Page images

IT was said the other day of a man noted for his charitable estimate of his fellow-creatures that he would find something to admire in Satan himself. The remark was told him, and he said, "Yes, I always did admire the devil for his persistence." If he adopted the popular notion of Satan he might have found easily enough other grounds for admiring him; for while it is commonly held that the devil is not so black as he is painted, the better opinion seems to me to be that nowadays he is not painted anything like as black as he is, and that owing to the unfaithfulness with which his likeness is set forth he is very much more generally admired and respected than his qualities and true character deserve. The popular contemporary conception of Satan is of a highly successful man of the world. It is admitted that there are shady spots in his past history, that he has done some things that he should regret, that he is a hazardous associate and an unsafe person to have transactions with. But conversely it is realized that he is rich, powerful, and attractive, and intimately concerned and interested in promoting the material prosperity of the human race. He is known to be full of enterprise and public spirit, disposed to make things pleasant, and powerful in carrying the enterprises with which he is concerned to a profitable issue. It is true that he is understood to be unscrupulous, but it is felt that success excuses very much, and that when an individual has attained a position which enables him to be useful to the public it is a mistake to be over-nice about rejecting his good offices because in early life when his necessities were more pressing, his methods or affiliations were not always such as VOL. XVIII.-14

a conscientious person could approve. Then, thanks to the misdirected zeal of a multitude of worthy persons who assume to abhor Satan and all his works, he gets credit for a host of things with which he really had very little to do. Lots of clergymen and others are sure that he invented all kinds of dances and laid the cornerstones of all the theatres. He gets immense credit all the time in certain quarters as the loosener of restrictions as to the use of the Sabbath, so that in some parts of the country folks can hardly walk in the fields on a Sunday afternoon without a sense of obligation to him for his share in the enlargement of their liberties. Inasmuch as he is earnestly and continuously denounced by hordes of good and zealous people as the discoverer and promoter of all exhilarating beverages, people who like beverages of that sort and feel safe in consuming them in moderate quantities cannot help a certain kindliness of feeling toward him on that account.

The upshot of all this perversion is that the enemies of the Adversary have unwittingly carved him out a great reputation as the champion of personal liberty, and the purveyor of manifold terrestrial delights which are not necessarily hurtful to those who realize them with discretion, and which are undeniably in favor with the natural man. Consequently it is easy for him to masquerade as a public benefactor, and folks, without admitting even to themselves how well they think of him, grow to feel that perhaps he has come to be good-natured in his old age, and that, nowadays, anyhow, his behavior seems pretty square, and that, maybe, the stories of his depravity do him an injustice.

To give the devil his due is proverbially proper, but to make such a hero of him is not only inexpedient but very bad morals. John Milton is partly to blame for it, for he first made Satan grand and semi-respectable, but the work has made great progress since his day. The pleasantest and most reassuring line in the prayerbook is that which describes the service of God as perfect freedom. If that idea of God's service would be more generally disseminated, with due supplementary inculcation of the truth that all the salutary and truly pleasant things in life are the gifts of God and not devices of the Evil One, Satan would come much nearer to getting his due than he usually does come nowadays, or is likely to come perhaps, until the final reckoning.

WHILE we toil slowly together up life's long incline our fellow - travellers upon the strange, eventful journey observe, if we ourselves do not, that certain of our peculiarities in speech, gesture, and expression have gradually become so intensified as to make remembrance of us incomplete without them.

"Thread by thread the strands we twist Till they bind us neck and wrist,"

before we are conscious of the self-inflicted thraldom; and no man who has come to what are commonly called years of discretion ever entirely frees himself from the net-work of habit daily forming 'round him. The utmost that an altruistic philosopher can do is to make his net a web of gossamer, so that, however much he may be entangled in its meshes, those who are forced to brush by him shall escape galling. This is a task by no means easy. But to snap, or even to lighten the web of opinion when we have once woven it about some obstinate brain-cell-hoc opus, hic labor est, which might baffle the Cumaan Sibyl herself, with all her seven hundred years of wisdom. Why then will many of us persist in accumulating such fetters upon the reason, and even go so far as to glory in the servitude which their adoption entails?

Of course we must all have our little innocent preferences which need not therefore be aggressive even to ourselves

preferences in the choice of food, of our friends, for the hard bed and the leather cushion. We like some cheeses best, but we can put up with Roquefort if Camembert and Brie are not attainable. These are mild affairs of semi- unconscious growth, like the personal manners and customs that spring from the conditions in which we live. It is not of these that I speak, but of those assertive, rasping prejudices which yield to no persuasion, gentle or otherwise, and are flaunted upon all occasions with arrogant pride. I know men, and good men too, who sit so encircled by unquenchable bigotries that they resemble Wotan's daughter, cut off from temporal things by tongues of fire. For discussion leading always to the same invincible issue is profitless, and the points upon which they have satisfied themselves through their own violent iteration grow wearisome to others. A mystic circle of conviction, solemnly drawn about a subject soon makes that subject one to be tabooed.

When these howling dervishes of prejudice are strictly faithful to their tenets what delight in life they lose! Following the beaten path which they maintain is the right one, they see but a single landscape, and never know the pleasures of exploration. In literature and the arts their course, like some Italian by-way between high garden-walls, has no outlook at all. One declares that music died with Beethoven, and that Liszt, Chopin, and Berlioz are all charlatans, while Wagner, of course, is an abomination. "Trollope!" cries another; "I have never read a line of him. Scott is my novelist." As though Barsetshire were non-existent, and human nature valueless south of the Tweed! Yet this same tissue of complexities will only laugh in the theatre; he must see French farce there, or nothing; the words of Hamlet bore him. How much surer his ground of satisfaction might be, if he would draw one long breath and expand sufficiently to like Hamlet and the French farce too.

Once, long ago, in the street, there was pointed out to me a man who had become famous in his little way, for never committing himself to an opinion. I suppose that he was a very ridiculous person; evi

dently my companion thought so. But he wore a happier look than I often see in the faces of my positive friends, and I have since learned that he lived to a green and prosperous old age.


THE Japanese have many nice qualities and some great ones. They are clean, they are polite, and apparently they are very gentle and very brave. They are said to be exceedingly neat, too, and to be bountifully endowed with that sense of propriety, a defective development of which accounts for much of the rubbish in Amercan streets and most of the disagreeableness of American street-car travel. certainly beat us in a good many things, and not unreasonably their example is much held up to us nowadays for emulation. Intelligent foreigners who have observed us closely have declared that we are the rudest and the kindest people in the world. Of course it is a pity that we are not more universally courteous; that our children are not demure and orderly like the Japanese children; that we throw papers into the street and drop peanutshells and orange-peel on the floors of our public conveyances. Of course it is a pity that we are not more like the Japanese in many particulars; but, for my part, I make bold to confess that American manners, with all their defects, are better suited to my American taste than Japanese manners with all their gentle perfections.

When Nature finds bark necessary for the protection of her growths it may be noticed that she always applies it to the outside. Our manners are to a certain extent our bark, and though it is by no means necessary that it should be disagreeably rough or scraggy, it seems not a thing to be altogether deplored that what we have of it we should choose to wear as the trees do, externally and in sight. When Nature leaves the bark thin she is apt to provide thorns, and if one must make a choice between the two means of protection, it may be excusable to prefer the bark which one can recognize afar off, to the thorn which draws blood without warning.

We are quite accustomed to the traditional disparagement of the French as a

people in whom a superficial politeness is developed at some cost of more indispensable merits, but the politeness of the Japanese being a trait of comparatively recent observation, seems to be accepted without much consideration of its cost. It is not worth very much, but it does cost something. For one thing, travellers tell us that it takes a prodigious amount of time. Japanese etiquette takes no note of the hands of the clock, or the rising or the setting of the sun. Japanese business seems not to be very much prompter. Time in Japan is estimated at its Eastern value. We are told, too, that Japanese courtesy condemns even such a reasonable candor as would permit one in polite conversation to acknowledge that he held an opinion different from one his friend had expressed. Letters are not punctuated in Japan because it would seem to imply ignorance in the recipient. There can scarcely be such an extreme softness of conduct without some sacrifice of downright honesty.

American manners are not nearly as good as they should be, not nearly as good as one may hope they may become, but that Japanning would profit them is not so certain as it looks at first sight, even if it did not involve a much greater amount of self-repression or self- obliteration (doubtless more apparent than actual) than the American temperament could endure or has any desire to attain to. The amelioration of our national demeanor must rather be sought in an increased and enlightened self-control joined to a strengthened self-respect. If we ever do become civilized, it will be first at the heart and afterward at the rind.

I WAS saying the other day to Mrs. Damocles, that I had such a high opinion of Winship, partly because of his exceptionally enlivening personal qualities and partly for his marvellous discrimination in the choice of a wife. And I added that I had the very highest opinion of Mrs. Winship because of her sense and her loveliness, and especially because of her success in living with Winship and being his wife. Now Winship is a good man and delightful company. He is pretty to look at and very good indeed to go; but

[blocks in formation]

That was true. I do have such a sentiment for such people, and I dare say it is a sentiment as common as it is well founded. I respect them whether their success is due to natural sweetness or to sustained effort. People who are capable of sustained effort to maintain the harmony of their domestic relations are a very good sort of people. They must have fidelity, that king-pin among the virtues, and divers other strong ingredients that go to make up what we call "good stuff." I am not sure but that we should respect them even more than folks who are simply born sweet and reasonable, and who love each other and get on without trying.

It is matter of record that in patriarchal and scriptural times it was held a thing particularly good and pleasant to behold brethren dwell together in unity. That man and wife should dwell in that way seems not to have been thought so affecting a spectacle. Perhaps it was held that if a patriarch could not live harmoniously with one wife, he could with another; or perhaps the sentiment of the times favored hammering a disorderly wife with a tent-pin until she became tractable, so that domestic tranquillity was taken for granted. It is not surprising that with changed conditions and the new woman we moderns should have assumed a different point of view. It is pleasant to be sure to see brethren brotherly, but it is no great matter if they differ, for the world is big enough for them

all. But the world is not big enough for the successful disagreement of man and wife. They may part, but it is not success; it is failure. Both must carry away the marks of it, and whatever may happen neither is quite as good as before. In spite of divorce laws and all easements of that sort, we have contrived to make a deeply serious business of marriage. We ought to applaud those who succeed in it, because success is so indispensably neces


It would be a little different if folks were really free to marry or not as they chose, with no fierce bugaboo behind the alternative. But the fact is the majority of us are not quite free. We are taught and believe that, if we don't marry, a worse thing may happen to us, for we will grow old without either the discipline or the companionship of a mate, without children to bring youth back into our lives; indeed, without the elements of a home. We see people in that predicament, and though there are plenty of encouraging exceptions, on the whole celibacy seems so very second-rate to most of us that we don't bargain for it except under stress of strong necessity. Marriage in most cases seems so preponderantly expedient that we would feel that we ought to marry even if we didn't want to, and as usually we do want to, marriage becomes, practically, a necessity.

I declare that I am personally grateful to married people who get on conspicuously well. They are a reassuring spectacle in society, and as part of society I take comfort in knowing them, and am obliged to them for existing. And, of course, I am especially obliged to the women like Winship's wife, who are particularly good wives. You should see that lady, how she holds that hare-brained creature, not with too tight a lariat or too loose; neither nagging nor neglectful; not so dependent on him as to shackle him, nor so independent as to leave him too free. Of course, she couldn't do it unless she was a woman of brains, and unless Winship was a good fellow-a fellow, that is, with some gaps in his selfishShe is too good a wife for him, but I am glad he has got her, and so, unmistakably, is he.


« PreviousContinue »