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  • Title: Counsel to the Husband (Modern)
  • Editors: Sarah Milligan, Jessica Slights

  • Copyright Internet Shakespeare Editions. This text may be freely used for educational, non-proift purposes; for all other uses contact the Coordinating Editor.
    Author: B. Ste[phen?]
    Editors: Sarah Milligan, Jessica Slights
    Peer Reviewed

    Counsel to the Husband (Modern)

    0.1From Counsel to the Husband: To the Wife Instruction (1608)

    [Among the many books offering lifestyle advice to the early moderns, those like Counsel to the Husband: To the Wife Instruction that focus on the nature of marriage proved particularly popular. Many scholars suggest that it is productive to read Othello within the context of such discussions of the obligations of husbands and wives, though they are divided in their conclusions.]

    1The whole estate of man's happiness may be easily disposed into the consideration of two times: the state of this life present and the glory of the life to come. This life, being the first, is both the image to resemble and the foundation wherein to lay or work that eternal happiness. Neither is there any estate wherein we may more lively behold or sensibly taste and feel any sparkle or jot of the Lord our God, his eternal love to us, than in that united estate of man and wife wherein two persons become but one,

    Eph. 5.13.

    which still are two, and mutually owe to other several duty. The union whereof, as it is unspeakable where there is indeed an holy union, so hath it pleased the Lord, not seldom but often in his word, and especially in the Song of Songs, called Solomon's Canticles, under the title of a husband rejoicing with his wife to set forth his love unto us, what it is in Christ Jesus. Whose mutual kindness expressed, in that song I mean, in terms, in duties, in wanting each other, in seeking, in sorrowing, in finding, in enjoying, in solacing and embracing, in unwillingness to leave and depart each from other, may well show the conjunction to be unspeakable between man and wife rightly conjoined and yoked equally, and be a lively pattern of more heavenly things. Howbeit, I say it is not in all conjunctions that this image of spiritual happiness doth appear, for in some it beareth rather a type of hellish sorrows, wherein our Savior saith

    Matt. 25.30.

    shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth when the judgment shall be pronounced upon the reprobate [Go away ye cursed ones into everlasting fire.]

    Verse 41.

    Even so, where the match is unmeet, the conjunction unequal, the united in body disunited in spirit, of contrary affections, hearts, and religions, duties unperformed, each crossing other, or any of the twain unwise that will not be admonished, what are the fruits there but wrath, bitterness, contention, controlling, contradiction, taking all things in the evil part, jealousy, upbraiding, discontentment, false dealing, secret juggling, conspiring, wants without pitying each other, toil without helping each other, seeking each one his credit with discredit unto both, with many other as grievous to be spoken of as any part? All which no doubt made Solomon so to speak

    Prov. 21.9, 19.

    as his proverbs do bear witness, namely, that it were better to dwell in the corner of an housetop, yea in the wilderness most desolate and solitary, and as another saith, with dragons and bears or other cruel beasts, than with the contentious and froward wife. So that as I said this image of God's love and of our eternal and most happy conjunction with Christ—he the head and we the members; he the husband, we the wife; he our well-beloved one, and we his as well beloved—is not to be found in every conjunction, as woeful experience giveth cause of complaint to many, but only in the godly united match, in the well-ordered and governed match. So that how necessarily doth it behoove them that would live perfectly happy by enjoying the one and avoiding the other to be instructed in the means which lead hereunto? That is, seeing this happiness is in the right ordering of man and wife themselves, each towards other, and then both in the joint governing of their family to know, therefore, both their several works and conjoined duties. And whereas I called this estate before a foundation, wherein to lay the work of eternal happiness, I spake not without advisement, for that as the Church generally is the school of God's kingdom, a place to make men fit before they can enjoy his kingdom, understanding me of such as come to the state of discretion and judgment, as also the word of God is called the gospel of this kingdom because that in this life is fitteth men thereunto, so is every man's house rightly ordered and governed by the rules of godliness not unjustly or without cause by the holy ghost called a church,

    Rom. 16.5.

    the governors, kings,

    Rev. 1.6.

    priests, and prophets unto God. Kings to rule, priests to offer sacrifice, and prophets to instruct or see instructed. The husband first and principally as the head and high priest, the wife in his absence or upon just cause he shall require her.

    . . .

    The rule that you must level by, both concerning yourself and others that shall be your charge, is the most blessed word of God; a young man's rule, an old man's rule, every man's rule, the prince must rule by it, the subject obey by it; the husband must govern his wife by it; the wife must yield her subjection thereby as it prescribeth. In it there is for every condition, state, and degree most perfect instruction to be taught and learned.

    . . .

    There must be further building in the work and government of a family. For as the sweetness of music consisteth in the orderly concent and tuning of the strings without which be he never so skillful that playeth, the instrument never so good, the strings never so true, there will be no sound of music; even so, if the strings and members of a family be set in tune, every string in his due and proper place, every string in his place keeping his note and height,

    Ps. 133.

    then, as David saith, is there the comeliness, goodness, and well agreement, which he resembled to Hermon's pleasant and precious dews

    Verses 2, 3.

    with that most sweet and sacred savor which from the priestly anointing of Aaron did arise and smell. To this, naturally, we are not by birth apt, no more than the strings of an instrument will of their own nature without art or skill fall into tune.

    . . .

    A family may be compared unto a commonwealth wherein there are divers societies and degrees, reciprocally relating and mutually depending one upon another. The highest degree or society is between the husband and the wife, and this is as the first wheel of a clock that turneth about all the rest in order. The next society is between the parents and the children. The third between the servants one with another and towards all other superiors in the family. Into these three societies may a family be disposed. As touching the first and principal society, wherein also principally I purpose to insist, which is between yourself and your loving hind and roe, whom many a time I have blessed and shall bless by God's grace unto your use and comfort, give me leave as one that can speak by the surest learning to power forth my mind mutually to you both, who can tell you that the canker unto happiness and danger of confusion to a family is the contention and disagreement of man and wife.

    5You will say, how may this be avoided? I answer very easily if in time true regard be had unto mutual duty, without which there can be no comfort nor that blessing of happiness which before we spoke of. Nay, which is more, to have the blessing of God which is the foundation and cause of all happiness. It standeth not in what man and wife shall conclude upon that there may be peace and quietness, but what order God hath prescribed them, to be obeyed in their places, so that they must look unto God's wisdom, order, and polity for economical government, and not what may seem right and good in their own eyes.

    Deut. 22.5.

    And that if the man may not wear woman's apparel, nor the woman man's, how much less may the one usurp the other's dignity, or the other, to wit the husband, resign or give over his sovereignty unto his wife? But each must keep their place, their order and heavenly polity whereto God hath called them. The husband is made the head and the wife resembled to the body.

    1 Cor. 11.3

    May the head of a body, natural, be turned downward? Can the whole person so continue and live well in that state? How unseemly is it? No more can the body politic be in peaceable or blessed condition if order be inverted. A most monstrous thing it was that the prophet Esay complained of when he said, "children are extortioners of my people, and women rule over them."

    Isa. 3.12.

    You will say the prophet speaketh of another case, I know it well; yet it doth, and very well may it, serve in any case that is contrary to God's word to show deformity, but in his right case most notoriously.

    You will say, shall the wife have no government? Shall she do nothing but be idle in the family? I answer, my words yet tend unto no such thing. Then, why was she taken for a yokefellow? Why is her help required and she called an helper?

    Gen. 2.18.

    Nay, I will say more, a glorious spectacle it may be where the wife hath the whole government. But with these cautions: that is, where the wife manageth household affairs, providently foreseeing, carefully disposing, and religiously governing to the honor of her husband. Else would not Solomon have said, in the description of a virtuous wife, "Give her the fruit of her hands, and let her own works praise her in the gates."

    Prov. 31.31.

    Having before so notably set forth the qualities of a virtuous wife, first of her grace and obedient faithfulness, "she will do him good,"

    Verse 12.

    saith Solomon, though I know the words of his mother, Bathsheba, "and not evil all the days of her life." No marvel though he said her price was above the pearls.

    Verse 10.

    Mark ye, wives, the pattern of a wife, and ye husbands that are to choose, learn ye to choose a wife. She will do him good. Good shall be the object and subject of her labor, so, you will say, will many, but, saith he, "she will do him good, and not evil," that is, good without intermixing it with evil, good wholly, good absolutely, good and no evil with it to distain or corrupt it.

    . . .

    In such a case, how great an honor is the wife's godly government unto the husband, while he, as king to command yet with love as a husband, shall go in and out in the midst of his family? Not fearing spoil whether he be at home or abroad, nor needing unlawful spoils to maintain his state. As also how honorable a service is it in the wife to depend upon his beck, to advise with her head, to lean upon his breast, and yet to have the authority to do what she will? That is, whilst her will is honest, lawful, and to her husband's good, as hath been spoken of.

    Can this be counted slavery or servile subjection? Must there not be in some subjection? Can all in a nation be kings? Can all in a family be fathers? Can all be wives? Can all be everything? "If the whole body," saith the apostle, "were an eye, where were the hearing? Or if all were the ear, where were the smelling?"

    1 Cor. 12.17.

    If, therefore, in a kingdom or a family there must of necessity be these degrees, and that we see men so subject to princes that they contentedly delight therein and neither count it slavishness nor affect above their state, though some wicked do otherwise, should not the wife look unto the hand of God, which made her the wife, and not the husband, the weaker vessel and not the stronger, the body and not the head, to obey and not to rule? That is, not to rule without obedience. To grudge here at is not against the husband but against God withal; to govern otherwise is not to rule but to usurp.

    . . .

    Hitherto, you will say, I have wholly as it were entreated of the duty of the wife. And you will further say I have laid load upon their shoulders who are the weaker vessels, longing, it may be, to hear the duty of the husband in like sort set forth, to see what bonds he is to be tied withal in his conversation to his wife. . . .

    10But that I have somewhat tarried upon this point of the cause of contention between man and wife, or laid forth the wife's duty of subjection and obedience somewhat largely, hath not been to oppress the wife or put a sword into the hand of the husband to upbraid his wife with her duty, but partly to inform all godly and virtuous wives what is honorable and dishonorable in them, which none that are virtuous but do desire to see and principally to lay a sound foundation for the husband to build upon. Which being thus laid, you shall now see what the building will arise to be.

    . . .

    The husband also must not disdain to be counseled by his wife, to hear her reasons, and to weigh her words.

    Eccles. 4.9.

    For she is given for a helper, two are better than one, and God many times reveals that to the wife that he doth not to the husband. Abraham hearkened to Sarah in the matter of Hagar and Ishmael;

    Gen. 21.12.

    he was bid of the Lord to give ear unto her. And did not Manoah's wife strengthen him, after the sight of the angel and the sacrifice which he had offered, who feared that they should die because they had seen the Lord? Which fear she put away with a most wise reason, saying, "If the Lord will kill us, he would not have received a burnt offering, and a meat offering at our hands; neither would he have showed us all those things, nor would have told us any such, etc."

    Judg. 13.13.

    And what is that honor that St. Peter speaketh of,

    1 Pet. 3.7.

    which the husband, being a man of understanding, should give unto his wife, but, amongst other things, regard unto her advice? Always provided that she counsel not as did Job's wife, to bless God and die.

    Job 3.9.

    Nor with Michal disdain at his zeal and godliness, but counseling wisely she is as a counselor to be heard and honored. Neither commeth Solomon's counsel short of this when he biddeth the husband to give his virtuous wife the fruit of her hands, that is, being wise, virtuous, and provident let her be commended and trusted for such a wife. And put case there be not to be found all those absolute qualities of that virtuous wife, in her whom thou has chosen to be thy wife, but some infirmities, yea many infirmities, to bear with hers as it becommeth the wise husband to do, consider thine own that she must and doth bear with in thee. If thine be more than hers, thou canst not be grieved to bear hers; if hers be more than thine, she is said to be the weaker vessel and thou the stronger that the bigger horse might bear the heavier load. Why hath God made thee the stronger but to bear the frailties and infirmities of thy wife? For a man the wife's, or the wife the husband's, for either I mean, to discourse other's infirmities by way of reproach is the greatest reproach that can fall to either. Except it be in such a case as wherein Solomon saith her corruptions cannot be hid, "but he that would hide them, hideth the wind, and she is as oil in his right hand that uttereth itself."

    Prov. 17.26.

    The husband must dwell with his wife, as a man of understanding,

    1 Pet. 3.7.

    that is, as one that hath understanding to govern that he give not occasion by foolishness to be disposed, nor by overmuch severity to be hated or feared.

    . . .

    It is certainly a great encouraging of the wife where the husband maketh his love to appear by sound effects, showing that he regardeth her duty, observeth her labor, pitieth her pains, considereth her weakness, and would lighten her yoke and burden by any means he could; that he trusteth her, and is not lightly or unjustly jealous of her, not exacting too narrow an account of her domestical affairs, but as if she were himself, who is indeed become one with himself, his half or other self, even so to be persuaded of her truth and faithfulness. "Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou," saith Solomon, "surmountest them all."

    Prov. 31.29.

    There the husband observeth the labors, travails, night-watchings, and early risings of his wife, which were spoken of before, and lastly doth crown and commend them in her. The contrary neglecting of all the poor wife's travail taketh away her heart, breedeth discontentmnent, and maketh weak her hands. And for either the wife over the husband or the husband over the wife to be attainted with the filthy sin of jealousy is the next way to cause either to fall into the sin.

    . . .

    Our most precious vessels, whether glass or gold, are commonly the weakest by reason either of nature or workmanship, and those we most precisely order, not roughly or carelessly. To a virtuous woman there is no vessel, no jewel comparable. Count her therefore the chiefest vessel in your house that must contain your self and all your treasures. Her price, saith Solomon, is above the pearls. Show not your rough and manlike courage, like Lamech, to your wife, but to your enemy. You are both but one, therefore be both but as one. Look not so much what is required of her, as what is due to her from yourself. You are the covering of her eyes, which must defend her, not oppress her.