Scorning Shakespeare's Marriage Dictum
I HAVE often wondered why some one has not taken issue with Shakespeare on his dogmatic command, “ Let still the woman take an elder than herself.” The frequent marriages of women to men younger than themselves have been singularly happy and congenial, from Dr. Johnson’s marriage with his “ dear Tetzey,” who was twice his age, to Varnhagen von Ense and Madame Mohl. In Napoleon’s marriage the age of Josephine did not matter. When Madame de Staël turned to her young husband, Rocca, one must feel that she brought to him more than Chloe offered Daphnis ; and when George Eliot married Mr. Cross, must we not believe that the union was one of dignified significance ?
Hear what Varnhagen says in his journal before his marriage with Rahel Levin, the woman whose merit has been attested by Goethe, Jean Paul Richter, and Carlyle: “ I was then twenty-four years old, Rahel my senior by more than half those years. This circumstance taken by itself might seem likely to have driven our lives far asunder. It was, however, but an accident; it was essentially of no account. This noble life, so rich in experience both of joy and of sorrow, retained all its vigor ; not only the powerful intellect which hovered above every-day regions, but the heart, the senses, the whole corporeal being, were as though bathed in clear light. She stood a commanding presence between an accomplished past and a hopeful future.”
To whom do we owe so high an interpretation of the ideal of marriage as to Charles Kingsley, whose wife was seven years his senior ? Turn the pages of his Life and re-read these words : “ Matthew xxii. 30 has been to me always a comfort. I am so well and really married on earth that I should be exceedingly sorry to be married again in heaven ; and it would be very needless. All I can say is, if I do not love my wife, body and soul, as well there as I do here, then there is neither resurrection of my body nor of my soul, but of some other, and I shall not be I.”
It is interesting to recall the heroines of Disraeli, — Henrietta Temple and others, — and then to remember that Disraeli defied the theory of feminine attraction which he had advanced in fiction, by selecting for his wife a woman who was much older than himself, and to whom he attributed the success as well as the happiness of his life. The story runs that once, seeing his wife, then aged and frail, leaning on the arm of an attendant, Lord Beaconsfield said of her to the friend with whom he was at the moment talking, “ There is the only person who has never bored me.”
Those beautiful love poems, At the Fireside and One Word More, were written by Robert Browning to his wife, who was six years his senior. Robert Louis Stevenson’s marriage with Mrs. Osborne, who was much older than he, was, as we all know, a union of extraordinary felicity. His own words in the poem which serves as the dedication to Weir of Hermiston, as well as the testimony of his friends, attribute to her much help in his literary success, as well as his domestic happiness.