At various places in Suffolk (as elsewhere) penny readings take
place "for the instruction and amusement of the lower classes".
There is a little town in Suffolk called Eye, where the subject of
one of these readings was a tale (by Mr. Wilkie Collins) from the
last Christmas Number of this Journal, entitled "Picking up Waifs at
Sea". It appears that the Eye gentility was shocked by the
introduction of this rude piece among the taste and musical glasses
of that important town, on which the eyes of Europe are notoriously
always fixed. In particular, the feelings of the vicar's family
were outraged; and a Local Organ (say, the Tattlesnivel Bleater)
consequently doomed the said piece to everlasting oblivion, as being
of an "injurious tendency!"
When this fearful fact came to the knowledge of the unhappy writer
of the doomed tale in question, he covered his face with his robe,
previous to dying decently under the sharp steel of the
ecclesiastical gentility of the terrible town of Eye. But the
discovery that he was not alone in his gloomy glory, revived him,
and he still lives.
For, at Stowmarket, in the aforesaid county of Suffolk, at another
of those penny readings, it was announced that a certain juvenile
sketch, culled from a volume of sketches (by Boz) and entitled "The
Bloomsbury Christening", would be read. Hereupon, the clergyman of
that place took heart and pen, and addressed the following terrific
epistle to a gentleman bearing the very appropriate name of Gudgeon:
STOWMARKET VICARAGE, Feb. 25, 1861.
SIR,--My attention has been directed to a piece called "The
Bloomsbury Christening" which you propose to read this evening.
Without presuming to claim any interference in the arrangement of
the readings, I would suggest to you whether you have on this
occasion sufficiently considered the character of the composition
you have selected. I quite appreciate the laudable motive of the
promoters of the readings to raise the moral tone amongst the
working class of the town and to direct this taste in a familiar and
pleasant manner. "The Bloomsbury Christening" cannot possibly do
this. It trifles with a sacred ordinance, and the language and
style, instead of improving the taste, has a direct tendency to
I appeal to your right feeling whether it is desirable to give
publicity to that which must shock several of your audience, and
create a smile amongst others, to be indulged in only by violating
the conscientious scruples of their neighbours.
The ordinance which is here exposed to ridicule is one which is much
misunderstood and neglected amongst many families belonging to the
Church of England, and the mode in which it is treated in this
chapter cannot fail to appear as giving a sanction to, or at least
excusing, such neglect.
Although you are pledged to the public to give this subject, yet I
cannot but believe that they would fully justify your substitution
of it for another did they know the circumstances. An abridgment
would only lessen the evil in a degree, as it is not only the style
of the writing but the subject itself which is objectionable.
Excuse me for troubling you, but I felt that, in common with
yourself, I have a grave responsibility in the matter, and I am most
T. S. COLES.
To Mr. J. Gudgeon.
It is really necessary to explain that this is not a bad joke. It
is simply a bad fact.