University of Virginia Library




The want of an innocent occupation may be reason enough why
one should write, but some better reason or a plausible apology should
be rendered for inflicting the writing upon the public; for if the
public, in the large sense, is not obliged to read, there is a small
public of kind friends, who feel a moral obligation to perform that
duty. And a hard duty it may be when the novel-readers' market is
supplied by such producers as Dickens, Thackeray, Charles Reade,
and Mrs. Gaskell (all honor, praise, and love be to her), and our own
popular writers in this department. If we do not specify Mrs. Stowe,
it is that she writes for all humanity. Her books cannot be restricted
to any class of readers, nor claimed exclusively by any department
of literature.

The writer of “Married or Single” has the fears and faltering of a
stranger in appearing before the present public. The generation
known to her, and which extended a welcome and a degree of favor
to her, has, for the most part, passed away. Most of those friends
are gone, whose hearts vibrated (without the vanities or selfishness
of personality) to her success, and she is left to feel the chill and
dreariness of the “banquet-hall deserted.” Still, she has friends who
speak the God-speed, and young friends who will receive the fruits
of her observation of the defects and wants of our social life with
ingenuousness, and perhaps with some profit; and possibly there are
those who will relish better a glass of water from our own fountains,


Page vi
than a draught of French concoction, whose enticing flavor but disguises
its insidious poison.

It might seem natural and decorous, that one approaching the
limit of human life should—if writing at all—write a book, strictly
religious, but the novel (and to that guild we belong) does not seem
to us the legitimate vehicle of strictly religious teaching. Secular
affairs should be permeated by the spirit of the altar and the temple,
but not brought within the temple's holy precincts.

One word more—the moral of our story—to our young feminine
readers. We have given (we confess, after some disposition to rebel),
the most practical proof of our allegiance to the ancient laws of
romance, by making our hero and heroine man and wife, duly and
truly. Omnia rité et solenné acta sunt. We shall not, therefore, be
suspected of irreverence to the great law of Nature, by which, in
every province of her infinitely various kingdom, all “kindred drops
are melted into one.”

But we raise our voice with all our might against the miserable
cant that matrimony is essential to the feebler sex—that a woman's
single life must be useless or undignified—that she is but an adjunct
of man—in her best estate a helm merely to guide the nobler vessel.
Aside from the great tasks of humanity, for which masculine capacities
are best fitted, we believe she has an independent power to
shape her own course, and to force her separate sovereign way.
Happily no illustration is needed at this day, to prove that maidens
can perform with grace and honor, duties from which wives and
mothers are exempted by their domestic necessities. Our sisters of
mercy and charity, however they may be called, are limited to no
faith and to no peculiar class of ministrations. Their smiles brighten
the whole world.

But we speak especially to those of our maidens whose modesty


Page vii
confines their efficiency to the circle which radiates from their home.
We pray such to remember that their sex's share of the sterner sacrifices,
as well as the softer graces of Christian love, does not belong
alone to the noble Florence Nightingales of our day, any more than
the real glories of feminine heroism were once all bound to the
helmet of Joan of Arc. It is not in the broad and noisy fields
sought by the apostles of “Woman's Rights,” that sisterly love and
maidenly charity best diffuse their native sweetness. These are sensitive-flowers—too
bright and sweet indeed—as our language has just
partly implied—to be fully typified by that pale plant of which it
is said that

“Radiance and odor are not its dower,”

but resembling it in the essential character from which it takes its
name. The modesty and sensibility which in a greater or less degree
belong to other flowers as attributes, are in this, its essential nature,
inwrought through every fibre of its delicate texture. The same
qualities mark the maidenly virtues among the pure throng of womanly
graces. These they enhance; of those, they are the distinctive nature.
May it never become less exquisitely distinctive.

We do not therefore counsel our gentle young friends to nourish
a spirit of enterprise, nor of necessity, even to enlarge the plain and
natural circle of their duties. But in every sphere of woman—
wherever her low voice thrills with the characteristic vibrations which
are softer and sweeter than all the other sweet notes in nature's infinite
chorus, maidens have a mission to fulfil as serious and as honorable
as those of a wife's devotion, or a mother's care—a mission
of wider and more various range. We need not describe it.

Our story will not have been in vain, if it has done any thing
towards raising the single women of our country to the comparatively


Page viii
honorable level they occupy in England—any thing to drive
away the smile already fading from the lips of all but the vulgar, at
the name of “old maid.”

“I speak by permission and not of commandment. * * *
Every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, another
after that. I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, it is
good for them if they abide.”

C. M. S.