Does a Clever Man Need a Clever Woman?

From The Delineator Vol. LXXII No. 1 (July, 1908)

These noted writers were asked the above question, “Does a Clever Man Need a Clever Woman?” One treats the subject whimsically; another with gravity — each reply touches a different viewpoint. The result is some reading of unusually fascinating interest.
— The Editor.

Wifely Cleverness — Yes

Wm. T. Stead

This question assumes as a matter that needs no discussion that a stupid man needs a clever wife. The stupider a man is, the cleverer ought his wife to be, to make up for the stupidity of the male partner in the ménage. A clever man can better afford to face the struggle for existence with a stupid wife than can a stupid man. That is quite obvious. For, if cleverness may be regarded as the intellectual stock in trade with which the married couple start out to do business in the world, the less capital that either partner has the more important it is that the other should be well provided with the indispensable element necessary for success in life. There is, therefore, some reason for recommending that stupid men should marry clever women and that stupid women should marry clever men, in order to make things even all round. On the other hand, the precept, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers,” may be held to lay down a general principle capable of being applied to the question now under discussion. It is obviously desirable that two people who are to live together all their lives should be sufficiently near together in intellectual attainment to have interests in common and to be able to understand each other when they are left together in the endless tête-à-tête of matrimony.

Stated in its extreme form, the question is reduced to an absurdity. No one could seriously discuss whether a clever man should marry an idiot or an imbecile, and the farther removed the woman is from being an idiot or an imbecile the nearer she approximates to the cleverness of her husband. The real crux of the question, therefore, is somewhat obscured by the form in which it is phrased. What is cleverness from the point of view of a household? A senior wrangler may be the cleverest man of his year and yet be quite the stupidest man about the house that you can imagine. In like manner, some of the cleverest housewives, who would make admirable partners for the cleverest man that ever trod shoe-leather, might not be regarded as clever from the point of view of literary or scientific attainment. He would be a very stupid man, no matter how clever he might be, who married a woman merely because of her intellectual cleverness, even if that cleverness placed her at the top of her profession. A circus rider is clever, so is a tight-rope dancer, but whether or not they would make good wives for clever men would depend upon considerations altogether apart from their admitted cleverness.

A clever woman, as a wife, is a woman who is skilled in the conduct of life, in the control of the household, and, above all, in the management of her husband. A woman who could neither read nor write would be a bad wife for any ordinary man in a civilized community; but such an illiterate woman, if she were clever in all the arts of domestic economy, in the rearing of children, and in being at once the inspiration and comfort of her husband, would be quite clever enough for the cleverest man in existence, and infinitely preferable to the cleverest woman in book-learning that has ever been turned out by university. But this is only to say that cleverness should not be confounded with literary or scientific culture. Real cleverness is a certain alertness which enables its possessor to adapt herself to circumstances.

Invert the question and ask, “Does a clever woman need a clever husband?” and the same considerations, mutatis mutandis, will apply. There should not be too great an intellectual disparity between the husband and the wife, but if the attainments of either partner are supplemented by the qualities of the other a very great difference of mental level is compatible with a very harmonious and happy married life. A wife is to a husband so much more than a mere stimulus to his intellect, and although I would not advise a college president to marry a dairymaid, nevertheless, there are some dairymaids whom I would rather marry than some of the wives of college presidents!

An Irrational Question

Eden Phillpotts

Cleverness is a flower of protean growth and I find it impossible to answer your irrational question without endless reservations and conditions. Even so, experience compounds theory at every turn. Only in certain circumstances would a clever man actually need a clever wife — or any wife; but if he wants one, then the cleverer she is the better; provided always that her cleverness is of the right brand — a complement not a likeness of his.

For example, it is obvious that an unbusinesslike man will be happier for a capable companion with a mathematical head; that a shy, reserved and morbid man will be easier for a wife with social gifts and common sense; that a bear of a man will be better for a she-bear with tact and intuition and the skill that evades catastrophes, bridges deficiencies of manners, heals the unintentional wounds of bluntness and native brutality.

In other words, the clever man is all the better for a wife who can act as armor to his own weak spots. So is every sort of man.

A reasonable supply of brain power on both sides is vital to any self-contained and distinguished union; but let the cleverness of man and woman find expression in different directions. It is not necessary that the paramount partner's intellect moves on the higher plane; but one must reign and the other be consort, if the united life is to prove entirely successful.

I called your question “irrational” for this reason: There is a necessity implied in it. And where actual necessity exists in a man's life for a clever partner, that necessity will lie in reasons quite apart from his cleverness. You might as reasonably inquire whether a round-shouldered or red-haired man needed a clever wife. He may or may not do so; but his need does not depend upon a bent back or upon locks.

It is perfectly safe to affirm that the greater number of clever men must be happier every way for having clever wives, always predicating that complementary cleverness which every case demands. This complementary cleverness is necessary for an orbicular perfection — a rounded completeness; but in the matter of needing cleverness, actual “need” would arise out of attributes or imperfections of character, not from the accident of cleverness. Need implies weakness somewhere.

You remember an older question than this, — Should you eat butter with cheese? The answer is, Yes, always; because a bad cheese needs butter and a good one deserves it. So let us say that every man ought to have a clever wife, because the fools need them, and the wise men deserve them.

He Does Not Want a Fool

Mary E. Wilkins Freeman

Although probably this may require to be ended, as it is begun, with an interrogation, and left an open question, since there must necessarily be so many points of view in such a matter, the following is from my own point of view, whatever it may be worth.

It seems to me that a clever man may or may not need a clever woman, according to the nature of the cleverness of each, and according to the characters of each, quite aside from the fact of cleverness.

I consider that if the cleverness of the man and the woman has the same field for its improvement, a considerable risk is run, not only of retarding that improvement for one or both parties, but of family dissensions. If both husband and wife are artists, unless they are past the impressionable age of youth when they come together; unless each has very strongly marked individuality; unless the work lies on distinctly different lines, there is danger of one's influencing the other disastrously. For instance, if both man and woman are portrait painters, and one idealizes the subject while the other is prone to stick to hard facts of line and lineament, the weaker, if weaker there be, will be exceedingly apt, if only for the sake of peace, to degenerate into an imitation of the other, instead of continuing to work steadily in his or her own direction. The same difficulty may arise if both are landscape artists. In the one case the man may belong to the impressionist school, the other to the reverse, and the stronger may influence the weaker, albeit unwittingly and unwillingly. But suppose both belong to the same school: in that case, there may be a struggle for supremacy along the same line, and unless the man and woman are exceptional characters, and devoid of jealousy, heart-burnings and bitterness may easily follow. It requires a mighty, almost superhuman love to survive superior success of the beloved in one's own chosen line of work with no jealousy and no carping criticism.

The same rule applies to workers in other fields, say that of literature. It is generally considered rather risky for a man clever in literary work to marry a woman also clever in the field of letters. There are, of course, notable exceptions, like the Brownings who, both great poets, loved to the end, but in the main the result is doubtful. As in the case of pictorial artists, there is danger to work, and danger to family peace and concord, unless with exceptional temperaments.

Applying the question to musicians, there may easily be not only improvement in work, but also increased harmony of spirit, if the man and woman do not follow precisely the same line. There is little doubt that a musician is happier united to an appreciative woman.

He should marry a woman who is capable of an intelligent appreciation of and feeling for music, and in many cases he is happier and works to better advantage if she is also a musician. By the nature of things, there can be no question of dissonance among successful singers of opposite sexes; when it comes to instruments, there is probably a better chance of harmony if the two evoke sweet sounds from different instruments.

When it comes to more prosaic avocations, as business, there seems less chance of disagreement, unless indeed the man is a great financier, which is a positive form of genius, or the woman a Mrs. Eddy or a Hetty Green, which conditions are unlikely, as financial genius is a rare form. There are thousands of instances in which man and woman, both clever in business, work together to their mutual advantage with the greatest amicability. It is probable that a clever business man, all things considered, does need a wife with a clever business head, although he may not realize the fact, and may be ready to break his heart for the sake of a woman who innocently believes that as long as she has blank checks in her check-book her account at the bank cannot be overdrawn. When the first romantic glamour has passed, he may be irritated and impatient if she is not possessed of a few business traits; although he may tolerate no meddling in his own financial affairs. Still, a certain degree of understanding and cleverness concerning business will probably please and hold him better than the rank idiocy which many men ascribe to women in such matters.

Then, leaving out of the count the special forms of cleverness, there is little doubt that a clever, level-headed man does not in the long run wish for a wife who is altogether a fool! He may, of course, if he is of the arrogant, egotistic type himself — he may derive a real pleasure in the knowledge that he is literally the head of the family. He may plume himself and strut about in entire complacency, and his love for his mate may be based almost wholly upon the fact that her mere existence caters to his self-esteem; but the normal man is, of course, above that, and rises superior to his own ego, especially when love for another is involved. Then cleverness, if not equal to his own, at least understanding his own, appeals to him, and makes his home and life happier. A clever man, in a general sense, is distinctly irritable or gently contemptuous of a wife who is ignorant of life.

Summing up, it seems to me that, generally speaking, a clever, normal man does need, and is happier for having, a clever woman if their cleverness does not assume conflicting specialties.

She Must Have Feminine Tact

Katherine Cecil Thurston

Put to one as a sudden proposition, this question of “Should a clever man have a clever wife?” suggests an answer requiring hesitation, thought and a mental survey of the matrimonial ventures of those famous men who have been blessed — or the reverse — with wives who also aspired to wear the laurel wreath. But in reality the problem is no such tremendous one; it rests upon broad lines and is, after all, very easy of solution.

Without doubt a clever man should have a clever wife, if the goal desired be a successful marriage; but “clever” must not be taken as synonymous with the words “work-producing” or “ambitious.” The quality necessary to the wife of a clever man is the essentially feminine cleverness of tact and intuition — the subtle woman's gift that can stimulate without irritating, can comprehend without questioning, and under all circumstances can — or appears to — subordinate her own interests, her own personality, to the more vivid, dominating masculine qualities of her husband.

The weapons with which a woman faces the world are to be found not so much in the brilliancy of her intellectual attainments, nor her capacity for work, nor her executive ability, valuable as these qualities are in making her useful, or interesting, or charming. As assets in domestic happiness, all mental capacity which belongs, after all, to the masculine rather than feminine make-up will avail her nothing.

The truly clever man is, by reason of his cleverness, a complex creature. Possessing a personality more vivid than his fellows, he is perforce conscious in a greater degree of his own ego; and this egoism, in itself the key to his attraction, to his quality of domination, is a trait difficult to handle domestically — a balance that requires constant readjusting by rules born of instinct, not of calculation. Wherever, therefore, one can point to the happy marriage of a clever man it is safe to conclude that, no matter how insignificant, how inarticulate, his wife may appear in the world's eyes, she is, in the true sense of the word, a clever woman.

Single File is Savagery

Elbert Hubbard

First, disclaiming the gentle assumption that I am brilliant, I say, yes.

The essence of marriage is companionship, and the woman you face across the coffee urn every morning for ninety-nine years must be both able to appreciate your jokes and sympathize with your aspirations. If this is not so the man will stray, actually, or else chase the ghosts of dead hopes through the graveyard of his dreams.

Prettiness palls, unless it is backed up by intellect. The merely clever woman is nearly as bad as the clever man. All these people who carry most of their goods in the show-window are headed for jobs at the button counter.

By brilliant men is meant, of course, men who have achieved brilliant things — who can write, paint, model, orate, plan, manage, devise and execute. And, by the way, my dear old friend, Tom Johnson, says that an executive is a man who decides quickly — and is sometimes right.

Brilliant men are merely ordinary men who at intervals are capable of brilliant performances. Not only are they ordinary most of the time, but often at times they are dull, perverse, prejudiced and absurd. However, they are sometimes right, and this is better than to be dead wrong all the time.

So here is the truth: Your ordinary man who does the brilliant things would be ordinary all the time were it not for the fact that he is inspired by a woman.

Great thoughts and great deeds are the children of married minds.

When you find a great man playing a big part on life's stage you'll find in sight, or just around the corner, a great woman. Read history!

A man alone is only half a man; it takes the two to make the whole.

Ideas are born of parents.

Now life never did nor can consist in doing brilliant things all day long. Before breakfast most men are rogues. And even brilliant men are brilliant only two hours a day. These brilliant moments are exceptional. Life is life for everybody. We must eat, breathe, sleep, exercise, bathe, dress and lace our shoes. We must be decent to servants, agreeable to friends, talk when we should and be silent when we ought.

To be companionable — fit to live under the same roof with good people — neither consists in being pretty nor clever, but it all hinges on the ability to serve. No man can love a woman long who does not help him carry the burden of life. He will support her for a few weeks, or possibly years, then if she doesn't show a disposition to support him her stock drops below par.

Robert Louis, the Beloved, used to tell of something he called “charm.”

But even his subtle pen, with all its witchery, could not quite describe charm of manner — that gracious personal quality which meets people, high or low, great or small, rich or poor, and sends them away benefited and refreshed.

I am encouraged and delighted when I think of how women everywhere are learning to work, — work with head, hand and heart, — preparing themselves to be the fit companions of men who are able to do brilliant things. The work of women's clubs has been of vast benefit to men, for it has cut them out a pace. Woman is no longer a doll, a plaything, a Teddy bear.

There is no sex in soul.

Men and women must go forward hand in hand — single file is savagery.

A brilliant man is dependent on a woman, and the greater he is the more he needs her. The only man who has no use for a woman is one who is “not all there” — one whom God has overlooked.

The brilliant man wants a wife who is his chum, companion, a “good fellow” to whom he can tell the things he knows or guesses or hopes; one with whom he can be stupid and foolish; one with whom he may act out his nature. If she is stupid all the time, he will have to be brilliant, and this will kill them both. To grin and bear it is gradual dissolution; to bear it and not grin is Death.

We are all just children in the kindergarten of God, and we want playfellows. If a woman is pretty I would say it is no disadvantage, unless she is unable to forget it. But plainness of feature does not prohibit charm of manner, sincerity, honesty and the ability to be a good housekeeper and a noble mother.

There are many degrees of brilliancy, but as a general proposition this holds: A brilliant man wants a wife who is intellectually on his wire — one who, when he rings up, responds.


Are There Any Stupid Women?

Gilbert K. Chesterton

The question put to me is, “Does a clever man need a clever wife?” In so far as I understand the question I should answer “No”; but I am not sure that I do understand the question. It seems to me like asking, “Does a spotted man need a spotted horse?” The first and best relation between a man and a horse has nothing to do with spottedness in either party. When he has got a good horse, a brave, beautiful, intelligent or otherwise admirable horse, the spotted man may then (if he likes) congratulate himself upon the fact that the variegated pattern upon himself is repeated upon his horse, thus making them one decorative scheme. But the emotions which make a man want a horse are emotions having nothing to do with spots. And you must not at this moment rise with a flag in your hand and say that I am insulting woman by making her the same as the horse. I am not; your logic is defective. If I class a wife with a horse I should in the same sense class a husband with a horse. In the same sense I should say that a clever woman does not need a clever husband. Sex relations do not depend upon intellectualism, either in producing momentary pleasure or in producing permanent happiness. Neither in the highest love nor in the lowest lust does a man remember whether he is clever or not. Far less does he trouble whether cleverness characterizes the sources either of his pleasure or of his happiness. The wisest man in the world might do the wisest act of his life in marrying a stupid woman — if there are any stupid women, which I doubt.

This is, unfortunately, the point. It is open to discussion whether every clever man needs a clever wife. But it is quite certain that he gets a clever wife — because there are no wives who are not clever. There are, perhaps, women who are not clever. You can find a dull woman; you can find a dull married woman; but you cannot find a dull wife. Wives when acting as wives are all mentally active, and horribly clear-headed. There is no clever man who does not find his wife cleverer than he. If the question means, “Is it a good thing that a man should rely on the mental qualities of his wife?” the answer is “Yes; a good thing, and an inevitable thing, anyhow.” If it means, “Is it a good thing that her mental qualities should be of the same sort as his?” the answer is “No; a very bad thing.” If you say that Shakespeare thought (and thought rightly) that Anne Hathaway was cleverer than he was, then I agree. If you say that Shakespeare would have been happier if he had married Mary Queen of Scots, because she was cultured and wrote sonnets, then I flatly contradict you. Probably Anne Hathaway was cleverer than Shakespeare; for in the only ways that she cared to be clever he was probably stupid. The average of intelligence among women is much higher than among men; the Shakespeares are, I think, fewer. But even the stupidest woman is stronger than the cleverest man in a certain kind of argument, — the kind of argument with which Xantippe overwhelmed Socrates. People talk of tyrannically oppressed women; but the only old human tradition is that of women oppressing men.

I think the real quarrel, if there is one, comes back to the meaning of the word “clever.” It is a modern word and therefore unintelligent. It ignores the distinction between being accomplished in some particular thing and being sagacious and of a good judgment in general things. If you inquire whether a clever astronomer needs a clever astronomical wife, or a clever literary man needs a clever literary wife, or if a clever rat-catcher needs a clever rat-catching wife, then the answer to all the questions is, “No”; emphatically, “No.” Such sympathy as that is more likely to lead to suicide than to success. But if it means that the ordinary author, astronomer or rat-catcher requires an eternal torrent of female cleverness to keep him in reasonable health and decency, that is quite true.

The truth of the matter I take to be something like this: Modern people will always insist upon assuming that divisions are the remains of barbarism. Surely it is obvious that divisions are the results of civilization, as is the industrial division of labor. Now the division between the social functions of the sexes has the same origin as all the highly civilized divisions. For instance, some cosmopolitans now speak of the division of Europe into nations as if it were an old and barbaric thing; the historical fact is that there really were no nations until the Renaissance and the general complexity of the modern world. Divisions arise when the work is just too great and subtle a thing to be worked with one hand or seen from one standpoint. So it was with the functions of the sexes. Man and woman were divided; not because one was right and the other wrong, but because both were so right that the full truth could only be expressed by keeping up both positions. Man stood for a strong belief in specialism; in being a perfect butcher or an incomparable baker or an entirely unparalleled candle-stick-maker; in a word he stood for what is called cleverness. But woman stood for what is called wisdom; universality, general criticism, common sense. You can see the truth in the mere existence of the term “mother wit.” No one ever thought of calling it “father wit.”

Now I will confess that I am one who regrets the recent collapse of woman, and her meek surrender to the male ideal. The male position was indeed true; but the whole truth was not male, as the suffragists suppose. The ideal of all-round wisdom is too good to be lost altogether. A man ought not to be only a butcher or baker; he ought to be a man; but baking is so engrossing that males all tend to forget manhood. So we find that to be a man is to be a woman.

Therefore, the answer to the question, “Does a clever man need a clever wife?” is “No; because his cleverness is his limitation.”