Friday, October 31, 2014

Hope Springs Eternal--Even During Fall

A journalist has noted that journalists just don't understand the Catholic Church and don't write about us honestly--in Time Magazine, no less:

The "Pope Francis supports evolution" story is just the latest example of the press getting the Catholic Church completely wrong

It is official: the media has gone bananas in its coverage of Pope Francis.

Pope Francis’ real role in this evolution hubbub was small. He spoke, as Popes do, to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on Monday, which had gathered to discuss “Evolving Topics of Nature,” and he affirmed what Catholic teaching has been for decades. “God is not a divine being or a magician, but the Creator who brought everything to life,” he said. “Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve.”

Anyone who knows anything about Catholic history knows that a statement like this is nothing new.

But news coverage, as from MSNBC, would have us think that this was something new and more precisely that this was something that demonstrated once again that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was a reactionary, medieval, conservative pope, and Pope Francis is a modern, open minded and liberal pope:

It doesn't seem to matter that Pope Benedict XVI called the debate between evolution and creation an “absurdity” in 2007. MSNBC opened its piece saying, “Pope Francis made a significant rhetorical break with Catholic tradition Monday by declaring that the theories of evolution and the Big Bang are real.” NBCNews called the Pope’s statement, “a theological break from his predecessor Benedict XVI, a strong exponent of creationism.”

I've seen this statement before but can't give the source: if someone covering sports--say, the World Series in baseball--showed such a lack of knowledge of their subject, he or she would be fired or reassigned immediately. The sport page readers or game show listeners would light up the switchboard with calls of rage and for removal. Of course if Catholics make those kind of calls it's just special pleading. But it's not right or just that reporters can mislead their readers so much either out of ignorance or manipulation.

And if the mainstream media agrees with Pope Francis so much, perhaps the reporters should read again what he said about Pope Benedict XVI:

"Benedict XVI was a great pope," he said: "Great for the power and penetration of his intellect, great for his considerable contribution to theology, great for his love for the church and for human beings, great for his virtues and his religiosity."

Pope Francis praised his predecessor Oct. 27 at a meeting of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. The academicians invited Pope Francis to unveil a bronze bust of Pope Benedict at the academy's headquarters in the Vatican Gardens.

The pope said he was pleased that the statue's face and particularly its eyes captured the spirit, intelligence and love of Pope Benedict.

"This spirit, far from crumbling with the passing of time, will appear greater and more powerful from generation to generation," the pope predicted.

With his intellectual curiosity and his love for science, Pope Benedict especially enjoyed conversing with scientists at the Pontifical Academy, Pope Francis said.

"No one could ever say of him that study and science made him and his love for God and his neighbor wither. On the contrary, knowledge, wisdom and prayer enlarged his heart and his spirit," the pope said. "Let us thank God for the gift that he gave the church and the world with the existence and the pontificate of Pope Benedict."

I feel like that Martian character from Looney Tunes: "This makes me very angry, very angry indeed."

Fasting on Halloween? No Candy?

What a scary thought!  Halloween as we know it now is a night for gathering candy and sweets, dressing up in ghoulish costumes, and watching horror movies! Since today is Halloween and also Friday, we should either abstain from meat or complete some other penance. We should fast before we feast.

November 1 and November 2 were important days on the Church calendar for all Christians before the Reformation. They fasted on October 31, the vigil of the feast of all the saints in heaven. "Halloween" means the evening before All Hallows--All Saints.  All Hallows/All Saints was a Holyday of obligation then as it is today, meaning that Catholics were to attend Mass. Thus the term "Hallowmas" like Christmas, Michaelmas, etc.

As important as All Saints Day was because of the devotion of the people to their patron saints, All Souls Day was also important because it was the day set aside for praying for the dead who were not yet in Heaven. The Poor Souls in Purgatory were still undergoing their purification because of their attraction to sin during their time on earth. Their final destination was Heaven, but they were suffering in Purgatory--so their family on earth prayed for them, hastening their Heavenly happiness. 

Sadly, because of the Reformation, which in addition to tearing Christians in this world apart, the great unity of Christians on earth, in heave,n and in purgatory was torn apart--add to that the commercialization of Halloween with horror movies and parties and costumes--and we Catholics don't know what Halloween is any more and how to celebrate it.

Scott Richert writes about the concerns some Catholics and Christians have about celebrating Halloween because of its "pagan origins", explaining:

Despite concerns among some Catholics and other Christians in recent years about the "pagan origins" of Halloween, there really are none. The first attempts to show some connection between the vigil of All Saints and the Celtic harvest festival of Samhain came over a thousand years after All Saints Day became a universal feast, and there's no evidence whatsoever that Gregory III or Gregory IV was even aware of Samhain.

In Celtic peasant culture, however, elements of the harvest festival survived, even among Christians, just as the Christmas tree owes its origins to pre-Christian Germanic traditions without being a pagan ritual.

And then he explains more about the development of the celebration of Halloween and opposition to it, focusing on England before and after the Reformation:

Combining the Celtic and the Christian

The Celtic elements included lighting bonfires, carving turnips (and, in America, pumpkins), and going from house to house, collecting treats, as carolers do at Christmas. But the "occult" aspects of Halloween—ghosts and demons—actually have their roots in Catholic belief. Christians believed that, at certain times of the year (Christmas is another), the veil separating earth from Purgatory, Heaven, and even Hell becomes more thin, and the souls in Purgatory (ghosts) and demons can be more readily seen. Thus the tradition of Halloween costumes owes as much, if not more, to Christian belief as to Celtic tradition.

The (First) Anti-Catholic Attack on Halloween

The current attacks on Halloween aren't the first. In post-Reformation England, All Saints Day and its vigil were suppressed, and the Celtic peasant customs associated with Halloween were outlawed. Christmas and the traditions surrounding it were similarly attacked, and the Puritan Parliament banned Christmas outright in 1647. In the Northeastern United States, Puritans outlawed the celebration of both Christmas and Halloween, which were revived largely by German Catholic (in the case of Christmas) and Irish Catholic (in the case of Halloween) immigrants in the 19th century.

He gives good advice about balancing the pros and cons of trick or treating, but it's clear that the true way to celebrate Halloween is to remember and apply Blessed John Henry Newman's warning: "Life is short. death is certain, and the world to come everlasting" on Halloween and every other day.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

P.D. James' Fan Fiction: "Death Comes to Pemberley"

P.D. James apologizes to Jane Austen for writing this pastiche, a mystery novel sequel to Pride and Prejudice. Perhaps she should have apologized to Elizabeth Bennett Darcy, whose character is the one done harm, not Jane Austen herself. Since the mystery of who murdered--why was the title not Murder at Pemberley?--Captain Denny dominates the story, Elizabeth does not have the opportunity to sparkle with wit and humor at others' follies, although it is reported that she has done so on occasion. Only after the crisis of the murder, the inquest and the trial do we see flashes of Elizabeth's character created by Austen.

James creates links to Pride and Prejudice and other Austen fiction throughout the novel with references to previous events and characters like Anne Eliott from Persuasion and Harriet Smith from Emma. But since there's a mystery to to be solved, the focus is on the investigation of the crime: interviews, confessions, and legal proceedings dominate the action. Elizabeth's input throughout the novel is to manage the household, take care of her sister-in-law Georgiana, visit the tenants in the cottage on the estate, and assist Darcy in practical matters. She notices things about the tenants and she is certainly involved in Georgiana's prospective choice between two suitors, but so much has to be deferred while Captain Denny's accused murderer is under investigation and on trial. Darcy is involved in most of the legal proceedings as witness and brother to the accused (Wickham); Elizabeth may accompany him to London for the trial but there is no possibility that she will attend it, for example.

James begins the novel back with the Bennetts at Longbourn as Mrs. Bennett is so relieved to have married off four of her five daughters--and you might be surprised at the one who got married and which one is still at home. She and Lydia, Lady Catherine de Brough, and Mr. Collins are as irritating as ever, while Elizabeth has second thoughts about her good friend Charlotte who married Mr. Collins after Elizabeth turned him down. The mood of the novel is dark. Judging by the synopsis of the second episode of the BBC adaptation, that dramatization overstates Darcy's second-guessing of his marriage to Elizabeth.

All ends well, however. To comment on the presence of clergymen in this novel: Good Church of England pastors like the Reverends Mr. Oliphant and Cornbinder come off well as practical men of good sense and kindness. Mr. Oliphant protects the Darcy family from the curiosity of those attending Sunday services with an incomprehensible and long sermon and conversation after the service is over. He and Dr. McFee (a good name for a doctor: "make fee") take crucial action while Reverend Corbinder helps both Wickham and Darcy. But the Reverend Mr. Collins is the same Mr. Collins, insulting Elizabeth while angling for a better living at Pemberley!

I don't know if I can really recommend Death Comes to Pemberley; James is well known as an excellent writer--and she does recreate Austen's prose style with an opening sentence that echoes the beginning of Pride and Prejudice--but perhaps like so many other fans of Jane Austen, she should have been satisfied by Austen's accomplishments.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Pope Benedict Appreciates the Ordinariate's Appreciation

According to the Friends of the Ordinariate website, they've received a letter from Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI in response to a thank you letter they had written him:

The Chairman had written to Benedict XVI to express his gratitude for the gift of the Ordinariate. He had also sent the Pope Emeritus a brief history – translated into German – of the Ordinariate’s central church, Our Lady of the Assumption and St Gregory’s, Warwick Street (London, W1). This church is built on the site of a Bavarian embassy chapel, which was pillaged during the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots (1780).

In his letter, His Holiness asked Nicolas Ollivant to “convey my thanks to all [the Ordinariate’s] members”, before saying that he is “particularly glad that the former Bavarian Chapel has now become … [the] Ordinariate’s church, and serves such an important role in the whole Church of God.”

The site offers a translation of the letter, since it was written in German as was part of the message the Friends had sent Pope Benedict, and an image of the letter.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Wrong Lizzie

I watched part one of  Death Comes to Pemberley this Sunday, the BBC adaptation of P.D. James' mystery novel Austen pastiche. The actress playing Elizabeth Bennett Darcy is utterly miscast: Elizabeth should be pretty, happy, and witty. This lady has scraggly hair and when her sister Jane showed up the mistake in casting/makeup/styling was clear--Elizabeth's sister-in-law Georgiana is so beautiful too so the contrast is striking. She looked more like poor Anne Elliott than Elizabeth!

James evidently brings out--I have not read the book--some skeletons from the Darcy closet: bad blood between the Darcy's and a neighboring family and a wastrel ancestor. There are several mysteries at Pemberley: the murder of Wickham's friend Denny; Colonel Fitzwilliam's meeting with a mysterious lady; a baby whose parentage is unknown, and the ultimate question: will Elizabeth's and Darcy's marriage survive this debacle and the presence of her family and Lady Catherine de Bourgh!

The synopsis of episode one from PBS:

One the eve of the annual Lady Anne ball at their magnificent Pemberley estate, the silver gleams, the kitchen bustles with activity, the grounds evoke serenity and order, and alongside her husband Darcy, Pemberley's Lady Elizabeth presides. Together, they welcome their guests: Colonel Fitzwilliam, Darcy's severe cousin and a newly-minted heir in a dutiful search for a wife; young lawyer Henry Alveston, a sincere admirer of Darcy's gentle-natured sister Georgiana; and the histrionic Mrs. Bennet and her long-suffering husband. Unwelcome and uninvited are the Wickhams.

Yet the pre-ball festivities are brought to an abrupt halt when a coach races up to Pemberley carrying an hysterical Lydia Wickham, shrieking "Murder!" Darcy leads a search party and discovers the old thorn in his side, George Wickham, distraught and covered in blood, dragging the body of Captain Denny, whom he'd pursued mid-argument into the dark woods.

All evidence—now in the hands of the magistrate Hardcastle, an old Darcy adversary—points to Wickham's guilt. Has Wickham committed the ultimate crime? And innocent or not, will he finally damage Pemberley and its residents beyond repair?

Not to give anything away, but I do think one problem with the magistrate's case is: where is the murder weapon? Episode two airs next Sunday.

Monday, October 27, 2014

American Jacobites? "The Royalist [American] Revolution"

From Harvard University Press:

Generations of students have been taught that the American Revolution was a revolt against royal tyranny. In this revisionist account, Eric Nelson argues that a great many of our “founding fathers” saw themselves as rebels against the British Parliament, not the Crown. The Royalist Revolution interprets the patriot campaign of the 1770s as an insurrection in favor of royal power—driven by the conviction that the Lords and Commons had usurped the just prerogatives of the monarch.

Leading patriots believed that the colonies were the king’s own to govern, and they urged George III to defy Parliament and rule directly. These theorists were proposing to turn back the clock on the English constitution, rejecting the Whig settlement that had secured the supremacy of Parliament after the Glorious Revolution. Instead, they embraced the political theory of those who had waged the last great campaign against Parliament’s “usurpations”: the reviled Stuart monarchs of the seventeenth century.

When it came time to design the state and federal constitutions, the very same figures who had defended this expansive conception of royal authority—John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, James Wilson, and their allies—returned to the fray as champions of a single executive vested with sweeping prerogatives. As a result of their labors, the Constitution of 1787 would assign its new president far more power than any British monarch had wielded for almost a hundred years. On one side of the Atlantic, Nelson concludes, there would be kings without monarchy; on the other, monarchy without kings.

HUP posted an interview with the author in July this year and Jack N. Rakove reviews it, with some reservations, for The Weekly Standard:

Eric Nelson is a young historian of political thought at Harvard whose basic ambition is to transform every topic he studies. He has published three books in the past decade, and each seeks to transform a major subject in the study of early modern (16th-18th century) political ideas. His first book, The Greek Tradition in Republican Thought (2004), identifies a mode of thinking about the collective use of property that departs sharply from the emphasis on political liberty and personal independence that dominates the scholarly interpretation of early modern republicanism. Nelson built on this argument in his second book, The Hebrew Republic (2010), by noting how early modern thinkers used the biblical idea of the half-century Jubilee to support the redistribution of property. But that book’s greater contribution lies elsewhere. Nelson argues that the Jews’ desire to replace direct divine rule with monarchy, as expressed in 1 Samuel 8:4-9 and rabbinic commentaries, provides a basis for preferring representative government to arbitrary royalty. The use of these sources by early modern writers demonstrates that creative political thinking was profoundly informed by religious texts and concerns and was not merely a secular development.

The Royalist Revolution, Nelson turns his attention from Europe to revolutionary America. His argument will alternately surprise, shock, distress, and outrage many scholars, but it will also help to reshape a debate about the origins of the presidency, a topic that gravely matters as we agonize over the role of the post-9/11 executive in our impassioned and impasse-ridden politics.

Nelson’s argument begins with an ingenious analysis of a surprising claim that American revolutionaries made just before independence. Resistance leaders and the Continental Congress repeatedly urged George III to take their side in the struggle against Parliament’s assertion that it possessed unlimited authority to enact laws governing the colonies “in all cases whatsoever.” In their view, the king should act as a wholly independent monarch who would treat each of his empire’s representative assemblies as possessing essentially the same authority. If Parliament overstepped its power in enacting laws for the colonists, the king should intervene, wielding his royal veto against unjust legislation. He should act, as Thomas Jefferson memorably wrote in 1774, as “the balance of a great, if a well poised empire.” Far from clinging unthinkingly to the Glorious Revolution settlement of 1688 and its aftermath, which made the British king a decidedly constitutional and limited monarch, George III should reclaim his prerogative and vigorously exercise the independent powers that custom and theory located in the executive. The clearest exponent of this view was James Wilson of Pennsylvania, who later played a critical role in shaping the novel presidency that emerged from the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

Other scholars, myself included, have never known quite what to make of these claims. Taken at face value, they imply an ignorance of British governance so profound as to make the colonists seem like political idiots. Perhaps the claims can be read as an ultimatum to Britain’s ruling class. The colonists really did not believe that the king would take this part. They simply wanted to demonstrate that they would no longer recognize any parliamentary jurisdiction over America, beyond allowing it to regulate imperial trade, a power that had to be lodged somewhere.

Nelson powerfully demonstrates that there was a depth to this position that other scholars have simply missed. In his view, some (though hardly all) American leaders had become “patriot royalists” who were strikingly sympathetic to the monarchist arguments that the “execrable” Stuart monarchs of the 17th century had made against Parliament. The key texts here pivot on a largely forgotten struggle in the 1620s, when Parliament tried to enact legislation regulating American fisheries, and James I and Charles I each wielded the royal prerogative to insist that the colonies were not subject to parliamentary governance. For patriot royalists arguing within the precedent-laden traditions of Anglo-American governance, the Stuart success on this point in the 1620s provided crucial evidence that the colonists could revive and deploy a century-and-a-half later.

Read the rest of the detailed review there.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Von Hildebrand's Battle Against Hitler

A major publication by Image Books and the Hildebrand Project:

How does a person become Hitler’s enemy number one? Not through espionage or violence, it turns out, but by striking fearlessly at the intellectual and spiritual roots of National Socialism.

Dietrich von Hildebrand was a German Catholic thinker and teacher who devoted the full force of his intellect to breaking the deadly spell of Nazism that ensnared so many of his beloved countrymen.

His story might well have been lost to us were it not for this memoir he penned in the last decades of his life at the request of his wife, Alice von Hildebrand. In My Battle Against Hitler, covering the years from 1921 to 1938, von Hildebrand tells of the scorn and ridicule he endured for sounding the alarm when many still viewed Hitler as a positive and inevitable force. He expresses the sorrow of having to leave behind his home, friends, and family in Germany to conduct his fight against the Nazis from Austria. He recounts how he defiantly challenged Nazism in the public square, prompting the German ambassador in Vienna to describe him to Hitler as "the architect of the intellectual resistance in Austria." And in the midst of all the danger he faced, he conveys his unwavering trust in God, even during his harrowing escape from Vienna and his desperate flight across Europe, with the Nazis always just one step behind.

Dietrich von Hildebrand belongs to the very earliest anti-Nazi resistance. His public statements led the Nazis to blacklist him already in 1921, long before the horrors of the Third Reich and more than twenty-three years before the famous assassination attempt on Hitler in July 1944. His battle would culminate in the countless articles he published in Vienna, a selection of which are featured in this volume.

"It is an immense privilege," writes editor John Henry Crosby, founder of the Hildebrand Project, "to present to the world the shining witness of one man who risked everything to follow his conscience and stand in defiance of tyranny."

The Hildebrand Project website provides a generous sample and asks for help promoting the book. I joined the launch team and look forward to receiving my copy. I am also interested in how this book supplements his widow's book, The Soul of a Lion: The Life of Dietrich von Hildebrand, published by Ignatius Press (using the same photograph!) in 2000. Alice von Hildebrand has also written her memoirs: Memoirs of a Happy Failure, about how she faced another form of totalitarianism, relativism--teaching for 37 years at Hunter College. You may also read an excerpt from her book on TAN Books' website.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Books ARE Glorious!

A Clerk of Oxford translates an ode to books from an Old English poem:

'Books are glorious. They abundantly proclaim
the appointed purpose to anyone who thinks at all.
They strengthen and made stable the steadfast thought,
gladden the heart of every man
amid the pressing miseries of this life.
Saturn says:
Bold is he who tastes the skill of books;
he will ever be the wiser who has command of them.
Solomon says:
Victory they send to each of the true-hearted,
the haven of healing for those who love them.'

Further comment:

The value to be found in books, and in learning and wisdom generally, is a common theme in Anglo-Saxon poetry - although the most famous bookworm in Old English gets nothing by the books he devours! TheSolomon and Saturn example is particularly nice because it doesn't just talk about the value but the pleasure of books: they amyrgað 'make merry, gladden' the heart in the midst of the troubles of the world. Don't they, indeed?

Today, of course, books are so readily available--in earlier eras they have been rare, expensive, and of limited range. Terry Teachout points out in a recent column in The Wall Street Journal that for all their availability, the way we shop for books has actually limited their range--if we don't shop in real bookstores, used or new, and only search on line for the books we think we need, we don't find the book(s) we really might need. He offers an excerpt from the column (behind The WSJ paywall) on his blog;

On a recent trip to Chicago, I spent an hour wandering through the Seminary Co-Op, the University of Chicago’s much-loved independent bookstore, which claims to have more than 100,000 titles in stock at any given moment. I bought three books during my visit. . . .

He explains that two of the books he bought, on subjects he is interested in, he had never heard of:

What’s the point of this anecdote? Just this: It was solely because I visited the Seminary Co-Op that I bought those two books. Yet it had been at least two years, if not more, since I’d set foot in a large brick-and-mortar bookstore. Nor can I remember the last time that I went into a record store of any size. Like a fast-growing number of Americans, I now do virtually all of my book and record buying online. It’s cheaper and infinitely more convenient to click a few keys and be done with it.

That’s the good part. Here’s the bad part: Nowadays I buy a book or record onlybecause I’m specifically looking for it. But when I went to the Seminary Co-Op, I browsed purely for the sake of browsing, and in so doing made two happy discoveries. Had I not stumbled across “Music Makes Me” and “Benny Goodman’s Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert” purely by chance, I doubt I would ever have learned of their existence, much less bought and read them.

In 2006 I noted in this space that online stores like Amazon were “seeking to replace the personal touch…with ‘preference engines’ that automatically generate computerized lists of ‘other items you might enjoy’ each time you make a purchase.” Eight years later, I can report that these marketing tools haven’t made the slightest bit of difference in my own life. So far as I can recall, I’ve never bought an “other item you might enjoy” from Amazon, not even once.

For me, then, preference engines have not replaced browsing. But neither has anything else. As a result, I no longer browse. What’s more, I suspect that my experience is widely shared. Browsing, it appears, will soon be as dead as dial phones. That constitutes a huge cultural shift, one whose unintended consequences are not yet clear. Still, I’m sure that they’re going to be significant, and if I had to guess, I’d say they’ll be harmful….

I agree with Teachout. Long live Eighth Day Books, which just celebrated its 26th anniversary--with a sale, at which I browsed, and found two books to buy!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Katherine Parr's Only Baby, Another Tudor Mystery

Linda Porter wrote about Katherine Parr's baby girl, named Mary after Henry VIII's eldest daughter, for History Today in 2011. Mary's mother, died in childbed and then her father was beheaded " for treason on March 17th, 1549, leaving Lady Mary an orphan at the age of seven months." Sadly, Mary did not find a very loving guardian, even though the person selected shared her mother's religious views:

Thomas did not appoint any of his own or Katherine’s relatives as guardian to his daughter. He could scarcely have handed her to the brother who signed his death warrant and no one else among the extended Parr or Seymour families seems to have taken much interest in the child. Like most of his former ‘friends’, they were all trying to put as much distance between themselves and Thomas Seymour as possible. Instead, Katherine Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk, a close friend of Katherine Parr and a lady of seemingly unimpeachable reforming religious ideas, was appointed as guardian. It was not a charge she accepted with enthusiasm.

Despite her strong religious views, the duchess’s bosom was not full of Christian charity. Lady Mary may have been a dispossessed orphan, but she was an expensive one. As a queen’s daughter, she came with a household of her own, consisting of a lady governess, rockers, laundresses and other servants. The government was supposed to provide for her upkeep and the payment of her staff but the duchess could not get Somerset to part with the money until she appealed to William Cecil, then a prominent member of the duke’s household, to intervene on her behalf. The letter she wrote makes it clear how much she resented ‘the queen’s child’, as she frostily referred to the little girl.

Katherine Brandon (pictured above), the widow of Charles Brandon, did get some money from the seized (attainted) estate of Thomas Seymour, but what happened to the little girl is still unclear, although there is a clue:

The answer to this compelling Tudor mystery seems to lie in a Latin book of poems and epitaphs written by John Parkhurst, Katherine Parr’s chaplain, who had previously served the Duke and Duchess of Suffolk. The discovery was made by the American academic, Janel Mueller, but has been overlooked by historians. I am grateful to Jean Bray, the archivist at Sudeley Castle, for drawing it to my attention. In Parkhurst’s Ludicra sive Epigrammata juvenilia, published in 1573, appears the following poem, which translated reads:

I whom at the cost
Of her own life
My queenly mother
Bore with the pangs of labour
Sleep under this marble
An unfit traveller.
If Death had given me to live longer
That virtue, that modesty, That obedience of my excellent Mother
That Heavenly courageous nature
Would have lived again in me.
Now, whoever
You are, fare thee well
Because I cannot speak any more, this stone
Is a memorial to my brief life

Though no name is given, this must surely be the epitaph that Parkhurst, who would have known Lady Mary Seymour, wrote on her death. It suggests, as has long been conjectured, that she died young, probably around the age of two. She may well be buried in Lincolnshire, near Grimsthorpe, the estate owned by the Duchess of Suffolk, where she had lived as an unwelcome burden for most of her short, sad life.

Perhaps the Princess Mary, for whom the little baby was named, would have been a better choice as guardian, if her Catholicism could have been overlooked. Reports are that she loved children, and might not have found little Mary "an unwelcome burden".

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Robert Hugh Benson, RIP

I missed posting a notice of the anniversary of Robert Hugh Benson's death last Sunday (October 19; he died in 1914), but want to make up for it by noting his poetry today. A book of his poems was published in the U.S. by P.J Kenedy & Sons of New York soon after his death with an introduction by Wilfred Meynell.

Meynell noted first the purpose for which Benson published his poetry: as a fundraising effort:

Yet one may be named apart, the Homes of Mr. Norman Potter, since it was for their benefit that he put into the market the autobiographical and heart-searching poems here printed. They are very intimate; and as such are proper to poetry even in the case of a writer who had not specially studied the mechanism of poetry as his medium. Under cover of poetical convention, he is able to bare himself, equally in the lines written before he became a Catholic in 1903, and in "The Priest's Lament" of a later date. In "Christian Evidences" he gets back to his intuitions; to that which made him, ardent investigator though he was, ever in closer touch with the simple than with the scientific -- back to that witness within himself which Christ promises and gives to all His own; while in "Visions of the Night" we are at close quarters with that apprehensiveness which, while it imposed suffering, also conferred insight -- the insight by which others learned to see. One passage in "Savonarola Moriturus" is especially self-revealing, and that for a reason it is now no breach of decorum to set forth. A year or two before his death he talked with a neophyte on the sacrifices one might have to make for the Faith. "And are you sure you would make them all?" he was asked. His reply was that he would like to say "Yes," but that he dare not answer for what he might be made to yield under bodily torture. The first four lines of the second stanza of the Savonarola poem are the more poignant for this modesty of the author's own estimate of his powers of endurance, powers which he thenceforth put to sharp apprenticeship and test, passing out, not vanquished, but victor.

He then passes over Benson's novels with some comments:

Of his novels I do not here attempt an appreciation. As a ruthless writer, where ruthlessness comes into the scheme of a man's salvation, as it had been in that of his own, let him be ranked. In the spiritual warfare he gave no quarter. Whether he was cruel, besides, in the burning of The Coward, who makes indeed cowards of us all; whether he views woman as no more than an adjunct of man, an accident for the hindering or the helping of his salvation; whether Dorothy is properly killed so that Roger Mallock may prove his vocation; these, and many more, are the problems that palpitate in his pages, and that men and women, according to their varied experiences, will variously adjudge. Of his historical novels in general he was inclined to say very much what he said of "Come Rack, Come Rope": "I fear it is the kind of book which anyone acquainted with the history, manners, and customs of the Elizabethan age should find no difficulty in writing." If in this class, the author proved conspicuously his industry and his facility -- uncommon but not rare faculties -- then in "Initiation" and other studies of current life he was nothing if not individual. In these he was of his age and no other; he was himself and no other. Nor were the sensitivenesses of these books without their effect on the whole of his productions. When in historical romance he described a martyrdom, we have also his own comment on it: "It seems to me, who have never been on the rack, that I have succeeded pretty well in writing down what the rack must have felt like, and the mental states it must have induced. When I had finished writing that scene, I was conscious or very distinct, even slightly painful, sensations in my own wrists and ankles." Obviously there was an apprehension, necessary for one class of book, which greatly benefited the other; and the experience of the hero in "Initiation" could not have been conveyed, had not the author himself gone under an anaesthetic in a nursing home; and again endured another ordeal without an opiate, "to learn what pain really was" -- a sharp lesson of sixty hours. Similarly the description of the headaches of the hero (how real a hero!) in "Initiation," the most vivid description of its class in all English literature, could only have been written by one who had himself suffered them, and suffered them with a sensibility that is fortunately the iron crown conferred upon only the very elect.

Read the rest of the introduction here. You may peruse the poetry here, but here are a couple of samples:


Who hast made this world so wondrous fair; --
  The pomp of clouds; the glory of the sea;
  Music of water; song-birds' melody;
The organ of Thy thunder in the air;
Breath of the rose; and beauty everywhere --
  Lord, take this stately service done to Thee,
  The grave enactment of Thy Calvary
In jewelled pomp and splendour pictured there!

Lord, take the sounds and sights; the silk and gold;
  The white and scarlet; take the reverent grace
  Of ordered step; window and glowing wall --
Prophet and Prelate, holy men of old;
  And teach us children of the Holy Place
Who love Thy Courts, to love Thee best of all.


O God, I love Thee mightily,
Not only for Thy saving me,
Nor yet because who love not Thee
Must burn throughout eternity.
Thou, Thou, my Jesu, once didst me
Embrace upon the bitter Tree.
For me the nails, the soldier's spear,
With injury and insult, bear --
In pain all pain exceeding,
In sweating and in bleeding,
Yea, very death, and that for me
    A sinner all unheeding!
O Jesu, should I not love Thee
Who thus hast dealt so lovingly --
Not hoping some reward to see,
Nor lest I my damnation be
But, as Thyself hast lovèd me,
So love I now and always Thee,
Because my King alone Thou art,
Because, O God, mine own Thou art!