The etiquette of marriage: Popping the question (1850)

Original publication: Facts for the people, or Things worth knowing Date: 1850
Categories: 1850s, Books, Culture & lifestyle, For men, Love & marriage
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Popping the question Sarony and Major 1846

Popping the question

There is nothing more appalling to a modest and sensitive young man than asking the girl he loves to marry him: and there are few who do not find their moral courage tasked to the utmost. Many a man who would lead a forlorn hope, mount a breach, and seek the bubble reputation e’en in the cannon’s mouth,” trembles at the idea of asking a woman the question which is to decide his fate. Ladies may congratulate themselves that nature and custom have made them the responding party.

In a matter which men have always found so terrible, yet which, in one way or other, they have always contrived in some awkward way to accomplish; it is not easy to give instructions suited to every emergency.

A man naturally conforms to the disposition of the woman he admires. If she be serious, he will approach the awful subject with due solemnity — if gay and lively, he will make it an excellent joke — if softly sentimental, he must woo her in a strain of high-wrought romance — if severely practical, he relies upon straight-forward common sense.

There is one maxim of universal application: Never lose an opportunity. What can a woman think of a lover who neglects one? Women cannot make direct advances, but they use infinite tact in giving men occasions to make them.

>> The etiquette of marriage: The ceremony & after (1850)

In every case, it is fair to presume that when a woman gives a man an opportunity, she expects him to improve it; and though he may tremble, and feel his pulses throbbing and tingling through every limb; though his heart is filling up his throat, and his tongue cleaves to the roof of his mouth, yet the awful question must be asked — the fearful task accomplished.

A romantic walk in the moonlight

In the country, the lover is taking a romantic walk by moonlight, with the lady of his love — talks of the beauties of the scenery, the harmony of nature, and exclaims, “Ah! Julia, how happy would existence prove, if I always had such a companion!”

She sighs, and leans more fondly on the arm that tremblingly supports her.

“My dearest Julia, be mine forever!” This is a settler, and the answer, ever so inaudible, “makes or undoes him quite.”

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“Take pity on a forlorn bachelor,” says another, in a manner which may be either jest or earnest, “marry me at once and put me out of my misery.”

“With all my heart, whenever you are ready,” replies the laughing fair. A joke carried thus far is easily made earnest.

A point is often carried by taking a thing for granted. A gentleman who has been paying attentions to a lady, says, “Well, Mary, when is the happy day?” ” What day, pray?” she asks, with a conscious blush.

“Why, everybody knows that we are going to get married, and it might as well be one time as another; so, when shall it be?”

Cornered in this fashion, there is no retreat.

“Jane, I love you! Will you marry me?” would be somewhat abrupt, and a simple, frankly given, “Yes!” would be short and sweet, for an answer.

“Ellen, one word from you would make me the happiest man in the universe!”

“I should be cruel not to speak it then, unless it is a very hard one.”

“It is a word of three letters, and answers the question. Will you have me?”

The lady, of course says Yes, unless she happen to prefer a word of only two letters, and answers No.

And so this interesting and terrible process in practice, simple as it is in theory, is varied in a hundred ways, according to circumstances and the various dispositions-

One timid gentleman asks, “Have you any objection to change your name?” and follows this up with another which clenches its significance, “How would mine suit you?”

Another asks, “Will you tell me what I most wish to know?”

“Yes, if can.”

“The happy day when we shall be married?”

Another says, “My Eliza, we must do what all the world evidently expects we shall.”

“All the world is very impertinent.”

“I know it — but it can’t be helped. When shall I tell the parson to be ready?”

As a general rule, a gentleman never need be refused. Every woman, except a heartless coquette, finds the means of discouraging a man whom she does not intend to have, before the matter comes to the point of a declaration.

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Source publication: Facts for the people, or Things worth knowing

Publication date: 1850

Notes: Top image Popping the question; Lith. & pub. by Sarony & Major; Published c1846. Courtesy US LOC / From the chapter "Etiquette for Ladies and Gentlemen" / The etiquette of courtship & marriage


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