Front Page Titles (by Subject) 63.: The Sunday Lectures Bill 19 JUNE, 1867 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII - Public and Parliamentary Speeches Part I November 1850 - November 1868
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63.: The Sunday Lectures Bill 19 JUNE, 1867 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII - Public and Parliamentary Speeches Part I November 1850 - November 1868 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII - Public and Parliamentary Speeches Part I November 1850 - November 1868, ed. John M. Robson and Bruce L. Kinzer (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1988).
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The Sunday Lectures Bill
PD, 3rd ser., Vol. 188, cols. 99–103. Reported in The Times, 20 June, p. 8, from which variants and responses are taken. In moving the second reading of “A Bill to Amend the Act of the 21st Year of George III, c. 49, intitled ‘An Act for Preventing Certain Abuses and Profanations on the Lord’s Day, called Sunday,’ ” 30 Victoria (2 Apr., 1867), PP, 1867, VI, 367–70, John Russell, Viscount Amberley (1842–76), M.P. for Nottingham, pointed out (cols. 89–95) that the Bill affected only lectures and speeches to which admission was charged; it did not apply to amusements, or even to performances of sacred music. Immediately before Mill spoke, Alexander James Beresford Hope (1820–87), M.P. for Stoke-upon-Trent, suggested (cols. 97–9) that a Select Committee should look thoroughly into the whole subject.
there is much good sense and good feeling in the speech of the honourable Member for Stoke-upon-Trent (Mr. Beresford Hope). I agree that it is desirable that this question and others should be dealt with in a much broader way than they usually are by the House. But whose fault is it that they are not? Not my noble Friend’s.1 If I may be permitted to say so, it is the fault of the House, which never will look at any subject except by fractions, and will not consent to legislate otherwise than bit by bit. If it would, there would be many things different in our laws and in our discussions. (Hear.) My noble Friend professes wider views on the subject than correspond with the breadth of the measure he has proposed. In his Bill he has dealt with a small portion, a corner of the subject upon which he thinks it hardly possible that there can be a difference of opinion among reasonable persons. (A laugh.) He gives the House credit for being capable of stopping where it likes, and deciding how far it will or will not go. He thinks that wherever the line ought to be drawn, it ought not to be drawn where it is now; and that there is something to be done in the way of promoting useful and instructive amusements, to call them nothing more, on a Sunday, in place of mere sensualities. I am not going to say anything, although much might be said, about the value of the instruction and recreation which these lectures afford. I am going to put it on the lowest ground, and ask whether you will have these or the public-house. (Hear, hear.) It is true that the honourable Member for Chichester (Mr. J.A. Smith) has proposed, and probably will receive much support in proposing, to take away even this from the working man, and leave him nothing whatever to do on Sunday but to go to church, if he should be so disposed.2 But there is no incompatibility between going to church and going to these lectures also. If you are not able to make the churches so attractive to the class of persons who are most in need of moralizing influences as to induce them to go there, you will, if you induce them not to go to the public-house, be doing some good. I refer to the question of closing the public-houses on Sunday, because that is a remedy which probably many gentlemen would propose. They would say, “You have not to choose between scientific lectures and the public-house, because you may close the public-house, and shut up the working people in their homes,” such as those are. There are two ways of keeping people out of what is considered to be mischief. One is to exclude them from what is regarded as hurtful indulgence, without giving them any other. The other is to facilitate their obtaining indulgences, amusements, recreations, to use no higher term, which if possible may be beneficial, and which certainly cannot be noxious. The latter plan appears to me the better, not only for the interests of society, but for the interests of religion itself. If you prevent any but a strictly religious employment of the Sunday, the only leisure day which is possessed by the mass of working men, what happens? You compel mankind, made as they are of flesh and blood, and needing a great deal which is not provided for by the church service—you compel them to look to the church service, and to their religious observances, not merely for spiritual instruction or spiritual edification, but also for all their excitement, and even for all their amusement. And this has two consequences equally serious and equally mischievous, and certainly equally undesirable in the eyes of arationallya religious people. One is to make the churches places of display, places of amusement and levity. The other is to make them places of boundless fanaticism. (Hear.) Both the love of lighter and the love of serious and grave excitement seek their gratification in this way, when others are denied them. The consequence is, that you are very likely to have, under cover of religious observances, all sorts of worldly feelings and worldly excitement, or else bigotry and fanaticism raised to their highest point. Speaking, therefore, in the interests of religion, it is not desirable that all places but churches should be closed on the only day of leisure which the mass of the community enjoy. Then as to the mode in which Sunday is to be employed bafter a certain portion of it is left open for religious observances, other employments being allowedb , I would ask any reasonable religious person whether, if he cannot have all that he would think best, he ought not to desire to have what is next best—and which he thinks nearest to religion: science, or sensuality? (Hear, hear.) With regard to the question of taking money at the doors for admission to these exhibitions, services, or whatever they are called, I understood my honourable Friend the Member for Perth (Mr. Kinnaird) c—for whom I entertain a degree of respect with which nothing I shall say will be in the slightest degree inconsistent—c to say that those who are anxious to give interesting instruction to the people may do it if they choose to defray the expenses themselves; but that it shall not be allowed that those who seek it shall themselves pay the expenses.3 That may be very well for once, twice, or thrice, but can it be expected to last? Is it to be desired that this instruction should be denied to the working classes unless others are willing to do what they themselves are not allowed to do—namely, to keep up a constant succession of these lectures, at the expense of others, and not at the expense of those who are able and willing to pay for them? Surely that is not what would be thought just and desirable in any other case. But perhaps my honourable Friend is of the opinion which seemed to be entertained by the right honourable Gentleman the Home Secretary (Mr. Gathorne-Hardy) on another occasion, when, with a degree of irascibility which I have not seen him exhibit upon any other subject, he spoke of “miserable philosophers” who are never willing to sacrifice anything for their opinions;4 not perhaps sufficiently considering that “miserable philosophers” have not always the means of making great endowments (hear, hear), and that there seems to be no very strong reason why the promulgation of opinions should be left exclusively to those who are able to provide such endowments. As to the evil consequences which my honourable Friend expects to follow if money is taken at the door on these occasions, which, he appears to think, would necessarily lead to the licensing of all sorts of amusements on Sunday, he does not appear to have sufficient confidence in the legislative capacity of the House, or to believe that it is capable of defining what shall be permitted and what shall not. I may, however, observe to my honourable Friend that this Bill actually does draw a line. My honourable Friend says that he once attended these lectures, and that the great attraction was the sacred music. But the Bill of my noble Friend does not include music. He has purposely excluded it, and therefore, also, the paid singers. With regard to that invidious expression, “paid singers,”5 are not the singers at our cathedrals paid? Is there anything necessarily unedifying in sacred music, because those who even thus humbly minister to the altar live by the altar? (Hear.) With reference to my honourable Friend’s fear that if music were allowed dancing must be allowed also, he cannot be indifferent to, or unaware of, the difference between sacred and other music. Is it not the distinctive characteristic of sacred music that its effect upon the mind is at the same time calming and elevating? and therefore I suppose the best preparation for any desirable and good form of religious sentiment. I am not aware that there is any such thing as sacred dancing (a laugh), at least according to our notions, although there is according to the ideas of other nations. Therefore there is no ground for the apprehensions of my honourable Friend. I apprehend that in this matter it is perfectly possible to draw a line of distinction if we choose to do so; to say what modes of amusement—if we put it only upon that ground—we consider to be, if not absolutely edifying, not inconsistent with edification, and what we think it desirable to put under restraint for one reason or another. As to these reasons, and the extent to which they would carry restraint, probably no two persons in this House are agreed. There is therefore—not that I apprehend there could be any reasonable objection to passing my noble Friend’s Bill—ground for assenting to the proposal of the honourable Member for Stoke, and referring the question to a Select Committee. I concur with him as to the desirability of considering these questions in the broadest possible way, and deciding what are the modes of amusement to which there is no objection, and what are those which, from their more suspicious and more dangerous character, require restraint. It is probable that if a Select Committee be appointed, it will extend rather than restrict the scope of my noble Friend’s Bill, and will find that on no broad principle that can be laid down will it be necessary to restrict the measure so much as my noble Friend has done. If the Bill is read a second time I shall be willing, as I presume from what he said my noble Friend will be, to consent to its being referred to a Select Committee, which will probably receive a great deal of valuable evidence—throw some light upon the subject, and I hope remove some prejudices. (Hear, hear.)
[The Bill was lost (col. 116).]
[1 ]I.e., Amberley’s.
[2 ]John Abel Smith, Motion on the Sale of Liquors on Sunday Bill (27 March, 1867), PD, Vol. 186, col. 666.
[b-b]+TT [in past tense]
[c-c]+TT [in third person, past tense]
[3 ]Arthur Fitzgerald Kinnaird (1814–87), moved the rejection of the Bill, col. 96.
[4 ]Gathorne-Hardy, Speech on the Uniformity Act Amendment Bill (29 May, 1867), ibid., Vol. 187, col. 1275.
[5 ]Kinnaird, col. 96.