The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 19/On the Bill For the Clergy's Residing on Their Livings

ON THE

BILL

FOR THE

CLERGY'S RESIDING ON THEIR LIVINGS[1].





THOSE gentlemen who have been promoted to bishopricks in this kingdom for several years past, are of two sorts: first, certain private clergymen from England, who, by the force or friends, industry, solicitation, or other means and merits to me unknown, have been raised to that character by the mero motu of the crown.

Of the other sort, are some clergymen born in this kingdom, who have most distinguished themselves by their warmth against popery, their great indulgence to dissenters, and all true loyal protestants; by their zeal for the house of Hanover, abhorrence of the pretender, and an implicit readiness to fall into any measures that will make the government easy to those who represent his majesty's person.

Some of the former kind are such as are said to have enjoyed tolerable preferments in England; and it is therefore much to their commendation that they have condescended to leave their native country, and come over hither to be bishops, merely to promote Christianity among us; and therefore in my opinion, both their lordships, and the many defenders they bring over, may justly claim the merit of missionaries sent to convert a nation from heresy and heathenism.

Before I proceed farther, it may be proper to relate some particulars wherein the circumstances of the English clergy differ from those of Ireland.

The districts of parishes throughout England continue much the same as they were before the reformation; and most of the churches are of the gothick architecture, built some hundred years ago; but the tithes of great numbers of churches having been applied by the pope's pretended authority to several abbies, and even before the reformation bestowed by that sacrilegious tyrant Henry VIII, on his ravenous favourites, the maintenance of an incumbent in most parts of the kingdom is contemptibly small; and yet a vicar there of forty pounds a year, can live with more comfort, than one of three times the nominal value with us. For his forty pounds are duly paid him, because there is not one farmer in a hundred, who is not worth five times the rent he pays to his landlord, and fifty times the sum demanded for the tithes; which, by the small compass of his parish, he can easily collect or compound for; and if his behaviour and understanding be supportable, he will probably receive presents now and then from his parishioners, and perhaps from the squire; who, although he may sometimes be apt to treat his parson a little superciliously, will probably be softened by a little humble demeanour. The vicar is likewise generally sure to find upon his admittance to his living, a convenient house and barn in repair, with a garden, and a field or two to graze a few cows, and one horse for himself and his wife. He has probably a market very near him, perhaps in his own village. No entertainment is expected by his visitor beyond a pot of ale, and a piece of cheese. He has every Sunday the comfort of a full congregation, of plain, cleanly people of both sexes, well to pass, and who speak his own language. The scene about him is fully cultivated (I mean for the general) and well inhabited. He dreads no thieves for any thing but his apples, for the trade of universal stealing is not so epidemick there as with us. His wife is little better than goody, in her birth, education, or dress; and as to himself, we must let his parentage alone. If he be the son of a farmer it is very sufficient, and his sister may very decently be chambermaid to the squire's wife. He goes about on working days in a grazier's coat, and will not scruple to assist his workmen in harvest time. He is usually wary and thrifty, and often more able to provide for a numerous family than some of ours can do with a rectory called 300l. a year. His daughters shall go to service, or be sent apprentice to the sempstress of the next town; and his sons are put to honest trades. This is the usual course of an English country vicar from twenty to sixty pounds a year.

As to the clergy of our own kingdom, their livings are generally larger. Not originally, or by the bounty of princes, parliaments, or charitable endowments, for the same degradations (and as to glebes, a much greater) have been made here, but, by the destruction and desolation in the long wars between the invaders and the natives; during which time a great part of the bishops lands, and almost all the glebes, were lost in the confusion. The first invaders had almost the whole kingdom divided among them. New invaders succeeded, and drove out their predecessors as native Irish. These were expelled by others who came after, and upon the same pretensions. Thus it went on for several hundred years, and in some degree even to our own memories. And thus it will probably go on, although not in a martial way, to the end of the world. For not only the purchasers of debentures forfeited in 1641, were all of English birth, but those after the restoration, and many who came hither even since the revolution, are looked upon as perfect Irish; directly contrary to the practice of all wise nations, and particularly of the Greeks and Romans, in establishing their colonies, by which name Ireland is very absurdly called.

Under these distractions the conquerors always seized what lands they could with little ceremony, whether they belonged to the church or not: thus the glebes were almost universally exposed to the first seizers, and could never be recovered, although the grants, with the particular denominations, are manifest, and still in being. The whole lands of the see of Waterford were wholly taken by one family; the like is reported of other bishopricks.

King James the first, who deserves more of the church of Ireland than all other princes put together, having the forfeitures of vast tracts of land in the northern parts (I think commonly called the escheated counties), having granted some hundred thousand acres of these lands to certain Scotch and English favourites, was prevailed on by some great prelates to grant to some sees in the north, and to many parishes there, certain parcels of land for the augmentation of poor bishopricks, did likewise endow many parishes with glebes for the incumbents, whereof a good number escaped the depredations of 1641 and 1688. These lands, when they were granted by king James, consisted mostly of woody ground, wherewith those parts of this island were then overrun. This is well known, universally allowed, and by some in part remembered; the rest being, in some places, not stubbed out to this day. And the value of the lands was consequently very inconsiderable, till Scotch colonies came over in swarms upon great encouragement to make them habitable; at least for such a race of strong bodied people, who came hither from their own bleak barren highlands, as it were into a Paradise; who soon were able to get straw for their bedding, instead of a bundle of heath spread on the ground, and sprinkled with water. Here, by degrees, they acquired some degree of politeness and civility, from such neighbouring Irish as we were still left after Tyrone's last rebellion, and are since grown almost entire possessors of the north. Thus, at length, the woods being rooted up, the land was brought in, and tilled, and the glebes which could not before yield twopence an acre, are equal to the best, sometimes affording the minister a good demesne, and some land to let.

These wars and desolations in their natural consequences, were likewise the cause of another effect, I mean that of uniting several parishes under one incumbent. For, as the lands were of little value by the want of inhabitants to cultivate them, and many of the churches levelled to the ground, particularly by the fanatick zeal of those rebellious saints who murdered their king, destroyed the church, and overthrew monarchy (for all which there is a humiliation day appointed by law, and soon approaching); so, in order to give a tolerable maintenance to a minister, and the country being too poor, as well as devotion too low, to think of building new churches, it was found necessary to repair some one church which had least suffered, and join sometimes three or more, enough for a bare support to some clergyman, who knew not where to provide himself better. This was a case of absolute necessity to prevent heathenism, as well as popery, from overrunning the nation. The consequence of these unions was very different, in different parts; for, in the north, by the Scotch settlement, their numbers daily increasing by new additions from their own country, and their prolifick quality peculiar to northern people, and lastly by their universally feeding upon oats (which grain, under its several preparations and denominations, is the only natural luxury of that hardy people) the value of tithes increased so prodigiously, that at this day, I confess, several united parishes ought to be divided, taking in so great a compass, that it is almost impossible for the people to travel timely to their own parish church, or their little churches to contain half their number, though ths revenue would be sufficient to maintain two, or perhaps three worthy clergymen with decency; provided the times mend, or that they were honestly dealt with, which I confess is seldom the case. I shall name only one, and it is the deanery of Derry; the revenue whereof, if the dean could get his dues, exceeding that of some bishopricks, both by the compass and fertility of the soil, the number as well as industry of the inhabitants, the conveniency of exporting their corn to Dublin and foreign parts; and, lastly, by the accidental discovery of marl in many places of the several parishes. Yet all this revenue is wholly founded upon corn, for I am told there is hardly an acre of glebe for the dean to plant and build on.

I am therefore of opinion, that a real unfalcated revenue of six hundred pounds a year, is a sufficient income for a country dean in this kingdom; and since the rents consist wholly of tithes, two parishes, to the amount of that value, should be united, and the dean reside as minister in that of Down, and the remaining parishes be divided among worthy clergymen, to about 300l. a year to each. The deanery of Derry, which is a large city, might be left worth 8OOl. a year, and Rapho according as it shall be thought proper. These three are the only opulent deaneries in the whole kingdom, and, as I am informed, consist all of tithes, which was an unhappy expedient in the church, occasioned by the sacrilegious robberies during the several times of confusion and war; insomuch that at this day there is hardly any remainder left of dean and chapter lands in Ireland, that delicious morsel swallowed so greedily in England, under the fanatick usurpations.

As to the present scheme of a bill for obliging the clergy to residence, now or lately in the privy council, I know no more of the particulars than what has been told me by several clergymen of distinction; who say, that a petition in the name of them all has been presented to the lord lieutenant and council, that they might be heard by their council against the bill, and that the petition was rejected, with some reasons why it was rejected; for the bishops are supposed to know best what is proper for the clergy. It seems the bill consists of two parts: first, a power in the bishops, with consent of the archbishop, and the patron, to take off from any parish, whatever it is worth, above 300l. a year; and this to be done without the incumbent's consent, which before was necessary in all divisions. The other part of the bill obliges all clergymen, from forty pounds a year and upwards, to reside, and build a house in his parish. But those of 40l. are remitted till they shall receive 100l. out of the revenue of first fruits granted by her late majesty.


  1. This appears to be a first sketch of a pamphlet which the dean afterward published under the title of "Considerations on Two Bills," &c., printed in the ninth volume of this collection, p. 243.