CHIFFON

It pains me beyond measure to say it, but I think there can be no
doubt that the accumulated experience and wisdom of mankind goes to
show that at the bottom of most troubles there is a woman. Since Eve
and the first debacle, it has been woman all along the line. I do not
say that it is her fault, but the fact remains. White hands cling
to the bridle-rein, and the horse proceeds accordingly. It is woman
that shapes our ends, rough-hew them as we will. She has a delicate
finger in everybody’s pie. No matter who you are, some woman has got
you by a little bit of string. Occasionally you are the better for
being so entangled; but nine times out of ten it is a misfortune for
you. When one comes to look closely at the decadence of the English,
and endeavours to account for it in a plain way and without fear
or prejudice, one cannot help perceiving that here again one has a
pronounced case of woman, woman, woman. Further,–and once more I
pray that I may not seem impolite,–the woman with whom you have to
contend in England, though her hand be full of power, is not, perhaps,
a woman, after all. I sometimes think that she may be best and most
properly expressed in the word “Chiffon.” Whatever she may have been
in the past, however sweet, however demure, however capable, however
beautiful, the Englishwoman of to-day is just a foolish doll, a
thing of frills and fluff and patchouli, a daughter of vanity, and a
worshipper of dressmakers. Under her little foot, under her mild, blue,
greedy eye, the Englishman has become a capering carpet-knight, one
who dallies at high noon, a buck, a dandy, an unconvinced flippancy,
the shadow of his former self. Be he father or merely husband of the
fair, his case is pretty much the same. Both at home (if he can find
it in his heart to call his conglomeration of cosey-corners home) and
abroad it is Chiffon that runs him. Chiffon must have a house full of
fal-lals: so must the Englishman. Chiffon delights in Chippendale that
a sixteen-stone male person dare not sit upon: so does the Englishman.
Chiffon must dine late off French kickshaws with champagne to them: so
must the Englishman. Chiffon must not have more than two children, whom
she must visit and kiss once a day: it is the same with the Englishman.
Chiffon does not like the way in which you are running your newspaper:
the Englishman forthwith runs his newspaper another way. Chiffon does
not like that cross-eyed clerk of yours; she is sure there is something
wrong about him; she wouldn’t trust him with a hairpin, my dear! He
gets fired. Chiffon is fond of motor-cars and tiaras of diamonds and
eight-guinea hats and three or four new frocks a week, and she hates to
be worried about money matters. “Poor little Chiffon!” says the good,
kind Englishman; “she shall be happy, even though we drift sweetly
toward Carey Street. We must keep it up, though the heavens fall; and
when I come to think of it, I have read somewhere of a man who had only
£500 year, and is now in receipt of £16,000 simply through marrying
an expensive wife.” Lower down the scale it is just the same: Chiffon
will have this, Chiffon will have that, and so will the Englishman. It
is only four-three a yard, and it will make up lovely! The Englishman
never doubts that it will. Chiffon discovers that Chiffon next door
has got an oak parlour-organ and a case of birds on the instalment
system. “She is getting them off a Scotsman,” says Chiffon; “and I
want some too.” “Dry those pretty eyes,” says the Englishman; “I will
apply at once for an extra two-bob a week, and it shall be done.” The
children of Chiffon next door are “taking music lessons off a lidy in
reduced circumstances.” Chiffon’s children are as good as the children
of Chiffon next door any day in the week–they, too, shall take music
lessons. The Englishman concurs.

This, of course, is all when you are married to her. When you are
Chiffon’s _fiancé_ (she would not have you say sweetheart or lover
for worlds), you enjoy what is commonly called in England a high old
time. First of all, she will flirt with you till your reason rocks
upon its throne. Then, when you are about as confused as a little boy
who has fallen out of a balloon, she brings you to the idiot-point,
informs you that it is so sudden and that she doesn’t quite know
what you mean, and asks you if you do not think it would have been
more manly on your part to have spoken first with her papa. Being an
Englishman, and having nothing better to do, you put up with it and
go guiltily off to Chiffon’s delectable male parent. He inquires into
your income in pretty much the manner of a person who is going to
lend you £20 on note of hand only, grunts a bit, asks to be excused
while he has a word with the missis; comes back, says, “Yes, you can
have her,” and next morning you find yourself on the same old stool,
in front of the same old shiny desk, wondering what in the name of
heaven you have done. There is a three-years’ courtship, all starch
and theatre-tickets and bouquets and fretfulness and anxiety; there is
a wedding pageant, got up specially for the purpose of annoying the
neighbours; you have a whirling twenty minutes before a company of
curates, who persist in calling you by the wrong name; you go home in
shivers; you drink soda-water to prevent you from getting drunk; you
make a speech in the tone of a man who has just been hung; you find
yourself feeling rather queer aboard the Dover packet,–and Chiffon
is yours. Such an experience at a time of life when a man is callow,
shy, full of nerves, and unversed in the serious matters of life is
bound to leave its mark upon the character. It takes the heart out of
most men, and some of them never get it back again. It is an English
institution and a stupid one. Like many another English institution, it
has its basis in pretentiousness and display, instead of in the vital
issues of life. In Scotland we make marriages on different and more
serious principles. There are no Chiffons in Scotland, whether maids
or matrons. Consequently in Scotland there are precious few fools.
Hard heads, sound sense, high spirits, indomitable will, inexhaustible
energy, are not the offspring of mammas who know more about cosmetics
than about swaddling-clothes, and who suckle their children out of
patent-food tins. One of the rebukers of Mr. Crosland has pointed out
with some pertinence that the Scotswoman approximates more closely to
the Wise Man’s view of what a good wife should be than almost any other
kind of woman in the world. Here, as Mr. Crosland would say, is Solomon:

Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.

The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall
have no need of spoil.

She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life.

She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands.

She is like the merchants’ ships; she bringeth her food from afar.

She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her
household, and a portion to her maidens.

She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands
she planteth a vineyard.

She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms.

She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out
by night.

She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff.

She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her
hands to the needy.

She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household
are clothed with scarlet.

Her husband is known in the gates, when he sitteth among the elders of
the land.

She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivereth girdles unto the
merchant.

Strength and honour are her clothing: and she shall rejoice in time to
come.

She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of
kindness.

She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the
bread of idleness.

Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he
praiseth her.

Yes, Mr. Crosland, it _is_ “very, very, very Scotch.” What poor little
Chiffon would think of it, if it were put before her as a standard of
wifely qualification and duty, nobody but the Englishman knows. Perhaps
she would shrug her shoulders and say, “How absurd!” Perhaps she would
not understand it at all.

The Englishwoman’s love of petty display and cheap fripperies, her
desire to outshine the neighbours and to put all she has on her back,
and to pass everywhere for a woman of means and station, no doubt
had its beginning in a laudable anxiety to make the best of things.
Unfortunately, however, the tendency has been developed out of reason,
to the neglect of the qualities which make a woman the inspiration
and strength of a man’s life. To dress, and to talking and thinking
about it, the Englishwoman devotes unconscionable hours. The bare
business of robing and disrobing takes up pretty well half her waking
day. Her transference from the bath to the breakfast-table cannot be
accomplished under fifty minutes. Before she will appear in the open
she will make yet another toilet. She is a full twenty minutes tidying
herself before lunch. In the afternoon there is an hour of getting into
tea-gowns; and, crowning rite of all, my lady “strips” for dinner.
From morn to dewy eve her little mind is busy with dress. The shopping,
over which she makes such a fuss, is almost invariably a matter of new
frocks, new hats, new shoes, new feathers, matching this, exchanging
that, sitting on high stools before pomatumed counter-skippers, and
dissipating, in the purchase of sheer superfluities, gold that men have
toiled for. Her visiting is equally an unmitigatedly dressy matter;
she goes to see her friends’ frocks, not her friends, and it is the
delight of her soul to turn up in toilettes which render her friends
frankly and miserably envious. Of the real purport of clothes she knows
nothing; and if you endeavour to explain it to her, she will charge
you with the wish to make an old frump of her before her time. As for
the expense of it all, she never bothers her pretty head about money
matters; she tells you in the most childlike way that her account at
the bank seems to be perpetually overdrawn, but that “Randall is a
dear, kind boy, though he does swear a bit when some of the bills come
in. Besides,” she says, “I am sure it helps him in his profession to
have a well-dressed wife.”

And the pity of it is, that quite frequently the person upon which
these adornments are lavished is really not worth the embellishment,
and would indeed be far better served and make a far better show in
the least elaborate of garments. For, notoriously, the physique of the
Englishwoman of the middle and upper classes is not now what it was.
In height, in figure, in suppleness and grace of build, the Scottish
woman can give her English sister many points. In the matter of facial
beauty, too, the Englishwoman cannot be said particularly to shine. At
a Drawing-Room, at the opera, the beauty of England spreads itself for
your gaze; and the amazing lack both of beauty and the promise of it
appals you. If we are to believe the society papers, there is not an
ugly nor a plain-featured woman of means in all broad England. Every
week the English illustrated journals give you pages of photographs,
beneath which you may read in entrancing capital letters, “The
beautiful Miss Snooks,” or “Lady Beertap’s two beautiful daughters.”
Yet the merest glance at those photographs convinces you that Miss
Snooks is about as good-looking as the average kitchen-wench, while the
two beautiful daughters of Lady Beertap have faces like the backs of
cabs. The fact is, that the so-called English beauty is a rare thing
and a fragile thing. Fully seventy-five per cent. of Englishwomen are
not beautiful to look upon. Of the other twenty-five per cent., one
here and there–perhaps one in a thousand–could stand beside the Venus
of Milo without blenching. For the rest, they have a girlish prettiness
which accompanies them into their thirtieth year, and sickens slowly
into a sourness. At forty, little Chiffon, who was so pretty at twenty,
has crow’s-feet and flat cheeks, and a distinct tendency to the
nut-cracker type of profile.