THE TORIES AND THE BURIALS QUESTION.
WHY it seems to be assumed in so many quarters that Mr. Disraeli is likely to propose in the ensuing Session some settlement of the great Dissenting question as to burial in the churchyard, it is very difficult to make out. Perhaps it is that the Dissenters, knowing Mr. Disraeli to have been thrown back on the anti-ultramontanes by his Public-Worship Regula- tion Act, conclude that he may as well complete the work he has begun, and make himself the hero of the anti- sacerdotal party, by removing the chief grievance of the Dissenters,—the chief grievance, that is, excepting of course the existence of the Establishment itself. But certainly when Mr. Disraeli moved the rejection of Mr. Osborne Mor- gan's Burial Bill in 1873, he gave no hint of any desire to " educate his party " in directions at all welcome to the Dis- senters. On the contrary, he told the Dissenters plainly that their political importance in the country was no longer what it had been, and that for this change they had to thank his own Reform Act of 1867. Nor was his speech in 1873 merely un- pleasant in tone to the Dissenters. It was also based upon a principle exceedingly unpromising for the future. The line he took was that when Dissenters refused to pay the Church- rate, and got Parliament to legalise that refusal, they cut
• ri.,hemselves off from their right to be buried in the churchyard, —a legal mistake, no doubt, though it did very well as an argu- ment. And further, Mr. Disraeli pointed out the growth of the cemetery system as the true remedy for the evil, so far as it exists, of which Dissenters complain. Having taken both these grounds himself, and taken them so lately as 1873, it will be not a little awkward for Mr. Disraeli to yield to the pressure either of the Conservative Borough Members, or of those of his advisers who think that after having "put down" Ritualism, he had better reconcile himself with the chief foes of the Ritualists as quickly as he can. " Hansard " remains, and a recent speech of the ex cathedrd kind delivered by Mr. Dis- raeli, in moving the rejection of the Burials Bill, is an awkward thing for him to meet, especially in the face of a consider- able number of probable mutineers in his own party, who will make very liberal use of Mr. Disraeli's views in 1873 against Mr. Disraeli's views in 1876, supposing they prove to be in any marked degree contradictory. But be this as it may, there can be no doubt that a very serious impression prevails that Mr. Disraeli's Government is likely to attempt dealing with the difficulty, and that this impression has elicited both the protests of clergymen possessed by fear, and eager discus- sions among Dissenters animated by hope.
Should the Government produce such a measure, what effect would it have on the party organisation and the strength of the Government V That, of course, must depend to no inconsiderable extent on the nature of the measure itself. But this much seems to be clear : if it goes far enough to make friends of the Dissenters, it will greatly irritate the clergy of all schools, and make them, whether High4Ohurch or Evangelical, the foes of the existing Government. If, on the contrary, it does not go far enough to conciliate the Dissenters, and does conciliate the exclusive Churchmen,—as any measure, for instance, imposing a rate for a Dissenters' burial-place in every parish out of convenient reach of a cemetery, would do, —Mr. Disraeli would do a great deal to re-cement the discon- tented Dissenters' wing of the Liberal party to the main body, which is certainly not the sort of measure we should look for from him.
The proposals on this question are of two kinds,—those which aim at admitting not only the bodies of Dissenters to the churchyards, but admitting also the right to have their own religious services there, so far as these are consistent with public decency ; and on the other hand, those which pre- fer to remove the grievance without removing the exclusion, by providing new burial-grounds for all who want them outside the parish churchyard. We may assume that any solution of the latter kind would alienate the Dissenters more than ever from Mr. Disraeli's Government, and probably give the Liberal party a very good opportunity of showing how much in earnest they are in their endeavour to get the national Burial-grounds treated in the proper national fashion. But even if Mr Disraeli's Cabinet were to .select one of the former proposals, one intended to aim at admitting Dissenters, and also the religious services of Dissenters, to the graveyards of the nation, under reasonable guarantees for propriety, it might well happen that the Government would fall between the two stools. The most obvious course would be to follow the analogy of the Irish Burials Act, which gave the incumbent the power of sanctioning, or refusing to sanction, the conduct of the funeral service by a member of another denomination, but required him, if he refused his sanction, to state his reasons for so doing in writing to the Bishop. Such a solution might possibly satisfy the English Clergy. The right thus conceded to them of sanctioning or vetoing any religious service proposed, would appease their fears of anything like an impropriety or a scandal, and would probably gratify their love of power. On the other hand, it would certainly not satisfy the Dissenters. They do not want to be tolerated by the good-will of the clergyman, but to have their equal right in what is admitted to be the national burying-ground, conceded as of right. To be admitted to bury their dead after their own fashion only by leave of the parish clergyman, would to them be, in some respects, worse than not being admitted at all. In the former case, they have to
recognise the right of the clergyman to assent or refuse ; in the latter, they are the victims of a definite wrong, which they can urge Parliament to remove. For our own parts, we do not think that the right of refusing ought to be left with the clergy even under restrictions. It is not a question for the clergy. If the clergyman were expected to perform the service, no doubt it would be. But what is proposed is that, the Dissenters having an admitted right to inter their dead in the churchyard when there is no other place open to them, that right should be accompanied by the same concession to their religious habits and feelings as is made in the case of Churchmen. This seems to us reasonable, though we should say, in reply to the objection of our correspondents of last
week and this, "N. G. B." and the Rev. Archer Gurney, that it would also be right to prevent any demoralizing or indecent ceremony from going on, not merely, indeed, in churchyards, but in any public Cemeteries whatever, at the interment of the dead. We should not permit open Devil-worship to be publicly carried on anywhere. If we did, we might fairly be asked to tolerate the natural corollary of Devil-worship, acts intended to conciliate the favour of devils. Doubtless it would be indecent to allow the open praise of Mormon institutions in Church- yards,—since we should not allow Mormon institutions them- selves to be established in England. On the whole, in answer to those who fear indecent displays of fanaticism or heresy at the graves of Dissenters, it is almost enough to say that nowhere, even in the public Cemeteries, to which all classes of believers are admitted, is any danger of the kind found to be serious ; and that, at all events, it might easily be avoided, by lodging in the hands of any elected local officer,—the Mayor, in the case of boroughs,—and in rural districts, in the head of the village municipality, if Mr. Forster's suggestion to institute -village municipalities were ever carried out, and till then, sup- pose, in the Churchwardens, — the right to forbid any ceremonies which might seem to him offensive to public morality or decency. The clergyman, clearly, whose dogmatic prepossessions would always be more or less likely to affect his judgment, is not the person with whom the decision should rest as to the kind of funeral-rites to be allowed or vetoed.
Yet if, as we believe, no measure is at all likely to satisfy the Dissenters, or to be accepted by the Liberal party as a whole, which leaves the discretion of assenting or refusing assent to the Dissenters' proposed burial services in clerical hands, Mr. Disraeli can, we think, hardly propose any settlement which will have a chance of acceptance both with the Dissenters and with his own party. If he supersedes the clerical authority in the matter, he will set the clergy in oppo- sition to him in nine parishes out of ten. If he leaves the decision even as much to clerical discretion as the Irish Act left it, he will get no thanks from the Dissenters, who are caring much more about "political equality" than about the actual locality in which the service is to be read. They can bury the body in the graveyard as it is, and read their service in their own churches. Unless they get a right acknowledged, it is not likely that they will,accept any concession as a matter of favour. Now it will be very difficult for Mr. Disraeli, after the open bid he made for the clergymen's support in 1873, to throw them over now, in order to consolidate the party which is bent on humiliating sacerdotal pretensions. On the whole, we are strongly inclined to think that if he meddles with this question, he will burn his fingers in one way or the other. To propose a solution only irritating to the Dissenters, would strengthen materially his opponents ; to propose one irritating to the clergy, would materially weaken himself. Will not the result be that he will imitate Lord Melbourne, and say to his importunate colleagues, " Can't you let it alone ?"