AND HIS BOOK: STANLEY B. i Garden
by Michael de la Bedoyere
IT is useless for me to pretend to be able to write an objective and critical review of Stanley 13. James's latest book, Becoming a Man.' And I must persuade the reader to buy it, not by a learned appreciation of its contents or any attempt to restate his thesis (with the additions and amendments beloved by the reviewer), but rather by trying to introduce the author himself whose temporal and spiritual story the book. in any case, is.
But first a word of warning. The book eosts 13s. 6d. and it is only 126 pages long. The pages are thin and consequently the volume is slender. But this is wartime, and before the war a publisher would have chosen thick paper and printed in large type with handsome Margins. At 5s. it would have seemed a bargain, and altowing for the increase iti prices, it still remains
excellent value. The quality of the' contents I think I can safely guarantee: first, as a charmingly written narrative of an advehturous and manysided life; second, US containing sone. profound reflections on the Cburch and the spiritual life., the fruits of a deep experience; and, third. because there is some useful and courageous criticism of some of the things we too easily take for granted us Catholics dissociated from our Hebrew roots and the classic period of the pre-Reformation Church.
Readers of thia newspaper know Stanley B. James's writings: Two or three years ago, he contributed 41 weekly main article which was greatly appreciated by the more serious, though the shortening of our space and the quickening tempo of the times rendered the articles a luxury that could not be afforded. Since then he has contributed a series of layman's comments on the Sunday epistles and gospels (showing the connection between the two-a point almost universally overlooked); and now he is writing on the tsigniticanst of each week's liturgy. I heard of a busy priest the other day who was unable to find time to read anything in this paper but " The Liturgy Week by Week."
Spirit of Youth
What firSt attracted me to lames's work was its astonishing vitality and optimism. It reads like the work of a young man. He writes as theugh he were determined to lead a long-term movement of Catholic rejuvenation in which he intends himself to play an increasingly important part. He never looks back-except indeed to the roots
which the popularity of minor devotions, a tendency towards pettiness and prettyness, the romanticism that came io with the nineteenth century revival and a sentimentalism which is the special product of our own times" have so often hidden He never sighs for the good old days or tells us how much better things were done when he was young. On the Contrary, he looks forward to the day when the riches of Catholic doctrine will flower again, and he can deteet the stirring beneath the winter accumulation of debris. Yet the sturdy • spiritual sense which prevents him him being deceived by the romanticism of the past also safeguards him front the equally romantic and sven more widespread visions of .itopias, spiritual or temporal, in the future. He is not looking for mass F ilm :onversions corporate reunions or the revIval of Christendom. What he sees coming is rather a closing of the ranks, i more intelligent and flexible dist:ipline. the freer, more natural and God-intended working together of the oarts-more especially thc part played by the laity and the part played by he Catholic Church of the different sountries with their own traditions and vays oe seeing things; and this renovation, even if it took generations to produce its full fruits, he would consider true progress.
All this, I take it, is the proper vision of youth or. at most, of vigorous and easly middle-age. Yet James was born in 1869 !
The same remarkable elasticity and vigour of mind are reflected in his
adaptability. Launched a few years ago into a staff of men and women whose average age was half his or less, he was still ready to learn and to redirect, as it were, his unchanging convictions along the channels of the day. Indeed, I have seen him who knows more about distributism and the romance of the soil than the most ardent of back-to-thedanders accused of too ready a compromise with modern indusiltial technique and State control. His movement in this direction was simply the realisation that the world is very tough and very real, and it is the world which has to be Christianised, not some rosy dream of his or anyone else's entertaining. James, moreover, has lived tno long and too fully not to know the, shortcomings of. any neat. man-made pattern of living.
Perhaps I have made him sound a trifle superior-the sort of bore who is always ready to offer the fruits of long experience, an offer made no more palatable by a determination to seem young and fresh ? '
But nothing could be further from the true picture. The reader of Becoming a Man (which James had to be persuaded to write at all) will know far more about the cowboy, the hobo " riding the rods," the soldier of the Spanish-American war, the American small town Journalist, the assistant to Dr. Orchard at the King's Weigh House, than I did after three or four years of close working association with 4.,•,Fsso him. And it there is a fault to find Iwith the book it is that these rare and refreshing experiences ore passed over 'A In such a hurry-jost as the spiritual fruits of his adventure are too rapidly
• expounded for my taste.
To use the jargon, James has become an extrovert man. not an introvert. Indeed, when all is said and done he's a journalist -one who loves to write and argue about events and their significance, who looks outward to the making and moulding of the things he loves, who instinctly detects pretence whether in himself or others.
"This short little book has not, imagine, been a labour of love-rather, it is the result of the love of labour. But it is all the more valuable in that it is a tare distillation of the experiences of a life-time dedicated not to distillations and introspections, but to adventure, work, the rapid interchange of ideas, the spreading of the Kingdom.
* Becoming a Mart. By soudey B. James. (John Miles 13s. 6d.)