Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - Round London : Down East and Up West, by Montagu Williams Q.C., 1894


Where are marriages made ?—Some typical announcements—Their history —Ralph Dobbs—Goes to America—Marries—Retires from business— But dies suddenly—His will—His widow and daughter come to London —The “American heiress” the centre of attraction — She meets the Marquis of Merrivale—Accepts him—Remonstrances un­availing—A clear understanding—The wedding—Separate existences.
   “MARRIAGES are made in heaven.” Are they really? I wonder who can really believe this saying. It is intended to apply, I believe, to men and women of all grades of society even to those poor lads and girls of the labouring classes who enter the bonds of wedlock at the age of seventeen or eighteen, without a penny in the world, with scarcely a rag to their backs, and with a prospect of nothing better than casual employment.
   But it is not with the poor and ignorant that I am about to deal. I propose to direct attention to the matrimonial ways and customs of those whose lives are spent amid the glare and tinsel of what is termed London society.
   The marriages that will come under my notice are of the kind that are announced in The Morning Post, and the fashionable weekly papers. In reference to one of them this paragraph appeared:
   “A marriage has been arranged, and will shortly take place, between the Marquis of Merrivale, of The Dene, Milford, and Glenginrock, Inverness-shire, and Madeline, only daughter of the late Ralph Dobbs, Esq., of San Francisco.”
   Again, to quote from a well-known “weekly”:
   “One of the smartest weddings of the season, and one of which there has been much talk since its announcement, is [-147 -]fixed to take place at St. Peter’s, Eaton Square, on July the thirteenth. We allude to that of Silas Davis, Esq., of Melbourne, Australia, and the Hon. Louisa Verrinder, second daughter of the Earl of Thanet. The wealth of the lucky bridegroom is supposed to be beyond that of any millionaire in this country. The wedding presents already received are truly magnificent. There can be no doubt that the bride will be one of the loveliest debutantes of the year.”
   Run your eye down the page and you will find the following item:
   “We have heard on undoubted authority that Viscount Millington is about to marry a celebrated skirt-dancer of the Limelight Theatre, who has, for months past, been drawing all the jeunesse dorée of the metropolis to that place of entertainment.
   Now, what I propose to do is to see under what circum­stances these marriages were contracted, and thereby to give some clue to where they were “made” in the sense in which the word is quoted above.
   I will deal with these marriages in the order in which I have mentioned them.
   When the great news of the gold finds first reached this country, at a time when the now enormous city of “Frisco” consisted of a few straggling shanties, among the first to set out from these shores, bent on making his fortune or perishing in the attempt, was a young man named Ralph Dobbs.
   Ralph did not care to follow in the footsteps of his father, who was a shopkeeper at Eton, being averse to what he regarded as a life of drudgery; so, scraping together what money he could—and it was barely enough to pay his passage out—he set off with a light heart to the American gold-fields.
   Like most persons in those days, Ralph Dobbs had only heard of the pleasant side of “digging,” and he had not anticipated the sufferings and hardships that lay before him. Being a bold, determined fellow, however, he succeeded in pushing his way. Indeed, almost from the moment of his arrival, things went well with him. He was concerned in several lucky “finds”; he became a partner in some prosperous claims; and in the course of time, as the city grew and the country developed, if a stranger asked, “Who built that street?” or “Who owns that store?” the answer was very .likely to be “Ralph Dobbs.” It is no exaggeration to say that a 1arge portion of the township belonged to him.
   [-148-] When he left England, Ralph possessed no more education than falls to the lot of the ordinary “Brocas cad.” Naturally in his new life he found few or no opportunities for mental culture, and thus it came about that he grew up uncouth in manner and in speech, a rough though honourable man.
   Shortly after. his arrival in America he married the youngest daughter of a small storekeeper, and they had one child, a girl, Madeline by name. From the’ moment their wealth began to accumulate, the sole thought of both husband and wife was the future of their offspring. They spared no expense on her education, and even imported foreign masters to assist in her training.
   In due time Ralph resolved to retire from business and pass the autumn of his life in his native country, and he was never tired of discussing and forecasting with his wife the impression their daughter would make in Europe.
   “The girl will not be far behind in looks,” he was wont to say, “and as far as fortune is concerned I’ll bet my bottom dollar there ain’t one’ll come within a hundred mile of her.”
   It took him some years to realise, capitalise, and arrange for the future disposal of his wealth; but a length everything was satisfactorily settled, and the date was fixed for the migration of the whole family to England.
   But l’homme propose et Dieu dispose. A week before the vessel sailed a clerk found Ralph Dobbs, in his private room at his head office, seated at the table, his head bent over a map of Europe—cold and dead.
   All the necessary business arrangements having been made, it was but natural that, at the end of their period of mourning, mother and daughter carried out the project that had been matured, and came over to settle in England.
   There were many exaggerated rumours as to the wealth Ralph Dobbs had left behind him, but the simple fact was that it amounted to between five and six millions sterling. The life interest of two millions he bequeathed to his wife; the residue went en bloc to his daughter, together with the reversion of her mother’s legacy. In the English Press appeared many paragraphs anent Mrs. and Miss Dobbs and their pile of dollars. I quote the following from a leading London fashionable journal:
   “Arrangements have been made for the purchase of No.              one of the most commodious mansions in Carlton House [-149-] Terrace, by Messrs. Fuller and Company, acting as agents for Maria, widow of the late Ralph Dobbs, Esq., who is shortly expected to arrive from San Francisco. Her wealth and that of her daughter, who accompanies her, is reported to be almost fabulous, and rumours of the young lady’s beauty and accom­plishments have already reached this country.”
   In due course report became reality. The mansion in Canton House Terrace, with its superb appointments, was the talk of the whole fashionable world, the doors of all the salons of the great were thrown open to the new-comers, and the balls and receptions they gave in return—under the fostering care of a Duchess or two, and occasionally graced by the presence of a Royal personage—excelled in magnificence, and the evidence of lavish expenditure, everything of the kind that had before been attempted within the area of London society. At the coaching meets, in the Park, on the river, at Ascot, and at all other gatherings of the smart sets, Madeline Dobbs was the centre of attraction, and one of the foremost objects of speculative talk.
   The “American heiress,” as she was called, was not only extremely pretty but also very clever, inheriting in no small measure her father’s shrewdness.
   Madeline had come to England with a purpose, and that purpose was to make an advantageous and a happy marriage. Though she had loved her father very dearly, she had been anything but blind to the roughness and coarseness of his manners; and though devotedly attached to her mother, she entertained a very lively abhorrence of that lady’s many American mannerisms and gaucheries. No one felt more keenly than she the shrugs of aristocratic shoulders, and the smiles that were exchanged, at certain phrases and exclamations that fell from time to time from her mothers lips. I do not say that this young girl was endowed with any preternatural sensitiveness; any one in her place would have felt the same. The high education she had received, grafted as it was on a good stock, made her a different kind of being from, and in a sense raised her above, her progenitors.
   Balls were given, parties were arranged, and all the toils and snares of scheming mothers with marriageable sons were spread before her. She refused offer after offer.
   Living under such conditions and amid such surroundings, of the hollow nature of which she was well aware, the girl’s [-150-] better nature gradually hardened. She entered upon her second London season without having met one single indi­vidual, male or female, from among the hundreds with whom she mingled, who appeared to be real and genuine.
   Having her eyes open to the shams of society, tortured by the thinly-disguised sneers that were directed to her mother, and haunted with thoughts of the treatment that her father, had he been alive, would have received, a marvellous change came over Madeline. She relinquished all thoughts of marrying for affection; became filled with a desire to attain some commanding position from which she could take her revenge on the world; and, in a word, deliberately resolved to make a deal in the matrimonial market in which she had already seen so much huckstering.
   She was introduced to, and sedulously cultivated the ac­quaintance of; the Marquis of Merrivale, one of the leaders of fashion, and in many respects an Admirable Crichton, being handsome and clever, and having that about him which made him nulli secundus in the estimation of the reigning beauties. He had inherited and dissipated a considerable fortune, and at fifty—his age at the time of which I am speaking—he had seen more of the world than most men who have come to the end of life’s allotted span.
   In the case of the American heiress, he came, he saw, and, to all appearances, he conquered.
   I implied just now that Miss Dobbs had failed to make one real friend; but this was not quite true. She undoubtedly had one friend in W., a member of my own profession, and an intimate friend of my own. From him it was (let me add in parenthesis) that I learnt the more private details that I am recording in these pages. W. was a rising man, of good birth, and a favourite in society. He had made the young American’s acquaintance soon after her arrival in this country, and, without the slightest intention of competing for the prize that was creating so great a stir in the matrimonial market, he learnt to entertain a very genuine regard for her, and was frankly accepted on the footing of a friend. More particularly was he impressed by her stately and reserved bearing, and her clear insight into the character and motives of those who worshipped at her shrine. I remember his one day remarking to me:
   “You see, she’s so quiet and collected; so still, so unlike her fellow-countrywomen—indeed, so totally different to any­thing that has come to us from across the Atlantic before.”
   [-151-] The Marquis duly proposed, and was accepted. Naturally the news was not many hours old before it became public property. One of the first to hear it was my friend, than whom no one was better acquainted with Lord Merrivale and his reputation.
   The moment W. was able to escape from the Temple, he jumped into a hansom and drove to the house in Canton House Terrace, where he was always a welcome guest.
   On reaching the middle of Pall Mall, my impetuous friend began to wonder what right he had to interfere, and what on earth he should say upon his arrival. The cab drew up out­side the house before he had come to any conclusion on these points.
   Miss Madeline was at home and alone. On entering, he took her by the hand and said:
   “So glad you are in. Am I right in offering you my con­gratulations?”
   “If you mean,” she replied, “on my marriage with Lord Merrivale—yes. It takes place next month.”
   “But,” he stammered, “I really—I don’t know what excuse I have—but——”
   She stopped him at once, gently placing her hand upon his arm.
   “None is needed,” she said. “You and I have always been good friends, and I know what you were going to say. I appreciate the kindness of your coming here, but you can tell me nothing that I do not know already. My mind is made up; nothing can change it.” Then, glancing somewhat hurriedly at the clock, she added: “You see, I am very busy now, and must hurry you away. But, remember, the future Marchioness expects you at her wedding.”
   And so the interview ended.
   There was the usual gush in the society papers about the devotion of the intending bridegroom, about the affection of his fiancée, and about their never being seen apart. Rather more to the point were the paragraphs stating how the estates and magnificent properties, that had been lost to his lordship’s old and noble lineage, were to be bought back with the wealth of his bride.
   As a matter of fact the interviews between the engaged couple were very few. At one of them, when Lord Merrivale was making some conventional remarks about his affection and future devotion, Madeline brought matters to a climax.
   [-152-] “My lord,” said she, “we both are used to the ways of the world, and, if I mistake not, understand them thoroughly. You have been good enough to offer me your hand; it is useless for either of us to talk of heart. It suited my purpose to accept that offer. Why did you make it? Did you want to marry me for my own sake? No. Had I been a girl fresh from the wilds of America with nothing but myself, would you have made that offer? Had I arrived here with my simple-hearted mother and without a fortune, would you, or rather, would your aristocracy, have thrown open your doors to welcome us? Would you have feted us, and sought after us, while in your heart of hearts you despised us both? No. I will act more generously by you than you have done by us. It is not too late. If you wish to retract your offer, you are at liberty to do so. You refuse? Be it so. But remember, the bargain is —my fortune, your rank. You are an English Marquis, and on our marriage I shall take my position as your wife, as all those who have covertly sneered at their country’s guests shall know.”
   The future bridegroom, who desired nothing more, accepted this position at once.
   The wedding took place on the appointed day, and it was the occasion for more gush in the society papers. Glowing paragraphs testified to the beauty of the bride, the enormous fortune that had accrued to the bridegroom, and the extreme felicity of the pair. They passed their honeymoon at Hulveston Hall, the seat of the Duke of ——, a brother-in-law of the noble bridegroom. On returning to London they took their places among the leaders of the fashionable world.
   Their lives were, and still are, as separate as though they were mere acquaintances. Her ladyship passes a great deal of her time in Paris and other Continental cities. The Marquis frequently stays at his country-seat, which has been consider­ably enlarged, and is now one of the finest places this country can boast. His wife is very seldom seen there. She has often been heard to say that English scenery, though very beautiful, has little charm for her. When his lordship is not at his seat or in London, he is away fishing in Norway, or hunting big game in still more distant climes.
   When the gaieties of the season are in full swing, the Marquis and Marchioness are usually for a short time in Canton House Terrace. The entertainments there are still superb, and the society most exclusive. Occasionally they are [-153-] to be seen together in their box at the opera. With such exceptions their existence is quite apart, and not one single word of affection has ever passed between them.
   Some of my readers may remark: “Can this be true? It is impossible such a state of things can exist “ It is, alas, only too true. Each of the three cases I have selected as illustrating the mora1e of a large section of modern marriages is founded upon solid fact. Each has its parallel in real life.
   Then it may be said: “But all this is something quite new. Such a state of things did not exist in our forefathers’ time. The world has changed very much for the worse, and there must be something extremely rotten in the present condition of fashionable society. Can you point to the cause of the evil?”
   I may mention that I propose to state my views on this point in the concluding portion of my next chapter. Meanwhile, revenons a nos marriages.       

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