HC Deb 05 May 1858 vol 150 cc108-45

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."


rose to move that the Bill be read a second time that day six months. He said the Bill came before this House for the first time, for it must be remembered that this was a new House, and the noble Lord who had charge of it himself had not yet heard any discussion on the question—a question which was of the utmost importance in a social point of view to every person in the kingdom, from the Queen on the Throne down to the meanest mendicant. It affected most vitally the social position of every one in this country. Every Member of this House now present who had a wife, sisters, or daughters, had his social position for good or evil altered by this Bill. It was, therefore, a question which ought to be investigated in every aspect before the House decided upon giving it either approval or disapproval. It ought to be considered with a view to its connection with the various relations of domestic and social life, with all of which it was bound up, and appealed to our dearest sympathies and affections. But, important as it was, there was great danger in one solution of the question—in giving it their approval—in case it should happen to run counter to the most sacred obligations, not only of revealed but of natural religion. There was the danger that it was a retrograde step in that better system of social polity which had for fifteen hundred years infused and changed and transfigured every relation of public and of private life. If the thing was not desirable and practicable, then it was a grievous wrong. The Bill had been laid upon the table with only a few remarks by the noble Lord who had moved it, characterized, it was true, by great good taste and good feeling, but which in no way exhausted the subject; and on the present occasion he had moved the second reading without offering a single reason why they should proceed to alter a marriage law which had been the marriage law of England for certainly 300 years, and, he should contend, for a far longer period. What was the history of the question In 1847, in a very thin House, a Commission was granted to inquire into the subject on the Motion of the right hon. Member for Bute, in consequence of the great personal consideration which he possessed. The Commission was appointed, and made a Report; but of all the Reports of Royal Commissions which had ever been presented to that House, that Report had been treated with the least amount of respect. Ever since the Commission had made it, their blue-book had been the subject of comment, of jest, of criticism, and of depreciation. Persons in this House, whom they all respected, such as the late Sir Robert Inglis and Mr. Goulburn, the last men in the world from their grave, business-like character, to handle such a document slightingly without good cause, had treated it as a, mockery and a snare, and an insult on common sense. In 1849 and 1850 Bills were brought in founded on that Report, and passed that House, but were lost in "another place." A few years later Earl St. Germans tried to introduce a similar Bill in that other place; but he did not succeed. Only sixteen Peers were found to vote for the Bill. In the last Parliament the then Member for Lancashire (Mr. Heywood) brought in a Bill, in his turn, which met with a similar fate. The measure had passed the House of Commons several times. That was a fact he was happy to make the noble Lord a present of; but on every occasion it had been thrown out elsewhere. And what had the country said to it? Just absolutely nothing at all. There had been no feeling expressed; no display of what would show that popular attention was aroused in favour of carrying the measure; nothing to show that the various classes that made up the totality of the people of the United Kingdom cared one iota for its passing. Was that the history of changes in the law which the people were really determined upon? Take the Reform Bill. London was then alarmed lest the Birmingham Political Union should march down upon it. Take the agitation in favour of the repeal of the Corn Laws, which had made even the stout heart of Sir Robert Peel quail. And yet neither of these measures was really more interesting to the general population than the present one, which affected the condition of every hearth. Still more lately, they were well aware of the language used in regard to the repeated rejection by the House of Lords of the Bills for emancipating the Jews, and yet these. Bills directly affected only a very small portion of the whole people. The change now proposed reached to every man, every wife, and every woman in the empire; and yet there was no agitation when the Lords continued to reject it. The great public, in fact, had not wagged a finger in favour of it. The whole thing, they knew, had been got up by a few interested persons who had put their case into the hands of Messrs. Crowder and Maynard. They knew that these gentlemen were at the elbow of the Commission, that they had rigged the evidence, and that before the Commission was appointed they sent out agents about the country to collect evidence. The offence was rank and smelt of the attorney's shop. No trouble was taken to collect evidence on the other side; no invitations were issued for persons to come forward and defend the existing law. No husband who would be deprived of the society of his wife's sister—no widower whose children would be debarred from the guardianship and the attention of their aunt—no wife whose domestic happiness would be wrecked for ever if this Bill passed, had been invited to come forward. It might be said, "Why did not these persons come forward of themselves?" But what! were people likely to come forward and give evidence on so delicate a question as this without some invitation? Besides which, they naturally thought that the commissioners themselves would act as the Judges used to act before a prisoner's counsel was allowed to speak—that was to say, when the Judges themselves were the advocates for the prisoner. Who were the witnesses examined? First, Mr. Crowder and his commissioners, ten in number, one of whom, after trying London for a fortnight, gave it up as a bad job. Then came five clergymen for, paired against five opposed to, the change; then three Dissenting ministers, and the notorious swindler Matthews, to represent the Presbyterians of Ireland; one Scotch and one German lawyer, nine anonymous witnesses testifying to the infraction, or desire of infraction, of the law on theirs or their friends' parts, and six more who gave their names. No attempt was made, as might have been done, to get the real statistics of the kingdom on the subject, through inquiries sent to the clergy and the Dissenting bodies, and that vast machinery existing for the special object of such inquiries, the Registrar General's office. As to the value of the opinions of the commissioners of Messrs. Crowder and Maynard, he might refer to a case in which one of them described a "man of wealth," who lived in open concubinage with his wife's sister, as being generally respected as an excellent man and a good citizen. It was such gossip—tea-table talk and railway chatter—which they embodied as evidence in a Report, on which Parliament was asked to act; while the evidence of the clerical witnesses, even on their own side, such as that of Mr. Denham and Mr. Hatchard, showed the great infrequency of marriages of the kind in large parishes which had come to their knowledge. Mr. Denham with a parish of 2,000 inhabitants, only knew of one such marriage, but thought there might be more among the lower classes. Mr. Hatchard had been twenty-three years rector of Plymouth, with a population of 25,000, and of his own knowledge he could speak but of one case; however, he knew several at Chatteris, where he had previously been. Mr. Owen, of Bilston (22,000), did not think one case had occurred in his district, though he had beard of four in the neighbourhood, and seven in that of which he was surrogate, a district with a population of 780,000. Mr. Jenkins knew of none among 3,000. Mr. Garbett, rector of St. George's, Birmingham, with a population of 20,000, knew but of two or three cases among the higher classes—none since 1835. He was surrogate over two dioceses, each with from 600,000 to 700,000. Mr. Tyler and Archdeacons Sinclair and Hale, witnesses on the other side, knew of no instances. What had been the course taken since? Why, the whole thing had been, as it had been before, the work of an attorney's shop. Not one hundred yards from where they were now debating, next door to their own printer's, was an office, upon the door of which was a zinc plate, upon which was inscribed in large letters, "Marriage Law Reform Association;" then, in small characters, "for the exclusive object of promoting the passing of an Act to render lawful"—then came two lines, which in theatrical language would be termed "screamers"—"marriage with a deceased wife's sister." Who sat in that office was a mystery which, of course, he could not penetrate. Whether it was fitted up like the Continental churches, with a confessional, where the heart-broken widower and the longing widower's wife's sister came to pour their griefs into the sympathetic ears of his noble Friend opposite, he did not know. Neither could he inform the House whether his noble Friend sat there to give them absolution—or whether he gave them there any such advice as that which the association had offered in advertisements in The Times, to go and get married at Altona—advice most unwise, most incorrect, most cruel to those who acted upon it, as the late decision in "Brook v, Brook" had proved it to be. Whether, also, he was relieved occasionally by the more lively, by the literary, the accomplished presence of his hon. and poetical Friend the Member for Pontefract (Mr. M. Milnes) he (Mr. Beresford Hope) was also ignorant. At any rate, the House had before it the fruits of this association in the petitions, of which so large a covey had just alighted on the table. The returns of the Committee upon petitions clearly proved how delusive was the large list of signatures which were collected by the association to which he referred. It sent its emissaries right and left to obtain these signatures, and it appeared from the Report of the Committee, of the number of petitions which had been presented on the 12th, and 20th, and 21st of April, that the petitions in favour of the object which the noble Lord opposite sought to promote by his Bill, particularly the London ones, were signed in many instances by the exact number of thirty-nine persons, and others by thirty-five and forty, and many by seventy one, a circumstance which he (Mr. Beresford Hope) thought justified the inference that the emissaries of the association were paid either by the forty or by the dozen, and contrived to stint their numbers in seeking payment, and that the whole system was a gigantic humbug. Petitions thus got up in street after street in London were dealt out among Members of that House from every conceivable part of the Kingdom. He had just seen the noble Lord the Member for Mayo present several. The whole affair, in short, was a mere matter of machinery, and never, he believed, since the presentation of the immense petition in favour of the Charter by the late Mr. Feargus O'Connor, had petitions embodying less of weight, importance, or conviction, upon the part of those by whom they were signed, been laid upon the table of that House. Could his noble Friend who had charge of the Bill, or his hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract, profess to doubt that if he (Mr. Beresford Hope) or his friends had quietly told the persons who collected these signatures, that if they managed to procure them in duplicate, and handed over one set to the other side, they should be paid half as much again as they now got for their job, there would not have been as large a show of petitions against the Bill as there was in its favour? Having shown what was the nature of the organization which had afflicted them with this Bill, he would next proceed to the main question, the case itself; and, as broadly as he could, with clue respect to the differences of religious feeling which existed in that House, and which he should be the last to offend, address a few words to what was, after all, the cardinal turning-point of the question—Were those marriages lawful, or were they not? Of course, with the differences in religious opinion which prevailed in that House, the question was a delicate and difficult one to argue. He would therefore place it on this footing—Did the evidence of Scripture, interpreted by its own words, and by the opinions of expositors of various Christian denominations, raise any high degree of probability that these marriages were not lawful? and if that probability was not set aside by considerations of social convenience, ought not those considerations of probability to be considered as a strong cumulative reason for refusing the second reading of the Bill? The Commissioners stated in the third paragraph of their Report:— We conceive that it is not necessary, in the discharge of the duty intrusted to us, that we should attempt to enter into an examination of the law or practice with respect to such marriages in the early ages of Christianity. He would not admit that they were justified in this abstinence. It threw the onus of proof upon those who were defending the existing law. He thought that they were to look for the real interpretation of the Divine law in those verses of Lev. xviii. which preceded the 18th verse, upon which the arguments had generally rested, and on turning to the 2nd and 3rd verse he found that it had clearly reference to the doings of the Egyptians and Canaanites:— 2. Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, I am the Lord your God. 3. After the doings of the land of Egypt, wherein ye dwelt, shall ye not do; and after the doings of the land of Canaan, whither I bring you, shall ye not do; neither shall ye walk in their ordinances. While the 4th verse says,— Ye shall do my judgments and keep mine ordinances to walk therein; I am the Lord your God. The 5th verse repeats the same argument and the same solemn sanction; and the 6th lays down,— None of you shall approach to any that is near of kin to him to uncover their nakedness, I am the Lord. The Levitical law was, to use a modern term, as accurately drafted as any Act of Parliament, and the phrase, "I am the Lord your God," was as strictly a legal phrase as the "Victoria Regina" of the present day attached to Acts of Parliament. The whole scope of the chapter was to define those marriages which were unlawful in the eyes of God, although it was agreed by all theologians that the cases therein enumerated did not include the whole of the degrees in which a marriage was unlawful. There could be no doubt that it was intended to prevent the alliance of those who were near by kin, or who, according to the literal translation, were" flesh of flesh." In the 7th verse the marriage of a woman with her father, or a man with his mother, was specifically alluded to; and in the 8th, what was of more importance, the father's wife, because it invested the woman with the same degree of relationship as if she had been the mother of the man—"near of kin" within the degrees of which by the 6th verse marriage was prohibited; while the 14th, 15th, and 16th verses extended that prohibition to the father's brother's wife (no mention being made of the mother's brother's wife) to the daughter-in-law, and to the brother's wife. Now, if it were not permitted to a man to marry his brother's wife, upon what just ground, he would ask, could it be held lawful for him to marry his own wife's sister? The tie of kin was exactly the same in both cases. If not, it must be held that while a marriage with a paternal uncle's wife was forbidden, there was no prohibition to one with the wife of a maternal uncle. Nay, more, there is no prohibition to marriage with a man's own daughter. But the 18th verse of this chapter of Leviticus was that which was most relied upon by those who supported the views of which the noble Lord was the advocate, The words of that verse were—"Neither shalt thou take a wife to her sister to vex her, to uncover her nakedness beside the other in her lifetime." But there is an alternative rendering in the margin, "One wife to another," and this he believed to be the more correct version. The supporters of the Bill before the House contended that those words simply prohibited marriage with two sisters at the same time. He was quite aware that the hon. and learned Member for Aylesbury (Sir R. Bethell), discussing another branch of the marriage question last year, had said—"Blessed is he that is content with the Authorised Version;" but as that Beatitude had not been made a Standing Order of the House, he should, on this occasion, take the liberty to dissent from it. The best interpreters of the passage held that the word sister in the verse meant "woman," and that it must be regarded in the light of a prohibition of polygamy. The use of such words as "brother," "twin," &c., to describe what was of the same sort, is common to present languages, but it was still more so to the figurative language of the Jews. There are thirty-four instances of the use of "sister" in this sense in the Old Testament to thirty-five of its literal use. He might refer to the passage in the Book of Numbers, in which Cozbi, the Midianitish woman, for whose sin her nation was destroyed, is called their "sister." Junius and Tremellius, in their version, gave this in- terpretation to the verse before us; so did Schleusner in his Lexicon, a work as was well known of great authority. So did Hammond. Besides, had the passage implied what it was often assumed to mean the words would have been surely inverted, and it would have run "her sister to thy wife." But, even assuming the correctness of the Authorized Version, it made nothing for the other side. It must be remembered that Moses was legislating for a state of polygamy, when a man might have daughters of. absolutely the same age by various wives. Consequently, the number of marriages with two living sisters would be out of proportion greater than with a deceased wife's sister, unless it had been prohibited; and there was nothing but this prohibition which could have prevented a rich Jew from going into a family and carrying off three or four of the daughters. It was true that among the Jews a man was in one special case commanded to marry his deceased brother's wife, yet this exception only proved the general rule. Coming to Christian times, the first regulations on this subject were contained in what were called the "Apostolic Canons," which were certainly drawn up during the three first centuries. By this a man who married a deceased wife's sister was prohibited from ever obtaining holy orders. At that time the Church, under persecution as it was, and often hiding in the dens of the earth, could only enforce its discipline by spiritual penalties; these marriages were lawful in the eyes of the State, and if a man did not care for being cut off from the faithful, he could contract one with impunity—but as soon as ever the State became Christian and commenced to legislate in a Christian sense, it, by a decree of Constans and Constantius, in 355, declared these marriages unlawful, and the issue spurious. The next authority to which he would refer was Basil. This great man, who flourished in the fourth century, and who has had great influence in moulding the mind of the Christian world ever since, having been consulted by one Diodorus on the unlawfulness of such marriages, answered by a long letter, from which he (Mr. Beresford Hope) would give a few extracts:— First of all, we have to allege that which is of the greatest weight in such matters—the custom established among us—which is equivalent to a law, inasmuch as such ordinances have been handed down to us by holy men; and the custom is, if a person, at any time, mastered by an impure passion, shall have fallen into a lawless union with two sisters, neither to account this a marriage, nor to receive such at all into the body of the Church, before that they are separated from one another; so that even if we had nothing else to say, custom had sufficed as a safeguard of what is right. But in order to get out of the difficulty, it will be necessary to recur to the circumstances which preceded the publication of the law; for the legislator does not appear to embrace every species of offences, but especially to interdict those of the Egyptians, from among whom Israel had gone forth, and those of the Canaanites, among whom they had come. To take a case in point; it is not written in these laws that father and son ought not to cohabit with one woman, and yet by the Prophet it is denounced as the greatest of crimes; 'for the son,' it is said, and the father have gone in to one women.' And flow many other kinds of unclean passions are there which the teaching of devils bath invented, but the divine Scripture bath omitted to mention, not choosing to defile its own delicacy by the mere naming of things shameful, but condemning impurities in general terms? But I maintain that this point is not passed over in silence, but that legislator hath prohibited it in the very strongest manner; for the expression—'None of you shall approach unto any that is near of kin to him, to uncover their nakedness,' embrace also this species of relationship. Nor what can be more akin to a man than his own wife, or rather his own flesh? 'For they are no longer two but one flesh.' So that by means of the wife the sister also passes into the kindred of the husband, so that as he shall not take the mother of his wife, nor the daughter of his wife, because he shall not take his own mother, or his own daughter; so in like manner he shall not take the sister of his wife because he cannot take his own sister. And, on the other hand, neither shall it be lawful for a woman to marry the kindred of her husband, for on either side the rights of kindred are common to both. A whole cloud of Councils followed, repeating this prohibition. About the fifth century, however, as the Church had become more artificial, a great number of prohibitions against marriage upon the ground of consanguinity and of natural and spiritual affinity had sprung up, and was not until the eleventh century that the evil began to cure itself by the invention of the Romish system of granting dispensations. But still, there was for many centuries no instance of any dispensation for a marriage of this class, and who does the House think was the very first minister of religion, the very first Christian man from the day of the Sacrifice on Calvary, down to the end of the fifteenth century, whoever thought of giving permission for a marriage of this sort? It was a Pope—well known in history, perhaps more so than most of his line—Alexander VI., the father and the lover of Lucretia Borgia. He gave permission to Emmanuel, King of Portu- gal, to marry a daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, being the widower of her sister. It was, by the way, curious that another of these sisters, Catherine of Arragon, should have married two brothers, and yet only half a century before his time an eminent Roman Catholic authority, Cardinal Turrecremata (sent to the Council of Bale, by Pope Eugenius, who had great confidence in him), wrote with reference to this very question in answer to one who had maintained its lawfulness:— We have not seen this; nay, on the contrary, when the King of France now reigning (Charles VII.) was Dauphin, he applied that, his wife being dead, he might contract marriage with her sister. The matter was examined before me, by the command Of the Lord Eugenius, to whore the cause was committed, and it was judged that the Pope could not dispense (quod non poterat Papa dispensare). That, supposing it had been sometimes done, should it be done by any Pope either ignorant of the Divine law, or blinded by money which is wont to be offered for such irregular dispensations, or, supposing it to have been done to please men, it does not follow that he could do it rightly (justé). The Church is ruled by laws and rights, not by such acts or examples. He (Mr. Beresford Hope) would add it was not ruled by Acts of Parliament any more than by acts of Popes. The Council of Trent having been led into a dilemma by the Act of Alexander VI., strove to establish the legality of such dispensations; yet Estius, who wrote in 1613, could only find three instances of such marriages by dispensation, one being that of a governor in a West India island. He now came to the settlement of the question made in England by the Reformation, which he, for one, considered a happy and satisfactory one. Why, he (Mr. Beresford Hope) asked, was it that Henry VIII. repudiated Catherine of Arragon? Mr. Froude stood up for Henry VIII. He (Mr. Beresford Hope) did not stand up for him, but it was well known that on some occasions wicked men might do righteous things. That monarch repudiated his marriage with Catherine on the ground of her previous marriage with his brother. And in 1540 a law (32 Henry VIII., c. 16) was passed, which provided that no reservation or prohibition—God's law except—should avoid or impede marriages without the Levitical decrees. Later, as it was well known, Archbishop Parker drew up that table of prohibited degrees which is affixed to our Prayer-book, and which was confirmed by the Canon of 1603. But previously to this date that great authority, Bishop jewell, wrote a letter on the subject, printed in Strype's Life of Archbishop Parker, with which he would trouble the House:— Yet will you say, although this manner of reason be weak, and the words make little for you, thus far the reason is good enough; for these words make not against you; which thing, notwithstanding I might grant, yet will not this reason follow of the other side; there are no express words in the Levitical law whereby I am forbidden to marry my wife's sister; ergo, by the Levitical law such marriage is to be accounted lawful. For notwithstanding the statutes in that case make relation unto the 18th chapter of Leviticus as unto a place wherein the degrees of consanguinity and affinity arc touched most at large, yet you must remember that certain degrees are there left out untouched, within which, nevertheless, it was never thought lawful for a man to marry. For example, there is nothing provided there by express words, but that a man may marry his grandmother or his grandfather's second wife, or the with of his uncle by his mother's side. No, nor is there any express prohibition in all this chapter, but that a man may marry his own daughter. Yet will no man say that any of these degrees may join together in lawful marriage; wherefore we must needs think that God, in that chapter, has especially and namely forbidden certain degrees, not as leaving all marriages lawful which He hail not there expressly forbidden; but that thereby, as by infallible precepts, we might be able to rule the rest; as, when God saith, no man shall marry his mother, we understand that under the name mother is contained both the grandmother and the grandfather's wife, and that such marriage is forbidden. And when God commands that no man shall marry the wife of his uncle by his father's side, we doubt not but that in the same is included the wife of the uncle by the mother's side. Thus, you see, God himself would have us expound one degree by another. In the next century Dr. Hammond, one of our greatest divines, wrote a treatise on this particular subject, to which, however, he would only refer to say that Hammond's interpretation of the 18th verse of the chapter of Leviticus is, that "the Hebrew is fitly and truly rendered not a wife to a sister,' but 'one wife to another,'" and so is a prohibition of polygamy. But the advocates for the change relied on the practice of foreign Protestant countries, and upon that of Roman Catholic countries, in all of which it was said that marriage with a wife's sister, with or without dispensation, either from the Pope or from the civil authorities, was lawful. Why, then, it was asked, should Russia and England be the only two countries in which a man might not marry his wife's sister? And his answer to that question was, why should England and Russia be the only two countries in which a man was absolutely prohibited from marrying his niece or his aunt? It might be an accident that in every country in which marriage with a deceased wife's sister was allowed, marriage was permitted with an aunt or a niece. But he looked on it as something more than mere accident. He looked on it as indicative of the want of moral perception in those countries, and he thought that the attempt to legalize such marriages, as it was now proposed to do, would be merely opening the door to the practice of incestuous intercourse. It would be the first step in a downward course, the logical consequences of which the promoters of the Bill under discussion were bound to face. They might themselves look with horror on a marriage with a niece or an aunt; but they must face the fact that the permission of these marriages always accompanied that of the wife's sister. Were they, then, prepared to go this length, and sacrifice the British niece to the almost parental embraces of an incestuous uncle? One of the witnesses before the Committee stated that a German had told him that the state of the marriage law in his country was such as to make a German cover his face for shame. They all knew the story of the whist party in Prussia, when the man sat down to play with his wives in the present, past, and pluperfect tenses; it did not appear, however, whether the wife in the future tense was looking on. He would make them a present of the example of the United States. Marriage there with a deceased wife's sister was considered most desirable, although that of an uncle and aunt was not allowed. They might make the most of the authority of a country where divorce was so easy, and where a married man who had had intercourse with an unmarried female was not considered guilty of adultery. He had the authority of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford. [Mr. AYRTON: In what state?] He would ascertain, and let the hon. and learned Gentleman know. As to the facility of divorce, the case of Mrs. Kemble Butler, who had repudiated her husband from incompatibility of temper, was a well-known instance. He would now give his authority—Kent's Commentaries, vol. ii., p. 67:— It was adjudged in New Jersey, in the case of 'the State v. Lash,' 1 Harrison's Report, p.380, that a married man is not guilty of adultery in having carnal connection with an unmarried woman. [Mr. AYRTON: Hear, hear!] Hear, hear! [Mr. AYRTON: That was the Jewish custom.] He was obliged to the hon. and learned Member for that statement; it was the shortest and the most satisfactory explanation of the motives of the promoters of the Bill he had ever heard. The object of the Bill was to abandon all the superior purity, all the greater holiness which the world for eighteen centuries had reaped from the Christian revelation, and to throw it back into a state of Jewish morals. He would next consider the social question, as affecting the case of those respectable violators of the law who got up the agitation, and of those poor persons who were alleged to be compelled to a life of sin by the present law. He would take the latter first. The Commissioners stated that they had found 1,500 of these cases, of which, by the way, only forty were stated to have taken place among the lower classes, the remainder being found in the upper and middle. Even if that were true, what did it prove but that there was a large amount of crime and ignorance of law among the lower classes? It was a proof of that growth of vice and immorality of which they saw the results in the Haymarket every night, and as to which the police courts and petty sessions teemed with examples. They knew that immorality was, alas! widely spread, and that even the sacred relationship of brother and sister was too often disregarded, or what was the meaning of the cry of the urgent necessity for better cottage accommodation? They knew that the morality of the people did not keep pace with their growth in wealth, power, and influence, and that the subjects of cottage accommodation, lodging-houses, and the duty of landlords and middlemen towards the poor people who came within their power, were constantly requiring the most vigilant attention. It proved that there was a great deal of wickedness, of vice and ignorance existing; and if such did not exist, what, he asked, was the meaning of the cry for extending schools and philanthropic institutions of all kinds? The necessity for those establishments proved that sin and evil existed to a great extent amongst the population; and nothing more. By such, and not by the Bill before the House, was the evil to be rectified. The Commission calculated, taking as its basis the alleged discovery of 1,500 marriages of the sort within the area of Mr. Crowder's inquiry since the passing of Lord Lyndhurst's Act, that no less than 30,000 of these marriages must have been contracted over all England during the period. So extravagant a statement could not pass uncontradicted. A man mighty in numbers took it to pieces, and demonstrated its fallacy. The late Mr. Goulburn applied the test of statistics, and taking the Registrar General's Reports from 1835 to 1848, he found that the number of marriages had during that period risen from 100,000 to 144,000; that of these 144,000 marriages, in 1848, 12,000 were between widowers and spinsters, and that, therefore, taking the similar proportion of 3,000 marriages with a deceased wife's sister in that year, it would follow that one widower in every four on re-marrying had contracted marriage with his deceased wife's sister. Such a conclusion was monstrous and entirely repugnant to fact. But he (Mr. Beresford Hope) had other statistics to offer. Immediately after the Commissioners' Report, another investigation was made, chiefly in rural districts and the smaller towns, which resulted in the discovery of 269 unlawful marriages, of which only 178 were with a wife's sister, 41 with a brother's widow, 6 with an own aunt, 19 with an own niece, 6 with a wife's daughter, 1 with a half-sister, 1 with a father's wife, 1 with a brother's wife's daughter, 2 with a son's wife, 3 with an uncle's wife, and 11 with a wife's niece. If then the statistics of the Commission were worth anything, and if their arithmetical proportions had any value, upwards of 20,000 marriages within all the other prohibited degrees must have taken place between 1835 and 1848, of which 4,500 must have been with an aunt or niece, 7,500 with a brother's wife, and upwards of 1,000 with a step-daughter. The two tables must stand or fall together. Since the question was last before the House they had had another proof of the low condition of general morals in the numbers of the wives and daughters of England who had trooped away to seek a licentious peace in the harems of Utah. Mr. Denham, one of the chief clerical witnesses in favour of the change of law, asserted that out of fifty proclamations of banns in London, only twenty terminated in marriage. He could hardly believe this statement, but if it were correct it only proved the general state of laxity in regard to the marriage tie. He would not take the case of the upper classes. Anything more weak than the instances of supposed hardship given in the evidence of the Report could not be conceived. There was one case of the stockbroker, whose wife died in 1840, after a marriage of twenty-four years, and whose daughter, then pro- bably about twenty-six, was about to be married in 1844, whereupon his brother-in-law wrote to him, who must then have been at least forty-nine, that hitherto the mature age of that daughter had justified the residence in his house of the wife's sister (who had been an inmate since the first year of his marriage, and must have been at least forty-three), but that now as this mature daughter was about to be married, he must either marry the more than mature sister-in-law, who had lived with him twenty-eight years, or else she must leave his house. Then there was that monstrous case of an architect of Bristol, who proved himself to be near seventy, and discussed expatriating himself so as to marry a sister-in-law of sixty. Where was the grievance which required redress? At present, if a man's wife died he might put his children under the charge of his own sister (a relationship the promoters of the Bill found it convenient to forget), of his wife's sister, or of any other female relative in whom he had confidence; but if this Bill passed, with all tile noise which it would excite, by the conventional laws of a censorious world no wife's sister would ever be able to enter the door of her brother-in-law and take charge of his children unless she were prepared to follow him to the altar, a step from which most women shrank with horror. It was said that the aunt made the best protector to the children. He agreed; and therefore he would have the aunt always an aunt, and never more than an aunt, and he would not raise other tics which must infallibly conflict with her duty and love to her nephews and nieces. He would preserve for her one hearth and one family in which, whether she married or whether she remained single, there could be no claims conflicting with her duties to her lost sister and her offspring. Women were not born step-mothers; they became step-mothers on entering a condition right and virtuous in itself, but full of difficulties to a weak mind. A wife's sister becoming a stepmother would be no more free from those difficulties than any other woman, and if they bore children they must prefer their own to the children of their dead sister. If a wife's sister became a stepmother, and bore children, she had all the temptations to neglect the children of the first marriage that any other woman had. They were told that in the lower orders the wife's sister was generally the housekeeper, and if she did not marry the brother-in-law she would most likely lead a life of sin. The fact was, however, that amongst the lower classes the wife's sister was one of the last persons who was likely to become a housekeeper. In the lower orders families were early dispersed and went off to service or labour, and it seldom happened that much intimacy was kept up with the wife's relations. It was not a question of the children at all. A man married his wife's sister because he had a passion for her. Talk of love! if they they passed this Act they would shut the door on love and open it to lust. If all that the promoters of the Bill alleged as to the impossibility of a sister-in-law living in the house of her sister's husband were true, what were we to say to a man bringing his own sister into his house to take care of his children? If the arguments of the promoters of the Bill were pushed to their legitimate extent, such an arrangement would be impossible, and the fact showed to what an abyss the logical conclusions from a faulty premiss must lead its abettors. All measures based, as this was, on the assumed turpitude of human nature, and appealing to lower in preference to higher natures, brought them deeper and deeper down in the scale of humanity. Then, again, what had they done with the wife's niece? They had omitted in this Bill the wife's niece, yet they allowed marriage with the sister of the wife. They were inconsistent enough to allow by this Bill marriage with a deceased wife's sister, and excluded marriage with the niece, who was one degree further removed. They felt her quasi-filial position, and yet they sanctioned marriage with the woman who, on similar grounds, was like a sister to the man. Could absurdity go further than tins? As to the brother's widow, why was not a man allowed to marry her, if he could marry his wife's sister? Both were equally sisters-in-law. The reason was this—a marriage between a man and his wife's sister is one generally between a widower and a spinster; that between a man and his brother's widow one between a bachelor and a widow; so that the former generally is a connection which is thought eligible, the latter esteemed not one that is so unless there are collateral advantages. The Bill was, in short, one to enlarge the area of spinsters, out of whom widowers could select wives, but not the area of widows, wherein a bachelor might choose, Spinsters were deemed more eligible than widows, and for no higher, more moral, more sublime, or more heroic reason, were the un- lucky brother's widows thrown out of the question. Since the last Session, too, the question had assumed a more serious aspect. The marriage law was considerably altered by the Act which gave facilities to divorce, and the effect of its operation had been to allow a woman a divorce upon her husband being proved guilty of incestuous adultery; so that if a husband seduced a wife's sister the wife would be compelled by the opinion of society to divorce the husband, and he would be then free to marry the wife's sister whom he had seduced. All the cases before the Commissioners constructed a plea for the rich which, if listened to, would tend greatly to strengthen the assertion made—unjustly as he thought it at the time—by the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) a few nights ago, that the benefits of legislation were intended to serve the few selfish rich, and not the general people. The Bill, if passed, would vitiate all those delicate feelings, gentle affections, and holy sympathies which had made marriage in this country a crown of honour and glory, whilst abroad it was a matter of mere attorneyship. Why, again, was Ireland to be included in this Bill and Scotland excluded? The measure would be viewed in the sister country with a universal feeling of abhorrence by all denominations—for to the credit of Ireland the sacred diameter of marriage was always maintained there in the most admirable manner. He called upon the House not to yield to the fictitious agitation which had been raised—not to be led astray by the carefully devised plans of paid agents—and not to run counter to the unanimous voice of the whole Christian world for fifteen centuries, and concluded by moving that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."


said, all persons allowed that, in point of expediency, this question was open to doubt. It was argued that the passing of the Bill would make it less safe for a wife's sister to live with her brother-in-law; but even now, he believed, it was not at all usual for a young woman, in the bloom of youth, to keep the house of her deceased sister's husband. It was contended that jealousy and fear would be excited in the mind of the wife towards her sister; but, when a woman felt that her days were numbered, her dread was that her successor would not display a tender love for her children, and perhaps nothing would more soothe her dying hour than the hope that they would fall into the hands of one already bound to them by a tie almost as strong as that of the mother herself. Under the present law, the sister was driven from the home she could make so happy, and the children were placed under the care of a stranger. With regard to the widower, it constantly happened that be desired to marry the sister of his deceased wife. He might be advanced in life; he might have no opportunity of seeking a partner elsewhere; and very often she might be more likely than au one else to repair his shattered happiness, because, if he had dearly loved his wife, her sister could share his tender interest in memories of the past, instead of those allusions only exciting jealousy and pain. it was a cruel hardship on many men to be debarred from these marriages, and it was certain, as was proved by the evidence before the Commission, that among the lower ranks the restriction led to a large amount of profligate concubinage. He did not think the argument from Scripture had any force. The hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. B. Hope) did not produce any text of Scripture forbidding the marriages in question, and for the very good reason that no such text existed. It was true that marriage with a living wife's sister was distinctly prohibited by Scripture, and was not the inference from that irresistible, that after his wife's death a man might marry her sister? Formerly tile marriages of priests, or of first cousins, or of godfather and godmother were unlawful; but those restrictions no longer existed in the Church. If it could be proved that it was morally wrong for a man to marry his deceased wife's sister, then that would be a complete answer to this Bill; but in the absence of all such proof—on the contrary, with evidence before them that, the best moral effects would follow from such all arrangement—he submitted that the House should not hesitate to pass this Bill.


said, that the hon. Member for Maidstone had introduced a number of topics, such as the social evil, cottage accommodation, and others, which were not at all cognate to the question. The hon. Gentleman argued that the number of petitions presented to the House were in themselves arguments against this measure. The hon. Gentleman seemed thus to think that the more petitions pre- sented in favour of the Bill, the worse must be the measure itself. The result of a very artfully contrived proceeding against the Bill was the presentation of one only petition, one of the first signatures to which was the name of the hon. Member for Maidstone himself. In his (Mr. Collier's) opinion, if the hon. Member imagined that all the marriages of this description which had taken place had been got up by Messrs. Crowder and Maynard, he evinced greater credulity than it was scarcely possible to expect in the mind of any hon. Member. It seemed to him (Mr. Collier) that if a man and woman desired to marry, it was not for them to show why they should do so, but for those who objected to the marriage to show why it ought not to take place. The objection should be plain, and clear, and decided. Some prohibition by the law of God—some prohibition by the law of nature—or some irresistible and overwhelming evil attending such marriages, ought to be adduced to justify their prohibition. In a former debate, the high religious ground seemed to have been evacuated, and the objections which were raised rested on social grounds. The religious ground had again been touched upon, but not with any very great success. The religious argument was based on one text, and one text only—" Thou shalt not take a wife to her sister, in her lifetime, to vex her." The obvious interpretation of that text would be, "You are not to take a wife to her sister in her lifetime, but you may do so after her death." Nor had the objections to the translation of this text in the authorized version of the Scriptures any weight in the opinion of Dr. Adler, a great Jewish authority. An analogy was raised from the case of the brother's wife, and it was said that a brother was prohibited from marrying his brother's wife. But the prohibition expressed in Scripture was that of taking a brother's wife in his lifetime. Assuming that to be a prohibition to marry a brother's widow, was it on the ground that the marriage would be incestuous? It was impossible to support the prohibition on that ground, because in another chapter a man is enjoined to marry his brother's widow, if she be childless and to raise up seed to his brother. Could the incest depend on the question of children? It was obvious that no such argument could be reasonably maintained. These were the only texts that could be referred to as bearing distinctly on this question. But what had been the interpretation of the law? It had been said by the hon. Member for Maidstone, that "Leviticus was drafted with as much care as an Act of Parliament." But if that book was intended to convey to the Jews a prohibition to contract such marriages, was it possible that it would have been so worded that they would not have been able to understand it? The Jews had always held that they had the right to contract such marriages, and had been in the habit of contracting them up to this very time. That people had been rebuked for their many backslidings, but amongst those backslidings the contraction of these marriages had never been included. It seemed impossible for those who stood by the Act of Lord Lyndhurst to maintain that these marriages were contrary to the divine law; for that Act had expressly sanctioned all such marriages as had taken place before that time, and it was not to be supposed that the Legislature had directly sanctioned a violation of the Divine law. If the question was to be argued upon Scriptural grounds, the Scriptures permitted such marriages. The Jews practised them. But if the question was a doubtful one, surely the House ought not to be turned into a convocational council, to interpret doubtful texts. He now came to the social ground on which the attempt was made to defeat the Bill. It was not right to prohibit such marriages on sentimental grounds, or on the suggestion of imaginary evils. Clear evidence must be adduced of the overwhelming evils likely to arise from marriages of that description. Now, what were the alleged evils? It had been represented that the wife would be devoured by jealousy, and actuated by feelings of bitterness and hostility to her sister—that the sister would be intriguing to supplant the wife—that the husband would transfer his affections from the wife to the sister, and would be intriguing with her or entertain the wish to marry her after the wife's death, and that the peace of the household would thus be at an end. He would only say, that if husbands and wives and sisters were so vicious as they had been represented to be, they could not be made virtuous by Act of Parliament. But were these fears real or imaginary? Did they prevail where these marriages were allowed? They did not prevail in America, and he did not find any movement taking place in any country for the repeal or change of the law respecting such marriages. And what was the origin of the present law in this country? It was passed for the purpose of gratifying the lust of one of the most arbitrary monarchs that ever sat upon the throne. Up to the time of the passing of Lord Lyndhurst's Act, practically these marriages took place, and the children became legitimate unless steps were taken to render the marriage invalid. But, on the other hand, did no evils arise from the maintenance of this law? So long as men believed that these marriages were not contrary to the Scriptures, nor prohibited by the law of nature, they would continue to contract them, and misery would ensue. It was well known that persons had gone to Denmark under the belief that they had the right to contract marriage there, and it was only within the last few weeks that they had been informed that such marriages were illegal, and that their children were bastards. Some sympathy ought to be felt at least for the children, who were the innocent victims of an unjust and tyrannical law. The law was attended with evil amongst the higher classes, but with still greater evil amongst the lower; for whilst amongst the former it caused scandal, amongst the latter it produced guilt. The guardianship of the wife's sister over the children could not take place now without suspicion, or perhaps guilt; and in order to conform to the law and avoid suspicion, the care of the children had to be intrusted to a stranger. Believing that there was no scriptural objection to the Bill, no objection based on the law of nature, and that it would not be productive of social inconvenience, he would give his cordial assent to the second reading of the Bill.


said, he should very cordially support the second reading of the Bill, as he knew from his own personal experience several cases illustrative of the hardship of the present law. He did not intend to follow the hon. Member for Maidstone into his theological argument, but he felt compelled to say that, applying his own capacity to the examination of the passages of Scripture which related to the subject he was unable to discern any prohibition of these marriages. He found also that the people to whom the words were originally addressed never put any such interpretation upon them, and that almost every Christian State had permitted such marriages, either by dispensation or otherwise, and if by dispensation they could not suppose them to have been prohibited expressly by the word of God. The whole body of Protestant Dissenters throughout the country were, as nearly as possible, unanimous on the subject of the inexpediency of the existing law, the repeal of which was now asked for. He would remind the House that Martin Luther, Jeremy Taylor, and John Wesley, had not put any such construction on the passages of Scripture which had been referred to, as would justify the theological objections to the Bill. As to the question in its social bearings, the advocates of the existing restriction must make out an imperative necessity, such as to call for the interposition of the Legislature, and the onus was thrown upon those who opposed the Bill. Unless they could create a public opinion against such marriages it was useless and unwise to prohibit them. The experiment of an Act of Parliament (Lord Lyndhurst's Act) had failed—experience was against it. As to the Commissioners, concerning whom the hon. Gentleman the Member for Maidstone spoke so disparagingly and so unjustly, in his opinion they were deserving of the highest praise for the able and honest discharge of their duties. The Commissioners were the Bishop of Lichfield, Mr. Justice Williams, Mr. Stuart Wortley, Dr. Lushington, and Lord Rutherford. Great numbers of those marriages had taken place since the passing of 5 &c 6 Will. IV., and the Commissioners were of opinion that such marriages were not dependent upon legislation, and such being the case, legislation was worse than useless. He entirely concurred with those who said that there might be doubts as to the opinion of the higher classes of society. He thought, upon the whole, they were rather adverse, though such marriages had taken place in those classes between persons of the highest character, rank, and station. But after all, Parliament must look to the masses—to the interests and feelings of the middle and lower classes, which they were bound to consult. The most important question of all was, what was the effect of the existing law as to the interests of the poorer classes. As to that he could entertain no doubt whatever—their feelings and interests were entirely in favour of the proposed legislation. On this point he hoped the House would allow him to call their attention to the evidence of the Rev. J. F. Denham, the rector of St. Mary-le-Strand and the lecturer of St. Bride's, Fleet Street— Have you reason to think that marriages of this description (with a deceased wile's sister) are Common among the lower classes? I think they have been very common.—Have you as a matter of experience, and as regards the lower classes especially, formed an opinion whether a marriage of that description generally contributes to the comfort and to the moral benefit of the parties? Decidedly so.—Do you believe it to be of advantage for the children of a poor man who is engaged in his work, to have the sister of their deceased mother as their stepmother? Very great; that is the great inducement to it; it is a great advantage.—Have you ever had occasion to observe, either in the middling classes or in the poorer classes, any injury or immorality arising from marriages of this description? I have never seen a case of such a nature. Then three of the present bishops, the Bishop of Carlisle, the Bishop of Bath and Wells, and the Bishop of Ripon, all of whom had ministered in populous parishes, were in favour of this alteration of the law. And so were likewise the Rev. Canon Champneys and Dr. Hook, the vicar of Leeds. In short, the greatest ornaments of the episcopal bench and large numbers of the clergy bore testimony in favour of legalising these marriages; and if the weight of authority was in any way to influence the decision of the question, he thought that the opinions cited by the hon. Member for Maidstone would not stand against such authorities as those. Another argument in favour of this Bill was to be drawn from the peculiar hardships which the present law sometimes inflicted on the poor, and on this point he would state one or two cases which came under his observation while he was President of the Poor Law Board. A man contracted a marriage of this kind, and had a family. He turned out profligate, and there were no means of compelling him to maintain his wife and family, and he laughed at the relieving officer when he attempted to compel him to maintain them. In the eye of the law the woman was not his wife and the children were not his children. Then take another case, that of a man who had contracted a marriage of this kind. He and his wife lived together, and they had several children. Perhaps he was thrown out of work, or sickness befell him, and they became paupers. And now see the operation of this law combined with that which he should always consider a mischievous law—the law of settlement. They became chargeable, and the husband was torn away from the wife, and sent to one part of the country, while the wife was sent under her maiden name, she being in the eye of the law no wife, with the children, who in the eye of the law were her bastards, to another part of the country. These were no mere sketches of the imagination, but such cases had fallen under his observation. He would conclude with quoting the opinion of Lord Denman on this subject. That learned Judge presided in the case of King v. Chadwick, and had the fullest opportunity of knowing what the law was. Lord Denman was a kindhearted, enlightened man, and almost the last thing he did was to write a pamphlet on this subject, and in the concluding words of that pamphlet he said— If the Act has notoriously failed in its operation, if these marriages, though discountenanced by the Legislature have become more numerous, not only among the lower classes, a large proportion of whom may ever remain ignorant of the existence of this and similar interference by law with freedom, but among the cultivated, the thoughtful, the conscientious, the exemplary; if the stigma set by the law is not stamped by the public opinion; if the offenders are as well received as before, and arc even respected for acting on a just view of Scriptural texts, perverted by erroneous interpretation; in such case it will surely be more politic to make the law consistent with reason than to persevere in a fruitless endeavour to bend reason to arbitrary law, to vex and persecute where we cannot prevent, to curse whom the Lord has not cursed, and defy whom He has not defied.'


said, he wondered that the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had not distinguished between what was the present state of things and that which had existed before Lord Lyndhurst's Act. Though he (Mr. Drummond) should vote against the Bill, be the consequences what they might, he would admit that the existing state of things was such that it was impossible for it to remain so much longer. He admitted that individual experience was poor ground for influencing the decisions of a deliberative assembly; but from his experience he should say that he thought it was not the lower but the middle classes who were demanding a change in the law. If they wanted to know what was the meaning of words or customs used in past times, they must resort to the opinions of the people who lived nearest to those times. Now, there could be no doubt that up to the time of that singularly wicked man, Pope Alexander, it was the doctrine of the Church that these marriages were contrary to the law of God. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Baines) said it was of no use attempting to establish a practice which was contrary to public opinion, and that as the statute had not put down this practice, they should repeal it. Now, that seemed rather a dangerous doctrine. They had Acts of Parliament against all sorts of things which those Acts had not yet put down; but would they repeal the Act against murder or poison, because murder was committed and poison administered? Indeed, if this principle were reduced to practice, what would become or the greater portion of their statutes? The Church of Rome granted dispensations for those marriages; but it did so for a very good consideration. It drove a very profitable trade from them; but the fact of its holding that a dispensation was necessary, showed that it knew that those marriages were unlawful, though it blasphemously took upon itself to set the law of God aside. These marriages were incestuous. Of that he thought there could be no doubt; and it was a strong fact that from the returns of the number of idiots, it appeared that more idiots were the fruit of incestuous than of any other description of marriages. And in Spain, where the grandees had addicted themselves to incestuous crime morn than, perhaps, any class in any other country, the people had degenerated, not only morally, but physically. In his opinion, these marriages were unlawful and incestuous, and forbidden by the interpretation of the Church. That interpretation it was in the power of an Act of Parliament to set aside, but it could not alter it. He should, therefore, vote against the second reading of the Bill.


said, that as he had never before had an opportunity of expressing an opinion upon that subject, he hoped the House would favour him with its indulgence for a few moments while he stated the reasons which induced him to give his cordial support to the Bill. He had never heard more direct appeals made to mere prejudices than in the course of that discussion. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Maidstone told them that that was an attempt to establish polygamy. [Mr. B. HOPE: No!] He had distinctly heard the hon. Member make use of the word "polygamy" in the course of his argument; he had said that the Bill would legalize polygamy with two sisters. But he need not remind the House that it was only by an abuse of language that such a term could be applied to the case of a person who had at any one time only one wife. The hon. Member for Surrey (Mr. Drummond) had said that these marriages were incestuous, but with respect to that charge there could be no doubt that, if such a charge rested upon the slightest foundation, no hon. Member would for a moment hesitate in voting against the Bill. That, however, was the very question at issue, and the hon. Gentleman, who had stigmatized the Bill as sanctioning it, instead of establishing the fact which he asserted, had begged the whole question. He thought, too, that it was most unfair to prejudice the question by introducing the subject of marriages with a brother's wife. That had nothing whatever to do with the present Bill. The real difficulty in which the question was involved had arisen out of the Act of Lord Lyndhurst, passed in the year 1835. By the law of this country, since the time of the Reformation down to that year, those marriages were by law voidable but not void—that was to say, that they remained good unless they were set aside by a proceeding in an Ecclesiastical Court; and such a proceeding took place in those cases only in which the right to inherit property was involved. The consequence of that state of things was, that among the poorer classes these marriages were practically valid down to the year 1835. But unluckily in that year there were strong motives in Lord Lyndhurst's mind for giving validity to a marriage of that character contracted by a noble Duke; and the consequence was that the House of Lords by his advice had agreed to confirm all existing marriages deceased wives' sisters, but had provided that thenceforward they should be, not voidable, but void. Now, he (Sir C. Lewis) did not see how it was possible to answer the argument, that the Members of the Legislature, including the bishops of the Established Church, would never have legalized past marriages of that description if they had believed that they were contrary to the law of God, and prohibited by a Divine sanction. It seemed to him that no argument could be stronger or plainer than that. The law upon that subject in England was unlike what it was in any other country. In Roman Catholic countries a dispensation might be obtained under which such a marriage could be contracted, and in all Protestant countries, with the exception of England, they had been held to be legal ever since the time of the Reformation. It was unfair to argue, as had been done by the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. B. Hope), and by the hon. Member for West Surrey (Mr. Drummond), that permission to contract such marriages had first been granted by the infamous Pope Alexander VI., for the fact was the early reformers in almost every country of Europe had abolished the Papal prohibition of such unions. Another point to be considered was, the hardship which the present law imposed upon individuals. Many hundreds of Englishmen had contracted marriages of that character in some foreign State, and many eminent lawyers believed that such marriages were valid. There certainly existed a strong presumption in favour of the justice of that conclusion, in the fact that as a general rule the law of England recognized the validity of marriages contracted according to the law of a foreign country. Those persons, however, now found that their children were illegitimate, and in his opinion that was a case of great hardship. Upon the whole, looking at the history of the law, the practice of foreign countries, and the unwillingness which undoubtedly prevailed in this country to submit to the present law, he should give his cordial assent to the second reading of the Bill.


explained that he did not use the word polygamy in the sense ascribed to him, and said he was hardly likely to do so, as he knew the use of the word. He was alluding to the case of a Jew, with whom polygamy was allowed, having two sisters as wives at the same time.


in giving his reasons for decidedly opposing the Bill, said, that he did not intend to argue the theological question, which had been disposed of by the unanswerable speech of the hon. Member for Maidstone; nor did he intend to rely upon authorities, of which many of great weight had been adduced on each side. The question must be dealt with in that House as one of policy and expediency. Upon examining the Bill in that point of view, he found that the mode in which it was proposed to deal with Scotland, constituted one of the gravest objections to the measure. By the last clause it was provided that "the Act should not extend to all marriages hereafter contracted in Scotland," and he took it for granted that that was intended as a concession to the strong religious feeling in Scotland upon the subject. Undoubtedly there did prevail in that country a strong opinion, and it was based upon the doctrines of the Church of the great majority of the people. The great majority of the Scotch were Presbyterians, and adopted the Westmin- ster Confession of Faith, according to which among the marriages within the prohibited degrees were those which the Bill sought to legalise:—"A man may not marry any of his wife's kindred nearer in blood than he may of his own kindred," and vice versâ in regard to the woman. That was also the doctrine of the civil law of Scotland. He was not surprised, therefore, that the supporters of the Bill were disposed to make some concession to the strong feelings of the people of Scotland on this subject. When it was said that the validity of those marriages was recognised in all Protestant countries, he had to observe that the Westminster Confession of Faith was received by a very large portion of the Dissenters of England, and that the Church of Scotland boasted—and he believed with truth—that she represented the doctrine and the Church of the Reformation more fairly and more justly than any other communion. Out of deference to the feelings of the people of that country these incestuous marriages were not to be contracted in the kingdom of Scotland. But all marriages contracted between the people of Scotland, in England, and in other parts of the world, were declared to be lawful, and it was, therefore, a mere sham to pretend that the Bill respected the law of Scotland, while it made such marriages lawful in Scotland when contracted elsewhere. Was it intended to inaugurate a new class of border marriages, and were Scotchmen to be invited to come across the border to contract these incestuous marriages, and then go back, a scandal and a shame, to mix with their friends and neighbours? But he would suppose—as was most probably the case—that the framers of the Bill wished to exempt Scotland from its operation; and then he would ask what would be its tendency? One of the great objects of modern legislation had been to assimilate the laws of the two countries; but that measure would actually introduce a new variance between those laws. He said it was a new variance, because he believed the law of the two countries upon that subject had hitherto been identical in principle. The Act of Lord Lyndhurst made a change not in the principle but in the practice of the law of England, and it would be a complete mistake to attribute to it any other operation. To make such a variance now between the laws of the two countries was, in his opinion, a great practical evil. Suppose a case occurring in a Scotch family where the eldest son, like the rest of his countrymen, held these marriages in abhorrence. Suppose two of his sisters married successively, with all the sanction of the law of England and the Church of England, to an Englishman, and that the brother should be obliged to receive into his household persons associated together by a tie which he had been bred to regard with horror. Was it a desirable state of things that in these delicate relations there should be such variances of doctrine, practice, and law as should lead to these results? It was said, that the presumption was in favour of freedom. That might be a fair argument if they were considering this subject for the first time; but was it to go for nothing that the whole history of the Church was against the validity of such marriages? It was also said by the promoters of this Bill, "If you are too holy, you need not contract such a marriage, but allow me to be free." There would be a great deal of force in that argument if it were possible to confer this freedom on one portion of the community without interfering with the rights, feelings, and sentiments of the other. But was that possible? Was a man to rob him of the love of his sister in order that he might marry her? It would prevent the possibility of their meeting on the same terms of affection if this Bill were allowed to introduce a new relation between a man and his sister-in-law hitherto unknown to the Church. The relation between a brother and sister—and he would add between a brother and his sister-in-law—was perhaps the holiest and purest affection of which the heart was capable; but if this Bill passed, there would be an end to that. There was a great deal more to be adduced against such marriages besides the express prohibition of the Word of God. The burden of proving the lawfulness and policy of such marriages rested entirely upon the side of the supporters of this Bill, and as no such proof had been made out, he should vote against the second reading.


reminded the House, in answer to the argument which the right hon. Member for Radnor (Sir G. Lewis) had drawn from the conduct of the Bishops in not opposing the passing of Lord Lyndhurst's Act, that by the law as it stood before that Act, marriage with a wife's sister only became void by a decree obtained in a suit instituted in the Ecclesiastical Courts. Such a state of the law was a great temptation to persons who wished to contract such marriages to do so, because they might easily persuade themselves that no person would have any motive to institute such a suit; and in many cases that was the result. But then it often happened that by a change of circumstances some person was afterwards induced to institute a suit, the result of which was that the unfortunate children the fruit of that marriage which the parents had been so tempted, and, as it were, encouraged to contract, were afterwards bastardized. Well, then, when Parliament determined to put an end to that state of things, by declaring that all such marriages should in future be void, although, perhaps, in strict logical consistency, they ought to have declared all previous marriages of the kind void also, and all the children of such marriages bastards, was it not very natural and very excusable that Parliament, having regard to the unfortunate position of those children, should prefer the more merciful course of declaring the previous marriages valid? Coming, then, to the real merits of the question before the House, he would not detain them at any length on its social aspect; first, because that part of the subject had been already exhausted by the speech of the Lord Advocate; and secondly, because he was bound to admit that, although he had a strong opinion on that point, yet as there was much to be said on both sides, he should hardly have felt himself free to make his own opinion as to the comparative advantages or disadvantages of allowing such unions a ground of interfering with the liberties of others in a matter so intimately affecting their happiness. But the case was very different with that which was called the theological side of the question. He thought he should correctly describe the feeling of the House, or at all events of a very large majority of the Members, if he said that supposing the marriages in question had not been prohibited in times past by the law of the land, and it could be proved to the satisfaction of hon. Members that the Scriptures did clearly forbid them, they would be willing to pass an Act making the law of the land conformable to the law of God. He quite admitted that in such a state of things the onus would lie on the person proposing such a law to prove very clearly that the Scriptures did contain such a prohibition. But where, as in this country, the law of the land had for many centuries prohibited such marriages, on the express ground that they were forbidden by the law of God, the onus lay on those who sought to alter that law of proving that the Scriptures did not contain such a prohibition. The hon. Member for Newport (Mr. Buxton) had asked where was the text which forbad them. But was that a reasonable question? Where was the text which forbad marriage with a man's own niece, or even his daughter? But would it be denied that such unions were forbidden by the law of God as expressed in that very chapter of Leviticus on which the discussion must mainly turn? It had been argued in the course of these debates that those who considered that these marriages were against the law of God had no right to bind the consciences of others who did not hold that opinion. That was a plausible and popular argument. But were those who used it prepared to carry it out consistently? Would they allow people to decide for themselves whether they might lawfully marry their aunts, their nieces, or their daughters? Surely the real question was not whether a line must be drawn somewhere, but where it ought to be drawn. Then, again, it was said that the law of incest, contained in the Leviticus, was one intended only for the people of Israel, and was not binding on Christians. Even if that were so, unless it appeared that we were differently circumstanced from the Israelites in these matters, a law promulgated by Divine wisdom on the subject of marriage might reasonably be considered as a model which we should be wise to adopt and imitate. But was the law in question intended only for the people of Israel? Was it not, on the contrary, preceded and followed by expressions which proved that it was applicable to the whole human race, and one for the infraction of which the people of Canaan had incurred the Divine wrath? Well, then, the real question was, whether marriage with a wife's sister is or is not prohibited by the eighteenth chapter of Leviticus; and it was the duty of every one to look not merely at the letter of the text, but, by comparing one passage with another, and applying his reasoning faculties to their consideration, to ascertain the real meaning of the law. It had been said by the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth (Mr. Collier) that from the time of Moses the Jews had universally allowed of marriage with a wife's sister, and that Dr. Adler, the chief Rabbi, had given evidence to that effect. But he must remind the House that the Jews as a people were divided into two bodies—the Talmudical Jews, who were the most numerous, and whose religion was based not so much on the Scriptures as on the traditions contained in the Talmud; and the Karaite Jews, who, rejecting tradition, held, like the Protestants among Christians, by the Scriptures as their rule of faith. The Talmudical Jews allowed the marriages in question, the Karaites did not. He thought the House would consider the Karaites the more trustworthy guides on such a subject. And when it was said that the Iraelites from the time of Moses had allowed such marriages, he asked on what authority was that statement made? He had taken some pains to ascertain what the practice of the Israelites had been before the time of our Saviour, but had not found any authority earlier than the Mishna, which was said to have been written about 150 years after Christ. In that book it was said, in allusion to the law which allowed a man to marry his brother's widow if there were no children, that if two brothers had married two sisters, and the one brother having become a widower, the other brother died, the widower could not, in that case, marry the widow, because she was his sister-in-law. Now this was certainly evidence, as far as it went, that the practice of the Jews in early times had not been such as it was represented by the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth. Then there had been an attempt to prejudice the law in question by representing it as a relic of Popery; but in answer to that, he must remind the House that it was at the time of the Reformation, and by the Reformers themselves, that our law respecting marriage had been established, and he would ask leave to read an extract from a document, which, though of no legal force, had always been considered one of great authority—the Reformatio Legum. In that work the following rules of construction are laid down:— This in the Levitical degrees is to be observed, that all the degrees by name are not expressly set down; for the Holy Ghost then did only declare plainly and clearly such degrees, from whence the rest might evidently be deduced. As for example, when it is prohibited that the son shall not marry his mother, it followeth also that the daughter shall not marry her father. And by enjoining that a woman may not marry her father's brother, the like reason requireth that she shall not marry her mother's brother. To which the same book adds two particular rules for our direction in this matter:— 1. That the degrees which are laid down as to men will hold equally as to women in the same proximity. 2. That the husband and wife are but one flesh, so that he who is related to the one by consanguinity is related to the other by affinity in the same degree. These were the rules of construction laid down by our Reformers, and which had been acted upon ever since in our courts of justice. Had any one attempted to impugn them? Would any one say that there was anything unreasonable in them? Well, then, applying these rules to the particular chapter to which reference had been made, and putting aside for a moment the eighteenth verse, the true meaning of which was matter of dispute, could any person doubt that when marriage with a brother's widow was forbidden, marriage with a deceased wife's sister, who stood in exactly the same degree of relationship, was by parity of reasoning forbidden also? He was free to admit that if the translation of the eighteenth verse, which was given in our authorized version, were assumed to be correct, it would furnish an argument to those who advocated the lawfulness of these marriages; but the House was aware that the translators of the Bible had placed by the side of that verse in the margin another translation which they considered to be also admissible, and which many Hebrew scholars since their time had considered the true one, and which would make the verse a simple prohibition of polygamy. Now, he was not himself acquainted with the Hebrew language, and would not venture to speak with any confidence on such a subject, and it seemed to him that the House had not sufficient information before it to decide a question of so much difficulty. He would, therefore, venture to suggest that the Government might properly issue a Commission addressed to the most learned divines and Hebrew scholars, to ascertain their opinions and the opinions of other learned persons as to the true meaning of the disputed texts. He was aware that there had already been a Commission on the subject of this law, but the attention of that Commission had been directed rather to the operation of the existing Acts, and the state of the law in other countries.


said, as he was in some degree responsible for this Bill, he should have been glad to have gone into its provisions, and the question involved, very fully, and he should nut have been deterred from doing so by the speech of the hon. Member for Hertfordshire (Mr. Puller), who had argued that the Bill was in direct violation of Divine law; but, the House being impatient to go to a division, he should confine himself to one or two points. Indeed, the House pretty well understood the question now, and there was no need for a protracted discussion. He could assure the learned Lord Advocate that the reason for omitting Scotland from the operation of the Act was not out of any deference to the feelings or the prejudices of the Scottish people, but because they felt that the Scotch marriage law widely differed in so many particulars from the English and Irish law; and as there was no demand for the alteration of the law in Scotland, it was thought better to leave in Scotland this one anomaly more. But when the learned Lord referred to the inconvenience this law existing in England would produce in Scotland, he must remind him that there were two sides to that question; and, if the learned Lord would recollect the misery which the Scotch law of marriage had created in many an English house, he might see that the balance or inconvenience was not all on one side. As to the argument of the hon. Member who had just sat down, he would remind him that the advocates of this measure had as great reverence for that book which was the foundation of all Christian morality as be had, but they did not admit his construction upon it. They interpreted the Levitical law by the light and the liberty of the Christian Church. They held that the English people had been deprived of their Christian liberty by the caprice of the strangely-constituted—though he did not doubt honest—mind of Henry VIII. It was urged that if you allowed marriage in one case of affinity you must allow it in all. No such thing; such marriages were to be permitted only so far as they were consonant with common sense and with the religious feeling of the people, founded upon a common sense interpretation of the Scriptures. Any interference with the freedom of contracting marriage beyond that was a hardship and a grievance. The people of this country upon the whole reverenced the law of the land, but in this respect they broke it, because they believed it was bad and against Scripture. Those who contracted such marriages were from the middle and lower classes, and among them there was no difference of opinion as to the right of the Christian people to make such a contract. This was proved by the agitation which the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. Hope) had endeavoured to get up, and in which he entirely failed. The hon. Member had sneered at the way in which petitions had been got up. He (Mr. Milnes) admitted there was management on both sides; but there was this difference, that while the petitions in favour of the measure were signed by thousands, those against it were signed only by hundreds.


said, this was a measure which affected the social and domestic happiness of thousands, and his constituents at Huddersfield took a deep interest in it, as was shown by the petition which they had sent up in favour of it, which he said had been numerously and quite honestly signed. The objections to the measure might be divided into two classes, the religions and the social. He declined to enter into the religious argument, for he thought that House was the last place where it could be adduced with effect. He was content with this, that the authorized teachers of religion were not at one upon the subject. The Bishops were divided; and there was a growing minority in its favour on the part of the parochial clergy. The dissenting ministers were almost unanimously in its favour; and though the Roman Catholic clergy prohibited these marriages in their own communion, he held that there was not that religious liberty among them which would cause them to be held up as examples. He held that the hon. Member for Maidstone had libelled the subjects of these marriages in the motives he had imputed to them. It was sufficient for those who supposed such marriages prohibited to act upon their conviction, but they ought not to go further and seek to impose shackles upon those who conscientiously differed from them as to the scriptural authority, and the propriety of these marriages. The existing law was a vestige of that intolerant spirit which formerly prevailed, and its maintenance was calculated to alienate the confidence of the people in their legislature. Of his own knowledge he could speak of two eases where a beloved wife on her deathbed had made it her dying request to her husband that he would marry her sister for the sake of the children. He hoped the House would pass this Bill in the present Session, and would thus entitle themselves to the confidence of the country as having passed one popular measure.


said, he had voted for the first time for this measure on its introduction this Session, but he stated he would not then pledge himself to vote for its second reading. He had since examined the question again mid again, and the conclusion he had come to was, that he must vote for the second reading. He would not go into the religious part of the question, except to say that from the differences among theologians on this subject no man was entitled to dogmatize upon it. With regard to the social question, he could not agree with the learned Lord Advocate that if this law were passed, it would diffuse jealousy and suspicion of their own sisters among the wives of England. His own experience was directly the reverse, for he had always found that where there were love and happiness among married parties, it rested upon personal confidence and not upon Acts of Parliament. Previous to 1835, these marriages were voidable but not void; and though thousands of them took place, there were not, he believed, in fifty years ten applications to avoid marriages within this degree. This showed the feeling of the country on the subject. But what had been the effect of the law of 1835? A recent decision had made all such marriages void, though contracted in a foreign country, notwithstanding that the highest legal opinions had held the contrary view. He alluded to the recently decided case of "Brooke v. Brooke." So defective was the Act under which this decision was given that he, as counsel in favour of the validity of the marriage, was furnished with the opinions of the present Attorney General, of the late Attorney Genera], of some most eminent Queen's counsel, and of other distinguished counsel, that such marriages solemnized abroad were legal and valid. As it had been decided otherwise, he begged to suggest to the House that whether they agreed to this measure or not—and he fully admitted its difficulty—they ought at least to pass an Act legitimatising the issue of marriages so solemnized abroad, on the faith that the English law as it stood recognized them as valid.


said, he had come down to go into the measure in all its bearings, but as he found that the House was impatient for a division he would not protract the argument, feeling content to leave the matter on the arguments that had already been urged in favour of the Bill.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 174; Noes 134: Majority 40.

List of the AYES.
Adair, H. E. Goderich, Visct.
Akroyd, E. Greene, J.
Anderson, Sir J. Grenfell, C. W.
Ashley, Lord Gray, Capt.
Atherton, W. Grosvenor, Earl
Ayrton, A. S. Gurdon, B.
Bagwell, J. Haddo, Lord
Bailey, C. Hadfield, G.
Baines, rt. hon. M. T. Hamilton, Lord C.
Ball, E. Hanbury, R.
Baring, T. Handley, J.
Barnard, T. Hankey, T.
Bass, M. T. Hardcastle, J. A.
Beach, W. W. B. Harris, J. D.
Biggs, J. Hassard, M.
Bland, L. H. Hayter, rt. hn. Sir W. G.
Bonham-Carter, J. Headlam, T. E.
Botfield, B. Holland, E.
Brand, hon. H. Horsman, rt. hon. E.
Bright, J. Howard, hon. C. W. G.
Briscoe, J. I. Hudson, G.
Brocklehurst, J. Ingham, R.
Brown, Lord J. T. Jackson, W.
Bruce, H. A. Jervoise, Sir J. C.
Buckley, Gen. Kershaw, J.
Butler, C. S. King, hon. P. J. L.
Byng, hon. G. Kinglake, A. W.
Caird, J. Knatchbull-Hugessen, E.
Calcraft, J. H. Lewis, rt. hon. Sir G. C.
Campbell, R. J. R. Liddell, hon. H. G.
Clay, J. Lindsay, W. S.
Clifford, Col. Locke, Joseph
Clive, G. Locke, John
Colebrooke, Sir T. E. Luce, T.
Collier, R. P. Mackinnon, W. A.
Colvile, C. R. Mackinnon, W. A.
Coningham, W. Malins, R.
Coote, Sir C. H. Marsh, M. H.
Crawford, R. W. Martin, C. W.
Crook, J. Martin, P. W.
Damer, L. D. Martin, J.
Davey, R. Melgund, Visct.
Denison, Hon. W. H. F. Mellor, J.
Dillwyn, L. L. Miller, T. J.
Duff, Major L. D. G. Milnes, R. M.
Duke, Sir J. Morris, D.
Ebrington, Visct. Napier, Sir C.
Elliot, Hon. J. E. Nicoll, D.
Elphinstone, Sir J. North, F.
Elton, Sir A. H. Paxton, Sir J.
Evans, T. W. Pease, H.
Ewart, W. Pechell, Sir G. B.
Ewart, J. C. Peel, Sir R.
Fenwick, H. Percy, hon. J. W.
Ferguson, Sir R. Pilkington, J.
FitzRoy, rt. hon. H. Potter, Sir J.
Foley, H. J. W. Powell, F. S.
Foljambe, F. J. S. Pugh, D.
Forster, C. Ramsden, Sir J. W.
Fortescue, hon. F. D. Ricardo, J. L.
Fortescue, C. S. Ridley, G.
Fox, W. J. Robertson, P. F.
Gard, R. S. Roupell, W.
Gaskell, J. M. Russell, H.
Gibson, Rt. hon. M. Salisbury, E. G.
Gifford, Earl of Scholefield, W.
Glyn, G. C. Shafto, R. D.
Glyn, G. G. Shelley, Sir J. V.
Sibthorp, Major Waddington, H. S.
Smith, J. A. Watkins, Col. L.
Smith, J. B. Weguelin, T. M.
Smith, A. Western, S.
Smyth, Col. Westhead, J. P. B.
Somerset, Col. Whitbread, S.
Somerville, rt. hn. Sir W. White, J.
Spooner, R. Wickham, H. W.
Stanley, hon. W. O. Williams, W.
Stapleton, J. Wood, rt. hon. Sir C.
Steel, J. Wood, W.
Stirling, W. Woodd, B. T.
Sturt, N. Wortley, Maj. S.
Talbot, C. R. M. Wrightson, W. B.
Thompson, Gen. Wyld, J.
Thornely, T. Wyvill, M.
Tollemache, J. Young, A. W.
Trueman, C.
Turner, J. A. TELLERS.
Villiers, rt. hon. C. P. Bury, Visct.
Vivian, H. H. Schneider, H. W.
List of the NOES.
Adderley, rt. hn. C. B. Egerton, E. C.
Alexander, J. Elcho, Lord
Arbuthnot, hon. Gen. Estcourt, rt. hn. T. H. S.
Baillie, H. J. Ewing, H. E. C.
Baring, A. H. Farnham, E. B.
Bennet, P. Fellowes, E.
Bentinck, G. W. P. Finlay, A. S.
Blake, J. Forester, rt. hon. Col.
Boldero, Col. Forster, Sir G.
Bovill, W. Gallwey, Sir W. P.
Boyd, J. Gavin, Major
Brady, J. Gladstone, rt. hon. W.
Bramley-Moore, J. Greenall, G.
Bramston, T. W. Greville, Col. F.
Bruce, Major C. Grogan, E.
Bruen, H. Hamilton, G. A.
Buller, Sir J. Y. Hardy, G.
Bunbury, W. B. M'C. Hay, Lord J.
Burghley, Lord Hayes, Sir E.
Burrell, Sir C. M. Heathcote, Sir W.
Cairns, Sir H. M'C. Holford, R. S.
Cavendish, hon. W. Hotham, Lord
Cavendish, hon. G. Hunt, G. W.
Clark, J. J. Inglis, J.
Cole, hon. H. A. Johnstone, hon. H. B.
Collins, T. Johnstone, J. J. H.
Conolly, T. Kendall, N.
Cooper, E. J. King, J. K.
Cowan, C. Kinnaird, hon. A. F.
Cox, W. Knatchbull, W. E.
Cross, R. A. Langton, W. G.
Cubitt, Mr. Alderman Langton, H. G.
Dalkeith, Earl of Lennox, Lord H. G.
Davie, Sir H. R. F. Lockhart, A. E.
Deedes, W. Lowther, hon. Col.
De Vere, S. E. Lygon, hon. F.
Divett, E. Macarthy, A.
Drummond, H. Macartney, G.
Du Cane, C. Macaulay, K.
Dunbar, Sir W. Mackie, J.
Duncan, Visct. Maguire, J. F.
Duncombe, hon. A. Mainwaring, T.
Dundas, G. March, Earl of
Dunlop, A. M. Matheson, Sir J.
Dunne, M. Miller, S. B.
Du Pre, C. G. Mills, A.
East, Sir J. B. Morgan, O.
Edwards, H. Mowbray, rt. hon, J. R.
Egerton, Sir P. G. Naas, Lord
Newark, Viscount Stewart, Sir M. R. S.
North, Col. Start, H. G.
O'Brien, P. Sullivan, M.
Ogilvy, Sir J. Trefusis, hon. C. H. R.
Packe, C. W. Trollope, rt. hon. Sir J.
Pakenham, Col. Waldron, L.
Palmer, R. Warren, S.
Patten, Col. W. Welby, W. E.
Pennant, hon. Col. Whiteside, rt. hon. J.
Pevensey, Viset. Williams, Col.
Philipps, J. H. Willson, A.
Portman, hon. W. H. B. Winnington, Sir T. E.
Rushout, G. Wyndham, Gen.
Russell, F. W. Wyndham, H.
Scott, hon. F. Wynne, rt. hon. J. A.
Seymer, H. K. Yorke, hon. E. T.
Shirley, E. P.
Smollett, A. TELLERS.
Stanhope, J. B. Hope, A. J. B.
Steuart, A. Puller, C. W. G.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read 2°, and committed for Thursday 20th May.

The House adjourned at a quarter after Five o'clock.