Open Book: Waugh on Campion

photo of shelves of books

This post appeared on the blog in a slightly different version in December 2016.

Evelyn Waugh, better known for his fiction, turned his hand to biography to celebrate St. Edmund Campion, Jesuit priest and English Elizabethan martyr. Waugh wrote in the Preface to 1935’s Saint Edmund Campion that he was not attempting a scholar’s approach to his subject.

All I have sought to do is to select incidents which strike a novelist as important and to put them into a narrative which I hope may prove readable. The facts are not in dispute so I have left the text unencumbered by notes or bibliography. It should  be read as a simple, perfectly true story of heroism and holiness.

When we think of English Catholic martyrs nowadays, I think most thoughts turn to St. Thomas More – a man worth remembering, to be sure. Campion more than holds in own in such company. His apologia to the Queen’s Privy Council as he was undergoing persecution is provided by Waugh as a final chapter, too important to be designated an appendix. These are Campion’s own words, written as he knew his execution by the anti-Catholic government was a foregone conclusion:

And touching our Societie, be it known to you that we have made a league – all the Jesuits in the world, whose succession and multitude must overreach all the practices of England – cheerfully to carry the cross you shall lay, and never to despair your recovery, while we have a man left to enjoy your Tyburn, or to be racked with your torments, or consumed with your prisons. The expense is reckoned, the enterprise is begun; it is of God, it cannot be withstood. So the Faith was planted; so it must be restored.

…I have no more to say but to recommend your case and mine to Almightie God, the Searcher of Hearts, who send us His grace, and set us at accord before the day of payment, to the end we may at last be friends in Heaven, when all injuries shall be forgotten.

My edition of Saint Edmund Campion is a reprint from Sophia Institute Press from about twenty years ago; I’m sorry that the book is no longer listed in the publisher’s online catalog. Amazon.com steps into the breach with at least two editions.

Writing in the mid-1930s, Waugh in his Preface to Campion wrote presciently about how the sixteenth-century martyr would speak to us in our own day.

We have seen the Church driven underground in one country after another. The martyrdom of Father [now Blessed] Pro in Mexico re-enacted Campion’s. In fragments and whispers we get news of other saints in the prison camps of eastern and southeastern Europe, of cruelty and degradation more frightful than anything in Tudor England and of the same pure light shining in the darkness, uncomprehended. The hunted, trapped, murdered priest is amongst us again, and the voice of Campion comes to us across the centuries as though he were walking at our side.

Open Book, January 2017

The first week of each month brings #OpenBook, a blog linkup co-hosted by My Scribbler’s Heart and CatholicMom.com with a roundup of what participating bloggers have been reading lately.

Not long ago, I was in Boston for a program on Catholic education. Among the speakers was Paul Elie of Georgetown University, of whom I hadn’t heard until that day. As authors are wont to do, he brought a pile of his books for sale and signing, and I’m glad I took the time to visit his table. I picked up a gem, in the form of his book The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage.

The Life You Save is a work of spiritual biography, weaving together the lives and vocations of Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Walker Percy, and Flannery O’Connor. All were Catholic writers, although “writer” was not necessarily the principal earthly vocation. No two of them became and remained Catholic via the same path. As Elie writes in the Prologue,

It is in their lives and their work together that their influence is found, and that this telling of their story is meant to explore. Today, as when they were alive, they are representative figures, whose struggles with belief and unbelief are vivid and recognizable. At the same time, as they venture forth together, their story suggests a series of different ways of pilgrimage, with the episodes highlighting patterns that the yearning for religious experience can take, in their time and in ours.

I’m taking my time with The Life You Save. I find myself re-reading passages two or three times, and then reflecting for awhile before reading on.

I was surprised to see that the book was published in 2003. How did I not come across it until now?


During the recent holiday break I treated myself to a much more casual read-it-in-two-sittings novel: Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham. Pure fun.

Graham was one of the Gilmore Girls, a series my daughter and I know line-by-line (including last November’s Netflix sequel). Her name caught my eye in a recent book review of her new memoir. The reviewer mentioned Graham’s earlier novel. Novel? What novel? I went straight for the library shelves and found Someday, Someday, Maybe.

It’s the story of an actress-in-training, or rather in-hoping, trying to break into the business in New York City. She sets herself a six-month deadline to Make It, after which she’s resigned to returning to her home town. The journey as mapped by Graham is hilarious and touching and hopeful.

Open Book, December 2016

The first Wednesday of each month brings #OpenBook, a blog linkup co-hosted by My Scribbler’s Heart and CatholicMom.com with a roundup of what participating bloggers have been reading lately. 

The recent feast of St. Edmund Campion prompted me to pick up Evelyn Waugh’s Campion biography for the first time in many years. I raved about the book in a post a few days ago. 

I’m wrapping up Edmund Morris’s Theodore Roosevelt trilogy with Colonel RooseveltI’ve enjoyed the entire biography. Given Roosevelt’s broad interests, a book about him must cover history and geography as well as politics. Morris wove all the threads together beautifully.

Purchased for my Kindle but unopened as yet: Eric Metaxas’s  Women. I’ve read only a few pieces from Flannery O’Connor’s Mystery and Manners, and I look forward to reading more. I’ve just purchased an e-book version of an old favorite, Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men, and I’ll be glad to immerse myself in that story once again soon.

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