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Seventy-Five years ago, Napoleon III of France, nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte, fell in love with Marie Eugenie Ignace Augustine de Montijo, Countess of Teba, the most beautiful woman in the world – and married her. His advisors pointed out that she was only the daughter of an insignificant Spanish count. But Napoleon retorted: “What of it?” Her grace, her youth, her charm, her beauty filled him with divine felicity. In a speech hurled from the throne, he defied an entire nation: “I have preferred a woman I love and respect,” he proclaimed, “to a woman unknown to me.”
Napoleon and his bride had health, wealth, power, fame, beauty, love, adoration – all the requirements for a perfect romance. Never did the sacred fire of marriage glow with a brighter incandescence.
But, alas, the holy flame soon flickered and the incandescence cooled – and turned to embers. Napoleon could make Eugenie an empress; but nothing in all la belle France, neither the power of his love nor the might of his throne, could keep her from nagging.
Bedeviled by jealousy, devoured by suspicion, she flouted his orders, she denied him even a show of privacy. She broke into his office while he was engaged in affairs of state. She interrupted his most important discussions. She refused to leave him alone, always fearing that he might be consorting with another woman.
Often she ran to her sister, complaining of her husband, complaining, weeping, nagging, and threatening. Forcing her way into his study, she stormed at him and abused him. Napoleon, master of a dozen sumptuous palaces, Emperor of France, could not find a cupboard in which he could call his soul his own.
And what did Eugenie accomplish by all this?
Here is the answer. I am quoting now from E.A. Rheinhardt’s engrossing book, Napoleon and Eugenie: The Tragicomedy of an Empire:
“So it came about that Napoleon frequently would steal out by a little side door at night, with a soft hat pulled over his eyes, and, accompanied by one of his intimates, really betake himself to some fair lady who was expecting him, or else stroll about the great city as of old, passing through streets of the kind which an Emperor hardly sees outside a fairy tale, and breathing the atmosphere of might-have-beens.”
That is what nagging accomplished for Eugenie. True, she sat on the throne of France. True, she was the most beautiful woman in the world. But neither royalty nor beauty can keep love alive amidst the poisonous fumes of nagging. Eugenie could have raised her voice like Job of old and have wailed: “The thing which I greatly feared is come upon me.” Come upon her? She brought it upon herself, poor woman, by her jealousy and her nagging.
Of all the sure-fire, infernal devices ever invented by all the devils in hell for destroying love, nagging is the deadliest. It never fails. Like the bite of the king cobra, it always destroys, always kills.
The wife of Count Leo Tolstoi discovered that – after it was too late. Before she passed away, she confessed to her daughters: “I was the cause of your father’s death.” Her daughters didn’t reply. They were both crying. They knew their mother was telling the truth. They knew she had killed him with her constant complaining, her eternal criticisms, and her eternal nagging.
Yet Count Tolstoi and his wife ought, by all odds, to have been happy. He was one of the most famous novelists of all time. Two of his masterpieces, War and Peace and Anna Karenina will forever shine brightly among the literary glories of earth.
Tolstoi was so famous that his admirers followed him around day and night and took down in shorthand every word he uttered. Even if he merely said, “I guess I’ll go to bed”; even trivial words like that, everything was written down; and now the Russian Government is printing every sentence that he ever wrote; and his combined writings will fill one hundred volumes.
In addition to fame, Tolstoi and his wife had wealth, social position, children. No marriage ever blossomed under softer skies. In the beginning, their happiness seemed too perfect, too intense, to endure. So kneeling together, they prayed to Almighty God to continue the ecstasy that was theirs.
Then an astonishing thing happened. Tolstoi gradually changed. He became a totally different person. He became ashamed of the great books that he had written, and from that time on he devoted his life to writing pamphlets preaching peace and the abolition of war and poverty.
This man who had once confessed that in his youth he had committed every sin imaginable – even murder – tried to follow literally the teachings of Jesus. He gave all his lands away and lived a life of poverty. He worked in the fields, chopping wood and pitching hay. He made his own shoes, swept his own roof, ate out of a wooden bowl, and tried to love his enemies.
Leo Tolstoi’s life was a tragedy, and the cause of his tragedy was his marriage. His wife loved luxury, but he despised it. She craved fame and the plaudits of society, but these frivolous things meant nothing whatever to him. She longed for money and riches, but he believed that wealth and private property were a sin.
For years, she nagged and scolded and screamed because he insisted on giving away the right to publish his books freely without paying him any royalties whatever. She wanted the money those books would produce.
When he opposed her, she threw herself into fits of hysteria, rolling on the floor with a bottle of opium at her lips, swearing that she was going to kill herself and threatening to jump down the well.
There is one event in their lives that to me is one of the most pathetic scenes in history. As I have already said, they were gloriously happy when they were first married; but now, forty-eight years later, he could hardly bear the sight of her. Sometimes of an evening, this old and heartbroken wife, starving for affection, came and knelt at his knees and begged him to read aloud to her the exquisite love passages that he had written about her in his diary fifty years previously. And as he read of those beautiful, happy days that were now gone forever, both of them wept. How different, how sharply different, the realities of life were from the romantic dreams they had once dreamed in the long ago.
Finally, when he was eighty-two years old, Tolstoi was unable to endure the tragic unhappiness of his home any longer so he fled from his wife on a snowy October night in 1910 – fled into the cold and darkness, not knowing where he was going.
Eleven days later, he died of pneumonia in a railway station. And his dying request was that she should not be permitted to come into his presence.
Such was the price Countess Tolstoi paid for her nagging and complaining and hysteria.
The reader may feel that she had much to nag about. Granted. But that is beside the point. The question is: did nagging help her, or did it make a bad matter infinitely worse?
“I really think I was insane.” That is what Countess Tolstoi herself thought about it – after it was too late.
The great tragedy of Abraham Lincoln’s life also was his marriage. Not his assassination, mind you, but his marriage. When Booth fired, Lincoln never realized he had been shot; but he reaped almost daily, for twenty-three years, what Herndon, his law partner, described as “the bitter harvest of conjugal infelicity.” “Conjugal infelicity?” That is putting it mildly. For almost a quarter of a century, Mrs Lincoln nagged and harassed the life out of him.
She was always complaining, always criticizing her husband; nothing about him was ever right. He was stoop-shouldered, he walked awkwardly and lifted his feet straight up and down like an Indian. She complained that there was no spring to his step, no grace to his movement; and she mimicked his gait and nagged at him to walk with his toes pointed down, as she had been taught at Madame Mentelle’s boarding school in Lexington.
She didn’t like the way his huge ears stood out at right angles from his head. She even told him that his nose wasn’t straight, that his lower lip stuck out, and he looked consumptive, that his feet and hands were too large, his head too small.
Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln were opposites in every way: in training, in background, in temperament, in tastes, in mental outlook. They irritated each other constantly.
“Mrs Lincoln’s loud, shrill voice,” wrote the late Senator Albert J. Beveridge, the most distinguished Lincoln authority of this generation – “Mrs Lincoln’s loud shrill voice could be heard across the street, and her incessant outbursts of wrath were audible to all who lived near the house. Frequently her anger was displayed by other means than words, and accounts of her violence are numerous and unimpeachable.”
To illustrate: Mr and Mrs Lincoln, shortly after their marriage, lived with Mrs Jacob Early – a doctor’s widow in Springfield who was forced to take in boarders.
One morning Mr and Mrs Lincoln were having breakfast when Lincoln did something that aroused the fiery temper of his wife. What, no one remembers now. But Mrs Lincoln, in a rage, dashed a cup of hot coffee into her husband’s face. And she did it in front of the other boarders.
Saying nothing, Lincoln sat there in humiliation and silence while Mrs Early came with a wet towel and wiped off his face and clothes.
Mrs Lincoln’s jealousy was so foolish, so fierce, so incredible, that merely to read about some of the pathetic and disgraceful scenes she created in public – merely reading about them seventy-five years later makes one gasp with astonishment. She finally went insane; and perhaps the most charitable thing one can say about her is that her disposition was probably always affected by incipient insanity.
Did all this nagging and scolding and raging change Lincoln? In one way, yes. It certainly changed his attitude toward her. It made him regret his unfortunate marriage, and it made him avoid her presence as much as possible.
Springfield had eleven attorneys, and they couldn’t all make a living there; so they used to ride horseback from one county seat to another, following Judge David Davis while he was holding court in various places. In that way, they managed to pick up business from all the county-seat towns throughout the Eighth Judicial District.
The other attorneys always managed to get back to Springfield each Saturday and spend the week-end with their families. But Lincoln didn’t. He dreaded to go home: and for three months in the spring, and again for three months in the autumn, he remained out on the circuit and never went near Springfield.
He kept this up year after year. Living conditions in the country hotels were often wretched; but, wretched as they were, he preferred them to his own home and Mrs Lincoln’s constant nagging and wild outbursts of temper.
Such are the results that Mrs Lincoln, the Empress Eugenie, and Countess Tolstoi obtained by their nagging. They brought nothing but tragedy into their lives. They destroyed all that they cherished most.
Bessie Hamburger, who has spent eleven years in the Domestic Relations Court in New York City, and has reviewed thousands of cases of desertion, says that one of the chief reasons men leave home is because their wives nag. Or, as the Boston Post puts it: “Many a wife has made her own marital grave with a series of little digs.”
So, if you want to keep your home life happy, Rule 1 is:
DON’T, DON’T NAG!!!