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Have you noticed that the very word preaching has developed a kind of off putting sound about it in recent years? I’m sure you’ve noticed how someone in, let’s say, our Parliament will announce something like “I wish the honourable member for Wherever would stop preaching to the House! Much the same thing has happened to the word Sermon. We hear things like  “We have all heard enough sermons from the Prime Minister about this or that.”  

Come to think of it, as I write this I suddenly recall a long ago put-down of someone in the British House of Commons who in the days of Victoria was given to preaching in high moral tones to the House, and was remarkably admired by his monarch for so doing. 

William Gladstone, Prime Minister of England, earnest, ponderous and a paragon of virtue, was one. The other was the brilliant and witty Benjamin Disraeli. leader of Her Majesty’s loyal opposition. Disraeli was the irrepressible rascal and wit and thought by many too clever for his own good, as people would say then. The two were always trying to score off one another.

On one occasion Disraeli got in what we would call today a zinger in their eternal sparring. It was a moment when there had been a long debate about some social policy which Gladstone has at last succeeded in getting the House to pass. Disraeli was appalled but helpless in the face of the overwhelming vote for Gladstone’s policy. 

Something that particularly annoyed Disraeli about Gladstone was his incessant self-righteousness. However, not to be outdone, Disraeli rose and in a tone dripping with sarcasm, was heard to opine – for effect I am using the elevated language of Parliamentary debate in those days -  “Members of the House, what I find singularly annoying is not that the honourable Member for Liverpool always assumes he has a card up his sleeve but rather his assumption that it was personally placed there by the Almighty”.  Touché

Oh dear, I must admit that as I watch things Parliamentary on the National, I do so wish that just now and again, as the leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minster flail away at one another about this and that, one or other of them might get in a verbal thrust that for one wonderful moment compares with that long ago consummate wit. I suspect I am being very unfair. Both are caught in a very different age and must obey its cultural rules. 

Meanwhile there is much more to reflect on about things amusing in the preaching of the past. We will duly reflect on them.


Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield (1804-1881) on engraving from 1873. British Prime Minister, parliamentarian, Conservative statesman and literary figure. Engraved by unknown artist. iStock 528741495