The art of taking a wife
She is a pessimist from havingplaced her ideal so high that nohuman hand can reach it. She cannotnot live an hour without loving and[Pg 138]dedicating a thought, an act, or a sacrificeto the good of some fellow-creature.
How could they ever live together?
He has never felt the want of thesupernatural, and believes neither inGod nor in a soul.
She was born a mystic, and thematernal education has made herreligious and superstitious. She hasa very strong tendency to asceticism.
How could two such beings behappy together?
He is frank, expansive even toimprudence, impetuous even to wrath.He says out straightly what hethinks, swears and curses, only to[Pg 139]forget within an hour the stormwhich overwhelmed him.
She is close, shut as with sevenseals, timid, diffident, and only expressesthe tenth part of what shefeels, and even regrets that slightexpansion. Susceptible as a sensitiveplant, she starts if she meets agrain of sand, a hair, or a featherwhich touches her. She finds anoffence and want of respect in everything,suspects evil everywhere, andeven in good seeks bad intentionswith all the zeal of an inquisitor.
Will these two live happily together?
He is a misanthrope from indolenceand diffidence; he detestssociety and avoids it.
She adores cheerful society, garrulousand merry talk, theatres,balls, not that she may seek anopportunity for sin in these places,but simply because she adores whatis noisy and deafening.
Join these two together—how canthey bless matrimony?
By instinct and education he isdemocratic, detests all forms ofdespotism from the tailor to thegovernment. He is a socialist, andwould be an anarchist if he hadnot a sound heart and did not lovehis kind passionately.
She is of a decayed noble family,keeps and adores the familycoat of arms; when anyone from[Pg 141]politeness calls her marchioness shereddens with pleasure, and herheart swells with pride. She has aprofound and sincere respect forauthority, and bows reverently beforepriests, soldiers, millionaires, andprinces.
Can these two together blesslife?
He is avaricious, but will notconfess to it; he makes a secret ofhis income to be able to complainconstantly of his poverty. Nothingescapes his domestic financial inquisition.Not a halfpenny is givenin alms at his door, not a matchburnt uselessly. Coffee grounds arenever thrown away without first[Pg 142]extracting a second and third edition.The querulous wailings of hislaments over excessive expenditureand taxation fill the air aroundhim with a bad odour of mildewand closeness.
She is generous, and noble inher hospitalities and charities. Shelikes enjoyment herself, and to makethe enjoyment of others, and tohear it responded to by all with“Thank you, thank you!” She cannotunderstand how one can tormentoneself to-day by thinking ofthe still distant day after to-morrow;even the fascination of an uncertainto-morrow allures her. She believeswarmly in Providence and Fortune,and earnestly defends the thoughtless.
And these are husband and wife!
He is always in a state of febrileexcitement or of depression. Hedeclares to all that the most unhappyman is he who feels noenthusiasm, and that the mosthappy man is he who feels everything,and hopes that he himself issuch an one.
She instead is always cold, deridesevery form of enthusiasm, becauseit seems to her a species of madness;detests poetry, all psychicalpleasures, and all passions whenthey pass 10° Centigrade; deridesheroism, sacrifice, and martyrdom,contenting herself by declaring it tobe the matter of a novel or astage play.
And these two—can they live happilytogether?
These few examples, taken fromthe stage of the real world, will besufficient to give you an idea ofthe many discords of character onefinds in the union of marriage.
Certainly all are not so flagrantor so keenly accentuated, but theyare more complex and complicated,whilst the discord is rarely uponone note only, but upon manytogether.
And what can we do to defendourselves from the peril of incompatibilityof temper?
In one way only: by studying andrestudying the character of her whomwe wish to make our companion forlife. After being convinced that shewill show herself better than shereally is we must make every effort[Pg 145]to surprise her in undress, or, betterstill, in a state of nudity. NaturallyI speak in a figurative sense. Ishould wish to see her nude of allartifices of coquetry and hypocrisy.Begin to examine the moral surroundingsin which she lives, andbefore studying her study the futurefather- and mother-in-law. She is onlya branch of that plant upon whichyou wish to graft your life, and agreat part of the children’s characteris that of their parents.
It is exceedingly rare for a loose,libertine mother to have a chastedaughter, and a lily of innocenceis hardly ever born into a family ofimpostors. We have spendthrift sonsof a miserly father, and vice versa;bigoted children of atheistic parents,[Pg 146]and disbelievers sons of bigots; butas regards moral habits there is veryrarely the heredity of antagonism.
Examine especially the moral surroundingsin which the young girlwas born and has grown up; herhabits, the books she reads, theamusements she prefers. Gain informationas to the character of herfriends, for in them as in a glassyou will often see the soul of thewoman you wish to make yours.
I know an angelic woman withmany friends who vie with eachother in loving her, and are jealousone of the other for her affection.These friends are all unusual women,of refined tastes, delicate feelings, andgenerous hearts. They all chaunt hervirtues in chorus, and, without knowing,[Pg 147]I judged her from her friendsto be an angel, and I was not mistaken.
After having made your psychologicalresearch as regards her parentsand friends do not disdain to descendto a more humble sphere. Questionher maid, cook, coachman, dressmaker,and the labourers on herestate: all those who for one reasonor another serve and obey her.
No one knows us better thanthose who serve us, for whom wemake no pretence to hypocrisy orostentation of false virtues, and ifa lady’s maid does not know howto make a psychological analysis ofthe young lady she can showus the most intimate secrets of hercharacter. Noble, generous, and good[Pg 148]natures never ill treat their servants;or they feel all that compassionfor them which their positionmerits, and apply toward them thedaily and domestic virtues of a tenderand affectionate benevolence. Alwaysdoubt the character of thosewho are changing their servants frequently.They are nearly always illdisposed, and being unable to venttheir evil instincts in higher circles,begin to torment their slaves athome.
They pour forth on the lady’smaid, dressmaker, or hairdresser allthe disappointed vanity, hidden jealousy,bad temper, and anger of theirpetty social struggles.
Then if they feel the need ofbeing despotic they satisfy it by[Pg 149]using their power over those poorvictims paid at so much a month,and condemned to live on the moralexcrements of their masters. I knowladies of the highest financial andhereditary aristocracy who are notashamed to beat their maids brutallyand cruelly. If you succeed in learningthis do not overlook it, do notpardon it, but fly the contact of onewho will exercise her own evil-mindednessand despotism upon you,and later on, upon your children.
I prophesy that when you havefinished your examination on heredityand friendship, and that closer inquiryinto your dear one’s homeaffairs, you will find the sister soul to[Pg 150]your own—she with whom you willsing the hymn of perfect happiness allyour life, the only perfect happiness,that of a union of two. But this isthe rarest good fortune. In mostcases you will find neither absolutediscord nor ideal harmony, but apartial accord, which with labor andgood will you will be able to convertgradually into perfect harmony.
If your love is great and deep, if itpours out from the viscera of yourwhole organism, if she loves you welland enough, rest assured that therocks will fall to pieces, the mountainsbe levelled, and the thorns be removed,for love is the most skilledmagician, and knows even how to convertgall into honey. Woman is[Pg 151]cleverer than all the rest of the worldin this thaumaturgic work, and youmust really be the most stupid egotist,the most antipathetic creature in thewhole universe, if your companioncannot succeed in making you agreewith her after a few months. And yet,take care. This harmony ought not tobe that of a victim resigned or a slavesubjected; that would be an artificialagreement which lasts a short timeonly, and thrives but ill. It must bea slow and clever adaptation of thesharpness of the one to the roundnessof the other. It must be an intelligentand tender acclimation to surroundings,tastes, and habits, so that therebellious sprig may be bent withoutpain or breaking, so that the vineleaves may seem pleased at their connection[Pg 152]with the pollard which supportsthem, and the bright and ruddybunches of grapes seem to smile withjoy on foliage and pollard alike. Happiness,too, is a tree which requires awise and loving cultivation. We menare the pollards; the vine is our companionwho leans upon us, boundthere by the withes of love and ofreciprocal indulgence. Above allthings marry a good woman, one, too,who loves you—not for the title youbear, not for the gold which fills yourchests, but because she admires andesteems you, and is proud to bearyour name.
It is customary in Tuscany to plant pollards in thevineyards for the purpose of supporting the vines,and these are bound to the pollards with willowtwigs.—Tr.
And then you may be sure that the[Pg 153]little discords of character will be surmounted,and in the indulgence withwhich your companion so patientlybears with your defects you will findevery day and every hour a proof ofthat love which will only cease withyour last breath.
HARMONY OF THOUGHTS.
Ought we to marry a silly, an intelligent,or a literary woman?
If this question were to be answeredby public vote we should probablyhave the following ratio:
For the silly woman, 10 votes.
For the literary woman, 0 vote.
For the intelligent woman (that is,of normal ability), 90 votes.
In this century, in which the voiceof the majority takes the place ofright and reason, the problem wouldbe solved by that meeting of whichI have guaranteed the result.
In all cases, however, this verdictought to be preceded by many andvaried comments if it is to be convertedinto practical counsels to thoseabout to take a wife.
The ten who have voted for thesilly woman would say that they didnot desire an idiot, but, on the contrary,a woman slightly foolish, butnot too much so. But together withthis defect they would wish to haveher handsome, young, and very good-tempered.They seek above all acompanion who helps them to keephealthy and merry. There is nothingmore charming, more sympathetic,more irresistible, than a little absurdityfrom a pretty mouth. It makesone laugh; and when our laugh provokesthat of the one who has uttered[Pg 156]it, and she shows her beautiful teethin rows like pearls, oh! bless the follyand her who spoke it.
The ninety who have given no voteto the literary woman wish us tounderstand that they like an educatedwoman, but detest pedantry, and thatnothing in the world could make themdesire a bas-bleu; much less achoupette-bleue,a variety of the first, sonamed by Balzac.
Having heard these comments, letus now make ours. It is only tootrue that in our Italian society thegeneral culture is much below thatwhich one meets with in France,Germany, England, and the UnitedStates. We have the courage toconfess this in our own home if forno other reason than with the hope[Pg 157]that the shame which mounts to ourfaces may induce us to remove thisnational blot from our children.
Men of little culture desire even lessin their wives, in order that at leastin their family circle their credit maybe unimpugned. From this arises ageneral repugnance to teach our girlstoo many things, from this comes theantipathy to the higher girls’ schoolsand to all that tends to elevate theintellectual level of our companions.Up to the present time the hasty andill-digested attempts have not helpedto modify public opinion for thebetter; the only people who dedicatethemselves to higher learning in oneway or another are the ugly, hysterical,or very poor.
We all open our eyes very widely[Pg 158]before a