Companionship In Marriage
( Originally Published 1884 )
Character Influenced by Marriage.—Mutual Relations of Man and Woman.. —Views of Woman's Character.—Early Education of the Sexes.—Womans Affectionateness.—The Sentiment of Love.—Love an Inspirer and Purifier.—Man in the Home.—The Golden Rule in Marriage.
" Kindness in women, not their beauteous looks,
THE character of men, as of women, is powerfully influenced by their companionship in all the stages of life. We have already spoken of the influence of the mother in forming the character of her children. She makes the moral atmosphere in which they live, and by which their minds and souls are nourished, as their bodies are by the physical atmosphere they breathe. And while woman is the natural cherisher of infancy and the instructor of childhood, she is also the guide and counsellor of youth, and the confidant and companion of manhood, in her various relations of mother, sister, lover, and wife. In short, the influence of woman more or less affects, for good or for evil, the entire destinies of man.
The respective social functions and duties of men and woman are clearly defined by nature. God created man and woman, each to do their proper work, each to fill their proper sphere. Neither can occupy the position, nor perform the functions, of the other. Their several vocations are perfectly distinct. Woman exists on her own account, as man does on his, at the same time that each has intimate relations with the other. Humanity needs both for the purposes of the race, and in every consideration of social progress both must necessarily be included.
Though companions and equals, yet, as regards the measure of their powers, they are unequal. Man is stronger, more muscular, and of rougher fibre; woman is more delicate, sensitive and nervous. The one excels in power of brain, the other in qualities of heart; and though the head may rule, it is the heart that influences. Both are alike adapted for the respective functions they have to perform in life; and to attempt to impose woman's work upon man would be quite as absurd as to attempt to impose man's work upon woman. Men are sometimes woman-like, and women are sometimes man-like; but these are only exceptions which prove the rule.
Although man's qualities belong more to the head, and woman's more to the heart, yet it is not less necessary that man's heart should be cultivated as well as his head, and woman's head cultivated as well as her heart. A heartless man is as much out of keeping in civilized society as a stupid and unintelligent woman. The cultivation of all parts of the moral and intellectual nature is requisite to form the man or woman of healthy and well-balanced character. Without sympathy or consideration for others, man were a poor, stunted, sordid, selfish being; and without cultivated intelligence, the most beautiful woman were little better than a welldressed doll.
It used to be a favorite notion about woman that her weakness and dependency upon others constituted her principal claim to admiration.. If we were to form an image of dignity in a man," said Sir. Richard Steele, "we should give him wisdom and valor, as being essential to the character of manhood. In like manner, if you describe a right woman in a laudable sense, she should have gentle softness, tender fear, and all those parts of life which distinguish her from the other sex, with some subordination to it, but an inferiority which makes her lovely." Thus, her weakness was to be cultivated, rather than her strength; her folly, rather than her wisdom. She was to be a weak, fearful, tearful, characterless, inferior creature, with just sense enough to understand the soft nothings addressed to her by the " superior " sex. She was to be educated as an ornamental. appanage of man, rather as an independent intelligence or as a wife, mother, companion, or friend.
Pope, in one of his " Moral Essays," asserts that " most women have no characters at all ;" and again he says:
" Ladies, like variegated tulips, show,
This satire characteristically occurs in the poet's " Epistle to Martha Blount," the housekeeper who so tyrannically ruled him; and in the same verses he spitefully girds at Lady Mary Wortly Montague, at whose feet he had thrown himself as a lover, and been contemptuously rejected. But Pope was no judge of women, nor was he even a very wise or tolerant judge of men.
It is still too much the practice to cultivate the weakness of woman rather than her strength, and to render her attractive rather than self-reliant. Her sensibilities are developed at the expense of her health of body as well as mind. She lives, moves, and has her being, in the sympathy of others. She dresses that she may attract, and is burdened with accomplishments that she may be chosen. Weak, trembling, and dependent, she incurs the risk of becoming a living embodiment of the Italian proverb—" so good that. she is good for nothing."
On the other hand, the education of young men too often errs on the side of selfishness. While the boy is encouraged to trust mainly to his own efforts in pushing his way in the world, the girl is encouraged to rely almost entirely upon others. He is educated with too exclusive reference to himself, and she is educated with too exclusive reference to him. He is taught to be self-reliant and self dependent, while she is taught to be distrustful of herself, dependent, and self-sacrificing in all things. Thus the intellect of the one is cultivated at the expense of the affections, and the affections of the other at the expense of the intellect.
It is unquestionable that the highest qualities of woman are displayed in her relationship to others, through the medium of her affections. She is the nurse whom nature has given to all humankind. She takes charge of the helpless, and nourishes and cherishes those we love. She is the presiding genius of the fireside, where she creates an atmosphere of serenity and contentment suitable for the nurture and growth of character in its best forms. She is by her very constitution compassion-ate, gentle, patient, and self-denying. Loving, hopeful, trustful, her eye sheds brightness everywhere. It shines upon coldness and warms it, upon suffering and relieves it, upon sorrow and cheers it:
" Her silver flow
Woman has been styled the angel of the unfortunate. She is ready to help the weak, to raise the fallen, to comfort the suffering. It was characteristic of woman that she should have been the first to build and endow a hospital. It has been said that wherever a human being is in suffering his sighs call a woman to his side. When Mungo Park, lonely, friendless, and famished, after being driven forth from an African village by the men, was preparing to spend the night under a tree, exposed to the rain and the wild beasts which there abounded, a poor negro woman, returning from the labors of the field, took compassion upon him, conducted him into her hut, and there gave him food, and succor, and shelter.
But while the most characteristic qualities of woman are displayed through her sympathies and affections, it is also necessary for her own happiness, as a self-dependent being, to develop and strengthen her character, by due self-culture, self reliance, and self-control. it is not desirable, even were it possible, to close the beautiful avenues of the heart. Self-reliance of the best kind does not involve any limitation in the range of human sympathy. But the happiness of woman, as of man, depends in a great measure upon her individual completeness of character. And that self-dependence which springs from the due cultivation of the intellectual powers, conjoined with a proper discipline of the heart and conscience, will enable her to be more useful in life as well as happy; to dispense blessings intelligently as well as to enjoy them; and most of all those which spring from mutual dependence and social sympathy.
And here we would venture to touch upon a delicate topic. Though it is one of universal and engrossing human interest, the moralist avoids it, the educator shuns it, and parents taboo it. It is almost considered indelicate to refer to Love as between the sexes; and young readers are left to gather their only notions of it from the impossible' love-stories that fill the shelves of circulating libraries.
" Love," it has been said, in the common acceptation of the term, is folly; but love, in its purity, its loftiness, its unselfishness, is not only a consequence, but a proof, of our moral excellence. The sensibility to moral beauty, the forgetfulness of self in the admiration engendered by it, all prove its claim to a high moral influence. It is the triumph of the unselfish over the selfish part of our nature."
It is by means of this divine passion that the world is kept ever fresh and young. It is the perpetual melody of humanity. It sheds an effulgence upon youth, and throws a halo round age. It glorifies the present by the light it casts backward, and it lightens the future by the beams it casts forward.
" No true and enduring love," says Fichte, " can exist without esteem; every other draws regret after it, and is unworthy of any noble human soul."
But there is something far more than mere respect and esteem in the union between man and wife. " In matters of affection," says Nathaniel Hawthorne, " there is always an impassible gulf between man and man. They can never quite grasp each other's hands, and therefore man never derives any intimate help, any heart-sustenance, from his brother man, but from woman his mother, his sister, or his wife."
A man's real character will always be more visible in his household than anywhere else; and his practical wisdom will be better exhibited by the manner in which he bears rule there than even in the larger affairs of business or public life. His whole mind may be in his business; but, if he would be happy, his whole heart must be in his home.
What a happy man must Edmund Burke have been,. when he could say of his home, " Every care vanishes the moment I enter under my own roof!" And Luther, a man full of human affection, speaking of his wife, said, " I would not exchange my poverty, with her for all the riches of Croesus without her."
The golden rule of married life is, " Bear and for bear." Marriage, like government, is a series of compromises. One must give and take, refrain and restrain, endure and be patient. One may not be blind to another's failings, but they may at least be borne with good-natured forbearance. Of all qualities, good temper is the one that wears and works the best in married life. Conjoined with self-control, it gives patience the patience to bear and forbear, to listen with-out retort, to refrain until the angry flash has passed How true it is in marriage that " the soft answer turneth away wrath!"