Saturday, 7 March 2009

Why We Preach

Thanks to Ashley who alerted me to this from The Way Into The Far Country. Apparently it's George Elliot. I'd really like to know where it comes from. Can anyone help?

Given, a man with moderate intellect, a moral standard not higher than the average, some rhetorical affluence and great glibness of speech, what is the career in which, without aid of birth or money, he may most easily attain power and reputation…?

…in which a smattering of science and learning will pass for profound instruction, where platitudes will be accepted as wisdom, bigoted narrowness as holy zeal, unctuous egoism as God-given piety? Let such a man become an evangelical preacher; he will then find it possible to reconcile small ability with great ambition, superficial knowledge with the prestige of erudition, a middling morale with a high reputation of sanctity.

Pleasant to the clerical flesh… is the arrival of Sunday! … He has an immense advantage over all other public speakers. The platform orator is subject to the criticism of hisses and groans. Counsel for the plaintiff expects the retort of counsel for the defendant. The honorable gentleman on one side of the House is liable to have his facts and figures shown up by his honorable friend on the opposite side…. the preacher is completely master of the situation: no one may hiss, no one may depart. Like the writer of imaginary conversations, he may put what imbecilities he pleases into the mouths of his antagonists, and swell with triumph when he has refuted them. He may riot in gratuitous assertions, confident that no man will contradict him; he may exercise perfect free-will in logic, and invent illustrative experience; he may give an evangelical edition of history with the inconvenient facts omitted;-all this he may do with impunity, certain that those of his hearers who are not sympathizing are not listening.


Dick Davies said...

I googled it...,M1

Eliot: Scenes of Clerical Life

Glen Marshall said...

Cheers Dick, will check it out.

David Mackinder said...

Close, but no cigar, I'm afraid.

It's from Eliot's essay 'Evangelical Teaching: Dr Cumming', Westminster Review, Oct 1855; you can find this in the Penguin Classics 'George Eliot Selected Essays, Poems and Other Writings' (Penguin 1990), pp. 38ff. As Gertrude Himmelfarb points out, Eliot was a bit kinder to evangelicals in 'Scenes of Clerical Life'.

What a sad git I am, to be writing this in the small hours of Sunday morning, but, as my doctor keeps telling me, insomnia's not worth losing any sleep over . . .

Glen Marshall said...

Thanks Dave. Bit disappointed you didn't come up with a page number though! Perhaps you could find one for me in the early hours of tomorrow morning ;-)

David Mackinder said...

first two paras ('Given ... sanctity') = p. 38
second para ('Pleasant . . . listening') = pp. 39-40

Glen Marshall said...

Yeah, but was she wearing at the time?

Anonymous said...

Andy Jones said:

I got put in Nuneaton museum for the 150th anniversary of 'Scenes of Clerical Life' alongside a spiritualist minister and the local imam!

I did suspect at the time that Mary Ann Evans, the free-thinking patron saint of Nuneaton and Bedworth, might not have entirely approved.

I think she must have caught my preaching on an off-day though!