Dangerous Dancing in Scotland

I have just unearthed a large tome from my shelves, The Social Life of Scotland in the 18th Century, from which this gem comes:

No more common source of hurt to good morals existed in those days than the favourite gatherings at “penny weddings”. The rural classes in those gloomy days had few social pleasures, and what they had were forbidden ones. they were extremely poor; they had no mans wherewith to furnish forth the entertainment at a bridal; and it was the custom of the country for friends and neighbours to subscribe money – originally one penny each – to provide food, drink, and fiddler. Scandals undoubtedly attended these gatherings; driving, rioting, and immorality were the constant accompaniments and consequences. the General Assembly passed Stringent Acts against “promiscuous dancing”; Kirk-Sessions attacked those meetings and all who took part in them – musicians and dancers alike. To be found in possession of a fiddle involved a summons the Church court; while to have played at gatherings were there had been promiscuous dancing entailed  a penalty of £20 Scots for each offence, and all persons participating n them were sometimes refused “sealing ordinances” or Communion. One of helots effective measures to prevent these heinous assemblies was that which Kirk-Sessions adopted, of making each person before been proclaimed for marriage deposit a pledge or “pawn” – some piece of money or article of clothing or spoons, -which should be forfeited if aa penny wedding took place. A southern Session thus expresses in 1715 its emotions: “Considering that the great abuse that is committing at wedding dinners and in particular by promiscuous dancing betwixt young men and young women, which is most abominable, not to be practiced in a land of light, and condemned in former time of Presbytery as not only unnecessary but sensuall, being only an inlet of lust and provocation to uncleanness through the corruptions of men and women in this loose and degenerate age, wherein the devil seems to be raging in a spirit of uncleanness and profanity,making such practices an occasion to the flesh, ad thereby drawing men and women to dishonour god ruins their own souls, and cast reproach upon the holy ways of religion,” the session “ordain, that whoever shall suffer promiscuous dancing at their bridals, other free or penny weddings, shall forfeit 3 dollars, and the persons so dancing shall be rebuked before the congregation.” There is no evidence, however, that these austere ministers or elders ever fined lairds or guests at the mansions for ladies and gentlemen dancing together at their weddings and their balls.”

One law for the rich… plus ca change!


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