The English like to celebrate eccentrics. We make heroes of people who grow giant vegetables, or carve topiary steam engines. We have also always kept a special haven for oddballs in the Church of England, as Fergus Butler-Gallie demonstrates in this entertaining compendium...Butler-Gallie catalogues his dingbats under eccentrics, nutty professors, bon viveurs, prodigal sons and rogues. Their foibles cover all bases from absent-mindedness and idleness to fornication and epic drunkenness...Among the witticisms of Sydney Smith, the Regency wit, canon of St Paul’s and editor of the Edinburgh Review, quoted in Butler-Gallie’s profile, is his claim: “I never read a book before reviewing it; it prejudices a man so.”
I’m glad I read this one. It’s a lot of fun.
An Elephant in Rome
" January 1, 2021 Read this issue IN THIS REVIEW AN ELEPHANT IN ROME Bernini, the Pope and the making of the Eternal City 224pp. Pallas Athene. £19.99. Loyd Grossman Acheerful bricolage of biography, art history, trivia and travelogue..."
— Times Literary Supplement
...seems to have been thrown together in a slapdash and even idle manner, as if its author suffers from a short attention span, and cannot be bothered to verify his facts or polish his epigrams... This volume is a light-hearted rebuke to “the idol of earnestness” which blights large parts of the Church... We are in a world worthy of Lewis Carroll, and pleasantly soothing it is too. By all means keep Religio Medici next to your bed if you wish, but this book deserves a place of honour in your downstairs loo.
As the wordy title of this book and the name of its author suggest, this is a faux-archaic, fogeyish journey around England's oddest vicards. The Reverend Fergus Butler- Gailie is, though, the real thing: a young curate in the Church of England. Yes, he's given to sometimes tiresome jocularity: he describes himself as 'a Bon Viveur first and foremost, with a soupcon of Roguishness and Prodigality'. But, still, his essential thesis is right: the Church of England has produced some real oddballs in its time, and this is an entertaining gallop through several centuries' worth of them.
Many of the stories are apocryphal, others are too good to be true, but Butler-Gallie clearly feels it is above (or beneath) him to sort the factual wheat from the fictional chaff. This book, which he modestly describes as a ‘scraped together offering’, is primarily about entertainment... It could have been even longer and no doubt there is a second volume in the offing.... Reader, rest assured, I did read this book and thoroughly enjoyed it. All human life is here. You never know, it might even restore a bit of faith in our beleaguered Church of England.
Maybe Butler-Gallie could have pushed further into history... Nevertheless, this is a marvellous tribute to the rich variety of oddballs and rogues who have made up our Broad Church, which in living memory has had as its head a man, the saintly Archbishop Michael Ramsey, who would start each day by banging his head on his desk and saying three times: “I hate the Church of England.”