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  • Writer's pictureMary Allen

Celebrating Jesuit Writers

On 23 April 1995, UNESCO proclaimed the first World Book and Copyright Day. For world literature, this is a symbolic date: it is the day that, in 1616, Cervantes, Shakespeare and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega (chronicler of Inca history, culture, and society) died. It is also the date of birth or death of other noteworthy authors, such as Maurice Druon, Haldor K Laxness, Vladimir Nabokov, Josep Pla and Manuel Mejía Vallejo, making it a natural choice for UNESCO to pay a worldwide tribute to books and authors. The Society of Jesus has produced many notable writers throughout its history, so it is fitting to remember the contributions of the British Province as World Book Day is celebrated across the globe.

Fr Leslie Walker SJ:

Fr Walker has been featured on the Jesuits in Britain website before, and is most known for the diaries he kept during his time as an army chaplain in the First World War and for his wonderful sketchbooks, many of which also documented his war years, examples of which can be viewed here. What is less well known is that Walker was also a keen fiction-writer, specifically of detective stories. When Walker’s collection of personal papers was catalogued last year, various typescript drafts were discovered, with titles such as The Paper-Chase Mystery: a detective story, The Murdered Mayor and The Counterfeit Monument: a detective story. It is thought that the works, written under the pseudonyms John Bullivant and Lynn (or Llyn) Cooper, were penned in the 1930s.

First page of ‘The Murdered Mayor’ written under the pseudonym John Bullivant: the body of the Mayor is discovered.

Although these stories were never published, Walker did also write several theological and philosophical works that did come to print. His archive includes files relating to these including Indifference; or What is most Worth Caring About? (1907), Theories of Knowledge (1910), The Problem of Reunion (1920), and Why God Became Man (1921). It may also be surprising to learn that Walker had a keen interest in cosmology, and that his research notes on the subject take up more than half of his collection. He had intended to publish a work on cosmology for the Stonyhurst Series, and later also approached Allen & Unwin to publish a monograph on the subject. The first 13 chapters were completed around 1926 but the work was never published. According to an article written after Walker’s death in Letters and Notices by Fr Francis Keegan SJ, it is unknown why this was the case. Keegan cites rejection by the censors or the possibility that he wanted to develop the particle theory which is briefly sketched in the penultimate chapter of

The Philosophy of Physical Science as potential reasons. However Walker continued to work on his theory throughout his lifetime and produced drafts in 1940, 1948 and 1956 under the titles A Geometry of Particles and A New Theory of Matter.

Fr Francis Edwards SJ:

The British Province has produced many historians who between them have produced a vast body of work, and some of whom have previously been custodians of the Province Archives (find out more here). One such Jesuit is Fr Francis Edwards SJ, who became director of the Jesuit provincial archives and assistant to Fr Leo Hicks SJ, then official historian of the British Province, in 1957. Through Hicks, Edwards developed a fascination with the Elizabethan Jesuit Robert Persons and the various plots and spies associated with the era. In response to the lack of serious investigation into the 1571 Ridolphi Plot to assassinate Elizabeth I and replace her with Mary Queen of Scots, Edwards published The Dangerous Queen in 1964. Four years later, he absolved Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, from the same plot in The Marvellous Chance (1968). His next book, Guy Fawkes: The Real Story of the Gunpowder Plot? (1969), set the tone for his subsequent research and earned him the nickname ‘Gunpowder Edwards’ at the Public Record Office. In this work he dispelled the more traditional accounts and it became the foundation text for the theory that the plot was entirely fabricated by Robert Cecil to eliminate political opponents and destroy the Jesuit mission to England. Although this is not the dominant theory today, many historians now recognise the involvement of Cecil in the discovery and exploitation of the plot. In1995 he published Robert Persons: The Biography of an Elizabethan Jesuit, and then began to concentrate on what he hoped would be his great work, an exposition of the Cecils and their tactics, which would satisfy his critics. The first volumes were published as Plots and Plotters in the Reign of Elizabeth I (2002), and The Succession, Bye and Main Plots of 1601-1603 (2006). The third manuscript was finished shortly before his death in 2006 and published posthumously in 2008 as The Enigma of the Gunpowder Plot, 1605.

Taken from the draft manuscript for ‘ Guy Fawkes: The Real Story of the Gunpowder Plot?’

Fr Cyril Martindale SJ:

Fr Martindale, along with Fr Martin D’Arcy SJ, was one of the dominant Jesuit intellectuals of the first half of the 20th century and a prolific writer. Martindale was a contemporary of Leslie Walker’s at St Beuno’s, where he began his Theology in 1908. After he had finished his studies he spent a year on the writers’ staff at Farm Street, and then went on to Stonyhurst to help look after the Lay Philosophers. Although his health was poor, he wrote and read day and night and the extensive range of his interests is reflected by his literary output. At the end of his obituary in Letters and Notices, several tributes have been printed which praise his works. Fr Illud Evans OP wrote, for example, wrote that “The liturgical revival, so slow and faltering as it has been in England, owes an immense amount to such books as his Mind of the Missal.” And from the Catholic Herald: “Certain books of his have worked a revolution that we now take for the established order. After Cadets of Christ, Captains of Christ, and above all, St Aloysius, it was inconceivable that a saint’s life could be written again in the old unctuous manner.” In the late 1950s and early 1960s, towards the end of his life, Martindale wrote his Reminiscences. It seems that by this point he was in poor health: in a note dated February 1960 he writes that he is able to write less and less and is concerned that he may not finish his memoirs, and indeed the final pages are reminiscences of Australia, which would suggest that the work was never completed.

First page from Fr Martindale’s ‘Reminiscences’

British Jesuits have been responsible for great works on a number of topics, from historical to philosophical and theological theses. These are only three of many Jesuits who have produced published works which have contributed to and influenced their particular fields.

A number of historical publications written by Jesuits can be purchased from the Archives, and further information can be found here.

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