arts, books, other reviews
The Tragic Genius
of Joseph Michael Gandy
Sir John Soane’s Museum
31 March – 12 August
Admission free; donations welcome
The John Soane Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields is currently holding an exhibition of the paintings of John Gandy (1771–1843). Gandy was a rather unsuccessful architect, but a brilliant and inspired painter of architecture and panorama. He worked with Sir John Soane for over thirty years, painting both his finished buildings, and giving his ideas and architectural projects an almost passionate intensity and beauty.
Gandy came from a simple background (as did the extremely successful Sir John Soane). His father was a waiter at White’s Club, but his phenomenal drawing skills were noticed early. He studied in Italy, and was influenced and inspired all his life by this classical background and training.
He came to work for Soane as quite a young man. The combination of brilliant draughtsmanship, architectural background and classical learning made him uniquely qualified to understand and interpret Soane’s vision of London as the new Rome. Their partnership lasted until Soane’s death.
The John Soane Museum was originally Soane’s own house, and the exhibition starts in the breakfast room, designed by Soane in 1792, with its Chinese style furniture and vaulted and painted ceiling by John Grace. Gandy made a meticulous and enchanting painting of this room, with the family having a meal. When the room was restored in 1994–1995, this painting was the basis of the restoration programme.
Gandy’s paintings of Bentley Priory, in Middlesex, one of Soane’s commissions, show how his sense of drama makes the architectural studies vivid and interesting. He makes the Entrance Hall quite dark, lit by a ray of light, while the Music Room, by contrast, is full of lights and shadows, giving a sense of vitality to the room.
When Soane’s wife, Eliza, died, he designed a magnificent monument for her – the painting of it by Gandy is sympathetic and dramatic – he adds dark mournful trees and amemento mori to the side of the tomb, neither of which was actually there. Incidentally the design of the tomb was Gilbert Scott’s inspiration for the red telephone kiosks which later became familiar sights all over the country.
Six little sketches, made by Gandy for his own pleasure and instruction, are delightful, showing him, as ever, fascinated by the effects of light, either glinting in sunset on a river, or gleaming through industrial smoke.
As Soane developed his own home to include his enormous collection of architectural and antique relics, so he required that it should be recorded in paintings and drawings. One interestingly contrasted pair of such drawings of the dome in his museum are made respectively by Bailey, one of Soane’s architectural apprentices, and Gandy. The first is a competent recording of the artefacts in their setting, whilst Gandy’s painting is dramatically lit by an unseen lamp on the ground floor and painted with deep underlit shadows. He called itlumière mysterieuse, and so it is.
Many of the paintings, both in this exhibition and in the museum, are of buildings conceived but never completed. One such was a design for a Royal Residence in Hyde Park – a fantastic creation with facades of caryatids and columns, and vistas designed to do justice to the capital city of the largest empire in the world.
Many of Gandy’s paintings can be seen in the museum, and viewed alongside those in this exhibition they give a vivid impression of a man of towering imagination and immense technical skill. Alas, after John Soane died, and their fruitful partnership came to an end, he drifted into insanity and an early death. His memorial, however, is in these paintings which enable us to share in the vision and enthusiasm of two remarkable men.
THE OLD COUNTRY
Trafalgar Studio 1
until 16 May
Betrayal and nostalgia are two recurring themes in the work of the estimable sage Alan Bennett. They come together, interwoven and richly textured, in his playsAn Englishman Abroad (Guy Burgess in exile in the Soviet Union), A Question of Attribution (Anthony Blunt in internal exile) and in The Old Country, currently at the Trafalgar Studio 1 in Whitehall. Taken together they represent a sustained meditation and commentary on E.M. Forster’s celebrated, if highly contentious and flawed dictum, ‘If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.’
Bennett never falls into the sentimental trap of portraying the spy as romantic hero but, rather, sees them in their complexity, moral ambivalence and their naivety. InThe Old Country, the treachery of the main character, Hilary, played by Timothy West, is caused, in part, by a yearning for a different and, he would argue, better political system and set of social relationships. But his treachery and his exile results in a similar yearning for the world he so despised, for home and its familiarity. As Bennett comments in a short but perceptive programme note, ‘home must remain the same or their exile from it become futile.’ The more the country changes, the less his treachery and his betrayal make sense. Yet the yearning for the old is not only to validate his actions but it is genuinely felt, as if his certainties of time and place are undermined. Who is to say that his political certainties and rigid ideology are not tainted and similarly insubstantial? Hilary’s regret at the passing of the Lyons Corner House and the ubiquity of the Book of Common Prayer yielding to its substitution by Series 1, 2 and 3 (which dates the play for those who passed through those wasted years of liturgical change which resulted in the banalities of the Rocky Horror Service Book) are markers for something deeper and more substantially heartfelt.
When Hilary is offered the opportunity to return to the old country on reasonably attractive terms, a year or so in an open prison, an internal exile in some Gloucestershire village, a round of chat shows and documentaries, he prefers not to go but to remain in the constrained and claustrophobic world of his Moscow office and country dacha. The littleness and the regimentation of his life are exemplified by the position of his summer house in the middle of a forest plantation of trees planted in straight lines and unvarying vistas.
However, the choice he was offered by his brother-in-law Duff (Simon Williams) was an artificial one. Hilary was no longer important or significant and was to be exchanged whether he wanted it or not as a makeweight for someone of infinitely more worth.
The Old Countrywas first performed in 1977 and this is a welcome and successful revival. The themes are pursued with a greater degree of sophistication in Bennett’s later plays, but nothing he writes is anything but wry and shrewd, vivid and pointed. There are moments of dramatic weakness in the structure and characterization. Eric, excellently played by Tom Dewlap, making the most of an under-written part, is a working-class traitor and is used as a vehicle for comments on class in English society, and the society of the traitor, and its enervating contribution to that world of betrayal, but this is not Bennett at his best and the themes are touched upon rather than developed. Similarly, the complex theme of betrayal and homosexuality (better explored in A Question of Attribution) is clumsily and gratuitously dealt with.
In Hilary’s long and eloquent speeches we are, perhaps, dealing with an essay rather than a drama.
Hilary dominates the scene and the text and Timothy West is magisterial in his command. His outward assurance and his intellectual power are given eloquent testimony but are subtly undermined by a body language of constriction and failure.
HELL AND OTHER DESTINATIONS
Piers Paul Read
DLT, 247pp, pbk
0 232 52651 6, £12·95
THE DIVINE EMBRACE
Discovering the Reality of God’s Love
DLT, 172pp, pbk
0 232 52623 0, £10·95
If one were destined for everlasting torment, then having Piers Paul Read as a companion would make the whole thing just a little more bearable. As those familiar with his novels will know, Piers Paul Read writes deftly, vigorously and penetratingly, and this collection allows him to display the same qualities in his journalism and comment as in his fiction. Snuggle down by the eternal fire, and enjoy the treat of a master craftsman at work. Savour the more substantial essays, whether on what it means to be a ‘catholic novelist,’ or on the church in El Salvador, and enjoy the snacks: Read’s review of Anna Ford’s book onMen (first published back in 1985) is delicious, and enjoying it is almost certainly sinful. But all the contributions exhibit a thoughtful conservatism, at once pungent, incisive, honest and refreshing. They take God, human nature, death and judgement seriously.
Only the first, and longest, essay in this book is new. It is entitled, simply, ‘Hell,’ and in it, the author asks what has happened to the conviction which lay at the heart of not only Catholic, but much more widely Christian, teaching until recently that, in the words of Ronnie Knox, ‘once a man or woman has attained the age of reason he is bound for one of two ultimate destinies, fixed and eternal – hell or heaven.’
It is the old conundrum. Preach hellfire, and modernizers will tell you that people will be repulsed and stay away from the Church; preach universalism, and a happy ending for everyone, and there will be no incentive for people to practise their religion at all. Read finds hell in the Scriptures, hell in St Augustine (who censures Origen in theCity of God for his suggestion that all might be saved) and, of course, hell in the Middle Ages. You fancy that you might sit light to Catholic teaching on sex and the family? This book reminds you that St Francis warned against any sort of conjugal licentiousness which ‘effectively kills the soul by mortal sin, as when the order appointed for the procreation of children is violated and perverted.’
So what has killed the fear of hell? Conciliarism, liberation theology, ecumenism, all (rather predictably) take some share of the blame. Read finds the doctrine of everlasting punishment for those who die unrepentant in a state of mortal sin alive and well in the official teachings of the Church – it is just that nobody wants to talk about it much. As he observes of the newCatechism, reading it from cover to cover, you could scarcely come away with the impression that the ‘Catholic girl on the pill who only went to Mass at Christmas and Easter, and came up to take Communion straight from the bed of her boyfriend, was in grave danger of eternal torment in Hell.’ Now there is a theme for the sermon-slot with overhead projector and visual aids at the next Family Service.
Christina Rees does not, I suspect, imagine that anyone is going to hell, although frankly going to heaven with her would be a pretty extraordinary prospect, judging from her description of the beatific vision in the penultimate chapter of her new book. In heaven, there will be ‘endless sandy beaches and oceans full of beautiful fish, none of which will want to eat me.’ There will be ‘love-making with no shame or shyness, and no being left wanting more.’ (Phew!) There will be ‘strutting peacocks, silly Labradors, heavily scented flowers and turquoise seas.’ There will be laughter, and, believe me, there is a lot of laughter to be had reading this book.
Rees laughs, she tells us, when she thinks of an inscription she wrote beneath an old piece of fencing which she took home and stuck onto her wall. It read, ‘I took a fence.’ Go on, say it aloud! How you’ll laugh too. She smiles when she sees a poster of ‘a huge ice cream sundae, smothered in whipped cream, with a cherry on the top.’ Ice creams are like compliments. Everyone is hungry for them, and we need to give them away! But not everything is so sweet. Not long after landing a part in a promotional video for Oil of Ulay, Rees has to walk across Times Square. There, she ‘has to withstand a constant barrage of lecherous looks.’ These are not like the ‘brazen wolf-whistles of the building-site workers’ which she occasionally enjoys. These men make ‘little gestures, such as sticking their tongues out or licking their lips.’ They make ‘obscene low sounds.’ Inside Rees, a cauldron of anger bubbles away.
But there is lots of good sex – earthly as well as heavenly – to be had on Rees’ journey through life. As a student, she finds an older male friend to give her ‘delightfully sensual’ massages. Other men want to give her massages too, but she has to practise monogamous massage, as, with the others, the ‘relationships would have escalated sexually.’ Rees shares with us a poem she writes aged eighteen. She is not sure whether it is about physical love or spiritual longing. The last lines are, ‘But only I saw and came, / Only I felt and came.’
‘Death is hard,’ writes Rees. A distressing episode ofSilent Witness is made worse by the discovery, the next morning, that one of her peahens is dead. The post-mortem reveals that a parasite has killed it.
Christina Rees is a writer, speaker and broadcaster. A member of the Church of England’s General Synod and the Archbishops’ Council, she is National Chair ofWomen And The Church.
THE TYRANNICIDE BRIEF
Chatto & Windus, 430pp, hbk
0 701 17602 4, £20
Geoffrey Robertson provides in his workThe Tyrannicide Brief a fascinating new insight into the trial and execution of Charles I. John Cooke was in 1649 the only lawyer in the country willing to accept the brief of prosecuting England’s anointed king. Cooke’s actions were subsequently to lead to his public disembowelment in the presence of Charles II, as punishment for sending the king to the scaffold.
This work explores the whole life of Cooke, from his humble beginnings as a farmer’s son from Leicestershire, to his studies at Oxford and the Inns of Court. Robertson’s great success in this work is to identify that Cooke’s achievements lay in the whole of his legal career, not merely in his work at Whitehall in January 1649. Cooke was a political visionary; he was the first to suggest a legal aid system, a land registry, a national health service and numerous legal reforms that would only come to pass centuries later. His concern for social justice is clearly identified in his insistence that poverty was a cause of crime. This is a gripping biography and the drama of this sensational man is brought to life by Robertson’s use of Cooke’s own moving speeches and letters. Robertson’s style is compelling, and the structure of his book provides for easy reading into what is a complicated period of English history.
One of the weaknesses of this work is the epilogue, which is a piece of self-indulgent literature. Robertson does not provide an adequate conclusion to his work; he fails to evaluate Cooke’s actions and motives, but rather seeks to use the trial of Charles I as a precedent for trials of modern war criminals and leaders – Goering, Pinochet, Milosevic and Saddam Hussein. Although Cooke did indeed argue that brutal action by a head of state justified ‘regime change,’ it is extremely difficult to associate those arguments presented in the seventeenth century, under substantially different circumstances, to the modern war trials held in Nuremburg and The Hague. Robertson fails to identify that there was a tremendous amount of religious motivation behind the removal of Charles I; it was not only his political actions, but his religious convictions which drove the Puritans headed by Cromwell and Ireton to rise against their sovereign. The epilogue lacks any substance; it merely provides Robertson with an opportunity to espouse his own uninformed historical argument.
The Tyrannicide Briefis a fascinating account of John Cooke’s life, and Robertson is a skilled biographer, although he does lack an ability to incorporate modern historiography into his work. Much of his argument regarding Charles’s trial and execution lacks true historical perspective. His is a firmly Parliamentarian outlook upon the Civil War and Charles’ behaviour, and it is this prejudice which leads to his argument becoming at times both narrow-minded and ill-informed. However this work is bold, moving and gripping, and it puts forward a passionate argument for the people’s right to bring tyrannical leaders to justice.
DREAMING SPIRES? CATHEDRALS IN A NEW AGE
Edited by Stephen Platten and Christopher Lewis
SPCK, 172pp, pbk
0 281 05667 6, £12·99
The words ‘new age’ in the title of a book fill me with dread and foreboding. They represent all that is transient and ephemeral, trivial and inconsequential. They connote all that I loathe and despise: the fashionable, the meretricious, piffle and flannel. They are the talisman for that lack of confidence in a tradition and a history that has shaped and forged a society. Yet here is a book that, by and large, confounds its title.
There are two initial reservations. Stephen Platten opens the book with a quotation from Trevor Beeson’s volumeThe Deans, a book I thought platitudinous and bland, and which made me fear that this would be more of the same. And for all the talk in this book about the cathedral being open to all, available to all, those of any religion or none (presumably Chester excluded), there are some cathedrals that will not allow the ordination of certain young men to the priesthood by certain bishops, suffragens of Canterbury and York, because they seek to be obedient to Catholic teaching about ministerial order. Were I feeling unkind, I might be tempted to say that at the heart of this book is a lie.
Graham James, Bishop of Norwich, touches on this lack of inclusion in a wider context in the course of an accomplished conspectus of the various faces of a cathedral and its mission beyond its walls: ‘The cathedral, itself a community of communities, becomes the home, temporarily, of many other communities, somewhere many feel they belong. This is a powerful witness to social harmony and a telling testimony to the Christian belief that all people are made in the likeness of God himself. But are there limits to this inclusion? Is it made feasible only by a diminished sense of Christian distinctiveness?’
Cathedrals provide ‘the opportunity for people to explore and perhaps to cross the awkward boundary between the secular and the sacred.’ This is a theme (‘cathedrals perch on the edge, between the Church and the world’) referred to by several contributors. The growth in numbers of worshippers, as well as casual visitors and tourists, is cited as evidence of an engagement with the sacred in a space and environment that offers something different from a parish church: and that is right. There is a degree of anonymity and there are fewer demands on congregations in cathedrals. But part of being a Christian is being part of a family and a community, with a sense of obligation one to another. I am not sure how successful, however fine the liturgy or the visitor centre or restaurant, these are in inculcating those fundamental building blocks of Christian faith and commitment. These limitations are fairly acknowledged in parts of the book.
Overall, the book is worth reading and provides much to provoke and stimulate. None of the essays is outstanding but, equally, none is without some interest. In addition to Graham James and Christopher Lewis (who also provides a brief look to the future: ‘hope based on experience’), there are good essays from John Inge on education, portraying cathedrals as the success story of the Church of England in the twentieth century (it is rare to read the words success and Church of England in the same sentence: cherish it) by bringing their historical role into the modern world, commissioning works of art, staging exhibitions, providing educational and resource centres, not least for school projects, and forging links with academic institutions. The anxiety must be that the balance may tip from an educational experience into a theme park.
Jeremy Fletcher writes about the place for experimental liturgy and the interplay between tradition and innovation; and how large-scale celebrations can filter down to parishes. Few parishes (there are honourable exceptions) can provide daily sung Offices. But the religious observance of Evensong is probably in safer hands with musicians than with the modern clergy. Stephen Platten, as well as his introduction, writes about cathedrals and universities from their monastic beginnings as centres of learning. In relatively short compass he provides a detailed and fascinating historically rooted survey and outlines current developments and connections. Michael Sadgrove is similarly interesting and historically based in his survey of the parish church cathedrals, of which he had particular interest in Sheffield, and he links cathedrals with urban life. Philip Thomas offers a thoughtful piece on archaeology and conservation, dealing with the vexed question of the care and maintenance of these huge buildings.
James Atwell’s chapter ‘Les grands projets’ takes its title from President Mitterand’s vision for France expressed through new buildings and most spectacularly accomplished in La Grande Arche (like it or loathe it). Here he considers in some detail, and compelling it is, the triumphant completion of Stephen Dykes Bower’s Gothic vision for St Edmundsbury Cathedral after forty years and more of endeavour. He rightly comments that ‘the Church builds today from weakness not from strength’ and shows how this translates into the bureaucratic nightmare into which he was plunged. Yet it is a story of persistence which ended happily. The distinguished sociologist Grace Davie writes about cathedrals in a European cultural context, and everything she writes is worth close consideration.
Cathedrals stand at the heart of our great cities, if not at the heart of their lives, and it is admirable to see thought and commitment given to them as evidenced in this book. Despite the occasional crazy initiative, they still have a substantial witness. My anxiety is not with their survival as buildings of architectural significance (the National Trust or English Heritage could always broaden their remits). Rather, it is with the survival of the Christian religion at all. In any event, cathedrals will long outlast me and I hope outlast my pessimistic fears for their future as places of worship giving glory to God.
THE SALE OF THE
LATE KING’S GOODS
Charles I and his Art Collection
Macmillan, 456pp, hbk
1 4050 4152 8, £25
What is your favourite painting? After much sifting, mine is the stunning triple portrait of King Charles I by Sir Anthony van Dyck in the Royal Collection. It was commissioned and painted as a template for a bust of the King by Bernini, now lost as a result of a major fire in the Palace of Whitehall on 4 January 1698; but it is more than that and stands as a major achievement in portraiture. It is majestic yet intimate, regal but searching. It is both propaganda (there was no monarch more conscious of his image, not even Queen Elizabeth I) and a probing insight of character. You learn as much, if not more, about the King’s strengths and weaknesses from this portrait as from several biographies.
King Charles was an aesthete, a knowledgeable and discerning connoisseur and the first great English collector of paintings and sculpture. His lasting artistic memorial stillin situ is the ceiling of the Banqueting Hall in Whitehall which, as a dreadful and tragic irony, was the last sight he saw as he stepped out to his judicial murder in January 1648/9. Partly to extirpate his memory, partly to raise money, and partly as a sign of a puritan ideological and iconoclastic triumph, the new masters sold off his unique and pre-eminent collection. Were the phrase not so currently debased, it might fairly be called the sale of the century.
Jerry Brotton is something of a revisionist here. In a rather loosely written passage, he maintains that ‘the sale was not the act of barbaric cultural vandalism by a bunch of iconoclastic zealots assumed by many subsequent royal historians and dismayed connoisseurs.’ But this is to underplay and to underestimate the religious dimension of the English Civil War: it was about religion as well as the exercise of power and authority, about taxation and representation. There may well have been pragmatic, financial, administrative reasons for the sale of the King’s goods and they may have been the primary and the governing motives, but there was also a potent ideological framework that would make the puritan victors predisposed to the disbursement of the collection. Their pragmatic need to raise money would have been bolstered by their puritan reaction against the lavish, the ‘popish’ and the decadent nature of Charles’ court exemplified by his art collection. Even if some of the victors, like Colonel Hutchinson, bought some of the pictures, this did not absolve most from an ideological disposition.
Charles built up his collection through judicious, as well as one major and significant, purchase, the acquisition of the Gonzaga collection from Mantua; and also by commissioning works of art from the leading painters of the day, not least among them Rubens and Van Dyck. Viewed as conspicuous consumption and criminally lavish by his opponents, his collecting may have contributed, however marginally, to his downfall. After his execution, the republicans dispersed by sale or gift a vast number of works of art from the royal collection. Some two thousand paintings, sculptures, drawings and tapestries were snaffled up throughout Europe. Present day collections in Madrid and Paris (the French and Spanish Ambassadors being particularly adroit at cherry-picking the sale) owe much to King Charles’ eye and the republican’s philistinism.
Throughout his childhood and adolescence, Charles grew up in the shadow of his elder brother, Prince Henry. It was Henry’s untimely death at an early age that thrust Charles into the limelight and onto the throne. Charles was never able to inherit his brother’s ease of social relationships, his political grasp, nor his popularity. Charles did, however, acquire Henry’s artistic eye and he transcended it.
By any standards an astonishing collection was accumulated, housed and exhibited, and the break-up of the collection was a tragedy and a scandal, although Mr Brotton seems more sanguine about its fate and applauds the opening up of the art market and the wider distribution and dissemination of the pictures, sculptures and other artefacts beyond the confines of the court.
After the failure of the republic and the restoration of the monarchy, Charles II recovered in a ‘remarkable act of artistic restitution’ the majority, but not all, of his father’s pictures. This repatriated element returned to join the nucleus of the collection that had not been sold but the comprehensive integrity of the collection and the glory of its totality was forever gone, although many individual glories remained or were returned.
Oliver Cromwell had eventually halted the sale of the late King’s goods. His decision was motivated by the political and the financial failure of the enterprise. It could hardly be judged an unqualified success, although it did succeed in inflicting irreparable damage. Nor did it add as much as had been anticipated and hoped to the national coffers of the Commonwealth. Nor had it succeeded in dispelling and extirpating the memory of the King and the image of the monarchy. The dispersal of the royal collection provided tangible reminders of the martyred King.
The tone of the writing is not always entirely to my taste. It can err on the side of the demotic rather than the verbally fastidious. His opinions are firmly held, strongly expressed and usually emerge from the left field. However, my personal foibles should not deter you from enjoying this exploration of a remarkable byway in the English Civil War and English art history. If nothing else, and it offers much more, it cannot fail to bring a greater appreciation of the skill and greatness of Sir Anthony Van Dyck.
TOWARDS A NEW PRIESTHOOD
085244 273 4, £9·99
There is an interest to be declared. Arthur Middleton, the voice of classical Anglicanism, is a member of the Editorial Board of this journal and a frequent contributor. It is not for this periodical to provide free advertising space for one of its number. But, equally, simply because he is a mainstay of this publication, it would be unfair not to notice the re-publication of his important contribution to our understanding of the priesthood. Such a consideration ought to be key to the debate which currently occupies the place of women in the Church of England as priests and bishops.
For those of us who find these developments highly problematic and ecclesiologically poorly grounded, we need to be clear about our understanding of the priesthood. Fr Middleton provides an exposition of the Christian priesthood in the light of historical precedents in the Fathers of the Early Church and also in the light and in the tradition of the great Caroline Divines, Richard Hooker, Lancelot Andrewes and George Herbert, who so informed the thinking of the Fathers of the Oxford Movement, and still have much to say to us today. We forget our history and our formative antecedents at our peril.
This is an admittedly short study but within that relatively short compass Fr Middleton offers a powerfully argued critique of the contemporary debate and the headlong descent into a remorselessly secular culture. He retains throughout a positive and lively assertion of the continuing value of the priesthood as something beyond the merely functional, which is a satisfying contradiction to the trends of the day.
Those of you who value his writing for this journal will find a similar grace of expression and sanity of tone in this contribution to a debate which often generates more heat than light.
Monarch, 176pp, pbk
1 854247 37 9, £6·99
If you or a loved one were facing death. how would your Christianity come into play? Chichester diocesan priest, Kevin O’Donnell’s attractively illustrated book marshals spiritual encouragement from Scripture, tradition and experience, which includes near-death stories. It is a book written out of pastoral experience, one that yearns to see people transformed by Jesus, as well as wide-ranging knowledge of the Bible and church tradition spanning from New Church to Orthodoxy.
Old Testament teaching on the resurrection is spiced by the account of skeletons found at Masada of the Jewish Zealots, who died under Roman siege, still clutching old parchments with Ezekiel 37 on them with his vision of dry bones coming alive!Crossing over is subtitled the hope of heaven. Among contemporary images Kevin shares of eternal life is one of the levels in a computer game where you complete one level before progressing to the next, where everything is different including the rules. For hell the author turns to an excellent definition in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: ‘This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called hell.’
Throughout the book there is powerful witness to the resurrection, love and mercy of the Lord Jesus and gentle invitation for readers to commit their lives to him as the best preparation for crossing over in death.
John Twisleton is Chichester diocesan missioner
ON DIARIES AND DIARISTS
Immediate, intimate, indiscrete, illegible are the attributes that the late Alan Clark ascribed to a successful diary and a compelling diarist. He exemplified them all to a frightening degree. I have just finished reading the diaries of Duff Cooper. He held a higher office than Clark; he was First Lord of the Admiralty and later was Ambassador to France post World War II, but he shared with Clark a keenly observant eye, a graceful literary style (perhaps more considered and shaped than Clark’s prose), and an astonishing promiscuity (even out-doing Clark in the infidelity stakes) while remaining utterly devoted to his wife, the stunningly beautiful Lady Diana Cooper. However, he never attained one of the great offices of state and shares with Clark and with ‘Chips’ Channon (in my view the greatest political and social diarist of the twentieth century) minor political celebrity but enjoyed a highly significant entré to the seats of political and social power.
If Cooper shared with Clark a promiscuous private life, he shared with Channon the very best of social connections. His diaries on the eve of the First World War, when he was a coming man and a hardly overworked Foreign Office junior mandarin, catalogue the dinners, parties and country house weekends of the long Edwardian summer. Thereafter, month after month, sometimes week after week, we read of the deaths, one by one, of virtually his entire male social circle. It makes moving reading.
At the same time I was also reading a vastly inferior piece of work, the diaries of Piers Morgan, former editor of theDaily Mirror. Self-serving and unconvincing, they have a bogus note or tone about them. It is difficult to believe that they are a contemporaneous record. Not only is he personally (as he appears in his own words, and to a degree, his own evaluation) a deeply unappealing individual; unattractive, boorish and frequently drunk, but his diaries feel as though they were written with a large portion of hindsight, rather than prophetic foresight. Tabloid impertinence, superficial character studies, a lack of self knowledge and a strong dose of ex post facto self-exculpation do not make convincing reading: a tawdry piece of work.
What a contrast in James Lees-Milne; no vulgarian he: epicene, snobbish, more than a degree ofhauteur but a writer of peerless prose, unforced and unadorned. He skewers people and places with pinpoint accuracy. He chronicled the second half of the twentieth century with a sharply observant eye and a mordant outlook: or, at least, he chronicled his caste, self-consciously so. He was an unashamed and unapologetic elitist. But it is an absorbing view and a persuasive one because there is no pretence, no pushing himself forward into the frame. Inevitably his last volume, published posthumously, detailed the deaths of friends, week by week, if not day by day, and it makes sad reading, a forlorn catalogue of decline and death. But he has left a social and literary memorial that will outlast the trashy effusions of the likes of Mr Morgan.
But where are the great Anglo-Catholic diaries? Canon Liddon wrote a full and fascinating travel diary but beyond that his diaries are retrospective appointment books, with few comments or insights of historical significance. Others I have seen (all unpublished) include those of Canon Freddy Hood, sometime Principal of Pusey House and later Canon of St Paul’s. He lists assiduously enough the names of the eminent and distinguished with whom he was friendly but without comment or without reporting anything they said or did. Another Anglo-Catholic diarist, Tom Parker, the historian of the Reformation, wrote extensive diaries, but in a crabbed and difficult hand that almost defies transcription and he seems overly concerned with his bowel movements and ‘sorting things.’
However, there is one diarist whose journals are a gold mine of trenchant observations, detailed and acidic comment, immense insight into character. The writer is still very much with us: let me in a breathtaking moment of originality call him Father X. He has been at or near the heart of things for many years and has kept a full diary, sometimes written as events unfolded. From the few extracts I know about, they are magnificently vivid. They will be denied to this generation but future historians have a treat in store and will find them the most brilliant sustained analysis and running commentary of Anglo-Catholicism in our time: immediate, indiscrete, intimate, and far from illegible. Oh to be alive at that hour.
Meanwhile, it is greatly to be hoped that Alan Titchmarsh does not keep a diary and does not seek to immortalize his commonplace thoughts in deathless, platitudinous prose. No doubt each entry will end ‘And so to flower bed.’
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