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Never since her Reformation had the Church of England given so fair a promise of a useful and prosperous career as she did at the beginning of the eighteenth century. Everything seemed to be in her favour. In 1702 a sovereign ascended the throne who was enthusiastically devoted to her interests, and endeavoured to live according to the spirit of her teaching.

The two great political parties were both bidding for her support. Each accused the other of being her enemy, as the worst accusation that could be brought against them. The most effective cry which the Whigs could raise against the Tories was, that they were imperilling the Church by dallying with France and Rome; the most effective cry which the Tories could raise against the Whigs was, that the Church was in danger under an administration which favoured sectaries and heretics. Both parties vehemently denied the charge, and represented themselves as the truest friends of the Church. Had they done otherwise they would have forfeited at once the national confidence. For the nation at large, and the lower classes even more than the higher, were vehement partisans of the National Church. The now unusual spectacle of a High Church mob was then not at all unusual.[648] The enemies of the Church seemed to be effectually silenced. Rome had tried her strength against her and had failed--failed in argument and failed in policy. Protestant Dissent was declining in numbers, in influence, and in ability. Both Romanists and Nonconformists would have been only too thankful to have been allowed to enjoy their own opinions in peace, without attempting any aggressive work against the dominant Church.

Sad indeed is the contrast between the promise and the performance. Look at the Church of the eighteenth century in prospect, and a bright scene of uninterrupted triumph might be anticipated. Look at it in retrospect, as it is pictured by many writers of every school of thought, and a dark scene of melancholy failure presents itself. Not that this latter view is altogether a correct one. Many as were the shortcomings of the English Church of this period, her condition was not so bad as it has been represented.

In the early part of the century the Nonjurors not unnaturally regarded with a somewhat jealous eye those who stepped into the places from which they for conscience' sake had been excluded, and the accounts which they have left us of the abuses existing in the Church which had turned them adrift must not be accepted without some allowance for the circumstances under which they were written. The Deists, again, taking their stand on the absolute perfection and sufficiency of natural religion, and the consequent needlessness of any further revelation, would obviously strengthen their position if they could show that the ministers of Christianity were, as a matter of fact, faithless and useless. Hence the Church and her ministers were favourite topics for their invectives. The reputation of the Church suffered, perhaps, still more from the attacks of the free-livers than from those of the free-thinkers. The strictures of the latter formed part of the great Deistical controversy, and were therefore replied to by the champions of orthodoxy; but the reckless aspersions of the former, not being bound up with any controversy, were for the most part suffered to pass unchallenged. Then, again, the leaders of the Evangelical revival, who were misunderstood, and in many cases cruelly treated, by the clergy of their day, could scarcely help taking the gloomiest possible view of the state of the Church at large, and were hardly in a position to appreciate the really good points of men who were violently prejudiced against themselves; while their biographers in later times have been too apt to bring out in stronger relief the brightness of their heroes' portraits by making the background as dark as possible.

Thus various causes have contributed to bring into prominence the abuses of the Church of the eighteenth century, and to throw its merits into the shade.

Still, after making full allowance for the distorting influence of prejudice on many sides, there remains a wide margin which no amount of prejudice can account for. 'Church abuses' must still form a painfully conspicuous feature in any sketch of the ecclesiastical history of the period.

Before entering into the details of these abuses it will be well to specify some of the general causes which tended to paralyse the energies and lower the tone of the Church.

Foremost among these must be placed that very outward prosperity which would seem at the first glance to augur for the Church a useful and prosperous career. But that 'which should have been for her wealth' proved to her 'an occasion of falling.' The peace which she enjoyed made her careless and inactive. The absence of the wholesome stimulus of competition was far from being an unmixed advantage to her. Very soon after the accession of George I., when the voice of Convocation was hushed, a dead calm set in, so far as the internal affairs of the Church were concerned--a calm which was really more perilous to her than the stormy weather in which she had long been sailing. The discussion of great questions has always a tendency to call forth latent greatness of mind where any exists. But after the second decade of the eighteenth century there was hardly any question _within_ the Church to agitate men's minds. There was abundance of controversy with those without, but within all was still. There was nothing to encourage self-sacrifice, and self-sacrifice is essential to promote a healthy spiritual life. The Church partook of the general sordidness of the age; it was an age of great material prosperity, but of moral and spiritual poverty, such as hardly finds a parallel in our history. Mercenary motives were too predominant everywhere, in the Church as well as in the State.

The characteristic fault of the period was greatly intensified by the influence of one man. The reigns of the first two Georges might not inaptly be termed the Walpolian period. For though Walpole's fall took place before the period closed, yet the principles he had inculcated and acted upon had taken too deep a root in the heart of the nation to fall with his fall. Walpole had learned the wisdom of applying his favourite maxim, '_Quieta non movere_,' to the affairs of the Church before he began to apply it to those of the State. 'In 1710,' writes his biographer, 'Walpole was appointed one of the managers for the impeachment of Sacheverell, and principally conducted that business in the House of Commons. The mischievous consequences of that trial had a permanent effect on the future conduct of Walpole when head of the Administration. It infused into him an aversion and horror at any interposition in the affairs of the Church, and led him to assume occasionally a line of conduct which appeared to militate against those principles of toleration to which he was naturally inclined.'[649] And so his one idea of managing ecclesiastical affairs was to keep things quiet; he calmed down all opposition to the Church from without, but he conferred a very questionable benefit upon her by this policy.[650]

We have seen in the chapter on the Deists how the Church suffered in her practical work from the controversies of her own generation; and no less did she suffer from the effects left by the controversies of a preceding age. The events which had occurred during the seventeenth century had tended to excite an almost morbid dread of extravagance both in the direction of High Church and Low Church principles--according to the nineteenth, not the eighteenth, century's acceptation of those terms. The majority of the clergy shrank, not unnaturally, from anything which might seem in any degree to assimilate them either to Romanism or to Puritanism. Recent experience had shown the danger of both. The violent reaction against the reign of the Saints continued with more or less force almost to the end of the eighteenth century. The fear of Romanism, which had been brought so near home to the nation in the days of James II., was even yet a present danger, at least during the first half of the century. In casting away everything that seemed to savour of either of these two extremes there was a danger of casting away also much that might have been edifying and elevating. On the one hand, ornate and frequent services and symbolism of all kinds were regarded with suspicion, and consequently infrequent services, and especially infrequent communions, carelessness about the Church fabrics, and bad taste in the work that was done, are conspicuous among the Church abuses of the period. On the other side, fervency and vigour in preaching were regarded with suspicion as bordering too nearly upon the habits of the hated Puritans of the Commonwealth, and a dry, dull, moralising style of sermon was the result. And, generally, this fear on both sides engendered a certain timidity and obstructiveness and want of elasticity which prevented the Church from incorporating into her system anything which seemed to diverge one hair's breadth from the groove in which she ran.

Again, the Church was an immense engine of political power. The most able and popular statesmen could not afford to dispense with her aid. The bench of bishops formed so compact a phalanx in the Upper House of the Legislature, and the clergy could and did influence so many elections into the Lower House, that the Church had necessarily to be courted and favoured, often to the great detriment of her spiritual character.

Nor, in touching upon the general causes which impaired the efficiency of the Church during the eighteenth century, must we omit to notice the want of all synodal action. There may be different opinions as to the wisdom or otherwise of the indefinite prorogation of Convocation, as it existed in the early years of the eighteenth century. That it was the scene of unseemly disputes, and altogether a turbulent element in the Constitution, when the Ministry of George I. thought good to prorogue it _sine die_ in 1717, is not denied; but that the Church should be deprived of the privilege, which every other religious body enjoyed, of discussing in her own assembly her own affairs, was surely in itself an evil. And we must not too hastily assume that she was not then in a condition to discuss them profitably. The proceedings of the later meetings of Convocation in the eighteenth century which are best known are those which concerned subjects of violent altercation. But these were by no means the only subjects suggested for discussion.[651] The re-establishing and rendering useful the office of rural deans, the regulating of marriage licences, the encouragement of charity schools, the establishment of parochial libraries, the licentiousness of the stage, protests against duelling, the want of sufficient church accommodation, the work of Christian missions both to the heathen and our own plantations--these and other thoroughly practical questions are found among the agenda of Convocation during the eighteenth century; and the mention of them suggests some of the very shortcomings with which the Church of the Hanoverian period is charged.

The causes which led to the unhappy disputes between the Upper and Lower Houses were obviously only temporary; it is surely not chimerical to assume that time and a change of circumstances would have brought about a better understanding between the bishops and the inferior clergy, and that Convocation would have seen better days, and have been instrumental in rolling away some at least of the reproaches with which the Church of the day is now loaded.[652] To the action of Convocation in the early part of the eighteenth century the Church was indebted for at least one good work. The building and endowment of the fifty new churches in London would probably never have been projected had not Convocation stirred itself in the matter, and would probably have never been abandoned if Convocation had continued to meet.[653] There was ample room for similar work, of which every good Christian of every school of thought might have approved. And there were many occasions on which it would appear, _primâ facie_, that synodal deliberation might have proved of immense benefit to the Church. For instance, on that very important, but at the time most perplexing, question, 'How should the Church deal with the irregular but most valuable efforts of the Wesleys and Whitefield and their fellow-labourers?' it would have been most desirable for the clergy to have taken counsel together in their own proper assembly. As it was, the bishops had to deal with this new phase of spiritual life entirely on their own responsibility. They had no opportunity of consulting with their brethren on the bench, or even with the clergy in their dioceses; for not only was the voice of Convocation hushed, but diocesan synods and ruridecanal chapters had also fallen into abeyance. The want of such consultation is conspicuous in the doubt and perplexity which evidently distracted the minds both of the bishops and many of the clergy when they had to face the earlier phenomena of the Methodist movement.

It will thus be seen that there were many general causes at work which tended to debase the Church during the period which comes under our consideration. No doubt some that have been mentioned were symptoms as well as causes of the disease; but, in so far as they were causes, they must be fully taken into account before we condemn indiscriminately the clergy whose lot it was to live in an age when circumstances were so little conducive to the development of the higher spiritual life, or to the carrying out of the Church's proper mission to the nation. It is extremely difficult for any man to rise above the spirit of his age. He who can do so is a spiritual hero. But it is not given to everyone to reach the heroic standard; and it surely does not follow that because a man cannot be a hero he must therefore be a bad man.

Bearing these cautions in mind, we may now proceed to consider some of the more flagrant abuses, the existence of which has affixed a stigma, not altogether undeserved, upon the English Church of the eighteenth century.

One of the worst of these abuses--worst both in itself and also as the fruitful source of many others--was the glaring evil of pluralities and non-residence, an evil which was inherited from an earlier generation. It is perfectly astonishing to observe the lax views which even really good men seem to have held on this subject in the middle part of the century. Bishop Newton, the amiable and learned author of the 'Dissertation on the Prophecies,' mentions it as an act of almost Quixotic disinterestedness that 'when he obtained the deanery of St. Paul's (that is, in addition to his bishopric) he resigned his living in the City, having held it for twenty-five years.' In another passage he plaintively enumerates the various preferments he had to resign on taking the bishopric of Bristol. 'He was obliged to give up the prebend of Westminster, the precentorship of York, the lectureship of St. George's, Hanover Square, and the genteel office of sub-almoner.' On another occasion we find him conjuring his friend Bishop Pearce, of Rochester, not to resign the deanery of Westminster. 'He offered and urged all the arguments he could to dissuade the Bishop from his purpose of separating the two preferments, which had been united for near a century, and lay so convenient to each other that neither of them would be of the same value without the other; and if once separated they might perhaps never be united again, and his successors would have reason to reproach and condemn his memory.' In another passage he complains of the diocese of Lincoln being 'so very large and laborious, so very extensive and expensive;' but the moral he draws is not that it should be subdivided, so that its bishop might be able to perform his duties, but 'that it really requires and deserves a good commendam to support it with any dignity.'

Herring held the deanery of Rochester in commendam with the bishopric of Bangor. Wilcocks was Bishop of Rochester and Dean of Westminster, and was succeeded both in the deanery and the bishopric by Zachary Pearce. Hoadly held the see of Bangor for six years, apparently without ever seeing the diocese in his life. Even the excellent Dr. Porteus (one of the most pious, liberal, and unselfish of men) thought it no sin to hold a country living in conjunction with the bishopric of Chester. He actually had permission to retain the important living of Lambeth as well; but 'he thought,' says his biographer with conscious pride, 'with so many additional cares he should not be able to attend to so large a benefice, at least to the satisfaction of his own mind, and therefore hesitated not a moment in giving it up into other hands.'[654] Bishop Watson, of Llandaff, gives a most artless account of his non-residence. 'Having,' he tells us, 'no place of residence in my diocese, I turned my attention to the improvement of land. I thought the improvement of a man's fortune by cultivating the earth was the most useful and honourable way of providing for a family. I have now been several years occupied as an improver of land and planter of trees.'[655] The same bishop gives us a most extraordinary description of the sources from whence his clerical income was derived. 'The provision of 2,000_l._, a year,' he says, 'which I possess from the Church arises from the tithes of two churches in Shropshire, two in Leicestershire, two in my diocese, three in Huntingdonshire, on all of which I have resident curates; of five more appropriations to the bishopric, and two more in the Isle of Ely as appropriations to the archdeaconry of Ely.[656]

Pluralities and non-residence being thus so common among the very men whose special duty it was to prevent them, one can hardly wonder that the evil prevailed to a sad extent among the lower clergy.

Archbishop Secker, in his charge to the diocese of Canterbury in 1758, complains of 'the non-resident clergyman, who reckons it enough that, for aught he knows to the contrary, his parishioners go on like their neighbours,' and attributes to this, among other causes, 'the rise of a new sect, pretending to the strictest piety.' It seems, however, to have been taken for granted that the evil practice must be recognised to a certain extent. Thus Paley, in his charge in 1785, recommends 'the clergy who cannot talk to their parishioners, and non-resident incumbents, to distribute the tracts of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge;'[657] and even so late as 1796 Bishop Horsley admits that 'many non-residents are promoting the general cause of Christianity, and perhaps doing better service than if they confined themselves to the ordinary labours of the ministry.' He thinks it would be 'no less impolitic than harsh to call such to residence,' and adds that 'other considerations make non-residence a thing to be connived at.'[658]

The collateral evils which would necessarily result from the scandals we are noticing are obvious. When the incumbent of a parish was non-resident, and more especially when, as was not unfrequently the case, there was not even a resident curate, it was impossible that the duties of the parish could be properly attended to. Evidences of this are only too plentiful. But, instead of quoting dreary details to prove a point which has been generally admitted, it will be sufficient in this place to refer to some passages in the charges of a worthy prelate which throw a curious light upon what such a one could reasonably look for in his clergy in the middle of the eighteenth century. In his charge to the diocese of Oxford, in 1741, Bishop Secker recommends the duty of catechising; but he feels that his recommendation cannot in many cases be carried out. 'I am sensible,' he adds, 'that some clergymen are unhappily obliged to serve two churches the same afternoon.' We gather from the same charge a sad idea of the infrequency of the celebration of the Holy Communion. 'One thing,' the Bishop modestly suggests, 'might be done in all your parishes: a Sacrament might easily be interposed in that long interval between Whitsuntide and Christmas. If afterwards you can advance from a quarterly Communion to a monthly, I have no doubt you will.' In the same charge he reminds the clergy that 'our liturgy consists of evening as well as morning prayer, and no inconvenience can arise from attending it, provided persons are within tolerable distance of church. Few have business at that time of day, and amusement ought never to be preferred on the Lord's day before religion; not to say that there is room for both.'[659] When it is remembered that the state of things described in the above remarks existed in the great University diocese, which was presumably in advance rather than behind the age, and that, moreover, the clergy were presided over by a man who was thoroughly earnest and conscientious, and yet that he can only hint in the most delicate way at improvements which, as the tone of his exhortation evidently shows, he hardly hoped would be carried out, it may be imagined what was the condition of parishes in less favoured and more remote dioceses.

Another evil, which was greatly aggravated by the multiplication of benefices in a single hand, was clerical poverty. There was in the last century a far wider gap between the different classes of the clergy than there is at the present day. While the most eminent or most fortunate among them could take their places on a stand of perfect equality with the highest nobles in the land, the bulk of the country curates and poorer incumbents hardly rose above the rank of the small farmer. A much larger proportion than now lived and died without the slightest prospect of rising above the position of a stipendiary curate; and the regular stipend of a curate was 30_l._ a year. When Collins complained of the expense of maintaining so large a body of clergy, Bentley replied that 'the Parliamentary accounts showed that six thousand of the clergy had, at a middle rate, not 50_l._ a year;' and he then added that argument which was subsequently used with so much effect by Sydney Smith--viz. that 'talent is attracted into the Church by a few great prizes.'[660] Some years later, when Lord Shelburne asked Bishop Watson 'if nothing could be gotten from the Church towards alleviating the burdens of the State,' the Bishop replied that the whole revenue of the Church would not yield 150_l._ a year to each clergyman, and therefore a diminution would be inexpedient unless Government would be contented to have a beggarly and illiterate clergy, which no wise minister would wish.'[661] He might have added that, even as it was, a great number of the clergy, if not 'beggarly and illiterate,' were either weighed down with the pressure of poverty, or, to escape it, were obliged to have recourse to occupations which were more fit for illiterate men. Dr. Primrose, in his adversity, and Parson Adams are specimens of the better type of this class of clergy, and it is to be feared that Parson Trulliber is not a very unfair specimen of the worst. There is an odd illustration of the immeasurable distance which was supposed to separate the bishop from the curate in Cradock's 'Reminiscences.' Bishop Warburton was to preach in St. Lawrence's Church in behalf of the London Hospital. 'I was,' writes Cradock, 'introduced into the vestry by a friend, where the Lord Mayor and others were waiting for the Duke of York, who was their president; and in the meantime the bishop did everything in his power to entertain and alleviate their patience. He was beyond measure condescending and courteous, and even graciously handed some biscuits and wine in a salver to the curate who was to read prayers!'[662]

So far as one can judge, this wide gulf which divided the higher from the lower clergy was by no means always a fair measure of their respective merits. The readers of 'Joseph Andrews' will remember that Parson Adams is represented not only as a pious and estimable clergyman, but also as a scholar and a divine. And there were not wanting in real life unbeneficed clergymen who, in point of abilities and erudition, might have held their own with the learned prelates of the period. Thomas Stackhouse, the curate of Finchley, is a remarkable case in point. His 'Compleat Body of Divinity,' and, still more, his 'History of the Bible,' published in 1733, are worthy to stand on the same shelf with the best writings of the bishops in an age when the Bench was extraordinarily fertile in learning and intellectual activity. John Newton wrote most of his works in a country curacy. Romaine, whose learning and abilities none can doubt, was fifty years old before he was beneficed. Seed, a preacher and writer of note, was a curate for the greater part of his life. It must be added, however, that as the eighteenth century advanced, a very decided improvement took place in the circumstances of the bulk of the clergy--an improvement which would have been still more extensive but for the prevalence of pluralities.

Unhappily, among the evils resulting from the multiplication of a needy clergy, which may be in part attributed to the undue accumulation of Church property in a few hands, mere penury was not the worst. Some clergy struggled manfully and honestly against its pressure, but others fell into disreputable courses. These latter are not, of course, to be regarded as representative men of any class in the Church. They were simply the Pariahs of ecclesiastical society; the black sheep which will be found, in one form or another, in every age of the Church. But owing to the causes noted above, they formed an exceptionally large class at the close of the seventeenth and during the first half at least of the eighteenth century.

Some belonging to this class of clergy supported themselves as hangers-on to the families of the great. Domestic chaplains in great houses became less common as the century advanced. The admirable hits of Addison and Steele against the indignities to which domestic chaplains were subjected are more applicable to the early than to the latter part of the century. Boswell adduced it as an instance that 'there was less religion in the nation than formerly,' that 'there used to be a chaplain in every great family, which we do not find now;' and was well answered by Dr. Johnson, 'Neither do you find any of the state servants in great families. There is a change in customs.' The change, however, was not wholly to the advantage of the Church. Bad as was the relation between the chaplain and his patron, where the former was degraded to an inferior position in the household, there was still some sort of spiritual tie between them.[663] The parson who was simply the boon companion of the ignorant and sensual squire of the Hanoverian period was in a still worse position. This class of clergyman is a constant subject of satire in the lighter literature and caricatures of the day. Not that they were so numerous or so bad as they are often represented to have been. There was a strong and growing tendency in the Georgian era to make the very worst of clerical delinquencies. For it is a curious fact that while the Church as an establishment was most popular, her ministers were most unpopular. Secker complained, not without reason, in 1738, that 'Christianity is now railed at and ridiculed with very little reserve, and the teachers of it without any at all. Against us our adversaries appear to have set themselves to be as bitter as they can--not only beyond all truth, but beyond probability--exaggerating without mercy,' &c.[664] And nearly thirty years later he still makes the same complaint. 'You cannot but see,' he warns candidates for Holy Orders, 'in what a profane and corrupt age this stewardship is committed to you; how grievously religion and its ministers are hated and despised.'[665] 'Since the Lollards,' writes Mr. Pattison, 'there had never been a time when the ministers of religion were held in so much contempt as in the Hanoverian period, or when satire upon Churchmen was so congenial to the general feeling. There was no feeling against the Establishment, nor was Nonconformity ever less in favour. The contempt was for the persons, manners, and characters of ecclesiastics.'[666] This unpopularity arose from a complication of causes which need not be investigated in this place; it is sufficient to notice the fact, which should be thoroughly borne in mind in estimating the value to be attached to contemporary complaints of clerical misdoings. The evils resulting from pluralities and non-residence would have been mischievous under any circumstances; but their mischief was still further enhanced by the false principles upon which ecclesiastical patronage was too often distributed. Statesmen who valued religion chiefly as a State engine had an eye merely to political ends in the distribution of Church preferment. This is of course a danger to which an Established Church is peculiarly liable at all times; but the critical circumstances of the eighteenth century rendered the temptation of using the Church simply for State purposes especially strong. The memorable results of the Sacheverell impeachment, which contributed so largely to bring about the downfall of the Whig Ministry in 1710, showed how dangerous it was for statesmen to set themselves against the strong feeling of the majority of the clergy. The lifelong effects which this famous trial produced upon Sir R. Walpole have already been noticed. Both he and his timid successor prided themselves upon being friends of the Church, and expected the Church to be friends to them in return. Neither of them made any secret of the fact that they regarded Church preferment as a useful means of strengthening their own power. Nor were these isolated cases. 'Lord Hardwicke' (his biographer tells us) 'thought it his duty to dispose of the ecclesiastical preferments in his gift [as Chancellor] with a view to increase his own political influence, without any scrupulous regard for the interests of religion, and without the slightest respect for scientific or literary merit.'[667] Lord Shelburne gave the bishopric of Llandaff to Dr. Watson, 'hoping,' the Bishop tells us, 'I was a warm, and might become a useful partisan; and he told the Duke of Grafton he hoped I might occasionally write a pamphlet for their administration.'[668] Warburton complains with characteristic roughness of 'the Church being bestrid by some lumpish minister.'[669] Even Dr. Johnson, that stout defender of the Established Church, and of everything connected with the administration of its affairs, was obliged to own that 'no man can now be made a bishop for his learning and piety; his only chance of promotion is his being connected with some one who has parliamentary interest.'[670] He seems, however, to think the system inevitable and justifiable, owing to the weakness of the Government, for he prefaces his admission by remarking that 'all that Government, which has now too little power, has to bestow, must be given to support itself; it cannot reward merit.' Mr. Grenville's well-known remark to Bishop Newton,[671] that he considered bishoprics of two sorts, either as bishoprics of business or bishoprics of ease, is another instance of the low views which statesmen took, and were not ashamed to avow, of their responsibilities as dispensers of Church preferment.

Such a system naturally tended to foster a false estimate of their duties on the part of those who were promoted. If the dispenser of Church preferment was too apt to regard merely political ends, the recipient or expectant was on his part too often ready to play the courtier or to become the mere political partisan. Whiston complains that 'the bishops of his day were too well known to be tools of the Court to merit better bishoprics by voting as directed.'[672] Warburton owns that 'the general body of the clergy have been and (he is afraid) always will be very intent upon pushing their temporal fortunes.'[673] Watson considered 'the acquisition of a bishopric as no proof of personal merit, inasmuch as they are often given to the flattering dependants and unlearned younger branches of noble families.' Nay, further, he considered 'the possession of a bishopric as a frequent occasion of personal demerit.' 'For,' he writes, 'I saw the generality of bishops bartering their independence and dignity of their order for the chance of a translation, and polluting Gospel humility by the pride of prelacy.'[674] Lord Campbell informs us that 'in spite of Lord Thurlow's living openly with a mistress, his house was not only frequented by his brother the bishop, but by ecclesiastics of all degrees, who celebrated the orthodoxy of the head of the law and his love of the Established Church.'[675] If one might trust two memoir writers who had better opportunities of acquiring correct information than almost any of their contemporaries, inasmuch as one was the son of the all-powerful minister, and the other was the intimate friend and confidential adviser of the chief dispenser of ecclesiastical patronage, the sycophancy and worldliness of the clergy about the Court in the middle of the eighteenth century must have been flagrant indeed. The writers referred to are, of course, Horace Walpole and John, Lord Hervey. Both of them, however, are so evidently actuated by a bitter animus against the Church that their statements can by no means be relied upon as authentic history.

Let us take another kind of evidence. Several of the Church dignitaries of the eighteenth century have been obliging enough to leave autobiographies to posterity, so that we can judge of their characters as drawn, not by the prejudiced or imperfect information of others, but by those who ought to know them best--themselves. One of the most popular of these autobiographies is that of Bishop Newton. A great part of his amusing memoirs is taken up with descriptions of the methods which he and his friends adopted to secure preferment. There is very little, if anything, in them of the duties and responsibilities of the episcopal office. Where will they be most comfortable? What are their chances of further preferment? How shall they best please the Court and the ministers in office? These are the questions which Bishop Newton and his brother prelates, to whom he makes frequent but never ill-natured allusions, are represented as constantly asking in effect. Curious indeed are the glimpses which the Bishop gives us into the system of Church patronage and the race for preferment which were prevalent in his day. But more curious still is the impression which the memoirs convey that the writer himself had not the faintest conception that there was anything in the least degree unseemly in what he relates. There appears to be a sort of moral obtuseness in him in reference to these subjects, but to these subjects only.[676] The memoir closes with a beautiful expression of resignation to the Divine will, and of hopeful confidence about the future, in which he was no doubt perfectly sincere. And yet he openly avows a laxity of principle in the matter of preferment-seeking and Court-subservience which taken by itself would argue a very worldly mind. How are we to reconcile the apparent discrepancy? The most charitable as well as the most reasonable explanation is that the good Bishop's faults were simply the faults of his age and of his class. And for this very reason the autobiography is all the more valuable as an illustration of the subject before us. Bishop Newton is eminently a representative man. His memoir contains evidently not the exceptional sentiments of one who was either in advance of or behind his age, but reflects a faithful picture of a general attitude of mind very prevalent among Church dignitaries of that date.

Bishop Watson's 'Anecdotes of his own Life' furnish another curious illustration of the sentiments of the age on the matter of Church preferment. But the Bishop of Llandaff treats the matter from an entirely different point of view from that of the Bishop of Bristol. The latter was perfectly content with his own position, and with the preferment before him of his brother clergy. 'He was rather pleased with his little bishopric.' 'His income was amply sufficient, and scarce any bishop had two more comfortable or convenient houses. Greater he might have been, but he could not have been happier; and by the good blessing of God was enabled to make a competent provision for those who were to come after him, as well as to bestow something on charity.'[677] Bishop Watson writes in a very different strain. His 'Anecdotes' are full of the bitterest complaints of the neglect he had met with. He is 'abandoned by his friends, and proscribed the emoluments of his profession.' He is 'exhibited to the world as a marked man fallen under royal displeasure.' He appeals to posterity in the most pathetic terms. 'Reader!' he exclaims, 'when this meets your eye, the author of it will be rotting in his grave, insensible alike to censure and to praise; but he begs to be forgiven this apparently self-commendation. It has not sprung from vanity, but from anxiety for his reputation, lest the disfavour of a Court should by some be considered as an indication of general disesteem or a proof of professional demerit.' And yet, by his own confession, Bishop Watson had a clerical income from his bishopric and professorship of divinity at Cambridge of 2,000_l._ a year; in return for which, the work he did in either of these capacities was, from his own showing, really next to nothing. In fact, in many respects he seems to have been an exceptionally lucky man. He was appointed to two professorships at Cambridge when by his own admission he was totally unqualified for performing the duties of either. In 1764, when he was only twenty-seven years of age, he 'was unanimously elected, by the Senate assembled in full congregation, Professor of Chemistry.' 'At the time this honour was conferred upon me,' he tells us with charming frankness, 'I knew nothing at all of chemistry, had never read a syllable on the subject, nor seen a single experiment in it; but I was tired with mathematics and natural philosophy, and the _vehementissima gloriæ cupido_ stimulated me to try my strength in a new pursuit, and the kindness of the University (it was always kind to me) animated me to very extraordinary exertions.' A few years later the University was kinder still. At the early age of thirty-four he was appointed 'to the first office for honour in the University, the Regius Professorship of Divinity.' Then with the same delightful naïveté he tells us, 'On being raised to this distinguished office I immediately applied myself with great eagerness to the study of divinity.' One would have thought that his theological studies should have commenced before he undertook the duties of a divinity professorship. But, happily for him, his ideas of what would qualify him to be a theologian were on the most limited scale. 'I determined to study nothing but my Bible, being much unconcerned about the opinions of councils, fathers, churches, bishops, and other men as little inspired as myself.' If troublesome people wanted to argue on theological questions with the Regius Professor of Divinity, 'I never,' he tells us, 'troubled myself with answering their arguments, but used on such occasions to say to them, holding the New Testament in my hand, "_En sacrum codicem_."' This was a simple plan, and it must be confessed, under the circumstances, a very convenient and prudent one, but it scarcely justified the strong claims for preferment which the Bishop constantly founded upon it, as if he had rendered an almost priceless service to religion. The compendious method of silencing a gainsayer or satisfying an anxious inquirer by flourishing a New Testament in his face, and crying '_En sacrum codicem_,' seems hardly likely to have been very effective. For the first few years of his professorship he attended to its duties personally, after the fashion that has been described; but for the greater part of the long time during which he held that office he employed a deputy. When he was appointed to the bishopric of Llandaff he found there was no residence for him in his diocese, and he does not seem to have particularly cared about having one. He was content with paying it an occasional visit at very rare intervals, and settled himself in comfortable quarters 'in the beautiful district on the banks of Winandermere.' Here he employed his time 'not,' he proudly tells us, 'in field diversions and visiting. No! it has been spent partly in supporting the religion and constitutions of my country, by seasonable publications, and principally in building farmhouses, blasting rocks, enclosing wastes, making bad land good, planting larches, &c. By such occupations I have recovered my health, preserved my independence, set an example of a spirited husbandry, and honourably provided for my family.'

If we formed our estimate of Bishop Watson's character simply from such samples as these, we might conclude that he was a covetous, unreasonably discontented, and worldly-minded man. But this would be a very unfair conclusion to arrive at. The Bishop gives us only one, and that the weakest side of his character. He was most highly esteemed by some of his contemporaries, whose good opinion was well worth having. Gibbon pays him a very high compliment, calling him 'his most candid as well as able antagonist.' Wilberforce wrote to him in 1800 saying that 'he hoped ere now to be able to congratulate him on a change of situation which in public justice ought to have taken place.' In 1797, Hayley wrote to him (saying it was Lord Thurlow's expression), 'Your writings have done more for Christianity than all the bench of bishops put together.'[678] Lord Campden told Pitt that 'it was a shame for him and the Church that he had not the most exalted station upon the Bench.' As in the case of Bishop Newton, one can only reconcile these anomalies by bearing fully in mind the low views which were commonly taken of clerical responsibilities, and the general scramble for the emoluments of the Church which was not thought unseemly in the eighteenth century.