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of the back drawing-room till the happy day when the clumsily plied broom or duster shall shatter it out of existence. So fully conscious are the benevolent of their own deficiencies of taste that they have foisted upon the world a proverb of their own manufacture, forbidding one to look a gift horse in the mouth ; under cover of which venerable absurdity they feel secure from the resentment which their presents are too often calculated to inspire. What house in the land has not its sad list of such votive offerings ? Costly for the most part—for money and taste are often in inverse ratio—but too often blatant, glaring, hideous, an offence to the eye, an oppression to the spirit. For, alack ! people will not give things of which they know the merits. When a tinker gives kettles or a tailor clothes we are at least justified in assuming that the kettles and the clothes are good of their kind, but when the ordinary man tries, without special knowledge, to add to your collection of prints or blue china, how thankful you feel afterwards that he was not present when his gift arrived.
If the making of presents really were what its devotees assert it to be—viz. a tangible proof of goodwill, no one ought to be anything but pleased at receiving one; and yet were I, in an outburst of benevolence, to send presents to all the people who live in my street, they would probably think I had nefarious designs on their persons or property, or, taking a more charitable view of the case, would entertain grave doubts of my sanity. For they would recognise that giving, like kissing, is perhaps a mark of goodwill, but is undoubtedly and always a liberty, and that liberties may not be taken with strangers, nor even always with one's intimates. Each man can generally divide his world into two classes : those who are so near and dear to him that there is no need for him to give them presents, since all that he has is theirs for the asking, and those whom he knows so little that a gift from him would arouse surprise or possibly resentment. There are few people who do not fall naturally into one of these two classes, unless, of course, one has allowed oneself to drift into a profligate habit of indiscriminate benevolence.
With regard to the things themselves, too, it is well to bear in mind the maxim, 'Let the buyer beware'; for only a very limited number of articles are looked on as appropriate offerings. In the matter of food, for instance, any birds, beasts, or fishes which I have slain with my own hand will be accepted by my neighbour as a proof of goodwill ; but a leg of mutton or a sweetbread left at his house with my card will almost certainly be taken as an insult. Chocolates and sweetmeats are, of course, permissible, and even cakes and biscuits of the more frivolous kind; but it would be regarded as a gross breach of decorum to offer a friend anything which could appease his hunger or sustain his life. At Christmas time, if one may judge from the shop windows, there is an extra licence in this respect, the national conscience having probably gone so completely off its balance from continual reading of the Christmas Carol, that to assail one's friends with cheeses and turkeys is looked on as part of the orthodox Saturnalia. But, with a few trifling exceptions, the rule holds good that a gift to be wholly complimentary must be wholly useless, and that only a person entirely devoid of decency will so far insult his friends as to offer them any of the necessaries of life.
As a nation of shopkeepers we no doubt console ourselves for this rather remarkable state of things by the reflection that, though the system may tell hardly on giver and receiver, though legions of haggard women may return home faint from an afternoon of Christmas shopping, while husbands and fathers growl as they dive into their depleted pockets, still, it is all good for trade'; for what would become of all those shops which exist solely for the sale of the superfluous if the present pestilential practice came to an end ? Yet, despite fiscal controversies, there are still some old-fashioned people left who look on trade as made for man and not man for trade; who believe that to enslave the human race to one of its own creations—be it tight-lacing, trial by jury, matrimony, democratic government, or what not–is hardly the way to promote its welfare. These people would suggest that this same argument, 'good for trade,' would equally justify the manufacture of loaded dice, fraudulent weights and measures, burglars' outfits, and many another undesirable product of civilisation.
But of all foolish conventions, the silliest is that which forbids the giving of money. Granted that I know you well enough, I may give you anything up to a grand piano or a motor-car, and as a result most people find themselves in possession of a small herd of white elephants. But if, to save adding to this undesirable menagerie, I give you the money direct, all the Englishman mantles in your cheek, and, in a voice tremulous with passion, you ask whether I wish to insult you. Would you pauperise me?' you indignantly exclaim, honest soul; not seeing that there is no practical difference between sending you, say, the Encyclopædia Britannica and writing you a cheque. for— But it is not my business to advertise that truly great work.
It was a good rule that, laid down by the Master of old, 'Give to him that asketh of thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not away. The latter precept might perhaps be amended by the suggestion that without good security one should never lend more than one is prepared to give, but the former is wholly admirable. To know that one's friend wants a thing constitutes a claim in itself, and if his need is so urgent that he stoops to ask, the claim becomes imperative. But to mark seasons of the year and anniversaries of birthdays or weddings by going into a fancy shop and selecting from the thousand and one useless articles there displayed something to thrust into the expectant maw of one's kinsfolk or acquaintance, who do not want anything in particular, but merely look for a present-surely this is a poor way of showing one's goodwill! But it is thus that the rubbish
piles up and the housemaid groans as she dusts it, while the owner finds himself wondering at times why there should be so heavy a penalty for arson.
Are my friends so bankrupt of ideas that they have no other means of showing their goodwill than buying me something at a shop! Is not a kind word or even a cheery smile worth all the burdensome knicknacks with which they can load me ? Periodically, too! as if love came in rhythmic spurts like a steam-pump. Nothing for eleven months and then some horrid costly trinket at Christmas! Why? Do you love me more on the 25th of December than the 25th of June or any other month ?
• What nonsense ! Of course I dɔn't; but it is Christmas !' Then, my dear lady, if your gift be due to Christmas rather than to me, prithee give it to Santa Claus, or, better still, to Dr. Barnardo, and don't make me the safety-valve for your chronic outbursts of benevolence.
The rising generation has a bad lookout in this connection. Every nursery is glutted with a perfect shopful of toys-dolls waxen, wooden, china, rag; monkeys, pigs, camels, drums, bricks, trains, soldiers, musical boxes—there is no end of the rubbish. And in the middle of it all sits the jaded two-year-old, like Koheleth in the midst of his splendour, and, with eye roaming discontentedly over the piled-up floor, murmurs out the infantile equivalent for Vanitas vanitatum. I once knew a small boy who had ten tin soldiers, which made him entirely happy, till an unwise old lady multiplied his stock twentyfold. After two days of riotous enjoyment he began to see that his happiness had been increased by the multiplication of his possessions, and from that moment peace was at an end ; like the daughter of the horse-leech; his cry was always 'Give, give,' and but for the fact that in a hasty removal the whole of his cherished army was left behind, he would have grown up a very discontented infant. As it was he began all over again with bits of stick and reels of cotton, and that wonderful faculty of 'make-believe,' which is at the bottom of all childish enjoyment, and for which the modern toy, complete in every detail, affords no Ecope. The natural child would rather have a shawl with two strings tied round it for a neck and a waist than the most artistic, best-dressed doll in the world—as all who have anything to do with children know quite well ; yet, so fettered are they by the senseless custom of giving, that they continue to deluge each other's offspring with more toys than an infant school could grapple with.
With such an example at home it is little wonder that the schoolboy has adopted the evil custom of disturbing the normal relations with his master by means of a testimonial at the end of term. It is usually the worst boy in the form who originates the idea, probably more with the design of mollifying the tyrant for the future than with a lively sense of gratitude for his past attentions; no one likes to refuse-moral courage is not a strong point with the average school
Vor. LVI-No. 330
boy-and so their little pocket moneys go to swell Orbilius' stock of superfluous inkstands, and divers small minds are profoundly impressed with a sense of injustice when later on in the day there comes the usual penalty for not knowing the eccentricities of the Irregular Verbs.
There is no need to refer to public subscriptions and testimonials, for such things can hardly be said to come under the head of gifts at all—any more than the benevolences of the Tudor sovereigns-being rather the purchase-money paid by each man for the entrance of his name on the subscription roll, since nine men out of ten will honestly admit that their main anxiety is not to be outdone by their neighbours and see their own names followed by a smaller figure—as though the donation represented the sum at which a man valued himself-wherefore they invariably want to know what their friends have given before putting down their own sum. What a fine thing it would be for the Empire if a like spirit of emulation could be roused over payment of the King's taxes !
If, then, as appears to be the case, giving is either an act of selfindulgence or a tax imposed by convention on those who are not strongminded enough to resist, is it not time for the formation of an Anti-gift League, the members of which shall bind themselves to neither give nor take unnecessary presents ? Doubtless it would require some moral courage to join at first, for the world has so long confounded gifts with goodwill that one who tries to dissociate the two will almost certainly be termed niggardly by those who do not understand his point of view; but when it becomes apparent that the members of the League have at least their full share of that Will to Help the World, which is the prime factor in progress, that they are not less but more ready to give all that they have—their time, their money, their services -to those who really need help, probably it will begin to dawn on even the most mercantile tha: there are better things in life than the giving
C. B. WHEELER,
The high temperature in the physical world, which made last month so great a contrast to most recent Julys, has been accompanied by a corresponding increase of heat in politics. No great events occurred during the month, and yet there has been a steady exacerbation of political conditions which is in itself a serious and noteworthy symptom. Patience has evidently reached its limits on both sides, and even courtesy—the courtesy which wise men invariably show to their political opponents—seems to be worn threadbare. I am not sufficiently impartial to be able to decide whether the greater sinners in this matter of common courtesy can be found among Unionists or Liberals. Both are probably at fault, though I must confess that the tone of certain eminent controversialists among my opponents suggests neither the fine flower of good manners nor the tolerance of those who fight for what they believe to be a winning cause. That there is an equal degree of bitterness on both sides can hardly be disputed. The House of Commons during last month provided us with more than the average number of 'scenes,' and these scenes raged round the most distinguished heads in the assembly. Even the Speaker did not wholly escape from these explosions of wrath and bitterness, whilst on one occasion the Prime Minister suffered from something like a tornado of furious rage on the part of the Opposition.
It was not an edifying scene that men witnessed when the House absolutely refused to allow the head of the Government to speak a single audible word. But, edifying or not, it cannot be said that it was unprovoked. Mr. Balfour himself is, in the opinion of his friends, admirable and delightful in all the walks of life that he adorns. Most of his opponents give him credit for being all this in every walk of life but one. This, however, happens to be the particular walk in which it is their lot to meet him. The brilliant astuteness in Parliamentary strategy with which he is credited by his effusive admirers in his own Party seems, as I have had occasion to remark before, to his opponents to be nothing more than the adroitness of the dancer on the tight-rope ; and their indignation is increased by the undoubted