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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Marriage is Companionship

By Junius Henri Browne (1833–1902)

[Born in Seneca Falls, N. Y., 1833. Died in New York, N. Y., 1902. Women as Companions.—The Galaxy. 1873.]

WOMAN is the complement of man, and in their union, which rightly understood means companionship, unity consists. Union, as commonly interpreted, signifies merely a legal tie—made legal that it may bind in the absence of other bonds. Genuine companionship forms no part of it. There is a species of association, rather material than spiritual, for a few hours out of the twenty-four, and that is all. Practical duties absorb the man; domestic obligations consume the woman. Their thoughts, their activities, their spheres are different. They touch each other only at the point of mutual interest. Beyond that their existences are unfamiliar and flow apart. They seldom have the delightful middle ground—the welcome oasis in the Libya of life—on which their inner selves may meet. Or, if they have, it is too narrow for them both, because they have made it narrow. One may stand there and watch and wait; but the other, though near, is distant—will not come—will not hear the cooing of the heart. His labors and anxieties tire him; her endless occupations and cares weary and wear on her. To him home is simply a couch; to her it is a toilsome field, where the harvest is never gathered. They work and sleep, and sleep and work; and from their dreary daily round contentment slips away, aspiration falls to the ground.

For such couples there can be no companionship; they are mere partners in business, in which the finer issues of achievement are indefinitely postponed. They have a hearthstone, but no altar; a refuge, but no sanctuary; a temple, but no gods. They have relations without sympathies; associations without affinities; communication without communion. They hold the creed and perform the rites of the affections, but they never ask for, since they do not feel the need of, the precious sacrament. They are the menial acolytes who kindle the tapers and bear the bread and wine, though careless and ignorant of the sacred mysteries they celebrate.

True marriage is complete companionship. As the companionship grows less, the marriage becomes untruthful, loses its earliest spring, dwindles from its apex. The deepest expression of love is longing for the object loved. When the longing decreases, love has decreased in the same proportion. Companionship is the realization of the longing; and the realization which does not produce satiety touches and blends with the ideal. All the romance of the freshest emotions tends to and demands companionship. The most ordinary lovers are as Daphne and Apollo when first they catch the soft infection. The sentiments with which they are inspired warm them with poetic fervor, and the common things that compose their life assume the hues of remembered dreams. The instinct of companionship is strong upon them. They glide to each other like concurrent streams, and, once together, their rustic silence is more eloquent than moulded words. Their sole thought, their one desire, is companionship, whose presence and influence lend color and warmth, rhythm and rhyme to the rude prose of their being. For hours they will sit beside a stagnant pool and see the heaven of their hope mirrored on its turbid surface. They will walk hand in hand through barren fields that are to them as Armida’s enchanted garden. They will be surrounded by poverty and meanness, and personal contact will conjure these into affluence and splendor. In all such externals companionship is the transparent power, the cunning creator of beautiful illusions, the spiritual sorcerer that compels the outward state to reflect the inner mood.

As with coarse, so it is with fine humanity. Like seeks like throughout the universe, and this seeking attains its end in companionship. The masculine and feminine in all the kingdoms strive toward each other; wanting rest until conjoined, and wanting development until contiguity be secured. While companionship continues satisfaction lasts; but both are usually temporary from the absence of congenial conditions. Marriage, I repeat, is companionship, and with the termination of companionship veritable divorce begins. Wedlock, as generally seen, is a cumbersome volume, with a sweet prelude of verse followed by tedious chapters of awkwardly constructed prose. The proem represents companionship, and the subsequent part its withdrawal. If the companionship could but be preserved, each month would prove a honeymoon; discords, bickerings, and misunderstandings would diminish rather than increase, because the action of contact wears off angles and adjusts uneven surfaces to one another. Men would not sulk; women would not regret; nor would both turn to the past with the unavailing wish to undo the present. Their burdens would be lighter by the sharing of them; their discontents be softened by sympathetic unfolding. Their ways might be dark and devious; but the consciousness that they should walk, where’er they went, closely and tenderly together, would shed such light upon their pathway that the darkness would be dispelled and the deviousness made straight. It is never too late to resume companionship—would that they who need it most might remember this!—and yet they who have surrendered it rarely look for it again. When they step apart, the slightest channel of their separation broadens and deepens, until what was a crevice becomes a yawning chasm, which few have the strength or courage to leap. If they would but stretch their yearning arms across, wounded faith, broken affection, bruised tenderness could pass over the natural bridge and be made whole once more by receiving back what had been their own, and must soon again be mutually possessed.