Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
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Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
 
Jocular Divinity
By Andrew Marvell (1621–1678)
 
From Mr. Smirke, or the Divine in Mode, 1676

IT hath been the good-nature (and politicians will have it the wisdom) of most governors to entertain the people with public recreations; and therefore to encourage such as could best contribute to their divertisement. And hence doubtless it is, that our ecclesiastical governors also (who as they yield to none for prudence, so in good humour they exceed all others) have not disdained of late years to afford the laity no inconsiderable pastime. Yea, so great hath been their condescension that, rather than fail, they have carried on the merriment by men of their own faculty, who might otherwise, by the gravity of their calling, have claimed an exemption from such offices. They have ordained, from time to time, several of the most ingenious and pregnant of their clergy to supply the press continually with new books of ridiculous and facetious argument. Wherein divers of them have succeeded even to admiration; insomuch that by the reading thereof, the ancient sobriety and seriousness of the English nation hath been in some good measure discussed and worn out of fashion. Yet, though the clergy have hereby manifested that nothing comes amiss to them; and particularly, that when they give their minds to it, no sort of men are more proper or capable to make sport for spectators; it hath so happened by the rewards and promotions bestowed upon those who have labour’d in this province, that many others in hopes of the like preferment, although otherwise by their parts, their complexion, and education unfitted for this jocular divinity, have, in order to it, wholly neglected the more weighty cares of their function. And from hence it proceeds, that to the no small scandal and disreputation of our church, a great arcanum of their state hath been discovered and divulged; that, albeit wit be not inconsistent and incompatible with a clergyman, yet neither is it inseparable from them. So that it is of concernment to my lords the bishops henceforward to repress those of ’em who have no wit, from writing, and to take care that even those that have, do husband it better, as not knowing to what exigency they may be reduced: but however that they the bishops be not too forward in licensing and prefixing their venerable names to such pamphlets. For admitting—though I am not too positive in it—that our episcopacy is of apostolic right, yet we do not find that among all those gifts then given to men, that which we call wit is enumerated; nor yet among those qualifications requisite to a bishop. And therefore should they, out of complacency for an author, or delight in the argument, or facility of their judgments, approve of a dull book, their own understandings will be answerable, and irreverent people, that cannot distinguish, will be ready to think that such of them differ from men of wit, not only in degree, but in order. For all are not of my mind, who could never see any elevated to that dignity, but I presently conceived a greater opinion of his wit than ever I had formerly. But some do not stick to affirm that even they, the bishops, come by theirs not by inspiration, not by teaching, but even as the poor laity do light upon it sometimes, by a good mother; which has occasioned the homely Scotch proverb that “an ounce of mother-wit is worth a pound of clergy.” And as they come by it as do other men, so they possess it on the same condition: that they cannot transmit it by breathing, touching, or any other natural effluvium, to other persons; not so much as to their most domestic chaplain, or to the closest residentiary. That the king himself, who is no less the spring of that than he is the fountain of honour, yet has never used the dubbing or creating of wits as a flower of his prerogative; much less can the ecclesiastical power confer it with the same ease as they do the holy orders. That whatsoever they can do of that kind is at uttermost, to empower men by their authority and commission, no otherwise than in the licensing of midwives or physicians. But that as to their collating of any internal talent or ability, they could never pretend to it; their grants and their prohibitions are alike invalid, and they can neither capacitate one man to be witty, nor hinder another from being so, further than as the press is at their devotion. Which if it be the case, they cannot be too circumspect in their management, and should be very exquisite,—seeing this way of writing is found so necessary,—in making choice of fit instruments. The Church’s credit is more interested in an ecclesiastical droll, than in a lay chancellor. It is no small trust that is reposed in him to whom the bishop shall commit, omne et omnimodum suum ingenium, tam temporale quam spirituale: 1 and however it goes with excommunication, they should take good heed to what manner of persons they delegate the keys of laughter. It is not every man that is qualified to sustain the dignity of the church’s jester; and should they take as exact a scrutiny of them as of the Nonconformists through their dioceses, the number would appear inconsiderable upon this Easter visitation. Before men be admitted to so important an employment, it were fit they underwent a severe examination; and that it might appear first, whether they have any sense; for without that how can any man pretend—and yet they do—to be ingenious? Then, whether they have any modesty; for without that they can only be scurrilous and impudent. Next, whether they have any truth: for true jests are those that do the greatest execution. And lastly, it were not amiss that they gave some account too of their Christianity; for the world has always been so uncivil as to expect something of that from the clergy, in the design and style even of their most uncanonical writings. And though I am no rigid imposer of a discipline of mine own devising, yet had anything of this nature entered into the minds of other men it is not impossible that a late pamphlet, published by authority and proclaimed by the Gazette, “Animadversions upon a late pamphlet, entitled The Naked Truth; or, The True State of the Primitive Church,” might have been spared.
  1
  That book so called, The Naked Truth, is a treatise, that, were it not for this its opposer, needs no commendation; being writ with that evidence and demonstration of spirit, that all sober men cannot but give their assent and consent to it, unasked. It is a book of that kind, that no Christian scarce can peruse it without wishing himself had been the author, and almost imagining that he is so; the conceptions therein being of so eternal an idea, that every man finds it to be but the copy of an original in his own mind, and though he never read it till now, wonders it could be so long before he remembered it. Neither, although there be a time when as they say all truths are not to be spoken, could there ever have come forth anything more seasonable; when the sickly nation had been so long indisposed and knew not the remedy, but (having taken so many things that rather did it harm than good) only longed for some moderation, and as soon as it had tasted this, seemed to itself sensibly to recover; when their representatives in Parliament had been of late so frequent in consultations of this nature, and they, the physicians of the nation, were ready to have received any advice for the cure of our malady. It appears moreover plainly that the author is judicious, learned, conscientious, a sincere Protestant, and a true son, if not a father, of the Church of England. For the rest, the book cannot be free from the imperfection incident to all human endeavours, but those so small, and guarded everywhere with so much modesty, that it seems there was none left for the animadverter, who might otherwise have blushed to reproach him. But some there were who thought Holy Church was concerned in it, and that no true-born son of our mother of England but ought to have it in detestation. Not only the churches but the coffee-houses rung against it. They itinerated like excise-spies from one house to another, and some of the morning and evening chaplains burnt their lips with perpetual discoursing it out of reputation, and loading the author, whoever he were, with all contempt, malice, and obloquy. Nor could this suffice them, but a lasting pillar of infamy must be erected to eternise his crime and his punishment. There must be an answer to him, in print, and that not according to the ordinary rules of civility, or in the sober way of arguing controversy, but with the utmost extremity of jeer, disdain, and indignation; and happy the man whose lot it should be to be deputed to that performance. It was Shrove Tuesday with them, and, not having yet forgot their boys’ play, they had set up this cock, and would have been content some of them to have ventured their coffee-farthings, yea their Easter-pence by advance, to have a fling at him. But there was this close youth who treads always upon the heels of ecclesiastical preferment, but hath come nearer the heels of The Naked Truth than were for his service, that rather by favour than any tolerable sufficiency carried away this employment, as he hath done many others from them. So that being the man pitched upon, he took up an unfortunate resolution that he would be witty: unfortunate, I say, and no less criminal; for I dare aver that never any person was more manifestly guilty of the sin against nature. But, however, to write a book of that virulence, and at such a season, was very improper; even in the holy time of Lent, when, whether upon the sacred account, it behoved him rather to have subjugated and mortified the swelling of his passions; or whether upon the political reason, he might well have forborn his young wit, but newly pigg’d or calv’d, in order to the growth of the yearly summer provisions. Yet to work he fell, not omitting first to sum himself up in the whole wardrobe of his function; as well because his wit consisting wholly in his dress, he would (and ’twas his concernment to) have it all about him: as to the end that being huff’d up in all his ecclesiastical fluster, he might appear more formidable, and, in the pride of his heart and habit, out-boniface an humble moderator. So that there was more to do in equipping of Mr. Smirke than there is about Doriman, and the Divine in Mode might have vied with Sir Fopling Flutter. The vestry and the tiring-room were both exhausted, and ’tis hard to say whether there went more attendants toward the composing of himself, or of his pamphlet. Being thus dressed up, at last forth he comes in print. No poet either the first or the third day could be more concern’d; and his little party, like men hired for the purpose, had posted themselves at every corner to feign a more numerous applause; but clapped out of time, and disturbed the whole company.  2
 
Note 1. omne et omnimodum suum ingenium, etc.  The virtue that appertains to himself, in all its completeness and variety, temporal as well as spiritual. [back]
 
 
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