From Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language
Ah, those heady days of blossoming love. Here we have two couples at either end of the ‘honey-moon’ period, giving some hints of how a relationship changes in its early season – and perhaps some signs of foreboding for the future too.
According to the OED, the origin of the word was most likely a rather lovely (if bleak) allusion to love which ‘wanes steadily as the moon does’. One of the earliest recorded uses, in a book of 1552, reveals that it was believed to originate with ‘the vulgar people’ and that it was a term:
‘prouerbially applied to such as be newe maried, whiche wyll not fall out at the fyrste, but thone loueth the other at the beginnynge excedyngly, the likelyhode of theyr exceadynge loue appearing to aswage’.
Here then, we have our couple who love each other exceedingly. It is 1777 and the young newlyweds gaze towards each other affectionately, still maintaining a studied air of propriety and poise, whilst taking a cup of coffee. The gent wraps his arm around his bride. Details of their surroundings are fairly sparse, focusing the attention squarely on the lovers, perhaps just as they themselves are failing to take much notice of anything but each other.
A separate print, published ten years later and entitled ‘The End of the Honey Moon’ presents a different scene. The two are clearly more at ease in each other’s company, and the fashionably dressed wife has done away with those c18th feminine virtues of bashfulness and modesty. She towers over him, perhaps indicating something of a shift in the power balance (or perhaps he has simply decided he fancies the sofa to himself – no need to stand on ceremony now). With the husband visibly tired by his exertions, he reclines and describes himself as ‘the Love sick fool no more’ and is – for the moment at least – ‘contented now with Delia’s Eyes’. This, clearly, has not been a honey moon wasted. The implication seems to be there, however, that this pleasant interval of quiet, sleepy affection is not going to last forever… there are dark clouds gathering outside the window. [and let’s face it, that interior decor is horrendous. No happy marriage was ever inspired by wallpaper such as that.]
Top: The Honey-Moon, by Carington Bowles (1777). Courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library.
Bottom: The End of the Honey Moon, or, The Tired Husband by Robert Sayer (1787). From the British Museum collection.