Victorian preachers routinely published their sermons; one observer noted that "Some of the most distinguished preachers of the day appear again through the press almost before they have left the pulpit" ("Extempore Preaching" 455). These sermons were evidently quite popular; in 1863, Islay Burns wrote that publications of Scottish divines were "greedily bought up and read" ("Modern Preaching" 425) and Walter Houghton has claimed that, in some cases at least, "sermons outsold novels" (The Victorian Frame of Mind 21n).

Volumes of sermons were often reviewed in religious and secular periodicals, and the reviews were almost always positive. Collections that were favorably received included

Publication both advanced and hindered preachers' careers. It helped well-known pulpiteers to became even more popular and enabled less gifted or lesser-known preachers to gain a reputation they could not secure in the pulpit. Some clergymen, however, saw their congregations shrink when other, more proficient ministers went to press; A. Eubule Evans noted that, by 1887, many believed that "every one who desires it" could "get a better sermon at home than in his parish church" ("A Discourse Upon sermons" 63). Widespread publication, then, occasionally placed the sermon in the somewhat awkward position of competing against itself as some Victorians came to prefer a printed discourse to a spoken one.

[Adapted from Chapter 1 of The Victorian Pulpit: Spoken and Written sermons in Nineteenth-Century Britain.]

Additional adaptations of the Victorian Pulpit available on the Victorian Web

Last modified 1998

Last modified 11 April 2018