Love and Let Live

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“I may Commit many follies in life,” Disraeli said, “but I never intend to marry for love.”

And he didn’t. He stayed single until he was thirty-five, and then he proposed to a rich widow, a widow fifteen years his senior; a widow whose hair was white with the passing of fifty winters. Love? Oh, no. She knew he didn’t love her. She knew he was marrying her for her money! So she made just one request: she asked him to wait a year to give her the opportunity to study his character. And at the end of that time, she married him.

Sounds pretty prosaic, pretty commercial, doesn’t it? Yet paradoxically enough, Disraeli’s marriage was one of the most glowing successes in all the battered and bespattered annals of matrimony.

The rich widow that Disraeli chose was neither young, nor beautiful, nor brilliant. Far from it. Her conversation bubbled with a laugh-provoking display of literary and historical blunders. For example, she “never knew which came first, the Greeks or the Romans.” Her taste in clothes was bizarre; and her taste in house furnishings was fantastic. But she was a genius, a positive genius at the most important thing in marriage: the art of handling men.

She didn’t attempt to set up her intellect against Disraeli’s. When he came home bored and exhausted after an afternoon of matching repartee with witty duchesses, Mary Anne’s frivolous patter permitted him to relax. Home, to his increasing delight, was a place where he could ease into his mental slippers and bask in the warmth of Mary Anne’s adoration. These hours he spent at home with his ageing wife were the happiest of his life. She was his helpmate, his confidante, his advisor. Every night he hurried home from the House of Commons to tell her the day’s news. And – this is important – whatever he undertook, Mary Anne simply did not believe he could fail.

For thirty years, Mary Anne lived for Disraeli, and for him alone. Even her wealth she valued only because it made his life easier. In return, she was his heroine. He became an Earl after she died; but, even while he was still a commoner, he persuaded Queen Victoria to elevate Mary Anne to the peerage. And so, in 1868, she was made Viscountess Beaconsfield.

No matter how silly or scatterbrained she might appear in public, he never criticized her; he never uttered a word of reproach; and if anyone dared to ridicule her, he sprang to her defence with ferocious loyalty.

Mary Anne wasn’t perfect, yet for three decades she never tired of talking about her husband, praising him, admiring him. Result? “We have been married thirty years,” Disraeli said, “and I have never been bored by her.” (Yet some people thought because Mary Anne didn’t know history, she must be stupid!)

For his part, Disraeli never made it any secret that Mary Anne was the most important thing in his life. Result? “Thanks to his kindness,” Mary Anne used to tell their friends, “my life has been simply one long scene of happiness.”

Between them, they had a little joke. “You know,” Disraeli would say, “I only married you for your money anyhow.” And Mary Anne, smiling, would reply, “Yes, but if you had it to do over again, you’d marry me for love, wouldn’t you?” And he admitted it was true.

No, Mary Anne wasn’t perfect. But Disraeli was wise enough to let her be herself.

As Henry James put it: “The first thing to learn in intercourse with others is non-interference with their own peculiar ways of being happy, provided those ways do not assume to interfere by violence with ours.”

That’s important enough to repeat: “The first thing to learn in intercourse with others is non-interference with their own peculiar ways of being happy…”

Or, as Leland Foster Wood in his book, Growing Together in the Family, has observed: “Success in marriage is much more than a matter of finding the right person; it is also a matter of being the right person.”

So, if you want your home life to be happy, Rule 2 is: