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The Second Thoughts of an Idle Fellow - On the disadvantage of not getting what one wants

1. On the art of making up one's mind

2. On the disadvantage of not getting what one wants

3. On the exceptional merit attaching to the things we meant to do

4. On the preparation and employment of love philtres

5. On the delights and benefits of slavery

6. On the care and management of women

7. On the minding of other people's business

8. On the time wasted in looking before one leaps

9. On the nobility of ourselves

10. On the motherliness of man

11. On the inadvisability of following advice

12. On the playing of marches at the funerals of marionettes


Long, long ago, when you and I, dear Reader, were young, when the
fairies dwelt in the hearts of the roses, when the moonbeams bent
each night beneath the weight of angels' feet, there lived a good,
wise man. Or rather, I should say, there had lived, for at the time
of which I speak the poor old gentleman lay dying. Waiting each
moment the dread summons, he fell a-musing on the life that
stretched far back behind him. How full it seemed to him at that
moment of follies and mistakes, bringing bitter tears not to himself
alone but to others also. How much brighter a road might it have
been, had he been wiser, had he known!

"Ah, me!" said the good old gentleman, "if only I could live my life
again in the light of experience."

Now as he spoke these words he felt the drawing near to him of a
Presence, and thinking it was the One whom he expected, raising
himself a little from his bed, he feebly cried,

"I am ready."

But a hand forced him gently back, a voice saying, "Not yet; I bring
life, not death. Your wish shall be granted. You shall live your
life again, and the knowledge of the past shall be with you to guide
you. See you use it. I will come again."

Then a sleep fell upon the good man, and when he awoke, he was again
a little child, lying in his mother's arms; but, locked within his
brain was the knowledge of the life that he had lived already.

So once more he lived and loved and laboured. So a second time he
lay an old, worn man with life behind him. And the angel stood
again beside his bed; and the voice said,

"Well, are you content now?"

"I am well content," said the old gentleman. "Let Death come."

"And have you understood?" asked the angel.

"I think so," was the answer; "that experience is but as of the
memory of the pathways he has trod to a traveller journeying ever
onward into an unknown land. I have been wise only to reap the
reward of folly. Knowledge has ofttimes kept me from my good. I
have avoided my old mistakes only to fall into others that I knew
not of. I have reached the old errors by new roads. Where I have
escaped sorrow I have lost joy. Where I have grasped happiness I
have plucked pain also. Now let me go with Death that I may

Which was so like the angel of that period, the giving of a gift,
bringing to a man only more trouble. Maybe I am overrating my
coolness of judgment under somewhat startling circumstances, but I
am inclined to think that, had I lived in those days, and had a
fairy or an angel come to me, wanting to give me something--my
soul's desire, or the sum of my ambition, or any trifle of that kind
I should have been short with him.

"You pack up that precious bag of tricks of yours," I should have
said to him (it would have been rude, but that is how I should have
felt), "and get outside with it. I'm not taking anything in your
line to-day. I don't require any supernatural aid to get me into
trouble. All the worry I want I can get down here, so it's no good
your calling. You take that little joke of yours,--I don't know
what it is, but I know enough not to want to know,--and run it off
on some other idiot. I'm not priggish. I have no objection to an
innocent game of 'catch-questions' in the ordinary way, and when I
get a turn myself. But if I've got to pay every time, and the
stakes are to be my earthly happiness plus my future existence--why,
I don't play. There was the case of Midas; a nice, shabby trick you
fellows played off upon him! making pretence you did not understand
him, twisting round the poor old fellow's words, just for all the
world as though you were a pack of Old Bailey lawyers, trying to
trip up a witness; I'm ashamed of the lot of you, and I tell you so-
-coming down here, fooling poor unsuspecting mortals with your
nonsense, as though we had not enough to harry us as it was. Then
there was that other case of the poor old peasant couple to whom you
promised three wishes, the whole thing ending in a black pudding.
And they never got even that. You thought that funny, I suppose.
That was your fairy humour! A pity, I say, you have not, all of
you, something better to do with your time. As I said before, you
take that celestial 'Joe Miller' of yours and work it off on
somebody else. I have read my fairy lore, and I have read my
mythology, and I don't want any of your blessings. And what's more,
I'm not going to have them. When I want blessings I will put up
with the usual sort we are accustomed to down here. You know the
ones I mean, the disguised brand--the blessings that no human being
would think were blessings, if he were not told; the blessings that
don't look like blessings, that don't feel like blessings; that, as
a matter of fact, are not blessings, practically speaking; the
blessings that other people think are blessings for us and that we
don't. They've got their drawbacks, but they are better than yours,
at any rate, and they are sooner over. I don't want your blessings
at any price. If you leave one here I shall simply throw it out
after you."

I feel confident I should have answered in that strain, and I feel
it would have done good. Somebody ought to have spoken plainly,
because with fairies and angels of that sort fooling about, no one
was ever safe for a moment. Children could hardly have been allowed
outside the door. One never could have told what silly trick some
would-be funny fairy might be waiting to play off on them. The poor
child would not know, and would think it was getting something worth
having. The wonder to me is that some of those angels didn't get
tarred and feathered.

I am doubtful whether even Cinderella's luck was quite as satisfying
as we are led to believe. After the carpetless kitchen and the
black beetles, how beautiful the palace must have seemed--for the
first year, perhaps for the first two. And the Prince! how loving,
how gallant, how tender--for the first year, perhaps for the first
two. And after? You see he was a Prince, brought up in a Court,
the atmosphere of which is not conducive to the development of the
domestic virtues; and she--was Cinderella. And then the marriage
altogether was rather a hurried affair. Oh yes, she is a good,
loving little woman; but perhaps our Royal Highness-ship did act too
much on the impulse of the moment. It was her dear, dainty feet
that danced their way into our heart. How they flashed and
twinkled, eased in those fairy slippers. How like a lily among
tulips she moved that night amid the over-gorgeous Court dames. She
was so sweet, so fresh, so different to all the others whom we knew
so well. How happy she looked as she put her trembling little hand
in ours. What possibilities might lie behind those drooping lashes.
And we were in amorous mood that night, the music in our feet, the
flash and glitter in our eyes. And then, to pique us further, she
disappeared as suddenly and strangely as she had come. Who was she?
Whence came she? What was the mystery surrounding her? Was she
only a delicious dream, a haunting phantasy that we should never
look upon again, never clasp again within our longing arms? Was our
heart to be for ever hungry, haunted by the memory of--No, by
heavens, she is real, and a woman. Here is her dear slipper, made
surely to be kissed. Of a size too that a man may well wear within
the breast of his doublet. Had any woman--nay, fairy, angel, such
dear feet! Search the whole kingdom through, but find her, find
her. The gods have heard our prayers, and given us this clue.
"Suppose she be not all she seemed. Suppose she be not of birth fit
to mate with our noble house!" Out upon thee, for an earth-bound,
blind curmudgeon of a Lord High Chancellor. How could a woman, whom
such slipper fitted, be but of the noblest and the best, as far
above us, mere Princelet that we are, as the stars in heaven are
brighter than thy dull old eyes! Go, search the kingdom, we tell
thee, from east to west, from north to south, and see to it that
thou findest her, or it shall go hard with thee. By Venus, be she a
swineherd's daughter, she shall be our Queen--an she deign to accept
of us, and of our kingdom.

Ah well, of course, it was not a wise piece of business, that goes
without saying; but we were young, and Princes are only human. Poor
child, she could not help her education, or rather her lack of it.
Dear little thing, the wonder is that she has contrived to be no
more ignorant than she is, dragged up as she was, neglected and
overworked. Nor does life in a kitchen, amid the companionship of
peasants and menials, tend to foster the intellect. Who can blame
her for being shy and somewhat dull of thought? not we, generous-
minded, kind-hearted Prince that we are. And she is very
affectionate. The family are trying, certainly; father-in-law not a
bad sort, though a little prosy when upon the subject of his
domestic troubles, and a little too fond of his glass; mamma-in-law,
and those two ugly, ill-mannered sisters, decidedly a nuisance about
the palace. Yet what can we do? they are our relations now, and
they do not forget to let us know it. Well, well, we had to expect
that, and things might have been worse. Anyhow she is not jealous--
thank goodness.

So the day comes when poor little Cinderella sits alone of a night
in the beautiful palace. The courtiers have gone home in their
carriages. The Lord High Chancellor has bowed himself out
backwards. The Gold-Stick-in-Waiting and the Grooms of the Chamber
have gone to their beds. The Maids of Honour have said "Good-
night," and drifted out of the door, laughing and whispering among
themselves. The clock strikes twelve--one--two, and still no
footstep creaks upon the stair. Once it followed swiftly upon the
"good-night" of the maids, who did not laugh or whisper then.

At last the door opens, and the Prince enters, none too pleased at
finding Cinderella still awake. "So sorry I'm late, my love--
detained on affairs of state. Foreign policy very complicated,
dear. Have only just this moment left the Council Chamber."

And little Cinderella, while the Prince sleeps, lies sobbing out her
poor sad heart into the beautiful royal pillow, embroidered with the
royal arms and edged with the royal monogram in lace. "Why did he
ever marry me? I should have been happier in the old kitchen. The
black beetles did frighten me a little, but there was always the
dear old cat; and sometimes, when mother and the girls were out,
papa would call softly down the kitchen stairs for me to come up,
and we would have such a merry evening together, and sup off
sausages: dear old dad, I hardly ever see him now. And then, when
my work was done, how pleasant it was to sit in front of the fire,
and dream of the wonderful things that would come to me some day. I
was always going to be a Princess, even in my dreams, and live in a
palace, but it was so different to this. Oh, how I hate it, this
beastly palace where everybody sneers at me--I know they do, though
they bow and scrape, and pretend to be so polite. And I'm not
clever and smart as they are. I hate them. I hate these bold-faced
women who are always here. That is the worst of a palace, everybody
can come in. Oh, I hate everybody and everything. Oh, god-mamma,
god-mamma, come and take me away. Take me back to my old kitchen.
Give me back my old poor frock. Let me dance again with the fire-
tongs for a partner, and be happy, dreaming."

Poor little Cinderella, perhaps it would have been better had god-
mamma been less ambitious for you, dear; had you married some good,
honest yeoman, who would never have known that you were not
brilliant, who would have loved you because you were just amiable
and pretty; had your kingdom been only a farmhouse, where your
knowledge of domestic economy, gained so hardly, would have been
useful; where you would have shone instead of being overshadowed;
where Papa would have dropped in of an evening to smoke his pipe and
escape from his domestic wrangles; where you would have been REAL

But then you know, dear, you would not have been content. Ah yes,
with your present experience--now you know that Queens as well as
little drudges have their troubles; but WITHOUT that experience?
You would have looked in the glass when you were alone; you would
have looked at your shapely hands and feet, and the shadows would
have crossed your pretty face. "Yes," you would have said to
yourself--"John is a dear, kind fellow, and I love him very much,
and all that, but--" and the old dreams, dreamt in the old low-
ceilinged kitchen before the dying fire, would have come back to
you, and you would have been discontented then as now, only in a
different way. Oh yes, you would, Cinderella, though you gravely
shake your gold-crowned head. And let me tell you why. It is
because you are a woman, and the fate of all us, men and women
alike, is to be for ever wanting what we have not, and to be
finding, when we have it, that it is not what we wanted. That is
the law of life, dear. Do you think as you lie upon the floor with
your head upon your arms, that you are the only woman whose tears
are soaking into the hearthrug at that moment? My dear Princess, if
you could creep unseen about your City, peeping at will through the
curtain-shielded windows, you would come to think that all the world
was little else than a big nursery full of crying children with none
to comfort them. The doll is broken: no longer it sweetly squeaks
in answer to our pressure, "I love you, kiss me." The drum lies
silent with the drumstick inside; no longer do we make a brave noise
in the nursery. The box of tea-things we have clumsily put our foot
upon; there will be no more merry parties around the three-legged
stool. The tin trumpet will not play the note we want to sound; the
wooden bricks keep falling down; the toy cannon has exploded and
burnt our fingers. Never mind, little man, little woman, we will
try and mend things tomorrow.

And after all, Cinderella dear, you do live in a fine palace, and
you have jewels and grand dresses and--No, no, do not be indignant
with ME. Did not you dream of these things AS WELL AS of love?
Come now, be honest. It was always a prince, was it not, or, at the
least, an exceedingly well-to-do party, that handsome young
gentleman who bowed to you so gallantly from the red embers? He was
never a virtuous young commercial traveller, or cultured clerk,
earning a salary of three pounds a week, was he, Cinderella? Yet
there are many charming commercial travellers, many delightful
clerks with limited incomes, quite sufficient, however, to a
sensible man and woman desiring but each other's love. Why was it
always a prince, Cinderella? Had the palace and the liveried
servants, and the carriages and horses, and the jewels and the
dresses, NOTHING to do with the dream?

No, Cinderella, you were human, that is all. The artist, shivering
in his conventional attic, dreaming of Fame!-do you think he is not
hoping she will come to his loving arms in the form Jove came to
Danae? Do you think he is not reckoning also upon the good dinners
and the big cigars, the fur coat and the diamond studs, that her
visits will enable him to purchase?

There is a certain picture very popular just now. You may see it,
Cinderella, in many of the shop-windows of the town. It is called
"The Dream of Love," and it represents a beautiful young girl,
sleeping in a very beautiful but somewhat disarranged bed. Indeed,
one hopes, for the sleeper's sake, that the night is warm, and that
the room is fairly free from draughts. A ladder of light streams
down from the sky into the room, and upon this ladder crowd and
jostle one another a small army of plump Cupids, each one laden with
some pledge of love. Two of the Imps are emptying a sack of jewels
upon the floor. Four others are bearing, well displayed, a
magnificent dress (a "confection," I believe, is the proper term)
cut somewhat low, but making up in train what is lacking elsewhere.
Others bear bonnet boxes from which peep stylish toques and
bewitching hoods. Some, representing evidently wholesale houses,
stagger under silks and satins in the piece. Cupids are there from
the shoemakers with the daintiest of bottines. Stockings, garters,
and even less mentionable articles, are not forgotten. Caskets,
mirrors, twelve-buttoned gloves, scent-bottles and handkerchiefs,
hair-pins, and the gayest of parasols, has the God of Love piled
into the arms of his messengers. Really a most practical, up-to-
date God of Love, moving with the times! One feels that the modern
Temple of Love must be a sort of Swan and Edgar's; the god himself a
kind of celestial shop-walker; while his mother, Venus, no doubt
superintends the costume department. Quite an Olympian Whiteley,
this latter-day Eros; he has forgotten nothing, for, at the back of
the picture, I notice one Cupid carrying a rather fat heart at the
end of a string.

You, Cinderella, could give good counsel to that sleeping child.
You would say to her--"Awake from such dreams. The contents of a
pawnbroker's store-room will not bring you happiness. Dream of love
if you will; that is a wise dream, even if it remain ever a dream.
But these coloured beads, these Manchester goods! are you then--you,
heiress of all the ages--still at heart only as some poor savage
maiden but little removed above the monkeys that share the primeval
forest with her? Will you sell your gold to the first trader that
brings you THIS barter? These things, child, will only dazzle your
eyes for a few days. Do you think the Burlington Arcade is the gate
of Heaven?"

Ah, yes, I too could talk like that--I, writer of books, to the
young lad, sick of his office stool, dreaming of a literary career
leading to fame and fortune. "And do you think, lad, that by that
road you will reach Happiness sooner than by another? Do you think
interviews with yourself in penny weeklies will bring you any
satisfaction after the first halfdozen? Do you think the gushing
female who has read all your books, and who wonders what it must
feel like to be so clever, will be welcome to you the tenth time you
meet her? Do you think press cuttings will always consist of
wondering admiration of your genius, of paragraphs about your
charming personal appearance under the heading, 'Our Celebrities'?
Have you thought of the Uncomplimentary criticisms, of the spiteful
paragraphs, of the everlasting fear of slipping a few inches down
the greasy pole called 'popular taste,' to which you are condemned
to cling for life, as some lesser criminal to his weary tread-mill,
struggling with no hope but not to fall! Make a home, lad, for the
woman who loves you; gather one or two friends about you; work,
think, and play, that will bring you happiness. Shun this roaring
gingerbread fair that calls itself, forsooth, the 'World of art and
letters.' Let its clowns and its contortionists fight among
themselves for the plaudits and the halfpence of the mob. Let it be
with its shouting and its surging, its blare and its cheap flare.
Come away, the summer's night is just the other side of the hedge,
with its silence and its stars."

You and I, Cinderella, are experienced people, and can therefore
offer good advice, but do you think we should be listened to?

"Ah, no, my Prince is not as yours. Mine will love me always, and I
am peculiarly fitted for the life of a palace. I have the instinct
and the ability for it. I am sure I was made for a princess. Thank
you, Cinderella, for your well-meant counsel, but there is much
difference between you and me."

That is the answer you would receive, Cinderella; and my young
friend would say to me, "Yes, I can understand YOUR finding
disappointment in the literary career; but then, you see, our cases
are not quite similar. _I_ am not likely to find much trouble in
keeping my position. _I_ shall not fear reading what the critics
say of ME. No doubt there are disadvantages, when you are among the
ruck, but there is always plenty of room at the top. So thank you,
and goodbye."

Besides, Cinderella dear, we should not quite mean it--this
excellent advice. We have grown accustomed to these gew-gaws, and
we should miss them in spite of our knowledge of their trashiness:
you, your palace and your little gold crown; I, my mountebank's cap,
and the answering laugh that goes up from the crowd when I shake my
bells. We want everything. All the happiness that earth and heaven
are capable of bestowing. Creature comforts, and heart and soul
comforts also; and, proud-spirited beings that we are, we will not
be put off with a part. Give us only everything, and we will be
content. And, after all, Cinderella, you have had your day. Some
little dogs never get theirs. You must not be greedy. You have
KNOWN happiness. The palace was Paradise for those few months, and
the Prince's arms were about you, Cinderella, the Prince's kisses on
your lips; the gods themselves cannot take THAT from you.

The cake cannot last for ever if we will eat of it so greedily.
There must come the day when we have picked hungrily the last crumb-
-when we sit staring at the empty board, nothing left of the feast,
Cinderella, but the pain that comes of feasting.

It is a naive confession, poor Human Nature has made to itself, in
choosing, as it has, this story of Cinderella for its leading
moral:--Be good, little girl. Be meek under your many trials. Be
gentle and kind, in spite of your hard lot, and one day--you shall
marry a prince and ride in your own carriage. Be brave and true,
little boy. Work hard and wait with patience, and in the end, with
God's blessing, you shall earn riches enough to come back to London
town and marry your master's daughter.

You and I, gentle Reader, could teach these young folks a truer
lesson, an we would. We know, alas! that the road of all the
virtues does not lead to wealth, rather the contrary; else how
explain our limited incomes? But would it be well, think you, to
tell them bluntly the truth--that honesty is the most expensive
luxury a man can indulge in; that virtue, if persisted in, leads,
generally speaking, to a six-roomed house in an outlying suburb?
Maybe the world is wise: the fiction has its uses.

I am acquainted with a fairly intelligent young lady. She can read
and write, knows her tables up to six times, and can argue. I
regard her as representative of average Humanity in its attitude
towards Fate; and this is a dialogue I lately overheard between her
and an older lady who is good enough to occasionally impart to her
the wisdom of the world--

"I've been good this morning, haven't I?"

"Yes--oh yes, fairly good, for you."

"You think Papa WILL take me to the circus to-night? "

"Yes, if you keep good. If you don't get naughty this afternoon."

A pause.

"I was good on Monday, you may remember, nurse."

"Tolerably good."

"VERY good, you said, nurse."

"Well, yes, you weren't bad."

"And I was to have gone to the pantomime, and I didn't."

"Well, that was because your aunt came up suddenly, and your Papa
couldn't get another seat. Poor auntie wouldn't have gone at all if
she hadn't gone then."

"Oh, wouldn't she?"


Another pause.

"Do you think she'll come up suddenly to-day?"

"Oh no, I don't think so."

"No, I hope she doesn't. I want to go to the circus to-night.
Because, you see, nurse, if I don't it will discourage me."

So, perhaps the world is wise in promising us the circus. We
believe her at first. But after a while, I fear, we grow

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