Neither Here Nor There - Oliver Herford - ebook
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Neither Here Nor ThereByOliver Herford

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Neither Here Nor There

By

Oliver Herford

Table of Contents

THE SECRET

OUR LEISURE CLASS

CONCERNING REVOLVING DOORS.

BOLSHEVISM FOR BABIES

THE TUTTI-FRUTTI TREE

THOSE BILL-BOARDS

THE LURE OF THE “AD”

LOOK BEFORE SHE LEAPS

THE LOW COST OF CABBING

THE GREAT MATCH-BOX MYSTERY

PART ONE

PART TWO

ARE CATS PEOPLE?

MLLE. FAUTEUIL

MONEY AND FIREFLIES

CONCERNING THE TROUSER-CREASE

AN OLD-FASHIONED HEAVEN

ANOTHER LOST ART

MR. CHESTERTON AND THE SOLILOQUY

BUNK

THE COST OF A PYRAMID

WALTZING MICE AND DANCING MEN

THE HOBGOBLIN

THE VOICE OF THE PUSSY-WILLOW

PERNICIOUS PEACHES

SECOND CHILDHOOD’S HAPPY HOUR

PITY THE POOR GUEST OF HONOR

A NEW MONROE DOCTRINE

DO CATS COME BACK?

THE RUTHLESSNESS OF MR. COBB

MY LAKE

THE HUNDREDTH AMENDMENT

SAY IT WITH ASTERISKS

A MIRROR OF FRIVOLITY

THE SECRET

Eve was bored. She confided the fact to the Serpent.

“Tell me something new!” she wailed, and the Serpent—he had never seen a lady cry before—was deeply moved (the Serpent has always been misjudged) and—there being no National Board of Censors—told her everything he knew.

When he had finished, Eve yawned and looked boreder than ever. “Is that all?” she said.

The Dramatic Critic asks the same question on the first night of a new Play—“Will there never be an end to these Dormitory Farces,” he moans, pondering darkly thewhile how he may transmute its leaden dullness to the precious gold of a scintillating paragraph.

Father Time has nothing to say on the matter. If you ask him to show you a new thing, he shrugs his wings and growls, “You can search me.” Things old and things new are all alike to Father Time.

Peradventure, in the uttermost recess of the Great Pyramid lies a hair of an unknown color, or a blueprint of the fourth dimension, or better still the ms. of a new play, or a joke that has never been cracked.

When a Roman bath is unearthed in Kent or a milliner’s shop in Pompeii we wait breathless to hear of the discovery of a new story, or a new dress pattern, but always it is the same old skull, the same old amphora.

Even the newness of Fashion is a jest of antiquity.

In an Italian book printed in the sixteenth century is a story of a fool “who went about the streets naked, carrying a piece of cloth upon his shoulders. He was asked by some one why he did not dress himself, since he had the materials. ‘Because’ replied he, ‘I wait to see in what manner the fashions will end. I do not like to use my cloth for a dress which in a little time will be of no use to me, on account of some new fashion.’”

There may be a newer version of this story in the ashes of the Alexandrian library or beneath the ruins of Babylon, but this has at least the freshness and luster of its four-hundred years. Also it throws a light, a very searchlight, on the translucent demoiselles of today (see them shyly run to cover at the mere mention of a searchlight.)

Now we know their guilty secret. Each of them has, hoarded away in a secret drawer (as money in panicky times) a roll of fine silk or voile, or panne velvet, or crepe de chine which she is sparing from the scissors till the Wheel of Fashion shall oscillate with less fury. Then she will put away the skimpy, flimsy makeshift garments of transformed window curtains and bath towels, converted robes de nuit and remnants of net or chiffon she has been vainly trying to hide behind—and then—then alas, we shall see her no more!

OUR LEISURE CLASS

Once—and not so terribly long ago at that—we used to be very fond of telling ourselves (and our visitors from Europe) that in America we have no Leisure Class.

That there were people of leisure in our midst, we could not deny, though we preferred to call them idle rich, but as for a special class whose whole business in life was to abstain from all useful activity—oh, no!

Even our idle rich, unblest as they are with the hereditary gift for idling, and untaught save by a brief generation or two of acquired experience, find the profession of Leisure a strenuous not to say noisy task, for while those to the leisure born know by the very feel of it that the habit of idleness is a perfect fit, the newly-idle must look for confirmation in the mirror of public admiration; hence Publicity, the blare of the Sunday Supplement.

But taken as a class our idle rich (though it is being rapidly licked or lick-spittled into shape) is at best an amateur aristocracy of leisure. For the real thing, for the genuine hunting, sporting, leisure-loving American aristocracy, we must go back to the aboriginal Red Man.

And how the busybody Puritan hated the Indian! With his air of well-bred taciturnity, his love of sport, of rest, of nature, and his belief in a happy Hereafter, the noble Red Man was in every respect his hateful opposite, yet if any Pilgrim brother had dared even to hint that the Indian might have points of superiority it would have been the flaming woodpile for him, or something equally disagreeable in the purifying way.

How different it might have been!

If only the Puritan had been less stuck up and self-righteous, the Red Man less reserved! If they could but have understood that Nature intended them for each other, these opposites, these complements of each other.

Why else had Nature brought them together from the ends of the earth?

But alas, Eugenics had not yet been invented and the Puritan and the Indian just naturally hated each other at first sight and so (like many another match-maker) Mother Nature slipped up in her calculations, and a wonderful flower of racial possibility was forever nipped in the bud.

If the Puritan, with his piety and thrift and domesticity and his doctrine of election and the Noble Red Man, with his love of paint and syncopated music and dancing and belief in a happy Hereafter, had overcome their mutual prejudices and instead of warring with flintlocks and tomahawks, had pursued each other with engagement rings and marriage licenses, what a grand and glorious race we might be today!

What a land of freedom might be ours!

CONCERNING REVOLVING DOORS.

There has been some discussion of late as to the etiquette of the revolving door. When a man accompanied by a woman is about to be revolved in it, which should go first? Some think the man should precede the woman furnishing the motive power, while she follows idly in the next compartment. Others hold that the rule “Ladies first” can have no exception, therefore the man must stand aside and let the female of his species do the rough work of starting the door’s revolution while the man, coming after, keeps it going and stops it at the right moment.

 “Starting something” is perhaps of all pastimes in the world the one most popular with the sex we are accustomed to call the gentle sex; one might almost say that “starting something” is Woman’s prerogative; on the other hand there is nothing on earth so abhorrent to that same gentle sex as the thing that is called Consistency; and though she may be perfectly charmed to start a revolution in South America, or in silk pajamas, or suffrage, or the rearing of children it does not follow that she will take kindly to the idea of starting the revolution of a revolving door.

As for the rule “Ladies first,” its application to the etiquette of doors in general (as distinguished from the revolving variety) is purely a matter of geography. In some European countries it is the custom, when entering a room, for the man to precede the woman, and if it be a closed street or office door, the man will open it and following the door inward, hold the door open while she passes in. If the door opens outward the woman naturally enters first, since her companion must remain outside to hold the door open.

The American rule compelling the woman to precede her escort when entering a room or building doubtless originated with our ancestor the cave-man.

On returning to his Apartment with his wife after a hunting expedition Mr. Hairy K. Stoneaxe would say with a persuasive Neolithic smile (and gentle shove) “After you my dear,” being rewarded for his politeness by advance information as to whether there were Megatheriums or Loxolophodons or an ambuscade of jealous rivals lurking in the darkness of his stone-upholstered sitting-room.

By all means let the lady go first; by so doing we pay the homage that is due to her sex and even though there are no Megatheriums of Loxolophodons in these days—there may be burglars! Only in the case of a door that must be opened inwards would I suggest an amendment. What more lamentable sight than that of a gentle lady squeezing precariously through a half-opened door while her escort, determined that though they both perish in the attempt, she shall go first, reaches awkwardly past her shoulder in the frantic endeavor to push back the heavy self-closing door while at the same time contorting the rest of his person into the smallest possible compass that she may have room to pass without disaster to her ninety-dollar hat, not to speak of her elbows and shins.

How much happier—and happiness is the mainspring of etiquette—they would be, this same pair, if (with a possible “allow me” to calm her fears) the escort should push boldly the door to its widest openness and holding it thus with one hand behind his back, with the other press his already removed hat against his heart as the lady grateful and unruffled sweeps majestically by.

BOLSHEVISM FOR BABIES

“That babies don’t commit such crimes as forgery is true,

But little sins develop, if you leave them to accrue;

For anything you know, they’ll represent, if you’re alive,

A burglary or murder at the age of thirty-five.”

When W. S. Gilbert wrote these lines, he stated in an amusing way a great truth, for the doctrine of infant depravity and original sin thus lightly touched upon is, when stripped of its Calvinistic mummery, a recognized scientific verity.

I sometimes think that if the “highbrow” mothers who turn to books by long-haired professors with retreating chins for advice in child training, should study instead the nonsensical wisdom of Gilbert’s book, they would derive more benefit therefrom. At least it would do them (and their children) no harm.

I wish as much as that could be said of a book I have lately come across entitled “Practical Child Training,” by Ray C. Beery (Parent’s Association). So far from harmless it is, in my opinion, a more fitting title for it would be “Bolshevism for Babies.”

Obedience, says the author, “is your corner-stone. Therefore lay it carefully.” And this is how it is laid: “While you are teaching the child the first lessons in correct obedience, do not give any commands either in the lesson or outside except those which the child will be sure to obey willingly.”

Obedience is to be taught by wheedling and cajolery, which lessons the clever child will apply in later life as bribery and corruption. The author denies this in Book I, p. 130, but his denial is so curious it deserves quoting: “You would entirely vitiate its principles if in giving this lesson you should state it to the child like this: ‘If you do not do thus and so, I will give you no candy.’” Then on the same page: “While the thought of candy in the child’s mind causes him to obey, yet the lesson is planned in such a way that you are not buying obedience.”

The “five principles of discipline” are embodied in the following story: The father of a boy sees him and two other boys throwing apples through a barn window, two of whose panes had been broken. To make a long story short, the parent, instead of reproving his offspring, says: “Good shot, Bob! Do you see that post over there? See if you can hit it two out of three times.” “It would have been unwise for that father (adds the author of “Practical Child Training”) to say, ‘I’d rather you’d not throw at that window opening—can’t you sling at something else?’ The latter remark would suggest that the window was the best target and the boys would have been dissatisfied at having to stop throwing at it.”

The inference that the boys only needed the father’s objection to an act on their part to convince them that it was a desirable act would be ludicrous if it weren’t so immoral.