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[33]

VII. vacations for saints.

“It is so tiresome,” said once a certain lady of my acquaintance, “to be a saint all the time! There ought to be vacations.” And as it was once my pleasant lot to be the house-mate of a saint when enjoying one of these seasons of felicity, I know what my friend meant by it. The saint in question was one of the most satisfactory and unquestionable of her class; she was the wife of a country clergyman, a woman of superb physique, great personal attractiveness, and the idol of her husband's large parish, from oldest to youngest. I had always supposed it to be mere play for her to be a saint, but you could see what her life in that direction had cost her by the way she tool her vacation, as you know how the bow has been bent when you see the motion of the arrow. Off from her shapely shoulders fell the whole world of ministers' meetings, and missionary meetings, and mothers' meetings. I do not know why they all begin with an m, unless it is because that letter, by its very shape, best designates that which is reiterated [34] and interminable. Be that as it may, they all dropped from her; and she danced about the halls of her girlhood, the gayest of the gay. How indignantly she declined the offer of a ticket to a certain very instructive historical lecture! “Do not offer me anything intellectual,” she indignantly said, “on a week like this. If you have a ticket to anything improper, bring me that. I think I should like to see the ‘Black Crook!’ ” It appeared, upon inquiry, that she had never witnessed that performance, and had only a general impression that it was a little naughty. But the proposal certainly indicated a kind of “Saints' rest” which would greatly have amazed Mr. Richard Baxter.

The present writer, never having been a saint, cannot speak from personal experience; but his sympathies are often thoroughly aroused for those who belong to this neglected class. It is a shame not to recognize needs like theirs. Why do we all spend our strength on organizing Country Weeks in summer for people who need to get out of the city, and not also undertake City Weeks in winter for people who need to get into the city? Why forever preach “plain living and high thinking,” when so many persons would be benefited by any kind of living, if it could only be combined with no thinking at all? These clergymen's wives, with all the needs and hopes and fears and cares and woes of a hundred [35] families heaped vicariously on their devoted heads, to say nothing of looking after the white cravats, and the digestion, and the weekly sermons of the reverend spouse; these farmers' wives, with twenty hungry haymakers for whom to make pies in summer, and the milk of twenty cows to be cared for all the year round; these widows, who have “known better days,” but have never yet known a worse day than that on which they first undertook to make a living by keeping boarders; these elder sisters, who sit up half the night writing stories for the newspapers in order that their only brother may go to college and learn to play football-can any human being conjecture a work more beneficent than to organize a society to provide vacations for such as these? Yet nobody attempts it.

Supposing this indifference to be surmounted, and a society established to supply saints with vacations, what kind of edifices would it need? Perhaps like those of rich Jews in medieval cities, humble and unpretending without — for the purpose, in this case, of warding off book-peddlers and subscription-agents-but full of lavish delights within. Like some of the old Jewish abodes in Frankfort, they should be difficult of access, and approachable only by winding passages full of pitfalls. Yet they should be near to sunny thoroughfares, and be well furnished with windows through which glimpses of [36] the gay world should be seen. If it were necessary to designate these houses in any public way, they should be covered with warning mottoes: “Rest Cure for Saints! No Sympathy given away! No Committee Meetings held here! No Cause need apply! Domestic and Foreign Missions carefully excluded!” They should be furnished with no doorbells; or else these bells should be adjusted, like those you see at Safety Deposit Vaults, to summon the whole police force at a touch, for the protection of the treasures within. What deposit vaults, though they held millions, are so precious as the walls that are to guard our saints in their vacations?

Within these abodes a variety of spiritual nervines and anodynes might be applied. Goethe recommends to people in health that they should every day read a good poem, hear a good piece of music, and if it be possible-mark the considerateness of that suggestion-speak a few sensible words. In the Rest Cure for Saints the first two prescriptions may be applicable, but the last should be very guardedly administered. Some tolerably somnolent nonsense — for instance, extracts from the last English tourist's book about America-would be far better. To be sure, different cases would require different treatment. In mild instances a punning brother might be a sufficient alternative for the nervous tension of a too useful life. Others might be [37] reached by readings from Mark Twain or “Alice's adventures in Wonderland.” For convalescents able to go out-of-doors, a Dime Show with the Seven Long-haired Sisters might be, as physicians say, “exhibited ;” or a comic theatre, to bear at first, of course, the disinfecting name of Museum. Indeed, it is of less consequence what spiritual anodyne is applied than that it should suit the sufferer; as Hippocrates holds that the second-best remedy is better than the best, if the patient likes it best.

No doubt the price of a vacation, particularly for saints, is perpetual vigilance. The force of habit is very great, and those who most need rest from their daily mission will require constant watchfulness lest they relapse into good works. The taste for serving on committees, in particular, is like the taste for blood, it is almost impossible to overcome it; the utmost that can be secured is temporary removal from danger. The patient may break from the keepers at any time, and be found ascending some stairway in search of some “Central office,” or other headquarters of dangerous philanthropy. After all, there is probably no complete vacation for overworked saints except an ocean voyage. True, they may be sea-sick, but even that may have its mission. For the real object of the whole enterprise is to induce our saint to be a little selfish ; and if even the pangs of sea-sickness fail to bring about that result, nothing else ever will, and the case is incurable.

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