April 17th, 1847 (Saturday) – The sin of gluttony

April 17, 2009

Sewell wrote to the Bishop of Oxford, inclosing the letter alluded to before, which served to show his Lordship the real state of our feelings towards him, and the Episcopal body generally. It was cautious, not implying any prostration of ourselves at his feet, but simply exhibiting a dutiful spirit, and rather insinuating that we should be sorry to be the means of Sir George Bowyer’s losing his rights as Ordinary of Radley.

Despatched a very long letter to Mr Hardwicke at Rome; was glad to find that Sewell thought it just the sort of affair to be sent. It contained a minute account of what we were doing, which we knew would be very interesting to him, and I added the wish that he might yet be engaged in designing a fine Gothic College for us.

Saw at Herbert’s, the Upholsterer’s, a serge of excellent make, which when dyed of a good drab, or fawn, colour, would do admirably for curtains for the cubicles in the dormitory. It will be somewhat expensive, but then it has this important advantage, that it will not readily ignite, if carelessness or accident were to bring a candle into contact with it. We found also 2 or 3 very quiet patterns of carpets, very suitable for our sitting rooms.

Dined with Sewell and two of his sisters in the Bursary; amused them with an account of our adventures at Stackallan with boys, who affected to be sick when they were well, or sicker than nature made them. This led us to talk of the means by which boys actually do become fit subjects for the Infirmary, – and this naturally suggested all the delights of the Fruiterer, and the dainties of the Pastry-cook. I had always thought that it was our duty to check luxury and extravagance in this, as well as in every other way; and that we should teach them that we are not allowed by religion to eat and drink for the sake of mere enjoyment; and, consequently, that when they are furnished with an ample supply of the best food, all feasting upon supplemental delicacies was plainly self-indulgence, in fact, a form of gluttony. I mentioned this, but acknowledged that I had legalized the purchase of fruit at Stackallan, because I found the ‘sons of Zerniah too hard for me.’ Still I urged that the view one took was palpably founded on the Gospel, the grand oracle of education. Sewell put forward the strong point, that it placed the poorer boys in painful comparison with those that were more wealthy.

All this, however, was most distasteful argument to the ladies, who pleaded hard for the poor, oppressed, little fellows, but Sewell and I seemed deaf to eloquence, even though coming from female lips: – they were doomed to hear, perhaps, of such things as Confectioner’s shops, blushing apples, weeping tarts, jam exuding puffs, but neither to see, feel, nor taste, their glories. I must say that the production of the advocates so far bowed to their penetration, that they admitted that a perfect system must exclude all these costly, sickening, selfish, – I had almost added – dirty, indulgences. Why should not our system be perfect? At least, why should we not try to make it so? Why should we not teach our alumni, whose souls and bodies are in our keeping, that they must learn to curb their tendency to intemperance, just as we teach them to control all other passions, that endanger the health of both? Do we not place restraints upon a love of amusement, – upon a love of dress, – and upon other inordinate affections? And why not then upon a love of eating? And if so, are not the ‘irritamenta gulae’ to be kept at a distance from the frail disciples of discipline? Inebriety seems almost entirely to have absorbed the ill fame of its next of kin, – gluttony is scarcely thought to be a sin at all.

But if gluttony made people drunk as well as sick, they would soon confess its criminality. Yet the insensibility caused by drunkenness is neither the only, nor the first, nor the chief, part of its guilt, unless a man is to be considered comparatively innocent until he begins to reel. Why boys at school are to be visited with the severest punishment if discovered introducing fermented or distilled drinks, and at the same time permitted every liberty to overload their stomachs with all sorts of luscious, stimulating and unwholesome solids, – seems unintelligible, at least. The practical effect upon their minds will be plainly this, – Intoxication is a felony, greediness – a bare misdemeanour.

I am sure that Sewell and I are right. Middle courses are mostly wrong, in this case evidently so. If we tell the boys that food was given for our profit, scarcely at all for our pleasure, – that they are furnished with abundance for support, comfort, and (if it is to be insisted upon, for) enjoyment, – and that all beyond this becomes excess and extravagance, – that therefore we must prohibit all extraneous supplies, upon a principle of Christian obligation, they will understand the matter at once, and by being kept at a distance from temptation will soon acquiesce in our wisdom, or at least become contented with their lot. Thus we shall inure them to habits of self-command, and when they afterwards assume their several positions in life, they will be better able to comprehend St. Paul, when he condemns ‘banquettings, revellings, and such like.’ Let us have a Christian School, with the help of God, but for anything short of this neither Sewell nor I will raise a little finger.

Few after-dinner conversations have been more important than ours of this day. It is quite wonderful, almost appalling to think of the magnitude of the work we are about, and the effect of every decision we come to upon the welfare of hundreds, nay thousands. May God grant us a ‘spirit of wisdom, and counsel, and of the fear of the Lord.’

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