The Catholic Church has always had a commitment to the preservation of literature. This continues to this day, to our great benefit, in the transcripts of the London-based Catholic Herald – its entire content, from 1935 to the present day, having been scanned, digitised, tagged and extracted to give a fully searchable archive. What an invaluable resource this is for anyone interested in modern history, particularly since currently the archive remains free to view.
You can imagine my pleasure when I stumbled across a review, from 1936, of HV Morton’s “In the Steps of St Paul” entitled “Follow H. V. Morton — But Read St. Paul” by one of The Herald’s regular contributors, Father CC Martindale SJ (1879-1963) (SJ stands for the Society of Jesus, which is to say the Jesuits). Fr Martindale was a Catholic convert, Oxford scholar and renowned Jesuit author.
The transcription suffers only slightly as a result of minor inaccuracies in the Optical Character Recognition process and the digitised text is easy to read. To eliminate any doubt about the actual content, however, the original, scanned versions of the pages are provided for reference alongside the transcript.
The tone and language used in the review is delightfully “of its time”. Martindale opens politely enough with the hope that Morton’s book will sell well, but then launches into some fairly outspoken criticism. There is none of the non-judgemental, cautious, oblique (some would say sly) language we are so used to seeing in literary criticism these days. The Reverend Father says what he feels, and no mistake: Morton made his journey in the wrong order, he stuck too closely to his chosen title, he excluded the epistles and, what’s more, Martindale suggests Morton may not even be in possession of the sort of mind required to assimilate all the literature essential (in Martindale’s view) to the author of such an undertaking.
Having said all this and hinted at, “many other details we might have challenged” Martindale, rather euphemistically, “proceed[s] to recommend whole-heartedly every part of this book which is strictly true to the title”. And in truth the author does appear pleased with many aspects of Morton’s book as an exposition of St Paul, surely the greatest of all Christian missionaries. Martindale approves of Morton’s “light hearted” tone and his description of “Arab proverbs; quaint anecdotes; adventures anxious and comical” as they are “lavished upon us with profusion”.
In his closing paragraph, Fr Martindale, ironically sticking extremely closely to the title of his article, impresses upon readers they should certainly follow Morton “In the Steps of St Paul”, suggesting enthusiastically that they will be “astonished, amused, touched, awestruck, frightened, inspired”, but they should read St Paul.
I, in turn, would recommend that you read Martindale’s article! It is an enlightening piece of contemporary writing and gives a view of how Morton and his works were perceived by some at the time. Interestingly, it also tells us that the Church was not unequivocally happy with Morton’s writings on the Holy Land; something which these days, is difficult to comprehend when religious bodies seem to be falling over themselves for the type of popular appeal that Morton was able to lend.
Niall Taylor 5th November 2012