18 July 2020

Pulpit manners

"I don't know when I've heard a discourse more to my mind. He reads extremely well , with great propriety and in a very impressive manner; and at the same time, without any theatrical grimace or violence. I own, I do not like much action in the pulpit -- I do not like the studied air and artificial inflexions of voice, which your very popular and most admired preachers generally have. A simple delivery is much better calculated to inspire devotion, and shows a much better taste. Mr Howard read like a scholar and a gentleman".

Thus a character in The Watsons, with Jane Austen's clear approval. When, recently, I was researching the Reverend Sir Harry Trelawny, Bart, I found a contemporary description of him which reminded me uncannily of the Reverend Mr Howard:
"... he performed the whole service with simplicity and devotion, and ... He has nothing studied in his manner or expression; he seems himself strongly to feel the divine truths he delivers, and makes a suitable impression on the minds of his attentive audience.".

This was penned within the same five or so years in which Jane Austen probably wrote The Watsons.

And we might move onwards a generation or so, to S John Henry Newman's pulpit manner: it is recorded that he, too, never waved his arms around or sought strange vocal effects. In the days when I was free of the extensive (and largely untapped) Victorian archives at Lancing, I read a description (I can't remember by whom) of going to S Mary's for the University Sermon; "Marriot, serviceable, but not the silver voice [of Newman]". (Perhaps it will be best if we refrain from investigating Fr Faber's pulpit manner ... there may be something in Knox's hint that it was really rather Methodist.)

Today is the Year's Mind of the incomparable Jane. She was second only to Newman in her satirical wit and devastating irony; she was a devout Churchwoman; she received the Blessed Sacrament on her death bed; she was unshockable in her detached observation of the adulteries of Georgian England ... but shocked only by the sight of a notorious adulteress "staying for the Sacrament". Please murmur an Ave for a brilliant woman who exemplified so much that was so good in Anglicanism before the Catholic Revival..

But that Anglican culture had its ... gaps. Not surprisingly, they were pointed out by S John Henry (Loss and Gain pt i cap xviii).  "[The Reverend Mr Reding] was a most respectable clergyman of the old school; pious in his sentiments, a gentleman in his feelings, exemplary in his social relations. He was no reader, and never had been in the way to gain theological knowledge; he sincerely believed all that was in the Prayer-book, but his sermons were very rarely doctrinal. They were sensible, manly* discourses on the moral duties. He administered holy communion at the three great festivals, saw his Bishop once or twice a year, was on good terms with the country gentleman in his neighbourhood, was charitable to the poor, hospitable in his housekeeping, and was a staunch though not a violent supporter of the Tory interest in his county. He was incapable of anything harsh, or petty, or low, or uncourteous; and died esteemed by the great houses about him, and lamented by his parishioners.".

Newman, I am sure, is luring us into asking: "So what on earth can possibly have been wrong with such a paragon?"

I will suggest: Excessive Inculturation into the social structures of Society! Together with a lack of a compelling feeling of the primacy of the supernatural; and an absence of that sense of sacrifice which is primarily expressed in Celibacy (vide pt iii cap ii, about the Bath bookshop in Danvers Street* ... perhaps the most savagely violent piece of sustained sarcasm in all Newman's oeuvre).

S John Henry would not have favoured 'Modified Celibacy'!

* 'Manly': my printed text (Burns Oates Washbourne) reads 'mainly'. I have no hesitation in emending. I wonder if an autograph text survives.
* Was there a Danvers Street in early Victorian Bath? Did it contain a bookshop? 



Richard said...

I love what you write here about great Jane from a Catholic perspective. Please write more; convince me she wasn't a staunch Anglican.
And now I think I'd better read Loss and Gain for the fourth time.

Robin said...

There is and presumably was a Manvers Street. There is a long established bookshop there now but whether it was there then I do not know. Robin Davies

Anonymous said...

mike hurcum writes.
nevertheless Faber was rather more loved than Newman by the Catholics up to the 1950's when I emigrated. It is a fact that reading the thesis of the Czech Professor
on devotions in the Victorian Catholic Church there was not a great deal of liking for him and a great deal of dismissal for his behavior towards Fr Faber. The English church certainly sang Faber's hymns. I ca say I never heard lead kindly light sang in a church until I finally settled in Vancouver. Two points I would like to make Faber raised enough money to build Brompton Oratory three times because of the feelings Catholic England had for him. Faber also was given so many church furnishings from churches in Rome. The thesis mentioned above said that claimed Newman's second spring never happened but that was true until vacation 2. I remember reading the first speech that opened the first day of the council whereby
A Bishop from the subcontinent of India said, "Cardinal Newman must be spinning in his grave with joy. This council is a direct result of his teaching". Most of us catholics or some that say attention remember the dreary priests who came around the dioceses of the UK preparing us for the council, We did not trust what we heard it was too protestant, as my father pointed out to me.

the claimed claimed

Unknown said...

There is a Manvers Street in Bath, facing you as you leave the railway station. And, there is a bookshop/bookbinders. George Bayntun has been in that building since 1901 and may have been nearby before that.

PM said...

Another Catholic admirer of Jane Austen, Herbert McCabe OP, suggested that "good sense" in Jane Austen was the best approximation we have in English to the Aristotelian-Thomistic virtue of prudence.

He also said that he regarded GK Chesterton as a model of good theological writing. Amen to that?

PM said...

Speaking of pulpit manners, is there any truth to the story I heard years ago about an eccentric old dear who would sit under the pulpit in Brompton Oratory with an umbrella, in case the priest should expectorate during his sermon? It is one of those stories that sound too good to be true.

Patrick said...

The only example I could put forth in favor of "artifice" is Venerable Fulton Sheen. It's interesting that my kids can watch him on Youtube today while his style of speaking was considered outmoded (but only "just so") when he was on television in the 50's and 60's. My daughter, God bless her, doesn't understand how his jokes are appropriate for a priest.