Images de page

*6 Hence it is, the father of a family can lie down comfortably on his bed; he can sleep tranquilly all night; and meet his children in the morning without a shade of suspicion crossing his brow. He can leave his house for weeks, and months, and return again,-confident that all is right in his humble dwelling. He knows that there is a spirit from the seventh heavens residing beneath his roof, watching over each of his beloved charge, breathing around a pure and holy atmosphere, in which a vicious thought cannot live a moment, and where all the virtues love to dwell. He knows little about this heavenly agent: Like the spirit in Job, he cannot discern the form thereof, nor has he seen its face.--But it is the law of incest! With what force it operates, may be seen even in the most abandoned profligates. With all their success in eradicating the virtuous feelings of the heart, how seldom do they get the better of that profound reverence for their female near relations, we are speaking of; perhaps not one in a century. The same wretch, who glories in his shame when abroad, is seen in the domestic mansion, and before a sister, conducting himself with the bashful modesty of a virgin.”

“ The only question to be asked on the subject more immediately before us, is the very plain and intelligible one: Whether the

of brothers and sisters, of lineal kindred and of all who usually live in the same family, may be said to be forbidden by the law of nature. The Levitical law prohibits marriage between relations within three degrees of kindred; computing the generations through the common ancestor; and accounting affinity the same as consanguinity.” This principle is plainly recognised in Lev. xviii. 16, 17.

“There is this peculiarity however," says Dr. Livingston," in the relation produced by marriage, that it effects the husband and wife alone, so that he becomes related by affinity to her relations and she to his, and it does not, as such, create any new relation between their respective relations, agreeably to the adage, affinis mei affinis non est affinis meus.'” This principle is simple and of easy application, and is expressed with great simplicity and accuracy by the compilers of the Westminster Confession. Yet attempts have not been wanting to darken and perplex, what is clear and simple, bg such a sophism as the following: “If a man by marriage becomes one with his wife, and so a brother to her brothers and sisters, &c. therefore, bis relatives also become related to the relations of his wife, and cannot intermarry with them, nearer than they can with their own.” It may be sufficient to remark here, that the conclusion does not follow from the premises. The relatives of the persons marrying, do not become related, but only the persons themselves, to the two families respectively, i. e, the man to the relatives of his wife, and the woman to those of her husband. This is plainly recognised in common language, which may be considered as expressing the judgment of common sense, on this point: for the relatives of persons united in marriage, do not apply the appellations, brother-in-law and sister-in-law &c. to one another, but only to the persons themselves, who are thus united. But independant of every other consideration, it is enough, that the scriptures recognize no relationship between the relatives of married persons. And in the law, contained in Leviticus, there is no prohibition, either direct or inferential, forbidding marriage between them.--[Ed. REL. Mon.]

probabilities of close and intimate familiarity between Brother-inlaw and Sister-in-law, be such as to demand the interposition of this great moral preservative?"

“ How stands the fact ?-Let an answer to this, terminate the controversy."

"Here I think there can be but one opinion. We need but open our eyes and look around."

“Is it not a fact, that the moment a person enters into the marriage covenant, he is born as it were into a new family? Does he not become identified with his wife in the affections of those who are connected with her by the ties of nature?-Is he not taken at once to their bosom, and treated in every respect like one of themselves? The door of his Father-in-law's mansion stands as widely open to him, as that of the house where he drew his first breath. He has access at all times,--to all places-enjoys all the rights, and is permitted to take all the liberties of a brother. He can dandle the younger sisters on his knees; those more advanced, allow him a thousand little freedoms which they would shudder at the thought of allowing to an ordinary acquaintance. His mansion in turn is open to them. They enter it with the feeling that they are entering a second home, expecting not to see a sister alone, but a brother,-one to whom in the hour of calamity they can look up for protection, to whose arm in the hour of weakness they can cling,--and on whose very bosom they can lean, with thoughts pure as those of the angels who surround the throne of God! What a lovely spectacle my friend is such an association of objects loving and beloved ;-such a cluster of families, so cemented together by exchanges of confidence and affectionate offices, that a stranger might live among them for months, and not discover unless he was told, that they were of a different stock! How pleasing to think, that there are thousands of such garden spots in our land, on which the heart of the Philanthropist can repose with wonder and thankfulness, that so much heavenly purity and affection are yet to be found in our miserable world of passion,-war,-and crime!”

And what is it that secures this happy state of things?-More particularly: What is it establishes this delightful confidence of virgin innocence in the man who sustains no other relationship, than being the husband of a sister? The question is easily answered, some may say: 'The young ladies know his character: and they know him to be a man of virtue and principle.' But I assert, that this confidence exists, where they have good reason to suspect bis general character. It is owing says another, to the con

viction that being the husband of their sister, there can be no danger of course, from an intimacy with him. Very well. But why should this fact have any influence; or why should they trust him, and trust themselves, more than if he were married to another woman? There is but one answer. He is their Brother. The law of Incest is exercising a silent and unseen,--but mighty operation: They feel as if it were impossible to commit crime with one in such circumstances. The thought is horrible, too bad for utterance!

“ But it may be asked, ' whether I am not assuming the point in dispute. Do Brothers-in-law and Sisters-in-law feel themselves under this law?' Is not the frequency of marriage between them, a proof to the contrary?' In reply, I affirm that they do with comparatively few exceptions. Individuals may deny the incestuous character of such conjunctions,-and Church Courts may doubt: But there is a law against them actually existing in the minds and hearts of the community. Fifty out of every hundred, abhor them; ninety-nine out of the hundred, exceedingly dislike them. Even those who venture to brave public opinion by a marriage of this kind, venture on it with fear and trembling, as if they were doing a' deed without a name.' How this general sentiment obtained, is a question foreign to my subject: yet I cannot withhold the remark, that it is beyond all doubt an effect of the salutary regulations of our forefatliers, who laid down the safe, wholesome, and perfectly intelligible principle, 'A man may not marry any of his wife's kindred, nearer in blood than he may of his own;' and frowned on every violation of it. Be it remembered also, that the permission of these connections, even by the civil laws, is of modern date. They were always forbidden by the Roman law. They are still forbidden by the law of England; by the laws of most of the nations on the Continent, and by the laws of many of our own Commonwealths,—not to mention the Canon law, which goes so far as to prohibit the marriage of second cousins. In this way has been generated that pious reverence for Affinity, which I have no doubt, is exercising at this moment a blessed influence over thousands."

“And here is an additional reason, for acting with decision: We are not called upon to make law.--but to leave that standing, which already exists, to ratify and foster a sentiment, which the

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

“But I have been keeping back the strength of my cause. I have been supposing, that the wife's Sisters are only on a footing of general familiarity with the husband's family; i. e. bave free ingress and egress, but at the same time reside under a different roof. Now what is the glaring fact? If we cast our eyes over the land, what do we find more common, than one or more of a wife's sisters actually dwelling in her family,-assisting her in the discharge of her duties,-receiving in turn, that protection which their helplessness calls for. Our fathers of families possess no entailed estates, of which their children are certain in the erent of their death. When they die, their families die. Often the only legacy they bequeath to their elder children, is the care of the younger,-those especially, whom infirmities or sex disable from providing for themselves. This I assert is so common, that it may be considered a part of our national manners. Accordingly, go where you will, you find some of these children of sorrow, who in the wreck of their fortunes, have cast themselves on the bosom of a sister, or brother, as their only resource. I should like to see a statistical table, with a column devoted to this subject. I should like even to know, in how many families residing in any particular district of one of our large cities, sisters-in-law are domesticated, and as truly parts of the establishment as the wife herself. In this way it is our most kind and gracious Creator fulfils his promise that he will be the Father of the Fartherless and the Widow's God.' He provides them a home, where they may tranquilly pass their days, under the broad shade of a sister's love. It is refreshing to see, how (in general) they reward her tenderness, -and far more than pay her for the protection which she extends to them. When she is in health, they are her assistants, -when sick, her nurses. Every thing that love can do, to relieve her under the pressure of conjugal duties is done. The children have two mothers,—the chaste Wife, and the virgin Aunt.Hence the name of the latter, in the language of ancient Rome, --Matertera, 'a sort of Mother,' and richly does she in most in. stances deserve the epithet. It not seldom happens, her heart takes such deep root in the little spot to which Providence has transplanted her,--so completely do her interests become identi. fied with her sister's, and those of the little prattlers, whom she

stranger to her husband, of whose unconquerable virtue to say the least she has no proof, induces her to put this stranger at once on a footing of perfect familiarity, repose in her unlimited confidence, leave the house to her sole direction for weeks and months, while she is lying on her sick bed, confident that all is going well on each side of her? What is it in the next place, enables the sister-in-law to throw herself with confidence in this new circle, to become domesticated in it, -to feel pure and happy and affectionate,-to love all, and to love more and more, till her very soul is melted into the souls of those around her! What lastly, enables the husband, no matter how young and fair the object that is continually flitting before him, employed in offices of kindness,—to regard her with love indeed, but with the love of Plato's disembodied spirits,-as pure, as fervent, and as seraphic? Talk not to me of a natural sense of propriety. It is idle. The true Guardian Genius is the Law of Incest, which unknown to the parties themselves, is watching and casting its ample shield about them, in their sleeping and waking in their eating and drinking,-in their public walks, and in the darkest retreats of the family mansion. Abolish this law; expel this household God: Let it be publickly and distinctly understood that a sisterin-law, is no more than any other female, and to do this, you need only let the parties understand that after the death of the present wife they may marry; what will follow? Why, I will tell you Sir,* what will follow. We shall hear by and by, tales that will make our ears to tingle. We shall hear from this part of the country,—and that part,—and a third part, of the dreadful misfortune that happened in such a family: We shall hear of a lovely and accomplished girl, rushing as she thought to an asylum opened to her by Heaven itself;--and finding but too late, that she had fallen into the clutches of a demon. We shall hear of a wife dying with a broken heart, her children weeping about her bed, knowing not well what has taken place,-yet feeling that some desolating whirlwind has come over them! Few cases of this kind I acknowledge have occurred hitherto, though some have. But let us not be lulled into a false security. The reason of their infrequency, is not the general virtue of the community, but the existence of that wholesome feeling we lately adverted to, which has been the fruit of that very institution, which some

* Domesticus writes in the form of a “ Letter to a clergyman of the Presbyterian church,” which accounts for the mode of expression frequently used.

(ED. + Four are known to the writer, three of which are in their details, too harrowing, even for tragedy,

« PrécédentContinuer »