Expenses of Marriage at
How much it costs at Gretna
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"Choose not alone a proper
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
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
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.