Advice to Her Son on Marriage, Mary Barber (from The Conclusion of a Letter to the Rev. Mr C—)
When you gain her Affection, take care to preserve it;
Lest others persuade her, you do not deserve it.
Still study to heighten the Joys of her Life;
Not treat her the worse, for her being your Wife.
If in Judgment she errs, set her right, without Pride:
’Tis the Province of insolent Fools, to deride.
A Husband’s first Praise, is a Friend and Protector:
Then change not these Titles, for Tyrant and Hector.
Let your Person be neat, unaffectedly clean,
Tho’ alone with your wife the whole Day you remain.
Chuse Books, for her study, to fashion her Mind,
To emulate those who excell’d of her Kind.
Be Religion the principal Care of your Life,
As you hope to be blest in your Children and Wife:
So you, in your Marriage, shall gain its true End;
And find, in your Wife, a Companion and Friend.
Such paintings remind me that women and their children, across centuries, classes and cultures, use the same gestures, mannerisms, postures. See how Viscountess Duncannon embraces one son while turning to the younger child. See how Mrs William Beresford stoops to hold her prancing toddler. See how young Raphael West waves joyfully and how little William Brown pokes his mother’s neck. Delightful.
Camilla Gonzaga with Her Three Sons, Parmigianino
Mrs Benjamin West and her Son, Raphael, Benjamin West
Mrs William Beresford and her Son John, later Lord Decies, Joshua Reynolds
Mrs Edward L Davis and Her Son Livingston, John Singer Sargent
Portrait of Harriet, Viscountess Duncannon with Her Sons, John Hoppner
Jane Darwin and her Son William Brown, Joseph Wright
Mother to Son, Langston Hughes
Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So, boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps.
‘Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
Listen to this poem here.