When the sunshine of domestic bliss has become more or less clouded by quarrels between a husband and wife, observers very often describe the state of affairs by the euphemism at the head of this chapter. “They had a few words”—this is the immediate cause of many a domestic catastrophe. A young man was sent to Socrates to learn oratory. On being introduced to the philosopher he talked so incessantly that Socrates asked for double fees. “Why charge me double?” said the young fellow. “Because,” said Socrates, “I must teach you two sciences; the one how to hold your tongue, and the other how to speak.” It is impossible for people to be happy in matrimony who will not learn the first of these sciences.
We do not know whether Simonides was or was not a married man, but we fancy he must have been, for he used to say that he never regretted holding his tongue, but very often was sorry for having spoken. Sober second thoughts suggest palliatives and allowances that temper prevents us from noticing. The simple act of self-denial in restraining the expression of unpleasant feelings or harsh thoughts is the foundation stone of a happy home. For nothing draws people so closely together as the constant experience of mutual pleasure, and nothing so quickly drives them asunder as the frequent endurance of pain caused by one another’s presence.
Sometimes the husband blames the wife and the wife the husband when neither of them is at fault.
Burton tells of a woman who, hearing one of her “gossips” complain of her husband’s impatience, told her an excellent remedy for it. She gave her a glass of water, which, when he brawled, she should hold still in her mouth. She did so two or three times with great success, and at length, seeing her neighbour, she thanked her for it, and asked to know the ingredients. She told her that it was “fair water,” and nothing more, for it was not the water, but her silence which performed the cure.
It has sometimes been remarked that the marriage of a deaf and mute man to a blind woman would have obvious advantages. Each of the parties would acquire an opportunity to practise little pantomimic scenes from which ordinary married folks are debarred. When they quarrelled, for instance—the wife being unable to see, while the husband could not hear or speak—she could hurl at him broadside after broadside of steel-pointed invective; and the poor man could but stand there, study the motion of her lips, and fondly imagine she was telling him how sorry she was that anything should come between them. He, on the other hand, could sit down, shake his fists, and make hideous grimaces, she all the while thinking he was sitting with his face buried in his hands, and hot remorseful tears streaming from his eyes. Husbands and wives who are not deprived of the use of their faculties might take the hint and resolve not to use them too keenly on certain occasions. In a matrimonial quarrel they need not hear or see everything.
The “last word” is the most dangerous of infernal machines. Husband and wife should no more fight to get it than they would struggle for the possession of a lighted bomb-shell. What is the use of the last word? After getting it a husband might perhaps, as an American newspaper suggests, advertise to whistle for a wager against a locomotive; but in every other respect his victory would be useless and painful. It would be a Cadmean victory in which the victor would suffer as much as the vanquished.
Of course some wives are quite capable of giving as much as they get. It is said that at a recent fashionable wedding, after the departure of the happy pair, a dear little girl, whose papa and mamma were among the guests, asked, with a child’s innocent inquisitiveness: “Why do they throw things at the pretty lady in the carriage?” “For luck, dear,” replied one of the bridesmaids. “And why,” again asked the child, “doesn’t she throw them back?” “Oh,” said the young lady, “that would be rude.” “No it wouldn’t,” persisted the dear little thing to the delight of her doting parents who stood by: “ma does.”
“As the climbing up a sandy way is to the feet of the aged, so is a wife full of words to a quiet man.” She who “has a tongue of her own” has always more last words to say, and, if she ever does close her mouth, the question suggests itself whether she should not be arrested for carrying concealed weapons.
Poor Caudle, as a rule, thought discretion the better part of valour, and sought refuge in the arms of soothing slumber; but there are some men who do not allow their wives to have it all their own way without at least an occasional protest. “Do you pretend to have as good a judgment as I have?” said an enraged wife to her husband. “Well, no,” he replied, deliberately; “our choice of partners for life shows that my judgment is not to be compared to yours.” When they have “a few words,” however, the woman usually has the best of it. “See here,” said a fault-finding husband, “we must have things arranged in this house so that we shall know where everything is kept.” “With all my heart,” sweetly answered his wife, “and let us begin with your late hours, my love. I should much like to know where they are kept.”
Such matrimonial word-battles may amuse outsiders as the skill of gladiators used to amuse, but the combatants make themselves very miserable. Far better to be incapable of making a repartee if we only use the power to wound the feelings of the one whom we have vowed to love.
It is a very difficult thing to find fault well. We all have to find fault at times, in reference to servants, children, husband, or wife; but in a great number of cases the operation loses half its effect, or has no effect at all, perhaps a downright bad effect, because of the way in which it is done. Above all things remember this caution, never to find fault when out of temper. Again, there is a time not to find fault, and in the right perception of when that time is lies no small part of the art. The reproof which has most sympathy in it will be most effectual. It understands and allows for infirmity. It was this sympathy that prompted Dr. Arnold to take such pains in studying the characters of his pupils, so that he might best adapt correction to each particular case.
“In politics,” said Cavour, “nothing is so absurd as rancour.” In the same way we may say that nothing is so absurd in matrimony as sullen silence. Reynolds in his “Life and Times” tells of a free-and-easy actor who passed three festive days at the seat of the Marquis and Marchioness of—— without any invitation, convinced (as proved to be the case) that, my lord and my lady not being on speaking terms, each would suppose the other had asked him. A soft answer turns away wrath, and when a wife or a husband is irritated there is nothing like letting a subject drop. Then silence is indeed golden. But the silence persisted in—as by the lady in the old comedy, who, in reply to her husband’s “For heaven’s sake, my dear, do tell me what you mean,” obstinately keeps her lips closed—is an instrument of deadly torture. “A wise man by his words maketh himself beloved.” To this might be added that on certain occasions a fool by his obstinate silence maketh himself hated.
Source: Maud C. Cooke. Social Life or, The Manners and Customs of Polite Society. Buffalo: The Matthews-Northrup Co., 1896.
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