Изображения страниц

duction of the voluntary system would, in the first place, completely alter the relations of the clergy towards their parishioners. They would no longer be regarded as the friends and advisers of their people, but as hired servants, liable to dismissal the moment their 'doctrine' gave offence to a powerful clique. It may be said that Nonconformists find no inconvenience from this peculiar relationship. But, although they may be used to it-although they accepted the ministry on these known conditions-yet few of them would maintain that their state of dependence is conducive to their comfort, their self-respect, their usefulness, or that it encourages the highest class of educated men to undertake the responsibilities of the ministry. The very evils which are commonly found in combination with the voluntary system constitute a formidable objection to the professed subversion of the Establishment. Look at America,' the advocates of disestablishment say. When we do look at it what do we find? That the ministers of every creed are obliged in the first place to find a congregation which precisely suits them, or else to suppress any of their opinions that happen to be repugnant to their employers. The clergy of the Episcopal Church are usually better treated than Dissenting ministers, but only because they are more respected by their congregations. The traditions of the mother Church still linger round the offshoot in the United States, and people take a pride in supporting with decency the Church and its pastor. But the pay, except in large towns and cities, is miserably inadequate, and men of inferior capacities and of slight training are often attracted to the work, while others of higher qualifications are compelled to pass it by. A popular preacher,' like Mr. Spurgeon in England, or Mr. Ward Beecher in New York, is quite independent of his congregation, and would resent any dictation from them. But the great mass who cannot rise above mediocrity, or the very able men who are too sensitive and too proud to stoop to the arts which captivate the multitude, must be content to submit to the caprices of their congregations. They must preach not what they think proper, but what their hearers prefer. The preacher must accommodate his opinions to his employers' tastes, or if he gave up in shame and weariness, and sought a livelihood elsewhere, he would find in that 'elsewhere' the same conditions of servitude. He might say that he would abandon his calling rather than suffer humiliation. That is a mere personal question. Others would soon step in to take his place the general system would not be affected by hiз resignation. No man is indispensable to any system.


* 6

The question upon the determination of which so many irrevocable issues depend is, whether the Protestant Establishment in Ireland shall be first degraded and then extinguished without even an attempt being made to reform the imperfections which exist in it? Alarmed by the rapidity with which the public mind is grasping the true meaning of the contest, a speaker in the House of Lords on the Liberal side attempted, at the last moment, to misrepresent the scope of Mr. Gladstone's projects. He contended, in the face of Mr. Gladstone's own words,-'I ask you to consent to the disendowment of the Established Church in Ireland,'—that disendowment had never been meditated. It is very probable that the section of the party, which is not without fears concerning the manifest course of public opinion, at first desired to construct a sort of puzzle out of these two phrases, 'disestablishment' and 'disendowment.' They were intended to keep in a state of pleasing suspense minds of a vacillating order. A perfectly cool hand might have continued to keep these balls changing in the air, but in an uncontrollable fit of impetuosity the Duke of Argyll let one of them fall to the ground. As far as I know,' he said, no human being proposes to disendow the Established Church altogether.' The party which is standing in the background craving to divide the Church property do not, it appears, intend to take all, but only as much as they want. This method of softening the appearance of a foray so as to avoid alarming the victim may have been successful in former times, especially in cases where resistance was impossible. But since the border form of acquisition fell into disuse, the rugged courtesies which on rare occasions relieved its severities have not been so well understood, and the Duke of Argyll's apology was therefore not suited to the age. The time has happily not yet arrived when those who revere the Established Church have nothing to hope for except from the generosity of her adversaries. It may, as members of the Liberal party often threaten, soon become a question' whether the Episcopal Church deserves to be called a national Church, or whether it ought not rather to be denounced as 'cumbering the ground,' and so swept away altogether. But the more closely and calmly the claims of the Church to the respect and confidence of the nation are considered, the less likely will the people be to sacrifice her for the sake of gratifying the animosities of struggling politicians, and allaying the jealousies of hostile sects.


* Debate in the House of Lords, 29th June.


Before the great body of Nonconformists finally decide to render themselves responsible for a policy which can have but one issue, the aggrandisement of the Papacy, we invite them to put aside the persuasions of partisans, and make a patient investigation into all the facts for themselves. That the return of this country,' wrote Dr. Wiseman, 'through its Established Church to the Catholic Unity, would put an end to religious dissent and interior feud I feel no doubt.' Glorious as this promise may be in the eyes of Roman Catholics, or of those who dally with the Papal doctrine and travestie her forms and ceremonies within the English Church, we can scarcely expect Dissenters to hail it with enthusiasm. One of their own number has already told them what the demolition of the Irish Church carries with it. Confiscate, nay, only sequestrate, the revenues of the Established Church in Ireland, and their return to the Roman hierarchy becomes inevitable.' After all that has been said of the rich sinecures in the Irish Church, the Report of the Commissioners proves that 297 out of the 1518 benefices have incomes of less than 1007. a year, and that 1074 have incomes under 3007. The cultivators of the land no longer pay tithes, but the whole burden, such as it is, falls on the landlords and proprietors. Under the recommendations of the Commissioners, the work of the Church would be concentrated in the places where the Church population is largest, and the establishment would be at once reduced and consolidated. Is it wise policy to carry out needful reforms, or to leave 700,000 persons attached to the Protestant faith without the means of religious worship; to repudiate and cast them off, and to incur all the risks which so violent a proceeding involves?

It is not, however, simply the fate of the Irish Church which the new constituencies are now called upon to decide. That is an accident of the hour, and its occurrence at a time when our Government is being to some extent remodelled is a general misfortune. It has filled men's minds with prejudices, and blinded them to the greatest of all the issues depending on the voice of the country-the issue, namely, whether we are hereafter to live under a Government adapting itself wisely to existing circumstances, and yet not unmindful of historical associations, or to plunge headlong into the chaos of democracy. A democracy suddenly introduced into a form of government which successive generations have constructed upon a totally different model, is merely revolution in a mask. Where democracy has grown up with a people it may be found suitable to their needs, but in England all that the people have hitherto

prized must be discarded before a system of that kind can be brought into operation. This process of rejection is already begun, and with Mr. Gladstone as leader of the destructive party, no man can conjecture where it will end. That Mr. Gladstone is popular the constant play upon his name in Liberal addresses sufficiently attests. But why he is popular very few even of his devoted adherents could explain to the satisfaction of impartial men. The Liberals have done their best to make the election turn upon personal considerations. Their vehement protestations of fidelity to Mr. Gladstone awaken the suspicion that they still heartily distrust him. But when they command us to place absolute dependence upon one man, they force us to inquire into the nature of the guarantee. The flattering portraits so often drawn by partisans should be turned with their faces to the wall. Let the electors ponder over Mr. Gladstone's past career, and weigh his character for themselves, and then decide whether any nation which trusted to such a statesman would not lean upon a reed. Mr. Gladstone's sincerity is the theme of constant praise. We do not question it. Yet there never probably was a public man in England of equal repute whose mind was so unstable and wayward. He may be in earnest for the moment in one cause, but the next moment he is quite as much in earnest in a totally different and conflicting cause. He takes up an opinion conscientiously, but very soon he rejects it conscientiously, and no man knows what he will next avow. Most persons have some fixed principles with which they would be reluctant to part. Mr. Gladstone has none; he parts with his principles unconsciously. There is scarcely a solitary opinion upon which he built his reputation which he has not since tried to bring into discredit. No changes through which his principles may yet be destined to pass can possibly be more astounding than the transformations they have already undergone. His mind is swayed by impulse, and bigots find him a ready instrument for any work upon which they may be intent.

Guided by such a leader, the country is now invited to place itself under a rule, the one great recommendation of which is that it is without known foundations. Any man may build there if he can; any man may overturn that which is built. We are ordered to look upon a past which has been the envy of other nations with averted looks of shame. We are to begin the work of government anew, and the one leading principle which we are to recognise is that a statesman who obeys the rescripts he receives from the agitators of the hour is entitled to our support and approbation. It would be little if this policy


were likely to end with the authors of it. But we are destroying one of the greatest governments the world has ever seen-a government which has been won only by countless sacrifices, and under which we have grown up to be a free and honoured nation. We shall not eclipse our old renown under the new system. We are, in fact, merely laying up disorders and troubles for future generations. Is the country prepared to commit itself to a policy which will add one more dark page to the annals of national folly? There is yet time to save ourselves from so great a misfortune. Better far to trust to Mr. Bright than to Mr. Gladstone, for the one knows by experience what mischief fire can do, while the other is flinging about lighted brands without regard to where they fall. It is crafty and dangerous advice which urges the electors to support the Radical party and put their trust in the latent Conservative feeling of the country. Radicals themselves derive secret comfort against their own doctrines from the thought that the power of 'class' is strong, and that England could never be reduced to the condition of a Democratic country. These fancied 'checks' would soon disappear beneath a rule of the masses. The classes possessing property are the first to think themselves secure, and the first to find out how slight was their defensive power. Nothing ought to be left to chance in the approaching contest. If the nation loves its present Constitution, now is the time to defend it. The popular power is amply sufficient to prevent important national questions from being cast aside. If the people think it desirable to measure the Conservative strength which they possess, they could scarcely find a better opportunity than that to which they are now invited. It is a crisis in which no true lover of his country can be wholly free from anxiety; but we appeal with confidence to the prudence and circumspection of the people. They have an interest which it would be impossible to exaggerate in saving the institutions of their native land from becoming a wreck. If ever there was a period in our history when the action of a party aiming to preserve the Constitution from reckless violation could be attended with vast benefits to the commonwealth, it is the present. Much has been conceded to the claims of popular rights; we must now guard that which is valuable in our ancient polity or consent to relinquish it for ever.

It would be difficult to conceive of a declaration of policy on the part of a great leader more completely unsatisfactory than that issued by Mr. Gladstone on the eve of the elections. The more independent of his supporters are obliged to admit that it is alike unworthy of the hour and the man,' and they endeavour



« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »