By Dorn Aelred Watkin, F.S.A.
ST. JOHN FISHER, by E. E. Reynolds (Burns Oates, 25s.).
ST. JOHN FISHER has
always been eclipsed by his fellow martyr, St. Thomas More. We tend to feel more at home with St. Thomas-a witty, urbane, family-man-and to think of St. John as impressive and saintly but somewhat remote. The present reviewer freely admits that such was his reaction before reading these pages of Mr. Reynolds.
In this new hook we not only get an accurate. balanced and careful account of the life and work of St. John Fisher, but it is the author's triumph that he has enabled us to see him as a human being. We can almost smell the drying seaweed of the Medway mudflats outside St. John's study window, he lives for us at Cambridge, we see him lunching in the open air on the top of Shooter's Hill on that April morning when he left Rochester for his final journey to the Tower.
In an unexpected vignette we even see him hunting in the Ashdown Forest.
TNDEED, far from being a remote mote figure, St. John stands out as many-sided and human. There is the friend of Lady Margaret Beaufort (" Can any good come out of Lancaster? " we are sometimes inclined to ask-Henry VI and the Lady Margaret give the lie to our question), but also the friend of the brilliant, sincere but erratic Erasmus.
There is the scholar who encouraged the study of the New Learning and whose own books were models of meticulous accuracy.
There is the administrator, now watching jealously the fortunes of the university of Cambridge, now the lives of the priests and people of his own diocese.
There is the preacher, now grandiloquent at a royal funeral, now producing homely parallels from the hunting field and fireside.
And in and through all there is the man of God, whose happiness lay in retirement and prayer; who though not indifferent to men's love and praise, was never swayed from his duty by them; whose closing thoughts were for the spiritual welfare of his half-sister in a Dartford nunnery.
THE account of St. John's last days, though familiar, makes moving reading. He never courted martyrdom. He had not the dramatic instinct of St. Thomas
Recket. But when it came to the question of Papal supremacy, King Henry VIII and his advisers found the sick and aged Bishop as firm as a rock. It surprised and angered them; it dismayed others.
Few of us can now realise the loneliness and isolation of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More. supported only by a few Carthusians, In their resistance to a doctrine preached by the Primate and accepted by the entire English Hierarchy.
Led out to execution. St. John opened his gospels at the words: " This is the everlasting life. to know Thee. the only true God, and Jesus Christ Whom Thou hast sent." It was his knowledge that sent him resolutely back to the block.
Mr. Reynolds' hook gives a really admirable account of St. John's life. One cannot easily lay it aside. The illustrations are excellent and well chosen. I must confess. however, to a doubt whether the portrait on the dust-cover is really that of St. John Fisher.