Sivut kuvina
PDF
ePub

approved of the end, but disliked the means; whereas the means were simple and practical. If a solemn resolution of the House of Commons, not founded upon fear, should commission the Foreign Secretary—careless of the petty jealousies of diplomacy — to say openly to France, "We desire peace, and ask you to aid us in this great work," we should exhibit a noble spectacle to mankind, and set an example to other nations.

Mr. M. Gibson denied that the proposition of Mr. Gobden would reduce this country to a dependence upon the forbearance of other nations, or disable us from repelling an attack. He merely asked the Foreign Secretary to act, with reference to the reduction of warfare, upon the same principle as that he had adopted in increasing' it—namely, by opening a communication with France and making mutual reductions as we had made mutual augmentations.

Mr. Hume supported the resolution, the object of which, he said, was to reduce our armaments to the footing upon which they stood before the unfortunate Syrian dispute. If the Government desired to promote amity with France and reduce our establishments, they ought to adopt the resolution, the withdrawing of which would imply that it wanted the support of the House.

Several hon. Members, among whom were Sir R. Inglis, Sir H. Verney, Mr. Brotherton, and Mr. Pryse, suggested to Mr. Cobden, that after the speech of Lord Palmerston, so nearly in the direction which he desired, his object might be better attained by not going to a division. To the advice thus given, Mr. Cobden

acceded. Declaring his great satisfaction at the tone of the discussion on all sides, he withdrew his motion, pledging at the same time his firm support to the principles involved in it, in justice to those out of doors, who take a deep interest in the question.

Lord Palmerston again observed that what he objected to was the particular mode recommended of arriving at the result which all desired,—namely, the obligation to enter into negotiation with France. He begged, therefore, not to be understood as undertaking that the Government would enter into that negotiation: the Government must be considered as perfectly free to use its discretion in all circumstances that might arise.

The motion was then, by leave, withdrawn.

The Bill for legalizing the marriage of widowers with their deceased wives' sisters, which in the preceding session had been lost in the House of Lords after passing through the Commons, was this year brought into the Upper House in the first instance, the charge of the measure being undertaken by Earl St. Germans. The noble Lord moved the second reading on the 25th of February, in a speech which he illustrated by a good deal of research and statistical details. He began his argument by laying down the position that the Mosaic law was not binding on Christians. After quoting passages from Jeremy Taylor, Bingham, and several other divines and jurists in proof of this statement, Lord St. Germans proceeded to contend that such marriages were not in contravention to the principles of the New Testament dispensation. He showed by reference to the results of an investigation into the subject which had lately taken place, that no less than 830 marriages of this nature had occurred within a short period in London and its vicinity, within a circuit of seven or eight miles from the General Post Office. The number had been continually progressive, so that it was evident that public opinion was unfavourable to the prohibition. In a district of the midland counties, including the Potteries, the number of cases recently discovered was 625 out of a population of about .500,000.

When it was considered how many respectable and moral people had disregarded the present law, being satisfied that these . marriages were not prohibited but permitted by the law of God, their Lordships would, he hoped, be of opinion that it was dangerous to teach persons of such a class to live in perpetual breach of the laws of the country.

The opposition to the Bill was led by the Archbishop of Canterbury on religious grounds, which he urged in a gentle and tolerant spirit towards opponents, but with firm confidence as acting in the discharge of a public duty. He considered that the question was decided by the 18th chapter of Leviticus.

The passage in the 16th verse of that chapter, relied on by the supporters of the Bill, was of such uncertain interpretation that no argument could be based on it. In reference to the many mischiefs alleged to be the consequences of the present state of the law, it was no- doubt to be lamented that this or any other law, divine or human, should be transgressed; but the part of the Legislature

must be, not to lower the law to the standard of the practice, but to elevate the practice to the standard of the law. Very grievous mischief arose from all unlawful connections—from the practice of concubinage, for instance; but we do not for that reason think of dispensing with the obligation of marriage, or legitimatize the guiltless progeny of a guilty connection. The Archbishop moved that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.

The Bishop of Exeter went over the general arguments in favour of the Bill with great minuteness. He maintained that as a bishop of the Church of England he was bound to call these marriages incestuous.

He gave a new interpretation of the 16th verse of Leviticus xviii.; one which he had received from Dr. Milner, the Professor of Hebrew at Cambridge. The verse which in our translation stands, "Neither shalt thou take a wife to her sister, to vex her, to uncover her nakedness, beside the other in her lifetime " — when literally rendered is, "A woman unto sister thou shalt not take, to uncover nakedness, during life." There are no pronouns in the sentence. The phrase "during life" or "in life" is one of emphasis, one of the strong expressions ordinarily used in Scripture; it applies unquestionably to the life not of the wife, but of the sister, and implies that the event shall never take place.

The Bishop of St. Davids went a certain way with Lord St. Germans in his argument, but was compelled to differ in the practical conclusion to which he asked the assent of the House. He could not take such high ground as the Bishop of Exeter, because he was not satisfied that the prohibition which at present existed against these marriages was immediately and directly founded upon the law of God. In his opinion, the ordinances of Leviticus were part of a moral law; but it did not follow that every particular ordinance relating to this subject should possess the character of an immutable moral law. His impression was that in this case too many attempts had been made to accommodate Scripture to a preconceived opinion. Such being his views on the religious part of the question, he next came to consider it in a social light, and here he thought that Lord St. Germans had failed in proving that the existing law was inefficient, or that it caused dissatisfaction among any great class of the community. On the contrary, by far the greatest portion of society in England was opposed to the measure now before the House, and it was unanimously condemned by public opinion both in Ireland and Scotland. While he sympathized with those who had brought suffering on themselves by transgressing the existing law, he did not consider that they had made out a sufficient case for altering the law.

The Bishop of Norwich said that if the noble Lord who introduced the measure had based it upon broader principles of religious toleration he should not have been indisposed to support his motion; but he could not agree to a measure which, however it might give relief to a comparatively few individuals, would sacrifice the comforts and the domestic happiness of the greater portion of the people of the United Kingdom of England and Ireland, and especially of Scotland.

Lord Gage supported the measure. He pronounced the existing law tyrannical in its operation against the poor, while it was not required by scriptural authority, by nature, nor by public policy.

Lord Campbell opposed the Bill at considerable length. He characterized the agitation on the question as one that had arisen "purely from a purpose of personal interest." It was instigated by those who had violated the law or made engagements which the law forbade. They began by retaining counsel and solicitors, by sending lecturers over the country, by writing pamphlets, and by holding public meetings, at which their advocates spoke from the platform. It was by having taught people that these marriages are lawful that they had occasioned, in many instances, the law to be broken; and then they brought forward those breaches of the law as arguments in favour of now altering the law of marriage. Before the Commission there was examined the then Bishop of Melipotamus, a gentleman who had since received a more sounding title, but of whom upon no occasion would Lord Campbell speak with the slightest disrespect. When that reverend gentleman was examined before the Commission, he mentioned what were the doctrines and practices of his church, and showed that the Roman Catholic Church looked much less to Scripture than to the power of the clergy to enact laws for themselves. He also stated, in the most express manner, that since the Act of 1835 passed, making these marriages void, although they could not among the Roman Catholics be celebrated without a dispensation, he had continued to grant dispensations permitting such marriages. So that here was the source of a large number of instances in which the law of the land was entirely set at defiance, and marriages encouraged in direct violation of it. But the proportion of these incestuous marriages has been monstrously exaggerated. He had been assured, by those having the best means of information, that they were not more numerous than instances of bigamy; an offence which, from his own experience, he knew to be exceedingly common in the counties of England. If, then, Parliament were to pass the present Bill because the law had been violated, we might, for the same reason, pass a law sanctioning bigamy. The arguments founded on the example of Protestant Germany and America proved too much: if we take the example of Germany, we should make marriage a matter of contract only during convenience; and if that of America, we should have to dissolve the marriage bond upon frivolous grounds, which the feeling of the country would be shocked to act upon. Lord Campbell hoped that the Bill would be rejected by such a majority as would render hopeless the attempt to alter the law.

After some remarks from the Bishops of London and Ossory against the Bill, the House divided, when there appeared—

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

England, in reference to the corporate jurisdiction of the National Establishment and its relations with the State, was raised in the House of Lords on the 11th of July, upon the motion of Lord Redesdale. The noble Lord stated his views to the House in a temperate and discriminating speech. Moving formally for a copy of the petitions presented by the clergy and laity of the province of Canterbury to both Houses of Convocation on the 5 th of February last, he reviewed the objections to renewing the synodical action of the Church, and portrayed the evils which arise from the absence of Convocation. It was legal, and had only fallen into disuse. Fatal disputes were feared; but they did not arise when Convocation existed, and do not arise in the governing bodies of other religious denominations, as in the case of the Church of Scotland and the communities of Dissenters. Peace did not exist at present; but only the violent obtained prominence and control; so that the Church was either paralyzed, or represented by unauthorized persons. The stream of opinion in favour of granting the Church her old liberty of synodical action was flowing so fast that at last it would be impossible to withstand it.

The Archbishop of Canterbury declared himself unfavourable to the revival of Convocation, mainly on the grounds of apprehension of increased dissension and controversies. If the assembling of Convocation were to end in reconciling some conflicting rubrics, or in supplying the deficiencies of others, or in the change of a few obsolete words or questionable phrases, the result would be little worth the cost. Thus far you would disappoint; go further and you would excite. Where we had now a smothered fire, hotter perhaps than was agreeable, but still manageable, we should raise a conflagration which it would require all Her Majesty's prerogative to extinguish.

After giving some account of the early history of Convocation, and showing that it was in fact a very uninfiuential body for about a century after the Reformation, the most reverend Prelate thus proceeded :—" After the Revolution matters were altered. The history of Convocation during the reign of Queen Anne is a history of altercations between the Upper House and the Lower. It soon appeared that a body so constituted was ill suited to the purpose of solemn deliberation or wise legislation. The last disputes were ended, as former disputes had been, by a timely prorogation; and since the year 1717 it has never seemed expedient to the Government for the time being to advise the Sovereign to issue a licence for the dispatch of business in Convocation. Now, what can we reason from but from what we know? What grounds have we for believing that more advantage or less injury to the Church would result from the assembling of Convocation now than in the reign of Queen Anne or George I.? But the noble Lord who has brought on this debate has pleaded for Convocation on the ground that every religious body has such meetings; and the argument at first sight seems reasonable. There may, however, be privileges which are not advantages. There may be privileges which it is not desirable to claim. Between independent bodies of religionists and

the Church of England no parallel can be established. They are not involved in the constitution of the country. They may meet, and deliberate, and resolve, without constituting that anomaly in Government, an imperium in imperio. And, after all, is peace or harmony the result of those meetings? The conferences of the Wesleyan body, whenever they have led to a change in the mode of government, have ended in separations and secessions. And I doubt whether the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, which might be best compared with ours, though different in a very important particular—I doubt whether that is always a scene of peace and harmony. In the diary of the late Dr. Chalmers I find these words, 'May 8. A meeting of presbytery. I dislike its atmosphere, though it is my duty to enter it, and, if possible, to soften and transform it.' And again, 'May 9. A most tempestuous day in the presbytery.' Certainly, my Lords, the General Assembly, if it did not contribute to occasion so fatal an event, did not prevent a disruption of the church in that country, the most serious which has ever occurred in any church since the Reformation. (' Hear, hear.') At all events, the benefit which is expected of self-regulation and independent legislation would be dearly purchased if purchased at the cost of confidence on the part of the people. And we must shut our eyes against all experience if we do not foresee this danger, if we believe that it would not rather foment than allay divisions. No one can lament more than I do the existence of such divisions. No one would be more ready to concur in any measure

« EdellinenJatka »