Married couples often wrote letters to one another while physically apart; reasons for travel were often catalysed by the desire to see family and friends, or travelling for business (often the men in these two denominations). Letters, while limiting and restrictive in copious ways, offer us a small glimpse into the experience, ruminations, and expectations held by married couples. Here is a compilation of ‘advice’ for husbands garnered from some of these letters. The two men below were a Baptist (T.F.) and Congregationalist (J.A.R.).
Some words of advice for 19th century husbands:
1. Use endearing names. In 19th century letters this is often visible in the way a man greets his wife in his letters to her –
Good example: “My regent queen…” (T.F., July 1810)
Bad example: “You good for nothing you…” (J.A.R., April 1828)
2. Shower your wife with affection. In 19th century letters, this is often demonstrable through the signatures at the end of the letter.
Good example: “My dear love be assured of my fervant attachment until death – T.F.” (T.F., March 1811)
Bad example: “The best husband you ever had or will have, J.A.R.” (J.A.R., February 1829)
3. Be patient with her – know her life is busy as well. 19th century letters from husbands frequently implored their wives to write to them more often. Some were more understanding than others in this regard…
Good example: “You will receive this to-morrow – but too late to answer – let me then request you to post a letter Wednesday & if it only informs me that you are well & the dear children better it will be sufficient, that is, I do not wish you to write too much because I know you have so much to do.” *(T.F., March 1811)
Bad example: “I told you in my last letter which you received on Tuesday & to write that I might receive an answer on the Wednesday – on that day I was in Old Street waiting for the post every moment expecting the letter. It did not come. This is not the first time you have deceived me so.” (J.A.R., May 1830)
4. Be open to advice. Husbands often give advice to their wives in the letters they send. Unfortunately, I have found very few letters from wives to consider what advice wives give to husbands, though the husbands’ response often indicates whether advice was given, and how it was received. Some husbands were more amicable to advice from their wives than others.
Good example: “All your advice & admonition is as judicious as ever & I hope to be conformed to its direction.” (T.F., March 1811)
Bad example: “In respect to my cold, I think it is better – I am aware that care is necessary and care I intend to take. My sleep has not been distressed by it and my preaching was much easier than I expected. Yesterday I felt no inconvenience from it and shall not preach again till Friday evening. I [think] therefore that my visit will be a relief and a restoration. And if not, if I should be deceived, if the restoration should not be perfect, I shall certainly decline preaching for a time, and you shall see that all the prudence in the world, does not dwell with Sarah but that her Husband has a little share of that invaluable comodity.” (J.A.R., January 1830)
5. Encourage your wife’s happiness in pecuniary ventures. 19th century women were often responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the home – including purchase of new goods and furniture. Some husbands were keen to ensure their wives were satisfied in this regard. Others found it inconvenient, and preferred their wives didn’t waste letters with such ‘nonsense’.
Good example: “Make yourself happy, spare no expense – remember I love you more than all the world & that nothing but death can separate our hearts.” (T.F., March 1811)
Bad example: “Do you suppose that I am so indifferent? Then suppose no more. I would far rather hear [about my family, than] all that you have said about the Table, however handsome cheap and desirable. For the present we can do without it. A good table can always be bought. There is no hurry. And there is no reason at present to forget our determination – necessity has no law but there is no necessity in this case, we will therefore dismiss the Table to a more favourable opportunity.” (J.A.R. February 1831)
Disclaimer- while the ‘bad examples’ are somewhat shocking, evidence suggests that the lady to whom this Congregationalist was married could ‘give it as well as she could take it’. It will be a fascinating thing to consider what insights might be harvested from our letters in 100 years from now (emails, messenger, etc). Something to keep in mind!