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Chronicles of Gretna Green
Chapter XI

The New Marriage Act.

We now minutely analyse-
The recent Marriage Act;
Reject all fiction, all surmise,
And stick to stubborn fact.

If it be argued, that the facilitating of the marriage ceremony will lead the rash and the inconsiderate to make unwise connexions, the recent Act may be supposed to conduce to that end. Against this, it may be stated, that the compulsory enactments of Lord Hardwieke's bill, and of the bills of other statesmen, did not always bring about wise marriages.

If people choose to marry, they will marry; and no power on earth can stop them. It is the same with people who are bent on committing suicide: if you take from them one means of doing so, they will forthwith seek out another. People choose to go and jump off the Monument, and dash their brains out on the pavement: it is ordered that iron bars be put up, so as to prevent them—but they then go and jump off London Bridge. Well, pull down London Bridge, cry the philanthropists, and you will be doing a Christian act: no, they will laugh at you, and jump off St. Paul's. Pull down St. Paul's, and they will leap off Shakspere's, or some other cliff. Level all the. cliffs in the country, and they will throw themselves into wells. Fill up the wells, they will hang themselves with their garters. Abolish garters for ever, they will plunge into the Serpentine. Drain the Serpentine, they will drown themselves in the Thames. Cover over the Thames with brickwork—never mind spoiling the trade of London—and they will directly rush into the ocean. Fill up the ocean with the cliffs you levelled—you can't, it's too big: besides, if you could, you would fail in deterring people from committing suicide, if they were determined on it. Supposing you dried up all the rivers and oceans to prevent their drowning themselves ; if you levelled all the trees, buildings, and hills, and make the whole world one dead plain, so that they should have nothing to jump from to dash their brains out; and if you stripped them of all their habiliments whatsoever, by which they could not hang themselves with their neck-handkerchiefs, garters, or stay-laces, still they could beat their heads against the ground that they trod on, or strangle themselves with their own fingers.

Thus it is with people who are resolved on matrimony ; and thus it is, that although Lord Hardwicke forbade every one in England, except Jews and Quakers, to marry anywhere but in the church, before proper witnesses, he did not prevent their going to Gretna Green. Being balked in one quarter, they resorted, like the suicides, to another; and had any member of the House introduced a bill for abolishing the facilities of Gretna, people would soon have found out some other manner of accomplishing their purpose elsewhere.

This being the state of affairs, it was considered necessary to revise the laws bearing thereon ; to take into deliberation the extent of good or evil which they encouraged; to further promote the good, but to obviate the evil; to introduce a more generous toleration towards dissenters and foreigners professing strange creeds—a desirable measure in a country boasting equal rights and freedom to every one alike —and thus to afford convenience and ease of conscience to each individual, whether permanently or temporarily dwelling in this land.

By the enactment of the recent marriage act of 1837, the provisions of all the long list of former ones — from Pope Innocent III. down to the statutes of the Georges—have been either entirely swept away, or re-modified. By this act a person may be married in a church by a clergyman, or else by entering into an agreement in a registered building, or at the Superintendent Registrar's office ; or again, by most especial licence, at any time and in any place whatsoever it may seem meet and convenient.

Special licences are granted by the Archbishop of Canterbury. By virtue of stat. 25 Henry VIII., c. 21., this high dignitary and his successors are empowered to dispense such obligations to the needy, either immediately from his office, or else from Doctors1 Commons, or from the Faculty office in Knight-rider-street, at either of which places they may be procured. The privilege of marrying in this way is usually restricted to persons of a certain station ; and Archbishop Seeker, in 1757, ordered it that such privileges should be granted only to peers and peeresses in their own right, dowager peeresses, privy councillors, the judges of Westminster Hall, baronets, knights, and M.P.'s; but this regulation does not bar the favour being given to others of less rank, if it shall seem fitting. The same form in obtaining this licence is observed as in that which exempts from publication of banns; only it is particularly mentioned that the ceremony may be performed,."at any time, in any church or chapel, or other meet or convenient place."

The Anglo-Saxons did not celebrate weddings in their churches, but at the house of the bridegroom, whereunto the bride had been conducted; and it was customary to consider this as a civil contract only, and one not requiring any religious intervention, until Innocent III. ordered it otherwise, in the excess of his innocence.

By the recent marriage act of G and 7 Will. IV. cap. 85., which has been further explained and confirmed by her present most gracious Majesty in 1 Victoria, cap. 22, it is enacted, that those who purpose entering the holy estate, must attend to and go through a certain routine of proceeding. If they intend to be united by licence, and according to the rubric of the established church, the parties must send to the superintendent registrar of the district in which he or she has . dwelt during seven days previously, and give him a notice of their purpose ac-: cording to the form following:—

Notice of Marriage.

To the Registrar of the District of Hendon, in the County of Middlesex. I hereby give you notice, that a Marriage is intended to be had, within three calendar months from the date hereof, between me and the other party herein named and "described ; (that is to say,

Witness my hand, this sixth day of May, 1842.

(Signed) James Smith.

The reader will observe that the italics are to be filled up as the case may be. No charge is made for giving in this notice, simply because it is not any certification of a deed done, but only the advertisement of a deed proposed to be done at some future understood time ; that is, within the space of three months and a week after the sending in of this notice. It is requisite, however, to have this duly registered in a book kept by the officer for that purpose, and his fee for so doing is the sum of one shilling lawful money of this realm. Then, after the expiration of seven days, one of the parties must appear personally before the superintendent within whose district the marriage is intended to be solemnized, and make oath or affirmation to the effect that no impediment exists to the said marriage. For doing this, the fee of half-a-crown is demanded. This done, the following certificate is procured, on payment of the sum of one shilling more. To wit:

Registrar's Certificate.

I, John Cox, Registrar of the District of Stepney, in the County of Middlesex, do hereby certify, that on the sixth day of May, notice was duly'entered, in the Marriage Notice Book of the said District, of the marriage intended between the parties herein named and described, delivered under the hand of James Smith, one of the parties: (that is to say,)

The above certificate is printed in red ink — a fact which the law enforces for certificates with licence, and the word "Licence," must be laid or manufactured in Roman letters in the substance of the paper.

The names of James Smith and Martha Green, together with the other words in italics filling the different compartments, have just been added as noms de guerre, as they were in the example from which this was taken ; but in the certificate which you are yourself about to procure, these spaces will be left blank, and you will fill them up with your own name, the name of your adorable, and the places of your several abodes, &e. Be not terrified, gentle swain, from matrimony, because you have all these perplexing forms to attend to, nor be discouraged because you have to undergo so much trouble; for remember, that if your lady-love is worth getting, she is worth all this trouble, and ten times more.

You must now go to the superintendent registrar yourself,—for no proxy will do—and present him with the certificate as afore, supposing no notice of your loving intention has already been given him, and he will let you have a marriage licence, after the manner of that which we subjoin below. For this licence he will charge 3., and to which may be added ten shillings for the stamp upon it, making 3 10s., together with a few more expenses, which we will presently explain, in all amounting to =4 4s. 6d. And for this paltry sum you will be bound to a lady whose worth in virtue, grace, and beauty, will amount to riches unspeakable — whose fascinations will be above the calculations of all arithmetic—whose wit will perpetually engage you with the most enticing sallies—whose ravishing charms will keep your pulse always at 150—and whose incessant acts of untiring affection will never let your feelings subside below the state of absolute rapture.—Don't you long to be married?

Licence of Marriage.

A.B., superintendent registrar of to C. D. [bridegroom's name] of and E. F. [bride's name] of sendeth-greeking.

Whereas ye are minded, as it is said, to enter into a contract of marriage under the provisions of an act made in the seventh-year of the reign of His Majesty King William the Fourth, intitled [here the title of this act is inserted,] and are desirous that the same may be speedily and publiely solemnized : and whereas you, C.D. [or you E.F., whichever party appears before the registrar] have made and subscribed a declaration, under your hand, that you believe there is no impediment of kindred or alliance, or other lawful hinderanceto the said marriage, and that you, C. D. [or E.F.] have had your usual place of abode for the spaee of fifteen days last past within the district of-, and that you C. D [or E. F.] not being a widower [or widow], are under the age of twenty-one years, and that the eonsent of G.H., whose consent to your marriage is required by law, has been obtained thereto, [or, that there is no person having authority to give such consent,] I do hereby grant unto you full licence, according to the authority in that behalf given to me by the said act, to proceed to solemnize such marriage, and to the registrar of the district, [here is inserted the name of the district in which it is to be solemnized,] to register such marriage according to law ; provided that the said marriage be publicly solemnized in the presence of the said registrar and of two witnesses within three calendar-months from the [here is inserted the date of the entry in the notice book of the superintendent registrar,] in the [here is described the building in which it is to take place,] between the hours of eight and twelve in the forenoon. Given under my hand, this -day of-One thousand eight hundred and forty.

(Signed) A. B.

Superintendent Registrar.

Such is the licence.

And now, oh! most amorous swain, having thus paved the way through preliminaries, it only remains for you to take your bride to church, where the form is gone through as laid down in the prayer-book, which you have read from beginning to end long ere this, and doubtless so also has she. We will venture to say that her book readily and spontaneously falls open at " The Solemnization,11 &c., for all young ladies1 prayer-books do; and why should she be different from others of her sweet sex ? except that in your eyes she is more devoted, more warm, more passionate, and more loving; and all which attributes, forsooth, will indeed render her the more likely to have done so.

The fee for marrying you will be ten shillings; so that your expenses stand as under:—

If these be all the absolutely legal expenses of the affair, it is, nevertheless, not impossible but certain customary and incidental ones might, peradventure, be added thereunto : but what then ? we have hinted at the unspeakable wealth in virtue and grace that your bride will bring you—the comparison is odious: we have heard about throwing a herring to catch a whale; but now you are throwing a few paltry pounds to catch a bride.

Such as intend being married by banns, will proceed as heretofore, the new law having made no alteration in the mode of doing it: their expenses in this case will be these:—

But those who intend not to be married by special licence, nor by licence as above, nor by banns, but by a clergyman, can procure a certificate as before for one shilling; on presenting which to the clergyman, he will accommodate them ; that certificate sufficiently assuring him that they are not acting illegally or clandestinely. They must give notice to the superintendent registrar as already mentioned, and pay a shilling for having it entered in the book, and must then wait twenty-one days (instead of seven) before they can get the certificate of him; and the fee at the time of the marriage, instead of ten shillings, will be five.

The following, then, are the expenses of being wedded by certificate without banns:—

To those persons, not being of the Church of England, or to those who choose to make the ceremony only a civil contract, and not a religious sacrament, the statute provides differently. They give the notice as before; wait twenty-one days; procure the, certificate; and then they proceed to some registered building, or the superintendent's office, together with two creditable persons who shall act as witnesses; and there, with open doors, between eight

and twelve in the forenoon, they make the following declaration:—

"I do solemnly declare that I know not of any lawful impediment why I, A. B., may not be joined in matrimony to C. D."

The woman then repeats the same words, only ' altering the order of the names. Each of the parties also says thus reciprocally to the other :—

"I call upon these persons here present to witness that I, A. B., do take thee, C. D.," [or that I, C. D., do take thee, A. B.] < to be my lawful wedded wife," [or husband.]

The entry is then made in the register book, signed by the parties, the two witnesses, and the registrar, the fee for so doing being five shillings.

This last mode of proceeding. is vastly like a Gretna marriage.

The indulgent reader must excuse us for having gossipped thus much about the New Marriage Act of England ; but we have done so that he or she may understand the law and the custom here, and by so understanding, be the better able to perceive what differences obtain north of the Tweed, or in our case, north of the Sark, to which locality we will now transfer our discussions with all reasonable expedition.

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