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The Rule Nisi
by [?]

A great many sea-captains discourage the use of life-preservers and floating-belts on board ships of war, on the simple ground that men should not be taught to rely for their safety on anything but what conduces to save the ship. “Let there be but one thought, one effort,” say they, “and let that be for the common safety.” If they be right–and I suspect they are–we have made a famous blunder by our late legislation about divorce. Of all the crafts that ever were launched, marriage is one from which fewest facilities of desertion should be provided.

Romanism makes very few mistakes in worldly matters. There is no feature of that Church so remarkable as its deep study and thorough acquaintance with all the moods and wants and wishes of humanity. Whatever its demerits, one cannot but admit that no other religion ever approached it in intimacy with the human heart in all its emotions and in all its strivings, whether for good or evil.

Rome declares against all breach of the marriage tie. The Church, with a spirit of concession it knows how to carry through all its dealings, modifies, softens, assuages, but never severs conjugalism. It makes the tie occasionally a slip-knot, but it never cuts the string, and I strongly suspect that it is wise in its legislation.

For a great many years we gave the policy that amount of imitation we are wont to accord to Romanist practices; that is, we follow them in part–we adopt the coat, but, to show that we are not mere imitators, we cut off one of the skirts; and if we do not make the garment more graceful, we at least consult our dignity, and that is something. We made divorce the privilege of men rich enough to come to Parliament for relief; we did with the question what some one proposed we should do with poisons–make them so costly that only wealthy men should be able to afford the luxury of suicide. So long as men believed that divorce was immoral, I don’t think any one complained that it should be limited to persons in affluence. We are a lord-loving race, we English, and are quite ready to concede that our superiors should have more vices than ourselves, just as they have more horses and more pheasants; and we deemed it nothing odd or strange that he, whose right it was to walk into the House of Peers, should walk out of matrimony when it suited him.

Who knows?–perhaps we were flattered by the thought that great folk so far conceded to a vulgar prejudice as to marry at all. Perhaps we hailed their entrance into conjugalism as we are wont to do their appearance at a circus or a public garden–a graceful acknowledgment that they occasionally felt something like ourselves: at all events, we liked it, and we showed we liked it by the zeal with which we read those descriptions in newspapers of marriages in high life, and the delight with which we talked to each other of people we never saw, nor probably ever should see. It was not too much, therefore, to concede to them this privilege of escape. It was very condescending of them to come to the play at all; we had no right to insist that they should sit out the whole performance.

By degrees, however, what with rich cotton-lords, and cheap cyclopaedias, and penny trains, and popular lectures, there got up a sort of impression–it was mere impression for a long time–that great folk had more than their share of the puddings’ plums; and agitators began to bestir themselves. What were the privileges of the higher classes which would sit most gracefully on their inferiors? Naturally we bethought us of their vices. It was not always so easy to adopt my lord’s urbanity, his unassuming dignity, his well-bred ease; but one might reasonably aspire to be as wicked. Sabbath-breaking had long since ceased to be the privilege of the better classes, and so men’s minds reverted to the question of divorce. “Let us get rid of our wives!” cried they; “who knows but the day may come when we shall kill woodcocks?”