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Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall, Vol. 1, by William Bottrell, [1870], at

Cornish Pulpit Retorts, Forty Years Ago

Mr. Spry left the west country for Botusleming, where he displayed his harmless eccentricities by boating on the Tamar, dressed in all sorts of unclerical fancy costumes, or in parading Plymouth streets arrayed in a suit of sailor cut, made out of striped bed-ticking. The great man of Mr. Spry's new parish was a certain esquire, to whom the parson showed so much less respect than the great man of the place thought due to his squireship that, by way of revenge for the slight, the squire took every opportunity to ridicule the vagaries of the parson, and often behaved in church in such a way as was intended to show his contempt for the reverend gentleman. Now, it was said that the squire had acquired a great portion of his lands by unfairly foreclosing a mortgage. Mr. Spry soon heard all the particulars of the transaction; for the parson, notwithstanding all his whims, was a great favourite with the gossips of his parish. One Sunday, when the squire behaved more than usually rude in church, the parson took for his text, "The time of your redemption draweth nigh." In his sermon Mr. Spry compared the sin-burthened soul of man to a mortgaged estate of which the devil was the mortgagee, and the old one's wiles, to get possession of the sinner's immortal part, with the dishonest tricks which some other mortgagees put in practice when they once get their clutches on a small part of a spendthrift's estate, to gain the whole before it is fairly due. The parson took good care to describe particularly all the procedure with which the squire was accredited, and the picture he drew of the earthy mortgagee made the squire to appear much blacker than the devil. The parson continued by saying that the poor dupes thus treated are in a far worse case than the sinner in the hands

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of the Old Nick, because no amount of faith or good works can procure their redemption from the power of one who is more avaricious than Satan. Before the sermon was half over, all the congregation was on end, pointing, or looking, towards the squire's pew, where his satanic majesty's ensampler looked completely crestfallen.

Soon after this the squire threatened that he would twist the parson's neck if he met him off his own ground. When this came to the parson's ears, he hired an old woman, armed with a broom, to mount guard if he went fishing on the river's bank, or took his walk in the woods. As a farther piece of bravado, Mr. Spry had a miniature cannon mounted on the parsonage garden-wall, and popped off this gun towards the squire's residence every evening.

The eldest of the reverend gentleman's sons is married, and settled in Australia, so that our Land's-end parson's descendants are likely to become sturdy gum-suckers under the light of the southern cross.

At the time the Rev. Mr. Spry had the care of the souls in Sennen and St. Levan, another wit-cracking divine, then well known in Penzance, who afterwards became the curate of Illogan, was remarkable for a certain kind of recklessness in his pulpit discourses. Some account of the unusual style of the curate's sermons having reached his vicar, he deputed a clergyman (whom he believed to be unknown to his curate) to visit his church and report the proceedings. The curate got an inkling of the intended inquisition, and some notes on the antecedents of the inquisitor. The latter had held a commission in the army until it seemed probable that he might be called on to perform some actual service for his pay; then (he would have it believed) the spirit of grace so operated on his heart that, instead of being a slayer of bodies, he became a healer of souls. However, by following some spirit's dictation (which, in this case, as in many others, was probably his own umpulse and his own interest), before it came to the brunt of war, he had exchanged his regimentals for a surplice, soon procured a good benefice with the proceeds of his commission, the incumbent opportunely dying off, and, having little to do, there he was, one Sunday, seated in a dark corner of the church, watching every word that came from the mouth of our curate.

Towards the end of a good practical discourse on the duties incident to the various stations in life, the preacher observed that it was everyone's duty "to live and labour truly to get their own living, in that state of life to which it had pleased God to call them." He said many of his hearer did so, and he believed many more would do so, but, infortunately, parents’ vanity, or ambition, often misplace their children, by fixing them in posts for which they are neither qualified by nature nor by grace! For example, when the fond father sees his chubby curly-pate, strutting up and down the garden-walk, flourishing his wooden sword and beating

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his sixpenny drum, he takes it into his head that his boy is destined to become a martial hero. Thenceforth, the child's head is stuffed with stories of warriors’ glorious deed. The next step:—The destined hero comes home from school and so delights his fond parents by spouting "I heard of battles, and I longed to go, to follow to the field some warlike knight," that the boy's father promises him a real gun. After a few years more, spent in poring over the imaginary exploits of fabulous heroes, the youth fancies himself to be more than a match for Hector. A commission is purchased for him by the time his beard is grown. Then, the preacher (turning toward, and fixing his glance on, the spy) continued:—"Now behold the soldier, who looks swords and daggers, talks great guns, struts like a peacock or prances like a war-horse, and fancies himself ready to face the devil or the cannon's mouth, but when it comes to the tug of war, he finds that neither his natural nor his acquired endowments are such as constitute a gallant defender of king and country; or, to speak plainer, he finds out, just in time to escape in a whole skin, that he is too big a coward to stand the smell of gunpowder. What could he do better, then, than endeavour to find the true state to which God had called, or for which nature had qualified, such a person? Dearly beloved, this is no easy matter; for, suppose he sells out of the army and purchases a living in the church, he will soon find that this is no place for a coward, because it requires courage to declare the truth without fear or favour! There is some courage required to rebuke sin boldly, and not to wink at the special vices of rich or poor. A man has no right to the church's pay without doing the church's work. The honest minister will not hesitate to call a spade a spade instead of the eternal shuffling and dealing out of stale platitudes about the will of God, which is, somehow or other always interpreted to be in favour of the peculiar crotchets of his hearers and of the temporal interest of the soft-swaddering preacher, who soothes his dull and respectable congregation with the gentle talk about laying up a treasure in heaven (by giving to the church on earth), of saving grace, of the highest blessedness, of the inner life, of the spirit's promptings, and much more of the same vague cant, to which they would be unable to give any rational meaning, to save their souls. The parrot-like phrases come out of the wind-bag like so many tickets blown up by chance. In good sooth I can think of no post," he continued, "to which God calls a man, in which a coward can live and labour truly. There are certain avocations, of the devil's invention, for which the chief, almost the only, qualifications, are selfishness, cowardice, and cunning. A coward may become an infamous spy, a cursed inquisitor, or a double-dyed traitor and informer, who turns king's evidence: his majesty ought to be ashamed of such. Now, it is enough to make a parson swear, even to think of the varieties of villainous creatures of the same class! One of the worst is the eavesdropper and tale-bearer, who makes a mountain out of a mole-hill, and always ends every piece of mischief-making gossip by saying to the filthy receiver of scandal, "Don't tell who told

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ye." Such an one is in general found to the old one's masterpiece—that incarnate lie and mystery, the canting hypocrite, who for a time seems to cheat God, man, and the devil with the sour-visaged affection of extraordinary purity and strictness of demeanour. These devil's chicken find nothing but villany in this world, because they only seek for evil. Dearly beloved, we must leave these slimy snakes-in-the-grass for Satan to deal with, in hopes that they will all be roasted as they deserve. And may the Lord help all brave men and true to some place in which they can honestly earn their daily bread. Have faith, dear friends, that the Lord will help all, who are able and willing, to some post in which they may honestly earn their bread, and those who are not able to labour, must live, the best way—any way—they can. Amen."

The ci-devant soldier came no more to hold inquisition, and the erratic curate continued to serve the parish of Illogan until he got a better living.

Some mistakes may be made in repeating the extraordinary sermons, yet, if the exact expressions are not given, the substance is preserved.

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