This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
BY FRANCIS JACOX
Proverbs xxvi. 17. HE that passeth by and meddleth with strife belonging not to him, is likened in the Book of Proverbs to one that taketh a dog by the ears. The meddlesome Marplots of daily life, assiduously officious and blunderingly busy, — the busybodies in other men's matters, against whom an apostle directs a sharp sentence of warning and rebuke, — are disposed of as they deserve in the moral of one of La Fontaine's Fables : '^ Ainsi certaines gens, faisant les empresses, S'introduisent dans les affaires : lis font partout les ndcessaires, Et, partout importuns, devraient ^tre chassis." But there are well-meaning meddlers, whose meddling involves them in mischance. To interpose between a contentious couple, who by wedlock are one, is notoriously a hazardous enterprise. Assize cases and police reports are often cited to show what may be expected by those who interfere between man and wife — namely, the joint hostility of the two. Typical enough is the instance of the wife who, in terror for her life from her husband's violence, sent for the police, and they for a doctor, the man being in a state of delirium tremens : the doctor came, and did what he thought necessary ; and when the patient had recovered, his wife joined him in resenting the uncalled-for interposition of strangers, and flatly denying any real cause or pretext for it. Honest Arthur Gorges, that stanch friend of Raleigh's, only found the way of the world an odd one, not an uncommon one, when, seeing Sir Walter and Sir George T
274 MOLIERES WOODCUTTER AND HIS WIFE. Carew ** brawl and scramble like madmen," he played the part of him who taketh a dog by the ears, for he purchased, as he describes it, " such a rap on the knuckles, that I wished both their pates broken, and with much ado they stayed their brawl to see my bloody fingers," and then set to work to abuse the hapless peacemaker. Not always, not altogether, blessed is the peacemaker, so far as this world goes, and the way of this world. Sganarelle and Martine in Le M^decin malgri lui^ are the liveliest exemplars on record, perhaps, of the cha-
racteristic that here claims our notice. The woodcutter is exasperated by the volley of bad names his virago of a wife discharges at him — " trattre ! trompeur 1 liche ! coquin Ipendardl gueux ! fripon ! maraud! voleur!^' etc., etc. She will have it, will she, then } he says, as he lifts the stick to her : " Ah ! vous en voulez done ? [Sganarelle prend un bdtoui et bat sa femme?^' M. Robert hears the cries of the beaten vixen, and hurries to the rescue. Hold ! hold ! hold I Fie upon it ! What is all this ? Cudgel a woman ! Infamous ! He will teach the scoundrel to know better. — But Martine is beforehand with Sganarelle in resenting the interference. What business is it of M. Robert's ? She chooses to be beaten. " Je veux quMl me batte, moi ! — De quoi vous mfilez-vous? Est-ce \k votre affaire.? — ^Voyez un peu cet impertinent, qui veut emp^cher les maris de battre leurs femmes V M. Robert is full of conciliatory interjections of acquiescence, and defers absolutely to the lady's view of the case ; but her wrath waxes hotter and hotter with every concession. Why should he thrust in his nose .? Let him mind his own business. She likes to be beaten. It is not at M. Robert's expense : it costs hint nothing : then why should he be pushing himself forward where he's not wanted } He's a fool, she tells him flat, for meddling in what don't
MAKING A MUDDLE OF MEDDLING. 275 concern him one bit ; and with a box on the ear she enforces her argument, a soufflet that may well stagger the intruder. M. Robert thereupon begs her husband's pardon with all his heart, and bids him beat, drub, cudgel, thrash, castigate his wife as much as he likes : for the matter of that, M. Robert will help him, if he wishes it. This brings the husband to the fore. No, it is not his wish. He will beat her if he likes, and he won't beat her if he don't like ; but he won't be dictated to, or interfered with. She is his, Sganarelle's, wife, not M. Robert's. M. Robert has no voice in the matter at all. Sganarelle don't want his help. And M. Robert is simply an impertinent ass in meddling with other folks' private matters; which having said, Sganarelle gives the meddler a good beating, and sends him flying, as if for dear life. Agolanti, in the Legend of Florence, gives Rondinelli a piece of his mind, in more polished terms, but in a very similar spirit to that of Moli^re's woodcutter and wife-beater :
I laugh at you.
And let me tell you at parting, that the way To serve a lady best, and have her faults Lightliest admonished by her lawful helper, Is not to thrust a lawless vanity 'Twixt him and his vexed love." Captain Marryat's autobiographic Stapleton records his coming to grief for standing up for a beaten wife, who, having made it up with her assailant, joins him in turning on the mediator, whom they jointly bid pack off, and never show his face there again. Cooper's Esther Bush, in the Prairie^ invites and invokes sympathy with her lot as a wife, but as soon as it is expressed, turns on the too ready sympathizer, and resents such impertinence in a third party, who thus presumes to set
276 MEDDLER'S MISCHANCE. up as a judge, and wrongs a man she won't hear a word against — fluent and affluent and effluent of such words as the termagant wife may be herself. When the Country Fellow in Philaster comes upon the hero in the act of wounding Arethusa in the forest, and with a cry of shame on the " dastard/' is for spoiling his sport, "What ill-bred man art thou, to intrude thyself?" is all the thanks he gets on the sufferer's part, to say nothing of the keen edge of Philaster's drawn sword. Montesquieu, in his Persian Letters, expatiates on the love the Muscovite women have to be beaten by their husbands, whose hearts they doubt of having really secured, unless by palpable proofs on their persons in black and blue. *'Je crois que si quelque voisin venoit au secours, je r^tranglerois," one of them declares. The sensitiveness of the stronger vessel in such cases of a little domestic difficulty, where however the grey mare is the better horse, is exemplified in an epigram of Dean Swift's : — " As Thomas was cudgelled one day by his wife, He took to the street, and fled for his life : Tom's three dearest friends came by in the squabble. And saved him at once from the shrew and the rabble ; Then ventured to give him some sober advice^ But Tom is a person of honour so nice, Too wise to take counsel, too proud to take warning. That he sent to all three a challenge next morning. Three duels he fought, thrice ventured his life ; Went home, and was cudgelled again by his wife." The three friends at least ventured each of their three lives too ; and probably went home mindful of the proverb that he that passeth by and meddleth with strife belonging not to him, is like one that taketh a dog by
the ears. In this case a mad dog, or something like it ; a sad dog, at any rate, and one whose bark was m?/ worse than his bite, for he proved himself just as ready to bite as to bark.
SPORTIVE MISCHIEF. 277 Cold and selfish prudence is only too willing to abide by the teaching of the proverb, and make a practical application of it perpetual, to their own comfort and security. But there are times when the dog must be taken by the ears, and defied to do his worst. Meddlers are liable to mischances, but a magnanimous spirit will not accept them as a veto on all intervention. Moses, nwin of God, seeing two of his brethren strive together, would have set them at one again, but was rebuffed by the wrong-doer, who thrust him away, saying, " Who made thee a ruler and a judge over us V The rebuff was followed by a reminder that madfe Moses flee. Else he was not the man to flee at a rebuff. It is the priest of a degraded type, it is the levite of a lukewarm faith and selfish life, that, seeing the wounded man, and smelling strife, and suspecting the vicinity of the violent, declines to meddle with what (let him hope) belongeth not to him (let good Samaritans meddle and make as they list) ; and so passeth by on the other side.
1. 68 FREE BOOKS http://www.scribd.com/doc/21800308/Free-Christian-Books 2. ALL WRITINGS http://www.scribd.com/glennpease/documents?page=1000
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue listening from where you left off, or restart the preview.