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Collection of ballads, songsheets: The Contented Wife

Collection of ballads, songsheets. 2 vols. London: J. Pitts, 1805­1840? University of Minnesota Libraries. WILSON Rare Books Quarto 820.1 Z. Vol. 1.

Half sheet.


The Contented Wife.

Printed and sold by J. Pitts, 14,
Andrew street, 7 <D>ials,
        A Wife I have been for this seven long years<,>
        So blest be the time I did marry.
        I never fell out of love in my life,
        Tho' he at the alehouse did tarry,
            I light up my candle and get me to bed,
        He comes when he pleases no more the<re> is said<.>
        He sleeps till  he's sober and settles his head,
        So girls mind you this when you marry,
            Next morning I rise before he does wake,
        And then I do make him a fire,
        For breakfast I make him so<me> chocolate hot,
        Or anything he does desire,
            He gives me a kiss to his work he does go,
        I never say husband why do you so
        We live like two turtledoves no <s>orrow we know
                                So girls mind, & c.
            If our money falls short on the Saturday night
        We make the less serve us on Sunday<.>
        He says my dear I'll be better next week,
        And goes to work early on Monday<.>
            Our children live in subjection and fear,
        We never use words worse than love & my dear
        And we have been married this many a year,
                                So girls mind, &c.
            If you have a bad husband to scold is in vain<,>
        Ill words will ne'er make it better,
        But keep yourself free from contention and strife,
        Let the neighbours know nought of the matter.
            Then let every woman her husband adore,
        And be but content tho<'> ever so ever so poor,
        Then heaven will daily increase your store,
                                So girls mind, &c.
        MY wife is a notable girl I must own,
        And now I do love her most dearly,
        She never does scold me whene'er I come in,
        Be it ever so late or so early.
            I stagger to bed where all night I do lie,
        Snoring fast by her side l<i>ke a hog in a stye,
        I sometimes call her names but she never does reply.
        No man was e'er happier married.
            Her goodness at length did my vileness reclaim,
        That I should abuse such good nature
        I thought to myself that I was much to blame,
        And therefore resolv'd to get better,
            I have left off my drinking and reveling quite,
        My kind wife and children are all my delight.
        My health I preserve and save money by't,
                                No man was, &c.
            She is a good wife and house wife beside,
        Altho' I have <been> such a vill<ai>n,
        She will make a groat go further indeed,
        Than many a one will a shilling,
            <S>he's none of those wives that will drink, scoff, and talk,
        Or gossips about to her neighbors all day,
        Or e'er goes abroad unless 'tis with me,
                                No man was, &c.

Transcription and commentary (below) by Eric Welle.

The broadside ballad "The Contented Wife" addresses the social concern of marital discord: it is basically a recipe for a harmonious marriage. It uses two complementary first-person narratives to relay advice from each partner of the marriage. The wife advises future wives to be steadfast in love, industrious, devout, meek, obedient, trusting, and frugal for their husbands. She claims that if a wife does that, the couple will always be content. But the husband's advice is not concerned with how to be a better husband. He tells the reader that it was his good wife who changed his vile ways and made him a better man. Marriage saves him from squandering his money at the tavern and saves him from a life of debauchery.
    The ballad reinforces the cultural ideal of the submissive wife and the (eventually) domesticated husband. The wife's last stanza expresses the sentiments of marital privacy and companionship. It reflects the social trend in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries of maintaining public propriety. The wife remains completely submissive, despite the husband's crude behavior.
    The characters of the husband and wife are clearly meant to be exemplary. The ballad portrays the wife as submissive, a stoic who endures the burden of domesticating her husband with patient servitude. Through her utter devotion and decency, the husband eventually realizes his folly and turns into a proper gentleman, father and husband. Her submission leads to marital harmony. The woman must mould the man over time; it is not even hinted that a man should have to work at a successful marriage.

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Michael Hancher
Department of English, University of Minnesota
URL: <http://mh.cla.umn.edu/contente.html>
Comments to: mh@umn.edu
Created 29 June 1997