( Originally Published 1879 )
IT is pleasant to contemplate the associations clustering around the wedding morn. It is the happiest hour of human life, and breaks upon the young heart like a gentle spring upon the flowers of earth. It is the hour of bounding, joyous expectancy, when the ardent spirit, arming itself with bold hope, looks with undaunted mien upon the dark and terrible future. It is the hour when thought borrows the livery of goodness, and humanity looking from its tenement, across the broad common of life, shakes off its heavy load of sordidness, and gladly swings to its shoulders the light burden of love and kindness. It is the heart's hour, full of blissful contemplation, rich promises, and the soul's happy revels. We cordially echo the sentiment, "Happy morn, garmented with the human virtues, it shows life to the eye, lovely, as if [an error occurred while processing this directive]
"Clad in the beauty of a thousand stars."
Marriage has in it less of beauty, but more of safety than the single life; it hath no more ease, but less danger; it is more merry and more sad; it is fuller of sorrows and fuller of joys; it lies under more burdens, but it is supported by all the strengths of love and charity, and those burdens are delightful. Marriage is the mother of the world, and preserves kingdoms, and fills cities and churches, and heaven itself. Celibacy, like the fly in the heart of an apple, dwells in perpetual sweetness, but sits alone, and is confined and dies in singularity; but marriage, like the useful bee, builds a house, and gathers honey from every flower, and labors, and unites into societies and republics, and sends out colonies, and feeds the world with delicacies, and obeys its king, and keeps order, and exercises many virtues, and promotes the interests of mankind, and is that state of good to which God hath designed the present constitution of the world.
"Marriage is a lottery," the saying goes, and there are plenty who believe it, and who act accordingly, and for such it is well if they do no worse than draw a blank, if they do not draw a life-long .misery and pain. But marriage is not necessarily a lottery, either in the initial choice or in the months and years after the marriage day. One can shut his eyes and draw, or one can open them and choose. One can choose with the outward eye alone, or with the eye of intellect and conscience. Says Jeremy Taylor, speaking of marriages where physical beauty is the only bond: "It is an ill band of affections to tie two hearts together with a little thread of red and white." But let us choose ever so wisely, ever so deeply, and not we ourselves nor the minister can marry us completely on the wedding day. "A happy wedlock is a long falling in love." Marriage is very gradual, a fraction of us at a time. And the real ministers that marry people are the slow years, the joys and sorrows which they bring, our children on earth and the angels they are transfigured into in heaven, the toils and burdens borne in company. These are the ministers that really marry us, and compared with these, the ministers who go through a form of words some day, when heaven and earth seem to draw near and kiss each other, are of small account. And the real marriage service isn't anything printed or said; it is the true heart service which each yields to the other, year in and gear out, when the bridal wreath has long since faded, and even the marriage ring is getting sadly worn. Let this service be performed, and even if the marriage was a lottery to begin with, this would, go far to redeem it and make it a marriage of coequal hearts and minds.
When the honeymoon passes away, setting behind dull mountains, or dipping silently into the stormy sea of life, the trying hour of married life has come. Between the parties there are no more illusions. The feverish desire for possession has gone, and all excitement receded. Then begins, or should, the business of adaptation. If they find that they do not love one another as they thought they did, they should double their assiduous attentions to one another, and be jealous of everything which tends in the slightest way to separate them. Life is too precious to be thrown away in secret regrets or open differences. And let me say to every one to whom the romance of life has fled, and who are discontented in the slightest degree with their conditions and relations, begin this reconciliation at Nonce. Renew the attentions of earlier days. Draw your hearts closer together. Talk the thing all over. Acknowledge your faults to one another, and determine that henceforth you will be all in all to each other; and my word for it, you shall find in your relation the sweetest joy earth has for you. There is no other way for you to do. If you are happy at home, you must be happy abroad; the man or woman who has settled down upon the conviction that he or she is attached for life to an uncongenial yoke-fellow, and that there is no way of escape, has lost life; there is no effort too costly to make which can restore to its setting upon the bosom the missing pearl.
It is a great thing for two frail natures to live as one for life long. Two harps are not easily kept always in tune, and what shall we expect of two harps each of a thousand strings? What human will or wisdom cannot do, God can do, and his Providence is uniting ever more intimately, those who devoutly try to do the work of, life and enjoy its goods together. For them there is in store a respect and affection; a peace and power all unknown in the hey-day of young romance. Experience intertwines their remembrances and hopes in stronger cords, and as they stand at the loom of time, one with the strong warp, the other with the finer woof, the hand of Providence weaves for them a tissue of unfading beauty and imperishable worth.
The marriage institution is the bond of social order, and, if treated with due respect, care, and discretion, greatly enhances individual happiness, and consequently general good. The Spartan law punished those who did not marry; those who married too late; and those who married improperly. A large portion of the evils that have defaced the original organization of the patriarchal age, have resulted from the increase of celibacy, often caused by the imaginary refinements of the upper ten thousand. There are other causes that have stripped the marriage institution of its ancient simplicity, and rendered its pure stream turbid in places. Among the Patriarchs, before there were any rakes, parents never interfered, the young pair made the match, and the girl always married the man of her choice, an indispensable pre-requisite to a happy union. How to secure happiness to married life is the question. Some one would say, "You might as well ask to find the philosopher's stone, or the elixir of perpetual youth, or the Eutopia of perfect society!" The prime difficulty in the case is the entire thoughtlessness, the want of consideration, common sense and practical wisdom. Not only young persons contemplating marriage—which includes all between the age of eighteen and thirty-five—but also many married people have a vague notion that happiness comes of itself They wait for certain dreams of Elysium to be fulfilled by beatific realities. Happiness does not come of its own accord nor by accident. It is not a gift, but an attainment. Circumstances may favor, but cannot create it. But advice to those who stand, or mean to stand by the hymeneal altar, falls upon dull ears, and every coupled pair flatter themselves that their experience will be better and more excellent than that of any who have gone before them. They look with amazement at the tameness, and coldness, and diversities, and estrangements, and complainings, and dissatisfactions, which spoil the comfort of so many homes, as at things which cannot, by any possibility fall to their happier lot. But like causes produce like effects, and to avoid the misfortunes of others, we must avoid their mistakes.
Love on both sides, and all things equal in outward circumstances, are not all the requisites of domestic felicity. Human nature is frail and multiform in its passions. The honeymoon gets a dash of vinegar now and then, when least expected. Young people seldom court in their every-day clothes, but they must put them on after marriage. As in other bargains, but few expose defects. They are apt to marry faultless—love is blind—but faults are there and will come out. The fastidious attentions of wooing are like spring flowers, they make pretty nosegays, but poor greens. Miss Darling becomes the plain house wife, and Mr. Allattention the informal husband, not from a want of esteem, but from the constitution and nature of man. If all these changes, and more than would answer in wooing time, are anticipated, as they are by some analyzing minds, their happiness will not be embittered by them when they come. Bear and forbear, must be the motto put in practice.
We exhort you, who are a husband, to love your wife, even as you love yourself. Give honor to her as the more delicate vessel; respect the delicacy of her frame and the delicacy of her mind. Continue through life the same attention, the same manly tenderness which in youth gained her affections. Reflect that, though her bodily charms are decayed as she is advanced in age, yet that her mental charms are increased, and that, though novelty is worn off, yet that habit and a thousand acts of kindness have strengthened your mutual friendship. Devote yourself to her, and, after the hours of business, let the pleasures which you most highly prize be found in her society.
We exhort you, who are a wife, to be gentle and condescending to your husband. Let the influence which you possess over him arise from the mildness of your manners and the discretion of your conduct. Whilst you are careful to adorn your person with neat and clean apparel—for no woman can long preserve affection if she is negligent in this point—be still more attentive in ornamenting your mind with meekness and peace, with cheerfulness and good humor. Lighten the cares and chase away the vexations to which men, in their commerce with the world, are unavoidably exposed, by rendering his house pleasant to your husband. Keep at home, let your employments be domestic and your pleasures domestic.
To both husband and wife we say, "Preserve a strict guard over your tongues, that you never utter anything which is rude, contemptuous, or severe; and over your tempers, that you never appear sullen and morose. Endeavor to be perfect yourselves, but expect not too much from each other. If any offense arises, forgive it; and think not that a human being can be exempt from faults."
In conclusion we would say, that marriage is one of God's first blessings. Although it involves many weighty responsibilities, it is a gem in the crown of life. It is a school and exercise of virtue; and though marriage hath cares, yet the single life hath desires which are more troublesome and more dangerous, and often end in sin, while the cares are but instances of duty and exercises of piety ; and, therefore, if single life hath more privacy of devotion, yet marriage hath more necessities and more variety of it, and is an exercise of . more graces. Here is the proper scene of piety and patience, of the duty of parents and the charity of relatives; here kindness. is spread abroad, and love is united and made firm as a center.
Man and wife are equally concerned to avoid all offenses of each other in the beginning of their conversation: every little thing can blast an infant blossom, and the breath of the south can shake the little rings of the vine, when first they begin to curl like the locks of a new-weaned boy; but when, by age and consolidation, they stiffen into the hardness of a stem, and have, by the warm embraces of the sun and the kisses of heaven, brought forth their clusters, they can endure the storms of the north and the loud noises of a tempest, and yet never be broken : so are the early unions of an unfixed marriage; watchful and observant, jealous and busy, inquisitive and careful, and apt to take alarm at every unkind word. After the hearts of the man and the wife are endeared and hardened by a mutual confidence and experience, longer than artifice and pretence can last, there are a great many remembrances, and some things present that dash all little unkindnesses in pieces.