I have already mentioned some instances of clerks who were sometimes elated by the dignity of the office and full of conceit. Wesley enjoyed the experience of having a conceited clerk at Epworth, who not only was proud of his singing and other accomplishments, but also of his personal appearance. He delighted to wear Wesley’s old clerical clothes and especially his wig, which was much too big for the insignificant clerk’s head. John Wesley must have had a sense of humour, though perhaps it might have been exhibited in a more appropriate place. However, he was determined to humble his conceited clerk, and said to him one Sunday morning, “John, I shall preach on a particular subject this morning, and shall choose my own psalm, of which I will give out the first line, and you will proceed and repeat the next as usual.” When the time for psalmody arrived Wesley gave out, “Like to an owl in ivy bush,” and the clerk immediately responded, “That rueful thing am I.” The members of the congregation looked up and saw his small head half-buried in his large wig, and could not restrain their smiles. The clerk was mortified and the rector gratified that he should have been taught a lesson and learned to be less vain.
Old-fashioned ways die hard. Only seven years ago the incumbent of a small Somerset parish found when in the pulpit that he had left his spectacles at home. Casting a shrewd glance around, he perceived just below him, well within reach, one of his parishioners who was wearing a large pair of what in rustic circles are termed “barnacles” tied behind his head. Stretching down, the parson plucked them from the astonished owner’s brow, and, fitting them on his clerical nose, proceeded to deliver his discourse. Thenceforward the clerk, doubtless fearing for his own glasses, never failed to carry to church a second pair wherewith to supply, if need be, his coadjutor’s shortcomings.
Another and final story of sleepy manners comes to us from the north country. A short-sighted clergyman of what is known as the “old school” was preaching one winter afternoon to a slumberous congregation. Dusk was falling, the church was badly lighted, and his manuscript difficult to decipher. He managed to stumble along until he reached a passage which he rendered as follows: “Enthusiasm, my brethren, enthusiasm in a good cause is an excellent—excellent quality, but unless it is tempered with judgment, it is apt to lead us—apt to lead us—Here, Thomas,” handing the sermon to the clerk, “go to the window and see what it is apt to lead us into.”
THE CLERK IN ART
The finest portrait ever painted of a parish clerk is that of Orpin, clerk of Bradford-on-Avon, Wilts, whose interesting old house still stands near the grand parish church and the beautiful little Saxon ecclesiastical structure. This picture is the work of Thomas Gainsborough, R.A., and is now happily preserved in the National Gallery. Orpin has a fine and noble face upon which the sunlight is shining through a window as he turns from the Divine Book to see the glories of the blue sky.