Do Ye Nexte Thynge

so the next thing william morrisThis was a popular proverb during the Victorian and Edwardian era, although its origins are a little murky. It’s been attributed to the Scots, to Quakers, to the walls of Eton, and the gates of an un-named English village, and to Puritans. It’s been spelled variously as doe the nexte thynge; do ye nexte thynge; do ye next thyng; and so forth.¬†The version I’ve found that seems most attractive to me is that it was once found painted above the mantle of an English rectory.

It inspired a generation or two, was used as copywork and needlework, and the name and motto for various clubs, both church clubs and charity clubs, clubs for school children, clubs for adults.

Like most such mottos, it served a meaningful purpose and then become the purpose itself and eventually ceased its usefulness and original function as a quiet thought useful for clearing the head and giving one the ability to more easily select and then focus on the next task. Instead of reducing burdens, it became one. ¬†People forgot that it was intended to be a soft and gentle reminder of what to do when you were finished with what you were doing, and became something of a hard edged ruler for rapping people across the knuckles and spurring them speedily on to the next thing. Anne Morrow Lindbergh in Bring Me a Unicorn tells of somebody saying to her that it was the most vicious thing she’d ever read. Naturally, the pendulum swung, and there was pushback. ¬†Illustration and poem come from Good Housekeeping magazines published around 1905 and 6:

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Do Ye Nexte Thynge
By Lavinia S Goodwin

Once on a time I wrote a screed, all for to go in print,
A shriek for System in the Home-just as I had my say,
My beds unmade, my pantry not a pie or cooky in’t,
A sound of wheels, and Charles’s folks had come to spend the day.

 

‘So glad!’ I cried, (O little George that couldn’t tell a lie!),
‘Excuse arrears in work of one whose hand is hurt a bit,’
I reached my left, concealing that with literary dye.
“Oh, yes,” says Kate, “’tis black and blue,” a laughing at her wit.

If things would come in order, one by one– say Indian file,
Or two by two as marching went the beasts to Noah’s Ark,
Then in housewifely duty I could wear a sample smile,
Doing ‘the next thing’ valiantly from dawn till very dark.

But when they come like pigeons their feeding grounds unto,
With individual clamoring to be accounted “next!”
I ask and pause for answer- “What can woman do?”
What is enough adhesive to stick her to the text?

I fire away, although it be unsystematic deemed;
At times my nearest ‘things’ to hand do madly intermix.
In practicing who knows what ‘thing’ no theorist has dreamed
May push astray our best laid plans and leave us in a fix?

nexte thynge

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