« EdellinenJatka »
HEADS AND TAILS OF FAMILIES.
BY PAUL BELL.
No. V.-A YOUNG HEAD UPON OLD SHOULDERS. In spite of all the fuss that is now-a-days perpetually made about Middle Age Art, by the Fadgetts and others, who seem to fancy that the World and themselves do not wrinkle fast enough I often think it doubtful whether, at any previous period of England's history, simple, natural Old Age, with its duties and its beauties, was ever so imperfectly understood. “People choose to trip into their tombs now-a-days,” said a pleasant and familiar speaker, not long ago. It is not merely that eldest Miss Le Grands (there are many such !) will learn the Cellarius—there were silly elderly gentlewomen giving to such “unbendings when Richardson wrote the stupid second part of "Pamela”—but it is, perhaps, a consequence of these electrical and steam and ether times we are living in--that “most haste” has become Man's motto: till he forgets the hour at which a veil creeps over bis eyes; and his ears close gradually to even the sound of the Trumpet, and his limbs will no longer bear him in search of the Athenians' pleasure- some new thing.” What wonder that his own displacement is mathematically followed, by that also of those who were meant first to lean upon and then to look up to him: and who, finding him more than an equal, and less than an authority (which means also, a friend), consider him as filling the place of his betters, and cumbering the ground The Battas, who, as Sir Stamford Raffles informed us, were wont to eat their grandfathers and grandmothers with a Hungarian sort of sauce of red pepper, are only a trifle more demonstrative than the Young Rapids and Young Marlows,-I beg their pardons, the Dazzles and the Coningsbys—of this Victorian, Gregorian, Sidonian, Mortonian, and Wheatstonian era !
Why should this be-save because too many will have young heads on their old rheumatic shoulders ?_will confound participation and sympathy; whereas the one may be all selfishness, while the other must be all self-sacrifice ? Look at the wigs , Sir, which elderly persons think proper to wear at this present juncture !--the back and the front, half a century apart from each other. Look at the crippled old creatures one sees screwed up into agonising pantaloons, hobbling on towards “ Arthur's bosom with as much solicitude to keep up (or to keep down, is it?) a waist, as if they were the generation among whom the Miss Kilmanseggs were to throw their hundred-guinea handkerchiefs. Where will you find a gouty shoe ?—where meet the most delicate admission that corns exist (woful harvest !), save in the advertising columns of the Post or the Court Journal ? Consider the comfortless, unprofitable eye-glass, wedged in betwixt the poor furrowed old nose, and the ragged eye-brow, one sees too often: in place of the comfortable, easy, silver-mounted spectacles, which rode the human proboscis with ample dignity, and reposed “ between whiles” in their roomy cases of shagreen! Call to mind the indulgence of pig-tails !--though for that matter the Mirabels and the Valentines wore these too. The Old Man-one's rather sick of hearing about the “ Old English Gentleman since Lord George and Lord John and Mr. Benjamin have taken him up-and the last taken him among the Jews—was a pleasant sight to see : something that it soothed rather than shocked the muser to fancy himself ripening into. The Old Man, now, is too often a withered, faded, pinched, padded young one : dealing in perpetual tumbles over chairs or sprains against wardrobe corners rather than owning to the gout-dancing attendance on the girls, not as a counsellor-not as a confidant-not as a good Brownie who loves to anticipate their little fancies and help them out in their little heart-scrapes : but, Heaven save the mark! as a Flirt! When I witness the success (as they are pleased to style it) and the popularity of such spectres as this,-- I am apt to cross myself, though as little of a Papist as Mrs. Blackadder—and to remember these two lines of a Poet grown old-fashioned in days when the most mysterious verse is thought the finest :
“O may I with myself agree,
And never covet what I see !" Our Halcyon Row has been hindered from becoming the perfect path of peace in which harmonious Bells would like to walk their lives long—by its old people: the vagaries of some, and the selfish rapacity of others. My lame Boy, having been much diverted by some French pictures of “ Terrible Children," was with difficulty put aside from beginning a companion series of “Shocking Old People ;” in which some of our neighbours would have been sorry to see themselves figure. (Being prevented by his mother and myself, he desires that the subject shall be sug: gested to Mr. Leech or Mr. R. Doyle !)—Mrs. Reedley feeding her cats, seven in number, and starving her servant maid ; of whom Mr. Vavasour always says, “ that had dogs been Mrs. Reedley's fancy, she could not have been so inhuman ; but that living with wicked creatures, can make even a Woman wicked Mr. and Mrs. Coppingham, who are known not to have spoken to each other for several years ; when at table asking each other what they will severally eat, through the medium of a servant.Mr. Macdill, the contradictious Glasgow man, who raised his garden wall five feet high, just because my wife, who had displeased him by saying that she didn't think very much of “Roslin Castle," begged him not—were all to have been in Samson's book ; and the Miss Le Grands, moreover, threatened with a like fate: as the three Graces. But the foremost figure ought to have been one, which I shall take the freedom to portray as well as I can ; the original having deceased, and having left behind him no one to lament or be ashamed of his misdeeds.
This was “Old Scrawdon,” as our neighbour at No. 17 was universally called, precisely because he never would be old ; but strained to sing, and wrestled to dance, long after, as my Mrs. Bell hinted almost too broadly, “ he should have taken more -serious matters into his head, and thought of his end.” He would sit in draughts of East wind, without a great coat, rather than express fears of rheumatism-he used to make a fuss about being helped last at table, which consumed a prodigious quantity of time and talk, and make every one feel out of place and ashamed:for ever in an imaginable state of courtship to every imaginable woman; and too often "for respectability, offering himself to (“throwing himself at the feet was his own phrase) all manner of absurd and inaccessible persons. A list of the times he was just going to be married, would fill one of the nine-volume French novels, and fit up dear Mrs. Trollope with a score of such new combinations as she loves best. 'I must say for Mr. Scrawdon, however, that his determination was not always based on mercemary calculations. There was Mademoiselle Val de Grace, for instance, the French rope-dancer (Acrobate, Miss Le Grand always chose to call her, believing secretly, Samson says, that the word
is French for “Jezebel''), when she broke her leg-Scrawdon would have married her there and then: and made himself needlessly conspicuous, by going about from house to house, and letting people understand as much. Nay, his sympathy, however creditable to humanity, became hardly decent, seeing that so many persons could tell, how, only three weeks before that time, Scrawdon had been paying close, and cozy, and respectable court to Mrs. Bullett, the widow of the carpet manufacturer : first having. gone and looked at the parish register to ascertain how many years
older than himself was the relict in question. It took some short time, we believe, to make Mrs. Bullett aware of his intentions ; she being deaf and fat-one of those to whom facts come slowly to sink deep ;-—and her answer was, packing up at an hour's warning, and starting for Hoylake: a step so astounding to all familiar with her habits, that even Mr. Scrawdon's impudence dared not pack itself up to pursue her thither. So, to show his contempt of the matter, as I have said,-- he made love, up and down the Row, to the broken leg of Mademoise Val de Grace ! She proved to have one husband already: a Spanish equestrian and bullfighter, not distantly related, it has been said, to Doña Lola of liberal memory—one Senhor Val de Peñas.
But of this we are not certain : since those foreigners are apt to fit up grand names, and husbands and wives, moreover-my wife insists-just as suits their convenience.
Then, did we not know how, for one whole winter season, Old Scrawdon beset poor Miss Winifred Slagg, the invalid, with his distasteful attentions ? Any person with an iota of penetration, aware of the mystery which the great gates of her brother's house inclosed, would have felt that true kindness dictated noninterference. But Scrawdon was coarse, and peering, and talkative, as Impudence's self-would help—would be confidential—would lay his finger on every one's sore to pity it for being deep-would assume motives, and suggest remedies ; and wonder how some people had courage to look him in the face when the remedies were declined. But does any one require an anatomy of the good offices of Selfishness ?—Sir, the man wrote verses (at least he called them so) at that modest, reserved, quiet gentlewoman-read them about among his friends, who were very curious to hear them, yet always spoke of them as “indelicately familiar ;” and when he had read them to everybody he could think of (to some twice), printed them in the Poet's Corner of the
Manchester ; with blanks and asterisks, indicating clearly the name of the Object and the Adorer! If you saw him strutting down our Row when people were sure to be abroad, with some sort of a shabby flower in a pot--a dropsical crooked hyacinth, or a tulip just shedding its leaves, or the like--it was “ for our poor dear friend,”—sometimes, " for that poor Angel upon Earth, at the corner of Pymlett Lane.” If he turned over the pious books on Mr. Fulsom's counter (a noxious collection of the literature of uncharitableness), it was always when some one or two gentlewomen were in the shop, whom he could consult as to “what would be likely to suit our poor dear Miss Slagg,”—just as if she was not superior to such hot and windy food—just as if she had not been surrounded by a sedulous and affectionate circle of younger persons--just as if he had meant to buy anything! I verily believe he fancied that all this talking, and confidence: this winking, whispering, and professing to understand a person in whose reserves lay so much of her honour and virtue-must lead to something-to the fulfilment of his schemes. 'Tis no uncommon case for men to fancy that women may be hunted down. Do they never ask, what sort of women, and by what manner of men ?
But your elderly persons, who have the disease of getting married upon them, I have observed, are past the shame and rebuke of the answer; and would throw off the lesson as impudently as Autolycus turned off the mischief of his ballads. At all events, Winifred Slagg was not the woman whom an Old Scrawdon can worry into the madness of matrimony. We have reason to think, that she never answered the fat, stalky hyacinths, nor the seedy tulips, nor "The Pearl," or "Daily Manna,” or “The Papist's Reckoning" (if such choice tomes were sent to her), by word, look, or sign. Dead silence will sometimes kill even the impudence of a fortune-hunter, more finally and fatally than either protest or policeman. The nerve required, however, “ to keep dead,” is amazing; and poor Winifred's security from some scene or scandal caused by her suitor's importunity, resided, possibly, in the closeness of her imprisonment.
But such impudence as that of our Shocking Old Man, though killed in one place ever so completely, will not be long ere it breaks out in another. After his “ Tear of Constancy," as Old Scrawdon chose to call his farewell verses to W******d
g, (published indecently, only one week before the selfsame journal announced the poor woman's release from all mortal