My Godmother’s Legacy;
or, The Art of Consoling
Section VI — Husbands and Wives
“Well might the wise man say, nobody need look out of a window without seeing a miracle! Who would have expected to see you, Sir Phineas Polycarp, Knight and M.D. who have lived twenty years in the country on fresh air and old wine, tollotating, as you used to say, in the streets of London?”
“That is the very reason, Lady Tormentor; a man must be in perpetual motion all his life, and that is as much as the Board of Longitude will ever find out. Forty years he must run after his own affairs, and the other twenty he must take his rounds, a poor decrepit watchman, to guard other people.”
“Wisely said, Sir Phineas, and you know the comfort of being in a state of progression.”
“No, I don’t know any in a progress towards trouble; and I see nothing else in progression except my son-in-law’s follies and my niece’s wedding dress.”
“What a consolation to have neither niece nor daughter on your hands! Pray who has taken Celandine?”
“A wise man, you may be sure, for she was a very pretty simpleton; and my daughter being a clever girl, chose a foolish husband.”
“Every body thought her mother clever too. I hope you consoled yourself by giving her nothing?”
“No, I gave her ten thousand pounds for I did not think she chose ill. A wife ought to thank her stars, Madam, for her husband’s faults, because they bring him nearer on a level with her. Besides, she need not be so much afraid of a witless man—it is next to his being dead—she has a right to administer.
“Well, Sir Phineas, I dare say she is of your opinion. And what is to be your niece’s consolation?”
“I don’t know what hers may be, but I know mine. She has never cost me anything.”
“Now, Sir! that is impossible, if you educated her tolerably. If she is an ideot as you say, and you sent her to school, she must have cost a great deal more than she is worth.”
“A woman always does that, Lady Tormentor. But the truth is, I never educated her at all. Girls should learn nothing while they are young girls. Let the mind (if they have any) grow to its full size before it is drest, or its clothes will never fit it. Who would furnish a half-built house?”
“Very true, Sir Phineas, especially if it can be let unfurnished. However, I shall call on the bride, if you will let me know her abode, for a proper chaperone is as necessary as her knocker.”
But the entrée of both the lady and gentleman gave an earlier date to our acquaintance,and I had the pleasure of concongratulating my nephew, Sir Tristram Cragenmoss, the subject of one of my former sections, on his marriage with my old friend’s niece. He made several apologies for not having notified his good fortune to me in due form; and as I perfectly understood his reasons, I felt myself entitled to the usual consolation. His bride was the very counterpart of the “Sweet Highland Girl” described by Wordsworth:
“She did seem
Like something fashioned in a dream;
Such forms as from their covert peep
When earthly cares are laid asleep.
She wore upon her forehead clear
The freedom of a mountaineer,
A face with gladness overspread
Sweet looks, by human kindness bred
And seemliness complete, that sway’d
Her courtesies, about her play’d;
With no restraint, but such as springs
From quick and eager visitings
Of thoughts, that lie beyond the reach
Of her few words of modest speech:
A bondage sweetly brooked—a strife
That gives her gestures grace and life.”
Sir Tristram, however, had symptoms of shy distress in his demeanor, which indicated no great confidence in my disposition to receive my new relative amicably. But whether he recollected the advantage my notice would give to her first appearance, or the consolation which my heritable property promised to those who fulfilled due civilities, I have never been able to discover; only the result seemed to be a resolution to conciliate me. We interchanged visits accordingly, and notwithstanding my just sense of something like a manoeuvre in my cynical physician’s conduct, I found my curiosity to trace the means, superior to the contempt it ought to have produced. A young girl brought up so obscurely could not have seconded her soi-disant uncle’s plans so well by engaging my nephew, a man well accomplished, of high birth and fortune, and almost middle age, without fine natural talents for fascination; and I determined to take a generous revenge for clandestine marriage, by consoling him for the ill consequences.
Nobody can rightly understand the art of consoling people unless they reside in the same house. Sir Tristram invited me to spend the fashionable winter with his lady, and three months gave me some pleasant opportunities to study her character. Probably he did not omit them himself, for he said one day, “I think, Lady Tormentor, we are almost too happy.”
“If you are, there is consolation always ready at the breakfast-table. Laurence Sterne’s wife was afraid, as you are, of being too happy, and she bought an ill-pouring tea-pot, lest she should forget the patience and fortitude necessary in this world. But it was soon put upon the shelf, and so, I fancy, you may put your fears.”
“My dear Madam, your sagacity anticipates my candour. The truth is, I chose this young uneducated creature, because it is a kind of refreshment to find any thing unfrenched, unmusicked, and unmystified. And as I have always thought home a woman’s best school, I also think a wife may learn most happily in her own.”
“So you really expect her to nail herself there, like one of your stair-carpets! I cannot tell whether your scheme would succeed, but I can assure you it is very needless. Without knowing a note of music, or a syllable of any language but her own, she has learned a harmony of speech, which requires more study, and has more power, than all the harmonies of all the instruments in the world.”
“Rightly guessed, Lady Tormentor: she has to unlearn, not to learn. And I suspect her uncle, who thinks all men fools, by which I judge him to be both knave and fool, has given her this curious ‘Art of Tuning,’ as her only dower.”
He departed, leaving it in my hands. It was, indeed, a rare compilation, and I must transcribe it, to do its merits and meaning full justice.
He is odd,—so much the better:—there are few oddities which may not claim noble precedents.—The Emperor Julian inked his fingers on purpose. Commodus powdered his wig with gold-dust, and Julius Caesar wore a green one. Fontenelle cared for nothing but asparagus fried in oil; Sir Isaac Newton forgot his dinner, and Moliere consulted an old gentlewoman.
He is a Sloven.—Better still—he is no worse than eight or ten learned men now living, and half a hundred dead. It is a sign he does not admire himself too much, and a comfortable security that nobody else will.
He is always abroad.—He will come home when he is tired. Birds return to their nests, but seldom to their cages.
He loves bustle.—Good!—People in a hurry are like hailstones, which leap about with great noise, and then settle very quietly. Bustle is a healthy exercise in all climates; even savages have their game, called “worree.” Besides, a fidgetting person is only an idle one in a fever. He has lost half an hour in the morning, and runs after it the whole day.
He loves money.—That is a great comfort. Flints yield oil sometimes, and the greatest misers may be talked out of it. Old Elwes used to say, young Pitt could have persuaded him to empty his purse at any time:—besides, the money itself is good, and a miser is no more to be considered than the bag which holds it. One may find the opening if one can.
He loves wine.—Another comfort, for then the money will not be kept very safely; and it causes interregnums of intellect which make the wife regent. Besides, if he will reduce himself to a brute, he can have no reasonable objection to being beaten. A noted bibber returned non compos one day, found his wife’s cloak, rolled himself in it, and fell asleep. Her father came in, and seeing her thus disgraced, remembered the Russian law which inflicts the batogs on ladies who drink before nine o’clock. Thinking he had not ceded his right to chastise, as Russian fathers do, he brought two sticks and applied them with great perseverance and effect. So the lady told the story, but her husband never did, not being quite sure who gave him the batogs.
He is passionate.—No bad thing. Such people, says the Marquis of Halifax, always make amends at the foot of the account. Be not witty, make no replies, and good humour will follow. The dew is sweetest and most plentiful in hot climates. M. De Luc always carried a lump of sugar in his pocket to hold in his mouth when he or his companions grew angry. There are places where quarrelsome people are put into cold baths till they cease talking, but we have not water enough in England. A wife reasoning with an impatient husband is as silly as the eglantine in the fable arguing with a waterfall, when it might have looked quietly on and sparkled after the sprinkling.
He is proud.—Take comfort—so are all hasty men. Whoever is passionate is so partial to himself that he will not bear contradiction. But if those who live with him are patient, his weakness will be their strong-hold, for he will let nobody else molest them.
He is churlish.—Still there is comfort. If he has good sense, it will be so often waked by other people’s follies, that, like a good house-dog, it must bark a little; and honest Englishmen, like their favourite hounds, have a good deal of surliness about them. But, either with over much rudeness or excessive civility, nothing is so useful as quiet indifference. A flatterer is sooner shamed and a ruffian tamed by this than by grand airs. Besides, what seems peevishness may be sickness. Poets pretend, Prometheus was sentenced to endure the gnawings of a vulture, but it was, probably, a fashionable liver complaint, or a stitch in the side. However, let a churlish temper alone; nothing good can be forced from it. The wine squeezed from grape-stones and husks is always Sour.
He is indifferent.—This is almost an inconsolable matter; but if you think aversion a better fault, take a particular friend into your house. Let her be very beautiful, poor, and fashionable; or very ugly, witty, and eloquent. The first will take care that he shall know all your faults, and the other that his shall never pass unnoticed by you. There will be telegraphs on both sides, and produce a deep, broad, open hatred, as much preferable to indifference as a thick ice is to a little hoar frost. If this is not enough, hire a companion. In old times, all families kept a tame knave; and people in India still think a tame snake lucky in their houses. Last of all, take a prying cousin or an instructive aunt; then you will have a third person to hate, and sufficient business for you both to remove her again.
When Sir Tristram returned I gave him back his schedule laughing, “I think,” said I, “it is but just that this bundle of consolations should be divided between you. Half of every sheet was a blank; and I have filled it with such useful hints as my mother’s memorandum-book furnished. Pray study them at your leisure, or propose the texts and let me adopt the commentaries.” Sir Tristram took his pencil merrily and supplied eight subjects, to which I arranged and suited these consolations.
She is a shrew.—Very consoling:—a shrew is always a good manager and a little eater. Keep a mischievous dog and a stupid footboy, and her anger will never trouble you. Her tongue is the safety-valve of the steam engine.
She is too busy.—Better still. Busy people are apt to be shortsighted, which preserves peace in families. Bees see only an inch before their noses.
She talks too much.—’Tis a better fault than sulkiness and never ends so ill. An honest gentleman may stop his ears, but he cannot see through a fog. Archbishop Cranmer proposed to make a sullen temper a claim for divorce, because he thought a silent woman a thing not fit to enter heaven. “For,” says he, “we are never told that angels hold their tongues.—They must be women, for they are always talking or singing.”
Nobody knows her mind.—She is not to blame for knowing more than other people. Woman’s mind should never be seen except in profile, for she is wisest when she shews only half her graces and her thoughts. What should we think of a jeweller if he never shut his windows?—And as some great man said on a similar occasion, “It proves she might be trusted with a secret.”
She brings no money.—There is comfort instead. Next to marrying an heiress, a pennyless girl is the best, for you may have the credit and authority of an obliger, and she the servitude of an obligee.—Most probably, if you please, she will spend your fortune with more fancy and glee than ten heiresses.—Only take her far off, or you must marry all her relations.
She is jealous.—A certain cure for all other plagues, because, like Aaron’s rod, it swallows them up. Of all the 2,500 diseases acknowledged by physicians, it is the most painful, but the most economical. For it spares no time, it heeds no amusement, and takes no food except of its own making. It cures all delight in dress, all love of feasts and company, and makes all the senses, sharp, except common sense, which it has no concern with.
She loves flattery.—Best of all:—it is the cheapest, the pleasantest, and may be the most elegant taste—that is, if she knows how to administer as well as to receive it. For it is to the temper like oil poured on the sea, not only smoothing, but giving it a thousand bright colours. It is the most elegant, for it requires a polite fancy, the pleasantest, for it pleases every body, and the cheapest, for a little serves the wise:
She is nervous.—This is the sum total of a wife’s defects, and I only know one consolation. Let her find in her husband’s portfolio his horoscope carefully drawn with an intimation of the year when he may become a widower, receive ten thousand pounds from his godmother and marry again. If she does not survive the time through spite, she will die through fear, and either way will serve. Here my art of consoling ends, for more must be needless; and bequeath it to my nephew as the last part of his godmother’s legacy.