of Sweet Romance set in the Victorian American West
To Wed for Love or Money ~
Ha! Our Victorian-American forebears asked themselves the same question people still do today: Is it best to wed the one my heart loves, or shall I choose the millionaire? (insert snickers here) Okay, maybe more like this, “shall I wed my best man, Jim, even though we’ll live with Ma and Pa (far more standard in the Old West than modern romantic fiction portrays)”, or shall I choose the dashing railroad man with the two-carat diamond stickpin?”
Seriously, this precise question was dealt with in true-to-Victorian-American times, in great and flowery length. The following is a careful transcription, word for word, preserving punctuation and variations in spelling. Published in The Sunday Leader of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania on May 30, 1886, this article addresses the question, and much more.
Marry for True Love or Riches ~
AT THE COURT OF CUPID.
REMARKS ON MARRYING AND GIVING IN MARRIAGE.
TRUE LOVE VERSUS RICHES.
Talk that is Calculated to Frighten Young Men of To-day—Wealth Only Comparative, After all. Sensible Suggestions.
A recent issue of a daily journal, says Christine Terhune Herrick in the Pittsburg Dispatch, contained a letter from a young man asking the advice of the editor on the question of marriage. The inquirer stated that he was the possessor of a yearly income of $2,000, and desired to know if a man were justified in beginning housekeeping on this sum. Would a woman be able to manage such an amount so that they might live comfortably without stinting or running into debt?
The editor took three-quarters of a column for his reply. Leading off with Punch’s hackneyed counsel on the same subject, “Don’t,” he informed the seeker after knowledge, that it would do him no harm to remain single, while he might fall into a much worse condition by entering the state of matrimony. Finally, with the originality that distinguishes most writers on the topic, he wound up by a dissertation upon the reckless and spendthrift habits of the young women of the present day and the trite observation that no man could afford to marry until he had amassed a fortune.
Articles of this sort might cause only a slight passing amusement and be suffered to relapse into forgetfulness without comment were it not for the significant facts in connection with them. Statistics go to show that the number of marriages is steadily decreasing, and that men wait until much later in life before marrying than was once customary. The American practice of fast living has a notable exception in this regard, but in the matter of desire for a more ambitious style of housekeeping it has undoubtedly left its mark. It is frequently said that young people are not willing to begin in the manner in which their parents started life. It has taken for granted that a girl must start her new home with as rich carpets and furniture, as elaborate silver and glass, and a mansion in as fashionable a quarter of the town as are enjoyed by her mother after her long years of married life. For the care of all this large staff of servants is necessary, and a moderate income disappears rapidly when subjected to such drains.
All this sort of talk is well calculated to frighten the timid young man from the paths of matrimony. Large inherited fortunes are rare in this country, and it is an exceptional case when a young man does not have to work his own way into wealth. It is not strange that he shrinks from saddling himself with
AN INCUMBRANCE [sic]
that may doom him to life-long drudgery. While marriage should always have its rightful share of romance, there should also be a broad basis of common sense. While it may not invariably be true that
“love in a hut with water and a crust,
Is—love, forgive us, cinders, ashes, dust,”
Nor that when poverty comes in by the door love flies out at the window, it is not to be denied that no young man has a right to ask a girl to share with him what is for himself alone an insufficient support. Not that the girl is always the prudent one. Many young men look out for wealthy marriages because they dread privation quite as much as do the so-called mercenary young woman upon whom most of the blame for the diminishing number of marriages is laid.
“I was engaged for a year before my marriage,” said one woman, “and in all that time there were but three women who, in wishing me joy, coupled their kindly expressions with sincere congratulations upon the fact that I was to be married. Most of them shook their heads and sighed significantly as they hoped I might be happy. I shall never forget the gratitude which filled my heart toward one little lady who assured me that I could not do a better thing than marry, provided I had chosen the right man.” “You have twice as many joys,” she said, brightly, “and you gain someone who will help make your troubles and sorrows half what they would otherwise be.”
Many mothers train up their daughters with a keen eye to the main chance. Affection is all very well, but a good bank account is better. “I always tell young girls,” said a matron, “that it is easier to begin married life with respect and kindly feelings than with this tremendous devotion there is so much talk about. ‘Hot love soon cools,’ and a calm friendly sort of affection makes a firmer foundation for marriage than anything else.”
This theory may be excellent for people who are run into one mould [sic], but for those who have strong individualities [sic], quick tempers and sensitive dispositions, something more than friendly feeling is required to assist them in bearing the countless rubs and annoyances that arise even in the best regulated household. Money cannot do everything and one may venture to say that there are few, if any, women who make loveless marriages without afterwards suffering seasons of bitter regret. When a girl deliberately turns her back upon wealth and chooses the man she loves in spite of his limited income she may be selecting a life that will have its trials and privations, but at all events she is not stultifying a higher nature.
There is no intention of underrating the comfort that lies in possessing an easy competence. But wealth, like most things in the world, is only comparative, after all. What is luxury to one man would be poverty to another. And it would really appear a more equitable division of the favors of fortune if the girl who has been reared in affluence should have to practice economy when she is married, rather than this course should devolve upon the one who has had to pinch and save all her life.
In this day, too, there is small reason for grumbling over the limitations of a moderate salary. Two people can live well and prettily in most places upon $1,500 a year, providing the wife is a good manager and the husband not given to extravagance. Elaborate toilets, fine cigars, and unlimited theater tickets eat up money with astonishing rapidity, but the couple who love one another well enough to live without these and similar gratifications can find plenty of inexpensive pleasures that prove fully as satisfactory.
The cant talk to the contrary notwithstanding, there is a goodly number of girls who are willing to choose such a lot in life. It is not to be expected, however, that they will go about proclaiming the fact. False pride, too, is one of the drawbacks to more marriages of this kind. Often a young man is ashamed to ask a girl to live in a quiet way, and dreads the sufferings he imagines she would undergo in contrasting a hum-drum home life with the gay, care-free existence she led in her father’s house. The love and happiness that makes the change easy do not receive due consideration, and it is hard to say exactly how the needed reform in habits of thought is to be brought about. The stuff of which men and women are made has to be proved before it can be said confidently how they will wear in daily life. The only ground from which conclusions can be drawn are to be found in the examples of happy marriage between people in moderate circumstances. Even women who have led gay and fashionable lives during their single-hood sometimes make the best wives and mothers. The very buoyancy of spirit and power of having a “good time” in their unincumbered [sic] days are aids in rendering the home bright and cheery when they have settled down as married women.
Did you notice the structure of this anonymous (standard for the era) writer’s article? He seems to lay out the arguments against marriage, and then follows it up with debunking the arguments one by one. At least the message ends on a positive note.
What did you think of this vintage article? Thoughts? Please scroll down and reply. We all love the conversation and discussions.
Connection to my WiP ~
Some stories, I'm discovering, require a longer incubation period than others. I'm plugging away on my current WiP (work in progress): The Silver-Strike Bride, Book 2 in Prosperity's Mail-Order Brides Series. Other titles have come together much more quickly. This one is trying my patience and teaching me all kinds of new lessons. Why, on book ~20? Perhaps I'll have a better answer once it's done. In the meanwhile, I'm pleased to have come across this article from 1886, as the phrases are PERFECT for my poor, deeply worried newlywed Caroline... who's greatest fears are coming true. (e.g., Hot love soon cools. I do believe I'd like to see that phrase show up in the finished novel.) Poor Caroline gives a bit too much credence to the "priceless advice" given in newspaper columns such as this.
About Kristin Holt:
I’m fascinated by all things Victorian-American, especially in the Old West. I’d love to share similar vintage articles or blog posts I’ve written compiling many original sources to bring a bit of nineteenth century life into focus in the minds and imaginations of readers. The more we know, the more our imaginations fill in the backdrops of our favorite Old West romances.
See my list of articles here on Sweet Americana Sweethearts with this link. Or, visit my ever-growing cache of articles on KristinHolt.com. Note the eyeglass (search) icon on both websites. This feature makes it easy to search for an article or a category such as “courtship” or “baking” or “clothing”. You’re invited to continue on, exploring either or both sites, reading topics that interest you.
Copyright © 2019 Kristin Holt LC