In November 1841, James Miller published an advertisement in the Oxford Chronicle and Reading Gazette. In a couple of paragraphs, Miller offers the time, place, and method of a proposal for his beloved. However…in case she fails to reciprocate, he warns that an unfavourable answer will result in him forgetting her and finding a more suitable alternative.
To our eyes, this advertisement reeks of peculiarity – but was this unique in the Victorian world? Newspaper advertisements to find a spouse, though considered dubious by many, were not a rare commodity. The hesitance which greeted such methods for finding a spouse may be comparable to the same feelings towards using dating websites – though utilizing these tools to find a spouse may be awkward, they are still used frequently and result in many successful marriages.
So it was with the newspaper advertisements in the 19th century. Warnings did abound about the dangers of finding a spouse in a newspaper advertisement (for ex: The Red Barn Murderer – a case in which a young lady met a match through a newspaper advertisement, married him, and then discovered he had heinously murdered his previous wife, and buried her in a barn).
However, more frequent than such dismal conclusions were many happy marriages. And – given the pressure to marry, it is unsurprising that young people used every tool available to them to find that “special person.” After all, marriage allowed a young man to truly enter “manhood” – he could have a family, be its head, revel in domestic bliss, and fulfil his role as the sole breadwinner.
The domestic hearth, especially the wife, was seen to be a moral reprieve from the work world – increasing the pressure of finding a woman who could maintain this idyllic atmosphere.
Indeed, common advice was to marry as soon as possible – since marriage itself offered moral benefits.
“It is my advice not to defer marrying too long. Marriage, when made with purity of heart, preserves young people from a multitude of dangers.” -Ganganelli
The majority of newspaper advertisements were very normal, and uneventful. For instance, in the 1853 advert below Charles Melville requests a respectable woman to be his wife, someone around his age. He adds that he is happy for his future wife to keep whatever property she may possess – an unusual kindness since women’s property was legally transferred to their husbands upon marriage.
George Bertram, in 1815, asks that his future wife provide “domestic enjoyment” and provides companionship and friendship to “enliven his home and encourage his exertions.” This woman, Bertram hopes, will be under his age – and “the more under the better”!
Many advertisements were mostly normal, with a few eccentricities included- such as the number of qualities a man might want in a wife (a bit unrealistic…) or quirky requests, such as Bertram’s humorous request for a very young wife. Occasionally you find requests which are especially peculiar… and they would have seemed strange even to the contemporaries of their age.
Such was the case for Mr James Miller, who set forth his proposal mentioned above. An article in The Wexford a few weeks later, tells us what happened after this advertisement was posted. Mr Miller did show up on Monday to “perambulate” the High Street, but was followed by hecklers. Young men and boys who had become aware of his situation “accompanied him in his perambulation” hooting and jeering him. Sadly, it was also a rather unromantic day – very rainy and dreary. Thus, Miller did not return to walk the High Street the following Tuesday or Wednesday as he had planned – though it was unknown whether this was due to his receipt of the mockery, because his engagement had succeeded, or because his beloved had refused.
Fortunately for us, the reporters were curious enough to do a bit more digging. It came to light that a few weeks before the advertisement was published, a man over 70 had placed an advertisement in the paper in order to draw out a lady he fancies, but had difficulty seeing. His beloved was young, beautiful, and possessed property of £50,000. However – her father had become an obstacle to their relationship. Apparently a friend of Mr Miller’s had advised him to place an advertisement in the paper – for surely she would come to him if she knew where to find him! Mr Miller found this advice amiable, and rushed to the paper to place his advertisement, and prepare for marital bliss. However, he also had a Plan B and Plan C. In case his beloved did not accept his proposal, there were two other ladies who “were dying for him” who possessed £70,000 and £80,000 respectively. These ladies were not as desirable – as they exceeded the old age of 40 years. Despite his backup plans, Mr Miller was quite certain his beloved would show, since a fortune-teller had predicted he would soon have a rich and beautiful wife.
After doing some sleuthing, the reporters found that Mr Miller’s beloved had been sent to live in another town – far away from himself. Beyond that, not much was known about his situation; though the article’s author expressed hope that “the poor deluded old man [has] return[ed] to his house and comfortable fireside for the winter.”
And such was the case of poor Mr Miller – the victim of a sort of practical joke, lover of rich and beautiful women, and, perhaps, a bit deluded.
Matrimony (05 June 1815). Salisbury and Winchester Journal
Matrimonial Alliance (09 June 1853). Western Times
Y.M. (1832). Some Remarks on Matrimonial Advertisements, being an inquiry into their use and abuse.
A Wife Wanted. (November 1841). Oxford Chronicle and Reading Gazette
The Wife-Seeker in Oxford (November 1841). Wexford Conservative
And for more information about Victorian Marital Advertisements, see this excellent post: https://www.mimimatthews.com/2016/01/04/alternative-courtship-matrimonial-advertisements-in-the-19th-century/