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MIDDLE OF EIGHTEENTH CENTURY.
THE further we advance into the years which mark the Hanoverian succession, the more profligate, reckless, and cruel do the people seem to become. Public exhibitions of the most disgusting character are every day advertised; ruffians and swashbucklers abound, and are ready to do anything for a consideration; animals are tortured at set periods for the delectation of the multitude; and we see verified, by means of the notices in the papers, the peculiarities which Hogarth seized and made immortal, and which so many squeamish people consider to be overdrawn nowadays. Assignations of the most immoral character are openly advertised, and men of the time may well have attempted to ignore the existence of female virtue. A recent writer, commenting on this state of affairs, says, in reference to the latter class of shameless advertisements: "We are far from saying that such matters are not managed now through the medium of advertisements, for they are, but in how much more carefully concealed a manner? The perfect contempt of public opinion, or rather the public acquiescence in such infringements of the moral law which it exhibits, proves the general state of morality more than the infringements themselves, which obtain more or less at all times. Two of the causes which led to this low tone of manners with respect to women were doubtless the detestable profligacy of the courts of the two first Georges, and the very defective condition of the existing marriage law.
William and Mary-, and Anne, had, by their decorous, not to say frigid lives, redeemed the crown, and in some measure the aristocracy, from the vices of the Restoration. Crown, court, and quality, however, fell into a still worse slough on the accession of the Hanoverian king, who soiled afresh the rising tone of public life by his scandalous connection with the Duchess of Kendal and the Countess of Darlington; whilst his son and successor was absolutely abetted in his vicious courses by his own queen, who prorooted his commerce with his two mistresses, the Countesses of Suffolk and Yarmouth. The degrading influence of the royal manners was well seconded by the condition of the law. Keith's Chapel in Mayfair, and that at the Fleet, were the Gretna Greens of the age, where children could get married at any time of the day or night for a couple of crowns. It was said at the time that at the former chapel six thousand persons were annually married in this offhand way; the youngest of the beautiful Miss Gunnings was wedded to the Duke of Hamilton at twelve o'clock at night, with a ring off the bed-curtain, at this very 'marriage-shop.' The fruits of such unions may be imagined. The easy way in which the marriage bond was worn and broken through, is clearly indicated by the advertisements which absolutely crowd the public journals, from the accession of the house of Brunswick up to the time of the third George, of husbands warning the public not to trust their runaway wives." It must not be imagined, though, that wives were the only smners, or that vice was confined to any particular and exclusive class. It was the luxury of all, and according to their opportunities all enjoyed .it.
About this time Fleet marriages, and the scandals consequent upon them, were in full swing. In a number of the Weekly Journal this statement is made: "From an inspection into the several registers for marriages kept at the several alehouses, brandy-shops, &c, within the Rules of the Fleet Prison, we find no less than thirty-two couples
joined together from Monday to Thursday last without licences, contrary to an express Act of Parliament against clandestine marriages, that lays a severe fine of ^200 on the minister so offending, and ^100 each on the persons so married in contradiction to the said statute. Several of the above-named brandy-men and victuallers keep clergymen in their houses at 20s. per week, hit or miss; but it is reported that one there will stoop to no such low conditions, but makes at least ^500 per annum of Divinity jobs after that manner." A fair specimen of the kind of advertisement published by these gentlemen is this :—
GR.—At the True Chapel, at the old Red Hand and Mitre, three • doors up Fleet Lane, and next door to the White Swan, Marriages are performed by authority by the Rev. Mr. Symson, educated at the University of Cambridge, and late chaplain to the Earl of Rothes. N.B.—Without imposition.
A curious phase of the dangers of the streets is found in a narrative published in the Grub Street Journal of 1735, which is well worth reproducing: "Since midsummer last a young lady of birth and fortune was deluded and forced from her friends, and by the assistance of a wrynecked swearing parson, married to an atheistical wretch, whose life is a continued practice of all manner of vice and debauchery. And since the ruin of my relative, another lady of my acquaintance had like to have been trepanned in the following manner: This lady had appointed to meet a gentlewoman at the Old Playhouse in Drury Lane, but extraordinary business prevented her coming. Being alone when the play was done, she bade a boy call a coach for the city. One dressed like a gentleman helps her into it, and jumps in after her. 'Madam,' says he, 'this coach was called for me, and since the weather is so bad, and there is no other, I beg leave to bear you company; I am going into the City, and will set you down wherever you please.' The lady begged to be excused, but he bade the coachman drive on. Being come to Ludgate Hill, he told her his sister, who waited his coming but five doors up the court, would go with her in two minutes. He went, and returned with his pretended sister, who asked her to step in one minute, and she would wait upon her in the coach. The poor lady foolishly followed her into the house, when instantly the sister vanished, and a tawny fellow in a black coat and a black wig appeared. 'Madam, you are come in good time, the doctor was just agoing!' 'The doctor!' says she, terribly frighted, fearing it was a madhouse; 'what has the doctor to do with me?' 'To marry you to that gentleman. The doctor has waited for you these three hours, and will be paid by you or that gentleman before you go!' 'That gentleman,' says she, recovering herself, 'is worthy a better fortune than mine;' and begged hard to be gone. But Doctor Wryneck swore she should be married; or if she would not he would still have hi6 fee, and register the marriage for that night. The lady finding she could not escape without money or a pledge, told them she liked the gentleman so well she would certainly meet him to-morrow night, and gave them a ring as a pledge, 'which,' says she, 'was my mother's gift on her deathbed, enjoining that, if ever I married, it should be my wedding ring;' by which cunning contrivance she was delivered from the black doctor and his tawny crew." Pennant, in his "Some Account of London," says: "In walking along the street in my youth, on the side next the prison, I have often been tempted by the question, 'Sir, will you be pleased to walk in and be married?' Along this most lawless space was hung up the frequent sign of a male and female hand enjoined, with 'Marriages performed within' written beneath. A dirty fellow invited you in. The parson was seen walking before his shop; a squalid, profligate figure, clad in a tattered plaid nightgown, with a fiery face, and ready to couple you for a dram of gin or a roll of tobacco." Some
of the notes found in the registers purchased by Government in 1821, and deposited with the Registrar of the Consistory Court of London, are very amusing. Here are one or two extracts: "June 10, 1729. John Nelson, of ye parish of St George, Hanover, batchelor and gardener, and Mary Barnes, of ye same, sp. married. Cer. dated 5 November 1727, to please their parents." "1742, May 24.—A soldier brought a barber to the Cock, who I think said his name was James, barber by trade, was in part married to Elizabeth: they said they were married enough." "A coachman came, and was half married, and would give
but 3s. 6d., and went off." "Edward and Elizabeth
were married, and would not let me know their
names." A popular error was current at this time, that if a newly-married woman ran across the street with nothing on but her shift, she would free her husband from all liability as to her debts. More than once the following, or words akin to it, is found: "The woman ran across Ludgate Hill in her shift." Riotous persons often terrified these parsons, such memoranda as the following occurring now and again: "Had a noise for four hours about the money." "Married at a barber's shop one Kerrils, for half a guinea, after which it was extorted out of my pocket, and for fear of my life delivered." "Harrowson swore most bitterly, and was pleased to say that he was fully determined to kill the minister that married him. He came from Gravesend, and was sober." And so on through infinite variety. But to return to our advertisements.
Though advertisements were by no means scarce about this time, the imposition of the duty still told heavily with regard to the regular business community, for in regular trade few things were advertised with the exception of books and quack medicines, all other commercial matters being disposed of by means of agents who advertised in a general manner, of which the following, from the London Journal of February 7, 1730, is a fair specimen :—