Often can we learn much from them of old-world manners, superstitions, folk-lore, and the curious form of worship practised in the days of our forefathers. My own clerk is a great authority on the lore of ancient days, of bygone hard winters, of weather-lore, of the Russian war time, and of the ways of the itinerant choir and orchestra, of which he was the noted leader. Strange and curious carols did he and his sons and friends sing for us on Christmas Eve, the words and music of which have been handed down from father to son for several generations, and have somewhat suffered in their course. His grandson still performs for us the Christmas Mumming Play. The clerk is seventy years of age, and succeeded his father some forty years ago. Save for “bad legs,” the curse of the rustic, he is still hale and hearty, and in spite of an organ and surpliced choir, his powerful voice still sounds with a resonant “Amen.” Never does he miss a Sunday service.
We owe much to our faithful clerks. Let us revere their memories. They are a most interesting race, and your “Amen clerk” is often more celebrated and better known than the rector, vicar, patron or squire. The irreverence, of which we have given many alarming instances, was the irreverence of the times in which they lived, of the bad old days of pluralist rectors and itinerant clerics, when the Church was asleep and preparing to die with what dignity she could. We may not blame the humble servitor for the faults and failings of his masters and for the carelessness and depravity of his age. We cannot judge his homely ways by the higher standard of ceremonial and worship to which we have become accustomed. Charity shall hide from us his defects, while we continue to admire the virtues, faithfulness and devotion to duty of the old parish clerk, who retains a warm place in our hearts and is tenderly and affectionately remembered by the elder generation of English Churchpeople.
The passing of the parish clerk causes many reflections. For a thousand years he has held an important position in our churches. We have seen him robed in his ancient dignity, a zealous and honoured official, without whose aid the services of the Church could scarcely have been carried on. In post-Reformation times he continued his career without losing his rank or status, his dignity or usefulness. We have seen him the life and mainstay of the village music, the instructor of young clerics, the upholder of ancient customs and old-established usages. We have regretted the decay in his education, his irreverence and absurdities, and have amused ourselves with the stories of his quaint ways and strange eccentricities. His unseemly conduct was the fault of the dullness, deadness, and irreverence of the age in which he lived, rather than of his own personal defects. In spite of all that can be said against him, he was often a very faithful, loyal, pious, and worthy man.