BLTC Press Titles

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Esoteric Buddhism

A. P. Sinnett

Mortal Coils

Aldous Huxley

Novalis Including Hymns to the Night

Novalis, George MacDonald, Thomas Carlyle

The Bhagavad Gita


Clergymen of the Church of England

by Anthony Trollope




The old English archbishop was always a prince in the old times, but the English archbishop is a prince no longer in these latter days. He is still a nobleman of the highest rank,—he of Canterbury holding his degree, indeed, above all his peers in Parliament, not of Royal blood, and he of York following his elder brother, with none between them but the temporary occupant of the woolsack. He is still one before whose greatness small clerical aspirants veil their eyes, and whose blessing in the minds of pious maidens has in it something almost divine. He is, ai I have said, a peer of Parliament. Above all things, he should be a gentleman, and,—if it were always possible,—a gentleman of birth; but he has no longer anything of the position or of the attributes of a prince.

And this change has come upon our archbishops quite in latter times; though, of course, we must look back to the old days of Papal supremacy in England for the prince archbishop of the highest class. Such careers as those of Thomas a Becket or of Wolsey have not been possible to any clergymen since the days in which the power of the Pope was held to be higher on matters ecclesiastical than the power of the Crown in these realms; but we have had among us prince archbishops to a very late date,— archbishops who have been princes not by means of political strength or even by the force of sacerdotal independence, but who have enjoyed their principalities simply as the results of their high rank, their wealth, their reserve, their inaccessibility, as the result of a certain mystery as to the nature of their duties,—and sometimes as the result of personal veneration. For this personal veneration personal dignity was as much needed as piety, and was much more necessary than high mental power. An archbishop of fifty years since was very difficult to approach, but when approached was as urbane as a king,—who is supposed never to be severe but at a distance. He lived almost royally, and his palace received that respect which seems, from the nature of the word, to be due to a palatial residence. What he did, no man but his own right-hand chaplain knew with accuracy; but that he could shower church patronage as from the east the west and the south, all clerical aspirants felt,—with awe rather than with hope. Lambeth in those days was not overshadowed by the opposite glories of Westminster. He of York, too, was a Northern prince, whose hospitalities north of the Humber were more in repute than those of earls and barons. Fifty years since the archbishops were indeed princes; but now-a-days we have changed all that. The change, however, is only now completed. It was but the other day that there died an Archbishop of Armagh who was prince to the backbone, princely in bis wealth and princely in his use of it, princely in his mode of life, princely in his gait and outer looks and personal demeanour,— princely also in the performance of his work. He made no speeches from platforms. He wrote no books. He was never common among men. He was a fine old man; and we may say of him that he was the last of the prince archbishops.

This change has been brought about, partly by the altered position of men in reference to each other, partly also by the altered circumstances of the archoishops themselves. We in our English life are daily approaching nearer to that republican level which is equally averse to high summits and to tow depths. We no longer wish to have princes among us, and will at any rate have none of that mysterious kind which is half divine and half hocuspocus. Such terrestrial gods as we worship we choose to look full in the face. We must hear their voices and be satisfied that they have approved themselves as gods by other wisdom than that which lies in the wig. That there is a tendency to evil in this as well as a tendency to good may be true enough. To be able to venerate is a high quality, and it is coming to that with us, that we do not now venerate much. In this way the altered minds of men have altered the position of the archbishops of the Church of England.

But the altered circumstances of the sees themselves have perhaps done as much as the altered tendencies of men's minds. It is not simply that the incomes received by the present archbishops are much less than the incomes of their predecessors,— though that alone would have done much,—but the incomes are of a nature much less prone to produce princes. The territorial grandeur is gone. The archbishops and bishops of to-day, with the exception of, I believe, but two veterans on the bench, receive their allotted stipends as do the clerks in the Customhouse. There is no longer left with them any vestige of the power of the freehold magnate over the soil. They no longer have tenant and audit days. They cannot run their lives against leases, take up fines on renewals, stretch their arms as possessors over wide fields, or cut down woods and put acres of oaks into their ecclesiastical pockets. They who understand the nature of the life of our English magnates, whether noble or not noble, will be aware of the worth of that territorial position of which our bishops bave been deprived under tbe working of the Ecclesiastical Commission. Tbe very loss of the risk has been much !—as that man looms larger to himself, and therefore to others also, whose receipts may range from two to six hundred a year, than does the comfortable possessor of the insured medium. The actual diminution of income, too, has done much, and this has been accompanied by so great a rise in the price of all princely luxuries that an archbishop without a vast private fortune can no longer live as princes should live. In these days, when a plain footman demands his fifty pounds of yearly wages, and three hundred pounds a year is but a moderate rent for a London house, an archbishop cannot support a semi-royal retinue or live with much palatial splendour in the metropolis upon an annual income of eight thousand pounds.

And then, above all, the archbishops have laid aside their wigs.

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