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,
FAMILIAR OR INTIMATE?
"What makes the difference between those two carriages?" I asked a wagon builder, while examining two light vehicles of the same general build and design. One cost twice as much as the other, and looked as if it were worth four times as much.
"Some of it is in the material, but more in the finishing," was the response. "This is of pretty fair wood, but simply planed and painted, while this"--pointing to the more costly equipage--"is as hard as a rock, and has been rubbed smooth, then polished until the surface is as fine as silk. Then it is flowed all over with the best varnish, left to dry ten days, and over-flowed again. That makes all the difference in the look of wagons. Two of them may be built just alike, and one will look like a grocer's errand-cart, while the other is a regulation gentleman's turnout. It is all the effect of polish and finish."
Involuntarily my mind reverted to Mr. Turveydrop and his modest assurance that "we do our best to polish, polish, polish."
The carriage builder struck the right chord when he affirmed that "finish made all the difference," and it applies as truly to flesh and blood as to insensate wood. Only the wood has sometimes the advantage of taking more kindly to improvement than do human free agents.
The rough places on which the effects of polish have not showed are too numerous for me to touch upon more than a few of them in this talk. We will acknowledge that the paint and varnish are not all that is necessary. The wood must be hard and prepared for the flowing process, if the wagon is to stand the scrutiny of critical eyes. Too often the paint is laid on thickly--perhaps too thickly--over indifferent material, and the first shock or scratch makes it scale and flake off.
As the test of the genuineness of the polish must be its durability, so intimacy is the standard by which we may judge of the finish of the so-called well-bred man or woman. If the refinement be ingrain, the familiarity which inevitably breeds contempt will never intrude itself.
To come down to everyday particulars: One of the unwarrantable familiarities is to enter a friend's house without ringing her door-bell,--unless you have been especially requested to do so. No ground of intimacy on which you and your friend may stand justifies this liberty. The housekeepers are few and far between who, in their inmost souls, will not resent this invasion of their domain. It argues an enormous amount of self-conceit on your part when you fancy that you are considered so entirely one of the family that your unannounced presence will never prove an unwelcome intrusion.
In country places neighbors contract the habit of "running in" to see one another. Were the truth known, many a housekeeper, deep in pie-making and bread-kneading, would gladly give her handsomest loaf for two minutes in which to smooth her rumpled hair and change her soiled apron.
It is only in books that the heroine always looks so charming, no matter in what labor she may be engaged, that she would be glad to receive any acquaintance. Of course our housewife's husband may see her when she is baking, and our domestic moralist would argue that what is good enough for him is good enough for callers. Perhaps it does not occur to her that the husband has so often found his wife dressed "neatly and sweetly" that the cooking costume will not make upon him the disagreeable impression it might produce upon a caller who sees her hostess once in this guise where the husband has hundreds of opportunities of beholding her in company clothes.
It may be remarked in this connection that the persons who are guilty of lapses like that of entering your front door unannounced are of the same class as those who enter your bed-chamber or sanctum without knocking. This is a rudeness which nothing warrants. There are times when we wish to be alone in our own rooms, and when we want to feel that we are safe from sudden interruption during the processes of bathing and dressing, even if the door of our apartment is not locked. One's own room should be so completely her own that her nearest and dearest will not feel at liberty to enter without permission. Of course it is frequently the case that two persons, sisters, or husband and wife, or mother and daughter, occupy the same chamber. When this is the case, it is theirs wholly and completely, and they are right to insist that other members of the household shall knock before entering.
Another evidence of lack of finish is offering gratuitous advice. If your opinion is asked, it is kind and right that you should give it; but a safe rule to go by is that unless your advice is requested it is not wanted. It is one of the strangest problems in human nature that one should of her own accord implicate herself in other people's affairs and take upon herself onerous responsibility by giving her unsolicited opinion in matters which do not concern her. It is a disagreeable task, and a very thankless one. Viewed from this standpoint, I am hardly surprised at the price demanded by lawyers for their advice. Perhaps the secret of their high fees may be that they decline to give a judgment unless asked for it. Our "own familiar friends" might learn a lesson from them.
It is a pity that any well-bred intimate should so far forget herself as to correct another person's child in the presence of the little one's father or mother. That this is frequently done will be certified to by hundreds of mothers who have been made irate by such untimely aids to their discipline. Johnny's mother tells him to stop making that noise, and her visitor adds severely, "Now, Johnny, do not make that noise any more!" Susie is saucy to her mamma, and her mamma's friend reprovingly remarks to the little girl that she is pained and surprised to hear her speak so naughtily to her dear mamma. Children resent this, and are far more keen and observant of these matters than their elders think.
Little four-year-old and his mamma were spending the day at grandpapa's last week. The family was seated on the veranda when the small man announced his intention to his mamma of going out upon the grass to pick wild flowers. Before the mother could reply, the grandfather stated his objection:
"No, child, the grass is too wet. I am afraid you will get your feet damp."
Four-year-old was equal to the occasion, as Young America generally is.
"Thank you, grandpa," was the calm response, "but my mamma is here. She can manage me."
Undoubtedly he was extremely impertinent; but did not the interference of the grandparent justify the rebuke?
Every one, even the lower classes, those who are considered under-bred, know that it is an atrocious impertinence to make inquiries of one's best friend as to the state of his finances. But like questions in the form of "feelers" are of such frequent occurrence that a reminder of this kind is scarcely out of place. There are few persons who deliberately ask you the amount of your income, but how often does one hear the queries:
"How much did you pay for that horse of yours?" "Was that gown very expensive?" "Have you a mortgage on that place?" "How much is the mortgage?" "What rent do you pay?" "How much does your table cost you per week?" etc., etc., until the unfortunate being at whom this battery of inquiries is aimed feels tempted to forget his "polish" and "finish," and retort as did the sobbing street boy when questioned by the elderly philanthropic woman as to the cause of his tears:
"None of your blamed business."
The etiquette of the table is supposed to be so thoroughly rooted and grounded into our children from infancy, and is, as a rule, so well understood by all ladies and gentlemen, that the visitor though a fool, could scarcely err therein. But this is not the case. At my own board, a man of the world, accustomed to excellent society, told me that he saw no mustard on the table, and as he always liked it with his meat he would trouble me to order some; while another man, a brilliant scholar, asked at a dinner party, "Will you tell your butler to bring me a glass of milk?" With these men the sandpaper of parental admonition or the flowing varnish of early association had evidently been neglected.
Intimacy, and even tender friendship may, and do, exist between men and women who are bound to one another by no family tie. Familiarity can never decently enter into such a relationship. If you, as a refined woman, have a man friend who slaps you on the back, squeezes your arm to attract your attention, holds your hand longer than friendship ought to dictate, and, without your permission, calls you in public or in private by your first name, you need not hesitate to drop him from your list of intimates. He is neither a gentleman nor does he respect you as you deserve. He may be, in his way, an estimable man, but it is not in your way, and he belongs to the rank of very ordinary acquaintanceship.
If a man asks you to call him by his first name, and your friendship with him justifies it, do not hesitate to do so; but if he is the "finished" article, he will not imagine that this concession on your part gives him the right to drop unbidden the "Miss" or "Mrs." from your name.
A true gentleman does not speak of a lady, even his betrothed, to strangers without what boys call "the handle" to her name. Nor should a woman mention men by their last names only. When a young or elderly woman speaks of "Smith," "Brown" or "Jones," you may make up your mind that the last coat of varnish was neglected when she was "finished."
Always be cautious in making advances toward familiarity. Be certain that your friendship is desired before going more than halfway. Not long ago I heard a woman say gravely of an uncongenial acquaintance whose friendship had been forced upon her:
"She is certainly my familiar friend. We can never be intimate."