Qualifications for A Georgian Wife or Husband

Proper qualifications for a Georgian wife or husband was important because marriage was something almost every Georgian man and woman expected. Moreover, when marrying people wanted the “perfect” mate or at least some advantage, which is exactly why the fashionable Juliette Bernard became Madame Récamier after she married Jacques-Rose and Jane Austen’s cousin Eliza, became a countess after she married Jean-François Capot de Feuillide. Because so many Georgians sought the “perfect mate” it caused the editor of the Christian Observer to write:

“Let those women who seek a perfect husband, or those men who desire a perfect wife, be told by the Christian to look to some other quarter; let them indeed; be directed to some other planet than that on which we dwell.”[1]

Georgian wife

“Crossing a Dirty Street” by James Gillray. Courtesy of Museum of London.

One Georgian magazine, xxx, thought that perhaps listing the “mental and personal qualifications” for a wife was the way to go. The “wife” list was prepared by a single gentleman, and the list of qualifications necessary for the perfect Georgian husband was written from the perspective of a single lady. It was believed if the list was adhered to it would produce the perfect mate for the opposite sex. So, here are those qualifications provided verbatim:

For a Wife…
Great good nature, and a prudent generosity,
A lively look, a proper spirit, and a cheerful disposition
A good person, but not perfectly beautiful.
Of a moderate height.
With regard to complexion, not quite fair, but a little brown.
Young by all means, though there are exceptions.
A decent share of common sense, just tinctured with a little seasonable repartee, and a small modicum of wit; some learning, enough to make leisure hours agreeable, but not to interrupt domestic duties.
Well, but not critically, skilled in her own tongue.
No deficiency in spelling or pointing, and a good legible hand.
A proper knowledge of accounts and arithmetic, but no skill in vulgar fractions.
A more than tolerable good voice, and a little ear for music; and a capability for singing a canzonet, or a song, in company, but no peculiar and intimate acquaintance with minims, crotchets, quavers, &c.
No enthusiasm for the harpsichord, harp, or guittar.
Ready at her needle, but more devoted to plain work than fine.
No enemy to knitting—or mending.
Not always in the parlour, but sometimes in the kitchen.
More skilled in the theoretic, than in the practical part of cookery.
To tea and coffee no objection.
Fonder of country dances than minuets.
An acquaintance with domestic news, but no acquaintance with foreign.
Not entirely fond of quadrille, nor an absolute bigot to whist.
In conversation, a little of the lisp, but not of the stammer.
Decently, but not affectedly silent.
Such qualifications will please.
 Signed, A SINGLE GENTLEMAN[2]

For a husband…
Great piety, good-sense, and good-nature.
He must look like a gentleman, and behave like one. He must have a fresh complexion, and be very tall; short, by no means whatever; middle-sized, passable.
With respect to fortune, he must be rich, very rich if possible; poor, by no means, in spirit.
A decent share of love, just tinctured with a little jealousy, sufficient to make the wife believe he sets some value upon her; but no suspicion; no suspicion, I say again and again, of any kind whatever, nor upon any provocation whatever.
Well, but not critically skilled in the ways of women.
In spelling very correct, that he may be the better able to instruct me, if I should want it.
In some parts of arithmetic very able; especially addition and multiplication, but no skill in division or subtraction.
He must be able to play tolerably well on the fiddle, and have more than a tolerable share of patience; in short, he must be willing to play, as long as I think proper to dance; but no particular intimacy with Italian serapers, fingers, especially women.
Skillful in the use of the sword, but not of a quarrelsome temper.
Ready to accept a challenge, but backward to give one.
No enemy to wit and humour.
Not always good-natured abroad, and ill-natured at home.
More skillful in the theoretic, than in the practical part of wife-governing.
To wine and snuff, no objection, but no chewing of tobacco, or smoking, at any rate.
No enthusiasm for whist, and no gambler or drunkard.
Fonder much of staying at home than of going abroad.
A thorough knowledge of his own failings, and a willingness to acknowledge them; but no particular or minute acquaintance with mine.
Generous, but not extravagant.
An admirer of the fine arts, but not to profuse in the purchase of pictures, &c.
A lover of poetry, both ancient and modern; and capable of relishing the beauties of each.
As much learning, Greek, and Latin, as he pleases, but not to think me his inferior because I have no knowledge in the dead languages.
Not to deny me a coach if he can afford it, or allow one if he can’t.
In conversation affable and entertaining; willing to hear (me) as we speak–just to all the world, and affectionate to me.
A husband with such qualifications would very much contribute to the happiness of
Signed, A SINGLE LADY[3]

References:

  • [1] The Christian Observer, Vol. 1, 1802, p. 638.
  • [2] Walker’s Hibernian Magazine, Or, Compendium of Entertaining Knowledge, Part 2, 1770, p. 240.
  • [3] Ibid.

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