Other Writing
MR Society

"Our London Letter." The Norfolk News, July 19, 1873

Gossip is busy upon two questions arising out of the report of the Select Committee upon Public Accounts, which deals with the misappropriation of the public money by the Post-office. These questions are, What will Mr. Monsell do? and if he determines to do nothing, What will the Government do with him? The words actually used by the committee about Mr. Monsell are rather strong. "He must be presumed" the report says, "to have accepted his appointment in the full knowledge of its responsibilities... It appears, moreover, that Mr. Monsell knew on the 21st March, 1872, that the moneys at the disposal of the Post Office for telegraph services were at that date overdrawn." This, however, is not all. When the report was under consideration in committee, Mr. Candish proposed to add after the words last quoted the following sentence- "but notwithstanding this knowledge he seems to have allowed the expenditure to continue unchecked until it had reached the large total already mentioned." It is quite true that this very severe reprimand was not carried, only Mr. Candlish and Mr. Egerton voting for it, but the reason why it was not carried merely was that the committee were indisposed to do more than they considered would be necessary to accomplish their object. Had it been imperatively necessary to determine the truth of Mr. Candlish's indictment, there can be no doubt what what the decision of the committee would have been. Nevertheless I believe Mr. Monsell will do nothing. He is an old official – pretty well hardened to rebuffs, and with a profound faith in men's forgetfulness and the efficacy of Time's effacing fingers. Mr. Monsell will not resign nor will the Government compel him to do so. Mr. Gladstone has an opinion that the appointment of Mr. Monsell to the Postmaster-Generalship in some measure smooths Irish difficulties, the Postmaster General being a very strict Catholic ; but his real character as a man of business was known long ago. The present report discloses nothing about him of which we were not aware before, and there is really no more reason for his dismissal now than there was in 1853, a year after he became Clerk of the Ordnance. In fact, there is no reason for it, any more than there would be for the excision of one of the ornamental pilasters on the outside of the building in St. Martin's-le-Grand. It is notorious not merely in the Post-office, but to everybody who hears and sees, that the real chiefs of the department have never sought to do more than to persuade Mr. Monsell that his signature must be attached to certain papers in a certain place and that he has never sought to learn more.

There is just now an increasing dearth of employment for men who are educated in nothing but the ordinary learning of the schools and colleges, so that I am sure readers of this class will be grateful to me for pointing out to them a new and, I believe, a profitable mode of getting a living. It is that of sermon-writing. Amongst the Dissenters it does not pay, because Dissenting ministers are usually too poor to buy sermons, and moreover are in the habit of using their own compositions. But in the Church of England, and oddly enough as at first sight it may appear, in the Ritualistic section of the Church, it is very usual for sermons to be composed by professional authors. The reason is twofold – the clergy of the Church are in many cases put into the livings, not because they care anything about the Church or human souls, but because there is no other mode of providing for younger sons, and preaching is now considered to be of subordinate importance to the Ritual. Anyhow, sermon-writing is a lucrative profession. Here is one advertisement out of three or four in a Ritualistic newspaper : – "SERMONS – Earnest, original, practical, upon the Sunday Gospels, Epistles and Old Testament Lessons. By an experienced priest. Specimens free on approval to clergymen. Sermon for an Assize, Volunteer Corps, &c. Strict confidence."

I remember once seeing a sermon of this kind, a funeral sermon which had done duty at the funerals of both males and females. All the praises of the dear deceased, the enumeration of .... his or her virtues, and the hope of the resurrection, had been freely applied to a dozen christians of either sex. The masculine pronouns all through had been carefully altered in a different colored [sic] ink into feminine pronouns, as a guide for the preacher, so that when he had to read it at the funeral of a beloved sister all he had to do was remember to read as altered in red. Simple people would be inclined to doubt whether it is exactly proper that a gentleman who is hired at a munificent salary to be their spiritual guide and comforter should deliver a sermon, however earnest, original and practical it may be, can do much good. It is difficult to imagine Paul or Peter resorting to such devices. The famous sermon on Mars Hill would certainly lose somewhat in our eyes had it been written for Paul by an impecunious Athenian, and read to his Greek audience from a little black book. Nevertheless the trade is not absolutely sinful, and as a sermon may be written in a couple of hours, a poor author may be glad to try his hand at this kind of work, and may find it more remunerative than a biographical dictionary or a magazine. Nay, he might have three or four taps, High, Low, Practical, Broad, and turn them on successively, being only careful not to mix.

Already the notice-paper of the House contains notices of several motions to be brought forward next session. Amongst them is one by Mr. MacFie about the sale of stamps ; another by Sir John Trelawny upon the Prison Ministers Bill ; and another by Mr. Mitchell Henry upon the privilege of admission to the Reporters' Gallery, and reporting generally. It is understood that Mr. Henry has got some scheme in his head for an elaborate system of Parliamentary reporting verbatim, and that he proposes that these reports should form official documents. It is complained, and with some reason, that excepting the votes of the House, which merely show results, Parliament keeps no record of its proceedings. This is true, Hansard being after all nothing but a report of the speeches of the more distinguished members, and a very brief abstract of the rest. But really no difficulty has been experienced with the present system, and if on the whole it works well, there is surely no reason why there should be such an enormous addition to the incubus of printed matter upon the world as the word-by-word reproduction of all the most temporary nonsense uttered in Parliament. We must have some care for posterity ; and how will history be possible to a future generation if a study of Hansard only in its present shape is necessary?