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WEDDINGS. - Harriet Martineau, Retrospect of Western Travel, vol. 1 
Retrospect of Western Travel in Three Vols (London: Saunders and Otley, 1838). Vol. 1.
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I was present at four wedding in the United States, and at an offer of marriage.
The offer of marriage ought hardly to be so called however. It was a petition from a slave to be allowed to wed (as slave wed) the nursemaid of a lady in whose house I was staying. The young man could either write a little, or had employed somo one who could, to prepare his epistle for him. It ran from corner to corner of the paper, which was daubed with diluted water, like certain love-letters nearer home than Georgia. Here are the contents:—
“Miss Cunningham it is My wishes to companion in your Present and I hope you will Be peeze at it and I hope that you will not think Hard of Me I have Ben to the Doctor and he was very well satafide with Me and I hope you is and Miss Mahuw all so
“thats all I has to say now wiheshen you will grant Me that honor I will Be very glad.
The nursemaid was granted: and as it was a lovematch, and as the girl's mistress is one of the tender —the sore-hearted about having slaves, I hope the poor creatures are as happy as love in debasement can make them.
The first wedding I saw in Boston was very like the common run of weddings in England. It happend to be convenient that the parties should be married in church; and in the Unitarian church in which they usually worshiped we accordingly awaited them. I had no acquaintance with the family, but went on the invitation of the pastor who married them, The family connexion was large, and the church therefore about half full. The form of celebration is at the pleasure of the pastor; but by consent the administration by pastors of the same sect is very nearly alike. The promises of the married parties are made reciprocal, I observed. The service in this instance struck me as being very beautiful from its simplicity tenderness, and brevity. There was one variation from the usual method, in the offering of one of the prayers by a second pastor, who. Being the uncle of the bridegroom was invited to take a share in the service.
The young people were to set out for Europe in the afternoon, the bride being out of health,—the dreary drawback upon almost every extensive plan of action and fair promise of happiness in America. The lady has, I rejoice to hear, been quite restored by travel: but her sickness threw a gloom over the celebration, even in the minds of strangers. She and her husband walked up the middle aisle to the desk where the pastors sat They were attended by only one bird's-maid and groom's-man, and where all in plain travelling dresses. They said steadily and quietly what they had to say. and walked down the aisle again as they came. Nothing could be simpler and better: for this was not a marriage where festivity could have place. If there is any natural scope for joy, let weddings. by all means, he joyous; but here there was sickness. with the prospoet of a long family separation, and there was most truth in quietness.
The other wedding; I saw in Boston was as gray an one as is often seen. The parties were opulent, and in the first rank of society. They were married in the drawing-room of the bride's house, at half-past eight in the evening, by Dr. Channing. The moment the ceremony was over, crowds of company being to arrive: and the bride, young and delicate, and her maidens, were niched in a corner of one of the drawing-rooms to curtsey to all comers. They were so formally placed, so richly and (as it then seemed) formally dressed,—for the present revived antique style of dress was then quite new.— that, in the interval of their curtseys, they looked like an old picture brought from Windsor Castle. The bride's mother presided in the other drawing-room, and the bridegroom flitted about, universally attentive, and on the watch to introduce all visitors to his lady. The transition from the solemnity of Dr. Chauning's service to the noisy gaieties of a rout was not at all to my taste. I imagined that it was not to Dr. Chunning's either for his talk with me was on matters very little resembling anything that we had before our eyes: and be soon went away. The noise became such as to silence all who were not insered to the grabble of an American party,—the noisiest kind of assemblage, I imagine (not excepting a Jew's synagogue.) on the face of the gobe. I doubt wheather any Pagans in their worship can raise any hubbub to equal it. I constantly found in a large party, after trying in vain every kind of scream that I was capable of, that I must give up, and satisfy myself with nodding and shaking: my head. If I was rightly understood, well and good: if not, I must let it pass.—As the noise thickened and the heat grew more oppressive, I glanced towards the poor bride in her corner, still standing, still curtseying: her pale face growing paler; her nonchalant manner (perhaps the best she could assume) more indifferent. I was afraid that if all this went on much longer, she would faint or die upon the spot. It did not last much longer. By eleven, some of the company began to go away, and by a quarter before twelve all were gone but the comparatively small party (including ourselves) who were invited to stay to supper.
The chandelier and mantelpieces. I then saw, were dressed with flowers. There was a splendid supper; and before we departed, we were carried up to a large well-lighted apartment, where bride cake and the wedding presents were set out in bright array.
Five days afterwards we went, in common with all her acquaintance, to pay our respects to the bride. The court-yard of her mother's house was thronged with carriages, though no one seemed to stay five minutes. The bridegroom received us at the head of the stairs, and led us to his lady, who curtseyed as before. Cake, wine, and liqueurs were handed round, the visitors all standing. A few words on common subjects were exchanged, and we were gone, to make way for others.
A Quaker marriage which I witnessed at Philadelphia was scarcely less showy in its way. It took place at the Cherry Street church, belonging to the Hicksites. The reformed Quaker Church, consisting of the followers of Elias Hicks, bears about the same relation to the old Quakerism as the Church of England to that of Rome; and, it seems to me, the mutual dislike is as intense. I question wheather religious enmity ever attained a greater extreme than among the orthodox Friends of Philadelphia. The Hicksites are more moderate, but are sometimes naturally worried out of their patience, by the meddling, the denunciations, and the calumnies of the old Quaker societies. The new church is thinking of reforming and relaxing a good deal further; and in the celebration of marriage among other things. It is under consideration, (or was when I was there) whether the process of betrothment should not be simplified, and marriage in the father's house permitted to such as prefer it to the church. The wedding at which I was president was, however, performed with all the formalities.
A Quaker friend of mine, a frequent preacher, suggested, a few days previously, that a seat had better be reserved for me near the speakers, that I might have a chance of hearing, “in case there should be communications.” I had hopes from this that my friend would speak; and my wishes were not disappointed.
The spacious church was crowded; and for three or four hours the poor bride had to sit facing the assemblage,—aware, doubtless, that during the time of silence, the occupation of the strangers president, if not of the friends themselves, would be watching her and her party. She was pretty, and most beautifully dressed. I have seldom pitied anybody more than I did her, while she sat palpitating for three hours under the gaze of some hundreds of people; but, towards the end of the time of silence, my compassion was transferred to the bridegroom, For want of something to do, after suppressing many yawns, he looked up to the ceiling; and in the midst of an empty stare. I imagine he caught the eye of an acquaintance in the back seats, for he was instantly troubled with a most irrepressible and unseasonable inclination to laugh. He struggled manfully with his difficulty; but the smiles would come, broader and broader. If by dim of looking steadfastly into his hat for a few minutes, he attained a becoming gravity. it was gone the moment be raised his head. I was in a panic lest we should have a scandalous peal of merriment. if something was not given him to do or listen to. Happily “there were communications,” and the course of his ideas was changed.
Of the five speakers, one was an old gentleman whose discourse was an entire perplexity to me. For nearly an hour, he discoursed on Jacob's ladder: but in a style so rambling, and in a chant so singularly unmusical as to set attention and remembrance at defiance. Some parenthetical observations alone stood a chance of being retained, from their singularity; —one, for instance, which he introduced in the course of his narrative about Jacob setting a stone for a pillow;—“a very different,” cried the preacher, raising his chant to the highest pitch.— “a very different pillow, by the way, from any that we—are—accommodated—with,” —What a contrast was the brief discourse of my Quaker friend which followed! Her noble countenance was radiant as the morning, her soft voice, thought low, so firm that she was heard to the furthest corner, and her little sermon as philosophical as it was devout, “Send forth thy light and thy truth,” was her text. She spoke gratefully of intellectual light as a guide to spiritual truth, and anticipated and prayed for an ultimate universal diffusion of both.—The certificate of the marriage was read by Dr. Parrish, an elderly physician of Philadelphia, the very realization of all my imaginings of the personal appearance of William Penn; with all the dignity and bonhommic that one fancies Penn invested with in his dealings with the Indians. Dr. Parrish speaks with affection of the Indians, from the experience some ancestors of his had of the hospitability of these poor people, when they were in a condition to show hospitability. His grandfather's family were shipwrecked; and the grandfather's family were shipwrecked; and the Indians took the poor lady and her children home to an inhabited cave, and fed them for many weeks or months. The tree stump round which they used to sit at meals is still standing; and Dr. Parrish says that, let it stand as long as it will, the love of his family to the Indians shall outlast it.
The matrimonial promise was distinetly and well spoken by both the parties. At the request of the bride and bridegroom, Dr. Parrish asked me to put the first signature, after their own, to the certificate of the marriage; and we adjourned for the purpose to an apartment connected with the church. Most ample sheets of parchment were provided for the signatures, and there was a prodigions array of names before we left, when a crowd was still waiting to testify. This multitudinous witnessing is the pleasantest part of being married by acclamation. If weddings are not to be private, there seems no question of the Boston marriage I witnessed, where there was all the publicity, without the co-operation and sanction.
The last wedding which I have to give an account if is full of a melancholy interest to me now. All was so jovons. so simple. so right, that there seemed no suggestion to evil-boding. No excuse for anticipating such woe as has followed.— On one of the latter days of July. 1835. I reached the village of Stockbridge,—the Sedgwick's village,—for the second time, intending to stay four or five days with my friends there. I had heard of an approaching wedding in the family connexion, and was glad that I had planned to leave. so as to be out of the way at a time when I supposed the presence of foreigners, thought friends, might be easily dispensed with. But when Miss Sedgwick and I were sitting in her room, one bright morning, there was a tap at the door. It was the pretty black-eyed girl who was to be married the next week. She stood only a minute on the threshold to say, with grave simplicity, “I am come to ask you to join our friends at my father's house, next Tuesday evening.” Being thus invited. I joyfully assented, and put off my journey.
The numerous children of the family connexion were in wild spirits all that Tuesday. In the morning, we went a strong party to the lee Hole,—a defile between two hills, so perplexed and encumbered with rocks that none but practiced climbers need attempt the passage. It was a good way for the young people to work off their exuberant spirits. Their laughter was heard from amidst the nooks and hiding-places of the labyrinth, and smiling faces might, be seen behind every shrubby screen which sprang up from the crevices. How we tried to surpass each other in the ferns and mosses we gathered, rich in size and variety! What skipping and scrambling there was; what trunk bridges, and ladders of roots! How valiant the ladies looked with their stout sticks! How glad every one was to feast upon the wild raspberries when we struggled through the close define into the cool, green, breezy meadow on the banks of the Housatonic!—During the afternoon, we were very quiet, reading one of Carlyle's reviews aloud (for the twentieth time, I believe, to some of the party), and discussing it and other things. By eight o'clock, we were all dressed for the wedding, and some of the children ran over the green before us, but came back, saying that all was not quite ready: so we got one of the girls to sing to us for another half hour.
The house of the bride's father was well lighted, and dressed with flowers. She had no mother: but her elder sisters aided their father in bidding: us welcome. The drawing-room was quite full; and while the grown-up friends found it difficult to talk, and to repress the indefinable anxiety and agitation which always attend a wedding, the younger members of the party were amusing themselves with whispered mirth. The domestics looked as if the most joyous event of their lives were taking place, and the old father seemed placid and satisfied.
In a few minutes, we were summoned to another room, at the top of which stood the tall bridegroom, with his pretty little lady on his arm: on either side, the three gentlemen and three ladies who attended them; and in front the episcopalian minister who was to marry them, and who has since been united to one of the sisters. It was the first time of his performing the ceremony; and his manner was solemn and somewhat anxious, as might be expected.
The bridegroom was a professor in a college in the neighbouring State of New York; a young man of high acquirements and character, to whom the old father might well be proud to give his daughter. His manners were remarkably pleasing, and there was a joyous, dignified serenity visible in them this evening which at once favourably prepossessed us, who did not previously know him. He was attended by a brother professor from the same college.—When the service was over, we all kissed the grave and quiet bride. I trust that no bodings of the woes which awaited her cast a shadow over her spirits then. I think, though grave, she was not sad. She spoke with all her father's guests in the course of the evening, as did her husband. How often have I of late tried to recal precisely what they said to me, and every look with which they said it!
We went back to the drawing room for cake and wine: and then ensued the search for the ring in the great wedding cake, with much merriment among those who were alive to all the fun of a festivity like this, and to none of the care. There was much moving about between the rooms, and dressing with flowers in the hall; and lively conversation,—as it must needs be where there are Sedgwicks. Then champagne and drinking of healths went round, the guests poured out upon the green, all the ladies with handkerchiefs tied over their heads. There we bade good night, and parted off to our several homes.
When I left the village, the next morning, two or three carriages full of young people were setting off, as attendants upon the bride and bridegroom, to Lebanon. After a few such short excursions in the neighbourhood, the young couple went home to begin their quiet college and domestic life.
Before a year had elapsed,—a year which to me seemed gone like a month,—I was at Stockbridge again, and found the young wife's family in great trouble. She was in a raging fever, consequent on her confinement, and great fears were entertained for her life. Her infant seemed to have but a small chance, under the circumstances; and there was a passing mention of her husband being ill. Everyone spoke of him with a respect and affection which showed how worthy he was of this young creature's love; and it was our feeling for him which made our prayers for her restoration so earnest as they were. The last I heard of her before I left the country was that she was slowly and doubtfully recovering, but had not yet been removed from her father's house.—The next intelligence that I received, after my return to England, was of her husband's death:—that he had died in a calm and satisfied state of mind; satisfied that if their reasonable hopes of domestic joy and usefulness had not been fulfilled, it was for wise and kind reasons; and that the strong hand which thus early divided them would uphold the gentle survivor. No one who witnessed and blessed their union can help beseeching and trusting, since all other hope is over, that it may be even thus.