Wednesday, 4 February 2015

CATHOLIC INFLUENCE IN MODERN LITERATURE: A Fascinating Essay

Read at the Maynooth Union

A brilliant and fascinating paper, and a charming piece of literary criticism, was read at the Maynooth Union, by the Rev. P. Mac Sweeney, M.A. It is entitled 'Some Neo-Catholic Movements in Literature.' We give it in full:

The hero Durtal in Huysman's "En Route" and 'La Cathedrale' having made a retreat in La Trappe, finds himself "desole;" feels himself distracted by two opposite streams of tendency. "I am," he says, "still, too much a man of letters to be a monk, and yet I am too much a monk to rest contented amongst men of letters." This represents a state of mind which those will pass through who take their religion seriously. and who at the same time have developed in them the instinct for art. The resolution of such a state of mind becomes difficult or easy according to the extent to which art has cut itself loose from religion, or, as I should prefer to put it, from Catholic truth. Now, in the paper which I am holding, I am discussing the relation of the Catholic Church to pure literature and to nothing else; and further I am discussing certain features of literature which seem to me to bear more or less on the problem which presented itself to the hero in "En Route" and in "La Cathedrale." It is not a modern problem, but it is a problem which pressed of late years for a new solution, a solution which was found in the establishment of a new school of literature, and which brought over to the Catholic Church some of the most distinguished writers in France.
 The literature of primitive Christianity was confronted with a pagan literature of supreme excellence. The one reached excellence by the intensity, of the spiritual conviction which it embodied, the other by its profound feeling for the beauty of nature and of humanity. The antagonism between them lay not in anything that was literary, but in the fact that one presented a solution of the mystery that enshrouds the world, compared with which that which the other presented, pales into insignificance. For I do not hold that the good that was in Greek literature and the good that was in Christian literature were opposed; the one led to the other as the mountain streams leads to the sea.

 Form.

Cardinal Newman has stated that "there is no such thing as a Christian literature," holding that "The habitat of the natural gifts is the natural man." He uses the phrase Christian literature in its widest sense, in the sense in which we speak of European literature say, or Oriental literature. Now, a work becomes pure literature through the excellence of its form; matter, however excellent in itself, will not become literature unless it has impressed upon it a form which is artistic; the matter, however, may be as varied as you wish; it may be the epic life of the Homeric heroes or of the heroes of our own Cuchulninn Sagas; it may be the soul-history of a Saint Augustine, or the analysis of human passion in Shakespeare's plays; or the poetic theology of Dante or the Christian nature worship of Chateaubriand, or the humanism of Matthew Arnold; but what need is there to extend the references, it may be anything you will, provided that the thing is beautiful in some way or other, and is expressed under a beautiful form.
 There is, therefore, a truth in Newman's phrase, though it might easily be misconceived. Literary form is sensuous; the faculty for literary form belongs, no doubt, to the natural man, and moreover what is sensuous can be but the veil or the symbol of the spiritual. The tendency of literature, therefore, will be to express, to use Newman's phrase, "the natural man;" but is it to stop here, or is there no formula which will enable the Christian religion to claim the good and beautiful in all literatures as its own? There was a time when the "natural man" was no longer in the ascendant in art and literature, and when both of them reflected the unity of the Christian life.   Then the supernatural reigned supreme and the Gothic Art of the Middle Ages proclaimed at once its prolific variety and essential unity.
 This unity of the Christian life found its ultimate expression in the poetry of Dante in Italy, of Chaucer in England, and in the anonymous and earlier French epic the "Chanson de Roland." It had not spent its force when Shakespeare was born, and it enabled the famous Elizabethan to catch the generous and unified temper of the great Catholic writers before a narrowing humanism, missing the true tendency of classical literature, was to lead not alone English literature, but European literature on to a frozen imitation of the past, or revolt against the tyranny of this 18th century on to the paths of morbid introspection.

 A Morbid Introspection.

 The classicism coincided in England and in France with the outbreak of the French Revolution. This latter let loose the forces of radicalism in civil society, and man re fused to acknowledge precedent as a guide to the future; the French nation went stumbling on in its attempt to find a position of stability for its social organisation. In literature, the break with the past hastened the development of the many-sided Romantic movement which, whilst it fostered, when divorced from the optimism inherent in the Catholic faith, a morbid introspection finding its most explicit expression in Goethe's "Werther" and Byron's "Childe Harold," still by insisting on the human side of antiquity helped to restore an interest in the Middle Ages, in the Fathers, and ultimately in the first ages of Christianity. In France this latter tendency is seen in the poetic prose of Chateaubriand; in England it found expression in the mediaevalism of Walter Scott, in the ecclesiastical sonnets of Wordsworth; and it had no small part in fostering the Tractarian movement.

Dr. Barry on the Tractarian Movement.

 Writing of the origin of that movement amongst the Fellows of Oriel, Dr. Barry has the following pregnant passage in his life of Newman: "They (the Fellows of Oriel) were in fact obeying a mysterious power, and went on under its influence; but how little could any one of them, not excluding Newman, have given an account of the wide spread Romantic crusade, which all over Europe was in motion, guided by no supreme commander, a reaction or a last attempt of historical Christianity to defend itself against unbelief. Compeers Newman had beyond a doubt; not, however, 'the Roman moralists' whom he never had looked into, but Chateaubriand, de Maistre, Stolberg, Tieck, Arnim, Brentano, Friedrich Schlegel, and Novalis—to mention only these— whose works throw a broad light on the Apologia. Nay, we must go further back. Goethe's early years mark the time, and Strasburg Cathedral is the high place, from which the Romantic movement set out. We may connect Goethe with Walter Scott; Johnson and Burke with Coleridge, who again is a disciple of Schelling; and Schelling, in the days of Newman's greatest power at Oxford, was himself the oracle of Munich. Nor can we overlook the learned and devout Southey, writer of epics, or Wordsworth, most spiritual-minded among English poets, both of whom contributed to the great restoration, and were heralds of it."
 A new era was therefore at hand in the opening years of the last century, and it was evident that this century was to see new discoveries in the fields of literature. Romanticism contained within its folds two distinct types; there were those who accepted the Christian faith, and those who rejected it; on the one hand, men of the type of Chateaubriand; on the other, men like Shelley, like Arnold, like even Wordsworth, like Hugo. Not but that great differences separate these latter from one another, but still in most of them there is evident that sense of a lost ideal of beauty, that conviction of the inadequacy of dreams evolved out of mere phenomena to staunch the wounds in the aching heart of humanity.

 The Absence of Catholic Faith: Its Effect.

 And I am convinced that this sense of pain which obsessed European literature came from the severance with the comforting truth of Christianity; read Shelley's "Julian and Maddalo," read the poems of Matthew Arnold and see the want of generous expansion towards a definite religious ideal which came from the absence of Catholic faith; note that undertone of sadness in the work of the Romantics which Arnold has so beautifully described in his stanzas in memory of the author of "Obermann":—
  " Yet through the hum of torrent lone
 And brooding mountain bee,
 There sobs I know not what ground-tone
 Of human agony."
 How far we are from the sun-lit joyousness of the Catholic poet who sings of "Aprille, with his schowres swoote," and of the merry pilgrims ready to wend their way to St. Thomas's shrine at Canterbury. Nor did the cry to arms of Chateaubriand find many followers at the time; the material trend of the day, the influence of the Encyclopaedists, of Voltaire, and of Rousseau had told upon the literary temper of France; in England Christianity was at its lowest ebb, and made no overt claims on the hearts and minds of the rising generation of poets and writers, whilst the Catholic Church seemed to be withdrawing herself more and more within the line of purely spiritual defence, leaving art, leaving poetry, as Thompson has expressed it, "to follow the feet of her pagan seducer."
 In yielding, however, to the attraction of natural beauty, the Romantics were playing with fire; for it must be remembered that the blasphemies of Shelley, like the sneers of Burns, were directed against the forms of Christianity with which they were acquainted, or were evoked by the preconceived and prejudiced ideas which they had formed of it. The genuine Romantic temper, unbiassed by pantheism or atheism or any other creed, was favourable to the development of Christian sentiment. In France literature had, however, to pass beneath the portals of a debasing realism before it returned, as it has returned within the last 30 years in the per sons of Coppee, Brunetiere, Verlaine, Paul Borget, Huysmans, and Rettee, clothed in the sack-cloth and ashes of a sorrowing regret expressed in lyrical verse and prose.

 A Slow Return to Catholic Ideals.

   In England, where no such doctrinaire opposition as we find in France took place, there has not been wanting a slow return to Catholic ideals amongst an increasing section of writers. The movement, which from a literary point of view started with Newman, has produced in the latter a supreme name in the prose literature of the century, whilst in Francis Thompson we have one who, reviving the splendours of the Miltonic lyrical imagination and vocabulary, has created a world of Catholic emotion all his own.
 If I seem to lay stress upon the French aspect of my subject, it is for this reason, that conversions to Catholicism form of late a remarkable feature in French literary circles, and that French literature, more than English literature, more indeed than any other literature I know of, lends itself to divisions into schools and movements. Every one knows how misleading a term "the Lake School" is, designating as it does such divergent types as Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Southey, not to mention Shelley, and ignoring as it does the individualism so characteristic of each. The Frenchman, on the other hand, is beyond all things doctrinaire; he must not only do a thing, but let us know how he did it; he will reveal his method, explain it, and take artistic pleasure in seeing how his performance answers to what he had set himself to do. The spontaneity of the Romantic temper is a different thing with him from what it is with the highly individualised Englishman. He is gregarious, he is explanatory and this generates a love of exposition, which in turn gives the French literature those qualities of " nettete" and "clarte" which make it a thing of joy to those who love what is clear, to those who love what is logical.

 The Ascent to Catholic Truth.

 Putting aside the large horizons of Chateaubriand, with their overhanging skies from which the cross had not disappeared, it may be said that the nature-worship of the early Romantics was pantheistic. But there is pantheism and pantheism. Francis Thompson, whom I at least do not tire of quoting, has well said; "Pantheism is a half-way house, and marks ascent or descent, according to the direction from which it is approached. Now, Shelley came to it from absolute atheism; therefore in his case it meant rise." And the descent has led to naturalism, and the ascent— well, it has led to symbolism, a milestone on the way, and in the case of an increasing band of earnest wayfarers it has ended at the summit— it has ended at its home, which is Catholic truth.
 "The habitat of the natural gifts," says Newman, "is the natural man;" and, left to himself, the natural man will surely trend towards the worship of a beauty which is material, will end in expiring the last breath of an idealism which he has inherited from supernatural belief. And so it was; the large idealism of Hugo, of De Musset, of De Vigny, gave place to a literature which contracted into sensuousness through its increasing love of form; or, as in the case of Zola, developed a method to suit its own narrowed range of vision— the method of naturalism or of photographic realism,

 The Scientific School.

 Now, this change which set in in the literature of the middle of the last century, and which has continued for so long, was powerfully helped, by what we all know as "the scientific spirit of the age." We can recall the time when sapient wiseacres were about shaking their heads and telling those they met that the heart of the mystery had been plucked out of it, that the riddle of the universe had been solved, and that the days of transcendental charlatanism were over. The real scientist was often amazed to find that his theories had been changed into certainties by such as these; but none the less the thing went on, and literature became tainted by the milieu in which it was plunged. It became "scientific." It proclaimed the necessity of art being detached, of art being objective, of art for art's sake in fine. It maintained its right to analyse everything and to register the results with the sangfroid of an analytic chemist. It held that idealism, morality, religion were distorting lenses which prevented its seeing life as it is. It avoided the places where these were obtrusively in evidence, and when it could not avoid them it passed them with a sneer, or tried to foul them with its own evil breath; it sought the charnel house, and it ended by mistaking the putrifying corpse of its own imagination for the beautiful body of life itself.

 A Condemned Theory.

 And here let us explain ourselves, lest we be misunderstood. Are we condemning an observation of life which would include the weakness as well as the strength of men? Not at all; if we did, then we should condemn Shakespeare, then we should condemn Dante, then we should condemn Homer. What we do condemn is what the practice of these immortal poets condemns, the theory that a writer is to remain indifferent from a moral point of view to the content of his work. Are we condemning the necessity for artistic excellence if a work is to reach the first rank in literature or in art? Not at all; if we did then we should be condemning the art of the Catholic Dante, the art of the Sistine itself. What we do condemn is the theory that art is the whole thing, and that when that is secured you may go and do what you will. Let me read for you this extract from a lecture delivered in the University of Oxford by Dr. Bradley, its Professor of Poetry. I may add it is gratifying to find such an uncompromising utterance issuing from what is in reality the hearth and home of English culture. "In an age already inclined," he says, "to shrink from those higher realms where poetry touches religion and philosophy, the formalist heresy encourages men to taste poetry as they would a fine wine, which has indeed an aesthetic value, but a small one. And then the natural man, finding an empty form hurls into it the matter of cheap pathos, rancid sentiment, vulgar humour, bare lust, ravenous vanity— everything which, in Schiller's phrase, the form should extirpate, but which no mere form can extirpate."

 Newman's Timely Warning.

 Surely the spirit of Newman still clings to Oxford! With the intuition of genius Newman had foreseen the danger ahead, and had forestalled it by timely words of warning. In his day the advocates of the elimination of Christian ideals from literature had not exactly reached the point of view which we sum up as art for art's sake; less drastic suggestions were offered, but they contained the germ of the future doctrine. He foresaw this, and writing of those who, like Matthew Arnold, would substitute culture for faith, he says:— "They made their own minds their sanctuary, their own ideas their oracle, and conscience in morals was but parallel to genius in art and wisdom in philosophy." But a mere apposite and more telling objection to the theory of art for art's sake is furnished, as Dr. Barry has pointed out, by Newman's dictum that "Science is universal, literature is personal." "There are those," says Newman, "who regard composition as a trick and a trade; can they really think that Homer, or Pindar, or Shakespeare, or Dryden, or Walter Scott were accustomed to aim at diction for its own sake, instead of being inspired with their subject, and pouring forth beautiful words because they had beautiful thoughts ? "
 Is this not a clear rejoinder to the so-called scientific school of literature that would eliminate personality out of composition and so reduce literature to the function of a photoghrapic camera. Let me finally quote the words of one who was himself at first a "realist," words which to me seem classical. In his preface to " Le fils naturel," speaking of play-writing. Alexandre Dumas, fils, says:— "The theatre is not an end in itself, it is but a means. What the moral man is has been determined, the 'social' man has to be created. Let us consider the theatre as something which fulfils a useful purpose by its comedy, by its tragedy, by its drama, by its farce, and which does so under the form best suited to us; let us consider it as serving this useful purpose despite the cries of the apostles of art for art's sake, words which are absolutely meaningless. Every literature that has not in view perfectability, morality, the ideal, the useful, in a word, is a stunted and unhealthy one. The representation, pure and simple, of facts and of men is nothing but the work of a notary or of a photographer."

The Death of the Literature of Form.

 You will see, therefore, that even from an early date this doctrine and its practice received continued opposition. Gradually a reaction set in. The craving for an escape from the prison-house of the material; a home-sickness for mystery, for the supernatural, took possession of one poet or another. There gradually arose in France what has been called the symbolistic movement. But before I enter upon this topic let me give you this inadequate translation of a poem of De Heredia, which illustrates the change. De Heredia, I may mention, is the finest representative of intense love of perfection of form in modern French poetry. You will pardon the poor translation, which but faintly reflects the original:—

To my shame have I sculptured,
Have I painted, O peril to my soul,
 Not, Christ on His cross, not the saint on the fire,
 But, Bacchus in his cups, or Danae in her shame ;
 And gambled my share of the life that is for aye
 Through a foolish pride in works which spring from hell ;
 But now that the evening of my life is come,
 Grant that, like Frau Juan de Segovie,
 I may die as I thread with golden filigree
 The monstrance which holds Christ.

In verses such as those De Heredia is ringing the death-knell of the school to which he belonged throughout his life. "The whole of that movement," says Arthur Symons, "came to a splendid funeral in M. de Heredia's sonnets, in which the literature of form says its last word and dies." The world was not such a simple thing as the so-called gentlemen of "science" had taken it to be, and symbolism came to emphasise the fact; something was hidden behind the veil of sense. "Crains dans le mur aveugle un regard qui t'epie," says Gerard de Nerval. With the return of the belief in mystery and of an unseen world beyond, the Catholic Church began to come into her own again. Ferdinand Brunetiere, the brilliant editor of the "Revue des Deux Mondes," was to sound the tocsin in his famous article on the Bankruptcy of Science. Not, as he was careful to point out, that he was op posed to science when kept within its legitimate sphere, no more than he himself was willing to relinquish the element of good which he believed was to be found amidst the errors of his former Positivism. And I myself take this opportunity of saying that in criticising the theory of naturalism, or the theory of art for art's sake, I am not denying that they contained an element of truth, an element which it is desirable should be preserved and propagated. In the case of Brunetiere the influence of Newman was strongly felt, and those who care about philosophical parallels will find interest in Henri Bremond's comparison of Brunetiere's theory of the non-rational element in faith with Newman's theory of an illative sense. But it is as a literary critic Brunetiere interests us here. In season and out of season he attacked Zola and his school, and there can be but little doubt that his numerous lectures throughout France helped to make the road easy for the new Catholic literature. Let me quote the following expression of his firmly-held opinions. Speaking of a certain view held by Taine, he says: — "I see in it an instructive testimony —a presumption, if you will— of that which I mentioned just now, namely, that the art which has as its sole object itself, which takes no heed as to the quality of the characters it describes, the art, in a word, which does not reckon with the impressions which it is capable of making on the senses or of exciting in the mind, that art, however great may be the artist, I do not say that it is inferior, that is another question, but I say that it tends necessarily to immorality."

  A Testimony to Conscience's Cry.

 Amongst those who recognised this was one whose child-like habits and unhappy life recals in part our own Clarence Mangan, But the mire of Paris never sullied the pure soul of Mangan as it did that of Paul Verlaine. Child-like, he tumbled amidst the fertile savannahs of a tropical imagination, forgetful of the poisonous snakes of immorality that lay hidden there; it is pathetic to hear in his song the startled cries of a soul terrified to death by the discovery it has made of its own fall. As he listens to the voice of the Good Shepherd calling on him to come to Him, he exclaims: —
 Lord ! it is too much ! Truly, I dare not ;
 Love whom? Is it you?
 Oh no ! I tremble, I do not dare to love you,
 I do not dare.
 I wish it not. I am unworthy,
 You ! the immense rose
 Of the pure winds of love, O you !
 All the hearts of the saints, O you !
 Who are the jealous one of Israel,
 You ! the chaste bee that lights
 Only on the flower of innocence half closed.

 What I ? What I ? to dare to love you !
 Are you mad !
 O Father, O Son, O Holy Spirit! I! this sinner! this coward !
 This proud one ! whose task has evil been,
 And in whose every sense, smell, touch, and taste,
 Sight, hearing, nay, his entire being,
 In whose every hope and in each remorseful pang,
 There is naught left but the ecstasy of a caress,
 At whose touch the old Adam within
 May pass into empty nothingness.

 What a testimony to the reality of the cry of conscience is expressed in this powerful poem, which has lost infinitely by translation. Verse-form, magic, even the sense, I fear, have departed.
 You will note here, perhaps, the use of symbols such as the 'Rose of the pure winds of love,' 'The chaste bee,' 'The half-closed flower of innocence;' and you will be right in placing Verlaine amongst those poets who have been called symbolists. But if you do so it is wise to make a distinction. There is a symbolism which goes back to that of the Middle Ages, whose home is in the Catholic Church, and in her alone. There is another symbolism which is but a faint reflection of the first, and which is but a modern paganism dressed in borrowed weeds of mysticism.
 It was with a profound sense of its appropriateness that Huysmans placed on the title page of his "La Cathedrale" these verses of the twenty-sixth Psalm so familiar to us priests:—

 Domine, dilexi decorum domus tuae,
 Et locum habitationis gloriae tune,
 Ne perdas cum impiis, Deus, animam meam.

 Catholic Symbolism.

 To the Catholic symbolist the world will be the home of the living God, and its beauty his vestment, as the cathedral is the chamber-room of his presence. He will not work upon it, as if it were the veil which hides a mystery which leads him to despair. He will not consider it us a tapestry upon which to project the carnal fancies of his own imagination, and pretend that they are the reflections of a truth which lies beyond, it will ever be for him the veil of a divinity which he knows; which he does not comprehend, but which he loves, it will be the self-same symbolism which ennobled the material in the Middle Ages with ideas, and which moulded it into the Gothic shrines of Europe. It will be the symbolism which taught Dante to fix in immortal colour the spiritual beauty of Paradise and the lurid terrors of hell; it will be the symbolism which has inspired the stately litanies of the Church, and which has made her altars a blaze of colour; it is a symbolism which will not fail to realise that in itself it is but the irridescent glow, thrown upon the material veil of earth by a Light which is eternal.
 And this is the symbolism that inspired the pages which Verlaine devoted to wisdom, and which called from out the morasses of a debasing naturalism Huysmans, "the rare and precious stylist." It is a symbol ism which lends a fresh significance to ceremonies with which we are all familiar, and stirs the heart within us for its very beauty. Let me justify my remarks by this extract from Huysmans, in which he described the ceremony of the Absolution of the Dead: "The Mass ended," he says, "the celebrant disappeared, and as at the moment when the corpse entered, the clergy, preceded by the Suisses, advanced towards the body, and in the blazing circle of the vapours a priest in his cope said the mighty prayers of the general absolution. Then the liturgy took a higher tone, and became still more admirable. Meditative between the sinner and the judge, the Church, by the mouth of her priest, implores the Lord to pardon the poor soul: 'Non intres in judicium cum servo tuo Domine'— then after the amen given by the organ and all the choir, a voice arose in the silence, and spoke in the name of the dead — 'Libera me!' and the choir continued the old chant of the tenth century, just as in the 'Diesirae,' Which appropriates to itself fragments of those plaints, the Last Judgement flamed out, and pitiless responses declare to the dead the reality of his alarms; declare to him that at the end of time the Judge will come with the crash of thunder to chastise the world. The priest marched round the catafalques sprinkling it with beads of holy water, incensed it, gave shelter to the poor weeping soul, consoled it, took it to himself, covered it, as it were, with his cope, and again intervened to pray that, after so much weariness and sorrow, the Lord will permit the unhappy one to sleep the sleep that knows no waking, far from earth's noises. Never in any religion has a more charitable part, a more august mission, been assigned to man. Lifted, by his consecration, wholly above humanity, almost deified, by sacerdotal office, the priest, while earth laments or is silent, can advance to the brink of the abyss, and intercede for the being whom the Church has baptised as an infant, who has, no doubt, forgotten her since that day, and may even have persecuted her up to the hour of his death."

 The Church's Wondrous, Magnetic Attraction

 Through familiarity with the routine of her daily life, we may fail to appreciate the wondrous and magnetic attraction which the Church is ever exercising in the world. The extent of that attraction is exemplified by the diversity of talents that she enlists in. her service. She has strewn the earth with, the divine manna of white hosts round which the millions of her faithful children offer pure worship and praise to the hidden God. But whilst her invisible life is the foundation of her existence, she is Catholic in the widest sense, and claims a right to all that is good in the work of man, whether it be poetry or painting, or music or sculpture. Well is it for those who, like Francois Coppee, have not to regret the work of the past, but can lay at the feet of their Mother the Church, works conceived and executed far from her presence. In Huysmans and Verlaine conversion rose out of their disgust with a literary method which, was degrading, as much as out of its personal effect upon themselves; in the case of Francois Coppee there was little to regret in his enormous output of work. Truth found him out in suffering, and showed him the emptiness of a world where God is not and the beauty and truth of the religion of his childhood. The sincerity of his con version may be seen from these glowing; pages in "La Bonne Souffrance," in which, he traces in its every detail its history. Addressing his fellow-convert, Huysmans, he says:
 "However, believe me, there is another thing. A breath has passed — Spiritus fiat ubi vult — and religious words have been uttered by lips whence we would not have expected them. Poor Verlaine was the first. Do you remember the wondrous cry of repentance in 'Sagesse.' Later you have written your two honest and interesting volumes. I myself, neither whose work nor whose past has anything edifying in it, I also bring my poor contribution to this Christian effort. By another road, but one leading to the same destination, Brunetiere passed along; and no one, I am sure, will consider him as a mere poet and neurotic. Is not this a remarkable fact; and is there nothing but mere chance in the fact that several laymen, quite independent and disinterested — for they have nothing immediately to gain from their action, save mockery and insult — make open proclamation of their return to religious belief? And is there not; in that a manifest proof that, amidst the accumulated ruins of the bankruptcy of the sentiment, of the philosophy, of the politics, and of the society of the disastrous last years of the (19th) century, the faith rises proudly aloft, like to those imposing cathedrals which, fixed firmly in their foundations during so many ages, witness to the indestructible force of Christianity and to the permanence of the Church?"

 A Literature of Reaction.

 This neo-Catholic literature in France, from the nature of the case, was, and is, more or less a literature of reaction. It was a protest against the seduction which the evil education fostered by an anti-Christian caucus of politicians had exercised on the minds of its victims; it was a protest, furthermore, against a theory of art which would shut man within the prison walls of the flesh and stifle in him that personal freedom by which he can breathe freely in the supernatural.
 But over and above this, in the persons of Rene Bazin in France and Francis Thompson in England, the Church has shown her power to foster the talents of the sons who have never left the paternal home. The aroma of the purest Catholic home life is wafted through the pages in which Rene Bazin has revealed the heart of the Catholic democracy of France. He has revealed the secret beauty of the lives of those working girls and working men whom every missionary priest has met and wondered at and admired, He has shown, notwithstanding the facile sneers of certain literary critics, that there is a France which is true to the best traditions of its past, and he has read some   terrifying lessons to those who would attempt to destroy them.
 One thing the Catholic faith tends to destroy in literature, over and above immorality or infidelity, and that is diletanteism and insincerity, in being true to their inner convictions Catholics have nothing to lose in literature, and their interest for the public that lies outside the Church is increased thereby ten-fold. I was struck by a remark which Edmond Gosse, a non-Catholic critic, made in criticising the work of Paul Bourget, one of the keenest observers and most prolific writers amongst French novelists. Speaking of Bourget — who, it may be mentioned has also become a practical Catholic — he says: "Hence we like his book best where it gives us the results of the application of his subtle intellect to less familiar matters. All he has to say about the vitality of the Catholic Church in the United States is worthy of close attention. His interviews with Cardinal Gibbons and Archbishop Ireland are of material interest. No pages here are more graphic than those which record a visit to a Roman Church in New York, and the sermon which the author listened to there. . . . in observation of this kind M. Bourget can always be trusted."

   In Ireland.

 I fear I have trespassed on the time at your disposal, but I should not wish to leave my subject without, at least, indicating the bearing of my paper on the question of Catholic literature in Ireland. In France, as we have seen, literature reflected the troubled state of that country's soul; in England literature as represented by Newman took a controversial turn at first, but gradually it has come to deal, as in the case of Coventry Patmore and Francis Thompson, with features of life which we consider more poetic; and incidentally the latter has illustrated by the wealth of his art the reach of his imagination and the purified sensuousness of his verse-form, the fact that, as was the case in the Middle Ages, nothing that is good in art is outside the range of Catholic effort, or as he himself puts it: "With few exceptions, whatsoever in our best poets is great and good to the non-Catholic, is great and good also to the Catholic."
 I would go even further than this, and say that what is great and good to the non-Catholic is so, because it is great and good to the Catholic. For the Catholic Church is the load-stone of truth in the world; she is the defender of the reality of that material universe which is the stuff in which art must work; she is the defender of the spiritual, without which art sinks into more animalism and sensualism. She has ever insisted on the balance which should exist between these two worlds, so frequently at variance with one another ; and it is by parting from her proposals and leaving her guidance that the sad errors in modern literary movements have arisen. But the Catholic Church does not exercise a merely directive function in Literature, she is not merely the rudder on the ship, she is the ship itself. She claims to control, nay, to own by unquestionable title all that is good in art, in literature, in life. She places the stamp of her approval not alone upon the works of those who are in visible communion with her, but also upon the works of those who are, unconsciously, in visible communion with her through the good that is in their work, whether, it be that of an Aristotle or of a Shakespeare. And more than that, she claims to understand their final purport better than even those who have created them. For the firm possession of Catholic truth, whilst; it is no guarantee of merely executive skill, is a real guarantee of a power to comprehend the ultimate drift of a work of literature or of a work of art, and hence its influence upon conduct.
 This latter power we in Ireland possess, but the executive skill is not greatly in evidence. It will come with sincerity of thought. If we really live our thoughts, we shall find that expression is bound to follow, provided, however, that a large culture has placed at our disposal that rich vocabulary without which the literary artist; remains dumb. The second spring, perhaps, is near at hand. Here and there a blossom seems to indicate the return of a genial summer. A wave of idealism appears to have set in in Europe which may be deflected into the pathway of Catholic truth; it is time to "take from its walls the psaltery of Alighieri. To unroll the precedents of the Church's past; to recall to your minds that Francis of Assisi was among the precursors of Dante; that sworn to poverty he foreswore not beauty but discerned through the lamp Beauty the Light, God." It is time to recall to you that the representatives of Christ on earth, having crowned patriotism in the person of Joan of Arc with the palm of sanctity, has adorned poetry, which is sanctity's earthly handmaid, in the person of Mistral with the laurel of purity.

 The Catholic Press 11 August 1910,

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