Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Absolute and Abitofhell

In case you hadn't noticed, I am a fan of the late Monsignor Ronald Knox (there's a man who deserved an honorary title!).

His books of sermons (whether for adults or children) are all excellent, his introduction to the Faith likewise.  I haven't read his detective stories, but want to do so. He was, I think the last individual to do a complete translation of the Bible, and he had a fantastic sense of humour.

He it was who posted this advertisement in a religious periodical: Evangelical vicar, in want of a portable, second-hand font, would dispose, for the same, of a portrait, in frame, of the Bishop, elect, of Vermont.

Which should, perhaps, be better presented thus (though not for the sake of the joke in the paper):

Evangelical vicar, in want
Of a portable, second-hand font,
Would dispose, for the same,
Of a portrait, in frame,
Of the Bishop, elect, of Vermont.

He also wrote an excellent satire, Absolute and Abitofhell 'in the manner of John Dryden' on the new approach to religious belief that was leaking into the Anglican Church around the turn of the century.  It is worth reading in full (not least to remind us that there is little new under the sun - this was published in 1915) but some of my favourite lines include:

First, Adam fell; then Noah's Ark was drowned,
And Samson under close inspection bound;
For Daniel's Blood the Critick Lions roar'd, 
And trembling Hands threw Jonah overboard.

Lux Mundi came, and here we found indeed 
A Maximum and Minimum of Creed:
But still the Criticks, bent on Matthew's Fall, 

And setting Peter by the Ears with Paul, 
Brought unaccustom'd Doctrines oversea 
Suggesting rather, Caeli Tenebrae

You get the idea; and so it goes on, questioning the wisdom of those who:

Eschewing Luke, John, Matthew, and the rest
Read Mark, but could not inwardly digest. 

But my absolute favourite couplet is: 

When suave Politeness, tempering bigot Zeal, 
Corrected, "I believe," to "One does feel." 

As I say, a man of genius and wit: we could do with a few like him now.

Requiescat in pace.


Bruvver Eccles said...

A great man. I have several books by Ronald Knox, including practically all the detective stories, his essays in satire, and some religious works.

Evelyn Waugh wrote a biography of him.

Do you know this?

"There is another Custom prevailing in Mahometan Countries, of such doubtful Advantage that we could not agree to conform to it without earnest Consideration; I mean, the Custom by which people are woken in the Morning by a Fellow bawling out from the Top of a Minaret, to the Effect (unless my Memory plays me false) that Allah is great. It will seem shocking to minds habituated by our Western Standards of Taste, that these Muezzins, as they are call'd, should give a Pronouncement so publick to so controversial a Statement. We should not allow it; for it would manifestly cause the most grievous Distress of Conscience to any Atheist or Agnostick who happened to be within Earshot. Yet is something to be said for the Practice in general Outline; who has not wished, as he turn'd over in bed at eight of the clock on a Sunday morning, that there were some less noisy means of awakening a few devout Women, than making a great Clanging of Bells, as if the whole city were afire? Would it not be well to introduce the Muezzin into our Church-towers, and at the same Time to see to it that his Announcement was both less provocative, and more appropriate; that he should either shout out, The early Bird catches the Worm, or if he were musical, even intone to some simple Anglican Chant the Words:

Early to Bed, and early to rise,
Makes a Man healthy, wealthy, and wise?"

Ben Trovato said...

Yes, I own (and have even read) the Waugh biography. It is the detective stories I covet! Any good?

Bruvver Eccles said...

They're witty and original, in the "puzzle" style, although not among the real greats of the genre.

You might start with "Still dead" or "Double cross purposes" - or whatever you can find, really.

Which reminds me, I should re-read them soon.