Letters to Young Married People

Titcomb’s Letters to Young People, Single and Married

Josiah Gilbert Holland


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The First Essential Duties of the Connubial Relation

O let us walk the world, so that our love
Burn like a blessed beacon, beautiful,
Upon the walls of life’s surrounding dark!

Gerald Massey.

YOU are married, and it is for better or for worse. You are bound to one another as companions for life. Did it ever occur to you that this is a stupendous, a momentous fact? Did you ever think that since you came into the world, a precious lump of helpless life, there is no fact of your history which will so much affect your destiny as this? I do not propose to inquire into the motives which led you to this union. You may have come together like two streams, flowing naturally towards one point, and then mingling their waters with scarcely a ripple, to pass on together to the great ocean. You may have come together under the wild stress of passion, or the feeble attractions of fancy, or the sordid compulsions of interest, or by force of a love so pure that an angel would think himself in heaven while in its presence. But the time for considering the motives which have united you is past. You are married, for better or for worse. The word is spoken. The bond is sealed; and the only question now is — “how shall this union be made to contribute the most to your happiness and your best development?” It is to answer this question as well as I can, that I write this series of letters.

You have but one life to live, and no amount of money, or influence, or fame, can pay you for a life of unhappiness. You cannot afford to be unhappy. You cannot afford to quarrel with one another. You cannot afford to cherish a single thought, to harbor a single desire, to gratify a single passion, nor indulge a single selfish feeling that will tend to make this union anything but a source of happiness to you. So it becomes you, at starting, to have a perfect understanding with one another. It becomes you to resolve that you will be happy together, at any rate; or that if you suffer, it shall be from the same cause, and in perfect sympathy. You are not to let any human being step between you, under any circumstances, Neither father nor mother, neither brother nor sister, neither friend nor neighbor, has any right to interfere with your relations, so long, at least, as you are agreed. You twain are to be one flesh — identified in objects, desires, sympathies, fortunes, positions — everything. You are to know no closer friend. Now I care not how pure and genuine may be the love which has brought you together, if you have any character at all, you will find that this perfect union cannot be effected without compromises. Human character, by a wise provision of Providence, is infinitely varied, and there are not two individuals in existence so entirely alike in their tastes, habits of thought, and natural aptitudes, that they can keep step with one another over all the rough places in the path of life. So there must be a bending to one another. I suppose the brides are few who have not wept once over the hasty words of a husband not six months married; and I suppose there are few husbands who, in the early part of their married life, have not felt that perhaps their choice was not a wise one.

Breaches of harmony will occur between imperfect men and women; but all bad results may be avoided by a resolution, well kept on both sides, to ask the other’s pardon for every offence — for the hasty word, the peevish complaint, the unshared pleasure — everything that awakens an unpleasant thought, or wounds a sensibility. This reparation must be made at once; and if you have a frank and worthy nature, a quarrel is impossible. My opinion is that ninety-nine one-hundredths of the unhappiness in the connubial relation, is the absolute fault, and not primarily the misfortune, of the parties. You can be happy together if you will; but the agreement to be happy must be mutual. The compromise cannot be all on one side. It is a mulish pride in men, and a sensitive will in women, that make the principal difficulty in all unhappy cases. I say to every man and woman, if you have done anything which has displeased your companion, beg her or his pardon, whether you were intentionally guilty or not. It is the cheapest and quickest way to settle the business. One confession makes way for another, and the matter is closed — closed, most probably, with the very sweetest kiss of the season.

Be frank with one another. Many a husband and wife go on from year to year with thoughts in their hearts, that they hesitate to reveal to one another. If you have anything in your mind concerning your companion that troubles you, out with it. Do not brood over it, Perhaps it can be explained on the spot, and the matter for ever put to rest. Draw your souls closer and closer together, from year to year. Get all obstacles out of the way. Just as soon as one arises, attend to it, and get rid of it. At last, they will all disappear. You will become wonted to one another’s habits and frames of mind and peculiarities of disposition ; and love, respect, and charity will take care of the rest.

I insist on this, because it is the very first essential thing. I insist on it, because I believe that if there be sufficient affinity between two persons to bring them together, and to lead them to unite their lives, it is their fault if they fail to live happily, and still more and more happily as the years advance. I will go so far as to say that I believe there are few women with whom a kind, sensible man may not live happily, if he be so disposed ; and I know that woman is more plastic in her nature, and more susceptible to love than man. So, when I hear of unhappy matches, I know that somebody is to blame.

This intimate association of husband and wife — nay, this identity — can never be preserved while either is blabbing of the other. A man who tells his neighbors that his wife is extravagrant, that she is wasteful, that he never finds her home, that she will never go out with him, or that she is or does anything which he desires her not to be or do, does a shameful thing, and a cruel thing, besides making a fool of himself. A woman who bruits her husband’s faults, who tells the neighbors how much he seeks the society of other women, how much he spends for cigars, how late he is out at night, how lazy he is, how little he cares for what interests her, how stingy he is with his money, and all that sort of thing, sins against herself, and consents, or voluntarily enlists, to publish that which is essentially her own shame. A husband and wife have no business to tell one another’s faults to anybody but to one another. They cannot do it without shame. Their grievances are to be settled in private, between themselves; and in all public places, and among friends, they are to reserve towards one another that nice consideration and entire respectfulness which their relation enjoins. For they are one in the law; and for a man or woman to publish the truth, that they are not one in fact, is to acknowledge that they are living in the relation of an unwilling lover and a compulsory mistress.

A great deal of evil might be prevented between you if you would allow your affection to give itself natural expression. I know of husbands so proud and stiff and surly that they never have a kiss or a caress, or a fond word for their wives whom they really love. I know such husbands who have most lovable wives — wives to whom a single tender demonstration, that shall tell to their hearts how inexpressibly pleasant their faces and their society are, and how fondly they are loved, would be better than untold gold — wives, to whom caresses are sweeter than manna, and fond words more musical than robin-songs in the rain. They go through life starving for them — bearing buds of happiness upon their bosoms that must be kissed into bloom, or wither and fall. Yet the cast-iron husband goes about his business without even a courteous “good morning,” eats his meals with immense regularity, provides for his family exemplarily, imagines that he is an excellent husband, and entertains a profound contempt for silly people who are fond of one another.

Heaven be thanked that there are some in the world to whose hearts the barnacles will not cling! Heaven be thanked for the young old boys and the young old girls — boys and girls for ever — who, until the evening of life falls upon them, interchange the sweet caresses that call back the days of courtship and early marriage! Thank Heaven that my wife can never grow old; that so long as a lock adorns her temples, brown or grey, my finger shall toy with it; that so long as I can sit there shall be a place for her on my knee; and that so long as I can whisper and she can hear, she shall know by fond confession her soul is next to mine — linked to mine — mine!

I wish in this letter to impress upon you the idea which few married people apparently thoroughly comprehend, that you — husband and wife — are one, — that you have no separate interests, that you can have no separate positions in society, that you should desire none, and that it is within your ability, and is most imperatively your duty to be happy together. In order to be what you should be to each other, and in order to be happy yourselves — in your own hearts — you should begin right. You should be willing at all times to bear one another’s burdens; and in fact, I know of no better rule for accomplishing the end I seek for you than by your constantly studying and ministering to the happiness of each other. Selfishness is the bane of all life, and especially of married life; and if a husband and wife devote themselves to one another’s happiness, relinquishing their own selfish gratification for that end, the task is accomplished — the secret solved. The path of such a pair is paved with gold. Their life is a song of praise. All good angels are about them, bearing consolations for every sorrow, antidotes for every bane, rewards for every labor, and strength for every trial. That is essential marriage; and, as Paul Dombey said when Mrs, Pipchin told him there was nobody else like her, “that is a very good thing.”

I suppose there is a modicum of romance in most natures, and that if it gather about any event, it is that of marriage. Most people marry ideals. There is more or less of fictitious and fallacious glory resting upon the head of every bride, which the inchoate husband sees and believes in. Both men and women manufacture perfections in their mates by a happy process of their imaginations, and then marry them. This, of course, wears away. By the time the husband has seen his wife eat heartily of pork and beans, and, with her hair frizzled, and her oldest dress on, full of the enterprise of overhauling things, he sees that she belongs to the same race with himself. And she, when her husband gets up cross in the morning, and undertakes to shave himself with cold water and a dull razor, while his suspenders dangle at his heels, begins to see that man is a very prosaic animal. In other words, there is such a thing as a honeymoon, of longer or shorter duration; and while the moonshine lasts, the radiance of the seventh heaven cannot compare with it. It is a very delicious little delirium — a febrile mental disease — which, like measles, never comes again.

When the honeymoon passes away, setting behind dull mountains, or dipping silently into the stormy sea of life, the trying hour of married life has come. Between the parties, there are no more illusions. The feverish desire of possession has gone — vanished into gratification — and all excitement has receded. Then begins, or should begin, seriously, the business of adaptation. If they find that they do not love one another as they thought they did, they should conscientiously and earnestly foster and strengthen every bond of attachment which exists. They should double their assiduous attentions to one another, and be jealous of everything which tends in the slightest degree to separate them. Life is too precious to be thrown away in secret regrets or open differences.

I say to any married pair, from whom the romance of life has fled, and who are discontented in the slightest degree with their condition and relations, begin this work of reconciliation before you are a day older. Renew the attentions of earlier days. Draw your hearts closer together. Talk the thing all over. Acknowledge your faults to one another, and determine that henceforth you will be all in all to each other; and, my word for it, you shall find in your relation the sweetest joy earth has for you. There is no other way for you to do. If you are unhappy at home, you must be unhappy abroad. The man or woman who has settled down upon the conviction that he or she is attached for life to an uncongenial yoke-fellow, and that there is no way of escape, has lost life. There is no effort too costly to be made which can restore to its setting upon their bosoms the missing pearl.

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