19th Century News Media Perception of British and American Religion
The Age of Enlightenment and Humour
Whether you are religious or not you have to admire the Victorians for their energies devoted to re-evaluating their beliefs. In previous generations the church was the centre of the community and it was taken for granted that children would be christened or baptised and that couples would have a church wedding.
With the dawning of the Victorian era people began to question their religious beliefs as much as they questioned everything else. It's not to say everyone ceased to be religious, although some did, but rather people began to base their faith on reasoning rather than just blind faith.
It should be stressed that this didn't suddenly happen in the 19th century, many dissenting Christian groups sprang up in England in the late 1640s following the English Civil War; it's just that as with everything else the process was accelerated in the Victorian era.
19th Century News Stories
This article gives a light-hearted snapshot of religious views and values as often portrayed in British and American newspapers in the 19th century; frequently by republishing humorous religious story’s previously published in other newspaper as fillers, a common technique at that time for filling spare space on the page.
The source of these (often humorous) religious articles showcased in this article is from the Victorian scrapbook of George Burgess, born in 1829. George Burgess was religious, but he also had a good sense of humour, and it is thanks to him compiling a scrapbook of over 500 newspaper articles reflecting his views, humour and taste, that I have been able to get a good insight into Victorian values and pass some of this material on in this article.
So below, as well as snippets of 19th century religious themed newspaper articles I’ve also included a brief section on George Burgess and his religious leaning; along with a link to my genealogy website where I’ve transcribed his religious written thoughts in full.
George Burgess (1829-1905)
Bristolian Phrenologist From 1861 to 1901
My great-great-grandfather, George Burgess (1829-1905) was religious; he thought about his beliefs deeply before writing his religious thoughts down in several volumes. In his writings he stressed that the bible could not be taken literally, he also went on to explain in great detail why he believed the messiah could not have been a virgin birth and why he couldn't have risen from the dead three days after his death.
George Burgess was a form of spiritualist by faith, believing in the spirit in everything; not just the human spirit but a spirit that went through everything (organic and inorganic) and connected everything e.g. the spirit in the seed that makes the seed grow and blossom into a tree. It sounds a bit like Buddhism to me, or even a little akin to the energy force in quantum! But nevertheless his profession of Phrenology is based on the scriptures; although I'm not quite sure what the connection is? His religious writings along with the Victorian era newspapers referred to in this article are all freely available for viewing on Nathanville, link to website below.
Full Transcript of George Burgess Writings
- George Burgess Religious Thoughts
A seleciton of religious thoughts written by George Burgess, includes bodily life and death
19th Century Religious Articles
Published in British and American Newspapers
Below are three newspaper articles on religion, selected from the Victorian Scrapbook of Newspaper articles compiled by George Burgess during his working life. These newspaper articles are interesting in that two of them where published in newspapers as 'fillers', one re-published in England several times and the other, a fictional story based on a real character, first published in American newspapers and then recycled in newspapers all over the world from the 1850s to the 1880s.
The third Victorian newspaper article is just humorous and no doubt was also used as 'filler' e.g. to fill the space on the page.
Further information on these and other Victorian era newspaper articles can be found on my Nathanville genealogy website.
Paul Denton and the Famous Barbeque
19th Century Methodist Preacher in Texas, America
This Newspaper Articles Starts:-
Paul Denton, A Methodist preacher in Texas, once advertised a barbecue, with better liquor than usually furnished. When the people were assembled, a fellow in the crowd cried out, "Mr Paul Denton, your reverence has lied. You promised us not only good barbecue, but better liquor. Where is the liquor?" "There!" answered the missionary, in the tones of thunder, and pointed his finger at the matchless double spring, gushing upon two strong columns, with a sound like a shout of joy from the bosom of the earth. "There!" he repeated, "there is the liquor which God, the Eternal, brews for all His children!
Paul Denton was a fictionalized account based on the life of John B Denton, a pioneer preacher who went to Texas in 1837, became a lawyer and in 1841 engaged in fighting Indians; but unfortunately for him he was the only Texan killed in the battle.
The story of Paul Denton and the Barbeque was used in newspapers all around the world as filler from the 1850s to the 1880s.
Full Transcript of the Paul Denton Newspaper Story
- Paul Denton - A Methodist preacher
The full transcript of Paul Denton - A Methodist preacher.
Religion in Amusements
A Singular Sermon (1750)
This story (A Singular Sermon), first published in 1750 was republished in a British newspaper in the 1890s (as a filler story) with the following introduction:-
The following singular sermon, which has recently been reprinted in a tract at Diss, in Norfolk, is said to be authentic. This title is "A Sermon occasioned by the Death of Mr. Proctor, Minister of Gissing, by the Rev, Mr. Moore, of Burston, in Norfolk." It is surmised to have been preached about one hundred and forty years ago, in the parish church of Burston, a small village near Diss. Most of the names mentioned in this curious - but considering the times and manners of the locality, rather characteristic - discourse, are now standing in the register books of the said parish, thus so far supporting the reality of the sermon. In 1750 it was printed in the British Magazine for November, and a manuscript copy of it was found in an old wall, pulled down at Wisbeach, in 1823. We thus introduce it, and we give the discourse entire, which we are able to do without trespassing much on our own space, as it has, at least, the merit of brevity: -
British Humour and No Doubt Another 'Filler' Story
More Examples of Religion in 19th Newspaper PublicationsClick thumbnail to view full-size
An Enlightening Vote
Nothing to do With Religion
You've seen from these Victorian era newspaper articles that the Victorians, although they may have taken religion serious were lighthearted about it and had plenty of room in there publications to add a good stock of 'filler' stories to their pages.
Do you find these newspaper fillers enlightening or just a waste of space?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2011 Arthur Russ