A Question Of Form by A. A. Milne

The latest invention on the market is the wasp gun. In theory it is something like a letter clip; you pull the trigger and the upper and lower plates snap together with a …

The latest invention on the market is the wasp gun. In theory it is something like a letter clip; you pull the trigger and the upper and lower plates snap together with a suddenness which would surprise any insect in between. The trouble will be to get him in the right place before firing. But I can see that a lot of fun can be got out of a wasp drive. We shall stand on the edge of the marmalade while the beaters go through it, and, given sufficient guns, there will not be many insects to escape. A loader to clean the weapon at regular intervals will be a necessity.

Yet I am afraid that society will look down upon the wasp gun. Anything useful and handy is always barred by the best people. I can imagine a bounder being described as “the sort of person who uses a wasp gun instead of a teaspoon.” As we all know, a hat- guard is the mark of a very low fellow. I suppose the idea is that you and I, being so dashed rich, do not much mind if our straw hat does blow off into the Serpentine; it is only the poor wretch of a clerk, unable to afford a new one every day, who must take precautions against losing his first. Yet how neat, how useful, is the hat-guard. With what pride its inventor must have given birth to it. Probably he expected a statue at the corner of Cromwell Road, fitting reward for a public benefactor. He did not understand that, since his invention was useful, it was probably bad form.

Consider, again, the Richard or “dicky.” Could there be anything neater or more dressy, anything more thoroughly useful? Yet you and I scorn to wear one. I remember a terrible situation in a story by Mr. W. S. Jackson. The hero found himself in a foreign hotel without his luggage. To that hotel came, with her father, the girl whom he adored silently. An invitation was given him to dinner with them, and he had to borrow what clothes he could from friendly waiters. These, alas! included a dicky. Well, the dinner began well; our hero made an excellent impression; all was gaiety. Suddenly a candle was overturned and the flame caught the heroine’s frock. The hero knew what the emergency demanded. He knew how heroes always whipped off their coats and wrapped them round burning heroines. He jumped up like a bullet (or whatever jumps up quickest) and –remembered.

He had a dicky on! Without his coat, he would discover the dicky to the one person of all from whom he wished to hide it. Yet if he kept his coat on, she might die. A truly horrible dilemma. I forget which horn he impaled himself upon, but I expect you and I would have kept the secret of the Richard at all costs. And what really is wrong with a false shirt-front? Nothing except that it betrays the poverty of the wearer. Laundry bills don’t worry us, bless you, who have a new straw hat every day; but how terrible if it was suspected that they did.

Our gentlemanly objection to the made-up tie seems to rest on a different foundation; I am doubtful as to the psychology of that. Of course it is a deception, but a deception is only serious when it passes itself off as something which really matters. Nobody thinks that a self-tied tie matters; nobody is really proud of being able to make a cravat out of a length of silk. I suppose it is simply the fact that a made-up tie saves time which condemns it; the safety razor was nearly condemned for a like reason. We of the leisured classes can spend hours over our toilet; by all means let us despise those who cannot.

As far as dress goes, a man only knows the things which a man mustn’t do. It would be interesting if women would tell us what no real lady ever does. I have heard a woman classified contemptuously as one who does her hair up with two hair-pins, and no doubt bad feminine form can be observed in other shocking directions. But again it seems to be that the semblance of poverty, whether of means or of leisure, is the one thing which must be avoided.

Why, then, should the wasp gun be considered bad form? I don’t know, but I have an instinctive feeling that it will be. Perhaps a wasp gun indicates a lack of silver spoons suitable for lethal uses. Perhaps it shows too careful a consideration of the marmalade. A man of money drowns his wasp in the jar with his spoon, and carelessly calls for another pot to be opened. The poor man waits on the outskirts with his gun, and the marmalade, void of corpses, can still be passed round. Your gun proclaims your poverty; then let it be avoided.

All the same I think I shall have one. I have kept clear of hat- guards and Richards and made-up ties without quite knowing why, but honestly I have not felt the loss of them. The wasp gun is different; having seen it, I feel that I should be miserable without it. It is going to be excellent sport, wasp-shooting; a steady hand, a good eye, and a certain amount of courage will be called for. When the season opens I shall be there, good form or bad form. We shall shoot the apple-quince coverts first. “Hornet over!”

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