Domestic Happiness

Timothy Shay Arthur


There are certain pairs of old-fashioned-looking pictures to be occasionally met with in brokers' shops, or more often, perhaps, on cottage walls, and sometimes in the dingy, smoky parlor of a village tavern or ale-house; which said pictures contain and exhibit a lively and impressive moral. Some of our readers, doubtless, have seen and been edified by these ancient engravings; and, for the benefit of those who have not, we will describe them.

The first picture of the pair represents a blooming and blushing damsel, well bedecked in frock of pure white muslin, as was the fashion fifty years ago, and may again be the fashion in less than fifty years hence, for anything we can tell. Over this frock is worn a mirthful spencer, trimmed with lace and ornamented with an unexceptionable frill, while the damsel's auburn curls are surmounted with a hat of straw fluttering with broad, true blue ribbons, which fasten it in a true love-knot, under the dimpled chin.

Her companion is a young countryman in glossy boots, mirthful flapped waistcoat, blue or brown long-waisted and broad-skirted coat, frilled shirt, and white kerchief, who smiles most lovingly, as with fond devotion [here, gentle reader, is the moral of the picture], he bends lowlily, and chivalrously places at the disposal of the fair lady, hand, arm, and manly strength, as she pauses before a high-backed stile which crosses the path, leading, if we mistake not, to the village church. Beneath this picture, reader, in Roman capitals, are the words: "BEFORE MARRIAGE."

We turn to the second picture; and there may be seen the same high-backed stile, the same path, and the same passengers. Painfully and awkwardly is the lady represented as endeavoring, unaided, to climb the rails, while beyond her is the companion of her former walk her companion still but not her helper slowly sauntering on, and looking back with an ominous frown, as though chiding the delay. Beneath this picture are the significant words: "AFTER MARRIAGE."

One could wish these pictures were only pictures; but, in sober earnest, they are allegories, and too truthfully portray what passes continually before our eyes: the difference, to wit, between the two states there presented. Truly, indeed, has it been said, "Time and possession too frequently lessen our attachment to objects that were once most valued to enjoy which no difficulties were thought insurmountable, no trials too great, and no pain too severe. Such, also, is the tenure by which we hold all terrestrial happiness, and such the instability of all human estimation! And though the ties of marital affection are calculated to promote, as well as to secure permanent felicity yet many, it is to be feared, have done just the opposite.

It is, perhaps, not to be expected that a man can retain through life that assiduity by which he pleases for a day or a month. Care, however, should be taken that he does not so far relax his vigilance as to induce a belief that his affection is diminished. Few disquietudes occur in domestic life which might not have been prevented; and those so frequently witnessed, generally arise from a lack of attention to those mutual endearments which all have in their power to perform, and which, as they are essential to the preservation of happiness, should never be intentionally omitted.

This witness, dear reader, is true. The neglect of those little attentions which every married couple have it in their power to show to each other, daily, hourly is a sure method of undermining domestic happiness. Let every married reader bear this in mind, and reflect upon it; for it is an undeniable truth.

It was a full quarter of a century ago that the writer first saw the pair of engravings which he has described. They were hanging over the fire-place of a newly-married cottager. "There," said she, laughing, as she pointed to the second picture; "you see what I have to expect!"

She did not expect it, though! Such an attentive, kind, and self-denying lover, as her husband had been, would never change into a morose brute, who could allow his wife to climb over an awkward stile without help, and scold her for her clumsiness.

Reader, not many months ago, we saw poor Mary, prematurely gray and time-stricken. For years she has been living apart from her husband, her children scattered abroad in the world, and she is sad and solitary. And thus it was: He, the trusted one, tired of being the fond lover of the picture, soon began to show himself the husband. She, the confiding one, stunned by some instances of neglect, reproached and taunted him. He resented these reproaches as unjust, and to prove them so, redoubled his inattentiveness to her, absented himself from home, and bestowed his attentions elsewhere. She copied his example, and by way of punishment in kind, lavished her smiles and kindnesses in other quarters. He but why go on?

Years sad years of crimination and recrimination, of provocation, and bitter reproaches, and suspicion, and mutual jealousy, and dislike, and hatred, wore away. At length they parted. What became of the pair of pictures, we often wonder.

 

The greatest security of all against jealousy in a wife is to show, to prove by your acts, by your words also but more especially by your acts, that you prefer her to all the world; and I know of no act that is, in this respect, equal to spending in her company every moment of your leisure time. Everybody knows, and young wives better than anybody else, that people, who can choose, will be where they like best to be, and that they will be along with those whose company they like best. The matter is very plain; and I do beseech you to bear it in mind. Nor do I see the use, or sense, of keeping a great deal of company as it is called. What company can a man and woman want more than their two selves, and their children, if they have any? If here is not company enough, it is but a sad affair. This hankering after company proves, clearly proves, that you want something beyond the society of your wife; and that she is sure to feel most acutely; the bare fact contains an imputation against her, and it is pretty sure to lay the foundation of jealousy, or of something still worse.

Addressed, as these sentiments are, to the husband, they are equally applicable to the wife; and on the part of domestic happiness, we urge upon all our readers, to prove their constancy of attachment, by mutual kind offices and delicate attentions, in health and in sickness, in joy and in sorrow; by abstinence from all that may wound; and by an honest preference of home enjoyments above all other enjoyments.

But to keep alive this honest preference, there must be in addition to other good qualifications which have heretofore passed under review:

Constant cheerfulness and good humor. A wife and mother who is perpetually fretful and peevish; who has nothing to utter to her husband when he returns from his daily occupation, whatever it may be, or to her children when they are assembled around her but complaints of her hard lot and miserable destiny; who is always brooding over past sorrows, or anticipating future evils; does all she can, unconsciously it may be, to make her hearth desolate, and to mar forever domestic happiness.

And the husband and father who brings to that hearth a morose frown, or a gloomy brow; who silences the prattling tongue of infancy by a stern command; who allows the annoyances and cares of life to cut into his heart's core, and refuses to be comforted or charmed by the thousand endearments of her whom he has sworn to love and cherish such a one does not deserve domestic happiness.

Young reader, and expectant of future domestic bliss, take a word of advice: Be good-tempered. You have not much to try your patience now; by-and-by your trials will come on. Now, then, is the time to practice good-temper in the little vexations of life, so as to prepare you for future days. No doubt there are many little rubs and jars to fret and shake even you; many small things, not over and above agreeable to put up with. Bear them you must; but do try and bear them without losing your temper.

If a man has a stubborn or skittish horse to manage, he knows that the best way to deal with it is by gentle, good-humored coaxing. Just so it is in other things: kindness, gentleness, and downright good-humor will do what all the blustering and anger in the world cannot accomplish. If a wagon wheel creaks and works stiff, or if it skids instead of turning, you know well enough that it needs oiling. Well, always carry a good supply of the oil of good temper about with you, and use it well on every needful occasion; no fear then of creaking wheels as you move along the great highway of life.

Then, on the part, still, of domestic happiness, would we earnestly advise a decent, nay, a strict regard to personal habits, so far, at least, as the feelings of others are concerned. "It is seldom." writes a traveler, "that I find associates in inns who come up to my ideas of what is right and proper in personal habits. The most of them indulge, more or less, in biting of fingernails, in puffing and blowing, and other noises, anomalous and indescribable. Few seem to be under any sense of the propriety of subduing as much as possible all sounds connected with the physical functions, though even breathing might, and ought to be managed in perfect silence."

Now, if it were only in inns that disagreeable personal habits are practiced, it would not much interfere with the happiness of nine-tenths of the people in the world; but the misfortune is that home is the place where they are to be noticed in full swing to use a common expression. Indeed, perhaps there are few people who do not, in a degree at least, mar domestic happiness by persisting in personal peculiarities which they know are unpleasant and irritating to those around them. These habits may be harmless in themselves, perhaps; but inasmuch as they are annoying and irritating to others, they are not harmless. Nay, they are criminal, because they are accompanied by a most unpleasant disregard to the feelings of others.

To make home truly happy, the mind must be cultivated. It is all very well to say that a man and his wife, and their children, if they have any, ought to be company enough for each other, without seeking society elsewhere; and it is quite right that it should be so: but what if they have nothing to say to each other, as reasonable and thinking beings? nothing to communicate beyond the common-things nothing to learn from each other nothing but mere animal enjoyments in common?

Imagine such a case, reader, where father, mother, and children are sunk in grossest ignorance, without knowledge, without intellectual resources, or even intellectual powers, without books, or any acquaintance with books, or any desire for such acquaintance! What domestic happiness can there be in such a case? As well might we talk of the domestic happiness of a dog-kennel or sheep-pen, a stable, or a pig-stye. And just in proportion as ignorance predominates, so are the chances of domestic happiness diminished.

Where there is great ignorance, and contentment with ignorance, there is vice; and vice is not happiness it cannot be. Therefore, all other things equal, that family will have the greatest chance of the greatest share of domestic happiness where each member of it has the mind to take in, and the heart to give out, a constant succession of fresh ideas, gained from observation, experience, and books. Reader, think of these things!