Heresy for Easter: “The Rite of the Passion” (1929)

three playsThe Rite of the Passion is the final drama contained in the volume Three Plays: The Early Metaphysical Plays of Charles Williams, published in 2009 by Wipf & Stock. It is a reprint of an edition published by Oxford University Press in 1931. In addition to The Rite of the Passion, this book contains two other plays—The Witch and The Chaste Wanton—as well as five random Arthurian poems and an admirable foreword to the 2009 edition by Arthur Livingston.

The Rite of the Passion is a powerful piece of ecclesiastical, occasional theatre, written for church performance. Williams says in a prefatory note: “The Rite of the Passion was written at the request of the Rev. A. H. E. Lee, Vicar of St. Martin’s, Kensal Rise, [London], for the Three Hours Service at that church on Good Friday, 1929, when it was read with intervals of prayer, meditation, and music.” It is interesting to note that the Rev. Lee was a fellow occultist, a member of the Stella Matutina—the magical successor to the Golden Dawn when it split into three factions (thank you to Anthony Fuller for leaving a comment with this information on the blog previously). I wonder to think of this play being performed live in its proper place in the church year, along with music and meditation! That would be a very powerful, moving, mystical experience indeed. Perhaps my church would consider reading it during the Lenten season some day?

The play opens with this instructional note:

After some opening ceremony, the persons of the presentation enter in procession—a HERALD first, followed by five MINSTRELS; then, side by side, JAMES and PILATE, PETER and CAIAPHAS, JOHN and HEROD, MARY and JUDAS; after them, between GABRIEL and SATAN, LOVE vestmented in a crimson cope or other convenient apparel. The MINSTRELS take their places below the platform; the HERALD upon it at the front corner. The other persons are distributed about it, LOVE’S friends to his right, and his enemies to his left, he himself being at the back, with GABRIEL and SATAN on either hand. Each moves forward as he first speaks; thereafter they dispose themselves as may be agreed.

church

St. Martin’s Church, Kensal Rise, London

You can tell from the tone and content of this note that the play will be lofty and liturgical, filled with acts of high ceremony and grand majesty. You can also guess (since this is Williams, after all), that its poetry will be beautiful, its theology will be strange and wild, and its conclusion will be surprising and possibly unorthodox. Indeed.

The play proceeds apace in verse, with original poetry interchanging with paraphrases from Scripture passage’s. Here is an example of a bit paraphrased from the Bible. Pilate says:

Even now I find in him no fault at all;
but ye, O folk, shall bid what shall befall.
O people of all the world! O Time and Space!
O ye who looked on Love in any place,
it is said before me that Love ought to die.
Behold the man!

You can see how lofty the poetry is. There are places throughout where hymns are to be sung, and list is given of which hymns were used in the 1929 performance.

The plot is the account of Christ’s passion: His birth and ministry are narrated, then the Last Supper and the events of Good Friday are presented. Yet before all of that, there are passages of high ceremonial and of metaphysical assertion. Gabriel and Satan engage in a debate on their natures and the nature of Love—“Love” in this drama is the name for Jesus. At Jesus’s death, these haunting lines occur:

OldUnicorn3Who will cry to him Love! who will cry to him Love, our fair lord?
now when he gives no beauty and no reward,
when the hounds are on him, the horns are blowing the mort,
when the young god’s face is palled with stress of pain,
and he cries again on his godhead, and nothing makes answer again.

Then there follows a funeral for Jesus, complete with a funeral march and laments from the minstrels. Then Satan speaks a sonnet in which he claims that “love fails from Love and shall be God no more.” Yet Love answers: “Amen,” and asserts: “I am Love, / And from destruction I rise again.” There is a triumphal march, and Love sings a victory song in which He asks “Who is on my side, who?” again and again. Each character responds, and the play ends with a benedictory prayer asking “bring us also, O Jesus Christ, thereto.”

This is a very, very beautiful play. It is emotionally moving and devotionally stirring. How about these glorious lines:

I gather myself, I give myself, I grow
into the harvest of the seed ye sow:
I will be bread, and more than bread; and wine
and more than wine. I cry, Come, come and dine
on Me in yours: be new-emparadised,
take in your daily food your daily Christ.

Yet, as you have come to expect in CW’s writings, there are also points of possible concern—I would say, moments when he takes a doctrine to such an extreme that it is at least potentially heretical. Richard Sturch wrote an article a few years ago entitled “Charles Williams as Heretic?” You can find it in the CW Quarterly, Number 136, Autumn 2010. I’ve identified five of these questionable moments in The Rite of the Passion for you to ponder and comment upon.

  1. The Monism that Stephen Dunning identifies in CW’s works is apparent here, especially in the line: “nothing is that is not He.” Everything that exists is God, this line claims. This is like Joachim’s assertion in The Chapel of the Thorn: “where one beast, one stone is, God is there. / There is naught of matter or spirit but is God, / Yea all man’s being, save his will, is God.”
  2. Throughout his works, CW pushes the identification of individual Christians with Christ so far as to claim that each person IS Christ. This happens at the end of the The Greater Trumps, when someone asks whether the young lady named Nancy is “Messias,” and her saintly aunt answers, “Near enough.” This happens in The Rite of the Passion when the Herald says to the audience: “ye… / image and are the death of Christ…. / your despair is He.” The identification may be too strong, too literal.
  3. Similarly, Jesus calls Mary “thou, my other self.” And it is Mary (not Jesus, as in the Bible) who says: “God, God, why hast thou thus forsaken me?” In the performance, this line is meant to be followed by the hymn “At the cross her station keeping.” Mary is Jesus’s other self! Yikes.
  4. I’ve written before about the Problem of Evil in CW’s works. One of the ways he tries to “solve” the problem is by showing that all things work together for good according to God’s plan—but he goes very far down this path as to claim that evil is not only God’s will, but is even part of God. This happens in Thomas Cranmer of Canterbury when the character The Skeleton is called the back side of Christ. Likewise, here in The Rite of the Passion: “Satan, whom all ye marvel at… / dark viceroy of the Holy Ghost… / these both [Satan and Gabriel] both are He.” Both Satan and Gabriel are God? Whew.
  5. Finally, in this play it is Jesus who says: “others I save, myself I cannot save.” In Matthew 27:42, the high priests, scribes, and Pharisees mock Jesus as He hangs on the cross. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself!” Williams takes this mockery and puts it into Jesus’ own mouth!! Indeed, this saying—He saved others but He cannot save Himself—was a key text for all of CW’s life and work. He took the mockery for a fundamental truth and made it the basis of his Doctrine of Substitution and Exchange.

What do you think? Do you believe these statements are heretical? Or merely bold orthodoxy? Or something else? I am interested in your thoughts.

Let me leave you with these lines that the character of “Love” speaks:

…I am still the end and reconciling;
I am all things driven on through hell to heaven;
I am the purifying and the defiling,
I am the union, perfected or riven.

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About Sørina Higgins

Sørina Higgins is a writer, English teacher, and Inklings scholar. Sørina serves as Chair of the Department of Language and Literature at Signum University and teaches English at King's College and Lehigh Carbon Community College. She has published two books of poetry, "The Significance of Swans" and "Caduceus."
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33 Responses to Heresy for Easter: “The Rite of the Passion” (1929)

  1. michaelhuggins2591 says:

    I was very glad to read this today and glad to hear that Williams had written a liturgical drama. As we know, medieval mystery plays were an important part of the development of drama in the West. Someone I knew long ago took a course in Christian drama and recruited me and a few others to help her act out the York Cowpers’ Play, dealing with the fall of man. It starts with Satan saying

    “For woe, my wit works wildly here…”

    As a boy, I saw a performance on TV of “The Play of Daniel,” a 13th-century work by monks of the Cathedral of Beauvais, acted out at the Cloisters in New York, by the New York Pro Musica. It starts out with a lone actor singing

    “Ad honorem tui Christe
    Danielis ludus iste
    In Belvaco est inventus
    Et invenit hunc iuventus”

    In modern times, we have Eliot’s “Murder in the Cathedral,” though I don’t think that’s really meant to be enacted in a service, per se. In any case, Williams’s effort is a welcome addition to Christians.

    I also want to commend you on your focus on heresy, for a couple of reasons. First, I want to note that I am an atheist, but that’s for information only; I’m not here to debate faith vs. unbelief. Second, whether active in church long ago or out of it since, it has been a source of dismay and exasperation to me that many Christians, lay and clergy alike, seemed to imagine that Christianity was whatever they happened to think it was at the moment and that heresy was an invidious term invoked only by prigs. I have heard it proclaimed from an Anglican pulpit that God doesn’t know the future (seriously!) and by a Catholic priest that there is no such thing in the Bible as “the will of God” (somebody just shoot me). I have heard a minister in a charismatic church proclaim the heresy you refer to below, that we *are* Christ. I read an article just last summer by an evangelical pastor to the effect that I Corinthians 10:13 simply wasn’t true, that it was “a lie that must be confronted,” and that that’s not what the apostle meant anyway, and “Bible-believing Christians” were happily sharing this article on Facebook, even though it directly contradicted one of their own beliefs.

    Although I disbelieve religion altogether, I care about the integrity of a corpus of belief. What would we think of a Muslim who claimed that Muhammad really didn’t teach fasting during Ramadan? So it’s heartening to find a Christian who (a) realizes that heresy is real and (b) is prepared to detect it even in the work of an author she admires.

    Even before you started that discussion, I noticed this passage:

    “I gather myself, I give myself, I grow
    into the harvest of the seed ye sow:”

    And I thought “How can that possibly be true in a Christian context? In what sense can Christ be imagined to “grow into” any work of any kind performed by *unredeemed humanity*? That’s clearly the opposite of the Christian message. If anything, the parable of the sower implies that Christ himself is the sower (or at least, preachers of the gospel) and that it is the part of the ground on which the seed falls either to receive and be fit for it to flourish, or not. But nowhere is it implied that somehow this is a cultivating work begun by humankind that Christ grow into, an idea that I think is perfectly absurd. If Williams had written something to the effect that Christ gives himself, sowing himself as seed, and that this seed can flourish where the ground receives it, that would have been much closer to the mark.

    In any case, to the specific points you raised:

    1. Monism. I actually like the passage in Book IV of the Bhagavad Gita that says something like “The worshiper is Brahma, the sacrifice on the altar is Brahma, the fire that consumes it is Brahma.” The reason I like it is that if there were a divinity whose presence evoked worship in us, we might well wish to surrender everything about ourselves, even our own separateness, so as not to claim anything that was not He. If monism arises from that impulse of glad submission, then I would think it is understandable. Of course, for the Christian, it must involve difficulties since, for the Christian, God is the *creator* of all, which must mean, as I understand it, that he brought into being things that were not himself and that had not existed before, unlike his own eternal preexistence. So in a Christian context, I agree that it is heretical.

    2. “We *are* Christ.” Such a claim could be excused (but not sustained) only if, again, the redeemed Christian was so full of grateful humility that he might wish that his very identity might be eradicated (or at least obscured) to let the savior show forth more fully, as “the fullness of Him that filleth all in all,” as St. Paul says. But again, in a Christian context, it simply won’t stand and is a heresy. Only one had standing to be him through whom the father was “reconciling the world to himself” and only one is seated at the right hand of the father.

    In some charismatic churches, there was a particularly obnoxious teaching on this that held that “Christos” simply meant “the anointed one” and that since all Christians should be similarly anointed by the Holy Spirit, that they attained similar standing with Christ the Son, who thereby ceased to be unique. But that is impudent.

    3. Jesus calls Mary “thou, my other self.” I suspect that would be a surprise to the Jesus who retorted, at the marriage at Cana, “Woman, what have I to do with thee? My hour is not yet come.” However, it does remind me of a passage in Kazantzakis’s “Last Temptation of Christ,” in which Mary Magdalene says to Jesus something like “Oh, Jesus, you just don’t understand the struggles of a woman,” whereupon Jesus replies something like “Oh, but I do, Mary, for I, too, was a woman in a previous life.” BTW, if you haven’t read “Last Temptation,” I can certainly recommend it, though mostly as an object lesson in the near-impossibility of dramatizing a truly divine figure in his everyday life among mortals.

    4. “Evil is a part of God.” If that were really true, then all of the teaching on God’s holiness in the Bible, including the claim in Habakkuk that God cannot look upon sin, must fall. Furthermore, it would make good somehow dependent on evil, a fallacy that I believe Lewis recognized when he wrote somewhere that evil is unable even to so much as be itself as fully as good can be itself. When I read this blog post during lunch hour today, I was walking, and I thought of Lewis’s depiction of Perelandra, a world where temptation occurred but where no fall occurred, so that no divine sacrifice was necessary. I am perfectly willing to believe that Williams, in his personal devotion, wished to explore any possible idea so as to let nothing stand in the way of his readers somehow coming to a knowledge of the Deity he worshiped, but in this, in a Christian context, he went very far wrong, as I see it. In fact, frankly, when Williams calls Satan the “dark viceroy of the Holy Ghost,” if he means that in any other way than that God can use what instruments he will–if, as you fear, he means an identification of some sort with the Deity–well, this comes very near, not merely to heresy, but to blasphemy. I am very sorry to think that Williams was capable of saying such a thing.

    5. “Others I can save; myself I cannot save.” Despite everything I’ve said about Williams’s wrongheadedness in the passages above, I am willing to excuse him here and surmise that he is merely saying that Christ could not save himself *if he wished to complete his salvatory work on Calvary.* As we used to sing in the church I attended as a child:

    “He could have called ten thousand angels
    To destroy the world and set him free
    He could have called ten thousand angels
    But he died alone for you and me.”

    I am also reminded of the Dream of the Rood, in which the cross ruefully recounts the strength of the mighty warrior (Christ) who mounted it and wondered if it would not disintegrate under his mighty power, but he remained there willingly.

    As to putting the words of others into the mouth of Christ, isn’t there a poem by George Herbert, where Christ is speaking from the cross, and there is a continual refrain, “Was ever grief like mine?” And even that would simply be a paraphrase of Lamentations 1:12.

    In any case, I completely agree with you about what, for an orthodox believer, must be disturbing signs of heresy in some passages by Williams. I’ll be interested to read what other responses you get. The readers of this blog may be more reflective than Christians in general, but if you hear from what I take to be the typical Christian, you will be warned against the danger of “analyzing everything to death,” as I was when I once asked why the pastor of a charismatic church I was attending was basically preaching astrology.

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    • Thank you for this very thoughtful comment. I am impressed and distressed that you know and care about Christian doctrine more than many (most?) Christians I know! Thank you for taking the time to comment through each point. I hope others will do so also, so we can converse among ourselves.

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      • michaelhuggins2591 says:

        My pleasure, and again, it is heartening to me to encounter a Christian who is willing to grapple with questions of heresy. One of my favorite quotes is from Chesterton: “A man does not know what he is saying until he knows what he is not saying.” I was present with some Christian friends years ago, and they were watching a video of a non-Trinitarian minister delivering a diatribe that stated that the church started to go to perdition with the adoption of the Nicene Creed, and I exclaimed “Do you realize that this man is saying?” and everyone blinked in surprise, completely unaware that he was preaching anything but Christian orthodoxy. Holy cow.

        As to atheism, I’m sorry to say I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of atheists I have personally encountered who are able to have a discussion about religion without devolving into petulance and spite. To me, part of the measure of intelligence is the extent to which one can have a reasonable discussion of fine points of a matter to which he not only has no personal connection but to which he may even be philosophically opposed. That sort of thing was encouraged once in schools and colleges where students might be set to debate various questions with each other, but I feel I see it less and less any more.

        BTW, I’m just over halfway through The Hobbit. I was very moved by the scene in which Bilbo met Gollum; Gollum, to me, was a perfect illustration of a mind imprisoned inside its own dark, desolate hell; it seemed worthy of anything Lewis might have written. I also liked the episode in which the Lord of the Eagles and his fellow eagles rescued Gandalf, Bilbo, and the dwarves from the Wargs and goblins; there was something noble and quickening about that. And the episode in which Bilbo and the dwarves let themselves be led off the forest path from their desire to join the feast amid the flickering lights, which go out as soon as they get there, was quite well done.

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  2. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    To follow up michaelhuggins2591’s first ‘matter’, a bit: my copy of Kenneth Pickering’s Drama in the Cathedral is in storage, and I have not yet read the 2001 second, revised edition, and cannot find anything like its level of detail in some quick searching online… But it is probably worth noting that George Bell, as Dean of Canterbury, revived ‘drama in the cathdral’ – or, strictly speaking (recognized as an important distinction, then and there!), in the Chapter House – and started the Canterbury Festival (for which Eliot wrote “Murder in the Cathdral” (1935), Williams, “Thomas Cranmer of Canterbury” the year after, followed by Dorothy L. Sayers’s “The Zeal of Thy House” in 1937). Now, Ian Scott, in his detailed little online biography of John Masefield, says, “in 1928, his ‘The Coming of Christ’ was the first play”:
    publishingcentral.com/masefield/bio20.html

    So, Williams and Lee seem pretty early ‘on the scene’, and I do not know how unprecedented it is that this was not in something like the Chapter House, but in the ‘body’ of the church building and as part of a “Service”! (Kenneth Pickering may well provide the clarifying context: I simply cannot remember. Williams did later ‘write’ or contruct a play, as yet unpublished, consisting entirely of Scripture quotations, for performance where no ordinary play would be permitted.)

    I’ll hope to take up the ‘heresy’ discussion later, but will just mention something interesting I encountered relative to point 5. The Very Reverend Vernon Staley, writing in 1907 about “The Commemoration of King Charles the Martyr”, says, “It is sufficient to say, in conclusion, that humanly speaking, the very existence of the Church of England as an integral part of the Catholic Church, is due to King Charles I. It is true of him that ‘he that will save others, himself he cannot save.’ ” (For the context, see: anglicanhistory.org/charles/kcm.html
    or on p. 83 of the whole book, Liturgical Studies, scanned at the Internet Archive). This would seem also to touch on point 2, with reference to the baptized and ‘anointed’ Christian, incorporated into the Body of Christ, as a “little Christ” (to quote Lewis in Mere Christianity).

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    • David! What’s this about? “Williams did later ‘write’ or contruct a play, as yet unpublished, consisting entirely of Scripture quotations, for performance where no ordinary play would be permitted.” What play is that?

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      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        He prepared it for Ruth Spalding’s Oxford Pilgrim Players during the war – I’m pretty sure I first heard about it when she gave a talk to the Williams Society, so the details may be in one of the issues of the Quarterly scanned for the archive on the website: expressing my fascination, I was very generously permitted a photocopy (which will take some digging up…!). It is entitled “The House of David” and the Wade has three different copies (catalogued CW / MS-96, CW / MS-433 / X, and CW / MS-434 / X). (I must have notes on it as well, but they may take even more hunting up, if they’re not with the copy…) Every word, sentence, ‘line’ is a (recognizable) quotation from the Bible, skillfully combined, juxtaposed, cast into dialogue…

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    • michaelhuggins2591 says:

      >the Canterbury Festival (for which Eliot wrote “Murder in the Cathdral” (1935)

      Mr. Dodds, thank you for the reminder. I had read that and forgotten it.

      >a “little Christ” (to quote Lewis in Mere Christianity).

      I had forgotten that as well, though I suppose we would agree that he meant something different from the claims I was discussing, which I take to be plainly heretical.

      >the very existence of the Church of England as an integral part of the Catholic Church, is due to King Charles I.

      I know that Charles is venerated by some, though I thought most were agreed in ascribing the existence of the Church of England as an integral part of the Catholic Church more to Laud than to Charles himself.

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      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        Mr. Huggins,

        Thank you! I’ve long heard of Charles the Martyr without knowing any details to speak of; writing some notes on the calendar for our Chaplaincy newsletter, I started to try, at last, to learn more, and encountered Vernon Staley’s very interesting article. I think his intention is specifically something like ‘the continuation of the C. of E. as an integral part of the Catholic Church at a crucial moment’. The next two sentences following the one I quoted read “By consenting to regard Episcopacy as merely a useful institution, and not an institution essential to the Church’s very being, and by suffering the Presbyterian theory of Church’s ministry to be established in the land, King Charles the Martyr might have saved his life. Had King Charles yielded upon this point, the Church would have been destroyed.” (Obviously there are a lot of ‘controversial matters’, here – about Episcopacy as “essential”, “Presbyterian theory”, the effect of its ‘establishment’, and, of course, the C. of E. “as an integral part of the Catholic Church”. I am not sure what Williams would have said about most of them, though I am confident he regarded ‘his’ Church as an integral part of the Catholic Church.)

        To try to say a bit more about point 2 (and point 1 in relation to it): I had never encountered the impudent “Christos” teaching you relate, but would agree that both it and any sort of monist, pantheistic, emanationist (etc.) teaching whereby everything, or everyone, “is He” essentially, are heretical (in their distinct ways). Without having ‘recovered’ and reread my copy of “The Rite of the Passion”, yet, I think the “identification” here need not be, and probably is not in fact, “too strong, too literal.” I think “nothing is that is not He” includes a radical rejection of any kind of ‘two-principal dualism’ and that Williams means at least that there is nothing apart from God’s Providential sustaining and governing of His creation. I would explicate (though not exhaustively!), ‘Nothing happens apart from Him, nothing created does not (rightly understood) point and lead to its Creator.’ It is an interesting question how (much) he had formulated and explored it at what date, but I think the ‘matter’ of his saying is very relevant, here: “This also is Thou; neither is this Thou.” To “nothing is that is not He”, I think Williams would immediately add ‘and no created “thing” (except in a certain sense the “Manhood” of Christ taken “into God”) is “fully” He’. I think saintly aunt Sybil’s “Near enough” about Nancy being “Messias” is a nice distinction (as well as an earnestly playful one: one can never get near enough, and it is proper, insofar as that is possible, always to be getting nearer).

        I had forgotten Lewis’s “little Christs” myself until recently reading the very good essay, “Mere Christianity: Theosis in a British Way”, by David Meconi, SJ, D.Phil. (Oxon.) in the April 2014 number of the Journal of Inklings Studies (vol. 4, no. 1, pp. 3-18). He compares (among others) St. Augustine (Homilies on the Gospel of John 21.8), “non solum nos christianos factos esse, sed Christum” (“Let us rejoice, then, and give thanks that we are made not only Christians, but Christ” in John Gibb’s 1888 translation as found at newadvent.org)

        I think Williams’s extension of the term ‘co-inherence’ is relevant, here, too. Much as the irreducibly distinct Persons of the Holy Trinity co-inhere in Each Other, and the created Human and Uncreated Divine Natures of Christ co-inhere unconfusedly in Each Other in the Person of the Son, so the redeemed, as created persons, (can come ever more to) co-inhere in each other in Christ.

        Perhaps point 3 can come in here, too. I am not sure what Williams means, but Christ’s ‘Humanitas’ or “Manhood” derives fully from the Blessed Virgin Mary (though not His Masculinity-as-such) and it is a long-standing orthodox theological usage to speak of Christ as consubstantial with His Mother according to His Humanity. (With respect to St. John 2:4, do you happen to know Robert Stephen Hawker’s 1859 poem, “Aishah Scehinah” and the “Notes” he supplies to it (available in his Poetical Works at Internet Archive)? He glosses, “Jesus answered, and with his long-accustomed smile, ‘What have we, Aishah?’ He said, in the exact letter, ‘What is to Me and to thee, Aishah?’ He signified, with a very usual idiom, ‘What have I, and what hast thou, Aishah?’ He meant, in the spirit of His voice and smile, ‘What have we not, Aishah? Are not all things under our feet? Mine hour, the hour that thou wottest of, is not yet come; but still’ – and the well-known look of Nazareth and home revealed the rest.” I would be surprised if this was not among the poems (and “Notes”) of Hawker which Williams knew, though, again, if so, I cannot certainly say just what he would be most likely to have thought of it.)

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        • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

          Oops! “Aishah Schechinah”!

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        • michaelhuggins2591 says:

          Mr. Dodds, thank you for some very interesting points.

          >“By consenting to regard Episcopacy as merely a useful institution, and not an institution essential to the Church’s very being, and by suffering the Presbyterian theory of Church’s ministry to be established in the land, King Charles the Martyr might have saved his life. Had King Charles yielded upon this point, the Church would have been destroyed.”

          Agreed. It would have lost its essential identity. I’ve read Hume’s History of England, including the parts dealing with Charles, but didn’t focus on that detail. I’m always amused by the fact that, at the Hampton Court Conference, Charles’s father, James, raised by Scots with Presbyterian leanings, was inclining more and more toward the Puritans, even debating his own bishops, until poor Rainoldes made the gaffe of referring to “the presbytery” which, to James, was like a bucket of cold water in his face and provoked the famous retort, “No bishop, no king!”

          As to Laud, I was thinking of this sympathetic reader review of Trevor-Roper’s biography of Laud on Amazon.com:

          “Although Trevor-Roper pronounces Laud a ‘failure,’ the Laudian tradition held a prominent, occasionally preeminent, place in the Church of England for three hundred years, and from that base it has gained an extended, if attenuated, influence. The descendants of Puritan zealots now study the Fathers of the Church, take the sacraments seriously, pay heed to the continuity of Christian experience, celebrate the ancient holy days and even admit religious images into their sanctuaries. From the perspective of 1645, that is an astonishing evolution. There is no way to know what might have been, but one cannot help suspecting that today’s Protestant Christianity would be much more drab, anti-historical and unintellectual had William Laud never lived.”

          And of course we mustn’t forget that it was the retention of the Laudian liturgy of 1634 (I believe) by the Scottish bishops that became the only reason Samuel Seabury, an American, could be consecrated a bishop after the American Revolution and remains the reason why the American BCP still has an epiclesis in its eucharistic rite, while the English prayer book, descended from the rite of 1662, does not (I believe this is correct).

          Moreover, it was Laud who conducted a vigorous defense of Anglicanism against St. Robert Bellarmine, so capable in that regard that he was offered a cardinal’s hat, which he turned down.

          Are you an Anglican chaplain? If so, you’ll know as well as I that tomorrow is the Feast of the Martyrdom of Laud, and of course, 3 weeks from today, January 30 is the date of the execution of Charles I.

          >I think saintly aunt Sybil’s “Near enough” about Nancy being “Messias” is a nice distinction (as well as an earnestly playful one

          Sybil Coningsby was certainly one of the more memorable characters in “The Greater Trumps,” and I like what Williams said of her, something to the effect of “She seemed to have absorbed Christ’s maxim of conversation and answered only in brief affirmations or denials.”

          >“Aishah Shechinah”

          I have not read it. I can well imagine that Jesus, in life, might have reflected on his mother in terms like these: “No human is closer to me than she, yet even she, even in her most heart-felt attempts to understand who I am, betrays the fallibility and weakness of human understanding.”

          I have read most of Williams’s novels–All Hallow’s Eve, Greater Trumps, Shadows of Ecstasy, Many Dimensions, War in Heaven, Descent into Hell–but nothing else by him. I infer his thinking by what I have read in his novels, so of course my understanding of these things is incomplete.

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          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            Dear Mr. Huggins,

            A quick note of thanks! A very interesting quotation about Laud (about whom I know far too little) – on this showing, very much a ‘shaper’ of the Church into which Williams was born! The Feast of his Martyrdom on this date is another thing I have just lately become aware of. (I am not a Chaplain, but one of those guests so distinctly welcome in (Twentieth-century, orthodox) Anglican ecclesiology – in the Diocese of Gibraltar in Europe, in my case.)

            You might particularly enjoy following Williams’s novels with The Descent of the Dove: A Short History of the Holy Spirit in the Church (1939) – I’ve just reread the first four chapters right through for the first time in years and am very glad to have done so! One of the first things of his I read I can also heartily recommend:The Image of the City and Other Essays (1958), a varied selection with a good booklet-length introduction by his friend, Anne Ridler.

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            • michaelhuggins2591 says:

              Thank you, Mr. Dodds. I’m not trying to advertise my blog (which I don’t really post much to anymore) on this one, but here is a brief essay on Laud that I posted a few years ago:

              http://read-no-further.blogspot.com/2011/01/death-on-cold-day.html

              I found a free text of “Descent of the Dove” online and am reading the first chapter now. The pages are very much out of order, which certainly forces one to read with attention!

              http://www.islandnet.com/theologo/wmsbklet.pdf

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              • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

                Mr. Huggins,

                Thank you for linking such a vivid and thoughtful essay! Casting my eye down the list of “Labels” there, I think you could be easily excused for advertising your blog – my fingers itched to click many of them immediately, though I’ve only followed up “Bacon” so far – given both your epigraph and the fact that your mentioning finding “Descent of the Dove” online made me think to mention that Williams’s play of only slightly later a vintage than Three Plays, “A Myth of Francis Bacon” (1932), is also available online, at the Williams Society website. Checking Mrs. Hadfield’s references to it in her second book on him, Charles Williams: An Exploration of His Life and Work (NY: OUP, 1983), I am reminded both that, like “The Rite of the Passion”, it was actually informed, and that she connects it (p. 118) with the fact that his next books were historical biographies – the first three of which (I might add) were of seventeenth-century men (and authors): Bacon, James I, and Rochester. The other two were of the sixteenth-century woman (and, indeed, author), Queen Elizabeth, and her grandfather, Henry VII. Elizabeth is briefly and vividly included in his “Myth of Shakespeare”, published in the month after “The Rite of the Passion” was read on Good Friday, 29 March 1929. Perhaps it would not be too far-fetched or misleading to describe it as inaugurating Williams’s original, public attention in print to matters sixteenth- and seventeenth-century… (His attention to Donne in Outlines of Romantic Theology (1924-26) had to wait many decades to see the light.) In this context, it might be worth repeating something I have mentioned elsewhere: Dame Helen Gardner’s admiration for both James I (1934) and Witchcraft (1941) (the latter of which includes not a little attention to sixteenth- and seventeenth-century events and authors!).

                All this got me wondering (very inconclusively, so far!) about “Everyman” possibly in the background of “The Rite of the Passion” (and, for that matter, of his first published dramatic work, “Scene from a Mystery” in New Witness (12 Dec. 1919), pp. 70-73). In checking the date of “Everyman”, I find it is (nearly?) contemporary with Henry VII… It seems to have enjoyed public performance (including a silent film) in the early twentieth century. And, in the present context, looking at the possible relations between it and the contemporary Dutch play, “Elkerlijc”, I find recounted in the Dutch Wikipedia article (as of 21 Aug.2014) that Professor H. de Vocht (an English scholar and “Catholic theologian” of Leuven) noted that (my translation) ” ‘Everyman’ is dogmatically pure throughout, while the ‘Elckerlijc’ poet sometimes includes things that are indefensible or unclear from a faithful Catholic perspective”.

                Given Stephen Barber’s and your comments below, it sounds like Williams happens to resemble the “Elkerlijc” poet more than the “Everyman” poet, in this respect – though it may well be that by expressing himself incautiously, Williams is unclear enough to seem heretical, when he is in fact be being orthodox.

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                • michaelhuggins2591 says:

                  My pleasure, Mr. Dodds, and I’m glad you enjoyed it.

                  >”your epigraph…Bacon”

                  I sometimes like to paraphrase that to “Reading maketh a full man; discourse, a ready man; computers, a mad man.”

                  >”his next books were historical biographies – the first three of which (I might add) were of seventeenth-century men (and authors): Bacon, James I, and Rochester.”

                  I may take a look at his biography of James I. The Jacobean period–and, indeed, the entire 17th century–interests me a great deal. Some years ago, I read G.P.V. Akrigg’s wonderful “Jacobean Pageant.”

                  http://books.google.com/books/about/Jacobean_pageant.html?id=ZBegAAAAMAAJ

                  I have since bought a used copy and want to read it again, after 30 years.

                  Around 1984, Akrigg also came out with an annotated edition of selected letters of James, which I also own and read at the time with great pleasure.

                  https://books.google.com/books?id=4YYaGI0XV-wC&dq=g.p.v.+akrigg+letters+of+james+I&hl=en&sa=X&ei=itG1VP7aF8qUNrmPg8gD&ved=0CB8Q6AEwAA

                  I also own Douglas Bush’s “History of English Literature in the Earlier 17th Century,” though I have yet to read it.

                  https://books.google.com/books?id=NONZPAAACAAJ&dq=oxford+history+of+english+literature+in+the+17th+century+douglas+bush&hl=en&sa=X&ei=6dG1VKSBBor9gwTz4YKwAw&ved=0CB8Q6AEwAA

                  I read Antonia Fraser’s brief popular biography of James last year, and it brought back pleasant memories of my visit to Edinburgh in 1985.

                  https://books.google.com/books?id=vNaXPwAACAAJ&dq=king+james+i+antonia+fraser&hl=en&sa=X&ei=TNK1VIfaI4eVNp-6gLAB&ved=0CB8Q6AEwAA

                  Finally, at a book sale a year or two ago, I picked up Roy Strong’s “Henry, Prince of Wales and England’s Lost Renaissance,” though I haven’t read that, either.

                  https://books.google.com/books?id=yYjnNQAACAAJ&dq=henry+prince+of+wales+and+england%27s+lost+renaissance&hl=en&sa=X&ei=m9K1VN_pB8q-ggSr5IGAAw&ved=0CCIQ6AEwAQ

                  Do you own Paul Elmer More and Frank Leslie Cross’s anthology “Anglicanism: The Thought and Practice of the Church of England in the 17th Century, Illustrated from the Caroline Divines”? I used to own a copy about 35 years ago and read a fair amount of it, but for some reason, I no longer have it.

                  https://books.google.com/books?id=jqPqMgEACAAJ&dq=paul+elmer+more+and+frank+leslie+cross+anglicanism&hl=en&sa=X&ei=S9O1VLGQK8udgwSmo4D4Ag&ved=0CB0Q6AEwAA

                  >”Queen Elizabeth”

                  In 2003, one of our art museums here in Memphis hosted a marvelous exhibit of art treasures and other artifacts from Chatsworth. One of the items on display was an autograph letter of Elizabeth in Latin.

                  >not a little attention to sixteenth- and seventeenth-century events and authors

                  Somebody certainly needs to pay attention! I visited the Blount Mansion, an 18th century house, in Knoxville, a couple of years ago, and there were some etchings on the parlor wall, and before I recognized the figures, I asked the docent who they were and she said “I am told they are French nobility.” In fact, they were Prince Henry, Anne of Denmark, Sir Thomas Overbury, and Archbishop Williams of York.

                  On the other hand, a friend of mine visiting Brasenose College asked one of the staff if it might be possible to get a copy of the King James Bible. “I should hope so, madam,” came the answer, “for it was in this room that it was compiled.”

                  >“Catholic theologian” of Leuven

                  You may know this already, but I am told that it was to the faculty of Leuven that Henry VIII applied for a formal theological opinion on the lawfulness of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon.

                  >In checking the date of “Everyman”, I find it is (nearly?) contemporary with Henry VII

                  If I knew that, I had forgotten it. I saw a fine performance of Everyman here in Memphis in 1974, starring Anthony Quayle.

                  >by expressing himself incautiously, Williams is unclear enough to seem heretical, when he is in fact be being orthodox.

                  Between Mr. Barber’s comments and the vigor of Williams’s own treatment of Gnosticism and Montanism in “Descent of the Dove,” I am certainly willing to believe he had no intention of playing fast and loose with Christian truth. Indeed, I am reminded of a phrase from Lewis, who describes God the Father in one place as “cynically indifferent to his own dignity” (I think that is in “The Screwtape Letters”) and by analogy, Williams may well have felt such a sense of urgency to acquaint the world with divine love as he understood it that he was willing to risk a certain degree of recklessness in expressing himself.

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  3. Stephen Barber says:

    I rather think that Williams never intended to be heretical but wanted to put things in a provocative way and often expressed himself incautiously. The fact that he could not complete his university education and did not benefit from a philosophical training, as did Lewis and Eliot, was a disadvantage. I think that if you had challenged him on the five points Sorina raises he would have said that the fifth is orthodox, and I would agree, while the others are a hangover from the monism which he had absorbed from his occult studies.

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  4. michaelhuggins2591 says:

    I think all that is very likely true. I’ve read the first two or three chapters of “Descent of the Dove,” and Williams is certainly ready to denounce heresy where he sees it. He stands squarely against Gnosticism and describes the heresy of Montanism. He is quite clear on the danger of letting undordained confessors exercise sacerdotal functions.

    On the other hand, he regrets that the church suppressed the practice of the subintroductae and specifically says that in so doing, the church culpably gave way to the weaker brethren and missed an opportunity to promote a powerful avenue of spiritual development. Although much of the rhetorical manner of “Descent of the Dove” reminds me of Lewis at his best, I had, here, to contrast Williams’s thinking with two passages that I read long ago in Lewis. The first was that “The road traveled by Coventry Patmore was a dangerous one.” The second was something to the effect that if true Christian charity were in operation in the church as it ought to be low churchmen would be sensitive lest they offend the piety of their more high-church brethren, while high churchmen would be equally sensitive lest they tempt their evangelical brethren into idolatry.

    No one, in other words, if I understood Lewis’s intent correctly, would be making invidious comparisons of the “weaker brethren” with the rest of the church.

    In any case, it seems reasonable to me to believe that Williams wanted to be provocative for what seemed like a good reason–in that regard, he reminds me of Chesterton–and that some of his thinking may have lacked refinement because of his lack of a university education–though if he had read some essays by some college students today, he might have wondered just what we thought he was missing!

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    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      Mr. Huggins,

      I agree with Stephen Barber’s remark and your refinement of it about Williams being deliberately provocative and his further point that he “often expressed himself incautiously” – which I’d expand, ‘and/or very ambiguously (from whatever cause)’. I’d love to hear and discuss some more about “the monism which he had absorbed from his occult studies.” Gavin Ashenden has wrestled well with the works of A.W. Waite in his Charles Williams: Alchemy and Integration (2007), and I have wrestled in my time with those of Lee and Nicholson as well (though not in print), and still am not sure I know just what they thought respectively and where Williams may or may not agree with them! Concretely, I would think the expressions addressed in all five points are capable of being understood as orthodox, and probably are intended to be so. (I can imagine him provocatively ‘trumping’ monistic content by way of monistic-sounding expression…) On the other hand, I think it is good to challenge expressions and entertain and investigate the possibility that they indeed express or betray something heretical or otherwise ‘dodgy’.

      Having reread the main ‘subintroductae’ passage or section, in chapter one (pp. 12-14: to which may be added the renewed reference and its context in ch. III, p. 56), I strongly suspect that he is here circumspectly and indeed insidiously defending and promoting something very dodgy and reprehensible, among other things by means of what seems astonishing. impudent exegesis and interpretation of St. Paul. (What in the world is he talking about when he writes (p. 12), “This is clear from that passge in St. Paul […]” and “The Apostle […] answers […] it would be better if they could have continued with the great work […]” (!) ? The paragraph ends with a quotation from 1 Corinthians 7:9 (KJV). and presumably refers to the whole chapter up to that verse, but if so, what in the world is he doing with it – and is this his own exegesis, or an ‘esoteric’ one shared with others – such as Waite, Lee, and/or Nicholson?)

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      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        My apologies: A.E. Waite!

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      • michaelhuggins2591 says:

        >subintroductae…dodgy and reprehensible…

        Agreed, though at least he didn’t advocate the practice of Gandhi in that regard!

        As to where he came up with all this, when I looked the matter up online, the sources I found referred the reader to I Cor. 7:36-38:

        “36 If anyone is worried that he might not be acting honorably toward the virgin he is engaged to, and if his passions are too strong[b] and he feels he ought to marry, he should do as he wants. He is not sinning. They should get married. 37 But the man who has settled the matter in his own mind, who is under no compulsion but has control over his own will, and who has made up his mind not to marry the virgin—this man also does the right thing. 38 So then, he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does better.[c]”

        My understanding of this has always been that St. Paul, expecting the imminent return of Christ and seeing marriage as a possible impediment to be avoided in the peril of the last days (as Bacon wrote, “He who hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune”) and wishing all men could be as the apostle himself was, as he says in verse 7, commended those betrothed couples who took their relationship no further but subsumed it to their expectation of the Lord’s soon return.

        In other words, his message to such couples seems to be “If you are engaged *already* but are able to contain yourselves in the light of events that may take place quite soon, you are to be encouraged in that resolve–but if you cannot contain yourselves, then of course you may marry.” It was meant as a concession.

        Williams, on the other hand, unless I am reading too much into this, seems to have imagined Paul *advocating* that men and women quite deliberately *enter into* relationships that they would then never consummate for love of the Lord and that this would be a commendable spiritual discipline. Again, perhaps I am mistaken, but if this is what Williams meant, it seems to me he got it exactly backward.

        I think the passage from Hebrews is apt, “laying aside every weight, and the sin that doth so easily beset us…” The person who, for love of God, stops consuming trashy popular culture, stops eating junk food, stops smoking, starts exercising, starts observing a quiet time, volunteers in a soup kitchen, etc., will certainly be aware of his own struggles and, as he divests himself of these things, will be aware of his progress, but his focus will be on the feeling of growing more and more into a capability of enjoying the Divine Presence.

        The person who, on the other hand, who *willingly places himself in the way of* being tempted to fulfill a strong natural urge, which he will then continually deny himself is much more likely, in my opinion, to be focusing on *his own struggle* and less on the God for whom he supposedly took it up in the first place.

        Or, as Samuel Johnson once said to David Garrick, with characteristic decisive good sense, “I’ll come no more behind your scenes, David, for your actresses, with their white bosoms and painted faces, excite my amorous propensities.”

        Now I think I remember reading an episode in Gibbon, some years ago, in which a bishop or patriarch of the ancient church, fleeing for his life, took refuge for the night in a small room occupied by a chaste Christian virgin, who may even have been in a state of partial dishabille, and the venerable patriarch and the chaste virgin remained cooped up in the same close quarters all night without committing sin. But even that is circumstantial and temporary and not a deliberate ongoing arrangement.

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        • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

          Mr. Huggins,

          Thank you for this suggestion, about which I feel confident you are correct, and for your lucid comments! In reading through that chapter in the King James Version (which Williams seems to quote regularly in The Descent of the Dove), I was simply not struck by these verses as I am in the translation you quote. (Where it renders “ean e huperakmos” as “if his passions are too strong”, KJV gives “if she pass the flower of her age” and, for example, the online (Challoner) Douay-Rheims renders “quod sit superadulta” as “for that she is above the age”.) This reminds me that I do not know how good Williams’s Greek is, or what translations he knew. (I cannot recall explicit comments on Greek text or comparative merits of translations by him as I can, for example, in George MacDonald sermons.)

          I do not think you are “reading too much into this” and find you are quite right in thinking “he got it exactly backward”! I wonder (uncharitably?) how deliberately he may have done so.

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          • michaelhuggins2591 says:

            >“he got it exactly backward”! I wonder (uncharitably?) how deliberately he may have done so.

            Well after all, people will sometimes let their own biases and wishes get the better of them. Let’s not forget that Donne wrote Biathanatos when he and his poor wife were near starvation, and he was in stark despair. You probably know better than I do about Williams’s intense platonic affair with a female associate (I thought it was his secretary, but Sørina Higgins corrected me on that point and said it was the OUP librarian), so perhaps his mind was inclined very much in that direction when he made these comments (or perhaps he even remembered the instance I cited from Gibbon, of the venerable patriarch spending the night with the chaste virgin but without sin on the part of either).

            Just about everyone has his characteristic weakness. Strafford, a very strong character in some regards, seems to have had a weakness for illicit contact with women. C.S. Lewis seems to have had a fondness for female spanking stories. Mark Twain, late in life, had intense platonic friendships with 12- and 13-year-old girls, whom he would escort as his guest of the evening to parties for adults, where his young charge would sit quietly sipping an iced lemonade in her virginal white dress.

            Perhaps Williams simply admired the “spiritual athletes” of old, knew of the old custom of the subintroductae and, given his own proclivities, wished that this opportunity had been continually afforded Christians to demonstrate an overcoming of the flesh in this way. I suppose it’s understandable, though it can’t really be commended.

            As to Greek, I had a brief smattering of Homeric almost 50 years ago, enough to let me quote the first five lines of the Iliad in the original. In college, I took three semesters of koiné and read I John and part of the Gospel of John in the original. My son, a devout Greek Orthodox Christian who is working on his master’s in classical philology in Thessaloniki, reads the NT, the Church Fathers, and the Septuagint at sight in the original and knows a great deal more Greek and Latin than I ever did.

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            • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

              It would be interesting to know what your son thinks of ‘huperakmos’ – I finally got round to looking it up in Walter Bauer’s Wörterbuch (5th German ed.), but do not feel much the wiser, though I was struck by the fact that the ‘akmos’ part is from ‘akme’ which not only made me think of Wile E. Coyote, but got me wondering if Williams was aware of this and it is relevant to various example of ‘point’ imagery in his late Arthurian poetry (!).

              Like

  5. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Sørina,

    Crazily enough, perhaps, I don’t think I’d ever seen a photo of St. Martin’s, before – thank you very much! (Why did I never try to find out if it was still there, and visit it, when I was at Oxford, I wonder?) Now, I’ve got the bug, and went searching around a found a couple items of interest to fill in the context of this play’s 1929 appearance on Good Friday.

    The Church’s website has there photos of the interior: the first two you see immediately, here:

    http://www.stmartinskensalrise.co.uk/church/

    the other when you click “Services”. Curiously, I only encountered this detailed history via the Wikipedia article, “List of works by Henry Payne”, the stained-glass artist who did much work there:
    http://www.stmartinskensalrise.co.uk/history_of_our_church.html

    What a tantalizing sentence there begins “I suggest when you have a moment to spare, browse through some of the old Church Magazines which go right back to the beginning”! Doubly so, as there is not much about A.H.E. Lee recounted in this historical note itself.

    Click “past, prsent & future” there for a fascinating extra bit of its (pre-)history.

    The area history here includes an old photo on a postcard and a map from 1920:

    http://brent.gov.uk/media/387284/Kensal%20Green.pdf

    For more area history:

    http://www.brent-heritage.co.uk/kensal_green.htm

    where clicking the old photos leads to more old photos, and clicking “Brent Heritage” leads to topical historical and biographical articles.

    This was presumably a good bit of A.H.E. Lee’s world, and so, of Williams’s, too, when he visited him there. Grevel Lindop’s biography, Charles Williams: The Third Inkling, now due out around the 129th anniversary of his birth, this coming autumn, promises to give us a fuller sense of their friendship than anything yet published.

    One thing and another has jogged me to a possibly wild speculation: might Kensal Rise with its great and famous cemeteries and Dollis Hill contribute much to the background of Battle Hill in Descent into Hell? While it was not published until 1937, Williams was already working on it by August 1933, only two years after Three Plays appeared.

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    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      In the first part of this news item (between 42 seconds and 1:30, and 3:12 and 4:00) there are glimpses which give a sense of the space of the interior, where Alan Bennett was speaking in aid of the local library – “Alan Bennett, Save Kensal Rise Library, BBC Newsnight, May 24, 2011”:

      /www.youtube.com/watch?v=MjeS8M0K4Z8

      These glimpses are, sadly, all I could find on YouTube about St. Martin’s, Kensal Rise…

      (I wonder what the Rev. Mr. Graham Noyce would think of an enacting of The Rite of the Passion in the space for which it was written?)

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  6. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Mr. Huggins,

    Thank you for your response, with all the seventeenth-century references! I don’t know the More & Cross. but it sounds very interesting – the Internet Archive, I discover, has lots of enticing-looking Paul Elmer More titles, but not, alas, this one. (I live a day’s journey from any reference library and have no means to order books online – which is probably just as well!) My mind kept going to Antonia Fraser’s King Charles II (1979) – the first of hers I read – in reading about Charles I and Laud, lately. Bush’s contribution to OHEL is (to my mind) as thoroughly enjoyable reading as Lewis’s! I certainly found Williams’s biographies an entertaining and encouraging way to pay more attention to sixteenth- and seventeenth-century events and authors. For example, I think his Rochester finally got me to read my copy of the Everyman Library selection from Gilbert Burnet’s History of My Own Time.

    What a treat to have seen Anthony Quayle in Everyman! I used, as a teenager, to borrow an Caedmon LP from the public library of him reading one of Donne’s Easter sermons – it was marvellous! Speaking of Donne (again), you might enjoy browsing the New Christian Year as linked from The Charles Williams Society homepage. It does not (yet) show how all the selections were assigned throughout the year, but does have a handy alphabetical catalogue, which allows us to see something of the breadth and detail of Williams’s reading, and what he thought worth giving to others as food for thought and meditation. (Dame Helen Gardner told me Williams spoke deprecatingly about it (and also about the biographies and Witchcraft) in terms of mere ‘scissors and paste’ work, but that she remonstrated with him about it, thinking it very good – and, if I understood correctly – reread it year after year, always finding new things.)

    Indeed, Williams as an anthologist is another place we can see something of the breadth of his sixteenth- and seventeenth-century reading and tastes, from The Oxford Book of Regency Verse (1928) in which he had a hand to The New Book of English Verse (1935), that massive Gollancz complement to the Oxford Book, as well as those later largely prose selections.

    In his recent post on having submitted the final draft of his new biography of Williams, Grevel Lindop notes, “it will recreate, from Williams’s own notes, much of the famous lecture on Milton’s Comus which led C.S. Lewis to exclaim that Oxford University’s Divinity School ‘had probably not witnessed anything so important since some of the great medieval or Renaissance lectures.’” All this thinking again about Williams and the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries has got me wondering how much it contributed to Inklings discussions (not least given Warren Lewis’s interest in seventeenth-century French history and literature).

    A final sort of seventeenth-century-related note. The edition of The Descent of the Dove which I own has, printed on the back cover, a brief endorsement by C.V. Wedgwood, “A great and lucent book.” I think it was her sister-in-law, with whom I was teaching in the Eighties, who was kind enough to help put me in touch with her. So I wrote, asking her about her reaction to Williams. But she very sweetly and sadly wrote back, that, as sometimes happens when people get older, her memory was no longer sharp on that point.

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  7. michaelhuggins2591 says:

    Mr. Dodds, thank you for your comments. I may know a couple of matters that you don’t, such as details of Laud, but your posts show that you know a great deal that I have never heard of (such as Williams’s lecture on Comus) or had quite simply forgotten (such as Warren Lewis’s interest in 17th-century France).

    I knew of Paul Elmer More for some years as a distinguished conservative thinker–from St. Louis, like Eliot–but I didn’t know he and Frank Leslie Cross had produced this anthology until I saw it in the study of an Anglican priest in 1978. When I asked him about it, he thought I was referring to Paul Moore, the rather controversial bishop of New York.

    I knew of Antonia Fraser’s biography of Charles II but have never read it. I have her later biography of Cromwell on my shelf and read about 100 pages of it 10 years ago but have never finished it.

    Have you read Lord Chesterfield’s Letters? At one point, he remarks to his son what no historian believes to be true: “He [Charles II] lived in great uneasiness with his people and was at last poisoned.” Have you read Ian Peairs’s novel from around 1997, “An Instance of the Fingerpost?” Charles II appears in it as a character.

    >The New Book of English Verse (1935), that massive Gollancz complement to the Oxford Book

    Something else I had never heard of. I own a copy of the Oxford Book that I bought for about a quarter on a bookstore remainder table 50 years ago.

    I have Lewis’s OHEL contribution in paperback and read about half of it in 1990 and greatly enjoyed it. I read there was some tension between him and Tolkien as to how Lewis should refer to Catholics in that volume. Lewis thought the term “Catholic” essentially conceded the whole article, while Tolkien, if I remember correctly, thought “papist” sounded tendentious.

    Lewis refers to Douglas Bush obliquely in his preface to his own work, with the phrase “a more learned pen than mine.”

    >”she very sweetly and sadly wrote back, that, as sometimes happens when people get older, her memory was no longer sharp on that point.”

    That reminds me of the time when, at age 14, in 1966, I accompanied an elderly lady in her 80s to the opera. It came up in the conversation that she had been present (or thought she had) at the premiere of Strauss’s controversial opera “Salomé,” which would have been during the First World War.

    “You were present at the premiere of Salomé!” I exclaimed. “Why I read that it was considered so shocking that the Kaiser ordered it closed after its first performance!”

    “Dere vass no Kaiser zen,” she replied. Well that simply wasn’t true, but I didn’t contradict her.

    >”I live a day’s journey from any reference library and have no means to order books online – which is probably just as well!”

    We all have to watch our expenses, but if one has a computer and an online connection, he has an endless supply of free reading at his disposal. Do you know of Project Gutenberg? Among the books I have read from that site, free of charge, are Gibbon’s History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Memoirs of the Court of Louis XIV, by the Duc de St.-Simon, Hume’s History of England, Richardson’s Pamela, Moby Dick, George Eliot’s “Daniel Deronda,” Charlotte Mary Yonge’s Heir of Redclyffe, Thackeray’s Henry Esmond, Austen’s Northanger Abbey, Hester Piozzi’s Memoirs of Samuel Johnson, and others.

    Also, I don’t know if you’re aware that “Kindle for PC” is a free download from Amazon.com, and many Kindle books are free, and many more are available for only a dollar or two. It was in that way that I first read Mansfield Park and A Tale of Two Cities a year or two ago.

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  8. Carry on, boys. 😉

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    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      Lots of (as it were) ‘leaf-mould’ for Williams- (and Inklings-)in-context, here! For instance (in so far as Wikipedia is here reliable), Wilde’s Salome was published in translation when C.W. was seven, but was first presented (privately) in England, directed by Florence Farr (friend of Waite, among others) when he was eighteen – while Strauss’s opera adaptation was premiered (at Covent Garden) when he was twenty-four.

      Project Gutenberg, Internet Archive, and LibriVox are wonderful resources – in general and also for what we know C.W. was, or can speculate he might have been, reading, or for more sense-of-period. (I think R.H. Benson’s autobiography, Confessions of a Convert, is a fine example of the latter, as his novels The Necromancers and Lord of the World are of the first and second categories, respectively!)

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