27 FEBRUARY 1847, Page 15


THE report of a case in Vice-Chancellor Knight Bruce's Court, last week, imputed to the presiding Judge strange sentiments on. the subject of wife-beating. Sir James, we believe, was always conservative ; and he now appears as protector of the traditional thumb-thick cudgel law. Perhaps he did not say all that is- ascribed to him—perhaps he said more.; perhaps it was modi- fied by his manner—enlightened by a smile, or. softened by a tear : we can speak only from the words before us in the report. The ease was that of an endowed school in Yorkshire. The master had been dismissed on various charges, and among them one of ill-treating his wife. He filed a petition against the trustees, and the Vice-Chancellor took the grounds of dismissal into considera- tion. The charge of ill-treatment was disposed of in this fashion- " The fifth charge is, ` That during the time you have been master of the said school, you have been guilty of abusing and ill-treating Mary Ward, your wife, viz, previous to your first separation from your said wife.' Now that first sepa- ration was in the year 1882, and this charge is brought forward in 1846. Upon that charge the finding is this, 'That it is proved to the satisfaction of the elec- tors.' With however great regret one may see a charge of this description brought forward at such a length of time, it is difficult to say that it was im- proper for them to take it into their consideration. Upon the other hand, there is some difficulty in saying that the mere circumstance that a man beats his wife, or abuses or ill treats her, is of necessity that which is to incapacitate him from being a schoolmaster. If he does it in public—if he is of evil example--if his conduct has been brought under general observation in that mspect—the case may be different; but I am not prepared to say, that-the mere circumstance of ill-treatment of a man's wife, in the sense in which the term is used here, pro- eidedit were done in private, is a ground upon which he ought to be removed from an office of this description. I would rather not at present pronounce any opinion upon it; but, provided the charge is relevant and material, I am of opinion, upon the grounds which I have already stated, that it is a finding with which I cannot interfere. I think there is evidence upon it with regard to which a reasonable man might come to such a conclusion. I do not say that it is my opinion; I say no such thing: I say that it is evidence upon which a man in his senses, and desirous of doing justice, might come to that conclusion. It is not my own."

In two respects this judgment is of importance. It is of mo- mentous importance "to persons about to marry" and to all generally who are interested in the marital laws. It appears that "the mere circumstance" of the beating is not a proper ground. of accusation in such a case. The question turns solely on the public decency. A man must not fondle his wife in public, nei- ther must he twat her in public. Both operations must be con- fined to the boudoir or nuptial chamber. Kissing or cuffing equally-must be sacred against profane observation. That po- sition, indeed, is not laid down quite so distinctly as marital con- servatives could wish : "it is difficult to say" that such conduct might not be brought forward as a charge ; but "provided it were done in private," the husband is pretty safe. Police Magistrates may read this judgment in Equity with profit, as their guide in. the many cases that come before them of husbands who "beat their wives, or abuse or ill-treat them." They will perceive that the question of moral guilt mainly turns upon the publicity : "provided it were done in private," wife-beating is not a social offence. We think that not only Magistrates are interested, but also that ill-used and numerous class of men who are dragged before Police Magistrates for "the mere circumstance that they beat their wives, or abuse or ill-treat them." Henceforward they will find in Vice-Chancellor Knight Bruce's dictum a charter of their liberty. It should be printed in letters of red, and circu. lated in all the slums, rookeries, and blind alleys where "the mere circumstance" is so common, and viewed by a public opi- nion so different from that of more artificial society—a public opinion that will know how to revere the utterer of the recent judgment. The decision is also important on the score of education. It shows how mistaken are those who demand a certain refinement and self-discipline as essential to the character of a sehoolmaster. It appears that "the mere circumstance that a man beats his wife, or abuses or ill treats her, is" not "of necessity that which is to incapacitate him from being a schoolmaster ? " Quite the reverse. " Est modus in rebus "—there are degrees. It all turns on the publicity. You must "draw the line" at beating her in the school-room. The master must not by direct example incul- cate wife-beating, any more than he may set the boys lessons in wife-kissing ; though conjugal attentions are to be held up as most praiseworthy. These things must be veiled in a sacred mystery, and only half promulgated. But there appears to be.no reason why every Busby should not practise on his wife: His wife he has always with him, and she will be an excellent sub- ject for keeping his hand in ; for in this view we must dismiss all newfangled notions opposed to corporal punishment. They belong to a totally different wra from that in which Sir James Knight Bruce lives and talks. Observing these opinions in a person of his exalted station, we have a cheering index of the ge- neral state of opinion on such matters, and may appeal from di- vers revolutionary agitators in educational affairs to the great Judge who stands on the ancient ways.