“You assign greater consequence to the clergyman than one has been used to hear given, or than I can quite comprehend. One does not see much of this influence and importance in society, and how can it be acquired where they are so seldom seen themselves? How can two sermons a week, even supposing them worth hearing, supposing the preacher to have the sense to prefer Blair’s to his own, do all that you speak of? govern the conduct and fashion the manners of a large congregation for the rest of the week? One scarcely sees a clergyman out of his pulpit.” (Mansfield Park, Chapter IX)
Mansfield Park is abundant in literary allusions. In the quote above, Miss Crawford has just learned that Edmund Bertram intends to become a clergyman, and is speaking in a demeaning way of the profession and its influence, although allowing slight exceptions, as in the case of the Revd. Hugh Blair.
Hugh Blair lived from April 7, 1718 to December 27, 1800. He was a popular Scottish Presbyterian preacher and author. He received his license as a preacher in 1741. He is best known for his last three works, A Critical Dissertation on the Poems of Ossian, the Son of Fingal, five volumes of Sermons, and Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres. He also published several other books, including an edition of Shakespeare’s works edited by himself.
The first volume of Blair’s Sermons was published in 1777. The fifth was not published until 1801, after his death. They had all been published by the time Jane Austen wrote Mansfield Park. Blair’s Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres (47 lectures written during his twenty-five years as professor of rhetoric and belles lettres at the University of Edinburgh, and published in 1783, after he retired) are alluded to in Northanger Abbey:
“Henry,” said Miss Tilney, “you are very impertinent. Miss Morland, he is treating you exactly as he does his sister. He is forever finding fault with me, for some incorrectness of language, and now he is taking the same liberty with you. The word ‘nicest,’ as you used it, did not suit him; and you had better change it as soon as you can, or we shall be overpowered with Johnson and Blair all the rest of the way.” (Northanger Abbey, Chapter XIV)