Virginia Barton

24 October 2014: Table Talk


24 October 2014


Here is a Commonplace worthy of copying into your notebook.

Archdeacon Grantley, in Anthony Trollope’s 1857 novel Barchester Towers, is inspecting the vicarage where his friend, Mr Arabin, will shortly take up residence as the incumbent of St Ewold’s. Mr Arabin is a single man recently recruited from the cloistered life of Oxford; his friend the Archbishop is the consummate 19th century Victorian High Church man.

They come to the dining room; the Archbishop paces it out and measures it up, only to discover that it is square. Shock horror! It must be lengthened by 6 feet in order to accommodate a decently long dinner table.


The Round Table, Winchester, UK


But Mr Harding, his saintly father-in-law, opines that Mr Arabin might save himself the trouble of lengthening the room by acquiring a round table:

“Now there was something peculiarly unorthodox in the Archdeacon’s estimation in the idea of a round table. He had always been accustomed to a goodly board of decent length, comfortably elongating itself according to the number of guests, nearly black with perpetual rubbing,  and as bright as a mirror.

“Now round dinner tables are generally of oak, or else of such new construction as not to have acquired the peculiar hue that was so pleasing to him. He connected them with what he called the nasty new fangled method of leaving a cloth on the table, as though to warn people that they were not to sit long.

“In his eyes there was something democratic and parvenue in a round table. He imagined that dissenters and calico-printers chiefly used them, and perhaps a few literary lions more conspicuous for their wit than their gentility. He was a little flurried at the idea of such an article being introduced into the diocese by a protégé of his own, and at the instigation of his own father-in-law.”


Did that make you hoot? Actually, we have a round table, despite being neither dissenters nor calico-printers. Yes it’s made of oak, and was specially chosen because the room is too tight for a larger. The Archdeacon is correct when he implies that you cannot sit at the head of a round table.

BH maintains that wherever he sits is the head of the table, even should he choose to sit underneath it…






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