Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - About London, by J. Ewing Ritchie, 1860 - Chapter 12 - London Matrimonial

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LAST year 25,924 couples were married in the metropolis. The Registrar-General tells us the increase of early marriages chiefly occurs in the manufacturing and mining districts.
    In London 2.74 of the men and 12.11 of the women who married were not of full age. There is an excess of adults in the metropolis at the, marrying ages over 21; and there are not apparently the same inducements to marry early, as exist in the Midland counties.
    Sir Cresswell Cresswell must have but a poor opinion of matrimony. At the very moment of my writing, I am told there are six hundred divorce cases in arrear; that is, after the hundreds whose chains he has loosened, there, are, it appears, already twelve hundred more of injured wives and husbands eager to be free. The evil, such as it is, will extend itself. Under the old system there was, practically speaking, no redress, and a man and woman tied together would endeavour to [-132-] make the best of it; now, if they feel the more they quarrel and disagree with each other, the better chance they have of being at liberty, it is to be feared, in some cases, husband and wife will not try so heartily to forget and forgive, as husbands and wives ought to do. I do not say there ought not to be liberty, where all love has long since died out, and been followed by bad faith and cruelty, and neglect. I believe there should be, and that the Divorce Act was an experiment imperatively required. Where mutual love has been exchanged for mutual hate, it is hard that human law should bind together, in what must be life-long misery - misery perhaps not the less intense that it has uttered no word of complaint, made no sign, been unsuspected by the world, yet all the while dragging its victim to an early or premature grave. But human nature is a poor weak thing, and many a silly man or silly woman may think that Sir Cresswell Cresswell may prove a healing physician, when their malady was more in themselves than they cared to believe. I hear of one case where a lady having £15,000 a-year in her own right, has run off with her footman. Would she have done that if there had been no Sir Cresswell? I fancy not. Again, another marrried lady, with £100,000 settled on her, runs off with the curate. Had it not occurred to her that Sir Cresswell Cresswell would, in due time, dissolve her union with her legitimate lord, and enable her to follow the bent of her passions, would she not have fought with them, and in the conquest of them [-133-] won more true peace for herself, than she can ever hope for now? I believe so. In the long commerce of a life, there must be times, when we may think of others we have known, when we may idly fancy we should have been happier with others; but true wisdom will teach us that it is childish to lament after the event, that it were wiser to take what comfort we can find, and that, after all, it is duty, rather than happiness, that should be the pole-star of life. Southey told Shelley a man might be happy with any woman, and certainly a wise man, once married, will try to make the best of it. But to return to Sir Cresswell Cresswell, I wish that he could give relief without stirring up such a pool of stinking mud. Who is benefitted by the disgusting details? It is a fine thing for the penny papers. They get a large sale, and so reap their reward. The Times, also, is generally not very backward when anything peculiarly revolting and indecent is to be told; but are the people, high or low, rich or poor, the better? I find it hard to believe they are. How husbands can be false, how wives can intrigue, how servants can connive, we know, and we do not want to hear it repeated. If Prior's Chloe was an ale-house drab, if the Clara of Lord Bolingbroke sold oranges in the Court of Requests, if Fielding kept indifferent company, we are amused or grieved, but still learn something of genius, even from its errors; but of the tribe Smith and Brown I care not to hear - ever since the Deluge the Smiths and Browns have been much the same. What am I the better for [-134-] learning all the rottenness of domestic life? Is that fit reading for the family circle? I suppose the newspapers think it is, but I cannot come to that opinion. Can it have a wholesome effect on the national feeling? Can it heighten the reverence for Nature's primary ordinance of matrimony?
    In the Book of Common Prayer I read that matrimony is "holy;" that it was instituted of God in the time of man's innocency, signifying unto us the mystical union that is between Christ and his Church, which holy estate Christ adorned and beautified with his presence and first miracle that he wrought in Cana of Galilee; and is commended of St. Paul to be honourable among all men, and, therefore, is not by any to be enterprised, "nor taken in hand unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly, to satisfy men's carnal lusts or appetites, like brute beasts that have no understanding; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God, duly considering the causes for which matrimony was ordained."
    Alas! our age is not a marrying age; and, therefore, I fear it is an unholy one: neither our young men nor our young maidens honestly fall in love and marry now-a-days. I don't know that the Registrar-General's report says such. I know that many of his marriages are affairs of convenience; unions of businesses, or thousands, or broad lands; not marriages "holy, in the sense of the prayer-book and of God. A man. who marries simply for love, exposes himself to ridicule; the modern ingenuous youth is not so green as all that; if [-135-] he marries at all, it must be an heiress, or, at any rate, one well dowered. The last thing your modern well-bred beauty does, is to unite her fate with that of a man in the good old-fashioned way. She has learnt to set her heart upon the accidents of life, - the fine house, the establishment; and if these she cannot have, she will even die an old maid. The real is sacrificed to the imaginary; the substance, to the shadow; the present, to the morrow that never comes. A man says he will become rich; he will sacrifice everything to that; and the chances are he becomes poor in heart and purse. The maiden-
        With the meek brown eyes,
        In whose orb a shadow lies,
        Like the dusk in evening skies-
loses all her divinity, and pines away, and becomes what I care not to name; and the world - whose wisdom is folly-sanctions all this. It calls it prudence, foresight. A man has no business to marry till he can keep a wife, is the cuckoo cry; which would have some meaning if a wife was a horse or a dog, and not an answer to a human need, and an essential to success in life. The world forgets that man is not an automaton, but a being fearfully and wonderfully framed. No machine, but a lyre responsive to the breath of every passing passion: now fevered with pleasure; now toiling for gold; anon seeking to build up a lofty fame; and that the more eager and passionate and daring he is - the more eagle is his eye, and the loftier his aim, the more he needs woman [-136-] - the comforter and the helpmeet - by his side. Our fathers did not ignore this, and they succeeded. Because the wife preserved them from the temptations of life; because she, with her words and looks of love, assisted them to bear the burdens and fight the battles of life; because she stood by her husband's side as his help- meet; bone of his bone, flesh of his flesh; soothing each sorrow; aiding each upward aim: it was thus they became great; and it is because we do not thus, we pale before them. It is not good for man to be alone. Man has tried to disobey the divine law, and lived alone; and what has been the result ? - even when tried by men of superior sanctity, as in the case of the Romish Church, has the world gained in happiness or morality? I trow not. Take the limited experience of our own age, and fathers and mothers know, to their bitter cost, I am right. The manhood, brave and generous, much of it wrecked in our great cities, will bear me out. But matrimony is more than this. It spite of the hard matter-of-fact, sceptical, and therefore sensual character of the passing day, will it not be confessed that the union of man and woman, as husband and wife, is the greatest earthly need, and is followed by the greatest earthly good? Unhappy marriages there may be; imprudent ones there may be; but such are not the rule; and very properly our legislators have agreed to give relief in such cases. "Nature never did betray the soul that loved her ;" and nature tells men and women to marry. Just as the young man is entering upon life - just as he comes to independence [-137-] and man's estate - just as the crisis of his being is to be solved, and it is to be seen whether he decide with the good, and the great, and the true, or whether he sink and be lost for ever, Matrimony gives him ballast and a right impulse. Of course it can't make of a fool a philosopher ; but it can save a fool from being foolish. War with nature and she takes a sure revenge. Tell a young man not to have an attachment that is virtuous, and he will have one that is vicious. Virtuous love -  the honest love of a man for the woman he is about to marry, gives him an anchor for his heart; something pure and beautiful for which to labour and live; and the woman, what a purple light it sheds upon her path; it makes life for her no day-dream; no idle hour; no painted shadow; no passing show; but something real, earnest, worthy of her heart and head. But most of us are cowards and dare not think so ; we lack grace; we are of little faith; our inward eye is dim and dark. The modern young lady must marry in style; the modern young gentleman marries a fortune. But in the meanwhile the girl grows into an old maid, and the youth takes chambers - ogles at nursery-maids and becomes a man about town - a man whom it is dangerous to ask into your house, for his business is intrigue. The world might have had a happy couple; instead, it gets a woman fretful, nervous, fanciful, a plague to all around her. He becomes a sceptic in all virtue; a corrupter of the youth of both sexes; a curse in what ever domestic circle he penetrates. Even worse may [-138-] result. She may be deceived, and may die of a broken heart. He may rush from one folly to another; associate only with the vicious and depraved; bring disgrace and sorrow on himself and all around; and sink into an early grave. Our great cities show what becomes of men and women who do not marry. Worldly fathers and mothers advise not to marry till they can afford to keep a wife, and the boys spend on a harlot more in six months than would keep a wife six years. Hence it is, all wise men (like old Franklin) advocate early marriages; and that all our great men, with rare exceptions, have been men who married young. Wordsworth had only £100 a year when he first married. Lord Eldon was so poor that he had to go to Clare-market to buy sprats for supper. Coleridge and Southey I can't find had any income at all when they got married. I question at any time whether Luther had more than fifty pounds a year. Our successful men in trade and commerce marry young, like George Stephenson, and the wife helps him up in the world in more ways than one. Dr. Smiles, in his little book on Self-Help, gives us the following anecdote respecting J. Flaxman and his wife- Ann Denham was the name of his wife - and a cheery, bright-souled, noble woman she was. He believed that in marrying her he should be able to work with an intenser spirit; for, like him, she had a taste for poetry and art! and, besides, was an enthusiastic admirer of her husband's genius. Yet when Sir Joshua Reynolds - himself a bachelor - met [-139-] Flaxman shortly after his marriage, he said to him, 'So, Flaxman, I am told you are married; if so, sir, I tell you, you are ruined for an artist.' Flaxman went straight home, sat down beside his wife, took her hand in his, and said, 'Ann, I am ruined for an artist.' 'How so, John? How has it happened? And who has done it?' 'It happened,' he replied, 'in the church; and Ann Denham has done it.' He then told her of Sir Joshua's remark - whose opinion was well known, and has been often expressed, that if students would excel they must bring the whole powers of their mind to bear upon their art from the moment they rise until they go to bed; and also, that no man could be a great artist, unless he studied the grand works of Raffaelle, Michael Angelo, and others, at Rome and Florence. 'And I,' said Flaxman, drawing up his little figure to its full height, 'I would be a great artist.' 'And a great artist you shall be,' said his wife, 'and visit Rome, too, if that be really necessary to make you great.' 'But how?' asked Flaxman. 'Work and economise,' rejoined his brave wife: 'I will never have it said that Ann Denham ruined John Flaxman for an artist.' And so it was determined by the pair that the journey to Rome was to be made when their means would admit. 'I will go to Rome,' said Flaxman, 'and show the President that wedlock is for mall's good rather than for his harm, and you, Ann, shall accompany me.' He kept his word.
    By forbidding our young men and maidens ma-[-140-]trimony, we blast humanity in its very dawn. Fathers, you say you teach your sons prudence - you do nothing of the kind; your worldly-wise and clever son is already ruined for life. You will find him at Cremorne and at the Argyle Rooms. Your wretched worldly-wisdom taught him to avoid the snare of marrying young; and soon, if he is not involved in embarrassments which will last him a life, he is a blasť fellow; heartless, false; without a single generous sentiment or manly aim; he has-
        "No God, no heaven, in the wide world.