Aug 312021

Vicars were often shown as being mercenary and corrupt – interested only in money and in collecting tithes from their parishioners. First up, a slightly different story, entitled The Old Dog’s Legacy and appearing in 1800:

The writing underneath tells the story:

Vicar: How could you be so profane as to inter your dog in the church yard. You are liable to be punished in the spiritual court.

Farmer: Why, aye doctor, but when you consider what a sensible creature he was, you will not be so severe. The day before he died he made his Will and left you a Legacy.

Vicar: A Legacy?

Farmer: Yes he left you six guineas and I’ve come to give it to you.

Parson: Oho, if that’s the case why did you not mention it before and he might have been laid inside the church.

The original drawing was by Isaac Cruikshank – father to the George Cruikshank who illustrated the earlier novels of Charles Dickens. Isaac lived between 1756 and 1811 and this etching and stippled engraving appears on the Lewis Walpole Library site here.

Another image showing greed on the part of vicars is this one from 1760 and entitled La Dime – the Tythe Pig. (The phrase ‘la dime’ referred to a French land tax, levied in much the same way as the English tithe, and representing a payment to the church of a tenth of the value of the year’s harvest etc). Once more, it is from the excellent Lewis Walpole Library site.

According to the British Museum site, the verse underneath ‘represents a satire on the clergy; a farmer and his wife offering their tithe to a clergyman by the tithe barn at the gate of his rectory; the man holds a sucking pig, the woman holds out an infant, saying that if the clergyman wants the former he must also take the latter; the clergyman turns away looking back over his shoulder in distaste’.

The verse starts off  with the words: ‘In Country village lives a vicar/Fond as all are of tithes and Liquor/ For mirth his ears are seldom shut/He’ll crack a jest and laugh at smut’.

It ends with the words: ‘The Vicar comes – the pig he claims/And the good wife with taunts inflames/But she, quite arch, bow’d low and smil’d/Kept back the pig and held the child/The priest look’d warm, the wife looked big/ Zounds sir! quoth she, No child, no pig’.

The British Museum dates the mezzotint as being slightly earlier (1751) and it appears to be a based on an etching by Louis Philippe Boutard, who was trading from the Golden Pineapple in Durham Yard in London’s Strand around the middle of the century. It was etched by the German-born print-maker Johann Sebastian Müller who operated out of premises at The Golden Head, on the corner of James Street, Long Acre, London.

Third up, another Richard Newton print from 1792 and which appears on the Lewis Walpole site showing a kneeling parson pledging undying love to an aged crone – who just happens to be loaded.

The verse reads: Hear me, angelic object of my love/Whose charms eclipse the brightest saint above!/Tis not your pedigree, nor large rent-roll/Nor funded thousands that enslave my soul./No, tis the magic sweetness of your smile (….  and so on, and so on).

The prints are just three of many from the period showing the avarice of Anglican clergy. And to end with I rather like “A flight of Parsons”, showing the vicars behaving like crows flying home to roost.

The seated man is saying “Zooks, there be a rare flight of parsons. I hope in my heart they wonna [won’t] alight on my farm, they’ve done mischief enough already in these parts.”

Published by S W Fores, I like the wording underneath the engraving – “Folios of Caricatures lent out for the Evening” – you can just imagine  a gathering at a fashionable house being handed around a folio of similar prints lampooning  the great and the good – and the clergy.

  One Response to “Ecclesiastical avarice -18th Century vicars with a penchant for money.”


    […] Ecclesiastical avarice -18th Century vicars with a penchant for money. Vicars were often shown as being mercenary and corrupt — interested only in money and in collecting tithes from their parishioners. First “The Old Dog’s Legacy and appearing in 1800”. Read… […]

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