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A peasant's wedding – Lawful periods for marriage — Etiquette for marriages — Mariages de convenance - Parental authority - Anecdote of a Moscow merchant and his son-in-law.
Rascazava, November 25th, 1837. We had a wedding here a few days ago, and we went into the gallery of the church to witness the ceremony, which began at half-past seven in the evening and lasted nearly three-quarters of an hour. The bridegroom was a peasant of rather a superior class and in good circumstances, but still a serf; and the bride was the daughter of a Tamboff tradesman. In a case like this the wife becomes a slave, but she regains her liberty at her husband's death if she survives him.* The church was lighted up, and a small altar was placed in the middle. In front of the altar a carpet is always stretched, on which the couple stand, each holding a lighted taper during the ceremony. They walk up to it side by side, and it is supposed that whichever first sets foot on it will hereafter have the upper hand in the household. Towards the latter part of the ceremony, after a number of prayers and hymns, two crowns of gilt metal were brought to the priest, and he placed them, after making the sign of the cross and pronouncing a short blessing, on the heads of the pair whom he was marrying; he then joined their hands and led them three times round the altar. A cup filled with wine and water was then brought, of which the bride and bridegroom tasted each three times. After this a homily was read on the mutual duties of husband and wife. At the conclusion the priest desired the newly-married couple to kiss one another,
* This rule of law may remind ug of a famous poetical dictum respecting a widow's parochial settlement in England:-.
- A woman having a settlement married a man with none.
The question was, he being dead, if what she had was gone,
after which their friends all crowded round them with kisses and congratulations. The crowns, which had been taken off their heads, were now put on again, and they walked out of church preceded by the priest and a deacon bearing the cross, and by a boy carrying a consecrated image to be placed in their bedroom. The bride, who was rather a pretty girl and only seventeen, looked worn out with exhaustion, which was not surprising, as she had come from Tamboff that morning, a journey of six or seven hours over a bad road; while, according to the custom of her class on the occasion of their marriage, she had tasted no food all day.
The priest was to join the party at the bridal supper, and I was told that there would be further prayers and ceremonies in the house, and that the happy couple would sit all the evening with the crowns on their heads. This is a mark of distinction, as the poorer peasants do not take the crowns out of the church, having to pay an extra fee to the priest for the permission. At weddings in a higher sphere the crowns are never actually worn, but are held over the heads of the bride and bridegroom during the ceremony by their friends. No marriage can take place in the Greek church during any of the fasts, nor on any Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday. The lawful periods are therefore limited to four days in the week, and that during less than half the year. The ceremony generally takes place in the evening, and the married couple, even in the higher classes, instead of setting off immediately together into retirement for a while, according to our English fashion, are expected to remain for some time with the parents of the lady. Both are required by rigorous etiquette to write beforehand to announce their approaching union to every relation they possess, and to take the earliest opportunity after their marriage of paying them a visit uninvited. This last is, indeed, an attention which is expected not only by relations, but also by friends, and often even by mere acquaintances. A lady at Moscow told me that she was taken in this manner, as a bride, into about seventy houses, the greater part of which she had never entered since. All general rules have exceptions, but it appears to me, from all that I have heard and can ascertain, that a large proportion of Russian marriages are mere matters of business and calculation, in which family interests are chiefly considered, and the feelings and inclinations of the parties most concerned little regarded, the union being arranged by the respective parents, and the principals submissively acquiescing. In the upper classes this
may be a necessary and natural consequence of the restraint which is placed upon the social intercourse of the two sexes, the young men and the young ladies having rarely sufficient opportunity of becoming well acquainted with one another. Another reason for the frequency of mariages de convenance, and one which pervades all classes, may be found in the exaggerated notions of parental authority which prevail in this country, and which appear by no means favourable to the growth and development of true filial affection.
Parental tyranny is carried to its highest pitch among the tradesmen and the peasants, and therefore interested marriages, where the affections are in no way concerned, or rather where they are often outraged, are as common among these classes as among the higher orders. Peasants, however, cannot marry without the consent of their master, and he, therefore, has it in his power to a considerable extent to check this evil. If he wishes to do so, when his consent is asked he sends for the two young persons separately, and speaks to each in private, encouraging them to tell him the truth, and endeavouring to ascertain whether the marriage is really their own wish, or whether it has been arranged between their families without their desire. If in this manner the master discovers that they are repugnant to the union, or that their affections are fixed elsewhere, he can easily find a.plausible excuse for refusing his consent to the marriage, without betraying to the parents the confidence reposed in him by their children,
The following anecdote is said to be true, and it is rather characteristic of the diamond-cut-diamond propersities of the Russian tradesman.
A marriage had been arranged between two families in the trading class at Moscow. The father of the young lady was rich, and it was agreed that he should provide her with a handsome trousseau, and that he should pay his son-in-law her fortune of two hundred thousand roubles (about eight thousand pounds) on the morning of the wedding. The happy day at length arrived, and the trousseau or pridannie was, according to custom, packed in handsome chests, which were placed on cars, and paraded through the streets to the bridegroom's house, to display the wealth of the family; it having already, with the same laudable object, been exhibited in the bride's apartments to all who chose to come, whether to admire or to criticise.
Immediately before the wedding the father of the girl presented her intended husband with the promised sum as his daughter's fortune; remarking at the same time to the young man, “ You can't carry such a sum of money as this to church with you, so you had better leave it in my charge at present, and you can take it home with you at night.” To this proposal the other readily assented; the wedding was duly solemnised, and was as usual celebrated afterwards by a vast deal of eating and drinking; and when the happy couple went home at night, the unsuspicious bridegroom was easily persuaded to leave his money in his father-in-law's care till the following morning.
The next day he was hardly dressed when he was told that there were some men inquiring for him. He at first refused to see them, saying it was not a moment for business, and he would attend to none that day; the strangers, however, persisted, and they were at length admitted. On seeing the bridegroom, they immediately told him they were come for the chests. “What chests?" was the reply. “Why, the pridannie, to be sure.” “ Pooh!” said the young man, who supposed that the ornamented chests containing the bride's wardrobe had been hired for the occasion ; “you shall have your boxes as soon as my wife has had time to unpack her things, and put them into their proper places.” Upon this the lady, who was standing by, looked very foolish, while the men replied that they must have not only the chests, but also their contents. The indignant bridegroom demanded if they meant to carry off his wife's wardrobe. “Don't talk nonsense about your wife's wardrobe,” said the intruders, with a provoking laugh; “ you don't really suppose that all those things belong to her ? the old gentleman only hired them for the occasion, to look
well at the wedding, and we are sent now to fetch them back.” The bride, on being appealed to, was obliged to admit that all the men had said was true. Accordingly they carried off the handsome furs, silks, jewels, and other valuable articles of a Russian trousseau in that class of life, while the husband betook himself in no good humour to his father-inlaw, to complain of his deceit, and to get the money which he had left in his charge. “What money?" said the old man, in pretended surprise. "Why," said the other, the two hundred thousand roubles which you paid me yesterday as your daughter's fortune, and which I left in your care last night."
“ Ah !” said the father-in-law, laughing, “ you can't pretend to be serious. The money is mine : I gave it yesterday to you to make a show before the
handed it back afterwards, as it was always understood between us that you
should.” It was in vain that the young man stoutly denied the assertion, and urged the payment of the money, and the fulfilment of the contract. Argument and entreaty proved alike useless. The old man kept his money-bags, and the son-in-law was obliged to return to his wife with the satisfaction of having been cheated out of her fortune, as well as her wardrobe, by her own father.