Himself By GRAHAM GREENE Isuppose sonic time or another most writers who happen to be Catholics (I hate the phrase ' " Catholic writers " which suggests propagandists rather than writers whose work happens to he tinged by Catholic thought) are asked to make some kind of apologia for work done.
Novelists of our Faith owe an immense debt to Newman : he, has said the last word in their defence against those perhaps prudish
Catholics who believe that a writer should never introduce into his work anything that belongs to the savage and lustful world which surrounds him and should concern himself only with the good and the beautiful, A novelist's world to these people consists of the G-'uild meeting and the daily Mass, of priests who are always understanding and of a laity who arc always humble, except sometimes for a young person who has been led astray by an employer of undoubted social position and finds herself forgiven on the last page, on her knees. in the confessional. It is a world that smells a little of incense and laundered surplices and toasted teacakes from the social going on round the corner. It is a world that has never existed and never, let us fondly hope, will exist, but it may often be bought for twopence on a Catholic bookstall.
Newman Had No Sympathy for These Newman had no sympathy with this view of literature. "I say." he wrote in a lecture on the ' Duties of the Church towards Liberal Knowledge,' " from the nature of the case, if literature is to be made a study of human nature, you cannot have a Christian literature. It is a contradiction in terms to attempt a sinless literature of sinful man. You may gather together something very great and high, something higher than any literature ever was; and when you have done so, you will find it is not literature at all. You will have simply left the delineation of man, as such, and have substituted for it, as far as you have had anything to substitute, that of man, as he is or might be, under certain special advantages. . . .
" Man is a being of genius, passion intellect, conscience, power. He exer cises these various gifts in various ways, in great deeds, in great thoughts, in heroic acts, in hateful crimes. . Such is man : put him aside, keep him before you; but whatever you do, do not take him for what he is not, for something more divine and sacred, for man regenerate. . . . If you would, in fact, have a literature of saints, first of all have a nation of • them."
The Alternative—No Literature
("Do not take him for what he is not" . . . and yet how often the novelist hears Catholic reviewers complain that his characters are unpleasant, as though it was the Catholic, and not the Marxist, who believed in the perfectibility of man and the Kingdom of God on earth.) So far so good. But it is open, of course, to the pious, the prudent and the easily dismayed to say—" In that case let us have no literature, if litera ture cannot be Christian." One has much sympathy for this view; the pull of Puritanism is an eternal one. " When I hear the word culture," General Goering is said once to have remarked, "I release the safety catch of my revolver." There is an immense appeal in any complete condemnation of any great pleasure.
Let us sacrifice all literature in the service of God; there is something magnificent and valid in the appeal, for obviously all the works of Shakespeare are not worth the loss of a single soul and we should feel no hardship in an artless world if we had gained a clearer consciousness of the love of God. But one cannot help noticing that this sacrifice is most often proposed by those who themselves take no pleasure in the
thing sacrificed. For every Patmore who puts his own work in the fire there are thousands who applaud the auto-dafe for reasons that are only conventional or social. and who burn not a personal pleasure but a personal fear, a doubt, an uneasiness. . .
Newman has this Answer, too And Newman has given an answer even to these: " It is not the way to swim in troubled waters, never to have gone into them. . . . Cut out from your class books all broad manifestations of the natural man; and those manifestations are waiting for your pupil's benefit at the very doors of your lecture room in living and breathing substance. . To-day a pupil, to-morrow a member of the great world: to-day confined to the lives of saints, to-morrow thrown upon Babel," and in a subtle passage which, because of the subject of my last novel rings with peculiar encouragement in my ears, we read a defence of those writers who " would in some sense have educated him because of their incidental corruption."
This, I am afraid, is a rather long and pompous apology for a novel which will soon in any case be swept away on the tide that bears most contemporary writing to oblivion. But in case, during the few weeks before that happens, a few fellow Catholics may question my motives in drawing the portrait, in The. Power and the Glory. of a whisky priest.
—a kind of priest more common than they would like to believe in parts of the world where heat, disease, isolation and ignorance demand heroic virtues of unheroic men, I should like to print a few hurried notes on what I wanted to convey.
Magic Nature of Faith
It isn't very easy: one lives for a long time too close to a book, and then when it is published it is too far away: it seems dead: one feels impatient with people for spending time looking closely at a corpse. But one main object I think I had in choosing as my " hero " the kind of priest who supplies anti-Catholics with so much ammunition, and that was to emphasise the irrelevance of their accusations, the magic nature of our Faith, so that a corrupt heart, just as much as spittle and clay, may be the medium of a miracle.
I wanted, too, by comparing this wavering, drunken and yet heroic life with the conventional hagiology a mother reads to her children to suggest that there may exist a worse corruption in the pious mind which feels no mercy toward human weakness and has never sinned because it has had the luck never to love unsuitably.
And I wanted to draw a clear distinction—which piety concerned with guild accounts, medals, ribbons, C.T.S. pamphlets often neglects — between right and wrong, and good and evil. The laws of the State represent right, the new schools, the prohibition—all perhaps admirable things— the lieutenant of
police who hunts the whisky priest to his death is by natural standards a good man, his motives are beyond reproach, and the violence of his methods is justified by his theory of justice and equity.
The Hero or the Saint
The priest by that ethical standard is a bad and useless character; his divided heart carries the stamp of a different standard of good and evil, a standard which is not his own and is not primarily concerned with those values the lieutenant pursues, sobriety, social
justice. The fact that. the priest knowingly commits evil never tempts him to alter his standard; the lieutenant can alter his by simply altering the law.
He is capable of dying like a hero, but the evil man is capable of dying like a saint.
As for the objections which have been raised to one scene in my novel, describing a night in a prison cell, I remain a little puzzled and quite unrepentant; Hell has often been drawn by Catholic
theologians in far coarser lines than I have used. To say that the coarseness is " unnecessary " (a favourite word with reviewers) is to me meaningless. One cannot indicate filth by a cypher; one must describe. .
Reading this through, I feel a little disingenuous. Were these really my objects? They were certainly not all present in my mind when I began to write, but gathered later like barnacles round the characters. I was aware at first only of a small middle-aged man whom fear had driven to drink, a good man but he didn't know it, and a saint perhaps, but the world had been taught to find their saints only in the pages of the pious pamphlets; he came bobbing up in conversation one stifling day in Tabasco—he had been drunk when he christened a child.
And behind him, of course, all the time was the motive which drives most men to write, of showing the world as it is up against the world as it might have been (the lieutenant of police would have phrased it differently —the world as it is and the world as it may be).