The fasting statute at St Columba’s

An extract from the main diary entry of May 10th, 1848.

The law runs thus, – ‘In the observance of the Fasts the College is to be guided entirely by the Bishop’; which was accompanied by a document of interpretation, not only containing some more objectionable principles, but asserting the right of each person to act as he pleases, and giving a bare protection to the churchman who might think it his duty to fast. So long as this document was valid, so long the Statute could not possibly support a right-minded Warden. It was withdrawn, but the withdrawal would scarcely better his condition; for an unsound man might fairly enough maintain that it was got rid of, not because of its bearing on the Statute, but from the monstrous principles which it contained, such as ‘liberty of conscience’, and so on; – that the rescinding of the former law, and driving away its first Warden and two of the Fellows for their adherence to it, showed plainly what the present law meant. Wadeadmitted this fully, but asked if it were not a right principle to interpret a law according to its literal, grammatical, import, independent of the opinions, or even the intentions, of its framers. To this the reply was, that, be it never so right, it was not applicable in this case; – for that a certain interpretation had already been got in, and acted upon, from the passing of the substituted law, by all parties connected with the College, an interpretation and precedent which no authority could set aside. But further, – that the law meant nothing, and what was more, was meant to mean nothing, the object being (as was almost avowed) to say to one class of people that there was a law of fasting, and to another that the members of the College might do as they pleased. ‘In the observance of the Fasts they are to be guided by the Prayer Book’, – but the Prayer Book says nothing except mentioning the days; so that it would run thus, – in the observing of the days appointed by the Prayer Book they are to observe the days that the Prayer Book appoints: – which is mere idle trifling and, in point of fact, dishonest nonsense.

I pressed the importance of their stating distinctly what they did mean, – if the object be to have a rule of Fasting, let them avow it by an unambiguous enactment, – but if not, the law, even as it now stands, should be totally cancelled. Wade saw the fairness of this, and promised to do what he could. The conversation terminated by my telling him that, unless they reverted to their former principles, or disgorged everything received before their abandonment of them, – it was vain to go on, – a worm was at the root of the gourd, which would gnaw it to death.