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AGAINST ENLARGING THE POWER OF BISHOPS,
IN LETTING LEASES,
“ Mihi credite, major hæreditas venit unicuique vestrûm in iisdem bonis a jure et a legibus, quam ab iis a quibus illa ipsa bona relicta sunt." CICERO pro A. Cæcina.
October 21, 1723.
In handling this subject, I shall proceed wholly upon the supposition, that those of our party, who profess themselves members of the church
* This tract was written in 1723, when the measure therein reprobated was under consideration. Swift considered it as an indirect mode of gratifying the existing bishops, whom he did nut regard with peculiar respect or complacency, at the expence of the church establishment, to which he was attached with most sincere devotion. The spirit of his opposition is, therefore, in this instance, peculiarly caustic. He had to plead, however, that his own practice was as strict as the self-denial he expected from the bishops. He never took fines for renewal of leases of the chapter lands, but always preferred raising the rent, as calculated to promote the future value of the living, although less advantageous to the immediate incumbent. VOL. VIII.
established, and under the apostolical government of bishops, do desire the continuance and transmission of it to posterity, at least in as good a condition as it is at present: because, as this discourse is not calculated for dissenters of any kind, , so neither will it suit the talk or sentiments of those persons, who, with the denomination of churchmen, are oppressors of the inferior clergy, and perpetually quarrelling at the great incomes of the bishops'; which is a traditional cant delivered down from former times, and continued with great reason, although it be near 200 years since almost three parts in four of the church revenues have been taken from the clergy, beside the spoils that have been gradually made ever since of glebes and other land, by the confusion of times, the fraud of encroaching neighbours, or the power of oppressors too great to be encountered.
About the time of the reformation, many popish bishops of this kingdom, knowing they must have been soon ejected if they would not change their religion, made long leases and fee-farms' of great part of their lands, reserving very inconsiderable rents, sometimes only a chiefry, by a power they assumed directly contrary to many ancient canons, yet consistent enough with the common-law, This trade held on for many years after the bishops became protestants; and some of their names are still remembered with infamy, on account of enriching their families by such sacrilegious alienations. By these means episcopal revenues were so low reduced, that three or four sees were often united to make a tolerable competency. For some remedy to this evil, king James the First, by a bounty that became a good Christian prince, bestowed several forfeited lands
on the northern bishoprics: but in all other parts of the kingdom the church continued still in the same distress and poverty; some of the sees hardly possessing enough to maintain a country vicar. About the middle of king Charles the First's reign, the legislature here thought fit to put a stop at least to any farther alienations; and so a law was enacted, prohibiting all bishops and other ecclesiastical corporations, from setting their lands for above the term of twenty-one years : the rent reserved to be one half of the real value of such lands at the time they were set, without which condition the lease to be void.
Soon after the restoration of king Charles the Second, the parliament taking into consideration the miserable estate of the church, certain lands, by way of augmentation, were granted to eight bishops in the act of settlement, and confirmed in the act of explanation; of which bounty, as I remember, three sees were in a great measure defeated; but by what accidents it is not here of any importance to relate.
This at present is the condition of the church in Ireland, with regard to episcopal revenues : which I have thus briefly, (and perhaps imperfectly,) deduced for some information to those, whose thoughts do not lead them to such considerations.
By virtue of the statute already mentioned, under king Charles the First, limiting ecclesiastical bodies to the term of twenty-one years under the reserved rent of half real value, the bishops have had some share in the gradual rise of lands, without which they could not have been supported with any common decency that might become their station. It is above eighty years since the passing of that act: the see of Meath, one of the best in the kingdom, was then worth about 4001. per annum; the poorer ones in the same proportion. If this were their present condition, I cannot conceive how they would have been able to pay for their patents, or buy their robes : but this will certainly be the condition of their successors, if such a bill should pass, as they say is now intended, which I will suppose; and of which I believe many persons, who may give a vote for it, are not aware.
However, this is the act which is now attempted to be repealed, or at least eluded; some are for giving bishops leave to let fee-farms, others would allow them to let leases for lives; and the most moderate would repeal that clause, by which the bishops are bound to let their lands at half value.
The reasons for the rise of value in lands are of two kinds. Of the first kind, are long peace and settlement after the devastations of war; plantations, improvements of bad soil, recovery of bogs and marshes, advancement of trade and manufactures, increase of inhabitants, encouragement of agriculture, and the like.
But there is another reason for the rise of land, more gradual, constant, and certain; which will have its effects in countries that are very far from flourishing in any of the advantages I have just mentioned : I mean the perpetual decrease in the value of gold and silver. I shall discourse upon these two different kinds with a view toward the bill now attempted.
As to the first: I cannot see how this kingdom is at any height of improvement, while four parts in five of the plantations for thirty years past have been real disimprovements; nine in ten of the quick-set hedges being ruined for want of care or