Victorian London - Women - Children, Family and Husbands - Wives


    YOUR first consideration before marriage was, how to please your lover. Consider any such endeavour, after marriage, to be unnecessary and ridiculous; and, by way of amends for your former labour, let your sole object be, to please yourself.
    Be at no pains to look well of a morning. A long toilet is tiresome; particularly when it is cold. "Taking the hair out" occupies nearly ten minutes :  come down to breakfast, therefore, in curl papers; also in a flannel dressing-gown; and, unless you expect callers, remain in déshabille all day. Husbands are nobodies, and comfort is to be studied before appearance.
    But are you to neglect your attire altogether? By no means. Indulge your taste in dress to the utmost. Be always buying something new ; never mind the expense of' it. Payments belong to husbands. If you see a shawl or bonnet in a window, order it. Should a silk or a muslin attract your eye, desire it to be sent home. Does a feather, a ribbon, a jewel, strike your fancy?  purchase it instantly. If your husband is astonished at the bill, pout; if he remonstrates, cry. But do not spoil your finery by domestic wear. Reserve it for promenades and parties. It is the admiration of society, that you should seek for, not your husband's.
    Be constantly seeing tables, chairs, window curtains, and other furniture which you like better than your own ; and insist upon their being got. Want to get rid of your old piano, and have a new one. If your husband keeps a carriage for you, desire a better; if be does not, and cannot afford it, complain. Whenever your desires exceed his means, look unhappy, and hint how much more advantageously you might have married. Never smile and hope for better things, but make your husband feel, as keenly as you can, the inadequacy of his means to support you.
    Practise, however, a reasonable economy. Take every opportunity of making a cheap purchase; and when asked of what use it is? reply, that. it is "a bargain."
    Enjoy ill health. Be very nervous: and, in particular, subject to fits ; which you are to fly into as often as your husband is unkind, that is, whenever he reasons with you. Make the most of every little ache or pain; and insist upon having a fashionable physician. There is something very elegant in illness; a prettiness in a delicate constitution - affect this attraction if you have it not - men admire it exceedingly. 
    Put yourself under no restraint in your husband's presence Sit, loll, or lie, in just what way you like, looking only to the ease of the posture, not to its grace. Leave niceties of conversation and sentiment to the single; never mind how you express yourself; why should wives be particular? When your husband wishes to read or be quiet, keep chattering to him ; the more frivolous and uninteresting the subject, the better. If he is disposed for conversation, be dull and silent: and whenever you see that he is interested in what he is talking about, especially if he wishes you to attend to him, keep yawning.
    There are two ways of discharging your household duties. If you are languid and listless, you may let them alone : if not able, you should be continually turning the house topsy-turvy, under pretence of setting it to rights. You can either let your servants do just as they please; or you may be continually in the kitchen, looking after them. In the latter case, scold them frequently, and in an audible voice, so as to be heard upstairs. Never think of looking to your husband's shirt buttons;  leave that to the laundress; or, if you must attend to his linen, superintend your washing  in person, and have frequent water-parties; and, especially in winter, always have the clothes dried before the parlour fire.
    If your husband has to go out to a business-dinner, or to the play, never let him have the latch-key; and should he, on any occasion, stay out late, send the servant to bed, sit up for him yourself, and make a merit of the sacrifice to "the wretch."
    Have a female confidant, who will instruct you in all the ill qualities of husbands generally, and will supply any deficiencies in the above hints. In conclusion, bear these grand principles in mind - that men must be crossed and thwarted continually, or they are sure to be tyrants; that a woman, to have her rights, must stand up for them; and that the behaviour which won a man's affections, is by no means necessary to preserve them.

Punch, Jan.-Jun. 1844


    The very best Sewing-Machine a man can have is a Wife. It is one that requires but a kind word to set it in motion, rarely gets out of repair, makes but little noise, is seldom the cause of dust, and, once in motion, will go on uninterruptedly fox hours, without the slightest trimming, or the smallest personal supervision being necessary. It will make shirts, darn stockings, sew on buttons, mark pocket handkerchiefs, cut out pinafores, and manufacture children’s frocks out of any old thing you may give it; and this it will do behind your back just as well as before your face. In fact, you may leave the house for days, and it will go on working just the same. If it does get out of order a little, from being overworked, it mends itself by being left alone for a short time, after which it returns to its sewing with greater vigour than ever.
    Of course, sewing machines vary a great deal. Some are much quicker than others. It depends in a vast measure upon the particular pattern you select. If you are fortunate in picking out the choicest pattern of a Wife-—one, for instance, that sings whilst working, and seems to be never so happy as when the husband’s linen is in hand—the Sewing Machine may be pronounced perfect of its kind; so much so, that there is no make-shift in the world that can possibly replace it, either for love or money. In short, no gentleman’s establishment is complete without one of these Sewing Machines in the house!

Punch 1859

Victorian London - Publications - Humour - Punch - cartoon 2

MR. PEEWIT (goaded into reckless action by the impetuous MRS. P.). "I - I - I shall report you to your Master, Conductor, for not putting us down at the corner -"
CONDUCTOR. "Lor' bless yer 'art, Sir, it ain't my Master as I'm afraid on! I'm like you - it's my MISSUS!"

Punch, 5th October, 1861

see Thomas Wright on lazy wives - click here

see Thomas Wright, on good and bad wives - click here

A judicious wife is always snipping off from her husband's moral nature little twigs that are growing in wrong directions. She keeps him in shape by continual pruning. If you say anything silly, she will affectionately tell you so. If you declare that you will do some absurd thing, she will find means of preventing your doing it. And by far the chief part of all the common sense there is in this world, belongs unquestionably to woman. The wisest things a man commonly does are those which his wife counsels him to do. A wife is the grand wielder of the moral pruning-knife. 

Old Jonathan, or, the District and Parish Helper, 1867

The emancipated despise marriage as servile submission unbecoming the free-born soul; but they forget that the ideal on which marriage is founded is love, and that no true-hearted woman that ever lived, who loved her husband, desired anything but submission. It is the very life of a woman's love - her pride, her glory, her evidence of self-respect. If she loves, she desires her husband to be greater than herself, and she believes him to be so.

Mrs. Lynn Linton, Ourselves : A series of Essays on Women, 1870



Punch, June 8, 1873

Girls may be divided into two classes - the Visible and the Invisible. A girl is Invisible when for any reason she fails to attract: and to attract is the indispensable attribute of woman per se, without which she may be, no doubt, a capital individual, lay-figure, buffer, "brick", or anything else good in its way, but not a woman: just as a magnet that has lost its magnetism might be called a good stone, a weight, a stopper, or what not, but hardly a magnet.
    But Beauty blushing unseen is a waste of wealth which political economy forbids us to sanction. To be beautiful implies to be seen, and it follows that one of woman's first duties is to be visible. As I have already observed, every woman has her points, if she knows comment se faire voir.
There are several subdivisions of the two classes above named. Under the Class I Visible, we place the handsome, the talented, the brilliant, the learned, and the indispensable in any way.
    Under the Class II Invisible, we place
        A The Nonentity.
        B The Ill-educated.
        C The Stupid.
        D The Ordinary or Plain.
        E The Discouraged.
    The latter subdivision may be further subdivided into the
        1. The Naturally shy.
        2. The Family-ridden.
        3. The Passée.
It is our intention here to treat chiefly of the 2nd class, as those contained in the 1st will be sure to shift for themselves: they always marry - or, at least, always can if they wish - sometimes they bud out into "sweet girl graduates" with golden hair , or blossom on the margin of the learned professions. They are in any case always "Visible", and make their mark in whatsoever orbit they aspire to revolve in.
    The importance of Visibility is peculiarly clear in a Land which boasts nearly 600,000 more women than men. The latest returns (1871) for England and Wales only, were startling - males, 11,058,934, to females, 11,653,332 - and with such facts staring us in the face we still ask why young men don't marry?
    Alas, when people complain of men not marrying (even they who are able), they forget how little women offer in exchange for all they get by marriage. Girls are so seldom taught to be of any use whatever to a man that I am only astonished at the numbers of men who do marry! Many girls do not even try to be agreeable to look at, much less to live with. They forget how numerous they are, and the small absolute need men have of wives; but, nevertheless, men do still marry, and would oftener marry could they find mates - women who are either helpful to them, or amusing, or pleasing to their eye.

Mrs. H.R.Haweis, The Art of Beauty, 1878

Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - Life in the London Streets, by Richard Rowe, 1881 - Chapter 13 - A Dock-Labourer's Wife

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    A sailor's life is a hard one; but it is not the hardest. After looking in upon the Jacks ashore, taking their plentiful, well-cooked midday meal in the light, clean, warm, comfortable dining-hall of the Home in Dock Street,. go down to the bottom of the street, and see the poor, greasy, ragged, depressed creatures, who hang, almost all, day long, about the chief entrance of the London Docks, in lingering hope-often a vain hope, and often so long deferred that the heart grows sick-of getting work,-a casual job.
    The men who man the craft inside are better off than those who load and unload them. 
    [-187-] See them mustering in force in the raw mornings, - the residuum of many callings, and many nationalities, - clamorous for work as gulls or rooks for food; and oh, how far less clean and sleek ! Watch them, waiting within the yards for hours; call to mind that an eastwind throws thousands of these from-hand-to-mouth-living paraihs of industry instantly out of employment, and a dock-labourer's lot will not seem a very enviable one.
    It is hard work they have to do when they do get employed ; but so long as a man's strength is not over-taxed, or his life made a dreary burden to him - one long drudgery without a glimpse of pleasure or hope - the mere fact that a man is worked hard is no ground for lavishing pity upon him. It is to be feared that a spirit of laziness is spreading amongst our band-workers, at least the best paid amongst them. Our ancestors of a generation or two back, who were at their business early and late, no doubt overdid the thing; but they would lift up their hands in very natural astonishment if they could come back and witness the short hours which many mechanics work now-a-days, the way in which they dawdle over their work when paid by time, and drop their tools as if made of hot iron at the first stroke of the knocking-off hour, and then hear of the wages they get for their leisurely performances.
    [-188-] It is not for the hardness of his work, nor even for time poorness of his pay, that the dock. labourer is so much to be pitied, as for its precariousness. When remuneration is uncertain, providence is impossible. Those, and there are many such, who have been reduced to the necessity of working in the docks by bad habits, grow worse and worse; and those who have been beaten down by misfortune rather than their own fault have a hard fight to keep themselves from sinking to the level of their demoralized fellows,-a fight which very often is not successful.
    "My husband was a dear fellow once," said a poor woman whose history may be summed up as nearly as possible in her own words, without troubling the reader with the questions which drew forth parts of the information. "My husband was a dear fellow once: aye, and he's a good fellow now at times, when he can keep off the accursed drink. His luck has beaten him down, poor chap, and now and again he'll take a drop to keep his heart up a bit; and I'm sure I wouldn't grudge it to him if it did him any good, but it don't. It only makes him glummer, and then he goes on drinking, and gets savage, and says what ho neither thinks nor means. He never laid a hand on me or the children: thank God, at his worst, he's too fond of us for that. But the timings he says at times is very bitter, - I don't [-189-] know but what I'd rather he should beat me ; for, spite of all that's come and gone, - and nobody can deny but I've had a deal to cross me, - I can't help loving of him true ; and we might all of us live happy together yet, if he could but get a chance, poor fellow. But there you see, when he comes to himself and finds that he's drunk up all his money, he's so angry with himself and ashamed to look us in the face, that as soon as ho has earned a bit more, he begins drinking to forget himself, and it's the old story over again.
    "Other times he won't spend scarce a ha'- penny on himself, work all day long and not touch a drop of beer, or p'r'aps even a bite of food, so that he may have all the money to bring home to me. If he's got an old pipe half-full in his pocket, he'll just take a puff at dinner-time to dull his hunger, and then work on till lie's ready to drop. And what's queer is that he's steadiest when his work's most regular. It's far oftener lie breaks out when we've to hook at every farthing, and often, too to look for farthings and not find 'em, than, when he's taking his money every day and it wouldn't matter quite so much if lie did take an extra half-pint now and again: then as I'm telling you, he sometimes won't take scarce enough to keep body and soul together. I've seen him come in that dead beat that when I've cooked him a herring or two, or a bit of [-190-] meat if we could run to it, lie's been so sick he couldn't eat it. But food doesn't long go begging in this house. We've none so much that we can afford to waste: if one don't want it there's plenty that do. It's cruel the little the children have to eat at times, and it cuts me when my poor Tom takes it into his head to starve himself, for he wants his food as much as most men, to keep his strength up. I wish he'd never take to the drink instead. lie had. plenty of spirit when he was a young man; he'd lift heavy weights andi things like that, just to show he wouldn't be beat ; but he was never what you may call strong, and it isn't child's play they give 'em to do at. the docks. They've to strain away at winches till you'd think their loins would crack, and keep on walking up the inside of a wheel just as if they were on the treadmill, and lug about loaded trucks and iron rods, and great heavy pieces of timber. I'm pretty well past all that now, but I used to feel it, I did, that my husband should have to demean himself to work like that.
    "We used to be respectable, both of us, though you mightn't think it. There isn't much to show for it. My poor children, some of them with not a shoe to their foot., and me with scarce a gown to my back,-me that my poor old father used to dress so smart. I wouldn't mind what I did for my children,- [-191-] no, nor to help my poor Tom neither; but I· declare to you when I've bad the chance of work I haven't been able to take it, because I'd nothing decent to go in. I'm ashamed to stand talking to any decent person in such an old rag as I've got on. And then, there's my poor children : as nice children as any lord's, if they were only properly fed, and washed and dressed. I haven't to pay anything for their schooling. That would have gone against my pride once, and now I don't like to send 'em with not a shoe to their foot, and scarce a rag to their back ; and sometimes I want them to help me, and sometimes I think, What's the good of bothering them with lessons, filling their heads and leaving their backs bare and their bellies empty ? It's coals, and clothes, and boots and stockings, and bread, and beef,-not books, they want, poor dears.'
    "I was a farmer's daughter: more than 300 acres my father farmed. Ah, when I changed my name to Fison, little did I think that I should ever live to be stived up in a dark, dirty hole like this,-only one room for such a family as us,-and not a stick of furniture in it a broker would give sixpence for, and often nothing to eat!
    "Why, at time farm, we seemed to get house room and fire and food for next to nothing. The house went with the farm, and a fine old place it was, big enough for a squire. Now and [-192-] then father bought a load of coals, but it was chiefly wood we used. We'd to buy butcher's meat and flour; but then father had sold the beasts and the corn, so that that didn't seem like buying, and we made our own bread, and butter, and cheese, and hams, and bacon, and brewed our own beer; and then we'd milk, and cream, and eggs, and honey, and fresh pork and poultry, and fruit and vegetables, just as much as we wanted.
    "Ah, don't I wish my poor children had the old house and orchard and garden to run about in ! It's red herrings they've got to smell, - and think themselves lucky, too,-instead of roses. All sorts of flowers we'd got: great hollyhocks up to the bedroom windows, and roses all over the house, and standards as well; there must have been pretty nigh 200 of them. Shouldn't I like to see my poor dears poking about in the ditches for eggs, as I used; and time horsemen lifting them up for a ride when the horses were coming home from the plough?
    "Everything there was so green and clean, and bright and quiet,-so different from this great, black, nasty, noisy place. When you pushed the window open in the morning, the roses knocked against it, and rattled the dew down on the laurels; and you could smell the cows' breath, and the honeysuckles; and Sunday mornings - we used to get up a bit later of a Sunday-you could hear the church bells.  [-193-] They ring 'em here at eight ; but it don't sound a bit like the same, and the churches all look so grimy: outside, anyways; I can scarce remember what the inside of a church is like, it's so long since I've been in one. What clothes have I or the poor dear children to go to church in? However, I've not brought em up quite heathens; I've taught them their prayers, and read 'em to them now and again out of an old Bible we've got left: I expect that's because it's so worn, and torn, and dirty, no one would give half a farthing for it. And I try to keep them from running about with other boys and girls in the streets on Sundays, and learning more bad words and ways than they can help, poor dears.
    "At our church at home there wasn't evening service,- only afternoon; so, on fine summer evenings, when we were little, mother used to take us girls, and some of the boys too if they were in the way and didn't mind coming, into the summer-house, and then we read a chapter, verse and verse about, and sang hymns. Sometimes we sat outside on the steps; there was one of them great crinkly stones, like ram's horns, on each side, and a lot of blue flags. 
    "Ah, deary me, dear mother and father have been lying in the grave-yard at home this ever so long. Mother went first; and then my brothers, who'd always been set against Tom, tried worse than ever to keep me from him. [-194-] I can't exactly say why. They called him 'Towney,' because he was assistant in a chemist's shop in the market town: sometimes they called him 'Lob-lolly boy.' He was good-looking then, poor fellow, and he dressed smarter, and talked nicer, and behaved prettier than they did. He knew a good deal more about moat things, but, of course, he didn't understand country matters as well; and so they used to call him 'Miss Nancy,' and try to make him look silly by egging him on to do things they thought he couldn't do; but sometimes Tom turned the tables on them there.
    "Mother always took to Tom: he'd a nice gentle way with her. Father didn't dislike him, like the boys, but still he never exactly took to him. He said he'd nothing to say against the young man, but still he couldn't believe he'd ever do much in the world for all his cleverness. Our family was all very keen for getting on in the world, and uncommonly well some of them have done,-they ought to be ashamed to leave my children to starve as they do! Many a meal my father's given, and many a pound he's lent their fathers, ay, and themselves too, when they weren't as well off as they are now.
    "However, mother won father over; besides, he never liked to thwart me; so when poor mother died be wouldn't let the boys persuade him against Tom. 
    [-195-] "I can't say exactly what it was that made me fancy Tom so much,-perhaps because my brothers went against him. I'd as comfortable a home as a girl could wish to have, and my own way in it. My father wouldn't deny me anything he could get for me, and my brothers were very kind too, in everything except about Tom; and even that they meant for kindness. They were always bragging about my good looks (much good they did me, and much there's left of them), and my butter ( taint often I taste a bit now), and I don't know what all; and so they said poor Torn wasn't good enough for me, and there were plenty of their young farmer friends who were willing enough to snap me up.
    "They were all richer than Tom, and some were as good-looking, perhaps better; but somehow my heart stuck to Tom. You can't get away from your fate, you know. I can't honestly say I'm sorry I married him, even now, though I have often said so in my tempers, when he's aggravated me by saying he wished he'd never married me, and that he was dead, and all that, when he's been getting drunk to drown his care, instead of keeping quit of the cursed thing, and looking out to do the best he could for the woman he married and the children he brought into the world (they didn't ask to come, poor dears), as a man should.
    "You can't resist God's will, and it is God I [-196-] fancy that makes a man and woman love each other. If it ain't, it would often be hard to say what it is that makes 'em. No: though I've had as hard a life as any woman ever had, one I little thought I should ever have had,- some women brought up like me would say they didn't never ought to have had it,-but what's the sense of quarrelling with what can't be altered? It is God's will, and there's an end of it. Spite of my hard life, I can't downright say I'm sorry I married Tom. If I'd taken one with more money, or luck, I might have had to smart for it some other way. No : it's our fate; so why should there be words about it? Tom loves me, and I love him, though both of us have a queer way of showing on it sometimes.
    "But this I will say, that I've no patience with those idiots of servant girls that marry just for the sake of saying they've got a husband,-when there ain't a mite of love in. the case, give up good places just to get called 'Missis,'-good wages, good food, good treatment; not a care in the world, and not half enough work to do, or it would take some of the silly nonsense out of their lazy flesh and bones. It serves them right when their husbands drub them, and make drudges of them. A woman that gives up a comfortable home for the man she loves, often thinks she's been a fool; but a woman who gives one up just be[-197-] cause she wants to be married to somebody or other, is a downright idiot.
    When me and Tom married, my father and his put him up in business in his own line in a town about six miles from home, and lie did pretty well at first. Our eldest was born there, and we were very happy ; but things didn't look as bright, long before the second came I don't know how it was. Father and brothers said he wasn't a business man; anyhow, he was a real kind, good man in those days,-not a word against his character then, poor chap. Even them he owed a good bit of money too,- money they knew they'd never see again, best part of it,-said he was an honest well-meaning fellow. All they could say against him was that it was a pity he wasn't a bit sharper, and hadn't better luck. No doubt he'd have done better if he'd started in the market town; but he wouldn't hear of setting up in opposition to his old master.
    "Well, when we failed, Tom's father hadn't any more money to lend him, and pretty nigh called him a swindler, and me as bad. My father wasn't as savage as that, but he wasn't best pleased-for he'd paid down a good bit more than old Fison-that his money should have gone for nothing so soon. He was kind as ever to me, but he was very cold to Tom. Best thing he could do, father said, was to get a journeyman's place of some kind, and not [-198-] risk any more of other folks' money, when he hadn't the wit to make any for himself, nor them neither, out of it. But poor Tom, naturally enough, wanted to be in business for himself, and I wanted him to be myself, and talked father over, but it wasn't much he'd give. We got a little business in London: papers, and toys, and tobacco, and sweet-stuff, and such,- all mixed. We soon made an end of that, and then there was no one to help us. Tom's father wouldn't even answer his letter, and my father was dead, and my brothers said they might perhaps give something to keep me and my children from starving, if we were left by ourselves, but not a penny to support my good-for-nothing husband in idleness. That was kind, wasn't it? Ah, that's a true bit in the Bible about not going into your brother's house in the day of your calamity ! Neighbours are better than brothers, often. When my brothers wouldn't do anything for us, a neighbour, though he was almost a stranger, got Tom a dispenser's berth. We'd to pinch, as we thought then, to make the money hold out; but it's more than we ever got since, and we should think it a fortune now. Besides, it was respectable,-in the line Tom was brought up to. He plucked up heart a bit, and. said he'd study for a doctor; but, law bless you, what's the good of any man talking about studying for anything new in London, when he's to work from morn-[-199-]ing to night for his living, and has got a wife and children to support?
    "Torn lost that berth through being run over by an omnibus, and lay ever so long in hospital. While he was there I starved, and I sold pretty near everything we had, to keep us off the parish. I couldn't bear the thought of the House then, though I've often had to take relief since, - me, whose father was a church- warden and a guardian.
    When Tom came out, he had to take just anything he could get: he couldn't be a picker and chooser, poor fellow. Somehow he never kept anything long, though that wasn't his fault; for it was only odd jobs that he could get, for the most part, and them he did get less and less respectable. It was then he first took to drinking; though before he took so little that my brothers, and father, too, used to laugh at him for a milk-sop.
    "Drink did us no good, and down we came to what we are now. Seven or eight years, off and on, he's been working in the docks, one side of the river or the other. How we've lived I don't know; sometimes without the taste of meat in our mouths for weeks together, and sometimes with no food at all,-glad to jump at an old crust of dry bread.
    "It ain't to be called living. If it wasn't for the children, I shouldn't care how soon I was out of it. We've lost two,-our eldest [-200-] and our littlest; though it ain't a loss, but a happy release for the poor dears. Often, of a night, I wish that God would forgive us our sins, and then the gas would blow us up, or the roof tumble in and bury us all together. There don't seem any good in getting up of a morning to struggle on again in such a life as ours.

[---nb. grey numbers in brackets indicate page number, (ie. where new page begins), ed.---]

    Sweetness is to woman what sugar is to fruit. It is her first busines to be happy - a sunbeam in the house, making others happy. True, she will often have "a tear in her eye", but, like the bride of young Lochinvar, it must be accompanied with "a smile on her lips."
    Girls and women are willing enough to be agreeable to men if they do not happen to stand to them in the relation of father, brother, or husband; but it is not every woman who remembers that her raison d'être is to give out pleasure to all as a fire gives out heat.

Rev. E.J.Hardy, Manners Makyth Man, 1887