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I read an article talking about operagoers in the 18th and 19th centuries, and it says:

“Society goes to the opera to see and be seen,” an American proclaimed. “It goes to exchange gossip, to chatter about the things of the day, to criticise a fashion, or a book, or a new preacher.” Rarely, however, did the operagoers pay much attention to the action on the stage.

Does "preacher" here refer to a person whose occupation is to preach the gospel, such as a pastor or minister? 'Cause I can see why people would criticise a fashion or a book in their conversations, but why whould they especially criticise a preacher?

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    At the time, preachers and their preaching were looked on almost as a form of entertainment, so people might attend church A, where the preacher gave a 'good' sermon, rather than church B, where the sermons were dull & lifeless. – jamesqf Apr 21 '15 at 4:34
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    There were also travelling preachers, who would arrive in the town or city and preach at a church or other public place. – Sydney Apr 21 '15 at 4:52
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Since people insist on answering in comments, I guess I'll take credit by putting them together into an answer.

Yes, the word 'preacher' here is used in the sense of a pastor or minister. Per jamesqf's comment, listening to preachers was, at the time, a form of entertainment in addition to a religious activity. As Sydney mentions, there were also traveling preachers, who would (depending on their style) either give lectures (just as a scholar, author or politician on tour might do) or simply shout their sermons on the streets.

Discussing these preachers and comparing one to another would thus be a normal sort of thing for gossipy opera-goers to do.

  • Unfortunately, I've found that if I make an actual answer, someone is likely to insist on references, or even delete the answer because it doesn't have them. Which sort of defeats the purpose of answering the OP's question, if the delete happens before s/he looks at the thread again. – jamesqf Apr 22 '15 at 4:51
  • @jamesqf Demanding references on ELL is obnoxious and inappropriate, since much of what we offer is native speakers' knowledge that cannot be found in any reference. When was an answer of yours deleted for such a reason? – Ben Kovitz May 26 '15 at 10:49

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