HAVE had a most welcome letter from an old friend, whom, alas, I rarely see these days as he now lives in Edinburgh. I refer to John George who is an expert on many subjects ranging from Gilbert and Sullivan to heraldry and Papal history.
He is very interesting on the subject of nineteenth century Cardinals who, though not priests, were, not strictly speaking, "laymen" either. After Antonelli, for example, who, though not a priest, had been ordained a deacon, there were three other cardinals who similarly never advanced beyond the diaconate.
The most interesting and seemingly the very last of all was Cardinal Teodolfo Mertel who crowned Popc Leo XIII and did not die until 1899 after nearly half a century in the sacred purple.
John goes on to ask me an intriguing question which I cannot answer but some other reader might be able to do so. The question is "who was the last non-member of the Sacred College to receive a vote for the papacy in a conclave?"
Was it the eloquent Passionist, St Vincent Strambi? He is reported, in Grashoff's biographical sketch, to have received some votes in the conclave of 1799-1800. John George tells me he has never seen the full set of voting figures for that election, which is scarcely surprising considering the turbulent background against which it was held.
It was the so-called "golden age" of Napoleon, but the Church was in disarray, as ambivalent in its sentiment toward the tyrant as it would be toward Hitler in the next century. The Sacred College was scattered and the Pope for the last quarter of the eighteenth century, Pius VI, though the longest reigning Pontiff in history up until that date, had been removed from Rome by Napoleon, finally to die a broken man in Valence.
In the conclave which followed, attended, in Venice, by as many Cardinals — about thirty-four — as could be mustered, much dissension preceded the eventual election of Cardinal Chiaramonti, as Pius VII, a gentle soul but too simple by half for the increasingly ambitious Emperor Napoleon.
What would have happened had Strambi, per impossibile, been elected as an outsider? Would the saint have been a match for the sinner, as the Emperor was in the eyes of so many?
Would there have been that humiliating Concordat between France and the Church, later disavowed by Pius? Would Napoleon have been crowned by the Pope in such bizarre circumstances? Would he have been able to gel away with being divorced beforehand?
Idle questions of course, but some people love to play this sort of game. For example . .
WOULD BOY wonder Boris Becker have been beaten by Bunny Austen or Jack Kramer? Would Mohammed All have
succumbed to Gene Tunncy or Jack Dempsey? Such are the unanswerable conundrums beloved of sports writes.
Their speculations prompt the question:' how would the immortal C B Fry have fared in the quasi-guerrilla warfare that constitutes modern cricket?
CB is described in a riveting hook just published by Chatto, called The Captain's Lady, as "the handsomest man in England, a Greek god . . . with broad shoulders and narrow hips." The author of the book is a schoolmaster, Ronald Morris, and for this first effort he deserves ten out of ten.
It is not a life of Fry, but the story of how his fearsome wife, born Beatrice Holme Sumner, ran, in his name, the training ship known as T S Mercury, founded exactly a hundred years ago by "Beatie's" lover, the swashbuckling rider-to-hounds, Charles I loare.
Beatic abandoned her youthful libertinism to become a puritanical tyrant of terrifying proportions. The boys who went through their course on the Mercury were made, or, more often, broken for life. The training ship's nominal "boss," C. B. Fry was too busy with sport and his literary world to restrain his tigress of a wife.
This extraordinary story might never have been told had not the author been one of the last trainees on that famous but fearsome vessel. Compulsive reading exposing an extra dimension to Fry, the frustrated genius.
SPARE A thought — and perhaps a daily prayer — for our Ambassador in Lebanon, surely one of the least enviable of today's diplomatic posts.
He is Sir David Miers who was involved in the recent negotiations to release the American hostages and was knighted in the Queen's Birthday Honours list. He is a distinguished Catholic old Wykehamist who went on to University College, Oxford.
He is, when at home, a parishioner of that noble church in Winchester, St Peter's. A good while ago, the unusually titled Archbishop (in his own right) Bishop (of Portsmouth) John Henry King lived in St Peter's presbytery, and the parish priest for many years was the extremely popular Mgr Provost Sidney Mullarkey, now at Totley Bay in the Isle of Wight. The Monsignor recently visited St Peter's for an anniversary celebration.
It was said that some thirty years ago, men with late vocations would be sure to "join" the Portsmouth diocese if not already members thereof as they would then be sure to be sent to the (old) Beda College in Rome, then presided over by one of England's greatest modern Catholic churchmen, Mgr Charles Duchemin. The Beda even got dubbed "King's College," but on no firmer
evidence than for the (even earlier) cry sometimes heard outside Balliol, Oxford, "Bring out your white men."
The "old days" were great days at St Peter's, Winchester, but the tradition lives on undimmed with a parish priest no less popular than his predecessor, Fr Nicholas France. It was he who recently originated the idea of praying for Sir David in "his dangerous and delicate position."
Orenws pro invicem.
Men of stature
ON TUESDAY of last week, the most "titled", but at the same time, one of the most selfeffacing if highly effective, parish priests in England, the Rt Rev Patrick Casey, formerly Bishop of Brentwood, celebrated Mass at All Saints Church, Old Church Street, Chelsea, better known as "Chelsea Old Church." It was of course the parish church of St Thomas More and holds the
Inlet ocosm of Chelsea's early history.
Badly blitzed in 1941, the exterior of the church, painstakingly restored, looks almost "new," but the restoration is all but perfect. 'Miraculously the St Thomas More chapel and traditional tomb (though the saint's head is at St Dunstan's in Canterbury) survived the bombing.
Last week's Mass was a Votive Mass of Thanksgiving in honour of SS Thomas More and John Fisher. The use of the church for this purpose represented a most generous ecumenical gesture on the part of the Rev Leighton Thomson, whom 1 often met when the Chelsea Council of Churches was first set up nearly twenty years ago.
The Vicar's generosity was gratefully acknowledged by Bishop Casey whose own church, of course, is the nearby Holy Redeemer.
The parish priest of Chelsea's other Catholic church preached an erudite and eloquent sermon. This was Fr Michael Richards, Rector of St Mary's, Cadogan Street, soon to hand over his long and highly successful tenure as editor of the Clergy Review to Fr Bernard Bickers, an outstanding church historian, writer and lecturer, from Ushaw College, Durham.
A FASCINATING lady called Isabel Allende has just been in London for a hectic few days to help launch her new and sensational book, The House of Spirits. published by Jonathan Cape.
I call it "sensational" advisedly. The lady is the niece of Chile's murdered former President, Salvador Allende. The brutal 1973 coup, which ended 150 years of democracy in a country singled out by the US for destruction from within, "changed everything," for Isabel Allende who felt, "as many Chileans did, that my life had been cut to pieces and that I had to start over again."
"I think," she went on, "I have divided my life before that day and after that day — that
day was a dimension that was always around you."
The book tells the story of a political and cultural revolution intertwined with the fortunes of four generatons of the family of "a South American country."
The characters are sometimes eccentric, but no less credible for all that, given the subtle allegorical suggestion often lurking in the background. The intrepid Miss Allende has not hesitated to blend men and women with spirits and the forces of nature to produce her highly original first novel. She has an almost Shakespearean talent for exploiting the potentialities of magic realism as in a dream.
People say to her "you have an incredible imagination." But all she has done is to translate the real but, to Europeans, utterly "fantastic" events of South American life into highly readable fiction-based-on-fact.
"We," she proclaims, "are a continent with such a terrible history . . ." For such terror the human spirit has a winning answer in the end. That same terror changed but did not break the mighty spirit of Sheila Cassidy. Somehow this haunting book is reminiscent of Yeats who lived through another dream when he exclaimed "A terrible beauty is born."
A la Marilyn
A READER rang through to ask if ace Picture Post photographer, Bert Hardy, about whom I wrote some time ago, had not, in contrast to such horrifying studies of his Korean photographs, taken a famous picture of "some girls at the seaside." He did indeed, and here it is.
Hardy had stated rather boldly, in connection with a competition for amateur photographers, that you could take good pictures with any kind of camera since it was "the person behind the camera that matters." To make good his claim Hardy was sent to Blackpool where the Lord Mayor presented him with a Kodak Box Brownie.
He was then rung up from London with an order to proceed as soon as possible to Ireland for a quite different and more important assignment. He just had time for a quick walk along the Golden Mile where he enlisted the help of two showgirls from the pier theatre.
They posed for him sitting on the railings and his Box Brownie shot of them became one of his best known photographs.
But he still maintains that there is ultimately greater public interest in serious studies of historic events and scenes depicting social conditions. He puts to shame the present pedlars of soft porn, though never himself a prude. Far from it.
Racy humour spatters the text accompanying his unique pictorial record of events between 1939 and 1952.