By H.M. THE QUEEN OF ROUMANIA
"WOMAN'S work" has become nowadays a word with such a very different meaning than in former days, that one is nearly obliged to explain what one means. When I say woman's work, I don't mean man's work done by women; I don't mean either the Amazons or the Beehives, as both are unsexed. I mean the work of women who can afford to stay at home, to have ten or twelve children, and be happy in bringing them up to be good, and clever, and useful. For the woman at home this book is written.
The Amazon-woman, the bee-woman, the man-woman need not even open it. But the solitary woman, who has time for reading and thinking—and there are many—may find pleasure in imitating some of our inventions and in adding some inventions in her turn.
To the solitary woman this book does go with the wish to become a companion. Here is pretty work to do during reading—much prettier than knitting. Nowadays work has become a great luxury, as everything useful and necessary is done by machines. Then let the luxury be as beautiful as we can make it. We offer here a kind of lace that long years of constant work have brought us to. It is such quick work-pretty to look at, and centuries won't destroy it. It is quick work for clever fingers, just as the lacemaker's fingers seem to fly, but it takes a great deal of quick working to arrive at making a large piece of lace stuff. But once one is clever enough to read and to work at the same time, it is pleasant indeed. I have known and loved a solitary woman, Miss Fanny Lavater, who used to embroider, as one did in the last century, in petit-point—scenes that look like water-colour painting. And whilst she did that fairywork she always had a book open before her that she learnt by heart. It was delicious when she spoke about authors: how she could say by heart what they had written.
Nowadays nobody has time to do that, and learning by heart is disdained. My great-aunt, the Princess Louise of Wied, who never married, and who was the great friend of the Queen Adelaide of England, used to learn by heart every day, in order to keep her memory fresh. She wrote poems in English at the age of eighty-six—one very sweet one, "My little room." I don't know if the Amazon and bee-ladies would write a poem about their solitary little room nowadays; the silence of it would become oppressive, as they would not hear the voices of their dear ones talking to them, as my aunt used to do. She sometimes talked to them quite loud.
I have often pitied men—in the first place because they can't know motherhood, in the second, because they are bereft of our greatest comfort—needlework. Our needlework is so much better than their smoking; it is so unobtrusive. Our quiet needle or shuttle, or whatever the instrument may be with which we can produce our modest kind of art, is a true friend, a safe companion, very busy and very discreet. The needle and the shuttle have never betrayed us; the spinning-wheel and the weaving-loom are a little louder, but oh! what a pleasant noise ! Even knitting and crochet are a comfort, as it occupies the hands when we feel restless.
What a help when in conversation we do not wish to contradict; we seem to grow silent over some intricate bit of work, and none can guess the little volcano that is covered with the lava of our work.
Some men don't like when the ladies work. It is a mistake. Atavistically we can scarcely help ourselves, as our great-great-greatgrandmothers did nothing else. We get into a kind of fever with doing nothing. A very wise country clergyman allowed the women to knit during his sermons; never had a preacher more attentive listeners: not one of them dropped asleep, as overworked women are apt to do when they for once sit down. They grow drowsy and can't keep their eyes open. Allow them to knit or to tat and they will be able to tell you almost every word they have heard.
How much care and sorrow, how much deep anxiety, what profound sorrow and sadness is put into silent woman's work. One ought always to look at it with awe and reverence, not only on account of the patience it teaches, but much more for the silently borne pain it has to hide. Many a woman can say: "What a blessing that my work cannot speak! It would be very startling if it were to lift its voice and begin to reveal the thoughts under whose wing it was hatched.
There is many a tear hidden in woman's work, many a sigh breathed into it, many a word repressed that spoken might have done irretrievable harm.
Luxury—perhaps! But so much more comfort than luxury, so much more rest than the harassing fatigue of bread-winning!
Tatting has the charm of lacemaking and weaving combined. It is the same shuttle as in the weaving-loom, only that the loom is our fingers and the shuttle obeys our thoughts and the invention of the moment. The joy when a new stitch is found is very great. I don't know if Madame Curie felt much happier when she found the Radium! Of course our work is small and modest and will never shake the world. A woman may shake the world once in many centuries, but she can find things in the quiet of her little room that give her complete and intense satisfaction.
Don't despise our needle and our shuttle, don't think that our thoughts need be small for all that! The mothers of very great men could only knit or spin. The weaving of Penelope has become symbolical.
I am atavistically mediaeval in my tastes. I love the châtelaine dans son donjon looking out over the lands and working with a lot of laughing and singing maidens weaving and embroidering around her. The minstrel must not be wanting, and the solitude need not be oppressive.
Woman is mostly solitary, even in her household, even doing man's work. Only when she is made into the part of a machine does she stop being a woman.
Is there a prettier picture than a Roumanian peasant girl with her red or orange skirt, a yellow kerchief over her black locks, with dark-fringed large luminous eyes, the green pitcher on her head, walking through the fields and spinning, or the Roumanian woman, draped in the splendid folds of her white or yellow veil, sitting and weaving before her loom?
A woman's hand is never so graceful as when working some lovely piece of art.
Open our book, dear solitary, lonely, worried, or content woman, who is not condemned to earn a hard bread with hard work, and think of the peaceful hours it may bring you, and you will feel that we loved you well in publishing the result of our own loneliness.
For beauty of design and fineness of tatting and needlework, I venture to think that it surpasses all the specimens of Her Majesty's work that I have had the good fortune to see.
Description by the Queen.—In the centre, Nani, nani-bobociluli (Hush thee, bonny Baby).
Emblems all round of what the baby should possess—Heartsease, Palms, Edelweiss, Cross (for bravery), Laurels, and at the four corners four angels, meaning—
Four corners to my bed,