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A Very Ill-Tempered Family
by [?]

“Finding, following, keeping, struggling,
Is HE sure to bless?”

Hymn of the Eastern Church.



We are a very ill-tempered family.

I want to say it, and not to unsay it by any explanations, because I think it is good for us to face the fact in the unadorned form in which it probably presents itself to the minds of our friends.

Amongst ourselves we have always admitted it by pieces, as it were, or in negative propositions. We allow that we are firm of disposition; we know that we are straightforward; we show what we feel. We have opinions and principles of our own; we are not so thick-skinned as some good people, nor as cold-blooded as others.

When two of us quarrelled (and Nurse used to say that no two of us ever agreed), the provocation always seemed, to each of us, great enough amply to excuse the passion. But I have reason to think that people seldom exclaimed, “What grievances those poor children are exasperated with!” but that they often said, “What terrible tempers they all have!”

There are five of us: Philip and I are the eldest; we are twins. My name is Isobel, and I never allow it to be shortened into the ugly word Bella nor into the still more hideous word Izzy, by either the servants or the children. My aunt Isobel never would, and neither will I.

“The children” are the other three. They are a good deal younger than Philip and I, so we have always kept them in order. I do not mean that we taught them to behave wonderfully well, but I mean that we made them give way to us elder ones. Among themselves they squabbled dreadfully.

We are a very ill-tempered family.



I do not wish for a moment to defend ill-temper, but I do think that people who suffer from ill-tempered people often talk as if they were the only ones who do suffer in the matter; and as if the ill-tempered people themselves quite enjoyed being in a rage.

And yet how much misery is endured by those who have never got the victory over their own ill-temper! To feel wretched and exasperated by little annoyances which good-humoured people get over with a shrug or a smile; to have things rankle in my mind like a splinter in the flesh, which glide lightly off yours, and leave no mark; to be unable to bear a joke, knowing that one is doubly laughed at because one can’t; to have this deadly sore at heart–“I cannot forgive; I cannot forget,” there is no pleasure in these things. The tears of sorrow are not more bitter than the tears of anger, of hurt pride or thwarted will. As to the fit of passion in which one is giddy, blind, and deaf, if there is a relief to the overcharged mind in saying the sharpest things and hitting the heaviest blows one can at the moment, the pleasantness is less than momentary, for almost as we strike we foresee the pains of regret and of humbling ourselves to beg pardon which must ensue. Our friends do not always pity as well as blame us, though they are sorry for those who were possessed by devils long ago.

Good-tempered people, too, who I fancy would find it quite easy not to be provoking, and to be a little patient and forbearing, really seem sometimes to irritate hot-tempered ones on purpose, as if they thought it was good for them to get used to it.

I do not mean that I think ill-tempered people should be constantly yielded to, as Nurse says Mrs. Rampant and the servants have given way to Mr. Rampant till he has got to be quite as unreasonable and nearly as dangerous as most maniacs, and his friends never cross him, for the same reason that they would hot stir up a mad bull.