« 上一页继续 »
of the Chinese I Ton, artless blossom of the prairies, or belle of some rural city a thousand miles inland, should thank us for putting you on your guard against Utopian constructions of our social canons. When you come to town with your good father, and find that the lady of one of his city correspondents sets apart one morning of every week for the reception of her friends, do not imagine her to be necessarily a "good soul," who hates to disappoint those who call on her, and therefore simply omits going out on that day lest she should miss them. You will find her enshrined in all that is grand and costly; her door guarded by servants, whose formal ushering will kill within yon all hope of unaffected and kindly intercourse; her parlours glittering with all she can possibly accumulate that is recherche' (that is a favourite word of hers), and her own person arrayed with all the solicitude of splendour that morning dress allows, and sometimes something more. She will receive you with practised grace, and beg you to be seated, perhaps seat herself by you and inquire after your health. Then a tall, grave servant will hand you on a silver salver, a cup of chocolate, or some other permissible refreshment, while your hostess glides over the carpet to show to a new guest or group the identical civilities of which you have just had the benefit. A lady sits at your right hand, as silent as yourself; but you must neither hope for an introduction, nor dare to address her without one, since both these things are forbidden by our code. Another sits at your left, looking wistfully at the fire, or at the stand of greenhouse plants, or, still more likely, at the splendid French clock, but not speaking a word; for she, too, has not the happiness of knowing anybody who chances to sit near her.
Presently she rises; the hostess hastens towards her, presses her hand with great affection, and begs to see her often. She falls into the custody of the footman at the parlour door, is by him committed to his double at the hall door, and then trips lightly down the steps to her carriage, to enact the same farce at the next house where there may be a reception on the same day. You look at the clock, too— rise—are smiled upon, and begged to come again; and, passing through the same tunnel of footmen, reach the door and the street, with time and opportunity to muse on the mystery of visiting.
Now you are not to go away with the idea that those who reduce visiting to this frigid system, are, of necessity, heartless people. That would be very unjust. They are often people of very good hearts indeed; but they have somehow allowed their notions of social intercourse to become sophisticated, so that
visiting has ceased with them to be even a symbol of friendly feeling, and they look upon it as merely a mode of exhibiting wealth, style, and desirable acquaintances; an assertion, as it were, of social position. Then they will tell you of the great "waste of time" incurred by the old system of receiving morning calls, and how much better it is to give up one day to it than every day; though, by the way, they never did scruple to be "engaged" or "out" when visits were not desirable. Another thing is— but this, perhaps, they will not tell you,—that the present is an excellent way of refining one's circle; for, as the footman has strict orders not to admit any one, or even receive a card, on other than the regular days, all those who are enough behind the age not to be aware of this, are gradually dropt, their visits passing for nothing, and remaining unreturned. So fades away the momentary dream of sociability with which some simple-hearted people pleased themselves when they heard of reception-days.
But morning calls are not the only form of our social intercourse. We do not forget the claims of "peaceful evening." You have read Cowper, my dear young friend?
"Now stir the fire, and close the shatters fast,
And you have been at tea-parties too, where, besides the excellent tea and coffee and cake and warm biscuits and sliced tongue, there was wealth of good-humoured chat, and, if not wit, plenty of laughter, as the hours wore on towards ten o'clock, when cloaks and hoods were brought, and the gentlemen asked to be allowed to see the ladies home, and, after a brisk walk, everybody was in bed at eleven o'clock, and felt not the worse but the better next morning. Well! we have evening parties too! A little different, however.
The simple people among whom you have been living really enjoyed these parties. Those who gave them, and those who went to them, had social pleasure as their object. The little bustle, or, perhaps, labour of preparation was just enough to mark the occasion pleasantly. People came together in good humour with themselves and with each other. There may have been some little scandal talked over the tea when it was too strong—but, on the whole, there was a friendly result, and everybody concerned would have felt it a loss to be deprived of such meetings. The very borrowings of certain articles of which no ordinary, moderate household is expected to have enough for extraordinary occasions, promoted good neighbourhood and sociability, and the deficiencies sometime- observable, were in some sense an antidote to pride.
Now all this sounds like a sentimental, Utopian, if not shabby romance to us, so far have we departed from such primitiveness. To begin, wo all say we hate parties. When we go to them we groan and declare them stupid, and when we give them we say still worse things. When we are about to give, there is a close caleulation either as to the cheapest way, or as to the most rechcrcht, without regard to expense. Of course these two views apply to different extent of means, and the former is the more frequent. Where money is no object, the anxiety is to do something that nobody else can do; whether in splendour of decorations or costliness of supper. If Mrs. A. had a thousand dollars worth of flowers in her rooms, Mrs. B. will strain every nerve to have twice or three times as many, though all the greenhouses within ten miles of the city must be stripped to obtain them. If Mrs. C. bought all the game in market for her supper, Mrs. D.'s anxiety is to send to the prairies for hers,—and so in other matters. Mrs. E. had the prima donna to sing at her soire'e, and Mrs. F. at once engages the whole opera troupe. This is the principle, and its manifestations are infinite. But, perhaps, these freaks are characteristic of circles into which wondering eyes like yours are never likely to penetrate, so we will say something of the other classes of party-givers, those who feel themselves under a sort of necessity to invite a great mauy people for whom they care nothing, merely because these people have before invited them. Obligations of this sort are of so exceedingly complicated a character, that none but a metaphysician could be expected fully to unravel them. The idea of paying one invitation by another is the main one, and whether the invited choose to come or not, is very little to the purpose. The invitation discharges the debt, and places the partygiver in the position of creditor, necessitating, of course, another party, and so on, in endless scries. It is to be observed in passing, that both debtor and creditor in this shifting-scale believe themselves "discharging a duty they owe society." This is another opportunity of getting rid of undesirable acquaintances, since to leave one to whom we "owe" an invitation out of a general party, is equivalent to a final dismissal. This being the case, it is, of course, highly necessary to see that everybody is asked that ought to be asked, and only those omitted whom it is desirable to ignore, and for this purpose, every lady must keep a "visiting list." It is on these occasions that we take care to invite our country friends, especially if we have stayed a few weeks at their houses during the preceding summer.
The next question is as to the entertainment; and this would be a still more anxious affair than it is, if its form and extent were not in good measure prescribed by fashion. There are certainly must-haves, and may-haves, here as elsewhere; but the liberty of choice is not very extensive. If you do not provide the must-haves you are "mean," of course; but it is only by adding the may-haves that you can hope to be elegant. The cost may seem formidable, perhaps; but it has been made matter of accurate computation, that one large party, even though it be a handsome one, costs less in the end than the habit of hospitality for which it is the substitute, so it is not worth while to flinch. We must do our "duty to society," and this is the cheapest way.
Do you ask me if there are among as no oldfashioned people, who continue to invite their friends because they love them and wish to see them, offering only such moderate entertainment as may serve to promote social feeling? Yes, indeed! there are even some who will ask you to dine, for the mere pleasure of your company, and with no intention to astonfsh you or excite your envy! We boast that it was a lady of our city, who declined giving a large party to "return invitations," saying she did not wish "to exhaust, in the prodigality of a night, the hospitality of a year." Ten such could be found among us, we may hope; leaven enough, perhaps, to work out, in time, a change for the better in our social plan. Conversation is by no means despised, in some circles, even though it turn on subjects of moral or literary interest, and parlour musie, which aims at no eclat, is to be heard sometimes among people who could afford to hire opera singers.
It must be confessed that the wholesale method of " doing up" our social obligations is a convenient one on some accounts. It prevents jealousy by placing all alike on a footing of perfect indifference. The apportionment of civilities is a very delicate matter. Really, in some cases, it is walking among eggs to invite only a few of your friends at a time. If you choose them as being acquainted with each other, somebody will be offended at being included or excluded. If intellectual sympathy be your touchstone, for every one gratified there will be two miffed, and so on with all other classifications. Attempts have been made to obviate this difficulty. One lady proposed to consider as congenial all those who keep carriages, but the circle proved so very dull, that she was obliged to exert her ingenuity for another common quality by which to arrange her soirees. Another tried the expedient of inviting her fashionable friends at one time, her husband's political friends at another, and the religious friends whom both were desirous to propitiate, at another; but her task was as perplexing as that of the man who had the fox, the goose, and the bag of oats to ferry over the river in a boat that would hold but one of them at a time. So large parties have it; and in the murky shadow of this simulacrum of sociability we are likely to freeze for some time to come; certainly until all purely mercantile caleulation is banished from our civilities. we must pause before the House of John Knox!
It is with visiting as with travelling; those who would make the most of either must begin by learning to renounce. We cannot do everything; and to enjoy our friends we must cur
tail our acquaintances. When we would kindle a fire, we do not begin by scattering the coals in every direction; so neither should we attempt to promote social feeling by making formal calls once or twice a year. If we give offence, so be it; it shows that there was nothing to lose. If we find ourselves left out of what is called fashionable society, let us bless our stars, and devote the time thus saved to something that we really like. What a gain there would be if anything drove us to living for ourselves and not for other people; for our friends, rather than for a world, which, after all our sacrifices, cares not a pin about us!
The edifice stands at the head of "the Nether-bow," near the High Street, Edinburgh (old town). A considerable space stretches in front where a large concourse might assemble, and from the upper window tho Reformer was used to pour forth his eloquence without fear, favour, or affection. At the corner may be seen his bust of rudest stone, in the most artless soulpture, and near it, a triple inscription of the name of God in Greek, Latin, and English. The several apartments have been rented to different tenants whose sign-boards show prominent in our plate, but behind these is a redeeming trace more sublime in its associations than the mark of the bloody hyssop on the lintel and door-posts of Israel—immediately over the door, in the strong and simple language of the time, is written:—
"Lufe . God . above . all. and . your . nidi hour .
Knox has now been in his grave nearly three centuries. His works have thus far stood the test of time well; and the present age evinces an increased desire to do him justice. But there is scarce a name in history which excites among men such strong yet conflicting emotions—his traits divide each generation into ardent friends or bitter enemies, and many who agree on other points, crave to differ about the Scottish Iconoclastes.
In the front rank of opposers stand all those interested in existing abmes, all who "love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil." To suoh, John Knox was the torchbearer of Time, pouring light on their orgies. But on the same side we find a very different class, whom to confound with the first would be the grossest injustice,—we mean the gentle and the amiable, who abhor revolution as " the worst remedy of the worst of men," and whose actions and lives are in happy contrast with their latitudinarian principles.
Of his admirers we must hail all the true friends of true progress. Knox wos the very incarnation of "advancement." Nothing was
good or settled with him which could not be proved such,—and he kept his eye steadily on the morning sky of Christianity, and rejoiced as it grew brighter and brighter towards the perfect day. It is true, these characteristics may also have attracted to his standard the bold and bad, who follow the battle for spoil— but none such were his intimates in life, and could only follow him at a distance.
The subjoined is his portrait by Thomas Carlyle, a sketcher not much given to flattery. "They go far wrong who think that Knox was a gloomy, spasmodic, shrieking fanatic. Not at all. He is one of the solidest of men. Practical, cautious, hopeful, patient; a most shrewd, observing, quietly discerning man. In fact, he was very much the type of character we assign to the Scotch at present. . . . An honest-hearted, brotherly man; brother to the high, brother also to the low: sincere in his sympathy with both."
Knox pretended not to perfection himself, and no sane friend will claim it for him; but if we apply the old test that " he is most illustrious who is most useful," the Reformer will not occupy a mean place among the benefactors of his race. His was a most ungracious task, and he was not insensible to its grievousness. He felt like Moses while slaying the Egyptian, and hoped his countrymen would live to see and enjoy the "great deliverance" which he was working out for them. Lovelier men, in milder times, might and would follow and plant the tree of healing; his task was to root up the upas of centuries, and this accomplished, he died.
"He had a sore fight of an existence—wrestling with popes and princes,—rowing as a galley slave, wandering as an exile—a sore fight —but he won it. 'Have you hope V they asked him, when he could no longer speak—he pointed upward with his finger and so died. His works have not died—the letter of his work dies, as of all men's; but the spirit of it never!" (Carlyle, Hero Worship.)
All honour then to his memory—and honour to the lowly rooftree that sheltered his aching head.
PAR ALPHON8E DE LAMAETINE. A un ami qui demandait un consell sur uno maison qu'il faisait batir.
Veux-tu, sans regie et sans equerre
Orienter la ruche a miel I
Et la fenetre sur le ciel.