Page 6, 9th October 1970

9th October 1970
Page 6
Page 6, 9th October 1970 — Tantalising reconstruction of a divided life

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Locations: Winchester, Oxford


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Tantalising reconstruction of a divided life


The Properly Basket by Robert Speaight (Collins-Harvill 63s.)

IT NEED not imply implacable hostility to the alleged renewal going on at the present time to suggest that if you were alive and well and had the privilege of being received into the Roman Catholic Church in the 1920s or 1930s you were probably very lucky.

Robert Speaight was received by Father Martin d'Arcy in 1930, He was then 26. a young actor in that pleasant phase when it is still hard to tell what is promise and what is performance. He had flourished on the boards bctli at Haileybury and at Oxford. He had worked under Robert Atkins and that eccentric reformer William Poet. He had hosts of friends in the profession and no small experience.

Now, because his tastes were intellectual as well as theatrical. he had the chance to get on terms with most of the leading Catholics of that time, from Belloc (whose biography he was later to write), to Maurice Baring and Ronald Knox, Christopher Dawson and David Jones. Douglas Jerrold and Douglas Woodruff.

However great the differences between these men in their views and outlook—and in come cases they were not merely different but antipathetic—they had one trait in common: they were individualists and men of judgment.

'they were able to assess wayward pronouncements of a pope or bishop without giving way to near-hysteria in their condemnations. Equally they knew what they themselves stood for and why they stood for it, and had not lost their nerve, like many educated people today.

Later. as Mr. Speaight edged away from the stage and towards the lecturer's rostrum,

he enlarged the scope of his acquaintance still further, notably in France. Claudel, Bernanos, Mauriac, Marcelou name them, Mr. Speaight met them. And a fair spread of eminent non-Catholics as well.

All this should make The Property Basket an unusually interesting book. Unfortunately, for the most part. it either tantalises or disappoints. There are inaccuracies of detail, which shake one's confidence when one has detected them.

Cardinal Hinsley's father was not head gardener at Carlton Towers, the Yorkshire seat of Lord Howard of Glossop, but estate carpenter. Likewise Christopher Dawson, whom Mr. Speaight knew quite well. can hardly have had Winchester and New College. Oxford. "written all over his scholar's stoop", since he spent only a few terms at Winchester be

cause of ill-health and his col• lcge at Oxford was Trinity.

But as early as the second paragraph of these "recollections of a divided life" one reads:

"I have always wanted to know—and now there is no one to tell me—whether I was born with my face or back to the window. If 1 faced it, the first thing I saw would have been the English Channel."

Well now, apart from the anatomical quaintness of this whole suggestion, new-born babies don't see anything, as we all know; and autobiographers who convey the impression that they do are themselves a bit unfocused in their thoughts and their code of expressing them.

Which-is why this book, de spite its roll-call of distinguished names and its moments of interesting. indeed sometimes most moving, observation. fails overall to illuminate the scene it describes.

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