« PreviousContinue »
of insisting on the absolute necessity of marriage for the service of the state, and the solid advantages that arise from it in ordinary cases; they give us a certain refined idea of felicity, which hardly exists any where but in the writer's imagination. Even the Spectator, than whom there is hardly in our language a more just and rational writer, after say. ing many excellent things in defence of marriage, scarcely ever fails to draw the character of a lady in such terms, that I may safely say not above one that answers the de. scription is to be found in a parish, or perhaps a coun. try. Now is it not much better to leave the matter to the force of nature, than to urge it by such arguments as these ? Is the manner of thinking induced by such writings, likely to hasten or postpone a man's. entering into the mar. riage state ?
There is also a fault, I think, to be found in almost every writer who speaks in favour of the female sex, that they overrate the charms of the outward form.
This is the case in all romances—a class of writings to which the world is very little indebted. The same thing may be said of plays, where the heroine for certain, and often all the ladies that are introduced, are represented as inimitably beautiful. Even Mr. Addison himself, in his admirable description of Martia, which he puts in the mouth of Juba, though it be. gins with,
"T'is not a set of features or complexion, &c.
yet could not help inserting,
True she is fair! O, how divinely fair! Now, I apprehend, this is directly contrary to what should be the design of every moral writer. Men are naturally too apt to be carried away with the admiration of a beauti. ful face. Must it not, therefore, confirm them in this error, when beauty is made an essential part of every amiable character ? The preference such writers pretend to give
to the mental qualities, goes but a little way to remedy the evil. If they are never separated in the description, whereever men find the one, they will presume upon the other. But is this according to truth, or agreeable to experience? What vast numbers of the most valuable women are to be found, who are by no means “divinely fair !" Are these all to be neglected, then ? Or is it not certain, from experience, that there is not a single quality on which matrimonial happiness depends, so little, as outward form ? Every other quality that is good, will go a certain length to atone for what is bad; as, for example, if a woman is active and industrious in her family, it will make a husband bear with more patience a little anxiety of countenance, or fretfulness of temper, though in themselves disagreeable. But (always supposing the honey-moon to be over) I do not think that beauty atones in the least degree for any bad quality whatsoever ; it is, on the contrary, an aggravation of them, being considered as a breach of faith, or deception, by holding out a false signal.
THE HAPPINESS AND UNHAPPINESS OF THE MARRIED STATE
In the married state in general, there is not so much happiness as young lovers dream of; nor is there by far so much unhappiness, as loose authors universally suppose.
The first part of this aphorism' will probably be easily admitted. Before mentioning, however, the little I mean to say upon it, I beg leave to observe, that it would be quite wrong to blame the tenderness and fervency of affection, by which the sexes are drawn to one another, and that ge. nerous devotedness of hearts which is often to be seen on one, and sometimes on both sides. This is nature itself; and when under the restraint of reason, and government of prudence, may be greatly subservient to the future happiness of life. But there is certainly an extravagance of sentiment and language on this subject, that is at once ridiculous in itself, and the proper cause, in due time, of wretchedness and disappointment.
Let any man, who has outlived these sensations himself, and has leisure to be amused, dip a little into the love songs that have been composed and published, from Anacreon to the present day, and what a fund of entertainment will he find provided for him! The heathen gods and goddesses are the standing and lawful means of celebrating the praises of a mistress, before whom, no doubt, Venus, for beauty, and Minerva for wisdom, must go for nothing. Every image in nature has been called up, to heighten our idea of female charms—the paleness of the lily, the freshness of the rose, the blush of the violet, and the vermilion of the peach.
This is even still nothing. One of the most approved topics of a love-sick writer is, that all nature fades and mourns at the absence of his fair, and puts on a new bloom at her approach. All this, we know well, has place only in his ima. gination ; for nature proceeds quietly in her course, without minding him and his charmer in the least. But we are not yet done. The glory of the heavenly orbs, the lustre of the sun himself, and even the joys of heaven, are frequently and familiarly introduced, to express a lover's happiness or hopes. Flames, darts, arrows, and lightning from a female eye, have been expressions as old, at least, as the art of writing, and are still in full vogue. Some of these we can find no other fault with than that they are a little outre, as the French express it ; but I confess I have sometimes been surprised at the choice of lightning, because it is capable of a double application, and may put us in mind that some wives have lightning in their eyes sufficient to terrify a husband, as well as the maids have to consume a lover.
Does not all this show, that young persons are apt to indulge themselves with romantic expectations of a delight, both extatic and permanent, such as never did and never can exist ? And does it not at the same time expose matri. mony to the scoffs of libertines, who, knowing that these raptures must soon come to an end, think it sufficient to disparage the state itself, that some inconsiderate persons have not met with in it, what it was never intended to be. stow ?
There is not by far so much unhappiness in the married state in general, as loose authors universally suppose. I choose to state the argument in this manner, because it is much more satisfying than drawing pictures of the extremes on either hand. It signifies very lit:le, on the one hand, to describe the state of a few persons distinguished for understanding, successful in life, respected by the public, and dear to one another; or, on the other, those hateful brawls which by and by produce an advertisement in the newspapers : “Whereas
Sarah, the wife of the subscriber, has eloped from his bed and board,” &c. If we would treat of this matter with propriety, we must consider how it stands among the bulk of mankind. The proposition, then, I mean to establish is, that there is much less unhappiness in the matrimonial state than is often apprehended, and indeed as much real comfort as there is any ground to expect.
To support this truth, I observe that, taking mankind throughout, we find much more satisfaction and cheerful. ness in the married than in the single. In proportion to their numbers, I think of those that are grown up to maturer years, or past the meridian of life, there is a much greater degree of peevishness and discontent, whimsicalness and peculiarity, in the last than in the first. The prospect of continuing single to the end of life, narrows the mind and closes the heart. I knew an instance of a gentleman of good estate, who lived single till he was past forty, and he was esteemed by all his neighbours not only frugal, but mean in some parts of his conduct.
This same person afterwards marrying and having children, every body observed that he became liberal and open-hearted on the change, when one would have thought he had a stronger motive than before, to save and hoard up. On this a neigh. bour of his made a remark, as a philosopher, that every ul. timate passion is stronger than an intermediate one; that a single person loves wealth immediately, and on his own account ; whereas a parent can scarcely help preferring his children before it, and valuing it only for their sakes.
This leads me to observe, that marriage must be the source of happiness, as being the immediate cause of many other relations, the most interesting and delightful. I cannot easily figure to myself any man who does not look upon it as the first of earthly blessings to have children, to be the objects of attachment and care when they are young, and to inherit his name and substance, when he himself must, in the course of nature, go off the stage. Does not this very