Page:The early history of the property of married women.djvu/7

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Ladies and Gentlemen,—The subject to which I am about to ask your attention, however briefly and superficially it may be treated, may perhaps convey one lesson. It may serve as a caution against the lax employment of the words "ancient" and "modern." There are few persons, I suppose, who, approaching the Settled Property of Married Women without previous knowledge of its history, would not pronounce it one of the most modern of subjects. It has given rise to vehement controversy in our own day; some of the questions which it suggests are not yet settled; and there are many here, I dare say, who believe that they remember the first dawn of sound ideas on these questions. Yet, as a matter of fact, the discussion of the settled property of married women is one of the oldest of discussions. I do not indeed say, considering the vast antiquity now claimed for the human race, that our very first forefathers troubled themselves about the matter; but nothing can be more certain than that very soon after those divisions of mankind which were destined to ultimate greatness are seen in possession of the institution which was the one condition of their progress to civilisation—the Family—they are discerned grappling with the very same problem, no doubt in an early form, which we ourselves have hardly yet succeeded in solving. This assertion, I may observe, is less incredible to a Frenchman, or indeed to a citizen of any Continental State, than it is possibly to an Englishman. The law of the Continent on the proprietary relations of husband and wife is in the main Roman law, very slightly transmuted; and through the institutions of the Romans the history of this branch of law may be traced to the earliest institutions of so much of the human race as has proved capable of civilisation.