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CONSIDERATIONS

UPON

TWO BILLS,

SENT DOWN FROM THE RIGHT HONOURABLE THE HOUSE OF LORDS TO THE HONOURABLE THE HOUSE OF COMMONS IN IRELAND, RELATING TO THE CLERGY.

WRITTEN IN THE YEAR 1731.

I have often, for above a month past, desired some few clergymen, who are pleased to visit me, that they would procure an extract of two BILLS, brought into the council by some of the bishops, and both of them since passed in the house of lords : but I could never obtain what I desired, whether by the forgetfulness or negligence of those whom I employed, or the difficulty of the thing itself. Therefore, if I shall happen to mistake in any fact of consequence, I desire my remarks upon it may pass for nothing; for my information is no better than what I received in words from several divines, who seemed to agree with each other. I have not the honour to be acquainted with any one single prelate of the kingdom; and am å stranger to their characters, farther than as common fame reports them, which is not to be depended on; therefore I cannot be supposed to act upon a principle of resentment. I esteem their functions (if I may be allowed to say so without offence) as truly apostolical, and absolutely necessary to the perfection of a Christian church.

There are no qualities more incident to the frailty and corruptions of human kind, than an indifference or insensibility for other men's sufferings, and a sudden forgetfulness of their own former humble state, when they rise in the world. These two dispositions have not, I think, any where so strongly exerted themselves, as in the order of bishops with regard to the inferior clergy; for which I can find no reasons, but such as naturally should seem to operate a quite contrary way. The maintenance of the clergy throughout the kingdom, is precarious and uncertain, collected from a most miserable race of beggarly farmers; at whose mercy every minister lies to be defrauded. His office, as rector or vicar, if it be duly executed, is very laborious. As soon as he is promoted to a bishopric, the scene is entirely and happily changed ; his revenues are large, and as surely paid as those of the king ; his whole business is, once a year, to receive the attendance, the submission, and the proxy-money of all his clergy, in whatever part of the diocese he shall please to think most convenient for himself, Neither is his personal presence necessary, for the business may be done by a vicar-general. The fatigue of ordination, is just what the bishops please to make it; and as matters have been for sone time, and may probably remain, the fewer ordinations the better. The rest of their visible office consists, in the honour of attending parliaments and councils, and bestowing preferments in their own gifts; in which last employment, and in their spiritual and temporal courts, the labour falls to their vicars general, secretaries, proctors, apparitors, seneschals, and the like. Now, I say, in so quick a change, whereby their brethren in a few days are become their subjects, it would be reasonable at least to hope that the labour, confinement, and subjection, from which they have so lately escaped, like a bird out of the snare of the fowler, might a little incline them to remember the condition of those, who were but last week their equals, probably their companions or their friends, and possibly as reasonable expectants. There is a known story of colonel Tidcomb, who, while he continued a subaltern officer, was every day complaining against the pride, oppression, and hard treatment of colonels toward their officers; yet in a very minutes after he had received his commission for a regiment, walking with a friend on the Mall, he confessed that the spirit of colonelship was coming fast upon him: which spirit is said to have daily increased to the hour of his death.

It is true, the clergy of this kingdom, who are promoted to bishoprics, have always some great advantages ; either that of rich deaneries, opulent and multiplied rectories and dignities, strong alliances by birth or marriage, fortified by a superlative degree of zeal and loyalty: but however, they were all at first no more than young beginners; and, before their great promotion, were known by their plain Christian names among their old companions, the middling rate of clergymen; nor could therefore be strangers to their condition, or with any good grace forget it so soon, as it has too often happened.

I confess, I do not remember to have observed any body of men acting with so little concert, as our clergy have done, in a point where their opinions appeared to be unanimous : a point, wherein their whole temporal support was concerned, as well as their power of serving God and his church, in their spiritual functions. This has been imputed to their fear of disobliging, or hopes of farther favours upon compliance; because it was observed, that some who appeared at first with the greatest zeal, thought fit suddenly to absent themselves from the usual meetings : yet we know what expert solicitors the Quakers, the Dissenters, and even the Papists, have sometimes found, to drive a point of advantage, or prevent an impending evil.

I have not seen any extract from the two bills introduced by the bishops into the privy council; where the clergy, upon some failure in favour, or through the timorousness of many among their brethren, were refused to be heard by the council. It seems, these bills were both returned, agreed to by the king and council in England, and the house of lords has with great expedition passed them both; and it is said, they are immediately to be sent down to the commons for their consent.

The particulars, as they have been imperfectly reported to me, are as follow :

By one of the bills, the bishops have power to oblige the country clergy to build a mansion house, upon whatever part of their glebes their lordships shall command; and if the living be above 501. a year, the minister is bound to build, after three years, a house that shall cost one year and a half's rent of his income. For instance, if a clergyman with a wife and seven children gets a living of 551. per annum, he must, after three years, build a house that shall cost 771. 10s, and must support his family, during the time the bishop shall appoint for the building of it, with the remainder. But if the living be under 501. a year, the minister shall be allowed 1001 out of the first-fruits.

But there is said to be one circumstance a little extraordinary; that if there be a single spot in the glebe more barren, more marshy, more exposed to the winds, more distant from the church, or skeleton of a church, or from any conveniency of building; the rector or vicar may be obliged, by the caprice or pique of the bishop, to build, under pain of sequestration (an office which ever falls into the most knavish hands) upon whatever point his lordship shall command ; although the farmers have not paid one quarter of his dues.

I believe, under the present distresses of the kingdom (which inevitably without a miracle must increase for ever) there are not ten country clergymen in Ireland, reputed to possess a parish of 100l. per annum, who for some years past have actually received 601. and that with the utmost difficulty and vexation. I am therefore at a loss what kind of valuators the bishops will make use of; and whether the starving vicar shall be forced to build his house with the money he never received.

The other bill, which passed in two days after the former, is said to concern the division of

parishes into as many parcels as the bishop shall think fit, only leaving 3001. a year to the mother church; which 300l. by another act passed some years ago, they can divide likewise, and crumble as low as their will and pleasure will dispose them. So that instead of six hundred clergymen, which, I think, is the usual computation, we may have in a small compass of years, almost as many thousands to live with decency and comfort, provide for their children, be charitable to the poor, and maintain hospitality.

VOL. IX.

B

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