Acton : Tire Formative Years. By .. David Mathew. (Eyre and Spottiswoode, 10s. 6d.)
MICHAEL OE LA REDOYERE THIS is the first volume of Bishop Mathew's study of the life (and times, as well) of the greatest English Catholic, historian, but the reader will welcome it as a book on its own, for the author has here concentrated on the mane old influences, hereditary and contemporary, which went to form Acton. In conseglience we are afforded a brilliant and detailed, it sometimes complex and rather disjointed, picture of Europe from just before the French Revolution until mid-Victorian days. These may well be called the formative years of the modern world, and their study through a cross-section of personalities, chiefly political and ecclesiastical, who acted in them is highly rewarding.
The Acton family in the careers of its various members and in its alliances gives an almost unique sense of the relations between non-Catholic England and Catholic Europe, and Lord Acton himself. born in 1834 to die in 19(12, was the rather unexpected product of Italian, Bavarian, French and old English Catholic heredity and association under the influence of the old Whigs and the new Liberate.
IF all this, as well as the names that fill the pages of this book, Gibbon, Burke, the Granvilles, Dellinger, Focqueville, and even Gladstone, may sound a trifle remote to the contemporary . Catholic reader, he has the allurement of English Catholic life in mid-nineteenth century with Wiseman, Newman, Oscott and its delightful Dr. Weedall. the Rambler and home and Foreign Review, and, to my mind, the still greater delight of Dr. Mathew's own di:etched, genial and sometimes impish mind to guide him in the kaleidoscope of men and women who played their amusing, not always edifying, • and sometimes very influential parts. I say " detached," though I do not know whether even Dr Mathew, who very rarely allows himself a moral sudgment throughout these pages. is able .to take a wholly detached view of Acton himself. Consider his obvious sympathy in describing the Newman world around Newman's " dear attitt10 in the Oratory " and his hint of mockery over Acton's harsher, narrower, and more earnest sense of German-Liberal obligation. At times, the defence of Acton is a little forced and of the type .' No. one can't deny
that . ."
Bishop Mathew's style and keen visual sense have already been amply proved, though one detects a danger of cheapening a la Guedalla, on the one hand—a cliche, like " the operative word," grates badly in these original pages—and an occasional embarrassment, on the other, in the handling of the richness of his imagery " Together these passages. and others similar," he writes on one occasion. • give evidence of a myrtle-wreathed thick sentiment whith cloaked a preoccuputtort with a curious short-circuited morbidity; a cushioned air o/ marten sadness." there's altogether too much top spin about that. as Bertie Wooster might save said.
Art unfortunate misprint in the French appeals on page 3.