London: C. Chapple, 1812. First edition. Bound in 19th century three-quarter morocco over calf with boards ruled in gilt; spines with five raised bands embossed in gilt. Marbled endpapers. Light scattered foxing throughout, though with less than is typical of imprints of this period. Collates xxiv, 333, [1, blank]; xv, [1, blank], 396: complete including titles of both. Scarce at institutions and in trade, this surprisingly progressive marriage guide is recorded at only 12 institutions in the U.S. and has appeared only four times at auction since 1973 (with the copy in 2001 being defective). This is presently the only copy on the market.
An etiquette book composed in the popular epistolary fashion, Letters on Marriage presents readers with a long-running conversation between two male correspondents on marital duties, how and why marriages break apart, and the extent to which both husband and wife must give each other support and respect. Early chapters in Volume I often replicate much of the period's male-centric and misogynistic assumptions; the first three chapters, for instance, focus on the cultivation of male bodies and minds for adulthood before shifting in the fourth chapter to emphasize the dangerous "enticements of loose women and common prostitutes" so capable of damaging good Englishmen in their youths. By Volume II, however, attention shifts toward women; and here is much of the value of Kitchener's work. Though his opening chapter here decries the damaging effects early promiscuity can have on men and women, Chapter IX addresses the historically misleading assumptions about women that have damaged relations between the sexes. Chapter X addresses how failures in women's education, past and present, damage them as individuals and limit their abilities to be companions to men while also leaving them open to manipulation by bad men.
Kitchener's Letters bring together misogynistic commonplaces with progressive thinking about how anti-feminist social limitations placed on women affect marriage. Letters does this at a moment, too, when the courtesy genre of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was dying out -- in part because of a nineteenth century focus on diversity, individuality, and the common person outside the court -- and a new, popular etiquette genre was in development. "While the etiquette book as a separate genre developed only slowly and haltingly in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, it emerged in the 1830s with surprising rapidity and popularity...The young man with a career to make outside of court became the object of etiquette writers' attentions" (Curtin). The realities for men and women of this class demanded some acknowledgement that marriages could fail, that couples would be in closer proximity to each other that in a court setting, and that meeting a companionate ideal required reciprocal action. (Item #4081)