Yorkshire Oddities, Incidents and Strange Events/The Rev. Mr. Carter, Parson-Publican



I cannot do better than extract verbatim the following account from a curious book entitled "Anecdotes and Manners of a Few Ancient and Modern Oddities, interspersed with Deductive Inferences and Occasional Observations, tending to reclaim some Interlocutory Foibles which often occur in the Common Intercourses of Society." York, 1806:—

"The Rev. Mr. Carter, when curate of Lastingham, had a very large family, with only a small income to support them, and therefore often had recourse to many innocent alternatives to augment it; and as the best of men have their enemies—too often more than the worst—he was represented to the archdeacon by an invidious neighbour as a very disorderly character, particularly by keeping a public-house, with the consequences resulting from it.

"The archdeacon was a very humane, worthy, good man, who had imbibed the principles not only of a parson, but of a divine, and therefore treated such calumniating insinuations against his subordinate brethren with that contempt which would accrue to the satisfaction and advantage of such as listen to a set of sycophantic tattlers culled from the refuse of society. Besides, the improbability of a malevolent story generally renders it more current by increasing the scandal; and the world, like the pious S. Austin, believes some things because they are impossible. However, he considered that not only the conduct of the inferior clergy claimed his attention, but also to have some idea how far their subsistence was compatible with the sanctity of their functions; therefore, at the ensuing visitation, when the business of the day was over, he, in a very delicate and candid manner, interrogated Mr. Carter as to his means of supporting so numerous a family—ever thinking of this admirable hint to charity, that the more a person wants, the less will do him good—which was answered, as related to me by one well acquainted with the parties, in nearly the following words:—

"'I have a wife and thirteen children, and with a stipend of £20 per annum, increased only by a few trifling surplice fees. I will not impose upon your understanding by attempting to advance any argument to show the impossibility of us all being supported from my church preferment. But I am fortunate enough to live in a neighbourhood where there are many rivulets which abound with fish, and being particularly partial to angling, I am frequently so successful as to catch more than my family can consume while good, of which I make presents to the neighbouring gentry, all of whom are so generously grateful as to requite me with something else of seldom less value than two or three-fold. This is not all. My wife keeps a public-house, and as my parish is so wide that some of my parishioners have to come from ten to fifteen miles to church, you will readily allow that some refreshment before they return must occasionally be necessary, and when can they have it more properly than when their journey is half performed? Now, sir, from your general knowledge of the world, I make no doubt but you are well assured that the most general topics in conversation at public-houses are politics and religion, with which ninety-nine out of one hundred of those who participate in the general clamour are totally unacquainted; and that perpetually ringing in the ears of a pastor who has the welfare and happiness of his flock at heart, must be no small mortification. To divert their attention from these foibles over their cups, I take down my violin and play them a few tunes, which gives me an opportunity of seeing that they get no more liquor than necessary for refreshment; and if the young people propose a dance, I seldom answer in the negative; nevertheless, when I announce time for return, they are ever ready to obey my commands, and generally with the donation of a sixpence they shake hands with my children, and bid God bless them. Thus my parishioners enjoy a triple advantage, being instructed, fed, and amused at the same time. Moreover, this method of spending their Sundays is so congenial with their inclinations, that they are imperceptibly led along the paths of piety and morality; whereas, in all probability, the most exalted discourses, followed with no variety but heavenly contemplations, would pass like the sounds of harmony over an ear incapable of discerning the distinction of sounds. It is this true sense of religion that has rendered my whole life so remarkably cheerful as it has been, to the great offence of superstitious and enthusiastic religionists. For why should priests be always grave? Is it so sad to be a parson? Cheerfulness, even gaiety, is consonant with every species of virtue and practice of religion, and I think it inconsistent only with impiety and vice. The ways of heaven are pleasantness. Let "O be joyful" be the Christian's psalm, and leave to the sad Indian to incant the devil with tears and screeches. Now, to corroborate my remarks upon cheerfulness as conducive to contentment, I will by leave solicit so much of your indulgence as to hear the following extract from the works of an eminent divine of the Established Church:—The Thirty-Nine Articles are incomplete without a fortieth precept enjoining cheerfulness; or you may let the number stand as it does at present, provided you expunge the thirteenth article, and place that heavenly maxim in the room of it. Might not the Archbishop of Cashel have been a sound divine though he added the arch-stanza about Broglio to the old Irish ballad in praise of Moll Roe? Or did the Bishop (not the Earl) of Rochester's poems on the man-like properties of a lady's fan ever impeach his orthodoxy in the least?'

"Here the archdeacon very candidly acknowledged the propriety of Mr. Carter's arguments in defence of his conduct, and complimented him on his discernment in using the most convenient vehicle for instruction; observing that, although he might deviate a little from the plans generally advised for the accomplishment of that purpose, yet it bore no less authority than the celebrated Dr. Young, who wrote a play ('The Brothers') for the propagation of the Gospel, the profits of which he consecrated to the Society for Propagating the Gospel in Foreign Parts."