This section is from the book "The Transmission Of Life. Counsels On The Nature And Hygiene Of The Masculine Function", by George H. Napheys. Also available from Amazon: The Transmission of Life.
In both law and medicine the prime object of marriage, regarded from a social point of view, is the continuation of the species. Hence, until the preliminary steps to this end are taken, the marriage is said not to be consummated. The precise meaning of the expression is thus laid down by Bou-vier in his Law Dictionary: " The first time that the husband and wife cohabit together after the ceremony of marriage has been performed, is called the consummation of marriage." A marriage, however, is complete without this in the eye of the law, as it is a maxim taken from the Roman civil statutes that consent, not cohabitation, is the binding element in the ceremony; consensus, non concubitus, facit nuptias.
A sage morality throughout most civilized lands prohibits any anticipation of the act until the civil officer or the priest has performed the rite. The experience of the world proves the wisdom of this, for any relaxation of the laws of propriety in this respect are fraught, not only with injury to society, but with loss of self-respect to the individual. Those couples who under any plea whatever, be it of the nearness of the day or the imagined veniality of the liberty, allow themselves to transgress this rule, very surely lay up for themselves a want of confidence in each other, and a source of mutual recrimination in the future.
True as this is shown to be by constant experience, yet there have been and still are communities in which the custom was current of allowing and even encouraging such improper intimacies. In the early middle ages it was common in all grades of society, and is mentioned as leading to dissolute habits and consequently condemned, in the laws of King Charlemagne, known as the Capitularies.
The Emperor, Frederick III. of Austria, after he was affianced to Leonora, Princess of Portugal by diplomatic envoys, refused to complete the marriage unless he was permitted to first ascertain whether she would prove a satisfactory wife. And that the same rights were occasionally insisted upon by the other sex is shown by the example of the Lady Herzland von Rappoltstein, who, in 1378, declined to carry out her agreement to wed Count John IV. of Habs-burg, on the ground that, after opportunities given, he had proved himself to be incapable.
There are still remote districts in Germany where the pea-santry retain the institution known as " trial-nights," probe-nachte, and " come-nights," komm-nachte, on which a girl's lover will visit her, and each may be convinced of the physical fitness of the other for marriage. A century ago a similar custom prevailed in parts of New England and in the German settlements in Pennsylvania, as has been lately shown by Dr. Henry A. Stiles, of Brooklyn, in his work on Bundling, by which term it was known. Washington Irving, in his Knickerbocker History of New York, several times refers to it also.
Now, we believe, happily no trace of the habit exists in our land. Only in a singularly simple and unsophisticated state of society could it be perpetuated without leading to flagitious immorality, and we may regard it as one of the beneficent results of the extensive diffusion of knowledge, that the merit and the advantages to both sexes of absolute continence before marriage are at present universally recog nized in this country.