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Lonely gentleman

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

I thought I'd posted this ad some time ago, but doing a search of the blog came up with nothing.  I'm surprised I didn't earlier because it's an ad I refer to in the dissertation.  I guess if I have blogged about it before, hopefully I'll be saying something different.

Matrimonial. - Of a highly respectable family and an irreproachable character, in the vigor of manhood, (forty seven,) never married and called good looking, with a kind and loving disposition, a Christian (Episcopalian,) a scholar and a true gentleman, with some means, and residing in this city, I take this unusual mode (my lady friends being few and ineligible) of signifying my sincere desire to form a mutual attachment with some amiable, affluent and refined young lady or young widow, without incumbrances, in view of matrimony.  Address, with full particulars, in good faith, M.E.W., New York Post office.

So you can see, I hope, why I find this particular ad so interesting: the aside where he writes that his "lady friends being few and ineligible."  This goes very much to the heart of one of my chapters (and to some measure the entire dissertation), which is that people turned to these ads - this "unusual mode" - to find spouses because they had run out of options elsewhere.  This happens because of urban growth, you're more likely to be living close to strangers, and unlike now middle-class people had to be formally introduced so it was hard to meet people if you don't know many to begin with.  If that makes sense.

But despite the fact that it makes sense that men who are working in offices all day might have trouble meeting women, I really wish I knew more about the situations of people like M.E.W.  For example, if he's an Episcopalian Christian, why can't he meet anyone at his church?  Churches tend to have social events, don't they?  Well, they do now; maybe they didn't back then but it seems unlikely, doesn't it?  But seriously, isn't a church the best possible way for good, respectable people to meet each other?  Or is he really only able to get there on Sundays and it's inappropriate even to approach a woman there?

But on a similar note, he says his lady friends are few and ineligible, but don't they have friends?  If he's as great a guy as he presents himself to be, why doesn't one of his lady friends, however few of them there may be, set invite him over for dinner one night and introduce him to some of their girlfriends?  There has to be a way.  If he said he had no lady friends that would be one thing, but if he does, they've got to have some single friends too.  Granted, if his lady friends are about his age, then most of their friends are probably married too.  So if he seriously will only consider young women, then I could see the problem.  But in that case, I have no sympathy.  What's wrong with marrying a nice 40-ish widow?  (To be fair to him, he might want children, in which case the desire to marry a younger woman would make more sense.)

Anyway, you can see why I find this intriguing, because I'd really like to know the circumstances he is in that he simply can't meet a woman any other way.  I think he sounds like a good, honest guy, so it's odd and a little sad to me that he is alone.

Having trouble reading the ads? Click one to enlarge!

©2010 Pam Epstein

3 comments:

Liz July 27, 2010 at 6:08 PM  

My considered opinion is that all his lady friends are nuns.

Cari Hislop July 29, 2010 at 9:09 AM  

If he was a scholar he was probably highly introverted and or shy.

The ad brings to mind something I'd write to help my shy brother find a wife without his knowledge. Maybe MEW had some helpful female friends who decided "to help cast the net"!

RabidNutella November 9, 2010 at 6:14 AM  

Let me preface this with the fact that I'm terrible at history and thus have to rely on fantasy (often historical fantasy) novels for my information...

In one of my favorite of such novels, Orson Scott Card's Pastwatch: the Redemption of Christopher Columbus, Columbus meets his first wife in a church in Portugal; it could well be historically accurate. This separates the time of your research by several hundred years, but I see no reason why the tradition wouldn't have continued in Christian circles for the next three to four hundred years.

Perhaps I'll stop being lazy and research it for you.

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