« AnteriorContinuar »
land-by a Constant Protestant.' One of his principal improvements, was the omission of the Athanasian Creed; and he had concerted a bill for this purpose with the Duke, when the effects of the French Revolution put off, for a long period, all such measures. He had intended to submit the plan to the King, as well as the Archbishops, in the first instance. The King was deemed favourable to such a reform, from the anecdote related by Dr Heberden, of what happened one Sunday in Windsor Chapel. The clergyman,' says our author, on a day when the Athanasian Creed was to be read, began with "Whosoever will be saved, &c.; the King, who usually responded with a loud voice, was silent; the minister repeated, in an higher tone, his Whosoever; the King continued silent; at length the Apostle's Creed was repeated by the minister, and the King followed him throughout with a distinct and audible voice.'
It is pretty certain, that if such a proposition had been made by Bishop Watson, or any Whig in either House of Parliament, the Court, and its devoted servant the minister of the day, would have met it triumphantly, with an outcry of innovation, and danger to the Church and the Religion of the country. This would have been the fate of whatever measure came from the wrong side of the question. Yet few more daring innovators have ever been employed by a Court, than Mr Pitt himself. Witness not only his early projects of Parliamentary Reform, but his Irish Union, his Sale of the Land Tax, and indeed most of his commercial and financial schemes. Not even the sacred precincts of the Church were safe from his rash intrusion, as should seem from the following anecdote, which evinces a great readiness in Mr Pitt to begin ecclesiastical changes, when he thought there was a prospect of helping the credit of the country—that is, raising the three per cents., and keeping his be loved monied interest in good humour. A more crude, impolitic and unjust plan, than the one sketched in this passage, was, we will venture to say, never proposed by any reformer. It has every fault that a project of the kind can have; and we are truly sorry to see, that it met our author's approbation for
In January 1799, I received from the Archbishop of Canterbury
* The remark on innovation and alarm of the Venerable Grotius -no rash, ignorant, impracticable theorist, but the writer of all others most addicted to reverence for the authority of ancient wisdom, merits attention. • Politici qui sæpe dogmata vera a falsis, salubrie ‘a noxiis, non noscunt distinguere, omnia nova suspecta habent.'
a paper which had been sent to him by Mr Pitt, and was desired to deliver my opinion on the subject. The paper contained a plan for the sale of the tithe of the country, on the same principle that the land-tax had been offered for sale in the preceding session of Parliament. It was proposed, that the money arising from the sale of the tithe should be vested in the funds in aid of public credit, and the clergy were to receive their income from the funds: the income, however, was not to be a fixed income which could never be augmented, but was to be so adjusted as, at different periods, to admit an increase according to the advance in the price of grain. This plan was not introduced into Parliament: it met, I believe, with private opposition from the bishops, though I own it had my approbation; but that approbation was founded on very different principles from that of aiding public credit; I did not indeed clearly see how, if the full value was given for the tithe, that credit would be assisted thereby. I remember having said to Mr Arthur Young on the occasion, that I for one never would give my consent, and that I thought the Houses of Parliament never would give theirs to the sale of the tithe, unless its full value was paid for it. "Then," said he, " there is an end of the whole business; for unless the people in the west, who are now most clamorous against tithe, are allowed to purchase at the price they now pay by composition, they will on their knees beg Mr Pitt to let things continue as they are. p. 306, 307.
The share which Bishop Watson, in common with the best friends of their country, and the soundest constitutional lawyers, bore in the Regency Question, is well known. It did not fail to draw down upon him the indignation of the Court and the Ministry, whose trick it was upon this, as upon all occasions of importance, to mix themselves up with the Constitution, and to represent every opposition to their measures, or attempt to deprive them of power, as an act of disaffection to the King, and a direct invasion of the existing form of government. The following passage on this subject, is among the number of those which have given peculiar offence in the present publication, probably because it speaks serious and undeniable truths. We will add, that no individual connected with any party was more the object of foul and undeserved abuse on the occasion in question, than the illustrious personage whose rights were then so unconstitutionally violated, and who, after a similar attempt to give him an elective and new-moulded crown, after an interval of twenty years, has since held the place of Regent. The calumnies of more recent times sink into nothing, when compared with those which the Ministerial press poured forth against the Prince of Wales in those days, under the immediate patronage of Mr Pitt, and for the purposes of his ministry.
'The restoration of the King's health soon followed. It was the artifice of the minister to represent all those who had opposed his
measures, as enemies to the King: and the Queen lost, in the opinion of many, the character which she had hitherto maintained in the country, by falling in with the designs of the minister. She imprudently distinguished by different degrees of courtesy on the one hand, and by meditated affronts on the other, those who had voted with, and those who had voted against the minister, insomuch that the Duke of Northumberland one day said to me, So, My Lord, you and I also are become traitors."
She received me at the drawing-room, which was held on the King's recovery, with a degree of coldness, which would have appeared to herself ridiculous and ill placed, could she have imagined how little a mind such as mine regarded, in its honourable proceedings, the displeasure of a woman, though that woman happened to be a Queen.
The Prince of Wales, who was standing near her, then asked me to dine with him, and on my making some objection to dining at Carlton House, he turned to Sir Thomas Dundas, and desired him to give us a dinner, at his house, on the following Saturday. Before we sat down to dinner on that day, the Prince took me aside, explained to me the principle on which he had acted during the whole of the King's illness, and spoke to me, with an afflicted feeling, of the manner in which the Queen had treated himself. I must do him the justice to say, that he spoke, in this conference, in as sensible a manner as could possibly have been expected from an heir apparent to the throne, and from a son of the best principles towards both his parents. I advised him to persevere in dutifully bearing with his mother's ill humour, till time and her own good sense should disentangle her from the web which ministerial cunning had thrown around her.
Having thought well of the Queen, I was willing to attribute her conduct, during the agitation of the Regency question, to her apprehensions of the King's safety, to the misrepresentations of the King's minister, to any thing rather than to a fondness for power.
Before we rose from table at Sir Thomas Dundas's, where the Duke of York and a large company were assembled, the conversation turning on parties, I happened to say that I was sick of parties, and should retire from all public concerns" No," said the Prince, "and mind who it is that tells you so, you shall never retire; a man of your talents shall never be lost to the public." I have now lived many years in retirement, and, in my seventy-fifth year, I feel no wish to live otherwise.' p. 225—227.
When the French Revolution had swept away, at one mighty blow, all the abuses of feudal tyranny, and seemed to promise certain liberty and prosperity to twenty-four millions of people, Bishop Watson, as may well be imagined, hailed the triumph of his favourite principles with generous enthusiasm. He was of the number of those who were led away by this feeling, and induced to shut their eyes to dangers which might certainly have
been foreseen from a very early stage of its progress. It is unnecessary to add, that those sanguine views which he at the beginning indulged, soon gave way to the mournful realities that followed; and that no man more nobly opposed the torrent of revolutionary phrenzy. But we extract part of a letter to the Duke of Grafton on this subject, as it does him infinite credit.
"I have not heard from you since the Birmingham riots. At the time they happened I sat down to write to Your Grace, and to say, that even my littleness would stretch itself to an hundred pounds subscription, if the friends of Dr Priestley should think of consoling him, in that way, for the loss he had sustained, and the chagrin any mind less elevated than his own must have experienced from such harsh and unmerited treatment. On second thoughts I put the letter I had written into the fire, lest such a proposal, coming from a bishop, should have tended to inflame matters, by increasing the unchristian choler of High-church men, which has already produced much mischief.
"We live in singular times. No history, ancient or modern, furnishes an example similar to what has happened in France; an example of a whole people (the exceptions are not worthy of notice) divesting themselves of the prejudices of birth and education, in civil and religious concerns, and adopting the principles of philosophy and good sense.
"I speak only of the general outline of their constitution; piddling objections may be made to particular parts, and experience will point out the necessity of reconsidering many things. But notwithstanding all the ridicule which apostate Whigs have attempted to throw on the rights of man, such rights are founded in nature; they exist antecedent to and independent of civil society; and the French constitution is the only one in the world which has deliberately asserted these rights, and supported them in their full extent.
"In England we want not a fundamental revolution, but we certainly want a reform both in the civil and ecclesiastical part of our constitution: men's minds, however, I think, are not yet generally prepared for admitting its necessity. A reformer of Luther's temper and talents would, in five years, persuade the people to compel the parliament to abolish tithes, to extinguish pluralities, to enforce residence, to confine Episcopacy to the overseeing of dioceses, to expunge the Athanasian Creed from our Liturgy, to free Dissenters from test acts, and the ministers of the Establishment from subscription to human articles of faith.-These, and other matters respecting the Church, ought to be done. I want not courage to attempt doing what I think ought to be done, and I am not held back by considerations of personal interest; but my temper is peaceable, I dislike contention, and trust that the still voice of reason will at length be heard.
"As to the civil state, it cannot continue long as it is. One
minister, in subserviency to the will of his master, doubles the na tional debt and dismembers the empire, and is instantly taken into the confidence of those who threatened to take his head. Another expends millions on measures grounded on his own ambition, insolence, or temerity, and finds means of inducing a great majority in both Houses of Parliament to place confidence in his wisdom. p. 255-257.
It is not the design of this article to follow minutely the details of Bishop Watson's life, either political or literary. The scientific reader is well acquainted with those admirable Tracts, which, even after all the vast changes effected in chemistry by recent discoveries, continue to hold a high place in the estimation of every natural philosopher: And hardly any reader can be ignorant of the eloquent and judicious works upon religious subjects, to which we have already more than once referred. From 1782 till his death in 1816, he remained unnoticed by any of the successive ministers who distributed, during that long period, the patronage of the Church, although all, in their turn, were ready enough to avow their admiration of him, and to profit, when they could, by his services. We have already seen some traits of this unjust partiality; and he also informs us, that when Dr Stuart was promoted to the Primacy of Ireland, want of orthodoxy' was the vague and hollow pretext for passing him over. What,' he exclaims, is this thing called Orthodoxy, which mars the fortunes of honest 3 men, misleads the judgment of princes, and occasionally endangers the stability of thrones? In the true meaning of the term, it is a sacred thing to which every denomination of Christians lays an arrogant and exclusive claim, but to which no man, no assembly of men, since the apostolic age, can prove a title. It is frequently amongst individuals of the same sect nothing better than self-sufficiency of opinion, and pharisaical pride, by which each man esteems himself more righteous than his neighbours. It may, perhaps, be useful in cementing what is called the alliance between Church and State: But if such an alliance obstructs candid discussions, if it invades the right of private judgment, if it generates bigotry in churchmen or intolerance in statesmen, it not only becomes inconsistent with the general principles of Protestantism, but it impedes the progress of the kingdom of Christ, which we all know is not of this world.' Even the accession of better and more liberal-minded men to power in 1806, availed him nothing, as they had not time to accomplish their wishes in his favour. The following passage contains his honest sentiments on their dismissal; the more valuable as a tesmony of their merits, because the Bishop never was a party