AS WE WERE SAYING
By Charles Dudley Warner
THE COMPLETE WRITINGS
OF CHARLES DUDLEY WARNER
AS WE WERE SAYING
CONTENTS: (25 Short Studies)
ROSE AND CHRYSANTHEMUM THE RED BONNET THE LOSS IN CIVILIZATION SOCIAL SCREAMING DOES REFINEMENT KILL INDIVIDUALITY? THE DIRECTOIRE GOWN THE MYSTERY OF THE SEX THE CLOTHES OF FICTION THE BROAD A CHEWING GUM WOMEN IN CONGRESS SHALL WOMEN PROPOSE? FROCKS AND THE STAGE ALTRUISM SOCIAL CLEARING-HOUSE DINNER-TABLE TALK NATURALIZATION ART OF GOVERNING LOVE OF DISPLAY VALUE OF THE COMMONPLACE THE BURDEN OF CHRISTMAS THE RESPONSIBILITY OF WRITERS THE CAP AND GOWN A TENDENCY OF THE AGE A LOCOED NOVELIST
ROSE AND CHRYSANTHEMUM
The Drawer will still bet on the rose. This is not a wager, but only a strong expression of opinion. The rose will win. It does not look so now. To all appearances, this is the age of the chrysanthemum. What this gaudy flower will be, daily expanding and varying to suit the whim of fashion, no one can tell. It may be made to bloom like the cabbage; it may spread out like an umbrella—it can never be large enough nor showy enough to suit us. Undeniably it is very effective, especially in masses of gorgeous color. In its innumerable shades and enlarging proportions, it is a triumph of the gardener. It is a rival to the analine dyes and to the marabout feathers. It goes along with all the conceits and fantastic unrest of the decorative art. Indeed, but for the discovery of the capacities of the chrysanthemum, modern life would have experienced a fatal hitch in its development. It helps out our age of plush with a flame of color. There is nothing shamefaced or retiring about it, and it already takes all provinces for its own. One would be only half-married—civilly, and not fashionably—without a chrysanthemum wedding; and it lights the way to the tomb. The maiden wears a bunch of it in her corsage in token of her blooming expectations, and the young man flaunts it on his coat lapel in an effort to be at once effective and in the mode. Young love that used to express its timid desire with the violet, or, in its ardor, with the carnation, now seeks to bring its emotions to light by the help of the chrysanthemum. And it can express every shade of feeling, from the rich yellow of prosperous wooing to the brick-colored weariness of life that is hardly distinguishable from the liver complaint. It is a little stringy for a boutonniere, but it fills the modern-trained eye as no other flower can fill it. We used to say that a girl was as sweet as a rose; we have forgotten that language. We used to call those tender additions to society, on the eve of their event into that world which is always so eager to receive fresh young life, "rose-buds"; we say now simply "buds," but we mean chrysanthemum buds. They are as beautiful as ever; they excite the same exquisite interest; perhaps in their maiden hearts they are one or another variety of that flower which bears such a sweet perfume in all literature; but can it make no difference in character whether a young girl comes out into the garish world as a rose or as a chrysanthemum? Is her life set to the note of display, of color and show, with little sweetness, or to that retiring modesty which needs a little encouragement before it fully reveals its beauty and its perfume? If one were to pass his life in moving in a palace car from one plush hotel to another, a bunch of chrysanthemums in his hand would seem to be a good symbol of his life. There are aged people who can remember that they used to choose various roses, as to their color, odor, and degree of unfolding, to express the delicate shades of advancing passion and of devotion. What can one do with this new favorite? Is not a bunch of chrysanthemums a sort of take-it-or-leave-it declaration, boldly and showily made, an offer without discrimination, a tender without romance? A young man will catch the whole family with this flaming message, but where is that sentiment that once set the maiden heart in a flutter? Will she press a chrysanthemum, and keep it till the faint perfume reminds her of the sweetest moment of her life?
Are we exaggerating this astonishing rise, development, and spread of the chrysanthemum? As a fashion it is not so extraordinary as the hoop-skirt, or as the neck ruff, which is again rising as a background to the lovely head. But the remarkable thing about it is that heretofore in all nations and times, and in all changes of fashion in dress, the rose has held its own as the queen of flowers and as the finest expression of sentiment. But here comes a flaunting thing with no desirable perfume, looking as if it were cut with scissors out of tissue-paper, but capable of taking infinite varieties of color, and growing as big as a curtain tassel, that literally captures the world, and spreads all over the globe, like the Canada thistle. The florists have no eye for anything else, and the biggest floral prizes are awarded for the production of its eccentricities. Is the rage for this flower typical of this fast and flaring age?
The Drawer is not an enemy to the chrysanthemum, nor to the sunflower, nor to any other gorgeous production of nature. But it has an old-fashioned love for the modest and unobtrusive virtues, and an abiding faith that they will win over the strained and strident displays of life. There is the violet: all efforts of cultivation fail to make it as big as the peony, and it would be no more dear to the heart if it were quadrupled in size. We do, indeed, know that satisfying beauty and refinement are apt to escape us when we strive too much and force nature into extraordinary display, and we know how difficult it is to get mere bigness and show without vulgarity. Cultivation has its limits. After we have produced it, we find that the biggest rose even is not the most precious; and lovely as woman is, we instinctively in our admiration put a limit to her size. There being, then, certain laws that ultimately fetch us all up standing, so to speak, it does seem probable that the chrysanthemum rage will end in a gorgeous sunset of its splendor; that fashion will tire of it, and that the rose, with its secret heart of love; the rose, with its exquisite form; the rose, with its capacity of shyly and reluctantly unfolding its beauty; the rose, with that odor—of the first garden exhaled and yet kept down through all the ages of sin —will become again the fashion, and be more passionately admired for its temporary banishment. Perhaps the poet will then come back again and sing. What poet could now sing of the "awful chrysanthemum of dawn"?
THE RED BONNET
The Drawer has no wish to make Lent easier for anybody, or rather to diminish the benefit of the penitential season. But in this period of human anxiety and repentance it must be said that not enough account is made of the moral responsibility of Things. The doctrine is sound; the only difficulty is in applying it. It can, however, be illustrated by a little story, which is here confided to the reader in the same trust in which it was received. There was once a lady, sober in mind and sedate in manner, whose plain dress exactly represented her desire to be inconspicuous, to do good, to improve every day of her life in actions that should benefit her kind. She was a serious person, inclined to improving conversation, to the reading of bound books that cost at least a dollar and a half (fifteen cents of which she gladly contributed to the author), and she had a distaste for the gay society which was mainly a flutter of ribbons and talk and pretty faces; and when she meditated, as she did in her spare moments, her heart was sore over the frivolity of life and the emptiness of fashion. She longed to make the world better, and without any priggishness she set it an example of simplicity and sobriety, of cheerful acquiescence in plainness and inconspicuousness.
One day—it was in the autumn—this lady had occasion to buy a new hat. From a great number offered to her she selected a red one with a dull red plume. It did not agree with the rest of her apparel; it did not fit her apparent character. What impulse led to this selection she could not explain. She was not tired of being good, but something in the jauntiness of the hat and the color pleased her. If it were a temptation, she did not intend to yield to it, but she thought she would take the hat home and try it. Perhaps her nature felt the need of a little warmth. The hat pleased her still more when she got it home and put it on and surveyed herself in the mirror. Indeed, there was a new expression in her face that corresponded to the hat. She put it off and looked at it. There was something almost humanly winning and temptatious in it. In short, she kept it, and when she wore it abroad she was not conscious of its incongruity to herself or to her dress, but of the incongruity of the rest of her apparel to the hat, which seemed to have a sort of intelligence of its own, at least a power of changing and conforming things to itself. By degrees one article after another in the lady's wardrobe was laid aside, and another substituted for it that answered to the demanding spirit of the hat. In a little while this plain lady was not plain any more, but most gorgeously dressed, and possessed with the desire to be in the height of the fashion. It came to this, that she had a tea-gown made out of a window-curtain with a flamboyant pattern. Solomon in all his glory would have been ashamed of himself in her presence.
But this was not all. Her disposition, her ideas, her whole life, was changed. She did not any more think of going about doing good, but of amusing herself. She read nothing but stories in paper covers. In place of being sedate and sober-minded, she was frivolous to excess; she spent most of her time with women who liked to "frivol." She kept Lent in the most expensive way, so as to make the impression upon everybody that she was better than the extremest kind of Lent. From liking the sedatest company she passed to liking the gayest society and the most fashionable method of getting rid of her time. Nothing whatever had happened to her, and she is now an ornament to society.
This story is not an invention; it is a leaf out of life. If this lady that autumn day had bought a plain bonnet she would have continued on in her humble, sensible way of living. Clearly it was the hat that made the woman, and not the woman the hat. She had no preconception of it; it simply happened to her, like any accident—as if she had fallen and sprained her ankle. Some people may say that she had in her a concealed propensity for frivolity; but the hat cannot escape the moral responsibility of calling it out if it really existed. The power of things to change and create character is well attested. Men live up to or live down to their clothes, which have a great moral influence on manner, and even on conduct. There was a man run down almost to vagabondage, owing to his increasingly shabby clothing, and he was only saved from becoming a moral and physical wreck by a remnant of good-breeding in him that kept his worn boots well polished. In time his boots brought up the rest of his apparel and set him on his feet again. Then there is the well-known example of the honest clerk on a small salary who was ruined by the gift of a repeating watch—an expensive timepiece that required at least ten thousand a year to sustain it: he is now in Canada.
Sometimes the influence of Things is good and sometimes it is bad. We need a philosophy that shall tell us why it is one or the other, and fix the responsibility where it belongs. It does no good, as people always find out by reflex action, to kick an inanimate thing that has offended, to smash a perverse watch with a hammer, to break a rocking-chair that has a habit of tipping over backward. If Things are not actually malicious, they seem to have a power of revenging themselves. We ought to try to understand them better, and to be more aware of what they can do to us. If the lady who bought the red hat could have known the hidden nature of it, could have had a vision of herself as she was transformed by it, she would as soon have taken a viper into her bosom as have placed the red tempter on her head. Her whole previous life, her feeling of the moment, show that it was not vanity that changed her, but the inconsiderate association with a Thing that happened to strike her fancy, and which seemed innocent. But no Thing is really powerless for good or evil.
THE LOSS IN CIVILIZATION
Have we yet hit upon the right idea of civilization? The process which has been going on ever since the world began seems to have a defect in it; strength, vital power, somehow escapes. When you've got a man thoroughly civilized you cannot do anything more with him. And it is worth reflection what we should do, what could we spend our energies on, and what would evoke them, we who are both civilized and enlightened, if all nations were civilized and the earth were entirely subdued. That is to say, are not barbarism and vast regions of uncultivated land a necessity of healthful life on this globe? We do not like to admit that this process has its cycles, that nations and men, like trees and fruit, grow, ripen, and then decay. The world has always had a conceit that the globe could be made entirely habitable, and all over the home of a society constantly growing better. In order to accomplish this we have striven to eliminate barbarism in man and in nature:
Is there anything more unsatisfactory than a perfect house, perfect grounds, perfect gardens, art and nature brought into the most absolute harmony of taste and culture? What more can a man do with it? What satisfaction has a man in it if he really gets to the end of his power to improve it? There have been such nearly ideal places, and how strong nature, always working against man and in the interest of untamed wildness, likes to riot in them and reduce them to picturesque destruction! And what sweet sadness, pathos, romantic suggestion, the human mind finds in such a ruin! And a society that has attained its end in all possible culture, entire refinement in manners, in tastes, in the art of elegant intellectual and luxurious living—is there nothing pathetic in that? Where is the primeval, heroic force that made the joy of living in the rough old uncivilized days? Even throw in goodness, a certain amount of altruism, gentleness, warm interest in unfortunate humanity—is the situation much improved? London is probably the most civilized centre the world has ever seen; there are gathered more of the elements of that which we reckon the best. Where in history, unless some one puts in a claim for the Frenchman, shall we find a Man so nearly approaching the standard we have set up of civilization as the Englishman, refined by inheritance and tradition, educated almost beyond the disturbance of enthusiasm, and cultivated beyond the chance of surprise? We are speaking of the highest type in manner, information, training, in the acquisition of what the world has to give. Could these men have conquered the world? Is it possible that our highest civilization has lost something of the rough and admirable element that we admire in the heroes of Homer and of Elizabeth? What is this London, the most civilized city ever known? Why, a considerable part of its population is more barbarous, more hopelessly barbarous, than any wild race we know, because they are the barbarians of civilization, the refuse and slag of it, if we dare say that of any humanity. More hopeless, because the virility of savagery has measurably gone out of it. We can do something with a degraded race of savages, if it has any stamina in it. What can be done with those who are described as "East-Londoners"?
Every great city has enough of the same element. Is this an accident, or is it a necessity of the refinement that we insist on calling civilization? We are always sending out missionaries to savage or perverted nations, we are always sending out emigrants to occupy and reduce to order neglected territory. This is our main business. How would it be if this business were really accomplished, and there were no more peoples to teach our way of life to, and no more territory to bring under productive cultivation? Without the necessity of putting forth this energy, a survival of the original force in man, how long would our civilization last? In a word, if the world were actually all civilized, wouldn't it be too weak even to ripen? And now, in the great centres, where is accumulated most of that we value as the product of man's best efforts, is there strength enough to elevate the degraded humanity that attends our highest cultivation? We have a gay confidence that we can do something for Africa. Can we reform London and Paris and New York, which our own hands have made?
If we cannot, where is the difficulty? Is this a hopeless world? Must it always go on by spurts and relapses, alternate civilization and barbarism, and the barbarism being necessary to keep us employed and growing? Or is there some mistake about our ideal of civilization? Does our process too much eliminate the rough vigor, courage, stamina of the race? After a time do we just live, or try to live, on literature warmed over, on pretty coloring and drawing instead of painting that stirs the soul to the heroic facts and tragedies of life? Where did this virile, blood-full, throbbing Russian literature come from; this Russian painting of Verestchagin, that smites us like a sword with the consciousness of the tremendous meaning of existence? Is there a barbaric force left in the world that we have been daintily trying to cover and apologize for and refine into gentle agreeableness?
These questions are too deep for these pages. Let us make the world pleasant, and throw a cover over the refuse. We are doing very well, on the whole, considering what we are and the materials we have to work on. And we must not leave the world so perfectly civilized that the inhabitants, two or three centuries ahead, will have nothing to do.
Of all the contrivances for amusement in this agreeable world the "Reception" is the most ingenious, and would probably most excite the wonder of an angel sent down to inspect our social life. If he should pause at the entrance of the house where one is in progress, he would be puzzled. The noise that would greet his ears is different from the deep continuous roar in the streets, it is unlike the hum of millions of seventeen-year locusts, it wants the musical quality of the spring conventions of the blackbirds in the chestnuts, and he could not compare it to the vociferation in a lunatic asylum, for that is really subdued and infrequent. He might be incapable of analyzing this, but when he caught sight of the company he would be compelled to recognize it as the noise of our highest civilization. It may not be perfect, for there are limits to human powers of endurance, but it is the best we can do. It is not a chance affair. Here are selected, picked out by special invitation, the best that society can show, the most intelligent, the most accomplished, the most beautiful, the best dressed persons in the community—all receptions have this character. The angel would notice this at once, and he would be astonished at the number of such persons, for the rooms would be so crowded that he would see the hopelessness of attempting to edge or wedge his way through the throng without tearing off his wings. An angel, in short, would stand no chance in one of these brilliant assemblies on account of his wings, and he probably could not be heard, on account of the low, heavenly pitch of his voice. His inference would be that these people had been selected to come together by reason of their superior power of screaming. He would be wrong.
—They are selected on account of their intelligence, agreeableness, and power of entertaining each other. They come together, not for exercise, but pleasure, and the more they crowd and jam and struggle, and the louder they scream, the greater the pleasure. It is a kind of contest, full of good-humor and excitement. The one that has the shrillest voice and can scream the loudest is most successful. It would seem at first that they are under a singular hallucination, imagining that the more noise there is in the room the better each one can be heard, and so each one continues to raise his or her voice in order to drown the other voices. The secret of the game is to pitch the voice one or two octaves above the ordinary tone. Some throats cannot stand this strain long; they become rasped and sore, and the voices break; but this adds to the excitement and enjoyment of those who can scream with less inconvenience. The angel would notice that if at any time silence was called, in order that an announcement of music could be made, in the awful hush that followed people spoke to each other in their natural voices, and everybody could be heard without effort. But this was not the object of the Reception, and in a moment more the screaming would begin again, the voices growing higher and higher, until, if the roof were taken off, one vast shriek would go up to heaven.
This is not only a fashion, it is an art. People have to train for it, and as it is a unique amusement, it is worth some trouble to be able to succeed in it. Men, by reason of their stolidity and deeper voices, can never be proficients in it; and they do not have so much practice—unless they are stock-brokers. Ladies keep themselves in training in their ordinary calls. If three or four meet in a drawing-room they all begin to scream, not that they may be heard—for the higher they go the less they understand each other—but simply to acquire the art of screaming at receptions. If half a dozen ladies meeting by chance in a parlor should converse quietly in their sweet, ordinary home tones, it might be in a certain sense agreeable, but it would not be fashionable, and it would not strike the prevailing note of our civilization. If it were true that a group of women all like to talk at the same time when they meet (which is a slander invented by men, who may be just as loquacious, but not so limber-tongued and quick-witted), and raise their voices to a shriek in order to dominate each other, it could be demonstrated that they would be more readily heard if they all spoke in low tones. But the object is not conversation; it is the social exhilaration that comes from the wild exercise of the voice in working off a nervous energy; it is so seldom that in her own house a lady gets a chance to scream.
The dinner-party, where there are ten or twelve at table, is a favorite chance for this exercise. At a recent dinner, where there were a dozen uncommonly intelligent people, all capable of the most entertaining conversation, by some chance, or owing to some nervous condition, they all began to speak in a high voice as soon as they were seated, and the effect was that of a dynamite explosion. It was a cheerful babel of indistinguishable noise, so loud and shrill and continuous that it was absolutely impossible for two people seated on the opposite sides of the table, and both shouting at each other, to catch an intelligible sentence. This made a lively dinner. Everybody was animated, and if there was no conversation, even between persons seated side by side, there was a glorious clatter and roar; and when it was over, everybody was hoarse and exhausted, and conscious that he had done his best in a high social function.
This topic is not the selection of the Drawer, the province of which is to note, but not to criticise, the higher civilization. But the inquiry has come from many cities, from many women, "Cannot something be done to stop social screaming?" The question is referred to the scientific branch of the Social Science Association. If it is a mere fashion, the association can do nothing. But it might institute some practical experiments. It might get together in a small room fifty people all let loose in the ordinary screaming contest, measure the total volume of noise and divide it by fifty, and ascertain how much throat power was needed in one person to be audible to another three feet from the latter's ear. This would sift out the persons fit for such a contest. The investigator might then call a dead silence in the assembly, and request each person to talk in a natural voice, then divide the total noise as before, and see what chance of being heard an ordinary individual had in it. If it turned out in these circumstances that every person present could speak with ease and hear perfectly what was said, then the order might be given for the talk to go on in that tone, and that every person who raised the voice and began to scream should be gagged and removed to another room. In this room could be collected all the screamers to enjoy their own powers. The same experiment might be tried at a dinner-party, namely, to ascertain if the total hum of low voices in the natural key would not be less for the individual voice to overcome than the total scream of all the voices raised to a shriek. If scientific research demonstrated the feasibility of speaking in an ordinary voice at receptions, dinner-parties, and in "calls," then the Drawer is of opinion that intelligible and enjoyable conversation would be possible on these occasions, if it becomes fashionable not to scream.
DOES REFINEMENT KILL INDIVIDUALITY?
Is it true that cultivation, what we call refinement, kills individuality? Or, worse than that even, that one loses his taste by over-cultivation? Those persons are uninteresting, certainly, who have gone so far in culture that they accept conventional standards supposed to be correct, to which they refer everything, and by which they measure everybody. Taste usually implies a sort of selection; the cultivated taste of which we speak is merely a comparison, no longer an individual preference or appreciation, but only a reference to the conventional and accepted standard. When a man or woman has reached this stage of propriety we are never curious any more concerning their opinions on any subject. We know that the opinions expressed will not be theirs, evolved out of their own feeling, but that they will be the cut-and-dried results of conventionality.
It is doubtless a great comfort to a person to know exactly how to feel and what to say in every new contingency, but whether the zest of life is not dulled by this ability is a grave question, for it leaves no room for surprise and little for emotion. O ye belles of Newport and of Bar Harbor, in your correct and conventional agreement of what is proper and agreeable, are you wasting your sweet lives by rule? Is your compact, graceful, orderly society liable to be monotonous in its gay repetition of the same thing week after week? Is there nothing outside of that envied circle which you make so brilliant? Is the Atlantic shore the only coast where beauty may lounge and spread its net of enchantment? The Atlantic shore and Europe? Perhaps on the Pacific you might come back to your original selves, and find again that freedom and that charm of individuality that are so attractive. Some sparkling summer morning, if you chanced to drive four-in-hand along the broad beach at Santa Barbara, inhaling, the spicy breeze from the Sandwich Islands, along the curved shore where the blue of the sea and the purple of the mountains remind you of the Sorrentine promontory, and then dashed away into the canon of Montecito, among the vineyards and orange orchards and live-oaks and palms, in vales and hills all ablaze with roses and flowers of the garden and the hothouse, which bloom the year round in the gracious sea-air, would you not, we wonder, come to yourselves in the sense of a new life where it is good form to be enthusiastic and not disgraceful to be surprised? It is a far cry from Newport to Santa Barbara, and a whole world of new sensations lies on the way, experiences for which you will have no formula of experience. To take the journey is perhaps too heroic treatment for the disease of conformity—the sort of malaria of our exclusive civilization.
The Drawer is not urging this journey, nor any break-up of the social order, for it knows how painful a return to individuality may be. It is easier to go on in the subordination of one's personality to the strictly conventional life. It expects rather to record a continually perfected machinery, a life in which not only speech but ideas are brought into rule. We have had something to say occasionally of the art of conversation, which is in danger of being lost in the confused babel of the reception and the chatter of the dinner-party—the art of listening and the art of talking both being lost. Society is taking alarm at this, and the women as usual are leaders in a reform. Already, by reason of clubs-literary, scientific, economic—woman is the well-informed part of our society. In the "Conversation Lunch" this information is now brought into use. The lunch, and perhaps the dinner, will no longer be the occasion of satisfying the appetite or of gossip, but of improving talk. The giver of the lunch will furnish the topic of conversation. Two persons may not speak at once; two persons may not talk with each other; all talk is to be general and on the topic assigned, and while one is speaking, the others must listen. Perhaps each lady on taking her seat may find in her napkin a written slip of paper which shall be the guide to her remarks. Thus no time is to be wasted on frivolous topics. The ordinary natural flow of rejoinder and repartee, the swirling of talk around one obstacle and another, its winding and rippling here and there as individual whim suggests, will not be allowed, but all will be improving, and tend to that general culture of which we have been speaking. The ladies' lunch is not to be exactly a debating society, but an open occasion for the delivery of matured thought and the acquisition of information.
The object is not to talk each other down, but to improve the mind, which, unguided, is apt to get frivolous at the convivial board. It is notorious that men by themselves at lunch or dinner usually shun grave topics and indulge in persiflage, and even descend to talk about wine and the made dishes. The women's lunch of this summer takes higher ground. It will give Mr. Browning his final estimate; it will settle Mr. Ibsen; it will determine the suffrage question; it will adjudicate between the total abstainers and the halfway covenant of high license; it will not hesitate to cut down the tariff.
The Drawer anticipates a period of repose in all our feverish social life. We shall live more by rule and less by impulse. When we meet we shall talk on set topics, determined beforehand. By this concentration we shall be able as one man or one woman to reach the human limit of cultivation, and get rid of all the aberrations of individual assertion and feeling. By studying together in clubs, by conversing in monotone and by rule, by thinking the same things and exchanging ideas until we have none left, we shall come into that social placidity which is one dream of the nationalists—one long step towards what may be called a prairie mental condition—the slope of Kansas, where those who are five thousand feet above the sea-level seem to be no higher than those who dwell in the Missouri Valley.
THE DIRECTOIRE GOWN
We are all more or less devoted to 'liberte', 'egalite', and considerable 'fraternite', and we have various ways of showing it. It is the opinion of many that women do not care much about politics, and that if they are interested at all in them, they are by nature aristocrats. It is said, indeed, that they care much more about their dress than they do about the laws or the form of government. This notion arises from a misapprehension both of the nature of woman and of the significance of dress.
Men have an idea that fashions are haphazard, and are dictated and guided by no fixed principles of action, and represent no great currents in politics or movements of the human mind. Women, who are exceedingly subtle in all their operations, feel that it is otherwise. They have a prescience of changes in the drift of public affairs, and a delicate sensitiveness that causes them to adjust their raiment to express these changes. Men have written a great deal in their bungling way about the philosophy of clothes. Women exhibit it, and if we should study them more and try to understand them instead of ridiculing their fashions as whims bred of an inconstant mind and mere desire for change, we would have a better apprehension of the great currents of modern political life and society.
Many observers are puzzled by the gradual and insidious return recently to the mode of the Directoire, and can see in it no significance other than weariness of some other mode. We need to recall the fact of the influence of the centenary period upon the human mind. It is nearly a century since the fashion of the Directoire. What more natural, considering the evidence that we move in spirals, if not in circles, that the signs of the anniversary of one of the most marked periods in history should be shown in feminine apparel? It is woman's way of hinting what is in the air, the spirit that is abroad in the world. It will be remembered that women took a prominent part in the destruction of the Bastile, helping, indeed, to tear down that odious structure with their own hands, the fall of which, it is well known, brought in the classic Greek and republican simplicity, the subtle meaning of the change being expressed in French gowns. Naturally there was a reaction from all this towards aristocratic privileges and exclusiveness, which went on for many years, until in France monarchy and empire followed the significant leadership of the French modistes. So strong was this that it passed to other countries, and in England the impulse outlasted even the Reform Bill, and skirts grew more and more bulbous, until it did not need more than three or four women to make a good-sized assembly. This was not the result of, a whim about clothes, but a subtle recognition of a spirit of exclusiveness and defense abroad in the world. Each woman became her own Bastile. Men surrounded it and thundered against it without the least effect. It seemed as permanent as the Pyramids. At every male attack it expanded, and became more aggressive and took up more room. Women have such an exquisite sense of things—just as they have now in regard to big obstructive hats in the theatres. They know that most of the plays are inferior and some of them are immoral, and they attend the theatres with head-dresses that will prevent as many people as possible from seeing the stage and being corrupted by anything that takes place on it. They object to the men seeing some of the women who are now on the stage. It happened, as to the private Bastiles, that the women at last recognized a change in the sociological and political atmosphere of the world, and without consulting any men of affairs or caring for their opinion, down went the Bastiles. When women attacked them, in obedience to their political instincts, they collapsed like punctured balloons. Natural woman was measurably (that is, a capacity of being measured) restored to the world. And we all remember the great political revolutionary movements of 1848.
Now France is still the arbiter of the modes. Say what we may about Berlin, copy their fashion plates as we will, or about London, or New York, or Tokio, it is indisputable that the woman in any company who has on a Paris gown—the expression is odious, but there is no other that in these days would be comprehended—"takes the cake." It is not that the women care for this as a mere matter of apparel. But they are sensitive to the political atmosphere, to the philosophical significance that it has to great impending changes. We are approaching the centenary of the fall of the Bastile. The French have no Bastile to lay low, nor, indeed, any Tuileries to burn up; but perhaps they might get a good way ahead by demolishing Notre Dame and reducing most of Paris to ashes. Apparently they are on the eve of doing something. The women of the world may not know what it is, but they feel the approaching recurrence of a period. Their movements are not yet decisive. It is as yet only tentatively that they adopt the mode of the Directoire. It is yet uncertain—a sort of Boulangerism in dress. But if we watch it carefully we shall be able to predict with some assurance the drift in Paris. The Directoire dress points to another period of republican simplicity, anarchy, and the rule of a popular despot.
It is a great pity, in view of this valuable instinct in women and the prophetic significance of dress, that women in the United States do not exercise their gifts with regard to their own country. We should then know at any given time whether we are drifting into Blaineism, or Clevelandism, or centralization, or free-trade, or extreme protection, or rule by corporations. We boast greatly of our smartness. It is time we were up and dressed to prove it.
THE MYSTERY OF THE SEX
There appears to be a great quantity of conceit around, especially concerning women. The statement was recently set afloat that a well-known lady had admitted that George Meredith understands women better than any writer who has preceded him. This may be true, and it may be a wily statement to again throw men off the track; at any rate it contains the old assumption of a mystery, practically insoluble, about the gentler sex. Women generally encourage this notion, and men by their gingerly treatment of it seemed to accept it. But is it well-founded, is there any more mystery about women—than about men? Is the feminine nature any more difficult to understand than the masculine nature? Have women, conscious of inferior strength, woven this notion of mystery about themselves as a defense, or have men simply idealized them for fictitious purposes? To recur to the case cited, is there any evidence that Mr. Meredith understands human nature—as exhibited in women any better than human nature—in men, or is more consistent in the production of one than of the other? Historically it would be interesting to trace the rise of this notion of woman as an enigma. The savage races do not appear to have it. A woman to the North American Indian is a simple affair, dealt with without circumlocution. In the Bible records there is not much mystery about her; there are many tributes to her noble qualities, and some pretty severe and uncomplimentary things are said about her, but there is little affectation of not understanding her. She may be a prophetess, or a consoler, or a snare, but she is no more "deceitful and desperately wicked" than anybody else. There is nothing mysterious about her first recorded performance. Eve trusted the serpent, and Adam trusted Eve. The mystery was in the serpent. There is no evidence that the ancient Egyptian woman was more difficult to comprehend than the Egyptian man. They were both doubtless wily as highly civilized people are apt to be; the "serpent of old Nile" was in them both. Is it in fact till we come to mediaeval times, and the chivalric age, that women are set up as being more incomprehensible than men? That is, less logical, more whimsical, more uncertain in their mental processes? The play-writers and essayists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries "worked" this notion continually. They always took an investigating and speculating attitude towards women, that fostered the conceit of their separateness and veiled personality. Every woman was supposed to be playing a part behind a mask. Montaigne is always investigating woman as a mystery. It is, for instance, a mystery he does not relish that, as he says, women commonly reserve the publication of their vehement affections for their husbands till they have lost them; then the woful countenance "looks not so much back as forward, and is intended rather to get a new husband than to lament the old." And he tells this story:
"When I was a boy, a very beautiful and virtuous lady who is yet living, and the widow of a prince, had, I know not what, more ornament in her dress than our laws of widowhood will well allow, which being reproached with as a great indecency, she made answer 'that it was because she was not cultivating more friendships, and would never marry again.'" This cynical view of woman, as well as the extravagantly complimentary one sometimes taken by the poets, was based upon the notion that woman was an unexplainable being. When she herself adopted the idea is uncertain. Of course all this has a very practical bearing upon modern life, the position of women in it, and the so-called reforms. If woman is so different from man, to the extent of being an unexplainable mystery, science ought to determine the exact state of the case, and ascertain if there is any remedy for it. If it is only a literary creation, we ought to know it. Science could tell, for instance, whether there is a peculiarity in the nervous system, any complications in the nervous centres, by which the telegraphic action of the will gets crossed, so that, for example, in reply to a proposal of marriage, the intended "Yes" gets delivered as "No." Is it true that the mental process in one sex is intuitive, and in the other logical, with every link necessary and visible? Is it true, as the romancers teach, that the mind in one sex acts indirectly and in the other directly, or is this indirect process only characteristic of exceptions in both sexes? Investigation ought to find this out, so that we can adjust the fit occupations for both sexes on a scientific basis. We are floundering about now in a sea of doubt. As society becomes more complicated, women will become a greater and greater mystery, or rather will be regarded so by themselves and be treated so by men.
Who can tell how much this notion of mystery in the sex stands in the way of its free advancement all along the line? Suppose the proposal were made to women to exchange being mysterious for the ballot? Would they do it? Or have they a sense of power in the possession of this conceded incomprehensibility that they would not lay down for any visible insignia of that power? And if the novelists and essayists have raised a mist about the sex, which it willingly masquerades in, is it not time that the scientists should determine whether the mystery exists in nature or only in the imagination?
THE CLOTHES OF FICTION
The Drawer has never undervalued clothes. Whatever other heresies it may have had, however it may have insisted that the more a woman learns, the more she knows of books, the higher her education is carried in all the knowledges, the more interesting she will be, not only for an hour, but as a companion for life, it has never said that she is less attractive when dressed with taste and according to the season. Love itself could scarcely be expected to survive a winter hat worn after Easter. And the philosophy of this is not on the surface, nor applicable to women only. In this the highest of created things are under a law having a much wider application. Take as an item novels, the works of fiction, which have become an absolute necessity in the modern world, as necessary to divert the mind loaded with care and under actual strain as to fill the vacancy in otherwise idle brains. They have commonly a summer and a winter apparel. The publishers understand this. As certainly as the birds appear, comes the crop of summer novels, fluttering down upon the stalls, in procession through the railway trains, littering the drawing-room tables, in light paper, covers, ornamental, attractive in colors and fanciful designs, as welcome and grateful as the girls in muslin. When the thermometer is in the eighties, anything heavy and formidable is distasteful. The housekeeper knows we want few solid dishes, but salads and cooling drinks. The publisher knows that we want our literature (or what passes for that) in light array. In the winter we prefer the boards and the rich heavy binding, however light the tale may be; but in the summer, though the fiction be as grave and tragic as wandering love and bankruptcy, we would have it come to us lightly clad—out of stays, as it were.
It would hardly be worth while to refer to this taste in the apparel of our fiction did it not have deep and esoteric suggestions, and could not the novelists themselves get a hint from it. Is it realized how much depends upon the clothes that are worn by the characters in the novels —clothes put on not only to exhibit the inner life of the characters, but to please the readers who are to associate with them? It is true that there are novels that almost do away with the necessity of fashion magazines and fashion plates in the family, so faithful are they in the latest millinery details, and so fully do they satisfy the longing of all of us to know what is chic for the moment. It is pretty well understood, also, that women, and even men, are made to exhibit the deepest passions and the tenderest emotions in the crises of their lives by the clothes they put on. How the woman in such a crisis hesitates before her wardrobe, and at last chooses just what will express her innermost feeling! Does she dress for her lover as she dresses to receive her lawyer who has come to inform her that she is living beyond her income? Would not the lover be spared time and pain if he knew, as the novelist knows, whether the young lady is dressing for a rejection or an acceptance? Why does the lady intending suicide always throw on a waterproof when she steals out of the house to drown herself? The novelist knows the deep significance of every article of toilet, and nature teaches him to array his characters for the summer novel in the airy draperies suitable to the season. It is only good art that the cover of the novel and the covers of the characters shall be in harmony. He knows, also, that the characters in the winter novel must be adequately protected. We speak, of course, of the season stories. Novels that are to run through a year, or maybe many years, and are to set forth the passions and trials of changing age and varying circumstance, require different treatment and wider millinery knowledge. They are naturally more expensive. The wardrobe required in an all-round novel would bankrupt most of us.
But to confine ourselves to the season novel, it is strange that some one has not invented the patent adjustable story that with a slight change would do for summer or winter, following the broad hint of the publishers, who hasten in May to throw whatever fiction they have on hand into summer clothes. The winter novel, by this invention, could be easily fitted for summer wear. All the novelist need do would be to change the clothes of his characters. And in the autumn, if the novel proved popular, he could change again, with the advantage of being in the latest fashion. It would only be necessary to alter a few sentences in a few of the stereotype pages. Of course this would make necessary other slight alterations, for no kind-hearted writer would be cruel to his own creations, and expose them to the vicissitudes of the seasons. He could insert "rain" for "snow," and "green leaves" for "skeleton branches," make a few verbal changes of that sort, and regulate the thermometer. It would cost very little to adjust the novel in this way to any season. It is worth thinking of.
And this leads to a remark upon the shocking indifference of some novelists to the ordinary comfort of their characters. In practical life we cannot, but in his realm the novelist can, control the weather. He can make it generally pleasant. We do not object to a terrific thunder-shower now and then, as the sign of despair and a lost soul, but perpetual drizzle and grayness and inclemency are tedious to the reader, who has enough bad weather in his private experience. The English are greater sinners in this respect than we are. They seem to take a brutal delight in making it as unpleasant as possible for their fictitious people. There is R—b—rt 'lsm—r', for example. External trouble is piled on to the internal. The characters are in a perpetual soak. There is not a dry rag on any of them, from the beginning of the book to the end. They are sent out in all weathers, and are drenched every day. Often their wet clothes are frozen on them; they are exposed to cutting winds and sleet in their faces, bedrabbled in damp grass, stood against slippery fences, with hail and frost lowering their vitality, and expected under these circumstances to make love and be good Christians. Drenched and wind-blown for years, that is what they are. It may be that this treatment has excited the sympathy of the world, but is it legitimate? Has a novelist the right to subject his creations to tortures that he would not dare to inflict upon his friends? It is no excuse to say that this is normal English weather; it is not the office of fiction to intensify and rub in the unavoidable evils of life. The modern spirit of consideration for fictitious characters that prevails with regard to dress ought to extend in a reasonable degree to their weather. This is not a strained corollary to the demand for an appropriately costumed novel.
THE BROAD A
It cannot for a moment be supposed that the Drawer would discourage self-culture and refinement of manner and of speech. But it would not hesitate to give a note of warning if it believed that the present devotion to literature and the pursuits of the mind were likely, by the highest authorities, to be considered bad form. In an intellectually inclined city (not in the northeast) a club of ladies has been formed for the cultivation of the broad 'a' in speech. Sporadic efforts have hitherto been made for the proper treatment of this letter of the alphabet with individual success, especially with those who have been in England, or have known English men and women of the broad-gauge variety. Discerning travelers have made the American pronunciation of the letter a a reproach to the republic, that is to say, a means of distinguishing a native of this country. The true American aspires to be cosmopolitan, and does not want to be "spotted"—if that word may be used—in society by any peculiarity of speech, that is, by any American peculiarity. Why, at the bottom of the matter, a narrow 'a' should be a disgrace it is not easy to see, but it needs no reason if fashion or authority condemns it. This country is so spread out, without any social or literary centre universally recognized as such, and the narrow 'a' has become so prevalent, that even fashion finds it difficult to reform it. The best people, who are determined to broaden all their 'a''s, will forget in moments of excitement, and fall back into old habits. It requires constant vigilance to keep the letter 'a' flattened out. It is in vain that scholars have pointed out that in the use of this letter lies the main difference between the English and the American speech; either Americans generally do not care if this is the fact, or fashion can only work a reform in a limited number of people. It seems, therefore, necessary that there should be an organized effort to deal with this pronunciation, and clubs will no doubt be formed all over the country, in imitation of the one mentioned, until the broad a will become as common as flies in summer. When this result is attained it will be time to attack the sound of 'u' with clubs, and make universal the French sound. In time the American pronunciation will become as superior to all others as are the American sewing-machines and reapers. In the Broad A Club every member who misbehaves—that is, mispronounces—is fined a nickel for each offense. Of course in the beginning there is a good deal of revenue from this source, but the revenue diminishes as the club improves, so that we have the anomaly of its failure to be self-supporting in proportion to its excellence. Just now if these clubs could suddenly become universal, and the penalty be enforced, we could have the means of paying off the national debt in a year.
We do not wish to attach too much importance to this movement, but rather to suggest to a continent yearning for culture in letters and in speech whether it may not be carried too far. The reader will remember that there came a time in Athens when culture could mock at itself, and the rest of the country may be warned in time of a possible departure from good form in devotion to language and literature by the present attitude of modern Athens. Probably there is no esoteric depth in literature or religion, no refinement in intellectual luxury, that this favored city has not sounded. It is certainly significant, therefore, when the priestesses and devotees of mental superiority there turn upon it and rend it, when they are heartily tired of the whole literary business. There is always this danger when anything is passionately pursued as a fashion, that it will one day cease to be the fashion. Plato and Buddha and even Emerson become in time like a last season's fashion plate. Even a "friend of the spirit" will have to go. Culture is certain to mock itself in time.
The clubs for the improvement of the mind—the female mind—and of speech, which no doubt had their origin in modern Athens, should know, then, that it is the highest mark of female culture now in that beautiful town to despise culture, to affect the gayest and most joyous ignorance —ignorance of books, of all forms of so-called intellectual development, and all literary men, women, and productions whatsoever! This genuine movement of freedom may be a real emancipation. If it should reach the metropolis, what a relief it might bring to thousands who are, under a high sense of duty, struggling to advance the intellectual life. There is this to be said, however, that it is only the very brightest people, those who have no need of culture, who have in fact passed beyond all culture, who can take this position in regard to it, and actually revel in the delights of ignorance. One must pass into a calm place when he is beyond the desire to know anything or to do anything.
It is a chilling thought, unless one can rise to the highest philosophy of life, that even the broad 'a', when it is attained, may not be a permanence. Let it be common, and what distinction will there be in it? When devotion to study, to the reading of books, to conversation on improving topics, becomes a universal fashion, is it not evident that one can only keep a leadership in fashion by throwing the whole thing overboard, and going forward into the natural gayety of life, which cares for none of these things? We suppose the Constitution of the United States will stand if the day comes—nay, now is—when the women of Chicago call the women of Boston frivolous, and the women of Boston know their immense superiority and advancement in being so, but it would be a blank surprise to the country generally to know that it was on the wrong track. The fact is that culture in this country is full of surprises, and so doubles and feints and comes back upon itself that the most diligent recorder can scarcely note its changes. The Drawer can only warn; it cannot advise.
No language that is unfortunately understood by the greater portion of the people who speak English, thousands are saying on the first of January—in 1890, a far-off date that it is wonderful any one has lived to see—"Let us have a new deal!" It is a natural exclamation, and does not necessarily mean any change of purpose. It always seems to a man that if he could shuffle the cards he could increase his advantages in the game of life, and, to continue the figure which needs so little explanation, it usually appears to him that he could play anybody else's hand better than his own. In all the good resolutions of the new year, then, it happens that perhaps the most sincere is the determination to get a better hand. Many mistake this for repentance and an intention to reform, when generally it is only the desire for a new shuffle of the cards. Let us have a fresh pack and a new deal, and start fair. It seems idle, therefore, for the moralist to indulge in a homily about annual good intentions, and habits that ought to be dropped or acquired, on the first of January. He can do little more than comment on the passing show.
It will be admitted that if the world at this date is not socially reformed it is not the fault of the Drawer, and for the reason that it has been not so much a critic as an explainer and encourager. It is in the latter character that it undertakes to defend and justify a national industry that has become very important within the past ten years. A great deal of capital is invested in it, and millions of people are actively employed in it. The varieties of chewing gum that are manufactured would be a matter of surprise to those who have paid no attention to the subject, and who may suppose that the millions of mouths they see engaged in its mastication have a common and vulgar taste. From the fact that it can be obtained at the apothecary's, an impression has got abroad that it is medicinal. This is not true. The medical profession do not use it, and what distinguishes it from drugs-that they also do not use—is the fact that they do not prescribe it. It is neither a narcotic nor a stimulant. It cannot strictly be said to soothe or to excite. The habit of using it differs totally from that of the chewing of tobacco or the dipping of snuff. It might, by a purely mechanical operation, keep a person awake, but no one could go to sleep chewing gum. It is in itself neither tonic nor sedative. It is to be noticed also that the gum habit differs from the tobacco habit in that the aromatic and elastic substance is masticated, while the tobacco never is, and that the mastication leads to nothing except more mastication. The task is one that can never be finished. The amount of energy expended in this process if capitalized or conserved would produce great results. Of course the individual does little, but if the power evolved by the practice in a district school could be utilized, it would suffice to run the kindergarten department. The writer has seen a railway car—say in the West—filled with young women, nearly every one of whose jaws and pretty mouths was engaged in this pleasing occupation; and so much power was generated that it would, if applied, have kept the car in motion if the steam had been shut off—at least it would have furnished the motive for illuminating the car by electricity.
This national industry is the subject of constant detraction, satire, and ridicule by the newspaper press. This is because it is not understood, and it may be because it is mainly a female accomplishment: the few men who chew gum may be supposed to do so by reason of gallantry. There might be no more sympathy with it in the press if the real reason for the practice were understood, but it would be treated more respectfully. Some have said that the practice arises from nervousness—the idle desire to be busy without doing anything—and because it fills up the pauses of vacuity in conversation. But this would not fully account for the practice of it in solitude. Some have regarded it as in obedience to the feminine instinct for the cultivation of patience and self-denial —patience in a fruitless activity, and self-denial in the eternal act of mastication without swallowing. It is no more related to these virtues than it is to the habit of the reflective cow in chewing her cud. The cow would never chew gum. The explanation is a more philosophical one, and relates to a great modern social movement. It is to strengthen and develop and make more masculine the lower jaw. The critic who says that this is needless, that the inclination in women to talk would adequately develop this, misses the point altogether. Even if it could be proved that women are greater chatterers than men, the critic would gain nothing. Women have talked freely since creation, but it remains true that a heavy, strong lower jaw is a distinctively masculine characteristic. It is remarked that if a woman has a strong lower jaw she is like a man. Conversation does not create this difference, nor remove it; for the development of a lower jaw in women constant mechanical exercise of the muscles is needed. Now, a spirit of emancipation, of emulation, is abroad, as it ought to be, for the regeneration of the world. It is sometimes called the coming to the front of woman in every act and occupation that used to belong almost exclusively to man. It is not necessary to say a word to justify this. But it is often accompanied by a misconception, namely, that it is necessary for woman to be like man, not only in habits, but in certain physical characteristics. No woman desires a beard, because a beard means care and trouble, and would detract from feminine beauty, but to have a strong and, in appearance, a resolute under-jaw may be considered a desirable note of masculinity, and of masculine power and privilege, in the good time coming. Hence the cultivation of it by the chewing of gum is a recognizable and reasonable instinct, and the practice can be defended as neither a whim nor a vain waste of energy and nervous force. In a generation or two it may be laid aside as no longer necessary, or men may be compelled to resort to it to preserve their supremacy.
WOMEN IN CONGRESS
It does not seem to be decided yet whether women are to take the Senate or the House at Washington in the new development of what is called the dual government. There are disadvantages in both. The members of the Senate are so few that the women of the country would not be adequately represented in it; and the Chamber in which the House meets is too large for women to make speeches in with any pleasure to themselves or their hearers. This last objection is, however, frivolous, for the speeches will be printed in the Record; and it is as easy to count women on a vote as men. There is nothing in the objection, either, that the Chamber would need to be remodeled, and the smoking-rooms be turned into Day Nurseries. The coming woman will not smoke, to be sure; neither will she, in coming forward to take charge of the government, plead the Baby Act. Only those women, we are told, would be elected to Congress whose age and position enable them to devote themselves exclusively to politics. The question, therefore, of taking to themselves the Senate or the House will be decided by the women themselves upon other grounds—as to whether they wish to take the initiative in legislation and hold the power of the purse, or whether they prefer to act as a check, to exercise the high treaty-making power, and to have a voice in selecting the women who shall be sent to represent us abroad. Other things being equal, women will naturally select the Upper House, and especially as that will give them an opportunity to reject any but the most competent women for the Supreme Bench. The irreverent scoffers at our Supreme Court have in the past complained (though none do now) that there were "old women" in gowns on the bench. There would be no complaint of the kind in the future. The judges would be as pretty as those who assisted in the judgment of Paris, with changed functions; there would be no monotony in the dress, and the Supreme Bench would be one of the most attractive spectacles in Washington. When the judges as well as the advocates are Portias, the law will be an agreeable occupation.
This is, however, mere speculation. We do not understand that it is the immediate purpose of women to take the whole government, though some extravagant expectations are raised by the admission of new States that are ruled by women. They may wish to divide—and conquer. One plan is, instead of dual Chambers of opposite sexes, to mingle in both the Senate and the House. And this is more likely to be the plan adopted, because the revolution is not to be violent, and, indeed, cannot take place without some readjustment of the home life. We have at present what Charles Reade would have called only a right-handed civilization. To speak metaphorically, men cannot use their left hands, or, to drop the metaphor, before the government can be fully reorganized men must learn to do women's work. It may be a fair inference from this movement that women intend to abandon the sacred principle of Home Rule. This abandonment is foreshadowed in a recent election in a small Western city, where the female voters made a clean sweep, elected an entire city council of women and most of the other officers, including the police judge and the mayor. The latter lady, by one of those intrusions of nature which reform is not yet able to control, became a mother and a mayor the same week. Her husband had been city clerk, and held over; but fortunately an arrangement was made with him to stay at home and take care of the baby, unofficially, while the mayor attends to her public duties. Thus the city clerk will gradually be initiated into the duties of home rule, and when the mayor is elected to Congress he will be ready to accompany her to Washington and keep house. The imagination likes to dwell upon this, for the new order is capable of infinite extension. When the State takes care of all the children in government nurseries, and the mayor has taken her place in the United States Senate, her husband, if he has become sufficiently reformed and feminized, may go to the House, and the reunited family of two, clubbing their salaries, can live in great comfort.
All this can be easily arranged, whether we are to have a dual government of sexes or a mixed House and Senate. The real difficulty is about a single Executive. Neither sex will be willing to yield to the other this vast power. We might elect a man and wife President and Vice-President, but the Vice-President, of whatever sex, could not well preside over the Senate and in the White House at the same time. It is true that the Constitution provides that the President and Vice-President shall not be of the same State, but residence can be acquired to get over this as easily as to obtain a divorce; and a Constitution that insists upon speaking of the President as "he" is too antiquated to be respected. When the President is a woman, it can matter little whether her husband or some other woman presides in the Senate. Even the reformers will hardly insist upon two Presidents in order to carry out the equality idea, so that we are probably anticipating difficulties that will not occur in practice.
The Drawer has only one more practical suggestion. As the right of voting carries with it the right to hold any elective office, a great change must take place in Washington life. Now for some years the divergence of society and politics has been increasing at the capital. With women in both Houses, and on the Supreme Bench, and at the heads of the departments, social and political life will become one and the same thing; receptions and afternoon teas will be held in the Senate and House, and political caucuses in all the drawing-rooms. And then life will begin to be interesting.
SHALL WOMEN PROPOSE?
The shyness of man—meaning the "other sex" referred to in the woman's journals—has often been noticed in novels, and sometimes in real life. This shyness is, however, so exceptional as to be suspicious. The shy young man may provoke curiosity, but he does not always inspire respect. Roughly estimated, shyness is not considered a manly quality, while it is one of the most pleasing and attractive of the feminine traits, and there is something pathetic in the expression "He is as shy as a girl;" it may appeal for sympathy and the exercise of the protective instinct in women. Unfortunately it is a little discredited, so many of the old plays turning upon its assumption by young blades who are no better than they should be.
What would be the effect upon the masculine character and comfort if this shyness should become general, as it may in a contingency that is already on the horizon? We refer, of course, to the suggestion, coming from various quarters, that women should propose. The reasonableness of this suggestion may not lie on the surface; it may not be deduced from the uniform practice, beginning with the primitive men and women; it may not be inferred from the open nature of the two sexes (for the sake of argument two sexes must still be insisted on); but it is found in the advanced civilization with which we are struggling. Why should not women propose? Why should they be at a disadvantage in an affair which concerns the happiness of the whole life? They have as much right to a choice as men, and to an opportunity to exercise it. Why should they occupy a negative position, and be restricted, in making the most important part of their career, wholly to the choice implied in refusals? In fact, marriage really concerns them more than it does men; they have to bear the chief of its burdens. A wide and free choice for them would, then, seem to be only fair. Undeniably a great many men are inattentive, unobserving, immersed in some absorbing pursuit, undecided, and at times bashful, and liable to fall into union with women who happen to be near them, rather than with those who are conscious that they would make them the better wives. Men, unaided by the finer feminine instincts of choice, are so apt to be deceived. In fact, man's inability to "match" anything is notorious. If he cannot be trusted in the matter of worsted-work, why should he have such distinctive liberty in the most important matter of his life? Besides, there are many men—and some of the best who get into a habit of not marrying at all, simply because the right woman has not presented herself at the right time. Perhaps, if women had the open privilege of selection, many a good fellow would be rescued from miserable isolation, and perhaps also many a noble woman whom chance, or a stationary position, or the inertia of the other sex, has left to bloom alone, and waste her sweetness on relations, would be the centre of a charming home, furnishing the finest spectacle seen in this uphill world —a woman exercising gracious hospitality, and radiating to a circle far beyond her home the influence of her civilizing personality. For, notwithstanding all the centrifugal forces of this age, it is probable that the home will continue to be the fulcrum on which women will move the world.
It may be objected that it would be unfair to add this opportunity to the already, overpowering attractions of woman, and that man would be put at an immense disadvantage, since he might have too much gallantry, or not enough presence of mind, to refuse a proposal squarely and fascinatingly made, although his judgment scarcely consented, and his ability to support a wife were more than doubtful. Women would need to exercise a great deal of prudence and discretion, or there would be something like a panic, and a cry along the male line of 'Sauve qui peut'; for it is matter of record that the bravest men will sometimes run away from danger on a sudden impulse.
This prospective social revolution suggests many inquiries. What would be the effect upon the female character and disposition of a possible, though not probable, refusal, or of several refusals? Would she become embittered and desperate, and act as foolishly as men often do? Would her own sex be considerate, and give her a fair field if they saw she was paying attention to a young man, or an old one? And what effect would this change in relations have upon men? Would it not render that sporadic shyness of which we have spoken epidemic? Would it frighten men, rendering their position less stable in their own eyes, or would it feminize them—that is, make them retiring, blushing, self-conscious beings? And would this change be of any injury to them in their necessary fight for existence in this pushing world? What would be the effect upon courtship if both the men and the women approached each other as wooers? In ordinary transactions one is a buyer and one is a seller—to put it coarsely. If seller met seller and buyer met buyer, trade would languish. But this figure cannot be continued, for there is no romance in a bargain of any sort; and what we should most fear in a scientific age is the loss of romance.
This is, however, mere speculation. The serious aspect of the proposed change is the effect it will have upon the character of men, who are not enough considered in any of these discussions. The revolution will be a radical one in one respect. We may admit that in the future woman can take care of herself, but how will it be with man, who has had little disciplinary experience of adversity, simply because he has been permitted to have his own way? Heretofore his life has had a stimulus. When he proposes to a woman, he in fact says: "I am able to support you; I am able to protect you from the rough usage of the world; I am strong and ambitious, and eager to take upon myself the lovely bondage of this responsibility. I offer you this love because I feel the courage and responsibility of my position." That is the manly part of it. What effect will it have upon his character to be waiting round, unselected and undecided, until some woman comes to him, and fixes her fascinating eyes upon him, and says, in effect: "I can support you; I can defend you. Have no fear of the future; I will be at once your shield and your backbone. I take the responsibility of my choice." There are a great many men now, who have sneaked into their positions by a show of courage, who are supported one way and another by women. It might be humiliating to know just how many men live by the labors of their wives. And what would be the effect upon the character of man if the choice, and the responsibility of it, and the support implied by it in marriage, were generally transferred to woman?
FROCKS AND THE STAGE
The condescension to literature and to the stage is one of the notable characteristics of this agreeable time. We have to admit that literature is rather the fashion, without the violent presumption that the author and the writer have the same social position that is conferred by money, or by the mysterious virtue there is in pedigree. A person does not lose caste by using the pen, or even by taking the not-needed pay for using it. To publish a book or to have an article accepted by a magazine may give a sort of social distinction, either as an exhibition of a certain unexpected capacity or a social eccentricity. It is hardly too much to say that it has become the fashion to write, as it used to be to dance the minuet well, or to use the broadsword, or to stand a gentlemanly mill with a renowned bruiser. Of course one ought not to do this professionally exactly, ought not to prepare for doing it by study and severe discipline, by training for it as for a trade, but simply to toss it off easily, as one makes a call, or pays a compliment, or drives four-in-hand. One does not need to have that interior impulse which drives a poor devil of an author to express himself, that something to say which torments the poet into extreme irritability unless he can be rid of it, that noble hunger for fame which comes from a consciousness of the possession of vital thought and emotion.
The beauty of this condescension to literature of which we speak is that it has that quality of spontaneity that does not presuppose either a capacity or a call. There is no mystery about the craft. One resolves to write a book, as he might to take a journey or to practice on the piano, and the thing is done. Everybody can write, at least everybody does write. It is a wonderful time for literature. The Queen of England writes for it, the Queen of Roumania writes for it, the Shah of Persia writes for it, Lady Brassey, the yachtswoman, wrote for it, Congressmen write for it, peers write for it. The novel is the common recreation of ladies of rank, and where is the young woman in this country who has not tried her hand at a romance or made a cast at a popular magazine? The effect of all this upon literature is expansive and joyous. Superstition about any mystery in the art has nearly disappeared. It is a common observation that if persons fail in everything else, if they are fit for nothing else, they can at least write. It is such an easy occupation, and the remuneration is in such disproportion to the expenditure! Isn't it indeed the golden era of letters? If only the letters were gold!
If there is any such thing remaining as a guild of authors, somewhere on the back seats, witnessing this marvelous Kingdom Come of Literature, there must also be a little bunch of actors, born for the stage, who see with mixed feelings their arena taken possession of by fairer if not more competent players. These players are not to be confounded with the play-actors whom the Puritans denounced, nor with those trained to the profession in the French capital.
In the United States and in England we are born to enter upon any avocation, thank Heaven! without training for it. We have not in this country any such obstacle to universal success as the Theatre Francais, but Providence has given us, for wise purposes no doubt, Private Theatricals (not always so private as they should be), which domesticate the drama, and supply the stage with some of the most beautiful and best dressed performers the world has ever seen. Whatever they may say of it, it is a gallant and a susceptible age, and all men bow to loveliness, and all women recognize a talent for clothes. We do not say that there is not such a thing as dramatic art, and that there are not persons who need as severe training before they attempt to personate nature in art as the painter must undergo who attempts to transfer its features to his canvas. But the taste of the age must be taken into account. The public does not demand that an actor shall come in at a private door and climb a steep staircase to get to the stage. When a Star from the Private Theatricals descends upon the boards, with the arms of Venus and the throat of Juno, and a wardrobe got out of Paris and through our stingy Custom-house in forty trunks, the plodding actor, who has depended upon art, finds out, what he has been all the time telling us, that all the world's a stage, and men and women merely players. Art is good in its way; but what about a perfect figure? and is not dressing an art? Can training give one an elegant form, and study command the services of a man milliner? The stage is broadened out and re-enforced by a new element. What went ye out for to see?
A person clad in fine raiment, to be sure. Some of the critics may growl a little, and hint at the invasion of art by fashionable life, but the editor, whose motto is that the newspaper is made for man, not man for the newspaper, understands what is required in this inspiring histrionic movement, and when a lovely woman condescends to step from the drawing-room to the stage he confines his descriptions to her person, and does not bother about her capacity; and instead of wearying us with a list of her plays and performances, he gives us a column about her dresses in beautiful language that shows us how closely allied poetry is to tailoring. Can the lady act? Why, simpleminded, she has nearly a hundred frocks, each one a dream, a conception of genius, a vaporous idea, one might say, which will reveal more beauty than it hides, and teach the spectator that art is simply nature adorned. Rachel in all her glory was not adorned like one of these. We have changed all that. The actress used to have a rehearsal. She now has an "opening." Does it require nowadays, then, no special talent or gift to go on the stage? No more, we can assure our readers, than it does to write a book. But homely people and poor people can write books. As yet they cannot act.
Christmas is supposed to be an altruistic festival. Then, if ever, we allow ourselves to go out to others in sympathy expressed by gifts and good wishes. Then self-forgetfulness in the happiness of others becomes a temporary fashion. And we find—do we not?—the indulgence of the feeling so remunerative that we wish there were other days set apart to it. We can even understand those people who get a private satisfaction in being good on other days besides Sunday. There is a common notion that this Christmas altruistic sentiment is particularly shown towards the unfortunate and the dependent by those more prosperous, and in what is called a better social position. We are exhorted on this day to remember the poor. We need to be reminded rather to remember the rich, the lonely, not-easy-to-be-satisfied rich, whom we do not always have with us. The Drawer never sees a very rich person that it does not long to give him something, some token, the value of which is not estimated by its cost, that should be a consoling evidence to him that he has not lost sympathetic touch with ordinary humanity. There is a great deal of sympathy afloat in the world, but it is especially shown downward in the social scale. We treat our servants—supposing that we are society —better than we treat each other. If we did not, they would leave us. We are kinder to the unfortunate or the dependent than to each other, and we have more charity for them.
The Drawer is not indulging in any indiscriminate railing at society. There is society and society. There is that undefined something, more like a machine than an aggregate of human sensibilities, which is set going in a "season," or at a watering-place, or permanently selects itself for certain social manifestations. It is this that needs a missionary to infuse into it sympathy and charity. If it were indeed a machine and not made up of sensitive personalities, it would not be to its members so selfish and cruel. It would be less an ambitious scramble for place and favor, less remorseless towards the unsuccessful, not so harsh and hard and supercilious. In short, it would be much more agreeable if it extended to its own members something of the consideration and sympathy that it gives to those it regards as its inferiors. It seems to think that good-breeding and good form are separable from kindliness and sympathy and helpfulness. Tender-hearted and charitable enough all the individuals of this "society" are to persons below them in fortune or position, let us allow, but how are they to each other? Nothing can be ruder or less considerate of the feelings of others than much of that which is called good society, and this is why the Drawer desires to turn the altruistic sentiment of the world upon it in this season, set apart by common consent for usefulness. Unfortunate are the fortunate if they are lifted into a sphere which is sapless of delicacy of feeling for its own. Is this an intangible matter? Take hospitality, for instance. Does it consist in astonishing the invited, in overwhelming him with a sense of your own wealth, or felicity, or family, or cleverness even; in trying to absorb him in your concerns, your successes, your possessions, in simply what interests you? However delightful all these may be, it is an offense to his individuality to insist that he shall admire at the point of the social bayonet. How do you treat the stranger? Do you adapt yourself and your surroundings to him, or insist that he shall adapt himself to you? How often does the stranger, the guest, sit in helpless agony in your circle (all of whom know each other) at table or in the drawing-room, isolated and separate, because all the talk is local and personal, about your little world, and the affairs of your clique, and your petty interests, in which he or she cannot possibly join? Ah! the Sioux Indian would not be so cruel as that to a guest. There is no more refined torture to a sensitive person than that. Is it only thoughtlessness? It is more than that. It is a want of sympathy of the heart, or it is a lack of intelligence and broad-minded interest in affairs of the world and in other people. It is this trait—absorption in self—pervading society more or less, that makes it so unsatisfactory to most people in it. Just a want of human interest; people do not come in contact.
Avid pursuit of wealth, or what is called pleasure, perhaps makes people hard to each other, and infuses into the higher social life, which should be the most unselfish and enjoyable life, a certain vulgarity, similar to that noticed in well-bred tourists scrambling for the seats on top of a mountain coach. A person of refinement and sensibility and intelligence, cast into the company of the select, the country-house, the radiant, twelve-button society, has been struck with infinite pity for it, and asks the Drawer to do something about it. The Drawer cannot do anything about it. It can only ask the prayers of all good people on Christmas Day for the rich. As we said, we do not have them with us always—they are here today, they are gone to Canada tomorrow. But this is, of course, current facetiousness. The rich are as good as anybody else, according to their lights, and if what is called society were as good and as kind to itself as it is to the poor, it would be altogether enviable. We are not of those who say that in this case, charity would cover a multitude of sins, but a diffusion in society of the Christmas sentiment of goodwill and kindliness to itself would tend to make universal the joy on the return of this season.
The Drawer would like to emphasize the noble, self-sacrificing spirit of American women. There are none like them in the world. They take up all the burdens of artificial foreign usage, where social caste prevails, and bear them with a heroism worthy of a worse cause. They indeed represent these usages to be a burden almost intolerable, and yet they submit to them with a grace and endurance all their own. Probably there is no harder-worked person than a lady in the season, let us say in Washington, where the etiquette of visiting is carried to a perfection that it does not reach even in New York, Boston, or Philadelphia, and where woman's effort to keep the social fabric together requires more expenditure of intellect and of physical force than was needed to protect the capital in its peril a quarter of a century ago. When this cruel war is over, the monument to the women who perished in it will need to be higher than that to the Father of his Country. Merely in the item of keeping an account of the visits paid and due, a woman needs a bookkeeper. Only to know the etiquette of how and when and to whom and in what order the visits are to be paid is to be well educated in a matter that assumes the first importance in her life. This is, however, only a detail of bookkeeping and of memory; to pay and receive, or evade, these visits of ceremony is a work which men can admire without the power to imitate; even on the supposition that a woman has nothing else to do, it calls for our humble gratitude and a recognition of the largeness of nature that can put aside any duties to husband or children in devotion to the public welfare. The futile round of society life while it lasts admits of no rival. It seems as important as the affairs of the government. The Drawer is far from saying that it is not. Perhaps no one can tell what confusion would fall into all the political relations if the social relations of the capital were not kept oiled by the system of exchange of fictitious courtesies among the women; and it may be true that society at large—men are so apt, when left alone, to relapse—would fall into barbarism if our pasteboard conventions were neglected. All honor to the self-sacrifice of woman!
What a beautiful civilization ours is, supposed to be growing in intelligence and simplicity, and yet voluntarily taking upon itself this artificial burden in an already overtaxed life! The angels in heaven must admire and wonder. The cynic wants to know what is gained for any rational being when a city-full of women undertake to make and receive formal visits with persons whom for the most part they do not wish to see. What is gained, he asks, by leaving cards with all these people and receiving their cards? When a woman makes her tedious rounds, why is she always relieved to find people not in? When she can count upon her ten fingers the people she wants to see, why should she pretend to want to see the others? Is any one deceived by it? Does anybody regard it as anything but a sham and a burden? Much the cynic knows about it! Is it not necessary to keep up what is called society? Is it not necessary to have an authentic list of pasteboard acquaintances to invite to the receptions? And what would become of us without Receptions? Everybody likes to give them. Everybody flocks to them with much alacrity. When society calls the roll, we all know the penalty of being left out. Is there any intellectual or physical pleasure equal to that of jamming so many people into a house that they can hardly move, and treating them to a Babel of noises in which no one can make herself heard without screaming? There is nothing like a reception in any uncivilized country. It is so exhilarating! When a dozen or a hundred people are gathered together in a room, they all begin to raise their voices and to shout like pool-sellers in the noble rivalry of "warious langwidges," rasping their throats into bronchitis in the bidding of the conversational ring. If they spoke low, or even in the ordinary tone, conversation would be possible. But then it would not be a reception, as we understand it. We cannot neglect anywhere any of the pleasures of our social life. We train for it in lower assemblies. Half a dozen women in a "call" are obliged to shout, just for practice, so that they can be heard by everybody in the neighborhood except themselves. Do not men do the same? If they do, it only shows that men also are capable of the higher civilization.