15 September 2010

Mark Pattison

As we come nearer to the great day of Mr Newman's beatification, I have been rereading the autobiography ("Memoirs of an Oxford Don") of his contemporary at Oxford, Mark Pattison, later Rector of Lincoln College in this University. At one time a fervent Anglican Catholic and admirer of Newman, he did not follow Newman into Full Communion ... and ended up slipping into what looks like the most liberal kind of Deism.

He is one of the most delightfully and naively self-opinionated pillocks known to History. Most ludicrously comic are his accounts of those whose theological convictions moved in a direction opposite to his own. Here he is writing about a female relative: "This girl early developed a masculine understanding [Beautiful! Beautiful!!]. It was a dominant and urgent an element in her constitution ... speculative ability ... perseverance in learning ... she taught herself Latin, Greek (which seems incredible [Beautifuller still!!!], Italian, German , Mathematics .... command over the range of history, ancient and modern, that I have never known in anybody since ... I have known some the wittiest, the ablest, and the best read men of my time [of course you have, Mark, of course you have], but I do not exaggerate when I say that this woman at about thirty-five was a match in power and extent of knowledge for any of them ... we corresponded upon books, upon everything we thought or read, from as early a period as I remember, she leading and I following ... "

Sadly, however, and incomprehensibly, the girl became a papist ("her perversion preceded that of Newman"). Pattison's account of this admirable bluestocking (I trust my readers do not share bishop Williamson's views upon educated women) concludes with these hilarious two sentences: "[She and her mother] lived about a great deal in Italy, etc., afterwards, and had every opportunity of seeing the seamy side of practical Catholicism; but my cousin saw it not. Can such a wreck of a noble intellect by religious fanaticism be paralleled?"

2 comments:

Sue Sims said...

Judging by the parody in Let Dons Delight, Ronald Knox shared your delight in Pattison's egocentric pomposities and snobbishness.

Ben said...

He is also said to be the model for Casaubon in Middlemarch.