Wednesday, May 31, 2017

“Our Church” by Roger Scruton

From its beginnings, the Church of England was first something of a political creation rather than a religious one. It was carved out of the Roman Catholic Church, once Henry VIII decided to make the break when the pope refused to grant a divorce or annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Spain. Its early years were marked by the tumult of the Tudor era – Henry and the dissolution of the monasteries and Mary’s attempt to restore Catholicism (including burning Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, at the stake in Oxford). Life was comparatively quiet for almost a century, until Cromwell took power.

The church weathered all that and more. But it has always had an official position within England’s (and Britain’s) governance structure, influence that helped to shape the Americans to decide upon on established church once the new country was born.

As Roger Scruton points out in Our Church: A Personal History of the Church of England, the church has also been something more, even for those who don’t attend. It is a cultural presence in thousands of English towns, villages, and cities. C of E churches are a familiar sight, anchoring a locality in history, tradition, and community. This doesn’t mean that the church is a thriving organization in 21st century Britain; far from it. It represents tradition in a country that is knitted of traditions.

Our Church, first published in 2012, is not a history of the Anglican church. Instead, it is a personal reflection and meditation of how Scruton understands the church; why he, raised a Baptist, converted to Anglicanism when he was 15; what the church’s sacraments mean; and how being a member of the church unites him to believers like C.S. Lewis and R.S. Thomas, doubters like Philip Larkin and Benjamin Britten, and to atheists and agnostics like Robert Vaughn Williams and Paul Nash.

Scruton doesn’t tell a history but rather roams the history, art, and architecture of the church, writing with both affection and insight. He fully understands the problems the church but this is about what’s wrong and how to fix it. If anything, he has doubts about whether the serious problems the church faces can be fixed.
Roger Scruton

Roger Scruton is an English writer and philosopher who has published more than 30 books on philosophy, aesthetics, beauty, environmental conservatism, conservative politics, human nature, and other subjects. He’s also written several novels. He teaches part-time at Boston University and the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., helped found The Salisbury Review, a conservative political journal, and founded Claridge Press.

From my own experience, I can say that during the many times we have visited England, we have always included churches large and small on our itineraries – Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Southwark Cathedral, the cathedrals at Canterbury and Salisbury, St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, Westminster Chapel, Westminster Cathedral, the chapels at Merton’s College and Christ College in Oxford, and the churches of St. Mary-le-Bow, All Hallows by the Tower, and many others. The churches speak to England’s history and tradition, and they speak to England’s soul.

Our Church is a meditative, often moving account of one of the country’s most important institutions.


Top photograph: Interior of St. Mary-le-Bow Church, London.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

A Small Volume of Essays, A Larger World of Poetry

In 1916, Oxford University Press published English Critical Essays: Nineteenth Century, selected and edited by Edmund Jones. It was volume 206 in “The World’s Classics.” This kind of series was once common, especially in the 19th and early 20th centuries in both Britain and North America. The rise of the middle class and the explosion in literacy fueled the printing of sets like “The World’s Greatest Literature,” “The World’s Greatest Speeches,” and similar works.

These kinds of books were also used in high school and college classes. I’ve seen many of similar size and content that bear educational inscriptions. These works include essays, poetry, short stories, and sometime single works like a Shakespeare play.

Jones (1869-1941) was known as something of a pioneering schoolmaster. He was born in Wales, and attended schools there, but went to Oxford for his M.A. degree, which he received in 1894. He was headmaster of the Barmouth Intermediate School from 1894 to 1931, when he retired. He edited a number of books for English grammar schools on art, poetry, this volume of nineteenth century essays, and another volume in the Oxford series on essays of the 1th, 17th, and 18th centuries. After his retirement, Jones was a Sunday School teacher – clearly, education was important to him, something to which he dedicated his entire life.

To continue reading, please see my [post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.

Monday, May 29, 2017

"The Bronte Plot" by Katherine Reay

Lucy Alling works for one of the top interior design firms in Chicago. With the owner’s support, she has begun to expand his business by adding antique books. She especially loves the Victorians – the Bronte sisters, Mrs. Gaskell (who wrote a biography of Charlotte Bronte), George Eliot, Herman Melville, Robert Louis Stevenson, and many others.

She received her love for reading from her father, and she especially loved his reading of the Beatrix Potter stories. But her father had long ago abandoned the family, and Lucy’s only contact is a book sent each year on her birthday. But from her mother, she knows that her father operates just the other side of the law.

Through the design store, she meets James Carmichael, a young attorney who shares Lucy’s love for reading. She helps him find book gifts for his family that contain special inscriptions. It is a relationship blossoming into love – until James discovers that Lucy has been writing the inscriptions herself and passing them off as the work of others – and bumping the price of the book up a bit. Their relationship blows up. And then James’s grandmother steps in, asking Lucy to accompany her to England on a buying trip – and to return something she stole decades before.

Published in 2015, The Bronte Plot by Katherine Reay is a romance constructed around classic books, and especially those of Charlotte and Emily Bronte. It’s not a contemporary retelling of either Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights, but it is certainly infused with a love and appreciation of those works.

Katherine Reay
Reay received her B.A. and M.S. degrees from Northwestern University. She is the author of Dear Mr. Knightley (2013); Lizzy & Jane (2014); A Portrait of Emily Price (2016); and the forthcoming The Austen Escape (November).

The publisher, Thomas Nelson, is a Christian publisher, but The Bronte Plot makes the themes of faith and forgiveness more subtle than one might expect from “Christian fiction.” It’s clearly there – Lucy will have to face the sins of her father, and, more importantly, her own sins, which extend beyond writing a few inscriptions in old books.

This was a good read on a very rainy day.

Top photograph: the Bronte Parsonage Museum in Haworth, England, courtesy Visit Yorkshire.