Social Life Of Women
( Originally Published Late 1800's )
Eloping with the Coachman.
"The girl of the period" as she is called, has found her vocation; namely, to elope with the coachman or some other ignoramus, entirely beneath her in wealth, talent and social position. One case of this kind occurred in New York some twenty-five years ago. It made a very great sensation at the time and was regarded as a great evidence of depravity on the part of the young lady. This marriage ended in unhappiness and divorce ; the woman being driven to seek bounty from her friends. A few years ago, the daughter of an ex-Governor of Connecticut eloped with her father's coachman and made a great sensation. Only a few years after she too was divorced from the husband of her choice. Within the last decade there have been hundreds of these wild escapades.
Happiness in married who have deliberately momentary passion, but The associations of the life is possible only to those chosen each other, not in for solid worth of character marriage relation are endurable only to those who have a common respect and abiding esteem and undying love for each other. Married life is abject slavery without all of these. The tastes and objects of life must be harmonious, or there can be no enduring happiness, when the masks of courtship are torn off and the man and woman stand revealed to each other in the light of perfect knowledge. Oh, how the angels fall under the scorching experiences of life, after the honeymoon is over. Passion exhausted, the affection that had no better basis than a pretty face and a stalwart physique is soon dead, only the skeleton of a faded hope is left to mock the sorrow of the poor woman who is deluded into an elopement of this kind. If a man and woman are widely separate in point of culture, birth and intelligence, there is all the more need of true and abiding love between them. God knows the burden of married life is heavy enough under the most favorable conditions. Other things being equal there is more hope for happiness between persons whose habits and tastes, and education would put them some-where near upon a basis of equality, than between those who are widely separated in social point of view.
We have no faith in that perverted notion that holds every man to be the equal of every other man. That expression sounds well in the Declaration of Independence, but it is not true to the facts of every day life and experience. One man is not the equal of every other man and every body knows that he is not. Men are not intellectually equal, nor physically equal, nor morally equal ; men have not the same emotions, the same opinions nor the same beliefs. They are not socially equal nor politically equal, and were never intended to be. Men are not equally accomplished, nor equally good. No man with his senses about him ever contemplated for a moment that men should be regarded equal, except that men should have an equal chance to exercise their talents, and have equal rights and protection before the eye of the law. There is a most limited sense in which the coachman may be the equal of the man who employs him and pays him his wages. And outside of that limited sense of equality the master and the coachman are not equal. The coachman has a right to impartial justice just as much as the president of this republic; but his social worth depends upon the graces of his character, and the personal qualities of intelligence, culture, manners, and morals. The mere fact that he is a coachman is nothing against him. If he be a man of integrity, reliability and solid moral worth, he may be the equal or even the superior of his master ; but if he were such a man he would never elope with the master's daughter. The fact that he is a coachman is not against him, unless he have a coachman's standard of intelligence, morality and breeding; and even then it is not against him so long as he is content to be a coachman. It is only when he assumes the right to be son-in-law to a millionaire, with its high privileges and its high position that the fact of his being a coach--Man militates against him. If the butler were worthy of the king's daughter, and the king's daughter loved him, he could make his worth appear, and however inconvenient the marriage of the princess to the butler might be, it could be justified like every other true marriage, on the grounds of a common affection and a common worth of character. The marriage of the princess to the butler might seriously inconvenience court etiquette until the princess should be contented to assume the role of a butler's wife, but this is not what is sought in the hair-brained elopements with the coachman. The princess does not propose to descend to the social position of the coachman. She expects that tears will bring forgiveness, and that forgiveness will transfer the coachman from the stable to the drawing room, but it never does.
Marriage is a relation involving grave moral questions, but still it is only a social relation after all. Happiness in this relation depends upon the one principle of affection between the parties and harmony of tastes and purposes. We believe that a young woman who is trained in a high circle of cultured society is not likely to be happy if she goes to keep house for a coachman. By this act she will generally be transferred from a circle of refinement to a circle of coarseness and vulgarity—honest and pure, perhaps, but none the less coarse and vulgar. The princess could not be happy in the society of the butler with his coarse and ignorant companions, and, vice-versa, the butler could not be happy in the boudoirs of the queen.
If, however, a young woman make up her mind deliberately and in answer to the affections of her heart to marry the coachman and meet the worst, there is no valid reason why she should not do so. If the coachman be a worthy man, if he be honest and sincere and true to the core, a marriage like this could be consummated with the consent, we believe, of parents, brothers and friends, without having recourse to a clandestine escapade. Let the daughter of the millionaire and the honest coachman avow their purpose before all the world and dare the criticisms of society, dare its scorn, perhaps, and let them marry. Let angels and men say amen. "What God hath joined together let no man put asunder." Then let the daughter of the millionaire go to such a home as her husband's station can furnish her. Let him be coachman still, till better prospects come. Let her adorn his life with her womanly accomplishments, and he hers with irreproachable manliness, and let all the world say amen.
Such a marriage would lack the romantic element which has such a claim upon the mind of the girl of the period, but it would have the element of strength to make that union last to the day of their death. It would require some decision to carry it out to its triumphant end. It would require much manliness and womanliness to consummate such a marriage, but when once consummated we think it would never be trailed in the dust of a divorce court. The author has learned, by reading or observation, of twenty-three marriages between the daughters of wealthy parents and the coachmen. One of the twenty-three was such a union as we have above described, and that marriage is to-day blessed by prosperity, happy children and a life gilded with domestic sunshine. The other twenty-two have all ended in unspeakable sorrow or divorce.
Thus, by way of illustration, we have chosen to speak of a foolish tendency to hasty marriage that is growing up in our American life. Young men and women plunge into betrothal without ever thinking of the consequences. With equal haste and as little thought they plunge into marriage, with no knowledge of each other's character and no hope of happiness in the ill-assorted union which they make. The practice of marrying in haste to repent at leisure seems to be on the increase and is becoming one of the greatest of our social evils. George Eliot some-where speaks of acquaintanceship before marriage as "the cobweb of pre-matrimonial acquaintanceship," and asks "if any one has ever pinched into its pilulous smallness." Even when courtship is conducted on the most approved fashion, and a betrothal follows a long acquaintance, people know very little of each other's real character before marriage. They pass from the beauteous altar, where the future seems enchanted ground, through the honeymoon to delusion. Defects of character and temper and principle that have been concealed until now stand revealed. The husband soon learns that his angel is not quite perfect, and the wife soon learns that her hero can lose his self-control when tired and hungry. Even in the most happily wedded lives there must be great forbearance and much self-denial. What wonder, then, that those who have been mated without acquaintanceship and without thought of the future, should find out too late that they have made a fatal blunder. Few persons. then, have the courage to bear the burden of such a disappointment and seal their lips to all complainings. Few people can bear the hopeless differences of an ill-matched marriage and keep a steady nerve and a cheerful heart for the work of life. Hence they fly to the only easy source of relief, the scandal of the divorce court. There is a sort of a "social undertow" which says to a young woman that to be an "old maid" is the worst possible fate for her. She is filled with the belief that the chief object of her life is to "make a good catch," as the expression goes. She thinks she must have a husband, and that anything that goes on two legs is better than no husband. And so she plans and works her scheme to capture a husband and save herself from the inconceivable dread of being an old maid. This is far too often the requirement laid by society upon our young women. One who is brought up in an atmosphere of such ideas will naturally accept the first offer that comes to her. She is in love at first sight, is betrothed at the first asking and married at the earliest possible moment. She is now safe from being an old maid, even if she has married a sneak or a villain. If this policy of courtship should result in anything but disaster, the young woman owes it simply to her good fortune. On the other hand, young men get the notion that all the girls wish to marry them, and all they have to do is to choose the prettiest face and the possessor of a few artificial accomplishments, and they have the wife that they need. Here no choice is made upon the ground of solid worth. There can be no knowledge of real character on either side. In fact, in the majority of such cases, there is all too little character and worth to build upon. When the disillusion comes, there is no hope for two helpless souls ; the error of a moment has made the sorrow of a life ; nothing is left to them but the dregs of a bitter cup, and few men and women have the courage to be honest and drink it.
The evils of hasty marriage are working sad havoc in our American homes. Where the angel of peace should dwell, a skeleton of horror sits. Where love should triumph, hate reigns. The hero has turned to a fiend, the angel of mercy to an avenging fury. Oh, the apples of Sodom that grow upon the trees in the gardens of domestic life !
The social life, which surrounds our young people, ought to be thoroughly changed, purged and renovated. Our young women need to be taught that marriage is not the chief end of their existence. Our young men should learn that character is better than a beautiful face ; that the knowledge of something useful that can be turned to practical account in the house-hold, is worth ten thousand times more than all the accomplishments of the most fashionable women in America.
The arts of the coquette are the arts of the devil. The estimate which a young man makes of the women he meets in society is as false as the tale of the serpent in Eden. Would that sober sense and frank and courteous manners might once more assert themselves in our social life. Would that young women might be free and natural and that young men might be sincere and truthful in the social circle. If such a state of things could once be realized, the evils of hasty marriage would soon be done away. The darkness that now rests upon our social life would soon be lifted in the sunshine of a brighter day.