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XLVII. the nervousness of men.

The physiologistst tell us that nervousness is the peculiar attribute of women. May not this be because it is usually men who write the books of physiology ; so that women might say, like the lions in Aesop's fable, that if the other party had been the painters the case would be different? It would be worth while to consult the wife of some musical enthusiast, for instance, who has carried his art to such a point that it causes him and everybody else more pain than pleasure — the man who must have every door in the house deadened, every carpet doubled, every visitor seen by some one else before admittance, and the children banished to regions inaccessible and inaudible. Paganini, the greatest of violinists, is reported to have found existence an absolute burden because it held so many intolerable sounds; and many a woman has found her husband, even where unprofessional, claiming the privilege of Paganini's sensitiveness without his genius. Again, consider the extremely nervous condition exhibited by some perfectly healthy men when called upon [239] to appear before the public to “make a few remarks,” or even introduce a speaker. It is often amusing, at a public dinner, to notice the difference between the man who has made his little speech and the man who has not — the jubilant faces of those who have the thing off their minds, the depths of preoccupied care or downright misery on the countenances of those who have still the torture in prospect. Now that women are having so much practice as public speakers, they are rapidly ceasing to exhibit any more nervousness about it than is constantly shown by men.

The terrors of nervous prostration — that calamity which seems a new foe, but is really only a new name for an old one--haunt men almost equally with women. If men hold out longer against its approaches, which is doubtful, they succumb almost more hopelessly, and need as long time for a cure. I know young men of fine physique who, having for a year or two undertaken to combine too many different anxieties — for instance, a bread-earning occupation and the study of a profession — have taken to their bed in utter helplessness and frequent tears, and remained there for months. “More pangs and fears than wars or women have” were their penalty for an over-taxation of the nervous system. The fact that, as the life-insurance companies tell us, women on the whole outlive men, seems to indicate that [240] their nerves, if more sensitive than those of men, are more elastic, and offer a better resistance to the wear and tear of events. We must remember too that it is not the great things of life which prove exhausting, but the small ones, because these call out less in the way of resources to meet them; just as people take cold more readily after a warm bath than after a cold one, for want of reaction. “You cannot seriously maintain,” said a clever woman once to me, “that any cares of political or business life can be so wearing, on the whole, as the task of cooking a dinner.” Then she proceeded to explain how the cook, before every dinner, had to deal with a dozen different articles of food, no two of which were to be prepared in the same manner, or manipulated with the same touch, or exposed to the same degree and kind of heat, or cooked for the same length of time; that the cook had constantly to be going from one to the other, and keeping all in mind ; and that, to bring them all out in readiness at the appointed time, neither underdone nor overdone, neither slack baked nor burnt, neither too cold nor too hot — that this was an achievement worthy of demi-gods and heroes. And I was quite inclined, at length, to be convinced: certainly it was much easier for me to own myself convinced than it would have been to prepare the meal.

But there exists in every household a short and [241] easy method of testing the comparative nervousness of the sexes. Take the very sweetest and most domestic of men, the most home-loving and equable, and see if he can have patience with the children, day in and day out, as can a wife much less gifted by nature with these fine qualities. The children may be the sweetest ever born, and yet each will be pretty sure to pass through stages in its development when its cross-questionings, its needless resistings, its chronic deafnesses, its endless “What?” and “Why?” and “Whom did you say?” will furnish grounds of practice for saintship. Not that all mothers are equal to this task-far from it; but when it comes to nerves, the average mother takes all this trial and pressure in a way that puts the average father to shame. I knew a shrewd woman who, whenever her husband had given her a lecture on nervousness, used to contrive to have him dress one or two of the children for school on a winter's morning, after a breakfast slightly belated. The good man would fall meekly into the trap, not clearly remembering the vastness of the labor — the adjustings and the tyings and the buttonings; the leggings and the overdrawers and the arctic shoes; the jacket, scarf, coat, gloves, mittens, wristers; the hat, or cap, or hood to be pulled and pushed and tied in proper position; the way in which all these things, besides being put on, have to be mutually [242] made fast by strings and buttons and safety-pins, so that the child thus dressed is a model of compressed stowage, and could, like a well-packed barrel of china, be sent round the world without injury. Calm must be the spirit, high the purpose, of the father who reaches the end of this complex task without a word of impatience; while the wife whom he calls nervous has long since taken off his hands the other child assigned to him, and having with deft hands dressed her, has given one patient, final, all-comprehending twitch, and the thing is done. If you doubt whether men are on the whole, and in their own way, as nervous as woman, test them with getting the children ready for school; and remember that their mother does it every morning of her life.

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Nicolo Paganini (2)
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