Tag Archives: Victorian marriage

Folding Up the Mourning: 1891


 People are always interested in the breaking of a record, whether it be that of the steamer time across the Atlantic, or the number of days which a superfluous man can go without food and still continue his superfluity. So it is not strange that when it is announced that an Elmira young woman, twenty-four years old, has just been married for the fifth time, a demand for information concerning her should arise so loud that we cannot ignore it.

Before her marriage, two days ago, with the present incumbent, the lady’s name was Mary Mason. Space will not permit as to give her entire list of names, and thus run back to her maiden name–we can only say that her father was named Spottswood, and as Mary Spottswood she was known to her school-girl friends. She was bright and pretty, and later was well known in Elmira society.

Seven years ago, she contracted the marrying habit and has not yet been able to shake it off. A Tioga man named J. M. Coleman met Mary Spottswood and won her young heart So they were married in June, while the forward roses clambered up the veranda and peeped in the open windows at the redder roses of the cheeks of the bride. She was dressed in some sort of clinging white stuff, while the bridegroom wore the conventional black. Six months of wedded happiness rolled by, when the foolish Coleman stopped behind a vicious horse to look at the scenery. The horse knew the danger and switched his tail warningly, but still Coleman tarried and feasted his eye on the hill and dale. Then the horse kicked, and Mary Coleman put on her first mourning. But she did not wear it long, for mourning seems so out of place for a bride, especially when it is for a former husband.

Samuel Rucker, of Binghamton, came in seven months and claimed her for his own, and again the roses on the veranda envied those in her cheeks. Rucker was a butcher, and strong and healthy, and cautious as to horses, but the smallpox came, and he fell sick of it. His young wife nursed him faithfully, but one day she told the hired girl to go up stairs and to bring down the mourning. Mary Rucker was a widow after five short months of married life. But there was one slight consolation–how slight none may know–the mourning had not had time to go out of fashion.

And the same may be said of her wedding dress, for in a few more months Edwin Ailing, of Buffalo, threw himself at her feet, and hand in hand they went to the altar, while the girl packed away the mourning up stairs and the roses nudged one another in the ribs as they peeped in the window. Ailing lived a year, and it occasioned much quiet talk in the neighborhood. But one day he went into the bar to get a lemon, and a beer keg exploded and blew him through the ceiling. The faithful domestic had the mourning out before the Coroner arrived, for Mary Ailing was a widow. The dresses needed a little changing, owing to the lapse of time, but not much. And for that matter, the wedding dress had to be made over, too, because it was almost a year before Mary married again.

This time the bridegroom was named J. S. Mason, and he was from Brocton, and was a contractor. It is said that the roses did not take the trouble to peep this time, as it was becoming an old story to them, and the minister only looked in a moment and said, “Consider yourselves married,” and hurried away. The life insurance companies withdrew their policies on the life of J. S. Mason, and the honeymoon began. Fourteen months later he fell off scaffold. The fall was fatal He was five miles away from home, but in some mysterious way the hired girl felt that something was going to happen, and when the messenger came she was dusting off the mourning with a whisk broom. A dressmaker came that afternoon and fixed it over a little, putting in those high-top Gothic sleeves, and so forth, and again Mary Mason put it on.

She now announced that she should not marry again. She was still young, only twenty-two. She had always regretted leaving school so soon–she had left a year before her class had graduated–and now that she had seen her four poor, dear husbands in the only place where husbands can really be trusted, she determined to go back to school and finish the course. This she did, graduating with high honors. But after this was over the idea of marriage again occurred to her. Her schoolmates were marrying, why should not she do the same?

Joseph Armstrong, of Philadelphia, came and wooed her, and she consented. Two days ago, she became Mary Armstrong. The minister sent word that it was all right, and that he would call the next day with the certificate. The servant-girl folded up the mourning and put in some tar-camphor to keep away the moths for a few months. The bridegroom’s friends shook hands with him and sadly turned away. He is now busy arranging his business affairs. At the request of the bride he has made his will. She told him that this had been customary in the past, and he complied. New York Tribune.

The Kansas Chief [Troy KS] 2 April 1891: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  To paraphrase Mr Oscar Wilde, to lose one husband may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose four husbands looks like carelessness–or worse. Certainly one cannot blame Miss Spottswood. She seems far too young and inexperienced to engineer a skittish horse, smallpox, an exploding beer keg, and a fall from scaffolding. If the four husbands had all succumbed to gastric trouble, one might rightly look askance. One does wonder, however, about the hired girl’s prescient brushing of the mourning clothes and Mrs Armstrong’s request for the “customary” will. Perhaps the best we can say of her is that she is, to use the vernacular, a “hoodoo.”

A feature of interest in this story is the packing away of the lady’s mourning. It is widely believed to-day that Victorians thought that keeping mourning in the house after the expiration of the mourning period was unlucky. The author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, an assiduous researcher into mourning customs, has been looking into the matter and assures was pleased to find confirmation in this otherwise melancholy story of bereavement that mourning was not always immediately discarded.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdote

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.



His Third Wife: 1875

Mr. Cooley’s Third.

My neighbor Cooley married his third wife a short time ago, and the day after he came home with her his oldest boy, the son of his first wife, came into the room where she was sitting alone sewing. Placing his elbows on the table he began to be sociable. The following conversation ensued:

Boy: How long d’you expect you’ll last?

Mrs. C.: What on earth do you mean?

Boy: Why ma, she held on for about ten years. I reckon you’re good for as much as her. I hope so anyhow. I’m kinder sick of funerals. They made an awful fuss when they stowed ma away, and a bigger howl when they planted Emma. So I’d jes’ as leave you keep around awhile. But pa, he has his doubts about it.

Mrs. C.: Doubts! Tell me what you mean this instant.

Boy: Oh, nothing! On the day Emma got away, pa came home from the funeral, and when he ripped the crape off his hat he chucked it in the bureau drawer and said: “Lay there till I want you again,” so I s’pose the old man must be expectin’ you to step out some time or other. In fact, I see him conversing with the undertaker yesterday; with him, makin’ some kind of permanent contract with him, I s’pose. The old man is always huntin’ for a bargain.

Mrs. C.: You ought to be ashamed to talk of your father in that manner.

Boy:  Oh, he don’t mind it. I often hear I the fellows jokin’ him about his wives. He’s a good natured man. Anybody can get along with him if they understand him. All you’ve I got to do is to be sweet on him, and he’ll be like a lamb. Now, Emma, she used to get mad, heave a plate, or a coal scuttle, most any thing at him. And ma, she’d blow him up about 15,000 times a day; both of them would bang me till got disgusted. And pa didn’t like it. Treat me well, give me candy and money, and you’ve got pa sure. Emma used to smack me; and when pa said he was opposed to it she’d go at him with an umbrella, or flat-iron, and maul him. I guess you and me will jog along all right together, and by the time pa gets another wife I’ll be big enough not to care how many airs she puts on. What I want is time. You stick for three or four years, and then the old man can consolidate as much as he’s a mind to, and I won’t scare worth a cent. It’s only the fair thing anyway. Enough of this family’s money has been used on coffins and tombstones, and we ought to knock off for awhile. Good morning. I b’lieve I’ll go to school

Mrs. Cooley did not enjoy her honeymoon as much as she expected.

The San Francisco [CA] Examiner 8 October 1875: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Just as the nineteenth-century press made jokes about “Merry Widows” and their hunt for new husbands, the widower was shown as no less eager to remarry.


There is a good story going the rounds of Bishop Wilmer, a well-known United States divine. One of his friends lost a dearly beloved wife, and in his worry, caused these words to be inscribed on her tombstone: “The light of mine eyes has gone out.” The bereaved married within a year. Shortly afterwards the Bishop was walking through the graveyard with another gentleman. When they arrived at the tomb the latter asked the Bishop what he would say of the present state of affairs, in view of the words on the tombstone. “I think,” said the Bishop, “the words ‘But I have struck another match,’ should be added.”

Bay of Plenty Times, 24 February 1896: p. 3

Since wife-mortality was often high, due to childbirth, some husbands might be suspected of following in the footsteps of the infamous Bluebeard, with multiple wives sent to their doom. One can understand this new bride’s trepidation:


The widower had just taken his fourth wife, and was showing her round the village. Among the places visited was the churchyard, and the bride paused before a very elaborate tombstone that had been erected by the bridegroom. Being a little near-sighted, she asked him to read the inscriptions, and, in reverent tones he read:

“Here lies Susan, beloved wife of John Smith and Jane, beloved wife of John Smith, and Mary, beloved wife of John Smith.”

He paused abruptly, and the bride, leaning forward to see the bottom line, read to her horror:

“Be ye also ready.”

North Otago Times, 7 June 1913, Page 1


Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.


“Going to Lodge:” 1881

odd fellows skull and crossbones medallion

Odd Fellows fraternal organization medallion, c. 1870 http://collection.mam.org/details.php?id=1959


Secrets of a Married Man’s Lodge Room Given Away.

Wooster, O., Feb. 17. A scandal of large-sized proportions is stirring to is death the society of the eastern part of this county, and in the course of a few days will probably be ventilated in Court. At present all the particulars are conveyed from one person to another in muffled voice and hushed accents but the facts have gradually leaked out, until now the details are no longer secret.

It appears that a young married man has of late been wandering after strange gods, or rather goddesses, and although his visits were generally made late at night and carefully concealed from most intimate companions, the young wife quietly dropped on the game, and decided to satisfy herself that her suspicions were either correct or erroneous. So masquerading in male habiliments, she took the first opportunity when her liege lord said he was “going to lodge,” to follow him at a distance. After meandering up one street and down another, he was suddenly seen to pop into a house occupied by friends of the family, without even knocking for admission. The youthful wife saw all this with sorrow, and perhaps with natural indignation, for after hesitating a few moments, she stealthily approached the door and tried the latch.
To her infinite satisfaction, this door was not locked, and without pausing to announce her arrival she quickly stepped into the room, and there beheld her recreant husband and the lady of the house seated together on a lounge in an extremely embarrassing position. This was all brought to her vision by the light of the moon, but was enough. She was satisfied. And only stopped long enough to say, “You shall suffer for this, you brutes.” And then hastily departed.

Fearing intruders from another direction, the outer door had been left unfastened in case a hasty exit should be necessary, and thus the gay Lothario walked into his own trap. It is safe to say his enjoyment for that night was of brief duration, and that he was in no hurry to meet the wife of his bosom. The little town where this occurred is only a short distance from Wooster, and the parties belong to the “upper ten” in that locality and are well known throughout the county.

Repository [Canton OH] 17 February 1881: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Had the gentleman only lived in a larger metropolitan area, he could have avoided shame and exposure by using the excuse of “going to the club” or “working late at the office.”  In small-town America, the opportunities for leaving the domestic hearth in the evening were limited to the lodges of fraternal organizations such as the Odd Fellows, whose skull-and-cross-bone emblem seems to suggest the ultimate fate of the gay Lothario.


Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

The Best-Natured Woman in the United States: 1882

sleeping it off drunkard British Library

Sleeping It Off. British Library

An Angel Unalloyed.

The best natured woman in the United States lives in Austin. She has been married a number of years to a man named Ferguson, but she and her husband have never had a quarrel yet, and lie has frequently boasted that it was utterly impossible to make her angry. Ferguson made several desperate attempts to see if he could not exasperate her to look cross or scowl at him, merely to gratify his curiosity, but the more outrageous he acted, the more affable and loving she behaved.

Last week he was talking with, a friend about what a hard time he had trying to find out if his wife had a temper. The friend offered to bet that if Ferguson were to go home drunk, raise a row and pull the tablecloth full of dishes off the table, she would show some signs of annoyance. Ferguson said he didn’t want to rob a friend of his money, for he knew he would win; but they at last made a bet of $50, the friend to hide in the front yard and watch the proceedings of the convention through the window.

Ferguson came home late, and, apparently, fighting drunk. She met him at the gate, kissed him, and assisted his tottering steps to the house. He sat down in the middle of the floor, and howled out: “Confound yer ugly picture, what did you mean by pulling that chair, from under me?”

“O, I hope you did not hurt yourself. It is my awkwardness, but I’ll try and not do it again,” and helped him to his feet, although she had nothing in the world to do with his falling.

He then sat down on the sofa, and, sliding off on the floor, abused her like a pickpocket for lifting up the other end of the sofa, all of which she took good naturedly, and finally she led him to the supper table. He threw a plate at her, but she acted as if she had not noticed it, and asked him if he would take tea or coffee.

Then the brute seized the table cloth and sat down on the floor, pulling the dishes and everything else over with him, in one grand crash.

What did this noble woman do? Do you suppose she grumbled and talked about going home to her ma, or that she sat down and cried like a fool, or that she sulked and pouted? Not a bit of it. With a pleasant smile she said:

“Why, George, that’s a new idea, isn’t it? We have been married ten years and have never yet ate our supper on the floor. Won’t it be fun—just like those picnics we used to go to before we got married?” and then this angelic woman deliberately sat down on the floor along side of the wretch, arranged the dishes and fixed him a nice supper.

This broke George all up. He owned up he was only fooling her, and offered to give her the $50 to get herself a new hat, but she took the money and bought him a new suit of clothes and a box of cigars. Heaven will have to be repaired and whitewashed before it is fit for that kind of a woman.—Galveston News.

Bennington [VT] Banner 7 September 1882: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil is filled with admiration for the patience and forbearance of the sorely-tried Mrs Ferguson. It is always prudent for a wife to be meek and smiling and endlessly agreeable to her Lord and Master, as it will eliminate her as a suspect when the drunken brute is poisoned by a particularly nice pie.



Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

A Valentine Prospectus: 1871

cupid sweeping up love letters The Carolyn Wells year book 1909 1908

Sweeping up on the Stock Exchange floor.

We transcribe, as a tail-piece, a singular valentine, in the shape of a prospectus of a public company in full working order, which was actually received last year by a worthy knight and gallant soldier, who, now a veteran, has left his blood in nearly every quarter of the habitable and inhabitable globe. The puzzles that occur in the list of “Corresponding Agents” are, it may be said with reverence, about as clumsy as they are transparent:—

valentine prospectus


valentine prospectus 2


The Dublin University Magazine, Volume 77, 1871

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  While the ideal marriage in England was a love-match, fully sanctioned by the proud, pragmatical parents, most upper-class marriages contained sordid elements of business in the form of marriage settlements and might well be framed on the order of a corporate merger. (Mrs Daffodil recalls vividly the mercenary negotiations in the case of Consuelo Vanderbilt and the 9th Duke of Marlborough.) One is shocked to find the bride-to-be in this passage referred to a “pecuniary liability.”

A lady who has a fortune at her own disposal sometimes sets all such prudential measures as settlements at defiance, and consigns herself and her belongings to the absolute disposal of her future husband. Believing, in the ardour of her affection, that no change from time or circumstances can ever alter the conduct of her devoted admirer towards herself, she resents every attempt on the part of friends to convince her of the necessity of any kind of self-protection. She is apt to infer that acts of prudence are simply acts of suspicion, and will not consent to any accordingly. That the latter course is sheer folly may be proved by every one not hopelessly under the influence of love-blindness. Far from misconstruing just measures, a really disinterested man is anxious that his bride-elect should receive every protection her guardians may judge necessary to her future welfare; at the same time it is only reasonable that the conditions imposed on himself should not be of too stringent a nature. Every man that marries undertakes a pecuniary liability, in the form of a wife, and should not be stripped of the means of meeting that liability. The higher in the social scale of society that observation is made, the more closely are honourable dealings apparent in the matter of marriage settlements.

Cassell’s Household Guide, 1869: p. 117

Mrs Daffodil notes that the address of the adored object is a German one. One supposes that the ponderous Teutonic humour amused the recipient.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.


Why the Club Disbanded: 1898

7 spinsters

The Seven Solitary Spinsters Club


When the President of the “Seven Solitary Spinsters” called the club to order at the last meeting she announced that she had a bitter declaration to make.

“One of our number,” she said, “has proved a renegade. Agnes, our Vice-president, has confessed that she is about to become engaged. Now, ladies, what shall we do? Shall we expel her ignominiously, or—“

A shout of disapproval drowned her voice.

“Make her an honorary member,” said the remaining members.

“What’s the matter with you?” she asked, amazed. “I believe you’re all contemplating mischief of the same kind. Mme. Secretary, please hand me the list of members. Each one will please answer promptly as her name is called.”

“Alice Murray,” she continued, gazing searchingly at that young person, “are you engage?”

“Perhaps,” was the hesitating reply.

“Estelle Higgins,” was the next call, and “Yes,” came boldly in response.

“Alicia Browne,” the President called weakly, “are you engaged?”

“No,” said Alicia, but so faintly that the suspicions of the President were aroused in full force.

“Are you going to be?” she questioned again, and “I think so,” responded the tortured one.

“Malvina Emerson Stowe,” the President’s voice had a harsh ring by this time, and Malvina trembled as she admitted that she, too, was contemplating matrimony. The President made a dramatic pause. Then: “There are seven of us, or, rather, there were seven, and five have admitted their guilt. There only remains the Secretary and myself. Miss Secretary, how is it with you? Are you ‘engaged,’ or are you only going to be?”’

“I rather think I am going to be,” said the Secretary, softly.

“Then, ladies,” the President began, rising with impressive air, “The only thing to be done is to disband the club. Six of its seven members have unequivocally declared their intentions of deserting, while the seventh member, myself”—again she paused dramatically—“wishes to announce that she is ahead of you all. My wedding cards are already in the engraver’s hands, and I am to be married two weeks from Saturday.” Chicago Times-Herald.

The Record-Union [Sacramento, CA] 17 January 1898: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Well, really… if Mrs Daffodil had been there, she might have snapped the President with a wedding garter. The nerve.  Plus engraved wedding cards.  Mrs Daffodil will grudgingly grant her that. At least their recipients will have nothing to carp about as they run a fingernail over the raised lettering.

Still, Mrs Daffodil has noticed that the young folks seem to take increased pleasure in their courtships, the more surreptitiously they are conducted. There is something about sneaking out of the house on a moonlit night to meet one’s lover in the orchard that adds a certain zest not found when one’s young man is seated several inches away on the horsehair sofa in the parlour, leafing through an album of photo-gravures and making himself agreeable to the chaperone.  Indeed, without the contemplation of mischief and the thrill of secret engagements, the human race might die out altogether.

Spinsters’ Clubs were a novelty of the late-19th and early-20th century, often arising among young ladies at college and inspired by the Women’s Rights movement. One suspects that many of them quietly dispersed when their members defected into matrimony.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.


Hints to Young Men on Marriage: 1875

Remember, gentlemen, choose your wife for her thrift and industry!

Remember, gentlemen, choose your wife for her thrift and industry!

Since we recently gave young ladies advice on choosing an agreeable husband, it is only fair that the gentlemen should receive


When a young professional marries, be often fondly imagines he is acting wisely in choosing his wife from a family poorer than his own. He fancies that a young lady brought up with few luxuries will be simple in her ideas. He calculates that, having never had money to spend, she will be moderate in her expenditure; that being a poor man’s daughter, she is better fitted for the part of a poor man’s wife; and that having lived in a household supported on, say £400 a year, she will be easily able to make ends meet where there is £500. He could hardly make a greater mistake. There are brilliant exceptions, no doubt. But the girl who has never had money to spend, and who has never seen money spent, has no idea how to spend it when she has it. She thinks £500 a year a fortune. Her notions of what may be done with it are perfectly unlimited. Broughams, little dinners, an occasional box at Covent Garden, Mudie’s, a maid, lots of new dresses, gloves that need never to be cleaned or mended, all these and other visions float through her mind. She is of course very soon awakened to realities, and she is at first amazed at the rapidity with which her housekeeping allowance melted away. The regions of extras is never reached, and it is well if she does not soon get into debt with her weekly bills or forestall her Income to pay for something she has ordered without having counted the cost. A man with a small income consults his future comfort to some better purpose by choosing a wife where there is money, even If he is not to have any share of it with her. If she has seen her father give hundreds of pounds for a picture or a horse, she at least knows how much such things cost; and If, as in most families of the kind, the young: ladles have a regular allowance, she is able to tell how much will be required for dress. And how impossible It will be to have any of the things which an inexperienced wife will wish for and perhaps expect. She has also the advantage of knowing how little married happiness really depends upon such things, and how small is the gratification to be obtained from possessing them. And she probably knows that extravagance is just as fatal to £50,000 a year as to £500, and that to keep out of debt requires management, whatever the amount of annual income. Accustomed to many servants, she knows what care will be needed to get the work of even a small house done by two; and so she helps them as much as possible, will take a share in the dusting, especially of ornaments, will not hesitate to go to the hall door when they are busy. On Sunday she will receive the milk in the orthodox manner through the area rails, rather than keep the cook from performing her devotions, or taking a walk with her sweetheart. Even if she is not a good housekeeper, her servants have some consideration for her in return, and perhaps even occasionally endeavor to be saving and careful in their own departments.

London Saturday Review,  1875

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  As one whose father chose his wife on the basis of her skill in binding sheaves, Mrs Daffodil appreciates this generally sound advice, although she suspects that the declaration “even If he is not to have any share of it with her” is a touch disingenous.  As the saying goes, it is just as easy to fall in love with a rich girl as a poor one. Mrs Daffodil has observed what may ensue when a young lady from a stately home marries beneath her. It is more likely to include running to Papa for pocket money behind her lord and master’s back, and, ultimately, a separate maintenance order, than servants denying themselves to oblige their mistress.

Mrs Daffodil digresses, but thinking of considerate mistresses brought Lord Gerald and Lady Mary of Whittsend Hall to mind. After the unfortunate affair of the decapitation of the stillroom maid by a dumbwaiter in the course of a romp with George, 10th Earl of Downleigh, Mrs Daffodil was pleased to discover a suitable distant cousin to inherit the estate when his Lordship died of what the doctor diagnosed as nervous dyspepsia. The new Lord Gerald had taken a degree in agriculture and had a wife–Lady Mary– who had grown up in a great house and knew the necessary economies as well as how to repair tapestry and launder the loose covers in soapwort.  We all felt most fortunate to acquire such a charming and considerate master and mistress after the many irregularities of his late Lordship, who seems to have personally repopulated entire parts of rural Essex.

You may read the entire tale in the title story of A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. It is also available as an e-book at Barnes & Noble.

The Ghost of a Perfect Husband: 1841

Victorian widow at the grave

A widow swoons on the grave of  the best of husbands. 1846



WE often see young men in the gaiety of youth, resolve against marrying while they enjoy health and spirits; and we as often see, that some unforeseen accident disconcerts all their fine resolutions.
So it was with Julius de Mersaint. Young, rich, handsome, possessing all the advantages of life, he was positively determined, that as long as he was able to enjoy them, he would remain a bachelor. It would be time enough to think of marriage, when he was tired of amusement. In consequence of this resolution, he had courageously resisted the numerous attacks that had been made on him. The kind attentions of the mammas who had marriageable daughters; the pretty airs of the young ladies themselves, had all been met with equal indifference. But at last he met with a widow, and matters took a different turn.

A widow is a two-edged sword; the most adroit master of fence can hardly escape a wound in such an encounter. Julius thought he might trifle with the lady, and found himself in love before he was aware. He had engaged himself too far to retreat; but he found it no difficult matter to reconcile himself to his fate. “After all,” thought he, “what can I do better than to marry a woman who is young, pretty, rich, amiable, and irreproachable in her character? It is every way, an excellent match!” So the project of celibacy was given to the winds, and the lady suffered herself to be persuaded to renounce the state of widowhood.

Soon after the wedding, a friend of Julius arrived from a journey, and came to see the bridegroom. “I am glad to see you,” said the latter; “of course, you come to congratulate me.” “Not at all,” said Frederic, “you know how sincere I am. I should have advised you not to marry; but since the step cannot be recalled, I shall content myself with saying it was a very imprudent one.” “What do you mean?” exclaimed Julius; “you cannot have heard any thing against my wife.” “Oh no! by no means. During her first husband’s life, she lived chiefly in the country, and was but little seen in Paris. Since she has been a widow, and returned to society, she has not given the least occasion for slander. I am happy to do her that justice. In fact, I know no fault that can be found with her except her having been a widow. It is that fact my friend, that constitutes your imprudence.”

“Really, Frederic, I thought you had more sense. You are rather too sentimental.” “No, it is not as a matter of sentiment that I object to it. Did you know the late Mr. Doligny?” “No, I did not.” “Then you do not know who you have married.” “I know I have married a charming woman, only twenty-five years old, who is perfectly amiable, and whom, notwithstanding your odd notions, I am sure you will be delighted with; though she has had the misfortune of being a wife during four years.” “I admire the light manner in which you treat so serious an affair; you marry a woman who has come to years of discretion, without considering in the least what sort of an education she has received from her first master, or caring what responsibilities this reign of four years entails upon you.”

“Indeed, I am not afraid of the past.” “Then you know something about Mr. Doligny; you have heard what was his character, his temper, his habits.” “No, I have seen nobody who knew much about him; but there hangs his portrait in that handsome frame, look at it.” “Why, I must acknowledge that the dear deceased was not very handsome. In that point you have a decided advantage over him. Still, that may not be sufficient. There are some men who can make their wives forget their ugliness; and that very face that quiets your alarms, is perhaps exactly what ought to excite them. You do not know what a degree of complaisance, what attention, what sacrifices, the original of that portrait may have considered himself obliged to use; and depend upon it, no less will be expected from you, notwithstanding your good looks.”

“Well, I intend to be a good husband. I shall endeavour to make my wife happy; what more can be expected?” “I do not know what may be expected. But why is that portrait still there? When the reign is concluded, and the interregnum past; when the people have cried, the king is dead, long live the king, it is the usual custom to transfer the emblem of defunct royalty, either to the lumber room or the garret.” “What! a painting like that! done by one of the first masters. We preserve it as a work of art, without reference to the original, who is dead and out of the way.” “I hope you may find that he is.” “Why you do not believe in ghosts?” “I believe ghosts sometimes come when they are called, and I believe the apparition of a first husband is very apt to be in the way of the imprudent man who has ventured to take his place.”

The next day, the two friends took a ride together. On their return, Frederic requested Julius to go with him into a cemetery, saying with a solemn air, “The living ought to take lessons from the dead.” They walked through several rows of tombstones, with cypresses drooping over them, till Frederic stopped and pointed out an inscription to his friend. “Here rests John Joseph Aristides Doligny; the best of men, and the model of husbands. His inconsolable widow has raised this monument to his memory.” “That inconsolable,” observed Derville, “is an honour to you, for you have triumphed over an eternal sorrow. But the lesson to which I would call your attention, is comprised in the first line. ‘The best of men, and the model of husbands.’ Mark what I tell you, this epitaph will be repeated to you, and this funeral eulogium held up to you as a rule of conduct, from which you may not depart without exposing yourself to witness regrets, which will not be very flattering to you; and to see your wife become once more an inconsolable widow. You smile, you do not believe me?” “How can I? am I not the happiest of husbands.” “Certainly, at this period of your marriage; you may expect to enjoy your honey moon as every body else does; only in the case of a widow, this moon is sometimes curtailed of its fair proportions, and only lasts two or three weeks.” “Really, Frederic, if you were not such an old friend, I should quarrel with you.” “I should not be surprised if you did.”

Julius went home and dined alone with his wife. As he looked on her sweet face, and listened to her agreeable conversation, he thought of the ridiculous fears of his friend. “Poor Frederic,” said he to himself, “he certainly means kindly, but he is strangely mistaken?” His wife interrupted his meditations, by asking if he had not been riding out that morning. “Yes my dear, I took a ride while you were with your mother.” “And I believe you had a friend with, you.” “Yes, Frederic Derville, a charming young man.” “Charming! oh I do not doubt that. But I have heard of the gentleman; and between you and I, that intimacy is one which I think is no longer very suitable for you.” “Not suitable ? why?” “Why, do not you think that a single man has sometimes acquaintances, whom it is as well to give up when he marries?” “Certainly; but Frederic – ” “He is a singular man, and besides he has met with some adventures. He has been talked of, and his attentions have injured the characters of some ladies.” “That is to say, some ladies who had no characters to lose, have been very willing to allow his attentions; but I assure you that Frederic is a man of honour, and incapable – ” “Oh! I dare say, but I can only judge from what I hear. Mr. Frederic Derville would be an improper acquaintance for me, and you surely would not keep up any acquaintance with a person who could not be admitted into my society.” “But, my love, when you become acquainted with Frederic, you will become convinced of your prejudices.” “I shall not become acquainted with him, I assure you.” “Is it possible, Amelia? an old friend of your husband’s?” “If you choose still to consider him as such, I cannot certainly prevent it; but at least, I trust you will refrain from introducing to my acquaintance a person whose character I cannot approve.”

“I hope we are not going to quarrel so soon.” “I certainly do not wish to do so, but I must confess I did not expect so much opposition to a very reasonable request. But I have been deceived by the past.” “What do you mean?” “I mean, that when Mr. Doligny married me, he made no difficulty in giving up any of his old companions; and that the moment I had expressed my disapprobation of any person, he broke with him immediately.” Julius could not answer. The name of Doligny had proved that Frederic was not altogether mistaken: and the honey-moon, had as yet completed but half its course. The cloud, however, soon passed away from the face of the fair planet.

A little time, and this unpleasant scene was forgotten, and the bridegroom again revelled in his visions of perfect happiness, when one day his wife said to him, “My dear, winter is drawing near; have you thought of our box at the opera, and the Italian theatre?” “What box, my love?” “You know how fond I am of music.” “I know that you sing like an angel.” “Then surely, the angel must have at least once a week, a box at the opera, and the Italian theatre.” “Why, I am not quite sure that our fortune will allow of such an indulgence.” “Mr. Doligny had precisely the same income as you; and in his time, I had a box every Monday at the opera, and every Saturday at the Italian theatre.” There was the phantom of the first husband coming a second time, to disturb the comfort of poor Julius; he could not resolve to appear less generous than his predecessor, so he consented to hire both boxes. In another respect he was obliged to imitate Mr. Doligny; he saw Frederic but seldom and almost by stealth. “I do not ask you to come to our house,” said he, “I can offer you so little pleasure. We live very much alone, we see no company, – you would find us very dull.” “Don’t trouble yourself to apologize,” said his friend with a smile, “it is not you, but Mr. Doligny, who refuses to welcome me.”

M. de Mersaint was not only one of the prettiest women in Paris, but one of the best drest. The expense in that particular, was enormous. Her husband observed one day with a manner that was but half agreeable, “You appear frequently in new dresses.” “Is that a compliment, or a reproof,” asked the lady. The poor husband made no reply, and the lady continued. “Mr. Doligny always liked to see me outshine the best dressed women in company; he never thought his idol could be too much adorned.” Presently, the bills came in, and very long bills they were. That of the milliner in particular, presented a frightful amount. Julius could not refrain from expressing some surprise. “What,” cried he, “such a sum for nothing but flowers, feathers, and ribbons.” “Do you think it much?” “What do you think yourself?” “Really, I never had occasion to think about it. Mr. Doligny never made any remarks about such details. The bills were presented, and he paid them, and I heard no more about it.”

The visits of the apparition were becoming more frequent. At first, he only appeared at intervals, but he ended by taking complete possession of the house. He was always present; was brought in on every occasion, consulted in every debate, and there was no appeal from his decisions. He ruled his successor with a rod of iron. At last, he thought fit to introduce another inmate into the family, in the person of a young officer of hussars, a cousin of the lady. “I hope,” said Madame de Mersaint, “that you will treat my cousin Edward as Mr. Doligny used to do. He always considered our house as his home when he had leave of absence.” The tyranny of the ghost was really becoming insupportable; the only consolation Julius had, was to complain in secret to his friend Frederic.

“Ah!” said he to him, “you were quite right. Mr. Doligny does persecute me strangely; his epitaph is a most unreasonable rule of conduct; and I am almost worn out with the difficulty of keeping up to it.” “You would not be the first who has sunk under such a task. I have known many unlucky fellows, who like you, had thoughtlessly married widows, without knowing any thing of their past lives. Some died under the trial; the others only lived to repent; and I have heard more than one express the wish that the admirable customs of India, respecting widows, had been the fashion in France.” Sometimes Julius would make an attempt at rebellion. Then Madame de Mersaint with tears in her eyes, would turn towards the portrait, and exclaim, “Oh! my Aristides, you would not thus have afflicted me! you loved me, and made me happy!” How was it possible to resist that!

However, one evening Julius met at a ball, an old gentleman who had known Madame de Mersaint during her first marriage. “I rejoice,” said he, “to see Madame de Mersaint so happily married; she really deserved some compensation, for all she suffered with her first husband.” “Suffered, my dear sir, why he was a model for all husbands! so says his epitaph, and so his widow says. I try to replace him worthily, but I assure you it is a difficult matter: he was so good a husband as to spoil her for any other.” “My dear sir, it is all very proper for you and her to talk so, but I happened to know Mr. Doligny very well; I spent a great deal of time with them at their country house.” “A beautiful place, was it not?” “You have never been there?” “Never.” “So I perceive.” The curtain was drawn; a new world was opening to the astonished husband. He went on from one discovery to another, and found them well worth making.

Soon after, he informed his wife that he was called from home by business; he refused to answer her inquiries on the subject. “Business which I must not know! Mr. Doligny never had any secrets for me.” Julius went; and on his return, found his wife in rather an ill humour; at last she consented to make peace on one condition. “What is it?” “Take me to the waters of Baden, Mr. Doligny used often to go there with me.” “When you did not pass the summer at your delightful country house.” “Oh! if I had a country house I should like it quite as well to go there.”

“Well, I have got one for you. I wanted to give you a surprise. Make your preparations, and we will set off” “Is it far from here?” “You shall see.” The surprise of Madame de Mersaint may be imagined when she found herself driving up to her former country house. The husband certainly could never have found it out from her description. “My love,” said he, as he handed her from the carriage, “I have bought this place to please you; you know I wish to procure you all the pleasures and indulgences which Mr. Doligny delighted to lavish upon you. And I shall now find it easy to follow his example; as I find his conduct traced by your own hand in this paper.” “My own hand!” cried his wife alarmed. “Yes, my love, your own hand. I received the precious document from your lawyer, with whom I have had a conference; read it yourself.” It was a petition for a separation founded on various acts of ill-treatment, and cruelty, which this model of husbands had exercised towards his disconsolate widow; his death had prevented the affair from coming before the public. Madame de Mersaint cast down her eyes, and the phantom disappeared for ever. They returned to Paris. Julius opened his house to Frederic, who observed, “You have discovered the secret: apparitions are only to be feared in the dark.”

Godey’s Lady’s Book, December, 1841

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