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|The Clergy and His Parish
Written by BarbaraB
(4/26/2012 10:47 p.m.)
in consequence of the missive, I had the impression this wasn’t too unusual at the time., penned by amytat
Apparently you are right, Amytat. It was an accepted practice, apparently even by JA but it was not something she necessarily approved of--- From Jane Austen and the Clergy:
"Readers of Jane Austen's novels can be excused for wondering what duties her clergymen in their country parishes were supposed to perform, since they seem to have endless amounts of time and leisure to devote to their private concerns. Mr. Elton was always glad of an invitation to fill the long dull evenings by playing backgammon with Mr. Woodhouse...Henry Tilney could spend half of each week away from his parish and even when he was there he had time for his dogs and horses. Mr. Collins was visited by his relatives during what must have been Lent ('Easter was approaching') yet there is no sign that he was inundated with devotional exercises at what is now the busiest season of the clergyman's year: on the contrary, he was able to spend each morning for a week driving Sir William Lucas around the countryside in his gig. Despite this, there is no suggestion that any one of these clerical gentlemen shirked his duty. They may have had their personal defects---Elton and Collins especially; but the former is pronounced by no less a judge than Mr. Knightley to be 'a very respectable vicar of Highbury', and Mr. Collins is presented to the reader as the type of man who carried out his obligations to the letter. Jane Austen, in fact, combined a high regard for the role of the clergy with a total acceptance of their leisured existence; to her, they were more important for what they were than for what they did.
The formal duties of a parish priest in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries were indeed very much lighter than those expected of a modern clergyman; so light that they allowed the practice known as 'nominal residence', whereby a clergyman who had no other parish to his name could nevertheless spend most of his time elsewhere. Sir Thomas admitted that this would be an option open to his son Edmund at Thornton Lacey...like Henry Tilney, Edmund may have found that he needed also to be in his parish on a Monday 'to attend the parish meeting'....
Jane Austen disapproved of 'nominal residence', as Sir Thomas Bertram's rebuke to Henry makes clear; but this does not mean that she expected the clergy to perform a round of formal duties as have descended upon them since her day."
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