A lady of San Francisco once committed suicide because she was successful in her action for divorce against her husband. He had evidently chosen a wife with a temperament exactly opposed to his own. It might almost be said that her temperament was exactly opposed to her normal self.
There have been such instances. Most of us are dual, and some of us more compli-cated still. The real circumstances which led this unfortunate lady to put an end to her existence were the receipt of a big bouquet of lilies from the husband she had just divorced, accompanied by a charming little note wishing her happiness in any future matrimonial enterprise, and apologising for any inconvenience he might have caused her. Of course, she fell in love with him all over again, and foolishly made an end of her life, when she might have recommenced it and lived happily with the man she had dismissed.
The truth is that marriage is like tea. Its success depends on the matrimonial mixture. We have to consider nationality, disposition, age, circumstances and appearance. Or may I change the simile, and say that marriage is like a salad ? As we all know, this dish, with so many possibilities, depends upon the skill brought to bear upon it. Even two bad tempers (we may call them black pepper and cayenne) are reconcilable, and even harmoniously agreeable, when softened with the oil of suavity and the salt of humour, which is such an indespensable ingredient in any salad, whether matrimonial or culinary.
Sarcasm may stand for the vinegar, which, as all good cooks are aware, should be measured out by a miser. Vinegar predominates in many a matrimonial mixture. One can read in the countenances of people their habit of saying sharp things to each other. One resident scowl is enough in a family, too much even, but one often meets in the world married pairs with one apiece, and shudders to think of what their home life must be.
It seldom answers for two geniuses to marry. One or other of them is sure to curdle, and a curdled salad sauce is a miserable business. A very clever man requires in his wife a great reserve of common-sense, and just that amount of appreciation which does not overflow into the pose of criticism. She must not lose discrimination. The wife who praises all her clever husband does becomes his worst enemy; she who can suggest a fault in such a way as to avoid touching his self-love is his good angel. But she must first of all be a fine housekeeper.
Retaining the salad metaphor, we may regard sulks as sweet oil gone rancid. A sullen temper is the greatest foe to a successful marriage blend. Most unfortunately, the gift of sulkiness appears to be bestowed impartially upon every nation. I have seen a sulky Scotchman, a sulky Irishman, a sulky Englishman, a sullen Frenchman, and an extremely sulky Italian. There was nothing to choose between them. And yet there was this difference : the Scotchman looked dour, the Irishman fierce, the Englishman wore the air of a martyr, the Frenchman was evidently ready in a second to abandon the atmosphere of sulks and disperse it by a storm of temper, and one would not have dared to interfere in any way with the sulks of the Italian. It looked as if something with cutlery in it might be the penalty for interference.
Taking them all together, I have the impression that the Englishman's plaintive martyr look gave least hope of convalescence. One of Tennyson's poems has the following lines :
" Oh, we fell out, I know not why, And kissed again with tears; And blessings on the falling out That all the more endears."
"All the more endears" ? There may be a difference of opinion upon this point. Reconciliation may have charms, but they are dearly bought. Quarrels are a thorny path, and they seldom lead to peace, though discordant elements, such as those to be found in a salad, may possibly blend harmoniously in the end.
It has been one of the interests of my life to observe how wives treat husbands in their hours of moody melancholy - a poetical name for sulks.
A certain Scotchman's wife is an Irishwoman, almost always a risky blend, so incurably young are the Irish, so unalterably old the Scotch. But in this case the wife has measured the depths of her husband's moods, finds them shallow, if long-continued, and calmly awaits their close with a resignation that has a spice of hopeful anticipation in it. Heavy as is his cloud upon her brightness, she enjoys the recurrent sunshine all the more. She has the wisdom to refrain from remark or reproach. It. is absolutely futile to remonstrate with a man when in his moods. An inquiry as to the cause of them is invariably answered by the word "Nothing !"
The woman's cause is man's : they rise or sink Either sex alone [together.
Is half itself, and in true marriage lies Nor equal nor unequal.
Tennyson and the wife's intrusion into his dark hours is regarded as an impertinence, and her questions are brushed aside like a pestering gnat on a summer evening. Should she be so unwise as to resent this, and fly into a temper, there is battle in the air, and for days, even weeks, there is a lack of conversation in the home.
A Use for Dogs
A couple subject to these silences has been known to be reduced to the expedient of conducting the necessary conversation through the medium of their dog. The husband inquires: "Caesar, do you know what there is going to be for dinner this evening?" whereupon the wife remarks, "Now, Caesar, you know perfectly well that I am dining out, and that there is a steak for your master." A visitor in the house had a constant source of joy in watching the turning of the animal's head from one to the other of the combative pair, and noting the wonder in his intelligent eyes as he recognised that the remarks addressed to him were so completely above his comprehension. At the word "steak" he naturally pricked his ears, but they drooped soon after, with an apparent sense of disappointment, when his master said, "Tell cook not to mind the steak, Caesar, for I shall dine out too."
Stolidity is an offensive quality in the husband of a vivacious, impulsive, pleasure-loving wife. The marital blend is a bad one. Stolidity is a hard, stony wall against which fantastic human feelings dash themselves in vain.
Lack of sympathy is another dreary quality in a husband. He expects abundant comprehension for his own affairs, but seldom realises that he might bestow some upon those of his partner. He never remembers what her plans or wishes are, and seldom endeavours to further them in any way. Many wives, one regrets to say, have also this unsympathetic quality, and regard their husband's interests and occupations as outside the circle of their attention. Next to hard, callous brutality, this stolid, unsympathetic attitude is the most difficult to bear in married life. Life partners have it generally in their own power to correct a bad blend or perfect a good one. The most diverse natures can be harmonised by the power of gentleness and the influence of true affection.
She will tend him, nurse him, mend him,
Air his linen, dry his tears; Bless the thoughtful fates that send him
Such a wife to soothe his years !
Sir William Gilbert