And so it is, and for his rule over his family, and for his conduct to wife and children—subjects over whom his power is monarchical—any one who watches the world must think with trembling sometimes of the account which many a man will have to render. For in our society there’s no law to control the King of the Fireside. He is master of property, happiness—life almost. He is free to punish, to make happy or unhappy—to ruin or to torture. He may kill a wife gradually, and be no more questioned than the Grand seignior who drowns a slave at midnight. He may make slaves and hypocrites of his children; or friends and freemen; or drive them into revolt and enmity against the natural law of love. I have heard politicians and coffee-house wiseacres talking over the newspaper, and railing at the tyranny of the French King, and the Emperor, and wondered how these (who are monarchs, too, in their way) govern their own dominions at home, where each man rules absolute. When the annals of each little reign are shown to the Supreme Master, under whom we hold sovereignty, histories will be laid bare of household tyrants as cruel as Amurath, and as savage as Nero, and as reckless and dissolute as Charles.
William Makepeace Thackeray, The History of Henry Esmond, Esq.
Our lackeys sit in judgment on us. My lord’s intrigues may be ever so stealthily conducted, but his valet knows them; and my lady’s woman carries her mistress’s private history to the servants’ scandal market, and exchanges it against the secrets of other abigails.
Wiliam Makepeace Thackeray, The History of Henry Esmond, Esq.
Much of the quarrels and hatred which arise between married people come in my mind from the husband’s rage and revolt at discovering that his slave and bedfellow, who is to minister to all his wishes, and is church-sworn to honor and obey him—is his superior; and that HE, and not she, ought to be the subordinate of the twain; and in these controversies, I think, lay the cause of my lord’s anger against his lady. When he left her, she began to think for herself, and her thoughts were not in his favor.
William Makepeace Thackeray, The History of Henry Esmond, Esq.
In houses where, in place of that sacred, inmost flame of love, there is discord at the centre, the whole household becomes hypocritical, and each lies to his neighbor. The husband (or it may be the wife) lies when the visitor comes in, and wears a grin of reconciliation or politeness before him. The wife lies (indeed, her business is to do that, and to smile, however much she is beaten), swallows her tears, and lies to her lord and master; lies in bidding little Jackey respect dear papa; lies in assuring grandpapa that she is perfectly happy. The servants lie, wearing grave faces behind their master’s chair, and pretending to be unconscious of the fighting; and so, from morning till bedtime, life is passed in falsehood. And wiseacres call this a proper regard of morals, and point out Baucis and Philemon as examples of a good life.
William Makepeace Thackeray, The History of Henry Esmond, Esq.
Who does not know of eyes, lighted by love once, where the flame shines no more?—of lamps extinguished, once properly trimmed and tended? Every man has such in his house. Such mementoes make our splendidest chambers look blank and sad; such faces seen in a day cast a gloom upon our sunshine. So oaths mutually sworn, and invocations of heaven, and priestly ceremonies, and fond belief, and love, so fond and faithful that it never doubted but that it should live for ever, are all of no avail towards making love eternal: it dies, in spite of the banns and the priest; and I have often thought there should be a visitation of the sick for it, and a funeral service, and an extreme unction, and an abi in pace. It has its course, like all mortal things—its beginning, progress, and decay. It buds and it blooms out into sunshine, and it withers and ends.
William Makepeace Thackeray, The History of Henry Esmond, Esq.
I do not stop to say what adventures he began to imagine, or what career to devise for himself before he had ridden three miles from home. He had not read Monsieur Galland’s ingenious Arabian tales as yet; but be sure that there are other folks who build castles in the air, and have fine hopes, and kick them down too, besides honest Alnaschar.
William Makepeace Thackeray, The History of Henry Esmond, Esq.
She had been my lord’s chief slave and blind worshipper. Some women bear farther than this, and submit not only to neglect but to unfaithfulness too—but here this lady’s allegiance had failed her. Her spirit rebelled, and disowned any more obedience. First she had to bear in secret the passion of losing the adored object; then to get further initiation, and to find this worshipped being was but a clumsy idol: then to admit the silent truth, that it was she was superior, and not the monarch her master: that she had thoughts which his brains could never master, and was the better of the two; quite separate from my lord although tied to him, and bound, as almost all people (save a very happy few), to work all her life alone.
William Makepeace Thackeray, The History of Henry Esmond, Esq.
To be doing good for some one else, is the life of most good women. They are exuberant of kindness, as it were, and must impart it to someone.
William Makepeace Thackeray, The History of Henry Esmond, Esq.
'Tis an error, surely, to talk of the simplicity of youth. I think no persons are more hypocritical, and have a more affected behavior to one another, than the young. They deceive themselves and each other with artifices that do not impose upon men of the world; and so we get to understand truth better, and grow simpler as we grow older.
William Makepeace Thackeray, The History of Henry Esmond, Esq.
Then, perhaps, the pair reached that other stage which is not uncommon in married life, when the woman perceives that the god of the honeymoon is a god no more; only a mortal like the rest of us—and so she looks into her heart, and lo! vacuae sedes et inania arcana. And now, supposing our lady to have a fine genius and a brilliant wit of her own, and the magic spell and infatuation removed from her which had led her to worship as a god a very ordinary mortal—and what follows? They live together, and they dine together, and they say “my dear” and “my love” as heretofore; but the man is himself, and the woman herself: that dream of love is over as everything else is over in life; as flowers and fury, and griefs and pleasures, are over.
William Makepeace Thackeray, The History of Henry Esmond, Esq.