Young Ladies And Matrimony
( Originally Published 1879 )
MANY a young lady writes to say that she has had an advantageous offer of marriage. The man who made it is of exemplary character; he is well off in this world's goods, is engaged in a profitable and reputable business, and there is no particular reason why she should not accept his proposal; but she does not love him. In our judgment, that is reason enough. We do not believe in marriage without love. Respect is all very well, and that one should have anyway; but it does not take the place of affection. It is said that in such matches love comes after marriage. We have no doubt that it often does. But we think love should precede as well as follow matrimony. It is always liable to happen to one who has never loved. But suppose, subsequent to marriage, it is awakened for the first time in a wife, and the object happens to be other than the husband—what then? This is a contingency not pleasant to contemplate. No: if you do not love, then do not marry. Singleness is blessedness compared to marriage without affection. The connubial yoke sits easy on the shoulders of love; but it is most galling without this one and only sufficient support.
We celebrate the wedding, and make merry over the honeymoon. The poet paints the beauties and blushes of the blooming bride; and the bark of matrimony, with its freight of untested love, is launched on the uncertain ocean of experiment, amid kind wishes and rejoicings. But on that precarious sea are many storms, and even the calm has its perils; and only when the bark has weathered these, and landed its cargo in the haven of domestic peace, can we pronounce the voyage prosperous, and congratulate the adventurer on his merited and enviable reward.
The best women have an instinctive wish to marry a man superior to themselves in some way or other, for their honor is in their husbands, and their status in society is determined by his. A woman who, for a passing fancy, marries a man in any way her inferior, wrongs herself, her family, arid her whole life; for the "grossness of his nature" will most probably drag her to his level. Now and then a woman of great force of character may lift her husband upward, but she accepts such a labor at the peril of her own higher life. Should she find it equally impossible to lift him to her level or to sink to his, what remains? Life-long regrets, bitter shame and self reproach, or a forcible setting of herself free. But the latter, like all severe remedies, carries desperation, instead of hope, with it. Never can she quite regain her maiden place; an aura of a doubtful kind fetters and influences her every effort or relation of her future life. Or a young woman is smitten with a pair of whiskers. Curled hair never before had such charms. She sets her cap for them; they take. The delighted whiskers make an offer, proffering themselves both in exchange for one heart. My dear miss is overcome with magnanimity, closes the bargain, carries home the prize, shows it to pa and ma, calls herself engaged to it, thinks there never was such a pair of whiskers before, and in a few weeks they are married. Married ! Yes, the world calls it so, and so we will. What is the result? A short honeymoon, and then the discovery that they are as unlike as chalk and cheese, and not to be made one, though all the priests in Christendom pronounced them so.
Young ladies are not to rely upon common report, nor the opinion of friends, nor fashionable acquaintances, but upon personal knowledge of the individual's life and character. How can another know what you want in a companion ? You alone know your own heart. If you do not know it you are not fit to be married. No one else can tell what fills you with pleasing and grateful emotions. You only know when the spring of true affection is touched by the hand of a a congenial spirit. It is for you to know who asks your hand, who has your heart, who links his life with yours. If you know the man who can make true answer to your soul's true love, whose soul is all kindred with yours, whose life answers to your ideal of manly demeanor, you know who would make you a good husband. But if you only fancy that he is right, or guess, or believe, or hope, from a little social inter-change of words and looks, you have but a poor foundation on which to build hopes of future happiness. Do not, as you value life and its comforts, marry a man who is naturally cruel. If he will wantonly torture a poor dumb dog, a cat, or even a snake, fly from him as you would from the cholera. We would sooner see our daughter dying of cholera, than married to a cruel hearted man. If his nature delights in torture, he will not spare his wife, or his helpless children. When we see a man practicing cruelty on any poor, helpless creature, or beating a fractious horse unmercifully, we write over against his name, "devil," and shun him accordingly.
Do not marry a fop. There is in such a character nothing of true dignity; nothing that commands respect, or ensures even a decent standing in the community. There is a mark upon him, an effected elegance of manner, a studied particularity of dress, and usually a singular inanity of mind, by which he is known in every circle in which he moves. His very attitude and gait tell the stranger who he is, though he only passes him silently in the street. To unite your destiny with such a man, we hardly need say, would be to impress the seal of disgrace upon your character, and the seal of wretchedness upon your doom.
Look with disdain on what are called, significantly, our "fast young men;" those who frequent the saloon and bar-room, to drench themselves in "fire-water;" who, filled with conceit, talk large, and use big-sounding oaths; whose highest ambition is to drive a fast horse, to swear roundly, and wear dashy garments; who affect to look with contempt on their elders and equals, as they toil in some honest occupation, and regard labor as a badge of disgrace.
A habit of industry once formed is not likely to be ever lost. Place the individual in whatever circumstances you will, and he will not be satisfied unless he can be active. Moreover, it will impart to his character an energy and efficiency, and we may add, dignity, which can hardly fail to render him an object of respect. We should regard your prospects for life as far better if you should marry a man of very limited property, or even no property at all, with an honest vocation and a habit of industry, than if we were to see you united to one of extensive wealth, who had never been taught to exercise his own powers, and had sunk into the sensual gratification of himself.
Perhaps no folly holds so strong a place in a woman's mind that she can reclaim the one she loves if he is a little fast after marriage, he will settle down into a just and sensible husband. History, too, often repeats the failure of such beliefs; it is delusive, a snare, and the young woman, after the marriage vows have been recorded, awakes to find the will of her husband stronger than her own, too selfish for any control, and her life begins its long agony of misery. We say to young maidens, be warned in time; can you reclaim those who have not the power to reclaim themselves? Can you throw away your pure life and womanly sympathies upon wretches, whose moral principles cannot stand the slightest examination, and whose proffered love is but a temporary symptom of their changing heartlessness ? Beware, beware! the deepest rascal has the finest clothes and the smoothest tongue. Yet in spite of all the wretchedness of drunkards' wives, young women are continually willing to marry men who are in the habit of indulging in the social glass ! Ladies often refuse the marriage offers of young men because they are too poor, or of too humble a, family, or too plain in person or manners. But only now and then one has good sense enough to refuse to unite herself with a man who will not pledge himself to total abstinence. A rich and fashionable young man has commonly no trouble to get a wife, even though he is hardly sober long enough to pronounce the marriage vow. But a teetotaler in coarse raiment might be snubbed as a vulgar fellow who has never seen society. Ladies, before you begin to scold at us for this impious thing, just look around and see if this is not true. A young woman that marries a man who is addicted to drinking liquors is attaching to herself but a dead weight that will drag her down with himself below the level of the brute. Young ladies, as life is precious to you, and since' you value it highly, take no such chances. Rather than marry a man whom you know to drink, only now and then, for his friends' sake, wait a while longer; there are many young men of noble character who are on the lookout for a good young lady, and your chances are not to be despaired of. To think of redeeming a young man from intemperance is simply folly. To him your efforts to keep him from the cup would be like daming a river with a feather, or like stopping a hurricane with a tin whistle.
During the period that intervenes between forming an engagement and consummating the connection, let your deportment toward the individual to whom you have given your affections be marked by modesty and dignity, respect and kindness. Never, on the one hand, give him the least reason to question the sincerity of your regard, nor on the other, suffer your intercourse with him to be marked by an undignified familiarity. Do all that you can to render him happy, and while you will naturally grow in each other's confidence and affection, you may reasonably hope that you will be helpers of each other's joy, in the most endearing of all human relations.