G. R. M. Devereux.

The Etiquette of Engagement and Marriage online

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terms of intimacy upon which he has stood. In no way must he be
discourteous either to the lady or her friends.

Slow Awakening.

A man may change his mind almost imperceptibly. He will not turn
against the woman, but he will realise that she can never be more to
him than a friend, a genial chum. The cause of this is most likely the
advent of the right woman. Force of contrast has a way of sorting
people out. He will tell his friend the truth, and she will like him
all the better for his confidence in her.

How She Accepts the Situation.

A brave, self-respecting woman will not like being left any more than
her weaker sister, but she will take the blow standing, and be able to
rejoice in the happiness of others. She will face her own sorrow alone
and will utter no sound of complaint. It is an impertinence for
acquaintances to condole with her. The sympathy of her loved ones will
be hard enough to bear. She will be perfectly loyal to the woman her
friend has chosen.

How She may give Encouragement.

There are women who leave the men very little to do in the way of
courtship. Encouragement can, however, he given in a true womanly
fashion. She can wear his flowers in preference to any others, and may
judiciously let him see that she has kept the best in water after the
dance. She will accept his escort and receive his attentions
graciously, so as to show that they are valued.

Due Reserve.

She should never bestow effusive attentions on her lover, nor boast of
his devotion to her. She may let him see that he stands well with her
without telling him that he comes first. It is good for him to see
that other men are in the running, and she must not let her feeling
for him lead her into {40} discourtesy to any one else. She can let him
do the wooing without being either haughty or capricious, for no man
likes a woman who openly runs after him.

Transparent Devices.

A nice-minded girl does not always try to detach her lover from the
rest of the company, though she enjoys a _tête-à-tête_ as much as he
does. She does not want to be sent with him on fictitious errands to
the bottom of the garden. She leaves him to find the opportunities,
and has a horror of her matchmaking relations.

How She may Ward off an Unwelcome Offer.

It is commonly agreed that a woman ought to be able to do this in the
vast majority of cases. Her own intuition is seldom at fault. Even at
the eleventh hour she may save the situation by a timely jest, a
kindly bit of inconsequence, a sudden humorous inspiration - not at his
expense, of course - and the man who is not a fool will see that it is not
the psychological moment. Above all she must avoid being alone with him.
Let her keep a child at her side, pay attention to the greatest bore,
listen with grateful patience to the most prosy person she knows, rather
than leave the ground clear for him. She should not go for moonlight
strolls, nor to look for the Southern Cross on board ship, if she really
wants to stave off his proposal. There is no need to be rude, and even
if she has to appear unsympathetic, that is better than to humiliate him
by a rejection. Some women glory over their hapless suitors as an Indian
counts his scalps. This is the height of bad taste and heartlessness.
We may be forgiven for hoping that they get left in the end themselves.



_The Question of Age - Young Lovers - Young Men who Woo Maturity - Old Men
who Court Youth - Middle-aged Lovers._

The Question of Age.

At what age should the responsibilities of the married state be
undertaken? In the best years of life if possible. Not in the physical
and mental immaturity of early youth. How can the child-wife of
seventeen fulfil all the duties of her position, and endow her child
with the needful strength for the journey of life? How can the boy of
twenty be expected to work for three without getting weary before his
day has well begun? And how can either of them really know wherein
true happiness lies? Most probably such a pair will learn to curse
their folly before they reach maturity.

But marriage should not be shelved, and driven off to the vague period
called middle-age, without excellent reason. The woman of thirty-eight
and the man of forty-five will spoil their children immoderately while
they are little, and be out of touch with them as they grow up. The
average mother of sixty is unable to keep pace with her young
daughter. The man who is nearing seventy has travelled very far away
from his son who is just starting life under present-day conditions.

The Best Age.

What is a suitable disparity between the ages of man and woman? A girl
of two- or three-and-twenty and a man of twenty-eight or thirty are my
ideal of a suitably matched couple.


Young Lovers.

"Love at twenty-two is a terribly intoxicating draft," says a writer,
and the sight of young lovers is one that softens all but the most
cynical. We smile at their inconsequence; tremble, almost, at their
rapturous happiness; yawn, it may be, over their mutual ecstasies,
still we know they are passing through a phase, they are lifted for
the time being out of the commonplace, and we make excuses.

But these blissful young people are apt to take too much for granted.
Because Doris worships Harry it does not follow that her family are to
be inflicted morning, noon, and night with his presence or his
praises. She has no right to imply that every moment spent apart from
him is wasted. She has no call to give up her share of household
duties or to forsake her own studies, just to wander about restlessly
counting the minutes till he shall come, or to spend the intervals
between his visits in dressing for his next appearance. She should not
look bored directly the conversation turns away from him, or exalt her
idol over those who have loved and cared for her since infancy.

Young Men who Woo Maturity.

There seems to be a tendency nowadays for the surplus years to be on
the woman's side. This is, in most cases, a grievous mistake. The
girls are often to blame for it. In the pride of their youth they snub
the young admirers whom they do not think worth their notice. An older
woman knows how to heal the wound thus inflicted, and with her
experience, her greater tolerance, and her charms mellowed, but not
yet faded by age, she can win passionate devotion from one of these
singed butterflies. She welcomes him with a dash of maternal
tenderness in her manner, she takes an interest in his doings and
subtly flatters his vanity, while her own heart is glad that she still
has the power to please.


He soon feels quite at home with her and grows more venturesome. She
feels her youth renewed, and they drift into {43} closer relations.
She salves her conscience with the thought that she is keeping him out
of harm's way. She makes no secret of the disparity between them,
though she may avoid the cold fact of figures. He fondly thinks she
will never grow old. Such a connection may be the salvation of an
unstable youth, especially if she does not let him marry her. She may
make a man of him, a good husband for a girl young enough to be her
daughter. She will not tell him to go and marry the girl, if she is in
earnest, as such a course would only call forth his protests of undying
devotion to herself; but she will imperceptibly let him see that she
is no mate for him, and he will think he has found it out for himself.
He may feel a little ashamed at leaving her, but she will make it easy
for him, and perhaps give a sigh of relief that she has been saved
from making a fool of herself.

The Dark Side.

For the woman who marries a man much younger than herself there is the
inevitable picture of later life to be faced. The ridicule of society
will be felt if it is not heard. The advance of age is relentless and
will make her an old woman when he is just in his prime. She may pray
for death to come and set him free, or she may paint her face and wear
a golden wig, accentuating the ruthless lines round her tired eyes;
but if they live long enough both husband and wife will suffer.

The Old Man who Courts Youth.

"The older we get the younger we like them!" was a favourite saying of
an old fox-hunting squire I used to know. There are old men who seem
to have lost but little of youth's vitality, and whom many a girl
would be proud to marry. There are others - and it seems like an act of
sacrilege to let any young life be linked to what remains of theirs.

The old man disarms suspicion by his fatherly attitude, and the
beginnings of courtship are made easy by the latitude allowed to his
years. His experience stands him in good stead. An old unmarried man
has generally either a very {44} good or a very bad reason for being
single. The girl who marries her grandfather's contemporary will
probably regain her freedom while still in her prime; but she cannot
calculate beforehand what price she will have paid for it.

The real love of an old man must have much pathos in it, and she who
accepts it must deal tenderly with it, even in her moments of
disillusion. The elderly rake who buys a young wife from entirely
selfish motives will see that he does not lose by the bargain.

Middle-aged Lovers.

No one would wish that the couple to whom love has come when youth has
passed should take their pleasure sadly, but one does look for a
self-restraint and dignity that shall be compatible with maturity.
The woman of forty-five can love perhaps more deeply than the girl of
eighteen. She can experience the full joy of being beloved; but she
only exposes herself to ridicule if she takes the public into her
confidence. It is not only bad taste to see such a one gushing over
her lover, aping the little ways of sweet seventeen and coquetting
like a kitten, telling the curious world, in fact, how rejoiced she is
to be no more "an unappropriated blessing."

Poor soul! It may be that she has put through weary years of heart
loneliness, but surely she might have learnt to hold her joy as sacred
as her sorrow. Let her smarten herself up, by all means. Her happiness
will suit nice gowns and dainty lace. Let her choose warm colours and
handsome fabrics, and shun white muslin and blue ribbons.

The Man.

The middle-aged lover may be as impulsive as a boy, and his friends
will smile, but not with the contempt they would show to the woman. He
is generally very much in earnest, even if his motive be practical
rather than romantic. He should be most careful never to hurt the
woman he has chosen by neglecting her for younger, fresher faces. He
should not suppose that she is too old to care for lover-like
attentions. No woman is ever too old for that. He should {45} not make
her a laughing-stock by talking as if she were "sweet and twenty," or
draw notice to the fact that she has passed her first youth. She will
enjoy being taken care of, being planned for, and being eased of her
burdens; but while showing her all courtesy let him give her credit
for some self-reliance, for she has managed so far to get through life
without him.



_Proposals: Premeditated, Spontaneous, Practical, or Romantic - No Rule
Possible - Tact in Choosing the Opportunity - Unseemly Haste an Insult
to a Woman - Keen Sense of Humour Dangerous to Sentiment - Some Things to
Avoid - Vaguely Worded Offers - When She may take the Initiative._

Proposals of Marriage.

The modes of making an offer of marriage are as manifold as the minds
of the men who make them. The cautious, long-headed man, whose heart
is ever dominated by his head, will think out the situation carefully
beforehand, and couch his offer in moderate and measured terms. The
impulsive lover will be carried away by a wave of emotion, and,
perhaps before he has really made up his mind, will pour out the first
passionate words that come to his lips. The clear-headed business man
will not lose sight of the practical advantages to be gained from the
union he suggests. The creature of romance will be poetic and
delightful even if utterly impossible. It may be safely said, however,
that no general rule can be laid down, and that no man ever asked this
important question exactly in the words or at the time he had
previously selected.

Tact in Choosing the Opportunity.

The great thing is to seize the auspicious moment, to strike the
responsive chord when the two minds are in harmony. A man who tries to
propose when a servant is expected to arrive with a scuttle of coals,
or when the children are just tumbling in from school, is not likely
to meet with much {47} favour. We cannot all have the momentous
question put in the witching hour of moonlight, or in the suggestive
stillness of a summer's eve, but the tactful man will know when to speak,
and how to turn dull prose into the sweetest rhythm.

Too Much Haste.

I do know of a case where two young people made acquaintance, wooed
and married in something over a fortnight. No sane man would advocate
such haste. It seems almost an impertinence for a lover to ask a woman
to give herself into his keeping when he has only just made his
entrance into her life. It must be admitted that Love defies time as
well as locksmiths. A few hours may bring kindred souls nearer to each
other than double the number of years would do in an ordinary
acquaintance. On board ship, especially in the tropics, things mature
with a rapidity seldom found ashore. Certain circumstances conspire to
hasten the happy development, and certain conditions may justify
exceptional haste. When a long separation is pending a man may be
forgiven for hurrying to know his fate; but for the ordinary
stay-at-home man to be introduced one week and propose the next is,
to put it mildly, a doubtful compliment.

Too Keen a Sense of Humour.

A momentary realisation of the comic side of things may dash the cup
of happiness from a woman's lips. An involuntary smile will be taken
for heartlessness by the man who is so terribly in earnest. A humorous
word will be little short of an insult, a jest but a proof of scorn.
His vanity, if not his heart, will receive a wound that is not lightly
to be healed. There are those who laugh from sheer nervous excitement;
let them not lose the men they love by a lack of self-control that may
be so cruelly misconstrued.

Some Things to Avoid.

The nervous, unready wooer both endures and inflicts agonies of mind
if he tries to make a verbal offer. He had {48} much better write, for
then he will at least be intelligible. The vacillating woman has no
right to let a man propose to her and then accept him just because she
cannot make up her mind to tell him the truth. She may mean to be
kind, but she only causes unnecessary pain. No woman is justified in
keeping a man in suspense while she angles for a better matrimonial
prize. No honourable offer of marriage should be rejected rudely,
unkindly, or with scorn. Let there be but few words spoken, but let
them be simple, courteous, and, above all, definite. Let him see that
you are sensible of the honour he has done you, even while you retain
the right to dispose of your heart as you think best.

Vaguely Worded Offers.

It is said that the indefinite form of proposal is in favour at
present. It would seem that, however he may elect to say it, the man
should clearly make the lady understand that he is asking her to be
his wife. She cannot very well urge him to be explicit, and, while a
modest woman might thus lose her lover, an intriguing female might
annex a man who had never intended to propose to her. The suitor
should be quite frank as to his social position and means. It may be
necessary to enter into private details of his past life. He should
not conceal anything like family disgrace from the one he is asking to
share his name.

Her Point of View.

A woman who loves will not need to be told how to answer her lover's
request. Both lips and eyes will be eloquent without a teacher. There
may be cases where a woman is justified in accepting a man for whom
she only feels liking and respect, provided she has been quite frank
with him, and he is content to have it so. If a man has the fidelity
and pertinacity to ask a woman a second or third time he may find that
the intervening years have worked in his favour; but no woman should
say Yes merely because she is tired of saying No.


When She May Take the Initiative.

Old-fashioned folk say "Never." An American writer, who calls himself
"A Speculative Bachelor," has quite another idea on the subject. He
asks: "Shall Girls Propose?" "Why is it that in the matter of
initiative a coarse, unattractive young man should have the privilege
to ask any unmarried woman in the whole world to marry him, while his
refined and much more accomplished sister must make no motion towards
any choice of her own except to sit still and wait for some other
girl's mediocre brother to make a proposal to her?"

He goes on to suggest that the practice is a survival of Asiatic
barbarism. While there is no denying the truth of the above picture,
it does go against the grain to think of a woman asking a man to marry
her. We know that ladies of queenly rank have to do it, and lose no
dignity thereby; but we are not all anxious to be royal. There is
something repellent in the idea of a direct offer of marriage coming
from a woman's lips. Indirectly, however, she may do much to further
her own happiness.

When She May Help.

A lady of high rank may take the initiative in breaking down the
barrier of social inequality which she sees is standing between her
and her lover, for a man who would be held back by such a
consideration would be worth bending to. The very wealthy woman, who
is so often wooed for her banking account, yet is well worthy to be
loved for herself, may see with secret joy that only his comparative
poverty is holding back the man of her choice, and she lets love melt
the golden barrier that is keeping them apart. The woman whose heart
has gone out to one physically handicapped in the race with his
fellows; who knows that were he as other men he would woo her with the
love he is now too noble to express, surely she may take the
initiative, and only gain in womanly sweetness by so doing? The woman
who realises that the assurance of her love and faith will impel the
man to more strenuous effort, and make his working and waiting {50}
brighter for the goal that lies beyond, may be forgiven if in her
intense sympathy she betray somewhat of her desire to crown his

A Warning.

There must be no mistake made. The wish must not be father to the
thought. She must be sure that she is beloved and desired. She must
throw out the most delicate feelers, so sensitive that they will at
once detect coldness, and withdraw into the shell of her reserve. She
must not offer herself unsought. She may not fling herself into the
arms of any man's pity.

Whether there are any women who avail themselves of the supposed
privilege of Leap Year, is a question that can only be answered by
those who possibly prefer to keep silence. It is a questionable joke
when a man says before his wife that "she married him"; but can any
self-respecting woman conceive the humiliation of having such words,
with the sting of truth in them, flung at her in the moment of passion
or with the cool contempt of scorn?



_Engagements - The Attitude of Parents and Guardians - Making it
Known - In the Family - To Outside Friends - Congratulations - The
Choice and Giving of the Ring - Making Acquaintance of Future
Relations - Personally or by Letter._


In former days Etiquette demanded that the suitor should first make
his request to the lady's parents. This may still be done with
advantage in exceptional cases, notably that of a young man with his
way still to make, but whose love and ambition prompt him to choose a
wife from the higher social circle to which he hopes to climb. In the
ordinary run of life the suitor goes first to the principal person,
and when fortified by her consent bravely faces the parental music. It
is not honourable for a man to make a girl an offer when he knows that
her parents have a pronounced objection to him as a son-in-law. So
long as she is under age, or in a dependent position, he has no right
to ask her to either deceive or defy those to whom she owes duty and

The Interview.

"Asking Papa" is often a momentous matter. Some fathers are quite
unreasonable, but the more honest and straightforward the suitor is
the better. Let him be modest, but without cringing. There should be
no suspicion that he is conferring a favour; he is rather asking a man
to give him of his best, and it is his love that emboldens him to make
the request.

He should state plainly what his income and prospects are, the
probable date at which he will be able to marry, and how he {52}
proposes to provide for his wife. He must not resent being somewhat
closely questioned before his reception into a family, and should be
ready to give all particulars respecting himself that may be required.
Parents who value their daughter do right to exercise wise forethought
before entrusting her to a comparative stranger. He should carefully
avoid any unseemly curiosity as to what marriage portion his bride
will have. Most men state plainly how their daughters will be dowered,
unless they have reason to suspect the suitor of mercenary motives.

The father in his turn owes a measure of confidence to his child's
lover, and there are some warnings that it is cruel to withhold,
notably where there is any taint of insanity in the family. In the
case of a fatherless girl the suitor must address himself to her
mother, nearest relative, or guardian.


Where consent to the engagement is refused, a man of honour and
good-feeling will abide by the decision, and not try to force his
way into a family where he is unwelcome. He need not necessarily be
fickle. Time may bring things about that will enable him, without loss
of dignity, to make another and more successful attempt.

Attitude of Parents and Guardians.

Parents are often placed in great difficulties by their daughters'
love affairs. They may refuse to countenance an engagement, but they
cannot change the minds of the young people. On the contrary,
opposition brings a sense of martyrdom which will strengthen the
misplaced affection, while with judicious indifference it might have
died a natural death. It is a question whether the affair shall go on
in secret, nominally unknown to them, or whether they shall so far
countenance it as to leave no excuse for deception. Now that so much
legitimate freedom is given to girls, I cannot think that a man is
acting honourably in wooing his love "under the rose," and exposing
her to the matter of scandal-mongers.

Where there is nothing against a man's character or {53} antecedents, if
he is able to support a wife, and the lovers are attached to each other,
it seems tyrannical for parents to refuse their consent, and thus
spoil their daughter's happiness.

Making it Known.

Once the engagement is ratified by the consent of the powers that be,
a few days should elapse before the event is made public. The lady's
parents generally give a dinner party to their most intimate friends,
or an At Home if they wish to include a larger number of guests, at
which the important announcement is made. The father or mother will
tell the news to the most important guest or nearest relation, and it
will gradually spread. Possibly the health of the happy pair may be

Friends at a Distance.

The mother of the lady writes to tell friends at a distance, but the
_fiancée_ would tell the good news to her own particular chums in an
informal way. A motherless girl must do it all for herself. The man
tells his own people and friends of his good fortune in the way that
suits him best.


There are many ways of offering good wishes to the engaged couple. A
warm clasp of the hand and a few heartfelt words are better than all
the studied elegance of phrase in the world. It is often difficult to
be quite sincere in offering our congratulations, for our friends
choose rather oddly, to our tastes, sometimes. When the choice of your
dear friend falls on your pet abomination the case is hard indeed. You
can congratulate _him_, though you want to tell him she is worlds too
good for him; but what to say to _her_ when you feel that she is
making a disastrous match is a painful problem. You can honestly wish

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Online LibraryG. R. M. DevereuxThe Etiquette of Engagement and Marriage → online text (page 3 of 9)