in maturer years, as the painful and awkward swing of many lady
golfers bears witness, but nothing is more beautiful than the action of
an agile girl driving at golf or serving overhand at lawn tennis. It
would be an inestimable advantage to the nation if more of our girls
had the time and opportunity to cultivate athletics in their youth, for
we should then see less of those anæmic frequenters of cinemas among
our girl-workers. But the lesson is being learnt; physical exercises
are now practised in every school, and large employers of labour are
coming to recognise the wisdom of providing healthy recreation in the
open air for female as well as male employees: so that the time may
come perhaps when every Englishwoman will have an upright carriage and
when the shambling shuffle which too often appears in city streets has
given place to a free, easy gait.

In youth, certainly, nothing purges the humours like exercise in
recreation, and it is wonderful to think of the good sense and sanity
which the young ladies of Miss Austen’s day were able to maintain on
walking of a very gentle kind. Emma Woodhouse was a charming person,
but she must occasionally have felt the desire to hit something very
hard, though there is no record of her hitting anything but the _amour
propre_ of poor Miss Bates; and Jane Eyre would have toned her nerves
better for a few games of tennis. But, when the days of high spirits
and superfluous energy are over, women seem better able to settle
down than men, who are rather like children in their dependence on
amusement. Women, on the whole, may be thankful that they escape the
tyranny of habitual exercise in later years and can compose themselves
to a reasonable, healthy life without the need for continually
perspiring and violently exercising their muscles. Many a wife, I often
think, must look with indulgent wonder on her middle-aged husband
who, if he is to keep cheerful and contented, must pass at least half
the hours when he is not working in playing at something or other.
What she can attain with a mild walk, a little gardening, and a bout
of stitching he can only compass after propelling for hours a ball
about a field or up against a wall or across a table; or else he must
be watching somebody else do these things and becoming ludicrously
excited in large crowds at cup-ties and test matches, the importance
of which to humanity at large is, to say the least, problematical.
Yet, with exquisite forbearance she refrains from exercising her
humour at his expense, and even pretends to acknowledge the importance
of these things for him, though he would be the first to admit that
they had no importance for her. She will hardly complain, though well
she might, at the amount of his leisure which he spends on himself
alone, for men are unthinkingly extravagant in what they spend in time
and money on amusing and feeding themselves. No doubt she is wise in
making these accommodations, seeing how men are constituted, but it
would be only graceful on the men’s part to acknowledge that they are
in need of them. They might be sadly embarrassed if they had to cast
up a comparative account of their own and their wife’s expenditure on
amusement, and the best they could say for themselves would be that
men, as machines, were more expensive to maintain in good running order
than women.

However, we need not labour the little difference too hard. English
men and women, as a rule, are good sportsmen, the one to the other.
They can play together as well as they can work together, without
unnecessary ceremony or condescension; and if the man can play the
woman off her feet, she can dance him off his legs. Unlike most other
nations, English men and women, wherever they go, take their games
with them as part of the good fellowship which they spread in the
out-of-the-way corners of the world. In India, in Africa, in South
America, in ports of call and in remote islands, no British colony
settles long before its sporting club is started, where its members
may meet one another daily for friendly intercourse and friendly
emulation. It is the great bulwark against loneliness, the focus of
simple gaiety in the whole station, and, even if it fosters overmuch
our insular solidarity, it encourages healthiness and counteracts the
potent denaturalising force which other continents are apt to exercise
over the European. The picture of Saigon which Claude Farrère draws
in his novel “Les Civilisés” is not a pleasant one, nor one that
any Englishman could draw of an English colony. As a nation we keep
as hard and as healthy abroad as we keep at home, and for this our
English amusements are partly to be thanked. The result might possibly
be attained with less expense of time and energy, but at least it is
attained. Our respect for a good playmate is, perhaps exaggerated, but
it is genuine, and the conception of a good playmate, if it does not
exhaust the virtues, is not a mean one. Above all, our men and women
apply this conception to one another, as a strong attachment between
the sexes added to that of nature. Long therefore, may English men and
women play together, since thereby they will know one another, respect
one another and help one another more thoroughly.



CHAPTER XII

THE ENGLISHWOMAN IN PARLIAMENT


On December 1st, 1919, in London deep darkness covered the land. A
dull morning gave place to a mid-day of Stygian gloom, and the members
of the House of Commons, as they ate their lunch, looked out on to an
inky stream reflecting an inky sky. Had the citizens of London been
intellectually as benighted as they were atmospherically, they might
have run to bow themselves in frenzy before the images of Gog and
Magog, beseeching them, amid the smoke of sacrifice, to turn away their
wrath. And had some wily and reactionary priest of these divinities
arisen to harangue the people, saying: "Brethren, wherefore do you beat
your breasts and offer sacrifices rather than seek out the cause of
your offence? The gods indeed are wroth, seeing that ye set at nought
the divine laws. Even now at Westminster the unlawful thing is being
done: the distinction which they in their wisdom have set between man
and woman is being impiously flouted. For this the gods frown, for
this the sun’s light is put out, giving promise of greater evils to
come"—if he had said such words as these, a crowd of primitive citizens
might have rushed from the city to Westminster and prevented, had they
been strong enough, the reception of a woman into the assembly of the
people.

As it was, no such thing happened. The atmospheric gloom was accepted
philosophically as evidence of a deep depression, not on the part
of the gods, but of the barometer in the Atlantic, a peaceful crowd
gathered in Whitehall to witness what the evening papers would describe
as “the scenes” at Westminster, and the Members of the House of
Commons finished their lunches and asked their questions undisturbed.
Even though the attendance in the House was large, to an unprejudiced
observer in the gallery what occurred seemed, as I have been told,
quite ordinary. It was almost impossible, at the moment when Mr Lloyd
George and Mr Balfour—after a false start—walked to the table with
Lady Astor in their midst, to focus the mind upon the revolution in
thought and feeling which this event, divided by so few years from that
distressing siege of St Stephen’s by wild and dishevelled women, really
represented. The first lady member took her seat, and it appeared the
most natural thing in the world, particularly as she had so cleverly
devised her parliamentary costume as to blend completely with the
hundreds of dark coats and white collars that surrounded her. Had she
arrived in a “confection,” the contrast, the new element, would have
been immeasurably accentuated.

The contrast, the new element, was there, however, though not where
people were looking for it. It was faint, almost imperceptible,
fleeting as a thought: yet, to the mind of my philosophic informant,
it stood for more than the previous old-fashioned ceremony. After
her formal introduction, the new member passed round the division
lobby to the door of the House opposite the Speaker. My parliamentary
philosopher, coming down at this moment from the gallery, was met,
all suddenly, by the new thing for which he had vainly looked five
minutes earlier. The new element, or rather its symbol, was there in
that lobby, but so attenuated that at first it eluded description;
but the philosopher’s nose followed its clue as surely as the First
Secretary’s in the last act of “Diplomacy.” It was the faintest breath
of a perfume, just the thinnest ghost of a delicate scent, but a scent
quite beyond the inspiration of a masculine barber. Thus the air of the
division lobby, which, sucked as it is from the river, had borne many
strange odours wafted from passing barges, knew an element to which,
of all the lobbies, this innermost one had ever been a stranger. This
was the symbol which truly represented the revolution, though on its
actual physical essence he laid no stress: it may have been a sheer
illusion. The ceremony of “taking her seat” was only an old formula
applied without alteration to a new phenomenon: this elusive breath was
the symbol of a new thing applied to an old institution.

From this symbol I take my point of departure in this chapter. The
newspapers spent at the time much space and ingenuity in commenting
on chance incongruities which might arise if the old rules of
parliamentary procedure were applied rigidly to a woman member: this
was amusing matter enough for gossip, but of no importance. The
only question of interest is in what really consists the novelty at
Westminster and in all the political life of our country which has been
begun by the presence of a woman on the green benches. It is not, in
the narrow sense, a political novelty, but something far wider which
affects, or may affect, all English men and women.

There are women who seem now as anxious to obscure the fact of the
novelty as they were to bring it to pass. If I might believe a lady
novelist with whom I discussed the matter not long ago, the thing
to rejoice over is that Lady Astor was adopted and elected as an
ordinary party candidate, not primarily as a woman, as a nominee
of some women’s party or as champion of some women’s programme. On
this view, as I understand it, the winning of full political rights
for women, having removed the greatest and most unfair of all the
differentiations between the two sexes, leaves them now blended into
one both as electors and potential candidates, as if this were a
possible, natural or desirable consummation. It is, of course, a quite
intelligible point of view, when the mass of stupidity against which
it is a protest is considered. Women have suffered so much from the
fact of their sex—though they have been inclined to underestimate its
privileges and its powers even in the unregenerate days—that they
may be excused if the last thing that they wish is to insist on it
in the field of politics. Nobody can blame Englishwomen for wishing
to come into the arena, as far as possible, unprejudiced, and to be
regarded just as citizens, and not, in any sense, as freaks. Obviously,
too, it would be impolitic on their part, at the first moment of the
innovation, before they have found themselves or gained experience in
the new sphere of action, to lay any stress on any kind of antagonism
which might exist between them and the sex which has hitherto been
in exclusive possession of that sphere. They would rather slip in
unobtrusively in their dark coats and skirts and white collars, as not
too conspicuous political animals, evading reporters and writers of
paragraphs, making no parade of their special feminine experience, but
trusting to opportunity to use it; making, also, no special appeal that
a man could not equally make, until the novelty has so worn off that
their candidature and their election shall become too common to provoke
comment.

Let them do so by all means, but that elusive symbol in the division
lobby cannot be ignored. Their idea, so long as it is protective of
their best interests is legitimate: it will be impossible for them
to take their proper share in politics so long as they are regarded
as freaks, and, whether or no a time will ever come when a women’s
party must of necessity arise, it would be foolish now to forestall
necessity. A party crystallises common ideals, which, at this moment,
the women of England have not got either by tradition or conviction.
Yet the fact remains that women are women, and not men. Is it right,
is it even possible, that this should be ignored or disregarded in
politics, when it is patent,—usefully, inexorably, so—in all other
social activities? With all respect to ladies who take another view,
I submit that it is neither possible nor desirable: perhaps I may
persuade them that my view, where it is not supported by plain facts,
is not a fruit of masculine prejudice and does not aim at nullifying
the good of their well-earned enfranchisement, but is really a greater
tribute to the value of their appearance in politics than they seem
ready to pay themselves.

In all probability, men being more active, more politically ambitious
and more in a position by their public activities to gain suffrages
than women, the proportion of women to men among members of Parliament
will always be small. For this very reason it seems important that
this small proportion should get the best out of itself, which it will
not do by disregarding its sex. Perhaps it is not the sex so much that
matters as the special experience and outlook which are incidental
to it. The woman’s point of view may not always be the most just or
the most comprehensive, but it will always be valuable when clearly
stated. A woman, even from her earliest years, learns to penetrate into
recesses of life which defy the penetration of the less supple man: she
sees into other minds from a different angle and, where the minds are
women’s, from a much more advantageous one. In the ordinary course
of life in England the woman’s path begins to diverge from the man’s
immediately the confines of babyhood are passed, and, though women will
be right to annex for themselves anything that is valuable in masculine
upbringing and to press for complete equality of opportunity with men,
it is hardly possible that the two paths will ever coincide. It is
scarcely conceivable that the mind of a woman should ever take on so
completely masculine a form that she will not, by feminine contacts
and sympathies, have gathered some experiences beyond the reach of
a man. I cannot see why political should differ from social life in
this respect. Each of a normal married couple brings some special
contribution to the common household: every sensible man leaves some
things to his wife as she leaves others to him: and though members of
Parliament cannot so absolutely divide the range of their activities,
there is no reason why any special qualifications should be left in the
cloakroom because they were not specifically included in the issue of
a particular election. We want the woman’s point of view in politics,
for men will be saved from many grave mistakes by the knowledge of it.
That it should always be paramount is not to be expected, but, seeing
the English talent for compromise, its recognition would not fail
to affect the consideration of any question which brought it forth.
The whole of our social life is now undergoing a profound process of
modification: it is not easy to realise the depth of this process as it
goes on its slow, uneven course from day to day. Now, if ever, there
is a great part for women to play as women, not only as members of a
political party: women should be watching, advising, and taking an
interest, so that the result of the process may be as successful as the
best wills and minds of this country can make it.

Therefore, women as electors should be as little deterred from
expressing their own point of view as women members. They need not
found a women’s party to do this. They have only to take advantage of
their voting power and to make it a real force in every constituency.
They will not do this in a moment, for the Englishwoman is more
apathetic politically even than the man, and her opinion less educated.
She will have to learn to scrutinise public questions as carefully as
she does domestic ones and to make her conclusions heard as clearly
out of the home as in it. The addition of so many million women to the
parliamentary register should be something more than the addition of
so many million electors. It is not an unmixed blessing, for women
have their special faults as well as men, but these faults can be
compensated for if the valuable qualities of women are also put into
the scale. If Englishwomen are to have political power, it is well that
they should learn how to use it, and if women members are a valuable
leaven at Westminster, the quantity of that leaven depends largely upon
the women electors. We need not be too afraid, I think, that political
activity of this kind would bring about a regrettable conflict between
the sexes. One might as well be asked to believe that husband and
wife inevitably come into regrettable conflict over the colour of the
drawing room carpet or the best place for the summer holiday. Here,
though there may be a difference of opinion, discussion usually throws
up a satisfactory solution which does justice to two different, but
not in the least antagonistic, interests. In the larger political life
of the nation the same happy solution may be as confidently expected,
even if, in rare cases, the argument reaches the emotional acuteness
of a domestic “scene.” In normal households “scenes,” if they occur,
clear the air; a few tears and a few hard words are better than the
silence of apathy: there seems no reason why the analogy should not
hold collectively. Hope for the best in this matter is all the more
justified in that Englishwomen are by nature peculiarly loyal to
their men: they are far more apt to refrain out of motherliness from
opposing them than to thwart them out of perversity, and more ready to
propitiate their Bills and Toms when they come home tired from work
than to expect a similar attention on their part. If the privilege of
the franchise was conferred on women as a recognition, the privilege
implies duties also, especially the duty of rendering the privilege
valuable to the State. The degree to which Englishwomen, as political
beings, cultivate a tactful independence will be the measure of the
value which they are extracting from the privilege. Besides, women
in public life will protect themselves far more successfully against
the gapes of idle curiosity by developing a large bulk of political
capacity than by trying to merge themselves inconspicuously, but
ignominiously, with the men.

In any case, whether they are convinced or not, they will not succeed
in what lawyers might call the “merger” of the two sexes. My symbol
of the division lobby here tickles the brain conclusively: it may
stand, to the philosopher, for all the emotional current which runs as
inevitably between the two sexes as electricity between the two poles
of a magnet. The granting of full political rights to women has truly
introduced a new element into politics which even the most heartfelt
wish cannot possibly conjure away. This element is the appeal of woman
to man and man to woman which in every degree, from starkest crudity
to most refined subtlety, is present in all human relations of the two
sexes. That force of attraction, on which Henry Adams so brilliantly
and whimsically reflected, is part of that persistent “nature” which
the most assiduous application of the pitchfork will never drive out.
A constituency is but a collection of human beings who bring to all
their preoccupations, politics included, the mental and moral habits
which they have acquired, and members of Parliament, as an observer
at Westminster has infinite opportunity of noticing, are human beings
with all the holes in their logical armour and all the susceptibility
to moral influence and emotional suggestion which is a quality of the
species however civilised. Until they argue by mathematical symbols,
pure thinking in their debates will always be diluted by other
influences. If the influence of women be added, this cannot fail to
have its effect. Why should anyone expect it to be otherwise? Politics
cannot be separated artificially from the rest of life even by the
most sedulous endeavour. Political and social elements in existence
are inextricably mingled. Queen Elizabeth was an effective ruler, but
she showed herself a woman too; the great Empress Catherine and Maria
Theresa did not act politically by the dry light of reason alone; and
who can deny the influence of the current which runs between man and
woman in the political dealings of Queen Victoria, especially with
Lords Melbourne and Beaconsfield? If these great women could not avoid
the influence, it is hardly to be expected that women politicians and
the men with whom they deal politically will avoid it more successfully.

The inevitable introduction, or accentuation in a sphere where it
had hitherto been less marked, of this new element was the one
consideration on which a fair-minded man might have seriously pondered
before making up his mind on the question of votes for women. No
professions or good intentions on women’s part could conjure it away,
and it was to be admitted that it would make for evil as well as
for good. The mutual influence of the sexes may produce the highest
devotion and the loftiest endeavour. Men and women will do for one
another, both individually and in the mass, greater and finer things
than they will do for their own sex alone: they can appeal to each
other’s highest feelings. On the other hand, they can appeal to the
lowest feelings, and the flow of the current, either by attraction
or repulsion, can easily work in such a way as to cause distraction
rather than concentration, irrelevancy rather than logical conclusion.
It might well have seemed, on dispassionate reflection, that there was
already irrelevancy enough in the political life of England. Appeals to
prejudice or mere personalities were common enough without increasing
the strength and range of their appeal. With every recognition of the
logic of the women’s claim, there remained the fear that the woman’s
tendency to take an intensely personal view of questions, her ready
affection by emotional side-issues, the sway which personal antipathies
and repulsions exercise, almost unconsciously, over her mind, and the
quite notorious unscrupulousness with which she will use every possible
feminine appeal to gain over a man against his better judgment, might
be as unfortunate as the influence of her higher qualities would be
valuable. The march of events and of political thought triumphantly
overbore objections of this kind: they could not possibly stem the tide
of great historic necessity. But this tide has not swept facts away:
what was true in such objections remains true still, nor will retorts
on the nature of corresponding masculine failings destroy them. Men,
let it be admitted, are as frail in their way as women, and then let
it be recognised that the influence against which they are most frail
has burst into a region where they were comparatively exempt from it.
There is no disrespect, I feel sure, in reminding Englishwomen, who
are not at all averse from criticising other members of their sex, of
these things. Those of them who recognise the dangers will have the
opportunity of guarding against them by educating the ignorant. It will
be for them, the political leaders of the women, to see that women’s
influence is used to clarify, not to obscure, judgment, to deprecate
the undue intrusion of personal emotions, and to broaden the range of
the woman’s political views beyond her own immediate environment. The
power which they hold in their hands is enormous: they have not yet
learned to use it fully, but they cannot divest themselves of it. The
political future of England depends largely on the manner in which they
handle it.

There is now a lady members’ room in the Palace of Westminster, which
at present has only one occupant. When it has many—and the time may not
be long distant—will it not be a dynamo for the storage of the feminine
current? Its very existence cuts for the first time across the purely
political differences of members within the precincts of the House,
typifying a distinction never before drawn between one member and
another—that of sex. Its effects may not be immediate and resounding,
but there are dormant possibilities there which it would be absurd to
overlook, possibilities of a new energy let loose, of drama, even of
romance. The collective consciousness of the House or of a committee is
extremely susceptible to emotional appeal: it is easily exasperated,
readily smoothed by tact, quickly moved to laughter. It would hardly
be impervious to an appeal, even tacit, to its chivalry. If a man with
a fine appearance and a good voice immediately prepossesses such an
audience in his favour, may we not imagine the case of a beautiful
woman with a melodious voice rising, let us say, from the Treasury or
the front Opposition bench to plead a cause with passion? A crowded
House is an effective background for a speaker from such a position: a
woman, with her sex’s unerring eye for effective pose, would make full
use of it. Would she not project from her whole personality a force
infinitely exceeding that of her mere words and arguments, a force of
which no man would be capable, given a similar audience? There might be
a radiance, a pathos—suppose she ventured a telling sob—an enthusiasm
which, though absent from the pages of the morrow’s Hansard, might
tell strongly enough upon the night’s division. At ordinary times,
it is true, party prepossessions and party whips, as well as logical
convictions, are sufficient safeguards against the effect of irrelevant
appeal: but, when the point is critical, opinions evenly divided,
feeling high, or a government shaking, the smallest thing may turn the
scale. The appeal of a woman to men, used consciously or unconsciously,
at such a time would not be a small thing. It might be so momentary
as to vanish from the ken of history, but it might be decisive. The
requisite combination of circumstances may be long in making its
appearance, but no one can deny its possibility. The oratorical power
of a Fox, a Pitt and a Burke are remembered even now, when their
personalities have vanished and the effect of their very words is no
longer overpowering. If their emotional mastery over a gathering of men
was so great as to outlive their bodies for over a century, surely the
history of future centuries may have to tell of women whose mastery
was transcendent, of some female Pitt, who led a Parliament, or some
new Joan of Arc, who led a nation. Englishwomen and Englishmen may
well ponder all that the future may bring out of that lady members’
room with its now solitary occupant. For good and for ill there is a
new force at Westminster which, like all new forces, looks innocent
enough at the experimental stage, but may yet contain the energy to
revolutionise a world.





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