In 1539 when John Calvin was 30, his friend Farel wrote to him with the suggestion that he had found a woman who would be perfect for Calvin to marry. Calvin wrote back, explaining that he was not especially the marrying type, and that only a certain kind of woman could possibly suit him:
“Remember what I especially desire to meet with in a wife. I am not, you know, of the number of those inconsiderate lovers who adore even the faults of the woman who charms them. I could only be pleased with a lady who is sweet, chaste, modest, economical, patient, and careful of her husband’s health. Has she of whom you have spoken to me these qualities? Come with her. If not, let us say no more.”
The next year, Calvin married that woman, Idelette de Bure. Here is a sonnet for them and for my own Idelette.
The only kind of lady who could please
A theologian, and could share his life
And dare to be a theologian’s wife
Must boast (but never boast!) these qualities:
Sweet, chaste and modest (just like Calvin wrote),
With patience, careful for her husband’s health,
Economy in managing his wealth,
And many other features I could note.
Some lovers are bewitched and charmed in ways
That make them think bad character is good.
They bow before their wives with idol praise!
But even if I worshiped all your flaws,
The hymnal would be short, you could expect:
And thus I’ve chosen you, sweet spouse elect!