On the MUTUAL Duties of Husbands and Wives
by John Angell James (1785-1859)
“Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.”
Marriage is the foundation of the family constitution—this, says the Apostle, “is honorable in all;” and he has condemned, “as a doctrine of devils,” the opinions of those by whom it is forbidden. It is an institute of God, it was established in Eden, was honored by the personal attendance of Christ, and furnished an occasion for the first of that splendid series of miracles, by which he proved himself to be the Son of God, and the Savior of the world. But there is another mark of distinction put upon it by the Holy Spirit, where it is said, “This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the Church.” Ephes. 5:32. Paul here represents the marital union as a type or symbol of the close and endearing relation in which the church stands to its divine Redeemer. Nothing can throw a higher sanctity over this relationship, nor invest it with greater honor than such a view of it. Distinguishing, as it does, man from brutes; providing not only for the continuance, but for the comfort of our species; containing at once, the source of human happiness, and of all those virtuous emotions and generous sensibilities, which refine and adorn the character of man, it can never as a general subject be guarded with too much solicitous vigilance, nor be contracted, in particular instances, with too much prudence and care.
In proportion to the importance of the relationship itself, must be a right view and a due performance of the obligations arising out of it.
First. There are duties common to both husband and wife.
Secondly. There are duties more particularly enjoined upon each.
My first object will be to state those duties which are common to BOTH husband and wife.
1. The first which I mention, and which is the ground of all the rest, is LOVE.
Let this be lacking, and marriage is degraded at once into a brutal or a sordid relationship. This duty which, though for reasons we shall consider in due place, is especially enjoined on the husband, belongs equally to the wife. It must be mutual, or there can be no happiness—no happiness for the party which does not love, for how dreadful the idea of being chained for life to an individual for whom we have no affection; to be almost ever in the company of a person from whom we are driven back by revulsion, yet driven back upon a bond which prevents all separation and escape. Nor can there be any happiness for the party that does love; such an unrequited affection must soon expire, or live only to consume that wretched heart in which it burns. A married couple without mutual love, is one of the most pitiable spectacles on earth. They cannot, and, indeed, in ordinary circumstances, ought not to separate—and yet they remain united only to be a torment to each other! They serve one important purpose, however, in the history of mankind; and that is, to be a beacon to all who are yet unmarried, to warn them against the sin and folly of forming this union upon any other basis than that of a pure and mutual attachment; and to admonish all who are married, to watch with most assiduous vigilance, their mutual love, that nothing be allowed to damp the sacred flame.
As the marriage union should be formed on the basis of love, so should great care be taken, especially in the early stages of it, that nothing might arise to unsettle or loosen our attachments. Whatever knowledge we may obtain of each other’s tastes and habits before marriage—it is neither so accurate, so comprehensive, nor so impressive, as that which we acquire by living together; and it is of immense consequence, that when little defects are first noticed, and trivial faults and oppositions first occur, they should not be allowed to produce an unfavorable impression upon the mind.
The remarks of Bishop Jeremy Taylor, in his inimitably beautiful sermon, entitled “The Marriage Ring,” are so much in point, that I shall introduce a long extract in reference to this idea—”Man and wife are equally concerned to avoid all offenses of each other in the beginning of their marriage; every little thing can blast an infant blossom; and the breath of the soft south wind can shake the little rings of the vine, when first they begin to curl like the locks of a new weaned boy; but when by ripening they stiffen into the hardness of a stem, and have by the warm rays of the sun, and the kisses of heaven, brought forth their clusters—they can endure the storms of the harsh north wind, and the loud noises of a tempest, and yet never be broken—so are the early unions of an unfixed marriage; watchful and observant, jealous and busy, inquisitive and careful, and apt to take alarm at every unkind word. For infirmities do not manifest themselves in the first scenes, but in the succession of a long relationship; and it is not chance or weakness when it appears at first, but it is lack of love or prudence, or it will be so expounded; and that which appears bad at first usually affrights the inexperienced man or woman, who makes unequal conjectures, and fancies mighty sorrows, by the proportions of the new and early unkindness. It is a very great passion, or a huge folly, or a certain lack of love, that cannot preserve the beauties of kindness, so long as public honesty requires a man to wear their sorrows for the death of a friend. After the hearts of the man and the wife are endeared and strengthened by a mutual confidence and experience, longer than artifice and pretense can last, there are a great many remembrances, and some things present, that dash all little unkindnesses in pieces.
“Let man and wife be careful to stifle little irritations—that as fast as they spring, they be cut down and trod upon; for if they be allowed to grow by numbers, they make the spirit peevish, and the relationship troublesome, and the affections loose and uneasy, by all habitual annoyance. Some men are more vexed with a fly than with a wound; and when the gnats disturb our sleep, and the reason is disturbed, but not perfectly awakened, it is often seen that he is fuller of trouble than if in the daylight of his reason he were to contest with a potent enemy. In the frequent little incidents of a family, a man’s reason cannot always be awake; and when his discourses are imperfect, and a trifling trouble makes him yet more restless, he is soon betrayed to the violence of passion. It is certain that the man or woman are in a state of weakness and folly then, when they can be troubled with a trifling accident; and therefore it is not good to vex them when they are in that state of danger. In this case, the caution is, to subtract fuel from the sudden flame; for stubble though it be quickly kindled, yet it is as soon extinguished, if it be not blown by a pertinacious breath, or fed with new materials. Add no new provocations to the incident, and do not inflame this, and peace will soon return, and the discontent will pass away soon, as the sparks from the collision of a flint—ever remembering that discontents proceeding from daily little things, do breed a secret indiscernible disease, which is more dangerous than a fever proceeding from a discerned notorious malady.”
If they would preserve love, let them be sure to study most accurately each other’s tastes and distastes, and most anxiously abstain from whatever, even in the minutest things, they know to be contrary to them.
If they would preserve love, let them most carefully avoid all curious, and frequently repeated distinctions of MINE and YOURS—for this has caused all the laws, and all the suits, and all the wars in the world—let them who have but one person, have also but one interest. Instances may occur in which there may and must be, a separate investiture of property, and a sovereign independent right of disposal in the woman—in this case, the most anxious care should be taken by the husband, not to attempt to invade that right, and by the wife neither ostentatiously to speak of it, nor rigidly to claim it, nor selfishly to exercise it. In ordinary cases, “they should be heirs to each other, if they die childless; and if there be children, the wife should be with them a partner in the inheritance.
2. MUTUAL RESPECT is a duty of married life; for though, as we shall afterwards consider, especial respect is due from the wife—yet is respect due from the husband also.
As it is difficult to respect those who are not entitled to it on any other ground than superior rank or common relationship, it is of immense consequence that we should present to each other that conduct which deserves respect and commands it. Moral esteem is one of the firmest supports and strongest guards of love—and a high degree of excellence cannot fail to produce such esteem. We are more accurately known to each other in the marriage relationship, than either to the world, or even to our own children. The privacies of such a relationship lay open our motives, and all the interior of our character; so that we are better known to each other than we are to ourselves. If therefore, we would be respected, we should be respectable. Charity covers a multitude of faults, it is true; but we must not presume too far upon the credulity and blindness of affection; there is a point beyond which even love cannot be blind to the crimson coloring of a guilty action. Every piece of real sinful conduct, the impropriety of which cannot be mistaken, tends to sink us in each other’s esteem, and thus to remove the safeguards of affection.
Perhaps this has not been sufficiently thought of in wedded life, the parties of which have been sometimes anxious merely to cover their delinquencies from the world, forgetful that it is a dreadful thing to lose their mutual respect. It is delightfully striking to observe, how some married couples of eminent moral worth, regard each other; what respect is blended with their love, and how like to angel forms of heavenly excellence they appear to one another.
In all the conduct of the marital state then, there should be the most marked and unvarying mutual respect even in little things—there must be no searching after faults, nor examining with microscopic scrutiny, such things as cannot be concealed; no reproachful epithets; no crude contempt; no incivility; no cold neglect—there should be courtesy without ceremony; politeness without formality; attention without slavery; it should in short, be the tenderness of love, supported by esteem and guided by politeness. And then, we must maintain our mutual respectability before others—strangers, friends, children, must all respect us from what they see in our own behavior. It is in the highest degree improper, for either husband or wife, to do an action, to say a word, or assume a look, that shall have the remotest tendency to lower the other in public esteem.
3. MUTUAL ATTACHMENT TO EACH OTHER’S SOCIETY, is a common duty of husband and wife.
We are united to be companions; to live together, to walk together, to talk together. The husband is commanded “to dwell with the wife according to knowledge.” “This,” says Mr. Jay, “intends nothing less than residence, opposed to absence and roving. It is absurd, for those who have no expectancy of dwelling together, to enter this state—and those who are already in it, should not be unnecessarily abroad. Circumstances of various kinds will doubtless render occasional excursions unavoidable; but let a man return as soon as the design of his absence is accomplished, and let him always travel with the words of Solomon in his mind, ‘As a bird that wanders from her nest, so is a man that wanders from his place.’ Can a man while from home discharge the duties he owes to his household? Can he discipline his children? Can he maintain the worship of God in his family? I know it is the duty of the wife to lead the devotion in the absence of the husband; and she should take it up as a cross, if not for the time as a privilege. Few, however, are thus disposed, and hence one of the ‘home sanctuaries’ of God for weeks and months together is shut up. I am sorry to say that there are some husbands who seem fonder of any society than the company of their wives. It appears in the disposal of their leisure hours. How few of these are appropriated to the wife! The evenings are the most family periods of the day. To these the wife is peculiarly entitled—she is now most free from her numerous cares, and most at liberty to enjoy reading and conversation. It is a sad reflection upon a man when he is fond of spending his evenings abroad. It implies something bad, and it predicts something worse.”
And to insure as far as possible the society of her husband, at his own fireside, let the wife be “a keeper at home,” and do all in her power to render that fireside as attractive as kind temperament , neatness, and cheerful, affectionate conversation can make it; let her strive to make his own home the soft green on which his heart loves to repose in the sunshine of family enjoyment. We can easily imagine that even in Paradise, when man had no apparition of guilt, no visions of crime, no spectral voice from a troubled conscience, to make him dread solitude and flee from it—that even then, Adam liked not, on his return from the labor of dressing the garden, to find Eve absent from their bower, but lacked the smile of her countenance to light up his own, and the music of her voice to be the melody of his soul.
Think, then, how much more in his fallen estate, with guilt upon his conscience, and care pressing upon his heart, does man now, on coming from the scenes of his anxious toil, need the aid of woman’s companionship, to drive away the swarm of buzzing cares which sting his heart; to smooth the brow ruffled with sadness; to tranquillize the bosom agitated with passion; and at once to reprove and comfort the mind that has in some measure yielded to temptation. O woman! you know the hour when the “good man of the house” will return at midday, while the sun is yet bowing down the laborer with the fierceness of his beams, or at evening, when the heat and burden of the day are past—do not let him, at such a time, when he is weary with exertion, and faint with discouragement, find, upon his coming to his habitation, that the foot which should hasten to meet him, is wandering at a distance; that the soft hand which should wipe away the sweat from his brow, is knocking at the door of other houses; nor let him find a wilderness, where he should enter a garden; confusion, where he ought to see order; or filth that disgusts, where he might hope to behold neatness that delights and attracts.
If this be the case, who can wonder, that in the anguish of disappointment, and in the bitterness of a neglected and heart-stricken husband, he turns away from his own door, for that comfort which he wished to enjoy at home, and that society which he hoped to find in his wife, and puts up with the substitutes for both, which he finds in the houses of other men, or in the company of other women. United to be partners then, let man and wife be as much in each other’s society as possible.
There must be something wrong in family life, when they need the assistance of balls, plays and card parties to relieve them from the tedium produced by home pursuits. I thank God, I am a stranger to that taste, which leads a man to flee from his own comfortable parlour and the society of his wife, from the instruction and recreation contained in a well stored library, or from the evening rural walk, when the business of the day is over, to scenes of public amusement, for enjoyment; to my judgment, the pleasures of home, and of home society, when home and home society are all that could be desired, are such as never cloy, and need no change, but from one kindred scene to another. I am sighing and longing, perhaps in vain, for a period when society shall be so elevated and so purified; when the love of knowledge will be so intense, and the habits of life will be so simple; when religion and morality will be so generally diffused, that men’s homes will be the seat and circle of their pleasures; when in the society of an affectionate and intelligent wife, and of well educated children, each will find his greatest earthly delight; and when it will be felt to be no more necessary to happiness, to leave their own fireside, for the ballroom, the concert, or the theatre, than it is to go from the well-spread home table to the public feast, to satisfy the cravings of a healthy appetite—when will it be no longer imposed upon us to prove that public amusements are improper, for they will be found to be unnecessary.
But the pleasures of home must not be allowed to interfere with the calls and claims of public duty. Wives must not ask, and husbands must not give that time which is demanded for the cause of God and man. This is an age of active charity, and the great public institutions which are set up, cannot be kept in operation without great sacrifices of time and leisure by very many people. Those who by their wisdom, talents, rank, or property, receive the confidence of the public, must stand prepared to fill up and conduct the executive departments of our societies; nor should they allow the soft allurements of their own houses, to draw them away from what is obviously the post of duty.
We have known some, who, until they entered into wedded life, were the props and pillars of our institutions, yield so far to the solicitations of their new and dearest earthly friend, as to vacate their seat at the board of management forever after. It is, I admit, a costly way of contributing to the cause of religion and humanity, to give those evening hours which could be spent so pleasantly in a country walk, or in the joint perusal of some interesting volume; but who can do good, or ought to wish to do it without sacrifices? I know an eminently holy and useful minister, who told the lady to whom he was about to be united, that one of the conditions of their marriage was, that she should never ask him for that time, which, on any occasion, he felt it to be his duty to give to God. And surely, any woman might feel herself more blessed in having sometimes to endure the loss of a husband’s society, whose presence and talents are coveted by all public institutions, than in being left to the unmolested enjoyment of the company of one whose assistance is coveted by none.
4. MUTUAL FORBEARANCE is another common duty of husbands and wives.
This we owe to all, not excepting the stranger, or an enemy; and most certainly it must not be denied to our nearest friend. “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged. It is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” For this love there is both need and room in every relation of life. Wherever sin or imperfection exists, there is scope for the patience of love. There is no perfection upon earth. Lovers, it is true, often fancy they have found it; but the more sober judgment of husbands and wives generally corrects the mistake; and first impressions of this kind, usually pass away with first love.
We should all enter the married state, remembering that we are about to be united to a sinful person–and it is not two ‘angels’ that have met together, but two ‘sinful people’, from whom must be expected much weakness and selfishness. We must expect some imperfection in our spouse. Remembering that we ourselves have no small share of sinfulness, which calls for the forbearance of the other party, we should exercise the patience that we ask from them. Where both have infirmities, and they are so constantly together, innumerable occasions will be furbished, if we are eager or even willing to avail ourselves of the opportunities for those contentions, which, if they do not produce a permanent suppression of love, lead to its temporary interruption. Many things we should overlook, others we should pass by with an unprovoked mind, and in all things most carefully avoid even what at first may seem to be an innocent disputation.
Love does not forbid, but actually demands that we should mutually point out the faults of our spouses; but this should be done in all the meekness of wisdom united with all the tenderness of love, lest we only increase the evil we intend to remove, or substitute a greater one in its place. Justice, as well as wisdom, requires that in every case, we set the good qualities against the bad ones, and in most cases we shall find some redeeming excellencies, which, if they do not reconcile us to the failings we deplore, should at least teach us to bear them with patience; and the more we contemplate these better aspects of the character, the brighter will they appear—for it is an indubitable fact, that while faults diminish, virtues magnify in proportion as they are steadily contemplated.
As to bitterness of language, and harshness of conduct, this is so utterly disgraceful, and in the circle which I am accustomed to instruct, altogether so unusual, that it scarcely needs be introduced even by way of cautioning against it.
5. MUTUAL ASSISTANCE is the common duty of husbands and wives.
This applies to the cares of life. Women are not usually very conversant with matters of trade, but still their counsel may be sought in a thousand cases with propriety and advantage. The husband should never undertake anything of importance, without communicating the matter to his wife; who, on her part, instead of shrinking from the responsibility of a counselor, and leaving him to struggle alone with his difficulties and perplexities, should invite him to communicate freely all his concerns; for if she cannot counsel, she can comfort; if she cannot relieve his cares, she can help to bear them; if she cannot direct the course of his trade, she may assist the current of his feelings; if she cannot open any source of earthly wisdom, she can spread the matter before the Father of wisdom. Many men under the idea of delicacy to their wives, keep all their difficulties to themselves, which only prepares them to feel the stroke the heavier when it does come.
And then, as the wife should be willing to help the husband, in matters of business, he should be willing to share with her the burden of family concerns and fatigue. Some go too far, and utterly degrade the female head of the family, by treating her as if her honesty or ability could not be trusted in the management of the family economy. They keep the money, and dole it out as if they were parting with their life’s blood, grudging every dollar they dispense, and requiring an account as rigid as they would from a dishonest employee—they take charge of everything, give out everything, interfere in everything. This is to rob a woman of her authority, to thrust her from her proper place, to insult and degrade her before her children and servants.
Some, on the other hand, go to the opposite extreme, and take no share in any domestic concerns. My heart has ached to see the slavery of some devoted, hard working, and ill used wives; after laboring all day amid the ceaseless toils of a young and numerous family, they have had to pass the hours of evening in solitude; while the husbands, instead of coming home to cheer them by their society, or to relieve them for only half an hour of their fatigue, have been either at a party or a sermon—and then have these hapless women had to wake and watch the whole night over a sick or restless babe, while the men whom they accepted as the partner of their sorrows, were sleeping by their side, unwilling to give a single hour of their slumber, though it was to allow a little repose to their toil-worn wives. Why, even the irrational creatures shame such men; for it is a well known fact, that the male bird takes his turn upon the nest during the season of incubation, to allow the female time to renew her strength by food and rest; and with her also, goes in diligent quest of food, and feeds the young ones when they cry. No man should think of marrying, who does not stand prepared to share, as far as he can do it with his wife, the burden of family cares.
They should be helpful to each other in the concerns of personal religion. This is clearly implied in the Apostle’s language. “How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?” (1 Cor. 7:16.) Where both parties are unconverted, or only one of them is yet a partaker of true piety, there should be the most anxious, judicious, and affectionate efforts for their salvation. How heathenish a state is it to enjoy together the comforts of marriage, and then travel in company to eternal perdition; to be mutual comforters on earth, and then mutual tormentors in hell; to be companions in felicity in time, and companions in torment through eternity!
And where both spouses are real Christians, there should be the exercise of a constant reciprocal solicitude, watchfulness, and care, in reference to their spiritual and eternal welfare. One of the ends which every true believer should propose to himself, on entering the marriage state, is to secure one faithful friend, at least, who will be a helpmate for him in reference to the eternal world, assist him in the great business of his soul’s salvation, and that will pray for him and with him; one that will affectionately tell him of his sins and his defects, viewed in the light of a Christian; one that will stimulate and draw him by the power of a holy example, and the sweet force of persuasive words; one that will warn him in temptation, comfort him in dejection, and in every way assist him in his pilgrimage to the skies. The highest end of the marital state is lost, if it be not rendered helpful to our piety; and yet this end is too generally neglected, even by professors of religion.
Do we converse with each other as we ought on the high themes of redemption by Christ, and eternal salvation? Do we study each other’s dispositions, snares, troubles, decays in piety, that we may apply suitable remedies? Do we exhort one another daily, lest we should be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin? Do we practice faithfulness without censoriousness; and administer praise without flattery? Do we encourage one another to the most quickening and edifying means of grace, and recommend the perusal of such instructive and improving books as we have found beneficial to ourselves? Do we mutually lay open the state of our minds on the subject of personal religion, and state our perplexities, our joys, our fears, our sorrows? Alas, alas! who must not blush at their neglects in these particulars? And yet such neglect is as criminal as it is common. Fleeing from the wrath to come, and yet not doing all we can to aid each other’s escape! Contending side by side for the crown of glory, honor, immortality, and eternal life, and yet not doing all we can to ensure each other’s success! Is this love? Is this the tenderness of marital affection?
This mutual help should extend to the maintenance of all the habits of family order, discipline, and piety. The husband is to be the prophet, priest, and king of the family, to instruct their minds, to lead their devotions, and to govern their tempers; but in all that relates to these important objects, the wife is to be of one mind with him. They are in these matters, to be workers together, neither of them leaving the other to labor alone, much less opposing or thwarting what is done. “When the sun shines, the moon disappears; when he sets, she appears and shines; so when the husband is at home, he leads family worship, when he is absent, the wife must always take his place.”
Some men refer the instruction of young children exclusively to their wives; and some wives, as soon as the children are too old to be taught upon the knee, think that they are exclusively the subjects of paternal care. This is a mistake in the important economy of the family—the members of which are never too young to be taught and disciplined by the father—nor to old to be admonished and warned by the mother; he may sometimes have a great influence in developing the childish tempers of the younger branches; while her soft persuasive accents may have delightful power to melt or break the hard and stubborn hearts of older ones. Thus they who have a joint interest in a family, must attend to them in the exercise of a joint labor.
They must be helpful to each other in works of humanity and religious benevolence.
Their mutual influence should be exerted, not in restraining, but in stimulating zeal, compassion, and liberality. What a beautiful picture of family life is drawn by the pen of the Old Testament historian. “One day Elisha went to the town of Shunem. A wealthy woman lived there, and she invited him to eat some food. From then on, whenever he passed that way, he would stop there to eat. She said to her husband, “I am sure this man who stops in from time to time is a holy man of God. Let us make a little room for him on the roof and furnish it with a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp. Then he will have a place to stay whenever he comes by.” One day Elisha returned to Shunem, and he went up to his room to rest.” (2 Kings 4:8-11.) Every part of this scene is lovely. The generous and pious wish of the wife to provide accommodation for a destitute and dependent prophet; her prompt and prudent effort to interest her husband in the scheme of her benevolence—her discreet and modest keeping of her place in not acting without his permission; her dignified claim of a right to be associated with him in his work of mercy, for said she, let us make a little make a little room for him on the roof—all is delightful, and as it should be, on her part—and no less so on the part of the man; for there was no surly refusal, no proud rejection of the plan, because it did not originate with him, no covetous plea for setting it aside, on the ground of expense.
Delighted, as every husband should be, to gratify the benevolent wishes, and support the liberal scheme of his wife, so far as prudence will allow, he consented; the little chamber was erected, and furnished by this holy pair, and soon occupied by the prophet; and never was a generous action more speedily or more richly rewarded. Elisha had no means of his own, by which to acknowledge the kindness; but He who said in after times, “he who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet, shall receive a prophet’s reward,” took upon himself, as he does in every instance, the cause of his necessitous servant, and most munificently repaid the generous deed.
A lovelier scene is not to be found on earth, than that of a pious couple, employing their mutual influence, and the hours of their retired companionship, in stirring up each other’s hearts to deeds of mercy and religious benevolence; not Adam and Eve in Paradise, with the unspotted robes of their innocence about them, engaged in propping the vine, or trailing the rose of that holy garden, presented to the eyes of angels a more interesting spectacle than this. What a contrast does such a couple present, to the couples which are almost everywhere to be found, whose deliberations are not what they can save from unnecessary expense to bestow upon the cause of God and humanity—but what they can abstract or withhold from the claims of benevolence, to lavish upon splendid furniture, or family luxuries. Are there no wives who attempt to chill the ardor, to limit the beneficence, to stint the charities of their husband; who, by their incessant and irritable, and almost quarrelsome suggestions, that he is doing too much for others, and too little for his own family—drive the good man, notwithstanding he is master of his own property, to exercise his liberality in secret, and bestow his charities by stealth? And what is oftentimes the object of such women? nothing more than the pride of ambition, or the folly of vanity. Only that they might have these gifts of charity, to spend upon dress, furniture, and parties!
Perhaps the question will be asked, whether it is proper for a wife to give away the property of her husband in acts of humanity, or religious benevolence? Such an inquiry ought to be unnecessary; for no woman should be driven to the alternative of either doing nothing for the cause of God and man, or doing what she can by stealth. A sufficient sum ought to be placed at her disposal, to enable her to enjoy the luxury of doing good. Why should not she not shine forth in her peculiar and separate glory, instead of being always lost in the radiance of her husband’s bounty? Why should she have no sphere of benevolent effort? Why should husbands monopolize to ourselves these blessings? It is degrading a married female to allow her no discretion in this matter, no liberty of distribution, no power to dispense, even in cases that concern her sex—but to compel her to beg first of a husband, that which others come to beg of her.
If, however, she be unhappily united to a Nabal, a churl, whose sordid, grasping, covetous disposition, will yield nothing to the claims of humanity or religion, may she then make up for the deficiency of her husband, and diffuse his property unknown to him? I am strongly tempted to answer this question in the affirmative; for if in any instance we may deviate from the ordinary rule, and taking the man at his own word, which he uttered when in the solemn act of matrimony, he said, “with all my worldly goods I endow to you,” may invest the wife with a joint proprietorship, and a right of appropriation, it is in such a case as this. But still, we must not sacrifice general principles to special cases; and therefore, I say to every female in such circumstances, obtain if you can, a separate and fixed allowance for charitable distribution; but if even this be not possible, obtain one for general personal expenses, and by a most rigid frugality, save all you can from dress and decoration, for the hallowed purpose of relieving the miseries of your fellow creatures.
6. MUTUAL SYMPATHY is required by both husband and wife.
SICKNESS may call for this, and women seem both formed and inclined by nature to yield sympathy. If we could do without a wife and be happy in health, what are we in sickness without her presence and her tender offices? Can we smooth, as woman can, the pillow on which the sick man lays his head? No! We cannot administer the medicine or the food as she can. There is a softness in her touch, a lightness in her step, a skill in her arrangements, a sympathy looking down upon us from her beaming eye, which ours needs. Many a female, by her devoted and kind attentions in a season of sickness, has drawn back to herself that cold and alienated heart, which neither her charms could hold, nor her claims recover.
I entreat you, therefore, married women, to put forth all your power to soothe and please in the season of your husband’s sickness. Let him see you willing to make any sacrifices of pleasure, ease, or sleep, to minister to his comfort. Let there be a tenderness in your manner, a wakeful attention and sympathy in your look, a something that seems to say, your only comfort in his affliction, is to employ yourselves in alleviating it. Hearken with patience and kindness to the tale of his lighter and even of his imaginary woes. A cold, heartless, awkward, unsympathizing woman, is an exception from the general rule, and therefore a severer libel upon her sex.
Nor is this sympathy exclusively the duty of the wife; but belongs equally to the husband. He cannot, it is true, perform the same offices for her, which she can discharge for him—but much he can do, and all he can he should do. Her sicknesses are generally more numerous and heavy than his; she is likely, therefore, to make more frequent calls upon his tender interest and attention. Many of her ailments are the consequence of becoming his wife—she was, perhaps, in full vigor, until she became a mother, and from that time, never had a moment’s perfect ease or strength again. That event which sent into his heart the joys of a parent—dismissed from her frame the comforts of health. And shall he look with discontent, and indifference, and insensibility, upon that ‘delicate flower’, which, before he transplanted it into his garden, glowed in beauty and in fragrance, to the admiration of every spectator? Shall he now cease to regard it with and pleasure, or sympathy, and seem as if he wished it gone, to make room for another, forgetting that it was he who sent the worm to the root, and caused its head to droop, and its colors to fade?
Husbands, I call upon you for all the skill and tenderness of love, on behalf of your wives, if they are weak and sickly. Watch by their couch, talk with them, pray with them, wake with them—in all their afflictions, be afflicted. Never listen heedlessly to their complaints and oh, by all that is sacred in marital affection, I implore you, never, by your cold neglect, or petulant expressions, or discontented look, to call up in their imaginations, unusually sensitive at such a season, the phantom of a fear, that the disease which has destroyed their health, has done the same for your affection. Oh! spare their bosom the agonizing pangs of supposing that they are living to be a burden to your disappointed heart. The cruelty of that man needs a name, and I know of none sufficiently emphatic, who denies his sympathy to a suffering woman, whose only sin is a broken constitution, and whose calamity is the result of her marriage. Such a man does the work of a murderer, without his punishment, and in some instances, without his reproach; but not always without his design or his remorse.
But sympathy should be exercised by man and wife, not only in reference to their sicknesses, but to all their AFFLICTIONS, whether personal or relative; all their sorrows should be common—like two strings in unison, the chord of grief should never be struck in the heart of one, without causing a corresponding vibration in the heart of the other; or, like the surface of the lake answering to the heaven, it should be impossible for calmness and sunshine to be upon one, while the other is agitated and cloudy—heart should answer to heart, and face to face.
Such are the duties common to both husband and wife.