It has been said that one of the finest achievements of the Church of England was the maintenance of one well-educated man in every English community. Such a man was Richard Graves. He is best remembered as the author of The Spiritual Quixote, an engaging comic novel written in the mid-eighteenth century. But his life was essentially that of a rural parson. In exploring that life, Clarence Tracy allows us a detailed view of rural English society of the period as well as an appreciation of Grave’s writing.
As the second son of a family of landed gentry, Graves was raised with a well-defined sense of his position in society, but with no income to sustain it. He found his place as a Fellow at All Souls College, Oxford, from which vantage point his future looked bright. But he fell in love with a young woman, Lucy Bartholomew, and secretly married her a few weeks before she bore their first child. Marriage was forbidden to Fellows of All Souls, and when this union was discovered, Graves lost his position. Eventually he found a living as rector of Claverton, near Bath, where he settled with Lucy and their five children. Happy in his marriage and generally content with his work, Graves stayed in Claverton for fifty years.
Those who have read The Spiritual Quixote will recognise many familiar elements in Graves’s story. Tracy illustrates the close parallels between the novel and life, and discusses other aspects of Graves’s writing as well. Those who have not read his work will be tempted to do after reading this biography and will certainly have a heightened understanding of rural life in eighteenth-century England.