What, for me, was initially an excursion for an enquiring mind, turned into something more spiritual. I am not, mind, in any way religious. Yet the music and architecture piety can produce do serve to lighten the soul and give a feeling of renewal and calm. I could, of course, try to analyse these thoughts and probably come to some sort of pseudo-scientific conclusion: harmonious music and space; the effects of singing; the general mood of the congregation. Yet this would be to sully the sense that 'church' made me feel better.
|St Paul's Cathedral by Cannaletto painted in 1754.|
Obviously these should not all taken with the same seriousness as, say, the mathematics behind a medical vaccine. But what about political numbers used to prove an argument? What about the omnipotent question of the Budget Deficit? The danger is that analysis goes beyond being a mere prop for decision making, and becomes in itself the irrefutable answer to a problem. Understandable then, was the reaction of Thomas Carlyle to many of the high ideals of analysis and reason in the eighteenth century. One of the greatest intellectual feats of the century, Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, was for Carlyle the beginning of 'the dismal science' of economics.
Yet the view of the time of Boswell as one of 'Reason' is slightly misguided, and has, like 'Enlightenment', been applied after the fact. It might as well, as many historians have pointed out, been called an age of 'Passion'. Certainly in Boswell we find an impassioned lover, moody writer and angry young man. He is prone to fluctuating emotions, and his 'whims' stand in marked contrast with a rigorous accounting process for his expenditure. 'The pleasure of gratifying a whim is very great. It is known only by those who are whimsical.' Indeed, in an interesting city with no immediate regulated pattern of work, the point is well made; going 'walk about' in London (without a map or direction) is always an interesting experience.
Furthermore, Boswell's love for women and socialising is the stuff of legend. Even at church, 'In the midst of divine service I was laying plans for having women...I have a warm heart and a vivacious fancy. I am therefore given to love, and also to piety and gratitude to God, and to the most brilliant and showy method of public worship.' On another occasion, his piety is clouded out: ‘I was on honour much disposed to be a Christian. Yet I was rather cold in my devotion. The Duchess of Grafton attracted my eyes rather too much.’
Alas, no such talent at this week's service.