THAT RARE THING
The Integrated Mind
Noonday and Nocturne. By George Villiers. (Eyre and Spottiswoode, 6s.) Letter to Andrew. By Rom Landau.
(Faber and Faber, 8s. 6d.) Near East. By 'Cecil Beaton. (Batsford, 12s. 6d.) Reviewed by WILFRID ROOKE-LEY
pOET, soldier, musician, courtier, George Villiers was the last Elizabethan. But if one can sec him singing and soldiering with Sir Philip Sidney, and music-making with Master Byrd. one can picture him equally among the envoys who welcorned Charles l's reteen to our shores and finding in her chaplain, the great Cardinal Bernlle (which Sidney could never have done), a kindrel spirit. For his humanism was 13ernllian rather than puritan : its roots were ill adoration. So much is clear from Noonday and Nocturne, a fragment of autobiography, distressingly brief, started a week before the war, broken off in a few months by illness and never taken up again. The author died in the spring of 1942 at the age of fifty. He had served in the last war in the Grenadier Guards, was severely wounded at Loos, and " his wound" (Mr. Algernon Cecil tells us in a foreword) "never wholly healed, and. twenty-six years after. under the stress of ivork for the Press and Censorship Bureau, produced fatal effects." He had obviously that rare thing, the integrated mind; nothing in him was wasted, all went upon an altar of praise whose tires Were never left to smoulder. We get an impression of a great gaiety of soul. an acute spiritual awateness, a St. Francis-like sense of the visible world as "one vast natural sacrament ": but it would he a mistake to call hint a mystic, and the reiteration of this word by Mr. Algernon Cecil (whose foreword is in other respects a beautiful tribute) is to be regretted. Mysticism inevitably suggests an extraordinary, non-normal state of soul and the bestowal of special favours, whereas with Villiers it was, just that flowering of the life of grace which is within the reach of all of us, however few of us in fact attain to it. With him, as with Newman, it is the poet's rather than the mystic's vision that might be stressed,
This is an intensely personal book, and those to whom it most appeals may he the least willing—or—able—to talk very much about it. I should not like to say how many times I have read it since it came into my hands, or to guess how many times I am likely to re-tend it. It will be a permanent possession.
IT was the death of a young airman,
a dear friend or his, that prompted Mr. Rom Landau to write Letter to Andrew. "Probably no probkni brought about by war." he says, " is more puzzling to those who believe in God than that of ' undeserved ' suffering and death. In thousands of families all over the world men and women are asking the question. ' Why should those responsible fur all our suffering continue to use while our loved ones, who never harmed anybody, be killed?'" His book is an sattempt to answer the question. It is inescapably a theological treatise, though there are many unflattering asides about theologians. But Mr. Landau is an out-andout individualist. To-day, he says, "we cannot afford to draw strict denominational frontiers," and he is particularly down upon what he calls " denominational intolerance." He is an excellent writer and the sincerity and high purpose of the hook are beyond question.
Them are chapters on the meaning of suffering, the problem of fear, sin, sex, the idea of service, and so on, and for those who are starting at scratch in their search for a religion there will be helpful things in each of them. How far it will take them is another matter. Naturally a visible church, the Mystical Body, a sacramental system, are outside the author's ken : charity, for example, is not " a supernatural energy that transforms human nature and builds up a new humanity" (I think the definition is Christopher Dawson's), but just decency to one's neighbour, and that the essence. of Christianity is "a grafting of divine life on the stock of humanity by a vital sacramental act," he would regard, one feels, as theological pedantry. Inevitably this devitalises Christianity, but his book may at least set a certain class of young men thinking— it is written primarily for the young— and that is all to the good.
MR. Cecil Beaton's Near East is, quite frankly, an incitement to theft, and I advise those who are lucky
enough to possess it not to leave it lying about. This prince of photographers has never produced such a gallery of good pictures. " This book has no news value," he says: I don't know about that, but as a commentary on life in the Desert Army up to the disaster of Tobruk and the retreat to El Alamein, it is first-rate leading, full of rattling good stories and vivid descriptions. I liked. for instance, the private with a hip wound into which a whole packet of cigarettes had been blown. " One of the V.A.D.s told me that while she had washed the wowzds the soldier had made takes about it being a waste of cigarettes and had talked about his wife.
'. . She's a blonde. too, but not like you. My wife's a suicide blonde.'
' . .4 suicide blonde?
" ' Yes. Dyed by her own 'and! '" But after all it is the photographs that make this a book for keeps.