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A system of actual publication was once tried: it was formerly required by statute that marriage notices should be read before the guardians of the poor. But this was found to give much offence, and was abandoned in 1856; since which time the present mode of what we have called potential publication has prevailed. It is of course open to question whether or not the mode might be improved upon; but the chief protection against improper marriage would always lie in the strictness of the conditions under which notice must be given, in the explicitness of the declaration then required, and in the punishment applicable to those declaring falsely.
Of marriages in the Roman Catholic and Dissenting chapels technically called registered buildings, it may be safely said that few are clandestine. This is in part owing to conditions other than those connected with the legal preliminaries. Among Roman Catholics, who, as we have before remarked, follow the usages of their own church as to marriage with great strictness apart from what they are required to observe by statute, the efforts made to prevent improper matrimony of every kind are especially zealous. In Liverpool, for example, where there is a large colony of Irish, nothing can exceed the pains taken by the Roman Catholic clergy to inquire into cases of proposed marriage. When notice for banns is given to the priest, and that required by law to the Superintendent-Registrar, false statements as to residence are not seldom made in the city we have named. Deception of this sort is attempted, perhaps in the hope of avoiding extra fees when the parties intending to marry live in different districts, two of which are comprised in Liverpool; perhaps from a desire for secrecy, that neighbours may not know what is pending and may not look for festivities. These falsehoods, should they chance to escape detection by the registration officers, are nearly sure to be found out by the priests, who will not publish the banns where there has been misstatement. The quest after other impediments to lawful marriage possibly existing is followed by them with corresponding earnestness; and on notice for banns being given, the parish priests in those places in Ireland whence the persons wishing to marry have come are at once applied to for information as to the antecedents of the parties. And Liverpool yields but one instance on a large scale of what is going on everywhere. To the painstaking and success with which the Roman Catholic clergy labour for the prevention of improper matrimony among their flocks, ample testimony is borne from all quarters. Such endeavours appear to be mostly wanting amongst Nonconformist ministers. But in the event of a marriage being planned to take place at a Dissenting chapel, where the persons proposing to marry are entire strangers, some amount of caution and inquiry is probably exercised on religious, or, at least, on sectarian grounds, before consent to the use of the building is granted. Such circumspection on the part of chapel authorities, and the expectation of it on the part of the public, must tend to diminish the likelihood of improper matrimony in the registered buildings belonging
to Dissenters. Together with ecclesiastical checks, more or less effectual, of the kinds above named, must be considered the strictness of the civil rules before enumerated, by which marriage in the mode we are now concerned with can alone be reached; and, viewing the conditions as a whole, the reader will understand our assertion that but little of clandestinity can find footing here.
But it is now time to carry on our inquiry with respect to marriages of an entirely civil character, those, namely, which are celebrated in Register Offices. This branch of the subject needs perhaps some additional fulness of statement, as it is in all probability that of which least is generally known.
Except under the legislators of the Commonwealth, civil marriage did not exist in England until it was legalised in 1837. In the days of Puritan supremacy matrimony before a justice of the peace was for a time necessary to the validity of the marriage contract. This manner of celebration was extremely unpopular. And it was deservedly so; for it denoted merely a prejudice, which is now acknowledged to have been fanatical and superstitious, against "the ring and the book." The wedding was usually solemnized in church before or after the civil celebration, either in conformity with the instructions of the directory for public worship, or perhaps in part according to the beautiful form of the prohibited "book," which form, having been learnt by heart, was made to pass as an extempore service. The existing provisions for civil marriage are not, we are glad to say, compulsory. They are also, as we venture to think, based upon considerations more worthy of respect than prejudice and bigotry.
It should be remembered, in reference to the question of civil marriage, that the population amidst which we live does not consist only of respectable church-goers. Within our Christendom is a heathendom. There are swarms of dusky miners in Durham and South Wales, crowds of busy artisans in Lancashire and in the West Riding, throngs of careless sailors in every stirring seaport, who are members of no religious body, and who-often to the credit, at least, of their honesty-shrink from any approach to a profession of religious feeling. These Gentiles among the chosen have the misfortune-or rather, as we would hope, the happiness-to share " the passions of their kind." These must love and marry, and their daughters be given in marriage. The question is, shall they, pending their conversion to Christianty, be induced if possible to form their connections under legal sanction, and secure to their children the benefits of legitimate birth? The legislature has said "Yes," and has provided for them means of marriage which involve no religious profession whatever.
Some excellent men whose churchmanship has been beyond question, and amongst them Dr. Hook, lately Dean of Chichester, have held that it would be well if marriage were treated by the State as a civil contract in all cases, leaving it to each couple about to marry to decide whether or
not they would further seek the benediction of the Church upon their union. Dean Hook was brought to this conclusion by a long experience of what he called the "desecration" to which the Church of England marriage service is subjected by irreverent people. On the other hand, it is urged that the existing opportunities for marriage without religious ceremony have made matrimony less solemn and binding in the eyes of vicious persons than it formerly was; that they have encouraged unfaithfulness and produced social difficulties. Amidst extreme opinions on both sides such as these, it will generally be agreed, when the considerations above advanced are allowed their due weight, that permissive civil marriage, such as exists at present, with authority, which also exists, to add a religious ceremony at the pleasure of the parties married, represents a just and reasonable compromise.
Register-Office marriages are on the increase. In 1850 the number of them did not exceed 6,207, while in 1875, just a quarter of a century later, it reached 21,002. In the former year the total number of marriages solemnized in England and Wales was 152,744; in the latter it was 201,212. From these figures it will be seen that the proportion of civil marriages to the entire number of espousals accomplished, though growing, is still small.
Besides that unwillingness to avow connection with any religious body which undoubtedly has much to do with the resort of certain classes to the Register Office for marriage, there are several other motives which either separately or conjointly are constantly operating in the same direction. Into these motives, so far as they can be known or surmised, we have been at some pains to inquire. There can be no question that the existence of a previous connection between the parties, and a wish to repair error unobserved, is one of the most common causes of Register-Office marriage. To some extent, also, the question as to the mode of matrimony to be adopted is merely a question of expense. The lower classes of Dissenters not unfrequently, when intending to marry, forsake their chapels for the Register Office, on purpose to avoid paying five shillings to their minister and one shilling to their chapel-keeper; to say nothing of the cost of orange-flowers, blue neckties, and a cab-which elegances are usually thought indispensable when marriage in "a place of worship" is concerned, but which are not held necessary at the Register Office. This spirit of economy is to be noticed a good deal in some Welsh districts. Again, in certain circumstances, the working man seeks at the Register Office an escape from the chaff and banter of his comrades, and also an evasion of the wholesale treating which would be expected from him if the fact of his wedding were made known--as it would most likely be if performed in a church or chapel. Thus, in Leeds, Derby, and other places, the artisans often work up to breakfast time, get married in their working clothes at the Register Office between breakfast and dinner, and after the last-named meal go back to their labour for the rest of the day. Occasionally they even manage to get through their wedding during
"the breakfast half-hour," parting from their brides afterwards at the Register-Office door. The civil ceremony is not such as to detain them long. It consists of a brief declaration, spoken by both the parties to the marriage, that there is no lawful impediment to their union; and of the words of contract equally brief-which also of course have to be uttered by both. The marriage has further to be registered and the entry to be signed on the spot by six people, each in the presence of the rest-namely, by the persons married, two witnesses, the Registrar, and the Superintendent-Registrar. Nothing further than this is necessary. But there is one additional ceremonial that is scarcely ever left out. The ancient sign of wifely servitude-the token (in Puritan eyes) of abominable superstition-cannot be dispensed with amidst the unfettered agreements and secular ceremonial of Register-Office weddings: the ring must be given! It is usually put silently on the bride's finger by the bridegroom, after the forms of declaration and contract have been gone through. Sometimes it is given with a short form of words, as at Gateshead, where this laconic formula is used:-"I, A, give thee, B, this ring, in token of my affection and fidelity." To which announcement the bride-prudently avoiding any approach to reciprocal assurances-responds :-I, B, accept it as such." Any religious service at a Register-Office marriage is directly prohibited by law; but a provision, already referred to, is in operation, by which such service may be gone through after the civil celebration. To the causes above named as producing civil matrimony, many others of less frequent operation might be added.
It will be seen at once that in many of the cases we have been describing the secrecy of marriage at the Register Office is its attraction. Here then is a kind of "quiet" matrimony in extensive exercise. But it will be allowed that, so far as we have gone, the reasons of the desire for quietude have been excusable, harmless, and to a certain extent worthy of approbation. If clandestine marriages were always clandestine from causes as innocent as those just stated, there would be but little evil in clandestinity. The truth would seem to be that the motives we have cited, and such as they, ought within due limits to be considered and indulged. It is therefore gratifying to learn, as we do, that an important section of the clergy have lately advocated, with this very object, a resort to the Superintendent-Registrar's certificate as preliminary to marriage at church. By following this advice, persons wishing for harmless reasons to avoid publicity may at least escape the ordeal of banns without going to the Register Office to marry. That they are counselled to take such a course implies a sensible disposition to advance the proper influences of religion in the matter of marriage, upon the lines already laid down by law. Further good service might also probably be rendered by the clergy in the same direction, if they would to some extent adopt Dr. Hook's view of the question, and in certain cases encourage civil marriage with the addition of a private religious ceremony afterwards.
We shall not have been understood to claim for the Register Office a monopoly of such clandestine marriages as may be considered innocent. Nor are we concerned to deny that ill-disposed people do from time to time take advantage of the provisions made by law for marriage therein. But probably we nearly reach here the limit of what legislation can do to prevent improper alliances. In the process described as leading to civil marriage, the shortcomings of the preliminaries to banns and ecclesiastical licences are certainly avoided. Except, perhaps, with respect to publication, it would be difficult to invent further improvements. The system in question places effectual obstacles in the way of fraud, and provides for the punishment of offenders. If some are found able to overcome the obstacles, at least the means of their chastisement are not wanting. The enemies of the mode of procedure represented by the registration official aver that in attesting notices his office is not sufficiently that of an investigator. The charge is probably based on imperfect information. The registration official, in discharging the function referred to, acts under precise and strictly binding rules, which-as indeed has already been shown-demand from him much inquiry. Let a single further example of the care which these rules impose be given. In the important matter of consent, in the case of a minor's marriage, they require that if the wedding be proposed to take place at a Register Office, the parental or other sanction shall always be either personally signified or given in writing to the Superintendent-Registrar before the issue of his certificate or licence. On the other hand, the Registrar-General's regulations are in some quarters deemed too exacting. It is argued, for instance, in reference to this same matter of consent, that the strictness enjoined with respect to it not unfrequently operates cruelly upon young people. "Parents," say these advocates of the minor's cause, "often act oppressively and with selfishness in discountenancing the matrimonial wishes of their children. Take a case-arising not seldom in manufacturing towns-where a son under age, and living with his parents, earns wages enough to marry on with comfort. The son has a sweetheart whom he would like to wed; but the father, unwilling to lose that son's useful contribution to home expense, forbids his marriage for that and for no better reason." To such complaints it can only be answered that the parent is here acting within his just rights; that his motive may not be entirely selfish; and that probably neither the lad nor his lass will be any the worse for exercising patience. A stronger case is that where a family is forsaken by the father, who, although believed to be living, conceals his place of abode from those who have claims upon him. It is certainly hard that his daughter-say an industrious milliner aged nineteen-should be unable to improve her position by marriage for two whole years because she cannot gain her father's consent to the alliance, whereas he most likely cares not a jot whether she marry or no. In such an instance-so long as the law of banns continues to be what it is—the girl's best course would be to have banns published for marriage at