"May widows wed as often as they can,
And ever for the better change their man;
And some devouring plague pursue their lives
Who will not well be govern'd by their wives."
DRYDEN'S Wife of Bath.
WIDOWS, who have been described in a Chinese proverb as so many rudderless boats, have had at all times the reputation of being dangerous; and proverbial philosophy has been more or less severe on them, an oft-quoted German maxim affirming that "Women lose their husbands, but they worship their bonnets." Hindustani proverbial lore inculcates much the same lesson: "The husband dead, and she continues to dress her hair;" and another oft-quoted maxim telling how, "Forgetting the olden time, the widow is bearing a marriage chaplet," in other words, making a display of herself, and which, we are told, in a wider sense, is commonly applied to those who in prosperity have forgotten the meanness of their origin. On the other hand, the widows who frequently make the greatest display of sorrow are said to be those who are indifferent to their husband's happiness when alive, a fact which is noticed even in a Marathi proverb: "While he was alive she was not affectionate, now he is dead she breaks her necklaces and bangles"; and another Marathi proverb warns us that for a new husband a woman's love lasts nine days, and for a dead one only three days. According to Charles Mackay, in his "Safe Predictions"--
"Whene'er you see a widow weeping
In public sight,
And still in flagrant notice keeping
Her doleful plight,
Aye talking of her dear departed;
One truth is plain,
She will not languish broken-hearted,
But wed again";
for, as the Spanish proverb says, A buxom widow must be either married, buried, or shut up in a convent and, as the Marathi adage adds, "Neither hair nor anything yet a widow is attractive." In an old piece of proverbial wisdom a man is strictly enjoined to keep himself "from the anger of a great man, from the tumult of a mob, from a man of ill fame, from a widow that has been thrice married, from wind that cometh in at a hole, and from a reconciled enemy;" and an old Chinese proverb warns us how "Slanders cluster round a widow's door."
There are very many reasons given for not marrying a widow, especially when she may happen to have daughters; for "He that marries a widow and two daughters marries three stark thieves;" or, as another version has it, "He that marries a widow and two daughters has three back doors to his house." The same notion largely prevails on the Continent, and the Spanish say, "He that marries a widow and three children marries four thieves," the idea, of course, being that his wife will put away, as Kelly says, "things to them, or for them." Under one form or another we find the same piece of proverbial wisdom in most countries, and a common Hindustani adage reminds the man who is fascinated by a widow that, as a rule, "there is very little in the widow's pocket."
Again, it is said that "he who marries a widow will often have a dead man's head thrown in his dish;" and on this account, according to the old adage, "Never marry a widow unless her first husband was hanged," as in this case there will be little likelihood of her sounding his praises.
But, unfortunately for widows, they have generally been considered of a more or less designing turn of mind, oftentimes, however, in the freshness, of their grief, making resolutions which afterwards they are only too eager to break. Thus, Voltaire, in one of his romances, represents a disconsolate widow vowing that she will never marry again "so long as the river flows by the side of the hill." But a few months afterwards she recovers from her loss, and, contemplating matrimony, takes counsel with a clever engineer. He sets to work, the river is deviated from its course, and in a short time it no longer flows by the side of the hill. The lady, released from all her good intentions, does not allow many days to elapse before she exchanges her weeds for a bridal veil.
Improbable as this little romance may seem, a veritable instance was recorded not so very long ago: A Salopian parish clerk, seeing a woman crossing the churchyard with a bundle and a watering can, followed her, curious to know what her intentions might be, and he discovered that she was a widow of a few months' standing. Inquiring what she was going to do with the watering can, she replied that she was about to sow some grass seed on her husband's grave, and had brought a little water to make it spring up quickly. The clerk told her there was no occasion to trouble; the grave would be green in good time.
"Ah! that may be," she answered; "but my poor husband made me promise not to marry again until the grass had grown over his grave, and having a good offer, I do not wish to break my promise, or keep as I am longer than I can help."
But many widows, it would seem, do not care to wait so long a time, for the adage runs that "A good time for courtship is when the widow returns from the funeral;" and, as another version has it, "Marry a widow before she leaves mourning;" or, as the Germans say, "Woo the widow whilst she is in weeds"--proverbial philosophy which would seem to illustrate the popular maxim that "Few women turn grey because their husbands die." Indeed, if there be any truth in the old proverb, "The tears of a young widow lose their bitterness when wiped by the hands of love;" or, as the German proverb puts it, "The rich widow's tears soon dry;" and another, "A rich widow weeps with one eye and laughs with the other." The man, however, who is fascinated by a widow's charms is recommended to bear this couplet in mind--
"He that woos a maid must seldom come in sight,
But he that woos a widow must woo her day and night"--
which is contrary to the generally received maxim, "A woman is like your shadow: follow her, she flies; fly from her, she follows."
The best thing, of course, according to proverbial philosophy, is to avoid widows; and, like Mr. Tony Weller, who marries a widow, landlady of the "Marquis of Granby," it says: "Sam, beware of the widders;" and yet it would appear to be the chief function of a well-endowed widow to enrich landless younger sons, and in "The Contention" the wife says to the lady in black--
"Go, widow, make some younger brother rich,
And then take thought and die, and all is well."
Some of the common deceits of a widow are enumerated by Sir John Davies in his portrait of a widow, who, because she was incapable of them, is mentioned among the "Twelve Wonders of the World":--
"My husband knew how much his death would give me,
And therefore left me wealth to comfort and relieve me;
Thoigh I no more will have, I must not love disdain,
Penelope herself did lovers entertain--
And yet to draw on such as are of bet esteem,
Nor younger than I am, nor richer, will I seem."
Our forefathers were wont to affirm that "'Tis dangerous marrying a widow because she hath cast her rider," which reminds us of Gay's fable--
"Why are those tears? Why droops your head?
Is, then, your other husband dead?
Or does a worse disgrace betide--
Hath no one since his death applied?"
The following folk-doggerel, which will be found in the "Reliquiae Hearnianae" (215) and is called by Stowe "an old proverb," gives an oftentimes true and pathetic description of the wretched condition of a widow--
"Women be forgetful,
Children be unkind,
Executors be covetous,
And take what they find:
If anybody asks where
The dead's good become?
So God me help and holydoom,
He died a poor man."
A propos of this quaint rhyme, we may quote the subjoined extract from Weaver's "Funeral Monuments" (1631, p. 19): "As well heires as executors oftentimes inter both the honour and memory of the defunct together with his corps, perfidiously forgetting their fidelity to the deceased--of which it will please you read this old inscription depicted upon a wall within St. Edmund's Church, in Lombard Street, London:--
"Man the behovyth oft to have yis in mind,
Yat thow geveth wyth yin hond, yat sall thou fynd;
For widowes be sloful, and chyldren beth unkynd,
Executors beth covetos, and kep al yat yey fynd.
lf eny body ask wher the deddys goodys becam?
So God me help and halidam, he died a poor man."
According to a Chinese proverb, "A maid marries to please her parents; a widow to please herself;" and it is said that--
"Mandarins, customers, and widow folk,
You must be careful not to provoke."
There may be some difference of opinion respecting the following: "Happy the wife who dies before her husband; unhappy she who dies after him"; the reason assigned being that "A widow is a rudderless boat." Among further items of Eastern proverbial wisdom, it is said that--
"Widow marriage must always be
the reason for this being that otherwise the widow will demand a higher price, or accept some one else's higher offer. It is generally said, too, that the widow, through being more wide awake than a bride, not infrequently tries to improve her position when marrying a second time; and hence this proverb--
"Having lost her first husband, again she's a bride;
And so she gets higher at every stride."
Making every allowance, however, for a widow's position, we are reminded that, as "A good horse will not turn back to eat grass, a good wife will not marry a second husband," which is much to the same purport as the following: "A loyal minister will serve but one Prince; a virtuous woman but one husband."