Insult of the Week: he talked mere drivel

The preacher in residence at St. Hilda’s  Church in Donegal, Mr. Vivian, gets a poor review from Charlotte Riddell in her 1888 novel The Nun’s Curse.  Although his good qualities are many, and he does excellent work with the sinful and/or suffering members of his parish, his preaching abilities are, frankly, nil.

Unlearned, unlettered, uncultured Mr. Mckye, spite of his homely features, his common accent, could by some subtle power of eloquence given to him by his God, from the pulpit save souls, where this refined scholar [Mr. Vivian] merely mentioned the mortal diseases from which his auditors were suffering, without healing one of them. He owned no skilful hand with which to sweep the keys of man’s complex heart; a child might have tried as successfully to awaken its deep and terrible harmonies. About so earnest a labourer in the sacred vineyard, it seems a cruel thing to say that he talked mere drivel. Yet the statement is correct.

Honestly I don’t know what I’m doing here

His sermon was made up of the stock platitudes which have befriended incompetence, probably, since men began to preach-foolish examples that could not have incited a schoolboy to emulation-anecdotes silly enough to arouse contempt instead of wonder; numerous, if not always apposite, quotations from the old fathers; and many scholarly, though useless, dissertations concerning the mistranslation of various Scriptural passages.

This is such a specific description that it leaves the reader wondering if Charlotte Riddell is perhaps describing a religious experience – if not a very uplifting one – of her own, here.

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