The benefits of marriage have been long understood, and were even pronounced solemnly during the wedding service!
First, It was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name.
Secondly, It was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ’s body.
Thirdly, It was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.
The Solemnisation of Matrimony, from The Book of Common Prayer (1662)
However, despite such a long and glorious tradition, one continues to wonder at the key to a happy marriage! Unfortunately, it is not just in the modern era that we wonder such things. They also did in 1818, with one reader of Ackermann’s Repository (1818) composing a rather extensive set of directives “for producing connubial felicity” for the betterment of his fellow man.
The Editor, in accepting this letter for publication, acknowledged that the author of it had also related his tales of woe concerning his own marriage and the misery that it had caused him. Undoubtedly, you will not find it hard to imagine him in misery upon reading his advice to husbands and wives.
Rules and Maxims for Matrimonial Happiness
- When courting your mistress [future wife], never miscall her by the name of angel or goddess, lest she mistake it for truth, and forget that she is mortal and a woman.
- When putting the question (as it is termed), be careful not to allow her to suppose that your happiness, or even comfort, depends on her assent: recollect that you are making a proposal, not begging a boon.
- Teach her beforehand, that the marriage ceremony is not a mere matter of form, and explain fully the meaning of the word obey.
- Be careful. at church, that she repeats every word distinctly after the clergyman, that she may afterwards have no excuse for acting in opposition.
- When you take her home, tell her that she is to command your servants, but that you are to command her. On placing in her hands the household sceptre, make her understand, that she is only a tributary sovereign, and that you are her liege lord.
- Be not imperious, but decided, and always speak as if it were a matter of course to be obeyed.
- Be not backward to blame, lest she attribute it to fear: if once she knows that you are afraid of her, your authority is at an end, and you become a poor, degraded, dependant, miserable creature.
- If pleasure or business take you from home, expect cheerful looks on your return; the surest way to secure them is to give them: a wife, like the moon, should shine by reflection, and her brightness should arise from the glory of her husband. Be sure, however, to guard against the variableness of your moon, and allow no one to eclipse her in your eyes.
- If she be of an obstinate or sulky temper, do not proceed to extremities, lest you fail, but shew he that you do not mind it: treat her as if you did not perceive it, and her own mortification will be her cure.
- If she be passionate and violent, be you cool and collected in proportion: if she irritates you, she has mounted one step of her throne and you descended one step of yours.
- Treat her as the mistress of your family before the servants, owning you only as her superior and lord paramount.
- If she be fond of reading (which itself is a misfortune, and to be discouraged), let her have no novels: if she must read, give her the memoirs of Roman wives and matrons: if she prefer light reading, put before her the words of the fathers of the church.
- Be careful that she do not think too well of herself in point of learning, lest she soon fancy herself superior.
- If she be witty, teach her that the best mode of shewing it is to conceal it.
- If you take her to places of public amusement, make her know that it is the reward of, and not a bribe to, good conduct.
- Let her be as little as possible along: if a man, according to the philosopher, is not to be trusted by himself, ought we to have more confidence in a woman?
- Finally, love her, but do not shew it too much, lest she take advantage of it: as all wives desire power, it should be the business of all husbands to prevent their obtaining it.
But wait! There’s more! This gentleman also furnished the Editor with a second set of maxims to which wives should adhere to.
Rules to be Observed by Wives
- When a young gentleman makes you an offer, hold yourself flattered by his preference, and be proportionately grateful.
- If you accept him (which we will suppose of course), study his temper and inclinations, that you may better accommodate your own to them.
- After marriage obey him cheerfully, even though you think him in error: it is better that he should do wrong in what he commands, than that you should do wrong in objecting to it.
- If he flatters you, do not forget that it is but flattery: think lowly of yourself and highly of him, or at least make him believe so.
- If you see any imperfections in your husband (which there may be), do not pride yourself of your penetration in discovering them, but on your forbearance in not pointing them out: strive shew no superiority, but in good temper.
- Bear in mind continually, that you are weak and dependant; and even if you are beautiful, that it adds to your weakness and dependance.
- If you displease him, be the first to conciliate and to mend: there is no degradation in seeking peace, or in shewing that you love your husband better than your triumph.
- If misfortunes assail you, remember that you ought to sustain you share of the burden: imitate your husband’s fortitude, or shew your own for his imitation.
- When you rise in the morning, resolve to be cheerful for the day: let your smiles dispel his frowns.
- Take pride in concealing your husband’s infirmities from others, rather than in proclaiming them: you will only be laughed at by all your acquaintances if you tell his faults to one.
- Endeavour rather to save than to spend your husband’s money: if his fortune be large, strive to preserve it; if small, to increase it.
- Be not importunate or obtrusive in your fondness, and choose proper occasions for your caresses, lest they prove wearisome.
- Finally, recollect always that God has made yon subject to him, and that he is your natural guardian and protector; that you owe your husband not less honour than love, and not less love than obedience.
Now, it needs to be said that this view of matrimony, even in 1818, was a little conservative. Even James Forsythe, an Anglican clergyman, was not so conservative when he wrote his Sermons to Young Women (1766) and his Addresses to Young Men (1777).
Jane Austen (1775-1817), whose father was a devout clergyman (as was two of her brothers) and was herself also considered to be very religious, would hardly have condoned this view of matrimony. The Austen family (both women and men) certainly ALL read novels!
This article was also written considerably before the stricter Victorian ideals about female behaviour had entered English society. This leads me to consider that this gentleman occupies the conservative side of the debate in his day. It also makes me wonder what sort of woman he married!
I have written a subsequent post about the response the Editor received in the next issue of Ackermann’s Repository, after the publication of this advice.
Sources and Relevant Links
Ackermann’s Repository of Arts, Literature, Commerce, Manufactures, Fashions and Politics (1818) – this letter was printed on page 29-32.
The Solemnisation of Matrimony, The Book of Common Prayer