A Word to Husbands

Timothy Shay Arthur

Walking the other day with a valued friend who had been confined a week or two by sickness to his room, he remarked that a husband might learn a good lesson by being occasionally confined to his house, by having in this way an opportunity of witnessing the cares and never-ending toils of his wife, whose burdens and duties, and patient endurance, he might never have otherwise understood. There is a great deal in this thought. Men, especially young men, are called by their business during the day mostly away from home, returning only at the hours for meals; and as they then see nearly the same routine of duty, they begin to think it is their own lot to perform all the drudgery, and to be exercised with the weight of care and responsibility. But such a man has got a wrong view of the case; he needs an opportunity for more extended observation; and it is perhaps for this very reason that a kind providence arrests him by sickness, that he may learn in pain what he would fail to observe in health.

We have seen a good many things said to wives, especially to young wives, exposing their faults, perhaps magnifying them, and expounding to them, in none of the kindest terms; and their duty and the offices pertaining to a woman's sphere. Now, we believe that wives, as a whole, are really better than they are admitted to be. We doubt if there can be found a great number of wives who are disagreeable and negligent, without some palpable coldness or shortcoming on the part of their husbands. So far as we have had an opportunity for observation, they are far more devoted and faithful than those who style themselves their lords, and who, by the customs of society, have other and generally more pleasant and varied duties to perform. We protest then against these lectures so often and so obtrusively addressed to the ladies, and insist upon it that they must, most of them, have been written by some fusty bachelors who know no better, or by some inconsiderate husbands who deserve to have been old bachelors to the end of their lives.

But is there nothing to be said on the other side? Are husbands so generally the perfect, amiable, injured beings they are so often represented? Men sometimes declare that their wives' extravagance has picked their pockets; that their never-ceasing tongues have robbed them of their peace; and their general disagreeableness has driven them to the tavern and gambling-table; but this is generally the wicked excuse for a most wicked life on their own part. The fact is, men often lose their interest in their homes by their own neglect to make their homes interesting and pleasant. It should never be forgotten that the wife has her rights as sacred after marriage as before and a good husband's devotion to the wife after marriage will concede to her quite as much attention as he gallantly did while a lover. If it is otherwise, he most generally is at fault.

Take a few examples. Before marriage, a young man would feel some delicacy about accepting an invitation to spend an evening in company where his lady-love had not been invited. After marriage, is he always as particular? During the days of courtship, his gallantry would demand that he should make himself agreeable to her; after marriage, it often happens that he thinks more of being agreeable to himself. How often it happens that married men, after having been away from home the whole day, during which the wife has toiled at her duties, go at evening to some place of amusement, and leave her to toil on alone, uncheered and unhappy! How often it happens that her kindest offices pass unobserved and unrewarded even by a smile, and her best efforts are condemned by the fault-finding husband!

How often it happens, even when the evening is spent at home, that it is employed in silent reading, or some other way that does not recognize the wife's right to share in the enjoyment even of the fireside!

Look, you husbands, a moment, and remember what your wife was when you took her, not from compulsion, but from your own choice; a choice, based, probably, on what you considered her superiority to all others. She was young, perhaps the idol of a happy home; she was mirthful and blithe as the lark, and the brothers and sisters at her father's fireside cherished her as an object of endearment. Yet she left all to join her destiny with yours; to make your home happy, and to do all that woman's love could prompt, and woman's ingenuity devise, to meet your wishes, and to lighten the burdens which might press upon you in your pilgrimage. She, of course, had her expectations too. She could not entertain feelings which promised so much without forming some idea of reciprocation on your part; and she did expect that you would, after marriage, perform those kind offices of which you were so lavish in the days of your betrothment.

She became your wife! left her own home for yours burst asunder as it were, the bands of love which had bound her to her father's fireside, and sought no other home than your affections; left, it may be, the ease and delicacy of a home of wealth and now, what must be her feelings, if she gradually awakes to the consciousness that you love her less than before; that your evenings are spent abroad; that you only come home at all to satisfy the demands of your hunger, and to find a resting-place for your head when weary, or a nurse for your sick-chamber when ill!

Why did she leave the bright hearth of her youthful days? Why did you ask her to give up the enjoyment of a happy home? Was it simply to darn your stockings, mend your clothes, take care of your children, and watch over your sick-bed? Was it simply to conduce to your own comfort? Or was there some understanding that she was to be made happy in her connection with the man she had dared to love?

Nor is it a sufficient answer that you reply that you give her a home; that you feed and clothe her. You do this for your own health. You would do it for an indifferent housekeeper. She is your wife, and unless you attend to her needs, and some way answer the reasonable expectation you raised by your attention before marriage, you need not wonder if she is dejected, and her heart sink into insensibility; but if this be so, think well who is the cause of it!