23 AUGUST 1856, Page 11


Mn. Noiaolf the Magistrate has been charged recently with a somewhat embarrassing duty. More than once his attention has been called to a curious complicity in offences against the police- laws. The other day, a man was brought before him and con- victed of pinking pockets ; the opportunity having been made for him by a person who professes to perform the part of preacher, on Sundays, at the Obelisk near the Surrey Theatre. The preacher was not a solitary example ; he has a rival near him. Others of the same kind have selected other places, all round the metro- polis; one standing near a police station, another making a corner near the. station of the Great Northern Railway his church. In short, wherever an open space and the chance of collecting a crowd present themselves in combination, you may find some man, who believes himself to have a "call," delivering himself with great unction to a congregation more or less attentive, more or less restless, more or less amused, and more or less intermingled with the pickpocket class. The man who is intently listening to a sermon is the very beau ideal of an object for the pickpocket. He is just in the position of the doll suspended by Fagin for the practice of his pupils ; only that, while quite as little likely to notice the freedom taken with him, he is more stationary. To increase Mr. Norton's embarrassment, he has a strong im- pression, which is quite natural, that it is unbecoming in a Chris- tian country to place impediments in the way of those who carry the sermon to the multitude in the street. Some most estimable persons of the Established Church have lately gained credit by entering into the same missionary enterprise and preaching to congregations in rural districts. But there are distinctions, which Blake all the difference between a laudable enterprise and an un- warrantable intrusion. In some country districts there is no church-accommodation; and the clergyman who can overcome the difficulties—the shyness of our country, the labour of exercise

—to preach for the rustics who would not otherwise have the opportunity of hearing religious instruction, undoubtedly merits the approbation of all. We scarcely know any street of London, however, except Downing Street, which is suited to be an open- air church on Sundays ; and do not pickpockets penetrate even to Downing Street ? Some excuse may be afforded to the open-air preachers, from the limited room in the churches, which does not give space for the whole population, and from those arrangements within which wall off one class from another, reserving the best places for the best company, and at once irritating the pride of the poor man and making him sneer at a Christianity thus observed.

But even if the congregation is to be found in the streets rather than the church, it is not every man who is qualified to be a preacher. We have heard some of these peripatetic ministers, and we must confess that we have never yet found them to be the best possible instructors. Occasionally, it is a gentleman under the impulse of an enthusiasm which looks highly. morbid ; at another time, it is some under-educated man who is quite incapable of perceiving the distinction between a " call " and an irresistible egotism. The maladroit preaching does not so often expound religion as expose it ; and the brummagem apostle cannot prevent himself from sinking into the accomplice of the pickpocket.

No reverence for religion should restrain the police from ex- ecuting their duty in preventing street nuisances, or check the magistrate in backing the police with the full authority of the i bench. If there is any good to be done by street-preaching, it will be strengthened, not injured, by preventing it from being confounded with a mountebank burlesque of religion, or with a conspiracy for the benefit of thieves.