The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Grumping from Beyond the Grave

You have almost certainly never heard of Mark Pattison (1813-1884), and who can blame you? Hardly a household name, frankly. He was, possibly, a model for Paul Jago in The Masters, not in his character or personal life, but in having been thwarted in a seemingly sure election as Master of his College. Pattison is also thought to have been the original for Mr. Casaubon in Middlemarch, an identification which has been disputed as unfair to Pattison. (Not improbable, though; Pattison was thought of as dour, liberal, dull and principled, married a much younger wife, herself a talented writer, and he wrote a biography of--wait for it--Isaac Casaubon.)

I ran across a copy of Pattison's Memoirs (1885), and picked it up. I'm glad to report that Pattison is extremely interesting in several ways. An academic with a genuine reverence for teaching, an Anglican clergyman who lost his faith in God and the Church, but never in learning, he is almost Soames Forsyte-like in his self-consciousness and inability to express emotion in person. I have never read a more vivid depiction of youthful gaucherie than Pattison's portrait of himself at 18--I winced with identification, although 150 years separated my youth from his. His first hand observations of the Tractarians--whom he didn't like much, but toward whom he is pretty fair--are worth the price of admission alone.

As to his depiction of University and Church politics--Susan Howatch's description of the "cut-and-thrust battles"and "sheer Machiavellian skulduggery" of the Church of England has nothing on Pattison.

A surprisingly lively, tender, sometimes bitter, work, lit throughout by the love of learning. Pattison has nothing as eloquent as T.H. White's Merlyn on learning, but I think he would endorse, if not applaud it:
"The best thing for being sad," replied Merlyn, beginning to puff and blow, "is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake in the middle of the night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world around you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting."

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