Decorated initial T

his is an excerpt from Part II, Chapter XV, of the novel. Entitled "Amenities of Fashionable Life and Faith," it records a visit by the Rev. Orlando Whiffle (the Ritualist incumbent of the High Church St Abinadab's in the West End) to Maud Waghorn, a fashionable young woman married to a disreputable middle-aged man. At the Waghorns' fine house in Regent's Park, Whiffle finds his own unprincipled son, Augustus, who is supposed to be studying theology at King's College, London. Maud's friend, Helen Norman, the novel's chief female protagonist, also happens to be visiting. As the daughter of the rector of St Peter's in Bloomford, somewhere in the pleasant south of England, Helen had once been devoutly religious herself, but has now discarded all pious affiliations and beliefs, and expends the whole of her energy on helping the poor in the East End, much to the detriment of her own health. Her path in life has diverged sharply from that of her fashionable friend, who is now very much a woman of the world, as degraded in her own way as the coarser denizens of Gissing's slums. Helen knew Whiffle from her early life in Bloomford: he was her father's curate.

In this episode, as in the novel as a whole, Helen provides the benchmark against which others are measured. Mr Whiffle, caricatured as a little man with a big head, coarse unruly red hair and whiskers, and an up-turned nose, is found particularly wanting. However, Helen herself maintains her habitual calm manner throughout. Whiffle reveals his hopeless lack of self-knowledge and abominable egotism through his own garrulousness, coupled with Maud's biting but unrecognised sarcasm. The result is a skit on Ritualism, enacted, typically enough for Gissing, through dialogue in a drawing-room setting. It is overdone, of course. Whiffle's worst trait, his vindictive narrow-mindedness, comes out when he gleefully reveals that he had refused to read the Burial Service over Mr Simpson, the tallow-chandler who had disapproved of his High Church ways. If we remember the earlier chapters, Mrs Simpson once taught Helen in Sunday School; such a refusal must have been keenly felt. Workers in the Dawn was the first of Gissing's novels to be published, and what is on show here is not subtlety in the delineation of character, which would come later, but the sharp-edged humour of mockery.

Ritualism was the butt of many criticisms like this. Anthony Trollope remarks in Clergymen of the Church of England (1866), after mentioning John Henry Newman and Dr Pusey, "no school of clergymen has so run after wiggeries and vestments and empty symbols as have the followers of the men whom I have named." However, he gives credit where credit is due, dismissing such excesses as "simply the dross which has come from their fused gold. If you will make water really boil, some will commonly boil over" (25), Trollope also points out that the Tractarians "have built new churches, and cleansed old churches, and opened closed churches. They have put on fuel and poked the fire, till heat does really issue from it. It is not only with the High Church, — with their own brethren, — that they have prevailed, but equally with the Low Church, whose handsome edifices and improved services are due to that energy which has been so hateful to them" (25-26). Later, less even-handedly and with more rancour, George Meredith's Captain Baskelett in Beauchamp's Career (1876) makes this comment on the Church of England: "It lives if it is at home with the poor. In the arms of enriched shopkeepers it rots, goes to decay in vestments — vestments! flakes of mummy-wraps for it! or else they use it for one of their political truncheons — to awe the ignorant masses: I quote them. So. Not much ahead of ancient Egyptians in spirituality or in priestcraft!" (9).

In the following passage, page changes are given in square brackets. The illustrations from Punch have been added. Click on them to enlarge them, and to find out more about them.

Portrait of a Ritualist: An excerpt from George Gissing's Workers in the Dawn

"Mrs. Waghorn, I rejoice te see you looking so wonderfully well. This is trying weather, dreadfully trying weather; I can scarcely remember such weather since first I entered The Church, and I dare not think how many years ago that is. Ha! But whom have we here? Upon my word, I believe I have once more the pleasure, the delight, of seeing Miss Helen Norman, the daughter of my dear departed rector! Miss Norman, how do you do? Really I am overjoyed to see you! Been to old Bloomford lately, Miss Norman?"

"I have not seen Bloomford since I last called upon you there, Mr. Whiffle."

"You have not! Well, upon my word! Ah! there are sad goings on down at Bloomford, Miss Norman, very sad goings on, I assure you. During the period in which I enjoyed the inestimable honour of succeeding my dear departed rector in the incumbency of St. Peter's, I did my little utmost, Miss Norman, to establish a pure form of ritual — but I fear with little enduring result. I endured persecution, Miss Norman, which amounted to little less than martyrdom. You remember old Isaac Simpson, the retired tallow-chandler?"

"Very well," said Helen, smiling at the recollection.

"Well, would you believe it? that man was churchwarden during a portion of my incumbency, and he made it the object of his life to thwart me in my endeavour to establish a pure [136/37] form of ritual. I placed a cross upon the communion table, following what I consider to have been the practice of the primal Church. Old Simpson took the first opportunity of removing it. I replaced it; old Simpson took it away again! Can you believe. Miss Norman, that old Simpson, the retired tallow-chandler, would have the unspeakable audacity to beard a rector of the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church as by law established in the performance of his ecclesiastical functions? I wrote a letter to the County Chronicle wherein I spoke wrathfully, I confess, Miss Norman, and — can you believe it? — old Simpson was on the point o£ commencing an action for libel; fancy, an action against a clergyman of the Church of England ; against a parson, persona ecclesiæ. But I persevered unto the end. Miss Norman, and I won the victory. Old Simpson died — I discovered that he had never been baptised — I refused to read the Burial Service over him!"

"But those days are happily gone by, Mr. Whiffle," interposed Maud. "At St. Abinadab's there are no such obstinate schismatics. There we have the purest of rituals, abso- lutely free from adulteration. But oh! how thankful I am that you triumphed over that odious Simpson! How delightful to be able to refuse to read the Service! Oh! what an admirable Church is the Church of England!"

"Thank you, Mrs. Waghorn, thank you," replied Mr. Whiflle. " If all my congregation were as ardent as you, I should indeed have little to wish for, and could at any moment intone the Nunc Dimittis with a clear voice and a quiet conscience. But I grieve to say that there is yet a drop of bitterness in my otherwise overflowing cup. Would you believe it, Mrs. Waghorn? I have only this morning received this anonymous letter, doubtless from some ill-guided member of my flock."

He pulled out an enormous bundle of letters from an inside pocket, and, after rummaging over them for some minutes, at length hit upon the one he sought.

The Church of England branches off (note the candles in front of the engine, and the points-man's biretta), in Punch, 17 May 1879.

"Now let me read you a paragraph or two from this letter [137/38], Miss Norman," he said. "You will marvel at the audacity of this fellow. Bear in mind, always, Mrs. Waghorn, that this is addressed to a clergyman of the Church of England — nay to the Incumbent of St. Abinadab's. Hum — hum — hum — Ah! I will begin here. 'I beg to call your attention to the fact that on six successive Sundays' — so and so, so and so, and &c. — 'you have made use of lighted candles upon the communion table, where they were evidently not needed for the purposes of light,' The paltry fellow! He ought to be thankful to anyone who lightens the darkness of his perverted soul — ha! ha! ha! Now he goes on, observe, Miss Norman: 'Moreover, that you are in the habit of wearing unlawful ecclesiastical vestments, to wit, an alb, a chasuble, and a biretta' — The audacity of this creature! — 'Furthermore, that you illegally administer to your communicants wafer-bread. Again, I must remind you that to adopt the eastward position, as you habitually do, is unlawful, as also to make the sign of the cross towards the congregation, to omit kneeling during the Confession, and to have a cross upon the communion table.' And so on, and so on. And then he concludes — 'I shall certainly esteem it my duty to make representation to the Bishop of these deviations from the ritual prescribed by the Church of England.' — The presumptuous blockhead! The fellow, Miss Norman, has the unparalleled impudence to assert that he is better acquainted than the Incumbent of St. Abinadab's with what is, and what is not, allowed by the Church! He positively includes in his letter a long argument on the subject, which I, of course, have not done him the honour to read through, but in which I see mentions of the words Rubric Common Prayer, and Reformation. Since he is so familiar with the Rubric, I should have imagined that his idiotship would have known that in the Rubric at the end of the calendar it is written: "that such ornaments of the Church and of the ministers thereof at all times of their ministration shall be retained and be in use as were in this Church of England by the authority of Parliament in the second year of the reign of King Edward VI.' — Ha, ha! Miss Norman, he'd better not come the Rubric over me! I imagine [138/39] I know it as well as most men, as well as the ritual of the Church in the reign of Edward VI. 'Unlawful' and 'illegal,' forsooth! Where is the Act of Parliament to restrain me, I should like to know ? Ha, ha, ha! An excellent joke!"

By this time Mr. Whiffle had talked himself completely out of breath, and into such a perspiration that he was obliged to wipe his face all over with an immense silk handkerchief.

But in the operation he was repeatedly overcome with his sense of amusement at the audacity of the letter-writer, and broke into little bursts of scornful laughter.

"But I entirely forgot to state the purpose of my visit, Mrs. Waghorn. Bye-the-by, Miss Norman, have you seen my pamphlet on "Religious Teaching in Public Schools"?

"I am sorry to say I have not," returned Helen.

"Indeed! Of course, I need not ask you, Mrs. Waghorn?"

"I deeply regret it has never come into my hands," said Maud.

"Not?" cried Mr. Whiffle, elevating his fat hands in horror. "You astound me! Not seen my pamphlet? I must send you a copy this very day; I will send you half-a-dozen copies ! And you, too, Miss Norman, I will send you as many copies as you like, to distribute among your friends. It is only signed '0. W.' I should be loath, you know, to take undue advantage of my position as incumbent of St. Abinadab's. In controversy I always like to allow my adversaries fair play, you know, Miss Norman. 0, Mrs. Waghorn, I know you will be delighted with the pamphlet. In it I preach an absolute crusade against the godless policy of our School Boards. Miss Norman, you must certainly attend St. Abinadab's next Sunday. I am preparing a sermon which I know will please you. Promise me you will come."

"If nothing occurs to prevent me, I shall have pleasure in doing so, Mr. Whiffle."

Another cartoon from Punch, this one from 6 January 1866, shows a clergyman in Christmas finery, preening himself in front of a mirror.

"Of course, of course! And, bye-the-by — but, upon my word, I am still forgetting the object of my visit, Mrs. Waghorn. Did it ever occur to you that — that one or two of my portraits on the stalls at the bazaar might not be in bad taste? [139/40] You see, it is so natural that the congregation of St. Abinadab's should like to possess a photograph of their minister. Suppose, you know, we sold them for half-a-crown a piece? I shouldn't wonder if they added materially to the profits."

"A delicious idea!" exclaimed Maud. "A perfectly dazzling ideal What a stupid creature I am that it never occurred to me before. Of course, it is the very thing — so tasteful, so delicate. And especially on Mrs. Whiffle's stall they will be appropriate."

"You think so? My very idea! I am overjoyed."

"Oh, I hope you will sit especially for the occasion."

"Will you believe that I have already done so — and in full canonicals? Upon my word, I believe I have one with me. Yes — no — yes, here it is!"

He produced a portrait and handed it to Mrs. Waghorn, and, skipping behind her like an excited child, peeped over her shoulder as she examined it.

"Do you think it good? Do you think it worthy of the incumbent of St. Abinadab's?" he asked breathlessly.

"Oh, delicious!" cried Maud. "How stately, how reverend! I vow I should have taken it for an archbishop if I had not known the features!"

"You would? No! You mean it? I am overjoyed! Miss Norman, pray what is your opinion?"

"I think it very like," and then, feeling that graceful condescension to human weakness required more than this, she added, "It is a very excellent portrait, indeed."

"I am delighted! I am entranced!" cried Mr. Whiffle, skipping about. "It is the happiest day since I entered The Church! Mrs. Waghorn, you shall have ten dozen for your stall. I'm sure you could easily dispose of that number, don't you think so?"

"Oh, ten times as many!" cried Maud, with enthusiasm.

"You shall have them!" exclaimed Mr. Whiffle. "But, I protest, I have been here nearly half an hour. I must run. Miss Norman, remember your promise for Sunday. You must come and see Mrs. Whiffle. Pray come and dine with us, any [140/41] evening you like. Bye-the-by, Mrs. Waghorn, did you see my letter in the Times the other morning on that poisoning case, you know?"

"I did" returned Maud, "and was entranced with the argument."

"Oh, the mere thought of an odd moment!" exclaimed the clergyman. "But, good-bye all. Good-bye, Miss Norman, good-bye, Mrs. Waghorn; I will look in again very shortly."

Links to related material


Gissing, George. Workers in the Dawn. Brighton: Harvester, 1985.

Meredith, George. Beauchamp's Career. Vol. II. Memorial Ed. Vol XII. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1910. Contributed by Cornell University Library. Web. 3 April 2022.<>

Trollope, Anthony. Clergymen of the Church of England. London: Chapman and Hall, 1866. Internet Archive. Contributed by the Digital Library of India. Web. 3 April 2022.

Created 3 April 2022