« PreviousContinue »
contradictions, and teasing importunities. “Why this, why that, why not the other? If he wants any thing, it is the only thing that cannot be had. If he complains of any thing, it is the very thing that must be ; he cannot put so much as his hat or his stick down, but it is in the wrong place. His wearied mind is regaled with nothing but complaints of servants, complaints of children, complaints of every thing. If he tries to cheer their spirits with some pleasant communication, his own are damped by the humour with which it is received. If anxiety has made him irritable, instead of being soothed and pacified by compliance and forbearance, he is goaded afresh with idle bickerings and useless opposition. And this from a wife, from children, who, in the genuine affection of their hearts, would gladly, were it possible, take the load from his bosom, and bear it all themselves.
I see the mistress of a house, a very pattern of domestic virtue, one of the most just, humane, wellmeaning persons in the world, whose whole care in life is to do her own duty, and see that others do theirs. By a regular seasoning of ill-humour, I see her succeed in making every body's business irksome and disagreeable. If any one comes near, they are always in the way; if they keep at a distance, they are always out of the way; if they do any thing without bidding, they are too busy by half; if they wait to be bidden, they never think for themselves. If you offer her advice, she likes people to mind their own business; if nobody interferes with her, she has every thing to bear alone. The very thing she lets you see she desires of you, she refuses when you
of. fer it: and the very thing she has done to please you, she undoes as soon as she sees you are pleased with it. If you do a kindness to any one about her,
she will defeat it, or empoison it; though she would have done it herself, if she had not. Yet-for I know her well—she is not a selfish or an unfeeling woman in matters of importance: she would sacrifice her own advantage for the benefit of the meanest of her family.
I see the generous benefactor, who divides her income with the unfortunate, who looks out for sorrow that she may lessen it, and for need that she may supply it: at great expense, and, perhaps, the sacrifice of many of her superfluities, she has brought the afflicted into her house or under her protection; and day by day I see her empoison the cup she fills for them, and make bitter the bread she supplies to them, by little ill-humoured suspicions, and captious answers, and sideway remarks, and broad hints, and by-words; not one of which has the shadow of a meaning or a cause: and by perpetual wearing on a wounded spirit, the more susceptible in proportion as it is grateful, consumes the heart with useless irritation, that she might as well have left to break with the weight of its own sorrow.
I see people compelled to live together, and who would not, by the offer of a kingdom, be induced to live apart, managing matters as if the disturbing of each other's peace was the only object of their union; contending for a thousand little things that neither cares about; though, in really important matters, either has pleasure in yielding to the other. I hear many a daughter quarrel with her mother, and many a wife dispute with her husband, whether they shall go out of one door or the other, when, if she were called upon to give up house, doors and all, for her mother's or her husband's sake, she would do it without a word. And I see again, where, from necessity or choice, every thing is yielded to the will
of another, so much ill grace in the doing, so many bitter words and sullen looks, that more pain and provocation is given by compliance, than would be by resistance.
I know families of young people, upon whom thousands have been expended to make them agreeable, and who have taken as much pains to commend themselves to the approbation of society, and the affection of each other, as their parents have taken for them: and they are the most agreeable, entertaining, affectionate young people to be found, when they happen to be in a good humour. But as to any possible calculation when that may be, you might as well trust Moore's Almanack for a fine day. Never have I been able to discover by the affinities of cause and consequence, or any other affinities, by what laws these ladies or any other ladies get in and out of humour. You must take your chance with them, and that but a poor one: it is a summer day, indeed, in which you do not find some one out of humour, with something or with nothing, with each other or themselves. Then, if you are on intimacy, wo betide you for whatever you say is the wrong thing ; whatever you propose is the disagreeable thing; whatever you ask is the impossible thing. If you are sufficiently a stranger to impose deference towards yourself, wo betide you still for all your amusement is to hear sisters—-sisters most reaily attached to each other-snapping and snarling, contending and contradicting, like nothing but the little growling dogs that settle all their quarrels on the pavement, to the no small annoyance of the passengers.
I seldom join a family circle, but somebody's humour disturbs the rest. I never join a party of pleasure, but somebody's humour makes it disagreeVol. II.
able. These are small matters; but it is the perpetual dropping that wears out the stone, and not the sudden shower; and it is these small frettings of ill-humour that consume the peace of our bosoms, and attaint the character of domestic happiness in England, which else has there its full and perfect loveliness. That this propensity to ill-humour is the effect of a foggy atmosphere and a sluggish circulation, I have no doubt. But we do not abide an evil contentedly, merely because we know the cause; rather we go more hopefully to find a cure. Whether we can help feeling out of humour, I will not be positive; though by the habit of reflection and resistance, I think we may. That we can avoid making others feel it I am quite positive.
I know one, who, from the languor of a consumptive hahit, feels always ill and dispirited in the morning; when asked why she never speaks at breakfast-time, she says it is, lest, under those sensations, she may speak ill-naturedly. I know one, who, fromi mental exertion at night, feels for the few first hours of the next day, all the languor and exhaustion of disease. Having the care of children, she never reproves them or gives them orders till the sensation goes off, because she feels that she must wait to be in a good humour herself, before she can judge of any thing, much less venture a reproach. This case is more clearly physical than most; and yet it can thus be governed. I often hear ladies say in their families, “ Do not tease me to-day, for I am unwell.” I should not have the least objection to hear them say, “ Do not tease me to-day, for I am in an illhumour”—the candour of the confession on one part, and the shame of it on the other, might put an end to ill-humour in both. That all can control their humours is certain; because all do, when they think
there is a necessity for it. In certain companies, in the presence of those we fear, or with whom we have some purpose to effect, either the ill-humour is conquered, or it is concealed. However the venom be native in our bosoms, the sting is put forth only at our pleasure—and strange as it is, we reserve it for our best and dearest friends ; for the torment of our home, and the misery of our families.
You, who in character are yet unnamed, who are fretting and toiling yourselves to be hereafter called clever women, sensible women, elegant or accomplished, or benevolent women; has it ever come into your mind to earn the title of good-humoured women? Perhaps not, for you use the appellation in contempt; and yield it to those who can claim no character besides. You have heard it thus used, and you
have not reflected on the term, or on the thing it means. Of this be persuaded—Good-humour will lighten sorrow, that talent can but render more acute. Good-humour will bear you through difficulties that the strongest sense cannot enable you to evade. Good-humour will preserve affections that beauty and elegance can do little more than win. Good-humour will lessen the sufferings of humanity more than thousands of gold and silver, which only administer to the body, while the other spares the mind. Good-humour will remain a blessing when others are gone by, like the woodroffe, that was sweet in my drawer, when
perished, and the woodbine was forgotten.