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John Trusler and the Culture of Sermons in Late Eighteenth-Century England

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 April 2015

Oxford Brookes University, Harcourt Hill Campus, Oxford OX2 9AT; e-mail:


Using John Trusler's unpublished memoirs, this article seeks to reconsider his trade in printed sermons using imitation manuscript print, which clergy could pass off as their own. While the trade smacks of corruption and dishonesty, and attracted considerable scorn for Trusler, it was in some respects a reflection of late eighteenth-century sermon culture. Trusler's defence to Bishop Terrick of London of trading in imitation manuscript sermons suggests that he was not embarrassed by the enterprise. Trusler's talents as a preacher were considerable, but Victorian Britain came to regard his commerce as reprehensible.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2015 

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1 The Times, 5 Jan. 1932, 6. Certainly great entertainment was afforded the readers of ‘Dr Trusler's maxims’ in Tinsleys Magazine iv (1869), 118–28.

2 A rare example of an academic assessment of Trusler's sermons is Lupton, Christina's recent ‘Creating the writer of the cleric's words’, Journal of Eighteenth Century Studies xxxiv (2011), 167–83CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

3 E. Major, ‘John Trusler (1735–1820)’, ODNB. A less scholarly treatment is Parris, Matthew, The great unfrocked: two thousand years of church scandal, London 1998Google Scholar.

4 Watkins, J., Shoberl, F. and Upcott, W. (eds), Biographical dictionary of living authors of Great Britain and Ireland, London 1816, 1, 815Google Scholar.

5 Rivers, D., Literary memoirs of living authors, London 1798, ii. 329–30Google Scholar.

6 Simeon developed his own system, a series of sermon ‘outlines’ which clergy would then use as templates to develop full-blown sermons for delivery in church: Helps to composition or five hundred skeletons of sermons, Cambridge 1801, iii–vii.

7 Johns, B. G., ‘The traffic in sermons’, The Nineteenth Century xxxi (1892), 202–3Google Scholar.

8 Hochschild, A., Bury the chains: prophets and rebels in the fight to free an empire's slaves, London 2006Google Scholar, 73; Turner, E. S., Unholy pursuits: the wayward parsons of Grub Street, Lewes 1998, 167–87Google Scholar.

9 ‘Sermon trade’, St Pauls iii (1869), 594–8.

10 Johns, ‘Traffic in sermons’, 197–207.

11 ‘Sermon trade’, 594.

12 Moore, A., An essay on the art of preaching, addressed to the clergy, London 1758, 27Google Scholar.

13 ‘Sermon trade’, 596.

14 The first volume of Trusler's memoirs was published in 1806 but met with widespread criticism because Trusler was famously combative and attacked printers and a number of other groups: Memoirs of the life of the Rev. Dr. Trusler with his opinions on a variety of interesting subjects, and his remarks through a long life, written by himself, Bath 1806. As a result ‘the author sought the suppression of these memoirs by destroying all copies he could meet with’: W. T. Lowndes, new edn enlarged and corrected by Bohn, H. G., The bibliographer's manual of English literature, London 1869, iv. 2715Google Scholar. As late as 1953 volume i of Trusler's memoirs was much sought after: Notes and Queries cxcviii (Oct. 1953), 448–9.

15 ‘On Dr Trusler's literary society’, Notes and Queries (May 1869), 156–7. Christina Lupton dates the sermons to 1790: ‘Creating the writers of the cleric's words’.

16 Morison, S., ‘The Trusler script types’, The Fleuron vii (1903), 164–5Google Scholar.

17 Trusler ms, 303. In this, Trusler told Bishop Terrick of London that ‘I mean to print an edition of the Common Prayer with the passages so pointed and the emphatic words so marked as to render it almost impossible with the least attention to read it without propriety.’ Terrick is also identified as the bishop who upbraided Trusler in G. Willis, Willis's current notes: a series of articles on antiquities, biography xxx (June 1853), 41.

18 McKitterick, D.A history of Cambridge University Press: scholarship and commerce, 1698–1872, Cambridge 2004, 34Google Scholar.

19 Morison, ‘The Trusler script types', 164.

20 Trusler ms, 288.

21 London Chronicle, 7–9 Jan. 1783.

22 This was possibly Charles Grignion but more likely to have been a relative, Reynolds Grignion, who worked for a number of booksellers: T. Murdoch, ‘Charles Grignion and Reynolds Grignion’, ODNB.

23 For a full discussion of the development of the read, memoriter and extempore sermon see Gibson, W., ‘The British sermon, 1689–1901: quantities, performance, and culture’, in Francis, K. and Gibson, W. (eds), The Oxford handbook of the British sermon, 1689–1901, Oxford 2012Google Scholar, 3–30.

24 Indeed the suggestion that there was concern that he had plagiarised them was mentioned in Encore vii (1945), 127.

25 Trusler ms, 288.

26 For an example of the way in which a parson might cannibalise such inherited sermons and blend them with printed works and those of his own composition see Stone, M., The diary of John Longe, Vicar of Coddenham, 1764–1832 (Suffolk Record Society li, 2008)Google Scholar.

27 Trusler ms, 289–90.

28 Ibid. 290–1.

29 Ibid. 292. This was at a time when there was an increase in such collections of sermons for the clergy. There were also catalogues for the use of clergy: see, for example, The English preacher: or, Sermons on the principal subjects of religion and morality; selected, revised, and abridged from various authors, London 1779, and Letsome, S., The preacher's assistant, Oxford 1754Google Scholar. The practical nature of Trusler's sermons is revealed in their titles, which include topics such as happiness and consolation.

30 Trusler ms, 293–4.

31 Ibid. 295.

32 Ibid. 296.

33 Ibid. 297.

34 Ibid.

35 Ibid. 298–9.

36 Gibson, ‘The British sermon’, 9–10.

37 The length of time taken to compose a sermon varies enormously but most clergy took considerably longer than half a day to compose an original sermon: Ibid. 13–14.

38 Visitations were often used as an opportunity for the gathered clergy to swap sermons: idem, “This itching ear'd age”: visitation sermons and charges in the eighteenth century’, in Francis and Gibson, Oxford handbook, 289–305.

39 Trusler ms, 300–1.

40 Ibid. 301.

41 John Hume, bishop of Salisbury (1703–77).

42 Trusler ms, 303.

43 Ibid. 306.

44 Ibid. 307.

45 Ibid. 305.

46 ‘Anecdotes of Dr Trusler’, The Athenaeum or Spirit of the English Magazines viii/6 (1820), 242. The Athenaeum was a digest of English magazines and news from England published in Boston for the American market, so it was likely to be detached in its view of Trusler and Terrick.

47 The claim that Trusler had ‘no academical education’ in Watkins, Shoberl and Upcott, Biographical dictionary, 1, 815, is erroneous.

48 For the contemporary demand for these qualities see Anon., Pulpit elocution: or Characters and principles of the most popular preachers of each denomination in the metropolis and its environs, London 1782Google Scholar.

49 Trusler, Memoirs, 95–6.

50 Idem, A sermon preached on the death of her Royal Highness the Princess of Orange, at the parish church of All-Saints, in Hertford, by the Rev Mr Trusler, London 1759.

51 Idem, Memoirs, 113–16.

52 Ibid. 4.

53 ‘Trusler looked on lawyers with the same feeling that a sailor regards a shark’: Willis, Willis's current notes, 41.

54 Trusler, Memoirs, 148–9. Trusler continued: ‘it is the office of the minster, when he ascends the pulpit, to consider the congregation as part of his family; whom it is his duty to awaken, to instruct and admonish; and any oscitancy on his part, any lukewarmness or remissness in the preacher will draw down on his head the vengeance of the Almighty'.

55 Ibid. 176–7.

56 The curriculum of the school included, among other things, reading, cadence, inflexion, synonyms, providing examples in language, writing style, development of memory, illustration from history, rhetoric and confidence: Ibid. 185–6.

57 On Trusler's father's death Mr Lowe also became the proprietor of the Marylebone Gardens.

58 Trusler ms, 17. This may be a reference to the fact that William Dodd, who was later hanged for fraud, took turns with Trusler in preaching at the chapel in Charlotte Street, Bloomsbury.

59 Gibson, ‘The British sermon’, 24.

60 Trusler ms, 34. Trusler added (p. 35): ‘It is not an uncommon thing in London to starve a lecturer, not as it is called, when they no longer approve of him by withholding their subscriptions. Indeed the derogatory mode of his election and collecting his money from house to house (for he is often expected to accompany the officers round the parish when they make their collections) is so degrading to religion and its ministers that nothing but necessity would induce many to accept such a provision. Though I met with great respect from my parishioners I made my lectureship a temporary convenience and resigned it when I could live without it.’

61 Ibid. 50.

62 Ibid. 161. Trusler calculated (pp. 163–4) that his income of c. £150 a year was not sufficient for him to bring up his family of three children.

63 Ibid. 191–2.

64 Ibid. 192.

65 For Romaine's success as a preacher see B. Tennant, ‘The sermons of the eighteenth-century Evangelicals’, in Francis and Gibson, Oxford handbook, 114–36.

66 Trusler, Memoirs, 108.

67 Ibid. 109–10.

68 Trusler ms, 192–3.

69 Ibid. 197.

70 Ibid. 311.

71 Morning Herald, I, no. 4151. Trusler styled himself ‘Doctor’, having studied at Leiden for the degree of MD in the 1760s, although there is no record of his having received the degree: Major, ‘Trusler, John’.

72 Hunt, F. Knight, The fourth estate: contributions towards a history of newspapers and the liberty of the press, London 1850, i. 217Google Scholar.

73 Cowper, W., The task, London 1785Google Scholar. Trusler said of Cowper's lampoon, ‘I can kiss the rod when chastised by a man of sense and understanding’: Trusler ms, 313.

74 Trusler ms, 314–21.

75 Strachan, J. R., Advertising and satirical culture in the Romantic period, Cambridge 2007, 112–13Google Scholar.

76 Orton, J., Letters to a young clergyman, from the late Reverend Mr. Job Orton, Shrewsbury–London 1791, 53Google Scholar.

77 L. T. Berguer, The British essayist: Knox's essays, xli (1823), 222.

78 G. M. Woodward and F. G. Byron, The clerical exercise, n.d.

79 The virgin shape warehouse, was published on 1 Sept. 1799, by S. W. Fores, no. 50 Piccadilly: Catalogue of prints and drawings in the British Museum: division I: political and personal satires, v. 7, no. 9456. The reference was to Trusler's various guides to female etiquette.

80 St John was the pseudonym of Samuel Clapham: Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. xi/284 (1867), 469–b–469.

81 Daniel Pape's first venture into print was a decade after Trusler's; he published Manuscript sermons on several subjects in 1787.

82 McKitterick, Cambridge University Press, 35.

83 Deconinck-Brossard, F.The art of preaching’, in van Eijnatten, J. (ed.), Preaching, sermon and cultural change in the long eighteenth century, Leiden 2009, 123Google Scholar.

84 The Record, 11 Nov. 1852, quoted in Griffths, H. T., Cowper: The task, with Tirocinium, and selections from the minor poems, 1784–99, Oxford 1875, 241Google Scholar.

85 The Athenaeum, a Journal of Literature, Science and the Fine Arts, 1725, 17 Nov. 1860, 667.

86 The New Monthly Magazine xiv (1820), 353.

87 Attwood, E. W., Stromata procatholica: a series of short papers principally procatholic or antidotal to Christianity to which are prefixed … letters on paper preaching, London 1864, 15Google Scholar.