In the autumn of 1836 a married lady of my acquaintance proposed to me that I wed her sister. I accepted the proposal, feeling confoundedly well pleased with the project. I had seen the said sister some three years before, thought her intelligent and agreeable, and saw no good objection to plodding through life hand-in-hand with her.
In a few days we had an interview, and, although I had seen her before, she did not look as my imagination had pictured her. I knew she was oversize, but she now appeared a fair match for Falstaff. I knew she was called an “old maid,” and I didn’t doubt at least half of that description, but now, when I beheld her, I could not for my life avoid thinking of my mother; and this, not from withered features, — for her skin was too full of fat to permit of its contracting into wrinkles – but from her want of teeth, weather-beaten appearance in general, and from a kind of notion that ran in my head that nothing could have commenced at the size of infancy and reached her present bulk in less than thirty-five or forty years; and, in short, I was not at all pleased with her. But what could I do? I had told her sister that I would take her for better or for worse. “Well,” thought I, “I have said it, and, be the consequences what they may, it shall not be my fault if I fail to do it.” At once I determined to consider her my wife, and this done, all my powers of discovery were put to work in search of perfections in her which would balance her defects. I tried to imagine her handsome, which, but for her unfortunate corpulency, was actually true. I also tried to convince myself that the mind was much more to be valued than the person, and in this she was not inferior to any with whom I had been acquainted.
All this while, although I was fixed “firm as the surge-repelling rock” in my resolution, I found I was continually repenting the rashness which had led me to make it. I now spent my time in planning how I might get along in life after my contemplated change of circumstances should have taken place, and how I might procrastinate the evil day for a time.
After I had delayed the matter as long as I thought I could, I concluded I might as well bring it to a consummation without further delay, and so I mustered my resolution and made the proposal to her direct; but, shocking to relate, she answered, No. At first I supposed she did it through an affectation of modesty, which I thought but ill became her under the peculiar circumstances of the case, but on my renewal of the charge I found she repelled it with greater firmness than before. I tried it again and again, but with the same success, or rather with the same want of success.
I finally was forced to give it up, at which I very unexpectedly found myself mortified almost beyond endurance. My vanity was deeply wounded by the reflection that I had so long been too stupid to discover her intentions, and also that she, whom I had taught myself to believe nobody else would have, had actually rejected me with all my fancied greatness. And, to cap the whole, I then for the first time began to suspect that I was really a little in love with her.
Others have been made fools of by the girls, but this can never in truth be said of me. I most emphatically, in this instance, made a fool of myself.
I have now come to the conclusion never again to think of marrying, and for this reason – I can never be satisfied with any one who would be blockhead enough to have me.
The concluding punch line was famously stolen by Groucho Marx a century later.
For those who may be interested in such things, I’ve set this letter as a scherzo that is inverted halfway through, as the tables are turned on the narrator.