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III.: SINECURISM—NON-RESIDENCE—PLURALITIES—CHURCH DISCIPLINE. - John Wade, The Black Book: An Exposition of Abuses in Church and State 
The Black Book: An Exposition of Abuses in Church and State, Courts of Law, Municipal Corporations, and Public Companies; with a Précis of the House of Commons, Past, present, and to come. A New Edition, greatly enlarged and corrected to the present time. By the Original Editor. With an Appendix (London: Effingham Wilson, Royal Exchange, 1835).
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Sinecurism abounds more in our ecclesiastical than civil establishment. In the church almost every thing is done by deputy,—a consequence naturally resulting from her great wealth; for where large salaries are annexed, great duties are seldom discharged. Those with large incomes have various reasons for not burthening themselves with official toil. First, they can afford to pay for a deputy; secondly, they can purchase or influence the connivance of others for neglect of their own duties; thirdly, they have the means for indulgence and recreation, which, consuming much time, leave little leisure for more serious avocations. Hence has arisen sinecurism in both Church and State; presenting the singular spectacle of one class receiving the pay, and another, born under less favorable auspices, doing the work for which the pay is received.
Among the different orders of our ecclesiastical polity, there are none, with the exception of the curates and a few beneficed clergy, who reside and do the duties of their parishes; the remainder being clerical sinecurists, filled with the Holy Ghost, to share in the rich endowments of the church. The bishops are most amply remunerated, and, as is usual in such cases, perform the least service. They employ archdeacons to visit for them; rural deans and others to preach for them; and a vicar-general to issue licenses, hold courts, and perform other drudgery; if otherwise engaged, they employ a brother bishop to ordain for them. They have their own chaplains, commissaries, and secretaries; in short, their work must be light, and chiefly consists in keeping an eye to the next translation, and the falling in of the rich livings. In the Ordination Service, however, they are enjoined strict and abstemious duties. It is there said a bishop must be “blameless,” they are admonished diligently to preach the word, and be conspicuous examples of various Christian virtues.” They are now chiefly known among the people by their grotesque attire. They are the only men (save exquisites) who continue to dress in imitation of the female sex, or take pains to disguise themselves under uncouth habiliments. The shovel, or coal-scuttle hat is particularly distinguishable. It is the remains of the old hat worn by Roman Catholic priests in their days of splendour, and still to be seen on the Continent. Under this chapeau is a bush of false hair, plastered and twisted into a most unnatural size and ridiculous shape, resembling any thing but what we may suppose to have been the fashion among the apostles. To these distinctions may be added the long gaiters and “lady’s maid apron,” from the hips to the knees only, so that the gaiters may not be concealed. These gaiters are of vast importance, importing that the wearers are meek and lowly, and constantly walking about doing good.* Nevertheless they often ride in dashing style through the streets, attended by grooms in purple liveries, and some of them are very Nimrods in the country.
Many of the church dignitaries are distinguishable by peculiarities of dress, as the shovel hat and kirtle. Their duties are less onerous than those of the bishops. For instance, what are the duties of the very reverend Dean? he is chiefly known among sextons and monument-builders. Mr. Gordon, in the debate on the Curates’ Salary Bill, said he knew a clergyman who was dignitary in no fewer than six cathedrals. Were there any duties to perform, how could a man discharge the duties of so many different offices, in so many different places, perhaps at the distance of some hundred miles from each other? Archbishop Cranmer, in a letter to Cromwell, in the reign of Henry VIII., denounces the canons and prebendaries as a “superfluous condition.”† He says, a prebendary is neither a “learner nor a teacher, but a good viander, who wastes his substance in superfluous belly cheer.” If they were a “superfluous condition” under a Popish regime, they must be much more so under a Protestant establishment. The prebends, however, are very valuable, some of them worth £3000 a year, which will be a good reason with many for retaining them as a part of the venerable establishment. What further adds to their value is, that, being benefices not having cure of souls, they may be held with other preferment without a dispensation for plurality.
The Parochial Clergy are, for the most part, a mass of sinecurists. In one respect, Church of Englandism is an improvement on the original simplicity of the gospel, by rendering the discharge of its duties almost a mechanical operation. No long and expensive course of education is requisite to prepare her ministers: all her service is written; no extempore preaching or praying; it requires no mind, merely to be able to read is enough. To perform such a puerile and heartless ceremony, it is not surprising a majority of the clergy conceive it unnecessary to reside on their benefices. Of the violation of the law in this respect, of the penalties incurred by this violation, and of the Bill of Indemnity passed by our immaculate representatives to screen the delinquents, we shall relate an extraordinary example.
It is necessary to premise that, under the 43d Geo. III. c. 84, every spiritual person, possessed of any archdeaconry, deanery, or other dignity or benefice, is required to reside on his preferment; if he absent himself without license from the bishop, or some special cause of exemption, he is subject to penalties varying from one-third to three-fourths of the annual value of his dignity or benefice, recoverable by action of debt by any person suing for the same. This act was passed to amend a statute of Henry VIII. as regards the residence of the clergy; it has been subsequently modified by the 57th Geo. III. c. 99, and was introduced by Sir William Scott, (now Lord Stowell,) and solemnly enacted, in the year 1803, by king, lords, and commons. In the year 1811, Mr. Wright commenced nearly 200 different actions against the incumbents in the dioceses of London, Ely, and Norwich, to recover the penalties under the statute. This gentleman had been secretary to four right reverend bishops—the bishops of London, Norwich, Ely, and some other prelate—and, of course, had enjoyed the most ample opportunities for procuring correct information of the conduct of the clergy. These opportunities appear not to have been neglected. In a series of letters published in the Morning Chronicle, betwixt the 6th November, 1813, and the 11th March, 1814, he favoured the public with many curious disclosures which had come to his knowledge during the discharge of his official duties.
In his letter of November 20th, he says that he has selected from well authenticated documents 10,801 benefices, on which there are only 4,490 incumbents, even said to be resident, so that there are 6,311 confessedly non-resident incumbents; to supply whose places 1,523 resident curates are employed, which leaves 4,788, which are acknowledged to have neither a resident curate nor incumbent. The whole number of curates, whether resident or not, employed to supply the place of non-resident incumbents, is only 3,730, and only 1,793 of these are licensed; whereas, according to the canon and statute law, no person has a right to officiate until he is licensed. In one diocese, he says, one-third of the livings have had duty reduced from twice to once on a Sunday; and in another diocese, one-third of the parsonage-houses were returned in bad repair, as an excuse for the non-residence of our gentlemen pastors. Speaking of the false pretences made use of by the clergy, in order to avoid residing among their parishioners, and the scandalous lives they lead, he says,—
“Now ill-health of the incumbent himself, or his wife, or daughter, is a common pretext, when no other legal cause can be found of avoiding residence. Of twenty-two licenses granted in one diocese for this reason, three only of the persons are in a state of health to warrant it, and the benefices from which they so absent themselves are very valuable. Whether the ministers whom I thus challenge as using false pretences deserve the imputation, will best appear by the mode of life they adopt. Some live in town during the winter; and although night air certainly cannot benefit a valetudinarian, they may be constantly seen at card parties, routs, or the theatres. In summer, enjoying the amusements of fashionable watering places; whilst, too often, their curates, by the parsimonious stipends they afford them, are with a numerous family in a state of the greatest poverty. Others have beneficial schools in the neighbourhood of London. Others are continually to be met with near their residence in more pleasant parts of the country, enjoying the sports of the field, or vigorously endeavouring to detect some poor countryman who may have an unfortunate inclination to taste game! Others may be seen most days driving their own carriage! Some are in debt, and some are Curates near the Fens! and all to observers seem perfectly healthful; yet a certificate from a medical man is deposited with the bishop that they are not so; probably it is six or eight years before when there might have existed a degree of temporary ill-health, but after the cause ceases, the same plea is continued; and a license once granted, is renewed as a matter of course.”—Lett. IV. Jan. 6, 1814.
Thus we see how these reverend gentlemen are employed; not in administering spiritual instruction to the ignorant, comfort to the afflicted, or alms and clothing to the naked. Oh! no; these are ignoble pursuits, the mere theory of the profession. They pretend sickness in order to obtain a license for non-residence, that they may bawl at the card-table, frequent the playhouse, tally-ho, shoot, play at cricket, brandish the coachman’s whip, and bully at fashionable watering-places. Remember, these jovial spirits are all filled with the Holy Ghost,—empowered to forgive or not to forgive sins—have the cure of souls; that their poor curates are starving on a wretched stipend, and that, in the maintenance of both, the industrious are deprived of the fruits of their labour, and the necessary comforts of their families wasted in the profligate and dissipated lives of their parochial ministers.
In Letter V. Jan. 18th, 1814, Mr. Wright gives the following statement, collected, he says, with infinite pains, of the state of the ecclesiastical discipline in the small diocese of Ely, in 1813, compared with the year 1728:—
This is singular—duty neglected in proportion as it became more important and better paid. The population increased one-half, and the number of times service is performed diminished one-third. The revenues increased almost fivefold, and the number of resident incumbents decreased one-third. What sincere and conscientious labourers in the vineyard of the Lord! How strikingly it confirms the observation that “Religion brought forth wealth, and the daughter devoured the mother.”
“The number of these (says Mr. Wright, Lett. II.) who have neglected their duty in contempt of the law, and in direct violation of solemn oath and bond, are far more than can be contemplated without a considerable degree of alarm.” One vicar obtained a license from a bishop for non-residence on one living, stating that he was going to reside near another in a different part of the kingdom. On inquiring for him at the place where he was supposed to reside, he was gone to a more fashionable part of the country. On another, to ‘encourage him,’ the great tithes were settled, worth near £1200: when he was instituted, he tookan oathto reside, which he afterwards neglected to observe. A rector, holding two valuable rectories worth £1200 per annum, to obtain which he gave bond to the archbishop that he would constantly reside on one, and keep a resident curate on the other, himself preaching on the benefice where he did not reside thirteen sermons every year: this worthy son of the church contrived to evade these conditions, and got a poor devil of a curate to do the work of both livings for £84 a year. Another rector holding two livings, one worth £500, the other £400—he lived 200 miles off, and had neither resident nor licensed curate!
On the subject of pluralities and of non-residence together, the Secretary to four bishops says, “In one diocese there are about 216 clergymen, who each hold two livings; 40 who hold three each; 13 who hold four each; 1 who holds five; 1 who holds six, besides dignities and offices: and although many of these thus accounted single benefices are two, three, four, or five parishes consolidated, yet a great part of these pluralists do not reside on any of their preferments.” In Lett. VII. he says, “I will prove that there are pluralists holding more than seven benefices and dignities.”
It might be thought these statements of Mr. Wright were exaggerations or the result of personal pique, had they not been fully supported by the Diocesan Returns laid before the Privy Council, and ordered by the House of Commons to be printed. Prom these returns in the years 1809, 1810, 1811, and 1827, we shall insert an abstract, and then a few explanations: it will shew at once the state of church discipline both at present, and when the Secretary was arrested in his attempt to bring the delinquents to justice.
The first of these totals contains the twelve preceding classes, in each class of which there is room for connivance on the part of the bishops to whom the returns are made, and of falsehood and evasion on the part of the incumbents. The second total exhibits the whole number of non-residents; and the fourth, the total number of residents and non-residents together, in England and Wales. Hence it appears, that considerably more than one-half of the whole number of incumbents do not reside on their benefices; receive large salaries for nothing; and the little duty that is performed is performed by their curates.
As the Diocesan Returns for 1827* are the latest printed, it may be proper to exhibit more particularly, as follows, the state of church discipline in that year.
Thus, only 3598 incumbents consider the parsonage-houses good enough to reside in; the rest are absentees. According to Mr. Wright, want or unfitness of parsonage-house is a common pretext for obtaining a license for non-residence: in one diocese, he says, one-third of the parsonage-houses were returned in bad repair. In 1827, this aversion of the clergy to their domicile appears to have augmented; in that year 1398, or more than one-eighth of the whole number of parsonage-houses in the kingdom were returned as not fit places for our aristocratic pastors to reside in; or, in other words, as an excuse for a license to desert their parishes, and roam about the country in quest of more lively amusements than churching, christening, and spiritually instructing their parishioners.
Among the clergymen exempt from residence, a large portion consists of those who reside on other benefices; that is, holding more livings than one, they cannot, of course, reside on both. The exemptions also include such privileged persons as chaplains to the nobility; preachers and officers in the royal chapels and inns of court; wardens, provosts, fellows, tutors, and ushers in the universities, colleges, and public schools; the principal and professors of the East-India college; and officers of cathedral and collegiate churches. The duties of many of these offices are such as ought to disqualify the possessors altogether from church preferment. For instance, what reason is there in masters of the Charter-house claiming exemptions; in other words, seeking to hold benefices and dignities in addition to their other offices and duties? Surely the management of a great public foundation, with upwards of 800 scholars, and incomes of near £1000 per annum, afford sufficient both employment and remuneration, without incurring the responsibility of a cure of souls. The same remark applies to the heads of colleges, and the masters and teachers of endowed charities. With so many friendless curates in the country, starving on miserable stipends, there is no need that any class of persons should be overburthened with duties, or corrupted by the aggregation of extravagant salaries.
Of the other cases of non-residence, mentioned in the above table, we shall offer only some brief remarks. The cases of those who plead sickness and infirmity have been sufficiently illustrated by an extract from Mr. Wright, page 34. Sinecures hardly need explaining; they are offices yielding masses of pay without any duty whatever. Livings held by bishops present a curious anomaly; the right reverend prelates commit the very offence of absenteeism, which it is their duty to prevent being committed by the subaltern clergy of their diocese. Lastly, among the miscellaneous cases are included those livings held in sequestration. In these instances, the incumbent being insolvent, possession, at the instance of some creditor, had been taken of the benefice, to raise money for the discharge of his debts. In 1811 the number of livings held by sequestration was seventy-eight; in 1827, forty-eight.
Such is a brief exposition of the state of church discipline, as exhibited by official documents, and the averments of Mr. Wright, when that gentleman commenced his actions against the clergy. We have stated that the number of actions amounted to 200; and had Mr. Wright been allowed to recover, the penalties would have amounted to £80,000. To this sum he had an indisputable claim; a claim as sacred as any person can have to an estate devised by will, or on mortgage, or other legal security; his claim had been guaranteed to him by a solemn act of the legislature. Moreover, this gentleman had been basely treated by the right reverend bishops; and it was partly to indemnify himself for losses sustained in their service, that he endeavoured to recover the penalties to which the clergy had become liable by their connivance and neglect. In Letter I. he says, “At a committee of bishops, after a deliberation of nearly Two Years, it was decided that each bishop should give his secretary an annual sum of money. I have received it from not one of them, except my late lamented patron, the Bishop of London.”——“Commiseration may have been given, (Letter VII.) but it was all I ever received from any one, and that would have been unnecessary, if the sums had been paid which were acknowledged to be my due.”——“Two secretaries have, within the last ten years, fallen victims to depression of mind, arising from a want of sufficient income.”
Most merciful bishops! most Christian bishops! What, not pay your poor secretaries their stipends! drive two of them to despair by your barbarous avarice! Surely you might have spared them the odd hundreds, out your 10, 20, and 40,000 pounds per annum. But you are right reverend fathers, you can lisp about charity, turn up your eyes, talk about treasures in heaven, but your treasures are all in this world; there your hearts are fixed upon translations, pluralities, fat livings, and heavy fines on leases and renewals.
These, however, are private anecdotes betwixt Mr. Wright and his right reverend employers. Let us speak to the public part of the question. It is clear, from what has been said, that Mr. Wright was in possession of valuable information; he had resided in the Sanctum Sanctorum of the Temple, and was intimately acquainted with the secret management of the holy church. The clergy were terribly alarmed at his disclosures: they resorted to every artifice to avert the storm, and save their pockets: clubs were formed among the higher order of ecclesiastics: lies and calumnies of every shape and description were vomited forth to blacken the character of Mr. Wright; he was stigmatized as an “informer,” who, availing himself of his official situation, was in part the cause of and then the betrayer of their guilt. In short, he became exposed to the whole storm of priestly cunning, malignity, and fury. But facts are stubborn things; and this gentleman had secured too firm a hold of his object to lose his grasp by the wiles and malice of the church. Their guilt was unquestionable; there was no chance of escape from the verdict of a jury; but that protection which it was in vain to expect from an English court of justice, they found in the great sanctuary of delinquency, a boroughmongering House of Commons.
On the 17th November, 1813, Bragge Bathurst brought in a bill to stay all legal proceedings against the clergy on account of the penalties they had incurred under the Clergy Residence Act. This bill shortly after passed into a law, almost without opposition. The whigs were silent. Mr. Whitbread and Mr. Brand indeed said something about the absurdity of enacting laws one day, and abrogating them the next; of the injustice of tempting people by rewards, and after they had earned them, interfering to prevent their being granted. But this was all. These gentlemen agreed it was necessary to protect the clergy; and, with the exception of the present Earl of Radnor, we do not find, in Hansard’s History of the Debates, a single individual who raised his voice against the principle of this nefarious transaction. Mr. Wright, too, finding it vain to hope for justice from such a source, ceased his communications to the public relative to the clergy: the Parsons’ Indemnity Bill passed into a law, and the church received a complete white-washing from the State for all its manifold sins and transgressions.
After the passing of the Bank restriction Act, Gagging Bills, Seditious Meeting Bills, Press Restriction Bills, and of the Habeas Corpus Suspension Bills, it can hardly excite surprise that a bill passed to indemnify the clergy. In the latter case, however, there appears something more unprincipled and contemptible than in the former unconstitutional measures. The law imposing the penalties which Mr. Wright sought to recover had only been enacted in 1803: the professed object was to remedy the crying evil of non-residence; and to give greater encouragement to prosecutions, the act provided that the whole of the penalties should be given to the informer. Only eight years elapse, an informer comes forward, relying on the faith of parliament; prosecutions are commenced; when the legislature interferes—in utter contempt of justice and consistency—belying its former professions, violating its pledge, robbing an individual of his reward, and screens the delinquents which its own laws had made liable to punishment. It is impossible for the people to feel any thing but contempt for such a system of legislation. Laws, it is clear, are not made to principles, but to men, and are only terrible to the weak, not to the wicked.
Since the memorable actions of Mr. Wright, nothing has intervened to improve the state of church discipline. An act of parliament,* passed some years after, was rather in favour of the clergy than otherwise, by abolishing the oaths formerly exacted of vicars to reside, by augmenting the monitory power of the bishops, and increasing the difficulties in the way of prosecution. Accordingly, the great abuses in ecclesiastical discipline remain unabated. Lord Mountcashell states that, since 1814, the number of incumbents has decreased to the amount of 2,500;† consequently, there has been a proportionate increase in pluralities. Of the number of resident and non-resident incumbents, the latest returns printed are for the year 1827;‡ in that year, we have seen, the returns were from 10,583 benefices in England and Wales, of which benefices 4,413 had resident, and 6,120 non-resident incumbents. Many incumbents who reside on their benefices do no duty; they are only attracted to their parishes by a fine cover for game, an excellent trout-stream, or, perhaps, they seek a quiet retreat, having worn out the better part of their existence in the dissipation of a town life.
Even those who reside and do duty, and are called the working clergy, perform a service requiring so little intellectual exertion, that it hardly merits the remuneration of a tide-waiter. They have scarcely ever occasion to compose and deliver an original sermon. The late Dr. Johnson, before he received his pension, was regularly employed in the manufacture of this description of commodity. The market is now overstocked; we seldom turn over a newspaper without meeting with advertisements for the sale of MS sermons, which, next to manufactures, seem the most abundant of all things. Sometimes parcels are advertised in lithographic type; this type being an imitation of writing, sermons composed in it pass with the congregation for original compositions, and the minister has the credit of propounding a good discourse, the result of the previous week’s hard study and preparation. A lot of sermons of this description would be invaluable, and might be transmitted from father to son, like a freehold estate. If they became stale, they might be sold or exchanged with a neighbouring incumbent: this is a common practice with ministers who wish to indulge their parishioners with novelty; they exchange one old batch of sermons for another, from a different part of the country.
But enough of this. One is at a loss to imagine what the bishops have been doing while the church has been running to seed. These right reverend prelates are expressly appointed to watch over the morals and conduct of the inferior clergy; they are amply endowed, and have numerous corps of officers to assist in the discharge of their episcopal functions. Yet they have been strangely remiss in attention to their subaltern brethren. Translations have tended greatly to produce this apathy; they divest the bishops of a permanent interest in their dioceses, and prevent them becoming intimately acquainted with the character and demeanour of incumbents. Until they attain the summit of prelatical ambition, they consider themselves only birds of passage; in their sees, what they chiefly take an interest in is, to fill up the vacant commissions, and then keep a steady eye on Durham or Winchester.
Under the primacy of the late Archbishop Sutton, energetic measures of reform were not likely to be countenanced; the career of this mild but rapacious prelate was not an inapt exemplar of the favourite priestly motto on the Lambeth arms,—“Unite the meekness of a dove with the subtlety of a serpent.” His grace and his grace’s family shared too largely in the advantages of the existing system to relish innovation. His lordship had profound views of the true policy of our spiritual establishment; was always for yielding a little to keep things quiet, rather than make a noise; knowing that the less was said about the church the more she would shine. Some of the primate’s successors, on the episcopal bench, appear hardly yet so rife in the mysteries of ecclesiastical dominion. A few years since, Marsh, of Peterborough, was tormenting his clergy with some unintelligible points of doctrine, and Bishop Blomfield lately astounded the inhabitants of London and Westminster with a “Letter on the Profanation of the Lord’s Day.” Had the strictures of this right reverend prelate been directed only against the baneful habit of drinking to excess, and other vices which disgrace the Sabbath, they might have passed without animadversion; but when he assails the Sunday press, and those innocent relaxations, conducive only to health and harmless enjoyment, he betrays a puritanism unsuited to the age. His lordship seems to opine a poor man is born only to work and pray, while a lord or a bishop may have his concerts, card-parties, and grand dinners every day, not even excepting the seventh. Such idle cant deceives no one; it only excites contempt or disgust. Men’s professions now pass unheeded; every thing is put into the scale and taken at its intrinsic worth. People quietly ask why should the clergy take ten millions annually out of the produce of land and industry? What services do they render society? Do they instruct the rising generation? No; they teach them little that is useful and a great deal positively injurious. Are they administrators of justice? No; God forbid they should. Are they profound statesmen? Do they often originate or encourage measures for the good of the country? No; they are most miserable politicians, and as to any project for bettering the condition of the great body of the people, they appear not to have a single idea. Well, but they are ministers of religion! Very few of them are so employed, and as to that the Dissenters are not less teachers of their flocks, and they receive no tithes, build their own chapels, and altogether do not cost one-tenth as much as the mere sinecure rectors of the Establishment.
[* ]The Church and Nothing but the Church, p. 12.
[† ]Bentham’s Church of Englandism, p. 250, where this curious epistle is inserted at length.
[* ]Parliamentary Paper, No. 471, Sess. 1830.
[* ]57 Geo. III. c. 99, the act which now regulates the residence of the clergy.
[† ]House of Lords, May, 4, 1830.
[‡ ]Parliamentary Paper, No. 471, Sess. 1830. After what has been explained, it is perhaps unnecessary to observe that there are not actually so many individuals as the number of resident and non-resident incumbents in the Returns import. The apparent inconsistency results from pluralities. Every benefice with cure has an incumbent; but, as each incumbent often holds two or more benefices, it reduces the number of individuals to the amount we have stated, (page 30,) namely, 7191.