Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Priestess and the round dinner-table

I have been rereading Barchester Towers, one of Anthony Trollope's funniest novels.

On the necessity of a priestess,
    Now that the archdeacon was away, they could all trifle. Mr Harding began by telling them in the most innocent manner imaginable an old legend about Mr Arabin's new parish. There was, he said, in days of yore, an illustrious priestess of St Ewold, famed through the whole country for curing all manner of diseases. She had a well, as all priestesses have ever had, which well was extant to this day, and shared in the minds of many of the people the sanctity which belonged to the consecrated grounds of the parish church. Mr Arabin declared that he should look on such tenets on the part of the parishioners as anything but orthodox. And Mrs Grantly replied that she so entirely disagreed with him as to think that no parish was in a proper estate that had not its priestess as well as its priest. 'The duties are never well done,' said she, 'unless they are so divided.'
    'The grate is really very bad,' said Mrs Grantly; 'I am sure the priestess won't approve of it, when she is brought here to the scene of future duties. Really, Mr Arabin, no priestess accustomed to such an excellent well as that above could put up with such a grate as this.'

    'If there must be a priestess at St Ewold's at all, Mrs Grantly, I think we shall leave her to her well, and not call down her divine wrath on any of the imperfections rising from our human poverty. However, I own I am amenable to the attractions of a well-cooked dinner, and the grate shall certainly be changed.'

    By this time the archdeacon had again ascended, and was now in the dining-room. 'Arabin,' said he, speaking in his usual loud clear voice, and with that tone of dictation which was so common to him; 'you must positively alter this dining-room, that is, remodel it altogether; look here, it is just sixteen feet by fifteen; did anybody ever hear of a dining-room of such proportions?' and the archdeacon stepped the room long-ways and cross-ways with ponderous steps, as though a certain amount of ecclesiastical dignity could be imparted even to such an occupation as that by the manner of doing it. 'Barely sixteen; you may call it a square.'

    'It would do very well for a round table,' suggested the ex-warden.

    Now there was something peculiarly unorthodox in the archdeacon's estimation in the idea of a round table. He had always been accustomed to a goodly board of decent length, comfortably elongating itself according to the number of guests, nearly black with perpetual rubbing, and as bright as a mirror. Now round dinner tables are generally of oak, or else of such new construction as not to have acquired the peculiar hue which was so pleasing to him. He connected them with what he called the nasty new fangled method of leaving cloth on the table, as though to warn people that they were not to sit long. In his eyes there was something democratic and parvenu in a round table. He imagined that dissenters and calico-printers chiefly used them, and perhaps a few literary lions more conspicuous for their wit than their gentility. He was a little flurried at the idea of such an article, being introduced into the diocese by a protege of his own, and at the instigation of his father-in-law.

    'A round dinner-table,' said he, with some heat, 'is the most abominable article of furniture that ever was invented. I hope that Arabin has more taste than to allow such a thing in his house.'

Read the rest of chapter 21 to see how the priestess would have to renovate the rectory dining room herself to save the priest from the evils of a round dinner-table.

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