February 29, 1852

Ink

Feb 29

1852 Sunday  It was quite windy and mother

was unable to attend meeting all day so

I staid at home with her this morning.

This afternoon have been with mother & Augusta

& mother returned home. Since meeting

have written a letter to cousin Harriet Ames

but feel rather doubtful about sending it

1852 happened to be a leap year, which, as most of us know, is so named because the addition of the extra day of February 29 causes days of the week, which normally advance by a single weekday from one year to the next, to “leap” ahead by two.

Leap year is known in more scientific circles as a bissextile or intercalary year. Charles Dickens knew that.  He also knew about a tradition that allowed ladies to propose marriage during Leap Year, a custom otherwise accorded to the male of the species. In 1840, when Queen Victoria announced her “intention” to marry Prince Albert , he commented – tongue-in-very-British-cheek – accordingly:

“That the present is Bissextile, or Leap Year, in which it is held and considered lawful for any lady to offer and submit proposals of marriage to any gentleman, and to enforce and insist upon acceptance of the same, under pain of a certain fine or penalty; to wit, one silk or satin dress of the first quality, to be chosen by the lady and paid (or owed) for, by the gentleman.

“That these and other horrors and dangers with which the said Bissextile, or Leap Year, threatens the gentlemen of England on every occasion of its periodical return, have been greatly aggravated and augmented by the terms of Her Majesty’s said Most Gracious communication, which have filled the heads of divers young ladies in this Realm with certain new ideas destructive to the peace of mankind, that never entered their imagination before.

“That a case has occurred in Camberwell, in which a young lady informed her Papa that ’she intended to ally herself in marriage’ with Mr. Smith of Stepney; and that another, and a very distressing case, has occurred at Tottenham, in which a young lady not only stated her intention of allying herself in marriage with her cousin John, but, taking violent possession of her said cousin, actually married him.

That similar outrages are of constant occurrence, not only in the capital and its neighbourhood, but throughout the kingdom, and that unless the excited female populace be speedily checked and restrained in their lawless proceedings, most deplorable results must ensue therefrom; among which may be anticipated a most alarming increase in the population of the country, with which no efforts of the agricultural or manufacturing interest can possibly keep pace…”

Evelina may have read Dickens’ playful screed on the dangers of Leap Year, probably without taking offense.  She had her own letter to write today to a cousin, one that seemed to trouble her.

 

* Charles Dickens, Sketches of Young Couples, courtesy of http://www.authorama.com

 

 

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