Sisterly Discourse with John's Wife Concerning John,
The Family Purse,
The Parable of the Rich Woman and the Farmer's Wife,
Little Things that are Trifles,
A Mistake on John's Part,
Must-haves and May-bes,
What Good Will It Do?
Shall I Pass It On?
"Only Her Nerves,"
The Rule of Two,
The Perfect Work of Patience,
According to His Folly,
Is Marriage Reformatory?
And Other Relations-in-Law,
A Timid Word for the Step-mother,
Children as Helpers,
Children as Burden-bearers,
Our Young Person,
Getting Along in Years,
The Gospel of Conventionalities,
Familiar, or Intimate?
Cheerfulness as a Christian Duty,
The Family Invalid,
A Temperance Talk,
A Parting Word for Boy,
Homely, But Important,
The following is a bona fide letter. It is written in such genuine earnest, and so clearly voices the sentiments of many young men of the present day, that I am glad to have an opportunity to answer it.
1. Why should I, a fast-growing, hard-working youth of eighteen, who go every morning, four miles by street-car, to my office, and the same back at night, often so weary and faint as to be hardly able to sit, not to say stand, be obliged to give up my seat to any flighty, flashy girl who has come down-town to shop, or frolic, or do nothing? Isn't she as able to "swing corners" holding on to a strap as I? and to hold her own perpendicular in the aisle?
2. Why isn't it as rude for her and her companions to giggle and whisper and stare, the objects of amusement being her fellow-passengers, as it would be for me and my fellows? Yet we would be "roughs"--and she and her crew must be "treated with the deference due the gentler sex." And why am I a boor if I do not give her my seat, while she is considered a lady if she takes it without thanking me?
3. Are girls, take them as a rule, as well-bred as boys?
Judging by appearances, it would seem that many men share in the feeling expressed in your first query. I am not a "flighty, flashy girl," but I crossed the city the other night in a horse-car in which there were twenty men and two women--one of them being myself. I stood, while the score of men sat and lounged comfortably behind their newspapers. They were tired after a hard day's work, and would have been wearied still more by standing. A well woman was worn out and a delicate woman would have been made ill, by this exertion.
My dear boy! let me ask you one question. Why should you, no matter how tired you are, spring eagerly forward to prevent your sister from lifting a piece of furniture, or carrying a trunk upstairs? Why not let her do it? I can imagine your look of indignant surprise. "Why? because she is a woman! It would nearly kill her!" Exactly so; but you will swing the burden on your broad, strong shoulders, bear it to its destination, and the next minute run lightly down-stairs,--perhaps, as you would say, "a little winded," but not one whit strained in nerve or muscle.
There lies the difference. The good Lord who made us women had His own excellent reason for making us physically weaker than men. Perhaps because, had we their strength, we would be too ambitious. However that may be, men, as the stronger sex, should help us in our weakness. Standing in the horse-car that is jostling over a rough track, holding on with up-stretched arm to a strap and "swinging corners" during a two-mile ride, would do more harm to a girl of your own age than you would suffer were you to stand while making a twenty-mile trip. For humanity's sake, then, if your gallantry does not prompt you to make sacrifice, do not allow any woman, old or young, to "hold her perpendicular in the aisle" when you can offer her a seat and while you have a pair of capable legs upon which to depend for support.
A true gentleman is always unselfish, be he old or young, rested or weary; and such being the case, the foreign day-laborer, in blue blouse and hob-nailed boots, who rises and gives a lady his place in car or omnibus, is the superior of the several-times-a-millionaire, in finest broadcloth, spotless linen, patent leathers and silk hat, who sits still, taking refuge behind his newspaper, in which he is seemingly so deeply absorbed as to be blind to the fact that a woman, old enough to be his mother, stands near him. With one gentlemanliness is instinctive, with the other it is, like his largest diamond stud, worn for show, and even then is a little "off color." I hope it is hardly necessary to remind you that true courtesy does not stay to distinguish between a rich or a poor woman, or to notice whether she is a pretty young girl, fashionably attired, or a decrepit laundress taking home the week's wash. She is a woman! That should be sufficient to arouse your manliness.
This is the truthful reply to query No. 1. Not a pleasant answer perhaps, but an honest one. To make the advice more palatable, take it with a plentiful seasoning of gratitude for the gift of physical strength which makes you a man.
And now for No. 2. Here you are right, and your suggestion has had my serious consideration. Possibly, thoughtlessness may account for the foolish "whispering and giggling" you mention, but stares and amused comments upon fellow-passengers are nothing less than acts of rudeness, be they perpetrated by boy or girl. But two wrongs never yet made a right, and because a girl is discourteous is no reason why you should put yourself on the same footing with her, and fail to observe towards her "the deference due" all women. If you are in a car with a profane drunkard, you do not copy his actions, or, if obliged to address him, adopt his style of language.
The glaring defect in the manners and voice of the American girl is that she is "loud." German Gretchen or Irish Bridget is more likely to speak softly in public than her rich young mistress. It is often a shock to the observer when sweet sixteen seated opposite him in the horse-car, begins conversation with her companion. Her face is gentle, her whole mien refined,--but, her voice! She talks loudly and laughs constantly. One beautiful woman whom I have met,--wealthy and well-educated, always reminds me of a peacock. You doubtless have seen and heard peafowls often enough to understand the comparison. The graceful motion and gorgeous plumage demand our admiration, until the creature, becoming accustomed to our presence, raises his voice in a piercing call, something between a hoot and a shriek, which causes us to cover our ears. After such an experience, we turn with relief to the sober hens who are contented to cluck peacefully through life, reserving their cackling until they have done something of which to boast, and wish to inform us that the egg they have laid is at our disposal.
As a rule the girl who is prononcée in a public conveyance is not well-bred, and she who laughs loudly and talks noisily, meanwhile passing comments on those persons who are so unfortunate as to be her traveling companions, has no claim to the much-abused title of "lady." But you can hardly compare your manners and those of your friends with the deportment of low-born, ill-bred girls. I fancy that you would find that everyone would pronounce sentence as severe upon them as upon you, were your actions the same.
I have been amazed before this at what I have been told, and at what I have myself noticed, of the failure of women to thank men who rise and offer them seats.
It would seem incredible that any person should so far neglect all semblance of civility as to accept a place thus offered as a matter of course. It is a kindness on the part of a man, and should always be met by some acknowledgment. If, when you rise, and lifting your hat, resign your place to a woman, and she, without a word, accepts it as her due, your only consolation will be to fall back on the comforting thought that you have behaved like a gentleman, and that any discourtesy of hers cannot detract from the merit of your action. You did not do it for the thanks you might receive, but because it is right. It is not pessimistic to assert that all through life, we are working on this principle--not that we may receive the credit for what we do, but doing good for the good's sake. Do not be so rash as to say bitterly--"So much for sacrificing my own comfort!" "Catch me giving a woman my seat again!" and those other foolish, because angry, things which a vexed boy is tempted to say under such circumstances. Continue in the good way, hoping that "next time" you may have the pleasure of doing a favor to a lady who has the breeding to appreciate and be grateful for an act of courtesy.
Your third question is one difficult to answer. Are girls as well bred as boys--Yes--and no! Their training lies along different lines. A few days ago I was talking with a young man who had a grievance. A girl of his acquaintance had, the night before, been at a reception which he had also attended. Feeling a little weary she retired to a comfortable corner of the room, and sat there during the entire evening. She "did not feel like dancing," and told her hostess "she would rather sit still." My young friend had a severe headache, but, although suffering, his appreciation of les convenances would not allow him to sit down in a secluded niche for fifteen minutes, during the entire evening. His "grievance" was that had he done this he would have been voted a boor, while the girl's action was condoned by hostess and guests. One thing must always be considered--namely, that a woman's part is, in many points of etiquette, passive. It is the man who takes the initiative, and who is made such a prominent figure that all eyes are drawn to him. Have you ever noticed it? Man proposes, woman accepts. Man stands, woman remains seated. Man lifts his hat, woman merely bows. Man acts as escort, woman as the escorted. So, when a man is careless or thoughtless, it is all the more evident. For this reason, begin as a boy, to observe all the small, sweet courtesies of life. I often wish there were any one point in which a woman could show her genuine ladyhood as a man displays his gentlehood by the management of his hat,--raising it entirely from the head on meeting a woman, lifting it when the lady with whom he is walking bows to an acquaintance, or when his man-companion meets a friend, baring his head on meeting, parting from, or kissing mother, sister or wife. These, with other points, such as rising when a woman enters the room, and remaining standing until she is seated, giving her the precedence in passing in or out of a door, and picking up the handkerchief or glove she lets fall--are sure indices of the gentleman, or, by their absence, mark the boor.
But our girl should not think that she can afford to overlook the acts of tactful courtesy which are her duty as well as her brother's. Prominent among these she should place the deference due those who are older than herself. Her temptation is often to exercise a patronizing toleration toward her elders, and, while she is not actually disrespectful, she still has the air of a very superior young being holding converse with a person who has the advantage merely in the accident of years. Did she realize how ridiculous these very youthful, foolish manners are, she would blush for herself. She will--when she has attained the age of discretion.
Another of our girls' mistakes is that of imagining that brusqueness and pertness are wit. There is no other error more common with girls from fifteen to eighteen; they generally choose a boy as the butt of their sarcastic remarks--and, to their shame be it said, they frequently select a lad who is too courteous to retort in kind.
But these faults in boy and girl alike are evidences of a "freshness" which wears off as the years roll on, as the green husk, when touched by the frost, falls away, leaving exposed the glossy brown shell enclosing the ripe, sweet kernel of the nut.
If this answer to your letter reads like a sermon, pardon one who is interested in young people, and who, well remembering when she was young herself, would fain hold out a helping hand to those who are stumbling on in the path she trod in years gone by.