THE PASSING OF MRS. GRUNDY
“Death of Mrs. Grundy!” Imagine opening one’s newspaper some morning and finding in sensational headlines that welcome news. One recalls the beautiful old legend of the death of Pan, and how—false report though it happily was—there once ran echoing through the world a long heartbroken sigh, and a mysterious voice was heard wailing three times from land to land, “Great Pan is dead!” Similarly, on that happy morning I have imagined, one can imagine, too, another sigh passing from land to land, the sigh of a vast relief, of a great thankfulness for the lifting of an ineffable burden, as though the earth stretched its limbs and drew great draughts of a new freedom. How wildly the birds would sing that morning! And I believe that even the church bells would ring of themselves!
Such definite news is not mine to proclaim, but if it cannot be announced with certitude that Mrs. Grundy is no more, it may, at all events, be affirmed without hesitation that she is on her deathbed, and that surely, if slowly, she is breathing her last. Yes, that poisonous breath, which has so long pervaded like numbing miasma the free air of the world, will soon be out of her foolish, hypocritical old body; and though it may still linger on here and there in provincial backwoods and suburban fastnesses, from the great air centres of civilization it will have passed away forever.
The origin of Mrs. Grundy is shrouded in mystery. In fact, though one thus speaks of her as so potent a personification, she has of course never had any real existence. For that very reason she has been so hard to kill. Nothing is so long-lived as a chimera, nothing so difficult to lay as a ghost. From her first appearance, or rather mention, in literature, Mrs. Grundy has been a mere hearsay, a bugaboo being invented to frighten society, as “black men” and other goblins have been wickedly invented by nurses to frighten children. In the old play itself where we first find her mentioned by name, she herself never comes on the stage. She is only referred to in frightened whispers. “What will Mrs. Grundy say?” is the nervous catchword of one of the characters, much in the same way as Mrs. Gamp was wont to defer to the censorious standards of her invisible friend “Mrs. Harris.” In the case of the last named chimera, it will be recalled that the awful moment came when Mrs. Gamp’s boon companion, Batsey Prig, was sacrilegious enough to declare her belief that no such person as “Mrs. Harris” was, or ever had been, in existence. So the awful atheistic moment has come for Mrs. Grundy, too, and an oppressed world at last takes courage to say that no such being as Mrs. Grundy has ever really existed, or that, even if she has, she shall exist no more. What will Mrs. Grundy say? Who cares nowadays—and so long as nobody cares, the good lady is as dead as need be.