Immagini della pagina
PDF
[subsumed][ocr errors][merged small][graphic]
[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][subsumed][merged small][merged small]

who are forbidden to throw stones.
All the rest of us can practise this favorite

pastime of humanity with absolute freedom. And
it is wonderful how proficient we become—espe-
cially we women. In early life it is said that boys
can throw stones better than girls; but when both
reach maturity, it is quite different.

“The nasty things you women say about each
other!” a man declares, with a gasp of admiring
astonishment. “Men are not in it with you!”

And his humility is justified by the facts; we are far more skilful than he is. When a man gossips, he generally (not always) picks up a good big cobblestone, and sends it vigorously and openly, spinning through the air to its goal of crashing destruction. A woman, on the contrary, is apt to use small, smooth, flat pebbles that “skip,” which, after the glass has been broken, are not so easily found and brought back to her with the glazier's bill; and therein, in slyness and irresponsibility, she shows herself the superior of the male creature.

It is the purpose of this paper to maintain that this interesting exercise of throwing stones, either cobblestones or pebbles, is perfectly justifiable when indulged in by persons, male or female, who do not themselves live in glass houses. Once assure ourselves that we have no glass in our windows, and then let us sally forth to shatter, with a well-directed missile, a neighbor's poor pretence of prosperity; a friend's pitiful pride in her oldest boy, who is behaving like the very deuce (as we happen to know) at college; let us (being sure we have no such substance in our own houses) send a skipping pebble

Copyright, 1904, by Harper & Brothers. Mir Rights Reserved.

I' is only the people who live in glass houses

[graphic]
[graphic]
[graphic]

to call attention to A.’s horrible vulgarity in quarrelling with her servants; to B.'s disagreeably loud voice; to C.'s uncleaned brass door-knob. “For my part, I don't think a woman has any business to pretend to be a housekeeper, and not keep her brasses clean' If she is too poor to have proper service, why, then, let her be honest and put on a knob which doesn't need cleaning; but Mrs. C. always tries to put her best foot forward,” the clever thrower of stones says, sending her pebble skipping out over public opinion; and if she listens, she will hear the faint tinkle of broken glass. This lady has usually several small pebbles of this nature. She says, smiling good-naturedly, that the Rev. Mr. Smith's interest in foreign missions is really beautiful, but—but it does not put any strain on his own pocketbook! She comments carelessly on Mrs. Jones's complexion; it is charming, she says, so girlish;-but don’t go too near it. She declares, warmly, that Mr. Robinson is such a dear, good man;–and he deserves so much credit; “because, you know — his father — ” And some one says, eagerly, “Why, what about his father?” “What! don’t you know? my dear, he-” and then the buried father's buried sin is dug up and paraded before gaping eyes. Poor, good Mr. Robinson' how hard he has tried to forget that decently interred Past, for which he was in no sense responsible; but this skilful stone - thrower, taking a gravestone for a target, is sure to hit the mark. And yet, how simple was her remark, indeed, how friendly; “such a good man;”—what can you say better than that about anybody? She threw no cruel, bruising cobblestone. Apparently all her pebbles are harmless; sometimes they are marked by a pretty wit; frequently they shine with a faint phosphorescence of truth. She uses them when she goes out to luncheon, or at a tea, or as she is coming away from church. In fact, one can use such pebbles anywhere, they are so small and convenient, and ready to hand. And, having used them, she goes home, and her husband makes the admiring remark that when it comes to saying mean things, women do certainly beat men every time! And the woman, listening complacently, fails to hear the tinkle of broken glass from her own skylight—for it seems that people are talking about her 1 “My dear, did you ever see such hats? And she's forty, if she’s a day. Why don’t

people know how to grow old more gracefully l’’

“She is terribly mean to her servants;–I hear that she only takes two quarts of milk, and uses every bit of it up-stairs. She gives her girls condensed milk | And she Snoops round after they've gone to bed, and looks into the refrigerator to count the cold potatoos.”

“My dear, for all she makes such a splurge with that sealskin coat of hers, I saw, with my own eyes, a great hole in the side of her shoe! I do despise finery that just covers up poverty.”

Well, well-–this is very squalid;—but we know it is true, this sort of contemptible gossip; we know it so well that we need not illustrate it further:

I talk,
Thou talkest,
He talks.

We talk, You talk, They talk.

And all the while glass comes crashing about our ears—for the honest truth is that everybody lives in a glass house. . . . He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone; and the eager crowd of respectable accusers, burning with shocked and smirking curiosity, their hands full of stones, their fingers tingling to throw them, fell suddenly silent;-one by one they slunk away, and the poor creature, crouching on the ground, her hot, miserable face hidden in her bent arm, was alone with the only One who might have stoned her.

Of course, the old proverb about not throwing stones lest our own glass houses suffer is a simple appeal to expediency—it is material common sense, based upon the deduction that if you refrain from hitting B., B. will refrain from hitting you. As a motive for abstaining from gossip, it is, of course, better than nothing. But to tell the truth, it is not very good. In the first place, the deduction is not quite sound; you, from a keen sense of expediency, may refrain from hitting B.; but experience proves that you cannot be certain that B., in consequence, will refrain from hitting you. You may close your lips with a snap over a witty remark in regard to A.’s inability to grow old gracefully, but you have no certainty that A. is equally reserved upon the subject of your amusing efforts to reduce your double chin. No; it is well to refrain from throwing stones on the ground of your own window-panes; but it is better to give the practice up because a quick imagination reveals the feelings of the people whose window-panes you have been so gayly and so ruthlessly shattering. Just here, however, a disquieting question arises: “What! no conversation about people? Is the world to fall silent?” For, indeed, if we leave out human nature, there is comparatively little else to talk about; all the large and fundamental things of life are rooted somehow in human souls; we cannot talk of sin or righteousness or judgment without human reference and illustration; we can hardly talk of even the trivial and unimportant without human reference. “My garden is not doing as well this year as last; but you should see Mrs. Smith's pansies l—they are even more discouraging than mine.” That is the human reference. Furthermore, facts are facts; it is a pity that A. does not know how to grow old gracefully; and it is sad enough that D.'s boy is behaving so badly at college. If we are to refrain entirely from facts in relation to human nature, we might as well be dumb. Of course, it is obvious that mere refraining is as stultifying in one way, as throwing stones is stultifying in another way. No;

I shall talk, Thou wilt talk, He will talk.

We shall talk. You will talk, They will talk,

because talking is a human necessity. But if, when we talk, Imagination, just, true, and kind, stands guard at our lips, we shall not break any windows. Imagination, in regard to the feelings of our neighbors, is the beginning of reform. For there are very few of us who, sallying forth with our little bags of pebbles, would throw a single one of them if, by some magical process, we could know how the broken glass would hurt; if we could see the blood flow, and hear the cry of pain. That is proved by the fact that we so rarely throw our stones when the householder happens to be about; of course, fear has something to do with our reticence in her presence; it takes a good deal of courage to say right to Mrs. Smith's face that we understand that her hus

band is making a fool of himself with a chorus girl! We might get into trouble with Mr. Smith if we were seen throwing stones at his glass house;—but really, apart from fear, most of us could not bear to witness poor Mrs. Smith's pain. When she is not present, it is a different matter; we are not hampered by anything so disagreeable as the sight of her suffering. So it is quite obvious that what we need to break up the habit of stone-throwing is to cultivate a hampering consciousness of the pain it causes. We need to know just how the householder feels when she looks at her cracked window-panes or stands under some shattered skylight of hope and love.

We must have imagination.

But, unfortunately, we are not all born with this heavenly vision; in fact, we are, most of us, born without it, as witness the innate cruelty of children. A child pulls off a fly's legs, slowly, one by one, with keen interest and placid unconsciousness of any discomfort on the fly's part. A little later he ties a tin pan to a dog's tail, or sticks pins in a toad. Yet he is not by any means a bad boy, he is only without imagination. Little by little, however, imagination generally develops, for most of us adult human creatures do not enjoy pulling off a fly’s leg. We are too conscious of the fly’s objections. This consciousness, which interferes with the pleasures of childhood, is caused by the comparative ease with which, as we grow older and experience bodily pain ourselves, we can imagine unpleasant physical sensations. We do not so easily imagine unpleasant mental or spiritual sensations. So we talk, throwing our stones at our neighbors’ souls as carelessly as the boy pulls off a fly's leg. Now, taking it for granted that we are not any more malicious than the boy, taking it for granted that we are only spiritually unimaginative, and that we would really like to cultivate a faculty which, permitting conversation in the world, would spare other people's glass houses, it is helpful to start with a certain thesis, and work from that—namely: That we all mean well.

This assertion is the outgrowth of selfknowledge, for each of us, down deep under our poor, unsatisfactory living, each one of us knows that we do mean well; and experience has taught us that human nature is pretty much the same; we are all, under the skin of circumstance, a good deal alike. So

« IndietroContinua »