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be married to a common soldier; but when I came to marry them, I found myself imposed upon; and, having a mistrust of some Irish roguery, I took upon me to ask what the gentleman's name was, his age, &c., and likewise the lady's name and age. Answer was made me, what was that to me?-d-n me! if I did not immediately marry them, he would use me ill. In short, apprehending it to be a conspiracy, I found myself obliged to marry them in terrorem. N.B. Some material part
Many cases appear to have occurred in which at least one of the parties married by proxy; others, where marriages were most iniquitously ante-dated, and several cases where certificates were given without the ceremony having been performed at all.
"November 5th, 1742, was married Benjamin Richards, of the parish of St. Martin's in the Fields, b', and Judith Lance, do. spin., at the Bull and Garter, and gave g., &c., for an ante-date to March the 11th in the same year, which Lilley complied with, and put 'em in his book accordingly, there being a vacancy in the book suitable to the time.”
The following are instances of secrecy having been attained by the omission of the surnames of the persons united in marriage:
"Sept. y 11th, 1745.-Edwd
were married, and would not let me know their names; the man said he was a weaver, and lived in Bandyleg Walk, in the Borough."
"March y 4th, 1740.-William
he, dressed in a gold waistcoat, like an officer, she, a beautiful young lady, with two fine diamond rings, and a black high crown hat, and very well dressed,-at Boyce's."
On one occasion, in 1719, we find a young lady, of the name of Ann Leigh,-possessed of an income of two hundred a-year, besides 6000l. in ready money, not only inveigled away from her friends, and forcibly married in the Fleet Chapel, but also in other respects treated with so much brutality, that her life was placed in danger. But a still more remarkable instance of abduction is related in Knight's "London," London," on the authority of a correspondent to the "Grub Street Journal," in September 1732. A lady, it appears, "had appointed to meet a gentlewoman at the old play-house 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 helped her into it, and jumped in after her. 'Madam,' said he, 'this coach was called for me, but 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 to drive 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. Deluded with the assurance of having his sister's company, the poor lady foolishly followed her into the house, when instantly the sister vanished, and a tawny fellow, in a black coat and black wig, appeared. 'Madam, you are come in good time; the Doctor was just a-going. The Doctor!' said she, horribly frightened, 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 three hours, and will be paid by you, or that gentleman, before you go.' That gentleman,' said 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 his 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,' said she, was my mother's gift on her death-bed, 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." The conspirators, satisfied with the booty they had obtained, allowed her to depart; and it may be readily conceived that the lady never returned to redeem her pledge.
Among the most notorious of the Fleet parsons
was the well-known Alexander Keith, who, about the year 1730, opened a chapel in May Fair, for the performance of clandestine marriages.* Having been excommunicated in 1742, and committed to the Fleet Prison, he opened a small chapel within its walls, which appears to have proved a scarcely less profitable speculation to him, than his former one in the more fashionable locality of May Fair. At length, however, his discreditable vocation was brought to a close; the Marriage Act, which came into operation on the 25th of March 1753, effectually putting a stop to one of the most infamous abuses which has ever been allowed to disgrace civilization. The credit of introducing the bill is due to Lord Bath; but, according to Horace Walpole, he had "drawn it up so ill, that the Chancellor (Lord Hardwicke), was forced to draw up a new one; and then grew so fond of his own creature that he crammed it down the throats of both Houses, though they gave many a gulp before they could swallow it." The Marriage Act was doubtless a bitter pill for Keith to swallow, and accordingly he entered his protest against it in an amusing publication, entitled, "Observations on the Act for Preventing Clandestine Marriages," by the Rev. Mr. Keith, D.D., with his portrait prefixed. Walpole, in a letter to George Montagu, records a bon-mot of this disreputable individual, which is worth repeating. "D-n the Bishops!" he said,
* See First Series, vol. i. p. 55, &c.
+ Letter to the Hon. H. S. Conway, 24th May 1753.
so they intend to hinder my marrying! well, let them; but I'll be revenged; I'll buy two or three acres of ground, and by G- I'll under-bury them all."
As the day approached, on which the Marriage Act was to become the law of the land, it is remarkable how many individuals of the lower orders hastened to take advantage of the intervening period, in order to unite themselves by an economical, if not holy matrimony. The last day, the 24th of March, appears to have been a peculiarly busy one; no fewer than two hundred and seventeen couple having been united during the twentyfour hours, of whom an hundred couple were married by Keith. This person, it may be remarked, died in the Fleet Prison in 1758.
It was in the Fleet that the libertine and improvident poet, Charles Churchill, formed his juvenile and imprudent marriage. According to Southey, in his "Life of Cowper," the marriage took place in the interval between his leaving Westminster School and his graduating at Trinity College, Cambridge.