Chapter 64

  1. Marriage

The marriage ceremony is one of the most interesting and solemn spectacles that social life presents. To see two rational creatures, in the glow of youth and hope which invests life in a halo of happiness, appear together and acknowledge their preference for each other, voluntarily enter into a league of perpetual friendship and amity, and call on all to witness the sanctity of their vows, awakens deep feeling in the hearts of all beholders. A holy influence is felt to pervade the place; the spirit of the hour is sacramental.

Though mirth may abound before and after the irrevocable formula is spoken, yet at that particular point of time there is a shadow on the most laughing lip, a moisture in the firmest eye; and it may well be so. To think of the endearing relations, and the important consequences which are to flow from it as the couple walk side by side through life, participating in the same joys and sharing the same sorrows, two weak, frail human natures thus taking upon themselves, in the sight of God and man, the weighty duties of a new and untried state of existence, exerts a solemn influence on all.

All pictures of human happiness represent sorrow in the background. Thus the wedding ceremony. True, it is considered an occasion of great joy; but there remains the thought, the smile that kindles to ecstasy at their union will at last be quenched in the tears of the survivor. Man may unite, but death only separates. If from this proceed some of the deepest joys of life, from hence also come not unfrequently the deepest sorrows.

There is no one thing more lovely in this life, more full of the divinest courage, than when a young maiden—from her past life; from her happy childhood, when she rambled over every field and moor around her home; when a mother anticipated her wants and soothed her little cares; when brothers and sisters grew from merry playmates to loving, trustful friends; from the Christmas gatherings and romps, the festival in bower or garden; from the rooms sanctified by the death of relatives; from the holy and secure background of her early life—looks out into a dark and unknown future, away from all that, and yet unterrified, undaunted, undertakes the journey, with a trusting confidence in the one beside her. Buoyed up with the confidence of requited love, she bids a fond and grateful adieu to the life that is passed, she turns with excited hopes and joyful anticipations of happiness to what is to come.

Then woe to the man who can blast such hopes, who can break the illusions that have won her, and destroy the confidence which his love inspired! Marriage offers the most effective opportunity for spoiling the life of another. Nobody can debase, harass, and ruin a woman as her own husband, and nobody can do a tithe as much to chill a man’s aspiration for good, to paralyze his energies, as his wife; and a man is never irretrievably ruined in his prospects till he marries a bad woman. Perhaps there is no hour in the life of a man or woman more potential for weal or woe than the marriage hour. That is the hour from whence most men can date their success or failure; for while nothing is a greater incentive to a man to put forth all his exertions than for the sake of his wife, and while her society is the place where he forgets the cares of the world, and in its quiet rest finds new courage to take up life’s load, yet has a wife equal power for ill.

Be a man ever so ambitious, energetic, or industrious, yet with a careless or spendthrift wife his best efforts for success are vain. And nothing will sooner discourage a man than a wife too ignorant or too careless to understand, appreciate, and sympathize with his efforts. And for the woman, too, it is at once the happiest and saddest hour of her life. It is the promise of future bliss, raised on the death of all present enjoyment. She quits her home, her parents, her companions, her occupation, her amusements, her every thing upon which she has, hitherto depended for comfort, for affection, for kindness, for pleasure.

With the marriage ceremony she enters a new world; but it is with her a world from whence she can not return. If the man of her choice be an upright, pure man, with manly traits of character, industrious and honest, in the majority of cases she is to blame if it be not to her a world of happiness. But if she has erred, and she finds herself bound for life with one inferior to her, or who is enslaved to habit or temper, or destitute of manly attributes, God help her! Her future is full of misery.

A man’s moral character is necessarily powerfully influenced by his wife. A lower nature will drag him down, as a higher one will lift him up. The former will deaden his sympathies, dissipate his energies, and distort his life, while the latter, by satisfying his affections, will strengthen his moral nature, and, by giving him repose, tend to energize his intellect. Not only so, but a woman of high principle will insensibly elevate the aim and purpose of her husband, as one of low principles will unconsciously degrade them. In the course of life we may see even a weak man display real public virtue, because he had by his side a woman of noble character, who sustained him in his career, and exercised a fortifying influence on his views of public duty; while, on the contrary, all have often witnessed men of grand and generous instincts transformed into vulgar self-seekers by contact with women of narrow natures, devoted to an imbecile love of pleasure, and from whose minds the grand motive of duty was altogether absent. As wives may exercise a great moral influence upon their husbands, so, on the other hand, there are few men strong enough to resist the influence of a lower character in a wife. If she does not sustain and elevate what is highest in his nature, she will speedily reduce him to her own level. Thus a wife may be the making or unmaking of the best of men.

It is by the regimen of the domestic affections that the heart of man is best composed and regulated. The home is the woman’s kingdom, her state, her world where she governs by affection, by kindness, by the power of gentleness. There is nothing which so settles the turbulence of a man’s nature as his union in life with a high-minded woman. There he finds rest, contentment, and happiness—rest of brain and peace of spirit. He will also often find in her his best counselor; for her instinctive tact will usually lead him right, where his own unaided reason might be apt to go wrong.

The true wife is a staff to lean upon in times of trial and difficulty, and she is never wanting in sympathy and solace when distress occurs or fortune frowns. In the time of youth she is a comfort and an ornament of man’s life, and she remains a faithful helpmate in maturer years, when life has ceased to be in anticipation, and we live in its realities. Of all the institutions that effect human weal or woe on earth none is more important than marriage. It is the foundation of the great social fabric, and conceals within its mystic relations the coiled secrets of the largest proportion of happiness and misery connected with the lot of man.

Marriage, to be a blessing, must be properly entered. It has its fundamental laws, which must be obeyed. It is not a mysterious, wonder-working institution of the Almighty, which can not be studied by the common mind, but a simple necessity laid in man’s social nature, which may be read and understood of all men who will investigate that nature. The reasons for every enjoyment of the matrimonial life may be understood before entering upon its relations. The conditions upon which its joys and advantages are realized may be learned beforehand. It should not be entered in blindness, but rather in the daylight of a perfect knowledge of its rules and regulations, its promises and conditions, its laws and privileges, so that no uncertainty shall attend its realization, no unhappy revealments, shall follow a knowledge of its reality.

Marriage, then, 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. Shall it be entered blindly, in total ignorance of what it is, what its conditions of happiness are? Its relations involve some of the most stern duties and acts of self-denial that men are called upon to perform. Shall youth enter upon its relations without a knowledge of these duties? For all the professions, trades, and callings in life men and women prepare themselves by previous attention to their principles and duties. They study them,—devote time and money to them. Every imaginable case of difficulty or trial is considered and duly disposed of according to the general principles of the trade or profession. But marriage—incomparably the most important and holy relation of life, involving the most sacred responsibilities and influences, social, civil, and religious, that bear upon men—is entered upon in hot haste or blind stupidity, by a great majority of youth.

No young man has any right to ask a young woman to enter the matrimonial bonds with him till he is thoroughly acquainted with the female constitution and character. Woman loves the strong, the resolute, and the vigorous in man. To these qualities she looks for protection. Under the shadow of their wings she feels secure. But she wants them blended with the tender, the sensitive, and the lofty in sentiment. Her companionship, her joy, she finds in these sentiments. Where she finds these she pours the full tides of her loving soul, and willingly enters the bower of conjugal felicity. He who knows not her nature knows not how to gratify and satisfy that nature. So woman should know the nature of man. The rough world often makes him appear what he is not. He has a vein of tenderness below the sternness of his worldly manners which woman should know how to penetrate and bring for her own, as well as for his, proper enjoyment. It is in this strata of tenderness that she finds her true companionship with him, and he with her. If she is ignorant of his nature she knows not how to supply his wants or answer the calls of that nature. Thus we see most clearly the necessity of a thorough study of this whole subject by every youth. It is ignorance in these matters that causes a great amount of matrimonial infelicity.

Some are disappointed in marriage because they expect too much from it; but many more because they do not bring into the copartnership their fair share of cheerfulness, kindness, forbearance, and common sense. Their imagination has pictured a condition of things never experienced on this side of heaven, and when real life comes with its troubles and cares there is a sudden wakening up as from a dream. Or, they look for something approaching perfection in their chosen companion, and discover by experience that the fairest of characters have their weaknesses. Yet it is often the very imperfection of human nature, rather than its perfections, that makes the strongest claims on the forbearance and sympathy of others and, in affectionate and sensible natures, tends to produce the closest unions.

Marriage is the source from whence originates, as from a radiant point, the most beautiful glories of life, and also the deepest cares. Talk as we will of marriage, it is a real affair—it abounds in homely details. The joys of the wedding morn are quickly followed by the anxious cares of daily life. But if entered understandingly, and lived as becomes thoughtful, considerate human beings, each of whom tries to bear with the other’s infirmities, and to consider the other’s happiness as paramount with their own, it then becomes a delightful scene of domestic happiness, to which all true men and women look forward as the condition of life most consonant to their true happiness.

, In, pager

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