Page 7, 11th December 1998

11th December 1998
Page 7
Page 7, 11th December 1998 — A feast of praises and proverbs
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A feast of praises and proverbs

The Herald's chief book reviewer Brian Brindley presents a selection of Christmas reading

IOFTEN HAVE cause for complaint that "illustrated editions" of serious books by serious luthors are nothing more than earned works cut up into thort paragraphs and stuffed pith irrelevant illustrations Irawn from all sources. Not ;o The World of Hildegard if Bingen, by Heinrich ichipperges, (Burns & )ates/Novalis £19.95). )rofessor Schipperges has levoted his life to the study if St Hildegard, and the text S indeed authoritative, hough the title reveals a wish 0 reach out beyond a narrow .pecialist readership; there is 30 "dumbing down". though he book makes easy reading n John Cummings's translaion. What makes it eve-1411y attractive is the illusrations: with a handful of 'xceptions (maps etc) these ire drawn from the original nanuscripts and represent the aint's vision perfectly. It hould give us pause for hought that these images so losely resemble authentic arocchi — for instance, the land-painted Visconti pack. Ile "World" of the title is wo-fold: the world in which it Hildegard lived and did ter work and her own vision sf the cosmos. This lovely alition ought to tempt many ieople to begin studying her. It is good to see the imprint 3urns & Oates back in use, hough they are no longer lescribed as "Publisher to the 7-1oly See".)

As formidable in her own way as Hildegard was Florence Nightingale. The ;oh-title of Hugh Small's 000k, Florence Nightingale, Avenging Angel, (Constable £20) is an ingenious pun on the modern use of "angel" to mean nurse, and the terrible wrath visited by Miss Nightingale on those who got in her way. Angel, perhaps, but no saint. despite repeated attempts by the Church of England to enrol her in its kalendar — their equivalent of canonisation_ For all the great good of her example and legacy, she is not really the lady with the votive lamp. Here various mysteries of her life and character. especially in the long years after the Crimea, are explored.

Princess Elizabeth-Charlotte was the daughter of the Elector PaIatin and the wife of "Monsieur", younger brother of Louis XIV. Brought up a Lutheran, she "secretly" converted to Catholicism in order to marry her ambiguous and effeminate husband. She was related in complicated ways to both the Stuart and Hanoverian dynasties on the English throne. She was a voluminous correspondent: Letters from Liselotte (Allison & Busby £10) first appeared in 1970 and has been long out of print. It is drawn entirely from her letters in the German tongue; Maria Kroll provides us with racy translations of the surprisingly vivid and frank originals, and a good deal of sly wit in her own commentary. This is the first paperback edition. and the elegant typography survives from the hard-back publication. Most enjoyable.

Another formidable lady (though I have never met her) must be Diana May, who has not only put together a book called Miscellennium (geddit?) but has published it herself with a commendation from Peter Mandelson, no less. (The book is available from the author, 265 Swakeleys Road. Ickenham, UB10 8DR at £15). It is what is described as a "commonplace book", though that is the last adjective I should choose to describe it. Long essays by the author are interspersed with poems by her friends, well-known poems from the anthologies, and poems by herself; the spirit of William McGonagall (Poet and Tragedian) seems to hover smilingly over them all. There is a wide variety of pictures. many of a decorative kind. Mrs May's enterprise deserves to be rewarded. and the book would make a good present to those who are already jaded by Millennium fever.

The spirit of McGonagall is never far away either from Kellett's Christmas, by Arnold Kellett (Foundery Press, £5.50) — one hundred pieces on a Christmas theme by a distinguished Methodist. illustrated by cartoons by a

Church of England canon. This genial and unpretentious book is published in aid of a Methodist charity. Some of the poems are passable carols or hymns. some are epigrams; many are quotable in a parish priest's Christmas letter or sermon.

Elizabeth Jennings is a real poet who has published many works over the years; her admirers will of course want to buy the latest. Praises (Carcarnet, £7), a paperback with an elegant cover derived from Michelangelo. They are writings of a devout believer that will appeal to devout believers. Besides the usual

short pieces, it contains "Concerning History". at six pages her most ambitious extended poem.

Among stocking-fillers, A Treasury of Proverbs (Frances Lincoln IQ) must surely be the most desirable. Verses are selected from the Book of Proverbs and other "Wisdom" literature, and illustrated by details from Mediaeval and Renaissance paintings. All the resources of modern colour printing techniques have been deployed to make it a beautiful book and one could spend hours studying the pictures. With admirable thought for the convenience of the reader, there is an index of sources in which every painting used is depicted postage-stamp size. You would do much better to give this to those whom you love than to waste money on tinselly cards.

Now is the Time: Spiritual Reflections by Sister Stanislaus Kennedy, (Townhouse/Airlift £10) looks remarkably like another book of poems, with its hard covers and pretty dust jacket. Sister Stanislaus, who is described by her publishers as Ireland's equivalent of Mother Teresa, has been a Sister of Charity for 40 years. She is very well known in Ireland for her work among the poor, and as a social activist. From this position she now moves into the sphere of reflection and contemplation. She win, no doubt, be read in the first instance by those who are attracted by her character and career, but she deserves a wider readership. Her book consists of detached meditations, all of them firmly based in a robust reality. Perhaps Sister Stanislaus can help bridge the gap, for the religious and for those living in the world, between the am-actions of the active and contemplative life.

IF-EAR it is too late for you to buy and use, this year. Preparing for Christmas, by J.D. Crighton, (Columba Press, £5). especially as it is published in Ireland. I urge you very strongly to order a copy now, and to keep it in a safe place until next Advent. I shall certainly be using it then. It is in every way an admirable book. In the first half the liturgical scholar Fr Crighton takes us through the readings for the last week of Advent, explaining why they have been chosen and how they are to be read together — things not obvious at first glance. In the second half he explores the origins and meaning of the "Great O's of Advent" — the mysterious antiphons to the Magnificat beginning "0 Wisdom". "0 Adonai' and so on — which can also be used as acclamations at Mass. He encourages us to use them

as the basis for meditation, and even prints their music to help us to sing them. It is a slim volume, with a beautiful picture on the cover of the flight into Egypt. Every sentence is pure gold.

Finally, to the stockingfiller to end all stockingfillers, the ideal gift for the man (or woman) who is interested in everything, The Daily Telegraph Book of Letters edited by David Twiston Davies (Robinson £13). To this day, for some unfathomable reason, it is the correspondence column of The Times that attracts the great and the good to issue their portentous manifestos. Until Mr TWiston Davies took over, readers' letters in the Daily Telegraph ran a very poor second. Now it has a larger space allotted to it, and a more conspicuous place in the paper. And the quality has infinitely improved. How he has done this. I cannot imagine. for he has at his disposal only the material that readers choose to send him. So it must be by the most painstaki ng process of selection (aided, I suspect, by judicious pruning) that he can influence the content of his page. For here it is the readers of the paper, not the editor, not the journalists. who rule supreme.

Here, alas, there is no "Disgusted" of Tunbridge Wells. no "Pro Bono Publico" of Cheltenham, no righter of the first cuckoo of spring. But there are old fogeys and old codgers in abundance, and no matter is too trivial to amuse their response. One could apply to the Daily Telegraph's letters page the remark attributed to the Queen Mothe r about Mrs Dale's Diary — "It's the only way to find out what the middle classes are thinking". I am a reader of the Telegraph myself, and regard myself as a typical one; I have even, on occasion, slipped a letter past Mr Twiston Davies's vigilance — never again. I suppose. My hackles rise and my typing fingers itch at just the same times and on just the same subjects as his correspondents. Already I have spent many happy hoers-rereading their contributions.




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