27 November 2015

Mark Pattison (1)

If you want an unbelievably amusing read ... a thoroughly unintentionally amusing read ... I commend the autobiography ("Memoirs of an Oxford Don") of Blessed John Henry's contemporary at Oxford, Mark Pattison, later Rector of Lincoln College in this University. At one time a fervent High Churchman and admirer of Newman, he did not follow Newman into Full Communion; instead, he ended up slipping into what looks like the most liberal kind of Deism.

He is one of the most delightfully and naively self-opinionated fools, fools prejudiced (for example) against women and papists, known to History. Most ludicrously comic are his accounts of those whose theological convictions moved in a direction opposite to his own. Here he is writing about a female relative: "This girl early developed a masculine understanding. It was a dominant and urgent element in her constitution ... ... speculative ability ... ... perseverance in learning ... ... she taught herself Latin, Greek (which seems incredible), Italian, German, Mathematics ... ... command over the range of history, ancient and modern, that I have never known in anybody since ... ... I have known some of the wittiest, the ablest, and the best read men of my time [of course you have, Mark, of course you have], but I do not exaggerate when I say that this woman at about thirty-five was a match in power and extent of knowledge for any of them ... we corresponded upon books, upon everything we thought or read, from as early a period as I remember, she leading and I following ... "

Sadly, however, and, to poor Pattison, incomprehensibly, the girl became a papist ("her perversion preceded that of Newman")! Pattison's account of this wonderfully admirable bluestocking concludes with these hilarious two sentences: "[She and her mother] lived about a great deal in Italy, etc., afterwards, and had every opportunity of seeing the seamy side of practical Catholicism; but my cousin saw it not. Can such a wreck of a noble intellect by religious fanaticism be paralleled?"
More fun later.


Sixupman said...

My day has been lightened!

UnanimousConsent said...


Why do you read this blog if you dislike the author? Strangeness.

eulogos said...


The "other" in this case is long deceased, and so not going to feel any sting from Fr. Hunwicke's remarks.

Do you really think "believe differently from you" is an adequate characterization of Pattison's blind ethnocentric prejudice? Because his reaction certainly was not based on theology. It was about those swarthy, greasy, ignorant, superstitious, overemotional, loud, Italians. And about Bloody Mary, the Spanish Armada, Guy Fawkes, and the entire false view of the English Reformation he had absorbed since infancy, in which the light of the Reformation and the Gospel broke on the darkness of superstition.

When someone is so ensconced in such a prejudice, one which is fading and which we can now see through, taking some relish in how foolish he now looks is really a reasonable reaction. And however God has judged the man, our merriment cannot hurt him now.

Susan Peterson

William Tighe said...

What "UnanimousConsent" wrote - and, besides, stupid notions deserve mockery (as do obsessive trolls like "Savonarola").

Banshee said...

I have to say that Father is being very kind to "Memoirs of an Oxford Don." I have to say that I had previously run across it, was shocked, and found it to have some very nasty things to say about some objectively great people of history (whom the author had been lucky enough to have known).

So if Father can kindly class it as the work of an educated fool, rather than of a nasty, envious piece of work, he's nicer than I am.

Michael Leahy said...

'More fun later'? Please do bother.

Melinda said...

His entry in _Let Don's Delight_ is one of my favorites (after Johnson's), but I had been unable to discover much that was enlightening about the fellow in wikipedia. I am looking forward to the next installments!

Anonymous said...

To me it sounds similar in spirit (mutatis mutandis) to the bigotry and ignorance of much of the aggressively secular atheism around today, especially as slavishly spouted by comedians and celebs who are evidently not that bright themselves. There is a smug assumption that their view of the world is the only possible one for anyone to come to when critical thinking is engaged, although what they are really doing is uncritically embracing the the prejudices of the day - the 'catechism' of the popular media. Such people are always shocked and amazed to come across someone of reasonable intelligence, or at least someone who has thought about things in a critical way, who is still a convinced Catholic. They find it a little easier to accept a liberal who thinks that Catholic doctrine is really just an elaborate mythology which can be constantly reinterpreted according to 'modern values', and they often trying to get one to admit that this is really what one thinks about things. They see that at least as a half-way house towards 'honest' atheism. But the realisation that someone can be a thoughtful and well read yet orthodox Catholic who actually takes all those ancient doctrines literally and who sincerely engages in childish devotions alongside the ignorant and superstitious masses is both incomprehensible and not a little frightening to them.