- American Girl in the Country
- American Girl of the Shore
- American Girl Urban Life
- American Girl in Society
- American Girl Bride
- American Girl Epilogue
- The American Girl in the Country
Where is she at her very best? Where is she in her element, as a fish in the water, a bird in the air, a tiger in the jungle? To which scene does she add just what it seems to lack, and which without her presence loses its right tang? There is no true solution of any of these problems.
It cannot be said that the American girl finds her only or even her best element amid surroundings of any one kind. We must discriminate, and, while admitting that she is never out of place in any place where she ought to be, yet must recognize that there should be a place for every girl and that every girl, in her own place, shines like a well-set jewel, with every point of excellence well displayed. Against every background the artist will find her an inspiration and a study.
Thus we have the Girl of the Mountains, with the sturdy frame of a Tyrolese maiden reproduced in lesser proportions. She is the one who looks but the better when the mountain breezes play among her curls, and her draperies flutter like the banner of Freedom when it was first displayed to the air. If she carry an alpenstock it becomes a veritable wand, to which she seems to lend her own magic power.
She is the true Oread, the Mountain Nymph, and seems to breathe in life from the gales that sweep over the lofty uplands or snow-clad peaks. Every attitude is a new revelation of her grace and her daring, and the whole frame changes from balance to balance as if no slope was too steep for her little feet to climb. Her eye gazes abroad with a freedom that scorns a narrow horizon, and she seems rightly enthroned when perched upon a ledge that enables her to be monarch of the wide-spreading regions she surveys. From these heights all is softened into a hazy beauty from which all that is sordid has been removed, leaving only broad fields, long winding rivers, placid lakes, and plumy woodlands. Rightly painted, her face reflects the dreams these breadths inspire.
If she has a companion, it is only for companionship, not for aid. He attends her steps, but does not lead the weight and having an eye slower to spy out the practicable way. And when they are come to the summit, there is little frivolity in such altitudes. The big ' world below is too evident, the wide sweep of sky is too grand for inane speech. The Mountain Girl is of a serious frame of mind, too wholesome for folly, too sedate for silliness, and yet with a whole-hearted simplicity that makes her the best of friends, and, at the right time, the truest of lovers. She does not lack sentiment, but is never sentimental. For the sentimental we must descend again into the valleys, and seek the little lady who, perched in an easy rocking-chair, is content to love the purple mountains from a distance.
The true Girl of the Mountains looks upon them as a challenge, not as a dreamland about which to weave vague and unreal romances.
She is a more energetic type than her sister of the Shore.
- Sister of the Shore
The lover of the beach, be it understood, and not of the open sea, of the land rather than the trackless paths of of ocean, is the true Shore Girl. The summer beach is hers; the long, gently sloping bank of yellow and gray, trimmed with the brown seaweeds, defined by the green-tufted sand dunes and patiently suffering the beating of the billowing breakers, indifferent whether these come in raging fury like a conquering army of horsemen, or whether they steal playfully up the slope like a band of timid children trespassing upon forbidden ground.
For the Shore Girl the beach is at its best in the long days of summer, when the sea breeze comes steadily in, the breakers roll in regular succession, the clouds drift slowly by, and the warm rays of the sun seem to permeate like a mild old wine, strengthening, warming, slightly stimulating, but soothing even more than they excite. These are for her the halcyon days.
She may claim a love of surf-bathing, and certainly appears each day at the bathing-hour arrayed for a meeting with Father Neptune. But the embraces of that rather unceremonious old salt are rather less caressing than boisterous, and she seems glad enough to retire to her own domain, well beyond his reaching foamy fingers. Surely she has not the eagerness of the strong swimmer who darts through the waves, greets the slapping of the spray with a laugh, or lies extended in the salty bath feeling himself one with the sea creatures, or at least second cousin to the tumbling porpoise.
The Shore Girl likes best the long hours when she can sit gazing out to sea, or alongshore, with an unread book upon her lap, and a bit of unworked fancy-work loosely held in her lazy little fingers.
But she does not seek nor enjoy solitude. She does not mind the half-inaudible gossiping of her chaperon and another dowager, and listens whenever a bit of harmless scandal is spicy enough to hold her attention; she likes to see her little brother build his sand castles, provided he come not too near; and she certainly has not the slightest objection when some other girl's brother follows her little footsteps to the lee of the old wreck, and, daring the reserve of her first reception, begins — oh, so lamely — the little talk that will excuse him for lingering at her side. But she makes a picture that cannot be painted from observation. The artist must re-create it from the merest sidelong glances.
Then the Shore Girl is entirely in her element. She cares little for the rugged mountain-paths, where conversation is impossible, accepts the sea-bathing as a conventional preamble, but is wholly at her ease only when enjoying the ''sweet do nothing" just beyond the waves' furthest line.
But there are others than the lovers of craggy heights and smooth sea-beaches. Shall the long and wandering rivers go their way to the ocean, and never glow with the reflection of a smiling maiden's face, or glitter with the light of her eyes? The question is put, of course, only that we may reply with a heartfelt ''No — oh, no!" after the manner of poets and emotional dramas. The debutante is not the only one who goes down to the sea in ships or leans gracefully over the side of a rowboat to dabble her pink finger-tips in the water — to the ill-concealed impatience of her escort as he leans well over to the other side so that she may not take a sudden ''header."
For my little Lady of the Rivers, like her native element, is a sportive imp; she loves the play and the dash, the turn and the sparkle, the sudden rush of the rapids, and then the sedate gravity of the wider reaches where the river begins to realize that it has gone from the childhood of a trout brook to the grave manhood of a highway of commerce — all are hers.
We need not wrinkle our brows too tightly nor think too deeply to know it must be so. The playfulness of the maiden — if it be real play and not merely the twinkling of the shallows — comes when the spirit is relaxed. One must have cried to know how to laugh gaily, and this Lady of the Rivers, who dabbles her hand lightly in the waters, knows how to sit firm and face grimly the race of the rapids when the boat shoots like an arrow and the next instant bounds like a bronco. He who would paint her must have observed her in all these moods. It is the love of novelty, the spirit of adventure, that have brought her into the boat; and, if need be, you will find her capable of taking an oar with those firmly grasping fingers, and pulling away for dear life. She is of the breed of those oarsmen who pulled Old Ironsides through the calm and distanced the British ships in that flight and chase of which no good American can read without exultation. There would have been no need for the poem that saved the veteran vessel from destruction if the Yankee sailors had not been able to outrow their English pursuers; and strength is not all which goes to the making of an oarsman or an oars-woman.
Very likely she may have pulled stroke-oar in her class-boat at college. At all events, the young man who is desirous of ''showing off" will be wise to look well to his feathering, his stroke, and his recovery, if he mean to impress his companion. For aught he knows, she may be at home upon the deck of a careening yacht as well as upon the cushioned thwarts of the rowboat. You can never be sure of either the extent or the depth of her knowledge.
There is a Nautical Lass, an all round sailor who loves everything that floats, and can handle a tiller, tie reef-points, haul and coil away as deftly as any old tarry salt. She may for the time be masquerading as the River Girl, and, knowing the freemasonry of every sort of navigation, she may hardly be distin- guished from the real maid. But possibly there is to the keen eye a difference.
At all events, having met this beautiful buccaneer upon the high seas, when she is all keyed to concert pitch by the salt winds and the long swells of mid-ocean, you will see how little moved she is save by the true blue waves themselves. Thereafter she will never be mistaken for the inland voyageur. Her very costume suggests the deep-sea tints of waves and skies.
If you are a yachtsman, this is the girl of girls when the white sails are spread, the wind is steady, and the water goes slapping against the boat's sleek sides. There may not be many words to show delight in the Viking craftsmanship, but the keen eyes, the firm lips, the bright cheeks, and expanded nostrils are more than eloquent. Whether or not she knows all the branches of her family tree, you may be sure that in her veins runs the blood that made the American Navy. Some of her ancestors humbled the pride of the Barbary Corsairs, burned the captured Philadelphia, or — but why attempt to compress into a paragraph even the greatest exploits of that service which seems to find nothing but victories on every sea? To do her justice one must paint a series of pictures, showing battle scenes, wrecks, voyagers in unknown seas.
No wonder that the daughter of such men loves the ocean; even back of these later ancestors we shall find men of her race dominating in every clime, and though our ways are new the race is unchanged.
- American Girl in Urban Life
The severest test of our American Girl is her transplanting to urban life. In her origin she is a product of colonial conditions; if her lineage derives from the north, she must partake more or less of farmer stock; if from the south, we have only to put the word plantation instead of the word farm; but the true American must at first have made his living from the soil. Not to have done so proves an arrival from the Old World at a later than the colonial period of our history. There was no other way of making a living. The old patroons, the F. F. V.'s, the Knickerbockers, the early Westerners, even, rooted their family trees in the good old Adam — the "red earth," if we believe the accepted etymology of the name of the first of mankind. Since, we have seen a transformation. We have seen the rise of the ommercial, the manufacturing class; if old homesteads have been retained, they have become country-houses, and the younger generation have come into town-life. The picturesque is sacrificed to the practical, and the artist is put to it for backgrounds and adjuncts. City streets, city mansions, manufacturing, commerce, and transportation have become the environment of the descendants of those whose roots lay spread in the country ground. Instead of by a group of neighbors, the American family has been surrounded by the hundreds of thousands of city-folk; instead of a few friends, bound togethr by a thousand ties, there has come to be a set of groups, related more or less closely, but with none of the inter-relation that characterized the society of old times.
To sum up the change in a phrase, friendships have become aquaintance-ships. This is the evolution of what is called "Society." There is no such thing, no need of the term, until the older and simpler ways of living have given place to a more artificial substitute, bringing also a new literature, a new drama, a new art — the art of silks and laces, the vers-de-soci'ete of illustration and painting.
This change is inevitable, and brings in its train a thousand and one transformations, all of which have their influence upon the young girl.
The normal excuse for the social whirl is after all ''the love that makes the world go round," and this love is that which leads to orange-blossoms and the wedding-march. If this were not so — what an unbearable round of trivialities would be the tea-table gatherings, the dances, the kettledrums, the amateur theatricals ! They could not end save in the nothingness of small-talk, and in the bathos of discarded ball-gowns. Like the play with Hamlet omitted is the ''Society-picture" where love is not the motif.
The married folk either have or should have more serious pursuits. They have come to the time of life when ambition, worldliness, and practicalities overshadow romance; and for them social functions are the smaller side of their lives. But to the American Girl in Society the social observances are the main purpose of her life. For her these gatherings of young and old, these passings, greetings, eddies of small talk, these dramas in petto, these tragedies of a lost glove, of a faded rose; the little battles of wit, waged as keenly as if for an empire, are fraught with great issues. For her each new introduction may be the ''Open, Sesame," to a fairyland, to a treasure-house or to a den of robbers. Naturally, then, it is a matter of moment, and in no way to be compared to the casual meetings of her elders. Likewise, to her, each theatre-party, dinner, assembly — may be the occasion ever more to be marked with a golden number or a red-letter. She must consciously or unconsciously carry out the scriptural injunction to watch for she knoweth not when the bridegroom Cometh.
Believe it or not, as you please, the young Girl and her satellite the young man are the central orbs around which all city-life that is not merely utilitarian must revolve. And when the American Girl was transplanted from the country to the city she was profoundly influenced and materially changed. She assumed two new layers. Popular language calls them by two words that mean much. She assumed both a "veneer" and a "polish." The first is a borrowed surface, the second a mere finish. Both were a necessity.
With the growth of a true "Society" came its formalities, its observances, its conventions; and these the American Girl acquired with the quickness of a ready brain, an observant eye, a docile spirit. Coming of people who had fought the formal, she did not receive unquestioningly all imported from abroad, neither did she hasten to abandon her own ways for new simply because some of the new ways were requisite.
Possibly, while in transition from the old to the new, the American Girl gave the foreign aristocrats some cause for mirth, some excuse for an occasional criticism. She had a lesson to learn, and, like all new pupils, was hazed by the older students. But she soon acquired and assimilated all that she cared to make her own, and then proceeded to modify what she had learned, as her brother acquired and modified the game of Rugby football. She put on such of her foreign sisters' garments as suited her, and subordinated them to herself. She may be painted in a mantilla or bolero jacket, as the artist chooses.
From being a docile pupil she soon became an innovator, an inventor, a dictator of social usages.
The American Girl abroad, laughed at for a few seasons, became an equal, a rival — and at last bids fair to give lessons to her teachers. Wherever the American Girl has gone, is it not true that she has begun as the Japanese began, by learning all the foreigner had to teach, and, with this start, soon passed beyond the teacher's highest achievements? Ask the English what the American Cousine has accomplished in the social and political life of the Empire.That the same thing cannot be said of other lands is due to the lack of a universal language. If the young girls of other lands knew their own best interests, they would fight the introduction of Esperanto — the world language. If all the world were Esperantists, there would be no possible bound to the conquests of Miss America. Say what they may, it is not only the American dollars that win the foreign noblemen. Who would not rather marry a boon companion than a mere feminine nonentity? The American Girl has not been taught to distrust everything in the shape of man, and even when she enters through the city-gates she does not become a mere cipher to be annexed to some significant masculine digit.
We read in a current newspaper that '* Woman is, of course, affected by the motor-car in a variety of ways, for it has revolutionized many things feminine — love, friendship, social affairs, dress, the toilet, the complexion." But the American Girl is adaptable, and will not be less charming because of such modifications. Even in the motor-car, she is not willing to be only a passenger. She does not wrap herself in her dust-coat while Sir Galahad is trying in vain to adjust the other sparker. She learns how the wheels go round, and becomes quite capable of taking a hand as the most daring and capable of chauffeuses. She knows how to swing around a curve without skidding, and can ease the motor-car over a rough road as skillfully as her brother.
She may well be the artists' inspiration to paint a new "Chariot Race" in which she shall be the central figure — the charioteer in triumph!
She knows the pride of a creditable run, the joys of full speed, and the fascination of the open road. No wonder that she is a welcome companion in every car, the sworn ally of the amateur chauffeur, and that her fluttering veil is the standard of the modern knight of the roavl. Then, too, when the car is safely housed, and the guests gather around the table at the country house, she is none the less delightfully feminine and domestic, although she may have come from the city limits at the rate of sixty miles an hour. She has the physique that despises the vibrating car, the wit and grace that spiritualizes the dinner table, the tact that puts her friends at their ease.
Without being dominated by them, she accepts the limitations of urban life, makes them her own means of expression, and thereby regains the freedom of which they might have deprived her. Only in her own land is this possible to woman.
In America exists no fixed aristocracy. Even Trust Magnates do not dominate our social life. Millionaires cannot make vulgarity fashionable beyond a certain parasitic circle. Great artists and great writers — what American Girl yields in social matters to the authority of a picture or a novel, of the wielders of brush or pen? Quite often the social conventions of a city are established by some unpretentious little dame whose rule is based upon the consent of the goverened, and justified by a long record of successful administration.
Men are what women make them, and as the young girl is bent so is the matron inclined. The American Girl worships her own social idols, and these she makes for herself. Missionaries from abroad may now and then make a few proselytes to another cult; but their converts are never many.
Whether this social state will last, is another question. May we confess frankly that we do not know? Social philosophers have been absurdly wrong in their forecasts about American affairs. The American Girl is a new element in history, and whether she will become like her sisters of other lands no man can safely predict. She has not been subjugated, she has not been unsexed, she has not been transformed into the bachelor girl, nor yet into the short-haired suffragist. She has gone on as she began — growing from a boyish childhood into an unafraid maidenliness, then into a capable matronage, and later into an unsoured old age, leaving to her successors an example worthy of their emulation.
The poets and artists depict her as she is, — and are grateful. They do not attempt prophecy.
We have no fears that city life will change more than externals, nor that in becoming a society woman she will sacrifice her domestic virtues. It is fortunate that our cities are new, that with all their bigness they do not en-slave and color the soul as do London and Paris, Berlin, Vienna and Rome.
The American Girl derives from the whole sweep of the nation. She achieves by her birthright the Freedom of All Cities, and owns them all, as they all own her. We have no New Yorker, no Bostonian, no Philadelphian, no Virginian or South Carolinian who feels by birth excluded from pride or sympathy with other Americans. If there exists a local pride, it is jocularly urged and apologetically claimed. If we try to picture a city type, it must be labeled before it can be recognized.
That it exists we do not deny, but it has not sufficient vitality to survive when brought into conflict with true patriotism. The American Girl is not of a city or a state, but the whole boundless continent is hers.
- The American Girl in Society
It is fruitless to consider the American Girl as a generic problem. No mere man has ever been able to approach to a comprehension of the complexity that makes up the feminine nature; but those have come the nearest to an understanding who have frankly given up the study of the species and been content to become specialists — students of the individual.
If in all the humility of a worshiper one approaches the single divinity in petticoats, he may hope to arrive at a point where he recognizes his blunders at the time of making, or soon after they have been made.
Only so can one, by a lifetime of devotion, achieve some knowledge of the numberless divagations of the feminine mind. Certainly he who was interested only scientifically in the study would never choose the American Girl as an "easy optional." He would choose, rather, some being of unmixed race, subject to simpler con-ditions, and in a state of civilization that had come to some well-fixed conclusions in regard to its own status.
The artist's problem is hard enough without so puzzling a subject to complicate it.
In the American Girl are none of these. She is the product of half a dozen civilizations; she has been brought up from childhood on an eclectic system that strives to combine the best features of all, and — one may well wonder whether she understands herself. What with German music, French art, English litera ture, Irish humor, Scotch theology, and Austrian etiquette — to say nothing of Japanese physical culture and a touch of Hindu theosophy, it is a wonder that there is any trace of true native Americanism left in the fair creature. She is a composite photograph of all civilizations.
And yet, despite surface embroidery, there is the solid warp and woof of the homespun fabric. In individual cases this may have become lost to sight, but when there comes the wear of life, and the surface of the true fabric is revealed, it is found to be the same strong, enduring stuff that her great-grandmothers knew. And it is the harmonizing of this wear that gives to the fabric the autumnal beauty of middle life.
She has her days and her evenings of pure frivoling. She knows the merely ephemeral novel, and pretends to be absorbed in the shallow fortunes of the paper people within its covers. She knows the vaudeville show and enjoys its nonsense as heartily as in the season she follows the grand opera and criticises the voice of the tenor or the basso. She does not disdain the matinee, box of bonbons and all, and permits herself the indulgence of the photograph of her favorite first juvenile.
Not a prude, she yet enforces the respect that is the tribute to her pure womanhood, and enjoys the freedom that comes from fearless innocence rather than enforced ignorance. She allows herself even the harmless flirtations that add spice to her little pseudo-romances, and ever delights to play the petty tyrant over the square-shouldered giant whom in reality she holds in an awe he never suspects. She never seems conscious of those challenging glances he directs toward his capricious sovereign, being as evasive as the rainbow and as indifferent as the Sphinx.
So Gerome's great painting of Napoleon in Egypt, gazing upon that questioning Colossus, has its little parallels in everyday life. It is a pretty comedy when watched by the veterans who have won or lost their own battles years ago. Wiles that were old before the flood, tricks that ensnared the great-great-grandfathers of our great-great-grandfathers, are "invented" anew by these little harmless sinners, and the heroes of the University races, of the football-field, the Solons of the Senior classes, bark their awkward shins or bump their great foreheads over the same barriers that have tripped up the thousands and tens of thousands of their wise elders. And one need not be a major prophet to predict with all certainty that little boys now in their cradles will make the same obstacle-race with the same stumbles.
The course over which true love must run will never be so mapped that youngsters will find it clear or smooth. Yet competitors present themselves as eagerly every hour; prizes are won, and indeed they are all well worth the running and the winning — and as well worth the study of the looker-on.
It is a sort of bridge-whist, wherein the man always plays the dummy, always loses the game, and yet is very likely to carry off the stakes — won or unwon. It is perhaps more a game of poker, in which not the best hand but the best bluff wins. Among certain savage tribes there is an institution known as the marriage-race. In this particular means of match-making, the blushing and diffident maiden is allowed a start of the pursuing lover — a start so nicely calculated that only by a careful pretense of being unable to escape can she let the right man win — all others being hopelessly distanced.
Our own methods diflFer in outward semblance — but are they so very unlike in essence? All the handicapping is in the girPs favor, and poor Prince Charming is allowed only the advantage of being able to put an end to his doubts and discouragements by the expedient of jumping from the frying-pan of courtship into the fire of a proposal.
Until he has been brought to that point — for brought he is, whatever he may think, and brought by an art that is at times concealed from the fair diplomatist herself — he is the victim of a being of capricious moods and fancies, a being only the more fascinating because of her ability to deal with the same pink fingers a cruel blow or a sweet caress. Since the world learned its runes and developed them into the A, B, C, poor man has found no truer type of the feminine hand than the kitten's paw — velvety softness and cruel little claws that can draw blood when the owner chooses to give pain.
Against his small foe, what defense has man? Only a violence that he dare not use. Hence his subjugation, and his fear. He is like an athlete attacked by an angry and fearless small boy; his best plan is to retreat, and wait until reason resumes its sway — which, in the case of a being swayed by impulse, may well be some time. Possibly the reason all the world loves a lover is found in man's sympathy and woman's regret for the suffering the poor fellow is undergoing.
And yet, who would not recall those glorious days when first the ineffable She has become incarnate before his enraptured eyes? Every fibre of a man's being is thrilled to the music of his soul; and together with the rapture of the poet, the beauty-love of the painter, the ardor of the hunter, the subtle scheming of the statesman, he knows the madness of the gambler who has staked his happiness upon the word of one who is to him an unsolved mystery. No wonder the great painters loved to paint the episodes of courtship and love.
And the whole disease, or unease, is an epidemic, ever old, ever new. The cure is possible but never certain; and the malady one that never loses its interest for all the world and his wife. To escape its ravages is not to be immune from curiosity concerning its eflFect upon others, and so the big world looks on, either praising or blaming, laughing or crying, and no sooner does one pair of lovers cross the stage, disappearing into the wings, than another couple paces along in their predecessors' footsteps, and there is a continuous performance of the great Tragi-Comedy of *'The Way of a Man With a Maid." No wonder that the veterans who have played their parts glance ever up from the whist-table, the embroidery-frame, or the improving book "suited to their age," and smile to see the young couple holding other hands than those dealt them, and playing a game older than chess, draughts, or blindman's bluff.
Perhaps we are prejudiced in preferring the American Girl as an opponent in this old pastime. If so, we are willing that other nations should make choice of their own compatriots, and leave the native girls to our own young men. If there must be a protective tariff, it should take the form of a prohibitive tax on the permanent exportation of American daughters.
Every mother's daughter of them should be required to file an enormous bond, forfeitable unless she returned and married on this land. Should there be a young man abroad capable of rightly appreciating one of our young Princesses, he should prove his devotion and his good sense by immediately forswearing allegiance to all other potentates and powers except the said American Princess, and taking out naturalization-papers as a preliminary to the marriage-license or the wedding-certificate.
Since he has appreciated an American girl, he ought to make a good citizen of the Republic. To such immigrants the most rabid American could find no well-founded objection. We commend the proper legislation to the attention of both houses of Congress. But we do not promise, that if the bill passes it will secure for them the favor of the American girl, nor yet of that lady's mother. It is the duty of statesmen to legislate, while artists or poets or novelists record facts or fancies as they present themselves.
Possibly it will be best to leave the foreign nobleman a fair field, so that the young man of the Republic may be put upon his mettle and be awakened to ardor in the pursuit of his by no means reluctant quarry. It does not seem a right place for the application of the doctrine of protection, since the American Young Girl scorns to be protected; the American young man is quite ready and able to undertake the enterprise of protecting her, and the foreign nobleman will be entirely safe if only he will consent to stay at home.
Indeed, the exodus of American Girls into foreign lands can at worst only hasten that Americanizing of the world, of which some foreign authors are beginning to write essays; and therefore they may be doing their native land some service. They bring new ideals to foreign artists; new inspiration to outland poets.
Really, we have wandered somewhat from our subject, and can plead in excuse only that as trade follows the flag so do our thoughts follow the American Girl into whatever strange land she may decide that fate, in the shape of the little blind god has called her. At home, she plays so many parts that there is, however, no excuse for crossing the ocean in the wake of the ocean-steamer that carries a few of her kind away.
We have no space to speak of more than the merest fraction of her notable activities. Who could not write in her praise a chapter upon a dozen or more of the capacities in which she is known? There is plenty to be said of her as "The Big Sister"; for how can a small boy of the right sort have a better guide, philosopher, mentor, and friend than she? Whether as deputy-mother, confidante, confederate, or companion in mischief, as consoler in trouble, and sympathizer in joy, he is a fortunate fellow who claims the American Girl as sister. And yet young men never welcome the proposal that another's sister shall play the part toward them. Nor because we have dealt chiefly with the daughters of the rich, with the young lady of fashion and social rank, must it be thought that we do not credit to her of humbler station virtues as great or greater.
Wealth enables the fortunate possessor to live out her thoughts, gives time and leisure for other than the more prosaic duties, and makes a girl such that she is the more available subject for artist, or writer, or dramatist. There is in every-day life plenty of the patched garments, the bread-and-butter round of duties, the trolley-car riding, the rainy-day traipsing, bundles, bills and bother.
The rich are often quite as subject to temptations, and to temptations that assume the most seductive shapes; and if we can declare the rich American Girl sound and wholesome in her womanhood, we may be sure that this side of bitter poverty, of the poverty that forbids us to blame the poor creature whom it drives into wrong — we shall find the same high ideals, the same lovable character, the same (let us coin a word) "blessable" creature.
Fortunately neither goodness nor beauty are entirely dependent upon the amount of money a woman can command; graces of character are not paid as interest upon a balance at the banker's; wit, humor, and intellect are independent of income, and it is not only in poems that the rich young man holds the mistletoe above the head of Miss Nothing-a-Year, or that King Cophetua steps down from his throne to wed the beauteous beggar-maid.
And yet, who will be so foolish as to deny that education counts, that a large estate often enables a family to improve from generation to generation, and that money increases the power of its possessors for good as well as for evil? He is a fool who marries money-bags only, and needs no punishment beyond that he brings upon himself. But the possession of property does a good and noble young girl no harm, and enables her to render herself doubly attractive to the eye that loves grace of line and beauty of color.
It is, doubtless, a matter for thankulness that the young American Girl bids fair to be the richest of all the daughters of the nations, and also seems destined to make the best use of the power and influence that money will give her. We may rejoice, therefore, that she has this in addition to her other charms ; and be heartily glad she seems likely to be unspoiled by the fortunes the skill, shrewdness, and industry of American men are day by day pouring into her hands, and entrusting to her discretion.
- The American Girl as the Bride
Why does she read the end of the novel first?
It will be found that the answer to this apparently light and frivolous query leads one into many questions even more perplexing than the original. The object of an author is to pique curiosity. He makes his plot a puzzling and baffling tangle so that it shall keep speculatio'n ever on tiptoe, imagining that his great throng of feminine readers will be in suspense until the very last chapter, and will cudgel their minds to discover by piecing bits together whether the hero really succeeds in winning the hand of the heroine.
Misplaced confidence! Every mother's daughter of his readers insists upon knowing this one grand essential fact from the very beginning, and if she can not ascertain whether the wedding-bells are to ring in the last pages — then so much the worse for the unhappy and the unread novelist. She "doesn't think she'd care to read that book, anyway," and tosses it aside in favor of the work of a more capable novelist who places on the last page, convenient to her prying eyes, an assur- ance that the love-aflair ends as all should end.
Even serial publication, where it is impossible to read the last few pages first, does not serve the author's purpose of keeping his feminine readers in suspense until the end of the book. For there is at least grave suspicion that serials are never read until they appear in book-covers.
We believe this to be true, and we advise some enterprising magazine-editor to try the experiment of printing the last chapter of his serial in the first installment, so that his women readers may slake their curiosity as to the final fate of hero and heroine in the usual fashion.
Perhaps a frontispiece drawing of the wedding would be a good device.
We believe that this feminine custom is right, and dictated by a sound intuition. The proper subject for all novels is the love-story. The main interest in the love-story is the long battle of courtship, and the courtship that ends elsewhere than before the hymeneal altar is a battle that ends in a retreat of both armies. It is a game of chess ending in a draw. It is a nine-inning game called on account of darkness. It is a bout of football without a goal on either side. In other words, it is foolishness; and a novel without the scene where she capitulates and gladly lays down her head upon his manly shoulder is no more than an empty babblement of vain words deserving never to be issued in an illustrated edition de luxe.
So we refuse to tell the story of the American Girl without that one all-important function — The Wedding— in our last chapter. We insist that she not only find the right man, but that he succeed in bringing her to bay in some conservatory or chimney-corner, upon a secluded balcony, in an air-ship, or during a tete-a-tete ride. We are willing to allow her but brief grace before she shall decide to entrust her fate to him, and shall admit that she ''can love him — a little — she thinks.''
Love him a little? She has been — for who knows how long? — trying to think of anybody, anything but his handsome face and stalwart frame. Her mother has been wondering, "What is the matter with Gwendolen?" Her father has been thinking she "needs a change" — and he is right, though he has never dreamed how great is the change the little woman unknowingly longs for. Her small brother has been asking scornfully, "What's gone wrong with you, Gwen? You're no good any more!" And she has known that all these comments and criticisms are deserved. Life has lost its savor, and become a drama that fascinated while it tortured.
Then one day — possibly from the playful tongue of a girl-chum — comes the solution. She finds that the old, old myth of Dan Cupid is more than a fable. She knows that somewhere from ambush the sly little blindfolded god has twanged his bow, and that the barbed arrow is fixed forever in her maiden heart. It smarts, but with a pain unlike all other pangs; and she would not have it withdrawn. For with the touch of the magic arrow she has learned a thousand things.
She had been wont to note with open-eyed wonder or with lofty scorn the demeanor of those wounded by the blind archer's shafts. She had reflected that such folly is not for such natures as her own. She had looked upon love as something far off, strange, beautiful perhaps, but distant beyond computation. And now — the mist has cleared from her eyes, and, behold! — she understands.
What was the merest folly has be come the very essence of romance. She comprehends the song of the troubadours, the rapture of the poets, the dreams of the artists. The universe has swung about, and now revolves around a new centre, and that centre is the Love she had beHttled and scorned.
She knows she has received a new soul, a soul that dominates and controls her being.
Now first she really reads the poets. Now first she comprehends the words of Shakespeare's Valentine:
"Love's a mighty Lord,
And hath so humbled me as I confess
There is no woe to his correction.
Nor, to his service, no such joy on earth.
Now no discourse, except it be of Love;
Now can I break my fast, dine, sup and sleep.
Upon the very naked name of Love!"
And there arises in her heart a new tenderness for all the world; for the old that they have worn the livery of love, for the young in pity that they do not know his service. Truly has she been admitted into the outer courts of his temple, and begins to have an inkling of the greater mysteries that are within. It is not to be wondered at that she walks for a season like one in a dream, for all the world has been made over before her eyes, old things are become new, and the new are comprehended as if they had been old. But it is not all romance. If she knows the truth of the romantic poets, she can not deny the equal truth of the old Scotch lines:
"Love, love, love is like a dizziness,
It winna lat a body gang aboot his business!"
And now and again this leads to an impatience of the pleasant thraldom.
Then it is that the lover learns of the tiny claws that lurk in the velvet paw, and fumes with futile rage against the capricious little goddess whom he can neither tame nor conquer. Little does he know that she feels more keenly than he the pain she inflicts, and that his wisest course (were lovers ever wise) is to submit with a kindly patience until the April cloud is blown away and sunshine smiles again.
Sooner or later his time will come. The bird that escapes again and again will tire of her fluttering, and will give up the vain attempt to play at freedom. Or, to change the metaphor (for only in metaphors can we talk of lovers' ways), he must recall the days when he sought another prize — the shy, golden-speckled trout. After many casts, the lure proves a temptation not to be resisted, and the timid fish is fast. Then is needed patience. Give plenty of line, but be ready to reel in at the first indication of yielding.
There is no need to go over the method once more, and we would not dare suggest that there is the slightest parallel, but — the wary lover may at least ponder to advantage the ways of the fly-fisherman.
The fateful word spoken, the battle fought and won, and the solitaire being adjusted in sign of con-quest, the adversaries work their way to an alliance, defensive and offensive. All at once the responsive duet comes to an end, and the chorus breaks in on the lovers' dream. Thinking they are entering upon a world made for two, they suddenly discover that alliances are the business not only of the parties most concerned, but of all the world besides. Father, mother, sister, brother — nay, cousins, aunts, uncles, relatives to a remote degree — insist upon a hearing. Love concerns but two, but — the engagement is a diflFerent matter. None so pocr that they do not find reason for an interest more or less direct. If it be not advice, it is criticism.
To the fiancee the solitaire assumes the bigness of a search-light, not to be overlooked by the most casual observer. And in proportion as her new-found love is deep and absorbing does she know the truth of Wordsworth's dictum, "The world is too much with us, late and soon!" She wonders what used to occupy the time of the busybodies who now can devote so many hours and so close an attention to affairs that do not seriously concern any but herself and himself. She takes counsel of those who have dared the awful perils of one engagement or more, and learns by their encouragement that the new nine-days' wonder will not last forever; that there will be, in time, other engagements and other happenings that will leave her and him in the peaceful seclusion both now so eagerly covet.
When these quieter days come she will begin first to taste the sweets of her new state. She will enter in earnest upon the first steps of that delightful study of mankind — man. She will discover that [here the reader is requested to insert her favorite masculine Christian name] is not without his puzzling traits. She cares little for criticism, but replies in the words of another of Shakespeare's characters: "I know riot why
I love this youth;
and I have heard you say.
Love's reason's without reason."
But though her faith is sufficient for herself, she has a kindly pity for the blindness of those who can not see the virtues and excellencies of the rare being she has discovered. Faultless? — of course he is not faultless, but she — likes a man to be like that. She may have been foolish enough in her younger girlhood to have announced the general outlines of her youthful ideal: "Tall, strong, masterful, brief in speech" — and so on, and so on. And behold, she is to marry one to whom her description can not be made in any manner to apply. Still — he is what she wants. If he does not quite fit the lines of her ideal — then so much the worse for that airy nothing. It was not half so nice, anyway.
Well, we all alter our ideals as life goes on; and we often find that the reality has a steadier arm on which to lean, a kindlier eye for our own favorite failings, or a more comfortable presence for every day than the chilly perfection we had conceived before the reality came to teach a riper wisdom.
The engagement is a fortunate device for easing the transition between single life and marriage.
There is enough of comradeship, enough of common interest to allow of a preliminary run in double-harness, and yet freedom is not so suddenly lost as to leave a sense of deprivation. There are advantages in the little trial-trip. Some have accused the American girl of regarding the shackles of engagement lightly. If she breaks an engagement that her transatlantic sister would have kept, it is because she looks upon it as demanding a whole-hearted fulfilment. Finding at times that the engagement has not, behind the formal plighting, the sincerity of purpose which alone can give it sanctity, she chooses rather to undo the formality than to follow it by a marriage more faithless than the engagement. It is not that she undervalues the engagement, but that she chooses a broken engagement rather than a loveless marriage.
And, indeed, there is no purpose in engagements at all unless to be broken if they do not suit both parties. The American Girl in this very matter shows her independence of forms and ceremonies when these lack the spirit that should give them life. She refuses, though at the behest of Mrs. Grundy, to sacrifice a life's happiness for the sake of conventional conformity.
We are crediting her with the highest motives, even if she is more apt to break an engagement than other girls. The American girl simply acts upon the advice of Davy Crockett. "Be sure you're right, then go ahead." When sure she is not right, she refuses to go ahead. But we refuse to believe her a coquette or a jilt. There is a certain smart set that owes its prominence to printer's ink, and that belongs to no country more than to another. For the vagaries of these we refuse to hold the American girl responsible. They disregard certain conventions because of a love of license rather than freedom. Owing to the prominence given them by a venal journalism their faults and shortcomings receive undue attention, and, since in our own land this set is numerous and increasing, some of their characteristics have been labeled "American," though they belong exclusively to no nationality and to no period.
The American girl, with all her vivacity and brightness, is yet serious.
She does not shirk the duties of life, and having once resolved to exchange the independence of her girlhood for the more dignified if less free state, she loyally carries out her bargain, submits to the necessities of the case, and with ready adaptability "puts aside childish things." We have all watched the transformation, for, fortunately, it is the normal one. Who has not seen the pretty assumption of the dignity of the bride, the abnegation of much her maidenhood held dear, the resolute fitting of herself for all her new responsibilities?
It is not surprising that other young girls make much of their friend's wedding-day, throng about her, lend her every aid, march behind her up the aisle, and, when the buzzing reception has succeeded the solemn and the time comes for the going away, watch with beating hearts the departure of bride and groom for the unknown land whereto they themselves hope one day to follow.
But though they leave all others behind, there is one little companion who claims of right a place among the indispensable baggage. The mischievous little imp Cupid, though invisible to the eyes of any wedding-guest, yet perches behind the wedding-coach, is transferred from coach to car, from car to steamship, and though they wander to the ends of the earth, never allows them to feel the lack of other company.
And so, as the happy Bride, blessed and blessing, we bid farewell to American Girl.
- The American Girl Epilogue
Like man, woman has her seven ages. She, too, begins as the infant and goes through youth to maturity and from maturity to old age. But to know her truly we must look upon her just when all her beauties, her powers, her graces and her virtues are at their early maturity.
Hence we have tried to present to you some pictures and some interpretations of the girl rather than the woman. But the qualities herein declared to be characteristic of the American girl are, either in greater or lesser degree, those that belong to the whole body of American womanhood.
We therefore can do no better than to end as we began — with a toast to match the "Sweethearts and Wives." and so:"Here's to the health, the happiness, and the prosperiety of all the women of America -- Gold bless them, every one!"