Contributions to All the Year Round, by Charles Dickens

An Enlightened Clergyman

At various places in Suffolk (as elsewhere) penny readings take place “for the instruction and amusement of the lower classes”. There is a little town in Suffolk called Eye, where the subject of one of these readings was a tale (by Mr. Wilkie Collins) from the last Christmas Number of this Journal, entitled “Picking up Waifs at Sea”. It appears that the Eye gentility was shocked by the introduction of this rude piece among the taste and musical glasses of that important town, on which the eyes of Europe are notoriously always fixed. In particular, the feelings of the vicar’s family were outraged; and a Local Organ (say, the Tattlesnivel Bleater) consequently doomed the said piece to everlasting oblivion, as being of an “injurious tendency!”

When this fearful fact came to the knowledge of the unhappy writer of the doomed tale in question, he covered his face with his robe, previous to dying decently under the sharp steel of the ecclesiastical gentility of the terrible town of Eye. But the discovery that he was not alone in his gloomy glory, revived him, and he still lives.

For, at Stowmarket, in the aforesaid county of Suffolk, at another of those penny readings, it was announced that a certain juvenile sketch, culled from a volume of sketches (by Boz) and entitled “The Bloomsbury Christening”, would be read. Hereupon, the clergyman of that place took heart and pen, and addressed the following terrific epistle to a gentleman bearing the very appropriate name of Gudgeon:

STOWMARKET VICARAGE, Feb. 25, 1861.

SIR — My attention has been directed to a piece called “The Bloomsbury Christening” which you propose to read this evening. Without presuming to claim any interference in the arrangement of the readings, I would suggest to you whether you have on this occasion sufficiently considered the character of the composition you have selected. I quite appreciate the laudable motive of the promoters of the readings to raise the moral tone amongst the working class of the town and to direct this taste in a familiar and pleasant manner. “The Bloomsbury Christening” cannot possibly do this. It trifles with a sacred ordinance, and the language and style, instead of improving the taste, has a direct tendency to lower it.

I appeal to your right feeling whether it is desirable to give publicity to that which must shock several of your audience, and create a smile amongst others, to be indulged in only by violating the conscientious scruples of their neighbours.

The ordinance which is here exposed to ridicule is one which is much misunderstood and neglected amongst many families belonging to the Church of England, and the mode in which it is treated in this chapter cannot fail to appear as giving a sanction to, or at least excusing, such neglect.

Although you are pledged to the public to give this subject, yet I cannot but believe that they would fully justify your substitution of it for another did they know the circumstances. An abridgment would only lessen the evil in a degree, as it is not only the style of the writing but the subject itself which is objectionable.

Excuse me for troubling you, but I felt that, in common with yourself, I have a grave responsibility in the matter, and I am most truly yours,

T. S. Coles.

To Mr. J. Gudgeon.

It is really necessary to explain that this is not a bad joke. It is simply a bad fact.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 15:30