§ Mr. Thomas Duncombe
rose to move "that it is the opinion of the House, that during 1021 Lent no greater restrictions should be placed upon theatrical entertainments within the City of Westminster, than are placed upon the like amusements at the same period in every other part of the metropolis." In bringing forward this motion he was actuated by loyal as well as patriotic and humane and just considerations. He did not wish to see her Majesty blockaded from going to the theatre of Westminster during Lent. He would not have troubled the House with this motion if he did not feel that it was based upon principles of equal justice as well as of common sense. He felt, that the fault of bringing forward this motion did not rest with him, but with the right hon. the Secretary of State for the Home Department, who, when this subject was introduced the other night, would not condescend to give the House the slightest reason for refusing the motion. If there were any apologies to be made on this ground, he (Mr. Duncombe) would not occupy the time of the House in making it, but leave it to the noble Lord to apologise. Then the noble Lord was upon that occasion supported by a large majority, but many of those who then supported the noble Lord did so, thinking that the motion was irregular in point of time, and in point of form—irregular in point of time, because it was supposed inconvenient that upon a petition being presented a motion should be made without previous notice; and in point of form, because it was deemed, that as the noble Lord had advised the Lord Chamberlain, who issued the restrictive order, and who was connected with the Court of Westminster, it might seem discourteous, as making her Majesty a party in the dispute. However, these reasons were no arguments why they should not support the present motion which was brought forward in an entirely different manner. Would the noble Lord tell him why the inhabitants and players of Westminster should be placed under a severe periodical restriction, merely because it was an old custom, which said, "it shall be so." He trusted, that hon. Members would relieve a large body of respectable and meritorious individuals from those restrictions. Whatever might be the political and religious feelings out of the House, justice ought to induce them to do so here. It was really most cruel and absurd, that while in every other part of the metropolis the inhabitants were 1022 amusing themselves on Wednesdays and Fridays in Lent, on the north-side of Oxford-street, and the other side of the water, and while court dinners, and parties, and balls, and levees, at which her Majesty received her loyal subjects, were taking place in Westminster, it was most absurd and cruel that an interdict should be issued, forbidding the most harmless entertainments, not only to the inhabitants of Westminster at large, but taking employment, which was still worse, from that unhappy class of men, called players and operatives at the theatres. This restriction deprived those persons of one-third of their incomes. Hon. Gentlemen stated on a former occasion, that when those individuals made their engagements, they did so with a full knowlede of what awaited them. The performers did not complain of this, they only complained, that they had no engagements upon those nights. Their salaries were weekly, but they were paid only for the nights on which they played. Were they permitted the same privileges enjoyed by performers elsewhere, they would be paid for six nights instead of four, and would thus enjoy, that one-third of the income which was now stopped by this unjust prohibition. He would appeal to her Majesty's Ministers, the great performers of polital dramas of the day; he would ask them how would they like to have one-third of their weekly salary stopped, because there was no House? He did not see why, if Mr. Rice, of Downing-street, was permitted to receive his salary on the Wednesdays and Fridays in Lent, Mr. Rice, of the Adelphi, should be deprived of his. He would refer to the Morning Post, the organ of the fashionable world, for an account of what had taken place on a Wednesday in Lent, within the City of Westminster, in the jurisdiction of the very Lord Chamberlain who had decided, that on that day in the City of Westminster nobody had any right whatever to enjoy themselves. In the first place, he found, that on that day there had been a great dinner at the Freemasons' Tavern, of the members of the Drury-lane Theatrical Fund. He might as well state that this dinner was in general a performance of broad farce, with a mixture of musical entertainments. He found it stated in the Morning Post, that his Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge was in the chair; that the party was a very large one, and the whole was kept up with 1023 great convivialty. That in the course of the evening a variety of songs were sung, and that afterwards Mr. Rice, it was not stated, that he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Rice, the real Jim Crow, sang, "Sitch a gettin' up stairs," and "Jim Crow," with several new verses, and that after the illustrious chairman had quitted the chair, Mr. Rice was voted into it by acclamation, and kept up the conviviality of the after part of the evening. He had then looked to see if any other persons were enjoying themselves in the City of Westminster, under the jurisdiction of the Lord Chamberlain; he had looked for the purpose of discovering who had given parties during this time of penance, and he found that her Majesty had entertained a large party at the royal palace, and that the band of the Life Guards had been in attendance, and performed several pieces of music—and who, of all persons, did the House imagine stood first upon the list of the distinguished individuals who had been entertained by her Majesty upon that occasion—why, the Marquess of Conyngham, the Lord Chamberlain, the "Arbiter Elegantiarum" of the City of Westminster. Far be it from him to suppose, that the Lord Chamberlain did not represent to her Majesty, while the band of Life Guards were playing, that this was a time for penance, and that her Majesty must be, of course, aware, that it was his duty to prevent any one enjoying themselves in the City of Westminster. He then thought he would see how the Cabinet Ministers observed the Wednesdays in Lent, and he found that the Marquess of Lansdowne gave a large dinner party—he went still further, and having a great wish to see how the dignitaries of the Church occupied themselves on these occasions—he had again referred to the Morning Post, and he there found, that yesterday being a Wednesday in Lent, the Bishop of Llandaff had given an elegant dinner party—at the deanery of St. Paul's, to a large party of gentlemen connected with the diocese of London. When he found that these were the occupations of her Majesty, of the Ministry, and of the Church during this season, which the Lord Chamberlain said should be devoted exclusively to prayer, penitence, and piety, he must say he could not understand upon what ground his motion was to be opposed. The people of the City of Westminster did not grudge 1024 her Majesty the use of the band of the Life Guards, for which they paid; they only asked to be permitted to pay for their own band, and listen to it in the boxes of Drury-lane or Covent-garden. He knew not on what grounds his motion could be opposed, and yet he understood it was the intention of her Majesty's Government to oppose it. There was no law on the subject; it was dependent upon the caprice of the Lord Chamberlain. Sir James Scarlett had said, that he did not know of the existence of any law on this subject, and that this prohibition was merely an old custom. The only law that could be at all imagined to grant this authority was the 10th Geo. 2nd, which enacted, that every acting drama should, before its performance, be submitted to the Lord Chamberlain, for his approval, and that no piece should be performed without his licence, and that it should be in his power to prohibit the performance of any piece even after it had been licensed, and thus the House would see that it was impossible that any piece could be produced of a seditious, blasphemous, or objectionable nature, and many pieces, after having passed the ordeal of the Lord Chamberlain, had been hissed off by the good sense of the audience. The Lord Chamberlain made this a ground for assuming the power to prohibit these performances during Lent; but it was clear, that this prohibition was only issued to please those who like the observance of old customs. He could not see, however, why this old custom should not be abandoned, or why many other examples of old Lenten customs should not be revived, as they were customs quite as respectable as this which it had been thought proper to keep up. There was an old Lenten custom which existed up to the time of Geo. 2nd, worthy of revival if this were to be retained. Up to that period, there was an officer of the King's palace denominated the King's cockcrower. It was the duty of this officer to perambulate the palace during Lent, and crow the hours of the night, which at other times were proclaimed by the watchmen. The then Prince of Wales, afterwards George 2nd, happening to be entering his apartment for supper one evening, met the King's cock-crower, who crowed the hour to him, and as he did not understand his language, and was unable to comprehend his interpreter's interpretation, he thought the King's cock-crower 1025 intended to insult him by crowing; he accordingly seized the unfortunate crower by the throat, and nearly strangled him, in consequence of which he was so ill as to be for some time incapable of performing the duties of his office. After this occurrence the matter was submitted to the grave consideration of the court, and it was determined, that the office should be abolished. Now, if this old Lenten custom of shutting up the theatres were to be continued, he did not see why the other old Lenten custom of King's cock-crower should not be revived. In other countries the National Drama received national support. In France the national theatres were supported out of the national purse. In France the national theatres were rent free—he asked for nothing of this sort in this country. He believed, that the theatres paid 3,000l. a-year ground rent to the Duke of Bedford, who made no deduction for the nights on which the houses were shut up. He only asked, that they should be put on an equality with other parts of the metropolis, and he could not understand the ground upon which his motion could be opposed. He would therefore move his resolution.
§ Mr. Hume
seconded the motion. He thought it most unjust, that those in power should maintain such restrictions on the poor, which they in their own persons disregarded. And he trusted the noble Lord would see the justice of doing away with these restrictions, while the court and the nobility were constantly acting in contradiction to them.
§ Lord J. Russell
observed, that the hon. gentleman the Member for Finsbury had found fault with him for not having addressed reasons and arguments to the House when he last brought forward this question; and it appeared that it was to that silence on his part that they owed the very amusing and facetious speech in which the hon. Gentleman had again introduced the subject to their attention. He confessed that, notwithstanding the amusement thence derived, it was rather to spare the House a discussion of the kind that he (Lord J. Russell) did not enter into arguments upon the subject when it was last before the House; because, although the subject might be made as amusing as any other, he did not think, that a question which affected the established religion of the country was a fit one to be discussed as a matter of entertainment, He found that that observa- 1026 tion did not meet with the approbation of some gentlemen, whose views he supposed coincided with those of the hon. Member for Finsbury. All he could say was, that since the last discussion he had taken the opportunity of consulting the Bishop of London upon the subject in the presence of another distinguished prelate; and that the Bishop of London stated, that he considered that out of respect to the established religion of the country, these theatrical performances should not be allowed in the city of Westminster on Wednesdays and Fridays in Lent, and that it would be considered a want of respect to the Established Church and Established Religion, if Government should advise her Majesty to change the custom which had hitherto been observed in this matter. For his own part, he must say, that upon a subject of this kind he thought it behoved the advisers of her Majesty—placed in the situation which she was with regard to the Church—rather to refer to what was the opinion of the heads of the Church, and to what had been the custom from time immemorial, than to go over the river to Surrey, or across Oxford-street to Marylebone, and finding the theatres open in those places, to declare, that they should also be open in Westminster. First of all let him advert to what was the law upon the subject, and the cause of the practice upon which the hon. Gentleman apparently founded the whole of his motion—that the custom of closing the theatres in Westminster was different to anything that existed in any other part of the metropolis. By the 10th Geo. 2nd, as the hon. Gentleman had stated, a power was given to the Lord Chamberlain with respect to theatrical entertainments. He would not then enter into a consideration of the nature or limits of that power. It was enough for his purpose to state, that it was a power that had been constantly exercised from the first moment that it was given; and previous to that time, he believed, that theatrical entertainments never took place in the city of Westminster on Wednesdays and Fridays in Lent. By another act it was provided, that the Lord Chamberlain should not have power to license any other theatre than those in Westminster within twenty miles of London. Therefore, the theatres to which the hon. Gentleman had referred as existing in Surrey and in other parts of the metropolis not comprised in the city of Westminster—although they had performances on Wednesdays and Fridays in Lent—were every day liable to penalties, as not 1027 being legally established. A further illustration of the point he was now urging was to be found in the decision of Lord Denman, in an action with respect to the Victoria theatre between the manager and the lessee, in which proof being given that the theatre was not, and could not, be licensed by the Lord Chamberlain, the noble and learned judge at once stopped the case and declared that it was unnecessary to go into any further evidence. The Victoria and other minor theatres might be licensed by the magistrates for music and dancing, but there was no authority by which they could be licensed for theatrical performances. Such was the law upon the subject as laid down by Lord Denman; therefore, the only ground upon which these theatres existed at all was, that no notice was taken of their violation of the law. Under these circumstances, when the question was raised as to whether the Lord Chamberlain should enforce his power or not, it was, he thought, a little too much to say that no regard should be paid to the custom of centuries—that no decent respect should be manifested to the established religion of the country, but that seeing an illegal practice spring up in other parts of the metropolis, the same illegal practice should at once be extended to Westminster. This, then, was the law of the case—that those theatres which were acting beyond the bounds of the cities of Westminster and London were acting without any licence from the Lord Chamberlain, and without the sanction of the law. This was clearly laid down by Lord Denman in the case to which he had referred. With respect to the new minor theatres in the city of Westminster, the Lord Chamberlain, in order to make them conform with the rule laid down in reference to Drury-lane and Covent-garden, specifically required in their licence that there should be no performance on Wednesdays and Fridays in Lent. Therefore they could not complain of any injustice, because those were the terms upon which they took their licences. It was the same with Covent-garden and Drury-lane. They could have no ground of complaint, because the terms upon which they obtained their licences were perfectly well known to them, being, in fact, the same as they had always been in times past. With respect to the practise of closing the theatres on Wednesdays and Fridays, the hon. Member fur Kilkenny said there was great hypocrisy in it; and the hon. Member for Finsbury contended that because her Ma- 1028 jesty gave a dinner on Wednesday, therefore the theatres were to be open on Wednesday. Surely if the House were to agree to that proposition, the same argument might be applied to Sunday, because it would not be difficult for the hon. Gentleman to find from the newspapers that dinners were given by persons of distinction in various parts of the town on that day. If the hon. Gentleman's argument were good in the one case it would be equally good in the other; if theatrical performances were to be allowed on Wednesdays, because there were dinners on Wednesdays, therefore there ought to be theatrical performances on Sunday, because there were dinners on Sunday. He could only say that he thought the Lord Chamberlain, being an officer under the Crown, and having to act in the name of her Majesty upon this subject, could do nothing better than attend to what had been at all times the custom, and which the heads of the Church considered as a decent and respectful regard to the established religion of the country. For his own part he thought that the practice ought to be continued. Instead of saying, that Westminster should in this respect be made conformable to the rest of the town, he thought the House ought to say that the rest of the town should be made to conform with the practice in Westminster. He certainly objected to their entering into any resolution upon the subject. He decidedly objected to their declaring by a resolution of that House what was the manner in which the power vested in the Crown should be exercised. If the House were to entertain the question at all, it would be better that it should be in the shape of a motion similar to that proposed by the hon. Gentleman the other night, namely, an address to the Crown, desiring the Crown, on the part of the House, not to exercise a power which it deemed objectionable. But to pass a resolution of this kind giving a sanction to the irregular and illegal practice of other parts of the metropolis, and discountenancing that which from time immemorial had been observed in the city of Westminster, was to take a step the intention of which he really did not understand. If it were adopted, was it to be said, that because the House of Commons—because one branch of the legislature had passed a resolution, therefore the Lord Chamberlain was to change a practice which had existed beyond the memory of man? It might happen that some noble Lord or some right 1029 rev. Prelate might move a resolution of a directly opposite nature in the House of Lords. Between these adverse resolutions how was the Lord Chamberlain to act? He would have no alternative but to act as he did at present, upon his own discretion. Therefore he should not consider that a resolution of the kind now proposed would carry with it sufficient weight to change the established practice which had hitherto existed upon the subject. He certainly thought it would be far better to make the practice uniform throughout the whole of the metropolis. A change in the law was no doubt required. But to say that there should be theatrical entertainments in Westminster on Wednesdays and Fridays because there were dinners in Westminster on those days, might be a very palatable and very profitable proposition for all the occupiers of play-houses in Westminster—might be introduced to the House in a very amusing and entertaining speech; but at the same time he really could not see why the Lord Chamberlain should be desired by that House to change the established practice. Having offered these observations to the House, he should conclude by moving the previous question.
§ Lord Teignmouth
, did not think it necessary to trouble the House with more than one or two observations, after the very able and satisfactory speech of the noble Lord—a speech which he ventured to say was in accordance with the feelings of the majority of that House, and of all the good sense of the country. He would only ask the hon. Member for Finsbury one question—whether he would put a dinner, given by the Bishop in fulfilment of that mandate, which ordered that he should exercise the rights of hospitality [laughter]—Hon. Gentlemen might laugh, but he would repeat the question—whether the hon. Member would put such a duty on the part of a bishop in comparison with theatrical entertainments, which, though they might be made, under proper conduct, to contribute to the morality of the country, were, unfortunately, inseparably connected with evils which it was impossible sufficiently to condemn. However excellent the character of the performances—however pure the nature of the entertainment—it was but too well known that the theatres were thronged not alone with respectable people, but with prostitutes and persons of the worst and vilest descriptions. He had only one 1030 other remark to offer. He was sure that if the hon. Member for Finsbury had had the good fortune like himself, frequently to partake of the hospitality of the Bishop of Llandaff, he would see, that the dinners of that right rev. prelate were conducted in a way which afforded no parallel to the entertainments of a theatre.
§ Mr. Leader
observed, that the noble Lord (Lord John Russell), had treated the motion of his hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury, as if it related only to a matter of merriment. Much as he (Mr. Leader) had been entertained and amused by the very admirable speech of his hon. Friend, he begged the House to remember that the question they were arguing was not merely a matter of amusement, but a question which affected the livelihood and subsistence of several hundred industrious and deserving people. It was a question which did not so much affect the great actors as the mechanics and operatives attached to the theatres, whose pay depended upon the nights of performance. The great actors, "the stars," might go to other theatres, which were not shut up, or might go "starring" into the provinces where the people were not so very puritanical as to think it wicked or wrong to go to a theatre on Wednesdays or Fridays in Lent; but those who really suffered, the humble operatives belonging to the great theatres, had no opportunity of obtaining employment elsewhere on the days when the doors of these theatres were closed. He confessed he was astonished to hear the noble Lord speak of this motion as calculated to do mischief to the established church. He would not charge the noble Lord with hypocrisy, but he feared it would appear to the country very like hypocrisy to talk of the established religion being hurt by the opening of the theatres on Wednesdays and Fridays, when they know how those days were spent by persons in the very highest walks of life. When the noble Lord talked of applying the argument of the hon. Member for Finsbury to Sunday as well as to Wednesday and Friday, he begged to remind the noble Lord that there was no ground of comparison between those different clays of the week. Sunday was regarded by the Protestant church as a day of religious observance and of rest from labour—Wednesday and Friday, if regarded at all in a religious 1031 point of view, were so regarded only by the Roman Catholic church. The noble Lord the Member for Marylebone (Lord Teignmouth) had taken the part of the noble Lord the Secretary for the Home Department; to be consistent, would the noble Lord bring in a bill to place the theatres of Marylebone under the same restraint as the theatres of Westminster? He trusted that the majority of the House would take what he really believed to be the common-sense view of the question—that they would not be influenced by the official authority of the noble Lord, nor biassed by the overstrained religious zeal of other persons in the House; but that they would resolutely avail themselves of the opportunity of discountenancing a practice which he thought more calculated to injure the established religion than to do it good.
§ Viscount Dungannon
had observed with satisfaction the somewhat extraordinary profession of regard made by the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) to the established church. He only hoped that all the acts of which the noble Lord might be the promoter during this or any ensuing Session of Parliament, might prove the truth and sincerity of his professions. The noble Lord had certainly expressed himself in strong terms that evening in favour of the Established Church, and he was not sorry to hear him speak in such a strain. Although he believed there was no one in that House who more strongly adhered to the cause of the Established Church than he (Viscount Dungannon) did, and always should do; yet he had ever been opposed to the measures that had been introduced for the better observance of the Sabbath, because he considered it unjust to have one law for the rich and another for the poor. He believed, that the people of this country were disposed by habit and education to be religious, and he would not attempt to render them more so by oppressive legislation. Therefore, although it very seldom happened, that he was found voting in the ranks of the hon. Gentlemen on the Ministerial side of the House, and as little as any one with the hon. Member for Finsbury, he could not but feel, that upon the present occasion it was an absolute and gross absurdity to maintain the necessity of closing the theatres in the precincts of Westminster on Wednesdays and Fridays during Lent. whilst the theatres on the other side of 1032 Oxford-street. and on the opposite side of the river in Surrey, were open and free to all classes. It was obvious and clear, that if it were an evil to be put down at all, it should be put an end to in toto, and he thought with the hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. Leader) that if his noble Friend, the Member for Marylebone (Lord Teignmouth) perceived so much evil, so much immorality, so great an insult upon the established religion in the opening of the theatres in Marylebone on Wednesdays and Fridays during Lent, he ought to introduce a bill to close them on those days. He was one of those who had always thought, and should always continue to think, that it was most absurd to say, that religion was advanced by the people being kept away from amusements of a rational nature, whilst richer and more influential persons were permitted to enjoy whatever amusement they pleased, be its nature what it might. Such a proposition was at once absurd and unjust. He should think, that the attachment of the people to the religious institutions of this country had indeed arrived at a had pass when, for the sake of keeping up observances, it should be found necessary to close the theatres on one side of a street, whilst on the other they were left open to all. If the evil were as great and extensive as was asserted by some hon. Gentlemen, let them put an end to it altogether, and say, "We will religiously observe Wednesdays and Fridays in Lent by closing all places of public entertainment on those days;" but let them not make—he would not merely say the invidious but the absurd and ridiculous distinction of saying, that the theatres in one part of the town should be closed, whilst in all other parts they should be allowed to be open. He could not be charged with any dereliction of duty, or any abandonment of previously expressed opinions, by declaring his intention to support the motion of the hon. Member for Finsbury. He did so upon principles of common justice; and because, having ever, to the utmost of his power, upheld the cause of true and pure religion, he was naturally the more strongly opposed to that which assumed nothing more than the outward form and semblance of religion, and which in itself he considered to be absurd in the highest degree.
§ Sir J. Graham
feared, that the time had come when any humble support which 1033 he could give to the noble Lord would rather be an impediment than an assistance to him; but still upon this occasion, when he had seen the noble Lord, in the bold and fearless discharge of his duty assume a ground which was unpopular, and manfully maintain it, he (Sir J. Graham) should be base indeed—having once taken counsel with him on this question, and having fully concurred, when he did so take counsel, in the decision which the noble Lord then adopted, and which he had this night maintained—if he shrunk from asserting now what he on a former occasion asserted, that he entirely agreed with the noble Lord, and was prepared to take the same ground which the noble Lord had taken. He did not mean to say, that it was necessary for the maintenance of the Established Church, that there should be, on Wednesdays and Fridays in Lent, observances of this description, but he contended, that as long as by the regulations of the Established Church and the law of the land, those days were to be set apart for sacred purposes, it was the duty of her Majesty's servants to maintain those regulations and that law. That was the single proposition for which he contended. The theatres within the city of Westminster were, as the law now stood, the only theatres which were under the control of her Majesty's Chamberlain. He might be wrong, but he always understood and was still disposed to believe, that those were the only theatres under the control of the Lord Chamberlain. If it was right that according to the observances of the Established Church, it was inexpedient that these days so set apart should be held to extend beyond a certain distance from Westminster, still, as far as the law went, it was the duty of the Lord Chamberlain to enforce these regulations. The Lord Chamberlain not exercising any control over theatres beyond that distance, could not, of course, enforce those regulations with respect to them. He would certainly contend, when the heads of the Church represented to her Majesty's Government, that it was proper, that this respect due to the established religion, so far as her Majesty's authority extended, should be observed, it was the duty of her Majesty's servants to exercise their control over the Lord Chamberlain, with a view to the enforcement of that observance. He did not wish to put the question upon any higher ground. Agree- 1034 ing as he did with the noble Lord, not only now, but when he was a servant of his late Majesty, in common with the noble Lord, and seeing the noble Lord pressed as he was on this occasion, he certainly felt bound, as an old colleague and as a gentleman, to give the noble Lord on this occasion his support.
§ Mr. Ward
said, the right hon. Baronet had laid down a broad principle. He stated, that it was his conviction, that the two days set apart by the ritual of the Church ought to be observed in Lent, and expressed in strong terms his approbation of the conduct of the noble Secretary for the Home Department in enforcing the observance of those days. Now would the right hon. Baronet permit him (Mr. Ward) to ask him whether he was not to-morrow going to preside at a great public dinner? On a Friday, be it observed, and that in Lent. [Sir James Graham: It is a dinner connected with charity.] A charity dinner! Why, it was a dinner where there would be as much drinking, eating, and hilarity, and of as convivial a character as ever took place at any public dinner. That was the manner in which this great moralist was to observe the sacredness of a Friday in Lent. It would, he thought, be allowed, that those who should go on that day to the theatres in the city of Westminster would enjoy quite as rational, quite as civilized, and quite as moral an entertainment as the right hon. Baronet at his charity dinner. It was useless to disguise from themselves, that from all these concurring causes—however the subject might be met in that House, they should stand convicted before the public of what a noble Lord opposite had most properly called gross hypocrisy. There was not one law in this country for Bishops and another for the people; and although the noble Lord the Member for Marylebone (Lord Teignmouth) seemed to think there was a difference between the dinners of Bishops and other men given on Wednesdays and Fridays in Lent, yet he could assure the noble Lord there was no such difference. There was not one law for a Bishop and another for a Member of that House. There was not one law for the Queen and another for her subjects upon a question of morality. One pure and great principle should he laid down, which ought to bind every Christian man to the observance of the rites of his Church. They must act in this matter 1035 upon some one principle. Those who thought, like the noble Lord the Secretary of State for the Home Department, were bound, in conviction with the heads of the Church, to bring in a bill for establishing new forms for the due and strict observance of every day in Lent, and that law ought to be supported by every one who thought that the non-observance of Wednesdays and Fridays incurred great danger to the Established Church. He would, however, entreat the House to reflect well before they came to a vote this evening. Certainly there appeared to him no feasible ground on which they could oppose the motion of his hon. Friend, unless they were prepared to carry the principle into action which had been advocated to-night, and enforce the observance of the whole season of Lent throughout the land.
§ Lord John Russell
, said, that after what had fallen from the hon. Gentleman, he was induced to trouble the House again for one moment. The hon. Gentleman had said that he (Lord John Russell) was bound to bring in a bill to make the observance of Lent more strict than it was now. He (Lord John Russell) had already stated that if it were thought advisable by Parliament to make a change in the law, he for his part, should have no objection to do so. But that while the law continued to be what it was at present, he felt bound to advise the Lord Chamberlain, who was one of the Queen's servants, he (Lord John Russell) being also one of them himself, to act in conformity with that law.
§ Mr. Warburton
said, that as the noble Lord had said the Lord Chamberlain was bound by law to enforce the observance of these days, the noble Lord ought to show, that if the Lord Chamberlain were to issue an order to the theatres, that they might perform on Wednesdays and Fridays he would be doing an illegal act. It was not what an Archbishop or Bishop might say that constituted law. Without any statement from a Bishop or an Archbishop they knew very well that which the noble Lord had already told them, that it was an old custom. It was an old custom, they all admitted: and all that the noble Lord had said in defence of continuing this practice was, that a Bishop and Archbishop had told him that they were against a change, and in favour of the custom. That was the whole substance of what had fallen from the noble Lord; and upon that it was, that the 1036 House were advised not to act and legislate in accordance with that which was the great regulator in all free countries, public opinion. The noble Lord and the Queen's Government had set themselves up against public opinion, and he doubted not that ere long they would be defeated. He hoped there would be a majority in favour of the motion this night, and then they would see whether the Queen's Government and the Lord Chamberlain would venture to set themselves up against a majority of the House of Commons. Those who supported the present motion knew that they were supported by the public voice out of doors; because it was notorious that in every public place, except within the precincts of Westminster, Wednesdays and Fridays in Lent were observed just the same as in any other week. And whether it pleased an Archbishop or a Bishop to tell them that they ought to be observed, or not, more holily than any other day in the week, public opinion in this Protestant country had declared against it, and had said that they would observe Wednesdays and Fridays in Lent just as well as, and no better than, any other day. Therefore they would leave this old custom, together with the Bishops and Archbishops, in the keeping of the noble Lord, while his hon. Friend and those who supported him appealed to public opinion; and he doubted not that, in making that appeal, they would gain the victory.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
denied altogether the applicability of the principle on which the hon. Gentleman had rested his argument. Nothing was easier in that House than for any one to say, that public opinion was to decide the question, and thus to declare, that he himself was the oracle of public opinion. He would recal to the recollection of the hon. Gentleman a matter not of very remote occurrence, to which the hon. Gentleman himself was not indifferent, and concerning which he and certain hon. Members took upon themselves to announce dogmatically that they were the expositors of public opinion. It was upon a question of much more interest to the country than whether Wednesdays and Fridays in Lent ought to he observed by the theatres or not; he alluded to the question of the transmission of letters through the city of London on the Sunday. The hon. Gentleman, and those who acted with him, took upon them, in reference to that question, to declare, that 1037 their opinions would be sanctioned by the public voice. The fact turned out otherwise, and public opinion had declared against them. If hon. Gentlemen did not like his illustration, he would not press it further; but were the Gentlemen who disliked an appeal to facts true organs of public opinion. His hon. Friend, the Member for Finsbury, would, he was sure, listen to his argument, and deal fairly with him. In speaking, then, on the subject of public opinion they were not to take the assertion, however bold, of Gentlemen, that they were the only true oracles of public opinion. And if there was one subject, more than any other, which he must distrust the Member for Bridport it was, that if he took upon himself to pronounce a subject which touched directly or indirectly the religious feelings of the people. He would tell the hon. Member for Bridport arbitrarily, that the public were entirely on his side, and that it was a matter of indifference how the House dealt with the question, for public opinion would go with him in this change, and would finally prevail—if the hon. Gentleman said this, he, (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) would say, that he should require some stronger evidence of this than his mere assertion. He was anxious, however, not to be misunderstood; if there had existed previously no usage on this subject, he could have had no doubt on the subject for he would not entertain any scruples whatever of a religious nature upon it, That was his own individual opinion, but considering what was the established practice, and considering that the hon. Member for Finsbury was calling upon the House to interpose and alter that practice by a resolution, he felt bound to oppose the proposition; and if he knew anything of the state of public opinion, on which he had a right as an individual to pronounce his conviction, as well as the hon. Member for Bridport, he would say, that any interposition on the part of that House in a matter of this description would be liable to much misconstruction, would be held to be an act in derogation if not in opposition to the religious feelings of the country, and if the House were to adopt the motion of the hon. Member they would take a course in which public opinion would pronounce against them. Believing this, he was opposed to any such measure. He agreed with his noble Friend (Lord John Russell) that if any step were to be taken, the mode proposed was of all others the most 1038 inconvenient. If any measure were to be adopted at all, it ought to be in the shape of legislation. Let Parliament decide what the law ought to be, but let it not be done by resolution. His noble Friend had forcibly put the case of a supposed contradiction between the resolution of one House, and of the other, on this subject; he need not, therefore, repeat that argument. But was the House prepared to decide the question practically upon a resolution of this description? They must then be disposed to give the same power to a resolution which might be passed in the other House of Parliament? Let the House consider what the effect of this course might be. He had already alluded to the instance which had occurred with respect to the transmission of letters through London on a Sunday: Did not those Gentlemen who were eager for that change, know by experience, that with respect to the opinion of the English metropolis itself, they had been completely in error in the argument they maintained. [Mr. Warburton: That is not under discussion now.] No, it was not; but if hon. Gentlemen appealed to public opinion, in the abstract, he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) was entitled to refer to facts that bore out his view of what public opinion really was, as contrasted with the public opinion enunciated by the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Gentleman said, that he was entitled to declaim and dogmatise on public opinion, but that on the contrary, he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) was not entitled to give an illustration of it by outward and visible signs and undeniable facts. That might be justice, and good logic, according to the hon. Gentleman's views, but he did not subscribe to such doctrine, or to such a practice.
said the right hon. Gentleman wished apparently to get rid of the question by putting it into the two-penny post office, but he would assure the right hon. Gentleman there was no similarity between it and the delivery of letters on the Sunday. He would endeavour to recal the attention of the House to the proper bearing of the question. As he had been almost the only individual on his side of the House who had supported the hon. Member for Finsbury the other night, when he proposed a motion in relation to this subject, he would justify the vote he had then given. He hoped he had as profound a respect for the established religion of this country as the bishop of London, He was not sure, indeed, that he should have 1039 agreed to that method of spoliation which the bishop of London, and some other bishop, had advised, with respect to the canons of the cathedrals, if acting on his own view only. But when they were met on a question of this nature with an expression of vague sentiments on the part of a prelate of the church—that the Protestant religion would be endangered by a profanation of this character—that a resolution of this description was not respectful to the established religion of this country, and when the noble Secretary for the Home Department appealed to time immemorial, which appeared to him to be, according to the noble Lord's quotations, the very ancient time of George 2nd.—when the noble Lord and his supporters on this occasion came forward with such a high spirit, and animated by so lofty a tone, to carry the House away with them, he thought it might become them to have made some researches on this question—to come forward with something better than vague expressions of a feeling, an attachment to the church, and some antiquarian knowledge a little more recondite than that of the times of George 2nd. He should like to know at what time during the Protestant sway in this country, Lent had been rigidly and properly respected. He was not one who was prepared to say, that he approved of any relaxation of the rigid observance of Lent so far as Wednesdays and Fridays were concerned. He was not prepared to say, that it might not be just and expedient, and prudent, and religious, and proper, to observe it even for forty days. But then they must give him forty days of Lent as they had ever been observed, when they were perfectly observed. They must give him the forty days of Lent with the "mysteries," and with the "moralities," with those mysteries and with those moralities which were acted by the monks. That was the only mode in which morality had tolerated the religious observance of Lent, and such were the amusements to which the people had recourse. There was one consideration which ought to influence them in deciding upon this question. They should not forget that the birth of Protestantism and of the drama in England was almost simultaneous. The moment Protestantism had sway in England there was a great relaxation in the observance of Lent. Great outcries were raised about the rigid observance of that season, and in the reign of James 1st. peti- 1040 tions were presented "to that strictly Protestant Prince" praying for a relaxation of Lent except on Wednesdays and Fridays, because they were sermon days. He knew not if they were sermon days at present; at least it seemed that they exercised but little influence upon the people if they were. But it was also observable, that a company of players petitioned James 1st., requesting the patronage of the king, and he one of the first Protestant kings of the country; and the answer was this—the king said, "Let them act, but they must act only on Wednesdays and Fridays, lest they interfere with our players." That was a fair specimen of the tone regarding Lent, and with respect to the drama, in the early part of the Protestant era. Lent never had been observed strictly and completely in Protestant England. The mere observance of two days in the week had been a matter rather of convenience than of law and strict religious custom, and he must say, though he did not think it was a question in point, that the observance of Lent on Wednesdays and Fridays with respect to players, without an equal observance of our morals and manners in other respects, was but a shadow of religious custom and a shade of faith. He was rather surprised that the noble Lord, the Secretary for the Home Department, should have urged against this motion his fears of a collision with the House of Lords. As one who sat on the Opposition side of the House, animated as he was by Conservative feelings, he could not but congratulate his friends on the progress of Conservative opinions, because it was only a very few years back that it was said the Lords feared a collision with the Commons. See what effects a few years had produced! He was glad that this question had called forth from the noble Lord not only an expression of attachment to the Established Church, but of fear of a collision with the House of Lords. With these feelings he should vote for the motion of the hon, Member for Finsbury.
§ Mr. T. Duncombe
replied, and observed that a question had been put to him by the noble Lord the Member for Marylebone (Lord Teignmouth), which, as far as he (Mr. Duncombe) understood it, was simply this, whether he would place a bishop's dinner on the same footing as a theatre full of prostitutes. He felt it would be insulting as well to the House as to the 1041 right rev. Prelate to whom allusion was made, if he were to condescend to give any answer to what he must call an impertinent question. The noble Lord was perfectly correct in stating that he (Mr. T. Duncombe) had not enjoyed the good fortune which the noble Lord himself had in being placed at the bishop's table, and, therefore, he (Mr. Duncombe) was quite unable to say what species of company the bishop kept. But he had very often enjoyed the good fortune to go to the theatre, and he must say, that although there might be some questionable characters in certain parts of it, yet the large majority of the audience was composed of the most respectable inhabitants of the town, in which he, of course, included the middle classes, who generally constituted the greatest number, though there often mixed with them members of the aristocracy, and he might venture to say families connected with the church itself. Therefore, if the question of the noble Lord was, whether a theatre so filled was to be considered on an equal footing with a bishop's dinner-party, his reply most distinctly would be, yes. And if he wanted an illustration of what was done on a Friday in Lent—one of those days when theatres in Westminster were not allowed to be opened—he would mention what had occurred at the Queen's Theatre, in Tottenham Street, on such a day, to which place the power of the Lord Chamberlain did not extend. There was on that occasion to be seen the consort of the illustrious Duke of Cambridge. Again, therefore, he would reply to the noble Lord's question, that the company at that theatre might be put upon a footing with the dinner party of any right reverend prelate. His right hon. Friend, the Member for Pembroke, had said that the authority of the Lord Chamberlain was confined to the theatres within the city of Westminster. His right hon. Friend was wrong in that respect, for the theatres at Cork, Birmingham, Manchester, Brighton, and other places, were all royal Theatres, and all came under the jurisdiction of the Lord Chamberlain, and were equally subject to his power, if he chose to exercise it. But to show the capriciousness with which that power was used, he could mention it as a fact, that at the Brighton theatre, which was within a stones' throw of the palace, and during the time the court was there, and the Lord Chamberlain himself also—about a year or two ago, on an Ash- 1042 Wednrsday, the following pieces were performed:—Charles the Twelfth, the Maid of Switzerland, and the Vampire. Far was it from him to impute any impropriety or immorality to these proceedings, if persons thought proper to countenance them. In Westminster he found that at the Crown and Anchor Tavern, which was equally within the jurisdiction of the Lord Chamberlain, there were concerts à la Valentino, at one shilling admittance, and at which he understood there were present last evening 800 most respectable persons, who conducted themselves with a degree of propriety which was worthy of imitation even by the Members of that House. This was the kind of Entertainment which the national theatres wished to give on Wednesdays and Fridays during Lent; he meant a concert of instrumental music. The noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) had been complimented by the Right hon. Member for Pembroke on his manly speech. He could not concur in that compliment. He considered it a most unmanly speech; for he had thrown the responsibility off his own shoulders on those of the Bishop of London; and he had asked the right reverend prelate's opinion whether the performances on Wednesdays and Fridays during Lent would be detrimental to the established religion of the country. That right reverend prelate had no doubt answered that such entertainments would be a "heavy blow and a great discouragement to the Protestant interests." But he had yet to learn that Popery was the established religion of this country, and as this shutting up theatres on Wednesdays and Fridays during Lent was an old Popish custom, it appertained, perhaps to that property in Covent garden of which the noble Lord's family had despoiled the Romish church. The noble Lord said that if this resolution were carried he should not care for it; that he would, in fact, set the resolution of the House of Commons and public opinion at defiance. The noble Lord might do so if he pleased, but give him (Mr. Duncombe) the resolution, and the world would see whether a resolution of the House of Commons was so easily set aside. The right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer had dealt very unfairly with his hon. Friend the Member for Bridport. He had tried to mix the delivery of letters on Sunday with this question, in order to set public opinion against it. The hon. Member for Bridport never made any such assertion as 1043 that imputed to him; and it only proved that her Majesty's ministers did attend to public opinion, because it was in consequence of the feeling of the public against such a desecration of the sabbath, that any alteration in the delivery of letters was obtained. However, her Majesty's ministers might treat public opinion as lightly as they thought proper, but he told them that they would at last have to give way, not to public opinion alone, but to public opinion converted, perhaps, into public indignation, which would sweep them from the benches on which they were now sitting. He hoped the House would support his proposition, and that "cant and hypocrisy," as expressed by the noble Lord (Lord Dungannon), would meet with a signal defeat.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 92; Noes 72: Majority 20.
|List of the AYES.|
|Aglionby, H. A.||Gibson, T. M.|
|Aglionby, Major||Grattan, H.|
|Aiusworth, P.||Hall, Sir B.|
|Archbold, R.||Harland, W. C.|
|Baines, E.||Hastie, A.|
|Beamish, F. B.||Hawes, B.|
|Berkeley, Hon. C.||Hawkins, J. H.|
|Bewes, T.||Hayter, W. G.|
|Blake, M. J.||Heathcoat, J.|
|Bodkin, J. J.||Hill, Lord A. M. C.|
|Boldero, H. G.||Hohhouse, T. B.|
|Bramston, T. W.||Hodgson, F.|
|Bridgeman, H.||Hollond, R.|
|Broadwood, H.||Howard, F. J.|
|Brotherton, J.||Hume, J.|
|Brown, R. D.||Hutt, W.|
|Bruce, Lord E.||Hutton, R.|
|Bryan, G.||Jervis, J.|
|Chalmers, P.||Jervis, S.|
|Chichester, J. P.||Johnson, General|
|Codrington, Admiral||Leader, J. T.|
|Collier, J.||M'Taggart, J.|
|Craig, W. G.||Marshall, W.|
|Currie, R.||Marsland, H.|
|Davies, Colonel||Martin, J.|
|Dennistoun, J.||O'Brien, C.|
|D'Eyncourt, Rt. Hn. C.||O'Brien, W. S.|
|D'Israeli, B.||O'Connell, M. J.|
|Douglas, Sir C. E.||O'Connell, M.|
|Dowdeswell, W.||Parrott, J.|
|Duckworth, S.||Pattison, J.|
|Duff, J.||Philips, M.|
|Duke, Sir J.||Polhill, F.|
|Dundas, C. W. D.||Redington, T. N.|
|Easthope, J.||Roche, E. B.|
|Ellice, E.||Roche, Sir D.|
|Evans, Sir De L.||Salwey, Colonel|
|Evans, G.||Scholefield, J.|
|Fector, J. M.||Smyth, Sir G. H.|
|Finch, F.||Standish, C.|
|Fort, J.||Stansfield, W. R.|
|Strickland, Sir G.||Wallace, R.|
|Strutt, E.||Warburton, H.|
|Tancred, H. W.||Ward, H. G.|
|Thornely, T.||Wilshere, W.|
|Vigors, N. A.||TELLERS.|
|Wakley, T.||Duncombe, T.|
|Walker, R.||Dungannon, Viscount|
|List of the NOES.|
|Adare, Lord||Marton, G.|
|Alsager, Captain||Maule, Hon. F.|
|Archdall, M.||Maxwell, Hon. S. R.|
|Barrington, Viscount||Mildmay, P. St. J.|
|Blackstone, W. S.||Miles, P. W. S.|
|Blair, J.||Murray, Rt. Hon. J. A.|
|Broadley, H.||Packe, C. W.|
|Bruges, W. H. L.||Palmer, C. F.|
|Burr, H.||Palmer, G.|
|Busfeild, W.||Parker, J.|
|Byng, Right Hon. G. S.||Parker, R. T.|
|Campbell, Sir J.||Parnell, Rt. Hn. Sir H.|
|Canning, Rt. Hn. Sir S.||Pendarves, E. W. W.|
|Cayley, E. S.||Perceval, Colonel|
|Cripps, J.||Plumptre, J. P.|
|Darby G.||Protheroe, E.|
|Duncombe, Hon. W.||Pusey, P.|
|Evans, W.||Rice, Right Hon. T. S.|
|Filmer, Sir E.||Richards, R.|
|Fitzalan, Lord||Rickford, W.|
|Fremantle, Sir T.||Rolfe, Sir R. M.|
|Freshfield, J. W.||Rolleston, L.|
|Glynn, Sir S. R.||Round, C. G.|
|Gordon, R.||Round, J.|
|Graham, Rt. Hon. Sir J.||Rushbrooke, Colonel|
|Heneage, G. W.||Rushout, G.|
|Hepburn, Sir T. B.||Russell, Lord J.|
|Hobhouse, rt. hn. Sir J.||Stanley, Lord|
|Hodgson, R.||Style, Sir C.|
|Howard, P. H.||Teignmouth, Lord|
|Hughes, W. B.||Thomson, Rt. Hn. C. P.|
|Hurt, F.||Trench, Sir F.|
|Ingestrie, Viscount||Wood, T|
|Inglis, Sir R. H.||Yates, J. A.|
|Lefevre, C. S.|
|Lockhart, A. M.||TELLERS.|
|Mackenzie, T.||Clerk, Sir G.|
|Mackenzie, W. F.||Steuart, R.|
§ Resolution agreed to.