Letters to Young Married People



Whate’er the uplooking soul admires,
Whate’er the senses’ banquet be,
Fatigues, at last, with vain desires,
Or sickens by satiety.

But, truly, my delight was more
In her to whom I’m bound for aye
Yesterday than the day before,
And more to-day than yesterday!

The Angel in the House.

THERE are so many subjects which call for notice in my letters to you that one letter, at least, must be a piece of patchwork. I propose that this one shall bear such a character.

It is doubtless a general experience that a husband and wife, after living together for a time, become in a measure tired of one another’s company. Before marriage, they were essential to each other; after long months of intimacy, a sense of monotony creeps upon them, and a separation for a few weeks is regarded as desirable, or not to be regretted. The husband would like a little more freedom ; the wife, perhaps, pines for the associations of her free and careless girlhood. When this feeling comes upon a married pair, the time for a temporary separation has arrived, and the quicker it is instituted the better. The object and end of it is to prove to both that they cannot be happy when separated. The first week will pass off very pleasantly ; the second will find them rather longing for one another’s society again ; the third will burden the mails with tender epistles in which the romance and ardor of courtship will be revived; the fourth will convince the wife that she has the very dearest husband in the world, and the husband will carry his package of letters in his breast pocket and sigh ; the fifth will find a day set for the greatly longed-for re-union, about which both will be thinking all the time; and the sixth will bring the wife home, with all her precious beauty and band-boxes ; and such a meeting will take place as well might make an observing old bachelor commit suicide. Well, they have learned a lesson which they will remember as long as they shall live. It is proved to them that they cannot be happy apart, and that separation will always be a calamity.

Various circumstances spring up in the course of life which seem to dictate a temporary separation, on the score of economy or profit. A man will desire to go into a distant city, for a sojourn of months and perhaps years, that he may buy and sell and get gain. The wife may not go, as it would interfere with the profits. This is one case; and there may be a thousand others in which policy dictates a like temporary separation. My counsel is to regard all such inducements for separation as temptations of the devil. It is morally degrading for a husband and wife to live apart from each other. It is the rupture of a sacred tie — the denial of a sacred pledge — the breaking up of a relation into which religion, affection, and habits of thought and life have all become intimately interwoven, leaving both man and woman loosely floating among new influences, and freed from the restraints to which their lives had become conformed.

Separation for the time being destroys the comfort and withholds the rewards of married life. It is along, dreary, monotonous, or anxious episode, for which neither fame nor money can compensate. It is this, or worse; for, certainly, nothing can compensate for the acquisition of that indifference on either side which proves that separation is not a calamity. A broken bone, too long left without setting, can never again make a firm junction. Separation which shows that a pair cannot live apart is well; separation which proves that they can, is one of the worst things that can happen. Therefore I say to every man, that the circumstances should be most extraordinary which will leave him at liberty to break up his home, or justify him in separating from his wife. If you cannot take the wife of your bosom with you, you are to believe, generally, that your plans have not the favor of Providence.

It is the habit of some husbands and wives to have intimate friends whom they cherish and correspond with, independently. I have known very good husbands to carry on limited flirtations with girls, to be the repositories of secrets belonging to such, and to act as their very agreeable next friends. Very pleasant connexions are these, to a young husband, who has time to attend to them, but very dangerous in the long run. Similar connexions on the other side of the house have made a great deal of difficulty since the world began. They are very harmless things at first; but there is nothing but danger in the intimacy of a married heart with an unmarried one, unless there be other relationships which justify it. A man or a woman who, from the most innocent motives originally, plays with such an intimacy as this, is toying with a very dangerous instrument. It leads to the establishment of secrets between husband and wife — itself a bad thing — and too frequently leads to their estrangement, more or less pronounced. You should never write a letter, or give occasion for the receipt of one, which you are unwilling to show to your companion, Under none but extraordinary circumstances should you consent to receive a secret from a friend which he or she may be unwilling your companion should know.

If you have friends, they should be the friends of your companion; and this should be carried outside of the circle of your intimacies. You have no business with a friend who refuses to be your companion’s friend ; and again you have no business with a friend whom, for a valid reason, your companion refuses to know. You may have come together from different classes of society. The wife or the husband may be proscribed by a class, while her or his companion may be a favorite of the same class. A husband or a wife, who is willing to ignore this proscription and distinction, demonstrates a lack of spirit and self-respect that is utterly contemptible. A husband or a wife acting thus dishonors his or her own fiesh and blood. You go together; you are to be received together or not at all; and an insult to one is an insult to both, always, and under all circumstances.

And now that I have spoken of your mutual relations to intimates and friends, it is proper that I speak of you relations to your respective blood connexions. Very fruitful causes of disturbance between husbands and wives are the relatives of the married pair. Not unfrequently the parents of the husband are brought into his family, and not unfrequently those of the wife. Doubtless there are instances in which it is impossible to get along without difficulty with these, but if you have fully apprehended my course of reasoning with you, and admitted its validity, there is but one course for you to pursue. You are one. The husband’s parents are the wife’s parents, and the wife’s parents are the parents of the husband. You are to receive and treat them as your own — not with constraint and as a matter of duty, but willingly and affectionately. You are to learn to love and respect them, — to bear with their frailties, to comfort them in their passage to the tomb, to treat them in no sense as dependents, and to make them feel that they are not only welcome to your kindly offices, but that they have a right to the home which they have with you. You are young, and they are old. It is for the honor of your companion that his or her parents have support at his or her hands, and what is your companion’s honor is yours. Besides, this world is a world of compensations, more nicely adapted and more certain than you know. The time will pass away, and the children now on your knee will have grown to manhood and womanhood, and will have chosen their companions, as their fathers and mothers chose theirs before them. The home which you now enjoy may be broken up. Your companion will be taken from you, and your only resort may be the home of your child. The treatment which you would wish to receive from your son’s wife, or your daughter’s husband, is precisely the treatment which you now owe to those who hold to you the relation which you will then sustain to them.

The same rules which govern you in regard to the parents should extend to the circle of your other relatives. Of course, your ability to maintain dependents is a consideration; but I regard personal and family honor as most inseparably involved in this thing. A son or a daughter who, with the power of maintaining without impossible self-sacrifice a father and mother, allows them to finish their life in an alms-house, or to live on the charity of those upon whom they have no special claims, is a brute. There are a few such miserable creatures in the world, who ought to be hooted at and cut by all decent people. In a measure the same thing is true of all family relatives. It is a matter of personal and family pride, as I have said. It is something more than this. The poor we have always with us, and we owe a duty to them, unless we ourselves are equally poor; but when a man has poor relatives who must be dependent, more or less, upon some one, it is as if God’s finger had kindly pointed out to him the very objects upon which his benefactions should be bestowed.

I am aware that this is rather serious doctrine for some minds. I am aware that relatives are often proud as well as poor; that they will be dependent rather than labor; that they become insufferable drones and bores, and haunt your homes with a most offensive and vexatious presence. There ought to be some short method of treating such, but I do not possess it. If you cannot make them useful, there are several ways of making them uncomfortable which may be safely left to the invention and discretion of the suffering parties. My plea is for a thorough identification of family feeling and family pride between husband and wife. If it entail disagreeable and unjust burdens, through the laziness or extravagance of dependent relatives, it is a misfortune; but misfortunes are incident to all relations. Better bear them than leave your motives open to suspicion, or bring disgrace upon your family name.

I cannot close this letter better than by saying a word or two upon the subject of servants. The general proposition that the quality of the servant is dependent upon the quality of the mistress is a sound one. If a woman who frets at and scolds her servants ever has a good servant, it is in spite of the treatment she receives. In order to be a good mistress, it is necessary to believe in a few fundamental truths, which may be briefly stated as follows: First, servants are human beings, and consequently have souls; second, servants, having souls, are consequently controlled by the motives which address themselves to a common humanity ; third, being human, servants have rights which no amount of service money can buy; and fourth, transcendent intellectual endowments, a physical development of fifty-horse power, the broad circle of the Christian graces and virtues, a faultless disposition, a knowledge of French cookery, and elegant habits, cannot be obtained for nine Yankee shillings a week. A mistress admitting generally the truth of these propositions possesses a basis for securing service that shall be reasonably satisfactory to her. There is quite too much of the feeling among mistresses that they have a right to use a servant as a fast boy uses a hired horse. They are to get the most out of them that they can for the money they pay. They take no personal interest in them, — extend to them no matronly care and kindness. They forget that a servant is a social being. They forget that she has humble loves and hopes, has desires for freedom and recreation, as important to her as the higher love and hopes and desires of the more favored girls who occupy the parlor. They forget that the labors of the kitchen are tedious; that the confinement of the kitchen is irksome. They become exacting, — strict in rules, rigid in discipline, and peremptory in their commands. It is not in human nature to stand this kind of thing, so the servant gets hardened at last, or wilfully careless. She receives no praise, any way, and therefore tries to get none. A servant, generally speaking, whose feelings as a humble woman are appreciated by her mistress, who is praised for what she does that is well, and kindly and patiently instructed to correct that which is not well; who is treated to sympathetic and considerate words, and indulged in that liberty which is absolutely essential to her bodily and mental health, will love her mistress, and have a desire to please. This, in all good and tolerably sensible natures, will settle the matter. A girl exercised by this love and this desire will be a good servant ninety-nine times in a hundred. It is under relations like these that attachments are formed which are as tender as humanity and as lasting as life.

There is a broad view in which this and all kindred matters are to be regarded. The mistress is quite as dependent upon the servant as the servant upon the mistress. She renders an equivalent for what you give her, and her service is as essential to you as your money is to her. You cannot get along without her, nor can she get along without you. Your position, to be sure, is superior to hers, but she owes you nothing, save faithful service and respect. The obligations are not all upon one side. It is just as much your duty to be a kind mistress and friend to her, as it is her duty to give faithful service and respectful treatment to you. If, therefore, you fail in your duty, you must not blame her for failing in hers, I have never yet seen a good servant who had not either a good mistress, or one who was actually inferior to herself. Human nature is very prevalent among women, and especially among maids of all-work.

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