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BY THE AUTHOR OF VALENTINE VOX.'
The commencement of Stanley's speculation.
To those who have been accustomed to view only the unamiable portions of the female character, as developed on the one hand by the restless scheming creature of the world, and on the other by the designing hollow-hearted courtezan, the mean, cowardly practice of defrauding a woman is sport; but by married men, who have studied the character deeply, and who appreciate those beautiful feelings by which it is essentially distinguished, that practice is happily held in abhorrence. Marriage induces a higher estimation of female virtue : it inspires men with a chivalrous, gallant spirit, of which the peculiar promptings are to those who never experienced the blessings which spring from the gentle characteristics of an amiable wife, altogether unknown; and hence Stanley-he being the only married man present during the performance of the disgraceful, cruel mockery detailed in the preceding chapter-was the only man by whom it was not viewed as a jest. But although he was thoroughly disgusted with the heartless conduct of his new associates, he felt bound to fulfil the engagement into which he had entered, but from which he would then most gladly have withdrawn. He had no longer the slightest confidence in the men; he conceived it to be almost impossible for them to be actuated by any correct feeling,-still, having entered into the speculation so far, he was unable to see how he could with honour retire.
Having reflected upon the matter for some time, vainly hoping for something to suggest itself whereby the speculation might with grace be abandoned, he named the subject to Sir William, in order that he might, if possible, point out the means by which an honourable retreat could be accomplished.
'I feel so indignant,' said he, after explaining the manner in which the mock marriage had been conducted, at having, although un consciously, been made a party to so disreputable a proceeding, that I declare to you I would almost as soon forfeit the money I have engaged to put down, than have any farther connection with the
'Had you taken my advice,' said Sir William, 'you would not have entered into it at all; but I don't see how you can call off now.'
Nor do I; and yet one might imagine that conduct like that which I have described would form a sufficient pretext for withdrawing?'
Oh! you must not think for a moment of making that a pretext. Were you to do so, you would only get laughed at.'
'But do you not deem it disgraceful?'
Why, I must say that, strictly speaking, it isn't the thing; but
in the circle, my dear fellow, in which they move, an affair of the kind is really thought but little of. Had he married the girl in reality, the case would have been widely different-it would then have been considered disgraceful indeed; but as it is, being merely a nominal marriage, which may at any moment be dissolved, why, his family are free from the stain of a low alliance, and his friends look upon him of course as before.'
'Notwithstanding, he has utterly destroyed that poor girl by blasting her happiness for ever.'
The conduct of men of high connections must not, my good fellow, be scrutinized too closely. You must consider the peculiarity of their position. Suppose for instance, now, that this had been an absolute marriage, what must of necessity have followed? Why, his family, who would have considered themselves thereby eternally disgraced, would have cut him, of course, dead; while his friends would have spurned him for being a fool.'
'But this is no justification-'
'Justification! I grant you. But a family of this description would rather there should be five hundred mock marriages than a real one with a creature of plebeian origin, unless, indeed, she possess a mine of wealth. The influence of affection or love in such a case is never allowed; they'll not hear it. Rank or wealth, Thorn,rank or wealth. No other influence can possibly be recognized by them. And perhaps it is as well that it is so. Conceive, for example, the absurdity of such an announcement as this:-MARRIAGE IN HIGH LIFE.We have authority to state, that the Earl of Clarendale will shortly lead to the hymeneal altar Miss Sophonisba Gills, the lovely daughter of the late Mr. Timothy Gills, for many years the confidential carman of the celebrated Jonas Carp, Esq., the dis tingué fishmonger of Billingsgate Market.'-Why it would throw every member of the noble family into fits, while the bridegroom himself would become the legitimate laughing-stock of the world. And then look at the position of the girl. Would it not be one of perpetual misery? Even suppose she were received by the family in question, their very courtesy would make her wretched, if even their sarcasms failed to break her heart. The absurdity of persons wishing to form alliances in a sphere far above that in which they have been accustomed to move is really monstrous. As far as happiness is concerned, the ambition is fatal if the object be attained. They cannot be happy. Even their servants will sneer at the meanness of their birth. In a word, Thorn, the belief that anything but bitter mortification on either side can spring from a marriage of this character is based upon ignorance the most gross.'
All this I admit to be correct,' rejoined Stanley. In an essentially artificial state of society it invariably is so; and none but densely ignorant persons would dream of forming such a connection. But this is not the point
Why, it proves that this girl, for example, as far as regards her happiness, is not in a worse position than she would have been had the Earl really married her.'
'But it does not prove the conduct of the Earl to be a whit less disgraceful.'
'Granted!-as far as that goes; but it does not by any means follow, that because men of his caste delude a lot of ignorant girls,