Friday, November 06, 2009

The Measure of a Man

This is a rather lengthy excerpt from Sarah Morgan’s Diary (pg. 61-63), but it's so simultaneously amusing and thought-provoking that I just had to include it! For one thing, it's amazing to be able to read the thoughts of a young woman who lived a century and a half ago. And for another, some of the requirements she lists for her future spouse are well-worth considering!

"Shall I say here, if not aloud, why it is I have never yet fallen in love? Simply because I have yet to meet the man I would be willing to acknowledge as my lord and master. For unconfessed to myself, until very recently, I have dressed up an image in my heart, and have unconsciously worshipped it under the name of Beau Ideal. Not a very impossible one, for doubtless there are many such, though the genus is not to be found in Baton Rouge; but still I am ashamed to acknowledge such a schoolgirl weakness, even to myself; for I know if any moonstruck girl described her beau ideal to me, the only sympathy she would get would be a slight elevation of the nose. I hate sentimentality; but way down in my heart, I am afraid I rather like sentiment.

Do you remember the distinction? Well, my lord and master must be some one I shall never have to blush for, or be ashamed to acknowledge; the one that, after God, I shall most venerate and respect; and as I cannot respect a fool, he must be intelligent. I place that first, for I consider it the chief qualification in man, just as I believe a pure heart is the chief beauty of a woman. Yes, and he must be smart enough for two; his brains must do duty for both, and supply all my deficiencies. Now that is settled, I hardly know what comes next; I place all other qualifications on a single level. Oh! I forgot amiability! That ranks immediately after intelligence; sometimes I am inclined to give it the precedence, for I am satisfied that no home is a happy one where it is not an inmate. He must be amiable enough to set me a good example, and philosophical enough to teach me to laugh at the petty annoyance of this life. I could be forever cheerful where I had a kind smile to meet mine; loving hearts and kind words are as necessary as the air I breath[e], so my Master must be amiable. He must be brave as man can be; brave to madness, even.

I could marry no other than a gentleman. I do not mean gentleman in the vulgar sense—handsome young fellow with well oiled hair, and even more impudence than pomatum; such a beauty, and so rich! (although he may have been a shoe black when very young)--, no; I mean gentleman in my signification of the term, which, to the qualities mentioned a while ago, adds principle as firm and immoveable—as the rock of Gibralta [sic], a sense of honor as nice and delicate as a woman’s, and a noble, generous, pure heart. That is what I call a gentleman; how many of my present friends answer to the description? There are many such in this world, though.

I would not wish him to be rich; “poor and content is rich enough…” Above all, he must have—a Profession! If he is rich, smash! go the Banks some fine morning, and Master is turned adrift on the tender mercies of the world, without the means to turn an honest penny, even if he had the inclination or energy, which most rich men do not…If he is poor, the Banks may fail without hurting him; his profession gives him a position until he can claim and sustain it by his own exertions; success crowns his efforts at last. Poverty, with such a person as I have described, is infinitely better than wealth in abundance, with a fool of a parvenue. I am satisfied that it is the life for me.

Woe be to me, if I could feel superior to him for an instant! Black misery would drape the rest of my young days, and settled despair grace my old ones. I need some one I would delight to acknowledge as the model of all goodness and intellect on earth; some one to look up to, and admire unfeignedly, some one to lead me upward, and teach me to be worthy of his regard.

I have described such a man as I firmly believe exists, such a one as I believe I should marry, if I expect to be happy. One that I could respect above all others; one, whose children (I may here say I have the greatest penchant for widowers and lawyers) I could bring up in the belief my mother taught hers, that their father was the greatest and best man in the world. When I meet such a man, then… I will tumble heels over head in love, and get married forthwith, even if I had to do the courting! Until then, Cupid spare my heart! I will need it all for him, and am inclined to believe that hearts and eggs are much the same: they keep fresh enough if you let them alone, but get woefully addled by being tossed about. Cupid spare my heart, I say! I prefer an omelette of fresh eggs, and perhaps he does too! “Go thy way; when I have a more convenient season, I will send for thee!”

Sarah did eventually marry, but she had to wait for her "Beau Ideal" -- she married Frank Dawson in 1874 at the age of 32.


  1. Wow! How amazing to read those wonderfully reasoned thoughts of a young girl from a time where young ladies were "silly"! And how delightful to know that she did wait for him.
    Thank you for posting this.


  2. what a sweet word and sentiments so true!

    thanks for posting :)



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