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The Recreations of a Country Parson
Chapter VI. Concerning Tidiness; Being Thoughts upon an Overlooked Source of Human Content


SAID Sydney Smith to a lady who asked him to recommend a remedy for low spirits,—Always have a cheerful, bright fire, a kettle simmering on the hob, and a paper of sugar-plums on the mantelpiece.

Modem grates, it is known, have no hobs : nor does it clearly appear for what purpose the kettle was recommended. If for the production of frequent cups of tea, I am not sure that the abundant use of that somewhat nervous and vaporous liquid is likely to conduce to an equable cheerfulness. And Sydney Smith, although he must have become well acquainted with whisky-toddy during his years in Edinburgh, would hardly have advised a lady to have recourse to alcoholic exhilaration, with its perilous tendencies and its subsequent depression. Sugar-plums, again, damage the teeth, and produce an effect the reverse of salutary upon a most important organ, whose condition directly affects the spirits. As for the bright fire, there the genial theologian was certainly right: for when we talk, as we naturally do, of a cheerful fire, we testify that long experience has proved that this peculiarly British institution tends to make people cheerful. But, without committing myself to any approval of the particular things recommended by Sydney Smith, I heartily assent to the principle which is implied in his advice to the nervous lady: to wit, that cheerfulness and content are to a great degree the result of outward and physical conditions; let me add, the result of very little things.

Time was, in which happiness was regarded as being, perhaps, too much a matter of one’s outward lot Such is the belief of a primitive age and an untutored race. Every one was to be happy, whatever his mental condition, who could but find admittance to Rasselas’s Happy Valley. The popular belief Jiat there might be a scene so fair that it would make blest any human being who should be allowed to dwell in it, is strongly shewn in the name universally given to the spot which was inhabited by the parents of the race before evil was known. It was the Garden of Delight: and the name describes not the beauty of the scene itself, but the effect it would produce upon the mind of its tenants. The paradises of all rude nations are places which profess to make every one happy who enters them, quite apart from any consideration of the world which he might bear within his own breast And the pleasures of these paradises are mainly addressed to sense. The gross Esquimaux went direct to eating and drinking: and so his heaven (if we may believe Dr Johnson) is a place where “oil is always fresh and provisions always warm.” He could conceive nothing loftier than the absence of cold meat, and the presence of unlimited blubber. Quite as gross was the Paradise of the Moslem, with its black-eyed houris, and its musk-sealed wine: and the same principle, that the outward scene and circumstances in which a man is placed are able to make him perfectly and unfailingly happy, whatever he himself may be, is taken for granted in all we are told of the Scandinavian Valhalla, the Amenti of the old Egyptian, the Peruvian’s Spirit-World, and the Red Man’s Land of Souls. But the Christian Heaven, with deeper truth, is less a locality than a character: its happiness being a relation between the employments provided, and the mental condition of those who engage in them. It was a grand and a noble thing, too, when a Creed came forth, which utterly repudiated the notion of a Fortunate Island, into which, after any life you liked, you had only to smuggle yourself, and all was well. It was a grand thing, and an intensely practical thing, to point to an unseen world, which will make happy the man who is prepared for it, and who is fit for it; and no one else.

And, to come down to the enjoyments of daily life/ the time was when happiness was too much made a thing of a quiet home, of a comfortable competence, of climbing roses and honeysuckle, of daisies and buttercups, of new milk and fresh eggs, of evening bells and mist stealing up from the river in the twilight, of warm firesides, and close-drawn curtains, and mellow lamps, and hissing ums, and cups of tea, and easy-chairs, and old songs, and plenty of books, and laughing girls, and perhaps a gentle wife and a limited number of peculiarly well-behaved children. And indeed it cannot be denied that if these things, with health and a good conscience, do not necessarily make a man contented, they are very likely to do so. One cannot but sympathise -with the spirit of snugness and comfort which breathes from Cowper’s often-quoted fines, though there is something of a fallacy in them. Here they are again: they are pleasant to look at:—

Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And, while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups,
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful evening in.

I have said there is a fallacy in these fines. It is not that they state anything which is not quite correct, but that they contain a suggestio falsi.. Although Cowper does not directly say so, you see he leaves on your mind the impression that if all these arrangements are made,—the fire stirred, the curtains drawn, the sofa wheeled round, and so forth,—you are quite sure to be extremely jolly, and to spend a remarkably pleasant evening. Now the fact is quite otherwise. You may have so much anxiety and care at your heart, as shall entirely neutralise the natural tendency of all these little bits of outward comfort; and no one knew that better than the poor poet himself. But that which Cowper does but insinuate, an unknown verse-writer boldly asserts: to wit, that outward conditions are able to make a man as happy as it is possible for man to be. He writes in the style which was common a couple of generations back: but he really makes a pleasant homely picture:—

The hearth was clean, the fire was clear,
The kettle on for tea;
Palemon in his elbow-chair,
As blest as man could be.
Clarinda, who his heart possess’d,
And was his new-made bride,
With head reclined upon his.brcast,
Sat toying by his side.
Stretch’d at his feet, in happy state,
A favourite dog was laid,
By whom a little sportive cat
In wanton humour play’d.
Clarinda’s hand he gently press’d :
She stole a silent kiss;
And, blushing, modestly confess’d
The fulness of her bliss.
Palemon, with a heart elate,
Pray’d to Almighty Jove,
That it might ever be his fate
Just so to live and love.
Be this eternity, he cried,
And let no more be given;
Continue thus my loved fireside,—
I ask no other heaven!

Poor fellow! It is very evident that he had not been married long. And it is charitable to attribute the wonderful extravagance of his sentiments to temporary excitement and obfuscation. But without saying anything of his concluding wish, which appears to border on the profane, we see in his verses the expression of the rude belief that, given certain outward circumstances, a man is sure to be happy.

Perhaps the pendulum has of late years swung rather too far in the opposite direction, and we have learned to make too little of external things. No% doubt the true causes of happiness are inter prcecordia. No doubt it touches us most closely, whether the world within the breast is bright or dark. No doubt content, happiness, our being’s end and aim, call it what you will, is an inward thing, as was said long ago by the Latin poet, in words which old Lord Auchinleck (the father of Johnson’s Boswell) inscribed high on the front of the mansion which he built amid the Scottish woods and rocks “where Lugar flows:”—

“Quod petis, hie est;
Est Ulubris: animus si te non deficit aequus.”

But then the question is, how to get the animus cequus: and I think that now-a-days there is with some a disposition to push the principle of

“My mind to me a kingdom is,”

too far. Happiness is indeed a mental condition, but we are not to forget that mental states are very strongly, very directly, and very regularly affected and produced by outward causes. In the vast majority of men outward circumstances are the great causes of inward feelings; and you can count almost as certainly upon making a man jolly by placing him in happy circumstances, as upon making a man wet by dipping him in water. And I believe a life which is too subjective is a morbid thing. It is not healthy nor desirable that the mind’s shadow and sunshine should come too much from the mind itself. I believe that when this is so, it is generally the result of a weak physical constitution: and it goes along with a poor appetite and. shaky nerves: and so I hail Sydney Smith’s recommendation of sugar-plums, bright fires, and simmering kettles, as the recognition of the grand principle that mental moods are to a vast extent the result of outward conditions and of physical state. If Macbeth had asked Dr Forbes Winslow the question— •

“Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased?” that eminent physician would instantly have replied, —“Of course I can, by ministering to a body diseased.” No doubt such mental disease as Macbeth’s is beyond the reach of opiate or purgative, and neither sin nor remorse can be cured by sugar-plums. But as for the little depressions and troubles of daily life, I believe that Sydney Smith proposed to treat them soundly. Treat them physically. Treat them an extra. Don’t expect the mind to originate much good for itself. With commonplace people it is mainly dependent upon external influences. It is not a perennial fountain, but a tank which must be replenished from external springs. For myself, I never found my mind to be to me a kingdom. If a kingdom at all, it was a very sterile one, and a very unruly one. I have generally found myself, as my readers have no doubt sometimes done, a most wearisome and stupid companion. If any man wishes to know the consequence of being left to his own mental resources, let him shut himself up for a week, without books or writing materials or companions, in a chamber lighted from the roof. He will be very sick of himself before the week is over: he will (I speak of commonplace men) be in tolerably low spirits. The effect of solitary confinement, we know, upon uneducated prisoners, is to drive them mad. And not only do outward circumstances mainly make and unmake our cheerfulness,- but they affect our intellectual powers just as powerfully. They spur or they dull us. Till you enjoy, after long deprivation, the blessing of converse with a man of high intellect and cultivation, you do not know how much there is in you. Your powers are stimulated to produce thought of which you would not have believed yourself capable. And have not you felt, dear reader, when in the society of a blockhead, that you became a blockhead too? Did you not feel your mind sensibly contracting, like a ball of india-rubber, when compressed by the dead weight of the surrounding atmosphere of stupidity? But when you had a quiet evening with your friend Dr Smith, or Mr Jones, a brilliant talker, did not he make you talk too with (comparative) brilliancy? You found yourself saying much cleverer things than you had been able to say for months past. The machinery of your mind played fervidly; words came fittingly, and thoughts came crowding. The friction of two minds of a superior class, will educe from each much finer thought than either could have produced when alone.

And now, my friendly reader, the upshot of all this which I have been saying is, that I desire to recommend to you a certain overlooked and undervalued thing, which I believe to be a great source of content and a great keeper-off of depression. I desire to recommend something which I think ought to supplant Sydney Smith’s kettle and sugar-plums, and which may co-exist nicely with his cheerful fire. And I beg the reader to remark what the end is towards which I am to prescribe a means. It is not suprema felicitas: it is quiet content. The happiness which we expect at middle age is a calm, homely thing. We don’t want raptures: they weary us, they wear us out, they shatter us. We want quiet content; and above all, we want to be kept clear of over-anxiety and of causeless depression. As for such buoyancy as that of Sydney Smith himself, who tells us that when a man of forty he often longed to jump over the tables and chairs in pure glee and light-heartedness,—why, if nature has not given you that, you must just do without it Art cannot give it you: it must come spontaneous if it come at all But what a precious thing it is! Very truly did David Hume say, that for a man to be bom with a fixed disposition always to look at the bright side of things, was a far happier thing than to be bom to a fortune of ten thousand a-year. But Hume was right, too, when he talked of being bom with such a disposition. The hopeful, unanxious man, quite as truly as the poet, nascitur, non fit. No training could ever have made the nervous, shrinking, evil-foreboding Charlotte Bronte like the gleeful, boisterous, life-enjoying Christopher North. There were not pounds enough in that little body to keep up a spirit like that which dwelt in the Scotch Professor’s stalwart frame. And to indicate a royal road to constant light-heartedness is what no man in his senses will pretend to do. But we may attain to something humbler. Sober content is, I believe, within the reach of all who have nothing graver to vex them than what James Montgomery the poet called the “insect cares” of daily life. There may be, of course, lots which are darkened over by misfortunes so deep that to brighten them all human skill would be unavailing. But ye who are commonplace people,— commonplace in understanding, in feeling, in circumstances; ye who are not very clever, not extraordinarily excitable, not extremely unlucky; ye who desire to be, day by day, equably content and even passably cheerful; listen to me while I recommend, in subordination of course to something too serious to discuss upon this half-earnest page, the maintenance of a constant, pervading, active, all-reaching, energetic Tidiness!

No fire that ever blazed, no kettle that ever simmered, no sugar-plums that ever corroded the teeth and soothed to tranquil stupidity, could do half as much to maintain a human being in a condition of moderate jollity dnd satisfaction, as a daily resolute carrying out of the resolution, that everything about us,—our house, our wardrobe, our books, our papers, our study-table, our garden-walks, our carriage, our harness, our park-fences, our children, our lamps, our gloves, yea, our walking-stick and our umbrella, shall be in perfectly accurate order; that is, shall be, to a hair’s-breadth, Right!

If you, my reader, get up in the morning, as you are very likely to do in this age of late dinners, somewhat out of spirits, and feeling (as boys expressively phrase it) rather down in the mouth, you cannot tell f why; if you take your bath and dress, having still the feeling as if the day had come too soon, before you had gathered up heart to face it and its duties and troubles; and if, on coming down stairs, you find your breakfast-parlour all in the highest degree snug and tidy,—the fire blazing brightly and warmly, the fire-irons accurately arranged, the hearth clean, the carpet swept, the chairs dusted, the breakfast equipage neatly arranged upon the snow-white cloth,—it is perfectly wonderful how all this will brighten you up. You will feel that you would be a growling humbug if you did not become thankful and content. “Order is Heaven’s first lawand there is a sensible pleasure attending the carrying of it faithfully out to the very smallest things. Tidiness is nothing else than the carrying into the hundreds of little matters which meet us and touch us hour by hour the same grand principle which directs the sublimest magnitudes and affairs of the universe. Tidiness is, in short, the being right in thousands of small concerns in which most men are slovenly satisfied to be wrong. And though a hair’s-breadth may make the difference between right and wrong, the difference between right and wrong is not a little difference. An untidy person is a person who is wrong, and is doing wrong, for several hours every day; and though the wrong may not be grave enough to be indicated by a power so solemn as conscience, (as the current through the Atlantic cable after it had been injured, though a magnetic current, was too faint to be indicated by the machines now in use,) still, constant wrong-doing, in however slight a degree, cannot be without a jar of the entire moral nature. It cannot be without putting us out of harmony with the entire economy under which we live. And thus it is that the most particular old Dachelor, or the most precise old maid, who insists upon everything about the house being in perfect order, is, in so far, co-operating with the great plan of Providence; and, like every one who does so, finds an innocent pleasure result from that unintended harmony. Tidiness is a great source of cheerfulness. It is cheering, I have said, even to come into one’s breakfast room and find it spotlessly tidy; but still more certainly will this cheerfulness come if the tidiness is the result of our own exertion.

And so I counsel you, my friend, if you are ever disheartened about some example which has been pressed upon you of the evil which there is in this world; if you get vexed and worried and depressed about some evil in the government of your country, or of your county, or of your parish; if you have done all you can to think how the evil may be remedied . and if you know that further brooding over the subject would only vex and sting and do no good;—if all this should ever be so, then I counsel you to have resort to the great refuge of Tidiness. Don’t sit over your library fire, brooding and bothering; don’t fly to sugar-plums; they will not avail. There is a comer of one of your fields that is grown up with nettles; there is a bit of wall or of palisade out of repair; there is a yard of the edging of a shrubbery walk where an overhanging laurel has killed the turf; there is a bed in the garden which is not so scrupulously tidy as it ought to be; there is a branch of a peachtree that has pulled out its fastenings to the wall, and that is flapping about in the wind. Or there is a drawer of papers which has for weeks been in great confusion; or a division of your bookcase where the books might be better arranged. See to these things forthwith: the out-of-door matters are the best Get your man-servant—all your people, if you have half-a-dozen—and go forth and see things made tidy: and see that they are done thoroughly; work half done will not serve for our present purpose. Let every nettle be cut down and carried off from the neglected comer; then let the ground be dug up and levelled, and sown with grass seed. If it rains, so much the better: it will make the seed take root at once. Let the wall or fence be made better than when it w*as new; let a wheel barrowful of fresh green turf be brought; let it be laid dowm in place of the decayed edging; let it be cut accurately as a watch’s machinery; let the gravel beside it be raked and rolled : then put your hands in your pockets and survey the effect with delight All this will occupy you, interest you, dirty you, for a couple of hours, and you will come in again to your library fireside quite hopeful and cheerful. The worry and depression will be entirely gone ; you will see your course beautifully: you have sacrificed to the good genius of Tidiness, and you are rewarded accordingly. I am simply stating phenomena, my reader. I don't pretend to explain causes; but I hesitate not to assert, that to put things right, and to know that things arc put right, has a wonderful effect in enlivening and cheering. You cannot tell why it is so; but you come in a very different man from what you were when you went out You see things in quite another way. You wonder how you could have plagued yourself so much before. We all know that powerful effects are often produced upon our minds by causes which have no logical connexion with these effects. Change of scene helps people to get over losses and disappointments, though not by any process of logic. If the fact that Anna Maria cruelly jilted you, thus consigning you to your present state of single misery, was good reason why you should be snappish and sulky in Portland Place, is it not just as good reason now, when, in the midst of a tag-rag procession, you are walking into Chamouni after having climbed Mont Blanc ? The state of the facts remains precisely as before. Anna Maria is married to Mr Dunderhead, the retired ironmonger with ten thousand a-year. Nor have any new arguments been suggested to you beyond those which Smith good-naturedly addressed to you in Lincoln’s Inn Square, when you threatened to punch his head. But you have been up Mont Blanc; you have nearly fallen into a crevasse; your eyes are almost burnt out of your head. You have looked over that sea of mountains which no one that has seen will ever forget: here is your alpen-stock, and you shall carry it home with you as an ancient palmer his faded branch from the Holy Land. And though all this has nothing earthly to do with your disappointment, you feel that somehow all this has tided you over it You are quite content You don’t grudge Anna Maria her ferruginous happiness. You are extremely satisfied that things have turned out as they did. The sale of nails, pots, and gridirons is a legitimate and honourable branch of commercial enterprise. And Mr Dunderhead, with all that money, must be a worthy and able man.

I am writing, I need hardly say, for ordinary people when I suggest Tidiness as a constant source of temperate satisfaction. Of course great and heroic men are above so prosaic a means of content Such amiable characters as Roderick Dhu, in the Lady oj the Lake, as Byron’s Giaour and Lara, not to name Childe Harold, as the heroes of Locksley Hall and Maud\ and as Mr Bailey’s Festus, would no doubt receive my humble suggestions very much as Mynheer Van Dunk, who disposed of his two quarts of brandy daily, might be supposed to receive the advice to substitute for his favourite liquor an equal quantity of skimmed milk. And possibly Mr Disraeli would not be content out of office, however orderly and tidy everything about his estate and his mansion might be. Yet it is upon record that a certain ancient emperor, who had ruled the greatest empire this world ever saw, found it a pleasant change to lay the sceptre and the crown aside, and, descending from the throne, to take to cultivating cabbages. And as he looked at the tidy rows and the bunchy heads, he declared that he had changed his condition for the better; that tidiness in a cabbage-garden could make a man happier than the imperial throne of the Roman empire. It is well that it should be so, as in this world there are many more cabbage-gardens than imperial thrones; and tidiness is attainable by many by whom empire is not attainable.

A disposition towards energetic tidiness is a perennial source of quiet satisfaction. It always provides us with something to think of and to do: it affords scope for a little ingenuity and contrivance: it carries us out of ourselves: and prevents our leading an unhealthily subjective life. It gratifies the instinctive love of seeing things right which is in the healthy human being. And it is founded upon the philosophical fact, that there is a peculiar satisfaction in having a thing, great or small, which was wrong, put right You have greater pleasure in such a thing, when it has been fairly set to rights, than if it never had been wrong. Had Brummell been a philosopher instead of a conceited and empty-pated coxcomb, I should at once have understood, when he talked of “his favourite leg,” that he meant a leg which had been fractured, and then restored as good as ever. Is it a suggestion too grave for this place, that this principle of the peculiar interest and pleasure which are felt in an evil remedied, a spoiled thing mended, a wrong righted, may cast some light upon the Divine dealing with this world 1 It is fallen, indeed, and evil: but it will be set right And that, perhaps, it may seem better to its Almighty Maker than even on the First Day of Rest And the human being who systematically keeps right, and sets right, all things, even the smallest, within his own little dominion, enjoys a pleasure which has a dignified foundation; which is real, simple, innocent, and lasting. Never say that it is merely the fidgety particularity of an old bachelor which makes him impatient of suffering a weed or a withered leaf on his garden walk, a speck of dust on his library table, or a volume turned upside down on his shelves. He is testifying, perhaps unconsciously, to the grand, sublime, impassable difference between Right and Wrong. He is a humble combatant on the side of Right He is maintaining a little outpost of the lines of that great army which is advancing with steady pace, conquering and to conquer. And if the quiet satisfaction he feels comes from an unexciting and simple source—why, it is just from such sources that the quiet content of daily life must come. We cannot, from the make of our being, be always or be long in an excitement Such things wear us and themselves out: and they cannot last The really and substantially happy people of this world are always calm and quiet In feverish youth, of course, young people get violently spoony, and are violently ambitious. Thai, life is to be all romance. They are to live in a world over which there spreads a light such as never was on land or sex They think that.

Thekla was right when she said, as one meaning that life, for her, was done, “I have lived and loved!” Mistaken she! The solid work of life was then just beginning. She had just passed through the moral scarlet-fever; and the noblest, greatest, and happiest part of life was to come. And as for the dream of ambition, that soon passes away. A man learns to work, not to make himself a famous name, but to provide the wherewithal to pay his butcher’s and his grocer’s bills. Still, who does not look back on that rime with interest! Was it indeed ourselves, now so sobered, grave, and matter-of-fact, whom we see as we look back.

Make me feel the wild pulsation that I felt before the strife,
When I heard my days before me, and the tumult of my life;
Yearning for the large excitement which the coming years would yield,
Eager-heartdd as a boy when first he leaves his father’s field,
And at night along the dusky highway near and nearer drawn,
Sees in heaven the light of London flaring like a dreary dawn.

But just what London proves to the eager-hearted boy, life proves to the man. He intended to be Lord Chancellor: he is glad by and by to get made an Insolvent Commissioner. He intended to be a millionaire : he is glad, after some toiling years, to be able to pay his house-rent and make the ends meet He intended to startle the quiet district of his birth, and make his mother’s heart proud -with the story of his fame: he learns to be glad if he does his home no discredit, and can now and then send his sisters a ten-pound note:—

So sleeps the pride of former days,
So glory’s thrill is o’er:
And hearts that once beat high for praise,
Now feel that pulse no more.

But though these excitements be gone, there still remains to the middle-aged man the calm pleasure of looking at the backs of the well-arranged volumes on his book-shelves; of seeing that his gravel-walks are nicely raked, and his grass-plots smoothly mown; of having his carriage, his horses, and his harness in scrupulous order; the harness with the silver so very bright and the leather so extremely black, and the horses with their coats so shiny, their ribs so invisible, and all their comers so round. Now, my reader, all these little things will appear little only to very unthinking people. From such little things comes the quiet content of commonplace middle life, of matter-of-fact old age. I never admired or liked anything about Lord Melbourne so much as that which I shall now tell you in much better words than my own :—

“He went one night to a minor theatre, in company with two ladies and a fashionable young fellow about town—a sort of man not easy to be pleased.

“The performance was dull and trashy enough, I daresay. The next day Lord Melbourne called upon the ladies. The fashionable young gentleman had been there before his lordship, and had been complaining ot the dreadfully dull evening they had all passed. The ladies mentioned this to Lord Melbourne.

‘Not pleased! Not pleased! Confound the man! Didn’t he see the fishmongers’ shops, and the gas-lights flashing from the lobsters’ backs, as we drove along ? Wasn’t that happiness enough for him?’

“Lord Melbourne had then ceased to be Prime Minister, but you see he had not ceased to take pleasure in any little thing that could give it”

Now, is not all this an admirable illustration of my great principle, that the tranquil enjoyment of life comes to be drawn a good deal from external sources, and a great deal more from very little things? An ex-Prime Minister thought that the sight of lobsters’ backs shining in the gas-light was quite enough to make a reasonable man content for one evening. But give me, say I, not the fleeting joy of the lobsters’ backs, any more than Sydney Smiths sugar-plums, lazy satisfactions partaken in passiveness. Give me the perennial, calm, active, stimulating moral and intellectual content which comes of living amid hundreds of objects and events which are all scrupulously Right; and thus, let us all (as Wordsworth would no doubt have written had I pressed the matter upon him.

“feed this mind of ours.
In a wise Tidiness!”

I have long wished to write an essay on Tidiness; for it appears to me that the absence of this simple and humble quality is the cause of a considerable part of all the evil and suffering, physical and moral, which exist among ordinary folk in this world. Most of us, my readers, are little people; and so it is not surprising that our earthly comfort should be at the mercy of little things. But even if we were, as some of us probably think ourselves, very great and eminent people, not the less would our content be liable to be disturbed by very small matters. A few gritty grains of sand finding their way amid the polished shafts and axles of some great piece of machinery, will suffice to send a jar through it all; and a single drop of a corroding acid falling ceaselessly upon a bright surface will speedily ruin its brightness. And in the life of many men and women, the presence of that physical and mental confusion and discomfort which result from the absence of tidiness, is just that dropping acid, those gritty particles. I do not know why it is that, by the constitution of this universe, evil has so much more power than good to produce its effect and to propagate its nature. One drop of foul will pollute a whole cup of fair water; but one drop of fair water has no power to appreciably improve a cup of foul. Sharp pain, present in a tooth or a toe, will make tha whole man miserable, though all the rest of his body be easy; but if all the rest of the body be suffering, an easy toe or tooth will cause no perceptible alleviation. And so a man with an easy income, with a pretty house in a pleasant neighbourhood, with a good-tempered wife and healthy children, may quite well have some little drop of bitterness day by day infused into his cup, which will take away the relish of it all. And this bitter drop, I believe, in the lot of many men, is the constant existence of a domestic muddle.

And yet, practically important as I believe the subject to be, still one rather shrinks from the formal discussion of it. It is not a dignified matter to write about The name is naturally suggestive of a sour old maid, a precise old bachelor, a vinegar-faced schoolmistress, or at best a plump and bustling housemaid. To some minds the name is redolent of worry, faultfinding, and bother. Every one can see that it is a fine thing to discuss the laws and order of great things,—such as comets, planets, empires, and great cities; things, in short, with which we have very little to do. And why should law and order appear contemptible just where they touch ourselves? Is it as the ocean, clear and clean in its distant depths, grows foul and turbid just where it touches the shore? That which we call law and order when affecting things far away, becomes tidiness where it reaches us. Yet it is not a dignified topic for an essay.

This is a beautiful morning. It is the morning of one of the last days of September, but the trees, with the exception of some of the sycamores and limes, are as green and thick-leaved as ever. The dew lies thick upon the grass, and the bright morning sun turns it to glancing gems. The threads of gossamer among the evergreen leaves look like necklaces for Titania. The crisp air, just touched with frostiness, is exhilarating. The dahlias and hollyhocks are bright, but the frost will soon make an end of the former. The swept harvest-fields look trim, and the outline of the distant hills shews sharp against the blue sky. Taking advantage of the moisture on the grass, the gardener is busy mowing it Curious, that though it sets people’s teeth on edge to listen to the sharpening of edge-tools in general, yet there is something that is extremely pleasing in the whetting of a scythe. It had better be a little way off. But it is suggestive of fresh, pleasant things; of dewy grass and bracing morning air; of clumps of trees standing still in the early mistiness; of “milkmaids singing blithe.” Let us thank Milton for the last association: we did not get it from daily life. I never heard a milkmaid singing; in this part of the country I don’t think they do sing; and I believe cows are invariably milked within doors. But now, how pleasant the trim look of that newly-mown lawn, so carefully swept and rolled; there is not a dandelion in it all,—no weed whatsoever. There are indeed abundant daisies, for though I am assured that daisies in a lawn are weeds, I never shall recognise them as such. To me they shall always be flowers, and welcome everywhere. Look too, at the well-defined outline of the grass against the gravel. I feel the joy of tidiness, and I gladly write in its praise.

Looking at this grass and gravel, I think of Mr Tennyson. I remember a little poem of his which contains some description of his home. There, he tells us, the sunset falls

“All round a careless-order’d garden,
Close by the ridge of a noble down.”

I lament a defect in that illustrious man. Great is my reverence for the author of Maud; great for the author of Locksley Hall and the May Queen; greatest of all for the author of In Memoriam: but is it possible that the Laureate should be able to elaborate his verses to that last and most exquisite perfection, while thinking of weedy walks outside his windows, of unpruned shrubs, and fruit-trees fallen from the walls ? Must the thought be admitted to the mind, that Mr Tennyson is not tidy ? I know not I never saw his garden. Rather let me believe that these lines only shew how tidy he is. Perhaps his garden would appear in perfect order to the visitor; perhaps it seems “careless-ordered” only to his own sharp eye. Perhaps he discerns a weed here and there; a blank of an inch length in a box-wood edging. Perhaps, like lesser men, he cannot get his servants to be as tidy as himself. No doubt such is the state of matters.

There are, indeed, many degrees in the scale of tidiness. It is a disposition that grows upon one, and sometimes becomes almost a bondage. Some great musical composer said, shortly before he died, that he was only then beginning to get an insight into the capabilities of his art; and I dare say a similar idea has occasionally occurred to most persons endowed with a very keen sense of order. In matters external, tidiness may go to the length of what we read of Brock, that Dutch paradise of scrubbing-brushes and new paint; in matters metaphysical, it may go the length of what John Foster tells us of himself, when his fastidious sense of the exact sequence of every shade of thought compelled him to make some thousands of corrections and improvements in revising a dozen printed pages of his own composition. Tidiness is in some measure a matter of natural temperament; there are human beings who never could by possibility sit down contentedly, as some can, in a chamber where everything is topsy-turvy, and who never could by possibility have their affairs, their accounts, their books and papers, in that inextricable confusion in which some people are quite satisfied to have theirs. There may, indeed, be such a thing as that a man shall be keenly alive to the presence or absence of order in his belongings, but at the same time so nerveless and washy that he cannot bestir himself and set things to rights; but as a general rule, the man who enjoys order and exactness will take care to have them about him. There are people who never go into a room but they see at a glance if any of its appointments are awry; and the impression is precisely that which a discordant note leaves on a musical ear. A friend of mine, not an ecclesiastical architect, never enters any church without devising various alterations in it The same person, when he enters his library in the morning, cannot be easy until he has surveyed it minutely, and seen that everything is right to a hair’s-breadth. Taught by long experience, the servants have done their part, and all appears perfect already to the casual observer. Not so to his eye. The hearth-rug needs a touch of the foot: the library-table becomes a marvel of collocation. Inkstands, pen-trays, letter-weighers, pamphlets, books, are marshalled more accurately than Frederick the Great’s grenadiers. A chair out of its place, a comer of a crumb-cloth turned up, and my friend could no more get on with his task of composition than he could fly. I can hardly understand how Dr Johnson was able to write the Rambler and to balance the periods of his sonorous prose while his books were lying upstairs dog’s-eared, battered, covered with dust, strewed in heaps on the floor. But I do not wonder that Sydney Smith could go through so much and so varied work, and do it all cheerfully, when I read how he thought it no unworthy employment of the intellect which slashed respectable humbug in the Edinburgh Review, to arrange that wonderful store-room in his rectory at Foston, where every article of domestic consumption was allotted its place by the genial, clear-headed, active-minded man : where was the lemon-bag, where was the soap of different prices (the cheapest placed in the wrappings marked with the dearest price): where were salt, pickles, hams, butter, cheese, onions, and medicines of every degree, from the “gentle jog” of ordinary life to the fearfully-named preparations reserved for extremity. Of course it was only because the kind reviewer’s wife was a confirmed invalid that it became a man’s duty to intermeddle with such womanly household cares: let masculine tidiness find its sphere out of doors, and feminine within. It is curious how some men, of whom we should not have expected it, had a strong tendency to a certain orderliness. Byron, for example, led a very irregular life, morally speaking; yet there was a curious tidiness about it too. He liked to spend certain hours of the forenoon daily in writing; then, always at the same hour, his horses came to the door; he rode along the same road to the same spot; there he daily fired his pistols, turned, and rode home again. He liked to fall into a kind of mill-horse round: there was an imperfectly-developed tidiness about the man. And even Johnson himself, though he used to kick his books savagely about, and had his study floor littered with fragments of manuscript, shewed hopeful symptom of what he might have been made, when he daily walked up Bolt Court, carefully placing his feet upon the self-same stones, in the self-same order.

Great men, to be sure, may do what they please, and if they choose to dress like beggars and to have their houses as frowsy as themselves, why, we must excuse it for the sake of all that we owe them. But Wesley was philosophically right when he insisted on the necessity, for ordinary men, of neatness and tidiness in dress; and we cannot help making a moral estimate of people from what we see of their conformity to the great law of rightness in little things. I cannot tolerate a harum-scarum fellow who never knows where to find anything he wants, whose boots and handkerchiefs and gloves are everywhere but where they are needed. And who would marry a slatternly girl, whose dress is frayed at the edges and whose fingers are through her gloves? The Latin poet wrote, Nulla fronti Jides; but I have considerable faith in a front-door. If, when I go to the house of a man of moderate means, I find the steps scrupulously clean, and the brass about the door shining like gold; and if, when the door is opened by a perfectly neat servant, (I don’t suppose a footman,) I find the hall trim as it should be, the oil-cloth shiny without being slippery, the stair-carpet laid straight as an arrow, the brass rods which hold it gleaming, I cannot but think that things are going well in that house; that it is the home of cheerfulness, hopefulness, and reasonable prosperity; that the people in it speak truth and hate whiggeiy. Especially I respect the mistress of that house; and conclude that she is doing her duty in that station in life to which it has pleased God to call her.

But if tidiness be thus important everywhere, what must it be in the dwellings of the poor? In these, so far as my experience has gone, tidiness and morality are always in direct proportion. You can see at once when you enter a poor man’s cottage (always with your hat off, my friend) how his circumstances are, and generally how his character is. If the world is going against him ; if hard work and constant pinching will hardly get food and clothing for the children, you see the fact in the untidy house: the poor mistress of it has no heart for that constant effort which is needful in the cottage to keep things right; she has no heart for the constant stitching which is needful to keep the poor little children’s clothes on their backs. Many a lime it has made my heart sore to see, in the relaxation of wonted tidiness, the first indication that things are going amiss, that hope is dying, that the poor struggling pair are feeling that their heads are getting under water at last Ah, there is often a sad significance in the hearth no longer so cleanly swept, in the handle wanting from the chest of drawers, in little Jamie’s tom jacket, which a few stitches would mend, but which I remember tom for these ten days pastl And remember, my reader, that to keep a poor man’s cottage tidy his wife must always have spirit and heart to work. If you choose, when you feel unstrung by some depression, to sit all day by the fire, the house will be kept tidy by the servants without your interference. And indeed the inmates of a house of the better sort arc putting things out of order from morning till night, and would leave the house in a sad mess if the servants were not constantly following in their wake and setting things to rights again. But if the labourer’s wife, anxious and weak and sick at heart as she may rise from her poor bed, do not yet wash and dress the little children, they will not be either washed or dressed at all; if she do not kindle her fire, there will be no fire at all; if she do not prepare her husband’s breakfast, he must go out to his hard work without any; if she do not make the beds and dust the chairs and tables and wash the linen, and do a host of other things, they will not be done at all. And then in the forenoon Mrs Bouncer, the retired manufacturer’s wife, (Mr Bouncer has just bought the estate,) enters the cottage with an air of extreme condescension and patronage, and if everything about the cottage be not in tidy order, Mrs Bouncer rebukes the poor down-hearted creature for laziness and neglect. I should like to choke Mrs Bouncer for her heartless insolence. I think some of the hatefullest phases of human nature are exhibited in the visits paid by newly rich folk to the dwellings of the poor. You, Mrs Bouncer, and people like you, have no more right to enter a poor man’s house and insult his wife than that poor man has to enter your drawing-room and give you a piece of his mind upon matters in general and yourself in particular. We hear much now-a-days about the distinctive characteristics of ladies and gentlemen, as contrasted with those of people who are well-dressed and live in fine houses, but whom no house and no dress will ever make gentlemen and ladies. It seems to me that the very first and finest characteristic of all who are justly entitled to these names of honour, is a most delicate, scrupulous, chivalrous consideration for the feelings of the poor. Without that the cottage-visitor will do no good to the cottager. If you, my lady friend, who are accustomed to visit the dwellings of the poor in your neighbourhood, convey by your entire demeanour the impression that you are, socially and intellectually, coming a great way down stairs in order to make yourself agreeable and intelligible to the people you find there, you had better have stayed at home. You will irritate, you will rasp, you will embitter, you will excite a disposition to let fly at your head. You may sometimes gratify your vanity and folly by meeting with a servile and crawling adulation, but it is a hypocritical adulation that grovels in your presence and shakes the fist at you after the door has closed on your retreating steps. Don’t fancy I am exaggerating: I describe nothing which I have not myself seen and known.

I like to think of the effect which tidiness has in equalising the real content of the rich and poor. If even you, my reader, find it pleasant to go into the humblest little dwelling where perfect neatness reigns, think what pleasure the inmates (perhaps the solitary inmate) of that dwelling must have in daily maintaining that speckless tidiness, and living in the midst of it There is to me a perfect charm about a sanded floor, and about deal furniture scrubbed into the perfection of cleanliness. How nice the table and the chairs look; how inviting that solitary big arm-chair by the little fire!. The fireplace indeed consists of two blocks of stone washed over with pipeclay, and connected by half a dozen bars of iron; but no register grate of polished steel ever pleased me better. God has made us so that there is a racy enjoyment, a delightful smack, about extreme simplicity co-existing with extreme tidiness. I don’t mean to say that I should prefer that sanded floor and those chairs of deal to a Turkey carpet and carved oak or walnut; but I assert that there is a certain indefinable relish about the simpler furniture which the grander wants. In a handsome apartment you don’t think of looking at the upholstery in detail; you remark whether the general effect be good or bad ; but in the little cottage you look with separate enjoyment on each separate simple contrivance. Do you think that a rich man, sitting in his sumptuous library, all oak and morocco, glittering backs of splendid volumes, lounges and sofas of every degree, which he merely paid for, has half the enjoyment that Robinson Crusoe had when he looked round his cave 'with its rude shelves and bulkheads, its clumsy arm-chair and its rough pottery, all contrived and made by his own hands? Now the poor cottager has a good deal of the Robinson Crusoe enjoyment; something of the pleasure which Sandford and Merton felt when they had built and thatched their house, and then sat within it, gravely proud and happy, whilst the pelting shower came down but could not reach them. When a man gets the length of considering the architectural character of his house, the imposing effect which the great entrance-hall will have upon visitors, the vista of drawing-room retiring within drawing-room, he loses the relish which accompanies the original idea of a house as a something which is to keep us snug and warm from wind and rain and cold. So if you gain something by having a grand house, you lose something too, and something which is the more constantly and sensibly felt—you lose the joy of simple tidiness; and your life grows so artificial, that many days you never think of your dwelling at all, nor remember what it looks like.

I have not space to say anything of the importance of tidiness in the poor man’s dwelling in a sanitary point of view. Untidiness there is the direct cause of disease and death. And it is the thing, too, which drives the husband and father to the alehouse. All this has been so often said, that it is needless to repeat it; but there is another thing which is not so generally understood, and which deserves to be mentioned. Let me then say to all landed proprietors, it depends very much upon you whether the poor man’s home shall be tidy or not. Give a poor man a decent cottage, and he has some heart to keep tidiness about the door, and his wife has some heart to maintain tidiness within. Many of the dwellings which the rich provide for the poor are such that the poor inmates must just sit down in despair, feeling that it is vain to try to be tidy, either without doors or within. If the cottage floor is of clay, which becomes a damp puddle in rainy weather; if the roof be of very old thatch, full of insects, and open to the apartment below; if you go down one or two steps below the level of the surrounding earth when you enter the house; if there be no proper chimney, but merely a hole in the roof, to which the smoke seems not to find its way till it has visited every other nook; if swarms of parasitic vermin have established themselves beyond expulsion through fifty years of neglect and filth; if a dung-heap be by ancient usage established under the window ;* then how can a poor overwrought man or woman (and energy and activity die out in the atmosphere of constant anxiety and care) find spirit to try to tidy a place like that ? They do not know where to begin the hopeless task. A little encouragement will do wonders to develop a spirit of tidiness. The love of order and neatness, and the capacity of enjoying order and neatness, are latent in all human hearts. A man who has lived for a dozen

*The writer describes nothing which he has not seen a hundred times. He has seen a cottage, the approach to which was a narrow passage, about two feet in breadth, cut through a large dung-heap, which rose more than a yard on either side of the narrow passage, and which was piled up to a fathom’s height against the cottage wall. This was not in Ireland.

Years in a filthy hovel, without once making a respute endeavour to amend it, will, when you put him down in a neat pretty cottage, astonish you by the spirit of tidiness he will exhibit; and his wife will astonish you as much. They feel that now there is some use in trying. There was none before. The good that is in most of us needs to be encouraged and fostered. In few human beings is tidiness, or any other virtue, so energetic that it will force its way in spite of extreme opposition. Anything good usually sets out with timid, weakly beginnings; and it may easily be crushed then. And the love of tidiness is crushed in many a poor man and woman by the kind of dwelling in which they are placed by their landlords. Let us thank God that better times are beginning; but times are still bad enough. I don’t envy the man, commoner or peer, whom I see in his carriage-and-four, when I think how a score or two families of his fellow-creatures upon his property are living in places where he would not put his horses or his dogs. I am conservatively enough inclined ; but I sometimes think I could join in a Chartist rising.

Experience has shewn that healthy, cheerful, airy cottages for the poor, in which something like decency is possible, entail no pecuniary loss upon the philanthropic proprietor who builds them. Hut even if they did, it is his bounden duty to provide such dwellings. If he do not, he is disloyal to his country, an enemy to his race, a traitor to the God who intrusted him with so much. And surely, in the judgment of all whose opinion is worth a rush, it is a finer thing to have the cottages on a man’s estate places fit for human habitation,—with the climbing roses covering them, the little gravel-walk to the door, the little potato-plot cultivated at after-hours, with windows that can open and doors that can shut; with little children not pallid and lean, but plump and rosy (and fresh air has as much to do with that as abundant food has),—surely, I say, it is better a thousand times to have one’s estate dotted with scenes such as that\ than to have a dozen more paintings on one’s walls, or a score of additional horses in one’s stables.

And now, having said so much in praise of tidiness, let me conclude by remarking that it is possible to carry even this virtue to excess. It is foolish to keep houses merely to be cleaned, as some Dutch housewives are said to do. Nor is it fit to clip the graceful forms of Nature into unnatural trimness and formality, as Dutch gardeners do. Among ourselves, however, I am not aware that there exists any tendency to either error; so it is needless to argue against either. The perfection of Dutch tidiness is to be found, I have said, at Brock, a few miles from Amsterdam. Here is some account of it from Washington Irving’s ever-pleasing pen:—

“What renders Brock so perfect an Elysium in the eyes of all true Hollanders, is the matchless height to which the spirit of cleanliness is carried there. It amounts almost to a religion among the inhabitants, who pass the greater part of their time rubbing and scrubbing, and painting and varnishing: each housewife vies with her neighbour in devotion to the scrubbing-brush, as zealous Catholics do in their devotion to the Cross.

“I alighted outside the village, for no horse or vehicle is permitted to enter its precincts, lest it should cause defilement of the well-scoured pavements. Shaking the dust off my feet, then, I prepared to enter, with due reverence and circumspection, this sanctum sanctorum of Dutch cleanliness. I entered by a narrow street, paved with yellow bricks, laid edgewise, and so clean that one might eat from them. Indeed, they were actually worn deep, not by the tread of feet, but by the friction of the scrubbing-brush.

“The houses were built of wood, and all appeared to have been freshly painted, of green, yellow, and other bright colours. They were separated from each other by gardens and orchards, and stood at some little distance from the street, with wide areas or courtyards, paved in mosaic with variegated stones, polished by frequent rubbing. The areas were divided from the streets by curiously-wrought railings or balustrades of iron, surmounted with brass and copper balls, scoured into dazzling effulgence. The very trunks of the trees in front of the houses were by the same process made to look as if they had been varnished. The porches, doors, and window-frames of the houses were of exotic woods, curiously carved, and polished like costly furniture. The front doors are never opened, except on christenings, marriages, and funerals; on all ordinary occasions, visitors enter by the back-doors. In former times, persons when admitted had to put on slippers, but this oriental ceremony is no longer insisted on.”

We are assured by the same authority, that such is the love of tidiness which prevails at Brock, that the good people there can imagine no greater felicity than to be ever surrounded by the very perfection of it And it seems that the prodiger or preacher of the place, accommodates his doctrine to the views of his hearers; and in his weekly discourses, when he would describe that Happy Place where, as I trust, my readers and I will one day meet the quiet burghers of Brock, he strongly insists that it is the very tidiest place in the universe: a place where all things (I trust he says within as well as around) are spotlessly pure and clean; and where all disorder, confusion, and dirt, are done with for ever!


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