English laws for women in the nineteenth century

English laws for women in the nineteenth century  (1854) 
by Caroline Norton

English Laws for Women


The Nineteenth Century.


It was a saying of Jeremy Bentham's, that, "if the
Poor had more Justice, they would need less Charity"—
If women had more Justice, they would have no need of
appeals to sympathy.




It has been remarked to me, that if there were no other reason why a very reluctant attention should be granted to this Pamphlet, there would be "no time" to notice a discussion of the Law, arising out of affairs purely personal, at a period when subjects of momentous public importance occupy the minds of all men. In answer to that remark, I can only say, that I have never yet seen the public mind in a state of such undivided attention. I have no doubt, that in the present Session, as in all others, there will be "time" for all usual employments; time for assemblies, operas, and balls; time for races, club-dinners, and fêtes; time for reading works of science, and works of fiction; for the most abstract study, and for the most frivolous gossip; time to discuss whether the arms of Scotland are properly quartered with the arms of England, as well as to debate whether the Emperor of Russia is to make war upon the world. It would be paying Englishmen a poor compliment to suppose that the one subject they are determined not to find time for, is the reform of some of their own laws; a reform confidently alluded to by the Lord Chancellor, in his speech of the 14th February last year; and formally introduced as one of the topics of the Queen's Speech at the opening of Parliament.

Lord Campbell—in his brilliant and interesting work, "The Lives of the Chancellors"—tells us that in the session of 1758 reference was made to the Judges on the motion of Ex-Chancellor Hardwicke, respecting a bill for amending the law of Habeas Corpus; and it was proposed to introduce a new bill in the ensuing session. "But I am sorry to say,"—observes Lord Campbell,—"that when the next session arrived, nothing was thought of except the taking of Quebec; and the subject was not again resumed, till the very close of the reign of George III."

Now it is certainly possible, that in like manner the Lawreforms so confidently promised for this session, may be set aside; and some future writer of Chancellors' Lives, may express his regret, that "in the Session of 1854 little was thought of except the taking of Sebastopol."

But, if another half century should glide away without reform in our Ecclesiastical and other Courts (as more than half a century elapsed, between the motion of Ex-Chancellor Hardwicke and the amendment of the Habeas Corpus Act) shall we set it all down to the overwhelming interest taken in Quebec and Sebastopol?

Shall we not rather look for the solution of these delays, in a certain supineness on the part of those who work the machinery of justice? and in the fact (also stated by Lord Campbell) that "it is very difficult to draw the notice of the representatives of the people to measures for the Amendment of the Law." Difficult to draw attention to such measures; not difficult to find "time," either for their discussion, or the consideration of any examples which may prove the necessity of change.

Chapters (not listed in original)

This work was published before January 1, 1927, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.