Page:Devonshire Characters and Strange Events.djvu/100

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WIFE-SALES


THERE is no myth relative to the manners and customs of the English that in my experience is more tenaciously held by the ordinary Frenchman than that the sale of a wife in the market-place is an habitual and an accepted fact in English life.

It is—so far as my experience goes—quite useless to assure a Frenchman that such transfer of wives is not a matter of everyday occurrence, and is not legal: he replies with an expression of incredulity, that of course English people endeavour to make light of, or deny, a fact that is "notorious."

In a book by the antiquary Colin de Plancy, on Legends and Superstitions connected with the Sacraments, he gives up some pages to an account of the prevalent English custom. I heard a country cure once preach on marriage, and contrast its indissolubility in Catholic France with the laxity in Protestant England, where "any one, when tired of his wife, puts a halter round her neck, takes her to the next market town and sells her for what she will fetch." I ventured to call on this cure and remonstrate, but he answered me he had seen the fact stated in books of the highest authority, and that my disputing the statement did not prove that his authorities were wrong, but that my experience was limited, and he asked me point blank whether I had never known such cases. There, unhappily, he had me on the hip. And when I was obliged to confess that

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