My Adventures in Criticism
THE CONTRIBUTORS’ CLUB
THIS world is not a perfect place, its citizens do not live as full and rounded lives as they might, they are contented with poorer things when they might have better, they will not read Browning or listen to Bach. Never again, however, can I be tempted to express such convictions except from the safe shelter of anonymity.
I do not mean to imply that I have ever set out upon a crusade to reform the world. I am too fond of other pursuits for that. My reactions against wrong have been incidental to other activities.
I am ceasing to criticize — I use the word in its present, degenerate sense of fault-finding — because my complaints have not been productive of one iota of good. Moreover, they have always been ungraciously received either by the person whose good I sought or by the person upon whose sympathy I was depending.
Those whose good I sought have not listened to me.
’Minnie,’ said I to my maid, whose stupid looks had become a trial to be endured no longer in silence, ‘do you know that you go about with your mouth open?’
‘Yes ’m,’answered Minnie stolidly. ‘I opened it.’
I have been rudely treated when my motive was purely unselfish.
‘Madam,’ said I to a stranger in a city shop, ‘your belt is unfastened.’
‘That,’ answered the lady, ‘is the way I wish it to be.’
Frequently I have put myself into positions of such obloquy that I have wept with mortification. Several years ago, I appeared before a school-board to protest against the retention of an old school-teacher. I made my statement before he entered. I recounted in as mild language as I could the objections to him, held not only by me, but by two long-suffering generations. He taught his pupils nothing, his discipline was an alternation of lax indulgence and severest cruelty. For years he had been ruining the minds of those under his care.
Called upon to speak in his own defense, the old man appeared. He was a noble-looking old man, and his white hair pleaded for him before he opened his lips in his remarkable speech. He pictured the inborn rascality of the small boy, he reminded those present of their youth, of the hot lead they had poured into key-holes, of the Bedlam which they had created with hat - pins stuck into cracks and loudly twanged. He recalled to their minds the ‘putty-blowers,’ with whose ammunition the walls and ceiling of his school-room were plastered; he said that every missile had struck his heart! He reminded them that a small boy’s relatives arc often helpless before his invention; he asked them to contemplate the situation of a man shut up for forty years with fifty small boys! He said that he was old, that he could learn no new profession, that — Abruptly he sat down, his head in his hands.
Dismiss him? They reinstated him and advanced his salary. Is it strange that my reforming zeal suffered a blight from which it has never recovered?
The complaints which I have addressed to those from whom I had a right to expect sympathy have met no more kindly reception. Do I find fault with the organist who ends an impressive religious service with variations on ‘Believe me if all those endearing young charms,’ — I am told by my friends that it is a great pity that I allow my æsthetic sense to spoil my spiritual enjoyment, that I am the only one at all disturbed, and, finally, that if I had practiced as I should, I might be seated at the console playing Bach fugues to my own satisfaction. It would be a waste of words to insist that my æsthetic enjoyment is to be reckoned with, and that it is not my business to play Bach fugues.
Do I call attention to the delectable items in the Boonetown column of our weekly paper, I am accused of being ‘superior.’ Henceforth, therefore, the Boonetonian’s cow may ‘over-eat herself,’ his son may “break his one leg,’ his daughter may be ‘dressed in cream’ on her wedding-day,and I shall chuckle thereat alone. It will be hard to keep my best stories to myself, to refrain from telling of my neighbor, who, when arrested, ‘proved himself a lullabye,’ or of my schoolmate who, wishing to bid her friends farewell, shouted a loud ‘ Averdupois’ across the street. But never again, if I succeed in training myself to silence, shall I have to hear that these poor people do the best they can, that they are good fathers and mothers and sons and daughters, and that they go to church with praiseworthy regularity.
Nor do I mean to bottle up within me all these just complaints. I know a man who for thirty years endured the meanness of a business associate. Then, suddenly, he lost the temper which he had treasured so carefully. He turned the key in the door of his office, imprisoning with himself and the offender half a dozen other men.
‘I thank the Lord,’ said he, — he was a good and pious soul,—‘that I am mad enough at last to tell you what I think of you.'
Thereupon flowed from his soul a torrent of righteous indignation. It was amazing to hear how he remembered every peccadillo in the long line of the evil-doer’s sins. Trained in the Bible, he called his enemy Jeshurun who had waxed fat and kicked, he called him Ananias, he said he was a cumberer of the ground, a sojourner from Sodom.
One would have thought that, having accomplished what was a service to the community and what must have been a great relief to himself, this reformer would have been improved in health and spirits. But. he suffered a slight stroke and was ill for days, while the object of his Jeremiad cared not a rap.
This, therefore, is the last of my protests. Uttered one by one, they have proved idle; the organist still plays ‘Believe me if all those endearing young charms,’my Minnie still goes about with her mouth open. Treasured, they are even less efficacious, and they are likely to be harmful to one’s self, as my friend’s experience proves. His method especially I shall try to avoid, since, approve of this world as little as I may, I do not wish to be banished from it by a stroke of apoplexy.