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The progress of the nation page 8

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Both Pitt and Fox died in 1806, and a circumstance occurred in the following year which showed the inveterate obstinacy of the king regarding the catholics. Lord Howick, secretary for foreign affairs, obtained leave to bring in a bill to enable catholics to hold the higher offices in the army and navy; but the king soon let him know that he should not ratify any such bill, and he agreed to withdraw it. But this did not satisfy George; he demanded from the ministers a written engagement to propose no further concessions to the catholics, and as they declined to do this, he dismissed them, and placed the duke of Portland at the head of a new cabinet.

This was sufficient warning to cabinets not to meddle with this tabooed subject; but Grattan continued, year after year, to bring the question forward, though often defeated by great majorities. In his speech in 1808 Grattan introduced the idea of giving his majesty a veto on the appointment of catholic bishops. It appears that this proposition had the approval of the Irish catholic bishops, but the Irish priests made a determined stand against it. In 1810 and 1811. the motion was thrown out by strong majorities.

The continued resistance of the English government meanwhile was rousing the quick blood of Ireland. The old catholic convention of 1793 was revived, and from year to year met and passed increasingly strong resolutions in Dublin. In 1810 its meetings, and the agitation it occasioned throughout the country, became very conspicuous. A private letter was circulated all over the country, recommending the appointment of committees everywhere, in order to the preparation of a monster petition. It was resolved that as soon as the convention met, it should sit in permanence, so as to keep up an incessant action throughout the country. The government took alarm, and Mr. Wellesley Pole, secretary of state for Ireland, issued a letter to the sheriffs and chief magistrates throughout Ireland, ordering them to arrest all persons concerned in sending up delegates to this convention. No sooner was this known in England than lord Moira in the lords, and Mr. Ponsonby in the commons, adverted to the subject, and called for a copy of all correspondence by government upon it. The demand was resisted in both houses. On the 4th of April lord Stanhope moved a resolution, that the letter of Mr. Wellesley Pole was a violation of the law, being, in fact, a prohibition of his majesty's subjects to assemble for the purpose of petitioning parliament. This was negatived by twenty-one votes against six.

In Ireland the magistrates at once acted on the circular and on the 23rd of February two magistrates proceeded to disperse the catholic committee in Dublin. They were told by the committee that they were sitting simply for the purpose of petitioning parliament, and they did not venture to interrupt it. The movement went on all over Ireland, the committees were numerously attended, and, notwithstanding a proclamation from Dublin Castle commanding the magistrates everywhere to disperse all such gatherings, in Dublin the general committee, amounting to nearly three hundred persons, met in Fishamble Street on the 19th of October. Police were sent to disperse them, but on arriving they had already signed the petition, and were coming away amid a vast concourse of spectators. Several persons were arrested and tried, but the juries returned verdicts of " not guilty."

On the 23rd of December the committee met again in Fishamble Street, and resolved to address the prince regent on the invasion of their right to petition, appointing a general committee to meet again in Dublin on the 28th of February, 1812. In January, and at the commencement of that February, earl Fitzwilliam introduced the consideration of the state of Ireland, and lord Morpeth proposed the same subject to the commons, but both motions were rejected.

In January, 1812, government made another attempt to punish the catholic delegates, and they obtained a verdict against one of them, Thomas Kirwan; but such was the public feeling, that they did no more than fine him one mark, and discharge him. They also abandoned other contemplated prosecutions. The catholic committee met, according to appointment, on the 28th of February, addressed the prince regent, and then separated. The usual motions for catholic emancipation were introduced into both houses of parliament, and by both were rejected. It was the settled policy of this ministry not to listen to the subject, though the marquis Wellesley, Canning, and others now admitted that the matter must be conceded. The assassination of Mr. Perceval, on the 11th of May, it was hoped, would break up that ministry, but it was continued, with lord Liverpool at its head. Though the marquis of Wellesley this year brought forward the motion in the lords, and Canning in the commons, both houses rejected it, but the lords by a majority of only one. The question continued to be annually agitated in parliament during this reign, from the year 1814, with less apparent success than before. Ireland was in a very dislocated state with the Orangemen and Ribbonmen, and other illegal associations and contentions betwixt catholics and protestants, and this acted very detrimentally on the question in England. Only one little victory was obtained in favour of the catholics. This was, in 1813, granting to catholics in England the benefit of the act passed in Ireland, the 33 George III., repealing the 21 Charles II. And thus the catholics were left, after all their exertions, at the death of the old king.

The movement going forward in the established church of Scotland during this reign related almost exclusively to the subject of patronage. This church, though drawing its origin from Switzerland, a thoroughly republican country, and rejecting bishops, took good care to vest the right of presenting ministers to parishes in the clergy. The government insisted on this right continuing in lay patrons; but for some time after the revolution the people asserted their right to choose their own pastors, and continued to carry it. But in 1698 the general assembly took the opportunity, when it had been accused by the English church of throwing the office of choosing ministers amongst the people, to repudiate all such idea on their part. They declared unanimously, that "they allowed no power in the people, but only in the pastors of the church to appoint and ordain to such offices."

The act of 1712 restored lay patronage, and then the strife began, but not between the people and the lay pastors, but betwixt the clergy and the lay patrons. There grew up two parties in the general assembly, styled the moderates, and the more advanced, or popular party. The moderates wore those who were ready to concede to the demands of government and lay patronage under a gentle protest; the more popular party, as it was called, was for transferring the right of presentation to the presbytery. The act of William III., in 1690, gave the original and exclusive nomination to the heritors, land-owners, and elders. The person nominated was to be proposed to the congregation, who might approve or disapprove. But to what did this right amount? The congregation could not absolutely reject; and if they disapproved, the right passed on to the presbytery, whose decision was final. By this arrangement, either the land-owners and elders remained the presenters, or, after a vain show of choice in the people, the appointment fell to the clergy, or presbytery. From 1690 to 1712, Sir Henry Moncrieff says, "there does not appear the least vestige of a doctrine, so much contended for at a later period, of a divine right in the people individually or collectively, to elect the parish minister." This opinion was fully maintained by the law of William III., in 1690, and confirmed by that of Anne, in 1712. Sir Henry Moncrieff, in confirmation of his doctrine, that the people never had a right to elect their ministers in the Scottish church, quotes the "First Book of Discipline," of 1567, which placed the election of pastors in the people at large; but this error, he says, was rectified by the " Second Book of Discipline," in 1581. By this book the congregation could only consent - the presbyters must finally determine. This contains the law of the church of Scotland, and the great schism which took place in the Scottish church, in 1834, arose merely from the resistance to lay patronage, but with the intention of transferring that patronage to the clergy, not the people.

In 1792 a measure of relief was passed for the Episcopalians of Scotland. These had fallen into disgrace for their refusal to swear allegiance to the house of Hanover. The conduct of many of them during the rebellion of 1745 had increased the rigour of government against them, and an act was passed, the 19 George 11., ordering the shutting up of all Episcopalian chapels where the minister had not taken the oath of allegiance, and where he did not pray for the king and royal family. Any clergyman of that church violating these regulations was liable to six months' imprisonment for the first offence, and transportation to one of the American plantations for the second, with perpetual imprisonment did he dare to return thence. No minister was to be held qualified to officiate except he had received letters of orders from an English or Irish bishop of the protestant Episcopalian church. All persons frequenting the chapels of such unqualified persons were liable to a penalty of five "pounds for the first offence, and two years' imprisonment for the second. But now, the pretender being dead, and his brother, the cardinal of York, being held, on account of his clerical character, to have forfeited his claim to the crown, the Scotch Episcopalians came and took the necessary oaths; this bill was passed removing their disabilities, and the aristocracy of Scotland soon, for the most part, became members of the church when it ceased to be in disgrace.

It will be observed that what we have had to detail under the head of religion during this reign has been chiefly the struggle to relax the bonds of legal restraints which the state church had since the reformation imposed on the other forms of Christianity. As the expulsion of the Stuarts, and the suppression of their attempts to return, became distant events, the rigour against the catholics and non-juring protestant clergy became obviously unnecessary, and, in proportion to the non-necessity, cruel. Advancing intelligence enabled the oppressed religionists to break many of these fetters of their consciences, and to regain the rights of citizens. The catholics and the dissenters had yet, at the end of this period, further demands to make; but so much light had now broken in that the dominant clergy could not long by any arguments defer the day of perfect religious freedom. We have lived to see catholics restored to their national rights, dissenters relieved from the Test and Corporation Acts, and empowered to perform the right of marriage, baptism, and burial for their own denominations. Even for years afterwards the burden of church rates remained" on the shoulders of dissenters, but it has since been removed.

The various triumphs in this direction evidence a sense of civil right in the community, which forced itself on the government, rather than a sense of religion. But religion, too, was in steady growth. The dissenters had greatly increased during this period, and amongst them the names of some of their ministers had acquired a general reputation. Robert Hall, of Leicester, and afterwards of Bristol, threw a new lustre on the Baptist community, he was the son of a Baptist minister, was at first educated by Dr. Ryland, the learned Baptist pastor of Northampton, and afterwards took i is degree of M.A. at King's College, Aberdeen. He commenced his ministerial career in Bristol, and afterwards resided as minister at Leicester for twenty years. On the death of his old tutor, Dr. Ryland, he became the president of the Baptist Academy at Bristol, and pastor of Broadmead chapel, in that town. Robert Hall was not inferior to any of the clergy of the Establishment in learning or eloquence. He was for eleven years the Baptist minister in Cambridge before removing to Leicester. In Cambridge he succeeded to a man nearly as remarkable, the celebrated Robert Robinson. At this university town he attracted the notice of some of the leading established clergy and professors, and of the world at large, by his " Vindication of the Freedom of the Press," and his splendid sermon " On Modern Infidelity." Dr. Parr has left a testimony to the merits of Robert Hall in his will, which does honour to his liberality - " Mr. Hall has, like Jeremy Taylor, the eloquence of an orator, the fancy of a poet, the subtlety of a schoolman, the profoundness of a philosopher, and the piety of a saint." To the same body belonged the celebrated author of " Essays on the Formation of Character," John Foster, also of Bristol.

Amongst the followers of Whitfield became conspicuous Rowland Hill, Matthew Wilks, and William Huntingdon. Of the followers of Whitfield, Selina, Countess of Huntingdon became the patron, as she had been of Whitfield himself, whom she made her chaplain. This remarkable woman founded schools and colleges for the preachers; and so completely did she identify herself with this sect, that it became styled " Lady Huntingdon's Society." Perhaps the most celebrated of these preachers, after Whitfield, was Rowland Hill, who was a younger son of Sir Rowland Hill, of Hawkstone, in Shropshire. He was educated at Cambridge for the church of England, but preferred following Whitfield, and for many years went about preaching in the open air, like Whitfield, in different parts of the country, and particularly amongst the colliers of Kingswood. In 1783, his chapel, called the Surrey Chapel, being built, he settled in London, and continued his ministry in the metropolis till his death in 1833, at the age of eighty-eight. Rowland Hill was as much celebrated for his humour and eccentricity, which he carried into his preachings, as for his talents. He was also an author of various productions, the most popular of which were his " Village Dialogues."

Perhaps a still more remarkable man of the same denomination was William Huntingdon, originally a coalheaver, struggling with severe poverty; yet, believing himself called to the ministry, he boldly followed his conceived duty, through much discouragement and persecution. He has left an autobiography, in which his perfect faith in and reliance on God are justified by the most remarkable supply of all his wants, and support in a widely extended and useful ministry. After the death of his first wife, he married the wealthy widow of Sir James Sanderson, a London alderman, and passed his latter years in affluence.

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