29 JUNE 1867, Page 10


MHERE is something rather striking, not to say pathetic, to our minds, in the satisfaction with which you see stout eountry lasses, who would no more think of shading their eyes and complexions from the sun on any other day of the week than of wearing wings, carrying out with them, in visible satisfaction, on the Sunday a gay little machine in silk for protecting their eyes and complexions from that embrowning and dazzling power. Some people will say that it is only as a comparatively inexpensive ornament, like a new bonnet, or ribbon, or brooch, that the parasol is displayed on a Sunday by young women entirely and absolutely indifferent to the special annoyances from which it is supposed to protect the eyes and face. But that view, which may no doubt have its force in many cases, would be a very inade- quate one indeed of the real fascination of the parasol to the class in question. The true glory of the parasol to those who are not really aware of the glare and heat from which it is intended to protect, consists precisely in the pleasant fiction that they are aware of it, and it is this which gives it a charm much more than purely ornamental. That any woman should seek to wear

what she thinks will make her look prattiest is a matter of

course which needs no remark; and if rustic maid-servants erroneously think they look prettiest in silks and tulle bonnets and gilt brooches, why silks and tulle bonnets and gilt brooches they will wear. But parasols are dear to their hearts for an addi- tional and more precious reason. Tree, they are not really so childish as to suppose that by warding off the sun for some hour or two in the week, they will really save either eyes or complexions from any appreciable fraction of exposure. If they thought that, they would not be so fond as they are of standing at the gate, completely unprotected, on ordinary summer afternoons, to pick up chance gossip, and watch any chance carriage roll through the village. No, the special charm of the parasol in these cases is the vivid suggestion it carries to the imagination of its owner of possible worlds in which she might live in actual need of this article,—worlds in which all those delicate susceptibilities to pain or annoyance which the parasol is adapted to keep uninjured might exist in her, though they do not. In short, the parasol to maid-servants or farmers' girls is an imaginative plaything, a sort of dramatic toy, which brings closer to them the possibility of having been placed in a sphere of life in which they would have a number of feelings which they have not got, but which they think marks of a finer organization and a more delicate nature, which, in short, they regard as signs of caste, and which it is not, therefore, in human nature to despise. In fact, the parasol thus used is to those who use it much what a bit of whipcord is to a child when he harnesses a chair and makes believe it is a horse,—a little dramatic property that slightly assists the illusion, and lifts the fancy for the time into a fairer region than the actual. How nice it would be to be personally sensitive to the least glare and exposure, and to be able to take anxious thought for your tenderest susceptibilities of this sort, and to feel a sort of shudder at the open air and morning sun, asif one were a delicate flower ! That is, we take it, the secret of the special charm of maid-servants' parasols as a Sunday appurtenance,—one quite different in kind from the love of mere ornament or the love of mere expense. Love of mere ornament and of mere expense can be justified better in other ways. The parasol is a comparatively unornamental and inexpensive appendage, whose value consists precisely in guarding the bearer against evils which she does not feel. But that is the triumph of it, that she does conceive in some faint and obscure way, as she puts it up and over- shadows her embrowned complexion and her not too tender eyes, for the only hour in the 168 hours of the week when it would occur to her to seek this interposing shade, that she, too, might have been one, had Providence been sufficiently generous, to miss keenly this artificial aid which she is not too poor to procure. All she really regrets in fact is that, with her power to supply this deficiency if she had felt it, she has not the power to procure for 'herself the full sense of deficiency. She is happy in being able to purchase the satisfaction. She would be happier if she could also purchase the want.

But rustic girls and maid-servants are by no means the only persons who carry such Sunday parasols. There are plenty of us who like to procure for ourselves dramatically a share in suscep- tibilities which personally we do not feel, by anticipating their demands, as it were, and assuming, for a few moments rather arbitrarily selected in a life of complete indifference to such susceptibilities, that we are so constituted as to stand in constant need of a shade or shelter which is, except for an in- teresting dramatic fiction, quite unfelt by us. A great deal of the pretence of artistic and literary taste in people who, when in earnest, may be seen by genuine preference to avoid both art and literature, is absolutely of the Sunday-parasol kind, a periodic ceremonial observance, which has a charm of its own,— not that, however, of satisfying any existing want, but of giving a sort of speciousness and plausibility to the notion that such a want might, under some circumstances, be really felt. At least half the books and pictures in the world, probably much more than

half, are bought either by or for people who like them a great deal better for the sort of tastes and interests which such purchases suggest and seem to assume, than for any which they really imply. Whether you care for Millais and Poynter, or Tennyson and Arnold, or George Eliot and Thackeray, or not, you feel not, indeed, bound to society, —that is not the point, for Sunday parasols are not carried half as much out of deference to society as out of com- mon self-respect—but bound to yourself to enter dramatically in heart into the position of caring for them. If we don't actually feel the sultriness and dustiness of common life, so as to need the shade of imaginative works beneath which we may rest our soul, we do at least feel that such a need implies a more delicate mental constitution, which it would be well to have ; and that the least we can do is to devote now and then a stray hour or two to doing what we should do, if we had it, so that we may, at least, seem not quite alien creatures from those who have such a mental constitution. Half the interest assumed in literature and art is not so much assumed for social display, as to dignify ourselves in our own eyes by impersonating for a moment, now and then, the sort of creature which we like to think ourselves capable of becoming,—or, at least, in different circumstances, of having become. Look at half the women, and very many of the men in the Royal Academy, and you will see no real interest in their eyes of that kind which Mr. Arnold indicates when he speaks of art composed or criticized with the "eye on the object," for the eye is not on the object. You see that half the eyes of the spectators, snore than half the eyes, are really only open to a small proportion of the impressions which they might receive in the time ;—that they are suffused with that peculiar lack-hustreness which says, as plainly as words could say, that the mind is not in the glance, but only congratulating itself on its comparatively near approach to the condition of those whose mind really is in the glance. And with British visitors to foreign picture galleries this is even more notable. Numbers of them go to keep up their own self-respect, and like the maid-servant with her Sunday parasol, they would irive a great deal more if they could only feel the want as easily as they can satisfy it.

But perhaps the most remarkable case of Sunday parasols, is the periodic fiction which so many (and again,wef alley, more women than men, but also literary men not a few) make of needing some satis- faction for "the infinite side of human nature," in cases when almost every action of their ordinary lives, except these rare periodic sym- bolic actions, proves that they are entirely insensible to the fact that there is "an infinite side to human nature." People who prefer to te ever buffeting with the dust-storms of earth, and never shrink from them for a moment, however full all the crevices of their nature may get with that dust, all the week, parade their dainty little bits of paraterres, —as we might call the religious machinery for shutting out earth for a few moments from our view and leaving us open to the true sun of Heaven,—with a really sentimental feeling of gratification at belonging to the race which now and then feels the need of such machinery. No housemaid feels a more sentimental gratification when the pretty silk screen intervenes between herself and the Sunday glare which she would rather like than otherwise, if it were not ladylike to dislike it, —than you can see expressed in many persons' Sunday faces to whom worship is by no means a social ostentation or hypocrisy, but to whom it is also anything but a real want. What they like it for is just what the housemaid likes her parasol for,—that it .suggests very vividly to them how near they are to a race of beings with immortal desires,—so near that they can procure all that which immortal souls thirst after, though it may be without thirsting after it. From Monday till Saturday the notion of needing any Redeemer probably never occurs in anything but the most formal way, and yet it is for what we do from Monday till Saturday, in most cases, that we do need redeeming. Then, on the Sunday there comes a refreshing sense that, after all, we belong to this race of great sins, and great passions, and great virtues, and great hopes, for whom there has been a divine education from the beginning, for whom Christ came from heaven, for whose salva- tion all creation travailed with groanings that could not be uttered. What a new and ornamental crown to the human race is -such a creed as that ! Or, if the school of thought be more scep- tical, and instead of the face of Christ, it is "the infinite verities" and "everlasting facts of Nature" which now and then shine through the cloud of material things, the attitude of mind is not very different. All the same it is as a tribute to our species, and as a sort of pledge to ourselves that we really belong to that spe- cies, that so many of us go through at intervals a series of actions and con over a number of thoughts, which we should only brush out of our way as interfering with the actual business of life at any other time. A great deal of what is commonly supposed to be vain show and social ostentation, is, we are quite convinced, like the maid-servant's parasol, not really of that nature at all, but a sort of mute assertion of our abstract right to reckon ourselves as included in a species with the natural history of which we have, as a matter of personal experience, exceedingly little proof of relationship. We put in a periodical claim, as it were, to have, potentially at least, all the feelings and susceptibilities which some of our noblest fellow-creatures have shown to be real and powerful. But this periodic claim, while it seems to bar the right to exclude us from the higher qualities of our fellow-men, has too often only the effect of keeping us quite easy, while these potential higher qualities are really slipping nearly out of our reach.