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ON GOING TO BED.
Why do we go to bed ? says the old riddle. Because the bed will not come to us, says the answer. Now this is a catch, beneath the notice of the logician. Why do we go to bed ? is a question that might still be asked. Some people will say, in order to go to sleep; but I have read a medieval work in which you are directed to “ eschewe meridialle slepe," but that if you must go off in the middle of the day, you should do it standing up, leaning your back against a cupboard. Now, if human nature is the same in all ages, it must be as practicable to go to sleep standing against a cupboard in the nineteenth century, as it was in the fourteenth. Napoleon used to go to sleep on horseback, and keep it up for hours. Look at a man who is backed to walk a thousand miles in a thousand consecutive hours; he will go to sleep anyhow; when the last rounds of his match come off, he will go to sleep on his legs : and why can't we? It is true, this immediately provokes the question, Why should we? and it is a pertinent one.
I do not sleep on my legs myself, and see no reason why other people should.
In fact, I am in the habit of going to bed; but there are certain particulars in which I cannot acquiesce in the current views about bed, and rising from bed. There are points in which I am original by compulsion ; for instance, I never had the sensation known as "watering at the mouth." Then, though it has happened to me
.” in convivial hours to be so excited as to jump upon the table to propose a sentiment, or offer to oblige the company by making, all in quotations, a speech that should last till the milkman went his rounds,--I never saw double,--never, at the banqueting table, beheld that wonderful spectacle which I am told my fellow-creatures have seen when exalted double lights, double chairmen, or the like. You may make me wildly cheerful and apter to run than to stand, but I defy all the vineyards the sun shines on, crossed with the strongest peat-water (now go and pretend you don't know what that is :) to make me see double. Now, there is something melancholy about all this. Other people's mouths water, and my children's do, -why doesn't mine? Other people see two chairmen and two chandeliers,—why can't I? But, alas ! there is more to come. Suppressing a great deal of it, I go to bed. Now, here again I find myself a lonely man. I do not like bed-never did; know I never shall; and am utterly ignorant of the pleasant sensations about which you read so much, as to “hugging the bed," and the delicious “
mure.” Above all, I cannot, for the life of me, understand “break
I fast in bed.” Good Heavens ! the man who would have his breakfast in bed is fit for treasons, stratagems, spoils; or, perhaps, he is not fit for anything so lively,—which is worse. I can deliver no sane judgment, for the subject bewilders me. When a man tells me he is fond of being in bed, I listen to him as to one who should say he is fond of being tied up in a rag-bag. Do what you please with your bed, it is still a prison. Only once since childhood have I submitted to its limitations, and then only for a very short time,-though it was weary enough for me. I say submitted, because I firmly believe a violent reluctance to keep your bed goes a long way towards preventing your bed from keeping you. My doctor lectured me on my “surprising irritability.” But I made him understand it was not the illness, but the imprisonment that chafed me; and I got up by main force. Nor was it indeed the imprisonment in the plainer sense of the word. It was the sense of being swathed up from the more open currents of light and air.
The same kind of feeling that makes you love the dress of a Highlandman or a peasant lassie.
Sweet is the air ; sweet is the light; sweet is the water; beautiful is the human body. And hateful is every kind of swaddling or swathing, from blankets to ordinary attire. Felix Holt could not bear to have his neck covered up; and look at the poets--what a tendency there is in them to turn their collars down ! You
may make answer, Look at Dante, Chaucer, and Petrarch, and Sidney! Well, they have all a muffled look, I grant you, and Coleridge wore a most hideous choker. But then the Gilmans dressed him ; and as to those medieval fellows, you never know where to have them. The man who wrote the Inferno was capable of anything-of lying in bed all his life or of going about dressed like a mummy; but we know nothing of the private habits of Chaucer, so I may presume, if I please, that a man who was so fond of daisies and the morning, and generally of open-air ways of looking at things, had his secret ways of indemnifying himself for the restraints of ordinary attire—who knows? Why, I take off even my slender little collar and my
necktie of narrow ribbon the moment I get indoors, even in business ; and Hogg, in his life of Shelley, tells us of a family who used systematically to "nakedise” (so he calls it) as an aid to virtue. What I go in for, however, is the sensation of urgent, unimpeded rapport with the air, the light, and the water. Dante lived in a crypt half his existence, and there is not a fresh breeze from end to end of his writings. His idea of the function of a nice strong wind we know from his treatment of Paolo and Francesca.
One of the worst features of bed as an institution, is the night-cap. I never wore one myself, so I can only guess at the sensation it must give; but I can see it in others, and it is one of the most hideous and unpleasant inventions under the sun, or moon. I have read of a
lover who was overthrown, and driven forth into the world an outcast, by an event of the day after the wedding. It was the hour of the morgen gabe. He awoke, and, as you have it in the “Bay of Biscay,” "there she lay." Ein frisches morgenlicht weckte die jungen eheleute. Undine verbarg sich schamhaft unter ihre Decken, und Huldbrand lag still sinnend vor sich hin. In the natural course of things the knight should have placed a costly cadeau at the bed's foot. But the lady was not awake and pretending sleep in this case, she was snoring. That, and her nightcap, were too much for him ; so he packed up his carpet-bag, went out softly, and was never heard of afterwards. Then again, I have read of a case where a wife's love was annihilated at one blow, also at the hour of the morgen gabe. And what did it? Her husband's night-cap. And well it might. People go on saying,
, the night-cap saves the pillow. Then why don't they put it on the pillow, and not on the human head? If Strephon's head is goo enough for Chloë to kiss, surely it is good enough to lay upon a pillow. But, then, human nature is such a mass of inconsistencies !
The fact is that people, if they had more imagination, might do a great deal to make bed agreeable. It was a fiend who first thought of a four-poster, and the “tent" is as bad. The thing known as a “ French” or an “Arabian” bedstead is better; but all the bad angels have had to do with bed as an institution. The great objects seem to have been to make bedroom furniture fine and inconvenient. Now, it ought to be the very essence, the quintessential spirit, of simplicity and convenience. Everything about it ought to breathe repose and purity. Even as it is, sheets are white, but I am persuaded it is by some accident, and that if a way could be found of making them purple, or otherwise unfitted for their purpose, it would be greedily welcomed by the upholstery class. Then beds are a great deal too high, and they run narrow. A bed ought to be very low and very wide—especially the second; so as to admit of territorial arrangements. An imaginary cordon may be as high as a five-barred gate. In the French farce, Une Dame et un Monsieur, a chalk line across the carpet represents the Pyrenees. And why not? I have known “sweet remorse, and pious awe that feared to have offended” represent even more than that. Children in bed make houses, and castles, and walls of China, and guarded pavilions, out of the simple sheets. And quite right. True, accidents happen. “What are you bellowing about, Bill ?” said a mother at the stair's foot one evening after her two boys had been put to bed. “Please, mother," said bellowing
• Bill, “Jem wants half the bed.” “Well,” says she, “let him have it, and you take the other half.” “Yes, mother," says Bill,“ but he will have his half out of the middle, and make me sleep on both sides of him." Again, there was once a brute of a husband who said to his wife on a certain winter's night, “ Take away your great cold hoofs, do !” “Ah," said the heart-broken woman, " there was a time when you used to say, ‘Where are your dear little footsy-tootsies?'” Now, if the bed had been wide enough, this crisis need never have arisen.
That old-fashioned plan was a very pretty one which placed the bed upon a raised platform,--a portion of the room to which you had to ascend by the low steps surrounding it. To have to go up to bed, and to come down from it, adds greatly to the poetry of the situation. What does Mr. Emerson say? Why, that the night-time, the time of sleep and silence, is the great hour for the “influx of the Deity." He looks upon a person who has just got up in the morning as upon one who has come down from a mount of the prophets, or something of that kind. And this is the ideal view of the thing. But as to mounts of prophecy, I am sure the majority of persons don't even look, when
I they get up, as intelligent as if they had been reading Mother Shipton's Dream-book. Influx of Deity indeed! If a man has got up immediately on waking; if he has forgotten the animosities he went to bed with ; if he has had a shower bath ; if he has been sleeping with a light in the room ; if he has not been hugger-muggering in a curtained four-poster; and if he is a person capable of receiving anything of the kind,—then indeed, his face will look as if there had been some influx of Deity in the case. But how
your fellowcreatures answer to any such description ? Look at Jones. Instead of looking, when he gets up, as if he had been the subject of any divine influx, he looks just prepared for a pretty considerable influx of eggs and bacon, and as if after that he would be off to town and cheat somebody as soon as possible.
It is one of the best points of bed that it is so truthful, and, as a German might say, so “friendly.” It has been said that those who sleep together for a long time grow actually like each other; and, assuredly, if other things be favourable, they tend to grow fond of each other. There is a great deal in our night-attire that I vehemently object to—the fiends have presided over that also,—but at least it is simple, and it is white. This is ever so nice, and when we have put off what Milton calls “ those troublesome disguises,” and put on that simple, truthful, innocent, defenceless garment, a fresh mood steals over us. Down go the tired limbs, and now, in the glimmering, religious light—for to sleep in total darkness is a brutalityhow many things are possible that but an hour ago, perhaps, seemed out of the question ! Now is the moment for the pleading touch of the hand that asks forgiveness for some nameless fault, of which love is all too conscious, though the recording angel himself may not have written it down. Now is the moment for setting free the secret that has weighed upon the heart. Now is the hour for the quarrel that is no quarrel at all, and the reconciliation that is the true reinte gratio amoris. Now the heart is soft, and the silence and secrecy are sacred, and the simplicity and the defencelessness of the situation make
truth come easier. And the prison aspect of the question has two sides. The daylight is gone, and all the appliances of the daylight
. are put away; and who has not had in the night-time a sort of what can I do to help myself ? sensation. In the old Scandinavian story of Gisli the Soursop, there is a scene which is amusingly to the point. Thorkel has overheard a conversation between his wife and another lady, which is not altogether flattering to him, and being cross, he sulks off to bed :
“ Then Gisli goes away, and says no more ; and men go to bed when night comes. Thorkel ate little that night, and was the first to go to bed; but when Asgerda came to his bed-side, and lifted the bedclothes, then Thorkel said to her :
“• I do not mean to let thee sleep here to-night.'
". Why, what is more fitting,' she said, “than that I should sleep by my husband? Why hast thy heart so soon changed, and what is the matter?'
“« Thou knowest very well, and I know it. It has been long hidden from me; but thy good name will not be greater if I speak it out.'
“ "What's the good of talking like that ?' she said. "Thou oughtest to know better than to believe the silly talk of us women; for we are ever chattering when we are alone about things without a word of truth in them; and so it was here.'
“ Then Asgerda threw both her arms round his neck, and was soft and kind, and bade him never believe a word of it. “But Thorkel was cross, and bade her be off.
• Then,' says Asgerda, ‘I will not strive with thee any longer for what thou wilt not grant. But I will give thee two choices : the first is, to treat all this as if it had been unspoken—I mean, all that we have joked about—and to lay no faith on what is not true; the other is, that I take witness at once, and be parted from thee. Then I shall do as I please, and maybe thou wilt then have something to tell of true hatred; and as for me, I will make my father claim at thy hand my dower and portion, and then surely thou wilt no longer be troubled with me as thy bedfellow.'
Thorkel was tongue-tied for awhile. At last he said :
“My counsel to thee is to creep in on the side of the bed that belongs to thee. I can't waste all the night in keeping thee out.'
"So she goes to bed at once, and they make up their quarrel as though it had never happened. As for Anda, when she went to bed with her husband Gisli, she tells him all that she and Asgerda had said, just as it happened, and begged him not to be wroth with her, but to give her good counsel, if he saw any."
Here we find that the impracticability of spending the whole night in a bedroom sulk decided an important conjugal difference. But let us not be too ready in drawing our inferences. It might possibly