California: a pleasure trip from Gotham to the Golden Gate,
April, May, June, 1877.
By Mrs. Frank Leslie.
Chapter 30 Chapter 31 Chapter 32 Chapter 33
A FIRST-CLASS MORMON INTERIOR.
FROM the Woman's Union our cicerone led us to the Deseret National Bank, a substantial brick building, and presented us to Elder H--,president of that institution, and twice Representative from Utah to Washington, where he gave such satisfaction to his constituents as to win a most enthusiastic welcome on his return. We found him a fine-looking man, with marvelously expressive eyes, and as courtly and imposing in manner as appearance, and spent a pleasant hour as his guests in the bank parlor.
Mr. H-- spoke freely upon Utah matters, especially of its faith, professing himself a Mormon, but not a polygamist; having always, as he said, respected his wife's feelings too much to take another. In fact, he declared very few polygamic marriages now took place in the city, although still common enough through the rest of the Territory. He did not hear of more than half a dozen in the course of the year, and it was amusing to find this decadence from the primitive custom attributed to the same cause which excuses our city youth from taking matrimonial chains upon themselves, viz.: the increased cost of living, and growing demands of the fair sex. Formerly, as the Elder gravely asserted, polygamy had been a different matter, more patriarchal in its nature than was now possible; the women had been content with the simple necessaries of life, and each had borne her share in the hardships and toil of the infant settlement, but now--
"But now," we interposed, "the railway has come and brought a whole train of French milliners and fashion plates."
"Yes," replied he, with a good-humored twinkle of the eye, "harbingers of a higher civilization I suppose you think."
"Yes," we responded, boldly, "for before them the evil of polygamy will melt away as it never would have done before either civil or moral legislation. Don't you think so?"
"Perhaps, perhaps," replied the Elder, stirring a little uneasily in his chair, and adding, cautiously, "that is, if it be an evil at all."
He then spoke of the position of women in Utah as being unusually elevated and respected; their actions were free, their opinions sought and regarded, and they had been offered the privilege of a vote on polygamy, which, however, they had declined to accept; they had the right of legislation in school matters, however, and could obtain almost any position they chose to claim and try for. Sounding him upon the subject of domestic peace in polygamic families, we received much the same answer as from Miss Snow; certainly the wives harmonized, why should they not? Each, if she chose, had her own house, where she lived in perfect privacy with her children; or, if they preferred, all combined in one united household. Pushing the matter home, we inquired if he would be willing to see his own daughters become wives of husbands already married, and he replied he should not seek to control their own choice in the matter. He might prefer to see them the sole wives of their husbands, but it would be as God willed and they chose.
At this moment a genial, hearty gentleman entered the room, and Mr. H-- at once presented him. He is, as we afterward learned, one of the principal merchants of Salt Lake City, and a man of large means; an Englishman, with the home accent still lingering in his merry voice, but quite free from English reserve and offishness; joining at once in the conversation, and speaking with enthusiasm of the beauty and charm of the women of Salt Lake City.
"Madame wishes to know if they are a jealous race?" said Mr. H--, with evident enjoyment of the idea of seeing some one else put through the same inquisitorial questionings, ordinary and extraordinary, to which he had just been subjected.
"Jealous!" exclaimed Mr. J--, "not they; they have no time for such nonsense. They have their houses, their children, their sewing, their affairs to attend to, and if idleness is the mother of mischief, occupation is the parent of contentment. Look at my wife, for instance: to be sure, she is an only wife, but if she were not, what time would she have for jealous fancies, with a large household, a family of fourteen children, their governess, and four servants to look after?"
"Fourteen children!" we echoed, involuntarily.
"Yes" replied Mr. J--, with pious fervor; "we hold, with the psalmist, that `children are an heritage of the Lord,' and man can have no surer sign of God's approval and kindness than a large family."
Mr. J-- mentioned that he had been seventeen years in this country, that he was the only Mormon in his family, and that he had never regretted the choice he had made in joining the sect. A short time since he took his two elder daughters and revisited the old country, spending some time upon the Continent, and bringing home a French governess for the younger children.
We spoke of Miss Snow, her remarkable intelligence and attainments, and, after heartily endorsing our encomiums, he remarked that she was one of Brigham Young's wives, but that she was merely "sealed to him for time," having been the widow of Joseph Smith, whose wife she would be in the next world. In fact, she had long since ceased to live among the President's wives, but maintained the most friendly relations with him and them. Inquiring into the nature of this temporary contract, we were informed that a woman once sealed or married to the man of her choice, was his to all eternity. So long as he lived she could think of no other partner, but after his death she might, if she chose, seal herself to another for the remainder of her mortal existence; a mere marriage of time, not at all to the prejudice of those eternal relations to be resumed at her own decease. One point striking us very forcibly in this exposition was the positive faith in another existence, implied by making such definite arrangements for its duties and pleasures.
Divorce is possible under the Mormon law, but is seldom applied for, and never granted except in case of ill-treatment, flagrant neglect, or the gravest offenses, and is not considered creditable to either party.
Mr. J-- closed by inviting us to call and see his wife in the afternoon, which we gladly promised to do; feeling that at last our fondest hopes were about to be realized, and we were actually to see the interior of a Mormon home and converse with a Mormon wife and lady.
While waiting for the hour appointed for this call we visited the theatre, where we found Neilson--the beautiful--rehearsing. It is about the size of the Fifth Avenue Theatre of New York, neatly, but not very expensively, decorated; the colors pink and gray. We did not see the rocking-chair in which Mr. Young is fond of sitting in one of the aisles to witness the performance, but two of the four proscenium boxes, we were informed, belonged to him, and some members of his family are generally to be seen there, as he is a zealous patron of the drama, and encourages a large attendance. We went behind the scenes, and found the green room spacious and comfortable, furnished with piano, sofa, chairs, and a long mirror; the dressing rooms commodious, and the "star" chamber luxuriously furnished.
From the theatre we drive to Mr. J--'s house, a really superb villa; the fine sweep of the carriage drive cuts a lawn of emerald-green velvet, and is bordered with symmetrical beds of tulips, geraniums, and other brilliant flowers, and although not so remarkable here as in the humbler houses, we could but admire the exquisite neatness and precision of everything we saw. Upon the doorstep we are met by our genial host, who conducts us into a drawing-room noticeable in any city for its elegant and tasteful furniture, ornaments and mirrors, and presents us to Mrs. J--, a fine-looking, dignified English matron, surrounded by several of her children--two young ladies elegantly dressed and perfect in manner; a young girl of twelve, very pretty and stylish in her polonaise of brown velvet; a little boy of about three; and a toddling baby, sweet and dainty in its Valenciennes lace and soft blue ribbons. The other nine children did not appear.
Mrs. J-- conversed much as any other cultivated lady might do, upon all sorts of subjects, until the gentlemen departed, en masse , for a visit to the stables and conservatories, when, with much circumspection, we introduced the subject of polygamy, and instead of being snubbed, as our photographer warned us would be the case, found our hostess as pleasantly willing to converse upon that as all other subjects; giving us such information as we asked in a quiet and courteous manner, saying neither too much nor too little, but holding herself so accurately within the golden mean as to give all her words an additional force and weight; convincing us that here, at least, we had the true woman view of this great and vexed question. And still the quiet assertion was made that there was little or no dissension between the wives of the same household, but that all united harmoniously in the effort to make the home a happy one for the husband and a good one for his children.
Remarking, somewhat impetuously, that we could scarcely imagine such a state of things, and that we were sure no "Gentile" wives could live thus together, Mrs. J-- replied, with quiet significance:
"We control ourselves, and make it a duty to subdue all jealousies and tempers that would injure the harmony of our home."
"But are there no women among you of such disposition and temperament that they cannot endure a rival in the affections of their husband?" we asked; and Mrs. J-- replied, with an exceedingly subtle smile:
"If there are, and if they have accepted polygamy as part of their religion, that religion steadily trains them in the duties it involves, and enables them to carry out whatever it teaches."
"But does not the favorite wife assume authority and privileges which the others are slow to admit?" we persistently interrogated.
"Oh, there are no favorites," replied the lady, confidently, and then added, a little dubiously: "or at least there should be none; it is especially inculcated, that if the husband has any preference he should be very careful not to show it; and if a wife suspects herself to be the object of more than her due share of regard she should keep the suspicion strictly to herself."
"That is a very fine theory, Mrs. J--," we declared, laughingly, as we remembered Mr. J--'s declaration of monogamy. "But you have never tried it personally, and cannot be sure."
"Yes, but I have tried it, and am very sure," replied our hostess, as courteously as ever, and, turning with an affectionate smile to the eldest daughter, she added: "Jennie's mother and I lived in the same house for years, and were always the best of friends!"
The confusion at finding into what a horrible blunder we had been led, baffles all description. No doubt our hostess perceived it, but with perfect tact she went on speaking, without waiting for questioning, and we presently recovered ourself enough to listen. "The women of Utah," she said, "considered themselves quite on a par with the men in all respects, with equal interests and equal labor to perform for the welfare of the colony, education of the children, social growth and public refinement and elevation. These great aims naturally enlarged and strengthened their whole nature, and not only could they live happily and peaceably with each other, but they were faithful and devoted wives and intelligent and affectionate mothers. It is the duty or the privilege of the first wife to present the new-comer to her husband, and if she is an elderly and motherly person, she generally helps and guides the junior, instructs her in household matters, advises her in the conduct of her new life, and sustains and encourages her in every way. And I speak of these matters from experience," added Mrs. J--, quietly, as she finished this little dissertation; and the writer, still a little nervous in pursuing this branch of the subject with her, turned to the young ladies, and inquired what were their views of Mormon life and Mormon marriages. They replied readily enough, and with the gay insouciance of youth, that they enjoyed themselves very much at Salt Lake, for the present at least; and as to the future, perhaps they should never marry at all, although it was evident they had no horror of polygamic union. Their mother, however, remarked, that although she should never interfere with the girls' own inclinations, she should prefer to see them each the only wife of a good husband. If otherwise, she had no doubt their religion would prove strong enough to enable them to bear cheerfully and patiently whatever might be in store for them.
The gentlemen here returned, and the conversation took a different turn, but in recalling it minutely afterward, it seemed to me that in spite of all Mrs. J--'s insistance upon the enviable position of Mormon women, and the charms and advantages of their institutions, the keynote of the whole system, so far as it related to women, was struck when she said:
"It is ordained by their religion, and their religion enables them to bear it!"
Cake and champagne were served, and the young gentleman of three proved himself a hero in the demolition of the former, somewhat to the distress of his sister. One of the young ladies cut us some beautiful flowers, and we took leave after a long and most delightful call, feeling that we had at last gained some reliable information and experience in the ways of Mormon homes and the feeling of intelligent Mormon women.
"And now," said the Chief, as we drove down the pretty sweep and
out at the handsome entrance, "we have to do the Tabernacle, and pay our
respects to his excellency the President, and we are done with Utah."
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