THE reappearance of Mrs. Candle's Curtain Lectures in an edition de luxe, with embossed binding, and tinted paper, and illustrations by Mr. Charles Keene, is a curious literary incident. Messrs. Bradbury and Evans seldom make mistakes in their estimate of popular taste, or we should have argued a priori that such a book was certain not to sell. Unmarried men would not buy it, as having small interest for them, and married men would feel a delicate hesitation lest its purchase should be taken as a gentle reproof to their wives. A priori arguments about literature, however, are of very little value, and as a fact, the. lectures are among the very few fugitive papers in Punch which have lived for many years. They were published so long ago that few people under thirty-five have seen them, but the tradition of
their humour lingers, and will secure their success even in this luxurious form. Women will purchase them as well as men, and the fact that they will, that they can enjoy the
humour without feeling in it a reproach, explains much of their popularity. Every woman thinks she has tact, and sees,
what men often do not, that Mrs. Caudle's defect was not temper, or meanness, or jealousy, or any one of the bad qualities which Mr. Jerrold made so broadly comic, but simply want of tact. Mrs. Caudle is in the right nine times out of ten. It is a great deal better for a decent tradesman to avoid card clubs, and little extravagancies, and flirtations, and over much brandy and Water, nor is it very unreasonable to warn him not to neglect wealthy relatives, or to ask him not to forget the children's need of a trip to the sea. That is all Mrs. Caudle does, and women
who read it think they could do it all, and yet avoid making themselves as ludicrous as Mr. Jerrold's heroine. She nagged, and nagging is universally useful only with maids. She lost her temper occasionally, and the "suffering-angel dodge" is a very much more effective as well as Christian resource. She chose her time badly, and a very little watchfulness will always prevent that mistake, while she was oh ! so vulgar. Her absurdity lay in her want of tact, and how easy, think her femi- • nine readers, to display tact! Is it? That is precisely the point upon which we are not clear. Men, and particularly authors, are very fond of conceding tact to women, and almost all women claim it for themselves, till between the consensus and the assumption a very doubtful assertion has become almost an established fact. Half womankind are doubtful of their ability to govern, but no woman at heart disbelieves her ability to "manage," to rule husbands, and children, and servants, without recourse to authority or lapse into fretful bickering. Sometimes the belief is well founded. In the cases where an able woman marries an able husband it is almost always so, for they choose separate domains, and little frictions can be avoided by that self- restraint which is not strictly tact, but has all its value. In cases where the husband knows his inferiority, or thinks he knows it—a wonderfully common alternative, though repudiated by both sexes— the conviction is also well founded. There is but one authority in the end, and the consciousness that there is but one gives the woman the calm which is the very essence of tact. But apart from those two cases, in each of which the woman is assumed to be able, we question whether the palm of tact belongs to the weaker sex. Average women are quicker to perceive than men, but the quick- ness is compensated by many disadvantages fatal to the develop- ment of tact. Few women, especially in England, are quite as good-tempered as men. They are constitutionally more irritable, lead unhealthier lives, and from a paucity of interests exaggerate more the importance of domestic topics. The loss of an umbrella, about which Mrs. Caudle in one lecture makes such a fuss, really seemed to her something, whereas her husband had his ledger to think of, could even suggest the new purchase which his wife so indignantly repudiates as unheard-of extravagance. The little meannesses of women which men so dislike--though without them every house would be an annexe to the Bankruptcy Court—all spring from a want of perspective very injurious to tact. Women are not really mean, but the household allowance is to them the income, and they think on a false scale. The little thing is treated in such a large way, so often, and at such length, that the man is irritated by the visible disproportion. He will stand being told that he has acted "so like a man" in losing his umbrella, or playing whist a little too high, or taking a second tumbler, and will think the implied rebuke has its justification, but a whole lecture irritates. Men rarely make this mistake, their habitual blunder being to under- tone everything, to make too light of Julia's new frock, and Johnnie's symptoms of measles, and the way they waste things downstairs. That is aggravating enough, and shows want of tact on their part also, but it is easier to bear than household exaggeration. For the same reason, too, they seldom lose temper so quickly, the thing not seeming important enough to be out of temper about. Women, again, watch more closely than men, and watching can speak better, hit the sore places when they want to hit them much harder, and they place leas restraint on their power. There are men with this faculty in dangerous perfection, nervous men, sympathetic men, who know exactly what each word will do, but then they are seldom cruel, still seldomer forget the unwritten code which among men, but not among women, saves repartee from degenerating into insult, and the majority cannot hit at all. They laugh at their wives' ignorance, who at heart are a little proud to be ignorant compared with them, or accuse them of jealousy, which unless very bitterly done is but a rough caress, or say they are mean, which good women who never think themselves mean enough receive almost as praise.
Then men never by any chance try to play suffering angels, the one device which strikes almost all women as so clever, and the use of which of itself proves their deficiency in tact. It yields victory sometimes, but then every such victory is a victory of in- justice, and makes the husband think of Mrs. Caudle and nerves him to ultimate rebellion. Somebody, we suppose Mr. Shirley Brooks, has shown that very well in Punch, in the more refined series of Caudle lectures called the " Naggletons." Mrs. Naggle- ton hits very hard with her tongue, but Mr. Naggleton, who oddly enough is made, by an unconscious exercise of dramatic power, a real rather than a typical "character"—can hit back, and does not mind, and only gets into a rage when his wife resigns herself to her fate. All men get into rages when their womenkind resign themselves, and the fact that women nevertheless continue to resign themselves seems to us to suggest at least a doubt of their superior tact.
The main doubt, however, is this. Almost all women think it indispensable, nay more, even morally right, nay more, an absolute Christian duty, to " manage " the men about them. Sometimes, though very rarely, husband and wife arrive at a real compre- hension of each other, which makes all effort at " management " superfluous, and occasionally, though much more rarely, a mother contrives by aid of her mysterious instinct to acquire the necessary rapport with her son on most of the relations of life. Not all, for no mother on earth ever escaped the delusion that her son needed "management " about his love affairs and his relationi to womenldnd generally. Left to himself, without gentle pulls at the curb, and touches of the reins, and chirrupings, he would, the mother thinks, be sure to do something silly. But with these ex- ceptions, there is probably in the *United Kingdom no woman who in some capacity or other, as wife, or daughter, or betrothed, or housekeeper, or friend, or servant, is not trying consciously to manage some one man. Sometimes the management is very slight and addressed to trivialities, but more frequently it is elaborate, and touches every affair of every day. Many women have a
definite theory that in small things men are fools, that to yield -1 or even to compromise on such a point as the arrangement of a party or the distribution of new furniture is simply to allow the male person to do something silly, or extravagant, or in bad taste. There never was a great female artist, but there also was never a wife who did not believe she had a better eye for colour than her husband. Out of the studio Rabens' wife would have laughed to herself at his choice of hangings for her dais. Many more really desire, very reasonably, to have in the little things of life the " way " which is refused in greater things, and think " management " the easiest way to obtain it. But the main cause of all this waste of power is a want of comprehension, leading to a deficiency of tact. Average women very often indeed do not compre- hend average men. You will see a couple live together for thirty years, and the wife during all that time never comprehend why her husband does this or that, why he wants cards, why he likes that oppressive friend, what is his inducement to occasional whimsies, why he cannot, as Mrs. Caudle puts it, be content "with his com- fortable fireside," why, above all, he thinks the little Evangelicalisms or Puseyisms which seem to her almost divine so very mean and petty. Why is he, for example, so impatient under that sweet vicar, who seems to her to be uttering such melodious truth? It is not one woman in a hundred who can comprehend a theological pro- position—just ask a knot of she-curates what they mean by baptismal regeneration or prevenient grace—but in the English middle class there is scarcely a woman who does not accuse her husband, who has probably worked out his theology as thoroughly as his politics, of thoughtlessness or inconsiderateness as to re- ligious observance. No woman, for example, has the faintest notion of Scriptural teaching about oaths, or can comprehend why, her husband pshavrs when she tells him it is a crime to damn' some stupid blunderer. Thousands of married women really think that the club is a • device for getting away from them. Thousands more, particularly of women brought up without fathers or brothers, fail all their lives to catch the special points in the idiosyncrasy of the men they love, on which if they want happiness they must be tolerant, rage against petty habits such as smoking, fret at small lawlessn.esses such as late hours, and think in their hearts that safety for both depends on their own shrewd tact and gentle management. They think it by some strange faculty peculiar to themselves, even while they think the victim all the while first of his sex, defer to him, and love him hard. The woman who will implicitly trust her husband in a bold stroke for fortune or ruin will watch, and plan, and wheedle, and pout to avoid his giving a guinea too much for a toy she deems a caprice. When she is a lady, she cautions, and plans, and hints, when .a Mrs. Caudle, she lectures, and in either case shows deplorable want of tact. For men, in all else thicker-witted than women, are in this keener of appreciation, and perceive and resent " manage-- meat" as they do not resent counsel. Let any woman who doubts it mark how her husband receives an unpleasing remark from a friend and from herself, and then cogitate whether his reasonable- ness in one case and unreasonableness in the other might not be due to tact. Suppose Mr. Prettyman had wished to advise Caudle not to bail a friend, he would have done it in -five " chaffy"words ; Mrs. Caudle does it in a lecture ; but which is the more effective, the more full of tact?