Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Clergy - Time for Other Things

I am currently reading At Home, A History of Private Life  by Bill Bryson, and it is chock full of interesting facts including the role of clergy in England: "Piety was not necessarily a requirement or even an expectation. Ordination in the Church of England required a university degree, but most ministers read classics and didn't study divinity at all... Many didn't even bother composing sermons, but just bought a big book of prepared sermons and read one out once a week. Though no one intended it, the effect was to create a class of well-educated, wealthy people who had immense amounts of time on their hands. In consequence, many of them began to do remarkable things:

George Bayldon, a vicar in remote Yorkshire, became a self-taught authority in linguistics and compiled the world's first dictionary of the Icelandic language.
Laurence Sterne vicar of a parish near York, wrote popular novels, including The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy.
Edmund Cartwright, rector of a rural parish in Leicestershire, invented the power loom. By the time of the Great Exhibition in 1851, over 250,000 of his looms were in use in England.
Jack Russell, Devon, bred the terrier that bears his name.
William Buckland wore the first scientific description of dinosaurs and became an expert on coprolites, fossilized feces.
Thomas Robert Malthus, Surrey, wrote An Essay on the Principle of Population.
William Greenwell, Durhasm, inventor of Greenwell's glory, the most beloved of trout flies.
William Shepherd wrote a history of dirty jokes.
John Clayton, Yorkshire, gave the first practical demonstration of gas lighting.
George Garrett, Manchester, invented the submarine.
John Mackenzie Bacon, Berkshire, pioneer in hot-air ballooning and father of aerial photography.
Sabine Baring-Gould wrote "Onward, Christian Soldiers" and the first novel to feature a werewolf.
Gilbert White, Hampshire, became the most esteemed naturalist of his day.
John Mitchell, Derbyshire, taught William Herschel how to build a telescope, which Herschel used to discover Uranus. He also devised  method for weighing the Earth.

Children of clergymen: John Dryden, Christopher Wren, Oliver Goldsmith, Jane Austen, Joshua Reynolds, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Horatio Nelson, the Bronte sisters, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Cecil Rhodes, and Lewis Carroll.

Bryson's book is full of fun, and in some case, disgusting facts, including just how dirty people were before the advent of the fairly modern concept of cleanliness. He does this by going room by room in his home, a former rectory, reporting on the evolution of each room. I'm loving it.

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  1. Bill Bryson is a very entertaining writer. I feel a sort of affinity with him. He is an American who is spending his life trying to understand and get under the skin of us British and me, being British I am set on a journey to understand and get under the skin of you Yanks.

    It sounds like a highly entertaining book and a great analysis of the lives of 18th century vicars. The title is "At Home, a short history of private life." I presume the 18th century vicar bit is only one small aspect of the whole. It sounds like a broad and far reaching subject to me.
    Thanks for posting this, Mary

  2. Tony, Bryson is all over the place, and some of his facts are wrong, e.g., Thomas Jefferson's record-setting wine. But there is so much there to love, including Paxton, who designed the Crystal Palace, and others who rose from nowhere to do something great!

  3. This does sound like an interesting read! Thanks for sharing this, Mary