Page images
PDF
EPUB

ever certain its ultimate loss, they, of course, may do so; but it is a little too much for our gravity to be told of the certainty of rates, and the uncertainty of contributions, when the rate-collector finds his Occupation gone in fresh parishes every year, and every year the uncertain subscription list is growing in importance.

If Sir John Coleridge is thus wrongly positive about fixity of tenure, he is hesitating and confused enough when he comes to deal with the incidence of the tax which he defends. First of all, he announces that the custom-not of making a rate, but of repairing the church—"attaches to the parishioners.” But he says, “when you come to examine it, it is clear to demonstration that it is not the occupier that virtually pays the rate, but the landowners of the country.” Then, lastly, he thinks he reaches solid bottom when he “denies that either the landowner or the occupier pays the rate !” That, of course, bring us to the core of Sir John's case : “The Church-rate is a charge upon the estate, which existed before the proprietor took the land. It never was his, and if you abolish it, you would be making a present to the landowners of the value of that rate."

Now, if Sir John had only contrived to make good this one assertion, together with another, viz., that before even the ancestors of the present race of landlords the Church had a property in their land, he would have done a real service to his party, because he would have presented them with the only argument on which a claim for compensation can be founded. He, however, flings down his dogmas, and there leaves them at the mercy of those whose legal or historic knowledge is greater than his own. Why even so partial an authority as Prideaux's “ Churchwarden's Guide” admits that “this rate is only a personal, not a real charge, for it is not laid upon the lands, but only upon persons, in respect of the lands which they occupy within the parish.” Dr. Lushington, an ecclesiastical judge, whom we quoted last month, says explicitly, that the rate is not a charge on land, and that it would be impossible to make it one now. In a recent judgment of his, delivered in our hearing, he laid it down that the names of all occupiers should be upon the rate-book, on the ground that the obligation is in personam; and in his examination before the Select Committee of 1851, he adverted to the fact that in some parts of England the inhabitants were assessed, not in respect to houses or lands, but to the number of heads of cattle in their possession, the ships they owned, and even their stock-in-trade ; and he further quoted a dictum of a deceased Chief Justice to the effect, that in strict law you might assess a man's whole personal estate to Church-rate. Asked if he wishes the Committee to understand that Church-rates at any time “would have been regarded as a poll tax," he answers decisively, “Certainly they were of that nature; and it is obvious they were, because whereever there has been a charge upon land, as in the case of tithes, there has always been a power of distress and seizing the lands; but though since the time that any church has been appropriated or impropriated, the inpropriator is bound to repair the chancel, you cannot seize the rectory or have a distress against the property : that has been decided by the courts of common law, upon the very ground which I am stating, that it was a tax in personam, and all you could do was to put the impropriator into prison, but you never could take his property." Now, of course an ex-judge has as much right to differ from his learned brethren off the bench, as he has on it, but it is rather too bad when he altogether ignores their differing opinions, and pronounces, er cathedrá, that Church-rates are an impost with which occupiers have nothing to do, they being, in fact, only another name for the munificent provision of our forefathers, made centuries ago.

Why it is obvious to us all, that this theory must be, so far as concerns the greater portion of the property now assessed to churches, a mere myth and pretence. Had our ancestors in the days of Canute or Ethelwolf anything to do with the farms now thriving on Chat Moss; with the Lancashire towns which have been the growth of this century; with the cotton-mills of Lancashire ; with the palatial warehouses of Manchester and Bradford ; with the value of land in London city, where its preciousness is reckoned by inches and by yards ? These are questions which at once suggest the impudence of the specious pretext that Church-rates are a property created by others in past centuries, any alienation of which would be robbery and sacri. lege. The upholders of the exaction cannot produce a single title-deed justifying the claim to have it regarded as being in the nature of a rent-charge, and even if they could, they would make out no case in equity for levying blackmail on the proceeds of modern capital, enterprise, and skill. The Church-rate was, at the outset, nothing more than a voluntary payment, made when all men were of one faith, and when none durst refuse obedience to the Church's demands. When refusals to pay originated, there was no other mode of enforcement than the ecclesiastical one of excommunication and censure. And the Ecclesiastical Courts possess no other engine of extortion now. They can, with the help of the Court of Chancery, touch the person for “contempt of court," but cannot lay hands on one sovereign, or one acre, of that which ex-judges and archdeacons declare to be the Church's " property," and which is year by year melting away before their eyes, without any ability on their part, or any desire on the part of our legislature, to stay the wasting process.

After all, Sir John Coleridge appears to have doubted that his comfortable legal notions would have great weight with his auditors ; 30 he tried another tack, and endeavoured to stimulate them by an appeal to their fears. He, too, like Dr. Cunming, bas his head full of " the Coming Tribulation,” though he is in a state of doubt at present whether the trouble will not be a blessing in disguise. “Abolition” is but a step towards “ Separation;" and "you may depend upon it that if you sever your Material Church, your Spiritual Church will go after it." Don t let us exaggerate anything, for that gains nothing in anument, he wisely added, and then broke through his own rule by exaggerating on a grand scale.

Our space is precious, but we must quote one of these new Coleridge's “Aids to Reflection," if only to show how State-Churchism makes even the earnest men of our wealthiest church whine in weak and cowardly tones. Who ever heard an Independent or a Primitive Methodist indulge in such a lamentation

“If we should have Church-rates abolished to-morrow, we may bave here and there a Church well maintained, and have the offertory carried out to an extent so as to be able to raise a sufficient sum for the purpose for a time. In the first place, however, that would depend very much upon circumstances, upon the abilities, the zeal, and the popularity of the incumbent of the parish. You may have a Mr. A. in the parisk; he is a vigorous preacher, a strong-minded man, and a man who exerts an influence over the people, and induces them to give very largely to the offertory. Well, in a neighbouring parish you may have a man quite as zealous, but not so well gifted with the power of preaching, nor the attractive manners, nor the popular arts of the other clergyman. And, perhaps, some vigorous, able Nonconformist preacher, possessing great influence with the people, resides in the same place. What is the consequence? Why, the state of things in that parish is exactly the contrary of that existing in the other parish. In the first place, the popular incumbent has succeeded in obtaining a large sum for the maintenance of the Church, while in the other case little or nothing has been subscribed. Again, you may have in a parish a landowner-a zealous Churchman, anxious for the maintenance of the Church; and in the other you may have a Nonconformist or Roman Catholic landowner, who does not care how soon the Church tumbles down. That is the state of things we have to face, and that which would constantly be the case. In some places the Church would go to decay; you would not be able to go there wilhout catching cold--the rain would pour in ; persons would slacken in their attendance ; the thing would lose its hold; and you would be one infinite step weaker down the hill than before. And that would be only the beginning of sorrows, for the Church of England may be placed in difficulty-we cannot tell what may be in the dispensations of the Almighty. We may be driven from her hallowed walls. The Church of England may have to assemble her children in barns and sheds; upon the level hill-top, or in the narrow sheltered valley."

No doubt this piece of what, without prejudice, we must style * bunkum," did duty effectively at a meeting in a cathedral city ; but we should like to have seen the faces of some of Sir John's friends as they read these passages in the Guardian. For Sir John Coleridge is a High Churchman, and so is Sir Stafford Northcote, who followed him, and who, apparently, so little liked the ad misericordiam appeal of his leader, that he felt constrained to say of abolition: “I am not afraid of it; and if, unfortunately, this rate should be taken away from us, I am not afraid but that we shall find some substitute, and that substitution will be found in the voluntary action of the laity and our people generally." Which is right-Sir John or Sir Stafford ? Does Bishop Wilberforce, or Archdeacon Denison, or Mr. Bennett, believe that “the spiritual Church," which they so assiduously labour to build up within the Establishment, will share the fate of the Establishment itself? Is that to be the end of sumptuous new churches and magnificently-restored old ones--of an expensive and tasteful ritualism-of “ Sisterhoods of Mercy"-of Cuddesdon and other colleges-of sermons, of speeches, and of books, all characterized by rare skill and contagious enthusiasm, bent on bringing the educated

mind of the country within the pale of a modified sacerdotal and sacramental Church? We are convinced they would change their fine linen for sackcloth, and crush their broad phylacteries, ere they would thus ignominiously succumb to imaginary “vigorous, able Nonconformist preachers," and represent the whole system as based on nothing stronger than the votes of vestry meetings or of parliamentsthe auction mart for goods of modern Dissenters, or the fancied bequests of ancient Catholics. Churchmen of that class must have long since discovered how dearly they pay for the right of taxing other bodies, in the bondage now endured by their own. They, we believe, would appreciate an unfettered convocation more than another century of Church-rates; and purchase other immunities, for which they sigh. at the cost of abandoning powers which harass those who wield them as much as those who suffer from their exercise.

There is no necessity for Sir John Coleridge “surrendering the Church of our fathers into the hands of any one whatever.” He is quite right in regarding its present members as “trustees of our forefathers who have gone before us, and for those who are to come after." But it would be more magnanimous if this brave spirit of fidelity were displayed in connection with a spirit of self-sacrifice. He will surrender nothing—not even the right to strip the members of other Churches of their worldly goods, to prevent himself and his friends “catching cold” in their own sanctuaries. His Episcopalian fathers extorted cash from Quaker and Independent, Romanist and Infidel, and “the treasure which we have received,” he solemnly adds, “we are bound, by God's grace, to hand down untouched to those who are to come after.” That is what he calls refraining from doing anything which “will weaken that stronghold which the Church of England has upon the hearts and feelings of the nation.” “Leave us alone !" he exclaims, forgetting that that is the cry of the Church-rate abolitionists. They will leave Sir John Coleridge and his Exeter friends alone. They urge them, by precept and example, to repair their own decaying sanctuaries from that large wealth which they notoriously possess, and which they should deem it an honour to give to the Church of God; but they demand that Sir John and his party leave them alone. Shopkeepers as well as farmers say : “We build our own place of worship; we pay our own minister; why should you force us by a tax to repair your church, and support the service." We, therefore, in the name of all Church-rate abolitionists, conclude our reply to Sir John Coleridge by repeating his own words, “ Leave us alone;" and we sincerely trust that the law lords will save their order from further discredit by taking Church-rates out of the category of topics on which future ex-judges like Sir John Coleridge may dilate, to the edification of an audience who, in getting law for nothing, will find it to be nothing worth.

[ocr errors][merged small]

It is so often stated that war is the exercise of nations, and the spirit of peace is the beginning of decay, that we are at times apt to forget our religion and to despise British policy. In conquest there is a wealth, and in glory there is a delight, which in themselves are sufficiently seductive, and when the political philosophers, including Lord Bacon, come down upon us with the assertion, “Above all, for empire and greatness, it importeth most that a nation do profess arms as their principal honour," —our patriotic susceptibilities exalt into a duty what previously was alluring only as a forbidden pleasure. In point of fact, too, there is a foundation of truth im the statement that the decay of military spirit is the decay of national vigour. We have all a certain amount of pugnacity, and we know that this quality is a most valuable one-enables us to triumph over difficulties—is to be found in the most amiable natures, and is perfectly consistent with Christian principles. Without pugnacity what would become of us ? We should yield to circumstances, we should submit to whatever is imposed upon us, we should display the most absolute compressibility, we should very soon be crushed. Our whole life is a battle, and when it ceases to be a battle it will be death. It is in representing this principle of pugnacity, which is essential to our success, that the military spirit can be described as the condition on which alone national greatness is possible; and we have to ask the political philosophers whether the pugnacity, or, as the phrenologists would term it, the combativeness which we and they admire, can be exhibited only in one way-powder and ball ? Mere pugnacity, however, is not enough to carry us through the world, and in the military spirit there is another element united with pugnacity which is equally entitled to our respect—there is bodily strength and activity. The claims of the body manage to assert themselves practically in this world, but theoretically we have a strong inclination to underrate them. Poets and pietists combine to pour contempt on our bodies, thinking in this way to do honour to the more spiritual part of our nature. There cannot be a greater mistake. Most certainly in a weak and unhealthy body there cannot be a perfectly sound mind ; there must be some defect-an irritability, perhaps, or a want of concentration, or some other species of morbid action. This is the view which is maintained, and we think with not a little force, by the school of “ Muscular Christians.” They insist upon it that it is ruin to cultivate nerves at the expense of muscles, and that the spirituality which neglects and consumes the body, is not the spirituality demanded in our religion. After all, a fine animal is a noble sight, and is as much the work of

« PreviousContinue »