Posted by Dhm on May 17, 2004
In Reply to: Some questions posted by Smokey Stover on May 15, 2004
: : ...and I remember my poor grandmother once incidentally observing, in the course of an
instruction upon the use of the Prayer-book, that it was highly improbable that I should ever do much that I ought not to do, but that she felt convinced beyond a doubt that I should leave undone pretty well everything that I ought to do.
: : 2. The author's family are devout members (possibly mostly female) of the Church of England, of which the most important document after the Bible (or perhaps before!) is the Book of Common Prayer, something every devout Anglican owns and uses. First authorized in 1549, it has been revised frequently, most importantly in 1552 and again in 1662 (as backlash against the Puritans). Granny is holding a little prayer meeting with him, showing him what to do with the Book of Common Prayer, but more importantly (for your excerpt), she uses language from the Book to try to instill in him a sense of obligation. Lord, help me to do that which ought to be done, and keep me from doing that which ought not to be done. (That's not exact language, but I'm not an Anglican.) Granny is skeptical about the author's ability to live up to these rules.
I only want to add to the foregoing that the phrase "in the course of an instruction upon the use of the Prayer-book" seems to me to be a clever euphemism for a good spanking using the object in question.