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Father Payne   By: (1862-1925)

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By Arthur Christopher Benson



Often as I have thought of my old friend "Father Payne," as we affectionately called him, I had somehow never intended to write about him, or if I did, it was "like as a dream when one awaketh," a vision that melted away at the touch of common life. Yet I always felt that his was one of those rich personalities well worth depicting, if the attitude and gesture with which he faced the world could be caught and fixed. The difficulty was that he was a man of ideas rather than of performance, suggestive rather than active: and the whole history of his experiment with life was evasive, and even to ordinary views fantastic.

Besides, my own life has been a busy one, full of hard ordinary work: it was not until the war gave me, like many craftsmen, a most reluctant and unwelcome space of leisure, that I ever had the opportunity of considering the possibility of writing this book. I am too old to be a combatant, and too much of a specialist in literature to transmute my activities. I lately found myself with my professional occupations suddenly suspended, and moreover, like many men who have followed a wholly peaceful profession, plunged in a dark bewilderment as to the onset of the forces governing the social life of Europe. In the sad inactivity which followed, I set to work to look through my old papers, for the sake of distraction and employment, and found much material almost ready for use, careful notes of conversations, personal reminiscences, jottings of characteristic touches, which seemed as if they could be easily shaped. Moreover, the past suddenly revived, and became eloquent and vivid. I found in the beautiful memories of those glowing days that I spent with Father Payne it was only three years some consolation and encouragement in my distress.

This little volume is the result. I am well aware that the busy years which have intervened have taken the edge off some of my recollections, while the lapse of time has possibly touched others with a sunset glow. That can hardly be avoided, and I am not sure that I wish to avoid it.

I am not here concerned with either criticising or endorsing Father Payne's views. I see both inconsistencies and fallacies in them. I even detect prejudices and misinterpretations of which I was not conscious at the time. I have no wish to idealise my subject unduly, but it is clear to me, and I hope I have made it clear to others, that Father Payne was a man who had a very definite theory of life and faith, and who at all events lived sincerely and even passionately in the light of his beliefs. Moreover, when he came to put them to the supreme test, the test of death, they did not desert or betray him: he passed on his way rejoicing.

He used, I remember, to warn us against attempting too close an analysis of character. He used to say that the consciousness of a man, the intuitive instinct which impelled him, his attack upon experience, was a thing almost independent both of his circumstances and of his reason. He used to take his parable from the weaving of a tapestry, and say that a box full of thread and a loom made up a very small part of the process. It was the inventive instinct of the craftsman, the faculty of designing, that was all important.

He himself was a man of large designs, but he lacked perhaps the practical gift of embodiment. I looked upon him as a man of high poetical powers, with a great range of hopes and visions, but without the technical accomplishment which lends these their final coherence. He was fully aware of this himself, but he neither regretted it nor disguised it. The truth was that his interest in existence was so intense, that he lacked the power of self limitation needed for an artistic success. What, however, he gave to all who came in touch with him, was a strong sense of the richness and greatness of life and all its issues. He taught us to approach it with no preconceived theories, no fears, no preferences... Continue reading book >>

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