Letters to Young Men
FEMALE SOCIETY — THE WOMAN FOR A WIFE.
O woman! lovely woman! Nature made theeOtway.
To temper man; we had been brutes without you,
Angels are painted fair to look like you,
When I said I would die a bachelor, I did not think that I should live till I were married.Shakespeare
In many of the books addressed to young men, a great deal is said about the purifying and elevating influences of female society. Sentimental young men affect this kind of reading, and if anywhere in it they can find countenance for the policy of early marriage, they are delighted. Now, while I will be the last to deny the purifying and elevating influence of pure and elevated women, I do deny that there is anything in indiscriminate devotion to female society, which makes a man better or purer. Suppose a man cast away on the Cannibal Islands, and not in sufficiently good flesh to excite the appetites of the gentle epicureans among whom he has fallen. Suppose him, in fact, to be “received into society,” and made the private secretary of a king without a liberal education. Suppose, after awhile, he feels himself subsiding into a state of barbarism, and casts around for some redeeming or conservative influence. At this moment it occurs to him that in the trunk on which he sailed ashore were a number of books. He flies to the trunk, and, in an ecstasy of delight, discovers that among them is a volume addressed to young men. He opens it eagerly, and finds the writer to declare that next to the Christian religion, there is nothing that will tend so strongly to the elevation and purification of young men, as female society. He accordingly seeks the society of women, and drinks in the marvellous influences of their presence. He finds them unacquainted with some of the most grateful uses of water, and in evident ignorance of the existence of ivory combs. About what year of the popular era is it to be supposed that he will arrive at a desirable state of purification and perfection?
Now, perhaps you do not perceive the force of this illustration. Let us get at it, then. When you find yourself shut out from all female society except that which is beneath you, that society will do you just as much and no more good than that of the fair cannibals, especially if it be young. If, in all this society, you can find one old woman of sixty, who has common sense, genial good-nature, experience, some reading, and a sympathetic heart, cherish her as you would her weight in gold, but let the young trash go. You will hear nothing from them but gossip and nonsense, and you will only get disgusted with the world and yourself. Inspiration to higher and purer life always comes from above a man; and female society can only elevate and purify a man when it is higher and purer than he is. In the element of purity, I doubt not that women generally are superior to men, but it is very largely a negative or unconscious element, and has not the power and influence of a positive virtue.
Therefore, whenever you seek for female society, as an agency in the elevation of your tastes, the preservation of your morals, and the improvement of your mind, seek for that which is above you. I do not counsel you to treat with rudeness or studied neglect such inferior female society as you are obliged to come in contact with. On the contrary, you owe such society a duty. You should stimulate it, infuse new life into it, if possible, and do for it what you would have female society do for yourself.
This matter of seeking female society above yourself you should carry still farther. Never content yourself with the idea of having a common-place wife. You want one who will stimulate you, stir you up, keep you moving, show you your weak points, and make something of you. Don’t fear that you cannot get such a wife. I very well remember the reply which a gentleman who happened to combine the qualities of wit and common sense, made to a young man who expressed a fear that a certain young lady of great beauty and attainments would dismiss him, if he should become serious. “My friend,” said the wit, “infinitely more beautiful and accomplished women than she is, have married infinitely uglier and meaner men than you are.” And such is the fact. If you are honest and honorable, if your character is spotless, if you are enterprising and industrious, if you have some grace and a fair degree of sense, and if you love appreciatingly and truly, you can marry almost anybody worth your having. So, to encourage yourself, carry in your memory the above aphorism reduced to a form something like this: “In finitely finer women than I ever expect to marry, have loved and married men infinitely meaner than I am.”
The apprehensions of women are finer and quicker than those of men. With equal early advantages, the woman is more of a woman at eighteen than a man is a man at twenty-one. After marriage, as a general thing, the woman ceases to acquire. Now, I do not say that this is necessary, or that it should be the case, but I simply state a general fact. The woman is absorbed in family cares, or perhaps devotes from ten to twenty years to the bearing and rearing of children — the most dignified, delightful, and honorable office of her life. This consumes her time, and, in a great multitude of instances, deprives her of intellectual culture.
In the meantime, the man is out, engaged in business. He comes in daily contact with minds stronger and sharper than his own. He grows and matures, and in ten years from the date of his marriage, becomes, in reality, a new man. Now, if he was so foolish as to marry a woman because she had a pretty form and face, or sweet eyes, or an amiable disposition, or a pleasant temper, or wealth, he will find that he has passed entirely by his wife, and that she is really no more of a companion for him than a child would be. I know of but few sadder sights in this world than that of mates whom the passage of years has mis-mated. A woman ought to have a long start of a man, and then, ten to one, the man will come out ahead in the race of a long life.
I suppose that in every young man’s mind there exist the hope and the expectation of marriage. When a young man pretends to me that he has no wish to marry, and that he never expects to marry, I always infer one of two things: that he lies, and is really very anxious for marriage, or that his heart has been polluted by association with unworthy women. In a thousand cases we shall not find three exceptions to this rule. A young man who, with any degree of earnestness, declares that he intends never to marry, confesses to a brutal nature or perverted morals.
But how shall a good wife be won? I know that men naturally shrink from the attempt to obtain companions who are their superiors; but they will find that really intelligent women, who possess the most desirable qualities, are uniformly modest, and hold their charms in modest estimation. What such women most admire in men is gallantry; not the gallantry of courts and fops, but boldness, courage, devotion, decision, and refined civility. A man’s bearing wins ten superior women where his boots and brains win one. If a man stand before a woman with respect for himself and fearlessness of her, his suit is half won. The rest may safely be left to the parties most interested. Therefore, never be afraid of a woman. Women are the most harmless and agreeable creatures in the world, to a man who shows that he has got a man’s soul in him. If you have not got the spirit in you to come up to a test like this, you have not got that in you which most pleases a high-souled woman, and you will be obliged to content yourself with the simple girl who, in a quiet way, is endeavoring to attract and fasten you.
But don’t be in a hurry about the matter. Don’t get into a feverish longing for marriage. It isn’t creditable to you. Especially don’t imagine that any disappointment in love which takes place before you are twenty one years old will be of any material damage to you. The truth is, that before a man is twenty-five years old he does not know what he wants himself, so don’t be in a hurry. The more of a man you become, and the more of manliness you become capable of exhibiting in your association with women, the better wife you will be able to obtain; and one year’s possession of the heart and hand of a really noble specimen of her sex, is worth nine hundred and ninety-nine years’ possession of a sweet creature with two ideas in her head, and no thing new to say about either of them. “Better fifty years of Europe than a cycle of Cathay.” So don’t be in a hurry, I say again. You don’t want a wife now, and you have not the slightest idea of the kind of wife you will want by-and-by. Go into female society if you can find that which will improve you, but not otherwise. You can spend your time better. Seek the society of good men. That is often more accessible to you than the other, and it is through that mostly that you will find your way to good female society.
If any are disposed to complain of the injustice to woman of advice like this, and believe that it involves a wrong to her, I reply that not the slightest wrong is intended. Thorough appreciation of a good woman, on the part of a young man, is one of his strongest recommendations to her favor. The desire of such a man to possess and associate his life with such a woman, gives evidence of qualities, aptitudes, and capacities which entitle him to any woman’s consideration and respect. There is something good in him; and however uncultivated he may be — however rude in manner, and rough in person — he only needs development to become worthy of her, in some respects, at least. I shall not quarrel with a woman who desires a husband superior to herself, for I know it will be well for her to obtain such an one, if she will be stimulated by contact with a higher mind to a brighter and broader development. At the same time, I must believe that for a man to marry his inferior, is to call upon himself a great misfortune; to deprive himself of one of the most elevating and refining influences which can possibly affect him. I therefore believe it to be the true policy of every young man to aim high in his choice of a companion. I have previously given a reason for this policy, and both that and this conspire to establish the soundness of my counsel.
One thing more: not the least important, but the last in this letter, No woman without piety in her heart is fit to be the companion of any man. You may get, in your wife, beauty, amiability, sprightliness, wit, accomplishments, wealth, and learning, but if that wife have no higher love than herself and yourself, she is a poor creature. She cannot elevate you above mean aims and objects, she cannot educate her children properly, she cannot in hours of adversity sustain and comfort you, she cannot bear with patience your petulance induced by the toils and vexations of business, and she will never be safe against the seductive temptations of gaiety and dress.
Then, again, a man who has the prayers of a pious wife, and knows that he has them — upheld by heaven, or by a refined sense of obligation and gratitude — can rarely become a very bad man. A daily prayer from the heart of a pure and pious wife, for a husband engrossed in the pursuits of wealth or fame, is a chain of golden words that links his name every day with the name of God. He may snap it three hundred and sixty five times in a year, for many years, but the chances are that in time he will gather the sundered filaments, and seek to re-unite them in an everlasting bond.