The Parish Clerk (1907) eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 362 pages of information about The Parish Clerk (1907).

After the disastrous period of the Commonwealth rule he emerges shorn of his learning, his rank, and status.  His name remained; his office was recognised by legal enactments and ecclesiastical usage; but in most parishes he was chosen on account of his poverty rather than for his fitness for the post.  So long as the church rates remained he received his salary, but when these were abolished it was found difficult in many parishes to provide the funds.  Hence as the old race died out, the office was allowed to lapse, and the old clerk’s place knows him no more.  Possibly it may be the delectable task of some future historian to record the complete revival of the office, which would prove under proper conditions an immense advantage to the Church and a valuable assistance to the parochial clergy.



The parish clerk is so notable a character in our ecclesiastical and social life, that he has not escaped the attention of many of our great writers and poets.  Some of them have with gentle satire touched upon his idiosyncrasies and peculiarities; others have recorded his many virtues, his zeal and faithfulness.  Shakespeare alludes to him in his play of Richard II, in the fourth act, when he makes the monarch face his rebellious nobles, reproaching them for their faithlessness, and saying: 

     “God save the King! will no man say Amen? 
     Am I both priest and clerk?  Well then, Amen. 
     God save the King! although I be not he;
     And yet, Amen, if Heaven do think him me.”

An old ballad, King Cophetua and the Beggar-Maid, contains an interesting allusion to the parish clerk, and shows the truth of that which has already been pointed out, viz. that the office of clerk was often considered to be a step to higher preferment in the Church.  The lines of the old ballad run as follows: 

     “The proverb old is come to passe,
     The priest when he begins his masse
     Forgets that ever clarke he was;
       He knoweth not his estate.”

Christopher Harvey, the friend and imitator of George Herbert, has some homely lines on the duties of clerk and sexton in his poem The Synagogue.  Of the clerk he wrote: 

     “The Churches Bible-clerk attends
       Her utensils, and ends
       Her prayers with Amen,
     Tunes Psalms, and to her Sacraments
       Brings in the Elements,
       And takes them out again;
     Is humble minded and industrious handed,
     Doth nothing of himself, but as commanded.”

Of the sexton he wrote: 

      “The Churches key-keeper opens the door,
       And shuts it, sweeps the floor,
     Rings bells, digs graves, and fills them up again;
       All emblems unto men,
       Openly owning Christianity
       To mark and learn many good lessons by.”

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The Parish Clerk (1907) from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.