‘parson’s week’: meanings and origin

The obsolete phrase parson’s week denotes a holiday period of thirteen days, from Monday to the Saturday of the following week, humorously regarded as the longest holiday available to a parson who was excused one Sunday’s duties.

This phrase later came to also denote a holiday period of six days, from Monday to the Saturday of the same week.

The earliest occurrences of the phrase parson’s week that I have found are as follows, in chronological order:

1 & 2-: From two letters that the English Anglican priest, academic and antiquarian Michael Tyson (1740-1780) wrote to the English antiquarian Richard Gough (1735-1809)—as published in Literary Anecdotes of the Eighteenth Century (London: Printed for the author, by Nichols, Son, and Bentley, 1814), by the English printer, magazine editor, author and antiquarian John Nichols (1745-1826):

1-: First letter—dated 30th September 1772:

Nasmith and myself are fixed in our intentions of beginning our Oxford journey on Monday the 12th of next month, if we can get a recommendation: but, alas! we fear Tom Warton is at Winchester; and Ashby, the only person who is acquainted with Huddesford, is not in Cambridge. By the foot of Ovinus’s Cross, let me beg and intreat you to get us a line in our favour—we only want admittance to the Lions. Look over the Society’s List. You must find a friend who has a resident friend. We mean to be at the Angel, and shall be absent a parson’s week, though not above half that time at Oxford. For God’s sake, meet us, and get us an introduction. You shall employ my pencil the whole time.

2-: Second letter—dated 2nd October 1772:

We mean to make a complete parson’s week, and four days will answer all our purposes at Oxford; so that we can and will attend you to Salisbury, or where you will, for the remaining time. Fail not, therefore, to come.

3-: From a letter, dated 28th June 1790, that the English poet William Cowper (1731-1800) wrote to his cousin, Harriet Hesketh (née Cowper – 1733-1807)—as published in The Works of William Cowper, Esq. (London: Baldwin and Cradock, 1836), by the English poet Robert Southey (1774-1843):

I expect to see shortly Mrs. Bodham here and her husband. If they come, which depends on the recovery of a relation of theirs, at present very much indisposed, they will stay, I imagine, a parson’s week, that is to say, about a fortnight and no longer.

4-: From State of Paris, published in The British Review, and London Critical Journal (London, England) of May 1816:

Since […] the time is so pleasantly shortened that the tradesman’s week from Saturday to Monday sennight, or the parson’s week from Monday to the ensuing Saturday, may suffice to give all the necessary talk, and really to make a tolerably travelled gentleman, fashion has overspread the nation, and taken full possession of the manufactory and the market.

5-: From Heraline; Or, Opposite Proceedings (London: Printed for F. C. and J. Rivington, 1821), by the English novelist Lætitia-Matilda Hawkins (1759-1835):

He wished it might be possible, by strict attention to the morals of his flock, to deserve that encomium which his friend had received, when a frequent visitor called his parish ‘an Oasis of Christian virtue.’
With so much in view, and perfectly ready to increase his diligence by every exertion that could control evil and assist in all the species of good, the vicar had had no fear of retirement; and an occasional ‘parson’s-week’s’ visit to the metropolis to see how life proceeded there, was all the intercourse he wished for.

6-: From The Clerical Portrait; A Study for the Young Divine (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green, 1824):

If home hold out so many charms to men of all conditions and circumstances, these charms come doubly recommended to the country clergyman. It is very desirable, nay, absolutely essential, that his pleasures (I use the word clerically) should never lead him far or frequently from his parish. The “parson’s week,” as it is deridingly termed, is an unsafe latitude wherein to indulge. The house of merriment to day may be the house of mourning to morrow. Joy may illumine its chambers when you leave it, and heaviness may darken them ere you return. Death may have set his mark upon that house; suffering may have poured forth her sorrows unpitied and unsolaced; doubt may have been still wavering to the last; and sin still unrepented. A day or an hour will furnish this lesson of mortality—a week is often an eventful period indeed!

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