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Home -> Jerome K. Jerome -> Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow -> On Being in the Blues

Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow - On Being in the Blues

1. Preface

2. On Being Idle

3. On Being in Love

4. On Being in the Blues

5. On Being Hard Up

6. On Vanity and Vanities

7. On Getting on in the World

8. On the Weather

9. On Cats and Dogs

10. On Being Shy

11. On Babies

12. On Eating and Drinking

13. On Furnished Apartments

14. On Dress and Deportment

15. On Memory


I can enjoy feeling melancholy, and there is a good deal of
satisfaction about being thoroughly miserable; but nobody likes a fit
of the blues. Nevertheless, everybody has them; notwithstanding
which, nobody can tell why. There is no accounting for them. You are
just as likely to have one on the day after you have come into a large
fortune as on the day after you have left your new silk umbrella in
the train. Its effect upon you is somewhat similar to what would
probably be produced by a combined attack of toothache, indigestion,
and cold in the head. You become stupid, restless, and irritable;
rude to strangers and dangerous toward your friends; clumsy, maudlin,
and quarrelsome; a nuisance to yourself and everybody about you.

While it is on you can do nothing and think of nothing, though feeling
at the time bound to do something. You can't sit still so put on your
hat and go for a walk; but before you get to the corner of the street
you wish you hadn't come out and you turn back. You open a book and
try to read, but you find Shakespeare trite and commonplace, Dickens
is dull and prosy, Thackeray a bore, and Carlyle too sentimental. You
throw the book aside and call the author names. Then you "shoo" the
cat out of the room and kick the door to after her. You think you
will write your letters, but after sticking at "Dearest Auntie: I find
I have five minutes to spare, and so hasten to write to you," for a
quarter of an hour, without being able to think of another sentence,
you tumble the paper into the desk, fling the wet pen down upon the
table-cloth, and start up with the resolution of going to see the
Thompsons. While pulling on your gloves, however, it occurs to you
that the Thompsons are idiots; that they never have supper; and that
you will be expected to jump the baby. You curse the Thompsons and
decide not to go.

By this time you feel completely crushed. You bury your face in your
hands and think you would like to die and go to heaven. You picture
to yourself your own sick-bed, with all your friends and relations
standing round you weeping. You bless them all, especially the young
and pretty ones. They will value you when you are gone, so you say to
yourself, and learn too late what they have lost; and you bitterly
contrast their presumed regard for you then with their decided want of
veneration now.

These reflections make you feel a little more cheerful, but only for a
brief period; for the next moment you think what a fool you must be to
imagine for an instant that anybody would be sorry at anything that
might happen to you. Who would care two straws (whatever precise
amount of care two straws may represent) whether you are blown up, or
hung up, or married, or drowned? Nobody cares for you. You never
have been properly appreciated, never met with your due deserts in any
one particular. You review the whole of your past life, and it is
painfully apparent that you have been ill-used from your cradle.

Half an hour's indulgence in these considerations works you up into a
state of savage fury against everybody and everything, especially
yourself, whom anatomical reasons alone prevent your kicking.
Bed-time at last comes, to save you from doing something rash, and you
spring upstairs, throw off your clothes, leaving them strewn all over
the room, blow out the candle, and jump into bed as if you had backed
yourself for a heavy wager to do the whole thing against time. There
you toss and tumble about for a couple of hours or so, varying the
monotony by occasionally jerking the clothes off and getting out and
putting them on again. At length you drop into an uneasy and fitful
slumber, have bad dreams, and wake up late the next morning.

At least, this is all we poor single men can do under the
circumstances. Married men bully their wives, grumble at the dinner,
and insist on the children's going to bed. All of which, creating, as
it does, a good deal of disturbance in the house, must be a great
relief to the feelings of a man in the blues, rows being the only form
of amusement in which he can take any interest.

The symptoms of the infirmity are much the same in every case, but the
affliction itself is variously termed. The poet says that "a feeling
of sadness comes o'er him." 'Arry refers to the heavings of his
wayward heart by confiding to Jimee that he has "got the blooming
hump." Your sister doesn't know what is the matter with her to-night.
She feels out of sorts altogether and hopes nothing is going to
happen. The every-day young man is "so awful glad to meet you, old
fellow," for he does "feel so jolly miserable this evening." As for
myself, I generally say that "I have a strange, unsettled feeling
to-night" and "think I'll go out."

By the way, it never does come except in the evening. In the
sun-time, when the world is bounding forward full of life, we cannot
stay to sigh and sulk. The roar of the working day drowns the voices
of the elfin sprites that are ever singing their low-toned _miserere_
in our ears. In the day we are angry, disappointed, or indignant, but
never "in the blues" and never melancholy. When things go wrong at
ten o'clock in the morning we--or rather you--swear and knock the
furniture about; but if the misfortune comes at ten P.M., we read
poetry or sit in the dark and think what a hollow world this is.

But, as a rule, it is not trouble that makes us melancholy. The
actuality is too stern a thing for sentiment. We linger to weep over
a picture, but from the original we should quickly turn our eyes away.
There is no pathos in real misery: no luxury in real grief. We do not
toy with sharp swords nor hug a gnawing fox to our breast for choice.
When a man or woman loves to brood over a sorrow and takes care to
keep it green in their memory, you may be sure it is no longer a pain
to them. However they may have suffered from it at first, the
recollection has become by then a pleasure. Many dear old ladies who
daily look at tiny shoes lying in lavender-scented drawers, and weep
as they think of the tiny feet whose toddling march is done, and
sweet-faced young ones who place each night beneath their pillow some
lock that once curled on a boyish head that the salt waves have kissed
to death, will call me a nasty cynical brute and say I'm talking
nonsense; but I believe, nevertheless, that if they will ask
themselves truthfully whether they find it unpleasant to dwell thus on
their sorrow, they will be compelled to answer "No." Tears are as
sweet as laughter to some natures. The proverbial Englishman, we know
from old chronicler Froissart, takes his pleasures sadly, and the
Englishwoman goes a step further and takes her pleasures in sadness

I am not sneering. I would not for a moment sneer at anything that
helps to keep hearts tender in this hard old world. We men are cold
and common-sensed enough for all; we would not have women the same.
No, no, ladies dear, be always sentimental and soft-hearted, as you
are--be the soothing butter to our coarse dry bread. Besides,
sentiment is to women what fun is to us. They do not care for our
humor, surely it would be unfair to deny them their grief. And who
shall say that their mode of enjoyment is not as sensible as ours?
Why assume that a doubled-up body, a contorted, purple face, and a
gaping mouth emitting a series of ear-splitting shrieks point to a
state of more intelligent happiness than a pensive face reposing upon
a little white hand, and a pair of gentle tear-dimmed eyes looking
back through Time's dark avenue upon a fading past?

I am glad when I see Regret walked with as a friend--glad because I
know the saltness has been washed from out the tears, and that the
sting must have been plucked from the beautiful face of Sorrow ere we
dare press her pale lips to ours. Time has laid his healing hand upon
the wound when we can look back upon the pain we once fainted under
and no bitterness or despair rises in our hearts. The burden is no
longer heavy when we have for our past troubles only the same sweet
mingling of pleasure and pity that we feel when old knight-hearted
Colonel Newcome answers "_adsum_" to the great roll-call, or when Tom
and Maggie Tulliver, clasping hands through the mists that have
divided them, go down, locked in each other's arms, beneath the
swollen waters of the Floss.

Talking of poor Tom and Maggie Tulliver brings to my mind a saying of
George Eliot's in connection with this subject of melancholy. She
speaks somewhere of the "sadness of a summer's evening." How
wonderfully true--like everything that came from that wonderful
pen--the observation is! Who has not felt the sorrowful enchantment
of those lingering sunsets? The world belongs to Melancholy then, a
thoughtful deep-eyed maiden who loves not the glare of day. It is not
till "light thickens and the crow wings to the rocky wood" that she
steals forth from her groves. Her palace is in twilight land. It is
there she meets us. At her shadowy gate she takes our hand in hers
and walks beside us through her mystic realm. We see no form, but
seem to hear the rustling of her wings.

Even in the toiling hum-drum city her spirit comes to us. There is a
somber presence in each long, dull street; and the dark river creeps
ghostlike under the black arches, as if bearing some hidden secret
beneath its muddy waves.

In the silent country, when the trees and hedges loom dim and blurred
against the rising night, and the bat's wing flutters in our face, and
the land-rail's cry sounds drearily across the fields, the spell sinks
deeper still into our hearts. We seem in that hour to be standing by
some unseen death-bed, and in the swaying of the elms we hear the sigh
of the dying day.

A solemn sadness reigns. A great peace is around us. In its light
our cares of the working day grow small and trivial, and bread and
cheese--ay, and even kisses--do not seem the only things worth
striving for. Thoughts we cannot speak but only listen to flood in
upon us, and standing in the stillness under earth's darkening dome,
we feel that we are greater than our petty lives. Hung round with
those dusky curtains, the world is no longer a mere dingy workshop,
but a stately temple wherein man may worship, and where at times in
the dimness his groping hands touch God's.

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