by ALAN NEAME
Surgeon Henry's Trifles, edited by Pat Hayward (Chatto Windus 45s.) The Dragon Wakes by Christopher Hibbert ( Longme , 65s.)
In The Brave Days of Old by Dom Bede Camm OSA (Catholic Publishing Co., 10s.)
These three books arc about past conflict.
The first. Surgeon Henry's Trifles, is the memoirs of a military man of the nineteenth century and a reprint. Surgeon Henry is often quoted in books about Napoleon, and I am delighted at last to know who he was.
In fact, Surgeon Walter Henry was an officer of the 66th Foot, a native of Donegal, and a cultivated product of the medical schools of Dublin. Edinburgh and London. A man of most agreeable personality, a keen fisherman. who served all over the world except the Far East, and wrote his experiences in the wars under this modest title.
Military memoirs can he very dull. but these are run failingly interesting. A surgeon
sees detail more sharply than many a general. And for me, as I dare say for most readers, the three chapters about Napoleon on S. Helena are the most interesting of all.
'I he day when the exiled Emperor received the officers of the British garrison was evidently one of the most memorable in Surgeon Henry's life. After the sterile though characteristic conversation was over. he went to immense pains collating the statements of his brother-officers as to the exact words spoken by Napoleon to each, and then checking them against his own minutes taken the same day. The result is as near a tape-recording of the Emperor's voice asone could hope to have.
The Surgeon died in 1860, having lived, unconcerned by events in the East, through the first half of the period surveyed by Christopher Hibbert in The Dragon Wakes. This remark able history of relations between China and the West traces the progressively fer
ocious impact of the warlike. commercial West on the static. self-sufficient Chinese Empire.
From the arrival of Lord Macartney, also an Irishman, at the court of the Emperor in 1793, to the proclamation of the Republic in 1911, it is a rising graph of greed. cynicism and brutality, of aggression masquerading as high-mindedness and of revenges represented as satisfactions of honour.
Mr. Hibbert has used Chinese as well as Western sources. We see the escalation of the conflict from the point of view of either party. First, the gestures of irritable merchants, then the gunboats. the forcing of the ports, the punitive expeditions and finally full-scale invasion. The figures in the landscape arc ambivalent. The ambassadors of the Western Powers were mistaken by the Chinese for tribute-bearers.
The invaders were seen as rebels; the missionaries as warlocks who extracted "the eyes, marrow and heart of the dead in order to make medicines." Eventually, the Summer Palace. and then Old China itself. went up in flames.
Mr. Hibbert is too accomplished to labour the moral but closes the gripping and horrendous chronicle with a prophecy uttered by Sir Robert Hart in 1901. In the reconstituted China of the future, patriots would "take back from foreigners everything foreigners have taken from them and pay off old grudges with interest." They would "make residence in China impossible for foreigners."
We see the prophecy fulfilled today in the persons of Monsignor Walsh and Mr. Anthony Grey, of the thousands of former Chinahands appalled by, yet pining to return to, the land of their adoption, and of the millions of Chinese subjects now expiating their own contamination by the West. China has closed her doors again, locking these luckless "secondary devils" in, as firmly as she has locked us "red-bristled demons" out.
The Dragon Wakes is absolutely enthralling, should think indeed indispensable.
A third light on the past: In the Brave Days of Old is a reprint of Dom Bede Camm's historical sketches of the Elizabethan persecution.
Not having to pay copyright fees, the publishers ought at least to have edited out references to a frontispiece that they have been too pinch-penny to print. And they should have omitted Dom Bede's footnotes or updated them.
A case could be made out against re-issuing these nine tales of Protestant outrage and Catholic constancy. originally intended for children. It could be said to be damaging to the cause of ecumenism. The same argument has been advanced against the canonisation of the Forty Martyrs.
1 do not hold this view. Nor do I hold the fantastical view recently aired that the recusants and the Forty Martyrs should be regarded as apostles of ecumenism. The past has to be faced and studied, not redesigned to suit the present.
Thus. when Father William Davies was tricked into attending a Protestant church in Ludlow in 1592, he flung the Book of Common Prayer across the chancel and refused to read a word. When the minister began reading evensong, Father Davies countered by reciting vespers in a very loud voice, so that the minister could not be heard, and all was confusion.
It would be dishonest to project our own attitudes back onto Father Davies. Equally. it is misleading to have a footnote by Dom Bede explaining that Catholics must not communicate with non-Catholics in sacris, the distinction having since been established that saying prayers together is not the same as sharing sacraments.
' If further reprints are to he issued by this house, they should engage an editor to do some chopping! And I hope they will, for the basic scheme is a good one.