In the modern era books & magazines bombard us with advice on achieving a happy relationship or lasting marriage.
It is interesting, therefore, to compare modern relationship guidance with the equivalent rules for a happy marriage published over 150 years ago.
The guidance for married couples below is extracted from a weekly Boston newspaper “Irish Miscellany” which was dedicated to the “interests and vindication of the Irish people throughout the world”.
The newspaper published extracts from the Dublin Penny Journal along with original essays, reviews, poetry and song lyrics by “Irishmen of great ability”.
Maxims for the Married
These “Maxims for the Married” appeared in the Irish Miscellany on Saturday , June 18, 1858 as a dozen rules for husband and wife. As you would expect, some of the guidance provided differs substantially from current societal norms.
Note that the wording & spelling below are as they appeared in the original article though some particularly long / confusing sentences have been split into shorter, more coherent, sentences to improve readability. No new wording has been added.
Code of Instruction for Ladies
1. Let every wife be persuaded that there are two ways of governing a family: the first is by the expression of that which will belong to force. The second is to the power of mildness, to which every strength will yield. One is the power of a husband; a wife should never employ any other arms than gentleness. When a woman accustoms herself to say ‘she will’, she deserves to lose her empire
2. Avoid contradicting your husband. When we smell of a rose, it is to imbibe the sweets of it’s odor; we likewise look for everything that is amiable in woman. Whoever is often contradicted feels insensibly an aversion for the person who contradicts which gains strength by time and, whatever her good qualities, is not easily destroyed
3. Occupy yourself only with household affairs. Wait till your husband confides to you those of higher importance and do not give your advice till he asks it
4. Never take upon yourself to be a censor of your husbands morals and do not read lectures to him. Let your preaching be a good example and practice virtue yourself to make him in love with it.
5. Command his attention by always being attentive to him. Never exact anything and you will obtain much. Always appear flattered by the little he does for you, which will excite him to perform more.
6. All men are vain. Never wound his vanity, not even in the most trifling instances. A wife may have more sense than her husband but she should never seem to know it.
7. When a man gives wrong council, never make him feel that he has done so; but lead him on by degrees to what is rational with mildness and gentleness. When he is convinced leave him to the merit of having found out what is just and reasonable.
8. When a husband is out of temper, behave obligingly to him. If he is abusive, never retort and never prevail over him to humble him.
9. Choose well your friends, have but a few, and be careful of following their advice in all matters.
10. Cherish neatness without luxury, and pleasure without excess. Dress with taste and particularly with modesty. Vary the fashions of your dress especially in regard to colours. It gives a change to the ideas and recalls pleasing recollections. Such things may appear trifling but they are of more importance than imagined.
11. Never be curious to pry into your husband’s concerns, but obtain his confidence at all times, by that which you repose in him. Always preserve order and economy. Avoid being out of temper and be careful never to scold. By them means he will find his own house pleasanter than any other.
12. Seem always to obtain information from him, especially before company, though you may pass yourself for a simpleton. Never forget that a wife owes all her importance to that of her husband. Leave him entirely master of his own actions to go or come whenever he thinks fit. A wife ought to make her company amiable to her husband, that he will not be able to exist without it. Then he will not seek for pleasure abroad if she do not partake of it with him.
Code of Instruction for Gentlemen
1. There are two ways of governing a family; the first by force, the other by mild and vigilant authority. The first is brutal and you certainly lose your happiness in adapting it. The second will occasion you to be respected and your directions to be observed. A husband deserves to lose his empire altogether by making an attempt to force it by violence.
2. Never contradict you wife – you never did so before marriage, and do not begin it now. There is something so harsh about contradiction in a man that it always generates an unkindly feeling. It prevents that confidence that ought to exists between married persons and, confidence destroyed, we cannot hope for much good afterwards.
3. You cannot possibly have a better or trustier confidant than your wife. She will always advise for the best and very safely too. Trust her wholly.
4. Be strictly moral in your conduct. How can you pretend to be guide to your house if you are not?Consider what you would think if your wife would become immoral in her conduct.
5. Be as attentive in reason after marriage as you were in courtship. Attention to your wife is respect to yourself, it is her due and shows clearly that you do not regret your choice.
6. Pride yourself only on those qualities which a man ought to possess, and give your wife credit for hers. You ought to have a manly understanding but remember that infers no superiority over the lady’s.
7. When your wife has given you council which, from your knowledge of the world, you judge cannot safely be acted on, do not reproach her but convince her by mild reasoning that it is inappropriate. Give her always the merit of good intentions.
8. Should your wife be out of temper, do not see it; there are many little vexations you know not of. Never speak harshly to her, nor be rude.
9. Be careful in your choice of friends; you have one that will never desert you. Cherish her.
10. Dress well according to your station in society; be neither slovenly nor a dandy. Commend your wife’s taste in dress and you may keep her heart as long as you like. Nothing so much secures a lady’s good will as this and it is a very slight sacrifice made at the altar of her vanity.
11. Never meddle with domestic or household concerns, they are not for a man’s care. Be careful in your expenditure and waste nothing though you must be liberal to the poor. Never swear, nor storm, nor blow up. Let your home be the pole star of your affections, and always spend your evenings there.
12. Always pay attention to your wife in society as well as in private, and show yourself fully aware of her good qualities. All your happiness is reposed in her. Never show anything like indifference or slight. She will repay your kindness by that tenderness of affection which is worth all the world beside. Seek no pleasure to which she cannot be made a party.
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