"The bloom or blight of all men's happiness."
BYRON'S Bride of Abydos
ACCORDING to the time-honoured adage--
"My son is my son till he gets him a wife,
But my daughter's my daughter all the days of her life."
This may be so, but with few exceptions, the bride thinks differently; for, however great a gap her absence may make in the old home, her feelings are those expressed in the charming ballad of bygone days, which generally found its way into most old books sold at village fairs, and which portrays the folk-lore of the subject, as told by the simple, bright-hearted maiden--
"As I walked forth one May morning,
I heard a fair maid sweetly sing,
As she sat under a cow milking,
We will be married o' Sunday.
I said, pretty maiden, sing not so,
For you must tarry seven years or mo',
And then to church you may chance to go
All to be married o' Sunday.
Kind sir, quoth she, you have no skill;
I've tarried two years against my will,
And I've made a promise, will I, or nill,
That I'll be married o' Sunday.
Next Saturday night 'twill be my care
To trim and curl my maiden hair,
And all the people shall say, Look here!
When I come to be married o' Sunday.
Then to the church I shall be led
By sister Nan and brother Ned,
With a garland of flowers upon my head,
For I'm to be married o' Sunday.
And in the church I must kneel down
Before the parson of our good town,
But I will not spoil my kirtle and gown
When I'm married o' Sunday."
There are plenty of old ballads of this kind, many of which have been preserved in chapbooks, and these are interesting in so far as they depict the sentiments of the past. But an Eastern piece of proverbial wisdom represents what must be regarded as an almost universal truism--
"The bride that is linked to a worthless groom
Is like a man buried in a worthless tomb"--
her whole future happiness being dependent on her good or bad choice. Hence it is not surprising that, in most ages of the world's history, the position of a bride has been regarded as the most critical in her life; and, on this account, it has been associated with a host of proverbial sayings and superstitious beliefs, numerous survivals of which remain in our midst to-day.
Occasionally, for instance, one may hear the expression, "She brides it"--that is, "She holds up her head haughtily," in reference to a proud woman--the allusion, of course, being to the disdainful bride who, on her marriage-day bore herself in a pompous manner, fully conscious of her own charms. On the other hand, there is the well-known saying, "She simpers like a bride on her wedding day," in allusion to the brides of old times who were bound, in courtesy, to smile on all who approached them.
When a bride happens to be unpopular, she is sent off with the following far from complimentary farewell--
"Joy go with her and a bottle of moss,
If she never comes back she'll be no great loss,"
the term, "bottle of moss," being applied to a thing of no value.
Whereas, nowadays, it is customary for a young lady to speak of going to church "on her wedding day," formerly she spoke of "visiting the church porch" a practice which explains the meaning of the old Irish proverbial saying, "Ye're early with your orders, as the bride said at the church porch." The popular adage, too, "Blest is the bride that the sun shines on," had once a practical application, when marriages were celebrated in the church porch. A wet day on such an occasion was a serious matter, as our forefathers had none of the useful contrivances of modern times for preservation from rain.
Another proverbial phrase once in use was to this effect: "You make a muck hill on my trencher, quoth the bride."--that is, "you carve me a great heap." According to Hazlitt, this saying probably originated "in some bride at first, thinking to speak elegantly and finely, using this expression, and so it was taken up in drollery, or else it was only a droll, made to abuse country bride affecting fine language."
It is still often said that "many dressers put the bride's dress out of order," her friends being over anxious to give it the finishing touch. Likewise, the bride herself when once her toilet is complete, must, according to a piece of folk-lore current in the Southern Counties, refrain from taking a last look in the glass, the idea being that the young lady who is too fond of the looking-glass will be unlucky when married; and in removing her robe and chaplet she must take care to throw away every pin worn on the eventful day, as evil fortune will inevitably overtake the bride who keeps even one pill used in the marriage toilet. Hence it is the duty of the bridesmaids to use every precaution that no pin is even accidently left in any part of her dress. Woe, also, to the bridesmaids if they retain any one of them, as their chances of marriage will thereby be materially diminished.
On the other hand, according to a Sussex piece of folk-lore, a bride, on her return home from church, is often at once robbed of all the pins about her dress by her single friends around her, from the belief that whoever possesses one of them will be married in the course of a year. Similarly, the Germans have a custom of throwing the bride's shoe among the guests at a wedding, the person who succeeds in getting it being considered to have every prospect of a speedy marriage; and, among the many other customs associated with the bride's shoe, may be mentioned the German practice for the mother of the bride to strew salt and dill in her shoes prior to her going to the church, repeating at the same time this charm--
"Dill, cease not from Will,
Salt relax not."
It is also customary for both bride and bridegroom to strew dill and salt in their shoes as a charm against every kind of malignant influence.
In the Northern Counties, a bride is expressly warned, "be sure when you go to get married that you don't go in at one door and out at another, or you will be always unlucky." An instance of a similar piece of folk-lore is recorded by the late Cuthbert Bede in Notes and Queries as having occurred at a wedding that took place in a Worcestershire village in October, 1877. He thus writes: "The bride and bridegroom at the conclusion of the ceremony left the church by the chancel door, instead of following the usual custom of walking down the church and through the nave door. One of the oldest inhabitants, in mentioning this to me, said that ' it betokened bad luck,' and that she had never known a like instance but once in her life, when the married couple went out of the church through the chancel door, and the bride was a widow before the twelve months were out. "
There is, too, a widespread notion that when the bride retires to bed on her wedding night, her bridesmaids should lay her stockings across the bed, as this act is supposed to guarantee her future posterity in the marriage state. It has also long been a popular superstition that the bride should weep on her wedding day--if it be only a few tears--the omission of such an act being considered ominous of all future happiness.
Turning to the bridesmaids, it appears that as far back as the days of the Anglo-Saxons they attended the bride at the wedding ceremony, although in later times they seem to have escorted the bridegroom, his friends waiting on the bride. As recently, for instance, as the last century, this was the popular mode of procedure, an illustration of which is given in the "Collier's Wedding":--
"Two lusty lads, well dressed and strong,
Stept out to lead the bridegroom along;
And two young maids of equal size,
As soon the bridegroom's hands surprise."
Spenser, in his charming picture of an Elizabethan bridal--"The Wedding of the Medway and the Thames"--gives the bride for her attendants, two bridesmaids, and two bride-pages:--
"On her two pretty bridemaids did attend,
Which on her waited, things amiss to mend,
And her before there paced pages twain,
Both clad in colours like, and like awat."
Instead of being so many graceful ornaments at the marriage ceremony, as nowadays, the bridesmaids in days of old had various duties assigned to them--one of their principal tasks having been to dress the bride, when any omission in her toilet was laid to their charge. lt was the first bridesmaid's duty, too, to see that each of the bridesmaids was not only provided with a sprig of rosemary, or a floral posy, but had a symbolical chaplet in her hand.
A survival of this practice may still be seen in Germany, where it is customary for the bridesmaids to carry the myrtle wreath--which they have subscribed together to purchase on the nuptial-eve--to the house of the bride, and to remove it from her head at the close of the wedding day. After this has been done, the bride is blindfolded, and, the myrtle wreath having been put into her hand, she tries to place it on the head of one of her bridesmaids, as they dance round her, for, in accordance with an old belief, whoever she crowns is sure to be married within a year from that date.
Again, much importance was formerly attached to the colours which the bride wore on her wedding day. In an old book, entitled "The Fifteen Comforts of Marriage," a bride and her bridesmaids are represented conversing together, respecting the colours to be used for the decoration of the bridal dress. It was finally decidee, after various colours had been rejected, "to mingle a gold tissue with grass-green," this combination being considered symbolical of youth and jollity.
In Scotland the bridesmaid is popularly known as the "best maid," and, in past years, one of her principal duties was to carry the bride's presents on the wedding day to her future home. The first article generally taken into the house was a vessel of salt, a portion of which was sprinkled over the floor as a protection against the malignant influence of the "Evil Eye." And Mr. W. Gregor, describing an old Scotch wedding, tells us, the bridesmaids' position was not unattended with certain risks: "After the church had been opened, the beadle or bellman was in attendance to lead the bridegroom to the bride-steel--that is, the pew that was set apart for the use of those who were to be married. The bride was now led forth and placed beside him, and great care was used to have her placed at the proper side. To have placed her improperly would have been unlucky in the extreme. Next to the bride stood her 'best maid,' this office, though accounted an honour, not being unattended with risk. Three times a bridesmaid was the inevitable prelude of remaining unmarried."
Lastly, it was one of the duties of the bridesmaid to remind the bride of guarding against certain omens, which were supposed to be attended with fatal results. In making a wedding trip, for instance, she was enjoined "to be sure and always go up against the stream, as it was most uncanny to go down the waters."
One of the most interesting antiquities of Jarrow Church, Northumberland, is the chair of the Venerable Bede, kept in the vestry, whither brides, conducted by their bridesmaids, at once repair, after the marriage service, to seat themselves upon it. According to the general belief, this act will, in due time, make them the joyous mothers of children, and no wedding ceremony is considered complete until the bride has been duly enthroned.
Similarly, in days gone by, on the lower declivity of Warton Crag, in the parish of Warton, Lancashire, a seat, locally known as the "Bride's Chair," was commonly resorted to on their wedding day by the brides of the village, where they were solemnly enthroned.
But, on the other hand, in past years every precaution was taken to prevent a bride sitting down on the left seat at the gateway of the entrance to Great Yarmouth Parish Church--popularly designated the "Devil's Seat," as such an act, it was said, would in days to follow render her specialty liable to misfortune.
According to another popular item of folk-lore, "if a horse stood and looked through a gateway, or along a road, where a bride or bridegroom dwelt, it was considered to be a bad omen for that future couple and one most important parting warning to the bride was that she should remember, "whoever goes to sleep first on the wedding night will be the first to die."
Although, therefore, at the present day, the bride's lady attendants are so many pretty and attractive appendages of youth and beauty--they were not only formerly far less elaborately dressed, but, as seen in the previous pages, they had duties to perform of a responsible nature, the omission of which was thought to presage unhappiness to the bride.