THE BISHOP OF GLOUCESTER ON THE LABOURERS. T HE Bishop is
worse than the Duke. It makes one almost despair of the future of the English Church, to read such a speech as that which the Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol on Friday week addressed to the Gloucestershire Agricultural Society, a body in which the Labourers, who constitute seventy per cent. of the agricultural community, have neither share nor representation. If there is a class in the country which the Church of England has an interest in conciliating and binding firmly to itself, it is that of agricultural labourers. They will within a very few years return half the county members, and have the power of returning all. Theologically, they are not opposed to the Church of England, its system, its ceremonies, or its teaching, are inclined rather to believe, from early instruction or life-long habit, that it is the best of Churches, the one to which " a respectable Christian " should belong. Politically, they are quite in sympathy with the Church, which does not tax them, which alleviates the pressure of the Pool. Law upon them, and which spends money and energy in educating their children almost for nothing. Socially, they are just beginning to doubt as to their relation to the parson. He is very kind, no doubt, and he is a gentleman, and he is utterly trustworthy as a custodian of funds for their benefit—the pro- found belief of the lower-class English, Dissenters included, in the pecuniary honesty of the clergy is very noteworthy—bat is he not a little too much of a Squire, a little too much inclined to go with the farmers and against the ploughmen, a little too hard about wages, and perquisites, and comfort generally ? The Warwickshire labourers think he is, and in the first out- break of the strike showed more feeling about the " on- Christian temper " of the clergy than about any proceedings of the farmers, however ill-judged. The latter were tradesmen fighting for their profits, but the former were bystanders pledged and paid to expound the teaching of Christ, which the labourer, forgetting, perhaps, the severely scientific economy of the parable of the Vineyard, always believes will, if rightly interpreted, be on the side of the weak. It is men with such a future, such a friendliness to the Church, and such a lurking doubt in their own minds, that Dr. Ellicott, a pattern Bishop, a scholar, and a thinker, tells that they are only to have bare maintenance, that "the price of brawny arms " ought to increase only when the price of food increases ; that he doubts "if there are not two sides to the wages question," increased wages meaning increased drunkenness ; that "he should hesitate to denounce the truck system ;"—that he had "no sympathy with that tendency to set class against class,—which persons in good position in other counties [Canon Girdlestone to wit] had pur- sued by deporting labourers from their own county to other counties ;" that the interests of the labourer were identical with those of the farmer, and that "if the labourers did receive too little money, that was made up by other things." What can a labourer who reads such words think but that the Bishop cares nothing about the earthly welfare of seventy per cent. of his flock, but only about that of the ten per cent. with whom the labourer is contending ; that he thinks of the farmer who pays the tithe, but not of the labourer who makes it ; that he preaches heaven in part because if men hope for heaven they will not so greatly mind their unhappy lot here on earth ? That is the very argument which the popular atheistical lecturers, men of whom society never hears, are perpetually pressing upon the poor, and on behalf of which they will hereafter quote a Bishop like Dr. Ellicott. We care nothing about the false political economy of the speech, though it is trying to hear a dignitary of an endowed Church; who approves endowments. and is paid out of them, arguing that perquisites which cannot be put in a savings'_ bank are the equivalents of silver wages which can ; that gifts which you must consume are equal to gifts which you can accumulate, and condemn it only for the want of sympathy which it evinces with a class which above all others deserves and would reward the kindly pleading of the Church on its behalf. Did not God make these men's bodies, that a Bishop should so despise their bodily welfare The clergyman, with all his faults, has hitherto been the minister of the poor, of those who but for his relation to the State might be neglected ; but henceforth, in this diocese at least, he must, if he accepts his Bishop's counsel, be the minister of the well-to- do,—must refrain from helping the poor man to a better market for his labour,—must discourage him from rising in life,—must drive away by physical force those who would teach him to rise.
For unhappily the Bishop went much farther than we have yet reported in his crusade against labourers who ask for more. The labourer being ignorant as well as miserable, a few men who are interested in his situation endeavour to re- move his ignorance, deliver lectures to him on the value of combination, on the better terms obtainable in the North, on the happier homes to be acquired beyond the Atlantic or in the Australian pastures, lectures we should have thought second only in edification to those of the parish clergy- man, lectures in fact which, if he did his duty, he would deliver, and in delivering deprive of that tone of bitterness which his rival naturally throws into his harangue. Well, a Bishop of the Church of England, a Bishop of the highest character for attainments, a Bishop whose opposition makes emendators of our translation of the Scriptures quake, actually advises that these lecturers should be put down by ducking— that is, by an insulting method of applying physical force It is nearly incredible, but here are the words, cut from the Times' report of Tuesday :—" He denounced them as strongly as any man could denounce any un-English proceeding, and it was not for him, a man of peace, to say anything stronger than that he hoped all his friends would keep the peace, and remember their Bishop advised them if the village horse- pond stood invitingly near, not by any means to put these men into it. He had given this advice, and he hoped it would be followed ; perhaps it would be hard, but they must resist the temptation." These men are teaching combination, perhaps the most Christian of all modern usages, and there- fore they are—with Canon Girdlestone, we presume, at their head—to be ducked in the village horse-pond, and it is a Bishop who gives the advice, under the best known and most emphatic of all the formulas of counsel! And he gives it not only because the lecturers separate employers and employed, which the Bishop also does when he advises the masters to duck the leaders of the men, but because these teachers are " men who never owned an acre or did a day's work " How many acres had St. Paul ? Is the Bishop of • Gloucester and Bristol, or Mr. Spurgeon, or the Editor of the Times, or anyone else whose function in this world is to teach truths otherwise forgotten, neces- sarily possessed of acres, and if not, is he also to be ducked? Or did the Bishop, who is lecturing in favour of violence, on behalf of actual physical war between employer and employed —doing the very act he denounces—ever do " a day's work " in the technical sense in which he employs the words V What is it that these lecturers do that is so utterly evil in the Bishop's eyes, that he would suspend as against them the operation of the laws of the land, which insist that lecturers on political economy shall not be ducked in horse-ponds? They, forsooth! divide employer and employed. Christianity divided people more closely connected than that, and was not, therefore, a message denounced of God. All teaching worth an audience divides that audience, and teaching intended to show the poor how they can deal on equal • terms with the rich divides them often very fiercely, but it is not false teach- ing because of that. Nor are the agricultural labourers of England men who, in thinking or acting for themselves, or even in listening to abuse of their officers, are breaking their contract with Society, or exposing the State to a danger so great that rather than risk it freedom must be suspended. Day after day the same unpleasing truth comes back to those who watch this struggle, a struggle which has only just begun. These men must have the Vote, if it be only to enable them to defend themselves with peaceful weapons, otherwise the contempt entertained for them by Dukes and Bishops will lead to a catastrophe. It is not, as such teachers forget, with the few, but with the many, not with the farmers but the labourers, that the ducking-power resides. Just imagine the hinds of Gloucestershire possessed of votes, and a Church question to the fore, and an election near at hand, and think of the spirit in which the Bishop would have spoken ; how he would have urged the farmers to see if compromise was not possible through grants of land ; how he would have pleaded for the poor Christian and voter ; how he would have reminded the world that in all ages and every land the Christian Church had been the friend of the serf ; how he would have longed to temper the harsh doctrines of economy ; how he would have extenuated roughness or even violence on behalf of the masses who were so ignorant and so sorely tried by the carnal needs
of daily life. Should we have heard of ducking agita- tors if each man to be ducked influenced a hundred votes ? We desire to attribute neither guile nor self-seeking to the Bishop of Gloucester, but everybody with a grain of sense knows that this would be the effect of that new power in the hands of the cultivating people, that they would be vlealt with as human beings, men entitled to form an opinion about their own value in the market, and expected to get it if they could. And they would get it without being ducked or threatened with duckings. It is between equals that bargain- ing is most peaceable, and once equal in political position, the hind, even in Gloucestershire, would be authorised by episcopal opinion as well as law to sell his " brawny and; " to the Bishop of Gloucester as he may even now, happy fellow, sell his chickens, at the full market price. Whether the vote, once possessed, shall be given for or against the Church, is a matter which will depend upon the treatment of the people by clergymen,—who, let us hope, will seek for that treatment a wiser and gentler guide than the Bishop of Gloucester, when carried away by sympathy for his hosts at an agricultural public dinner.