A manner of payment involving very great evils.

I am reading the books recommended by Arnold Bennett in his self-help guide Literary Taste: How To Form It, first published in 1909 and reissued in 1938. Can following a prescribed reading list from over a hundred years ago lead to forming a literary taste? A graph is normally included. This week, Anthony Trollope’s Framley Parsonage. 

First page (with illustration) of the first appearance of Framley Parsonage in print, in Cornhill Magazine, 1860-1861. Source: Wikipedia.

First page (with illustration) of the first appearance of Framley Parsonage in print, in Cornhill Magazine, 1860-1861. Source: Wikipedia.

Step forward William Green and take a bow. Without him, and countless others (all landowners and tenants), Trollope’s world of high and low churchmen could never have existed. It was William Green’s farmhouse and fields in the parish of Rock in Worcestershire – the Back Green, Little Orchard, House Meadow, Furlong and Upper Meadow (all arable or meadow) – and the £1 10s 8d (valued thus in 1841) he paid in tithes upon them (worth £109 in 2010) that went toward providing the income for the vicar. In The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England and Wales, 1894-5 the parish was listed as having a net value of £637 (£57,400 in 2010), more than enough to allow ample free time to any vicar to wonder if he should ally himself with the rich and fast or the rich and humble with it, as Mark Robarts does in Framley Parsonage. 

Anthony Trollope 1815 -1882. Source: Wikipedia.

Anthony Trollope 1815 -1882. Source: Wikipedia.

The paying of tithes is, of course, a requirement laid down in the Bible – Genesis 14:19 is the first of many such commands. Leviticus 25:8-13 also mentions the obligations of forgiving debts and returning slaves every fifty years under the auspices of a jubilee. The Christian churches, however, appear to have put these obligations to one side, along with the prohibition on eating shellfish and killing witches. Tithes are recorded as having been paid in England since the Anglo-Saxon era, usually in the form of a share of the harvest. The Tithe Commutation Act of 1836 converted these payments in kind into ready cash. Lord John Russell, the Home Secretary, introducing the Bill into the House of Commons said:

Tithe was now, as it was then, a manner of payment involving very great evils, forcing the clergy to forbearance at the expense of what they deemed to be their rights, or leading them to enforce those rights at the expense of the influence which they ought to possess with their parishioners, compelling them to lose either their income by their indulgence, or their popularity by, he would not say, the exaction of what the law gave them for the support of themselves and their families.

To which, I am sure, we would sagely nod our heads and wonder silently just what on Earth he was talking about. But in 1836 these were the things to be debated, pondered and resolved. Maps were therefore drawn up by commissioners in which every English field, meadow, copse and spinney was noted, plotted and valued. It was from these maps, such as the one made available online by Worcestershire Council, that the likes of William Green was asked to cough up his £1 10s 8d. The Dorsetshire tithe maps (the likely inspiration for Trollope’s imaginary Barsetshire) are behind the paywall of Ancestry.co.uk so to hell with them.

The location of William Green's land in the Parish of Rock. Source: http://ukga.org/england/Worcestershire/

The location of William Green’s land in the Parish of Rock.
Source: http://ukga.org/england/Worcestershire/

William Green, and all those like him, are absent from the pages of Framley Parsonage. Trollope, I imagine, did not have to think long and hard to make up his mind to leave them in the fields, praying for wet summers and clear winters. Whatever their opinions were of the internecine struggles between the high and low factions in the Church of England, or whether a vicar should or should not ride with the local hunt, he was merely happy to see them pay their tithes every year, and let others in better-fitting clothes discuss such matters at soirees and the such like. But it is these silent heroes who make Trollope’s delightful machine whirr into action like the enormous whirry thing it is.

Have I, once again, missed the point in my Marxist-light reading of Framley Parsonage? I can only hope so. However, I am not blind to it being filled to the top of the churn with freshly-milked literary taste and I unhesitatingly add a sturdy rural plot of (8,1) to the chart.

How's them apples?

Next time, an attempt to quantify numerically my literary taste.

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2 Comments

  1. I look forward to the attempt to numerically quantify your literary taste!

    Reply

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