THE DECEASED WIFE'S SISTER AGAIN. N OTHING seems to us clearer
than that the whole discussion concerning the legal right to make marriages of affinity is a discussion that turns solely on expediency, though the opponents of the measure very naturally, and perhaps very rightly, are extremely anxious to base their objection to it on ultimate principles which would take the question out of the region of expediency altogether. But so far as any instinct of human nature is concerned, the marriage of first cousins, which is now permitted, is far more objectionable than any marriage of affinity only, and yet it would be thought most oppres- sive to impose again the old legal disability on the marriage of first cousins. The opponents of the proposed relaxa- tion of the law try to argue their objection on the ground that marriage ought really so far to identify the family of the husband and the wife that her sisters and brothers should really be his sisters and brothers, and his sisters and brothers should really be hers ; but as a matter of fact, that is never so, for then it should be illegal for two sisters to marry two brothers, which no one even proposes to make it. In point of fact, the feeling which so often makes a man give himself up to even more confidential intimacy with his wife's family than with his own, testifies to the different shade of tenderness with which they are regarded. There is at once less and greater shyness between a man and his wife's family than there is between a man and his own family, less of the shyness which is produced by complete familiarity, more of the shyness which is produced by the attraction of difference. There are numbers of trains of feeling into which it is much easier to enter with those who are not too close to you, than it is with those with whom all your earliest years have been lived, but there are also not a few in which there will be all the ease produced by long habits of intercourse between those of the same family, where there will be .not a little of bashfulness and delicacy between those of different families. In short, there is perhaps on the whole more tenderness and less familiarity between a man or woman and the family into which mar- riage takes him or her, than there is between a man or woman and the family in which all the early life was passed. No feeling that the two kinds of emotion ought to be the same will ever make them quite the same, and for that reason it seems to us not only very injudicious, but quite useless to legislate as if they could be absolutely identified. But this is no reason against erecting artificial barriers in the way of marriages of affinity wherever there is no strong motive of expediency against the erection of such barriers. It must be admitted, we think, that there is a real convenience, and a o )nvenience of a high order, in the existence of legal bar- riers against certain marriages of close affinity, where there U no very strong reason for permitting them. Lord Sel- borne is quite right in saying that such a law often makes intimacy very much pleasanter and more unembarrassed than it could if either of the persons so connected had to consider the possibility that the other might be wishing or expecting the formation of a still closer tie. If there were no legal obstacle in the way of a marriage, there would often be embarrassing thoughts and considerations, which such a legal obstacle entirely removes. It cannot be denied that such a legal obstacle known to both parties often gives ease to an intimacy such as could not otherwise exist, and this would be an argument on Lord Selborne's side•if there were not a much stronger argument, in the osae.6at least of the wife's sister, on the other side. And that argument is the prevalence of a feeling of which everybody must know plenty of instances, that the mother prefers to trust her children to her own sister's care rather than to that of any other stepmother. No one can have lived to middle-age without hearing of cases in which a dying mother has actually entreated her husband. if he marries again, to choose, if he may, one of her own sisters for the children's stepmother rather than any stranger ; and nothing is more natural than that maternal love should conquer the jealousy which would otherwise be likely enough to exist, as indeed it so often does. Moreover, the tie between the father and the motherless children very naturally draws a man gradually into the tenderest relations with his wife's sisters if they happen to feel some faint reflection of those feelings for his children which their own mother had displayed. And it is very undesirable, we think, to discourage the gradual formation of this closer tie by putting a legal obstacle in the way. The argument which is urged on the other side is not perhaps wholly without force,—we mean the argument that the purely brotherly tie that ought to grow up during his wife's lifetime, may be more or less prevented from growing up if the law does not step in to declare that there shall never be any other and closer tie. But the force that this argument has is strongest in the case of men for whom it would not be possible to entertain any great respect, and would hardly have any force at all in the ease of men who are so devoted to their wives that no consideration as to what the law permitted or forbade in the event of her death, would ever enter into their thoughts at all during their wife's life. After the wife's death, no one could blame a man for allowing the care and love which his wife's sister gives to his children, to draw him closer to her, and to render it not unnatural to wish that she could. be made their stepmother rather than any woman who could have no such associations of tenderness to draw her towards them. This seems to us the grave ground of expediency which renders it un- desirable and even unnatural not to relax the law against marriages of close affinity,—a law by no means resting on any deep instinct,—at least in. the one case in which, for the children's sake, there is a very sufficient reason that no insurmountable legal obstacle should exist.
In other cases where there is not any strong reason of this kind for relaxing the law, we see no reason why the law should be relaxed, since we quite admit the conveni- ence of excluding legally certain marriages of affinity, and so facilitating those many pleasant intimacies which may exist where marriage is put entirely out of the question, and which might not spring up so easily on either side without that obstacle. It is, for instance, very desirable to enable a man to manage all the business concerns for his brother's widow without any of the awkwardness which might spring up if either she herself thought, or thought that he thought, of the possible growth of any closer tie. There is no objection in this case of the same kind or strength that there is to prohibiting marriage with a wife's sister, since no man's relation to his brother's children can be half as close and constant as that of a sister to her sister's children.
What has been said, and justly said, against this view of the case, is that the repeal of the law will very often prevent a sister from going to take charge of the children exactly at the time when she is most wanted, namely, immediately after her sister's death. And. no doubt that may sometimes be the case. But it will not inter- fere with any true sister's desire to help her sister's children at such a time unless there be some reasonable ground of objection in the character and manners of the brother-in-law, and in any such case the objection ought to be final. On the whole, it seems to us that where hardly any countries but our own, and not even our own Colonies, keep up this legal veto on marriages which are often the most natural and the best adapted for the children's good, the law ought to be relaxed, though we see no reason at all for following out the logic of the relaxation to cases where there is not sufficient hardship to call for a relaxation. Here is a case of expediency and of expediency only, though of expediency so closely interwoven with a, great number of the finer instincts of human nature, that it often appears to the advocates on both sides of the argument, that expediency is swallowed up in principle.