Eugene V. (Eugene Valentine) Brewster.

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she could not marry another till the brother had
formally rejected her. One peculiarity of the
ancients was, that they assumed that the impend-
ing wedding of a couple had a very depressing
effect, and it was consequently the custom for all
friends and neighbors to take means to cheer up
the doomed ones by all sorts of boisterous amuse-
ments. Married life was looked upon as a busi-
ness, and perhaps a perilous one.

Cecrops seems to have been the first to intro-
duce among the Athenians the formal marriage
ceremony with all its solemn and binding obli-
gations. The ancient Greeks early decided that
marriage was a private as well as a public neces-
sity, and the Spartans treated celibacy as a crime.
Lycurgus made laws so that those who married
too late, or unsuitably, or not at all, could be
treated like ordinary criminals, and not only was
it unrespectable to be a bachelor, but it was
dangerous. Plato preached that a man should
consider the welfare of his country rather than
his own pleasure, and that if he did not marry
before he was thirty-five he should be punished
severely. The Spartans advocated marriage for
the reason that they wanted more children born
to the state, and when a married woman gave


birth to no children she was made to cohabit
with another man. The Spartan King, Archi-
damus, fell in love with and married a very little
woman, which so incensed the people that they
fined him: they did not believe in marriage for
love, but in marriage for big, sturdy offspring.
Often, fathers would choose brides for their sons,
and husbands for their daughters, who had never
seen each other, and compel them to marry. In
Greece, until Aristotle put a stop to it, the cus-
tom of buying wives was common.

By the Romans, as well as by the Jews and
Greeks, marriage was deemed an imperative
duty; and parents were reprehended if they did
not obtain husbands for their daughters by the
time they were twenty-five. The Roman law
recognized monogomy only, and polygamy was
prohibited in the whole empire. Hence, the
former became practically the rule in all Chris-
tiandom, and was introduced into the canon
law of the Eastern and Western churches. Dur-
ing the time of Augustus, bachelorhood became
fashionable, and to check the evil, as well as to
lessen the alarming number of divorces, which
were also getting fashionable, Augustus imposed
a wife tax on all who persisted in the luxury of

The superstition that some days and months


are unlucky or lucky for weddings seems to have
originated with the Romans, May and February
being thought unpropitious, while June was par-
ticularly favorable to happy marriages. These
beliefs were based on things which cannot pos-
sibly concern people of other climes and re-
ligions, and, like all superstitions, are unfounded
and absurd.

We know very little of the marriage affairs of
the ancient Egyptians, but we do know that they
were not restricted to any number of wives. In
modern Egypt, a Vv^oman can never be seen by
her future husband till after she has been mar-
ried, and she is always veiled. A similar custom
prevailed in ancient Morocco, the bride being
first painted and stained, and then carried to the
house of her husband-to-be, where she was for-
mally introduced to him. He was satisfied, how-
ever, that she would suit him, for he had pre-
viously sent some of his female relatives to in-
spect her at the bath. The Mahomedans of Bar-
bary do not buy their wives, like the Turks, but
have portions with them. They retain in their
marriage rites many ceremonies in use by the
ancient Goths and Vandals. The married women
must not show their faces, even to their fathers.
The Moors of West Barbary have practically
the same customs as the Mahomedans and the


Moroccoans the groom never seeing the bride
till he is introduced to her in the bridal chamber.
The modern Arabians, since they have con-
formed to the Koran, marry as many wives as
they please, and buy them as they do slaves.
Among the Bedouins, polygamy is allowed, but
generally a Bedouin has only one wife, who is
often taken for an agreed term, usually short, вАФ
which sounds something like the "trial mar-
riage" plan recently suggested by a now-famous
American lady. The wedding consists in the
cutting of the throat of a young lamb, by the
bridegroom, the ceremony being completed the
moment the blood falls upon the ground.
Among the Medes, reciprocal polygamy was in
use, and a man was not respectable unless he had
at least seven wives, nor a woman unless she had
five husbands. In Persia, living people were
sometimes married to the dead, and often to their
nearest relations. In the seventeenth century,
the nobility might have as many wives as they
pleased, but the poor commonality were limited
to seven: and they might part with them at dis-

Trial marriages were also in vogue in Persia,
and seldom was a marriage contract made for
life. A new wife was a common luxury. Per-
sian etiquet demands that before the master of


the house no person must pronounce the name
of the wife, but rather refer to her as "How is
the daughter of (naming her mother or
father) ?"

The Chinese believe that marriages are decreed
by heaven, and that those who have been con-
nected in a previous existence become united in
this. Men are allowed to keep several concubines,
but they are entirely dependent on the legitimate
wife, who is alvv^ays reckoned the most honorable.
The Chinese marry their children when they are
very young, sometimes as soon as they are born.

In Japan, polygamy and fornication are al-
lowed, and fathers sell or hire out their daughters
with legal formalities for limited terms. In Fin-
land it was the custom for a young woman to
wear suspended at her girdle the sheath of a
knife, as a sign that she was single and wanted a
husband. Any young man who was enamored
of her, obtained a knife in the shape of the
sheath, and slyly slipped it in the latter, and if
the maiden favored the proposal, she would keep
the knife, otherwise she would return it.

In another part of Finland, a young couple
were allowed to sleep together, partly, if not
completely dressed, for two weeks, which custom,
called bundling or tarrying, was common in
Wales and the New England States, and is sup-


posed not to have resulted in immoral conse-

In Scotland, the custom has long prevailed of
lifting the bride over the threshold of her new
home, which custom is probably derived from
the Romans. The threshold, in many countries,
is thought to be a sacred limit or boundary, and
is the subject of much superstition. In the Isle
of Man, a superstition prevails that it is very
lucky to carry salt in the pocket, and the natives
always do so when they marry. They also have
the international custom of throwing an old shoe
after the bridegroom as he left his home, and
also one or more after the bride as she left her
home. In Wales the old-time weddings were
characterized by several curious customs, such as
Bundlings, Chainings, Sandings, Huntings and
Tithings. In Britain, before Caesar's invasion,
an indiscriminate (or but slightly restricted) in-
termixture of the sexes was the practice, and
polygamy prevailed; and it was not uncommon
for several brothers to have only one wife among
them, paternity being determined by resem-

The foregoing facts and customs do not show
the evolution of marriage, because in some coun-
tries the same forms and customs prevail to-day
that prevailed six thousand years ago. As civili-


zation advances, however, we find that the
tendency is toward a more rigid enforcement of
the marriage contract, and strictly against poly-
gamy. The sanctity of the home and respect for
marriage vows have not only passed into the sta-
tute law of civilized nations, but they have be-
come proverbial with most all of the enlightened
people. It must also be observed, however, that
at the present time there seems to be a tendency
in this country to make marriage more difficult
and divorce more easy.

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Online LibraryEugene V. (Eugene Valentine) BrewsterWhat's what in America → online text (page 12 of 12)