For many eighteenth-century Britons, attending church on Sunday marked the high point of the week. They expected a performance from the man on the pulpit, but unfortunately they were often disappointed. In her diary for September 29, 1785, Lady Eleanor Butler notes, “Went into the Church, heard the Vicar by his snuffling, Lisping, and Vile reading spoil the most awful and Solemn Service.”

Sensing a need, John Trusler, an enterprising Church of England clergyman-turned-publisher, issued The Sublime Reader with careful instructions on how to perform the service, including the advice to keep the sermon “short and plain,” so as not to overtax the listener.

Even better, he published a powerful collection of ready-made sermons for idea-strapped colleagues to resort to in a pinch. To fool...


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