Page images

his tithes, and claiming his proportionate increase. No respectable man could brook such inquisition-some, we fear, would endeavour to prevent its effects by clandestine means. The church would be a perpetual scene of disgraceful animosities; and the ears of the bishop never free from the clamours of rapacity and irritation.

It is some slight defect in such a bill that it does not proportion reward to the labour done, but to the wealth of him for whom it is done. The curate of a parish containing 400 persons may be paid as much as another person who has the care of 10,000; for, in England, there is very little proportion between the value of a living, and the quantity of duty to be performed by its clergyman.

The bill does not attain its object in the best way. Let the bishop refuse to allow of any curate upon a living above £500 per annum, who is not a Master of Arts of one of the universities. Such curates will then be obtained at a price which will render it worth the while of such men to take curacies; and such a degree and situation in society will secure good curates much morc effectually than the complicated provisions of this bill, for, prima facie, it appears to us much more probable that a curate should be respectable who is a Master of Arts in some English university, than if all that we knew about him was that he had a fifth of the profits of the living. The object is to fix a good clergyman in a parish. The law will not trust the non-resident rector to fix both the price and the person ; but fixes the price, and then leaves him the choice of the person. Our plan is to fix upon the description of person, and then to leave the price to find its level ; for the good price by no means implies a good person, but the good person will be sure to get a good price.

Where the living will admit of it, we have commonly observed that the English clergy are desirous of putting in a proper substitute. If this be so, the bill is unnecessary; for it proceeds on the very contrary supposition, that the great mass of opulent clergy consult nothing but economy in the choice of their curates.

It is very galling and irksome to any class of men to be compelled to disclose their private circumstances : a provision contained in and absolutely necessary to this bill, under which the diocesan can always compel the minister to disclose the full value of his living.

After all, however, the main and conclusive objection to the bill is that its provisions are drawn from such erroneous principles, and betray such gross ignorance of human nature, that though it would infallibly produce a thousand mischiefs foreseen and not foreseen, it would evidently have no effect whatsoever in raising the salaries of curates. We do not put this as a case of common buyer and seller ; we allow that the parish is a third party, having an interest ;* we fully admit the right of the Legislature to interfere for their relief. We only contend that such interference would be necessarily altogether in. effectual so long as men can be found capable of doing the duty of curates, and willing to do it for less than the statutory minimum.

If there be a competition of rectors for curates, it is quite unnecessary and absurd to make laws in favour of curates. The demand for them will do their business more effectually than the law. If, on the contrary (as the fact plainly is), there is a competition of curates for employment, is it possible to prevent this order of men from labouring under the regulation price? Is it possible to

* We remember Horace's description of the misery of a parish where there is no resident clergyman.

- "Illacrymabiles Urgentur, ignotique longâ Nocte, carent quia vate sacro.."

prevent a curate from pledging himself to his rector that he will accept only half the legal salary, if he is so fortunate as to be preferred among an host of rivals who are willing to engage on the same terms? You may make these contracts illegal., What then? Men laugh at such prohibitions; and they always become a dead letter. In nine instances out of ten the contract would be honourably adhered to ; and then what is the use of Mr. Perceval's law? Where the contract was not adhered to, whom would the law benefit?-A man utterly devoid of every particle of honour and good faith. And this is the new species of curate, who is to reflect dignity and importance upon his poorer brethren! The law encourages breach of faith between gambler and gambler; it arms broker against broker ;-but it cannot arm clergyman against clergyman. Did any human being before, ever think of disseminating such a principle among the teachers of Christianity? Did any ecclesiastical law, before this, ever depend for its success upon the mutual treachery of men who ought to be examples to their fellow creatures of everything that is just and upright?

We have said enough already upon the absurdity of punishing all rich rectors for non-residence, as for a presumptive delinquency. A law is already passed, fixing what shall be legal and sufficient causes for non-residence. Nothing can be more unjust, then, than to punish that absence which you admit to be legal. If the causes of absence are too numerous, lessen them; but do not punish him who has availed himself of their existence. We deny, however, that they are too numerous. There are 6,000 livings out of 11,000 in the English Church under £80 per annum : many of these £20, many £30 per annum. The whole task of education at the university, public schools, private families, and in foreign travel, devolves upon the clergy. A great part of the literature of their country is in their hands. Residence is a very proper and necessary measure, but considering all these circumstances, it requires a great deal of moderation and temper to carry it into effect without doing more mischief than good. At present, however, the torrent sets the other way. Every lay plunderer, and every fanatical coxcomb, is forging fresh chains for the English clergy; and we should not be surprised, in a very little time, to see them absenting themselves from their benefices by a kind of day-rule, like prisoners in the King's Bench. The first bill, which was brought in by Sir William Scott-always saving and excepting the power granted to the bishops, -is full of useful provisions, and characterised throughout by great practical wisdom. We have no doubt that it has, upon the whole, improved the condition of the English Church. Without caution, mildness, or information, however, it was peculiarly unfortunate to follow such a leader. We are extremely happy the bill was rejected. We have seldom witnessed more of ignorance and error stuffed and crammed into so very narrow a compass. Its origin, we are confident, is from the Tabernacle ; and its consequences would have been to have sown the seeds of discord and treachery in an ecclesiastical constitution which, under the care of prudent and honest men, may always be rendered a source of public happiness.

One glaring omission in this bill we have almost forgotten to mention. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has entirely neglected to make any provision for that very meritorious class of men, the lay curates, who do all the business of those offices of which lazy and non-resident placemen receive the emoluments. So much delicacy and conscience, however, are here displayed on the subject of pocketing unearned emoluments, that we have no doubt the moral irritability of this servant of the Crown will speedily urge him to a species of reform of which he may be the object as well as the mover.

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 possessed. 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 ;-, 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 be perpetually prying into every little advance which the rector made upon PARNELL'S HISTORY OF IRISH POPERY LAWS.

(E. REVIEW, October, 1808.) History of the Penal Laws against the Irish Catholics, from the Treaty of Limerick to the

Union. By HENRY PARNELL, Esq., M.P. The various publications which have issued from the press in favour of religious liberty have now nearly silenced the arguments of their opponents; and, teaching sense to some, and inspiring others with shame, have left those only on the field who can neither learn nor blush.

But, though the argument is given up, and the justice of the Catholic cause admitted, it seems to be generally conceived that their case, at present, is utterly hopeless; and that to advocate it any longer will only irritate the oppressed, without producing any change of opinion in those by whose influence and authority that oppression is continued. To this opinion, unfortunately too prevalent, we have many reasons for not subscribing.

We do not understand what is meant in this country by the notion that a measure, of consummate wisdom and imperious necessity, is to be deferred for any time, or to depend upon any contingency. Whenever it can be made clear to the understandings of the great mass of enlightened people that any system of political conduct is necessary to the public welfare, every obstacle (as it ought) will be swept away before it; and as we conceive it to be by no means improbable that the country may be, ere long, placed in a situation where its safety or ruin will depend upon its conduct towards the Catholics, we sincerely believe we are doing our duty in throwing every possible light on this momentous question. Neither do we understand where this passive submission to ignorance and error is to end. Is it confined to religion? or does it extend to war and peace, as well as religion? Would it be tolerated if any man were to say, “ Abstain from all arguments in favour of peace; the court have resolved upon eternal war; and, as you cannot have peace, to what purpose urge the necessity of it?” We answer,—that courts must be presumed to be open to the influence of reason ; or, if they were not, to the influence of prudence and discretion, when they perceive the public opinion to be loudly and clearly against them. To lie by in timid and indolent silence, to suppose an inflexibility, in which no court ever could, under pressing circumstances, persevere, -and to neglect a regular and vigorous appeal to public opinion, is to give up all chance of doing good, and to abandon the only instrument by which the few are ever prevented from ruining the many.

It is folly to talk of any other ultimatum in government than perfect justice to the fair claims of the subject. The concessions to the Irish Catholics in 1792 were to be the ne plus ultra. Every engine was set on foot to induce the grand juries in Ireland to petition against further concessions; and, in six months afterwards, government were compelled to introduce, themselves, those further relaxations of the penal code of which they had just before assured the Catholics they must abandon all hope. Such is the absurdity of supposing that a few interested and ignorant individuals can postpone, at their pleasure and caprice, the happiness of millions.

As to the feeling of irritation with which such continued discussion may inspire the Irish Catholics, we are convinced that no opinion could be so prejudicial to the cordial union which we hope may always subsist between the two countries, as that all the efforts of the Irish were unavailing,—that argument was hopeless,—that their case was prejudged with a sullen inflexibility which circumstances could not influence, pity soften, or reason subdue,

« PreviousContinue »