In the age of the aristocrat, younger sons were notoriously out of luck when it came to inheriting titles and lands and all other good things that came with be born into a wealthy family. That meant they had to get a job. No, not one where they'd actually have to work, Silly! They were still blue blood after all. The two common options for these younger sons was a career in the military (like Frederick Tilney in Northanger Abbey) or the clergy (like Henry Tilney or Edmund Bertram from Mansfield Park). Although the two career paths seem quite opposite, one did not necessarily have to have a strong faith in order to become an Anglican vicar or rector. In fact, having your own rectory or vicarage was quite easy, hence the blue blood career choice, there were books of sermons which you could read from every Sunday in church (most of England didn't attend regularly at the time anyway so it didn't matter). Local farmers were forced to pay the salary of the local clergy so quality of work was of little consequence.
It's no wonder so many rich young men chose this "humble" career. It allowed for a lot of free time in order to pursue other hobbies; hobbies which had nothing to do with being a man of God. In Bill Bryson's book, At Home, he has laid out what a few of these clergymen managed to accomplish with their free time:
- Reverend Thomas Bayes (1701-1761) came up with the extremely complex math theorem which is used today to do things like predict stock market behavior and climate change.
- Laurence Stern (1717-1768) wrote The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman.
- Reverend John Michell (1724–1793) taught William Herschel how to build a telescope, which he did and then discovered Uranus.
- William Buckland (1784-1856) wrote the first scientific description of dinosaurs, and was the one who named Dr Plot's discovery, Megalosaurus.
- Reverend Jack Russell (1795-1883) bred a new breed of terrier.
- Reverend George Garrett (1852–1902) invented the submarine