Mr. Smiles tells a story of a man in the last century who undertook to make a steam engine. He made what seemed to be a very capital engine indeed. The lever lifted to a charm, the piston answered exactly, the wheels worked beautifully, nothing could be better, but when it came to be fairly tried there was one drawback; it would just go and that was all. On its own hook it would work beautifully—-go through its own motions perfectly, but when you wanted it to lift a pound beside, then lever and piston and wheels struck work, and as it was made in an age and country in which to do nothing was to be counted a gentleman, they baptized the thing Evans’ gentlemanly engine. Now who has not seen numbers of men whose action resembles that gentlemanly engine? What little they do, they do for themselves. You can find no fault so far with their motion, and they are polished sometimes to perfection, especially those parts that are brass or steel, but they would not raise a blister on their hands to save their souls—at least they don’t. Their one motto is to take care of number one, as they say, and in taking care of number one in this light and gentlemanly fashion, they generally come either to depend on the old man every time they get into a tight place, or on their friends, until they are sick of the sight of them, as they drift down at last to the poor house or the jail, or they may go lower still. They may go down and down, until they go down to Washington [D.C.] to hunt for an office they know they cannot fill, and draw money for it they know they don’t earn—the very meanest thing, as I think, that an American citizen can do.
Now this is the first trouble we can touch in our nation to-day, that men, so very many men, should do nothing in particular, or come as near as they can to this idea of a gentleman by shirking every thing which is not easy and light. The question what makes a gentleman is not an easy one to answer, but I say that between such a man as this and a good blacksmith or wood-chopper, or any other honest fellow who puts all the manhood there is in him into his day’s work, there can be no sort of comparison. Your hard handed mechanic is beyond all question the truer gentleman as well as the better man, and in the good time coming everybody will say so who has a right to be anybody. Honest work well done is the first thing, I say. But that does not mean merely to work hard, because I take it to be more essential to work honestly than it is to work hard at any thing. I had a shop-mate, when I was a lad, who was as good a blacksmith when he did his best as any man I ever saw stand at an anvil, but it seems to me now he was the most ingenious scamp at getting up any sort of a lie in iron I ever saw with a hammer in his hand. Now a man like that may work hard, you see; but on the whole the harder he works the worse it is, because he just works hard at lying. It is no matter where such men are found, or what they are doing, they may not be blacksmiths as Jack was, but they are “Forgers” all the same, if they are only ingenious for dishonesty, and make their money by make-believes. And I say, without the least hesitation, that the blacksmith who works honestly and well from Monday morning to Saturday night, making good horseshoes, is a better man before earth and heaven than the minister who dawdles along all through the week doing nothing in particular, and then on the Sunday morning preaches a wretched sermon. I know that because I have done both.
The second thing we have to make sure about in this new century is a good home, and this of course presupposes a good wife and a good husband. Now I think a great many men marry in these times who don’t get a wife, and a great many women marry who don’t get a husband, and they never find their mistake out until, perhaps, it is past all remedy except that of coming to Chicago to get a divorce, which may be worse than the disease. I fear, again, this trouble comes very often in this way. Young women before they get married are only anxious to get what they call all the accomplishments. But they don’t mean by this how to make good bread, to boil a potato, or roast a piece of beef, to knit a stocking, to make a shirt and wash it and iron it, to keep a home smelling as sweet as wild roses and shining like a new silver dollar. It seems to me rather they mean how to do tatting, how to draw what Mrs. Browning calls wonderful shepherdesses with pink eyes, how to speak French very hard to be understood and how to discourse music so difficult as to make you remember Johnson’s grim joke when they took him to hear some music of that sort, and noticed he did not seem to care for it. “That is very difficult music,” said one who was with him. “I wish it was impossible,” the old man answered. This is what our girls call all the accomplishments, these they get and then they get married.
And the young man sometimes gets an education just about as delectable to fit him for a husband. We call it sowing his wild oats. The worst of it I must not name; the better end of it now and then is calculated to teach him how to play billiards rather than to’ read books, how to prefer cards to every other kind of picture, and sometimes how to be more familiar with the inside of the hells of his town than the churches. Then he goes into society, meets the young woman with all the accomplishments, believes her to be the exception to her entire sex in angelic beauty and perfect excellence, gives her what little heart he has left, poor fellow, and so the match is made and they are wedded, husband and wife so long as they both shall live—if they can stand it.
That is often like a wedding we had once in Yorkshire; as the man came out of church with his bride on his arm he met an old companion who said to him. “There lad, I wish thee much joy. thou’s gotten th’ end of all thee trouble.” This was good news, so he went on his way rejoicing; but it turned out a bad job, he had got a wife with all the accomplishments except she could not keep house; so one day, when he met his crony again, he said to him with a very doleful heart,” I thowt thaa towd me John as I wer cumin out o’ Ginseloy church, when I went to get wed, a’d gotten to th’ end of all me trouble.” “I did tell thaa so,” John answered, “I didn’t tell thaa which end.”
Then there is another match not quite so bad as this, but still bad enough. And that is when the husband and wife are both capable, both capital, and have every thing the heart can wish for except a real good honest love. The man is clever, so is the woman; she wants a home, he can give her one; she wants a husband, he wants a housekeeper; he will bring in the living and foot the bills, and she will slave and save and hear a great deal of growling then about what he calls “the extravagance of them women.” Now a good home can no more bloom out of such a life as that in this new century than a damask rose can bloom on an iceberg. It is tyrant and slave, or else it is two slaves. It is two strings full of nothing but harsh discords constantly under the ban of the daily life.
But there is a wedding which is just as good as gold, true and sweet every time, and sure to result in a good home; and that is when a man and woman, understanding what a good home and a true wedding means, are drawn together by that sure Providence which still makes all right matches in spite of the maneuvering of our prejudice and pride to prevent them. When they come together in a fair equality, not as the poet sings as moonlight unto sunlight, but as “perfect music unto noble words.” Yes, from Eastport and San Francisco, eastward and westward, a youth and maiden shall come with this equal reverence, each for the other in their hearts. They may see a great many men and women more beautiful and noble to other men and women than they are, but they shall never see those, they are looking for, until they meet in this town of yours, it may be, and it is borne in on them that they are meant for husband and wife. It is no matter then, if the one be beautiful and the other homely, or if all the world is wondering over the match. Theirs is still the greatest wonder that God should have given them this great gift as the end of all their hopes and fears. I know what such a wedding means for the home and for the life. It abides where there is no marrying or giving in marriage, but where men and women are like the angels of God. Chance and change make no difference on the golden wedding day. After fifty years of such a wedded life the glory of the maiden of twenty cannot be seen by reason of the glory which excelleth in the good old wife of seventy.
Another thing to take to heart this day, is that you young men shall go ahead, get married in this way, make these good homes and raise noble families of children for the nation instead of dawdling along until the bloom and glory of your life is over for fear the world will fail you if you take this step. It is a great mistake for a young man to think he can wait as long as he will before he takes a wife, and still be a whole true man for this grand era. But a great many do this, and if you ask them how it is, they will tell you they cannot do any better, they cannot ask a woman to marry them out of a mansion and go live in a poor man’s cottage; the woman they want could not live in a cottage, if she would, and would not if she could; she is not fit to be a poor man’s wife, and so they must wait until they get about so much money. Now I say that the woman who is not fit to be a poor man’s wife, as a general rule, is not fit to be any man’s wife. Suppose again she is fit to be a poor man’s wife, and therefore all the fitter to be a rich man’s wife, and he dare not ask her to leave her father’s mansion, and go live with him in a poor man’s cottage, but lets ” I dare not” wait upon “I would” until the best of their life is over, and then gets married, why one of the first things she tells him is that she would have been very glad indeed to marry him ten or fifteen years sooner if he had only said so. The weddings that are sometimes almost as sad as funerals to me are those that might have come and should have come in the brave May days of life, but for the sake of this wealth bought at a price no man should pay, the day was driven forward until the finest strength and bloom of the life had gone.
Let no young man in whose life the new hope of America- hides itself make this fatal blunder as he stands on the edge of the new century, don’t shunt off on a side track and wait too long for a train of circumstances to roll along and enable you to get married. Make sure of these three things—a good honest stroke of work, a good name, and a good wife, just as soon as you can, and then the older men will leave the whole venture gladly in your hands when our time comes, and get away to our rest. ~ Excerpt from Oration by Robert Collyer Lacrosse, Wisconsin July 4th,1876See also: The Relationship Between a Man and Woman Advice to Young People from Noah Webster Father of American Education