(selected essays)

                     TOM PRY'S WIFE

YOU say you were diverted with my description of the "Curious
Man."  Tom is in some respects an amusing character enough,
but then it is by no means uncommon.  But what power of
words can paint Tom's wife?  My pencil faulters while I
attempt it.  But I am ambitious that the portraits should
hang side by side: they may set off one another.  Tom's passion
for knowledge in the pursuit is intense and restless, but when
satisfied it sits down and seeks no further.  He must know all
about everything, but his desires terminate in mere science.
Now as far as the pure mathematics, as they are called, transcend
the practical, so far does Tom's curiosity, to my mind, in
elegance and disinterestedness, soar above the craving, gnawing,
mercenary (if I may so call it) inquisitiveness of his wife.
    Mrs. Priscina Pry must not only know all about your private
concerns, but be as deeply concerned herself for them: she will
pluck at the very heart of your mystery.  She must anatomise
and skin you, absolutely lay your feelings bare.  Her passions
are reducible to two, but those are stronger in her than in
any human creature--pity and envy.  I will try to illustrate it.
She has intimacy with two families--the Grimstones and the
Gubbins's.  The former are sadly pinched to live, the latter
are in splendid circumstances: the former tenant an obscure
third floor in Devereux Court, the latter occupy a stately mansion
in May-fair.  I have accompanied her to both these domiciles.
She will burst into the incommodious lodging of poor Grimstone
and his wife at some unseasonable hour, when they are at their
meagre dinner, with a  " Bless me!"  what a dark passage you
have!  I could hardly find my way upstairs!  Isn't there a
drain somewhere?  Well, I like to see you at your little bit of
mutton!"  But her treat is to catch them at a meal of solitary
potatoes.  Then does her sympathy burgeon, and bud out into
a thousand flowers of rhetorical pity and wonder; and it is
trumpeted out afterwards to all her acquaintance, that the poor
Grimstones were "making a dinner without flesh yesterday."
The word poor is her favorite; the word (on my conscience)
is endeared to her beyond any  monosyllable in the language.
Poverty in the tone of her compassion, is somehow doubled;
it is emphatically what a dramatist, with some licence, has
called poor poverty.   It is stark-naked indigence, and never in
her mind connected with any mitigating circumstances of self-
respect and independence in the owner, which give to poverty
a dignity.  It is an object of pure pity, and nothing else.  This
is her first way.  Change we the scene to May-fair and the
Gubbins's.  Suppose it a morning call:
    " Bless me!--(for she equally blesses herself against want and
abundance) what a style you do live in! what elegant curtains!
You must have a great income to afford all these things.  I
wonder you can ever visit such poor folks as we":--with more
to the same purpose, which I must cut short, not to be tedious.
She pumps all her friends to know the exact income of all her
friends.  Such a one must have a great salary.  Do you think
he has as much as eight hundred a year--seven hundred and
fifty perhaps?  A wag once told her I had fourteen hundred--
(Heaven knows we Bank Clerks, though with no reason to
complain, in few cases realise that luxury)--and the fury of
her wonder, till I undeceived her, nearly worked her spirits to
a fever.  Now Pry is equally glad to get at his friends' circum-
stances; but his curiosity is disinterested, as I said, and passion-
less.  No emotions are consequent upon the satisfaction of it.
He is a philosopher who loves knowledge for its own sake;
she is not content with a lumen siccum (dry knowledge, says
Bacon, is best); the success of her researches is nothing, but as
it feeds the two main springs between which her soul is kept
in perpetual conflict--Pity, and Envy.




AS a single man, I have spent a good deal of my time in noting
down the infirmities of Married People, to console myself for
those superior pleasures, which they tell me I have lost by
remaining as I am.
    I cannot say that the quarrels of men and their wives ever made
any great impression upon me, or had much tendency to strengthen
me in those anti-social resolutions, which I took up long ago upon
more substantial considerations. What oftenest offends me at the
houses of married persons where I visit, is an error of quite a
different description; -- it is that they are too loving.
    Not too loving neither: that does not explain my meaning. Besides,
why should that offend me? The very act of separating themselves
from the rest of the world, to have the fuller enjoyment of each
other's society, implies that they prefer one another to all the world.
But what I complain of is, that they carry this preference so
undisguisedly, they perk it up in the faces of us single people so
shamelessly, you cannot be in their company a moment without
being made to feel, by some indirect hint or open avowal, that
you are not the object of this preference. Now there are some
things which give no offence, while implied or taken for granted
merely; but expressed, there is much offence in them. If a man
were to accost the first homely-featured or plain-dressed young
woman of his acquaintance, and tell her bluntly, that she was
not handsome or rich enough for him, and he could not marry
her, he would deserve to be kicked for his ill manners; yet no
less is implied in the fact, that having access and opportunity
of putting the question to her, he has never yet thought fit to
do it. The young woman understands this as clearly as if it
were put into words; but no reasonable young woman would
think of making this the ground of a quarrel. Just as little right
have a married couple to tell me by speeches, and looks that
are scarce less plain than speeches, that I am not the happy
man, the lady's choice. It is enough that I know I am not: I
do not want this perpetual reminding.
    The display of superior knowledge or riches may be made
sufficiently mortifying; but these admit of a palliative. The
knowledge which is brought out to insult me, may
accidentally improve me; and in the rich man's houses
and pictures, -- his parks and gardens, I have a temporary
usufruct at least. But the display of married happiness has
none of these palliatives: it is throughout pure, unrecompensed,
unqualified insult.
    Marriage by its best title is a monopoly, and not of the least
invidious sort. It is the cunning of most possessors of any
exclusive privilege to keep their advantage as much out of
sight as possible, that their less favoured neighbours, seeing
little of the benefit, may the less be disposed to question the
right. But these married monopolists thrust the most obnoxious
part of their patent into our faces.
    Nothing is to me more distasteful than that entire complacency
and satisfaction which beam in the countenances of a new-married
couple, -- in that of the lady particularly: it tells you, that her lot is
disposed of in this world: that you can have no hopes of her. It is
true, I have none; nor wishes either, perhaps: but this is one of
those truths which ought, as I said before, to be taken for granted,
not expressed.
    The excessive airs which those people give themselves, founded
on the ignorance of us unmarried people, would be more offensive
if they were less irrational. We will allow them to understand the
mysteries belonging to their own craft better than we who have
not had the happiness to be made free of the company: but their
arrogance is not content within these limits. If a single person
presume to offer his opinion in their presence, though upon the
most indifferent subject, he is immediately silenced as an
incompetent person. Nay, a young married lady of my
acquaintance, who, the best of the Jest was, had not changed
her condition above a fortnight before, in a question on which
I had the misfortune to differ from her, respecting the properest
mode of breeding oysters for the London market, had the
assurance to ask with a sneer, how such an old Bachelor as
I could pretend to know any thing about such matters.
But what I have spoken of hitherto is nothing to the airs
which these creatures give themselves when they come,
as they generally do, to have children. When I consider
how little of a rarity children are, -- that every street and
blind alley swarms with them, -- that the poorest people
commonly have them in most abundance, -- that there
are few marriages that are not blest with at least one of
these bargains, -- how often they turn out ill, and defeat
the fond hopes of their parents, taking to vicious courses,
which end in poverty, disgrace, the gallows, &c. --
I cannot for my life tell what cause for pride there can
possibly be in having them. If they were young phoenixes,
indeed, that were born but one in a year, there might be
a pretext. But when they are so common --
I do not advert to the insolent merit which they assume
with their husbands on these occasions. Let them look
to that. But why we, who are not their natural-born
subjects, should be expected to bring our spices, myrrh,
and incense, -- our tribute and homage of admiration,
-- I do not see.
"Like as the arrows in the hand of the giant, even so are
the young children:" so says the excellent office in our
Prayer-book appointed for the churching of women.
"Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them:"
So say I; but then don't let him discharge his quiver
upon us that are weaponless ; -- let them be arrows,
but not to gall and stick us. I have generally observed
that these arrows are double-headed: they have two
forks, to be sure to hit with one or the other. As for
instance, when you come into a house which is full
of children, if you happen to take no notice of them
(you are thinking of something else, perhaps, and
turn a deaf ear to their innocent caresses), you are
set down as untractable, morose, a hater of children.
On the other hand, if you find them more than usually
engaging, if you are taken with their pretty manners,
and set about in earnest to romp and play with them,
some pretext or other is sure to be found for sending
them out of the room: they are too noisy or boisterous,
or Mr. -- does not like children. With one or other of
these forks the arrow is sure to hit you.
I could forgive their jealousy, and dispense with toying
with their brats, if it gives them any pain; but I think it
unreasonable to be called upon to love them, where I
see no occasion, -- to love a whole family, perhaps,
eight, nine, or ten, indiscriminately, to love all the pretty
dears, because children are so engaging.
I know there is a proverb, "Love me, love my dog:" that
is not always so very practicable, particularly if the dog
be set upon you to tease you or snap at you in sport. But
a dog or a lesser thing -- any inanimate substance, as a
keep-sake, a watch or a ring, a tree, or the place where
we last parted when my friend went away upon a long
absence, I can make shift to love, because I love him,
and any thing that reminds me of him; provided it be in
its nature indifferent, and apt to receive whatever hue
fancy can give it. But children have a real character and
an essential being of themselves: they are amiable or
unamiable per se; I must love or hate them as I see
cause for either in their qualities. A child's nature is too
serious a thing to admit of its being regarded as a mere
appendage to another being, and to be loved or hated
accordingly: they stand with me upon their own stock,
as much as men and women do. O! but you will say,
sure it is an attractive age, there is something in the
tender years of infancy that of itself charms us. That
is the very reason why I am more nice about them.
I know that a sweet child is the sweetest thing in nature,
not even excepting the delicate creatures which bear them;
but the prettier the kind of a thing is, the more desirable
it is that it should be pretty of its kind. One daisy differs
not much from another in glory; but a violet should look
and smell the daintiest. -- I was always rather squeamish
in my women and children.
    But this is not the worst: one must be admitted into their
familiarity at least, before they can complain of inattention.
It implies visits, and some kind of intercourse. But if the
husband be a man with whom you have lived on a friendly
footing before marriage, if you did not come in on the
wife's side, -- if you did not sneak into the house in her train,
but were an old friend in fast habits of intimacy before their
courtship was so much as thought on, -- look about you
-- your tenure is precarious -- before a twelve-month
shall roll over your head, you shall find your old friend
gradually grow cool and altered towards you, and at last
seek opportunities of breaking with you. I have scarce a
married friend of my acquaintance, upon whose firm faith
I can rely, whose friendship did not commence after the
period of his marriage. With some limitations they can
endure that: but that the good man should have dared
to enter into a solemn league of friendship in which they
were not consulted, though it happened before they knew him,
-- before they that are now are man and wife ever met,
-- this is intolerable to them. Every long friendship, every
old authentic intimacy, must he brought into their office to
be new stamped with their currency, as a sovereign Prince
calls in the good old money that was coined in some reign
before he was born or thought of, to be new marked and
minted with the stamp of his authority, before he will let
it pass current in the world. You may guess what luck
generally befalls such a rusty piece of metal as I am in
these new mintings.
    Innumerable are the ways which they take to insult and
worm you out of their husband's confidence. Laughing
at all you say with a kind of wonder, as if you were a
queer kind of fellow that said good things, but an oddity,
is one of the ways -- they have a particular kind of stare
for the purpose -- till at last the husband, who used to
defer to your judgment, and would pass over some
excrescences of understanding and manner for the sake
of a general vein of observation (not quite vulgar) which
he perceived in you, begins to suspect whether you are
not altogether a humorist, -- a fellow well enough to have
consorted with in his bachelor days, but not quite so
proper to be introduced to ladies. This may be called
the staring way; and is that which has oftenest been put
in practice against me.
    Then there is the exaggerating way, or the way of irony:
that is, where they find you an object of especial regard
with their husband, who is not so easily to be shaken from
the lasting attachment founded on esteem which he has
conceived towards you; by never-qualified exaggerations
to cry up all that you say or do, till the good man, who
understands well enough that it is all done in compliment
to him, grows weary of the debt of gratitude which is due
to so much candor, and by relaxing a little on his part, and
taking down a peg or two in his enthusiasm, sinks at length
to that kindly level of moderate esteem, -- that "decent
affection and complacent kindness" towards you, where
she herself can join in sympathy with him without much
stretch and violence to her sincerity.
    Another way (for the ways they have to accomplish so
desirable a purpose are infinite) is, with a kind of innocent
simplicity, continually to mistake what it was which first
made their husband fond of you. If an esteem for something
excellent in your moral character was that which riveted
the chain which she is to break, upon any imaginary discovery
of a want of poignancy in your conversation, she will cry,
"I thought, my dear, you described your friend, Mr. -- as
a great wit." If, on the other hand, it was for some supposed
charm in your conversation that he first grew to like you,
and was content for this to overlook some trifling irregularities
in your moral deportment, upon the first notice of any of
these she as readily exclaims, "This, my dear, is your good
Mr. ----." One good lady whom I took the liberty of
expostulating with for not showing me quite so much respect
as I thought due to her husband's old friend, had the candour
to confess to me that she had often heard Mr. -- - speak of
me before marriage, and that she had conceived a great
desire to be acquainted with me, but that the sight of me had
very much disappointed her expectations; for from her
husband's representations of me, she had formed a notion
that she was to see a fine, tall, officer-like looking man
(I use her very words); the very reverse of which proved
to be the truth. This was candid; and I had the civility not
to ask her in return, how she came to pitch upon a standard
of personal accomplishments for her husband's friends
which differed so much from his own; for my friend's
dimensions as near as possible approximate to mine; he
standing five feet five in his shoes, in which I have the
advantage of him by about half an inch; and he no more
than myself exhibiting any indications of a martial character
in his air or countenance.
    These are some of the mortifications which I have
encountered in the absurd attempt to visit at their houses.
To enumerate them all would be a vain endeavour:
I shall therefore just glance at the very common impropriety
of which married ladies are guilty, of treating us as if we
were their husbands, and vice versa -- . I mean, when
they use us with familiarity, and their husbands with ceremony.
Testacea, for instance, kept me the other night two or three
hours beyond my usual time of supping, while she was fretting
because Mr. -- did not come home, till the oysters were all
spoiled, rather than she would he guilty of the impoliteness
of touching one in his absence. This was reversing the point
of good manners: for ceremony is an invention to take off the
uneasy feeling which we derive from knowing ourselves to
be less the object of love and esteem with a fellow-creature
than some other person is. It endeavors to make up by
superior attentions in little points, for that invidious preference
which it is forced to deny in the greater. Had Testacea kept
the oysters back for me, and withstood her husband's
importunities to go to supper, she would have acted
according to the strict rules of propriety. I know no ceremony
that ladies are bound to observe to their husbands, beyond
the point of a modest behaviour and decorum: therefore I
must protest against the vicarious gluttony of Cerasia, who
at her own table sent away a dish of Morellas, which I was
applying to with great good will, to her husband at the other
end of the table, and recommended a plate of less
extraordinary goose- berries to my unwedded palate in their
stead. Neither can I excuse the wanton affront of --
But I am weary of stringing up all my married acquaintance
by Roman denominations. Let them amend and change their
manners, or I promise to record the full-length English of their
names, to the terror of all such desperate offenders in future.