Page images

tion, which necessarily, and apart from any local law, would be equivalent to legal claims. • Whether, therefore, in such circumstances there was formal appropriation or not, I conceive that ultimately, and in no long time, the result practically would be the same precisely.

Such a case, however, though there might be very near approximation to it here and there, can never literally occur, as is obvious when its conditions are considered; and we must remember that not only must those conditions be secured to begin with, but they must be permanent, and the population under them must remain stationary

But it may have been useful to imagine such a state of things, in order that we may bear it in mind in considering what really is attainable, and indeed is frequent, and becoming more and more frequent-I mean churches in which all the places are fairly good, though some are rather better than others, and there is practically, though not on paper, room for all who want to go. This ordinarily may be said to be the test we can arrive at.

What is to be done here?

It might be possible to carry the system of individual or domestic allocation as far as it would go on some principle or other of selection, resulting in a specified number of parishioners being seated, the rest absolutely excluded. But this no one would recommend.

Next, the whole area may be left quite free. Now I quite admit that it is not physically impossible-that it is conceivable—that this might work quite well; that there would never be anything like a scramble; that no one would ever try to get the best places, or the same

places day after day; that the rich and the poor would be glad to sit mingled together; that families would not mind being separated ; that those who might come a little late and find the seats they have been accustomed to occupy, and all the rest of the church full, would contentedly go away, and take the risk of the same happening again, without losing their attachment to the church, and so forth,—nay, that many of the rich would often on principle come early in order to occupy the lower places, and to compel the poor to go up higher.

With regard to most of these, I can only say, Would that it might be so ! But the doubt I feel about it as a general system is founded on this, that it assumes a degree of virtue in the population inconsistent with the ordinary conditions of human nature, with which we are forced to deal. It assumes that the rich will have no pride, the middle class no wish to push themselves above their station, the poor no false shame, all classes no ill temper; that the force of habit and the love of comfort and security will cease to operate.

Now, I am aware that I am speaking à priori, which I do for convenience, only observing that I am not aware of any facts that are inconsistent with what I am supposing_indeed I believe I could, if necessary, illustrate it by facts. Speaking in that way, I must say I think there is great danger of an issue singularly different from what I have just described. Remembering throughout the connexion existing between the different classes in the congregation, I can conceive that there might be just another example of the melancholy old proverb, “the weakest goes to the wall.” The lion's share of the places might be taken by the rich, the proud, the push

ing; the modest, the retiring, the poor in short, might be squeezed out to the worst places, while having ro right of their own to any places ; and in course of time it might be a chance whether any room at all would be left for them. And here, too, it must be borne in mind that all such habits of occupation must unavoidably tend to become practically rights.

It seems to me, therefore, that it may be quite as much in the direct interest of the poor themselves as on any other ground, that some other system than that of simple non-appropriation may be desirable. And I turn to the only other principle which appears to me practically to be possible, and which also I believe to be in substance that of our existing common church law. I know, indeed, that there is another view, which I have once, but only once, seen advocated, and maintained to be not only sound, but to be that of our law. It is this, that together with entire non-appropriation, it should be provided that at every service the churchwardens, or some one acting with their authority, should be in attendance, and at their discretion place all the congregation, parishioners or not, in the church, as is now done by the vergers with strangers. But on this I shall not dwell long. That it is the actual law, I think can hardly be seriously maintained ; and that any parish should agree to such a system, any parish officers undertake so difficult and invidious a task, by whatever standard they might be guided—whether that of classes, or, as I have heard it suggested, that of preference to the more regular church-goers or communicants, or any other—seems to me incredible.

Now, as to the actual law, I will state what I confidently believe it to be in its spirit, and what I believe it pretty nearly to be even in its details; but I am not versed enough in Churchwarden's law to say that it positively is so, and I only beg to be understood as advocating it, or at least pointing out how it should be worked, as I state it, and in no other way.

The law is, that the churchwardens shall assign places to all the parishioners. They do this, subject to an appeal to the Ordinary, that is to say the Bishop; to which I shall not again refer, as it applies to the whole subject throughout.

Now it should be clearly understood, that what the churchwardens in this manner give to any, is not in the full and proper sense a right at all. It is leave to occupy a given number of places in a certain part of the church, on certain conditions, and as long as the churchwardens see fit. It is no doubt a right in this sense, that as long as the church wardens do see fit, and as long as the conditions remain unaltered, no other person can occupy those places. But this is all, and the distinction is very important, as will soon appear.

The right must be given to a resident parishionerto one who has a house in the parish. But it is not the case, though it is often supposed to be, that the same house should always have the same number of places. What the churchwardens are to consider is not the capacity of the house, but the number of persons living in it.

A. B. lives with Mrs. A. B., and a great number of little A. B.'s, in house C. He is properly assigned a large number of places; for it is entirely right that families should be together in church. But A. B. and his tribe go away, and are succeeded by D., a bachelor, with neither wife nor child. It is now the absolute duty of the churchwardens to dock him of all the places which they had given to A. B. in respect of his flourishing family. The places revert to the churchwardens, to be by them assigned, at their discretion, to whomsoever they see fit. If D. should at any time acquire a Mrs. D., &c., it gives him no sort of claim to the identical places in question. He must take his chance, and get from the churchwardens a new set of places if he can.

But, according to the reasonable construction of the law, the limitation of this right goes still further. It is a right which is only good as long as it is claimed, used, and exercised. When it is not, it is, as we say, in abeyance, and should be transferred temporarily to others.

This, too, may be made very simple by an example. Suppose an A. B. again, with many children, and many places. But of the children a large proportion are big boys, who, happily for him, are under discipline away from home for about eight months in the year. For all that time he has no fair right to the places assigned to them. They should be at the temporary disposal of the churchwardens, to put persons there, whether parishioners or strangers, who want room. Whenever he himself is away, or any of his family, or when he has no guests with him, the number of places which was assigned to him in respect of such inmates should be looked on as proportionately diminished. It is, or should be, easy to come to an understanding with the churchwardens on such points.

But, moreover, it ought certainly to be held that, when a place is not occupied by a reasonably-early time

« PreviousContinue »