To My Friend of November 5th, 1892
In this day when the world is fairly teeming with books, — good books, books written with a motive, books inculcating morals, books teaching lessons, — it seems almost a piece of presumption too great for endurance to foist another upon the market. There is scarcely room in the literary world for amateurs and maiden efforts; the very worthiest are sometimes poorly repaid for their best efforts. Yet, another one is offered the public, a maiden effort, — a little thing with absolutely nothing to commend it, that seeks to do nothing more than amuse.
Many of these sketches and verses have appeared in print before, in newspapers and a magazine or two; many are seeing the light of day for the first time. If perchance this collection of idle thoughts may serve to while away an hour or two, or lift for a brief space the load of care from someone’s mind, their purpose has been served — the author is satisfied.
A. R. M.
These fugitive pieces are launched upon the tide of public opinion to sink or swim upon their merit. They will float for a while, but whether they will reach the haven of popularity depends upon their enduring qualities. Some will surely perish, many will reach some port, but time alone will tell if any shall successfully breast the ocean of thought and plant its standard upon the summit of fame.
When one enters the domain of authorship, she places herself at the mercy of critics. Were she as sure of being commended by the best and most intelligent of her readers, as she is sure of being condemned by the worst and most ignorant, there would still be a thrill of pleasure in all criticism, for the satisfaction of having received the praise of the first would compensate for the harshness of the latter. Just criticism is wholesome and never wounds the sensibilities of the true author, for it saves her from the danger of an excess of pride which is the greatest foe to individual progress, while it spurs her on to loftier flights and nobler deeds. A poor writer is bad, but a poor critic is worse, therefore, unjust criticism should never ruffle the temper of its victim. The author of these pages belongs to that type of the “brave new woman who scorns to sigh,” but feels that she has something to say, and says it to the best of her ability, and leaves the verdict in the hands of the public. She gives to the reader her best thoughts and leaves him to accept or reject as merit may manifest itself. No author is under contract to please her readers at all times, nor can she hope to control the sentiments of all of them at any time, therefore, the obligation is reciprocal, for the fame she receives is due to the pleasure she affords.
The author of these fugitive pieces is young, just on the threshold of life, and with the daring audacity of youth makes assertions and gives decisions which she may reverse as time mellows her opinions, and the realities of life force aside the theories of youth, and prosy facts obscure the memory of that happy time when the heart overflowing with —
Of young ideas painted on the mind,
In the warm glowing colors Fancy spreads
On objects, not yet known, when all is new,
And all is lovely.”
There is much in this book that is good; much that is crude; some that is poor: but all give that assurance of something great and noble when the bud of promise, now unfolding its petals in the morning glow of light, will have matured into that fuller growth of blossoming flower ere the noonday sun passes its zenith. May the hope thus engendered by this first attempt reach its fruition, and may the energy displayed by one so young meet the reward it merits from an approving public.
Sylvanie F. Williams.
“And she tied a bunch of violets with a tress of her pretty brown hair.”
She sat in the yellow glow of the lamplight softly humming these words. It was Easter evening, and the newly risen spring world was slowly sinking to a gentle, rosy, opalescent slumber, sweetly tired of the joy which had pervaded it all day. For in the dawn of the perfect morn, it had arisen, stretched out its arms in glorious happiness to greet the Saviour and said its hallelujahs, merrily trilling out carols of bird, and organ and flower-song. But the evening had come, and rest.
There was a letter lying on the table, it read:
“Dear, I send you this little bunch of flowers as my Easter token. Perhaps you may not be able to read their meaning, so I’ll tell you. Violets, you know, are my favorite flowers. Dear, little, human-faced things! They seem always as if about to whisper a love-word; and then they signify that thought which passes always between you and me. The orange blossoms — you know their meaning; the little pinks are the flowers you love; the evergreen leaf is the symbol of the endurance of our affection; the tube-roses I put in, because once when you kissed and pressed me close in your arms, I had a bunch of tube-roses on my bosom, and the heavy fragrance of their crushed loveliness has always lived in my memory. The violets and pinks are from a bunch I wore to-day, and when kneeling at the altar, during communion, did I sin, dear, when I thought of you? The tube-roses and orange-blossoms I wore Friday night; you always wished for a lock of my hair, so I’ll tie these flowers with them — but there, it is not stable enough; let me wrap them with a bit of ribbon, pale blue, from that little dress I wore last winter to the dance, when we had such a long, sweet talk in that forgotten nook. You always loved that dress, it fell in such soft ruffles away from the throat and bosom, — you called me your little forget-me-not, that night. I laid the flowers away for awhile in our favorite book, — Byron — just at the poem we loved best, and now I send them to you. Keep them always in remembrance of me, and if aught should occur to separate us, press these flowers to your lips, and I will be with you in spirit, permeating your heart with unutterable love and happiness.”
It is Easter again. As of old, the joyous bells clang out the glad news of the resurrection. The giddy, dancing sunbeams laugh riotously in field and street; birds carol their sweet twitterings everywhere, and the heavy perfume of flowers scents the golden atmosphere with inspiring fragrance. One long, golden sunbeam steals silently into the white-curtained window of a quiet room, and lay athwart a sleeping face. Cold, pale, still, its fair, young face pressed against the satin-lined casket. Slender, white fingers, idle now, they that had never known rest; locked softly over a bunch of violets; violets and tube-roses in her soft, brown hair, violets in the bosom of her long, white gown; violets and tube-roses and orange-blossoms banked everywhere, until the air was filled with the ascending souls of the human flowers. Some whispered that a broken heart had ceased to flutter in that still, young form, and that it was a mercy for the soul to ascend on the slender sunbeam. To-day she kneels at the throne of heaven, where one year ago she had communed at an earthly altar.
Far away in a distant city, a man, carelessly looking among some papers, turned over a faded bunch of flowers tied with a blue ribbon and a lock of hair. He paused meditatively awhile, then turning to the regal-looking woman lounging before the fire, he asked:
“Wife, did you ever send me these?”
She raised her great, black eyes to his with a gesture of ineffable disdain, and replied languidly:
“You know very well I can’t bear flowers. How could I ever send such sentimental trash to any one? Throw them into the fire.”
And the Easter bells chimed a solemn requiem as the flames slowly licked up the faded violets. Was it merely fancy on the wife’s part, or did the husband really sigh, — a long, quivering breath of remembrance?
How few of us
In all the world’s great, ceaseless struggling strife,
Go to our work with gladsome, buoyant step,
And love it for its sake, whate’er it be.
Because it is a labor, or, mayhap,
Some sweet, peculiar art of God’s own gift;
And not the promise of the world’s slow smile
of recognition, or of mammon’s gilded grasp.
Alas, how few, in inspiration’s dazzling flash,
Or spiritual sense of world’s beyond the dome
Of circling blue around this weary earth,
Can bask, and know the God-given grace
Of genius’ fire that flows and permeates
The virgin mind alone; the soul in which
The love of earth hath tainted not.
The love of art and art alone.
“Who dares stand forth?” the monarch cried,
“Amid the throng, and dare to give
Their aid, and bid this wretch to live?
I pledge my faith and crown beside,
A woeful plight, a sorry sight,
This outcast from all God-given grace.
What, ho! in all, no friendly face,
No helping hand to stay his plight?
St. Peter’s name be pledged for aye,
The man’s accursed, that is true;
But ho, he suffers. None of you
Will mercy show, or pity sigh?
Strong men drew back, and lordly train
Did slowly file from monarch’s look,
Whose lips curled scorn. But from a nook
A voice cried out, “Though he has slain
That which I loved the best on earth,
Yet will I tend him till he dies,
I can be brave.” A woman’s eyes
Gazed fearlessly into his own.
When all the world has grown full cold to thee,
And man — proud pygmy — shrugs all scornfully,
And bitter, blinding tears flow gushing forth,
Because of thine own sorrows and poor plight,
Then turn ye swift to nature’s page,
And read there passions, immeasurably far
Greater than thine own in all their littleness.
For nature has her sorrows and her joys,
As all the piled-up mountains and low vales
Will silently attest — and hang thy head
In dire confusion, for having dared
To moan at thine own miseries
When God and nature suffer silently.
The literary manager of the club arose, cleared his throat, adjusted his cravat, fixed his eyes sternly upon the young man, and in a sonorous voice, a little marred by his habitual lisp, asked: “Mr. — , will you please tell us your opinion upon the question, whether woman’s chances for matrimony are increased or decreased when she becomes man’s equal as a wage earner?”
The secretary adjusted her eye-glass, and held her pencil alertly poised above her book, ready to note which side Mr. — took. Mr. — fidgeted, pulled himself together with a violent jerk, and finally spoke his mind. Someone else did likewise, also someone else, then the women interposed, and jumped on the men, the men retaliated, a wordy war ensued, and the whole matter ended by nothing being decided, pro or con — generally the case in wordy discussions. Moi? Well, I sawed wood and said nothing, but all the while there was forming in my mind, no, I won’t say forming, it was there already. It was this, Why should well-salaried women marry? Take the average working-woman of to-day. She works from five to ten hours a day, doing extra night work, sometimes, of course. Her work over, she goes home or to her boarding-house, as the case may be. Her meals are prepared for her, she has no household cares upon her shoulders, no troublesome dinners to prepare for a fault-finding husband, no fretful children to try her patience, no petty bread and meat economies to adjust. She has her cares, her money-troubles, her debts, and her scrimpings, it is true, but they only make her independent, instead of reducing her to a dead level of despair. Her day’s work ends at the office, school, factory or store; the rest of the time is hers, undisturbed by the restless going to and fro of housewifely cares, and she can employ it in mental or social diversions. She does not incessantly rely upon the whims of a cross man to take her to such amusements as she desires. In this nineteenth century she is free to go where she pleases — provided it be in a moral atmosphere — without comment. Theatres, concerts, lectures, and the lighter amusements of social affairs among her associates, are open to her, and there she can go, see, and be seen, admire and be admired, enjoy and be enjoyed, without a single harrowing thought of the baby’s milk or the husband’s coffee.
Her earnings are her own, indisputably, unreservedly, undividedly. She knows to a certainty just how much she can spend, how well she can dress, how far her earnings will go. If there is a dress, a book, a bit of music, a bunch of flowers, or a bit of furniture that she wants, she can get it, and there is no need of asking anyone’s advice, or gently hinting to John that Mrs. So and So has a lovely new hat, and there is one ever so much prettier and cheaper down at Thus & Co.’s. To an independent spirit there is a certain sense of humiliation and wounded pride in asking for money, be it five cents or five hundred dollars. The working woman knows no such pang; she has but to question her account and all is over. In the summer she takes her savings of the winter, packs her trunk and takes a trip more or less extensive, and there is none to say her nay, — nothing to bother her save the accumulation of her own baggage. There is an independent, happy, free-and-easy swing about the motion of her life. Her mind is constantly being broadened by contact with the world in its working clothes; in her leisure moments by the better thoughts of dead and living men which she meets in her applications to books and periodicals; in her vacations, by her studies of nature, or it may be other communities than her own. The freedom which she enjoys she does not trespass upon, for if she did not learn at school she has acquired since habits of strong self-reliance, self-support, earnest thinking, deep discriminations, and firmly believes that the most perfect liberty is that state in which humanity conforms itself to and obeys strictly, without deviation, those laws which are best fitted for their mutual self-advancement.
And so your independent working woman of to day comes as near being ideal in her equable self poise as can be imagined. So why should she hasten to give this liberty up in exchange for a serfdom, sweet sometimes, it is true, but which too often becomes galling and unendurable.
It is not marriage that I decry, for I don’t think any really sane person would do this, but it is this wholesale marrying of girls in their teens, this rushing into an unknown plane of life to avoid work. Avoid work! What housewife dares call a moment her own?
Marriages might be made in Heaven, but too often they are consummated right here on earth, based on a desire to possess the physical attractions of the woman by the man, pretty much as a child desires a toy, and an innate love of man, a wild desire not to be ridiculed by the foolish as an “old maid,” and a certain delicate shrinking from the work of the world — laziness is a good name for it — by the woman. The attraction of mind to mind, the ability of one to compliment the lights and shadows in the other, the capacity of either to fulfil the duties of wife or husband — these do not enter into the contract. That is why we have divorce courts.
And so our independent woman in every year of her full, rich, well-rounded life, gaining fresh knowledge and experience, learning humanity, and particularly that portion of it which is the other gender, so well as to avoid clay-footed idols, and finally when she does consent to bear the yoke upon her shoulders, does so with perhaps less romance and glamor than her younger scoffing sisters, but with an assurance of solid and more lasting happiness. Why should she have hastened this; was aught lost by the delay?
“They say” that men don’t admire this type of woman, that they prefer the soft, dainty, winning, mindless creature who cuddles into men’s arms, agrees to everything they say, and looks upon them as a race of gods turned loose upon this earth for the edification of womankind. Well, may be so, but there is one thing positive, they certainly respect the independent one, and admire her, too, even if it is at a distance, and that in itself is something. As to the other part, no matter how sensible a woman is on other questions, when she falls in love she is fool enough to believe her adored one a veritable Solomon. Cuddling? Well, she may preside over conventions, brandish her umbrella at board meetings, tramp the streets soliciting subscriptions, wield the blue pencil in an editorial sanctum, hammer a type-writer, smear her nose with ink from a galley full of pied type, lead infant ideas through the tortuous mazes of c-a-t and r-a-t, plead at the bar, or wield the scalpel in a dissecting room, yet when the right moment comes, she will sink as gracefully into his manly embrace, throw her arms as lovingly around his neck, and cuddle as warmly and sweetly to his bosom as her little sister who has done nothing else but think, dream, and practice for that hour. It comes natural, you see.
There was a terrible noise in the school-yard at intermission; peeping out the windows the boys could be seen huddled in an immense bunch, in the middle of the yard. It looked like a fight, a mob, a knock-down, — anything, so we rushed out to the door hastily, fearfully, ready to scold, punish, console, frown, bind up broken heads or drag wounded forms from the melee as the case might be. Nearly every boy in the school was in that seething, swarming mass, and those who weren’t were standing around on the edges, screaming and throwing up their hats in hilarious excitement. It was a mob, a fearful mob, but a mob apparently with a vigorous and well-defined purpose. It was a mob that screamed and howled, and kicked, and yelled, and shouted, and perspired, and squirmed, and wriggled, and pushed, and threatened, and poured itself all seemingly upon some central object. It was a mob that had an aim, that was determined to accomplish that aim, even though the whole azure expanse of sky fell upon them. It was a mob with set muscles, straining like whip-cords, eyes on that central object and with heads inward and sturdy legs outward, like prairie horses reversed in a battle. The cheerers and hat throwers on the outside were mirthful, but the mob was not; it howled, but howled without any cachinnation; it struggled for mastery. Some fell and were trampled over, some weaker ones were even tossed in the air, but the mob never deigned to trouble itself about such trivialities. It was an interesting, nervous whole, with divers parts of separate vitality.
In alarm I looked about for the principal. He was standing at a safe distance with his hands in his pockets watching the seething mass with a broad smile. At sight of my perplexed expression some one was about to venture an explanation, when there was a wild yell, a sudden vehement disintegration of the mass, a mighty rush and clutch at a dark object bobbing in the air — and the mist cleared from my intellect — as I realized it all — football.
Did you ever stop to see the analogy between a game of football and the interesting little game called life which we play every day? There is one, far-fetched as it may seem, though, for that matter, life’s game, being one of desperate chances and strategic moves, is analogous to anything.
But, if we could get out of ourselves and soar above the world, far enough to view the mass beneath in its daily struggles, and near enough the hearts of the people to feel the throbs beneath their boldly carried exteriors, the whole would seem naught but such a maddening rush and senseless-looking crushing. “We are but children of a larger growth” after all, and our ceaseless pursuing after the baubles of this earth are but the struggles for precedence in the business play-ground.
The football is money. See how the mass rushes after it! Everyone so intent upon his pursuit until all else dwindles into a ridiculous nonentity. The weaker ones go down in the mad pursuit, and are unmercifully trampled upon, but no matter, what is the difference if the foremost win the coveted prize and carry it off. See the big boy in front, he with iron grip, and determined, compressed lips? That boy is a type of the big, merciless man, the Gradgrind of the latter century. His face is set towards the ball, and even though he may crush a dozen small boys, he’ll make his way through the mob and come out triumphant. And he’ll be the victor longer than anyone else, in spite of the envy and fighting and pushing about him.