Page 5, 28th June 1963

28th June 1963
Page 5
Page 5, 28th June 1963 — Back to the decadents'

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Locations: Edinburgh


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Two Friends, edited by Father Brocard Sewell (Saint Albert's Press, 63s.).

COULD the public's perennial fascination with Oscar Wilde, plus a feeling that it has now had more than its fair share of kitchen-sink dramas and scruffy "realistic" novels. lead to a major revival of interest in the aesthetic movement of the 1890s? '[here is certainly every reason to be grateful to Fr. Brocard Sewell for the glimpses of the period which he offers in this hooka delightful collection of essays by various hands.

The "Iwo friends" of its title, John Gray and Andre Raffalovich, met for the first time in 1892, in Arthur Symons' rooms in the Temple. They died in Edinburgh, 42 years later, and within a few months of each other. By that time the once-worldly Raffalovich was a Dominican tertiary, doing good by stealth and famous for his Sunday luncheon parties. Gray had become Canon Gray. parish priest of St. Peter's. Morningside, a revered figure but an aloof one, and disconcertingly enigmatic.

Neither, at any stage, on the evidence of these essays, would have been able to apply to himself Belloc's epigram " His sins were scarlet, but his books were read." Even Gray. by far the more original talent of the two, as his strange novel "Park" was later to confirm, published mainly in limited editions, beautifully designed and very much " in period."

(His first books of poems, the celebrated "Silverpoints", designed by Charles Ricketts and issued in 1893, drew a quip from Wilde at the expense of its wide margins and generally generous proportions of white space to text.) Extensive What both possessed was an extensive and deep culture, and a basically very unfrivolous approach to their art (a characteristic of the "decadents " which still needs emphasising). As Canon Gray wrote towards the end of his life "I am sixty. I have been a priest twenty-five years. I see more beauty in the world as I grow older. I hope to write less and better with time."

That's the spirit !

In supplementing the disciplines of writing with those of religion, the two men carried over, in their relations with one another, the formality and reserve which were a part of their artistic creed. Any casual observer might have thought them mere nodding acquaintances, not companions of a lifetime.

Fr. Edwin Essex, O.P., Mr. Peter Anson, Lady Margaret Sackville and the editor himself are among those who contribute to this hand• some, well illustrated volume, recollections of their works and quirks.

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