THE Church of England is the church of the upper classes. Whatever it does for the people it does as their superior. It is a part of the paternal system, and assists in governing the masses as a father governs his family. Perhaps one should rather say it is a relic of feudalism, and, like the army, is still officered exclusively by the gentry. Its advocates make their boast that the Church maintains a gentleman in every parish ; and no more potent engine exists to uphold and supplement the aristocracy. The parson and the squire, like the noble and the bishop, are on the same side. The Established Church inculcates submission and deference to whatever else is established; it instructs the people to order themselves lowly and reverently toward their betters, and to do their duty in that state of life to which it has pleased God to call them.

The Church in England is "established" by law. It is founded, not on the principle of divine authority, like the Church of Home, but on the decrees and decisions of Parliaments and courts. Its head is not the Vicar of Christ, but the Queen. It is not, like our Protestant sects of every denomination in America, a voluntary association based on the consent of those who compose its communion; it is imposed on the people of England by the aristocracy, of which it is a component part. Originally "established" by Henry VIII because he wanted to shift his wives, it remained a monument and instrument of royal authority until the lords usurped the place of the King in the English system, and then it adapted itself to the change and became the bulwark and appurtenance of the aristocracy, which it still remains.

England is divided into 12,000 parishes, in every one of which there is a resident clergyman who receives one-tenth of the income of the land. The ancient tithe in kind is commuted, but the clergy still obtain their tenth in residence, glebe, and commuted tithe. This is in addition to the revenues of the bishops and to the expenditure for the care of the church edifices. These 12,000 clergymen constitute one-fourth of the resident landowners of the kingdom. Their incomes average more than $1,500 a year. They are landowners as absolutely as the peers; for they also are tenants for life and cannot be dispossessed short of a revolution unless in case of crime or gross immorality. They cannot, it is true, dispose of their estates by will ; but neither can one in ten of the larger landholders. From the Archbishop of Canterbury, with his $75,000 a year, down to the humblest incumbent of a parish, they are emphatically part of the landed interest. Naturally the Church is conservative. It believes, with Rob Roy, that "They should take who have the power, And they should keep who can."

The power of appointing the clergy is itself a piece of property. It is commonly attached to the land. The incumbent of a living is usually appointed by the squire or some neighboring nobleman, in whose family the privilege descends like any other inheritance. The greatest miscreant in life or infidel in belief may appoint the clergyman, if he owns the land. If a child inherits, the guardian sometimes exercises the right; and, worse yet, the right may be sold. The succession to a wealthy piece of preferment is often disposed of years in advance. You may read in the Times, in this year of our Lord, advertisements of advowsons, as the right of patronage is called the "cure of souls" for sale. Often the notice mentions that the incumbent is old, and the property is so much the more valuable, for the succession will be speedier. Then the advowson fetches a higher price. The Bishop of Peterborough has stated within the present year, that out of six thousand livings in private patronage, two thousand are frequently in the market.

The squire usually appoints his second son to the benefice. The eldest inherits the estate, and the next one takes the parish ; or, if there is no second son, some other member of the family gets an inning. But large proprietors, of course, have many livings in their gift, and thus the distribution extends beyond the immediate connection. Sometimes the gentleman in every parish is the scapegrace of the family, compelled to enter the Church against his will, to earn his bread and butter in a genteel way. Many incumbents hold duplicate and sinecure benefices, and employ curates to do the work for a paltry stipend, while the real owners reap the lawful and larger income. Personal fitness has little or nothing to do with the appointment, and the choice of the souls who are to be "cured" counts for nothing at all. They have no more to say about who shall be their spiritual pastor and doctor than the sheep of any other flock in selecting their shepherd, or their shepherd's dog.

Even a Jew who owns the property may present the priest to a Christian church and the church is obliged to receive him. I knew a wealthy Jewish baronet who bought an old estate, and was not contented till he had secured the advowson, which had been sold away from the property. He chuckled over his purchase and his privilege. A Catholic, he said, could not present to a living; the laws prohibit that outrage on the Protestant Church; but the preposterous supposition that a Jew could possess the prerogative had never been entertained.

This squire by purchase built a superb country-house overlooking his parish church, which, as often happens, stood within the park. You could see it from the windows and the porch. It stood close to the new stables. But the proprietor of the older faith was very liberal; he often invited the parson to dinner, and the dependant was proud to sit at his master's table. The reverend gentleman was a fox-hunter, a card-playing parson ; one of a race not yet extinct, though the breed diminishes fast. I often saw him ride to hounds in " pink," and two or three times a week he played cards for money with his Jewish patron. He was not clever, nor learned, but by no means an uninteresting or unworthy man; simply out of his place and time ; a survival; like the State Church itself, a relic of customs that are nearly past.

The squire's wife sometimes played the organ for the Christian service, and I was told presented vestments; she even restored an effigy of that Lord whom her ancestors had crucified. This truly Catholic couple had crowds of Christian guests, who went to church in the park, and on Trinity Sunday prayed in the squire's own pew for "Jews, Turks, and other infidels." The baronet and his wife were liberal in temporal things, as well as spiritual. One day the children of the village had a tea in the servants' hall, and I was permitted to attend the feast, for I was known to be curious about English customs. The mistress was present, and at a signal from the housekeeper one of the little ones said grace over the tea, ending the petition with "for Jesus' sake," and all the children bowed the head, at that name, in the Israelitish presence.

I visited another house where the master was a Protestant earl, and he, too, had his religious chuckle, though for a different cause. He was the neighbor of a family far older than his own, though not ennobled. On the ancient estate there stood a church, built long before the Reformation. The house of the squire was so near that it had once been connected with the choir ; in fact, all had been one building. The bones of the family had been buried within the venerable walls, and, despite the Reformation, you may still read "Ora pro nobis" on the brasses of the pavement; but the Protestant service is said over them now. The family, however, remained Catholic, and the presentation to the church that stands under the window of the son of its founder is in the gift of the Protestant earl six miles away.

The Catholics have had their day. When the Marquis of Ripon became a Catholic some years ago, he gave up the numerous livings in his gift, and his wife or his son has the presentation now, for a woman may present to a living, though she may not sit in Parliament, nor, except in rare instances, inherit a peerage. The Catholic Dukes of Norfolk are the premier nobles of England, and have a chapel at Arundel, where they are buried in the church erected by their ancestors, but the mass must be said on the outside.

Nevertheless the chancel wall is broken down for them. They are dukes if they are Catholics, and in England the privileges of the great extend within the House of God. Armorial bearings on the walls remind the spectator of the former importance of those who rot beneath, and the pews are sometimes canopied, so that royal and noble sinners can pray with dignity.

The pews in the parish churches are often peculiar. I once stayed at a house where you stepped out of a corridor into a large, square room, carpeted, with chairs and a table, and in cold weather there was fire in a grate. One side of this pew overlooked the chancel, so that the family could sit out of sight of the congregation and participate in the service, or not, as they pleased. If the preacher was prosy they left without being observed. In great things and small the Church of England consults the convenience and the consequence of those by whom and for whom the existence of the Establishment is maintained. The church and the mansion, the palace and the cathedral, like the Church and the aristocracy, are part of one fabric, built into each other, so that one portion can hardly be removed without the whole edifice tumbling. [As Written]

Aristocracy In England by Adam Badeau - New York Harper & Brothers, Franklin Square 1886, Copyright, 1885, 1886 div

Top Of Page

AVictorian.Com © 1997-Present | Proudly Hosted by Network Solutions | CSS by Free CSS Templates