Story type: Essay
No language that is unfortunately understood by the greater portion of the people who speak English, thousands are saying on the first of January–in 1890, a far-off date that it is wonderful any one has lived to see–“Let us have a new deal!” It is a natural exclamation, and does not necessarily mean any change of purpose. It always seems to a man that if he could shuffle the cards he could increase his advantages in the game of life, and, to continue the figure which needs so little explanation, it usually appears to him that he could play anybody else’s hand better than his own. In all the good resolutions of the new year, then, it happens that perhaps the most sincere is the determination to get a better hand. Many mistake this for repentance and an intention to reform, when generally it is only the desire for a new shuffle of the cards. Let us have a fresh pack and a new deal, and start fair. It seems idle, therefore, for the moralist to indulge in a homily about annual good intentions, and habits that ought to be dropped or acquired, on the first of January. He can do little more than comment on the passing show.
It will be admitted that if the world at this date is not socially reformed it is not the fault of the Drawer, and for the reason that it has been not so much a critic as an explainer and encourager. It is in the latter character that it undertakes to defend and justify a national industry that has become very important within the past ten years. A great deal of capital is invested in it, and millions of people are actively employed in it. The varieties of chewing gum that are manufactured would be a matter of surprise to those who have paid no attention to the subject, and who may suppose that the millions of mouths they see engaged in its mastication have a common and vulgar taste. From the fact that it can be obtained at the apothecary’s, an impression has got abroad that it is medicinal. This is not true. The medical profession do not use it, and what distinguishes it from drugs-that they also do not use–is the fact that they do not prescribe it. It is neither a narcotic nor a stimulant. It cannot strictly be said to soothe or to excite. The habit of using it differs totally from that of the chewing of tobacco or the dipping of snuff. It might, by a purely mechanical operation, keep a person awake, but no one could go to sleep chewing gum. It is in itself neither tonic nor sedative. It is to be noticed also that the gum habit differs from the tobacco habit in that the aromatic and elastic substance is masticated, while the tobacco never is, and that the mastication leads to nothing except more mastication. The task is one that can never be finished. The amount of energy expended in this process if capitalized or conserved would produce great results. Of course the individual does little, but if the power evolved by the practice in a district school could be utilized, it would suffice to run the kindergarten department. The writer has seen a railway car–say in the West–filled with young women, nearly every one of whose jaws and pretty mouths was engaged in this pleasing occupation; and so much power was generated that it would, if applied, have kept the car in motion if the steam had been shut off–at least it would have furnished the motive for illuminating the car by electricity.
This national industry is the subject of constant detraction, satire, and ridicule by the newspaper press. This is because it is not understood, and it may be because it is mainly a female accomplishment: the few men who chew gum may be supposed to do so by reason of gallantry. There might be no more sympathy with it in the press if the real reason for the practice were understood, but it would be treated more respectfully. Some have said that the practice arises from nervousness–the idle desire to be busy without doing anything–and because it fills up the pauses of vacuity in conversation. But this would not fully account for the practice of it in solitude. Some have regarded it as in obedience to the feminine instinct for the cultivation of patience and self-denial –patience in a fruitless activity, and self-denial in the eternal act of mastication without swallowing. It is no more related to these virtues than it is to the habit of the reflective cow in chewing her cud. The cow would never chew gum. The explanation is a more philosophical one, and relates to a great modern social movement. It is to strengthen and develop and make more masculine the lower jaw. The critic who says that this is needless, that the inclination in women to talk would adequately develop this, misses the point altogether. Even if it could be proved that women are greater chatterers than men, the critic would gain nothing. Women have talked freely since creation, but it remains true that a heavy, strong lower jaw is a distinctively masculine characteristic. It is remarked that if a woman has a strong lower jaw she is like a man. Conversation does not create this difference, nor remove it; for the development of a lower jaw in women constant mechanical exercise of the muscles is needed. Now, a spirit of emancipation, of emulation, is abroad, as it ought to be, for the regeneration of the world. It is sometimes called the coming to the front of woman in every act and occupation that used to belong almost exclusively to man. It is not necessary to say a word to justify this. But it is often accompanied by a misconception, namely, that it is necessary for woman to be like man, not only in habits, but in certain physical characteristics. No woman desires a beard, because a beard means care and trouble, and would detract from feminine beauty, but to have a strong and, in appearance, a resolute under-jaw may be considered a desirable note of masculinity, and of masculine power and privilege, in the good time coming. Hence the cultivation of it by the chewing of gum is a recognizable and reasonable instinct, and the practice can be defended as neither a whim nor a vain waste of energy and nervous force. In a generation or two it may be laid aside as no longer necessary, or men may be compelled to resort to it to preserve their supremacy.