"Clever To A Fault"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Bishop Blougram and a literary acquaintance, Gigadibs, discuss religion over their wine, following Corpus Christi Day supper. Gigadibs, a thirty-year-old magazine writer, appears as a representative of mid-nineteenth century philosophical thought. The bishop, a person with "a soul and body that exact/ A comfortable care in many ways," dominates the discussion with his self-defense. The talk centers on whether it is better to live a life of faith diversified by doubt, as does the bishop, or of doubt diversified by faith, as does Gigadibs. In a skeptical age, the bishop finds his inner-core of faith confronted by his intellectual doubt. He attempts to rationalize his position of a doubting believer whose faith has been questioned by his contemporary intellectuals. His unique position, he claims, is a historical accident. Had he been born three hundred years earlier, no one would have questioned his faith; seventy years later, no one would question his doubt:

It's through my coming in the tail of time,
Nicking the minute with a happy tact.
Had I been born three hundred years ago
They'd say, "What's strange? Blougram of course believes";
And, seventy years since, "disbelieves of course."
But now, "He may believe; and yet, and yet
How can he?"–All eyes turn with interest.
Whereas, step off the line on either side–
You, for example, clever to a fault,
The rough and ready man who writes apace,
Read somewhat seldomer, think perhaps even less–
You disbelieve! Who wonders and who cares?