Letters to a Young Wife,
from a Married Lady
My Dear Lizzie,
I have just received the pleasing news of your marriage with one so worthy of your trust and affection. Of course, you are very happy; for there is no more perfect happiness for a young and loving woman, than to center her heart's best feelings upon one being — to feel her destiny bound up in his — to become, as it were, a very part of his life. Perhaps, at such a time, my dear girl, it may seem unkind to throw the least shadow over the bright sky of your happiness; but I cannot refrain from giving you some little advice now, at the outset of your new life.
You are looking forward — are you not? — with perfect confidence to the future. You think that the sea upon which you are launched, will ever remain calm and untroubled as now; that you will go on forever thus, joyous and happy — thus, free from care and sorrow. But, oh, remember, there is no sunshine that is not clouded over sometimes; no stream so smooth as to be always undisturbed. Then, make up your mind to have cares, perplexities, and trials — such as have never troubled you before; and be prepared to meet them.
As yet, you are to your husband the same perfect being that you were before marriage, free from all that is wrong — your follies even regarded as delightful. You are now placed upon a pedestal — a very goddess; but, believe me, you must soon descend to take your place among mortals, and well for you if you can do it gracefully. Believe me, dearest, I have no wish to sadden your spirit — only to prepare it for the trials which must come to perplex it.
You must learn to have your faults commented upon, one by one — and yet be meek and patient under reproach. You must learn to have your sayings which you have heard praised as witticisms — regarded as mere nonsense. You must learn to yield even when you seem to be in the right; to give up your will even when your husband seems obstinate and unreasonable; to be chided — when you expected praise; and have your utmost endeavors to do rightly — regarded as mere duties. But, be not cast down by this dark side of the picture. You will be happier, spite of all these trials, than you have ever been — if you only resolve to be firm in the path of duty: to strive to do well always; to return a kind answer for a harsh word; and, above all, to control your temper. There may be times when this may seem impossible; but always remember that one angry word provokes another, and that thus the beautiful gem of wedded affection is tarnished, until what seemed to be the purest gold is found only gilded brass.
Amiability is the most necessary of all virtues in a wife, and perhaps the most difficult of all others to retain.
Pray fervently for a meek forbearing spirit; cherish your kindly impulses — and leave the rest to your Father in Heaven.
I shall, if you like, write you again upon this subject. You know I have been wedded long enough to have had some little experience, and if it can benefit you, you are welcome to it.
Adieu for awhile. Ever your friend.
My Dear Lizzie,
I hardly know whether pleasure or pain was the uppermost feeling of my mind, while reading your reply to my last letter. You have some secret disappointment preying upon your young and thus far happy heart; and although you speak favorably of your new duties as a wife, still there is not that 'rose color' about your descriptions of the present, which used to tinge those of the future.
You have felt already, have you not, that the world has interests for your husband other than those connected with yourself — that he can be very happy even when you are not present to share his happiness? You are not the first, dear Lizzie, who has been thus awakened from an exquisite dream of love. Yet do not repine nor fret, for that will only increase your sorrow, but reason with yourself. Think how many claims there are upon your husband's time and society — claims to which he must bow, if he wishes to retain the position he now holds. Before your marriage, you were the all-engrossing object of his thoughts — all that he depended upon for happiness. There was all the excitement of winning you for his wife, which caused him for a time to forego every other pleasure which might interfere with this one great object. But now that is all over. Like all others, he must proceed onward, and ever look forward to something yet to be attained.
You say that he has left you alone one whole evening, and that you punished him for it, by appearing very much offended when he returned. Now, dear Lizzie, was that the way to cure him of not appreciating your society? By making yourself thus disagreeable upon his return — would he not rather delay that return another time?
Think over what I have written, and when he is obliged to leave you again — wear no sullen frowns, nor gloomy looks, but part from him with smiles and pleasant words; amuse yourself during his absence with your books, your music, your work; make everything around you wear a cheerful look to welcome him home; and believe me, he will appreciate the kindness which is thus free from selfishness.
A man's home must ever be a sunny place to him — and it should be a wife's most pleasant duty to drive forever from his hearth-side, those hideous sister spirits: discontent and gloomy peevishness.
This way that young wives have of punishing their husbands — always comes back upon themselves with double force. Any man, however unreasonable he appears — may be influenced by kindly words and happy smiles; and there is not one, however affectionate and domestic, that will not be driven away by sullen frowns and discontented looks.
Do not allow, my dear girl, these feelings of gloom and sadness to grow upon you. Believe me, you can overcome them if you will, and now is the time for you to exert all your power of self-control.
I know there is much to make a young married woman sad. Before many days of wedded life are past, she begins to feel the difference between the lover and the husband. She misses that entire devotion to her every whim and caprice, which is so delightful; that all-absorbed attention to her every trifling word; that impressiveness of manner which is flattering and pleasing — and she almost imagines that she is a most miserable, neglected person.
This is a trying moment for a young and sensitive woman, but if she only reasons with herself, and resolves to yield no place in her spirits to feelings of repining, she will be happier — far happier with her husband as he is, than were he to retain all the devotion of the lover.
I know this seems difficult to believe — but reflect a moment. Suppose your husband should remain just the same as he was before marriage — should give up all other society for you, should be constantly repeating his words of love, constantly hanging around you, watching your every step, living upon your very breath as it were? Do you not agree with me, in thinking that all this would after awhile become very tiresome? Would you not get weary of such a perpetual display of affection, and would you feel any pride in a husband who made no advancement in the world, even though it were given up for you? No, no! Think this all over, and you will see that it is just as well for you to relinquish his society sometimes; that is — if you welcome his return with a happy face.
Try my experiment, dear, when next he leaves you, and write me the result. Adieu for awhile.
My Dear Lizzie,
A severe illness has prevented my answering your kind letter for some weeks, but now I am quite well again, and hope to continue without further interruption our pleasant correspondence.
Your last letter I have read and re-read, not without, I must confess, some little secret misgiving as to whether you have not taken one step to mar the happiness of your married life, now so perfect in its beauty.
You speak, in your own whole-souled affectionate manner, of a 'friend' with whom you have met, and whose kindness has so won your affection and gratitude, that you have opened your whole heart to her. Now, my dear Lizzie, that same little heart of yours is quite too precious a volume to be thus shown to every newcomer who wins upon you by a few kindly words. You have given it to your husband — let it be kept, then, only for his gaze; open every page of it for his inspection, and let him correct whatever errors he may find traced thereupon. Believe me, dear, you will find no truer or more unselfish confidant, than him to whom you have pledged your marriage vows.
Do not think I wish to discourage all friendships with your own gender. Oh, no — they possess too great a charm to be thus rudely thrown aside. To me, there is hardly a more lovely sight in the world, than the union of two congenial spirits in the tie of sincere and unselfish affection. But I do not dignify with the name of friendship, those caprices of the moment, which so often assume its title and usurp its place. A young girl meets another at an assembly — she is pleased with her manners; thinks her . . .
amiable — because she smiles frequently;
intellectual — because she converses easily;
winning and fascinating — because she receives some kind attentions from her. Forthwith they become 'devoted friends'. In a few weeks they discover that they are not so congenial as they imagined, and the 'friendship' is broken off.
Away with such desecration! One might as well compare the scenes of forest, grove, and field in a theater — to those painted by nature's own hand; as this momentary impulse — to that noble, unwavering affection which gives such beauty and dignity to the female character. There are many imitations of the 'precious gem of friendship' — but although they are equally bright and beautiful at first, they soon tarnish and show themselves in their true and ungilded state.
There is another part of your letter, dear Lizzie, which gives me much uneasiness. After your 'exciting' description of the evening party you attended, you say that you were quite a belle there, and that you met again Paul, your former admirer, who was very devoted to you. Lizzie, dear Lizzie, do not think thus, do not act thus, do not write thus a second time. Remember that you are a wife. A sacred, solemn duty is yours, which will require all your powers to perform with unwavering fidelity. Let me be frank with you, darling, and tell you that love of admiration has ever been your greatest fault, and is one of the most dangerous that a young wife can have. Check it, control it now, before it has led you farther into a snare which may involve your everlasting happiness! If you find it impossible to drive it away from you entirely, endeavor to center it upon your husband. Think of . . .
your personal appearance only so far as it will please him;
your dress, so far as it will gratify his taste;
your intellect, as it will make his home agreeable;
your musical powers, as they will enable you to give him pleasure;
learn to view all your charms and powers of pleasing in this light; improve them with this view, and all will go well with you and your married life.
I was quite charmed with your description of your sweet little home, dear Lizzie! What a lovely place it must be, and what a beautiful prospect of happiness there is before you!
You must be very watchful, dear, of your husband's tastes and peculiarities. Always continue to have his favorite seat ready when he comes home wearied with the day's business; his favorite slippers ready for immediate use; his favorite dishes set before him. There is much influence to be gained over a man by thus proving to him that he has been thought of while absent, and his particular fancies remembered. Always have a cheerful home, a bright fire, a happy welcoming smile — and, believe me, you will have a husband who never strays from home.
I was very happy to learn that you tried the experiment I recommended, and met with so pleasant a result. Cultivate the cheerfulness you seem to have regained; do not allow a shadow to rest upon your spirit, and you will be doubly rewarded in the devoted affection of your husband, and the approval of your own conscience. Adieu for awhile.
My Dear Lizzie,
I have thought many, many times of your last beautiful, 'wife-like' letter. It was so full of tenderness — so full of a spirit of humility — so free from all selfishness — that it called from my heart a gush of the warmest emotion. I have read it again and again, and each time with an increased feeling of interest and pleasure.
You are in the right path, now, darling — God grant that you may never be induced to deviate from it! Go on as you have commenced, and, believe me — more happiness will be yours than you have ever dreamed of. There is no richer treasure in this world — no greater blessing — no more unalloyed happiness to a woman — than the perfect trust and love of a good husband. The tie that binds the wedded couple, is one that must be guarded well — or it may become partially unloosed, and it is almost impossible ever to fasten it as at first.
Cherish that all-absorbing love for your husband, which now so fills your heart. Regard nothing as beneath your watchful attention which adds to his happiness. Consult his wishes, his tastes — in all your actions, your habits, your dress. Above all, never 'deceive' him. Be able ever to meet him with an unflinching eye, a true and honest heart.
Ever be guided by the lovely light of right principle — let this direct you in all your paths; keep your eye fixed upon it; lose not sight of it a moment, for it beams from a beautiful home of peaceful happiness, where it would lead you, and where all arrive who follow its guidance.
Cultivate in your heart a love of home, and home duties. Strive to make that place as attractive as possible, and do everything in your power to render it an agreeable resting-place for your husband. The daily routine of home duties, when performed in the right spirit, diffuse a feeling of cheerfulness over one's heart that can never be found in the applause of the world, or the gratification of any favorite desire.
Endeavor to make your husband's evenings at home as pleasant as you are able; call forth all your powers of pleasing; bring up his favorite topics of conversation; amuse him with music; do all that you can to convince him that he has a most delightful wife — and trust me, dear girl, you will never fail to make his own fireside the happiest spot in the world to him.
I once knew a wife who complained to me, with many tears, that her husband left her, evening after evening, to pass his time in the reading-room of a hotel. Questioning the husband upon his desertion of so pleasant a wife, he replied to me, that he had commenced his married life with the determination to be a kind, stay-at-home husband — but that he had actually been driven from his home — and for what, do you imagine, my dear Lizzie? Why, because he had not the simple privilege of enjoying a cigar! Yes, his wife actually would not allow him to smoke in the parlor where their evenings were passed, because, forsooth, she was afraid of spoiling her new curtains! They, it seems, were of more importance to her than the comfort of her husband. He had been confirmed in the habit of smoking for years, and could not pass an evening without it. He did not feel inclined to sit alone in a cold, cheerless room, so he went to a neighboring hotel, which he found so lively and pleasant that he came to the conclusion, for the future, to enjoy his cigars there.
You may smile, and look upon this as a trifle — and so it was; yet was it of sufficient importance to drive a man from his own fireside, and render a woman lonely and unhappy.
Life is made up of trifles, and it is by paying attention to opportunities of winning love by 'little things' — that a wife makes her husband and herself happy. Are such means, then, to be neglected, when they lead to such results?
I must bid you adieu now for a while, dear Lizzie. I think of you very, very often, and pray most fervently that you may be enabled so to perform your duties as a wife — as to be a blessing to your husband, and an example to all womankind.
Ever your friend.