The Maxims of Methuselah

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The Maxims of Methuselah  (1904) 
by Gelett Burgess
Extracted from Smart Set magazine, Sept 1904, pp. 97-99.

"To know wisdom and instruction concerning women; to perceive the words of knowledge whereby the damsels of his choice may be judged; to give subtlety to the simple, to the young man discretion in his loves."



By Gelett Burgess

THE maxims of Methuselah, the son of Enoch, for the guidance of his son's son's son, Shem, at his coming of age:

2 To know wisdom and instruction concerning women; to perceive the words of knowledge whereby the damsels of his choice may be judged; to give subtlety to the simple, to the young man discretion in his loves.

3 ¶My son, so live that when she seeth thy photograph, she may smile and think untellable thoughts.

4 Praise not a woman for what she hath, but for what she hath not, and thy reward shall be exceeding great;

5 A witty woman for her beauty, and a comely damsel for her intellect; a wise woman for her jests, and a frivolous maid for her literary criticism;

6 A pianist for her cookery and a housewife for her mathematics; so shalt thou praise them;

7 But the mother of one babe shall be flattered through her child alone, for there the straight way lieth.

8 ¶Lo, wickedness weareth the look of innocence, and the baby stare gazeth from the froward woman's eyes. She hungereth after the callow youth; she studieth the ways of the virgin, and walketh humbly;

9 She pretendeth to be shocked, she casteth down her eyes: she delighteth to be instructed.

10 She laugheth in her sleeve, she amuseth herself with the young man's innocence; and when he is gone, she telleth his follies to her friends, she laugheth in glee thereat.

11 ¶Beware thou of a woman who signeth not her name to her letters; she will bear watching, she hath a past.

12 But she who dealeth in ciphers and syrmbols, who hath her secret name for this and for that, who calleth not a spade a spade, so that none but thee only may understand her, seek her and woo her, for she hath cunning; observe her ways and be wise.

13 Knowest thou a maiden who showeth all her letters to her mother? Cultivate her, and she shall soon send thee words as of fire. Even as the blower on the fireplace hideth the flames, so shall she break forth when her parents' scrutiny be removed.

14 ¶If thou suspectest thy love, it is better to leave her than to doubt; but to believe and to doubt also, it is a bitter torment.

15 In my youth I knew a maiden of the Land of Nod, and I loved her. And my friends came unto me and said: Lo, she is a devil, cast thou her off. But I made answer, saying: Verily, I know well that she is either angel or devil, for in no other wise could she delight my soul; but it is better to think her an angel while I may; yea, it is more affording.

16 ¶She who leaveth her hair in the comb shall be cast out into utter darkness.

17 Count no matron happy till she hath passed thirty and hath not waxed fat; for then do her sisters torment her, saying: In this gown thou needest have no fear, for it becometh thee; but wear not horizontal stripes, for thy hip increaseth.

18 ¶Many are the speeches of the conventional women, aye, in my books are they all inscribed, and I know well how to expect them, and am not disappointed;

19 She sayeth: Lo, if thou hadst come yesterday, then we had a good dinner, and last week was mine house in perfect order.

20 She sayeth: Lo, it is passing strange that my child behaveth not before company; when we are alone, then will he speak his piece.

21 Two things she sayeth on parting; yea, three speeches are inevitable when she leaveth thine house. Lo, I have had such a charming time, and, it is so good of you to have asked me; and, now do come and see us.

22 ¶Women know well of women's ways, for if a man love, he telleth much, aye, he enlighteneth her, concerning his previous loves; but no man knoweth how another man maketh love, for this women tell not.

23 Though a woman be as honest as a child before company, yet will she lie to the man she loveth, and to him only.

24 My son, if a woman confesseth that she love thee, and thou lovest her not, forsake her not in her anguish, make her to laugh; let thy conduct be merry.

25 Yet when she sayeth: I have repented of my folly, forget thy pride and be glad; remind her not of her words, let thy mouth be shut upon her weakness aforetime.

26 ¶Some women are captured by storm, and some taken by siege: yet if there be not a traitor in her heart that shall deliver up the garrison, thou shall not prevail over her.

27 I say unto thee, verily, not every woman who looketh like a maiden going to a tea is a typewriter; for some are maidens going to a tea.

28 If, when thou callest, she asketh thee concerning thy goings-in and thy comings-out and what thou doest, take heed, for she thinketh of other things; she prepareth herself to work thee.

29 ¶Lo, I have watched the rivalry of maidens at the summer hotel, yea, at the seashore have I regarded their strife. Yet could I not judge a damsel's popularity by the flowers she received, for verily, it is oft her mother who sendeth them, and the old man footeth the bills.

30 ¶Son, be not deceived by the undemonstrative, for a woman of ice oft desireth to be wooed with ardor, and she who standeth apart hath her own opinion of the languid lover.

31 Propose not unto a woman when she hath gotten a new frock, nor when she is puffed up with victories; when she reigneth and rejoiceth in her hour of triumph come not nigh unto her, for thou shalt not prevail over her; but if she be ill or a-weary, when she is cast down in spirit and needeth a comforter, then be thou ready and make thy suit.

32 After she hath walked far and resteth; while the storm gathereth and the thunders are loosed in the heavens; while she listeneth to fair music; when the wine cup is half-emptied: then shalt thou have thy way with her.

33 And a wedding in haste is worth two at leisure.

34 If she dresseth her hair in a new fashion, lo, some one hath wondrous influence over her, and if he shaveth his beard, there is a reason.

35 As fascinating as a loose tooth is a secret to a young maid; for she knoweth not whether to spit it out or to keep it safe. Yet she can in no wise forget it.

36 Catnip pleaseth the kitten, and the reading of her palm rejoiceth the damsel alway. Blessed is he who clotheth a woman's vanity with pleasant prophecies;

37 He sayeth: lo, thou art indeed sensitive; thou art much misunderstood. Thy friends comprehend thee not, for thou art too subtile for them. And within four years thou shalt travel.

38 For a woman goeth to the sorcerer and the fortune-teller, and she returneth with a marvel alway. Yea, though she believeth not, yet doth she believe, and her lips are full of wonders.

39 Behold, he who spilleth ice-cream upon a front breadth shall be forgiven, but whoso mentioneth her last night's indiscretion shall be despised.

40 Better are two right-hand gloves together, than a man in the moonlight with the wrong woman; and for a maiden to be alone by the seashore is as a hat without a hatpin; it breedeth wild thoughts.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1926.

The author died in 1951, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 60 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.