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The aggressive shrew is usually the wife of some phlegmatic man; she insults him at all hours and on all subjects, and she establishes complete domination over him until she happens to touch his conscience fairly, and then he probably crushes her by the sudden exertion of latent moral force. Shall I talk of the drunken shrew? No–not that! My task is unlovely enough already, and I cannot inflict that last horror on those who will read this. Thus much will I say–if ever you know a man tied to a creature whose cheeks are livid purple in the morning and flushed at night, a creature who speaks thick at night and is ready with a villainous word for the most courteous and gentle of all whom she may meet, pray for that man.

The blue-blooded shrew is by no means uncommon. Watch one of this kind yelling on a racecourse in tearful and foul-mouthed rage and you will have a few queer thoughts about human nature. Then there is the ladylike shrew. Ah, that being! What has she to answer for? She is neat, low-spoken, precise; she can purr like a cat, and she has the feline scratch always ready too. Pity the governess, the servant, the poor flunkey whom she has at her mercy, for their bread is earned in bitterness. “My lady” does not raise her voice; she can give orders for the perpetration of the meanest of deeds without varying the silken flow of her acrid tongue; but she is bad–very bad; and I think that, if Dante and Swedenborg were at all near being true prophets, there would be a special quarter in regions dire for the lady-like shrew.

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I must distinctly own that the genuine shrew endeavours to make life more or less unhappy for both sexes. Usually we are apt to think of the shrew as resembling the village scolds who used to be promptly ducked in horse-ponds in the unregenerate days; but the scold was an individual who was usually chastised for making a dead-set at her husband alone. The real shrew is like the puff-adder or the whip-snake–she tries to bite impartially all round; and she is often able to bite in comparative silence, but with a most deadly effect. The vulgar shrieker is a deplorable source of mischief, but she cannot match the reticent stabber who is always ready, out of sheer wickedness, to thrust a venomed point into man, woman, or child. I shall give my readers an extreme instance towards which they may probably find it hard to extend belief. I am right however, and have fullest warrant for my statement. I learn on good authority, and with plenitude of proof, that trained nurses are rather too frequently subjected to the tender mercies of the shrew. Nothing is more grateful to a cankered woman than the chance of humiliating some one who possesses superior gifts of any description, and a well-bred lady who has taken to the profession of nursing is excellent “game.” Thus I find that delicate young women of gentle nurture have been sent away to sleep in damp cellars at the back of great town-houses; they have had to stay their necessarily fastidious appetites with cold broken food–and this too after a weary vigil in the sick-room. Greatest triumph of all, the nurses have been compelled to go as strangers to the servants’ table and make friends as best they could. It is not easy to form any clear notion of a mind capable of devising such useless indignities, because the shrew ought to know that her conduct is contrasted with that of good and considerate people. The nurse bears with composure all that is imposed on her, but she despises the shabby woman, and she compares the behaviour of the acrid tyrant with that of the majority of warm-hearted and generous ladies who think nothing too good for their hired guests. I quote this extreme example just to show how far the shrew is ready to go, and I wish it were not all true.