« PreviousContinue »
A Letter on the Unitarian Marriage Act, now before Parlia. tnent, to the Marquis of Lans. downe.
Since I first heard of your Lordship's introduction of the Bill, now pending in Parliament, respecting Unitarian marriages, it has been the subject of my serious consideration. The step which I now take of publicly addressing your Lordship then occurred to me. But I thought it more proper to wave any public appeal of this sort, till I had learnt the opinion of the Rulers of the Church on the subject. The recent discussion, on the second reading of the Bill, in the House of Lords, has tended greatly to encrease the general anxiety respecting the measure. The speech of the Archbishop of Canterbury, as reported, though partaking largely of that spirit of moderation which is known to characterize all his Grace's public proceedings, appears to me, I must confess, to have a greater degree of compliance than the occasion either called for or warranted. The declarations of the two other Prelates, who addressed the House upon the subject, come nearer to my mind. But considering the great alteration proposed by the Bill in the law of marriage, and the immediate result to which, if it passes, it cannot, in my mind, fail of leading; I own, since reading the debate, my anxieties respecting the measure have' become deeper than before: and, under these impressions, your Lordship will perhaps excuse me, if I take the liberty of addressing a few words to you on tbe Bill now pending.
My wish is to trespass on your Lordship's valuable time only for a few minutes. Indeed the Bill is in such a stage, that what I have to offer must be said shortly and Remembrancer, No. 65.
promptly. I will, therefore, briefly and respectfully submit to your Lordship my opinions first on the nature of the'evil complained of, and the remedy sought, by those whom the measure is designed to relieve, and next the effect to be anticipated on those not connected with the prayer of the- petition. By setting these in opposite scales, I cannot help thinking justice and truth may be determined.
The evil complained of is the offence done to Unitarians, by requiring them to participate at their marriage in a ceremony, at portions of which their consciences revolt. The remedy proposed is to enable them to marry at their own places of worship, and in their own way: regard being had and provision made, for publicity before marriage and registry after it. Now in ascertaining the quantum of evil to be redressed, I cannot but think it very small. Only three expressions, I believe, occur in the whole Service calculated to offend their peculiar views. The two first, where the male party to be married himself says :—" With this ring I thee wed, &c. in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghott:" and where the Minister says of the contracting parties, " I pronounce that they be man and wife together, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." The third, where the Minister of the Church says to the parties who have contracted, —" God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Ghost, bless, preserve, and keep you,'' &c. Now allow me to ask your Lordship, how can the two first of these be said to furnish cause of offence; seeing that the very same words are directed to be used by our Saviour himself in the initiatory act of Christianity 1 And if in the initiatory act these words are to be used, and the Unitarian himself does in point of fact so use them, M m
surely it can be no just cause of complaint to him, that he should be required to use them in any other religious rite I With regard to the third passage, the being obliged to be present to have the words of that addressed to him, may appear somewhat more hard. And it would unquestionably be so, if the Unitarian under the circumstances of his religious creed, were compelled to utter thera himself. But this is not the case. They are addressed to him. In this particular, a noble lord (Holland) who took the same side of the question in the debate with your Lordship, (if his speech be correctly reported,) mistook the matter, when he said, "the Unitarian was called on, contrary to his conscience, to speak of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy G host." This is not the fact. He is not called on to speak thus himself: the Minister, on the part of the Church, says so to him. The Minister too, or rather the Church, whose voice he is, means it in charity; he speaks it in charity. He means to offer to the Unitarian, as far as he can accept it, the best' blessing the Church can pray for. I really think, if I were an Unitarian addressed with this form of bene, diction, I should say Amen to it with all my heart. I should argue thus, "True it is that my conscience forbids my owning the Son and the Holy Ghost to be God, as they are here called : true it is, that I hold their being so called to be idolatrous. But what of that? I am come here not to perform an act of religious worship of my own choosing: but to comply with the law of the land in making a contract of a mixed nature: viz. partly civil, and partly religious. Even (hough the language that is addressed to me be, as I view it, false: the Church and its minister who address it to mc have pure intentions
in offering it. I will therefore accept what I hold true in this form, and reject what I bold false. I know that the Son and the Holy Ghost are in some way or other ordained to be instruments of good to mankind; I will therefore receive this good wish as far as 1 think it capable of being fulfilled. Yea, as far as this goes, I will say with all my heart and soul' Amen, so be it.'"—If this be fair reasoning in the mouth of an Unitarian, it is evident that he has no great evil to complain of: none at least but such as a good citizen may in the necessary imperfection of human affairs acquiesce in and submit to, consequently, if there is no great evil, the remedy is hardly worth inquiring into on his part. But as respects others, it may be far otherwise. I will therefore proceed, 'Secondly, to consider how the remedy proposed would act on. others not parties to the Petition on which this Bill is founded. That it would operate directly to the injury of the Established Church ; and indirectly, and by probable consequence, to the abridgment of dignity, solemnity, and publicity in the performance of the rite of matrimony, I do not hesitate to. declare my opinion. Farther than this, if * the newspaper report can be depended on, a doubt has been suggested from the highest legal authority whether such a provision is in strict consistency with the common law of the land. This is a point that I do not feel myself either competent or required to dwell on. But I will take the two other considerations in the order I' have placed them. First, I say, it would operate directly and very materially to the injury of the Established Church: a component part of the state, which it is the duty of Parliament to sustain. For, not to mention what was very fairly adverted to in the course of the debate, the pecuniary loss that would be sustained by the clergy in populous parishes, but small benefices; and the estrangement which would likewise take place in the cases contemplated by the Bill, where the clergy are not resorted to for the office of matrimony: I think it is impossible not to foresee, that the next step, should this be obtained, will assur. edly be for the whole body of the Dissenters to ask the same indulgence: and I do not see how, if asked, it can be refused. My Lord Holland appears to me completely consistent in this respect when he says: "Whenever any other description of Dissenters should come forward with a similar application on the same grounds, he should be prepared to give them the same measure of relief," I cannot myself see clearly how he could have ar. gned otherwise. Your Lordship at this juncture may be desirous of knowing, that since the late discussion, passing through a large and populous town in tire centre of ■die kingdom, I was told by an individual who assured me (and I believe correctly) that he had frequent and considerable means of intercourse ■with the Dissenters in that town; that though they were not disposed to stir in the present measure, yet that if it passed into a law, they (the other Dissenters) should (claim was his word: bat I suppose he meant)petition for the same indulgence. Now really, my Lord, with all respect be it said, I cannot help thinking I am doing you a kindness in stating this circumstance to you at the present juncture: for you to give as much or as little weight to it, as you may think belongs to it. From the report of the debate, it appears that your Lordship is not
Erepared to go'the leugths of Lord lollaud in this particular; though I cannot see how can you stop short of them, notwithstanding the distinction your Lordship is stated to have
drawn. Your Lordship is reported to have said: With respect to other Dissenters, he must s;iy there was considerably more difficulty: and other language to the same effect. If your Lordship can stop here, and what is more, caif persuade others to do the same; the measure is certainly released from this extended objection. But it is my firm belief that your Lordship cannot answer for the effect on your own mind, much less on the minds of others, of the passing of the pending Bill. Still less can.you answer for what you may be able to say to others who may build their hopes and petitions to you on this single measure. I entreat your Lordship to pause at this point: to consider whether you are prepared for this result. I entreat you again to pause while in connection with this Tesult I introduce to your notice my second head of observations, viz. the abridgment of dignity, solemnity, and publicity in the performance of the rite of matrimony probably consequent on such a law. If your Lordship's station could admit of your witnessing the worship of all Dissenters in this kingdom, and if you could anticipate the possible event of all Dissenters being allowed to marry in their own places of worship, and according to their own plans, I am pretty clear a word more need not be added, to shew how much of dignity and solemnity would be sacrificed by this measure and its effects. I will dwell no longer therefore on this point.— With respect to publicity and security against clandestine marriages, I bardly think it possible for legislative details to maintain this under such a law as the one now under discussion. This also I will therefore merely content myself with suggesting.
There is however one further consideration, which before I conclude, I cannot help offering to your Lord. ship's reflection: though in strictness it perhaps belongs to a former part of this letter. It is this—In .proportion as the real cause of of
■^fence to the Unitarians appears to be diminished, in the same proportion must they expect their motives in urging it to be narrowly (not to say jealously) examined: and if we pursue the subject a little.farther, it is perhaps no more than the Unitarian himself will allow, to say: that his sect more than any other existing piques itself on what it calls enlarged freedom of sentiment on religious subjects: even so, as in the opinion of many to urge the reasoning powers to a length of profane contempt for Revelation. Now if this be the case, and if a triumph on this occasion should tempt them in the fulnesB of their success to shew the public what a point has been gained by what they term freedom of thought, but many other good men would give a different name to, is this a triumph that the friends of religion in general will have on the whole good cause to rejoice in '( Will it be a desirable or very honest result, if by a side wiud triumph be obtained for free thinkers and latitudinarians in religion? I cannot therefore help briefly throwing out for your Lordship's consideration, whether it will be quite ingenuous to obtain this measure; provided it is capable of being made by designing men a stepping stone to ulterior views, in which neither your Lordship nor a vast majority of your Lordship's House are prepared to concur or rejoice.
Pardon me, my Lord, for these additional observations. I will trespass no longer. Two wishes I cannot forbear from holding on this subject. The first is, that your Lordship could see reason on a -balance of benefit and the contrary,
4o withdraw from your prominent •share in the present measure. Next,
if not so, I should rejoice in hear* ing that you would at least be induced to declare in your place that you have no intention to build on this measure any sanction, directly or indirectly, for the extension of the same relief, or whatever it is to be called, to the great body of Dissenters. Farther than this, weighing the measure itself with all its effects, I cannot but express my sincere hope and trust, that the majority of the august assemblage to which your Lordship belongs will see ample grounds for opposing the pending proposition.
Allow me my Lord, to add in conclusion, that in the foregoing observations I hope not one word has escaped me capable of being construed iuto any thing other than the sincerest respect. For however my impressions on the subject of these remarks may differ from those of your Lordship, this circumstance, whatever may be its degree, could not blind me to the value of your Lordship's character; or to the manner in which your Lordship ful. tils the high duties of your exalted station, by a distinguished exemplification of high talent and principle introduced into the details of social life.
I have the honor to be,
A Country Clergyman.
To the Editor of the Remembrancer
Mr. Editor, I Have an observation or two to offer you, on your answer, at page 31, of No. 61, for January last, "to the questions of your Correspondent M. M." though I have not seep those questions,
The 6th Section of the late Marriage Act not only directs that a Register Book for Banns shall be provided in every parish on or before the 1st of November, 1823, but it also directs the form that shall be used.
It runs thus:—"And be it further enacted,*' &c. " shall provides book of substantial paper, marked and ruled respectively in manner directed for the Register. Book of Marriages, and the Banns shall be published from the said Register Book of Banns by the officiating Minister, and not from loose papers, and after publication shall be signed by the officiating Minister," &c.; and the Form for the Register of Marriages is given in the 28th Section of the same Act: as much of it as can apply to the Register of Banns runs thus,-—
Between " A. B. of (the this) Parish, and C. D. of (the this) Parish, .were married," &c.
The King's printer provided, accordingly, Register Books in the form directed, one of which I procured for the use of the parish in which I live; aud it was the duty, I conceive, of every resident Minister to do the same.'
The 7th Section of the Act regards the notice to be given to the Minister, of the names, and of the place and time, of abode of the parties respectively. No specific time of previous residence being prescribed by the Act, you observe that the time is left to the discretion of the
Minister. He cannot, surely, follow a better guide to his discretion, than the actual provision, by the same Act, of fifteen days previous residence before a licence for marriage can be granted. And I consider this as a "fair inference." Your idea, that "pernoctation is a sufficient compliance with the Act," is, I think, erroneous. That word Mr. Todd in his Dictionary explains thus: "The act of tarrying and watching all night."
And, Mr. Editor," whilst my hand is in," I would offer you an answer to the questions of your Correspondent " P. M." at page 142 of No. 63, for March, respecting the "poor rate on tithes."
"The parson,'' whether he collect the tithes in kind, or take an annual composition for them, from each landholder, is the occupier; and is liable by law, as such, to be rated for the bona fide value of them to let, or for the sum at which they actually are let.
But, if he let the whole of the tithes to a tenant, or joint tenants, the said tenant or tenants become liable, in the same character of occupier, to be rated separately for the tithes, in the annual sum actually given for them. And, in case of non-payment by the lessee of the tithes so rated, the overseers of the poor have their remedy by application to the Magistrates in Petty Sessions.
March 15, 1824.
Life of Bishop Hooper.
Ergo Qiiintilium perpetuus sopor
Hot. Cam. Lib. 1. Od. 34.
Mr. Mist, According to the character yon have in the world, it might be expected that yon should have doue justice to the memory of a late prelate, and not barely have told us that Bishop Hooper was dead, without