Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Little foxes : or, The insignificant little habits which mar domestic happiness online

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From a desire to respect tlie moral right of every
Author to reap the fruits of his or her pen, the Pub-
lishers have made arrangements to share the profits of
this reprint of " Little Foxes " with the Writer.






1. — Fault-finding ..


2. — Ireitability


3.— Eepeession


4.— Self-will


5. — Intoleeance








"T)APA, what are you going to give iis this winter

JL for our evening readings ?" said Jennie.

" I am thinking, for one thing," I replied, " of preach-
ing a course of household sermons from a very odd text
prefixed to a discourse which I found at the bottom of
the pamphlet-barrel in the garret."

" Don't say sermon, papa, — it has such a dreadful
sound; and on winter evenings one wants something

" Well, treatise, then," said I, " or discourse, or essay,
or prelection; I'm not particular as to words."

" But what is the queer text that you found at the
bottom of the pamphlet-barrel?"

" It was one preached upon by jonv mother's great-
great-grandfather, the very savory and much-respected
Simeon Shuttleworth, ' on the occasion of the melancholy
defections and divisions among the godly in the town
of West Dofield ;' and it rims thus, — ' Take us the foxes,


the Utile foxes, that spoil the vines : for our vines have tender
grapes.' "

" It's a curious text enougb. ; but I can't imagine
what 3'ou are going to make of it."

" Simply an essay on Little Foxes," said I ; "by
which I mean those imsuspected, unwatched, insigni-
ficant little causes that nibble away domestic happiness,
and make home less than so noble an institution should
be. You may build beautiful, convenient, attractive
houses, — you may hang the walls with lovely pictures
and stud them with gems of Art; and there may be
living there together persons bound by blood and af-
fection in one common interest, leading a life common
to themselves and apart from others ; and these persons
may each one of them be possessed of good and noble
traits; there may be a common basis of affection, of
generosity, of good principle, of religion ; and yet,
through the influence of some of these perverse, nib-
bling, insignificant little foxes, half the clusters of hap-
piness on these so promising vines may fail to come
to maturity. A little community of people, all of
whom would be willing to die for each other, may not
be able to live happil}' together; that is, they may
have far less happiness than their circumstances, their
fine and excellent traits, entitle them to expect.

The reason for this in general is that home is a place
not only of strong afiections, but of entire unreserve ;
it is life's undress rehearsal, its back-room, its dressing-
room, from which we go forth to more careful and
guarded intercourse, leaving behind us much debris of


cast-off and every-day clothing. Hence has arisen the
common proverb, ' No man is a hero to his valet-de-
chambre; and the"" common warning, ' If you wish to
keep your friend, don't go and live with him.' "

" Which is only another way of saying," said my
wife, " that we are all human and imperfect ; and the
nearer you get to]|.any human being, the more defects
you see. The characters that can stand the test of daily
intimacy are about as numerous as four-leaved clovers
in a meadow ; in general, those who do not annoy you
with positive faults bore 3'ou with their insipidity.
The evenness and beauty of a strong, well-defined
nature, perfectly governed and balanced, is about the
last thing one is likely to meet with in one's researches
into life."

" But what I have to say," replied I, " is this, — that,
family-life being a state of unreserve, a state in which
there are few of those barriers and veils that keep people
in the world from seeing each other's defects and
mutually jarring and grating upon each other, it is
remarkable that it is entered^ upon and maintained
generally with less reflection, less care and forethought,
than pertain to most kinds of business which men and
women set their hands to. A man does not undertake
to run an engine or manage a piece of machinery without
some careful examination of its parts and capabilities,
and some inquiry whether he have the necessary know-
ledge, skill, and strength to make it do itself and him
justice. A man does not try to play on the violin
without seeing whether his fingers are long and flexible


enough to bring out the harmonies and raise his per-
formance above the grade of dismal scraping to that
of divine music. What should we think of a man
who should set a whole orchestra of instruments upon
pla3-ing together without the least provision or fore-
thought as to their chording, and then howl and tear
his hair at the result ? It is not the fault of the instru-
ments that they grate harsh thunders together ; they
may each be noble and of celestial temper ; but united
without regard to their nature, dire confusion is the
result. Still worse were it, if a man were supposed
so stupid as to expect of each instrument a role opposed
to its nature, — if he asked of the octave-flute a bass
solo, and condemned the trombone because it could not
do the work of the manj^-voiced violin.

" Yet" just so carelessly is the work of forming a
family often performed. A man and woman come
together from some affinity, some partial accord of their
nature which has inspired mutual affection. There is
generally very little careful consideration of who and
what they are, — no thought of the reciprocal influence
of mutual traits, — no previous chording and testing of
the instruments which are to make lifelong harmony or
discord, — and after a short period of engagement, in
which all their mutual relations are made as opposite
as possible to those which must follow marriage, these
two furnish their house and begin life together. Ten
to one, the domestic roof is supposed at once the proper
refuge for relations and friends on both sides, who also
are introduced into the interior concert without any


special consideration of wliat is likely to be the opera-
tion of character on character, the play of instrument
with instrument ; then follow children, each of whom
is a separate entity, a separate will, a separate force in
the family ; and thus, with the lesser forces of servants
and dependents, a family is made up. And there is no
wonder if all these cbance-assorted instruments, playing
together, sometimes make quite as much discord as
harmony. For if the husband and wife chord, the
wife's sister or husband's mother may introduce a
discord ; and then again, each child of marked cha-
racter introduces another possibility of confusion. The
conservative forces of human nature are so strong and
so various, that, with all these drawbacks, the family
state is after all the best and purest happiness that
earth affords. But then, with cultivation and care, it
might be a great deal happier. Very fair pears have
been raised by dropping a seed into a good soil and
letting it alone for years ; but finer and choicer are
raised by the watchings, tendings, prunings of the
gardener. Wild grape-vines bore very fine grapes, and
an abundance of them, before our friend Dr. Grant
took up his abode at lona, and, studying the laws of
Nature, conjured up new species of rarer fruit and
flavour out of the old. And so, if all the little foxes
that infest our domestic vine and fig-tree were once
hunted out and killed, we might have fairer clusters
and fruit all winter."

" But, papa," said Jennie, " to come to the foxes ; let's
know what they are."


" Well, as the text says, they are little foxes, the pet foxes
of good people, unsuspected little animals, — on the whole,
often thought to be really creditable little beasts, that
may do good, and at all events cannot do much harm.
And as I have taken to the Puritanic order in my
discourse, I shall set them in scA^'ens, as Noah did his
clean beasts in the ark. Now my seven little foxes are
these : —

1. Fault-finding.

2. Irritability.

3. Kepressiox.

4. Self-will.

5. Intolerance.

C. Discourteousness.
7. Exactingness.

" And here," turning to my sermon, "is what I have
to say about the first of them."




A MOST respectable little animal, that many people
let run freely among their domestic vines, under
the notion that he helps the growth of the grapes,
and is the principal means of keeping them in order.

Now it may safely be set down as a maxim, that
nobody likes to be found fault with, but everybody likes
to find fault when things do not suit him.

Let my courteous reader ask him or herself if he or
she does not experience a relief and pleasure in finding
fault with or about whatever troubles them.

This appears at first sight an anomaly in the provi-
sions of Nature. Generally we are so constituted, that
what it is a pleasure to us to do, it is a pleasure to our
neighbour to have us do. It is a pleasure to give, and
a pleasure to receive. It is a pleasure to love, and a
pleasure to be loved ; a pleasure to admire, a pleasure to
be admired. It is a pleasure also to find fault, but not a
pleasure to be found fault with. Furthermore, those
people whose sensitiveness of temperament leads them
to find the most fault, are precisely those who can least
bear to be found fault with ; they bind heavy burdens
and grievous to be borne, and Ja}^ them on other men's
shoulders, but they themselves cannot bear the weight
of a finger.


Now the difficulty in tlic case is this : There are
things in life that need to be altered ; and that things
may be altered, they must be spoken of to the people
whose business it is to make the change, lliis oj^ens
wide the door of fault-finding to well-disposed people,
and gives them latitude of conscience to impose on
their fellows all the annoyances which they themselves
feel. The father and mother of a family are ftiult-
finders, ex officio ; and to them flows back the tide of
every separate individual's complaints in the domestic
circle, till often the whole air of the house is chilled and
darkened by a drizzling Scotch mist of querulousness.
Very bad are these mists for grape-vines, and produce
mildew in many a fair cluster.

Enthusius falls in love with Hermione, because she
looks like a moonbeam, — because she is ethereal as a
summer cloud, spirituelle. He commences forthwith the
perpetual adoration system that precedes marriage. He
assures her that she is too good for this world, too
delicate and fair for any of the uses of poor mortality, —
that she ought to tread on roses, sleep on the c]ouds, —
that she ought never to shed a tear, know a fatigue,
or make an exertion, but live apart in some
bright, ethereal sphere worthy of her charms. All
which is duly chanted in her ear in moonlight walks
or sails, and so often repeated that a sensible girl
may be excused for believing that a little of it may
be true.

Kow comes marriage, — and it turns out that Enthu-
sius is very particular as to his cofiee, that he is ex-


cessively disturbed if his meals are at all irregular,
and that he cannot be comfortable with any table
arrangements which do not resemble those of his notable
mother, lately deceased in the odour of sanctity ; he also
wants his house in perfect order at all hours. Still he
does not propose to provide a trained housekeeper ; it is
all to be effected by means of certain raw Irish girls,
under the superintendence of this angel who was to
tread on roses, sleep on clouds, and never know an
earthly care. Neither has Enthusius ever considered it
a part of a husband's duty to bear personal incon-
veniences in silence. He would freely shed his blood
for Hermione, — nay, has often frantically proposed the
same in the hours of courtship, when of course nobody
wanted it done, and it could answer no manner of use ;
and thus to the idyllic dialogues of that period succeed
such as these : —

" My dear, this tea is smoked : can't you get Jane into
the way of making it better ?"

" My dear, -I have tried ; but she will not do as I tell

*' Well, all I know is, other people can have good
tea, and I should think we might."

And again at dinner : —

"My dear, this mutton is overdone again; it is
always overdone."

*' Not always, dear, because you recollect on Monday
you said it was just right."

" Well, almost alwaj's."

" W^ell, my dear, the reason to-day was, I had com-


pany in the parlour, and could not go out to caution
Bridget, as I generally do. It's very difficult to get
things done with such a girl."

"My mother's things were always well done, no
matter what her girl was."

Again : " My dear, you must speak to the servants
about wasting the coal. I never saw such a con-
sumption of fuel in a family of our size ;" or, " My dear,
how can you let Maggie tear the morning paper ?" or,
" ]My dear, I shall actually have to give up coming to
dinner if my dinners cannot be regular ;" or, " My
dear, I wish you would look at the way my shirts are
ironed, — it is perfectly scandalous ;" or, " My dear, you
must not let Johnnie finger the mirror in the parlour ;"
or, " My dear, you must stop the children from playing
in the garret ;" or, " My dear, you must see that
Maggie doesn't leave the mat out on the railing when
she sweeps the front hall ;" and so on, up-stairs and
down-stairs, in the lady's chamber, in attic, garret, and
cellar, "my dear" is to see that nothing goes wrong,
and she is found fault with when anything does.

Yet Enthusius, when occasionally he finds his some-
time angel in tears, and she tells him he does not love
her as he once did, repudiates the charge with all his
heart, and declares he loves her more than ever, — and
perhaps he does. The only thing is that she has passed
out of the plane of moonshine and poetry into that of
actualities. AVhile she was considered an angel, a star,
a bird, an evening cloud, of course there was nothing to
be found fault with in her ; but now that the angel has


become chief business-partner in an earthly working
firm, relations are different. Enthusius could say the
same things over again under the same circumstances,
but unfortunately now they never are in the same
circumstances. Enthusius is simply a man who is in
the habit of speaking from impulse, and saying a thing
merely and only because he feels it. Before marriage
he worshipped and adored his wife as an ideal being
dwelling in the land of dreams and poetries, and did his
very best to make her unpractical and unfitted to enjoy
the life to which he was to introduce her after mar-
riage. After marriage he still yields unreflectingly to
present impulses, which are no longer to praise, but to
criticize and condemn. The very sensibility to beauty
and love of elegance, which made him admire her before
marriage, now transferred to the arrangement of the
domestic menage, lead him daily to perceive a hundred
defects and find a hundred annoyances.

Thus far we suppose an amiable, submissive wife,
who is only grieved, not provoked, — who has no sense
of injustice, and meekly strives to make good the hard
conditions of her lot. Such poor, little, faded women
have we seen, looking for all the world like plants that
have been nursed and forced into bloom in the steam-
heat of the conservatory, and are now sickly and
yellow, dropping leaf hy leaf, in the dry, dusty parlour.

But there is another side of the picture, — where the
wife, provoked and indignant, takes up the fault-finding
trade in return, and with the keen arrows of her
woman's wit, searches and penetrates every joint of the


husband's armour, showing herself full as unjust and far
more culpable in this sort of conflict.

kSadelest of all sad things is it to see two once very
dear friends employing all that peculiar knowledge of
each other which love had given them only to harass
and provoke, — thrusting and piercing with a certainty
of aim that only past habits of confidence and affection
could have put in their power, wounding their own
hearts with every deadly thrust they made at one
another, and all for such inexpressibly miserable trifles
as usually form the openings of fault-finding dramas.

For the contentions that loosen the very foundations
of love, that crumble away all its fine traceries and
carved work, about what miserable worthless things do
they commonly begin ! — a dinner underdone, too much
oil consumed, a newspaper torn, a waste of coal or soap,
a dish broken! — and for this miserable sort of trash,
very good, very generous, very religious people will
sometimes waste and throw away b}'^ double-handfuls
the very thing for which houses are built, and coal
burned, and all the paraphernalia of a home established,
— their happiness. Better cold coffee, smoky tea, burnt
meat, better any inconvenience, any loss, than a loss of
love ; and nothing so surely burns away love as constant

For fault-finding once allowed as a habit between two
near and dear friends comes in time to establish a
chronic soreness, so that the mildest, the most reasonable
suggestion, the gentlest implied reproof, occasions
burning irritation ; and when this morbid state has


once set in, the restoration of love seems well nigh

For example : Enthusins having got np this morning
in the best of humours, in the most playful tones begs
Hermione not to make the tails of her ^'s quite so long ;
and Hermione fires up with —

"And, pra}^, what else wouldn't j^ou wish me to do?
Perhaps you would be so good, when you have leisure,
as to make out an alphabetical list of the things in me
that need correcting."

" My dear, jon are unreasonable."

" I don't think so. I should like to get to the end of
the requirements of my lord and master sometimes."

" Now, my dear, you really are very silly."

"Please say something original, my dear. I have
heard that till it has lost the charm of novelty."

" Come now, Hermione, don't let's quarrel."

"My dear sir, who thinks of quarrelling? Not I;
I'm sure I was only asking to be directed. I trust some
time, if I live to be ninety, to suit j-our fastidious taste.
I trust the coffee is right this morning, and the tea, and
the toast, and the steak, and the servants, and the front-
hall mat, and the upper-story hall door, and the base-
ment premises ; and now I suppose I am to be trained
in respect to my general education. I shall set about
tbe tails of my ^'s at once, but trust you will prepare
a list of any other little things that need emendation."

Enthusius pushes away his coffee, and drums on the

" If I might be allowed one small criticism, my dear.


I should observe that it is not good manners to dnim on
the table," said his fair opposite.


" Hermione, you are enougli to drive a man frantic !"
exclaims Enthusius, rushing out with bitterness in his
soul, and a determination to take his dinner at Del-

Enthusius feels himself an abused man, and thinks
there never was such a sprite of a w^oman, — the most
utterly unreasonable, provoking human being he ever
met with. What he does not think of is, that it is his
own inconsiderate, constant fault-finding that has made
every nerve so sensitive and sore, that the mildest
suggestion of advice or reproof on the most indifferent
subject is impossible. He has not, to be sure, been the
guilty partner in this morning's encounter ; he has said
only what is fair and proper, and she has been un-
reasonable and cross ; but, after all, the fault is re-
motely his.

When Enthusius awoke, after marriage, to find in his
Hermione in A^ery deed only a bird, a star, a flower, but
no housekeeper, why did he not face the matter like an
honest man ? \\ hy did he not remember all the fine
things about dependence and uselessness with which he
had been filling her head for a 3'ear or two, and in
common honesty exact no more from her than he had
bargained for? Can a bird make a good business
manager ? Can a flower oversee Biddy and Mike, and
impait to their uncircumcised ears the high crafts and
mysteries of elegant housekeeping ?

If his little wife has to learn her domestic role of


liouseliold duty, as most girls do, by a thousand mortifi-
cations, a thousand perplexities, a thousand failures, let
him, in ordinary fairness, make it as easy to her as
possible. Let him remember with what admiring
smiles, before marriage, he received her pretty profes-
sions of utter heljDlessness and incapacity in domestic
matters, finding only poetry and grace in what, after
marriage, proved an anno^^ance.

And if a man finds that he has a wife ill-adapted to
wifely duties, does it follow that the best thing he can
do is to blurt out, without form or ceremony, all the
criticisms and corrections which may occur to him in
the many details of household life ? He would not dare
to speak with as little preface, apology, or circumlo-
cution, to his business manager, to his butcher, or his
baker. When Enthusius was a bachelor, he never
criticised the table at his boarding-house without some
reflection, and studying to take unto himself acceptable
words whereby to soften the asperity of the criticism.
The laws of society require that a man should qualify,
soften, and wisely time his admonitions to those he
meets in the outer world, or they will turn again and
rend him. But to his own wife, in his own house and
home, he can find fault without ceremony or softening.
So he can ; and he can awake, in the course of a year or
two, to find his wife a changed w^oman, and his home
unendurable. He may find, too, that unceremonious
fault-finding is a game that two can play at, and that a
woman can shoot her arrows with far more precision and
skill than a man.


But the fonlt lies not alwaj's on the side of the
hiTsband. Quite as often is a devoted, patient, good-
tempered man harassed and hunted and baited by the
inconsiderate fault-finding of a wife whose principal
talent seems to lie in the ability at first glance to
discover and make manifest the weak point in every-

AVe have seen the most generous, the most warm-
hearted and obliging of mortals, under this sort of
training, made the most morose and disobliging of
husbands. Sure to be found fault with, whatever they
do, they have at last ceased doing. The disappoint-
ment of not pleasing they have abated by not trying
to please.

We once knew a man who married a spoiled beauty,
whose murmurs, exactions, and caprices were infinite.
He had at last, as a refuge to his wearied nerves, settled
down into a habit of utter disregard and neglect; he
treated her wishes and her complaints with equal
indifference, and went on with his life as nearl}^ as
possible as if she did not exist. He silently provided
for her what he thought pro])er, without troubling
himself to notice her requests or listen to her grievances.
Sickness came, but the heart of her husband was cold
and gone : there was no sympathy left to warm her.
Death came, and he breathed freely as a man released.
He married again, — a woman with no beauty, but much
love and goodness, — a woman who asked little, blamed
seldom, and tlien with all the tact and address which
the utmost thoughtfulness could devise ; and the passive,


negligent husband became the attentive, devoted slave
of her will. He was in her hands as clay in the hands
of the potter ; the least breath or suggestion of criticism

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Online LibraryHarriet Beecher StoweLittle foxes : or, The insignificant little habits which mar domestic happiness → online text (page 1 of 12)