"Husband and wife in perfect accord are the music of the harp and and lute."--Chinese Proverb.
"IN buying horses and taking a wife," runs an Italian proverb, "shut your eyes and commend yourself to God;" and, according to an old English proverb, "One should choose a wife with the ears rather than with the eyes," for "A man's best fortune, or his worst, is his wife;" whereas another Italian proverb says that if a man would be really happy he should "praise a wife but remain a bachelor."
The fact that, in all ages, the taking of a wife has been regarded as a hazardous blessing accounts for the numerous proverbial aphorisms on the subject; for, as the Scotch say:--
"The gude or ill hap o' a gude or ill life
Is the gude or ill choice o' a gude or ill wife;"
a further version of which runs is follows:--
"Him that has a good wife no evil in life that may not be borne can befall,
Him that has a bad wife no good thing in life can chance to, that good you may call;"
the equivalent of which is found in China, "Negligent farming may induce temporary poverty, but a mistake in marrying blights a whole life." And there is another version, "When a man's vessel is upset and its masts broken, he is poor for a time; but when a man marries a bad wife he is poor for life." Indeed, since the wife is the key of the house, he is by general consent a fortunate man who alights on a good one, for-
"A little house well filled,
A little land well tilled,
And a little wife well willed
Are great riches."
"Two things doth prolong this life,
A quiet heart and a loving wife;"
whereas a bad wife, as the Germans say, "is the shipwreck of her husband."
Under a variety of forms we find this folk-rhyme current in different parts of the country, and hence, it is said, "in choosing a wife and buying a sword, we ought not to trust another." And so rarely is a good wife, we are told, to be found that, to quote an old adage, "there is one good wife in the country, and every man thinks he has wed her." On this account--
"Saith Solomon the wise,
A good wife's a great prize."
It is also said that--
"A good wife and a good name
Hath no mate in goods nor fame."
"A good wife and health
Are a man's best wealth"--
the same idea being found in the Chinese proverb, "Good tempered and careful, she's a good wife indeed two Eastern proverbs, on the other hand, reminding us that "A passionate wife is as bad as a house that leaks," and "Where there is discord it is the marriage of two corpses." Indeed, that a good wife is a man's best helpmate has been universally acknowledged, a popular proverb reminding us that "Good housewifery trieth to rise with the clock;" whereas Tusser truly says, "Ill housewifery lieth till nine of the clock." Among similar proverbs, it is said in China that "the more a wife loves her husband the more she corrects his faults;" and, on the other hand, according to a Spanish proverb, "The woman who has a bad husband makes a confidant of her maid." But when husband and wife love each other and work together, then, to quote a Dutch proverb--
"When the husband earns well,
The wife spins well."
And we may quote the Indian proverb, "A chaste wife is very bashful, and a bad one a great talker;" and there is the West Indian adage, "The husband's flour, the wife's salt," meaning that both should earn something.
On the other hand, a bad wife is the cause of a man's undoing, for it is "certain sorrow to bring a termagant wife into a house," such a man, says a Persian adage, "being tied by the neck, that is married to a bad woman;" and, as we read in "Proverbs of Hendyng":--
"Many a man singeth
When he home bringeth
His young wife:
Wist he what he brought,
Weep he mought,
Er his lif'e syth,
the equivalent of which we find in an Eastern saying, "A virtuous wife causes her husband to be honoured, a bad one brings him to shame;" and there is the Hindustani adage, "The house that has a bad wife is on the eve of ruin;" the counterpart of which occurs in Proverbs xii. 4, "A virtuous woman is a crown to her husband, but she that maketh ashamed is as rottenness to his house." Equally significant is the Persian proverb which describes a bad wife as a tree growing on the wall, i.e., like the fig tree, which undermines the wall by its roots.
And yet, if proverbial philosophy be true, "The calmest husbands make the stormiest wives." But this evidently is not always the case, for "When the husband is fire and the wife tow, the devil easily sets them in flames." But there is truth in the Tamil proverb, which belongs also to other countries, "Husbands are in heaven whose wives chide not;" with which may be compared the Spanish adage, "It is a good horse that never stumbles, and a good wife that never grumbles." A good-looking wife, it would appear, is not always a blessing, for--
"A fair wife, a wide house, and a back door
Will quickly make a rich man poor."
She is supposed to need looking after, inasmuch as he "who hath a fair wife needs more than two eyes," and "he that hath a white horse and a fair wife never wants trouble." An African proverb reminds us that "He who marries a beauty marries trouble," with which may be compared the Spanish one, "A handsome wife brings no fortune;" and a Marathi proverb repeats the same warning, "A good-looking wife is the world's, an ugly one is our own." There is some truth in the Hindustani proverb, "God protects the blind man's wife," for he cannot look after her and control her movements. Hence the warning, "Commend not your wife, wine, nor house," for fear of undue advantage being taken of the confidence, reposed in another. The Chinese, on the other hand, whilst discountenancing a good-looking wife as a blessing, have this proverb, "Ugly wives and stupid maids are priceless treasures," for there is no chance of any one running away with them; with which may be classed the German adages, "The blind man's wife needs no p
int," and "A deaf husband and a blind wife are always a happy couple." The danger of a man meddling with another man's wife-whatever the temptation offered him--has been handled in the proverbial lore of most countries, a good illustration being that contained in Hindustani maxims:--
"Better catch a serpent and suck poison,
Than have dealings with another's wife;"
and another Hindustani proverb warns us that "A fool's wife is every one's sister-in-law," implying that any one may flirt with her; whilst a West Indian proverb speaks of "another's wife as a poisonous plant." Proverbial wisdom, too, would seem to be universally agreed that no man but a fool trusts his wife to another's care, and a Marathi maxim enjoins the husband thus: "Tie up and carry with you your wife and your money;" for, as a Hindustani adage warns us, "A shameless wife dances at others' houses." But according to another Eastern proverb, "That wife is best who never goes to another's house, and fears her husband as the cow fears the butcher" for, as it is also said, "Women and children get lost by wandering from house to house."
There is a danger, too, lest a fair wife should be vain, and neglect her household duties, passing her time in seeking the admiration of the outside world, for "A woman that loves to be at the window is like a bunch of grapes on the highway." A good wife, said the wisdom of our forefathers, "is to be from her house three times: when she is christened, married, and buried," a mode of life, we are afraid, somewhat difficult of attainment. But, at any cost, the prudent man is warned by a host of proverbs that--
"A window wench, and a trotter in street,
Is never good to have a house to keep."
A wife, too, of this stamp is only too frequently idle, and indifferent to everything save their own personal attractions; and where the home is of not much account this is all the more noticeable. Hence the adage says, "Bare walls make giddy housewives," upon which Ray has this note: "Idle housewives, because they have nothing whereabout to busy themselves, and show their good housewifery. We speak this in excuse of the good woman, who doth, like St. Paul's widow, gad abroad a little too much, or is blamed for not giving the entertainment that is expected, or not behaving herself as other matrons do. She hath nothing to look upon at home. She is disconsolate, and therefore seeketh to divert herself abroad; she is inclined to be virtuous, but discomposed through poverty. Parallel to this I take to be that French proverb, 'Vuides chambres font les dames folles,' which Cotgrave thus renders, 'Empty chambers make women play the wanton,' in a different sense." In Cheshire the peasantry, speaking of a young wife
who grows idle after marriage, say, "She hath broken her elbow at the church door."
Such a wife, again, is occasionally apt to be untidy and slovenly in her habits:--
"Fair and sluttish, black and proud,
Long and lazy, little and loud;"
or, as another version has it:--
Fair and foolish, little and loud,
Long and lusty, black and proud;
Fat and merry, lean and sad,
Pale and pettish, red and bad;"
for "beauty and folly do often go hand in hand, and are often matched together." And yet, after all, it is said, "There's but an hour in the day between a good housewife and a bad," for, as Ray explains it, "With a little more pains, she that slatters might do things neatly." In other words:--
"The wife that expects to have a good name,
Is always at home as if she were lame;
And the maid that is honest, her chiefest delight
Is still to be doing from morning to night;"
which also has been expressed, "The foot on the cradle and the hand on the distaff is the sign of a good housewife." According to an old proverb, "An obedient wife commands her husband," which has its parallel in Scotland, where one may often hear the remark, "A wife is wise enough when she kens her gudeman's breeks frae her ain kirtle," which has been thus explained, "She is a good wife who knows the true measure of her husband's authority and her obedience"--a proverb which is just the reverse of the Arabian one, "The wife wears the breeches;" or, as we should say, she rules her husband. But it is generally agreed, to quote the German adage, that "There is nothing worse on earth than when the wife becomes the master," an evil which is invariably the case when a poor man marries a wealthy woman, for, as they say in Spain, "In the rich woman's house she always commands, he never." And there is the Marathi proverb to the same effect: "She manages well whose husband is a slave to her;" and another, "If the wife is bigger than the husband she will run after him with the pestle." There is, too, a similar Hindustani proverb spoken of a henpecked husband, "A man in the power of a woman dances to her like a donkey;" to which is added the warning, "Check your wife and she'll make you suffer," a further adage describing the henpecked husband as "his own wife's pupil." It is generally agreed that no greater misfortune can happen to a man than to have a wife his master, for, as a Welsh proverb which has been aptly translated tells us--
"The rule of a wife,
A daughter's ill-life,
A son that is an untaught clown
May turn the whole world upside down";
another one telling us that "Three things no credit to their owners yield, a ruling wife, lean horse, and barren field." And the German adage even goes so far as to say that, in such a case, "a man must ask his wife's leave to thrive."
An old name for a henpecked husband was "John Tomson's man," the phrase having been used by Dunbar, who, in one of his petitions to James for preferment, expresses the wish that his Majesty might for once be "John Tomson's man," the Queen being favourable to the poet's suit; and the term applied to a husband whose wife rules the roost is still "a woman's kingdom."
Although a wife's wisdom is not estimated at a very high value, the husband is enjoined not to disregard it, for, as the proverb says, "A woman's counsel is not worth much, but he that despises it is no better than he should be." The reason for this advice is, as the Germans say, "that summersown corn and women's advice turn out well once in seven years," and, on this account, the opportunity, however remote, of its proving advantageous should not be thrown away. A Servian proverb says that "It is sometimes right even to obey a sensible wife," in illustration of which Kelly gives the following humorous little anecdote: A Herzegovinian once asked a kadi whether a man ought to obey his wife, whereupon the kadi answered that there was no occasion to do so. The Herzegovinian then continued, "My wife pressed me this morning to bring thee a pot of beef suet, so I have done well in not obeying her." Then said the kadi, "Verily, it is sometimes right even to obey a sensible wife."
We find various qualifications, however, in the matter of following a wife's counsel, one proverb saving, "Take your wife's first advice, not her second," the reason assigned being that "Women are wise offhand, and fools on reflection." But perhaps the best rule is this, "In the husband wisdom, in the wife gentleness," for it is said, according to the Talmud maxim, "Even though thy wife be little, bow down to her in speaking;" in other words, be kind to her and do nothing without her advice; and the Chinese have a proverb much to the same effect:--
"A good man will not beat his wife,
A good dog will not worry a fowl."
And the Russian proverb tells us that the wife ought to be treated with due respect, for "She is not a guitar, which, having done playing with, the husband hangs on the wall." An Eastern proverb offers different advice when it says, "Beat a bullock every other furrow, and a wife every other day."
According to a popular adage, "Wife and children are bills of charge," and "A fair wife without a fortune is a fine house without furniture;" and, on the other hand, it is said that "A poor man's wife is alway's underrated." It is frequently said, too, that an extravagant wife makes even a rich man poor, which reminds us of the gipsy's rhyme:--
"A man may spare,
And still be bare,
If his wife be nowt, if his wife be nowt;
But a man may spend,
And have money to lend,
If his wife be owt, if his wife be owt."
But there is the reverse side of the picture, an illustration of which we may take from Hindustani proverbial lore, which, speaking of the extravagant husband, says, "My lord is a dandy abroad, but at home there is a dragged tailed wife;" "Abroad my lord goes in gorgeous array, with a naked wife at home;' and "Abroad he is my lord governor, at home lies a victim of fate," that is, "she is a poor, miserable creature." But when a man is rich, and is liberal to his wife, the case is different, for a world-wide adage says, "A rich man's wife is always respected;" and hence "A house well furnished makes a good housewife." Gossiping wives are to be avoided, for, as an Eastern proverb says, "The gadding wife will see a snake in the fire," that is, will make any excuse to run out; and as the Yorkshire peasantry are wont to say, "A rouk-town's seldom a good housewife at home," a "rouk-town" being a nickname for a gossiping housewife who spends her time in going from house to house. Similarly, there is a Sinhalese proverb to this effect, "You must get a talkative wife if you wish to receive slaps on the face from every one," for she is sure, sooner or later, to make mischief; and an old English proverbial phrase reiterates the same warning:--
"A young wife and a harvest goose,
Much cackle will both;
A man that hath them in his clos [possession]
He shall rest wroth."
The Chinese say, "A young wife should be in her house but a shadow and an echo." And this trait of woman's character is viewed in no favourable way in proverbial lore, for a Suffolk aphorism defines a young lady who is over inquisitive as being "fond of gape-seed," that is, staring at everything that passes.
Incidental allusions have been made to indiscreet selection of wives, and it is said that he who marries for love without money will have good nights and sorry days; and, on the other hand, the following folk-rhyme tells only too often the experience of many:--
"Sorrow and an evil life,
Maketh soon an olf wife."
According to another rhyme, we are told how he--
"Who builds his house of sallows,
And pricks his blind horse over the fallows,
And suffereth his wife to go seek hallows,
Is worthy to be hanged on the gallows."
And once more:--
"He that hath a good neighbour hath a good morrow,
He that hath a shrewd wife hath much sorrow,
He that fast spendeth must needs borrow,
But when he must pay again there is all the sorrow."
A man who takes to himself a wife is warned against expecting that he will have nothing but success, for, as it is said--
"A man may not wive,
And also thrive,
And all in a year."
That the wife who has a grievance will be sure to make it known is exemplified in such adages as the following: "She that marries ill never wants something to say for it;" or, as another one puts it, "She that hath an ill husband shows it in her dress;" and again, "Women, priests, and poultry have never enough." There are many curious folk-rhymes of a descriptive character, of which the following is a specimen:--
"A baker's wife may bite of a bun,
A brewer's wife may drink of a tun,
A fishmonger's wife may feed of a conger,
But a serving man's wife may starve for hunger."
Among some of the many other wise sayings, we are told in Scotland, "Better the mother wi' the pock than the faither wi' the Jack," the meaning being, says Kelly, that "the mother, though in a low condition, will be more kindly to, and more careful of, orphans, than the father can be, though in a better." And yet, after all, despite all their faults:--
"Wives must be had,
Be they good or bad."
For, as the Chinese say, "Husband and wife in perfect concord are like the music of the harp and lute;" and again, "A man without a wife has a home without a mistress; and a woman without a husband is an unprotected being;" or, as another version has it, "A woman without a husband is like the sind of the river," the German form being, "A woman without a husband, a house without a foundation." It is, too, further said that "The beauty of a woman without a husband is in vain;" and conversely, "A man without a wife is a house without a roof." There are many forms of this proverbial piece of wisdom, the following being found among Hindustani proverbs: "Without a wife the house doth howl;" "Without a wife the house is the abode of the devil;" but "With a wife the house doth joy;" and "the death of the wife is ruin to the house;" and, once more, "With the housewife the house is lively, without the housewife the house is dull;" and, according to a Marathi proverb, "The husband is the life of the woman."
Some of the proverbial experiences relative to second wives are amusing and instructive, an old maxim observing that "the man who has taken one wife deserves a crown of patience, the man who has taken two deserves two crowns of pity;" but a German proverb takes a different view, "A man who marries a second time deserves not to have lost his first wife," and adds, "To marry once a duty, twice a folly, thrice it's madness."
Spanish lore tells us that "the first wife is a broom, the second a lady;" which is much the same as the German adage, "the first wife is a servant, the second a lady." Among Kashmiri proverbs, too, we find much the same opinion expressed:--
"The first wife is as jasmine and income;
The second wife swears hourly by your name;
The third wife cuts bridges, great and small;
The fourth wife--there is no one like her for all manner
of wickedness. She is a hopeless character."
The Italians, who have an extensive collection of proverbs relating to the choice of wives, many of which are very humorous, say that "the first wife is matrimony, the second company, the third heresay;" in Germany a young wife is often reminded of the proverb, "The jealousy of the wife is the path to divorce."
It was a popular belief that the features of those who have been long married assimilate, and become like each other--a pretty idea thus described by the late Lord Tennyson:--
"But that God bless thee, dear--who wrought
Two spirits to one equal mind,
With blessings beyond hope or thought,
With blessings which no words can find;"
and which Sir Walter Scott, in his " Lay of the Last Minstrel," has thus noticed:--
"It is the secret sympathy,
The silver link, the silken tie,
Which heart to heart, and mind to mind,
In body and in soul can bind "--
a widespread fragment of folk-lore which has found its way into many an old romance and legendary tale; and a further pretty illustration of which we quote from Moore's "Loves of the Angels"--
"Whose hearts in every thought are one,
Whose voices utter the same wills,
Answering, as echo doth, some tone
Of fairy music 'mong the hills,
So, like myself, we seek in vain
Which is the echo, which the strain."
And we may quote the Spanish adage, "Observe the face of the wife to know the husband's character;" and contrariwise a Marathi proverb puts it, the most important point in home-life is the character of the wife, for "if the wife be sensible there will be good management, if not there will be ruin." And again, the Hindu proverb, of which there are sundry versions elsewhere, says, "patience, rectitude, friend, and wife, all four are tested by calamity," for, speaking of the average wife, it is added, " She loves and she serves, but in the time of need she's off."