Tuesday 17 August 2010

Answers to Correspondents

'Answers to Correspondents' was a page which appeared in the dying months of the Leisure Hour (finished publication in 1905). It featured answers to a diverse range of queries from readers - an advice column, in essence.  The readers' queries themselves were unpublished; but generally could be inferred from the answer.

I haven't read back that many years but it looks like this column was, originally, for the most part devoted to suggesting places women could seek employment; and also to critiquing pieces of fiction and poetry sent to the magazine. This latter strand contains a response which many a modern literary agent would probably sympathise with:

C.F.G. - Your story has no merit, and your MS. was the most soiled I have ever seen. I returned it to you, but would have preferred to burn it as a more sanitary proceeding.

The remainder isn't quite that amusing, but it does offer a fascinating insight into what worried the magazine's readers, with condition of teeth and hair being rather prominent. But there were increasingly digressions into other areas, too. Here's a selection:

Heather  - Prematurely grey hair is constitutional with some people and runs in some families. the general health affects the hair in most cases, and serenity of temperament and freedom from mental strain conduces to keep the hair long of a youthful colour. No hair tonic would be as likely to restore the colour as would a course of iron taken medicinally. After such an illness or an accident, the hair may turn grey and ultimately resume its colour, but generally when it becomes grey it remain grey unless external treatment is applied. Walnut pomade is a harmless application in the earlier stages of the trouble, when there are only grey hairs here and there; quite grey hair is one of the most beautiful adornments in the world, and never more beautiful than when it crowns a young face. A young woman with dark eyes and white hair is distinguished above her fellows. I know a woman whose hair has been grey since she was twenty-eight (she is not yet forty) and wherever she goes she is the cynosure of all eyes.

Maggie S. - Fabrics may be rendered incombustible by being saturated in a mixture consisting of two parts borax, two and a half of sulphate of magnesia, and twenty parts water. Saturate the article thoroughly in the mixture, wring out, dry, and then wash in the usual way. So treated, fabrics thrown on the fire or held close to it will smoulder, but will not burst into flames.

Homebird - (1) Where the family income is £200 per annum, I think the food bills should not exceed £1 per week for three people. (2) In the country young servants can be found for £10 or £12 wages; a servant's food will amount to about 6s. per week in a modest household. In a country place the servant should be willing to do a considerable portion of the washing; in more pretentious establishments the washing is usually sent out, or a special laundrymaid is kept. Most town servants do not learn laundry work owing to the general lack of facilities for the work in town houses.

Fay - There is no remedy for decay of the teeth other than the attention of a dentist. No mouthwash will arrest decay once it has set in; the hole must be drilled out and filled, preferably with gold. Have this done at once, as the operation will be more difficult and expensive the longer it is delayed.
M.C.S. - Melanyl is a very good marking ink. I know of none better, and it is easy to use.

Agnes - For stone floors or verandah floors there is no better covering than cocoanut matting, either plain red, or in the bold design and colour of Mung matting. This can be had at most carpet houses, certainly at Treloar's, in Ludgate Hill. For bedrooms the cork carpets that look like felt are excellent. These also make pretty and cleanly carpet-surrounds, where the carpet is made in a bordered square.
K.S. - (1) People in deep mourning would not be expected to attend a wedding even when invited. No guest should go wearing mourning, though there is not the same superstitious objection to black that formerly prevailed. (2) If the bride-groom is your personal friend it would be quite correct to address your present to him, though presents intended for dual use are generally addressed to the bride even by the bridegroom's friends.
Pibroch - (1) Messrs. Dean and Son, Fleet Street, publish books on the management of domestic pets. That on Cats is by Dr Gordon Stables. (2) Messrs. Hopwood and Crew and Messrs. Francis and Day issue books of songs set to music for the banjo, price 1s. and 1s. 6d. each. It is not usually the highest class of verse that is intended for this instrument.

Vanity. - The most comfortable and useful aids to sight are spectacles, but they are certainly not decorative. The pince-nez is more popular with the young and smart, while the long-hanlded double eye-glasses are nice for occasional use. I have never seen a lady wear a single eye-glass. Where there is any irregularity of vision it will be necessary to consult an oculist, as unsuitable glasses would do more harm than good.

Dressmaker. - A first class dressmaker charges as much as £200 for training an amateur. That would ensure a guarantee that the pupil would be rendered proficient in every department. Apprentices entering to give their services till fully trained would pay about £20 usually. A good dressmaker can make a very good living anywhere.
Mater, S.A. - You cannot force the confidence of the young. Where a girl is out of sympathy with those at home, two or three years at a boarding--school may have a very beneficial effect. Temporary separation is generally of service where people have grown out of touch with each other. In the case of the young the change betwen home and school life is so great that the vexations of home become forgotten. Under good influence, and in the comparatively inconspicuous position of a member of a class, a girl often becomes like a new creature, to be deal with in a new way on her return home. It must be remembered then that she is a woman, to share both a woman's pleasures and her responsibilities. I think the young are glad to confide in parents who are kind and wise; it is human to want advice from those whom we think likely to know. But, as I have already said, confidence cannot be forced, and nothing will bring it but the consciousness of a receptive mind, of a mind that will understand. A measure of reserve is advantageous, we have more natural reverence for the reserved than for the too intimate. Tact is the best guide in our dealings with all our kind, but not every one has tact.
Gwenny. - The lady's social position would depend on her husband's income and her individuality. There is nothing dignified in the occupation, but now-a-days all occupations seem acceptable that bring fortune. A nice woman, whose husband can give her all the requisites of a pleasant life, can attain to very good society provided that she shows no particular eagerness to make acquaintance with all and sundry.
Poor Peggy. - No, I am not going to scold you, depression is not a matter of will, but it is in great measure a matter of surroundings. I imagine you live in an ugly house, with ugly wall-papers, dull paint and furniture covered with patterns. Then you have many ornaments that are horrors - china dogs, wool mats, and things under glass shades (I am only guessing). Your dining-room is sombre and your drawing-room is crowded with depressing and useless things, milking stools with flower-pots on them, cotton spiders hanging to the lace curtains, and stuffy frills round the mantelpiece. If you would turn all these things out of doors and give two or three weeks' work yourself to renovation, I feel sure you would think the world a different place. Take all the carpets off the floors, see that the boards are smooth and that there are no nails standing up, if there are cracks fill them with papier mache made of soft paper and paste, press in with the back of a knife, when hard stain the whole surface, and when it is of the right colour, varnish or paint with a combined varnish-stain. Colour the walls with Hall's Sanitary Distemper, yellow for dark rooms, green for a sunny room, pink, blue or cream for bedrooms, make the paint all over the house ivory-white, and then when you have all these plain fresh surfaces, look round you, and see if the world is not beginning to take on a new aspect. Plain unoccupied spaces and bright, soft colours, rest the nerves. Anything that soothes and cheers, inspires hope, and hope is the beginning of victory. There is a gospel of gladness, but the alphabet of that gospel will be found among extraneous things.
Forget-me-not. - I fear your friend is only rehearsing the stale tricks of the male flirt. There is no such disparity between your social position and his as would lead him to think he dare not aspire to your hand. His telling you that you are too good for him is an impertinence, he does not think it, this is a common mode of expression with men who want to pay non-committal attentions; you had better receive his overtures with perfect indifference, they are not seriously intended.

Sister Anne. - For the first flights in fiction provincial story papers offer the easiest opening. There are so many periodicals now-a-days that good writing will certainly find acceptance. A good deal of bad writing does the same. Has it ever occurred to your that an immensity of pleasure may be found in reading, without thought of how to write? Unless people have such taste for writing that the mere drudgery of it is interesting, it is inadvisable to contemplate it as a career.
County Clare. - Clubs and associations of work-people often combine together to pay individually a small weekly sum that they may retain the services of a medical doctor in case of sickness, so that the expense of this may be distributed and that the members may all help to bear this individual burdne, but only once before have I heard of a lady writing from a pretentious address who desired to economise by paying club prices for medical attendance. There is no other class in the community that sacrifices individual interest to the welfare of the race as doctors do, there is no man save the scientist who gives to the community discoveries that have cost him years of toil. Other men protect their discoveries and inventions and make some individual profit out of them - and I see no reason why they should not do so - the doctor's discovery is made free to the humblest brother in the profession; by the study of preventive medicine they are striving to choke the source of their own income for the good of the community; the services they give to the poor in hospitals are trespassed upon shamelessly by the well-to-do, while many a doctor in a poor district not only attends cases of distress gratis, but helps from his own pocket many an impoverished patient. And you think it would be good management to pay men like these, for their care of your physical condition, twenty-five shillings a year, if you could get a few other families to join you in such a noble enterprise. You make me ashamed! If you are a pauper they will attend you for nothing; if you are not a pauper try not to have such mean ideas.
Careful. - Chivers's Carpet Soap costs sixpence per ball, and is made at Westmoreland Wharf, Bath. It cleanses carpets to perfection.
Clara. - Full particulars of asylum nursing as an occupation for women appeared in the February, and a subsequent issue of The Girls' Own Paper. Pay begins at £20, and may rise with promotion to £85 with board and residence. The work is in many respects less arduous than that of sick nurses. Prison wardresses are also well paid, and the calling is not overcrowded. Neither position is attractive at first sight, but both offer opportunities of very useful and helpful work, with fair remuneration.
A.Z. - The incident meant nothing but a civility. The tendency on the part of some girls to read deep significance into the passing if the salt-cellar from the hand of a youth bears on the habit I have already referred to,  that imagines sentimental intercourse to be the pivot on which existence turns. Not at all, it is a feature of life, not the whole face of life. Try to feel kindly towards all men, ascribing kindness to them in return; deeper feelings are special, and neither to be met nor thought of at every turn.

Elder Sister - The Arachne Club is at 60 Russell Square, London, W. Its object is the training of ladies for domestic service. The time of training is from eight weeks to nine months, according to the position aimed at; and engagements are a certainty when the certificate of proficiency has been gained. It would be a great advantage to many girls who contemplate not service, but wedlock, to be trained at the Arachne.
M.M.M. - Electrolysis is the only remedy for hirsutes, the only permanent remedy, that is to say, but it should not be resorted to unless the growth is definite. The treatment costs 10s. per sitting usually, and the number of sittings depends on the extent of the trouble. The malady seems to be somewhat general. I know two practitioners of electrolysis, and they make a great deal of money. You know women will pay more readily for vanity than for anything else. But a desire to remove an unsightliness is legitimate vanity. I can send you the address of a practitioner of electrolysis if you wish.
Elise. - Deep breathing does more to improve the complexion than any cosmetic or artifice. Put on a warm wrapper, open the window widely in dry weather. Put the shoulders back so that the arms hanging down straight are parallel with the lower limbs. Then draw a deep breath through the nostrils, hold it a second, draw another short breath above it, hold another second, and then let the air all exhale slowly. Repeat about twenty times. This cleanses the lungs, freshens the blood, improves the circulation, and consequently the health and appearance. Sufferers from anaemia will be found to be all shallow breathers, with restricted chest movements.
S.E.J. - Stammering is successfully treated by Mrs. Behnke, 18 Earl's Court Square, London, S.W. Mrs. Behnke takes boarders, or gives daily lessons to adults. Her terms might be considered high, but her method is genuine and successful. I know one professional "curer" whose own wife stammers very badly; that is an irrefragable testimony regarding his claims.


  1. The columnist is either a remarkable fount of knowledge on all topics or has a knack for finding out needed information (or a combination of both): from literary criticism and advice on starting a literary career, through matters of domestic cleaning and decoration or career advice to medical advice, psychology and social etiquette. Quite a tour de force.

    The style, though forthright and even brusque at times, suggests a woman writer to me. What could have been her role in life? Was she one of those upper class ladies who distinguish themselves in service to the community in various ways or could she be a professional lady, possibly a doctor?

    Whatever the answer, the Leisure Hour acquired a gem in this person's participation in its columns.

  2. I do get the impression that a particular writer took over the column, 1904/05, and made it her own. Whether this was a response to declining sales, or just coincidental, I don't know - the magazine folded by the end of 1905.