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This may be his first volume, but is not his hundredth composition
for the press.
The writer is manifestly a Cambridge man, and certainly not of an old standing. He probably took his bachelor's degree about the year 1819 or 20. His allusions to the University and its arcana, are constant; and no one but a Cambridge man will fully relish them.
A great part of the volume is serious, and turns on some of the more melancholy duties of a parish priest. There is also a due portion of decorous piety-a very sufficient infusion of cant-and a great deal of one-sided argumentation. From this view of the work, we turn with pleasure to the more amusing part, where, if we judge aright, the writer is much more in earnest, than when he deems it proper to raise his eyes, clasp his hands, and ejaculate odds and ends of his breviary. This peeping out of the real Simon will be more carefully concealed in future writings, when his fate arrives nearer the crisis.
It is difficult to say what the Living and the Dead really is. It is not a novel-it is not a volume of sermons—it is not an ecclesiastical Spectator-it is not a collection of essays, nor a bundle of letters of advice, direction, and consolation. Books are now-a-days compounded of such miscellaneous materials, that it is difficult to find a name for some of them. It may afford some notion of these to say, that they are akin to papers or articles in a magazine. My first Parish, the first paper for instance, is a sketch of the author's feelings on taking possession of his first curacy, of the more remarkable characters of the parish, and a diary of some of the professional visits he made in his capacity of spiritual comforter. Next follows Sermonizing, which discloses the necessities, difficulties, and appliances of clergymen not accustomed to composition. The third paper is entitled Mr. Benson : this contains a criticism of this gentlemau's preaching, and some sketch of his character and life. Love Matches consists of two historiettes, controverting the prejudices entertained against contracts whose basis is simply love. The Wages of Sin is a violent and improbable story of a youth who saw his elder brother tumble into the water, and suffered him to perish without making an effort to save him—the Wages of this Sin are the tortures of his conscience and the elopement of his wife. A glimpse of Joanna Baillie is a little blue-stocking revelation-akin to many publications of private life that have lately taken place: this line is again taken up in making certain disclosures and comments on Lady Byron and her late husband. This part of the book has called forth an angry letter in the newspapers, signed, “ A Relation of Lady Byron;" and dated, Christ's College, Cambridge. A postscript of this letter attributes the authorship of this volume to Archdeacon Nares. The venerable archdeacon, by return of post, “contradicted the same.” Of a similar character with the writer's criticism or sketch of Mr. Benson, is the paper on Mr. Rennel-a fragment, and Archdeacon Daubeny. The Sorrows of a Rich Old Man is a very clever diary of an elderly gentleman in a boarding-house on the Devonshire coast. The Riches of the Church is an attempt to prove, that the riches of the church are in fact poverty. This is very logically attempted, by citing in detail the immense number of poor curacies. There are
other papers which we have not named. We shall, however, now proceed to make some selections of the parts which appear to us the best and most amusing.
The author, arguing against a very prevailing notion that the Church of England is a wealthy establishment, quotes several cases of extreme poverty, and confined means in curates, which are doubtless a scandal to any well-governed community.
“I remain in circumstances similar to those of last year, though not exactly in all points the same, for a gracious God has sent me an increase of family. Though Mrs. has been the mother of thirteen, I cordially welcome the last, and as it is a boy I give him [back again] to his God. I have a family of eleven persons to support,!! in a most expensive situation, upon 1301. per annum-the whole amount of my income.”
"I am still curate of have a wife and ten children!! [a gracious God again!] seven of whom are wholly dependent on me. My curacy is barely tisty pounds per annum ; five of my little ones have had the typhus fever, and my medical attendant's bill has been unusually heavy.”
Any symptoms of “overgrown wealth” here? In the next case we find incumbent and curate equally distressed the latter in the receipt of a third-rate journeyman's wages!
-“ My incumbent, with a large family, continues to be very poor, which, unfortunately for me, involves me in difficulties. Of forty pounds, my nominal income, I have received no more than half during the last twelve months. I bare a wife and four young children dependent on me.”
• Imperious necessity alone could induce me again to appeal to the society ; but my stipend is quite inadequate to the support of my family, and my inability to discharge some debts, contracted solely on this account, preys upon my mind, and creates a care and anxiety to the last degree painful and distressing. My incoine is eighty pounds, on which I have nine litile claimants.”
Exactly eight pounds annually for each person! The next case will exhibit a clergyman receiving a mere pauper's parish pay,
-“ With great reluctance I state my circumstances. My whole income from the church is only twenty pounds per annum, including the surplice fees, which do not amount to five pounds! I have a wife and six children, four of whom are entirely dependent on me for support. I have no other income.”
Six human beings to be fed, clothed, and sheltered, on twenty-five pounds annually, or nine shillings and sevenpence weekly!! Why the veriest hedger and ditcher would scorn it!
The last case is a sad but appropriate sequel to the whole. It pourtrays the clergyman of the Church of England applying for relief to the parish.
“I am curate of -, containing about two thousand persons; eight hundred of whom attend divine service. My salary is fifty-two pounds per annum, with a wife and sir children dependent on me. I have no private income of my own whatever. Within the last two years my family have been so reduced as to be forced to seek the aid of the parish!'
In these cases, nothing is more striking than the uniformly large families which, according to their own phraseology, a gracious God has given these poor men.
Since the natural consequences of marriage are children, and since nothing can be more certain by the income of these unfortunate clergymen, and others similarly situated, we presume, that they may be charged with a culpable improvidence in contracting an engagement which must involve themselves and others in misery. The Rev. Mr. Malthus and his brethren in political economy, make no exception in their laws for the children of the church.
The next extract describes, with some feeling, the author's approach to his first parish.
Monday, June 5, 182 .-The ordination over, my papers delivered, and my fees paid; my parting bow made to the bishop, and my grateful acknowledgments offered to bis chaplain-I had nothing to do but proceed to my parish. I rode slowly, for my heart was full. What a change in feeling-in sentiment-in pro. fession-had a few hours produced ? “ The vows I have pronounced are sacredly binding, and can only be cancelled by death. Of the commission, which I have voluntarily undertaken, how paramount the importance-how ceaseless the responsibility!” Thus musing I had reached the boundary of the parish. It was the close of a lovely summer's day. The birds were singing their evening hymn to their Great Creator-the peasant was returning from bis toil—the last rays of the sun were taking leave of the surrounding landscape with a smile—and all nature wore that look of sabbath stillness which we can fancy prevailed when God rested from his labours, and “saw that it was very good.”
The portraits of some of his parishioners are drawn with humourfor instance, Mr. Neophyte Neversage.
Tuesday, June 27.-I have just parted with a most facetious gentleman--a kind of general executor to the whole county-a sort of testamentary Caleb Quotem. He came up with a smile-introduced himself as Mr. Neophyte Neversage," and “begged for my company when agreeable.” He assured me that he was particularly partial to clerical society—had been extremely fortunate in that respect. “I once, Sir, spent a clerical day with the late worthy vicar Mr. Peyton. Allow me to give you an account of it. "It runs thus. In the morning at eight o'clock I had the pleasure of giving away my respected friend Mrs. Diana Doublestakes; she was the widow of my late partner Mr. Zerubbabel Doublestakes; and a very sensitive sympathising woman she was. The ceremony was over by nine : and as we left the church, we crossed the grave of her first husband, over which, in passing, she she a flood of tears. At eleven I had the satisfaction of meeting the same excellent incumbent at a christening--that of my nephew's eldest son, my god-child. Most appropriately was the ceremony performed! I was a guest at the christening dinnor, but could not long enjoy it. left the feast of reason and the flow of soul' at seven, to attend as chief mourner the remains of my estemed cotrustee to the grave. This lamentable, but alas ! requisite service, was very feelingly performed by the same dignified divine. I was present at the reading of the will; in which I found myself named sole executor and residuary legatee. These little matters satisfactorily adjusted, I joined the wedding party at supper, when we kept it up to a late hour in the morning. This, Sir, I call one of my 'clerical days'-shall be most happy (with a very low bow) on any future occasion, to go the same round of duty with you!"
The hit at the poet preacher Crabbe is somewhat good.
Monday, Sept. 25.—I have been diverted this morning almost against my will. A poor woman came to me from Trowbridge to request my interference with the secretary of a benefit club to which her husband belonged; and from wbich, though disabled by disease, he could obtain no relief. After some preliminary conversation, I observed, "You are very fortunate at Trowbridge, in having for your minister so celebrated and so gifted an individual as Mr. Crabbe.” “It's in what that I'm fortunate ?” asked she, with her sharp, blue, interrogatory nose. • In the ministry of a man so justly famed as Mr. Crabbe.” “Ah! Mr. Crabbe! You've heard of him, I dare say; he's a great pote. Perhaps you've read his books of verses? I never did; I haven't time. They say he's made a mint of money by his potery. I'm sure it's more than he'll ever make by his sermons. They are so very d----y:” and she pursed up her thin, spare, skinny lips till her mouth was like the top of a vinegar cruet. “Besides he is so stiff and solemn; no life in him.”
“ Well, but that does not affect the matter of his sermons.”
"O! ha! He's a great scholar, I dare say. Too much learning by far for me; for I can't understand him half my time. There was a sermon he preached us, all about the queen of Sheba—very fine, I make no doubt-I'm sure there wasn't one word in ten that I ever heard before! Then it's nothing but question and answer. Quite provoking! I said to bim one day---It's a sliame for your reverence to stand up in the pulpit and put question after question, when you know it's an unpossible thing for any poor creature to get up and give an answer to ye. It's all on one side, as å body may say. You have it all your own way.-Ay-ay, it's very well for the great folks in London: but poor creatures so illiterate about their future state as I am, wouldn't care if they was never to hear again one of your pote parsons.”
The death of a parishioner, though, perhaps, not a proper subject of fun to the parson of the parish, is amusingly described. The foundation of a “ Kick scholarship” will cause a smile at Cambridge.
Thursday, Nov. 3.- I am concerned to record the death of Miss Eunice Kick. This melancholy event took place at an early hour this morning. I am afraid it is a species of telo de se. Her enemies, indeed, roundly assert that she killed herself; while her intimate friends as strenuously maintain that she was only “accessary to the fact.” Truth lies between. Miss Kick was a female quack. She was the greatest patroness of patent medicines in the village ; and prescribed with singular readiness for all complaints, classes, ages, and conditious, "Dr. James's Powder"-" Widow Welch’s Pills" — " Daffy's Elixir” — and “ Dalby's Carminative:”- she could “ speak from experience to the virtues of them all! At last she fell ill herself. Medical advice was called in; but after some consideration, Miss Eunice “was satisfied she understood the treatment of her complaint” better than her doctor. Mr. Ravenscreech was of course dismissed. Miss Kick undertook the management of her own case-consulted Buchan’s Vade Mecum-and died three days afterwards. After all there was no such great mistake! She merely inserted in the prescription mercury for magnesia! Peace to her memory: she was a bustling woman; and will be much missed at the Sunday school, where she put every class into confusion. She has bequeathed-s0 Miss Goggs informs me—the sum of twenty guineas to this her favourite charity; and a further sum of two guineas, annually, to that girl who shall pass the best examination at Christmas--to be expended in appropriate clothing. The successful candidate to be called “the Kick Scholar.”
The writer makes an observation on the frequency of very undistinguished undergraduates at the university, turning out, in after-life, very distinguised men. This topic is worthy of consideration to those who are interested in the selection of university studies, and the regulation of university literary discipline. The author's instances are the late mineralogical professor at Cambridge, Dr. Clarke, and the present rector of St. Giles's, Mr. Benson. Of Dr. Clarke, we have the following sketch; allowing for some exaggerated eulogy, the resemblance is striking, and the praise tolerably just.
Among these very numerous instances, the subject of the present paper may be included. He is the son of a most respectable solicitor at Cockermouth ; was sent, at an early period of life, to Cambridge, and entered at Trinity College. At this magnificent college he graduated in 1809, but took no honour. It is singular, that neither Benson nor Clarke arrived at any thing beyond mediocrity in the stated studies of the University. They both appear to have been admired and esteemedthe one for his social qualities and rare conversational powers—the other for his moral excellence and private worth ; but neither seem to have given any promise of their future fame. We search in vain for Benson's name as a prizeman, even on his own peculiar and favourite subject; yet it would be difficult to name two individuals who have reflected greater credit on their University. Dr. Clarke's claim to genius– genius of the highest order, of the most varied kind, and consecrated to the noblest purposes—who is prepared to deny? His energy and enterprize as a traveller-his accuracy and industry as an author-were only surpassed by his ability as a professor. As a lecturer where shall we find his equal ? To fix the capricious attention of the youthful student--to clothe his subject in the most perspicuous language, and adorn it with the happiest illustrations—to turn from the veins in a pebble to the proofs of the Being of a God-to deduce from the consideration of a bed of strata some direct and striking testimony to the authenticity of Scripture—to surprize the mind, engaged in the dullest and driest mineralogical details, into the noblest aspirations after God and goodness; and this without the slightest appearance of affectation or effort, and while the glow of genius was irradiating one of the finest and most expressive countenances with which man was ever gifted—were traits in his character as a public instructor, which those who attended his lectures have often witnessed, though they may not be able to describe.
The character of Mr. Benson is the very best part of the book. It is just, discriminative, and forcible; and we are glad of an opportunity of circulating the eulogy of so deserving a man.
With Benson these objections are idle. He convinced the understanding, but he touched the heart. He swayed, by his arguments, the judgment; and he alarmed, by his inferences, the conscience. He pleaded most powerfully to the reason; but lie engaged your sympathy, and led captive your affections. And as to his mannerhow simple-how bumble-how devout-how utterly devoid of pretension, yet how invariably impressive-let those who have heard bim determine.
Encircled by all the insignia of Academia, and supported by that air of imposing solemnity which the University church breathes around the preacher—at St. Giles's, surrounded by all the flutter and fashion of a metropolitan audience—at the Foundling, where every eye was fixed upon the orator, and every ear was drinking in those gentlypersuasive accents with which he pleaded the cause of charity-under all these circumstances I have listened to Mr. Benson ; but never, I am free to confess, with such feelings of unmingled pleasure, or with a more grateful testimony to his powers, than in the small, still, quiet chapel of Magdalen College. It was my privilege, for such I deem it, to have heard him, on two distinct occasions, address the under-graduates of that society, previous to the administration of the sacrament; and even at this moment of time, when long years have intervened, I can listen to the music of his voice-can remember some of those sentiments so fraught with humility and devotion and piety, in which our privileges and duties were pressed upon us—and can trace the effect with which, in more than one instance, his affecting exhortations were blessed. There are those in existence who, amid the turmoils and temptations of the world, have recurred to the observations which followed the text, and have been strengthened, and supported, and comforted !
It is true, that on each of the occasions to which I have referred, the man was the same. In voice, in attitude, in manner, in look and gesture, in all he was unchanged. Though carried along on the full tide of popularity—though wealth, and rank, and fashion sat around him in unbroken attention—there was still the same deep, sustained, sincere devotion—the same dignified and elegant simplicity—the same absence of every thing like pretension—the same subdued but persuasive earrestness--the same low, soft, sweet voice with which he used to read morning prayers, at the early hour of eight, in the College Chapel, to an auditory of a dozen under-graduates. And yet-let the frankness of the confession plead for its selfishness--I admired him most when we “had him to ourselves."
In taking this rapid sketch of Mr. Benson, his voice must not be forgotten. It is one of the most attractive things about him; and, I am inclined to think, peculiar to himself. I can hardly detine what it is. I must describe it by what it is not. It is neither loud-nor clear-nor strong-nor sonorous; you can hardly call it bass; it undoubtedly is not treble; it is singularly plaintive, touching, and persuasive-very flexible-very musical. It conveys an idea of great delicacy of constitution, but is in exquisite harmony with the matter and manner of the owner.
To this peculiar combination of mental and physical powers—of the acquirements of mind with the graces of manner-much of Mr. Benson's popularity among, and influence over, the under-graduates may be mainly ascribed. When he preached at St. Mary's you would find the grave and the gay, the studious and the idle, the mathematical and the sceptical, the serious and the dissipated-all listening to him with pleasure—not a few with profit.
We should be glad to extend our extracts, and make some quotations from the very amusing diary of the rich old gentleman, Mr. Gaius Gompertz of Fenchurch-street, but we can afford no more room; and indeed, the space we have already devoted to it is beyond the proportionate value of the work.