+ ~ -
 
Please report pronunciation problems here. Select and sample other voices. Options Pause Play
 
Report an Error
Go!
 
Go!
 
TOC
 

made with sweetness and submission, and a
mask that says, “I do not complain,” while
showing you the whole facts of the case in a
hand-glass. This is a wonderfully effective
manner of marking conjugal distress, and I
recommend it to the notice of all who wish
to be canonised before death, for social saintship
undeniable by the most envious. Those
who wear no masks, and tell out their griefs in
good round English without mouthpieces, will
meet with no pity however great their sufferings,
but will at once enlist the world against
them, and be for ever irremediably in the wrong.
This is one of the cases in which society demands
a mask. However flimsy, however transparent,
it must be worn; the more gracefully the better
for the wearerbut gracefully or clumsily
still worn.

Poverty, too, is another condition that thinks
itself obliged to mask as closely as any fine lady
of olden times. I do not know why that should
be, but it is so; andkeeping up appearances
is the first commandment of social religion. This
is all very well, if people are content to mask
their poverty in what may pass as decent
sufficiency, no more: I can understand the pride
which demands that as its right; but when they
take to spangled veils, and plaster casts painted
to look like marble, then I think them
contemptible enough; and for my own part would
prefer to show my true face with all its pinched
distress, rather than this hollow make-believe
which puffs out its cheeks with wind to look
like the fat of food. That mask worn over the
face of poverty is a terrible burden to the wasted
muscles it constrains. Think how we have to
smile and smile, and utter sweet platitudes sweet
only to a free heart, but more bitter than gall
and wormwood to the oppressed, and take an
interest in small midge-bitesexpressing the
deepest sympathy for that last disastrous pin-
prick which actually went through the skin,
when all the while a monstrous Anaconda is
twining its folds closer and closer round us, and
the deadly asp of ruin is stinging nearer to the
heart of us, and our final destruction is every
day more inevitable. That bill which must be
met to-morrowgracious powers! and not a
penny to meet it with, and the holder himself a
poor man, or an inexorablethat man in
possession left smoking, and drinking good beer in
the kitchen, with Molly the cook fraternising
dangerously on the matter of the best cut of
beefthat writ so sure to be outthe bill of
sale so sure to be enforcedwith these coils of
the Anaconda crushing in our ribs, we go to my
Lady Littlecare’s, and condole with her on the
death of her canary, or echo her indignant
disappointment about the dear duchess’s ballthe
grand ball of the seasonwhere she had set her
heart on being present, but was prevented by my
Lord Littlecare’s whimsy for the gout and her
society that evening. Or, without a week’s
provision in your pocket, your friend in the country
writes up to you to spend some twenty or thirty
pounds for him in a knick-knack, which he will
repay you by cheque when he knows the exact
amount. I know the embarrassment and
mortification of that as well as most, and have been
put to unheard-of straits and shame either by
having to spend my last sixpence on my friend’s
whim, or being obliged to confess that I had
not as many shillings as I was required to
advance pounds. Or young Presto, the popular
author, invites you to a champagne supper to
celebrate the success of his new novel, which
perhaps it is mere bile and disappointment that
makes you say, is mere trashtrash, sir, and
waste paper, compared to that grand epic of
your own, rejected now by every publisher in
London; but on the acceptance of which you
had cast your best bower anchor, and are now
drifting away hopelessly into the great ocean of
despair and destitution. Or, being a woman
and a mother, and oppressed with the sad lack
of your pretty Julia at home, wanting even
essentials, and unable to take her pleasure with
her friends on account of that lack, you have to
listen to Miss Lustre’s complaints of her
milliner, the horrid creature! who has trimmed
her new velvet with a lace just half an inch too
narrow, and who is thenceforth and for ever
excluded from all benefit in the Christian
dispensation. Your pretty Julia in her worn boots
and faded cottons would have been made rich
with the cost of just that trimming of despised
lace; but you smother all this, and pulling on
your mask gallantly, sigh and condole in full
accord; and with the pressure of absolute need
at home, agree with Miss Lustre that
Valenciennes half an inch too narrow is an infliction
intolerable to human nature, and that a milliner
who could be guilty of such a misdemeanor is a
serpent, and by no means to be patronised by
sympathetic friends. I take it that Miss Lustre
would not much admire the face, could she see
it for a moment from behind the mask! Ah,
my dear rich relations! how little you know of
the true face of poverty! how wonderfully blind
to all its masks save that odious one of
pretence! But this, which the framers and wearers
always think impenetrable, never yet deceived
more than the merest tyro, and is sure to be
discerned for what it isthe most pitiful make-
believe in the whole mask manufactory!

But masks are more endurable than blanks.
A mask at least presupposes life and activity,
and if substitution is still substitution of
something for something, a blank is a mere negative
meaning nothing, if it be not death. A long
course of worldliness creates a blank where was
once a face; the slight misfortune of being born
without a heart, or with too much water in the
blood, or with brains but poorly folded, also
trowels out blanks where faces should have
been; selfishness makes a dead blank with an
ugly crusting of the plaster; so, often, does
a severe disappointment; but the deadening
hardening worship of Mammon, fashionable
exceedingly in our time, makes the blankest blank
of all! I know nothing more sad than to meet
one, after long years of absence, whose sweet,
frank, loving face, where every feeling spoke its
honest and intelligible word, and every heart-beat