Page images
PDF
EPUB

LETTERS FROM THE VICARAGE.

No. III.

In my last letter I ventured to re clesiastical discipline from amongst us, commend, as a measure calculated to suffer us to connect our own with the restore vigour and unanimity to the latter, rather than with the former counsels of the Church of England, class. Bishops are but men, and, like that the Convocation should be replaced other men, are liable to be swayed, by upon the footing which it occupied pre- compassion, by family influence, and vious to the accession of the House of by the fear of unpopularity, to treat Hanover to the throne of these king- with leniency proceedings highly indoms. That this arrangement would jurious to public virtue. Hence the secure for the established church a de- very few instances on record of profligree of respect from her very enemies, gate and unworthy clergymen in Engsuch as she hardly expects at present land being deprived of their preferfrom her best friends, cannot, I think, ment, or deposed from their offices. be doubted; whilst its effect, in put- But a public body can hardly be guided ting an end to those useless controver- by such considerations, inasmuch as sies in which the established clergy its members are severally exempted too much indulge, would, of itselt, from any odium which might perhaps prove a benefit of no ordinary magni- attach to an act of the whole. The intude. Were the Convocation restored stitution of diocesan Synods, therefore, to the full exercise of its powers, men with full power to hear and to examine of all denominations would see that into all complaints against the clergy, the Church of England really possesses not only in cases of open immorality, a spiritual authority within herself, but in cases of neglect of duty, or ad independent of the authority which herence to practices unsuitable to the she derives from the state as the esta- dignity of the profession, would be ato blishment; thus having an assembly tended with the best possible results. existing, competent to determine on all The people would know where to carry questions, what

are, and what are not, their complaints, whenever ground of the doctrines of the church ; her own complaint existed against the priestmembers would look to its decisions, hood; whilst the latter, aware that the rather than to the mere ipse dixit of days of discipline had returned, would this or that leader of a party, for the become more than ever circumspect in genuine tenets of the society

in whose their ordinary proceedings. Nor would communion they had been educated. it be the least advantage of this ar

The revival of Convocation is not, rangement, in the particular case of however, the only measure affecting the Church of England, that the Bithe discipline of the Church, which the shops would thereby be brought into state of public opinion appears to de- more frequent and more intimate inmand. I cannot help thinking that the tercourse with their clergy. At present institution of diocesan Synods, to ad- such intercourse is a great deal too vise with the Bishop when necessary, slender and too formal, nine-tenths of and to aid him in maintaining order the clergy of a diocese seldom seeing and decorum among his clergy, would their pastor, except once in four years, prove highly advantageous to the when he holds his visitation. Church of England. That the powers But these arrangements, however of a Bishop are, if fully exercised, ale necessary they may be, and however ready competent to regulate the affairs calculated to excite among the clergy of his diocese, may be perfectly true; an increased esprit de corps, and a indeed, it is quite true, that the ex- quicker zeal, are not, I fear, sufficient ternal structure of the Church of Eng- of themselves to restore to the Church land forms, altogether, when regarded of England that preponderating in. in the abstract, one of the most beautiful Auence which she once enjoyed, and theories which have ever been invented. which, as the national establishment, But between arrangements admirable she ought still to enjoy, throughout in theory, and perfect in application, society at large. To bring this back there is the widest possible difference; to its former footing, and to adapt her nor will the almost total absence of ec- condition to the taste of the times,

other changes must be effected, and hood, and to attach the kaity to the that in matters where the very idea of establishment. change has hitherto been scouted ; at That the clergy are legally entitled least, some subjects must be thrown to the revenues which arise from one open to free and unprejudiced discuss and all of these sources, is just as cersion, the bare mention of which has tain as that the fund-holder is entitled hitherto been regarded with indigna- to the interest of his funded capital, tion.

or the merchant to the profits of his I have no hesitation in placing in a mercantile speculations. Nothing, inprominent situation among these, as a deed, can be more absurd than to ima. subject wbich cannot be too candidly gine that the mjnister who demands or too openly discussed, a considera- his tithes or dues, demands anything tion of the mode by which the esta, which is not, and has not always been, blished clergy are paid, though quite his own, or more utterly groundless aware that there is no subject, to a than the complaints which we too often free and unprejudiced discussion of hear, of the iniquitous rapacity of the which, the generality of churchmen, clergy. With respect to tithes, it is and of good churchmen too, are more beyond dispute, that the most ancient averse. Touch, indeed, ever so slightly tenure in the kingdom is that by which upon the question of tithes, presume the parson asserts his right to the tenth ever so delicately to doubt, not the part of the produce of all the lands and justice, but the expediency of continu- domesticated animals within his paing the system,-throw out the most rish; and hence that the tenth sheaf, remote hint that you regard it as un- and pig, and lamb, are quite as much suitable to the present age of the world, his property as the remaining nine are and the existing temper of men's minds, the property of the cultivator, or the and you run no small risk of being rent of the farm is the property of the classed with the Radicals of the day, landlord. Whatever mutations landed and overwhelmed, not by argument, property may have undergone, (and but by invective. It is deeply to be the whole land of the kingdom has reregretied that the case should be so. peatedly changed its owners since the But for this circumstance, it cannot be establishment of the rights of the clerdoubted, that the matter would have gy,) each purchaser has bought his esbeen long ago subjected to a very dif tate subject to the burthen of tithes. ferent kind of inquiry from any which of the existence of that burthen he was has yet been applied to it; and had fully aware at the period when his purthisinquiry been applied, it can as little chase was made, and he paid for it acbe doubted that an entire change of cordingly. In like manner, every far.' system would have been the conse mer hires his fields, knowing that he quence. As no reflecting person can is to enjoy only nine out of ten parts. possibly suspect you, Mr North, of the of their produce. He consequently most distant leaning in favour of radi- offers to his landlord a smaller sum, in calism, or hostility towards the con- the form of rent, than he would have stitution in church or state, a discus- offered had not the tithe been deduct. sion of a question so delicate could not ed; nor has either he or his landlord perhaps be undertaken anywhere with the slightest cause to murmur, when a better grace than in the pages of your the tithe, which the one has never purmiscellany. I hope, therefore, you chased, and the other never leased, will spare a few of your columns for comes to be demanded. the insertion of my suggestions. Again, though the right of the clergy

The sources from which the esta-' to the House-dues, Easter-offerings, blished clergy of England derive their and Fees, may not, perhaps, admit of a revenues at the present time are four; demonstration so distinct as that right namely, Tithes, House-dues, Easter- which secures to them the possession offerings, and Fees. Of these, the first of the tithe, they are nevertheless as and last only are, generally speaking, justly entitled to claim the one by preexacted in country parishes; the se- scription, as to claim the other by posi. cond, third, and fourth, in parishes tive grant. To question the legality of situated within a town or city. Let these demands, therefore, is to take the us see how far their exaction tends to bull by the horns, or, to speak less fasupport the respectability of the priest- miliarly, is to attack the system on its

strongest point, and tends only to per yours? If at any time he presume to petuate customs, which, if the stabili, raise the terms of his composition, ty of the church be desired, and the (for in nine cases out of ten commoral influence of the clergy esteemed, positions in money are accepted in lieu cannot too soon be omitted. I propose of tithe,) he does so in defiance of the to consider the matter in a new light, entreaties, the remonstrances,-someto attack fairly, and without exaggera. times the open hostility, of his flock; tion, some of the consequences which of those persons whose affections he attend the present system, and to in would naturally desire to conciliate, for quire whether it would not be better the purpose of attaching them to the for the cause of religion in general, of establishment, and leading them in the the established church in particular, paths of virtue and holiness. I do not and last, though, in these days of eco- say that the people act either with cannomy, not least, of the agricultural dour or wisdom, when they remoninterests of the country-nay, whether strate against the fair demands of the clergy themselves would not be their Rector ; far less when they quarbenefited, considering them, not indi- rel with him because be seeks his own. vidually, but as a body, were that sys- I merely state the fact as it exists, and tem abolished, and another, founded I appeal to the experience of every not in theory, but in experience, sub English incumbent for a confirmation stituted in its room.

of the truth of my statement. Under The only benefits which are usually these circumstances a country clergysaid to arise from the payment of the man has, in too many instances, only clergy by tithes, lie here,--that their a choice of evils submitted to him. revenues keep pace exactly with the Either he must relinquish his rights, state of the times, whilst a species of by accepting a composition far below property is secured to them which rena, the real value of the tithes, and sacriders them perfectly independent office the interests of his family to a their people. That the latter benefit sense of duty; or he sacrifices his inis, in an especial manner, attained by fluence among the people, and enjoys, the particular mode of payment now to their full amount, the temporalities prevalent in England, must, however, of his benefice, at the expense of bebe a great mistake, since no church coming utterly useless, in a spiritual can be said to be by law established, point of view, to vast numbers among whose clergy, whatever may be the his parishioners. channel through which their revenues Nor is the evil less, if he take his are immediately derived, are not pla tithe, as he is entitled to take it, in ced on a footing of perfect indepen kind. In this case, indeed, he not dence towards the people. When, there only irritates the farmer whose crops fore, we speak of the advantages at are decimated, but the very peasantry, tendant upon the tithe-system, we though they have no personal interest must, I apprehend, confine ourselves in the proceeding, look with a degree entirely to the effect which it produces, of distaste, amounting sometimes to in causing the wealth of the clergy to disgust, upon the man, who, having fluctuate as the prices of provisions contributed in no ostensible manner rise and fall; and that this is a decide towards the expenses of cultivation, ed advantage, no one will deny. But coolly sends his waggon into a field, even here, the English mode is not and removes every tenth sheaf of corn singular, as I shall take occasion to into his own barn. Then the chances show, in a proper place.

of being involved in law-suits,—the On the other hand, the great evil of risk of prosecution for trespass the the system is, that it brings the clergy necessity of becoming himself the prointo constant collision with those very secutor, when the tithe has not been classes among their parishioners, with properly set out, or impediments have whom every well-disposed minister been thrown in the way of its remowould especially desire to be on a val, all these circumstances, whilst friendly footing. We all feel and ad they keep the minister himself in a mit, that a clergyman is fully justified state of almost feverish anxiety, efin endeavouring to make the most of fectually alienate from him the goodhis living ;-Heaven knows that most will of his people, and defeat his is, in many instances, little enough ; chances of becoming morally useful in but what is the effect of such endea his vocation.

But if such be the case in parishes moral conduct be ever so unimpeachwhere the great or rectorial tithes are able, his example ever so worthy of due to the incumbent, still more gall- imitation, and his general attention to ing to all parties is the process of col- his duties ever so minute, as long as he lecting vicarial tithes. These, as most is driven, year after year, into personof your readers probably know, con al and angry contact with the illiterate sist, among other things, of the tithe part of his parishioners, as long as his of milk, eggs, apples, cabbages; of interests clash directly with theirs, and every thing, in short, which contri- the only way to be popular is to be butes to the maintenance of the most unjust towards himself and his

family, industrious and hard-faring class of so long will the Church of England the community,--petty farmers, mar. be an abomination to the mass of the ket-gardeners, and labourers. Demand people, and the moral influence of her from these men the full value of their ministers amount absolutely to notithes, and you will exact a guinea or thing. For, take the matter in ana guinea and a half per acre, from a other point of view, and suppose that a person whose entire subsistence de- Rector or Vicar, for the sake of peace, pends upon the produce of perhaps gives up one-half, or more than onetwo or three acres of garden-ground; half, of what he is by law entitled to or a similar sum upon the cow which claim, what follows ? He ceases, insupports his family—and suppose he deed, to be an object of hatred, but refuse to comply with your demand ? he becomes an object of contempt; Why, then, your agent must repair being despised as one ignorant of the twice a day to the cottage, to receive ways of the world, and too much of a' the tenth part of the morning's and fool to manage his own affairs. It is evening's milking; he must decimate a sad alternative this for a national the apples and cabbages as they are clergy to choose between, the contempt gathered, and the eggs as they are or the hatred of their parishioners; laid; by which means the Vicar bem but it is the only alternative which comes, of necessity, not only a mini. the tithe system leaves to the clergy of ster of the gospel, but a dealer in gar. England. den stuffs, and a dairyman.

When the payment of tithes was Were there no other mischief at first introduced into this and all other tendant upon a system like this, than Christian countries, it constituted not that it degrades the individuals who only the most convenient, but the have recourse to it in the eyes of the only convenient method which could people, that alone were cause sufficient have been devised, for the support of for its abolition ; but the degradation the priesthood. In those rude and occasioned by it to individuals is the barbarous times, when a circulating least of its evils. The petty farmers, medium was, comparatively speakmarket-gardeners, and daily-labour. ing, hardly known, and all comers, form the great majority of our merce consisted only in an exchange country population, and are the very of one species of goods for another, persons who come, for the most part, it would have been extremely diffito church, not because they are church- cult, if notutterly impossible, toremumen upon principle, but because they nerate the clergy in any other way esteem their parson. On the other than by admitting them to a particihand, whenever they take a dislike to pation in the fruits of the earth; the officiating minister, they invari- whilst the case of the Jewish priesto ably revenge themselves by quitting hood, to whom a tithe had been asthe Church, and joining some class of signed by God himself, very naturally Dissenters; and what is so likely to suggested itself as a fit example to be produce that effect as a constant jar- followed with respect to the Christian ring of interests between them and priesthood. Besides all which, the lands their pastor? I write the following being then cultivated by serfs and words with reluctance, because I am vassals, for the exclusive benefit of the not blind to the inferences which baron, no angry feeling could possibly may be drawn from them ; but ha- arise between the cultivator and the ving entered upon the subject at all, priest, when the latter came to demand candour demands that they should be his portion of the produce. On the written. Let a clergyman's powers contrary, it was to the vassals a matof oratory be what they may, let his ter of congratulation, that at least a

moiety of the fruits of their toil went Then, again, there are Easter-offerto benefit the priest, whom they loved ings which vary in amount from twoand respected, rather than that all pence to fourpence from each inhabishould be swallowed up by the baron, tant of a house, or are definitely fixed whom they dreaded and abhorred; at fourpence from the master of the nor would a murmur have escaped family, or a half-penny from each of them, had one-fifth, instead of one his children and servants. But even tenth, been dedicated to that use. In these paltry payments may be, and this, however, as in other matters, the frequently are, disputed ; nor is it by lapse of ages has gradually wrought a any means clear to me, that courts of change. Our fields are no longer cul- law are competent to enforce the liquitivated by the many for the benefit of dation of House-dues, whatever may the few; every man has a personal in- be the fact with respect to Easter-ofterest in his own labour; and hence ferings. The consequence is, that in each exaction, no matter from what large towns,-in places where, above quarter it may come, which directly all others, a clergyman, to be useful, tends to diminish the profits arising ought to enjoy a liberal income,-Engfrom their labour, is regarded by the lish livings are almost invariably poor, labouring classes as an oppression. averaging between L.40 and L. 150 per Hence it is that the tithe-system, annum, which wretched pittances are which was once admired, is now de- scratched together in a way at once tested; for though all educated and painful to the feelings of him who colenlightened men know, that its most lects them, and in the highest degree striking peculiarity is the insuperable detrimental to the interests of that reobstacle which it opposes to undue ex- ligion of which he is guardian. His action on the part of the clergy, you clerk, or agent, goes round once or cannot persuade of this, men who are twice a year, partly to demand, partneither educated nor enlightened. ly to solicit, that the customary offerThese, and it is from these that the ings shall be made. If the householder clergyman is compelled to collect his be disposed to comply with the detithes, either cannot, or will not, view mand, all is well ; if not, he either the measure in any other light, than refuses to pay at all, or diminishes his as a direct tax upon their industry, subscription at pleasure ; nor do I and they consequently look with dis- know how the unfortunate clergyman gust, not only upon the individual to is to proceed, in order to bring matwhom the tax is paid, but upon the ters back to their former condition. religious establishment for whose sup- This is a sad state of things, and calls port it was first invented.

loudly for reform. Such is the effect of the present With respect, again, to Fees, which mode of paying the clergy in country are exacted both in town and country places ;-the manner in which they parishes, I cannot but consider them are paid in towns is still more mis as even more derogatory to the dignichievous to the interests of the esta- fied station which the established miblishment. With the exception of the nister ought to fill, than even the metropolis, there is hardly a town in House-dues and Easter-offerings themEngland where the clergy are not left, selves. Only think of a fee of one shilin a very great degree, to the mercy of ling being due from every poor wothe laity. By the law of the land, man, who comes to the house of God buildings, such as dwelling-houses, to return thanks for safe deliverance barns, stables, &c. pay no tithe, tithe from child-birth; of half-a-crown for being claimable only on the produce the burial of a corpse ; of five shillings of the earth, on domestic animals, and for a wedding, &c. &c. I by no means certain mills. Hence the rector of a blame the clergy for accepting these parish, which extends not beyond the fees, they are the right of the order, bounds of a town or city, draws tithe and individuals who refuse to accept only from gardens or other cultivated them are guilty, in my opinion, of spots attached to the houses. In these treachery towards their order. But cases, it is true, that custom is plead- they are seldom taken, I sincerely hope, ed, and the citizens are called upon to without violence being done to the pay to the incumbent certain annual feelings of him who takes them; at sums of money, because their prede- least, I envy not the state of his mind, cessors had paid similar sums to his. who experiences no self-abasement VOL. XVII.

2

« PreviousContinue »