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Chronicles of Gretna Green
Chapter XVII


Expenses of Marriage at Gretna.

How much it costs at Gretna Green,
To buy a wife is told:
And also how, in days of yore,
Ladies were bought and sold.

He who goes out to purchase unto himself some rare and beauteous jewel, will, at such a time, very naturally put forth this sequent question, to wit:— How much will it cost?

In the same way, also, he who buys the rare jewel of his lady-love at the marriage mart of Gretna Green, that he may enrich his bosom by the adornment thereof, will discover, perhaps, how much it has cost, after the purchase has been achieved, if it should happen that he had omitted to inquire touching that matter before.

Owing to the enlightenment of the times, and owing to the privileges which that enlightenment has given to the delicious torments of our lives— the last and most perfect moiety of creation—we do not now seek to purchase these adornments until we have first wrung from them, with much perseverance and importunity, a sweet and condescending consent.

But in laying siege to these fair fortresses, wherefore should they persist in deafening their ears to a petition which, after all, is not disagreeable to them? And why should they withhold the immediate bestowal of that heart within them, when they know that they are really desiring nothing so much as to surrender it at once—free, whole, perfect, and entire?

Let them answer these queries (which they will not do) ; for what man ever explored the labyrinth of a lady's bosom?

In purchasing wives, the sums expended in the form of anxiety, vexation, and trouble, are enormous : but with this bullion we have not so much to do in the present chapter, as we have with more palpable mint-metal commonly used in barter. As regards the former species of coin, a man hopes, (no matter with what certain or uncertain grounds of reason,) that the moment his purchase is concluded, all further calls upon his purse will immediately cease; but, as regards the latter, we assure him that the case is different; — that his expenses will not cease, even when the purchase is completed.

In some instances his expenditure in vexation, and so on, continues to be a matter of ruin during the whole course of his existence: he had perchance disbursed sums incalculable during the expensive period of courtship, when every thought by day was perplexing, and every dream by night was anxious; but had consoled himself throughout this period, by the reflection, that as soon as his jewel should be his own, all this would immediately be over, and that his years would then flow on in peace and economy. If it ever happens otherwise, and if gentle swains are ever out in their sweet calculations, the cases are rare indeed; and as we do not love to anticipate evil, seeing that it always comes in this world quite soon enough without anticipation, we will not speculate in this vein any further.

The business we have in hand is — how much base and most despisable dross, commonly called gold, will be wheedled out of a bridegroom for being executed at Gretna Green?

This question cannot be answered bluntly in few words, as—sixpence,—a shilling,— a pound,—twenty pounds,—but requires an if, a perhaps, or one or two suppositions connected with yourself, your lady, the mode in which you travel, the appearance you make, and one or two other contingencies.

Sometimes men have bought wives very cheaply, and — have paid dearly for it afterwards. It is, however, better to pay a good price at first, and there's an end of all further trouble.

We recollect, that not many years ago, a man took his wife into the market-place, in one of the midland towns of England, and made it known to all whom it might concern, that he had repaired thither for the sincere purpose of vending his merchandise. And certain it is, as the tradition runs, a customer came and negotiated, and actually bought this dainty morsel of wares, for the solace and adornment of his bosom; and the outlay that he entered into was the veritable sum of three shillings sterling money of this realm.

Now, this man had a decided bargain; some said they both had — but never mind.; the buyer had so, beyond all question. In the first place, he had experienced no impoverishing dissipation in the troubles of a long courtship ; no expenditure of anxiety — of desire — of yearning — of hope deferred; with a light heart, and a clear eye, such as bespoke a good night's rest, he had come into the market, where, for three shillings, he had done as great a deed as costs most other men perhaps twice as much — or nearly. It was cheap certainly — very cheap ; but the tradition does not say whether his little expenses ended here, or whether he "paid dearly for it" afterwards.

In the annals of the town of Dunstable, there is an entry, which sets forth how a man and all his family were sold for the particular sum of one mark—an ancient coin worth thirteen shillings and four pence; but this fact, albeit some antiquaries have held it remarkable, as going to prove that slavery existed in England so late as the year 1283, (the date of the entry,) is not worthy the reader's attention, as it is only history, and not tradition.

The passage itself runs thus:—"This yeare wee soulde our slaue by byrth, William Pike, and alle his familie, and received one marke ffrom the buyere."

The Javans do not always purchase their helpmates like the swain in the market, but sometimes have recourse to a very pleasant species of lottery. This lottery, in one sense, is highly to be commended; because, owing to its nature and principle, a player who throws a hazard therein, cannot cast the die rather for the portion than the lady, as gamblers in other climes will now and then do. And, let it be observed, that to many of these prizes that may be thus drawn out, vast portions of metallic dross are attached ;—a fact however, after all, not to be wondered at, when looked into; for we know that to every thing of refined purity a certain portion of dross is attached; but which, in comparison with the more estimable part, is but dross indeed.

At Samarang, a large town in the island of Java, there is an establishment devoted to this purpose, wherein all the orphan children, as well rich as poor, are nurtured and brought up. The governors and superintendents of this building are enjoined, under engagements the most obligatory and binding, to maintain a sacred silence as to the fortunes of the fair inmates; so that those gentle juvenals who come to woo, cannot deceive themselves with regard to the object of their adoration ; or, by a mistake, woo a store of gold where they ostensibly went to woo a lady.

These fortunes are placed in the safe custody of certain trustworthy persons, usually residing at Bata-via, the metropolis of the country, on whom similar injunctions of secresy are imposed ; and it is understood that these young damsels consider this asylum their home until they are married.

No regulations with regard to the rank of the bachelor, who may come and select wheresoever his flickering fancy may direct, have been enacted; no matter who he is, or what he is, supposing him of creditable reputation, he may, in this flower garden, cull at pleasure, so long as he possesses one requisite, and that is, he must be well and truly seized of an income of 730 florins a year, or two florins a day—say, a hundred a year English. This presupposes him of fair and honest repute; this gives him the entre, and sets the whole market before him " where to choose."

He then falls in love, and, if no just impediment exists, he marries the lady of his selection, of course, utterly ignorant of the amount of dross that pertains to this seven times refined ingot of purity.

Some days after the catastrophe, it is made known to him the portion that his wife has brought; and thus it is plain that his choice could not have been biassed by any sordid motives of gain. •

We are assured that a servant of the Military H6s-pital—albeit a servant possessed of the qualifications, —lately selected a damsel in this chance way, who was discovered to be worth 65,000 florins ; and since his good fortune, the applications have been very urgent, the more -so, as it is reported that there is a young lady in the establishment who has no less than 200,000 florins at her disposal.

At Gretna Green the universally established maxim amongst the priests is, in their dealings towards those who fly thither over Solway Moss without seeing it, to get as much as they can.

We think we have already somewhere hinted that there exists no regular and fixed demand, either by law or custom; but that when the bridegroom and the official meet, they are at liberty to struggle with each other much in the same way that two rivals in worldly fame are won't to do ;—one, very likely, is striving all he can to mount as high as possible, whilst the other is using every exertion to keep him down.

This practice, where the bridegroom has been informed of its existence before his arrival, is often the parent of much chaffering and ingenuity on both sides ; at times producing a species of diamond-cut-diamond inter-negotiation. And the worst of this kind of combat is, that it is in many cases left to the honour of the party as to how long he shall contend, and when he shall give in—a position that defeats a delicate or sensitive person at once.

Pennant tells us, that when he and his friends were pretending a matrimonial negotiation with the fisherman, and that, when they expressed a wish to know, amongst other preliminaries, what the expenses would be, the fisherman eyed them attentively, and then said he would leave it to their "honour." He eyed them thus scrutinizingly, to discover by their air, mien, and appearance, how much, in all probability, they might be able to afford ; and then he cautiously declined naming any sum, but left it to their honour, or their discretion, or their generosity, or, more properly, to their ignorance of the usages of Gretna; hoping that this ignorance, combined with the jingling of the word " honour" in their ears, might be the means of instigating them to give more than even his impudence, or lack of that honour, could demand.

It is a want of knowledge of the usual customs in that parish that has too often made a bridegroom give a sum ten times greater than he might or ought to have given. His generosity at such a moment is taken advantage of by the set of extortioners by whom he is surrounded—a fact that is neither fair, just, nor honourable ; but what care they, so that they carry on a thriving business ? He goes there in a hurry, ignorant of their practices, and perhaps under the idea that there exist certain legal fees to be paid, and that beyond these they cannot and dare not go : but, to his dismay (if he is of a generous or confiding disposition), he discovers that everything is left to his "honour "—a qualification which he secretly wishes he was devoid of on that most especial occasion.

In order to feel his way, and to sound these swindlers, he asks what is usual amongst the generality of visitors who repair there ? Alack ! this is asking good counsel of his enemies ; it is seeking that which it is neither their interest or their purpose to give: it is seeking figs among thistles, and bread among stones.

They say that it is customary not to be mean or ungenerous -when a gentleman comes to Gretna Green ; that his friends there have done more for him, in uniting him to the lady that best he loved, than any body in England was able to do for him ; that now he was so happy, he surely could not grudge handsomely paying those that had made him so; that it was a joyful thing that didn't happen often in a man's life (and fortunately, too, thinks he); that different gentlemen gave differently, according to their generosity and kindness (not means or ability); and that, indeed, some good gentlemen had given and some excellent ones had not minded.

This is the strain they pursue; and in such a case, after such a tirade, what is to be done?

Such is the position of those who repair thither ignorant of the modes of proceeding amongst these gentlemen in black, (not black cloth ;) but those who go, previously having been made acquainted with their swindling tricks, are better prepared to resist them with advantage to themselves.

Custom, howbeit, is oftentimes stronger than law, and will achieve that which law may be too impotent to do. Custom here (as established by their reverences) is all powerful, and is able to enforce practices which no law sanctions, and which no justice could approve.

The only thing to be said in defence of the extortion is, that none need go there and submit to it if they did not choose; if they object to it, let them keep away. Such a course of reasoning, even if allowed to be irrefragable, were but a slender consolation to the lover, or lovers, who were dying with impatience and anxiety to have that knot tied at Gretna which they could not get tied elsewhere. "As good to die and go as die and stay," are the words which a swain would repeat when placed in a dilemma so perplexing.

We are assuredly of opinion that this cupidity ought not to be encouraged; for, although lovers may be under obligations to the officials f6r their services, still they are not under obligations to the Gretna priests individually, as any other persons whatsoever would answer the purpose equally well; and therefore, a rational amount of remuneration ought to satisfy these land sharks ; and if it did not, owing to the corruptions that prevail, it is high time they were taught better.

Shakspere says, that "he is well paid who is well satisfied but he does not say, that he who is not satisfied- with a fair recompense, ought to be paid more and more until he is. If such were the case with traffic in general between man and man, a rare field indeed for discontent and extortion would be opened to the world; but the custom and practices north of the Sark, in some instances, appear almost to have come up to this.

We repeat, that it is not our object in this most veritable history, to pave a road to Gretna Green for all whom it may concern, or to invite persons to repair thither to be wedded, who might otherwise not have thought of it; but simply, like a good historiographer as we are, to record facts as we culled them on the spot, sincerely hoping that none will make an evil use of that, wherein no evil was intended. We feel, however, that these our pages would never of themselves be able to instigate to such a step ; but that the sole and great instigator would ever be love, accompanied by prevention and difficulties. We all along deprecate a course so unwise; if there ever be any in time to come, who may be afflicted with this "madness most discreet," and who, yielding to its influence, are weak enough to go there, in that case, we think that these volumes will put them up to a trick or two, which will enable them to cope with these worthy priests, and thereby to save themselves the unnecessary expenditure of many a stamped piece of glittering mint metal; which glittering pieces were much better handed over to their newly made brides to purchase a guard ring or other trinket —an act which is nothing more in a husband than putting his purse out of one hand into the other.

Tacitus informs us, that the ancient Germans played at games of hazard with a most insatiable fondness; and that when they had staked and lost all they possessed, they would hazard their wives, and lose them. Matters are now diametrically opposite. In the present day we play at games of equal hazard for the ladies; only that instead of playing to lose them, we hazard everything in order to win and obtain them. Thus it will be seen that the times are amazingly changed, but changed, most assuredly, for the better.

Formerly men purchased their wives because they looked upon them as creatures inferior to themselves, even as we now purchase a cow or a sheep; now, however, we purchase them because we are more aware of their value than ever the ancients were— because we look upon them as creatures too glorious to live without—and because we are not complete or perfect in ourselves unless coupled with that moiety which at once raises us to dignity, respect, and honour before all the world. But, in making these sweet purchases now-a-days, we willingly give as much more for the fair merchandise, in so far as we estimate it above what our long-forgotten ancestors did; —we give up our earthly possessions for their use— we give our heart—in fine, we give up our whole selves. After that, what else have we to give? It would be difficult to say.

A bachelor is a nobody—he is nothing—he is of no consideration—of no dignity; he has no home—no local tie; he is a vagabond on the face of the earth. But when he gets rid of the stigma of bachelorship, and becomes mated with beauty and virtue, he is at once a person of honour; he establishes a home—he has a local habitation — ay, and a name too; he rises in importance,—mankind, as by common consent, pay him deference; he is a householder—a trustworthy person ; lastly, he has now rank— before, he had none.

In obtaining his rank, however, we would again counsel him to get it in a respectable way. Don Quixote would have received a more dignified knighthood, had the sword been laid on his lank shoulder by a sovereign rather than by an innkeeper; and a bachelor will be advanced with greater dignity and credit by a churchman under an arched roof, than by a weaver under the smoky ceiling of a country tavern.

"Choose not alone a proper mate,
But proper place to marry."

These words of Mr. Cowper are good advice, and we readily lay hold of them in support of our argument; modestly thinking, that our own effusions alone would not meet with any thing like the deference that a name so well known as his must command. If the reader were to run away with the idea that we were a bachelor, (an idea which, peradventure, might be preposterously erroneous,) we know that we should gain no respect at all after what we have above said: and if we do not quote Cowper on the authority of a married, or promoted man, we can at all events quote him with the assurance that his fame alone is of creditable weight.

That funny wag whom we accidentally encountered at Carlisle, as before noticed, merrily narrated how he posted over the Mess of Solway without seeing one bit of it, and how he was married to the maiden of his selection, on whom he had spent vast sums (of anxiety) by the so called "blacksmith," David Laing.

'To our inquiries as to the "damage," he returned that he. gave the veteran priest half a sovereign, though he declared that he doubted not but he could have done it for less, as many others had. "But then," continued he, "I passed for a gentleman, and therefore I was obliged to pay for it."

He who goes there bent on economy, had better go in sackcloth, and mounted in a vehicle whose appearance shall not indicate splendour or ostentation he who does not this, will most certainly have "to pay for it."

When ourself was at Springfield, the good people told us that the stalwart keeper of the toll-gate .was sometimes very reasonable in his demands—where he found it impracticable to charge high. He was wary enough to his customers, not to return a direct answer even to a direct question; but to scan their appearance in order to make an estimate ; and then, if at last urged to lay aside mystery or innuendo, and name any particular sum, he took good care not to let his conscience stand in the way of mentioning a pretty high one.

If, notwithstanding, he has not as yet performed the ceremony, so as to bring his visitors somewhat into his power,—and if, they are only arranging preliminaries, it is quite allowable in such negotiations to traffic like strict men of business—to beat him down, to curb his rapacity, and, indeed, to bring him to reason.

Of a truth we were told, that rather than let a couple slip from his hands, whom he had succeeded in arresting as they passed the bridge, and whom he feared might repair to some one of his rivals in the village, he would unite them in the bands of holy matrimony for the most especial sum of one shilling.

It is a very natural feeling implanted in human nature, to achieve for ourselves the best fortune we can ; and this propensity in the priests of Gretna, is of remarkably strong development.

Furthermore; if, in the first instance, having flown at high and noble game, we afterwards discover that such game is beyond the compass of our attainment we easily find means to lower our lofty pinions—to cut the wings of our pride—to abate our demands— and to be content with what we had previously looked upon as unworthy and not worth having.

On this fact, as connected with our nature, the dignitaries in this parish act; they aim at a high mark at first; but in default of attaining to it, they will come down to that which is more on a level with reason.

All these things will let the reader know a truth of which many persons in distant parts have doubted, and which some few have argued, to wit,—that there is no fixed charge acknowledged either by law or usage, that the priests always try to get as much as they can, and, let us add, that the bridegroom ought always to try and pay as little as he can.


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