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Ch. 9: To His Grace William, Lord Archbishop of Dublin








Scott's text has been collated with that given in volume eight of the quarto edition of Swift's Works (1765). In that edition the title is given as: "The Representation of the Clergy of Dublin," &c.


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[Footnote 1: William King, D.D. (1650-1729), Archbishop of Dublin, was born in Antrim, and educated at a school at Dungannon and Trinity College, Dublin. He was installed Dean of St. Patrick's in 1688-9 (February 1st). For his open espousal of the Prince of Orange, he was confined to the Castle, and suffered many indignities. In 1690-1 (January 9th) he was promoted to the see of Derry. His conduct through life was that of an ardent Irish Protestant patriot. He fought against Sectarianism, Roman Catholicism, and the interference of the English Parliament in Irish affairs. He opposed the Toleration Bill, and protested against the act confirming the Articles of Limerick. His relationship with Swift became close when he sent the vicar of Laracor to London, to obtain for the Irish clergy the restoration of the first-fruits and twentieth parts; but it was a relationship never cemented by feelings warmer than those of esteem. King acknowledged the ability of Swift, but found him ambitious and overbearingly proud. Throughout life he remained a consistent High Churchman, and a strenuous supporter of the rights of the Church in Ireland, but his attempt, in 1727, to interfere with the affairs of the Deanery of St. Patrick's, brought down upon him Swift's wrath, and an open quarrel ensued which was partly softened by the Archbishop retiring from the matter and tacitly acknowledging Swift's right.

King's chief published work is his treatise "De Origine Mali," published in 1702, and received with respectful consideration by the eminent thinkers of the day. He wrote other minor works, but none of any distinguished merit. He succeeded Narcissus Marsh as Archbishop of Dublin in 1702-3 (March 11th). Swift's letters to King during the former's embassy on the matter of first-fruits, make a most interesting chapter in the six volumes which Scott devotes to Swift's correspondence. T. S.]

Jan. 1724.


Your Grace having been pleased to communicate to us a certain brief, by letters patents, for the relief of one Charles M'Carthy, whose house in College-Green, Dublin, was burnt by an accidental fire; and having desired us to consider of the said brief, and give our opinions thereof to your Grace;

We the Clergy of the city of Dublin, in compliance with your Grace's desire, and with great acknowledgments for your paternal tenderness towards us, having maturely considered the said brief by letters patents, compared the several parts of it with what is enjoined us by the rubric, (which is confirmed by act of parliament) and consulted persons skilled in the laws of the Church; do, in the names of ourselves and of the rest of our brethren, the Clergy of the diocese of Dublin, most humbly represent to your Grace:

First, That, by this brief, your Grace is required and commanded, to recommend and command all the parsons, vicars, &c., to advance so great an act of charity.

We shall not presume to determine how far your Grace may be commanded by the said brief; but we humbly conceive that the Clergy of your diocese cannot, by any law now in being, be commanded by your Grace to advance the said act of charity, any other ways than by reading the said brief in our several churches, as prescribed by the rubric.

Secondly, Whereas it is said in the said brief, "That the parsons, vicars, &c. upon the first Lord's day, or opportunity after the receipt of the copy of the said brief, shall, deliberately and affectionately, publish and declare the tenor thereof to His Majesty's subjects, and earnestly persuade, exhort, and stir them up to contribute freely and cheerfully towards the relief of the said sufferer;"

We do not comprehend what is meant by the word opportunity. We never do preach upon any day except the Lord's day, or some solemn days legally appointed; neither is it possible for the strongest constitution among us to obey this command (which includes no less than a whole sermon) upon any other opportunity than when our people are met together in the church; and to perform this work in every house where the parishes are very populous, consisting sometimes here in town of 900 or 1,000 houses, would take up the space of a year, although we should preach in two families every day; and almost as much time in the country, where the parishes are of large extent, the roads bad, and the people too poor to receive us, and give charity at once.

But, if it be meant that these exhortations are commanded to be made in the church, upon the Lord's day, we are humbly of opinion, that it is left to the discretion of the clergy, to choose what subjects they think most proper to preach on, and at what times; and, if they preach either false doctrine or seditious principles, they are liable to be punished.

It may possibly happen that the sufferer recommended may be a person not deserving the favour intended by the brief; in which case no minister, who knows the sufferer to be an undeserving person, can with a safe conscience, deliberately and affectionately publish the brief, much less earnestly persuade, exhort, and stir up the people to contribute freely and cheerfully towards the relief of such a sufferer.[2]

[Footnote 2: This M'Carthy's house was burnt in the month of August 1723, and the universal opinion of mankind was, that M'Carthy himself was the person who had set fire to the house. [Note in edition of Swift's Works, vol. viii., 1765, 4to.]]

Thirdly, Whereas in the said brief the ministers and curates are required, "on the week-days next after the Lord's day when the brief was read, to go from house to house, with their church-wardens, to ask and receive from all persons the said charity:" We cannot but observe here, that the said ministers are directly made collectors of the said charity in conjunction with the church-wardens; which however, we presume, was not intended, as being against all law and precedent: And therefore, we apprehend, there may be some inconsistency, which leaves us at a loss how to proceed. For, in the next paragraph, the ministers and curates are only required, where they conveniently can, to accompany the church-wardens, or procure some other of the chief inhabitants, to do the same. And, in a following paragraph, the whole work seems left entirely to the church-wardens, who are required to use their utmost diligence to gather and collect the said charity, and to pay the same, in ten days after, to the parson, vicar, &c.

In answer to this, we do represent to your Grace our humble opinion, that neither we nor our church-wardens can be legally commanded or required to go from house to house to receive the said charity; because your Grace hath informed us in your order, at your visitation An. Dom. 1712, that neither we nor our church-wardens are bound to make any collections for the poor, save in the church; which also appears plainly by the rubric, that appoints both time and place, as your Grace hath observed in your said order.

We do likewise assure your Grace, that it is not in our power to procure some of the chief inhabitants of our parishes to accompany the church-wardens from house to house in these collections: And we have reason to believe, that such a proposal, made to our chief inhabitants (particularly in this city, where our chief inhabitants are often peers of the land) would be received in a manner very little to our own satisfaction, or to the advantage of the said collections.

Fourthly, The brief doth will, require, and command the bishops, and all other dignitaries of the Church, that they make their contributions distinctly, to be returned in the several provinces to the several archbishops of the same.

Upon which we take leave to observe that the terms of expression here are of the strongest kind, and in a point that may subject the said dignitaries (for we shall say nothing of the bishops) to great inconveniencies.

The said dignitaries are here willed, required, and commanded to make their contributions distinctly; by which it should seem that they are absolutely commanded to make contributions (for the word distinctly is but a circumstance), and may be understood not very agreeable to a voluntary, cheerful contribution. And therefore, if any bishop or dignitary should refuse to make his contribution, (perhaps for very good reasons) he may be thought to incur the crime of disobedience to His Majesty, which all good subjects abhor, when such a command is according to law.

Most dignities of this kingdom consist only of parochial tithes, and the dignitaries are ministers of parishes. A doubt may therefore arise, whether the said dignitaries are willed, required, and commanded, to make their contributions in both capacities, distinctly as dignitaries, and jointly as parsons or vicars.

Many dignities in this kingdom are the poorest kind of benefices; and it should seem hard to put poor dignitaries under the necessity either of making greater contributions than they can afford, or of exposing themselves to the censure of wanting charity, by making their contributions public.

Our Saviour commands us, in works of charity, to "let not our left hand know what our right hand doeth;" which cannot well consist with our being willed, required, and commanded by any earthly power, where no law is prescribed, to publish our charity to the world, if we have a mind to conceal it.

Fifthly, Whereas it is said in the said brief, "That the parson, vicar, &c. of every parish, shall, in six days after the receipt of the said charity, return it to his respective chancellor, &c." This may be a great grievance, hazard, and expense to the said parson, in remote and desolate parts of the country, where often an honest messenger (if such a one can be got) must be hired to travel forty or fifty miles going and coming; which will probably cost more than the value of the contribution he carries with him. And this charge, if briefs should happen to be frequent, would be enough to undo many a poor clergyman in the kingdom.

Sixthly, We observe in the said brief, that the provost and fellows of the University, judges, officers of the courts, and professors of laws common and civil, are neither willed, required, nor commanded to make their contributions; but that so good a work is only recommended to them. Whereas we conceive, that all His Majesty's subjects are equally obliged, with or without His Majesty's commands, to promote works of charity according to their power; and that the clergy, in their ecclesiastical capacity, are only liable to such commands as the rubric, or any other law shall enjoin, being born to the same privileges of freedom with the rest of His Majesty's subjects.

We cannot but observe to your Grace, that, in the English act of the fourth year of Queen Anne, for the better collecting charity money on briefs by letters-patent, &c. the ministers are obliged only to read the briefs in their churches, without any particular exhortations; neither are they commanded to go from house to house with the church-wardens, nor to send the money collected to their respective chancellors, but pay it to the undertaker or agent of the sufferer. So that, we humbly hope, the clergy of this kingdom shall not, without any law in being, be put to greater hardships in this case than their brethren in England, where the legislature, intending to prevent the abuses in collecting charity money on briefs, did not think fit to put the clergy under any of those difficulties we now complain of, in the present brief by letters patent, for the relief of Charles M'Carthy aforesaid.

The collections upon the Lord's day are the principal support of our own numerous poor in our several parishes; and therefore every single brief, with the benefit of a full collection over the whole kingdom, must deprive several thousands of poor of their weekly maintenance, for the sake only of one person, who often becomes a sufferer by his own folly or negligence, and is sure to overvalue his losses double or treble: So that, if this precedent be followed, as it certainly will if the present brief should succeed, we may probably have a new brief every week; and thus, for the advantage of fifty-two persons, whereof not one in ten is deserving, and for the interest of a dozen dexterous clerks and secretaries, the whole poor in the kingdom will be likely to starve.

We are credibly informed, that neither the officers of the Lord Primate, in preparing the report of his Grace's opinion, nor those of the great-seal, in passing the patent for briefs, will remit any of their fees, both which do amount to a considerable sum: And thus the good intentions of well-disposed people are in a great measure disappointed, a large part of their charity being anticipated, and alienated by fees and gratuities.

Lastly, We cannot but represent to your Grace our great concern and grief, to see the pains and labour of our church-wardens so much increased, by the injunctions and commands put upon them in this brief, to the great disadvantage of the clergy and the people, as well as to their own trouble, damage, and loss of time, to which great additions have been already made, by laws appointing them to collect the taxes for the watch and the poor-house, which they bear with great unwillingness; and, if they shall find themselves further laden with such briefs as this of M'Carthy, it will prove so great a discouragement, that we shall never be able to provide honest and sufficient persons for that weighty office of church-warden, so necessary to the laity as well as the clergy, in all things that relate to the order and regulation of parishes.

Upon all these considerations, we humbly hope that your Grace, of whose fatherly care, vigilance, and tenderness, we have had so many and great instances, will represent our case to his Most Excellent Majesty, or to the chief governor in this kingdom, in such a manner, that we may be neither under the necessity of declining His Majesty's commands in his letters patent, or of taking new and grievous burthens upon ourselves and our church-wardens, to which neither the rubric nor any other law in force oblige us to submit.

Jonathan Swift