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DISSENT ERS' MARRIAGE BILL.
(From a Correspondent.) The Bill, which Lord John Russell proposes to introduce into Parliament, for the purpose of gianting relief, in relation to the celebration of marriages, to dissenters, having been printed, it may now fairly be discussed. Its chief provisions are the following:1.--That
any dissenting chapel or place of worship may be licensed for the celebration of marriages, upon application being made in writing to the Justices of the Peace in Quarter Sessions, by twenty householders of the parish in which the chapel is situate.
II.—That disseuters intending to marry are at liberty to proceed either by banns or by license.
1.-By Banns. In this case the bands are to be published as usual in the parish church of the parish or parishes in which the parties reside, and notice of the intended solemnization of marriage is to be proclaimed in the chapel in which the marriage is to be celebrated, on the three Sundays preceding its solemnization. The parties are to apply to the clergyman of the parish church in which the banns are published for a certificate of their publication within seven days after the last day of publication.
2.-By License. The surrogate is to grant licenses for the parties, stating the chapel, &c. in which the marriage is to be solemnized. The form of the license differs slightly from that in use at present.
3.-In all cases the marriages are to be performed between 8 and 12 o'clock A.m., and with open doors.
III.—The marriages so solemnized are to be recorded in a register book, to be provided by the persons frequenting the said chapel ; and copies of the entries are to be forwarded to the registrar of the diocese every three months, accompanied by a small fee.
IV.-In case of a chapel so licensed becoming unfrequented, or used for other purposes than religious worship, the license may be revoked by the Justices assembled in Quarter Sessions, on the oath of two Justices of the Peace to that effect.
These are the main features of the measure. Of course there are many inferior details, which it is impossible to abridge, and needless to comment upon.* The above abstract will shew the principles on which it is proposed
* I cannot, however, help observing, that alterations in these details is needful in some instances to make the bill, even practicable : :--e. g., if the banns be published by two different clergymen, the certificate, according to the present form in schedule No. 2, requires both to sign it. It says
" By me, E. F., Vicar of, &c." And adds,
E. F., Rector of, &c. “Or, by us,
G. H., Vicar of, &c." Now the books provided for banns always leave a space to state the person by whom they are published ; they run thus
by On Sunday
by On Sunday
by The certificated copy of this would answer the same purpose as a document signed by the persons who published the banns. A person who took a friend's duty on the first or second Sunday of publication, and was fifty miles distant ten days afterwards, would feel himself rather aggrieved by being sent for to sign such a document, This shews a lamentable degree of carelessness in drawing up the buil.
to legislate in this important question. That legislation on this point is attended with many difficulties, no sensible man will deny; the object of the bill is, or ought to be, the relief of dissenters from the grievance of which they complain, without endangering the welfare of civil society by facilitating clandestine marriages. It is said by the Morning Herald (March 13th), that this bill was obviously drawn up “more in fear of the church," than in a spirit of liberality towards the dissenters. The “ fear of the church," as shewn in this bill, it is difficult even to guess at; for it is perfectly obvious that the provision by which banns are to be published in parish churches, is not intended as any boon or privilege to the established church ; its only object being to attain publicity and to prevent clandestine marriages. Indeed, as far as publishing the banns of marriage is concerned, the clergy can have do wish whatever to publish the banns of dissenters' marriages, even though the privilege is accompanied with the fee of half-a-crown* on delivering the certificate. But notwithstanding the boasting of some of the dissenters, it unfortunately happens that neither the legislature nor the public can quite bring themselves to believe in the fact, that the majority of the people are attendants on dissenting chapels, and therefore the only means of obtaining publicity is by the established church.
“ Via prima salutis,
Quod minime reris, Graia pandetur ab urbe.” The parish church, after all, seems to offer the fairest chance of security against clandestine marriages, and it is therefore fixed upon. It was this which formed the basis of the bill of 1754; and we have the confession of the dissenters of the present day, that the dissenters of that time did not feel themselves aggrieved by the conformity required to the rites of the church by that bill.t That act was not intended, as people seem to take for granted, as a boon or privilege to the church ; it was to prevent irregularities, which had arisen chiefly from the conduct/of a few most disreputable clergymen, who married in the Rules of
• In some of the lower class of radical papers it is hinted that the objections of the clergy to a change in the marriage law arise from fear of losing their fees; in some parishes they may be an object, but in a very large proportion they are a very trifling item. In parishes of 500 inhabitants, the average number of marriages, according to the population returns, would be four, which would make the fees vary from 17. to 21.See British Magazine, vol. i., p. 60. Now, really, as we are not to suppose that all marriages would be performed in the dissenting chapel, the loss would be only the difference. According to this calculation, the revenue arising from marriages in a parish of 5000 inhabitants would vary from 101. to 202. How many would be married in dissenting chapels ? and what would be the proportion of this sum lost? It is really hardly worth while to argue with men who can believe that the fear of losing such sums as these actuate the clergy; for, such men can obviously never be brought to understand any motives but those of the meanest and most
See the Library of Ecclesiastical Knowledge, Tract 39. “The act itself was passed, under the influence of a species of panic, for the avowed purpose of preventing clandestine marriages, which had previously prevailed to an alarıning extent. The measure itself was a violent remedy, and the general policy of it has been considered by some eminent writers as exceedingly questionable. Dissenters, however, did not, it appears, object at that time, on conscientious grounds, to be married by clergymen of the established church, and the only exception it contained was in favour of Quakers and Jews.” p. 8.
The truth is, that dissenters may be divided into a few very definite classes. There are dissenters who are so from religious principle; there are many who are so because their fathers were ; and, lastly, there are the political.dissenters. The two former classes may feel strongly on the subject, and their feelings are entitled to respect ; the latter class are those who make the loudest clamour,-their feelings are out of the question, and their clamour ought to be disregarded.
the Fleet Prison, at May-fair, and elsewhere also, to their own disgrace, and with great mischief to the country at large. What was the exact state of the law previous to the passing of that act, the writer does not pretend to determine. Dr. Lushington, indeed, in the House of Commons, boldly asserted, that, “previous to the passing of that act, for 99 purposes out of 100, marriage solemnized as a civil contract in the presence of two witnesses was perfectly valid.-(See the report of his speech in the Times of Feb. 26.) It would be presumption in the writer to dispute this learned civilian's law; but it happens that, in 1824, a lawyer at least not inferior to Dr. L., the then Lord Chancellor, in the case of Beer v. Ward,) felt himself incompetent to decide the point, and thought that the best thing he could advise was, to direct a trial at bar, in order that the opinion of all the judges of the land might be taken on the law of the case.* Be the law as it may, on this point, it is as clear as daylight that the act of 1754 was not passed to abridge the privileges of the dissenters or to favour the church, but solely to prevent abusest which had long existed and were become intolerable. The dissenters, however, of the present day, profess to find it a grievance to their consciences, and the present bill is brought in to relieve them in that point, without restoring the old system of confusion.
Whether Lord John Russell has succeeded in pleasing the dissenters, it is, of course, not for churchmen to say ; but he seems to complain himself that they are constantly expressing their dissatisfaction. One objects to proclaiming marriages in his chapel, where the people meet, he says, to hear the word, of God, and not to know who is going to be married; others send him letters, by the dozen to complain that placing a notice of the license in a conspicuous part of their chapels would make them resemble gin-shops or public-houses. This, however, is his Lordship’s affair ; and if he is unable to satisfy the dissenters by the present measure, the only course left, if the law must be altered, will be to make some provision for those who choose to be married by a civil officer, and to legalize marriages so performed (one can hardly say solemnized) for all civil purposes. The law of marriage is a matter of great consequence, (besides its moral and religious importance,) as affecting the rights of property; but for all that relates to succesion, &c., it is obvious that the state has a right to say what it will consider valid, and no churchman will object, unless any thing contrary to the laws of God should be established. Lord John Russell and Dr. Lushington both thought it the most simple plan to make marriage a civil compact, and the latter considered it “ the most advisable" mode of proceeding; but they both feared that the prejudices of the English people would be too strong to admit of such a course at present. One cannot but express a hope that this fear is well founded, and that the mass of the English people (not the dissenters) do feel strongly on the subject; and while they will allow some weight to religious scruples, will look with the most jealous eye towards any thing that may tend compulsorily to degrade the religious ordinance of marriage to a mere civil ceremony. But this is clearly the only course left for an alteration of the law, if the present measure fails; and, although churchmen may feel humbled when they see their own nation de
See Morgan, on the Doctrine and Law of Marriage, &c., vol. i., p. 138. The parties withdrew from the suit at last; and one can hardly wonder at it, when one learns that it had lasted fifty years !
+ The act of 1754 has so completely abolished every abuse of this nature, that their existence is almost forgotten. Those who wish to know how intolerable they were become, inay consult J. S. Burn's History of the Fleet Registers, (Rivingtons, 1833,) where, however, so many details of the depravities and enorınities of those days are of necessity given, that it is unfit for all readers; but both this and the History of Parish Registers, by the same author, supply information which can hardly be acquired elsewhere, except in the evidence before the Committee of the House of Commons on the subject of Registration.
grading marriage to a mere civil compact, they will not oppose permission being given to those who think it such, only to celebrate it at the town-hall, provided such precautions are taken as will prevent the peace of families from being disturbed by the occurrence of clandestine marriages. This evil the present bill endeavours, at all events, (how far with success, it is difficult to say, till its provisions have been tried,) to obviate, and dissenters must be content to submit to some inconvenience for a great public good. One suggestion occurs here. Lord John Russell defines the places where marriage may be solemnized, but he says little or nothing of the persons who are to officiate, which may possibly prove a fruitful source of difficulty. But it is somewhat unreasonable in the dissenters, when the aromalous nature of their body renders the precautions above-mentioned necessary, to object to them. parties are expected to waive something to effect an object which is demanded so pertinaciously. The clergy are to be obliged, by this bill, to publish the bapps of marriages for dissenters; and although Dr. Lushington considers it impossible that they should have any scruples of conscience (if he imagines the clergy to have any conscience at all) on the subject, his reason is a curious one ; he says that they cannot object, because they cannot tell ushether they are publishing the banns of dissenters or for their own congregation. The only grounds on which they can be required to do this, are, that it is requisite for the welfare of the public, and that it is not repugnant to their religious principles ; that the act is lawful, if they know it to be done for a dissenter; for, I trust, do churchman's conscience is so accommodating as to agree to do that, without inquiry, which he would think unlawful if he knew it. It is not, I conceive, likely that the church will oppose this bill on the grounds of church principles, wbatever churchmen may think of the expediency of making experiments on so dangerous a subject, or of the motives of many of those who demand and who support it. But every man who cares for the honour of religionwho cares for the religion and the morals of his own land—will be anxious to know at what point it is intended that concession shall cease. There are some in the land who conceive that marriage, being a civil compact, may be broken off as soon as, what they are pleased to call, the interest of the parties requires a separation.-(See the Monthly Repository, as quoted in the British Mayazine, vol. ii. p. 322.) Now, a Christian legislature can lay down no law but that which our Saviour has expressly sanctioned, and can, consistently with its Christian profession, admit of no other ground of divorce than that which he has allowed. One party, however, will assuredly claim exemption from this Christian law, and will conceive that the legislature is violating their natural rights in binding the free-thinking Unitarian and the Deist by a religious precept which they do not believe to be of Divine authority. It is not here intended even to insinuate that Lord John Russell or Dr. Lushington would be inclined to yield to demands so subversive of all that is high in Christian feelings, all that is pure in Christian morals; but in legislation it is of the first importance that men should see clearly the questions of which their own measures will assuredly cause the agitation, and be prepared to meet them firmly. One thing is clear—that what principle and justice require, ought to be conceded ; but wisdom and principle alike declare, that to concede more, because it is demanded, is wickedness and cowardice now, and will prove itself folly hereafter.
What those who affect liberality may think of marriage, the writer does not profess to know; but even should the legislature agree to consider the marriages valid, for civil purposes, performed by the town-clerk or any other civil officers, there is one book which proclaims aloud, that a Christian cannot look opon marriage as a mere civil compact, and which will teach him to shrink back with horror from every attempt so to degrade a state solemnly instituted in the beginning of the world by its Creator, renewed in the Christian dispensation, and blessed with still further sanctions by the Redeemer himself. The language of that book upon the point needs no comment to explain its meaning; but if it did, the whole history of the Christian church would amply
supply it, from the earliest days of that church till the present hour. The Christian church has hitherto imparted its aid to sanctify the closest bonds of union human nature knows, and to bless the fountain of the purest affections it can cherish; and whatever may be the decree of the senate, the churchman who believes the blessing of his God and of his Saviour to be with his church, will seek that blessing, as he has hitherto done, within its walls; he will pledge his faith only in the church where his forefathers have knelt, and hallow the softest and most endearing ties of life only at the altar where he is accustomed to eat the bread of life and rejoice in the presence of his Saviour.
The Editor feels anxious to add a few words on this point. Why should the clergy have any thing whatever to do with dissenters' marriages ? Why should they be obliged to publish the banos, and grant certificates or licences to dissenting ministers, whom they do not, and cannot recognise? The line would seem so easy to draw, that there ought not to have been any difficulty. The dissenters express their hatred of the church, and complain of the intolerable grievance of being obliged to call in its assistance for their marriages. Set them free at once from it, and entirely, and set the church free from them; and then let Lord John Russell devise such plan as he judges best for warding off clandestine marriages, by civil means. This may be troublesome, but yet surely can be effected. If the state, in its paternal character, thinks that some attention to decency is desirable, and that it will not be very advantageous to morals to have marriage considered only as a civil contract, it may recommend the dissenters to go as far as their consciences allow in giving some religious sanction of their own to it, but the church has nothing to do with that. On the other hand, it is quite intolerable that the church should be made, as it is under Lord John Russell's Bill, to act the part of a civil, and not a religious body, by publishing banns, and granting licenses. For churchmen, who acknowledge marriage as a religious ordinance, the church may willingly do all that it can to secure and sanction their happiness, and to prevent all the evils of rash and clandestine connections. But even for churchmen, the church undertakes the task of giving publicity to their union, and taking this precaution, only because all this is a preparation for the due and safe performance of a religious rite. It would not do this for churchmen on a mere ciril occasion ; why should it be compelled to do it for dissenters? Dr. Lushington's notions are not worth arguing about.
The whole mystery of the matter is this,--that the dissenters are trying at once, by this side movement, to get a certain recognition of their ministers by the state, and so to raise themselves, and at the same time to lower the clergy, by placing them before their congregations in the light of mere civil officers, doing the business of dissenters by order.
Why should this be? The clergy give no opposition to the relief of the dissenters from this great grievance. Why create a grievance to them?
THE EDINBURGH REVIEW. Who is editor, and who are writers in this once celebrated review? It seems to be sinking lower and lower in ability. The article on the “Church of England,” in the last number, is one of the most singular specimens of the perfectly fatuous which one has seen for some time. The grounds for altering the church are, that the clergy love scandal, and act as justices. And one great change is, that the clergy are to have no votes! The liturgy question is settled in two lines. It must be altered because every body (read nobody) demands its alteration, and the most distinguished ornaments of the church have done so too. Who are these great divines ? Archbishop Tillotson, Archdeacon Paley, and—Bishop Watson ! As to answering such stuff, it
The quotations from the writings of Christians, in all ages of the Christian church, may be found in Comber, or any of our Liturgical writers; and in Morgan, on the Doctrine and Law of Marriage, vol. i. chap. 2.