Marriage: A Distraction

Sometimes I get distracted when I go to the library. Case in point: I headed to the Thomas Fisher Rare Books library at the University of Toronto to examine John Cunningham Saunders’ Anatomy of the Human Ear and ended up requesting a manuscript that I looked at a couple of years ago as part of a course assignment on marriage, settlement, and personal relations. I originally sought out Lady’s Scrapbook (1830-1833? Thomas Fisher Rare Books Library, University of Toronto, MSS 05017) with the intention of discovering what martial relations between couples in upper class England were like, but I looked at it again for no other reason but to look at it again. How much time did the couple spend together during the days? How much time did they spend with their immediate family, and what were their relationships like? How much love was expressed between a husband and wife in terms of letters, poems, and other personal sentiments?

This manuscript is a scrapbook complied by Elizabeth D. (Danscomb?) over the years 1830 to 1833 (or maybe longer). From a letter (tucked in the scrapbook) written by her brother W.D (William?) dated August 26, 1861, it is discovered that Elizabeth eventually got married and had a son and daughter. The scrapbook was perhaps complied while Elizabeth was still a young woman. In his letter, W.D expresses his relationship with his new bride as they are travelling to the Alps and viewing the scenes at Ragatz and other provinces of Germany: “I am taking advantage of today’s leisure to write to you, as according to these ___ fashionable custom of brides writing up to receive congratulations of friends, which custom is not out of date in _____, my bride is sitting up today and tomorrow to receive her friends.” In this brief sentence, we get a glimpse into Elizabeth’s relationship with her brother, and practice of including friends (and family) after marriage to join in with celebrations. Despite assumingly being on their honeymoon, W.D. heeds accordingly to this important custom of receiving friends.

In addition to the letter, the scrapbook is appendixes with two Valentine poems on a card written by Elizabeth. For whom, it is not clear, nor is there any hint as to why Elizabeth kept them. Were they meant to be given away, or was Elizabeth simply expressing her fondness for a romanticized ideal of love? “Happy birds are flying on/Rapid their wing and sweet their song/Lovely Valentines are they/So great the birds of joyous May/What better carried than the Dove/To send a verse to me of love,” begins the first card. Elizabeth was obviously very fond of poetry, in both romantic forms, and in the form of sermons. A tremendous chunk of the scrapbook is nothing more than cut-out clippings of poems, articles, and book reviews, from various magazines and newspapers (it is not recorded which ones) and glued to the pages of the scrapbook in no clear order, except for two pages. The first page contains a subtle theme of proper etiquette and expressions of bridal expectations. There is a (amusing) cut-out with the title “Matrimonial Maxims,” which is a brief guideline for a man seeking a wife:

Never marry a rich woman without rank, or a lady of rank without riches; the former will taunt you with the poverty you experience before marriage, and the later will taunt you with the poverty you feel after. If you marry a number of sisters [!], you run some risk of being the slave of the whole; and if you marry an only daughter, especially if she bears an only child, you are sure to be under the espionage of her wanting-maids, and in nine cases out of every ten, to have a pitted and peevish wife into the bargain. If you mean to be a really domestic man, never marry an ugly woman.

On the same page, there is also a clipping of a poem, the “Moorish Bridal Song,” and an article, “Advice to Young Women,” and a “The Bachelor’s Soliloquy.” The Soliloquy gives a different (somewhat comedic) perspective on how bachelorhood might be viewed on a general scale:

Yes—yes—I’ll lead a single life/(a married an is lost,)/For the dearer a wife may be,/The more the wife will cost!/Ye meddling matchmaker may try,/To wheedle me, ‘tis time;/But tho’ I’ll never match your choice,/I’ll be a match for you./Myself to you I’ll never lend,/So fret, and sigh, and groan,/For tho’ I am a single man,/I’ll prove I’m not a loan./I’ve sought all London thro’ and thro’/’Mong dames of high degree./I’ve seen a hundred pretty maids,/But not one made for me!/A bachelor I, my friends may laugh/no Benedict they’ll find me;/Free as the air I’ll live and die,/If I leave no heir behind me!

It seems strange that Elizabeth would clip an expression of the male perspective on selecting a mate, but it is probable that at this stage, she was curious about the thoughts and practices of men in claiming their loves. Maybe she was sought after by different men, or maybe none at all; maybe her family was arranging her marriage, and she wanted to know why men got married and how they chose their selection. It would be a leap to come to any viable conclusion about Elizabeth’s decision for clipping these articles, but I found it really interesting that she kept them amongst same articles and poems expressing bridal love, and proper etiquette for women.

The other organized page focused on the theme of death. There is a newspaper clipping on the death of King George and a discussion about the need to change the name “George” to “William” in the national anthem. There is also a beautifully handwritten poem by Elizabeth dated November 5, 1830: “They died—aye—they died and no things what are now/Who walks on the turf that lies over their brow/…/Your life and despondence and pleasure and pain/are seeming together like sunshine and rain.” Additionally, there is a cut out from another letter or page, of a poem written by H.K.White, titled “To Consumption”: “Gently most gently on thy ___head, consumption lay thine hand! let me decay like the ___ lamp, unseen away and softly go to the slumber with the dead.” There is also a written poem, which at first I thought was compiled by Elizabeth for a W. Peabody, but might have been complied by W. Peabody (I base this on the way she copied other poems and placed the author’s name right by the title), on the subject of death: “Thanks for the memory to thee, my lovely little boy/…/with trembling hand I ___bind thy dying eyes to close.” I originally thought Elizabeth lost a son, and this page was devoted for her grievance over his loss; it is possible she did, though the 1861 letter from her brother wishes her son well.

There is not really much to go on from Elizabeth’s scrapbook, besides receiving an insight on the perceptions of a young woman on issues of love, religion, marriage, and family. Elizabeth cut out numerous articles and poems, and during the later pages, she simply hand-copied the poems she sought out. She was a person obviously interested in literature (there’s a clipping from the Athenæum, a journal of English and foreign literature, from June 23, 1837, with a book review of Bryon’s Life and Works, Vol.VII), fine arts, and travelling (many articles/poems about Jamaica, America, Germany, etc,), and her brief clippings of marriage and love gives an interlude of how a person during nineteenth century Britain may have thought about love and marriage.

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