« 前へ次へ »
THE NEMESIS OF FLIRTATION.
T is as difficult to define firting as it is to give a reason for
a prejudice. At the first glance it would seem to be the pastime of an advanced and cultivated race, and to be neces
sarily artificial; but we find it existing, flourishing as an amusement among savages who have never become acquainted with any of the other blessings of civilisation. It is, however, in a refined country that flirtation is best understood in all its bearings. Courtship in barbarous lands, ending with submission or capture of the bride, is a quick process, which admits only of odd displays of the moods and temper requisite for the pursuit. Here society for many reasons encourages the exercise of emotions without requiring positive results to follow, for the great aim and end of flirtation is that nothing should come of it. And flirtation may be called an art comprehending the exercise of emotions without positive results. Like most things with an abstract intention, it fails to finish its design in a concrete manner; and while willing to admit that if pursued in primitive simplicity, nothing could be more harmless, the variations from the innocuous purpose are so constant as to render the accidents the more interesting subjects of inquiry.
Our readers must have observed the enormous increase of cases in the law courts famıiliarly known as cases of breach of promise. A few years ago actions of this kind were comparatively rare, and at least rare enough to attract special notice and funny leaders in the daily journals. Taking it for granted that the newspapers fairly represented public opinion on the subject, we should decide that as a rule a breach case was regarded as an excellent theme for expansive humour. The letters were commented on, the speeches of counsel, the enormous incongruity of giving money damages for blighted affections, and all the rest of it, became, in fact, the properties of the social essayist, and very dexterous and comical use he made of them. But note the change. Actions for breach have multiplied, juries mulct defendants in sums that appear almost savage, the letters are as provocative of mirth as ever, and yet it is considered bad taste and bad form to go wagging a cap and bells over the suggestive trial and dénoûment. One reason for this is,
that even a joke may be worn threadbare, and it is irritating to know that on a certain occurrence will arise a simultaneous giggling and cackling from wise fellows who have known better than to have experienced the follies of love. But the real cause lies deeper than the surface. Marriage is every day becoming a more serious affair for women. All the talk, all the flatulent hyperbole, all the solid but one-sided logic of the advocates for female rights, have not assured a single reflective person that it is better for a lady to be independent of male support, than to have a husband to comfort and cherish her. It is only a sorry and a foolish oaf who would desire to bound the horizon of woman's sphere by unnatural and narrow limits. Open sensible employments and offices to the sex with all our hearts, give them intellectual breathing space, take them out of the dull bread-and-butter atmosphere of “Mangnall's Questions" or "Pinnock's Catechism," and let them learn something of the deeds of historic men, of the poets to whom the world has hearkened for a thousand years, of the chemical and geological wonders of the universe. Improve their teachers by necessitating higher qualifications for imparting knowledge, and do not stifle them in moral hot-houses at home until their notions of right and wrong become too fragile for everyday wear; but give us not for the wives of men, and the mothers of children, politicians in petticoats, women inferior to their own natures by having strained them in aping ours, women who have lost the delicate instincts of an emotional organisation by vainly endeavouring in a strife in which they are strong enough to hold their own ground, but unfit to shove and to shoulder men in the fields of purely masculine enterprise. When this is done, and in this direction we are tending, men should be all the more chivalrous and faithful to women. If it be laid down that the sphere of the family, the scheme of matronhood, as it might be called, is the first and best thing for the sex to ambition, it is only right that it should be protected, and in a certain measure assisted to that design. Hence it is, we believe, that juries, who are influenced by reasons which are rather in the air than in their heads, but which, nevertheless, do imperceptibly jog them into particular courses, hence it is that they of late have given such heavy damages in cases of breach, and with a a fidelity to a belief on the lady's side of the question which now and then argues a foregone conclusion in her favour.
It is a woman's right to flirt. Coquetry may be serious or it may be gay, but no one can deny that a woman who is not allowed to declare a preference in words may reasonably show her regard for a
particular male acquaintance by her manner and deportment. If these tokens of esteem are responded to, if the gentleman appreciates the regards bestowed on him, he must of course reciprocate; and here we have the groundwork for a flirtation at once. Supposing matters to go on smoothly, it ought to be a simple affair of stages :acquaintance (1); partiality mutual (2); flirtation (3); engagement (4); marriage (5). This, however, seldom happens. There are, we regret to write it, but the truth must be told, women who have a passion for flirting, and for nothing else. At first it is little more to them than a penchant might be for lobster salad, a thing to be desired on occasions, after the ball or at a picnic, but from frequent indulgence in varieties of the sport, it seizes upon them as a desire for drams does upon an intemperate person. They cannot subsist without the excitation of having a dangerous pet about them, a man mouse to stroke, or a man spaniel to fetch and ry. At first they are entirely innocent of a feeling other than that of mere wantonness, but after a while they learn the secret and revolting delights of cruelty. This arrives, this wicked, unwomanly sense, from a special experience. Amongst the living objects of amusement in the circle of the Airt, there turns up one who happens to entertain a serious attachment for the lady. She knows it quickly enough, and is here tried by a host of temptations, the common result of the codes of society. She has learned to distrust love. Marriage means a settlement, and a comfortable one; love, without a good establishment, means a bothering, affectionate husband, with limited possibilities of satisfying a taste for dress and amusement, a succession of children who cannot be stowed out of sight, a sinking from the level in which one drives one's carriage while yet single, and so on. But although my lady has no intention of marrying her admirer, that is no obstacle to having a good deal of fun out of him. He can be made jealous and to look miserable; he can be coaxed and made to look happy; he can be thrown a smile to mumble and play with ; he can be made useful as a foil, or as a decoy duck to attract fowl better worth the plucking; and so he is kept on hands. Now, there are a great many men who once in their lives, at least, are capable of putting up from one woman with this sort of treatment. They discover and curse their folly at last, and do not retire into backwoods, as romancists occasionally represent, and languish for years in the midst of a sheep farm. But they carry a sharp pain with them wherever they go. They have lost belief. Their ideal of womanhood has become degraded, not because a woman has had the bad taste to refuse their overtures, but that a woman of, to them, the
most attractive qualities, has used them with a shameless and most unfeeling unconcern. And the woman herself?
She has tasted the fatal banquet and loses all palate for other food. She picks up a fresh victim when she changes her spots, and has been known to fly at a country curate after chasing very different quarry in town.
And this goes on season after season, until her power begins to fade with the false light of her eyes and the bloom of her cheeks. The Nemesis of flirtation at last overtakes her. She has, to use a coarse phrase, lost her market time. The men are eager now to be off, when she would have them advance. Every newspaper in which she reads the chronicle of the marriage of an acquaintance gives her a bitter pang, a keen sting. She is quite capable of weeping real tears in the character of a bridesmaid, but the tears are salted with spite that she is not the bride herself. Old dramatists said cruel things of this type of female, and even shouted them after her when she had passed out of life. Let us be more charitable. Let us believe that the decayed flirt is prepared for her closing state by a fortunate unconsciousness of its reality. So shall she hope and ogle to the last, a sad spectacle, but not at all an unusual one. But flirtation affects other women in a different manner. Women of strong romantic temperaments are perpetually thinking themselves in love. They have a series of heroes on whom they expend their emotions, and wish for an interchange which frightens them when it comes. Of real love they are incapable, of love that is demanding sacrifice, honourable submission, loyalty, and supreme faith. At best, if they had not spoiled their faculties by drugging them with stimulants, they might have settled into mothers with a turn for the nursery, and perhaps exhibit the accomplishment of keeping the ante-nuptial glamour over the eyes of their husbands, but flirting destroys their domestic prospects. Should they drop it at the church door they cannot shake off the memories so easily. And when vexed afterwards at a trifle, these creatures will mope in secret over the image of some man they never sincerely cared a button for, but who happens to have cut a figure in the series above mentioned. It is these puling, nonsensical wives that sometimes drive men out of their wits, helpless and tortured, while the whimpering and the nagging proceeds with a desolate unity of intention.
The Blanche Amory class of flirt is not extinct, although albums of the Mes Larmes kind are out of fashion. Blanche was a flirt constitutionally. You remember the awful disclosures of the wolf in masquerade before he proceeded to gobble up Red Ridinghood! His
dimensions and capacities were established seriatim, for the more convenient and complete consumption of his prey. So is it with the Blanche Amorys around us—the syrens against whose charms you had better at once stuff your ears-aye, and blindfold your eye-balls. The great satirist seems to me to have become so enraged at the abominable store of mischief laid up in the pretty casket so innocently and softly named, that before he was done with Miss Amory he lost temper with her, and just gave her a cut of his whip over the white shoulders. What a hypocrite, liar, glutton, and shrew! Well, this is only my translation of the text; but I declare it ought to be plainly interpreted for the benefit of the Miss Amorys who exist outside books. They it is who scandalise their sex. They are limp, treacherous and indefinite in their style, not fast but sly, sly to a degree which might be characterised by the famous Bagstockian epithet. Save us from them at all risks of celibacy! I should like to hope that Blanche Amory married a poor man in the end, who had not a particle of soul, and could only afford beer, pickles, and cold mutton on his board. The white beauty wanes or developes into a stout, cross woman, with tawny hair. She is careless in her dress and slatternly; perhaps she resorts to eau de Cologne for comfort, and wanders from the strong waters of Cologne to the cream gin of the valley. Then-but the picture is distasteful. Thackeray did so serve a flirt upon canvas. Becky Sharpe, who hides a bottle under her counterpane, and falls amongst thieves and all sorts of bad company, when she has had her short run of triumph. And yet, of the two women, I should prefer Miss Sharpe to Miss Amory, and I am sorry that poetical justice dealt so hardly with the former. Miss Sharpe has a better claim to be called a syren or a mermaiden ; for if you look closely, Blanche dissolves into, not a mermaiden, but a jelly fish. Literature presents us with innumerable specimens of the sort of women under notice. How indeed could the story-tellers or the poets get on without them? There is a recent taste set in for female ogresses.
It is not Bluebeard who is cruel to flesh and blood, but sister Ann, who comes in for a reversion of the castle, and stuffs its secret chambers with captives of her bow and spear. Strange, too, it is that men are found who love these basilisk furies and come to their feet. There is a Nemesis also for these women :
Between the nightsall and the dawn, threescore ;
Threescore between the dawn and evening;
In thy sad eyelids, tremulous like fire,