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CHAPTER XXX.

MARRIAGE, WEDDINGS, AND MERRYMAKING.

OF the system pursued by the Saxon peasantry in the marriage of their children, I was enabled to judge during a stay in one of their more considerable villages. One evening, on going into the room where the family were assembled, I found the daughter, a girl of fourteen years and a half, crying bitterly. On inquiry, the father related that she that day had had an offer of marriage, and refused to accept it. He was in a great fury, and told the girl that, if in two days she did not change her mind, he would give her a sound thrashing. " He had never," he said, " given her a box on the car even, but she should now have plenty if she proved obstinate." The man's conduct roused my indignation, and I immediately began, as a meddling Englishman would be sure to do, to take him to task for his tyranny and his threats.

The wooer, he replied, was the very best match in the village,-a young fellow, active and good-looking. Who could know if Margaret would ever get such an offer again? The like did not come often, and when they did one ought to profit of them ; therefore he was determined she should make no further difficulty about the matter.

But he forgot to mention a fact or two which I knew, and which, even setting aside his daughter's repugnance, put the matter in a very different light. The suitor had been separated from his first wife six weeks after their marriage, and as the young creature, whom I happened to know,-she was only a little more than sixteen,-was as mild and meek and gentle as she was pretty, the divorce was a fact not very much in his favour. He had already asked for the hand of another peasant's daughter, and everything was settled, when, some offence having been given or taken, the match was broken off. He straightway went from the house of his betrothed, which was only a few doors off, to that of my landlord, and without any more ado asked for little Margaret. As she was to supply the place of his discarded "bride," as the future wife is called, the wedding must have been celebrated in a fortnight with the rest.*30_1 He had known nothing of the girl previously, nor she of him; but among the Saxons this is of no importance.

30_1* The weddings taking place all together.

This, then,-the sudden appearance of a suitor in the house,- was what had caused such commotion. The father was raging, the mother passive and conciliatory, the daughter, in a corner, on a bench by the great stove, sobbing bitterly. After a joust with the father, in which I took good care not to spare him, I had a chat with Margaret. The poor child told me she did not want to marry,--not yet at least. "I am just out of school," she said, "und ich möchte bei der Jugend bleiben (and I would rather stay with my young companions). Later perhaps I might say yes, but now I can't." But the old man would hear of no delay. " Either she takes him now, and marries him in a fortnight, or the affair is over at once; I will have no betrothals and puttings off. Who knows, if she accepts him and delays the wedding, that she meanwhile may not see a youth that pleases her better? and then jealousy will arise, and the match will be broken off, and my daughter is no further than she was before."

There was so much to be said, which even the most ordinary common sense would dictate, against the offer of this suitor, that I resolved to talk with the father the following day, when he would be cooler. He had ready answers for all my arguments about the youth of Margaret, her utter inexperience, and the probability that one so changeful as the youth in question had shown himself to be would also soon get tired of his daughter, and then she would be again in her father's house as a divorced wife. Indeed it was surprising how the man talked, how volubly, and, from his point of view, how well; but all the Saxon peasants have this facility.

Knowing that my landlord's married life was a very happy one, I did my best to make him comprehend that peace and content in a household were better than granaries and land, and inquired as to his choice of a companion. Here I found just the facts needed in support of my argument : his wife was poor, but he had lived with her most happily, and, lame and ugly as she was, he would not change her for any one he had ever seen. She was his own choice, "for he saw at once that she would suit him," and married her against the advice, of his relations. I had but to turn his own arguments against himself; yet notwithstanding, though for a moment he somewhat relented, he would not change his resolve about the contemplated marriage.

The next day I was leaving the house, when he met me on the threshold. He stopped me, and said, " Herr, ich danke Ihnen für Ihre Belehrungen" (I thank you for having set me right). -" Well, and do you still intend to force Margaret to marry the man she does not like ?" "No," he replied, cheerfully; "if Margaret says `no,' I won't force her. She can do just as she chooses now."

I afterwards saw him in his farmyard at work, in a good humour and cheerful, and as if a weight were off his mind. On Margaret's round childish face one smile had been chasing the other, ever since these words were uttered; she was pleased, as if she had just got a holiday. She can now " remain with the Jugend," for she is as much a child as any in the village.

This is an average specimen of Saxon wife-choosing and betrothal among the peasantry. The father himself told me first, in answer to my arguments, that the marriage would hardly prove a happy one, and that he would in such case soon have a separation. A wife or a husband is a thing which, should circumstances incline that way, may for convenience' sake be put aside or changed at pleasure.

It often astonished me to find those persons with whom I spoke about the frequency of divorce treat the subject as one of far less importance than assuredly it really is. Divorce is a thing of such everyday occurrence, is decided on so lightly and allowed so easily, that it has become a marked feature-- indeed, a component part of-Saxon rural life. A separation of husband and wife after three, four, or six weeks' marriage is nothing rare or strange; and the woman divorced will frequently want six or eight months of being sixteen. It is just this very circumstance-the youth of the wife, and that she accepted her husband either from being forced to do so, or without any previous acquaintance-which is the cause of so many unsatisfactory unions. Among a portion of the Saxons, marriage may almost be said to be a merely temporary agreement between two contracting parties: very frequently neither expect it to last long, and may have resolved that it shall not. In the village near the Kochel sixteen marriages took place in one year; at the end of twelve months only six of the contracting parties were still living together. In the place where I write this, there are at this moment eleven bridal pairs intending to celebrate their wedding a fortnight hence. Of these eleven, the schoolmaster observed there would probably not be many living together by this time next year. The clergyman, too, was of opinion that before long many would come to him with grounds for a separation. Of these eleven, one is the divorced wife of the man who came to ask for Margaret's hand. She is just sixteen, with large blue eyes of a most sweet expression. She, pretty and young as she is, the daughter, too, of one of the foremost men in the village, will marry a poor man, and one in whose personal appearance there is nothing to recommend him ; he Will cut a very sorry figure at the wedding beside his tall, bright-eyed bride. But her father is afraid that if she lets this offer slip no other may follow, and his daughter will then, as they say, sitzen bleiben,- being a sort of matrimonial old maid. For here seventeen and sweet eighteen are already considered to be on the verge of that terrible old-maidendom, escape from which at any price is hardly ever held too dear.

Another, my next neighbour, is just fifteen,-a wicked sprite and ripe for fun or any roguery, even to cheating her husband before, as well as after the wedding. He is a diminutive, stupid-faced fellow, and looked on quite tranquilly the other evening at a dance, while another fondly kissed her as they were all talking together.

A little further are two sisters ; one seventeen, the other fifteen : one pretty, and the other plain. I have not seen their future husbands ; but I dare say their chances of happiness are on a par with the rest. At the end of the village is the beauty of the lot : her future husband has no house of his own yet, and small as the one room is where the father, mother, grandmother, and two maiden aunts dwell, the young couple will still take up their quarters in the same narrow chamber. The bridal bed touches that of the old couple, the two forming an angle in the corner of the room. Such trifles as these, however, in nowise disconcert the people here.*30_2

30_2* In the dwellings of other peasantry, and where we should hardly expect them, such arrangements are also found. "They had," so relates Hugh Miller in his autobiography, " but a single apartment in their humble dwelling ; and I could fain have wished they had two. My bed was situated in the one end of the room, and my landlady's and her husband's in the other, with the passage which we entered between them ; but decent old Peggy Russel had been accustomed to such arrangements all her life long, and seemed never once to think of the matter; and-as she had reached that period of life at which women of the humbler class assume the characteristics of the other sex, somewhat, I suppose, on the principle on which very ancient female birds put on male plumage,-I, in a short time, ceased to think of it also."

The betrothals took place in the different families some days ago ; and with the beginning of next week all will again be busy in baking bread and cakes, and preparing the roast meats for the wedding. For, as we know, they are all to be celebrated on the same day.

Since writing the above, I have learned some facts which show even still more clearly than what has already been said, how the peasant, in marrying his daughter, thinks of, and cares for, ngthing but the acres and the house and chattels which the suitor brings with him. The mother of the bonnie young wife with the large mild eyes, blue as ether, told me she was married when 14 1/2 years of age, and that she and the child's father had forced her to marry in spite of all her opposition. Scarcely was she married, when her husband cast his eyes on another young wife, and hoping that she might get divorced, already calculated on taking her as his second spouse; he was not successful, however, and his own wife, after five weeks of matrimony, obtained a separation from him on the plea of infidelity. Now all this must have been known to my landlord when young Lovelace came to ask for his child, for in a village every family occurrence is known to the rest ; and yet, notwithstanding, he was determined that Margaretha should marry him against her will.*30_3

There is great outward decorum among the female Saxon peasantry : they are neat in their dress, and there is quietness in their manner; but, in some parts at least, the strictness is more apparent than real.

The quartering of cavalry soldiers in the houses of the Saxon peasantry is not without a baneful influence.-j-30_4 This the clergymen acknowledge also.$30_5 But on many points they are themselves in the dark, for it is natural that to them the best side only is shown. On speaking to one of the opinion I had formed from matters which had come under my own personal observation, he was greatly surprised, and was not, he said, aware of what I told him ; this, however, be it observed, was not in his own, but in a far distant parish. A very great deal depends on the influence of the clergyman,-on his activity, on his mental qualifications, and his capacity for making himself beloved by his parishioners, and gaining their thorough confidence. He can accomplish much if he set about his work in the right way; for his power over his "children" (Pfarrkvnder), to take the literal German word, is almost unbounded; and they look up to him with a trust, and respect for his office and authority, which will hardly be found elsewhere. At , where I was, not one girl or married woman could be induced to take part in a dance, to which many persons from the neighbouring village had come, because, they said, their pastor had forbidden it ; some few came to look on, but as to sharing in it, that was out of the question. Their obedience was put to a hard test, for dancing is, for them, a great enjoyment. In two villages close together, I have been told there was considerable difference between the propriety of behaviour of the women in each case; the qualifications of the clergyman manifested their several effects. Constant supervision and active participation in all that concerns the mental and moral progress of his parishioners must necessarily have visible results. When this is less the case, the want of it will also be perceptible.

30_3The suitor after all returned to his betrothed, whom he left when lie came to ask for Margaret.

30_4-j-t The Wallack villages are exempt from this burden, as there is no place for the horses ; for the stall, where the ox or calf is kept, would not do for the cavalry soldier. The convenience for the man himself is also too imperfect ; moreover, the peasant and his wife are out great part of the day, so that there is no one to do the cooking, which the soldier has the right to require. The quartering, therefore, falls the heavier on the Saxons.

30_5$It is but justice to add, that in this oven there are exceptions, and that some villages keep free from blame, in spite of the constant quartering of the soldiery. But the general influence cannot be otherwise than bad.

According to the law of the land, no girl may marry before her sixteenth birthday ; that is to say, she must be fully fifteen years old ; but this is constantly evaded under one pretext or other. Indeed, to use the expression of the country, "the shoes of childhood are hardly worn out," before the young thing enters on the duties of a wife.*30_6

30_6* A Saxon author, describing the wedding ceremonies of his nations, mentions the saying " of a practical old Saxon," which was to this effect :"Among the peasantry, it is not the youth who marries the maiden, but acre marries acre, one vineyard the other vineyard, and a herd of oxen the other herd." They are more aristocratic in their " manners " than they are aware of.

This and the compulsion used are strangely at variance with all the pious speeches and forms of speech which accompany everything relating to the wooing, betrothal, marriage, and departure from the parental roof. All this is beautifully patriarchal : the usages, the words uttered, seem to transport you to the time and the society of the Pilgrim Fathers ; only you must not look behind the scenes, or know anything of what preceded the arrangement.

It is usual for the friends of the youth to go to the girl's parents, and in his name to ask for her hand; this generally takes place of an evening. In some places, the father receives the ambassador in the corner of the room, seated behind the large table. The wooer never prefers his request himself; it was an old German custom that this, as is still the case among personages of highest rank, should be done by deputy. Then followed the " Handschlag" (the hand was given in pledge), and the matter was so far settled. But though I have got over it so quickly, it took much longer in reality ; set speeches, according to prescribed form, were repeated by both parties, with circumlocution, repetitions, and as many involved sentences as in our own legal documents.

A few days after, came the "Brautvertrinken," a feast in honour of the betrothal. Till this moment it might have been possible to break off the match; but after such ceremony, and the exchange of rings at the parsonage, it could not well be done. I saw them come into the clergyman's room one evening, each party with a large nosegay, near two feet high, of artificial flowers, and covered with gold-leaf and tinsel. A short exhortation was made, a question or two was asked, and the matter was settled.

At one village, it is customary for the father of the youth, when all the guests are assembled at the feast, to make a speech, addressed to the father of the maiden, to beg that he may henceforth be considered as father of the two; then the other father does the same. Afterwards, the betrothed party follows, and each asks to be looked on as a loving and affectionate child, by the future parents-in law. At last come the other relations ; so that of speeches there is no end. Indeed, in this matter the Saxon peasant is an adept.

But as the wedding-day approaches, there is plenty to do. Any season for the ceremony is acceptable that does not interfere too much with household work or farm labour, except that between Easter and Whitsuntide. This is an evil time, according to popular belief, and old proverbs confirm the superstition. People do not even like to change lodging, or have a new clergyman, or do anything of importance in this interval. The house will be burned down, they say ; and the new pastor will bring no blessing at such a season. As to weekdays, Wednesday is the favourite.

The neighbours send presents of eggs, butter, fowls, flour, etc., to the house where the wedding-feast is to be held. There is abundance; but there had need be, for many are the sharers in the hospitality, and long and incessant are the demands made. On Friday and Saturday the women all come to help to prepare ; the meal is sifted for certain cakes, bread is made, and all is got ready for the great day of cooking now near at hand. Sunday, other smaller matters are attended to, and the invitations are also issued in form. Dressed in their best, two youths, each with a white wand in his hand, and at the top of it a posy bound with a red ribbon, the ends of which flutter in the wind, go about from house to house to ask the guests to be present. The speech made on this occasion is also in a prescribed form. Each youth has in his hat a large nosegay of artificial flowers, glittering in gold-leaf. Some near relations are invited three times, as a mark of respect; others, again, are only invited for form's sake (Ehren halber), and these do not appear, but send a contribution to the dinner. In reality, however, every one comes, whether invited or not : the whole village keeps holiday. In all parts the music is heard, and come who may, he is welcome.

Monday, the bread is baked,-no small piece of work for so many mouths. At two in the morning, the women who stayed over-night in the house of the "bride," go through the village with a clatter of shovels, tongs, etc., to wake and call together the friends who are to assist. Should any not come, she is fetched bound in chains on a sledge.

Tuesday is devoted to cake making and baking, plucking the fowls, fetching the wine, etc. The youths, too, are busy bringing water for the kitchen, wood for the fires and the oven. All this time, jokes are being carried on, old observances carefully attended to, mutual presents made with ceremony and form, certain dishes prepared, distributed and eaten, songs sung, and all sorts of mummery enacted. Posies are bound up by the girls, who all meet together for the purpose, to give to the youths invited to the wedding. This is on the eve of the marriage. On this evening too, it is sometimes customary for the girl to take leave of her young friends, embracing then all, while they in chorus sing a certain song.

The grand day has come at last, and the whole village is agog. Betimes the bridegroom sends his betrothed a present- the " Morgengabe." Sometimes this consists of a pair of pretty shoes to go to the wedding in, or a kerchief and apples, in which pieces of silver money are stuck.*30_7 She, in return, sends by some male relation her own handiwork. When entering their cottage, I had often seen the girls busy at work hemming and embroidering, and on asking what they were making, was told it was the shirt their lover was to put on at the wedding. The whole of the bosom was cunningly embroidered; ears of corn, and flowers, especially the carnation and the rose, were spread over it in profusion ; and the ruffles were also embroidered, and had a sort of lacework. This garment the bride invariably makes for her future husband. It is kept the whole life long ; and the same garment that the youth wore at the first marriage-festival, is again put on when death comes to summon the old grey-headed man to be wedded to eternity.

30_7*The sumptuary laws of Hamburg, 1291, decided that the present of the bridegroom should be a pair of shoes. To present a shoe to the bride was a symbol of her reception among the parentage of her betrothed. According to Grimm, as soon as the bride had put the shoe on her foot, she was considered as having subjected herself to her husband.

But we must be stirring, and, with the young bridegroom, go and fetch the bride. His friends have assembled at his house and eaten of certain dishes which at such meal dare not be wanting. Bravo ! how merrily the gipsies are playing, as they march in front of the procession ! How the shrill tones fill all the clear frosty air ! In front dances the leader of the bridegroom's friends, and surrounded by the rest, marches the principal person, decorated with his huge posy with fluttering ribbons and bright gold. I had seen this same nosegay for two Sundays previous to the wedding, placed upright in a socket before the youth, as he sat in church. As there were several going to be married, a row of a dozen or more of such gay nosegays shone in all their gaudy glory round the gallery.

And now the house of the bride is reached. Sometimes the door is found locked, and the bridegroom must climb over into the court, and, opening it from within, admit his companions.*30_8 The young girl is then demanded of her parents, and, accompanied by her two bridesmen, she joins the procession, and away they march to church.t-j-30_9 The gipsies strike up their merry notes, and now from this side, now from that, you hear music, or see gay groups, all tending in one direction; a youth and maiden the central point of each, and around them, gay and bright and many-coloured, lads and lasses, in new jackets, snowy petticoats,and embroidered muslin aprons, flowing ribbons, and other holiday finery.$30_10 And at the doors stand groups to see them pass; and at the windows too, heads are looking out, and words of felicitation are interchanged, and good wishes and kindly greetings.

At the church-door, the music suddenly ceases. All take their places : the young brides side by side, and on the opposite benches their future husbands. Afterwards each comes to fetch his own, and they go together to the altar. The ceremony is soon over, and is not impressive the ten or twelve couple stand up together, and are united at once. Each, however, is of course asked the necessary questions separately, and receives separately the blessing.

30_8Occasionally, too, the youth has to hunt for his wife, and get her as lie best can, despite flight and opposition. Vämbery relates that a similar custom exists among the Turkomans.

30_9-j-t It is now, before quitting her home, that she takes leave of her parents, brothers, and sisters, and other relatives, thanking them each one separately, for the love they have shown her, for her education, and for bringing her up in a Christian and godly manner, asking for a continuance of their love, and soliciting their pardon for faults she has committed.

30_10$ Only a girl who is betrothed wears the gold-lace border round the top of her drum-shaped head-gear, as shown in the woodcut at page 52.

Now all stream out of church. The black-eyed gipsies again make the very air resound with their music, and and each party returns home. There everything is ready: around the largest rooms tables have been spread; the women are busy in the kitchen, and in the cellar are appointed persons to draw the wine and send it up as soon as a can is empty. The clergyman is fetched by a deputation, and led to the seat of honour. But in some places, before going to dinner, a large table is placed in the court or room, and at the head of it stand the young married couple with their attendant youths and maidens. Then the father approaches, and brings as gift a ploughshare, or, if rich, a foal, a calf, silver spoons, or a yoke of oxen. The mother follows with her tears and store of linen, and then come the friends and relations, each laying down his present. The bride kisses each giver, and thanks him for so much kindness.

The dishes are all prescribed ; and it would be as impossible to have a wedding-feast without a certain soup, pudding, or cake, as to hold a marriage without a bride. Each guest brings with him spoon and knife and fork, for how else would it be possible to provide for so many ? An exception is made in favour of the pastor, or of any guest who, like myself, was specially invited. All sit according to age, to which the Saxon pays always great respect. Should even two women drive together to a fair, the elder one would assuredly have the right-hand side conceded her. At the dinner it is the same. But as in church, the sexes are divided; here all the men, yonder all the women-folk.

How crammed full it is, and at the door you see heads and shoulders still pressing forward to look on. Up on a bench, and squeezing themselves in behind the stove, in order to save room, the gipsies are standing, dark as Hindoos, in appearance wild as their music, and adding to the din of voices by a thrilling Czardas. That is not to be resisted. Hardly has the first dish of rice-soup and fowl been done with,*30_11 than the benches are pushed back, and a few couples, who can withstand the enthralling tones no longer, begin to dance. And so it goes on for hours ; now a fresh course, now a fresh dance, and of both there seems to be no end. But this is only an intermezzo. The real dance begins in the evening, when every relation dances with the bride, and then lays a piece of money in a plate on the table; this belongs sometimes to the musicians, sometimes to the young wife.t-j-30_12 She, however, gets another present, which is all her own. When at dinner, the roast meat is set on the table, she sends round to her guests a piece of fowl on a fork, with a cake, decorated, perhaps, with a flower or other ornament. This mark of favour is returned as follows:-you take one of the cakes -Klotsch or Kolatschen-and stick into it, not almonds or sugar-plums, but silver coin, as few or as many pieces as you like, and send it as present to the bride.

The dancing and merrymaking go on without interruption day and night. Some, I suppose, rest, while the others feast and are joyful; but guests there are always present, and no one seems tired. How the gipsies could hold out as they did was to me a riddle : they were as fresh and vigorous when they first began; but if they paused a moment, many were the voices that called to them to begin again.

30_11* At Neustadt, the soup must be of vermicelli ; the roast meat is served cold, which the guests carry away with them. A near relative of one of the parties is chosen " Wortmann," whose business it is to see that there is no dearth of anything, and that the guests are well supplied ; he goes round and superintends all. Four men are placed in the cellar to fill the pitchers unremittingly brought down to be replenished with wine; this is rather an enviable post. The four sit and smoke together, and there is no lack of society. Every moment brings a new visitor and a fresh supply of chat. They sit, too, at the fountain-head, and, as they deal out to the frequent comers the fragrant produce of the Mediasch vineyards, fill their own glass and drink to the health of their visitors, and of the bridegroom and his bonnie young bride.

30_12-j-t In Göttingen this custom still prevails. The money is collected in a plate, the bride also dances with every guest ; the festivity, too, lasts there, as in Transylvania, two or, more generally, three days. The dishes served are prescribed as strictly as among the Transylvanian Saxons, and even the order iii which they must be sent to table.

The third day is rather devoted to those who have so diligently helped in preparing to get everything ready. They are now in their turn well feasted and waited on by those whom they before had served.

On the second day, the young wife appears in matronly head- gear. She has laid aside her maiden ornaments ; her friends have bound in their place the nun-like bands and wimple of fine snow-white linen, and fastened it with the richly ornamented pins, studded with pearls and garnets. But before this, her long hair has been cut off,-her pride and her simple adorning,- another symbol of her lost liberty.*30_13

This, then, is an imperfect sketch of a principal Saxon festivity. Many a custom-varying with the place-has been omitted, as well as the forms of addressing the several parties, as salutation, or leave-taking ; these would fill a small volume. They are all very interesting, for they refer to ancient tines, and are most of them founded on rites dating from earliest ages, and mixed up with the mythology of the North.

30_13* The long braid of hair is, in some villages, hung up as an ornament on the wall of the room, adorned with bows of bright ribbon.




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