( Originally Published Early 1900's )
NOTHING can be meaner than that misery should love company. But the proverb is founded on an original principle in human nature, which it is no use to deny and hard work to conquer. I have been uneasily conscious of this sneaking sin in my own soul, as I have read article after article in the English newspapers and magazines on the "decadence of the home spirit in English family life, as seen in the large towns and the metropolis." It seems that the English are as badly off as we. There, also, men are wide awake and gay at clubs and races, and sleepy and morose in their own houses; "sons lead lives independent of their fathers and apart from their sisters and mothers"; "girls run about as they please, without care or guidance." This state of things is "a spreading social evil," and men are at their wits' end to know what is to be done about it. They are ransacking "national character and customs, religion, and the particular tendency of the present literary and scientific thought, and the teaching and preaching of the public press," to find out the root of the trouble.
One writer ascribes it to the "exceeding restlessness and the desire to be doing something which are predominant and indomitable in the Anglo-Saxon race"; another to the passion which almost all families have for seeming richer and more fashionable than their means will allow. In these, and in most of their other theories, they are only working round and round, as doctors so often do, in the dreary circle of symptomatic results, without so much as touching or perhaps suspecting their real center. How many people are blistered for spinal disease, or blanketed for rheumatism, when the real trouble is a little fiery spot of inflammation in the lining of the stomach! and all these difficulties in the outworks are merely the creaking of the machinery, because the central engine does not work properly. Blisters and blankets may go on for seventy years coddling the poor victim; but he will stay ill to the last if his stomach be not set right.
There is a close likeness between the doctor's high-sounding list of remote symptoms, which he is treating as primary diseases, and the hue and outcry about the decadence of the home spirit, the prevalence of excessive and improper amusements, club-houses, billiard-rooms, theaters, and so forth, which are "the banes of homes."
The trouble is in the homes. Homes are stupid, homes are dreary, homes are insufferable. If one can be pardoned for the Irishism of such a saying, homes are their own worst "banes." If homes were what they should be, nothing under heaven could be invented which could be bane to them, which would do more than serve as useful foil to set off their better cheer, their pleasanter ways, their wholesomer joys.
Whose fault is it that they are not so? Fault is a heavy word. It includes generations in its pitiless entail. Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof, is but one side of the truth. No day is sufficient unto the evil thereof, is the other. Each day has to bear burdens passed down from so many other days; each person has to bear burdens so complicated, so interwoven with the burdens of others; each person's fault is so fevered and swollen by faults of others, that there is no disentangling the question of responsibility. Everything is everybody's fault is the simplest and fairest way of putting it. It is everybody's fault that the average home is stupid, dreary, insufferable-a place from which fathers fly to clubs, boys and girls to streets.
But when we ask who can do most to remedy this-in whose hands it most lies to fight the fight against the tendencies to monotony, stupidity, and instability which are inherent in human nature-then the answer is clear and loud. It is the work of women; this is the true mission of women, their "right" divine and unquestionable, and including most emphatically the "right to labor."
To create and sustain the atmosphere of a home-it is easily said in a very few words; but how many women have done it? How many women can say to themselves or others that this is their aim? To keep house well women often say they desire. But keeping house well is another affair-I had almost said it has nothing to do with creating a home. That is not true, of course; comfortable living, as regards food and fire and clothes, can do much to help on a home. Nevertheless, with one exception, the best homes I have ever seen were in houses which were not especially well kept; and the very worst I have ever known were presided (I mean tyrannized) over by "perfect housekeepers."
All creators are single-aimed. Never will the painter, sculptor, writer, lose sight of his art. Even in the intervals of rest and diversion which are necessary to his health and growth, everything he sees ministers to his passion. Consciously or unconsciously, he makes each shape, color, incident, his own; sooner or later it will enter into his work.
So it must be with the woman who will create a home. There is an evil fashion of speech which says it is a narrowing and narrow life that a woman leads who cares only, works only for her husband and children; that a higher, more imperative thing is that she herself be developed to her utmost. Even so clear and strong a writer as Frances Cobbe, in her otherwise admirable essay on the "Final Cause of Woman," falls into this shallowness of words, and speaks of women who live solely for their families as "adjectives."
In the family relation so many women are nothing more, so many women become even less, that human conception may perhaps be forgiven for losing sight of the truth, the ideal. Yet in woman it is hard to forgive it. Thinking clearly, she should see that a creator can never be an adjective; and that a woman who creates and sustains a home, and under whose hands children grow up to be strong and pure men and women, is a creator, second only to God.
Before she can do this, she must have development; in and by the doing of this comes constant development; the higher her development, the more perfect her work; the instant her own development is arrested, her creative power stops. All science, all art, all religion, all experience of life, all knowledge of men-will help her; the stars in their courses can be won to fight for her. Could she attain the utmost of knowledge, could she have all possible human genius, it would be none too much. Reverence holds its breath and goes softly, perceiving what it is in this woman's power to do; with what divine patience, steadfastness, and inspiration she must work.
Into the home she will create, monotony, stupidity, antagonisms cannot come. Her foresight will provide occupations and amusements; her loving and alert diplomacy will fend off disputes. Unconsciously, every member of her family will be as clay in her hands. More anxiously than any statesman will she meditate on the wisdom of each measure, the bearing of each word. The least possible governing which is compatible with order will be her first principle; her second, the greatest possible influence which is compatible with the growth of individuality. Will the woman whose brain and heart are working these problems, as applied to a household, be an adjective? be idle?
She will be no more an adjective than the sun is an adjective in the solar system; no more idle than nature is idle. She will be perplexed; she will be weary; she will be disheartened, sometimes. All creators, save One, have known these pains and grown strong by them. But she will never withdraw her hand for one instant. Delays and failures will only set her to casting about for new instrumentalities. She will press all things into her service. She will master sciences, that her boys' evenings need not be dull. She will be worldly wise, and render to Cesar his dues, that her husband and daughters may have her by their side in all their pleasures. She will invent, she will surprise, she will forestall, she will remember, she will laugh, she will listen, she will be young, she will be old, and she will be three times loving, loving, loving.
This is too hard? There is the house to be kept? And there are poverty and sickness, and there is not time ?
Yes, it is hard. And there is the house to be kept; and there are poverty and sickness; but, God be praised, there is time. A minute is time. In one minute many live the essence of all. I have seen a beggar woman make half an hour of home on a doorstep, with a basket of broken meat! And the most perfect home I ever saw was in a little house into the sweet incense of whose fires went no costly things. A thou-sand dollars served for a year's living of father, mother, and three children. But the mother was a creator of a home; her relation with her children was the most beautiful I have ever seen; even a dull and commonplace man was lifted up and enabled to do good work for souls, by the atmosphere which this woman created; every inmate of her house involuntarily looked into her face for the keynote of the day; and it always rang clear. From the rosebud or clover-leaf which, in spite of her hard housework, she always found time to put by our plates at breakfast, down to the essay or story she had on hand to be read or discussed in the evening, there was no intermission of her influence. She has always been and always will be my ideal of a mother, wife, home-maker. If to her quick brain, loving heart, and exquisite tact had been added the appliances of wealth and the enlargements of a wider culture, hers would have been absolutely the ideal home. As it was, it was the best I have ever seen. It is more than twenty years since I crossed its threshold. I do not know whether she is living or not. But, as I see house after house in which fathers and mothers and children are dragging out their lives in a hap-hazard alternation of listless routine and unpleasant collision, I always think with a sigh of that poor little cottage by the sea-shore, and of the woman who was "the light thereof"; and I find in the faces of many men and children, as plainly written and as sad to see as in the newspaper columns of "Personals," "Wanted-a home."