HC Deb 25 March 1834 vol 22 cc623-37
Mr. Pryme

said, that having been cut short in his address to the House yesterday, by that inflexible monitor—time, he should now conclude the observations he was about to offer to the House, in the same spirit that he commenced them—namely, by strictly confining himself to the subject-matter contained in the petition. Whatever opinions he might entertain with regard to the principle and extent of the concessions which ought to be made to the Dissenters, it was not his intention to obtrude them on the House on the present occasion, but to reserve them until some specific Motion should be brought before them on the subject. He repeated his opinion, that there was nothing of a controversial character in the examinations of the Universities, that could be at all repugnant to the feelings of the Dissenters. Although the concession prayed for would give the Dissenters a vote in the Senate, and in the administration of the general affairs of the University, yet the details of education, and matters of minor consideration, were entirely under the direction and control of the different colleges, and were not governed by the senate of the University. The concession would not, therefore, interfere in the least degree, with the course of academical instruction and discipline of the University. When a candidate for honours came up to receive his degree, he was not asked whether he bad attended the chapel, or performed other requisites. That was left entirely to the college to which he belonged; and it was their duty to attend to the regular performance of them, and give him his testimonials, which were never questioned by the University. The colleges had it in their power to grant dispensations from attendance at chapel and at the sacrament, if it was contrary to the conscience of any individual; and this had been the case in Trinity College, Dublin, for a long period of time; where, from national liberality, they had admitted Roman Catholics and Dissenters to degrees ever since the year 1793; and he was informed they were not required either to reside in the college or to attend the chapels. It had been said, that such a concession would change the whole character of the English Universities. For whose advantage, he would ask, were the Universities formed? For that body exclusively to whom they belonged? Certainly not. As it had been remarked by his hon. colleague, in the time of Elizabeth and Edward 6th, there was no exclusion of any class, and there had been no want of heresy and schism; there were religious discords, on account of which men were imprisoned, persecuted, and beheaded; and yet, during those dark and disturbed times, when polemical feeling ran high, and when persecutions existed, down to the year 1613, there had been no exclusion from the Universities. He denied, therefore, that these advantages were exclusively intended for the Church of England. With regard to the claims to emolument, they were the result of the foundations of particular colleges, and were or might be limited to the will of the founders, or by the statutes of the college. It was said the prayer of the petition was limited, and that theological degrees were not included. The reason was, that if his hon. friend opposite, orthodox as he was, or himself, desired to take the degree of Doctor of Divinity, there was an insuperable impediment in the way, for in the course of the exercises to be performed, they would be required to preach a Latin Sermon at St. Mary's Church. Therefore, the petitioners would have stultified themselves if they had asked to grant the Dissenters degrees in theology. The hon. Member passed a high encomium upon the character and talent of the professors and tutors whose signatures were attached to the petition, and expressed his surprise, under all the circumstances, that the number was so large, and hailed it as a demonstration of the growing feelings of liberality and spirit of candour in the University. Having stated, at the commencement of his speech, his intention to reserve his observations on the general question, he should conclude by giving his support to the petition.

Mr. Cobbett

said, the House had witnessed yesterday, in the course of the discussion, what no Member could have expected, a Minister of the Crown trying to get that House to consent to what a former monarch was driven from the Throne for attempting, and the present Royal Family put upon the Throne to prevent. The right hon. Gentleman had entertained them with a tough story. He gave them a long account of the exclusions from the Universities; but he had left a chasm, and that chasm was not to be filled up by such an authority as had been relied upon by the right hon. Gentleman,—namely, Dr. John Jebb, who was the most determined, bitter, persevering, and implacable enemy of the Church of England, from the day he first took up his pen, to the hour of his death. He was surprised that such an authority should have been relied upon by a Minister of the Crown. He would take another authority, which could not err, because it related to facts which unquestionable document would fully substantiate. He alluded to Hume's history of this country, and especially during the reign of King James 2nd. That monarch had attempted the very same thing that was sought by the present petitioners; and he must beg the attention of the House to one very short passage from Hume, which, as the hon. Gentleman opposite had read passages from Dr. John Jebb's writings, he (Mr. Cobbett) must read. The passage was as follows:—"Father Francis, a Benedictine, was recommended by the King's mandate to the University of Cambridge, for the degree of Master of Arts; and as it was usual for the University to confer that degree on persons eminent for their learning, without regard to their religion, and as they had even lately admitted the Secretary to the Ambassador of Morocco, the King on that account thought himself the batter entitled to compliance." Thus it would seem, that the King entertained the notion, that, as the liberal University of Cambridge had not hesitated to admit the Secretary to the Ambassador of Morocco, he should be excused if he recommended a Roman Catholic monk for the degree of Master of Arts. But what course was followed on this occasion by the University? Did that body accede to the Royal mandate? It was important to look at the conduct of the University in this instance, because hon. Gentlemen had been told, that the University had always been ready to admit them, and that the Church had entertained no objec- tions, but that it had been the Kings who had interfered. Now, though it was not permitted to speak of dead kings of the present line, yet he could speak of dead kings of the Stuart family, and he would therefore do justice to the dead king James 2nd. He it was, that thus solicited the admission of a Dissenter from the Church to a degree—precisely that which was asked in the prayer of the petition before the House. Hon. Members should now hear the determination of the University upon the Royal mandate to which he had referred. Hume said: "But the University considered that there was a great difference between a compliment bestowed on foreigners, and degrees which gave a title to vote in all the elections and statutes of the University, and which, if conferred on the Catholics, would infallibly in time render that sect entirely superior." No doubt such would be the case; and though he should not object to the proposed measure, and that it should be determined by the House that Dissenters and Roman Catholics should be admitted to degrees, and thus acquire a right of voting, the Legislature at the same time must not disguise from itself the fact, that in a very short time, they would become the masters of the University, and of the property of the colleges therein. To proceed, however, with the extract—"They therefore refused to obey the King's mandate, and were cited to appear before the Court of Ecclesiastical Commission. The Vice-Chancellor was suspended by that court; but as the University chose a man of spirit to succeed him, the King thought proper for the present to drop his pretensions." The subject, however, did not rest upon what the University had done in this instance. It could not be forgotten by hon. Members what had occurred shortly subsequent to the transaction to which he had alluded in the case of the seven bishops, whose petition had been drawn forth by the renewed attempt on the part of the King to open the Universities to every description of Dissenters, not confined to Roman Catholics, as in the former instance, but to put all classes on the same level with churchmen. The bishops had been called upon to read a proclamation of toleration in all their churches after divine service. They refused, and petitioned the King against being compelled to do so, stating that such a course would not only lead to the destruction of the Church, but would be a degradation, not only to the bishops themselves, but to all the clergy of the establishment. The bishops who thus remonstrated it was well known were sent to the Tower, brought to trial for a sedition alleged to be contained in their memorial, and were acquitted. This transaction ended in the King being driven from his throne. Notwithstanding this example, a similar proposition to that attempted by King James 2nd had been yesterday recommended by a Minister of the Crown. He really must remonstrate with the right hon. Gentleman for adopting as an authority for the proposition he had made the writing of Dr. John Jebb. He was surprised the right hon. Gentleman had not been able to muster some better authority. He (Mr. Cobbett) had referred to a French work, the Dictionnairedes Grandes Hommes, and therein had found the character given to Dr. John Jebb was, that he was a clever man, but a most inflammatory, politician, going in every attach against royalty, and upon the established institutions of the country. He therefore could not sit with patience, and hear Dr. Jebb cited as an authority; and he trusted never to see his books again upon the Table of the House. He thought the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. S. Rice) had not dealt fairly with the House by confining himself to the prayer of the petition with which he had been intrusted. The right hon. Gentleman ought to have told the House what the Dissenters themselves prayed for, in the numerous petitions they were forwarding to both branches of the Legislature. When he (Mr. Cobbett) remembered the prayers of those petitions of the Dissenters themselves, he was surprised that so many members of the Established Church and of an English University, had signed a petition of the character or the one now under the consideration of the House. He could not imagine how those who signed that petition conceived that the Church and the Universities could be upheld if their prayer were conceded. It would have been much more candid in the right hon. Gentleman to have told the House that it was impossible longer to uphold the Church establishment, and that it must give way. The only real grievance which the right hon. Gentleman, the member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Goulburn) could discover was, that Dissenters, not having access to degrees, were compelled to serve two additional years before they could attain either the profession of an attorney or a barrister, or could attain a certain rank in the College of Physicians. This grievance was not confined to Dissenters, but extended also to such members of the Church as had not attained a degree. It was well known, that a young man who had not obtained a degree was two years longer in eating his terms—that was, in gnawing his way to the bar, like rats gnawing their way into a cornbin. The real question was, whether or not the House was prepared to grant all that the Dissenters claimed,—viz. a full and free participation in every benefit and advantage that the University afforded; and he was satisfied that nothing short of this would content them, at least if they were sincere in the expressions contained in their petitions. For himself, he must say, that he would rather the Government had declared its views with regard to the Dissenters' claims, than to have degraded themselves and deluded the House and the country by the course pursued upon this occasion. The real question with him was, whether or not the Church establishment was to be demolished.

Mr. Baines

considered, that the same argument which the hon. Member had used might have been put forward when the House were discussing the Test and Corporation Acts and the question of Catholic Emancipation. He denied, that the Dissenters were keeping back anything, and he took upon himself to state, that it was not the wish of the Dissenters in the smallest degree to interfere with those institutions which were devoted to the support of the established religion of the country. In these institutions they did not ask to participate; all that they wanted was to be admitted to the general institutions of the country. If there were a college instituted for the purpose of giving instructions to the members of the Church of England, they did not wish to partake of those instructions. With respect to the other objections made by the hon. Member relating to the removal of the tests, he believed, that that removal and the argument upon that subject would have applied to the Test and Corporation Acts and the Catholic question. He would ask the House, whether that House had been made the worse by the admission of Catholic Members? Certainly not; and that being so, the question with him was, would the University be made a whit the worse for the admission of Catholics and Dissenters than the House had been? With respect to the question whether the subject was open to the consideration of Parliament, he thought that if it were in the power of king James 1st to impose those restrictions, it was equally in the power of Parliament to remove them. Under what circumstances, he would ask, was the test complained of imposed? Not at a time when the subject could receive a grave and deliberate consideration, but at a period when the King was enjoying the sports of the turf, and not very likely to judge deliberately whether those impositions were calculated to produce good effects or not. The petitioners only wished to participate in the benefits of the University as far as they were general, and did not wish to derive any advantage from them as far as they were intended to serve the purpose, exclusively, of the Church of England.

Mr. Lennard

said, he had had a good deal of communication with the Dissenters of this country of late, and he verily believed that they did not for a moment contemplate anything but what was just and reasonable. The hon. member for Oldham did not see that they were deprived of any advantages that were worth speaking of; but they were of a different way of thinking, as was proved by the immense number of petitions which had been presented upon the subject. The hon. Member said, it was nothing that the Dissenters were excluded from the professions both of physic and law; for, as the case stood at present, except as a matter of very special favour, a Dissenter could never get to the highest situation in the College of Physicians. True, they might practise, but under restrictions which were degrading. In his opinion, if they considered the obtaining of those degrees as a mere feather in their cap, they ought to be granted a participation in them. Nothing, in his opinion, could be more absurd than in these days, when Dissenters were admitted into that House, when they might become Ministers of State and Privy Councillors—when they might even be elevated to the bench,—to say they were not eligible to become Bachelors and Masters of Arts. It was most absurd to reason upon the letter of James 1st in these days of enlightenment and freedom, for it was written in times when freedom was unknown—and when even speaking of liberty rendered a man liable to all the pains of an inquisition. It was to him extraordinary, that arguments for the exclusion of Dissenters should now be drawn exclusively from the time of the Stuarts. When the Universities were first established, they were national institutions, and comprised the whole body of the people. The object of those who now opposed the claims of the Dissenters would be to make them sectarian establishments. The Dissenters amounted to one-third of the whole population; and was it right that such a large proportion of the country should be deprived of the advantages of science and literature? The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Goulburn) had contended, that it was improper to admit Dissenters to the Universities, because those establishments were to be considered, in some way or other, as closely connected with the Established Church. He (Mr. Lennard) knew of no statute—certainly not the Statute of Elizabeth—which excluded any class of society. The Universities were established for the spread of literature and science, godly literature being of course included; therefore the argument raised by the right hon. Gentleman was an unjust one. That right hon. Gentleman, however, had used one plausible line of argument, viz. that if the House gave the Universities the power of admitting Dissenters to particular colleges, the heads of those colleges would refuse to receive them, and therefore it would be, in fact, giving the Dissenters nothing. The first answer to that was, that some colleges did now receive Dissenters. He recollected when he was at Cambridge, twenty years ago, a Roman Catholic student and a Roman Catholic tutor were admitted to Jesus College: since then the same liberality was practised. But would it be contended, that the colleges would be less disposed now, if the House gave them the power, than they were twenty years ago, to admit Dissenters? He felt great gratification at seeing such a petition from Cambridge—for it was a proof that the members of the University understood the temper of the times, and were disposed to accede to the wishes of their Dissenting brethren, which was equally demanded by justice and expediency.

Mr. Wilks

said that, connected as he had the honour to be with the Dissenters, it would be heedless and unthankful in him to allow that petition to lie on the table without saying a few words upon the liberal and enlightened body from whom it had emanated. The characters of the hon. members of the University who had signed that petition were eminent, not only in this country, but abroad, where their names were connected with the science and literature of the age. It was doubly acceptable to the Dissenters that these eminent individuals had come forward unsolicited and unsought, which must reflect strong lustre upon their benevolence and liberality, and which would be most gratefully acknowledged by the Dissenters. They had come forward to ask, that the Dissenters should not be excluded from the honours of the University, and he (Mr. Wilks) would venture to say, that if the Dissenters were few in number and comparatively unknown—if their wealth, information, industry, and political power did not entitle them to the attention of the House—even then the prayer of the petition would be just, and the principle upon which it was founded was such as every reflecting statesman must hail with satisfaction, and every liberal heart must approve. The principle was one of intellectual liberty and liberty of conscience; and he trusted that the House would be inclined to admit that principle. If that principle held good on the supposition that the Dissenters were few in number, how much more so must it be when it appeared that they constituted one-third of the population, and in some places seven, and in Wales nine-tenths of the population? When it appeared that in the manufacturing and agricultural districts the great majority of the population were Dissenters—[An Hon. Member asked, Could he prove that?] He would not enter into the details; but he was prepared to prove, that not only in the manufacturing and mining, but even in the agricultural districts, the great bulk of the land belonged, not to those who were connected with the Established Church, but to the Dissenters. If there was no positive advantage to be obtained by the Dissenters from admission to the Universities, still they should not submit to any political or civil degradation. How would the members of the Church in that House feel, if they were excluded from any political rights because of their particular mode of religious worship? If it were but a feather, as the hon. member for Bolton said, without which a man could not walk through the world without being debased and degraded in some respects, he ought to demand it, and it ought to be granted him. Whatever tended to the degradation of Protestant Dissenters created civil prejudices, and did much injury to society in general. It was not the mere degradation of the Dissenters, but of the country, that men like Watts and Doddridge had received from Aberdeen or America those very honours which ought to have been given to them by the Universities of their own country. Such men as Dr. Pye Smith, Dr. Carey, Dr. Morrison, and others, to whom we were indebted for German and Chinese literature, were excluded from our Universities on no other account but that of not agreeing to the same form of worship. A right hon. Member said, that if the Petition were acceded to, he could not send his son with satisfaction to the University; but what was the case in regard to Scotland, where there were no tests, and where the parents never felt any such solicitude as that, and yet where there was a general devotedness to the interests of religion and to the Established Church of the country? Much had been said in condemnation of the language of Dissenters in their Petitions; but what said the subscribers to this Petition? "That they regarded the exclusion of Dissenters from the Universities as an unrighteous proscription." If they were still to be excluded, our Universities would be no longer national establishments, but sectarian institutions. He felt grateful to his Majesty's Ministers that they had come forward, as far as they had done, upon this occasion, especially after that unfortunate Bill which had excited so much suspicion and dissatisfaction among the Dissenters of the country. He thanked his Majesty's Ministers, in the name of the Protestant Dissenters at large, and would conclude in the words of Locke, in the Preface to his Essay on Toleration:—"What we want is liberty; absolute liberty; just and true liberty; equal and impartial liberty." More than that the Dissenters need not ask; with less than that they would never be contented.

Mr. Secretary Stanley

rose and said, that, as he was not a member of the University from which the petition had emanated, he ought, perhaps, to refrain from offering any observations upon it to the House; but, as the subject was of great importance, and of considerable novelty, and as the petition came before the House with the high recommendation of the important names attached to it, not only from the weight of the personal character of the petitioners themselves but also their situation in the University to which they belonged, and in the country, he might perhaps be pardoned if he deviated from the general rule he had laid down for himself, namely, not to comment upon petitions presented to the Legislature. He trusted, however, that he should be excused if he now, as a member of the Government, and as a member most anxious to consult and support what he felt to be the true mid best interests of the Established Church and of religion, ex- pressed shortly his most entire, unequivocal, and unhesitating concurrence in the prayer of the petition which had been presented by his right hon. friend, the member for Cambridge. He could not but regard it as rather a singular fact, that, to a petition presented from gentlemen who held so high a character for learning, for distinction, and attachment to the national religion of the land, as the distinguished individuals whose names were appended to it, one objection—and only one objection—should be taken by two hon. Gentlemen holding opposite,—and extremely opposite,—opinions, on almost every subject. The single objection of both those Gentlemen was the moderation of the demand, and of the language in which that demand was couched in the petition. The ground—and only ground—of the objections, both of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Goulburn) and of the hon. member for Oldham was, that the petition was too moderate in its prayer. ["No," from Mr. Goulburn.] He was well aware, that the reasons for objecting to the moderation of the petition were different; but still the fact of the moderation was the basis of the objection of both the right hon. and the hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman, the member for the University of Cambridge had said (certainly much at variance with the conclusion to be drawn from the rest of his speech), that he objected to the petition because, from its own showing, the grievances from which the Dissenters sought to be relieved were so trifling as to amount to almost next to nothing. The hon. member for Oldham had objected to the petition, because its demand was so moderate as not to meet his views,—because it did not go far enough to meet the objects sought to be attained by the Dissenters of this country, and because it did not go boldly to the subversion and demolition of the Church Establishment. Now, in his opinion, the moderation of the petition was its principal recommendation; and, coupled with the soundness of the arguments it contained, would, he believed, be its main recommendation to the country at large. The right hon. Gentleman had said, in the course of the observations which he had made to the House yesterday, that, in point of fact, the Dissenters had no grievances to complain of in respect to the University of Cambridge; or, if they had, the grievance amounted to this, and to this only,—that, being unable to take the degree of Master of Arts in consequence of not sub- scribing (pursuant to the laws of the University) the 39 articles, the Dissenters were required, before they could advance in the learned professions, to serve an apprenticeship two years longer in its duration than those who had obtained degrees; and the right hon. Gentleman had added, that this being the only grievance, the Dissenters should rather apply for a remedy and redress to the Inns of Court and to the Medical Societies, than to the University. He was, however, ready to contend, even if this were all, that it amounted to a real and substantial grievance; if this were not the only grievance, then he must say, that the whole course of argument pursued by the right hon. Gentleman was overthrown, and went for nothing. If, under the present system, there was a restriction without a substantial reason, why should that restriction be continued as a degradation upon any class of the subjects of the realm? The right hon. Gentleman had also said, that, as a father, he objected to any alteration in the present plan, and that he never could accede to the admission of Dissenters into the University, lest the morals of his sons should suffer and be contaminated by mixing and associating with them.

Mr. Goulburn

said, he must interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, the Secretary for the Colonies, who had so entirely misrepresented what he (Mr. Goulburn) had stated, that he could not permit it to pass without observation. In explanation, he begged to say, that his argument had been this,—he had first complained, that the parties who had brought forward this petition had not shown that, if the claim were granted, the course of religious instruction and education would be followed; and, in the second place, he, as a father, should object, in the absence of such a course of religious instruction, to intrust his son to the University. He had also urged, that, if a forced system of religious education, it could not be satisfactory to the Dissenters, but he had never said, that, because the Dissenters were admitted, he would not intrust his sons in such an association.

Mr. Secretary Stanley

conceived the explanation of the right hon. Gentleman left his argument in the same situation. The first point was, that the grievance of the Dissenters was so small as to afford no grounds of complaint as against the University. If the grievance was small, the remedy was the more simple. With regard to the first point, he would revert to the argument that had been advanced by the hon. member for Oldham, who had stated, that he thought it was quite right that a person, not possessing an academic degree, should undergo an additional two years' apprenticeship. [Mr. Cobbett had said no such thing.] He had understood the hon. Member to have endeavoured to convince the House, that those who were not at the University at all, were placed precisely in the same situation as the Dissenters, in respect to their claims for advancement in the learned professions, and that therefore the Dissenters had no right to complain. The two cases were, however, very different. In some of the professions it had been thought right, that the individual who possessed the University education should have two years taken off his period of probation, in consideration of his presumed greater advancement in learning over another individual who had not enjoyed the same advantages; but in this case the Dissenter might have all the advantages of University education; and yet he was deprived of the shortened duration of his apprenticeship, not because he was an unlearned person, but because as he could not conscientiously sign the articles of the Established Church, the rule was not to be relaxed. This was a practical grievance; but if that were denied, he must insist that it was a practical degradation. He (Mr. Stanley) was most anxious to afford the Established Church every protection, consistent with doing justice, however, to all classes of the subjects of the realm; and he was confident, that the Church would not be best supported by keeping up and maintaining the present system of exclusion. If he might be permitted to express an opinion upon the subject, he would say, that the spread of dissent from the tenets of the Established Church was to be attributed, in respect to the poorer classes, to the insufficiency of religious instruction; and with regard to the higher classes, he would say, that the dissent amongst them arose from the strictness with which the system of exclusion was drawn round the Church. To induce the Dissenters to attach themselves to the Church Establishment, no better course could be suggested than to admit them to full and free intercourse with the members of that Church. The question of exclusion, he regretted to say, affected the Universities generally, but was elsewhere carried to a much greater extent than in Cambridge. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Goulburn) had asked, what would be the system of education pursued in the University of Cambridge, in the event of the Dissenters being admitted to take degrees there? If the right hon. Gentleman had been speaking as an Oxford man, then he could have understood the object of that inquiry; but, in the system of education adopted at Cambridge at present, the proposed relaxation in the regulations would not make any change whatever in that establishment, because even now, Protestant Dissenters and Roman Catholics were admitted within its walls, and were mixed up in the discipline and practice of the colleges; so that the admission of these parties to degrees could not interfere with the course of education at present practised. In Oxford, however, the case would be different, and, as a member of the Church of England, he most deeply lamented the system in that University. He must say, that young men of sixteen or seventeen years of age, ought not on their entrance to be called upon to subscribe the thirty-nine articles, which, in all probability, in nine cases out of ten, had never been read or considered. Such a system, he must contend, was most injurious to the real interests of religion. He would go further with regard to the discipline of the University, and most unhesitatingly express his entire dissent from the compulsory attendance of the students, morning and evening, in the chapels of their respective Colleges. He complained, that day after day, and week after week, young men were called from their wine, at five or six o'clock in the evening, to attend divine service in the chapel, from which they returned to their wine again. This system was most injurious to the morals of the youth of the country, and was calculated more to deaden all feelings for religion, than if all the Dissenters of England were admitted to the honours of the University. He would not now enter into the details as to how far, and in what manner it might be expedient to modify the admission to degrees of Dissenters—whether to all the honours, all the civil privileges, and whether there should be any restrictions with regard to the internal government of the University. The prayer of the petition, it was true, excluded any interference with the separate Colleges. The time to which the sitting of the House was limited having already expired, he would not say more, than to request the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Line (Colonel Williams) to postpone his motion having reference to this subject, which stood for this evening. The subject was new to the House, but the discussion upon the petition would do much to bring men's minds acquainted with all the bearings of this subject. It was, however, very evident, that the House was not at present competent (at least he himself felt incompetent) to say, to what extent the relaxation of the restrictions ought to go, or in what mode that relaxation would be best effected. By a postponement of the question, the House would be enabled to consider these points, and be better prepared to discuss the general and particular question. For the same reason, he should urge a similar request on the hon. member for South Lancashire (Mr. G. W. Wood) who had a Motion bearing on the question, which he hoped the hon. Member would postpone.

Colonel Williams

said, that the tone in which the subject had been taken up by the Government was sufficient to induce him to accede to the request of the right hon. Gentleman opposite.

The Speaker left the Chair, and the debate was further adjourned.