In 1778, James Boswell recorded a conversation between Dr. Samuel Johnson, then aged 68, and a man with whom he had been at college, one Oliver Edwards, then aged 65. One of these exchanges, included by Boswell in his Life of Johnson, interested me:
“Edwards. ‘I wish I had continued at College.’ Johnson. ‘Why do you wish that, Sir?’ Edwards. ‘Because I think I should have had a much easier life than mine has been. I should have been a parson, and had a good living, like Bloxam and several others, and lived comfortably.’ Johnson. ‘Sir, the life of a parson, of a conscientious clergyman, is not easy. I have always considered a clergyman as the father of a larger family than he is able to maintain. I would rather have Chancery suits upon my hands than the cure of souls. No, Sir, I do not envy a clergyman’s life as an easy life, nor do I envy the clergyman who makes it an easy life.'” (James Boswell, Life of Johnson [Oxford Univ. Press, 1924], pp. 229-230).
I’m in my early sixties, and find myself thinking the same kind of thoughts that Oliver Edwards thought. Except that instead of wishing that I were a clergyman (because after all I am a clergyman), I think about other professions I might have followed.
But I find myself disagreeing with Johnson. I often disagree with Johnson. He liked patriarchy and hierarchy, and I don’t. So I don’t take the (literally) patriarchal view that a clergyperson is “the father of a larger family.” In my view, clergy (of all genders) are co-equal with congregants. And I’m sure Johnson would be as appalled at my views as I am at his views.