23 JUNE 1888, Page 10


IT is possibly a fortunate corrective of the growing passion for notoriety that even genuine fame is con- stantly seen to be attended by unexpected drawbacks. When the real thing brings so many annoyances with it, who can care greatly for the counterfeit ? The Bishop of Peter- borough has lately described with characteristic vividness one of the sufferings of a great preacher. He can never shake himself free from his sermons; or rather, he can never shake himself free from something which, without exactly being his sermons, is provokingly like them. He sees volume following volume with his name on the back, and unfortunately, the more he looks at this long array of his putative children, the less proud he feels of being their father. If he turns over the pages, he is offended by "bad English and worse theology.' If he resolutely leaves the leaves uncut, and strives to forget that they have ever been printed, he has the fact recalled to his mind as often as the post comes in. "Perplexed and occasionally angry corre- spondents" are continually throwing these sermons at his head. "Did you really say this ?" "Can it be possible that you said that ?"—these are the questions addressed to him ; and in answer to them he has to explain that he never said " this " or "that," and to give "an explanation," sometimes a long one, of what he really did say.

The source of this injury is a publication called the Contemporary Pulpit. Weekly or monthly—we are not sure which—a number appears, and, " in order to include a full reflex of the best preaching of the day," two extra volumes are published every quarter. Eight volumes a year, besides the volumes composed of the collected weekly or monthly numbers, are distributed among the various preachers whose sermons 3onstitute,inthe editor's judgment, "the best preaching of the day ;" and the more popular the preacher, the more are likely to be allotted to him. The Bishop of Peterborough is very popular—the editor of the Contemporary Pulpit esteems him "the most eloquent prelate of the National Church "—consequently, his share is a large one. The editor of the Contemporary Pulpit has replied to the Bishop's complaint in a letter which is remarkable for its curious failure to see what the grievance is. He disclaims .all wish to interfere with the preacher's copyright. He is "most willing to report no sermon which the author intends to publish himself," and "to pay for careful revision of reports" in the case of sermons which the author does not intend to publish himself. What more, he evidently feels, can the editor of a Contemporary Pulpit be expected to do ? But a preacher nowadays has ordinarily to preach a great many more times in the year than he would preach if he simply consulted his own fame. When the issue to publish or not to publish is left to his own decision, this fact need not greatly trouble him. Duty bids him give his hearers of his best ; but the claims of duty are satisfied if that best is the best he can command at the moment. The printed sermon is naturally judged by a different standard. Publication is a deliberate act. It challenges attention. It claims to show the best that the preacher can do when he is at his best, else why should he go out of his way to give his sermons a permanence which does not belong to spoken words ? No doubt, so far as the preacher is concerned, publication in the Contemporary Pulpit is equivalent to no publication. He has not consented to it; he has not the power of preventing it. But, so far as the readers of the Contemporary Pulpit are concerned, the preacher is as badly off as though he had been a party to the transaction. They read, instead of merely hearing; and instead of going away to forget, they remain to criticise. For the most part, they do not know, or do slot remember, that the preacher has never meant them to have this opportunity, and that the fact that they have it gives him only annoyance. It is of no avail that the editor offers to submit the sermons he publishes to the preacher's revision, and. even to pay him for revising them. It is not merely what the Bishop of Peterborough calls "the bad English and worse theology" put into his mouth by the reporters that the preacher dislikes ; it is the being forced to see published what he never meant to publish. If he were to revise the sermons thus extorted from him, it would only make matters worse. As it is, he can, with the "even more distinguished preacher than the Bishop of Peterborough," mentioned by the editor, "disclaim responsibility for words attributed to him ;" whereas if he let himself be drawn into revising the proofs, this last resource would be denied him. The editor's letter ignores a very real difference between publication of sermons in an ordinary newspaper and their publication in the Contemporary Pulpit. A newspaper is in no sense a permanent record ; its contents last for the day or the week, and are forgotten. The Contemporary Pulpit, consisting only of sermons, and being printed in a convenient shape for keeping and binding, is scarcely dis- tinguishable from a book. The "bad English," the "worse theology," and even where these are wanting, the hasty or imperfect workmanship born of overburdened brains, do not disappear as soon as recorded. They have a chance of life which they would not have in the newspaper, and the mode of publication which ensures them this chance irritates the preacher in a proportionately greater degree. Nor can we see any resemblance, beyond a bare legal resemblance, between the reporting of sermons and the reporting of Parliamentary debates. It is for the public interest to disseminate the latter as widely as possible, that the electors may see how far they are fairly represented. We know of no similar public interest in the matter of the dissemination of sermons, more especially of those .which the preacher himself does not think worthy of publication. To report them is only to deepen the partially false impression that the majority of sermons are stupid utterances not worthy of much attention.

It is a somewhat curious inquiry by whom the Contem- porary Pulpit is read. A volume of sermons, even by an eminent preacher, is not usually a fortune to its author ; yet it apparently answers the purpose of the Contem- porary Pulpit to publish sermons without number. How can these seemingly inconsistent statements be both true ?

The explanation is probably this. They are meant for a different public from the public which reads sermons published by the preachers themselves in their own names. The volumes of the Contemporary Pulpit are bought, we suspect, mainly, if not entirely, by the clergy ; the sermons published by their several authors are also bought by the laity. There is one harmless but not generally acknowledged purpose for which the clergy buy sermons,—to reproduce them ; and for this purpose it is almost essential that the sermons in question should not be read by the laity. A clergyman may have a goodly series of octavo and crown octavo volumes on his shelves, with the names of famous preachers attached to them. But when the time comes for filling his own sermon-case with the proper quantity of manuscript, he has resolutely to turn his eyes away from this tempting but dangerous spectacle. There, as he well knows, are the means of making good any oratorical deficiencies of which he may be conscious. But a cruel fiction demands that sermons shall be taken as original ; and how can that fiction be maintained if they are drawn from a source which is equally open to his hearers and himself ? He sees in imagination his congregation adding the references for themselves, and comparing notes as to the volume and the page in which the original of the copy they have just listened to is to be found ; and he finds the prospect too alarming. Strange to say, the terror is not wholly imaginary. Congregations are odd things, and we are not at all sure that they would not resent having a sermon read to them which they could have stayed at home and read for themselves, though they will not mind what they more than suspect to be another ifian's sermon read to them if they do not know where it comes from. If the Bishop of Peterborough were revengeful as well as angry, he could not do the Contemporary Pulpit a worse turn than to recommend it to the laity of his diocese. Once admit into a preacher's mind the doubt whether he has his Con- temporary Pulpit to himself, and he will soon seek out some less known source of inspiration.