The Vicar & Moses

Figure group, earthenware (pearlware), Staffordshire, 1790–1810. Gift of Thomas N. and A. Pat Bernard 2002.30.84

Figure group, earthenware (pearlware), Staffordshire, 1790–1810. Gift of Thomas N. and A. Pat Bernard 2002.30.84

Mug, earthenware (creamware), Staffordshire, Eng., 1785–1805. Gift of John A and Judith C. Herdeg 2011.18

Mug, earthenware (creamware), Staffordshire, Eng., 1785–1805. Gift of John A and Judith C. Herdeg 2011.18

The humorous figure group and mug shown here probably were made in Staffordshire around 1800. They are two of five English ceramics at Winterthur that portray a popular 18th-century satirical theme known as “The Vicar and Moses.”

The popular Vicar and Moses theme satirized the Church of England and also was represented in published prints and songs from the mid-1700s onward. Simply put, the story refers to a country vicar who was much more interested in spending time at the local tavern than in tending his flock. In the portion of the story referred to on the figure group and mug, the vicar’s clerk, Moses, comes to the tavern to lead the drunken vicar off to say prayers at the graveside of a young child.

The printed design on the mug most closely resembles a print published in England by Bowles and Carver in 1785, but variations also were available from Thomas Colley (published by Hannah Humphrey, 1782) and Thomas Rowlandson (1784), among others. Some of the prints feature verses from a poem about the Vicar and Moses with varied wordings ultimately thought to be based on lyrics by G. A. Stevens, Esq. Alternatively, one might have read the poem in widely published in works such as The London Magazine or Gentleman’s Monthly Intelligencer (London, 1771) or George Alexander Stevens’ Songs, Comic, and Satyrical (Oxford, 1782).

The below verse is from a print by Bowles and Carver, which was reissued after 1793*:

I’m come Sir, says he, to beg d’ye see

of your R’verend Worship and Glory

To inter a poor baby with as much speed as maybe

And I’ll walk with my Lanthorn before ye.
The body we’ll bury but pray where’s the hurry

Why lord, Sir, the Corps it does stay

You fool hold your peace since miracles cease

A corpse, Moses, can’t run away.

Bring Moses some beer and bring me some d’ye hear

I hate to be call’d from my liquor.

Come Moses the King, tis a scandalous thing

Such a subject should be but a Vicar.

Join us and learn more about English and other ceramics at Winterthur’s upcoming Ceramics Up Close symposium, April 14–15, 2016.

For more these and other Vicar and Moses-themed ceramics at Winterthur, visit our online museum database.

Post by Leslie B. Grigsby, Senior Curator of Ceramics & Glass, Winterthur Museum

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