Mrs. Caudle's curtain lectures/Author's preface


It has happened to the writer that two, or three, or ten, or twenty gentlewomen have asked him—and asked in various notes of wonder, pity, and reproof—

"What could have made you think of Mrs. Caudle?

"How could such a thing have entered any man's mind?"

There are subjects that seem like rain drops to fall upon a man's head, the head itself having nothing to do with the matter. The result of no train of thought, there is the picture, the statue, the book, wafted, like the smallest seed, into the brain to feed upon the soil, such as it may be, and grow there. And this was, no doubt, the accidental cause of the literary sowing and expansion—unfolding like a night-flower—of Mrs. Caudle.

But let a jury of gentlewomen decide.

It was a thick, black wintry afternoon, when the writer stopt in the front of the playground of a suburban school. The ground swarmed with boys full of the Saturday's holiday. The earth seemed roofed with the oldest lead, and the wind came, sharp as Shylock's knife, from the Minories. But those happy boys ran and jumped, and hopped, and shouted, and—unconscious men in miniature!—in their own world of frolic, had no And the writer, looking dreamily into that playground, still mused on the robust jollity of those little fellows, to whom the tax-gatherer was as yet a rarer animal than baby hippopotamus. Heroic boyhood, so ignorant of the future in the knowing enjoyment of the present! And the writer still dreaming and musing, and still following no distinct line of thought, there struck upon him, like notes of sudden household music, these words—Curtain Lectures.

One moment there was no living object save those racing, shouting boys; and the next, as though a white dove had alighted on the pen hand of the writer, there was—Mrs. Caudle.

Ladies of the jury, are there not then some subjects of letters that mysteriously assert an effect without any discoverable cause? Otherwise, wherefore should the thought of Curtain Lectures grow from a school ground—wherefore, among a crowd of holiday school-boys, should appear Mrs. Caudle?

For the Lectures themselves, it is feared they must be given up as a farcical desecration of a solemn time-honoured privilege; it may be, exercised once in a life time,—and that once having the effect of a hundred repetitions, as Job lectured his wife. And Job's wife, a certain Mohammedan writer delivers, having committed a fault in her love to her husband, he swore that on his recovery he would deal her a hundred stripes. Job got well, and his heart was touched and taught by the tenderness to keep his vow, and still to chastise his help-mate; for he smote her once with a palm-branch having a hundred leaves.