The Keeper-in and the Blurter-Out

— Two good friends of mine have now for years stood to my mind as types of two opposite dispositions with regard to secretiveness. The one seems never to say anything without pausing first to consider within himself whether, after all, it might not be better not to say it. The other seems never to let any

“ Craven scruple
Of thinking too precisely on the event”

hinder her from the utterance of whatever she has to say. The one I call a keeper-in; the other, a blurter-out. It has been an interesting study with me to observe these two characters, and the results of their two methods both on others and on themselves.

The keeper-in would appear, at first sight, to have all the wisdom on his side. He certainly has the support of all the “ little hoard of maxims.” Do not the proverbs all preach a sharp surveillance of that “ unruly member,” the tongue ?

Did not the Greek philosopher wag his hoary head, and aver that he had often been sorry for what he had said, but never for what he had refrained from saying ? Does not George Sand testify that, in her experience, words are always dangerous except when they are necessary ? And sings not warningly the German poet, —

“ Am Baum des Schweigens hängt
Seine Frucht, der Friede ” ?

Nevertheless, I am compelled to record, as the result of my own observations, the opinion that the least harm and the most good have come from the method of the blurter-out. And why not ? Are we to admit that there is, on the whole, more evil than good in people’s minds to be expressed ? Can we believe that “ winged words ” are oftener envenomed arrows than bearers of good tidings ?

No doubt there is a kind of confidence which the keeper-in inspires among his friends. We know that if we impart a secret to him it is safe. We are sure that in any deliberative council, where a word is to be fitly spoken only at a certain moment, he will not go off semiretinaculum. If the success of an undertaking, or the peace of a family, hangs on silence, he will be “ golden through and through.” But then, on the other hand, we are equally and sadly sure that if there suddenly comes a crisis in our affairs, or in public affairs, where a quick, courageous utterance is the indispensable thing, the keeper-in can be relied on to fail to utter it. It is true that, in talking with him at my fireside, I can relate to him with perfect confidence the good story of my catching our neighbor at my hen-roost ; but then, how can I be sure that our neighbor has not been to him with just such a merry tale (lacking only the basis of fact) about me ? How do I know that he esteems me as a truthful and virtuous man, when I am aware that he would look me in the face with the same inscrutable repose of manner if he suspected me of being a liar and a thief ?

But with the blurter-out, on the contrary, I know just what she thinks of me, and just what she does not think of me ; and I know that she knows that I know, and is glad of it. The only anxiety she appears to have is lest people should suppose she thinks more of them than she does. I have observed a little stir of apprehension in a company when she enters the room, or the conversation. No one knows exactly what she may say next. And it is a pretty thing to see the way in which a certain kindly relative of hers will anxiously bend forward, as she talks, ready to whisper a gentle and nudging “ Now, Jane ! ”

I admit that the keeper-in avoids some awkward situations, and that the blurterout gets into a certain amount of hot water. It might be urged by some that the best course would be a happy mean between the two. But, for my part, I would rather risk it on the penalties of the impetuous truth-teller than to adopt any sort of a happy mean that consists in being meanly happy,