From the Archives: Jesuit literary connections


Letter to Fr Martin D'Arcy from Siegfried Sassoon, 14 December 1958

This year, World Book day will be celebrated in the United Kingdom and Ireland on Thursday 7 March. It might seem surprising, but the Jesuits in Britain Archives hold various documents, particularly correspondence, penned by some of the most well-known writers and literary figures of the 20th century. In honour of World Book Day, we delve into the collections for just such pieces.

Perhaps the most obvious place to start is the archives of The Month. This monthly review, which was founded and edited by Frances Margaret Taylor (Mother Magdalen of the Sacred Heart), began publication in July 1864 with the subtitle ‘An illustrated magazine of literature, science and art.’ In April 1865 she sold the review to the Jesuits, who changed the subtitle to ‘A magazine and review’ (1865–1873). The first Jesuit-appointed editor was Henry James Coleridge SJ, who elicited contributions from many of the leading figures in English Catholicism, including John Henry Newman, whose ‘Dream of Gerontius’ was first published in The Month. The publication languished somewhat in the first half of the 20th century, and publication was reduced to bimonthly in the years 1941-1946, but it revived under the editorship (1948–1963) of Philip Caraman SJ who enhanced the quality of the magazine, employing distinguished writers such as Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, Edith Sitwell, Muriel Spark, and the American Trappist monk, Thomas Merton. It ceased to be published in 2001. The archives of The Month include both literary pieces and articles by famous authors, as well as correspondence.

A selection of submissions to The Month from CS Lewis, Evelyn Waugh, Shane Leslie, and Graham Greene (Ref. 10/2/3)

When Martin D’Arcy, who was then Provincial, appointed Caraman as editor of The Month, he introduced him to his network of distinguished friends in the world of art and literature and he used these connections to great effect, as demonstrated by the selection of famous names mentioned above. While he maintained more of a business connection with some of these contacts, such as Graham Greene, he developed life-long friendships with others, such as Evelyn Waugh. It was Waugh that urged Caraman to commission work from Thomas Merton for The Month, though he delegated the task to Deryck Hanshell SJ, who established a personal relationship with Merton. Letters between Merton and Hanshell can be found in Caraman’s personal papers, included a typescript of a poem, From the Legend of St Clement, which appeared on the title page of Caraman’s first number of The Month.

Merton’s poem From the Legend of St Clement (Ref. 48/15/9)

Other members of the Society who could count the literary stars of the 20th century among their correspondents are Cyril Martindale and Martin D’Arcy, who we have already touched upon. In Martindale’s collection we find personal letters from Vivien Greene (a published author in her own right) as well as her husband, Graham Greene, who is regarded by many as one of the greatest writers of the 20th century.

Letter from Graham Greene to Fr Martindale (ref. SJ/80/2/9/172)

Martin D’Arcy could count among his friends many of the great and good of the 20th century, and more about his connections can be read, here. In August 1957, D’Arcy preached the panegyric at the requiem Mass of Ronald Knox. Knox was a Catholic priest and prolific author whose works include detective fiction. D’Arcy’s papers include several letters of gratitude for the panegyric, including one from Lady Helen Asquith who wrote, “no-one else could have spoken of him so beautifully or so exactly right for that profoundly impressive occasion.” As well as Knox, we find correspondence from many other authors of the day, including his lifelong friends, the Waugh family. Pictured below are a selection of letters from various authors to D’Arcy: Anthony Burgess, W H Auden, Hilaire Belloc, Siegfried Sassoon, and Wyndham Lewis.

L-R clockwise: W H Auden, Anthony Burgess, Wyndham Lewis, Siegfried Sassoon, and Hilaire Belloc (ref. SJ/21/6/13)

If you are interested in any of the collections mentioned throughout this post, or in the work of the Jesuits in Britain Archives in general, please contact us.

Mary Allen, Deputy Archivist