Dickens knew and fell in love with the original when she was young and pretty. He met her again twenty years later, having cherished the memory of her through all those years. But they met, and he was disillusioned. "Flora, whom he had left a lily, had become a peony; that was not much. Always tall, she had grown to be very broad, too, and short of breath; but that was not much. But Flora, spoiled and artless long ago, was determined to be spoiled and artless now. That was a fatal blow."
Had the two married, the husband might have seen the physical changes so gradually, observed the lack of mental growth so insensibly, that the difference between Dora and Flora might never have revealed itself in any startling way. But in "David Copperfield," a book known to be largely autobiographical, David realises that his beloved little Dora, had she lived, would have been no more than a doll, a child, throughout her life.
The glamour of love invests each of the married partners with qualities they may be far from possessing. Unconsciously each presents himself and herself at the best. How can she tell that he is hard and cruel when she sees him tender and devoted? How can he divine that she is testy and illtempered when she is gay, amusing, bright, good-natured, during the happy days of wooing?
The disillusionment is hard to bear because so unexpected. Sometimes it is so gradual as to be comparatively painless. Each beholds the other in true colours, and wonders how they ever became attracted. They accept the drab commonplace of life instead of the rosy exhilaration they had at first felt in each other's society, and sometimes settle down to a life of constant jarring and recrimination.
But disillusionment can be accepted and patiently borne. It then goes to the forming of character. "Marriage is discipline," said Stevenson, happily mated as he was. One of the best ways of teaching oneself to bear this kind of disappointment is to reflect that one's life partner may be quite as much disillusioned as oneself.
Men do not voice their disappointments so freely as women. A man seldom says: " You were once so very different." But how many wives who read this can acquit themselves of the indictment?
Disillusion is to be expected when a man marries a well-turned ankle, a high-curved instep, a pair of dark, expressive eyes or a graceful figure, relying on this choice for his domestic happiness. The ankle, the instep, the eyes, the figure, may do their best in the endeavour to be a permanent source of pleasure. But after a year or two even the greatest beauty of face or form becomes so familiarised to the husband's eye as to have but little effect upon the state of his affections. Sterling qualities gain his respect, a chilly sentiment in comparison with the love that should exist, the only feeling that makes marriage tolerable. The real charm lies in sweetness of disposition, generous kindliness of character, and, in addition, a certain lightheartedness that renders the possessor proof against small everyday annoyances. The value of this quality in domestic life is inestimable. There are mournful souls who yield themselves almost willingly to a perpetual moaning recapitulation of grievances. Wives of this kind are very discouraging to husbands, who find excuses, more or less veracious, for staying away from home.
The man who marries a girl for her beautiful, pensive face and languorous smile may find that pensiveness with years develops into pettishness or petulance, and the languorous smile becomes of the "lone, lorn" Mrs. Gummidge order.
Miserliness on either side is a frequent cause of disappointment. The husband may grudge the wherewithal for his wife to be dressed according to her station. The wife may be niggardly in housekeeping. What chance have romance and young love against meanness? Many a foolish wife has immolated her husband's love on the altar of ultra-tidiness. When a woman has a passion for this sort of thing it seems to lay hold of all her finest qualities, and consume them like a fire. She becomes a fanatic on the subject of neatness.
Can there be marriage without disillusionment? Yes ! Long years of it, where there are gentleness and unselfishness. Daniel O'connell wrote to his wife after thirty-three years of union: "I am as romantic in my love this day as when you dropped your not unwilling hand into mine." There are many instances of unchanged lifelong devotion between husband and wife. The late Chief Justice Bowen wrote some beautiful verses to his wife when " his hair was flecked with time," as he put it. The poem concludes:
" Come closer; lay your hand in mine; your love Is the one sure possession that will last. Let us be brave, and when the shadow comes To beckon us to the leap, rise lightly up And follow with firm eyes and resolute soul Whither he leads-one heart, one hand, to live Together, or, if Death be Death, to die."