"Frenzy, Fear and Heroic Gentleness"
Tales of The Desert Fathers
The Desert Fathers. Translations by Helen Waddell. (Constable. 7s. 6d. net.) All who know Miss Waddell's Beasts and Saints (to say nothing of The Wandering Scholars and other writings) have been looking forward to The Desert Fathers, and need no urging to read it. It is not, as the title might suggest, a study of those fathers, but a selection of translations (ten in all) from the Latin of the Vitae Patrum, as edited in ten folio volumes at the beginning of the seventeenth century by Heribert Rosweyde, S.J., the real founder of the Bollandists.
This sounds a little daunting, but the result is quite the contrary; Miss Waddell's scholarship is secure and she has (what many scholars are incapable of doing) produced a book that will at once appeal to general readers of many different kinds.
Among the pieces selected for translation are St. Jerome's life of St. Paul the Hermit (we should have liked his St. Malchus as well), three series of Sayings of the Fathers, St. John Cassian on accidie and mortification, and the stories of the conversion of two harlots.
Dust Blown from the Desert
To each piece there is a tightly packed preface, a " composition of time and place " full of that allusiveness (sometimes touched with elusiveness) so characteristic of Miss Waddell; and to the whole there is a lovely introduction in which some of the dust, both of time and of prejudice (pro and con), is gently and skilfully blown from the life of the desert.
As for the translations themselves, it need hardly be said that their outstanding virtue is sensitiveness-a quality which English translations of hagiological and ascetical writings Commonly most conspicuously lack.
James-The Novelist It was no part of Miss Waddell's job to consider authenticity of sources, but surely a warning was required here and there : for example, the reader ought not to be left in complete ignorance of the ramifications of the Pelagia legend, of SS. Marina, Margaret, Eugenia, Euphrosyne and the rest, and of St. John Chrysostom's sixtyseventh homily on St. Matthew that seems to have started it all. But at least we are told in passing that " James, diaconus et peccator," was also " a great novelist "which apparently is exactly what he was.
For the rest, in Miss Waddell's own words, " The desert has bred fanaticism and frenzy and fear: but it also bred heroic gentleness. This selection . . . represents that part of the desert teaching most alien and tnost sovereign in a world that has fallen to the ancient anarchs of cruelty and pride." I can imagine no more delightful an electuary.
D. D. A.