Clarissa Harlowe LETTER IX


Durst ever see a license, Jack?

‘Edmund, by divine permission, Lord Bishop of London, to our well-beloved in Christ, Robert Lovelace, [your servant, my good Lord! What have I done to merit so much goodness, who never saw your Lordship in my life?] of the parish of St. Martin’s in the Fields, bachelor, and Clarissa Harlowe, of the same parish, spinster, sendeth greeting.—WHEREAS ye are, as is alleged, determined to enter into the holy state of Matrimony [this is only alleged, thou observest] by and with the consent of, &c. &c. &c. and are very desirous of obtaining your marriage to be solemnized in the face of the church: We are willing that your honest desires [honest desires, Jack!] may more speedily have their due effect: and therefore, that ye may be able to procure such Marriage to be freely and lawfully solemnized in the parish church of St. Martin’s in the Fields, or St. Giles’s in the Fields, in the county of Middlesex, by the Rector, Vicar, or Curate thereof, at any time of the year, [at ANY time of the year, Jack!] without publication of bans: Provided, that by reason of any pre-contract, [I verily think that I have had three or four pre-contracts in my time; but the good girls have not claimed upon them of a long while,] consanguinity, affinity, or any other lawful cause whatsoever, there be no lawful impediment on this behalf; and that there be not at this time any action, suit, plaint, quarrel, or demand, moved or depending before any judge ecclesiastical or temporal, for or concerning any marriage contracted by or with either of you; and that the said marriage be openly solemnized in the church above-mentioned, between the hours of eight and twelve in the forenoon; and without prejudice to the minister of the place where the said woman is a parishioner: We do hereby, for good causes, [it cost me—let me see, Jack—what did it cost me?] give and grant our License, as well to you as to the parties contracting, as to the Rector, Vicar, or Curate of the said church, where the said marriage is intended to be solemnized, to solemnize the same, in manner and form above specified, according to the rites and ceremonies prescribed in the Book of Common Prayer in that behalf published by authority of Parliament. Provided always, that if hereafter any fraud shall appear to have been committed, at the time of granting this License, either by false suggestions, or concealment of the truth, [now this, Belford, is a little hard upon us; for I cannot say that every one of our suggestions is literally true:—so, in good conscience, I ought not to marry under this License;] the License shall be void to all intents and purposes, as if the same had not been granted. And in that case we do inhibit all ministers whatsoever, if any thing of the premises shall come to their knowledge, from proceeding to the celebration of the said Marriage; without first consulting Us, or our Vicar-general. Given,’ &c.

Then follow the register’s name, and a large pendent seal, with these words round it—SEAL OF THE VICAR-GENERAL AND OFFICIAL PRINCIPAL OF THE DIOCESE OF LONDON.

A good whimsical instrument, take it altogether! But what, thinkest thou, are the arms to this matrimonial harbinger?—Why, in the first place, two crossed swords; to show that marriage is a state of offence as well as defence; three lions; to denote that those who enter into the state ought to have a triple proportion of courage. And [couldst thou have imagined that these priestly fellows, in so solemn a case, would cut their jokes upon poor souls who came to have their honest desires put in a way to be gratified;] there are three crooked horns, smartly top-knotted with ribands; which being the ladies’ wear, seem to indicate that they may very probably adorn, as well as bestow, the bull’s feather.

To describe it according to heraldry art, if I am not mistaken—gules, two swords, saltire-wise, or; second coat, a chevron sable between three bugle-horns, OR [so it ought to be]: on a chief of the second, three lions rampant of the first—but the devil take them for their hieroglyphics, should I say, if I were determined in good earnest to marry!

And determined to marry I would be, were it not for this consideration, that once married, and I am married for life.

That’s the plague of it!—Could a man do as the birds do, change every Valentine’s day, [a natural appointment! for birds have not the sense, forsooth, to fetter themselves, as we wiseacre men take great and solemn pains to do,] there would be nothing at all in it. And what a glorious time would the lawyers have, on the one hand, with their noverini universi’s, and suits commenceable on restitution of goods and chattels; and the parsons, on the other, with their indulgencies [renewable annually, as other licenses] to the honest desires of their clients?

Then, were a stated mullet, according to rank or fortune, to be paid on every change, towards the exigencies of the state [but none on renewals with the old lives, for the sake of encouraging constancy, especially among the minores] the change would be made sufficiently difficult, and the whole public would be the better for it; while those children, which the parents could not agree about maintaining, might be considered as the children of the public, and provided for like the children of the antient Spartans; who were (as ours would in this case be) a nation of heroes. How, Jack, could I have improved upon Lycurgus’s institutions had I been a lawgiver!

Did I never show thee a scheme which I drew up on such a notion as this?—In which I demonstrated the conveniencies, and obviated the inconveniencies, of changing the present mode to this? I believe I never did.

I remember I proved to a demonstration, that such a change would be a mean of annihilating, absolutely annihilating, four or five very atrocious and capital sins.—Rapes, vulgarly so called; adultery, and fornication; nor would polygamy be panted after. Frequently would it prevent murders and duelling; hardly any such thing as jealousy (the cause of shocking violences) would be heard of: and hypocrisy between man and wife be banished the bosoms of each. Nor, probably, would the reproach of barrenness rest, as it now too often does, where it is least deserved.—Nor would there possibly be such a person as a barren woman.

Moreover, what a multitude of domestic quarrels would be avoided, where such a scheme carried into execution? Since both sexes would bear with each other, in the view that they could help themselves in a few months.

And then what a charming subject for conversation would be the gallant and generous last partings between man and wife! Each, perhaps, a new mate in eye, and rejoicing secretly in the manumission, could afford to be complaisantly sorrowful in appearance. ‘He presented her with this jewel, it will be said by the reporter, for example sake: she him with that. How he wept! How she sobb’d! How they looked after one another!’ Yet, that’s the jest of it, neither of them wishing to stand another twelvemonth’s trial.

And if giddy fellows, or giddy girls, misbehave in a first marriage, whether from noviceship, having expected to find more in the matter than can be found; or from perverseness on her part, or positiveness on his, each being mistaken in the other [a mighty difference, Jack, in the same person, an inmate or a visiter]; what a fine opportunity will each have, by this scheme, of recovering a lost character, and of setting all right in the next adventure?

And, O Jack! with what joy, with what rapture, would the changelings (or changeables, if thou like that word better) number the weeks, the days, the hours, as the annual obligation approached to its desirable period!

As for the spleen or vapours, no such malady would be known or heard of. The physical tribe would, indeed, be the sufferers, and the only sufferers; since fresh health and fresh spirits, the consequences of sweet blood and sweet humours (the mind and body continually pleased with each other) would perpetually flow in; and the joys of expectation, the highest of all our joys, would invigorate and keep all alive.

But, that no body of men might suffer, the physicians, I thought, might turn parsons, as there would be a great demand for parsons. Besides, as they would be partakers in the general benefit, they must be sorry fellows indeed if they preferred themselves to the public.

Every one would be married a dozen times at least. Both men and women would be careful of their characters and polite in their behaviour, as well as delicate in their persons, and elegant in their dress, [a great matter each of these, let me tell thee, to keep passion alive,] either to induce a renewal with the old love, or to recommend themselves to a new. While the newspapers would be crowded with paragraphs; all the world their readers, as all the world would be concerned to see who and who’s together—

‘Yesterday, for instance, entered into the holy state of matrimony,’ [we should all speak reverently of matrimony, then,] ‘the right Honourable Robert Earl Lovelace’ [I shall be an earl by that time,] ‘with her Grace the Duchess Dowager of Fifty-manors; his Lordship’s one-and-thirtieth wife.’—I shall then be contented, perhaps, to take up, as it is called, with a widow. But she must not have had more than one husband neither. Thou knowest that I am nice in these particulars.

I know, Jack, that thou for thy part, wilt approve of my scheme.

As Lord M. and I, between us, have three or four boroughs at command, I think I will get into parliament, in order to bring in a bill for this good purpose.

Neither will the house of parliament, nor the houses of convocation, have reason to object it. And all the courts, whether spiritual or sensual, civil or uncivil, will find their account in it when passed into a law.

By my soul, Jack, I should be apprehensive of a general insurrection, and that incited by the women, were such a bill to be thrown out.—For here is the excellency of the scheme: the women will have equal reason with the men to be pleased with it.

Dost think, that old prerogative Harlowe, for example, must not, if such a law were in being, have pulled in his horns?—So excellent a wife as he has, would never else have renewed with such a gloomy tyrant: who, as well as all other married tyrants, must have been upon good behaviour from year to year.

A termagant wife, if such a law were to pass, would be a phoenix.

The churches would be the only market-place for the fair sex; and domestic excellence the capital recommendation.

Nor would there be an old maid in Great Britain, and all its territories. For what an odd soul must she be who could not have her twelvemonth’s trial?

In short, a total alteration for the better, in the morals and way of life in both sexes, must, in a very few years, be the consequence of such a salutary law.

Who would have expected such a one from me! I wish the devil owe me not a spite for it.

Then would not the distinction be very pretty, Jack? as in flowers;—such a gentleman, or such a lady, is an ANNUAL—such a one is a PERENNIAL.

One difficulty, however, as I remember, occurred to me, upon the probability that a wife might be enceinte, as the lawyers call it. But thus I obviated it—

That no man should be allowed to marry another woman without his then wife’s consent, till she were brought-to-bed, and he had defrayed all incident charges; and till it was agreed upon between them whether the child should be his, her’s, or the public’s. The women in this case to have what I call the coercive option; for I would not have it in the man’s power to be a dog neither.

And, indeed, I gave the turn of the scale in every part of my scheme in the women’s favour: for dearly do I love the sweet rogues.

How infinitely more preferable this my scheme to the polygamy one of the old patriarchs; who had wives and concubines without number!—I believe David and Solomon had their hundreds at a time. Had they not, Jack?

Let me add, that annual parliaments, and annual marriages, are the projects next my heart. How could I expatiate upon the benefits that would arise from both!