§ Mr. Harcourt
presented petitions for the better observance of the Sabbath from Henley-upon-Thames, and sixteen parishes in the southern districts of the county of Oxford. These petitions were signed by all the incumbents of the various parishes from which they had emanated, and afforded a contradiction to the somewhat uncharitable allegations of the hon. member for Oldham, that petitions on this subject originated from worldly, rather than religious, feelings. He entirely concurred in the desire of the petitioners, that the due observance of the Sabbath ought to be secured, and he did so, not only in a religious point of view, but to increase the moral and physical energies of the labouring classes of the community, who had a fair right to claim the protection of the Legislature from Sunday labour.
§ Mr. Cobbett
said, be had that morning read a pamphlet published by those who wished for an alteration in the laws respecting the Sabbath; it was a sort of circular, which they sent about, having a draft of a petition attached to it, for the adoption of others. In this pamphlet they set forth that the non-observance of the Sabbath was injurious to their trade; and he wished the House to bear this in mind, for it would be found on examination of all the petitions, that at the bottom, the object was to keep the trade in their own hands, in order that they might get the most of it, and prevent others from selling, while they would rather stay at home, or enjoy themselves in any way they pleased. It was clear then that it was a mere matter of pounds, shillings, and pence, and not of the Gospel.
§ Mr. Harcourt
, in reply to what had fallen from the hon. member for Oldham, said, that the individuals who had been charged by the hon. Member with getting up these petitions from worldly motives, were, for the most part, religious persons, 969 who acted from the purest motives. Besides, the number of the petitions was a proof that there was generally a feeling in the public mind that the laws on this subject should be rendered more efficient: the petitions being more in number than on any other subject, except the abolition of slavery. It was his wish that the Sabbath could be established upon the ancient customs and usages of the country, for then the industrious classes would become morally and physically benefited by the change. Those classes had a fair claim to be protected in the right of enjoying the Sabbath by the legislature, without reference to the question as a matter of conscience. As to cessation from labour, a distinction should, of course, be made as to what were or were not works of necessity, but this he confessed was attended with considerable difficulty. He thought much more would be accomplished by the example of the upper classes, by refraining from putting into movement labour on the Sabbath-day, than by laws. And that if operatives were paid on some other day of the week than Saturday it would prevent much unnecessary shopping on the Sabbath.
§ Mr. Cobbett
said, the hon. Member had remarked that something should be done to make the existing laws conformable to the ancient practice of observing the Sabbath in this country. Now, the fact was, that according to the ancient practice fairs and markets were held on the Sabbath day; the first law for religiously observing the Sabbath having been passed in the reign of Charles 2nd. So much for the ancient practice of the country, at which time, however, the people were quite as religious as at present. But the hon. Member seemed to impute to him a desire to detract from the motives of the petitioners in stirring on this subject, as though he had originated the idea that they were animated by worldly motives. Now, the fact was, that they had originated that idea themselves. They had, as he had already stated, published a pamphlet, which they circulated with a form of petition, in the very outset of which they declared that they sustained great injury in consequence of others not observing the Sabbath with so much rigidity as their consciences dictated to them to be necessary for their own observance of it. He did not mean to say, that a great many of the persons who had signed these several 970 petitions were not sincere, that they were not religious; especially the petitioners who resided in Scotland, and of whom he had seen much. But what could the House do? That, after all, was the thing. Why they could do nothing that would be effectual. They could do nothing to compel people not to employ their servants on the Sabbath, to restrain farmers from employing their servants, or masters their apprentices; and as to talking about the example of the rich, of saying that ladies should not employ their footmen, their coachmen, or their grooms—it was all nonsense. The law, as it now stood, was quite good enough, and he was sure it could not be altered without doing mischief.
§ Mr. Harcourt
had by no means expressed an opinion as to what was necessary to be done in the details of the Bill introduced into this House, but merely said, that if the penal system were to be kept up, it would be desirable to accommodate the penalties to the change in the value of money. He was far from having any puritanical wishes to curtail the re creation of the poor, who certainly, in former times, especially in the country, enjoyed much more recreation on the Sunday than they now did. He thought that much more might be done by example than by legislation.
Petition to lie on the Table.