The next morning I put on clean linen, which I had along with me, and dressed myself as well as I could. And now, when I thus made my appearance, they did not, as they had the evening before, show me into the kitchen, but into the parlour, a room that seemed to be allotted for strangers, on the ground-floor. I was also now addressed by the most respectful term, "sir;" whereas the evening before I had been called only "master": by this latter appellation, I believe, it is usual to address only farmers and quite common people.
This was Sunday, and all the family were in their Sunday-clothes. I now began to be much pleased with this village, and so I resolved to stop at it for the day, and attend divine service. For this purpose I borrowed a prayer-book of my host. Mr. Illing was his name, which struck me the more, perhaps, because it is a very common name in Germany. During my breakfast I read over several parts of the English liturgy, and could not help being struck at the circumstance that every word in the whole service seems to be prescribed and dictated to the clergyman. They do not visit the sick but by a prescribed form; as, for instance, they must begin by saying, "Peace be to this house," &c.
Its being called a prayer-book, rather than, like ours, a hymn-book, arises from the nature of the English service, which is composed very little of singing, and almost entirely of praying. The psalms of David, however, are here translated into English verse, and are generally printed at the end of English prayer-books.
The prayer-book which my landlord lent me was quite a family piece, for all his children's births and names, and also his own wedding-day, were very carefully set down on it. Even on this account alone the book would not have been uninteresting to me.
At half-past nine the service began. Directly opposite to our house, the boys of the village were all drawn up, as if they had been recruits to be drilled; all well-looking, healthy lads, neat and decently dressed, and with their hair cut short and combed on the forehead, according to the English fashion; their bosoms were open, and the white frills of their shirts turned back on each side. They seemed to be drawn up here at the entrance of the village merely to wait the arrival of the clergyman.
I walked a little way out of the village, where, at some distance, I saw several people coming from another village, to attend divine service here at Nettlebed.
At length came the parson on horseback. The boys pulled off their hats, and all made him very low bows. He appeared to be rather an elderly man, and wore his own hair round and decently dressed, or rather curled naturally.
The bell now rung in, and so I too, with a sort of secret proud sensation, as if I also had been an Englishman, went with my prayer-book under my arm to church, along with the rest of the congregation; and when I got into the church, the clerk very civilly seated me close to the pulpit.
Nothing can possibly be more simple, apt, and becoming than the few decorations of this church.
Directly over the altar, on two tables in large letters, the ten commandments were written. There surely is much wisdom and propriety in thus placing, full in the view of the people, the sum and substance of all morality.
Under the pulpit near the steps that led up to it, was a desk, from which the clergyman read the liturgy, the responses were all regularly made by the clerk; the whole congregation joining occasionally, though but in a low voice; as for instance, the minister said, "Lord, have mercy upon us!" the clerk and the congregation immediately subjoin, "and forgive us all our sins." In general, when the clergyman offers up a prayer, the clerk and the whole congregation answer only, Amen!
The English service must needs be exceedingly fatiguing to the officiating minister, inasmuch as besides a sermon, the greatest part of the liturgy falls to his share to read, besides the psalms and two lessons.
The joining of the whole congregation in prayer has something exceedingly solemn and affecting in it.
Two soldiers, who sat near me in the church, and who had probably been in London, seemed to wish to pass for philosophers, and wits; for they did not join in the prayers of the church.
The service was now pretty well advanced, when I observed some little stir in the desk, the clerk was busy, and they seemed to be preparing for something new and solemn, and I also perceived several musical instruments. The clergyman now stopped, and the clerk then said in a loud voice, "Let us sing to the praise and glory of God, the forty-seventh psalm."
I cannot well express how affecting and edifying it seemed to me, to hear this whole orderly and decent congregation, in this small country church, joining together with vocal and instrumental music, in the praise of their Maker. It was the more grateful, as having been performed, not by mercenary musicians, but by the peaceful and pious inhabitants of this sweet village. I can hardly figure to myself any offering more likely to be grateful to God.
The congregation sang and prayed alternately several times, and the tunes of the psalms were particularly lively and cheerful, though at the same time sufficiently grave, and uncommonly interesting. I am a warm admirer of all sacred music, and I cannot but add that that of the Church of England is particularly calculated to raise the heart to devotion; I own it often affected me even to tears.