The Ritualistic Girl (1869)

AMONG the many vagaries of the girls of the present day, there is none that so entirely engrosses them as the fancy for attending Ritualistic services, and indulging in the antics which the advanced High Churchmen teach their congregations. And it is easy to see why this should be the case, why the Ritualistic girl takes to the glorification of weak-minded curates, and the worship of vestments, with an enthusiasm worthy of being directed towards nobler ends. For woman is essentially a worshipping creature. She is not particular as to the object of her worship, so long as she is able to set something or somebody upon an ideal pedestal, and swing the censer and burn the incense to her heart’s content. A girl will worship her lover, or it may be her father; a wife will worship her husband or her child; a mother her sons or daughters. So that when an opportunity is afforded to women of alternating the highest worship of all with the earthly worship of a curate and a little clerical flirtation, the combination of attractions is irresistible, and she throws herself heart and soul into that mixture of mummeries and millinery known as Ritualism. Delighting in what Clough calls 

“Pseudo-learning and lies, confessional-boxes and postures, 
Here, with metallic beliefs and regimental devotions.”

Certainly the Ritualistic shepherds gather the choicest lambs into their fold. Girls with the prettiest faces, the most glorious hair, the neatest and smallest hands and feet, are just those who delight in chasuble and alb, who attend innumerable services with genuflections and prostrations, and who perform pretty little penances in private. It has even been said by profane observers, that the reverend shepherds show a distinct preference for comely converts, and that the odour of sanctity has not destroyed the liking of these ascetic priests for a fair head, with its coronal of golden hair, like Pyrrha’s lover, “perfusus liquidis odoribus.”

We are far from blaming our reverend friends for such tastes; but seeing that some of the leaders of the Ritualistic movement begin to hint at a celibate priesthood, an over indulgence in pretty penitents is, to say the least of it, rather dangerous. It is very curious to see how in a Ritualistic church the preacher invariably addresses his fervid rubbish especially to the women. Shouting at them, gesticulating at them, and attracting their wondering looks by those hysterical ravings which men at once reject as proceeding from one of Sydney Smith’s “wild curates.” We say hysterical ravings advisedly; and if any one of our readers chooses to visit St. Alban’s, Holborn, and hears one of the junior clergy there, he will at once see that we have not spoken too strongly, and will return home a sadder, but assuredly not a wiser man.

For purposes of discussion and analysis, the Ritualistic girl may be divided into two classes. First, those afflicted with what, to adopt a nomenclature of diseases, we may call Curatomania; and, secondly, those girls who are led into the toils by the desire of indulging in the aesthetic and sensual gratification which springs from Church services conducted with swinging lamps, with gorgeous vestments, with incense, with much posturing, intoning, and music. 

Let us first consider the Girl of the Period when under the influence of Curatomania. Like all diseases which affect the brain, this fatal mania generally commences with mildness, but unless the premonitory symptoms are carefully watched and checked, it grows with alarming rapidity. It is not that a girl cares for the florid services which she begins so zealously to attend, but that they are a means towards the great end—a sufficiency of curates. Her ordinary occupations become distasteful to her; her piano palls, her croquet is no longer charming to her, unless the Rev. Maniple Muff is near her to tum over the music, and join in the Gregorians, or place the variegated balls in position for the croquet, when the dainty bottine and arched instep are so prettily exposed, and when the fair arm is raised to strike. Then, as to early and late services, the dear devotee privately considers them a bore, and is terribly ennuyed by their length and dreariness; but when the mild Maniple officiates, bobbing about before the altar, and in the pulpit, like a Jack-in-the-box, a halo of love and romance is cast over the whole scene. When the poor little thing goes to confession she has nothing whatever to tell but the secret that the fluttering heart strives so hard to hide,—the love and admiration for the vacuous and conceited young man who listens to her artless tale. No wonder that young Maniple, who was thought rather an ass at Oriel, and is by no means a prophet in his own home, is puffed up with vain-glory and egotism, when half the beaux yeux in the neighbourhood brighten at the sight of his smooth-shaven face and purple stole. Occasionally we confess to a gentle pity for Maniple, for he must be sadly perplexed sometimes as to which fair saint is to be honoured by his preference. Polygamy is unfortunately forbidden by the strict laws of our prudish country: were it in vogue, a Pasha of Three Tails would hide his diminished head in comparison with our Maniple. But a day will come when one pretty saint will have brought down the game, when the curate is bagged and led to the altar decked with sacrificial garlands. Then will the choral service be sung, and the church made splendid with floral decorations; then will the ninety-and-nine young creatures who have angled for Maniple, and been unsuccessful in securing him, attend gracefully at his immolation. Let us hope that he will make la petite happy, for, after all, the little thing deserves it.

We have seen that Curatomania is only a fitful fever, and that the patient generally recovers; but much more serious consequences may ensue when the Girl of the Period has taken to Ritualism au sérieux, or from an infatuated love of ornate worship, and a blind belief in the fetish of an infallible priesthood. She may be a good girl, and a sensible girl on most matters, may have cultivated tastes and a ready wit; but her poor little soul is so steeped in the fashionable superstition, that her intelligence is warped and injured. In certain directions it becomes inordinately active, and she will chatter about Mr. Ffoulkes and the Filioque argument, and discourse of the Real Presence, till the hearer is ready to anathematize the clerical bigots who have dared to teach such pretty lips to do anything but the conjugation of amo in congenial company. This class of Ritualistic Girl looks with scorn upon men, and in her eyes the curate is a priest, endowed with strange sanctity and miraculous powers. Perchance her spiritual adviser professes celibacy, and they hold confidential conversations regarding the state of her soul, which they would be highly indignant to hear stigmatized as flirtations. But our priest is a man, and the fair penitent is a woman; and no amount of sophistry can blind us to the fact that these pseudo-spiritual flirtations are the most dangerous of all. “Oh, do not say a word against passion!” shrieked an hysterical boy in the pulpit of St. Alban’s a few Sundays ago, while the feminine part of his audience fluttered and blushed beneath his gaze, as his vacuous face leered over the edge of the desk. We have no wish to rival Mr. Swinburne in analyzing or dissecting passion. This, however, we do take leave to say, that the relationships between a Ritualistic priest and the fairer portion of his flock are none the less reprehensible, although cloaked under the name of spiritual guidance and help. Religion, to be of any use, should work upon the conscience and not on the senses; and neither man nor woman was ever led to God by hysterical declamation, sensuous imagery, and gaudy accessories of worship.

After all, the Ritualistic girl is only grasping at the shadow when the substance is within her reach. If she really wants services conducted on the highest scale of aesthetic splendour, the Scarlet Lady will open her arms, and messieurs the penny-a-liners of the Tablet will rejoice over her perversion. Then, like the bishop in Saint Praxed’s, she can—

“—Hear the blessed mutter of the mass,
And see God made and eaten all day long,
And feel the steady candle-flame, and taste
Good, strong, thick, stupefying incense-smoke!”

The enthusiasm with which the Ritualistic girl throws herself into all the details of a life in accordance with the fashions of modern Ritualism is truly wonderful. She will rise at all sorts of untimely hours to attend services with Romish names; she will deck herself with crosses and crucifixes till she looks like an image of the Madonna gone mad; she will cross herself, will bow and posture, and, in short, perform all the antics now in vogue without a murmur, and with no sense of their absurdity and in congruity when practised in God’s Temple. We are speaking, be it observed, of the thorough-going Ritualistic devotee, and not of those girls who only take up Ritualism as “the newest thing out,” just as they adopt fly-away hats and the “Pincez-moi-cela.” The latter form a large part of every Ritualistic congregation, and look on at all the vagaries with eyes of wonder and much amusement. They go because the vestments are “so pretty, you know,” and the clergymen (save the mark) “so nice.” Then the acolytes are “such dear little boys,” the singing is so heavenly, and so forth. They would go to hear Dr. Cumming or Mr. Spurgeon with equal glee, and are not at all prejudiced in favour of the doctrines of the Ritualists, but only admire the millinery.

And, indeed, it is the millinery, if they would only own it, which is the great attraction even to the most rabid of the enthusiasts. A plain surplice has no chance against embroidered stoles and magnificently coloured copes heavy with gold lace. It is not in feminine nature to withstand such attractions; and when to them is added the pale-faced young man who intones the prayers in the sweetest sing-song, the acolytes like little cherubs, the lighted candles and the bedizened shrine, down goes our dear little Ritualist on her knees, with just enough consciousness of a prettier bonnet than her neighbour’s to give a pleasant piquancy to her devotions, and fondly imagines that she is praying juxta crucem.

With just as much sense of devotion will she, in some atelier, attire herself in the fantastic trappings of the Madonna, and long for the homage bestowed upon a saint; while an enthusiastic friend looks on and smiles with all the fervour of a woman who first beholds a new fashion in bonnets—or vestments.

But we must take leave of our Ritualistic Girl, and we do it with the tenderest regret. Very loveable is she, in spite of the wayward eccentricities of her nature and the freaks in which she indulges at the bidding of the vacuous fanatics who rule in the high places of Ritualism. But a day will come when the dream will be over, when the whim will have passed away; and when she awakes to the common sense that will give an added charm to her wise little brains, we shall welcome her back to the pleasant ways of the world, with no thought of the dark days of superstition and fetish-worship, with no remembrance of her devotion to that cult, fully as dangerous and well-nigh as sensual as the adoration of Our Lady of Pain.

—The Girl of the Period Miscellany (London), March, 1869, pp. 63-64.

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