Tuesday, 21 February 2012

The Fame of Blessed Thomas More

I have just started to read The Fame of Blessed Thomas More.

It is a collection of talks given on the occasion of the More Memorial Exhibition organised in his honour at Chelsea in July 1929.  The talks are by Fr (later Mons) Ronald Knox, Hilaire Belloc, G K Chesterton, Lord Justice Russell, Henry Browne SJ, Reginald Blunt and Bede Jarrett OP.

It also features, as an appendix, the catalogue of the exhibition: the first item is St Thomas' hair shirt and there are a further 16 relics; there are also portraits, first editions, statues and so forth: it must have been magnificent.

As you can imagine, I am looking forward to getting stuck into the book.  However, I have read none of the talks yet, only the introduction.  That is by Professor R W Chambers (later, in 1935, More's biographer).

I found his introductory essay fascinating.  I had not realised that for centuries (from his own time until the early 19th Century) More was widely regarded as one of the greatest writers of English prose.  Certainly in my education, his name was never mentioned in that context, nor was it ever suggested that I - or anyone -should read him.  Yet Chambers points out, succeeding generations held to the view, expressed by More's nephew William Rastell: his works [are] worthy to be had and read of every Englishman that is studious or desirous to know and learn [...] the eloquence and property of the English tongue.

Chambers also quotes a colleague, Professor A W Reed, who makes the fascinating observation: It may seem incongruous to associate More's hair-shirt with his prose style; but both, I believe, derived from his early days of prayer, reading, recollection and discipline beside the monks of the London Charterhouse.

Irony, of course abounds: it was only when imprisoned by Henry Vlll in the Tower of London that More had time to write at his leisure; up till then his time had not been his own, and though he wrote plentifully, both in Latin and English, the quality of his writing in the Tower is unsurpassed;  and from the Tower, of course, he watched those same monks of the Charterhouse being dragged to their executions, in the knowledge that his fate was likely to be similar.

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