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Hallo again to all.

Often the Victorians, when considered as a sort of demographic group, are typecast as 'Not Keen on Sex'. We think that the label should instead be 'Terribly Keen on Work'.

Through the years, we've ploughed through more biographies of dead clerics and bishops than we can count. Whilst the details of individual lives may blur after a time, the sense of massive achievement remains. Jaw-dropping accomplishments weren't just the fruit of high-profile lives. The ordinary run of Victorian vicars all seemed to have read, walked, written, and altogether achieved more than we sorry lot of folk born in the next century can manage.

Scribble scribble scribbleWe select an example almost at random, from a yellowed newspaper clipping dated 14 December 1925. This from the obituary of the Reverend William Beauchamp, a priest in the Episcopal Church in the USA, born in 1830: 'After he was 90, he indexed the files of the century-old Onondaga Register, an undertaking which might have challenged the energy of a man a half-century younger. Even in his 96th year he hiked over the hills, scaled cliffs, and rowed a heavy boat at Skaneateles, on field trips to study geology'. We shan't bother to list his published works on the Iroquois tribe, in which area he was internationally recognised for his scholarship.

Across the Atlantic, another priest, the Reverend Hugh James Rose, born in 1795 and dying, alas, far too young in 1838: 'His nurse, who had never had the care of a child before, seems to have been given a free hand with him and to have used it discreetly. She taught him so well that before he could speak he could pick out letters on a chart. Before he was four he had mastered the Latin Grammar, and was an omnivorous reader. His mother says: "I recollect one summer morning (he then slept in our room)—knowing he was awake and yet not hearing him—his father asked, 'What are you doing?' 'Reading Knox's Elegant Extracts.’ You can't understand what you are reading? 'O, but I can, Papa,' and he told us what it was. He was then about four years old." A few weeks later he was immersed in The Arabian Nights'.

We admit that the gifts of robust health and great mental ability are just that: gifts. But whether the life is long and sickly or short and healthy, the lives of even ordinary Victorians seemed to be lived more. Just 'more'. But why? How?

For starters, there was a world with no television. And given how much time most people spend in front of their tellys, many hours slip passively from our lives. Amongst the Victorians, there was a sharp sense of the preciousness of life and with that came the clear duty of using one's hours productively: to contribute to society, leaving the world a better place than it was. The Victorians had a sense of accountability to God for the use they had made of their time on earth. sundial engraved by

Of course things are different now. There is the concept of retirement, unknown in the 19th century. Now one can expect to live a goodly number of years without working, supported by savings and pension schemes of one kind or another. What else is different? We're suspicious of excessive hours spent at labour; we label such people 'workaholics', and they're often seen as aberrant and mentally unhealthy. No doubt some are, but others may simply be misfits in a world where couch potatoes are more understood and tolerated. Knowledge has expanded far beyond what the most prodigiously gifted Victorian could have imagined; it's no longer possible to be a polymath in the way that a 19th-century man or woman of letters could be. We know all the differences between their world and ours, but...

We'd like to suggest that a little return to some of the work style of the Victorians might be just the thing for us Anglicans. Too often the church gets the dribs and drabs of our lives: yes, of course, our attendance at Divine Worship on Sunday and perhaps a weekday service if we're 'really keen on churchy things'. Here an hour at a committee meeting and there a half-day at a diocesan event, perhaps, but how many of us—dare we say, both clergy and lay?—consecrate the majority of our waking hours to advancing the Kingdom of Heaven?

We wrote this letter in the early evening hours of a lovely June day. The sundial in our garden, just off to the south, is, alas, without a motto, but if we had our way, it would read:

the night cometh

Work, For The Night Cometh.

See you next week. And—come, labour on!

Brian Reidís signature
Cynthia McFarland
cmcf@anglicansonline.org
Brian Reid
reid@anglicansonline.org


Last updated: 15 June 2003
URL: http://anglicansonline.org



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