Faecunda culpae secula nuptiasThe reader is indebted for this day's entertainment, to an author from whom the age has received greater favours, who has enlarged the knowledge of human nature, and taught the passions to move at the command of virtue.
Primùm inquinavere, & genus, & domos,
Hoc fonte derivata clades
In patriam populumque fluxit.
Horace, ODES, III.6.17-20.
Fruitful of crimes, this age first stain'd
Their hapless offspring, and profan'd
The nuptial bed; from whence the woes,
Which various and unnumber'd rose
From this polluted fountain head,
O'er Rome and o'er the nations spread.
When the Spectator was first published in single papers, it gave me so much pleasure, that it is one of the favourite amusements of my age to recollect it; and when I reflect on the foibles of those times, as described in that useful work, and compare them with the vices now reigning among us, I cannot but wish that you would oftener take cognizance of the manners of the better half of the human species, that if your precepts and observations be carried down to posterity, the Spectators may shew to the rising generation what were the fashionable follies of their grandmothers, the Rambler of their mothers, and that from both they may draw instruction and warning.
When I read those Spectators which took notice of the misbehaviour of young women at church by which they vainly hope to attract admirers, I used to pronounce such forward young women Seekers, in order to distinguish them by a mark of infamy from those who had patience and decency to stay till they were sought.
But I have lived to see such a change in the manners of women, that I would now be willing to compound with them for that name, although I then thought it disgraceful enough, if they would deserve no worse; since now they are too generally given up to negligence of domestick business, to idle amusements, and to wicked rackets, without any settled view at all but of squandering time.
In the time of the Spectator, excepting sometimes an appearance in the ring, sometimes at a good and chosen play, sometimes on a visit at the house of a grave relation, the young ladies contented themselves to be found employed in domestick duties; for then routs, drums, balls, assemblies, and such like markets for women, were not known.
Modesty and diffidence, gentleness and meekness, were looked upon as the appropriate virtues and characteristick graces of the sex. And if a forward spirit pushed itself into notice, it was exposed in print as it deserved.
The churches were almost the only places where single women were to be seen by strangers. Men went thither expecting to see them; and perhaps too much for that only purpose.
But some good often resulted, however improper was their motive. Both sexes were in the way of their duty. The man must be abandoned indeed, who loves not goodness in another; nor were the young fellows of that age so wholly lost to a sense of right, as pride and conceit has since made them affect to be. When therefore they saw a fair-one, whose decent behaviour and chearful piety shewed her earnest in her first duties, they had the less doubt, judging politically only, that she would have a conscientious regard to her second.
With what ardor have I seen watched for, the rising of a kneeling beauty? and what additional charms has devotion given to her recommunicated features?
The men were often the better for what they heard. Even a Saul was once found prophesying among the prophets whom he had set out to destroy. To a man thus put into good humour by a pleasing object, religion itself looked more amiably. The Men Seekers of the Spectator's time loved the holy place for the object's sake, and loved the object for her suitable behaviour in it.
Reverence mingled with their love, and they thought that a young lady of such good principles must be addressed only by the man, who at least made a shew of good principles, whether his heart was yet quite right or not.
Nor did the young lady's behaviour, at any time of the service, lessen this reverence. Her eyes were her own, her ears the preacher's. Women are always most observed, when they seem themselves least to observe, or to lay out for observation. The eye of a respectful lover loves rather to receive confidence from the withdrawn eye of the fair-one, than to find itself obliged to retreat.
When a young gentleman's affection was thus laudably engaged, he pursued its natural dictates; keeping then was a rare, at least a secret and scandalous vice, and a wife was the summit of his wishes. Rejection was now dreaded, and pre-engagement apprehended. A woman whom he loved, he was ready to think must be admired by all the world. His fears, his uncertainties, increased his love.
Every enquiry he made into the lady's domestick excellence, which, when a wife is to be chosen, will surely not be neglected, confirmed him in his choice. He opens his heart to a common friend, and honestly discovers the state of his fortune. His friend applies to those of the young lady, whose parents, if they approve his proposals, disclose them to their daughter.
She perhaps is not an absolute stranger to the passion of the young gentleman. His eyes, his assiduities, his constant attendance at a church, whither, till of late, he used seldom to come, and a thousand little observances that he paid her, had very probably first forced her to regard, and then inclined her to favour him.
That a young lady should be in love, and the love of the young gentleman undeclared, is an heterodoxy which prudence, and even policy, must not allow. But thus applied to, she is all resignation to her parents. Charming resignation, which inclination opposes not.
Her relations applaud her for her duty; friends meet; points are adjusted; delightful perturbations, and hopes, and a few lover's fears, fill up the tedious space, till an interview is granted; for the young lady had not made herself cheap at publick places.
The time of interview arrives. She is modestly reserved; he is not confident. He declares his passion; the consciousness of her own worth, and his application to her parents, take from her any doubt of his sincerity; and she owns herself obliged to him for his good opinion. The enquiries of her friends into his character, have taught her that his good opinion deserves to be valued.
She tacitly allows of his future visits; he renews them; the regard of each for the other is confirmed; and when he presses or the favour of her hand, he receives a declaration of an entire acquiescence with her duty, and a modest acknowledgement of esteem for him.
He applies to her parents therefore for a near day; and thinks himself under obligation to them for the chearful and affectionate manner with which they receive his agreeable application.
With this prospect of future happiness, the marriage is celebrated. Gratulations pour in from every quarter. Parents and relations on both sides, brought acquainted in the course of the courtship, can receive the happy couple with countenances illumined, and joyful hearts.
The brothers, the sisters, the friends of one family, are the brothers, the sisters, the friends of the other. Their two families thus made one, are the world to the young couple.
Their home is the place of their principal delight, nor do they ever occasionally quit it but they find the pleasure of returning to it augmented in proportion to the time of their absence from it.
Oh, Mr. Rambler! forgive the talkativeness of an old man! When I courted and married my Laetitia, then a blooming beauty, every thing passed just so! But how is the case now? The ladies, maidens, wives and widows are engrossed by places of open resort, and general entertainment, which fill every quarter of the metropolis, and being constantly frequented, make home irksome. Breakfasting-places, dining-places; routs, drums, concerts, balls, plays, operas, masquerades for the evening, and even for all night, and lately, publick sales of the goods of broken housekeepers, which the general dissoluteness of manners has contributed to make very frequent, come in as another seasonable relief to these modern time-killers.
In the summer there are in every country town assemblies; Tunbridge, Bath, Cheltenham, Scarborough! What expence of dress and equipage is required to qualify the frequenters for such emulous appearance?
By the natural infection of example, the lowest people have places of six-penny resort, and gaming tables for pence. Thus servants are now induced to fraud and dishonesty, to support extravagance, and supply their losses.
As to the ladies who frequent those publick places, they are not ashamed to shew their faces wherever men dare go, nor blush to try who shall stare most impudently, or who shall laugh loudest on the publick walks.
The men who would make good husbands, if they visit those places, are frighted at wedlock, and resolve to live single, except they are bought at a very high price. They can be spectators of all that passes, and, if they please, more than spectators, at the expence of others. The companion of an evening, and the companion for life, require very different qualifications.
Two thousand pounds in the last age, with a domestick wife, would go farther than ten thousand in this. Yet settlements are expected, that often, to a mercantile man especially, sink a fortune into uselessness; and pin-money is stipulated for, which makes a wife independent, and destroys love, by putting it out of a man's power to lay any obligation upon her, that might engage gratitude, and kindle affection: When to all this the card-tables are added, how can a prudent man think of marrying?
And when the worthy men know not where to find wives, must not the sex be left to the foplings, the coxcombs, the libertines of the age, whom they help to make such? And need even these wretches marry to enjoy the conversation of those who render their company so cheap?
And what, after all, is the benefit which the gay coquet obtains by her flutters? As she is approachable by every man without requiring, I will not say incense or adoration, but even common complaisance, every fop treats her as upon the level, looks upon her light airs as invitations, and is on the watch to take the advantage: she has companions indeed, but no lovers; for love is respectful, and timorous; and where among all her followers will she find a husband?
Set, dear Sir, before the youthful, the gay, the inconsiderate, the contempt as well as the danger to which they are exposed. At one time or other, women, not utterly thoughtless, will be convinced of the justice of your censure, and the charity of your instruction.
But should your expostulations and reproofs have no effect upon those who are far gone in fashionable folly, they may be retailed from their mouths to their nieces, (marriage will not often have intitled these to daughters) when they, the meteors of a day, find themselves elbowed off the stage of vanity by other flutterers; for the most admired women cannot have many Tunbridge, many Bath seasons to blaze in; since even fine faces, often seen, are less regarded than new faces, the proper punishment of showy girls, for rendering themselves so impolitickly cheap.
I am, Sir,
Your sincere admirer, &c.