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The Autobiography of Christopher Kirkland, Vol. 3. Linton, E. Lynn (Elizabeth Lynn), 1822–1898.
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SOCIETY was beginning to busy itself with the question of woman's rights when I was young. Now it is an established cause, aggressive where it was then only a protest. Naturally I was, and am, among those who hold that women, though helpmates, should not be slaves to men; that duties do not exclude rights; and that ‘He to God, she page: 2 to God through him,’ though pretty enough in poetry, makes but a mighty poor kind of life for her in practice, and reduces co-partnership to serfdom. My own creed in these things may be summed up in these three clauses:—That women should have an education as good in its own way as, but not identical with, that of men; that they ought to hold their own property free from their husbands' control without the need of trustees, but subject to the joint expenditure for the family; that motherhood should be made legally equal with paternity, so that no such miserable scandal of broken promises and religious rancour as this later Agar-Ellis case should be possible. But these are only the alphabet of the movement; the main theme goes far beyond.

Things had already begun to move. Talfourd's Bill, giving the custody of young children to the mother, had been passed after a stout resistance from the Law Lords on the Obstructive side. One of these said page: 3 that, should this Bill become law, the avenues to the Court of Chancery would be choked with applicants for legal separation, as nothing but the fear of being parted from her children kept many a wife with her husband. The prophecy was disregarded; the Bill passed; and married life in England has gone on much the same as before.

The sensational part of the matter was, the story of that man in the Marshalsea prison who took his suckling babe from his wife and handed it over to his mistress—a possibility of action on all fours with the vilest features of slavery.

It is wonderful to think how we supported such hideous injustice; just as it is wonderful now to think how the absolute power of making a will, and thereby leaving all his property away from his wife and children, is still maintained as part of the rights of a man. The argument of trust in the natural softness of the parental instinct is about as solid as a drum. It makes a page: 4 fine sound when nicely struck; but it is a rickety kind of foundation to build on.

Though the core of this question of woman's rights is just and reasonable, some of its supporters were even then too extreme for my ideas of what was fitting. I could not accept the doctrine that no such thing as natural limitation of sphere is included in the fact of sex, and that individual women may, if they have the will and the power, do all those things which have hitherto been exclusively assigned to men. Nor can I deny the value of inherent modesty; nor despise domestic duties; nor look on maternity as a curse and degradation—‘making a woman no better than a cow,’ as one of these ladies, herself a mother, once said to me indignantly; nor do I join in the hostility to men which comes in as the correlative of all that has gone before. On these points I have parted company with the cause. But in the beginning these points had not come to the front.

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Also, I have confessed already to the frivolity of finding many of these extremely advanced women antagonistic to my ideas of feminine charm. Most of them then, in the early days, were not only plain in person but ill-bred in manner. The epigram of the time, ‘Women's Rights are Men's Lefts,’ was truer then than it is now, when the circle has widened. In the first cast the net took in, as by far the largest proportion, the most unpersonable and the least love-worthy of the sex. But this æsthetic distaste on my part was what the Americans call ‘mean’ in view of the gravity of the principles involved, and I was always ashamed of my own childishness of judgment.

I tried to make myself tolerant of all this unloveliness, by remembering that the cause, being in the initial stage of protest and insurrection, must necessarily be supported by those who had nothing to lose and all to gain, as well as necessarily sur- surrounded page: 6 rounded by that kind of exaggeration which is inseparable from the beginning of radical innovations. But tolerance is an exotic with me, got by painful processes of self-discipline and preserved only with care and watching. When I was in my fighting age, it was either the crime of indifferentism or of time-serving, and I put it behind me as high-treason to truth.

This is the penalty attached to earnestness—the harsh lining of enthusiasm.

My present intolerance, I am sorry to say, was even less respectable than this. It was simply a matter of taste; and the cause undeniably suffered with me because so many of its advocates were ungainly and unlovely.

In those days the movement did not include the political rights which—the rest having been won—make now the point to be gained. It was more for the right of a liberal education, such as is given by Girton and Newnham; for office-work; and specially page: 7 for leave to enter the medical profession on an equality with men.

In this last I was again at issue with the sect. Unless the demand for female doctors was strong enough to support female schools and hospitals, I maintained, and maintain, the inexpediency of providing a few lady-doctors by means of mixed medical education—just as I dislike mixed drawing-classes from the nude. These two things seemed to me repugnant to every sentiment of morality or decency in either sex; and I have never been able to change my view. For, granting that in the end science and art conquer all sense of shame and bear down all consciousness of sex, then surely the last state is worse than the first—and these young unmarried women have killed within them something more valuable than they will replace by the knowledge of anatomy and the human figure.

As yet, however, mixed life schools were not in force—I only knew of one in those page: 8 days, private, little known and conducted secretly; and but few young women had clanked into the dissecting-room. Miss Garrett, the two Misses Blackwell and Dr. Mary Walker are all that I remember. There may have been others, but if so I did not know of them. The aftermath of flirting, touzled, pretty young creatures—foolish virgins of eighteen or nineteen—by whom the ground has been covered, had not then sprouted into being; and as yet the world was spared the oracular utterances by which these Hypatias seek to regulate all the difficulties and pronounce on all the questions of life and science.

Speaking of Dr. Mary Walker, I may as well say here that the Bloomer costume which she wore, with that huge rose in her hair as her sign of sex, did much to retard the woman question all round. The world is frivolous, no doubt, but here, as in France, ridicule kills, and you can force convictions sooner than tastes. When that handsome page: 9 barmaid in Tottenham Court Road put on trousers as a greater attraction to gin-drinkers, not only Bloomerism received its death-blow, but the cause got a ‘shog' maist ruined a'.’ It survived, however; and now flourishes like a green bay-tree.

Equal political rights; identical professional careers; the men's virile force toned down to harmony with the woman's feminine weakness; the abolition of all moral and social distinctions between the sexes;—These are the confessed objects of the movement whereby men are to be made lady-like and women masculine, till the two melt into one, and you scarcely know which is which.

Since those early days of which I am now writing, much of what was then agitated for has been granted, and many abuses have been removed. One of the most important was the Bill which raises the age of the child necessarily left to the mother in cases of separation, from Tal- Talfourd's page: 10 fourd's three and a half to seven years—giving afterwards to the child the right at sixteen to choose between its parents. This short Bill, of two clauses only, slipped through the house unnoticed; and I have always held it for good that the Emancipated Women did not get wind of it, and by their clamour draw on it the attention, and consequent hostility, of the Conservatives. The Married Women's Property Act has given the widest range of freedom possible in any kind of partnership. Girton and Newnham minister to the intellectual cravings of girls and supply stimulus for their ambition. Female colleges and hospitals make the study of medicine decent, and India offers a lucrative and useful field of practice. Slade-schools give Adam and Eve in all their desired nudity, and young unmarried women exhibit themselves on the walls of the Academy naked and not ashamed. The Post Office and the Telegraph Office put money into the pockets of o page: 11 some hundreds of industrious girls; and there is at least one female firm—there may be more, but I know only of one—which ‘devils’ for lawyers, and makes a good thing by its labours. Other women do other things of a like nature. Some keep co-operative stores and some breed horses and some again make books and understand the mysteries of fields and favourites, ‘two to one bar one’ and hedging, better than they understand the science of housekeeping or the art of needlework. The School-Boards test the value of their administrative faculty; and Lady Harberton's divided skirt satisfies the sentiment and does not shock the taste.

Thus, in all directions, the running has been more equalized, and women are now handicapped mainly by their sex. On that point they have to try conclusions with nature. To break up the cradles for firewood must be the first step in the series of transformations; for as long as that obstructive cradle exists, and is filled, there page: 12 must be the division of labour and function against which women revolt, and men must fare forth while they bide within.

When the cause was yet young it found its nidus chiefly in the house of one who brought as her contribution a fair person, a good position, money, fervour, sincerity, intelligence, the oddest and most catholic sweepings of adherents, and only just not enough liberality to tolerate opposition. She herself was singularly sweet and charming; thoroughly feminine, her doctrines notwithstanding; and without the affectation and exaggeration which characterize the mass of the pretty persons who have gone over to this side in these later days. In those, she was almost the only pretty woman the cause could boast. Her house was the rendezvous for all Liberals of all kinds; and one of the causes she and her husband had at heart was that of emancipation and the equalization of the negro race. I remember one of her protégés was a certain Miss Red- Redmayne page: 13 mayne a woman as black as her own American grapes; who had studied medicine under the Stars and Stripes and who now wanted to practise it under the Union Jack. She was a dreadful looking woman, with a kind of devouring, wild-beast air, oppressive and almost terrifying. Her glittering eyes and tufted hair, wide mouth, white, pointed teeth and jet-black skin, made her remarkable enough in a room full of fair-faced Saxons; but add to these a curious rapacious manner—an eager, restless, following way in eye and foot, unlike anything seen in ordinary society—and it is easy to understand how antipathetic she must have been to the majority, even of Liberals. I shall never forget the way in which she followed up a fair-haired, slightly-built artist to whom she was talking. He edged away, step by step—she always following close on his track—till he finally edged himself into the corner, where she had him at her will. So there they were, a black page: 14 cat and a white mouse; and the poor white mouse shivered, while the black cat pranced triumphant.

My friend, our hostess, thought it mean and cowardly that no English gentleman came forward to marry this unlovely daughter of Ham. I should have held it as an act of madness if anyone had.

It was in this house that I first met Mr. and Mrs. Lambert, with whom I made one of those intimate friendships which invariably lead to sequels and complications.

Joshua Lambert was an artist, shiftless, dreamy, unpractical, morally self-indulgent, personally pure and ascetic; a man who could live on bread and spring-water, but who would not work in his studio when he wanted to be out in the sunshine, and who exhaled in thought all the strength that should have gone into action. He was a man whom everyone loved and was sorry for—regretting his want of practical grip, while reverencing the beauty of holiness page: 15 which pervaded his whole nature. And yet, between the two, love predominated, and reverence was stronger than regret.

His wife was a woman of like nature, but with more ‘go’ in her than he had—with an active force behind her wanting to him. He was a dreamer of ideal beauty, she was a worker for ideal perfection. Thus their views were harmonious while their methods were diverse.

She was a Woman's Rights woman from head to heel. A kind of antitypical Louise Michel, doubled with a Madonna, she gathered under the wide cloak of her womanly pity all the suffering and downtrodden, all the oppressed and all the unfortunate. She knew no blame save for the fashionable and the frivolous. The core of her morality was charity; the mainspring of her character, purity; the force by which she worked, belief in the all-pervading Providence of God. Married and a mother, but still almost virginal in her modesties, page: 16 she abhorred licentiousness as something even worse than murder. At the same time she reverenced love as the true marriage, and when this was real she held other ties superfluous.

Thus, she was one of the guests at that famous supper given to his personal friends and sympathisers by Mr. —, when, with his wife's hardly-won consent, he brought up his children's governess as his acknowledged supplementary wife, and with but thin ideas of decency called together this cloud of witnesses to celebrate the nuptials. For herself, Esther Lambert was as chaste and pure as ice and snow; but her Liberalism and sympathy supplied what was wanting to her temperament, and she could accept in another an action which she would rather have died than have committed in her own person.

She was a lecturer of some repute; and her platform life was the result, not only of her belief in the righteousness of the things page: 17 she advocated, but also of the need there was for adding to the tale of loaves, which, at the best, came in but scant numbers for the many hungry little mouths to be fed. As it was, the ordering of the household was narrow to penury and its simplicity touched on destitution.

The first time I went down to their house on the borders of Epping Forest, I felt as if I had got into a new world—one with which my experiences on this old earth of ours had no point in common, and were of no use as guide nor glossary. Playing in the neglected, untrimmed garden, where never tree nor bush was lopped nor pruned, and where the long grass of the lawn was starred with dandelions and daisies as better flowers than those which man could cultivate, was a troop of little children, one of whom was more beautiful than another. They were all dressed exactly alike—in long blouses of that coarse blue flannel with which house-maids scrub the floors; and all had pre- precisely page: 18 cisely the same kind of hats—the girls distinguished from the boys only by a somewhat broader band of faded ribbon. Nazarenes, even to the eldest boy of fourteen, they wore their hair as Nature ordained in long loose locks to their shoulders. It was difficult to distinguish the sex in this queer epicene costume, which left it doubtful whether they were girls Bloomerized or boys in feminine tunics; for the only differences were—cloth trousers for the boys, cotton for the girls, and the respective width of the hat-ribbon aforesaid. But they were lovely as angels, and picturesque as so many Italian studies; so that amazement lost itself in admiration, and one forgave the unfitness of things for the sake of their beauty.

The house itself was found and furnished on the same lines. There were no carpets, but there were rare pictures and first proofs unframed; casts of noble cinque-cento work, darkened with dust; superb shells; and all page: 19 the precious lumber of an artist's home, crowded on shelves of rough-hewn, unvarnished deal set against the unpapered white-washed wall. There were not enough chairs for the family, and empty packing-cases eked out the deficiency. For their food, meat was a luxury; wine as rare as Olympian nectar; and sweetmeats were forbidden as the analogues of vicious luxury. Milk, bread, vegetables and oatmeal, with treacle as the universal sweetener, were the food-stuffs by which the Lamberts believed they should rear a family consecrated to the work of God in the world and the carrying out of the regeneration of society. The boys were to be great artists or divine poets. The girls were to be preachers or prophetesses. One or two might be told off as mothers, to keep up the supply of the Chosen. But, for the most part, their sphere of activity would be the world, not the home—their care, humanity, not the family.

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No man nor woman who knew her could have failed to love and reverence Esther Lambert. No matter how little you sympathized with her methods, you could not do other than respect and admire her personality. Her face was the face of a Madonna, behind whose sweetness flashed the inspired enthusiasm of a sibyl. It was the most perfect combination of moral purity and intellectual ardour to be found, and drew all hearts to love, like that Blue Glory of Torcelli. Earnest and religious, something beyond the ordinary thought of humanity seemed to shine in her soft grey eyes; and had she announced herself another Mother of God, she would have found some to believe her by the very force of her own inner truth and purity. As it was, she stopped short of miracles, and contented herself with inspiration.

Her political creed was her religion; the emancipation of woman was her mission; the equalization of the sexes was her shibboleth; page: 21 but the supremacy of woman was her secret sacrament. She believed in the regeneration of man by this supremacy, and by this only. All masculine modes of dealing with nature and society were false and futile. No good could come of political economy, of sociology, of science, of statesmanship. All these were of the nature of Dead Sea apes and the Unveracities. But, once admit women into the domain of active politics, and then would come the moral millennium. Deception would be burned out of diplomacy, to leave the pure gold fillet of mutual candour unclogged by dross of any kind; abstract right would take the place of godless expediency; wars would cease; territorial aggressions and annexations would be no more; and the reign of peace and truth, of justice without flaw, and perfect purity of life alike for men and women, would begin. She believed all things of the future and she hoped all things from the present. She had neither fear nor misgiving; and her page: 22 faith saw in every day so much advance, and in every circumstance a coign of vantage gained and held for future progress. A new society for the advocacy of any form of Liberal opinion was to her equivalent to a victory. A pamphlet was another gospel which must compel assent. A speech was like a judgment of Solomon which no one could repudiate. Her life was the perpetual ascending of a rainbow—an endless mounting of the ladder let down from heaven, with angels before and on each side, showing her the way and directing her steps. Her faith bore her up over all dismaying obstacles; and when bad times were on hand within, as was so often the case—when the family wanted food and the house wanted funds—she would raise her beautiful eyes to heaven, and say, serenely smiling: ‘God will provide.’

And so far as they had yet gone, ravens had supplied them somehow; and the children had not starved.

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Esther's theological creed was a large loose jumble of Christianity and Pantheism, the chief working tenets of which were:—belief in the direct personal superintendence of God over the affairs of men, faith in the power of truth and the invincibility of the right, with the correlative belief that falsehood would not prevail nor wrong ultimately conquer because of this personal rule of God and the ‘stream of tendency’ in humanity.

‘Men and women want only to be told the better thing—to be shown the higher way,’ she used to say earnestly. ‘No one wishes to do wrong. It is simply ignorance, not wilful intention, which leads us astray. When all men are taught of God, then they will of necessity act justly. The Truth is God; and God's laws are the ultimate laws of life. It is only a question of time; and in the end they must prevail.’

For all its vagueness, her enthusiasm gained on me. Her arc was very wide, and page: 24 though not drawn with mathematical precision and rather sketchy in its lines, it was nevertheless grandly suggestive. Her words were full of that heroic promise, that mysterious magnificence, which surrounds the shining domes of a city seen from afar in the morning light. By noon we shall be there to see with our own eyes the treasure lying therein—to find the lady of our dreams; the brother consecrated to our friendship from our birth; the teacher who will show us the meaning of the Great Cabbala; the hierophant who will take the veil from off the face of Isis. Her words stirred my imagination as much as noble scenery stirs it; and I felt her to be a kind of dynamic power to which others must apply the direction—but she was always that power.

I used to attend her lectures—I, the declared enemy of the whole tribe of lady lecturers!—and I always vigorously applauded her. I made it up somehow be- between page: 25 tween my consistency and my partisanship by convincing myself that Esther Lambert was essentially different from all the others. She was so real in her self-devotion, her sincerity, her faith in herself and her cause! There was no playing a part, anyhow; just as there was no consciousness, no simper, no affectation and no vulgarity. She spoke well too, and did not offend one's taste by matter nor manner. She did not touch on doubtful subjects; and she had always more the air of an old-time prophetess, re-embodied, than that of a modern lady-lecturer spouting on a platform to a half-curious and half-disdainful audience. She was so completely absorbed in her subject, and so earnest to do good, that she won my admiration all round; and I approved in her what I condemned in others.

For all that, I wished her little tribe had been better cared for, better taught and nourished and more practically handled than they were; that the house had been page: 26 less of a squalid and disorganized barrack than it was; and that her husband had been a little more the master and head than she allowed him to be. Maybe he would not have guided things a whit better; but it would have been more seemly, and his influence over the boys would probably not have been quite so emasculating as hers. I was Philistine enough to feel that the saint is less useful than the housekeeper, and that Mary's part is not always the most profitable.

Still, this fractional want of sympathy with the fringes of things did not touch the substance of my respect and liking for the Lamberts. And as I was not responsible for the life they made together, and as really it was not in my right to either criticize or condemn, I was glad to be their friend, and to love where I could not follow.

After I had known them about three years, Joshua Lambert died. He had often been ailing, and the fatal disease which had page: 27 threatened him for so long, and which I always must think might have been averted by a little common-sense and care, at last declared itself in unmistakable fashion enough. He died of rapid consumption in less than two months from the first visit of the mesmeric herbalist who attended him. For of course the Lamberts were believers in both mesmerists and herbalists. They were mystic all through; and clairvoyant prescriptions, dealing with natural simples, field-grown, were to them saturated with a spiritual power wanting altogether to the coarser therapeutics of allopathists and their mineral medicines.

Naturally, I was much with my poor friends at this time. They clung to me like children, and I was glad to put all my resources at their disposal. Strength and energy—time and money—I poured all into their hands, and thought nothing lost which gained them ease. I was deeply interested in them. They had fascinated me by their page: 28 very strangeness, linked as this was to so much goodness and so much beauty; and feeling myself to be of use to them seemed to compensate me for the loss of her whom her creed—and Christ—had taken from me. The simplicity with which they accepted all I did for them, as of the natural order of things, had also its charm.

Looked at from their point of view, it was better than gratitude; because it was the right thing to do, and if I were a true man I could do nothing else. They would as soon have thought of praising me for not telling lies nor picking pockets, as for bearing the burden of friends too heavily laden to bear it for themselves. Of course, this kind of communism brought about a closer intimacy, and on my side a still deeper affection—the helper always loving the dependent.

At last the end came. Poor beauty-loving and unpractical Joshua Lambert took his last look of the blessed sun, and page: 29 smiled his last wan smile up to the face of day and all he loved. He died as he had lived, without struggle as without regret; without bitterness, and in love with all mankind; full of faith in his own enduring blessedness beyond the grave and in the Divine goodness for those he left behind; sure that his dear ones would be cared for by the Father—working principally through me.

Not an hour before he breathed his last hard breath he said, with a faint flicker of his old boyish smile and that tranquil assurance which had so often amused me in the difficult moments of past times:

‘I leave them to you, dear friend. I have always held that God sent you to us for our good, and I die quite happy, sure that you will accept your charge and fulfil its obligations.’

‘Do not be afraid, Joshua,’ said Esther tenderly. ‘Chris knows his duty, and he has never failed in it yet.’

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I need not spread out this part of my life in detail. In view of what followed, it is too full of pain to be willingly dwelt on. So much only I need say:—I was in that frame of mind which made benevolence my greatest solace and my only happiness. I had the desire to sacrifice myself for the well-being of others, feeling in this self-sacrifice my purest balm. I had given up my love for truth:—now I wanted to give myself as an offering to God, through man. Believing still in spiritual direction, and in the moral governance of the world through duties and chastisements, I believed that I was indeed specially ordained by God to serve and save this family. I had come among them at the moment when they had had most need of me. Joshua had lived just long enough to consolidate our friendship; and among all they knew I was the only one who could really help and practically benefit them. It would be a good thing to do. If I could rescue a noble page: 31 creature like Esther Lambert from the degrading influences of debt and poverty, bring a more rational rule into the household, and set her children well before the world by a more wholesome education, I should redeem the past. If I could not be happy in my own highest and deepest affection, I could at least make others blessed; and in their well-being find my own.

I thought over all this, and prayed for guidance with all the fervour of my boyish days. My prayers, of course, answered themselves, and asking for Divine Direction only strengthened my own inclination. Full of desire to serve one whom I loved and respected—eager to make loyal response to the poor dead friend who had trusted me—seeing only all that was beautiful in Esther's nature and pitiful in her condition—loving the children like my own, and earnest to see them better cared for, better taught, more wisely guided than they were—my common-sense overweighted by religious page: 32 zeal and altruistic pity, by affection, by principle and by hope—I took the irretrievable step; and in less than two years from Joshua's death I married his widow and took her family for my own.

Behind this strange fact lay contradictions yet more strange. Personally, Esther failed to satisfy my taste. She was short, ungraceful, and careless in her dress, which was also of notable neglect. She was unthrifty; without method; and of the two she preferred disorder to regularity. Nothing could make her punctual nor orderly; and the love of free nature which left the daisies and dandelions on the lawn and forbore to lop the low-growing branches of the trees, manifested itself in the house by a liberal dislocation of hours and the want of circumscription—of apportionment—all through. But she was earnest, sincere, devoted, gentle-mannered; and she had that perilous gift of loving idealization by which she made one see one's best and highest self—one's ideal page: 33 angel—mirrored in her mind as the work-a-day commonplace human being. And I was blinded by the splendour of the Divine handwriting on the wall, which I thought bade me do this thing; and by my somewhat arrogant belief that I was strong enough to remould and to save.

I do not mean to say that I married with any personal reluctance, but I do say that I married with more sense of duty than of attraction, and that I knew I was making a sacrifice. But it was a sacrifice willingly made—for God's sake and for humanity's, represented by that desolate widow and her children. No action of my life was ever based on more simple religiousness of feeling, on a more entire sense of duty than was this. In none did I ever wish to do so well for others, with so little regard for my own condition.

One thing, by the way, I stipulated for as a sacrifice on Esther's side; she was to give up her public life and keep to her home like page: 34 any other wife and mother. What in the beginning had helped to fascinate the friend on the outside of things, revolted the husband who had made himself responsible for the conduct of the family. I confess this frankly. Whatever of egotism, of inconsistency may lie in the admission, I make it, and accept the blame accruing. The home which Joshua Lambert had found sufficient for his happiness would be the grave of mine; and I could no more have lived in the neglect, disorder, unthrift and squalor which had been the normal condition of things in his time, than I could have lived in a wigwam with a Cherokee Indian for my squaw. Hence I stipulated for the abandonment of the platform for the fireside, and for the maintenance of a more conventionally ordered household.

I also urged Esther to give me a list of her debts; but this I could never get from her. Not because she was ashamed; nor because she wished to conceal them; simply page: 35 because she could not understand the value of financial order, and had always that trust in ravens and things coming right of themselves which despises effort. I could not convince her of the need of method, regularity, foresight, or any other economic virtue. She was sweet in word and acquiescent in manner; smiled; promised compliance—and indeed did much that I wished because I wished it. But I never touched the core. I had modified the envelope for a time; but before I had been married two months, I asked myself the question: ‘How long will this last? Will temperament and long usage prove too strong for the new practice? and, Will the bent bow spring back and the strained cord break?’

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