It was perhaps such a choir as this that an aged friend remembers in a remote Cornish village. It was a mixed choir, led by a ’cello, flute, and clarionet. Tate and Brady’s version of the Psalms was used alternately with a favourite anthem arranged by some of the members. “We’ll wash our hands,” the basses led off in stentorian tones. Then the tenors followed. Then the trebles in shrill voices—“washed hands.” Finally, after a pause, the whole choir shouted triumphantly, “in innocenc_ee_”; and the congregation bore it, my friend naively remarks. The orchestra on one occasion struck work. Only the clerk, who played his ’cello, remained faithful. To prove his loyalty he appeared as usual, gave out a hymn of many verses, and sang it through in his clear bass voice, to the accompaniment of his instrument.
It was not an unusual thing for the clerk to be the only chorister in a village church, and then sometimes strange things happened. There was a favourite tune which required the first half of one of the lines to be repeated thrice. This led to such curious utterances as “My own sal,” called out lustily three times, and then finished with “My own salvation’s rock to praise.” The thrice-repeated “My poor poll” was no less striking, but it was only a prelude to “My poor polluted heart.” A chorus of women and girls in the west gallery sang lustily, “Oh for a man,” bis, bis—a pause—“A mansion in the skies.” Another clerk sang “And in the pie” three times, supplementing it with “And in the pious He delights.” Another bade his hearers “Stir up this stew,” but he was only referring to “This stupid heart of mine.” Yet another sang lustily “Take Thy pill,” but when the line was completed it was heard to be “Take Thy pilgrim home.”
Returning to the artistic presentment of clerks, there is a fine sketch of one in Frith’s famous painting of the Vicar of Wakefield, whose gentle manners and loving character as conceived by Goldsmith are admirably depicted by the artist. Near the vicar stands the faithful clerk, a dear old man, who is scarcely less reverend than his vicar.
There is an old print of a portion of the church of St. Margaret, Westminster, which shows the Carolian “three-decker,” a very elaborate structure, crowned by a huge sounding-board. The clergyman is officiating in the reading desk, and a very nice-looking old clerk, clad in his black gown with bands, sits below. There is a pompous beadle with his flowing wig and a mace in an adjoining pew, and some members of the congregation appear at the foot of the “three-decker,” and in the gallery. It is a very correct representation of the better sort of old-fashioned service.
The hall of the Parish Clerks’ Company possesses several portraits of distinguished members of the profession, which have already been mentioned in the chapter relating to the history of the fraternity. By the courtesy of the company we are enabled to reproduce some of the paintings, and to record some of the treasures of art which the fraternity possesses.