This contemporary engraving of Charles Haddon Spurgeon preaching at Exeter Hall on the Strand sometime during 1855 or '56 gives some idea of enormous audiences present at this famous preacher's sermons, as does a similiar engraving of Spurgeon at the Music Hall in the Royal Surrey Gardens — site of a disastrous fire in 1856.

For many Victorians, who sometimes attended two two-hour sermons each Sunday, great preachers like Henry Melvill and Charles Spurgeon provided a combination of mass entertainment, religious instruction, spiritual inspiration, and political commentary — much as do television ministries in the late-twentieth century. But whereas television ministries have to compete with many forms of other forms of activity and entertainment, including professional spectator sports, radio, recorded music, and television, the Victorian preacher, particularly at mid-century, had comparatively little competition. No forms of entertainment and information based on telepresence, such as the telephone, radio, television, or cinema, had yet been invented, and now-popular cultural organizations, such public libraries and museums, had yet to become widespread. What does such a cultural situation have to do with the length — and rhetoric — of Victorian sermons, fiction, and poetry?

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Last modified 1998