The individual chapters of Trollope's Clergymen of the Church of England show his complex attitude toward reform of the established church -- what Richard Mullen calls "Trollope's divided mind." At the same time that he supported reform, he longed for the certainties and customs of the past (92). The Clergymen essays include direct attacks at the low pay of curates and the disproportionate incomes for higher positions; questions regarding the practicality of lifetime appointments; fear of losing the clergy as a gentleman's profession; a plea for tolerance and moderation in doctrine; and, an examination of Colenso's ideas and their impact. Four of the ten essays are under examination to provide an overview of these main themes: "The Modern English Archbishop," "English Bishops, Old and New," "The Curate in a Populous Parish," and "The Bishop Who Subscribes for Colenso."
In "The Modern English Archbishop," which compares the modern English archbishop to the archbishop of yesteryear, Trollope concentrates upon four main themes: the loss of dignity in the changing appearance of the clergy; the modest pay reforms that had already occurred; the plea for moderation in doctrine; and, the issue of political lifetime appointments. Trollope follows a technique he will use later in his Autobiography, that of making startling practical comparisons of so-called higher professions to lower ones. "The archbishops and bishops of to-day [...] receive their allotted stipends as do the clerks in the Custom-house" (5). Again, he uses this technique in discussing the practical difficulty of the politician placing the archbishop who then cannot be removed. "Will your groom or gardener obey you with that precision which you desire when he comes to know that you cannot rid yourself of his services?" (12). The comparison of a servant to an official in the Church is shocking enough to force readers into examining the issue.
This essay summarizes Trollope's view of the English national character: "We hate an evil, and we hate a change. Hating the evil most, we make the change, but we make it as small as possible" (8).
In the manner of Carlyle, Trollope's "English Bishops, Old and New" uses the outer trappings of the bishop to define the old versus the new types. In days past, the appearance of the wig and apron would suffice to define a bishop as a bishop (16). Trollope classifies the bishops of old under three categories of aspirants and three ladders by which clergymen might place themselves on the bench: the editor of the Greek play, the tutor of the noble pupil, and he who could charm the royal ear (21). The political aspirant who distinguished himself in his writings was another (21) Trollope points out that none of these categories offers an exceptionally devout clergy, but they are better than no clergy at all and perhaps better than the "new" bishop. "The mere existence of a Llama is good for people who have no more clearly expressed God to worship, - and in this way the old, rich, bewigged bishops were servicable" (22-3).
The new bishop, on the other hand, is a "working man" (24). Trollope refers to Newman and Pusey and the Oxford movement as having made Episcopal idleness impossible and clerical idleness rare (25). In a jesting attempt to plead for more cooperative moderation within the church, Trollope contends that the Low Church has been on the ascendant too much and proposes that High Church, Low Church, and Broad Church take turns in picking a bishop (26).
"The Curate in a Populous Parish" is the center of Trollope's argument for reform.
The idea of comparing the work done with the payment given for the work would be horrible to the imagination of every beneficed clergyman in the Church of England. It would be horrible even to the imagination of the curates themselves, who . . . have no adequate conception of the injustice they are themselves suffering" (93).
Again, Trollope makes use of the astonishing comparison of the Church to any other profession. He purposefully downgrades the sanctity of the present system of payment by reducing it to a labourer-for-hire analogy. The issue of inequality in pay leads to the loss of gentlemen in the profession. Thus, the question is posed - will it be the lower classes who provide the future curates? "For men of a lower class in life, who have come from harder antecedents, the normal seventy pounds per annum may suffice; but all modern Churchmen will understand what must be the effect on the Church if such be the recruits to which the Church must trust" (104). If it is men of lower classes who must accept these positions, Trollope does not and will not approve!
In the final essay under consideration, "The Clergyman Who Subscribes for Colenso" Trollope proposes that Colenso's questions, which embody the liberal ideology, have influenced ALL of England in its prompting to examine the veracity of beliefs long held. The ground is being cut out from under the "placid clergyman" who now does not have the comfort of the actual six days of creation to teach (121). Using humor and satire, the essay calls for a free examination of individual conscience. "It is very hard to come at the actual belief of any man. Indeed how should we hope to do so when we find it so very hard to come at our own?" (124).
The liberal clergyman is ever thinking of his beliefs and questioning his commitments, whereas the complacent clergyman "believed that he believed what he said that he believed" because he has never even thought to raise the question (126). The new ideas force the staunch traditionalists to rethink their own doctrines. It is not acceptable to retain tradition for tradition's sake alone. This is a theme that Trollope explores throughout his fiction.
In Clergymen of the Church of England, Trollope's exploration of the British clergy provides the reader insight into his creation of fictional clergy in the Barset series as well as an opportunity to view his ideas on the Church as an institution. It is valuable as a window to Trollope's philosophical ideology and as a piece of social satire.
Clergymen of the Church of England: Overview of Four Sketches
- Trollope's Clergymen of the Church of England and His Own Beliefs
- The Critical Reception of Trollope's Clergymen of the Church of England
apRoberts, Ruth. Introduction. Clergymen of the Church of England. By Anthony Trollope. 1866. Leicester: Leicester U P, 1974. 9-49.
Alford, Henry. "Mr. Anthony Trollope and the English Clergy." Rev. of Clergymen of the Church of England, by Anthony Trollope. The Contemporary Review. June 1866: 240-262.
Booth, Bradford Allen. Anthony Trollope: Aspects of His Life and Art. London: Hulton, 1958.
Rev. of Clergymen of the Church of England, by Anthony Trollope. The Guardian 6 June 1866: 620.
Hall, N. John. Trollope: A Biography. Oxford: Clarendon P, 1991.
Mayne, Michael. Introduction. Clergymen of the Church of England. By Anthony Trollope. 1866. London: Trollope Society, 1998. vii-xix.
Mullen, Richard and James Munson. The Penguin Companion to Trollope. London: Penguin, 1996.
Pool, Daniel. What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew. New York: Simon, 1993.
Trollope, Anthony. An Autobiography. 1883. London: Penguin, 1993.
____. Clergymen of the Church of England. 1866. London: Trollope Society, 1998.
Last modified 30 November 2004