“There have been successful bachelors,” an article in the Atlantic proclaimed in 1898. Perhaps, at the time, that was in doubt. The author, Leon H. Vincent, declared that no bachelor was more successful than Henry Crabb Robinson, the person he profiled in his article. In my previous post, I explained why Robinson exemplified the best of single life, even by today’s standards.
The Atlantic article also offered more sweeping statements about bachelors. For example:
“Bachelorhood is a normal condition up to a certain period in a man’s lie, and after that it is abnormal. He who elects to remain unmarried elects to become queer.”
This could pass as a twenty-first century sentiment. Singlehood has come to be expected during the early adult years, though even then, single people are judged more harshly than married ones. Later on, the stigma of living single grows, even though there is evidence that single people do better and better with age.
Considering the year – 1898 – I think Vincent was using “queer” to mean odd rather than gay. Today, the man (or woman) who stays single beyond the time when marriage is expected is still at risk for being regarded as a bit odd. The stereotype that lifelong single people are gay still seems to have some staying power, though probably less than it once did. The people staying single who actually are gay are stereotyped, too.
This next observation surprised me:
“Almost any man can become a fairly respectable husband; but to be a successful bachelor implies unusual gifts.”
I think it counts as a compliment to bachelors.
Here’s a commentary on successful bachelorhood that I did not see coming. (Miss Fenwick is from Wordsworth.)
“Miss Fenwick was of the opinion that a man could not preserve kindliness and courtesy in the bachelor state unless he had something the matter with him; that is, unless he was the victim of some misfortune which kept him “humble, grateful, and loving.””
In the case of Robinson, Miss Fenwick believed it was his ugliness “that preserved his benevolence.” Nice!
Aside from that snide remark about his looks, the long, thoughtful profile of Henry Crabb Robinson was entirely laudatory. Yet at the very top of the article, this quote was pulled out and highlighted:
“More interest should be taken in bachelors. Their need is greater, and their condition really deplorable. It is a misfortune to be unhappily married, but it comes near to being a disgrace not to be married at all.”
I thought about this for a while, wondering whether it could have been meant ironically. In 2019, I hope, it would be. As a set up for the admiring portrait that would follow, it would be delicious. But I don’t think it was. My best guess is that the author, expressing the sentiments of the time, really did think that bachelorhood was deplorable and disgraceful. Robinson, he was suggesting, was the exception.