29 November 2015

Mark Pattison (2): Problems of Concelebration

Mark Pattison did not confine his uncomprehending contempt to women and papists; anybody who seemed to him to stand in the way of his own boundless self-esteem aroused his helplessly intemperate verbal malevolence. In 1851, the Rectorship of Lincoln College in this University came up for election. Pattison inevitably and with total certainty knew that he was the obvious candidate. Here is his infuriated reaction to learning that another Fellow, John Calcott, also proposed to offer himself. (I should explain to those who are not of the Patrimony that in those days common Anglican Eucharistic practice was for the Celebrant to stand and kneel at the North End of the Altar, and, if there was another priest or deacon assisting, he was at the South End.)

"As I stood opposite Calcott at the altar-table on Sunday, I could not help a feeling, very untimely at that place, that I should be supposed to be engaged in competition with such a snubby, dirty, useless little dog."

You could do worse than read Pattison. I have not laughed so much on turning the pagers of a book since, so long ago now, I read Evelyn Waugh's Decline and Fall for the first time. For once, the pastiche of Pattison's style confected by Mgr R A Knox (Let Dons Delight, Notes to Chapter VII) is, yes, very funny, but not funnier than the reality (ht to the erudite Sue Sims for the Knox reference). Could any satirist ever have imagined that even a self-obsessed bigot like Pattison would give away his own interior corruption quite as obviously and risibly as in the above sentence?

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