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Chapter XXXVIII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 8 page 4


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The bill was opposed by several of the bishops, particularly by the Bishop of Oxford; but the Bishop of London gave to the measure his hearty approval, and the second reading was carried by a majority of twenty- nine. In committee several amendments were proposed and rejected. The Archbishop of Canterbury moved a clause restricting the person against whom the divorce was pronounced from marrying the companion in guilt. This was carried by fifty-three to forty-seven; but another amendment by the same prelate was rejected, its object being to exempt from censures or penalties clergymen who should conscientiously object to officiate in marrying divorced parties. The bill passed the third reading on the 23rd of June. It came on for the second reading in the House of Commons on the 24th of July. Numerous petitions had been presented there against the measure, one of which was signed by 6,000 clergymen. Mr. Henley moved that it should be postponed for a month, in order to allow time for deliberation; but Lord Palmerston pronounced the motion to be a pretence too shallow to be entertained, though it was supported by Lord John Manners, Mr. Napier, Mr. Malins, and Mr. Gladstone. It is manifest, said Lord Palmerston, that Mr. Henley and Mr. Gladstone are opposed to the principles of the measure. As far as they are concerned, the demand for further time is illusory. In reference to Mr. Malins, he said: "The honourable and learned gentleman asked me how long I proposed to keep the House sitting. Why, sir, as long as may be necessary to dispose of the important measures before us. I remember sitting in this House till the middle of September. I hope it may be unnecessary to continue the present session for so long a period; but it is trifling with our duties - it is trifling with the great interests committed to our charge - to say that because it happens now to be the 24th of July, we are not to take into consideration a measure so important in itself, so anxiously expected by the country, and which for years has occupied public attention. I therefore entreat the House not to forget the duties cast upon it by our constituencies, and to recollect that we sit here not merely to consider whether it is more convenient to adjourn in July or in August - whether we can carry on our discussions better at a cold than at a hot season, or at a time more consistent than the present with the intellectual vigour of the honourable and learned gentleman; but that the country will think we are neglecting our duties if we put off this grave and serious question, and that by so doing the character of this House will materially suffer in public opinion." Mr. Henley's motion for postponement was negatived by 217 to 130.

In moving the second reading on the 30th of July, the Attorney-General traced the progress of legislation on marriage from the Reformation down. Before the Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church, holding marriage to be a sacrament and indissoluble, had recourse to fictions to escape the operation of the law. But Parliament, proceeding upon settled and permanent principles, had acted as a tribunal for administering the law of divorce. The present bill gave concise expression to the law, simplified it, and transferred its administration to a more convenient tribunal. He argued that the dissolution of marriage for adultery is not contrary either to the letter or spirit of Scripture, and that the intermarriage of the guilty parties had been supported by the precedents of 150 years. The operation of the ecclesiastical law by which a divorce was obtained a mensā et thoro was no effectual relief to an injured wife, as it allowed the husband to retain his power over her property. Many cruel and barbarous cases had occurred, in which the wife was driven to sue for this sentence, and had afterwards by industry in the exercise of intellectual ability, obtained for herself an independent position, and become the owner of property, till the husband returned, laid his hand on her hard-earned gains, and swept all away to gratify his own dissolute propensities. This reproach of our law, this relic of its savage character as regards the relation of husband and wife, would, he trusted, be effectually removed by the provisions of the bill. Sir. W. Heathcote moved that the second reading be deferred for three months. It was also opposed by Mr. Drummond, Mr. Bowyer, Mr. Malins, Lord John Manners, and Mr. Gladstone. The latter argued against it at length, both on the law of the case and on the authority of Scripture. Adverting to the religious view of it, he asked - Whether it was consistent with the respect and reverence due to the revelation of God, for Parliament to take into its own hands great mysteries, and the remodelling of religious rites? Touching, lastly, upon the social question, he urged the evils to be apprehended from the licence of divorce, and from shaking the idea of the sacredness and indissolubility of marriage, founded upon the great precedents of human history, and warned the House against entering upon a road which would remove us from a point to which Christianity had brought us. His arguments were met by Sir George Grey and Mr. Walpole. Other members spoke pro and con. The Attorney-General replied, and the motion against the bill was rejected by a majority of 111; the numbers being - for the amendment, 97; against it, 208. In committee, Mr. Walpole urged the Government to accept an amendment proposed by Major War- burton, to the effect that no priest or deacon should be liable to any suit, penalty, or censure, for solemnising, or refusing to solemnise, the marriage of any person who shall be divorced by virtue of the Act. The Attorney- General solemnly warned the committee of the consequences of this concession. His argument is one of general and permanent interest, bearing upon many questions affecting the consciences of the clergy. ' You are about," he said, " to give the clergy an exemption; and upon what ground? Upon the ground of the sin, guilt, and criminality of the charge affecting those who come before them with a request that a religious ceremony may be performed. But if that exemption be granted, where are we to stop? Will the clergy not reason most consecutively from this exemption when they say, ' You have exempted us from doing violence to our consciences in this matter; but why do you leave us under the necessity of submitting to the violation of our consciences in others?' Take the case of a man and woman presenting themselves before the altar for the, solemnisation of this sacred rite - the woman bearing in her body the palpable and prominent marks of illicit cohabitation. Suppose them coming fresh from the bed of fornication to solicit the intervention of the clergyman. Suppose some notorious free-liver, some gross libidinous man, who has shaken off all feelings of decency, and who by his past life has outraged all the principles of morality, presenting himself for the solemnisation of this holy rite - what would be the feelings of the clergyman? What is the result which you must contemplate if, in any single instance, you make up your minds to emancipate the clergyman from the overpowering authority of the law? You are about to trust the clergy with the fatal gift - fatal it will be to the peace of many - of exercising the right of private judgment as to whether or not they shall dispense those holy rites which they have been commissioned to administer. This will pervade all the services of the Church. Take the burial service or the baptismal service. The Church of England clergyman will reason most consecutively according to his impression of the great principles which we are about to introduce into the bill, when he says, 'I must decline to read the burial service over an unconverted man; how can I commit to the earth in " the sure and certain hope of a joyful resurrection " the body of a man whom I know to have died in the commission of some great sin? ' Consider for a moment the responsibility which is thrown upon him with regard to the administration of the Lord's Supper. I cannot approach the subject without a deep feeling of the importance which attends the decision of this question. I cannot presume to set up my opinions or my view of the matter against those of so many eminent and deeply pious men, and of so many most competent persons as are here assembled; therefore I express with the greatest diffidence the feelings which I entertain in my own mind; and I give way not from conviction, but purely in deference to the united body of authority and to the judgment of persons who, I must assume, have weighed this matter well, and who, deeply feeling for the interests of the Church of England, believe that those interests and the happiness, the peace, and the quiet of her ministers will be promoted by the introduction of this principle. Well, God grant it be so; but, though it comes from a feeble voice, I warn you of the things that must follow in its train, and I beg you to pause before you give to the clergy of the Church a fatal gift, which may be the very fount and origin of that dissension, that discord, and that rending in twain which God forbid that we should ever live to see! " Assuming that these matters had been well weighed, and that the majority thought it the duty of the Government to give way, he stated that they would assent to the amendment expressed in a different manner, " That no clergyman in holy orders of the united Church of England and Ireland shall be compelled to solemnise the marriage of any person whose former marriage may have been dissolved upon the ground of his or her adultery, or shall be liable to any suit, penalty, or censure for solemnising or refusing to solemnise the marriage of any such person." The committee, however, decided in favour of the clause by 73 votes against 33, and it was added to the bill.

In consequence of the adoption of the foregoing clause another was added - namely, "That when any clergymen refused to perform the marriage ceremony in the case of divorced parties, it might be lawful for any other minister of the Church of England, licensed within the diocese, to perform that ceremony." The bill, very much altered, having passed the Commons was sent up to the Lords to have the amendments sanctioned. Lord Redesdale moved that the amendments of the Commons be taken into consideration that day six months. The Lord Chancellor and Lord Campbell reprobated this motion, and Lord Lansdowne affirmed that it was contrary to the practice of the House for forty years for any peer thus to move the rejection of a bill of which he was neither the author nor the mover. Lord Redesdale then withdrew his motion. The amendments of the Commons were considered on the 24th of August, the House having agreed to do this only by a majority of two. All the amendments but two were agreed to. The Commons concurred, and the bill became the law of the land. The court established under the act soon became well known under the efficient presidency of Sir Cresswell. Cresswell, who was instrumental in giving relief and freedom to an immense number of aggrieved husbands and wives. The number of cases that came before him, however, might lead to a false impression with regard to the state of matrimonial life in England, because cases had been accumulating for many years, in consequence of the want of a legal remedy. When this accumulation was cleared off the amount of business in the court indicated a much more favourable condition of married life in the middle and lower classes of English society. The act did not extend to Scotland or Ireland. The Scotch did not need its facilities for divorce, and the Irish indignantly protested against the extension of its provisions to their country.

The opening of the year 1858 was signalised by a daring attempt on the life of the Emperor Napoleon. On the 14th of January, at half-past eight o'clock, just as he arrived with the Empress at the door of the Italian Opera in the Rue Lepelletier, three explosions were heard proceeding from hollow projectiles, one of which perforated the hat of the Emperor, and another struck the neck of his aide-de-camp, General Roquet, who was sitting in front. A considerable number of people standing at the doors of the theatre, and some soldiers were wounded, but only two mortally. Two of the footmen also were wounded. One of the horses of the Imperial carriage was killed, and the carriage itself was broken by the force of the explosion. The escape of the Emperor and Empress seemed almost miraculous. Their majesties were loudly cheered on entering the theatre, and the opera proceeded as if nothing had occurred. Prince Jerome Napoleon, Prince Napoleon, the Princess Mathilde, and a crowd of marshals, ministers, generals, ambassadors, and other high functionaries, hastened to the Imperial box to congratulate them on their escape. They left the opera at midnight amidst the enthusiastic cheers of a great multitude, who filled the neighbouring streets. The Boulevards were spontaneously illuminated. On reaching the Tuileries they found the English ambassador, the Minister of the United States, and others awaiting their arrival. This was the celebrated Orsini plot, which was very near involving this country in a war with France, and which led to proceedings in the British Parliament that resulted in the overthrow of Lord Palmerston's administration. On the 20th of January Count Walewski sent a despatch to Count Persigny, then French ambassador in London, in which he charged, in very strong terms, the English Government and nation with something like complicity with the assassins. " This fresh attempt," he wrote, " like those which preceded it, has been devised in England. It was in England that Pianori formed the plan of striking the Emperor; it was from London that, in an affair the recollection of which is still recent, Mazzini, Ledru-Rollin, and Campanella directed the assassins, whom they had furnished with arms. It is there also that the authors of the last plot have leisurely prepared their means of action, have studied and constructed the instruments of destruction which they have employed, and it is from thence that they set out to carry their plans into execution." He stated that the Emperor was persuaded of the sincerity of the sentiments of reprobation which the crime created in England. He appreciated and respected the liberality with which England exercised the right of asylum to foreigners, victims of political struggles. He did not complain of that, but very different was the case of the skilful demagogues established in England. It was no longer the hostility of misguided individuals manifesting itself by all the excesses of the press - no longer even the work of the factions, seeking to rouse opinion and provoke disorder. It was assassination, elevated to a doctrine, preached openly and practised in repeated attempts, the most recent of which had just struck Europe with amazement, and he asked, "ought the right of asylum to protect such a state of things? Is hospitality due to assassins P Ought the English legislature to contribute to favour their designs and their plans, and can it continue to shelter persons who, by their flagrant acts, place themselves beyond the pale of common right, and under the ban of humanity? "

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Pictures for Chapter XXXVIII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 8 page 4

The Earl of Clarendon
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