Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/82

This page has been validated.

be inferred from the Hebrew tradition, which attributes the invention of this ornament to Tubal-Cain, the "instructor of every artificer in brass and iron." The barbaric lover, in choosing a token for his mistress, was doubtless actuated, like the lover of to-day, by the wish to be kept in remembrance, and the proverbial saying, "Out of sight, out of mind," being as true in savage as in civilized times, he sought for a memento which should be always in view, never laid aside, not in danger of being lost—which, in short, should become a part of herself, mutely reminding her of him, and presenting a silent remonstrance when her affections went astray. For the purposes of a love-gift, he could find nothing more suitable than the ring. And when the agonies of courtship finally settled into the steady troubles of matrimony, it was not remarkable that this token of affection should remain on the finger of the bride, or be removed, to be succeeded by another of a similar kind.

The uses of the finger-ring have been many and diverse. Originally purely for ornament, it became a signet for kings and a warrant for their messengers; to civil officers it was once an emblem of office, and to ecclesiastics an indispensable portion of the episcopal costume. It was once worn, by physicians to prevent contagion, and by patients to cure disease; the timorous wore it as a charm against evil spirits, and the ambitious clung to it as a talisman, giving the wearer success over his enemies. But as a love-token, and a symbol of marriage, the use of the ring is so general, and of so long standing, as to dwarf into insignificance its employment in all other directions.

At what period it came into play as a recognized factor in the marriage ceremony, it is impossible to say. The Hebrews used it in very early ages, and probably borrowed the custom from the Egyptians, among whom the wedding-ring was known—a circle, in the language of hieroglyphics, being the symbol of eternity, and the embodiment of the circle readily symbolizing the hypothetical duration of wedded love. The Greeks used wedding-rings, so did the Romans, both putting them on the forefinger—by-the-way, a practice followed by the mediæval painters, many of whom represent the Virgin's ring on her forefinger. In the East, where the popular estimate of woman is low, the use of the wedding-ring has not been common, though occasionally the favorite wife of an Oriental monarch would receive from her master a ring as a mark of his favor. The conclusion, therefore, is safe that, with increase of respect for the institution of marriage, come also increased respect for and use of the ring as a token of the alliance.

During a part of the middle ages, this respect showed itself in a peculiar way, custom demanding that the wedding-ring should cost as much as the bridegroom could afford to pay; and there are records in Germany and France, during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, of many large investments made in this direction by grooms eager to