Women cheerfully sacrifice straight-forwardness on the altar of kindness. They temper the wind to the shorn lamb. Thus, the question to a Frenchwoman, ‘Which brother do you prefer?’ and the answer, ‘When I am with one I prefer the other,’ would never have been uttered in the hearing of either.
Madame de Cornuel said gently to a friend, a man who constantly appealed to her for advice and help with his family affairs but was never satisfied with the results, ‘If I find a teacher for your son who answers all your requirements, I shall marry him.’
Madame de Sablière admonished a man who bored her, thus: ‘Mon cher, you would be terribly stupid if you weren’t so witty.’ A rebuke of this kind possesses the best quality of discipline: it stimulates far more than it hurts.
Against unprovoked satire, however, a woman’s brain and tongue are instantaneous in her service. It is not surprising that her swift attack often seems feline, especially to a more sluggish intelligence, which perhaps has missed the casus belli altogether. When aroused, her power of speech is a two-edged darting sword, the equivalent of a man’s instinctive display of his fists. Therefore she gleefully joins men in instant approval of Sheridan’s famous retort, ‘I believe on my faith, I am between the two!’ — placing himself actually between two royal dukes, who had rudely told him they were discussing whether he was a greater knave or fool. And the remark, ‘If I had a son who was an idiot, I would make him a parson,’ — made by a peevish man to that witty clergyman, Sydney Smith, — and the latter’s quick rejoinder: ‘Your father was of a different opinion,’ exactly illustrate a woman’s idea of an unwarranted affront and its fitting punishment.
The rock that irretrievably separates the humor of men and of women, then, is ridicule. ‘To tell a person lies and laugh at him for believing them’ is someone’s definition of a modern sense of humor. Women—and children—often quiver under the humiliation of this and ruder ‘pleasantries’ — so-called.
The most blighting of all derisive jests was perpetuated by Oliver Wendell Holmes, when he christened ‘young females,’ ‘spring chickens.’ One hardly knows which term is the more offensive of the two!
Surely the little that men say lives after them with extraordinary tenacity. This distasteful bit of facetiousness, with which he sullied the pages of his ‘Autocrat,’ still poisons the mouths of men as gentle as he. And they remain entirely unaware of its dampening effect upon the volatile gayety of women.
It has often occurred to me that the line, ‘Her humorous ladyship is by to teach thee safety,’ might be punningly (in humble reverence of Shakespeare’s English) applied to morals as well as goddesses.
Favored, indeed, is the child whose training is in the hands of a woman with a whimsical point of view that is an integral part of herself, and who has quaint ways of thought and speech. No influence could better equip youth to meet the slings and arrows of fortune. A blithe form of admonition never devitalizes, never weakens the self-confidence of young or old.