rise to a fierce discussion as to whether the archbishop might adjourn the houses by his sole authority (Convocation Tracts, Brit. Mus.). The reason which caused its publication at that time was, Burnet states, the increase of popery; this danger also induced him, in spite of his general toleration principles, to vote for the severe act of that year against papists.
Burnet relates that in 1699 an attempt was made in the commons to turn him out of his tutorship of the Duke of Gloucester, and that an address was moved for his removal, but that it was lost by a large majority (Macaulay, iv. 517). It should be noticed that, according to Ralph, the bishop spent the whole of the salary which he received from this office, 1,500l., in private charity.
In the debate on the bill for vesting the confiscated Irish estates in trustees, Burnet, in 1700, took the side opposed to the court (though he afterwards changed his opinion), and thereby aroused William's displeasure. In this year his pupil died, and on 8 March 1702 he, with Archbishop Tenison, attended William himself on his deathbed. He appears after this to have paid court somewhat obsequiously to the Marlborough faction. He wrote an elegy on William's death. In 1703 he strongly opposed the bill against occasional conformity. I was moved,’ he said, ‘never to be silent when toleration should be brought into debate; for I have long looked on liberty of conscience as one of the rights of human nature, antecedent to society, which no man could give up, because it was not in his own power.’ His speech, which is extant, and which is studiously moderate and very able, formed the subject of a bitter and able attack from Atterbury, who affected to vindicate him from the libel of being the author of it (Burnet Tracts, Brit. Mus.) It appears, however, from the speech, that, although not willing that nonconformists should be fined, or that foreign churches should be included in the disabling acts, Burnet was perfectly willing that no non-communicants should be capable of bearing office. Whether he opposed the bill on its passage through the lords in 1711 does not appear. In 1709 he spoke against the bill establishing forfeitures in Scotland in cases of treason, and in favour of the general naturalisation of all protestants. In 1710 he was attacked by Sacheverell, and spoke against him in the debate on his case in the Lords. He remonstrated openly with Anne upon her supposed intention of bringing in the Pretender, and in 1711 spoke his mind to her against a peace which allowed the house of Bourbon to retain possession of Spain and the West Indies.
Burnet's episcopate stands alone in that age as a record of able and conscientious government. A detailed account of it would be but a repetition of what his son has written. He did his best by careful examination to secure a learned and competent clergy, and stood out against admitting unqualified nominees to livings; waged war against pluralities; established a divinity school at Salisbury. He was tolerant both to nonjurors and to presbyterians to a degree which roused the anger of all extreme men; and his habitual generosity was shown by his entertainment at his own charge of all the clergy who waited upon him at his visitations. The most lasting work, however, which he inaugurated was the provision for the augmentation of livings, generally known as Queen Anne's Bounty. He was anxious that the church should be better represented in the market towns, and for this purpose he set on foot a scheme (after the miscarriage of a design on a smaller scale in his own diocese) applicable to the whole kingdom. In two memorials, dated January 1696 and December 1697, Burnet proposed to the king that the first-fruits and tenths, which had been granted away by Charles II in pensions to his mistresses and natural children, should be applied to the increase of poor livings. The plan met with opposition sufficient to obstruct it until William's death, but Burnet lived to see it become law in 1704. It is worthy of notice that in the memorials mentioned above Burnet suggests the plan as a good one for gaining the support of the clergy in view of coming elections. Burnet's influence in the House of Lords seems to have been considerable, but it was probably more from his representative character than from his oratory. This, if we may judge from the speech against concluding a separate peace with France in 1713, which he has himself carefully preserved, and which may therefore be considered a favourable specimen, was pedantic and heavy. His speeches in 1703 and 1710 upon the Occasional Conformity Act and the Sacheverell impeachment have also been published.
Burnet's most important work, the ‘History of my own Time,’ was not published until after his death, the first volume in 1723, the second in 1734, though there is a receipt for 25s., being half the price of the second volume, dated in June 1733. It has been, naturally enough, the subject of violent attack on the score of inaccuracy and prejudice. On its first appearance we hear that ‘no one speaks well of it’ (Hist. MSS. Comm. 7th Rep. 512), and individuals whose conduct