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Chronicles of Gretna Green
Chapter X


Essay on Marriage.

When you have read this chapter through,
With most attentive brains,
We think it probable that you
Will know what it contains.

The Hon. Mrs. Norton declares that men are sadly degenerated since the days of Adam. We cannot tarry to investigate this opinion now, but as the gifted lady has often said so many good and true things, we are inclined to pay all deference to her assertions.

The old established code on the subject of matrimony, she observes too, is founded on the superior intelligence, wisdom, and perfectibility, supposed to distinguish the- male sex from the female; and which, in the days of the aforesaid Adam, she devoutly believes, really did distinguish it. In this she coincides with John Milton, who, as Johnson remarked, never in his writings omits an opportunity of asserting such superiority. Milton's motive for this, however, was not altogether a thoroughly amiable one ; for he was a little bit of a misogamist, and held the intellects of the fairer moiety of creation at a lamentably cheap rate. This will not be wondered at by those who read his biography; particularly when it is remembered that his acquaintances used to allow that he had not a gentle or accommodating temper in his private relations.

It is a sad thing that we should seek to cast detraction upon those whom we love not, or with whom we have fallen at jars; yet it is very certain, that if any circumstance makes us quarrel with our neighbours, we are immediately disposed to find out and cast against them a hundred faults, which before then we had, overlooked or connived at. And if we can do thus with individuals, so also, by extending the same principle, we can do it in regard to a whole race; wherefore Milton, who had enough to do in maintaining over his first wife such a measure of authority as so rigid a lord of the creation thought compatible, extended his maxims of matrimonial domination which he exercised over his refractory partner, to all husbands to be exercised by them over all their -wives.

He never omits an opportunity, as we have said, of letting the reader know that Adam belonged to the superior sex ; but if it really were, as Mrs. Norton believes, that Adam had the advantage of Eve in certain mental attributes, still we are of opinion, living in this modern day, that many women do now exist whose wits tower high above the wits of many men their contemporaries.

What think ye of this ladies? what think ye?

Why, we will answer the question for you. You say that we are right — very good.

In adverting to the greater intelligence of the one sex over the other, it is remarked, that the acknowledgment of this fact was instrumental in the peculiar framing of the marriage code; a code wherein one clause sets forth how that the inferior shall obey the superior, and no where that the superior shall obey the inferior, because that would be foolish indeed, as every one must allow.

But Mrs. N. declares that men are sadly degenerate since the passing of this bill; and does not say that women have degenerated in an equal degree, a circumstance which, if positively found to be true, will completely turn the balance of intellect. We confess, too, that we have in some~ sort agreed with her above, where we have said that many women do now exist, whose wits tower high above the wits of many men their contemporaries; an admission which goes far to admit that one half the world has gone down in the scale of perfectibility, but that the other has thus necessarily ascended,—in effect, if not in reality.

In this state of things it were almost necessary that the said code be altered to suit present facts—a course which would not be preposterous in its way, for ail the ancient statutes of the realm require modification now and then, as times go on and constitutions change. And so, the herein-before-mentioried authoress continues, that, "even the pious composers of the marriage ceremony would allow, that it is difficult", if not impossible, for the woman to love one who constantly neglects or ill-treats his helpmate; to honour a fool, a gamester, a liar; or to obey one whose commands seem more the result of temporary insanity than of reason and judgment. This is pretty strong, language ; and yet it must be very difficult for a woman to love or obey any man who is all or any of these.

But she does not spare her own sex ; for she further says, that it would be hard for a man to love and cherish a creature whose soul is in her looking-glass, and whose pledged hand is oftener clasped in that of some whispering coxcomb than in his own. In this, as a man, we declare she is most perfectly right: indeed, it is certain she never spoke truer words in all her life.

lt Where there is only an ordinary show of gentle usage on one side, a grateful feeling will soon be engendered on the other; and so also, where a system of neglect, coolness, or estrangement is commenced by the one party, the other will not be long in taking up a similar course, and that too in a more superlative degree.

"On the other hand, it is certain that women are affectionate by nature, and are easily won by kindness; that attention without jealousy, indulgence without carelessness, firmness without tyranny, will change an indifferent and reluctant bride into a devoted and excellent wife."

This is very well said—very well indeed; we have read many a worse passage in our day.

But it is a most wearisome task to essay to fight one's way into the affections of another who is averse; to enact a long-continued series of attentions when they are not welcomed, under the hope that they will be welcomed eventually ; and that is the reason why men will not take the trouble to change an indifferent and reluctant bride into the devoted and excellent wife, which such (at first) forced attentions might accomplish.

We rather prefer giving way to our evil passions, than being at the pains of conciliating; we would liefer return a short answer than a soft one, such as would turn away wrath; and we love better to contradict and bicker, than we do to explain and apologise.

We are so jealous of our little authority, that we will tyrannise overmuch and unwarrantably, sooner than appear to give in; and where we find a man who has somewhat of the Miltonian spirit in him,— that is, who is a great stickler for the superiority of his own sex, this unyielding pertinacity for the maintenance of the supposed natural right is pushed to its greatest verge.

Pride, in numberless instances, is the cause of this obstinacy. It is wounding to the man's pride to succumb to the woman, if he is one of this school; for, to allow that he was mistaken in judgment as to the event of any negotiation wherein it required an exercise of the mental qualities to form that judgment, or to allow that he has made a false guess, wherein the same powers were exercised, would be to allow that his mental faculties in this instance at least, were inferior to hers, supposing that her opinion as to the end of the negotiation, or her guess on any matter of surmise, has turned out the more correct. In such a position, he will argue for half an hour to prove that she is positively wrong, and he, of course, positively right; or, if this would be too palpable, he will explain away his own defeat so as to make it appear he was not so very far out after all.

Owing to his better knowledge of the world, he can often bring stronger sophisms to his aid than she can to hers, and these he will not hesitate to seize on, if, in the first place, he has too much ill-nature to conciliate, and if, in the second, not honour enough to give the merit where the merit is due.

We believe this to be the secret why literary men are averse to literary wives; they are afraid of encountering too sturdy an opponent. Byron very much disliked learned ladies, and sought every occasion to quiz them. They are very delightful to meet as friends, and talk to now and then, when one is in a rational mood; but to make them wives is bringing them too near to our frailties, and giving them an opportunity of peering too minutely into the real amount of our ability. A man of ordinary intellect may pass for cleverer than he is for an evening, in the society of the most gifted and well-informed woman, but, as a wife, she might not be long in discovering his true level; and albeit he has pride enough to think not meanly of himself, still, not having had the means of discovering what the actual amount of her acquirements may be, he is fearful lest she should prove too clever for him.

But the man who is thus afraid, pays neither her or himself any compliment; he indirectly tells her that he believes she would abuse her power of mind over him, and that is not saying that she is amiable, for we know that the amiable and the generous do not cultivate their talents for the sake of tyrannising over weaker intellects, but for the sake of being able to do them greater services. He pays no compliment to himself either; for, by the act of shunning genius in a partner, and seeking imbecility, he infers that he is blindly seeking to establish his own authority, in a way, we may add, that does not speak much for his own magnanimity.

Great minds are never afraid of great minds. It is only narrow minds, puffed up with a little learning, —which, as Pope says, is a dangerous thing,—who are self-conceited upon what they think they know, that dread being brought to their true standing, in an intellectual conflict with others. Such minds cannot bear ,to come in contact with an equal, much more a superior; and, therefore, in order to avoid such contact, will rather associate with that which they believe to be beneath them. He who associates with the little, appears to them to be great; and thence his vanity is fed, and his pride is in no danger of being wounded, and hence many men of some book learning, but who are not generous of heart, will endeavour to mate themselves with women of spiritless souls, or of uncultivated understanding.

Then the aforesaid accomplished writer cries out vehemently upon Miss Martineau divers times for help. She laments, wisely, that the considerations of a worldly interest, instead of the unsophisticated desires of a beautiful affection, should so often bring young people together. Alas ! then, for the marriage ceremony ; alas ! for the rules of right and wrong ; and alas ! for the simplicity of those ages, now fled and gone, wherein our unluxurious ancestors, who looked not for equipages and a sideboard of plate, married from choice' of the object selected, and not for the rich paraphernalia hoped to be got by the speculation.

"The pure and simple laws which our fathers framed, were made for pure and simple days, when young heart met young heart, and melted into one, and people married because they preferred one another to the whole world." Those were times!

We have elsewhere laughed at the good old times, but we fear we may have been precipitate.

"Help me, Miss Martineau ! What is there in improvement and civilization, which so roughens the road of life, by placing heaps of gold in one place, and blank poverty in another?

"Help me, Miss Martineau! What is there in the present state of society which obliges young women to marry, as the easiest and most dignified manner of procuring a subsistence, and makes young men eager about heiresses, in order to discharge debts contracted on the turf?1'

Good heavens! Mrs. Norton, is the house on fire? For gracious sake, Miss Martineau, come and render your assistance immediately.

We agree with the lady who calls so loud, that the greater number of young couples do not come together for the sake of being companions or helpmates, but because the thirst of rank or riches, ambition or pique! have joined them; and hence, after such a junction, it is not marvellous that they should care little about each other's society.

"When Mrs. Bouverie ran away with her penniless husband, and married him at Gretna Green, (Gretna Green, quoth as much from love of the frolic as love of the man, she acted upon impulse; but having her own reasons in later life for disapproving of such motives of action, she had avowed that she never would, and it was her boast that she never did3 do anything without a plan." Oh, Mrs. Bouverie

We should like to know how Mrs. Bouverie's match turned out. She did not marry for money, therefore she was not sordid and avaricious ; and if she married as much for the frolic of going to Gretna as for love of her bridegroom, why, she must have been a funny, larking, merry girl to have done it.

By the latter member of the above sentence, at such time when she had attained to a discreeter age, she seems to have come more to her senses, and we are almost disposed to assume that her case forms another exemplification of our well-chosen motto. That she "married in haste" is boldly avowed; and that she "repented at leisure" may be inferred from her dignified disapproval of such motives of action. The wisdom of a measure is shown by its events; and. a precipitate undertaking has but little assurance of success.


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