Lover's Troubles, by Washington Irving
Hall, or The Humorists
The poor soul sat singing by a sycamore tree,
Sing all a green willow;
Her hand on her bosom, her head on her knee
Sing willow, willow, willow;
Sing all a green willow must be my garland.
The fair Julia having nearly recovered from the effects of her hawking
disaster, it begins to be thought high time to appoint a day for the
wedding. As every domestic event in a venerable and aristocratic
family connexion like this is a matter of moment, the fixing upon this
important day has of course given rise to much conference and debate.
Some slight difficulties and demurs have lately sprung up, originating
in the peculiar humours that are prevalent at the Hall. Thus, I have
overheard a very solemn consultation between Lady Lillycraft, the
parson, and Master Simon, as to whether the marriage ought not to be
postponed until the coming month.
With all the charms of the flowery month of May, there is, I find, an
ancient prejudice against it as a marrying month. An old proverb says,
"To wed in May is to wed poverty." Now, as Lady Lillycraft is very
much given to believe in lucky and unlucky times and seasons, and
indeed is very superstitious on all points relating to the tender
passion, this old proverb seems to have taken great hold upon her
mind. She recollects two or three instances, in her own knowledge, of
matches that took place in this month, and proved very unfortunate.
Indeed, an own cousin of hers, who married on a May-day, lost her
husband by a fall from his horse, after they had lived happily
together for twenty years.
The parson appeared to give great weight to her ladyship's objections,
and acknowledged the existence of a prejudice of the kind, not merely
confined to modern times, but prevalent likewise among the ancients.
In confirmation of this, he quoted a passage from Ovid, which had a
great effect on Lady Lillycraft, being given in a language which she
did not understand. Even Master Simon was staggered by it; for he
listened with a puzzled air; and then, shaking his head, sagaciously
observed, that Ovid was certainly a very wise man.
From this sage conference I likewise gathered several other important
pieces of information, relative to weddings; such as that, if two were
celebrated in the same church, on the same day, the first would be
happy, the second unfortunate. If, on going to church, the bridal
party should meet the funeral of a female, it was an omen that the
bride would die first; if of a male, the bridegroom. If the
newly-married couple were to dance together on their wedding-day, the
wife would thenceforth rule the roast; with many other curious and
unquestionable facts of the same nature, all which made me ponder more
than ever upon the perils which surround this happy state, and the
thoughtless ignorance of mortals as to the awful risks they run in
venturing upon it. I abstain, however, from enlarging upon this topic,
having no inclination to promote the increase of bachelors.
Notwithstanding the due weight which the Squire gives to traditional
saws and ancient opinions, yet I am happy to find that he makes a firm
stand for the credit of this loving month, and brings to his aid a
whole legion of poetical authorities; all which, I presume, have been
conclusive with the young couple, as I understand they are perfectly
willing to marry in May, and abide the consequences. In a few days,
therefore, the wedding is to take place, and the Hall is in a buzz of
anticipation. The housekeeper is bustling about from morning till
night, with a look full of business and importance, having a thousand
arrangements to make, the Squire intending to keep open house on the
occasion; and as to the house-maids, you cannot look one of them in
the face, but the rogue begins to colour up and simper.
While, however, this leading love affair is going on with a
tranquillity quite inconsistent with the rules of romance, I cannot
say that the under-plots are equally propitious. The "opening bud of
love" between the general and Lady Lillycraft seems to have
experienced some blight in the course of this genial season. I do not
think the general has ever been able to retrieve the ground he lost,
when he fell asleep during the captain's story. Indeed, Master Simon
thinks his case is completely desperate, her ladyship having
determined that he is quite destitute of sentiment.
The season has been equally unpropitious to the lovelorn Phoebe
Wilkins. I fear the reader will be impatient at having this humble
amour so often alluded to; but I confess I am apt to take a great
interest in the love troubles of simple girls of this class. Few
people have an idea of the world of care and perplexity that these
poor damsels have, in managing the affairs of the heart.
We talk and write about the tender passion; we give it all the
colourings of sentiment and romance, and lay the scene of its
influence in high life; but, after all, I doubt whether its sway is
not more absolute among females of an humbler sphere. How often, could
we but look into the heart, should we find the sentiment throbbing in
all its violence in the bosom of the poor lady's-maid, rather than in
that of the brilliant beauty she is decking out for conquest; whose
brain is probably bewildered with beaux, ball-rooms, and wax-light
With these humble beings, love is an honest, engrossing concern. They
have no ideas of settlements, establishments, equipages, and
pin-money. The heart—the heart, is all-in-all with them, poor things!
There is seldom one of them but has her love cares, and love secrets;
her doubts, and hopes, and fears, equal to those of any heroine of
romance, and ten times as sincere. And then, too, there is her secret
hoard of love documents;—the broken sixpence, the gilded brooch, the
lock of hair, the unintelligible love scrawl, all treasured up in her
box of Sunday finery, for private contemplation.
How many crosses and trials is she exposed to from some lynx-eyed
dame, or staid old vestal of a mistress, who keeps a dragon watch over
her virtue, and scouts the lover from the door! But then, how sweet
are the little love scenes, snatched at distant intervals of holiday,
and fondly dwelt on through many a long day of household labour and
confinement! If in the country, it is the dance at the fair or wake,
the interview in the church-yard after service, or the evening stroll
in the green lane. If in town, it is perhaps merely a stolen moment of
delicious talk between the bars of the area, fearful every instant of
being seen; and then, how lightly will the simple creature carol all
day afterwards at her labour!
Poor baggage! after all her crosses and difficulties, when she
marries, what is it but to exchange a life of comparative ease and
comfort, for one of toil and uncertainty? Perhaps, too, the lover for
whom in the fondness of her nature she has committed herself to
fortune's freaks, turns out a worthless churl, the dissolute,
hard-hearted husband of low life; who, taking to the ale-house, leaves
her to a cheerless home, to labour, penury, and child-bearing.
When I see poor Phoebe going about with drooping eye, and her head
hanging "all o' one side," I cannot help calling to mind the pathetic
little picture drawn by Desdemona:—
My mother had a maid, called Barbara;
She was in love; and he she loved proved mad,
And did forsake her; she had a song of willow,
An old thing 'twas; but it express'd her fortune,
And she died singing it.
I hope, however, that a better lot is in reserve for Phoebe Wilkins,
and that she may yet "rule the roast," in the ancient empire of the
Tibbets! She is not fit to battle with hard hearts or hard times. She
was, I am told, the pet of her poor mother, who was proud of the
beauty of her child, and brought her up more tenderly than a village
girl ought to be; and ever since she has been left an orphan, the good
ladies at the Hall have completed the softening and spoiling of her.
I have recently observed her holding long conferences in the
church-yard, and up and down one of the lanes near the village, with
Slingsby, the schoolmaster. I at first thought the pedagogue might be
touched with the tender malady so prevalent in these parts of late;
but I did him injustice. Honest Slingsby, it seems, was a friend and
crony of her late father, the parish clerk; and is on intimate terms
with the Tibbets family. Prompted, therefore, by his good-will towards
all parties, and secretly instigated, perhaps, by the managing dame
Tibbets, he has undertaken to talk with Phoebe upon the subject. He
gives her, however, but little encouragement. Slingsby has a
formidable opinion of the aristocratical feeling of old Ready-Money,
and thinks, if Phoebe were even to make the matter up with the son,
she would find the father totally hostile to the match. The poor
damsel, therefore, is reduced almost to despair; and Slingsby, who is
too good-natured not to sympathize in her distress, has advised her to
give up all thoughts of young Jack, and has proposed as a substitute
his learned coadjutor, the prodigal son. He has even, in the fullness
of his heart, offered to give up the school-house to them; though it
would leave him once more adrift in the wide world.