HC Deb 14 March 1854 vol 131 cc783-7

said, he rose, in pursuance of notice, to move an Address for a copy of the alterations in the Book of Common Prayer proposed by the Royal Commissioners for the revision of the Liturgy in 1689, which were intended to be submitted to Convocation, and subsequently considered in Parliament, and the original of which, in the handwriting of the Royal Commissioners, after passing successively into the charge of Archbishop Tenison, Bishop Gibson, the Dean of Arches, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, was preserved in the library of Lambeth Palace. As the Motion was of a novel kind, he would endeavour to explain it by a very short statement. In the year 1689, in the reign of William and Mary, in consequence of an earnest feeling in favour of a more comprehensive revision of the Prayer Book, a Royal Commission was appointed for revising the Liturgy, consisting of ten bishops and twenty other eminent divines. The copy of that Commission in the Rolls in Chancery Lane clearly showed that it was a public Commission. Their orders were to revise the Liturgy, and present their recommendations to Convocation, which was about the same time to assemble. When the Commissioners had concluded their labours, Convocation was unwilling to consider the alterations which they had recommended. The consequence was that the document containing these alterations remained in the hands of Archbishop Tenison until his death in 1715, when they passed into the hands of Gibson, Bishop of London, who had acted as Secretary to the Commission. At the death of the Bishop of London in 1727 he believed the document was transferred to the Dean of Arches, with whom it remained until 1748, when it was removed to the palace of the Archbishop of Canterbury at Lambeth, and now remained in the Lambeth library. When Archbishop Tenison had possession of the document he was extremely anxious that it should be kept secret and not allowed to be published. He put these wishes into writing, and a copy of his directions was sent with the document from the Court of Arches to Lambeth. These directions of Archbishop Tenison had been a serious impediment to the publication of the document, the present Archbishop of Canterbury not thinking it right to concede to any private individual a copy. He (Mr. Heywood) had, however, corresponded with his Grace on the subject, and his Grace stated, that if the House of Commons and the Crown consented to the publication, his responsibility would be removed. It was on that account that he brought forward this Motion, considering, as he did, that these alterations were worthy of the consideration of Parliament and the country. There was no particular secret about them. They had been in great part copied into the Prayer Book of the Protestant Episcopalian Church of the United States; and having attended the services of that Church, he could assure the House they were very similar to the services of the Church of England. The services of the American Episcopal Church, however, contained various alterations, of which he believed the first idea might be traced to this Commission of 1689. He believed that the object of that Commission was to make the Church of England more comprehensive, and so to enlarge it as that some, at least, of the Puritans of that day might be able conscientiously to join it. There were a great number of persons at the present day who thought that it would be a great improvement to shorten the Church services, and to bring them into a more comprehensive form, and he was especially desirous that the chapel services of Oxford and Cambridge should be modified; but the plain statement which he now wished to submit to the House was this—that here was a public document in a private library—that the Archbishop of Canterbury considered himself responsible for the custody of that document—but that he felt that his responsibility would be taken away, in case the Crown, on an Address from the House of Commons, should ask for it. He believed that the document might be put into a shilling pamphlet, and he was sure that the small expense of publication would be far outweighed by its historical value.

Motion made, and Question put— That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, that She will be graciously pleased to give directions that there be laid before this House a Copy of the Alterations in the Book of Common Prayer, proposed by the Royal Commissioners for the Revision of the Liturgy, in 1689.


said, he thought there could be no objection to the hon. Gentleman's Motion as it was at present worded.


said, he did not think that any sufficient case had been made out for the adoption of this Motion. Its object was to require that an unofficial document should be taken from a private library by the authority of the Crown. That document, as was stated in the paper, was intended to have been submitted to Convocation, and subsequently considered in Parliament. It was perfectly true there was a Book of Common Prayer, with the annotations of Archbishop Tillotson, in the library of the Archbishop of Canterbury at Lambeth; but information with respect to those annotations was not necessary, for the hon. Member had told them what was perfectly notorious—that they had not only been published, but had been made the foundation of the Church services in America. The simple question was, whether they would require the owner of a private library to give up a document for the purpose of giving information which the public did not require, because they had got it already from other sources? The Motion was an important one, because it involved important considerations of principle. If the House were to take upon itself to go to the Queen, and to ask her to take a document out of a private library upon the ground that it related to public affairs, he did not exactly know where they were to stop.


said, he quite agreed with the right hon. Gentleman opposite as to the inconvenience of the course which the House had been invited to join in, without any reason assigned. If any public advantage were to be derived from the production of those private papers—if it were to be followed by any public action—there might be some reason for, at least, considering the Motion. But as a mere matter of curiosity, there was surely no sufficient ground for invoking the assistance of that House. They might as well be asked to go into the library of any private gentleman for a similar purpose, and if so, where was the practice to stop? If he had an opportunity, he should vote against the Motion.


said, he should agree with what had been said by the preceding speakers, if this Motion called for the production of a document from what could be strictly called a private library. But, as he understood, this library did not belong to the Archbishop in his private capacity, but was handed down from Archbishop to Archbishop on succeeding to the see of Canterbury, and could, therefore, hardly be considered private. If the Archbishop were opposed to the production of this document, he did not think that, unless there were very strong reasons, the House ought to insist upon it; but understanding that the Archbishop was willing to comply with the Motion, if it should be passed, he did not think that any principle would be violated in adopting it.


said, the Archbishop's answer to the application made to him was to the effect that, as the book was placed in the library with express directions that it was to be kept secret, he was unwilling to make its publication in any way his act; but that if the Crown and the country should concur in requesting that it should be published, he should consider himself relieved from responsibility. It was therefore entirely a question for the House to decide.


said, he wished to draw the attention of the House to the form in which this Motion was submitted. When the House was pleased to make an order for a return, it was understood that that return was intended to be compulsory, and left no option to the party to whom it was addressed; but when, as was proposed in this case, it was agreed to present an Address to the Crown, asking that a particular document might be produced, they referred it, in fact, to the discretion of the Crown to produce for them that document. It would be for his noble Friend the Secretary of State, if the House should assent to the Motion, to frame his correspondence with the Archbishop as he himself might think fit; and he had no doubt that, in the exercise of his discretion, he would take care so to frame it as to show that no compulsory interference was intended. Considering this, and also that this was a document public in its nature, and containing the recommendations of a Commission—["No, no!"] So he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) had understood it, and so the notice of Motion had described it. He did not think that it could be said that its production was asked for as a matter of private curiosity; it might more properly be called a matter of historical interest, and as a matter of historical interest, he did think that, with all respect to personal and private rights, that House might very fairly be desirous of having it.


said, he could not help thinking that there were some ulterior objects contemplated by the hon. Gentleman who had brought forward this Motion, beyond those which had been stated; and he considered that the House ought to know what those objects were. He was quite convinced that the public would feel great alarm if they were led to believe, as they would be led to believe, that this was the first step towards the interference of Parliament with the Liturgy of the Church.

The House divided:—Ayes 132; Noes 83: Majority 49.

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