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Walter Damrosch married the daughter of James G. Blaine, one of America’s greatest orators and one-time candidate for President. Ever since they met many years ago at Andrew Carnegie’s home in Scotland, the Damrosches have led a conspicuously happy life.
“Next to care in choosing a partner,” says Mrs. Damrosch, “I should place courtesy after marriage. If young wives would only be as courteous to their husbands as to strangers! Any man will run from a shrewish tongue.”
Rudeness is the cancer that devours love. Everyone knows this, yet it’s notorious that we are more polite to strangers than we are to our own relatives.
We wouldn’t dream of interrupting strangers to say: “Good heavens, are you going to tell that old story again!” We wouldn’t dream of opening our friends’ mail without permission, or prying into their personal secrets. And it’s only the members of our own family, those who are nearest and dearest to us, that we dare insult for their trivial faults.
Again to quote Dorothy Dix: “It is an amazing but true thing that practically the only people who ever say mean, insulting, wounding things to us are those of our own households.”
“Courtesy,” says Henry Clay Risner, “is that quality of heart that overlooks the broken gate and calls attention to the flowers in the yard beyond the gate.”
Courtesy is just as important to marriage as oil is to your motor.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, the beloved “Autocrat of the Breakfast Table,” was anything but an autocrat in his own home. In fact, he carried his consideration so far that when he felt melancholy and depressed, he tried to conceal his blues from the rest of his family. It was bad enough for him to have to bear them himself, he said, without inflicting them on the others as well.
That is what Oliver Wendell Holmes did. But what about the average mortal? Things go wrong at the office; he loses a sale or gets called on the carpet by the boss. He develops a devastating headache or misses the five-fifteen; and he can hardly wait till he gets home – to take it out on the family.
In Holland you leave your shoes outside on the doorstep before you enter the house. By the Lord Harry, we could learn a lesson from the Dutch and shed our workaday troubles before we enter our homes.
William James once wrote an essay called “On a Certain Blindness in Human Beings.” It would be worth a special trip to your nearest library to get that essay and read it. “Now the blindness in human beings of which this discourse will treat,” he wrote, “is the blindness with which we all are afflicted in regard to the feelings of creatures and people different from ourselves.”
“The blindness with which we all are afflicted.” Many men who wouldn’t dream of speaking sharply to a customer, or even to their partners in business, think nothing of barking at their wives. Yet, for their personal happiness, marriage is far more important to them, far more vital, than business.
The average man who is happily married is happier by far than the genius who lives in solitude. Turgenev, the great Russian novelist, was acclaimed all over the civilized world. Yet he said: “I would give up all my genius, and all my books, if there were only some woman, somewhere, who cared whether or not I came home late for dinner.”
What are the chances of happiness in marriage anyway? Dorothy Dix, as we have already said, believes that more than half of them are failures; but Dr. Paul Popenoe thinks otherwise. He says: “A man has a better chance of succeeding in marriage than in any other enterprise he may go into. Of all the men that go into the grocery business, 70 per cent fail. Of the men and women who enter matrimony, 70 per cent succeed.”
Dorothy Dix sums the whole thing up like this:
Compared with marriage,” she says, “being born is a mere episode in our careers, and dying a trivial incident.
No woman can ever understand why a man doesn’t put forth the same effort to make his home a going concern as he does to make his business or profession a success.
But, although to have a contented wife and a peaceful and happy home means more to a man than to make a million dollars, not one man in a hundred ever gives any real serious thought or makes any honest effort to make his marriage a success. He leaves the most important thing in his life to chance, and he wins out or loses, according to whether fortune is with him or not. Women can never understand why their husbands refuse to handle them diplomatically, when it would be money in their pockets to use the velvet glove instead of the strong-arm method.
Every man knows that he can jolly his wife into doing anything, and doing without anything. He knows that if he hands her a few cheap compliments about what a wonderful manager she is, and how she helps him, she will squeeze every nickel. Every man knows that if he tells his wife how beautiful and lovely she looks in her last year’s dress, she wouldn’t trade it for the latest Paris importation. Every man knows that he can kiss his wife’s eyes shut until she will be blind as a bat, and that he has only to give her a warm smack on the lips to make her dumb as an oyster.
And every wife knows that her husband knows these things about her, because she has furnished him with a complete diagram about how to work her. And she never knows whether to be mad at him or disgusted with him, because he would rather fight with her and pay for it in having to eat bad meals, and have his money wasted, and buy her new frocks and limousines and pearls, than to take the trouble to flatter her a little and treat her the way she is begging to be treated.”
So, if you want to keep your home life happy, Rule 6 is: