The Old Library doesn’t seem to conform to any particular classification scheme–at least, none that I can fathom–but over the past few months it’s become clearer and clearer to me that the books are in some kind of order. I’ve found myself in a bit of a ‘history of England’ rut, with pretty much every book for miles (slight exaggeration) another assessment of the same topic. So when the next title on my list promised the “sufferings of the clergy”, I thought things might finally be looking up. I anticipated, at best, a discussion of seventeenth century torture devices in vicarages; at worst, an exposition of the shoddy living conditions the clergy had to endure, things like poor TV reception and no hot water after 8am.
Obviously, it was none of those things. In fact, it turned out to be over seven hundred pages of brilliantly executed passive aggression. The book’s full title is An attempt towards recovering an account of the numbers and sufferings of the clergy. It was compiled by clergyman and biographer John Walker (1674-1747) of Exeter, and printed in London in 1714. It was written as a response to an earlier work, printed in 1702, by Edmund Calamy (1671-1732), called Abridgment of Mr Baxter’s narrative. This was, itself, a rearrangement of another work, the original (presumably) Mr Baxter’s narrative, which had suffered at the hands of an ill-experienced indexer. (We’ve all been there.) What made Calamy famous at the time, though, wasn’t just his ability to recognise bad indexing when he saw it. It was the ninth chapter of his book, which was a list of nonconformist ministers silenced or thrown out after the Restoration in 1660. Wykes (2004) describes the book as “a popular statement and defence of nonconformity against the high-church attack on dissent and toleration”.
The publication of this list created a bit of a storm. In the second edition of his book, printed in 1713, Calamy himself acknowledged it: “for some Years there was scarce a Pamphlet came out on the Church side, in which I had not the Honour of being referr’d to in the invective part of it” (1713, in Wykes, 2004). But I’d be shocked if any of these books Calamy mentioned included an attack quite as lengthy, profound and vitriolic as Walker’s Sufferings of the Clergy. Given that it appeared the year after Calamy wrote this acknowledgment of infamy, I’m tempted to believe that Walker took it as a challenge. Walker’s idea was to produce a similar sort of volume, but this time listing the conforming clergy who were deprived and sequestered by the puritans in the period before the Restoration. He admits as much in his Preface: “[the work] was wholly occasioned by the ninth chapter of Dr Calamy’s Abridgment of Mr Baxter’s life” (1714, p. i).
It sounds vaguely admiring at this point, but Walker soon sticks the knife in. “I take it for granted”, he writes, “Dr Calamy himself knew as many reasons for his Work, as anybody else, and that he was not wanting to produce the Best of them” (1714, p. i). He continually compares his motivations to those of Dr Calamy: if he can write a list, then why can’t I? If you don’t object to Dr Calamy’s list, then you can’t object to mine. After a while it starts to read like an early eighteenth century rendition of “Anything you can do, I can do better” from Annie, Get Your Gun.
This slightly obsessive attack on poor old Dr Calamy for whom, I’ll admit, I’m starting to feel sorry, runs to over fifty pages, after which Walker gets down to the actual business of the suffering. The book itself is divided into two parts: first, a history of ecclesiastical affairs prior to the Restoration, designed essentially to justify the treatment of nonconformists after the Act of Uniformity in 1662 based on their behaviour when they were in charge (du Toit, 2004); and second, the list itself. I’m impressed by Walker’s organisation and indexing skills, and I’m starting to suspect that he was secretly a librarian. The famous ‘suffering’ varies in type and severity, from George Williamson of Bristol, who got kicked out of his vicarage (1714, p. 4), to George Crakenthorp of Essex, who was accused of being a “common tippler, and often drunk” (1714, p. 219). There’s Samuel Taylor of Suffolk, who was left so penniless that he had to beg relief from the “corporation for ministers’ widows” (1714, p. 383) and William Knight of Huntingdonshire, whose ruination set off a chain of events which led to his grandson getting his maid pregnant. Worst of all, the maid was a “hog-herd’s daughter” (1714, p. 288). There’s a Mr Eaton of Cheshire, whose wife was carried to a dunghill (1714, p. 236), presumably against her will. Walker reports that several members of the clergy died before the Restoration, but a lot do have happier endings. Take Thomas Paske of Clare Hall, Cambridge, for example. He was restored and his great worth was proven beyond all doubt when, on one day, he was visited by “three bishops, four privy counsellors, two judges and three doctors” (1714, p. 141). Someone definitely needed to explain the concept of ‘office hours’ to Thomas Paske.
Walker’s Sufferings portrays these poor ministers as maligned, unjustly accused of all sorts of scandal, replaced by unsavoury gentleman, harrassed and persecuted simply for their loyalty. There’s a genuine sense of their collective martyrdom shining through and, without a copy of Calamy’s Abridgment in front of me it’s difficult to tell if Walker copied that too. I imagine he did. But they say the best form of flattery is imitation, so maybe Calamy wouldn’t have minded too much after all.
Calamy, E. (1702). An abridgment of Mr Baxter’s history of his life and times. London: Printed by S. Bridge for Thomas Parkhurst [and two others].
Du Toit, A. (2004). ‘Walker, John (bap. 1674, d. 1747)‘. Oxford Dictionary of National Bibliography. Oxford: OUP. Accessed 23 Aug 2013.
Walker, J. (1714). An attempt towards recovering an account of the numbers and suffering of the clergy of the Church of England. London: Printed by W.S. for J. Nicholson [and five others].
Wykes, D.L. (2004). ‘Calamy, Edmund (1671-1732)‘. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: OUP. Accessed 23 Aug 2013.