HELOISE AND ABELARD, by Etienne Gilson (Hollis and Carter, I6s.).
By Michael de la Bedoyere
PER HAPS the simplest way of giving due praise to this fine work is to deplore the action of the publishers in being cuntent with offering British readers a book made from the American plates. This not only involves an appearance of the printed page which is slightly unfamiliar, but a translation into American, not English. It is a 'fairly good translation, but the English reader may well be annoyed to find in a book of this quality and importance the Arrierican expression "figuring out," as well as American spelling. The work was worth a special production attention on the part of the publishers, even if it meant a higher price.
For those who are fascinated by this classical story, • as well as for those who can appreciate .a really brilliant piece of historical criticism on a wholly Catholic basis, this work of Prof. Gilson is a book not only to read but to keep. M. Gilson has not written for the circulating library reader, and the latter who may be tempted to pick sit up by the associations which the title suggests will not find it easy to give the close attention which this truly historidal and philosophical study with its rather slow and careful tread and its apparatus of documentation and notes demands. Yet in a most telling way the flash, romance and passion of the tragic love story seems to beat all the more strongly within this pressure of close observation and tender attention.
THE author's main concern is to I show that the real truth about what happened, and above all the true interpretation of the motives and characters of the man and the woman must be understood from internal evidence and the study of the text of the letters, not from the fanciful imaginings of romantic commentators. In carrying out his own advice, M. Gilson has in fact made clear, especially in the case of Heloise, the whole nature and farce of her love for Abelaid. especially in its relation to her spiritual position. Perhaps only a Frenchman could have achieved this wan such brilliance, especially in ering,ing out so very clearly the essential difTeienc.e betWeen the outlook and values of the woman in love as compared with the man in love. The whole book is impregnated with a deep sense of Christian understanding and Charity. and it throws great light on the true Middle Ages which secular historians so' easily misunderstand when they exercise their bias against the great age of Catholicity, as compared ,.witte the so-celled humanist revolution and emancipation which succeeded it: "Before attempting to define the Middle Ages.NI. Gilson tells the historians, "we should have first to define Heloise. Next we should have to look for a definition of Petrarch. This done, we Should still have to find a definition of Erasmus . . . Those who have no taste for undertakings of this kind e ill he content with the reading and analysing of texts. Like explorers in an unknown country, they will do nothing more i than keep the deily' record of their trip."