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household shall exert the miserable effort of calculating how many credible witnesses may chance to surround the sick bed, perhaps the death bed of one, or both, of those beloved objects of a family's tender regards. We have taken two instances in one—those of birth and death ; and the imagination of the dullest dotard may supply innumerable other distressing cases, certain to occur, in which the evil genius of this ambulatory act of parliament will be unseasonably forced upon minds already overstocked with grief, overcharged with the misery of the occasion, and suffering all the pangs incident to the purest, the warmest, the truest affection.
Is this the time, we again ask, when an unhappy family are to be tortured with the dread of an after-inquisition, and that, too, concerning the only points which, to the already sufficiently agonized relatives, are the most of all agonising and distressing?
Yes, this is the selected moment when they shall be expected to take especial note of the time and the circumstance, and to be cautious that all the memoranda of proceedings bear reference to the requisitions of an act of parliament, which authorizes and requires the district-registrar to inform himself, carefully, of every birth and death in his district, after the 1st of March next; and to learn and register, as soon after the event as conveniently may be done, the particulars touching every such birth and death :three of which particulars are, the times of birth, and death, and the cause of the latter. (See section 18, and schedules (A) and (B) there referred to.)
Now, although the next section directs that the father, mother, or occupier, must give notice of a birth in forty-two days, and of a death in five days, to the registrar, we see nothing in the act to protect any family from the intrusion of that officer, if he should choose to be over-meddling and officious, in order “ to inform himself, carefully, and to learn, and register, as soon as conveniently, the particulars;" especially, since section 42 inflicts a penalty of 501. upon him for non-registry of birth, or death, of which he shall have had due notice as aforesaid.
The awkward word " notice" is an everlasting bone of contention among lawyers; and we can easily imagine that an overscrupulous registrar, having such intelligence of a coming birth, or death, as could be proved to be legal notice, and having his eye upon section 42, would set about investigating who were intended to be the witnesses ; and if he found that it was doubtful, or that the witnesses were not what he might deem credible, we can well enough conceive that he would make assurance doubly sure, and, to save himself the forfeiture of the 501. penalty, the registrar might pay more regard to his own pocket, than to the proper feelings of persons who had no regard for either his purse or his person. Knowing also (what every one knows), the proverbial rivalry, approaching to hostility, of medical men to each other, we entirely disapprove of the recommendation, from head-quarters to the union guardians, to appoint parish accoucheurs, and apothecaries, to be registrars. We humbly presume to think that the registrar-general is singularly unhappy in his selection of tools and implements for collecting these miserable details. His choice of the superintendent we have already treated as we think it deserves; and, now, his
preferring medical men, to be taken from that portion of the faculty which is to be sought for, only, in the poor-house, is, in our opinion, ill judged.
We have the highest notions of medical practitioners, as a body; and of no members of that body do we think more favourably than of surgeons of reputable acquirements. Their services to society are exceedingly beneficial ; and, in general, we admire them for their humane attention to all classes of their patients. We think them frequently ill paid for their great and incessant labour, and loss of time, and we wish that their services were better rewarded ; but this trumpery appointment is not the thing to remunerate them. It will, indeed, be a tax on their time, which they can ill afford; for, indubitably, upon a surgeon's due economy of time, must depend much of his success, and much of the benefit to be derived to his patients. We are also of opinion that medical men are habitually, and practically, and notoriously unfit for such an office as registrar. They know it themselves, and few men in good practice will disown it, or would, or could, give their time to an employment, so at variance with their usual avocations.
In regard to the rivalry and jealousy of the faculty, no lawyer is so jealous of another's conferences with his healthy client, as is one doctor with another, at interference with his sick patient. Not that we would have attorneys to be registrars, as this law now stands; nor do we suppose an attorney, who deserves the name, will submit to so degrading a situation. The needless and early obtrusion of the registrar, on domestic calamity, which his presence must oftener increase than alleviate, we shall have occasion to notice, when we arrive at the consideration of his inquisitions post mortem.
We will first inquire into the manner and mode by which the Registry Act proposes to secure the registration of births,--one of the most inefficient and blundering “great measures upon principle” we have ever seen. We will suppose that the father is a labouring man, living at such distance from the registrar as would take him a day, or half a day, to give the notice. We shall then find, that all the expense, and delay, and inconvenience, which we have already pointed out as to marriage notice, will occur here: and the same questions will arise respecting what shall be deemed legal notice, viz., whether it shall be considered express, or implied, if not written; or, if written,
whether the service shall be good, if not personal, or if sent by the post, or otherwise.
Supposing that the mother chance to die, and the child, and (no impossible thing) the father also, leaving an orphan, the sole occupier of the house; or supposing extreme illness in all, and, as may often happen, that the nurse or midwife be the only witness. Is she, whose occupations are called for in many other directions, to go and seek the registrar, at some, or no, miles distance? Supposing that within the forty-two days, the wife's health be such, that she can go, so far as health be concerned, and try to find the registrar, to record the birth of her child; but that having a large and helpless family, she can neither spare the time, nor the money, to leave her home. She has, perhaps, for the preceding month, or two, hired some one to attend to her small shop, or to her large family, or to both; and whether so or not, it is not to be imagined that she would leave her home, at further expense, for the sake of a registration, which would be more satisfactory to her, if inserted in her family Bible.
We are glad to find that there is no penalty attached to her not going; and it will be difficult to make her understand why she should go to furnish information to others, at her own cost of time, trouble, and money. But, let us go a step further, and we shall see, that if the birth be not registered in forty-two days, it may be in six calendar months, from the birth, and then in a more formal manner, on payment of two shillings and sixpence to the superintendent registrar, and five shillings to the registrar, with the additional trouble of bringing those two officers together. This, with a vengeance, is making the country pay for their communications to the statistical gentry!
To complete the absurdity and folly of the whole proceeding, and to show how nugatory the act renders itself, it is positively enacted, that if the birth be not registered in the said six calendar months, it shall not be registered at all !!!!!!
We said, at the outset, that we would prove that this act of parliament defeats its own purposes; and, we presume, that any intelligent child of ten years old will acknowledge that we have done so in this instance. We confess, that we never beheld such a stupid way of legislating as this: not that the members of the Established Church need to care about it, for by the 49th section, the registration of baptisms and burials, as now established by law, are not in any way to be affected by this act; nor the right of any officiating minister to receive the fees now usually paid for the performance or registration of any baptism, burial, or marriage. So far, therefore, as the members of the Church of England are concerned, we are happy to know that they are safe, at present, from the obligation of attending to this part of the act; and we have no question that by far the greater portion of them will take no notice whatever of this act of parliament, so far as concerns baptisms. Thousands of persons, of all grades, sects, and denominations, will not avail themselves of the benefit (if there be any) held out by the curious provisions of this silly act of parliament about births. Where the parties are poor, they will not trouble themselves concerning this registration, whether they be religionists or not.
And where persons are of the Established Church, they will content themselves with baptism, and the baptismal registration, which will be amply sufficient; and it would seem that the Church of England registry of births, is the only one, after all, that will be correct, even under the contrivances of this new law; the twaddling provisions of which are, however, too absurd to be passed by without notice :-thus, by section 24, the name of baptism may, within six months after registration, and within seven days after baptism, upon certificate of the officiating minister, be registered at an expense of two shillings to the registrar or superintendent.
But as we said before, on another occasion, this may not be done, and it does not signify: and it is unlikely that any member of our Church will do this, it being only for the satisfaction of such idle requisitions as are contained in these acts of parliament.
We have already alluded to the cruelty, the wanton cruelty of the inquisitions to be instituted in families on the deaths of persons, under any circumstances, of long illness or otherwise. If we had been living in a country abounding with assassins, conspirators, and common stabbers, we should not have expected this law, so long as sudden and violent deaths were subjects for a coroner's inquest; but the painful requisitions of evidence to be given within five or eight days of the lamented death of a near relative or friend, are disgraceful to a country like this, where persons dying naturally, have always been permitted a peaceable interment. We think this the most horrible law that has ever been passed in this country.
We have alluded to this part of the act, and to the duties of the registrar in cases of death; and we have given our opinion of the class of men who may be expected to perform those duties ; for we cannot suppose that any gentleman (so calling himself) would or could, within five or eight days of a death, voluntarily intrude upon the peace of a private family to make the inquiries we have mentioned; and therefore we think, that the official directions to the boards of guardians cannot be too explicit, that they choose men of vulgar and base habits, whose spirits will but accord with the vile spirit of this act of parliament.
How many female intellects would be totally overthrown by such a harrowing of the soul as must be the result of inquiries, which not only proceed from no motives of affection or kindness, but may possibly tend to after-inquiries respecting the attentions of relations, or the skill of the physician, the surgeon, or the apothecary, whose mode of treatment might be not altogether approved of by a rival medical man, in the shape of a registrar of the district. We can, without effort, conceive such a man questioning the bereaved widow or mother, the orphan daughter, or the beloved sister of a departed brother, as to the minute particulars of a lingering and a painful illness, which ended at last in the death of him, whose mortal remains are not yet removed to their earthly habitation ; for this inquisition may take place on any day after that of the death, or on the day of the funeral, and it must be made of those who are nearest and dearest to the deceased, and therefore the less able to bear the inhuman infliction. No coroner's inquest could be so dreadful as this! and what arch fiend, we ask, could have infused into the mind of the framer of these requisitions, such a horrible conceit as to mould them into an act of parliament?
The act is of a puerile, desultory kind; and the sections are strange intermixed enactments of births and deaths, by sea and by land. Thus, there is a provision, section 21, as to children born at sea, which anticipates that the captain of every vessel should have this act of parliament on board. The commanding officer is to be the superintendent registrar, and the surgeon of course the registrar ;-his assistant being some
“ Seventh son of Doctor John,
Physician and chirurgeon,
Man-midwife to a man of war." The registries of deaths by sea are likewise to be made by the captain. Are there no chaplains in ships ?
In regard to other deaths, we mean those by land, the registrar is to certify that he has registered a death, and deliver the certificate to the undertaker, who is to give it to the minister, who, in case of receiving no such certificate, is to notify the burial to the registrar.
There is no prescribed form of this notice, nor is it enacted that it shall be in writing. See section 27.
We refer our clerical readers to sections 30 and 31, respecting the marriage register books; how they are to be provided, and how to be kept; and to section 33, as to sending duplicates and certified copies of the marriage registers to the superintendent. The clause is like many of the others--all confusion: in the first place requiring the rector, vicar, or curate, in April, July, October and January, to deliver to the superintendent registrar a copy of the marriage entries since the last certificate; the first of such certificates to be given in July, one thousand eight hundred and thirty-seven, and to contain all the entries made up to that time ; and if there shall have been no marriage since the last certificate, to certify the fact, and keep the books till filled ;