My Wife and I. Harry Henderson's History
Гарриет Бичер-Стоу

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My Wife and I. Harry Henderson's History
Harriet Stowe

Harriet Beecher Stowe

My Wife and I / Harry Henderson's History

PREFACE

During the passage of this story through The Christian Union, it has been repeatedly taken for granted by the public press that certain of the characters are designed as portraits of really existing individuals.

They are not. The supposition has its rise in an imperfect consideration of the principles of dramatic composition. The novel-writer does not profess to paint portraits of any individual men and women in his personal acquaintance. Certain characters are required for the purposes of his story. He conceives and creates them, and they become to him real living beings, acting and speaking in ways of their own. But on the other hand, he is guided in this creation by his knowledge and experience of men and women, and studies individual instances and incidents only to assure himself of the possibility and probability of the character he creates. If he succeeds in making the character real and natural, people often are led to identify it with some individual of their acquaintance. A slight incident, an anecdote, a paragraph in a paper, often furnishes the foundation of such a character; and the work of drawing it is like the process by which Professor Agassiz from one bone reconstructs the whole form of an unknown fish. But to apply to any single living person such delineation is a mistake, and might be a great wrong both to the author and to the person designated.

For instance, it being the author's purpose to show the embarrassment of the young champion of progressive principles, in meeting the excesses of modern reformers, it came in her way to paint the picture of the modern emancipated young woman of advanced ideas and free behavior. And this character has been mistaken for the portrait of an individual, drawn from actual observation. On the contrary, it was not the author's intention to draw an individual, but simply to show the type of a class. Facts as to conduct and behavior similar to those she has described are unhappily too familiar to residents of New York. But in this as in other cases the author has simply used isolated facts in the construction of a dramatic character suited to the design of the story. If the readers of to-day will turn back to Miss Edgeworth's Belinda, they will find that this style of manners, these assumptions and mode of asserting them, are no new things. In the character of Harriet Freke, Miss Edgeworth vividly portrays the manners and sentiments of the modern emancipated women of our times, who think themselves

"Ne'er so sure our passion to create,
As when they touch the brink of all we hate."

Certainly the author knows no original fully answering to the character of Mrs. Cerulean, though she has heard such an one described; and, doubtless, there are traits in her equally attributable to all fair enthusiasts who mistake the influence of their own personal charms and fascinations over the other sex, for real superiority of intellect.

There are happily several young women whose vigorous self-sustaining career, in opening paths of usefulness alike for themselves and others, are like that of Ida Van Arsdel; and the true experiences of a lovely New York girl first suggested the character of Eva; yet both of them are, in execution, strictly imaginary paintings, adapted to the story. In short, some real character, or, in many cases, some two or three, furnish the germs, but the germs only, out of which new characters are developed.

In close: The author wishes to dedicate this Story to the many dear, bright young girls whom she is so happy as to number among her choicest friends. No matter what the critics say of it, if they like it; and she hopes from them, at least, a favorable judgment.

H. B. S

Twin-Mountain House, N.H.

October, 1871.

CHAPTER I.

THE AUTHOR DEFINES HIS POSITION

It appears to me that the world is returning to its second childhood, and running mad for Stories. Stories! Stories! Stories! everywhere; stories in every paper, in every crevice, crack and corner of the house. Stories fall from the pen faster than leaves of autumn, and of as many shades and colorings. Stories blow over here in whirlwinds from England. Stories are translated from the French, from the Danish, from the Swedish, from the German, from the Russian. There are serial stories for adults in the Atlantic, in the Overland, in the Galaxy, in Harper's, in Scribner's. There are serial stories for youthful pilgrims in Our Young Folks, the Little Corporal, "Oliver Optic," the Youth's Companion, and very soon we anticipate newspapers with serial stories for the nursery. We shall have those charmingly illustrated magazines, the Cradle, the Rocking Chair, the First Rattle, and the First Tooth, with successive chapters of "Goosy Goosy Gander," and "Hickory Dickory Dock," and "Old Mother Hubbard," extending through twelve, or twenty-four, or forty-eight numbers.

I have often questioned what Solomon would have said if he had lived in our day. The poor man, it appears, was somewhat blasé with the abundance of literature in his times, and remarked that much study was weariness to the flesh. Then, printing was not invented, and "books" were all copied by hand, in those very square Hebrew letters where each letter is about as careful a bit of work as a grave-stone. And yet, even with all these restrictions and circumscriptions, Solomon rather testily remarked, "Of making many books there is no end!" What would he have said had he looked over a modern publisher's catalogue?

It is understood now that no paper is complete without its serial story, and the spinning of these stories keeps thousands of wheels and spindles in motion. It is now understood that whoever wishes to gain the public ear, and to propound a new theory, must do it in a serial story. Hath any one in our day, as in St. Paul's, a psalm, a doctrine, a tongue, a revelation, an interpretation – forthwith he wraps it up in a serial story, and presents it to the public. We have prison discipline, free-trade, labor and capital, woman's rights, the temperance question, in serial stories. We have Romanism and Protestantism, High Church, and Low Church and no Church, contending with each other in serial stories, where each side converts the other, according to the faith of the narrator.

We see that this thing is to go on. Soon it will be necessary that every leading clergyman should embody in his theology a serial story, to be delivered from the pulpit Sunday after Sunday. We look forward to announcements in our city papers such as these: The Rev. Dr. Ignatius, of the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, will begin a serial romance, to be entitled "St. Sebastian and the Arrows," in which he will embody the duties, the trials, and the temptations of the young Christians of our day. The Rev. Dr. Boanerges, of Plymouth Rock Church, will begin a serial story, entitled "Calvin's Daughter," in which he will discuss the distinctive features of Protestant theology. The Rev. Dr. Cool Shadow will go on with his interesting romance of "Christianity a Dissolving View," – designed to show how everything is, in many respects, like everything else, and all things lead somewhere, and everything will finally end somehow, and that therefore it is important that everybody should cultivate general sweetness, and have the very best time possible in this world.

By the time all these romances get to going, the system of teaching by parables, and opening one's mouth in dark sayings, will be fully elaborated. Pilgrim's Progress will be no where. The way to the celestial city will be as plain in everybody's mind as the way up Broadway – and so much more interesting! Finally all science and all art will be explained, conducted, and directed by serial stories, till the present life and the life to come shall form only one grand romance. This will be about the time of the Millennium.

Meanwhile, I have been furnishing a story for the Christian Union, and I chose the subject which is in everybody's mind and mouth, discussed on every platform, ringing from everybody's tongue, and coming home to every man's business and bosom, to wit:

My Wife and I

I trust that Miss Anthony and Mrs. Stanton, and all the prophetesses of our day, will remark the humility and propriety of my title. It is not I and My Wife – oh no! It is My Wife and I. What am I, and what is my father's house, that I should go before my wife in anything?

"But why specially for the Christian Union?" says Mr. Chadband. Let us in a spirit of Love inquire.

Is it not evident why, O beloved? Is not that firm in human nature which stands under the title of My Wife and I, the oldest and most venerable form of Christian union on record? Where, I ask, will you find a better one? – a wiser, a stronger, a sweeter, a more universally popular and agreeable one?

To be sure, there have been times and seasons when this ancient and respectable firm has been attacked as a piece of old fogyism, and various substitutes for it proposed. It has been said that "My Wife and I" denoted a selfish, close corporation inconsistent with a general, all-sided diffusive, universal benevolence; that My Wife and I, in a millennial community, had no particular rights in each other more than any of the thousands of the brethren and sisters of the human race. They have said, too, that My Wife and I, instead of an indissoluble unity, were only temporary partners, engaged on time, with the liberty of giving three months' notice, and starting off to a new firm.

It is not thus that we understand the matter.

My Wife and I, as we understand it, is the sign and symbol of more than any earthly partnership or union – of something sacred as religion, indissoluble as the soul, endless as eternity – the symbol chosen by Almighty Love to represent his redeeming, eternal union with the soul of man.

A fountain of eternal youth gushes near the hearth of every household. Each man and woman that have loved truly, have had their romance in life – their poetry in existence.

So I, in giving my history, disclaim all other sources of interest. Look not for trap-doors, or haunted houses, or deadly conspiracies, or murders, or concealed crimes, in this history, for you will not find one. You shall have simply and only the old story – old as the first chapter of Genesis – of Adam stupid, desolate, and lonely without Eve, and how he sought and how he found her.

This much, on mature consideration I hold to be about the sum and substance of all the romances that have ever been written, and so long as there are new Adams and new Eves in each coming generation, it will not want for sympathetic listeners.

So I, Harry Henderson – a plain Yankee boy from the mountains of New Hampshire, and at present citizen of New York – commence my story.

My experiences have three stages.

First, My child-wife, or the experiences of childhood.

Second, My shadow-wife, or the dreamland of the future.

Third, my real wife, where I saw her, how I sought and found her.

In pursuing a story simply and mainly of love and marriage, I am reminded of the saying of a respectable serving man of European experiences, who speaking of his position in a noble family said it was not so much the wages that made it an object as "the things it enabled a gentleman topick up." So in our modern days as we have been observing, it is not so much the story, as the things it gives the author a chance to say. The history of a young American man's progress toward matrimony, of course brings him among the most stirring and exciting topics of the day, where all that relates to the joint interests of man and woman has been thrown into the arena as an open question, and in relating our own experiences, we shall take occasion to keep up with the spirit of this discussing age in all these matters.

CHAPTER II.

MY CHILD-WIFE

The Bible says it is not good for man to be alone. This is a truth that has been borne in on my mind, with peculiar force, from the earliest of my recollection. In fact when I was only seven years old I had selected my wife, and asked the paternal consent.

You see, I was an unusually lonesome little fellow, because I belonged to the number of those unlucky waifs who come into this mortal life under circumstances when nobody wants or expects them. My father was a poor country minister in the mountains of New Hampshire with a salary of six hundred dollars, with nine children. I was the tenth. I was not expected; my immediate predecessor was five years of age, and the gossips of the neighborhood had already presented congratulations to my mother on having "done up her work in the forenoon," and being ready to sit down to afternoon leisure.

Her well-worn baby clothes were all given away, the cradle was peaceably consigned to the garret, and my mother was now regarded as without excuse if she did not preside at the weekly prayer-meeting, the monthly Maternal Association, and the Missionary meeting, and perform besides regular pastoral visitations among the good wives of her parish.

No one, of course, ever thought of voting her any little extra salary on account of these public duties which absorbed so much time and attention from her perplexing domestic cares – rendered still more severe and onerous by my father's limited salary. My father's six hundred dollars, however, was considered by the farmers of the vicinity as being a princely income, which accounted satisfactorily for everything, and had he not been considered by them as "about the smartest man in the State," they could not have gone up to such a figure. My mother was one of those gentle, soft-spoken, quiet little women who, like oil, permeate every crack and joint of life with smoothness.

With a noiseless step, an almost shadowy movement, her hand and eye were every where. Her house was a miracle of neatness and order – her children of all ages and sizes under her perfect control, and the accumulations of labor of all descriptions which beset a great family where there are no servants, all melted away under her hands as if by enchantment.

She had a divine magic too, that mother of mine; if it be magic to commune daily with the supernatural. She had a little room all her own, where on a stand always lay open the great family Bible, and when work pressed hard and children were untoward, when sickness threatened, when the skeins of life were all crossways and tangled, she went quietly to that room, and kneeling over that Bible, took hold of a warm, healing, invisible hand, that made the crooked straight, and the rough places plain.

"Poor Mrs. Henderson – another boy!" said the gossips on the day that I was born. "What a shame! poor woman. Well, I wish her joy!"

But she took me to a warm bosom and bade God bless me! All that God sent to her was treasure. "Who knows," she said cheerily to my father, "this may be our brightest."

"God bless him," said my father, kissing me and my mother, and then he returned to an important treatise which was to reconcile the decrees of God with the free agency of man, and which the event of my entrance into this world had interrupted for some hours. The sermon was a perfect success I am told, and nobody that heard it ever had a moment's further trouble on that subject.

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