Modern Marriages as seen in 1859

Among the many strange things which we meet with in life, nothing is stranger than the way in which some people talk about marriage. They regard it as a speculation which may be good or bad— as a game to be played which requires sagacity and skill— as a question of position— as a marketable commodity— as something by which wealth is to be secured— as a mutual compact for material aggrandizement— sometimes for the building up of a family, sometimes for the extension of a trade.

Listen to a few of the phrases current in society, which will serve to prove our assertion. “She has played her cards well,” exclaims one. “What a capital hit! who could have ever expected her to be so fortunate?” says another. “A good connection, indeed: he is likely to be a rich man before long,” is the remark of a third; or, on the other side, one hears, “What a fool the girl was to throw herself away so!” “How could she refuse such an offer? She would have been well settled, for life.”

Godey’s Lady’s Book— Louis Antoine Godey began publishing Godey’s Lady’s Book in 1830. He designed his monthly magazine specifically to attract the growing audience of literate American women. The magazine was intended to entertain, inform, and educate the women of America.

“To be sure, if she couldn’t love the man,” exclaims some mild voice, “she did right to say so; but young ladies are very fanciful; she would have liked him well enough if they had once married.” “For my part,” cries a lady who has made a good match herself, and lives in style, though reports say not very happily, “for my part it seems unreasonable to suppose a woman can find a husband exactly suited to her. Love is all very well in poetry; but when it comes to real life, we must take the best chance that offers.”

A score of such remarks might be added, but it is unnecessary; unfortunately they are so common, that our readers will be able at once to recognize their truthfulness, and to add to them.

And so the holy state of matrimony becomes a sort of commercial transaction. The man or the woman who marries for the sake of money, or of connection, or to secure an establishment and home for life, does in fact wed and worship certain conventional proprieties, takes to himself or herself to have or to hold, till death part them, not a warm, loving, human soul, with whom cares may be lessened by sympathy and pleasure multiplied by participation, but a given quantity of hard cash, of worldly respectability, of household ambition. Satisfy them to their hearts’ content, crown their mean aims with success, surround them with everything they prize most highly, and then to all simple and true-hearted natures, to all that have been unperverted by worldly maxims, and know what real happiness means, and how comparatively it is unaffected by outward circumstance, by the things which stand round us, but are not part of our being— to them how false and vain does all the glitter appear.

They will not tell you, and truly enough we think, that the shadow has been selected in preference to the substance, that, instead of the light-heartedness of joy, an uneasy burden has been chosen, under which every finer fancy must be dwarfed, every moral sentiment degraded; that if the feelings do sometimes prove dangerous guides, the common maxims of the world, so very prudent and so very shallow, are infinitely more baneful, since they would lead us to renounce the very life of life for the sake of some material guarantees, in the shape of bricks and mortar, servants, jewelry, carriages, a title, or a coat of arms.

We hold, then, and all the best and noblest of women will agree with us, that a marriage which is not founded on mutual love and esteem— which does not bind hearts as well as hands— becomes nothing more or less than a sordid and disgraceful bargain. We believe that fathers and mothers, whose great aim is to see their children well settled, in a worldly point of view, and who ignore love whenever interest is concerned, are guilty not only of a folly, but of a crime— against God, against society, and against those whose earthly happiness lies so much in their keeping.

But, on the other hand, wild and imprudent marriages, and all engagements which have not common sense and prudence for their hand-maidens, merit severe reprehension, and richly deserve all that the wit of the poet and dramatist can level against them.

Godey Wedding Gowns

Godey Wedding Gowns

Unfortunately, in no sense of the word can this age of ours be termed golden. There are very few of us who can afford to pass the time merrily; whatever we realize must be worked for, intervals of leisure and rest come to us like angels’ visits, and marriage itself, far from being a state of beatitude, is fraught with cares, perplexities, and sorrow. But then, on the whole, in most truly happy marriages, the joy infinitely transcends the pain, and the evils with which the married state is connected may in a great measure be avoided by foresight and patience.

If, for example, a young couple begin life too soon, with very limited, and perhaps uncertain means, a few years will find them surrounded with difficulties— perhaps burdened with debt. In such a case, the suffering is self-entailed, and the punishment deserved. But, to our thinking, there is, among the middle classes, a considerable amount of carefulness in this matter and the wish to commence life, as it is called, in the same style as his father closes it, often deters a young man from marrying, when his income is really large enough to secure every comfort.

Almost all ladies who have not arrived at an uncertain age look forward, naturally enough, to the day when they shall leave their father’s roof, and, under the protection of a nearer one and a dearer one, take their part in the duties of life. How important it is that they should learn to choose well, that they should not be attracted by external appearance or mere position, but that in this great step, which has been called, though untruly, a leap in the dark, they should consult their judgment as their feelings, and that sound common sense, which, in things of lesser moment, is deemed so important. Above all, it is necessary that a woman should take for her friend and counsellor one who will not only be a helpmate in this world, but who will also stimulate her noblest aspirations, and prove a faithful companion in the journey heavenward.

All images included in blog posts are from either Accessible Archives collections or out of copyright public sources unless otherwise noted. Common sources include the Library of Congress, The Flickr Commons, Wikimedia Commons, and other public archives.

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