"Be sure before you marry
Of a house wherein to tarry."
SIR JOHN MORE, the famous Chancellor's father, once wrote: "I would compare the multitude of women which are to be chosen for wives unto a bag full of snakes, having among them a single eel: now, if a man should put his hand into this bag, he may chance to light on the eel, but it is an hundred to one he shall be stung by the snake"--a statement which finds its exact parallel in the proverb, "Put your hand in the creel, and take out either an adder or an eel," an idea as old as the time of Juvenal--
"What! Posthumus take a wife? What fury drest
With snakes for hair has your poor brain possest?"
Severe as this statement may seem, it must be remembered that it was a woman--Lady Wortley Montagu--thus gave expression to much the same sentiment: "It goes far towards reconciling me to being a woman, when I reflect that I am thus in no immediate danger of ever marrying one."
"With most marriages," remarked Goethe, "it is not long till things assume a very piteous look," which is to the same effect as the French adage: "Wedlock rides in the saddle, and repentance on the croup;" with which may be compared our own proverb, "Maids want nothing but husbands, and, when they have them, they want everything."
Selden looked upon marriage as "a desperate thing;" and he tells us that "the frogs in Aesop were extremely wise, they had a great mind to some water, but they would not leap into the well, because they could not get out again;" and a humorous description of marriage, much to the same point, has been left us by Sir John Davies in the "Contention":--
"Wedlock hath oft compared been
To public feasts, where meet a public rout,
Where they that are without would fain go in,
And they that are within would fain go out.
Or to the jewel which this virtue had,
That men were mad till they might it obtain,
But, when they had it, they were twice as mad,
Till they were dispossessed of it again."
The Scotch say, "Married folks are like rats in a trap, fain to get ithers in, but fain to be out themsels," an allusion to which we find in the "Tea Table Miscellany":--
"Of all comforts I miscarried,
When I played the sot and married;
'Tis a trap, there's none need doubt on't,
Those that are in would fain get out on't."
And from the earliest period the same unfavourable view has been taken of marriage, Juvenal speaking of it as the "matrimonial halter." It was popularly said that "marriage is an evil that men pray for," and, according to another common adage, "Marriage, if one consider the truth, is an evil, but a necessary evil;" an amusing illustration of the prudent man being found in one of Martial's epigrams:--
"You'd marry the marquis, fair lady, they say;
You are right; we've suspected it long:
But his lordship declines in a complaisant way,
And, faith, he's not much in the wrong."
Heyne quaintly wrote: "The music at a marriage procession always reminds me of the music which leads soldiers to battle," which is borne out by the adage: "The married man must turn his staff into a stake." Lord Burleigh's advice to his son, too, was similar: "In choosing thy wife, use great prudence and circumspection, for from thence will spring all thy future good or evil;" and it is "an action of life like unto a stratagem of war, wherein a man can err but once"--a timely warning we find embodied in the old proverb:--
"Who weddeth ere he be wise,
Shall die ere he thrive;"
and in the adage, "Choose a wife rather by your ear than your eye."
Then there is the Spanish woman's opinion of marriage, who, when asked by her daughter, "What sort of a thing is marriage?" replied: "Daughter, it is spinning, bearing children, and weeping;" which is only another mode of expression for the subjoined folk-rhyme:--
"When a couple are married,
The first month is honeymoon, or smick-smack.
The second is hither and thither, the third is thwick-thwack.
The fourth, the devil take them that brought thee and I together."
There are numerous rhymes of this sort which do not reflect favourably on the fair sex. A couplet still often quoted to young people anxious for matrimony tells them:--
"Needles and pins, needles and pins,
When a man marries his trouble begins;"
with which may be compared the Syrian maxim, "Girl, do not exult in thy wedding dress; see how much trouble lurks behind it." Indeed, of the host of sayings respecting marriage contained in the proverbial lore of our own and other countries, the greater part take a very pessimistic view of married life--"Age and wedlock tame man and beast," and "Age and wedlock we all desire and repent of." However much the conjugal lot may be envied, the consensus of opinion appears to be that "Age and wedlock bring a man to his nightcap." Hence it is said, "He who marrieth doth well, but he who marrieth not, better."
On the Continent it is said, " Grief for a dead wife lasts to the doors and according to a popular rhyme-
"Two good days for a man in this life--
When he weds and when he buries his wife."
The French adage runs: "He that hath a wife hath strife;" and the Spanish people say that "A man's best fortune, or his worst, is his wife." There is a well-known couplet which tells us--
"He who repents him not of his marriage, sleeping or wakin',
in a year and a day,
May lawfully go to Dunmow, and fetch a gammon of bacon;"
in allusion to the custom of applying for the "Dunmow Flitch," a curious account of which--from a MS. in the College of Arms--will be found in the "Antiquarian Repertory"(1807, iii. p. 342). Hence originated the proverbial rhyme--
"Who fetcheth a wife from Dunmow
Carrieth home two sides of a sow."
Indeed, one French proverb has gone so far as to affirm that "Marriage is the sunset of love," one reason for this failure being the many impediments, it is argued, which in most cases, under one form or another, are certain sooner or later to militate against the harmony of the marriage state. An obstacle, for instance, to married happiness is the mother-in-law, for as the oft-quoted rhyme says:--
"Of all the old women that ever I saw,
Sweet bad luck to my mother-in-law."
The New Forest folks say, "There is but one good mother-in-law, and she is dead;" which is the same as the German proverb, "There is no good mother-in-law but she that wears a green gown," i.e., covered with the grass of the churchyard; or, as another version has it, "The best mother-in-law is she on whose gown the geese feed."
Among further illustrations of the same old belief, it is said that "Mother-in-law and daughter-in-law are a tempest and hailstorm;" and the Dutch say, "The husband's mother is the wife's devil." Accordingly, the Spanish say of a girl who has no relatives by marriage, "She is well married who has neither mother-in-law nor sister-in-law by a husband." This, indeed, would seem to be the testimony of all ages and countries, which, as it has been pointed out, is all the more remarkable, because "the mother-in-law remembers not that she was once herself a daughter-in-law."
Marriage not infrequently brings want, for we are told that even "A wee house has a wide throat," and "A poor wedding is a prologue to misery." "It is easier to build two chimneys than to maintain one"--that is, it is easier to
build two chimneys than keep one wife runs another old saw, and the Portuguese say, "Marry, marry, and what about the housekeeping?" for, as our proverb says:--
"Want makes strife
'Twixt man and wife,"
which is another form of the well-known couplet:--
"Nothing agreeth worse
Than a lady's heart and a beggar's purse;"
since, as the proverb goes, "Haste makes waste, and waste makes want, and want makes strife between the goodman and his wife." But there is some consolation in the fact handed down by the wise men of old, "He's that needy when he is married, shall be rich when he is buried." Despite, however, what proverbial literature may have to say respecting marriage we must not forget the old belief that "Marriage is destiny," a piece of fatalism to which, it may be remembered, Shakespeare alludes:--
"The ancient saying is no heresy,
Hanging and wiving go by destiny."
This notion is very old, and in the "Schole-hous of Women," published in 1541, we find it thus noticed:--
"Truely some men there be
That live always in some great honour,
And say it goeth by destiny,
To hang or wed: both hath but one hour."
Heywood, in his "If you Know not Me," etc. (1605), says "Everyone to his fortune as men go to hanging." It is, too, the same as the Scottish adage, "Hanging gangs by hap;" but, as Hazlitt remarks, "that polite nation has agreed to omit the other portion, perhaps as implying an incicility to the fair sex."
Another form of the same piece of folk-lore is the popular English saving, "Marriages are made in heaven;" or, as the French version has it, "Marriages are written in heaven;" the meaning being, as Kelly says, "that it is not forethought, inclination, or mutual fitness that has the largest share in bringing man and wife together; more efficient than all these is the force of circumstances, or what people vaguely call chance, fate, fortune, and so forth." We find the same belief prevalent in Italy, and it is equivalent to the Scotch adage: "A man may woo where he will, we must wed where he's weird"--that is, where he is fated to wed. The Irish also have a proverb that "Marriage comes unawares, like a soot-drop;" wherein, as it has been pointed out by a correspondent of Notes and Queries, there is "an allusion to the rain finding its way through the thatch, blackened by the smoke of the peat fires;" a similar version of which we find elsewhere:--
"In time she comes whom God sends."
If it be true that marriages are made in heaven, an old humorous proverb adds this rider: "If marriages are made in heaven, you have but few friends there."
Since marriage, however, as already stated, is an indispensable necessity, proverb-philosophers have framed a host of curious maxims for the guidance of those desirous of taking what they hold to be the fatal step. Thus a young lady is reminded that she had--
"Better be an old man's darling
Than a young man's warling;"
or, as modern collections of proverbs read, for "warling," "snarling;" another version running thus: "Better have an old man to humour than a young man to break your heart." And, alluding to young wives, we may quote a Dutch proverb--
"Two cocks in one house, two cats and a mouse,
And an old man and a young wife are always in strife;"
a version of which we find among the Hindu proverbs--
"Two cats and one mouse, and rival wives in a house,
And two dogs with one bone, can never get on together;"
to which must be added the solemn German warning: "A young wife is an old man's post-horse to the grave;" or, as another version puts it: "An old man who marries a young woman gives an invitation to death."
Indeed, the proverbial lore of most countries is to the same effect, the well-known adage reminding us that "crabbed age and youth cannot live together." Even the Sindhi maxim is similar: "No use marrying an old man and wasting life, for while wheat crops are being reaped he would break down;" with which we may compare the familiar maxims, "Grey and green make the worst medley," and "An old man who weds a buxom young maiden bids fair to become a freeman of Buckingham"--that is, a Cuckold.
There is something like it in Scotland, where it is said, "His auld brass will buy her a new pan," spoken of young girls who marry wealthy old men, meaning that when the husband dies his money will help her to a younger one, an allusion to which occurs in the "Tea Table Miscellany"--
"Though auld Rob Morris be an elderly man,
Yet his auld brass it will buy you a new pan;
Then, daughter, you shouldna be so ill to shoo,
For auld Rob Morris is the man you maun loo."
The selection of one of the fair sex for the married state has been made the subject of special warning, and we are told that "He has great need of a wife that marries mamma's darling," and "He that goes a great way for a wife is either cheated, or means to cheat."
Conventional marriages have found no favour in proverbial wisdom, for, as the old adage runs--
"Wedlock without love, they say,
Is but a lock without a key."
The best advice, on the whole, is that of the Arabic proverb, "Marry the girl of a good family though she be seated on a mat, very poor." Again, there is an old saving, "Go down the ladder when thou marriest a wife; go up when thou choosest a friend;" for, as another proverb explains it, "Marry above your match and you get a master." This is undoubtedly true, and, as they say in France, "Who taketh a wife for her dower turns his back on freedom;" the Spanish equivalent being, "In the rich woman's house she commands always and he never."
In the choice of a wife, it has long been proverbially held that matrimony has the most chance of success where equals join with equals, or, as the well-known adage expresses it, "Like blood, like good, like age, make the happiest marriages." And there is the Italian saying, "Take a vine of a good soil and a daughter of a good mother."
And, since in marriage "A man hath tied a knot with his tongue that he cannot untie with all his teeth," he is enjoined to be wise, and "in wiving and thriving to take counsel of all the world;" and in an old work, entitled "The Countryman's New Commonwealth," published in 1647, this advice is given:--
"In choice of a virtue let virtue be thy guide,
For beauty's a blossom that fadeth like pride;
And wealth without wisdom will waste far away:
If chaste thoughts be lacking, all soon will decay."
Among further items of proverbial wisdom we are told that, in the choice of a woman, "It is better to marry a quiet fool than a witty scold," although, according to another adage, "It is better to marry a shrew than a sheep"--a sheep being a woman without individuality or will of her own--a nonentity. Thus, in the old play of "Tom Tyler and his Wife," one of the songs says:--
"To marry a sheep, to marry a shrew,
To meet with a friend, to meet with a foe:
These checks of chance can no man flie
But God Himself that rules the skie."
And when it is remembered that--
"The best or worst to Man for his life,
Is good or ill--choosing his good or ill wife"--
it is no matter of surprise that he is warned to be prudent, for, as the old proverb already quoted runs--
"Who weds ere he be wise,
Shall die ere he thrive."
Chinese folk-lore contains much proverbial wisdom relative to women and marriage, much of which, if not always instructive, is amusing. Thus, it is said, "If heaven wants to rain, or your mother to marry again, nothing can prevent them;" and, according to a popular rhyme--
"In the great majority of cases,
Wives have fair and husbands ugly faces;
Yet there are many on the other side
Where the man is bound to an ugly bride."
Again, it is said, "A talented bridegroom is sometimes married to a worthless bride, and a clever woman is sometimes matched with a dolt"--an aphorism, indeed, which is found in the proverbial literature of most countries; a Hindustani proverb warning the fair sex that "A clever maid married to a fool sorrows." On the other hand, where a young girl is about to be married, if the family on either side is agreeable to the union of the two, it is considered a matter for congratulation, for, as the Chinese proverb runs--
"Marriages, when properly negotiated,
Cause neither family to be aggravated;"
and, on this account, a young lady's parents are thus enjoined:--
"In betrothing a daughter to any young man,
Very careful inquiry's the only safe plan;"
or, as another version has it, "In marrying a daughter select an excellent son-in-law," and the reason for taking this precaution is given in another admonitory proverb:--
"The bride that is linked to a worthless groom
Is like a man burried in a luckless tomb."
And, it may be added, it is also said, "In marrying a son seek a virtuous maiden, and scheme not for a rich dowery."
The bait of money as an inducement to matrimony has always been condemned, for, as the Dutch say--
"Who weds a sot to get his lot,
Will lose the cot and get the sot."
But perhaps some of the strictest warnings are to be found in the Sanskrit folk-tales and proverbs, in which only too often women are pictures in a far from favourable light, one reason, we are told, being that even marriage does not satisfy a woman's vanity, which is never satisfied. Accordingly, it is said, "The fire is never satisfied with the addition of fuel, the ocean with the influx of rivers, the Angel of Death with the morality of all things which hath seen life, nor a beautiful woman with the conquest of all mankind;" and, it is added, "Women will forsake a husband who is possessed of every good quality--reputable, comely, good, obsequious, rich, and generous--to steal to the company of some wretch who is destitute of every accomplishment and virtue." And yet, however much the advisability of marriage, in most countries, may be questioned, the Chinese adage must be allowed to pass without contradiction:--
"For wives your sons are longing, your maids for husbands call;
This is the one arena in which strive one and all;"
to which may be added the Talmud proverb, which runs thus: "God did not make woman from man's head, that she should not rule over him; nor from his feet, that she should not be his slave; but from his side, that she should be near his heart;" and, as it is said in Russian proverbial lore, "All meat is to be eaten, all maids to be wed."