Oh, for the Wisdom of the “Back-Thens” (a term used by my children for the good ol’ days!) This particular excerpt is from 1893!

from Courtship and Marriage and the Gentle Art of Homemaking, 1893

In these very words (Keeping up Appearances) lurks a danger likely to beset our young couple, on the very threshold of their career. All eyes are upon them, of course; their house and all it contains, their way of life, the position they take up and maintain, are, for the time being, topics of intense concern to all who know them, and to many who do not.

There is no doubt that we need to go back in some degree to the simpler way of life in vogue in the days of our grandmothers; that pretentiousness and extravagance have reached a point which is almost unendurable.

We are constantly being informed by statistics which cannot be questioned that the marriage rate is decreasing; and we know that in our own circles the number of marriageable girls and marriageable youths who for some inexplicable reason don’t marry is very great.

What is the reason? Is the age of romance over? Is it impossible any longer to conjure with the words love and marriage in the garden of youth? Or is it that our young people are less brave and enduring, that they shrink from the added responsibility, care, and self-denial involved in the double life?

My own view is that this pretentiousness and desire for display is at the bottom of it; that young people want to begin where their fathers and mothers left and that courage is lacking to take a step down and begin together on the lowest rung of the ladder.

I have heard many young men say that they are afraid to ask girls to leave the luxury and comfort of their father’s house, and to enter a plainer home, where they will have less luxury and more care; and though I grant that there are many girls who would shrink from the ordeal, and who prefer the indolent ease of single blessedness to the cares of matrimony on limited means, yet have I been tempted sometimes, looking at these young men, to wonder in my soul whether it was not they who shrank from the plain home and the increased responsibility marriage involves.

The salary sufficient for the comfort and mild luxury of one is scarcely elastic enough for two. It would mean giving up a good many things; it would mean fewer cigars, fewer new suits, and fewer first nights at the theater,—in fact, a general modification of luxuries which he has begun to regard as indispensable; and he asks himself, Is the game worth the candle?

His answer is, No.

And so he drifts out of young manhood into bachelor middle age, passing unscathed through many flirtations, becoming encrusted with selfish ideas and selfish aims, and gradually less fit for domestic life. And all the time, while he imagines he has a fine time of it, he has missed the chief joy, the highest meaning of life.

The conditions of modern life are certainly harder than they were. Competition in every profession and calling is so enormous that remuneration has necessarily fallen; and it is a problem to many how single life is to be respectably maintained, let alone married life.

Then the invasions of women into almost every domain of man’s work is somewhat serious in its consequences to men. A woman can be got to do a certain thing as quickly, correctly, and efficiently as a man; therefore the man goes to the wall.

While we are glad to see the position of woman improve, and the value of her labor in the markets of the world increase, we are perplexed as to the effect of this better condition of things on the position of men.

The situation is full of perplexities, strained to the utmost. There is no doubt whatever that this improvement in the position of woman, the increased opportunities afforded her of making a respectable livelihood, has had, and is having, its serious effect in the marriage market.

A single woman in a good situation, the duties of which she has strength of body and strength of mind to perform, is a very independent being, and in contrast with many of her married sisters a person to be envied.

She has her hours, for one thing; there is no prospect of an eight hours’ day for the married woman with a family to superintend.

Then she, having earned her own money, can spend it as she likes—and has to give account of it only to herself; and she is free from the physical trials and disabilities consequent upon marriage and maternity.

If you tell her that the sweet fullness of married life, its multiplied joys, amply compensates for the troubles, she will shake her head and want proof.

Altogether, the outlook matrimonial is not very bright.

Now, while we deplore, as a serious evil, hasty, improvident, ill-considered marriages, and hold that their consequences are very sad, we would also, scarcely less seriously, deplore that over-cautiousness which is reducing the marriage rate in quarters where it ought not to be reduced,—our lower middle-class, which is the backbone of society.

There is no fear of a serious reduction in other quarters: where there is no responsibility felt, there is none to shirk; and so, among the very poor, children are multiplied, and obligations increased, without any thought for the morrow, or concern for future provision.

There is a very supreme kind of selfishness in this over-cautiousness which is not delightful to contemplate, the fear lest self should be inconvenienced or deprived in the very slightest degree; and all this does not tend to the highest development of human nature, but rather the reverse, since the spirit of self-denial and self-sacrifice is one of the loveliest attributes of human character.

“Kindness is infectious. One kind action leads to another. Our example is followed. This is the greatest work which kindness does to others– that it makes them kind themselves.” – Fr. Lawrence Lovasik, Kindness – The Bloom of Charity

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