During the last thirty years the age at which Englishwomen marry has been considerably advanced. It is not at all unusual to hear of a bride at the age of thirty-two, whereas a couple of decades since she would have been regarded as hopelessly an old maid, and would probably have been wearing a cap.
Thirty-five is no longer considered too mature a time of life for a woman to marry, and it is quite probable that, with the increasing interests that open before our sex, from thirty-five to forty will become quite a usual age for entering into the bonds of matrimony. The bride of nineteen is less numerous than she was in the Victorian age. The girl under twenty has seldom that experience of life which makes her capable of judicious choice, unless, indeed, she happen to be one of the army of workers. There is no better education than that of work. It teaches us human nature as nothing else can do.
Mothers now advise their daughters not to think of marrying until they are twenty-five, at least, whereas in the old days it was regarded as a maternal achievement if the girls were all married off before they were twenty.
To marry for the first time at forty would appear to the old-fashioned a rather tardy business. It has been computed that a woman is five years older than a man of her own age in feeling, and sometimes in appearance. This latter no longer holds good since women have had so much outdoor life, and have engaged in the outdoor pursuits and games which men had all to themselves until some thirty-five years since. Occupation, too, has done wonders for women's physique. Instead of a limp, characterless, unhealthy Victorian girl, we have now the alert, energetic, eager, active Englishwoman of to-day, who looks life squarely in the face, makes her decisions briskly, and acts on them promptly, just as her father and her brothers do. She takes her existence in her own hands, and moulds it to her liking so far as circumstances may permit.
The bride of forty may be as handsome, though perhaps not so fresh of complexion, as when she was twenty-four, and her acquired knowledge of the world and of men gives her a certain advantage over the younger woman. She has certainly learnt the art of self-repression, which will prevent her making the fatal mistake of exhibiting her affection for her husband to an inordinate degree.
Some "Pros" and "Cons"
She has also acquired that capacity which makes a success of most things that she undertakes, the management of a house included, and that very difficult art which rules the servants' department with gentle firmness, with watchfulness, apart from spying, and with economy as distinct from parsimony. She comes to her new home with a large circle of acquaintances met during the previous twenty years of her life, and the husband cannot fall into the mistake of so many men - viz., regarding a wife as merely an amusement for his leisure hours, and a plaything rather than a companion and friend. The woman of forty has, or ought to have, a dignity which impresses the man, and which is probably one of the qualities that attracted him.
Much of the happiness of a household in which the mistress begins at this fairly mature age depends upon the age and character of the husband. Sometimes a woman of that age chooses a man younger than herself. In fact, it has been remarked that it has been rather usual of late years for a woman of forty, or even forty-five, to engage herself to a man not much over thirty, or, perhaps, between thirty-five and forty. A male writer, in commenting on this, thinks that these up-to-date Benedicks have proved themselves to be far more far-seeing than younger men were formerly. They look ahead, he says, and realise that there may be drawbacks in an inexperienced young wife who has never ordered a dinner in her life, and that, on the other hand, a woman of a certain age remembers the celebrated saying, "Feed the brute." He adds that the attitude she takes up is that of bonne camarade rather than pretty, pouting, smiling seventeen. Usually these marriages turn out fairly well, though popular prejudice is in favour of the view that the husband should be the older.
George Eliot was over sixty when she married Mr. John Walter Cross, and during the few months of the union the marriage was a happy one for both. A few days after the wedding, the great authoress wrote :
"We had a millenial cabin on the deck of the Calais-douvres, and floated over the Strait as easily as the saints float upward to heaven (in the pictures). At Amiens we were very comfortably housed, and paid two enraptured visits, evening and morning, to the cathedral." And in another letter she writes : "I shall be a better, more loving creature than I could have been in solitude. To be constantly, lovingly grateful for the gift of a perfect love is the best illumination of one's mind to all the possible good there may be in store for man on this troublous little planet." at forty has its risks, like marriage at any age, but if the husband is rather senior to the wife, the chances of success are greater. In Mr. W. B. Maxwell's " Mrs. Thompson," a woman of that age marries a young man who is employed in the shop of which she is proprietress. Here the difficulties were added to by the fact that the man was of lower social status than she, and, as everyone must admit, the chances of happiness in this case are remote. In these circumstances the union turned out disastrous. Supposing that the couple are of similar social position, and that neither has been married before, there is no reason why happiness should not result.
The bride of forty judiciously chooses child bridesmaids, being well aware that the freshness of her grown-up nieces will not be advantageous to her appearance on the wedding-day. Two of our bishops have married ladies of mature years, and both marriages have turned out successfully. The beautiful lady whom the famous American explorer made his bride was not, perhaps, quite forty, but had long passed her girlhood. The match was a success in every way. Miss Barrett was between thirty and forty when she married her poet, and was there ever on earth a happier marriage than theirs? - ideal and idyllic.
The Bride of Forty and Her Maids
On the whole, marriage at forty offers a very respectable prospect of comfortable and harmonious life. Friends and relatives often disapprove, and, from the physiological point of view, the old-fashioned make objections; but if a woman is healthy, and has lived a sane and wholesome life, without excesses in such directions as eating, drinking, and late hours, she may confidently start forth upon her new venture.