Imatges de pÓgina

were to contaminate the truft repofed in them, and to fay to fuch a woman, "your plea is, or, at leaft, fuch is the plea of your officious defenders, that, if you may not be permitted to form a fecond contract with the man, by whofe feduction you have broken your first contract, you must naturally and neceffarily abandon yourself to proftitution.Your plea is moft unprincipled; your paffions are most depraved: but you fhall be gratified. You have broken a facred and folemn vow; but we will enable you, by a legiflative act of ours, to go back unblushingly to the altar, which you ought to approach with angony and horror. Come again to us, as foon as you fhall feel difpofed to quit this fecond hufband, and to take a third. We fhall be ready, toties quoties, to authorize you to change the partners of your iniquity."

The bill was, on the motion of Jord Auckland, printed, read a fecond time, and, on the twenty-firft of May, committed: when feveral amendments, propofed by lord Eldon, were agreed to.

On the twenty-third of May, lord Auckland moved, that the bill be now read a third time. He replied to the various arguments that had been adduced against it. He was aftonished at the oppofition which had been been fet up, and at a lofs to conjecture from what principle it could arife.

The bill was now oppofed by the earl of Coventry, the earl of Weft moreland, the earl of Carlile, the duke of Cumberland, the duke of Clarence, and the earl of Mulgrave: it was fupported by lord Eldon, lord Hobart, the bishop of Rochefter, and lord Grenville.

The earl of Westmoreland, among

a variety of fenfible and fhrewd remarks, faid, that he would even allert, that the virtue of the country was one caufe for the frequency of divorces. The fentiments of men had become more delicate, and they could not endure to continue united by wedlock to a woman, by whom they had been difhonoured.

Lord Carlile id, that, with the acceffions of population, commerce, and confequent luxury, it was not furprifing if divorces were more frequent: but they afforded no reafon why the laws of the land fhould be altered in cafes of divorce; and why the conniving husband thould have his remedy againft a feducer, by indictment for a mildemeanor, with fine and imprifonment, and fhould alfo have an action by which he might obtain an exorbitant compenfation: much lefs did they furnifh a reafon, why an unhappy woman fhould, for an error, perhaps occafioned as much by provocation on one fide as perfuafion on the other, be turned adrift for ever from fociety, and, by the conclufion now propofed, driven perhaps to Bethlem. He might have expected from the framer of this bill, that when he introduced to many new penal provifions, he would, at leaft, have protected the offender from another kind of torment: while he left him at the difcretion of the chief juftice of the King's Bench, he should have exempted him from profecution by the ecclefiaftical court.-This bill ferved to confirm lord Carlile in the opinion which he always entertained, that monkifh feclufions, for there were legal as well as ecclefiaftical monks, were not adapted to. qualify a man for legiflation. The ftudies of a reclufe did not lead to a knowledge of the world; but, in order

penal, and deprecating, in all cafes, any pecuniary compenfation to the husband.

The duke of Bedford confidered the bill as equally cruel and impolitic. He particularly reprobated. the fwelling of the criminal code. " It is not," faid his grace, " by a rigid fyftem of legislation, my lords, that you are to correct the morals of the people; it is by precept and example."

The bill was defended by lord Eldon. He conceded to lord Carlife that, as the law now flood, it was competent to any man, who was injured, to bring his action for damages, and at the fame time institute a profecution in the ecclefiaftical court. But whenever that happened, the judges in the courts below caufed, of their own authority, one of the fuits to be ftopped. His lordship obferved, that there were different kinds of feducers, the one what was called the honourable, the other the dishonourable. As to the honourable feducer, when he fhould find there was a law to prevent marriage, this, in his opinion, would operate as a preventive, and call him afide from the path he was purfuing. With regard to the other feducer, when he reflected that he was to face a judge and jury, and that he was to be punished, perhaps it would cool his appetite a little; and fo far the punishment, not as a punishment, but as a prevention, would have a good effect It had been stated, that the woman was to be pitied: that he was funk into the abyfs of mifery, and driven to a ftate of defperation. But, fhould the claufe in queftion teach her to reflect a little, would the not fay to herself, "This man cannot be an honourable feducer, for he knows that,

order to correct morals, it was ne-
ceffary to mix with fociety, dive
into the minds of men, be acquaint-
ed with their actions, and fearch
into the motives of their conduct.
For want of this kind of informa-
tion, a confummate lawyer, or a
holy prelate, might be very inade-
quate to the formation of laws,
which could make fociety better
than it was; and of this the prefent
bill afforded a fingular example.
From legiflators better qualified, he
fhould have expected, that, inftead
of confidering the ecclefiaftical court
as a fanctuary not to be touched,
they would have fet about cleanfing
the augean ftable, though that, he
confefled, would be a Herculean la-
bour. He lamented the absence of
lord Thurlow, who, in a very able
fpeech, from which he read an ex-
tract, once described the vexatious
proceedings in the ecclefiaftical
court, where a plaintiff, after ha-
ving once failed to prove his libel,
might commence his fuit again, a
fecond or a third time, upon exparte
tejimony, and without being fworn;
on the other hand, he quoted the
cafe of a Mrs. Middleton, who, af-
ter having been detected in adul-
tery, contrived, by the affiftance of
the learned doctors, and the laws
of that court, to baffle, for five years,
all the efforts of her husband to ob-
tain a divorce, and thus put him to
the expenfe of 10,000/-The pro-
ceedings in that court were founded
in frivolity, and their decrees in va-
nity. He willed, as much as any
man, to affift in the promotion of
any meature that he really thought
would effectually check the immo-
rality of the day, and particularly
the crime under confideration. His
fordship concluded, with expreffing
his approbation of making adultery

that, by the law of the land, he cannot marry me after I have violated my conjugal vow. What must be the confequence then? Why, my fituation must be miferable indeed, with this addition, that none will pity me, because I could not be ignorant of the confequences of committing fuch a crime."

The bishop of London faid, that retirement became women who had yielded to the violence of appetite and paffion, or the arts of feduction, more than scenes of gaiety: for in retirement they might be led to penitence, contrition, and remorfe; which would be followed by the moft beneficial confequences, and among others regain, in fome meafure, the countenance of the world.

The bishop of Rochefter, in a long and learned fpeech, fupported the bill, replying to the principal objections that had been brought against it. In the first place, he replied, with great animation, to what had been advanced by lord Carlife, refpecting the incapacity of monks, ecclefiaftical or legal, for legiflation, in certain cafes, and the vexatious frivolity, vanity, and injuftice of the ecclefiaftical courts. -The bishop argued, at great length, on the ground of the divine law; and fhewed, from the Scriptures, that the cohabitation of a divorced adulterefs with her feducer, under colour of a marriage, notwithstanding the connivance of human laws, was grofs adultery. It was objected, that the prefent bill, not taking away the husband's action for damages, while it made the adulterer liable to indictment, in effect impofed a double punishment for the fame crime. This he contended, was not any novelty in the Jaw of this country. That, how

ever, was a point on which he fpoke with diffidence, because it belonged to the learning of monks of another order. But if he had de fcribed the practice of the courts erroneoufly, he hoped that the fu perior of that other order, the noble and learned lord on the woolfack would fet him right. He had fometimes thought that it had been a happy thing for the public, if no bill of divorce had ever passed. But the notorious prevalence of adul tery, in countries where divorce was by no means to be had, feemed to prove the contrary. On the views and fentiments of what had been called the "honourable feducer," he could not but fuppofe that the bill, if paffed into a law, would have a confiderable effect. He believed, indeed, that neither this, nor any other bill poffible to be framed, would reftrain the paffions of the finish feducer: but he was confident that the fwinish adulterer was a very rare character among his countrymen. Bishop Horfley, in conclufion of his fpeech, faid, "My lords, once more I conjure you to remember, that juflice, not compaffion for the guilty, is the great principle of legiflation. Yet, my lords, your compaffion may find worthy objects. I mean, my lords, your merciful regards to the illuftrious fuppliants proftrate at this moment at your bar.-[Here every lord turned his eyes to the bar, imagining that fome French emigrants of high diftinétion, of both fexes, had come to throw themfelves on the compaflion and protection of the British fenate.] But the bifhop continued-" The fuppliants this moment at your bar, are, conjugal felicity; domeftic happinefs; public manners; the virtue


of the fex. Thefe, my lords, are the fuppliants now kneeling before you, and imploring the protection of your wifdom and your juftice." Such perfonifications of abftracted ideas are neither unnatural nor uncommon among nations of extreme fenfibility and livelinefs of imagination; but in this country, as was proved by this rhetorical peroration, they may ferve only to make people ftare, and to weaken any impreflions that may have been made by a lefs hold, and more felid kind of eloquence.

Lord Grenville faid, that with regard to the legal and religious points of the question, he would certainly refer to the opinions of thofe who make law and religion their study and their profeffion. He never knew his noble friend (lord Mulgrave) fo much out of his place as when he stood there contending, in legal conftruction, with a noble and learned judge, and in religious difputes with a right reverend prelate. He reminded him of the pedant who read lectures to Hannibal on the art of war. It had been urged that ladies, who were guilty of infidelity, had no other means of returning to the paths of virtue than by marrying the very perfons who had difionourably feduced them. What then, lord Grenville afked, would be the fituation of the unhappy woman, whom her feducer, after gratifying himself, refufed to marry? or what return was there for the woman who had been feduced by a married man? The only way in which fuch a feducer could make compenfation, as it was called, was, to contrive a divorce from his lawful wife, which would lead to multiplied tranfgreffions.

The motion for the third reading

of the bill, was now put and carried; but only by a fmall majority, the noncontents being 69, and the contents only 77. The bill being paffed in the house of peers, was read, on the twenty-fixth of May, a first time, in the houfe of commons; a fecond time, on the thirtieth of May; and, on the tenth of June, the order of the day moved for carrying it into a committee. In all thefe ftages it was ably fupported, though with much lefs zeal then in the houfe of peers, while it was oppofed with not lefs of either ability or fpirit. Every one admitted the importance of the fubject, and regretted the prevalence of adultery as well as of diflipation and vice of all kinds: but fome confidered the reftriction propofed in the bill as too fevere; others that there was nothing that had happened, in the manners of the times, to make it neceflary; others that it was inadequate to its object, and would tend to increate the numbers of bad women, by rendering them irreclaimable. Some of the members objected to it as transferring the right of punifhing from the jury to the judges, arming them with new and formidable powers. Some objected to certain claufes in the bill, but difapproved of others. Though this was by no means a party question our readers may probably with to have the opinion of Mr. Pitt, on the bill. He thought it merited dif cufion, and might be rendered lefs unpalatable to thofe who, he doubted not, from laudable motives, oppofed it, by various modifications. On the whole, he thought, the benefits would preponderate in favour of fociety and that whatever degree of feverity was inflicted on the

[blocks in formation]

pit, apparently at his perfon. The man who had fired it, whofe name was Hadfield, was immediately dragged into the orcheftra, and carried behind the scenes. Being examined by a magiftrate, he exhibited fome fymptoms of infanity; though fome of his antwers were rational. The veneration and love that the nation bore to his majestys perfon was by this accident awakened into an enthufiaftic joy at his efcape. Even the spirit of faction was loft in a general fream of loyalty and exultation Addreffes of congratulation on the king's escape were prefented by both houles of parliament, the univerfities, the corporation of London, and, in a word, by all the other corporations, as well as the counties. Hadfield was tried in the court of King's Bench for high treafon. It was proved that he had been for fome years infane, chiefly in confeqence of wounds received in his head, when he acted as a ferjeant in the army, in 1794, in Holland. He was therefore acquitted, but not discharged.

In confequence of what had been done by Hadfield, and of repeated inftances of the fury of infanity, being directed against a perfonage, whofe fafety was fo dear and important to the state, two additional claufes, by way of amendments, were added to the infanity-bill.

The lord chancellor, on the twenty-fecond of July, after adverting generally to the great and various danger to be apprehended from infane perfons, when fuffered to go at large, and observing, that nothing in the infanity bill appeared to him effectually to remedy this evil, fated, that the object of the firft additional claufe, was to render

« AnteriorContinua »