The Parsons. An Eclogue.

Gentleman's Magazine 20 (July 1750) 326.

Rev. William Dodd

A pastoral dialogue "By a Country Clergyman" in which two clergymen discourse on the difficulties of collecting tithes: "Too well, alas, too fatally I know— | From whence these complicated evils flow; | From tythes, from tythes, the clergy's woes arise, | They mar religion, nay, they rob the skies." The absence of allegory or pastoral setting is notable: The Parsons is hardly an imitation of Lycidas; nor was William Dodd, known as the "Macaroni Parson," an eighteenth-century Milton. In 1777 this spendthrift clergyman was hung for forging a financial instrument — and this poem was pointedly reprinted in several London newspapers as "written by the late unfortunate Dr. Dodd, in the early part of his life, near Thirty Years ago."

Note in Dodd's Poems: "This little poem was written at the request of the author's ever-honoured father, a worthy country vicar, who felt much from the evil hinted at" (1767) 269n.

A sequel to this poem, The Curates, an Eclogue, appeared in the Entertaining Miscellany, or General Magazine No. XII (13 May 1773).

A Small neat house, and little spot of ground,
Where herbs, and fruits, and kitchen stuff were found,
The humble vicar of North-Wilford blest;
Small was his living — but his heart at rest:
Unseen, unblam'd, he pass'd his time away;
He smok'd, or wrote, or mus'd, or walk'd all day
Thro' all the year, no anxious cares he knew,
But just at Easter when he claim'd his due:
And then the surly rustics churlish pride,
His well-earn'd tythes, disputed or deny'd.
The vicar, still, preferring want to strife,
Gave up his due to lead a peaceful life.
His garden once in pensive mood he sought,
His pipe attended as a friend to thought:
And while the smoke in eddies round him play'd,
A neighb'ring vicar entring he survey'd;
One like himself; a down-right honest priest,
Whose scanty dues his love of peace decreas'd.
Suppose the little ceremonies done,
And all the rites of lighting pipes begun;
Suppose the whiffs in sober sort flow round,
And both in musing very deeply drown'd:
For so it was till thus the first good man,
Fetch'd a deep whiff, and anxiously began.

Wou'd God (my friend!) his goodness had assign'd
Some lot more suited to my feeling mind:
Less tho' my income, if from torture free;
Content wou'd well supply the loss to me.
For all the pence, the little dues I glean,
Or raise my scorn, my pity, or my spleen:
I'll tell thee but e'en now a neighbour came,
Pale want diffus'd o'er all his meagre frame.
Five-pence the sum; he gave a shilling o'er,
Kind shook his head, and wish'd he cou'd do more:
I turn'd away, nor cou'd from tears refrain,
'Twas death to take it — to refuse it vain.

Such gentle manners more afflict the mind,
Than the rough rudeness of the baser kind:
Just ere I came, a rustic braggart elf,
Proud of his purse, and glorying in his pelf,
Approach'd, and bold demanded what to pay,
What claims the priest whom we maintain to pray?
The account he gave me of his stock, I knew,
Was half curtail'd and scarce one number true:
Howe'er, my silence favour'd the deceit,
And fond of quiet I conceal'd the cheat;
Yet, when the small, the half demand I made,
He bully'd, swore, and damn'd the preaching trade;
All God's good household with irrev'rence curst,
And me, with foul abuse, is far the worst:
Thou know'st, my friend, what agonizing,
Such brutal outrage gives a tender heart.

Too well, alas, too fatally I know—
From whence these complicated evils flow;
From tythes, from tythes, the clergy's woes arise,
They mar religion, nay, they rob the skies:
Wou'd God, our monarch's ever gracious hand
In this wou'd deign to bless the wretched land:
Wou'd God, the tythes like taxes might be pay'd,
A fix'd revenue by some statute made;
How then wou'd blest religion rear her head!
How thro' each village kindly virtue spread!
What souls with heav'nly comforts wou'd be blest, How happy, then, parishioner and priest!
Thus of true grievances the priests repin'd,
And with their own, spoke all their brethrens' mind:
When toil'd the belly and to the church slow move,
Six virgins bearing one, that died for love:
The grave debate was silenc'd by the bell,
The vicars rose, and kindly took farewell.
The first, his sermon seeks, and hastes away
The last sad duties to the dead to pay
From love he much advis'd the youthful throng;
Drew tears from all, and pleas'd, tho' preaching long:
While slow, his brother, on his easy pad,
Pac'd home full grave, and ruminating sad.

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