A Good Word for the Wives
WE pulled up the horses in the last chapter at the sign of the "Good Woman"; and as there is good entertainment for man if not for beast under that sign, we will make a stay of it and dip our pen into some of that superfine ink which has no galls in it. When he writes on so fair a subject, John Ploughman must be on his best behavior.
It is astonishing how many old sayings there are against wives; you may find nineteen to the dozen of them. Years ago the men showed the rough side of their tongues whenever they spoke of their spouses. Some of these sayings are downright shocking; for instance, that very wicked one, "Every man has two good days with his wife the day he marries her, and the day he buries hers; and that other, "He that loseth his wife and a farthing has a great loss of the farthing."
I recollect an old ballad that Gaffer Brooks used to sing about a man's being better hanged than married, which shows how common it was to abuse the married life. It is almost too bad to print it, but here it is, as near as I remember it:
"There was a victim in a cart, One day for to be hung, And his reprieve was granted, And the cart made for to stand.
'Come marry a wife, and save your life,' The judge aloud did cry; 'Oh, why should I corrupt my life?' The victim did reply.
'For here's a crowd of every sort, And why should I prevent their sport? The bargain's bad in every part, The wife's the worst drive on the cart."
Now this rubbish does not prove that the women are bad, but that their husbands are good for nothing or else they would not make up such abominable slanders about their partners. The rottenest bough cracks first, and it looks as if the male side of the house was the worse of the two, for it certainly has made up the most grumbling proverbs. No doubt there have been some shockingly bad wives in the world who have been provoking enough to make a man say, "If a woman were as little as she is good, a pea shell would make her a gown and a hood." But how many thousands have there been of true helpmeets, worth far more than their weight in gold! There is only one Job's wife mentioned in the Bible and one Jezebel, but there are no end of Sarahs and Rebekahs. I am of Solomon's mind that, as a rule, "He that findeth a wife findeth a good thing. If there's one bad shilling taken at the grocer's, all the neighbors hear of it, but of the hundreds of good ones the report says nothing. A good woman makes no noise, and no noise is made about her, but a shrew is noted all over the parish. Taking them for all in all, they are most angelical creatures, and a great deal too good for half the husbands.
It is much to the women's credit that there are very few old sayings against husbands; although, in this case, sauce for the goose could make capital sauce for the gander, and the mare has as good reasons for kicking as the horse has. They must be very forbearing, or they would have given the men a Roland for every Oliver. Pretty dears, they may be rather quick in their talk, but is it not the nature of bells and belles to have tongues that swing easy? They cannot be so very bad after all, or they would have had their revenge for the many cruel things which are said against them. If they are a bit masterful, their husbands cannot be such very great victims, or they would surely have sense enough to hold their tongues about it. Men don't care to have it known when they are thoroughly henpecked, and I feel pretty certain that the old sayings are nothing but chaff, for if they were true, men would never dare to admit it.
A true wife is her husband's better half, his lump of delight, his flower of beauty, his guardian angel, and his heart's treasure. He says to her, I shall in thee most happy be. In thee, my choice, I do rejoice. In thee I find content of mind. God's appointment is my contentment." In her company he finds his earthly heaven; she is the light of his home, the comfort of his soul, and (for this world) the soul of his comfort. Whatever fortune may send him, he is rich so long as she lives. His rib is the best bone in his body.
The man who weds a loving wife, Whatever betideth him in life, Shall bear up under all; But he that finds an evil mate, No good can come within his gate, His cup is filled with gall.
A good husband makes a good wife. Some men can neither do without wives nor with them; they are wretched alone in what is called single blessedness, and they make their homes miserable when they get married. They are like Tompkin's dog which could not bear to be loose but howled when it was tied up. Happy bachelors are likely to be happy husbands, and a happy husband is the happiest of men. A well matched couple carry a joyful life between them, as the two spies carried the cluster of grapes. They are a brace of birds of paradise. They multiply their joys by sharing them and lessen their troubles by dividing them; this is fine arithmetic. The wagon of care rolls lightly along as they pull together; and when it drags a little heavily or there's a hitch anywhere, they love each other all the more and so lighten the labor.
When a couple fall out, there are always faults on both sides, and generally there is a pound on one and sixteen ounces on the other. When a home is miserable, it is as often the husband's fault as the wifely Darby is as much to blame as Joan, and sometimes more. If the husband won't keep sugar in the cupboard, no wonder his wife gets sour. Lack of bread makes lack of love; lean dogs fight. Poverty generally rides home on the husband's back, for it is not often the woman's place to go out working for wages. A man down our way gave his wife a ring with this on it, "If thee don't work, thee shan't eat." He was a brute. It is no business of hers to bring in the flour: she is to see it is well-used and not wasted. Therefore, I say, short commons are not her fault. She is not the breadwinner, but the breadmaker. She earns more at home than any wages she can get abroad.
It is not the wife who smokes and drinks away the wages at the "Brown Bear" or the "Jolly Toppers." One sees a drunken woman now and then, and it's an awful sight; but in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, it is the man who comes home tipsy and abuses the children - the woman seldom does that. The poor drudge of a wife is a teetotaler, whether she likes it or not, and gets plenty of hot water as well as cold. Women are found fault with for often looking into the glass, but that is not so bad a glass as men drown their senses in. The wives do not sit boozing over the taproom fire; they, poor souls, are shivering at home with the baby, watching the clock (if there is one), wondering when their lords and masters will come home, and crying while they wait.
I wonder they don't strike. Some of them are about as wretched as a beetle on a pin or a mouse in a cat's mouth. They have to nurse the sick girl, and wash the dirty boy, and bear with the crying and noise of the children, while his lordship puts on his hat, lights his pipe, and goes off about his own pleasure, or comes in at his own time to find fault with his poor dame for not getting him a fine supper. How could he expect to be fed like a fighting cock when he brought home so little money on Saturday night and spent so much in worshiping Sir John Barleycorn? I say it, and I know it, there's many a house where there would be no scolding wife if there was not a skulking, guzzling husband.
Fellows not fit to be cut up for mops drink and drink till all is blue, and then turn on their poor hacks for not having more to give them. Don't tell me I say it and will maintain it - a woman can't help being vexed when, with all her mending and striving, she can't keep house because her husband won't let her. It would provoke any of us if we had to make bricks without straw, keep the pot boiling without fire, and pay the piper out of an empty purse. What can she get out of the oven when she has neither meal nor dough? You bad husbands, you are thoroughbred sneaks and ought to be hung up by your heels till you know better.
They say a man of straw is worth a woman of gold, but I cannot swallow it; a man of straw is worth no more than a woman of straw. Let old sayings lie as they like, Jack is no better than Jill, as a rule. When there is wisdom in the husband, there's generally gentleness in the wife; and between them, the old wedding wish is worked out: "One year of joy, another of comfort, and all the rest of contents Where hearts agree, there joy will be. United hearts only death parts. They say marriage is not often merry-age, but very commonly mar-age; well, if so, the coat and waistcoat have as much to do with it as the gown and petticoat. The honeymoon need not come to an end; and when it does, it is often the man's fault for eating all the honey and leaving nothing but moonshine. When they both agree that whatever becomes of the moon, they will each keep up their share of honey, there's meaty living.
When a man dwells under the sign of the cat's foot where faces get scratched, either his wife did not marry a man, or he did not marry a woman. If a man cannot take care of himself, his wit must be as scant as the wool of a blue dog. I don't pity most of the men martyrs; I save my pity for the women. When the Dunmow porker is lost, neither of the pair will eat the bacon; but the wife is the most likely to fast for the lack of it. Every herring must hang by its own gill, and every person must account for his own share in home quarrels; but John Ploughman can't bear to see all the blame laid on the women. Whenever a dish is broken, the cat did it; and whenever there is mischief, there's a woman at the bottom of it: here are two as pretty lies as you will meet within a month's march. There's a "why" for every "wherefore," but the why for family stores does not always lie with the housekeeper. I know some women have long tongues, then the more's the pity that the husbands should set them going. As for the matter of talk just look into a bar when the men's jaws are well oiled with liquor, and if any woman living can talk faster or be more stupid than the men, my name is not John Ploughman.
When I had got about as far as this, in stepped our minister, and he said, "John, you've got a tough subject, a cut above you; I'll lend you a rare old book to help you over the stile." 'Well, sir," said I, 'A little help is worth a great deal of fault-finding, and I shall be uncommonly obliged to you.' "
He sent me down old William Secker's Wedding Ring, and a real wise fellow that Secker was. I could not do any other than pick out some of his pithy bits; they are very flavorful and such as are likely to glue themselves to the memory. He says, ''Hast thou a soft heart? It is of God's breaking. Hast thou a sweet wife? She is of God's making. The Hebrews have a saying, 'He is not a man that hath not a woman.' Though man alone may be good, yet it is not good that man should be alone. 'Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.' A wife, though she be not a perfect gift, is a good gift, a beam darted from the Sun of mercy. How happy are those marriages If where Christ is at the wedding!
Let none but those who have found favor in God's eyes find favor in yours. Husbands should spread a mantle of charity over their wives' infirmities. Do not put out the candle because of the snuff. Husbands and wives should provoke ones another to love, and they should love one another notwithstanding provocations. The tree of love should grow up in the midst of the family as the tree of life grew in the garden of Eden. Good servants are a great blessing; good children a greater blessing; but a good wife is the greatest blessing; and such a help let him seek for her that wants one; let him sigh for her that hath lost one; let him delight in her that enjoys one."
To come down from the old Puritan's roast beef to my own pot herbs, or, as they say, to put Jack after gentleman, I will tell my own experience, and have done. My experience of my first wife, who will I hope live to be my last, is much as follows: matrimony came from paradise and leads to it. I never was half so happy before I was a married man as I am now. When you are married, your bliss begins. I have no doubt that where there is much love, there will be much to love; and where love is scant, faults will be plentiful. If there is only one good wife in England, I am the man who put the ring on her finger, and long may she wear it. God bless the dear soul if she can put up with me; she shall never be put down by me.
If I were not married today and saw a suitable partner, I would be married tomorrow morning before breakfast. What think you of that? why," says one, "I think John would get a new wife if he were left a widower." Well, and what if he did, how could he better show that he was happy with his first? I declare I would not say, as some do, that they married to have someone to look after the children; I should marry to have some one to look after myself John Ploughman is a sociable soul, and could not do in a house by himself. One man, when he married his fourth wife, engraved in the ring -
"If I survive, I'll make it five."
What an old Bluebeard! Marriages are made in heaven: matrimony in itself is good, but there are fools who turn meat into poison and make a blessing into a curse. "This is a good rope said Pedley, "I'll hang myself with it." A man who has sought his wife from God and married her for her character, not merely for her figurehead, may look for a blessing on his choice. They who join their love in God above, who pray to love, and love to pray, will find that love and joy will never cloy.
He who respects his wife will find that she respects him. With what measure he metes, it shall be measured to him again, good measure, pressed down, and running over. He who consults his spouse will have a good counselor. I have heard our minister say, "Women's instincts are often truer than man's reason"; they jump at a thing at once and are wise offhand. Say what you will of your wife's advice, it's as likely as not you will be sorry you did not take it. He who speaks ill of women should remember the breast he was nursed at and be ashamed of himself. He who ill treats his wife ought to be whipped at the cart tail, and would not I like a cut at him! I would just brush a fly or two off, trust me for that. So no more at present, as the thatcher said when he had cleared every dish on the table.