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What's wrong with the "Made-up Tie"? I gather from the fashionable novelist that no man can wear a made-up tie and be a gentleman. He may be a worthy man, clever, well-to-do, eligible from every other point of view; but She, the refined heroine, can never get over the fact that he wears a made-up tie. It causes a shudder down her high-bred spine whenever she thinks of it. There is nothing else to be said against him. There is nothing worse about him than this--he wears a made-up tie. It is all sufficient. No true woman could ever care for him, no really classy society ever open its doors to him.
I am worried about this thing because, to confess the horrid truth, I wear a made-up tie myself. On foggy afternoons I steal out of the house disguised. They ask me where I am going in a hat that comes down over my ears, and why I am wearing blue spectacles and a false beard, but I will not tell them. I creep along the wall till I find a common hosier's shop, and then, in an assumed voice, I tell the man what it is I want. They come to fourpence halfpenny each; by taking the half-dozen I get them for a trifle less. They are put on in a moment, and, to my vulgar eye, look neat and tasteful.
Of course, I know I am not a gentleman. I have given up hopes of ever being one. Years ago, when life presented possibilities, I thought that with pains and intelligence I might become one. I never succeeded. It all depends on being able to tie a bow. Round the bed-post, or the neck of the water-jug, I could tie the wretched thing to perfection. If only the bed-post or the water-jug could have taken my place and gone to the party instead of me, life would have been simpler. The bed-post and the water-jug, in its neat white bow, looked like a gentleman--the fashionable novelist's idea of a gentleman. Upon myself the result was otherwise, suggesting always a feeble attempt at suicide by strangulation. I could never understand how it was done. There were moments when it flashed across me that the secret lay in being able to turn one's self inside out, coming up with one's arms and legs the other way round. Standing on one's head might have surmounted the difficulty; but the higher gymnastics Nature has denied to me. "The Boneless Wonder" or the "Man Serpent" could, I felt, be a gentleman so easily. To one to whom has been given only the common ordinary joints gentlemanliness is apparently an impossible ideal.
It is not only the tie. I never read the fashionable novel without misgiving. Some hopeless bounder is being described:
"If you want to know what he is like," says the Peer of the Realm, throwing himself back in his deep easy-chair, and puffing lazily at his cigar of delicate aroma, "he is the sort of man that wears three studs in his shirt."
The difficulty of being a Gentleman.
Merciful heavens! I myself wear three studs in my shirt. I also am a hopeless bounder, and I never knew it. It comes upon me like a thunderbolt. I thought three studs were fashionable. The idiot at the shop told me three studs were all the rage, and I ordered two dozen. I can't afford to throw them away. Till these two dozen shirts are worn out, I shall have to remain a hopeless bounder.
Why have we not a Minister of the Fine Arts? Why does not a paternal Government fix notices at the street corners, telling the would-be gentleman how many studs he ought to wear, what style of necktie now distinguishes the noble-minded man from the base-hearted? They are prompt enough with their police regulations, their vaccination orders--the higher things of life they neglect.
I select at random another masterpiece of English literature.
"My dear," says Lady Montresor, with her light aristocratic laugh, "you surely cannot seriously think of marrying a man who wears socks with yellow spots?"
Lady Emmelina sighs.
"He is very nice," she murmurs, "but I suppose you are right. I suppose that sort of man does get on your nerves after a time."
"My dear child," says Lady Montresor, "he is impossible."
In a cold sweat I rush upstairs into my bedroom.
I thought so: I am always wrong. All my best socks have yellow spots. I rather fancied them. They were expensive, too, now I come to think of it.
What am I to do? If I sacrifice them and get red spots, then red spots, for all I know, may be wrong. I have no instinct. The fashionable novelist never helps one. He tells us what is wrong, but he does not tell us what is right. It is creative criticism that I feel the need of. Why does not the Lady Montresor go on? Tell me what sort of socks the ideal lover ought to wear. There are so many varieties of socks. What is a would-be-gentleman to do? Would it be of any use writing to the fashionable novelist:--
How we might, all of us, be Gentlemen.
"Dear Mr. Fashionable Novelist (or should it be Miss?),--Before going to my tailor, I venture to write to you on a subject of some importance. I am fairly well educated, of good family and address, and, so my friends tell me, of passable appearance. I yearn to become a gentleman. If it is not troubling you too much, would you mind telling me how to set about the business? What socks and ties ought I to wear? Do I wear a flower in my button-hole, or is that a sign of a coarse mind? How many buttons on a morning coat show a beautiful nature? Does a stand-up collar with a tennis shirt prove that you are of noble descent, or, on the contrary, stamp you as a parvenu? If answering these questions imposes too great a tax on your time, perhaps you would not mind telling me how you yourself know these things. Who is your authority, and when is he at home? I should apologize for writing to you but that I feel you will sympathize with my appeal. It seems a pity there should be so many vulgar, ill-bred people in the world when a little knowledge on these trivial points would enable us all to become gentlemen. Thanking you in anticipation, I remain . . . "
Would he or she tell us? Or would the fashionable novelist reply as I once overheard a harassed mother retort upon one of her inquiring children. Most of the afternoon she had been rushing out into the garden, where games were in progress, to tell the children what they must not do:--"Tommy, you know you must not do that. Haven't you got any sense at all?" "Johnny, you wicked boy, how dare you do that; how many more times do you want me to tell you?" "Jane, if you do that again you will go straight to bed, my girl!" and so on.
At length the door was opened from without, and a little face peeped in: "Mother!"
"Now, what is it? can't I ever get a moment's peace?"
"Mother, please would you mind telling us something we might do?"
The lady almost fell back on the floor in her astonishment. The idea had never occurred to her.
"What may you do! Don't ask me. I am tired enough of telling you what not to do."
Things a Gentleman should never do.
I remember when a young man, wishful to conform to the rules of good society, I bought a book of etiquette for gentlemen. Its fault was just this. It told me through many pages what not to do. Beyond that it seemed to have no idea. I made a list of things it said a gentleman should never do: it was a lengthy list.
Determined to do the job completely while I was about it, I bought other books of etiquette and added on their list of "Nevers." What one book left out another supplied. There did not seem much left for a gentleman to do.
I concluded by the time I had come to the end of my books, that to be a true gentleman my safest course would be to stop in bed for the rest of my life. By this means only could I hope to avoid every possible faux pas, every solecism. I should have lived and died a gentleman. I could have had it engraved upon my tombstone:
"He never in his life committed a single act unbecoming to a gentleman."
To be a gentleman is not so easy, perhaps, as a fashionable novelist imagines. One is forced to the conclusion that it is not a question entirely for the outfitter. My attention was attracted once by a notice in the window of a West-End emporium, "Gentlemen supplied."
It is to such like Universal Providers that the fashionable novelist goes for his gentleman. The gentleman is supplied to him complete in every detail. If the reader be not satisfied, that is the reader's fault. He is one of those tiresome, discontented customers who does not know a good article when he has got it.
I was told the other day of the writer of a musical farce (or is it comedy?) who was most desirous that his leading character should be a perfect gentleman. During the dress rehearsal, the actor representing the part had to open his cigarette case and request another perfect gentleman to help himself. The actor drew forth his case. It caught the critical eye of the author.
"Good heavens!" he cried, "what do you call that?"
"A cigarette case," answered the actor.
"But, my dear boy," exclaimed the author, "surely it is silver?"
"I know," admitted the actor, "it does perhaps suggest that I am living beyond my means, but the truth is I picked it up cheap."
The author turned to the manager.
"This won't do," he explained, "a real gentleman always carries a gold cigarette case. He must be a gentleman, or there's no point in the plot."
"Don't let us endanger any point the plot may happen to possess, for goodness sake," agreed the manager, "let him by all means have a gold cigarette case."
How one may know the perfect Gentleman.
So, regardless of expense, a gold cigarette case was obtained and put down to expenses. And yet on the first night of that musical play, when that leading personage smashed a tray over a waiter's head, and, after a row with the police, came home drunk to his wife, even that gold cigarette case failed to convince one that the man was a gentleman beyond all doubt.
The old writers appear to have been singularly unaware of the importance attaching to these socks, and ties, and cigarette-cases. They told us merely what the man felt and thought. What reliance can we place upon them? How could they possibly have known what sort of man he was underneath his clothes? Tweed or broadcloth is not transparent. Even could they have got rid of his clothes there would have remained his flesh and bones. It was pure guess-work. They did not observe.
The modern writer goes to work scientifically. He tells us that the creature wore a made-up tie. From that we know he was not a gentleman; it follows as the night the day. The fashionable novelist notices the young man's socks. It reveals to us whether the marriage would have been successful or a failure. It is necessary to convince us that the hero is a perfect gentleman: the author gives him a gold cigarette case.
A well-known dramatist has left it on record that comedy cannot exist nowadays, for the simple reason that gentlemen have given up taking snuff and wearing swords. How can one have comedy in company with frock-coats--without its "Las" and its "Odds Bobs."
The sword may have been helpful. I have been told that at levees City men, unaccustomed to the thing, have, with its help, provided comedy for the rest of the company.
But I take it this is not the comedy our dramatist had in mind.
Why not an Exhibition of Gentlemen?
It seems a pity that comedy should disappear from among us. If it depend entirely on swords and snuff-boxes, would it not be worth the while of the Society of Authors to keep a few gentlemen specially trained? Maybe some sympathetic theatrical manager would lend us costumes of the eighteenth century. We might provide them with swords and snuff-boxes. They might meet, say, once a week, in a Queen Anne drawing-room, especially prepared by Gillow, and go through their tricks. Authors seeking high-class comedy might be admitted to a gallery.
Perhaps this explains why old-fashioned readers complain that we do not give them human nature. How can we? Ladies and gentlemen nowadays don't wear the proper clothes. Evidently it all depends upon the clothes.
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