The English Church in the Eighteenth Century eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 807 pages of information about The English Church in the Eighteenth Century.
circumstances, lose its temporary supremacy.  In the eighteenth century there were, from beginning to end, men of each of these three sections.  The old Puritanism was almost obsolete; but there were always Low Churchmen, not only in the earlier, but in the modern sense of the word.  High Churchmen, in the seventeenth-century and Laudean meaning, were no doubt few and far between by the time the century had run through half its course.  But they were not wholly confined to the Nonjuring ‘remnant,’ and High Churchmen of a less pronounced type never ceased to abound.  Broad Churchmen, of various shades of opinion, were always numerous.  Only each and every party in the Church was weakened and diluted in force and purpose by a widespread deficiency in warmth of feeling and earnestness of conviction.  Hot party feeling is no doubt a mischief; but exemption from it is dearly bought by the levelling influences of indifference, or of the lukewarmness which approaches to it.  The Church of the eighteenth century, and of the Georgian period in general, was by no means deficient in estimable clergymen who lived and died amid the well-earned respect of parishioners and neighbours.  But the tendencies of the time were in favour of a decent, unexacting orthodoxy, neither too High, nor too Broad, nor too Low, nor too strict.  It may be well imagined that this feeling among the clergy should also find outward expression in the general character of the churches where they ministered, and of the services in which they officiated.  A traveller interested in modes of worship might have passed through county after county, from one parish church to another, and would have found, as compared with the present time, a singular lack of variety.  No doubt he would see carelessness and neglect contrasting in too many places with a more comely order in others.  He would very rarely notice any disposition to develop ritual, to vary forms, and to make use of whatever elasticity the laws of the Church would permit, in order to make the externals of worship a more forcible expression of one or another school of thought.

Our forefathers in the eighteenth century were almost always content to maintain in tolerable, or scarcely tolerable repair, at the lowest modicum of expense, the existing fabrics of their churches.  It has been truly remarked, that ’to this apathy we are much indebted; for, after all, they took care that the buildings should not fall to the ground; if they had done more, they would probably have done worse.’[838] For ecclesiastical architecture was then, as is well known, at its lowest ebb.  ‘Public taste,’ wrote Warburton to Hurd in 1749, ’is the most wretched imaginable.’[839] He was speaking, at the time, of poetry.  But poetry and art are closely connected; and it is next to impossible that depth of feeling and grandeur of conception should be found in the one, at a date when there is a marked deficiency of them in the other.  There were, however, special

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The English Church in the Eighteenth Century from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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