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On a Motion for leave to bring in a Bill to 8. the Possessions of the Subject against dormant Claims of the Church.*
If I considered this bill as an attack upon the church, brought in for the purpose of impoverishing and weakening the clergy, I should be one of the foremost in an early and vigorous opposition to it. I admit the same reasons do not press for limiting the claims of the church, that existed for limiting the crown, by that wisest of all laws, which has secured the property, the peace, and the freedom of this country from the most dangerous mode of attack, which could be made upon them all. I am very sensible of the P.P. of maintaining that vemerable body with decency (and with more than mere decency.) I would maintain it according to the ranks wisely established in it, with that sober and temperate splendour, that is suitable to a sacred character invested with high dignity. There ought to be a symmetry between all the parts and orders of a state. A poor clergy in an opulent nation can have little correspondence with the body it is to instruct, and it is a disgrace to the public sentiments of religion. Such irreligious frugality is even bad occonomy, as the little that is given is entirely thrown away. Such an impoverished and degraded clergy in quiet times could never execute their duty, and in time of disorder would infinitely aggravate the public confusions. That the property of the church is a favoured and privileged o; admit. It is made with great wisdom, since a perpetual body with a perpetual duty ought to have a perpetual provision. The question is not the property of the church, or its security. The question is, whether you will render the principle of prescription a principle of the law of this land, and incor#. it with the whole of your jurisprudence; whether, aving given it first against the laity, then against the crown, you will now extend it to the church.
* This motion was made the 17th February, 1772, and rejected on a division; the numbers being, ayes 117, noes 141.
The acts which were made, giving limitation against the lai. ty, were not acts against the property of those who might be precluded by limitations. The act of quiet against the crown was not against the interests of the crown, but against a power of vexation. If the principle of prescription be not a constitution of positive law, but a principle of natural equity, then to hold it out against any man is not doing him injustice. That tythes are due of common right; readily granted—and if this principle had been kept in its original straitness, it might indeed be supposed that to plead an exemption was to plead a long continued fraud, and that no man could be deceived in such a title; as the moment he bought land, he must know that he bought land tythed. Prescription could not aid him, for prescription can only attach on a supposed bond fide possession. But the fact is, that the principle has been broken in upon. Here it is necessary to distinguish two sorts of property— 1. Land carries no mark on it to distinguish it as ecclesiastical, as tythes do, which are a charge on land; therefore, though it had been made inalienable, it ought perhaps to be subjected to limitation. It might bona fide be held. But first it was not originally inalienable—no, not by the canon lan', until the restraining act of the 11th of Elizabeth. But the great revolution of the dissolution of monasteries by the 31st H. ch. 13. has so mixed and confounded ecclesiastical with lay property, that a man may by every rule of good faith be possessed of it. The statute of Queen Elizabeth, ann. 1. ch. 1. gave away the bishops’ lands. So far as to lands. As to tythes; they are not things in their own nature subject to be barred by prescription upon the general principle. But tythes and church lands, by the statutes of Henry VIII. and the 11th Elizabeth have become objects in commercio ; for by coming to the crown, they became grantable in that way to the subject, and a great part of the church lands passed through the crown to the people. By passing to the king, tythes became property to a mixt party; by passing from the king, they became absolutely lay property; the partition-wall was broken down, and tythes and church possession became no longer synonymous terms. No man therefore might become a fair purchaser of tythes and of exemption from tythes. By the statute of Elizabeth, the lands took the same course, (I will not inquire by what justice, good policy and decency)
but they passed into lay lands, became the object of purchases for valuable consideration, and of marriage settlements. Now if tythes might come to a layman, land in the hands of a layman might be also tythe-free. So that there was an object, which a layman might become seised of equitably and bond side; there was something, on which a prescription might attach, the end of which is to secure the natural well-meaning ignorance of men, and to secure property by the best of all principles, continuance. I have therefore shown that a layman may be equitably seised of church lands—2. Of tythes—3. Of exemption from tythes; and you will not contend that there should be no prescription. Will you say that the alienations made before the 11th of Elizabeth shall not stand good? I do not mean any thing against the church, her dignities, her honours, her privileges, or her possessions. I should wish even to enlarge them all; not that the church of England is incompetently endowed. This is to take nothing from her but the power of inaking herself odious. If she be secure herself, she can have no objection to the security of others. For I hope she is secure from lay bigotry and anti-priestcraft, for certainly such things there are. I heartily wish to see the church secure in such possessions as will not only enable her ministers to preach the gospel with ease, but of such a kind as will enable them to preach it with its full effect—so that the pastor shall not have the inauspicious appearance of a tax-gatherer;--such a maintenance as is compatible with the civil prosperity and improvement of their country.
H IN T S
It is generally observed that no species of writing is so difficult as the dramatic. It must indeed appear so, were we to consider it upon one side only. It is a dialogue or species of composition, which in itself requires all the mastery of a complete writer with grace and spirit to support. We may add, that it must have a fable too, which necessarily requires invention, one of the rarest qualities of the human mind. It would surprise us, if we were to examine the thing critically, how few good original stories there are in the world. The most celebrated borrow from each other, and are content with some new turn; some corrective, addition, or embellishment. Many of the most celebrated writers in that way can claim no other merit. I do not think La Fontaine has one original story. And if we pursue him to those who were his originals, the Italian writers of tales and novels, we shall find most even of them drawing from antiquity, or borrowing from the eastern world, or adopting and decorating the little popular stories they found cur. rent and traditionary in their country. Sometimes they laid the foundation of their tale in real fact. Even after all their borrowing from so many funds, they are still far from opulent. How few stories has Boccace which are tolerable, and how much fewer are there which you would desire to read twice. But this general difficulty is greatly increased when we come to the drama. Here a fable is essential; a fable, which is to be conducted with rapidity, clearness, consistency and surprise, without any, or certainly with very little, aid from narrative. This is the reason that, generally, nothing is more dull in telling than the plot of a so It is seldom or never a good story in itself; and in this particular some of the greatest
* These hints appear to have been first thoughts, which were probably intended to be amplified and connected; and so worked up into a regular dissertation. No date appears of the time when they were written, but it was probably before the year 1765.