Are you a pretty woman, inclined to indolence, and with a yearning for financial security?
Before the era of reality television shows, this breach of promise action from the Armagh Guardian, 26th August 1845. Interesting that the jury did not pay any attention to the Defendant’s rather pompous barrister and instead awarded the Plaintiff the very considerable amount of £700.
Juries are not fools. The Plaintiff was no spring chicken at officially 27 (researches into the Little family tree show her to have been in fact over a decade older) and the Defendant himself was old to know better than to be faffing around without clear intentions at the very advanced age of 53.
“At the Cork Assizes, on Friday last, an action of this description was tried, in which Miss Letitia Little, aged 27 daughter of Dr. Little, of Sligo, was plaintiff, and Mr. George Newenham, of Summer-house, Cork, widower, aged 53, defendant. The court was much crowded during the trial, and a great number of ladies were present.
It appeared, from the facts stated by Mr. Henn, counsel for plaintiff, that the defendant had met the plaintiff at the house of Mr. Beamish, of Cork, and was fascinated by her appearance. From that period he was unremitting in his attentions, and ultimately offered her his heart and hand. He also made proposal of marriage to the lady’s father, who consented to the union. Suddenly, however, a change came over the spirit of the defendant’s dream. A few days afterwards, this elderly gentleman wrote a most doleful letter to Dr. Little, expressing his regret that his means were not such as to warrant him in marrying the young lady ; or, to use his own words, “ the pressing state of my affairs renders marriage at present a most absurd thing for me to think of.” An action was consequently brought for this breach of contract, and damages were laid at £5,000. £500 was lodged in court by the defendant.
Mr. Bennett, who appeared for the defendant, admitted that the defendant was entitled to compensation, but submitted that the sum lodged in court was sufficient. In course of his observations he said—“ According to the case you have heard, this girl, beautiful, accomplished, and well educated, came to this town on the 23d of September last, and the defendant was invited to a gentleman’s house where he saw her at dinner. For some time it does not appear he paid her any particular attention, but on the 24th or 25th of January he appears to have asked her hand in marriage. He is, and was then, a widower, of the age of 53, and she is a beautiful girl—one of the witnesses said she is now 27 ; but what her precise age is we have not accurately learned.
Gentleman, that he was in love, there can be no doubt ; and although I myself am past 53, I can conceive a man of 53—indeed something older—talking love to her, when his passions were moved as his were, and which were not cooled until he discovered he could not support her as he ought to do. He thought, therefore, the course he ought to pursue was to prevent the union taking place. He was threatened with an action, and he had then another course open to him— that of marrying her. He dared the action, for he preferred that to bringing unhappiness on her.
Is there, I ask, a young lady who sees me now—and, indeed, I wish I had in this case a jury of pretty girls to address—(laughter)—and I could easily empannel [sic] them in this court, my lord. Were you, ladies, in that box, to you I would say no more than this—would you rather have a widower of fifty-three, with five little pledges hanging on his back, with a fortune say of £400 or £500 a-year in hand at your disposal?
Ladies of the jury, have you agreed to your verdict? (great laughter). There was a famous poet who wrote of a lady—you have read this, my lord. After giving a history of the lady he described her as being fond of the male sex—(laughter)— indeed, I believe that is a propensity that most ladies have (renewed laughter). Now, she had to draw a comparison, not between a man of 53 and a girl of 26, but between a man of 50 and one of 25. The question was asked ; she look at each, and immediately and very candidly said, “I’d rather have two of 25 than one of 50” (immoderate laughter). But, gentlemen of the jury, the friends of this young lady think differently. They are of opinion that this widower of 53 should pay—for what? Compensation in damages for the loss she sustained? Why, I believe the damages she sustained could never be estimated at £500.
The jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff—Seven hundred pounds damages and sixpence costs.”
I wonder did the beauteous Miss Little ever find an alternative spouse? Available capital of seven hundred pounds would have helped considerably, no doubt. Perhaps that’s what the jury had in mind when they awarded generously…