The Simple Life


TRYING to make good my escape from that modern inquisition — a department store — one day last spring, I chose a pathway lined with books as being least crowded, and my eye fell upon a copy of Wagner’s Simple Life temptingly displayed. I had been wanting to see it, and in a furtive kind of way I bought it. I disapprove of buying books over department counters, but being — or aiming to be — a person without prejudice, I saw that in this case it was the directest means to my end, so with a ripple of pleasure in the sober brown cover, and of satisfaction in the possession, I took it along with me, thinking that some easeful day I would refresh my spirit in its wise and quiet pages.

But the time of spring cleaning was at hand, and being a housekeeper (I mention the fact with pride since having been assured by His Eminence Cardinal Gibbons, and other gentlemen qualified to know, that the home is woman’s divinely appointed sphere), books had to give place to explorations of garret and cellar, the searching out of hidden things, and the crusade of the microbe generally and specifically.

Then a friend, who is also a housekeeper and consequently entitled to a seat in Paradise as well as to all honor and attention while on the way to it, had a birthday anniversary in the sweet, wildflower month of May, and casting about at the eleventh hour for somewhat wherewith to commemorate the occasion and my regard, I fell upon this copy of The Simple Life, which forthwith went to her with a handful of flowers fresh from my own garden.

When the flitting time came a few weeks later, and books for the summer reading were being chosen from the erstwhile neglected shelves by those members of the family who still had faith, I recalled my Simple Life, and with another stirring of desire toward the ideals it sets forth, I bought me another copy, this time through our regular dealers (where my self-respect was appeased by paying twenty cents more for it), being persuaded that the long leisure of the coming summer would bring time to read it — perhaps even to reform a little.

But it was a busy summer with us. The waves of gayety at the larger centres sent ripples in even to our quiet retreat. There was a set of young people in the neighborhood for whom “ something must be done, my dear.” So forthwith we made cake and confections, wrought upon fancy - dress costumes, devised games, hung Chinese lanterns (scraping up the cold paraffin next day), and privately wrestled with our dissentient lords, who had run down for the week and did n’t “ see the use,” to the end that our young people were entertained. So successful were we, indeed, that they began to assume quite an air of world-worn and lofty indifference by the end of the season, and we naturally felt rewarded.

And then the maids I had persuaded to go with me— But there, you know all about that, of course, everybody does. Yet I did feel sometimes, after I had stewed in the kitchen and served in the parlor, that a little of that consideration in public opinion, and reward in the kingdom of the just which Lyman Abbott and all the other anti-suffragists say is reserved for us, would be welcome here and now.

When the friend upon whom I had bestowed my first copy of The Simple Life came for a visit, she brought it along. “ I thought we might read it together,” she said. “ I have n’t had a chance to more than glance at it yet.”

“ How delightful! ” I replied. “ Just the thing. When the launch-party and the next ‘ Friendship-fire ’ are over, and I ’m caught up with my correspondence a bit, we ’ll begin.”

When she packed it up (unopened) two weeks later, we congratulated ourselves that we each possessed a copy, so that we could read it together still, and compare notes later.

Then another friend came. “ Oh,” she said, “ I brought along that book of Wagner’s they ’re talking about, The Simple Life. I knew it was in your line, but I see you have it. How did you like it ? ”

“ I have n’t read it yet,” I confessed, “ but I ’m going to as soon as the girls go back to school.”

“ Oh, how nice ! we ’ll read it together. I have n’t read mine either.

It is autumn now. The leaves have all dropped (I know because that tiresome old gardener of ours has n’t come yet to rake them up from the lawn, though I ’ve sent for him twice), and the branch of witch-hazel with the absurd little yellow fringes it pretends are flowers, that Jack brought in two weeks ago, has snapped all its seed-cases, and yesterday I had to take down the bursting milk-weed pods that came with it. The coal is all in (thanks be to President Roosevelt), and the housemaid has promised to finish her month. As soon as the quince jelly is made, and the fall sewing is done, and the attic bedrooms papered, and my reception-tea over, and the calls made, if the children don’t get sick, and I can find another maid, I hope to really do some reading — something, I mean, beside the weekly scramble to get through and exchange the Booklovers’ volume that hardly counts.

I ’m afraid when I do read The Simple Life it will say it is all my own fault. I don’t think it is. Socially we are parts of a whole, and are obliged to accept the standards of that whole or be dropped out. It is the day of organization. Individual opinion counts for little, individual protest for nothing. The home is the target for commercial enterprise, and those who guard its interests are bewildered amidst the bombardment that threatens, indeed, to undermine its foundations altogether. Cheap and plenty is the order of the day. Fashions are made (and perforce changed as soon as made) by those who have deep and yawning pockets to fill. Manufactories are built up and sustained upon artificial needs. Demand is created by supply, and we as individuals soon learn that to be different is to be — well, I had nearly written another word beginning with “ d,” but we ’ll say ostracized, which comes to pretty much the same thing.