Monday, 16 October 2006

The Wit of Adrian Fortescue

Greetings from the Diocesan Archives! As I speak we have four people looking at the papers of Adrian Fortescue (1874-1923), the great polymath priest, writer and liturgist. They're hoping to organise a local exhibition in Letchworth. His letters are written in beautiful script and are full of wit. Some time ago I started transcribing them - I didn't get too far but here's one example (blog exclusive!):

To Canon Edwin H. Burton at St Edmund's College, Ware (20 September 1902)

I have been missing you horridly at breakfast, though the salutary vision of you fully vested & waiting with lacerating meekness in my sacristy when I rolled out of bed has not yet lost its effect. The nuns (little pink daughters of the penitent thief) are here now; so I get up at 7am, like an early Christian martyr. Sister Joanna Baptista of the Pinnacle of the Temple L.P.D. of P.T. (the she-superior) is a Tartar & won’t stand no fooling, nor can I imagine her waiting meekly as you did, though she would wear vestments like a shot if I let her. This order is an entirely new idea of my Rector at the German Church (a Bohemian monomaniac): its originality consists in the fact that the members go to the Sacraments several times during the year, abstain from fleshmeat on all Fridays, & endeavour generally to cultivate a spirit of Christian virtue & untarnished morality. These proceedings are rightly supposed to be very gratifying to the better nature of the penitent thief – hence the order’s name.

Also they have 15 little boys, so that when you come at Christmas you shall have no lack of servers. They sing Vespers in the evening in what purports to be the Latin tongue, Sister Philipina Canaria (of the way to Jericho) wearing a cope & a Roman missal, from which she tells me that she always sings Vespers.

They have given me a picture of a gentleman whom I recognise as that illustrious prelate the present incumbent of the Roman bishoprick: I am informed that if I look at it in the proper spirit it will give the pontifical blessing – a striking sight which I am naturally anxious to enjoy. Hitherto I have not succeeded in convincing it of my spiritual propriety. I have told it all the things that I think it would like to hear – that I am dead nuts on Encyclicals, that ubi Petrus ibi the whole show, that Roma locuta est (she never stops) nulla salus est (I hope I haven’t got this mixed); I have even said polite things about its fel. Rec. predecessors of the X & XV centuries; alas, in vain! It hasn’t once burst into: Sit nome Domini benedittumme [sic]. When you come I hope you will start it: it can’t doubt your propriety of spirit!

Note: Fortescue was a loyal Roman Catholic but he was proud to be English and certainly was not unduly Ultramontane, hence his tongue-in-cheek humour regarding the Holy Father.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who could possibly have guessed??? From "Ceremonies" to this!! I haven't seen anything so funny in quite some time, and I think I know the nuns he's describing. They work in my parish.

8:03 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Once I asked my pastor if he thought that my sarcastic wit showed that I did not have the humility to become a priest. "No," he replied, "It is a sign of a vocation that we look for."

Thank you for taking the time to bring to light what may have long been buried in the shadows of the archives. Brilliant. Simply brilliant.

4:44 am  

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