THE title will suggest the nature of the chapter, and they who are not interested in either the ” sweet story or how it was told in these remote districts of England in bygone days may omit the next twenty pages without injury to themselves and without interfering with the thread of the book. But you, gentle reader and I call you ” gentle ” the more heartily because you are willing to follow me along will find herein something that will please your heart even if it does not tell you anything new. How can the first story of Eden be told again with freshness ? But who does not like to listen to its undying echoes, and to recall the days, so full of romance and poetry and pretty dreams, when innocence and beauty adorned the present with their gentle grace, and over the future happiness and truth and faith hung like soft clouds of the morning dyed with the splendor and the glory of the rising sun ? Then love was trustful, all-absorbing, devoted pure and passionate, perhaps, as in Juliet; silent and patient, as in Viola; thoughtful, inexperienced and sad, as in Ophelia; mirthful, witty, sprightly, as in Rosalind; refined, exquisite, heavenly, as in Miranda. Then life had not subdued the soul nor hardened the heart, and the spirit lived as in a fairyland with the pretty elves and happy imps that dance and sing and romp and play in the merry greenwood or amid the woodbine and the roses.
The. rural people of England are in no sense poetical and refined : they are of sterner stuff than Italian or French, more practical and matter of fact ; yet as we look back upon the customs which once prevailed largely, and in some places still linger more or less, we see much that is as pleasing as the song of gay troubadours or the romance of Southern bards.
There was then the same anxiety and care displayed in the matter of love as now. All sorts of charms were tried, first to ensnare some unwary one of the opposite sex, and then to prove if he or she were true. Love-sick maidensi. e., maidens who were sick, not with love, but with the lack of it looked for their lovers in the grounds of their teacups, tied strings nine times round the bedpost for their future lord to untie, sowed hempseed in the back yard that he might mow it, and watched the Midsummer-night out in the church porch that they might catch a glimpse of him. As young ladies nowadays place a piece of their newly-married friend’s wedding-cake under their pillow that they may dream of their own future, so two hundred years ago young men used to hang their shoes out of the window and hide daisy-roots under their pillow for the same purpose. A charm which one would hope was not very general was first to boil an egg hard and after taking out the contents fill the shell with salt, and then, on going to bed at night, eat shell and salt without either speaking or drinking after it : a happy vision would reveal the one to be beloved. There was once sold a most efficacious love-powder that could not fail to produce the most desirable affection in any upon whom it was sprinkled. Whether it had the effect that the juice of Oberon’s little Western flower had, of making ” the man or woman madly dote upon the next live creature that it sees,” I do not know. One thing is certain that by some means or other many a poor laddie’s heart was stolen away and in many a sweet maiden’s eyes tears hung like beauteous pearls. Beatrice and Benedick may both resolve never to marry, but some day Beatrice will tame her wild heart to his loving hand, and Benedick will exclaim in all the repentance of love, ‘ When I said I would die a bachelor, I did not think I should live till I were married.” Should the lover have any desire to know if his lady were true, he could resort to some of the many charms then in vogue among the curious of both sexes. A favorite plan was to take a leaf of yarrow and tickle the inside of the nostril, at the same time repeating these lines :
“Green ‘arrow, green ‘arrow, you bear a white blow: If my love love me, my nose will bleed now; If my love don’t love me, it ‘ont bleed a drop; If my love do love me, ’twill bleed every drop.”
And thus love’s sweet flower took root in each heart, and all that could be done was done to make it grow. He wore her favors her glove or scarf or kerchief in his hat or on his breast, wrote verses in her praise, carved her name on tree or post or fence, sang songs to her in the quiet eventide, conned pretty sayings that should please her ear and touch her heart, fought for her against all rivals and detractors, sent her choice presents ribbons and laces, sugar and cakes, cloves and cinnamon, perhaps his best and bravest hawk or his own true, trusted greyhound; she talked and dreamed of him, waited, watched and wept for him, wore her prettiest gown and finest headdress, bathed her face in May-dew and scented herself with lavender and musk, prayed that he might be her Valentine and she his dear May-queen, and when he stood before her blushed with a beauty and a loveliness that shamed the roses of the garden, the ruby-tinted morning sky itself.
But suppose all the charms and plots failed to touch the angel of the opposite sex ; what then? Well, then, as Sir Roger de Coverley hath it, ” there is a good deal to be said on both sides.” Some would pine and sorrow; some, look farther afield. Viola would
” let concealment, like a worm i’ the bud, Feed on her damask cheek,”
and Ophelia would drown herself in the willow-shaded brook; but Philarete would most likely meditate upon the inevitable after this fashion :
” Shall I, wasting in despaire, Dye, because a woman’s fair? Or make pale my cheeks with care ‘Cause another’s Rosie are? Be she fairer than the Day Or the flow’ry Meads in May, If she thinke not well of me What care I how faire she be?
” Shall my seely heart be pin’d ‘Cause I see a woman kind ? Or a well-disposed Nature Joyned with a lovely feature ? Be she Meeker, Kinder than Turtle-dove or Pellican, If she be not so to me, What care I how kind she be?
“Great or Good or Kind or Faire, I will ne’er the more despaire : If she love me (this beleeve), I will Die ere she shall grieve. If she slight me when I woe, I can scorne and let her goe ; For if she be not for me, What care I for whom she be ?”
The good old ballad is not far from wrong, though the song says:
“A poore soule sat sighing under a sicamore tree; O willow, willow, willow ! With his hand on his bosom, his head on his knee ; O willow, willow, willow ! O willow, willow, willow ! Sing, O the greene willow shall be my garland.”
A youth so far gone as that would be likely to have neither the garland of a bachelor at his funeral nor sweet-william and rosemary on his grave, for, on the principle that an overdose of poison defeats its purpose, he would recover. As Rosalind said, ” Men have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them, but not for love.” Only remember,
“A man his mynd should never set Upon a thing he cannot get.”
There is one question always asked concerning lovers : ” What did he see in her?” or ” What did she see in him ?” It is, I presume, a natural inquiry, though slightly touched with a mild spitefulness and envy. But here, if anywhere, there is no accounting for tastes. There is such a wide and happy diversity that, no matter if a world cannot see anything to ad-mire in a youth of either sex, some one individual will be likely to discover a charm that will lead him or her captive. It has been asked, ” Who ever loved that loved not at first sight ?” and we further ask, ” What did Love see at first sight? What sends the arrow speeding to its mark ?” Perhaps, as far as he is concerned and I would not venture to say aught of a woman’s inclinations it may be a dimple in her cheek, a playful twitching of her lips, a pretty frown upon her fore-head, a sparkling glance in her eye. It may be the color of her eyes black, brown, blue, green or gray. In Chaucer’s time a gray eye was considered the height of perfection, Dante knew no prettier than the green eyes of his Beatrice ; and with the latter Cervantes and Cicero both agree. It may be the color of her hair-anything from the white flaxen to the raven black. Spenser was evidently partial to yellow hair. His Florimell, Belphcebe, Alma, Una, Britomart, and others of his creations, have all hair like the Virgin Queen herself, of the bright golden hue. Or it may be her nose a straight nose or a crooked nose, a wee little thing or a miniature elephantine model, a pug or a turn-up or a sharp point. Possibly it is her eyebrows arched, full, dark, expressive ; or her eyelashes long, short, even, tear-bedewed or fringe-like. Perhaps it is her complexion white as the pale lily or bright as the red rose ; or her hands fat and plump, or long and lean ; or her general carriage stately and grand or sprightly and gay. Perhaps your wise young man remembers that
” The fairest rose in shortest time decays,”
and so he is attracted by accomplishments rather than by charms. Nobody knows what men may fall in love with. It may be something better than any other qualification whatsoever, a noble, loving, devoted soul a soul that reveals itself to none but the one it loves, a soul that remains ever constant and faithful, ever gentle and kind, and gives to the body its sweetest grace, its truest life, its most winning charm. Happy is the man who is won by such an attraction as this. It matters little whether his lady-love be as beautiful as Herrick’s Sappho, whose pure paleness the white roses tried to outrival and blushed for very failure, or as plain and homely as the plainest and homeliest damsel you can find: she will be true when all else is false, precious when all else is worthless, lovely when all else has lost its charm, and young when all else is old.
There is extant an interesting letter written by an Eton boy in the year 1479 to his brother, describing how he had met at a wedding the younger daughter of a widow, a gentlewoman eighteen or nineteen years old, and how he had fallen desperately in love with her. He wished his brother to go and see her. She would have something when she married, and more at her mother’s death ; ” and,” adds he, ” as for hyr bewte, juge you that when ye see hyr, yf so be that ye take the laubore, and specialy beolde hyr handys.” Like many another schoolboy’s love, so earnest and sincere for the time, William Paston’s came to nothing.
And this brings us to the famous lines,
” For aught that ever I could read, Could ever hear by tale or history, The course of true love never did run smooth.”
The proof is to be found in the times when the unmarried possessor or inheritor of wealth was a marketable commodity and was sold very much as a horse or a cow was sold. From the days of William Rufus down to the times of the Commonwealth an heir or an heiress was the ward I should say the property–of the Crown, and could get married only with the consent of the king and by payment of a heavy fee. Frequently the match was made by the sovereign or the council, and the par-ties concerned were forced to accept the arrangement and make the best of it. The same practice ran through all society. If not the king or the feudal lord, then the parents or other relatives, decided the question. Thus in those happy ages a maiden’s heart was rarely her own to give. If she ventured to love when she should not or failed to love when she should, it was not unusual to lock her up, beat her, starve her, and ill-treat her generally, until her affections were brought into proper subjection. Of a girl of twenty who refused to marry a disfigured widower of fifty we are told in a letter written in the year 1449 to her brother, “She bath since Easter the most part been beaten once in the week or twice, and sometimes twice in one day, and her head broken in two or three places.” This was in high life and under her own mother’s roof, but the girl was disobedient and plucky, nor did she have the widower. She was an exception to the rule. A dutiful child did not think of falling in love or of selecting a partner in matrimony. The utmost freedom existed between young people of the opposite sexes. Young ladies and young gentlemen kissed each other freely whenever they met, in the streets or in the houses. As Erasmus tells us, ” there were kisses when you came, and kisses when you went away delicate, fragrant kisses that would assuredly tempt a poet from abroad to stay in England all his days.” But there was no thought of marriage. That was a thing others would arrange ; and if once in a while the rule were broken and the liberty of loving without permission indulged in, then, most assuredly, the course of true love did not run smoothly. As a rule, however, the young people of the Middle Ages had a most excellent control over their affections. They generally loved when told to do so, and generally kept their hearts whole when their friends thought it desirable.
We have an interesting illustration of all this in a Norfolkshire family in the reign of Henry IV. John Paston, a younger and needy brother of a man of considerable position and wealth in that county, was a free, jovial, good-natured fellow with only one thing wanting to complete his happiness viz., a rich wife. He did not care much about the woman, so that she had money : she was only a necessary inconvenience attached to an estate. The elder brother did his best for him. On John’s behalf he wooed every likely spinster and widow he could find. It was nothing to have two or three strings to his bow at the same time. He tried or, at least, was told by John to try to get a pretty daughter of a London draper, also a young “thing,” as he significantly and business-like calls her, in the same city, and also ” some old thrifty draff-wife ” in the same city. All these attempts, and others like them, failed, but at last a suitable damsel was found, sweet Margery Brews, a bright, spry girl, who when once she learned that John’s heart was touched and that he was negotiating with her mother gave the latter no rest till the affair was satisfactorily settled. She was head over heels in love wildly, madly in love ; but her father was not willing to pay down with her quite so much as John desired, and for a time things looked doubtful. Her mother promised to give the young couple three years’ board if they would only marry. ” I shall give you,” she further says, writing to John, ” a greater treasure that is, a witty gentle-woman, and, if I say it, both good and virtuous ; for if I should take money for her, I would not give her for a thousand pounds.” And dear Margery herself wrote to him some of the sweetest love-letters any girl could write, in which she begs him not to give her up for the sake of the money. She had him ; they were married and lived happily.
Two hundred years later, and we find our old friend Mr. Samuel Pepys doing the same sort of thing. He and Sit John Paston, the elder brother of the John just mentioned, were two of the most energetic and accomplished of matchmakers. Samuel had a sister, Paulina, who was, he says, proud and idle, not over-friendly to his wife, ” so cruel an hypocrite that she can cry when she pleases,” and so ill-natured that he could not love her. Moreover, he adds, ” she grows old and ugly.”
Everything that he could do to ” dispose of her” he did. He got his wife to speak to a clerk on Miss Pepys’s be-half; and he received the advice ” with mighty acknowledgements,” but ” had no intention to alter his condition.” A young parson was tried, but in vain. Time rolled by, and no husband for Paulina. At last ” a plain young man, handsome enough for Pall, one of no education nor discourse,” was found, and for a comfortable consideration he took her ; and so, says Pepys, ” that work is, I hope, well over.” He was engaged in more serious matchmaking than this, but really it was mean of him after going to church one Christmas day to write, ” Saw a wedding in the church, which I have not seen for many a day; and the young people so merry one with an-other ! and strange to see what delight we married people have to see these poor fools decoyed into our condition, every man and woman gazing and smiling at them.”
Not always did such matches turn out well. There was in the year 1294 in a little Norfolk village a widow named Sara* Felix. Her husband had left her considerable property and three daughters, the eldest of whom was not more than eight or . nine years old when her father died. This daughter, whose name was Alice, we may imagine was, from the fact of her mother’s wealth, if not for her own beauty, a lovable object in the eyes of young men far and near. At any rate, when she was about fifteen, she was wooed and won by an eligible youth named John of Thyrsford. In all probability, I should say, her mother was wooed and her fortune was won, the girl being thrown in as an unimportant, though necessary, part of the matrimonial bargain. I fancy there was very little of the sunshine and poetry that lovers nowadays contrive to get into their courtship. The marriage was an unhappy one. John had not been married more than a year or two when he began to devise means to regain his freedom.
Divorces were difficult to obtain in those days, and, except by payment of heavy costs, there was but one way by which it was possible to get one. This one way was both easy and cheap, and that way John tried. Could a man but get a bishop to admit him to orders the minor orders would do he became at once, if a serf, free from villeinage ; if a husband, free from matrimony. Clerics could not be slaves either to a lord or to a wife : they were sons of liberty. So John got ordained, and thus got divorced from poor little Alice. The worst of it was that the girl could not marry again, and, as she had no child, she was doomed to a lonely life.
Easy would it be to draw a sketch of the child-wife in her deserted youth. We might picture her sighing and sobbing in the eventide, weeping under the lonely willows, ministering to loving cats and tricksy dogs. We might picture her wearing the weeds of widowhood, singing mournful ditties as she picked apples in the or-chard or turnips in the field, going to church twice a day by way of desperation and attending executions and ordeals by way of amusement. But such pictures would be purely imaginary. We are not told whether the roses faded in her cheeks or the lustre died in her eyes ; in fact, though we may reasonably suppose she had cheeks and eyes, we have no evidence that she had either roses or lustre. We do not know if she lamented her loss to her friends, if she learned to hate mankind in general or John of Thyrsford in particular : these are points fancy, and not history, can deal with. Perhaps she was as glad to get rid of him as he was to get rid of her : the wed-ding had turned out badly. Any way, she managed to live on as the lady of the village for nearly fifty years after her divorce. Her husband became vicar of the same village perhaps the divorce did not mean so much, after all, though the story is provokingly silent on that point and vicar he remained for some forty years. He died ten years before Alice. When old age came upon her, and the tresses of youth were gray, if not gone, and the dimples of maidenhood had changed into the wrinkles of senility, she gave up her property, went into a nunnery, and there died.
This is the true and faithful history of Alice the wife of John of Thyrsford and the daughter of Thomas the Lucky of Rougham, and they who wish to verify it can go to the writings of an erudite divine of Norwich, Dr. Jessop by name.
It is pleasing to know that there were other motives than those we have mentioned happy exceptions to the rule which moved parents to give their daughters in marriage. About the year 1559, Sir William Hewet, the lord mayor, lived on London Bridge, and one day, when the nurse was playing with his little daughter Anne at one of the broad lattice-windows overlooking the Thames, the child fell into the water. A young apprentice named Osborne, seeing the accident, leaped into the fierce current below the arches and saved the infant. The story is told and an illustration of the leap given in Cassell’s Old and New London. ” Years after, many great courtiers, including the earl of Shrewsbury, came courting fair Mistress Anne, the rich citizen’s heiress. Sir William, her father, said to one and all, ` No ; Os-borne saved her, and Osborne shall have her.’ And so Osborne did, and became a rich citizen, and lord mayor in 1583.”
Assuming that the friends and-the law were satisfied, and that the affection of the parties most concerned was as warm and true as it should be, the thing had to be made public and an open betrothal to be performed. It was from the friends and acquaintances the awkwardness would chiefly arise. The would-be bridegroom, and the would-be bride scarcely less so, would have to endure many a queer joke, coarse jest and broad laugh goodnatured enough, no doubt, but none the less hard to suffer. They would be watched in church and in the street, mimicked and rhymed, asked all sorts of awkward questions and played all sorts of tricks, serenaded, toasted, gossiped over, sneered at, praised, disparaged, encouraged, caricatured, till life would not have been worth living had it not had love to sustain it. But, like all other nine-day wonders, this would die out and the match come to be looked upon as a matter of fact.
And some evening there would be a grand party at the house of the maiden’s father. All the relatives and friends far and near, including his reverence the parson and his scarcely less reverence the clerk, would be invited to witness the betrothal or engagement of Corydon and Philida. Fresh green rushes would be strewn over the floor, the tables and settees scrubbed clean and white, the candlesticks, snuffers, flagons, tankards and cups polished to look as bright as new, and the larder filled with good things perhaps a piece of fresh beef, a rare article in olden time, perhaps a choice turkey, goose or fowl from the barnyard. In the cellar would be a bountiful supply of string, heady ale and mead maybe a cask or two of good wine from beyond the seas or home made and the best minstrel or fiddler in the neighborhood would be engaged for the occasion. What a free, happy, boisterous time ! The old house would ring with the merry song and the loud chorus. A silver perhaps a gold coin would be broken in two between the lovers ; they would kiss each other, join hands and exchange rings, and vow to keep the faith now given. And the great silver cup was filled with the frothy, foaming ale and emptied by each guest to the honor and health of the young couple, and the men kissed the pretty, blushing girl and the women kissed the awkward, gawkish and supremely happy lad, and the fiddler exercised his art, and up the hall and down the hall the gay, light-hearted folks danced as we can never dance and shouted as we can never shout. Oh, they were merry!
Even the aged people forgot themselves. The old grandfather laughed and sang till the tears ran down his withered cheeks, and the ancient dame his wife rested not till she had had her hop and jump it could scarcely be called a dance, for she used crutches and was nearly double-with the brightest and liveliest of the crowd. Away they go !
“If music be the food of love, play on!”
Hither and thither, in and out, off and back again, till, exhausted, they sit down around the festive board. There are, of course, love-letters private, confidential, eloquent. Many have survived the wasting of time; of which, take the following, written by the pretty Margery already mentioned to her lover, John Paston. It is dated February, 1477, and, while illustrating the universal spirit of such effusions, will by reprinting do no possible harm to people who have so long passed away :
” Unto my ryght welebelovyd Voluntyn, John Paston, Squyer, be this bill delyvered, etc.
” Ryght reverent and wurschypfull, and my ryght welebeloved Voluntyne, I recomande me unto yowe, ffull hertely desyring to here of yowr welefare, whech I beseche Almyghty God long for to preserve un to Hys plesur, and yowr herts desyre. And yf it please yowe to here of my welefar, I am not in good heele of body, nor of herte, nor schall be tyll I her ffrom yowe ;
For there wottys no creature what peyn that I endure, And for to be deede, I dare it not dyscure.
And my lady my moder hath labored the mater to my ffader full delygently, but sche can no mor gete then ye knowe of, for the whech God knowyth I am full sory. But yf that ye loffe me, as I tryste verely that ye do, ye will not leffe me therefor; for if that ye hade not halfe the lyvelode that ye hafe, for to do the grettest labur that any woman on lyve myght, I wold not forsake yowe.
And yf ye commande me to kepe me true wherever I go, I wyse I will do all my myght yowe to love and never no mo, And yf my freends say, that I do amys, Thei schal not me let so for to do,
Myne herte me bydds ever more to love yowe Truly over all erthely thing, And yf thei be never so wroth, I tryst it schall be better in tyme commyng.
” No more to yowe at this tyme, but the Holy Trinitie hafe yowe in kepyng. And I besech yowe that this bill be not seyn of none erthely creatur safe only your selffe, etc.
” And thys letter was indyte at Toperoft, with full hevy herte, etc.,
” By your own,
” MARGERY BREWS.”
Poor Margery ! and when her lover’s elder brother, Sir John, had ” consyderyd hyr persone, hyr yowthe, and the stok that she is comyn offe, the love on bothe sydes, the tendre ffavor that she is in with hyr ffader and mooder, the kyndenesse off hyr ffadr and moodr to hyr in departyng with hyr, the ffavor also, and goode conceyte that they have in my brother, the worshypfull and vertuous dysposicion off hyr ffadr and moodr, whyche pronostikyth that, of lyklihod, the mayde sholde be vertuous and goode,” he was agreeable to the match !
Here is another, of the seventeenth century, the original of which is in the British Museum :
” Deare Hearte, I am heartilie sorry that some occasions have hindered me from coming to see you all this while ; I desire you to impute my absence not to want of love, but of leisure ; and I beseech you to bee assured that there lives not a more constant, faithfull, and affectionate lover uppon the face of the whole earth than I am, of your most worthie SELFE, whose VERTUE & BEAVTY is such that I haue uerie good cause to belejue there lives not a second to be parallell’d wth you. I haue here sent you a small token, whch I desire you to accept of; I haue aliso sent you a copy of uerses made by him who is the admirer & adorer of your divjne beautje ; HENRJE OXJNDEN. Barham : Feb : 26: 1641. An” OEtat : tuce, 17.”
What becomes of these interesting epistles ? That is more than we can say. They are written in abundance thousands, I suppose, every day but they are scarce as roses in Greenland. Perhaps they are burnt as soon as read-or, at least, as soon as the affair of which they treat is happily terminated. And yet, when a breach-of-promise case comes before the court, there are the letters ! One young lady who collected hers made a pillow of them. She slept on that sweet bundle till one day, about four months after her wedding, she had a difference with her husband, and the pillow found its way into the fire. Another lady had hers bound in a volume, and every morning after she had read her chap-ter in the Bible she read one of the letters and then said her prayers. She maintained that it was her duty to keep alive the remembrances of the past and to nourish the sacred emotion. A third had hers reduced to a pulp and then made up into an antique Japanese casket for jewelry. These, however, are only a few among the myriads ; where do the rest go ?
Love-letters are sweet and pleasant, but the happy hours the young folks spend together are still sweeter and pleasanter. To see young Colin getting ready to go and court his lassie was a sight that would tickle and please any heart. His mother says he was never so clean and tidy and exact before in his life. There must not be a speck of dust or dirt on his clothes; his shoes must shine like a looking-glass and his handkerchief be redolent with bergamot. His sister Mary brushes him, and pins in his coat the best carnation and rosebud she can find in the garden, and sends him off with a good sisterly kiss and with kindred feelings ; for she expects. Tim, old Farmer Berry’s son, that very evening. And Colin trudges across the fields and through the shaded lane whistling as happily and loudly as any bird in the world. He begins to think himself somebody : he in-tends to join the militia or the rifle volunteers or, as they would call it many years since, the train-band; and oh how glad he will be when Lucy is his wife ! As he goes by he looks in at the little cottage which his father intends to give him as the first home for his bride, and thoughts of the future fill him with joy. And when he reaches Lucy’s house, how pleased she is to see him! Her eyes sparkle with delight, and no kiss was ever so sweet as that which she shyly and modestly gives him. And when she gets her hat and they go off for an hour’s ramble down to the meadow or through the woods or by the side of the brook, he thinks never was girl so dear as she, and she thinks him to be the only one worth having among all the swains of the country-side. Happy dreams ! Life is full of flowers and sunshine. The world is nothing to them : they are each other’s world ; and without a thought other than that of supremest joy they pluck the violets, the oxslips and the sweet-brier, and sing their merry lays with glad, free hearts and trilling voices, and talk of the days and the blessings that shall be theirs in the not-far-distant by and by. When they get home, they find that mother has got the tea ready ; the kettle is singing on the hob, and on the table, covered with a snow-white cloth, are new-made bread, fresh butter, clotted cream and bright-green watercresses. The blackbird in the wicker cage pours forth his best and richest melody; even the cat purrs and hums as if her heart also were full of love and joy. And the old gentleman comes in and gives Colin a hearty welcome, for Colin is a good boy and already owns three cows and a dozen sheep, and is about as likely a fellow as Lucy could get. They are all happy now together. Mother pours out the tea, but Lucy puts in the sugar; and Colin is sure he never drank such tea in his life before. His appetite is not very good, and he blushes scarlet when his future father-in-law slyly asks, ” Eh, Colin my lad, has thee no fancy for a bit of Lucy’s homemade bread?” And the poor fellow gulps it down be-cause she made it. There are shrimps and onions, and Colin and Lucy are both fond of them, but neither touches them. “Don’t be afraid,” says the tormenting father; “they won’t hurt you.”” Help yourselves,” says mother ; ” if both take some, it will be all the same.” And Lucy consents and Colin agrees, and shrimps and onions begin to depart. The conversation runs along, now about the weather, now the crops, now Mary Lemon’s lame cow, now about old Crumleigh’s wonderful litter of pigs. ” Never heard of such a thing before in my life,” says Lucy’s father, and Colin says he doesn’t think he has, either. Then the talk turns to making butter, rearing ducks, snubbing the parson, the jockey-races, the new steward, the comet, the turkey-gobbler, the host putting in the refrain every now and then, “Shrimps and onions are nice, eh, Colin ? Thought you would like them, and what’s the difference, as mother says, when you both have them ?” And by and by the old folks leave the lovers alone the good souls remember the days when they were young and another sweet hour passes away nobody knows how fast. Colin cannot believe it is time for him to go home, and Lucy wishes he was not obliged to go. The old folks wonder what they have had to talk about for so long, but, dear hearts ! there is no subject so suggestive as love, and lovers could talk and talk till morning and never get tired. But they part at last; a few warm kisses, a fond embrace, and Colin is on his way home, and Lucy is helping her mother clear up the house or is putting her best gown and scarf away in the lavender-scented clothes-press till next Sunday or to the next time Colin comes. This is a sketch that will apply to any age with but little alteration, from the days long since forgotten to the present year of grace. The happiness is beyond expression ; the innocence, purity and love are as perfect as in the Eden of old or in the Paradise above.
Not always, however, are things so smooth and pleas-ant as this. Sometimes there are misunderstandings and quarrellings. This to the point : Strephon and Celia were lovers. He was gentle and good ; she was lovely as the morning star set in the dark sky. Nothing had ever arisen to mar the sweetness or to disturb the joy of their love. All who knew them said they were born for each other. If he saw a pout upon her lips, he kissed it away; if she saw a frown upon his brow, she looked upon him with her bright, sunny eyes till the cloud faded into a smile. But one day the quarrel came. It was over a trifle not worth speaking of, but the words that followed were sharp as lightning and the looks dark as the thunder-clouds. And bitter thoughts ran through their hearts-thoughts that threatened death to their love and woe to their future. Never would he speak to her again ; nevermore would she look him in the face. They parted for ever. She stood on the sedgy bank of the brook in the dying sunlight. Not a breath of wind ruffled the water or stirred the rushes or the willows, The lilies in the stream were folding up their white flowers for the night, and here and there a lone bird was seeking its nest. He had left her ; why should she live longer ? Perhaps if she drowned herself in that silent river he would shed a tear upon her grave, perhaps plant a flower at her feet. They said that brook ran like a watery way to the sea : perhaps she might make it a path to a better and truer world. Anyway, life was not worth having without Strephon, and better die now than live with a broken heart. Hush, sad thought ! The sun has gone to rest and the night-wind begins its weird moaning among the willows. There is the hooting of the owl, and from afar comes the voice of howling dog. The stream flows on its dismal course, murmuring as though it sang a death-song. Oh night of gloom ! Oh thought of woe ! Hush ! what a shriek and plunge ! And all is still save the moaning wind and the sobbing water. It was only the cry of the night-hawk and the splash of a great fish. Celia is on her way home, and tomorrow morning she will take from Strephon’s hand a bunch of sweet violets and give him a kiss far more sweet and fragrant than they. Such are the storms that try love’s happy life.
It is, I suppose, when reviewing all the changes and chances of sweethearting and the fortunes and accidents of matrimony that some men make up their minds never to marry. Whether they deserve praise or pity is a question not easily answered. Probably a bachelor de-sires neither, but the world is ever disposed to be generous in its commendation or its sympathy to those who have been fortunate or unfortunate enough to remain in single life. On the whole, the world, if forced to judge, is rather censorious than otherwise. It thinks that it is not good for man to live alone, but seeing that every man was a bachelor once, and would have remained one had he not married, it is well he should hesitate in expressing an opinion either way. But when legislation utters its voice, it is generally against the bachelor. Perhaps this is so because governing bodies are nearly always composed of married men. None other could sit in the Jewish Sanhedrin or in the Roman Senate or in the councils of Athens and Sparta. The ancients had no mercy on them. During the winter, in Sparta, they were compelled to march round the market-place singing a song composed against themselves and expressing the justice of their punishment. In Rome heavy taxes were laid upon them, and in England they were once obliged to pay a fine for their privilege. Even in the present day every remark made concerning bachelordom is not complimentary. There is a conception in the popular mind that a bachelor is the personification of a great deal that is not desirable. He is supposed to be mean, cross, grumpy, unattractive, ugly in soul if not in body, selfish, affectionless, quarrelsome, irreligious, conceited, irreconcilable, without either wit or humor and with more than his rightful share of human wickedness. The marriage service reminds him that matrimony is honorable among all men, and therefore his state is the reverse. How in the name of all that is lovable he became confirmed in his singularity no one knows. Various answers will be given some sagacious, some spiteful, some safe, some sympathetic, some sarcastic, some satirical, and none, perhaps, true. His example, at any rate, is bad ; for suppose Adam had declined Eve, what would have happened? The women look shyly upon one who has so persistently resisted the charms of their sex, and the Benedicts, being themselves in the freedom or the bondage, whichever way you take it, of wedlock, think of him as one who has evaded his duty. And he thinks it is hard a man cannot please himself in a matter of this kind. Who has any business to dictate to him what he shall do ? Who has a right to reproach him for having been luckier than the most of men ? If flies choose to run into spiders’ webs, and fish to seize the baited hook, and men to put their heads into a noose, is he obliged to do the same ? And as to women, adds he, it all depends how you look at them. Painters and poets see all the perfections, but the reality and the imagination do not always agree.
Alack, poor bachelor !
One loves to dream of the merry maidens one has known. Beneath the greenwood tree in such a sylvan nook as that in which the mischievous and witty Rosalind cured her Orlando of his sickness, or in the quiet of such a moonlight eventide as that in which Lorenzo and sweet Jessica told anew their love, or in a rural spot where flowers in all their sweetness and their grace abound, like unto that in which the pretty Perdita and the noble Florizel found their souls knit in one, or beside a stream like that in which the love-deceived Opheliad drowned herself, these are the scenes of fancy’s revels, the scenes where memory and imagination walk hand in hand together. In the early morning, when the dawn with rosy fingers unbars the gates of light ; or, better still, in the evening, when Venus blushingly lays herself down upon her bed of glory in the west, so softly white, so sweetly tinted ; or in the stilly night, when upon the mountains, with their pinnacles of snowy splendor and depths of sombre gloom, falls the stars’ soft light,comes the happy dream-time when mind and heart are one. Wandering and dreaming through the woodland groves, one can see the milk-white palfrey of fair Florimell breaking through the thick brush, the golden hair of the beautiful maiden flowing in long streams as she seeks to escape from the false Archimago. On she speeds till lost to sight in the winding lanes of the forest, and ere long comes that true knight Prince Arthur to save the maid of his friend Marinell. And fancy follows her to the cottage built of sticks and reeds in a gloomy glen where she hoped to receive shelter and found witchcraft. Fear gave her strength and speed, and soon we see her tossed on ocean-wave, ere long to fall into the deep dungeon of the sea-monster Proteus. Never was grief so terrible as that of Cymoent over the body of Marinell or of Satyrane over the loss of Florimell. But in that fairyland strange things are brought about : Marinell is restored to life, Florimell is rescued from her watery prison, and in the fair sunshine their faith is rewarded and they are given to each other. As in the dreamy drama this chaste and lovely lady fades into the fleeting moments’ mists others no less beautiful and fair appear. There are the twin daughters of Chrysogone, the brave Beiphoebe and the sweet Amoretta, and, like stars of early eve, Britomart, Columbell, Hellenore, Alma and Una. There is Sabrina, who, fleeing from her angry step-dame, Gwendolen, plunged into the Severn flood, where the water-nymphs bore her to the aged Nereus’s hall. Here was she made goddess of the river, and now the shepherds sing of her maiden gentleness, tell how she visits the herds in the twilight meadows, and as a votive offering to her throw their garland wreaths of pansies, pinks and gaudy daffodils into the stream. And who can forget Herrick’s Julia, with her dainty cherry lips and silken drapery; or Keats’s Madeline as in the wintry moonlight, pure and free, she prays for Heaven’s grace; or Coleridge’s Christabel as she rescues the high-born Geraldine ; or Fielding’s Sophia, the spirit of truth in an atmosphere of ill; or Boccaccio’s Griselda, so constant in her love and obedient in her life; or Scott’s Lucy Ashton, the beautiful and ill-fated bride of Lammermoor? These are among the maids and matrons one has known. They flit like fairies before the mind. They are as real as though they were true flesh and blood. And one wonders which of them all one loves the best. We like Jessica, the sweet Christian pagan, better than the intellectual and yellow haired Portia; we like Juliet, the passionate, wholesouled girl of the South, better than Isabella, Helena or Beatrice, though we prefer Perdita and Miranda to the romantic bride of Romeo. Viola appears as queen of queens. Florimell is the first of Spenser’s creations, but we do not like her half so much as sweet Anne Page or the tender, steadfast Imogen or the pure Marina perhaps because they have a more distinct personality. As to those of less position, we are not sure whether we like Agnes Wickfield better than Sophia Western, or Lorna Doone better than either. Lydia Languish, Emilia Gauntlet, Lydia Melford, Narcissa Topehall and Fanny Andrews are very well in their way, but their way is a long way from the fair dames who live in Shakespeare’s pages. Molière has nothing for us; his Lucille, Dorimene, Lucinde, MéIicerte and Daphne are not to be thought of with, say, Ben Jonson’s Charis, Lodge’s Rosalynd or Chaucer’s Dorigen. As we cease our dreaming there comes upon the scene an endless procession of merry maidens whom we have known the fair Emmeline, free Dowsabell, Maid Marion, peerless Rosamond, Bessee of Bednall-Green, and the Nut-brown Maid, whose praises abide in minstrel’s song; but we turn away and ask, ” How can a man remain a bachelor in the presence of such beauty?”
Alack, poor bachelor !
And now I haste to the end of the subject to the day and the ceremony that concluded and crowned the vision of love in the olden time. In spite of the fact that there are old bachelors and old maids, it is said that married life is the mystery into which all who are not in seek to enter and all who are in seek to leave. This, if true, proves not only the desirability and the painfulness of matrimony, but also the weakness of human nature; for neither advice nor experience avails in the matter. St. Jerome mentions a widow that married her twenty-second husband, who in his turn had been married to twenty wives ; a gentleman died at Bordeaux in 1772 who had been married sixteen times ; so that the wise saw, A burnt child dreads the fire,” does not apply to matrimony. Nor should it, according to our doctrine and to the consensus of mankind.
June was the favorite month for weddings, and Sunday the favorite day; May and Friday were ever thought unlucky. The old Jews, as a rule, married maidens on a Wednesday and widows on a Thursday. A bright, clear morning was deemed propitious, for happy is the bride that the sun shines on. The church-bells rang their merry peals and the whole village prepared to keep holiday, for such an event occurred only once in a while. Long before the sun arose the preparations were going on. The girls were off to the woods and the meadows at daybreak to gather flowers and rushes to strew in the pathway of the bridal-party, and while the older people were getting the house ready for the feast the young men were preparing for the sports and the pastimes on the village green. The bride was arrayed in her gay garments generally white, in token of purity and upon her head was placed a garland of flowers as a sign of her queenly station. Our garland consists of orange-blossoms, but in the olden time it was made of myrtle or roses or wheat-ears. In some lands it was even made of prickles, to signify to the husband that he had tied himself to a thorny pleasure. Everybody had posies of maiden-blushes, primroses, violets, pansies, rosemary or bay. Sometimes festoons and arches of evergreen were made, in which laurel, denoting triumph, was conspicuous. The bridegroom was taken to the church porch by the bridesmaids, and the bride by the groomsmen. The ceremony did not take place in the church, but at the door, till after the Reformation. There the happy couple stood before the village parson, and there the plighted troth was redeemed and the sentence spoken that made them man and wife in words that have been used in the Church of England for more than a thousand years. Oh how wildly, cheerily, gladly, the bells pealed out in the church-tower ! And the minstrels played, and the neighbors cheered, and showers of roses or of wheat were poured upon the bridal pair, just as we cast rice, in token of prosperity. All were happy. The bride looked upon her wedding-ring, made of pure gold, to tell her that her lord’s love was pure and true and endless as the ring was endless. Friends told her that as the ring wore out so her cares would wear away : I am not sure they told the truth. She gave her favors gloves, ribbons, scarfs and garters to the young men and maidens. She cut the wedding-cake an institution of unknown antiquity and the maid that was lucky enough to receive the first piece would be the next bride. The bridal ale was drunk, and in the afternoon there were dancing and sporting till evensong. If there were an elder unmarried sister, she would have to dance barefooted lest she should die an old maid; the others all danced and played in green stockings. There were fun and merry-making perhaps more and of another character than we should approve of, but our forefathers were blunt, plain folk overflowing with good-humor and animal spirits. When the bridegroom blundered and blushed, as bridegrooms sometimes will, they cheered and laughed with a freedom and a heartiness that to him must have been anything but pleasant. The bride was encouraged in like manner till she was as red as a rose and glad to hide her face under the care-cloth.
Ah, well ! this was the end of romance, and now began real life. Shall I say that in that life there were charms and graces that the romance knew nothing of? Yes, indeed; for, beautiful as it is to see a lad and a lassie love as only lads and lassies can love, there is a more beautiful picture still to behold an aged couple who have lived and loved through long years, whose love has withstood the test of time and been purified and made more precious in the fires of life’s trials. They see in their own children the return of days long, long gone by; and when they close their eyes upon this world, it is to enter into the renewed and eternal love and life of a brighter and a better world.
And here we leave ” Love in ye Olden Time,” and in doing so I can only say of every newly-wedded pair,
May life to them be like a summer river Where laughing ripples kissed by sunbeams dance, And reeds and rushes moved by soft winds quiver, Till Nature falls into a dreamy trance !
May life to them be like the clouds of even Lighted with all the splendor of the setting sun, When o’er the earth there comes the peace of heaven The blessed rest that crowns a work well done!
May life to them be like a song of glory Such as the joyous lark sings at heaven’s gate, Or victors tell in their glad thrilling story Of triumphs won upon the fields of fate!
And when that life shall reach the deep sea’s flowing, And earth’s bright day shall make its shadows long, May they rejoice in love’s warm, earnest glowing, While murmuring wavelets chant the evensong.