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,
WHAT GOOD WILL IT DO?
Thus I translate the Latin cui bono. In whatever language the query is put, it is the most valuable balance-wheel ever attached to human action and speech.
The principle is old. The pithy phrase in the shrewd Roman's mouth was two-edged, and had a sharp point. The enterprise that led to no good was not worth beginning.
A friend of mine who has written long, much, and, so far as I can judge, always profitably, told me that in 1865 she wrought out what was, to her apprehension, the most powerful book she ever composed,--a story of the Civil War. She was a Unionist in every thought and sentiment, and this she proclaimed; she had had unusual opportunities of seeing behind the scenes of political intrigue, and she had improved them. When the last chapter was written she carried the MS. into her husband's study at dusk one evening, and began to read it aloud to him. She finished it at two o'clock a.m. Her auditor would not let her pause until then. Hoarse, but with a heart beating high with excitement, she waited for the verdict. The husband walked up and down the floor for some minutes, head bent and hands clasped behind him, deep in thought. Finally he stopped in front of her.
"That is a marvelous book, my dear,--strong, true, dramatic. It will sell well. It will make a noise in the world. But--cui bono?"
Chagrined, mortified, angry, the author took the words with her to her room, and her brain tossed upon them as upon thorns all night. At dawn she arose and put the MS. into the fire.
"I shudder to this day in thinking what would have been had I acted differently," she says. "What I had written in a semi-frenzy of patriotism would have been hot pincers, tearing open wounds which humanity and religion would have taught me to heal."
Into many lives comes some such crisis, when the text I would bind upon my reader's mind would act as a breakwater, and save more than one soul from sorrow, perhaps from destruction. In the everyday life of everybody, crises of less moment accentuate experience, and tend to make the nature richer or poorer.
I incline to the belief that nine-tenths of the remorseful heartaches which most of us know only too well, might be spared us did we pause to repeat to ourselves the Latin or English sentence. It may be a relic of barbarism, but it is an undeniable trait of human nature that all of us feel the longing to "answer back," or, as the children put it, to "get even with" the man or woman whose speech offends us. The apostle showed marvelous knowledge of the weakness of sinful mortals when he affirmed that the tongue was an unruly member, for it is easier to perform a herculean feat, to strain physical strength and muscle to the utmost, than to bite back the sharp retort, or repress the acrid reply. And there is such a hopelessness in the sentence once uttered! It is gone from us forever. We may regret it and show our repentance in speech and action, but we cannot blot the memory of the cruel words from our minds, or from the mind of the person,--perhaps a mere acquaintance, oftener bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh,--in whose heart the barbed arrows of our eloquence rankle for months and years. The dear friend may forgive freely and fully the bitter censure or unjust reproof, but a scar is left which, if touched in a moment of inadvertence, will pulse and throb with the remembrance of pain.
"Leave the bitter word unspoken; So shalt thou be strongly glad, If there lies no backward shadow On dead faces, wan and sad."
"To repress a harsh answer, to confess a fault, to stop, right or wrong, in the midst of self-defence, in gentle submission, sometimes requires a struggle like life and death, but these three efforts are the golden threads with which domestic happiness is woven."
How frequently we exclaim,--"If I ever get the opportunity, I will give that woman a piece of my mind!" or, "I shall some time have the satisfaction of telling that man what I think of his behavior."
It is a very melancholy and most unsatisfactory satisfaction to know that you have made a person uncomfortable. It is folly for you to suppose for a moment that an angry speech of yours will turn a man from a course of which you do not approve. It will make him hate you, perhaps, but it will not change him. It is not only foolish, but un-Christian to triumph in another's discomfiture. Then why "give the piece of your mind," which you can never take back? What good will it do?
The same question may be asked with regard to the uncharitable remarks which nearly all of us make daily. Once in a great while, we meet a human being, still permitted to dwell on this sinful earth, who rarely says anything unkind of anybody, whose rule is, "If you cannot say a kind thing say nothing." In the course of a long and varied experience I may have known half-a-dozen such. But what man has done, man may do again. What is the baneful spirit which tempts the gentlest of us to take more pleasure in calling attention to a fault than to a virtue? If a woman is a tender mother, a model wife, and an excellent housekeeper, why, when her virtues are discussed, is it necessary for some one to "think it is such a pity that she does not read more?" or what good comes from the remark that she is "sprightly, but not very deep?"
There is no habit more easily contracted than that of wholesale criticism, and it is a habit that grows with fungus-like rapidity. Washington Irving says "that a sharp tongue is the only edged tool that grows keener with constant use," and with many people the unruly member has acquired a razor-like edge which contains in itself the faculty of keeping sharp, and never needs "honing" or "setting."
I have in mind one man to whom I hesitate to name a friend, unless it chances to be one over whom he has cast the mantle of his approval. Those who are fortunate enough to live up to his standard are very few, and all others he criticises unmercifully, employing in his condemnation a ready wit and fluent speech that might be used in a nobler purpose. Such a reputation as he holds for all uncharitableness is not an enviable one, and one wonders what would be his answer to our cui bono. When there are so many truthful and pleasant things that may be said of everybody, why call attention to disagreeable points, which after all, are fewer than the agreeable ones?
The office of the gossip is so thankless that it is a marvel any one accepts it. To certain natures there is positive delight in being the first to relate a choice bit of scandal. It never occurs to them that the old maxim with regard to a dog who fetches a bone can possibly be applied to them. But it is as true as the stars that if a person brings you an unsavory tale of a friend, she will carry away as ugly a story of you, if she can find the faintest suggestion upon which to found it. The gossip acquires a detective-like faculty for following out a clue, but unfortunately, the clue is oftener purely imaginary than real. A little discrepancy like this does not disturb the professional scandal-monger. So tenacious is the habit of making much of nothing, that, deprived of this, her sustenance, she would find life colorless and void. So, if material does not present itself, she manufactures it. One must live.
There is also a habit, which, while comparatively innocent, is likely to bring trouble upon the perpetrator. It is that of making many confidantes. Here comes a very serious cui bono. Undoubtedly there is a momentary satisfaction in telling one's woes and sorrows to an interested listener. When the auditor is a friend, and a trusted friend, whose sympathy is genuine and whose discretion is vast, there is a comfort beyond description in unburdening one's soul. But there is a line to be drawn even here. It is not deceit to keep your private affairs to yourself when you are sure that you are guilty of nothing dishonorable or hypocritical in so doing. You are often your own best and safest counselor. I know one woman who long ago said a thing which should be a motto to those susceptible persons who in a sudden expansion of the heart tell all they know and which they would most wish to keep to themselves.
"My dear," she said, "in the course of a somewhat checkered life I have discovered that while I have often been sorry for things which I have told, I have never had cause to regret what I have kept to myself."
If you have a secret and wish to keep it, guard it jealously. It ceases to be yours alone when you impart it to another. Your confidante may be discretion personified, and, yet again, she may have some nearer and dearer one to whom she "tells everything," even the secrets of her friends. Or, you may in time learn to be ashamed of the confidence which you have reposed in this person, and the knowledge that she knows and remembers the thing, and, it may be, knows that you feel a mortification at the thought of it, will gall you unspeakably.
Perhaps the hardest struggle that comes to the average human being is to let others be mistaken. Yet what good will it do to point out to them their mistakes? If your husband or son tells several people that he met John Smith last week in New York, and you know that he was in that city three weeks ago, why correct him? He is talking hastily and does not stop to measure his words or time. The mistake is unimportant. Why antagonize a man by exclaiming:
"My dear John! This is the third week in January, and you went to New York immediately after Christmas."
When you hear your friend tell your favorite story, and change some minor detail, she will love you not a whit the more if you correct her with--
"No, Mary! the way it happened was this"--and then proceed with the tale in the manner which you consider best.
There are so many things which we all do for which there is no honest reason, that I will mention only one more. That is the exceedingly uncomfortable trick of reminding a man of something he has once said, when he has since had occasion to change his mind. Perhaps some years ago when you first met your now dear friend, you thought her manner affected, and did not hesitate to mention the fact to your family. Since then you have become so well acquainted with her delightful points that you forget your early impression of her. How do you feel when you are enthusiastically enumerating her many lovable attributes, if the member of the household with the fiendish memory strikes in with--
"Oh, then you have changed your mind about her? You remember you once said that you considered her the most affected mortal whom you had ever met."
Under such provocation does not murder assume the guise of justifiable homicide?
There is no more bitter diet than to be forced to eat one's own words. Never tell one of an opinion which he once held, if he has since had reason to alter his views. There is no sin or weakness in changing one's mind. It is a thing which all of us--if we except a few victims to pig-headed prejudice--do daily. And, as a rule, we hate to be reminded of the fact. Then why call the attention of others to the circumstances that they are guilty of the same weakness, if such it be? Again I ask, cui bono?