Contents

“Let each morning and evening be a new and complete day. In childlike simplicity live as if you were to have no to-morrow so far as worrying as to its possible outcome goes. Make the best of to-day's income. Not one minute of to-morrow belongs to you. It is all God's. Thank him that His hands hold it, and not your feeble, uncertain fingers.”

Marion Harland

Introductory

An Open Secret,

Chapter I.

Sisterly Discourse with John's Wife Concerning John,

Chapter II.

The Family Purse,

Chapter III.

The Parable of the Rich Woman and the Farmer's Wife,

Chapter IV.

Little Things that are Trifles,

Chapter V.

A Mistake on John's Part,

Chapter VI.

"Chink-Fillers,"

Chapter VII.

Must-haves and May-bes,

Chapter VIII.

What Good Will It Do?

Chapter IX.

Shall I Pass It On?

Chapter X.

"Only Her Nerves,"

Chapter XI.

The Rule of Two,

Chapter XII.

The Perfect Work of Patience,

Chapter XIII.

According to His Folly,

Chapter XIV.

"Buttered Parsnips,"

Chapter XV.

Is Marriage Reformatory?

Chapter XVI.

"John's" Mother,

Chapter XVII.

And Other Relations-in-Law,

Chapter XVIII.

A Timid Word for the Step-mother,

Chapter XIX.

Children as Helpers,

Chapter XX.

Children as Burden-bearers,

Chapter XXI.

Our Young Person,

Chapter XXII.

Our Boy,

Chapter XXIII.

That Spoiled Child,

Chapter XXIV.

Getting Along in Years,

Chapter XXV.

Truth-telling,

Chapter XXVI.

The Gospel of Conventionalities,

CHAPTER XXVII.

Familiar, or Intimate?

CHAPTER XXVIII.

Our Stomachs,

CHAPTER XXIX.

Cheerfulness as a Christian Duty,

CHAPTER XXX.

The Family Invalid,

CHAPTER XXXI.

A Temperance Talk,

CHAPTER XXXII.

Family Music,

CHAPTER XXXIII.

Family Religion,

CHAPTER XXXIV.

A Parting Word for Boy,

CHAPTER XXXV.

Homely, But Important,

CHAPTER XXXVI.

Four-Feet-Upon-a-Fender,



The Secret of a Happy Home

Author: Marion Harland

Published: 1896

CHAPTER XXVI.

THE GOSPEL OF CONVENTIONALITIES.


Young people are proverbially intolerant, so I listened patiently, a few days since, to the outburst of an impetuous girl-friend.


"Oh," she exclaimed, "we are all such shams!"


"Shams?" I repeated, interrogatively.


"Yes, just that, shams through and through! We, you and I are no exceptions to the universal rule of, to quote Mark Twain, 'pretending to be what we ain't.' We are polite and civil when we feel ugly and cross; while in company we assume a pleasant expression although inwardly we may be raging. All our appurtenances are make-believes. We wear our handsome clothes to church and concert, fancying that mankind may be deceived into the notion that we always look like that. Food cooked in iron and tin vessels is served in French china and cut glass. When children sit down to table as ravenously hungry as small animals, their natural instincts are curbed, and they are compelled to eat slowly and 'properly.' You see it everywhere and in everything. The whole plan of modern society, with its manners and usages, is a system of shams!"


In contradistinction to this unsparing denunciation, I place Harriet Beecher Stowe's idea of this "system of shams." In "My Wife and I" she says:


"You see we don't propose to warm our house with a wood fire, but only to adorn it. It is an altar-fire that we will kindle every evening, just to light up our room, and show it to advantage. And that is what I call woman's genius. To make life beautiful; to keep down and out of sight the hard, dry, prosaic side--and keep up the poetry--that is my idea of our 'mission.' I think woman ought to be what Hawthorne calls 'The Artist of the Beautiful.'"


Mrs. Stowe is in the right. In this commonplace, fearfully real world, what would we do without the blessed Gospel of Conventionalities? In almost every family there is one member, frequently the father of the household, who, like my young friend, has no patience with "make-believes" and eyes all innovations with stern disapproval and distrust. It is pitiful to witness the harmless deceits practiced by mothers and daughters, the wiles many and varied, by which they strive to introduce some much-to-be-desired point of table etiquette to which "Papa is opposed." Sometimes his protest takes the form of a good-natured laugh and shrug accompanied by the time-battered observation that "you can't teach an old dog new tricks." More frequently overtures of this kind are repulsed by the gruff excuse:


"My father and mother never had any of these new-fangled notions and they got on all right. What was good enough for them is good enough for me!"


And so paterfamilias continues to take his coffee with, instead of at the end of, his dinner, eats his vegetables out of little sauce plates with a spoon, insists that meat, potatoes and salad shall all be placed upon the table at once, and, if the father and mother than whom he does not care to rise higher were, in spite of their excellence, of the lower class, he carries his food to his mouth on the blade of his knife, and noisily sips tea from his saucer. Evidently he does not believe in shams, those little conventionalities, nearly all of which have some excellent cause for existence, although we do not always pause to examine into their raison d'etre. They may be founded upon hygienic principles, or on the idea of the greatest good to the greatest number. Many seemingly slight breaches of etiquette, if practiced by everyone, would create a state of affairs which even the most ardent hater of les convenances would deplore. If, for instance, all men were so entirely a law unto themselves that they despised the rule which commands a man to resign his chair to a lady, what would become of us poor women? In crowded rooms we would have the pleasure of standing still or walking around the masculine members of the company, who would sit at ease. Were the unmannerly habit of turning the leaves of a book with the moist thumb or finger indulged in by all readers, the probabilities are that numberless diseases would thus be transmitted from one person to another.


It argues an enormous amount of self-conceit in man or woman when he or she calmly refuses to conform to rules of etiquette. In plain language, we are none of us in ourselves pur et simple so agreeable as to be tolerable without the refinement and polish of manners upon which every "artist of the beautiful" should insist in her own house. Too many mothers and housekeepers think that "anything will do for home people." It is our duty to keep ourselves and our children "up" in "the thing" in table and parlor manners, dress and the etiquette of visiting, letter-writing, etc. Even among well-born people there are certain small tokens of good breeding which are too often neglected. One of these is what a college boy recently described in my hearing as the "bread-and-butter letter." At my inquiring look he explained that it was "the note of thanks a fellow writes to his hostess after having made a visit at her house--don't you know?"


This note should be written as soon as possible after the guest returns to her home, even if she has been entertained for only a night. In it she informs her hostess of her safe arrival, and thanks her for her kind hospitality. A few lines are all that is necessary.


It seems incredible that in decent society anyone should be so little acquainted with the requirements of the drawing-room as to enter a lady's parlor, and stop to speak to another person before first seeking his hostess and paying her his respects. And yet I have seen men come into a room and stop to chat first with one, then with another friend, before addressing the entertainer. If, while searching for the lady of the house in a parlor full of people, a man is addressed by some acquaintance, he should merely make an apology and pass on until he has found his hostess. After that he is free to talk with whom he pleases.


It is to be hoped that when a man commits the rudeness of passing into a room before a lady instead of giving her the precedence, it is from forgetfulness. Certainly I have frequently been the amazed witness of this proceeding. Forgetfulness, too, may be the cause of a man's tilting back his chair until it sways backward and forward, meantime burying his hands in the depths of his trousers pockets. But such thoughtlessness is, in itself, discourtesy. No man or woman has a right to be absorbed in his or her affairs to the extent of forgetting what is due to other people.


The tricks of manner and speech contracted by a boy or young man should be noticed and corrected by mother or sister before they become confirmed habits. Such are touching a lady on arm or shoulder to attract her attention, inquiring "What say?" or "Is that so?" to indicate surprise, glancing at the addresses on letters given him to mail, and consulting his watch in company. It would be difficult to find a better rule for courtesy with which to impress a boy or girl than the advice written by William Wirt to his daughter:


"The way to make yourself pleasing to others is to show that you care for them. The world is like the miller at Mansfield 'who cared for nobody, no, not he, because nobody cared for him.' And the whole world will serve you so if you give it the same cause. Let all, therefore, see that you do care for them, by showing what Sterne so happily calls 'the small sweet, courtesies of life,' in which there is no parade, whose voice is to still, to ease; and which manifest themselves by tender and affectionate looks, and little kind acts of attention, giving others the preference in every little enjoyment at the table, walking, sitting or standing."


There is one gross breach of good breeding which can hardly be due to inattention. There is a homely proverb to the effect that one "should wash her dirty linen at home," and it is to the violation of this advice that I refer. Discussing home matters, complaining of the actions of members of your family, or confiding their faults or shortcomings to an outsider, even though she be your dearest friend, is as great an act of discourtesy as it is contrary to all the instincts of family love and loyalty. Your father may be a hypocrite, your mother a fool of the Mrs. Nickleby stamp, your brother a dissipated wretch, and your sister a professional shop-lifter, while your husband combines the worst characteristics of the entire family--but as long as you pretend to be on speaking terms with them, stand up for them against all the rest of the world; and if matters have come to such a pass that you have severed all connection with them, let a proper pride for yourself and consideration for the person to whom you are talking deter you from acknowledging their faults. These persons are members of your family--that should be enough to keep you forever silent as to their peccadilloes or sins. But, if you do not feel this, for politeness' sake refrain from making your listener supremely uncomfortable by your complaints. No true lady will so far forget her innate ladyhood as to be guilty of this rudeness.


To fulfill what Mrs. Stowe calls our "mission," we women must insist on the observance of the conventionalities at home. Husbands are sometimes, even when "taken young," too obstinate to change; although, to their credit be it said, if approached in the right way they will generally try to correct tricks of speech or manner. But with our children there should be no peradventure. Upon us is laid the responsibility of making them what we choose, of developing them into gentlemen, or neglecting them until they become boors. It is never too early to begin. First impressions are lasting ones, and the child who, from the beginning, is trained to observe the "small, sweet courtesies," not only when in company, but in the nursery and with the members of his own family, will never forget them. We often observe "that man does as well as he can, but he is not the gentleman born." That should, of itself, be a lesson to us mothers, to teach our children, not only by precept but by example, to keep alive the "altar-fire" of conventionality, and thus to make life warm, beautiful, poetic. After all, may not what the impulsive girl whom I quoted at the beginning of this talk termed the "sham" of life, be the real, though hidden side? We read that "the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal."

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