First Steps in Courtship

[This is taken from George Routledge's Courtship and Matrimony.  Mr. Routledge lived between 1812 and 1888, but we trust his advice has a certain timelessness attached to it.  - Ed.]

It would be out of place in these pages to grapple with a subject so large as that of Love in its varied phases: a theme that must be left to poets, novelists, and moralists to dilate upon. It is sufficient for our purpose to recognize the existence of this the most universal—the most powerful—of human passions, when venturing to offer our counsel and guidance to those of both sexes who, under its promptings, have resolved to further their relationship, but who, from imperfect knowledge of conventional usages, are naturally apprehensive that at every step they take, they may render themselves liable to misconception, ridicule, or censure.

We will take it for granted, then, that a gentleman has in one way or another become fascinated by a fair lady—possibly a recent acquaintance—whom he is most anxious to know more particularly. His heart already feels “the inly touch of love,” and his most ardent wish is to have that love returned.

At this point we venture to give him a word of serious advice. We urge him, before he ventures to take any step towards the pursuit of this object, to consider well his position and prospects in life, and reflect whether they are such as to justify him in deliberately seeking to win the young lady’s affections, with the view of making her his wife at no distant period. Should he after such a review of his affairs feel satisfied that he can proceed honorably, he may then use fair opportunities to ascertain the estimation in which the young lady, as well as her family, is held by friends. It is perhaps needless to add, that all possible delicacy and caution must be observed in making such inquiries, so as to avoid compromising the lady herself in the slightest degree. When he has satisfied himself on this head, and found no insurmountable impediment in his way, his next endeavor will be, through the mediation of a common friend, to procure an introduction to the lady’s family. Those who undertake such an office incur no slight responsibility, and are, of course, expected to be scrupulously careful in performing it, and to communicate all they happen to know affecting the character and circumstances of the individual they introduce.

We will now reverse the picture, and see how matters stand on the fair one’s side.

First let us hope that the inclination is mutual; at all events, that the lady views her admirer with preference, that she deems him not unworthy of her favorable regard, and that his attentions are agreeable to her. It is true her heart may not yet be won: she has to be wooed; and what fair daughter of Eve has not hailed with rapture that brightest day in the springtide of her life? She has probably first met the gentleman at a ball, or other festive occasion, where the excitement of the scene has reflected on every object around a roseate tint. We are to suppose, of course, that in looks, manner, and address, her incipient admirer is not below her ideal standard in gentlemanly attributes. His respectful approaches to her—in soliciting her hand as a partner in the dance, &c.—have first awakened on her part a slight feeling of interest towards him. This mutual feeling of interest, once established, soon “grows by what it feeds on.” The exaltation of the whole scene favors its development, and it can hardly be wondered at if both parties leave judgment “out in the cold” while enjoying each other’s society, and possibly already pleasantly occupied in building “castles in the air.” Whatever may eventually come of it, the fair one is conscious for the nonce of being unusually happy. This emotion is not likely to be diminished when she finds herself the object of general attention—accompanied, it may be, by the display of a little envy among rival beauties—owing to the assiduous homage of her admirer. At length, prudence whispers that he is to her, as yet, but a comparative stranger; and with a modest reserve she endeavors to retire from his observation, so as not to seem to encourage his attentions. The gentleman’s ardor, however, is not to be thus checked; he again solicits her to be his partner in a dance. She finds it hard, very hard, to refuse him; and both, yielding at last to the alluring influences by which they are surrounded, discover at the moment of parting that a new and delightful sensation has been awakened in their hearts.

At a juncture so critical in the life of a young inexperienced woman as that when she begins to form an attachment for one of the opposite sex—at a moment when she needs the very best advice accompanied with a considerate regard for her overwrought feelings—the very best course she can take is to confide the secret of her heart to that truest and most loving of friends—her mother. Fortunate is the daughter who has not been deprived of that wisest and tenderest of counselors—whose experience of life, whose prudence and sagacity, whose anxious care and appreciation of her child’s sentiments, and whose awakened recollections of her own trysting days, qualify and entitle her above all other beings to counsel and comfort her trusting child, and to claim her confidence. Let the timid girl then pour forth into her mother’s ear the flood of her pent-up feelings. Let her endeavor to distrust her own judgment, and seek hope, guidance, and support from one who, she well knows, will not deceive or mislead her. The confidence thus established will be productive of the most beneficial results—by securing the daughter’s obedience to her parent’s advice, and her willing adoption of the observances prescribed by etiquette, which, as the courtship progresses, that parent will not fail to recommend as strictly essential in this phase of life. Where a young woman has had the misfortune to be deprived of her mother, she should at such a period endeavor to find her next best counselor in some female relative, or other trustworthy friend.

We are to suppose that favorable opportunities for meeting have occurred, until, by-and-by, both the lady and her admirer have come to regard each other with such warm feelings of inclination as to have a constant craving for each other’s society. Other eyes have in the meantime not failed to notice the symptoms of a growing attachment; and some “kind friends” have, no doubt, even set them down as already engaged.

The admirer of the fair one is, indeed, so much enamored as to be unable longer to retain his secret within his own breast; and, not being without hope that his attachment is reciprocated, resolves on seeking an introduction to the lady’s family preparatory to his making a formal declaration of love.

It is possible, however, that the lover’s endeavors to procure the desired introduction may fail of success, although, where no material difference of social position exists, this difficulty will be found to occur less frequently than might at first be supposed. He must then discreetly adopt measures to bring himself in some degree under the fair one’s notice: such, for instance, as attending the place of worship which she frequents, meeting her, so often as to be manifestly for the purpose, in the course of her promenades, &c. He will thus soon be able to judge—even without speaking to the lady—whether his further attentions will be distasteful to her. The signs of this on the lady’s part, though of the most trifling nature, and in no way compromising her, will be unmistakable; for, as the poet tells us in speaking of the sex:--

“He gave them but one tongue to say us ‘Nay,’
And two fond eyes to grant!”

Should her demeanor be decidedly discouraging, any perseverance on his part would be ungentlemanly and highly indecorous. But, on the other hand, should a timid blush intimate doubt, or a gentle smile lurking in the half-dropped eye give pleasing challenge to further parley when possible, he may venture to write—not to the lady—that would be the opening of a clandestine correspondence, an unworthy course where every act should be open and straightforward, as tending to manly and honorable ends—but, to the father or guardian, through the agency of a common friend where feasible; or, in some instances, to the party at whose residence the lady may be staying. In his letter he ought first to state his position in life and prospects, as well as mention his family connections; and then to request permission to visit the family, as a preliminary step to paying his addresses to the object of his admiration.

By this course he in nowise compromises either himself or the lady; but leaves open to both, at any future period, an opportunity of retiring from the position of courtship taken up on the one side, and of receiving addresses on the other, without laying either party open to the accusation of fickleness or jilting.





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