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Lo a bright and shining throng,
Passing through the portals wide! They through tribulations come,
Soldiers of the Crucified. Can it be such joy is thine E'en with them to sing and shine, Who through tears and blood have prest To the haven of their rest ?
Outward fightings, inward fears,
Life-long conflict with the foe,
Never might thy spirit know;
Softly has the bright cross lain
On thy forehead pure and fair;
Never hast been called to bear.
Could we deeper blessing crave?
Give thee back to Him who gave.
Faithful to His word and true,
Blessing deeper than we knew. Hush we then each vain repining, To His will our wills refining, Who hath called thee through His merit All the promise to inherit.
A PLEA FOR PAROCHIAL AND DIOCESAN
BY A TOWN RECTOR.
The parish register, dry as anything connected with it is often considered, apparently uninteresting as the pages appear which present for three generations back à very uniform succession of ruled columns in print, filled up with details that are very uniform in style, is nevertheless one of the most important, as it is one of the most familiar and practically useful of our national institutions. Some few of us, if we want to prove the age of our parents, must still search back into yellow parchment must go back to the time previous to the introduction in 1837) pager; most of us, if we desire to prove our own legitimacy, of the oblong green-covered book, which is now filled up in duplicate whenever a happy couple take each other " for better for worse." But even supposing that this personal use of parish registers was a thing of the past, let it not be imagined that the practical utility of the more ancient parchment volumes has by any means yet come to an end.
These remarks have been drawn from me as I have been thinking with no little indignation of the attempt, still recent, which has been made in Parliament, to remove parochial and diocesan registers from their present custody, and to place them from damage and placing under systematic and official care, in a central office in London, under the idea of thus securing
documents, the value of which to the nation cannot be over-rated. It is the overwhelming importance of these documents, now so useful, so accessible to all, which is the reason of my title, “A Plea for Parochial and Diocesan Registers,” for thus centralised, they would be virtually lost to the public, and hopelessly closed to the antiquary and the historian.
Imagine, for instance, an antiquary anxious to verify a string of some five-and-twenty or thirty dates, visiting the central office
for such a purpose. We will suppose that the registers are all admirably arranged in alphabetical order, so that the clerk has no difficulty in producing the registers of the several parishes named, and so our visitor, being able to read “court-hand," incurs no series of shilling fees for searches, as he makes the search himself. But no sooner does he take out his pencil to make a note than the sharp-eyed clerk is down upon him, for the new office is of course to be self-supporting, and can only be maintained by the fees. So the verification of our visitor's thirty dates will cost him thirty half-crowns, plus thirty pence for stamps,—£3 17s. 6d. in all. But what would it have cost him if the registers he so consulted (unless, by the bye, the fees had so disgusted him that he was obliged to forego his purpose altogether) had remained in their respective parish chests? A penny for the postage of each letter of inquiry addressed to the vicar or officiating minister, with a statement that the inquiry was made for historical or antiquarian purposes, and I will answer for it that there is not one clergyman of the thirty but would have gladly made the search and sent him the certified extract without any charge whatever.
But what of a poor man with little or no education, and with but vague information as a guide to the particulars that he wants? To show the absolute necessity, unless parish registers are to be hopelessly closed to the poor, for their retention in the parishes whose property they are, and their removal from which would be a robbery at once shameful, useless, and irreparable, let me relate the following circumstance of my own personal experience; premising that I relate the facts simply as they occurred, and only altering the names of my parishes.
I had been in my present parish some four years when a poor man came to me from some little distance to verify the age very old person. What his object was, was nothing to me; the information was clearly of importance, and I gave him all the help in my power. He said that the register of my parish of St. Denis would afford the information that he wanted. His knowledge of the facts was somewhat vague, for he could only say that old Esther Morgan was supposed to be near ninety years of age. I searched the St. Denis register for some time to no purpose, making ample allowance for the uncertainty of the age, and I then said I would try the register of my other parish of St. Antholin, as entries supposed to have been made in one parish are occasionally found in the books of the other. This search was attended with no better success. I then asked him if he was sure he had come to the right parish. He said Yes, he was sure of it, as they had told him, in order that he might make no mistake, “the church opposite the post office;” he had been there, and, on inquiring where the clergyman lived, had been directed to me. “Then, my friend," I said, "you clearly have come to the wrong church, for the post office has been twice moved, once within my own recollection, and for a number of years the church opposite the post office was St. Magnus; so you had better try there.” He did so and was successful, neither the vicar of St. Magnus nor myself having charged him
Now suppose that all the registers of England had been centralised in London, what office clerk could have had the local knowledge (instinctively acquired by the parson) which could alone have guided this man to the right register for his purpose ? Next, he would have had a volume handed to him and been told to search ; when, if he could read at all, he would speedily have made the discovery that he could not read what (in this case) was a pretty near approach to "court hand.” Then what would he not have had to pay for the eyes of a clerk, as well as for search fees, and all to no purpose, because the clerk could not give him the little bit of local information which I had at my fingers' ends? What would be the case of those poor who want a certificate for an endless number of purposes, and who cannot afford-have not got the three and ninepence which, including stamp and postage, the certificate from the London office would cost them, and which the “lines” which the parson makes them a present of, save them altogether? Three and sixpence at least, besides stamps and postal expenses, would be the “hard and fast line," and "no pay, no play,” the inflexible condition, added to the search difficulties to which I have already alluded. In fact, thus centralised, parish registers would become utterly and completely useless to at least three-quarters of those who are now continually using them to such purpose that they are unquestionably among the most serviceable documents that the land possesses; and I doubt whether there is another nation under the sun which can boast of so complete, valuable, and accessible a collection of family records (in how many instances the only family records of any kind) for, on an average, three centuries back.
There may have been apathy or ignorance on the part of the clergy themselves as regards the value and use of the registers under their care in past years; but there is abundant evidence that the existing body of clergy have a far more just appreciation of this most important trust. I have heard of a country clergyman who, because the oldest volume of his parish register “stank,” and he had never been requested to make a search in or an extract from it, concluded that it was useless, and dug a hole in his garden and buried it; and of another, who being a native of his parish, copied the entry of his own baptism into the fly-leaf of the new register, and burned the old one when it was full. But such things do not occur now, and supposing that they did, would be perfectly easy to prevent. In all parishes of any size the register is in such constant requisition that no clergyman can be long in ignorance of its use and importance, and to meet any and every case that can possibly occur, a few words bearing special reference to its preservation, or even an oath before a surrogate to preserve it intact, might be added to the already brief ceremony of induction.
One word, by the way, on the subject of induction to benefices. It is now frequently announced that a clergyman has been “inducted in the presence of a large congregation, which filled every corner of the church," or something of the kind. Now there is clearly an error of some sort here. In most instances it is institution, not induction, which has taken place in the presence of the congregation; and if the bishops like to give publicity to a brief function which usually takes place in an episcopal palace, a private house, or a dingy little room in the Vicar-General's office in Doctors' Commons, and to accompany it with a religious service, there cau be no possible objection to it. The induction too may be as public as can be desired. Any number of persons may witness it, and, indeed, the requirement of the law that the new incumbent shall pull the church bell, is intended to give all possible publicity to the proceeding, and to notify to the parishioners what is taking place. But the essence of the whole is, that the new incumbent shall, by locking himself alone into the church, take that "real, actual, and corporal possession ” of it as his freehold, which it is the object of the law to give him, and which the mandate of induction strictly enjoins the inductor to see that he acquires, the said inductor being charged “to induct him effectually into the real, actual, and corporal possession of the church of --, with all and singular the rights, members, and appurtenances