Page images





May 19, 1801. I have been somewhat surprized that in the late debates in the House of Commons on the supposed ineligibility of persons in holy orders to be chosen members of that House, the maintainers of this excluding and disfranchising opini. on, have endeavoured to deduce it from the supposed Indelibility of the Priestly Character, as if it were impossible for a Priest to become a member of the House of Commons, without first totally renouncing the character and condition of a Priest or a Deacon, which, they say, cannot be renounced. How far it is possible to renounce the character and condition of a Priest or a Deacon, is a question of spiritual, or canonical, law which I will not pretend to determine. But this I will venture to assert,

" that the character and condi. tion of a Priest or a Deacon, though retained, is no legal bar to the exercise of many lay-employments, which are as different from the proper duties of a Priest, as that of representing the electors of a parliamentary borough in the House of Commons.” Of this I will mention a few examples : Dr. Williams, bishop of Lincoln, was Lord-Chancellor of England, in the protestant reign of King James the First ; Dr. Juxon, bishop of London, was Lord-Treasurer of England in the following reign of King Charles the First ;


Dr. Robinson, bishop of Bristol, was one of the three Ambassadors of Queen Anne at the treaty of Utrecht; the Reverend Mr. Frederick Harvey, now bishop of Londonderry in Ireland, and Earl of Bristol, was, for a great part of his life, and until he was made bishop of Derry, a clerk of the Privy Seal, and at this day he is permitted to sit in the House of Lords by virtue of his temporal peerage, as Earl of Bristol: and the Rev. Mr. Cholmondeley holds to this day the employment of Auditor-General of the King's Revenues arising 'in America ; and hundreds of clergymen throughout England are justices of the peace, that is, criminal judges of great authority, which is surely an employment as different from the proper duties of the priestly character, as granting money to the Crown, or proposing good laws for the better governmentof the people, in the capacity of one of their representatives in Parliament. Farther, many persons in holy orders have been known to practice Phy. sick as a profession; and amongst others, the fanous Dr. Willis, to whom the nation has great obligations for his successful exertions in that capacity about 12 years ago ; nay, some perlons in holy orders have even held commissions in the army, of which one remarkable instance occurs to me at this moment; I mean that of the Rev. Dr. Walker, the rector or vicar of Londonderry, in Ireland, who so bravely defended that city at the head of his zealous protestant parishioners, in the year 1689, against a Popish army commanded by a French General, who besieged it in the name of King James the IId, after he had abdicated the Crown and King William had been appointed his successor. This worthy clergyman, in consequence of the success of his noble exertions in the defence of Londonderry, was seized with a fit of military ardour, which made him desirous of obtaining a commission in the army; and he obtained one from King Williain, though the King is said to have advised him, at the same time, with his usual good sense and sound


judgement, to decline any farther connection with the army, and return to the exercise of his former peaceable profession. But, as the Doctor did not think proper to follow this good advice, the King gratified him by giving him a commission in the army; and he was killed, if I remember right, the next year at the famous battle of the Boyne. Now, if clergymen may exercise all these lay-employments without renouncing the office, or character, of a Priest, surely they may likewise accept the occasional and temporary employment of representing a set of burgesses in the House of Common3, during a single Parliament, without renouncing that character. If, therefore, they are at present legally incapable of representing a County, or a Borough, in Parliament, their Incapacity must arise from something different from the supposed Indelibility of the character of a Priest; as, for example, from their being represented in the Convocation of the Clergy,or somesuch reason. But, intruth, I think that allthe reasons, that have hitherto been alleged in proof of their incapacity to be elected members of the House of Commons are frivolous and insufficient, and consequently that they are at present legally capable of being so elected. However, I confess, it might be inexpedient to permit clergymen that were possessed of Benefices with cure of souls, and, perhaps, even clergymen that were Prebendaries of Cathedral ehurches, or who possessed any other clerical preferments, to have seats in the Houseof Commons; asit mighttend to give a wrong bias to the studies and pursuits of clergymen, and thereby render them less respectable in the eyes of the people, and consequently less useful in the line of their sacred profession. And, there. fore, though I do not think that, as the law now stands, even clergymen so circumstanced are incapable of sitting in the House of Commons, yet it might, perhaps, be prudent to pass an act of Parliament to exclude them from the House of Commons; and also to render them incapable of receiving any Benefice, or Prebend, or other church-preferment, while



they were in the House of Commons, and for a certain time (as for example, six years) after they had been members of it, if they had been admitted into holy orders before they had been chosen members of that House, and then had quitted their Preferments, or Employments, in the church in order to qualify themselves to become members of the House. This incapacity of their receiving any church. preferment while they were members, and for a certain time after they had ceased to be members, of the House, might be useful in preventing services done to Ministers of State, by supporting their measures in Parliament, from becoming a channel of preferment to Bishopricks, or other great stations in the church, which ought in general to be bestowed on those clergymen who distinguish themselves by a faithful and diligent discharge of the pastoral duties of their venerable profession. But to disfranchise a whole body of twelve, or fifteen, thousand men from becoming the representatives of their countrymen in Parliament, and to deprive the electors of members of Parliament of the liberty of chusing their representatives out of so numerous a body of well-educated, intelligent, men, whose merits may be known to them by their residence among them, and the services they have reecived from them, without such circumftances as those above-mentioned, (which may be thought to render such a measure necessary), seems to be too harsh and vague a method of proceeding, and not agreeable to the Caution and Tenderness that are usually exhibited by the British Parliament in modifying, or restraining, the rights of their fellow- subjects.

I remain your most humble servant,


F. M.




[The following communication was sent us soon after the appearance of Sulpicius's LETTERS. At that time, it was thought not altogether unexceptionable, on the score of prudence, to publish it, as it might have awakened doubts where none already existed. The reader will per.ceive, that it was intended to excite SULPICIUS to inquire more fully into this part of the subject, of which he had so ably treated. Since the question has undergone so ample a discuffion, both in and out of Parliament, our Correspondent informs us, that he has very little doubt remaining; yet he wishes the matter to be placed beyond the poflibility of doubt, and therefore requests, that his article may be published, in the hope, that it may draw-forth from SulpiCIUS, or lome other writer, a full, clear, and fatisfactory reply.)


June 2, 1801. I think the Publick is much obliged to your very able correspondent, who signs himself Sulpicius, for his information on the subject of the armed Neutrality of the Northern Powers lately entered-into, to the evident prejudice of Great Britain. And in most of the propositions he has laid-down in his excellent Letters, I entirely agree with him, for the reasons which he has alleged. He has well proved, in my opinion, that, as the Law of Nations now stands, where it

« PreviousContinue »