The Parson and the Squire

Share this

God, church, priests, prayer, faith – they all started off strong in my life but few kept up. Prayer and priests fell away first. I had been baptized into the Roman Catholic Church but some years on my father rather bravely stopped being Catholic. I, all of 8 and with no better reason than that he had, stopped too. At boarding school I allowed myself to be confirmed C of E. I caught teenage religious ardour, and at Cambridge was stretched by the contrary pulls of King’s College Chapel music and intellectual doubt. Very little religious has happened in the forty years since, but – probably because of all this – churches have hung on. In fact, I have something like an addiction.

The more you see of churches the more you can read the signs of what went on in, around, despite or because of them. The history of the Church of England is 500 years of English society biffing itself, and then biffing itself back, with every conceivable feature of human behaviour and emotion displayed. Most books that cover this sort of thing tend towards the weighty, the fusty, the pompous and the pietistic. But once in a while, in real-life testimonies like those of Parson Woodforde, Sydney Smith, George Herbert and William Cowper, and in several fictional lives – Archdeacon Grantly, Mr Collins, Parson Adams, the Vicar of Wakefield – you find something that shows an aspect of the ecclesiastical past as it was, with living people and heaven a long way off.

Ten years ago I found myself glancing through a shelf of Canto paperbacks (in Cambridge, where the University Press publishes them), all nicely and cleanly produced, with an appealing colour picture on the front cover, and many within my preferred limit of a couple of hundred pages. Wishing I had time to read all of them and wit to take them in – Anne Boleyn’s life, the impact of Darwin, the Knights Templar – I picked out Victorian Miniature. It turned out to be a nice example of the kind of book I a

Subscribe or sign in to read the full article

The full version of this article is only available to subscribers to Slightly Foxed: The Real Reader’s Quarterly. To continue reading, please sign in or take out a subscription to the quarterly magazine for yourself or as a gift for a fellow booklover. Both gift givers and gift recipients receive access to the full online archive of articles along with many other benefits, such as preferential prices for all books and goods in our online shop and offers from a number of like-minded organizations. Find out more on our subscriptions page.

Subscribe now or

About the contributor

Brendan Lehane is writing a book on Dorset churches. He is the author of The Companion Guide to Ireland, Wild Ireland, Early Christian Ireland, The Power of Plants, The Compleat Flea and half a dozen other books.

Share this

Comments & Reviews

Leave a comment

Customise this page for easy reading

reading mode