Today it occurred to me that if I were living in the eighteenth century I would be quite firmly set in the realm of confirmed spinster. Setting any associated nervous breakdown aside for the moment, I feel compelled to console myself by sharing this (awful) advice of an Old Maid from the 1740s.
The social position of an ageing, unmarried woman was one of ridicule and even repulsion (unless, of course, she happened to be wildly wealthy). As the poem went, ‘soon as wrinkles streak the face, we may bid farewell to wooing’, and prints of the era depict single ladies from their thirties onwards as crumbling crones surrounded by cats, sobbing into their soup and picking fleas off of their sagging bodies.
And yet, if the alternative is marrying the first man who makes an offer – thanks, I’d stick with a lonely pillow.
Young Lysander woo’d me long,
I was peevish and forbad him;
Nor would hear his am’rous song,
And yet now I wish I had him.
For each morn I view my glass,
I perceive my beauty going;
Soon as wrinkles streak the face,
We may bid fareful to wooing.
Use your time, ye virgins fair,
Choose before your days are evil;
Fifteen is a season rare,
Five and forty is the devil.
Just when ripe, consent to do’t
Hug no more your lonely pillow;
Women like most other fruit,
Lose their relish when too mellow.
– The old Maid’s Advice to her Sex, from The Agreeable Medley, anon (1748)
Image: Miss Wish-Husband, 1777