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,
A MISTAKE ON JOHN'S PART.
It is not discreditable to the sex to assert that a man is first attracted marriage-ward by the desire of the eye. He falls in love, as a rule, because she who presently becomes the only woman in the universe to him is goodly to view, if not actually beautiful. Goodliness being largely contingent upon apparel, it follows that Mary dresses for John--up to the marriage-day. He who descries signs of slatternliness in his beloved prior to that date, may well be shocked to disillusionment. As a girl in a home where the mother takes upon herself the heaviest work, and spares her pretty daughter's hands and clothes all the soil and wear she can avert, Mary must be indolent or phenomenally indifferent to what occupies so much of other women's thoughts, if she do not always appear in her lover's presence neatly and--to the best of her ability--becomingly attired. She quickly acquaints herself with his taste in the matter of women's costumes, and adapts hers to it, wearing his favorite colors, giving preference to the gowns he has praised, and arranging her hair in the fashion he has chanced to admire in her hearing.
In the work-a-day world of matrimonial life, much of all this undergoes a change. Washington Irving lived and died a fastidious, unpractical bachelor, or he might have modified the sketch of "The Wife," the Mary who, after unpacking trunks, washing china, pots and kettles, putting closets to rights, laying carpets, hanging pictures, clearing away straw, sawdust, and what in that day corresponded with jute--dusting and shelving books--and performing the hundred other duties contingent upon sitting down in the modest cottage hired by her bankrupt husband,--got tea ready (presumably preparing potatoes for the same) picked a big mess of strawberries from a bed opportunely discovered in the garden, donned a white muslin robe and sat down to the piano to while away a lagging hour while awaiting her Leslie's return.
The John of our common-sensible age knows in his sober mind that his bride, in the effort to accomplish one-fourth as much, would equip herself in a brown gingham, tie a big apron before her, draw a pair of his discarded gloves with truncated fingers upon her hands, and be too tired at night to do more than boil the kettle for the cup of tea which he is more than likely to drink at the kitchen table, spread with a newspaper--the linen not having been yet dug out of the case in which "mother and the girls" packed it.
As the months wear on, Mary learns, if her spouse does not, that white muslin comes to grief so speedily in the course of even light housework, as to swell the laundry bills inordinately. The embroidered tea-gowns in which she used to array herself upon the rare occasions of her betrothed's morning calls, gather dust streaks upon skirts and the under sides of the sleeves, and, watch as she may, catch spots in the kitchen. She considers,--being lovingly determined to help, not hinder her mate,--that his purse must purchase new garments when her trousseau is worn out, and she saves her best clothes for "occasions." John, being her husband, is no longer an occasion. Dark prints and ginghams, simply made, and freshened up at meal-times by full white aprons, are serviceable, sensible, economical and significant of our dear Mary's practical wisdom. They are by so many degrees less becoming to her than the dainty apparel of loverly memory, that we do not wonder at the surprised discontent of the young husband.
Marriage has made no distinct change in his apparel. In his business a man must be decent, or he loses credit. In masculine ignorance of the immutable law that in dislodging dirt some must cling to the garments and person of the toiler, he sets down his wife's altered appearance to indifference to his happiness. She may have labored from an early breakfast to a late dinner to make his home comfortable and tasteful; into each of the dishes served up with secret pride for his consumption, may have gone a wealth of love and earnest desire that would have set up ten poets in sonnets and madrigals. Because her hands are roughened and her complexion muddied by her work, and--in the knowledge that dishes are to be washed and the table re-set for breakfast, and the kitchen cleared up after he has been regaled--she has slipped on a dark frock in which she was wont to receive him on rainy evenings--he falls into a brown and cynical study, which dishonors his wife only a little more than it disgraces himself and human nature. "Time was"--so runs his musing--"when she thought it worth her while to take pains to look pretty. That was when there was still a chance of a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip. She has me fast now, and anything is good enough for a husband."
Not one syllable of this chapter is penned for the woman who deserves an iota of censure like the above. It is a wife's duty to study to look well in her husband's eyes, always and in all circumstances. Her person should be scrupulously clean, her hair becomingly arranged, her working-gown as neat as she can keep it, and relieved before John comes in by clean collar or ruching and a smooth white apron. It is altogether possible for the woman who "does her own work" to be as "well set-up"--to borrow a sporting phrase from John--as her rich neighbor who can drag a train over Oriental rugs from the moment she rises to a late breakfast until she sweeps yards of brocade and velvet up the polished stairs after ball, dinner or theatre-party.
What I have to do with now is John's unreasonable desire that his wife should--as the help-meet of a man who has his own way to make in the world--dress as well as when she was the unmarried daughter of an elderly gentleman whose way was made. Every sensible girl married to a poor man comprehends, as one trait of wifely duty, that she must make her trousseau last and look well as long as she can. In the honorable dread of suggesting to him whose fortune she has elected to share, that when her handsome gowns are no longer wearable she must replace lace with cotton lawns, and silk with all-wool merino or serge, she devises excuses for sparing the costly fabrics--pretexts which, to his shame it is said, he is prone to misunderstand. If men such as he could guess at the repressed longings for the brave array of other times that assail the wearers of well-saved--therefore passee--finery, at sight of other women less conscientious, or with richer husbands than themselves, reveling in the latest and most enticing modes--if eyes scornful of plain attire could penetrate to the jealously locked closet where feminine vanity and native extravagance are kept under watch and ward by the love the critic is ready to doubt,--print, gingham and stuff gowns would be fairer than ermine and velvet in John's esteem.