Immagini della pagina
PDF
ePub

181

is necessary that we should "sit down and count the cost." Every condition has its drawbacks as well as its advantages, and both must be weighed before we can form any rational expectations of happiness. Unfortunately, women are apt to look exclusively to the advantages of matrimony, and to leave its drawbacks to be discovered when they can no longer be avoided. It is perhaps too much to expect a young girl to balance thus calmly the good and evil of different states; but it is the more incumbent upon her mother to press upon her such considerations, to remind her of how much she must resolve to sacrifice as well as hope to acquire in marrying, instead of urging her, as is too often the case, to marry at any risk, and representing every condition as more tolerable than that of an old maid.

SACRIFICES REQUIRED OF A WIFE.

No view can be more false than this. A woman should be reminded, on the contrary, that in marrying she gives up many advantages. Her independence is, of course, renounced by the very act that makes her another's. Her habits, pursuits, society, sometimes even friendships, must give way to his, and this readily and cheerfully, as part of the obligations of a wife. This must be the case even in the best suited marriages. No two people could live together in that intimate union if both went on independently their own way, without regard for each other's habits and peculiarities. But the husband has, perhaps, a profession which prevents any change in his; and at all events he has less pliancy, and considers it as his undoubted right that his wife should regulate her mode of life upon his wishes. The wife, therefore, must yield, or be prepared for perpetual discord. The more completely she can merge her will in his, in all matters not involving moral principle, the more she accustoms herself to regard his happiness as the first object of her care (to which even her love for her children must give way), the greater will be her chance of preserving through life undiminished the one treasure which is to repay her for every sacrifice, his exclusive affection and confidence.

This it is which constitutes the principal danger of marriage without actual love. Love makes every sacrifice easy, if not delightful. Every individual feeling, wish, pursuit, is merged in that exclusive affection, and in comparison with the happiness of the beloved one every consideration seems trifling. But where a woman's affection for her husband is only a tenderer kind of friendship, continual concession may sometimes appear burdensome. She may find it difficult to renounce what would give her great pleasure in compliance to a mere fancy, perhaps to caprice or indolence. She may chafe at her dependence, and the habitual want of consideration in men for woman's pursuits and

182

MARRIED AND SINGLE LIFE

66

friendships. Above all, she will feel it hard to be forced to check her devotion to her children, whom she probably loves all the more intensely from the absence of any other strong affection; but if once she allows these feelings to become apparent, her domestic happiness is in jeopardy. These are the things which a girl should be taught to weigh well before she takes so irretrievable a step as marriage, and they may perhaps be set as no inconsiderable balance against the less advantageous social position, and the comparative isolation of the unmarried woman. The life of the wife and mother must be one of perpetual selfdevotion. "Une mere de famille," said a French writer, with touching simplicity, ne peut se coucher que pour mourir." She can be rewarded only (if rewarded at all) by the love of husband and children, and by the consciousness that her whole capacity of affection has been developed, and has found its natural objects and scope. The single woman must repress those affections and renounce the hope of being the object of exclusive love; but, on the other hand, she retains her independence, and her own friends, from whom marriage would probably have separated her to a great extent; and the feelings and capacities which with the married woman are concentrated within her home, may by her be exercised on a higher scale for the benefit of a larger circle, and bring her all the happiness (perhaps the surest we can enjoy on earth,) which results from the active exercise of our faculties towards a worthy object.

****If women would thus weigh the realities of life, instead of allowing themselves to be the sport of fancy or romance; if, when from choice or circumstances they remain single, they would avail themselves of the advantages of single life whilst cheerfully submitting to its privations, their position and character would rise in dignity. They would avoid the irritation and sourness of temper which result from disappointed hopes, and, by retaining the power of being both useful and agreeable to others, would gain in real friends what they may lose in worldly advantages. Perhaps, in time, even mothers might be found wise enough to prefer their daughters remaining cheerful amiable old maids, to becoming miserable wives.

We do not deny that to be a cheerful and amiable old maid requires more strength of mind and character than to be a common-place wife. A woman's natural vocation is that of a wife and mother; it was for this her nature was constituted: in remaining single, therefore, that nature is violated, and she must, by self-command and active exertion, bend it into a different channel. The wife and mother, on the contrary, only yields to the strongest instincts of her being: but if her affection for her husband and children

183

is to rise above a mere instinct; if she is to be a good wife and a good mother, in the full sense of those words, she will be called upon for at least an equal degree of self-command and exertion as the single woman, and under circumstances of anxiety, care, and often of suffering, from which the latter is exempt. If the balance, therefore, be fairly struck, we shall find the average degree of happiness in both conditions more nearly equal than is commonly supposed,* with this advantage on the side of the single woman, that her happiness is less dependent on the character and conduct of others, and therefore much more within her own power.

SELDOM FAIRLY COMPARED.

It is a common but fatal step to rush blindly into marriage to escape the constraint of an unhappy or uncomfortable home. The girl who does this will often find that she has exchanged a lesser evil for a greater. In her father's house she had at least the consolation of feeling that she was in the position where Providence had placed her, and that the evils she endured were not of her own choosing. She could hope that circumstances might change and ameliorate her lot; at all events, the course of nature must have set her free, sooner or later. The unhappy wife has none of these consolations. Her lot is the result of her own rash choice, and she must bear the yoke she has imposed upon herself, without hope of change or deliverance. Her misery too may be aggravated by that which she often looks to as the only source of consolation, namely, her becoming a mother. Her plans for her children's education are perhaps thwarted by their father's influence. She is placed in the dreadful alternative of warning them against his example, or letting their moral feelings be perverted. They may be taught, perhaps, to look upon her with indifference, even with contempt, and again and again the thought will press upon her, sharpening every pang!-These are the consequences of my own act! The fact that many rash and illadvised marriages turn out better than could have been expected, proves nothing against the general truth of this picture, and per

*The question is seldom tried fairly on its own merits, owing to the iujustice which condemns women to the dependence of poverty, from which they can only escape by marrying. Brought up in comfort, and often in the extreme of luxury, they are left without the means of maintaining the station of a gentlewoman, and debarred from all opportunity of increasing those scanty means by their own exertions. This error of our social system forces women too often to consider marriage, not as a question of happiness, but of subsistence, and it would be little flattering to the vanity of men, who are apt enough to think women cannot live without them, to know how many a one has shrunk with repugnance from the ties her poverty compels her to form, and represses her warmest feelings, to enable her to bear the trials of a condition she would not have entered into had she been free.

184

haps could we see the interior of both hearts and homes, the exceptional cases would be considerably reduced in number. But no rational being will take the exceptions to a general rule as the grounds of conduct. In estimating the prudence of any act, we must consider its natural and therefore probable consequences, and to encounter them, trusting that our own case will prove an exception, is as wise as to put to sea in a leaky vessel, trusting that we shall not encounter a storm.

SUFFERING FROM

There is yet one case which we must mention before leaving this subject, that of her who has unconsciously formed an attachment which is not returned; who has loved, "not wisely," perhaps, but "too well," and first discovers the depth and intensity of her own feelings when rudely awakened to the necessity of conquering them. The weak mind, still more enfeebled by the sickly tone of modern novels, will probably sink under the pressure, and the poor victim will die of a broken heart. The stronger and nobler nature will struggle with its passion, but only those who have felt or witnessed it, can tell how desperate, how deadly that struggle is, and at what cost of health and strength the victory is ultimately won. Humiliation is added to the torment of unrequited love, and the poor girl's agony must be borne in silence; no eye must be suffered to read in her countenance that her heart is dying within her; no friendly hand can aid her in the fierce conflict which racks every fibre of her being;-alone she must conquer or die.

It is to her that we would address, through the medium of the silent unseeing page, that sympathy and consolation which the voice of the nearest and dearest may scarcely dare to utter. We would bid her be strong and of good courage; we would assure her that passion is not and cannot be eternal; and that it must ultimately die out with the hopes on which it is fed. But while the heart in which it has raged unresisted, is left barren and seared perhaps for ever, that in which it is conquered through the might of higher principle, is purified and ennobled by the victorious struggle. The victory is not to be won in solitude. The duties of life are equally binding upon us in sorrow as in joy; we may not abandon our post because it is difficult to maintain. Nor is it in shrinking from social duty, but in patiently and perseveringly performing it, that we shall find the truest source of consolation. We cannot mix daily with our fellow-creatures and take our due share in their employments and pursuits, without feeling that many sources of interest and pleasure, in which self has no place, are yet open to us. We may forget our own sorrows in sympathy with the joy or sorrow of others. Life ceases to be desolate when we find that we

ILL-PLACED ATTACHMENT.

185

have still power to give pleasure, to do good, to be ourselves a blessing though we be not blessed. And the blessing will not fail to come even to us at last,-the peace of a heart that has won the victory over itself, that has subdued passion to principle. One dark enigma of life will then be solved, and we shall have learnt that not the enjoyment of happiness, but the fulfilment of duty, is the object of our existence on earth.

« IndietroContinua »