This worthy and much-mourned clerk was buried on 5 July, 1843.
THE CLERK AND THE LAW
The parish clerk is so important a person that divers laws have been framed relating to his office. His appointment, his rights, his dismissal are so closely regulated by law that incumbents and churchwardens have to be very careful lest they in any way transgress the legal enactments and judgments of the courts. It is not an easy matter to dismiss an undesirable clerk: it is almost as difficult as to disturb the parson’s freehold; and unless the clerk be found guilty of grievous faults, he may laugh to scorn the malice of his enemies and retain his office while life lasts.
It may be useful, therefore, to devote a chapter to the laws relating to parish clerks—a chapter which some of my readers who have no liking for legal technicalities can well afford to skip.
As regards his qualifications the clerk must be at least twenty years of age, and known to the parson as a man of honest conversation, and sufficient for his reading, writing, and for his competent skill in singing, “if it may be.” The visitation articles of the seventeenth century frequently inquire whether the clerk be of the age of twenty years at least.
[Footnote 85: Canon 91 (1603).]
The method of his appointment has caused much disputing. With whom does the appointment rest? In former times the parish clerk was always nominated by the incumbent both by common law and the custom of the realm. This is borne out by the constitution of Archbishop Boniface and the 91st Canon, which states that “No parish clerk upon any vacation shall be chosen within the city of London or elsewhere, but by the parson or vicar: or where there is no parson or vicar, by the minister of that place for the time being; which choice shall be signified by the said minister, vicar or parson, to the parishioners the next Sunday following, in the time of Divine Service.”
But this arrangement has often been the subject of dispute between the parson and his flock as to the right of the former to appoint the clerk. In pre-Reformation times there was a diversity of practice, some parishioners claiming the right to elect the clerk, as they provided the offerings by which he lived. A terrible scene occurred in the fourteenth century at one church. The parishioners appointed a clerk, and the rector selected another. The rector was celebrating Mass, assisted by his clerk, when the people’s candidate approached the altar and nearly murdered his rival, so that blood was shed in the sanctuary.