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A REMARKABLY foolish clergyman is appointed to be
incumbent of a parish in the most populous city of ancient or modern times. The parish is one of the roughest in the city, requiring most active, vigilant, and self-denying efforts on the part of the clergy, if they would affect any moral good founded on a religious basis. They have to fight with a deepseated aversion to themselves, as well as with permanent dithoulties which beset them in the form of poverty, and those vices which again produce and perpetuate vice and poverty.
In many a parish of the metropolis there is enough of crime and misery, of brute ignorance and utter lawlessness, to make one Wonder that, in spite of them, society hangs together, and that rapine and murder do not become the principles upon which the community should essay to exist. But east of that great road-artery (the streets of Gracechurch and Bishopsgate), running from the north end of London bridge towards Hackney and the marsh country formed by the Lea, lie whole cities of poverty, kingdoms of disease, and empires of human misery. There, incessant toil, the supposed curse of many of the race, would be a blessing ; for it might bring suffioient food to maintain vigorous life-continuous wages, however low, would be counted an immeasurable boon, for famine might be staved off. To see how the adults of these districts might be aided in their physical and moral exigencies, and their children educated and helped to escape, if possible, from the cruel fate which seems to impend over them, are a part of the duties belonging to the sacred calling of the clergy. One would suppose that here, at least, there was no room for indulging in what the profane describe as clerical man-millinery, for playing with mediaeval forms, trifling with the literature of symbols, and meditating on old church ceremonies, or new ecclesiastical dramatic tricks. Here, in the very heart of that corrupt body which requires earnest work and genuine zeal, one would least of all have anticipated that a miserable specimen of the modern Sectarian would set up his banner, blow the trumpet of discord, and raise the fury of religious enmity. Nevertheless, such is the case, and the reports of the detestable doings at St. George’s-in-the-East, have suggested to us a few remarks on “ Brawling in the church and churchyard.”
Each Monday, for months past, the reporters for the daily papers have faithfully told us of blackguard riots in this wretched parish; which, were we to read an account of them in an American paper, would afford food for endless satire on the ignorance and brutality of that unfortunate people—-or, could they occur in a Roman Catholic country, would induce meetings in Exeter Hall, at which some Evangelical Earl would take the chair, and vehement denunciations of the crimes and superstitions of Popery would be rantingly delivered to a crowd of people, supposed to be pious by some, but known to be foolish by more.
With the disgusting detail of priestly folly and popular blackguardism in this parish, we need not here deal. It is enough to know that, between the two parties engaged in the unchristian proceedings, there is very little choice in respect of decency or civilization. Gross superstition, natural and acquired folly, and sectarian education, may be urged in extenuation perhaps of both. The absence, moreover, of ecclesiastical discipline on the one hand, and a natural desire of self-government in religious matters on the other, may be put forward as explanatory of the anarchy which prevails in St. Georges-in-the-East.
With respect to what is urged on the side of popular licence, viz. : that in the seventeenth century, when the reformed religion was frequently endangered, the people protested with some success by rioting in churches, and asserting their more enlightened views by loud disturbances ; and that no other means are left to the public now-a-days but by thus expressing their disapprobation, awkwardly it is true, but naturally and effectively—we reply, that the nineteenth is not the seventeenth century, and that one great distinction between a period of anarchy and atime of order
is, that the law is aflirmed in the latter time by legally established procedure. Civilized society is marked by the creation of rules adapted to the exigency of its wants ; and the outcries of a mob are not and ought not to be received as the real expression of public opinion. Mr. Bonwell was not left to the congregation of the people to be stoned ; and Mr. King and his choristers ought not to be handed over to the mob to be pummelled. Surely it is more decent that a rector should be suspended by the diocesan, than that the shepherd should be hanged by his flock. It is not an edifying spectacle when a body of choristers, true to the beat of the precentor and the staff of the sergeant of police, are chanting in unison, “Hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come,” that the emulous multitude in the nave, getting ahead of the vestmented few, should be shouting in horrid discord, “ F orgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us,” and be forthwith taken into custody by the O division of police.
“Come along,” one young ruflian was heard to say one Sunday morning—“ Come along, Bill, and have a lark, we shall be in time for the Litany ; I have such a railway whistle as I prigged out of master's room whiles they was at prayers last night!” Such is the aid invoked by the “sound churchmen” engaged in St. George’s-in-the-East to put down popish practices, and teach a foolish parson true views of the Anglican liturgy.
Generally speaking, in England good sense and a common Feeling of decency prevent such disputes coming into court; but, when an appeal must be made to the laws, these ought to be available. Some one should have the power of stopping such disgraceful proceedings as are occurring in St. George’s. The pastor should be removable on account of inability to perform his duties, just as a judge would be turned oi? if he made his court a bear-garden; or an otficer in the army or navy be cashiered if he rendered the soldiers in his regiment, or the sailors in his ship, insubordinate, and a nuisance to the community. But in St. George’s~in-the-East we have had for months the spectacle of a. priest party, on the one hand, insulting a whole parish; and, on the other, of a. mob, which would disgrace a minor theatre on boxing-night, revelling in outrages in a church, and only restrained from committing the last extremity of violence by the presence of a strong body of police.
It is obviously a gross evil that any part of the public should organize themselves into a mob to put down a religious service conducted according to law. The lowest state of society requires
that in some one should be vested the power of deciding differences.
It would be better that a body of clergymen should transform themselves into mountebanks, canonical or uncanonical, and a whole parish turn dissenters, orthodox or unorthodox, than that the laws of the country and public decency should be systematically violated. '
It may be said, what are the laws which are violated? and, if there are any, why not vindicate them? Is there any criminal law and ecclesiastical law applicable?
Let us look first at the common law of the case. Blackstone says, an “ atfray is the fighting of two or more persons in some public place, to the terror of her Ma_jesty’s subjects.” He adds, “ that affrays may be suppressed by any private person present ; and that a constable is bound to suppress an afiray, and may apprehend and carry the misdemeanants before a justice, and imprison them by his own authority for a convenient space, till the threat is over, and may then, perhaps, also make them find sureties for the peace.” . . . . “The punishment of common aflrays is by fine and imprisonment, the measure of which must be regulated by the circumstances of the case.” It is an aggravation of the offence, as the commentator points out, “when a respect to the particular place ought to restrain and regulate men’s behaviour more than in common ones.” All afrays “in a church or churchyard are esteemed very heinous ofences, as being indignities to Him to whose service these places are consecrated. Therefore, mere quarrelsome words, which are neither an afliay nor an ofl"ence in any other place, are penal here ;” and he then refers to 5 and 6 Edward VL, c. 4, which we will presently notice. An atfray, then, and disturbance in the church, is a criminal act, and certain delinquents of St. Georges-in-the-East have been taken to the police court. With what result”! So far as we can see, only to have the wellknown fact propounded by the magistrates, that it was all very disgraceful; and they hoped they might hear no more about it. If a curate assault a parishioner, and catch him by his coattails, jamming them in the church door, he is brought up and fined two shillings —not because the assault was proved, but to prevent any triumph to the party of which the poor captured fellow, who thus ignominiously adhered to the church, was a member. Again, if a silly and mischievous fool is apprehended by the police for howling and screaming at the parson, and obstructing the service, sentence is deferred, to enable the rioters to settle their own diflerences, and make up their quarrels. The magistrates, in fact, refer the disputes to the combatants—only sending on Sundays a police force, to keep the fellowworshippers from pitching into each other.
But this non-operation of the criminal law being unsuccessful, an attempt is made at the mild intervention of the bishop as arbitrator. He orders that the parsons should not exhibit themselves in masquerade, with green, or blue, or orange, or motley; the order is evaded by the conscientious pastor, who dexterously persists, nevertheless, in asserting his so-called religious principles, and thus harassing his foolish fold. Then the church is shut up awhile instead of the clergymen (which might be a more successful plan), and the folly and brutality is renewed on the first practicable occasion. The intervention then of the police magistrate, and the friendly interference of the bishop, have alike proved useless.
It does appear to us, without regard to religious parties or the origin of the disturbance, that the magistrates at least ought to have enforced the law more vigorously and resolutely. The protection of society required that those who took part in the proved violence should have been visited with severe punishment. The treatment of the question was, however, within the discretion of the magistrates, and they have exercised it with no