HC Deb 06 March 1850 vol 109 cc405-55

Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment proposed to be made to Question [27th February], "That the Bill be now read a Second Time," and which Amendment was to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months." Question again proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."


rose to address the House. He said he was most unwilling to follow up the same course of argument pursued by the hon. Members for Abingdon and Oxford, lest he should in any respect diminish the effect produced by their admirable speeches. In consequence of the ex parte statements in the blue book, an association of gentlemen opposed to the repeal of the existing law, had procured returns from clergymen in various parts of the country. These returns being voluntary, were worth as much as those which Messrs. Crowder and Maynard procured, and which were embodied in the blue book—nay, they were worth more, for they were not hastily gathered for a purpose, but tendered by persons of experience of what they spoke about—by clergymen of fifty, forty, thirty, and twenty years' knowledge of their parishes. Those returns which came from the large towns could not, of course, be depended upon for more than containing what their writers knew; this, however, was sufficient to show that the case was not of that pressing nature which it had been represented. Those, however, from the agricultural parishes, averaging from 1,500 to 150 inhabitants, of which there were many, might be relied upon as showing their condition; for no clergymen but those who cared for their flock would have taken the trouble to answer the questions. From these he would show that, although, as was to be supposed, marriages in the degree of wife's sister were, as being less flagrant, more common than in the other prohibited degrees, yet that was followed in the ratio which was to be expected from the numbers of our population. It was assumed that no marriages in the other degrees had taken place except among the most abandoned individuals—the offscourings of society. He would show that the proportion of persons in the upper or middle classes who had contracted them was about the same as that of those who had married their wives' sisters. From these returns it appeared that there were within the knowledge of these clergymen 178 cases of marriage with a wife's sister, out of 269 marriages within the prohibited degrees; the remaining 91 consisting of cases in which individuals had married persons who stood within the degrees of relationship subjoined:—Marriages with a brother's widow, 41; own aunt, 6; own niece, 19; wife's daughter, 6; own half-sister, 1; father's wife, 1; brother's wife's daughter, 1; son's wife, 2; uncle's wife, 3 (one case of a peeress); wife's niece, 11. These were, for the most part, cases which had occurred in the upper and middle classes of life. Of these unlawful marriages, other than with a wife's sister, one was of a lady of title, who married her husband's nephew, who was a clergyman. A lieutenant-general in the Army had married a lady, and then married her aunt; he then married another woman, and afterwards her niece (the niece of the third wife). The same clergyman who returned this case, knew of two cases of marriage with brother's widows in a superior class of life. In the case of the lieutenant-general, and one of the others, he stated that there was an appearance of attention to religious duties. A clergyman from Bristol knew of a case in which a man had married his illegitimate daughter, and he stated that this man could not be convinced that this was horrible incest. Another case was that of a shopkeeper at Cheltenham, who married his aunt. One case was reported from Hull where a man of property, in the year 1802, married the daughter, her mother, and afterwards a second daughter. Another clergyman reported that he knew of a respectable labourer who had married his brother's widow; and of a shopkeeper who had also married his brother's widow, and had improper intercourse with her daughter, who was at once his stepdaughter and his niece. Another clergyman knew of a respectable labourer, a discharged soldier, living with a brother's widow. Another case was that of a publican, who married his niece. A clergyman in Nottinghamshire stated, that there was in his parish a considerable farmer who had married his brother's widow. He also know of a case where the sister of a considerable farmer, after leaving the parish, married her uncle, to whom she went to keep house. A wine merchant in Essex had married his brother's widow. In Suffolk a shopkeeper had married his niece. A clergyman in Gloucestershire knew of a case in the higher ranks where a man had married his half-brother's daughter. Another case was that of an officer in the army who married the widow of his brother, a clergyman. Another was that of a tradesman who married his wife's niece. Two farmers had married nieces. Another case was that of a large farmer married to his father's wife; the clergyman who reported this "knew nothing more against his moral character." From Shrewsbury a case was returned where a manufacturer had married his brother's widow. A clergyman in Nottinghamshire knew of a case where a man, a degree above the labouring class, had married his niece. A clergyman in Bristol also knew of a case where a tradesman in comfortable circumstances had married his niece. Another case, in Devonshire, was reported of a marriage with a brother's widow, contracted between parties in a respectable condition in life. He sincerely regretted that he should be compelled, in the painful discharge of his duty, to recapitulate such occurrences to the House; and he trusted it would be the last time it would ever be necessary to bring such returns before the House again. But they established the point that the right hon. Gentleman had not fairly made out his case in favour of marriage with a deceased wife's sister by any considerations which did not apply to marriages within the other prohibited degrees. They also established the fact that these cases had, in a fair proportion, occurred among parties in the upper and middle ranks of life. He would add, that he could not see any very great difference between these cases and the one case provided for by the right hon. Gentleman, of marriage with a wife's sister. To show that these marriages were much less frequent than was generally supposed, he would read the returns made by clergymen connected with the most populous districts in the metropolis. [The hon. Member read the returns, from which it appeared that the greater number of the clergy referred to knew of no such marriages; others had heard of only one or two.] It was clear from this that the grievance, so far as London was concerned, could not be relied upon by the friends of the Bill; and it was also apparent that, if this Bill passed, measures for legalising polygamy, divorce, and all the other crimes that poor human nature was subject to, would follow. The case of the poor man, which had been so much relied upon last year, had fallen to the ground since it had been so well examined by the hon. and learned Member for Abingdon. Upon this subject he had received a letter from the curate of the parish church of Bethnalgreen, from which he would read the following passage:— As it has been alleged by the friends of Mr. Wortloy's Bill that the proposed change of the law would be a boon to the poor man, I have for some months past been inquiring in all directions for poor men who have either married or desired to marry their deceased wives' sisters, and not found or heard of one such instance. The supporters of Mr. Wortley's Bill should be challenged to produce their poor men. The clergymen of two parishes in Worcester, containing between them 1,900 souls, had never heard of any marriages with the sister of a deceased wife, and never knew of cases where parties wished to contract such a marriage; on the contrary, there was a steady feeling against it. He added, that there were many more cases in which incest was committed owing to the overcrowded state of the cottages and dwellings of the poor; and he expressed an opinion, in which he (Mr. Hope) coincided, that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buteshire would be far more usefully employed in directing his attention to the latter class of evils. He also read a report from a clergyman of Devonport, which he characterised as the most crowded and immoral parish in England, stating that he had heard from clergymen of the longest standing in the place, that the person sent round some years since to collect opinions in favour of the proposed Bill, did not call on those who could have supplied him with information, but was content to take the vague opinion of one who had no fixture or appointment. The petitions for this Bill had been adroitly managed. At first they made a mistake and got the petitions signed by even numbers, 2,000 from Manchester, and 1,500 from another place; but lately they had managed better, and had been signed by odd numbers. He knew of the five letters which had been received from five clergymen favourable to the Bill, and he also knew that copies of those letters had been sedulously posted to the churchwardens of every parish in which the clergymen were opposed to the Bill. He knew that this had been done in Kent, in Lancashire, Northumberland, and one of the midland counties. One of these five gentlemen was Dr. Hook, of Leeds. Now, some years ago, he should have thought Dr. Hook a high authority on this subject; but the course which that rev. gentleman had taken upon this measure had rather diminished his opinion of his authority. Some years ago Dr. Hook exercised an influence over the town of Leeds that was absolutely despotic; but among the petitions against this Bill which he had presented that day was one from thirty-six clergymen of the town of Leeds, who must know that town and the opinions of its inhabitants as well as Dr. Hook. But, although Dr. Hook was in favour of this Bill, he had printed a few years ago a Theological Dictionary, and in the latest revised edition of this work, printed in 1845, under the head "consanguinity," Dr. Hood there stated— Certain degrees of consanguinity are among the impediments to marriage, both by the law of nature and by the revealed word of God. These degrees are defined by the Church, and are expressed in a table drawn up by Archbishop Parker in 1563, and set forth by authority. This table is as follows, &c. Under the head of "Matrimony," Dr. Hook says— The State in England has declared that marriage may be henceforth regarded entirely as a civil contract; but the Church has not been silenced, and she affirms that though the State may permit this, the word of God instructs us otherwise, and marriage is a religious contract. And again:— Of course all Churchmen must now adhere to their principle—that marriage is a religious contract, and that those marriages only are lawful in the sight of God which are contracted in His name and by His ordinance. One of the commissioners sent into the country to collect evidence in favour of the Bill was now going about the country as a propagandist, holding meetings in favour of the present measure. This gentleman's name was Sleigh, but whether it was pronounced Slee or Slay he did not know. This gentleman had met with no great success in his progress, for he found, from the Leeds Mercury, that at Wakefield, Dewsbury, and other places, very small audiences had collected to hear him. At Thirsk it appeared that the opposition to the Bill was so strong that the trustees of the large room over the savings bank, where the meeting was to have been held, declined to allow Mr. Sleigh the use of the room for such an object. Many of those gentlemen were Quakers—much to their credit—and the gentleman was obliged to hold the meeting in a room at the Three Tuns Inn. At Liverpool an attempt to hold a public meeting for the same purpose had failed. A clergyman, who made him a communication on this subject, said he knew a case where a lady had unfortunately been induced to contract a marriage with a clergyman, her brother-in-law, and she stated, that she would go over the world to induce people not to follow her example. The clergyman of St. Margaret's, Westminster, stated, that, so far as he could learn, the present law was no grievance to the poor, and its alteration would be no boon to them. It was said, that to prohibit Dissenters at least to contract these marriages was an unjustifiable invasion of the liberty of conscience; but this appeared to him a futile argument. At the time of the Reformation, the Church and State of England, assuming that a man and his wife became "one flesh," found in the xviiith chapter of Leviticus a prohibition of marriages within certain degrees. The State, upon this assumption, proceeded upon the principle that there could be no harm, and must be good, in adopting this as our rule; and she called upon to obey this law all those who enjoyed the benefit of English citizenship. Such restraints might be in some cases burdensome, but the good of the State required that persons should sacrifice some of their liberty to the common weal. In return for the liberty she gave them, which they had not before possessed, she called upon them to renounce those contracts that might be unlawful in the sight of God. Among the marriages which were thus permitted were those between first cousins, the propriety of which was so often canvassed in society. When so much liberty was given, did it not seem as if persons were bringing forward conscience to excuse passion, when they wished to contract marriages which might be bringing upon them the grievous sin of contracting what was unlawful and impure? Let the House remember that this was not a question of what might be called marriage simple, but of second marriages, which were very different things. No one would deny that second marriages were permitted; but before a first marriage, a man had ample time to see which member of a family of sisters was best suited to him, and he knew that if he lost her the whole world was open before him to choose any woman, except her sister, to supply her place. Was it, therefore, too much to ask of persons that they should acquiesce in the present law? If this Bill were passed, he did not see how it would be possible but that marriages with aunts, with nieces, and with brothers' widows, should be also permitted. In Prussia and Germany generally, where marriages with a wife's sister were permitted, marriages with uncles, aunts, and nieces, were also allowed; and so it must be in this country, if the law were once relaxed so as to permit marriages with a deceased wife's sister. He could not shut his eyes to the fact, that these fragmentary relaxations of the law of marriage (allowing it with a wife's sister; disallowing it with her niece, or a brother's widow—glad as he was at the restrictions in themselves) would admit a dangerous and insidious principle into the law and practice of England. Hitherto the understanding in England had been that marriage was a religious, not a civil, ceremony; and the only marriages prohibited were those of an unlawful kind—not as in Germany and some other countries, where restrictions were put upon marriages on account of difference of rank between the parties. In Germany, for example, a marriage might be prohibited because the lady could not produce the requisite number of quarterings in her escutcheon. The consequence was, that the connexions of the aristocracy were confined within a very limited sphere, and that other evils were created which he believed in no small degree led to the revolutions that had taken place in Germany. In Spain, where great restrictions of a similar nature were imposed upon the grandees, they found the race degenerated and fallen to an extraordinary degree. In England, however, no such prohibitions existed, the law restraining only those marriages that were contrary to the law of God. It might be said, allow the Dissenters this liberty, it will not hurt the Church. He would not admit this. If they granted this relief to Dissenters, would not that cause many who professed to adhere to the Church of England to become members of a sect of Dissenters for a short time, then marry their wife's sister or their aunt, and, after attending the chapel for a short time, afterwards find that the scruples which had induced them to leave the Church no longer existed. They would return to the Church, ask the clergyman to dinner, and the clergyman would find sitting at his table, under the name of wife, the host's aunt or niece. They must come to this—had they been on the wrong tack for three centuries, and were they now to change it? The right hon. Gentleman had made certain changes in the Bill, as compared with that of last year, for the purpose of conciliating the clergy; but, in his opinion, those changes formed only an additional snare and difficulty, and certainly they did not remove his objections to the measure. Before concluding he would state, on the authority of a Manchester paper, that this Bill, instead of being applicable to the poor of that part of the country, was not wanted by them, and was not at all suited to their circumstances. It was stated in the Manchester CourierThat Mr. Wortley must be deplorably ignorant of the circumstances of the working population—at all events, in this part of the kingdom. In the first place, such marriages are almost unknown among the workpeople, who (greatly to their credit) feel an instinctive repugnance to them; and, in the second place, every member of a poor family is obliged to work for their livelihood—women as well as men. It is one of the most gigantic evils of the manufacturing system that even the wife is necessarily taken away from her young family in order to attend to her employment in the mill. Every available hand must be at work to maintain the family; and, therefore, Mr. Wortley's position is simply imaginary. In conclusion, he hoped that the Bill would be rejected by the House.


wished to say a few words on the question, because he felt that the course he was prepared to take, and the grounds on which he had come to a conclusion as to his vote, differed from those that had been generally assigned by persons supporting the Bill, and because the opinions he had formed were contrary to those of many of his friends for whose views he entertained the deepest respect. He had presented a petition signed by a large body of people in the diocese connected with the county which he represented, praying the House to reject the Bill of his right hon. Friend the Member for Buteshire; but he observed this difference in that petition as contrasted with those presented from similar bodies last year, that the opposition to the Bill was based not on religious but rather on social grounds. He rejoiced that that distinction existed, because in his opinion they were not justified in arguing the question in that House simply and solely on religious grounds. If there was a good argument socially, that was the argument on which he should have relied if he had decided on opposing the Bill. It might be true that there were strong religious arguments against marriages of this description. It had been held from time immemorial in the Church of England that it was so; and as a Member of the Church of England he gave his cordial and unhesitating assent to their deprecation of such mar riages. As a Churchman he was bound by the ecclesiastical law, which forbade such marriages. But the House of Commons was not a convocation or council; and they had no right, as they had no competency, to discuss nice theological questions or mutters of ecclesiastical law. Let the opposition to this measure be based, then, on social grounds. He thought there were grave social objections that might be urged to the Bill; but on questions of this kind they were bound to take a balance of the evil and good, and, however difficult it might be to come to a nice adjustment, to decide on which side the balance preponderated. As he understood the Bill, there was this year a most careful avoidance of everything that would trench in any way upon the rights and privileges of the Church of England. Last year his right hon Friend, with great impolicy and great forgetfulness of the principle on which they ought to legislate in matters affecting religious bodies, relieved clergymen of the Church of England from the penalties properly attaching to them for celebrating these marriages; but with respect to the Church of Scotland he did not dare to propose the same interference, or to sot aside in any way the laws and opinions of that Church. The Church of England, however, was so tied to the State, and so helpless in the hands of the State, as not to be able to make the same resistance to aggressions upon her rights and privileges. This year his right hon. Friend had removed that clause, and he (Mr. Herbert) felt himself in consequence relieved from a considerable difficulty; because, so far as the Church of England was concerned, she was left untouched by the operation of the Bill. He rejoiced that a distinct homage had thus been paid to the principle that the House should not interfere with respect to the laws that the Church of England had established for her own government. But, with respect to other religious bodies, who had no such laws as he had described, who had no canons to restrict them from contracting marriages of this description, there were clearly civil restrictions which prevented them from contracting marriages which, according to their own religious opinions, were perfectly justifiable. Socially speaking, if a case was made out that morality would be endangered by the Bill, that would be a reason for rejecting it, and for maintaining even the religious disability that certain denominations experienced, because they would have to put up with a lesser evil: but he had not heard it established that such danger would arise to morality from this measure as would justify them in preventing religious denominations who had no religious objection to this class of marriages from celebrating them as a civil right. He did not think that in the evidence taken before the Commission, there was anything stated to show that among the poorer classes the alterations of the law would have an immoral tendency, but on that point he would not dwell. He took the broad principle that there being no case sufficient to justify a jealous restriction of religious bodies in this matter, any imposition of such restriction amounted to a disability wholly uncalled for. It had been said that if these marriages were to be contracted by members of the Church of England before the registrar as a civil rite, a stain would lie upon them. His answer was so much the better. He was not for such marriages being made; he belonged to a communion that did not approve of them, and he wished to discourage them. But he thought that, marriage being made a civil rite, they were bound to make that civil rite coextensive with the religious feelings of the country. He had, therefore, though not without great difficulty and great hesitation, come to the conclusion that it was his duty to support the second reading of the Bill.


entirely dissented from the view just taken by the right hon. Member for South Wiltshire, with respect to legislation for different denominations upon this subject, while at the same time he fully concurred with him in opinion as to the inexpediency of discussing theological questions in that House. In the course of the debates on this Bill, he had heard constant appeals to what hon. Gentlemen were pleased to call "the law of God," as though it were something different from the law of nature. He thought it right, at the outset of his remarks, to state broadly the manner in which he drew a distinction between these two terms, and the mode in which he would argue the question. It would be found, he believed, that the "law of God," in most hon. Members' mouths, meant just that which they liked, not anything which they could pro- duce good reasons in support of, but some one thing or other which their own prejudice or feeling made them like more than another, and that it was which they called "the law of God." Reference, too, was constantly made to one manifestation of "the law of God" contained in the "Old Testament." But if hon. Members took any one chapter in that book, in which there was a statement upon which reliance was placed on account of the prohibited degrees, they would find in that same chapter whole masses of phrases which every hon. Gentleman who appealed to that chapter would say could not by possibility be admitted to be law at this time. Take the 6th and 7th verses, for instance, of one chapter—they were both in one sense, and in the proper sense, the law of God; but they were not accepted as a decision in this matter. But one hon. Member takes the 7th, and another the 6th verse; both declare them to be the law of God, and both exclude one or other of them. How, then, in this case, was he to be guided to any decision? By referring to the very chapter which was supposed to govern us in this matter, there were rules laid down wholly opposed to the law of England, and which nobody admitted to be binding in this country. It would be totally impossible to draw any line straight through, and say which was the law of God, and which was not. He took the whole of the chapter, the whole of the book, as statutes and rules made for a special purpose, and for the guidance of a peculiar people, to which thay could not appeal for guidance in this matter. He then came to the question itself, and he looked at it simply as a legislator, and as supposing that no law had ever existed upon the subject, and he asked himself what should he do if he were about to lay down a rule for the guidance of the people upon this subject. The rule laid down by the right hon. Member who had just resumed his seat was the most unsatisfactory that he had heard upon the subject. He proposed to draw a distinction between members of the Church of England and those who did not agree with them, and would allow any person who could bring himself to a certain belief with respect to the person whom he intended to marry, so long as he declared himself not a member of the Church of England, to marry whom he pleased. [Mr. S. HERBERT: No!] He (Mr. Roebuck) thought that was a fair conclusion to draw from the right hon. Gentleman's speech, who stated, as he (Mr. Roebuck) understood him, that it was a hardship upon the Dissenters that they could not marry persons against the marriage with whom they entertained no conscientious scruples. Then, suppose a man not in connexion with the Church of England—and he made the supposition without any feeling of levity—wished to marry his own mother. He would, in that case, come within the rule laid down by the right hon. Gentleman. Now, without appealing to any law except what was called the law of nature, he could find very proper reasons why such a marriage as that should not be allowed. Now, many hon. Gentlemen who appealed both to the law of God, and to the law of nature, would say that a man marrying his sister was contrary both to the law of God and the law of nature. Now, his answer to that was, he did not know that. He believed that almost from the beginning of time mankind had been in the habit of marrying their sisters. What, then, was meant by the law of nature? And here he came back exactly to the same point as that with respect to the law of God—it was just in this case what persons did not like, what they did not think proper. But what were the reasons which induced men in the state of society in which they were, and which had induced all the civilised nations of Europe, not to permit a man to marry his sister? He thought he saw two grounds upon which the prohibition was made, the one a physical, the other a moral reason. Now, the physical reason did not attach to the question; but the moral reason, which alluded to marriage with the sister, applied just as strongly to the sister-in-law. If he were to point to any relation which had in it more of kindness, more of benevolence, more of exalting and hallowed feeling than any other, he would point to the relation of brother and sister. There was a tenderness, a feeling of hallowed affection and endearment about it, which, although between persons of different sexes, was entertained without the slightest feeling or imputation of carnal passion. There was all the gentleness of woman, with all her kindliness, all the emotions which could be introduced into the relationship, without any of the sensual feelings by which the highest feelings of affection between the sexes were tarnished. Could these relationships be increased? If, by any mode of legislation, they could multiply the relations of sisterhood, they would confer an inestimable boon upon humanity. But was there no other view of the case? Pass the Bill according to the wishes of his right hon. and learned Friend, and they would immediately plant a thorn in the side of almost every family. Do not lot us, then, hide these things, or be afraid or ashamed of telling the truth. A man might marry into a family, his wife had several engaging sisters, younger than herself, some of them, perhaps, more beautiful. At the time of his marriage, he felt perfect safety against any mishaps arising from the connection; at the time he married he loved the woman whom he made his wife; he was now made a member of a family, with, say, three other sisters, young and perhaps beautiful, loving him because of the connection which subsisted between their sister and himself. Of what an inestimable worth was the love and companionship of those sisters! But if this Bill passed, could they he so ignorant of human nature—so blind to the realities of life, as not to know that in spite of themselves the wife in that case would not have the same feelings which she might otherwise have, if she knew that her sisters actually felt towards their brother-in-law just as her sisters did with respect to her? There was a sacredness in the case of actual brothers and sisters which rendered all jealousy, all fear, all anxiety impossible; but once break down that barrier, and every hour in which those relaxations would exist would bring its hour of pain, anxiety, jealousy, and misery in the family, instead of its being as now, a multiplication of all the kindly feelings of the heart. Upon these grounds, therefore, he accepted the challenge of the right hon. Member for South Wiltshire, who required to be shown a ground for believing that there was a balance of evil against the measure. Coming, then, to the other side of the question, there was really no ground for standing out in favour of the liberty of marrying a deceased wife's sister. That was surely not a thing of so great importance, seeing how the world was at present constituted. Wives were not wanted. [A laugh.] When he said that, he meant that they could be obtained. It was not at present with society as in the case of a person thrown upon a desert island, with two sisters only to begin the race of mankind with; and if the one should die, you would be under the necessity, if you wished to increase the race, of marrying the other. Nothing of the sort. But then it was said that the deceased's wife's sister would be an excellent guardian for the children, Now, in cases where the wife dies, and leaves behind a young-family, he fully admitted that there was a reason why the aunt, in that case, should have love and affection for her sister's children, and might be anxious and attentive for the preservation of their interests. While he admitted that, he did not think it would increase the care and watchfulness of the aunt over the children by making her a wife. Quite the contrary. The aunt would then be converted into the mother-in-law, and have children, perhaps, of her own; all the passions and feelings of the stepmother would be grafted on to the aunt, and instead of increasing her tenderness and love, and making her more of a benefactor and protector to the children, they would have done their utmost by the passing of the Bill to diminish all her feelings of kindness. The very grounds, therefore, which had been laid down in support of the Bill, were just those which led him to vote against the Bill, He could not think that a more mischievous result of legislation could be conceived than that of converting the kindness and tenderness of the aunt into the jealousy of the stop-mother, which would in fact be the very effect of this Bill. He was not aware of how many marriages of this kind had taken place since this question had been mooted; but of this he felt quite certain, that the numbers were not so great as the right hon. and learned Member who had brought forward the Bill had suggested. But even if they were, what good would be done by legalising these marriages? They did not get over the fact that they had converted the aunt into the stepmother, and the jealousy of the wife that would be caused by the Act passing. He saw no harm, but, on the contrary, great good, which would result from restraining marriages of the kind; and as for importing into the question the cry of religious liberty, it was perfectly idle to talk of it. It was nothing but a mere hypocritical statement. When a legislator, weighing all these things, said that he thought that, for the benefit of mankind, this was a relation which ought not to be allowed to exist—if a legislator came to that conclusion, it was the duty of every religionist—he did not care of what class—to bow down and obey that law. If he could persuade the legislator out of his view, well and good, let him do so; but do not let any man, or set of men, whine and cry out about religious liberty, call it a religious question, or make himself a religious martyr upon the subject. But he must show, when the Bill became an Act of Parliament, they had done a good work by changing the old law, and that, by so doing, they had really benefited the most important of all institutions of nature and of law—viz., the institution of family. Because he thought that of all the relations of life, that of brother and sister was the most hallowed and exalting, and connected by the strongest tics—with the exception of that of parent and child, and one which was most entitled to their love and support—because he thought this Bill would be a direct attack upon that most pleasing and useful of the relations of man, he felt himself bound—after weighing carefully the arguments which he had heard for and against the measure, without the slightest hesitation, whatever might be the imputation attaching to him, to express his strong and determined opinion against the Bill.


said, the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Sheffield had argued this altogether as a social question. He had discarded all the religious opinions, and all the arguments drawn from the word of God. Now, although he (Mr. Spooner) admitted that the House was not the place in which religious discussions ought to be brought forward when they were not absolutely necessary, he could not agree with what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wiltshire, when he said that they ought to legislate on this subject without any reference to the word of God. In his own opinion, he conceived that the Legislature was bound to ascertain, on such matters as these, whether their legislation was authorised by the revealed will of God. The present prohibition he (Mr. Spooner) maintained was not contained in that revelation, either in so many words or by implication. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Sheffield, in his usual powerful style, had drawn a graphic picture representing the evils which he said would result to the wealthier and more refined classes of society by the alterations proposed. Let him (Mr. Spooner) lay before the House what he conceived was now the effect upon the largest part of our population—the middle and poorer classes of society. He would take the case of a married tradesman, who, having set up in business for himself, and who, being left a widower with a small family, was unable in consequence of the existing law to ob- tain that amount of care and superintendence for his family which they required, and which he would be able to obtain if allowed to marry his deceased wife's sister. In what situation were those parties? They were placed in a situation where it was natural that they should wish to marry, but they were restrained from doing so not by the consideration that it was against the law of God, but against the law of man. They had no right to put parties in that position, or to establish such restrictions upon the marriage state unless they thought those restrictions were founded upon the word of God, and were necessary for the social happiness and comfort of large classes of the community. Again, there was another consideration deserving of attention. How many marriages under this law had been illegally solemnised? How many women were living in a state of concubinage? He was convinced, after a long acquaintance with the population of the manufacturing districts, where the houses were so crowded, where society was so large that the individual character was scarcely noticed—that they would find the state of concubinage produced by this law of marriage was such as would greatly distress any man of right feeling, who had made himself acquainted with him. This brought him back to the consideration whether this immorality was occasioned by their law or by the law of God. They must, he thought, attribute it to the imperfect human law—a law which took upon itself a power it had no right to take, and which it could not be proved was conformable to the law of God. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Wiltshire had congratulated them on the religious part of the question being kept out of the discussion, but it formed a very important part of it. It was upon that part of the question that two hon. Members in particular had rested their objections to this measure. He (Mr. Spooner) would not presume to enter into that question, for he felt it was not a fit subject for debate in a popular assembly, where such questions could not be properly decided; but there was one single point to which he would refer, and which appeared to him to be thoroughly conclusive. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the city of Oxford had dwelt particularly upon the prohibition contained in the 18th chapter of Leviticus, to the effect that a man should not take to wife the sister of his wife during his wife's lifetime. Did not that special exclusion during the life of the wife supply a strong inferential argument that, after the first wife's death, such a marriage would be permitted? And how did the hon. and learned Gentleman meet that argument? He said it was a wrong translation. Could there be anything so dangerous as for a man to rely upon that argument when he felt the common sense language would not bear out the view of the case? It appeared to him (Mr. Spooner) to be one of the most extraordinary statements that could be put forward, particularly upon so high an authority as that of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the city of Oxford. But then his hon. and learned Friend said the Church had suggested in the margin of the Bible that another sense was to be attributed to these words. That very suggestion in the margin strengthened his (Mr. Spooner's) argument, because it demonstrated that the subject had been fully considered, and the translation in the text was deliberately adopted. Is it to be believed that the translators would have put what they believed to be the wrong translation in the text, and inserted what they thought the right translation in the margin? Then, supposing that those marriages were not forbidden by the word of God, they should be considered altogether on a social basis. Believing that the great mass of the population were under heavy penalties, and had great dangers imposed upon them by the law as it now stands, which tended to lead them into the commission of great immorality, they should pause—however eloquent the picture might be of the injury that would be inflicted on the higher and more refined classes of society—before they continued a law that had already created immense immorality, and which was daily perpetuating that immorality. There was another point to be considered—they were told that the Church was against those marriages; and perhaps some of the canons of the Church might be against them, but the canons which prohibited those marriages were not amongst the canons to which the clergy were called to subscribe. What was the natural conclusion to be drawn from that fact, but that, on those points, the Church left a latitude, and it was what he might call an undecided question. There was not such a decided character given to those canons as to others, for the clergy were not called upon to verify the assent to them by their signature. He would not follow the hon. Gentleman the Member for Maidstone through the long and curious account he had given them of the doctrines of the Church; but would simply remind the House of what the bishops had done in 1835. Did they not give their consent and concurrence to the Bill that legalised all marriages of this kind which had been celebrated in former days? He asked, would the bishops do that if they considered that such marriages were contrary to the law of God? Then the hon. Member had referred to an article written by Dr. Hook, to show that his opinion was formerly not in favour of this Bill, and that he must have relaxed it; but that article refers to degrees of consanguinity only; and if Dr. Hook had relaxed his opinion, he (Mr. Spooner) could solve the reason. It was, that the rev. gentleman had been introduced into a community in which he had daily and hourly under his nose a practical proof of the immorality produced by the law as it now stood. He disclaimed any fundamental change on the part of Dr. Hook. It was to consanguinity, and that alone, that he referred in the article to which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Maidstone had alluded.


said, that the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Sheffield, in a speech which all, of whatever opinions, must have hoard with admiration, and with nearly all of which he (Mr. R. Palmer) most cordially concurred, stated one opinion to which those who had a strong conviction as to the existence of a divine law upon this subject could not be expected altogether to assent. The hon. and learned Gentleman had himself shown in the most clear, forcible, and persuasive manner that the security and sanctity of families, and the enjoyment of those tender domestic ties which were among the best gifts of God upon earth, were essentially dependent upon the protection of a prohibitive law, such as at present existed. If there were some who believed, and in their consciences were convinced that God, the author of society, had given us that very law for those very reasons, and had Himself founded a code, the whole structure of which bore testimony to those reasons as founded in the principles of divine wisdom; and if the observance of this law was found to be laid down in express terms as a duty to na- tions, and not to individuals only, how could those who entertained such a conviction regard it as irrelevant to this discussion? How could they do otherwise than regard it as the best, the last, the final and the most certain sanction of all those social reasons upon which the hon. and learned Gentleman had relied? There was a further reason why they were not at liberty to say that the divine law was irrelevant, because even the Acts of Parliament which now defined and determined the law of the realm on this subject, declared that these marriages were prohibited by the law of the land, because they were plainly prohibited by God's law. That was laid down at a time when all civil and ecclesiastical authority in this country and throughout Christendom was unanimous as to the true interpretation of the Levitical code. He would not now repeat any of the arguments which he had urged on a former occasion upon this subject; but if there remained any doubt as to the extent of that law, perhaps the best mode of resolving that doubt was to consider the principle. It was, no doubt, not satisfactory to go into a mere verbal criticism, unless they had a principle by which the soundness of the results it would lead to might be tested. What, then, was the pervading and obvious principle of the code which they had admitted into this country and which they said they adopted because they found it in the divine law? The pervading and obvious principle was to throw the strong, irrefragable sanction of a prohibitive law around the domestic inter-course of families, so that the opportunities given might not create any tendencies in such intercourse to vicious results; and that, under this security, no suspicion of unworthy passion, or motives, or tendencies of that sort, should interfere to restrain that perfect freedom of affectionate intimacy so necessary for the happiness of life. This was necessary as between brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, to whom the children would look up in the place of their parents, if those parents were removed, and who, from their intercourse with the parents, would naturally feel the greatest affection for the children. But was it less necessary with those who might be brothers and sisters by marriage? Was it not required, to make marriage itself tolerable and happy, that the wife should see her sisters as she saw them before she married her husband? But how could that be if they did not throw around her the protection for which he contended? And what difference, he asked, was there between the sister of the wife and the brother of the husband? The advocates of this measure had given up the case of the brother of the husband, and they must necessarily give it up if they went on the chapter of Leviticus. The right hon. Gentleman did not attempt to deal with that case. Could it be then said, that in the case of the wife's sister the reason for the prohibition was merely confined to the lifetime of the first wife? All the arguments they had heard urged in favour of this Bill as to the peculiar fitness of the wife's sister to undertake the maternal care of the children, recoiled upon those who used them, for what would be the effect if the law was repealed, unless every widower should marry his deceased wife's sister? The effect would be to deprive the children, when such a marriage did not take place, of the maternal care of their mother's sister. He would again say, that the principle of the divine law evidently extended to this case. It was not to be supposed that a law founded upon the divine principle could stop short of it. There would be a blank on the face of the divine code if they blotted out from it this case. He did not intend to enter into that discussion of verbal criticisms which had already occupied the attention of the House so long; but he could not help making one observation upon what had fallen from the hon. Member for North Warwickshire, who had appealed to the translators of the English Bible as an authority decisive of the interpretation put upon the 18th of Leviticus by the supporters of the Bill. Now, in the first place, if it rested merely upon the fact that those translators had introduced one reading in the text, and another, which put an end to the hon. Gentleman's argument, in the margin, that would be enough; because it was not their practice to introduce into the margin translations that were wrong. In nine cases out of ten, the translations in the margin professed to give a more exact and correct reading than that contained in the text. Further, those translators were the authors of the canons of 1603, in which it was declared that the marriage was prohibited by the law of Leviticus. We had, therefore, their own expressed opinions on this very subject, plainly showing that those who were accomplished Hebrew scholars, and therefore fitter than that House to discuss a question of Hebrew criticism, entertained no doubt that there was no obstacle to the conclusion which they drew, that this prohibition was plainly contained in the word of God. He had done with that part of the question, and he now came to make some observation on the speech which he had heard with the deepest regret from a Gentleman for whom he entertained a peculiar degree of respect and admiration, namely, his right hon. Friend the Member for South Wiltshire. That right hon. Gentleman had laid down a most startling doctrine, namely, that in such questions as these the Government had no right to interfere, and that everybody ought to be left to act as his own religious convictions prompted him. He dissented as totally and cordially as any man could from any doctrine that could be propounded on a question of government, from the doctrine laid down by the right hon. Gentleman, that they were to regard merely the private opinions of different religious communities, and that so long as they did not forcibly interfere with the tenets of the Church, every person was to be at liberty to do what he pleased. He wanted to know how far that principle was to go? Was there any reason to suppose that those Dissenters who did not think they were bound to abstain by the law of God from marrying with a deceased wife's sister, would think they were bound to abstain from marriage with the deceased husband's brother? If it rested upon that ground the whole legislation founded upon the divine code would fall to the ground, and they must abandon it altogether. Suppose a case, which history showed had occurred over and over again, of a marriage of brother and sister. There could be no doubt that wherever there had been an absence of prohibition by human law, there had been a sufficient number of persons who took advantage of that liberty, which proved distinctly that you could not absolutely rely upon any natural feelings as a certain hindrance. But would any man tell him, if a sect of professing Christians started up in this country, and said that any marriage which could innocently be solemnised at any time in the history of the world, was morally lawful for the present generation to contract, and that, as brothers married sisters in the beginning of the world, therefore they saw no objection to such marriages now-a-days, would any one for a moment listen to them? Would the Le- gislature fancy that they were going beyond the confines of their jurisdiction in prohibiting such marriages? Clearly not, because the principles of toleration could go no further than this, that they were not to interpose and prevent persons from holding and expressing their opinion and conscientious belief, and worshipping God in the manner in which their belief led them to worship; and they were not justified in excluding such persons from merely civil privileges on account of their religious belief. But this was not a case in which it was pretended that there was any religion in the whole world which made it a matter of conscience that a man should marry the sister of his deceased wife. The decision of such a question belonged to the Government of the country, unless they were prepared to abdicate the functions of government. Let them, for example, take the observance of the Sunday. He supposed there were vast numbers of people in this country, who thought, as so many people appeared to think abroad, that there could be no conscientious objection to carrying on ordinary business on Sunday. In Protestant as well as in Roman Catholic countries on the Continent they would see shops open and business going on on Sunday, and it was perfectly evident that a different state of opinion prevailed in those countries from that which prevailed here. There could be no doubt whatever that vast numbers of persons in this country also thought that it was perfectly lawful to neglect the observance of the Sabbath. Still the Legislature did demand an observance of the Sabbath from such people, and to the opinions of such persons, on that point, paid not the slightest regard. The Legislature formed their own opinion as to what was right or expedient for the social good, and for the moral and religious character of the people, and they legislated accordingly. They did that in all things, and why not on this matter of marriage, which, as the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield had just said, was the first, the greatest, and the most important of all questions affecting the domestic condition of society? He (Mr. Palmer) must say something about the practical point which had been suggested on the other side, as to the moral tendency of this law. Why, that was really nothing less than begging the whole question, because, in the first place, if this marriage was prohibited by the divine law, they could not make it moral by calling that a marriage which was no marriage. If, on the other hand, they proceeded upon the social view of the question, the Legislature, feeling that it was for the general interest of morality that a man should treat his wife's sister as his own, both before and after the decease of such wife, passed a law to that effect. If that opinion was well founded, what became of the argument from its violation? The violation of such a law in particular instances no more proved that law to be the cause of its own violation than did the laws against bigamy prove themselves to be the cause of bigamy. Were they gravely to be told that all the violations of law which toot place on this or any other matter were attributable to the law, and not to those who committed them? They might as well say that all acts of theft, or other immoralities, were committed because they were prohibited. Hon. Gentlemen who supported this Bill, of course, did not mean to lay down such a doctrine, but their argument had that tendency. Then, if the question were put on the point of compassion towards the children or wives who had been born in, or had contracted those marriages, he admitted that he felt the deepest compassion for those suffering women and innocent children, who, through a violation of any law, human or divine, were placed in a situation in which the former had forfeited their character, their honour, and estimation in society; and the latter had forfeited their right of inheritance as legitimate children. In such cases, if by any act consistent with morality and sound principle he could restore the parent to virtue, or the children to their lost inheritance, natural feeling would lead him to do it; but it was impossible to do so—it would be undermining, for particular individuals, the general laws of morality and justice established for the general government of the world. There was only one other argument upon which he intended to make any observation—an argument which he had frequently heard urged by the otherside upon this question—"England is the only country in the world where we cannot contract those marriages, and there can be no good reason why the law of England cannot be the same as the law of other countries." Now, in the first place, what was the principle of the law of other countries? Did the House wish to adopt it? It was the principle of dispensation. Roman Catholics expressly said, "We do not hold ourselves bound by the Levitical degrees; we establish such a law of marriage as we think necessary for the general interests of morality amongst our people; and, having done that, we judge, in particular cases, whether the circumstances are of so exceptional a character that the general law may be suspended." What Protestant countries, which also proceeded on the principle of dispensation, did was this: they admitted the Scriptural propriety and social necessity of these particular prohibitions, but they said that the necessity rested upon certain social reasons, and the State set itself up as judge in cases of particular exceptions. That was the principle of dispensation. Now, at the Reformation, England peremptorily rejected that principle of dispensation, and it was a remarkable thing that the principle of the right hon. Gentleman's Bill was totally without a parallel in the legislation of any country. There was no country which separated this particular case of marriage with a wife's sister from the rest of the Levitical code; they all treated it merely as one of a class of marriages which, although within that code, were considered as dispensable. He was told that in Prussia, in 1791, they passed a general law allowing this kind of marriage. Yes, and all others which were previously dispensable, so that, in fact, they made permanent dispensations in all cases in which particular dispensations had been before granted, and that showed the tendency of such laws as were founded on the principle of dispensation. And then they knew that in those countries there were a great number of other cases in which they allowed the law to be dispensed with, but with which the right hon. Gentleman had not attempted to deal. So that this Bill now, for the first time, endeavoured to establish a principle, with respect to this particular case, which, unless it could be founded upon some theological argument, or a particular verse in Leviticus, would create a state of things entirely different from what was to be found in any other country. They might be told it was inconvenient to differ in this respect from foreign countries. But looking at the contrast between foreign countries and this, in point of family blessings and prosperity, in point of domestic happiness, of female character, and morality in general, and observance of laws human and divine, he was so far from thinking that the practice of other countries was a reason for us imitating their example, that he was the rather disposed to attribute the great con- trast that he now saw between the moral and social condition of some of those countries and our own to the laxity which they had allowed on this, the first and principal of moral questions— Fœcunda culpæ sæcula nuptias Primum inquinavere, et genus, et domos. Hoc fonte derivata clades In patriam populumque fluxit. He was more disposed to adopt one of the principles laid down by Milton—the great precursor of the right hon. Gentleman in the advocacy of laxity in the marriage law—in his "address to the Parliament of England on the doctrine and discipline of divorce." Milton was desirous of anticipating what had since become the practice in many nations on the continent of Europe; he was anxious that greater facilities of divorce, in cases of un suitableness of disposition, or other matters tending to disturb the happiness of families, should be introduced into this country. It was objected that such facilities would be the introduction of a new law hitherto unknown in Christendom, when Milton made the reply, which he (Mr. R. Palmer) would adopt for a far different purpose, "Let not England forget her privilege of teaching other nations the way of life."


said, that when he heard opposition offered to the measure which had been so ably introduced by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bute, he was inclined to examine very closely whether the grounds on which it had been opposed were of that large and general character which were applicable to the great social question before the House. He found hon. Gentlemen desirous of extending the family relations; and the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield had told the House that an attempt to diminish them would take away much of the comfort and happiness of life. He quite agreed with the hon. and learned Member in that view, and he would, therefore, extend them as far as possible; but he would ask, what argument applied against contracting marriage with a wife's sister which would not equally operate against marriages with first cousins? He maintained that there was an enormous difference between affinity and consanguinity; and, therefore, hon. Members who opposed this Bill were bound to show that there was something much closer in the relation of sister-in-law and that of a first cousin which should induce the Legislature to permit the one and to forbid the other. One of the arguments adopted by the opponents of the measure was founded on a principle which he could not admit either in its general or its partial application—namely, that the family relation should be limited by the dictates of the private judgment of individual legislators. It would be impossible for any State to carry out laws restrictive of the marriage relation, unless they were supported by the moral and intellectual sentiments of the community. He would urge this point upon the attention of the House as they were not now approaching this subject for the first time, and they were simply obeying an impulse of the popular will in discussing the question. ["No, no!"] When he said "the popular will," he hoped he should not be misunderstood as maintaining that there was any such a popular demand for an alteration in the law as would constitute what in ordinary parlance was called a "pressure from without." But he asserted that the popular will, or rather public opinion, had brought this question before the House, not only on this, but on former occasions, in this way—by the violation of the law by good citizens and honest men. It had been asked whether an infringement of a law was any ground for its abrogation; but when the House saw persons breaking the law openly and advisedly, without loss of public character or private esteem, not in one only, but in various classes of society, and under very different circumstances—when they saw these persons breaking the law, not from passion, but from a conviction that religion permitted them to do these things, and that the law of their country only forbade them—when these persons were found breaking the law without any counter-movement being made, he maintained that this afforded a good primâ facie ground for an altered legislative policy. Before the Act of 1835 passed, marriages within the prohibited degrees of affinity were voidable only, not void; and unless sentence was pronounced by the ecclesiastical court in the lifetime of both the parties to the marriage, the children were accounted legitimate. The consequence was, that a considerable number of persons did contract these illegal, or to use the legal phrase, these incestuous marriages, and, becoming frequent, the custom attained in time to the very highest ranks of society. It was then, and only then, that public attention was called to this subject. While these marriages were con- tracted by the lower classes of society only, the Legislature did not interfere; but when they reached the very highest rank under the Throne, what took place? An immediate proposal was made to alter the law. Well, if the foundations of this policy were so broad as some hon. Gentlemen would wish the House to believe, and if these illegal marriages had led to the terrible evils which had been described, might it not have been expected that these topics would have undergone a full discussion in the debates which ensued? Why were the prelates of the Church and the leaders of public opinion silent if these evils were so serious? They were in their places in Parliament, ready to accept the compromise which was proposed, and Lord Lyndhurst's Act was passed, making legal marriages already contracted within the prohibited degrees of affinity; and declaring that such marriages should in future be absolutely void. The Legislature permitted thousands of poor persons to enter into these matrimonial engagements without thinking of providing a remedy, but when one or two of the nobles of the land contracted them, its energies were instantly called into action. This question, therefore, could not be discussed on the high ground of morality. He had explained the reasons why the people of this country regarded marriage with a sister-in-law in a not unfavourable light; but it had been asked why the friends of the Bill did not advocate the marriage of a woman with two brothers in succession, or the marriage of an uncle with his wife's niece? That question was not now before the House, and it would be superfluous to argue it. What he had to deal with was a special grievance, distinctly brought before him, and he was bound to consider whether sufficient grounds had been laid before the Legislature for the relief of that grievance. The hon. and learned Member for the city of Oxford stated, as the result of his experience, that marriage with a sister-in-law was very unusual among the poorer classes of the community. His (Mr. M. Milnes') own experience led him to so different a conclusion, that he could hardly suppose that accident had not something to do with it; for he owned that in the counties in which he had been, these marriages appeared to him to be very frequent, particularly in the agricultural districts, where, perhaps, the supply of wives was not so plentiful as the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield supposed. He begged the House to consider the position in which an agricultural labourer was placed by the death of his wife. If he could not marry his sister-in-law, he must either not marry at all—a sacrifice which he was not inclined to make—or bring into the house some new person who knew nothing of his children. He was, therefore, driven, as frequently happened, into concubinage, or into one of these unlicensed marriages with his wife's sister. He (Mr. Mr. Milnes) believed that the feeling of jealousy which came so naturally to persons living in a more refined state of society did not exist among the class to which he was referring, and he had no doubt that this measure would confer a great benefit upon them, and would furnish a remedy for a great deal of loose and irregular modes of living. He was also convinced that these so-called immoral and unlicensed marriages would continue to be contracted, whatever course legislation might take on this subject. Did the House think that persons would be less inclined to enter into them after the public discussions which had taken place, and the arguments which had been adduced by numerous parties in favour of these marriages? For 2,000 such marriages now there would be 4,000 ten years hence, and Parliament would be forced to pass this Bill at last, though in the meanwhile incalculable mischief would have been caused by the delay. There would be in existence a large number of children illegitimate in the eye of the law, but legitimate in the eye of society. He trusted that in this matter the Church of England would not seek to carry out any views of ecclesiastical domination; but so long as the Churchman said to the Dissenter, "You, with the Bible in your hand, may read it in what way you choose, but I, with my Prayer Book in my hand, say that your interpretation of Scripture is wrong," there would be an attempt to tyrannise over the minds and consciences of other men. He must observe, however, that petitions in favour of the measure had been presented from a considerable body of the clergy, and yet the Church of England, divided on the question herself, came and used all her influence in that House, and out of it, to prevent other religious denominations following the dictates of their own consciences. It was his intention to vote for the Bill.


said, that when a Bill similar to this was first proposed to the House by his noble Friend the Earl of Ellesmere, he gave it his best consideration, and recorded his vote against it. He had since read the report of the Royal Commission, and the other documents which had been subsequently issued, and if these documents had in his judgment contained any reasons for inducing him to change his opinion, no charge of inconsistency would have prevented him from voting in the manner which he thought most consistent with the public interest. But he must say that, although he strongly felt and readily acknowleged all the difficulties of this question, he entertained a strong and insuperable objection to the proposal of his right hon. Friend the Member for Buteshire. On one point, however, he differed from many of those who voted on the same side as himself. It was not a point by any means well adapted to discussion in this House, and he should do no more than most briefly allude to it; but he certainly did not think that they were excluded from the consideration of this question by any divine prohibition on the subject, either express or implied. He thought, therefore, that they were perfectly at liberty to consider this question; and, as far as the argument founded on a divine prohibition was concerned, he could not help feeling what little force it carried with it, even when handled with the ability displayed last year by the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth. He (Lord Mahon) called, however, on the House not to interrupt the social intercourse of families. He could conceive no point of more importance, especially to women, than an unreserved intimacy between a married woman and her unmarried sister. If a different state of the law had existed from early times in this country, perhaps an intimacy, not dissimilar to that which now prevailed in the same relation might have grown up even under that different law; but it was vain to hope to change the law and yet to leave the feeling unchanged; and the law could not now be altered without violating the feelings which had been sanctioned by its continuance. He found this to be admitted by his right hon. Friend who had introduced the measure, though the admission was confined to the higher classes of society. But he (Lord Mahon) asserted that this consideration extended very far beyond the higher classes, and embraced the great body of the middle classes also. He thought that these feelings would receive the greatest interruption and disturbance from the passing of the measure now proposed. There was another consideration connected with this subject which had great weight on his mind. He thought that the House ought not to look to what this family intercourse would be in a period of health, but at what it would be when the wife was laid on a bed of sickness. There was no case in which a woman would more require the solace and society of an unmarried sister than when her own health was failing. But that was the very period when, if this Bill passed, that society must be relinquished, since either the wife's sense of jealousy, or the delicacy of the unmarried sister, would place an increasing barrier against the intercourse which formerly subsisted. He could not but apprehend, also, that if this Bill were to pass, a married woman might, either from a mistaken regard for her husband, or out of affection for her children, exact in some cases a promise on her death-bed from her husband, that he would marry her sister, even when there was no affection between the parties. Such engagements could not fail of producing unhappiness. He was convinced that the most painful struggles would be produced in the mind of the husband, between his sense of the sanctity of the promise on the one hand, and his want of affection for his sister-in-law on the other, and he could not but feel that, whether finally the promise was kept or not kept, great unhappiness would be the consequence. There was another point which had great weight with him. He could not consider this Bill as closing the question which had been opened. Let it be granted, and much yet remained behind, He had seen several essays and tracts drawn up in a very becoming spirit, expressing the utmost horror, as they all concurred in feeling, of the crime of incest; but yet arguing that God and nature never intended, and that law therefore ought not to enact, any other limit to marriage than that of relationship by blood. If, then, the House passed this Bill, further concessions would be urged on the Legislature till this limit was attained. The hon. Member for Pontefract had touched upon this point, and with how little of fixed opinion had he touched upon it? He did not say whether he would permit marriages with a brother's wife, or with a wife's niece; he merely said that the question was not now before the House. How little security, then, was afforded by his hon. Friend, and those who thought with him, that even if this concession were made, it would preclude further demands. He (Lord Mahon) begged to say that he dissented entirely from the view that no relationship, short of relationship by blood, should affect the question of marriage. A stepmother and a stepson were not related by blood, and yet no relationship required to be guarded with greater sanctity or more scrupulous care than this. Remove that feeling or sanctity in such a case, where it often happened that the wife of the second marriage was of the same age as the son by the first, and either the most deplorable results would ensue, or, as the lesser evil, the sons would no longer find a home beneath the paternal roof. He was well aware of the great evils of the law as it at present stood. He was aware especially of the great evils connected with foreign marriages of this nature. They had been told that it often happened that persons of wealth who were anxious to contract such marriages went abroad, and, above all, to Hamburg or Altona, and after a short residence were married. Were these marriages legal? What would be the effect of them upon the offspring? On these questions he believed that lawyers were much divided; if so there was at least one certainty connected with these questions, namely, that they would give rise to the most expensive litigation. In the meantime the doubts on this point which must continue in the minds of those persons must be of the most painful nature. These evils, nevertheless, he did not conceive to be sufficient to counterbalance the objections which he entertained to the proposition of his right hon. Friend. In considering the whole subject, he felt bound, however, to state, that he doubted whether the state of the law, previously to the passing of Lord Lyndhurst's Act, was not preferable to what it was at present. By the law as it existed fifteen years ago these marriages were voidable, but not void in themselves; and thus a slur being thrown upon them, they were sufficiently destroyed and removed from probability, without being in every case prohibited, and ipso facto null. If they looked to the present state of the law, above all in the lower classes, he did not think that they had reason to congratulate themselves on the change which had taken place. He knew that this was a difficult state of things, since to go hack to the former state of the law was a very different question to continuing that former state while it still existed. Feeling, however, his objections to this Bill as it now stood to be utterly insuperable, he should on that, as on future occasions, give his vote against it.


said, the line of argument taken on the present occasion by hon. Gentlemen who opposed this Bill differed so much from that adopted by them on former ones, that he trusted that the House would excuse him in making a few observations in answer to the arguments he alluded to. He was happy that the matter had been discussed without reference to the divine law. That line of opposition appeared to be abandoned. [Mr. ROUNDELL PALMER: No, no!] At least virtually abandoned, unless, indeed, by his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Plymouth, who seemed still to be disposed to adhere to it. His hon. and learned Friend the Member for Abingdon had in the outset of his argument admitted that the religious part of the question was involved in so much doubt and difficulty, that he was led to wish it might be settled by the authority of the Church itself. This, however, was impossible, as he (Mr. Cockburn) thought, seeing that the members of the Church differed amongst themselves on this subject. It was well known that the bishops themselves were not unanimous on the point, and the body of the clergy differed to a very considerable extent; besides, as had been well observed by his hon. and learned Friend the Member for the city of Oxford, how could the clergy settle this matter, even supposing the Church to be unanimous, while the Dissenters were also unanimous on the opposite side of the question? What right also had the Church to interfere in this matter, which was purely, as far as the religious part of the question was concerned, one for men to settle with their own consciences. His hon. and learned Friend the Member for the city of Oxford had gone even farther than his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Abingdon. He had admitted that the text upon which the opponents of the Bill had so much relied was against them. Nor could there be a doubt that such was the fact; for the text only prohibited a man's marrying his wife's sister during the lifetime of the former; how could this be made to apply to a marriage after her death? It was a sound and established canon of construction that that which was not prohibited by the express terms of a prohibitory law was tacitly admitted; therefore the text was in favour of the case. Moreover, his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oxford had admitted that, instead of being against, the Hebrew Church had at all times been in favour of, such marriages. His hon. and learned Friend had indeed discovered that there had existed an obscure section of the Hebrew Church, which differed from the established church of the Jews on this point. Of this sect, however, he would undertake to say not twelve men in that House had ever heard; was their dissent to weigh against the opinion of the Jewish Church in all ages? It was impossible, therefore, for the opponents of the Bill to take their stand on the divine law, as it was termed. His hon. and learned Friend the Member for the city of Oxford, however, while conceding that the text of the Hebrew law was against him, had argued that the authority of the Jewish religion was not binding on them, because they were Christians. And his hon. and learned Friend had referred to the Sermon on the Mount as showing how great a modification of the old law had been effected by the Christian dispensation. He (Mr. Cockburn) fully admitted it; but he defied his learned Friend to show, from one end of the Now Testament to the other, a single word prohibiting these marriages. And this was the more striking, because the subject of marriages immediately analogous to those had been brought under the attention of the Divine Author of Christianity, and not one word of prohibition had been uttered by him against them. Considering the religious objection as disposed of, he would now come to the social and moral grounds that had been brought forward against the measure. It had been alleged that the legalising such marriages would disturb the sanctity of domestic life. It had been said that a wife's sister might become an inmate in the family, and in consequence of the familiarity with which she was treated, might be exposed to the danger of seduction by the husband, and that from an apprehension of such a connection the wife might be vexed with jealous feelings, and the peace of the domestic hearth thus be fatally disturbed. His hon. and learned Friend had spoken in terms of glowing eulogy of the morality of this country, and had asserted that England in that respect Stood higher than other countries; and yet at the same time they were told that there was such an utter absence of all principle on the part of husbands—that they were so lost to every principle of morality, to every feeling of honour—that they would seek to seduce their own wives' sisters; and that the young unmarried women were so destitute of all sense of shame, so innately corrupt and profligate, that they would betray their own sisters and sacrifice their own honour by an adulterous intercourse with their sisters' husbands. Then, as regarded the wife's apprehensions: if the wife felt any pang of jealousy, they might depend upon it she would soon get rid of her sister. But the unerring proof that such consequences would not result from such marriages, was to be found in the fact that they were sanctioned throughout nearly every civilised country in the world. They were permitted in nearly every State of the continent of Europe and in America, yet complaints of this kind had never been heard of in any one of them. The hon. and learned Members for Plymouth and Oxford said, that the examples of other countries were not binding on us; but these examples had not been adduced by way of authority, but for the purpose of showing that such marriages had existed for a long period in many moral and civilised nations, and that none of the evils had arisen which it had been predicted would arise if this Bill was passed. It might be very well for us to arrogate to ourselves a higher degree of morality for this over other countries; and he admitted there were some countries in Europe whore the same feeling as to chastity after marriage did not exist as in this nation; but there were other countries where these marriages were allowed, such as the north of Germany, Holland, and Switzerland, where the standard of morality was as high as it was in this country. Would any one get up in that House and say that the standard of morality and chastity was not as high among the Anglo-Saxon race in the United States of America as in England? If the consequences and effects of these marriages were destructive of domestic peace, would any civilised nation have endured their continuance for any length of time? He thought, therefore, that those grounds of opposition might be put aside as purely imaginary. Having disposed of these objections, he contended that such marriages should be allowed, on account of the real good that would result from them. There could be no doubt that the greatest advantage and benefit would accrue to the children from such a marriage where the mother died early in life. Every one admitted that the fittest person to supply the place of a deceased mother towards her children was her sister. Put the case of a mother about to die—whom would she select, on her death-bed, as a second mother for her young children? There could be no doubt that it would be her sister. They had been told, however, that if this Bill became law, they would prevent the possibility of the aunt taking the place of guardian of the children, where no marriage took place between her and the father, whereby the children would lose the benefit of her protection. His answer was that she could not do it now, if the parties were of an age when mutual passion might be likely to spring up. He did not believe that a young unmarried woman could live in a house with a young widower where there were no ties of blood to revolt against any feeling of attachment, without being open to a certain amount of observation. Would any hon. Member, as a father or a brother, wish his daughter or sister to live with her widowed brother-in-law in such a state of domestic intimacy, or expect that it would pass without notice from persons who might be disposed to make censorious or malicious observations? His hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sheffield said that nothing could be more delightful than the relation of brother and sister; but they could not, when this tie did not exist, create it by artificial means or by legal enactment, nor prevent by such moans mutual feelings of attachment from springing up between man and woman. The practical result of all experience on this subject showed that when feelings of this kind grew up between a man and his wife's sister, you could not by prohibitory laws prevent their marrying. Mankind were so accustomed to look upon marriage as a matter of religious sanction, that when they were satisfied that the divine law did not prevent a particualr marriage, they would seek to evade the law which prohibited it: their consciences would be satisfied, nor would their friends and relations blame them, or look upon them as dishonoured. From the time of passing this law, in 1835, he found that in a very limited district 1,500 marriages of this kind had taken place. It was notorious that a vast number of persons wishing to marry under these circumstances went abroad for that purpose. The children of those married in this country, unless the marriages should be legalised, would be bastardised. If such mar- riages took place abroad, their legality would probably hereafter be disputed. This would give rise to endless litigation, and to the distress of those innocent parties who having believed that their parents were legally married, might one day find that they were illegitimate. If the evils which might thus arise respected those only who contracted such marriages in spite of the law, little sympathy might be felt for them; but in these cases the interests of the innocent were involved. It appeared to him that they had no right to place a check on acts which involved human happiness, unless it could be shown that it was necessary to do so to prevent a greater amount of evil. The hon. and learned Member for the city of Oxford argued that it was not necessary the divine law should forbid such marriages, if there were reasons of public polity which rendered them improper. To show this, he stated that some of the nations of antiquity prohibited marriages within certain degrees of affinity. No one disputed this, for it was for the common interests of mankind that marriages of persons closely allied in blood should not be allowed. If such unions were allowed, not only would mankind become demoralised, but also the human race itself would be deteriorated. Of course under such circumstances the common experience of mankind demanded restrictions, but there was nothing of this kind involved in the sanctioning such marriages as were referred to in the Bill before the House. It appeared to him, then, that there was no ground, religious, moral, or social, for opposing this measure; while there were the strongest reasons of justice and policy for passing it: he should, therefore, give it his cordial support.


Sir, I do not know whether my hon. and learned Friend who has just addressed you is a member of the Established Church; but if I were to form a conjecture from his speech, I should say, if I may be permitted to borrow an expression from the Horse Guards, that he is a Christian "unattached." If I professed to be a member of the Established Church, I certainly should speak of the canons of that Church, and of the prohibited degrees, of which a list is published in the Book of Common Prayer that lies upon that table, with a reverence more profound than that which has been manifested by my hon. and learned Friend. Where are we to look for the doctrine of the Established Church if not in its canons? And how can any Churchman, as long as they remain unreversed by the Legislature of the Church itself, treat them with disdain? However, as I do not belong to the Establishment, it is unmeet that I should enter into any discussion on the dogmatical part of this subject. I cannot compete with the hon. and learned Members for Abingdon and Oxford, those forensic theologians, who do not merely support religion from without, like the celebrated lawyer who was more renowned for orthodoxy than for devotion, but may be appropriately assimilated to those beautiful pillars in the Temple Church, by which that noble edifice is at once embellished and sustained. I shall apply myself exclusively to the moral and domestic results of the proposed measure, and inquire what will be its effects upon the wife, the husband, and the prospective bride, whose pathway to the altar is to cross her sister's grave. An amiable woman now receives her unmarried sister with open arms; she cherishes her with a truthful and trustful love; she watches over her well-being with the solicitude of an almost maternal care; no injurious suspicion can come near her; and, although her sister should pass hours and days in her husband's company, upon her deep and still affection no dark conjecture is allowed to cast a shade. But if this Bill should pass, if the wife be taught to regard the daughter of her father and of her mother as the heiress to her bed, and as having peradventure an illegitimate pre-occupation of her husband's heart, her feelings would undergo an inevitable alteration, the worst of all the domestic fiends will enter into her soul, and possess itself of all her being; trifles "light as air" will be invested with their proverbial confirmation, the most harmless familiarities will be misconstrued; she will detect a glance in every look, and a pressure in every touch; her fancy will be stained with images of sin, and in those hours of ailment, to which almost every woman is condemned, she will be pursued and haunted by many a dark and distracting surmise. I turn to the husband. He now looks upon his wife's sister as his own; he feels for her no other than the fraternal sentiment; his intercourse with her is unsullied by a wish; but if he shall be taught to regard as an object of future possession the woman to whom he will be placed in perilous proximity, phantasms, which ought to be chased away, will crowd upon him, and a change of moral temperature will never fail to follow. But upon the wife's sister what sort of influence will be produced by this measure? She now regards her sister's husband as her protector and her friend; into her unimpassioned gratitude no undue admixture of tenderness is infused; but if she shall have a contingent, or rather a vested remainder in the pillow on which her sister's cheek may soon be coldly and lifelessly laid—if she shall be taught to associate her wedding garment with her sister's shroud—I am afraid that the spirit of conjugal enterprise will be awakened; she will have recourse to all the expedients of captivation—all that she says, and looks, or does—all her gestures, her attitudes, and her intonations will be swayed in her intercourse with her sister's husband by that spirit of speculative endearment which women can so readily and almost instinctively assume. These considerations induce me to think that this measure is unadvisable. If my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Buteshire shall succeed in this project, where is he to stop? At which of the prohibited degrees is he to pause? Why may not a man marry his wife's daughter, as well as his wife's sister; for in neither case is the barrier of consanguinity interposed? There, however, it may be said that Leviticus intervenes. I might quote some of the authorities of the Established Church, Bishop Jewell, for example, to show that the inference from Leviticus against the projected marriage is irresistible; but I shall adhere to my resolution not to enter into the dogmatical part of the question; at the same time, it is by no means inconsistent with that resolution to state what I consider to be an indisputable fact, that the religious feelings of the country are against this measure. The women of England, who are the best judges upon a question in which their domestic happiness is so much concerned—the wives and daughters of Dissenters—are opposed to it; the vast majority of the clergy, having a natural regard to the indisputable doctrine of the Church, are against it; the whole Scotch nation are adverse to it, and the right hon. Gentleman the Lord Advocate declared in his evidence that a marriage with a wife's sister was abhorrent to the feelings of the Scotch people; Ireland regards it with a sentiment stronger than one of mere aversion; and the Catholic priesthood deprecate the law that should include these marriages within that dispensing power from the exercise of which the public sentiment would recoil. No amount of popular pre- judice or passion would induce me to do an injustice to any man, or to any class of men. Rather than do the slightest wrong, I should hold the religious feelings of the whole country in disregard; but I would not, on the other hand, wantonly and gratuitously run counter to that feeling, for the sake of a more than hazardous innovation, which breaks down the moral fences that protect your homes, and to which Ireland, Catholic and dispensing, Scotland, Calvinistic and austere, and the majority of the people of England—of England half Calvinistic in her creed, but more than half Catholic in her usages and in her feelings—are concurrently and strenuously opposed.


said, he supported this Bill on behalf of those who did not belong to the Church of England; and he would point out the difference of the view taken of these marriages by the Roman and the Anglican churches. In the Church of Rome these unions, like those of first cousins, were permitted when a dispensation was obtained. In that church no dispensation could sanction or affect marriages within the affinities prohibited by divine law; but ecclesiastical disabilities, or disabilities created by human law, could be dispensed with. Dr. Wiseman had said, with regard to the intermarriage of first cousins, against which so strong an objection existed in England, that a dispensation to permit such a marriage was granted by the Roman Catholic church with as much difficulty as if the case had been one of union between a man and his sister-in-law, or his niece. And why was this? Because the popular feeling was against that sort of marriage; and the popular feeling was taken into consideration by the Church of Rome. The practical effect of this Bill would be just this—that in Scotland and in Ireland, where the people object to such marriages, they would not be solemnized more frequently than they were at present. It was only in this country, where such marriages were common, that the relief would be sensibly felt. If Members were sincere in their wishes to carry out their peculiar opinions into a law, they should do more than merely obstruct the progress of this Bill; they should institute a movement to make the whole of the canon law a part and parcel of the temporal law of this country. If the House refused to pass the second reading of the Bill, they would be deprived of the opportunity of fairly and deliberately considering whether it was wise and politic to maintain the existing law. For these reasons—believing that the measure was required for the religious liberty, not only of Roman Catholics but of all classes of dissenters, seeing that its principle had been supported by a large majority of the witnesses examined before the Committee, he should give an unhesitating assent to the second reading of the Bill; and, further, he would support every clause of it in Committee.


said, he would trespass upon the House but for a short time. From peculiar circumstances, he had for several years watched the tendency of the discussion upon this question, and he had felt that out of doors, as well as in that House, the great pressure put upon the country to resist this measure had originated, not in a religious, but rather in an ecclesiastical feeling; for the House could not conceal from themselves the fact, that the opposition to the Bill, which had been carried on with the most persevering efforts in that House, and out of doors, so far as the machinery of the petitions could be brought to bear, originated from ecclesiastical feelings and convictions, and those mainly confined to one branch of the Church of England. ["No, no!"] He had said "mainly," for he did not mean to assert that there were no exceptions; but he repeated the opinion, and he declared, with the fullest conviction he was speaking truth, that the main clement of resistance to this measure had originated with a particular party in the Church of England—not indeed a numerous party, but a very influential one—a reactionary party of persons, who, not having full faith in the vital spirit of Christianity, would carry us back to forms and ceremonies somewhat of a Pagan character, and would induce us to adopt genuflecxons at the altar, and retain the surplice of the clergyman in the ceremonies of the Church—a party, a portion of whoso policy it was to revive as much as possible of the sanction and validity of the ancient canons, not of the English, but of the Roman Catholic Church, and to give to those canons, as far as possible, the cogency and the force of Scriptural authority. All this had created great confusion in men's minds, which they could only have cleared away by the useful process of discussion both in that House and out of doors, where there prevailed also much confusion in the minds of religious people. A number of learned men had been quoted, and many learned men opposed this measure on the ground that there was Scrip- tural authority for that opposition. He had, however, observed that some hon. Gentlemen opposite had been driven from that standing ground; and what he now wished to enforce was, that this discussion should be carried on apart from ecclesiastical authority, for he denied that they had the Bible with them as an authority for opposing this measure. The right hon. Member for Dungarvon, after indulging in a taunt which, of itself, gave a religious turn to the debate, declared that he would not introduce theological dogmas into his speech. The House had heard from that right hon. Gentleman a brilliant sally, to which he (Mr. Cobden) for one had listened with great pleasure and admiration, inasmuch as the charming declamation with which the right hon. Gentleman favoured the House was probably the last that survived of its kind, and, so far as it could be a substitute for arguments and facts, might be the last they would have in that assembly. Facts and arguments were wanting, and the only arguments and matters of fact which the right hon. Gentleman supported by his declamation were grounded upon the religious part of the question. He had told the House that the religious feeling of the people of Ireland and Scotland was opposed to this Bill; but, if that were so, the object of the measure did not violate that religious feeling. It was a permissive Bill only. It did not compel the people to violate their consciences, and practise the solemnisation of these marriages. The right hon. Gentleman had a religious bias upon his mind with regard to this question, which he did not conceal. To claim the ground for this argument, it was assumed that the authority of the Hebrew law was against these marriages. But such an authority never existed in the Hebrew law. Unlearned men like himself must resort for information on this head to the most erudite authorities among the Jews to see what had been the custom of that nation, and he found that the Chief Rabbi (Dr. Adler) had been called as a witness; and his testimony was the ablest piece of evidence recorded in the book. By that evidence, it appeared that so far from the verse in Leviticus being interpreted by the Jews in the same manner as it had been construed in that House by the Chancery barristers who had mystified the whole question, and turned the House into a sort of synod—so far from this. Dr. Adler told the Committee that such a marriage, so far from exposing the parties to reproach or contumely, was considered proper and laudable, and that in cases in which young children were left by the deceased wife, the marriage was allowed to take place in a shorter period than usual. He (Mr. Cobden) held that to be conclusive. If they refused to admit it, what followed? That the great lawgiver of the Jews did, in giving the law to them, so far fail in his object, that he conveyed it to them in a way that was totally misunderstood and perverted, and that they had been living ever since in absolute violation of that law. He held, then, that the House, in considering this question, was bound to abandon all argument grounded on the sanction of the Bible, and to consider it as a purely civil question. ["No, no!"] He contended that it was strictly a civil question, notwithstanding the assertion that these marriages were a violation of religious duty. So far as this Bill was resisted from religious motives by the right hon. Member for Dungarvon, on the ground that it was repugnant to the religious feelings of the people of Scotland and Ireland, it just amounted to this—that because they had taken up this ground of objection themselves they would not allow other persons to marry who had no such religious scruples and prejudices. The opponents of the Bill were violating the rights of conscience, and were making it a question of religious liberty. In what position had they placed the Dissenters? He had had the opportunity of observing resolutions and expressions of opinion by Baptists and Independents unanimously passed and signed in favour of the passing of this Bill. The Dissenters regarded this as a question of religious liberty. And what did they say to the position of Dr. Adler himself, for example? He might be a widower, and might wish to marry the sister of his deceased wife, especially if children had been left for whom he was anxious to secure her care. His law and his religion tolerated, and not tolerated only but sanctioned and encouraged, such a union; and yet Dr. Adler might be prohibited from following out the dictates of his conscience, his inclinations, his law and his religion, because other persons chose to put interpretation upon the law different to that upon which the whole Hebrew people had always acted. He contended, therefore, that this was a question of civil and religious liberty, and the whole country was begining so to regard it. The hon. Member for Maidstone had alluded to the way in which meetings had been got up in support of this measure. He would ask the hon. Member whether he had ever heard of any public meeting that had ever been held on the other side? Would the opponents of the Bill venture to call a public meeting in any town in the kingdom in favour of a restriction of the kind they desired to perpetuate? Why, the reason of the public meetings which had been held on this question being dull and insipid, as it had been asserted they had been, was, that the sentiment that pervaded them was altogether unanimous; there was no opposition, nothing antagonistic to the measure out of doors. It was, he could tell them, very much a question of public opinion whether they could maintain this restriction or not. Those who were rich, by going to Denmark, might be able to solemnise these marriages if the Bill were rejected; those who were poor would go to the clergyman, and, omitting to state that there was any disability, would be married as a matter of course. The evils, social and legal, which resulted from the non-observance of the existing law, had been forcibly pointed out and demonstrated. He believed that public opinion was against the law as it stood, and in favour of the Bill. Public meetings had been hold to resist the law, and to advocate the Bill; but where had been the public meetings on the other side? They talked of the demoralising principles of the Bill; but he told them that in this moral and religious country no law having an immoral object could be supported and sustained. Did they remember the petition presented by the noble Lord the Member for the city of London, signed by men as respectable and as influential as had ever affixed their handwriting to such a document, and including, he believed, all the bankers in London, with the exception of one firm? He would not go over the ground taken by the hon. and learned Member for Southampton with regard to the moral and social bearing of this question, further than to protest against the calumnious insinuations which had been uttered against the great body of the women as well as against the men of this country. In those insinuations the utterers were libelling themselves as well as others. Twist and turn their argument how they would, their boasted morality was but the result of an Act of Parliament, which might be altered and reversed were the Act repealed. Their argument amounted to this—that their countrymen and countrywomen were prepared, unless restrained by Act of Parliament, to fall into the most abominable vices and crimes. It should be remembered that, generally speaking, those who would be relieved by this Bill were not young persons in the heyday of passion, but of maturer years, and who had passed through that ordeal of matrimony which had been described as the grave of sentiment, and who made choice of a wife from the homeliest and most domestic motives, and with a view to find a mother for the children who had been bereaved of their own. That was the object that had been avowed by almost every witness who had been examined, who had married a deceased wife's sister. Now, to forbid this marriage without better grounds than had been shown upon either religion or policy was a clear violation of conscience, and a clear violation of religious liberty, such as he trusted this country would not long tolerate. He found in the evidence many instances in which a wife on her death-bed, in the arms of her sister, surrounded by her children, had asked her sister to be a mother to her children, and had told her husband, whom she was going to leave, if he could, consistently with his own feelings, she would prefer his marrying her sister to any other person. He most heartily agreed with the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield when, in eloquent and truthful language, the hon. and learned Gentleman said that the highest and noblest relationship that could exist was that between brother and sister. It was the most disinterested love that could exist. If the Bill were passed, it was alleged that, as regarded the wife's sister, that holy relationship would be prevented. He denied the assumption altogether; it was a foul calumny on the women of this country to assume this as an argument, and he (Mr. Cobden) should be surprised if the right hon. Member for Dungarvon, and the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield, by the assumption of the principle that our women were only deterred from the vilest depravity by the force of an Act of Parliament, did not render them more careful in future in signing petitions to that House. The hon. and learned Member for Sheffield also argued that the feelings of the stepmother would supervene and overpower the feelings of the aunt towards the children; but he seemed to forget, in using that argument, that generally widowers would marry again, and, if not with the sister of the deceased wife, with a stranger, and then how could the aunt have the guardianship of the children—and yet who so fitting for their care? He asked the hon. and learned Gentletman to put the question to any married woman on her deathbed, having a living family of young children, whom she would select as her husband's future partner for life; and whom did he suppose she would name, if it were within the limit of possibility, but her own sister? He defied the hon. and learned Gentleman to find a woman who, if compelled to the choice, would make any other answer. And when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dungarvon talked of the second wife walking over the grave of her sister, his answer to that taunt was, that if such a union took place, as it had in many instances, in compliance with the request of a dying mother, and a pious regard by the husband to the wishes of his departed wife, it was one of the most commendable, amiable, and holy acts that any man could perform. No ground had been alleged against this Bill but the religious ground, and that ground must be abandoned in that House. Was it because the people refused to follow a section in setting up the canon law against the Bible, that they were to be subjected to these restrictions upon their marriages? The rejection of this measure would be an invasion of both the civil and religious liberty of the country, and on these grounds he should give his earnest support to the second reading of the Bill.


said, that when the hon. Gentleman the Member for the West Riding took upon himself to assert that those who resisted the Motion of his (Mr. Goulburn's) right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Buteshire, had abandoned the religious grounds upon which they rested their opposition, he felt it incumbent upon him to give the strongest and most earnest denial to a proposition so absolutely contrary to the facts of the case. If the hon. Gentleman had been present throughout the debate, he might have observed certainly a forbearance from entering into questions previously discussed, but no abandonment whatever of the religious principle. And he (Mr. Goulburn) was anxious to declare that he still adhered to the opinion that looking to the law of Leviticus these marriages were prohibited as contrary to the will of Him by whom that law was ordained. The hon. Gentleman had thought fit to say, that this conviction was entertained only by a particular party in the Church. If there was such a party in the Church as the hon. Member had described, he (Mr. Goulburn) did not wish to belong to it; but, from his knowledge of the clergy, he was enabled to say, that whatever sides they might espouse in the particular differences that prevailed in the Church of England, the general feeling throughout the members of the Establishment was that of hostility to this measure. With regard to the law of Leviticus, he would assert, that if it were construed according to the principles applied to the construction of human laws, we could not avoid the conviction that it prohibited marriages of this particular description. By what principle should we proceed to ascertain the correct construction of the ancient laws of this country? Clearly first by ascertaining the practice which prevailed immediately after their enactment. Let the House then look at the practice under the law of Leviticus after its enactment. The hon. Gentleman the Member for the West Riding said, they should not deal with canons and creeds, that they should only look to the Bible. Well; then let the hon. Gentleman point out a single recorded instance in the whole Bible, after the promulgation of the law of Leviticus, of a Jew marrying the sister of a deceased wife. But Dr. Adler was brought forward upon this particular point, in opposition to what was found in Leviticus. But everybody knew that the Jews of modern days had corrupted the text of the Old Testament Scriptures. At an early period they had been justly charged with adopting traditions in preference to the law, and they had adhered to that practice since their dispersion. He could not therefore accept the evidence of Dr. Adler, in opposition to the practice as developed in the history of the Bible, at and after the promulgation of the Levitical law. Further, if we wanted a guide to the construction of a law, should we not refer to the uniform current of opinion among men who had studied the original language in which the law was written, and who, from their station and learning, had been placed in circumstances qualifying them to pronounce an accurate opinion. What was the result if the question, arising out of the Levitical law, was tried by this test? Why, that from the earliest periods the prohibition against these marriages had been justly maintained, as founded on that law by the most learned men of the age. On a former occasion he had stated the concurrent testimony in ancient times as to these marriages being contrary to the divine law. He would repeat that now; but he begged to add, that at the period of the Reformation the translators of the Bible—men conversant with its language, and who cleared away all the corruptions that had been improperly introduced—declared with one uniform voice that the construction which must be put on the law of Leviticus was that of prohibition of marriage with the sister of a deceased wife. That opinion they publicly proclaimed in a table of degrees, stated to be founded on the words of Scripture, according as they (the translators) believed to be the true construction of the law. But this construction was not confined to canonists and ecclesiastics; it was confirmed by the law of the land. Originally the law of the land stated all the cases enumerated in Leviticus, and others drawn inferentially from them; and in the earlier statutes it was specifically mentioned that marriage with the sister of a deceased wife was a prohibited marriage; but in the latter statutes this detail was omitted, and it was merely declared that all marriages within the Levitical degrees were prohibited both by the Scriptures and by the law. What, then, had been the construction put upon that declaration by the courts of law? Uniformly in every court where the question had been raised, that marriage with the sister of a deceased wife came under the operation of the law of Henry VIII, which enacted that marriages within the Levitical degrees were contrary to the law of God. There had thus been the practice at the periods at and after the promulgation of the Levitical law, the current of precedent ever since, and the opinions of the most learned men upon the construction of that law, all uniformly against those marriages; and he might therefore safely ask, whether this was not testimony which, if applied to any other subject, either of civil law, or rights of property, would be admitted to be conclusive. The social part of the question had been ably argued by others; but he wished to observe, that if the measure passed, it certainly would not carry with it that peace to families, and that comfort to those who formed such matrimonial connexions, which some hon. Members were disposed to expect. Since the question was last debated, he had had facts brought to his knowledge, which con- vinced him that legislation of the proposed description would, in many cases, be powerless in restoring peace, or comfort to those for whom the House was asked to interfere. They might by Act of Parliament declare that a man should marry the sister of his deceased wife, and that it was not contrary to the law of God that he should do so; but so long as men exercised in this country the free right of private judgment, and of reading the Scriptures, it would be out of the power of Parliament to prevent the feeling that such marriages ought not to be contracted. He would state a case which had recently come to his knowledge. A man became a widower early in life. He married within the prohibited degrees, with a view to the education and care of his children. His family increased, and he had children by the second wife. At a later period in life he and his wife were satisfied, from perusing the Scriptures, that their marriage was contrary to the law of God; and they felt themselves under the obligation of separating, in order that they might not live in a state which they conceived to be incestuous. The children of the marriage had thus the misery of seeing those who ought to be their natural defenders, separated. Whatever, then, the provisions of the law might be, they could not operate upon the consciences of those who could not reconcile these marriages with their religious duty. Consider how the Bill would operate. A young widower, at a time when passion was rampant, and at a time of life not much given to consideration, might feel encouraged by such a law to enter into this particular union; but later in life, when passion had cooled, and more information had been gained as to the Scriptural grounds upon which the original prohibition rested, might come the time for bitter remorse and repentance. Then would be call down curses upon those who had tempted him into a crime which his conscience felt to be one of a deep dye. No legislation could prevent such a state of things; and therefore he entreated the House to consider well before they consented to pass the measure. The Bill, too, as had already been said, must necessarily lead to further legislation. It would be impossible to maintain the marriage law in the state in which this Bill would leave it. He could state cases in which it would be impossible for his right hon. and learned Friend to resist the claims that would be made upon him for further legislation. He would confine himself to one. By the law of England two brothers could marry two sisters. Suppose one of the brothers died, and the wife of the other brother died also. If there was a family left by each, who in the one case so natural a guardian of the infant children as the wife of the deceased brother; and who so natural a protector of the interests of the other children as the husband of the deceased wife? For the benefit of the children, then, nothing could be more desirable than that the two parties, the husband of the deceased wife and the wife of the deceased brother, being also the sister of the deceased wife, should live together; his right hon. and learned Friend's Bill declares, that for this purpose marriage between them must take place. But the law of the land as left after this Bill shall have passed will stop us and say, that no man should marry his brother's widow. And can it then be maintained that, if a man may marry the sister of his deceased wife, a woman should not be enabled to marry the brother of her deceased husband? If such a case of affinity were hereafter brought before the House, the claim to take off the restriction to marry with a brother's wife would be irresistible. It would stand upon precisely the same grounds in point of relationship as marriage with a deceased wife's sister; the same thing might be shown in other cases of affinity, and so gradually, step by step, the House would be led to remove all the restrictions imposed on grounds of affinity, and when they had come to that point, the arguments would be strong, valid, and effectual for increasing the facilities of divorce. It had been found in foreign countries, that where such relaxations prevailed in the marriage law, the facilities of divorce had grown exactly in the same proportion; and surely if it be thought right to sanction incestuous marriages in order to prevent illicit concubinage, it is not unreasonable to infer that divorce should be encouraged, in order to prevent adultery. [Cries of "Divide, divide!"] He would only, in conclusion, repeat his belief that these marriages were at variance with the law of God, and that they would entail upon nations who encouraged them the punishments which the law of God denounced upon such crimes. For these reasons, in addition to the social considerations which had been so ably advanced by preceding speakers, he should continue to offer his strongest opposition to the Motion of his right hon. and learned Friend.


said, if he did not think that it was the unanimous wish of the House to come to a division he should not stop in the way of any other hon. Gentleman who might be anxious to address the House; but the question had been so ably and so carefully discussed that the House must now be in possession of all the elements necessary for coming to a decision; and he could not regret the course the debate had taken, because it had not merely elucidated the various elements of the question, but it had narrowed the subject within a compass that brought it at once under the province and jurisdiction of the House. As regarded himself, he was happy to find that his purpose was no longer misunderstood. He was no longer supposed to be seeking to depart from the ancient law of the church, or to interfere unnecessarily with the discipline of the Establishment, of which he hoped he was a faithful though a humble member. All that he was doing was to seek a partial qualification of a very recent Act of Parliament, an Act passed no more than fifteen years ago, which his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Abingdon had described as containing unjust anomalies, and to be founded upon an unworthy compromise. Although his right hon. Friend who had last addressed the House entertained the opinion that the measure was opposed to the divine law, yet there were others in that House who thought differently; and he would only repeat his conviction that there was nothing in the Old Testament or the New Testament against these marriages, whilst it was certain that they were allowed among the Jews. The whole subject had been referred to those who sat in Moses' seat, and as they found no prohibition to exist, he could not believe that any existed. With regard to the authority of the early Christians, he would state one strong circumstance. During the first 300 years of Christianity, when these marriages took place under the imperial law, among all the learned persons of those days not one wrote against them; and Chrysostom, archbishop of Constantinople, who attacked all the vices of the rich and the great, did not say a word against them, though they were well known to have been the practice at that period. He quite agreed with the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield and others in the high estimate they put, and the high value they set, upon the relation- ship between sisters, and the sort of shadow of relationship that existed between a man and the sister of his wife; but he maintained that that feeling would still exist. It depended not upon human legislation, but upon the high moral principle and feeling which characterised the English people. These marriages were permitted in the United States, and yet society in that country was as pure as in England. How was the case previous to 1835? An hon. Member had said that by this measure we were disturbing every home in England. It was not he, however, but those who had passed the law of 1835, that had disturbed every home in England. He would not further interfere to prevent that decision for which all must now be so anxious.

The House divided:—Ayes 182, Noes 130: Majority 52.

List of the AYES.
Adair, H. E. Dundas, Adm.
Adair, R. A. S. Ebrington, Visct.
Aglionby, H. A. Ellice, rt. hon. E.
Anderson, A. Elliot, hon. J. E.
Anson, hon. Col. Enfield, Visct.
Anstey, T. C. Evans, J.
Armstrong, R. B. Evans, W.
Arundel and Surrey, Earl of Ewart, W.
Fagan, W.
Bagshaw, J. Ferguson, Sir R. A.
Baines, rt. hon. M. T. Foley, J. H. H.
Baring, T. Forster, M.
Barnard, E. G. Fox, W. J.
Barrington, Visct. Freeston, Col.
Bellew, R. M. Frewen, C. H.
Berkeley, hon. H. F. Gibson, rt. hon. T. M.
Birch, Sir T. B. Glyn, G. C.
Blair, S. Grenfell, C. P.
Blake, M. J. Grenfell, C. W.
Blandford, Marq. of Grey, rt. hon. Sir G.
Bright, J. Grey, R. W.
Brocklehurst, J. Grosvenor, Earl
Brockman, E. D. Harcourt, G. G.
Brotherton, J. Hardeastle, J. A.
Bruce, Lord E. Harris, R.
Bunbury, E. H. Hastie, A.
Busfeild, W. Hatchell, J.
Buxton, Sir E. N. Hawes, B.
Cardwell, E. Hayter, rt. hon. W. G.
Carter, J. B. Headlam, T. E.
Caulfeild, J. M. Heald, J.
Chaplin, W. J. Heathcoat, J.
Childers, J. W. Heneage, E.
Christy, S. Henry, A.
Clay, J. Herbert, H. A.
Clay, Sir W. Herbert, rt. hon. S.
Clifford, H. M. Heywood, J.
Cobden, R. Hill, Lord M.
Cockburn, A. J. E. Hobhouse, T. B.
Colebrooke, Sir T. E. Hollond, R.
Currie, R. Howard, Lord E.
Dawson, hon. T. V. Howard, hon. C. W. G.
D'Eyncourt, rt. hon. C. T. Hume, J.
Dodd, G. Hutt, W.
Duncan, Visct. Jackson, W.
Jervis, Sir J. Rich, H.
Keppel, hon. G. T. Romilly, Col.
Ker, R. Romilly, Sir J.
Kershaw, J. Rumbold, C. E.
Kildare, Marq. of Russell, F. C. H.
King, hon. P. J. L. Rutherfurd, A.
Labouchere, rt. hon. H. Salwey, Col.
Langston, J. H. Sandars, G.
Lemon, Sir C. Scholefield, W.
Lennard, T. B. Scrope, G. P.
Lewis, rt. hon. Sir T. F. Shafto, R. D.
Lewis, G. C. Sidney, Ald.
Littleton, hon. E. R. Smith, J. A.
Loch, J. Smyth, J. G.
Lushington, C. Smythe, hon. G.
Mackinnon, W. A. Somerset, Capt.
Mangles, R. D. Somerville, rt. hn. Sir W.
Marshall, J. G. Spooner, R.
Marshall, W. Stansfield, W. R. C.
Martin, J. Strickland, Sir G.
Martin, C. W. Stuart, Lord J.
Martin, S. Talbot, J. H.
Masterman, J. Tancred, H. W.
Matheson, A. Tennent, R. J.
Matheson, Col. Thicknesse, R A.
Melgund, Visct. Thompson, Col.
Milner, W. M. E. Thornely, T.
Milnes, R. M. Tollemache, hon. F. J.
Milton, Visct. Tollemache, J.
Mitchell, T. A. Townshend, Capt.
Molesworth, Sir W. Trelawny, J. S.
Moody, C. A. Tufnell, H.
Morris, D. Villiers, hon. C.
Mulgrave, Earl of Waddington, H. S.
Ogle, S. C. H. Wakley, T.
Parker, J. Wall, C. B.
Pechell, Sir G. B. Walmsley, Sir J.
Pelham, hon. D. A. Watkins, Col. L.
Peto, S. M. Wawn, J. T.
Pilkington, J. Wilcox, B. M.
Power, N. Williams, J.
Price, Sir R. Williamson, Sir H.
Rawdon, Col. Wilson, M.
Rendlesham, Lord Wrightson, W. B.
Repton, G. W. J. Wyvill, M.
Ricardo, J. L. TELLERS.
Ricardo, O. Wortley, J. S.
Rice, E. R. Denison, E. B.
List of the NOES.
Acland, Sir T. D. Clive, hon. R. H.
Arbuthnott, hon. H. Clive, H. B.
Arkwright, J. Cocks, T. S.
Baillie, H. J. Cole, hon. H. A.
Bateson, T. Coles, H. B.
Bennet, P. Compton, H. C.
Beresford, W. Currie, H.
Berkeley, C. L. G. Deedes, W.
Boldero, H. G. Dick, Q.
Bowles, Adm. Divett, E.
Bramston, T. W. Douglas, Sir C. E.
Brisco, M. Drummond, H. H.
Broadley, H. Duckworth, Sir J. T. B.
Brooke, Lord Duff, G. S.
Buck, L. W. Duncombe, hon. A.
Buller, Sir J. Y. Duncombe, hon. O.
Burrell, Sir C. M. Dundas, G.
Cabbell, B. B. Dundas, rt. hon. Sir D.
Campbell, hon. W. F. Du Pre, C. G.
Carew, W. H. P. East, Sir J. B.
Cayley, E. S. Edwards, H.
Chatterton, Col. FitzPatrick, rt. hn. J. W.
Clerk, rt. hon. Sir G. Forbes, W.
Fordyce, A. D. Packe, C. W.
Fuller, A. E. Palmer, R.
Gladstone, rt. hn. W. E. Palmer, R.
Gordon, Adm. Patten, J. W.
Goulburn, rt. hon. H. Peel, rt. hon. Sir R.
Graham, rt. hon. Sir J. Peel, F.
Grogan, E. Plowden, W. H. C.
Guernsey, Lord Plumptre, J. P.
Hall, Sir B. Portal, M.
Halsey, T. P. Pusey, P.
Hamilton, J. H. Raphael, A.
Heneage, G. H. W. Reid, Col.
Henley, J. W. Richards, R.
Hildyard, R. C. Rushout, Capt.
Hildyard, T. B. T. Seymer, H. K.
Hogg, Sir J. W. Shell, rt. hon. R. L.
Hood, Sir A. Sibthorp, Col.
Hope, A. Simeon, J.
Hornby, J. Smollett, A.
Hotham, Lord Sotheron, T. H. S.
Inglis, Sir R. H. Spearman, H. J.
Jones, Capt. Stafford, A.
Keating, R. Stanley, E.
Law, hon. C. E. Stanton, W. H.
Legh, G. C. Stuart, J.
Lindsay, hon. Col. Sturt, H. G.
Lockhart, W. Sullivan, M.
Lopes, Sir R. Taylor, T. E.
Mackenzie, W. F. Tenison, E. K.
Mahon, Visct. Thornhill, G.
Manners, Lord G. Townley, R. G.
Maule, rt. hon. F. Trevor, hon. G. R.
Meux, Sir H. Turner, G. J.
Miles, P. W. S. Tyrell, Sir J. T.
Miles, W. Verney, Sir H.
Monsell, W. Walpole, S. H.
Morgan, O. Wegg-Prosser, F. R.
Mullings, J. R. West, F. R.
Mundy, W. Willoughby, Sir H.
Mure, Col. Wodehouse, E.
Naas, Lord
Newry & Morne, Visct. TELLERS.
O'Flaherty, A. Thesiger, Sir F.
Oswald, A. Wood, W. P.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read 2°, and committed for Wednesday next.

And it being Six of the clock, Mr. Speaker adjourned the House till To-morrow, without putting the Question.

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