Travels in England in 1782
by Karl Moritz (London: Cassell and Company, 1886)
On to Nettlebed: a perfect village
I walked a little way out of the village, where, at some distance, I saw several people coming from another village, to attend divine service here at Nettlebed.
At length came the parson on horseback. The boys pulled off their hats, and all made him very low bows. He appeared to be rather an elderly man, and wore his own hair round and decently dressed, or rather curled naturally.
The bell now rung in, and so I too, with a sort of secret proud sensation, as if I also had been an Englishman, went with my prayer-book under my arm to church, along with the rest of the congregation; and when I got into the church, the clerk very civilly seated me close to the pulpit.
Nothing can possibly be more simple, apt, and becoming than the few decorations of this church.
Directly over the altar, on two tables in large letters, the ten commandments were written. There surely is much wisdom and propriety in thus placing, full in the view of the people, the sum and substance of all morality.
Under the pulpit near the steps that led up to it, was a desk, from which the clergyman read the liturgy, the responses were all regularly made by the clerk; the whole congregation joining occasionally, though but in a low voice; as for instance, the minister said, "Lord, have mercy upon us!" the clerk and the congregation immediately subjoin, "and forgive us all our sins." In general, when the clergyman offers up a prayer, the clerk and the whole congregation answer only, Amen!
The English service must needs be exceedingly fatiguing to the officiating minister, inasmuch as besides a sermon, the greatest part of the liturgy falls to his share to read, besides the psalms and two lessons.
The joining of the whole congregation in prayer has something exceedingly solemn and affecting in it.
Two soldiers, who sat near me in the church, and who had probably been in London, seemed to wish to pass for philosophers, and wits; for they did not join in the prayers of the church.
The service was now pretty well advanced, when I observed some little stir in the desk, the clerk was busy, and they seemed to be preparing for something new and solemn, and I also perceived several musical instruments. The clergyman now stopped, and the clerk then said in a loud voice, "Let us sing to the praise and glory of God, the forty-seventh psalm".
I cannot well express how affecting and edifying it seemed to me, to hear this whole orderly and decent congregation, in this small country church, joining together with vocal and instrumental music, in the praise of their Maker. It was the more grateful, as having been performed, not by mercenary musicians, but by the peaceful and pious inhabitants of this sweet village. I can hardly figure to myself any offering more likely to be grateful to God.
The congregation sang and prayed alternately several times, and the tunes of the psalms were particularly lively and cheerful, though at the same time sufficiently grave, and uncommonly interesting. I am a warm admirer of all sacred music, and I cannot but add that that of the Church of England is particularly calculated to raise the heart to devotion; I own it often affected me even to tears.
The clergyman now stood up and made a short but very proper discourse on this text: "Not all they who say, Lord, Lord! shall enter the kingdom of heaven." His language was particularly plain, though forcible; his arguments were no less plain, convincing, and earnest, but contained nothing that was particularly striking. I do not think the sermon lasted more than half an hour.
This clergyman had not perhaps a very prepossessing appearance; I thought him also a little distant and reserved, and I did not quite like his returning the bows of the farmers with a very formal nod.
I stayed till the service was quite over, and then went out of the church with the congregation, and amused myself with reading the inscriptions on the tombstones in the churchyard, which in general, are simpler, more pathetic, and better written than ours.
There were some of them which, to be sure, were ludicrous and laughable enough.
Among these is one on the tomb of a smith, which on account of its singularity, I here copy and send you.
"My sledge and anvil he declined,
My bellows too have lost their wind;
My fire's extinct, my forge decayed,
My coals are spent, my iron's gone,
My nails are drove: my work is done."
Many of these epitaphs closed with the following quaint rhymes:
"Physicians were in vain;
God knew the best;
So here I rest."
In the body of the church I saw a marble monument of a son of the celebrated Dr. Wallis, with the following simple and affecting inscription:
"The same good sense which qualified him for every public employment
Taught him to spend his life here in retirement."