Borrowing and Lending

This is the fourth article in May of the School for Housewives 1909 series published on May 23, 1909, and is an article on discouraging housewives from borrowing or lending.

Transcribed from the Sunday edition of the The Buffalo Sunday Morning News.

Borrowing and Lending

SO LITTLE akin are they, it has passed into a proverb that the habitual borrower seldom lends. The best of books admonishes us not to “turn away from him that borroweth,” reminding us that the righteous man is “ever merciful and lendeth.”

Shakespeare, more worldly wise than merciful, says:

Nether a borrower nor a lender be,
For loan oft loses both itself and friend.

There are not a few who read that second line who respond with feeling born of experience. “That’s as true as gospel!” It is a fact that is not creditable to this poor human nature of ours, that long holding and usage of another’s property blunts one’s sense of honesty. At least a dozen correspondents have written to me at various times to inquire if somebody who is shutting up her house for the summer or going South for the winter, will not lend the music-hungry inquirer her piano during her absence. I have but one reply to make, and that is a plagiarism of punch’s celebrated advice to those contemplating matrimony—


The Dividing Line.

The borrower becomes attached to the instrument, and when the real owner reclaims it there is hard feeling in 99 out of 100 cases. The continual handling of a borrowed thing, be it real or personal estate, is distinctly demoralizing. This truth underlies much of what we reckon as pilfering and downright theft on the part of hirelings. The ambitious maid dusts and shakes and mends her mistress’ garments, eats from her china and partakes of delicate food her own kindred cannot buy, until familiarity breeds vague perceptions of “meum and tuum.” She borrows her employer’s gowns and jewelry now and then, as the bank official borrows money he means to return before it is missed. In each case the transition from borrowing to robbery is easy and so nicely graded that the sinner hardly knows when he crosses the diving line.

Here is the key to many a tragedy that has wrecked families and shocked a community.

The allusion to the piano recalls a true happening that came directly under my own eyes. A woman was going abroad with her children for a term of years, and at the request of a cousin lent the latter a fine parlor organ to be used during the absence of the traveling family.

He cousin represented sensibly that it would be better that the instrument should be used than to leave it closed in the vacant dwelling of the owner. At the end of three years the wanderers returned to home and friends and proceeded to put their belongings into place. When the musical relative made no sign of restoring the organ to its accustomed niche the owner inquired when it would be sent back. She did this in the timid, hesitating manner each of us has adopted for herself at one time or another in referring a petition for something we considered as a loan and the beneficiary regarded in a different light. The borrowed sat aghast.

“It never occurred to me that you would ever care to have it again!” she protested, in an aggrieved toe. “In point of fact, I had really forgotten how I happened to have it. It was quite an old affair, you know, and fashions change so in the matter of furniture! And I made sure you would bring home so many new things—in short, I am awfully sorry, Mary, but you must see how it came about. When we move into our new house last spring and bought a grand piano for the girls we sent the old organ off to the auction rooms.”

“an extreme case,” you will say. Yet the principle is the same with that which leads you to forget to return the book borrowed so long ago that you can hardly recall to whom it once belonged, and to leave magazines borrowed every month from the friend across the way lying on your table until they are soiled and dog-eared, and then to toss them into the waste paper basket or pile them upon the shelf of a lumber closet.

A correspondent applied to us last week for duplicates of six or eight numbers of a magazine she wishes to have bound, explaining that they were borrowed by a friend who “forgot to return them.” The loser asks plaintively: “Can’t you give us a lecture on this some time?”

A Well-Known Beggar.

Coming down to lesser offenses in the same line, that housemother is exceptionally fortunate who has never had a neighbor who was a professional borrower. Jane Welsh Carlyle has left us a spicy comment upon Mrs. Leigh Hunt’s housewifely ways that will stick in the memory of readers who have never troubled themselves to inquire what English literature owes to Mrs. Hunt’s husband.

“She borrowed daily and everything from my kitchen—tumblers, teacups, a spoonful of tea, a cupful of meal—not having a copper in her purse.”

Therefore, the borrower was certain that she would never return any addition to her larder obtained in this way. She was a pauper—an improvident and extravagant beggar.

I wish I had not to add that she was a type of class! For the first few years of my married life I lived next door to a well-to-do woman whose peculations conducted after this fashion were notorious. She borrowed something from me, or from my servants if I were not home, on an average four days in every week. It was invariable something “Mistress has forgotten to order from the store this morning.”

“The Cupboard was Bare.”

As invariably, I was assured that the article would be returned very soon. Her cottage was literally the bourne from which no loan ever returned.

And my experience was not singular. I was the greatest sufferer among her victims from the accidental proximity of our homes.

Nobody ever called that woman a thief. She attended church regularly and maintained the shallow reputation of a respectable resident of a law-abiding town.

The memory of hundred of my readers will match these illustrations of the borrowing vice from their own memories. One easily lapses into the ugly trick. It is most convenient to run into a neighbor’s for a drawing of tea or a cup of milk, or for pepper, a lemon or “a half cupful” to piece out what we have just discovered is not enough butter, or sugar, or flour for the cake we have begun to make. Sometimes, I admit, if one’s nearest neighbor is of her own kindred, or a very intimate friend, the act is justifiable. Delayed payment of the loan is never excusable. It was a kindness done to you in the moment of need. If justice and common honesty do not move you to repayment, gratitude should.

The safe and the only really neighborly kind plan is never to borrow. If you find the particular corner of the cupboard upon which you would draw “bare,” do without the article you are looking for or punish yourself for forgetfulness and improvidence by sending or going to the shop for it. You lower your ladyhood by borrowing. This is a hard saying. It is a saying based upon a half century of domestic haps and mishaps that qualify me to lay down the law to my juniors.

As to books, having finish this talk set yourself at once to a critical survey of your library shelves, “upon honest thoughts intent.” If you find none that is not lawfully young own, will you not refresh my spirit and honor your friends by notifying us of the fact?

Marion Harland

Family Meals for a Week
The Housemothers’ Exchange

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