Letters to Young Married People



Once thou wert hidden in her painful side,
A boon unknown, a mystery and a fear;
Strange pangs she bore for thee; but He whose name
Is everlasting Love hath healed her pain;
And paid her suffering hours with living joy.

Henry Alford.

Hail, wedded Love! mysterious law; true source
Of human offspring!


My theory of life is that it is a school of mental and moral development — that God intended that each soul should pass under a series of influences, whose office it should be to evolve all its faculties, and soften and harmonize them. To this end, he has laid upon each a sweet necessity to adopt the ordinances he has contrived. When I speak of necessity, I do not mean compulsion, save in a limited sense — compulsion entirely consistent with individual election. Thus I believe that there is a very material portion of mental and moral development which cannot be achieved out of the marriage relation; and, to bring men and women into this relation, he has given them the sentiment of love, and the desire of mutual personal possession. This sentiment and desire are made so strong that they may hardly be resisted, so that all shall choose to be joined in conjugal relations. Thus the strong are softened by the weak, and the weak are invigorated by the strong ; and the influences of men and women upon each other become the most powerful agencies for their mutual harmonious growth. But this is not all. When a pair have become united in wedlock, there rises in each healthy heart a desire for offspring. Nothing is more natural than this desire, and nothing more imperative. Its germ is seen far back in childhood. The boy’s love of pets is but a manifestation of the primary outreachings of this desire, which fasten at first upon the only possible objects; and there probably never lived a little girl that did not love her doll beyond all other playthings. She takes it first, and retains it the longest of any.

This brings me to the subject of children, as legitimately something to be talked about in these letters. The having and the rearing of children form one of God’s ordinances for making you what you should be — what he wishes you to be. They are as necessary to you as you are to them. You can no more reach the highest and most harmonious development of which you are capable without children, than you can develop a muscle without exercise. Without them, one of the most beautiful regions of your nature must for ever remain without appropriate and direct culture. The offices of children in the culture of their parents are manifold. In the first place, they are a conservative and regulating force. A pair living together without children naturally become selfish. A pair unwatched by innocent eyes are often thrown off their guard in their language towards, and treatment of, each other. They lose one great stimulus to industry, and do not possess that which is, perhaps, the strongest bond, under all the circumstances of life, which can bind husband and wife together. There can be no true development of heart and mind where pure selfishness is the predominant principle ; so God ordains that in each house there shall be little ones, more precious than all else, who shall engage the sympathy, tax the efforts, and absorb the love of those who sustain to them the relation of parents. The law is irreversible that our best individual progress in mental and moral good shall be attained by efforts devoted to others; and in children, each parent finds the nearest objects of such devotion. And there is, perhaps, nothing which so tends to soften the heart, to develop the kindlier affections, and to unlock and chasten the sympathies of men and women, as the children which sit around their table, and frolic upon their knees.

When I see a man stop in the streets to comfort some weeping child, or to get a kiss from a pair of juvenile lips, I know that he has passed through a blessed experience with children. A helpless little head has been laid upon his shoulder, in some hushed and hallowed room where the great mystery of birth has been enacted. Some feeble, wailing boy, pressed to his breast, has been borne, night after night, with weary arms, back and forth in the dimly lighted chamber, while the mother caught her short half hours of rest. More likely still, some precious warbler, her eyes closed, her lips for ever stilled, her golden curls parted away from a marble forehead, a white rose in her hand, has been laid in the grave, and the sod that covers her has been fertilized by his tears. Oh! there is something in loving dependent children, in tender care for them, and in losing them, even, which bestows upon the soul the most enriching of its experiences. They make us tender and sympathetic, and a thousand times reward us for all we do for them. We cannot get along without them; you cannot get along without them. You can not afford to do it. They are cheap at the price of pain and sickness, and care and toil.

What do I mean by talk like this? What do I mean by the utterance of common-place like this? I mean simply to reveal some of the considerations upon which I condemn a great and growing vice among the young married people of this country — a vice which involves essential murder in many instances, and swells the profits of a thousand nostrum vendors. And what do I mean by this? I mean that in thousands of American homes children have come to be regarded either as nuisances or luxuries. I mean that, in these homes, to have children is deemed a great misfortune. They are the bugbear that threatens people away from the marriage relation, and frightens them when in it. I mean that, men and women, more and more in this country, hug to themselves their selfish delights, cherish their selfish ease, and consult their selfish convenience, without a consideration of their duties as men and women, and without a comprehension of the fact that they can only find their highest enjoyment by obedience to the laws of God, natural and revealed. I mean that there are multitudes who envy those unblest with children, and congratulate them upon their poverty. I mean that there are husbands who grudge every charm lost by their wives in the duties and sacrifices of maternity, and that there are wives who are made spiteful and angry by the interference of children with their indolent habits, their love of freedom and self-indulgence, and their vain pursuits, I mean that the number is increasing of those who receive the choicest earthly blessings God can confer with ingratitude and wilful complainings. That is precisely what I mean; and I do not hesitate to say that it is all a very shabby and sinful thing, and that it is high time that those who are guilty were ashamed of it.

A woman who, by cool and calculating choice, is no mother, and who congratulates herself that she has no “young ones” tied to her apron strings, is either very unfortunately organized, or she is essentially immoral. A man who can tip up his feet, over against his lonely wife, and thank his stars that he has no “squalling brats” around to bother him, is a brute. It is time that some one protest, and I hereby do protest, against one of the great sins and shames of the age, — a sin which deadens the conscience, bestializes the affections, and ruins the health of the mistaken creatures who practise it — which cuts the channel from one end of the land to the other of a broader Ganges than that which bubbles along its heathenish bank with the expiring breath of infancy. There is growing up a cowardly disposition to shirk trouble and responsibility in this matter. “I don’t feel competent to bring up a family of children.” Who does? It is a part of your education to acquire competence for this work. “But I don’t feel like assuming such a responsibility.” That responsibility is precisely what you need to keep you in the path you ought to walk in. “But I can’t afford it.” Are there two pairs of hands between you, and not sufficient patience, courage, and enterprise to do the duties of life? “But I am afraid that I should lose my children. They are liable to so many accidents that it would be very strange if I should be able to raise a family without losing one or two.” The sweetest and truest couplet that the Queen’s laureate ever wrote tells the story upon this point :—

“‘Tis better to have loved and lost Than never to have loved at all.”

Ask the father and the mother, weeping over the coffin of their first-born and only child, whether they regret that the child was born. Ask them the same question in after years, when that little life has come to be a thread of gold running through all their experiences, If they give an affirmative answer, I will be silent. No, my married friends — you who shrink from accepting the choicest privilege bestowed upon you — you are all wrong; and if you live, you will arrive at a period where you will see that there are rewards and punishments attached to this thing. What is to sustain you when, in old age — the charms of youth all past, desire extinguished, and the grasshopper a burden — you sit at your lonely board, and think of the strangers who are to enjoy the fruit of your most fruitless life? Who are to feed the deadening affections of your heart and keep life bright and desirable to its close, but the little ones whom you rear to manhood and womanhood? What is to reward you for the toils of life if you do not feel that you — your thoughts, your blood, your influence — are to be continued into the future? Do you like the idea of having hirelings, or those who are anxious to get rid of you, about your dying bed? Is it not worth something to have a family of children whom you have reared, lingering about your grave, with tears on their cheeks and blessings on their lips — tears for a great loss, and blessings on the hallowed influence which has trained them in the path of duty, and directed them to life’s noblest ends?

This is a subject which has not been talked about much publicly, but it is a very serious thing with me, and it ought to be with you. I love the family life. I esteem a Christian family — the more numerous the better — one of the most beautiful subjects of contemplation the earth affords. A father, thoroughly chastened and warmed in all his affections, and a mother overflowing with love for the dear children God has given her, devoted to their welfare, and guiding them by her tender counsels, sitting at their board with the sprightly forms and bright eyes of childhood around the table, or all kneeling at the family altar, form a sight more nearly allied to heaven than any other which the world presents. Do you suppose such a father would be what he is but for his children? Do you believe such a mother would be the blessed being she is but for the development which she receives in her maternal office? No, you know that both have been chastened, elevated, purified, made strong, and essentially glorified, by a relation as sanctifying as it is sacred.

So I say, in closing, that you can never realize the very choicest and richest blessings that Heaven intends for you, in your relations as husband and wife, without children. Whom God deprives of these, he has other thought for, and I have nothing to say to them; but to the multitude, I say, give welcome to each new comer whom God has lighted with a spark of his own divinity, to grow in glory till it shall outshine the star beneath which it entered existence, such greeting as you would give an angel. Clothe him in white, bear him to the baptismal font, rejoice over him as a testimonial that God remembers you, and celebrate the day when he was given to your arms in such a manner that he shall know that it is a blessed thing to be born. Sing to him pleasant songs, and scatter roses upon his cradle. “Of such is the kingdom of heaven,” and in such the Saviour has given to you those to whose pure, simple, and innocent likeness he would have you conform your heart. You are to rear your boy to manhood, and educate him to be a man; and he, in turn, is to educate you to be a child, and protect your helpless years. It is an even thing, and a beautiful exhibition of that wonderful machinery by which all are made to bear equal burden in evolving the noblest life of the race.

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