HL Deb 22 March 1859 vol 153 cc483-527

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, which, as your Lordships are aware, is a Bill for rendering lawful marriage with a deceased wife's sister, it will not be requisite for me to trouble the House with any very lengthened observations. The subject has been so frequently, so fully, and so ably discussed, that I feel I could not hope to add the slightest weight to the arguments which have been already adduced upon this important subject. Indeed, my Lords, if it were otherwise, I should certainly not have ventured to propose to your Lordships a change in the existing law upon a subject so delicate and so vitally important as the law of marriage. But, my Lords, I may be asked, in the first place, how is it that after similar measures of this kind have been more than once rejected by your Lordships' House, and when even so lately as last Session of Parliament a measure, identical with this, was rejected by your Lordships' House—why do I now appeal to your Lordships to reconsider this question? I think, my Lords, a very simple answer may be found in the history of the progress of this question in public opinion. I have to ask your Lordships' attention to the facts of what has taken place during the last twenty years. As your Lordships are aware, the movement in favour of legalizing these marriages dates from shortly after the passing of the Act of 1835. That Act had been passed but a few years when the subject was again brought under consideration by Lord Wharncliffe, who pointed out most forcibly the evils which had arisen from the passing of that Act. In 1842, the late Lord Ellesmere proposed a measure for alleviating the evils which had arisen, but he failed in obtaining even the leave of the House to bring in the Bill. A Royal Commission was then appointed to inquire into the subject. The result of the inquiries conducted under that Commission was to prove that a very marked change had taken place in public opinion with reference to these marriages. In a following Session of Parliament, a Bill promoted for the purpose of remedying the evil consequences of the Act of 1835 passed its second reading in the other House of Parliament.

In 1850, a Bill having the same object in view, passed all three readings in the other House by a majority of ten on the third reading. In 1855 the majority for the Bill proposed by Mr. Heywood was only seven on the second reading, but last year the measure rejected by your Lordships' House was passed through the other House in all its stages by a considerable majority, and the Bill which I now hold in my hand has passed through the other House of Parliament by a majority in three successive divisions, namely, a majority of 70 on its introduction, 58 on the second reading, and a majority of 48 on the third reading. I mention these facts, my Lords, because they show the growth of public opinion in favour of authorizing these marriages as evidenced by the increasing majorities by which the Bill has passed in successive Sessions of Parliament through the other House. And under these circumstances, I think that although it may have been desirable that in the first instance time should be given for public opinion to pronounce itself more decidedly, it is now quite consistent with the dignity of your Lordships' House, that you should be now asked to reconsider your opinion. Before I notice some of the objections which have been raised to this measure, I wish to point out to your Lordships that the Bill carefully provides against violating scruples of those clergymen who object to celebrating these marriages. The Bill relates only to civil marriages, and it has been carefully provided that there should be no power conferred by it of compelling clergymen to solemnize marriages to which they entertain a conscientious objection. I think, my Lords, that is a very important provision, and calculated to remove many objections which have formerly been urged against the Bill.

Now, my Lords, what are the objections which are entertained and urged against the Bill? I think they may be divided into two classes. One represents the religious view, and the other the social view of the question. I will first touch upon the religious objection by which it was assumed that there is a Divine command against these marriages; it is, however, happily not necessary for me to enter at any very great length into that argument, because the opponents of this Bill rely very much less upon it than they formerly did. When this measure was first brought into Parliament, and when it was first discussed in your Lordships' House, the whole of the opposition to it was rested upon a theological argument. We were told that the Divine command forbad these marriages. Now, I think, my Lords, that the opponents of the Bill have exercised a wise discretion in abandoning their arguments upon the theological ground; because that well-known verse in Leviticus upon which, in the first instance, they founded their argument, has been found upon closer examination to favour the views of those who promote this Bill. I shall not stop to inquire whether the Levitical law be binding upon Christians. Much may be said upon that point, and many opinions and high authorities might, no doubt, be adduced to show that it is not binding. But, admitting for the purpose of argument, that it does bind Christians, then, my Lords, you find in that verso that there are the distinct words "in the lifetime" of the wife, which clearly imply, that during the life of the wife a man may not marry her sister; but that after the death of the wife he may do so. The opponents of the Bill have endeavoured to show that there is an inaccuracy in that interpretation of the verse which is given in our own Bible. If I am called upon to give an authority for the opinion I have expressed that the verse is in favour of the views of those who support this measure, I might refer to an opinion which has been often quoted in this House—I mean the opinion of the Chief Rabbi of the Jews in England. It seems to me, my Lords, that no person is more likely to understand the true interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures than the chief of the Jewish clergy-These are the words which Dr. Adler used in a letter which he lately addressed to the Secretary of the Marriage Law Reform Association, as regards the leading point in this controversy. "I can only reiterate my former assertions that all sophistry must split, on the clear and unequivocal words, Levit. xviii. 18th, 'in her lifetime.'" But it may be said, that on such a question as that before your Lordships, we should look, not to the Chief Rabbi of the Jews, but to the chief pastors of our own Church. I admit at once, that if from the Archbishops and Bishops of our own Church any clear and unanimous opinion could be gathered, I admit that would be entitled to very great weight with your Lordships. Now, my Lords, what is the opinion of the right rev. Bench? In 1835, the Act which was then passed went through this House, not only with the concurrence but with the co-operation of the right rev. Bench. That Act had for its object to render valid certain marriages. Well, what were the certain marriages which were to be rendered valid? Why, my Lords, they included the very marriages which you are now called upon to legalize. If the right rev. Bench then thought these marriages were forbidden by the law of God, if they thought those marriages were incestuous, then I say that it would be in the highest degree indecorous to suppose that they would have concurred in Lord Lyndhurst's Act. I think I am, therefore, fully warranted in concluding that the right rev. Bench could not at that time have been of opinion that the word of God forbade these marriages. But, my Lords, if that was the opinion of the right rev. Bench then, what is the opinion of the right rev. Bench now? In the first place, there is the most rev. Prelate the Archbishop of Dublin, inferior, as we must all admit, to none in piety and learning, whose opinion is in favour of legalizing these marriages. Then there is another right rev. Prelate the Bishop of London (who, I understand, unfortunately cannot be present to-night), who, before he was elevated to the episcopal dignity, petitioned this House in favour of a similar Bill to this. Then, my Lords, there is the right rev. Prelate, who was formerly the Rector of St. George's, Bloomsbury, who wrote a letter which I shall afterwards quote, expressing a strong opinion in favour of this Bill. There is, besides, a right rev. Prelate, who has voted, it is true, against this Bill, but whose opinion I will, with your Lordships' permission, read to the House. The right rev. Prelate the Bishop of St. David's said in 1851—[The noble Lord read the opinion, which stated that in the Bishop's opinion marriage with a deceased wife's sister was tacitly permitted by the words of the 18th chapter of Leviticus.]

My Lords, there is a still later opinion which has been expressed by a right rev. Prelate, which is so remarkable that I hope I may be permitted to read it. My Lords, it appears that a deputation, including the Mayor of Manchester, the Aldermen and Town Councillors, and many other influential persons connected with that city, waited upon the right rev. Bishop of Manchester to solicit his Lordships' support on the second reading of the Bill now before your Lordships, and the following is said to be a copy of his reply to the observations addressed to him. [The noble Lord read the reply, which was to the effect that although the right rev. Prelate did not feel bound to support the Bill by his vote, yet that he did not conceive that there was any direct scriptural prohibition of these marriages; and his opinion was, that constructive interpretations of ambiguous passages of Scripture were binding only upon those who in their consciences believed in such interpretation.]

So much, then, my Lords, for the opinions of the right rev. Bench. I may, however, add, that when the Bill was before your Lordships' House last year only seven of the right rev. Prelates voted against it. There is another argument which has been urged against the measure, but which seems to me to be utterly untenable. It is said that on the principle that a man and his wife are one flesh, you must infer that all the relations of the wife become also without limitation the relations of the husband. Now, my Lords, just see to what conclusions this principle, if carried out, would lead you. If, for instance, a man marries a woman, and afterwards his brother marries her sister, the latter would on this principle marry his own sister. If a widower should marry the sister of the wife of one of his sons (and which is a case I have known), that would, according to the same reasoning, be equivalent to marrying his own daughter. I think, my Lords, that such an argument proves its own absurdity, and I may fairly call upon the opponents of the Bill to admit that it entirely breaks down.

My Lords, I will come now to the other class of objections. I know that there are several other points which have been urged on the religious ground upon which I have not touched, but I do not wish to weary your Lordships with them. I come now to consider that which constitutes the chief ground of the objections against the Bill. It is said that if these marriages be legalized a great social evil will be caused to all classes of society. In order to be clear, I will divide that part of the argument into two branches. First, I will refer to the relation of the man with his wife's sister during the wife's lifetime; and, secondly, to the relation of the widower to the sister of his deceased wife. Now, it is said that you would by this Bill altogether put an end to or greatly restrict that close intimacy that at present exists between the husband and his wife's sister; but this argument seems to assume that the only barrier which now prevents a husband from entertaining feelings towards his sister-in-law which were culpable and indefensible would be broken down. But surely, my Lords, there is a much stronger barrier than an Act of Parliament, and that is the existence of the wife. It may fairly be assumed that a man of only ordinary morality and decent feeling would scarcely require the barrier of an Act of Parliament to induce him to abstain from entertaining projects during his wife's lifetime of marrying his sister-in-law.

Then, my Lords, we come to the relations between the widower and the sister-in-law after the death of the wife. It is said, and with very great truth, that there is no more natural guardian for the children of the widower than his sister-in-law. Now, my Lords, how are the facts under the existing law? If the sister-in-law has arrived at what is called a certain age, then no doubt she may reside with him and take charge of his children. But if the sister-in-law is young, still more if the widower is young also, I would ask whether any of your Lordships would like your daughter or your sister to reside with a brother-in-law permanently under such circumstances? I am convinced that, except in some very few cases, such a course would be extremely inconvenient and would be likely to lead to great scandal. I have argued the case thus far, as if I were speaking only of one class, as if I were speaking only of the rich. But what, my Lords, is the case with the grant masses of society? On this subject I will quote the opinions of others rather than my own —I will quote the opinions of those who have enjoyed special opportunities for knowing the truth on this matter; I will read first the opinion of the Rev. Canon Champneys, the Rector of Whitechapel. [The noble Lord read the opinion.] Then, my Lords, I have the opinion of Mr. Dale, the Rector of St. Pancras. Thirdly, the opinion of Mr. Villiers, formerly Rector of St. George's, Bloomsbury, now Bishop of Carlisle. [The noble Lord read the opinion.] Lastly, my Lords, I beg leave to read the opinion of a clergyman of widely different religious views, but entertaining the same conviction respecting these marriages, I mean the opinion of Dr. Hook, Dean of Chichester. [This opinion was also read.]

Now, my Lords, those are the opinions of these rev. gentlemen, all of them having the administration of the spiritual affairs of large and populous parishes and intimately acquainted with the habits of the poor, and all say that the forbidding of these marriages leads to great immorality and unhappiness among those classes. My Lords, the extent to which these marriages take place is a matter extremely difficult to ascertain, for naturally some of those who have contracted those marriages, knowing them to be illegal, have no desire to make the fact known to others; when the Commissioners made their Re-port, it was supposed that there were 500 of these marriages taking place in the year. But further investigation has shown the number is probably at least 1,000. But supposing that only 500 of these marriages take place in a year, there is abundant proof that the prohibition of these marriages has not that moral sanction of the people which is indispensable to the efficient and proper working of the law.

Now, my Lords, the practice of other countries is also, I think, a very fair argument in favour of the Bill, since it is the fact that in all the countries of the world with the single exception of the Greek Church in Russia, these marriages are either directly or indirectly permitted. In the Roman Catholic countries, it is well known that these marriages are constantly permitted by dispensation. In the United States they are universally permitted, and on this point I will read to your Lordships an opinion which has been often quoted in your Lordships' House, I mean the opinion of Mr. Justice Storey. He says: — In many, and indeed in most of the American States, a different rule prevails, and marriages between a man and the sister of his former deceased wife are not only deemed in a civil sense lawful, but are deemed in a moral, religious, and Christian sense, lawful and exceedingly praiseworthy. There was formerly when Mr. Justice Storey wrote, one State where these marriages were prohibited, but I am informed that the law is now repealed. In Germany these marriages are universally allowed. In Switzerland, in the Roman Catholic Cantons by dispensation, and all the Protestant Cantons, with the single exception of the Canton of Vaud, these marriages are permitted. In Russia, although the Greek Church does not permit these marriages, yet they are permitted among the inhabitants of the Protestant countries which are subject to the sway of Russia. So, my Lords, we find that more or less in all the countries of Europe, with the exception of those countries where the law of the Greek Church prevails, you have the fact that these marriages are permitted.

Now, my Lords, there are many more arguments which have been urged on both sides of the question, and if any new objections are brought forward in the course of the debate I shall have an opportunity of replying to them, but as the arguments are perfectly familiar to the House I will not weary your Lordships by now pursuing them further. I think you will admit that, in order to maintain this restriction, it ought to be distinctly proved that an imperative necessity exists for it. I ask the House to consider whether the proof of such a necessity has been or can be given? I have shown you that this measure has been passed through the other House by majorities increasing year by year, that you have had presented to this House petitions from large and influential bodies, the number of signatures amounting altogether to 800,000; that there is even amongst the opponents of this Bill a wide diversity of opinion as to there being a Divine command prohibiting these marriages, and that the weight of authority is against the existence of any such Divine injunction. I have shown you that if amongst the richer classes there is a dislike upon social grounds to a change in the law, that dislike rests upon sentimental rather than on substantial grounds; whereas amongst the poorer classes it cannot be denied that the law causes great immorality and unhappiness. These are the grounds on which I earnestly press this subject on your Lordships' consideration, confidently believing that they afford ample reason why you should at length agree with the other House of Parliament in passing this Bill, of which I have now the honour to move the second reading.


said, that in rising to move the. Amendment of which he had given notice, that the Bill be read a second time that day six months, he did so from a conviction of the evils that must inevitably arise if it became law—evils of the extent of which he wanted words to express his conviction. The promoters of the Bill urged that the deceased wife's sister was the best qualified to take charge of her children. No doubt, in the first hour of his affliction, the widowed brother-in-law would naturally turn to such a person for solace, and to no party could the charge of his orphan children be better confided. But if they once legalized these marriages there must be an end to those advantages, for the wife's sister could no longer, with any regard to her own reputation, or with any respect for public opinion, enter that brother-in-law's dwelling. And so far an evil, instead of a good, would be the result. But another point urged in favour of the measure was the fact that various persons had contracted these marriages under a conscientious impression that they really ought not to be contrary to law. It appeared to him that when persons of education violated a law they had only themselves to blame for the consequences which that violation brought on their heads; and they had no right to come to Parliament and ask to be relieved from those consequences by an alteration of the law which would injuriously affect the best interests of social life. Such persons, disregarding the solemn warning given in the early part of the marriage service by a reference to the Day of Judgment, when the secrets of all hearts shall be revealed, that they should then declare any objections which existed to the validity of their marriage, although their silence could not be construed into swearing what was not true, they were guilty, in the eye of their Maker, with wilful and culpable concealment of truth. A third argument often urged in favour of these marriages was that they were daily taking place among the lower classes of society. Now, notwithstanding the strong asser- tions made on this point, he regarded them as more than questionable. He had in his possession a letter from a clergyman who resided sixteen years at Huddersfield and twelve at a parish in Devonshire, and he stated that having had constant intercourse with large and poor populations, he knew of only a single instance of a marriage of this kind; and that this was contracted by parties in a grade of life above the lower classes, and, as he believed, in entire ignorance of any law prohibiting such a connection. As to a fourth argument, that these marriages were legal in certain foreign countries, and that no harm arose to the interests of Society thereby, he begged to remind their Lordships that they were legislating for Englishmen and Englishwomen, and that a foreign practice was not a reason for the introduction among us of an obnoxious and dangerous measure. In fact, foreigners knew little of what was meant by a happy English home. Whatever, then, might be the practice in foreign countries ought not to be taken as a guide for what might be desirable in this. He contended that if the marriages in question were legalized in this country, mistrust, jealousy, and suspicion would arise where hitherto confidence and relative affection had been maintained; the young wife and young mother would see her domestic peace endangered, and her happiness in the married state would be embittered by the mistrust with which she would be taught to look upon her who had been the companion of her infancy and youth. Were there any benefits which would, if the Bill were carried out, balance evils of that character? It was urged that if a widower wished to marry his deceased wife's sister the law should not stand in the way of his carrying out that wish. For whom, he asked, were their Lordships now invited to legislate? For the interests of the few or of the many? Were they justified in sanctioning a measure the result of which would be extremely doubtful, to use the mildest term, and so break down the barriers which had for centuries protected the best interests of society? Again, were they not to pay some deference to the feelings of the other sex in this matter? He asserted, without fear of contradiction, that among the higher and educated classes of females in England, and those of the most repectable of the middle classes, not one woman in fifty—and he was taking a low figure—was in favour of this measure. If this was not the fact he asked the noble Lord who had moved the second reading of the Bill to refute the assertion. The fact of the opposition of the women of England to the measure was shown by the numerous petitions against it from females not only in London, but in the rural districts. It had been put forward in their Lordships' House as an argument in favour of the Bill, that it had again and again been passed by the House of Commons by considerable majorities. So far from that being a reason why their Lordships should yield, he regarded it as a circumstance that should make them more cautious in giving their assent to the measure. What made that assembly stand in so high a position in the eyes of all reflecting persons—what made it have so high a value in the estimation of all parties, male and female, was the power their Lordships had to step in and stay the tide of innovation when any doubtful course had been taken calculated to disturb the working of the constitution or mar the happiness of the domestic circle. As to the unhappiness suffered by those who had placed themselves in a position to need legislation of this kind, that was an unhappiness brought on by themselves. What was the grievance which their Lordships were called on to redress by this Bill? He must confess— it might appear presumptuous in him to make the assertion — that though he had frequently heard the question argued be had never been able to discover any reasons in favour of the Bill that reached even the standard of plausibility. As to individual inconveniences arising from the present law, he must repeat that these inconveniences had been brought on by the parties themselves, who had violated a law which every right-minded person ought to hold sacred. On such a principle any one might inveigh against any law which visited any species of crime with penal consequences. There was, then, the Scriptural part of the subject. He should not enter at any length into that branch, because he felt that it was more properly within the province of the right rev. Prelates, who would, no doubt, take a part in this as they had in all former debates upon this question. He had listened to a good deal of discussion on similar Bills, and had heard all the arguments usually urged in favour of marriage with a deceased wife's sister; and he had yet to learn that there was a single text in Holy Writ permitting or sanctioning a mar- riage of this description. If he were wrong he trusted he should be corrected by some Member of the right rev. Bench; but it seemed to him a most extraordinary argument to say that because such marriages were not prohibited they were indirectly sanctioned. If his views were the result of ignorance or of prejudice, he had the satisfaction of thinking that he was on this subject in company with some of the most distinguished Members of their Lordships' House. He trusted their Lordships would on that, as they had on so many former occasions of a similar kind, adopt the advice of the most rev. Prelate, the Metropolitan, whose long experience as a Christian minister would enable them to form a right judgment. His active energies for so many years as a parish priest entitled that most rev. Prelate to all respect, and placed him in the exalted position which he now occupied, and to which he was so great an honour. There would also, he ventured to think, be found in opposition to the Bill the right rev. Prelate who presided over the diocese of Oxford, and who three years ago led the opposition to it in a speech which had left, in his mind, an impression never to be erased. It might truly be said of that right rev. Prelate, Nihil tetigit quod non ornavit. In spite of the sneer with which that compliment had been received by the noble Lord who moved the second reading of the Bill, he (Viscount Dungannon) hoped they would that evening have the pleasure and benefit of hearing the right rev. Prelate—


I assure your Lordships I made no observation of a sneering character in allusion to the right rev. Prelate. The noble Lord is quite mistaken.


The noble Lord laughed when I paid what I considered a well-merited compliment to the right rev. Prelate.


was understood to say that he did not laugh at the right rev. Prelate.


could assure the noble Lord that if the laugh were not directed against the right rev. Prelate he was quite content to take it to himself. He would beg to be allowed to remind their Lordships of a passage in the charge recently delivered by the Archdeacon of Buckingham: — For 1,500 years from the Christian era these marriages were considered forbidden by the Church of Christ. They are still forbidden by the law of England; and if they should now be egalized, there will exist one law on the subject in the Church, and another in the State. He agreed in the opinion pronounced by many eminent members of the episcopal body, as well as by other distinguished clergymen, that this Bill would in innumerable cases destroy domestic harmony, while it would tend to sever the union between Church and State—a union which, from the bottom of his heart, he prayed to God he might never live to see severed. Many were waiting in anxious suspense for their Lordships' decision that evening. He said with suspense, but at the same time with perfect confidence, that their Lordships would prove themselves to be still what they had been hitherto—the guardians and protectors of those barriers which the wisdom, the sound principles, and the piety of their forefathers had raised for the protection of public morality and the preservation of the happiness and well-being of the people of this country in the most important of their social relations. With the fullest confidence that their Lordships would on this occasion say No-lumus leges Angliœ mutari, he begged to move, as an Amendment, that the Bill be rend a second time that day six months.

Amendment moved, to leave out "now" and insert "this day six months."


I am glad to find that the noble Viscount who has just sat down, has spoken in a tone very different from that which the opponents of this measure have been in the habit of adopting on former occasions. He has abstained from indulging in remarks tending to prejudice the minds of the female portion of the community against those who conscientiously take the course that I do; and I sincerely trust that this example of moderation will be followed by the Members of the right rev. Bench. The noble Viscount fears that he has been somewhat too bold in venturing any opinion of his own, on the interpretation of certain passages in Scripture. I think he has not been bold enough; but that as a Protestant Peer of Parliament, he should have exercised his own judgment rather than have pinned his faith upon an antiquated canon, executed at a time when the Christian Church was departing from its pristine purity. I differ from the noble Viscount in the interpretation of that verse in Leviticus, alluded to by the noble Mover of this Bill. The passage requires no aid from a canon. It is so clear, and so distinct, as to leave no doubt on my mind respecting the Divine permission to contract these marriages. I shall vote then for this Bill, because I hold that, whether considered in a religious, moral, or social point of view, these marriages are perfectly unobjectionable. I believe they will be found to perpetuate and increase the happiness of the parties concerned, and to contribute to the welfare of many a motherless child. I shall vote, then, for the Bill; because I consider it calculated to prevent a vast degree of immorality amongst the poor; and because I hold the prohibition of such marriages to be a flagrant violation of the rights of conscience.

These, my Lords, are my opinions; they are not exactly my own words. They form the substance of a petition, signed by a right rev. Prelate, when master of Rugby School. I mean the Bishop of London, who is prevented by a domestic affliction from being present this evening; and I adopt these expressions, in order that no right reverend opponent of the measure may, as on a former occasion, in delivering his own sentiments, profess to be speaking those of the whole Episcopal Bench.

I know not what Members of the right rev. Bench may address your Lordships, but I venture to predict the line of argument that each of them will adopt. If he be a supporter of the Bill, he will tell your Lordships to act in the spirit of the articles of your faith, and to exercise your own judgment in the interpretation of Scripture. If an opponent, his whole line of argument will be, that you must interpret the Scripture by the canons, and not canons by the Scripture. Whatever subsidiary argument may be employed in opposition to the Bill, the real objection to it is of an ecclesiastical or a canonical nature. It is an attempt to lay a burden on the people, not sanctioned by the constitution of this realm—[an ironical cheer from the Bishop of EXETER.] The right rev. Prelate cheers. Is he not the right rev. Prelate who first made the assertion that is now endorsed by the noble Viscount; namely, that for 1,500 years, this marriage had been prohibited by the law of the Church. I would ask, what legal authority has such a law for us Protestants? I asked this question of the right rev. Prelate in 1856, but got no answer. I ask again, docs he mean the so-called apostolical canons, which equally forbad a widower from marrying a cousin, or a widow, as well as a wife's sister? or does the right rev. Prelate mean the canon which would prevent a man from marrying his sixth or seventh cousin?

As a proof of the inefficiency of the law as it now stands, I may mention that a friend of mine, Mr. Tollemache (Member for Cheshire), had displeased a constituent, the incumbent of one of the largest parishes in his division, by his former votes in favour of an alteration in the present marriage law. When he the rev. gentleman last saw Mr. Tollemache, he told him that his opinions had undergone a change, for he had lately married a couple, and on coming out of church, observed to his clerk, that the woman was a bold one to marry so unprepossessing a man. The clerk, who seemed to be unaware of Lord Lyndhurst's Act, answered: —" She ought to know him by this time, for he married her sister." Here is an illustration of the operation of that law, and is confirmatory of the valuable evidence given by a right rev. Prelate (the Bishop of Carlisle) when rector of the important and populous parish of St. George's Blooms-bury. If, said that right rev. Prelate, the poor know that these marriages are illegal, they dispense with the marriage ceremony. If they do not, they contract the marriages and equally evade the law. Is not this state of the law highly inexpedient? Here you have a state of relationship artificially created, in order to prevent certain parties from contracting marriages, which in nine cases out of ten have not the effect which is intended, and which imposes great and heavy penalties for doing that which such prohibitions do not, cannot, ought not to prevent. For the reasons I have stated, I shall give my hearty concurrence to the Bill before the House.


said, that the words he had to address to their Lordships must be few, for he had no longer the power of addressing them that he once possessed: he was conscious of the infirmities of ago and must leave it to younger and abler men to light the battle of religion on this great question. Unless his memory failed him miserably, the noble Lord who introduced this subject to their Lordships' notice had said many things that demanded attention from the Bench of Bishops. He particularly referred to the number of Bishops that had subscribed to the views enunciated by the noble Lord. No man could regret more than he (the Bishop of Exeter) did that the noble Lord should have been able to read so long a list of them; but six or seven Bishops, able and learned as they were, did not bear a very large proportion to the Bishops since the foundation of the Christian Church. He believed it would be extremely difficult to double that number among all the thousand Bishops that have been Bishops of the Church of Christ, and who have held a contrary doctrine to that advocated by the supporters of this Bill. One of the few Bishops mentioned by the noble Lord as being in favour of these marriages, his right rev. Friend the Bishop of London, who was, he regretted to say, prevented from being present by a domestic calamity; but his right rev. Friend was one of those who, using the privileges of advancing age, would say that he grew wiser as he grew older. The right rev. Prelate had intimated to him that he was not in a state of transition on this subject—-that be could no longer accede to the views he was formerly supposed to hold on this subject, and he (the Bishop of Exeter) felt himself justified in saying that if his right rev. Friend were present on this occasion he would vote against the Bill. It had been suggested that they should abstain from discussing the meaning of particular texts of Scripture, and he agreed that no place was more unfitted for a discussion of the theological part of the subject than their Lordships' House of Legislature. But when it was said that there had been a departure on the part of the opponents of the measure from the religious line of opposition that they formerly took, and that now the social ground only remained for argument, he for one said that he had never ceased to bold the opinions he entertained on the subject. He had himself always treated the subject on religious grounds and had seldom said anything on the subject relating to the social question; but he should be sorry to disavow that his opposition to the Bill was mainly and chiefly of a religious character, and he said so because the Levitical prohibitions that they were now called upon to cast from them in so scornful a manner had been recognized as the law of God from the beginning of the Christian era to this very hour by the Universal Church, not by the English Church merely, but by the Greek and Roman Church. The example of the Protestant countries of Germany had been held up for imitation; but in all of them the Levitical prohibitions, as the law revealed by divine inspiration, were regarded as the groundwork of the ecclesiastical law. The right rev. Prelate then quoted from the Report of the Com- mission in 1847, in which Mr. Bach, a German jurisconsultus, gave what was the law of Protestant Germany on the subject, stating that the Levitical law was the revealed law of the Divine dispensation, and the groundwork of the canon law of the Church of Rome, as regarded the Levitical degrees of marriages. But this gentle-man's testimony went on to show that in most of the small Protestant States the Sovereign assumed the power of dispensing with the law of God, that these dispensations could be easily obtained for a small sum of money, or that by submitting to a pecuniary fine could themselves be dispensed with. So much for the law of Germany, which they were invited to look up to in framing the law of England on this subject. The absolute power of Popery prevailed there. Every petty Prince of Germany was as much a Pope as the Pope himself, and Popery was the very essence of this system, which consisted in the assumption by men of doing and deciding that that God only could do, and interfering with the Divine law. Did not so-called Protestant Germany do this? for there was not a single State that did not by dispensation promote these marriages contrary to these Levitical prohibitions which every State acknowledged to be a declaration of Divine law; and if anything could be Popery of the grossest and coarsest kind, it was to be found in Protestant Germany. In the United States the Confederation had no general law of marriage; and the subject was treated as a domestic matter which should be left to each State to settle for itself—and settle it for themselves they did, some of them in a very extraordinary manner. This general rule, however, pervaded all the States, that marriage was a civil contract. Was this country prepared to adopt that view? Surely their Lordships were not prepared to say that marriage was a civil contract only? The question was, whether this country would legalize marriages which wore incestuous and contrary to the law of God. The Church of which he was a Bishop called them by those names, and he should consider himself unfaithful to the faith which he professed, a traitor to the Church of Christ, and an apostate even, were he to assent to such a Bill as this. He did not wish to cast these names on those who did not see their duty in the way he saw it, and who did not see their duty in the only in which, as it appeared to him, a plain common-sense Englishman ought to see it. They had been told that the canon in reference to this matter was an extremely ancient one; but he rested upon a canon of no extraordinary antiquity, that of 1603, which was adopted in this country when the Reformed Religion was in its purest and most flourishing condition. He should consider himself unfaithful and a traitor to the Church if he did not stand upon that canon. In the office of matrimony the parties were charged, as they should appear before the tribunal of God, to declare if they knew of any impediment why they could not be lawfully joined together; and that no doubt referred to the canons of the Church. He had said that the Church of Rome did not recognize the Levitical prohibitions as of themselves binding; but for 1,500 years that Church as strongly as any other Church had held them binding. They changed for excellent reasons, for otherwise they must have admitted that an infallible Pope had erred. A question was submitted to the divines and canonists of Europe, whether the Levitical prohibitions were according to the law of God; and secondly, whether the Pope had a right to dispense with them. The first question was answered in the affirmative, and the power to dispense with what was the law of God was denied. The Pope, through fear of Charles V., refused to recognize that state of things in reference to the divorce between Catherine and Henry VIII., and at the Council of Trent a canon was introduced which pronounced an anathema against all who did not hold that the Church of Rome had power to dispense with the laws of God and also to add to them. That was the position to which the Church of Rome was reduced. In the very year that the Council of Trent pronounced this decree, the table of degrees of the Church of England was published by Archbishop Parker, with the full assent of the Church—it was the voice of the Reformed Church against Rome—yet that was the table which they were now told it was unworthy of an enlightened country to follow. They must bear in mind that there could be no improvement in these things; and if it was true that these marriages were incestuous and contrary to the law of God, then they were true for ever; and if false, then they must be false for ever. Were their Lordships prepared to say that the Church for 1,500 years had held that which was unsound and fallacious? Were they, in deference to public opinion — which it seemed now must regulate everything, even the laws of God—to declare these marriages good which had been against the law of the Church for 1,500 years? He always thought that it was the duty of the Church to impress the word of God in spite of the world, and that truth would make its way in opposition to the world. If the present law were according to the opinion of the world, he said broadly and plainly that the probability was that it was wrong. He so read the word of God, and by that word, through God's grace, his conduct and language should always be guided. He rested his case upon religious grounds, and especially upon reformed religious grounds. The Church of England granted no dispensation for contracting incestuous marriages. They left that to Rome, to Berlin, and to Geneva. At whatever hazard, that Church would assert the Word of God, and would not be driven from it by anything that might be done by Rome or Geneva. Upon this question he hardly knew which to choose, but he really thought that Rome was to be preferred. He thanked their Lordships for the patience with which they had listened to an old man, and he rejoiced that he had been spared again to lift up his voice against this Bill.


said, the question was, the law of this country having declared that a man should not marry his wife's sister, whether should they now alter that law? This question had been already decided by that House. The question stood quite differently before 1835, for then such marriages were not void but only voidable, and the law was easily evaded. Parliament in 1835 made good all such past marriages effectually, so as to carry inheritance and title with them; but there was a counter provision that every future marriage with a deceased wife's sister should be absolutely null and void. That was a wise and prudent settlement of the question, and was a notice to the whole world of what the law of England would in future be. Was it to be wondered at that the lower orders should contract those marriages when they heard the classes above them declare that they ought to be allowed to contract them. Their Lordships could not walk down to the House without seeing large brass plates upon a door announcing an association for legalizing marriage with a deceased wife's sister. Its advertisements were seen everywhere, and no money was wanting to carry out its objects. The Bill of last year presented some important points of difference from this year. Last year's Bill proposed to make past marriages valid, but did not touch the honours of the peerage or titles to property. But this year's Bill would have consequences the most anomalous and unjust—consequences the most pernicious, both as to the inheritance of property and titles. Last year, too, the Bill extended to the wife's niece; but this Bill left out the wife's niece, and was confined to the wife's sister—because he supposed mankind revolted at the idea of a man marrying his wife's niece. Last year Scotland was omitted from the Bill. Why should it be? Did not Scotchmen want to marry their wife's sisters as much as Englishmen? or were they more pure in mind, or did they wish not to break up the tics of domestic society? He wondered why Scotland had not risen to demand this Bill, if the feeling in its favour was as strong as some noble Lords would have them believe. Last year only Scotland was excluded, but this year Ireland was also excluded. Why should that be? He could see no reason why Ireland should not be dealt with on the same footing as England. On what grounds had the promoters of this specious Bill omitted from it both Scotland and Ireland, constituting with England one Imperial kingdom? The question was settled in 1835, but they were now unsettling it, and in so doing they were leaving out two of the three branches of the United Kingdom. A more ill-considered Bill never was presented to the notice of the Legislature. If such a step were to be taken, let it he done properly. Who could settle the rights of property and peerage in the United Kingdom if they passed this Bill? If the question was to be opened at all, it ought to be opened in a more solemn manner, and dealt with in a more effectual manner. Let them, also, look at the social aspect of the question, and see the friendly and familiar footing upon which the wife's sister now stood in the house of her brother-in-law. The husband called the wife's sister his sister, and she him her brother—tender and confidential words— bespeaking ideas which this Bill would for ever eradicate. The confidence of friendship would be destroyed, and the peace of the domestic circle disturbed, unhappy jealousies, unfortunate suspicions would be created. The noble Lord who introduced this Bill said they ought to look at the relations between the husband and the wife's sister during the lifetime of the wife, and also after the decease of the wife; but the noble Lord handled this subject very tenderly. He did not hold up to their Lordships' view what the consequences would be—must be—when the sister of the wife was in the house of the, perhaps, ailing wife. No prudent man, if this Bill passed, would allow his unmarried daughter to reside in the house of his married daughter lest it might engender jealousy and heartburning between his married daughter and her husband.


said, that he believed that very great ignorance and misconception prevailed in the country upon the subject now under discussion. He believed that such marriages as those proposed by the Bill were positively forbidden by the law of God; and were forbidden in the same sense and on the same grounds as polygamy was forbidden. The law of God placed affinity in the same circumstances as consanguinity. As far as absolute declarations were concerned it was to be remarked that marriage with a niece was nowhere declared illegal. By the Mosaic law a wife was placed in the position of a chattel to her husband—the tenth commandment in the Decalogue evidently placed her in that position, and therefore polygamy naturally existed. But our Saviour repealed the Mosaic law and placed the wife upon an equality with the husband. There was no express prohibition against polygamy, totidem verbis, and yet no one doubted that we were right to punish such an act. The logical step that they would have to take, if they passed this Bill, and if they were consistent reasoners, was that they must admit polygamy. It might create a smile, but there was no reason why they should not. By the Mosaic law the wife, as he had stated before, was considered a chattel; but our Saviour put her on an equality with the husband, and talked of her divorcing him, and by putting her on equal ground with her husband made polygamy illegal. He opposed the Bill because he considered it to be contrary to God's law, and he considered if we altered our law to-morrow the law of God would be against us still.


I think it due to your Lordships and to myself, to state the reasons why on this occasion I shall give a very different vote from that I gave on a former occasion. I shall not have the presumption to attempt to answer either the right rev. Prelate (the Bishop of Exeter) or the noble and learned Lord (Lord St. Leonards), but this I must say, that we who support this Bill, do not think that the marriage of a deceased wile's sister is opposed to the law of God, and that it is as Popish to restrict that which God permits, as to grant dispensation for that which God forbids. When I formerly voted against a similar Bill, it was not because I believed such marriages forbidden in the Bible, for I think they are even permitted by implication in the text of Leviticus 18, v. 18: nor do I think that it follows as a matter of absolute necessity, that because a woman may not marry her husband's brother, a man may not marry his wife's sister—nor was I biassed by the social objection, for, as I hope to be able to show your Lordships, much may be said on both sides as to that point. But one argument weighed with me with almost irresistible force, namely, that these marriages are forbidden by the Church, I mean the whole Catholic Church, of which the Church of England is a reformed part. My Lords, this might well make a churchman pause. Even now I am unwilling to give the vote in favour of this Bill which duty obliges me to give, and yet I cannot but remember that the Church in England is peculiarly circumstanced. In our church there are no dispensations. I do not mean dispensations from the laws of God, but dispensations from the laws of man as enunciated by the Church. My Lords, as if to show that no polity composed of human material can be infallible, even though it be of Divine institution, various restraints were imposed by the Church during the dark ages which were largely relaxed by dispensations for money. Your Lordships may not be aware that sponsors, I mean a man and woman who bad stood sponsors for the same child, are forbidden to marry by a law of the Church untouched at the Reformation. Cases such as these were largely dealt with by dispensation. They were a source of profit to the priesthood, and therefore I do not consider that in reality the Church is altogether opposed to some of the marriages she apparently forbids. But the right rev. Prelate (the Bishop of Oxford) stated, that these dispensations were first invented by the infamous Pope Alexander VI. Such may he the fact. But he drew also the inference that until the time of that wicked man, the marriages in question were absolutely forbidden. On that my former vote against the Bill turned, but to that I now demur. The Jewish tradition is positive that these marriages have always obtained in the Jewish Church. They existed, then, in the time of our Saviour our blessed Lord mentions marriage—annuls Moses' precept, and forbids divorce except for adultery. St. Paul also mentions marriage, and yet in the whole of the new Testament there is not one word against the marriage with a deceased wife's sister; while our Lord mentions without reprehension a case of seven brothers marrying in turn a, sister-in-law. I therefore think that these marriages existed in the early church, and that the dispensations were invented for lucre alone. And now as to the social question—did this Bill only concern the upper classes, I should doubt about supporting it. But your Lordships legislate for the many, not for the few. Now, against the ease which was put of a rich man with his roomy house, whose wife's sister may perhaps, if this Bill becomes law, refuse to live with him and take care of his children—put the case of the poor man. He, perhaps, is left a widower at an early age with many children; he has only two rooms, perhaps only one; no one in the wide world will tend his children but his wife's sister; this is the common, the usual case. Your Lordships know the world, the weakness of human nature, I will say no more. My Lords, the present law does not cause restraint, but it does promote concubinage, and though these marriages may sometimes spring from the coarser impulses of our nature — yet they in general arise from the holiest, the purest motives, the love of both parties for the children of the deceased wife and sister. I know one case of a friend of my own, a most pious man, who married the sister of his deceased wife, because his wife with her dying breath implored him not to separate her children from her sister. I know of another case in which such parties in humble life married, and their sole reason was the entreaty of their dying wife and sister. I know of another case, in which the dying wife placed her sister's hand in that of her husband and implored them to marry for the sake of her children, whenever this cruel law shall be repealed. These, my Lords, are the feelings of dying wives and mothers, these are the feelings with which you have to do in discussing this Bill. The feelings of the dying wife, the feelings of the bereaved husband, and not the feelings or morbid fancies of jealous and fastidious women.


said, he retained the same opinion as he had always main- tained since he had had the honour of a scat in that House against the change proposed by this Bill. He held that opinion looking at the social view of the question, rather than upon the religious ground; because upon the religious ground there was so much difference of opinion amongst those who were of authority upon the subject that he thought that was an unsafe ground to proceed upon. His noble Friend who had ably proposed the second reading of this Bill treated this question simply with reference to the feelings of the husband, but that was a very minor consideration. The real parties concerned were those who were not represented in the Legislature, and who, by no theory of government that he had ever heard of, could be directly represented—namely, the women of England, the great majority of whom regarded this as a most mischievous measure. It was for the sake of the women of England, and through them for the men also, that he opposed the Bill, believing it would be impossible for a wife to receive her sister under her roof on the same terms of intimacy with her husband as she could now, were the existing law repealed. His noble Friend stated that although these marriages might be injurious in the higher ranks of society, they would produce entirely different results in the lower classes of society. But he (Lord Cranworth) had never been able to satisfy himself that such was the opinion of the lower classes, or of the middle classes, nor did he believe, nor was there any evidence that it was. The late rev. Sir H. Dukinfield had assured him that in the largo parish (St. Martin's), of which he was for many years the rector, he had never known an instance in which the poor had suggested that it was a grievance that a man was prevented from marrying the sister of his deceased wife. A very highly valued friend of his, not a clergyman, I mean Vice-Chancellor Wood —who to his eminence as a lawyer united that of being a philanthropist in the best sense of the term, and who penetrated into the dwellings of the poor, stated in one of these discussions in the other House of parliament that he never knew an instance of a marriage of this kind among the poor. He did not believe it was the general wish of the country that this change of the law should be effected. Several petitions in favour of the Bill had been presented from persons of undoubted respectability; but they were aldermen, merchants, and manufacturers, and not those whom the Bill would most ma- terially affect—namely, the women of England, the vast majority of whom were prevented by a sense of delicacy and modesty from petitioning the House on this subject. The advocates of this Bill did not attempt to include the whole empire within its operation. They included only a. half— and why? They knew very well that if they attempted to extend it to Scotland they would run the risk of creating a tumult throughout the length and breadth of that country. Ireland also, for other reasons, they were obliged to exempt from the operation of the Bill. He conjured their Lordships to pause before they introduced a social change which they must know was likely to produce among the class with which they were familiar most serious uneasiness and evil, and which to the classes below them—so below them in point of wealth and station, not in point of virtue or respectability — would, no doubt, be quite as distasteful as to the class with which their Lordships were connected.


—My Lords, I fully concur with the noble and learned Lord who spoke last (Lord Cranworth) in regretting that the provisions of the present Bill do not extend to Scotland and Ireland; but I need hardly remind you that that defect is not peculiar to the present Bill. It has hitherto, as far as I know, been found impossible to harmonize the marriage laws of all parts of the United Kingdom, and to assimilate the law of England on these matters thoroughly with the law of Scotland and of Ireland.

But, my Lords, I have not now risen for the purpose of discussing the legal criticisms of the two noble and learned Lords who have addressed you to-night upon this subject, but in order to state very briefly my reasons for supporting the Bill now before the House. My position, in doing so, would be more difficult if I did not know that, though a large proportion —perhaps a majority of the right rev. Bench will vote against this Bill, or, at least, not vote for it—yet a considerable proportion is pledged to what, in my mind, involves the duty of altering the existing law—pledged to the opinion, that these marriages are not incestuous and contrary to the Divine law.

My Lords, oven if we looked on this matter merely as a matter of expediency, I am convinced that it would be a far more expedient thing to say—these marriages are not contrary to the law of God, and therefore we will not make them null and void by the will of man, than to say these marriages are not incestuous and immoral either by nature or by revelation — they are not contrary to the law of nature or to the Divine command in Scripture—-they are not (for even to that extent some of us are committed) inconsistent with the requirements of social policy, and yet we will maintain a highly penal statute, which bastardizes the issue of such marriages, end declares the union of the parents null and void ab initio, and stigmatizes that union as unnatural and incestuous. I cannot but regard such a course as that as one that must tend, and not unnaturally tend, to bring not only the legislature, but even the law itself into contempt; to alienate and irritate the minds of men, and to infuse indefinite suspicions of the principles on which this House legislates for the country.

That, my Lords, is my firm conviction on this subject, viewed merely as a matter of expediency. To confess that these marriages are not contrary to the law of God. And let me remind your Lordships that, as a right rev. and venerable Prelate (the Bishop of Exeter) has told you, the present law notoriously and confessedly stands, or pretends to stand, not on the shaking and uncertain ground of social policy, but on the supposed immovable rock of a Divine command—to confess that these marriages are not contrary to, and were not prohibited by, the Divine law; to concede (as some of us have conceded) that they are not contrary to social expediency; and yet, at the same time, to refuse to remove the present prohibition; to confess, in a word, that you are laying heavy burdens and grievous to be borne upon men's shoulders, and yet to say that you will not touch them with one of your fingers; that, I submit, is to take a course which is neither charitable nor wise. These marriages, you say, are not contrary to the Divine law, nor contrary to social utility: Now, therefore, why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples which neither their fathers, nor they, were able to bear. I have said that I will support the measure proposed on grounds that I believe are supported by the recorded opinions of a considerable proportion of this right rev. Bench; but I will go further, and say, though it may seem arrogant to say it, that even though I stood alone, I should pursue the same course as I am now pursuing.

My Lords, I have no doubt that I and all the other prelates that may support this Bill will expose ourselves to the censure, perhaps the denunciations, of our brethren upon the Bench, as well as of many of the inferior orders of the clergy: but, my Lords, I have never been accustomed to set much store by public opinion when I thought it unjust; and I do not intend to begin now. On that point, I quite agree with a right rev. Prelate who has addressed this House before me, and say with him, that we should not look to public opinion, but to a far different tribunal, to which we of the spiritualty, and you of the temporalty must alike give an account of our stewardship. We should look to the great Bishop of Souls; to Him whose eyes are as a flame of fire, who trieth the heart and the reins, and out of whose mouth goeth that sharp two-edged sword which shall "smite once and smite no more" through all hypocrites and time-servers.

My Lords, I have said that these marriages are not contrary to the Divine command. The Scriptural argument against them seems to me to break down at every step. In the first place, I have never yet seen it proved that we are bound by the Levitical law of marriage, as such, at all. I have no doubt, my Lords, that this proposition when made by mo will be denounced as heresy, and as contrary to the Articles of the Church, since it has been thus denounced when set forth by a most rev. Prelate (the Archbishop of Dublin) a very dear friend of mine, not now in the House. But, my Lords, I know not where the heresy lies. The Articles expressly say that the ceremonial and politic laws of Moses do not bind Christians. They add, it is true, that the moral commandments do bind us. But who denies that? The whole question is, how far the Levitical marriage law is really moral. Prove it in any case to be moral, and then, in that case, there is an end of the dispute. But you must prove that by some other medium than by merely showing that it is part of the law of Moses. I trust the Church of Hooker, and Sanderson, and Cudworth, and Butler does not need to be taught that it is not the mere authority of the promulgator, but the nature and matter of the law which distinguishes a moral from a positive precept. If you say, these laws are moral, because the matter of them is marriage, which is of a moral nature, then you must hold every tittle of the Mosaic Law of marriage to be unalterable, including the law of Leviticus, and also that very precept which our Saviour says that Moses gave them "because of the hardness of their hearts."

But, my Lords, even supposing the law of Moses to be binding on us, the question still arises, what is meant by the chapters in Leviticus relied upon by those who oppose this measure. Very eminently learned persons (Sir William Jones among them) have been of opinion that the offences there spoken of were not marriages, or pretended marriages at all, but illicit intercourse extra matrimonium, Nor is it any sufficient objection to this view to say that such prohibitions would be superfluous, because all illicit intercourse extra matrimonium was unlawful, and therefore it could not be necessary to forbid it, especially in the case of a brother's wife or a half-sister. Nothing is more common than the singling out of crimes of special enormity for special denunciation. Intercourse, for example, with another man's wife, is expressly forbidden elsewhere in the law of Moses, but will it therefore be said that promiscuous intercourse with unmarried women is implicitly permitted? But suppose these chapters to refer to marriage. Still, my Lords, I find no express prohibition of marriage with the sister of a deceased wife, but I do find a law which appears, at least to look the other way. I find a law which says, you are not to marry the sister of your wife, to provoke her to jealousy, while she is yet alive. I know that engines of critical torture have been applied to this passage—that by means of disruption and dislocation- by tearing the words asunder —it has been made to mean—nobody can distinctly say what. But I am convinced that no impartial and competent reader of the original can look at it, in its whole context, without being satisfied that the natural meaning is that given by our authorized version. If that be not the meaning, then I take it that those gentlemen who are interested in procuring a revival of that version may fairly claim the support and co-operation of the right rev. and reverend persons who object to that version in this instance; since, if its rendering of this passage be wrong, it must be a very serious error, a trap, a delusion, and a snare to the conscience of the mere English reader.

I have said that the only passage expressly speaking of a wife's sister is one which speaks of the sister of a living wife, and therefore one that looks rather favourably than otherwise on the legalization of the marriage with a deceased wife's sister. But then it is replied, "Oh yes; that passage is apparently in your favour, but then there is another law forbidding marriage with one's brother's wife, and which, therefore, by parity of reasoning, forbids marriage with a wife's sister also,"

But, my Lords, I submit that the imparity of the sexes in all countries and in all ages, but especially in ancient times and oriental regions, is such as to make arguments based upon an assumed parity in many cases utterly insecure. A man, for example, was, by the law of Moses, allowed to have many wives under certain conditions. But was a woman, therefore, permitted to have many husbands?

With respect to this law about marriage with a brother's wife (if it be marriage that is hero contemplated)—my idea is (and I think the whole tenor of the Jewish legislation favours that idea) that marriage with a brother's wife was, in ordinary cases, forbidden as involving disrespect to the brother. In general, marriage with a widow was thought (in ancient, and especially Oriental nations) to involve some disrespect to, or at least, disregard of, the deceased husband. The wife was looked on as the property, or as a right rev. prelate (the Bishop of St. Asaph), has said, the chattel of the husband; and to make use of her for another's pleasure, or the propagating of another's family, was regarded as involving a want of consideration for him to whom she had belonged; and therefore was forbidden to those who were bound by natural ties to respect the memory of a deceased brother. But in those cases where that kind of marriage did not imply disrespect, but, on the contrary, respect for the deceased—in those cases where the deceased brother had left no issue, and where therefore the family could not be continued through him, then the surviving brother was not only authorized, but bound to marry the widow, and "raise up seed unto his brother."

And the penalty elsewhere denounced against marriage (except in this peculiar ease) with a brother's wife, falls in completely with this view of the subject. That penalty is that the parties contracting it should be "childless." The object which they contemplated should be frustrated. The marriage, when not designed for perpetuating the family of the deceased, was regarded as au attempt on the part of the surviving brother to propagate his own name and family by means of her whom he ought to have considered as sacred to his dead relative; and therefore the menace is held out that he shall not accomplish his design, but that issue shall be denied to such a union.

In favour of this view it may, at least be said, that it harmonizes the whole Mosaic legislation on this subject, and accounts for what, in the common view of the matter, is certainly an apparent inconsistency. I will just add that, though marriage with a deceased brother's widow be allowed to be forbidden in the Law of Moses, under a distinct penalty of failure of issue; yet I know of no authority for saying that such a contract is, by that law, declared null and void, as it now is by ours.

It has been said, my Lords, that we, in this Protestant country, have no such things as dispensations. My Lords, I would to God that this were true. But what was the Marriage Act of 1835? Was not that a wholesale dispensation? making, as it did, all marriages of this kind, up to a certain date, valid, though declaring future ones null and void from the beginning. My Lords, I think that those on whom the mantle of John the Baptist has fallen would have acted more consistently in then coming forward boldly to rebuke what they think vice, constantly to speak the truth, and patiently, if need be, suffer for the truth's sake, than in reserving their penalties and their denunciations for the offences of the humble and the needy.

My Lords, I will only say, in conclusion, that I beseech your Lordships to bear in mind that in proportion as you prohibit things not evil in themselves, you run the risk of lessoning the sense of evil in other things that are morally wrong. Multitudes will come to think that those things to which there are strong temptations, and which present a prospect not only of indulgence, but of social happiness and benefit to a family, though contrary to law, may yet be done without violating morality. My Lords, I am not saying that they are right. I do not mean to excuse or to encourage any one in violating the law. I think those who contract such marriages are very much to blame. But, my Lords, remember you, that, in proportion as you increase prohibitions of that which is not morally wrong, except by your prohibition, you increase the power of the great adversary of mankind. His power is not in tempting men to evil as evil. His power consists in using those things which present the prospect of happiness, comfort and enjoyment, as means by which he may lead us into evil. God, in his inscrutably mysterious Providence, has left already a wide sphere of such influences to the Prince of Darkness; do not you make it wider. For, assuredly, in proportion as, by our prohibitions, we multiply the opportunities of temptation, and prevent the innocent enjoyment of any seeming advantage, not evil in itself, in the same proportion we extend and increase the power of the enemy of mankind.


said, he could most honestly and conscientiously declare that the result of an anxious and careful reconsideration of the whole question, under all its aspects, had been to strengthen and deepen the convictions which he had uniformly felt upon this subject. As to the properly religious part of the question, there was no difference between his own view and that of the majority of the right rev. Bench. A consideration of the matter had indeed led him to entertain still stronger doubts than those he had formerly felt as to the right interpretation of the verse in the 18th chapter of Leviticus, which was so strongly relied on as a conclusive argument in favour of the measure brought before their Lordships by this Bill. It was quite impossible for any one conversant with the original to say that there was not as much to be pleaded in favour of the interpretation in the margin as of that in the text, so that as a grammatical question it was impossible to rest any argument upon it. But it was not by the grammatical meaning of a single term that the verse could be fairly interpreted. It must be taken with the context, and he admitted that at first sight the context would suggest the interpretation given in the authorized version; but further examination would show such grave difficulties as, in his opinion, altogether to neutralize the force of the theological argument drawn from that verse. Then, as to the properly religious part of the question, there was a very general unanimity. It was admitted on all hands that a general principle which governed all marriages within certain degrees of consanguinity and affinity was laid down in the clearest and most unequivocal manner. Again, as to the application of this principle, it had never been disputed that there was an express prohibition against marriage with a brother's wife. The only doubt was as to the application of the principle to the other side of the same degree; and even, if for argument's sake, it was admitted that this application was not immediately designed by the lawgiver, what would follow? Nothing more than this: that in the state of society existing in those times there were circumstances which rendered it safe and wise to dispense with the prohibition on the other side of the degree. But it did not follow that the exception was to be perpetual, and that a time would never come when, under a higher and purer system, the principle should take effect, and the temporary dispensation be annulled. That was a supposition by no means inconceivable or incredible in itself. But was it really the fact? The answer was given in the affirmative by the history of the Church of Christ. He was not referring to matters of an ecclesiastical or canonical nature, but to the New Testament—to the express declarations of our Lord and His apostles. The prohibitions in the Jewish religion were so many restrictions on the passions and appetites indulged by the people of the heathen nations around them. But the Jewish dispensation was far from perfect. There was a higher and better dispensation to come; and it was actually the case that the tendency of the Christian religion was not to relax the restrictions before imposed, but, on the contrary, to put additional restrictions upon the liberty that had been before granted. the conclusion, therefore, at which he arrived was that the prohibition of these marriages came within the spirit and clear tendency of the law of Christ. He should not dwell on the social side of the question, as that was the topic which had been chiefly discussed in the course of the debate. He fully agreed with what had been said by noble Lords as to the pernicious character of the immediate consequences of the measure on the state of society. But he felt much greater alarm at the remote consequences likely to ensue from the grounds on which that change was to be made, and the nature of the arguments used in its support. the opinion of the Rev. Canon Champneys had been quoted by the noble Lord. He was a clergyman of the highest character, for whom he entertained the very highest respect. Mr. Canon Champneys said he did not consider the class of marriages in question immoral, because, under certain special circumstances, the prohibition against them had been removed. He was astonished to hear that argument sanctioned by the right rev. Prelate who had just addressed their Lordships. [The BISHOP OF CORK: I never defended such marriages when the law is against them.] I cannot admit that the only circumstance which makes them immoral is their being contrary to the law of the land. But that was not the question. The argument of Canon Champneys was that there was nothing immoral in these marriages, whether the law prohibited them or not, because in one special case they had been permitted; for he must observe that even in that case they were permitted only, not positively enjoined. So far as there was any truth in the argument it was irrelevant, and so far as it was relevant it was utterly ungrounded. Were not marriages within the prohibited degrees denounced in Scripture as among the abominations of a heathen land, by which that land was defiled; and were they, notwithstanding, to be told that such marriages were not to be regarded as immoral? If all that was meant was that these prohibitions did not belong to an ideal, eternal, immutable law of morality, so that in no conceivable case could they be relaxed, then he would admit the argument. If no such marriages had ever been allowed, it was difficult to understand how the Divine command for the continuance of the species could ever have been carried into effect. But was it to be laid down as a general rule that the law of man had no right to prohibit any kind of marriages which were not expressly prohibited by the law of God? Their Lordships were all aware that there was one part of the law of this country which was considered by some to have no warrant in the Old and New Testament, and to be an infringement of the natural rights of man; and hundreds and thousands of our misguided follow-countrymen yearly left their native shores to enjoy an exemption from this law, and to practise polygamy, and a fortiori bigamy, elsewhere. Now, if the argument to which he had just adverted held good, these persons hail reason to consider themselves tyrannically used. Two other arguments were frequently adduced in favour of this Bill. One was, the feeling supposed to exist among the poorer classes of the community, with regard to the existing state of the law. With the noble Lord (Lord Cranworth) opposite, he believed that there had been very great exaggeration as to the fact. But it would not be surprising if some degree of dissatisfaction with the law did exist among the poorer classes, when such pains were taken by their superiors to prejudice them against it. But he was excessively surprised at the conclusion drawn by the present Dean of Chichester upon this subject, because the conclusion naturally to be drawn from his premisses Would have led him in a totally different direction. Dr. Hook adverted to the habits and habitations of the poor, which he said led many of them to trample upon the restrictions imposed by the law. He (the Bishop of St. David's) contended that their Lordships ought rather to apply their wisdom to reform those habits by removing the disadvantages under which the poorer classes laboured in their habitations than to adapt their laws to that state of degradation, physical and moral, in which so many of them lived. Again, it had been said, that in this part of our social institutions we stood almost alone, and that we ought to assimilate our laws in this respect to those of foreign countries. Before he consented to that, he wished to be satisfied that this peculiarity in our institutions was really a defect and a disadvantage, and was not, what he conceived it to be, a privilege and a blessing. He found a certain scheme of the Divine economy for the moral education of mankind going on from the earliest ages to the present time. The Jewish law imposed restrictions on the licence of heathenism, and the Christian religion imposed additional restrictions upon the indulgence of the lower appetites of our nature. That he considered to be the true progress of humanity. But what was the tendency of the legislation now proposed? He was afraid, there were persons who regarded this as a liberal measure, but to him it appeared a retrograde movement, which would carry them back from Christianity to Judaism, not, however, to stop there, but to go on until it landed us in a state of nature. Their Lordships, by sanctioning such legislation, would be counteracting that beneficent Scheme of the Divine economy which was impressed in such broad and bright characters on the history of our race. He hoped on that, and on every future occasion, their Lordships would rise to the dignity of their position and the responsibility of their great trust, and would feel that they wore called on to exercise one of the highest functions committed to them by the constitution of the country for the most important of purposes—that was, to raise a solid and effectual barrier against that tide of innovation which threatened to sweep away all that was most precious and most sacred in the institutions of the land.


said, as there had been some misrepresentation in reference to this subject out of doors, the result of the silence on the part of the Members of the right rev. Bench, he felt it his duty to state this fact—that he had in the interval since this question was last before their Lordships gone most carefully and conscientiously over the whole grounds of his decision, and that, instead of being weakened, every argument which he had then used against this legislation had been strengthened by that subsequent examination. A statement had been made during the debate by one of his right rev. Brethren which ought not to go forth without the most emphatic contradiction. His right rev. Brother (the Bishop of Cork) had said, that a large proportion of the right rev. Bench had given up the argument that these marriages were prohibited by the law of God, and had come to resist them solely on lower grounds. He asked his right rev. Brother on what grounds he made that statement, seeing that the rest of the right rev. Bench who had addressed their Lordships had contradicted it, and that he could not point to more than two members of that right rev. Bench in support of the assertion? Most undoubtedly the right rev. Bench did rest upon the simple conclusion that they believed, with our Church, that these marriages were contrary to the law of God. Their great argument in this matter was that these marriages were prohibited by the 18th chapter of the book of Leviticus. This chapter contained the principles which governed the law of marriage among the Jews, the great principle being that they were not to marry their own kin. He denied that the prohibition had reference to illicit intercourse. Both the great Jewish sects agreed that this chapter related to the law of marriage and to nothing else. The principle laid down in the first verse was a general principle, and the following verse gave the interpretation. The prohibition was against the man, not against the woman, because the man was regarded as the head of the woman. The next principle was that the prohibition was not repeated, but the Jews were left to draw the inferences from it. Thus, when it was said a son might not marry his mother, the inference was that the converse was prohibited, and by parity of reasoning that a father might not marry his daughter. It was distinctly enacted that a man should not marry his brother's wife, and by a parity of reasoning a wi- dower could not marry his deceased wife's sister. An argument was raised upon a doubtful interpretation of the 18th verse; but the best Hebrew scholars declared that the interpretation of that verse was so difficult, and could be applied in so many ways, that it would be in the highest degree improper to base an alteration of our practice upon it. But it was said that it was not a moral prohibition; that it was only a legal prohibition. How could anything be more marked that it was a moral prohibition than by the words "for these abominations the land was defiled, and the old inhabitants of the land"? If it was not a moral prohibition, how could the old inhabitants of the land of Judea be defiled by not observing a statutory enactment not yet given to the Jewish people? He insisted that it was a moral injunction, and that the Jews were prohibited from contracting these marriages, not because it was expedient for them as a people to abstain from doing so, but because it was wickedness. It was said that the Jews themselves permitted these marriages, and it was true the later Talmudists did so; but they were the people of whom our Saviour spoke when He said, "They have made void the law of God by their traditions." It came then to this—that the law of marriage among the Jews did not rest upon statutory enactment but upon fundamental principles of morality. Then, it had been asked, was the Levitical law binding upon us as Christians. But if the Levitical prohibitions were discarded could any one point to any part of Divine revelation that would guide Christian people in this matter? The marriage of a man with his mother or daughter was not prohibited in any part of the New Testament. The Christian dispensation stood upon the platform of the earlier revelation of God's law—having for its basis the sure Word of God, and of his will —and continued that law, modifying it, perfecting it, enlarging it—but never went below it. And why were these great principles laid down, but that we might exercise those restraints which were enacted for our benefit? They were given in love and to elevate mankind, and in order to give us the blessing of Christianity as it exists in these western lands, in a splendour and purity such as was never known to the patriarchs of the East. Where did all the blessings and beauties of a Christian home come from? Why did we associate in all the glorious freedom of the truthfulness that characterized private life, and which constituted the sweet intercourse of man and woman throughout all Western Christendom, but in consequence of those blessed laws of chastening and restraint, elevating intercourse between man and woman, investing it with a sanctity akin to what the world called chivalry, and which conferred all its holiness and greatness on a Church established on principles of Christian purity. They were told that they could not now reject this Bill because the Bishops, or certain of them, in 1835, consented to forego the law. There had been an entire misrepresentation as to what then took place. Before 1835 these marriages were not void, but only avoidable by a certain process in the Ecclesiastical Court to bastardize the children. The case had been argued as though this applied only to the issue of a deceased wife's sister, but in truth it applied to all incestuous marriages. The old law said that these particular marriages should never have been made, and were therefore voidable; and the statute of 1835 enacted that for the future they should be avoid ab initio. Was that a consenting to forego the law on the part of some of the right rev. Bench, when the new law said that such marriages should be ipso facto void? Under the old law friendly suits could be commenced to bastardize the children of such a marriage; but such suit not being carried on, no other could be commenced whilst that was pending, so that practically, in such a state of things, the children could not be bastardized. To get rid of that, the new law said that, in future, no such suit should be allowed, but it did not declare the marriages good. So high an authority as Sir Herbert Jenner Fust said on the judgment-seat that the new law of 1835, so far from making these marriages legal, it was the fact that the ecclesiastical law could still take cognizance of them, and punish the parties. His right rev. Brother the Bishop of Cork had stated that these marriages were highly immoral; and, if so, on what principle could he consent to the second reading of this Bill to declare all these marriages good? If they acted like that, there was an end to every principle of morality in legislation. They were told that the interests of the poor were involved in this question, but he ventured to say that that was entirely a misrepresentation of the fact. He had sent round to every parish in his diocese to learn the number of cases in which there was suspected concubinage with a wife's sister, or where there had been marriage with a deceased wife's sister, among the poor. The answer throughout the whole diocese was the same — that cases of this kind were almost unknown among the poor. It was only among the middle classes in which could be found a few cases of this sort of marriage. That he might not be misled by what he found in his own diocese as to the state of things in other parts of England, he desired a person, who took great interest in the subject, to make inquiries in the town of Yarmouth. She traced, with the aid of the schoolmistress, the history of 350 females who had attended a great school in that town, and found that for a period of thirty years there had only been four cases in which those females contracted these so-called marriages, and that in these cases there had been criminal connection between the parties during the wife's life. The great sins against the law of purity which at this time infested the lower orders of England wore not against this particular prohibition, but against holier ties. It was not by relaxing our law of morality that those sins were to be met. No instance could be found of the tone of a nation's morals having been raised by relaxing a prohibition at the demand of those who wanted greater licence, for that would be contrary to the whole of God's dealings with man, If at the cry of a few interested persons their Lordships broke down this barrier, what would be the result? Heart-rending sorrow would enter into many a pure Christian family where now the wife's sister took the part of the deceased mother of the children without suspicion and with the purest intention of administering the affairs of the household. In a metropolitan district a clergyman of his acquaintance, who had married no less than 4,000 of his poor parishioners, had taken the trouble to ascertain whether any of them desired to contract these marriages, and he had never had one single application of the kind made to him. It was not, therefore, the poor of the land who desired this licence. It must not be forgotten that the great Reformers had always interpreted the law of God as prohibiting these marriages, and none of them were particularly subjugated to Judaizing tendencies. All the great law authorities, too, of that time laid it down that the Levitical code was the code of morals for the people of God, and must be the foundation of the moral code of Christendom. Was it, therefore, safe to allow men for a single moment to tamper in such an instance as this with what, putting it even at the lowest weight, might be God's prohibition, founded, as it must be, upon His love for man, and His desire to promote man's purity? If this licence were once granted, could they stop at this point? Was it possible to open the flood-gates, and then to say, "You shall go no further?" On what principle, if this point were once yielded, were further concessions to be resisted? Why should not a man he allowed to marry his stepmother? If the law of God did not prohibit it, what law did? All these prohibitions rested on the law of God. The law of nature was not a bit stronger against marriages of consanguinity than against marriages of affinity, and if once the law of God were broken through, on what a sea of impurity would the bark of domestic happiness be launched! He besought their Lordships to pause before inflicting this evil on the land—he entreated them never to forget the words of the Great Legislator, "Defile not yourselves with any of these things, for in all these the nations are defiled and the land is defiled. Ye shall therefore keep my statutes and my judgments, and shall not commit any of those abominations."


— My Lords, I rise with feelings of great sorrow at finding myself compelled to differ from what I know to be the opinion of most of the right, rev. Prelates below me. I feel there is especial cause for sorrow on my part in the fact that I differ in opinion from one whom for twenty years and more I have been accustomed to look at with filial affection, who has so carefully studied the word of God, whose judgment is so calm, and whose piety is so earnest—I refer to the most rev. Prelate. But he and I have spoken of this matter before now, and I am sure he will at least give me credit for honesty in coming to a conclusion so entirely opposed to his own. I feel that I am compelled to differ with him in the religious view of the subject. My Lords, if it had not been for the speeches of the two right rev. Prelates who have preceded me, I should have been contented to give a silent vote. But I have felt constrained to deliver my opinions simply, lest it should be thought that I cowardly shrank from so doing. I agree, to a great extent, with the argument which was used by my right rev. Brother from the sister Island. I un- derstand the right rev. Prelate who spoke last to charge upon all the opinions which have been quoted to-night the inconsistency of contending that these marriages were moral at one moment, and immoral at the same time — [The Bishop of OXFORD interposed] — I am quite willing to be corrected, and I will take the explanation my right rev. Brother gives; but it certainly foil very differently upon my own ear. I would observe then, there has been another misrepresentation made of the opinion of my rev. Friend, Mr. Champneys, a Canon of St. Paul's. I will read the opinion, in order that your Lordships may judge whether it bears the interpetation put upon it. [The right rev. Prelate read the opinion.] What my rev. Friend said was, not that the law of man ought to be superior to the law of God, but that it ought to tally with it. I was anxious to read this opinion for my rev. Friend's sake, in order that the House might hear the plain and simple words which were really used by him; I could not sit here and allow it to go forth, that my rev. Friend, whose talent is so great, whose character is so high, and whose piety is undoubted, had been depreciating, I will not say rejecting, the word of God. My Lords, the vote which I shall give in support of the Bill before your Lordships' House, will, I think, be in accordance with, and not in opposition to the Levitical law. I acknowledge the law to be binding. I hold as strongly as any one a belief in the inspiration of the Scriptures, but in saying that I believe in the inspiration of the Scriptures, I mean that there is not a word too much nor a word too little. But, my Lords, the only argument which has been used to-night, has been necessarily upon constructive evidence. Now, my Lords, I prefer the simple construction of the words to a more difficult construction, and I can see no sound reason why we should resort to an ingenious and a most intricate construction rather than to a simple one, when a simple construction can he easily given to that word. The Holy Scriptures were intended as a plain lesson for plain men, and therefore I think that the plainest construction must be the best. Believing then that every word has its own important meaning, I would remark that the verse in Leviticus, which has been so often alluded to, contains these words, "during her lifetime;" my impression is that these words were qualifying words; that they imply a prohibition to take a wife's sister as a wife during the wife's lifetime to vex her—but that the wife being dead, the prohibition was removed—that the marrying a wife's sister on the death of the wife is thus virtually pronounced to be perfectly lawful.

My Lords, after the very powerful speech which we have heard from the right rev. Prelate below me, in which he intended to show that this was a question on which the working classes did not feel strongly, and in which he doubts whether they are in favour of an alteration of the law; in short, I may say in which he asserts that it scarcely affected them at all, and that in reality the parties who would be most injuriously affected by the proposed change were the women of England, I think it my duty to express how entirely I differ from my right rev. Brother, and to declare the views which I entertain as to the case of the working man. I was myself a working clergyman during a period of nineteen years among working men, and it seems to have been my lot to have been brought into connection with these cases over and over again. In my own parish I could give many instances, but your Lordships will at once admit that I should not be doing right in giving the names of the parties who have contracted these marriages. Some were contracted by persons moving in what may be called the upper middle class. They were well received in the families of those who were in the same walk of life as themselves, and I can from my own observation bear testimony that so far from the families in which these prohibited marriages took place being unhappy, I never saw happier families or families in which the children were better brought up. Then, my Lords, in other cases I have been asked by small shopkeepers, under the same circumstances, to many them; but I was constrained to refuse compliance with their request, because so long as it was the law of the land that those marriages were prohibited it would have been immoral on my part to break that law. Both the parties and myself, whatever might be our private opinion, were bound to submit to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake. I have, my Lords, seen cases of this kind also among the extreme poor, and I had no sooner left my parish, in which these instances to which I have referred had occurred, but I again was brought in contact with cases of marriage with a deceased wife's sister. Still, finding it to be against the law, it became my painful duty to urge upon a clergyman in my diocese that he was bound to vacate his living because he had married his deceased wife's sister. I am told, however, my Lords, that the cases which have occurred among the poor are mainly owing to the peculiar circumstances in which they are placed, the wretched habitations in which they dwelt. I am perfectly acquainted with the state of the dwellings of the poor, and in reply to the suggestion that it is the duty of the Legislature to cause an inquiry to be made with the object of improving the state of their dwellings, this will I venture to say — "These things ought ye to do and not leave the other undone."

My Lords, it seems to mo, that to say that these marriages are contrary to the law of God is begging the whole question. The arguments which have been brought forward on the interpretation of the Scriptures against this measure, I think are an attempt at adding to the word of God in a manner not warranted either by sound reasoning or right principles of interpretation. My Lords, this is not a case in which I have not read the Scriptures for myself and carefully studied the subject, and weighed the arguments on the one side and the other; I have come to the conclusion that it is impossible that the present state of the law can be justified on Scriptural grounds, and I urge it upon the House that it is highly inexpedient to leave the matter as it now stands, and I confess that I feel it my bounden duty to support an alteration of the law.


My Lords, in explanation of an observation which I made, and which has been commented on by my right rev. Brother, I beg to say that when I said these marriages were immoral, I did not mean to say that they were incestuous, because I think that no marriage could be made or unmade incestuous by Act of Parliament. But the law can remove barriers created by itself. I see nothing immoral in an act of indemnity.


My Lords, I have listened with deep interest to the arguments which have been induced in the course of the debate. The right rev. Prelate the Bishop of Oxford denied the accuracy of the argument in favour of the Bill before your Lordships, which rested on the ground that these marriages are of frequent occurrence among the poor, because he had caused a searching inquiry to be made throughout the length and breadth of his diocese, and I think the right rev. Prelate said that not a single instance of the kind had been found. My Lords, I am certainly surprised at such an extraordinary result, the case must be most exceptional, and I still confidently maintain that these marriages frequently take place.

Then, my Lords, there was one matter which was referred to at some length, and some strong arguments were brought forward in reference to the Act of 1835. I hold a copy of that Act in my hand. In the first place I may have misunderstood the right rev. Prelate, but I understood him to say that if the argument held good that that Act rendered these marriages valid, then by the same argument we must hold that that Act rendered valid all manner of incest. I understood the right rev. Pre late to say that if we argued in that way then we must say that the Act rendered valid marriages with one's own sister or one's own daughter.


The noble Lord has quite mistaken me; what I said was, that the Ecclesiastical law required that in the case of every incestuous marriage the parties seeking to set it aside must go through the same process before it could be set aside. For instance, if a man had contracted an incestuous marriage with his own sister, he would be obliged to go through the same process in the Ecclesiastical Court as he would in case he had married his deceased wife's sister, before it could be set aside. We are not at liberty to assume that there was any authority conferred by that Act, which was solely to prevent the bastardizing of the children, and which could before only be done by means of a suit instituted within the period of the lives of the parties.


The right rev. Prelate must allow me to say that the Act of 1835 relates to marriages within certain degrees of affinity throughout the whole of the Act, and not to consanguinity, which is specially excepted from its provisions.

I must say, my Lords, that when I heard the language in which some of the arguments from the right rev. Bench was couched, I have felt some degree of indignation when I remembered that the Act of 1835 is well known to have been passed, in order to legalize a particular marriage with a wife's sister, and that it was passed with the sanction of the right rev. Bench. I can never believe that the right rev. Bench would have, under any circumstances, sanctioned marriages which they held to be incestuous. There are, my Lords, two or three ether points which I should wish to notice, but fear to trespass on the patience of your Lordships. I have been asked why the Bill of this Session should not be extended to Scotland? In the first place the very natural answer to that question is that the Act of 1835 did not extend to Scotland; secondly, the marriage law of Scotland differs essentially from the marriage law of England on many points. As to Ireland, I can assure the noble and learned Lord who objected to the Bill not extending to that country, that if we go into Committee I shall be most happy to insert an Amendment so as to include Ireland in its operation.

In conclusion, my Lords, I will say that whilst I impute no improper motives to any man, and I am quite ready to concede to those who oppose the Bill, that they are actuated by pure and conscientious motives, I claim for the promoters of the Bill the same conscientiousness, and the same purity of motives, and I entreat your Lordships not to withhold your sanction to a measure so urgently required by the interests of such large classes of the population of the country.

On Question, that ("now") stand part of the Motion.

Their Lordships divided. Contents 39; Not-Contents 49: Majority 10.

Westmeath, M. Dunfermline, L.
Ebury, L,.
Airlie, E. Gage, L. (V. Gage.)
Albemarle, E. Glenelg, L.
Clarendon, E. Keane, L.
Ducie, E. Kingston, L. (E. Kingston.)
Granville, E.
Grey, E. Macaulay, L.
Ripon E. Mostyn, L.
Saint Germans, E. Overstone, L.
Sommers, E. Saye and Sele, L.
Lifford, V. Somerhill, L. (M. Clanricarde.)
Torrington, V.
Stanley of Alderley, L.
Carlisle, Bp. Strafford, L. (V Enfield.)
Cork, &c, Bp.
Down, &c, Bp. Suffield, L.
Ripon, Bp. Truro, L.
Aveland, L. Vivian, L.
Belper, L. Wensleydale, L.
Calthorpe, L. Wodehouse, L. [Teller.]
Camoys, L. [Teller.] Wrottesley, L.
Canterbury, Archbp. Bath, M.
Salisbury, M.
Chelmsford, L. (L.Chancellor.) Amherst, E.
Bandon, E.
Somerset, D. Beauchamp, E.
Carnarvon, E. Bateman, L.
De La Warr, E. Berners, L.
Derby, E. Boston, L.
Effingham, E. Braybrooke, L.
Hardwicke, E. Brodrick, L. ( V. Midleton.)
Harewood, E.
Portarlington, E. Churston, L.
Romney, E. Clifton, L. (E. Darnley.)
Rosslyn, E.
Shaftesbury, E. Colville of Culross, L.
Shrewsbury & Talbot, E. Congleton, L.
Stradbroke, E. Cranworth, L.
Dungannon, V. [Teller.] De L'Isle and Dudley, L.
Hardinge, V. Dinevor, L.
Strathallan, V. Feversham, L.
Exeter, Bp. Rayleigh, L.
Hereford, Bp. Redesdale, L. [Teller.]
Ossory, &c, Bp. Saltersford, L. (E. Courtown.)
Oxford, Bp.
Salisbury, Bp. Sondes, L.
St. Asaph, Bp. Tenterden, L.
St. David's, Bp. Wynford, L.

Resolved in the negative; and Bill to be read 2a on this day six months.

House adjourned at a quarter before Eleven o'clock, to Thursday next half-past Ten o'clock.