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Rev. Terence L. Connolly, S.J.

AS A BOY AGED ELEVEN, I once asked the New England schoolmaam who was my sixth grade teacher:, "What are Jesuits, please?" Her usually amiable countenance grew stern, her thin lips moved slowly and she answered: "Jesuits- are members of a Society named after Jesus, but they are not much like Him." It was a curious incident, in view of my subsequent vocation. But it is not for that reason I mention it here, but as an example of suppressed bigotry, only occasionally articulate, in New England nearly half a century ago. In my youth it was a blight upon the complete knowledge and appreciation, of my Faith in all spheres except that of moral conduct. In later life, the memory of it was my chief inspiration to explore the manifestations of the Catholic faith in history and literature, so that the young men in my classes might never suffer from the deprivation I had known.

When I graduated from high-school - I was as unaware of the heritage of Catholic literature as I was of Hebrew. A few years later, as a young Jesuit studying poetry, the discovery of that heritage dulled forever my reaction to Keats' lines, "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer." The demesne I had discovered was so much more expansive and its serene source, so much purer!

First it was Dante that attracted me as the Catholic expression of what I found imperfecty conveyed in Milton. After a comparative study of the two poets, I set down a fragment of it in an essay. For correction I brought it to the late Richard H. Tierney, S.J., then editor of America, the only real genius I have ever known. In the midst of his incredible labors, Father Tierney read and corrected the paper in my presence and when he had finished, said: "Why don't you publish it? If you don't publish now, you'll never do it." Shortly afterwards, "Faith in Milton and Dante" was printcd in the Catholic Mind.

It happened.that at this tim; Long's History of English Literature was the prescribed textbook in a course I was giving at Fordham. The obvious bias of its historical background forced me to prepare corrective notes for my classes, and later Fordham University Press published them in two small volumes: An Introduction to Chaucer and Langland, and The English Renaissance and the Age of Elizabeth.

About this time, while teaching modern poetry, I was seriously handicapped by the lack of satisfactory commentaries on our great Catholic poets. My attempt to meet this need in the case of Francis Thompson, finally resulted in the publication of his Poems with notes and commentary. Study of Thompson led, quite naturally, to the study of Coventry Patmore, the chief influence in Thompson's later life and poetry. Comparison of Patmore's early work, before he became a Catholic, with his later work in the Odes, revealed that the poet no less than the man, under the inspiration of the Catholic faith, attained heights previously beyond him. This, I knew from experience in the classroom, would makc the study of Patmore productive of immeasurable good for Catholic students with a flare for literature. Too often they incline to the view that to be artistic one must be "arty" or "daring." A sure antidote is Patmorc's authentic mysticism, his apotheosis of woman, and his theme of conjugal love, expressed with masterful and original technique and with passion as intense as it is pure. The result was the publication of Mystical Odes of Nuptial Love, including Patmore's "'Wedding Sermon" and Odes, with notes and commentary.

The work on Patmore led me to make a new and original translation from the Latin of Saint Bernard's On the Love of God, chief source-book of the Odes. A partial translation of the work, begun by Patmore's first wife and finished by the poet himself after her death, was out of print, and a new translation was badly needed by students of the Odes.

Through my interest in Thompson I met Mr. Seymour Adelman, a young man who for more than ten years had been collecting Thompson manuscripts and volumes. Shortly after our meeting, young Adelman brought his collection to Boston College for a public exhibition. Later, the entire collection was purchased and presented to the College, and it was my privilege to prepare it for permanent exhibition and edit the catalog, An Account of Books and Manuscripts of Francis Thompson.

In 1938 an unexpected opportunity sent me to Ireland to attend the Abbey Theatre Festival, and to England to continue my Thompson studies. It was the newspapers' "Silly Season" when I arrived in Dublin and I soon found myself the centre of a terrific controversy, precipitated by asking the meaning of Yeats' one-act play, Purgatory, which was given its premiere during the Abbey Festival. The incident greatly hampered my study of Irish playrights and poets. But other happier experiences in Ireland are among my life's loveliest memories. One day I hope to set them down for the enjoyment of others.

In England I visited the places most closely associated with Thompson-Ushaw, Storrington, Pantasaph, London-and from his sister, Mother Austin; from Archbishop Kenealy, his "Friend, Philosopher and Guide;" from his class-mate, Father Adam Wilkinson, and others, I learned much not found in books, about the poet and his work. But as the guest of Mr. Wilfrid Meynell who saved Thompson, body and soul, man and poet, I gathered priceless information and was given an opportunity to study the poet's manuscripts under the sure and kindly guidance of his "Father, Brother, Friend." Through the over-whelming generosity of Mr. Meynell, I returned to Boston with Thompson notebooks, manuscripts and volumes many times more numerous and precious than those already in the Boston College Collection. After many months of labor the new treasures were added to the permanent exhibit of Thompsoniana in the Boston College Library, and now I am trying to prepare a new catalog of the enlarged collection. The story of my Thompson pilgrimage is the subject of my recent volume, Francis Thompson: In His Paths.

As must be evident, the chief inspiration of the little I have published has been a desire to help other students and teachers to know and appreciate Catholic literature. If education is the harmonious development of all the faculties, education in literature should not result in discord and disagreement of intellect and will, with the imagination and emotions. A Catholic student who is taught chiefly the poems of Shelley, Keats and Byron, for instance, is being trained to react emotionally and imaginatively to literature that often expresses a philosophy of life that he has been taught to abhor! But in the appreciation of great Catholic poets such as Thompson and Patmore, all faculties of the soul sound in one great harmony of aesthetic delight and spiritual exaltation. This I personally experienced in my work of many years. The sharing of it with others has been my chief reward. Deo volenti, it will be the inspiration of much that still remains to be done this side "the nurseries of Heaven."

EDITOR'S NOTE: Father connolly's works include annotated editions of Coventry Patmore's Mystic Poems of Nuptial Love, 1938, Bruce Humphries, and Francis Thompson's Poems, revised edition, 1941, Appleton. His most recent book is Francis Thompson: In His Paths, 1944, Bruce.

Originally published by Walter Romig in The Book of Catholic Authors Volume Three, copyright 1945

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