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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Marietta Holley (1836–1926)

An Unmarried Female

From “My Opinions and Betsey Bobbet’s”

I SUPPOSE we are about as happy as the most of folks, but as I was sayin’ a few days ago to Betsey Bobbet, a neighborin’ female of ours, “Every station-house in life has its various skeletons. But we ort to try to be contented with that spear of life we are called on to handle.” Betsey hain’t married, and she don’t seem to be contented. She is awful opposed to wimmin’s rights; she thinks it is wimmin’s only spear to marry, but as yet she can’t find any man willin’ to lay holt of that spear with her. But you can read in her daily life, and on her eager, willin’ countenance, that she fully realizes the sweet words of the poet, “While there is life there is hope.”

Betsey hain’t handsome. Her cheek-bones are high, and she bein’ not much more than skin and bone they show plainer than they would if she was in good order. Her complexion (not that I blame her for it) hain’t good, and her eyes are little and sot way back in her head. Time has seen fit to deprive her of her hair and teeth, but her large nose he has kindly suffered her to keep; but she has got the best white ivory teeth money will buy, and two long curls fastened behind each ear, besides frizzles on the top of her head; and if she wasn’t naturally bald, and if the curls was the color of her hair, they would look well. She is awful sentimental; I have seen a good many that had it bad, but of all the sentimental creeters I ever did see, Betsey Bobbet is the sentimentalest; you couldn’t squeeze a laugh out of her with a cheese-press.

As I said, she is awful opposed to wimmin’s havin’ any right, only the right to get married. She holds on to that right as tight as any single woman I ever see, which makes it hard and wearyin’ on the single men ’round here.

For take the men that are the most opposed to wimmin’s havin’ a right, and talk the most about its bein’ her duty to cling to man like a vine to a tree, they don’t want Betsey to cling to them; they won’t let her cling to ’em. For when they would be a-goin’ on about how wicked it was for wimmin’ to vote, and it was her only spear to marry, says I to ’em, “Which had you ruther do: let Betsey Bobbet cling to you, or let her vote?” and they would every one of ’em quail before that question. They would drop their heads before my keen gray eyes, and move off the subject.

But Betsey don’t get discouraged. Every time I see her she says in a hopeful, wishful tone, “That the deepest men of minds in the country agree with her in thinkin’ that it is wimmin’s duty to marry and not to vote.” And then she talks a sight about the retirin’ modesty and dignity of the fair sect, and how shameful and revoltin’ it would be to see wimmin throwin’ ’em away and boldly and unblushin’ly talkin’ about law and justice.

Why, to hear Betsey Bobbet talk about wimmin’s throwin’ their modesty away, you would think if they ever went to the political pole they would have to take their dignity and modesty and throw ’em against the pole, and go without any all the rest of their lives.

Now I don’t believe in no such stuff as that. I think a woman can be bold and unwomanly in other things besides goin’ with a thick veil over her face, and a brass-mounted parasol, once a year, and gently and quietly dropping a vote for a Christian President or a religious and noble-minded pathmaster.

She thinks she talks dreadful polite and proper. She says “I was cameing,” instead of “I was coming”; and “I have saw,” instead of “I have seen”; and “papah” for paper, and “deah” for dear. I don’t know much about grammer, but common sense goes a good ways. She writes the poetry for the Jonesville Augur, or “Augah,” as she calls it. She used to write for the opposition paper, the Jonesville Gimlet, but the editor of the Augur, a long-haired chap, who moved into Jonesville a few months ago, lost his wife soon after he come there, and sence that she has turned Dimocrat, and writes for his paper stidy. They say that he is a dreadful big-feelin’ man, and I have heard—it came right straight to me—his cousin’s wife’s sister told it to the mother-in-law of one of my neighbor’s brother’s wife, that he didn’t like Betsey’s poetry at all, and all he printed it for was to plague the editor of the Gimlet, because she used to write for him. I myself wouldn’t give a cent a bushel for all the poetry she can write. And it seems to me that if I was Betsey I wouldn’t try to write so much. Howsumever, I don’t know what turn I should take if I was Betsey Bobbet; that is a solemn subject, and one I don’t love to think on.

I never shall forget the first piece of her poetry I ever see. Josiah Allen and I had both on us been married goin’ on a year, and I had occasion to go to his trunk one day, where he kept a lot of old papers, and the first thing I laid my hand on was these verses. Josiah went with her a few times after his wife died, on the Fourth of July or so, and two or three camp-meetin’s, and the poetry seemed to be wrote about the time we was married. It was directed over the top of it, “Owed to Josiah,” just as if she were in debt to him. This was the way it read:

  • Owed to Josiah
  • “Josiah, I the tale have hurn,
  • With rigid ear, and streaming eye,
  • I saw from me that you did turn,
  • I never knew the reason why.
  • Oh, Josiah,
  • It seemed as if I must expiah.
  • “Why did you—oh, why did you blow
  • Upon my life of snowy sleet,
  • The fiah of love to fiercest glow,
  • Then turn a dampah on the heat?
  • Oh, Josiah,
  • It seemed as if I must expiah.
  • “I saw thee coming down the street,
  • She by your side in bonnet bloo;
  • The stuns that grated ’neath thy feet
  • Seemed crunching on my vitals, too.
  • Oh, Josiah,
  • It seemed as if I must expiah.
  • “I saw thee washing sheep last night,
  • On the bridge I stood with marble brow,
  • The waters raged, thou clasped it tight,
  • I sighed, ‘Should both be drownded now’—
  • I thought, Josiah,
  • Oh, happy sheep to thus expiah.”
  • I showed the poetry to Josiah that night after he came home, and told him I had read it. He looked awful ashamed to think I had seen it, and says he, with a dreadful sheepish look: “The persecution I underwent from that female can never be told; she fairly hunted me down. I hadn’t no rest for the soles of my feet. I thought one spell she would marry me in spite of all I could do, without givin’ me the benefit of law or gospel.” He see I looked stern, and he added with a sick-lookin’ smile, “I thought one spell,” to use Betsey’s language, “I was a gonah.”

    I didn’t smile. Oh, no, for the deep principle of my sect was reared up. I says to him, in a tone cold enough to almost freeze his ears: “Josiah Allen, shet up. Of all the cowardly things a man ever done, it is goin’ ’round braggin’ about wimmin likin’ ’em, and foller’n’ ’em up. Enny man that’ll do that is little enough to crawl through a knot-hole without rubbing his clothes.” Says I: “I suppose you made her think the moon rose in your head and set in your heels. I daresay you acted foolish enough round her to sicken a snipe, and if you makes fun of her now to please me, I let you know you have got holt of the wrong individual.

    “Now,” says I, “go to bed,” and I added, in still more freezing accents, “for I want to mend your pantaloons.” He gathered up his shoes and stockin’s and started off to bed, and we hain’t never passed a word on the subject sence. I believe when you disagree with your pardner, in freein’ your mind in the first on’t, and then not to be a-twittin’ about it afterward. And as for bein’ jealous, I should jest as soon think of bein’ jealous of a meetin’-house as I should of Josiah. He is a well-principled man. And I guess he wasn’t fur out o’ the way about Betsey Bobbet, though I wouldn’t encourage him by lettin’ him say a word on the subject, for I always make it a rule to stand up for my own sect; but when I hear her go on about the editor of the Augur, I can believe anything about Betsey Bobbet.

    She came in here one day last week. It was about ten o’clock in the morning. I had got my house slick as a pin, and my dinner under way (I was goin’ to have a b’iled dinner, and a cherry puddin’ b’iled, with sweet sass to eat on it), and I sot down to finish sewin’ up the breadth of my new rag carpet. I thought I would get it done while I hadn’t so much to do, for it bein’ the first of March I knew sugarin’ would be comin’ on, and then cleanin’-house time, and I wanted it to put down jest as soon as the stove was carried out in the summer kitchen. The fire was sparklin’ away, and the painted floor a-shinin’ and the dinner a-b’ilin’, and I sot there sewin’ jest as calm as a clock, not dreamin’ of no trouble, when in came Betsey Bobbet.

    I met her with outward calm, and asked her to set down and lay off her things. She sot down, but she said she couldn’t lay off her things. Says she: “I was comin’ down past, and I thought I would call and let you see the last numbah of the Augah. There is a piece in it concernin’ the tariff that stirs men’s souls. I like it evah so much.”

    She handed me the paper, folded so I couldn’t see nothin’ but a piece of poetry by Betsey Bobbet. I see what she wanted of me, and so I dropped my breadths of carpetin’ and took hold of it, and began to read it.

    “Read it audible, if you please,” says she. “Especially the precious remahks ovah it; it is such a feast for me to be a-sittin’ and heah it rehearsed by a musical vorce.”

    Says I, “I s’pose I can rehearse it if it will do you any good,” so I began as follows:

  • “It is seldom that we present to the readers of the Augur (the best paper for the fireside in Jonesville or the world) with a poem like the following. It may be, by the assistance of the Augur (only twelve shillings a year in advance, wood and potatoes taken in exchange), the name of Betsey Bobbet will yet be carved on the lofty pinnacle of Fame’s towering pillow. We think, however, that she could study such writers as Sylvanus Cobb and Tupper with profit both to herself and to them.
  • —“EDITOR OF THE Augur.”
  • Here Betsey interrupted me. “The deah editah of the Augah has no need to advise me to read Tuppah, for he is indeed my most favorite authar. You have devorhed him, haven’t you, Josiah Allen’s wife?”

    “Devoured who?” says I, in a tone pretty near as cold as a cold icicle.

    “Mahten Fahqueah Tuppah, that sweet authar,” says she.

    “No, mam,” says I shortly; “I hain’t devoured Martin Farquhar Tupper, nor no other man. I hain’t a cannibal.”

    “Oh, you understand me not; I meant, devorhed his sweet, tender lines.”

    “I hain’t devoured his tenderlines, nor nothin’ relatin’ to him,” and I made a motion to lay the paper down, but Betsey urged me to go on, and so I read:

  • “Gushings of a Tendah Soul
  • “‘Oh, let who will,
  • Oh, let who can,
  • Be tied onto
  • A horrid male man.’
  • “Thus said I ere
  • My tendah heart was touched;
  • Thus said I ere
  • My tendah feelings gushed.
  • “But oh, a change
  • Hath swept ore me,
  • As billows sweep
  • The ‘deep blue sea.’
  • “A voice, a noble form
  • One day I saw;
  • An arrow flew,
  • My heart is nearly raw.
  • “His first pardner lies
  • Beneath the turf;
  • He is wondering now
  • In sorrow’s briny surf.
  • “Two twins, the little
  • Death cherub creechahs,
  • Now wipe the teahs
  • From off his classic feachahs.
  • “Oh, sweet lot, worthy
  • Angel arisen,
  • To wipe teahs
  • From eyes like hisen.”
  • “What think you of it?” says she, as I finished readin’.

    I looked right at her ’most a minute with a majestic look. In spite of her false curls and her new white ivory teeth, she is a humbly critter. I looked at her silently while she sot and twisted her long yellow bunnet-strings, and then I spoke out. “Hain’t the editor of the Augur a widower with a pair of twins?”

    “Yes,” says she, with a happy look.

    Then says I, “If the man hain’t a fool, he’ll think you are one.”

    “Oh!” says she, and she dropped her bunnet-strings and clasped her long bony hands together in her brown cotton gloves. “Oh, we ahdent soles of genious have feelin’s you cold, practical natures know nuthing of, and if they did not gush out in poetry we should expiah. You may as well try to tie up the gushing catarack of Niagarah with a piece of welting-cord as to tie up the feelin’s of an ahdent sole.”

    “Ardent sole!” says I coldly. “Which makes the most noise, Betsey Bobbet, a three-inch brook or a ten-footer? which is the tearer? which is the roarer? Deep waters run stillest. I have no faith in feelin’s that’s talk round in public in mournin’ weeds. I have no faith in such mourners,” says I.

    “Oh, Josiah’s wife, cold, practical female being, you know me not; we are sundered as fah apart as if you was sitting on the North Pole and I was sitting on the South Pole. Uncongenial being, you know me not.”

    “I may not know you, Betsey Bobbet, but I do know decency, and I know that no munny would tempt me to write such stuff as that poetry and send it to a widower with twins.”

    “Oh!” says she, “what appeals to the tendah feelin’ heart of a single female woman more than to see a lonely man who has lost his relict? And pity never seems so much like pity as when it is given to the deah little children of widowehs. And,” says she, “I think moah than as likely as not, this soaring sole of genious did not wed his affinity, but was united to a mere woman of clay.”

    “Mere woman of clay!” says I, fixin’ my spektacles upon her in a most searchin’ manner. “Where will you find a woman, Betsey Bobbet, that hain’t more or less clay? And affinity, that is the meanest word I ever heard; no married woman has any right to hear it. I’ll excuse you, bein’ a female; but if a man had said it to me I’d holler to Josiah. There is a time for everything, and the time to hunt affinity is before you are married; married folks hain’t no right to hunt it,” says I sternly.

    “We kindred soles soah above such petty feelin’s—we soah far above them.”

    “I hain’t much of a soarer,” says I, “and I don’t pretend to be; and to tell you the truth,” says I, “I am glad I hain’t.”

    “The editah of the Augah,” says she, and she grasped the paper offen the stand and folded it up, and presented it at me like a spear, “the editah of this paper is a kindred sole; he appreciates me, he undahstands me, and will not our names in the pages of this very papah go down to posterety togathah?”

    “Then,” says I, drove out of all patience with her, “I wish you was there now, both of you. I wish,” says I, lookin’ fixedly on her, “I wish you was both of you in posterity now.”