Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The Merriment of Parsons

Brit Jnr’s education/trial by Samuel Johnson continues apace. The reading of Boswell’s justly-revered Life Of is proving testing for me, however, since at every turn I cannot help but compare my own character and actions to those of the Great Man and, inevitably, I find myself wanting. The following pair of anecdotes (one mine, one Johnson) illustrates the point.

I was once involved in a conversation with a middle-aged accountant, in a room full of middle-aged accountants. I have met a lot of middle-aged accountants and generally they fall into one of two categories: the nice, sensible ones; and the ones who constantly want to prove that they are ‘more than’ an accountant. This chap was a prime example of the latter type, and was attempting to prove his street-credentials by explaining that he was the bass guitarist in a band.

“Oh really, what kind of thing do you play?” I asked, dutifully.
“Rock, indie,” he said, with a forced-casual Mockney twang. “Coldplay, James Morrison, Snow Patrol…All that kind of shit.”

My reaction, once I had finished shuddering, cringing and swallowing a brief surge of vomit, was merely to smile politely and make small noises of enthusiasm.

Compare, then, my craven response to the response of Johnson in a similar situation, and you’ll see the true scale of my shortcomings:

Johnson and his friend, Beauclerk, were once together in company with several clergymen, who thought that they should appear to advantage, by assuming the lax jollity of men of the world; which, as it may be observed in similar cases, they carried to noisy excess. Johnson, who they expected would be ENTERTAINED, sat grave and silent for some time; at last, turning to Beauclerk, he said, by no means in a whisper, 'This merriment of parsons is mighty offensive.'


Anonymous said...

Cheer up, they just don't make them like that anymore. I've never been able to find the exact quote, but apparently Hilaire Belloc was once being heckled repeatedly by a loud jerk for his Catholicism at a public meeting when he was standing for Parliament. When he wouldn't stop, Belloc finally whipped out his rosary and said something like:

"Do you see these beads, Sir? I say them every morning when I rise, once at mid-day and every evening before I retire. God willing, I intend to continue doing so for many years. And if that offends you, Sir, than all I can say is may God spare me the ignominy of representing you in Parliament!"

Dave Lull said...

The source of the Hilaire Belloc quotation might be The Life of Hilaire Belloc, by Robert Speaight (1957), page 204:

"Gentlemen, I am a Catholic. As far as possible I go to Mass every day. This [taking a rosary out of his pocket] is a rosary. As far as possible, I kneel down and tell these beads every day. If you reject me on account of my religion, I shall thank God that He has spared me the indignity of being your representative!"

Anonymous said...

Thank-you very much, Dave.

Brit said...

And I think it's fair to say that your version is a significant improvement on the original, Peter.

Anonymous said...

You think that was good? You should see what I can do with Hamlet.

Gaw said...

On the other hand, where would we be if we couldn't poke fun at the Merriment of Parsons? The Office could have been subtitled The Merriment of a Paper Supplies Manager.

The Old Batsman said...

Someone once told me a story about an actor - can't remember which one, Maggie, Larry, Johnny, Sir Benny, one of them, you know - They were always getting invited to first nights, and inevitably would be summoned the the dressing room afterwards and asked what they thought.

After many years, they'd come up with the perfect response. They'd walk in, go straight up to the leading player and say, 'darling, you've done it again...'

That's not bad.

Gadjo Dilo said...

Ah, but without the merriment of parsons we'd have no Father Ted and no Mel Smith as the trendy vicar (couldn't find that on YouTiube, which was a shame).

David said...

And yet, I have to believe that the only thing saving Johnson from being touched up in the alley out back was that Boswell was following him around taking notes.

Spare a moment's pity for the poor Parsons, who undoubtedly agreed together beforehand that, if they acted like Parsons ought, Johnson would mercilessly ridicule them.

Brit said...

Funnily enough, David, I can answer this one for you, with two quotes from the Life Of:

That he was often much stared at while he advanced in this manner, may easily be believed; but it was not safe to make sport of one so robust as he was. Mr. Langton saw him one day, in a fit of absence, by a sudden start, drive the load off a porter's back, and walk forward briskly, without being conscious of what he had done. The porter was very angry, but stood still, and eyed the huge figure with much earnestness, till he was satisfied that his wisest course was to be quiet, and take up his burthen again.


He feared death, but he feared nothing else, not even what might occasion death. Many instances of his resolution may be mentioned. One day, at Mr. Beauclerk's house in the country, when two large dogs were fighting, he went up to them, and beat them till they separated; and at another time, when told of the danger there was that a gun might burst if charged with many balls, he put in six or seven, and fired it off against a wall. Mr. Langton told me, that when they were swimming together near Oxford, he cautioned Dr. Johnson against a pool, which was reckoned particularly dangerous; upon which Johnson directly swam into it. He told me himself that one night he was attacked in the street by four men, to whom he would not yield, but kept them all at bay, till the watch came up, and carried both him and them to the round-house.

Truly a giant among men.