HOME LIFE IN GERMANY.*
THIS is the kind of book which is much better written by a woman than by a man. When written well by a woman it is often written superlatively well, and this is true, or nearly true, of Mrs. Alfred Sidgwick's book. It has observation, point, lightness, and drollery. But though all is well said, many things are said more than once without the excuse of emphasis, and thus what it was within Mrs. Sidgwick's power to make a highly finished piece of work has in parts an air of carelessness. We could name no book, however, which gives a pleasanter and more easily read description of the daily life of Germans. Hundreds of small facts mentioned here would have escaped the attention of men, and Mrs. Alfred Sidgwick is in the advantageous position for a critic of being German by birth and English by adoption. Of course, she is not superior to the notorious difficulties of comparing different countries which nowhere have a common standard. Suppose we take the simple question : Is life more expensive in Germany than in England ? Economists will instantly give us all the appropriate figures,—the rate of wages, the rent, and the cost of necessaries. It looks simple till you visit the countries, and discover that the appearance of things does not bear out the meaning of the figures. This is because custom and character are essential conditions without which figures mean little. The Englishman expects to find in a country where the wages are lower than in his own more distress, more slums, more unemployment. And if character and custom were identical in that country and in England, probably he would be right ; but in Germany the "slum" is hidden by the imposing façade of a great building, the misery of ill-fed children is dis- guised from him by a universal tidiness of personal appearance such as he is accustomed to associate with a comfortable life. Though the standard of comfort is undoubtedly lower in Germany than in England, it is another matter to say that less comfort is felt, or at all events enjoyed. There are people who want less just because they are used to less. Germans are possibly less thrifty than French people because they are rather less skilful, but in intention they are as careful as the French, and in practice they are far better managers than ourselves. The British, we believe, are the most easily spoiled and pauperised people in Europe. If only we had the skill and care of France and Germany in our household budgets together with the blessings of cheap food and cheap clothes and equipment which are already provided by Free-trade ! The reader may easily disagree with some of Mrs. Sidgwick's conclusions, for it is impossible for judgments to be final in the circumstances. Indeed, in reading books of this sort we often find ourselves surprised at the statements about our own country which are taken as axioms and are the very starting- points of comparison. But when all is said, Mrs. Sidgwick has written a book which was wanted, and written it with exceptional verve. Several good books by Englishwomen have been written about France ; there was room for a work on Germany which to lightness adds something of the power of astute generalisation shown by Taine in his Notes sur l'Awleterre.
Mrs. Sidgwick begins with children and goes on to the educa- tion of both the richer and poorer classes. The chapter on the BaclOsch, the German "Miss," is perhaps the most amusing in the book :- "Your modern German Backfisch may be a person of finish and wide culture. You may find that she insists on her cold tub every morning, and is scandalised by your offer of hot water in it. She has seen Salome as a play and heard Salome as an opera. She has seen plays by G.B.S. both in Berlin and London. She does not care to see Shakespeare in London, because, as she tells you, the English know nothing about him. Besides, he could not sound as well in English as in German. She has read Carlyle, • Home Life ix Germany. By Mrs. Alfred Sidgwick. With 16 Illustrations. London : Methuen and Co. Lies. 6d. net.] • and is now reading Ruskin. She adores Byron, but does not know Keats, Shelley, or Rossetti. Tennyson she waves con- temptuously away from her, not because she has read him, but because she has been taught that his poetry is bourgeois.' Her favourite novels are Dorian Gray and Misunder- stood. She dresses with effect and in the height of fashion, she speaks French and English fluently, she has travelled in Italy and Switzerland, she plays tennis well, she can ride and swim and skate, and she would cycle if it was not out of fashion. In fact, she can do anything, and she knows everything, and she has been everywhere. Your French and English girls are ignorant misses in comparison with her, and you say to yourself as you watch her and humbly listen to her opinions, delivered without hesitation and expressed without mistakes : Where is the German Bachfisch of yester year ? ' " Our only difficulty is to reconcile the latitude assigned to the Backftsch in one chapter with the assurance in another that the backward, almost Islamic, principles laid down by Riehl as to the sphere of women are still substantially accepted in Germany. Such contradictions certainly exist, but it is difficult to fit them, with all the sharpness given to them by Airs. Sidgwick, into the same scheme of things. We fancy that the average German man is less Islamic than this book represents him. Mrs. Sidgwick proceeds to treat of University life, and marriage, and housekeeping, and servants, and sport, and restaurants, and holidays, and, indeed, of almost every matter which helps you to see "the great mundane movement" of Germany going on day by day.
Mrs. Sidgwick complains of the difficulty of remembering the complicated order of precedence in Germany ; but can this be compared with the terrors of performing the like feat in French society, where no rule exists, but only a precedence of esteem, so that whatever the hostess may do she is sure to offend somebody ? Besides the general order of precedence, there is a special order of precedence in using the sofa in Germany :—
" If you go to Germany in ignorance of the social importance attached to the sofa, you may blunder quite absurdly and sit down uninvited or when your age or your sex does not entitle you to a seat there. I was once present when an English girl innocently chose a corner of the sofa instead of a chair, though there were older women in the room. The hostess promptly and audibly told her to get up, for she knew it was not an affair to pass off as a joke. In England the question of precedence comes up chiefly at the dinner-table. The host and hostess must send the right people together and place them correctly too. In Germany you have to know as hostess who is to sit on the sofa ; and your decision may be complicated by the absurd titles of your guests. For instance, one Frau Direktor may be the wife of a post office official who had a university education, and in Germany a university education counts; while another Frau Direktor, though she can afford better clothes, is merely the wife of the man who manages the factory in the next village. I have heard a story of a Frau Kreissichter and a Frau Actuar that ended in a lifelong feud, and it all turned on a Kaffee %taloa and the wrong woman on the sofa. It is not easy to know what to do about these ridiculous titles in Germany, because some people insist on them and some laugh at them as much as we do. I once asked a lady who had the best right to know, about using military titles instead of names : Herr Lieutenant, Herr Major, and so on. She was quite explicit. 'Mir ist as sin Greuel,' she said, and went on to tell me that it was only done as one might expect by people who did not know better, and of course by servants. All the same, it is well to be careful and study the individual case. I know of an American who addressed his professor as Professor
Where are your manners, mein Herr ? ' said the pro- fessor in a fury, I am Herr Professor Dr. Lachs to every student in this laboratory.' But when it comes to Mrs. Tax-Collector and Mrs. Organist and Mrs. Head Master, and it does come to this quite seriously, it is difficult for the foreigner to appraise values. The length of the titles, too, is a stumbling-block. You may marry a harmless Herr Braun, and in course of time become Frau Wirklichergeheimeroberregierungsrath."
We should like to quote many other passages, but must be content with having suggested the matter and manner of the book. We hope it will be widely read; it might easily do more than the Hague Conference and the visits of editors to make Germans and British understand one another better.