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Beyond doubt, most people stayed strictly within the bounds of propriety, but in the mid to late 1700s, more than one girl in three was pregnant when she walked down the aisle.In parts of Britain, 50 percent of brides were great with child.
Today, love is popularly considered the reason for a marriage, but for the best part of 150 years, colonial marriages among the gentry were arranged in the same way that they are still agreed upon in parts of the world.
But the rituals of Austen's Pride and Prejudice—idealistically drafted in 1796—as shining examples have long since been passed over, and courtship, that delicate art of hooking a prospective mate and playing the fish all the way to a preacher, is all but dead.
Leon Kass of the University of Chicago says that nowadays "for the great majority, the way to the altar is uncharted territory: It's every couple on its own bottom, without a compass, often without a goal.
For the lower end of the social scale, property was not such a problem. The arrangement was a spoken marriage contract—in Latin verba de praesenti—taken alone or before witnesses.
For couples that could not secure their families' blessings, this was a consolation.
The well-heeled were aware that there were scurrilous and ruthless fortune hunters looking to ensnare wealthy heiresses. For some couples there was heartbreak; for others, resignation.