true-to-reality Catholic classic
by Mgr. JOHN M. T. BARTON
Come Rack! Come Rope! by Robert Hugh Benson (Catholic Publishing Company. London 10s.) THIS is the fourth and last of the late Mgr. Benson's Tudor quartette, and was first published in 1912, some years after By What Authority? (1904), Tire King's Achievement (1905) and The Queen's Tragedy (1906). It had the disadvantage of a subject not very iifferent from that of the volume issued in 1904, and of having been written at a time when the author's health was declining.
There is much less fine writing than in any of the earlier volumes, and the superb pageantry in the description of a Mass said during the penal times, the execution of Cardinal St. John Fisher, and the reconciliation of England with the Holy See in Mary's reign has no counterpart here.
Nonetheless, the book has much to attract a reader, and the author was justified in claiming that "Very nearly the whole of this book is sober historical fact; and by far the greater number of personages named in it once lived and acted in the manner in which I have presented them." (Preface, p. ix.) Very few of the characters are wholly fictitious. the most important being the hero. the heroine, the heroine's father and mother, and the hero's father. Otherwise, a great majority of the characters, which include the FitzHerbert family with all its misfortunes, Babington of the plot associated with his name. Mary Queen of Scots, Topeliffe, the infamous informer and tormentor, Blessed Edmund Campion. and other martyrs for the Faith, all really existed and find part of their life-history described here.
To the possible charge of being sensational the author remarks: "If the book is too sensational, it is no more sensational than life itself was to Derbyshire folk between 1579 and 1588."
There arc some good descriptions. even though they fall short of those in the three earlier volumes. The execution of Mary Queen of Scots is described in terms of what those outside the hall at Patheringay could see and hear; for some reason the sound of the axe falling is not mentioned, but through the tall windows of the hall the executioner was seen to hold in his hands "a wide silver dish, in which lay something white and round, and slashed with crimson" (p. 269).
The hero, Robin Audrey, who is ordained priest in the course of the narrative, is taken and racked by Topcliffe in the last chapter but one of the book. Some friends of mine who called at Hare Street House. when Mgr. Benson had just finished this chapter, heard from his own lips, as others did, what pains he suffered in his wrists and ankles when writing his account of the racking.
One small point on which, as a boy of fifteen, I ventured to correct the author is the mention (at p. 18, and again at p. 105) of a drapery representing "Icarus in the chariot of the sun." For "Icarus" one should read "Phaethon," a change accepted by the author who, however, never made any alteration in the text!