Practical Hints from a Father to His Daughter
William Sprague, 1835
The event of marriage marks an important era in the life of a young girl. It introduces her to some new and most interesting relationships. It devolves upon her a set of cares, and duties, and responsibilities, to which she has hitherto been unaccustomed. It usually lays the foundation for increased happiness — OR for bitter, and enduring, and unavailing regrets.
I begin my advice to you on this subject, by suggesting a caution against forming this connection prematurely. There is scarcely anything that indicates a greater lack of discretion, than for a young girl, at a time when she ought to be giving her thoughts to her books, and thus laying the foundation for respectability and usefulness, to be giving her heart to some admirer, and entering into an arrangement for speedily giving him her hand. The consequence of this is, that she is only imperfectly educated, and frequently, is subjected through life, by her deficiencies — to serious inconvenience and chagrin. She enters the marital state miserably qualified to sustain its responsibilities; and not improbably acquires a cast of character in that relation, which, unfortunately, is too enduring, and which is alike unfavorable to her own enjoyment, and that of those with whom she is immediately connected.
I advise you, therefore, as you value your prospects of happiness for life, that you leave all matrimonial arrangements to a period subsequent to the completion of your education. Even if proposals of marriage should be made to you, and of an eligible kind, previous to that time — it must be an extraordinary case indeed in which you would be warranted to accept them. The very fact of your forming such an engagement, and especially of your allowing it to arrest your education, would be set down to your disadvantage. It would be regarded as indicating at least an unfortunate weakness in your character, which would be no favorable prognostic of a solid and enduring reputation.
Another evil which you should avoid, in connection with this subject, is that of forming this relation, or pledging yourself to it, without due deliberation. Everyone knows that there is no department of human experience which is so fruitful in misery as this; and one of the most singular of them all is the fact, that many a young lady commits herself for life, to a man with whom her acquaintance has been limited to a few weeks. I admit that there may be solitary cases of this kind in which the result is favorable; but no girl, who makes the rash experiment has a right to calculate upon anything else, than that the result will be most disastrous. If there is one instance in which there has proved to be a congeniality of thought and feeling favorable to domestic happiness — there are many in which the most opposite tempers and habits have been brought into an unnatural union, and the grave of marital happiness has opened beneath the very altar at which the marital union was consummated!
I would have you then on your guard against taking a rash step in relation to this important matter. Bear in mind that the decision which you form on this subject is to affect your interests for life vitally; and not only yours, but at least those of one other individual. The consequences of an erroneous decision, you will not be able to avoid — they will meet you, and follow you, and attend you, through the whole of the rugged path which conducts you to the grave.
Another point of great importance, connected with this subject, is the character of the man with whom you are to be united. There are some qualities which may be desirable enough — but are not indispensable. There are others which should be regarded as absolutely requisite, and the opposites of which as absolutely disqualifying for this connection.
I regard fortune, as it stands related to the marriage of a young lady, in nearly the same light as family. Great riches are desirable only as a means of doing good. As a means of enjoyment, independently of the opportunity they furnish for the exercise of a benevolent spirit — they are really worth very little; and are in no respect to be preferred to a fair competence. If I have any wish that you should be rich, it is not that I may see you in circumstances of splendor — but that I may see you setting a noble example of benevolence; not that you may outshine those around you in the magnificence of your dwelling, or the costliness of your furniture or equipage — but that you may deservedly bear the palm in doing good to the wretched and perishing.
But when I remember how often riches become a snare to their possessors, and how many girls have been ruined by a sudden elevation to a fortune — I cannot say that I have a wish that you should ever encounter the temptations incident to that condition. It is certainly desirable that there should be a competence on one side or the other; so much as to furnish adequate means, in connection with the avails of some honest and honorable calling, for the support of a family; but within this limit, any lady may reasonably circumscribe her wishes.
Do not marry a fop (a vain man of weak understanding and much ostentation; one whose ambition is to gain admiration by showy dress; a mirthful trifling man). There is in such a character, nothing of true dignity; nothing that commands respect, or insures even a decent standing in the community. There is a mark upon him, an affected elegance of manner, a studied particularity of dress, and usually a singular inanity of mind, by which he is known in every circle in which he moves. His very attitude and gait tell the stranger who he is, though he only passes him silently in the street. To unite your destiny with such a man, I hardly need say, would be to impress the seal of disgrace upon your character, and the seal of wretchedness upon your doom!
Do not marry a spendthrift. No, not if he has ever so extensive a fortune; for no degree of wealth can secure such a man from the degradation of poverty. I have in my eye at this moment, an accomplished girl, (and it were easy to adduce a thousand similar cases,) who married a man of vast wealth — but of prodigal habits. Years have passed away since that immense fortune has gone to the winds; and the last remains of it were squandered amidst the tears, and in spite of the tender and earnest expostulations of a suffering family. And now if I would look for that once rejoicing and apparently fortunate bride — I would go to an obscure cabin of wretchedness, and should find her laboring with her own hands to provide bread for her more than orphan children, and she would tell me a tale of woe, which, however familiar to me, would make me sit down and weep. This same man, who has plunged her and her little ones into so much wretchedness, possesses many naturally amiable qualities, and is gifted with enviable powers of mind — but unhappily in early life he became a spendthrift; and on this rock, the fortunes of himself and of his family were wrecked. If you should ever give yourself to a man of similar character, you need not be disappointed if you should experience a similar destiny.
Do not marry a miser. Such a man may be rich, very rich — but you could expect that his riches would yield you little else than misery. It is probable that you might have the mortification of being compelled not only to refuse every call of charity — but to abridge, in a great degree, your own personal comforts, and of knowing at the same time that there were ample means within your reach which yet you were forbidden to appropriate! If you must marry a miser, I would say, better marry one that is poor than one who is rich; for in the former case, to whatever inconvenience you might be exposed, you would be saved the disheartening reflection, that you were poor in the midst of abundance. As I would have you always cultivate a noble and liberal spirit, I beg you will never for a moment think of forming a connection, that shall subject you in this respect to the least embarrassment.
Do not marry a man whose age is greatly disproportioned to your own. I will not say that circumstances never exist which justify a deviation from this rule; or that there are no cases in which it is violated, which result favorably to the happiness of both parties. But I am constrained to say that such connections present, at least to my own eye — a violation of good taste, and seem contrary to the dictates of nature.
Besides, it is an exceedingly awkward thing for a young girl to be going round with a man of triple her own age as a husband, and puzzling all who see them together to decide whether she is the granddaughter or the wife! And a greater evil still is, that there must needs be in many respects — an entire lack of congeniality between them. He has the habits and feelings of age, she the vivacity and buoyancy of youth; and it were impossible that this wide difference should not sooner or later be painfully felt. And she may reasonably expect that some of her best days will be spent, not in sustaining the infirmities of an aged father — but in ministering to the necessities of a senile husband! And it would not be strange if the burden should be increased by her being compelled to encounter the spirit of complaint and petulance by which old age is often attended. I confess that, whenever I see a respectable girl, in the meridian of life, in these circumstances, I regard her with pity; and though I venerate her for the affectionate and faithful attentions which she renders to the man whom she has accepted as her husband, I cannot but wish, for the sake of her own happiness, that those attentions had devolved upon some other individual.
Do not marry a man who is not industrious in some honorable vocation. It is bad for any individual to be without some set employment — the effect of it is very apt to be, that he abuses his talents, perverts his time to unworthy purposes, and contracts a habit of living to little purpose but that of selfish gratification. A man without property, and yet without an employment — no girl could ever think of marrying, unless she had made up her mind to sell herself to the lowest bidder!
A rich man may have retired from active business, after accumulating an estate, and yet may find employment enough in the supervision and management of it. But if a man has become rich by inheritance, and has never acquired a habit of industry, and has been brought up in abundance, to live only as a drone — I would say that it were scarcely more safe to marry him, than if he were actually poor; for this indolent habit is a pledge of the speedy dissipation of his property. A habit of industry once formed is not likely to be ever lost. Place the individual in whatever circumstances you will, and he will not be satisfied unless he can be active. Moreover, a habit of industry will impart to his character, an energy and efficiency, which can hardly fail to render him an object of respect.
I would regard your prospects for life as far better, if you should marry a man of very limited property, or even no property at all, with an honest vocation and a habit of industry — than if I were to see you united to one of extensive wealth, who had never been taught to exercise his own abilities.
Do not marry a man of an irritable, violent, or overbearing temper. There is nothing with which domestic enjoyment is more intimately connected, than a naturally amiable and affectionate disposition; and the absence of this, is sure to render a delicate and sensitive girl, in no small degree, unhappy. To be compelled to witness frequent ebullitions of angry passion — to hear her well-intended actions often complained of, and her purest motives bitterly impeached — to feel that the stern hand of power is stretched over, rather than the soft arm of kindness laid beneath her — this is a lot from which it would seem the gentleness of female character ought to claim an exemption. I say then, as you value your comfort — venture not to form this connection with a man of an unamiable temper.
Do not marry a man who is deficient in understanding, or in mental acquisitions. I do not mean that you should look for an intellect of the highest order, or that you should consider yourself entitled to it; but I mean that a woman of decent intelligence can never be happy with a fool. If you were united to a man of inferior endowments, you would not only lose the advantage which might result from an unreserved interaction with one of a different character, but you would also be subject to a thousand painful mortifications from the awkward mistakes and ridiculous opinions which would result from his ignorance. There is scarcely anything more painful, than to observe a lady and her husband in society, when every one feels the superiority of the former to the latter; and when the wife herself is manifestly so much impressed with his inferiority, that the opening of his lips is a signal for the dropping of her head, or for a blush to diffuse itself over her countenance. It were certainly a mark of imprudence for any lady to many a man, whom she would be ashamed to introduce into any circle to which she would have access.
Do not marry a man who is skeptical in his principles. If he be an avowed infidel, or if he holds any fundamental error in religion, and yet has every other quality which you could desire — it would be an act of sheer infatuation in you to consent to become his wife. You cannot, upon any principles of reason, calculate that, if you do this, you will escape injury.
I know an instance in which a young girl, who had had a religious education, married an infidel; and the consequence of the connection has been, that she has plunged with her husband into the gulf of infidelity, and now openly reviles the Savior, and ridicules the most sacred and solemn truths of religion. I know another instance in which the husband of a lady of established religious principles, and of apparently devoted piety, became a zealous advocate of one of the grossest systems of error; and though at first she halted, and thought she could never yield, and even expostulated with her husband to retreat from the verge of the precipice — yet she herself at length tremblingly approached, and finally took the fatal leap; and now, instead of hearing her talk of her reliance on Christ, you will hear her speak of him as only a good moral teacher, and of her own salvation, as if the glory of it all belonged to herself.
And I doubt not that these instances furnish a fair illustration of the influence of such a connection on the female character. You may rest assured that you cannot be the constant companion of an infidel, without breathing an atmosphere that is strongly impregnated with moral corruption; and it were little short of a miracle if you should breathe such an atmosphere, without inhaling the elements of death. If I were to see you in these circumstances, though I would still commend you to a God of mercy, I could scarcely forbear to weep over your lot.
Do not marry a man of questionable morality. However correct may be his moral and religious opinions — if he is addicted to only a single species of vice, you have no security that he will not sink into the vortex of profligacy. If he is a profane man, he certainly cannot have the fear of God before his eyes, and of course cannot be under the controlling influence of moral obligation. If he allows himself to be occasionally found at the gaming table, or if he is addicted in the slightest degree to intemperance — there is a melancholy probability that he will, before long, become a desperate gambler, and a shameless sot! Think what it would be to be obliged to recognize such a man as your nearest friend — a man whose character is rendered odious by the very loathsomeness of depravity. I say, then, if there is a single exceptionable point in the moral character of the man who offers himself to you — reject his proposals without hesitation! To accept them would in all probability, be to prepare for yourself a cup of unmingled bitterness, and possibly to exile yourself from the society of your own friends.