Is Marriage a Lottery?

By Timothy Shay Arthur, 1852

"I am afraid to marry!" said a young lady, half jesting and half in earnest, replying to something a friend had said.

"Why so, Ella?" asked one of the company, who had thus far chosen rather to listen than join in the conversation of half a dozen mirthful young girls. She was a quiet, matronly-looking individual, some few years past the prime of life.

"For fear of being unhappy, Mrs. Harding," replied the first speaker.

"What an idea!" exclaimed a mirthful damsel, laughing aloud at the curious fear expressed by Ella. "For my part, I never expect to be happy, until I am married!"

"If marriage should make you any happier than you are now, Caroline, the result will be very fortunate. Your case will form an exception to the rule."

"Oh, no, Ella, don't say that," spoke up the one who had replied to her first remark. "Happiness is the rule, and unhappiness the exception."

"Then it happens frequently enough," returned Ella, smiling, "that we are more familiar with the exceptions than the rule."

"No, my dear, that cannot for a moment be admitted. Far more of happiness than misery, results from marriage."

"Look at Ellen Mallory," was answered promptly, "and Mrs. Cummings, and half a dozen others I could name."

"The two you have mentioned are painful instances, I must admit, and form the exceptions of which I spoke; but the result is by no means one that should excite our surprise, for it is a natural consequence flowing from an adequate cause. If you marry as unwisely as did the persons you mention, I have no doubt but you will be quite as wretched as they are it may be, more so."

"I am sure Mr. Mallory is an elegant-looking man," said one of the company, "and might have had his pick among a dozen more attractive girls, than ever Ellen Martine was."

"All as thoughtless and undiscriminating as she," remarked Mrs. Harding, quietly.

"Ellen is no fool," returned the last speaker.

"In the most important act of her whole life, she has certainly not shown herself to be a wise woman," said Mrs. Harding.

"But how in the world was she to know that Mr. Mallory was going to turn out so badly?" spoke up Ella.

"By opening her eyes, and using the ability that God has given her to see," was answered by Mrs. Harding.

"Do you then really think, Ella," said Mrs. Harding, "that a young lady cannot make herself as thoroughly acquainted with a man's real qualities as to put any serious mistake in marriage entirely out of the question?"

"To me, I must confess that marriage seems very much like a lottery," answered Ella. "We may get a prize but there are ten chances to one of our getting a blank."

"If you choose to make it a lottery, it will no doubt become so; but if entered into from right motives, there is no danger of this being the case."

"I don't know what you call right motives," said one; "but I'll tell you a necessary pre-requisite in the man who is to make me a husband."

"Well, child, what is it?"

"Plenty of money! I'm not going to be a poor man's wife, and work myself to death, all for love no, not I!"

"I'll have a handsome man for a husband, or none," remarked another.

"Give me splendid talents," said a third.

"And what must you have, Ella?" asked Mrs. Harding, turning to the one she addressed.

"All three, if I can get them," replied Ella.

"Beauty, wealth, and talents do you think these would satisfy you?"

"Oh, yes; I would be rather hard to please, if they did not."

"Let me relate to you the histories of two friends of mine who married young," said Mrs. Harding, without remarking upon what had just been declared. "Perhaps they may contain lessons that it will be of use for you all to get by heart."

"Oh, yes, do!" said the young ladies, gathering around Mrs. Harding, who, after a short pause, related what follows.

"In my younger days," began Mrs. Harding, "I had two intimate friends, to whom I was warmly attached. I loved them for their many good qualities, and particularly for their unselfishness. To make others happy, always appeared to give them a double pleasure. They were nearly of the same age, and possessed equal external advantages; but their characters were very different.

"Sarah Corbin was quiet, thoughtful, and observant; while Harriet Wieland, who had great personal attractions, never appeared to look beneath the surface. She believed everything to be true, that bore the semblance of truth. To her, all that glittered, was gold. Like you, and most other young ladies, we sometimes talked of marriage, and the qualifications desirable in a good husband. Harriet, whether in a mirthful or sober mood, always declared, like Ella here, that he who won her heart must have riches, manly beauty, and brilliant talents. These she called man's cardinal virtues. Sarah never had much to say on these matters, and, when we asked her opinion, she generally replied evasively.

"A young man named Eaverson, answering pretty nearly to the beau ideal of Harriet Wieland, came from a neighboring city to reside in this. He was connected with a wealthy and highly respectable family, was really a handsome man, and possessed very fine abilities. He had studied law, and opened his office here for the purpose of pursuing it as a regular profession; but, not meeting with much practice at first, he occupied a large portion of his time in literary pursuits, writing for the magazines and reviews. He also published a small volume of poetry, which contained many really brilliant specimens of verse.

"Circumstances threw Eaverson into the circle of which we formed a part, and we were consequently introduced to him. In the course of time, he began to pay rather marked attentions to Sarah Corbin, at which I felt a little surprised, as he had met Harriet Wieland quite as often, and she was far more beautiful and showy, and more likely, it seemed to me, to attract one like him than the other. Either Sarah was unconscious that his attentions were more marked in her case, or she did not wish her observation of the fact to be known, for all our allusions to the subject were evaded with a seeming indifference that left our minds in doubt. Such were our impressions at first; but the sequel showed that she had marked his first advances with lively interest, and understood their meaning quite as well as we did.

"About Eaverson there was everything to attract the heart of a maiden not well guarded; and Sarah found that it required the fullest exercise of her reason to prevent her from letting every affection of her mind go out and attach itself to an object that seemed, at first sight, so worthy of her love. But by nature and from education, she was thoughtful and observant; and a wise mother had taught her that in marriage, external accomplishments and possessions were nothing, unless united with virtuous principles and well-regulated passions. The brilliant attractions of Eaverson strongly tempted her to take his moral fitness for granted; but wiser counsels prevailed in her mind; and with a vigorous hand laid upon her heart to keep down its errant impulses, she exercised, with coolness and a well-balanced mind, the powers of discrimination which God had given for her guidance through life.

"All the time that this process was going on in her mind, we remained in ignorance of the fact that she ever thought of the young man, except when he was present, or his name introduced by others. To her, all that related to marriage was too serious to form the theme of ordinary conversation, light jests, or idle chit-chat. Rarely indeed would she have anything to say, when others spoke lightly or jested on the subject. This being the case, now that her own mind had become deeply interested in a matter of most vital importance to her future welfare, she had no one to disturb the even balance of her reflections by a thoughtless word, an untimely jest, or a false opinion flowing from inexperience or a lack of ability to read human nature aright.

"Silently, freely, and with no biassing influence, in the unapproachable chambers of her own thoughts, did she weigh the real character of Eaverson, as far as she could understand it, against what was merely external and personal. The more marked the attentions of the young man became the more earnestly did she seek to comprehend his real character. Every word he uttered in her presence, every sentiment he expressed, every action and every look were closely scanned, and their meaning, as having reference to principles in the mind, sought to be understood. Such careful scrutiny did not go unrewarded. When Eaverson, soon after her mind was made up in regard to him, made an offer of his hand the offer was unhesitatingly declined. Sarah had seen enough to satisfy her, that with all his talents, beauty, and wealth he was lacking in virtuous principles and a high sense of honor.

"I confess, that, with others, I was greatly surprised when the fact of Sarah's having declined the hand of Eaverson became known. The selection of her by one like him seemed so high a preference, and such a marked tribute to her worth and virtue, that it was scarcely credible that she could have remained indifferent to his love. But she saw deeper than we did."

"'I cannot understand the reason of your refusal to accept Mr. Eaverson's offer?' I said to Sarah, one day, when the conversation took a turn that gave me an opportunity of alluding to the subject. 'Do you know anything against him?'

"'Nothing further than the conclusions of my own mind, arising from a careful observation of his sentiments, manners, and unguarded expressions,' she replied.

"'Was it from such conclusions, that you declined his offer?'

"'From these alone, for I know nothing of his history before he came to this city, and nothing of his life since he has been here.'

"'May you not possibly be mistaken?'

"'No. From the moment he seemed in the least pleased with me, I commenced observing him closely. It was not long before I heard him utter a sentiment, while speaking to another, that showed him to possess very false views of life in at least one particular. This I noted, and laid it by in my memory for comparison with anything else I might see or hear.'

"'But you would not condemn a man for having erroneous views of life?' said I.

"'Oh, no; not if his principles are pure. But if false views arise from a perverted heart then I would condemn the man. What I heard, I noticed in order to determine, if possible, from what source it came. A very long time did not pass, before I saw something that told me very plainly that the false view which I have mentioned depended more upon a perversion of the heart, than an error in the understanding. I likewise discovered, very soon, that when in conversation with me, he was, evidently, more upon his guard, as to what sentiments he declared, than he was when in conversation with others. But I need not state particularly the whole process by which I arrived at conclusions sufficiently clear to warrant my full and prompt rejection of his suit.'

"'In what estimation do you hold him?' I asked.

"'As a man without honor or virtue,' she said, decidedly.

"'That is a broad and severe judgment,' I replied.

"'So it is. I have made it for myself. Of course, I cannot expect others to view him in the same light; nor do I believe many others would form this conclusion from the evidences that were presented to my mind. But, as for me, I have no doubt on the subject. Rather than become his wife I would suffer death; for a union with him would be, to me, the depth of misery!'

"The seriousness with which Sarah spoke, satisfied me that she believed all she said, and had, at some cost of feeling, rejected an offer of marriage that would have been an exceedingly desirable one, had the character of the man who made it, been fully approved.

"A short time after the rejection of his suit by Miss Corbin, I noticed that Eaverson appeared more inclined to keep company with Harriet Wieland than before. I could not help feeling regret at this, for, notwithstanding I thought Sarah had judged the young man rather severely I was yet satisfied that there must be some ground for her conclusions in regard to his character. Slight attentions, encouraged by Harriet, soon became the bold advances of a lover. A few months after his suit had been declined by Sarah, he offered himself to her friend, and was unhesitatingly accepted.

"In the mean time, a young man, whom I will call Williamson, had met Sarah occasionally, and showed a disposition to win, if possible, her favorable regard. His exterior was by no means elegant; his literary attainments were not great; nor was he in the enjoyment of anything beyond a moderate income. Place him and Eaverson in almost any company and the latter would nearly hide him from view. But, with the most moderate pretensions, and unattractive exterior Williamson's character was formed upon a ground-work of good sense and virtuous principles. He had little facility of expression, but he thought clearly, and, in most things, acted from a sound judgment. He was much pleased with Sarah before Eaverson attempted to gain her affections; and noticed his advances. For the result, he looked with some interest. When it became clearly apparent that she had thrown him off, Williamson was satisfied that she was a girl of discrimination and sound sense, and immediately resolved that he would know her better. The oftener he met her, and the nearer he observed her, the more excellent did her character seem in his eyes. The result was an offer of marriage, which was accepted by Sarah, as much to our surprise as was her rejection of Eaverson.

"My two young friends were married about the same time. The wedding of Harriet was a brilliant one, and she was the envy of dozens of young girls who had hoped and tried to make a conquest of the man who had chosen to unite his fortunes with hers. Sarah's nuptials were celebrated in a less imposing manner, and created but little sensation. Most of her friends thought she had done but poorly. Whether this were so, will be seen in the sequel.

"Harriet, with all her lack of reflection and insight into character, was a young woman of strong feelings, and loved, when she did love, with something like blind idolatry. Thus she loved her husband. He was everything to her, and she believed him as near perfection as a mortal could well be. The first few months of her married life passed swiftly away in the enjoyment of as high a degree of felicity as her mind seemed capable of appreciating.

"After that, a shadow fell upon her spirit dim and almost imperceptible at first, but gradually becoming denser and more palpable. Harriet had noticed, from the first, that her husband but rarely spoke of his family, and always evaded any questions that a natural curiosity prompted her to make. If he received any letter from home, he carefully concealed the fact from her. The wealth, respectability, and high standing of his family made Harriet, as a matter of course, feel desirous of bearing a more intimate relation to its members than she now did. The more she thought about this, the less satisfied did she feel. It was the marked dislike manifested by her husband to any reference to his family, that first caused a coldness to pass over the heart of the young wife, and a shadow to dim the bright sunshine of her spirits; for it induced the thought that something might be wrong. Once give such a thought birth, and let mystery and doubt continue to harass the mind, and peace is gone forever. A thousand vague suspicions will enter, and words, looks, and actions will have a signification never apparent before!

"Thus it was with my young friend, before six months had passed since her wedding-day. To increase her anxious doubts, her husband seemed to grow cold towards her. This might all be imagination, but the idea, once in possession of her mind, found numberless sustaining evidences. He went out more frequently in the evening, and stayed out later than at first. Sometimes he would sit silent and abstracted, and only reply in monosyllables to her questions or remarks.

"One day he came home to dinner, looking graver than usual. But, during the meal, there was an evident desire on his part to appear cheerful and unconcerned; he talked more freely than usual, and even made many light and jesting remarks. But the veil assumed, was too thin. Harriet's eyes saw through it, and rested only upon the somber reality beneath. As they were rising from the table, he said,

"'Harriet, dear! I must run on to New York this afternoon, on business. The interest of a client in a large estate there requires my immediate presence in that city.'

"Eaverson did not look his wife steadily in the face as he said this, although he plainly tried to do so. But this she did not remark at the time. Her mind only rested upon the fact of his going away.

"'How long will you be gone?' she asked in a choking voice.

"'I will try and be back tomorrow. If not, you will at least see me home on the day after.'

"'Why can't I '

"She paused her eyes fell to the floor, and the color deepened on her cheeks.

"'What, dear?'

"'Go with you?'

"It was in New York, that the family of Eaverson resided.

"'Not now,' he quickly answered. 'I am compelled to go in too much hurry; but the next time business takes me there, you shall accompany me.'

"Nothing could be more unsatisfactory than this. Was she not to be introduced to his family, as his wife, formally? Was she only to go to the city of their residence at some future time, when business called her husband there? The thought caused a chill to pass through her frame. She made no reply. But the paleness that overspread her face, and the sadness that fell upon her countenance, revealed to her husband, too plainly, her state of mind. He said nothing, however, to dispel the gloom she felt. Words, he no doubt felt, would be fruitless.

"The young wife parted with her husband it tears, and then retired to her chamber, where she gave way to a paroxysm of grief, that had its origin more in the accompanying mystery, than in the fact of her husband's absence. I say mystery, for she did not fully believe the reason he had given for his hurried visit to New York, and felt that there was a mystery connected with it, that, somehow or other, deeply affected her happiness.

"After the mind of Harriet had grown calmer, she commenced restoring to order the few articles in her chamber that had been disarranged in the hurried preparation made by her husband for his departure. As she was about placing the coat he had worn in the morning, and which he had changed for another on going away, in the wardrobe, her hand pressed against a letter in one of the pockets, which a sudden curiosity tempted her to read. The writing was in a small, delicate hand, and the post-mark New York. Hurriedly opening it, when she saw this, she read its brief contents, which were as follow:


I heard, indirectly, within the last hour, that you were married. I cannot believe it, yet the thought has maddened me! If you do not come to me by tomorrow night, I will go to you on the following day for the truth or falsity of what I have heard must be verified to me at once. If it be true God help the innocent heart you have betrayed, and most cruelly wronged. It can only break!


"The trembling hands of the horror-stricken wife could hold the fatal epistle no longer than to permit her eyes to rest upon the signature. It then fell rustling to the floor, and she sat pale, quivering in every nerve, and unconscious of anything but a wild whirling of all her senses.

"It was my fortune, or misfortune, to call upon my young friend just at this time. I was told that she was in her chamber; and, as our intimacy was very great, I took a liberty we were in the habit of taking with each other, and went up to her, unannounced. My gentle tap at her door not being answered, I opened it and went in. As I have just described her, thus I found her. My entrance but partially restored her self-command. She stared wildly at me, stretched out her hands, and made an effort to speak. I sprang toward her, and she fell forward against my bosom, with a deep groan that made me shudder. Thus she lay for nearly five minutes as still as a statue. Then a slight quiver ran through her frame, which was followed by a gush of tears. For a long time she continued weeping and sobbing, but at length grew calmer.

"All this time I could see an open letter lying upon the floor, which I doubted not was the caused of this distressing scene. When the self-command of Harriet was at last restored, and she began to reflect upon the consequences likely to flow from another's witnessing the wild agitation she had displayed, a shade of anxious confusion passed over her face. At this moment her eye rested upon the fatal letter, which she caught up eagerly and concealed. I asked no question, nor made any remarks. She looked at me steadily for a moment, and then let her eyes fall thoughtfully to the floor.

"'You are surprised and confounded, no doubt,' she at length said, mournfully, 'at what you have seen. Pardon me if I refrain from mentioning the cause. It is one of which I cannot speak.'

"I begged her not to reveal the cause of her affliction, if to do so were at all in violation of what she deemed right; but to accept my deepest sympathies, and to put it in my power, if that were possible, to mitigate, in some degree, the pain of mind she was suffering.

"'That you cannot do,' said she. 'It is beyond the reach of human aid.'

"'May Heaven, then, give you strength to bear it,' I returned, with emotion.

"'Heaven only can,' she replied in a subdued voice.

"I could say no more, for my ignorance of the cause of her distress put it out of my power to offer consolation, more particularly as it was her expressed wish, that I should remain in ignorance. I stayed an hour with her, during which time I learned that her husband had been suddenly called to New York on business. It was one of the unhappiest hours I ever spent in my life.

"On going away, I could not help recalling the conversation I had once held with Sarah Corbin about Mr. Eaverson, nor help feeling that there might be too much truth in her declarations that she believed him to be a man without honor or virtue. There was no doubt in my mind that Harriet's distress was in some way connected with her husband's absence, and it occurred to me that the letter I had seen upon the floor, and which she concealed so eagerly, might not have been intended for her eyes, and might contain things which for her to know would be fatal to her peace through life. In this, my conjectures were of course true.

"I called in to see Mrs. Eaverson on the next day, reluctantly, but from a sense of duty. I found her calm, but pale, and with a look of distress. She said but little. No allusion whatever was made to the condition in which I had found her on the previous afternoon. I sat only half an hour, and then went away. I could not stay longer, for my presence seemed oppressive to her, and hers was equally so to me.

"On the third day following that on which Mr. Eaverson went to New York, I saw a newspaper paragraph headed, 'Melancholy Circumstances.' It related, briefly, that the daughter of respectable and wealthy parents in New York had been deeply wronged about a year previous by an unprincipled cousin, whom she passionately loved. The consequence was, that the young man had to leave the city, under the promise of never returning to it, unless he consented to marry his cousin. This penalty was imposed by the father of the girl, who declared his intention to shoot him if he ever saw him in New York. The result of this baseness on the part of the young man, was the utter estrangement of his family. They threw him off entirely. But, as he had a handsome fortune in his own right, and the cause of his removal from New York did not become generally known, he soon found his way into the best society in a neighboring city. Some months afterwards he married a lovely girl, who was all unconscious of the base wretch into whose keeping, she had given the inestimable jewel of her love. A few days since, the narration proceeded, the cousin, by some means or other, obtained a knowledge of this fact. She wrote to him demanding an interview, and threatening that if she did not obtain one in twenty-four hours, she would immediately come to him and ascertain for herself, if what she had heard were true. Alarmed for the peace of his bride, the young man hurried on to New York, and, at the risk of his life, gained an interview with the lovely girl he had so deeply injured. He did not attempt to conceal the fact of his marriage, but only urged the almost broken-hearted victim of his base dishonor, not to do anything that could bring to his wife a knowledge of his conduct, as it must forever destroy her peace. This confession blasted at once and forever, all the poor girl's hopes. She gave her betrayer one long, fixed, intense look of blended agony, reproach, and shame and then, without uttering a word, retired slowly from his presence. She sought her mother, who, from the first, had rather drawn her into her very bosom than thrown her off harshly, and related what she had just heard. She shed no tear, she uttered no reproach, but simply told what her mother had known for months too well. That night her spirit left its earthly habitation. Whether she died of a broken heart, or by her own hands, is not known. The family sought not to investigate the cause to them it was enough to know that she was dead and at peace.

"Whether this statement ever met the eye of Mrs. Eaverson is more than I can tell. I did not venture to call upon her after I had seen it. A few weeks later, I met her in the street on the arm of her husband. She was sadly changed, and had the appearance of one just recovering from a long and severe illness. Mr. Eaverson himself had a look of suffering.

"The notoriety given by the publication of the acts of his base conduct in New York, caused Mr. Eaverson to feel little at ease in this city. Some months afterwards he removed to the South with his wife, much against the wishes of her friends. Harriet did not want to go, but she could do no less than accompany her husband.

"Some three years afterwards, it was whispered about, that Harriet had left her husband and returned home to her father; but that the matter was kept very quiet, and that she had not been seen by any of her old friends. It was said, that after living some time at the South, Mr. Eaverson grew indifferent towards his wife. A virtuous woman, she could not but be deeply shocked on discovering her husband's lack of virtue. This she could not conceal; and its appearance was a standing reproof and condemnation of his principles and conduct. No bad man could endure this. Its effect would be certain estrangement. From dislike towards his wife, his feelings gradually deepened into hatred. Open abuse soon followed neglect; when she fled from him, with two young children, and sought the protection of her father's house.

"It was nearly a year after Harriet's return, before I saw her. I could hardly believe, when I did meet her and grasp her hand, that the pale, dejected, care-worn being who stood before me was the same with the light-hearted, beautiful, mirthful young girl I had known but a few years back. Alas! how surely does pain of mind, increase the work of time!

"A few days after this meeting, which made me sad for weeks, I spent an afternoon and evening with Mrs. Williamson, formerly Sarah Corbin. She had two children, a boy and a girl, and was living somewhat secluded, but with every comfort she could desire. Her husband was a merchant in a good business. When he came home at tea-time and met his wife, it was with one of those quiet but genuine smiles that you know come from the heart. He welcomed me, as he always did, with great cordiality; and then calling for Sarah, his eldest child, who ran in from the next room the instant she heard his vice, he took her upon his lap, and, after kissing her with great tenderness, asked and answered a dozen little questions, to her great delight. At tea-time I noticed, as I had often done before, that, on whatever subject Mr. Williamson spoke, his remarks, though few, were full of good sense, and indicative of close observation. The slightest deviation from honor or integrity met with his decided condemnation, while virtuous actions were as warmly approved. I could perceive, from the expression of his wife's face, and the tones of her voice when she spoke, that she not only held her husband in high estimation, but loved him with a tenderness that had grown with years. Qualities of mind and heart not external attractions, such as brilliant accomplishments, beauty, or wealth had drawn her towards him at first: these had won her young affections, and they had become purer and brighter, and increased in attractive power, as year after year went by.

"On going home that evening, I could not help pausing and looking back. Vividly, as it were but yesterday, came up before my mind my two young friends when, as maidens, their hands were sought in wedlock. I remembered how one, with true wisdom, looked below the imposing exterior and sought for moral worth as the basis of character in him who asked her hand; while the other, looking no deeper than the surface was dazzled by beauty, wealth, and talents. The result, you all have seen."

Mrs. Harding paused in the narrative. Half a dozen eager voices instantly inquired the ultimate fate of Mrs. Eaverson. "A few years after her return home," resumed the narrator, "she died. Her husband during that period neither wrote to her nor visited her. What has become of him, I don't know. Mrs. Williamson is still living, surrounded by a lovely family of children. Her oldest daughter has just been married, and, to all present appearances, has united her fate with one in every way worthy of her hand.

"Mr. Williamson, or rather Mr. Rierdon, as I should truly have called him you all know."

"Mr. Rierdon!" exclaimed Ella. "It can't be possible you mean him?"

"Not old Mr. Rierdon!" exclaimed another. "Why he is respected and loved by everyone!"

"I know he is," returned Mrs. Harding, "and well deserves to be. Yet, when a young man, he had nothing very imposing about him, and was thought of but little account by a set of young and foolish girls, just such as you are, whose heads were liable to be turned by any dashing young fellow with more impudence than brains, or more talent than principle who happened to thrust himself forward and push better men aside. I hope the lesson I have endeavored to teach you, may not be lost entirely; and that when any one of you has an offer of marriage, she will look rather at the heart than the head at the qualities instead of the accomplishments of him who makes it. If she does not, she will be in great danger of committing the sad mistake made by my excellent but thoughtless young friend, Harriet Wieland, of whom I never can think of without pain."

Whether the narrative of Mrs. Harding had any good effect upon her hearers, we do not know; but we would gladly believe that it had; and we hope our young readers will not forget the important lesson it teaches. Let them be well assured that marriage is no lottery, except where it is made so. Everyone who will look at the moral qualities of the object of her regard, instead of at what is merely external, will see deep enough to enable her to come to a right decision in regard to him. There is no necessity for mistakes in marriage.