Page images

on disbelief, when I have ventured to assure them that the whole income of the Church, including bishoprics, deans and chapters, rectories, vicarages, dignities, and benefices of all kinds—and even the two Universities, with their respective colleges, which, being lay corporations, ought not to be taken into account—did not amount, upon the most liberal calculation, to £1,500,000 a year." And yet, at this very period, Arthur Young, probably the most competent authority then living, estimated the income of the Church at £5,000,000 sterling. But the poverty of the Church has been at all times a favourite topic with its friends, especially when they have meditated an attack upon the public treasury, or have overheard the murmurs of a discontented people.

Let us, however, briefly consider the principles by which more impartial inquirers have been led to entertain a totally different opinion respecting the financial condition of the Establishment. In the days of irresponsible power, when the nation, like Issachar, was as a strong ass couching down between two burdens, Church property was quite exempted from parliamentary supervision. Those, therefore, who wished to know its amount, had to institute inquiries for themselves. The data which the nature of the property sometimes supplied, a careful search for the information, however meagre and incomplete, scattered throughout the public records, with the occasional verification of their estimates in cases actually known, enabled them to put forward their calculations with considerable confidence. The principal portion of the ecclesiastical revenue is derived from tithes. These were a tax on agricultural industry, and their amount was computable in several ways: from their forming a slightly variable portion of the gross annual produce; from their bearing on all titheable land a certain ratio to the rental; or from their having an average value per acre, ascertainable by the reports of the Agricultural Board. Thus, there were three independent methods of determining the amount of tithes. We shall give the results severally deducible by them. The proportion which tithes bore to the gross annual produce was between one-fifteenth and onetwentieth of the whole; for, allowing that one-third of the arable land was tithe-free, two-thirds only of the entire produce would be titheable, and, therefore, onefifteenth of the whole was the full quantity which could be claimed as tithes—probably, in some instances, the demand was lowered to one-twentieth. Now, the annual value of the agricultural produce of England and Wales has been estimated, by M.Cullagh and by Porter, at £132,500,000; according to which the amount of tithes lies between six and eight millions annually. Again, the rental has been calculated by the same authorities to be £30,000,000; and Bearblock, in his treatise on tithes,

says, Any sum, not exceeding onethird the rent, may be considered a reasonable payment in lieu of all tithes arising on a farm; for this plain reason—that, unless the occupier can make the produce of his farm return nearer four rents than three, such farm cannot be worth his holding.” So that, from this method, we get a result nearly corresponding with the former. It is unnecessary to enter into the details of the other mode of computation, which leads to a conclusion very similar to those we have just given.

Now it must be admitted that perfect accuracy was unattainable by any of these calculations. The quantity of land which enjoyed exemption from the tithe-tax, as well as the number of lay impropriations, was unknown; and the portion received by the Church could not be precisely ascertained. An effort to supply the deficiency in this department of statistics, was the immediate consequence of the Reform Bill. Since then, there have been several Commissions of Inquiry, but all of them so constituted that a full revelation of all the facts connected with the administration of Church property could not be reasonably expected. Their reports have thrown much light on the subject, but bear internal evidence of culpable concealment. A thorough investigation by a lay commission will be requisite to ascertain the actual amount of the ecclesiastical revenues, so inveterate has been the disposition to secrecy on the part of the clergy, and such the encouragement to reserve which they receive from the example and connivance of their spiritual superiors. From these reports, however, imperfect though they be, sufficient may be gathered to enable us to form a tolerably just notion of the sum expended in support of the National Church.

On the 23rd of June, 1832, exactly sixteen days after the Reform Bill had received the royal assent, a Commission of Inquiry was issued to the two Archbishops, to the Bishops of London, Durham, Lincoln, and Bangor, to several Deans and Prebends, and to a goodly array of “ trusty and well-beloved cousins and councillors,” authorizing and appointing them, or any three or more of them, " to make a full and correct inquiry respecting the revenues and patronage belonging to the several archiepiscopal and episcopal sees, to all cathedral and collegiate churches, and to all ecclesiastical benefices (including donations, perpetual curacies, and chapelries), with or without cure of souls, in England and Wales, and the names of the several patrons thereof, and other circumstances therewith connected." That their discovery of the truth might be complete, the Commissioners were empowered to examine on oath any parties whom they deemed capable of affording such information as they required. All records and documents, moreover, connected with the various sees, cathedral and collegiate churches, and ecclesiastical benefices, were placed at their command ; and every facility for the prosecution of their inquiries was secured to them by the instrument under which they acted. These powers were, by successive renewals, continued for three years, within which period the Commissioners presented the sovereign with their report, which purported to be an authentic statement of the revenues of the Established Church. This report, however, was honoured with no very general credence. The Commission was known to be unpalatable to the whole clerical body, and, during the course of inquiry, suspicion was rife that the returns would not be characterised by remarkable accuracy. The cause of the general incredulity is thus described in a recent number of the “ Eclectic Review” : *—"The clergy were known to be deeply interested, just at that time, in removing from the public mind the impression that Church property was more than sufficient for the honourable maintenance of the national religion. The Church had lost all public confidence. Its corruptions and glaring secularity had alienated the affection and respect of the people. Its prelates, as arrogant in pretension as they were deficient in piety; its clerical pluralists, who disgraced the sanctity of their profession by the shameless practice of simony; the notorious rapacity of these men, and their intolerant Toryism, excited disgust, and brought the Church into general odium. At such a juncture, it was somewhat alarming that an inquiry into ecclesiastical incomes should be commenced ; and it was still more alarming that the inquiry should be instituted in compliance with popular demand. There was a general conviction that a considerable surplus would remain after a handsome provision had been made for all the expenses of public worship, and for even a larger class of clerical stipendiaries than existed; and projects for its appropriation to secular purposes were freely debated. While under the influence of the panic which this state of things excited, the clergy were required to make their returns. Though the reputation of being wealthy is sometimes advantageous, it was felt in this instance to be exceedingly inconvenient, and that the sooner it could be got rid of the better. It was generally believed that the clergy would embrace the opportunity of removing an impression so injurious to the interests of the Church, and that even the conscientious would overlook the dishonesty of making false returns, when the preservation of its property demanded that the whole truth should not be stated.” Besides, in the selection of the Commissioners there was nothing to allay suspicion, and thus everything combined to bring discredit upon the clerical returns. We must take this report, however, as the basis of our inquiry, and by the assistance of returns subsequently obtained, endeavour to correct the more glaring of the misstatements in which it abounds.

* September, 1849,

The different subjects of inquiry are classified in several tables ; the first four of these give exclusively the gross and nett incomes of the various spiritual offices, and describe the nature of the preferments whence they arise. We shall commence with the Fourth Tabular Statement. The subject of which it treats is, “ The gross and nett incomes, with other particulars, of the parochial and other benefices, with and without cure of souls, in England and Wales.” The total number of these benefices is stated to be 10,719, and their total gross income amounted to £3,251,159, which yielded a nett income of £3,055,451. Of these benefices, 3,558 are rectories, 4,439 are vicarages, and the remaining 2,722 are perpetual curacies. It will be seen by the following extract from the Commissioners' Report, that the clerical income is derived from several distinct sources :

“Pew-rents, though a very variable and uncertain source of income, have, nevertheless, been treated as ecclesiastical revenue, wherever the amount has been ascertained; and it is to be observed that in those benefices which have of late years come into existence under the Church Building Acts, or by the operation of other causes, the pew-rents constitute the sole or principal support of the minister. We have not considered mere voluntary payments, collections, or contributions, which may be withdrawn at pleasure, as forming any part of the property of the Church; nor have we taken notice of unconsecrated proprietary chapels.

“ There are cases in which the parish church is also the chapel of some establishment not strictly ecclesiastical, and where the minister derives nearly all his support from the income paid him in his capacity of chaplain to such establishment; in such cases we have only inserted in the table such part of his income as accrues to him in his capacity of parochial minister. . Where the glebe house and premises, whether fit or unfit, are let by the incumbent, the rent has not been considered as part of the gross income; since if it were so considered, it would appear upon the table that the incumbent had the glebe-house, and also the annual sum received as rent for it; besides which it has appeared to us that the glebe-house and premises could not properly be considered as a legitimate source of income.”

Thus the returns obtained under this commission com

« EelmineJätka »