Sisterly Discourse with John's Wife Concerning John,
The Family Purse,
The Parable of the Rich Woman and the Farmer's Wife,
Little Things that are Trifles,
A Mistake on John's Part,
Must-haves and May-bes,
What Good Will It Do?
Shall I Pass It On?
"Only Her Nerves,"
The Rule of Two,
The Perfect Work of Patience,
According to His Folly,
Is Marriage Reformatory?
And Other Relations-in-Law,
A Timid Word for the Step-mother,
Children as Helpers,
Children as Burden-bearers,
Our Young Person,
Getting Along in Years,
The Gospel of Conventionalities,
Familiar, or Intimate?
Cheerfulness as a Christian Duty,
The Family Invalid,
A Temperance Talk,
A Parting Word for Boy,
Homely, But Important,
THE FAMILY PURSE.
In the last chapter I touched, firmly, as became the importance of the subject, upon the pocket question in its bearing upon the happiness of home-life. The matter is too grave to be disposed of in half-a-dozen paragraphs. It shall have a chapter of its very own.
There are certain subjects upon which each of us is afraid to speak for fear of losing temper, and becoming vehement. This matter of "The Family Purse" is one of the few topics in all the range of theory and practice, concerning which I feel the necessity of putting on curb and bridle when I have to deal with it, and conscience urges just dealing with all parties.
I have set down elsewhere what I crave leave to repeat here and with deliberate emphasis.
If I were asked, "What, to the best of your belief, is the most prolific and general source of heart-burnings, contentions, harsh judgment, and secret unhappiness among respectable married people who keep up the show, even to themselves, of reciprocal affection?" my answer would not halt for an instant.
"The crying need of a mutual understanding with respect to the right ownership of the family income."
The example of the good old Friend, who, in giving his daughters in marriage, stipulated that each should be paid weekly, without asking for it, a certain share of her husband's income, is refreshing as indicating what one husband had learned by his own experience. It goes no further in the absence of proof that the sons-in-law kept the pledge imposed upon them as suitors, or that in keeping it, they did not cause their respective wives to wish themselves dead, and out of the way of gibe and grudge, every time the prescribed tax was doled out to them.
Nor do I admit the force of the implication made by a certain writer upon this topic, that the crookedness in the matter of family finances is "separation and hostility between the sexes, brought about by the advancement and equality of women." Wives in all ages and in all countries, have felt the painful injustice of virtual pauperism, and struggled vainly for freedom.
The growth toward emancipation in the case of most of them amounts merely to the liberty to groan in print and to cry aloud in women's convocations. If the yoke is easier upon the wifely neck in 1896 than it was in 1846, it is because women know more of business methods, and are more competent to the management of money than they knew fifty years ago, and some husbands, appreciating the change for the better, are willing to commit funds to their keeping. The disposition of fathers, brothers and husbands to regard the feminine portion of their families as lovely dead weights, was justified in a degree by the Lauras and Matildas, who clung like wet cotton-wool to the limbs of their natural protectors. Dependence was reckoned among womanly graces, and insisted upon as such in Letters to Young Ladies, The Young Wife's Manual, A Father's Legacy to his Daughters, and other valuable contributions to the family library of half a century ago. Julia, as betrothed, assured wooing Adolphus that absolute dependence, even for the bread she should eat, and breath she should draw, would be delight and privilege. Julia, as wife, fretted and plained and shook her "golden chains inlaid with down," when married Adolphus took her at her word.
It is surprising that both parties were so slow in finding out how false is the theory and how injurious the practice of the cling-and-twine-and-hang-upon school.
From my window as I write I see an object lesson that pertinently illustrates the actual state of affairs in many a home. At the root of a stately cedar, sprang up, twenty years ago, a shoot of that most hardy and beautiful of native creepers, the wild woodbine or American ivy. It crept steadily upward, laying hold of branch and twig, casting out, first, tendrils, then ropes, to make sure its hold--a thing of beauty all summer, a coat of many colors in autumn, until it reached the top of the tree. To-day, the only vestige of cedar-individuality that remains to sight, is in the trunk, the bare branches, stripped of all slight twigs, and at the extremity of one of these, a few tufts of evergreen verdure, that proclaim "This was a tree."
In the novels and poems that set forth the eternal fitness of the cling-twine-and-depend school, the vine is always feminine, the oak (or cedar?) masculine. Not one that I know of depicts the gradual strangling of the independent tree by the depending parasite.
Leaving the object-lesson to do its part, let us reason together calmly upon this vexed subject. When a man solemnly, in the sight of Heaven and human witnesses, endows his wife at the altar with his worldly goods, it is either a deed of gift, or an engagement to allow her to earn her living as honestly as he earns his, a pledge of an equal partnership in whatever he has or may acquire. That it is not an absolute gift is proved by his continued possession of his property and uncontrolled management of the same; furthermore, by his custom of bestowing upon his wife such sums, and at such periods as best suit his convenience and pleasure--and by his expectation that she will be properly grateful for lodging, board and raiment. If he be liberal, her gratitude rises proportionably. If he be a churl, she must submit with Christian resignation.
The gossips at a noted watering-place where I once spent a summer, found infinite amusement in the ways of a married heiress, whose fortune was settled so securely upon herself by her father that her husband could not touch the bulk of it with, or without her consent. Her spouse was an ease-loving man of fashion, and accommodated himself gracefully to this order of things. She loved him better than she loved her money, for she "kept" him well and grudged him nothing. It was in accordance with her wishes that he made no pretence of business or profession. "Why should he when she had enough for both?" she urged, amiably. His handsome allowance was paid on the first of every month, and she exacted no account of expenditures. Yet she contrived to make him and herself the laughing stock of the place by her naïve ignorance of the truth that the situation was peculiar. She sportively rated her lord in the hearing of others, for extravagance in dress, horses and other entertainments; affected to rail at the expense of "keeping a husband," and, now and then, playfully threatened to "cut off supplies" if he did not do this or that. In short, with unintentional satire, she copied to the letter the speech and tone of the average husband to his dependent wife.
"Only that and nothing more." Her purse-pride was obvious, but as inoffensive as purse-pride can be. She lacked refinement, but she did not lack heart. She would have resented the imputation that she reduced her good-looking, well-clothed, well-fed, well-mounted "Charley" to a state of vassalage against which any man of spirit would have rebelled. He knew that he could have whatever it was within her power to bestow, to the half of her kingdom. Her complaints of his prodigality meant as little as her menace of retrenchment, and nobody comprehended this better than he. The owner of the money-bags is entitled by popular verdict to his or her jest. Her pretended railing was "clear fun."
The deeper and juster significance of the much derided clause of the marriage vow is the second I have offered. "Live and let live" is a motto that should begin, continue and be best exemplified at home. The wife either earns an honorable livelihood, or she is a licensed mendicant. The man who, after a careful estimate of the services rendered by her who keeps the house, manages his servants, or does the work of the servants he does not hire; who bears and brings up his children in comfort, respectability and happiness; who looks after his clothing and theirs; nurses him and them in illness, and makes the world lovely for him in health--does not consider that his wife has paid her way thus far, and is richly entitled to all he has given or will ever give her--is not fit to conduct any business upon business principles. If he be sensible and candid, let him decide what salary he can afford to pay this most useful of his employés--and pay it as a debt, and not a gratuity. The probability is that he will find that the sum justifies her in regarding herself as a partner in his craft or profession, with a fair amount of working-capital.
There is but one equitable and comfortable way of relieving the husband from the charge and the fact of injustice, and the wife from the sorer burden of conscious pauperism. She ought to have a stated allowance for household expenses, to be disbursed by herself and, if he will it, to be accounted for to the master of the house, and a smaller, but sure sum which is paid to her as her very own, which she may appropriate as she likes. He should no more "give" her money, than he makes a present of his weekly wages to the porter who sweeps his store, or to the superintendent of his factory. The feeling that their gloves, gowns, underclothing--everything that they wear, and the very bread that keeps life in their bodies, are gifts of grace from the husbands they serve in love and honor, has worn hundreds of spirited women into their graves, and made venal hypocrites of thousands. The double-eagle laid in the palm of the woman whose home duties leave her no time for money-making, burns sometimes more hotly than the penny given to her who, for the first time, begs at the street-corner to keep herself from starving.
The strangest of anomalies that have birth in a condition of affairs which everybody has come to regard as altogether right and becoming, is that the wife whose handsome wedding portion has been absorbed by her husband's business is as dependent upon his favor for her "keep" as she who brought no dot. She does not even draw interest upon the money invested. Is it to be wondered at that caustic critics of human nature and inconsistencies catalogue marriage for the wife under the head of mendicancy? Would it not be phenomenal if women with eyes, and with brains behind the eyes, did not gird at the necessity of suing humbly for really what belongs to them?
I have known two, or at most three women, who averred that they "did not mind asking their husbands for money." Out of simple charity I preferred to believe that they were untruthful, to discounting their disrespect and delicacy to the extent implied by the assertion. Yet the street beggar gets used to plying his trade, and I may have been mistaken.
Let us not overlook another side of the question under perplexed debate. The woman who considers herself defrauded by present privations and what seem to her needless economies, loses sight, sometimes, of what John keeps before him as the load-star of his existence and endeavor; to wit, that toil and economy are for the common weal. He is not a miser for his individual enrichment, nor does he plan with deliberate design for the shadowy second wife. It is not to be denied that No. 2 often lives like a queen upon the wealth which No. 1 helped to accumulate, and killed herself in so doing. But John does not look so far as this. Much scrimping and hoarding may engender a baser love of money for money's self. In the outset of the task, and usually for all time, he means that wife and children shall have the full benefit of what he has heaped up in the confident belief that he knows who will gather with him. Men take longer views in these matters than women. To "draw money out of the business" is a form of speech to a majority of wives. To him whose household expenses overrun what he considers the bounds of reason, this "drawing" means harder work and to less purpose for months to come; clipped wings of enterprise, and occasionally loss of credit. He who has married a reasonably intelligent woman cannot make her comprehend this too soon. If he can enlist her sympathies in his plans for earning independence and wealth, he has secured a valuable coadjutor. If he can show her that he is investing certain moneys which are due to her in ways approved by her, which will augment her private fortune, he will retain her confidence with her respect.
Each of us likes to own something in his or her own right. The custom and prejudice that, since the abolition of slavery, make wives the solitary exception to the rule that the "laborer is worthy of his hire," are unworthy of a progressive age. The idea that such having and holding will alienate a good woman from the husband who permits it, degrades the sex. He whose manliness suffers by comparison with a level-headed, clear-eyed wife capable of keeping her own bank account, makes apparent what a mistake she made when she married him.