Page images

the most distant manner, that Mr. Owen is not a gentleman of the most sincere piety; but the misfortune is, all extra superfine persons accustom themselves to a familiar phraseology upon the most sacred subjects which is quite shocking to the common and inferior orders of Christians.—Provi. dence reduced to an alternative !!!!! Let it be remembered, this phrase comes from a member of a religious party who are loud in their complaints of being confounded with enthusiasts and fanatics.

We cannot conclude without the most pointed reprobation of the low mischief of the Christian Observer; a publication which appears to have no other method of discussing a question fairly open to discussion, than that of accusing their antagonists of infidelity. No art can be more unmanly, or, if its consequences are foreseen, more wicked.-If this publication had been the work of a single individual, we might have passed it over in silent disgust; but as it is looked upon as the organ of a great political religious party in this country, we think it right to notice the very unworthy manner in which they are attempting to extend their influence. For ourselves, if there were a fair prospect of carrying the gospel into regions where it was before unknown,-if such a project did not expose the best possessions of the country to extreme danger, and if it was in the hands of men who were discreet as well as devout, we should consider it to be a scheme of true piety, benevolence, and wisdom : but the baseness and malignity of fanaticism shall never prevent us from attacking its arrogance, its ignorance, and its activity. For what vice can be more tremendous than that which, while it wears the outward appearance of religion, destroys the happiness of man and dishonours the name of God?


(E. REVIEW, October, 1808.) A Letter to the Right Honourable Spencer Perceval, on a Subject connected with his Bill, now

under Discussion in Parliament, for improving the Situation of Stipendiary Curates.

8vo. Hatchard, London. 1808. The poverty of curates has long been a favourite theme with novelists, sentimental tourists, and elegiac poets. But, notwithstanding the known accuracy of this class of philosophers, we cannot help suspecting that there is a good deal of misconception in the popular estimate of the amount of the evil.

A very great proportion of all the curacies in England are filled with men to whom the emolument is a matter of subordinate importance. They are filled by young gentlemen who have recently left college, who of course are able to subsist as they had subsisted for seven years before, and who are glad to have an opportunity, on any terms, of acquiring a practical familiarity with the duties of their profession. They move away from them to higher situations as vacancies occur; and make way for a new race oil ecclesiastical apprentices. To those men the smallness of the appointment is a grievance of no very great magnitude ; nor is it fair, with relation to them, to represent the ecclesiastical order as degraded by the indigence to which some of its members are condemned. With regard, again, to those who take curacies merely as a means of subsistence, and with the prospect of remaining permanently in that situation, it is certain that by far the greater part of them are persons born in a very humble rank in society, and accustomed to no greater opulence than that of an ordinary curate. There are scarcely any of those persons who have taken a degree in an university, and not very many who have resided there at all. Now, the son of a small Welsh

farmer, who works hard every day for less than £40 a year, has no great reason to complain of degradation or disappointment if he get from £50 to £100 for a moderate portion of labour one day in seven. The situation, accordingly, is looked upon by these people as extremely eligible ; and there is a great competition for curacies, even as they are now provided. The amount of the evil, then, as to the curates themselves cannot be considered as very enormous, when there are so few who either actually feel, or are entitled to feel, much discontent on the subject. The late regulations about residence, too, by diminishing the total number of curates, will obviously throw that office chiefly into the hands of the well-educated and comparatively independent young men, who seek for the situation rather for practice than profit, and do not complain of the want of emolument.

Still we admit it to be an evil that the resident clergyman of a parish should not be enabled to hold a respectable rank in society from the regular emoluments of his office. But it is an evil which does not exist exclusively among curates; and which, wherever it exists, we are afraid is irremediable, without the destruction of the Episcopal Church, or the augmentation of its patrimony. More than one half of the livings in England are under £80 a year; and the whole income of the Church, including that of the bishops, if thrown into a common fund, would not afford above £180 for each living. Unless Mr. Perceval, therefore, will raise an additional million or two for the Church, there must be poor curates,—and poor rectors also; and unless he is to reduce the Episcopal hierarchy to the republican equality of our Presbyterian model, he must submit to very considerable inequalities in the distribution of this inadequate provision.

Instead of applying any of these remedies, however,-instead of proposing to increase the income of the Church, or to raise a fund for its lowest servants by a general assessment upon those who are more opulent,-instead of even trying indirectly to raise the pay of curates by raising their qualifications in respect of regular education, Mr. Perceval has been able, after long and pro. found study, to find no better cure for the endemic poverty of curates than to ordain all rectors of a certain income to pay them one fifth part of their emoluments, and to vest certain alarming powers in the bishops for the purpose of controlling their appointment. Now, this scheme, it appears to us, has all the faults which it is possible for such a scheme to have. It is unjust and partial in its principle, -it is evidently altogether and utterly inefficient for the correction of the evil in question,--and it introduces other evils infinitely greater than that which it vainly proposes to abolish.

To this project, however, for increasing the salary of curates, Mr. Perceval has been so long and so obstinately partial, that he returned to the charge, in the last session of Parliament, for the third time, and experienced, in spite of his present high situation, the same defeat which had baffled him in his previous attempts.

Though the subject is gone by once more for the present, we cannot abstain from bestowing a little gentle violence to aid its merited descent into the gulf of oblivion, and to extinguish, if possible, that resurgent principle which has so often disturbed the serious business of the country, and averted the attention of the public from the great scenes that are acting in the world—to search for some golden medium between the selfishness of the sacred principal, and the rapacity of the sacred deputy.

If church property is to be preserved, that precedent is not without danger which disposes at once of a fifth of all the valuable livings in England. We do not advance this as an argument of any great importance against the bill, but only as an additional reason why its utility should be placed in the clearest

point of view, before it can attain the assent of well-wishers to the English establishment.

Our first and greatest objection to such a measure is the increase of power which it gives to the bench of Bishops, -an evil which may produce the most serious effects, by placing the whole body of the clergy under the absolute control of men who are themselves so much under the influence of the Crown. This, indeed, has been pretty effectually accomplished by the late Residence Bill of Sir William Scott; and our objection to the present bill is that it tends to augment that excessive power before conferred on the prelacy.

If a clergyman lives in a situation which is destroying his constitution, he cannot exchange with a brother clergyman without the consent of the bishop; in whose hands, under such circumstances, his life and death are actually placed. If he wishes to cultivate a little land for his amusement or better support, he cannot do it without the licence of the bishop. If he wishes to spend the last three or four months with a declining wife or child, at some spot where better medical assistance can be procured, he cannot do so without permission of the bishop. If he is struck with palsy, or racked with stone, the bishop can confine him in the most remote village in England. In short, the power which the bishops at present possess over their clergy is so enormous that none but a fool or a madman would think of compromising his future happiness by giving the most remote cause of offence to his diocesan. We ought to recollect, however, that the clergy constitute a body of 12,000 or 15,000 educated persons; that the whole concern of education devolves upon them; that some share of the talents and information which exist in the country must naturally fall to their lot; and that the complete subjugation of such a body of men cannot, in any point of view, be a matter of indifference to a free country.

It is in vain to talk of the good character of bishops. Bishops are men ; not always the wisest of men; not always preferred for eminent virtues and talents, or for any good reason whatever known to the public. They are almost always devoid of striking and indecorous vices; but a man may be very shallow, very arrogant, and very vindictive, though a bishop; and pursue with unrelenting hatred a subordinate clergyman whose principles he dislikes, and whose genius he fears. Bishops, besides, are subject to the infirmities of old age, like other men ; and in the decay of strength and understanding, will be governed as other men are, by daughters and wives, and whoever ministers to their daily comforts. We have no doubt that such cases sometimes occur, and produce, wherever they do occur, a very capricious administration of ecclesiastical affairs. As the power of enforcing residence must be lodged somewhere, why not give the bishop a council, consisting of two thirds ecclesiastics, and one third laymen: and meeting at the same time as the sessions and deputy sessions ;—the bishop's licence for non-residence to issue, of course, upon their recommendations ? Considering the vexatious bustle of a new and the laxity of an aged bishop, we cannot but think that a diocese would be much more steadily administered under this system than by the present means.

Examine the constitutional effects of the power now granted to the bench. What hinders a bishop from becoming, in the hands of the Court, a very important agent in all country elections? what clergyman would dare to refuse him his vote? But it will be said that no bishop will ever condescend to such sort of intrigues :-a most miserable answer to a most serious objection. The temptation is admitted,—the absence of all restraint; the dangerous consequences are equally admitted; and the only (preseryative is the personal character of the individual. If this style of reasoning were general, what would become of law, constitution, and every wholesome restraint which we have been accumulating for so many centuries? We have no in. tention to speak disrespectfully of constituted authorities; but when men can abuse power with impunity, and recommend themselves to their supe. riors by abusing it, it is but common sense to suppose that power will be abused; if it is, the country will hereafter be convulsed to its very entrails in tearing away that power from the prelacy which has been so improvidently conferred upon them. It is useless to talk of the power they anciently pos. sessed. They have never possessed it since England has been what it now is. Since we have enjoyed practically a free constitution, the bishops have, in point of fact, possessed little or no power of oppression over their clergy.

It must be remembered, however, that we are speaking only of proba. bilities; the fact may turn out to be quite the reverse. The power vested in the Bench may be exercised for spiritual purposes only, and with the greatest moderation. We shall be extremely happy to find that this is the case ; and it will reflect great honour upon those who have corrected the improvidence of the Legislature by their own sense of propriety.

It is contended by the friends of this law that the respectability of the clergy depends in some measure on their wealth ; and that, as the rich bishop reflects a sort of worldly consequence upon the poor bishop, and the rich rector upon the poor rector ;--So, a rich class of curates could not fail to confer a greater degree of importance upon that class of men in general. This is all very well if you intend to raise up some new fund in order to enrich curates. But you say that the riches of some constitute the dignity of the whole ; and then you immediately take away from the rector the superfluous wealth which, according to your own method of reasoning, is to decorate and dignify the order of men to whom he belongs ! The bishops constitute the first class in the church : the beneficed clergy the second; the curates the last. Why are you to take from the second to give to the last? Why not as well from the first to give to the second, --if you really mean to contend that the first and second are already too rich?

It is not true, however, that the class of rectors is generally either too rich, or even rich enough. There are 6,000 livings below £80 per annum, which is not very much above the average allowance of a curate. If every rector, however, who has more than £ 500 is obliged to give a fifth part to a curate, there seems to be no reason why every bishop who has more than £1,000 should not give a fifth part among the poor rectors in his diocese. It is in vain to say this assessment upon rectors is reasonable and right, because they may reside and do duty themselves, and then they will not need a curate; that their non-residence, in short, is a kind of delinquency for which they compound by this fine to the parish. If more than half of the rectories in England are under £80 a year, and some thousands of them under £40, pluralities are absolutely necessary; and clergymen, who have not the gift of ubiquity, must be non-resident at some of them. Curates, therefore, are not the deputies of negligent rectors ;-they are an order of priests absolutely necessary in the present form of the Church of England : and a rector incurs no shadow of delinquency by employing one, more than the King does by appointing a Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, or a Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, instead of doing the duty of these offices in person. If the Legislature, therefore, is to interfere to raise the natural, i.e., the actual, wages of this order of men, at the expense of the more opulent ministers of the Gospel, there seems to be no sort of reason for exempting the bishops from their share in this pious contribution, or for refusing to make a similar one for the benefit of all rectors who have less than £100 per annum.

The true reason, however, for exempting my Lords the Bishops from this imposition is that they have the privilege of voting upon all bills brought in by Mr. Perceval, and of materially affecting his comfort and security by their parliamentary control and influence. This, however, is to cure what you believe to be unjust by means which you must know to be unjust; to fly out against abuses which may be remedied without peril, and to connive at them when the attempt at a remedy is attended with political danger; to be mute and obsequious towards men who enjoy church property to the amount of £18,000 or £19,000 per annum; and to be so scandalised at those who possess as many hundreds that you must melt their revenues down into curacies, and save to the eye of political economy the spectacle of such flagrant inequality!

In the same style of reasoning it may be asked why the lay impropriators are not compelled to advance the salary of their perpetual curacies up to a fifth of their estates? The answer, too, is equally obvious. Many lay impropriators have votes in both Houses of Parliament; and the only class of men this cowardly reformation attacks is that which has no means of saying anything in its own defence.

Even if the enrichment of curates were the most imperious of all duties, it might very will be questioned whether a more unequal and pernicious mode of fulfilling it could be devised than that enjoined by this bill. Curacies are not granted for the life of the curate, but for the life or incumbency or goodliking of the rector. It is only rectors worth £500 a year who are compelled by Mr. Perceval to come down with a fifth to their deputy; and these form but a very small proportion of the whole non-resident rectors; so that the great multitude of curates must remain as poor as formerly—and probably a little more discontented. Suppose, however, that one has actually entered on the enjoyment of £250 per annum. His wants and his habits of expense are enlarged by this increase of income. In a year or two his rector dies, or exchanges his living; and the poor man is reduced, by the effects of comparison, to a much worse state than before the operation of the bill. Can any person say that this is a wise and effectual mode of ameliorating the condition of the lower clergy? To us it almost appears to be invented for the purpose of destroying those habits of economy and caution which are so indispensably necessary to their situation. If it be urged that the curate, knowing his wealth only to be temporary, will make use of it as a means of laying up a fund for some future day—we admire the good sense of the man. But what becomes of all the provisions of the bill; what becomes of that opulence which is to confer respectability upon all around it, and to radiate even upon the curates of Wales? The money was expressly given to blacken his coatto render him convex and rosy-to give him a sort of pseudo-rectorial appearance, and to dazzle the parishioners at the rate of £250 per annum. The poor man, actuated by those principles of common sense which are so contrary to all the provisions of the bill, chooses to make a good thing of it, because he knows it will not last; wears his old coat, rides his lean horse, and defrauds the class of curates of all the advantages which they were to derive from the sleekness and splendour of his appearance.

It is of some importance to the welfare of a parish, and the credit of the church, that the curate and his rector should live upon good terms together. Such a bill, however, throws between them elements of mistrust and hatred, which must render their agreement highly improbable. The curate would bę perpetually prying into every little advance which the rector made upon


« PreviousContinue »