From Diane’s Antique Book Collection
A visit to the Etiquette instructor . . . 19th Century COURTSHIP AND MARRIAGE – Part 3
Encouraging the Address of a Gentleman. If you encourage the addresses of a deserving man, behave honorably and sensibly. Do not lead him about as if in triumph; nor take advantage of the ascendency which you have gained by playing with his feelings. Do not seek for occasions to tease him, that you may try his temper; neither affect indifference; nor provoke lovers’ quarrels, for the foolish pleasure of reconciliation. On your conduct during courtship will very much depend the estimation in which you will be held by your husband in after life.
Proposal of Marriage. The mode in which the avowal of love should be made, must of course, depend upon circumstances. It would be impossible to indicate the style in which the matter should be told. The heart and the head – the best and truest partners – suggest the most proper fashion. Station, power, talent, wealth, complexion; all have much to do with the matter; they must all be taken into consideration in a formal request for a lady’s hand. If the communication be made by letter, the utmost care should be taken that the proposal be clearly, simply, and honestly stated. Every allusion to the lady should be made with marked respect. Let it, however, be taken as a rule that an interview is best, but let it be remembered that all rules have exceptions.
Forms for Proposals. As to the exact words there is no set formula, unless we accept those laid down in Dickens’ novel of David Copperfield – “Barkis is willin.”
Trollope says on this subject: “We are inclined to think that these matters are not always discussed by mortal lovers in the poetically passionate phraseology which is generally thought to be appropriate for this description. A man cannot well describe that which he has never seen or heard, but the absolute words and acts of one such scene did once come to the author’s knowledge. The couple were by no means plebeian or below the proper standard of high bearing and high breeding; they were a handsome pair, living among educated people, sufficiently given to mental pursuits, and in every way what a pair of polite lovers ought to be. The all-important conversation passed in this wise. The site of the passionate scene was the sea-shore, on which they were walking, in autumn:
“Gentleman.-‘Well, miss, the long and the short of it is this: here I am; you can take me or leave me.’
“Lady (scratching a gutter on the sand with her parasol, so as to allow a little salt water to run out of one hole into another). – ‘Of course I know that’s all nonsense.’
“Gentleman. ‘Nonsense! By Jove, it isn’t nonsense at all! Come, Jane, here I am; come, at any rate you can say something.’
“Lady. –‘Yes, I suppose I can say something.’
“Gentleman.-‘Well, which is it to be – take me or leave me?’
“Lady (very slowly, and with a voice perhaps hardly articulate, carrying on, at the same time, her engineering works on a wider scale).- ‘Well, I don’t exactly want to leave you.’
“And so the matter was settled – settled with much propriety and satisfaction; and both the lady and gentleman would have thought, had they ever thought about the matter at all, that this, the sweetest moment of their lives, had been graced by all the poetry by which such moments ought to be hallowed.”
Proposal Accepted. Supposing the gentleman to be accepted by the lady of his heart, he is, of course, recognized henceforth as one of the family.
The family of the engaged lady should endeavor to make the suitor feel that he is at home, however protracted his visits may be.
Protracted Engagements. But protracted courtship, or engagements, are if possible, to be avoided; they are universally embarrassing. Lovers are so apt to find out imperfections in each other-to grow exacting, jealous, and morose.
“Alas! How slight a cause can move
Dissension between hearts that love.”
“Asking Papa.” When a gentleman is accepted by the lady of his choice, the next thing in order is to go at once to her parents for their approval. In presenting his suit to them he should remember that it is not from the sentimental but the practical side that they will regard the affair. Therefore, after describing the state of his affections in as calm a manner as possible, and perhaps hinting that their daughter is not indifferent to him, let him at once frankly, without waiting to be questioned, give an account of his pecuniary resources and his general prospects in life, in order that the parents may judge whether he can properly provide for a wife and possible family. A pertinent anecdote was recently going the rounds of the newspapers. A father asked a young man who had applied to him for his daughter’s hand how much property he had. “None,” he replied, but he was “chock full of days’ work.” The anecdote concluded by saying that he got the girl. And we believe all sensible fathers would sooner bestow their daughters upon industrious, energetic young men who are not afraid of days’ work than upon idle loungers with a fortune at their command.
An Engagement Ring. After the engagement is made between the couple and ratified by the parents, it is customary in polite society for the young man to affix the seal of this engagement by some present to his affianced. This present is usually a ring, and among the wealthy it may be of diamonds – a solitaire or cluster – and as expensive as the young man’s means will justify. The ring is not necessarily a diamond one; it may be of other stones or it may be an heirloom in his family, precious more because of its association’s antiquity and quaintness than from its actual money-value.
All lovers cannot afford to present their lady-loves with diamond rings, but all are able to give them some little token of their regard which will be cherished for their sakes, and which will serve as a memento of a very happy past to the end of life. The engagement ring should be worn upon the ring finger of the right hand.
Wells, A. M., Richard A., MANNERS, CULTURE AND DRESS, Massachusetts, King, Richardson & Company Publishers, 1893