Sunday, February 06, 2005

My great-grandfather, snoring, and language style

Thanks, Tony, for the link to your blog. Your mention of being a parish priest in the UK reminded me that I need to update the news on my great-grandfather's memoirs. I finished transcribing them, tra la!

Mark Antony DeWolfe Howe was an Episcopal Bishop in Pennsylvania in the 1800s. In transcribing the memoirs, I realized that he most likely wrote them with an eye to church history. This made for a hard slog for some of the transcription. In the beginning, there are allusions to his family life, but almost nothing in the last half of the memoirs. My grandfather, the youngest of the 18 children (11 lived to maturity, 2 of his 3 wives died young), is not mentioned at all.

The last big chunk is about the Lambeth Conference of 1878. He went to this conference of the Bishops of the Anglican Communion from around the world, held at the residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury at Lambeth. He and my great-grandmother took a ship to England, with a whole passel (herd? flock?) of bishops.

On the journey, they were in a stateroom, which didn't have walls all the way to the ceiling. In the next stateroom were two "musical gentlemen". Here's a little piece from the trip:

"When I awakened in my upper berth on the first morning, I found this opening in the partition between me and my musical friends stuffed with pillows and shawls, and [...] while I was dressing [...], I heard the upper man say to his friend, 'Did you hear the old gentleman blowing his horn all night?' 'No,' said he. 'But I did,' rejoined the complainant, 'I tell you, he’s a regular old steam tug.' So I was enlightened as to the purpose for which the shawls and pillows were stuffed there."

On a similar theme, during a visit to a Cathedral in England:

"In the afternoon of the same Sunday, a preacher of much more soporific influence occupied the pulpit at the Cathedral, while Bishop Littlejohn, Bishop Wilmer and myself occupied stalls in the choir. I became unconscious in the progress of the discourse, and by and by awakened by quite a resonant snore. I looked about to determine, if I might, whether I was the transgressor, and I saw that Bishop Littlejohn and my other friends were doing the same thing, agitated probably by the same solicitude."

What language! People just don't speak like this anymore, or not often. I hear remnants of it in the speech of my father, a retired Episcopal priest, and occasionally in my own speech. Within the family, some of us drop into this style sometimes. In general speech, we don't, because it sounds like affectation. Maybe it is, or maybe it's just habit. It feels as much a part of our family as our big rectangular smiles.

2 comments:

Lorna said...

I really liked the info on your site about snoring - nice work. I've just started my own snoring secrets blog and would really appreciate you stopping by

Richard C. Lambert said...

Thanks, Tony, for the link to your blog. Your mention of being a parish priest in the UK reminded me that I need to update the news on my great-grandfather's memoirs. I finished transcribing them, tra la! pure sleep price