Benjamin Riley


If there is one proceeding in which a man is supposed to have a right to please himself, or to fancy that he does so, it is the giving himself away in marriage. It is usual, we believe to ask the assent of the lady, but as this is usually matter of course—we, at least have never been rejected—the formality is not oppressive. Nobody thinks it necessary to consult his parents, or his grandmother, or his uncles, or his cousins, or his landlord, or the inspector of police for his district. And certainly we never heard of a gentleman' s demanding the opinion of his neighbours in regard to his intended marriage.

But a gentleman of Leicestershire, whose name he will probably desire that we should mention—Mr. Benjamin Riley, of Desborough, takes a larger view of a man' s duty to Society. He has fixed his mature affections upon a young person, named Mary Ann Paine. She was lately engaged in his factory. From the lover' s description of her, Miss Paine, appears to be deserving of all respect. But Mr. Riley is not satisfied with having satisfied himself in the matter, but publishes in the Midland Free Press a long letter, begging the inhabitants of Desborough to listen to all that he has to say on the subject. He supposes that they will be surprised at the match, and he is desirous that they should not think it so foolish as it appears. He then explains in about two dozen paragraphs that he has made a sort of Treaty with the future Mrs Paine. Here are some of the articles:—

"The terms of our engagement are numerous, and are placed before her in an extensive correspondence on my part.

"For the present it must be obvious she can do no more than follow my directions implicitly, for it is not the uncultured factory girl, but the moderately cultivated young lady of the future I design uniting myself to.

"I shall feel a pleasure, according to the terms of our engagement, in her visiting her family as often as she pleases, but it is understood they are not to visit her unless asked."

So that the Desborough magnates and gentilities need not be afraid, when paying their visits to the newly married couple, of meeting persons of inferior rank and culture. A clever starting-point.

Mr. Riley then explains the means by which he proposes to expand the young lady' s mind:—

"Wishing her at once to see Desborough was only a small portion of the world, and in order to fill her mind with new ideas, she passed through London, and also through a large railway station in the south to Worthing, on the sea-coast, under the charge of our kind friends, Rev. S. Drakeford and Mrs. Drakeford: this rapidity of movement I thought advisable."

In order to rouse her soul with a sudden burst. This was truly artistic, and reminds one of the way in which Amina is awakened by a chorus in the Sonnambula. Now mark the noble self-mastery of the lover. He is not eager to rush into the society of his Mary Ann:—

"I had previously engaged a home there for them. By this arrangement she will get a little initiated into the habits and manners of middle class life. I do not suppose I shall see her for a few months to come, not till she gets a little grounded in general information and becomes moderately refined."

We are not informed as to Mr. Riley' s ideas of moderation in refinement. Some men, in the circumstances, might be satisfied if the young lady acquired a habit of not putting a knife into her mouth, of occasionally using the serviette instead of the pocket handkerchief, and of remaining at the table until the other ladies should rise, instead of pushing back her chair, and remarking "There!" Others might be more exacting, and desire to see the gloves drawn on, and the eye carelessly yet carefully awaiting the chief matron' s signal, and might wish that in leaving the room there might be an abstinence from facetious adieux to her adored, and from anything like endearment, or a request that he will not take too much wine. But this is Mr. Riley' s own business. He next proceeds to give a copy of an advertisement which he has issued for a sort of governess, who is to aid in the formation of the lady' s mind, and he has had nine answers to this. He has not, however, engaged all the nine applicants.

"Some months must elapse, of course, before she arrives at these attainments.

"She will also, if nothing prevents, have a very voluminous correspondence from myself."

We hope that nothing will prevent the transmission of the voluminous love letters which are menaced, and that nothing will prevent the young lady from reading them. We venture, however, having some little experience of young ladies, to hint to Mr. Riley' s not to be a bore with his letters, and by no means to cram them with improving matter. We assure him that if he does, and unless Miss Paine is entirely different from all other young ladies, the improving matter will not be read. As he has thus frankly taken us into his confidence, we feel bound to repay it with similar frankness.

"Before the actual union takes place a great many months must necessarily elapse, as, after she is pretty well informed in ordinary matters, she will have to learn to play fairly on the harmonium, also to read the French language with ease, to write it fairly, and to speak it with tolerable fluency."

There is the first touch of real sentiment, of lover-like expression. A great many months. It is prettier and tenderer to say that than to use the word "a year". There is a green spot in Mr. Riley' s heart. "Many moons must wane" would have been, on the other hand, too poetical. "No end of a wait" is what we should say, were we engaged to a fast young lady of the aristocracy. But Mr. Riley chooses the prudent medium. But Miss Paine must work, for she has to learn in a year what many people never can learn in a life, and—

"To all curious ones I say, suppose nothing occurs to prevent it, expect the wedding in May, 1866, for I do not think it likely to be before, with so much preparation on my intended' s part."

In fact, the date of his marriage depends on her power of learning French grammar. If we were the young lady wouldn' t we try the Hamiltonian system, or Dr Pick' s Art of Memory? But what pleasure in repeating the verbs, and saying with Mr. Bayle Bernard' s French class in the Boarding School, (why is this capital farce never played?) "J' ames I love," when every repetition of the present tense brings one nearer one' s Future.

Mr. Riley sums up in the following manner:—

"I have thought it just to myself to place this explanation before you, so that you may see how the matter really stands. A copy of the Free Press, which contains this address to you, will be forwarded to each of my relations and friends, as what I do I do openly, and leave the world to say what they like."

The world will say what "they" like, and we hope will say they like Mr. Riley' s affectionate confidences. We think that he ought to have gone a little further, called a public meeting, and after giving all these explanations, ought to have announced himself as ready to answer any questions, but perhaps, being a man of business, his time is precious. We therefore, in answer to his appeal, assure him that his marriage meets our approbation, that we are reasonably satisfied with the curriculum appointed for his bride, that we wish the plighted pair health and happiness, and a union at the date fixed. If there be any other details of household life on which Mr. Riley would like to consult us, as to the choice of furniture, the aspect of the bed-rooms, the character of the cook, or the best apartment for the nursery, he has only to publish his wishes.

Punch, or the London Charivari, 10 June 1865, Page 237


The Penny Illustrated Paper also had some comments to make on Benjamin Riley's proposals. They called their story Novel Lovemaking.

top of page