Love and Marriage
THE sun was shining brightly and the church bells were pealing merrily, as we all walked back through the village from a wedding. The bride had been the playfellow, and then the maid, of the squire’s youngest daughter ; her father and mother lived in the village ; and she had that morning been married to a young carpenter, with whom she wasnow to share a new home, not many miles away. I imagine that the squire had given the young couple some substantial aid in setting up there; while his daughters had helped to make the new home bright for the future, as well as the old one gay for the wedding day. The squire’s youngest daughter and eldest granddaughter had shared the office of bridesmaid with the bride’s sister ; but I learned with some surprise that there was to be no special merrymaking at the Court, as the people in this part of the country call the manor house, while dropping the prefix of “ Knighton,” 44 Sutton,” or whatever may be the name of the village in which the particular manor court was formerly held. After church we went with the wedding party to the cottage of the father and mother. There we all drank the health of the bride and bridegroom ; the squire spoke a few words of hope and of blessing, the ladies kissed the bride, and we walked homeward along the church path and up the avenue. I ventured to break the silence by asking the squire’s daughter how it was that her father, who had so many likings for the fine old English gentleman, all of the olden time, did not make the wedding of the daughter of people attached to his family by long services an occasion for old-fashioned festivities of some kind.
“ I am sure he is quite right,” she replied. “ At a wedding at which I was bridesmaid, not very long ago. the bride’s father and mother insisted upon having what they called old-fashioned customs. So first we had a long, dreary wedding breakfast, where the wretched bride sat opposite a huge cake, looking the picture of I don’t know what, while the clergyman and her father and a number of other people made stupid speeches. Mr. Oldham, the bride’s father, lamented that the good old wedding breakfasts, such as that at which we were, were going out of fashion, and that people were now expected, on such occasions, to swallow a biscuit and a cup of coffee, as if they were at a railway station, with only five minutes allowed. I thought the great tedious breakfast horrid, and the new fashion much better.
“ But I dare say you had dancing in the evening : and I am sure you liked that.”
“ I do always delight in dancing,” she returned. “ Yet even that seemed out of place on that evening ; it was so plain that the mother and sisters were thinking of something else than the company, and would have been only too glad to have the house to themselves in quiet. And I could not help feeling for them, and losing all pleasure in the dancing. But ask my father what he thinks about it all.”
Here the young lady walked on “ in maiden meditation, fancy free,’ the rest of the party dispersed, and I found myself alone with the squire at the top of the terrace steps. I said : —
“ Your daughter has just been giving me your reasons — or perhaps I should say her own — for not having any merrymaking up here after the wedding.”
Squire. That is a kind of paternal government or paternal patronage for which I have no liking. The children are grown up and have homes of their own ; and we must respect those homes, however humble. There are happy as well as sad times for thoughts and feelings which can be shared only by the two or three nearest to us. Such sympathy as it was possible for us to show to-day we have shown by going to church, and there taking our place in the one great family : to attempt more seems to me a sort of intrusion, and even profanation. We know little, and share less, of the deeper thoughts and feelings of those nearest to us: how can we know or share those of these poor people, divided from us by lines of impassable reserve and reticence ? This morning, while I thought of other marriages, past and to come, and of Tennyson’s pictures of the bride when first she wears the orange flower and when she returns to her old home again. I considered, too, how certainly these good people were happy in the like thoughts and feelings, though they had never read Tennyson, nor put these thoughts and feelings into words like his. Depend upon it, there is as much and as true romance in the young hearts, and in the old ones, too, in that cottage as in those in this house.
Foster. You say the romance of old hearts, too : then may I believe that you do not think love a mere fading flower, which must soon perish? If you had long ago written such a poem as Coleridge’s Love, you would not have prefixed to it, any number of years afterwards, those verses of Petrarch ?
Squire. I know the poem well. It is full of that soft beauty of images, emotion, and expression with which Coleridge so often reminds us of Shakespeare and Spenser. But what of Petrarch’s verses?
Foster. After the customary classical phrases about the wounds inflicted by Cupid’s arrows, he says that age has changed all this; and that when he reads his youthful verses again mens horret, he shrinks from the voice and words which sound like those of another, and not his own. I am glad you do not agree with Coleridge on this cynical mocking at his own belief.
Squire. There is another poem of Coleridge’s, a charming piece of prose and verse, called The Improvisatore, in which he himself replies to and puts aside that cynical doctrine which you regret. Coleridge’s ideals of love, and of life generally, are always high and noble,—no man’s higher; but in their realization he fell far short. He had the intellect of a wise man and the conscience of a good man, but a will weak and unstable in the extreme ; and great teacher as he was to his generation, and will be to generations yet to come, there was but too much reason for the remorse with which he mourned, but could not in this life redeem, his own shortcomings. He was no doubt sincere when he said,
And whom I love, I love indeed ; ”
but side by side with this is the fact that he could not live with his wife and the mother of his children. We have all more or less reason to know with remorse what it is to be possessed of the evil spirit of contradiction ; but the worst form of this possession is that which separates husband and wife from heart and hearth. You cannot wonder that poor Coleridge one day made the cynical lines of Petrarch his own, and another the words of belief in an undying love in which Beaumont and Fletcher, Burns and Moore, have embodied that faith. In one sense it is true that love is a fading flower ; but it is still more true that just as the promises of childhood and youth find their fulfillment in mature age, so the aspirations and hopes of youthful lovers find their fulfillment in the after years of marriage. It is only in a continually expanding and maturing union of husband and wife that the realization is possible of such a love as Charles pictures to Angelina when he says:—
Circling our souls and loves in one another!
We ’ll spring together, and we ‘ll hear one fruit;
One joy shall make us smile, and one grief
One age go with us, and one hour of death Shall close our eyes, and one grave make us happy.”
Foster. I am glad to hear you say so. But how long the world has taken to accept this faith ; how imperfectly does it now practice it, or even believe it! Christ told his disciples that it would be found in the story of the creation of man; it glimmers in the love of Jacob for Rachel; the favorite allegory of the Hebrew prophets of their nation as the bride of Jehovah seeming to show that the ideal had some counterpart in actual life. Homer shows us the love of husband and wife in Hector and Andromache ; but in the days of Plato all recognition of a relation between love and marriage seems utterly to have vanished.
Squire. Yes ; and how slowly and with what struggles has it been emerging through the ages of the new Christian civilization ! Socrates, or Plato for him, dreamed, as you say, of a purely ideal love, with no relation to actual life. The Christian Church tried long and earnestly to purify and carry into a spiritual channel the passion of love, by making Christ or the Virgin Mary, St. Joseph or St. Catherine, or some other of the holy men and women who had been raised to sainthood, the objects of the passionate devotions of monks and nuns. I respect and admire the selfsacrifice and the devotion with which these monks and nuns gave themselves up to this spiritual love ; and I cannot doubt that they were helping to lay the foundations for a life more really spiritual, because more in accordance with God’s laws of human nature than their own. To some, indeed, it was given to realize their ideals of spiritual love. But they were, and still are, the exceptions.
Foster. Do you think, then, that the poetic ideal of love, such as we have it in the lines you have just quoted from Beaumont and Fletcher, or as it stands in John Anderson, my Jo, is, in truth, identical with the ideal of the Christian Church ?
Squire. I often think that in the marriage service which we have heard this morning, and especially in the marriage vows, our English Church reformers have embodied the very ideals of love, in itself and in the married life. The words are homely enough, but there is a pathos, a depth of feeling in them, which cannot be greater. “ I, Richard, take thee, Mary, to my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance ; and thereto I plight thee my troth.” If love be the giving one’s self without reserve to another, and receiving the like gift from that other, what words could express such love better than these ?
Foster. Not even those of Sir Philip Sidney : —
By just exchange for one another given :
I hold his dear, and mine he cannot miss,
There never was a better bargain driven :
My true love hath my heart, and I have his.
My heart in him his thoughts and senses guides:
He loves my heart, for once it was his own,
I cherish his because in me it bides:
My true love hath my heart, and I have his.”
Squire. It is of the essence of love, that longing desire to share the joys and the troubles of life with the loved one, and the confident belief that we can so bear the burdens and double the enjoyments of him or her whom we love ; and what words can say this better than “ for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health ” ? “ To love and to cherish ” in all those chances and changes, — the most ardent, most romantic lover cannot promise more ; and happy is that man or woman who, at the end of a long married life, can say, though with many tender and even sad regrets, “ I have kept my vows ” !
Foster. Is it not said that in the old York Manual, in use before the Reformation, along with the vows as they now stand were the words “ for fairer for fouler ” ?
Squire. So Wheatley says. It is just what Moore says in the song beginning,
Which I gaze on so fondly to-day.”
The meaning is good in the quaint old phrase ; but it is not every one who can hear grave thoughts expressed in words of humorous oddity without an incongruous sense of the ridiculous, and therefore our reformers were right to omit them.
Foster. There are two vows or promises which you have not noticed: the woman’s vow to obey, and the man’s declaration “ with my body I thee worship.”
Squire. They are the counterparts of one sentiment, that which we call the sentiment of chivalry. You always recognize that sentiment with prompt alacrity. The spontaneous and heartfelt reverence for woman which we call chivalry is not given to all men, not even to all good men; nor do all women seem to feel the need for it strongly, though no doubt all are pleased when such worship is shown them. I suppose it can never be wholly wanting in the love of the young; but with some men it seems transient, and sometimes it degenerates into a foolish gallantry, or, still worse, into that detestable combination of outward respect and inward contempt which Lord Chesterfield held to be the proper attitude of a gentleman. But I know that you are, and will be till death, a true knight among ladies. Then as to the counterpart in the woman’s vow of obedience. There are many forms and many degrees of that obedience; and every woman must judge, and every good woman will judge rightly, what these must be in her own case. You may study them all in Shakespeare, in every variety; no two alike, but all very beautiful. I will give you one, that of Portia, in The Merchant of Venice,— Portia, the rich heiress, mistress of herself and her wealth, self-possessed and self-asserting, whom we may suspect of being half conscious of her own intellectual superiority to the worthy and amiable man whom she has chosen to take for her husband, and of whom she makes fun with saucy boldness, while she is getting him and his friend out of a difficulty beyond their wit to cope with. This is how Portia gives herself to Bassanio : —
Such as I am ; though for myself alone
I would not be ambitious in my wish,
To wish myself touch better, yet for you,
I would be trebled twenty times myself,
A thousand times more fair, ten thousand times more rich,
That only to stand high in your account,
I might in virtues, beauties, livings, friends,
Exceed account; but the full sum of me
Is sum of nothing: which to term in gross,
Is an unlessoned girl, unschool’d, unpractised,
Happy in this, she is not yet so old
But she may learn; happier then in this,
She is not bred so dull but she can learn;
Happiest of all is that her gentle spirit
Commits itself to yours to be directed,
As from her lord, her governor, her king.
Myself and what is mine to you and yours
Is now converted. But now I was the lord
Of this fair mansion, master of my servants,
Queen o’er myself: and even now, but now,
This house, these servants and this same myself
Are yours, my lord. I give them with this ring,
Which when you part from, lose or give away,
Let it presage the ruin of your love
And be my vantage to exclaim on you.”
The whole scene is, Indeed, a perfect picture of true love. — love at once passionate and pure, as modest and as chaste as it is without reserve.
Foster. Portia’s words which you have repeated remind me of the words with which the young; Roman matron crossed the threshold of her husband’s house and her future home, — “ Ubi tu Caius, ego Caia.”
Squire. Which Wheatley well translates, “ Where you are master, I am mistress.” There is a proud humility in the words which well becomes the dignity of the Roman matron. And no words could better sum up and describe that most charming among the things of daily life, the wife’s unconscious faith and assertion that the home which she shares with her husband is as much and as really her own by right of marriage as it is his by inheritance or by the work of his own hands. It is this twofold life, two beings and two lives in one, which makes a marriage and a home.
Foster. You remind me of the description of the Dauphin and the Lady Blanch in King John : —
Where should he find it fairer than IN Blanch ?
If zealous love should go in search of virtue,
Where should he find it purer than in Blanch ?
If love ambitious sought a match of birth, Whose veins bound richer blood than Lady Blanch ?
Such as she is, in beauty, virtue, birth,
Is the young Dauphin every way complete:
If not complete of, say he is not she ;
And she again wants nothing, to name want.
If want it be not that she is not he:
He is the half part of a blessed man,
Left to be finished by such as she ;
And she a fair divided excellence,
Whose fulness of perfection lies in him.”
I should be glad enough to believe heartily in the lastingness of all true love, whether on the authority of Shakespeare or any other. But does not Shakespeare mean Prospero to confess that even the holy love of Ferdinand and Miranda is but such stuff as dreams are made of ?
Squire. He charges himself with the petulance of old age while he so speaks. If he had really believed this, could he have said, when he saw how love was awaking in those young hearts,
Who are surprised withal: but my rejoicing
At nothing can be more ” ?
He could not have rejoiced to lose his daughter, that most dear companion of his old age, for the sake of a dream. I do not pretend that all love, even when it has the signs of being true, is always lasting. It is too often choked, and perishes under the pleasures or the cares of the world. Yet, depend upon it, as you grow older you will see more and more instances and proofs of the reality and the depth of the love of husbands and wives for each other in the most ordinary, commonplace couples. I have heard of marriages where love has died out from some canker of selfishness or worldliness at its heart; but I have oftener seen unexpected proofs of a love stronger than death in all sorts of people in whom I had never before discovered any signs of sentiment or romance. Nor must we forget the many loving couples in whose case love has come after a marriage which seemed to have had no higher than prudential motives of one kind or another. Love, indeed, must be kept alive by love, — love deep in the heart, yet coursing through the minutest veins, and giving to every power of life a new and double power. Love must show itself living in the great occasions of life, in some supreme moment calling for mutual sympathy in a great joy or grief; it must show itself in all the thousand little daily and hourly thoughtfulnesses, courtesies, and forbearances of common life. These things, the reflection of which we call good manners, the manners of the lady and the gentleman, should have with husband and wife a reality as of sunlight compared with moonlight. They alone can know and share these things in their fullness, and they should be to them as the atmosphere they breathe. I think the author of Obiter Dicta says that husband and wife should take care to have and to keep up a common interest in some subject of reading or action which they can always share together. It is good practical advice. To many it may be unnecessary, and especially to those who have children as the objects of their common love and care. I once heard a noble-minded lady say sadly, We were very much in love with each other,” speaking of the old days of courtship; and she added, “and it might all come back again if only he would show me some love.” They were not selfish nor ungenerous, but their life was cold and dreary because they had not learned rightly the arts of wedded love. A wise and prudent reserve in all other affairs of lite is so right and needful that there is always danger of its growing up in the one relation in which there should be no reserve; and so it may grow and harden till it becomes an impassable harrier between the hearts that should be one. When Maurice was asked whether we shall know one another in the life to come, he answered, in his favorite Socratic fashion, with the further question, “ Do we know one another here ? ” There is a strange perverseness of our nature by which we recoil from sympathy with ourselves at the very moment at which we are craving for that sympathy, and when to love and to be loved is the very thing we are longing for. I am thinking not of the great occasions and duties of married life, but of its little daily and hourly courtesies and endearments. They tell us that the great oak draws its nourishment and life not more through its main roots than through its countless minute fibres and threads which feed those main roots below and its countless leaves above. “To love and to cherish,” — it is this sympathy in giving and receiving of souls that we cherish as well as love the object of our vows. When you marry, as I hope you will, do not forget the advice of an old man.
Foster. You ought to know what you say; and I, as I said just now, am only too willing to believe it. Yet those awful words which we heard this morning haunt me, — “ Till death us do part! ”
Squire. They are indeed awful; as he knows best who has heard them at the graveside echoed back in the words of another church service, — “ Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” Cicero’s Cato declares that he would not think life worth living if he did not believe that he should meet his lost son again among all the company of heaven, as his words might almost literally be translated. And if this was the faith of a heathen philosopher, much more may it be ours. If one grave is to make the lovers happy, — and Beaumont and Fletcher express a deeply rooted thought and sentiment in many hearts, — it. must be because they look beyond that grave. The ballad of John Anderson is perfect in its kind, but I always like to think of it along with its supplement in Lady Nairne’s Land o’ the Leal. To sleep together at the foot of the hill which the old loving hearts had climbed together long years before is a pleasant thought, yet surely pleasant only to those who look to share the fast-coming joy of a waking from that sleep to be shared together in that better land.
Then, after his brief range of blameless days,
The toll of funeral in an Angel ear
Sounds happier than the merriest marriagebell.
The face of Death is toward the Sun of Life,
His shadow darkens earth : his truer name
Is ‘Onward,’ no discordance in the roll
And march of that Eternal Harmony
Whereto the worlds beat time, tho’ faintly heard
Until the great Hereafter. Mourn in hope ! ”
We had come into the house as the squire repeated these lines half to himself. Then, going into his own room, he took from a drawer a book, which he opened, and pointed to the following words: —
“ When I think how these hands cared for me in sickness and in health, I feel that I shall press them to my heart again; when I see, in memory, those lips which ever spoke in words of wisdom and comfort and tenderest love and trust, and those bright joyous eyes which to the last bended their light on me, I know that I shall most certainly behold that face and hear that voice again, — in the resurrection. It cannot be otherwise. The expression of such spirits, which is indeed their lifelong character stamping itself upon the outward form, can never die. ‘ There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body,’ says St. Paul.”