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It will, I believe, be everywhere found, that as the clergy are, or are not what they ought to be, so are the rest of the nation.”—Edmund Bertram in Mansfield Park

Picture 1 Clerical Alphabet for Blog Post

Richard Newton’s “A Clerical Alphabet,” published in 1795. Illustrations by Richard Newton; captions by Newton and publisher William Holland. © The Trustees of the British Museum. CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license.

Richard Newton’s “Clerical Alphabet” satirizes the English clergy of Austen’s time. You may be familiar with cartoonists, or caricaturists, of the eighteenth century like Thomas Rowlandson and James Gillray. Some of Rowlandson’s cartoons are based on Richard Newton’s work. Newton’s popular cartoons mocked the “establishment,” including fashions, politicians, the king, and even the church. Newton lived only 21 years. He died of typhus in 1798, shortly after he drew a satirical series on death!

Jane Austen herself wrote satirically, though much more gently, of the clergy. We laugh with her at foolish Mr. Collins, presumptuous Mr. Elton, and gluttonous Dr. Grant. It seems, though, that they performed their jobs as ministers adequately. In Emma, Miss Nash has copied down all the texts (Bible passages) Mr. Elton preached from since he came to Highbury. In Mansfield Park, Mary Crawford says Dr. Grant’s curate does much of his work. But at least Dr. Grant preaches good sermons, according to both Mary and Fanny Price.

Three of Jane Austen’s heroes, Edmund Bertram, Edward Ferrars, and Henry Tilney are conscientious clergymen. Sense and Sensibility tells us of Edward’s “ready discharge of his duties in every particular,” meaning that he willingly and eagerly did all that a clergyman was supposed to do. Henry Tilney employs a curate to do his duties while he is at Bath and Northanger Abbey. But Henry faithfully attends parish meetings, and I think he would have done his duties well once he was full-time at Woodston.

What were the clergy (church ministers or pastors) really like in Austen’s England? Many were good men, serving God and their communities. Jane’s father and brothers and her cousin Edward Cooper were faithful clergymen.

Mary Crawford of Mansfield Park, though, doesn’t think much of the clergy. “A clergyman is nothing,” she tells Edmund. Edmund and Fanny have much higher ideas of what the clergy can be, and should be.

Edmund says that the clergy “has the charge of all that is of the first importance to mankind, individually or collectively considered, temporally and eternally, . . . the guardianship of religion and morals, and consequently of the manners which result from their influence.” By “manners,” he explains that he means actions based on religious principles. He says the clergy have a huge influence on the people of their area.

Unfortunately, the church system in Austen’s day allowed anyone with a gentleman’s education and the right family and social connections to become a clergyman. Even an immoral man like Wickham could have been a clergyman, if he had not renounced his claim.

Newton’s cartoon shows us some of the major issues in Austen’s Church of England. Some of his clergymen are very fat and some are very thin. The church livings of Austen’s England were unevenly distributed. Some provided a high income, others a low income, and some were moderate. Let’s look in more detail at Newton’s criticisms of the Church of England in Jane Austen’s time, and how they connect to Austen’s novels.

Picture 2 Clerical Alphabet ABCDE

A, B, C, D, and E of Richard Newton’s “Clerical Alphabet,” published in 1795. © The Trustees of the British Museum. CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license.

The “Clerical Alphabet” begins:
A Was Archbishop with a red face,
B Was a Bishop who long’d for his place.
C Was a Curate, a poor Sans Culotte,
D Was a Dean who refus’d him a Coat
Even grudged him small beer to moisten his throat. (No picture for E, just a caption.)

A-B: In the Church of England, the king was the supreme authority of the church, and under him was the archbishop of Canterbury, then the archbishop of York. Each archbishop supervised a number of bishops, and the bishops supervised the more than 11,000 parish priests of England. Bishops and archbishops were wealthy men, with high incomes from the church. They were members of the House of Lords in Parliament. Mr. Collins says he is not worried that the archbishop or Lady Catherine will rebuke him for dancing. In reality, the archbishop would not know of Mr. Collins’s existence! Collins is exalting Lady Catherine by putting her at the same level as the highest church official.
C: Sans Culotte is French for “without pants” (more literally “without knee breeches”; the peasants wore long trousers instead of the knee breeches worn by upper classes). The “Sans Culotte” were the lower class French people who supported the French Revolution. In the English church, curates were the lowest rung of the clergy. Most lived on stipends of only £50 per year or less, barely enough for survival. They either assisted rectors and vicars, or led services in their place. In Persuasion, Mary Musgrove looks down on Charles Hayter as “nothing but a country curate.
D-E: A dean was another wealthy church leader, the head clergyman overseeing a major church. In Mansfield Park, Mrs. Grant says they can move to London if someone commends “Dr. Grant to the deanery [the dean’s office] of Westminster or St. Paul’s.” Dr. Grant does get such a promotion at the end of the book. However, his gluttony kills him. No doubt this is Jane Austen’s own satire of wealthy clergymen!
Small beer was cheap beer with a low alcohol content. The church was not generous to the poor curates.

Picture 3 Clerical Alphabet FGHI

F, G, H, and I of Richard Newton’s “Clerical Alphabet,” published in 1795. © The Trustees of the British Museum. CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license.

F Was a Fellow of Brazen-Nose College
G Was a Graduate guileless of knowledge
H Was a high-flying Priest had a call!
I Was an Incumbent did nothing at all.

F: Brazen-Nose College is a pun on Brasenose College of Oxford University. Fellows were the senior members of a college, usually clergymen. This one enjoys his pipe and his wine.
G: The graduate, without knowledge, is likely a member of the highest social classes. The nobility and others with wealth could graduate from Oxford or Cambridge University simply by being there for a certain amount of time. Students who were not as rich had to write essays in Latin and take exams. Clergymen followed the same course of study as any other gentlemen, plus they had to show up for one course on theology. Edward Ferrars says he was “properly idle” at Oxford.
H: The clergy was considered an occupation at this time, not usually a calling from God.
I: Once a man had a church living (a post as rector or vicar of a parish), he was the incumbent. He held the living until he died. In old age, or if he moved elsewhere, he would hire a curate to perform his duties. Although Dr. Grant gets a post at Westminster and moves to London, he still has the income from the parish of Mansfield Park (he is still the incumbent) until he dies. Then Edmund can take that parish.
(At this time, I and J were considered to be the same letter. So there is no J in this alphabet. That is also why the Jane Austen sampler has an I but no J.)

Picture 4 Clerical Alphabet KLMN

K, L, M, and N of Richard Newton’s “Clerical Alphabet,” published in 1795. © The Trustees of the British Museum. CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license.

K Was King’s Chaplain as pompous as Dodd,
L Was a Lecturer dull as a clod.
M Was a Methodist Parson, stark mad!
N Was a NonCon and nearly as bad.

K: The king’s chaplain was the king’s personal priest for the Chapel Royal. William Dodd (1729-1777) was an extravagant clergyman who became chaplain to the King of England in 1763. To clear his debts, he forged a bond for £4200. He was convicted and hanged in 1777.
L: A lecturer was a preacher chosen and paid by the congregation who gave additional sermons (“lectures”) at a church, usually at afternoon or evening services.
M: The Methodists were part of the Church of England until around this time. They were known for their emotional enthusiasm and their focus on salvation by grace. Some Methodist preachers, including John Wesley, preached to large open-air meetings. According to Wesley’s Journal, listeners sometimes responded with “outcries, convulsions, visions, and trances.” More orthodox Anglicans considered this madness. When Edmund rebukes Mary Crawford, she ridicules him, saying, “when I hear of you next, it may be as a celebrated preacher in some great society of Methodists.” In the late 1700s, the Methodists separated from the Church of England and became Dissenters.
N: A NonCon was a Non-Conformist or Dissenter, a person who did not “conform” to the Church of England (or “dissented” from its statement of faith). These included Catholics, who faced major prejudices in Austen’s England. Baptists, Quakers, Independents, Unitarians, and others all fell into this category. They were usually from the middle and lower classes at this time. They could not get a degree from the universities, and were not supposed to hold public office. Mainstream Anglicans thought Nonconformists were enthusiasts (excessively emotional) like the Methodists.

Picture 5 Clerical Alphabet OPQ

O, P, and Q of Richard Newton’s “Clerical Alphabet,” published in 1795. © The Trustees of the British Museum. CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license.

O Was an Orator, stupid and sad.
P Was a Pluralist ever a-craving
Q A queer Parson at Pluralists raving!

O: An orator, as today, was a public speaker. In Mansfield Park, Edmund and Henry Crawford discuss how to best read the liturgy and preach in Church of England services. They agree that it was often done poorly. Edmund says that things have changed, and now, “It is felt that distinctness and energy may have weight in recommending the most solid truths.” Edmund is concerned with communicating truth. Henry, though, would like to speak well in order to be popular and admired.
P-Q: Pluralists held multiple church livings. They might live in one parish and serve as its minister and pay curates to serve the others, while they took most of the income from those parishes as well. They were not necessarily fat, though. Some livings were quite small and the clergyman needed a second one. Jane Austen’s father held two livings, at Steventon and Deane. They were close enough together that he could lead services at both churches on Sundays, and the income from each was low. Some pluralists, however, were extremely wealthy. In Mansfield Park, Sir Thomas Bertram says a clergyman should reside in his parish to set an example and care for the people of the parish. We don’t know what Edmund did once he had two parishes to care for, at Mansfield Park and Thornton Lacey.

Picture 6 Clerical Alphabet RSTU

R, S, T, and U of Richard Newton’s “Clerical Alphabet,” published in 1795. © The Trustees of the British Museum. CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license.

R Was a Rector at Pray’rs went to sleep
S Was his Shepherd who fleec’d all his sheep.
T Was a Tutor, a dull Pedagogue
U Was an Usher delighted to flog.

R: Mr. Collins was quite proud of being a rector. The rector received all the tithes from the parish; a vicar like Mr. Elton only received a portion of the tithes.
S: This is a play on words. The clergyman was to be a shepherd, caring for his parishioners, his flock. However, he also had to collect tithes from them: one-tenth of their farm income, including crops, the young of animals, and even eggs from their poultry.
T: At Oxford, each student had a tutor responsible for his education. The tutor gave assignments and lectured. A pedagogue is a teacher, especially a pompous or strict one.
U: An usher was an assistant to a schoolmaster. Schools were often run by clergymen. Flogging, or whipping, was a common punishment.

Picture 7 Clerical Alphabet V-Z

V, W, X, Y, and Z of Richard Newton’s “Clerical Alphabet,” published in 1795. © The Trustees of the British Museum. CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license.

V Was a Vicar who smok’d and drank grog.
W Was a wretched Welch Parson in rags.
X Stands for Tenths or for Tythes in the bags.
Y Was a young Priest the butt of Lay Wags.
Z Is a letter most people call Izzard
And I think what I’ve said will stick in their gizzard. (No picture for Z.)

V: A vicar, like Mr. Elton, was a clergyman who only got about a quarter of the tithes for the parish; someone else, often the squire, received the rest. Drunkenness was a widespread issue in Austen’s England. Grog was an alcoholic drink, usually rum and water. It was usually associated with sailors.

W: The church in Wales was poor compared to the church in England.

X: The clergy’s main income came from tithes, collected from farmers in the parish (see S). People of the parish were legally required to pay tithes to the clergyman, even if they were Dissenters. This sometimes caused friction between clergymen and the people of the parish.

Y: Laymen, who were not clergy, made fun of this priest. Johnson’s Dictionary says a wag is anyone “ludicrously mischievous.” The cartoonist Newton himself was apparently one of these “lay wags” making fun of priests.

Z: Izzard is a dialectal word for z, first recorded about 1726. Newton wasn’t afraid to irritate his readers.

Do any of these clergymen remind you of characters in Austen’s novels? I think Dr. Grant might have become the fat dean if he had lived long enough. Mr. Collins might end up as the dozing rector. And Collins wanted to be a pluralist; he hoped for more livings from Lady Catherine.

This was obviously an exaggerated picture of the church in Austen’s England. Because of such clergymen who abused their positions, though, many people like Mary Crawford thought poorly of the church and the clergy. The cartoon points out some of the issues that later generations would correct.

About the author: Brenda S. Cox blogs on Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen, and is working on a book entitled Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England.

The British Museum http://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/term/BIOG40122 offers brief information about Newton and a link to Newton’s many caricatures held by the British Museum. For more about Richard Newton and his life and cartoons, see Lambiek.

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Prostitutes were regarded with mixed feelings in the 18th century. An awareness of the vulnerability of women who had few economic options for making their way in the world owed much to the sentimental view taken of prostitutes. Ladies of pleasure were generally born into poverty and had little education or work skills. The sentimental prostitute narrative, which was common at the time, rarely condemned these women. These narratives, whether in print or on canvas, tell the story of a prostitute’s career and sexual fall, and generally end their tales in two ways: happily, through her marriage or finding acceptable employment, or tragically with her death.

The Progress of a Woman of Pleasure was drawn by Richard Newton, a young artist who died at 21 in 1798, two years after making this illustration. The “Progress” formula, which Newton used for a variety of prints, is a familiar one to those who have viewed William Hogarth’s The Rake’s Progress, Marriage a la Mode, Industry and Idleness and A Harlot’s Progress. Progress series demonstrate in a progression of satirical paintings and prints how lives were transformed by temptation, bad luck and poor choices.

A closer look at Progress of a Woman of Pleasure reveals Newton’s sentimental take of the prostitute theme, as well as details about the life of an 18th Century lady of  ill repute. For many 18th century prostitutes, their occupation was transitional, meant to economically tide them over a particularly bad hump in their lives. Many eventually married or found another occupation.

Your first step for preferment will be to a great lady in King's Place.

“A great lady in King’s Place” refers to Charlotte Hayes, who ran a high-class brothel in King’s-Place off Pall Mall. Gentlemen of the upper classes frequented this brothel located in london’s tony west end. With the use of the term ‘preferment’,  Newton makes it obvious that this woman has set her sights high. Her clothes are rather simple and plain as compared to the second scene below.

We see you now waiting in full dress for an introduction to a fine gentleman with a world of money!

London was a notorious hot bed for prostitutes. Fully one in five women in London (50,000) worked as ladies of the night. Many of them worked alone, plying their trade on the streets, in their own rooms, or in brothels. One foreign traveler was amazed at the variety of ways a man could have a woman:

…dressed, bound up, hitched up, tight-laced, loose, painted, done up or raw, scented, in silk or wool, with or without sugar. – Daily Life in 18th Century England, Kirsten Olsen, p. 49

You are now in high keeping and you accompany your Adonis to the Masquerade in the character of a Bacchante.

Masquerades were wildly popular in 18th century London. Hidden behind masks and disguised in costumes, people from varying social classes freely intermingled at these events, where licentious behavior was common. Prostitutes attended these events in order to attract customers, or, as in this instance, were brought there by their benefactors.

Not being used to champagne and not possessing the sweetest temper in the world in liquor, you give your keeper a sample of it by flinging a glass of wine to his face.

As this courtesan finds out the hard way, she is with her companion for only as long as she is useful to him. In this instance, her outrageous behavior causes him to cast her off.  The aim of the successful prostitute/mistress/courtesan was to find a benefactor from the highest echelons of society and to make a long-lasting arrangement that created a financially fruitful association for her. For the number of women who rose in the ranks of serving as mistress to important men, there was an equal number that had no place to go but down. The idea was to extend your association for as long as possible and retire in comfort.

You are now turned off and your only consolation is that your hair dresser promised to marry you.

Newton’s prostitute must have been a pretty woman indeed if the hair dresser was willing to marry her. The attitude towards prostitutes in the 18th century was more forgiving that it would be in the 19th century, and a former courtesan could still attain a certain level of social acceptance. At this stage, Newton could have ended his sentimental “Progress” with a happy ending and shown our heroine as being reformed and leading a happy life. Note how simple and plain her dress is compared to the previous three drawings.

He loves you to distraction but he thought you'd have an annuity of 200 a year! I hear you roar out -- "You dirty rascal! I could get the smartest linen draper's man in London with that money."

Newton’s prostitute was not only a bit dim, but her huge ego stood in the way of her success. Two hundred a year was a huge sum of money for that day and age. A single gentleman in London could live very comfortably on that sum, although it would not allow him to keep a horse in Town. Nevertheless, such an amount would have been considered staggering for a prostitute and her working class husband. Newton’s contemporary audience would have understood this. Note how much more social caché a draper’s man had over a mere hair dresser! (Well, at least for a woman of her station. A lady wouldn’t have bothered to tell the difference, I’m sure.)

Our prostitute’s  pride ruins any chance of happiness she might have found as a respectable married woman. This up and down course of events is not unusual. Many prostitutes in their (generally) short careers went from rags to riches and back to rags and riches again. The cycle, in Newton’s instance, is ever downward.

You move to Marybone and exhibit yourself in the Promenade in Oxford Street.

Marylebone was once a Georgian estate in London that was developed into housing tracts. By 1792-99, Richard Horwood’s map showed that the area from Oxford Street to the Marylebone Road was covered with houses. (The Heart of Marylebone.) Prostitutes were scattered throughout London, including the “Marybone” area (as many as 30,000 in Marylebone alone by one count):

They tended to gather in areas with looser police control; when the police became stricter in the City of London in the eighteenth century, the prostitutes gravitated toward the west and east ends of the city; when police control loosened in the early nineteenth century, they returned to the City. Prostitutes also tended to congregate in areas with cheap lodging houses and lots of men. St. Giles and St. James, home to many cheap boardinghouses, were popular with prostitutes in Westminster; the Docks, where many sailors disembarked, was popular on the east side of the city. – Prostitutes in 18th-Century London

It is interesting to note that William Holland, the artist’s publisher, had his shop on 50 Oxford Street.

Having met with a Crown Customer, you tell him to go treat his Wife and Brats at Bagnigge Wells, you expected Five Guineas at least from him.

Bagnigge Wells no longer exists. It was a spa for the “middling sort”, located on the River Fleet near St. Pancras. The River Fleet is now one of London’s underground rivers. The guinea’s value was more than a pound. The coin itself was valuable, for it was made of gold and the value of a 5 guinea piece fluctuated during the 18th century. A crown was a silver coin worth five shillings, considerably less than a five guinea piece.

You take a bumper of Brandy to comfort you after the disappointment and you drink bad luck to all scaly fellows.

We already know that our prostitute does not take to drink well. She now turns to brandy. A bumper of brandy is no small amount, as you can see from the bottle in her hand. The Book of Scottish Anecdotes contains this little tale:

While Burns was at Moffat once with Clark the composer, the poet called for a bumper of brandy. “Oh, not a bumper,” said the musician. “I prefer two small glasses.”

“Two glasses?” cried Burns; “Why, you are like the lass in Kyle, who said she would rather be kissed twice bare-headed than once with her bonnet on.” – p81.

Scaly fellows were the lowest of the low. Also note the clocks (embroidery) on the prostitute’s stockings, which were quite fashionable in her day.

Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies contained a description of Miss Devonshire on Queen Anne Street. At this point, our lady of pleasure has gravitated towards a tavern on a street near Marlebone .

You wind up the evening with a boxing match and a Warrant and two Black Eyes salute you in the Morning.

Due to her inability to hold her temper, our lady’s downhill slide is guaranteed. Richard Newton was known for his drawings of bare-breasted ladies. It could not have been hard to tug a woman’s chemise down over her bosom in those days.

You are now over head and ears in debt in Marybone Parish and I see you shifting and removing your little wardrobe to Covent Garden.

Our lady of pleasure has moved from the West End to Covent Garden.

By the middle of the 18th century Covent Garden was full of seedy lodging houses and an astonishing number of Turkish baths, many of which were brothels.

Sir John Fielding, the magistrate, called Covent Garden ‘the great square of Venus’. He said, ‘One would imagine that all the prostitutes in the kingdom had picked upon the rendezvous’. – Prostitution in Maritime London

You are glad of a half-crown customer now, in a Prentice Boy who has just robbed his master's till.

And so our prostitute has fallen further. She is attracting customers of a lower sort, such as an apprentice who has taken to thievery to afford her wares. It is obvious that she no longer holds herself out for the highest bidder.

You are now the mistress of a Player, who principally lives by Gambling; you ride out with him, cut a dash, and run him in debt; and to give him a sample of your spirit before you part you exercise a Horsewhip on his shoulders.

Our lady of pleasure is on a slight uptick again, having become the mistress to a gambler. Riding outfits, made by tailors, were quite expensive. To cut a dash was to make a fine figure and to look quite smart. One assumes that the gambler took his mistress horse back riding in London’s Hyde Park, which meant that he kept her in fancy digs until his luck ran out. Once again, our lady of the night shows poor judgment and gives him a physical memory of her temper, flogging him with her riding whip.

You are now in a Sponging House, heart sick at disappointment from all your Friends, and you stupefy yourself with Gin.

One can only imagine that this prostitute is reaping what she sowed, and that she made quite a few enemies when her luck ran high. Now that she is in debt herself, she has no one to turn to.

The normal process was for the debtor to be arrested by a bailiff or sheriff’s officer, and then taken to what was called a sponging-house, usually the officer’s own house. There, the debtor would be persuaded that they should pay their debts, otherwise, they faced a court appearance, and a debtors’ prison. – The Real Little Dorrit

Gin was also known as blue ruin. Before 1734 it was the drink of choice for poor people.

Along with promiscuous and adulterous behavior, gin became associated with prostitution, an issue that ranked high on the agenda of moral reformers. The association between gin and prostitution came about because gin-shops were public places that brought prostitute and customer together. It is important to note however that gin-shops were simply places where ordinary people gathered in a city where there were few other social spaces. As such, gin-shops were perhaps unfairly associated with prostitution in the sense that prostitution occurs where people happen to frequently gather. – The Gin Craze

Having in two years been the mistress of a Two Highwaymen, a Qui Tam Attorney, Two Shopmen who were Transported, I now see you at your last shift, pawning your silver thimble for a groat to purchase your breakfast.

Our whore is so down on her luck, she’ll take any man as a customer, even criminals. Her two shopmen have been transported, to Australia no doubt.  She’s most likely working in back alleys and near the ports of London. Her jewelry is gone and her clothes are old-fashioned rags. Selling her thimble, an important item for sewing, for food means that she has no resources left.  I know little about ‘qui tam’ attorneys except to say that their practice had fallen into disrepute in England by the 19th century.

A groat was worth only four pence in the 1700s.

Your sun is now setting very fast, and I see you the servant of a woman who was formerly your Servant, you live on Board Wages, which seldom affords you more than a Bunch of Radishes and a Pint of Porter for your dinner.

Board wages mean that our prostitute worked very hard to earn enough money for her room, but had barely enough left over for food. Porter during this time was a strong dark beer. It was a good thing that she could afford alcohol, for I imagine that the wells in her neighborhood were contaminated with fecal matter. Water was a dangerous substance in the poorer sections of London. This prostitute’s narrative provides a cautionary tale for viewers. Her actions caused her downfall; her inability to hold her temper or her drink led to her ruin.

Our “heroine” falls sick and dies outdoors, to be buried in a potter’s field. Nothing could have been said more clearly about this unfortunate woman’s social worthlessness than her degrading end: No one, not even her former servant, now mistress, is willing to put up a single pence for her funeral.

You take sick in the service of this female monster and she turns you out of doors fearing your Funeral expenses should fall upon her.

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