Chapter 63

  1. Courtship

There is an unfortunate tendency in human nature to treat with levity many questions most vitally affecting man’s real happiness. Thus in the questions of love, courtship, and marriage—questions than which none could be more important—it is to be deeply regretted that men and women do not more carefully consider the wisdom of their course, do not reflect whether they are guided by the light of calm, sober sense or are leaving things to impulse.

It has been wisely but sadly said that years are necessary to cement a friendship; but months, and sometimes weeks, and even days, are sufficient to prepare for that holier state of matrimony. From false regard to public opinion, or as a matter of convenience, or for the mere purpose of securing a home and being settled in life, thousands enter into the most sacred of human relationships with no such feelings as will enable them to bear the burdens which it brings.

The Vow

Engraved & Printed by Illman Brothers.

THE VOW.

Love and courtship should be to wedded love what a blossom is to the perfected fruit. The power of this love must be measured, not by its intensity, but by its effects—by its beneficence in bringing into play a higher range of motives, by the facilities it unfolds, by its skill in harmonizing different natures. Not once in a hundred times do two natures brought side by side harmonize in every part. Of nothing are people more ignorant than of human nature. Very rich and fruitful natures are often side by side with very barren ones; noble ones, with those that are sordid; exquisitely sensitive, with those coarse and rude. This is a consequence to be foreseen from the want of thought evinced by people when about to marry.

Many counsel the young not to expect too much from love. That is an evil philosophy, however, which advises to moderation by undervaluing the possibilities of a true and glorious love. Happiness in this life depends more upon the capacity of loving than on any other single quality. If men lose all the treasures of love, it does not prove that the treasure is not to be found, but that they have not sought aright. In love there are many apartments; but not to selfishness, sensuality, or arrogance will love yield its richest treasures. True love is social regeneration. It is a revolution ending with a new king, and a reconstruction of the soul.

The way of selfishness is self-seeking; that of love, self-sacrifice. It is this self-sacrificing spirit of love that can alone perpetuate its influence and establish its worth and blessedness. True wisdom, then, will say to the young, Love, but love not blindly. Justice is represented as blind, in order that, under no circumstances, can she swerve one hair’s-breadth from the right, from personal favor or prejudice; but Love, on the contrary, should use his eyes to the fullest extent, in order that, in days of courtship, no stumbling-block may be left to become a torment after marriage.

A moment’s consideration will show how utterly repugnant it is to all manly feelings to jest in this matter. It is one of the most serious concerns of life. Your weal or woe and the weal or woe of those who shall come after you, and the influence you shall exert upon the world, depend, in a great measure, upon the wisdom and virtue with which you conduct your preparation for marriage. All true minds see the manifest impropriety of jesting about the most delicate, serious, and sacred relation and feeling of human experience. The whole tendency of such lightness is to cause the marriage relation to be lightly esteemed and the true aim of courtship to be lost sight of. Until it is viewed in its true light, with that sober earnestness which the subject demands, courtship will be nothing else than a grand game of hypocrisy, resulting in misery the most deplorable.

Courtships are sweet and dreamy thresholds of unseen temples, where half the world has paused in couples, talked in whispers under the moonlight, passed, on, but never returned. It should be to all but the entrance to scenes of happiness and content. But, alas! in the history of many we know that such is not the case. We have been but poor observers if we fail to recognize that marriage is not necessarily a blessing. It may be the bitterest curse; it may sting like an adder and bite like a serpent. Its bower is as often made of thorns as of roses. It blasts as many sunny expectations as it realizes, and an illy mated human pair is the most woeful picture of wretchedness that is presented in the book of life; and yet such pictures are plenty.

It becomes all young men and women, who are standing where the radiant beams of love are just beginning to gild the pathway before them, to endeavor to ascertain, with the aid of others’ experience, with calm and careful consideration, with an appeal for guidance from on high, whether the person he or she proposes to unite their destiny to is the one with whom, of all the world, they are best adapted to make the journey. If, as the result of such reflection, they are convinced that the choice is wise, they may with confidence proceed to take upon themselves the duties and privileges of the marriage relation. But if such observation shows that they have heretofore erred, as they value their future happiness and the happiness of others, let them stop before the vow is said that indissolubly unites their fate with another’s.

Marriage should be made a study. Every youth, both male and female, should so consider it. It is the grand social institution of humanity. Its laws and relations are of momentous importance to the race. Should it be entered blindly, in total ignorance of what it is, what its conditions of happiness are? The object of courtship is not to woo; it is not to charm, gratify, or please, simply for the present pleasure. It is simply for the selection of a life companion—one who must bear, suffer, and enjoy life with us in all of its forms; in its frowns as well as smiles, joys, and sorrows—one who will walk pleasantly, willingly, and confidingly by our side through all the intricate and changing vicissitudes incident to mortal life.

What is to be sought is a companion, a congenial spirit, one possessed of an interior constitution of soul similar to our own, of similar age, opinions, tastes, habits, modes of thought and feeling. A congenial spirit is one who, under any given combination of circumstances, would be affected, feel, and act as we ourselves would; it is one who would approve what we approve and condemn what we condemn, not for the purpose of agreeing with us, but of his or her own free will. This is a companion who is already united to us by the ties of spiritual harmony, which union it is the object of courtship to discover.

Courtship, then, is a voyage of discovery or a court of inquiry, established by mutual consent of the parties, to see wherein and to what extent there is a harmony existing. If in all these they honestly and harmoniously agree, and find a deep and thrilling pleasure in their agreement, find their union of sentiment to give a charm to their social intercourse; if now they feel that their hearts are bound as well as their sentiments in a holy unity, and that for each other they would live and labor and make every personal sacrifice with gladness, and that without each other they know not how to live, it is their privilege, yes, their duty to form a matrimonial alliance.

The true companion has to be sought for. She does not parade herself as store goods. She is not fashionable. Generally she is not rich. But, oh! what a heart she has when you find her—so large and pure and womanly. When you see it you wonder if those showy things outside were really women. Courtship is the brilliant scene in the maiden life of a woman. It is to her a garden where no weeds mingle with the flowers, but all is lovely and beautiful to the sense. It is a dish of nightingales served up by moonlight to the mingled, music of many tendernesses and gentle whisperings and eagerness, that does not outstep the bounds of delicacy.

Courtship is the first turning point in the life of a woman, crowded with perils and temptation. The rose tints of affection dazzle and bewilder the imagination, and while always bearing in mind that life without love is a wilderness, it should not be overlooked that true affection requires solid support. Discretion tempers passion, and it is precisely this quality which oftener than any other is found to be absent in courtship. Young persons require wise counselors. They should not trust too much to the impulse of the heart, nor be too easily captivated by a winning exterior.

In the selection of a wife a pure, loving heart and good common sense are many times more valuable than personal beauty or wealth. Once installed in the affections of such a lady, you have a life claim on her good offices. No sacrifice she can make is too great, no adversity so stern that it can shake her firmness or hopefulness. Such a woman is a helpmeet as the Creator designed a wife to be. It is an error, which has proved fatal to many young lives, to marry one whom you consider your inferior in mind or body. A wife has the power to make or destroy the home, and a weak heart and shallow brain can never have the former effect.

There can be no such a thing as interchange of sentiment where she does not appreciate your highest thoughts. Can you reveal to her the sacred treasures of mind, which lie hidden from the careless gaze of others, and be assured of her sympathy? Can she walk hand in hand with you as her equal, honored above all women? Is she fit to sit in your household as a shining light, respected for her gentle dignity and the wisdom of her management and conversation? The quiet, reserved girl does not always possess these qualifications; neither does the bright, gay creature, whose presence throws a halo over her surroundings. The poor are no more likely to have the proper gifts and trainings than those who never knew a wish ungratified. But any woman of noble principles, a warm heart, and good common sense to guide her can easily reach the standard.

There is equal danger before the young lady in her choice of a husband. Young men inclined to intemperate habits, even but slightly so, as they have not sufficient moral stamina to enable them to resist temptation even in its incipient stages, and are consequently deficient in self-respect, can not possess that pure, uncontaminated feeling which alone capacitates a man for rightly appreciating the tender and loving nature of a true woman.

It is equally fatal for a woman to marry a man who is her inferior. She of necessity descends to his level. Being his superior in every good sense of the word, she can not have for him that high feeling of regard which every wife should have for her husband. Lacking that, love too soon fades away, and only the duties of married life remain; its pleasures are all gone. What is wanted in both is a true companion; not one who possesses wealth, not necessarily the possessor of a scholastic education, but one who has a pure, warm heart and good common sense.

A true courtship is with all a beautiful sight. Only the coarse and illiterate can there see aught for ridicule or unseemly jest. It is the flowing together of two separate lives that have heretofore been divided, now mysteriously brought together to flow on through all time, and only God in his infinite wisdom knows how far in the shadowy hereafter.

, In, pager

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