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Chapter XXXVIII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 8 page 3


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The House of Commons turned from the angry discussions about the Chinese war to a much more agreeable theme. Mr. Shaw Lefevre, who had filled the office of Speaker for nearly eighteen years, now announced his intention of retiring. On the 9th of March he addressed the House, and said that he could not contemplate the termination of his official career without great pain; nor could he allow it to close without offering to the House his sincere and grateful acknowledgments for that uniform confidence and support which he had received, not only from every political party in it, but he might say, with perfect truth, from every individual member. He was quite aware that, in the discharge of the delicate and very onerous duties of the chair, he had much need of the kind indulgence which had always been extended to him, and especially of late, when he had been so frequently reminded of his increasing inability to do full justice to the task imposed on him. It had been his constant aim to improve and simplify their forms of proceeding; but at the same time striving to maintain unimpaired all their rights and privileges, together with all those rules and orders, sanctioned by ancient usage, which long experience had taught him to respect and venerate, and which he believed never could be relaxed, or materially altered, without prejudice to the freedom and independence of the House of Commons.

When the loud and general cheering with which his statement was received had ceased, Lord Palmerston rose, and said he was confident he was a faithful organ of the sentiments of every member of the House when he assured the Speaker that it was with the deepest regret they had heard him make this announcement. He believed that no man had ever sat in that chair who united in a greater degree all the qualities required in their Speaker; and the regret at losing him was mingled with feelings of deep gratitude. He gave notice that he should next day move the thanks of the House to the retiring Speaker, which was done accordingly in terms of emphatic and unqualified eulogy. In the course of his address, the noble lord made some general remarks on the importance of the Speaker's office, knowing how essentially the usefulness, the respectability, and the influence of the House must depend upon the manner in which the man who occupies the chair shall perform the duties which he has to discharge. It was needless to say in how eminent a degree the retiring Speaker had performed his functions; how he had combined promptitude of decision, justness of judgment, firmness of purpose, with the most conciliatory manners; and how the natural dignity which belonged to him, most striking when united to simplicity of mind, and the absence of all affectation, had been communicated through his direction to the general proceedings of the Commons. No member ever approached him for the purpose of obtaining information without meeting not only the most courteous reception and ready hearing, but also receiving the most accurate information on the subject about which he was consulted. He concluded by moving that the thanks of the House be given to the Speaker for his eminent and distinguished services during the period of nearly eighteen years, expressing the sense of the House with regard to the dignity with which he had maintained its privileges, his unremitting attention to its business, the care he devoted to the improvement of its forms, the urbanity and kindness which had uniformly marked his conduct, and which had secured for him the esteem and gratitude of every member of the House. Mr. Disraeli expressed his concurrence in the estimate just pronounced, with deep emotion at the separation of the tie which had so long united him to the House, and their grateful and affection-ate thanks. Lord John Russell also expressed his warm concurrence, and the motion was unanimously adopted. When the Speaker arose to return thanks, all the members took off their hats. He said he had not words at his command, nor could he so control his feelings, as adequately to express his gratitude at this crowning mark of their favour and approbation - this great and inestimable reward for public services; and, in sincerity and from the bottom of his heart, he thanked them.

On the motion of Lord Palmerston, seconded by Sir J. Pakington, the House then resolved that an address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that she would bestow some signal mark of her favour upon the retiring Speaker, and stating that the House would make good the expense. The Queen having returned a gracious answer, and the House having gone into committee on the message, they unanimously resolved that an annuity of 4,000 a year should be conferred upon Mr. Shaw Lefevre, who was subsequently created Viscount Eversley.

The remaining business of Parliament having been rapidly disposed of, Parliament was prorogued, with a view to its dissolution, on March 21st; the royal speech, which was brief, being delivered by commission. Her Majesty stated that it was her fervent prayer that the constituencies of the United Kingdom might be guided by an all-wise Providence to the selection of representatives whose wisdom and patriotism might aid her to maintain the honour and dignity of her crown, and to promote the welfare and happiness of her people. Parliament was convoked for the 30th of April. The result of the general election showed how well grounded was the confidence with which Lord Palmerston appealed to the country. The popularity he had won bore him triumphantly over the most formidable opposition; while those who had been instrumental in the defeat of his government seem not to have pleased their constituencies; some eminent statesmen were rejected to make way for untried and ordinary men, whose chief recommendation was that they would give their zealous support to Lord Palmerston, whom they believed to have vindicated the honour of the country. In fact, the name of Palmerston was made a popular rallying cry at almost every hustings in Great Britain. Mr. Cobden, not venturing to face the West Riding of Yorkshire, where he had been a popular idol, was defeated at Huddersfield, and kept out of Parliament. Mr. Bright and Mr. Milner Gibson were driven from Manchester, Mr. Layard from Aylesbury, and Mr. Fox from Oldham. The small but powerful phalanx of Peelites, whose experienced and accomplished debaters had given the Premier so much annoyance, was completely scattered, Thus his most formidable opponents were driven from the field, while he was enabled to meet the new Parliament at the head of a numerous body of zealous supporters.

Mr. John Evelyn Denison was unanimously elected Speaker in the room of Lord Eversley. Lord Palmerston congratulated him on the dignity to which he had been raised, pointing out the onerous nature of the duties he had to discharge, and presenting the example of the late Speaker as a model which it was impossible to surpass. The royal speech was delivered on the 7th of May, and Parliament at once proceeded to business. The Queen expressed her heartfelt gratification at witnessing the continued well-being and contentment of her people, and the progressive development of productive industry throughout her dominions. The address was agreed to in both Houses nem. con. The first matter of interest that came before the Commons was a message from the Queen, announcing that a marriage had been negotiated between Prince Frederick William of Prussia and the Princess Royal. Earl Granville, in moving an address to Her Majesty on this subject in the Upper House, said: "Many of your lordships are acquainted with the way in which her Royal Highness the Princess Royal has fulfilled the expectations which it was natural to entertain from the education and example she has received; and some must know that the character, opinions, and feelings of the Prince whom her Royal Highness is to marry are such as to lead to even more than the usual hopes of happiness from the proposed union. Your lordships, I am sure, must desire to testify, by a loyal and dutiful address, the anxiety which you feel to promote in every way the comfort and happiness of the parents of the Princess Royal, and to express your admiration of the manner in which their domestic duties have been discharged, and of the care and attention which they have shown, in the education of their children."

In the House of Commons on the same evening, the Premier made some remarks, which, read in the light of subsequent relations with the Court of Prussia, and of the existing national feeling towards the husband of the Princess Royal, show how the wisest human calculations may be falsified by the course of events: - "I cannot refrain from saying that those who have had the good fortune to be acquainted with the Princess Royal must have observed that she possesses, both in heart and in head, those distinguished qualities which adorn her illustrious parents, and that she bids fair to hold out in the country of her adoption a repetition of that brilliant example which her illustrious parents have held out in this country, of a domestic happiness worthy to serve as a model of imitation for the most exalted or the humblest of Her Majesty's subjects. Sir, it is impossible not to see that this marriage, independently of the prospect which I trust it holds out of happiness to her Royal Highness, from the high qualities of the prince whom she has selected as her future husband, also holds out to the country political prospects not undeserving of the attention of this House. We all know how family alliances tend to mitigate those asperities which from time to time must be produced by those diversities of policy which inevitably arise occasionally between great and independent powers, and therefore I trust that this marriage may also be considered as holding out an increased prospect of goodwill and of cordiality among the powers of Europe."

In connection with the dowry of the Princess Royal, the Chancellor of the Exchequer made a statement, in which he contrasted the position of the Crown as to revenue with what it had been in past times. The Crown, deprived of its hereditary revenues, was now dependent upon Parliament for a maintenance suitable to its dignity. The Civil List of George III. amounted to more than 447,000; while that of the present Queen was only 385,000. George III. also received the revenues of the Duchy of Cornwall; the Queen devoted part of them to the education of the Prince of Wales, and allowed the rest to accumulate for his benefit. During the reign of George III., Parliament voted 3,297,000 in payment of debts incurred by the Royal family; the Queen had incurred no debts. Allowances were granted to the younger branches of the family of George III.; no grant of the kind had been made to the children of Her Majesty. The expenses of the visits of George IV. to Hanover, to Ireland, and Scotland, were paid by the country; whereas, Queen Victoria visited the Emperor Napoleon at Paris at her own cost, although the visit was not made for her own personal enjoyment, but for the public good. Her Majesty had paid 34,000 for the furniture and repairs of Buckingham Palace; and she paid 6,180 a year for the peace income-tax, and 15,500 for the war income-tax. As to precedent, the eldest daughter of George II. received an annuity of 8,000 and a dowry of 80,000, and similar sums were granted to the eldest daughter of George III. Sir George Lewis proposed that the Princess Royal should receive an annuity of 8,000, and that her marriage portion should be 40,000.

Mr. Roebuck moved, by way of amendment, that a certain sum should be given at once, and no annuity, in order to avoid an entangling alliance, and with a view to the large family the nation would have to provide for. As representatives of a hard-working people, they ought, while generous, to be just. At the request of Lord John Russell, Mr. Disraeli, Lord Elcho, and other members, Mr. Roebuck eventually withdrew his motion. On subsequent days, Mr. Coningham, Mr. Maguire, and others, made attempts to reduce the amount; but their amendments were rejected by overwhelming majorities.

A reform of some importance to Ireland was effected during the present session, namely, the abolition of "Ministers' Money" - a tax which was imposed upon householders in Dublin, Cork, and other places, for the support of the clergy of the Established Church. It was only about 12,000 a year; but as it was, in the majority of cases, a direct payment from Roman Catholics to Protestant ministers, it had been a source of much irritation. Mr. Eagan, of Cork, brought in a bill for its abolition, with the assent of the Government, providing that the sum should be made good by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners out of the Church revenues at their disposal. On the ground of principle, the measure was strenuously opposed by Mr. Napier, Mr. Whiteside, Sir F. Thesiger, and Mr. Walpole; and supported by Sir G. Grey, Mr. Horsman, Mr. J. D. Fitzgerald, Lord John Russell, and Lord Palmerston. The second reading was carried by a majority of 139. In the House of Lords the bill was opposed by the Earl of Derby, the Bishop of Kilmore, Lords Dungannon, Wicklow, and Donoughmore. It was defended by Earl Granville, the Earl of Harrowby, Lord Talbot de Malahide, Lord Ellenborough, and the Duke of Newcastle. It narrowly escaped rejection there, the second reading being passed only by a majority of five.

The first session of the new Parliament was distinguished by the passing of two measures of great social importance - the transfer of testamentary and matrimonial cases from the jurisdiction of the Ecclesiastical Courts, and the establishment of a new Probate Court, and a new Divorce Court. As might be expected, all the supporters of vested rights and interests in the Church offered to these measures the most determined opposition. In the previous session the Lord Chancellor had introduced the Probate and Administrations Bill, which there was not then time to pass. It was altered in the meantime, and on the 18th of May the second reading was moved by the Lord Chancellor. He proposed that the then present judge of the Prerogative Court should be the first judge of the new Court ol Probate, with a working salary of 4,000 a year, and a retiring pension of 2,000. He proposed that he should also be the judge of the Divorce Court. The proceedings were to be all conducted viva voce, and whenever matters of fact were in dispute they should be referred to a jury. The County Courts were to have jurisdiction in will cases, where the estate did not exceed 200 in personality, or 300 in real property. The bill was severely Contested in both Houses; but, with certain amendments, it ultimately passed into law.

The Divorce Bill - a measure of much greater importance - touching deeper social interests, and powerful religious feelings connected with the sanctity and indissolubility of marriage, met with the most determined and persevering opposition. The second reading was fixed for the 18th of May, when the Lord Chancellor reviewed the state of the law with regard to marriage. In 1850 a commission had been appointed to inquire into the whole subject, and it was on the recommendation of their report that the present bill was founded. Nothing could be more absurd, vexatious, and expensive, than the law as it previously stood. The principle that marriage might be dissolved had been adopted by the legislature; but practically, the separation of husband and wife was a privilege reserved for the aristocratic and wealthy classes, although the causes which made separation necessary or desirable affected all classes. Before a divorce could be obtained a vinculo matrimonii, proceedings must first be taken in the Ecclesiastical Court, a verdict must be obtained against the adulterer, and all the facts must be again established, at enormous cost, before the bar of the House of Lords. The bill proposed to substitute one tribunal, by which the matter was to be investigated and finally decided. The action for crim. con. then an indispensable preliminary to a divorce, would be rendered unnecessary. The Archbishop of Canterbury gave his assent to the second reading; but he declared that he would oppose in committee the clause which permitted the guilty parties to be united in legal marriage. Lord Lyndhurst was most anxious for the success of the bill. He believed that it was a scriptural doctrine that marriage might be dissolved in case of adultery; but our law on the subject was derived from the system which prevailed when the country was under Roman Catholic rule. One hundred and fifty years ago recourse had been had to palliatives; but these means were available only for the rich. The law ought to embrace both rich and poor. Upon this principle it was impossible that any solid objection could be made to the alterations proposed by the bill. Instead of facilities for severing the marriage tie being demoralising, he contended that the present law led to great immoralities among the poorer classes of the people, because they now had no redress against the adulterer. But he was of opinion that the bill did not go far enough. One objection he had to the bill was its great inequality between the two sexes. He called upon their lordships to do justice. The more they considered this part of the measure, the more they would be satisfied of the unsoundness of the argument urged against women who applied for a divorce on the ground of adultery on the part of the husband. But if their lordships could not concur in that suggestion, he hoped they would allow wilful desertion to be a sufficient ground for divorce. By deserting his wife the man violated the very purposes for which marriage was instituted.

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Pictures for Chapter XXXVIII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 8 page 3

The Earl of Clarendon
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Lord Palmerston
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Port of the city of Canton
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