Page images
PDF
EPUB

These

men at salaries of from 10l. to 30l. a year, with vales.' clergymen were popularly known as Mess Johns, trencher chaplains, or young Levites. They were usually treated like upper menials. They lived on familiar terms with the servants, were made the butt of the squire and of his children, were dismissed from the dinner table as soon as the pastry appeared, and if they had not already formed a connection with the cook and the housemaid, they often closed their career by purchasing some small living at the expense of a marriage with the cast-off mistress of their patron. This great evil has been attributed to the period of the civil war, when numbers of the proscribed clergy found shelter in the houses of small country gentry; but the trencher chaplains existed at an earlier date; they are vividly painted both by Bishop Hall and by Burton, and the results of their treatment were very evident. The Nonjuror Lesley justly described it as one of the great causes of the discredit of the clergy that chaplains are now reckoned under the notion of servants,' and he complained

1 Compare Eachard's Causes of the Contempt of the Clergy (10th ed.), p. 25; Oldham's poem, To a Friend about to leave the University; Swift's Project for the Advancement of Religion,' the Intelligencer, No. 5.

2 See a very curious collection of

[ocr errors]

3

passages from the Tatler and Guardian,
from Oldham's Satires, and from some
other sources in Calamy's Life, pp.
217-219. So too Gay speaks of

Cheese that the table's closing rites denies,
And bids me with th' unwilling chaplain rise
Trivia, Book ii.

A gentle squire would gladly entertain
Into his house some trencher chappelain,
Some willing man that might instruct his sons
And that could stand to good conditions:

First, that he lie upon the truckle bed
While his young maister lieth over-head;
Second, that he do on no default
Ever presume to sit above the salt;

Third, that he never charge his trencher twice;
Fourth, that he use all common courtesies,

Sit bare at meales, and one half rise and wait;
Last, that he never his young master beat

But he must aske his mother to define

How many jerks she would his breech should line;
All these observed, he would contented be

To give five markes and winter liverie.

Hall's Satires, Book ii. Sat. 6.

Anatomy of Melancholy, Part i. sec. 2, Mem. 3, Subs. 15.

[ocr errors]

that instead of being appointed by the bishops it was left to everyone's fancy (and some very unable to judge) to take in and turn out at their pleasure, as they do to their footmen, that they may be wholly subservient to their humour and their frolics, sometimes to their vices; and to play upon the chaplain is often the best part of the entertainment, and religion suffers with it.' A cringing and obsequious character was naturally formed, and the playwriters found in these clergymen one of the easiest subjects for their ridicule. Even in the towns where the stamp was much superior, the clergy had their separate clubs and coffeehouses, mixed little with the laity, and were nervously apprehensive of ridicule. The town rectors and the great church dignitaries were, it is true, second to none in Europe in genius and in learning, and they occupied a very conspicuous social position, but even they were by no means uniformly opulent. Swift assures us that there were at least ten bishoprics in England, whose incomes did not average 600l. a year. The beautiful picture which Herbert has drawn of an ideal country clergyman shows that a high conception of clerical duty was not unknown among the rustic clergy; and Addison probably drew his portrait of the chaplain of Sir Roger de Coverley from living examples; but the class in the early years of the eighteenth century was necessarily ignorant and coarse, and an impoverished married clergy mix too closely in the secular affairs of life to retain the kind and degree of reverence with which the mendicant friar is often invested. Something was done about the time of the Revolution to

'The Case of the Regale and Pontificate stated. See, too, the descriptions of these chaplains in Eachard and in the Athenian Oracle (3rd ed., vol. i. p. 542), and on their marriages a characteristic passage in Swift's Directions to the Waiting Maid. Macaulay's well-known description of the clergy in the latter part of the seventeenth century, has been very severely criticised in a little volume by Churchill Babington. It is clear that Macaulay greatly understated

the number of men of good family that entered the Church, and his picture is, perhaps, in other respects a little over-coloured, but the passages I have cited, are, I think, quite sufficient to establish its substantial accuracy.

2 Swift's Project for the Advancement of Religion.

3

Preface to the Bishop of Sarum's Introduction.

Spectator, No. 106.

remedy these evils by private benevolence,' and Queen Anne's Bounty placed a sum of about 17,000l. a year at the disposal of the Church for the augmentation of small livings. The custom of keeping chaplains, as distinguished from tutors, in great houses, fell about the same time into desuetude, and this fact was one cause of the general neglect of family worship during the Hanoverian period. But though an amelioration of the social position of the clergy undoubtedly took place, it was very slow, and it was not until 1809 that Parliament adopted the policy of making direct grants for the augmentation of small livings. The low social position of the country clergy did not prevent them from forming one of the most powerful forces in the country, but it no doubt enfeebled the Church interest, which might have otherwise been irresistible in English politics. The practice of bestowing high political posts upon clergymen almost disappeared in England after the Reformation; the last instance of the kind was under Queen Anne, when the Privy Seal was bestowed on Robinson, the Bishop of Bristol, but in Ireland, as we shall see, political affairs were largely administered by prelates at a much later period. The power of imposing direct taxation on the clergy had from a very early date been reserved for Convocation, whose enactments, however, on this point required the confirmation of Parliament, but in 1664 the right of self-taxation was withdrawn from the Church; Convocation thus lost its most important prerogative, and the loss was not at all adequately supplied by the privilege of voting for members of parliament, which was then bestowed on the clergy. The attitude of the Church towards the Revolution still further weakened its influence. The servile doctrine of passive obedience which it proclaimed when the liberties of England seemed tottering to their fall; its virtual abandonment of that doctrine the

1 Eachard notices that bishops had done something to augment the vicarages in their dioceses.

2 Burnet's Hist. of his Own Times, ii. 369. It was at first, however,

encumbered by some very heavy charges. See Hodgson's account of Queen Anne's Bounty, p. 8.

Burnet's Own Times, ii. 655.

moment its own interests were touched; its vacillation and ultimate disloyalty when the Government of William was established; the non-juror schism which divided its influence, withdrew from it many of its most energetic teachers, and affixed an imputation of time-serving on those who remained; the Toleration Act, which enabled Dissenters to celebrate their worship under the protection of the law; and lastly, the abjuration oath, which brought into strong relief the contrast between the principles and the conduct of a large proportion of the clergy, were all steps in emancipating England from .ecclesiastical despotism. It was impossible to disguise the fact that the Government was based upon and could only be justified by principles directly antagonistic to those which the majority of the clergy had taught as essential doctrines of their Church.

There was one other agency at work which was partly favourable and partly unfavourable to the Church. There existed among the clergy a small body of able and enlightened men who had adopted the principles of Locke and Chillingworth, who cordially welcomed the civil and religious liberty established by the Revolution, and who, regarding with considerable contempt the minute questions that created such animosity between the High Church clergy and the Dissenters, were themselves hated by their brethren with all the virulence of theological rancour. The most prominent, and to the majority of the clergy the most obnoxious of them, was Burnet, whose promotion to the bishopric of Salisbury was the first and most significant of the Church appointments of William. Scarcely any other figure in English ecclesiastical history has been so fully portrayed, and the lines of his character are indeed too broad and clear to be overlooked. No one can question that he was vain, pushing, boisterous, indiscreet, and inquisitive, overflowing with animal spirits and superabundant energy, singularly deficient in the tact, delicacy, reticence, and decorum that are needed in a great ecclesiastical position. Having thrown himself, with all the

enthusiasm of his nature, into the cause of the Revolution from the very beginning of the design, he became one of the most active politicians of his time. He was a constant pamphleteer and debater. On at least one occasion, when he advocated the Act of Attainder that brought Sir John Fenwick to the scaffold, he stooped to services that were very little in harmony with his profession. He was one of the last writers of authority who countenanced the fable of the supposititious birth of the Pretender, and in many other points he allowed the passions of a violent partizan to discolour that brilliant history which is one of the most authentic records of the times of the Revolution. But if his faults were very manifest, they were much more than balanced by great virtues and splendid acquirements. He was a man of real honesty and indomitable courage; of a kind, generous, and affectionate nature, of fervent piety, of wide sympathies, of rare tolerance. In the time of the Stuarts he had more than once refused lucrative employments through conscientious motives; he had boldly remonstrated with Charles upon his vices; he had reclaimed the brilliant Rochester to the paths of virtue; he was one of the very few Whigs who never countenanced the delusion of the Popish plot. He was the friend of Russell, whom he attended on the scaffold. He had received the thanks of both Houses of Parliament for the publication of that great History of the Reformation,' which was one of the strongest and most enduring barriers to the Catholic tendencies of the age of the Stuarts. Raised to power by the Revolution, he made it the supreme object of his life to extend religious liberty to all English Protestants, and, if possible, to bring the great Nonconforming bodies into union with the Church. His own mother had been an ardent Presbyterian. In Holland and in Switzerland he had formed intimate connections with members of different creeds; and, while maintaining a strong and fervent orthodoxy of doctrinal belief, he soon convinced himself that the points of discipline or ceremony that chiefly divided the Established Church from Nonconformity were immaterial, and he was quite ready to purchase unity by surrendering the

« PreviousContinue »