2 JULY 1910, Page 18


WE understand from a fashionable novelist that the makers of ephemeral fashions of speech and custom —the modistes of manners--no longer say of any one that she or he is a lady or a gentleman. The description, in all but its most technical sense, is now upon the "index." It is the fashion of an hour to denude words of all wealth of meaning—to cut from them all moral, literary, and historic associations—and if this be impossible, to debase or banish them. The aim of these mischievous word-spoilers is appar- ently to create a change between the written and the spoken language. But, it may be said, is it not the uneducated who have debased the word " lady" by making it simply a polite synonym for " woman " ? For our part, we do not see that in so doing they have touched its inner meaning at all. That meaning was not affected by the fact that it is the legal appellation of certain women without regard to their qualities, or indeed to their quality either. Many Knights' wives are not ladies in the social sense, some Peeresses are ladies in no other. The omnibus-conductors of London have bestowed a courtesy title upon the feminine world ; that is all they have done. The class above them, which again makes a somewhat indiscriminate use of the word, has exaggerated its moral to the exclusion of its social significance. The desire to be ladylike has been so strong and so general among them as to make it inevitable that politeness should presuppose attainment in this particular. Refinement is the idol of a certain class, and perhaps it is as good an idol as the " naturalness " which is worshipped rather higher np. Absence of tradition and paucity of cultivation do not, at least in the best sense, prevent a woman from being a lady. A certain self-consciousness, when it is not produced by either vanity or fear, is often a sign of ideality. The present horror of self-consciousness is new. Surely "Anne Elliot" was a lady. Miss Austen describes her, our readers may remember, as " an elegant little woman of seven-and-twenty with every beauty excepting bloom, and manners as consciously right as they were invariably gentle." If we may say so, it is not natural to every one to be natural. Naturalness is not always very attractive. It depends upon the nature. Many ladies are ladies who would not be ladies if they did not try.

But whatever their abuse of the word, its inner meaning is not lost either in the middle or the lower class. " I should call 'er a perfick lydy," was the verdict of a very little boy in a great London hospital. Now what was his standard? The " lydy " thus distinguished from her fellow-nurses was in authority at the head of a ward, and, 'like most women in authority, she was authoritative, saying to one woman " Go" and she went, to another " Come" and she came. She had not much time to give to the little patient, but she always spoke or smiled as she passed his bed, and she realised as by instinct that, while the poor little fellow liked to be occasionally kissed when his pain was very bad, he valued this expression of sympathy most when no bigger boys could see. She respected his conventions as well as his wishes. After all, the little critic was a nice judge, though his only qualification, according to the other nurses, was that he himself was "a perfick gentleman." "I 'oped you 'ad not 'eard," he said one day to a nurse whose grave face warned him that she had been distressed by the bad language proceeding from a near bed.

The incident is illustrative of the difference between the gentlemanly and the exclusively moral points of view. It illustrates also the fact that the word "gentleman " oovera- a wider field than the word " lady." It prescribes a man's whole attitude towards women. A lady's attitude towards the other sex is, on the other hand, entirely individual. Weak and suffering, in the hands of a strong woman this little gamin yet put himself instantly in the correct position of respect and protection. He took for granted a more delicate moral perception, at least in one direction, than his own, and he valued and desired to preserve it, listening, as it were, with two sets of ears. Again, in another sense the significance of the word " lady " is narrower than that of "gentleman." A woman may be a lady without having quite a man's sense of fair play. It has been wittily said that " it is impossible for a lady to be a gentleman." This is of course a pre- posterously unjust judgment, but it does contain a grain of truth. Women are not brought up amid contests. Emulation isnot instilled into tham from their earliest years. Consequently the principles and considerations which keep emulation in due check are unfamiliar to them. A contest with a woman is often disagreeable to a man not so much because politeness bids him allow her an advantage as because the wish for victory prompts her to take one. On the other hand, you do sometimes find in a typical lady a more complete disinterested- ness than is to be found in any man. There is an essentially feminine form of pride which prompts many a woman to give in, and makes her feel the most generous struggle to be beneath her. Social distinctions mean more to her than to a man. They please her more and interest her more. Nevertheless she knows far better how to obliterate them. She is able to enjoy intercourse in which she gives and asks nothing in return. She can sympathise to the full

and ask no sympathy back. Just because she is a lady she can practise a reserve which almost annihilates herself. This

reserve is the secret of her success with people of a wholly different degree of culture and education, people so pre- occupied by getting that giving does not occur to them.

If class distinctions could be done away with, the world, in the opinion of the present writer, would certainly be a more ideal but perhaps a less amusing place both for high and low. While things remained equal there would be no snobs ; but there would be very few ladies. Not but that all the moral qualifications, and in a sense all the social qualifications, of a lady are occasionally to be found in every class ; but they flourish much better in what we loosely call the upper classes. One thing which the little boy admired in his ideal lady was authority. Now women should never be domineering. The authority ascribed to "the Kings of the Gentles " ought rot to be theirs. But it is very dangerous to put a woman who is not a lady by grace or by circumstance in a position of authority, and in any small crisis it is the most typical lady present whom the cataclysm throws to the top. She is ready to take responsibility and the initiative. There are many shy women who are perfect ladies ; but to be craven is to be underbred.

The truth—and it is a truth with a very bitter side to is that feminine human nature seldom comes to perfection without some ease, some leisure, and some deference. Now and then Nature creates a perfect lady where the first two essentials do not exist. Hard work and a hard life do not destroy Nature's gifts ; and deference is always obtained for them. No doubt there are a few humble uninfluential women to whom no one defers who reach a point of unresent- ful meekness, whom circumstances buffet and their best friends ridicule. They are absolutely without a tinge of vulgarity or of underbreeding, and yet it is difficult to call them ladies in any but a technical sense. A saint and a lady are not synonymous terms. No one can become a lady by eliminating her own unladylike qualities. It is an ideal not to be reached by a process of exhaustion. The state of being a lady is positive, not negative, and it is closely allied on its higher side to sympathy and self-control, on its lower to prosperity. "A heart at leisure" may be found anywhere, but an atmosphere of small cares is not favourable to its development.