Posts Tagged ‘Edwin Muir’

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Book Recommendation: Literary Converts by Joseph Pearce

August 26, 2009

literary convertsA reader at Amazon wrote: “Starting with Oscar Wilde (of all people) and ending more or less with the rather sad deaths of Evelyn Waugh, Hugh Ross Williamson, and Alec Guiness, Joseph Pearce has created an enjoyable, readable, and enormously fun history of English converts and near-converts to Catholicism. It’s hard to even recall how many names wander about this book. There are so many of them – Chesterton & Belloc, of course, but also Waugh, C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, Ronald Knox, Roy Campbell, Graham Greene, Dorothy Parker and many others wander in and out of the narrative. His writing style is very rapid – some chapters are only a few pages long, and the book is a very quick read. More an introduction than in-depth biographies, the author aims at breadth rather then depth. As he has written many other biographies on the same subjects and includes many footnoted sources, if you want more info you can easily find it. One complaint is a total lack of goodies aside from the footnotes mentioned above -no forward or intro, no conclusion, no photos, and, what really would have been helpful, no list of works these authors wrote.”

A trade publication added: “This erudite book vividly contrasts the faith that marked the lives of many of Great Britain’s more prominent writers of the 20th century with the unbelief that, the author believes, largely marked their times. Many of the book’s “converts” began life as Anglicans and then converted to Roman Catholicism, though some, such as C.S. Lewis and T.S. Eliot, remained with the Church of England. Pearce is at his best when he situates writers within the frameworks of a changing Church and a changing world. For example, he claims that the Catholic Church’s move away from the Latin mass hastened the emotional deterioration that directly preceded Evelyn Waugh’s death. Pearce suggests that because of communist attacks on Catholics in Spain, Scottish poet Roy Campbell supported Franco and was somewhat sympathetic to Nazism. In discussing the post-World War II era, Pearce loses some of his focus: too many minor figures, including Ronald Knox and novelist Robert Hugh Benson, crowd the stage and detract from his more compelling descriptions of such deeply influential authors as G.K. Chesterton, Waugh, Eliot and Graham Greene. Despite its flaws, this volume nonetheless will edify and absorb the reader.”

Kirkus Reviews noted: “This century has seen a decline in church attendance, but as Pearce shows in this fascinating book, many great figures have been deeply influenced and inspired by Christianity. In his study of Christian responses to the ‘age of disbelief’, the author conducts a biographical exploration of believers such as Evelyn Waugh, Oscar Wilde, T S Eliot and G K Chesterton, while drawing into the debate the thoughts of non-believers such as George Bernard Shaw and H G Wells. An intriguing work, whatever your own beliefs.”

I captured a lot of quotes from writers I was unfamiliar with, so there is little of Joseph Pearce here as much as the subjects of his writings. One of the reasons I liked the book was the swift surveys and introductions leaving the authors themselves in their own words. One of the things that will make you sad is when you go to look for their books – too many out of print or not circulating in the public library because of age.

The Subjectivity of Depression; The Objectivity of Prayer
As regards depression….I meant that the cause of depression is subjectivity, always. The Eternal Facts of Religion remain exactly the same, always. Therefore in depression the escape lies in dwelling upon the eternal truths that are true anyhow; and not in self-examination, and attempts at ‘acts’ of the soul that one is incapable of making at such a time….I would say that ‘subjective prayer’ and self-reproach, and dwelling one one’s temporal and spiritual difficulties, is not good at such times; but the objective prayer, e.g. intercessions, adoration, and thanksgiving for the Mysteries of Grace, is the right treatment of one’s soul. And of course the same applies to scruples of every kind.
Robert Hugh Benson

Robert Hugh Benson: Poem
I cannot soar and sing my Lord and love;
     No eagle’s wings have I,
No power to rise and greet my King above,
No heart to fly.
Creative Lord Incarnate, let me lean
     My heavy self on Thee;
Not let my utter weakness come between
     Thy strength and me.

I cannot trace Thy Providence and place,
     Nor dimly comprehend
What in Thyself Thou art, and what is man,
     And what the end.
Here in this wilderness I cannot find
     The path the Wise Men trod;
Grant me to rest on Thee, Incarnate Mind
     And Word of God.

I cannot love, my heart is turned within
     And locked within; (Ah me!
How shivering in self-love I sit) for sin
     Has lost the key.
Ah! Sacred Heart of Jesus, Flame Divine,
     Ardent with great desire,
My hope is set upon that love of Thine,
     Deep Well of Fire.

I cannot live alone another hour;
     Jesus be Thou my Life!
I have not power to strive; be Thou my Power
     In every strife!
I can do nothing – hope, nor love, nor fear,
     But only fail and fall.
Be Thou  my soul and self, O Jesus dear,
     My God and all!
Robert Hugh Benson

Despair Is The Anti-Christ of Humility
…there was the conflict of which I have spoken, There was that in him, which we name will, which continued tense and strong, striving against despair. Neither his mind nor his heart could help him in that night; his mind informed him that he had sinned deadly by presumption, his heart found nowhere God to love; and all that, though he told himself that God was lovable , and adorable, and that he could not fall into hell save by his own purpose and intention. Yet, in spite of all, and when all had failed, his will strove against despair (which is the antichrist of humility)…
Robert Hugh Benson, The Light Invisible

The Reformation Was Rooted In Error
It was a classic example of emptying out the baby with the bath (water). The reformers revolted against the externalism of medieval religion, and so they abolished the Mass. They protested against the lack of personal holiness, and so they abolished the Saints. They attacked the wealth and self-indulgence of he monks and they abolished monasticism and the life of voluntary poverty and asceticism. They had no intention of abandoning the ideal of Christian perfection, but they sought to realize it in Puritanism instead of Monasticism and in pietism instead of mysticism.
Christopher Dawson

The Fundamental Unity Of Catholic Theology And Life
It was by the study of St. Paul and St. John that I first came to understand the fundamental unity of Catholic theology and the Catholic life. I realized the Incarnation, the sacraments, the external order of the Church and the internal work of sanctifying grace, were all parts of one organic unity, a living tree whose roots are in the Divine Nature and whose fruit is the perfection of the Saints…
Christopher Dawson

Spirit and Matter
Your main difficulty seems to me to lie along the old eternal difficulty of he relation between matter and Spirit, the inner and the Outer, Ideas and History. Now of course I agree frankly that the Spirit, the inner, and the idea are primary. So I need not say anything about that. But the next fact is that this Inner Side, does, as a matter of fact, express itself in outer ways. ‘God is Spirit,’ but ‘The Word was made flesh.’ Further, it is quite evident that the outer is always inadequate to the inner. But though it is inadequate to Spirit, this does not mean that it is necessarily inadequate to our conceptions of Spirit, nor that its analogies are not ‘true.’

What therefore Catholics believe with regard to such things is (a) the spiritual principle, (b) that the spiritual principle did, as a matter of fact, express itself in (material) terms. And the more one contemplates the Gospels, the more it becomes evident that no other religion in the world links together in so amazing a way the deepest thoughts we can receive from God and outward events as their expression.
Christopher Dawson

Poem (2nd Sonnet)
One day I heard a whisper: ‘Wherefore wait?
Why linger in a separated porch?
Why nurse the flicker of a separated torch
The fire is there, ablaze beyond the gate.

Why tremble, foolish soul? Why hesitate?
‘However faint the knock, it will be heard.’
I knocked and swiftly came the answering word,
Which bade me enter to my own estate.

I found myself in a familiar place;
And there my broken soul began to mend;
I knew the smile of every long-lost face –

They whom I forgot remembered me;
I knelt, I knew – it was too bright to see –
The welcome of a King who was my friend.
Maurice Baring

Foundations of Modern Thought
The modern thinkers take their rise, practically, from the religious upheaval of the sixteenth century… little by little there came into existence the view that the ‘true religion’ was that system of  belief which each individual thought out for himself; and, since these individuals were not found to agree together, ‘Truth’ finally became more and more subjective; until there was established the most characteristically modern form of thought – namely that Truth was not absolute at all, and that what was true and imperative for one was not true and imperative for another.
Robert Hugh Benson

The Conversion of Wilfred Blunt
Blunt was finally convinced by a personal admission  by Belloc that he himself often went to the sacraments ‘feeling little’. This was a revelation to Blunt, a mystical moment springing from a skeptical statement. Depth in the dryness of dust. Suddenly he perceived that the faltering, flickering candle of the sincere sinner was as much in need of the oxygen of grace as was he flaming faith of the saints. Since Belloc’s faith seemed also to be only a flickering candle, he was ideally suited to help an old man groping in the dark…

The Reality of Beatitude
I am by all my nature of mind skeptical, by all my nature of the body exceedingly sensual. So sensual that the virtues restrictive of sense are but phrases to me. But I accept these phrases as true and act upon them as well as a struggling man can. And as to the doubt of the soul I discover it to be false: a mood not a conclusion. My conclusion – and that of all men who have ever once seen it – is the faith. Corporate, organized, a personality, teaching. A thing, not a theory, It is to you who have the blessing of profound religious emotion, this statement may seem to desiccate…But beyond this there will come in time, if I save my soul, the flesh of these bones – which bones alone I can describe and teach. I know, without feeling (an odd thing in such a connection) the reality of Beatitude; which is the goal of Catholic living.
Hillaire Belloc

The Distributist Creed
The Distributist believes in the distribution of property and the means of production. He insists that the love of property, particularly property in land, is a sane and enduring instinct which needs both to be fostered and controlled… he is opposed to the subordination of the producer to the financier, and of the countryman to the townsman, and he would agree with Burke and Spengler that modern democracy is too often a mask for securing the dominion of the urban proletariat over the peasant. He is convinced that the health of the nation depends very largely on the proportion of men owning their own land or their own small businesses, and he resents the tendency to transform the small owner into the employee of the State or of the chain stores.
Arnold Lunn

St. Thomas’ Objectivity
I was impressed by the fairness which St. Thomas summarized principal arguments which tell against his theses. Professor Thomson, F.R.S., somewhere comments on the contrast between the objectivity with which St. Thomas states and meets the arguments against the Faith and the evasive conspiracy of silence with which the arguments against evolution are ignored. The contrast between the confident rationalism of St. Thomas and the timid emotionalism of our modern prophets was the theme of my book, The Flight From Reason.
Arnold Lunn

The Principal Characteristic Of Modern Philosophy
The principal characteristic of modern philosophy is an implicit premise which, in effect, denies the validity of all philosophy. If Marx and Freud are to be believed, neither Freud nor Marx is to be believed. Marx maintained that the religion, philosophy, art and art of a given period are the by-products of its economic processes. Scholastic philosophy is nothing more that the mirror of the feudal system of land tenure. But, if this be true, Marxist Communism is nothing more that the mirror of the laissez-faire liberalism and industrialism of Victorian England. It has no objective validity. Freud maintained that he reasons with which a man justifies his beliefs are nothing more than the rationalizations invented, post hoc, to justify beliefs imposed upon him by his environment and sexual complexes. We can safely ignore the reasoned arguments with which a man defends his belief, for we shall discover all that is worth knowing about those beliefs by psycho-analyzing the man in question. If this be true, we shall learn all that is worth knowing about Freudianism by psycho-analyzing the Freudian. These modern thinkers are busy sawing off the branch on which they are sitting.
Arnold Lunn

A Reaction Against the Chaos of Modern Thought
There is…one influence that grows stronger every day, never mentioned in the newspapers, not even intelligible to people in the newspaper frame of mind. It is the return of the Thomist philosophy; which is the philosophy of common sense, as compared with the paradoxes of Kant and Hegel and the Pragmatists. The Roman religion will be, in the exact sense, the only Rationalist religion… the return of  the scholastic will simply be the return of the sane man… to say that there is no pain, or no matter, or no evil, or no difference between man and best, or indeed between anything and anything else – this is a desperate effort to destroy all experience and sense of reality; and men will weary of it more and more, when it has ceased to be the latest fashion; and will look once more for something that will give form to such a chaos and keep the proportions of the mind of man.
G.K. Chesterton

Accepted Sorrow
One has to accept sorrow for it to be of any healing power, and that is the most difficult thing in the world…A priest once said to me, “When you understand what accepted sorrow means, you will understand everything. It is the secret to life.”
Maurice Baring

Sex Obsession Of Modern Life
To the majority of people the word “immorality” has come to mean one thing and one thing only…A man may be greedy and selfish; spiteful, cruel, jealous and unjust; violent and brutal; grasping, unscrupulous and a liar; stubborn and arrogant; stupid, morose and dead to every noble instinct – and still we are ready to say of him that he is not an immoral man. I am reminded of a young man who once said to me with perfect simplicity:’ I did not know there were seven deadly sins (lust, gluttony, greed, pride, sloth, wrath, envy): please tell me the names of the other six.
Dorothy Sayers

The Conversion Of Douglas Hyde
While Hyde was reading ….a thought struck him…If the unequal distribution of private property led to great injustice it didn’t necessarily mean that private property was wrong, as the Marxists claimed, but merely that its unequal distribution was wrong. Such a view was at the heart of the Distributist message…was it really so certain as Marxists had imagine that the world must inevitably progress, that the past was necessarily less good and civilized than the present and still less so than the future?…the culture of the Middle Ages had not died with feudalism but was still alive the modern world, a ‘living Catholic culture’…Father Devas replied that the Church existed for sinners…if one could not be a good Catholic, one could at least be a bad one; that even a bad Catholic had a great deal the communist had not got.
Douglas Hyde, news editor of the Daily Worker

Chesterton’s Warning
To put it shortly the evil I am trying to warn you of is not excessive democracy, it is not excessive ugliness, it is not excessive anarchy. It might be stated thus: It is standardization by a low standard…the chief danger confronting us on the artistic and cultural side and generally on the intellectual side at this moment. Whereas the social remedies to this danger were political, the deeper remedies where theological.
G.K. Chesterton

The Soulless Future
The specter of a colossal planned boredom – classless, faithless, frontierless, rootless, deprived of poetry, of historical consciousness, of imagination, and even of emotion; a Wasteland governed, if governable at all, by an elite of dull positivists and behaviorists and technicians, knowing no standards or aspirations but those of their own narrow trade; a world utterly impoverished in spirit, and therefore soon to be impoverished in flesh – this apparition stalks through the calm admonitory pages of T.S. Eliot’s Notes Towards the Definition of Culture
Russell Kirk, Eliot And His Age

C.S. Lewis On the Ordination of Women To The Priesthood
I am guessing that you like me disapprove of something that would cut us off so sharply from all the rest of Christendom, and which would be the very triumph of what they call ‘practical’ and ‘enlightened principles over the far deeper need that the Priest at the Altar must represent he Bridegroom to who we are all, in a sense, feminine….The innovators are really implying that sex is something superficial, irrelevant to the spiritual life. To say that men and women are equally eligible for a certain profession is toe say that for the purposes of that profession their sex is irrelevant…One of the ends for which sex was created was to symbolize to us the hidden things of God. One of the functions of human marriage is to express the nature of the union between Christ and the Church. We have no authority to take the living and seminal figures which God has painted on the canvas of our nature and shift them about as if they were mere geometrical figures….With the Church…we are dealing with male and female not merely as facts of nature but as the live and awful shadows of realities utterly beyond our control and largely beyond our direct knowledge. Or rather we are not dealing with them, (but we shall soon learn if we meddle) they are dealing with us.

Muriel Spark on Her Conversion
In 1953 I was absorbed by the theological writings of John Henry Newman through whose influence I finally became a Roman Catholic…When I am asked about my conversion, why I became a Catholic, I can only say the answer is too easy and too difficult. The simple explanation is that the Roman Catholic faith corresponded to what I had always felt and known and believed; there was no blinding revelation in my case. The more difficult step explanation was the step by step building up of a conviction; as Newman himself pointed out, when asked about is conversion, it was not a thing one could propound ‘between the soup and the fish’ at a dinner party: ‘Let them be to the trouble that I have been to,’ said Newman.

Introduction To An Unfinished Translation
My God, when I dedicate something I have written to any human creature, I am taking away something which does not belong to me, and giving it to one who is not competent to receive it.

What I have written does not belong to me. If I have written the truth then it is God’s truth; it would be true if every human mind denied it, or if there were no human minds in existence to recognize it….if I have written well, it is not because Hobbs, Nobbs,  Noakes and Stokes unite in praising it, but because it contains that interior excellence which is some strange refraction of your own perfect beauty; and of that excellence you alone are the judge. If it proves useful to others, that is because you have seen fit to make use of it as a weak tool, to achieve something in them of that supernatural end which is their destiny, and your secret.

Nor is any human creature in the last resort, competent to receive the poorest of our tributes, then we dedicate a book to any name that is named on earth, we owe it (or so we tell ourselves) to the love we bear him or the admiration he excites in us ,or the aid he has given us in the writing of it. But all we can live or admire in him is only some glimpse of your glory that peeps through the ragged garments of humanity;  all the contribution he has made is only a part, and a small part, of the sufficiency which is your gift…

Into your hands then I remit this book, undedicated …But some of us – and perhaps , a the roots of our being, all of us — cannot forego that search for truth in which full satisfaction is denied us here. We apprehend that there is no encounter with reality, from without or from within, that does not echo with your foot fall. We scrutinize the values, and can give no account of them except as a mask of the divine. Something of all these elusive considerations finds a place in my book. And you, who need nobody’s service, can use anybody’s . So I would ask that, among all the millions of souls you cherish, some few, upon the occasion of reading it, amy learn to understand you a little and to love you much.
Robert Hugh Benson, introduction to his unfinished translation of Story of A Soul

Evelyn Waugh’s Opposition To Vatican II
His dislike to the reform movement was not merely an expression of his conservatism, nor of aesthetic preferences. It was based on deeper things. He believed that in its long history the Church had developed a liturgy which enabled an ordinary sensual man (as opposed to a Saint, who is outside generalization) to approach God and be aware of sanctity and the divine. To abolish all this for the sake of up-to-datedness seemed to him not only silly but dangerous…he could not bear the thought of modernized liturgy. ‘Untune that string,’ he felt, and loss of faith would follow…Whether his fears were justified or not only ‘the unerring sentence of time’ can show.
Christopher Sykes

Reflections on Vatican II
We were concerned to sacrilize the world, not to secularize the Church. We may have wished do simplify the altar, in so far as we bothered about such things at all; we had no desire to displace it for a kitchen table. The Latin of the Mass was not only familiar but numinous, and we had no wish to barter it for a vernacular which has justified our worst fears. We did not wish priests to dress like parishioners, anymore than we wished judges to dress like jurymen. We were anti-modernist and even, except in aesthetics, anti-moderns; radical only in the sense that we wanted to get down to roots, not in the sense that we wanted to pull them up. We were more anxious to preserve the values of an ancient civilization than to set about the construction of a new one….Something has happened far beyond the intention of the Councilor Fathers and thir attendant periti…the psychology of adherence to Catholicism has subtly changed; authority is flouted; basic doctrines are questioned; and the boundaries of what is understood by the church are almost indefinitely extended. The vernacular Liturgy, popular and pedestrian, intelligible and depressing, has robbed us of much that was numinous in public worship; there is less emphasis on prayer and penitence; and the personal relationship between God and man.. is neglected in flavour of a diffused social concern.
Robert Speaight, The Property Basket

The Inferno And Today’s Society
That the Inferno is a picture of human society in a state of sin and corruption, everybody will readily agree. And since we are today fairly well convinced that society is in a bad way and not necessarily evolving in the direction of perfectibility, we find it easy enough to recognize the various stages by which the deep of corruption is reached. Futility; lack of a living faith; the drift into loose morality, greedy consumption, financial irresponsibility, and uncontrolled bad temper; a self-opinionated and obstinate individualism; violence, sterility, and lack of reverence for life and property including one’s own; the exploitation of sex, the debasing of language by advertisement and propaganda, the commercializing of religion, the pandering to superstition and conditioning of people’s minds by mass-hysteria and ‘spell-binding’ of all kinds, venality and string –pulling in public affairs, hypocrisy, dishonesty in material things, intellectual dishonesty, the fomenting of discord (class against class, nation against nation) for what one can get out of it, the falsification and destruction of all the means of communication; the exploitation of the lowest and stupidest mass-emotions; treachery even to the fundamentals of kinship, country, the chosen friend, and the sworn allegiance; these are the all-too-recognizable stages that lead to the cold death of society and the extinguishing of all civilized relations
Dorothy Sayers, Introductory Papers on Dante

Malcolm Muggeridge On Christianity
I love the paradoxes of Christianity. Christianity is to life what Shakespeare is to literature; it envisages the whole. It sees the necessity for man to have spiritual values and it shows him how to get at those through physical sacraments.

Edwin Muir On Grace
I think that if any of us examines his life, he will find that most good has come to him from a few loyalties, and a few discoveries made many generations before he was born, which must always be made anew. These too may sometimes appear to become by chance, but in the infinite web of things and events chance must be something different from what we think it to be. To comprehend that is not given to us, and to think of it is to recognize a mystery, and to acknowledge the necessity of faith. As I look back on the part of the mystery which is my own life, my own fable, what I am most aware of is that we receive more than we can ever give; we receive it from the past, on which we draw with every breath, but also – and this is the point of faith – from the source of the mystery itself, by the means which religious people call Grace.

Edwin Muir on Ancestral Patterns
Hugo von Hofmannsthal once said that true imagination is always conservative. By this he may have meant that it keeps intact the bond which unites us with the past of mankind, so that we can still understand Odysseus and Penelope, and the people of the Old Testament. Or he may have meant something more: that imagination is able to do this because it sees the life of everyone as the endless repetition of a single pattern. It is hard to explain how we enter into past lives if this is not done. We become human by repetition. . . . Every human being . . . will pass through the ancestral pattern, from birth to childhood and youth and manhood and age and death. He will feel hope and fear and love and hate and perhaps forgiveness.

Edwin Muir On A Child’s Mind
I have often fancied, too, that in a child’s mind there is at moments a divination of a hidden tragedy taking place around him, that tragedy being the life which he will not live for some years still, though it is there, invisible to him, already. And a child has also a picture of human existence peculiar to himself, which he probably never remembers after he has lost it: the original version of the world. I think of this picture or vision as that of a state which the earth, the houses on the earth, and the life of every human being are related to the sky overarching them; as if the sky fitted the earth and the earth the sky. Certain dreams convince me that a child has this vision, in which there is a completer harmony of all things with each other than he will ever know again.

Edwin Muir On The Imagination
Time wakens a longing more poignant than all the longings caused by the division of lovers in space, for there is no road back into its country. Our bodies were not made for that journey; only the imagination can venture upon it; and the setting out, the road, and the arrival: all is imagination. … To the mind’s eternity I turn, With leaf, fruit, blossom on the spray, See the dead world grow green within Imagination’s one long day.

Edwin Muir, The Horses
Barely a twelvemonth after The seven days war that put the world to sleep, Late in the evening the strange horses came. By then we had made our covenant with silence, But in the first few days it was so still We listened to our breathing and were afraid. On the second day The radios failed; we turned the knobs; no  answer. But on the third day a warship passed us, heading north, Dead bodies piled on the deck. On the sixth  day A plane plunged over us into the sea.  Thereafter Nothing. The radios dumb. And still they stand in corners of our  kitchens, And stand, perhaps, turned on, in a million  rooms, All over the world. But now if they should  speak, If on a sudden they should speak again If on the stroke of noon a voice should speak, We would not listen, we would not let it  bring That old bad world that swallowed its  children quick At one great gulp. We would not have it again.

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