home | authors | books | about

Home -> Jerome K. Jerome -> The Second Thoughts of an Idle Fellow -> On the care and management of women

The Second Thoughts of an Idle Fellow - On the care and management of women

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


I talked to a woman once on the subject of honeymoons. I said,
"Would you recommend a long honeymoon, or a Saturday to Monday
somewhere?" A silence fell upon her. I gathered she was looking
back rather than forward to her answer.

"I would advise a long honeymoon," she replied at length, "the
old-fashioned month."

"Why," I persisted, "I thought the tendency of the age was to cut
these things shorter and shorter."

"It is the tendency of the age," she answered, "to seek escape from
many things it would be wiser to face. I think myself that, for
good or evil, the sooner it is over--the sooner both the man and the
woman know--the better."

"The sooner what is over?" I asked.

If she had a fault, this woman, about which I am not sure, it was an
inclination towards enigma.

She crossed to the window and stood there, looking out.

"Was there not a custom," she said, still gazing down into the wet,
glistening street, "among one of the ancient peoples, I forget
which, ordaining that when a man and woman, loving one another, or
thinking that they loved, had been joined together, they should go
down upon their wedding night to the temple? And into the dark
recesses of the temple, through many winding passages, the priest
led them until they came to the great chamber where dwelt the voice
of their god. There the priest left them, clanging-to the massive
door behind him, and there, alone in silence, they made their
sacrifice; and in the night the Voice spoke to them, showing them
their future life--whether they had chosen well; whether their love
would live or die. And in the morning the priest returned and led
them back into the day; and they dwelt among their fellows. But no
one was permitted to question them, nor they to answer should any do
so. Well, do you know, our nineteenth-century honeymoon at
Brighton, Switzerland, or Ramsgate, as the choice or necessity may
be, always seems to me merely another form of that night spent alone
in the temple before the altar of that forgotten god. Our young men
and women marry, and we kiss them and congratulate them; and,
standing on the doorstep, throw rice and old slippers, and shout
good wishes after them; and he waves his gloved hand to us, and she
flutters her little handkerchief from the carriage window; and we
watch their smiling faces and hear their laughter until the corner
hides them from our view. Then we go about our own business, and a
short time passes by; and one day we meet them again, and their
faces have grown older and graver; and I always wonder what the
Voice has told them during that little while that they have been
absent from our sight. But of course it would not do to ask them.
Nor would they answer truly if we did."

My friend laughed, and, leaving the window, took her place beside
the tea-things, and other callers dropping in, we fell to talk of
pictures, plays, and people.

But I felt it would be unwise to act on her sole advice, much as I
have always valued her opinion.

A woman takes life too seriously. It is a serious affair to most of
us, the Lord knows. That is why it is well not to take it more
seriously than need be.

Little Jack and little Jill fall down the hill, hurting their little
knees, and their little noses, spilling the hard-earned water. We
are very philosophical.

"Oh, don't cry!" we tell them, "that is babyish. Little boys and
little girls must learn to bear pain. Up you get, fill the pail
again, and try once more."

Little Jack and little Jill rub their dirty knuckles into their
little eyes, looking ruefully at their bloody little knees, and trot
back with the pail. We laugh at them, but not ill-naturedly.

"Poor little souls," we say; "how they did hullabaloo. One might
have thought they were half-killed. And it was only a broken crown,
after all. What a fuss children make!" We bear with much stoicism
the fall of little Jack and little Jill.

But when WE--grown-up Jack with moustache turning grey; grown-up
Jill with the first faint "crow's feet" showing--when WE tumble down
the hill, and OUR pail is spilt. Ye Heavens! what a tragedy has
happened. Put out the stars, turn off the sun, suspend the laws of
nature. Mr. Jack and Mrs. Jill, coming down the hill--what they
were doing on the hill we will not inquire--have slipped over a
stone, placed there surely by the evil powers of the universe. Mr.
Jack and Mrs. Jill have bumped their silly heads. Mr. Jack and Mrs.
Jill have hurt their little hearts, and stand marvelling that the
world can go about its business in the face of such disaster.

Don't take the matter quite so seriously, Jack and Jill. You have
spilled your happiness, you must toil up the hill again and refill
the pail. Carry it more carefully next time. What were you doing?
Playing some fool's trick, I'll be bound.

A laugh and a sigh, a kiss and good-bye, is our life. Is it worth
so much fretting? It is a merry life on the whole. Courage,
comrade. A campaign cannot be all drum and fife and stirrup-cup.
The marching and the fighting must come into it somewhere. There
are pleasant bivouacs among the vineyards, merry nights around the
camp fires. White hands wave a welcome to us; bright eyes dim at
our going. Would you run from the battle-music? What have you to
complain of? Forward: the medal to some, the surgeon's knife to
others; to all of us, sooner or later, six feet of mother earth.
What are you afraid of? Courage, comrade.

There is a mean between basking through life with the smiling
contentment of the alligator, and shivering through it with the
aggressive sensibility of the Lama determined to die at every cross
word. To bear it as a man we must also feel it as a man. My
philosophic friend, seek not to comfort a brother standing by the
coffin of his child with the cheery suggestion that it will be all
the same a hundred years hence, because, for one thing, the
observation is not true: the man is changed for all eternity--
possibly for the better, but don't add that. A soldier with a
bullet in his neck is never quite the man he was. But he can laugh
and he can talk, drink his wine and ride his horse. Now and again,
towards evening, when the weather is trying, the sickness will come
upon him. You will find him on a couch in a dark corner.

"Hallo! old fellow, anything up?"

"Oh, just a twinge, the old wound, you know. I will be better in a
little while."

Shut the door of the dark room quietly. I should not stay even to
sympathize with him if I were you. The men will be coming to screw
the coffin down soon. I think he would like to be alone with it
till then. Let us leave him. He will come back to the club later
on in the season. For a while we may have to give him another ten
points or so, but he will soon get back his old form. Now and
again, when he meets the other fellows' boys shouting on the
towing-path; when Brown rushes up the drive, paper in hand, to tell
him how that young scapegrace Jim has won his Cross; when he is
congratulating Jones's eldest on having passed with honours, the old
wound may give him a nasty twinge. But the pain will pass away. He
will laugh at our stories and tell us his own; eat his dinner, play
his rubber. It is only a wound.

Tommy can never be ours, Jenny does not love us. We cannot afford
claret, so we will have to drink beer. Well, what would you have us
do? Yes, let us curse Fate by all means--some one to curse is
always useful. Let us cry and wring our hands--for how long? The
dinner-bell will ring soon, and the Smiths are coming. We shall
have to talk about the opera and the picture-galleries. Quick,
where is the eau-de-Cologne? where are the curling-tongs? Or would
you we committed suicide? Is it worth while? Only a few more
years--perhaps to-morrow, by aid of a piece of orange peel or a
broken chimney-pot--and Fate will save us all that trouble.

Or shall we, as sulky children, mope day after day? We are a
broken-hearted little Jack--little Jill. We will never smile again;
we will pine away and die, and be buried in the spring. The world
is sad, and life so cruel, and heaven so cold. Oh dear! oh dear! we
have hurt ourselves.

We whimper and whine at every pain. In old strong days men faced
real dangers, real troubles every hour; they had no time to cry.
Death and disaster stood ever at the door. Men were contemptuous of
them. Now in each snug protected villa we set to work to make
wounds out of scratches. Every head-ache becomes an agony, every
heart-ache a tragedy. It took a murdered father, a drowned
sweetheart, a dishonoured mother, a ghost, and a slaughtered Prime
Minister to produce the emotions in Hamlet that a modern minor poet
obtains from a chorus girl's frown, or a temporary slump on the
Stock Exchange. Like Mrs. Gummidge, we feel it more. The lighter
and easier life gets the more seriously we go out to meet it. The
boatmen of Ulysses faced the thunder and the sunshine alike with
frolic welcome. We modern sailors have grown more sensitive. The
sunshine scorches us, the rain chills us. We meet both with loud

Thinking these thoughts, I sought a second friend--a man whose
breezy common-sense has often helped me, and him likewise I
questioned on this subject of honeymoons.

"My dear boy," he replied; "take my advice, if ever you get married,
arrange it so that the honeymoon shall only last a week, and let it
be a bustling week into the bargain. Take a Cook's circular tour.
Get married on the Saturday morning, cut the breakfast and all that
foolishness, and catch the eleven-ten from Charing Cross to Paris.
Take her up the Eiffel Tower on Sunday. Lunch at Fontainebleau.
Dine at the Maison Doree, and show her the Moulin Rouge in the
evening. Take the night train for Lucerne. Devote Monday and
Tuesday to doing Switzerland, and get into Rome by Thursday morning,
taking the Italian lakes en route. On Friday cross to Marseilles,
and from there push along to Monte Carlo. Let her have a flutter at
the tables. Start early Saturday morning for Spain, cross the
Pyrenees on mules, and rest at Bordeaux on Sunday. Get back to
Paris on Monday (Monday is always a good day for the opera), and on
Tuesday evening you will be at home, and glad to get there. Don't
give her time to criticize you until she has got used to you. No
man will bear unprotected exposure to a young girl's eyes. The
honeymoon is the matrimonial microscope. Wobble it. Confuse it
with many objects. Cloud it with other interests. Don't sit still
to be examined. Besides, remember that a man always appears at his
best when active, and a woman at her worst. Bustle her, my dear
boy, bustle her: I don't care who she may be. Give her plenty of
luggage to look after; make her catch trains. Let her see the
average husband sprawling comfortably over the railway cushions,
while his wife has to sit bolt upright in the corner left to her.
Let her hear how other men swear. Let her smell other men's
tobacco. Hurry up, and get her accustomed quickly to the sight of
mankind. Then she will be less surprised and shocked as she grows
to know you. One of the best fellows I ever knew spoilt his married
life beyond repair by a long quiet honeymoon. They went off for a
month to a lonely cottage in some heaven-forsaken spot, where never
a soul came near them, and never a thing happened but morning,
afternoon, and night. There for thirty days she overhauled him.
When he yawned--and he yawned pretty often, I guess, during that
month--she thought of the size of his mouth, and when he put his
heels upon the fender she sat and brooded upon the shape of his
feet. At meal-time, not feeling hungry herself, having nothing to
do to make her hungry, she would occupy herself with watching him
eat; and at night, not feeling sleepy for the same reason, she would
lie awake and listen to his snoring. After the first day or two he
grew tired of talking nonsense, and she of listening to it (it
sounded nonsense now they could speak it aloud; they had fancied it
poetry when they had had to whisper it); and having no other
subject, as yet, of common interest, they would sit and stare in
front of them in silence. One day some trifle irritated him and he
swore. On a busy railway platform, or in a crowded hotel, she would
have said, 'Oh!' and they would both have laughed. From that
echoing desert the silly words rose up in widening circles towards
the sky, and that night she cried herself to sleep. Bustle them, my
dear boy, bustle them. We all like each other better the less we
think about one another, and the honeymoon is an exceptionally
critical time. Bustle her, my dear boy, bustle her."

My very worst honeymoon experience took place in the South of
England in eighteen hundred and--well, never mind the exact date,
let us say a few years ago. I was a shy young man at that time.
Many complain of my reserve to this day, but then some girls expect
too much from a man. We all have our shortcomings. Even then,
however, I was not so shy as she. We had to travel from Lyndhurst
in the New Forest to Ventnor, an awkward bit of cross-country work
in those days.

"It's so fortunate you are going too," said her aunt to me on the
Tuesday; "Minnie is always nervous travelling alone. You will be
able to look after her, and I shan't be anxious.

I said it would be a pleasure, and at the time I honestly thought
it. On the Wednesday I went down to the coach office, and booked
two places for Lymington, from where we took the steamer. I had not
a suspicion of trouble.

The booking-clerk was an elderly man. He said--

"I've got the box seat, and the end place on the back bench."

I said--

"Oh, can't I have two together?"

He was a kindly-looking old fellow. He winked at me. I wondered
all the way home why he had winked at me. He said--

"I'll manage it somehow."

I said--

"It's very kind of you, I'm sure.

He laid his hand on my shoulder. He struck me as familiar, but
well-intentioned. He said--

"We have all of us been there."

I thought he was alluding to the Isle of Wight. I said--

"And this is the best time of the year for it, so I'm told." It was
early summer time.

He said--"It's all right in summer, and it's good enough in winter-
-WHILE IT LASTS. You make the most of it, young 'un;" and he
slapped me on the back and laughed.

He would have irritated me in another minute. I paid for the seats
and left him.

At half-past eight the next morning Minnie and I started for the
coach-office. I call her Minnie, not with any wish to be
impertinent, but because I have forgotten her surname. It must be
ten years since I last saw her. She was a pretty girl, too, with
those brown eyes that always cloud before they laugh. Her aunt did
not drive down with us as she had intended, in consequence of a
headache. She was good enough to say she felt every confidence in

The old booking-clerk caught sight of us when we were about a
quarter of a mile away, and drew to us the attention of the
coachman, who communicated the fact of our approach to the gathered
passengers. Everybody left off talking, and waited for us. The
boots seized his horn, and blew--one could hardly call it a blast;
it would be difficult to say what he blew. He put his heart into
it, but not sufficient wind. I think his intention was to welcome
us, but it suggested rather a feeble curse. We learnt subsequently
that he was a beginner on the instrument.

In some mysterious way the whole affair appeared to be our party.
The booking-clerk bustled up and helped Minnie from the cart. I
feared, for a moment, he was going to kiss her. The coachman
grinned when I said good-morning to him. The passengers grinned,
the boots grinned. Two chamber-maids and a waiter came out from the
hotel, and they grinned. I drew Minnie aside, and whispered to her.
I said--

"There's something funny about us. All these people are grinning."

She walked round me, and I walked round her, but we could neither of
us discover anything amusing about the other. The booking-clerk

"It's all right. I've got you young people two places just behind
the box-seat. We'll have to put five of you on that seat. You
won't mind sitting a bit close, will you?"

The booking-clerk winked at the coachman, the coachman winked at the
passengers, the passengers winked at one another--those of them who
could wink--and everybody laughed. The two chamber-maids became
hysterical, and had to cling to each other for support. With the
exception of Minnie and myself, it seemed to be the merriest coach
party ever assembled at Lyndhurst.

We had taken our places, and I was still busy trying to fathom the
joke, when a stout lady appeared on the scene, and demanded to know
her place.

The clerk explained to her that it was in the middle behind the

"We've had to put five of you on that seat," added the clerk.

The stout lady looked at the seat.

"Five of us can't squeeze into that," she said.

Five of her certainly could not. Four ordinary sized people with
her would find it tight.

"Very well then," said the clerk, "you can have the end place on the
back seat."

"Nothing of the sort," said the stout lady. "I booked my seat on
Monday, and you told me any of the front places were vacant.

"I'LL take the back place," I said, "I don't mind it.

"You stop where you are, young 'un," said the clerk, firmly, "and
don't be a fool. I'll fix HER."

I objected to his language, but his tone was kindness itself.

"Oh, let ME have the back seat," said Minnie, rising, "I'd so like

For answer the coachman put both his hands on her shoulders. He was
a heavy man, and she sat down again.

"Now then, mum," said the clerk, addressing the stout lady, "are you
going up there in the middle, or are you coming up here at the

"But why not let one of them take the back seat?" demanded the stout
lady, pointing her reticule at Minnie and myself; "they say they'd
like it. Let them have it."

The coachman rose, and addressed his remarks generally.

"Put her up at the back, or leave her behind," he directed. "Man
and wife have never been separated on this coach since I started
running it fifteen year ago, and they ain't going to be now."

A general cheer greeted this sentiment. The stout lady, now
regarded as a would-be blighter of love's young dream, was hustled
into the back seat, the whip cracked, and away we rolled.

So here was the explanation. We were in a honeymoon district, in
June--the most popular month in the whole year for marriage. Every
two out of three couples found wandering about the New Forest in
June are honeymoon couples; the third are going to be. When they
travel anywhere it is to the Isle of Wight. We both had on new
clothes. Our bags happened to be new. By some evil chance our very
umbrellas were new. Our united ages were thirty-seven. The wonder
would have been had we NOT been mistaken for a young married couple.

A day of greater misery I have rarely passed. To Minnie, so her
aunt informed me afterwards, the journey was the most terrible
experience of her life, but then her experience, up to that time,
had been limited. She was engaged, and devotedly attached, to a
young clergyman; I was madly in love with a somewhat plump girl
named Cecilia who lived with her mother at Hampstead. I am positive
as to her living at Hampstead. I remember so distinctly my weekly
walk down the hill from Church Row to the Swiss Cottage station.
When walking down a steep hill all the weight of the body is forced
into the toe of the boot, and when the boot is two sizes too small
for you, and you have been living in it since the early afternoon,
you remember a thing like that. But all my recollections of Cecilia
are painful, and it is needless to pursue them.

Our coach-load was a homely party, and some of the jokes were
broad--harmless enough in themselves, had Minnie and I really been
the married couple we were supposed to be, but even in that case
unnecessary. I can only hope that Minnie did not understand them.
Anyhow, she looked as if she didn't.

I forget where we stopped for lunch, but I remember that lamb and
mint sauce was on the table, and that the circumstance afforded the
greatest delight to all the party, with the exception of the stout
lady, who was still indignant, Minnie and myself. About my
behaviour as a bridegroom opinion appeared to be divided. "He's a
bit standoffish with her," I overheard one lady remark to her
husband; "I like to see 'em a bit kittenish myself." A young
waitress, on the other hand, I am happy to say, showed more sense of
natural reserve. "Well, I respect him for it," she was saying to
the barmaid, as we passed through the hall; "I'd just hate to be
fuzzled over with everybody looking on." Nobody took the trouble to
drop their voices for our benefit. We might have been a pair of
prize love birds on exhibition, the way we were openly discussed.
By the majority we were clearly regarded as a sulky young couple who
would not go through their tricks.

I have often wondered since how a real married couple would have
faced the situation. Possibly, had we consented to give a short
display of marital affection, "by desire," we might have been left
in peace for the remainder of the journey.

Our reputation preceded us on to the steamboat. Minnie begged and
prayed me to let it be known we were not married. How I was to let
it be known, except by requesting the captain to summon the whole
ship's company on deck, and then making them a short speech, I could
not think. Minnie said she could not bear it any longer, and
retired to the ladies' cabin. She went off crying. Her trouble was
attributed by crew and passengers to my coldness. One fool planted
himself opposite me with his legs apart, and shook his head at me.

"Go down and comfort her," he began. "Take an old man's advice.
Put your arms around her. " (He was one of those sentimental
idiots.) "Tell her that you love her."

I told him to go and hang himself, with so much vigour that he all
but fell overboard. He was saved by a poultry crate: I had no luck
that day.

At Ryde the guard, by superhuman effort, contrived to keep us a
carriage to ourselves. I gave him a shilling, because I did not
know what else to do. I would have made it half-a-sovereign if he
had put eight other passengers in with us. At every station people
came to the window to look in at us.

I handed Minnie over to her father on Ventnor platform; and I took
the first train the next morning, to London. I felt I did not want
to see her again for a little while; and I felt convinced she could
do without a visit from me. Our next meeting took place the week
before her marriage.

"Where are you going to spend your honeymoon?" I asked her; "in the
New Forest?"

"No," she replied; "nor in the Isle of Wight."

To enjoy the humour of an incident one must be at some distance from
it either in time or relationship. I remember watching an amusing
scene in Whitefield Street, just off Tottenham Court Road, one
winter's Saturday night. A woman--a rather respectable looking
woman, had her hat only been on straight--had just been shot out of
a public-house. She was very dignified, and very drunk. A
policeman requested her to move on. She called him "Fellow," and
demanded to know of him if he considered that was the proper tone in
which to address a lady. She threatened to report him to her
cousin, the Lord Chancellor.

"Yes; this way to the Lord Chancellor," retorted the policeman.
"You come along with me; " and he caught hold of her by the arm.

She gave a lurch, and nearly fell. To save her the man put his arm
round her waist. She clasped him round the neck, and together they
spun round two or three times; while at the very moment a piano-
organ at the opposite corner struck up a waltz.

"Choose your partners, gentlemen, for the next dance," shouted a
wag, and the crowd roared.

I was laughing myself, for the situation was undeniably comical, the
constable's expression of disgust being quite Hogarthian, when the
sight of a child's face beneath the gas-lamp stayed me. Her look
was so full of terror that I tried to comfort her.

"It's only a drunken woman," I said; "he's not going to hurt her."

"Please, sir," was the answer, "it's my mother."

Our joke is generally another's pain. The man who sits down on the
tin-tack rarely joins in the laugh

© Art Branch Inc. | English Dictionary