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Marriages are made in heaven--"but solely," it has been added by a cynical writer, "for export." There is nothing more remarkable in human sociology than our attitude towards the institution of marriage. So it came home to me the other evening as I sat on a cane chair in the ill- lighted schoolroom of a small country town. The occasion was a Penny Reading. We had listened to the usual overture from Zampa, played by the lady professor and the eldest daughter of the brewer; to "Phil Blood's Leap," recited by the curate; to the violin solo by the pretty widow about whom gossip is whispered--one hopes it is not true. Then a pale-faced gentleman, with a drooping black moustache, walked on to the platform. It was the local tenor. He sang to us a song of love. Misunderstandings had arisen; bitter words, regretted as soon as uttered, had pierced the all too sensitive spirit. Parting had followed. The broken-hearted one had died believing his affection unrequited. But the angels had since told him; he knew she loved him now--the accent on the now.
I glanced around me. We were the usual crowd of mixed humanity--tinkers, tailors, soldiers, sailors, with our cousins, and our sisters, and our wives. So many of our eyes were wet with tears. Miss Butcher could hardly repress her sobs. Young Mr. Tinker, his face hidden behind his programme, pretended to be blowing his nose. Mrs. Apothecary's large bosom heaved with heartfelt sighs. The retired Colonel sniffed audibly. Sadness rested on our souls. It might have been so different but for those foolish, hasty words! There need have been no funeral. Instead, the church might have been decked with bridal flowers. How sweet she would have looked beneath her orange wreath! How proudly, gladly, he might have responded "I will," take her for his wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death did them part. And thereto he might have plighted his troth.
In the silence which reigned after the applause had subsided the beautiful words of the Marriage Service seemed to be stealing through the room: that they might ever remain in perfect love and peace together. Thy wife shall be as the fruitful vine. Thy children like the olive branches round about thy table. Lo! thus shall a man be blessed. So shall men love their wives as their own bodies, and be not bitter against them, giving honour unto them as unto the weaker vessel. Let the wife see that she reverence her husband, wearing the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit.
Love and the Satyr.
All the stories sung by the sweet singers of all time were echoing in our ears--stories of true love that would not run smoothly until the last chapter; of gallant lovers strong and brave against fate; of tender sweethearts, waiting, trusting, till love's golden crown was won; so they married and lived happy ever after.
Then stepped briskly on the platform a stout, bald-headed man. We greeted him with enthusiasm--it was the local low comedian. The piano tinkled saucily. The self-confident man winked and opened wide his mouth. It was a funny song; how we roared with laughter! The last line of each verse was the same:
"And that's what it's like when you're married."
"Before it was 'duckie,' and 'darling,' and 'dear.' Now it's 'Take your cold feet away, Brute! can't you hear?'
"Once they walked hand in hand: 'Me loves ickle 'oo.' Now he strides on ahead" (imitation with aid of umbrella much appreciated; the bald-headed man, in his enthusiasm and owing to the smallness of the platform, sweeping the lady accompanist off her stool), "bawling: 'Come along, do.'"
The bald-headed man interspersed side-splitting patter. The husband comes home late; the wife is waiting for him at the top of the stairs with a broom. He kisses the servant-girl. She retaliates by discovering a cousin in the Guards.
The comic man retired to an enthusiastic demand for an encore. I looked around me at the laughing faces. Miss Butcher had been compelled to stuff her handkerchief into her mouth. Mr. Tinker was wiping his eyes; he was not ashamed this time, they were tears of merriment. Mrs. Apothecary's motherly bosom was shaking like a jelly. The Colonel was grinning from ear to ear.
Later on, as I noticed in the programme, the schoolmistress, an unmarried lady, was down to sing "Darby and Joan." She has a sympathetic voice. Her "Darby and Joan" is always popular. The comic man would also again appear in the second part, and would oblige with (by request) "His Mother- in-Law."
So the quaint comedy continues: To-night we will enjoy Romeo and Juliet, for to-morrow we have seats booked for The Pink Domino.
What the Gipsy did not mention.
"Won't the pretty lady let the poor old gipsy tell her fortune?" Blushes, giggles, protestations. Gallant gentleman friend insists. A dark man is in love with pretty lady. Gipsy sees a marriage not so very far ahead. Pretty lady says "What nonsense!" but looks serious. Pretty lady's pretty friends must, of course, be teasing. Gallant gentleman friend, by curious coincidence, happens to be dark. Gipsy grins and passes on.
Is that all the gipsy knows of pretty lady's future? The rheumy, cunning eyes! They were bonny and black many years ago, when the parchment skin was smooth and fair. They have seen so many a passing show--do they see in pretty lady's hand nothing further?
What would the wicked old eyes foresee did it pay them to speak:--Pretty lady crying tears into a pillow. Pretty lady growing ugly, spite and anger spoiling pretty features. Dark young man no longer loving. Dark young man hurling bitter words at pretty lady--hurling, maybe, things more heavy. Dark young man and pretty lady listening approvingly to comic singer, having both discovered: "That's what it's like when you're married."
My friend H. G. Wells wrote a book, "The Island of Dr. Moreau." I read it in MS. one winter evening in a lonely country house upon the hills, wind screaming to wind in the dark without. The story has haunted me ever since. I hear the wind's shrill laughter. The doctor had taken the beasts of the forest, apes, tigers, strange creatures from the deep, had fashioned them with hideous cruelty into the shapes of men, had given them souls, had taught to them the law. In all things else were they human, but their original instincts their creator's skill had failed to eliminate. All their lives were one long torture. The Law said, "We are men and women; this we shall do, this we shall not do." But the ape and tiger still cried aloud within them.
Civilization lays her laws upon us; they are the laws of gods--of the men that one day, perhaps, shall come. But the primeval creature of the cave still cries within us.
A few rules for Married Happiness.
The wonder is that not being gods--being mere men and women--marriage works out as well as it does. We take two creatures with the instincts of the ape still stirring within them; two creatures fashioned on the law of selfishness; two self-centred creatures of opposite appetites, of desires opposed to one another, of differing moods and fancies; two creatures not yet taught the lesson of self-control, of self-renunciation, and bind them together for life in an union so close that one cannot snore o'nights without disturbing the other's rest; that one cannot, without risk to happiness, have a single taste unshared by the other; that neither, without danger of upsetting the whole applecart, so to speak, can have an opinion with which the other does not heartedly agree.
Could two angels exist together on such terms without ever quarrelling? I doubt it. To make marriage the ideal we love to picture it in romance, the elimination of human nature is the first essential. Supreme unselfishness, perfect patience, changeless amiability, we should have to start with, and continue with, until the end.
The real Darby and Joan.
I do not believe in the "Darby and Joan" of the song. They belong to song-land. To accept them I need a piano, a sympathetic contralto voice, a firelight effect, and that sentimental mood in myself, the foundation of which is a good dinner well digested. But there are Darbys and Joans of real flesh and blood to be met with--God bless them, and send more for our example--wholesome living men and women, brave, struggling, souls with common-sense. Ah, yes! they have quarrelled; had their dark house of bitterness, of hate, when he wished to heaven he had never met her, and told her so. How could he have guessed those sweet lips could utter such cruel words; those tender eyes, he loved to kiss, flash with scorn and anger?
And she, had she known what lay behind; those days when he knelt before her, swore that his only dream was to save her from all pain. Passion lies dead; it is a flame that burns out quickly. The most beautiful face in the world grows indifferent to us when we have sat opposite it every morning at breakfast, every evening at supper, for a brief year or two. Passion is the seed. Love grows from it, a tender sapling, beautiful to look upon, but wondrous frail, easily broken, easily trampled on during those first years of wedded life. Only by much nursing, by long caring- for, watered with tears, shall it grow into a sturdy tree, defiant of the winds, 'neath which Darby and Joan shall sit sheltered in old age.
They had commonsense, brave hearts. Darby had expected too much. Darby had not made allowance for human nature which he ought to have done, seeing how much he had of it himself. Joan knows he did not mean it. Joan has a nasty temper; she admits it. Joan will try, Darby will try. They kiss again with tears. It is a workaday world; Darby and Joan will take it as it is, will do their best. A little kindness, a little clasping of the hands before night comes.
Many ways of Love.
Youth deems it heresy, but I sometimes wonder if our English speaking way is quite the best. I discussed the subject once with an old French lady. The English reader forms his idea of French life from the French novel; it leads to mistaken notions. There are French Darbys, French Joans, many thousands of them.
"Believe me," said my old French friend, "your English way is wrong; our way is not perfect, but it is the better, I am sure. You leave it entirely to the young people. What do they know of life, of themselves, even. He falls in love with a pretty face. She--he danced so well! he was so agreeable that day of the picnic! If marriage were only for a month or so; could be ended without harm when the passion was burnt out. Ah, yes! then perhaps you would be right. I loved at eighteen, madly--nearly broke my heart. I meet him occasionally now. My dear"--her hair was silvery white, and I was only thirty-five; she always called me "my dear"; it is pleasant at thirty-five to be talked to as a child. "He was a perfect brute, handsome he had been, yes, but all that was changed. He was as stupid as an ox. I never see his poor frightened-looking wife without shuddering thinking of what I have escaped. They told me all that, but I looked only at his face, and did not believe them. They forced me into marriage with the kindest man that ever lived. I did not love him then, but I loved him for thirty years; was it not better?"
"But, my dear friend," I answered; "that poor, frightened-looking wife of your first love! Her marriage also was, I take it, the result of parental choosing. The love marriage, I admit, as often as not turns out sadly. The children choose ill. Parents also choose ill. I fear there is no sure receipt for the happy marriage."
"You are arguing from bad examples," answered my silver-haired friend; "it is the system that I am defending. A young girl is no judge of character. She is easily deceived, is wishful to be deceived. As I have said, she does not even know herself. She imagines the mood of the moment will remain with her. Only those who have watched over her with loving insight from her infancy know her real temperament.
"The young man is blinded by his passion. Nature knows nothing of marriage, of companionship. She has only one aim. That accomplished, she is indifferent to the future of those she has joined together. I would have parents think only of their children's happiness, giving to worldly considerations their true value, but nothing beyond, choosing for their children with loving care, with sense of their great responsibility."
Which is it?
"I fear our young people would not be contented with our choosing," I suggested.
"Are they so contented with their own, the honeymoon over?" she responded with a smile.
We agreed it was a difficult problem viewed from any point.
But I still think it would be better were we to heap less ridicule upon the institution. Matrimony cannot be "holy" and ridiculous at the same time. We have been familiar with it long enough to make up our minds in which light to regard it.
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