Advice About Righting the Wrong Marriage Proposal

For many years Isabella had an advice column in a popular Christian magazine. She used the column to answer readers’ concerns—from a Christian perspective—on a variety of topics.

In 1897 she received a surprising letter from a young woman who regretted turning down a marriage proposal.

Here is the letter:

Suppose a gentleman had proposed marriage to a lady by letter, although he lived in the same town with her, and she, vexed at this, had simply returned the letter without other reply. Yet suppose that she loved the man, and believed him in every way worthy. What could she do to right matters?

Illustration of letter envelopes with wax seals on the flaps and hand-written "For You" on the front of one, against a background of a quill feather pen and small blue flowers.

Here is Isabella’s reply:

Yours is an extremely difficult question to answer. If I were the gentleman, it would take a good deal to “right matters.”

I am simply amazed at the number of young women who seem to be interested in a question of this kind. Why, in the name of common sense, should not a gentleman propose marriage by letter if that method suits him best? Certainly there is no discourtesy in such a letter. If he felt that in the quiet of his own room he could express the thought and desire of his heart better than he could by speech, the probabilities are that he is a thoughtful, earnest, sensible man. For such a man to condone the discourtesy of returning him his honest letter without other answer would, I should think, be very difficult.

A young couple stands near an outdoor bench. She is facing away from him, looking angry with her nose in the air. He looks down at the ground, dejected.

Honestly, the possibilities are that he would decide that he had been mistaken in the character of the lady, and had made a narrow escape.

It is all very well to cultivate dignity and a certain fine self-respect; every true woman, even though she be quite young, should be enveloped by these as with a garment; but there is in some natures a tendency to let these degenerate until the persons become—what shall I say? Finical? Over nice? Neither of these quite covers the thought, but perhaps you understand me.

A young man tips his hat to a young woman who looks annoyed.

Do you not know people who seem to be on the watch for something at which to take offence, people who will not hesitate to stab the deepest feelings of their dearest friends because of some fancied slight or discourtesy?  I know young ladies who pride themselves upon their extreme sensitiveness in such directions, and seem to think that they are made of finer grain than others, when the fact is that there is really no trait easier to cultivate. To think much about one’s self, and to imagine that others do not think enough about us, seems to be first, instead of second, nature to many.

Now, after this lengthy digression, let me try to answer the question, “What can be done to right matters?”

A young couple sits outside on a fence rail, facing away from each other as if they have had a disagreement.

My dear, if you are really a sincere, self-respecting girl, and the gentleman has the character that you ascribe to him, write him a letter stating frankly that you unwittingly insulted him; that you are ashamed of yourself, and want to be forgiven. That may “right matters” in your individual case, and it may not. It depends on whether the gentleman is high-minded and unselfish, and so deeply attached to you that he is able to overlook your faults.


Oh, dear! Isabella wasn’t very sympathetic to the young lady’s plight, was she?

Do you think Isabella gave her good advice?

How would you react if you received a marriage proposal by mail?

The Pansy Tree

Publishing The Pansy magazine was a family affair. Every two weeks Isabella and her husband edited a new issue of the juvenile magazine. Each issue featured stories that were both instructive and entertaining, as well as articles about foreign lands and lessons on nature and science.

But perhaps the feature Isabella loved most was “The P. S. Corner.” In this column she printed letters she received from members of The Pansy Society. Children joined the society simply by pledging to overcome a fault (such as arguing with a sister, or shirking chores) with Jesus’ help.

Every month, hundreds of children wrote letters to The Pansy to tell of their pledges, their successes and their failures. Isabella treasured the letters, and called Pansy Society members her “blossoms.”

Even more importantly, Isabella answered all the letters! Sometimes she replied with congratulations, sometimes with encouragement and sympathy, as in this short note to Bessie from Nebraska:

Poor little blossom! It is very hard work to be unselfish, especially when so many grown people set us a bad example. Try hard, my dear.

Her “blossoms” adored her. So when an elementary school in Ravenna, Ohio planned an Arbor Day celebration in 1884, the children decided to plant a tree and name it Pansy, in honor of their favorite author.

Arbor Day at Fremont School, Santa Rosa, California; 1917

Isabella found out about it, and a few days after the Arbor Day ceremony, she sent the school a lovely letter.

Dear Young Blossoms:

How shall Pansy thank you for the sweet thought which made you choose out her from among all the people in this full world for the honor bestowed?

Oh, I hope the tree will grow, and grow, and spread out its branches, and cast its cool, restful shadows just as far as God meant it should, and do its own pleasant work in the world.

An Arbor Day ceremony at a small school in Massachusetts; 1915.

Later in the letter, Isabella reminded the young arborists that there was another tree—the tree of life—that was even more important:

Fair young blossoms, will you grow in beauty and bloom always for Jesus? Shall we gather, all of us, some day, under the branches of the tree of life, and talk the earth-story over?

She closed the letter to the children as she always did—with an earnest invitation to one day meet her in Heaven.

I do not know that I can ever stand under the shade of the green tree that you have so kindly named for me, but I feel sure of that other one. Will you all meet me there?

Your grateful friend,
Pansy

Her sweet letter to the children was printed in the local newspaper. You can read the entire letter by clicking on the image below.

Would you like to know more about the Pansy Society? Click here to read a previous post.

And you can click here to read a post about The Pansy magazine.


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