Author of "How to be Happy Though Married" etc., etc.
- Conditional Promise - The View of the Empress of Germany
When arranging the marriage service of Queen Victoria, the Archbishop of Canterbury asked her Majesty whether it would be desirable to omit the word "obey," and she answered: "I wish to be married as a woman, not as a queen."
Some brides boast that they evade the word "obey" and substitute "go gay," "say nay," or some other of similar sound. After her wedding a lady of this kind remarked to the Rev. F. D. Maurice, who had performed the ceremony: "Now, Mr. Maurice, I call you to witness that I have no intention of obeying." Maurice answered with his sad, sweet smile: "Ah, madam, you little know the blessedness of obedience." "The blessedness of obedience" is known to few in this day of the decay of discipline. Individuals of both sexes shrink from control, and cannot understand that to be lord of oneself may be a "heritage of woe." In my humble opinion obedience is the pleasantest of virtues. From what trouble and anxiety it frees, and what a luxury it is to have someone other than yourself to blame! Can anything be better for us than to be wound up like a clock and made to go right? It would be much truer to say, "as happy as a clock "than" as happy as a king." Rich people without business or professional ties often suffer from unrest because they can live as they like, and where they like. We are much more contented when we have to obey orders, and are forced by circumstances into a settled way of life.
Of course, no one worthy of attention believes that it is a wife's duty to obey when her husband wishes her to act contrary to the dictates of her conscience. The ideal wife claims the liberty of being herself, and of ping her own tastes and avocations, but she does not refuse loyalty to the man who supports and protects her. She looks upon him as the senior partner of the matrimonial firm, and as such entitled to consideration and respect.
Once at a negro wedding when the clergyman read the words "love, honour, and obey," the bridegroom interrupted him, and said: "Read that again, sah! Read it once more, so's de lady kin ketch de full solemnity of de meaning. I'se been married befo'." This negro took "obey" literally, but is it not true of vows as of commands, that they are sometimes kept best in the spirit? A wife on occasions obeys by disobeying her husband, for his good. Like Nelson, she puts a glass to a blind eye.
The fact that some uneducated bridegrooms, like the negro just mentioned, think that a bride vows to obey literally and under all circumstances is, to my mind, the strongest argument for putting "obey" out of the Marriage Service. It may have a tendency to make a husband fancy that he may and ought to be too masterly to his wife.
One of this kind of men was married by a rector of Thornhill, near Dewsbury. On that occasion the rector could not get the bride to say "obey." So he repeated the word with a strong stress on each syllable, saying: "You must say "obey.' " Whereupon the bridegroom interposed and said: "Never mind; go on, parson, I'll make her obey by and by."
At a wedding in a Congregational church the bridegroom after the service begged the minister to give a hint to the bride that it is the husband's part to rule. "Brother," said the minister, "it is the best man that rules, and that isn't you."
As a rule, "the husband is the head of the wife," but sometimes the wife is the better man of the two, so to speak. She has more tact, common-sense, and strength of character than the husband has. In this case she should guide him along the right road without his feeling the bit. No wonder many wives consider their husbands creatures that have to be looked after as grown-up little boys, interesting, piquant, indispensable, but shiftless, headstrong, and at bottom absurd. And what can be pleasanter for a husband than to be well managed, and at the same time allowed to fancy that he is managing himself?
It may be concluded, therefore, that if, in large matters of conduct, wives should obey husbands, the latter should do, and leave undone, what their wives tell them in reference to the small things of life. In this way a man avoids making a fool of himself, and gains a reputation for good sense. It is often the case when you see a great man, like a ship, sailing proudly along the current of renown, that there is a little tug, his wife, whom you cannot see, but who is directing his movements and supplying the necessary motive-power.
Some married people are continually engaged in a struggle to see who is stronger and who should rule. How much better it would be only to strive who could love and serve the other most! To no people so much as to a husband and wife are these words of Marcus Aurelius applicable: "We are made" for co-operation; like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of the upper and lower teeth. To act against one another, then, is contrary to nature."
Near a certain church there was a spring of water of which it was said that the bridegroom or bride who first drank of it, after being married in the church, would rule the other. On one occasion the bridegroom was hastening to the spring, but the bride remarked that he need not do so as she had brought some of the water in a bottle! Neither of them could have been much in love, could they?
It has been suggested that if the vow to "obey" must be in the Marriage Service it is the bridegroom who should take it, because when a wife drives the domestic coach it goes more smoothly even for the husband. In Chicago at many weddings the brides do not vow to obey, but the men are obeying still.
Asked if she would "obey," an American bride replied conditionally: "I will if he will do what he has promised financially." There should be give and take in this matter. If a wife obeys when proper requests are properly made she deserves to share her husband's worldly goods; if not, why should he endow her with them? There are women nowadays who want all the privileges of men without giving up any of the privileges of women.
Of one thing, however, we may be pretty-sure, and that is that conscientious brides who object to say "obey" will often be more obedient to duty, and even to their husbands, than those who have no scruples and will vow anything.
What matters it, O man, that they The marriage promise "to obey"
Should leave unspoken? A million women who have said They would, soon after they were wed Their vows have broken.
The vow to obey, however, is really superfluous, for it is virtually included in the vow to love and honour. Certainly a wife who loves and honours a good husband will try to comply with his reasonable requests. Like Portia, in reference to Bassanio, she is "happiest of all" when "her gentle spirit commits itself" to her husband "to be directed as from her lord, her governor, her king."
And she has her reward, for, as the Italian proverb says: "It is the obedient wife who commands."
The good and wise wife likes to obey a husband who is strong and worthy of her reverence. She thinks that if he is not master he is contemptible. Christina, Queen of Sweden, held this view, and did not marry because she would not have a master.
The Empress of Germany is one of those women who rule by obeying. She must generally do what the Emperor wishes her, or else he would not call her, as he does, a "pearl of great price"; but she insists on having her own way when she thinks it is the best way in reference to her children. Speaking of her husband, she once said sweetly: "He is the Emperor of Germany, but I am Empress of the nursery."
Would an up-to-date bride rather be eaten by a tiger or "obey"? Sir Charles and Lady Napier were riding one evening, unattended, on the summit of a range of hills in India.
The sun had just set, the pathway was narrow, bordered on one side by jungle and on the other by a steep precipice. Turning to his wife suddenly, Sir Charles desired her to ride on at full speed to the nearest village and send some people back to him, and not to ask him why he sent her.
Forthwith she rode forward boldly and sent people from a village a few miles away. When they arrived Sir Charles explained the reason of his strange, peremptory command.
He had seen, as he and his wife slowly walked their horses, the head of a large tiger, and he feared that if they both rode on, the beast would pursue them, and that if his wife knew of the dreadful peril at hand she would be too. frightened to escape. This was why he sent her on and remained himself, though he only had a pair of pistols, confronting the tiger, until, with a growl, the beast turned back into the jungle. There is often method in the seeming madness of a man - a man like Napier. The wise wife knows this, and trusts implicitly.