Chapter VIII The pilgrim observes the married estate and its order

The preparation for it is toilsome and wistful

My companions then led me to a street where, they said, the married people lived, as a good demonstration of the mode of that delightful life. And behold! there stood a gate which, according to the guide, was called Engagement. Before it was spread a spacious square full of both sexes who were walking about and peering into each other’s eyes and examining each other’s ears, nose, teeth, tongue, hands, feet, and other limbs. They likewise measured how tall, broad, stout or slender each was. They approached or receded from one another, examining each other carefully now from the front, then the back, the left, the right side, testing all they saw. Especially were they curious (as I have seen most frequently) about each other’s purses, money-bags, and pocketbooks, measuring and weighing how long and wide, full, tight, or thin they were. Occasionally several men pointed at the same woman, at other times none. If any man tried to drive the others away, they quarreled, exchanged blows, and fought with each other; sometimes even murders occurred, as I observed. At times one drove away his rival, only to be himself chased away in turn; another, routing a group of rivals, himself thereupon ran away also. Some lost no time in examining, but seized the nearest he could grasp. Thereupon, the couple led each other hand in hand toward the gate. Seeing such trivialities all about me, I inquired what those people were doing. “They would like to settle in the Street of Matrimony,” my interpreter answered, “but since choosing a mate most suitable to himself. Whoever has found his mate goes, as you see, with his spouse, to the gate.” — “The process seems unusually laborious,” I remarked; “can it not be facilitated somehow?” — “This is no labor,” he answered, “but sheer delight. Do you not see how jolly they are about it, how they laugh, sing, and shout? Believe me, there is no more joyful life than this.” I looked and observed that some indeed were laughing and shouting: but others went about with downcast mien and woebegone expression, restless and moping, plunging hither and yon, despondent, sleepless, without appetite, and even delirious. “How about these?” I inquired. “Even that is a delight,” my interpreter answered. “So be it then,” I replied; “let us go and see what happens thereafter.”

Great uncertainty about the outcome

2 Forcing our way through the crowds, we came to the gate itself, but before we entered, I noticed a pair of scales there, consisting of two baskets, and crowds of people stood about them. A man and a woman were placed opposite each other into the baskets on the scales. Only after the couples had spent much time weighing were they permitted to proceed through the gate. But not all fared equally well. For some fell through the basket, and amid much laughter, were obliged to pick themselves up and with shame to clear off. Besides, they had a hood or a sack thrust over their ears, and were made the butt of the crowd. Observing this, I inquired: “What is going on here?” My companion answered: “This is their engagement, when all conditions appear favorable. If the scales indicate equality and all seems favorable, they are admitted to the marriage state, as you see; but if there is an inequality, they separate.” — “What equality is to be seen here?” I exclaimed; “for I plainly perceive that some are, according to the scales, equal in age, class and otherwise, yet they cause one of them to fall through the basket; others are, on the contrary, extremely unequal, as when a dotard is mated with a lassie, or a lad with an old hag, one stands up straight, the other is bent double, yet they say that all is well. How can that be?” — “You do not see all,” he answered; “it is true that some of these grey-beards and grandames would not, by themselves, weigh a pound of peasecods; but when they possess a fat pocket-book, or a hat before which other hats are +6doffed, or something else of the kind (for such things always have their weight) it happens that matters do not…”

Indissolubi­lity regardless of the outcome

Following those who entered the gate, I then saw between the gates several blacksmiths fettering each couple into frightful handcuffs; only when thus bound together were they allowed to proceed further. Many people, invited for the purpose, were present as witnesses (as I was told) of the fettering ceremony. They played and sang for the couples and told them to be of good cheer. Observing carefully, I perceived that the cuffs were not padlocked as is ordinarily done with prisoners, but were forged, welded and soldered together to prevent the couple from ever unlocking or breaking them during their lifetimes. At this I was frightened and exclaimed: “Oh, can there be a more horrible prison than this, from which there is never a hope of deliverance?” — “It is true that of all human bonds this is the strongest,” answered my interpreter; “but there is no reason to fear it. For the sweetness of this estate causes the yoke to be gladly assumed. You will see for yourself what a pleasant life it is.” — “Let us go among them, then, that I may see,” I urged.

Little pleasure even marriage is most successful

Thereupon we entered the street and saw a great multitude of these people, always in pairs. However, many of them seemed to me to have been very unequally yoked, large with small, handsome with ugly, young with old, and so on. Watching them closely in order to find what they were doing and what the sweetness of that state consisted of, I observed that they gazed at each other, conversed together, and occasionally even caressed or kissed one another. “Here you see what a fine thing a successful marriage is,” remarked my interpreter. “Is this then the whole sum of it at its very best?” I asked. “Of course!” he answered. “That certainly is little enough; and whether or not it is worth the fetters, I know not.”

Misery and drudgery of all married people generally

5 Thereupon, I resumed my observation and perceived with how much toil and anxiety the poor wretches were burdened. The majority had a row of children harnessed to themselves. The children were screaming and squalling, stenching and fouling, sickening and dying, not to mention the pain, tears, and the risk of life with which they had been brought into the world. If any of them grew up, this imposed a twofold task: to hold him bridled, and to spur him on to follow his parents' footsteps. For sometimes they suffered neither the bridle nor the spur but caused their parents much trouble, weariness, and tears. When the parents gave them free rein, or the children tore themselves away, the result was shame and even death for the parents. Observing these things here and there, I began to exhort both parents and children: the former against mawkish love and excessive indulgence of their children; the latter to certain virtues. I gained but little thereby, except to earn dark looks and caustic remarks, and even to be threatened with death. Thereupon, I praised the childless, some of whom I noticed there; but they lamented and complained that they were without consolation. Thus I understood that in the married life both to have and not to have children is misery. Besides, almost every couple had servants attached to themselves and to the household for waiting upon them and their families, whose comfort the pair were obliged to consider before their own or that of their family, often at a considerable trouble to themselves. Above all, there was strewn about, just as in the market place, a great deal of baggage, timber, obstacles, boulders, and pits; when any stumbled and injured himself, his mate was obliged to endure his whimpering, weeping, and pain, not being able to get away. Accordingly, I learned that in married life instead of one care, anxiety, or danger each must bear as many cares, anxieties, and dangers as he had yoke-fellows. Consequently I conceived a dislike for this life.

The awful tragedy of an unsuccessful marriage

6 Besides, I observed some tragic cases in this group. For not a few among those yoked together were of contrary temperaments, one wished one thing, the other the opposite; one desiring to go one way, the other another; thereupon they quarreled, scolded, and bit each other. One complained to the passers-by of one thing, the other of another. When there was no one to arbitrate between them, they fell upon each other, lay about with fists, beat and belabored one another horribly. If someone succeeded in pacifying them, in a short time they were at each other’s throats again. Sometimes, after a long quarrel, whether to go right or left, both persisting obstinately in their respective decisions, they finally threw themselves with all their might in opposite directions; here was a tug of war and a spectacle as to who would pull the other over! Sometimes the man won, and the wife, in spite of her efforts to hold on to soil, grass, or anything else she could grasp, was dragged over to his side. At other times the man was dragged after his wife, which caused much jeering among the spectators. However, it seemed to me a matter worthier of pity than of laughter. Especially when I saw how in their misery they wept, sighed, and stretched their hands toward heaven, offering gold and silver if only they might be delivered from their bondage. I asked the interpreter: “Is there any possibility of helping them? May not these people who cannot agree with each be freed and permitted to separate?” — “It cannot be,” he answered, “they must remain together as long as they live.” — “Oh, is there anything more cruel than this slavery? It is worse than death itself!” I exclaimed. “Why did not they think it through before?” he retorted; “it serves them right!”

Voluntary slavery

Just then I observed Death with her arrows piercing and felling some of them; whereupon their fetters instantly burst asunder. I was glad for their sake, imagining that they themselves had wished it and would be sincerely glad of their deliverance. But behold, almost every one of them burst into tears and wailing such as I had scarcely heard before in the world; they wrung their hands and lamented their misfortune. I could understand that those whom I had previously seen living together in peace really felt bereaved. I presumed, however, that the othersd were merely pretending before men, although in reality they would know how to repent, and I was ready to wager that they would advise others to avoid the fetters. On the contrary, before I had time to realize, and almost before they had dried their tears, they hurried outside the gate and came back in bonds. “Oh, you miserable wretches, you are not worthy to be pitied!” I cried angrily. Then turning to my guide, I said: “Let us go away; I see more deceit than anything else in this estate.”