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SOME ARGUMENTS AGAINST ENLARGING
THE POWER OF BISHOPS IN
LETTING OF LEASES.
The years between that which saw the publication of the "Drapier Letters," and that which rang with the fame of "Gulliver's Travels," were busy fighting years for Swift. Apart from his vigorous championship of the Test, and his war against the Dissenters, he espoused the cause of the inferior clergy of his own Church, as against the bishops. The business of filling the vacant sees of Ireland had degenerated into what we should now call "jobbery"; and during the period of Sir Robert Walpole's administration it was rarely that an Irishman was selected. On any question, therefore, which affected the welfare of the lower clergy, it will at once be seen, that the Lords Spiritual, sitting in the Irish Upper House, would find little difficulty in coming to a solution. That the solution should also be one which only increased the clergy's difficulties, might be expected from a body which aimed chiefly at acquiring wealth and power for itself.
In the reign of Charles I. an act was passed, "prohibiting all bishops, and other ecclesiastical corporations, from setting their lands for above the term of twenty-one years: the rent reserved to be half the real value of such lands at the time they were set." As Swift points out, about the time of the Reformation, a trade was carried on by the popish bishops, who felt that their terms of office would be short, and who, consequently, to get what benefit they could while in office, "made long leases and fee-farms of great part of their lands, reserving very inconsiderable rents, sometimes only a chiefry." It was owing to a continuance in this traffic by the bishops when they became Protestants, and to a recognition of the injustice of such alienation, that the legislature passed the act. In 1723, however, an attempt was made for its repeal. Swift was not the man to permit the bishops to have their way, if he could help it. His opinion of Irish bishops is well known. "No blame," he said, "rested with the court for these appointments. Excellent and moral men had been selected upon every occasion of vacancy, but it unfortunately happened, that as these worthy divines crossed Hounslow Heath, on their way to Ireland, to take possession of their bishoprics, they have been regularly robbed and murdered by the highwaymen frequenting that common, who seize upon their robes and patents, come over to Ireland, and are consecrated bishops in their stead." To prevent, therefore, the encroachments of such individuals he wrote this tract, in which he clearly demonstrates the justice and salutariness of Charles's act. His contention, as Monck Mason points out ("History of St. Patrick's Cathedral," p. 392, note 1) "is confirmed by all writers upon the subject," and quotes from Carte's "Life of James, Duke of Ormond," where it is stated that the bishoprics in Ireland had, "the greatest part of them, been depauperated in the change of religion by absolute grants and long leases (made generally by the popish bishops that conformed)--some of them not able to maintain a bishop, several were, by these means, reduced to £50 a year, as Waterford, Kilfenora, and others, and some to five marks, as Cloyne and Kilmacduagh." To Swift is largely due the fact that the House of Commons, when they received the bill from the Lords, threw it out.
Scott, in his note on this pamphlet (amended from one by Lord Orrery), takes his usual course when considering Swift's attitude of opposition --he implies a motive or prejudice. In his opinion, Swift considered the bill for the repeal of Charles's act, "an indirect mode of gratifying the existing bishops, whom he did not regard with peculiar respect or complacency, at the expense of the Church establishment," and that, therefore, "the spirit of his opposition is, in this instance, peculiarly caustic." As a matter of fact, the spirit of Swift's opposition was always peculiarly caustic, in this case no more so than in any other. But to imply that his motive was a self gratifying one only, is to treat Swift unfairly. If the bishops required an example as to how they should deal with their lands, they could easily have found one in Swift himself. In all the renewals of the leases of the Deanery lands, Swift never sought his own immediate advantage, his terms were based on the consideration that the lands were his only in trust for a successor. To take one instance only, the instance of the parish of Kilberry in county Kildare, cited by Monck Mason (p. 27, note h). In 1695 the rent of this parish was reserved at £100 English sterling, in 1717, Swift raised this rent to £150, in 1731 to £170, and in 1741 to £200 per annum, with a proportionable loss of fine upon each occasion.
The tract is dated October 21st, 1723, but as I have not come across a copy of the original separate issue, I have based the text on that given by Faulkner (vol. iv, 1735), and the title page here reproduced is from that edition. The fifth volume of "Miscellanies," also issued in 1735, contains this tract, and I have compared the texts of the two. The notes given in Scott's edition are, in the main, altered from Faulkner's edition.
* * * * * * *
SOME ARGUMENTS AGAINST ENLARGING the POWER OF BISHOPS
In LETTING OF LEASES.
WITH REMARKS on some Queries lately published.
Mibi credite, major haereditas venit unicuique vestraem in iisdem bonis ae jure & ae legibus, quam ab iis ae quibus illa ipsa bona relicta sunt.
Cicero pro A. Caecina.
Written in the Year 1723.
Printed in the Year MDCCXXXIII.
In handling this subject, I shall proceed wholly upon the supposition, that those of our party, who profess themselves members of the church established, and under the apostolical government of bishops, do desire the continuance and transmission of it to posterity, at least, in as good a condition as it is at present. Because, as this discourse is not calculated for dissenters of any kind; so neither will it suit the talk or sentiments of those persons, who, with the denomination of churchmen, are oppressors of the inferior clergy, and perpetually quarrelling at the great incomes of the bishops; which is a traditional cant delivered down from former times, and continued with great reason, although it be now near 200 years since almost three parts in four of the church revenues have been taken from the clergy: Besides the spoils that have been gradually made ever since, of glebes and other lands, by the confusion of times, the fraud of encroaching neighbours, or the power of oppressors, too great to be encountered.
About the time of the Reformation, many popish bishops of this kingdom, knowing they must have been soon ejected, if they would not change their religion, made long leases and fee-farms of great part of their lands, reserving very inconsiderable rents, sometimes only a chiefry; by a power they assumed, directly contrary to many ancient canons, yet consistent enough with the common law. This trade held on for many years after the bishops became Protestants; and some of their names are still remembered with infamy, on account of enriching their families by such sacrilegious alienations. By these means, episcopal revenues were so low reduced, that three or four sees were often united to make a tolerable competency. For some remedy to this evil, King James the First, by a bounty that became a good Christian prince, bestowed several forfeited lands on the northern bishoprics: But in all other parts of the kingdom, the Church continued still in the same distress and poverty; some of the sees hardly possessing enough to maintain a country vicar. About the middle of King Charles the First's reign, the legislature here thought fit to put a stop, at least, to any farther alienations; and so a law was enacted, prohibiting all bishops, and other ecclesiastical corporations, from setting their lands for above the term of twenty-one years; the rent reserved to be one half of the real value of such lands at the time they were set, without which condition the lease to be void.
Soon after the restoration of King Charles the Second, the parliament taking into consideration the miserable estate of the Church, certain lands, by way of augmentation, were granted to eight bishops in the act of settlement, and confirmed in the act of explanation; of which bounty, as I remember, three sees were, in a great measure, defeated; but by what accidents, it is not here of any importance to relate.
This, at present, is the condition of the Church in Ireland, with regard to Episcopal revenues: Which I have thus briefly (and, perhaps, imperfectly) deduced for some information to those, whose thoughts do not lead them to such considerations.
By virtue of the statute, already mentioned, under King Charles the First, limiting ecclesiastical bodies to the term of twenty-one years, under the reserved rent of half real value, the bishops have had some share in the gradual rise of lands, without which they could not have been supported, with any common decency that might become their station. It is above eighty years since the passing of that act: The see of Meath, one of the best in the kingdom, was then worth about £400 per annum; the poorer ones in the same proportion. If this were their present condition, I cannot conceive how they would have been able to pay for their patents, or buy their robes: But this will certainly be the condition of their successors, if such a bill should pass, as they say is now intended, which I will suppose, and believe, many persons, who may give a vote for it, are not aware of.
However, this is the act which is now attempted to be repealed, or, at least, eluded; some are for giving bishops leave to let fee-farms; others would allow them to let leases for lives; and the most moderate would repeal that clause, by which the bishops are bound to let their lands at half value.
The reasons for the rise of value in lands, are of two kinds. Of the first kind, are long peace and settlement after the devastations of war; plantations, improvements of bad soil, recovery of bogs and marshes, advancement of trade and manufactures, increase of inhabitants, encouragement of agriculture, and the like.
But there is another reason for the rise of land, more gradual, constant and certain; which will have its effects in countries that are very far from flourishing in any of the advantages I have just mentioned: I mean the perpetual decrease in the value of gold and silver. I shall discourse upon these two different kinds, with a view towards the bill now attempted.
As to the first: I cannot see how this kingdom is at any height of improvement, while four parts in five of the plantations for 30 years past, have been real disimprovements; nine in ten of the quick-set hedges being ruined for want of care or skill. And as to forest trees, they being often taken out of woods, and planted in single rows on the tops of ditches, it is impossible they should grow to be of use, beauty, or shelter. Neither can it be said, that the soil of Ireland is improved to its full height, while so much lies all winter under water, and the bogs made almost desperate by the ill cutting of the turf. There hath, indeed, been some little improvement in the manufactures of linen and woollen, although very short of perfection: But our trade was never in so low a condition: And as to agriculture, of which all wise nations have been so tender, the desolation made in the country by engrossing graziers, and the great yearly importation of corn from England, are lamentable instances under what discouragement it lies.
But, notwithstanding all these mortifications, I suppose there is no well-wisher to his country, without a little hope, that in time the kingdom may be on a better foot in some of the articles above mentioned. But it would be hard, if ecclesiastical bodies should be the only persons excluded from any share in public advantages; which yet can never happen, without a greater share of profit to their tenants: If God "sends rain equally upon the just and the unjust;" why should those who wait at His altars, and are instructors of the people, be cut off from partaking in the general benefits of law, or of nature?
But, as this way of reasoning may seem to bear a more favourable eye to the clergy, than perhaps will suit with the present disposition, or fashion of the age; I shall, therefore, dwell more largely upon the second reason for the rise of land, which is the perpetual decrease of the value of gold and silver.
This may be observed from the course of the Roman history, above two thousand years before those inexhaustible silver mines of Potosi were known. The value of an obolus, and of every other coin between the time of Romulus and that of Augustus, gradually sunk about five parts in six, as appears by several passages out of the best authors. And yet, the prodigious wealth of that state did not arise from the increase of bullion in the world, by the discovery of new mines, but from a much more accidental cause, which was, the spreading of their conquests, and thereby importing into Rome and Italy, the riches of the east and west.
When the seat of empire was removed to Constantinople, the tide of money flowed that way, without ever returning; and was scattered in Asia. But when that mighty empire was overthrown by the northern people, such a stop was put to all trade and commerce, that vast sums of money were buried, to escape the plundering of the conquerors; and what remained was carried off by those ravagers.
It were no difficult matter to compute the value of money in England, during the Saxon reigns; but the monkish and other writers since the Conquest, have put that matter in a clearer light, by the several accounts they have given us of the value of corn and cattle, in years of dearth and plenty. Every one knows, that King John's whole portion, before he came to the crown, was but five thousand pounds, without a foot of land.
I have likewise seen the steward's accounts, of an ancient noble family in England, written in Latin, between three and four hundred years ago, with the several prices of wine and victuals, to confirm my observations.
I have been at the trouble of computing (as others have done) the different values of money for about four hundred years past. Henry Duke of Lancaster, who lived about that period, founded an hospital in Leicester, for a certain number of old men; charging his lands with a groat a week to each for their maintenance, which is to this day duly paid them. In those times, a penny was equal to ten-pence half-penny, and somewhat more than half a farthing in ours; which makes about eight ninths' difference.
This is plain also, from the old custom upon many estates in England, to let for leases of lives, (renewable at pleasure) where the reserved rent is usually about twelve-pence a pound, which then was near the half real value: And although the fines be not fixed, yet the landlord gets altogether not above three shillings in the pound of the worth of his land: And the tenants are so wedded to this custom, that if the owner suffer three lives to expire, none of them will take a lease on other conditions; or, if he brings in a foreigner who will agree to pay a reasonable rent, the other tenants, by all manner of injuries, will make that foreigner so uneasy, that he must be forced to quit the farm; as the late Earl of Bath felt, by the experience of above ten thousand pounds loss.
The gradual decrease for about two hundred years after, was not considerable, and therefore I do not rely on the account given by some historians, that Harry the Seventh left behind him eighteen hundred thousand pounds; for although the West Indies were discovered before his death, and although he had the best talents and instruments for exacting of money, ever possessed by any prince since the time of Vespasian, (whom he resembled in many particulars); yet I conceive, that in his days the whole coin of England could hardly amount to such a sum. For in the reign of Philip and Mary, Sir Thomas Cokayne of Derbyshire,  the best housekeeper of his quality in the county, allowed his lady fifty pounds a year for maintaining the family, one pound a year wages to each servant, and two pounds to the steward; as I was told by a person of quality who had seen the original account of his economy. Now this sum of fifty pound, added to the advantages of a large domain, might be equal to about five hundred pounds a year at present, or somewhat more than four-fifths.
[Footnote 1: Sir Thomas Cokayne (1519?-1592), known as "a professed hunter and not a scholler." He was the eldest son of Francis Cokayne, or Cockaine, of Ashbourne, Derbyshire. One of his sons, Edward, was the father of Thomas Cokayne, the lexicographer. Sir Thomas, in 1591, published "A Short Treatise of Hunting, compyled for the Delight of Noblemen and Gentlemen." [T. S.]]
The great plenty of silver in England began in Queen Elizabeth's reign, when Drake, and others, took vast quantities of coin and bullion from the Spaniards, either upon their own American coasts, or in their return to Spain. However, so much hath been imported annually from that time to this, that the value of money in England, and most parts of Europe, is sunk above one half within the space of an hundred years, notwithstanding the great export of silver for about eighty years past, to the East Indies, from whence it never returns. But gold being not liable to the same accident, and by new discoveries growing every day more plentiful, seems in danger of becoming a drug.
This hath been the progress of the value of money in former ages, and must of necessity continue so for the future, without some new invasion of Goths and Vandals to destroy law, property and religion, alter the very face of nature; and turn the world upside down.
I must repeat, that what I am to say upon this subject, is intended only for the conviction of those among our own party, who are true lovers of the Church, and would be glad it should continue in a tolerable degree of prosperity to the end of the world.
The Church is supposed to last for ever, both in its discipline and doctrine; which is a privilege common to every petty corporation, who must likewise observe the laws of their foundation. If a gentleman's estate which now yields him a thousand pounds a year, had been set for ever at the highest value, even in the flourishing days of King Charles the Second, would it now amount to above four or five hundred at most? What if this had happened two or three hundred years ago; would the reserved rent at this day be any more than a small chiefry? Suppose the revenues of a bishop to have been under the same circumstances; could he now be able to perform works of hospitality and charity? Thus, if the revenues of a bishop be limited to a thousand pounds a year; how will his successor be in a condition to support his station with decency, when the same denomination of money shall not answer an half, a quarter, or an eighth part of that sum? Which must unavoidably be the consequence of any bill to elude the limiting act, whereby the Church was preserved from utter ruin.
The same reason holds good in all corporations whatsoever, who cannot follow a more pernicious practice than that of granting perpetuities, for which many of them smart to this day; although the leaders among them are often so stupid as not to perceive it, or sometimes so knavish as to find their private account in cheating the community.
Several colleges in Oxford, were aware of this growing evil about an hundred years ago; and, instead of limiting their rents to a certain sum of money, prevailed with their tenants to pay the price of so many barrels of corn, to be valued as the market went, at two seasons (as I remember) in the year. For a barrel of corn is of a real intrinsic value, which gold and silver are not: And by this invention, these colleges have preserved a tolerable subsistence, for their fellows and students, to this day.
The present bishops will, indeed be no sufferers by such a bill; because, their ages considered, they cannot expect to see any great decrease in the value of money; or, at worst, they can make it up in the fines, which will probably be greater than usual, upon the change of leases into fee-farms, or lives; or without the power of obliging their tenants to a real half value. And, as I cannot well blame them for taking such advantages, (considering the nature of human kind) when the question is only, whether the money shall be put into their own or another man's pocket: So they will be never excusable before God or man, if they do not to the death oppose, declare, and protest against any such bill, as must in its consequences complete the ruin of the Church, and of their own order in this kingdom.
If the fortune of a private person be diminished by the weakness, or inadvertency of his ancestors, in letting leases for ever at low rents, the world lies open to his industry for purchasing of more; but the Church is barred by a dead hand; or if it were otherwise, yet the custom of making bequests to it, hath been out of practice for almost two hundred years, and a great deal directly contrary hath been its fortune.
I have been assured by a person of some consequence, to whom I am likewise obliged for the account of some other facts already related, that the late Bishop of Salisbury, (the greatest Whig of that bench in his days) confessed to him, that the liberty which bishops in England have of letting leases for lives, would, in his opinion, be one day the ruin of Episcopacy there; and thought the Church in this kingdom happy by the limitation act.
[Footnote 2: Dr. Barnet.]
And have we not already found the effect of this different proceeding in both kingdoms? Have not two English prelates quitted their peerage and seats in Parliament, in a nation of freedom, for the sake of a more ample revenue, even in this unhappy kingdom, rather than lie under the mortification of living below their dignity at home? For which, however, they cannot be justly censured. I know indeed, some persons, who offer, as an argument for repealing the limiting bill, that it may in future ages prevent the practice of providing this kingdom with bishops from England, when the only temptation will be removed. And they allege, that, as things have gone for some years past, gentlemen will grow discouraged from sending their sons to the university, and from suffering them to enter into holy orders, when they are likely to languish under a curacy, or small vicarage, to the end of their lives: But this is all a vain imagination; for the decrease in the value of money will equally affect both kingdoms: And besides, when bishoprics here grow too small to invite over men of credit and consequence, they will be left more fully to the disposal of a chief governor, who can never fail of some worthless illiterate chaplain, fond of a title and precedence. Thus will that whole bench, in an age or two, be composed of mean, ignorant, fawning gownmen, humble suppliants and dependants upon the court for a morsel of bread, and ready to serve every turn that shall be demanded from them, in hopes of getting some commendam tacked to their sees; which must then be the trade, as it is now too much in England, to the great discouragement of the inferior clergy. Neither is that practice without example among us.
It is now about eighty-five years since the passing of that limiting act, and there is but one instance, in the memory of man, of a bishop's lease broken upon the plea of not being statutable; which, in everybody's opinion, could have been lost by no other person than he who was then tenant, and happened to be very ungracious in his county. In the present Bishop of Meath's case, that plea did not avail, although the lease were notoriously unstatutable; the rent reserved, being, as I have been told, not a seventh part of the real value; yet the jury, upon their oaths, very gravely found it to be according to the statute; and one of them was heard to say, That he would eat his shoes before he would give a verdict for the bishop. A very few more have made the same attempt with as little success. Every bishop, and other ecclesiastical body, reckon forty pounds in an hundred to be a reasonable half value; or if it be only a third part, it seldom, or never, breeds any difference between landlord and tenant. But when the rent is from five to nine or ten parts less than the worth; the bishop, if he consults the good of his see, will be apt to expostulate; and the tenant, if he be an honest man, will have some regard to the reasonableness and justice of the demand, so as to yield to a moderate advancement, rather than engage in a suit, where law and equity are directly against him. By these means, the bishops have been so true to their trusts, as to procure some small share in the advancement of rents; although it be notorious that they do not receive the third penny (fines included) of the real value of their lands throughout the kingdom.
[Footnote 3: Dr. Evans, a Welchman. [Faulkner, 1735.]]
I was never able to imagine what inconvenience could accrue to the public, by one or two thousand pounds a year, in the hands of a Protestant bishop, any more than of a lay person. The former, generally speaking, liveth as piously and hospitably as the other; pays his debts as honestly, and spends as much of his revenue among his tenants: Besides, if they be his immediate tenants, you may distinguish them, at first sight, by their habits and horses; or if you go to their houses, by their comfortable way of living. But the misfortune is, that such immediate tenants, generally speaking, have others under them, and so a third and fourth in subordination, till it comes to the welder (as they call him) who sits at a rack-rent, and lives as miserably as an Irish farmer upon a new lease from a lay landlord. But suppose a bishop happens to be avaricious, (as being composed of the same stuff with other men) the consequence to the public is no worse than if he were a squire; for he leaves his fortune to his son, or near relation, who, if he be rich enough, will never think of entering into the Church.
[Footnote 4: This part of the paragraph is to be applied to the period when the whole was written, which was in 1723, when several of Queen Anne's bishops were living. [Note in edition of 1761, as amended from the edition of 1735. T.S.]]
And, as there can be no disadvantage to the public, in a Protestant country, that a man should hold lands as a bishop, any more than if he were a temporal person; so it is of great advantage to the community, where a bishop lives as he ought to do. He is bound, in conscience, to reside in his diocese, and, by a solemn promise, to keep hospitality; his estate is spent in the kingdom, not remitted to England; he keeps the clergy to their duty, and is an example of virtue both to them and the people. Suppose him an ill man; yet his very character will withhold him from any great or open exorbitancies. But, in fact, it must be allowed, that some bishops of this kingdom, within twenty years past, have done very signal and lasting acts of public charity; great instances whereof, are the late and present Primate, the Lord Archbishop of Dublin that now is, who hath left memorials of his bounty in many parts of his province. I might add, the Bishop of Raphoe, and several others: Not forgetting the late Dean of Down, Dr. Pratt, who bestowed one thousand pounds upon the university: Which foundation, (that I may observe by the way) if the bill proposed should pass, would be in the same circumstances with the bishops, nor ever able again to advance the stipends of the fellows and students, as lately they found it necessary to do; the determinate sum appointed by the statute for commons, being not half sufficient, by the fall of money, to afford necessary sustenance. But the passing of such a bill must put an end to all ecclesiastical beneficence for the time to come; and whether this will be supplied by those who are to reap the benefit, better than it hath been done by the grantees of impropriate tithes, who received them upon the old church conditions of keeping hospitality; it will be easy to conjecture.
[Footnote 5: Dr. Marsh.]
[Footnote 6: Dr. Lindsay.]
[Footnote 7: Dr. King.]
[Footnote 8: Dr. Forster.]
To allege, that passing such a bill would be a good encouragement to improve bishops' lands, is a great error. Is it not the general method of landlords, to wait the expiration of a lease, and then cant their lands to the highest bidder? And what should hinder the same course to be taken in church leases, when the limitation is removed of paying half the real value to the bishop? In riding through the country, how few improvements do we see upon the estates of laymen, farther than about their own domains? To say the truth, it is a great misfortune as well to the public as to the bishops themselves, that their lands are generally let to lords and great squires, who, in reason, were never designed to be tenants; and therefore may naturally murmur at the payment of rent, as a subserviency they were not born to. If the tenants to the Church were honest farmers, they would pay their fines and rents with cheerfulness, improve their lands, and thank God they were to give but a moderate half value for what they held. I have heard a man of a thousand pounds a year, talk with great contempt of bishops' leases, as being on a worse foot than the rest of his estate; and he had certainly reason: My answer was, that such leases were originally intended only for the benefit of industrious husbandmen, who would think it a great blessing to be so provided for, instead of having his farm screwed up to the height, not eating one comfortable meal in a year, nor able to find shoes for his children.
[Footnote 9: To cant means to call for bidders at an auction sale. Probably derived from the O. French cant = quantum = how much. [T.S.]]
I know not any advantage that can accrue by such a bill, except the preventing of perjury in jurymen, and false dealing in tenants; which is a remedy like that of giving my money to an highwayman, before he attempts to take it by force; and so I shall be sure to prevent the sin of robbery.
I had wrote thus far, and thought to have put an end; when a bookseller sent me a small pamphlet, entitled, "The Case of the Laity, with some Queries;" full of the strongest malice against the clergy, that I have anywhere met with since the reign of Toland, and others of that tribe. These kinds of advocates do infinite mischief to OUR GOOD CAUSE, by giving grounds to the unjust reproaches of TORIES and JACOBITES, who charge us with being enemies to the Church. If I bear an hearty unfeigned loyalty to his Majesty King George, and the House of Hanover, not shaken in the least by the hardships we lie under, which never can be imputable to so gracious a prince: If I sincerely abjure the Pretender, and all Popish successors; if I bear a due veneration to the glorious memory of the late King William, who preserved these kingdoms from Popery and slavery, with the expense of his blood, and hazard of his life: And lastly, if I am for a proper indulgence to all dissenters; I think nothing more can be reasonably demanded of me as a WHIG, and that my political catechism is full and complete. But whoever, under the shelter of that party denomination, and of many great professions of loyalty, would destroy, or undermine, or injure the Church established; I utterly disown him, and think he ought to choose another name of distinction for himself, and his adherents. I came into the cause upon other principles, which, by the grace of God, I mean to preserve as long as I live. Shall we justify the accusations of our adversaries? Hoc Ithacus velit--The Tories and Jacobites will behold us with a malicious pleasure, determined upon the ruin of our friends: For is not the present set of bishops almost entirely of that number, as well as a great majority of the principal clergy? And a short time will reduce the whole, by vacancies upon death.
An impartial reader, if he pleases to examine what I have already said, will easily answer the bold "Queries" in the pamphlet I mentioned: He will be convinced, that "the reason still strongly exists, for which" that limiting law was enacted. A reasonable man will wonder, where can be the insufferable grievance, that an ecclesiastical landlord should expect a moderate, or third part value in rent for his lands, when his title is, at least, as ancient and as legal as that of a layman; who is yet but seldom guilty of giving such beneficial bargains. Has "the nation been thrown into confusion"? And have "many poor families been ruined" by rack-rents paid for the lands of the church? Does "the nation cry out" to have a law that must, in time, send their bishops a-begging? But, God be thanked, the clamour of enemies to the Church is not yet the cry, and, I hope, will never prove the voice of the nation. The clergy, I conceive, will hardly allow that "the people maintain them," any more than in the sense, that all landlords whatsoever are maintained by the people. Such assertions as these, and the insinuations they carry along with them, proceed from principles which cannot be avowed by those who are for preserving the happy constitution in Church and State. Whoever were the proposers of such "queries," it might have provoked a bold writer to retaliate, perhaps with more justice than prudence, by shewing at whose door the grievance lies, and that the bishops, at least, are not to answer for the poverty of tenants.
To gratify this great reformer, who enlarges the episcopal rent-roll almost one half; let me suppose that all the Church lands in the kingdom were thrown up to the laity; would the tenants, in such a case, sit easier in their rents than they do now? Or, would the money be equally spent in the kingdom? No: The farmer would be screwed up to the utmost penny, by the agents and stewards of absentees, and the revenues employed in making a figure at London; to which city a full third part of the whole income of Ireland is annually returned, to answer that single article of maintenance for Irish landlords.
Another of his quarrels is against pluralities and non-residence: As to the former, it is a word of ill name, but not well understood. The clergy having been stripped of the greatest part of their revenues, the glebes being generally lost, the tithes in the hands of laymen, the churches demolished, and the country depopulated; in order to preserve a face of Christianity, it was necessary to unite small vicarages, sufficient to make a tolerable maintenance for a minister. The profit of ten or a dozen of these unions, do seldom amount to above eighty or an hundred pounds a year: If there be a very few dignitaries, whose preferments are, perhaps, more liable to this accusation, it is to be supposed, they may be favourites of the time, or persons of superior merit, for whom there hath ever been some indulgence in all governments.
As to non-residence, I believe there is no Christian country upon earth, where the clergy have less to answer for upon that article. I am confident there are not ten clergymen in the kingdom, who, properly speaking, can be termed non-residents: For surely, we are not to reckon in that number, those who, for want of glebes, are forced to retire to the nearest neighbouring village for a cabin to put their heads in; the leading man of the parish, when he makes the greatest clamour, being least disposed to accommodate the minister with an acre of ground. And, indeed, considering the difficulties the clergy lie under upon this head, it hath been frequent matter of wonder to me, how they are able to perform that part of their duty as well as they do.
There is a noble author, who hath lately addressed to the House of Commons, an excellent discourse for the "Encouragement of Agriculture"; full of most useful hints, which, I hope, that honourable assembly will consider as they deserve. I am not a stranger to his lordship; and, excepting in what relates to the Church, there are few persons with whose opinions I am better pleased to agree; and am, therefore, grieved when I find him charging the inconveniencies in the payment of tithes upon the clergy and their proctors. His lordship is above considering a very known and vulgar truth, that the meanest farmer hath all manner of advantages against the most powerful clergyman, by whom it is impossible he can be wronged, although the minister were ever so evil disposed; the whole system of teasing, perplexing, and defrauding the proctor, or his master, being as well known to every ploughman, as the reaping or sowing of his corn, and much more artfully practised. Besides, the leading man in the parish must have his tithes at his own rate, which is hardly ever above one quarter of the value. And I have heard it computed by many skilful observers, whose interest was not concerned, that the clergy did not receive, throughout the kingdom, one half of what the laws have made their due.
[Footnote 10: The late Lord Molesworth.]
As to his lordship's discontent against the Bishops' Courts, I shall not interpose further than in venturing my private opinion, that the clergy would be very glad to recover their just dues by a more short, decisive, and compulsive method, than such a cramped and limited jurisdiction will allow.
His lordship is not the only person disposed to give the clergy the honour of being the sole encouragers of all new improvements. If hops, hemp, flax, and twenty things more are to be planted, the clergy, alone, must reward the industrious farmer, by abatement of the tithe. What if the owner of nine parts in ten would please to abate proportionably in his rent, for every acre thus improved? Would not a man just dropped from the clouds, upon a full hearing, judge the demand to be, at least, as reasonable?
I believe no man will dispute his lordship's title to his estate; nor will I the jus divinum of tithes, which he mentions with some emotion. I suppose the affirmative would be of little advantage to the clergy, for the same reason that a maxim in law hath more weight in the world than an article of faith. And yet, I think there may be such a thing as sacrilege; because it is frequently mentioned by Greek and Roman authors, as well as described in Holy Writ. This I am sure of; that his lordship would, at any time, excuse a parliament for not concerning itself in his properties, without his own consent.
The observations I have made upon his lordship's discourse, have not, I confess, been altogether proper to my subject: However, since he hath been pleased therein to offer some proposals to the House of Commons, with relation to the clergy, I hope he will excuse me for differing from him; which proceeds from his own principle, the desire of defending liberty and property, that he hath so strenuously and constantly maintained.
But the other writer openly declares for a law, empowering the bishops to set fee-farms; and says, "Whoever intimates that they will deny their consent to such a reasonable law, which the whole nation cries for, are enemies to them and the Church." Whether this be his real opinion, or only a strain of mirth and irony, the matter is not much. However, my sentiments are so directly contrary to his; that I think, whoever impartially reads and considers what I have written upon this argument, hath either no regard for the Church established under the hierarchy of bishops, or will never consent to any law that shall repeal, or elude the limiting clause, relating to the real half value, contained in the act of parliament decimo Caroli, "For the preservation of the inheritance, rights and profits of lands belonging to the Church, and persons ecclesiastical"; which was grounded upon reasons that do still, and must for ever subsist.
October 21, 1723.
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