Etiquette: Making the Best of a Bad Matrimonial Bargain (1887)

By | March 5, 2013

"Get out, will you, she stormed." Arthur Ignatius Keller, 1866-1924, artist.

“Get out, will you, she stormed.” Arthur Ignatius Keller, 1866-1924, artist.

Good etiquette requires that one accept an unhappy marriage with forbearance.

We are none of us infallible. When the greatest care has been taken in choosing, people get bad matrimonial bargains. This must often happen. If not one man in a thousand is a judge of the points of a horse, not one in a million understands human nature. And even if a young man or woman did understand human nature, there are before marriage, as a rule, opportunities of gaining only the slightest knowledge of the character of one who is to be the weal or woe of a new home. It is related in ancient history, or fable, that when Rhodope, a fashionable Egyptian beauty, was engaged bathing, an eagle stole away one of her shoes, and let it fall near Psammetichus the king. Struck with the pretty shoe, he fell in love with the foot, and finally married the owner of both. Very little more acquaintance with each other have the majority of the Innocents who go abroad into the unknown country of Matrimony to seek their fortunes or misfortunes.

“One would think the whole endeavour of both parties during the time of courtship is to hinder themselves from being known—to disguise their natural temper and real desires in hypocritical imitation, studied compliance, and continued affectation. From the time that their love is avowed, neither sees the other but in a mask; and the cheat is often managed on both sides with so much art, and discovered afterwards with so much abruptness, that each has reason to suspect that some transformation has happened on the wedding-night, and that by a strange imposture, as in the case of Jacob, one has been courted and another married.”

We have heard of the stiff Englishman who would not attempt to save a fellow-creature from drowning because he had never been introduced to him. In the same way unmarried ladies are allowed to remain in the Slough of Despond because the valiant young gentlemen who would rescue them, though they may be almost, are not altogether in their social set.

It is an old maxim that if one will not, two cannot quarrel. If one of the heads of a house has a bad temper, there is all the more reason for the other to be cool and collected, and capable of keeping domestic peace. Think of Socrates, who, when his wife Zanthippe concluded a fit of scolding by throwing at him a bucket of water, quietly remarked, “After the thunder comes the rain.” And when she struck him, to some friends who would have had him strike her again, he replied, that he would not make them sport, nor that they should stand by and say, “Eia Socrates, eia Zanthippe!” as boys do when dogs fight, animate them more by clapping hands.

Every one knows Plato’s theory about marriage. He taught that men and women were hemispheres, so to speak, of an original sphere; that ill-assorted marriages were the result of the wrong hemispheres getting together; that, if the true halves met, the man became complete, and the consequence was the “happy-ever-after” of childhood’s stories. There is much truth in this doctrine, that for every man there is one woman somewhere in the world, and for every woman one man. They seldom meet in time. If they did, what would become of the sensational novelists?

Adapted from Edward John  Hardy. How to be Happy Though Married, Being a Handbook to Marriage. London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1887.

See also: Etiquette: Conversation with Women.

“Etiquette demands that we bear the ugly and dull with equanimity.”


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