Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

it not been for the arts and influence of the royal almoners, the pamphlets written at that time against the proposed application, were industriously circulated by them ; except: The Dispute Adjusted," a pamphlet which contended that no time at all would be proper to apply to Parliament for that purpose. They represented to all their friends and pensioners, as their successors have done since, in order to quash the application, “ That, they had sufficient evidence, that the application would greatly injure the cause--that the hope of succeeding was not sufficient to counter-balance the hazard of failing - that the great business which Parliament had before it, rendered the application at that time still more improper—that it would be considered by some as a party affair-and that the dropping it would be more honourable, as well as safe.' They assured their brethren also, that though Walpole had declared he would oppose the application, and continue the acts so hostile against them, they might rest confident he was the Dissenters' firm and best friend, and therefore wished them to put an end to the affair. Their parlour and tavern visits, their circular letters and easy distribution of pamphlets, at no expense to themselves, were fatal to the cause; and the corrupting, deceitful minister again triumphed. The leaders of the city Dissenters were brought to resolve, That an application to Parliament for a repeal or explanation of the Corporation and Test Acts, is not likely to be attended with success—and that such an application is by no means advisable.'

“The ministers and deputies, who were truly independent, continued, however, to struggle for an application, year after year, from 1732 to 1736, when they prevailed so far as to have a bill brought into the House of Commons for the repeal of the above Acts; but as the royal almoners, with their adherents, openly opposed it, Walpole pleaded the disunion of the Dissenters on the affair, and presently kicked it out. In one of the audiences which Sir Robert honoured the active Dissenters with at that time, he said, “That things were not in a situation to assist them; but that administration was inclined to show them a favour.' To which one of the committee indignantly replied, • Sir, we are not come to ask a favour ; but as the best subjects of government, to apply for justice. Walpole, on this, turned to one near him, and whispered, "If all the dissenting ministers were like this man, we must have complied with their request.'

“A late respectable member of the London body of ministers* was so sensible of the baneful influence of the Regium Donum on this occasion, and the hostile operations of the ministers who maintained this connexion with the Exchequer, against the Bill for the repcal of the Test Act, and against every measure not agreeable to the treasury bench, that the very month it was rejected, April 1736, he made the following motions at a general meeting of the body:

“That the receiving of money from persons in power by dissenting ministers, and distributing it privately in charities without account, is disapproved by the assembly."

“ That the names of those ministers might be mentioned, who received the money from the gentlemen in power.”

* Dr. Chandler.

“Notwithstanding the tenderness of the censure-though the abilities of the mover were far superior to those of the almoners, and the Regium Donum had then existed but thirteen years, the receivers of it had power to quash the motions--and so great is their power, that if similar motions were now to be made, probably they would not suffer them to stand on record. It will be of little moment to trace the almoners, and name them from Drs. Calamy, Evans, Harris, Mr. Tong, &c., with their paymaster, Dan. Burgess, secretary to the then Princess of Wales, down to the present list. Indeed, according to the ministerial command, this Regium Donum was for many years a profound secret; and not till the commencement of Lord Bute's treasury reign, were the names of all the almoners known. Under the Walpole, Pelham, and Newcastle administrations, the late Dr. Stennet (an antipædo-baptist minister) was the ostensible man and ruler ; his son succeeded him, and now rules.

“ Lord Bute thought proper, in the year 1762, to displace the then set of almoners, and conferred the honour on Dr. Chandler, with an unlimited power of disposal, and choice of associates. This gentleman had for years constantly inveighed against the Regium Donum and the receivers of it, and had publicly moved, as above, against both thing and persons : but he fell like other brethren, before the treasury idol, forsook his old friends, and even employed his talents against them in party elections, &c. &c. Such was the pernicious influence of the Regium Donum with this great man! and to please his courtly patron still more, he resolved to carry an address of congratulation on the late honourable peace, from his brethren to the throne. This was accordingly moved by him, and debated with great warmth at two several meetings. At the last of them, it was resolved, “That they were ready to address his Majesty on all proper occasions, to testify their loyalty to his person and government; but as the London clergy of the establishment had not addressed on the peace, whom they usually followed on occasions of this kind, therefore, the farther consideration of the affair should be deferred, till the clergy should address. Very few hands, out of sixty-five persons then present, were against this resolution; and yet three weeks after, the body were again summoned by this royal almoner, on the same affair, and he carried it. Great were the number of converts in a few days!

“ To this gentleman's praise, however, be it remarked, he put the Regium Donum on a better footing than it had ever been-he associated with him six ministers, and nine lay gentlemen; and at their first meeting they made the following standing rule :

" That this charity shall be extended for the relief of poor ministers, the widows of such ministers, such of their children as are excluded from the widows' fund, students for the ministry, and the building or repairing of meeting-houses."

" They ordered also, that receipts should be taken by the almoners, expressing that the money given was charity entrusted to their disposal, and that these receipts should be produced, and disbursements audited annually. This, it must be confessed, was a better and more public way of distribution than had been practised by former almoners. However, on Lord Bute's withdrawing, the old set struggled hard to

obtain again the purse, with which they well knew (by years experience) were connected the seat of pre-eminence and the throne of power among their brethren. They succeeded—the Rockingham administration reinstated them, and Dr. Chandler had the mortification to hear his plan of distribution censured, at the time he was boasting of its superiority to the other. A noble lord told him, " The money was not designed to pass through lay hands,' he had found ecclesiastics to be the best tools; and a noble duke boasted but a few years since, when one was speaking of the strength and importance of the Dissenters, “ That it did not cost the administration half so much to manage them, as to purchase a paltry borough."

“Notwithstanding the baneful tendency and effects of the Regium Donum, many Dissenters have contended, that still it is of great benefit to the interest, as relieving many poor ministers, with their widows and children, repairing their places of Worship, and upholding many antipædo-baptist congregations in the country, which, without this royal bounty, could not exist. But these advocates should consider, that, as the money is not designed by the treasury, so it is not limited by the present almoners, to such uses. But if every farthing were thus applied, what are all its advantages when weighed against the disgrace it fixes upon the Dissenters, as pensioners and tools of every administration?

“ A few years past, a very respectable person, then in a high office, was much offended with his friend, a late eminent dissenting minister near London, for the complaints he made on behalf of his brethren, of the difficulties they laboured under in point of religious liberty; and retorted, it was well known they received A HANDSOME SUM OF MONEY from government to silence their complaints as well as their applicationstherefore, they should either NOBLY throw up the grant, or remain in silence.'

“ The troubles and evils produced by the Regium Donum among the body of ministers themselves, are too well known. It has been an Achan's wedge in their camp. It has furnished some with means to encourage separations, and support parties and divisions in city and country. It hath enabled former almoners to appear at public collections, charity-dinners, &c. &c. as very rich, or exceedingly generous, to the disparagement of their brethren. The poor countryministers have esteemed them superlatively benevolent and godlike, believing their donations to be their own property; and have been led to lightly esteem and censure other London ministers as covetous or hard-hearted, because their benefactions were not equal to those of the Regium Donum-men. But the greatest evil is, it hath procured the almoners an influence and power both in city and country, that is dangerous and may be fatal to the cause at large.

“ The Dissenting ministers, by their pusillanimous conduct respecting the Regium Donum, (which, with equal propriety, hath been otherwise styled hush-moncy) seem not to to have considered the axiom, that a tree which has but just taken root may be removed by a single hand; but let it alone, it will strike so deep, and grow so high, that thousands cannot root it up from its foundation. The head of a spring may be stopped with a very small dam, but when suffered to take its course, increasing to a larger river, it fills the country, and an army of elephants cannot pass it. It is, therefore, high time for the London ininisters, either to reprobate this connexion with administration, or to prove to the treasury, that the gentlemen who receive the £1700 annually without account, however reputable and worthy, as Christians and ministers, are not the representatives of the body, in that or any other point.

“ The famous pensioner Shebbeare, in one of his scurrilous pamphlets, hath made this Regium Donum an additional topic of abuse against the Dissenters: No sooner,' says he,' was his Majesty enthroned, than their teachers, either because the annual sum which by his grandfather had been given among them, was diminished, or no Ionger paid, began to feel their consciences again grow tender. God, like the Diana of the Ephesians, was now once more to be served in their own way (by rebellious practices) because by that craft they had their wealth. p. 177. Though the whole paragraph is utterly void of truth, like the rest of his libel against the friends of civil and religious liberty, yet it contributes to evince, the necessity and propriety of dropping the connection.”

TAB SECOND ACCOUNT of the origin of this royal charity, though the first in the order of time, is from the pen of Dr. Calamy, one of the original recipients, in An Historical Account of my own Life, with Reflections on the Times I have lived in, 1671—1731. This auto-biography was edited by Mr. John Towell Rutt, from the autograph MSS., and given to the public in 1830.

The account is as follows: .“ About this time, his Majesty was pleased, in a private way, to give the Dissenters a considerable taste of his royal bounty and kind regard to them by an annual allowance. The first motion for it was made by Mr. Daniel Burgess, who had for some time been secretary to the Princess of Wales. He, of his own head, out of good will to those among whom he had had his education, moved for something of that kind to the Lord Viscount Townsend, who readily fell in with it, and afterwards discoursed his brother Walpole about it, who also concurred.

“Upon its being mentioned to the King, he was very free to it, and soon ordered £500 to be paid out of the treasury, for the use and behoof of the poor widows of dissenting ministers. Some time after, £500 was, upon application made on that behalf, ordered to be paid each half year, for the assisting either ministers or their widows that wanted help, or to be applied to any such uses as the distributors thought to be most for their interest.

“ An order was, each half year, obtained by Mr. Burgess, payable to Mr. Ellis the surgeon. When Mr. Burgess received it, he paid it to the following persons, viz. Mr. William Tong, Mr. Jeremy Smith, Mr. Merril of Hampstead, Mr. Thomas Reynolds, Mr. Matthew Clarke, Dr. Joshua Oldfield, Mr. John Evans, Mr. William Harris, and myself. As any of those persons died, the survivors chose another in his room. It was paid pretty generally; though sometimes, I observed, without being able to discover what it was to be ascribed to, we were passed by and forgotten.

“ An equal dividend was made of the sum, and each person disposed of what he received as he thought best; generally showing an account to the rest how it was disposed of, that so several might not give to the same persons. A charge was given that this matter should be kept secret ; nor was there any occasion to make a common talk of it. And I believe it was kept as much a secret as a thing of that nature, with which so many were acquainted, could be well expeeted to be: though, by degrees, it became first suspected, and afterwards more known than was to have been desired.

* Nor was this the first instance of kindness of this sort, that the dissenting ministers had received from the Court. Bishop Burnet takes notice, in the reign of King Charles II., that “the Presbyterian ministers' waiting on that prince · in a body, there was an order to pay a yearly pension of fifty pounds to most of them, and of a hundred pounds a year to the chief of the party. He says, that • Baxter sent back his pension, and would not touch it: but most of them took it.' And I cannot see why they should not. •All this,' says he, I say upon Dr. Stillingfleet's word, who assured me he knew the truth of it. And in particular he told me, that Pool. who wrote the Synopsis of the Crities, confessed to him that he had had fifty pounds for two years. However, in the tail there comes a sting. Thus,' says he, the Court hired them to be silent; and the greatest part of them were so, and very compliant.'

“ This unkind reflection I should have thought might very well have been spared, unless it could have been shown that they were

silent in any matter in which (as circumstances stood) it was their duty to have spoken with freedom; or compliant in any thing that was really blameable, or that had an ill tendency. If silence with regard to the Papists, and their principles and practices, be the thing here referred to, it deserves to be considered, that none at that time wrote better against Popery, than Mr. Pool, in his Dialogues, and his Nullity of the Romish Faith;' and Mr. David Clarkson, in his tract, intituled The practical Divinity of the Papists proved destructive to Christianity, and the Souls of Men.' And the body of the Popish controversy was gone over, by a good number of the very ministers that received this bounty from the Court, in The Morning Exercise against Popery,' printed in 1675, within three years of the time in which this reflection was made on their conduct. For that reason, it was not just to charge them either with a silence or compliance of which they were not truly guilty.

“ As for those who received the bounty of King George I., whose interest was so visibly interwoven with that of his good subjects, and who, through the whole of his reign, so constantly acted as one sensible that it was so, there was in his reign nothing to be silent about, unless it was the continuance upon the Dissenters of the hardships they were under, of which they often complained; or to comply in, but their continuance, to which they never could be prevailed with to consent or agree. Yet, the Dissenters, baving such fair warning given them before-hand, of what had been done of the same nature formerly, might very well be allowed to be the more cautious of publishing the matter now; and yet thought it became them to

VOL. I. X. s.

« ElőzőTovább »