One would think, since the science of palmistry has so become a favorite a pastime, and if there be only a step between divination and prophecy, that the lines formed by an oar, or a ball bat, would confuse the lines of long life, hand fortune, one husband or more, so that the old fashioned, sleeping in chicken skin gloves, would come back again. A soft hand is very comforting to the sick, and a child who is ailing loves the soft hand of his mother on his head. It is a marvelous poultice for his aches and pains. As an object to kiss, a white and well kept hand is very important. The kiss of respect should be imprinted on the hand. It is a continental fashion still and might well be introduced on our shores. The hand is, after all, the natural member to salute. The nerves of touch are most highly developed in the finger, and the charm of the hand is its grasping power, which enables the giver to denote every shade of cordiality, to vary the salute at pleasure.
There is everything in the hand. It has actioning freemasonry. If only two fingers are extended, if no prehensile thumb completes the maneuver, farewell to cordiality. If a strong hand catches a weak one and gives to it a grip which mashes the bones, farewell to friendship. Let the hand-shake be warm, cordial and welcome—the juste milieu of salutation. The French rarely shake hands, and only with intimate friends. They often give the left hand as nearer the heart, “la main du couer,” they call it. On the Continent the etiquette of hand-shaking is observed with delicacy. No man should assume to shake hands with a lady unless she extends her hand first. It is the privilege of a superior to offer a hand. In a ball-room there is no shaking of hands. The more public the place of introduction, the less hand-shaking takes place. Still, among effusive foreigners, both hands are frequently extended to old friends.
The Irish hand, among a peasantry who labor from the cradle to the grave, is almost universally small and well shaped. It is a Milesian trait; whether potatoes, bog-tretting, poor living, political disturbances, shillalahs and damp climate improve the hand we know not, but the Irish lass has a pretty hand. No matter how much they cook, wash or dig, tbe knuckles seldom grow to be large and prominent, as in the English and Scotch hand. Tbe American hand is sinewy, and, as we have observed, does not follow the example of the American foot in being beautiful. No doubt the accomplishments are somewhat trying to the hand, such as playing the harp, the zither, the guitar, the banjo. The nails of a musician are apt to betray him. There is an eccentricity peculiar to the handwriting of executive musicians, as witnessed in that part of Beethoven. But this need not be attributable wholly to the use of the hand.
Chaucer commends his gentle Princess for her white hand and taper fingers and the cleanly fashion in which she dined. Nowadays the modern belle has the finger-bowl to help her, and she can cleanse her fingers after an olive in a bowl of rose-water. It is a curious contradiction that a man takes care of his hand as he drives, runs, or plays ball or cricket, wearing a thick dogskin glove. The Prince of Wales covers his hand from sun and wind, then goes to a ball with his rosy ringers uncovered, except by rings. A young woman, on the contrary, exposes her hand to wind, and sun, and rain. She hardens it with the recklessness of a prizefighter, and when she goes to a ball, she covers it with a glove. This is not the way her predecessor belle has done in the past ages of the world.
“The hand of a Duchess” has passed into a proverb. The old novelists always gave their heroines white hands; the poets are devoted to white hands and rosy palms. Expressive hands are, perhaps, better than pretty hands, and useful hands are better than either; but young girls who are poetry and romance combined, should not allow their hands to grow too brown and rugged. It is a strange freak of fashion, for if they were Joan of Arc and had to labor in the fields, they would look regretfully at those brown and callous hands. However, work is what you are obliged to do, and amusement, however hard, is what you choose to do, so there is all the difference in the world. As it is, however, the brown hand of an athlete is worth a dozen of the creamy hands of an idler, so we prefer the present habits of our athletic girls. If they cannot be both healthy and happy and have white hands, too, we throw up our hands. —Mrs. John Sherwood in New York World, 1887
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