Friday, May 24, 2019


An Agreeable Way of Life

A.N. Wilson, The Victorians (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2003), p. 425:
It is difficult for me to conceive of any more agreeable way of life than that of the Victorian country parson. If I had to choose my ideal span of life, I should choose to have been born in the 1830s, the son of a parson with the genetic inheritance of strong teeth. (Improvements in dentistry are surely among the few unambiguous benefits brought to the human race by the twentieth century.) I should avoid a public school education through being 'delicate', and arrive at Balliol with a good knowledge of Greek to be taught by Benjamin Jowett. (The Tractarians would pass me by, but after my ordination, upon being elected to a fellowship, I should take a bemused and tolerant interest in the Ritualist churches while having no wish to imitate their liturgical customs.) After a short spell — say, five years — teaching undergraduates at the Varsity, one of them would introduce me to his pretty, bookish sister, and we should be married. I should resign my fellowship and be presented with a college living, preferably a medieval church, a large draughty Georgian rectory and glebe enough to provide the family with 'subsistence'. By now it would be, let us say, the 1860s, and I should remain here for the next forty years, a faithful friend to generations of villagers to whom I would act as teacher, amateur doctor and social worker, as well as priest. My wife, cleverer than I, would read French, German and Italian with our innumerable children and be pleased when the daughters entered St Hugh's or Somerville. Whether any of the sons — keen cyclists, antiquarians, butterfly-collectors and botanists all, like their father, all good at Latin and all admirers of William Morris and George Bernard Shaw — would follow me into a clergyman's career is unlikely, for we should all have Doubts, and the children, as they grew up, would be more honest than their father about expressing them. Perhaps as the country parson, approaching fifty by the time of Disraeli's death, I would instinctively feel that I had entered upon a drama which was coming to an end; that the Age of Faith, embodied in the old medieval building where, every day, I read aloud from the Book of Common Prayer, had irrevocably been destroyed — whether by Capitalism, or Darwin, or Railways, or Imperialism, or a nebulous Zeitgeist, who could say?
Related post: I Wasn't Born for an Age Like This.

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