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An essay by Helen Hunt Jackson

After-Supper Talk

Title:     After-Supper Talk
Author: Helen Hunt Jackson [More Titles by Jackson]

"After-dinner talk" has been thought of great importance. The expression has passed into literature, with many records of the good sayings it included. Kings and ministers condescend to make efforts at it; poets and philosophers--greater than kings and ministers--do not disdain to attempt to shine in it.

But nobody has yet shown what "after-supper talk" ought to be. We are not speaking now of the formal entertainment known as "a supper;" we mean the every-day evening meal in the every-day home,--the meal known heartily and commonly as "supper," among people who are neither so fashionable nor so foolish as to take still a fourth meal at hours when they ought to be asleep in bed.

This ought to be the sweetest and most precious hour of the day. It is too often neglected and lost in families. It ought to be the mother's hour; the mother's opportunity to undo any mischief the day may have done, to forestall any mischief the morrow may threaten. There is an instinctive disposition in most families to linger about the supper-table, quite unlike the eager haste which is seen at breakfast and at dinner. Work is over for the day; everybody is tired, even the little ones who have done nothing but play. The father is ready for slippers and a comfortable chair; the children are ready and eager to recount the incidents of the day. This is the time when all should be cheered, rested, and also stimulated by just the right sort of conversation, just the right sort of amusement.

The wife and mother must supply this need, must create this atmosphere. We do not mean that the father does not share the responsibility of this, as of every other hour. But this particular duty is one requiring qualities which are more essentially feminine than masculine. It wants a light touch and an _undertone_ to bring out the full harmony of the ideal home evening. It must not be a bore. It must not be empty; it must not be too much like preaching; it must not be wholly like play; more than all things, it must not be always--no, not if it could be helped, not even twice--the same! It must be that most indefinable, most recognizable thing, "a good time." Bless the children for inventing the phrase! It has, like all their phrases, an unconscious touch of sacred inspiration in it, in the selection of the good word "good," which lays peculiar benediction on all things to which it is set.

If there were no other reason against children's having lessons assigned them to study at home, we should consider this a sufficient one, that it robs them of the after-supper hour with their parents. Even if their brains could bear without injury the sixth, seventh, or eighth hour, as it may be, of study, their hearts cannot bear the being starved.

In the average family, this is the one only hour of the day when father, mother, and children can be together, free of cares and unhurried. Even to the poorest laborer's family comes now something like peace and rest forerunning the intermission of the night.

Everybody who has any artistic sense recognizes this instinctively when they see through the open doors of humble houses the father and mother and children gathered around their simple supper. Its mention has already passed into triteness in verse, so inevitably have poets felt the sacred charm of the hour.

Perhaps there is something deeper than on first thoughts would appear in the instant sense of pleasure one has in this sight; also, in the universal feeling that the evening gathering of the family is the most sacred one. Perhaps there is unconscious recognition that dangers are near at hand when night falls, and that in this hour lies, or should lie, the spell to drive them all away.

There is something almost terrible in the mingling of danger and protection, of harm and help, of good and bad, in that one thing, darkness. God "giveth his beloved sleep" in it; and in it the devil sets his worst lures, by help of it gaining many a soul which he could never get possession of in sunlight.

Mothers, fathers! cultivate "after-supper talk;" play "after-supper games;" keep "after-supper books;" take all the good newspapers and magazines you can afford, and read them aloud "after supper." Let boys and girls bring their friends home with them at twilight, sure of a pleasant and hospitable welcome and of a good time "after supper," and parents may laugh to scorn all the temptations which town or village can set before them to draw them away from home for their evenings.

These are but hasty hints, bare suggestions. But if they rouse one heart to a new realization of what evenings at home _ought_ to be, and what evenings at home too often are, they have not been spoken in vain nor out of season.

[The end]
Helen Hunt Jackson's essay: After-Supper Talk