J. WATTERS Unless I am greatly mistaken, there is no widely known book in English written specially to give a friendly and faithful account of life in a great seminary. People in general have been made familiar, either by reading or by experience, with life in the universities and public schools; and Catholics at least have a fairly clear idea of what is meant by monastic life. But if a book were needed which gave a picture of seminary life. most people, I fancy, could recollect nothing better than Renan's Memoirs, though some might remember Dr. McDonald's Reminiscences.
Yet in neither of these will you find an account of seminary life as it appeared to the overwhelming majority of students. The seminaries have kept silent about themselves.• Men who, unlike Rcnan, found happiness in the seminary have not troubled to convey to others what that happiness was. Yet there is undoubtedly good cause to make known to Catholics, and to all who will read, what is the spirit of life in a seminary.
For one thing, if people knew a little more of that life. the number of vocations would be greater. For another, the seminary must be understood by everyone interested in the history of the Church, for it is the instrument by which the Council of Trent sought to protect the secular priesthood for all future time against the indiscipline, intellectual and moral, which was one cause of the Reformation.
Moreover, if seminary life is not to be known merely through the unhappiness of this or that individual, someone must speak for the majority and give expression to the happiness which they took for granted as much as the air they breathed, though that happiness had its roots in a strict discipline and was based on no shirking of intellectual issues.
The essays of I Remember Maynooth grew, as all such essays should, out of the delight the author found in making random jottings of his recollections of student days. These recollections he now sets be fore us, while they retain their freshness, yet have taken grace from the maturity of his mind. No topic is dragged in for the sake of completeness, yet an integral view is given of Maynooth as seen by an observant student. Above all, the delight which the • author had in building up his memories of Maynooth is at once communicated to his readers.
If these are themselves Maynooth men, they will find that the light touch of this essayist has power to stir a mood even deeper than delight in awakening the memory of a companionship nothing could ever replace. For what Maynooth men will find to be the essence of this book is that it revives the memory of a companionship which was part of their spiritual life.
An effect so delicate could never have been achieved, had these essays not been secured against both mawkishness and boisterousness by a humour unfailing and subtle. It is that humour, lightening each essay, which will be the most attractive quality of the book to readers who do not know Maynooth.
In describing the order of the day, the author gives the reason why the life of Maynooth is so little noticed by journalists and so little known even in Ireland.
" That six hundred young ?nen, who would dearly like to remain in bed much longer, had at six a.m., at a given signal, jumped from their beds; had spent most of the day without talking, though they would have loved to talk; had carefully avoided reading books suited to their tastes, and instead pored for hours over the most difficult tomes imaginable; had eaten only what was good for them and drunk only water; had laughed heartily without the help of cinemas or comic journals; had come to the night without having heard the news of the morning; and, having sincerely thanked God for the many blessings of the day, had composed themselves to sleep a short hour after sunset—all that might indeed be cyntsidered an abnormal way of spending the day, but the fact that it has been going on, day in and day out. without variation. for one hundred and fifty years absolutely prevents it from being ' news.'"
That is one side of Maynooth life, but as the author of I Remember Maynooth well knows, there is another. He recalls how his favourite, Charles Lamb, "confessed to an irrepressible desire to laugh at a funeral," how others, provoked by the solemnity of the surroundings, "have sometimes to deal forcibly with themselves to prevent an outbreak of mirth in church."
" Because of these things it becomes quite intelligible that the solemn interior of an ecclesiastical college can he a constant provocation to mirth; one with the gift of humour is inspired by it."
Cheerfulness always would break through the solemnities of class-hall and oratory in Maynooth, and it is allowed free play in the recollections set down in these essays.
One point the author makes which ought to be specially noted : we did not, even in debating societies or in hours of leisure, discuss current politics. for that would have been an end of cheerfulness. Politics were something of a joke in Maynooth, for the only politics discussed there were those that, spelt with a large P. began in Plato's Republic and ended in More's Utopia.
If anyone imagines that the discipline of Maynooth makes for dullness, let him remember that six hundred Irishmen in their twenties cannot live for long under the