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High Church vs. Low Church: Documentary Narrative of an Ecclesiastical Joke

Compiled by Richard Mammana, prepared for internet publication by Cynthia McFarland 


Year Anecdote

“I EXPECT six clergymen to dine with me on such a day,” said a gentleman to his butler. “Very good, sir,” said the butler. “Are they High Church or Low Church, sir?” “What on earth can that signify to you?” asked the astonished master. “Everything, sir,” was the reply. “If they are High Church, they’ll drink; if they are Low Church, they’ll eat!”[1]
1869 A clergyman took some friends to a hotel to dine. “Are your friends High Church or Low Church,” asked the waiter, “because, if they are High Church, I must provide more wine; if Low Church, more wittles.”[2].

[...] The waiter who, when ordered to prepare dinner for a party of clergymen, rushed back into the room in hot haste to inquire whether they “were High Church or Low Church gents?” assigned as a reason for his enquiry, that “if the gents were High Church” the wines must be good, and if “Low Church, the wittles must be good,” existed probably only in the inventive imagination of some clerical wag. But we may safely lay it down as a rule that men of all creeds in an endowed and Established Church were not entirely above “creature comforts,” and that the philosophy and religion of most people only enable them to hear with resignation and serenity the privations of others.[3]

A clergyman went to a hotel to order a dinner for a number of clerical friends. “May I ask, sir,” demanded the waiter, gravely, “whether the party is High Church or Low Church?” “Now, what on earth,” cried the clergyman, “do my friends’ opinions matter to you?” “A great deal, sir,” rejoined the waiter; “if High Church, I must provide more wine; if Low Church, more wittles.”[4]

[...] I know more than one reverend gentleman in the present day, to whom life is a burden, who would become young again by a little judicious starving. In a future article I shall endeavour to describe a few of the entertainments of the secular clergy, who were as fond of good living as the monks and abbots. Indeed, it is a curious fact that, even down to the present time, the clergy have always had a speciality for this kind of enjoyment. There is a story of a head waiter, who, on being consulted as to a clerical dinner party, requested to know to what religious division the guests belonged—explaining, by way of apology for the question, that the invariable rule for high church diners was “more wine,” but for evangelicals, “more wittles.” Philips Bevan, “The Monks of Old,” in The Food Journal, June 1, 1870, p. 250.


Squire (to new Butler). “I have three or four Clergymen coming to Dine with me to-morrow, Prodgers, and—”

Mr. Prodgers. “’Igh or Low, Sir?”

Squire. “Well—I hardly— But why do you ask, Prodgers?”

Mr. Prodgers. “Well, you see, Sir, the ‘’Igh’ drinks most Wine, and the ‘Low’ eats most Vittles, and I must perwide accordin’!!”[5]

1879 A Clergyman of Bromwich called at the inn to order dinner for a clerical meeting. “High Church or Low Church, sir?” said the waiter. “What can that matter?” said the clergyman. “Oh, werry important, sir,” says the waiter; “High Church—better wine, sir; Low Church—more wittles.”[6]
1883 [...] You may have heard of the English gentleman who told his butler to make provision for twenty clergymen that he expected to have to dine with him. “Well,” says the butler, “are they ‘igh church or low church?” “What has that to do with your business?” “Very much sir,” said the butler, “for if they be ‘igh church, Hi must provide more wine, but if they be low church, Hi must provide more victuals, for the Evangelicals eat awful.” I think those who provided this banquet must have thought that the Alumni of Hanover College were evangelicals.[7]

Not long ago a peer told his butler that he had some clergymen coming to dine with him. “Are they High-Church or Low-Church, my lord?” “What can it matter?” “Because if they’re High-Church they drink more, and if they’re Low-Church they eat more.” George Eliot in Scenes of Clerical Life, and Anthony Trollope in his novels, have depicted this phase of the average curate.[8]
1885 There's the wine, and every one that knew the deceased Reverend knows that it's sure to be up to the mark; and every one that knows me knows I shouldn't let any be sent in for sale as they do at some auctions. Why, Mr. Briggs (to him of the top boots), you remember old Coker, that used to be landlord of the Maid's Head, at N —, where the parsons mostly go. He told people he always knew how to act at a clergy-dinner. "If they're Low Church," said he, "I look to the puddings and the sweets, and I don't pay much attention to the wine; but if they're High Church, why I know the wine has to be good, no matter what the puddings may be like." Well, now, everybody knows Mr. Clutterbuck was high and dry; so draw your own conclusions." "A Country Auction" in London Society: An Illustrated Magazine of Light and Amusing Literature for the Hours of Relaxation, Volume XLVII (London, 1885), p. 231.
1886 High, Low and Broad

Dr. [Oliver Wendell] Holmes, in the December Atlantic, classifies the Episcopal clergy in this wise: “The Low Church clergy look down, as if they felt themselves to be worms in the dust; the High Church priest drops his head on one side, after the pattern of the mediaeval saints; the Broad Church preacher looks forward and round about him, as if he felt himself the heir of creation.” An old negro waiter in Philadelphia said: “De Low Church eats, de High Church drinks, and de Broad Church, dey jist smokes!” An observing brother once characterized the High Churchmen as Attitudinarians, the Low Churchmen as Platitudinarians, and the Broad Churchmen as Latitudinarians. Still another good one is, High Church, crazy; Low Church, lazy; Broad Church, hazy. We hope our Episcopalian brethren will forgive us, but it is very funny.[9]
1888 [...] The difficulty is not exactly that which agitated the mind of the caterer, who inquired of a customer whether the party for which he was to provide was High Church or Low Church, and who, in reply to the question why he had made such an inquiry, added. “Why, you see, sir, if it is High Church, we pay more attention to the drink, and if Low Church, to the victuals.” The difficulty is rather that of satisfying the teetotal portion of the assembly. [...][10].

“I expect six clergymen to dine with me on such a day,” said a gentleman to his butler. “Very good, sir,” said the butler. “Are they High Church or Low Church, sir?” “What on earth can that signify to you?” asked the astonished master. “Everything, sir,” was the reply. “If they are High Church, they’ll drink; if they are Low Church, they’ll eat![11]
1893 A gentleman said to his butler that, he expected six clergymen to dine with him on such a day. The butler asked whether they were High Church or Low Church. The astonished master asked what on earth that could signify to the butler. The butler replied that it signified everything, because if they were High Church they would drink, and if they were Low Church they would eat.[12]
1896 The dinners of a people are an infallible index of the national life. It has been justly said that there is a whole geological cycle of progressive civilization between the clammy dough out of which a statuette might be moulded and the brittle films that melt upon the tongue like flakes of lukewarm snow. In England, one of the tests by which the various parties in the state church are unerringly distinguished is the test convivial. For example, it is said that some years ago a clergyman in that country went to a hotel to order a dinner for a number of clerical friends.

“May I ask, sir,” said the waiter, gravely, “whether the party is High Church or Low Church?”

“Now, what on earth,” cried the clergyman, “do my friends’ opinions matter to you?”

“A great deal, sir,” rejoined the waiter. “If High Church, I must provide more wine; if Low Church, more wittles.”[13]

1905 De Gustibus.—A well-known Episcopal bishop of high-church tendencies was giving a dinner to a number of his clergy not long ago. In arranging for it with his English butler he was surprised to have the man ask, “Is they ‘igh or low church, sir?” “Why, what possible difference does that make?” the bishop Inquired. “A great deal of difference, sir,” the man replied. “The low church they eats the most, and the ‘igh church they drinks the most, sir!”—Lippincott’s Magazine.[14]
1908 [...] Here is another quaint contrast between the High and Low Church. A clerical dinner having been ordered at a hotel, the landlord inquired as to the theological views of the guests; for, he said, ‘the Low Church eats and the High Church drinks.’ [...][15]
1914 [...] The variation familiar to us about eating and sleeping one’s boarders is ascribed to a London caterer at clerical functions, who said, “If they are Low Church we eats ‘em; if High Church we drinks ‘em.” [...][16]
1915 [...] He summed them up [the differences between the High and the Low parties in the Anglican Church] very briefly, defining the difference between them as “The High Church drink too much and the Low Church eat too much.” [...][17]
1919, 1920 Dr. Fort Newton, former pastor of the London City Temple, tells of a clergyman who went to an hotel in London to order dinner for a number of clerical friends.

“May I ask, sir,” said the waiter, “whether the party is High Church or Low Church?”

“Why do you ask?”

“Because, sir, if High Church, I must provide more wine; if Low Church, more wittles.”[18]


[1] Mark Lemon, The Jest Book: The Choicest Anecdotes and Sayings (London and Cambridge: Macmillan and Co., 1864), p. 33. Verbatim reprints in Lewis Copeland and Faye Copeland, 10,000 Jokes, Toasts and Stories (New York: Doubleday, 1965), p. 504; Ralph Louis Woods, The Modern Handbook of Humor (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1967), p. 429; The Illustrated Weekly of India (Volume 97, Issue 2, 1976), p. 45.

[2] The Latter-Day Saints’ Millennial Star, Volume XXXI, (Liverpool, November 3, 1869), p. 730.

[3] James Smith, The Ratio between Diameter and Circumference in a Circle Demonstrated by Angles, and Euclid’s Theorem, Proposition 32, Book 1, Proved to be Fallacious (Liverpool: Edward Howell, 1870) p. lxxx.

[4] Boys of England: A Young Gentleman’s Journal of Sport, Travel, Fun and Instruction, Volume VII, Number 163 (London, January 1, 1870) p. 91; The Index (Toledo, Ohio, February 19, 1870) Volume I, Number 8, p. 7; The Australian Journal: A Family Newspaper of Literature and Science, Volume V: Part 57 (February, 1870), p. 370. In American publications, the paragraph begins “An English clergyman [...].” See Los Angeles Herald, September 13, 1891, p. 1.

[5] Punch, or the London Charivari (December 9, 1878). Reprinted in Carl Gustaf Laurin, Skämtbilden och dess historia i Konsten (Stockholm: P.A. Nostedt & Söner, 1908), p. 256. D. Wallace Duthie, The Church in the Pages of “Punch” (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1912), p. 112. Attributed in Duthie to Charles Keene. “The table preferences of the two great parties in the Church”

[6] Frederick Locker-Lampson, Patchwork (London: Smith, Elder, 1879), p. 38; George Newnes, editor, Tit-Bits from All the Most Interesting Books, Periodicals and Newspapers in the World (London), Vol. I, No. 17, February 11, 1882, p. 1.

[7] D.W. Moffat in Proceedings and Addresses of the Alumni Jubilee and the Semi-Centennial Commencement of Hanover College (Madison, Indiana: The Courier Company, 1883) p. 82.

[8] “Dr. Pusey: His Life and Doings” in The Catholic World, Volume XXXVI, No. 216, (March, 1883), p. 820.

[9] Frank Leslie’s Sunday Magazine, Volume XIX, No. 4, (New York, April, 1886), p. 338, citing “The New Portfolio” in The Atlantic Monthly, Volume LVI, No. CCCXXXVIII, (December, 1885), p. 844.

[10] The Phonetic Journal, Volume 47, (London, April 7, 1888), p. 158.

[11] Rufus Edmonds Shapley, The Library of Wit and Humor, Prose and Poetry, Volume 4 (Philadelphia: Gebbie & Co., 1891), p. 194; reprinted without this title in Robert Jones Burdette, compiler, Masterpieces of Wit and Humor (N.p.: E.J. Long, 1903), p. 503.

[12] John Franklin Genung, Outlines of Rhetoric Embodied in Rules, Illustrative Examples, and a Progressive Course of Prose Composition (Boston: Ginn and Company, 1893), pp. 154-155.

[13] William Mathews, Nugae Litterariae: or, Brief Essays on Literary, Social, and Other Themes (London: Sampson Low, Marston  & Co., 1896), p. 285.

[14] The Homiletic Review: An International Magazine of Religion, Theology and Philosophy, Volume XLIX, Number 6, (June, 1905), p. 476; also printed in Grain World, 1905, p. 221.

[15] Lionel Arthur Tollemache, Old and Odd Memories (London: Edward Arnold, 1908), p. 94.

[16] The Independent, Volume 78, Number 3419, (New York: June 15, 1914), p. 499.

[17] Alfred Octavius Capper, A Rambler’s Recollections and Reflections (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1915), p. 99.

[18] Current Opinion, Volume LXVII, No. 5 (New York, December, 1919) p. 339; American Cookery, Formerly the Boston Cooking-School Magazine, Volume XXIV, No. 6 (Boston: January, 1920), p. 458.

Broad Church Addenda

Year Anecdote
1891 When the hostess is ordering her dinner, she should bear in mind who her guests are to be, and arrange her bill of fare in accordance with her bill of company. The advisability of this is illustrated in the anecdote told of an English restaurateur who, on being ordered to prepare a dinner for twelve clergymen, begged respectfully to know if they were High-Church or Broad-Church, “for hif ’Igh-Church, they wants more wine; hif Broad-Church, more wittles.”[19]
1900 The position of the purveyor for a picnic resembles that of the caterer who, when told to arrange a dinner for a party of Church of England clergymen, demanded whether they were High or Broad Church. “Because, hif they are ’Igh, sir, they wants more wine; hif Broad, more wittles.”[20].
1907 That is an old story of the English restaurant proprietor who inquired carefully as to the ritualistic tendencies of the clergymen for whom he was to provide a dinner. He explained his interest thus: “If they are ’igh Church, they wants more wine, if Broad Church, more wittles.”[21].

[19] Christine Terhune Herrick, What to Eat and How to Serve It (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1891), p. 195.

[20] Christine Terhune Herrick, New Idea Home and Cook Book (New York: Isaac H. Blanchard, 1900), p. 133.

[21] Christine Terhune Herrick, Sunday Night Suppers (Boston: Dana Estes and Company, 1907), p. 75. Also Harper's Bazaar, August 1905, p. 765.

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