Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - Sketches of London Life and Character, by Albert Smith et. al., [1849] - A Marriage in High Life

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MARRIAGE IN HIGH LIFE.

life14.gif (46602 bytes)AT St. George's Church, Hanover Square, by the Right Reverend the Bishop of London, the Right Honourable the Earl of Normandale, eldest son of the Marquis of Hallidon, K.G., to Katherine, second daughter of John, Earl of Dashmore. The lovely bride, who wore a splendid dress of entirely British manufacture, was accompanied to the altar by a numerous circle of relations, and given away by her noble father. At the conclusion of the ceremony the happy pair started in a carriage-and-four for Dodsworth Park, the seat of the Duke of Thanet, uncle to the bride, where they intend to pass the honeymoon.
    "An elegant dejeuner was given by the Countess of Dashmore, at her mansion in Berkeley Square, to the relatives of the newly-married couple, and to some of the elite of the nobility, among whom were the Duke and Duchess of ---, the Marquis of --- the Earls of ---, and, &c., &c.. &c."
    Often may paragraphs similar to the above be read, chiefly towards the end of the season, in the fashionable journals of our metropolis, with, in general, many additional observations by the penny-a-liners of the day, as how the beauteous bride was overcome by her feelings, and how she was related to this and that illustrious personage; all which is greedily read and re-[-109-]garded as most important information by the inhabitants of the three kingdoms, while many a country Miss envies the happiness of Lady Katherine, making conjectures as to whether she be dark or fair, and whether she has plenty of jewels; and thinks how delightful it is to be a Countess.
    All this is the bright side of the picture. Were there no dark side, fashionable weddings would be scenes from the garden of Eden, or tableaux from Paradise (not a Mahometan one). All however is not gold that glitters, and could we see through the blonde and silk that cover the bosom of the fair bride, and obtain a view of the heart beneath, we should probably be let into the secret of many sad sacrifices made to the Mammon of wealth and rank.
    Before proceeding any further, let us examine how the marriage announced in the above paragraph has in all probability been brought about.
    Lord and Lady Dashmore are gifted with a large and numerous family; their quiver indeed is full; whether or not that circumstance adds to their felicity is to be questioned. Be that as it may, few of our first fathers, although rejoicing in the usage of polygamy, could boast of such numerous progeny as your English nobleman, although limited by the laws of his country and religion to one solitary wife. Of the Dashmore family six are daughters, the eldest of whom, notwithstanding her want of fortune and beauty, has by the admirable management of Lady Dashmore been married to an Irish peer. Lady Katherine, however, is the phoenix of the family; upon her are founded the most unbounded and ambitious hopes, and at the age of eighteen she is brought out into the London [-110-] marriage market, after many oft-repeated lessons of how she is to snub and avoid all younger sons as though they possessed the venom of the reptile whose name they bear, while, at the same time, no stone must be left unturned in order to remove all barriers between herself and the heart of some elder son.
    The debut of the Lady Katherine was most successful; her beauty and her grace were the theme of many club conversations, and she was acknowledged by all to be the handsomest and most spirituelle girl that had been presented during the season. No fault, indeed, could be found with her, excepting that she was one of eleven children; for, alas! there was no possibility of concealing that unfortunate particular, although three of her brothers were at Eton, and four of her sisters in the schoolroom at home. For the editor of Burke's Peerage is beyond the power of bribery and corruption; all that can be obtained of him is the omission of the ladies' ages, and the placing of their names at the bottom of the family list, leaving the reader to suppose that the eldest daughter is junior to the youngest son. The mother, however, of Lady Katherine did all in her power to counterbalance the evil, by giving dinners to which none but elder Sons were invited; and parties from which younger brothers were, as much as possible, excluded. In the ballroom, Lady Dashmore never left her daughter's sine, excepting on some eligible partner presenting himself; and stout must have been the heart of that "scorpion," who, undaunted at the majestic frown of the indignant mother, dared to ask the Lady Katherine to dance.
    It may be imagined, that brought up in such a diplomatic school, the Lady Katherine Dashmore could not [-111-] possibly be incommoded by any of those faults which emanate from the heart. Surely such a one could never be so foolish as to fall in love with anything but a title and a large estate. In her eyes, any one whose rent-roll consisted of less than five figures, ought naturally to have been regarded as quite out of the question, apart from his personal merits; for Lady Dashmore had many a time and oft attempted to impress upon the mind of her daughter the utter impossibility of living upon less than ten thousand a-year; and that ought only to be accepted when there appears no chance of getting more, was wont to observe the sapient matron. Still, notwithstanding all the maternal precepts that had been instilled into her mind, Lady Katherine was actually foolish enough to fall in love with a younger brother. Certes! the eye must be difficult to please which could have found fault with either the form or face of Augustus Courtenay. His manly bearing, too, few could equal; while his mind is as upright as his form and as noble as his face. But, alas! he is the younger brother of Lord Stanmore; and as the latter cannot, of course, afford to spend the slightest portion of his forty thousand a-year upon any one but himself, Augustus Courtenay is little better than a pauper, although by birth, education, and habits, the equal of his elder brother. But such is the law of England, which sacrifices all the younger branches of a family in order to keep intact the fortune of the eldest horn son. What does it signify if thousands are deprived of their natural rights, and driven forth into the world to seek for the means of existence, unfitted, too, as they are, for labour, by their habits and education? What does it matter, if a [-112-] quantity of wretched "scorpions" groan beneath the weight of their poverty, so that the head of the family continues to loll in luxury and roll in wealth, while his younger brothers are treated as though they were bastards, for they have neither inheritance nor birthright.
    The contraband love affair between Lady Katherine and Augustus Courtenay must, however, have been soon discovered by the eagle eyes of Lady Dashmore; and it may be perceived how successfully she has opposed its progress, on reading the paragraph containing the account of her daughter's marriage with Lord Normandale - a young nobleman noted for imbecility and ugliness, and whose mind is as narrow as his chest. Look, however, at his "happy" bride as she approaches the altar. Do not imagine that she is at all downcast, because her face wears an expression of sadness. Oh no! that cannot of course arise from her observing that Augustus Courtenay is gazing upon the ceremony from a distant corner, but from the emotion naturally caused by leaving her family; and that flood of tears into which she bursts as she enters the carriage, followed by her noble and wealthy husband, has probably the same origin, and not from any comparison between the rejected and the accepted crossing her mind. How could that be? Is not England a free country, where none can be forced to marry against their will! Lady Katherine's choice, therefore, has been unbiassed; and how could that foolish young Courtenay imagine for a moment that he could be preferred to the eldest son of a Marquis with fifty thousand a-year!
    It is customary in England to ridicule the mariages de convenance of the Continent. Now, we request per-[-113-]mission to inquire whether the same system is not carried on among the higher classes in this country? for out of fifty marriages which take place at St. George's Church, Hanover Square, on an average not more than one can be called a mariage d'inclination. The remainder are, for the most part, brought about by husband-hunting and intriguing mothers, who, in marrying their children, take very little, if at all, into consideration the natural affections of the heart; on the contrary. they, look towards the establishment of their daughters in the possession of a large estate (all the better if it be accompanied by a title) as the chief end of matrimony. The names of every elder son that comes out, with the supposed amount of his fortune, his expectations, et ejusdem generis omnia, are carefully inscribed upon the tablets of the mother's mind, who makes her selections accordingly, having classed them in schedules A, B, &c. A young nobleman, or at least a large landed proprietor, is of course marked down in schedule A; and no scheme is left untried in order to induce him to propose. The mothers are not unfrequently most ably seconded by their daughters, who are not all Ladies Katherine; and should the girl be not decidedly ugly, it often happens that a high-flying bird is brought down and captured, after having been made to believe that the affections of the young lady are entirely engrossed by him, and that he is loved for himself only.
    Were the vivid descriptions given by the Morning Post, the Herald, and the Court Journal, of the fashionable weddings that are continually taking place at this season of the year really true and unexaggerated, what a bower of true and devoted love must this metropolis [-114-] be - how many truly happy couples must bless the hour they met! Surely, there is more romantic affection going on in smoky, foggy London, than one would give the place credit for; besides, were there no previous mutual affection in the case, surely that exquisite carriage-and-four is sufficient to inspire with it the hearts of the newly-married couple. Blond lace, too, and diamonds and settlements, go far towards beautifying a husband's face, figure, mind, and soul, in the imagination of his young bride; so that we will make an effort, and be sufficiently polite to flatter ourselves that fashionable weddings in town are conducive of all possible happiness. Indeed, it would appear that, for the marriage to be a happy one, the ceremony should be celebrated in London ; ?for frequently, although the preliminaries have taken place in the country, the parties come up to London, from the longest distances, in order to have the connubial knot tied at St. George's Church; it would appear, too, that there is a charm in having the ceremony performed by a Bishop; or a Dean; or at least by an Honourable and Reverend, frequently the brother of the fair bride, and the incumbent of a living in the gift of his father-for the Church of England is a great refuge for destitute younger brothers, many of whom would otherwise starve.
    At fashionable weddings in London, and indeed throughout the British empire generally, it is the custom, when the bridegroom is an eldest son, for innumerable presents to be showered upon him and his bride. One relation sends a new carriage fresh from Long Acre; others give diamond and pearls in abundance; Cashmere shawls also, and gold dressing-cases, are not wanting; indeed, on beholding the quantity of [-115-] gifts that pour in from all quarters, an utter stranger might be led to suppose that the two persons about to be joined together in holy matrimony had previously been without the commonest means of existence. But, mark the difference when the bridegroom is a younger son (unless, indeed, he marries a rich heiress, then presents are sent as in the case of an elder brother) - not a gift is forthcoming - a few hollow good-wishes and compliments form the sum total of what is bestowed; far in England, more than in any other country in the world. is the maxim carried out, that unto him that hath shall be given, and to him that hath not shall be taken away, even what he hath.
    But we must conclude: the important beadle has put back the idlers from the church-steps ; the long array of carriages takes up the elegant company, one after the other, and the flashing doors are banged to with a noise that reverberates all along the street, as the lashed horses clatter away over the stones, whirling the company to the next scene in the drama-the d?jo?ner. Then the mob disperses: there is another wedding, to be sure; but a glass coach and two hack cabs contain the affianced and their friends, and it is, therefore, not worth waiting to see.
    And yet, after all, the noble bride might possibly gain in happiness by exchanging her own feelings for those of the fresh and pretty girl-crying, smiling, blushing, and blanching, all at once - in the comparatively ignoble cortege that succeeds her own!

CHARLES STUART SAVILE.

[--nb. grey numbers in brackets indicate page number, (ie. where new page begins), ed.--]