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(T) Thomas Bowyer Campbell (b. 1887)

T. Boyer Campbell

I AM, ONE MIGHT SAY, THE CLEAR EXAMPLE OF THE HAS been because my life has been of frequent change from one thing to another. Or would it be paradox?

I was born and educated in Virginia. My forebears were all Protestants, nothing extra, and no clergymen ever amongst them. From my infancy, however, the trends to religion were strong, ultimately motivating my whole life. I loved going to church because of what served for the Episcopalian liturgy, and I looked down upon other Protestants for their lack of a service-book.

But as I began my collegiate studies I receded from the religion I had known. I hit on a sort of liberalism as the ticket for me. Then, during my last year in college (William and Mary), I met a new student who had come to begin his preparation for going to an Episcopal seminary to become a minister. He was a good, sensible fellow. He told me of the doctrine of Apostolic Succession, and I caught my first notion of sacramentalism. It fascinated me: there might be something in Episcopal Christianity after all. In 1910, I entered the seminary with my friend.

But the Alexandria Seminary was evangelical, that is Low Church; only the bars were lowered for a dash of liberalism in tribute to the times. I quailed at the prospect of remaining in the to me stifling air of Virginia Episcopal Protestantism. A wild thought struck me: I would go to the ends of the earth: I would go to China. And off I sailed as soon as I had got my degree and been ordained.

In the Episcopalian mission at Shanghai the churchmanship was academic with heavy emphasis on do-goodism; it was Protestant and static. What to do? If I could form or better still join a monastic group, my personal problem as well as my ideal would be realized. As I was casting about, an offer came from the Cowley Fathers in America. Would I come home to serve a novitiate and then be returned to China? I accepted the offer. It all came to nothing, for in the end I left the novitiate, yet I had learned a lot of Catholic living. In two new respects I was now a has-been.

My ambitious scheme to combine missionary work in China with promoting the growth of the religious life in Anglicanism lay in ruins. And so circumstances forced me to a run of seven or eight years in one Anglo-Catholic parish after another. It was rather stultifying. An effort to bring the so-called Catholic Movement back on the road to Rome seemed to me essential. I found among my confreres a few of like conviction, disillusioned with the trend of the Movement, fearful of eclecticism and hating Modernism. Four of us organized the Confraternity of Unity to proclaim and promote our aims and point of view: return of the schismatic Anglican Communion to the center of Catholic authority and unity.

Modest as our efforts were, an uproar of dissent faced us from all the ranks of Episcopalianism, chiefly from the High Church Party itself. We were regarded as traitors within the fold, and our very livings were jeopardized.

It was then that I began to write in order to earn money for a livelihood. I had formerly tried my hand at writing, even when at college and soon after. I had written a play (an unmitigated low comedy) and the college dramatic club acted it. And I had written a sentimental novel shot through with a religious thread. It was never submitted to a publisher; and I tore up the manuscript in Shanghai. In the late 1920s, I wrote several articles which were published in the (now defunct) Episcopalian American Church Monthly whose editor was Dr. Selden Delany until he became a Catholic in 1929. I did book-reviews for the same periodical. Everything I wrote had a pro-Roman slant.

At just about that time my brother and his wife had each begun to write successful novels. Why shouldn't I follow suit ? Why not, indeed!

Late in 1927 I began to write Black Sadie. Imagine my elation when the Houghton Mifflin Company of Boston retained it when I had written only two paragraphs. It appeared in 1928. It was a story of Colored people in three social and economic brackets: in Virginia some two decades after the emancipation, in the north as house servants with higher wages, and lastly entering into professional and creative work. The publishers held out a carrot before the donkey: they thought Black Sadie might be a Guild choice. But Julia Peterkin's Scarlet Sister Mary supplanted Black Sadie.

Houghton Mifflin had more carrots in their pharmacopoeia. They accepted my second novel, written fast on the heels of Black Sadie. It was entitled Old Miss and was the life of my great-grandmother who bridged all the times and changes from 1808 to 1898. Old Miss appeared in October 1929 and was a financial failure because of the Wall Street crash at the same time.

In the meantime, in 1928, with my head turned by what seemed unexpected success, I sailed off to England. I now felt financially safe and free enough to carry our Confraternity to the very heart and head of Anglicanism. Soon there was a coterie forming a branch of the Confraternity. We published a leaflet of which I was co-editor and large contributor. And all that year I worked on a third novel.

My returning to the United States in the fall of 1929 was not a wise move. I found myself merely a minister-at-large in the Episcopal Church. Old Miss was not selling well because of the depression; and Houghton Mifflin refused to publish the new book I had sent them. I was not, however, without prospects: Old Miss and Black Sadie were going to be published by William Collins & Sons in England.

In February 1930 I returned to England. I was employed as part-time assistant at St. Paul's Church, Oxford. Collins had also accepted the novel Houghton Mifflin had rejected on the grounds that it was a 'hot' subject and that the depression looked bad for the sale of new books. I had entitled the book Sweet Chariot; Collins changed it to White Nigger. I didn't like that name. The story dealt swith the problem of the person in whose veins ran merely a few drops of Negro blood. To which race could he belong ? Would the Negroes assimilate him, or could he 'pass' white? The book was far from a success, for the English people see no urgency in that question. A. M. Heath & Company, my agents, sold The Sketch a couple of short stories.

I was existing on a considerably frayed shoe-string. I set myself to write a pot-boiler. It took me a year to turn out Far Trouble, a story of kidnapping and mystery in the China of 1927. Collins published it in England in 1931 and McRae Smith in the United States in 1932. Monied reward was insubstantial, and I called a halt to writing. I had to consider myself once more a has-been.

The Lambeth Conference consists of all the Anglican bishops and their corporate voice is all the expression the mind of Anglicanism has. The pronouncements of the Conference meeting in London in the summer of 1930 finally and fully killed whatever confidence I had clung to in the Anglican Communion. Therefore, in August of 1931, at the Paulist Fathers' Church of Santa Susanna in Rome, I was received into the Catholic Church, having some months previously cast off from Anglicana.

At that moment when everything whereon I had stood was gone - profession, friends, dear ties and associations- a cable came offering me a post to teach history at the University of Notre Dame. Naturally, I accepted gladly, and at Notre Dame I remained for sixteen years. Then the War came and the accelerated program at Notre Dame to pressure-train officers for the Navy. I began to sink under the strain and just as the War ended I had a nervous breakdown. The only cure was retirement. I cut loose from Notre Dame, having developed a strong allergy for that institution.

For a year or more I was struggling back to my feet. In the meantime I tried to find a publisher for the book written years before which I had called Sweet Chariot. No luck, after many tries. I wrote a full-length book on the Virginia scene of the 1890s, calling it Our Gentle Hills. No publisher for that either. And I roughed out a novel with a dual locale: Virginia of the turn of the century and China of the Red conquest. Further, I partly completed a personal memoir: The Pendant Years.

All the while I cast about for another teaching job. At my age and lacking a Ph.D., one was hard to find. I really wanted a berth in a small college where the pressure of life would be less severe. At length I found it at St. Bede in Illinois, and here I came in September of 1949. Life is busy, pleasant and easy. The summers are free, and then I go to Virginia, to Bedford, the village where I was born and passed my boyhood. There I have been able to renew many early associations and friendships, though being a Catholic I am thought a rather queer fish far adrift from my spawning grounds. And I have had time to do a little writing, too; merely a few articles published in the English language edition of Unitas, and one short story and an article in The Catholic World, the one in the November 1949, the other in the September 1956 issue.

Such is the story of a has-been. I am nothing that I once was. My books have been out of print for many years. Time has certainly rolled away behind me.

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