Monday, 2 April 2018

Preachers to avoid

Anne Brontë and her father Patrick shared the same aversion to a particular form of self-regarding preacher - an aversion which, I guess, he would have inculcated in her during her childhood and early adulthood.

My low grade programme of Brontë awareness has now gradually taken me not only through both her novels but also into the first volume of poems which he published before she was born, and I greatly enjoyed spotting both this shared view and the witty literary treatment both give it thirty-six years apart.

One of the Cottage Poems (1811) is Patrick’s To the Rev J Gilpin on his improved edition of Pilgrim’s Progress.  The late Victorian editor of Patrick’s collected works helpfully places a footnote that Joshua Gilpin ‘was Rector of Wrockwardine and his re-dressing of ‘Pilgrim’ met with the failure it deserved’.  Wrockwardine was very close to Wellington where Patrick had recently been Curate and the two were among a mutually supportive group of like-minded evangelical clergy.

Patrick’s praise of his friend’s work comes later in the poem but it begins with the fear he had before reading it that anyone so presumptuous as to attempt this ‘re-dressing’ would mean John Bunyan

Would take him for some Bond-street beau,
Or, for that thing – it wants a name –
Devoid of truth, of sense, and shame,
Which smooths its chin, and licks its lip,
And mounts the pulpit with a skip;
Then turning round, its pretty face,
To smite each fair one, in the place,
Relaxes half to vacant smile,
And aims with trope, and polished style,
And lisp affected, to pourtray [sic]
Its silly self, in colours gay:
Its fusty moral stuff t’unload,
And preach itself and not its God.

The theme is picked up by his daughter in Agnes Grey (1847) where Agnes dislikes both a former Curate’s sermons and the

still less edifying harangues of the rector.  Mr. Hatfield would come sailing up the aisle, or rather sweeping along like a whirlwind, with his rich silk gown flying behind him and rustling against the pew doors, mount the pulpit like a conqueror ascending his triumphal car; then, sinking on the velvet cushion in an attitude of studied grace, remain in silent prostration for a certain time; then mutter over a Collect, and gabble through the Lord’s Prayer, rise, draw off one bright lavender glove, to give the congregation the benefit of his sparkling rings, lightly pass his fingers through his well-curled hair, flourish a cambric handkerchief, recite a very short passage, or, perhaps, a mere phrase of Scripture, as a head-piece to his discourse, and, finally, deliver a composition which, as a composition, might be considered good, though far too studied and too artificial to be
pleasing to me.

The picture was taken in our garden.

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