DOMESTIC ETIQUETTE AND DUTIES.
“The little community to which I gave laws,” said the Vicar of Wakefield, “was regulated in the following manner:—We all assembled early, and after we had saluted each other with proper ceremony, (for I always thought fit to keep up some mechanical forms of good breeding, without which, freedom ever destroys friendship,) we all knelt in gratitude to that Being who gave us another day. So also when we parted for the night.”
We earnestly recommend that the precepts and example of the good old Vicar should be followed and adopted by every newly-married couple. With regard to the first, the courtesies of society should never be omitted, in even the most trivial matters; and, as respects the second, what blessing can be reasonably expected to descend upon a house wherein the voice of thanksgiving is never heard, nor yet protection sought by its acknowledged head!
On the wife especially devolves the privilege and pleasure of rendering home happy. We shall, therefore, speak of such duties and observances as pertain to her.
When a young wife first settles in her home, many excellent persons, with more zeal, it may be, than discretion, immediately propose that she should devote some of her leisure time to charitable purposes: such, for instance, as clothing societies for the poor, or schools, or district visiting. We say with all earnestness to our young friend, engage in nothing of the kind, however laudable, without previously consulting your husband, and obtaining his full concurrence. Carefully avoid, also, being induced by any specious arguments to attend evening lectures, unless he accompanies you. Remember that your Heavenly Father, who has given you a home to dwell in, requires from you a right performance of its duties. Win your husband, by all gentle appliances, to love religion; but do not, for the sake even of a privilege and a blessing, leave him to spend his evenings alone. Look often on your marriage ring, and remember the sacred vows taken by you when the ring was given; such thoughts will go far toward allaying many of these petty vexations which circumstances call forth.
Never let your husband have cause to complain that you are more agreeable abroad than at home; nor permit him to see in you an object of admiration, as respects your dress and manners, when in company, while you are negligent of both in the domestic circle. Many an unhappy marriage has been occasioned by neglect in these particulars. Nothing can be more senseless than the conduct of a young woman, who seeks to be admired in general society for her politeness and engaging manners, or skill in music, when, at the same time, she makes no effort to render her home attractive; and yet that home, whether a palace or a cottage, is the very center of her being—the nucleus around which her affections should revolve, and beyond which she has comparatively small concern.
Beware of intrusting any individual whatever with small annoyances, or misunderstandings, between your husband and yourself, if they unhappily occur. Confidants are dangerous persons, and many seek to obtain an ascendency in families by gaining the good opinion of young married women. Be on your guard, and reject every overture that may lead to undesirable intimacy. Should any one presume to offer you advice with regard to your husband, or seek to lessen him by insinuations, shun that person as youwould a serpent. Many a happy home has been rendered desolate by exciting coolness or suspicion, or by endeavors to gain importance in an artful and insidious manner.
In all money matters, act openly and honorably. Keep your accounts with the most scrupulous exactness, and let your husband see that you take an honest pride in rightly appropriating the money which he intrusts to you. “My husband works hard for every dollar that he earns,” said a young married lady, the wife of a professional man, to a friend who found her busily employed in sewing buttons on her husband’s coat, “and it seems to me worse than cruel to lay out a dime unnecessarily.” Be very careful, also, that you do not spend more than can be afforded in dress; and be satisfied with such carpets and curtains in your drawing-room as befit a moderate fortune, or professional income. Natural ornaments, and flowers tastefully arranged, give an air of elegance to a room in which the furniture is far from costly; and books judiciously placed, uniformly produce a good effect. A sensible woman will always seek to ornament her home, and to render it attractive, more especially as this is the taste of the present day. The power of association is very great; light, and air, and elegance, are important in their effects. No wife acts wisely who permits her sitting-room to look dull in the eyes of him whom she ought especially to please, and with whom she has to pass her days.
In middle life, instances frequently occur of concealment with regard to money concerns; thus, for instance, a wife wishes to possess an article of dress which is too costly for immediate purchase, or a piece of furniture liable to the same objection. She accordingly makes an agreement with a seller, and there are many who call regularly at houses when the husband is absent on business, and who receive whatever the mistress of the house can spare from her expenses. A book is kept by the seller, in which payments are entered; but a duplicate is never retained by the wife, and therefore she has no check whatever. We have known an article of dress paid for in this manner, far above its value, and have heard a poor young woman, who has been thus duped, say to a lady, who remonstrated with her: “Alas! what can I do? I dare not tell my husband.” It may be that the same system, though differing according to circumstances, is pursued in a superior class of life. We have reason to think that it is so, and therefore affectionately warn our younger sisters to beware of making purchases that require concealment. Be content with such things as you can honorably afford, and such as your husbands approve. You can then wear them with every feeling of self-satisfaction.
Before dismissing this part of our subject, we beseech you to avoid all bickerings. What does it signify where a picture hangs, or whether a rose or a pink looks best on the drawing-room table? There is something inexpressibly endearing in small concessions, in gracefully giving up a favorite opinion, or in yielding to the will of another; and equally painful is the reverse. The mightiest rivers have their source in streams; the bitterest domestic misery has often arisen from some trifling difference of opinion. If, by chance, you marry a man of a hasty temper, great discretion is required. Much willingness, too, and prayer for strength to rule your own spirit are necessary. Three instances occur to us, in which, ladies have knowingly married men of exceeding violent tempers, and yet have lived happily. The secret of their happiness consisted in possessing a perfect command over themselves, and in seeking, by every possible means, to prevent their husbands from committing themselves in their presence.
Lastly, remember your standing as a lady, and never approve a mean action, nor speak an unrefined word; let all your conduct be such as an honorable and right-minded man may look for in his wife, and the mother of his children. The slightest duplicity destroys confidence. The least want of refinement in conversation, or in the selection of books, lowers a woman, ay, and for ever! Follow these few simple precepts, and they shall prove to you of more worth than rubies; neglect them, and you will know what sorrow is. They apply to every class of society, in every place where man has fixed his dwelling; and to the woman who duly observes them may be given the beautiful commendation of Solomon, when recording the words which the mother of King Lemuel taught him:
“The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her; she will do him good, and not evil, all the days of her life. Strength and honor are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come. Her children rise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her.”—Prov. xxxi.
We shall now address ourselves exclusively to our brethren; to them who have taken upon themselves the sacred and comprehensive names of husband and of master, who have formed homes to dwell in, and have placed therein, as their companions through life’s pilgrimage, gentle and confiding ones, who have left for them all that was heretofore most dear, and whom they have sworn to love and to cherish.
When a man marries, it is understood that all former acquaintanceship ends, unless he intimates a desire to renew it, by sending you his own and his wife’s card, if near, or by letter, if distant. If this be neglected, be sure no further intercourse is desired.
In the first place, a bachelor is seldom very particular in the choice of his companions. So long as he is amused, he will associate freely enough with those whose morals and habits would point them out as highly dangerous persons to introduce into the sanctity of domestic life.
Secondly, a married man has the tastes of another to consult; and the friend of the husband may not be equally acceptable to the wife.
Besides, newly-married people may wish to limit the circle of their friends, from praiseworthy motives of economy. When a man first “sets up” in the world, the burden of an extensive and indiscriminate acquaintance may be felt in various ways. Many have had cause to regret the weakness of mind which allowed them to plunge into a vortex of gaiety and expense they could ill afford, from which they have found it difficult to extricate themselves, and the effects of which have proved a serious evil to them in after-life.
Remember that you have now, as a married man, a very different standing in society from the one which you previously held, and that the happiness of another is committed to your charge. Render, therefore, your home happy by kindness and attention to your wife, and carefully watch over your words and actions. If small disputes arise, and your wife has not sufficient good sense to yield her opinion; nay, if she even seems determined to have her own way, and that tenaciously, do not get angry; rather be silent, and let the matter rest. An opportunity will soon occur of speaking affectionately, yet decidedly, on the subject, and much good will be effected. Master your own temper, and you will soon master your wife’s; study her happiness without yielding to any caprices, and you will have no reason to regret your self-control.
Never let your wife go to church alone on Sunday. You can hardly do a worse thing as regards her good opinion of you, and the well-being of your household. It is a pitiable sight to see a young wife going toward the church-door unattended, alone in the midst of a crowd, with her thoughts dwelling, it may be very sadly, on the time when you were proud to walk beside her. Remember that the condition of a young bride is often a very solitary one; and that for your sake she has left her parents’ roof, and the companionship of her brothers and sisters. If you are a professional man, your wife may have to live in the neighborhood of a large city, where she scarcely knows any one, and without those agreeable domestic occupations, or young associates, among whom she had grown up. Her garden and poultry-yard are hers no longer, and the day passes without the light of any smile but yours. You go off, most probably after breakfast, to your business or profession, and do not return till a late dinner; perhaps even not then, if you are much occupied, or have to keep up professional connections. It seems unmanly, certainly most unkind, to let your young wife go to church on Sunday without you, for the common-place satisfaction of lounging at home. To act in this manner is certainly a breach of domestic etiquette. Sunday is the only day in which you can enable her to forget her father’s house, and the pleasant associations of her girlhood days—in which you can pay her those attentions which prevent all painful comparisons as regards the past. Sunday is a day of rest, wisely and mercifully appointed to loose the bonds by which men are held to the world; let it be spent by you as becomes the head of a family. Let no temptation ever induce you to wish your wife to relinquish attending Divine service, merely that she may “idle at home with you.” Religion is her safeguard amid the trials or temptations of this world. And woe may be to you if you seek to withdraw her from its protection!
Much perplexity in the marriage state often arises from want of candor. Men conceal their affairs, and expect their wives to act with great economy, without assigning any reason why such should be the case; but the husband ought frankly to tell his wife the real amount of his income; for, unless this is done, she cannot properly regulate her expenses. They ought then to consult together as to the sum that can be afforded for housekeeping, which should be rather below than above the mark. When this is arranged he will find it advantageous to give into her hands, either weekly, monthly, or quarterly, the sum that is appropriated for daily expenditure, and above all things to avoid interfering without absolute necessity. The home department belongs exclusively to the wife; the province of the husband is to rule the house—hers to regulate its internal movements. True it is, that some inexperienced young creatures know but little of household concerns. If this occur, have patience, and do not become pettish or ill-humored. If too much money is laid out at first, give advice, kindly and firmly, and the young wife will soon learn how to perform her new duties.
No good ever yet resulted, or ever will result from unnecessary interference. If a man unhappily marries an incorrigible simpleton, or spendthrift, he cannot help himself. Such, however, is rarely the case. Let a man preserve his own position, and assist his wife to do the same; all things will then move together, well and harmoniously.
Much sorrow, and many heart-burnings, may be avoided by judicious conduct in the outset of life. Husbands should give their wives all confidence. They have intrusted to them their happiness, and should never suspect them of desiring to waste their money. Whenever a disposition is manifested to do right, express your approbation. Be pleased with trifles, and commend efforts to excel on every fitting occasion. If your wife is diffident, encourage her, and avoid seeing small mistakes. It is unreasonable to add to the embarrassments of her new condition, by ridiculing her deficiencies. Forbear extolling the previous management of your mother or your sisters. Many a wife has been alienated from her husband’s family, and many an affectionate heart has been deeply wounded by such injudicious conduct; and, as a sensible woman will always pay especial attention to the relations of her husband, and entertain them with affectionate politeness, the husband on his part should always cordially receive and duly attend to her relations. The reverse of this, on either side, is often productive of unpleasant feelings.
Lastly, we recommend every young married man, who wishes to render his home happy, to consider his wife as the light of his domestic circle, and to permit no clouds, however small, to obscure the region in which she presides. Most women are naturally amiable, gentle, and complying; and if a wife becomes perverse, and indifferent to her home, it is generally her husband’s fault. He may have neglected her happiness; but nevertheless it is unwise in her to retort, and, instead of faithfully reflecting the brightness that still may shine upon her, to give back the dusky and cheerless hue which saddens her existence. Be not selfish, but complying, in small things. If your wife dislikes cigars—and few young women like to have their clothes tainted by tobacco—leave off smoking; for it is, at best, an ungentlemanly and dirty habit. If your wife asks you to read to her, do not put your feet upon a chair and go to sleep. If she is fond of music, accompany her as you were wont when you sought her for a bride. The husband may say that he is tired, and does not like music, or reading aloud. This may occasionally be true, and no amiable woman will ever desire her husband to do what would really weary him. We, however, recommend a young man to practice somewhat of self-denial, and to remember that no one acts with a due regard to his own happiness who lays aside, when married, those gratifying attentions which he was ever ready to pay the lady of his love; or those rational sources of home enjoyment which made her look forward with a bounding heart to become his companion through life.
Etiquette is a comprehensive term; and its observances are nowhere more to be desired than in the domestic circle.