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Shutting a Map: J M Barrie

Transcribed from an undated newscutting in the Bartholomew Archive. It is known to be by J M Barrie, but first appeared anonymously in the Edinburgh Evening Dispatch, probably Wednesday 11 September 1889. The transcription was kindly supplied by Diana Webster through Cartographiti.
source type: Barrie 1897

SHUTTING A MAP: a note of warning

Prominent among the curses of civilisation is the map that folds up "convenient for the pocket". There are men who can do almost anything except shut a map. It is calculated that the energy wasted yearly in denouncing these maps to their face would build the Eiffel Tower in thirteen weeks.
Almost every house in Edinburgh has a map warranted to shut easily, which the whole family, working together, is unable to fold. It is generally concealed in the back of a press (ie. wall cupboard, hence pressmark instead of shelfmark), with a heavy book on it to keep it down. If you remove the book, the map springs up like a concertina. Sometimes after the press is shut you observe something hanging out. This is sure to be part of the map. If you push this part in, another part takes its place. No press is large enough to hold a map that shuts. This is because maps that shut are maps that won't shut. They have about as much intention of shutting when you buy them as the lady has of obeying her husband when she gives a promise to that effect in the marriage service.
Maps that shut may also be compared to the toys that whistle, spin, or jump when the shopman is showing you how to work them, or to the machinery which makes mangling a pleasure, or to the instrument that sharpens a pencil in no time. These are completely under the control of the shopman, but after you have bought them and taken them home they become as uncertain in temper as a nervous dog.
The impossibility of shutting maps except by accident having been long notorious, it is perhaps remarkable that the public should go on buying them. There are hundreds of persons engaged at this moment upon making maps that shut (as the advertisement puts it), and there must, therefore, be a demand to meet such a supply. It is vanity that brings so many people to folly.
To do the nineteenth century justice, no one now-a-days enters a shop with the object of buying a map that shuts. Wives, especially young ones, have asked their husbands to buy curious things for them; and husbands, especially old ones, have done it without being asked. But no wife who valued her domestic happiness has ever requested her husband to run into Macniven & Wallace's in passing and buy a map that shuts. Even if she did, the husband would refuse. He might buy "Pigs in clover" if she wanted it, but the map puzzle, never.
Yet is has to be sorrowfully admitted that Princes Street could be paved with the maps that we do buy. Vanity is the true cause of our fall, but a shopman is the instrument. That even shopmen can shut maps which do not shut except in the shop, no thoughtful person believes; but over a counter they do it as easily and prettily as a conjuror plays with cards.
"Have you seen this new map of Edinburgh?" they ask with affected carelessness, while they tie up your books.
"Anything special about it?" you reply guardedly.
"Well, yes; it is very convenient for the pocket."
At the words "convenient for the pocket" you ought to up with your books and run, for they are a danger signal; but you hesitate and are lost.
"You see," he goes on, "it folds into an unusually small space."
This is merely another way of saying, "You see this is the most diabolical kind of map that has yet been invented."
"These maps that shut are so difficult to shut," you venture to say. He laughs.
"My dear sir," he says, "a child could shut this one."
Then he opens and shuts it like a lady manipulating her fan, and a fierce desire grows within you to do likewise. When you leave the shop you take away with you a map convenient for the pocket.
What makes you buy it? In your heart you know that you are only taking home a pocket of unhappiness, but you have the pride of life. In an age when we have made slaves of electricity and steam, it seems humiliating that we cannot shut a map. We have ceased, as a people, to look for the secret of perpetual motion, but we still hanker after the secret of how to shut a map.
No doubt the most maddening things about maps that shut is that they do shut occasionally. They never shut, however, when you are particularly anxious that they should do so ~ before company for instance. Very probably you take the map with you from the shop to your office, and there open it up. To your delight it shuts quite easily. This gives you a false feeling of security. If you would really know whether this map shuts more easily than the various others over which you have lost your temper, ask your office-boy to come in and see you shut it. You will find that it no longer shuts. This is a sure test.
Instead of experimenting in this way, and ordering the boy out of the room when you see him trying to get his face behind his hand, you are so foolish as to take the map home with you, to let your wife see how easily it shuts. If you are a keen observer, you will notice her turn white when she sees you produce the map from your pocket. She knows there will be no harmony this evening, and her first determination is to keep the map from you until after dinner.
What follows when you produce the map and begin, is too well known to require description. What you ought to do in the circumstances no one out of a pulpit could tell you, but there are certain negative rules which it would be well if you would observe. For instance-

Do not be too sanguine. - Your tendency is to open the map with a flourish, as one sometimes unfurls a handkerchief. Accompanied by the remark that nothing is easier than to shut a map once you have the knack of it, this raises hopes which are not likely to be realized. The smile of anticipatory triumph on your face loses you the sympathy which is your right at such a moment. If you are over-confident, the feeling is that your failure will do you good. On the other hand.
Keep your misgivings to yourself. - Most men, however confident they have been when thinking of the ease with which they can close maps, lose hope at the last moment, and admit that perhaps they have forgotten the way. This is a mistake, for there is always the possibility of the map~s shutting as easily as an ordinary book. Should you have prefaced your attempt with misgivings, you will not get the credit of this, and it will be ascribed to chance. Therefore be neither too sanguine nor too openly doubtful.
Don't repeat the experiment. - This, of course, is in the improbable event of your succeeding the first time. At once hand the map over to your wife, as if you have solved the puzzle forever. Encouraged by your success, she will probably attempt it also and fail, when the chances are that she will ask you to do it again. As you value her good opinion of you, decline to do so. Make any excuse you think best. To carry out the deception more completely, lie back in your chair, and smile good-naturedly at her futile efforts. Put on the expression of being amused at seeing her unable to do so simple a thing. As a result she will think more of you than ever - if possible.
Don't boast. - The chances, of course, are that you will have no occasion to boast; but in the event of succeeding by accident, don't wave your arms in the air, or go shouting all over the house, "I've done it, I've done it!" If you behave in this way your elation will undo you, and no one will believe that you can do it again. Control yourself until you are alone.
Don't speak to the map. - Now we come to the rules which you should obey if you fail. As the chances are forty-nine to one that you will fail, these rules are more important than the others. When you have got the map half-folded you will see that there is something wrong. Do not frown, at this point, and say, "Confound you, what is the matter with you now?" The map will not answer. It will give you no assistance. You ought at once to realise that you and it have entered upon a desperate struggle.
Don't be rude. - You would like to shake it as a terrier shakes a rat; but forbear. You may remember that when you witnessed the illegal contest between Jem Smith and Kilrain they shook hands before trying to kill each other. [In London in December 1887 American boxing champion Jake Kilrain fought 106 rounds bare-knuckled with English champion Jem Smith.] In the same way you should look as if you had no ill-will toward the map, even when it is getting the better of you.
Don't fold it the wrong way. - When you can't discover the right way, don't clench your teeth and fold it by brute force. In this way you can no doubt appear to gain a momentary advantage over it, but your triumph is short-lived. The instant you take your hand off it, the map springs up, and now, instead of finding it convenient for the pocket, you would have some difficulty in packing it away in a sack.
Don't put your fist through it. - When you find that it will neither go this way nor that, don't pummel it. Spread it out and begin again.
Don't tear it. - It is a waste of energy on your part to do this, for it is sure to tear itself. It can be relied upon for this alone.
Don't kick it round the room. - Though this is a pleasure for the moment, it is not lasting. When you come to yourself you see that the proceeding has been undignified, and, besides, the map is no nearer being folded than ever. You cannot remember too persistently that a map is not to be folded by bullying. On the other hand, you can try kindness if you like.
Don't deceive yourself into thinking you have done it. - Your wife has been wringing her hands in anguish all the time you have been at it, and is wildly anxious to get you off to bed. (It is now midnight.) Accordingly, should you double the map up, as if you were making a snowball of it, she will pretend to think you have folded it. Don't be deceived by her. However great the temptation to accept her verdict, remember that you are a man, and consequently have a mind of your own. Have the courage to admit defeat.
Don't blame your wife. - It is unmanly to remark pointedly that you did it quite easily when she was not by. To imply that she is in league with the map against you is unworthy of a reasoning animal.
Don't lie. - In other words, if she leaves the room for a moment, don't say you did it while she was out.
Don't strike your boy. - The boy may snatch it from your hands, and fold it in a moment. There is great provocation in this, but don't yield to it.
Don't take gloomy views of life. - Your ignominious failure casts a gloom over the household. Fling it off. Don't speak of your expenditure being beyond your income, or having to sell the piano. Be cheerful: remember that there is nobler work for you to do than that on which you have squandered an evening, and that nobody can fold maps.

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