Beauty for Ashes: Selected prose and related
Colin Smythe Ltd £25
Church Times Bookshop £22.50 (Use code
AUTOBIOGRAPHY and biography come together in this arresting
memoir-cum-essay. A boyhood recollection of the Blitz, a wartime
vicarage, and then, swiftly and enthrallingly, memories of William
Temple and his tragically brief archiepiscopate. It is a period
when anything about the Church of England - and Britain - is of
huge fascination still.
The writer's family and the Anglican leadership are interwoven.
Although Beauty for Ashes reveals the close-knit nature of
their association, its picture of a young man moving out of it into
the post-war and exciting world of literatureand art is
authoritative and fascinating.
There are substantial accounts of Henry Moore, Kathleen Raine,
and Samuel Beckett, and new glimpses of C. S. Lewis, Francis Bacon,
and Henry Chadwick. Most of all, there is an intimate,
garnered-from-diaries story of a particular culture which only
someone from the heart of Anglicanism would be able to relate.
Christ's Hospital and Cambridge - and music - lie behind it all,
and produce a recognisable kind of person, although in Francis
Warner's case a delightful one.
He writes well, and quotes well, and is a good poet. He bridges
the old classicism and post-Eliot language, is at home in this
world, and tells us about it with grace and authority. It is a tale
that his contemporaries will love and that the writer-priests of
the presentwill read, maybe, with some envy; for it is a kind of
unification ofgifts which belongs now to a past time, and is now
both elusive and allusive.
The hopes and fears of the post-war world, its shame and its
triumph, are present. We see Warner becoming who he is. His access
to some of the best creative people of his day has an ease about
it, and we learn how much we have lost - or forgotten. The
religious morality of his time or, rather, its conventions are
absent. His is the Church that produced Bishop Bell and T. S.
Eliot, plus a brilliant post-Second World War culture. Thereis an
account of the revision of the Psalter.
We are able to understand where we are now through Warner's
pattern of his own life. And we can tell through his quiet prose
and verse how we have got where weare at this moment. Beauty
forAshes is a gentle book and an honest one. The many
photographs are themselves the expressions of anage that created
what we havenow. It begins with the author as a child watching
aerial battles, and concludes with his acknowledging the
faithfulness of the life he has been allotted, and being grateful
for most of it.