Letters to Young Married People

Letter III.


And when the King’s decree which he shall make shall be published throughout all his empire (for it is great), all the wives shall give to their husbands honor, both to great and small.

Book of Esther.

Teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands.

St. Paul

YOUNG wife, I talked to your husband in my last letter, and now I address you. I told him that you have a claim on his time and society. There are qualifications of this claim which concern you particularly, and so I speak to you about them. Your husband labors all day — every day — and during the waking hours, between the conclusion of his labor at night and its commencement n the morning, he must have recreation of some kind; and here comes in your duty. If you do not make his home pleasant, so that the fulfilment of his duty to you shall be a sweet pleasure to him, you cannot hope for much of his company. What his nature craves it will have — must have. He cannot be a slave all the time — a slave to his work by day and a slave to you by night. He must have hours of freedom ; and happy are you if, of his own choice, he take the enjoyment you offer in the place of anything which the outside world has to give. I suppose there are few men who, when their work is over, and their supper eaten, do not have a desire to go down town “to meet a man,” or visit “the post-office.” There is a natural desire in every heart to have, every day, an hour of social freedom — a few minutes, at least, of walk in the open air and contact with the minds of other men. This is entirely a natural and necessary thing ; and you should encourage rather than seek to prevent it, unless your husband is inclined to visit bad places, and associate with bad companions.

Precisely here is a dangerous point for both husband and wife. The wife has been alone during the day, and thinks that her husband ought to spend the whole evening with her. The husband has been confined to his labor, and longs for an hour of freedom, in whatever direction his feet may choose to wander. Perhaps the wife thinks he has no business to wander at all, and that his custom is to wander too widely and too long. She complains, and becomes exacting. She cannot bear to have her husband out of her sight for a moment, after he quits his work. Now, if there be anything in all this world that will make a husband hate his wife, it is a constant attempt on her part to monopolize all his leisure time and all his society, to curtail his freedom, and a tendency to be for ever fretting his ears with the statement that “she is nothing, of course,” that he “does not care anything about her,” and that he dislikes his home. Treatment like this will just as certainly rouse all the perverseness in a man’s nature as a spark will ignite gunpowder. Injustice and inconsiderateness will not go down, especially when administered by a man’s companion. He knows that he loves his home, and that he needs and has a right to a certain amount of his time, away from home; and if he be treated as if he possessed no such necessity and right, he will soon learn to be all that his wife represents him to be. I tell you that a man wants very careful handling. You must remember that he can owe no duty to you which does not involve a duty from you. You have the charge of the home, and if you expect him to spend a portion, or all of his evening in it, you must make it attractive. If you expect a man, as a matter of duty, to give any considerable amount of time to your society, daily, through a long series of years, you are to see that that society is worth something to him. Where are your accomplishments? Where are your books? Where are your subjects of conversation?

But let us take up this question separately: how shall a wife make her home pleasant and her society attractive? This is a short question, but a full answer would make a book. I can only touch a few points. In the first place, she should never indulge in fault-finding. If a man has learned to expect that he will invariably be found fault with by his wife, on his return home, and that the burden of her words will be complaint, he has absolutely no pleasure to anticipate and none to enjoy. There is but one alternative for a husband in such a case: either to steel himself against complaints, or be harrowed up by them and made snappish and waspish. They never produce a good effect, under any circumstances whatever. There should always be a pleasant word and look ready for him who returns from the toils of the day, wearied with earning the necessaries of the family. If a pretty pair of slippers lie before the fire, ready for his feet, so much the better.

Then, again, the desire to be pleasing in person should never leave a wife for a day. The husband who comes home at night, and finds his wife dressed to receive him, — dressed neatly and tastefully, because she wishes to be pleasant to his eye, cannot, unless he be a brute, neglect her, or slight her graceful painstaking. It is a compliment to him. It displays a desire to maintain the charms which first attracted him, and to keep intact the silken bonds which her tasteful girlhood had fastened to his fancy.

I have seen things managed very differently from this. I have known an undressed head of “horrid hair” worn all day long, because nobody but the husband would see it, I have seen breakfast dresses with sugar plantations on them of very respectable size, and most disagreeable stickiness. In short, I have seen slatterns, whose kiss would not tempt the hungriest hermit that ever forswore women, and was sorry for it. I have seen them with neither collar nor zone, — with a person which did not possess a single charm to a husband with his eyes open, and in his right mind. This is all wrong, young wife, for there is no being in this world for whom it is so much for your interest to dress, as for your husband. Your happiness depends much on your retaining, not only the esteem of your husband, but his admiration. He should see no greater neatness and no more taste in material and fitness, in any woman’s dress, than in yours; and there is no individual in the world before whom you should always appear with more thorough tidiness of person than your husband. If you are care less in this particular, you absolutely throw away some of the strongest and most charming influences which you possess. What is true of your person is also true of your house. If your house be disorderly; if dust cover the table, and invite the critical finger to write your proper title; if the furniture look as if it were tossed into a room from a cart; if your table-cloth have a more intimate acquaintance with gravy than with soap, and from cellar to garret there be no order, do you blame a husband for not wanting to sit down and spend his evening with you? I should blame him, of course, on general principles, but, as all men are not so sensible as I am, I should charitably entertain all proper excuses.

Still again, have you anything to talk about — anything better than scandal — with which to interest and refresh his weary mind? I believe in the interchange of caresses, as I have told you before, but kisses are only the spice of life. You cannot always sit on your husband’s knee, for, in the first place, it would tire him, and in the second place, he would get sick of it. You should be one with your husband, but never in the shape of a parasite. He should be able to see growth in your soul, independent of him; and whenever he truly feels that he has received from you a stimulus to progress and to goodness, you have refreshed him, and made a great advance into his heart.

He should see that you really have a strong desire to make him happy, and to retain for ever the warmest place in his respect, his admiration, and his affection. Enter into all his plans with interest. Sweeten all his troubles with your sympathy. Make him feel that there is one ear always open to the revelation of his experiences, that there is one heart that never misconstrues him, that there is one refuge for him in all circumstances; and that in all wearinesses of body and soul, there is one warm pillow for his head, beneath which a heart is beating with the same unvarying truth and affection, through all gladness and sadness, as the faithful chronometer suffers no perturbation of its rhythm by shine or shower. A husband who has such a wife as this, has little temptation to spend much time away from home. He cannot stay away long at a time. He may “meet a man,” but the man will not long detain him from his wife. He may go to “the post-office,” but he will not call upon the friend’s wife on the way. He can do better. The great danger is that he will love his home too well — that he will neither be willing to have you visit your aunts and cousins, nor, without a groan, accept an invitation to tea at your neighbor’s.

But I leave this special point, to which I have devoted my space somewhat improvidently. There is one relation which you bear to your husband, or one aspect of your relation to him, to which I have not alluded sufficiently. You are not only the wife of his bosom — the object of his affections, but you have a business relation with him — you are his helpmate. To a very great extent you are dependent upon him, but you are also his assistant, — bound to use his money economically, and to aid, so far as you can, in saving and accumulating it. The woman who feels that she has a right to spend every cent that “the old man” allows her, and that all she gets out of him is hers to lavish upon her vanities, takes a very low view of her relations to him. It is simply the view of a mistress, and is utterly dishonorable — utterly mercenary. The money which he puts into your hand endows you simply with a stewardship. You have no right to waste it, or to part with it, for anything but such values as are consistent with his means. You have consented to be the partner of his life, and you have no more right to squander his money than his business partner has. It is your duty to husband it; and happy are you if your companion has such confidence in your faithfulness to him and his interest, that he puts money into your hand always willingly, believing that it will be parted with judiciously, and with discreet and conscientious regard to his means and abilities. If your husband has no confidence in your economy and discretion, and consequently stints you, and absolutely feels obliged to place you in the position of a favorite dependent and pensioner — a plaything or a housekeeper for whom he has got to pay — you are not happy by any means.

You can do very much in your character of helpmate to lighten your husband’s cares, and relieve him from anxieties. If he finds you looking closely after his interests, buying economically the food for his table, and never wastefully sacrificing your old dresses in consequence of your thirst for new, always counting the cost of every object which you may desire, you relieve his mind from a load of care which no man can carry without embarrassment. A man who feels that there is in his own house a leak which will absorb all he may earn, be that little or much, and that he has got to suffer it, and suffer from it, or institute restrictions that will probably make him appear mean in the eyes of his wife (wasteful wives are very apt to have mean husbands) the great stimulus and encouragement of his industry are taken away from him.

The full appreciation of your character, as your husband’s helpmate, depends upon the thorough identification of yourself with him. Of this I have talked before, and call it up again for the purpose of showing you that there is absolutely no aspect of your relation to him which can be considered legitimate and complete that does not involve his identification. It is an equal thing. You are interested in your husband’s expenditures ; and he is interested in yours. You have cast in your lot together — your whole lot; and he has no more right to expend his money in such a way as to embarrass you and deprive you of what you need, than you have to squander the means which he places at your disposal. It is a partnership concern, and if you succeed in managing your department of it in such a way as to secure your husband’s confidence, fairly considering the cost of every cent to him, he will feel that he is appreciated, honored, and loved. Very likely he will understand this better than tasteful comforts and tender demonstrations of a lighter nature — demonstrations that involve no self-denial.

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