Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Curate Goes for Butter. Once.

The plight of underpaid, overworked curates was a fervently debated subject in the late Victorian years. The Curate's Augmentation Fund was finally established to supplement the lowly stipends the Established Church afforded. But an issue not so easily quantified was the perceived lack of respect that many curates felt bitterly. In 1895, a curate in Kent (he was never identified and probably for the best) abruptly resigned after fulfilling what he thought was an insulting task he'd been given by his vicar's wife. The Archdeacon was suddenly coming for lunch and, as Jane, the housemaid, was busy, would the curate be a dear and go to the grocer for some butter? The (presumably) young clergyman felt demeaned by this household assignment and quit. The story got in all the papers, prompting countless letters to the editor and, from a contributor initialed G.P.H., a delightful bit of doggerel:
The Archdeacon was coming to luncheon at two.
     Mrs. Vicar was all in a flutter,
And thinking the Curate had nothing to do,
     She asked him to go for some butter.
The Curate indignantly went off to find,
     The grocer, next door to the draper's.
The butter he fetched, then his cure he resigned,
     And finally wrote to the papers.
Oh, hasty young clergyman, was it quite wise,
     Such a passionate protest to utter?
In every profession the chance of a rise,
     Depends very much upon butter. 
A few weeks later, more than 100 curates met in London to discuss forming a Curate's Union but the session produced little more than "hubbub and commotion" and the attendees dispersed.

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