Three Ways of Managing a Wife

Timothy Shay Arthur

"I have said, Mrs. Wilson, that it is my will to have it so, and I thought you knew me well enough to know that my will is unalterable. Therefore, if you please, let me hear no more about it!"

"But, my dear husband, the boy "

"But, madam, I assure you there is no room for buts in the matter. Am I not master of my own house, and fully capable of governing it?"

"Yes, certainly, my dear, only I happen to know something about this school, which I think would influence you in forming a judgment, if you would listen to me for a moment."

"My judgment is already formed, madam, and is not likely to be altered by anything a woman could say. You may be a very good judge of the merits of a pudding, or the size of a stocking but this is a matter in which I do not wish for any advice!"

So Master James Wilson, a little, delicate, backward boy of ten years, was sent to a large public school, in which the amount of study required was so much beyond his ability, and the rules so severe, that the heavy penalties daily incurred, seriously affected both his health and happiness. It was with an aching heart that the fond mother saw him creeping slowly to school in the morning with a pale and dejected countenance, and returning home, fatigued in body, soured in spirit, and rapidly learning to detest the very sight of his books, as the instruments of his wretchedness.

The severity of the husband and father had in this instance produced its usual unhappy effect, by tempting Mrs. Wilson to injudicious indulgence of her son in private, and the perpetual oscillations between the extremes of harshness and fondness thus experienced, rendered the poor boy a weak and unprincipled character, anxious only to escape the consequences of wrongdoing, without any regard to the motives of his conduct.

Not many months after his entrance into the public school, he was violently thrown to the ground during recess, by an older boy, and his limb so much injured by the fall, that a long and dangerous infection was the consequence. Mrs. Wilson was extremely desirous to try the effects of the cold water treatment on the diseased limb but her husband had adopted a system of his own, composed of all the most objectionable features of other systems, and would not relinquish such an opportunity of testing his skill as a physician. The child was accordingly steamed and blistered until the inflammation became frightful; and then cupping, leeching, etc., were resorted to, without any other effect than greatly to reduce the strength of the patient.

"Husband," Mrs. Wilson ventured at last to say, "the poor child is getting worse every day; and if he lives through it, will, I fear, lose his limb; will you not try what Dr. Sommers can do with the cold-water treatment?"

"If I could be astonished at any degree of folly on the part of a woman," was his reply, "I would be surprised at such a question. I am doing what I think best for the boy, and you are well aware that my mind was long since made up about the different systems of medicine. Do confine yourself to nursing the child, and leave his treatment to me."

Ah, this domestic "making up one's mind!" It is a process easily and often rapidly gone through but its consequences are sometimes so far-reaching and abiding, that we may well tremble as we hear the words carelessly pronounced.

After a period of intense suffering, James Wilson arose from his sick-bed but he had lost forever the use of the injured limb; and his mother could not but feel that it was in consequence of the ignorant and barbarous treatment he had received. But remonstrance was vain; the law of the Medes and Persians was not more unalterable than that which regulated the household of Mr. Wilson, not only in matters of consequence but in the smallest details of domestic economy.

A new cooking apparatus had long been needed in the kitchen, and as this was a matter clearly within her province, his wife hoped she might be able to procure a range which had often been declared indispensable by her servants. But in this, she was doomed to be disappointed. Her husband remembered the cooking-stove which had been the admiration of his childhood, and resolved, if a change must be made, to have one of that identical pattern in his own house.

"But your mother's stove, though a good one for those days," said Mrs. Wilson, "was one of the first invented, and destitute of most of the conveniences which now accompany them. It consumes double the amount of fuel required in one of the modern stoves."

"What an absurd idea! A stove is a stove. I take it, and what was good enough for my mother is good enough for my wife! That which answered all the purposes of cooking in so large a family as my father's, might suffice, I should imagine, in our small one. At any rate, I choose to get this style, and therefore no more be said on the subject."

It was nothing to Mr. Wilson, that the expenditure of fuel, and time, and labor was so greatly increased by his arrangement it was nothing that his wife was constantly annoyed by complaints, threats, and changes in her kitchen, or that several mortifying failures in her cuisine had resulted from the obstinate refusal of the oven to bake what was all this to the luxury of having his own way in his own house?

But the pleasures of absolutism are not unalloyed. Mr. Wilson, like other despots, was obeyed only from necessity; and whenever an opportunity occurred of cheating him, it was generally improved. His wife was a quiet, timid woman, with no pretensions to brilliancy of intellect but possessing what is far better, good common sense, a warm heart, and tastes and feelings thoroughly domestic. With a different husband one who understood her disposition, and would have encouraged her to rely on her own judgment, and to act with energy and efficiency she would have made a useful and happy wife and mother. But as it was, neglected and regarded as a mere domestic drudge with all her warm affections chilled and driven back upon her own heart she became a silent schemer, an adroit dissimulator, seeking only (in self-defense as she believed) to carry out her own plans as often as possible, in spite of her lord and master.

~ ~ ~ ~

Mr. Bennet, the neighbor and friend of Mr. Wilson, was shocked at the petty tyranny he evinced, and thanked his lucky stars that he knew better than to follow such an example. Though so long accustomed to consult only his own inclinations (for Mr. Bennet married late in life), he took pleasure in referring everything to the choice of his amiable companion, only reserving to himself the privilege of the veto, that "indispensable requisite to a proper balance of power." Let us intrude on the marital couple, the first year after marriage, that we may better understand the meaning of this "reserved right." The parties were about to commence housekeeping, and the subject under consideration was the renting of a house.

"Which of those houses do you intend to take?" inquired the wife.

"Just which you prefer, my dear. I wish you to please yourself in the matter."

"Well, then, if I may choose, I shall say the cottage by all means the other house is sadly out of repair, much larger than we need, and will require so much furniture to make it comfortable."

"I am rather surprised at your choice, my dear the rooms at the cottage are so small, and those in the other house so large and airy do as you please but I must say I am surprised. Such nice airy rooms."

"But they are gloomy and dilapidated, and will require so much expense to make them comfortable. Still, if you prefer them "

"Oh, that is nothing, you are to choose, you know but I dislike small, confined rooms, and the cottage is nothing but a bird's-nest."

"Do you not remember how we used to admire it when Mrs. Murray lived there?"

"Oh, certainly, certainly, take it if you like; but the rooms are so small, and I never can breathe in a small room. Those in the large house are just the right size, and not at all gloomy in my eyes; but of course do as you please. I rather wonder at your choice, however."

"Well, then, what do you say to the new house on the hill? That is neither too large nor too small, and it is such a convenient distance from your office; besides the grounds are delightful. I could be very happy there."

"Really, Mrs. Bennet, you have a singular taste. The neighborhood is, I dare say, detestable, and the dampness of the walls, the smell of new paint, and a hundred other things, would be hard to bear. Notwithstanding, if you choose the new house, we will take it; but the rooms in the other tenement are so large and airy, and I do so like large rooms well, what do you say?"

With a suppressed sigh, the young wife answered "I think, on the whole, we had better take the large house."

"I was sure you would come over to my opinion!" was the husband's exulting exclamation; "see what it is to have a sensible wife, and an accommodating husband."

The large house was taken, and various were the discomforts experienced by Mrs. Bennet in her new abode. The chimneys smoked, the rain came in through numerous crevices in the roof, and the wide halls, and lofty apartments, many of which were unfurnished, struck a chill to the heart of the lonely wife, who, if she visited them after sunset, trembled at the sound of her own footfalls echoing through the house. But she made few complaints, and Mr. Bennet, even if aware of some trifling annoyances, was happy in the consciousness that he had magnanimously submitted to his wife the choice of a habitation.

Fortunately for him, that wife was a woman of sense, firmness, and principle, who studied her husband's peculiarities that she might as far as possible adapt herself to them; though, it must be confessed, the attempt was often fruitless, and she was compelled to acknowledge to her own heart, that the open assumption of authority is not the only way in which domestic despotism manifests itself.

When Mr. Bennet became a father, in the first gush of parental emotion he forgot even the exercise of the veto, in reference to the arrangements for the comfort of the little stranger, so that for a few weeks the happy mother carried out her own plans without any interference.

"Have you decided on a name for this dear little girl?" said Mrs. Bennet, as they sat together, one morning, caressing the object of so many hopes, and of so much affection.

"I wish you to name her, my dear," he replied; "it is your privilege to do so."

"I would like to call her Mary, if you have no objection it is the name of my mother, therefore very dear to me."

"Is it possible you can like that common name so well? For my part I am tired of the very sight and sound of it. It can be nicknamed, too, and Molly, you must confess, is not very pleasant. I hoped you might choose the name of Ruth it is a scriptural name, simple and sweet."

"It happens, unfortunately, to be one I particularly dislike but as you do not like Mary, perhaps we can select one in which we shall both agree. What do you say to Martha? It is our sister's name, and a scriptural one also," she added, with a smile.

"Oh, surely you could select a better name than that. Ruth is much prettier what a pity you do not like it! I admire it greatly; but my taste is not much. Well, please yourself, only I am sorry you cannot like Ruth."

"How would you like Lucy? There can be no objection to that on the score of nicknames, and it is easily spoken."

"Yes, but you must think of some other name beside Lucy. I once knew a girl of that name who was my perfect aversion, and she has spoiled it for me. Ruth is the best name, after all, pity you cannot think so. But choose something else, if you please."

Various were the names suggested by Mrs. Bennet, and rejected by her husband, some on one ground, and some on another, still with the same ending "I wish you could like Ruth" until wearied by the discussion, and hopeless of gaining anything by its continuance, she replied to his request that she would please herself

"Let her be called Ruth, if you prefer it."

"How delighted I am that we are always of the same opinion at last it quite repays me for the concession some might imagine me to make in submitting these things to the judgment of my wife."

As years passed on, and matters of greater importance came up for decision, Mrs. Bennet was sometimes compelled from principle to abide by her own opinion, though at an expense of personal comfort which few could appreciate. She had yielded so long and so often to the wearisome pertinacity of her husband, that when she first dared to do what he had always boasted of permitting, he could hardly credit his senses.

"Do you really mean," he inquired one day, long after the scene we have just described, "to forbid young Barton's visiting our children?"

"Did you not tell me to do just as I pleased about it?"

"Yes, to be sure but I thought you would of course take my advice about it, as usual."

"I could not, because I know, what you do not, that young Barton is a depraved and dangerous character, and Ruth and Harry are just of an age to be attracted by the false glitter of his external advantages. Where the temporal and eternal welfare of my children is concerned, my dear husband, you must allow me to follow my own convictions of duty. In all things where conscience is not concerned, I shall, as I have uniformly done, yield my own preference and wishes to yours."

"Well," said Mr. Bennet to himself, as he turned away, "women are inexplicable beings, and I begin to think neighbor Wilson's way of managing them is better than mine, after all. If you give them even a loophole to creep out at, they will be sure, sooner or later, to rebel openly, and set up for themselves! I am too old to change now but if I were to begin life again, I would manage so as to secure submission from my wife on all points. It is the only way to preserve domestic harmony."

~ ~ ~ ~

It was at the close of a lovely day in the "month of roses," that Robert Manly brought his youthful bride to their own pleasant home, and for the fist time, welcomed her as its mistress. They were both very happy, for young love shed its roseate hues over all around, and they had just spoken those solemn words which bound them to each other, in joy and sorrow, sickness and health, prosperity and adversity, until separated by death.

"What a paradise it is!" exclaimed the delighted Ellen; "I shall want nothing on earth but the occasional society of my friends, to render my felicity complete."

A kiss was the only reply of the husband, as he gazed tenderly on the bright face so fondly upturned to his own, for though he had early learned the sad lesson of which she was yet ignorant, that perfect and abiding happiness is not to be found on earth he could not rudely dispel her dream of bliss, by reflections that must have seemed unsuited to the occasion.

As young as he was, Robert Manly had been trained in the school of adversity, and its stern but valuable lessons had not been thrown away upon him. The only son of his mother, and she a widow he had been compelled, almost in childhood, to depend upon his own exertions for support, and, carefully guarded by his excellent parent from evil companions and influences. He had early established a character for hard work and integrity, which was worth more to him than thousands of gold and silver. He was now a partner in the respectable mercantile firm which he had first entered as a poor and friendless clerk; and was reaping the rich reward of uprightness and honor, in the confidence and respect of all with whom he was associated in business. While still very young, he formed an attachment for the daughter of his employer, a lovely, dark-eyed girl, whose sweet voice and endearing attentions to the lonely boy won his heart, before he had thought of regarding her in any other light than that of a playful and engaging child.

She had grown up to womanhood at his side, and every year strengthened the tie that bound them to each other, though he could not but feel with pain, that the education she was receiving was far from being a useful or rational one. As the youngest of a large family, and the pet and plaything of the whole, Ellen was trained in the very lap of luxury and indulgence; and her lover was compelled to admit to himself, that however highly educated, amiable, and accomplished she might be, she was wholly ignorant of many things pertaining to her duties as the mistress of a family. To his mother, the dear confidant of all his joys and sorrows, he expressed his apprehensions on this subject.

"Have you committed yourself, my son?" she inquired.

"Certainly, in honor, and in fact. I love Ellen with all my heart, and have no doubt that her native strength of character, and affection for me, will make her all I could desire, when once she feels the necessity for exertion."

"Youth is always optimistic," was the reply; "however, my dear boy, from my heart I pray that your hopes are fulfilled. I regret that you have chosen a wife who will have everything to learn after marriage but the choice is made, and much will now depend on yourself, as regards the result. You will find that deficiency of knowledge in domestic matters, on the part of a wife, materially affects the comfort and happiness of her husband. And if, on feeling this, you become impatient and ill-humored, this will discourage and alienate her, and the loss of domestic happiness will be the consequence. On the contrary, kindness and encouragement on your part, if she is what you think her to be, will be a constant stimulus to exertion, and thus in time all your expectations may be realized. Fortunately, you have been brought up by an old-fashioned mother, who believed that boys must be made useful at home, and have learned much that will be of advantage to you both in a home of your own. Never forget, my son, that a kind expression of your wishes will do far more to influence the conduct of a woman of sense who loves you, than harshness or rebuke. The power of gentleness is always irresistible, when brought to bear on noble and generous minds."

The lesson thus given, was not forgotten or disregarded. Soon, after his marriage, young Robert found that, lovely, accomplished, and intelligent as she was his wife was wholly incompetent to the task of managing a household. As it was, he lost neither his spirits nor his temper but cheerfully and hopefully sought, through her affections, to rouse her to exertion.

"I am certain there is nothing about the house which you cannot do as well as others," he said to her as she was lamenting her deficiencies, "if you will only make the attempt; the plainest food would be far sweeter to me prepared by my wife than the most costly delicacies from any other hand. Our united skill will, I have no doubt, will be sufficient until we can procure a good servant."

Thus encouraged, the young wife, with tears and smiles contending on her sunny face, commenced the work of practical housekeeping, and, though her mistakes and failures were almost innumerable, had made so much progress before an adequate servant was found, that she was deeply interested in her duties, and determined to understand them thoroughly. The next time her kitchen was left vacant (for in our country these things are constantly happening), she was in a measure independent, and it was one of the proudest moments of her life, when she placed before her husband bread of her own making, which he pronounced the most delicious he had ever eaten.

Let not my young readers suppose that Mrs. Manly sacrificed any part of her refinement by becoming a skillful and useful housewife. She still dearly loved music, and drawing, and literature, and communion with cultivated minds, and was not less a lady in the parlor because she had learned the uses and importance of the kitchen. But we will let her speak for herself, of the change wrought in her habits and views, in a conversation with the mother of her beloved Robert.

"Will you not now come to us," she said, "and take up your abode with us permanently? If you knew how much and how long we have both wished it, I am sure you would not refuse."

"I do know it, my dear," replied the venerable matron, "but I have hitherto refused, because I thought it best for you both, to learn to depend on your own resources as early as possible. I knew too that a young housekeeper, to whom everything is strange and new, might find it embarrassing to have an old woman in so near a relation, always looking on, and noticing defects, should any happen to exist. I have therefore, until now, preferred remaining by myself but I have not been estranged from you in heart. I have watched with the most intense interest your whole course thus far, and, my beloved child, I can no longer withhold the need of approbation which is so justly your due. I own, I trembled for the happiness of my dear son, when I learned that his choice had fallen on a fashionably educated young lady, like yourself but I knew not as he did, the sterling worth of character concealed beneath that glittering exterior. The God of his fathers has indeed been gracious to him, in giving him a treasure whose price is above rubies, even a virtuous woman, in whom his heart can safely trust."

"Oh, my dear mother!" exclaimed the young wife, while tears choked her utterance, "you would not say so if you knew all if you knew how entirely I owe everything that I now am, and all my present happiness, to the generous forbearance and the delicate kindness of my beloved husband. He has borne with my ignorance and helplessness, encouraged my first miserable attempts to do right, and soothed and praised me when I was ready to despair of ever becoming what I ought to be. He has taught me that the true end and aim of life is not to seek my own enjoyment but the good of others, and the glory of my Father in Heaven. From my inmost soul I thank you for training up such a son and such a husband, and earnestly pray that I may be enabled so to guide my own darling boy, that some heart may thus be blessed by my exertions, as mine has been by your maternal care and faithfulness, for my own experience has convinced me that the training of the boy has far more to do with forming the character of the husband, than all other influences combined."

~ ~ ~ ~

There is no relation in life so important none involving so much of happiness or misery, as that of husband and wife. Yet, how rarely is it, that the parties when contracting this relation, have large experience, clear insight into character, or truly know even themselves! In each other, they may have the tenderest confidence, and for each other the warmest love; but, only a brief time can pass, before they will discover that the harmonious progression of two minds, each of which has gained an individual and independent movement is not always a thing of easy attainment. Too soon, alas! is felt a jar of discord too soon self-will claims an individual freedom of action which is not fully accorded; and unless there is wisdom and forbearance temporary or permanent unhappiness is sure to follow.