Maids Wives and Bachelors Part 9
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A little girl, who made a study of epitaphs, was greatly puzzled to know "where all the bad people were buried." Perhaps just as great a puzzle to a reflective mind is, What comes of all the promising boys?
We will allow, first, that a great deal of "promise" exists only in the partiality of parents; that a bright, intense childhood is frequently so different from the mechanical routine of adult life that the simple difference strikes the parent as something remarkable, whereas it is, perhaps, only a strong case of contrast between the natural and the artificial. This is proven by the fact that as the boy becomes part and parcel of the every-day world he gradually falls into its ways, adopts its tone, and in no respect attempts to rise above its level.
Fortunately, however, the change is so gradual that parents scarcely perceive when or how they lost their exalted hopes; and by the time that Jack or Will has imbibed a fair amount of knowledge, and settled contentedly down to his desk and high stool, they also are well pleased and inclined to forget that they had ever dreamt the boy might sit upon the bench, or, perhaps, fill with honor the Presidential chair.
Allowing such boys a very respectable minority, and allowing also a large margin for that unfortunate cla.s.s who
"Wise so young, they say, do ne'er live long,"
there is still good reason for us to ask, What becomes of all the promising boys?
We are inclined to arraign as the first and foremost of deceivers and defrauders in this matter the modern educational art of _Cram_. It is to education what adulteration is to commerce. It is far worse, for here it is not money that is stolen, it is a parent's best and highest hopes; it is a boy's whole future life and its success. For the system rests upon a fallacy, namely, that it is possible for boys of twenty to know everything, from the multiplication-table to metaphysics, from Greek plays to theological dogmas.
To the average boy such intellectual feats are simply impossible; but he is plucky and fertile in expedients; he is neither disposed to be beaten nor able really to overtake his task, so he uses his brains carefully, and makes the greatest possible show on the greatest possible number of subjects.
Perhaps nothing in our present system of education is so demoralizing and unjust as the custom of public examinations. In them interest and vanity play into each other's hands; genuine acquirement and principle "go to the wall." The teachers and the boys alike know that they are never true criterions of progress, that they are seldom even fair representations of the actual course of study. Weeks, months are spent in preparations for the deceitful display; even then true merit, which is generally modest by nature, does itself injustice, and vain self-a.s.surance comes off with flying colors.
The Cram teacher scatters seed over a large amount of mental surface, instead of thoroughly cultivating the most promising portions; and he brings before the parents and the public the few ears gleaned on all the acres as samples of crops which he knows never will be gathered.
Yet to his own pedantic vanity, or his self-interest, he sacrifices the prime of many a fine boy's life. Therefore we are disposed to believe that if parents would inexorably refuse to sanction these pretentious public displays, there would be probably a much less acc.u.mulation of bare facts, but a far greater cultivation of natural abilities, and a far more thorough development of decided apt.i.tudes.
Mechanical drudgery, instead of intelligent labor, is the inevitable method where cramming a boy, instead of educating him, is the favorite system. No mental faculties, except the memory, receive any discipline, and the knowledge disappears as fast as it was gained. All taste for laborious habits of thought are lost, and if a boy originally possessed a love for learning he is soon disgusted at what his simple nature tells him is pretence and unreal, and judging the true by a false standard he conceives an honest disgust for intellectual labor, and p.r.o.nounces it all a sham.
Few boys can even mentally go through a course of "cramming" and come out uninjured. The majority of the finest intellects develop tardily, and their superiority is in fact greatly dependent upon the staying powers conferred by physical strength and wisely considered conditions. There are of course exceptions, where an inherited force of genius stamps the boy from the first and defies all systems to crush it. But it is the average boy, and not the exceptional one, that must be considered in all methods of education.
In this matter boys are not to be blamed. They naturally accept the master's opinions as to the value of his plan; they rather enjoy a neck-and-neck race with each other in superficial acquirements, and the whole tendency of our social life supports the tempting theory.
Every one wants to possess without the trouble of acquiring; every one would have a reputation without the labor of earning it. In an age which prides itself upon the speed with which it does everything, which makes a merit of doing whatever is to be done in the shortest and quickest way possible, it is easy to perceive how a certain cla.s.s of teachers, and parents too, would be willing to believe that the old up-hill road to knowledge might be graded and lined and made available for rapid transit.
But nothing can be more illogical than to apply social rules and conditions to mental ones. The former are constantly changing, the latter obey fixed and immutable laws. There is not, there never has been, there never will be, any short cuts to universal knowledge; and the boy who is made to waste time seeking one will have either to relinquish his object altogether, or else, turning back to the main road, find his early companions who kept to it hopelessly ahead of him. Learning is a plant that grows slowly and whose fruit must be waited for. It is a long time, even after having learned anything, _that we know it well_.
The Servant-Girl's Point of View
A great deal has been said lately on the servant-girl question, always from the mistresses' point of view; and as no _ex-parte_ evidence is conclusive, I offer for the servant-girl side some points that may help to a better understanding of the whole subject.
It is said, on all hands, that servants every year grow more idle, showy, impudent, and independent. The last charge is emphatically true, and it accounts for and includes the others. But then this independence is the necessary result of the world's progress, in which all cla.s.ses share. Steam has made it easy for families to travel, who, without cheap locomotion, would never go one hundred miles from home.
It has also made it easy for servants to go from city to city. When wages are low and service is plenty in one place, a few dollars will carry them to where they are in request.
Fifty years ago very few servants read, or cared to read. They are now the best patrons of a certain cla.s.s of newspapers; they see the "Want columns" as well as other people; and they are quite capable of appreciating the lessons they teach and the advantages they offer. The national increase of wealth has also affected the position of servants. People keep more servants than they used to keep; and servants have less work to do. People live better than they used to live, and servants, as well as others, feel the mental uplifting that comes from rich and plentiful food.
But one of the main causes of trouble is that a mistress even yet hires her servant with some ancient ideas about her inferiority. She forgets that servants read novels, and do fancy work, and write lots of letters; and that service can no longer be considered the humble labor of a lower for a superior being. Mistresses must now dismiss from their minds the idea of the old family servant they have learned to meet in novels; they must cease to look upon service as in any way a family tie; they must realize and practically acknowledge the fact that the relation between mistress and servant is now on a purely commercial basis,--the modern servant being a person who takes a certain sum of money for the performance of certain duties. Indeed the condition has undergone just the same change as that which has taken place in the relation between the manufacturer and his artisans, or between the contractor and his carpenters and masons.
It is true enough that servants take the money and do not perform the duties, or else perform them very badly. The manufacturer, the contractor, the merchant, all make the same complaint; for independence and social freedom always step _before_ fitness for these conditions, because the condition is necessary for the results, and the results are not the product of one generation.
Surely Americans may bear their domestic grievances without much outcry, since they are altogether the consequences of education and progress, and are the circ.u.mstances which make possible much higher and better circ.u.mstances.
For just as soon as domestic service is authoritatively and publicly made a commercial bargain, and all other ideas eliminated from it, service will attract a much higher grade of women. The independent, fairly well-read American girl will not sell her labor to women who insist on her giving any part of her personality but the work of her hands. She feels interference in her private affairs to be an impertinence on any employer's part. She does not wish any mistress to take an interest in her, to advise, to teach, or reprove her. She objects to her employer being even what is called "friendly." All she asks is to know her duties and her hours, and to have a clear understanding as to her work and its payment. And when service is put upon this basis openly, it will draw to it many who now prefer the harder work, poorer pay, but larger independence, of factories.
Servants are a part of our social system, but our social system is being constantly changed and uplifted, and servants rise with it. I remember a time in England when servants who did not fulfil their year's contract were subject to legal punishment; when a certain quality of dress was worn by them, and those who over-dressed did so at the expense of their good name; when they seldom moved to any situation beyond walking distance from their birthplace; when, in fact, they were more slaves than servants. Would any good woman wish to restore service to this condition?
On the servant's part the root of all difficulty is her want of respect for her work; and this, solely because her work has not yet been openly and universally put upon a commercial basis. When domestic service is put on the same plane as mechanical service, when it is looked upon as a mere business bargain, then the servant will not feel it necessary to be insolent and to do her work badly, simply to let her employer know how much she is above it. Much has been done to degrade service by actors, newspapers, and writers of all kinds giving to the domestic servant names of contempt as "flunkies," "menials,"
etc., etc. If such terms were habitually used regarding mechanics, we might learn to regard masons and carpenters with disdain. Yet domestic service is as honorable as mechanical service, and the woman who can cook a good dinner is quite as important to society as the man who makes the table on which it is served.
Yet, whether mistresses will recognize the change or not, service has in a great measure emanc.i.p.ated itself from feudal bonds. Servants have now a social world of their own, of which their mistresses know nothing at all. In it they meet their equals, make their friends, and talk as they desire. Without unions, without speeches, and without striking,--because they can get what they want without striking,--they have raised their wages, shortened their hours, and obtained many privileges. And the natural result is an independence--which for lack of proper expression a.s.serts itself by the impertinence and self-conceit of ignorance--that has won more in tangible rights than in intangible respect.
Mistresses who have memories or traditions are shocked because servants do not acknowledge their superiority, or in any way reverence their "betters." But reverence for any earthly thing is the most un-American of att.i.tudes. Reverence is out of date and offensively opposed to free inquiry. Parents do not exact it, and preachers do not expect it,--the very t.i.tle of "Rev." is now a verbal antiquity. Do we not even put our rulers through a course of hand-shaking in order to divest them of any respect the office might bring? Why, then, expect a virtue from servants which we do not practise in our own stations?
It is said, truly enough, that servants think of nothing but dress.
Alas, mistresses are in the same transgression! This is the fault of machinery. When servants wore mob-caps and ginghams, mistresses wore muslins and merinos, and were pa.s.sing fine with one good silk dress.
Machinery has made it possible for mistresses to get lots of dresses, and if servants are now fine and tawdry, it is because there is a general leaning that way. Servants were neat when every one else was neat.
To blame servants for faults we all share is really not reasonable. It must be remembered that women of all cla.s.ses dress to make themselves attractive, and attractive mainly to the opposite s.e.x. What the young ladies in the parlor do to make themselves beautiful to their lovers, the servants in the kitchen imitate. Both cla.s.ses of young women are anxious to marry. There is no harm in this desire in either case. With the hopes of the young ladies we do not meddle; why then interfere about nurse and the policeman? service is not an elysium under the most favorable circ.u.mstances. No girl gets fond of it, and a desire to be mistress of her own house--however small it may be--is not a very shameful kicking against Providence.
The carrying out of three points, would probably revolutionize the whole condition of service:--
_First._ The relation should be put upon an absolutely commercial basis; and made as honorable as mechanical, or factory, or store service.
_Second._ Duties and hours should be clearly defined. There should be no interference in personal matters. There should be no more personal interest expected, or shown, than is the rule between any other employer and employee.
_Third._ If it were possible to induce yearly engagements, they should be the rule; for when people know they have to put up with each other for twelve months, they are more inclined to be patient and forbearing; they learn to make the best of each other's ways; and bearing becomes liking, and habit strengthens liking, and so they go on and on, and are pretty well satisfied.
The Anglo-Saxon race is inherently extravagant. The lord and leader of the civilized world, it clothes itself in purple and fine linen, and lives sumptuously every day, as a prerogative of its supremacy.
This trait is a very early one, and the barbaric extravagance of "The Field of the Cloth of Gold" only typified that pa.s.sion of the race for splendid apparel and accessories which in our day has reached a point of general and prodigal pomp and ostentation.
No other highly civilized nations have this taste for personal parade and luxurious living to the same extent. The French, who enjoy a reputation for all that is pretty and elegant, are really parsimonious, and it is as natural for a Frenchman to h.o.a.rd his money as it is for a dog to bury his bone, while a Dutchman or a German can grow rich on a salary which keeps an American always scrambling on the verge of bankruptcy.
Some time ago Lord Derby said: "Englishmen are the most extravagant race in the world, or, at least, only surpa.s.sed by the Americans." And the "surpa.s.sing" in this direction is so evident to any one familiar with the two countries that it requires no demonstration,--an American household, even in the middle cla.s.ses, being a model school for throwing away the most money for the least possible returns.
American women have a reputation for lavish expenditure that is world-wide, but they are not more extravagant than American men. If one spends money on beautiful toilets and splendidly dreary entertainments, the other flings it away on the turf, on cards or billiards, or in masculine prodigalities still more objectionable. In most fas.h.i.+onable houses the husband and wife are equally extravagant, and the candle blazes away at both ends.
To foreigners, the most noticeable extravagance of Americans is in the matter of flowers. Winter or summer, women of very modest means must have flowers for their girdle. They will pay fifty cents for a rose or two when half-dollars are by no means plentiful, and it is such a pretty womanly taste that no man has the heart to grumble at it; only, if the women themselves would add up the amount of money spent in this transitory luxury, say during three months, they would be astonished at their own thoughtlessness.
For of all pleasures flower-buying is the most evanescent; before the day is over the fading buds are cast into the refuse cart, and the money might just as well have been cast into the street.
As for the amount spent in floral displays at weddings, funerals, theatres, b.a.l.l.s, and dinners, it must be presumed that people who thus waste hundreds of dollars on articles that are useless in a few hours have the hundreds of dollars to throw away, and that they enjoy the pastime of making floral ducks and drakes with their money. But if they do not enjoy it, then why do they not imitate the economy of Beau Brummel, who, when compelled by his debts to make some sacrifice of luxuries, resolved to begin retrenchment by curtailing the rose water for his bath?
Large floral outlays are just as fantastic an extravagance, for though flowers in moderation are beautiful, in excess they are vulgar, and even disagreeable. The Greeks, who made no mistakes about beauty and fitness, contented themselves with a garland and a rose for their wine cup. They would never have danced and feasted and wedded themselves in a charnel-house of dying flowers.
Our dressing and dining is done on the same immense scale. Lucullus might preside at our feasts, and queens envy the jewels and costumes of our women. Perhaps the size of the country and its transcendent possibilities in every direction instinctively incite those who have the means to lavishness of outlay. People who live under bright high skies, and whose horizons are wide and far-reaching, imbibe a largeness of expression which is not satisfied with mere words; and if we look at our extravagance in this way, we may regard it as a national trait, developed from our natural position and advantages.
Maids Wives and Bachelors Part 9
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Maids Wives and Bachelors Part 9 summary
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