William Andrus Alcott, The Young Wife (Boston, 1842)

Submission

Pp. 25-28: . . A skillful anatomist could still distinguish the sexes, at any age, by a mere hasty inspection of an arm or a face, after the lapse of a thousand successive generations.

Happy Christian Wife

P. 76: One general rule may here be laid down, which is -- "Do everything for your husband which your strength and a due regard to your health will admit." I will not say that it were not wise, sometimes, to go even beyond your strength -- to deny yourself -- and even to make a self-sacrifice. But I do insist on your going to the borders, at least, of self-denial and self-sacrifice.

Such advice at first view, may seem to be unreasonable. It may be said that I would make woman a slave. No such thing: I would make her a Christian -- and a happy one. I would give her that freedom to which Christianity, with its high hopes and promises, bids her to aspire.

She will not long be compelled to be a menial to her husband. He must be a brute, and worse than a brute, whom such a course of active devoted service will not arouse to corresponding action. I am not ignorant of the fact that, in some instances, the more we do for others, the more they will allow us to do for them; and that what is at first considered on all hands as gratuitous on our part, they will ere long, if continued, claim as their due.

But it is seldom thus in the matrimonial relation. Few who bear the shape, and none who have the souls of men, will permit a wife to continue long to do everything in the way I have mentioned. They will yield, and be led gradually to imbibe the same spirit. When this is done -- when the husband and wife both strive to do everything in their power for each other -- then will they have attained a high degree of felicity. Then, too, will they have secured, most effectually, the power to rise still higher, and to love each other more and more ardently."

Unchaste Language

Pp. 81-82: The individual who gives herself up to the use of improper or unchaste language, or even to the endurance of it unchecked, is giving up at the same time the out-posts of all human virtue. The evil of being immodest, or unchaste, or indelicate, is great enough in itself considered. But this is not all. The vices are all associated; and they who have been introduced to either, or especially to all of these, are likely soon to become acquainted with others, and perhaps the whole brotherhood of them. Let us therefore beware of an improper or indelicate word or look, or even thought. Let us set a guard over the thoughts; for it is out of the abundance of these that not only the mouth speaks, but the hands act. Especially is it incumbent on the wife to do this.

Every young wife may have a delicate and modest husband. But in order for this, he must first have a wife of true modesty and delicacy. She may not indeed transform him in a day, or a week; but her ultimate success, if she persevere, is certain. No husband who has the least claim to the name, can always withstand it. I know there are many husbands who are somewhat brutish; but I know, too that there are many wives who are wanting in true delicacy of thought and feeling, and sometimes of language.

She is not truly delicate who uses, or endures patiently the use in others, of those coarse, vulgar words with which the conversation of many persons is continually interlarded; such as -- "My stars!" "My soul!" "By George!" "Good heavens!" &c. Such expressions, besides being indelicate, savor not a little of profanity. They are exceedingly unbecoming in all, but especially in females.

Domestic Bliss

Pp. 85-87: It pains me excessively to know, from actual observation, that . . . a proportion of our modern female companions . . . do not seem to marry with a view to the happiness of domestic life. They appear to regard home -- the kitchen, especially -- as the grave of all true freedom and enjoyment. What object such persons have in view, in entering into wedlock, it is difficult to conceive, unless it be to comply with fashion, and to avoid reproach. Do they not resemble, in some respects, the seven persons who are represented in the language of prophecy, as laying hold of the skirt of one Jew, saying -- 'We will eat our own bread, and wear our own apparel, only let us be called by thy name, to take away our reproach?'

There is something radically wrong in that education which permits females to come to maturity without the most exalted notions of domestic bliss, and without the highest anticipations of sharing in the honor of its creation. How much more erroneous still, to suffer them to come upon the stage of action, not only destitute of this sacred regard for domestic felicity, but even hating it. And yet I have seen many a young lady of mature years, who honestly confessed that she should dread death far less than confinement to a single house, and to the cares of a household.

How totally unfit is such a person to become a help-meet to man! How entirely disqualified to discharge the great duties which providence assigns her in the work of educating herself and others!

If there be among my readers a young wife who has entertained these sentiments, let her consider. It is not too late. She may bring herself to take pleasure in what she now hates. Strong faith of belief in the importance of a thing, and a powerful will to execute what we believe to be right, are almost omnipotent.

Let her consider well the structure of human society. Let her consider well what is the first and most important nursery of thought and affection -- the first school for the formation of human character. Let her consider who is the first -- nay, the most efficient -- of human teachers. Let her remember the power, as well as the influence of maternal love. Let her hearken to the voice of nature, which speaks to her of duty, and points her to the highest happiness. Let her hear the still small voice of conscience, unless that conscience has been most strangely stifled or perverted. Let her hear, lastly, the voice that speaks from heaven, which prescribes her being's end and aim, her proud prerogative, and her sacred responsibilities, and which assigns her reward.

There are no duties on earth so nearly angelic as those which devolve on woman. Let the young wife then gird herself to the work which is made to be -- a messenger -- an angel. Let her take hold of the promises which belong to the faithful wife, and resolve that what she knows to be her duty shall be faithfully pursued. Let her do this, and what is right will soon become agreeable, on the known principles of human nature.

"Ideal" woman, as pictured by Solomon

P. 88:

"She seeketh wool and flax,

And worketh diligently with her hands.

She is like the merchants' ships;

She bringeth her food from afar.

She riseth also while it is yet night,

And giveth meat to her household,

And a portion to her maidens."

 

"She perceiveth that her merchandize is good:

Her candle goeth not out by night.

She layeth her hands to the spindle,

And her hands hold the distaff.

She stretcheth out her hand to the poor;

Yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy.

She is not afraid of the snow for her household;

For all her household are clothed with scarlet.

She maketh herself coverings of tapestry;

Her clothing is silk and purple.

Her husband is known in the gates,

When he sitteth among the elders of the land.

She maketh fine linen and selleth it;

And delivereth girdles unto the merchant.

Strength and honor are her clothing;

And she shall rejoice in time to come.

She openeth her mouth with wisdom;

And eateth not the bread of idleness.

Her children arise up and call her blessed,

Her husband also, and he praiseth her."

Two contrasting types of homes

Here is a Christian lady entering her parlor in the morning. She finds that the servant has made some gross blunder in her morning duties. The breakfast table is not properly arranged; the toast, perhaps, is burnt; or tea has been provided instead of coffee. At once she is thrown off her guard. Her peace of mind is all gone. Vexed and irritated, she loads the servant with all that lady-like abuse with which not a few parlors are familiar. When the husband enters, he finds his wife with flushed cheek and clouded brow, and all the enjoyment of the morning meal is gone.

But now for the other picture.

The husband sees his wife moving about the house serene and happy. She is faithful in the discharge of all her duties; she will not allow her feelings to be irritated by the annoyances of unfaithful domestics. He passes through the kitchen, and finds that the same religion which makes her cheerful in the parlor, controls her feelings there. The smile is there upon her countenance, and good nature animates her heart. My dear wife, says he, is almost an angel. Oh that I had such control over my feelings as she has over hers! Molested as she is, altogether beyond my power of endurance, by the carelessness and unfaithfulness of those whom she employs, she is still always calm, and mild, and happy.

He comes home at night, worn down with the toil of the day, and a cheerful room and a cheerful heart embrace him. His troubled spirit is soothed by the quiet influence which she throws around him.

Perhaps he is naturally a passionate man, and comes home vexed and petulant. But the neat fireside, the pleasant table, the peaceful home, the soothing tones of his wife's voice, calm his perturbed spirit. He feels that home is indeed a blessed retreat from the turmoil of business, and he will not leave it till duty compels him.

Domestic bliss, contd,

P. 93 : I would that women of true benevolence and piety, were not so apt to dwell on the narrowness of their sphere of usefulness, and the smallness of their means for accomplishing good. They forget, in my opinion, what doing good is. They forget, or do not know, that to make the domestic circle what it should be, is one principal object of their mission. They forget that heaven, if it begin at all, must begin below the sun; and that the fairest known type of the bliss beyond the grave, is the little world of bliss which woman forms around the domestic fireside"

Woman's domestic work.

Pp. 94-95 : O woman! thou knowst the hour when the 'good man of the house' will return at mid-day, while the sun is bowing down the laborer with the fierceness of his beams, or at evening, when the burden and heat 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 should see order, or filth that disgusts, where he might hope to behold neatness that delight 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-broken husband, he turns from his own door for that comfort which he wished to enjoy at home, and that society which he hoped to enjoy 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.

Late rising

P. 142 : I do not know a family made more miserable by a single bad habit, unless it be in the case of one or two drunken husbands, than is the family above mentioned, by the mother's late rising.

In the first place she makes herself miserable. She is not unfrequently found repenting most bitterly of her error. But then she never seems to exercise a strong will -- the first step towards curing it. Besides the bitterness of a kind of half repentance, she is always in a fret. By rising late, as I have before hinted, she gets behind her business, and is driven and harassed by it the whole day.

In the second place, she makes her husband extremely miserable, and always has done so. His plans, if he forms any, are often broken up, and he feels that he loses the best part of the day, and of life. You will say, Why does he not go to work before breakfast? He is a farmer, and a part of his fields lie at the distance of a mile from his house; and it would be very inconvenient to do so.

In the third place, this perpetual quarrel, as I might call it, has had a very bad influence upon a large family of children. Not only are they nearly all late risers, but they are fretful, peevish and bad tempered. In short, to repeat what I have already said, it is a miserable family.

Punctuality

P. 228: [voice of the late-rising wife's husband] What grieves me most is, that my poor wife herself suffers a great deal on my account, although her suffering -- like many other sufferings from sin -- does not tend at all to her reformation. She goes on just as before. She is up late has the tea on the table late, and everything late. At last, before she hardly thinks of it, and before breakfast is half ready, she perceives that it is within a few minutes of eight o'clock.

As soon as she perceives that the clock is about to strike eight, she begins to fret and hurry herself, and all others concerned; and in flying from place to place to get just so may plates, and cups, and saucers, and knives, and forks, and spoons, she not only knocks down chairs, and perhaps breaks one or two, but throws down one or two of the children, who immediately set up an outcry, which renders the "confusion worse confounded" than before. Moreover, she gets so much excited, not to say fatigued, in the scrape, that she loses half the comfort of her own breakfast.

How many times have I told her, that if she could not get breakfast ready at eight without so much trouble, I was quite willing she should fix the hour at half past eight, or even at nine. But no, that will not do, she thinks. Half past eight, or especially nine, would be an unfashionable hour; and what would people say about it?

Dress for cold

P. 232: I lay it down, then as a general rule, that while we should never yield, one moment, to the mistaken, but very prevalent notion, that going cold hardens us,* we should always keep as cool as we can, without being uncomfortable. One degree of unnecessary heat is more injurious than two of unnecessary cold.

Caretakers

P. 262: Females are better calculated, by nature and providence, for attending the sick, than males. They have more fortitude in scenes of trial and distress; their manners and methods are more gentle; their devotion to what they undertake is greater; their thoughts less engrossed by other objects, especially the cares and pressure of business; and, what would seem to follow, their attention is more constant and unremitted. In a word, they are formed for days, and nights, and months, and years of watchfulness, not only over our infancy, but over both our first and second childhood; and it were strange indeed if the Creator, in qualifying them for all this, had not also qualified them to watch over us and bind our brow, in the pain and sickness of the years that intervene.

Sphere of women

P. 277: Now that there are wives who cannot be safely entrusted with a secret, I have no doubt; yet I cannot help hoping they are few. Life cannot be spent very happily with a companion of whom we are every moment fearful, lest she should incautiously say something which she ought not. If a husband cannot trust his wife better than this, he has made a mistake, it would seem, in marrying her.

But it is said also that, after all, woman's advice is worth very little, even when she fully understands her husband's concerns, and is worthy of his entire confidence. Her judgment, it is said, was not intended by the Creator for such things, and is comparatively weak. To consult her about matters of business is to call her out of her own sphere.

That woman has her own appropriate sphere, and that this requires a cast of mind somewhat different, in its original structure, from that of man, there can be no doubt. Nor is it to be doubted that this circumstance, along with her habits, disqualifies her for deciding for the husband, in matters of business. But to advise is one thing, and to decide is quite another.

Intellectual improvement

P. 301: It is far from being in my power to point out a course of study which shall be adapted to the wants and circumstances of all young married people. The previous studies and modes of thinking, and especially the predilections, will and should be considered, especially if the young wife is to study alone. If she is to have the company of her husband, his habits and preferences too, are to be taken into consideration; and one or the other must make concessions -- not to say sacrifices: I mean, of inclination. The wife, perhaps, will be fond of natural science, while the husband will be fond of history -- civil, political and ecclesiastical. Or she will prefer botany, while he prefers chemistry. But there is no need of difficulty. Each, for the sake of the other, must be willing to yield their own preferences; and no wife of good sense will prefer studying botany alone, as the first step, to the pursuit of a highly valuable science in which she can have company. She should be especially ready to yield her will to his, in matters of this kind, when she considers that it is less the object of all education to teach facts -- to impart knowledge, properly so called -- than to discipline the mental powers and faculties.

Independent woman/ in her own sphere,

Pp. 358-360 : . . . I still insist on her having a distinct character; and no one is more forward than myself in opposing the idea of her merging her own individuality in that of her husband. I insist on her forming for herself a character quite independent of his; and a perfect one, too. In becoming a wife, I say again, no individual is to dispossess herself of any trait of character which was hers before. She is still an independent woman, notwithstanding: just as I am none the less an independent man, by becoming a member of some association. My new character and the new duties are superinduced -- added to the duties which existed before. In the same way we lose nothing -- dispossess ourselves of nothing -- when we form new relations. No person is the less a brother, a sister, a child, a neighbor, or a citizen, because he or she has entered into the bonds of matrimony. New duties are indeed added, and new obligations imposed; but the old ones remain. We have, in effect, so many different characters to sustain; and marriage only adds one -- though a very important one -- to the number already existing. The wife, in becoming one with her husband, and forming, in one point of view, a new and more perfect character, loses nothing, of necessity, of her individuality; nor does her husband. Nay, more -- much more than all this -- the latter is, or at least ought to become so much the more perfect by it. . . .

The truth is, that these characters, however valuable to the world they may be, would be more valuable if more devoted to their appropriate sphere. But has not the custom of lauding to the skies such individuals, while thousands in useful domestic life have been over looked and forgotten, been one reason why so many young females of the present day have such aversion to the kitchen, and gravely tell us they would almost as soon die as have their hands employed in dish water?

Intemperance

P. 373: Perhaps your husband is in danger of intemperance, or you fear he is. HE stops occasionally at doubtful places, or falls in occasionally with doubtful company. Will you therefore rate or scold him? Can you do more than to make home as agreeable as possible, and allure him to it by your cheerful, sprightly conversation, your love of study and your fondness for his society in preference to that of all others?

I have said enough elsewhere of the importance of making your husband's home a happy one -- a scene of the purest pleasure and the most exalted improvement. If this point is not gained, remember that nothing is gained. All else goes for nothing, while home is not pleasant, and while one regards it as but doing penance to be there.

In short, unless you love your husband as you ought, and have caught the spirit of improvement, you will never succeed in finding anything worthy of the name of happiness below the sun. But with this love and this spirit, and a good fund of plain common sense you will not, you cannot fail to be happy. With this, all external circumstances will be pleasant -- at least comparatively so. Life will be such as will be likely to secure life's great end; and death will be but the door to a better and more enduring state of happiness.