On Being a Scapegoat

THE plea for the black sheep, in a recent Atlantic, has, by a not unnatural sequence of suggestion, emboldened me to enter a plea for the scapegoat. The most anomalous of creatures, the scapegoat is the prey of those who care most for it; it is the paradox of natural history, the most beloved yet the most persecuted of domestic pets.

According to Old Testament history, upon the scapegoat were laid the sins of the people, and then the animal was allowed to escape into the wilderness. The scapegoat of to-day differs slightly from the historical one, for the burden borne is not quite the same and, most tragic fact, there is no final escape into the wilderness. She (note the feminine) finds laid upon herself not the sins so much as the blame for the sins of the people; she is not regarded as guilty, but she is made to suffer for the ill-doing of others simply because she is the very incarnation of virtue. The connection will not seem obscure, I trust, if I remark here that I am a scapegoat. Because I can listen with decent attention to another person’s monologues, I am obliged to hear the denunciations that rightfully belong to others, who have erred in greater or less degree. Since I can understand the entire deplorable significance of certain misdemeanors, mistakes, or even crimes, I am subjected to scoldings, while the real offender goes free, gloriously free from the torrents of complaint that fall upon my innocent head.

If these things happened in my own home, I could protect myself ; but, alas, they happen when I am visiting and cannot cut short the lamentations of my hostess. By nature I love peace and quiet, I covet approbation, I do not enjoy the language of rebuke, yet my invariable summer experience is one of castigation. I am still writhing under the flagellation I received from my great-aunt because Mrs. White did not, upon her hands and knees, scrub the kitchen floor. Anathemas beyond description were uttered to me, with such thoroughness that, in order to have escaped them, I would gladly have done the scrubbing myself, and given my aunt an unequaled floral offering.

Last year I visited my cousin. I was barely inside the house when she took me to the pillory, where I heard all about her husband’s growing indifference to her wishes, about her son’s idleness, her daughter’s extravagance, the extortionate charges of the dressmaker, and the insolent incompetence of Bridget. One of the punishments of non-conformists was to have their ears cut off. Oh, that I were an early Puritan! The next day, ray cousin ’s husband confided to me, with copious groanings of spirit, the fact that his wife is growing more and more querulous. I dread the day when the children find their tongues.

Then there was the drought this summer. Surely I had nothing to do with that, yet every man and woman who spoke of it to me uttered a most violent arraignment which would have been much better suited to the crops that needed it.

At home we have a neighbor, an attractive mother of children. She has the ruling voice in family affairs, and this supremacy has induced her to take singing lessons. Her hour for practice is after ten at night. The other neighbors do not sing, but they are vociferous in their complaints. To me they confide their wrath about this nocturnal music, in exasperated, abusive language, so my sufferings are more than trebled. Not one of these fault-finders will defy the lady’s practices to her face; they prefer to make the scapegoat hear their condemnations of selfish, thoughtless, noisy citizens.

So it is, day after day. From the ravages of little Benny in our neighbor’s raspberry patch to the shocking decadence of the latest novel, the sins of society are denounced in my presence, while I, a very craven, sit still. I have thought of many methods of saving myself. I could turn and rend my oppressor by summoning a richly-varied vocabulary of vituperation; I could invent a mechanical scapegoat which would have an engaging air of sympathy; I could teach a phonograph how to scold in the most ideally drastic manner, and rent it at so much an hour with a cylinder of maledictions for each one of the most notable iniquities: abuse of a person guilty of discourtesy on a street-car; complaint about a deceiving dressmaker; censure for a dull preacher; invective against corrupt politicians; thoroughgoing denunciation of the younger generation.

Best of my schemes is, I think, something that has been dimly becoming clear to me during hours of gloom. It is a plan. in this era of great philanthropies, to found a new society, one which will devote itself to a service never before attempted in the history of civilization. This society shall be called “ A Society for Visiting the Sins of Sinners upon the Sinners Themselves.”