Sir Roger at Church: Essay - Summary & Analysis

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Sundays in The Countryside

      Country Sundays are special occasions and the Spectator considers them of great value. These days see the country folk dressed in their best and putting on a cheerful front. Sunday, says Addison, clears the rust of the whole week. It not only refreshes the notions of religion in minds of the villagers but also makes them all come forth at best because each wants to appear good and become popular and distinguish himself. Church gatherings in the country have the same effect on the country folk as the Exchange has on the town dwellers.

Sir Roger’s Interest in the Village Church

      Sir Roger took great interest in the village church and also saw to it that his tenants attended church regularly. He had got the church decorated with quotations from the Bible which he selected himself. He had presented the church with a new pulpit cloth which was beautiful. He had also got the communion table enclosed in a railing. He had gifted parishioners with a Common Prayer book and a hassock to kneel on in church to encourage them to attend church regularly. Further, he had got a traveling musician to come and instruct the parishioners to sing the Psalms in the right tune, as a result, they prided themselves upon the fact that they sang much better than the congregation of any other village church.

Sir Roger’s Behaviour in Church

      Sir Roger being the landlord of all in the congregation felt personally responsible for their behavior and exerted his authority to keep them disciplined. He allowed no one to sleep in the church except himself. If he fell asleep during the sermon, on waking up he would look around and if he found anyone dozing off he would immediately wake up that person or send his servants to wake him up. Many of his oddities came out in the church. He would still be singing a verse long after it had been sung by the rest of the congregation. If he liked a particular prayer, he would say ‘amen’ a number of times at the end of that prayer. Often when the rest of the congregation was kneeling, he would stand to the count the number of people present to note anyone’s absence. If he felt anyone was disturbing the service, he would not stop from calling that person to order in the middle of the service. The parishioners were too simple and naive to find anything ridiculous in the behavior of the knight. In fact, these oddities merely served to make his virtues seem all the more striking.

Squire-chaplain Relationship

      Sir Roger and his chaplain had a perfect understanding between each other and there was an amicable relationship between them. This was all the more remarkable because, in the very next village, this cordial relation between squire and chaplain was absent. There the two were all the time indulging in some dispute. The person seemed to preach at the squire who stayed away from church. The parishioners were encouraged not to pay their dues to the upkeep of the clergyman and they became quite slack about attending church. The squire and the parson ought to have a good relationship with one another. The villagers were usually simple and generally equated richness with good sense and wisdom. They thus followed the squire’s viewpoint. This kind of discord led to eroding of faith in the commoners.


      The essay, Sir Roger at Church aims at a reform in the attendance at church. He desires peaceful relations between the squire and the parson in a village to ensure good attendance at church and improvement of the faith of people. In this essay, there is support of Steele’s appraisal of the character of Sir Roger as an eccentric man. The oddities of his character come out during the church service. There is much humor in his behavior at church and delicate irony too i.e, he allows no one to sleep during the service except himself; he has engaged a singing master for rest of the congregation but he is oblivious to the fact that he continues to sing for some time after the verse is finished! But the knight's interest in the church and his parishioners is genuine and though his behavior is odd, he has the best of the intentions behind his actions.

      Addison is frankly didactic in his aim. This essay is clearly critical of the prevailing habit of the country squire and the country parson being hostile to one another This according to Addison harmed the parishioners who slacked off and finally became atheistic. A harmonious relationship between the squire and the parson helps in the development of morality and steadfast religious faith. He gives the example of Sir Roger as the ideal to be followed. As usual, Addison conveys his point with the help of a concrete example.


      Line. 12-20. Sunday clears away......the bell rings: Sunday has a double beneficial effect on people of the countryside. Firstly it has a good effect on their minds and, secondly, it makes them put on their best appearances. It removes the deadening effect of the routine work of the weekdays from their minds. It refreshes their minds which are bored though working at the dull routine and renovates their belief in religion. It is a fresh change from the worldly business of making money and being clever through six whole days. The mind which has rusted under such conditions gets renewed with the thought of religion on Sunday. Further, Sunday bringing an opportunity for the villagers to gather at the church makes them all put on cheerful faces and their best dresses, so as to cut a good figure in the eyes of fellow villagers. Church-going serves the purpose of a social function in villages. The villager has an opportunity to distinguish himself and become popular with his fellow villagers at church gatherings just as his counterpart in the cities has a similar chance at the exchange. It is an opportunity to discuss local issues of the parish. After the sermon, the villagers can exchange their views on all matters and especially the village politics. The passage shows Addison’s felicity of expression. The essay is didactic in tone and here Addison as the Spectator explains the importance of Sunday. The passage also presents evidence of Addison s power of observation as when he remarks that villagers find an opportunity to discuss local politics at church gatherings.

      Line. 33-38. As Sir Roger......servants to them: In this essay Addison’s description of Sir Roger’s behavior in church vindicates Steel’s appraisal of the old knight’s character. At church, he gives ample evidence of his oddities. One such peculiarity is described in this passage. Sir Roger is the squire of the village and hence most of the villagers are his tenants and he their landlord. As such, he takes it upon himself to see that there is discipline kept up in the church during the service. He will see to it that no one in the congregation sleeps during the service, though he seems to exclude himself from the rule! He falls asleep by chance during the sermon at times. When he wakes up, however, he stands up and looks all over the congregation to see if anyone else had fallen asleep. If he sees anyone dozing or about to fall asleep, he wakes him up or he sends his servants to do so. This is most amusing and Addison has used irony most effectively in this humorous passage.

      Line. 51-59. This authority......good qualities: The oddities of Sir Roger’s character come to the surface in his behavior at church. Being the squire of the village and the landlord of most of the villagers, he exerts his authority to keep them disciplined. This authority is exerted in that peculiar manner that is typical of the knight. But it has a good effect upon the villagers and keeps them from behaving badly. The villagers are too simple and unrefined and unsophisticated to see anything odd in Sir Roger’s eccentric behavior. They do not find his conduct ridiculous. Indeed the knight has a number of good qualities. He is sensible and has a worthy character. As a result the eccentricities of behavior that he shows act as foils to show up his good side. The oddities act as a contrast to the good qualities and hence his friends appreciate his good sense all the better.

      Line. 79-94. The person is......than his patron: Sir Roger and his chaplain have a perfect relationship and understanding between each other. This is all the more remarkable because in the very next village, there is conflict between the squire and the parson. They do not get on well together and there is a continual state of discord between them. The person in his sermons always seems to hint that he is preaching against vices which are being indulged in by the squire. He seems to imply that the squire indulges in all kinds of vices. The squire to take his revenge against the parson has stopped attending the church. This has a bad effect and villagers, who follow the higher classes in their behavior, have slowly lost faith in religion and are turning atheists. As they see that the squire has no respect for the person, they do not pay the tax that they should do for the upkeep of the clergy. Every Sunday they hear from the parson about how dignified the office of a clergyman is and, at the same time, that he is a better man than the squire who is his patron. Addison is clearly didactic in writing this passage. He deplores discord between squire and clergy and condemns it for the bad effect it has on the parishioners. He conveys his point that such discord may be very harmful to the common people by giving a concrete example which he has invented for the purpose. The example also serves to add vividness to his conclusion.

      Line. 90-96. Feuds......believe it: Sir Roger and his chaplain have an amicable relationship but in the very next parish there was an example of discord between squire and parson. This kind of quarrel was only too common in the villages but they were very harmful to the welfare of the common people. These ordinary villagers are simple and are impressed by riches. They consider rich people to be intelligent and wise as well. They give equal respect to a rich man’s power of understanding and his wisdom as they do to that of a learned man. In fact, they respect a rich man’s judgment more than they do a learned man’s. It is very difficult to convince them that what a learned man says is true and useful if they are aware that a rich man does not pay these statements any respect. Such villagers do not have an independent outlook and generally follow the views of the rich. When they find that the rich squire and the parson quarrel, they prefer to follow the squire and lose their faith in religion. Addison is clearly didactic here. He is very much against the squires and their parsons indulging in a war of wits with each other for this invariably causes harm to the poor and simple villagers. He makes the valid observation that the lower classes generally follow the ways of the richer classes and the latter, therefore, should set them a good example. Note also the mild satire of the lines, “when they know there are several men of five hundred a year who do not believe it” a gentle dig at the simplicity of a common villager.

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