The survival and consolidation of the families' power and prosperity were at stake.
Courtship and marriage were arrangements that would be of mutual benefit to the families. There were instances when young women and men tried to circumvent the order of the day.
The problem was that a swain eager to start a household of his own often had to wait until his father or guardian saw fit to dispense his property in the son's favor.
Sometimes a younger son or daughter could not be betrothed before his or her elder siblings.
And for a couple determined to buck tradition and marry without the blessing and support of their families, it was a choice between love and money. Since the Middle Ages, it had been accepted in England that a couple could have a common law—in effect, a do-it-yourself—marriage arrangement, and as immigrants flowed into the New World, they brought the custom along.
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.
Darcy and the demure Miss Elizabeth Bennett, where ne'er a lusty thought or word between them passed.
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.
The ceremony could as easily be performed in a field, a garden, an alehouse, or, as was often the case, in a bedroom. It's easy to imagine a libidinous youth promising in a few words to have and to hold in order to secure his wicked way with a young country maiden, later to renege on the deal.
But historians say the modern, mixed-up, anything-goes form of bonding that includes physical intimacy and permanent or temporary cohabitation, with children born in or out of wedlock, is not altogether different from some of the practices of segments of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century populations.
As far as chaste courtship is concerned, the good old days have been overrated, almost as mythical as the Standish-Mullins-Alden triangle that Longfellow invented.
Blame human nature if you like, but for want of a better phrase, hanky-panky was as prevalent among some eighteenth-century folks as it is among some of the twenty-first's.
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.