The Angel and the Author - and others
Jerome K. Jerome
Part 3 out of 3
In May "a wealthy magnate is going to die." In June there is going
to be a fire. In July "Old Moore has reason to fear there will be
I do hope he may be wrong, and yet somehow I feel a conviction that
he won't be. Anyhow, one is glad it has been put off till July.
In August "one in high authority will be in danger of demise." In
September "zeal" on the part of persons mentioned "will outstrip
discretion." In October Old Moore is afraid again. He cannot avoid
a haunting suspicion that "Certain people will be victimized by
extensive fraudulent proceedings."
In November "the public Press will have its columns full of important
news." The weather will be "adverse," and "a death will occur in
high circles." This makes the second in one year. I am glad I do
not belong to the higher circles.
[How does he do it?]
In December Old Moore again foresees trouble, just when I was hoping
it was all over. "Frauds will come to light, and death will find its
And all this information is given to us for a penny.
The palmist examines our hand. "You will go a journey," he tells us.
It is marvellous! How could he have known that only the night before
we had been discussing the advisability of taking the children to
Margate for the holidays?
"There is trouble in store for you," he tells us, regretfully, "but
you will get over it." We feel that the future has no secret hidden
We have "presentiments" that people we love, who are climbing
mountains, who are fond of ballooning, are in danger.
The sister of a friend of mine who went out to the South African War
as a volunteer had three presentiments of his death. He came home
safe and sound, but admitted that on three distinct occasions he had
been in imminent danger. It seemed to the dear lady a proof of
everything she had ever read.
Another friend of mine was waked in the middle of the night by his
wife, who insisted that he should dress himself and walk three miles
across a moor because she had had a dream that something terrible was
happening to a bosom friend of hers. The bosom friend and her
husband were rather indignant at being waked at two o'clock in the
morning, but their indignation was mild compared with that of the
dreamer on learning that nothing was the matter. From that day
forward a coldness sprang up between the two families.
I would give much to believe in ghosts. The interest of life would
be multiplied by its own square power could we communicate with the
myriad dead watching us from their mountain summits. Mr. Zangwill,
in a poem that should live, draws for us a pathetic picture of blind
children playing in a garden, laughing, romping. All their lives
they have lived in darkness; they are content. But, the wonder of
it, could their eyes by some miracle be opened!
[Blind Children playing in a World of Darkness.]
May not we be but blind children, suggests the poet, living in a
world of darkness--laughing, weeping, loving, dying--knowing nothing
of the wonder round us?
The ghosts about us, with their god-like faces, it might be good to
look at them.
But these poor, pale-faced spooks, these dull-witted, table-thumping
spirits: it would be sad to think that of such was the kingdom of
[Parents and their Teachers.]
My heart has been much torn of late, reading of the wrongs of
Children. It has lately been discovered that Children are being
hampered and harassed in their career by certain brutal and ignorant
persons called, for want of a better name, parents. The parent is a
selfish wretch who, out of pure devilment, and without consulting the
Child itself upon the subject, lures innocent Children into the
world, apparently for the purpose merely of annoying them. The
parent does not understand the Child when he has got it; he does not
understand anything, not much. The only person who understands the
Child is the young gentleman fresh from College and the elderly
maiden lady, who, between them, produce most of the literature that
explains to us the Child.
The parent does not even know how to dress the Child. The parent
will persist in dressing the Child in a long and trailing garment
that prevents the Child from kicking. The young gentleman fresh from
College grows almost poetical in his contempt. It appears that the
one thing essential for the health of a young child is that it should
have perfect freedom to kick. Later on the parent dresses the Child
in short clothes, and leaves bits of its leg bare. The elderly
maiden Understander of Children, quoting medical opinion, denounces
us as criminals for leaving any portion of that precious leg
uncovered. It appears that the partially uncovered leg of childhood
is responsible for most of the disease that flesh is heir to.
Then we put it into boots. We "crush its delicately fashioned feet
into hideous leather instruments of torture." That is the sort of
phrase that is hurled at us! The picture conjured up is that of some
fiend in human shape, calling itself a father, seizing some helpless
cherub by the hair, and, while drowning its pathetic wails for mercy
beneath roars of demon laughter, proceeding to bind about its tender
bones some ancient curiosity dug from the dungeons of the
If the young gentleman fresh from College or the maiden lady
Understander could be, if only for a month or two, a father! If only
he or she could guess how gladly the father of limited income would
"My dear, you are wrong in saying that the children must have boots.
That is an exploded theory. The children must not have boots. I
refuse to be a party to crushing their delicately fashioned feet into
hideous leather instruments of torture. The young gentleman fresh
from College and the elderly maiden Understander have decided that
the children must not have boots. Do not let me hear again that out-
If there were only one young gentleman fresh from College, one maiden
lady Understander teaching us our duty, life would be simpler. But
there are so many young gentlemen from College, so many maiden lady
Understanders, on the job--if I may be permitted a vulgarism; and as
yet they are not all agreed. It is distracting for the parent
anxious to do right. We put the little dears into sandals, and then
at once other young gentlemen from College, other maiden lady
Understanders, point to us as would-be murderers. Long clothes are
fatal, short clothes are deadly, boots are instruments of torture, to
allow children to go about with bare feet shows that we regard them
as Incumbrances, and, with low cunning, are seeking to be rid of
[Their first attempt.]
I knew a pair of parents. I am convinced, in spite of all that can
be said to the contrary, they were fond of their Child; it was their
first. They were anxious to do the right thing. They read with
avidity all books and articles written on the subject of Children.
They read that a Child should always sleep lying on its back, and
took it in turns to sit awake o' nights to make sure that the Child
was always right side up.
But another magazine told them that Children allowed to sleep lying
on their backs grew up to be idiots. They were sad they had not read
of this before, and started the Child on its right side. The Child,
on the contrary, appeared to have a predilection for the left, the
result being that neither the parents nor the baby itself for the
next three weeks got any sleep worth speaking of.
Later on, by good fortune, they came across a treatise that said a
Child should always be allowed to choose its own position while
sleeping, and their friends persuaded them to stop at that--told them
they would never strike a better article if they searched the whole
British Museum Library. It troubled them to find that Child
sometimes sleeping curled up with its toe in its mouth, and sometimes
flat on its stomach with its head underneath the pillow. But its
health and temper were decidedly improved.
[The Parent can do no right.]
There is nothing the parent can do right. You would think that now
and then he might, if only by mere accident, blunder into sense.
But, no, there seems to be a law against it. He brings home woolly
rabbits and indiarubber elephants, and expects the Child to be
contented "forsooth" with suchlike aids to its education. As a
matter of fact, the Child is content: it bangs its own head with the
woolly rabbit and does itself no harm; it tries to swallow the
indiarubber elephant; it does not succeed, but continues to hope.
With that woolly rabbit and that indiarubber elephant it would be as
happy as the day is long if only the young gentleman from Cambridge
would leave it alone, and not put new ideas into its head. But the
gentleman from Cambridge and the maiden lady Understander are
convinced that the future of the race depends upon leaving the Child
untrammelled to select its own amusements. A friend of mine, during
his wife's absence once on a visit to her mother, tried the
The Child selected a frying-pan. How it got the frying-pan remains
to this day a mystery. The cook said "frying-pans don't walk
upstairs." The nurse said she should be sorry to call anyone a liar,
but that there was commonsense in everything. The scullery-maid said
that if everybody did their own work other people would not be driven
beyond the limits of human endurance; and the housekeeper said that
she was sick and tired of life. My friend said it did not matter.
The Child clung to the frying-pan with passion. The book my friend
was reading said that was how the human mind was formed: the Child's
instinct prompted it to seize upon objects tending to develop its
brain faculty. What the parent had got to do was to stand aside and
The Child proceeded to black everything about the nursery with the
bottom of the frying-pan. It then set to work to lick the frying-pan
clean. The nurse, a woman of narrow ideas, had a presentiment that
later on it would be ill. My friend explained to her the error the
world had hitherto committed: it had imagined that the parent knew a
thing or two that the Child didn't. In future the Children were to
do their bringing up themselves. In the house of the future the
parents would be allotted the attics where they would be out of the
way. They might occasionally be allowed down to dinner, say, on
The Child, having exhausted all the nourishment the frying-pan
contained, sought to develop its brain faculty by thumping itself
over the head with the flat of the thing. With the selfishness of
the average parent--thinking chiefly of what the Coroner might say,
and indifferent to the future of humanity, my friend insisted upon
changing the game.
[His foolish talk.]
The parent does not even know how to talk to his own Child. The
Child is yearning to acquire a correct and dignified mode of
expression. The parent says: "Did ums. Did naughty table hurt
ickle tootsie pootsies? Baby say: ''Oo naughty table. Me no love
The Child despairs of ever learning English. What should we think
ourselves were we to join a French class, and were the Instructor to
commence talking to us French of this description? What the Child,
according to the gentleman from Cambridge, says to itself is,
"Oh for one hour's intelligent conversation with a human being who
can talk the language."
Will not the young gentleman from Cambridge descend to detail? Will
he not give us a specimen dialogue?
A celebrated lady writer, who has made herself the mouthpiece of
feminine indignation against male stupidity, took up the cudgels a
little while ago on behalf of Mrs. Caudle. She admitted Mrs. Caudle
appeared to be a somewhat foolish lady. "BUT WHAT HAD CAUDLE EVER
DONE TO IMPROVE MRS. CAUDLE'S MIND?" Had he ever sought, with
intelligent illuminating conversation, to direct her thoughts towards
other topics than lent umbrellas and red-headed minxes?
It is my complaint against so many of our teachers. They scold us
for what we do, but so rarely tell us what we ought to do. Tell me
how to talk to my baby, and I am willing to try. It is not as if I
took a personal pride in the phrase: "Did ums." I did not even
invent it. I found it, so to speak, when I got here, and my
experience is that it soothes the Child. When he is howling, and I
say "Did ums" with sympathetic intonation, he stops crying. Possibly
enough it is astonishment at the ineptitude of the remark that
silences him. Maybe it is that minor troubles are lost sight of face
to face with the reflection that this is the sort of father with
which fate has provided him. But may not even this be useful to him?
He has got to meet with stupid people in the world. Let him begin by
contemplating me. It will make things easier for him later on. I
put forward the idea in the hope of comforting the young gentleman
We injure the health of the Child by enforcing on it silence. We
have a stupid formula that children should be seen and not heard. We
deny it exercise to its lungs. We discourage its natural and
laudable curiosity by telling it not to worry us--not to ask so many
Won't somebody lend the young gentleman from Cambridge a small and
healthy child just for a week or so, and let the bargain be that he
lives with it all the time? The young gentleman from Cambridge
thinks, when we call up the stairs to say that if we hear another
sound from the nursery during the next two hours we will come up and
do things to that Child the mere thought of which should appal it,
that is silencing the Child. It does not occur to him that two
minutes later that Child is yelling again at the top of its voice,
having forgotten all we ever said.
[The Child of Fiction.]
I know the sort of Child the weeper over Children's wrongs has in his
mind. It has deep, soulful, yearning eyes. It moves about the house
softly, shedding an atmosphere of patient resignation. It says:
"Yes, dear papa." "No, dear mamma." It has but one ambition--to be
good and useful. It has beautiful thoughts about the stars. You
don't know whether it is in the house or isn't: you find it with its
little face pressed close against the window-pane watching the golden
sunset. Nobody understands it. It blesses the old people and dies.
One of these days the young gentleman from Cambridge will, one hopes,
have a Baby of his own--a real Child: and serve him darn-well right.
At present he is labouring under a wrong conception of the article.
He says we over-educate it. We clog its wonderful brain with a mass
of uninteresting facts and foolish formulas that we call knowledge.
He does not know that all this time the Child is alive and kicking.
He is under the delusion that the Child is taking all this lying
down. We tell the Child it has got to be quiet, or else we will
wring its neck. The gentleman from Cambridge pictures the Child as
from that moment a silent spirit moving voiceless towards the grave.
We catch the Child in the morning, and clean it up, and put a little
satchel on its back, and pack it off to school; and the maiden lady
Understander pictures that Child wasting the all too brief period of
youth crowding itself up with knowledge.
My dear Madam, you take it from me that your tears are being wasted.
You wipe your eyes and cheer up. The dear Child is not going to be
overworked: HE is seeing to that.
As a matter of the fact, the Child of the present day is having, if
anything, too good a time. I shall be considered a brute for saying
this, but I am thinking of its future, and my opinion is that we are
giving it swelled head. The argument just now in the air is that the
parent exists merely for the Children. The parent doesn't count. It
is as if a gardener were to say,
"Bother the flowers, let them rot. The sooner they are out of the
way the better. The seed is the only thing that interests me."
You can't produce respectable seed but from carefully cultivated
flowers. The philosopher, clamouring for improved Children, will
later grasp the fact that the parent is of importance. Then he will
change his tactics, and address the Children, and we shall have our
time. He will impress on them how necessary it is for their own
sakes that they should be careful of us. We shall have books written
about misunderstood fathers who were worried into early graves.
[The misunderstood Father.]
Fresh Air Funds will be started for sending parents away to the
seaside on visits to kind bachelors living in detached houses, miles
away from Children. Books will be specially written for us picturing
a world where school fees are never demanded and babies never howl o'
nights. Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Parents will
arise. Little girls who get their hair entangled and mislay all
their clothes just before they are starting for the party--little
boys who kick holes in their best shoes will be spanked at the public
[Marriage and the Joke of it.]
Marriages are made in heaven--"but solely," it has been added by a
cynical writer, "for export." There is nothing more remarkable in
human sociology than our attitude towards the institution of
marriage. So it came home to me the other evening as I sat on a cane
chair in the ill-lighted schoolroom of a small country town. The
occasion was a Penny Reading. We had listened to the usual overture
from Zampa, played by the lady professor and the eldest daughter of
the brewer; to "Phil Blood's Leap," recited by the curate; to the
violin solo by the pretty widow about whom gossip is whispered--one
hopes it is not true. Then a pale-faced gentleman, with a drooping
black moustache, walked on to the platform. It was the local tenor.
He sang to us a song of love. Misunderstandings had arisen; bitter
words, regretted as soon as uttered, had pierced the all too
sensitive spirit. Parting had followed. The broken-hearted one had
died believing his affection unrequited. But the angels had since
told him; he knew she loved him now--the accent on the now.
I glanced around me. We were the usual crowd of mixed humanity--
tinkers, tailors, soldiers, sailors, with our cousins, and our
sisters, and our wives. So many of our eyes were wet with tears.
Miss Butcher could hardly repress her sobs. Young Mr. Tinker, his
face hidden behind his programme, pretended to be blowing his nose.
Mrs. Apothecary's large bosom heaved with heartfelt sighs. The
retired Colonel sniffed audibly. Sadness rested on our souls. It
might have been so different but for those foolish, hasty words!
There need have been no funeral. Instead, the church might have been
decked with bridal flowers. How sweet she would have looked beneath
her orange wreath! How proudly, gladly, he might have responded "I
will," take her for his wedded wife, to have and to hold from this
day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness
and in health, to love and to cherish, till death did them part. And
thereto he might have plighted his troth.
In the silence which reigned after the applause had subsided the
beautiful words of the Marriage Service seemed to be stealing through
the room: that they might ever remain in perfect love and peace
together. Thy wife shall be as the fruitful vine. Thy children like
the olive branches round about thy table. Lo! thus shall a man be
blessed. So shall men love their wives as their own bodies, and be
not bitter against them, giving honour unto them as unto the weaker
vessel. Let the wife see that she reverence her husband, wearing the
ornament of a meek and quiet spirit.
[Love and the Satyr.]
All the stories sung by the sweet singers of all time were echoing in
our ears--stories of true love that would not run smoothly until the
last chapter; of gallant lovers strong and brave against fate; of
tender sweethearts, waiting, trusting, till love's golden crown was
won; so they married and lived happy ever after.
Then stepped briskly on the platform a stout, bald-headed man. We
greeted him with enthusiasm--it was the local low comedian. The
piano tinkled saucily. The self-confident man winked and opened wide
his mouth. It was a funny song; how we roared with laughter! The
last line of each verse was the same:
"And that's what it's like when you're married."
"Before it was 'duckie,' and 'darling,' and 'dear.' Now it's 'Take
your cold feet away, Brute! can't you hear?'
"Once they walked hand in hand: 'Me loves ickle 'oo.' Now he
strides on ahead" (imitation with aid of umbrella much appreciated;
the bald-headed man, in his enthusiasm and owing to the smallness of
the platform, sweeping the lady accompanist off her stool), "bawling:
'Come along, do.'"
The bald-headed man interspersed side-splitting patter. The husband
comes home late; the wife is waiting for him at the top of the stairs
with a broom. He kisses the servant-girl. She retaliates by
discovering a cousin in the Guards.
The comic man retired to an enthusiastic demand for an encore. I
looked around me at the laughing faces. Miss Butcher had been
compelled to stuff her handkerchief into her mouth. Mr. Tinker was
wiping his eyes; he was not ashamed this time, they were tears of
merriment. Mrs. Apothecary's motherly bosom was shaking like a
jelly. The Colonel was grinning from ear to ear.
Later on, as I noticed in the programme, the schoolmistress, an
unmarried lady, was down to sing "Darby and Joan." She has a
sympathetic voice. Her "Darby and Joan" is always popular. The
comic man would also again appear in the second part, and would
oblige with (by request) "His Mother-in-Law."
So the quaint comedy continues: To-night we will enjoy Romeo and
Juliet, for to-morrow we have seats booked for The Pink Domino.
[What the Gipsy did not mention.]
"Won't the pretty lady let the poor old gipsy tell her fortune?"
Blushes, giggles, protestations. Gallant gentleman friend insists.
A dark man is in love with pretty lady. Gipsy sees a marriage not so
very far ahead. Pretty lady says "What nonsense!" but looks serious.
Pretty lady's pretty friends must, of course, be teasing. Gallant
gentleman friend, by curious coincidence, happens to be dark. Gipsy
grins and passes on.
Is that all the gipsy knows of pretty lady's future? The rheumy,
cunning eyes! They were bonny and black many years ago, when the
parchment skin was smooth and fair. They have seen so many a passing
show--do they see in pretty lady's hand nothing further?
What would the wicked old eyes foresee did it pay them to speak: --
Pretty lady crying tears into a pillow. Pretty lady growing ugly,
spite and anger spoiling pretty features. Dark young man no longer
loving. Dark young man hurling bitter words at pretty lady--hurling,
maybe, things more heavy. Dark young man and pretty lady listening
approvingly to comic singer, having both discovered: "That's what
it's like when you're married."
My friend H. G. Wells wrote a book, "The Island of Dr. Moreau." I
read it in MS. one winter evening in a lonely country house upon the
hills, wind screaming to wind in the dark without. The story has
haunted me ever since. I hear the wind's shrill laughter. The
doctor had taken the beasts of the forest, apes, tigers, strange
creatures from the deep, had fashioned them with hideous cruelty into
the shapes of men, had given them souls, had taught to them the law.
In all things else were they human, but their original instincts
their creator's skill had failed to eliminate. All their lives were
one long torture. The Law said, "We are men and women; this we shall
do, this we shall not do." But the ape and tiger still cried aloud
Civilization lays her laws upon us; they are the laws of gods--of the
men that one day, perhaps, shall come. But the primeval creature of
the cave still cries within us.
[A few rules for Married Happiness.]
The wonder is that not being gods--being mere men and women--marriage
works out as well as it does. We take two creatures with the
instincts of the ape still stirring within them; two creatures
fashioned on the law of selfishness; two self-centred creatures of
opposite appetites, of desires opposed to one another, of differing
moods and fancies; two creatures not yet taught the lesson of self-
control, of self-renunciation, and bind them together for life in an
union so close that one cannot snore o'nights without disturbing the
other's rest; that one cannot, without risk to happiness, have a
single taste unshared by the other; that neither, without danger of
upsetting the whole applecart, so to speak, can have an opinion with
which the other does not heartedly agree.
Could two angels exist together on such terms without ever
quarrelling? I doubt it. To make marriage the ideal we love to
picture it in romance, the elimination of human nature is the first
essential. Supreme unselfishness, perfect patience, changeless
amiability, we should have to start with, and continue with, until
[The real Darby and Joan.]
I do not believe in the "Darby and Joan" of the song. They belong to
song-land. To accept them I need a piano, a sympathetic contralto
voice, a firelight effect, and that sentimental mood in myself, the
foundation of which is a good dinner well digested. But there are
Darbys and Joans of real flesh and blood to be met with--God bless
them, and send more for our example--wholesome living men and women,
brave, struggling, souls with common-sense. Ah, yes! they have
quarrelled; had their dark house of bitterness, of hate, when he
wished to heaven he had never met her, and told her so. How could he
have guessed those sweet lips could utter such cruel words; those
tender eyes, he loved to kiss, flash with scorn and anger?
And she, had she known what lay behind; those days when he knelt
before her, swore that his only dream was to save her from all pain.
Passion lies dead; it is a flame that burns out quickly. The most
beautiful face in the world grows indifferent to us when we have sat
opposite it every morning at breakfast, every evening at supper, for
a brief year or two. Passion is the seed. Love grows from it, a
tender sapling, beautiful to look upon, but wondrous frail, easily
broken, easily trampled on during those first years of wedded life.
Only by much nursing, by long caring-for, watered with tears, shall
it grow into a sturdy tree, defiant of the winds, 'neath which Darby
and Joan shall sit sheltered in old age.
They had commonsense, brave hearts. Darby had expected too much.
Darby had not made allowance for human nature which he ought to have
done, seeing how much he had of it himself. Joan knows he did not
mean it. Joan has a nasty temper; she admits it. Joan will try,
Darby will try. They kiss again with tears. It is a workaday world;
Darby and Joan will take it as it is, will do their best. A little
kindness, a little clasping of the hands before night comes.
[Many ways of Love]
Youth deems it heresy, but I sometimes wonder if our English speaking
way is quite the best. I discussed the subject once with an old
French lady. The English reader forms his idea of French life from
the French novel; it leads to mistaken notions. There are French
Darbys, French Joans, many thousands of them.
"Believe me," said my old French friend, "your English way is wrong;
our way is not perfect, but it is the better, I am sure. You leave
it entirely to the young people. What do they know of life, of
themselves, even. He falls in love with a pretty face. She--he
danced so well! he was so agreeable that day of the picnic! If
marriage were only for a month or so; could be ended without harm
when the passion was burnt out. Ah, yes! then perhaps you would be
right. I loved at eighteen, madly--nearly broke my heart. I meet
him occasionally now. My dear"--her hair was silvery white, and I
was only thirty-five; she always called me "my dear"; it is pleasant
at thirty-five to be talked to as a child. "He was a perfect brute,
handsome he had been, yes, but all that was changed. He was as
stupid as an ox. I never see his poor frightened-looking wife
without shuddering thinking of what I have escaped. They told me all
that, but I looked only at his face, and did not believe them. They
forced me into marriage with the kindest man that ever lived. I did
not love him then, but I loved him for thirty years; was it not
"But, my dear friend," I answered; "that poor, frightened-looking
wife of your first love! Her marriage also was, I take it, the
result of parental choosing. The love marriage, I admit, as often as
not turns out sadly. The children choose ill. Parents also choose
ill. I fear there is no sure receipt for the happy marriage."
"You are arguing from bad examples," answered my silver-haired
friend; "it is the system that I am defending. A young girl is no
judge of character. She is easily deceived, is wishful to be
deceived. As I have said, she does not even know herself. She
imagines the mood of the moment will remain with her. Only those who
have watched over her with loving insight from her infancy know her
"The young man is blinded by his passion. Nature knows nothing of
marriage, of companionship. She has only one aim. That
accomplished, she is indifferent to the future of those she has
joined together. I would have parents think only of their children's
happiness, giving to worldly considerations their true value, but
nothing beyond, choosing for their children with loving care, with
sense of their great responsibility."
[Which is it?]
"I fear our young people would not be contented with our choosing," I
"Are they so contented with their own, the honeymoon over?" she
responded with a smile.
We agreed it was a difficult problem viewed from any point.
But I still think it would be better were we to heap less ridicule
upon the institution. Matrimony cannot be "holy" and ridiculous at
the same time. We have been familiar with it long enough to make up
our minds in which light to regard it.
[Man and his Tailor.]
What's wrong with the "Made-up Tie"? I gather from the fashionable
novelist that no man can wear a made-up tie and be a gentleman. He
may be a worthy man, clever, well-to-do, eligible from every other
point of view; but She, the refined heroine, can never get over the
fact that he wears a made-up tie. It causes a shudder down her high-
bred spine whenever she thinks of it. There is nothing else to be
said against him. There is nothing worse about him than this--he
wears a made-up tie. It is all sufficient. No true woman could ever
care for him, no really classy society ever open its doors to him.
I am worried about this thing because, to confess the horrid truth, I
wear a made-up tie myself. On foggy afternoons I steal out of the
house disguised. They ask me where I am going in a hat that comes
down over my ears, and why I am wearing blue spectacles and a false
beard, but I will not tell them. I creep along the wall till I find
a common hosier's shop, and then, in an assumed voice, I tell the man
what it is I want. They come to fourpence halfpenny each; by taking
the half-dozen I get them for a trifle less. They are put on in a
moment, and, to my vulgar eye, look neat and tasteful.
Of course, I know I am not a gentleman. I have given up hopes of
ever being one. Years ago, when life presented possibilities, I
thought that with pains and intelligence I might become one. I never
succeeded. It all depends on being able to tie a bow. Round the
bed-post, or the neck of the water-jug, I could tie the wretched
thing to perfection. If only the bed-post or the water-jug could
have taken my place and gone to the party instead of me, life would
have been simpler. The bed-post and the water-jug, in its neat white
bow, looked like a gentleman--the fashionable novelist's idea of a
gentleman. Upon myself the result was otherwise, suggesting always a
feeble attempt at suicide by strangulation. I could never understand
how it was done. There were moments when it flashed across me that
the secret lay in being able to turn one's self inside out, coming up
with one's arms and legs the other way round. Standing on one's head
might have surmounted the difficulty; but the higher gymnastics
Nature has denied to me. "The Boneless Wonder" or the "Man Serpent"
could, I felt, be a gentleman so easily. To one to whom has been
given only the common ordinary joints gentlemanliness is apparently
an impossible ideal.
It is not only the tie. I never read the fashionable novel without
misgiving. Some hopeless bounder is being described:
"If you want to know what he is like," says the Peer of the Realm,
throwing himself back in his deep easy-chair, and puffing lazily at
his cigar of delicate aroma, "he is the sort of man that wears three
studs in his shirt."
[The difficulty of being a Gentleman.]
Merciful heavens! I myself wear three studs in my shirt. I also am
a hopeless bounder, and I never knew it. It comes upon me like a
thunderbolt. I thought three studs were fashionable. The idiot at
the shop told me three studs were all the rage, and I ordered two
dozen. I can't afford to throw them away. Till these two dozen
shirts are worn out, I shall have to remain a hopeless bounder.
Why have we not a Minister of the Fine Arts? Why does not a paternal
Government fix notices at the street corners, telling the would-be
gentleman how many studs he ought to wear, what style of necktie now
distinguishes the noble-minded man from the base-hearted? They are
prompt enough with their police regulations, their vaccination
orders--the higher things of life they neglect.
I select at random another masterpiece of English literature.
"My dear," says Lady Montresor, with her light aristocratic laugh,
"you surely cannot seriously think of marrying a man who wears socks
with yellow spots?"
Lady Emmelina sighs.
"He is very nice," she murmurs, "but I suppose you are right. I
suppose that sort of man does get on your nerves after a time."
"My dear child," says Lady Montresor, "he is impossible."
In a cold sweat I rush upstairs into my bedroom.
I thought so: I am always wrong. All my best socks have yellow
spots. I rather fancied them. They were expensive, too, now I come
to think of it.
What am I to do? If I sacrifice them and get red spots, then red
spots, for all I know, may be wrong. I have no instinct. The
fashionable novelist never helps one. He tells us what is wrong, but
he does not tell us what is right. It is creative criticism that I
feel the need of. Why does not the Lady Montresor go on? Tell me
what sort of socks the ideal lover ought to wear. There are so many
varieties of socks. What is a would-be-gentleman to do? Would it be
of any use writing to the fashionable novelist:-
[How we might, all of us, be Gentlemen.]
"Dear Mr. Fashionable Novelist (or should it be Miss?),--Before going
to my tailor, I venture to write to you on a subject of some
importance. I am fairly well educated, of good family and address,
and, so my friends tell me, of passable appearance. I yearn to
become a gentleman. If it is not troubling you too much, would you
mind telling me how to set about the business? What socks and ties
ought I to wear? Do I wear a flower in my button-hole, or is that a
sign of a coarse mind? How many buttons on a morning coat show a
beautiful nature? Does a stand-up collar with a tennis shirt prove
that you are of noble descent, or, on the contrary, stamp you as a
parvenu? If answering these questions imposes too great a tax on
your time, perhaps you would not mind telling me how you yourself
know these things. Who is your authority, and when is he at home? I
should apologize for writing to you but that I feel you will
sympathize with my appeal. It seems a pity there should be so many
vulgar, ill-bred people in the world when a little knowledge on these
trivial points would enable us all to become gentlemen. Thanking you
in anticipation, I remain . . . "
Would he or she tell us? Or would the fashionable novelist reply as
I once overheard a harassed mother retort upon one of her inquiring
children. Most of the afternoon she had been rushing out into the
garden, where games were in progress, to tell the children what they
must not do: --"Tommy, you know you must not do that. Haven't you
got any sense at all?" "Johnny, you wicked boy, how dare you do
that; how many more times do you want me to tell you?" "Jane, if you
do that again you will go straight to bed, my girl!" and so on.
At length the door was opened from without, and a little face peeped
"Now, what is it? can't I ever get a moment's peace?"
"Mother, please would you mind telling us something we might do?"
The lady almost fell back on the floor in her astonishment. The idea
had never occurred to her.
"What may you do! Don't ask me. I am tired enough of telling you
what not to do."
[Things a Gentleman should never do.]
I remember when a young man, wishful to conform to the rules of good
society, I bought a book of etiquette for gentlemen. Its fault was
just this. It told me through many pages what not to do. Beyond
that it seemed to have no idea. I made a list of things it said a
gentleman should NEVER do: it was a lengthy list.
Determined to do the job completely while I was about it, I bought
other books of etiquette and added on their list of "Nevers." What
one book left out another supplied. There did not seem much left for
a gentleman to do.
I concluded by the time I had come to the end of my books, that to be
a true gentleman my safest course would be to stop in bed for the
rest of my life. By this means only could I hope to avoid every
possible faux pas, every solecism. I should have lived and died a
gentleman. I could have had it engraved upon my tombstone:
"He never in his life committed a single act unbecoming to a
To be a gentleman is not so easy, perhaps, as a fashionable novelist
imagines. One is forced to the conclusion that it is not a question
entirely for the outfitter. My attention was attracted once by a
notice in the window of a West-End emporium, "Gentlemen supplied."
It is to such like Universal Providers that the fashionable novelist
goes for his gentleman. The gentleman is supplied to him complete in
every detail. If the reader be not satisfied, that is the reader's
fault. He is one of those tiresome, discontented customers who does
not know a good article when he has got it.
I was told the other day of the writer of a musical farce (or is it
comedy?) who was most desirous that his leading character should be a
perfect gentleman. During the dress rehearsal, the actor
representing the part had to open his cigarette case and request
another perfect gentleman to help himself. The actor drew forth his
case. It caught the critical eye of the author.
"Good heavens!" he cried, "what do you call that?"
"A cigarette case," answered the actor.
"But, my dear boy," exclaimed the author, "surely it is silver?"
"I know," admitted the actor, "it does perhaps suggest that I am
living beyond my means, but the truth is I picked it up cheap."
The author turned to the manager.
"This won't do," he explained, "a real gentleman always carries a
gold cigarette case. He must be a gentleman, or there's no point in
"Don't let us endanger any point the plot may happen to possess, for
goodness sake," agreed the manager, "let him by all means have a gold
[How one may know the perfect Gentleman.]
So, regardless of expense, a gold cigarette case was obtained and put
down to expenses. And yet on the first night of that musical play,
when that leading personage smashed a tray over a waiter's head, and,
after a row with the police, came home drunk to his wife, even that
gold cigarette case failed to convince one that the man was a
gentleman beyond all doubt.
The old writers appear to have been singularly unaware of the
importance attaching to these socks, and ties, and cigarette-cases.
They told us merely what the man felt and thought. What reliance can
we place upon them? How could they possibly have known what sort of
man he was underneath his clothes? Tweed or broadcloth is not
transparent. Even could they have got rid of his clothes there would
have remained his flesh and bones. It was pure guess-work. They did
The modern writer goes to work scientifically. He tells us that the
creature wore a made-up tie. From that we know he was not a
gentleman; it follows as the night the day. The fashionable novelist
notices the young man's socks. It reveals to us whether the marriage
would have been successful or a failure. It is necessary to convince
us that the hero is a perfect gentleman: the author gives him a gold
A well-known dramatist has left it on record that comedy cannot exist
nowadays, for the simple reason that gentlemen have given up taking
snuff and wearing swords. How can one have comedy in company with
frock-coats--without its "Las" and its "Odds Bobs."
The sword may have been helpful. I have been told that at levees
City men, unaccustomed to the thing, have, with its help, provided
comedy for the rest of the company.
But I take it this is not the comedy our dramatist had in mind.
[Why not an Exhibition of Gentlemen?]
It seems a pity that comedy should disappear from among us. If it
depend entirely on swords and snuff-boxes, would it not be worth the
while of the Society of Authors to keep a few gentlemen specially
trained? Maybe some sympathetic theatrical manager would lend us
costumes of the eighteenth century. We might provide them with
swords and snuff-boxes. They might meet, say, once a week, in a
Queen Anne drawing-room, especially prepared by Gillow, and go
through their tricks. Authors seeking high-class comedy might be
admitted to a gallery.
Perhaps this explains why old-fashioned readers complain that we do
not give them human nature. How can we? Ladies and gentlemen
nowadays don't wear the proper clothes. Evidently it all depends
upon the clothes.
[Woman and her behaviour.]
Should women smoke?
The question, in four-inch letters, exhibited on a placard outside a
small newsvendor's shop, caught recently my eye. The wanderer
through London streets is familiar with such-like appeals to his
decision: "Should short men marry tall wives?" "Ought we to cut our
hair?" "Should second cousins kiss?" Life's problems appear to be
Personally, I am not worrying myself whether women should smoke or
not. It seems to me a question for the individual woman to decide
for herself. I like women who smoke; I can see no objection to their
smoking. Smoking soothes the nerves. Women's nerves occasionally
want soothing. The tiresome idiot who argues that smoking is
unwomanly denounces the drinking of tea as unmanly. He is a wooden-
headed person who derives all his ideas from cheap fiction. The
manly man of cheap fiction smokes a pipe and drinks whisky. That is
how we know he is a man. The womanly woman--well, I always feel I
could make a better woman myself out of an old clothes shop and a
But, as I have said, the question does not impress me as one
demanding my particular attention. I also like the woman who does
not smoke. I have met in my time some very charming women who do not
smoke. It may be a sign of degeneracy, but I am prepared to abdicate
my position of woman's god, leaving her free to lead her own life.
Candidly, the responsibility of feeling myself answerable for all a
woman does or does not do would weigh upon me. There are men who are
willing to take this burden upon themselves, and a large number of
women are still anxious that they should continue to bear it. I
spoke quite seriously to a young lady not long ago on the subject of
tight lacing; undoubtedly she was injuring her health. She admitted
"I know all you can say," she wailed; "I daresay a lot of it is true.
Those awful pictures where one sees--well, all the things one does
not want to think about. If they are correct, it must be bad,
squeezing it all up together."
"Then why continue to do so?" I argued.
"Oh, it's easy enough to talk," she explained; "a few old fogies like
you"--I had been speaking very plainly to her, and she was cross with
me--"may pretend you don't like small waists, but the average man
Poor girl! She was quite prepared to injure herself for life, to
damage her children's future, to be uncomfortable for fifteen hours a
day, all to oblige the average man.
It is a compliment to our sex. What man would suffer injury and
torture to please the average woman? This frenzied desire of woman
to conform to our ideals is touching. A few daring spirits of late
years have exhibited a tendency to seek for other gods--for ideals of
their own. We call them the unsexed women. The womanly women lift
up their hands in horror of such blasphemy.
When I was a boy no womanly woman rode a bicycle--tricycles were
permitted. On three wheels you could still be womanly, but on two
you were "a creature"! The womanly woman, seeing her approach, would
draw down the parlour blind with a jerk, lest the children looking
out might catch a glimpse of her, and their young souls be smirched
for all eternity.
No womanly woman rode inside a hansom or outside a 'bus. I remember
the day my own dear mother climbed outside a 'bus for the first time
in her life. She was excited, and cried a little; but nobody--heaven
be praised!--saw us--that is, nobody of importance. And afterwards
she confessed the air was pleasant.
"Be not the first by whom the new is tried, Nor yet the last to lay
the old aside," is a safe rule for those who would always retain the
good opinion of that all-powerful, but somewhat unintelligent,
incubus, "the average person," but the pioneer, the guide, is
necessary. That is, if the world is to move forward.
The freedom-loving girl of to-day, who can enjoy a walk by herself
without losing her reputation, who can ride down the street on her
"bike" without being hooted at, who can play a mixed double at tennis
without being compelled by public opinion to marry her partner, who
can, in short, lead a human creature's life, and not that of a lap-
dog led about at the end of a string, might pause to think what she
owes to the "unsexed creatures" who fought her battle for her fifty
[Those unsexed Creatures]
Can the working woman of to-day, who may earn her own living, if she
will, without loss of the elementary rights of womanhood, think of
the bachelor girl of a short generation ago without admiration of her
pluck? There were ladies in those day too "unwomanly" to remain
helpless burdens on overworked fathers and mothers, too "unsexed" to
marry the first man that came along for the sake of their bread and
butter. They fought their way into journalism, into the office, into
the shop. The reformer is not always the pleasantest man to invite
to a tea-party. Maybe these women who went forward with the flag
were not the most charming of their sex. The "Dora Copperfield" type
will for some time remain the young man's ideal, the model the young
girl puts before herself. Myself, I think Dora Copperfield charming,
but a world of Dora Copperfields!
The working woman is a new development in sociology. She has many
lessons to learn, but one has hopes of her. It is said that she is
unfitting herself to be a wife and mother. If the ideal helpmeet for
a man be an animated Dresden china shepherdess--something that looks
pretty on the table, something to be shown round to one's friends,
something that can be locked up safely in a cupboard, that asks no
questions, and, therefore, need be told no lies--then a woman who has
learnt something of the world, who has formed ideas of her own, will
not be the ideal wife.
[References given--and required.]
Maybe the average man will not be her ideal husband. Each Michaelmas
at a little town in the Thames Valley with which I am acquainted
there is held a hiring fair. A farmer one year laid his hand on a
lively-looking lad, and asked him if he wanted a job. It was what
the boy was looking for.
"Got a character?" asked the farmer. The boy replied that he had for
the last two years been working for Mr. Muggs, the ironmonger--felt
sure that Mr. Muggs would give him a good character.
"Well, go and ask Mr. Muggs to come across and speak to me, I will
wait here," directed the would-be employer. Five minutes went by--
ten minutes. No Mr. Muggs appeared. Later in the afternoon the
farmer met the boy again.
"Mr. Muggs never came near me with that character of yours," said the
"No, sir," answered the boy, "I didn't ask him to."
"Why not?" inquired the farmer.
"Well, I told him who it was that wanted it"--the boy hesitated.
"Well?" demanded the farmer, impatiently.
"Well, then, he told me yours," explained the boy.
Maybe the working woman, looking for a husband, and not merely a
livelihood, may end by formulating standards of her own. She may end
by demanding the manly man and moving about the world, knowing
something of life, may arrive at the conclusion that something more
is needed than the smoking of pipes and the drinking of whiskies and
sodas. We must be prepared for this. The sheltered woman who learnt
her life from fairy stories is a dream of the past. Woman has
escaped from her "shelter"--she is on the loose. For the future we
men have got to accept the emancipated woman as an accomplished fact.
[The ideal World.]
Many of us are worried about her. What is going to become of the
home? I admit there is a more ideal existence where the working
woman would find no place; it is in a world that exists only on the
comic opera stage. There every picturesque village contains an equal
number of ladies and gentlemen nearly all the same height and weight,
to all appearance of the same age. Each Jack has his Jill, and does
not want anybody else's. There are no complications: one presumes
they draw lots and fall in love the moment they unscrew the paper.
They dance for awhile on grass which is never damp, and then into the
conveniently situated ivy-covered church they troop in pairs and are
wedded off hand by a white-haired clergyman, who is a married man
Ah, if the world were but a comic opera stage, there would be no need
for working women! As a matter of fact, so far as one can judge from
the front of the house, there are no working men either.
But outside the opera house in the muddy street Jack goes home to his
third floor back, or his chambers in the Albany, according to his
caste, and wonders when the time will come when he will be able to
support a wife. And Jill climbs on a penny 'bus, or steps into the
family brougham, and dreams with regret of a lost garden, where there
was just one man and just one woman, and clothes grew on a fig tree.
With the progress of civilization--utterly opposed as it is to all
Nature's intentions--the number of working women will increase. With
some friends the other day I was discussing motor-cars, and one
gentleman with sorrow in his voice--he is the type of Conservative
who would have regretted the passing away of the glacial period--
opined that motor-cars had come to stay.
"You mean," said another, "they have come to go." The working woman,
however much we may regret it, has come to go, and she is going it.
We shall have to accept her and see what can be done with her. One
thing is certain, we shall not solve the problem of the twentieth
century by regretting the simple sociology of the Stone Age.
[A Lover's View.]
Speaking as a lover, I welcome the openings that are being given to
women to earn their own livelihood. I can conceive of no more
degrading profession for a woman--no profession more calculated to
unfit her for being that wife and mother we talk so much about than
the profession that up to a few years ago was the only one open to
her--the profession of husband-hunting.
As a man, I object to being regarded as woman's last refuge, her one
and only alternative to the workhouse. I cannot myself see why the
woman who has faced the difficulties of existence, learnt the lesson
of life, should not make as good a wife and mother as the ignorant
girl taken direct, one might almost say, from the nursery, and,
without the slightest preparation, put in a position of
responsibility that to a thinking person must be almost appalling.
It has been said that the difference between men and women is this:
That the man goes about the world making it ready for the children,
that the woman stops at home making the children ready for the world.
Will not she do it much better for knowing something of the world,
for knowing something of the temptations, the difficulties, her own
children will have to face, for having learnt by her own experience
to sympathize with the struggles, the sordid heart-breaking cares
that man has daily to contend with?
Civilization is ever undergoing transformation, but human nature
remains. The bachelor girl, in her bed-sitting room, in her studio,
in her flat, will still see in the shadows the vision of the home,
will still hear in the silence the sound of children's voices, will
still dream of the lover's kiss that is to open up new life to her.
She is not quite so unsexed as you may think, my dear womanly madame.
A male friend of mine was telling me of a catastrophe that once
occurred at a station in the East Indies.
[No time to think of Husbands.]
A fire broke out at night, and everybody was in terror lest it should
reach the magazine. The women and children were being hurried to the
ships, and two ladies were hastening past my friend. One of them
paused, and, clasping her hands, demanded of him if he knew what had
become of her husband. Her companion was indignant.
"For goodness' sake, don't dawdle, Maria," she cried; "this is no
time to think of husbands."
There is no reason to fear that the working woman will ever cease to
think of husbands. Maybe, as I have said, she will demand a better
article than the mere husband-hunter has been able to stand out for.
Maybe she herself will have something more to give; maybe she will
bring to him broader sympathies, higher ideals. The woman who has
herself been down among the people, who has faced life in the open,
will know that the home is but one cell of the vast hive.
We shall, perhaps, hear less of the woman who "has her own home and
children to think of--really takes no interest in these matters"--
these matters of right and wrong, these matters that spell the
happiness or misery of millions.
[The Wife of the Future.]
Maybe the bridegroom of the future will not say, "I have married a
wife, and therefore I cannot come," but "I have married a wife; we
will both come."
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