Page images


THIS volume is based upon a pamphlet which I printed for private circulation in January, 1897, and which contained the following Prefatory note :

At an inquiry held by the Charity Commission at Bradford two or three years ago [January, 1894), the late Vicar of Bradford remarked (after some dispute had arisen on another matter), concerning Lord Wharton's Bible Charity, from which he had been accustomed to receive a number of Bibles and other books, together with 17s. 6d. for their distribution and ios. for preaching a sermon on the Holy Scriptures : “I presume no one will dispute that this is a distinctly Church of England Charity, for it requires the Catechism to be learnt.” His remark was doubtless made in good faith; it did not occur that another Catechism different from that of the Church of England was meant by the requirement, and unfortunately there was no one present capable of affording adequate information concerning the origin and purpose of the Charity.

The account of this Charity, which is given in the following pages, will show beyond dispute that it is not what it was assumed to be on the occasion above mentioned; and will, I hope, do something towards restoring it to its proper administration. The records of the Charity, if they are preserved, and were carefully examined, would probably furnish a suggestive history of the manner in which many other Special and General Charities have been perverted. Some particulars of the Wharton family are also here given, although they have little direct connection with the subject of the Bible Charity founded by Philip, the fourth Lord Wharton. I have not thought it necessary to refer to the authorities relied upon for every statement, and in correcting mistakes made by others I may have fallen into some mistakes myself; but I have done my best to avoid them, and now commend the whole to the candid judgment of the reader.

My attention had been for some years previously directed to the manner in which the Charity was administered ; and, although I found it difficult to obtain satisfactory information on the subject, I ventured to place a Memorial before the Charity Commissioners, setting forth the main facts of the case, and urging further inquiry. That Memorial was also sent to the trustees, and some correspondence took place between them and the Charity Commissioners. The pamphlet was a more complete statement of the facts. Its substance and principal purpose were expressed in its “Conclusion,” which was as follows:

1.—It is evident from the facts stated in the foregoing pages that Lord Wharton was a decided Nonconformist, and one of the best friends Nonconformists ever had. He identified himself with them at a time of severe repression and persecution; attended their meetings for worship at great personal risk; and endured many sacrifices for his convictions as a Nonconformist. He cultivated close and constant intercourse with their ministers; esteemed them very highly for their character and ministry; placed two of his sons under the tuition of one of their number; and made several of them chaplains in his family. He gave them a hospitable reception into his houses in town and in the country, and “ministered of his substance" to them in their anxious and poorly compensated labours; built meeting-houses for them and made permanent provision for their maintenance; supported their academies for the education of young men for the ministry; and contributed to their schools for the instruction of poor and neglected children. He admired their writings, accepted the dedication of some of their books to himself, and desired the wide diffusion of the truths they taught. For over thirty years he was a tower of strength amidst the assaults to which they were exposed, and never leaving it doubtful what were his principles, "he stood four-square to all the winds that blew."

2.-- It is further evident that his Bible Charity was intended by him to be administered by and in connection with Nonconformists. It was so administered while he kept the superintendence of it in his own hands. The original trustees of the Charity, appointed by him, were Nonconformists; one of them being his chaplain, a Nonconformist minister. For many years the trustees, carrying out his known intentions, sent the Bibles principally, if not entirely, to Nonconformist ministers for distribution to poor children in the places where they were accustomed to preach. By his Trust Deed and Instructions he directed that the Assembly's Catechism, a wellknown manual used by Nonconformists in the instruction of their children, was to be distributed along with the Bibles. By his Instructions he also directed that Lye's Catechism, explanatory of the former, and Alleine's “Sure Guide,” two well-known Nonconformist books, were to be given as rewards to the most proficient children; and small sums of money to their parents as an inducement to their continuing the instruction previously commenced. By the same Instructions he directed that when the books were given out sermons were to be preached and extempore prayers offered

before and after the same by the ministers who preached. Such prayers were customary among Nonconformist ministers in their public religious services (not among clergymen of the Established Church); and the compensation which was to be made to them for their sermons, as well as for the distribution of the books, was doubtless designed to assist them in the straitened circumstances amidst which most of them laboured in those days.

3.—But this Charity has been long perverted from its proper administration, without any adequate authority, or any justifiable reason being given for such perversion. Nonconformists have been entirely excluded from its management; and its trustees have been wholly chosen from clergymen and professed adherents of the Church of England. The Assembly's Catechism has been replaced by the Book of Common Prayer, containing “A Catechism, that is to say, an Instruction to be learned by every person, before he be brought to be confirmed by the Bishop," wherein are many things to which Nonconformists have always entertained, and do still entertain, most serious objections. The two books expressly appointed for distribution with Bibles and Catechisms have been set aside for others; and one of these, the “ Pathway of Safety," contains (amongst many excellent counsels) arguments in favour of regular forms of public prayer and against extempore prayers, such as Lord Wharton specially directed to be offered. The Bibles and other books are sent for distribution (with one notable exception) exclusively to clergymen of the Church of England, and are given to children in their Sunday-schools, and only to such as are approved by them. Compensation for their distribution and for the preaching of sermons on the Scriptures is also made to them alone; and in many other respects the intentions and instructions of the Founder of the Charity are departed from or neglected.

4.—The time has surely come to rectify this perversion of the Charity from its proper purpose, and to secure its just administration. Over 200 years have elapsed since the Founder's death ; but “a charity never dies”; and it is due to his memory that his intentions should be fully carried out, when it can be done with the approval and for the benefit of those concerned. This is, indeed, a matter of common honesty; unless trustees are to be deemed absolute owners, and not merely stewards of charitable funds put into their hands. “Moreover, it is required, in stewards, that a man be found faithful." It is demanded in justice to Nonconformists, who have been long deprived of their rightful participation in the management and benefits of the Charity. It is necessary in the interests of society and for the promotion of the common good. And when the facts are fully considered by the present trustees (whose personal integrity and high sense of honour no one will presume to call in question), it can hardly be supposed but that they themselves will see the equity and propriety of its more satisfactory administration.

The result of the action taken by the Charity Commissioners is fully described in the following pages.

Since the pamphlet was written several interesting accounts of the Wharton family have been published; and of these I have freely availed myself for the purpose of correcting some inaccuracies which found a place in the pamphlet, and of making the history of that remarkable family more complete. The important public positions held by several of its members and their intimate relations with personages whose names are familiar to every reader may serve to cast some sidelights on the course of general history. But the references to this larger subject are brief, and barely sufficient to afford something like continuity to the facts enumerated.

The “Life” of Lord Wharton which is here furnished is necessarily imperfect, owing to the scanty materials at my disposal. A very limited space also prevents more than passing allusions to “the times that went over him.” I have not attempted a critical estimate of his character, but simply collected together the main facts of his life. These facts, however, make it evident that he was an eminently devout man, a generous benefactor to the needy, a faithful friend, steadfast to his principles as a Puritan, and sincerely devoted to the promotion of the liberty and prosperity of his country. Although he did not occupy a place in the first rank of the leaders of the Puritan Revolution, he aided the chief actors therein by his influence and the diligent performance of his Parliamentary duties, and only drew back when convinced by his judgment (some might, perhaps, say his habitual caution and timidity) that the course they pursued was extreme and perilous. For the notices of Nonconformist ministers with whom he was in sympathy I am chiefly dependent on Calamy's Account” and “Continuation " (1713-1727) and Palmer's “Nonconformists' Memorial” (1802), but some particulars concerning them are derived from other sources,

On the history of the Bible Charity I have obtained further and more definite information than when the pamphlet was written. My thanks are due to the trustees, who, at my request, readily placed whatever books and papers they possessed pertaining to the Charity at my disposal for inspection and use. But I greatly regret the absence of all minutes and documents (except Trust Deeds) for nearly a century after the Charity was founded. Only a schedule of papers remains, the papers themselves having been destroyed a few years ago. Beginning with 1786, the minutes of the meetings of the trustees, although very brief, are carefully written up; and the extracts which I have made from them clearly indicate the manner in which the Charity was diverted from its original purpose.

Whilst I cannot but condemn such a diversion, I am far from desirous of bringing a “railing accusation” against the trustees under whose sanction it took place. Some of them held high and responsible positions, most of them were men of affairs; and they probably did not trouble themselves to make very careful inquiry into the exact intention of the Founder, or the earlier administration of the Charity. They were sincere and strong adherents of the Church of England, and not unnaturally desirous of promoting its interests. The Wharton Estates, for the benefit of which the Charity was to some extent provided, had long since been alienated from the Wharton family. Changes had also taken place among Protestant Dissenters since the beginning of the eighteenth century, and it may have been thought that these changes justified corresponding changes in its administration. The political agitation for the repeal of the Test Act at the time would indispose those who belonged to the “ Church party" to consider the reasonable claims of Nonconformists. And the long period during which the Charity had been under the practical control of one noble family appears to have led the trustees, according to their own statement at a later date (1855),

« PreviousContinue »