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THE LADIES DIRECTED IN THE CHOICE OF A HUSBAND.-GOOD
Felices ter et amplius
Quos irrupta tenet copula : nec malis
Suprema citius solvet amor die.
Thrice happy they, în pure delights,
THOUGH I devote this lucubration to the ladies, yet there are some parts of it which I hope will not be wholly useless to the gentlemen: and, perhaps, both may expect to be addressed upon a subject, which to both is of equal im. portance.
It has been universally allowed, and with great reason, that between persons who marry there should be some de. gree
of equality, with respect to age and condition. Those who violate a known truth, deserve the infelicity they incur : I shall, therefore, only labour to preserve innocence by detecting error.
With some ladies it is a maxim, that “the best husband is a reformed rake;" a maxim which they have probably de. rived from comedies and novels, in which such a husband is commonly the reward of female merit. But the belief of this maxim is an incontestible proof, that with the true character of a rake the ladies are wholly unacquainted. “They have,” indeed, “ heard of a wild young gentleman, who would rake about the town, and take up his lodging at a bagnio; who had told many a girl a pretty story, that was fool enough to believe him; and had a right to many a child that did not call him father : but that in some of these frolics he thought no harm, and for others he had sufficiently suffered.” But let the adventurer be believed, these are words of dreadful import, and should always be thus understood :
“ To rake about town and lodge at a bagnio, is to associate with the vilest and most abandoned of human beings; it is to become familiar with blasphemy and lewdness, and frequently to sport with the most deplorable misery: to tell pretty stories to credulous girls, is to deceive the simplicity of innocence by cunning and falsehood: to be the father of a name. less progeny, is to desert those, whose tears only can implore the protection, to which of all others they have the strongest and the tenderest claim; it is more than to be a man without affection, it is to be a brute without instinct. To think no harm in some of these frolics, is to have worn out all sensi. bility of the difference between right and wrong; and to have suffered for others, is to have a body contaminated with dis. eases, which in some degree are certainly transmitted to posterity,”
It is to be hoped that the mere exhibition of this picture, will be sufficient to deter the ladies from precluding happiness by marrying the original; and from discouraging vir. tue, by making vice necessary to the character which they prefer.
But they frequently act upon another principle, which, though not equally fatal and absurd, may yet produce great infelicity.
When the rake is excluded, it will be generally supposed, that superior intellectual abilities ought always to determine the choice. 6 A man of fine sense” is, indeed, a character of great dignity ; and the ladies have always been advised to prefer this to every other, as it includes a capacity to bestow “that refined, exalted, and permanent felicity, which alone is worthy of a rational being.” But
I think it probable, that this advice, however specious, has been often given for no other reason, than because to give it flattered the vanity of the writer, who fondly believed he was drawing his own character and exciting the envy and admiration of his readers. This advice, however, the ladies universally affect to approve, and probably for a similar reason;
sirce every one imagines, that to hold intellectual excellence in high estimation, is to demonstrate that she possesses it.
As he that would persuade, should be scrupulously careful not to offend, I will not insinuate that there are any ladies, by whom the peculiar beauties of an exalted understanding cannot be discerned ; and who have not, therefore, a capacity for half the pleasure which it can bestow. And yet I think there is another excellence which is much more essential to conjugal felicity, good nature.
I know that good nature has, like Socrates, been ridiculed in the habit of folly ; and that folly has been dignified by the name of good nature. But by good nature, I do not mean that inflexible imbecility of mind which complies with every request, and inclines a man at once to accompany an acquaintance to a brothel at the expense of his health, and to keep an equipage for a wife at the expense of his estate. Persons of this disposition have seldom more benevolence than fortitude, and frequently perpetrate deliberate cruelty.
In true good nature, there is neither the acrimony of spleen, nor the sullenness of malice ; it is neither clamorous nor fretful, neither easy to be offended, nor impatient to revenge ; it is a tender sensibility, a participation of the pains and pleasures of others ; and is therefore a forcible and constant motive, to communicate happiness and alleviate misery.
As human nature is, from whatever cause, in a state of great imperfection, it is surely to be desired, that a person whom it is most our interest to please, should not see more of this imperfection than we do ourselves,
I shall perhaps be told, that “a man of sense can never use a woman ill.” The latter part of this proposition is a phrase of very extensive and various signification: whether a man of sense can use a woman ill,” I will not inquire; but I shall endeavour to show, that he may make her extremely wretched.
Persons of keen penetration and great delicacy of sentiment, as they must necessarily be more frequently offended than others, so, as a punishment for the offence, they can inflict more exquisite pain, because they can wound with more poignant reproach : and by him, whom good nature does not restrain from retaliating the pain that he feels, the offence, whether voluntary or not, will always be thus punished.
If this punishment is suffered with silence, confusion, and tears, it is possible that the tyrant may relent; but this, like the remorse of a murderer, is too late : the dread of incurring the same anguish by a like fault, will substitute for the smile of cheerfulness, that sunshine of beauty, the glooms of doubt, solicitude, and anxiety : the offence will notwithstanding be again repeated; the punishment, the distress, and the remorse, will again return; because error is involuntary, and anger is not restrained. If the reproach is retorted, and, whether it was deserved, becomes the subject of debate, the consequences are yet more dreadful : after a vain attempt to show an incongruity, which can no more be perceived than sounds by the deaf, the husband will be insulted for causeless and capricious displeasure, and the wife for folly, perverseness, and obstinacy. In these circumstances, what will become of “the refined, the exalted, and the permanent felicity, which alone is worthy of reasonable beings, and which elevated genius only can bestow ?”
That this conduct is by a man of sense known to be wrong, I am content to allow : but it must also be granted, that the discernment of wrong is not always a propensity to right; and that if pain was never inflicted but when it was
known to produce salutary effects, mankind would be much more happy than they are.
Good nature, therefore, if intellectual excellence cannot atone for the want of it, must be admitted as the highest per. sonal merit. If, without it, wisdom is not kind; without it, folly must be brutal. Let it, therefore, be once more re. peated, " The quality most essential to conjugal felicity, is good nature.” And surely, whatever accidental difference there may happen to be in the conceptions or judgment of a husband and wife, if neither can give pain or pleasure with. out feeling it themselves, it is easy to perceive, which sensation they will concur to produce.
It may now be expected, that I should give some general rules, by which the ladies may discover the disposition of those, by whom they are addressed ; but it is extremely diffi. cult to detect malevolence amidst the assiduities of court. ship, and to distinguish the man under that almost inscrutable disguise, the lover. Good nature, however, is not indicated by the fulsome fawning of a perpetual grin, the loud laugh. ter which almost anticipates the jest, or the constant echo of every sentiment; neither is it safe to trust the appearance of profuse liberality, or busy officiousness. Let it rather be remarked, how the lover is affected by incidents, in which the lady is not concerned ; what is his behaviour to his im. mediate dependants, and whether they approach him with a slavish timidity, or with the cheerful reverence of voluntary, servitude. Is he ever merry at the expense of another ; or does he ever attempt thus to excite mirth in his mistress? Does he mention the absent with candour, and behave to those who are present with a manly complacency? By a diligent attendance to these circumstances, perhaps a probable judg. ment may be formed of his character.
To conclude with a general remark : good nature is not of less importance to ourselves than to others.
The morose and petulant first feel the anguish that they give : reproach, revilings, and invective, are but the overflowings of their