Hints and Helps for Married People
Timothy Shay Arthur
First, let us speak to the young HUSBAND, in the words of the author of that excellent little volume, "A Whisper to a Newly-Married Pair."
Earnestly endeavor to obtain among your acquaintances, the character of a good husband; and abhor that would-be wit, which I have sometimes seen practiced among men of the world — a kind of coarse jesting on the bondage of the married state, and a laugh at the shackles which a wife imposes. On the contrary, be it your pride to exhibit to the world that sight on which the wise man passes such praise: Beautiful before God and men, are a man and his wife that agree together.
Make it an established rule to consult your wife on all occasions. Your interest is hers: and undertake no plan contrary to her advice and approbation. Independent of better motives, what a responsibility does it free you from! for, if the affair turns out badly, you are spared reproaches both from her and from your own feelings. But the fact is, she who ought to have most influence on her husband's mind — is often precisely the person who has least; and a foolish husband will frequently take the advice of a stranger who cares not for him nor his interest, in preference to the cordial and sensible opinion of his wife.
A due consideration of the domestic evils such a line of conduct is calculated to produce, might, one would think, of itself be sufficient to prevent its adoption; but, independent of these, common sense should influence you; for there is in woman an intuitive quickness, a sagacity, a penetration, and a foresight into the probable consequences of an event, which make her peculiarly calculated to give her opinion and advice. "If I was making up a plan of consequences," said the great Lord Bolingbroke, "I should like first to consult with a sensible woman."
Have you any male acquaintance, whom, on reasonable grounds, your wife wishes you to resign? Why should you hesitate? Of what consequence can be the civilities, or even the friendship, of anyone — compared with the wishes of her with whom you have to spend your life — whose comfort you have sworn to attend to; and who has a right to demand, not only such a trifling compliance — but great sacrifices, if necessary?
Never witness a tear from your wife with apathy or indifference. Words, looks, actions — all may be artificial; but a tear is unequivocal; it comes directly from the heart, and speaks at once the language of truth, nature, and sincerity! Be assured, when, you see a tear on her cheek, her heart is touched; and do not, I again repeat it, do not behold it with coldness or insensibility!
It is very unnecessary to say that contradiction is to be avoided at all times: but when in the presence of others, be most particularly watchful. A look, or word, that perhaps, in reality, conveys no angry meaning, may at once lead people to think that their presence alone restrains the eruption of a discord, which probably has no existence whatever.
Some men, who are married to women of inferior fortune or connection, will frequently have the baseness to upbraid them with the disparity. My good sir, allow me to ask what was your motive in marrying? Was it to oblige or please your wife? No, truly; it was to oblige and please yourself — your own dear self! Had she refused to marry you, you would have been (in lover's phrase) a very miserable man. Did you ever tell her so? Therefore, really, instead of upbraiding her, you should be very grateful to her for rescuing you from such an unhappy fate.
It is particularly painful to a woman, whenever her husband is unkind enough to say a demeaning or harsh word of any member of her family — invectives against herself are not half so wounding.
Should illness, or suffering of any kind, assail your wife, your tenderness and attention are then peculiarly called for; and if she is a woman of sensibility, believe me, a look of love, a word of pity or sympathy, will, at times, have a better effect than the prescriptions of her physicians.
Perhaps some calamity, peculiarly her own, may befall her. She may weep over the death of some dear relative or friend; or her spirits and feelings may be affected by various circumstances. Remember that your sympathy, tenderness, and attention, on such occasions, are particularly required.
A man would not, on any account, take up a whip, or a, stick, and beat his wife; but he will, without remorse, use language which strikes much deeper to her heart than the lash of any whip! "He would not, for the world," says an ingenious writer, "cut her with a knife — but he will, without the least hesitation, cut her with his tongue!"
I have known some unfeeling husbands, who have treated their luckless wives with unvaried and unremitting unkindness, until perhaps the arrival of their last illness, and who then became all assiduity and attention. But when that period approaches, their remorse, like the remorse of a murderer, is felt too late; the die is cast; and kindness or unkindness can be of little consequence to the poor victim, who only waits to have her eyes closed in the long sleep of death!
Perhaps your wife may be destitute of youth and beauty, or other superficial attractions, which distinguish many of her gender: should this be the case, remember many a plain face conceals a heart of exquisite sensibility and merit; and her consciousness of the defect makes her peculiarly awake to the slightest attention or inattention from you: and just for a moment reflect —
"What is the blooming tincture of the skin,
To peace of mind and harmony within?
What the bright sparkling of the finest eye,
To the soft soothing of a calm reply?
Can loveliness of form, or look, or air,
With loveliness of words or deeds compare?
No: those at first the unwary heart may gain;
But these, these only, can the heart retain."
Your wife, though a gentle, amiable creature, may be deficient in mental endowments, and destitute of imagination or sentiment; and you, perhaps a man of taste and talents, are inclined to think lightly of her. This is unjust, unkind and unwise. It is not, believe me, the woman most gifted by nature, or most stored with literary knowledge, who always makes the most comfortable wife by any means. Your gentle, amiable wife may contribute much more to your happiness, more to the regularity, economy, and discipline of your houses and may make your children a much better mother, than many a brilliant dame who could trace, with Moore, Scott, and Byron, every line on the map of taste and sentiment, and descant on the merits and demerits of poetry, as if she had just arrived fresh from the university.
Should your wife be a woman of sense, worth, and cultivation, yet not very expert at cutting out a shirt, or making pastries, pies, and puddings (though I would not by any means undervalue this necessary part of female knowledge), yet please, my good sir, do not, on this account only, show discontent and ill-humor towards her. If she is qualified to be your bosom friend, to advise, to comfort, and to soothe you — if she can instruct your children, enliven your fireside by her conversation, and receive and entertain your friends in a manner which pleases and gratifies you — be satisfied. We cannot expect to meet in a wife, or indeed in anyone, exactly all we could wish.
"I can easily," says a sensible friend of mine, "hire a woman to make my linen and fix my dinner — but I cannot so readily procure a friend and companion for myself, and a preceptress for my children." The remark was called forth by his mentioning that he had heard a gentleman, the day before, finding fault with his wife, an amiable, sensible well-informed woman, because she was not clever at pies, puddings, and needle-work! On the other hand, should she be sensible, affectionate, amiable, domestic, yet prevented by circumstances in early life from obtaining much knowledge of books, or mental cultivation — do not therefore think lightly of her; still remember that she is your companion, the friend in whom you may confide at all times, and from whom you may obtain counsel and comfort.
Few women are insensible of kind treatment; and I believe the number of those is small indeed who would not recompense it with the most grateful returns. They are naturally frank and affectionate; and, in general, there is nothing but austerity of look and distance of behavior, which can prevent those amiable qualities from being evinced on every occasion. There are, probably — but few men who have not experienced, during the intervals of leisure and reflection, a conviction of this truth.
In the hour of absence and of solitude, who has not felt his heart cleaving to the wife of his bosom? who has not been, at some seasons, deeply impressed with a sense of her amiable disposition and demeanor, of her unwearied endeavors to promote and perpetuate his happiness, and of its being his indispensable duty to show, by the most unequivocal expressions of attachment and of tenderness, his full approbation of her assiduity and faithfulness? But there are men who have often returned to their habitation fully determined to requite the kindness he has constantly experienced, yet, notwithstanding, has beheld the woman of his heart joyful at his approach without even attempting to execute his purpose? — who has still withheld the rewards of esteem and affection; and, from some motive, the cause of which I never could develop, shrink from the task of duty, and repressed those soft emotions which might have gladdened the heart of her who was ever anxious to please, always prompt to anticipate his desires, and eager to contribute everything that affection could suggest, or diligence perform, in order to promote and perpetuate his felicity.
When absent, let your letters to your wife be warm and affectionate. A woman's heart is peculiarly formed for tenderness; and every expression of endearment from the man she loves is flattering and pleasing to her. With pride and pleasure does she dwell on each assurance of his affection: and, surely, it is a cold, unmanly thing to deprive her virtuous heart of such a cheap and easy mode of gratifying it. But, really, a man should endeavor not only for an affectionate — but an agreeable manner of writing to his wife. I remember hearing a lady say, "When my husband writes to me, if he can at all glean out any little piece of good news, or pleasing intelligence, he is sure to mention it." Another lady used to remark, "My husband does not intend to give me pain, or to say anything unpleasant when he writes; and yet, I don't know how it is — but I never received a letter from him, that I did not, when I finished it, feel comfortless and dissatisfied."
I really think a husband, whenever he goes from home, should always endeavor, if possible, to bring back some little present to his wife. If ever so trifling or valueless, still the attention gratifies her; and to call forth a smile of good-humor should be always a matter of importance.
Everyone who knows anything of the human mind, agrees in acknowledging the power of trifles, in imparting either pain or pleasure. One of our best writers, speaking on this subject, introduces the following sweet lines:
"Since trifles make the sum of human things,
And half our misery from those trifles springs,
O! let the ungentle spirit learn from thence,
A small unkindness is a great offence.
To give rich gifts perhaps we wish in vain,
But all may shun the guilt of giving pain."
So much of happiness and comfort in the wedded life depends upon the WIFE, that we cannot too often nor too earnestly engage her thoughts on the subject of her duties. Duty, to some, is a cold, repulsive word — but only in the discharge of duties that appertain to each condition in life, is happiness ever secured. From the "Whisper" we copy again:
Endeavor to make your home alluring and delightful to him. Let it be to him a sanctuary to which his heart may always turn from the ills and anxieties of life. Make it a repose from his cares, a shelter from the world, a home not for his person only — but for his heart. He may meet with pleasure in other houses — but let him find happiness in his own. Should he be dejected — soothe him. Should he be silent and thoughtful, or even peevish — make allowances for the defects of human nature, and, by your sweetness, gentleness, and good humor, urge him continually to think, though he may not say it, "This woman is indeed a comfort to me. I cannot but love her, and requite such gentleness and affection as they deserve."
I know not two female attractions so captivating to men as delicacy and modesty. Let not the familiar fellowship which marriage produces, banish such powerful charms. On the contrary, this very familiarity should be your strongest incitement in endeavoring to preserve them; and, believe, me, the modesty so pleasing in the bride, may always, in a great degree, be supported by the wife.
"If possible, let your husband suppose you think him a good husband — and it will be a strong stimulus to his being so. As long as he thinks he possesses a good character — he will take some pains to deserve it; but when he has once lost the name, he will be very apt to abandon the reality altogether. "I remember at one time being acquainted with a lady who was married to a very worthy man. Attentive to all her comforts and wishes, he was just what the world calls a very good husband; and yet his manner to his wife was cold and comfortless, and he was constantly giving her heart, though never her reason, cause to complain of him. But she was a woman of excellent sense, and never upbraided him. On the contrary, he had every cause for supposing she thought him the best husband in the world; and the consequence was, that instead of the jarring and discord which would have been inevitably produced had she been in the habit of finding fault with him, their lives passed on in uninterrupted peace.
I know not any attraction which renders a woman at all times so agreeable to her husband, as cheerfulness or good humor. It possesses the powers ascribed to magic: it gives charms where charms are not; and imparts beauty to the plainest face. Men are naturally more thoughtful and more difficult to amuse and please, than women. Full of cares and business, what a relaxation to a man is the cheerful countenance and pleasant voice of the gentle wife of his home! On the contrary, a gloomy, dissatisfied manner is a poison of affection; and though a man may not seem to notice it, it is chilling and repulsive to his feelings, and he will be very apt to seek elsewhere for those smiles and that cheerfulness, which he finds not in his own house.
In the article of dress, study your husband's taste, and endeavor to wear what he thinks befits you best. The opinion of others on this subject is of very little consequence, if he approves.
Make yourself as useful to him as you can, and let him see you employed as much as possible in economical avocations.
At dinner, endeavor to have his favorite dish dressed and served up in the manner he likes best. In, observing such trifles as these, believe me, gentle lady — you study your own comfort just as much as his.
Perhaps your husband may occasionally bring home an unexpected guest to dinner. This is not at all times convenient. But beware, gentle lady, beware of frowns. Your fare at dinner may be scanty — but make up for the deficiency by smiles and good humor. It is an old remark, "Cheerfulness in the host is always the surest and most agreeable mode of welcome to the guest." Perhaps, too, unseasonable visitors may intrude, or someone not particularly welcome may come to spend a few days with you. As trifling as these circumstances may be, they require a command of feeling and temper: but remember, as you journey on, inclination must be continually sacrificed; and recollect also, that the true spirit of hospitality lies (as an old writer remarks), not in giving great dinners and sumptuous entertainments — but in receiving with kindness and cheerfulness those who come to you, and those who need your assistance.
Endeavor to feel pleased with your husband's bachelor friends. It always vexes and disappoints a man when his wife finds fault with his favorites — the favorites and companions of his youth, and probably those to whom he is bound not only by the ties of friendship — but by the cords of gratitude.
Encourage in your husband a desire for reading aloud at night. When the window curtains are drawn, the candles lighted, and you are all seated after tea round the fire, how can his time be better employed? You have your work to occupy you: he has nothing to do but to sit and to think; and perhaps to think too that this family scene is extremely dull. Give interest to the monotonous hour, by placing in his hand some entertaining but useful work. The pleasure which you derive from it will encourage him to proceed; while remarks on the content of the book will afford improving and animating topics for conversation.
Is he fond of music? When an appropriate moment occurs, sit down with cheerfulness to your piano or harp; recollect the tunes that are accustomed to please him most, and indulge him by playing those favorite tunes. Tell me, gentle lady, when was your time at this accomplishment so well devoted? While he was your lover, with what readiness, and in your very best manner, would you touch the chords; and on every occasion what pains did you take to captivate! And now that he is become your husband (methinks at this moment I see a blush mantling in your cheek), now that he is your husband, has pleasing him become a matter of indifference to you?
Particularly shun what the world calls in ridicule, "Curtain lectures." When you both enter your room at night, and shut your door, endeavor to shut out at the same moment all discord and contention, and look on your chamber as a retreat from the vexations of the world, a shelter sacred to peace and affection.
I cannot say I much approve of man and wife at all times opening each other's letters. There is more, I think, of vulgar familiarity in this, than of delicacy or confidence. Besides, a sealed letter is sacred; and everyone likes to have the first reading of his or her own letters.
Perhaps your husband may be fond of absenting himself from home, and giving to others that society which you have a right to expect: clubs, taverns, etc., may be his favorite resort. In this case it may perhaps be necessary to have recourse to mild reasoning; but never — I again repeat — never to clamorous dispute. And the fonder he seems of leaving his home, the greater should be your effort to make yourself and your fireside agreeable to him. This may appear a difficult task; but I recommend nothing that I have not myself seen successfully practiced.
I once knew a lady who particularly studied her husband's character and disposition; and I have seen her, when he appeared sullen, fretful, and inclined to go out, invite a friend, or perhaps a few friends, to spend the evening, prepare for him at dinner the dish she knew he liked best, and thus, by her kind, cheerful manner, make him forget the peevishness which had taken possession of him. Believe it from me, and let it take deep root, gentle lady, in your mind, that a good-humored deportment, a comfortable fireside, and a smiling countenance, will do more towards keeping your husband at home, than a week's logic on the subject.
Is he fond of fishing, hunting, etc.? When those amusements do not interfere with business or matters of consequence, what harm can result from them? Strive then to enter into his feelings with regard to the pleasure which they seem to afford him, and endeavor to feel interested in his harmless accounts and chats respecting them. Let his favorite dog be your favorite also; and do not with a surly look, as I have seen some wives put on, say, in his hearing, "That Cato, or Rover, or Ranger, is the most troublesome dog and the greatest pest in the world!"
If the day he goes out on these rural expeditions is cold or wet, do not omit having his shirt and stockings warmed for him at the fireside. Such little attentions never fail to please; and it is well worth your while to obtain good humor by such easy efforts.
Should he be obliged to go to some distant place or foreign land, if circumstances render it at all practical, let your determination be made in the beautiful and expressive language of Scripture: "Entreat me not to leave you, nor to return from following after you: for where you go, I will go; and where you lodge, I will lodge: your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die will I die, and there will I be buried; the Lord do so to me, and more also, if anything but death part you and me." (Ruth 1:16, 17.)
If his lot is comfortless, why not lessen those discomforts by your society? and if pleasure and gaiety await him, why leave him exposed to the temptations which pleasure and gaiety produce? A woman never appears in so respectable a light, never to no much advantage, as when under the protection of her husband.
Even occasional separations between man and wife, I am no friend to, when they can be avoided. It is not to your advantage, believe me, gentle lady, to let him see how well he can do without you. You may probably say, "Absence is at times unavoidable." Granted. I only contend such intervals of absence should be short, and occur as seldom as possible.
Perhaps it may be your luckless lot to be united to an unkind husband — a man who cares not whether he pleases or displeases you, or whether you are happy or unhappy. If this is the case, hard is your fate, gentle lady, very hard! But the die is cast; and you must carefully remember that no neglect of duty on his part, can give a legitimate sanction to a failure of duty on yours. The sacredness of those ties which bind you as a wife, remain equally strong and heavy, whatever the conduct of your husband is. As galling as the chain may be, you must only endeavor for resignation to bear it, until the Almighty, by lightening it, pleases to crown your gentleness and efforts with success.
When at the Throne of Grace (I address you as a Christian woman), be fervent and persevering in your prayers for your husband; and by your example endeavor to allure him to that Heaven towards which you are yourself aspiring: that, if your husband obeys not the word, as the sacred writer says, he may, without the word, be won by the holy conduct of the wife.
Your husband perhaps, may be addicted to gambling, carousing, drinking, etc. These are serious circumstances; and mild remonstrances must be occasionally used to oppose them; but do not let your argument rise to loud or clamorous disputing. Manage your opponent like a skillful general, and constantly watching the appropriate moment for retreat. To convince without irritating, is one of the most difficult as well as most desirable points of argument. Perhaps this may not be in your power: at all events, make the attempt, first praying to God for direction, and then leaving the result to him.
Or, gentle lady, you may, perhaps, be united to a man of a most uncongenial mind, who, though a very good sort of husband, differs from you in every sentiment. What of this? You must only make the best of it. Look around. Numbers have the same and infinitely worse complaints to make; and, truly, when we consider what real misery there is in the world, it seems the height of folly fastidiously and foolishly to refine away our happiness, by allowing such worthless trifles to interfere with our comfort.
There are very few husbands so bad as to be destitute of good qualities, and probably, very decided ones. Let the wife search out and accustom herself to dwell on those good qualities, and let her treat her own errors, not her husband's, with severity. I have seldom known a dispute between man and wife in which faults on both sides were not conspicuous; and really it is no wonder; for we are so quick-sighted to the imperfections of others, and so blind and lenient to our own, that in cases of discord and contention, we throw all the blame on the opposite party, and never think of accusing ourselves. In general, at least, this is the case.
I was lately acquainted with a lady, whose manner to her husband often attracted my admiration. Without appearing to do so, she would contrive to lead to those subjects in which he appeared to most advantage. Whenever he spoke, she seemed to listen as if what he was saying was of importance. And if at any time she differed from him in opinion, it was done so gently as scarcely to be perceived even by himself. She was quite as well informed (perhaps more so) and as sensible as himself, and yet she always appeared to think him superior in every point. On all occasions she would refer to him, asking his opinion, and appearing to receive information at the very moment, perhaps, she was herself imparting it. The consequence was, there never was a happier couple, and I am certain he thought her the most superior woman in the world.
I repeat, it is amazing how trifles — the most insignificant trifles — even a word, even a look — yes, truly, a look, a glance — completely possess the power, at times, of either pleasing, or displeasing. Let this sink deep into your mind: remember, that to endeavor to keep a husband in constant good mood, is one of the first duties of a wife.
Perhaps, on some occasion or other, in the frolic of the moment, without in the least degree intending to annoy you, your husband may toy, and laugh, and flirt, while in company, with some pretty girl present. This generally makes a wife look foolish; and it would be as well, nay, much better, if he did not do so. But let not a shade of resentment cross your brow, nor even by a glance give him or anyone present, reason to think his behavior annoys you. Join in the laugh and chat, and be not outdone in cheerfulness and good humor by any of the party. But remember, gentle lady, there must be no acting in this affair: the effort must extend to your mind as well as your manner; and a moment's reasoning on the subject will at once restore the banished sunshine.
The incomparable Leighton says, "The human heart is like a reservoir of clear water, at the bottom of which lies a portion of mud: stir the mud, and the water gets all sullied. In like manner does some strong passion or peevish feeling arise in the heart, and stain and darken it as the mud does the water." But should there be a prospect of your husband often meeting with this lady in question, endeavor at once to break off the intimacy by bringing forward some pretext consistent with truth (for to truth everything must be sacrificed), such as, You do not like her; The intimacy is not what you would wish, etc. Never, however, avow the real reason: it will only produce discord, and make your husband think you prone to jealousy — a suspicion a woman cannot too carefully guard against. And there is often in men an obstinacy which refuses to be conquered of all beings in the world by a wife. A jealous wife (such is the erroneous opinion of the ill-judging world) is generally considered a proper subject for ridicule; and a woman ought assiduously to conceal from her husband, more than from anyone else, any feeling of the kind. Besides, after all, gentle lady, your suspicions may be totally groundless; and you may possibly be tormenting yourself with a whole train of imaginary evils. As you value your peace, then, keep from you, if possible, all such vexatious apprehensions, and remember, a man can very ill bear the idea of being suspected of inconstancy even when guilty; but when innocent, it is intolerable to him.
Dr. Boardman, in his excellent "Hints on Domestic Happiness," has uttered a timely warning against the depraving influence of Clubs, to which some young married men resort, to their own injury and the destruction of domestic peace.
'I have to do, at present,' he says, 'with certain avocations and habits which contravene the true idea of home, and are prejudicial to domestic happiness. I have spoken at some length, in this view, of a life of fashionable dissipation, particularly in its influence upon the female gender. The whole range of public amusements might fairly be considered as within the sweep of my subject; but there is one topic which it will not do to pass by. Equal justice ought, in a series of lectures like this, to be meted out to both sexes; and I feel bound to say a few words in respect to CLUBS.
One reason why I do this, is that in so far as large cities are concerned, one can hardly sever the mental association which links together Clubs and domestic unhappiness. I bring against these institutions no wholesale denunciation. I neither say nor believe that all who belong to them are men of profligate character. I cannot doubt that they comprise individuals not only of high social standing — but of great personal worth. But in dealing with the institutions themselves, I must be permitted to express the conviction that they are unfavorable to the culture of the domestic affections, and hurtful to the morals and manners of society. That this is the common opinion respecting them is beyond a question. Of the respectable people who pass by any fashionable Club-House in an evening, the thoughts of a very large proportion are probably directed, for the moment, with the most intensity, to the homes of its tenantry, with the feeling, "They would have happier homes, if this club did not draw them away."
The mildest conception of these associations which anyone can insist upon, is that given by Mr. Addison, who says, "Our modern celebrated Clubs are founded upon eating and drinking, which are points wherein most men agree, and in which the learned and the illiterate, the dull and the airy, the philosopher and the buffoon, can all of them bear a part." They must be greatly scandalized if gambling and cards enter as largely into the recreations they supply, as eating and drinking. There must be some potent attractions which can draw a set of gentlemen away from all other scenes and engagements, domestic and social, moral and religious, literary and political — and hold them together to a late hour, for many nights in succession.
To come more directly to the point, the allegation made against these Clubs — made in the name of ten thousand injured wives and mothers and children — is, that they become a sort of RIVAL HOME to the home they occupy; that the influence they exert over their members, loosens their domestic ties, indisposes them to their domestic duties, and not unfrequently seduces them into habits of intemperance and gambling. They urge with truth that any course of social amusements pursued systematically and earnestly by a combination of gentlemen, to the exclusion of ladies, will as really tend to impair, as the companionship of cultivated women does to refine, the manners, and the sensibilities of the heart; that, as a matter of fact, those who become addicted to these coarser pleasures, lose their relish for the best female society; and that the old home sinks in their esteem, as the new one rises.
These charges, which cannot be gainsaid, bear not only upon married men — but young men; for the tastes and habits fostered by the Clubs, are precisely those which go to alienate them from the paternal roof, and to unfit them to become heads of families.
After noting down my own reflections on this subject, I met with some observations upon it by an eminent female writer (the best writer, probably, that gender has produced), which one portion of my hearers, as least, will thank me for quoting: they are graphic, forcible, and suggestive: "The Clubs generate and nourish luxurious habits, from their perfect ease, informality, and liberty; they promote a love of play, and, in short, every temper and spirit which tends to undomesticate. And what adds to the mischief is, all this is attained at a high cost, compared with what may be procured at home. A young man in such an artificial state of society, accustomed to the voluptuous ease, refined luxuries, soft accommodations, fawning service, and all the unrestrained indulgences of a fashionable Club, is not to be expected after marriage to stay at home, unless very extraordinary exertions are made to amuse and interest him. Excess of gratification has only served to make him irritable and exacting. It will, of course, be no part of his project to make sacrifices — he will expect to receive them. These indulgences, and this habit of mind, gratify so many passions, that a woman can never hope successfully to counteract the evil by supplying domestic gratifications which are of the same kind, or which gratify the same habits. Now a passion for gratifying vanity, and a spirit of dissipation, is a passion of the same kind; and, therefore, though for a few weeks, a man who has chosen his wife in the public haunts of fashion, and this wife a woman made up of accomplishments, may, from the novelty of the connection and of the scene, continue domestic; yet, in a little time she will find that those passions to which she has trusted for making pleasant the married life of her husband, will crave the still higher pleasures of the Club; and while these are pursued, she will be consigned over to solitary evenings at home, or driven back to the old dissipations."
If there is any real foundation for these strictures, it cannot excite your surprise that in vindicating the domestic constitution, these associations should be arraigned and condemned as tending to counteract domestic enjoyments. The Family is a divine ordinance. It is God's institution for training men. It is vitally connected with the destinies of individuals and nations. Whatever interferes, therefore, with its legitimate influence, must be criminal in God's sight, and a great social evil. On this ground, Clubs are to be reprobated. They are unfavorable to the domestic virtues. They make no man a better husband or father, a better son or brother. If some have mixed in them without being contaminated, this is more than can be said of all. They have inspired many a man with a disrelish for his home; have made many a young wife water her couch with tears; and kept many a widowed mother walking her parlors in lonely anguish until after midnight, awaiting the return of her wayward son from the card-table. It befits a community to guard their homes form the desecration of the clubs.
The following should be read by every woman in the country, married or unmarried — yes, it should be committed to memory and repeated three times a day, for it contains more truth than many volumes that have been written on the subject:
How often we hear a man say, I am going to California, Australia, or somewhere else. You ask him the reason of his going away, and the answer is, in nine cases out of ten, I am not happy at home. I have been unfortunate in business, and I have made up my mind to try my luck in California. The world seems to go against me. While fortune favored me, there were those whom I thought to be my friends — but when the scale turned, they also turned the cold shoulder against me. My wife, she that should have been the first to have stood by me, and encourage me, was first to point the finger of scorn and say, "It is your own fault! Why has this or that one been so fortunate? If you had attended to your business as they have — you would not be where you are now."
These and other like insinuations, often drive a man to find other society, other pleasures, in consequence of being unhappy at home. He may have children that he loves, he cannot enjoy life with them as he would; he may love them as dearly as ever; yet home is made unpleasant in consequence of that cold indifference of the wife. Now, I would say to all such wives, and all females: deal gently with him who is in trouble; remember that he is very easily excited. A little word, carelessly thrown out, may inflict a wound time never can heal. Then be cautious; a man is but human — therefore he is liable to err. If you see him going wrong, ever meet him with a smile, and with the kiss of affection; show that you love him by repeated acts of kindness; let your friendship be unbounded; try to beguile his unhappy hours in pleasant conversation. By so doing, you may save yourself and children from an unhappy future. When a man is in trouble, it is but a little word which may ruin him; it is but a little word which may save him.
Marriage, says Jeremy Taylor, is the proper scene of piety and patience; of the duty of parents and the charity of relations. Here kindness is spread abroad, and love is united and made firm as a center. Marriage is the nursery of Heaven. The state of marriage has in it the labor of love and the delicacies of friendship, the blessing of society, and the union of hands and hearts. It has in it less ease, but more of safety than the single life; it is more merry and more sad; it is fuller of sorrows and fuller of joys; it lies under more burdens — but 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 dwells in ease — but sits alone, and is confined and dies in singularity; but marriage, like the useful bee, builds a house, and gathers sweetness from every flower, and feeds the world with delicacies, and exercises many virtues, and promotes the interest of mankind, and is that state of good things to which God has designed the present constitution of the world.
The every-day married lady is the inventor of a thing which few foreign nations have as yet adopted either in their houses or languages. This thing is "comfort." The word cannot well be defined; the items that enter into its composition being so numerous, that a description would read like a catalogue. We all understand however what it means, although few of us are sensible of the source of the enjoyment. A widower has very little comfort, and a bachelor, none at all — while a married man, provided his wife is an every-day married lady — enjoys it in perfection. But he enjoys it unconsciously, and therefore ungratefully; it is a thing of course — a necessity, a right, of the lack of which he complains without being distinctly sensible of its presence. Even when it acquires sufficient intensity to arrest his attention, when his features and his heart soften, and he looks around with a half smile on his face, and says, "This is comfort!" it never occurs to him to inquire where it all comes from. His every-day wife is sitting quietly in the corner; it was she who lighted the fire, dressed the dinner, drew the curtains; and it never occurs to him to think that all these, and a hundred other circumstances of the moment, owe their virtue to her; and that the comfort which enriches the atmosphere, which sparkles in the embers, which broods in the shadowy parts of the room, which glows in his own full heart — emanates from her, and encircles her like an aureola.
When once a woman is married, when once she has enlisted among the wives of the land; let not her dream of perpetual admiration; let her not be sketching out endless mazes of pleasure. The wife in a family, has ceased to be a girl. She can no longer be frivolous or childish with impunity. The angel of courtship, has sunk into a woman; and that woman will be valued principally as her fondness lies in retirement, and her pleasures in the nursery of her children. And woe to the mother who is obliged to abandon her children during the greater part of the day to hirelings — no, not obliged; for there is no duty so imperious, no social convenience or fashionable custom so commanding — as to oblige her to such shameful neglect; for maternal care, let her remember, supercedes all other duties.
In the matrimonial character which you have now assumed, gentle lady, no longer let your imagination wander to scenes of pleasure or dissipation. Let home be now your empire, your world! Let home be now the sole scene of your wishes, your thoughts, your plans, your exertions. Let home be now the stage on which, in the varied character of wife, of mother, and of mistress, you strive to act and shine with splendor. In its sober, quiet scenes, let your heart cast its anchor, let your feelings and pursuits all be centered. And beyond the spreading oaks which shadow and shelter your dwelling, let not your imagination wander. Leave to your husband to distinguish himself by his valor or his talents. You must seek for fame at home; and let the applause of your God, of your husband, and of your children — weave for your brow a never-fading chaplet!
An ingenious writer says, "If a painter wished to draw the very finest object in the world, it would be the picture of a wife, with eyes expressing the serenity of her mind, and a countenance beaming with benevolence; one hand lulling to rest on her bosom a lovely infant, the other employed in presenting a moral page to a second sweet child, who stands at her knee, listening to the words of truth and wisdom from its incomparable mother."
I am a peculiar friend to cheerfulness. Not that kind of cheerfulness which the wise man calls the mirth of fools — always laughing and talking, exhausting itself in jests and puns, and then sinking into silence and gloom when the object that inspired it has disappeared. No — no! The cheerfulness I would recommend must belong to the heart, and be connected with the temper, and even with the principles. Addison says, "I always look on a cheerful state of mind with a constant, habitual gratitude to the great Author of nature. An inward cheerfulness is an implicit praise and thanksgiving to Providence under all its dispensations: it is a kind of acquiescence in the state wherein we are placed, and a secret approval of the Divine Will in his conduct towards us."
I think there is something very lovely in seeing a woman overcoming those little domestic disquiets which every wife of a family has to contend with; sitting down to her breakfast-table in the morning with a cheerful, smiling countenance, and endeavoring to promote innocent and pleasant conversation among her little circle. But vain will be her amiable efforts at cheerfulness, if she is not assisted by her husband and the other members around; and truly it is an unpleasant sight to see at family when collected together, instead of enlivening the quiet scene with a little good-humored chat — sitting like so many statues, as if each was unworthy of the attention of the other. And then, when a stranger comes in, O dear! such smiles, and animation, and loquacity!
"Let my lot be to please at home," says the poet; and truly I cannot help feeling a contemptuous opinion of those people, young or old, male or female, who lavish their good humor and pleasantry in company — and hoard up sullenness and silence for the sincere and loving group which compose their fireside!
"To be agreeable, and even entertaining, in our family circle," says a celebrated writer, "is not only a positive duty — but an absolute morality."
We cannot help quoting the following passage from Miss Hannah More, as an admirable illustration of true sweetness of temper, patience, and self-denial — qualities so essential in a wife and mistress of a family: "Remember that life is not entirely made up of great evils or heavy trials. The perpetual recurrence of petty evils and small trials is the ordinary and appointed way to mature our Christian graces. To bear with the moodiness of those about us, with their infirmities, their bad judgments, their perverse tempers; to endure neglect where we feel we have deserved attention, and ingratitude where we expected thanks — to bear with the company of disagreeable people, whom Divine Providence has placed in our way, and whom God has perhaps provided on purpose for the trial of our virtues — these are the best exercises for our graces; and the better because not chosen by ourselves. To meekly bear with . . .
continual vexations in our homes,
disappointments in our expectations,
interruptions in our times of rest,
the follies, intrusions, and disturbances of others;
in short, to meekly bear with whatever opposes our will and contradicts our desires — is the very essence of self-denial. These constant, inevitable, and lesser evils, properly improved, furnish the best moral discipline for the Christian. "
Another remark of the same author is also excellent: "To sustain a fit of sickness may exhibit as true a heroism as to lead an army. To bear a deep affliction well, calls for as high exertion of soul as to storm a town; and to meet death with Christian resolution, is an act of courage in which many a woman has triumphed, and many a philosopher, and even some generals, have failed."