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FATES OF CLERGYMEN.
There is no talent so useful toward rising in the world, or which puts men more out of the reach of fortune, than that quality generally possessed by the dullest sort of men, and in common speech called discretion; a species of lower prudence, by the assistance of which, people of the meanest intellectuals, without any other qualification, pass through the world in great tranquillity, and with universal good treatment, neither giving nor taking offence. Courts are seldom unprovided of persons under this character, on whom, if they happen to be of great quality, most employments, even the greatest, naturally fall, when competitors will not agree; and in such promotions nobody rejoices or grieves. The truth of this I could prove by several instances within my own memory; for I say nothing of present times.
And indeed, as regularity and forms are of great use in carrying on the business of the world, so it is very convenient, that persons endued with this kind of discretion, should have that share which is
proper to their talents, in the conduct of affairs, but by no means meddle in matters which require genius, learning, strong comprehension, quickness of conception, magnanimity, generosity, sagacity, or any other superior gift of human minds. Because this sort of discretion is usually attended with a strong desire of money, and few scruples about the way of obtaining it; with servile flattery and submission; with a want of all public spirit or principle; with a perpetual wrong judgment, when the owners come into power and high place, how to dispose of favour and preferment; having no measures for merit and virtue in others, but those very steps by which themselves ascended; nor the least intention of doing good or hurt to the public, farther than either one or t’other is likely to be subservient to their own security or interest. Thus being void of all friendship and enmity, they never complain or find fault with the times, and indeed never have reason to do
Men of eminent parts and abilities, as well as virtues, do sometimes rise in the court, sometimes in the law, and sometimes even in the church. Such were the lord Bacon, the earl of Strafford, archbishop Laud in the reign of king Charles I. and others in our own times, whom I shall not name; but these, and many more, under different princes, and in different kingdoms, were disgraced, or banished, or suffered death, merely in envy to their virtues and superior genius, which emboldened them in great exigencies and distresses of state (wanting a reasonable infusion of this aldermanly discretion,) to attempt the service of their prince and country, out of the common forms.
This evil fortune, which generally attends extraordinary men in the management of great affairs, has been imputed to divers causes that need not be here set down, when so obvious a one occurs, if what a certain writer observes be true, that when a great genius appears in the world, the dunces are all in confederacy against him. And if this be his fate when he employs his talents wholly in his closet, without interfering with any man's ambition or avarice, what must he expect, when he ventures out to seek for preferment in a court, but universal opposition when he is mounting the ladder, and every hand ready to turn him off when he is at the top and in this point, fortune generally acts directly contrary to nature; for in nature we 'find, that bodies full of life and spirits mount easily, and are hard to fall, whereas heavy bodies are hard to rise, and come down with greater velocity in proportion to their weight; but we find fortune every day acting just the reverse of this.
This talent of discretion, as I have described it in its several adjuncts and circumstances, is no where so serviceable as to the clergy, to whose preferment nothing is so fatal as the character of wit, politeness in reading or manners, or that kind of behaviour, which we contract by having too much conversation with persons of high station and eminency; these qualifications being reckoned by the vulgar of all ranks, to be marks of levity, which is the last crime the world will pardon in a clergyman; to this I may add a free manner of speaking in mixt company, and too frequent an appearance in places of much resort, which are equally noxious to spiritual promotion.
I have known indeed a few exceptions to some parts of these observations. I have seen some of the dullest men alive aiming at wit, and others, with as little pretensions, affecting politeness in manners and discourse; but never being able to persuade the world of their guilt, they grew into considerable stations, upon the firm assurance, which all people had of their discretion, because they were of a size too low to deceive the world to their own disadvantage. But this I confess is a trial too dangerous often to engage in.
There is a known story of a clergyman, who was recommended for a preferment by some great men at court to an archbishop.* His grace said, “ he had heard that the clergyman used to play at whist and swobbers; that as to playing now and then a sober game at whist for pastime, it might be pardoned, but he could not digest those wicked swobbers;" and it was with some pains that my Lord Somers could undeceive him. I ask, by what talents we may suppose that great prelate ascended so high, or what sort of qualifications he would expect in those whom he took into his patronage, or would probably recommend to court for the government of distant churches ?
Two clergymen, in my memory, stood candidates for a small freeschool in Yorkshire, where a gentleman of quality and interest in the country, who happened to have a better understanding than his neighbours, procured the place for him who was the better scholar, and more gentlemanly person of the two, very much to the regret of all the parish: the other being disappointed, came up to London, where he became the greatest pattern of this lower discretion that I have known, and possessed it with as heavy intellectuals: which, together with the coldness of his temper, and gravity of his deportment, carried him safe through many difficulties, and he lived and died in a great station ; while his competitor is too obscure for fame to tell us what became of him.
* Archbishop Tenison, who, by all contemporary accounts, was a very dull man. There was a bitter sarcasm upon him usually ascribed to Swift, “ That he was as hot and heavy as a taylor's goose.”
This species of discretion, which I so much celebrate, and do most heartily recommend, has one advantage not yet mentioned : it will carry a man safe through all the malice and variety of parties, so far, that whatever faction happens to be uppermost, his claim is usually allowed for a share of what is going. And the thing seems to me highly reasonable: for in all great changes, the prevailing side is usually so tempestuous, that it wants the ballast of those whom the world calls moderate men, and I call men of discretion; whom people in power may, with little ceremony, load as heavy as they please, drive them through the hardest and deepest roads without danger of foundering, or breaking their backs, and will be sure to find them neither resty nor vicious.
I will here give the reader a short history of two clergymen in England, the characters of each, and the progress of their fortunes in the world ; by which the force of worldly discretion, and the bad consequences from the want of that virtue, will strongly appear.
Corusodes, an Oxford student, and a farmer's son, was never absent from prayers or lecture, nor once out of his college after Tom had tolled. He spent every day ten hours in his closet, in reading his courses, dozing, clipping papers, or darning his stockings; which last he performed ' to admiration. He could be soberly drunk at