HE parents of a bride in humble circumstances rarely attend the marriage ceremony at the church. The father’s place is usually filled by one of the bridegroom’s friends. He, in some parts of the North of England, claims the privilege of first kissing the newly-made wife, in right of his temporary paternity. Some of the old-fashioned clergy regarded the prerogative as theirs, and were by no means slow in exercising it. As soon as the ceremony was completed they never failed to quickly kiss the bride. Even a shy and retiring vicar would not neglect the pleasant duty. The Rev. Thomas Ebdon, vicar of Merrington, who was deemed the most bashful of men, always kissed the women he married.
It is related of a priest, who was a stranger to the manners and customs of the Yorkshire folk, 196 that, after marrying a couple, he was surprised to see the party still standing as if something more was expected. He at last asked why they were waiting. “Please, sir,” said the bridegroom, “ye’ve no kissed Molly.”
Mr. William Henderson, in his “Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties,” a work drawn upon for these statements, says that he can “testify that, within the last ten years, a fair lady, from the county of Durham, who was married in the south of England, so undoubtedly reckoned upon the clerical salute that, after waiting in vain, she boldly took the initiative, and bestowed a kiss on the much-amazed south-country vicar.” Mr. Henderson’s work was published in 1879.
According to the “Folk-Lore of the West of Scotland,” by James Napier, published in 1879, the kissing custom was practised in that country. “As soon as the ceremony was concluded,” says Mr. Napier, “there was a rush on the part of young men to get the first kiss of the newly-made wife. This was frequently taken by the clergyman himself, a survival of an old custom said to have been practised in the middle ages.” In an old song, the bridegroom thus addresses the minister:197
“It’s no very decent for you to be kissing,
It does not look well wi’ the black coat ava’,
’Twould hae set you far better tae gi’en us your blessing,
Than thus by such tricks to be breaking the law.
Dear Watty, quo’ Robin, it’s just an auld custom,
And the thing that is common should ne’er be ill taen,
For where ye are wrong, if ye hadna a wished him,
You should have been first. It’s yoursel it’s to blame.”
This custom appears to have been very general in past times, and Mr. Henderson suggests that “it may possibly be a dim memorial of the osculum pacis, or the presentation of the Pax to the newly-married pair.”
It was formerly customary in Ireland for the priest to conclude the marriage ceremony by saying “kiss your wife.” Instructions more easily given than performed, for other members of the party did their utmost to give the first salute.
In England, a kiss was the established fee for a lady’s partner after the dance was finished. In a “Dialouge between Custom and Veirtie concerning the Use and Abuse of Dancing and Minstrelsie,” the following appears:
“But some reply, what foole would daunce,
If that when daunce is doone
He may not have a ladye’s lips
That which in daunce he woon?”
The following line occurs in the Tempest:
“Curtsied when you have and kissed.”
In Henry VIII., says the prince:
“I were unmannerly to take you out,
And not to kiss you.”
Numerous other references to kissing are contained in the plays of Shakespeare. From his works and other sources we find that kissing was general in the country in the olden time. It is related of Sir William Cavendish, the biographer of Cardinal Wolsey, that, when he visited a French nobleman at his chateau, his hostess, on entering the room with her train of attendant maidens, for the purpose of welcoming the visitor, thus accosted him:
“Forasmuch as ye be an Englishman, whose custom it is in your country to kiss all ladies and gentlemen without offence, it is not so in the realm, yet will I be so bold as to kiss you, and so shall all my maidens.”
It is further stated how Cavendish was delighted to salute the fair hostess and her many merry maidens.