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Archive of the month

Archive of the month

Ten Minutes’ Advice to Every Person Going to Choose a Husband

Reference D-SB/A10/23

The papers of the Spencer-Bernards of Nether Winchendon held at the Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies are a large and varied collection of deeds and personal papers covering the life and property of the family. Among them is an intriguing pamphlet published in 1811 entitled ‘Ten Minutes’ Advice to Every Person Going to Choose a Husband’. The anonymous author was inspired by the publication of a volume entitled ‘Ten Minutes’ Advice to every Person going to purchase a Horse’ to put pen to paper. The introduction records the author’s “duty to my fair countrywomen to comprize…established rules for discovering the imperfections and blemishes of that still more noble animal, a husband” and their desire that “those who choose to deal in them may no longer be tricked in a choice still more important if possible than even that of a horse”.

The advice in question is laid out under sixteen different headings ranging from financial issues like ‘Fortune’ and ‘Habits of Expense’ to issues of character like ‘Temper’, ‘Esteem of Others’ and ‘Domestic Habits’. For the author, the most important two issues for a woman to consider are ‘Fortune’ and ‘Fashion’. Ladies are advised to ask their friends to subtly investigate a wealthy suitor’s financial position in case his money is in the hands of “cruel and unfeeling creditors” or in case the fortune is “neither here nor there and cannot anywhere be found”. In terms of fashion, “you must consult your own heart. If the tinsel and frippery of Fashion will give you delight wishes so moderate as yours ought to be gratified”.

The author cautions against particular types of men seemingly spoken highly of by contemporaries. A lady is advised not to consider a man who has ‘sown wild oats’ as that path will “habituate [his heart] to that which is evil”. In the author’s opinion “A more noxious and abominable falsehood does not exist than that ‘A reformed rake makes a good husband’”. Similarly, the received wisdom that a good dancer makes a good husband has doubt cast on it; “A lover may excel in the reel, minuet and country-dance and yet be an empty and insufferable coxcomb”.

Instead, a woman should look to choose a man who has been “invariably a good son, a kind relation and a sincere friend” as such a man will prove “an attentive and affectionate husband”. The lady must investigate her putative husband’s character and habits to make sure that the couple will be happy together. The author tells a woman that if she has “any intention of delighting in your own home you must marry a man of domestic habits”. She must also investigate his hobbies. If she finds he has none the author’s advice is to “calculate whether you can contrive to fill your husband’s time up for him; or whether you will leave him to have recourse to other women to perform that duty for you”.

The author is strongly in favour of a woman marrying an intelligent man as the quality of his conversation will improve her; “without giving herself the trouble of paying any attention to anything that he says, she may glean a good deal of superficial information so as to enable her to shine in company and to become the envy and admiration of her friends”.

Quite why the pamphlet is in the collection is open to conjecture. Most of the papers were collected by or relate to Sir Scrope Bernard, 4th baronet (1758-1830) who held many official appointments including Private Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Under Secretary of State to the Home Department and MP for Aylesbury. Scrope had two daughters, the elder of whom was born in 1788 and became engaged to Captain Henry Pigott in 1809. Scrope did not approve of the match, and forbade correspondence between the two. We might surmise that the pamphlet was purchased in an attempt to persuade Margaret to change her mind. If so, the effort was unsuccessful as Margaret and Captain Pigott were married in 1816 after his return from service overseas. Among Scrope’s other issue were William Bernard-Morland (1786-1820), the kind of man explicitly warned against in the pamphlet. He was sheriff of Bucks in 1811 but was forced to move to France due to debts and an irregular lifestyle.

The original is on display in the Archives searchroom.

10 Minutes Advice 1

10 Minutes Advice 2