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Engaged To Be Married

“Woo’d and married and a’.

Woo’d and married and a’:

An’ is na she very weel aff

That is woo’d and married and a’?”

It is a beautiful fancy that marriages are ordained in heaven; it is a practical fact that they are made on earth; and that what we call “our destiny,” or “our fate,” is generally the result of favorable opportunities, sympathetic circumstances, or even pleasant contiguity for a season. Hence we always expect after the summer vacation to hear of a number of “engagements.” The news is perennially interesting; we may have seen the parties a thousand times, but their first appearance in their new character excites all our curiosity.

Generally the woman expands and beautifies, rises with the occasion, and puts on new beauty with the confidence of an augmenting wardrobe and an assured position. There is nothing ridiculous in her attitude; her wedding trousseau and marriage presents keep her in a delightful state of triumphant satisfaction, and if she has “done well unto herself,” she feels entitled to the gratitude of her family and the envy of all her female acquaintance.

The case is not so socially pleasant for her accomplice; it is always an awkward thing for a man to announce his engagement. His married friends ask him prosaic questions, and “wish him joy,”—a compliment which of itself implies a doubt; or they tell him he is going to do a wise thing, and treat him in the interval as if he was naturally in a state of semi-lunacy. His bachelor friends receive the news either with a fit of laughter, an expressive, long-drawn whistle, or at best with the assurance that they “consider marriage a good thing, though they are not able to carry out their principles.” But he is soon aware that they regard him virtually as a deserter; they make parties without including him; he drops out of their consultations; he has lost his caste among the order of young men, and has not been admitted among the husbands of the community; he hangs between two states; is not of that, nor yet quite of this.

Naturally enough, there are a variety of opinions on the subject of prolonging or cutting as short as possible this preliminary stage. Those who regard marriage as a kind of commerce, whose clearing house is St. Thomas’s or St. Bartholomew’s, will, of course, prefer to clinch the contemplated arrangement as soon as possible. Their business is intelligible; there is “no nonsense about them;” and, upon the whole, the sooner they get to ordering dinner and paying taxes the better. Many of us have sat waiting in a dentist’s room with a tooth-ache similar to that which made Burns

“Cast the wee stools owre the meikle;”

and some of us have watched for an editor’s decision with feelings which would gladly have annihilated the interval.

But it is not alone the prosaic and the impatient who are averse to a long engagement: the methodical, whose arrangements it tumbles upside down; the busy, whose time it appropriates; the selfish, who are compelled during it to make continual small sacrifices; the shy, who feel as if all the other relations of life had retired into the background in order to exhibit them as “engaged men;” the greedy, who look upon the expected love-offerings as so much tribute money,—these and many other varieties of lovers would gladly simplify matrimony by reducing its preliminaries to a question and a ceremony. Yet if Love is to have anything like the place in life that it has in poetry; if we really believe that marriage ought to be founded on sympathy of tastes and principles; if we have any faith in that mighty ruler of hearts and lives, a genuine love affair,—we shall not wish to dim the glory of marriage by denying it this sojourn in a veritable enchanted land; for in its atmosphere many fine feelings blossom that never would have birth at all if the niceties of courtship were superseded by the levelling rapidity of marriage. If people are really in love they gain more than they lose by a reasonable delay. There is time for the reading and writing of love-letters, one of the sweetest experiences of life; the tongue and pen get familiar with affectionate and noble sentiments; indeed I doubt if there is any finer school for married life than a full course of love-letters. But if the marriage follow immediately on the engagement, all love-letters and all love-making must necessarily have a flavor of furniture and dress, and of “considerations.” I admit that love-making is an unreasonable and impractical piece of business; but in this lies all its charm. It delights in asserting the incredible and believing the impossible. But, after all, it is in the depths of this delicious foolishness that the heart attains its noblest growth. Life may have many grander hopes and calmer joys in store,—

“But there’s nothing half so sweet in life

As Love’s young dream.”

Therefore we ought to look with complaisance, if not with approbation, on young people serenely passing through this phase of their existence; but the fact is, we are apt to regard it as a little trial. Lovers are so happy and self-satisfied that they do not understand why everybody else is not in the same supreme condition. If the house is ever so small, they expect a clear room to themselves.

Yet such an engagement, of reasonable length, is to be advised wherever young people are tender and constant in nature, and really in love with each other. I would only ask them to be as little demonstrative in public as possible, and to carry their happiness meekly, for, in any case, they will make large demands on the love, patience, and toleration of their friends. But perhaps one of the greatest advantages of a prolonged engagement is the security it brings against a mésalliance. Now, to a man a mésalliance is the heaviest weight he can carry through life; but to a woman it is simply destruction.

The best women have an instinctive wish to marry a man superior to themselves in some way or other; for their honor is in their husbands, and their status in society is determined by his. A woman who, for a passing fancy, marries a man in any way her inferior wrongs herself, her family, and her whole life; for the “grossness of his nature” will most probably drag her to his level. Now and then a woman of great force of character may lift her husband upward, but she accepts such a labor at the peril of her own higher life. Should she find it equally impossible to lift him to her level or to sink to his, what remains? Life-long regrets, bitter shame and self-reproach, or a forcible setting of herself free. But the latter, like all severe remedies, carries desperation instead of hope, with it. Never can she quite regain her maiden place; an aura of a doubtful kind fetters and influences her in every effort or relation of her future life.

In the early glamour of a love affair, women do not see these things, but fathers and mothers do; they know that “the world is not well lost for love,” and they have a right to protest against such folly. In an imprudent love affair, every day is so much gained; therefore when this foolishness is bound up in the heart of a youth or a maiden, the best of all plans is to arrange for time,—as long an engagement as possible.

But I will suppose that all my unmarried readers have found proper mates who will stand the test of parental wisdom and a fairly long and exacting engagement, and that after some happy months they will not only be “woo’d,” but “married and a’.” Now begins their real life, and for the woman the first step is renunciation. She must give up with a good grace the exaggeration and romance of love-making, and accept in its place that far better tenderness which is the repose of passion, and which springs from the tranquil depths of a man’s best nature.

The warmest-hearted and most unselfish women soon learn to accept quiet trust and the loyalty of a loving life as the calmest and happiest condition of marriage; and the men who are sensible enough to rely on the good sense of such wives sail round the gushing adorers, both for true affection and comfortable tranquillity.

Just let a young wife remember that her husband necessarily is under a certain amount of bondage all day; that his interests compel him to look pleasant under all circumstances to offend none, to say no hasty word, and she will see that when he reaches his own fireside he wants most of all to have this strain removed to be at ease; but this he cannot be if he is continually afraid of wounding his wife’s sensibilities by forgetting some outward and visible token of his affection for her. Besides, she pays him but a poor compliment in refusing to believe what he does not continually assert; and by fretting for what it is unreasonable to desire she deeply wrongs herself, for—

“A woman moved is like a fountain troubled,

Muddy, ill-seeming, thick, bereft of beauty.”




Amelia E. Barr