HC Deb 21 April 1869 vol 195 cc1288-328

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that the numerous Petitions which had been presented in favour of it indicated, though imperfectly, the interest felt by the country in the question. His object was to remove from the marriage law a restriction which had been long complained of. The grievance had been again and again brought before the House of Commons. In thirty-three divisions of that House the law, as it at present stood, had been condemned; five times the House had virtually sanctioned a measure to remove the restriction; and four times the House had sent up to the House of Lords a Bill with that object. The subject had been amply discussed in both Houses. The metropolitan, provincial, and colonial Press had examined it thoroughly, and it had excited the deepest interest among all classes of the population. Under these circumstances it might be supposed that he would, on the present occasion, spare the House the necessity of listening to any observations of his; but, as the present Parliament was a new one, and as there were 250 new Members in the House of Commons, he felt it his duty to state the reasons which had influenced him in bringing this measure forward. The question was whether the restriction upon marriage with a deceased wife's sister was justifiable. Undoubtedly, liberty in relation to marriage was the general rule, and if a restriction was to be maintained in a particular case, the onus rested with the advocates of that restriction to show that it was justifiable—that it was expedient in itself, and that it was proper to enforce it by penal laws. If there were any justification for the restriction now under consideration it must be found in the law of nature or the law of God, which he believed to be identical. Although there might be mentioned some instances in which a marriage not specifically and in terms forbidden by the Scriptures, was nevertheless, by common consent, considered as unlawful, it was in the main true, that for the marriage law, we must look to what the Scripture had said, and be guided by it. Now, the argument of the supporters of the Bill was, that as the Divine law restrained marriage with a deceased wife's sister only under one condition, it must be held emphatically to allow it in all other cases. The law in Leviticus forbade such a marriage only during the lifetime of the sister. This was perfectly plain from the terms of the law itself, which declared that a man should not take a wife to her sister to vex her in her lifetime. It was, however, contended by some that that was not the correct interpretation of the passage, and consequently, in order to come to a decision on that point, reference must be made to authority. Among candid minds there could be no doubt as to the sense in which the best Hebrew scholars accepted the passage, and one of the highest authorities, the Rev. Alexander M'Caul, stated that, after having re-examined the question, he was confirmed in the opinion he formerly expressed, that marriage with a deceased wife's sister was neither expressly nor impliedly prohibited in Scripture. Dr. Robinson, the well-known author of Biblical Researches in Pales- tine, regarded as a famous authority by the Presbyterians, and Dr. Henderson, and Dr. Pye Smith, high authorities among the Dissenters, entertained a similar opinion. He might also appeal in support of his argument to the light in which an enactment so intimately affecting social life had ever been regarded by that nation to which the law was given. Dr. Adler, the Chief Rabbi, said, speaking of the marriage in question— Not only is it not prohibited, but it is distinctly understood to be permitted; and, on this point, neither the Divine law, nor the Rabbis, nor historical Judaism leaves room for the least doubt. So strong, indeed, was the conviction of the Jews on the subject that the practice was to allow a man who had children left by his first wife to contract a marriage of this kind earlier after the death of his wife than a marriage with another woman. It, therefore, did appear to him that there was no room for doubt as to the interpretation of the passage. But then it was said that, by a parity of reasoning from something else found in the Bible, this marriage must be considered as disallowed. Parity of reasoning was a dangerous doctrine, and could never be employed unless one was certain of all the reasons for establishing the specific enactments. With regard to the specific enactments of Leviticus, it was undeniable that for all that was allowed and for all that was forbidden they did not know the whole of the reasons. The law was laid down, but the reasons were not in every instance assigned. Parity of reasoning was supposed to be illustrated by the case of the brother's wife, marriage with whom was said to be forbidden; and it was argued that, by analogy, marriage with a deceased wife's sister was prohibited. But so far from the marriage of a man with his brother's widow being forbidden, in the 25th chapter of Deuteronomy, it was actually enjoined under certain circumstances; and even when the brothers had lived together, and formed part of the same family and household. Changing the case, therefore, from the death of a brother to the death of a wife, the enactment, if drawn on the principle of parity of reasoning, would be that, if sisters dwelt together and one of them died leaving a widower, the wife's sister should take to herself the husband of the dead. Therefore parity of reasoning led to an entirely different conclusion from that at which the opponents of the measure now before the House wished to arrive. Neither in the Old or New Testament was there any passage forbidding marriage with a deceased wife's sister, and Roman Catholics, Protestant Episcopalians, Congregationalists, Quakers, Wesleyans, for the most part, and Presbyterians to a great extent concurred in the opinion that, under certain circumstances and conditions, imposed by themselves, couples might properly be joined together in this kind of marriage. It was true that, in the early Church, restraints on marriage had been very widely imposed. There was no subject upon which the early Church went so much astray as the relation of the sexes; but so complicated and so mischievous became the restraints upon the natural and pure affections, that the Roman Church itself, long before the Reformation, shook off many of those restraints on marriage which superstition had imposed. Even the restrictions that were left were mitigated in their application by a plenary power of dispensation. The Divine law on the subject was the only authoritative rule. It might be argued that social expediency and policy were to be studied in the matter. He did not admit that, though so far as social expediency and policy were admissible, they were both entirely against the restriction, A thousand reasons might be assigned why a particular marriage, or class of marriages, should be deemed, on the whole, inexpedient—for instance, the marriage of first cousins, on account of consanguinity; but they could not tell how far this doctrine of expediency might go, if once they admitted that it was allowable to apply it at all. There must be an appeal in such a matter, not to fluctuating opinion, which depended on changing times and circumstances, but to an unvarying standard; there must be an authoritative and final appeal, and the only authoritative appeal was to the Divine law. This was consistent with the principle of our own municipal law on the subject, which makes the law of God the only valid ground of restriction. In the 25 Henry VIII., c. 22, were these words—"And furthermore since many inconveniences have fallen by reason of marriages within the degree of consanguinity, prohibited by God's law;" and the 32 Henry VIII. declared all marriages lawful "that be not prohibited by God's law." The marriage law of Ireland, 33 Henry VIII. c. 6, and the law in Scotland, passed in 1558, ordained to the same effect. It was impossible to employ terms which more absolutely excluded the notion that they were entitled to enlarge the range of prohibited marriages beyond that prescribed by the law of God. So much, therefore, for the principle of the English law. Now let us see what was the doctrine of the Church on the subject? The solemn address of the officiating clergyman to the parties about to be married warned them that "as many as are coupled together otherwise than God's Word doth allow are not joined together by God, neither is their matrimony lawful." These words laid down, as the only principle on which a marriage was to be justified or condemned, whether God's Word "doth allow it" or not. The supreme, absolute, final, and exclusive test was the Divine law. If they were not prepared to expunge the preamble of our statutes and alter the formularies of the Church of England, the appeal to God's law was conclusive; and for hundreds of years the conscience and judgment of the people had been formed in accordance with this doctrine. But objectors said truly the law of England prevented marriage with the sister of a deceased wife. But it is replied that the table of degrees was in that respect wrong. This was what was complained of. The principle of the law was right, the enactment wrong, and what was asked was to make the enactment consistent with the principle. The desire was not to innovate on the principle of the law, but to carry it out—to confirm it in the most emphatic manner—by eliminating an old item in the table of prohibited degrees, which was found clearly and flagrantly in conflict with the principle as stated in the Acts to which he had referred. As regards, therefore, the principle of the law and the doctrine of the Church, both are repugnant to the restriction in question. Now, let them inquire, historically, what the practice had been. For 300 years these marriages were contracted; they were good and valid for all practical purposes, for they could not be annulled, unless set aside during the lifetime of both parties. Scarcely an instance occurred during these 300 years in which one of these marriages was set aside. The letter of the law was against them, but they were practically allowed during the whole of that period; the children of these marriages were held to be legitimate, and there being no practical grievance that state of things continued till 1835—a date which no man remembered without shame. A Bill was then brought into the House of Lords by Lord Lyndhurst which passed in a form entirely different from that in which it was introduced. That Act legalized such of those marriages as had been contracted before the 31st of August in that year, and made absolutely void all such as were contracted after that day. Nothing could be more inconsistent. It both blessed and cursed in the same section. It declared in one part of the section that marriages which it said were no marriages at all, but incestuous and unlawful, should never be dissolved; and, in the same section, it declared that such marriages so held to be indissoluble should for the future never be contracted, but be absolutely void. They all knew there was a special object to be attained by that enactment, and, despite the mischievous and unjust alterations in the Bill, it was attained. Contrasting the Bill before the House with the Act of 1835, it would be seen that while he sought to alter the law in one particular relation of affinity only, the Act of 1835 altered twenty cases on the man's side and twenty on the woman's side, and made unions within those relations valid and indissoluble, which by common consent were agreed to be improper in the ascending and descending line. He altogether denied the assertion that to legalize marriage with the sister of a deceased wife would injuriously alter the moral tone, relations, and comforts of domestic life as regarded sisters-in-law. Such a statement was a libel on English domestic purity—a slander, and nothing else—for which there was not the slightest foundation. It ought to be met with a peremptory and indignant denial. The Quakers had come round to the opinion, if they had not always entertained it; that the enactment of such a law as that for which he contended would establish more satisfactory relations between the husband and the sister-in-law than those which now existed. [Mr. BRIGHT: They never had a contrary opinion.] Those relations would, in fact, be more safe and honourable to both parties. The objections to such marriages were sentimental. If the Bill proposed to compel a man to marry the sister of his deceased wife, he could well understand that objections might be made to it; but he did not propose to inflict such a grievance upon any one. If any marriage was contracted in England which was not the result of the heat or caprice of passion or for the gratification of the individual himself contracting it, but one contracted on the principle of prudence and for the sake of others, it was the marriage of a deceased wife's sister. These marriages were contracted mostly among the poor for the care and protection of the children of the deceased mother. Another objection to the present restriction was that the law was to a great extent inoperative. It was not in conformity with the social feeling and conscience of the country, and therefore it was, to a great extent, disobeyed. It was always a great calamity when the law and public conscience were not in harmony with each other. It was difficult to ascertain the number of such marriages, there being always a reason to keep them secret; but if there was only one in every parish in England the number would be quite sufficient to call for an alteration of the law. Some time ago an eminent authority said that he did not believe one such marriage existed in Westminster. This led to inquiries, and not less than 100 had been discovered. The present law was most mischievous, because, though it did not prevent the marriages, it degraded and dishonoured the offspring by branding them as illegitimate. Again, there is now no escape from this unjust law, for since the decision of the House of Lords, in 1861, in the case of "Brock v. Brock," the law could not be evaded. A man could not go now and marry his deceased wife's sister on the Continent—where such a marriage is lawful—and then come back and claim the rights of lawful wedlock for his wife and children. Such a marriage, it had been decided, was bad, for the lexi loci contrac-tûs which applied to all other contracts did not apply to this particular contract. Even if they allowed these marriages when contracted abroad to be legal—though that would be less grievous than the present law—it would be a law for the rich rather than for the poor. The law in this respect prevailing in India, the colonies, Ceylon, Cape of Good Hope, and the United Kingdom was hopelessly inconsistent. In some parts of the Empire these marriages were absolutely void, in some voidable, and in some admissible, as in India, where they were practically allowed, simply because there were no ecclesiastical courts in which their validity might be questioned. He had, that day, presented a Petition signed by fifty-one out of eighty-two members of the Legislature of Ontario, in the Dominion of Canada, complaining of the present law. Moreover, we inflicted and perpetuated this unjust disability on dependencies of the Crown in defiance of the feelings of the people. South Australia had three times passed an Act to legalize marriage with the sister of a deceased wife, which had as often been vetoed by the Crown as inconsistent with British law. There had been thirty-four years' experience of this law, and the time had now arrived when it ought to be repealed. It was a law which had no justification. It was broken without reproach. It branded and defamed the innocent. It wounded the sensibilities of those who had done no wrong. In every nation of Christendom, except in this country, these marriages were capable of being contracted. In this particular the United States of America disagreed with us, and agreed with the whole of Christendom. All the Churches, with the exception of a portion of the Presbyterian Church, were in favour of them. The Roman Catholics permitted them under some restrictions. They were allowed by the Congregationalists, the Quakers, and the Baptists. A Petition in favour of the Bill had been signed by thirty-four Wesleyan ministers in the metropolis. Their most eloquent minister had recently contracted a marriage of this kind, and the President of the Wesleyan Conference in America, to which he had gone on a mission, had himself married the sister of his deceased wife. When these marriages were permitted by every people and by the Churches of every class of the Christian Church, what further sanction did they require? The Bill was a very short one. As it was drawn, its operation was not made retrospective in Scotland; but on further consideration it was thought desirable that in Committee an alteration should be made so as to correct this. It provided that marriages with a deceased wife's sister before the passing of this Act should not be void or voidable, and that such marriages should be legal in future. It excepted cases in which either of the parties to a marriage of this kind had afterwards, during the life of the other and before the passing of this Act, lawfully intermarried with any other person. There was also a provision for saving all rights, so that it would not touch the devolution of property in any way whatever. In short, the Bill would thoroughly accomplish the object he had in view and no more. If a precedent were necessary in the case, there was a very striking one in English history. An Act was passed in the year 1548, the 2nd Edward VI., legalizing the marriage of priests and other members of the Church, but saving all existing rights. In that case the prejudices of the people were so strongly against those marriages; they could not believe they had been legalized; and two or three years afterwards a declaratory and confirming Act was passed, legalizing all such marriages as had been solemnized, and declaring them to be legal in future. The grievance of the present state of the law surely deserved to be remedied. The best subjects were those who suffered most. It was true that those who suffered and who desired a change in the law were not so numerous as to be formidable. It was among the poor that these marriages principally occurred, amongst whom they were the greatest blessing in a time of sorrow and domestic bereavement. The present House of Commons, representing the whole of the people more completely than it had ever yet done, would have a right to speak in the name of the poor as it had never spoken before on this subject. He would conclude by quoting the authority of one of the most venerated names in the English Church. Bishop Jewell, in 1563, writing to Archbishop Parker, who prepared the table of prohibitions in the Prayer Book, upon a case of this kind then before the Court of Delegates, said— Chafin that hath married two sisters, upon his appeal from your Grace (Archbishop Parker) and me, hangeth still before the Delegates, and, as much as I can perceive, is not likely to take any great hurt at their hands. I would they would decree it were lawful to marry two sisters, so should the world be out of doubt; as now it is past away in a mockery. The hon. and learned Member concluded by moving that the Bill be now read a second time.


in rising to second the Motion said, he did so because this was a Bill for promoting morality and virtue. He admitted that the generality of the clergy were opposed to his views on this Bill, but they were not unanimous. And if they were, while their opinions ought to be heard with great respect, still those opinions ought not to be allowed more weight than those of laymen who had carefully studied the matter. It might be said also that great lawyers were against him—and he readily admitted the weight and authority which were due to the opinion of Lord Hatherley; but he thought that great lawyer had greatly weakened his argument when he said that he would prefer the invasion of this country by 300,000 men to the consequences that would follow from the passing of this Bill. He admitted that the number of Petitions in favour of the Bill was comparatively small; but he would remind the House that on a question of this kind it was much easier to get up Petitions against a Bill than in its favour. It was easy for clergymen, taking the sentimental view on this subject, to get up Petitions. On the other hand, those who were aggrieved did not like to put themselves forward, and those who might possibly be aggrieved at some future day did not take sufficient interest in the subject. Still there was a great number of Petitions in favor of a change in the law. They knew, too, that there was a great number of such marriages in spite of the law, and what was worse, there were a great number of cases where the parties on account of the law lived in a state of concubinage. This was to a great extent a poor man's question. He had spoken about it to many employers of labour in the district which he represented (East Derbyshire), and had been assured by them that the present state of the law produced great evils, and that there was a strong feeling in favour of the measure among the working classes. He trusted that the House would pass the Bill—and that by a majority sufficient to induce the House of Lords to give a more favourable consideration to its provisions. He had spoken of the feeling among his constituents and he might be pardoned for saying that—as the older Members of the House would know —he had, if not an hereditary claim, yet, at all events, an hereditary excuse for moving in this matter.

Motion made, and Question proposed, '' That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Thomas Chambers.)


said, that having undertaken at a very short notice to move the rejection of this Bill, in the unavoidable absence of his hon. Friend the Member for South-west Lancashire (Mr. Assheton Cross), the hon. and learned Common Sergeant (Mr. T. Chambers) would excuse him if he did not undertake to follow him through all the arguments he had adduced, especially upon the theological part of the question. He might be the more readily pardoned for terseness because the sub-ject had been argued over and over again in that House, so that it was difficult, if not impossible, to say anything new upon it. He was sorry that the question had been re-opened at all, because parties were induced to contract these marriages knowing them to be illegal, but thinking that there would always be a Parliamentary party ready to take up the question and legalize them. The history of this question, from the Act of 1835 until the year 1859, showed that great discontent was felt among a small class of the community. Repeated efforts had been made to pass a measure of relief. The House of Commons had two or three times passed a Bill to legalize these marriages; but these Bills had been uniformly thrown out in "another place." A change in public opinion appeared to have taken place within the last few years, for the last two Houses of Commons, on three separate occasions, had pronounced, by considerable majorities, against the second reading of such Bills. Now, there were questions which it might be justifiable to bring again and again before the House of Commons, but he could not think this question was one of them; and he protested against the assumption which seemed to underlie the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman, that because there was a large Liberal majority in the present House of Commons therefore this question was to be renewed, with hopes of a more favourable result. He (Mr. Sclater-Booth), on the contrary, deprecated the notion that party politics laid anything to do with such a subject, and the opposition to this proposal had proceeded lately very much from the other side of the House. He denied that this was in any sense a Liberal question, or that it could be said to be identified with the policy of the Liberal party. Restrictions upon marriage were not a mark of a despotic period, but rather of a state of civilization and refinement; and to remove the restrictions that had been thought necessary for ages would be a step backwards into barbarism. On the last occasion, when the question was raised, in 1866, the right hon. Gentleman (Sir George Grey) who, as Secretary of State for the Home Department, was then charged with the law and morals of the country, although he did not vote against the Bill, said that it was undesirable repeatedly to introduce a measure of this character, because the result was to induce people to contract these marriages in the hope of their being legalized; and, if there was no reasonable hope that the Bill would pass, he would urge the promoters of the Bill not to revive the question, and consequently encourage expectations that were not likely to be fulfilled. He (Mr. Sclater-Booth) should rely mainly upon the social argument against the Bill, and not the religious. Briefly, then, it was proposed to relieve a few persons at the expense of the feelings of the community at large: 90 per cent of the people of this country were opposed to the Bill. An immense majority of the women had the greatest possible antipathy to the proposal. It was absurd to say that a sister-in-law could, after the passing of this Bill, take the same place in her brother-in-law's house that she was in the habit of doing now. The argument of the hon. and learned Member might, in fact, be turned against himself. The hon. Member alleged that the aunt was the natural and legitimate guardian of her sister's children. It might be said with quite as much truth that the mother-in-law was a still more natural guardian, yet no one would say that marriages with a mother-in-law should be legalized. If the aunt were really the natural guardian, it followed that she was a better guardian as mother-in-law than as aunt. But, on the contrary, if she had children, she would naturally prefer her own to her sister's, and then it came to the injusta noverca instead of the guardian aunt. If, as he believed, these marriages were almost universally unpopular among the women, it would make the guardianship of the deceased sister's children impossible in ninety-nine cases out of 100, because women could not take care of the children as they did now, with great advantage both to the children and themselves. He regretted that the hon. and learned Gentleman had not read the pamphlet of Lord Hatherley, which was most conclusive on this point. In 1858 an hon. Gentleman (the late Mr. Baines) said he supported this Bill because he knew many cases of hardship under the present law, yet he had no regard for the hundreds of thousands of cases of hardship which would occur if the law were changed. He agreed with the hon. and learned Gentleman(Sir Roundell Palmer), who opposed this Bill in 1866, in an admirable speech, and who protested against arbitrary encroachments being made on the Law of Marriage because certain persons got up an agitation against it. Liberty, the hon. Gentleman said, was not possible in this matter—an apothegm which was well deserving the consideration of the House. At the same time, while he (Mr. Sclater-Booth) laid the greatest stress upon the social arguments, he thought the theological argument was perfectly sound; and the universal interpretation of Christendom was that the authority of Leviticus was conclusive on the question. If marriages with a deceased wife's sister were to be made lawful, why not marriages with a deceased wife's niece, because she was a degree more remote? Earl Russell once said that it was impossible that the proposed change, if adopted, should not extend to all the degrees of affinity. Even if the Bill passed it would not place these marriages on the same social level as marriages among strangers. He thought the hon. and learned Gentleman in error in stating that these marriages were permitted in Roman Catholic countries; a dispensation was certainly necessary before they could be solemnized. But would dispensation in such matters be permitted for a moment in our country? The hon. and learned Member had also asserted that these marriages were approved by Dissenters; but, during the present Session, a Petition had been presented against the Bill from the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland, in which, among other arguments against the proposal, they said that the legali- zing of these marriages would bring the discipline of the Church into collision with the law of the land, and would be contrary to the wishes and feelings of the people. He moved, as an Amendment, that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.


seconded the Amendment. As a Roman Catholic Member he wished to say that the question was an open one, and that different views were held upon it by members of that Church. In stating his objections to the Bill, he should not be led into a hermeneutical examination of texts, but should consider the broad general principles on which restrictions of marriage rested. In ancient times, when population had been decimated by war, marriages within prohibited degrees of consanguinity were allowed; and, even in more recent times, marriages, otherwise improper, had been permitted between Royal personages, as a means of putting an end to a war. The Roman Catholic Church would always grant a dispensation, permitting such marriages, if a reason of sufficient weight for so doing, were forthcoming; and it was a mistake to suppose that such dispensations were questions of money; there was not even a fee payable on receiving them. Roman Catholic Members were perfectly free to vote upon this question as they pleased, and his vote would be dictated simply by his personal views. The hon. and learned Member for Marylebone (Mr. T. Chambers) had appealed to Roman Catholic authority in support of his view, but he had done so without warrant. Dr. Manning, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, wrote with reference to a passage in a former letter, to the Marriage Law Commissioners— This passage, which relates only to the hardship endured by Catholics in rare exceptional cases, has been used by those who are now endeavouring to establish the legality of such marriages as an ordinary rule, for the purpose of showing that the Catholic Bishops in England are in favour of their movement. Such is not the fact. The law of England at this moment, which prohibits such marriages, is the old Catholic law still surviving from the times before the Reformation; and our law in this respect is in harmony with the law of the Catholic Church throughout the world. The Catholic Bishops would be the last persons in this country to desire to see our public law placed at variance with the ancient Christian law of impediments. Mr. BRIGHT asked the hon. Member to read the whole of the paper.] He would gladly give the paper to the right hon. Gentleman, that he might read it from beginning to end. The cases of such marriages in foreign Catholic countries were much fewer than among Catholics here; possibly because, as Cardinal Wisemen said, in 1847, there was greater difficulty in those countries of obtaining dispensations. They were very few in Ireland among the Roman Catholics; and the hon. Member for Dublin (Mr. Pim) authorized him to say they were regarded with disfavour by a majority of the members of the Society of Friends in Ireland. Perhaps the Society of Friends in England took a contrary view. He had obtained information relating to the number of dispensations granted for such marriages in Ireland, which were of course, in excess, if anything, of the actual marriages. In the immense Roman Catholic diocese of Dublin these marriages had not averaged as much as two in a year during many years past; yet, in Dublin, they would occur more frequently than elsewhere, because the population was of a changing character, and contained elements of immorality not common to other smaller towns. Cardinal Wiseman had said that such marriages occurred almost entirely among the poor, and that frequently the reason assigned was the prevention of worse consequences. In the Roman Catholic diocese of Armagh, which contained two whole counties and parts of three others, there had not been a single marriage with a deceased wife's sister during the last three years, and he believed for long before that also. In the diocese of Ardagh there had been but two cases during the past fourteen years. It was, therefore, perfectly clear that such cases in Ireland wore extremely rare, and that public opinion in Ireland was decidedly against the change. If asked why he opposed an alteration which would gratify so many others and not affect himself, he replied that he did so because he was anxious for the general tone of the community. The argument that it was a poor man's question, and that it was but natural sister should succeed sister in the care of her children, he answered by saying that nothing was more common than this in Ireland, but there the surviving sister cared for the children not as a wife, but as an aunt. It was said that with the rich, who lived in large houses, this was possible, without immorality resulting; but that in the case of the poor, whose accommodation was often greatly limited, it was not possible. He answered that morality did not depend upon stone walls. But, presuming the change was made, what would be the consequence? Would the demand for changes in the marriage law stop there? Could objections be raised to a woman marrying her brother-in-law? A distinction between the two cases had been drawn by some, but he could not see the force of it. Could uncles be restricted from marrying their nieces, and aunts their nephews, if the change asked for was made? The answer to this was that the question was one of consanguinity in those cases, and not of affinity; but if consanguinity only was held to be a bar, a man might and probably would marry his mother-in-law. ["No, no!"] He presumed the objection to his argument in this case would be, not a greater degree of affinity, but of improbability? Still, the improbability did not appear so great when the little disparity of years, which there often was, between mother and daughter was taken into account. He could conceive cases of men desiring to marry their late wives' mothers, or their late wives' daughters, in which case the objection of age would not apply. And the question was complicated by the present law of divorce, which, however, he held to be altogether unlawful. If marriage with a deceased wife's sister were held lawful, would it not follow that a man who had divorced his wife would be able to marry her sister? He decided against the proposal even on no higher ground than that of custom, believing it was not well to shock the national feeling with regard to the sanctity of the merriage law. St. Augustine had said— Si autem iniquum est aviditate possidendi transgredi limitem agrorum, quanto est iniquius libidine concumbendi subvertere limitem morurm. Custom had hitherto preserved the freedom of the relationship of sister-in-law, by preventing its being changed into that of wife, and he hoped the custom would prevail, even at the expense of those few men who might thereby be prevented from having the wives they longed for.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. Sclater-Booth.)


said, that as he had brought the subject forward on former occasions, he wished to make some few observations. He objected to the hon. Member who had just spoken making use of the word libido as applied to the marriages under discussion; by so doing the hon. Member had put the question on a low and entirely untenable issue. The question was purely one of religious liberty. If these marriages were prohibited by the law of God they ought also to be prohibited by the laws of the country; and, if they were permitted by the law of God, we had no right to impose restrictions which the great Author of our being had not imposed. If it were said they were constructively imposed, he replied that if they were not directly imposed by Divine command it was not for them to invent new restrictions. The arguments against the Bill had been drawn from the cases of the upper classes in society, and not of the lower ranks, which he believed were mainly affected by the Bill. This was emphatically a poor man's question. A poor man with three or four children who lost his wife, and who was dependent upon weekly wages, could not leave his children without some female supervision, and, in many cases, the person to whom he could most readily turn was the sister of his deceased wife; but, in a house containing limited sleeping accommodation, it was not decent or conformable to usage or morality that an unmarried sister of the late wife should be allowed to remain in the house unless her presence there had been consecrated by marriage. He did not believe that there were only a few cases of that kind. He could produce scores of instances to show the inconvenience and shock to morality which had been inflicted by the present state of the law. At the earliest times these marriage prohibitions did not exist. They were unknown in the Roman law, and it was not until ascetic notions began to prevail in the Church in the 3rd and 4th centuries that these restrictions were thought of; but when they began they were multiplied to absurdity, and became unbearable. A man was prohibited from marrying within the seventh degree of consanguinity; within the seventh degree of affinity; and even within the seventh degree of spiritual affinity; so that if a man stood godfather to a friend's daughter he was prohibited from marrying within the seventh degree of even that constructive relationship. At last, however, some of these prohibitions were removed by one of the Councils, and the degrees of consanguinity and affinity to which the prohibition extended were reduced to four. At the Reformation it was determined, and especially in England, that the marriage law should be made to rest upon the basis of Scripture, and brought as nearly as possible into accordance with the Levitical law. It was necessary to refer it to the Levitical law, because the only place in the Bible in which the marriage law was found was in Leviticus. But then followed the contradictory legislation of the reigns of Henry VIII., Mary, and Elizabeth, when Royal marriages, the legitimacy of Royal children, and the succession to the Crown, depended on the construction of the law. The Scriptural authority in the case must be dealt with as a whole. It was a remarkable thing that marriage with a decased wife's sister was not prohibited by the Scriptures; indeed it was almost in terms enjoined. The only place in the Bible in which marriage with a wife's sister was mentioned was the 18th verse of the 18th chapter of Leviticus, in which it was said—" Neither shalt thou take a wife to her sister to vex her besides the other in her lifetime." The limitation as to the period of time, "in her lifetime," showed that the prohibition was removed after the expiration of that time. But the opponents of this Bill went back to another verse in the same chapter, where a woman was prohibited from marrying her deceased husband's brother, and argued that, by a parity of reasoning, marriage with a deceased wife's sister must also be prohibited. But a few chapters further on a woman was actually enjoined, under certain circumstances, to marry the brother of her deceased husband, so that, if they were to reason by analogy they might hold that a man was also permitted to marry the sister of his deceased wife. He would lay no stress, however, on so absurd an argument; but he wished to point out, with regard to the Levitical prohibition, that, as polygamy was not allowed in this country, that prohibition could not be held to apply to the state of the law as it existed in this country at the present day. As to the assertion that 90 per cent of the population were against these marriages, he denied that there was any proof of that and cer- tainly nothing could be more reasonable than that a new House of Commons should have an opportunity of expressing its opinion. The supporters of the Bill were to be found among persons of all politics and of all religious denominations; and the arguments urged during the last few years had produced such an effect, that he anticipated an increased majority. Numbers of persons, finding no Scriptural prohibition, had contracted such marriages without losing self-respect. They were sympathized with in their position, and their conduct was approved. Would Parliament have legalized the marriages contracted before the statute law was altered, had it considered them contrary to the law of nature or to morality? The weight of argument was entirely in favour of the Bill, and he hoped the new House of Commons would redress the evil complained of.


was little prepared for the shape in which the question had been brought before the House. Viewing the mixed composition of this body, which contained members of so many religious communions and representatives of such various schools of thought, he had been led very much to doubt how far the religious argument could be fittingly introduced, and how far the ecclesiastical aspects of the question ought to have formed the subject of debate. He had, therefore, merely prepared himself to argue that there were grave social considerations which should induce the House without demur to treat this Bill as it had been treated by the last Parliament and by the Parliament before that. The hon. and learned Common Serjeant had, however, imported the religious argument into the debate, and had proceeded to deal with the vexed chapter of Leviticus; on him, therefore, rested the responsibility of the future course of the discussion. The hon. and learned Gentleman had quoted, as an authority in favour of his view, a passage from a letter written by Bishop Jewell on this question; and when he (Mr. Beresford Hope) heard that, often as he had been astonished by many people's statements, he had seldom in all his life felt more thoroughly astounded at the extent of human assurance—even the House would be surprised to hear that Jewell's letter was an elaborate and learned argument in favour of the prohibition, the words that were brought forward by the Common Serjeant being the recital of the other side brought forward for the purpose of confutation. That letter had been so often quoted in that House that he should not have thought it worth while to refer to it, if the hon. and learned Member had not brought forward a garbled extract from it. The manner in which the hon. and learned Gentleman had dealt with the passage reminded him of the mode in which a certain preacher, in arguing against the prevailing extravagance in female dress, had quoted from Scripture the words—"top not come down." In his letter Bishop Jewell said— We must needs think that God in that chapter has especially and namely forbidden certain degrees, not as leaving all marriages lawful which he has not thereby expressly forbidden, but that thereby, as by infallible precepts, we might be able to rule the rest. This argument was conclusive against the view of the hon. and learned Member. It had been contended that there was no absolute prohibition in the chapter of Leviticus of these marriages, but it had been most conclusively shown, as by other authorities so by the Bishop, that Moses, acting under Divine authority, had, in drawing up the code contained in that chapter, in each case brought up one only of two alternative cases, leaving the other prohibited by implication. If the case of the brother's widow did not rule that of the wife's sister, it would follow that, while the paternal aunt-in-law was forbidden, the mother's-brother's-widow was allowed; and that a man could not be condemned for taking his own daughter in marriage, although restrained from seeking his mother. Equally a woman was prohibited from marrying her grandfather; but as the alternative case was not mentioned, on the assumption that the argument of the hon. and learned Common-Serjeant was correct, he might be advised, in the words of Mr. Drummond, to go and marry his grandmother like a man. There was another passage in Bishop Jewell's letter in which he said—"Thus you would see that God Himself would have us expound one degree by another." And that was the document which the hon. and learned Member had tried to palm off upon the House as an argument in favour of his proposition. He did not believe that the hon. and learned Member could have been knowingly guilty of such an attempt; but he hoped that what had passed would be a warning to the Common Serjeant's friends, composing the Marriage Law Reform Association, or rather to the one "M.A." who was the only member of that body who had ever revealed his identity—that the next time they drew up a brief, for the instruction of their advocate in the House, they should take care that the statements which it contained might be a little less reckless as to facts, and a little more scrupulous as to argument. Much had been attempted to be made by the hon. and learned Gentleman of the enactment in Leviticus that a man was not allowed to marry the sister of his wife during the life of the latter, and much had been predicated by him of the opinion of the late Dr. M'Caul. It was, however, simply idle to bring forward, that divine as the one great Hebraist of the age, which had produced men like Pusey or W. H. Mill; and many eminent Hebrew scholars were of opinion that in this and in a number of other instances, the Hebrew word, translated by a common metaphor, "sister" merely meant "woman." That word occurred sixty-nine times in the Hebrew Scriptures, and he understood that in thirty-four of these cases it certainly did mean "woman," and could not be translated "sister." Perhaps the Common Serjeant had forgotten that in the very passage under dispute "woman" was the alternative marginal version of the disputed authorized translation. The special exception of the child-less brother's widow has also been brought forward. It must not, however, be forgotten that the Jewish system exhibited a rudimentary and imperfect code of morality compared with Christianity. A system which connived at polygamy could not be regarded in the same light as the religion of the New Testament. These relaxations, it is clear, were introduced not with the pleasure of God, but by concession to man's imperfection, while the perfect law of purity was reserved for the Gospel dispensation. In all matters, accordingly, of positive prohibition, the law might safely be taken as the interpreter of the Gospel, not so in questions of relaxation. The New Testament contained a striking illustration of that proposition. The Sadducees, who were the men of progress of their time, and who were rather fond of finding fault with any- thing that interfered with the gratification of their wishes, tried to entrap our Lord into some statement which would suit their views; and how were they met? They were met by a general answer, giving the go-by to the whole question, as one not worthy of discussion under the new dispensation, and laying down the higher and nobler law which was to dominate that dispensation for all time. It had been stated that in the case of Roman Catholics dispensation was frequently granted in the case of a man wishing to marry the sister of his deceased wife; but was the House aware that the first Pope who had ever granted such a dispensation was Alexander VI., whose name was the most infamous in history of all the occupants of the Papal See? This Pope first made the fatal concession to please a Sovereign—Emanuel of Portugal—who desired to marry his sister-in-law, one of the daughters of Ferdinand and Isabella, herself the sister of that Catherine whose marriage with the two Tudor brothers was the immediate cause of our own happy Reformation. Reference had frequently been made to the Continental marriage law upon this subject—to that of Prussia, Switzerland, and America; but were the hon. Members who asked us to copy the system of those countries prepared to carry the analogy out in all its relations? Were they prepared to substitute for the marriage laws of England those of Prussia in all their entirety? Were they prepared to legalize the marriage of a man with his own niece, the law authorizing which was a shame to many | of the Protestant nations of Europe; or were they prepared to accept the Law of Divorce which allowed either consort to cast off the other whenever either of them chose, from mere dislike or absolute caprice? The state of the marriage law in Germany was, as a German witness said before the Commission of 1847, sufficient to make a man cover his face for shame. It was idle to say that there was no connection between the different incidents. It was a fact that the marriage law of England, in all its particulars, was stricter than that of other countries. It was a fact, too, as he ventured to assume, that the customs of domestic life were purer, happier, and more stable in England. He could not separate these facts, and, in maintenance of the English system in its solidity, he resisted this great breach which the learned Gentleman proposed to make in the integrity of our institutions. This Bill pretended to have been introduced in the interest of the poor man, but nothing could be more fallacious than to regard this as a poor man's question. The Commission which inquired into the matter in 1847—a body which certainly went into the case with an a priori desire to make out a report favourable to a change in the law—professed to find 1,500 cases of these marriages, out of which, by their own showing, forty only occurred in humble life. And if the question were fairly considered, it was evident that the poorer classes could not be interested to any cognizable extent in the proposed change, because families were so separated in that class of life by the exigencies of their labour, that frequently a man had no opportunity of becoming acquainted with his wife's sister, who might be engaged in service in a different part of the country, while the woman whom he would most naturally take as the best good second mother to his children would be the active, cleverly, good-tempered neighbour, with whose housewifely qualilities he had become acquainted by experience. Then it was said that the aunt was the natural guardian of her sister's children. That might be so as long as she remained their aunt alone, and did not become the parent of rival claimants nearer and dearer to herself; but the moment she became the step-mother then her affection for her nephews and nieces was put into competition with that for her own children. It required but a slight acquaintance with human nature to see that in this case the special interest above that of any other stepmother would soon vanish and possibly give place to other far less amiable feelings. It had been stated that these marriages occurred among the poor under circumstances calling for special indulgence. He had shown how small was the proportion, but he could add that so did other marriages of a nature which could not be mentioned without horror, and yet it was not proposed to legalize the latter—nay, so conscious were the promoters of the weakness and selfishness of their case, that they neither proposed to deal with the parallel case of the brother's widow, nor with the more remote affinity of the wife's niece. If they were prepared to go to the extent proposed by those who advocated this Bill, where were they to stop? The result of Lord Lyndhurst's Act was to secure the legitimacy of the children of those who had previously contracted these marriages, which were then not ab initio void and null, but merely voidable during the lifetime of both parties, and to render these marriages in future absolutely void and illegal. He did not defend the consistency or the morality of that Act; but it was passed, as it received the Royal Assent, with the view of putting an end to a great anomaly which existed in our law upon the subject, and as far as it was an argument it told against the present Bill. These were the reasons which he hoped would be sufficient to induce the House not to consent to the passing of the Bill. The advocates of the measure were a mere section of a section, a mere fragment of a fragment—in fact, only those few widowers with unmarried sisters-in-law, who were anxious to contract the particular marriages it proposed to legalize. It might be said, why not let them go and make marriages of this kind if they liked? That would be all very well if they alone were affected, and if all other people could stand just where they did before; but this Bill could not be passed without upsetting the whole of the existing system of relationship in this country, without causing a breach between every married woman and her sister, and without outraging the feelings of that half of the human race which would be the victims of the change. In the name, therefore, of the women of England, he prayed the House not to pass the Bill, and not to let it be recorded in history that the first Session of the Reformed Parliament initiated an age such as those spoken of by the Latin poet— Fæcunda culpæ sæcula nuptias Primum inquinavere, et genus, et domos, Hoc fonte derivata clades In patriam populumque fluxit.


said, he should have been content to give a silent vote in favour of the Bill had it not been for a reference which had been made by the hon. Member for North Hampshire (Mr. Sclater-Booth) to an opinion he had formerly expressed upon this subject. Some years ago he (Sir George Grey) had certainly thought that it was not desirable to continue the agitation of the question, as there was at the time no reasonable hope of bringing it to a satisfactory conclusion; he thought it inexpedient to encourage the hope of a change of the law which might, by inducing persons to contract these marriages, involve them in much distress and misery. But a new Parliament having since been elected, and elected by new constituencies, he felt that those who disapproved of the existing law were fully entitled to take the sense of the House of Commons on a question in which the interest and the happiness of the working classes in particular were deeply involved. He had never argued the subject upon theological grounds, and he thought that such arguments were not suited to the atmosphere of the House of Commons. In his opinion it was the duty of every man to satisfy his own mind upon the theological question whether those marriages were or were not prohibited by the Divine law. For his part he had satisfied himself that there was no such prohibition, and he therefore felt at perfect liberty to regard the question in its influence on the social interests of the community. He had on several former occasions stated that he thought the balance of argument, as far as those interests were concerned, was in favour of an alteration of the law. He believed that the Act of 1834, known as Lord Lyndhurst's Act, was perfectly indefensible, and left the subject in a most unsatisfactory condition. That Act drew a hard and fast line, legalizing marriages of that description which had been previously contracted, while it declared that all such marriages should for the future be absolutely void. It was impossible, however, to suppose that the authors of that Act looked upon those unions as incestuous, for they would never in that case have asked Parliament to sanction them under any circumstances. But he did not consider it necessary that he should then enter into a discussion of the general merits of the question, and he would only repeat his belief that the opponents of the existing law were now justified in again bringing their views under the consideration of Parliament.


Mr. Speaker, perhaps I may be allowed to offer a few observations upon this Question, for, during the many times that it has been before the House since I have been a Member of it, I have never opened my lips upon it, although I have on several occasions voted in favour of the Bill. I recollect many years ago, when the Bill for the admission of the Jews to this House was before Parliament, that an eminent member of the party opposite, on one occasion asked me why I had never addressed the House on that question, and I gave him this answer—I said that I had never yet heard an argument against the admission of the Jews which required an answer, and, therefore, that I should find myself in great difficulty if I attempted to meet the sentiment of hon. Gentlemen who opposed that Bill, because, as we all now shall admit, looking back to that question, there was no valid argument against the admission of the Jews to Parliament; but there was a very strong and honest sentiment in the minds of many Members, although it was a sentiment which it was utterly impossible for us to meet by any argument. I must say the Member to whom I refer admitted frankly that it was more a question of sentiment than of argument. I have felt exactly the same as to the question before the House. I have never heard yet—and I am satisfied I never shall hear—an argument such as an honest and learned lawyer would feel he could fairly offer to a learned Judge against the proposition of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Marylebone. As in the case of the Jews it is purely a matter of sentiment—of strong sentiment, of honest sentiment; but in discussion it places us who are in favour of the Bill under certain difficulty. It is that difficulty which has prevented me in times past, on many occasions when the Bill has been before the House, from taking any part in the discussion; but, at this time, I feel an accumulated sense of the great injustice which the present state of the law creates, and also of the greater probability that the law may be altered; and knowing as I do grievous and fearful cases of injury and suffering under the present law, I come forward at last. I am not content further to give a silent vote, but I feel compelled to say what I think may influence some persons to bring this question now to a final and just settlement. Sir, I shall not follow the ecclesiastical speeches of the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Beresford Hope) and the hon. and gallant Member for the county of Longford (Mr. O'Reilly). Those speeches may be said to have been almost purely ecclesiastical, and I think the less we have of the ecclesiastical in this House the better. I recollect that a very distinguished relation of my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General in one of his poems speaks of— Warriors, lords and priests, All these sore ills that vex and desolate our mortal life. Little sympathy as I have with warriors and lords as devastators and rulers of mankind, I am not sure that the mischiefs which they have inflicted upon our race have been greater than those we have suffered from the domination and tyranny of priests. Why, the hon. and gallant Member for the county of Langford read a portion of a letter from a very eminent ecclesiastic in this country—a gentleman for whom I have in many respects great admiration and respect—but he did not read the whole of the letter. But what the letter was intended to state was this—that so far as the Catholic Church was concerned they felt it a grievance that in this country the law is as it is, because under it the dispensations of their Church have no effect. They are anxious that the members of their Church should be relieved from this law, but still remain subject to the law of their own Church; and they are content to impose this law upon the greater number—the millions of this country who do not belong to that Church. I think that is an argument which, atleast in this House of Commons, will have no weight, and that we may entirely dismiss it from this discussion. Generally it is admitted, I think, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth (Sir George Grey) says, and says truly, that there is no authority in the Old Testament to justify or to necessitate the present state of our law. The hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Beresford Hope) gives us his interpretation of a certain passage in the book of Leviticus; and, if his interpretation be true, it only upsets the authority of the passage with regard to this Bill. As it stands, the passage is in favour of the Bill, if English be English. Has he proposed to alter it? He merely destroyed its authority in favour of the Bill, but he does not establish its authority in favour of the existing law. If, then, there be no Divine law in the case, I would say to the House of Commons—"When you come to a matter of so vast and surpassing an interest to those concerned, and propose to interfere with the natural liberty in this great matter, surely you ought to have a clear and overwhelming case." Such a case has never been stated. The only case we have heard stated is a dreamy and visionary one, and it is generally not one of facts, but rather of prophecy. It is denied and repudiated by multitudes. It is altogether disregarded by many other nations, particularly by that nation which most resembles our own—the English nation on the other side of the Atlantic. If there be no Divine law, then, against this proposition, where is the natural law? What is the reason that any man in the world may not marry any other woman in the world, provided she be willing? Why, it is only the reason of natural kinship or relationship of blood. In the Church of the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Beresford Hope), and, for aught I know, in the Church of the hon. Member for Longford (Mr. O'Reilly), marriages are permitted between first cousins. Is there any man so utterly devoid of common sense as to say that, on every natural ground, there is not much more objection to marriages between first cousins than with a deceased wife's sister?


I never said so. Marriages between first cousins are prohibited by the Catholic law, exactly as are marriages with a deceased wife's sister.


I said I was not aware what was the state of the Catholic law on the point. But I turn to the Church of England, and surely, after swallowing that camel, there is no need to strain at this gnat. What does the Chancellor of the Exchequer say if a man leaves a legacy to his wife's sister? Does he charge 1 percent or 10 per cent? Why, of course, she is not a relation in blood. She is held to be entirely a stranger, and Parliament has determined, and rightly determined, she is to pay, if anybody is to pay, the higher rate of taxation. Now, let us not mete out one measure in one matter and another measure in another matter, but let us look at this question from a practical and common sense point of view. The hon. Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Beresford Hope) with that latitude of assertion which he so often indulges in, says 90 per cent of the peo- ple of this country are in favour of the present state of things. [Mr. BERESFORD HOPE: I never quoted that figure at all.] Then I must be mistaken, and I apologize to the hon. Gentleman; but I think he said he was pleading the cause of millions against the few, and the right hon. Member for North Hampshire (Mr. Sclater-Booth) spoke more strongly of there being 90 per cent in favour of the law as it stands. Now, there is not the slightest proof of that. The proof to the contrary is this—that, generally speaking—and I speak from my own knowledge of many instances—there is no feeling of condemnation whatever in the public mind against persons who contract these marriages which are forbidden by the law of the country. I might appeal to the hon. Member for the University of Cambridge, or the right hon. Member for North Hampshire, or any other Member of the House who knows cases in which marriages of this kind are contracted, to say, do they themselves deem the man -who marries his deceased wife's sister a profligate man? No, not one of you deem him so. I daresay the hon. Member for the University of Cambridge has such a man for his bosom friend. Is there any man here who regards a woman so married as an immoral person, as a person who is not fit to visit his house, and whose society he thinks would be likely to taint the minds of his wife and daughters? No such thing exists; and if there be children of these marriages what happens? Although you pity them, because of the injustice of the law, there is not a man of you cruel enough—I had almost used a harsher word—to point to those children by the almost odious name of bastard. There has been mention of religious societies, and the evidence has been given of men most eminent in the Christian religion and representing almost all the Churches into which the professors of that religion are divided. The hon. and learned Member for Marylebone (Mr. T. Chambers) referred to the very small society of which I am a member. Now I shall say nothing of the women of that society which I believe any other man who knows anything of their character would not say; and I say that there are no women in the world to be found of purer character or more stainless lives. And yet I undertake to say—and I undertake to say it without fear of contradiction—in that society these marriages are not in any way reproved or condemned; and when they do take place, which in so small a body is not often, the discipline of the society is not brought into action against the parties who have contracted them. I am assured there is nothing so good for discussions of this kind as a short phrase, especially if it sounds well, and does not mean much. Well, then, I am told by a great authority that this Bill will abolish sisters-in-law. Now there is no man in the world would be more sorry that sisters-in-law should be abolished than I should, for I know nobody more indebted to sisters-in-law than I am. In the New England States—and there is no more instructed and moral society in the Christian world than in the New England States—these marriages are not discouraged; they take place with ordinary frequency, and I never heard anybody from those States say that sisters-in-law were abolished, and that they were not the same valuable, and the same admirable, and the same loveable persons in a family that they are | found to be in so many families in this country. The notion of abolishing sisters-in-law by the passing of this Bill appears to me preposterous and extravagant, and the phrase is one which no man ought to use who is accustomed to exactness in argument, or who does not wish to get an undue advantage over those with whom he is discussing a question. The hon. Gentleman who spoke from that Bench (Mr. Sclater-Booth) dwelt particularly on the argument of social inconvenience—I think he said he would even rest the question on it. He said that the social inconvenience arising from this Bill would be so great that he must oppose it, and, indeed, he thinks it: is very improper that a measure like this should be brought forward Session after Session in this House. But this social inconvenience has never been proved, Is there any measure that has ever passed in this House on which there has not been somebody to tell us of the social inconvenience which would happen from it if passed into law? I have heard this question discussed many times in the society of women, women of, cultivated minds and admirable in, their lives, and I must say I never heard any of those fearful things foretold which we have sometimes heard foretold from that side of the House, and which we may hear possibly from this side. It is proved that in every Christian country of the world but this, under certain conditions, and under certain difficulties not insurmountable, these marriages are permitted, and may be contracted. It is notorious that in many countries the freedom is perfect; but no man has ever had any proof from those countries that the social inconveniences, which we are now threatened with as a consequence of the passing of the Bill, have been there experienced, or that there is any disposition on account of them to change the law, and revert to the custom which prevails with so much social inconvenience in this country. What should Parliament and the nation do in a matter of this kind? Surely freedom should be the great rule; surely men and women are themselves, on the whole, the best judges of the matrimonial contracts they should make, and if there be any hindrance—if Parliament steps in to say they shall not be united, though neither Scripture nor nature has forbidden the union, surely Parliament should have a better reason than a visionary prophetic anticipation of social inconveniences, which, if we are to be guided by the experience of other nations, there is no fear will ever arise amongst us. Well, then, it is merely a sentiment we are combating, and one which it is not easy to overcome. An hon. Gentleman said the other night that there is no arguing with fear, and it may be that there is no arguing with apprehension, or with a belief that, if this Bill passes, sisters-in-law will be abolished, and our whole social and family system disturbed. But I trust the House will follow what I believe is the general sentiment of the nation—not that you should encourage by law these marriages, or any particular marriages, but where there is no fundamental objection on which to base your legislation, that you should leave men and women to their natural freedom in this great matter. I have always thought that the matter referred to by two or three speakers—that of the interests of the children—is of immense importance in dealing with the question. Apart from the consideration of the freedom of the man and woman who propose to marry, this matter is of the greatest importance to the motherless children who are left, and it is notorious beyond dispute that there have been numbers of cases—and there might have been multitudes more if this law had not existed—where a dying mother has hoped that her sister might become; in a nearer sense than as their aunt, the protector and friend of the children whom she was about to leave behind her. Is it not a common thing—I know it is cruel and brutal—to represent in stories and on the stage, that step-mothers are not kind to the children they come to take care of. I believe that in the vast majority of cases no statement can be more slanderous than that; but if there be anything in it, surely the woman who comes as an aunt to take charge of the household, and take those children to her bosom, may be free from any charge of that kind, and the husband may look to her with the utmost confidence to discharge the offices of a parent to those who have been bereft of their mother. Then another point to be considered is the respective effects of this law upon the poor and upon the rich. I will not put it upon the ground of the claim of the poor. I put it on the higher ground of the natural claim to justice and freedom, and the right to justice among all classes. But if you look to the practical result, you find it to be that a man who can bear the expense of taking himself and his wife that is to be to some foreign country, can there marry in a manner which, if it does not meet the requirements of your law, meets the requirements of a much higher law—the law of his own conscience; and therefore such marriages are every day taking place. But the poor man is bound by the conditions of a particular system, out of the limits of which he cannot move, and he here finds that, unless by subterfuge, and perhaps by fraud, he is unable to contract such a marriage; and by consequence evils to morality often arise, which it is not necessary in a discussion of this kind to detail. The law is of that nature that it is utterly impossible to make it just and equal to rich and poor in this country. The rich can evade it; the poor have no outlets and loopholes. You have them in your clutches,—in the trammels of this law,—and they cannot escape. I trust that the hon. Members of this House, who are so often called upon by the country to pro- tect the helpless by their legislation, will feel that perhaps no single question can come before them which more appeals to their sympathies for liberty and justice than that which is before them to-day. I say, then, in a sentence, we are asked to deny a rightful liberty for the sake of yielding to that which I believe is neither a case nor an argument, but which is merely a sentiment. We have overthrown a good many sentiments since I came into this House, with immense advantage to the people of this country. We have cleared from the floor of this House questions which have troubled us for many years. This question has haunted us for years, and it is like the others—it cannot be laid to rest by a fiat of this House, except by doing justice; because, in a country like this, with freedom of writing, and freedom of speech, and freedom of action, and freedom to pass from the country, these marriages will be contracted, and this law will be constantly protested against by the force of public opinion; and from year to year Parliament will be asked to do that which they may time after time refuse, but which at length they will certainly enact. The hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Beresford Hope) spoke, I think, in language not becoming of my hon. and learned Friend who brought forward this Bill (Mr. T. Chambers). He spoke of him as being employed by somebody out-of-doors to advocate this question. We may have, in all our arguments and discussions of this question, friends and supporters out-of-doors, as some of us have had many; but does any man who heard my hon. and learned Friend in his admirable and conclusive speech, doubt that he has as strong an opinion in favour of the Bill from the light of his own reason and conscience as any hon. Gentleman on those Benches, or on these, can possibly have against it? Let us not, then, treat this as a question merely to joke about, or merely to talk ecclesiastical rubbish about, or as a question on which we can speak depreciating language of the hon. and learned Member of this House who has brought it forward; but let us look at it as one that affects many thousands of the people of this country in their nearest and deepest interests. I know men, I know women, married in violation of the existing law, who are looking forward to the result of this debate with an interest which it is utterly impossible that all the debates of this Session can exceed, or even approach. On a question so grave to them, and by your own showing admitting of so much doubt, I think I may entreat this House to give, by an emphatic vote, their sanction to this principle—for it is all I ask—that the common liberty of men and women in this country, in. the chief concern of their lives, shall not be interfered with by a law of Parliament which has no foundation in nature, and which, while pretending to sanction from revelation, is, in fact, contrary to its dictates.


said, it was difficult for an opponent of this Bill, to discuss it after such a speech from the greatest orator of the day, who, with evident sincerity, told the House beforehand that there was nothing against the Bill but sentiment—that there never had been an argument against its principle and never could be. Happily, however, there was nothing of party in this question. A Conservative might entertain very lax views about the marriage laws, and it would be equally consistent of a Liberal and a Free Trader to be a Protectionist in this matter. He wished he could avoid a public maintenance of the opinions which he entertained on this question; but, obscure though the position which he held in the House of Commons was, he felt that, under present circumstances, it would not become him to do so. He could not altogether understand the ground on which this question was forced on the attention of Parliament Session after Session; because, though he did not deny the statement of his right hon. Friend (Mr. Bright) that many persons were looking to the issue of this debate with the greatest interest, it was undeniable that the great majority of the inhabitants of these islands, of both sexes, were perfectly content, so far as their own practice and their own opinions were concerned, with the present state of the law, and that, as far as their own individual convictions went, they did not desire to have it altered. [''No, no!"] He had never heard it contested that the great majority of the people of this country, with regard to their own practice, were quite content to let the law remains as it Very many of them might think that as regarded others there is a hardship, but as far as their own convictions they are content with the law as it is. On what ground, then, did his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Marylebone (Mr. T. Chambers) put this Bill forward? It was not correct to say that they were merely asked to retrace their steps—that the prohibition had been introduced for the first time by the Act known as Lord Lyndhurst's Act. This marriage with a deceased wife's sister had always been a bad marriage, and could have been sot aside by the action of the ecclesiastical courts. Although it might be true that the procedure of these courts was bad, irregular, and corrupt, and that they had from time to time lent themselves to evasions of the law, still they had operated as a bar to these marriages, and those who contracted them knew that they did so at considerable risk. No doubt, the marriage law bad varied the form of procedure against this particular kind of marriage, but the law itself had remained the same from the earliest times, and he was not aware that in the case of incestuous marriages—such as marriages between a father and daughter or a brother and sister—there was any other way of setting the marriage aside than by the action of the ecclesiastical courts. Well, the law prohibiting marriage with a deceased wife's sister having been approved and acted upon by the great majority of the people of this country, he thought the onus lay on those who attempted to alter it to make out a much better case than they had put before the House of Commons. He did not base his objection to the Bill on a religious ground, except so far as this—that he thought it could not be denied that our legislation in reference to marriage had proceeded on the assumption commonly made—he did not say rightly made—that certain marriages were forbidden by the laws of religion. He was not ashamed to own that it did appear to him that both the Old Testament and the New were against marriage with a deceased wife's sister; but he never thought of urging his religious opinions against those of other men. A man's religious opinions were sufficient for his own conscience, but they were bad bases of argument against persons who did not believe in them. Therefore, he never would force on any man who did not believe in them arguments drawn from religion. But he was entitled to say this that, rightly or wrongly, for centuries, from the earliest times, our legislation had proceeded on the assumption to which he had referred, and that assumption had entered into our social life and our common morality. That being so, was there any foundation in past history—he spoke with trembling after his right hon. Friend's denunciation of ecclesiastical history—for such an alteration of the law as was now proposed? The Christian Churches—the Eastern and the Western, the Greek and the Roman, the so-called orthodox and the so-called heretical—for the first fifteen centuries had prohibited these marriages. As to the history of the Roman Catholic Church since the Reformation, it was no authority for us. The Roman Catholic Church had multitudinous prohibitions, involving almost impossible restrictions, with a large power of dispensation in ecclesiastical hands to mitigate their severity. Every one knew that in the Roman Catholic Church there were prohibitions to marriage between relations, which, on application to the ecclesiastical authorities were, he would not say often, but sometimes removed. The prohibitions of the Church of England were few, but they were enforced. In his opinion our system was the better of the two; but, be that as it might, he held that the ecclesiastical arrangements of Roman Catholic countries were really no arguments for the House of Commons in legislating on those subjects. Dispensations were sometimes granted in Roman Catholic countries for marriages which the people of this country would not like to see legalized. Nor could the reference which had been made to other nations afford us an authority on the point. They knew that in some nations brothers and sisters of the half-blood had been allowed to marry. Everyone who would give himself the trouble to think on the matter would see that the laws of marriage must be conventional. Marriages which might be right and decent in one age might be wrong and hateful and improper in another age. He admitted that there was no natural horror of the marriages in question, and that there was no bar created by the operations of nature against such marriages; but what he contended was that the existing law was in accordance with the sentiment of the country. De- spite what had been said by his right hon. Friend on there being no argument against the Bill, he hoped that his hon. and learned Friend would bear with him when he said that it was a Bill without principle. "Why did it not go on to legalize other marriages which, if its principle were worth anything, ought to be legalized? "Why did it not legalize marriage with a deceased husband's brother, and with a wife's niece? From what he had heard of his hon. and learned Friend's speech, he concurred with his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade that it was an able and exhaustive speech. But why did the Bill stop short in the application of what was said to be its principle? Then, was it to catch the votes of the Scotch Members that, while the Bill would be retrospective in England and in Ireland, it would only be prospective in Scotland. The child of a marriage contracted in England or Ireland, under this Bill, would be legitimate in England or Ireland, and would inherit English or Irish estates, whereas the child of the same marriage would be held illegitimate in Scotland.


said, his hon. and learned Friend could not have heard him when he stated that it was intended to alter the Bill in respect of the point just referred to by his hon. and learned Friend.


said, he was glad to hear that explanation, for the matter required it. No doubt the Bill could be altered in Committee, but having it merely prospective as regarded Scotland, when the Motion for the second reading was still to be carried, had appeared very like a clever arrangement for securing Scotch votes. This was in truth a private Bill. It was the result of a paid agitation, and of the efforts—he by no means said of the unnatural and improper efforts, but undoubtedly of the efforts—of a few rich men, who, having broken the existing law, wished to repeal it against the wishes of the great majority of the English nation, He said that was a very bad principle of legislation, and a very bad precedent for the House of Commons to act on. If any question in the world was a woman's question, this was a woman's question. It was said that the process of conversion was going on; but the great majority of the women of this country were still unconverted to the doctrine of his hon. and learned Friend; and he asked the House whether it would be a reasonable thing or a generous thing to legislate on the marriage law against the will and the feelings of one of the sexes concerned in the matter? But it was also a man's question; and he objected to the Bill because it destroyed one of the most blessed and delightful relations in which a man can stand towards a woman, and narrowed the circle of that affection into which passion could not enter; which was the bust and noblest cultivation of the highest and purest parts of our nature, and to which he believed any hon. Gentleman, if he did justice to himself and spoke candidly, would say, as his right hon. Friend had said, he owed more than he could well acknowledge. But there was also this further objection, that it was an attempt to legislate, not to protect a minority, but to injure a majority. It was in truth a Bill for the abolition of sisters-in law to please some few who wanted to marry them. He thought that the proposal was not fair, reasonable, unselfish, or really liberal; and with all possible respect, therefore, for those who differed from him, and sincere regret for the un-happiness which had undoubtedly, in some cases resulted from the breaking of the, law, he trusted that a Liberal Parliament, believing this to be an old law, believing it to be a good law, and believing it to be a wise law, believing, moreover, that it had worked well hitherto, and that no case had been brought forward against, it would refuse to allow it to be altered, and would reject the second reading of the Bill.

Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 243; Noes 144: Majority 99.

Akroyd, E. Beaumont, Capt. F.
Allen, W. S. Beaumont, H. F.
Amcotts, Col. W. C. Beaumont, W. B.
Anderson, G. Bentall, E. H.
Anstruther, Sir R. Bentinok, G. C.
Antrobus, E. Bonham-Carter, J.
Ayrton, A. S. Bourke, hon. R.
Backhouse, E. Bowring, E. A.
Baines, E. Brady, J.
Barclay, A. C. Brand, rt. hon. H.
Barrington, Viscount Brassey, H. A.
Bass, M. A. Brassey, T.
Baxter, W. E. Brewer, Dr.
Bazley, T. Bright, J. (Manchester)
Bright, rt. hon. J. Hadfield, G.
Brinckman, Captain Hanmer, Sir J.
Briscoe, J. I. Harcourt, W. G. G.V.V.
Brogden, A. Harris, J. D.
Brown, A. H. Hartington, Marquess of
Bruce, Lord C. Haviland-Burke, E.
Buxton, C. Headlam, rt. hon. T. E.
Campbell, H. Henderson, J.
Candlish, J. Henley, Lord
Carington, hn. Cap. W. Herbert, H. A.
Carnegie, hon. C. Hick, J.
Carter, Mr. Alderman Hill, A. S.
Cartwright, W. C. Hoare, Sir H. A,
Cave, T. Hodgkinson, G.
Cavendish, Lord F. C. Holms, J.
Cawley, C. E. Howard, hon. C. W. G.
Chadwick, D. Howard, J.
Cholmeley, Captain Hughes, W. B.
Clifton, Sir R. J. Illingworth, A.
Colebrooke, Sir T. E. James, H.
Collier, Sir R. P. Johnston, A.
Colthurst, Sir G. C. Johnston, W.
Cowen, J. Johnstone, Sir H.
Cowper, hon. H. F. Kavanagh, A. Mac M.
Crawford, R. W. King, hon. P. J. L.
Dalglish, H. Kingscote, Colonel
Dalrymple, D. Kirk, W.
Damer, Capt. Dawson- Knatchbull - Hugessen, E. H.
D'Arcey, M. P.
Davie, Sir H. R. F. Lambert, N. G.
Delahunty, J. Lawrence, W.
Denison, C. B. Lawson, Sir W.
Denman, hon. G. Lea, T.
Dent, J. D. Leatham, E. A.
Devereux, R. J. Lefevre, G. J. S.
Dick, F. Lewis, J. D.
Dickinson, S. S. Liddell, hon. H. G.
Digby, K.T. Locke, J.
Dilke, C. W. Lowe, rt. hon. R.
Dillwyn, L. L. Lowther, J.
Dodds, J. Lusk, A.
Dodson, J. G. Lyttelton, hon. C. G.
Downing, M'C. M'Arthur, W.
Dowse, R. M'Clure, T.
Edwardes, hon. Col. W. Macfie, R. A.
Egerton, Capt. hon. F. M'Mahon, P.
Enfield, Viscount Manners, Lord G. J.
Ennis, J. J. Marling, S. S.
Eykyn, R. Martin, C. W.
Fagan, Captain Meller, Colonel
Fawcett, H. Mellor, T. W.
Fielden, J. Merry, J.
Figgins, J. Miall, E.
Fitzmaurice, Lord E. Milbank, F. A.
Fitzwilliam, hn. C.W.W. Mitchell, T. A.
Fletcher, I. Moore, C.
Forster, C. Morgan, hon. Major
Forster, rt. hon. W. E. Morley, S.
Fortescue, hon. D. F. Morrison, W.
Fowler, W. Mundella, A. J.
French, rt. hon. Col. Muntz, P. H.
Galway, Viscount North, F.
Gilpin, C. Norwood, C. M.
Glyn, G. G. O'Loghlen, rt. hon. Sir C. M.
Goldsmid, Sir F. H.
Gower, hon. E. F. L. Onslow, G.
Gourley, E. T. O'Reilly-Dease, M.
Gray, Sir J. Palmer, J. H.
Grey, rt. hon. Sir G. Pease, J. W.
Grosvenor, Earl Peel, rt. hon. Sir R.
Grosvenor, Lord R. Pelham, Lord
Grosvenor, Capt. R. W. Philips, R. N.
Grove, T. F. Plimsoll, S.
Pochin, H. D. Smith, T. E.
pollard-Urquhart, W. Stacpoole, W.
Portman, hon. W. H. B. Stepney, Colonel
Potter, E. Stone, W. H.
Potter, T. B. Strutt, hon. H.
Powell, W. Sturt, Lt. Col. N.
Price, W. E. Talbot, C. R. M.
Price, W. P. Taylor, P. A.
Ramsden, Sir J. W. Tipping, W.
Rathbone, W. Tollemache, hon. F. J.
Read, C. S. Tollemache, J.
Rebow, J. G. Torrens, R. R.
Reed, C. Torrens, W. T. M'C.
Richard, H. Tracy, hon. C. R. D. H.
Richards, E. M. Trelawny, Sir J. S.
Ridley, M. W. Trevelyan, G. O.
Rothschild, Brn. L. N. de Vivian, A. P.
Rothschild, Brn. M. A. de Vivian, Cap. hn. J. C. W.
Rothschild, N. M. de Walsh, hon. A.
Russell, A. Wedderburn, Sir D.
Russell, H. West, H. W.
Rylands, P. Westhead, J. P. B.
St. Lawrence, Viscount Whalley, G. H.
Salomons, Mr. Ald. Wheelhouse, W. S. J.
Samuda, J. D'A. Whitwell, J.
Samuelson, B. Whitworth, T.
Samuelson, H. B. Williams, C. H.
Sartoris, E. J. Williamson, Sir H.
Scott, Sir W. Willyams, E. W. B.
Shaw, R. Wingfield, Sir C.
Shaw, W. Winterbotham, H. S. P.
Sheridan, H. B. Wright, Colonel
Sherlock, D. Young, A. W.
Sherriff, A. C.
Sidebottom, J. TELLERS.
Simeon, Sir J. Chambers, T.
Simon, Mr. Serjeant Bury, Viscount
Smith, J. B.
Allen, Major Cubitt, G.
Annesley, hon. Col. H. Dalrymple, C.
Assheton, R. Davenport, W. B.
Aytoun, R. S. Dawson, R. P.
Bailey, Sir J. R. Denison, E.
Barnett, H. Dimsdale, R.
Barttelot, Colonel Dowdeswell, W. E.
Bateson, Sir T. Dundas, F.
Beach, Sir M. H. Du Pre, C. G.
Beach, W. W. B. Egerton, E. C.
Benyon, R. Egerton, Sir P. G.
Blake, J. A. Egerton, hon. W.
Blennerhasset, Sir R. Elcho, Lord
Booth, Sir R. G. Esmonde, Sir J.
Bourne, Colonel Ewing, A. O.
Bright, R. Ewing, H. E. C.
Brise, Col. R. Feilden, H. M.
Broadley, W. H. H. Fellowes, E.
Burrell, Sir P. Finnie, W.
Cameron, D. Floyer, J.
Cartwright, F. Forde, Colonel
Cave, rt. hon. S. Forester, rt. hon. Gen.
Cavendish, Lord G. Fowler, R. N.
Charley, W. T. Gavin, Major
Child, Sir S. Gladstone, W. H.
Clive, Col. hon. G. W. Gooch, Sir D.
Cogan, rt. hon. W. H. F. Gore, J. R. O.
Cole, Col. hon. H. A. Grant, Col. hon. J.
Coleridge, Sir J. D. Graves, S. R.
Collins, T. Greville-Nugent, Col.
Conolly, T: Grieve, J. J.
Crichton, Viscount Guest, A. E.
Hambro, C. T. Northcote, rt. hon. Sir S. H.
Hamilton, I. T.
Hardy, rt. hon. G. O'Donoghue, The
Hardy, J. Paget, R. H.
Hardy, J. S. Parker, C. S.
Hay, Sir J. C. D. Parker, Major W.
Henley, rt. hon. J. W. Patten, rt. hon. Col. W.
Henniker - Major, hon. J. M. Peel, A. W.
Pemberton, E. L.
Hildyard, T. B. T. Percy, Earl
Holford, R. S. Phipps, C. P.
Holmesdale, Viscount Pim, J.
Holt, J. M. Raikes, H. C.
Hope, A. J. B. B. Robertson, D.
Hunt, rt. hon. G. W. Round, J.
Hutton, J. Sandon, Viscount
Ingram, H. F. M. Scott, Lord H. J. M. D.
Kekewich, S. T. Selwin - Ibbetson, Sir H. J.
Langton, W. H. P. G.
Legh, W. J. Shirley, S. E.
Lindsay, Col. R. L. Smith, A.
Lorne, Marquess of Smith, S. G.
Lowther, W. Smith, W. H.
M'Combie, W. Starkie, J. P. C.
Mackintosh, E. W. Stronge, Sir J. M.
M'Lagan, P. Sykes, C.
M'Laren, D. Sykes, Col. W. H.
Maitland, Sir A. C.R.G. Talbot, J. G.
Manners, rt. hn. Lord J. Tomline, G.
March, Earl of Turner, C.
Matheson, A. Turnor, E.
Maxwell, W. H. Verney, Sir H.
Miller, J. Walpole, rt. hon. S. H.
Milles, hon. G. W. Waterhouse, S.
Mills, C. H. Welby, W. E.
Monsell, rt. hon. W. Wethered, T. O.
Montgomery, Sir G. G. Whitmore, H.
Morgan, C. O. Williams, F. M.
Mowbray, rt. hon. J. R. Wise, H. C.
Neville-Grenville, R. Winn, R.
Newdegate, C. N. TELLERS.
Newport, Viscount Sclater-Booth, G.
Nicholson, W. O'Reilly, M. W.

Bill read a second time, and committed for Tuesday 4th May.

Main Question put, and agreed to.