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An essay by E. Lynn Linton

The Abuse Of Match-Making

Title:     The Abuse Of Match-Making
Author: E. Lynn Linton [More Titles by Linton]

It is a pity that when, by some train of ill-luck, a word of respectable parentage, and well brought up, is led astray, it cannot adopt Goldsmith's recipe and die. It has not even the more prosaic alternative of being made an honest word by marriage, and escaping the name under which it stooped to folly, and was betrayed. It drags on a dishonored life, with little or no chance of recovering its character, inflicting cruel disgrace upon the unlucky family of ideas, no matter what their own innocence and respectability, to which it happens to belong. Thus Casuistry, if not a very useful, was at least a perfectly harmless, member of society, and moved in the best circles, until in an evil hour she became too intimate with the unpopular Jesuits.

A few years ago, when high feeding and sermonizing proved too much for the virtue of garotters, and, waxing fat, they not only kicked society, but danced hornpipes in hobnailed boots upon its head and stomach, even Philanthropy, at once the most fashionable and popular word of this century, was all but compromised by Sir Joshua Jebb and Sir George Grey. Baron Bramwell fortunately came to the rescue, and saved it from permanent loss of character. But still to this day the word is sometimes used in a sense by no means complimentary. If the battue-system continues long enough, "good sport" will become a synonym for cold-blooded clumsy butchery, and thus all sport whatsoever will be more or less discredited. The faux pas of one member disgraces the whole family. A few men may be the lords of language, but the great majority are its slaves. They can no more disconnect the innocent idea from the soiled word that accompanies it than they can see a blue landscape through green glass. Let us hope that one of the first acts of Mr. Bright's millennial Parliament will be the establishment of a tribunal empowered to take a word when it arrives at this pitiable condition, and either in mercy knock it on the head altogether, or else formally readmit it into good society, and give it all the advantages of a fresh start.

We take an early opportunity of inviting their special attention to the much-injured word "Match-making." The practice which it describes is not only harmless, but, in the present state of society, highly useful and meritorious. Yet there can be no doubt, that there is a powerful prejudice against it. Although all women--or rather, perhaps, as Thackeray said, all good women--are at heart match-makers, there are very few who own the soft impeachment. Many repudiate it with indignation. It is on the whole about as safe to charge a lady with Fenianism as facetiously to point out a young couple in her drawing-room, whose flirtation has a suspicious businesslike look about it, and to hint that she has deliberately brought them together with a view to matrimony. It may be true that she has no selfish interest whatever in the matter. The criminal conspiracy in which she so strenuously repudiates any concern is, after all, nothing worse than the attempt to make two people whom she likes, and who she thinks will suit each other, happy for life. By any other name such an action ought, one would think, to smell sweet in the nostrils of gods and men.

But, whatever the gods think of it, men cannot forget that the practice, whether harmless or not, goes by the objectionable name of match-making. So the lady replies, not, perhaps, without the energy of conscious guilt, that "things of this sort are best left to themselves," and piously begs you to remember that marriages are made in Heaven, not in her drawing-room. The melancholy truth is that the gentle craft of match-making has been so vulgarized by course and clumsy professors, and its very name has in consequence been brought into such disrepute, that few respectable women have the courage openly to recognise it. They are haunted by visions of the typical match-maker who does work for fashionable novels and social satires, and who is a truly awful personage. To her alone of mortals is it given to inspire, like the Harpies, at once contempt and fear. Keen-eyed and hook-nosed, like a bird of prey, she glowers from the corner of crowded ball-rooms upon the unconscious heir, hunts him untiringly from house to house, marries him remorselessly to her eldest daughter, and then never loses sight of him till his spirit is broken, his old friends discarded, and his segar-case thrown away.

It is scarcely necessary to say that this fearful being exists only in fiction. In real life she has not only to marry her daughters, but also, like other human beings, to eat, drink, sleep, and otherwise dispose of the twenty-four hours of the day. She cannot therefore very well devote herself, from morning to night, to the one occupation of heir-hunting, with the precision of a machine, or one of Bunyan's walking vices. But still there must be some truth even in a caricature, and a man sometimes finds a girl "thrown at his head," as the process is forcibly termed, with a coarse-mindedness quite worthy of the typical match-maker, though also with a clumsiness which she would heartily despise.

He goes as a stranger to some place, and is astonished to find himself at once taken to the bosom and innermost confidence of people whose very name he never heard before, as if he were their oldest and most familiar friend. He is asked to dinner one day, to breakfast the next, and warmly assured that a place is always kept for him at lunch. Charmed and flattered to find his many merits so quickly discovered and thoroughly appreciated by strangers, he votes them the cleverest, most genial, most hospitable people he ever met; and everything goes on delightfully until he begins to think it odd that he should be constantly left alone with, and now and then delicately chaffed about, some passée, ill-favored woman, whom he no more connects with any thought of marriage than he would a female rhinoceros. And then slowly dawns upon him the cruel truth that his kind hosts have had their appreciation of his merits considerably sharpened by the fact that there is an ugly daughter or sister-in-law in the house whom they are sick to death of, whom they are always imploring "to marry or do something," and who, having for years ogled and angled for every marriageable pair of whiskers and pantoloons within ten miles, has gradually become so well known in the neighborhood that her one forlorn hope is to carry off some innocent stranger with a rush.

"Quere peregrinum, vicinia rauca reclamat;" and if the peregrinus happens to be young and verdant, and, having just been given a good appointment, feels, with the Vicar of Wakefield, that one of the three greatest characters on earth is the father of a family, he is possibly hooked securely before he discovers his danger. He discovers it to find himself tied for life to a woman with whom he has not a sympathy in common, and for whom every day increases his disgust. And the people who have ruined his life have not even the sorry excuse that they wished to better hers. Their one thought was to get rid of her as speedily as possible, no matter to whom; and they would rather have had Bluebeard at a two-months' engagement than any other man at one of six. There is something so coarse and revolting, so brutal, in the notion of bringing two people together into such a relation as that of marriage on purely selfish grounds, and without the slightest regard to their future happiness, that any one who has seen the snare laid for himself or his friends may well shudder at the mere sound of match-making. Mezentius was more merciful, for of the two bodies which he chained together only one had life.

The clumsy match-maker is a scarcely less dangerous, though a far more respectable, enemy to the gentle craft than the coarse one. She makes it ridiculous, while the latter makes it odious, and it is ridicule that kills. She is, perhaps, a well-meaning woman, who would be sorry to marry two people unless she thought them suited to each other; but the moment she has made up her mind that they ought to marry, she sets to work with a vigor which, unless she has a very young man to deal with, is almost sure to spoil her plans. This would not be surprising in a silly woman; but it is odd that the more energetic, and, in some respects, the more able a woman is, the more likely sometimes she is to fall into this error.

A woman may be the life and soul of a dozen societies, write admirable letters, get half her male relatives into Government offices, and yet be the laughing-stock of the neighborhood for the absurd way in which she goes husband-hunting for her daughters. The very energy and ability which fit her for other pursuits disqualify her for match-making. She is too impatient and too fond of action to adopt the purely passive expectant attitude, the masterly inactivity, which is here the great secret of success. She is always feeling that something should be said or done to help on the business, and prematurely scares the shy or suspicious bird. Many a promising love-affair has been nipped in the bud simply because the too eager mother has drawn public attention to it before it was robust enough to face publicity, by throwing the two lovers conspicuously together, or by some unguarded remark.

When one thinks of all that a man has to go through in the course of a love-affair--especially in a small society where everybody knows everybody--of all the chaffing and grinning, and significant interchange of glances when he picks up the daughter's fan, or hands the mother to her carriage, or laughs convulsively at the old jokes of the father, one is almost inclined to wonder how a Briton, of the average British stiffness and shyness, ever gets married at all. The explanation probably is, that he falls in love before he exactly knows what he is about, and, once in love, is of course gloriously blind and deaf to all obstacles between him and the adored one. But to subject a man to this trying ordeal, as the too eager match-maker does, before he is sufficiently in love to be proof against it, is like sending him into a snow-storm without a great-coat.

The romantic match-maker is, in her way, as mischievous as the coarse or the clumsy one. She is usually a good sort of woman, but with decidedly more heart than head. She gets her notions of political economy from Mr. Dickens' novels, and holds that, whenever two nice young people of opposite sexes like each other, it is their business then and there to marry. If Providence cannot always, like Mr. Dickens, provide a rich aunt or uncle, it at least never sends mouths without hands to feed them. Let every good citizen help the young people to marry as fast as they can, and let there be lots of chubby cheeks and lots of Sunday plum-pudding to fill them. There is no arguing with a woman of this kind, and she is perhaps the most dangerous of all match-makers, inasmuch as she is usually herself a warm-hearted pleasant woman, and there is a courage and disinterestedness about her views very captivating to young heads. There is no safety but in flight. Even a bachelor of fair prudence and knowledge of the world is not safe in her hands. We mean on the assumption that he is not in a position to marry. If he is "an eligible," he cannot, of course, be considered safe anywhere. But otherwise he knows that match-makers of the unromantic worldly type will be only too glad to leave him alone.

And having, perhaps, been accustomed on this account to feel that he may flirt in moderation with impunity, as a man with whom marriage is altogether out of the question, he is quite unprepared for the new and startling unconventional view which the romantic match-maker takes of him. He is horrified to find that, ignoring the usual considerations as to the length of his purse, she has discovered that he and the pretty girl with whom he danced three consecutive dances last night must have been made expressly for each other, and that she has somehow contrived, by the exercise of that freemasonry in love-affairs which is peculiar to women, to put the same ridiculous notion into the young lady's head. In fact, he suddenly finds to his astonishment that he must either propose--which is out of the question--or be considered a cold-blooded trifler with female hearts. And so he has nothing to do but pack up his portmanteau and beat an ignominious retreat, with an uncomfortable consciousness that his amiable hostess and pretty partner have a very poor opinion of him.

It is rather hard, however, that these and other abuses, which we have not space to enumerate, of the great art of match-making should bring the art itself into odium and contempt. In all of them there is a violation of some one or more of what we take to be its three chief canons. First, the objects to be experimented upon should be pecuniarily in a position to marry. Secondly, care should be taken that they seem on the whole not unlikely to suit each other. Thirdly, the artist should be content, like a photographer, to bring the objects together, and leave the rest of the work mainly to nature. We confess that we feel painfully the unscientific vagueness of this last axiom, since so much turns upon the way in which the objects are brought together. But, as we only undertook to treat of the abuse of match-making, the reader must consider these maxims for its proper use to be thrown into the bargain gratis, and not therefore to be scrutinized severely. Some other day, if we can muster up courage enough for so delicate and arduous a task, we may perhaps attempt to show that, in the present state of society, the art of match-making deserves and requires cultivation, and how, in our humble opinion, this cultivation should be carried on.

[The end]
E. Lynn Linton's essay: Abuse Of Match-Making