Penelope's English Experiences by Kate Douglas Wiggin
Part First--In Town.
Chapter IX. A Table of Kindred and Affinity.
On one of our excursions Hilda Mellifica accompanied us, and we alighted to see the place where the Smithfield martyrs were executed, and to visit some of the very old churches in that vicinity. We found hanging in the vestibule of one of them something quite familiar to Hilda, but very strange to our American eyes: 'A Table of Kindred and Affinity, wherein whosoever are related are forbidden in Scripture and our Laws to Marry Together.'
Salemina was very quiet that afternoon, and we accused her afterwards of being depressed because she had discovered that, added to the battalions of men in England who had not thus far urged her to marry them, there were thirty persons whom she could not legally espouse even if they did ask her!
I cannot explain it, but it really seemed in some way that our chances of a 'sweet, safe corner of the household fire' had materially decreased when we had read the table.
"It only goes to prove what Salemina remarked yesterday," I said: "that we can go on doing a thing quite properly until we have seen the rule for it printed in black and white. The moment we read the formula we fail to see how we could ever have followed it; we are confused by its complexities, and we do not feel the slightest confidence in our ability to do consciously the thing we have done all our lives unconsciously."
"Like the centipede," quoted Salemina:-
"'The centipede was happy quite Until the toad, for fun, Said, "Pray, which leg goes after which?" Which wrought his mind to such a pitch, He lay distracted in a ditch Considering how to run!'"
"The Table of Kindred and Affinity is all too familiar to me," sighed Hilda, "because we had a governess who made us learn it as a punishment. I suppose I could recite it now, although I haven't looked at it for ten years. We used to chant it in the nursery schoolroom on wet afternoons. I well remember that the vicar called one day to see us, and the governess, hearing our voices uplifted in a pious measure, drew him under the window to listen. This is what he heard--you will see how admirably it goes! And do not imagine it is wicked: it is merely the Law, not the Gospel, and we framed our own musical settings, so that we had no associations with the Prayer Book."
Here Hilda chanted softly, there being no one in the old churchyard:-
"A woman may not marry with her Grandfather . Grandmother's Husband, Husband's Grandfather .. Father's Brother . Mother's Brother . Father's Sister's Husband .. Mother's Sister's Husband . Husband's Father's Brother . Husband's Mother's Brother .. Father . Step- Father . Husband's Father .. Son . Husband's Son . Daughter's Husband .. Brother . Husband's Brother . Sister's Husband .. Son's Son . Daughter's Son . Son's Daughter's Husband .. Daughter's Daughter's Husband . Husband's Son's Son . Husband's Daughter's Son .. Brother's Son . Sister's Son . Brother's Daughter's Husband .. Sister's Daughter's Husband . Husband's Brother's Son . Husband's Sister's Son."
"It seems as if there were nobody left," I said disconsolately, "save perhaps your Second Cousin's Uncle, or your Enemy's Dearest Friend."
"That's just the effect it has on one," answered Hilda. "We always used to conclude our chant with the advice:-
"And if there is anybody, after this, in the universe . left to . marry .. marry him as expeditiously . as you . possibly . can .. Because there are very few husbands omitted from this table of . Kindred and . Affinity .. And it behoveth a maiden to snap them up without any delay . willing or unwilling . whenever and . wherever found."
"We were also required to learn by heart the form of Prayer with Thanksgiving to be used Yearly upon the Fifth Day of November for the happy deliverance of King James I. and the Three Estates of England from the most traitorous and bloody-intended Massacre by Gunpowder; also the prayers for Charles the Martyr and the Thanksgiving for having put an end to the Great Rebellion by the Restitution of the King and Royal Family after many Years' interruption which unspeakable Mercies were wonderfully completed upon the 29th of May in the year 1660!"
"1660! We had been forty years in America then," soliloquised Francesca; "and isn't it odd that the long thanksgivings in our country must all have been for having successfully run away from the Gunpowder Treason, King Charles the Martyr, and the Restituted Royal Family; yet here we are, you and I, the best of friends, talking it all over."
As we jog along, or walk, by turns, we come to Buckingham Street, and looking up at Alfred Jingle's lodgings say a grateful word of Mr. Pickwick. We tell each other that much of what we know of London and England seems to have been learned from Dickens.
Deny him the right to sit among the elect, if you will; talk of his tendency to farce and caricature; call his humour low comedy, and his pathos bathos--although you shall say none of these things in my presence unchallenged; the fact remains that every child, in America at least, knows more of England--its almshouses, debtors' prisons, and law-courts, its villages and villagers, its beadles and cheap- jacks and hostlers and coachmen and boots, its streets and lanes, its lodgings and inns and landladies and roastbeef and plum-pudding, its ways, manners, and customs,--knows more of these things and a thousand others from Dickens's novels than from all the histories, geographies, biographies, and essays in the language. Where is there another novelist who has so peopled a great city with his imaginary characters that there is hardly room for the living population, as one walks along the ways?
O these streets of London! There are other more splendid shades in them,--shades that have been there for centuries, and will walk beside us so long as the streets exist. One can never see these shades, save as one goes on foot, or takes that chariot of the humble, the omnibus. I should like to make a map of literary London somewhat after Leigh Hunt's plan, as projected in his essay on the World of Books; for to the book-lover 'the poet's hand is always on the place, blessing it.' One can no more separate the association from the particular spot than one can take away from it any other beauty.
'Fleet Street is always Johnson's Fleet Street' (so Leigh Hunt says); 'the Tower belongs to Julius Caesar, and Blackfriars to Suckling, Vandyke, and the Dunciad. . .I can no more pass through Westminster without thinking of Milton, or the Borough without thinking of Chaucer and Shakespeare, or Gray's Inn without calling Bacon to mind, or Bloomsbury Square without Steele and Akenside, than I can prefer brick and mortar to wit and poetry, or not see a beauty upon it beyond architecture in the splendour of the recollection.'