The Idol and the Shrine. Presented by Naomi Royde-Smith. (Hollis and Carter, 15s.)
Reviewed by BARBARA WALL THE idol " in this book is
Maurice de Gudrin, and the " shrine" is his sister, Eugenie de Guerin, who loved him — the shrine wherein the idol was enthroned.
Maurice was born in 1810, the second son of a landed proprietor who owned the château du Cayla in the Languedoc. Destined by his father for the priesthood, he studied at the College Stanislas in Paris, and he wrote for L' A venir, La France Catholique and La Revue Europeenne. He became a " disciple" of Lamcnnais at La Chenaie, and when Lamennais was condemned in the encyolical Afirari Vos, Maurice sided with his master. Henceforth, and until the weeks preceding his death, he—in his own words—" could not find the pearl of faith in the theological seas he trawled." He lived in Paris, writing, working, making friends (the chief among whom were frebutien and Barbey D'Aurevilly) and being " moderately dis
sipated." He died at the age of twenty-eight from consumption. Meanwhile his sister, Eugenie, passed nearly her whole life in the manorial home in the deep country, following her adored brother's movements from afar, praying for him, and keeping a diary for his sake, writing every day for him her thoughts and the small village hap
penings. On Maurice's death she continued to write her diary to his spirit, and later it is his friend Barbey whom she addresses. There is always an invisible human " you " in her •distries—that, indeed, is their inspiration—although her life and thoughts were so deeply centred on God. When Maurice died some of his letters, some of his journals (the famous cahier vent) and his prose-poem Le Centaure were published in the Revue des Deux Morn/es, and they caused a stir. (Matthew Arnold translated Le Centamre into English.1 Subsequently the Reliquiae were prepared by Trebutien and Barbey. but many interesting letters, for family reasons, were omitted. When Eugenie died, nine years after her brother, also of consumption, her diaries were published. Le Journal d'Eugenie de Guerin ran into eight French editions in 1862-3 and was translated into several languages. In fact her fame tended to eclipse the posthumous reputation of her brother. But Maurice came into his own again in 1939. the centen
ary of his death. The fascinating
urne under review brings Eugenie before our eyes again—the selected kernel and pith of Eugenie—for only a quarter of it is devoted to the idol.
the rest to the shrine. We see in Eugenic a most sweet and remarkable woman,
TIROTH brother and sister were " haunted by thoughts of death. Maurice writes in a letter: "Another source of my troubles is my imagination: it broods over what I can see with my eyes and also over the unseen, never escaping from the idea of the Shadow of Death which throws a veil over the whole worth. so that I cannot see it in any of its smiling aspects. . ." And Eug8nie: " How these new-made graves make me reflect! Dear God! how quickly the world may be left! When I am alone in the twilight the faces of so many of the dead come hack to me. I'm not afraid, but all my thoughts go into mourning and the world seems to me as sad as the grave itself." And this, characteristically relieved by joy : "Poor human body—must it be the dwelling place of the soul? No wonder the soul is not happy once it begins to consider where it lives! What a wonderful moment when it leaves that body to enjoy the life of Heaven and is with God in the other world! It must feel as astonished as the chicken feels when it breaks out of its egg."
Death, and reflections on death, brood over this book—and all of it is poignant. The whole has that tragic beauty which is the hallmark of " consumptive literature." There are echoes of John Keats and Marie Bashkirtseff.
But happy things happened sometimes. at least things that make Eugenie happy. " Today I will tell you of joy, a sweet pure joy: a beggar to whom I had given alms kissed me. That kiss went to my heart like a kiss from God." "A nightingale sang as I awoke this morning—it was only a sigh—the ghost of a voice. I listened for a long time and heard no other song." "We have a new guest in the kitchen. a cricket who was brought in with the herbs. He has settled down on the hearth, and the little creature will sing when he feels merry." This book is, also, "spiritual reading," for Eugenie had remarkable insight into her faith which she reveals in limpid, truthful prose I could quote indefinitely. The translation is beyond praise.
The April issue of Liturgy, the well-produced quarterly of St, Gregory's Society (55. annually Oscolt College) contains a practical article on the execution of Plain Chant by Dom Aldhelm Dean, O.S.B., and suggestions on " Mis sions, Retreats, and the Liturgy " by Rev. Ivor Daniel, P.P. The Living (American Episcopal) Church has "A message from St. Benedict " and the announcement of a " Continuous Novena." Extension, the American national monthly, serialises "The Mass in Slow Motion " with a fullpage illustration of a bewildered acolyte. Columbia features processions in which our Lady of Fatima is escorted by knights of Columbia in top hats. The finely-produced Chronkle of the (Spanish) National Trust of St. Paul (Madrid, 1948) recounts the Christian achievement of a work for prisoners and convicts which (verb. sap.) "functions under the inspiration of H.E.. the Head of the State." The good English translation should help many to appreciate the rebirth of Catholic Spain.
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