« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
See this load behind them plodding
On the ass! Silenus he,
Midas treads a wearier measure:
When he's forced to thirst for aye?—
Listen well to what we're saying;
Of to-morrow have no care!
Youths and maids, enjoy to-day;
Ladies and gay lovers young!
Long live Bacchus, live Desire! Dance and play; let songs be sung;
Let sweet love your bosoms fire; In the future come what may !— Youths and maids, enjoy to-day; Nought ye know about to-morrow.
Fair is youth and void of sorrow;
J. A. S
In a former number of this Magazine
we gave some account of the extraordinary trade in clandestine marriages which during the latter part of the seventeenth and the first half of the eighteenth centuries was carried on in London, and which at last came to be chiefly associated with the neighbourhood of the Fleet prison. We described the leading features of that disgraceful traffic, the more prominent of the dissolute characters by whom it was conducted, and the curious registers in which its results were recorded. We showed how, from the first establishment of this irregular-marriage business, its transactions grew in number year by year; how incidents of increasing grossness attended it; and how at length the scandals to which it gave rise helped to bring about a change of law that proved to be its death-stroke.
Although the plentiful and ready supplies of quiet marriage yielded by the Fleet parsons doubtless increased the demand for that commodity, every one knows that the motives by which people are urged to matrimonial secrecy were neither created by the reverend flamens in question, nor destroyed by the statute which crushed them. It may be not uninteresting if in the present paper we consider briefly what has since been the history of clandestine marriage in this country, and somewhat more at length what conveniences remain under the marriage laws of our own day, for the runaway and other couples who wish to marry unnoticed.
The statute which was fatal to the Fleet weddings is known as Lord Hardwicke's Act, "for the better preventing of clandestine marriages." The aim of the Bill as at first framed had been to abolish the law of matrimonial precontract throughout the kingdom. But in the passage of the measure through Parliament, Scotland was put beyond its operation. In the form in which it became law it required that all marriages in England should be solemnized after banns, or else by licence duly granted; that any not so solemnized should be null and void; that, unless performed by special licence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, they should take place in parochial churches or chapels where banns had usually been published; and that every person solemnizing matrimony except under these conditions should on conviction be deemed guilty of felony and transported for fourteen years. The Fleet parsons had taken their stand on the accepted doctrine that marriage by a priest in orders was valid although irregularly performed: it will at once be seen that by these strait requirements their position was completely overthrown.
* See the Cornhill for May, 1867.
The Act came into force on March 26, 1754. Immediately before that date the Fleet marriage-shops had been choked with throngs of people eager to take the benefit of the expiring system. Nor when the new law had begun to work were those wanting who dared to set it at nought. The year 1754 had not ended before fresh offers of secret marriage were made. The then chaplain of the Chapel Royal, Savoy, pretended to persuade himself that, since his chapel was exempted from episcopal jurisdiction, his power to marry there remained untouched by the provisions of the late enactment. Accordingly he performed in the chapel many so-called marriages without the requisite preliminaries. These were in point of fact doubly illegal: they were not solemnized after banns or by licence, and they were solemnized in an unauthorized place. The chaplain was at length convicted under Lord Hardwicke's Act, and sentenced to transportation for his offence. Nor was he the only priest who so offended and was so condemned.
As soon as the door was firmly closed against clandestine marriage in England, eloping lovers were obliged to look about them in order to find some spot, out of the country and not too distant, where secret and speedy matrimony might still be possible. What they wanted was yet to be had in the Isle of Man, and also in Guernsey and the neighbouring islands. To these places therefore they began to fly. The persons, however, who went so far to marry would necessarily bear but an extremely small proportion to the numbers who had lately availed themselves of the accommodation offered at the Hand and Pen and other taverns in the Fleet. Clandestine marriage had become a luxury obtainable only by the few. And not long did the islands mentioned continue to attract even a limited number of the sufferers from Lord Hardwicke's severity. In 1757 an Act was passed by the Manx legislature which put an end to irregular marriage in the Isle of Man; while Guernsey fell into speedy disfavour with the lovers themselves, because of the tedious voyage incurred in getting there.*
Although the immediate provocation of Lord Hardwicke's Bill had been a case of injustice occurring in Scotland, that part of the United Kingdom had, as we have seen, been exempted from the operation of the Bill before it became law. Scotland, therefore, continued to offer opportunities for marriage by mere verbal contract. Of these opportunities runaway couples who had the means to do so, next availed themselves. To Edinburgh they mostly went at first to make their nuptial vows. There degraded people who personated Anglican clergymen were ready to give to their reciprocal promises a semblance of ecclesiastical approval. The Fleet parsons had at least been ordained priests, marrying by virtue of their office. These were sheer impostors; and what gave validity to the weddings over which they presided was wholly apart from themselves and their pretended functions.
* See Brides and Bridals, by J. C. Jeaffreson (Hurst and Blackett), vol. ii. p. 205.
It was now soon realised that people need not go so far as Edinburgh to be beyond the reach of English law; and the village of Gretna, just over the border, was chosen as the most convenient place for solving the matrimonial difficulties existing further south. Here, as is well known, a large number of marriages took place. The exciting flights towards this Hymeneal refuge; the parental pursuits; the long-sustained effrontery of those who affected to unite the couples, are facts too familiar to need detailed description. It was not until January 1, 1857, when Lord Brougham's Act (19 and 20 Vict. c. 96) became law, that clandestine matrimony at Gretna Green was effectually checked. This statute provided that no irregular marriage contracted in Scotland by declaration, acknowledgment, or ceremony should be valid, unless one of the parties should at the date thereof have his or her usual place of residence there, or should have lived in that country for twenty-one days next preceding such marriage. These conditions of course could not be complied with by fugitive pairs from England, for the success of whose plans despatch was usually indispensable.
From the point now reached clandestine matrimony amongst us ceases to have a definite history. No longer does the state of the law in any quarter easy of access offer open inducements to its accomplishment. Henceforth it becomes subtly evasive or daringly fraudulent. That we may give a clear notion of what remains of it at the present time, let us describe the different modes of marriage which have been available in England from the date last mentioned-viz. the year 1857. It happens that no change of general importance in the English law relating to this matter has taken place since then. We shall inquire how far "quiet" weddings are practised under each mode, forming our conclusions mostly from proof, but sometimes from inferences which in the absence of direct evidence may appear justifiable. It should be borne in mind as we go on that secret marriage may be sought for many and various reasons. motive impelling to it may be positively criminal, merely interested, or simply foolish. Sometimes the desire for it may arise from feelings distinctly excusable, if not praiseworthy. While making no pretence to associate the effects with their particular causes in all cases, we shall sometimes be able to throw light no less on the latter than on the former.
First in dignity amongst the means of getting married open to Englishmen must be placed the special licence of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Since the cessation of the Papal authority in this country, the Primate has possessed power to grant dispensations for the solemnization of marriage. His special licence releases from obligations as to a fixed term of residence, and warrants matrimony at any hour and in any place. It is supposed to be granted to those only of high degree. According to the testimony of the national registers in the custody of the Registrar-General, twenty-eight is the largest number of these licences issued in a single year since 1841, while in many years since then not
more than eight or nine have been granted. We may at once conclude that persons wishing to marry surreptitiously would never, even if we suppose them able to secure the Archbishop's special licence, attempt to reach their goal by so conspicuous a pathway. That authority for marriage, moreover, is an expensive luxury, costing some 301.
We pass on therefore to the common ecclesiastical licence granted by the Ordinary through his Chancellor and Surrogates, and by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York through the Vicars-General. This dispenses with publication, but, as most of our readers will be aware, requires the solemnization of the marriage in church, and within the canonical hours-that is, between eight A.M. and noon. Some thirty years
since the common licence was the authority for matrimony most often used among the middle classes. But the Church revival which has lately been in progress has done much to restore banns to favour, particularly amongst the upper divisions of those classes. The report from several dioceses is to the effect that the number of licences granted is diminishing, or not keeping pace with the growth of the population. In 1875 only 17,416 marriages were stated in the national registers to have taken place by common licence, while 127,762 were distinguished as having been solemnized after banns. In that year, however, 847 church marriages occurred with respect to which the clergy omitted to record the nature of the preliminaries.
When we consider the safeguards by which this modè of espousal is protected, we are at once struck by their insufficiency. An affidavit is indeed required from the person applying for the licence, as to residence, absence of lawful impediment, and parental consent if either party to the intended marriage be a minor. In some dioceses it is the practice to demand further evidence of consent; but this rule is not universally adopted, and if the affidavit be falsely made the crime committed does not constitute perjury, and a forfeiture of any pecuniary benefit which might accrue by the marriage to the person swearing falsely as to consent is the only penalty expressly imposed on him by law.* The authority we are referring to adds that no kind of publicity is given to the application for the licence, and that no interval is necessary either between application and issue, or between issue and the solemnization of the marriage. Here, then, are conditions certainly favourable to clandestine matrimony. The evidence elicited by the Royal Commission on the Marriage Laws, which published their report in 1868, proved that illegal alliances do-and not seldom-take place by this process surreptitiously. "Every year," said the late Bishop Wilberforce before the Commissioners, when the diocese of Oxford was under his charge, "we have instances of improper marriages, such as an uncle marrying his niece, or widower marrying the sister of
* See The Marriage Law of England, pp. 97-8, by James T. Hammick, Esq., of Lincoln's Inn, Barrister-at-Law, &c. (Shaw and Sons). To the author of this useful volume we beg to acknowledge much obligation.