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À LETTER FROM PRIMATE BOULTER TO THE BISHOP OF LON.
DON, RELATING TO
Dublin, March 13, 1728. AS we have had reports here that the Irish gen. tlemen in London would have the great burthen of tithes thought one of the chief grievances, that occasion such numbers of the people of the north going to America, I have for some time designed to write to your lordship on that subject.
But a memorial lately delivered in here by the Dissenting ministers of this place, containing the causes of this desertion, as represented to them by the letters of their brethren in the north, (which memorial we have lately sent over to my lord lieutenant), mentioning the oppression of the ecclesiastical courts about tithes as one of their great grievances: I found myself under a necessity of troubling your lordship on this occasion with a true state of that affair, and of desiring your lordship to discourse with the ministry about it.
The gentlemen of this country have ever since I came hither been talking to others, and persuading their tenants, who com plained of the excessiveness of their rents, that it was not the paying too much rent, but too much tithe that impoverished them and the notion soon took among the Scotch Presbyterians, as a great part of the Protestants in the north are, who it may easily be supposed do not pay tithes with great chéarfulness. And indeed I make no doubt but the landlords in England might with great ease raise a cry amongst their tenants of the great oppression they lye under by paying tithes.
What the gentlemen want to be at is, that they may go on raising their rents, and that the clergy should still receive their VOL. II.
old payments for their tithes. But as things have happened otherwise, and they are very angry with the clergy, without considering that it could not happen otherwise than it has, since if a clergymnan saw a farm raised in its rent e. g. from 10 to 201. per annum, he might be sure his tithe was certainly worth double what he formerly took for it. Not that I believe the clergy have made a proportionable advancement in their composition for their tithes to what the gentlemen have made in their rents. And yet is is upon this rise of the value of tithes that they would persuade the people to throw their distress.
In a conference I had with the Dissenting ministers here some weeks ago, they mentioned the raising the value of the tithes beyond what had been formerly paid, as a proof that the people were oppressed in the article of tithes To which I told them, that the value of tithes did not prove any oppression, except it were proved, that that value was greater than they were really worth, and that even then, the farmer had his remedy by letting the clergy take it in kind.
And there is the less in this argument, because the fact is, that about the years 1694 and 1695, the lands here were almost waste and unsettled, and the clergy in the last distress for tenants for their tithes, when great numbers of them were glad to let their tithes at a very low value, and that during incumbency, for few, would take them on other terms: and as the country has since settled and improved, as those incumbents have dropped off, the tithe of those parishes has been considerably advanced without the least oppression, but I believe your lordship will think not without some grumbling. The same, no doubt, has happened where there have been careless or needy incumbents, and others of a different character that have succeeded them.
I need not mention to your lordship what I have been forced to talk to several here, that if a landlord takes too great a portion of the profits of a farm for his share by way of rent, (as the tithe will light on the tenants share) the tenant will be impoverished: but then it is not the tithe but the increased rent that undoes the farmer. And indeed in this country, where I fear the tenant hardly ever has more than one third of the profits he makes of his farm for his share, and too often but a forth or perhaps a fifth part, as the tenant's share is charged with the tithe, his case is no doubt hard, but it is plain from what side the hardship arises.
Nor need I take notice to your lordship of what I have been forced to talk very fully here, that if the land were freed from the payment of tithe, the tenant could not be the better for it, but the the landlord, who would in that case raise his rent accord. ingly, and would probably receive 15 or 20s. for additional rent, where the clergyman now receives 10s. for tithe; and that it would be the same in proportion if the tithes were fixed to some modus below their real value, which I am apprehensive the gentlemen may attempt to do by a bill next sessions. As for the complaints of the oppressions in the ecclesiastical courts, your lordship knows the dilatoriness and expensiveness of suits there. And yet till within seven or eight years all suits for tithes, &c. were there; since that time by degrees the clergy have sued, in cases of consequence, in the Exchequer; but for dues of small value, they still are sued for there. But in the main nobody sues in those courts that can by fair means get any thing near his due; since, when the clergy have put persons into those courts, the defendants either give them all the delay and trouble they can, or else stand under contempt for never appearing, and let things go to the last extremity, and stand excommunicated; and possibly when a writ de excommunicato capiendo is taken out, and they find they have 7 or 8l. to pay, they run away; for the greatest part of the occupiers of the land here are so poor, that an extraordinary stroke of 8 or 10l. falling on them is certain ruin to them.
I can assure your lordship that every visitation I have held here, which is annually, the clergy have made as great complaints of the hardships put upon them by the people in getting in their tithes, especially their small dues, as the people can of any oppression from the clergy. And to my knowledge many of them have chose rather to lose their small dues, than to be at a certain great expence in getting them, and at an uncertainty whether the farmer would not at last run away without paying any thing. And I can affirm to your lordship, that the laity here are as troublesome and vexatious as they can be in England; and from time to time fight a cause of no great value through the bishop's court, then through the archbishop's, and thence to the delegates, where the clergy sue for what is most evidently their due.
I would not be understood by this to deny that any clerg man or farmer of tithes ever did a hard thing by the people, but that there is not frequent occasion of complaint against them.
However last sessions we passed a bill here for the more easy recovery of small tithes, &c. which I believe will remove this cause of complaint, since I believe very few will spend some pounds to recover than in a spiritual court, which may be recovered for some shillings in another way.
Upon occasion of the conference I had some weeks ago with the Dissenting ministers here, I have enquired of several of the clergy, that are understanding and sair men, who have assured me that as far as their knowledge reaches, they believe that generally the farmers do not pay more than two-thirds of the real value of their tithes.
Another thing they complain of in their memorial is, the trouble that has been given them about their marriages and their school-masters. As to this I told them, that for some time they had not been molested about their marriages ; and that as to their school-masters, I was sure they had met with very little trouble on that head, since I had never heard any such grievance so much as mentioned till I saw it in their memorial.
Another matter complained of is the sacramental Test, in relation to which I told them, the laws were the same in England.
As for other grievances they mention, such as raising the rents unreasonably, the oppression of justices of the peace, senechals, and other officers in the country, as they are no ways of an ecclesiastical nature, I shall not trouble your lordship with an account of them, but must desire your lordship to talk with the ministry on the subject I have now wrote about, and endeavour to prevent their being prepossessed with any unjust opinion of the clergy, or being disposed, if any attempt should be made from hence to suffer us to be stript of our just rights.
I am, &c.
THE MEMORIAL OF DR. LUCAS....PAGE 38.
To his Excellency William Earl of Harrington, Lord Lieute
nant General and General governor of Ireland. MAY IT PLEASE YOUR EXCELLENCY!
THE love and dụty I owe my sovereign, and the regard I bear his governments and dominions, in general, those of this my native country, in particular, which are most intimately and inseparably connected and linked together, in one common bond of affection, interest and allegiance, prompt me to use all just and lawful means to obtain an effectual redress of the capital grievances of this kingdom, and city, which no good subject, or good governor can overlook or slight, consistent with the principles of his moral, religious and political obligations to our system of civil society.
These motives, which your excellency must be too wise and just to condemn, or discourage, first induced me to contend