The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 11/From Jonathan Swift to Robert Harley - 1



OCT. 7, 1710.

IN Ireland, hardly one parish in ten has any glebe, and the rest very small and scattered, except a very few; and these have seldom any houses.

There are in proportion more impropriations in Ireland than in England, which, added to the poverty of the country, make the livings of very small and uncertain value, so that five or six are often joined to make a revenue of 50l. per annum: but these have seldom above one church in repair, the rest being destroyed by frequent wars, &c.

The clergy, for want of glebes, are forced, in their own or neighbouring parish, to take farms to live on at rack rents.

The queen having some years since remitted the first-fruits to the clergy of England, the bishop of Cloyne, being then in London, did petition her majesty for the same favour in behalf of the clergy of Ireland, and received a gracious answer. But this affair, for want of soliciting, was not brought to an issue during the governments of the duke of Ormond, and earl of Pembroke.

Upon the earl of Wharton's succeeding, Dr. Swift (who had solicited this matter in the preceding government) was desired by the bishops of Ireland to apply to his excellency, who thought fit to receive the motion as wholly new, and what he could not consider till he were fixed in the government, and till the same application were made to him as had been to his predecessors. Accordingly an address was delivered to his lordship, with a petition to the queen, and a memorial annexed from both houses of convocation; but a dispute happening in the lower house, wherein his chaplain was concerned, and which was represented by the said chaplain as an affront designed to his excellency, who was pleased to understand and report it so to the court, the convocation was suddenly prorogued, and all farther thoughts about the first-fruits let fall as desperate.

The subject of the petition was to desire, that the twentieth parts might be remitted to the clergy, and the first-fruits made a fund for purchasing glebes and impropriations, and rebuilding churches.

The twentieth parts are twelve pence in the pound, paid annually out of all ecclesiastical benefices, as they were valued at the reformation. They amount to about 500l. per annum; but of little or no value to the queen, after the officers and other charges are paid, though of much trouble and vexation to the clergy.

The first-fruits paid by incumbents upon their promotion amount to 450l. per annum; so that her majesty, in remitting about 1000l. per annum to the clergy, will really lose not above 500l.

Upon August 31, 1710, the two houses of convocation being met to be farther prorogued, the archbishops and bishops conceiving there was now a favourable juncture to resume their applications, did, in their private capacities, sign a power to the said Dr. Swift, to solicit the remitting of the first-fruits and twentieth parts.

But there is a greater burden than this, and almost intolerable, upon several of the clergy in Ireland; the easing of which, the clergy only looked on as a thing to be wished, without making it part of their petition.

The queen is impropriator of several parishes, and the incumbent pays her half-yearly a rent generally to the third part of the real value of the living, and sometimes half. Some of these parishes yielding no income to the vicar; by the increase of graziers, are seized on by the crown, and cannot pay the reserved rent. The value of all these impropriations are about 2000l. per annum to her majesty.

If the queen would graciously please to bestow likewise these impropriations, to the church, part to be remitted to the incumbent, where the rent is large, and the living small, and the rest to be laid out in levying glebes and impropriations, and building churches, it would be a most pious and seasonable bounty.

The utmost value of the twentieth parts, first-fruits, and crown rents, is 3000l. per annum, of which about 500l. per annum is sunk among officers; so that her majesty, by this great benefaction, would lose but 2500l. per annum.

  1. This was drawn up by Dr. Swift, the memorial he received from the bishops having been too long, and not to the purpose. See his letter of Oct. 10.