Page images
PDF
EPUB

St. Jerome, St. Chrysostom, and others; at length he exclaimed, “ Listen, I pray you, to the pathetic and soul-stirring words of St. Chrysostom, to which no translation can possibly do justice: Propria quæ maribus tribuuntur mascula dicas.” Just at the moment of his uttering this splendid quotation, his eye caught sight of our classical tutor, who happened by some strange accident to he one of his hearers. The orator was for a moment thunderstruck, and was just going to blush and look foolish, but he had presence of mind to think that no good was to be got by blushing, so he put a bold face on the matter, and proceeded. The tutor never took any notice of the quotation, and the orator, when he tells the story, always adds that the classical gentleman took it for Greek. Pp. 86, 87.

The pastoral duties in which our hero was employed, were highly edifying to him and his hearers.

I was for some time very highly delighted, when on Monday mornings I used to stroll about the town, and look in first at one house and then at another, and hear repeated commendations of the sermons which I had delivered on the preceding day. I cannot say that my fatigues on Sunday were very great, but it did so happen that I acquired a habit of lounging about on Monday mornings under pretence of resting from the fatigues of the Sunday, I must not indeed deny that the pleasure of hearing my sermons praised, contributed very much to keep up the practice of my Monday morning visitings. By this habit I was also winning the hearts of the people, and weaning them away from their old pastor, who was not quite so much of a gossip as I was. There is something very imposing in the phrase, “ pastoral visit," but I fear that the thing itself is greatly abused, and that in too many instances they become mere talk and idle waste of time. Perhaps some of my readers may be amused with a description of one of my Monday morning lounges, and with an enumeration of the sort of people on whom I used to call, and the manner in which they used to talk about my sermons and prayers. The minister's dwelling, in which I was an inmate, was on the outskirts of the town, and in my way from his house to the market-place, in 'wbich stood the circulating library and reading-room, it was absolutely necessary for me to go all through the High-street, in which several of the congregation lived, and all that lived in the High-street kept shops, and all that kept shops, kept their shop-doors open, and it would have been very rude in me to pass by the shops of my hearers without turning my head round to give them the passing recognition of a nod. As Monday was also rather a leisure day with the shopkeepers in the town of K— , the natural consequence of my turning round to nod, was my turning in to chat. This appeared purely accidental, but I knew it was intentional, and I believe they knew it to be so too. To whom, then, did it appear accidental? I really don't know, but I always used to endeavour to contrive to make it seem so.-Pp. 88-90.

There is a very amusing history of one of these visits, in which the heroine was a grocer's daughter, with “ bright little eyes, and a little upward twist in the tip of her nose," who was an excellent judge of sermons, and who acted the part of parish critic; but we must skip it, to introduce another.

The next open shop-door at which I was in the habit of calling, was at a corn-chandler's. It was a very small shop, having just room enough for a parrow counter, and a row of narrow bins behind it, with horse-beans, oats, barley, pollard, and such like articles; and all was very neat, and the master was very neat, and his wife was very neat : they were elderly people, and themselves and one maid-servant were all their establishment. The master was always in the shop, sitting on a high stool at a little desk, looking at his ledger through his spectacles; the mistress was always in the little parlour behind the shop; and the maid was always in the little kitchen behind the parlour. I will not say that the corn-chandler and his wife were actually dumb, because I knew they were not; but to all practical purposes they were as near to it as possible. When I went into the shop, all that the master of it would say, was, “ How do you do? Mrs. - is in the parlour.” And when I went into the parlour, all that Mrs. would say, was, “ How do you do? did you see Mr. as you came through the shop?" This was the extent of their vocabulary, and as they neither of them read, and neither of them thought, I could not extort another word from them except the monosyllable “yes” or “no,” to any thing that I chanced to say. They certainly merited, in a very high degree, the eulogium which was universally bestowed upon them, that they were inoffensive and quiet sort of people,-but I could not make my visits to them very long, for if I had, I should have fallen asleep, and that would have been rude.

A little farther on in the street was a very smart-looking shop in the Birmingham and Sheffield and general cutlery line, kept by a middle-aged bachelor, a stout swaggering sort of a man, who would not have been a fool if he had not thought himself wise. He was held in very great esteem by himself, but in less by his neighbours, and especially by the congregation, who did not think him a sufficiently serious man; nor indeed can I say that he was very serious ;-he was a stickler for liberty, and though I do not believe that he ever had the Age of Reason in his possession, I am certain that he possessed and admired the Rights of Man. He was an active man both in the town and in the chapel. Though he was a dissenter, yet he was a regular attendant, and a great speaker at parish vestry meetings, and particularly delighted in what he called “basting the parson.” I should be sorry to say any thing uncharitable of any one, or even to report an uncharitable saying, but I think there was a great deal of truth and point in a saying that was current in the town of K--, concerning this gentleman, namely, that he was only a dissenter because he was not a churchman. His parlour was ornamented with many portraits and busts of public characters, such as Cobbett, Sir Francis Burdett, Colonel Wardle, Benjamin Franklin, Lord Erskine, General Washington, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Dr. Priestley. This last picture was a great stumblingblock to many serious persons in the congregation, who thought that it gave strong indications of a leaning to Socinianism. The cutler, however, strenuously denied the justice of the inference, and contended that he reverenced Dr. Priestley as a man of science, and as a friend of civil and religious liberty. He was also a constant reader of Cobbett's Political Register, and of the Monthly Magazine, at that time published by Sir Richard Phillips,-but I don't think that he was a great adınirer of the Evangelical Magazine. This gentleman was always very civil and friendly to me, but he could very seldom remember any part of my sermons. Being a person of some considerable wealth, be had a square pew to himself in one corner of the chapel under the gallery, and by way of distinction there was a short calimanco curtain drawn round the top of it, and I greatly fear that he took advantage of that curtain to go to sleep behind it,-for nobody could see him.- Pp. 97-100.

We do not know where we could find a better commentary on a recent celebrated Chancery suit, than in the statement which immediately succeeds.

While I was in the town of K- , there happened one of those changes which have been by far too common in England of late years, I mean the transmutation of a Presbyterian into an Unitarian chapel. I introduce this anecdote here, because I am reminded of it by the reminiscence of the cutler. The change of this chapel from Presbyterian to Socipian, or Unitarian, as they were pleased to term it, took place in the following manner. There was in the town of K-- a large Presbyterian chapel, capable of accommodating at least a thousand hearers, and the time had been, in the memory of some old persons living when I was there, that the chapel was quite full, even crowded, for many persons came to worship there from the neighbouring villages. But of late years the congregation had sadly dwindled away, for the preacher, though a very good sort of man, as he was called, was exceedingly indefinite in his religious views, and generally confined himself to moral discourses, and those of a very meagre kind; or if by chance he touched upon any gospel truths, be slurred them over with a most unprofitable generalization. So at last when he died, the whole number of hearers amounted to little more than seventy or eighty persons. There was among them one individual of considerable opulence, a brewer, who was a gentleman-like sort of a man, and one of the leading personages in the town. This gentleman scarcely made any secret of bis Socinian principles, for he possessed almost all Dr. Priestley's writings, and used to be very free in his conversation on religious topics. He also used to take in a Socinian magazine, called, I believe, The Monthly, or Theological Repository, and which has of late years assumed a more general character. Although the Presbyterian chapel was nearly deserted of its worshippers, there were not lacking candidates for the vacant pulpit, for each one hoped that by bis talents and exertions he might revive the fallen interest. The brewer, however, was fully determined to have a Socinian; and for that purpose he made several new subscribers, who outvoted the old ones, and so a Socinian preacher was established in the old Presbyterian chapel. So the old subscribers fell off, and went away to other chapels, or the church, and the new subscribers, not caring much about the matter, did not stay long there, the consequence of which was, that the opulent brewer, and two or three of his friends, and some dozen or two of his dependants, had the chapel all to themselves, but they had not the entire burden of supporting the minister, for there was an endowment belonging to the chapel, which formed the greater part of the preacher's salary, The preacher, who was a very young man, was exceedingly conceited, and for a minister, I think far too much of a dandy. He looked as if he thought himself a very enlightened personage, destined to produce a great mental revolution in the town of K- , by preaching to the people a new system of theology which had never been thought or heard of before. He had not been long installed in his new situation, when he sent the town-crier round the town with handbills, announcing that he was going to deliver a course of lectures on the principal doctrines of Christianity, just as if there had been no faithful preachers of Christian doctrine before his time, but the fact was, that bis lectures were to be against the principal doctrines of Christianity. But the people of K- did not pay much heed to him, a few only of the brewer's friends went once or twice out of civility to him, and they were soon tired, for they did not like to see a place of worship converted into a forum for sceptical discussion. Among the rest, however, the cutler went, and more than once, and no one wondered at it; for let him say what he would, it was as clear as day-light that he had a strong hankering after Socinianism. He very much wished me to go and hear the man, in order that I might refute him,-so he said; but I strongly and truly suspected that the young Socinian preacher was desirous of obtaining an antagonist merely for the sake of acquiring sume celebrity, and making a noise in a quiet town. I consulted with the old gentleman whose pulpit I supplied, and he said, “Let him alone, let him alone, ten years hence he will be either a Christian or an infidel; he is now neither one nor the other.” Finding that he could not attract a theological notice from the dissenters, the young man tried what he could do with the Church; so he attacked the Establishment, preached against tithes, the Thirty-nine Articles, and the Athanasian creed; he also wrote long letters in the county newspaper, 'insulting the whole body of the clergy, calling them, by implication, knaves or * fools, but telling them at the same time, what a great respect he had for their hearts and understandings. It was all in vain; he could excite no attention : for all that he could say was but a repetition of the old sophisms of Tom Paine, and others of that class, which were all new to this young gentleman, but stale enough to the rest of the world. I have introduced this matter in this place, because it was suggested by a mention of this liberal cutler, who, notwithstanding all his declarations, did, some time after I left the town of K- , join himself to the Socinians. I used very frequently to talk to him about the matter, and to caution him concerning the danger in which he stood, but he replied that it was but fair to hear both sides, and that he was not afraid that his faith could be shaken, and that it was only following the advice of the apostle, to try all things, and hold fast that which is best. But I thought that a man could not know much about Christianity if he did not know when he had got that which is best.-Pp.100-105.

Our next extracts treat of the unity of schism, and the beauties of the voluntary system.

Just at this time there happened one of those divisions which are but too common among dissenters, and that was in a large town about 6fteen miles distant from the place at which I was then residing. There was a large chapel in that town, numerously and respectably attended, the minister of which had officiated in the place upwards of five-and-tweuty years. When he first came, he succeeded an elderly man whose powers, never very great, had been attenuated to next to nothing during his latter years. The new minister, when he was new, was immensely popular. He was regarded as a very Solomon for wisdom, and a Demosthenes for eloquence. His congregation, had it not been that their shops and merchandize required their attention, would have been glad to sit all day long, all the week through, to hear him preach. But, alas ! hot love is soonest cold. For the first five years he was a God to them, for the next fifteen a mortal, and for the last five a devil; and yet I was afterwards told by unbiassed observers, that he was no farther altered from what he was five-andtwenty years ago, than every man naturally must be by the lapse of so many years, and that whatever alteration had taken place in him was for the better, for that his understanding was strengthened, and his knowledge increased. But he was no longer a novelty; his discourses had ceased to be stimulating; he could no longer amuse his flock with the dramatism of devotion. Their imaginations were no longer excited, their ears were not tickled, so they fancied that their devotion was growing cool, through lack of zeal on the part of their minister. Therefore they began to find fault with him, to send him anonymous letters, to accuse him of want of orthodoxy; in a word, they were tired of him, even though he had been their own voluntary and cheerful choice. They had nothing substantially serious to allege against him, so all their charges were of course of the most indefinite and shadowy nature; and because he was not sufficiently eloquent in the pulpit for their amusement, they were more than sufficiently eloquent against him out of the pulpit. The charges brought against him were of the most frivolous kind. Who would imagine, for instance, that a charge of Sabbath-breaking should be brought against a man because he was seen to put a letter in the post on Sunday evening? Soine went so far as to say that he had been even known to read a newspaper on the Sabbath-day. His conduct was watched and commented upon in its minutest movements; all manner of idle tales were circulated concerning him, and every endeavour was made use of to bring bim into contempt with the people of the town who were not of his flock, and who had no connexion with him whatever, but who had generally held him in estimation, because they thought that he was generally estimable; and so he truly was, and so he actually would have been in any other situation than in that of a dissenting minister. I do not intend hereby to insinuate that the dissenters are essentially and constitutionally a more unreasonable set of people than any others in the world, but it is their peculiar, their voluntary system, that brings them into these perplexities. Pp. 121–124.

Dissenting congregations, in the choice of a minister, are not only influenced by the consideration of what he may be to themselves, but they have a view to the appearance which he may make in the eyes of the world; and so long as he is acceptable to them, they take care to extol him to their neighbours, and to speak of him as a model of all that is good in heart, and wise in understanding; but when they grow weary of him, and wish to get rid of him, they desire to be kept in countenance by their neighbours, and to vindicate themselves for their want to change; then they speak very slightingly, and even accusingly of him, bringing against him, for want of some great charge, a great number of little charges, which, being exaggerated and dwelt upon, produce a great impression; and as a dissenting minister lives in great familiarity with his congregation, they know all his movements, and one or other individual is sure to be acquainted with his unguarded expressions and vain thoughts; and it must be a very wonderful man indeed, who, in the course of five-and-twenty years, should neither do or say any thing foolish or blame-worthy. Thus is a dissenting minister much in the power of his congregation, if they choose to use that power, and that they sometimes do use it, I know for a fact.-Pp. 125-127.

After this, our hero is ordained, for with dissenters this ceremony follows, and does not precede, the liberty of preaching.

There is a difference between the ordination of clergymen, and the ordination of dissenting ministers. Clergymen are ordained by bishops, but dissenting ministers are ordained by one another. Clergymen are ordained before they commence their ministerial duties; dissenting ministers, not till they have a call from some congregation; and their ordination is by two or three ministers, chosen by themselves and their congregation. The difficulty in my case was this :— the neighbouring ministers, who were the most natural and proper persons to officiate at the ordination, thought that the minister from whoin the secession had taken place, had not been fairly and honourably treated, and they were rather shy of countenancing the secession, yet they were rather afraid of speaking too strongly and too decidedly on the matter, because they had an instinct which told them that it would be very imprudent in them to countenance any rebellion of ministers against their people; therefore they abstained from joining in my ordination, under pretence of personal acquaintance with the deserted minister. In time, however, and after some trouble, four ministers were found, who consented to co-operate in my ordination. One of them prayed the ordination prayer, another asked me various questions concerning my faith, another gave me a solemn charge as to my ministerial duties, and the fourth preached to the people, telling them their duty. It was a very solemn and affecting service, and we afterwards all dined together at a publichouse.-Pp. 130-132.

After the ordination another difficulty arose,- it was to be paid for. Our dinner at the public-house cost something, and as the four ordaining ministers came from a considerable distance, the expenses of their journey were to be paid. Hitherto not a word had been said about my salary, but as I was a single man, it was intimated that a small salary would suffice. When, however, the expenses of the ordination were deducted from the funds of the society, the treasurer's account had a very ugly look, and the difficulty was how to make it look handsomer. They had been at a great expense in hiring and fitting up the room, and they began to talk to me as the proprietor of the magazine did, about “up-hill work." Alack-a-day! I began to fear that it would be presently down-hill work. At length, after much talking, arrangement, and discussion, it was resolved that my salary should be sixty pounds for the first year, and afterwards to increase as the congregation should increase; so it should seem that my success was to depend much on my own exertions. Well, now, this seems plausible enough, and mightily ingenious is the arrangement; for under the idea that things are to be improved by diligence, the young man exerts all

« PreviousContinue »