Dating and marriage advice from a 19th century Presbyterian pastor (it’s actually quite helpful)…

In 1850, Benjamin Morgan Palmer, a 19th century Presbyterian pastor in Columbia, SC, and New Orleans, LA, was asked by a single young pastor friend for some advice on the subject of finding a spouse. His words of wisdom are quite insightful, though perhaps not what one would expect from a pastor one hundred and sixty-five years ago. But before hearing the actual counsel, Palmer’s self-deprecation concerning his fitness to give such advice is refreshing: “I had a hearty laugh, but have committed [your request] to nobody’s confidence but Mrs. Palmer’s; whose aid I must require, if I am to provide a wife for you.”

Now, for Palmer’s advice:

I have but two suggestions on the general subject; for really my creed as to matrimony is exceedingly simple. The first is, commit this selection of a wife to Providence, and wait until you are caught. In matrimony, the fancy of the affections must take the initiative. There is no use of spurring these into action, they act best when they act spontaneously; and while they do not act it will not distress you to live singly. There is no benefit that I know of in loving the abstract passion. Wait until it assumes the concrete, and is associated with some object of love. My second suggestion is, do not surrender yourself blindly to the impulses of the taste and heart, but weigh in the balance of  sound judgment the qualities of any who may have caught you by the horns. Piety, prudence and intelligence are the prominent characteristics she should possess. If to these she can add a trace of beauty, that will please the eye; and if a little pelf [money], that will relieve the purse. But neither of these is indispensable… A good wife is from the Lord: therefore deliver yourself in this to the guiding of his Providence. The great secret of a happy choice may be given in a single sentence: it consists in united the taste and the judgment equally in the selection. Let the former be the active power, going forward in the choice; and let the latter be the satisfying power, indorsing or else vetoing, as the case may be. If both are satisfied, there is not much danger of forming a connection that will be regretted hereafter. — Life and Letters of Benjamin Morgan Palmer, p. 145-146


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