AWFUL WARNING TO BACHELORS.
IN the last week’s number of this journal (to which I have grave objections, but which I read regularly for the purpose of exercising my critical ability as a finder of faults), there appeared an extremely absurd confession of weakness, called, " A Shy Scheme." The writer of the confession, not satisfied with exposing himself to public contempt, in the character of a Shy Young Man, was so obliging as to enter into details on the subject of his manners, his place of residence, and his personal appearance. I am about to give this feeble visionary a word of advice, and I am not at all afraid of being quite as particular as he has been, in describing myself at the outset. If my memory serves me, the Shy Young Man informed us all that his residence was in the country, that his hair was light, that his cheeks were rosy, that his stature was small, that his manners were mild, and that his name was Koddle. In reply, I have no hesitation in avowing that my residence is in London, that my hair is dark, that my cheeks are swarthy, that my stature is gigantic, that my manners are surly, and that my name is Grump. I have further to add, in opposition to the Shy Young Man, that I have the strongest possible antipathy to being settled in life; and that, if I thought either of my eyes were capable of fixing itself on a young woman, I would shut that eye up, by an effort of will, henceforth and for ever. I don’t say this is good writing; but I call it straightforward common sense. If any man is bold enough to contradict me, I should like to meet him outside the office of this journal, at an hour of the morning when the street is tolerably empty, and the policeman happens to be at the opposite extremity of his beat.
How do I propose to enlighten and fortify the Shy Young Man? I intend to teach him the results of my own experience. If he has one grain of sense in his whole composition, he may profit by the lesson, and may step out of the absurd situation in which he has now placed himself. I have not the slightest feeling of friendship for this imbecile person. It is merely a little whim of mine to try if I cannot separate him from his young woman. I see his young woman in my mind’s eye, even from his miserable description of her. Complexion of the colour of cold boiled veal, white eyelashes, watery eyes, red hands with black mittens on them, raw elbows, sickly smile,—form plump and shapeless,—kicks her gown when she walks, —stiff in the back-bone when she sits down, and embarrassed by her own legs when she gets up. I know the sort of girl, and I detest her. If I can make her sweetheart look at her with my unprejudiced eyes, I shall have accomplished my object to my own entire satisfaction. This is, perhaps, not a gallant way of expressing myself. Never mind that. There is plenty of gallant writing at the present time, for those who want to be flattered. Let the women take a little rudeness now, by way of a change.
Would anybody think that I was once a lady’s man? I was,—and, what is more, I was once in love, was once anxious to be settled in life, was once on the point of making an offer. I had settled how to do it, when to do it, where to do it. Not the slightest doubt of success crossed my mind. I believed then, as I believe now, that any man may win any woman, at any time, and under any circumstances. If I had been rejected the first time, I would have proposed again. If I had been rejected a second time, I would have proposed again. If I had been rejected a third, fourth, fifth, and sixth time, I would have proposed again and again and again and again,—and I should have ended by carrying my point. I knew that, and yet, at the eleventh hour, I shrank from making my offer. What altered my resolution? A book. Yes, that very Bachelor’s Manual, which the Shy Young Man is so anxious to lay his hand on, was the awful warning that stopped me, in the nick of time, from the insanity of investing myself in a matrimonial speculation. I tell Mr. Koddle that the sort of book he wants has been in existence for years; and I ask his best attention to a narrative of the effect which that publication had upon my mind, when I was young enough and weak enough to allow myself to fall in love.
It was on a Monday morning that I first said to myself (while shaving), "I’ll make that woman promise to marry me on Wednesday next, at from half-past one to a quarter to two P.M." Later in the day, a friend came to see me. He remarked the more than usual radiant and agreeable expression of my countenance.
"You look as if you were going out courting" said he.
"I think of putting my foot in it, for the first time, on Wednesday next," said I.
"Would you object to my making you a little present?" said he.
"No, I shouldn’t," said I.
He took his leave. An hour afterwards, a very small, very thin, very square, parcel arrived for me. I opened it, and found a book inside, called The Etiquette of Courtship and Matrimony. I read the book on the spot. The effect of it was, first, to fill me with feelings of the deepest gratitude towards the friend who had sent it to me as a joke; and, secondly, to inspire me with such a horror of Courtship and Matrimony, that I instantly gave up all idea of making my proposed offer, and resolved to consult my own convenience, by preserving a bachelor’s freedom to the end of my days.
To state the proposition, generally, at the outset, I assert that the whole end and object of the Etiquette of Courtship and Matrimony is to insult, persecute, and degrade the bridegroom. I first became satisfied of this disgraceful fact at page thirty-six of the Hand Book or Manual. In the earlier part of the volume it was assumed that I had fallen in love, had made my offer, and had been accepted by my young woman and her family. Etiquette is hard on my heels all through those preliminary processes, and finally runs me down as soon as I appear in the character of an engaged man. My behaviour in my future wife’s company is of the last importance—and there Etiquette has me, and never lets me go again. "In private," says the Manual, "the slightest approach to familiarity must be avoided, as it will always be resented by a woman who deserves to be a wife." So! I may be brimming over with affection—I may even have put on a soft waistcoat expressly for the purpose—but I am never to clasp my future wife with rapture to my bosom—I am never to print upon her soft cheek a momentary impression of the pattern of my upper shirt-stud! She is to keep me at arm’s length, in private as well as in public—and I am actually expected to believe, all the time, that she is devotedly attached to me! First insult.
A little further on (page thirty-eight) the family have their fling at me. I "must not presume to take my stand, thus prematurely, as a member of the family, nor affect that exceeding intimacy which leads," et cetera. Thus, the father, mother, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, and cousins, all keep me at arm’s length as well as the bride. Second insult.
First persecution. During my engagement, I am to be "very particular, and even punctilious in my dress. My visits, which, for the most part, we may presume will occur in the evening, should be made invariably in evening dress." Indeed? I have been at my office all day—I have dined at my lonely chop-house. I fly, at the risk of indigestion, with my "follow-chop" and my love contending for the uppermost place in my bosom, to the door of my charmer. I suddenly stop with my hand on the knocker, remember that I have a pair of grey trousers on, and turn away again to case my legs in black kerseymere, to change my coloured shirt, to make pomatum pills and rub them into my hair, to put fresh scent on my handkerchief and a flower in my dress-coat, to send for a cab, and to drive up, at last, to my young woman’s door, as if she had asked me to a party. When I get in, does she slip into the back dining-room and privately reward me for my black kerseymere, my pomatum pills, and my scented handkerchief? Not she! She receives me, in the drawing-room, at arm’s length; and her family receive me at arm’s length, also. And what does Etiquette expect of me, under those circumstances, for the rest of the evening? Here it is at page forty-three. I "must never be out of spirits but when my fair one is sad—never animated but when she is cheerful; her slightest wish must be my law, her most trifling fancy the guiding-star of my conduct. In coming to her, I must show no appreciation of time, distance, or fatigue"—By Jupiter! if this does not disclose the existence of an organised plan for the harassing of bridegrooms, I should like to know what does? I put it to the women themselves: Are you any of you really worth all that? You know you’re not! What would you privately think of a man who was afraid to come and see you of an evening in grey trousers, and who tried to conceal from you that his poor corns ached a little after a long walk? You would privately think him a fool. And so do I, publicly.
Second persecution—in case the wretched bridegroom has survived the first. As the wedding-day approaches, I "must come out of the bright halo of my happiness" (happiness!) "into the cold, grey, actual daylight of the world of business." I must "burn all my bachelor letters"—(why I should like to know?) "and part with, it may be, some few of my bachelor connections "—(does this mean " some few " of my relations, my blood relations who adore the very ground I tread on?) and I must, finally, " bid a long farewell to all bachelor friends! "—" Did you say all? O, hell-kite!-all? " Yes, there it is in print, at page sixty-two. My affectionate tendencies, my grey trousers, my comfortable shooting jacket, my appreciation of time, distance, or fatigue, my bachelor letters, my few connections, my bachelor friends—all must disappear before this devouring Moloch in petticoats. Nothing is left me—nothing but my evening costume and the prospect of being married!
After the insults and persecutions, minor troubles envelope me previous to the commencement of the wedding-day degradations. All the responsibility of getting Moloch’s wedding-ring is thrown on me. It must not be too thin, or Moloch, in course of years, will wear it out; it must not be too large, or Moloch’s finger will let it drop off. If I am self-distrustful (and how can I be otherwise, after the severe discipline to which I have submitted during the courtship?), I must get at Moloch’s size through the intervention of Moloch’s sister; and when I have purchased the ring, I must be very careful to keep it in the left-hand corner of my right-hand waistcoat-pocket, to be ready at a moment’s notice for the clerk when he asks me for it. Having grappled with all these difficulties, my next piece of work is to get my bridegroomsmen. I must be very particular in selecting them. They must be limited in number to the number of the bridesmaids, one for each. They must be young and unmarried, they should be handsome, they cannot fail to be good-humoured, they ought to be well dressed, their apparel should be light and elegant, they should wear dress coats. The bride sends white gloves, wrapped in white paper and tied with white ribbon, to each of the bridesmaids; and I must do the same to each of the bridegroomsmen. My own costume is to be "a blue coat, light grey trousers, white satin or silk waistcoat, ornamental tie, and white (not primrose-coloured) gloves." Pleasant! Having insulted and persecuted me all through the courtship, Etiquette, on my wedding morning, strips me even of my evening costume, clothes me in an ornamental tie and a white satin waistcoat, and produces me maliciously before the public eye in the Character of an outrageous snob.
We now come to the Bridegroom’s First Degradation. It is the morning of the marriage; and the wedding-party is setting out for the church. Here is Etiquette’s order of the carriages:
In the first carriage, the principal bridesmaid and bridegroomsman.
"In the second carriage, the second bridesmaid and the bridegroom’s mother.
Other carriages, with bridesmaids and friends, the carriages of the bridesmaids taking precedence.
" In the last carriage the bride and her father."
Where is the Bridegroom in the programme? Nowhere. Not even a hackney cab provided for him! How does he get to church? Does he run, in his ornamental tie and white satin waistcoat, behind one of the carriages? Or has he a seat on the box? Or does he walk, accompanied by two policemen, to prevent him from taking the only sensible course left,—in other words, from running away? We hear nothing of him till it is time for him to undergo his Second Degradation; and then we find him waiting in the vestry, "where he must take care to have arrived some time previously to the hour appointed." Observe the artfulness with which this second degradation is managed! If the bridegroom only arrived at the church door five minutes before the appointed hour, he would appear in the estimable character of a rigidly punctual man, who knew the value of time (especially when you have an ornamental tie, and a white satin waistcoat to put on), and who was determined not to waste the precious moments on his wedding-morning. But Etiquette insists on making a contemptible fool of him all through. The beadle, the clerk, the pew-opener, and the general public must all see him "kicking his heels " to no earthly purpose, some time before the hour when he, and the beadle, and the clerk, and the pew-opener all know that he is wanted. Consider the bride dashing up to the church-door with her train of carriages; then, look at the forlorn snob in light grey trousers, humbled by insult and wasted by persecution, who has been dancing attendance "some time previously to the hour appointed," in a lonely vestry; and then say if Etiquette does not punish the lords of creation severely for the offence of getting married!
But the offence is committed—the marriage has been perpetrated—the wedding-party returns to breakfast; the bridegroom, this time, having a place in the first carriage, because the Law has made a man of him at last, in spite of the bride and her family. But the persecutions are not over yet. They assume a small, spiteful, social character, in terror of the aforesaid Law. The breakfast is eaten. Drink, the last refuge of the wretched, partially revives the unhappy man who has been kicking his heels in the vestry. He begins to lose the galling sense of his white satin waistcoat; he forgets that he is personally disfigured for the occasion by an ornamental tie. At that first moment of comfort, vindictive Etiquette goads him onto his legs, and insists, no matter whether he can do it or not, on his making a speech. He has hardly had time to breakdown, and resume his chair before Etiquette sends the bride out of the room to put on her travelling dress. The door has hardly closed on her, when a fiend (assuming the form of a bachelor friend) attacks him with "a short address" (see page seventy-nine), to which he is " expected to respond." Give him time to show his light grey trousers once more to the company, above the horizon of the tablecloth—give him time to break down again —and the bride re-appears, ready for the journey. This is the last chance the family have, for some time to come, of making the bridegroom uncomfortable; and Etiquette shows them how to take the meanest possible advantage of it:
"The young bride, divested of her bridal attire, and quietly costumed for the journey, now bids farewell to her bridesmaids and lady friends. Some natural tears spring to her gentle eyes as she takes a last look at the home she is now leaving. The servants venture to crowd to her with their humble though heartfelt congratulations; and, finally, melting, she falls weeping on her mother’s bosom. A short cough is heard, as of some one summoning up resolution. It is her father. He dare not trust his voice; but holds out his hand, gives her one kiss, and then leads her, half turning back, down the stairs and through the hall, to the door, where he delivers her to her husband; who hands her’ quickly to the carriage, leaps in lightly after her, waves his hand to the party, who appear crowding to the windows, half smiles to the throng about the door, then gives the word, and they are off, and started on the voyage of life!"
There are some parts of this final programme of persecution to which I have no objection. I rather like the idea of the father being obliged to express parental grief by the same means which he would employ to express bronchitis—a short cough. I am also gratified to find that Etiquette involves him in the serious gymnastic difficulty of taking his daughter down-stairs, and of "half turning back " at the same time. But here all sentiments of approval, on my part, end. From the foregoing passage I draw the inference—as every one else must—that the bridegroom is kept waiting at the street-door for the bride, just as a begging-letter impostor is kept waiting at the street-door for an answer. And, when she does come down, what does the triply degraded man find to reward him for waiting? Part of a woman only; the rest having melted on the mother’s bosom. Part of a woman, I say again, with a red nose, and cheeks bedabbled with tears. And what am I, the bridegroom, expected to do under these circumstances? To hand what the mother’s bosom and the father’s short cough have left me, "quickly into the carriage," and to "leap in lightly" after it. Lightly? After what I have gone through, there must be a considerable spring in my light grey trousers to enable me to do that.
I pursue the subject no further. The new Divorce Court occupies the ground beyond me; and I make it a rule never to interfere with the vested interests of others. I have followed a Man, by the lurid light of Etiquette, from his Courtship to his Marriage; and there I leave him with emotions of sympathy for which the English language affords me no adequate means of expression. I defy British families (being a bachelor, I am not the least afraid of them) to point out in any other mortal affair which a man can go through, such an existing system of social persecution against the individual as that which is attached to the business of courting and marrying when a man undertakes it in this country. There is the book with the code of inhuman laws against the unoffending bridegroom, for every one to refer to. Let the Shy Young Man get it, and properly test my accuracy of quotation; and then let him say whether he is still prepared to keep his eye on his young woman, after he knows the penalties which attach to letting it rove in that dangerous direction. No such Awful Warning to Bachelors has been published in my time as the small volume on the Etiquette of Courtship and Matrimony, which I now close with a shudder henceforth and for ever.
First published Household Words 27 March 1858 XVII 337-340
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