Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. IXXI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 18611889
The Clinging Vine Theory
By Marietta Holley (18361926)
[Born in Ellisburg, Jefferson Co., N. Y. Died there, 1926. My Opinions and Betsey Bobbets. By Josiah Allens Wife. 1872.]
THE NEXT week Saturday after the poetry come out, Tirzah took it into her head that she wanted to go to Elder Mortons a visitin; Maggie Snow was a goin to meet her there, and I told her to goId get along with the work somehow.
I had to work pretty hard, but then I got it all out of the way early, and my head combed and my dress changed, and I was jest pinnin my linen coller over my clean gingham dress (broun and black plaid) to the lookin glass, when lookin up, who should I see but Betsey Bobbet comin through the gate. She stopped a minute to Tirzah Anns posy bed, and then she come along kinder gradually, and stopped and looked at my new tufted bedspread that I have got out a whitenin on the grass, and then she come up the steps and come in.
I dreamed I was married, Josiah Allens wife, says she in a heart-broken tone, and she laid her hand on my arm in her deep emotion. I tell you it was hard, after dreamin that, to wake up again to the cold realities and cares of this life; it was hard, she repeated, and a tear gently flowed down her Roman nose and dropped off onto her overskirt. She knew salt water would spot otter color awfully, and so she drew her handkerchief out of her pocket, and spread it in her lap (it was white trimmed with narrow edgein) and continued:
To be sure husbands are handy on 4th of Julys, and funeral prosessions; it looks kinder lonesome to see a woman streamin along alone, but they are contrary creeters, Betsey, when they are a mind to be.
How sweet it must be to weah the fingers out for a deah companion. I would be willing to weah mine clear down to the bone. I made a vow some yeahs ago, says she, kinder chirkin up a little, and beginnin to tat agin. I made a vow yeahs ago that I would make my deah future companion happy, for I would neveh, neveh fail to meet him with a sweet smile as he came home to me at twilight. I felt that that was all he would requireh to make him happy. Do you think it was a rash vow, Josiah Allens wife?
Wall, says I cheerfully but firmly, if you ever have the opportunity, you try both ways. You jest let your fire go out, and your house and you look like fury, and nothin to eat, and you stand on the door smilin like a first class idiotand then agin you have a first rate supper on the table, stewed oysters, and warm biscuit and honey, or somethin else first rate, and a bright fire shinin on a clean hearth, and the tea-kettle a singin, and the tea-table all set out neat as a pink, and you goin round in a cheerful, sensible way gettin the supper onto the table, and you jest watch, and see which of the two ways is the most agreeable to him.
Now I never was any hand to stand and smile at Josiah for two or three hours on a stretch; it would make me feel like a natural born idiot; but I always have a bright fire and a warm supper a waitin for him when he comes home at night.
Says I in reasonable tones: A man cant smile on an empty stomach, Betsey, not for any length of time. And no man cant eat soggy bread, with little chunks of saleratus in it, and clammy potatoes, and beefsteak burnt and raw in spots, and drink dishwatery tea, and muddy coffee, and smileor they might give one or 2 sickly, deathly smiles, but they wouldnt keep it up, you depend upon it they wouldnt, and it haint in the natur of a man to, and I say they hadnt ought to. I have seen bread, Betsey Bobbet, that was enough to break down any mans affection for a woman, unless he had firm principle to back it upand loves young dream has been drounded in thick, muddy coffee moren once. If there haint anything pleasant in a mans home, how can he keep attached to it? Nobody, man nor woman, cant respect what haint respectable, or love what haint lovable. I believe in bein cheerful, Betsey; a complainin, fretful woman in the house is worse than a cold, drizzlin rain comin right down all the time onto the cook stove. Of course men have to be corrected, I correct Josiah frequently, but I believe in doin it all up at one time and then have it over with, jest like a smart dash of a thunder shower that clears up the air.
Well, says she, you can entertain such views as you will, but for me, I will be clingin in my nature, I will be respected by men; they do so love to have wimmin clingin, that I will, until I die, carry out this belief that is so sweet to themuntil I die I will nevah let go of this speah.
I didnt say nothin, for gratitude tied up my tongue, but as I rose and went upstairs to wind me a little more yarnI thought I wouldnt bring down the swifts for so little as I wanted to windI thought sadly to myself, what a hard, hard time she had had, sense I had known her, a handlin that spear. We got to talkin about it the other day, how long she had been a handlin of it. Says Thomas Jefferson: She has been brandishin it for fifty years.
But as I said she has had a hard and mournful time a tryin to make a runnin vine of herself sense I knew her. And Josiah says she was at it for years before I ever see her. She has tried to make a vine of herself to all kinds of trees, straight and crooked, sound and rotten, young and old. Her mind is sot the most now on the Editor of the Augur, but she pays attention to any and every single man that comes in her way. And it seems strange to me that them that preach up the doctrine of womans only spear dont admire one who carrys it out to its full extent. It seems kinder ungrateful in em, to think that when Betsey is so willin to be a vine, they will not be a tree; but they wont, they seem sot against it.
I say if men insist on makin runnin vines of wimmin, they ought to provide trees for em to run up on, it haint nothin moren justice that they should, but they wont and dont. Now ten years ago the Methodist minister before Elder Wesley Minkly came was a widower of some twenty odd years, and he was sorely stricken with years and rheumatiz. But Betsey showed plainly her willinness and desire to be a vine, if he would be a tree. But he would not be a treehe acted real obstinate about it, considerin his belief. For he was awful opposed to wimmins havin any rights only the right to marry. He preached a beautiful sermon about womans holy mission, and how awful it was in her to have any ambition outside of her own home. And how sweet it was to see her in her confidin weakness and gentleness clingin to mans manly strength. There wasnt a dry eye in the house only mine. Betsey wept aloud, she was so affected by it. And it was beautiful, I dont deny it; I always respected clingers. But I love to see folks use reason. And I say again, how can a woman cling when she haint got nothin to cling to? That day I put it fair and square to our old minister, he went home with us to supper, and he began on me about wimmins rights, for he knew I believe in wimmins havin a right. Says he: It is flyin in the face of the Bible for a woman not to marry.
Says I: Elder, how can any lady make brick without straw or sandhow can a woman marry without a man is forthcomin? says I, wimmens will may be good, but there is some things she cannot do, and this is one of em. Says I: as our laws are at present no woman can marry unless she has a man to marry to. And if the man is obstinate and hangs back what is she to do?
But no steamboat ever sailed onward under the power of biled water steam more grandly than did Samantha Allens words under the steam of bilein principle. I fixed my eyes upon him with seeminly an arrow in each one of em, and says I:
Which had you rather do. Elder, let Betsey Bobbet vote, or cling to you? She is fairly achin to make a runnin vine of herself, and says I, in slow, deep, awful tones, are you willin to be a tree?
He turned to Josiah, and says he: I guess I will go out to the barn and bring in my saddle bags. He had come to stay all night. And that man went to the barn smit and conscience struck, and haint opened his head to me sense about wimmins not havin a right.