I hear many people condemn the girl who 'marries for money'; and Marie Corelli vituperates against the women who 'sell themselves,' as she calls it. This seems to me unfair. Marriage and even love do not alter a nature; and if a girl knows herself, and is quite well aware that she cares most for the things that money alone can give her, I think there is more of wickedness if she makes the misery of the man she may like best by marrying him if he is poor, than in accepting the rich man if she can get him. I speak only of those whose standard of life is a low one. What is supremely idiotic, and distinctly the fault of the mother, showing a general want of training, is to imagine that when you marry a man for his money, whom you neither love nor admire, you are to have as well all the joys of life which no money can buy. The thing is ridiculous. There are few who, like Danae, can have god and gold together. Marrying for money or position may be a high or a low line; it is often the only vent for a woman's ambition. But if she does it of her own free will, thoroughly understanding and facing what she undertakes, in nine cases out of ten she will carry it through and make the best of it. The person who 'has gained the world' is perhaps the one least likely to throw it away. It is the sentimental, warm-hearted, impressionable girl, who marries some man of the world not knowing what she is doing, who turns to someone else for consolation in bitterness of spirit when she finds out her mistake.
The tone of the day, as it is often represented in ephemeral literature, is that, so far as the moral life goes, the sexes should be equal. This has given rise to a very natural feeling amongst girls: that it is a matter of no importance which loves most or even first, the man or the woman. The stronger feeling on the woman's side is a phase of the relations between men and women which always has been and always will be; but the open acknowledgment of it is certainly much more common now than forty years ago. Nothing changes Nature, and especially in youth it is natural for the man to take the initiative. The cultivation of pride in a woman is much to be desired, and would never deter a man who was really in earnest in his pursuit. In fact, we all value what is difficult of attainment. I found this well expressed in an American periodical which I took up by chance last year; it was called 'The Way of Man':
There was many a Rose in the glen to-day
As I wandered through, And every bud that looked my way
Was rich of hue. Yet the one in my hand,
Do you understand? Not a whit more sweet, not quite so fair,
But it grew in the breach of the cliff up there.
A question I have frequently heard discussed by people who perhaps would be the very last to be themselves in such a situation, is whether a woman with a 'past' is bound to tell it to a man who has proposed to her, and whom she wishes to accept. A large proportion of these people who now go in for 'equalising' the sexes say, 'No; she is not bound to tell,' and they argue that a man does not lay his past before a woman when he is engaged to marry her. It may be very unjust, but I cannot see that the cases are parallel. The woman fears that if she tells her story to the man, he will not marry her. If this is really the case, her acceptance of his offer is a species of fraud. To begin a life of partnership under such circumstances means that the woman puts herself on the level of a man who cheats his friend at cards or sells him a bad horse. The reason why the position of the woman differs from that of the man is due to that unwritten law accepted amongst civilised nations. The man who does not recognise this law will be unaffected by the confession of her past; the man who does recognise it ought not to be deceived.
I think most girls of to-day understand that there is a veiled side to many men's lives, and that a man's past has to be accepted, not cavilled at, by a girl who understands life when she marries a man who is not very young, and who has knocked about the world. She would scarcely wish him to tell her details of passing love affairs; but I would go so far, without any insult to him, as to recommend that a girl who knows what she is doing should solemnly, and in all tenderness and love, just before marriage, put the question to the man she is engaged to whether his particular past entails any serious ties upon him. By this I mean that she should know whether he has children whom he ought to educate and look after, in order that she may not only face the fact, but also help him to do his duty by them. No secret should come between them, especially not one which, if ignored, might perhaps bring forth future trouble. If he has no such ties, so much the better for everybody. If he has, she who is about to marry him should share the troubles and privations that they entail. So many problems in this life are solved by courage. Facing such a position does not make it, whereas ignoring it may weave difficulties and misery.
Optimism I have always believed to be the right rule of conduct both for men and nations. Yet there is truth in what I have somewhere read that it must not be an optimism without intelligence. It should not be that kind of optimism which, to keep cheerful, must blot out menace by looking another way, and obliterate coming peril by turning the back. Neither in private nor in public life should it be the spurious optimism which is part dulness of perception, part moral weakness, part intellectual timidity, part something worse - I mean, refusal to recognise approaching danger because open recognition would have to be followed by the worry or expense of prevention.
As I said before, it is so difficult to generalise - not only because every individual case has a different aspect, but also because every ten years makes an entirely different platform for our conduct of life. This seems to me to be not sufficiently acknowledged. Once more I return to a bundle of letters, to find one written by a very old friend of our family, which talks of the decline of life, from a man's point of view, in a way that is individual and yet applicable to many: