Letters to Young Married People
SPECIAL DUTIES OF THE HUSBAND.
He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh ; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church.St. Paul.
YOUNG husband, this letter is for you. Have you an idea that you have anything like a just comprehension of the nature of the being whom God has given you for a companion? If you have, you labor under a very serious mistake. You may live with her until, amid grey hairs and grandchildren, you celebrate your golden wedding, and then know but a tithe of her strength and tenderness. I believe in such a thing as sex of soul. A woman’s happiness flows to her from sources and through channels, different from those which give origin and conduct to the happiness of man, and, in a measure, will continue to do so forever. Her faculties bend their exercise towards different issues ; her social and spiritual natures demand a different aliment. What will satisfy you will not satisfy her. That which most interests you is not that in which her soul finds its most grateful exercise. Her love for you may bring her intimately into sympathy with your pursuits, through all their wide range, from a hotly driven political contest to breaking up a piece of wild land, or even to the cultivation of an unthrifty whisker ; but it will only be because they interest the man she loves above all others. She is actuated by motives that do not affect you at all, or not to the extent that they do her. If she be led into sin, you renounce and denounce her as a thing unclean; yet, through all your debauchery, your untruth to her, your beastly drunkenness, your dishonor, your misfortune, she will cling to you. There is in her heart a depth of tenderness of which neither you nor she herself has any conception. Only the circumstances and exigencies of life will reveal it; and this is why a healthy female soul is always fresh and new. Longfellow, in his “Spanish Student,” gives a hint of this — and a pretty deep one — in the language he puts into the mouth of Preciosa’s lover :—
What most I prize in woman. Is her affections, not her intellect. The intellect is finite; but the affections Are infinite, and cannot be exhausted."
The world of the affections is thy world ;—
Not that of man’s ambition. In that stillness,
Which most becomes a woman, calm and holy,
Thou sittest by the fireside of the heart,
Feeding its flame.
“The affections are infinite, and cannot be exhausted;” and it is through her affections, and through the deepest of all affections, that happiness comes to the bosom of your wife. The world may pile its honors upon you until your brain goes wild with delirious excitement; wealth may pour into your coffers through long years of prosperity; you may enjoy the fairest rewards of enterprise and excellence; but if all these things are won by depriving your wife of your society — by driving her out of your thoughts, and by interfering with the constant sympathetic communion of your heart with hers, she cannot but feel that what enriches you impoverishes her, and that your gain, whatever it may be, is at her expense. She may enjoy your reputation and your wealth, your successes and good fortunes, but you and your society are things that are infinitely more precious to her. She depends upon you, naturally and by force of circumstances. Friends may crowd around her ; but if you come not, she is not satisfied. She may have spread before her a thousand delicacies ; but if they are unshared with you, she would exchange them all for an orange which you bring home to her as an evidence that you have thought of her. The dress you selected when in the city is the dearest, though she may acknowledge to herself that she would have chosen different colors and material. In short, it is from your heart, and the world coming through your heart, that she draws that sustenance and support which her deepest nature craves,
Now, how are you dealing by this wife of yours? Do you say that you have all you can attend to in your business, and that she must look out for herself? Do you forget that she lives in the house, away from the excitements of the world which so much interest you, and that the very sweetest excitement of the day is that which throws the warm blood in her heart into eddies as she hears your step at the door? Do you forget that she has no pleasure in public places unless you are at her side? Are you unmindful that she has no such pleasant walks as those which she takes with her hand upon your arm? Do you ignore the fact that she has a claim upon your time? Do you fail to remember that you took her out of a pleasant family circle, away from the associations of her childhood, and that she has no society in all the wide world which she prizes so highly as yours? Do you forget that you owe your first duty to her, and that you have no right to give to society, or to your own pleasure, the time which necessarily involves neglect of her? To come to a practical point — is it one of the aims of your life to give to your wife a portion of your time and society, so that she shall not always be obliged to sit alone, and go out alone? There are some poor specimens of your sex in the world who not only do not feel that their wives have any special claim on their consideration and their time, but who take the occasion, when in the presence of their wives, to make themselves generally despicable. I know a man whose appearance when in society, or mingling in the common affairs of business, has all the blandness and fragrance of newly mown hay. He touches his hat to the ladies whom he meets in the street with a grace which a D’Orsay would honor with admiration, and gives them a smile as genial and radiant as a harvest moon. He bears with him all the polish and grace of a gentleman. The concentrated virtues of all the lubricating oils could not add to the ease of his manners. People cannot imagine how such a man could be anything but the best of husbands ; but he is not any such thing. If I were a Jew, and not particularly fond of bacon, I should say that he was a hog in his own house. He is, there, domineering, peevish, exacting, and hateful. I have never known him to speak an affectionate or pleasant word to the best of wives. Nothing is out of place in the house for which she is not reproached in fretful and insulting language. Nothing goes wrong out of doors for which he does not take revenge, or show his spite, by finding fault with the companion of his life. He criticises her cooking and her personal appearance, and, in short, lets off upon her wounded but patient ear all the foul accumulations of his miserable nature and most contemptible disposition. Although some powerful impressions received in early life have induced me to oppose corporeal punishment on principle, I have sometimes wondered whether I should be entirely inconsolable if he should, some time, be cowhided, kicked, cuffed, maimed, and otherwise shamefully entreated.
But this is an extreme case, you say. Well, it ought to be; but will you just stop for a moment, and ask yourself where it is that you show the worst side of your nature? Where is it that you feel at the greatest liberty to exhibit your spleen, to give way to your fretfulness, to speak harsh words, to make hateful little speeches that are contemptible from their unprovoked bitterness? Is it among your fellows, and in the society of other ladies that you take occasion to say your meanest things? No, sir! You go home to your wife; you go home from those who care no more for you than they do for a thousand others, to the woman whom in the presence of God and men you have promised to love and cherish above all others; to the woman who loves you, and who regards you as better than all else earthly ; to a woman who is unprotected save by you, and wholly unprotected from you, and spit your spleen into her ear, and say things to her which, if any one else were to say, would secure him a well deserved caning. Are you not ashamed of this? You say things to her which you would not dare to say to any other lady, however much you might be provoked. You say them — O courageous friend! because nobody has the right to cowhide you for it. Isn’t that brave and manly? As the good mothers of us all have told us a thousand times, “don’t you never let me hear of your doing that again.” It isn’t pretty. It is ineffably wicked and dastardly.
That husbands and wives may entertain perfect sympathy, there should be the closest confidence between them. I need not tell the wife to give her husband the most perfect confidence in all affairs. She does this naturally, if her husband do not repulse her. But you, young husband, do not give your wife your confidence — you do not make her your confidante — you have an idea that your business is not your wife’s business. So you keep your troubles, your successes — everything — to yourself. Numberless disturbances of married life begin exactly at this point. Your wife receives the money for her personal expenses, and for the expenses of the house, at your hands. You do not tell her how hardly it has been won; with how much difficulty you have contrived to get it into your purse, and how necessary it is for her to be economical. You often deceive her, out of genuine love for her, into the belief that you are really doing very well; and yet you wonder the woman can give ten dollars for a hat and thirty dollars for a cloak. Perhaps you chide her for her extravagance, and so, in course of time, she comes to think you have got a niggardly streak in you, and very naturally rebels against it. She will not be curtailed in her expenditures. She dresses no better than her neighbors. So you run your fingers through your hair, and sigh over the fact that you have got an extravagant wife, while she, in turn, wonders how it is possible for a loving husband to be so selfish and stingy.
Thus for life, perhaps, a hostility of feeling and interest is established, which might all have been prevented by a free and full statement of your circumstances. This would interest her in, and identify her with, ail your trials. It is entirely rational and right that your wife should understand the basis of all your requirements of her; and, when she does this, the chances are that she will not only be economical herself, but will point out leakages in your prosperity for which you are responsible rather than herself. It is possible that you have a companion as much troubled by figures as the child-wife, Dora, was. If so, I am sorry for you; but, if so, very luckily she will do what you require of her without a reason.
I understand perfectly the desire of a young and sensitive husband to give his wife all the money she wants. You would fulfil her wishes in all things; especially would you allow her those means that will enable her to gratify her tastes in dress and household equipage. You dislike to appear unthrifty, inefficient, or mean, and you are willing to sacrifice much, that no care, no small economies, no apprehension of coming evil, should cloud the brow of the one you love. Well, I honor this feeling, for it has its birth in a sensitive, manly pride; but it may go too far — very much too far. It has carried many a man straight into the open throat of bankruptcy, and ruined both husband and wife for life. No, you must tell her all about it. She must know what your objects and projects are. She must know what your income is, and the amount of your annual expenses. Then, if she be a good wife, and worthy of a good husband, she will become more thoroughly your partner, and “cut her garment according to the cloth.” The interest which you thus secure from her in your business affairs, will be the greatest possible comfort to you. She will enjoy all your successes, for they become her own. She will sympathize in all your trials, and you will find great consolation in feeling that there is one heart in the world that understands you.
And this matter of confidence between you and your wife must be carried into everything, for she is your life partner — your next soul. There is no way by which she can understand fully her relations to the community and its various interests, save by understanding your own. So I say in closing, that to your wife you owe a reasonable portion of your time and society, the very choicest side of your nature and character when in her society, and your fullest confidence in all the affairs connected with your business, your ambitions, your hopes, and your fears. In the fierce conflicts of life you will find abundant recompense for all this. Your wife will soften your resentments, assuage your disappointments, pour balm upon your wounded spirit, and harmonize and soften you. At the same time, the exercise of heart and soul which this will give her, will make her a nobler, freer, better woman. It will give her greater breadth and strength of mind, and deepen her sensibilities. To a pair thus living and acting, may well be applied a couplet which occurs in that charming picture painted by Pinckney, of the Indian husband and his pale-faced wife :—
She humanizes him, and he
Educates her to liberty.